Thirty Three (33) different Tigers sighted in Kanha since park reopened in October 2016

Different Tigers sighted in Kanha
Tigers of Kanha

Is it true? Yes, it is true, and speaks volumes about the efforts by the forest department in conserving Tigers and wildlife in Kanha. While many talk about the number of Tigers poached this year, very few discuss the number of different Tigers being sighted. Thirty Three different Tigers, including 11 cubs, is a healthy number, and that too just in the tourism zone. Please remember that these are not the numbers given by the forest department. But these are the Tigers sighted by the tourists. There is a documental evidence of the same. Significantly, this has been recorded in just 45 days. Besides, it is also reported that there are two pregnant Tigresses in this list, hence this number of 33 Tigers is bound to go up further soon. These many different Tigers sighted in Kanha is indeed good news for Kanha.

In October 2016 we heard about two Tigers getting poached and one Tiger dying in territorial fight. While nothing can be done about saving Tigers in a territorial fight, but in poaching it was done. The poachers of one Tiger were caught within 30 hours of the Tiger being found dead. Such a prompt action by the department is commendable, suggests dedication of the team towards the cause. Four people involved in the crime were arrested. On investigation it was revealed that they were local villagers who had laid a trap to get a wild boar or some large herbivore. But the Tiger walked in the area and was trapped. Unfortunate but true. The second poaching case is being investigated still. It is a matter of concern but i would still like to compliment the department for keeping these numbers to minimum.

With 22 adults, and 11 cubs the times ahead for Kanha look good. These are only the tourism zone figures, and the tourism zone is about 20% of the total area of Kanha. The latest camera trap census estimated that Kanha has over 110 Tigers as on date.  Of the total 22 adults sighted in the tourism zones of Mukki, Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi, there are 9 male Tigers. So the male to female ratio though not ideal, but it is close to being ideal. These are positive signs for the Tigers of Kanha.

Some experts had indicated that even if the Tigers disappear from rest of the protected areas, Kanha will still be amongst the last bastions of the Tiger besides Corbett. This forecast has been true so far, and i think it will remain true until something untoward happens.

List of Tigers sighted since October 2016 in Kanha include:

  1. Rajaram aka Kingfisher (died in a territorial fight in October 2016)
  2. Chotta Munna, aka Link 7
  3. Umarpani male
  4. Bheema
  5. Bajrang
  6. Jamun tola male
  7. Karai ghati male aka Dabang
  8. Junior Kankatta
  9. Supkhar male
  10. Munna
  11. Choti mada with two cubs
  12. Mahaveer feamle with 3 cubs
  13. Dhawajhandi female
  14. Umarjhola female
  15. Distt line female
  16. Neelam (pregnant)
  17. Link 8 female (pregnant)
  18. Link 7 female with 4 cubs aka Mundi Dadar female
  19. Unknown female with two cubs near Indri camp
  20. Female near Chimta camp
  21. Budbudi female, and
  22. Jamun Talab female

Conserving Tigers is not an easy task by any yard of imagination. Tigers roam free in large areas without boundaries, and with no technological surveillance yet. It is heard that soon there will be Drones to monitor them. With many villages around the parks, highways, inadequate forest guards, bio mass dependancy, forests and wildife are a soft target. But the forest department works relentlessly. They risk their lives from dangerous predators, stay away from families so that the forests can be preserved. Their sacrifice is hardly seen forget being appreciated.

I pray that you are able to sight many Tigers on your visits to Kanha. But a humble request to you all that please enjoy the park in it’s entirety. Yearning for Tigers alone can be a tad disappointing, hence appreciate the smell, sight, and sounds of Kanha. Trust me, it will leave you enthralled.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram, not sleeping but territory marking.

Rajaram (Kingfisher) 2010-2016

The inevitable has happened, the unprecedented has ended. It was building up for a little over last 2 years. Rajaram, a.k.a Kingfisher’s body was found in Mukki zone on October 28th morning. Apparently, there were injury signs on his neck and shoulders. So it is concluded that it was a territorial fight. Well, there couldn’t have been anything else in this case. The area where his body was found is right in the heart of the tourism zone, which is monitored well by the forest guards and the tourists too. So, no untoward incident or accident could have happened here.

Since almost 30 months Mukki zone was prowled by 4 big male Tigers. Umarpani male, Bheema, Link 7 (Chotta Munna) and Rajaram aka Kingfisher. There were territorial tussles, devilish roaring, blood drops, naked claws, wounds and some scared to death tourists.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram and Umarpani male in a territorial fight. Photo by Naren Malik

It was expected in 2014 itself that a fatal fight is round the corner. But all the male Tigers despite the differences had begun to give space to each other. Their intensity and frequency of fights had reduced over last one year. Many thought that these males had accepted each other. But how wrong was everyone in defining the behavior of these Tigers.

A very handsome male Tiger in his peak, Rajaram was 6 years old. He belonged to the Neela Nallah litter.

Sighting Rajaram during a Safari in Kanha

I can never forget the morning of December 13th 2015. We had just about crossed Andh Kuan, when we see this male Tiger walking briskly towards us. We started to retreat. His walk had a purpose. Naren said, this is Rajaram. I threw away (within the vehicle of course) all the winter layers, and was on the starting blocks like Usain Bolt. He walked behind us for over 2kms, and gave me plenty of opportunities to shoot him.

Rajaram in Kanha
Rajaram walked 2kms with us, and made eye contact several times

This particular sighting was possible due to my dear Naren Malik, and Preetam the forest guide. A brilliant team effort which saw us cross the line, and gave me immense pleasure.

Rajaram a family member to many

Sad part was that the news of his death was broken to me by Naren Malik, who sounded shattered on phone. He was unconsolable. For Naren, this is just not a loss of a Tiger. It is loss of a family member. People like Naren are bonded with their Tigers, as they track and see them often, and for years. Day in, and day out, weeks, months, and seasons go by, seeing, appreciating, and photographing these Tigers. It is a personal loss for Naren and other naturalists who love Kanha and it’s Tigers like family. And also for all those whom he showed Rajaram, me included.

I feel your pain Naren because of this loss. But my friend, it is a actually a gain. Tigers like Rajaram have left such an indelible mark on people’s mind that those people are today Kanha lovers.

Rajaram Tiger in Kanha
Rajaram aka Kingfisher in Kanha

Please don’t be distraught, the journey is far from over. Banat Banat Banjaye (keep on keeping on).

Who fought and overpowered Rajaram?

I am writing this when there is incomplete information on, with whom was the fight? Which Tiger? Hopefully in next few days the Tiger who killed Rajaram will show up with some injuries. For sure Rajaram would have gone down fighting till his last breath. Hence he would have wreaked some serious damage to his opponent. Is that opponent Chotta Munna (Link 7), unlikely, as he was sighted just today morning, absolutely fit. Was it Bheema? Maybe, but again unlikely as he was a bit frail over last 10-15 days, and also injured. Though Bheema had the power going for him, but in current situation it seems tough.

So was it Umarpani in that case? Most likely, as in the past they have both fought, and mostly Umarpani male has come out triumphant in all past fights. Besides, Umarpani male out-matches Rajaram in size, strength, and stealth.

Rajaram in Kanha
Hulk of a Tiger; Rajaram

While writing this piece I can see Rajaram’s eyes looking at me. Rajaram was one Tiger who looked you in the eye peacefully, plainly and assuredly. There were moments during my last sighting that we (me and him) were on same eye level, and not once i felt threatened.

Rajaram you will remain in my heart till it beats. You were not beaten my friend, you are liberated.

Have a peaceful onward journey.

Sharad Vats

P.S. He was aka Kingfisher for the sign of a flying Kingfisher just above his right eye.

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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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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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A unique Tiger sighting in Kanha National Park

Tiger sighting in Mukki
Tiger Safari in Kanha
Tiger sighting in Mukki
Sun setting in Mukki zone

Kanha National Park is very special and a Tiger sighting in Mukki will compel you to think, what is more beautiful Kanha as a park, or Tiger in Kanha?

I was doing an evening safari in Mukki zone in Kanha National Park on 12th December 2015. Habitually, I am the first to enter the park. Reason behind this is simple, i rather compromise on 15 minutes of sleep and be the first one to enter the park, as it opens more possibilities of some unique Tiger sighting in Mukki.

We entered and in about 15 minutes reached the spot on the main road between Chotta and Bada Chattapatra. Naren stopped the vehicle for a moment to hear some alarm calls, nothing. Took a turn towards Chotta Chattapatra (CC). We turned and saw fresh pug marks of a Tigress. The pug marks were so fresh that we thought we will see her walking ahead of us on the road.

Slowly and silently we followed. A Jungle fowl alarm call ensued, and the pug marks disappeared to one side. The alarm call continued. We thought the Tiger had heard us and had moved into the bush. We switched off the engine and waited. A Jeep coming from behind had a very ecstatic guide, Umesh, who said the Tigress is on the main road behind us, the area from where we had turned left, she was on the right curve. We turned swiftly. I ensured my camera was on.

We reached the spot and heard lot of alarm calls of Spotted Deers, and Sambar as well calling. The Tigress was on the move. Hearing the calls few more Jeeps assembled in the area. Two Jeeps before us had seen the tail of the Tigress before she moved in. We moved on to the Bada Chattapatra (BC). The alarm calls were coming from the valley on our right, we continued to move with a hope of seeing her emerge from the bush somewhere.

Then, suddenly a very loud, “Aaaaooooooommmm”. Distance wasn’t more than 20 metres. People who have heard a Tiger in the wild will understand what goes through the mind, heart and soul when they hear the Tiger roar. Before I could turn around and tell my daughter to keep her camera ready, she roared again, much closer, closer than I expected. Suddenly I heard the crushing of the dry leaves by her walk. The sound of crushed dry leaves was getting closer, and our heart beats faster.

Three Jeeps in the area, all silent. But anxiety got the better of one driver, he switched on the engine, wanting to go ahead of us. Hearing this the Tigress changed course. I sensed it as i heard the crushing of leaves sound go away. She turned into the valley. She stopped roaring. The alarm calls continued, but now they had started to fade away signaling that she was moving away, she had changed course. Tiger sighting in Mukki did not happen on this occasion.

My daughter’s face fell, Naren and me were disappointed as she had moved away. But the important aspect about experienced naturalists like Naren is that this disappointment lasts only moments. Yes, we missed one opportunity but safari was not over. Tigers had not left Kanha and gone away. Now we decided to move towards Duke road where we anticipated she would come out from.

We reached Duke road, and in no time the alarm calls of the Sambar deer started. The movement of the Tigress was on, and she was again coming towards us. I lifted my camera as I anticipated her to make an appearance in the fire line in front of us. It would have been a great image of the Tigress walking in the fire line. Then suddenly again a very loud, “Aaaaaooooooommmm”, and it was clear that she is heading straight towards us, still in the deep, the roar resonated. It was not clear from where she will emerge, but emerge she will for sure. And again, another “Aaaaaooooommmm”.

She was about to come out, any second, any moment, my heart was racing, and so was the time to exit the park. It was time to start the journey back to the exit gate. Her roaring continued, how desperately i wanted time to stop for a few minutes…alas, it does not, would not, and did not.

This time we had to start our engine, to exit towards the gate. While we changed gears, my head kept looking in the direction from where the Tigress was roaring. My eyes kept on searching for those majestic stripes which I hoped to see maybe just for a fraction of a second, but it was not to be. A momentary sadness engulfed me. Sat down in the Jeep, put my camera to rest, closed my eyes, and in my imagination saw the Tigress emerge out of the tall grass into the open.

I wanted to stop the vehicle right there, turn back again, go back to the spot, for I knew she had made an entry, but did not due to lack of time. One deep breath, I opened my eyes, and smiled looking at the sky. Yes, I did not see the Tigress physically today, but I did hear her roar, I saw her fresh pug marks, she was close, very close, and yes, I saw her clearly in my imagination. Oh, what a super Tiger safari it was.

This is what is special about Tiger sighting in Mukki. This zone always keeps you on the edge, you know Tigers are all around you. There is enough of evidence, enough of pug marks, growls etc. Tiger sighting in Mukki has been the highlight of Kanha National Park for the last two years.

Returned to the Lodge, the first question from everyone is, ‘Sir how was the safari”, I smiled, and they knew that I had seen a Tiger.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spiritual and a Birding tour in Rajasthan

Birding Tour in Rajasthan
Black Buch in Tal Chhaper Sanctuary
Birding tour in Rajasthan
Demoiselle Cranes in Kheechan, Phallodi

I had heard a lot about the efforts of a man named Ratan Lal, in the village of #Kheechan (Rajasthan. Apparently he had started conserving the #Demoiselle #Cranes. To keep himself busy he would feed the pigeons and peacocks. Once he noticed some Demoiselle cranes come on the feed. He continued the feed regularly over the years. Gradually their numbers increased to hundreds, then thousands, and today more than 20000 Demoiselle cranes come to this village.

This is an interesting conservation story which i wanted to see with my eyes. One fine day I set out by car to discover this spot, and do birding tour in Rajasthan. The drive was long hence we planned a small detour to include another birding spot, namely #Tal #Chhapar in the district of Churu.

It was a fogged out December morning, so could drive only at a speed of about 20kms per hour. We stopped at a small dhaba for breakfast. Here we were told of a holy spot of Salasar Balaji Dham, a temple of the Monkey God Hanuman. It was en route so we decided to stop at this place.

Balaji Dham is located in a small town of Salasar near Sujangarh in Churu district. It is considered to be a Shakti Sthal (seat of power). There are 51 Shakti peeths in India. Thus it attracts millions of worshippers round the year. A very peaceful place with strong vibrations, how one hour went by at this spot we did not even realize.

Tal Chappar

Then we drove onwards for 45 minutes to Tal Chhapar. Located on the fringes of Thar dessert, it is a flat saline depression. The nearby village is named Chhapar and the flat sanctuary is known as Tal, hence Tal Chhapar. We entered the sanctuary within minutes of reaching there.

The beautiful flat grasslands of the Tal are picturesque, and some visible horns of the walking blackbuck added to this painting like surroundings. We drove inside the sanctuary in our car, and soon realized why it was not a good idea to have an open vehicle for a #safari here. The dry sand covers you and the vehicle in minutes of entering this sanctuary. Hence a closed car is advisable. So when you spot something, stop, roll down the windows, and silently observe or photograph quietly.

The blackbucks and the birds here very shy due to lack of human presence. You stop and they walk. Open flat grasslands with some trees interspersed give a feeling of a savanna.

Though the size of this sanctuary is small, but the complete eco-system it houses is amazing. The main attraction here is the Black buck. It is also a passage for the migratory birds, which come here in October and stay until March. The Marsh Harriers, Lager Falcon, Common Krestel, Tawny Eagle, Short toed Eagle are amongst many birds that you can spot here. Best time to spot these birds is late evening, just before sunset and sunrise. This is the time when they are less active and seen mostly on the ground, or at times perched on the trees. As the sun comes up, these birds become active, and the action begins.

Morning in Tal Chappar

Next day we were woken up by a loud chanting on a loud speaker at 4am, coming from the nearby village, the first reaction is not so positive, but soon we started to enjoy it. Mahendra told us that the entire village gets up at 4am, visits the local temple, then they all go and feed the birds, and start their day. They have these fixed places around the village, some 3 feet tall platforms surrounded by iron grill, and they leave the grains for the birds to come and feed. Every family in the village does that daily. The love and concern for mother nature could not be better seen.

After a quick breakfast we went to #Gaushala, (Cow shelter). We were told that this is the place where one can find the Spotted Creeper if lucky. Our luck was not with us that day. The place is called Gaushala as in monsoons when the rains flood the entire village, the cattle of the area gather here as it is a bit high, and here they have a lot of grass to feed. Currently we saw lot of Buck here, some #Egyptian #Vultures and some #Harriers.

Then we went and saw the Salt area close by. Some #Pied #Avocets, #stilts, and an Eagle Owl with the young ones was a welcome site. Mahendra was very happy to see the young ones and he said that now their population will increase from about 10 to 13, and in few years he sees this area as the most favorite place to see the Eagle Owls.

Demoiselle Cranes in Kheechan Phalodi.

We hit out for our next destination, #Kheechan in #Phalodi district to see the most spectacular avian sites for last 40 years. Started by Ratan Lal by feeding a couple of dozen cranes, today over 20 thousand Demoiselle Cranes visit the area. A local Ngo has been formed where people donate to get the grains for the cranes.

Today almost 2.5 quintals of grain is being fed to these birds daily. I would recommend every birder visiting the area to donate towards this cause. While standing there suddenly all the cranes took to flight. We noticed a stray dog had come close to the water hole. One villager came running towards the area and drove the dog away. Gradually the birds settled down again near the lake. This was one of the most beautiful birding sites I have seen in India.

Brahma Temple, Pushkar, and Dargah of Gareeb Nazaz in Ajmer

Having spent a couple of hours here, it was time to hit the road again. We decided to visit the Brahma Temple in Pushkar. Reached Pushkar by late evening. Next day morning, we explored this clean city of Pushkar. Every November there is a big cattle fair here, and the entire city is packed with foreign tourists and photographers. Colors on display are seen to be believed.

Visit to the Brahma Temple was a transcending experience. Hardly any tourists or pilgrims, the place was peaceful and levitating. Moved on the 2nd most popular pilgrimage of Muslims, the Dargah of Gareeb Nawaz at Ajmer. My second visit to the Dargah in less than 6 months was an overwhelming experience. There is something special about this place that gets people of all religions and faiths. Having offered a chadar, we reluctantly moved on. Light heart, and heavy eyes is what one experiences when here.

It was now time to get back home, and we hit the road silently, but happily.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

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Tracking Kingfisher, the dominant male Tiger in Kanha National Park

Tiger in Kanha National Park
Tiger Photography Safari
Tiger in Kanha National Park
Territory marking by a Tiger in Kanha

“Good Morning Sir, this is your wake up call”. It was 4.30am, my last safari of this visit to Kanha. After five blank safaris, a thought crossed should I just relax today as I have an evening flight to catch? But I put the mind over mattress and jumped out of the bed, and in some time was sitting in the Jeep. The focus of this entire visit was to see Kingfisher male, a huge dominating Tiger in Kanha National Park.

At the park gate I met a guide who said that last evening he had seen #pugmarks of a male #Tiger going from #Andh Kuan to #Gorella. I shared this with our guide today and moved towards the direction. Reached the Andh Kuan #Camp no signs of anything. Asked the guard at the camp if he had any information. He said, about half an hour back he had heard a Tiger calling. Excitement showed in the eyes of Naren, and the steering turned towards #Bahimarra road.

We had gone only 10 meters when another vehicle ahead of us, signaled us to stop, we did, and within moments we see a huge #Tiger walking towards us on the track. Both the vehicles started to reverse. It was about 7am. With mist in the background, and some dust of the vehicle in front of us, the Tiger walked fast, confidently, and with a purpose. We started to reverse. His speed only got us to reverse faster.

I settled at a spot in the Jeep to take some shots. Tiger’s hurried walk gave me a lesson on how to be ever ready in a Jeep. The shots taken in this 100 meters walk, are so representative of what Kanha is about, mist, sal, meandering trails, and peace. I will preserve these for eternity. It was now that Naren said, “Sir this is Kingfisher male”, my euphoria knew no bounds. This was the male Tiger I was trying to track for almost 6 months and get some head on shots. Finally, the moment had arrived. Perseverance pays as they say, sure it does.

He continued to walk with determination towards his destination. Seemed as if in search of something. From his gait we could make out that his tummy was almost full, and he surely did not seem to be in a hunting mode. It was now that he looked towards something in the bush and began to stalk. He entered the bush. We were a tad disappointed that he was gone, but not convinced that he was gone for long. Deep down the intuition said that he will be back. The eyes were yearning for him even more now.

We stopped, and waited. This is the most crucial time in any sighting. At times a wait for a few extra seconds can deprive you from another sighting. Suddenly the #Sambar #deer gave an alarm call from a distance, our hearts grieved. As the call was from a distance hence we thought that the Tiger had crossed over from the other side, and it was all over for the morning.

After about 30 minutes of waiting the guide Preetam suggested let us go and take a round of the area just in case he has come out from the other side. Reluctantly we started, hoping that he had not crossed, but one portion of the mind said, what if he comes out again and we are not there. This situation arises frequently during a safari. We decided to go ahead and check on the other side. We saw some pugmarks, fortunately they were of a Leopard, and we concluded that the distant Sambar deer call was for the Leopard in the area. But it was not long for us to guess that the Tiger most likely had moved into the bush as he had sensed, or smelled the Leopard perhaps.

We finished the round and almost reached the spot from where the Tiger had entered the bush. Suddenly we hear a Sambar alarm call, we braked, he called again, and then, the Tiger called, “Aaaaoooomm”. The excitement, the spirit, the energy was all back in fraction of a moment. When we reached the spot, the Tiger had just come out of the bush, and walking in front of us. T

he break of about 45 minutes or a bit more had slowed down the pace of his walk. And yet again, he did not want to leave the road, this time we were behind him. It was after almost 50 meters that he went to the side of the road to do his territorial marking, and that gave us an opportunity to move ahead of him. Now we were in front and he was behind us All was same except that the light was more now, it was about 8am, and the sun was behind Kingfisher.

By now, some more vehicles from the other zones had come, and they were behind us. He walked fearlessly. I left my camera and just looked into his eyes, and he into mine. There was unsaid truce, love, and affection exchanged. His eyes said, “Alright, I don’t mind your presence as you have been quiet, and tolerant.” The vehicles behind us were slow, which also slowed our movement, and the Tiger closed in the distance a bit too fast.

I was left with no option but to now take out a smaller lens, and started to take some images. We had reached a nullah, and my guide said, ‘Sir, ab yeh is puliya par latega”, Sir” he will now do a marking on this pipe”. How apt was that. The Tiger lied down on the pipe as if making love with the pipe. One of the most unique sights I have seen. He seemed to be in love with the pipe. The expressions were so innocent, as if saying that I have found something smooth and cool in this whole rugged Jungle.

Having done that, he moved into the bush and uphill. It was curtains on today’s show.

I write this article almost 50 hours after witnessing this magnificent male Tiger of Kanha. The hangover is far from over, and I see no withdrawal symptoms yet. All I can say after this episode is that of all the worldly, material, and sensory pleasure that I have experienced in this lifetime this one has lasted the longest, second only to the joyful experience of communion with the almighty.

Sharad Vats

 

 

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