Bheema: The Peaceful Warrior of Kanha National Park passes away

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park
Bheema in Kanha National Park

It was in September 2016 that I wrote of the The Big Four Tigers of Mukki in Kanha. These Tigers had attracted the attention of all the Tiger lovers worldwide in the last 3 years. The most commonly sighted Tiger amongst them was Bheema, the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park.

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha Nationa Park

Almost everyone was beginning to reconcile that the Tiger behavior was changing in Kanha. Their belief stemmed from the fact that the four big male Tigers had accepted each other in a small area of under 300 sq kms. There were skirmishes on and off in the last couple of years. They all got injured, and recovered too.  But deep down few knew that Kanha Tigers are fighters and not quitters. They live and die like Tigers in territorial fights. It was a matter of time before they would show their true colors. Come October 2016, and we saw departure of Rajaram in a fatal territorial encounter with Umarpani male. You may read the same in the below link:

Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Umarpani male is a huge and a powerful Tiger in his prime with some extra-ordinary lineage. You might like to read about him here.

People were still coming to terms with the death of Rajaram when Bheema was found in a condition bordering death. The Mahouts found him gravely injured while patrolling on their elephants. Such was his condition that the department could not even think of tranquilizing him lest he succumb to his injuries. He was lifted and placed on a stretcher by the forest department while conscious. I do not recall any incident when a Tiger has been lifted without tranquilizing in the wild or even in a zoo.

He was taken to a natural enlarged enclosure where he was put under observation and treatment. Apparently the damage to him was considerable, and he was in no condition for a surgery. A team of expert vets were summoned from across the country.

Bheema was born in July/August of 2011.

His father was Kankata and mother was Budbudi. He was one in the litter of four. One of his siblings Bajrang is still doing well in another zone of Kanha. Bheema was frequently sighted in Mukki and Kisli zones. He was one Tiger who was not shy of tourists, and gave ample photo opportunities, sighted almost twice a week if not more in his peak days, i.e. until summer of 2016. Usually his sighting was not just a glimpse. He was often seen walking on the vehicle tracks for kms. After his sighting the tourists would go back satiated and delighted always.

My personal experience with Bheema; the Peaceful Warrior

It was 11th June 2015, an afternoon safari. I had just finished an amazing sighting / session with Umarpani male which lasted about 30 minutes when we decided to go and wait at the Babathenga waterhole. We had zero expectation of any sighting. The weather was a bit humid, and suddenly we hear a sambar alarm call. For a moment I did not believe my ears, I looked at Naren on the wheels and the second alarm call.

Now, when a Sambar deer calls it is most certain that he has sighted a Tiger. And if he calls twice in succession then it means that the Tiger is active. We started our vehicle and headed just 50 meters ahead from where the call came. As we reached the area, the sambar called again. We switched off the ignition and waited.

Anxious moments…

I always advise my guide, and whoever accompanying me in the jeep never to stand up, just stay seated. Reason being, that more often than not the Tiger would see the standing eager people before the people will see him. When everyone’s eyes are eagerly searching for the big cat, there is a lot of nervous energy around. The Tigers are highly sensitive and would usually change direction when they notice anxiety. Hence everyone was seated, calmly active and actively calm in my vehicle.

Then Raju our guide pointed in one direction and murmured the most anticipated word, “Sirji Tiger”. His face was seen  from the tall grass. As everyone was seated in the car, the Tiger found a conducive atmosphere to make an appearance. We waited for him to come completely out of the grass. Once he did we started our vehicle and turned right where we expected him to follow us. Sure he did like an obedient son.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema coming out of the grassland near Babathenga

Tete-a-Tete with Bheema

Then started my vigorous clicking. We maintained a safe distance. I kept giving him mental assurance that “i love you my handsome boy”. He followed us, and did everything that a Tiger on his territorial round would do. Scratching, marking, spraying, flehmen, sit, roll, everything. In about twenty minutes that he followed me i clicked close to 400 shots. He was not leaving our trail. Finally Naren said, “Sir, it is time to go, we have only 30 minutes left for park closure time and we must move”. With a heavy heart i confirmed and we changed course.

On our way back, i started to think of various safaris i had done in my last 27 years in India. Two memorable sightings are, my very first Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore in 1990. And, second would be this sighting. Though there are many memorable ones, but getting two different male Tigers, and both head on for a considerable time in less than one hour is unusual.

Why i called him the Peaceful Warrior;

I called him the Peaceful warrior because he peacefully carried many combat medals (injury marks) on his shoulders with pride of a warrior. If I was to compare him with Link 7 aka Chotta Munna, or Umarpani male, Bheema was the most peaceful Tiger. He never unnecessary challenged any other Tiger for territory.  Stayed mostly in his own territory, and defended it pretty well till almost the last 3-4 months of his reign. His skirmishes with Chotta Munna in 2015 were quite one sided where he chided him away comfortably.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema carrying the trophies of many battles he fought and won.
Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema with many injury marks on his shoulders was a warrior who fought many battles.

But Chotta Munna has genes of Munna  (a legendary Tiger of Kanha). At 15 Munna is still fighting, and surviving. Chotta Munna started to give Bheema some tough time toward middle of 2016. On 1st October 2016 when the park reopened for tourism Bheema was sighted with a limp, and it seemed he had lost considerable amount of weight. He looked a much smaller version of his former self. Subsequently his sightings reduced.

Was he unable to hunt? Was he carrying some injury? Or, was he ill? There was nothing of consequence visible on him. There is no protocol to interfere in the lives of wild Tigers in India. The department only intervenes when they feel that the injury is serious and can disable the Tiger.

The passing of the Peaceful Warrior

On 4th December he was found by the patrolling forest staff. He was frail, his forelimb badly eaten by maggots. And he was found in the territory of Umarpani male. It is possible due to the constant disturbance by Chotta Munna he left his area and ventured into Umarpani male’s territory. I have always maintained that Umarpani male is the biggest surviving Tiger of central India right now. Not only in size, but in strength, and confidence also he is unmatched. The fact that he has dominated Mukki practically since 2011 speaks volumes about his demeanor.

Bheema was also not a diminutive Tiger by any yard of imagination Afterall he was given his name Bheema for a reason. He would have been a dominating Tiger in any other landscape besides Mukki. It was unfortunate that he got stuck between the two sons of Munna (Umarpani and Chotta Munna), else he would never have gone in his prime.

His fans including me were praying that he survives. But when i heard that the chances of survival are minimal i prayed for his ordeal to end.

Having seen Tigers for some decades now, i think, Tigers are born to fight. They survive because they fight. Choice is either they fight or they die. The end is mostly they fight and they die. Such is the life of a Tiger.

Sharad Vats

 

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The Biggest Tiger of Central India; the Umarpani Male of Kanha National Park

Tigers of Kanha are known to be big in size. And, i am putting my neck on the block by making such a statement. But having observed Tigers for close to 28 years in many nationals parks (specially in the Central India highlands) i think this guy has it all going for him as far as size, strength, and stealth is concerned. Umarpani male, slightly premature to crown him as the future King of Kanha as there is some serious competition on the cards from Chotta Munna who is taking his father’s legacy very seriously.

A lot of this has to be dedicated to his genes. His forefathers have been dominating Tigers in Kanha for past generations. Let us see which lineage does he come from.

The lineage of Umarpani male:

Father is Munna, the legendary Tiger who has CAT spelt on his forehead. At 15 years of age, Munna is still controlling the main tourism zone of Kanha. The world knows him, and he needs o further introduction. Munna’s father also known as the Limping male was one of the dominating and a huge Tiger before Munna.

Tigers of Kanha
Limping male, father of Munna, and grand father of Umarpani male
Tigers of Kanha
Munna, father of Umarpani male, photo by Naren

Mother is Umarpani female, the daughter of Banda, the dominant male Tiger of Kanha before Munna, and Sonapani female, who in turn is the sister of legendary Laxmi (not same litter). This is the reason for her size. Her size confused people with a male Tiger quote often. So her genes come from dominating male and popular Tigresses of Kanha.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpnai female, daughter of Banda and mother of Umarpani male,. Photo by a past guest of ours.

Umarpani male:

He was born around Nov 2009, they were two brothers and sister in the litter. The other male cub was even bigger than him. He was shaping up well until about 2 years old when tragedy struck. When and where he disappeared alongwith his sister none know. Umarpani male is the smaller of the two brothers. At times i wonder if his brother was around what would have been his size.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male in 2014 (5 years old)

My first sighting of Umarpani male was in December 2014. I mostly followed him from behind, and only for few seconds i was able to take some of his side flanks. He was about 5 years at that age. His muscular build was very obvious.

Tiges of Kanha
Umarpani male in June 2015, 6 years old

Then i saw him in June 2015. Behold, I was in a state of shock when he turned to look at me. I skipped a heartbeat or two. Never before any Tiger seemed so big to me. From close quarters lot of Tigers look big. But this fellow’s largeness was evident even from a distance. It was not only his size that stole my heart, but his looks, and presence are of a killing machine. I am not sure how many people have had the opportunity of photographing Umarpani male for 30 minutes or more. But after that sighting i thought if i do not see Tigers for next 2 years i am fine, as i thought i had seen the best.

Who is bigger Munna or Umarpani male?

Today when i sit back and compare both these big Tigers, Umarpani male outshines Munna very comfortably in size, and semblance. And this i am comparing Munna in his prime. The skull of Munna is big, but Umarpani male’s skull is bigger, wider, and with a larger circumference. Though the height and length of both would be similar, but sheer compactness and crassitude of Umarpani puts him in a class of his own. His overall bone structure, bigger limb bones, and wider skeleton puts him on a pedestal where his huge father starts to look minor in size compared to him.

After all Umarpani male has the advantage of his mother’s genes as well. She was one of the largest Tigress of Kanha ever.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male; the sheer size of his skull is matchless

Umarpani vs Bheema

Bheema is thinner, infact much thinner compared to Umarpani male. They might seem to be of same height and length but girth wise Umarpani male outclasses him. Bheema’s bone structure is lean, smaller frame compared to Umarpani. And his skull lacks the monstrosity of Umarpani. Bheema weighed 225kgs when he was just 2.5yrs old  (vs Jai 220kgs full grown). Bheema with his winter coat would be 280kgs plus, and yet Umarpani male outmatches him in summer. Now again for a moment think about Umarpani’s brother who was even bigger than him. What a loss to Kanha by his mystifying disappearance.

Tigers of Kanha
Bheema, June 2015

Umarpani vs Rajaram (Kingfisher)

I have been a fan of Kingfisher too as he was a peaceful Tiger who in terms of size looked similar from a distance. He like Chotta Munna gave ample opportunities to tourists to see him from close quarters. But as one would look at him closely he seemed like a Tiger on steroids. He was shorter in height compared to Uma male. Maybe hence he lacked the core muscles and his belly literally touched the ground. Length-wise also he was smaller than Bheema and Uma male. When someone saw him with a full belly he looked like a big Tiger, while he was actually a big belly Tiger. Also from the Tiger point of view he did not have the cuts and contour of a competitive cat. He seemed to be lot of fat, and lacked muscular manifest.

The fatal fight, October 2016: Umarpani male vs Rajaram

Umarpani had a close skirmish with Rajaram in January 2015, wherein he got Rajaram to retreat. Though both seemed to have some injuries, but Rajaram left his area, and stayed away. So Uma male had a measure of him from the past fights while Chotta Munna did not. So had it been Chotta Munna in the territorial fight even he would have sustained injuries. But Uma male had the knowledge of the mass and might of Rajaram so it was most likely him, and only him who could have given the fateful bite.

Another point that would point towards this direction is that the fight most likely did not last long. Uma male nailed him fast and furious, cause had it lasted long even Umarpani male would have sustained injuries, which he did not. He was sighted a couple of days later moving quite briskly by the forest department.

Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher male
Tigers of Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

Above fight between the two was in January 2015.

No one has any evidence of the fight of October 2016, as it was seen by none. But the past records, and strength of Umarpani male tilt indication towards him. He usually avoids limelight, and prefers giving the tourist vehicles a skip. Uma male is mostly sighted crossing the tracks, even if he follows a vehicle it is not for a great distance. But this behavior might undergo some change now and people might start seeing him more. As killing Rajaram has given him extra expanse in territory, and confidence for sure.

Umarpani vs Chotta Munna (Link 7)

This will be the comparison for the future, or fight for the No 1 slot. Chotta Munna has the attitude of his father. He has gained in size over last 4-5 months. But being younger to Umarpani male would most likely be a tad deficient in strength as on date. But Chotta Munna seems to be catching the eye balls of everyone as he is one tourist friendly Tiger. On the contrary Umarpani male is shy.

Tigers of Kanha
Link 7 Tiger Photo by Naren Malik

With Rajaram out of the equation, it is but natural that Umarpani and Chotta Munna will expand their territory. It cannot now be ruled out that Kanha might witness another superiority sparring between these two males in the near future. It is unlikely that anyone will lose easily without giving the other some serious agony. I would pray that they both survive in case such a situation arises, as both are very strong contenders to be the next Legend of Kanha after Munna. May the strong genes of Tigers of Kanha prosper far and wide.

Tigers of Kanha
Umarpani male

I would like to thank Minh Ha and Naren Malik for providing some crucial information on lineage, and Naren for some images as well. A special mention here for Minh Ha whose knowledge on Tigers of India is nothing short than encyclopedic. He is an inspiration to many.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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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

 

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

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Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

Which are the Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India? Simple question with a no so simple answer. What you find below is my choice based on 27 years of doing safaris in India. The factors i considered are; the habitat, the prey base, water bodies in the park, forest management, tourism management, Tiger density, and frequency of sightings. The most important being the consistency over a span of 20 years. As the Tiger sightings can change radically like an ECG, hence time frame was given more importance over other parameters.

Ranthambhore National Park: Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

A historical and a bit touristy park, as it is located in the heart of the  Golden triangle circuit. The fort in the background, and jungle in the fore, must be making the Tiger also happy to be a part of this beautiful canvas. How the Tigers have accepted the natural and human creation in this forest is to be seen to be believed. To handle the tourism pressures the safaris here are done in Jeeps and 20 seater open safari buses. But don’t be discouraged if you get to do a safari in the 20 seater open safari bus, as the Tigers are impartial to both types of vehicles.

A word of caution for those who visit Ranthambhore for the first time. There could be occasions when you will not sight a Tiger for 2 or 3 consecutive safaris. But trust me, once you do, you will forget the previous blank safaris.

The factors that go in favor of Ranthambhore to be considered among the Top 3 Tiger National Parks in India are; negligible undergrowth, lot of water holes, big lakes, and surplus presence of Sambar deer. Thus enough of preferred prey, and water makes Tiger sightings easier here. Summers are excellent times for Tiger sightings in this park, as lot of action is seen closer to the water holes and the lakes. Hence Ranthambhore finds a place amongst the Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India. Ghengis Khan, Noor, Bamboo Ram, Jhumroo, T17, T24, and T23 were big names. But it has been Machli the longest living Tiger in the wild, which made people fall in love with Tigers and Wildlife. She passed away on 18th August 2016 at an age of 19 years.

Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India
Ranthambhore; Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

Bandhavgarh National Park; Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

Bandhavgarh is one park very close to the heart of most of the Tiger photographers worldwide. It shot into prominence in mid nineties when Sita the beautiful Tigress and #Charger a dominant male created a storm worldwide with their bold sightings. The nineties belonged to this bold and beautiful couple. But the next decade belonged to the Legendary B2. He took Tiger tourism to Himalayan heights, and a completely different level of economy. In a study done, he was rated amongst the most photographed male Tiger ever in the history of wildlife photography until he lived. It was later that this title went to Machli in Ranthambhore.

As tourism bridgework increased, Bhamera, Jhurjhura, and Vanvai, took the load off handling tourists from B2 in Tala zone of Bandhavgarh National Park. Currently it is the Sukhi Patia, Rajbhera females with their cubs and the Mahamen male which are the hot favorites of everyone.

Grasslands with small rivulets flowing through them attract lot of prey, thereby predators. Bandhavgarh is one park where you can see a Tiger in the water, in the bamboo, in the grassland, on the rocks, on the trails. You can expect a Tiger to appear from anywhere and anytime in Bandhavgarh. Sighting Tigers here is not tough, and hence it is among the Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India. Good time for Tiger sightings here is round the year. In all parks they say that “you are lucky if you see one Tiger”. But for Bandhavgarh they coined an adage; “you are unlucky if you only see one Tiger here”.

Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India
Bandhavgarh; Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

Kanha National Park; Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

A park which needs no publicity. Kanha’s raw and ever green beauty makes it one of the most humbling forests i visit regularly. Kanha is one park where it is easy to get lost in the beauty so much that you might forget to click.

When Tigers of Kanha decide to come on the track, they then just own it. They will walk few kilometers before changing course. So if you happen to be ahead of them or on their tail, give them distance, if you wish to take loads of great images.  A Tiger head on sighting here is unmatched in India.

The habitat in Kanha is ideal for Tigers to survive here. A study by a researcher concluded that Kanha along with Corbett and Nandhaur will be the last bastions of the Tiger in India. The dense undergrowth, two rivers going through it, prey in tens of thousands, plus friendly local community are all pluses in Tiger’s favor. Kanha provides big prey to the Tigers, the Swamp Deers, the Indian Gaur, Sambar deers are in surplus here, apart from the regular deers. Perhaps it is the size of the prey here which determines the big size of Kanha Tigers.

Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India
Kanha: Top 3 Tiger National Parks of India

Now does this image give you a feel of the size of Kanha Male Tigers?

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

http://www.naturesafariindia.com/national-parks/kanha-national-parks.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weather during Safaris in India

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”–Benjamin Franklin. Very apt lines for all travelers by a wise man. India is a diverse nation with equally diverse weather. While packing for Indian safari it is important to know the weather during safaris in India. What temperatures you will encounter in the wilderness of India? Is there a possibility of rain? Else, it can be a surprise if you are not fully equipped.

We always provide a list of things to carry, including clothing while on a safari in India, depending on the month of the safari. It is important to know that the safaris are conducted in open vehicles, so there is no insulation from weather whatsoever. The winds, the dust, the sun, it all comes direct, and one is better served if better equipped. Sun screen sprays and creams are a must.

Winters (December till February)

During winters, i.e from Dec till about mid February, it gets very chilly when you enter the national parks in the morning. First one hour is your test to handle the chill, in particular in the Sal forests of north, and central India. The temperature can range anything from zero degree in the night to about 25 degrees centigrade during the day. Guests arriving from the cold countries are also taken by surprise by the weather during safaris in India. The chill seems to increase when the sun comes out in the morning. How does this happen? Simple, when the sun rays hit the dew drops, they evaporate, and start to rise, and the temperature starts to drop.

Weather during safaris in India
Fog in a winter safari

We recommend multi layer and comfortable clothing. One must carry a head gear, woolen gloves, socks, and thermal wear during these months. You may also encounter fog in some parks for an hour or two in the morning. If visiting Dudhwa, your entire day can be fogged out as well. This means hardly any sun during the day. When you book with us at Nature Safari India, we will provide you a detailed note on the weather during safaris in India, on what to carry and not to carry.

Weather during safaris in India
Morning sun rays during a safari

Summers (March till June)

Similarly while traveling in the summer months of April and May, one should be prepared to meet the peak heat. The mercury crosses 45 degree centigrade in couple of national parks. Hence again, what wear becomes important to ensure that you do not get a heat stroke. Important point to remember is that these temperatures are usually between 2-4pm, and this is time when you are in the comfortable environs of your resort. The evening safari commences around 4pm, and the temperature starts to dip, and by late evening it normally becomes pleasant in all the parks. But in the parks of Panna, Satpura, Pench, and Tadoba, the evenings also tend to remain warm if not hot.

Idea is not to discourage you, but to better prepare you better for the weather during safaris in India.

Do write to us to know about the weather on sharad@naturesafariindia.com.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Understanding alarm calls in the Indian National Parks during a safari

Understanding alarm calls
Tiger safari

Tracking predators in the Indian National Parks requires a lot of experience. The veteran drivers an guides know their national park well. But even that is not enough at times. It is the knowledge of understanding alarm calls which determines your chances of Tiger sightings during a safari.

As a first timer tourist it is not easy to understand what alarm calls are. It is only when you start hearing them during a safari that you understand their importance. How the drivers, and guides at times change directions in 180 degrees after listening to the alarm calls suggests the importance of understanding alarm calls.

There are direct signs left by a predator which help in tracking them, like, pug marks, scratch marks, spray, droppings or growls. Then their are indirect signs like an alarm call which also helps track them.

In simple words, alarm call is a call by a prey animal to alert rest of it’s herd about the movement of the predator. This call is high pitched, short, and intense. There are occasions when you see a prey animal give a call in front of you. Then there are times when you just hear the call coming from a distance. Usually the prey animal is either able to spot or smell a predator, and it immediately alerts the others in the area.

It is said that a Sambhar deer’s call is the most accurate when it comes to tracking Tigers. If the Sambar deer has called twice in succession it means the Tiger is present in the vicinity. Monkeys give alarm calls from the tree tops. They can spot a Tiger or a Leopard from a considerable distance. Interestingly a monkey’s alarm call is different when it sights a Tiger, and different when it sights a Leopard. As a Leopard can climb a tree and pick on a monkey hence the intensity and fear in his call is much more when he sights a Tiger.

Understanding alarm calls..explained through a Video below

There are few things that cannot be explained by words, one needs a practical demonstration. So i thought of explaining what an alarm call is through the below videos i shot myself during a safari.

We were tracking the Link 7, a popular male Tiger of Mukki Zone, a.k.a Chotta Munna son of legendary Munna of Kanha. We heard the alarm calls, and i decided to do a small video log on what an alarm call is all about, and how does it sound.

There are no professional cameras used, no tripods, no script, no take, retake, an on the spot impromptu decision to express. Shot using a small handy-cam held by myself while doing it.

To see more video explanations, you may visit my youtube channel on the below link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsjLWm4Xr5tgoGKxO84lPcg

Best Regards

Sharad Kumar 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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At Bankey Taal Machaan in Dudhwa National Park

 

Dudhwa National Park
Lesser Adjutant Stork flight, Dudhwa National Park
Dudhwa National Park
Photo taken from the Machaan at Bankey Taal

This was my 42nd safari in Dudhwa National Park, in less then 6 months. During the safari we reached Bankey Taal, the hotspot of Dudhwa National Park. This is one place where you can see few dozen species of birds, swamp deer, elephants, and if you are lucky the Tiger too. Today, i wanted to see the male Barasinghas (swamp deers). It was this curiosity to see the Barasingha, that i climbed the Machaan pretty fast. We reached half way, and were mesmerized by the mist on the water hole, and chirping of the #birds. And at a distance we could see the swamp Deer , a small herd busy grazing. Mostly we could see only their antlers as their heads were into the grass.

Toward my right were some #Lesser Adjutant #Storks, and just below our Machaan were a few Indian peafowls. I was merrily focused on clicking the birds, when suddenly the Peafowls flew out together. My head and camera direction both turned towards the side, the birds had flown. But my guide asked, “Sir, why did the birds fly together”. He took out his binoculars and started to scan the tall grass in the area. I tried doing the same with my tele lens. Nothing. Kept looking in that direction, nothing. After a few minutes my attention was back on the flying Lesser Adjutant Storks, one flew past me at the eye level, and landed. The second flew, did the same, the third, the fourth, and I got busy clicking the flying LAS.

Suddenly, a Tiger roar, just under my feet. The heart paced off like Usain Bolt in a 100m dash. My lens shook, the legs trembled, heart beat raced like a formula one car, we both looked at each other. Then we looked around 360 degrees for the Tiger but no sign. Looked around, still no Tiger in sight. Safety was not a concern as we were on top of the Machaan. But eagerness to spot the stripes increased by every passing second. Another #Tiger roar, even louder. This time my heart beat was Usain Bolt at the finish line to pick the gold medal by breaking his own world record. Again 360 degree spin, moving from one side of Machaan to another, looking underneath, on the track passing along, in the water hole closeby, did not know where all to see, a pair of eyes was less.

We both decided to look in the opposite directions. Then an Indian Peafowl alarm call, felt like telling her, you are lat, we already know he is around. My guide said, maybe he was here to drink water, the peafowls flew then, and after roaring he has moved. Might be walking on the road, should we go down, get in the Jeep, and on the road? Mind was in two minds, should we wait, or should we go down to our Jeep and try and track him on the road.

What if he comes out in water, we just might see something spectacular with so many birds in water, and #Tiger also alongside. Logic said, the chances were less at this early an hour in winter morning. We decided to take a chance, and stepped down on our toes, holding our breath, no sound whatsoever. Once down we tip toed towards the Jeep, silently climbed on, placed our cameras without any noise.

Started the Jeep, and thanked Maruti for such silent vehicles in the Jungle. Slowly cruised around the area hoping to find the Tiger walking on the road just ahead of us. Reached the second Machaan, no luck. But noticed the Machaan stairway was smashed by the Elephants in the area. Their fresh droppings suggested they were here only a few hours ago. Just yesterday we had climbed this Machaan and saw the herd of Elephants, and today there was no way we could do this as it was broken.

At this moment that eerie feeling that something is watching me from behind, slowly i turned my neck to see two spotted deers on the track. A sigh of relief. It was time to move out of the #Jungle. Began our slow and rather long journey back, with the disappointment of the sprinter missing the Gold medal by a whisker. Not always does one spot a Tiger during the Safaris, but the thrill of being sighted by a Tiger is no less.

Of the many safaris i have done in Dudhwa National Park, Tiger sightings have been much fewer but every safari has been very memorable. Dudhwa National Park is special. It is not only for the Tiger lovers, but i would say it is a park for serious nature lovers. See you soon Dudhwa.

Sharad Vats

 

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