The Legends of Bandhavgarh –down the memory lane

Charger in Bandhavgarh
#Charger..the one and only
Mohini aka Bacchhi. in Bandhavgarh
#Mohini the mother of B2 in Bandhavgarh National Park
Banbehi in Bandhavgarh
#Banbehi Tigress with her cubs in Bandhavgarh
Tiger Bokha in Bandhavgarh
#Bokha in Bandhavgarh National Park
Challenger, Bandhavgarh National Park
#Challenger the heartthrob of Bandhavgarh

It was in 1996 that I first visited #Bandhavgarh National Park. We went on an Elephant to see the Tigers in the bush. A Tigress with two cubs was sitting in a bush near the #SheshShaiyya statue. The Mahout told us that this Tigress is “#Sita”. My first sighting of the Legendary Tigress from Bandhavgarh. In today’s terms she could also be called as the “Angel Investor” in Bandhavgarh. At the same time the dominant male of Bandhavgarh, namely, #Charger could be termed as the “Seed Investor” in this start up called Bandhavgarh. Very few people had heard of this national park, until these two Tigers decided to put this park on the world map. Sita disappeared in 1998, some said she was poached, while some said, she had left her territory, it was tough to believe the later, as those were the days when poaching was a stronger possibility.

I returned to Bandhavgarh in April 2000. This time again atop the Elephant I saw an aging Charger sitting at the opening of the cave. He visibly looked tired, and weak. I knew deep down that this was the last time i was seeing him. In the same monsoon he died on 29th September 2000. I am told he was 16 when he died, an unusually long life for a Tiger in the wild. He was rightly cremated in the park where he ruled. There is an area dedicated in his name known as #Charger Point. The next day, I saw a young cub who later came to be known as #B1, the sibling of #B2.

It was B2 who single handedly rocked the wildlife world. For the first time in the history of Indian wildlife people were coming to see a particular Tiger in a particular national park. Making Bandhavarh famous would be an understatement. B2, started an Economy. Mindset for wildlife tourism took root, not only in Bandhavgarh, but in many other parks simultaneously. My visit to Bandhavgarh was not complete if I had not seen B2 resulting at times in my overstay. I can proudly say that B2 initiated me into Wildlife Photography.

My photography journey started with a Zenith manual camera. Those were the days of film rolls, maximum 400 ISO, only SLR’s existed. B2 inspired me to buy the newly launched Canon DSLR with a 70-300mm lens. The days of memory cards, image stabilizers, and ISO options upto 5k started. Now I did not need to think before clicking, as I could delete an image instantly if I did not like it. Gone were the days of the film rolls where every click was precious.

In the subsequent years I visited Bandhavgarh practically every month. Saw the other big Tigers, B1, B3, very briefly, and observed their mother #Mohini, aka #Bacchhi from close quarters. The sad end of #Mohini in March 2003 and #Jhurjhura female about 9 years later are a blot on Bandhavgarh.

It was sometime in 2003-04 that I developed a liking for #Challenger, a sub adult who had everything going for him. His territorial range started to expand, until one day in his early years he died. It was a heart breaking moment for me, not only because he died on my birthday, but also that Bandhavgarh had lost a very strong Tiger. My interest in Bandhavgarh shook. Visits to Bandhavgarh reduced.

An important park to me personally, I kept a close eye on the sightings through news that I would get from friends in Bandhavgarh. B2 was perhaps one link that kept me interested in what was happening with Tigers in Bandhavgarh. I also got some nice moments with Bokha, an assertive Tiger. B2 passed away in 2011, thereafter, the rest of the Tigers, namely, #Bamera, #Kankatti, #Jhurjhura, #New Male, #Blue Eye, and #Bhagoda, just became names. I knew the Tigers were showing up, and very regularly, but it was tough for me to gather myself to go back to Bandhavgarh after the loss of B2.

Bandhavgarh revisited

But as they say life must go on. The news of new buffer zones opening in Bandhavgarh again ignited my latent love for the place. I set off in Feb 2016 to Bandhavgarh once again. Nostalgia took over when I entered Tala zone. My mind was replaying all my sightings of all my favorite Tigers when I entered the gate. All the places in the Tala zone right from #Sidh Baba, to #Chakradhara, #Giraiyan, #Banbehi, #SitaMandap, #GhodaDemon, #Rajbehra, #Sehra, #Mahamman etc had a memory. Yes, this is where I saw B2 charge at a #sloth bear, and this is where #Mohini used to kill etc..#Raghu my favorite naturalist, and #Jagat another gem of Bandhavgarh. These two boys (now men), are encyclopedia’s on Bandhavgarh.

Few safaris in #Magdhi gave me an idea of how the tourism had divided the park. But I think it is a step in the right direction at the right time. To regulate tourism is important, perhaps as important as tourism itself to the park. Parts of #Tala are now in Magdhi zone. #Khitauli yes was a new area altogether, as was the beautiful #Pachpedi and #Dhamokar buffer. Did not get time to visit the #Manpur buffer but I have not a cent of doubt on it’s beauty as well.

“Spotti” spotted in Bandhavgarh

It was during a safari in Tala on 13th Feb that Raghu heard a distant monkey call, we started towards the area, and behold, we spot a Tiger walking right in front of us on the road. Raghu said, this is PD1, aka Spotty. She saw some Deers and entered a bush while stalking. We waited at a distance, and after about an hour she decided to come out of the bush again. Now we were ahead of her, and managed to take some shots. Then she did something spectacular. She started to walk alongside the fence, carefully ascertaining the height, and from where she could take a leap. I was ready, and so was she. What a beautiful sight of a Tigress jumping an 8 feet fence. Beauty, power, agility, all combined in one super predator.

Bandhavgarh National Park
Spotti in Bandhavgarh

My short 4 days, 8 safaris trip seemed to have gotten over faster than expected. But before I left Bandhavgarh, I promised to myself that I will makeup for the lost years.

See you soon Bandhavgarh!

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

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Tiger photography, is it science or an art?

Tiger photography safari
Tiger Photography Safari
Tiger Photographic Safari India
Tiger Photography Safari

Tiger Photography is not just lifting your camera when you sight a Tiger, and pressing the click button. It is not only about understanding light, or understanding your equipment, it is understanding much more than that. In this post i will talk about the camera equipment one should carry if one is serious about Tiger photography. Rest of the attributes we will take on in the later posts.

So, what camera equipment to carry for Tiger photography? This is one question lot of people ask me, and frankly there is no fixed answer or fixed equipment for the same. Every DSLR camera and every lens is good. What is required is application of the right equipment at the right place while doing Tiger photography. Yes, there are some guidelines, but it is the situation that is more important. There are occasions where even the smart phones give great images.

First and foremost you must know how and from where you will be doing the Tiger photography. It is the moving Jeeps. More often than not even the Tiger does move most of the times. Yes, there are opportunities when the Tiger is sitting, or, sleeping basically a situation where you have time to choose your equipment.

Let me provide some guidelines here. Most of the times Tigers will be walking, your Jeep will be moving, there will be more Jeeps around, you might have a good vantage point for a few seconds, and you will need to click in that window before some other Jeep takes / tree / or some other obstruction comes in your way, or maybe the Tiger would have moved from the area. It is easier to get two Head of State to shake hands again for that historic shot, but you cannot tell a Tiger to stop, look, smile and shoot. Hence you must be aware of  some basic guidelines which i have provided from my experience in the field:

  1. If you are seriously contemplating Tiger photography, and if you can afford, then i advise you to carry two camera bodies, with two lenses set on them. In a jungle in an open vehicle you do not want to change your lenses and invite dust to settle on your expensive equipment.
  2. Carry a piece of cloth to cover your equipment, when not in use you must keep it covered from dust and direct sunlight. Carry some water-proof covers, as there can be unexpected rains during a Tiger Safari.
  3. The two camera lenses you are carrying should be a semi wide, and a tele lens. You may choose from: 24-70mm, 24-105mm, 18-135mm, or a 70-200mm in similar range. The tele lens you may use could be 100-400mm, 200-400mm, or onwards. Lot of serious photographers carry prime lenses during Tiger photography. These are glamorous lenses and give brilliant result too. But one must know how to carry, and use those lenses before buying them. Why? Well, they are very expensive to begin with, fairly heavy to shoot hand held in a moving Jeep, and fragile as well.
  4. Importantly you must choose lenses based on your requirements. Do you want to click a Tiger image only as a memory? Or, do you want to click a real good image? Or, do you want to use it commercially? Depending on the requirement you can choose lenses. For a one time safari holiday it makes sense to take some all purpose lenses like, 24-105mm, 18-135mm, 55-255mm, or even 70-200mm. For commercial Tiger photography the range is elaborate and expensive.
  5. Last but not the least any thought of taking a selfie with a Tiger around should be shelved immediately. Remember always you are in presence of an apex predator, perhaps the best in the business, so no taking chances. Give respect, and space to the Tigers, after all they are living beings, with a mind and moods. You surely do not want to catch him in a frame of mind when he / she is temperamental. With cubs, on a kill, in ambush they are best avoided, or maintain a good respectable distance.

For more details, and queries that you may have please write to us on info@naturesafariindia.com.

Stay tuned; Part 2 will be on how to take images from the Jeep.

Sharad Vats

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