I have been to India numerous times before and it goes without saying that the main draw is the largest of the world’s cats, the tiger. However, there is so much more on offer in this remarkable country and earlier this year I visited a state I had not previously been to, Karnataka.
I led a non-photographic trip, acting as a naturalist guide, in Nagarhole National Park. This is without a doubt, one of the finest reserves I have been to on the Indian subcontinent, a forest reserve that plays host to a staggering array of species. There are tiger here, needless to say, but it is the chance of seeing a black leopard that draws many to these foothills to the Western Ghats. When you throw in traditional leopards, Asian wild dog, wild Asian elephant, sloth bear and countless bird species, it really is a wildlife-lover’s paradise.
As it wasn’t a photographic trip, I only managed to get some quick snaps, but hopefully these following images give you a real taste of what is on offer here …
What a place Nagarhole is. All I can really say is that you need to book on to a Wildlife Worldwide’s Nagarhole’s Tigers, Wild Dogs & Leopards trip for 2020.
There is one animal that elicits an emotional response like no other in the natural world. Which creature could it be? For me, and many others I know of, the Tiger has an aura, a spirit that seems to soar above those creatures around it. Don't be fooled though, this isn't the only draw to India ... it is just a case of trying to find a wild corner of this vast country to explore its natural delights.
I have recently returned from a trip to India searching for Tigers and some of the stars of the Jungle Book. I had some issues along the way with cameras and park legislation but I won't go into that here.
I didn't have the best trip from a photographic point of view but there were a few stand out moments which I thought I would share with you.
The week started off pretty slowly and I didn't really have any sightings of any of Tadoba's standout species. However I did seem to have some better luck on the bird of prey front ... as you can see above. The my luck changed and I had an incredible encounter with a very handsome young male Tiger.
Only moments after driving through the park gates we heard a sound that is comparable with that of a Lion in Africa. We heard the territorial call of the Tiger and we knew that it was heading back into the park, having spent the night patrolling the park boundary.
We drove up into the park proper and stopped at the top of the hill and listened. The deep call sounded again from the forest, it was coming closer. We moved further down the road and waited for a moment that will live long in my memory, an intimate moment with one of the most striking individual cats I have ever seen.
I was also really lucky with a particularly close encounter with a pack of Dhole (Indian Wild Dog), but the photography opportunities were tricky as the dogs being rather unsettled. Only moments before these images they had failed to hunt a Barking Deer, they weren't particularly keen to oblige and pose for photographs.
I will be writing another post about the last few days I spent in Tadoba and going on to describe a few of my concerns too. Although I saw plenty of wildlife, I was rather shocked at some of the tourism practices within the park and the way this could directly affect the wildlife.
For now though I will leave you with a shot of this cute little fellow ...
Today was my last morning in Tadoba and my last chance, in this wonderful park, to see a tiger. We had the usual morning routine and we were off to the Northern part of the park to try and find those elusive tigers. We headed down the same road as the day before and as we approached the spot, where we had seen the wild dogs the day before, I noticed some deer running across the road ahead. We sat still and watched the deer for a few minutes until they disappeared into the thick bamboo. Only moments later a solitary wild dog appeared from where the deer had emerged and it sat by the side of the road. That was just the start to a wonderful wildlife encounter.
After a few minutes and after we had driven closer to this beautiful animal, we saw some movement on the edge of the bamboo. Then, at the same time, we all spotted a beautiful wild dog pup coming to join the adult. They seemed quite relaxed with our presence but the pup did keep its distance for a while. Then to our horror a park guard was cycling down the road and he did not care about disturbing these two wild animals. He rode his bike straight at them and the pup ran for cover. The adult stood its ground, yawning, to warn the guard not to come any closer. You could imagine it was saying "you see these teeth, do not even think of coming closer!". To our delight the pup reappeared and in actual fact, it came so much closer. This was one of the best moments of my wildlife viewing history, it was so intimate and it was just such a treat. If I was being incredibly picky (as a photographer), I would have preferred them to have been across the other side of the road, in the sunlight.
We returned to the lodge, after seeing very little else, to have our breakfast and get ready for the road journey to Pench National Park. On the way we were to stop in Nagpur and have our lunch in the Tuli Imperial hotel. We left promptly and when we arrived at the Tuil Imperial I was met by the hotel manager, once again. I had chinese for lunch, this gives you a nice break from the curries, and before long we were back on the road. The drive to Nagpur from Tadoba was three hours and we had another four hours travel ahead. On the road to Pench we saw a new species, the Rhesus Macaque, playing on the verges and roadside trees. These are aggressive and extremely intelligent monkeys who often have little fear of man, this can lead to conflict. We arrived at Pench before it was dark and I have to say this lodge was, what I like to call, luxurious. It was a grand, 5 star lodge that seemed to be designed as if it was a Roman Palace and it was a little grand for my liking. Welcome to the the Tuli Corridor of Pench. We had a pleasant dinner and went for an early night's sleep. The rest of our group (those not doing the pre-tour extension) were due to arrive late this evening and would be joing us for a morning safari.
Today was our last full day in this beautiful National Park and the pressure was on to try and find a tiger. We followed the usual routine of picking up our local guide as we entered into the park. After only a couple minutes drive into the park we saw something moving in the road ahead. We slowed down and then the guides said to us in a very quiet manner that it was Asiatic Wild Dog puppies playing and that their parents were by the side of the road in the long grass.
We settled down after the initial excitment and watched (and in my case photographed) the puppies and the adults play with one another for nearly half an hour. It was a lovely sighting and a great way to have a first encounter with a previously unseen species that is just so appealing. We continued on our way to find a tiger, once the dogs had disappeared into the forest and before long we stumbled upon a huge Sambar stag standing proudly in the road. He posed for a few photographs before slowly moving aside, he showed absolutely no fear of us in the vehicle.
Once again we headed South to get to the location where the tiger had been seen the day before but once again we were distracted. This time a herd of Chital were running across a meadow at high speed, a few seconds later a Wild Dog appeared and within a couple of minutes another two emerged from the forest. We then watched the small pack make repeated attempts to hunt the Chital by running at them and the deer would then scatter at high speed. We assumed that this was to try and work out if any of the herd were weak or ill and they could then pick them off. After multiple attempts and no success the pack trotted off into the forest and after a few minutes we left them to go in search of the tiger once more.
We came across the same jeep that saw the tigress the day before and once again they had struck lucky. They had heard alarm calls close to a waterhole and sat patiently before the tigress appeared and drank for a few minutes. They had a great view and some of the people got some lovely photographs. We were a little envious we had not seen the tigress but we did feel priveleged that we had been lucky enough to see Wild Dog attempt a hunt.
In the afternoon we sat and waited in the area the tiger had been seen on both occasions but this afternoon she had gone to ground and there was no sign of her. Our first good sighting of a tiger would have to wait. After an afternoon of waiting and no results we went back to the lodge a little disappointed and after our dinner we went to bed to recharge for the next day.