As winter bids farewell to Bandhavgarh, mild showers continue to breath a fresh life in a forest which is all set to face a tough summer ahead. The mahua bloom is on the swing and damp smell of the mahua along with the fresh budding on the saal tree tops adds a fresh flavor to the park just before the onset of the summer.
Having said this, Bandhavgarh springs are fascinating to shoot the striped wonders of this tiger country. The soft morning and evening light along with breathtaking backdrops of colorful saal, tesu and cotton silk flowers give the edge to images which are normally very bland during summers.
Here are some images from the 2013 Bandhavgarh spring:
In June 2012 when the forests of India were about to close for monsoons, T17 – the lady of the lakes – at Ranthambhore National Park gave a much awaited news as her tiny little cubs were seen for the first time in Rajbagh – an area which she acquired from her legendary mother Machali who ruled this kingdom for over a decade. Tiger lovers, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts across India anxiously waited through the monsoon quarter for the park to reopen. The popular belief was that the era of Machali would be back in Ranthambhore with her daughter raising a little of 3 in the majestic backdrops of the palatial ruines of Rajbagh and the Ranthambhore fort. The stage was looking set for the drama to begin but T17 had other ideas.
Pressure from dominant males encroaching into her territory forced the inexperienced first time mother to move her cubs out of the prime locales of Ranthambhore as she found a new home in the upper terrains of Kachida. The lady of the lakes now made short and quick visits to her palatial property and started spending more time in an area which was dense and unaccessible by tourists. After the initial glimpses of her cubs through the months of October and November, the protective mother who has always been a photographer’s delight made brief public appearances.
However one fine morning on Dec 3rd, the queen was back in action after a silence of more than a fortnight. Drama unfolded on Kachida hill tops today morning as T17 emerged from nowhere and speeded across the golden hills responding to sambhar alarm calls for a leopard that had stationed itself on the top of a cliff. With the valley resounding with alarm calls for the 2 cats it was an anticipated wait. Suddenly T17 emerged out in the open with a stolen sambhar which she gracefully draged in beautiful morning light…
Vijaya’s young battalion of 3 cubs were very quite for the past few days. They were giving brief appearances in the Sidhbaba grassland and in the presence of Mom and Dad (Sashi) loitering around in the Jumuniah area the cubs were lethargic and did not indulge in any major play as the sun went down. However yesterday the scenario was different. Dad headed of to the badi gufa and Mom was out on a hunt. 5pm in the evening, the cubs made an appearance from the cool swamps under the jamun trees in front of Sidhbaba and for the next 45 minutes they displayed some extraordinary play which have not been witnessed in Bandhavgarh for ages.
Punches, chases, arial fights, bonding, love – it was a mix of emotions and the spectators were spell bound seeing the energy level of these cubs. The grassland had become a boxing ring for these young guns as they played merrily for the whole evening and continued to enjoy the session event after the tourist vehicles called it a day.
Tiger Diary – Published by Tiger Nation
BANDHAVGARH, MAY 2012: Vijaya, like all mother’s, has up till now taken a careful approach to bringing out her gangly 6 month old kids in any formal way. She has preferred to keep them off roads skirting forests and meadows in her bid to protect them.
Not anymore. She set out to lead her family on a distinct Royal tour, sauntering contentedly along the very road that she has watched thousands of pilgrims move on high days and holidays, as well as countless visitors every day.
Her merry band of youngsters followed her quite contentedly, often stopping to play with one another, bite each other tail, or sideling up to mum to complain that they are bored of walking.
Mum though was on a mission, and from the Chakradhara meadows, she proceeded up the hill towards the fort’s main entrance and then up the 10th century carved stairs at Vishnu’s temple before vanishing into the forested hills behind.
Vijaya’s Royal walkabout suggest that she is perfectly comfortable with her ‘Princess’ status in the Tala range.
Nature gives signals… there are many times we ignore it but on that warm day of June it was hard to overlook them. As I was sipping a cup of tea in my camp in Corbett Tiger Reserve, a pair of white-backed vultures was displaying an extraordinary aerial combat. Moments later, a brown headed barbet perched itself on a tree next to me and was tossing small seeds and flower buds in the air as the food was landing straight in its mouth. As I was observing this pleasing moment, a crested serpent eagle flew and rested itself on a branch right over my head. I changed position to save my tea and saw that the magnificent raptor was feeding on a rat as the filtered sunrays were lighting up its fiery eyes.
“Seems to be a lucky day,” I thought and headed off for a short drive in the buffer zone of Corbett Tiger Reserve. For years, I had dreamt of a close encounter with one of the most ferocious and supreme rulers of the forest. Not a tiger, not an elephant but a reptile that rules the waters of Corbett. A reptile that on any given day can even give a tiger a run for its money when it comes to power. These seemingly lazy monsters can surprise you with their agility and their powerful jaws can crush the heaviest of preys like Sambhars in split seconds.
The mugger crocodiles and gharials have been ruling the sparkling waters of the Ramganga and can be frequently seen resting in the cosy banks of the river from various vantage points inside the national park. However, on multiple occasions, I tried my luck with them by visiting stretches of the Ramganga outside the national park. My attempts were to approach them carefully so as to get a close shot of these aquatic beauties. Most of these attempts failed as crocs are extremely sensitive to sound and they tend to disappear in the river with the slightest of disturbance.
As I was heading towards Marchula crossing the dense saal cover, I was wondering if the luck I was enjoying since morning would favour me. Forest superstitions plague your mind at times. “If I sight a cheetal somewhere in the next 2 minutes, this is certainly my day,” I told myself. I had hardly made this statement when a slight movement on the road bend caught my attention. A full grown cheetal stag walked out on the road looked straight at my vehicle and sprinted towards the other side. I was thrilled and marvelled at the signals that nature was giving me.
On reaching Marchula, I approached the river with anxiety and apprehensions. As I was descending from the hill, I saw something that seemed to be a log of wood. I inspected the area closely using my binoculars and the mighty jaws were wide open. A giant mugger croc was lying on the bank of the river… and luckily the bank was the same area I was approaching. I noticed that the beast was almost 20 meters away from the river.
Today was the chance for be face to face the monster of Ramganga – was the though as the distance was reducing while I was approaching the croc with steady and soft steps ensuring that I do not make a single sound. The slightest movement from his side and I would stop and stay still till I felt that the animal was comfortable with my presence.
I was now 20 meters away from the beautiful crocodile which was nearly of the same size as the distance I was maintaining. Sweat was dripping down my face and I could feel a cold shiver down my spine as those intoxicating green eyes were checking my every move. I don’t know whether it was because of fear or excitement… but I guess it was a mixture of feelings.
The handsome croc with its fiery eyes had now started give me the most nerve chilling experience in the wild as it started advancing towards me. I guess nature was now signalling that the time had come for the retreat and I slowly started backing off leaving behind the croc in that pristine valley that draws me back every time in search of the river prince!
Unseasonal rains, misty mornings and extreme cold were making Kanha National Park a tough destination from a photography perspective this January. The cat action had gone done considerably so I had diverted my attention to landscapes and swamp deers (barasingha). I was particularly interested in swamp deers as I was yet to get that good perspective of a swamp deer stag in the ever beautiful and scenic Kanha meadows. Unfortunately in my previous visits to Kanha, a stag was something which I had missed.
Seeing the weather and shooting conditions, I decided to focus my attention on the meadows and grassland and the hunt for swamp deers were on. Every round in the park yielded some nice swamp deer perspectives and it was a smooth sail. That particular evening drive however had something different in store.
With minimal cat expectations and engrossed in the thoughts of capturing Kanha’s in its mystic and damp spirit, Kahini and I set out for the evening round. We were as usual chasing the evening light in the meadows as I wanted to work on swamp deers in the typical evening mood of the meadows. As our vehicle speeded through the narrow forest tracks, I nearly dozed off post the heavy lunch. The sleep was however short-lived for the driver gave me a big jolt by putting the breaks on. The jolt in front of me was bigger!
Munna – the dominant male of Kanha meadows – suddenly emerged out on the right of the road ready for an evening stroll towards the Kanha meadows. The giant male lazily did a scat marking on the side of the road and strolled in grand fashion in front of the vehicle.
Rather than picking up the biggest lens to shoot the mighty beast, I decided to experiment with habitat perspectives which is something I always like to do. Unfortunately, this was a Nature Wanderers event and the participants have the first right on my equipments. I had given away most of my equipments to the Canon Wild Clicks equipments and was left with just 1 camera body to shoot. So the choice had to be swift…
The decision was in favor of a Canon 24-70 f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 and I juggled between both these lenses to capture the king’s walk. Shooting big cats that have ventured close to your vehicle with lower focal lengths capture’s the mood of the forest. It differentiates a Kanha picture from a Ranthambhore image for both are different terrains with their own unique features.
A tiger is a tiger… from a photographer’s perspective it becomes imperative to think and create frames that transports a viewer to that particular forest. I have seen some superb habitat perspectives of tigers in the wild taken by my counterparts and I respect the instant creativity shown by those photographers.
For now, dedicating this note the charismatic Munna and his majestic forest…
(A note post the Nature Wanderers Bandhavgarh Photo Tour in May 2010)
I entered Bandhavgarh with a heavy heart as the Jhurjhura female death had shocked wildlife lovers across the globe. Had always admired her photographs and the beautiful moments that my fellow photographers spent with this majestic queen and her cubs were flashing in front of me as I was passing through the buffer zone of the reserve. The last thing I wanted was a phone call that disturbed my thought process. 2 things you can’t ignore in life – wilderness calling and wife calling!
“A leopard just crossed the road in front of me!” remarked Kahini who was leading a group of photographers a few kilometers from my vehicle. There couldn’t have been a better welcome for this group of shutterbugs who had flown from across India to shoot in Bandhavgarh National Park.
As I was getting ready for my early morning ride in Bandhavgarh, apprehensions were setting in. With half of the forest closed because of the Jhurjhura incident and a dry sighting period that had lasted for around 5-6 days (which is surprisingly high considering Bandhavgarh standards) I was wondering if the forest God would shower his blessings.
For tiger researchers and photographers nothing gets better than getting the opportunity to follow one tiger for a significant amount of time and closely observe its behavioral and character traits and thereby document them in the form of photos. There are some legendary tigers who do give you that kind of an opportunity and Bandhavgarh does boast of names like B2 and the late Jhurjhura female. However, this eventful morning had something else in store.
As we moved uphill crossing the thick bamboo forest amidst loud peacock calls and a few long billed vultures hovering over my vehicle, something distracted my driver as he slowed down the vehicle. A slight movement in the bushes around 150 yards from the vehicle and out walked a young striped queen. She bent down, gulped water from a water hole which was not visible. Her golden quote and prominent marking were shining brightly in the soft morning light as her back was visible from the point I was observing her.
She lifted her head and as soon as she started walking towards the left towards the open patch of dry grass, I was ready to shoot. Little did I know that this young tigress known as the Banbhai female would give me 45 mesmerizing minutes that I will remember for the longest time…
She walked gracefully and disappeared behind the rocks. Anticipating her movement and direction, I moved the vehicle near a nullah around 100 meters away from the spot from where she was quenching her thirst. I breathed a sigh of relief when a couple of cheetal called informing me that she was still on the move. My eyes were glued to a spot which looked like a tiger track and I expected to see her there. She however surprised me as she emerged inches away from my vehicle.
Crossing the fleet of 3 vehicles from a distance of 10 feet, she walked royally in the middle of the road, smelling and sent marking trees before disappearing in the bamboo. I backed my vehicle and waited for around 10 minutes and the cheetal again called.
Seeing a tiger emerging from a dense forest and walking towards you is the most amazing high for a wildlife photographer. The Mirchani female was not done with her territory patrol yet. She walked out, stopped and looked straight into my lens. Through my view finder, I could see the pupil of her eye shrinking and shining brightly as the sun rays fell straight on her face.
She took a few steps towards the vehicle and then slowly walked past. Minute by minute the distance between the majestic predator and my lens was decreasing. I was now finding it difficult to focus with my 500mm as she was getting too close and quickly swapped bodies to get a better view. She bent and marked her territory again this time using her scat. A slight movement in my vehicle attracted her attention. She snarled and with her eyes on the vehicle she slowly moved away and with a couple of leaps she disappeared inside a cave.
These are moments that remain embedded in a photographer’s memory for though we do miss seeing the wild drama through naked eyes, the lens and the camera acts like a amazing bridge that brings us closer to the unique and exquisite wilderness of our country. The Big Bs of Bandhavgarh are a photographer’s dream and I would like to dedicate these shots to the legend of Jhurjhura… may your soul rest in peace!
(Published in Deccan Chronicle, June 2011)
As my car passed through the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, the sight dampened my spirits. Massive mining and quarrying operations on the wild lands dents the buffer zone of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – the Jewel of Vidharbha. The apprehensions died down as soon as I entered the reserve with the sun rays filtering through a lush green forest that was sparkling after the monsoon showers.
The highlight of my Tadoba visit could easily have been those 4-5 minutes I spent with the striped queen who walked in front of my vehicle marking her territory and majestically patrolling the picturesque Telia Lake. The highlight was not the pair of wild dogs that came out in the middle of the road from no where. It was not even the two sloth bears I saw on 2 consecutive days. The hours that followed these short and sweet sightings had something amazing in store which became the feature of the visit.
The weather was a bit cloudy and the trees and bushes were buzzing with activity as the avionic wonders of Tadoba had just started their daily chores. We passed through the scenic Tadoba lake looking for some traces of the big cat and the sudden cheetal alarm calls caught my attention.
Taking refuge under a huge banyan tree, I strained my ears for alarm calls that were slowly dying informing us that the predator has either settled down or left the area. The intensity of the anxiety of the cheetal called for a waiting game and we were holding our breath in anticipation.
In the midst of the excitement that a predator movement can cause in a forest, you tend to ignore the action going on around you. A flameback woodpecker suddenly took off from a tree towards the back of our vehicle and flew towards this peepal tree drawing my attention towards this chirping patch of vegetation where the woodpecker joined its companion perching itself on a nearby branch. As I was observing the hops of the woodpecker pair, a golden oreole darted inside the tree flaunting its bright yellow coat in bright sunlight.
Further scanning of the tree revealed a pair of black drongos calling each other on adjacent branches. The drongo conversation was intervened by their specie counterpart as a white bellied drongo perched itself right on the branch above. On the right hand patch of the tree, the tree tops were dominated by a parakeet family. In the beginning it was just a couple of rose ringed parakeets that were feeding in the golden morning light. Within minutes, a pair of plum headed parakeets joined the party and before I could take the entire family in one frame, an Alexander parakeet caught hold of the top most branch to make it a complete family picture.
With eyes glued at the top of the tree, I missed some action in the center where purple sunbirds were flying in and out of the bush in search of flower nectar in the bushes behind the tree. The buzz inside the patch forced me to lift my binoculars for a closer look. Oriental white eyes, red vented bulbuls, jungle wabblers were the reason for hustle and just as I was lowering the binoculars, a blackish silhouette perched itself on the left hand corner of the tree.
I caught hold of my camera and as the lens focused on the patch, a beautiful pied cuckoo emerged from behind in bright light with a caterpillar catch as its morning breakfast. Hoping from one branch to another, it relished its breakfast and finally came out in the open posing in front of me for some good couple of minutes.
The peace and tranquility of a tree for a few minutes made it a hot spot for birds around the location but the peace was momentary. The predator somewhere in the deep and dense bushes decided to continue its morning walk and the cheetal gave frantic alarm calls yet again. The drongos were the first to leave and were followed by the parakeets. Within seconds a tree that was sheltering around 40 odd species of birds stood bird-less… this was another form of nature I witnessed for the first time – natural shelters are momentary!