Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park is an ideally located national park in India. Taj, Temples and Tigers is considered quintessential India experience. Ranthambhore provides the Tiger, while Taj and Temples are taken care of by Agra, Jaipur and Delhi.

Plenty of tourists plan their tours at the last moment. And with huge demand of safari permits, these last minute tourists were going disappointed. Hence to ensure that most of the last minute tourists get to visit the park the Forest management has started the Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park.

Ranthambhore National Park
T64 in Ranthambhore National Park

In this scheme there is an additional quota of 20 Jeeps kept aside for the last minute bookings. Maximum 6 guests are allowed per Jeep. The permit cost under Tatkal scheme is Rs 10000 per Jeep, over and above the usual charges of Rs 4400 per Jeep. The total cost is high, but if one is willing to pay there is a guarantee for a safari. Simultaneously this is also expected to reduce the black marketing of the safari permits.

The tatkal scheme was implemented on 1st October. And the sale in the first 10 days has generated an additional revenue of Rs 5.7 lakhs. The management plans to use this additional revenue for Tiger conservation. These are surely good signs from revenue perspective for the park.

New changes in the Ranthambhore National Park tourism policies

The park management has also opened a new zone No 11 next to Keladevi sanctuary.  This zone will accommodate the last minute bookings without adding any pressures on the existing zones.

To better manage the tourists near the entrance during the personal verification process they have segregated the tourists as per the zones. The entry and exit points of zone, 1, 4, and 5 have been realigned to facilitate tourists flow, and reduce waiting time at the gates.

Full day safari permits are also being issued. There are couple of eco-shelter facilities being developed at Amli deh, Depura Bandha, and Balash chowki. The guests can wait at these spots before restarting the safari.

Half day permits are also being issued and 5 additional Jeeps are kept aside for the same. The costs for the full day and half day safaris is higher than the normal safaris. But for the devoted, and sincere lovers of nature who wish to be inside the park longer it is a good opportunity to avail if one can afford it.

Ranthambhore National Park
Tiger in Ranthambhore National Park

Lot of people might say that this is excess of tourism. Honestly speaking it is not. If well managed and regulated, tourism is a huge tool for conservation. How? Well, tourism increases awareness, and awareness increases a will to conserve. Besides, it also generates extra revenue. This additional revenue if used judicially for benefit of local community and the forest can be a wonderful thing for Ranthambhore.

I think this will be a great thing to practice for rest of the national parks also. Regulate responsible tourism, generate addition revenue and conserve the community and the forests.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

Will Panna be doomed?

I am beginning to feel for the soul of Panna National Park. It has already suffered a lot. In 2008 Panna lost all it’s Tigers to poachers. Panna became a closed chapter for many. But for one man, ably supported by his team, Mr Murthy revived Panna by his ironical will, and determination. It was an uphill task for him to bring Panna from ZERO to THIRTY FOUR Tigers. And now when Tigers had started to roar again in Panna, the news comes of a large chunk of Panna being drowned due to Ken-Betwa river linking project.

What is this river linking project? Our former Prime Minister (Mr A.B. Vajpayee) decided to mitigate the drought in the hilly regions of Bundelkhand. The whole region was practically parched, and agriculture was suffering. People had begun to leave their native towns and villages in search of work. Lot of farmers from Chattarpur area now work in metro cities as labour. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to link the two rivers of the region, so that excess water in the basin of Ken river could be diverted via a canal to the Betwa river thus irrigating lakhs of hectares of land.

But to divert this water the Daudhan dam is required to be built.  This will submerge a substantial habitat of our national animal, the Tiger. Infact, the wildlife experts like Mr Ranjitsinh feel that Panna National Park will be bifurcated. If this comes about to be true, then nothing and no one will be able to save Panna. The river basin has lot of grass and food for the herbivores, when this area gets submerged due to the dam, the herbivores will move on. This will affect the quality of habitat in a big way and what happens to the Tigers then is anyone’s guess.

What is being done in this project?

A 230km canal linking the two rivers is a humongous task. This will take a few months and few thousand men working round the clock to complete. Does so much of work in the heart of the forest disturb the wildlife? Without doubt, considerably, and beyond reformation.

But a bigger question arises now, what is the solution and how we can fulfill the needs of humans and Tigers both. Is there one, if at all?

I was in the region this May (2016), and again in August (2016). As luck would have it, i saw both the rivers in May. To my surprise it was Ken which had far lesser water compared to Betwa. I spoke to some locals in the region, and they all confirmed that Betwa has more water compared to Ken year round. But it is Ken which gets more water during the monsoons. So, if the project is to divert water during monsoons only then it is perhaps a good thought. But at what cost? Tigers? Forests? Too huge a price to pay i guess.

In August 2016 when i visited, Ken was brimming with water this year. But that was also because this year the rain gods have been more generous in this area.

My personal opinion

Nature is almighty supreme. It will find a way around this man made misadventure. Nature has survived without man for eons, and if we do not change, nature is prepared to survive alone. The experts and activists have tried a lot but could not convince the Government to stop this river linking. As of now there is little that we can do, but hope and pray that good sense prevails and the Government let’s go of this project.

Let us remember the fact that the human population is only increasing, and the forests and glaciers are only shrinking. From the forests of India around 300 rivers originate. Would someone not think that if Ken has more water today, then does Panna contribute to it? Logically, scientifically, yes? So if we take away the forest will the water not reduce? Isn’t this an elementary conclusion. What if these 10000 crores are spent, and Ken just dries up? Is there any insurance that the Govt will claim, and get the river back. I doubt it.

Praying for Tigers of Panna, and i am optimistic that they will be fine, as nature when it falls sick takes an antibiotic just like us humans. It is sad that those antibiotics are floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes and everything that harms humans than it benefits.

All, i can say at this point in time is, Lord, let thy will be done.

Sharad Vats

 

Night Safaris in Kanha

Kanha national park in central India is starting Night Safaris in the buffer zone. Only time will tell if this is a good, bad or an ugly decision. Let us not jump the gun in ridiculing the step, neither let us support it with closed eyes, let us try and understand the pros and cons of starting Night Safaris in Kanha. This has been tried in Satpura and Pench National Parks already, and now being brought to Kanha.

Night safaris in Kanha
Safari in Kanha National Park

It is always better to know the negative and flip side first, followed by the positive side too.

Negatives of promoting Night Safaris in Kanha

Having personally done a night safari of about 2 hours in Satpura i know for sure that it is not easy to sight Tigers, or any other wildlife with naked eyes in the pitch dark of a forest. Either one needs to go in with the night vision glasses, which are not easily or cheaply available, or one needs a search light to see the animals. Please note one needs a serious search light in the night of the forest. Now, what do you think will this powerful search light do; it will make tracking animals easy, and it will hurt the animal eyes for sure, resulting in temporary blindness. So, we need to ask this question, is it worth it, is it required?

What if poachers also book these safaris in the buffer zone, to try and pick on the animals? Hopefully the forest department has thought about the repercussion and has a solution for this.

Will the night safaris not change the behavioral aspects of the animals? It is a known fact that the herbivores usually come out in the grasslands, or in the fields of the villagers in the buffer to feed on the crops. So when the flashlights start running around in the night, will they be able to eat in peace? The counter to this is that herbivores eat during the day in the grasslands. But not so in the buffer zones. We see them eating in the grasslands in the core zones of the forest as they are usually not disturbed in the vast grasslands of the core zone. But in the buffer area, the grasslands are not as big, the fields near the villages are small. So my gut feel is that the night safaris might disturb the feeding habits of the herbivores.

Positives of Nights Safaris in Kanha

  1. I recently read news that some poaching has happened in the buffer areas of Kanha. So the night safari will deter the poachers to stay away from the buffer zones for sure. It is a noted fact that most of the poaching happens in the buffer. While there is regular patrolling happening by the forest department and also the tourist vehicles, there is no patrolling but the tourist vehicles in the buffer zones. Hence these zones are far more susceptible for poaching. Hence any movement of tourism in the buffer zones will be a deterrent to the poachers. If done and controlled well, this can be the trump card of the forest department to curtail poaching.
  2. It surely will be a revenue generator as well for the forest department and they can utilize this revenue towards conservation of the flora and fauna.
  3. There are plenty of buffer areas in Kanha, like the Baisan ghat area, Samnapur area, area between Banjar river and Bamni. There is presence of Tigers in these buffers, hence any safaris during the day or night here will be only beneficial.
NIght Safaris in Kanha
Sambar Deers in Kanha National Park

Suggested steps if taken by the forest department may optimally utilize the night safaris.

  1. The tourists will need to be briefed about the code of conduct in the night safaris in Kanha.
  2. There must be standardization of search lights that should be used.
  3. Ideally a forest guard must accompany the tourists to ensure discipline during the safari.

Hope this initiative of night safaris in Kanha is a huge success in conserving the flora and fauna of Kanha.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

Safaris in the national parks of India

Safaris in the National Parks of India opened after the monsoon break with some amazing Tiger sightings. As we all know that the Tiger reserves in India close during the monsoons, which is from 1st July till 30th Sept. Hence during this time it is not possible to do safaris in the national parks of India. So, all the animal and nature lovers wait eagerly for the parks to reopen on 1st October to enter the parks. And out of the 50 Tiger reserves in India, the eye of all the Tiger lovers are mostly on, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore, Pench, and Tadoba. Such is the eagerness of some safari lovers that they book themselves for the first safari on first day.

Kanha National Park

The news of first phenomenal Tiger sighting came from Kanha this year. On October 1 in the morning safari, Chotta Munna was seen walking from district line. He is the son of legendary Munna. What surprised everyone was his sheer size when he stood against a tree to mark his territory.  While he continued to walk, the vehicles continued to reverse. After quite a while he changed course and went towards Chotta chatapatra. Some of the experienced guides knew exactly from where he would come out, and reached that spot.

Their experience paid dividends when Chotta Munna appeared from the said trail at the time they anticipated him to come out. Sightings during a safari is not purely luck. When you have experienced guides, and drivers accompanying you in your vehicle then it is a lot of science, mathematics, and the jungle knowledge.

The Duel; Bheema and Chotta Munna

While some tourists were happy with Chotta Munna’s sightings less did they know that another big surprise was about to unfold in front of their eyes. Bheema, the peaceful warrior, emerged in the Junglescape. He seemed to be following a scent mark. Was he following Chotta Munna? The naturalists around did not take long to guess that indeed he was on Chotta Munna’s prowl.

Their fights over last two years has still not ended. Chotta Munna at a budding, youthful, but an inexperienced age of 4, had challenged the mighty Bheema at a competent and seasoned age of 6. Bheema’s efficiency overshadowed the over-confidence of Chotta Munna, and he has repeatedly got Chotta Munna to retreat. But the dominating genes of Chotta Munna remind him not to let go, and he comes back to challenge Bheema quite repeatedly. So far, he has retreated regularly, but he has lately learnt now to avoid injuries in such skirmishes, and simultaneously inject injuries on his opponent. Chotta Munna is surely more richer now having learnt that what does not kill you, makes your stronger.

Safaris in the national parks of India
The mighty Bheema of Kanha National Park

It seemed that this territorial tug to establish one’s supremacy left some marks around the neck of Bheema. The claws and canine mark around his neck would have also left an indelible scar on Bheema’s mind to either start relinquishing his domain, or be prepared for an inevitable duel in not so distant future. Happy were those who saw this scene on 1st October.

Other Tigers of Kanha

Apart from Chotta Munna, and Bheema, other Tigers that have showed up in Kanha are the mighty and legendary Munna, Dhawajahandi female, and Chotti mada. But there is one Tiger, i am earnestly waiting for, the big Umarpani male. He hasn’t showed up till the writing of this note on 11th October. I pray to almighty on this Dussera day that he is save, fighting his ordeals vigorously, and will show up soon. Son of Munna, and Umarpani female, he is bulky, and a dominating Tiger of Mukki for last 3 years.

Safaris in the national parks of India
Umarpani male in Kanha National Park

Safaris in Bandhavgarh National Park

Bandhavgarh of yore beckons many a Tiger lovers to witness the land of Sita, Charger, B2, Bhamera and some more legendary Tigers. This year once again, the Tiger sightings opened with a prediction that months to follow will be magnificent, and will reinforce the Champion status to Bandhavgarh National Park.

Once the area of a handsome young male (Challenger) whose life was cut short by an unfortunate incident, Mahammen is now home to T24 and her cubs. Relax, this is not T24 (Ustad of Ranthambhore). This is T24 of Bandhavgarh. The Tigers in Bandhavgarh are numbered like in most of the parks. So T stands for Tiger, and 24 is her number. She was sighted next to the Mahammen water hole with her cubs.

The last two years in Bandhavgarh have belonged to Rajbhera female (T34) and her cubs. This year again she made a public appearance on Bairahani road which was a feast to the eyes of the tourists. Chotti female (T40) was seen with her cubs too. Spotti (T41) was sighted in Tala near Piparadandi. The mighty Bheem male Tiger (T22) was sighted in the evening on 6th October at Patparha in the Khitauli zone. So the good news is that all the zones have had a decent sighting. But my gut feel is that the future months will belong to the Tala zone.

Safaris in National Parks of India
Spotti (PD2) in Bandhavgarh National Park

Safaris in Ranthambhore National Park

The land of the Tiger; Ranthambhore is one Tiger reserve which satisfies the Tiger appetite of maximum tourists every year. It is the location of Ranthambhore which makes it the fastest selling Tiger reserve. So if you have less time on hand, then spend 3 nights in this park and take back home some real memorable Tiger sightings.

Due to excellent monsoon this year, all the national parks are full to the capacity as far as water is concerned. This is indeed good news for the flora and fauna of the parks. Ranthambhore as well has it’s share of good monsoon thereby a lot of water in some zones. Currently (while writing of this note on 11th October), it is only zone 2 which is fully open and accessible. Thus the Tiger sighting in this zone specially during the evening safari has been very good. Noor (T39) is sighted often, though her young cubs are not seen yet. But it is a matter of time before the tourists jubilate with the cubs sightings.

Safaris in National Parks of India
T39 (Noor) in Ranthambhore National Park

In zone 8, which is not so commonly done zone by most of the tourists, the Tiger sightings have taken off very well. T61 is being seen regularly with her cubs. In the celebrity zone 3, Arrowhead, Pacman, and Lighting all showed up on the opening day of the park.

Safaris in Satpura National Park

In Satpura National Park also, the Tiger sighting happened to some guests on first day, first show. This park might not be a favored park as far as Tiger sightings are concerned. But this park is simply amazing because of it’s bio-diversity. It is a matter of time before this parks also gets branded for good Tiger sighting. An orphaned Tigress from Bandhavgarh which was relocated in the Churna areas has given cubs, and is sighted often in the region. This particular Tigress lost her mother when she was just 4 months old. The park authorities reared her in a large enclosure till she learnt to kill on her own. Then they relocated her in an area which had lesser density of Tigers in Satpura’s Churna range. She made this new home her permanent home, and has given a litter of cubs in Satpura.

Lately, a Tigress has been moved from Panna national park to Satpura. She had started to wonder out of the core areas, and started to pick on the cattle. Fearing some resentment from the locals, and to avoid any catastrophe they shifted her to Satpura. Whether this reason is good or bad, only time will tell. But there seems to be more than what meets the eye for this shifting. Is the Ken-Betwa river link project also a major reason behind this shift? Most likely yes, as another Tigress was also moved from the area which they feared will be drowned once the river linking project is completed.

Hope that you can make it soon to see some Tigers in the wild. Remember to book yourself atleast 120 days before as the safari permits are now very limited.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

The Big four Males of Mukki, Kanha National Park

An unprecedented story has been developing in the Mukki zone of Kanha National Park. Mukki was never known for male Tigers. It was mostly home to Tigresses with cubs and some odd male Tiger showing up. The limping male (father of Munna), used to spend time in Mukki. After him no one really dominated Mukki until about 3 years back, when Umarpani male started showing a liking for Mukki. He is an unusually big framed Tiger. In particular his head is massive when compared to rest of the Tigers of central India. But lately the big four males of Mukki have become a talk of the Tiger world.

Males of Mukki
Bheema

But after Umarpani male spent about 2 years dominating Mukki, there was advent of Bheema. Then Rajaram, a.k.a. Kingfisher male, and finally Link 7 since last year started to regularly show up in Mukki. These four male Tigers have developed a liking for Mukki for reasons beyond anyone’s imagination. Actually Mukki is too small a range for four adult Tigers to co-habit. It has become a favorite pass time talk of all Kanha lovers that a deciding battle for supremacy of Mukki is round the corner. Everyone anticipated the monsoon of 2015 to decide this. But when the park reopened in October 2015 these four male Tigers surprised everyone by showing up within the very first week.

In 2014 and then again in 2015 there were a few skirmishes that happened between these Tigers. Some were more than simple alterations. People were still discussing Bheema and Link 7 exchanging some blows near Babathenga waterhole when Umarpani and Kingfisher fight went viral on youtube. I have never seen such a voracious fight between two adult Tigers. Few tourists who saw it had some sleepless nights.

Males of Mukki
Umarpani male
Males of Mukki
Umarpani Male

One very interesting point worth mentioning here is how different male Tigers used Babathenga water hole. They had their favorite sides at the water hole where they would sit. And they made sure that they did not overstep their self defined boundary on the water hole.

The fight shifted from Babathenga to Umarjhola in summers of 2016. This time it was Kingfisher and Link 7. 2014 had seen emergence of Link 7 as a promising young Tiger. Also known as Chotta Munna, he was shaping up really well and was predicted to take over the legacy of his father. But his enthusiasm and aggression was no match for the girth of Kingfisher who gave him a run for his life. Kingfisher visited Umarjhola for three days to ensure that Link 7 left his territory. In the subsequent week Link 7 showed up again.

But this time everyone was surprised as Link 7 had seemingly lost a lot of weight. Was it because of the territory that he got confined to, the undulating terrain of Bada Chattapatra, or something else we don’t know, but he was visibly leaner.

Subsequent week, saw Kingfisher male mate with Mahaveer female, and she gave a litter towards the end of summers of 2016. It is predicted that Kingfisher should be able to save his cubs from Mahaveer who in the past has not been a good mother, though a great Tigress. Her past litter with Umarpani male did not survive.

Males of Mukki
Kingfisher, a.k.a. Rajaram

The best was saved towards the end of the season. This time it was the Minkur anicut which became the Tiger station. Umarpani male, Link 7 male, and Bheema chose to be present at this depleting water hole on the same day at different times of the day and at different locations in Minkur.

Reopening of park in October 2016, will all the Males of Mukki show up this year?

With park scheduled to reopen in less than 10 days, all the Tiger lovers of Kanha have their fingers crossed. Everyone has his favorite Tiger. And everyone is hoping that their favorite male Tiger is alive when the park reopens in October. I am eagerly looking forward to my favorite, the Umarpani male.

Last one year provided me some amazing sightings of Umarpani male, Bheema, and Kingfisher. But i am yet to see the Chotta Munna, a.k.a. Link 7, the son of Munna. I am very eager to capture him on my lens because firstly it will complete my collection of male Tigers of Mukki. And secondly i have been fortunate to click Link 7’s father Munna, and his grand father too, the famous limping male. So getting Link 7 male will give me 3 generations of one line of Tigers of Kanha.

See you soon, you Males of Mukki, or should i say handsome hunks of Kanha.

Sharad Vats

Bandhavgarh of bygone times.

There is a lot of history hidden in the forests of Bandhavgarh. The Bandhavgarh Fort inside the national park is considered over 2000 years old. There is a mention of the Bandhavgarh Fort in Narad Panch Ratra, and Valmiki’s Ramayana. It is said that after killing the demon King Ravana, Lord Rama stopped here. He asked Nal and Neel, the two monkey architects to make this fort. It was these two who had also made the bridge to go to Lanka in the Indian ocean. The idea to make this fort was basically to keep an eye on Lanka from here, as this is one of the highest hills of central India. He made his younger brother Lakshman as resident deity of the fort. So the fort gifted to a brother (Bandhu in Hindi), came to be known as Bandhavgarh. Lakshman is also called as Bandhavdeesh after this.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort entrance
Bandhavgarh Fort
Inside the Bandhavgarh Fort

History of Bandhavgarh

Around the fort there are caves dug in sandstone which are over 2000 years old. One can see the Brahmi inscriptions on the walls of these caves. It is said that many saints and sages meditated in these caves. The Maghas, the Vakatakas, the Chandels inherited the seat of this fort. Finally in the 12th century the Baghels laid their claim on this fort, and until 1969 the Royal family of Rewa ruled this fort. The Royal family played a big role in conservation of Bandhavgarh. Though they did some hunting in this area, but they overall protected it as well. Once it was declared as a national park in 1969, they vacated the fort. Inside the fort one can still see the remains of the court, the treasury, the temple, the horse stable, and the school etc.

You can also see the statues of the Dashavatar (the ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu here. There are two big lakes in the fort. The story goes that the water from these lakes seeps in, and then emerges from the foot of a 32 feet reclining Vishnu statue at Shesh Shaiya. Thereon this stream is known as Charan Ganga which flows through the Chakradhara meadow, alongside Siddbaba, and out of the park).

Bandhavgarh Fort
Brahmi inscriptions considered over 1000 years old
Bandhavgarh Fort
Caves where the saints meditated few centuries back
Bandhavgarah Fort
The Statues in the Fort

Kabir in Bandhavgarh

The famous mystic poet saint of 14th century, Kabir also spend quite a few years in the fort meditating, and writing his famous Dohas (the couplets famously known as the Kabir Vaani). There is a Kabir hermitage in the fort. On my visit here i was shown a secret escape from a room in this hermitage which apparently Kabir used often to move out from the fort. This escape used to take him to Kashi (Varanasi) to meet his Guru (Master). The Kabir panthis (followers of Kabir) gather here in the month of August every year for a two day celebration. This is the largest gathering of Kabir followers worldwide. They walk on foot till the Fort, stay put there, and come back after two days.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Kabir Ashram (hermitage) inside the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Matsaya (Fish) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Varaha (Wild Boar) Avtar statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Buddha Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The workmanship

It is indeed sad that after the Supreme Court decision in 2012 visit to this fort has been prohibited.  The reason is that this fort is right in the heart of the core zone of Bandhavgarh, and to go up to the fort one has to trek about 25 minutes from Shesh Shaiyya. Needless to mention that there are Tigers and other wildlife in and around the fort, hence it is not considered safe to walk up. Besides it does disturb the wildlife too. I have personally seen Sita with her cubs close to Shesh Shaiyya way back in 1996-97.

Meeting B2 enroute to Bandhavgarh Fort

For me a visit to Bandhavgarh was incomplete if i had not visited the Fort. Way back in 2004, once while trekking up, i encountered B2 in his early days on this route. There were four of us on foot, and at a bend, we see B2 come up from the valley on to the track of the fort. We froze right there, and so did B2. He paused for a moment, gave us a glimpse, and without bother left the track to go down the valley. What seemed like eternity was actually just 5 seconds.

This was my first encounter on foot with the Tiger in his own backyard. I breathed a sigh of relief. The trek is steep so the camera was around my neck. With B2 looking into my eyes from about 10 meters in front of me, i forgot that i had a camera, so clicking a picture was totally out of question. But the image imprinted on my mind of that moment is still fresh like it happened yesterday, thought it was almost 12 years ago.

The Temple priest

From 1997 till 2008 i trekked upto the fort atleast 4-5 times every season. Not only I loved the hike to the fort, but the view from the fort, the feel of the fort, and more than anything else it was meeting and talking with the resident priest of the fort that i always looked forward to. A very old man, tall, with a broad frame, deep voice, and an intense look in his eyes. How he stayed in this temple all alone in this national park always surprised me. No company, no radio, television i doubt if he ever knew it existed. He would give Charnamrit (tulsi water) pronouncing the sacred Sanskrit shloka:

अकालमृत्युहरणं सर्वव्याधिविनाशनम्।
विष्णुपदोदकं पीत्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते।।

Meaning, “whosoever takes this sacred water is protected from any accidental death, deadly diseases, and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death”. This chant in his deep voice in the corridors of the temple would resonate in my ears for a long long time.

His story

He would walk down to the Tala village to secure his provisions and by late evening he would get back to Bandhavgarh. Once while going back he had an encounter with a Sloth bear. It is said that a Tiger emerged from the nearby grass, and fought the Sloth Bear away. Then the Tiger walked with the priest for some distance to ensure that he reached the temple.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Temple in the Fort

He once told me, “the Tigers are my family, and I know all the Tigers of the area around the fort”. We would sit in the corridors of the temple, and he would make tea for us. Then we would share our lunch with him. There were times we just slept off in the corridor of the temple. As he grew quite old, he became unwell, and was brought down from the Fort much against his wishes as there was no one to take care of him inside the Jungle.

What all is bygone, and will those days return?

Though Charger, Sita, B2, have all gone, and they have been replaced by many beautiful Tigers of today. But the enigma of the priest, the temple, and the fort cannot be replaced by any. For people who have seen the Bandhavgarh Fort miss it still. And those who have visited Bandhavgarh after 2012, know not what they have missed.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Yes, this is true. Just two Jeeps entering the Tala zone for a safari

The above photo is not photoshopped, yes there was a time when Bandhavgarh hardly had tourists. I recall sighting 10 different Tigers in 2005 in one morning safari of 4 hours. But the popularity of the Tigers and wildlife photography through social media has made wildlife tourism a big business everywhere.

Many resorts have sprung up in the area, Tala a small village now is a place where you will get everything you need, including a broadband, wi-fi, and a spa treatment. Do not expect the standard of the Spa to be anywhere close to a city hotel. To an extent if handled well, tourism can be a big conservation tool, but if gone awry, it can be a very disturbing factor for wildlife. So yes, those silent, peaceful days of less tourism are also bygone.

The rush of tourism has been regulated to quite an extent by opening of some more zones, and also buffer zones. Yet, one thing that has not reduced is the kind of Tiger sightings that are still taking place in Bandhavgarh. There was a lull year when there was a marginal drop in the Tala zone, but it seems the golden years of Bandhavgarh are almost back as far as Tiger sightings are concerned. The Tiger sightings of Bandhavgarh will never be bygone.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

 

Kanha in Indian Mythology and folklore

Whenever you go to a National Park, apart from safaris, keep aside a day to know the ecology, the economy, and the electorate of the area. This will make your tour far more enriching, and memorable. As they say no trip is complete if there isn’t any adventure and learning. So, while Safaris take care of the adventure, you need to explore the area for self learning and self development. Here are some interesting stories about Kanha.

Mukki Kanha
Saundhar Talab Mukki Kanha

Kanha in Dwapara Yuga

All our national parks have some history, and some mythology attached. Kanha National Park is also one such park. Some people say Kanha got it’s name from the type of soil in the area, the black clayey soil. While some say there was a holy sage named Kanva who lived here. He was the father of Shakuntala. One can read more about Shakuntala in “Abhigyanshakuntalam” by Kalidas. Story goes that King Dushyant came, saw and was captivated by the beauty of Shakuntala. They had a son through their wedlock named Bharata, who became the founder of Bharata dynasty. Kauravas and Pandavas were descendants of this dynasty. All this happened in the Dwapara Yuga. Lord Krishna an Avatar of Vishnu had incarnated in this Yuga. The sage Kanva lived in this region, and his hermitage was called Kanha.

Kanha
Beauty of Kanha National Park

Kanha in Treta Yuga

Prior to Dwapara was Treta Yuga. The Yuga in which Lord Ram came as an Avatar. This Yuga saw the story of Ramayan. It is said, that King Dashrath, the father of Ram used to frequent Kanha for hunting. He was an accomplished archer who could hit the target just by listening to the sound from the area.

One fine day he killed Shravan Kumar who was filling water from a water hole for his thirsty parents. The sound made by the empty vessel in water made King Dashrath think that there was some deer in water. He shot an arrow following the sound, and it hit Shravan Kumar, who died instantly. On realizing his folly he apologized to his parents. They lit his pyre and cursed the King that he will also die longing for his son in his old age. And so it happened. The area where his pyre was lit is known as Shravan Chita, and the water hole where Shravan Kumar died is known as Shravan Taal. Today this Shravan Taal is often frequented by Tigers. 

Lapsi Hunter in Kanha

Then there is this wonderful story of Lapsi the Hunter. He was a proficient hunter who used bow and arrow to kill the man-eating Tigers in the area. Britishers were controlling the forests via the Imperial Forest Services which was set up by them India in 1865. They basically conserved forests, and managed timber. Lot of felling of sal trees was done in setting up of Indian Railways. Kanha in particular saw a lot of felling of trees in the early 20th century. The boom years for Indian Railways were from 1920 till 1929. This was the time when services of Lapsi hunter were utilized by the Britishers in killing of Tigers for hunting, sport, or even the man eating Tigers. Lapsi was a professional hunter who hailed from a family of hunters.

Kanha
View from Lapsi Kabar of Kanha National Park

Once lot of complaints came of a Tiger killing cattle unabatedly and even some villagers. Lapsi heard of the news. He reached the spot, tried lot of tricks to fool the Tiger, but Tiger was much smarter. His wife was very concerned as his reputation as a hunter was going down. So she asked him to tie her as a bait in the area. He refused, but she argued. Finally she was tied to the tree, while Lapsi waited on the nearby machan (watch tower). The Tiger arrived, and Lapsi shot the arrow, which injured the Tiger. But the Tiger in a fit of rage attached his wife. Seeing this Lapsi panicked, and he rushed towards the Tiger with his dagger. Fought ferociously and killed the Tiger. Later Lapsi also succumbed to his injuries.

He and his wife’s grave is now present in the area in Mukki zone of Kanha National Park. This incident happened in late 1920’s.

Meeting Chotey Lal in Kanha–today’s Yuga

I personally had an opportunity to meet a man who fought a Tiger. Chotey Lal, a resident near a village in the Mukki zone.. Once in the evening he alongwith some friends, was picking some wood close to his forest, when he was charged by a Tigress. On seeing the charge his friends ran away, and Chotey Lal was hit by the Tigress on his head. He fell, but got up, and pushed the Tigress off him, infact he managed to hit the Tigress with his both hands on her head. Before a Tigress could further retaliate, he quickly climbed the tree nearby. His whole night was spent on the tree, and Tigress below the tree. Only in the morning when some people came looking for him, he came down, and narrated the incident.

Kanha
Jeep Safari near Khapa in Mukki Kanha

 

There are so many stories, folklore, and information on Kanha that it will be really tough to write them all here. I urge all of you to explore all the national parks you stay in beyond Tigers. Kanha is a very special park, and one can feel it the moment you enter it. So, explore it in totality.

All the best to you

Sharad Vats

http://www.naturesafariindia.com

 

Online safari bookings open on 22nd August 2016

Online safari bookings
Spotti in Bandhavgarh National Park

This is to inform all safari lovers of central India parks that online safari bookings for season starting 1st October are opening today. Bookings are available to be done for the next 120 days. For the first time there will be a quota of tickets for last minute bookings too. The details of the same will be out in the next couple of days.

In Bandhavgarh all the three zones, i.e. Tala, Magdhi, and Khitauli will be open for online safari bookings from 1st October. But in Kanha just Mukki and Kisli will be opening from 1st October. The other two zones, i.e. Kanha and Sarhi will open for tourism from 16th October. Reason for this partial delay is the black clayey soil of Kanha. Normally the monsoon gets over by mid or end of September, occasionally there are a couple of late showers in 1st week of October as well. This late rain hinders the track repairing process, and the black clayey soil being very slippery does not help matters either.

Similarly in Pench all the three zones, i.e. Touria, Karmajhiri, and Jhamtara will be opening from 1st October. Satpura will also see the opening of Madhai gate from 1st October, and Panna will also open the Madla and Hinouta gates from 1st October. Go ahead, plan your dates, and do your online safari bookings now.

General information for post monsoon opening.

Online safari bookings
Sambar Deer in Bandhavgarh National Park

Post monsoon is a great time for wildlife photography. Nature is at it’s best. The colors are deep, and thought provoking. There is lot of water in the forest, thus plenty of undergrowth, and lot of food for all the animals. October is also a busy time for birds, thus good for birding. Migration also tends to starts by end of October.

Only word of caution is that one must be careful with falciparum malaria. Certain areas of central India, in particular Kanha has this mosquito active in post monsoon time. Hence take precaution, carry anti-mosquito sprays and cream, wear full sleeve shirts and trousers, avoid T shirts and shorts.

In the first week of October there could be an odd shower or two, hence take precaution to keep your photography equipment safe. Carry some plastic covers to protect them.

This year has seen heavy rain in the state of Madhya Pradesh, so the road conditions in October might not be very good. The time taken from the Airport and railway stations could be a tad longer than usual.

As the national parks open after 3 months of closure, hence even the regular guides and drivers will not know the whereabouts of the predators. It takes a week of two for them to assess what is happening in which area of the park. So higher degree of patience will be good for you.

The days will be warm in central India in October. but mornings and evenings will be pleasant. If it rains, it can get a bit cold and misty in Kanha.

So what are you waiting for, book yourself now. Click on the link below to book direct.

https://forest.mponline.gov.in/Index.aspx

Have a great safari season.

Sharad Vats

 

Tiger cell for Tiger conservation

Tiger cell for Tiger conservation
Sharmili Tigress in Corbett National Park

NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) and WII (Wildlife Institute of India) have decided to set up a Tiger cell for Tiger conservation in the campus of WII in Dehradun.

What is the need for a Tiger cell for Tiger conservation?

Last 5 years has seen an unprecedented growth in the Tiger population. While this is good news for the country, it is good news for the poachers too. How? Simple, they have more possibilities for poaching now. So, this increase in Tiger population brings in more responsibility to protect the Tigers. Hence a need for Tiger cell for Tiger conservation was felt by the Government.

Poachers have done their bit this year. In the first 6 months of this year, 74 Tigers have died, out of which 14 were poached or electrocuted. Some Tigers also died in the territorial flights as the habitat is limited and the population is increasing. While some died due to old age, or other reasons.

Tiger cell for Tiger conservation
Tigress in Corbett National Park

What will the “Tiger cell for Tiger conservation” do?

  1. They will keep track of population of Tigers in the 50 Tiger reserves. Every Tiger will be documented.
  2. Tiger cell will keep a record of the DNA and stripes of all individual Tigers. This will be challenging, but progressive.
  3. Also, they will keep database of the photos of all the Tigers. How these images will be collated is yet to be ascertained. Will it be from the camera traps only? Or, will they also take images from tourists and photographers? Whatever be the source of the same, but the idea is good, and will bear fruit. The photos help identify the Tigers instantly in case of poaching.

But is one Tiger cell for Tiger conservation enough? No, infact far from it. Ideal situation will be to have one cell in each region if not each state. Hopefully they will get there too.

With the usage of technology by the Government the Tiger is getting more protection. Drones are set to make their entry in 5 Tiger reserves by the end of this year. Subsequently the installation of theTiger cell for Tiger conservation will be icing on the cake.

Best Wishes to the Tigers

Sharad Vats

Tiger Sightings and precautions to take during a Safari.

Tiger Sightings in a safari
A flying Tiger

Most of the people go to a National Park for a Tiger sighting. Whether they might succeed in photographing a Tiger or not, but the Tiger sighting remains embedded in the memories forever. You will not forget a Tiger sighting till you are alive. Believe me not? Ask someone who has seen a Tiger in the wild. They will vividly recall the sighting like it happened yesterday.

Types of Tiger sightings in order of excitement with the l0th as highest in term of adrenalin rush.

  1. Tiger in the bush. This is a common Tiger sighting.
  2. Sleeping Tiger, either on the track, or on side of the road.
  3. A Tiger crossing the track, maybe he will give you a cursory glance, and if you are fast enough you will take a shot or two. Considered a decent Tiger sighting.
  4. Tiger sitting on the track looking towards you in a majestic pose is a delightful Tiger sighting.

    Tiger sighting in a Safari
    Royalty personified
  5. Tiger walking in front of your Jeep, away from you. He might walk  a mile or more. When he walks this much he would stop by, and do some marking on the trees, maybe scratch etc. Lot of opportunities to take photographs during such a Tiger sighting.
  6. A Tiger walking towards you on the track, and your driver reversing the vehicle for miles at times. This gives a big high to photographers who can trade off a part of their body to get the head on shots of a Tiger (me included in this category). This required great skills from the driver.

    Tiger Sighting in a safari
    Tiger Head On in a Safari
  7. A Tigress with her cubs, either sitting on the road, or playing in water. Again something lot of people would want to see, and it is a very satiating feeling once you see Tigress with cubs. The playfulness, the innocence, the care of the mother, all an be witnessed together in such a Tiger sighting.
  8. A Tiger stalking prey. The whole episode can last from few minutes to much longer. Caution is that you must remain silent during such a Tiger sighting.  Disturbing a Tiger while stalking or doing anything else is never advisable. Would you want to see an upset Tiger?
  9. A Tiger successfully managing to bring down his prey, and do a kill in front of your eyes. What a joy for photographers, and all tourists. It is one adrenalin pumping Tiger sighting.
  10. Two adult Tigers fighting. This does not happen often in the open for tourists to see, but there have been occasions when people have seen this. When the fight is happening, it can be very scary, as Tigers roar loudly which reverberates in the Jungle. It can turn bloody, and if the fight is over the territory then it can last long too. Tigers tend to move a lot as well while fighting. It is best advised to stay clear and away from them. An epitome of a Tiger sighting.

You may see any one of the above Tiger sightings, so be prepared, and be equipped with your cameras.

When you sight Tigers in the National Parks of India, it is imperative you take some precautions. I have listed four most important for your benefit.

4 important precautions during a Tiger sighting

  1. Silence is the biggest  caution that you can undertake during a Tiger sighting. It is advised to keep the enthusiasm under complete control, as it can go against you, cause if the Tiger gets disturbed by your energy levels he can just decide to go away. Who is the loser? So stay quiet. Camera click is the only acceptable noise.
  2. Distance from the Tiger is very important, maintain a safe distance for yourself. Remember you are in the territory of the Tiger, so give him distance and respect too. Stay far, stay safe.
  3. Listen to the guides and the drivers who go through this routine regularly so trust them. Do not impose your decisions on them, let them decide what is best for you. Please do not lure them by tipping, and wanting to get close. Remember Tiger is a super predator.
  4. NEVER, EVER, get off the vehicle in a national park during a Tiger safari. It is not permitted, and it is illegal. There are only some spots / camps where the driver and the guide will tell you to get off the Jeep for a small break. Tiger sighting is not a selfie moment, always remember you are in presence of an apex predator. Your safety is in your hands, and no one else is responsible for the same. Neither can you sue anyone at a later stage if you do not like what a Tiger does.

Tiger Safari is a vacation for some, and vocation for some, but not a picnic for anyone. Respect the Jungle and the laws of the Jungle in your own interest.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

http://www.naturesafariindia.com/wildlife-tours/diverse-habitat-of-tiger-tour.html