Bandhavgarh Diary 2008

Bandhavgarh Diary 2008

Lot of people have written to me asking about my Bandhavgarh trips and how a Day in the Life of a Photographer like me looks like. So I thought of publishing the day to day notes that I write down along with a few images.

Day 1: May 7th 2008 Morning

I alighted from Utkal Express today morning. My driver and a person from the resort had come to receive me. I reached the resort, a new one, and was at a distance from the village and Tala gate. A quick cup of tea and I rushed to the Park. Before Sidhababa, I could see a line of gypsys and knew that a tiger is near by. The Sidhababa tigress was resting near the nullah and tiger show was on. The elephants were pushed into service and the poor things didn’t even get time to perform.

A pregnant wild tigress dozes off in a hillock in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A pregnant wild tigress dozes off in a hillock in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

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Though I don’t like getting into elephants in these infamous tiger shows, I saw that the tigress moved away and sat on a rock and she was lit by the early morning light. So I decided to climb onto an elephant. When we reached close to the tigress, I could see that she was pregnant. A foreigner was also with me she started whistling to attract the attention of the tigress. I was aghast. How can you treat a tiger like a dog? Most of these wildlife photographers have no respect for the tiger. Instead of a natural behaviour, they want particular image of tiger snarling. The mahout was trying to take the elephant closer to the tiger and I was asking him to move back and give the tigress some space. The mahout felt that I fear the tiger and hence was asking to stay at a distance. Little did he realise that we were moving too close and were causing stress to a pregnant tigress. I asked the mahout to turn back.

When I returned, the ranger looked at my two cameras and expensive L series white lenses and wanted money for his pocket. The full day elephant ride costs 25000 rupees for foreigners and he told my driver that people pay 25000 rupees and your saab wants to just pay hundred rupees? He ordered my driver to leave the place else he threatened to bar the vehicle for 15 days. I was shocked to hear such demands. Man goes to the forests to seek solace, unfortunately that is not to be.

In the afternoon, a Crested Serpent eagle flew and sat in branch before me. The lighting was tough but I got the exposure right. The Sidhababa tigress was sleeping in the nullah by the side of the road, but I didn’t want to disturb the pregnant lady and moved ahead. I didn’t get to see another tiger in the afternoon, but I didn’t have any regrets. Tomorrow is another day, who knows what is in store for me.

Day 2: May 8th 2008 Morning

I reached the National Park gate around 5.15 am. The gate opens at 5.30 am. Infront of the gate I met Paul Davis, a gentleman from UK. He is involved in an NGO. I understand they had discussions with the field director to generate awareness about the tiger in the nearby villages. As soon as it was 5.30 am, I could hear a whistle and the gates were immediately opened. I talked with an ex-army man Mr. Tripathy; he is among the bunch of ex-army men who have been recruited to help in protecting our National Parks.

In Siddhababa, we found the tigress sleeping in the grass land barely 20 feet away from the road. All the jeeps crowded around that place vying with each other to get a clean view of the tiger sleeping in the grass. I didn’t want to disturb our lady and moved ahead – far from the madding crowd.

I proceeded towards Rajbehera and could see a few jeeps waiting near the grassland. I thought that probably they had heard the alarm call. The early morning light falling on the grasslands always converts the sight of the numerous Cheetal (Axix axis) into a magical sight. I saw the BBC team filming and thought they are probably capturing the early morning scene of the grassland. And what a surprise! I could see a male tiger – commonly named as Sukhipatiha male – sitting in the open view in the grassland. The lustrous coat of the tiger was glistening in the early morning light. The deers were grazing and could see the tiger in open. However, there was not a single alarm call, as the deer knew that the tiger is not inclined to hunt. The peaceful look on the tigers face said it all.

I watched the tiger and shot it from various angles. I had all the time to change lenses, cameras, used different converters and the tiger was still there. It was one of those days, when you feel that the tiger is relaxed and offers “darshan” for hours together to lesser mortals like us.

A wild tiger yawns in the grasslands of Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A wild tiger yawns in the grasslands of Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A wild tiger stretches itself after waking up from sleep in a grassland in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A wild tiger stretches itself after waking up from sleep in a grassland in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

The tiger yawned, and I knew it is a sign that the tiger will soon get up. After another 10 minutes the tiger yawned again. It looked at the deers grazing nearby, and then slowly got up and stretched itself. When it was stretching itself, you can feel as if a child has just got up from its bed. The tiger then moved into the deep clump of green grass bordering a small stream. The deer could sense its motive and had moved away towards the suaribah area.

I waited there for a long time, before moving ahead for the mandatory entry in the official records. I returned to find that the tiger had still not come out. On a hot summer day, the tiger prefers to remain near the stream. The grass gave it ample cover from the harsh sunlight and it had no need to come out. It was time for the gates to close, so we proceeded towards the exit. On the way I shot the photograph of a crested hawk eagle drinking water. It was very far away and I could get it by using the 2x converter with my 400mm F2.8 L IS USM lens and the Canon 40D camera. The 40D camera, due to its smaller sensor has got a factor of 1.6. Hence the focal length of the lens gets increased by 1.6 times. My 1D Mark II camera, has got a factor of 1.3, hence I decided to go for the 40D due to its extra reach. Its 0.3 mm extra form factor meant, I had 240mm extra focal length than my 1D II.

Day 2: May 8th 2008 Afternoon

At 4 pm sharp, I again entered the National Park. There were about seven or eight jeeps at that time, the heat forcing people to come late. On the way, I found that the white backed vulture baby that had fallen from the tree the day before, had crossed the road. This baby vulture was taking its first flight and that had gone horribly wrong. It is now on the land, unable to fly. One of the tourist guides went up to the vulture and put water into her beak. The vulture was getting water, but without food it would lose its strength fast. I have my doubts as to whether this vulture baby can ever fly again. First I went to Rajbehera where we had seen the tiger in the morning. However, couldn’t see the tiger, so decided to go to Mahaman dam to see if the tigress and her cubs had come out.

Water is kept on a plastic bottle near a immature white backed vulture that is fallen down from a tree in Bandhavgarh National Park, India. Vultures are endangered in India

Water is kept on a plastic bottle near a immature white backed vulture that is fallen down from a tree in Bandhavgarh National Park, India. Vultures are endangered in India

It was not to be and we cam back to Rajbehera again. Finally, the tiger decided to come out of the grass at about 6.20 pm and crossed in front of my jeep. There were jeeps in front of me, so a wide angle lens would have captured other jeeps as well. So I used the 300mm with the 40D and captured only head shots.

It was getting dark, and the scheduled park closing time was approaching fast. We had no option but to leave the place and rush back to the Park entrance.

Day 3: May 9th 2008

A cloudy morning greeted us. The prospect of rain dampened my spirit as the chances of sighting a tiger decreases significantly. In an open gypsy, protecting the photographic equipment from rain is quiet a task.

My driver suggested that we should check the Mahaman dam area first. Most of the tourists are likely to go to the Rajbehera area where the male tiger was sighted yesterday. I readily agreed, as most of the tourists go berserk when the sight a tiger and behave like paparazzi making the tiger sighting a less than memorable experience.

We saw the pug marks and scratches in the soft sand on the road. The tigress and cubs were on the road early in the morning and had gone away into the grasslands. There were no langurs or deers nearby to give alarm calls. After waiting for about an hour, we moved ahead towards the centre point where we have to make official entry in the forest department register. We were immediately surrounded by small kids selling channa (boiled gram). They were requesting and begging me to buy from them. I felt bad as my policy is not to encourage buying and selling in the forest area. However, the plight of the poor kids was too much to bear. All of us love to play God when the cost is low – the kids were selling channa (boiled grams) for five rupees in small cups made of leaf.

Dozing Owl

Dozing Owl

I proceeded to Rajbehera. There were a few tourist vehicles. The BBC team was also there. I was told that there was a brief sighting of the tiger in the morning when it went into the grassland. The fear of the male tiger has made the female tigress with cubs avoiding the Suaribah area. We went to jhurhura dam but there was no water in the small dam. We then returned back. On the way, near Siddhababa area, came across a monitor lizard. I also took some shots of the Brown fishing owl. I normally, take shots of this owl, whenever I fail to shoot the tiger. This is a ritual that has been going on for the last three years. I took a few shots of an Indian Roller who came and perched on a tree nearby.

In the afternoon, my driver informed me that the dominant male tiger B2 has been sighted in the Ghoda daman area. Bittu is injured. Bittu has been moving far away from its territory and has been fighting with other tigers. Most of the times he injures his right foreleg. This time it had again injured itself about seven days back. We thought that not many tourists would know this. But word had spread around, and there was a procession of jeeps in that area. When I reached Ghoda daman area, there were already a couple of jeeps in the area. I could see Bittu sleeping in the cave about 40 feet below. From my position, I was unable to shoot him. After about an hour and half he got up and came up. I could shoot a couple of shots of Bittu crossing the road.

Scent Spray

Scent Spray

It then walke d on the road for some time and then went away. There were some kids on a few jeeps. They had come from Pune. They were pretty excited and were screaming on top of their voices. The Jeeps were hitting each other as each jeep driver tried to get a clear view of the tiger. The guide in my jeep – Jayprakash – held my tripod firmly as I was holding two cameras and shooting handheld. My 400 mm F2.8 L IS USM, my prized possession was bought for low light shooting but I could not use it. In close combat, you only use small arms, not sniper rifles. It was getting dark, and then I came back leaving behind the crowd. They were still waiting for Bittu to come to the road again. The light was pretty bad, but people in the jeeps had either no idea about photography or were happily shooting with whatever lighting conditions.

 

Deer fawn suckles from mother in Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

Deer fawn suckles from mother in Bandhavgarh

On the road before Chakradhara, I came across a deer suckling from its mother. I shot it using the Canon EOS 40D at ISO 800, 1/60 seconds at F4. I tried the high ISO noise reduction facility. However, I didn’t like the shots and in future will definitely avoid ISO 800. Unfortunately, my 400mm F2.8 L IS USM lens was packed in the bag. There were vehicles following us. So I had to shoot immediately. Infact, hardly had I shot a couple of shots the deer ran way as a jeep screeched to a halt behind me. Let’s see what is in store for us tomorrow. Hope is eternal. Despite adversity, I have been surviving on hope. They say, hope flows eternal in the human breast.

Day 4: May 10th 2008

In the morning I decided to take a longer route and go to Mirchahni. I thought there will be less number of jeeps in that area. Unfortunately, we found about 6 jeeps already there. The tigress was sitting at a distance in the grassland. Her head was visible, but the grass made it very difficult to get any decent shot. I was not getting a full frame shot even at 800mm.

 

A wild tigress wakes up from sleep due to the sound of an approaching  deer in Bandhavgarh National Park, India.

A wild tigress wakes up from sleep

I watched her for about half an hour and the number of jeeps kept on increasing. After some time, she yawned and then started watching the cheetal grazing nearby. I was thinking that she will get up and start stalking when a cheetal started making alarm calls on the opposite side from the Andhiari Jhiria area. The tigress immediately took notice. After a couple of calls, she got up and started towards that area. The grassland was bifurcated by a road moving perpendicular to the road we were in. The tigress had to cross two roads to go to the Andhiari Jhiria area. There was a mad rush by vehicles to line up on the road where the tigress was crossing. I could manage couple of shots but the vehicles were too close and in number of shots the vehicles were in the image. The jeep drivers were driving in a thoughtless manner and were blocking the road. The tigress then growled and started running ahead to cross infront of us. A dust cloud had engulfed us and shooting in that condition was very difficult. Fortunately, the guide Jay Prakash was holding my tripod, else holding the camera with my heavy 400mm f2.8 lens would have become a big problem. The tigress was desperate to cross the road. She ran and in two jumps had crossed the road. It was evident that the cubs were on the other side of the road in Andhiari Jhiria. This Andhiari Jhiria is a stream in an area which is dark most of the times due to the thick canopy of tall trees and the hill. I could see the tigress and cub at a distance. I got couple of shots through the thick undergrowth, certainly not among my best shots.

I then returned to Centre point to make the mandatory entry. I was desperate to be away from the crowd and went to Sehra area but couldn’t find any signs of the tiger. On the way shot a couple of vultures. The rest of the morning was uneventful.

In the afternoon, when I reached the National Park gate, I was greeted with a heartbreaking sight – about 50 vehicles were lined up near the gate filled with mostly casual tourists. The air was heavy with the scent of deodorants and perfumes. The garish attire displayed an incredible lack of dress sense among the tourists. The different languages spoken at high decibels compounded the assault on the sensory organs.

I asked the driver to drive fast to move far away from this madness. We reached Sehra and parked ourselves near the grassland. A male tiger normally takes rest in a cave in the hill opposite the Sehra grassland. It would come down in the late afternoon. After waiting for about twenty minutes, I was worried to see a jeep coming towards us. In an hours time there were about eight or nine jeeps in the vicinity. I tried to desist from silently cursing them by trying to focus on the grey hornbills perching on the trees on the hill slopes.

It was about five thirty, when we heard repeated alarm calls by Cheetal. We moved ahead to find a male tiger at a distance – most probably the Rajbehera male who had charged at me in 2005 - in the grassland stalking the cheetal. The road had curved ahead and we moved some distance and positioned ourselves near a fireline. By this time, other tourist jeeps had come and a cloud of dust had enveloped us. I counted twenty five vehicles before I gave up counting. My driver knew how I was feeling. We also knew that the Rajbehera Male, nicknamed bokah’ by the guides normally avoids people. So we decided to go back checking Rajbehera grasslands on the way.

Pond heron in breedng plummage in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Pond heron in breedng plummage

Near Chakradhara, I stopped to photograph a pond heron on breeding plumage. The light was really bad. I was shooting at 800 mm at f5.6 at 1/20 seconds. I used mirror lock up but still most of the images were soft.

Day 5: May 11th 2008

We were amazed to find the number of tourist vehicles had increased. I realised that probably the number had increased as it was a Sunday.

We soon proceeded to Chakradhara and within ten minutes of entering the forest we could spot Bittu, the resident male tiger of the area lying in the grassland. Bittu, has grown old and is limping. He appeared infront of my vehicle in a slight clearing in the grassland. I could take couple of shots before I vanished into the thick grass. I could later see him at a distance, but the tall grass didn’t allow any clear view for shooting.

We then went to Mirchahni. Again we could see about seven jeeps standing near the grassland. I could see a tiger after straining my eyes for some time, as the tiger was hidden behind a clump of grass. The distance made focusing difficult. Later on I saw two tigers instead of one. It appeared that the tigress had left its cubs behind and had probably gone for a hunt.

 

A wild tiger cub peeping through an opening in the game trail in Bandhavgarh National Park, india

A wild tiger cub peeping through an opening

After about half-an-hour the cubs got up and got ready to cross the road. All the vehicles quickly rushed to the spot. Needless to say, that the cubs sat down in the shade beneath a tree. Visibility through the grass was poor. The jeeps kept on moving front and back to get a clear view. A further hour passed, and then the cubs got up to cross the road. My driver quickly moved the jeep and parked it infront of a game trail. In a few minutes, the cubs appeared infront of me. They were partially hidden in the grass. I was photographing from a low angle so that photographer behind me can shoot. Due to the low angle, lot of grass was appearing and playing havoc with my focusing.

A Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis Cheela calls in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis Cheela

There were some rude photographers from France in a couple of jeeps behind me. One of them was an elderly gentleman, who uttered some rubbish stuff. Some of these foreigners still have that old colonial mentality. These days I rarely meet such people, but today was one such day. I didn’t want to engage in a war of words in front of the tiger. I knew that the tiger will not come out as the jeeps had again blocked its path. I moved ahead and looked around to find if the tigress is around. After waiting for about fifteen to twenty minutes, we moved towards the gate. On the way back, I got some good closeups of a crested serpent eagle.

I had decided that I will go early and enter the Park before any other jeep enters. That helped in avoiding the huge amount of dust blown away by the jeeps. We proceeded to Suaribah anicut behind the climbers point. Sambars were grazing in and around the waterhole. I was informed by the guide that a male tiger was seen in Sehra area. I decided to focus on the tigress with small cubs even if that meant missing out on other tiger sightings.

We waited near the water for about half-an-hour and then decided to go and wait near a point where the road trifurcates. The tigress is known to take that road to come go to the water from its cave. We found pugmarks and tiger scat. The tigress and cubs had passed by that road in the morning and had defecated on the road.

I heard a low growl once. I think it was the tigress admonishing its cubs. The light was going down at a rapid rate. It was time to come out of the gate. I saw a pair of jackals when entering the resort. Light was very low and the jackals were moving at a fast pace so I put down the camera again. Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

Day 6: May 12th 2008

I had tried to be early, but was not the first jeep to enter the park in the morning. My driver directly drove towards Rajbehera area. We could see the water hole at a distance and my driver stopped near the Y shaped junction, unsure whether to take a right turn or go to the waterhole directly. We could see a jeep near the waterhole. Then thought of going towards it when the guide in that jeep whistled signaling that a tiger is nearby. We immediately raced there to find the tigress drinking water from the dam.

It was about 6 in the morning, and the early morning light was giving an ethereal glow to the scene. In my childhood days I used to read stories of Kenneth Anderson about his experiences in the jungle. In one of the books, the cover photo was a tiger drinking water. It had made a big impression on me. I was madly rushing to pull out my 400mm f2.8 IS lens from the bag and screw in the lens hood. I knew the tigress can leave any moment. I clicked a few shots with the 400mm and then I realised that the tigress is thirsty and still drinking water. I quickly set up my tripod, fixed my 2x II converter and then started clicking.

Quenching Thirst

Quenching Thirst

One more jeep arrived, with some local tourists. There was one elderly gentleman in that jeep who refused to keep quiet. The tigress gave a low growl and left. I felt as if the tigress didn’t like our presence. I had photographed this tigress last year. She was there in front of me for hours together in the same waterhole and she didn’t protest at our presence. Probably, motherhood has made her more wary of human presence. Of course, the kind of noise these tourists make, any self respecting animal would get annoyed.

We went to Sehra grasslands. There were repeated alarm calls, but we didn’t see any carnivore. After waiting for about half an hour, we proceeded to Hardiha – the centre point where we had to make entries with the forest office. On the way, I clicked some pictures of a king vulture or red headed vulture. The rest of the morning was uneventful.

 

A wild tigress snarls at tourists while cooling off in a water hole in Bandhavgarh National Park.

A wild tigress snarls at tourists

In the afternoon, I straightaway proceeded to Rajbehera in search of tigress. I was expecting the tigress to be at Rajbehera with the cubs. When I reached the waterhole, I found the tigress in water. The lighting was harsh and I was shooting against the light, not a pleasing prospect, however, since the tigress was there in water, I clicked. The tigress then proceeded to the Rajbehera meadow. She was not clearly visible as she was lying behind a clump of grass. She was repeatedly calling her cubs, but they were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they had wandered away. After an hour, a mongoose came and immediately the tigress got up hearing the sound. When she saw the mongoose, she sat down again. I could sense that hearing the sound made by the mongoose, the tigress thought that her cubs were coming.

The time kept on ticking away, the sun which was mercilessly burning down my skin, had decided to soften its rays. Soon the sky was covered with an orange glow. The tigress was getting more and more agitated and had started calling her cubs loudly. She then got up and started walking. The calls were getting louder and louder. She crossed the road in front of my jeep. It was already 6.20 pm and we rushed to reach the exit gate.

I thought of trying to reach the waterhole early in the morning. It is about 15 mins from the Gohri gate. So I decided to enter the park through the Gohri gate tomorrow. I talked with Yadav and he did the necessary formalities.

Day 7: May 13th 2008

I had to start at 4.30 in the morning to reach Gohri gate by 5.15 am. Gohri gate is about 25 kms from Tala. I had decided to take a chance.

The tigress was not there in the waterhole. I checked some distance ahead and was coming back to the Rajbehera grasslands, when I heard an alarm call. I asked to stop the jeep. Immediately, my guide could see the tiger cub to our left. I was frantically trying to open the bag, take out my 400mm f2.8 and reattach the hood, the cub climbed a rock. We drove about 50 feet ahead and saw two tiger cubs on the rock. Unfortunately, the face of the cubs were hidden by climbers. It was an agonizing time for me as I was unable to photograph the cubs. Light level was quiet low as well.

After about half an hour, I could sight the tiger at a distance in the grassland. I realised that the tigress had entered the grassland with one cub and the other two cubs had got left behind in the rock. There were several jeeps lined up near the grassland where the tigress had taken shelter. A small nullah which is fed from the water from the Suaribah dam flows through the Rajbehera grasslands. The tigress had hidden her kill in the grassland and was guarding it. The tall grass made visibility very poor thought the tigress and the cub were barely thirty feet away.

I had raised my tripod to its maximum height to try and shoot through the tall grass. I knew that raising the tripod legs fully will make it more prone to shake. I had the Wimberley V2 head mounted on it and my 400mm f2.8 L IS lens along with a 2xII converter. I had my 300mm f4L IS USM lens mated with a 1.4x II converter on a 40D. I had mounted this attachment on my Bush hawk Shoulder pod.

The hot sun was beating down on us mercilessly. I could see that the tigress is also facing the brunt of the Sun God. The stream flowing by would be providing it some respite, no such luck for me though. The summer heat was making the tourists restless. There was some shouting at a distance that a tourist jeep had sighted the Rajbehera male tiger about 300 meters away. There was an alarm call by deers and shouting by tourists. At that moment the tigress made a mock charge at the jeep infront of her. My lens was in manual focus mode. When I realised that the tiger is charging at a jeep, I tried to focus. Unfortunately by the time I had focused, the tigress had turned its head to move away.

I waited till 9.25 am and then proceeded to leave from the Gohri Gate. I was told near the Gohri gate that two tigers have been spoted resting near a dam about 500meters away. Since the park gate had closed, I thought of investigating that area later.

In the afternoon, I rushed to Rajbehera area in search of the tigress and cubs. The tigress had moved the kill to a nearby area. The tigress was sleeping near its kill. The kill was not visible to us from the road. After an hour or so the cubs the cubs started playing. Initially they were playing near the tigress and were hardly visible due to the thick grass. Their small size and the tall grass made photography difficult. I knew that after some time the cubs will start moving around and would come to areas with sparse vegetation offering me a clear view.

The cubs were playing with each other for some time and would then rush back to their mother and show affection. Once a cub went and lied down near the tigress. The tigress was lying and facing to her right. She affectionately put her front left foreleg on the cub. I could see that she has embraced the cub and was kissing and licking the cub on her face. I felt very good watching that intimate moment.

One of the cubs was very inquisitive and adventurous. The cub would watch me for some time and would take a few steps towards me. Then the playful spirit would surface again and he would turnaround and go back to play with its siblings.

Day 8: May 14th 2008

I had planned to reach the National Park gate early, but I got up late. I was allocated the A route. I was disappointed but went along that route. The A route for the most part runs around the periphery of the park. When I reached Banbehi, there was another jeep standing near the nallah. On reaching the spot, I could find that the tigress was sitting about fifteen feet away, hidden in the dense grass. On closer inspection found that the cubs were about forty feet away, hardly visible through the dense vegetation.

About six or seven jeeps carrying school kids reached the spot. The ensuing loud questions and remarks of “where is it?” and “Oh! Its there. Can’t you see stupid?” was too much for the tigress to tolerate. She got up and left quietly.

I waited there for some time and then proceeded towards centre point. On the way, checked for the presence of the tigress and cubs there but could not find them. I then proceeded to Rajbehera to check whether the tigress and cubs are still in the grass. I found a few jeeps near the area. I was told that the tigress was in the grass. Could not see them.

In the afternoon, I entered the gate first, so could avoid the huge amount of dust thrown up by the vehicles. We went to Suaribah area. I could see one of the cubs in water. My driver asked me where to park the vehicle. I instructed him and then I immediately took out my camera. I had mounted my 40D on the 400mm f2.8 L IS USM lens. I placed the towel on the gypsy top and started shooting. When I saw that the cub is still in water, I attached the 1.4x converter. I then set up my tripod and mounted the lens on it. After some time, I attached the 1D Mark II with 2x converter on the 400mm f2.8 lens. I was getting the full frame with this set up.

A wild tiger cub walks on the dam walls in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A wild tiger cub walks on the dam walls

The cub got up from water and climbed the rock. The tigress was sleeping on the rock under a tree. The other two cubs were perched on a rock near the mother. There was a clump of bamboo near by. One of the cubs started eating the freshly sprouted bamboo leaves. I was amazed that this cub continued eating bamboo leaves for about ten minutes.

One of the cubs got up and moved slightly ahead and sat on a crouching position. It was watching the deer grazing. I was happy that the cubs have been picking up skills from their mother. Time ticked on and my camera was busy capturing the antics of the cubs. It was about half an hour since we had arrived at this place. The tigress then got up and immediately started stalking the deer. She entered the grasslands and started watching the deer. I was excited, but knew that the deer was too far for the tigress to charge. I watched the tigress made two abortive attempts.

Stealth FootstepsWhile watching the tigress, I could see a storm approaching. It turned out to be a dust storm and the deers immediately ran away from the grasslands. The tigress kept on waiting. After the dust storm cleared away, some more deers came near the water to drink. The tigress stalked and then turned back as the tigress knew that the distance between it and the deers was more than its range. It gave a low growl on being disappointed. It was then the deers saw the tigress and started sounding alarm calls.

I knew that it was time and packed my camera for the day.

Day 9: May 15th 2008

I wanted to straight away head towards the Suaribah dam. However, in the morning, I got the A route again. I was disappointed but had to take the A route. It was an uneventful drive, till we reached Bhitari bah area. Suddenly, I noticed a tiger coming towards us from the left. Both the guide and my driver failed to notice the tiger. I asked them to stop the vehicle and quickly set up my tripod and mounted my 400mm lens. I was told that this tiger is the female cub of the Chakradhara female. She is one of the four cubs from that litter. All the other cubs had gone out of the park. She too hunts mostly out of the park, but comes back to this area in the morning.

On seeing us, the tigress immediately sat down. Her ears were barely visible. After a couple of minutes, a jeep reached the spot. The tigress then got up and growled and ran away. My driver was trying to reverse the jeep, but the tigress ran away and hid herself in the dense undergrowth below the Jamun tree. I was surprised and anxious by this behaviour of the tigress. I thought the tigress growling at the sight of jeeps as unusual. It seems, she has got some bad experience from some unruly tourist vehicles.

I then proceeded to centre point and then to Rajbehera grasslands. I briefly saw the cubs at a distance, vanishing behind the dense foliage. There were few photographers who were shooting at a rapid pace like paparazzi. My driver remarked that he doesn’t understand why these photographers madly click even though only the tail of the tiger is visible. He told me that you are not satisfied with a sighting like this, where as these photographers are very happy and contented that they have clicked now. He further remarked that “I don’t know what they do with these kind of photographs? It is certainly a very pertinent question for us photographers. Do we think before we click? Normally, I have seen that if a photographer is clicking, then other photographers stop their jeep and start clicking, even if the subject doesn’t appeal to them. Peer pressure even in the jungle!

In the afternoon, I could see the sky covered with clouds. I knew that it would rain. I remembered that last year it had rained in the same time and we had a memorable experience. I proceeded towards Suaribah and the downpour started when we reached there.

Quenching Thirst My driver, turned the vehicle away and drove near the grassland to avoid falling branches from the trees. We knew there was a tiger cub on the hill. We went to the other side, known as climber point and had a view of the tiger cub. It was not a clear view for photography. From this side we could see the dam and found that another tiger cub had walked over the dam and come near the tiger cub. I went back to the Suari bah. All the jeeps came to that area and people were straining their eyes to get a view of the cubs. Lot of school kids had come and they were all talking in loudly. It was impossible to hear any sounds. An hour passed and the most of the jeeps left the place. The guide in my vehicle, was asking me to proceed towards Sehra area. I didn’t want to leave and we waited there.

 

A wild Indian Tigress with cub in Bandhavgarh National Park, India I thanked myself that I was waiting there. Soon the tigress made an appearance. She came and started drinking water. She kept on drinking for about fifteen minutes. Then she called the cubs and the cubs crossed the dam and came near her. It was an absolutely lovely sight to see the cubs playing with each other and with their mother. The light was not good. I had by that time, attached the 40D to my lens. Unfortunately, its autofocus is not as good as the 1 series cameras. The action was fast and I had no time to change cameras. I regretted that I was shooting with the 40D as most of the shots are not in focus.

 

Wild tiger cubs playing in Bandhavgarh National Park, India The tigress and cubs left the place around 6 pm. We then moved away and waiting near a road as we knew that the tigress and cubs have to cross that road to go near their cave. Unfortunately, the time was ticking away fast. We could stay no longer as we had to exit the forest gate by 6.45 pm.

 

 

Day 10: March 16th 2008

In the morning, we got the E route. So we proceeded towards the Suaribah area. We found no trace of the tigers. We saw a mongoose on the way. It ran across the road and stopped at about 30 feet away, turning its head to watch us. We went towards Mahaman dam, saw pugmarks, but no sighting of a tiger.

A wild tiger cub with tumor walks on the dam walls in Bandhavgarh National Park, India In the afternoon we again proceeded to the Rajbehera area. We heard an alarm call when we were in the Suaribah area. So we proceeded to investigate. Some cheetals had seen one of the tiger cubs. This cub has a tumour in its belly and is remain away from the other two cubs and her mother. The tumour was big and the mother would have sensed that it is a hopeless case. I think the cub would die soon. The guide asked me as to why the veterinary doctors can’t treat this cub. I told him that we don’t have trained people who can calculate the dose of anesthesia required to tranquilise the cub. The forest department had tried to tranquilise Challenger, the male tiger who had fought with the Rajbehera male and had suffered serious injuries in 2006. Assuming that a big tiger like Challenger would need a bigger dose, the forest department persons tranquilised Challenger with a big dose resulting in the death of Challenger. People were told that Challenger succumbed to its injuries. This is the state of affairs of Field Biology in India.

 

A langur monkey sleeps on a rock in Bandhavgarh National Park, India I moved away from the people trying to get a glimpse of this tiger cub. I came across the grown up cub of Patiha female near Nilgai marg. The cub was moving in the forest at a distance of about 30 meters from me. The bamboo shoots and climbers made focusing absolutely impossible. I had a quick chat with my driver and decided to move ahead and wait for the tiger to cross a trisection.

I could hear the alarm calls of deer and sambar coming closer and then the alarm call completely dried up. I felt as if the tiger was lying down nearby as it would have seen all the jeeps standing on the road. After about half-an-hour a swarm of flies came and started bothering us. The flies were very sticky, probably due to being on a kill nearby. Two days back, I had seen how hassled the small tiger cub was due to flies. I could now empathise with the cub now after this terrible experience. It was nearing six and we decided to move. On the way, I found the tigress partly visible at a distance. After waiting for a few minutes, I called it a day.

Day 11: May 17th 2008

We had got the A route again in the morning. There were no signs of the tigress in the Bhitari bah area. We reached centre point about about 6.30 am. After the mandatory entry in the forest records, we proceeded towards Rajbehera. On the way, we met jeeps returning from that area and found that no one had seen a tiger. We decided to move to the Sukhipatiha area. The deer, sambar and langurs in the Sukhipatiha area were very nervous on seeing us. I realised that not many people come to this side of the National Park. So the animals are less accustomed to human presence.

I saw a king vulture with a piece of bone. The vulture after sometime got scared and flew to a nearby tree. I moved ahead and came to a nullah where I found a couple of vultures on a dead tree and deers moving feeding nearby. I liked the scene and took an environmental shot and then moved ahead. On the way back, we found several jeeps lined up and I was told that the tigress had taken shelter in a cave along with her cubs. The visibility was very poor. I decided to leave as there was no chance of the tigress coming out at that time.

Sabyasachi_20080517_1853 In the afternoon, I wanted to focus on this tigress. I had a chat with my driver and guide. Both of them said that the tigress is likely to come to one of the two dams in rajbehera. I felt the tigress won’t come to the Suaribah waterhole but will go to the other waterhole. I knew the tigress wont cross the road and get into the open grassland to reach Suaribah. We waited in the nullah as the alarm calls were indicating that the tigress and cubs are on the move.

A wild tigress moves through the tall grass in Bandhavgarh National Park, IndiaFinally, we could locate the tigress. She saw all the jeeps lined up and then sat down with the cubs. The tigress was annoyed as lot of jeeps had lined up on the road. The cubs started playing and I got a few shots. One of the cubs tried climbing an inclined branch of a tree. The tigress was thirsty, so she got up and started walking towards us. She stopped at about 40 feet away from us, undecided as to where to cross the road. Finally, she moved in front of us and crossed the road. She was annoyed as there were lot of jeeps lined up in front of her and blocking the road. She growled and crossed the road. The cubs crossed later. I could see that she was calling her cubs and the little one ran and crossed the road.

Day 12: May 18th 2008

I was increasingly getting jittery as my Bandhavgarh trip was coming to an end. I was hoping to see the Jhurjhura tigress with cubs more often but was not getting them. The morning we again tried but couldn’t sight the tigress. When I came back to the hotel I was not feeling too good as I hadn’t even taken out the camera from the bag. In the afternoon, I could see the Jhurjhura tigress and cubs on a hill on the opposite side of climbers point. Unfortunately, they were far off and the light levels were low. There were lot of gypsys crowding in the area with excited squeals and laughter of the tourists. No wonder she didn’t move to the waterhole. We returned silently to the resort. Of course, there is hope that tomorrow might be a better day. Though I was feeling bad, but I had made the decision that I will sacrifice other tiger shots for the jhurjhura tigress and her cubs.

Day 13: May 19th 2008

Morning can’t start any worse than this. I was about to climb onto my gypsy and the EF 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS lens was in my jacket pocket and it just dropped to the ground from a height of 3 feet. The AF mechanism was probably ruined as the sound coming out was bad. I feared the saying “Morning shows the Day”. However, it came true. It was another fruitless day. We moved around trying to track the tiger, but nobody could see anything. When we returned back we saw that the Sidhababa female was sighted and tourists were ferried on top of elephants for the infamous tiger show. Ashish was with me and so I took him on an elephant to show the tigress. The tigress was moving on to the cave and we saw her briefly from behind. The mahout told me that if I want then he can do the “setting” with the Ranger and lot of photographers from abroad get good shots through this way. I declined to enter into any underhand dealings.

Day 14: May 20th 2008

With renewed hope we started but didn’t sight anything. In harsh light we found two wooly necked storks on the road. Photographed them for sometime, as I hadn’t shot for the last few days. 🙂 Then we moved on. I could find the Jhurjhura tigress and cubs sleeping in the cave. A little bit was visible from the road. Unfortunately that was the only tiger sighting we had in the entire day. To kill time I photographed the brown fishing owls.

Day 15: May 21st 2008

I was desperately hoping to get the Jhurjhura tigress in water again as this was the penultimate day of my trip. Unfortunately, except for a hoopoe near damnar nullah, I clicked nothing. In the afternoon, I wanted to check the jhurjhura dam. The area was burnt by forest fires and found a Eurasian Thick Knee. Later on I found the Jhurjhura tigress and cubs sleeping in the same cave. Photography didn’t make sense, but I clicked a couple for records. It soon rained heavily with hailstorms. The jhurjhura cubs were playing with each other in dense vegetation. I got a few record shots in heavy rain.

Day 16: May 22nd 2008

In the morning wanted to check the Sehra area but didn’t get any tiger. I found a yellow wattled lapwing and clicked to my heart’s content. A Yellow-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus malabaricus) running in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

In the evening, I drove down to the Rajbehera dam and saw a jackal from a distance. We positioned ourselves near a fireline and I got a nice jackal shot. It is the best that I have clicked so far. We then went to the Mirchahani area and found one of the two brothers there. The tiger wanted to cross the road, but due to the unruly tourists, the tiger didn’t get any space to cross the road. I asked my driver to move ahead leaving the madding crowd behind. And soon it was time to rush to the station for our onward journey to Delhi.

Mesmerising Eyes

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