North East India (
, Khajuraho, Varanasi)
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Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Madhya Pradesh
This was one of our favourite trips, Tiger hunting (with a camera of course). One that we are likely to repeat at least once more. We flew from Delhi to Khajuraho via Varanasi and then took a 5 hour drive down to Bandhavgargh.
We stayed at the Tigers Den, Bandhavgarh which had comfortable rooms, friendly staff and a very knowledgable guide, although getting up at 5am each morning I think anything would seem comfortable.
After two nights (and four safaris) we then took a further 5 hour drive down to Kanha, where we stayed at Tuli Tiger Resort. Then after another two nights ( and three safaris) we took another 4 hour drive to Nagpur, heading to Goa via Bombay.
Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve is set in Madhya Pradesh and at the last census count (in 2002)
had a tiger population of 56. The reserve covers an area of 448 sq km.
We were warned that spotting one of the elusive striped brigade was not guaranteed, and true to this our first safari was just spotting "Tiger food". There are numerous Sambar, Spotted Deer, Chetals, Monkeys and other wildlife to see. The enormous amount of birdlife with absolutely beautiful plumage include the Kingfisher, Peacock etc. But at the end of the day we came to see Tigers, we did spot a fleeting glance at one as he (or she) disappeared into the jungle. Our guide was most knowledgeable and knew all of the birds and taught us to look out for the pug marks (of the Tiger) on the side of the track and listen out to the alarm calls from the Monkeys.
So after our first safari, we retired to Tigers Den and were heartened by our fellow guests as to how they had spotted Tigers and the general consensus was that early morning would give us the best chance to see the beasts. We went to bed and hoped that tomorrow would be better.
The next day we set off at some unearthly hour and were surprised that we were in about the 10th jeep in the queue to get into the park. It was absolutely pitch black and freezing cold, but we resolved that the next day we would get here even earlier. We registered, got our passes, and paid for the (optional) elephant ride (the best way to see the tigers we were advised), and the services of the obligatory park ranger then set off into the forest. At this stage it was sunrise.
The way it works is that no-one is allowed into the park until sunrise, and everybody has to leave by about 10am. The afternoon safari starts at 3pm and everyone has to leave by 6pm. All jeeps have to keep to the tracks and no-one is allowed out of the jeeps apart from in specific areas. Once the park is opened the mahouts on the elephants go deep into the jungle to find tigers. In the meantime the tourists have a specific (allocated) route they have to follow until they get to a central check point. Once there they register again on a list to be informed when (or if) the mahouts have found a tiger. The tourist jeeps are then allowed to go on whichever tracks they like out of the park.
If the mahouts are able to locate a tiger your guide is called by radio telephone and the tourist jeeps head in the direction of the sighting. The pictures on the top left shows the mahouts and the elephant carrying some tourists on the howrah. The pictures below that are those taken by us from on top of the elephant.
Whilst it was good getting so close to the tigers, it did feel that we were intruding on their space and somehow, it felt a bit unreal. Far better to actually see one in the wild doing what it wanted to do.
Once you have done the elephant ride then you are left to your own devices to make your way out of the park. We drove around for a bit, when we noticed the same two tigers had obviously got bored of the elephants intrusion and were walking along the side of the road. We parked up with the rear of the jeep against a wall (on the bottom left picture of this section, you can probably just make out the white in the bottom left corner - that is part of our jeep). One of the tigers then came to the wall, and peered over. At that stage we were within 2m of very dangerous cat, who could probably cover that distance before we could even react. I was absolutely entranced and continued taking pictures, but luckily the driver spotted the tiger and jerked back a metre, as the tiger obviously wasn't happy. Absolutely unforgettable!
In the afternoon our guide headed to the same place and lo and behold there were the same tigers obviously resting up for the afternoon. Having observed these two tigers for at least two hours in the morning we suggested moving on, and went to visit the statue of Krishna.
There he is!
We then drove around the park, by this time we were intently listening out for the alarm calls and able to recognise them from the other sounds of the jungle. We all heard an alarm call close by, and we were the first to spot a tiger walking through the dense forest only 20 metres from the side of the track.Athough it was clear to the eye it was impossible to photograph clearly. Whilst maybe nothing unusual to the viewer, this was exciting as this was the first tiger which we, as against the guide or ranger had spotted.
The hunt is on
It was getting close to closing time and we were heading out of the park and close to the exit, when we heard an unmistakable alarm call within a few hundred metres from us. We turned up a small track and our eagle eyed guide noticed a very fresh pug mark on the side of the road and it was heading back where we had just came from. Turning the jeep round we saw an adult female tiger walking purposefully through the trees, towards the main track. We followed very slowly in the jeep keeping as quiet as possible, losing sight every now and again as she disappeared behind trees. The guide then directed the driver to head for a bridge over a small stream close to the main track about half a kilometer away. We reached the bridge and waited, and there in the distance the tiger appeared from between the bushes. The tiger carried on walking majestically towards the stream took a quick drink then walked across the stream on a fallen tree. By this time about three or four other jeeps had stopped to see what we were looking at. We allowed the tiger to cross the main track, and then followed it very slowly (with the other jeeps) for another half a kilometre. Suddenly the tiger stopped as we did.
Through the trees we could make out a small herd of spotted deer, and the tiger was stalking them. This massive creature was moving inch by inch towards the deer. One step at a time and then freezing, another step then freezing. Just when it looked like she was getting close enough to pounce, some idiots in a jeep came racing along, shouting and making lots of noise. Of course the deer looked up saw the tiger and ran away. Although the tiger chased after the herd she was unable to catch them and the deers managed to escape.
Although these last pictures are not as clear as I would have liked but it was getting dark and with four people in the jeep moving around trying to get the best view it was difficult to get the 'Perfect' picture. Having said that the memories will live long in both of our minds.
of these shots were taken at the Bandhavgarh National Park. This was a
breathtaking experience and one that neither of us could ever forget.
These are probably the best photos we have of this trip, but not
necessarily the best memories. We would thoroughly recommend this trip,
but if you do go, don't be too disappointed if you don't catch sight of
the tiger, we went on 4 safaris and only saw tigers on two of them, so
we would suggest a minimum of three nights to give yourself a chance.
There are plenty of other wildlife in the park and these we would have
given more space to some of them, but there is a limit before we bore
you. If you do decide to go, whatever you do respect the tigers
surroundings and never allow your guide or the mahouts to get too close
and interfere with the tigers space.
We make no excuses regarding the picture content being entirely tigers, that's what we went there for. All in all we took some 2,000 photos on this trip and there is no way we could show them all. The first time we went in December, but the park is open from October through to May.
We went again at the end of April 2009, and had just as good a time, with numerous sightings. Apparently at this time of the year the Tigers are more frequently spotted, due to the scarcity of water. We had sightings on all 4 safaris, so that apperas to be true. There are also far fewer tourists at this time of the year. We took something like 1,000 photos here, but rather than bore you we have just added two. The pictures on the left were taken on this trip.
If you get the chance go (whilst you have the chance) and support the Tiger preservation
India is one of last places in the world that you can see Tigers in the wild.
This is mainly thanks to Project Tiger, which was launched in 1973. This was after the numbers of tigers was seen to have reduced from 40,000 at the beginning of the century to a survey in 1972 which could only find evidence of 1827. In 1970 a national ban on Tiger hunting was introduced. On the launch of Project Tiger various tiger reserves were set up in India based on a 'core buffer' strategy. Within the core areas no human activity was to take place and within the buffer zones, only a limited amount of 'conservation oriented land use' activities were allowed. To start with 9 reserves were created and there are now 27. The most important of which are probably Corbett in Uttaranchal, Kanha in Madhya Pradesh and Sunderbans in West Bengal.
According to the Project Tiger official web sitesince the start of the Project (in 1972) the numbers of Tigers has increased from 1,827 up to 3,773 in 2001-2002. However, as these figures have not been updated for 6 years and we have read various newspaper stories claiming that two of the tiger reserves in Rajastan no longer have a tiger population, there is still great cause for concern. In fact there is an article in the press recently claiming that the reason no figures have been officially published for 6 years is that numbers have diminished dramatically from the 3,773 claimed in 2002 to just 1,411 this year.
Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve
Kanha Tiger Reserve
Sunderbans Tiger Reserve
Our trip to the Sunderbans was a complete disappointment and we certainly wouldn't go there again, but you might be lucky!