Tiger sightings in any national park of India have fluctuating cycles. There are times when multiple tigresses start breeding cubs and as a result sightings flourish as the summers approach. As the cubs grow up and start forming their own territories and females become solitary again & there is a brief dip period and the situation takes some time to normalize.
It was during this season of dipping summer sightings when I along with my friend Gautam Pandey visited Bandhavgarh National Park in the warm summer months of 2011. The tiger dynamics of the park were not very encouraging at that point of time as none of current cubs were around and queen Vijaya was still trying to find her ground in the Chakradhara meadows.
As we started our first drive in what was going to be a marathon run inside Bandhavgarh, little did we know that our tiger luck would be at abysmal levels in the days to come. After a few days of dry dusty drives, clouds of negativities surrounded us and we were just waiting to wrap up the shoot as soon as possible.
The heat made us ignore a basic thumb rule – when with nature, it is imperative to be positive and absorb nature in all its forms and shapes. Our 6th day started in a rejuvenating fashion as we stuck to some basics. Something was good about that morning as we started with no pre-defined strategies. In an unusual relaxed fashion we started a bit late and despite of the deliberated 15-20 minutes delay we were the first vehicle to enter the park gate. For a change the desperate cat-seeking prayers transformed into a mere ‘thank you’ to mother nature for making us experience this wonderful forest.
The sunrise over Ghodademon was refreshing and the rocky patterns on the upper reaches of the fort dazzled in morning light. The soft chirps of bush birds were live music to the ears at the vehicle sped leisurely across a forest buzzing with cheetals and langurs busy in their morning chores. Our days of disappointments were in the back-burner and the beauty of nature was touching our souls.
As we moved towards Mirchiani, a sudden movement across the stoned parked boundary attracted our attention. As soon as we breaked, a huge black ball of hair emerged out of the wall peeping right into the vehicle. The beautiful looking male sloth bear then climbed the wall inches away from our vehicle and took the comfort of a tree right next to road. He rolled, scratched himself against the hanging bark and spread inside the bamboo thickets.
The four minutes of bear action was not the best from a photography perspective but was enough to make up for the last 5 days. Nature is full of mysteries and spectacles that keep unfolding in every corner of wilderness. As children of this planet, the onus is on us to respect natural wonders rather than keep expecting and wishing that nature will fullfil all our demands.
Participate in India’s only live photography contest and showcase your on-field photographic skills in a one-of-its-kind competition in Pench National Park, Maharashtra.
For registrations, visit http://www.naturewanderers.com/wildclicks4
New Delhi, December 8, 2012 : Nature Wanderers – the leading wildlife photography training organisation – launches Nature’s Touch : A wildlife photography show that would showcase the work of a talented bunch of 25 photographers from across India at the Lokayat Art Gallery in New Delhi from December 8th to 13th, 2012.
The exhibition is the first of its kind to promote wildlife and nature photography in the capital city of India. The exhibitors are a mix of senior corporate executives, school kids and entrepreneurs who have seriously pursued wildlife photography as a passion and have worked really hard in creating these wonderful images across forests like Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore, Corbett, Tadoba, Yala (Sri Lanka) and Masai Mara.
Leading wildlife film-maker Mike Pandey would be inaugurating this show in the presence of top notch nature photographers of India.
Venue : Lokayat Art Gallery
Opening Ceremony : Dec 8th at 5pm
Exhibition Timings : 11am to 8pm from Dec 9th to 13th
For Queries Please Contact
Kahini Ghosh Mehta – firstname.lastname@example.org, +91 9871367945
Attika Jain – +91 9953240242
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…
I went to Wilpattu with zero expectations. “How could any forest beat the leopard moments of Yala?” That’s what I had told myself during the 4 hour drive from Colombo. Within the first 2 hours of my drive through this forest, I fell in love with the habitat. From an Indian perspective it has flavors of Corbett mixed with a bit of Bhadra and some shades of Bandhavgarh as well. The absence of those massive rock formations that is the highlight of Yala was a bit surprising…
Over the course of my stay in Wilpattu I shot leopards in some unique never before backdrops. Sightings are not tailor made as it is in Yala where all vehicles can communicate within each other. Your cat tracking skills will be put to use for here you have to follow the traditional tracking channels – look for leopard track marks, be alert to cheetal alarm calls etc.
My latest mission in life is to capture a leopard against this particular white sand background…
Hopefully I will get there soon
As I started yet another morning in Masai Mara, a couple of safari vehicles deep inside the grassland caught my attention. Long distant binocular investigations were not very clear so we decided to check the spot before heading ahead. Heading towards the spot from a distance a swift Serval cat was spotted leaping inside the tall grass in search of its prey.
The rare, shy and ever gorgeous Serval was hardly few feet away from me but the shooting conditions were tough as visibility was poor because of the grass. These are times when you feel helpless for the precious golden light was lighting up the sparse visible patches of the coat. I had targeted to hit a particular pride of lions that morning and this was a difficult subject to leave.
As I was battling these thoughts, the vehicles decided to move on and I was left standing with the Serval. Minutes later she decided to move as well and we started following her. Not so far off was a small mount and her trajectory was straight towards it. “Will she be out of the clearing and climb up on this mount?” I thought. The Serval approached the mount and before I could reach the spot she vanished in the grassland. “What a waste of a morning?” I cursed my luck.
Just when I had given up a sudden movement in one of the burrows inside the mount caught our eyes. A wait of another 15 minutes and the mystery began to unfold with 3 small Serval cubs springing out of the burrow one by one.
The next hour was one of my most cherished moments of Mara as the 3 kittens posed in dramatic light conditions exhausting the camera memory rapidly. Fortunes can really turn upside-down in the wild within seconds!
As wildlife photographers we remain glued to our camera eye piece hunting for that fine intrinsic moment that tells a compelling natural history story. Well the eyes are trained for this and the outcome in the form of images is quite satisfactory but what we miss in this entire process is to absorb and connect with the animal and human emotions around us. During my recent visit to Mara this was one emotional incident that forced me take my eye off the camera and be sensitive towards what was happening around me.
The wildebeests kept piling along side the banks of the Mara river. The gathering gradually grew from hundreds to thousands and within a couple of hours around 30,000 wildebeests were waiting to take the final plunge countering the deadly crocs lazing around in the muddy river, for all the 30000 odd eyes could see was the lush cover of grass on the opposite side.
The stage was set and so were the audience. Around 50 vehicles were lined up on each side of the river with more than 100 photographers concentrating hard with fingers on the trigger. Suddenly a group of zebras stormed towards the river and the wildebeests who had been waiting for someone to take the first step followed them. This was yet another river crossing as the Great Annual Migration was underway.
Amidst the sounds of those 100 odd camera shutters a faint sound towards my right attracted my attention. A wildebeest stampede on the opposite side of the river forced me to remain focused and I kept shooting ignoring all the background disturbance. However this particular sound on my right was persistant and continued to distract me.
I finally took me eye off the camera and saw that a lady somewhere in her 50s was intently watching the proceedings at the river along with her 2 sons. Tear drops were rolling down her cheeks as she hugged her elder son and lifted the younger one on her shoulders so that he could get a clearer view. The families eyes were lit up with a mix of excitement, emotion and anticipation and by this time I had literally forgotten about the big river crossing which went on and on…
And finally after around 20 minutes when the last group of wildebeests made their way to the river she greeted both her sons with a statement that made my eyes moist. “We saved our entire life to witness this son… Now I can lead the rest of my life with peace for we have seen the nature’s biggest wildlife spectacle.”
For me it was a mere river crossing. Just another set of subjects and activity for pictorial documentation. For some it was their dream for which they have waited for years. It was indeed a special and privileged moment for me to be alongside that vehicle that day and feel the emotions that go hand in hand with sightings in the wild!
I have always been in my comfort zone when it comes to my equipments. For the past few years comfort zone for me signified bodies like the Canon 1DM4 and Canon 7D and along with my Canon 500mm f4 and other variable zoom telephotos like the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 etc. I was pretty vary of moving out of this comfort zone. Since wildlife is something I breath in and out on a daily basis this for me was by far the best combination and I was super happy with the combination… And then Canon launched the 5DM3. Despite the massive hysteria around this launch I was unperturbed and continued my daily field activities with this combo. My stereotype perceptions were that I needed range and cropped censors give me that. I need speed in the form of fps and my current set of bodies give me that.
However over the last one and a half years I had been closely analyzing the results of my Canon 7D and I was not particularly happy with the details and the image quality of the body. The low light performance was good but not great specially for me since I shoot more of big cats and their activity is on the higher side in early mornings and late evenings. Even in good light the results of my 7D were no where in comparison to the 1DM4 which Canon India had been regularly giving me for use from time to time.
So post multiple discussions with our friends at Canon, I finally decided to take the 5DM3 plunge. Fortunately a photographer friend of mine had already started using the 5DM3 and it was a good enough push for me. In May I went to Bandhavgarh for my first shoot armed with the new 5DM3. I was using my 1DM4 on the 500mm and the 70-200mm on the 5DM3. It was a critical project and I was being cautious with the combination as I didn’t want to risk using a new body I was not familiar with on a lens which would be majorly in use for this shoot.
A few shots with the 5DM3 in this 10 day shoot and the results were good but since I didn’t use it extensively I was not in a position to test it properly. Most of the images I created were in good light. One major change which I welcomed with open arms were the 61 AF points including the 41 cross type AF points for f4 lenses and the 5 dual diagonal AF points for the 2.8 lenses. With the AF points widely spread across the viewfinder framing and composition became very easy and this feature was fun to use (infact I found the spread better than the 1DM4)
Within the next 10 days I was ready for my second shoot with the 5DM3. The destinations were again 2 prime tiger parks – Tadoba and Bandhavgarh. This time I was more comfortable using the 5DM3 with the 500mm f4. It was 5:30pm in the evening in Bandhavgarh and 3 tiger cubs walked out against a lush green backdrop and played like maniacs in front of my lens. This was a true test for the 5DM3.
With the light fading every moment I started pushing the ISO up from 500 to 640 to 800 to 1000 to 1600 right up to 2000 (at 6:15pm). I had already done a bit of ISO testing for the 5DM3 in Tadoba prior to this because of which I was taking this calculated risk. The results were outstanding. Infact I don’t think I could have taken this tiger series without the 5DM3.
Here is my take on the 6fps and where it is an apt speed for shooting wildlife. Having used bodies that shoot at 8fps and 10fps I thought deeper into this. If you are going for a typical 4-5 day shoot to any forest, how many times do you actually make use of the 10 or 8 fps on the field. During my flat 20 day trip to Bandhavgarh in March/April I was armed with 1DM4. I fired the 1DM4 at full burst hardly twice. The tiger cub sequence which I had taken with my 5DM3 was full of super fast actions as the subject were continuously air borne for 45 odd minutes. I have hardly missed out on any of the action because of the 6fps.
As a matter of fact during my recent trip to Bhadra Tiger Reserve I shot fast and swift river terns gliding over the water level and electric speed for taking a sip. The 5DM3 helped me capture this moment highly effectively. (View River Tern Hysteria for details) So essentially if I am using the right set of prime lenses (500 f4, 400 f2.8 or the 300 f2.8), the 5DM3 does make a lethal combo.
And for first time full frame migratory photographers like me, just get hold of a 16-35 f2.8 lens and explore landscape photography with this latest marvel from Canon!
A small island midst the calm backwaters of Bhadra Tiger Reserve was glowing white as I was approaching this piece of land in my small motor boat. The sky was deep blue with a painting of thin cloud layers that made a compelling formation. I was wondering what the whiteness was all about. As soon as the boat neared the shore, the clouds in the sky had some company for a cloud of river terns took off in all directions. Their numbers were in thousands. With a flurry of chicks around it was apparent that they were breeding out here. The backdrop was a carpet of fresh green grass with a mixture of rocky and muddy banks to add to beauty. Here are some of the images that I created during the River Tern fiesta at Bhadra Tiger Reserve this June.
I wrote this after coming back from Masai Mara last year and thought of posting it today because a lot of our participants accompanying me to Mara this year wanted to know about the equipment preparation to be done for the much awaited tour!
Photography in Masai Mara was a subject of my research as soon as I firmed up my plan to lead a group of photographers for the Migration Uncut camp in Aug 2011 along with my dear friend Aditya Dicky Singh from Bagh Safari. Aditya had been constantly giving me his briefs on photography in Mara from his 2010 visit and in December 2010 I started seeing the works of a lot of photographers who have covered Mara and specially the Great Migration in the past. Some of the internet articles were quite informative but what really helped were the photo stories as it was great to see the frames, compositions and perspectives taken by photographers from across the globe.
After all this research, I landed in Nairobi with 2 Canon 7Ds and a Canon 50D along with my Canon 500mm f4, a Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and my 10-20mm wide (these were the broad level basic equipments I carried). I was actually in two minds whether to carry the 24-70mm f2.8 rather than the wide for the ultra wide habitat perspectives but preferred the 10-20mm fir I thought it would be useful for landscapes and I would use the 70-200 for the habitat shots.
I learnt my first lesson on photography in Mara within a few hours of my entry in Masai Mara. My first safari started a bit late and as I took a short round under fading light conditions, I was shooting at an ISO below 1000 (around 500 to 640 to be precise). Though the sun was touching the horizon, the Mara terrain is never short of light. The savannah is open landscape and light falls directly on the subject unlike forests of India where the light is diffused because of the thick vegetation.
My second lesson was within the first 2.5 hours as in this short span I had already exhausted my 8GB card which I thought will last because I was going for a short round. It will be wrong to say that you can’t afford to be trigger happy in Mara. You can’t avoid it! For there is just too much of action around you and you just can’t resist the photo opportunities. Especially in the months of Aug and Sep, if you are staying at the right location (which enables you to be in the heart of the action areas) the action eats away all the tucked up memory! The main culprit is migration photography. A big river crossing comprising anything between 5000-10000 wildebeests has the potential of consuming 8GB of memory in 10-15 minutes. Using 4GB cards in Mara is not a good idea for you lose crucial moments while changing of cards. Safer bets would be high speed 8, 16 or 32 GB.
Crossings are tricky to shoot for the action is fast and you don’t get time to review your photos. But the flip side is that if you quickly glance through your shots to check if the exposure, focus and frame is right you can get back to work since the herds give you opportunities to shoot again. Typically you may mess up the first crossing you witness because if you witnessing the phenomenon for the first time in your life the excitement of coming face to face with the one of the biggest wildlife spectacles on the planet overpowers your photography and you end up with screwed up pictures. Yet again, if you are staying at the right location in Mara, there are high chances that you will witness more and more crossings and with each crossing you gradually realize the dos and don’ts as far as crossing photography is concerned.
It was after 3 hours that I pulled out my second body with the 500mm to shoot a lion pride that because that was the first subject at a distance. Mara is probably the best place in the world to create stunning habitat perspectives. The accessible terrain increases the proximity to your subjects including big cats thus opening doors of experimentation and innovation. Having spent a week under such shooting conditions I realized that 60-65% of my wildlife shots were taken using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I used my long lenses at times to create tight compositions and for taking those tight river crossing shots but the variable zoom was the pet lens for me. I used it to high effect while shooting critical action sequences like lion hunting as well.
In our group of 12 Nature Wanderers participants, we have as many as five 100-400mm users and I am very happy with the quality of images that all our participants have produced.
Essentially Mara as a location has the potential of giving great image to photographers using all sorts and all strata of equipments. So just carry enough batteries and cards so that you don’t run out of ammunition.
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.
It was a dark and gloomy evening in the Mowgli land and with the onset of monsoons, the weather was looking great for a drive in the forest but unfortunately pleasant driving weather doesn’t go too well with photographers because of our over-dependency on light sources which keep our trigger fingers happy. To the naked eye (because of the absence of light) Pench which I feel is one of the most picturesque parks of Madhya Pradesh when it comes to landscapes was looking pale and colorless. So I decided to experiment with some monotone perspectives and fortunately the denizens obliged making a supposedly dry drive very productive and interesting. Here are few of the images created during the last 2 days in Pench:
It was my 18th consecutive drive in Bandhavgarh National Park. Excessive VIP pressure in the premier Tala zone of the park had disturbed my tiger cub hunting project which had started with a bang during the first half of my visit. The development unleashed the explorer in me as I spent considerable time exploring and discovering lesser tracked areas of Bandhavgarh. The satisfaction of emerging with first photographic records of unrecorded stripes in these areas was immense.
The Easter weekend got the Nature Wanderers (NW) and Canon photography shutterbugs in the tiger land. A group of super enthusiastic photographers across the country and across age groups and since over the last 2 weeks my risks were paying rich dividends I decided to ride my luck again. With over 70 vehicles expected to crowd the Mahaman area during one the evenings of the Easter weekend because of the guaranteed presence of mating couple in the Mahaman dam area, I was wondering if it was a good idea to go after this couple.
The tourist pressure in the area forced me and my team to lay down a strategy of entering the Makhdee zone from a less accessed gate quite far of from the main entrance. Reports of the Blue Eyed male being sighted in the afternoon by the forest post further reinforced the decision to take the risk for if we manage to catch hold of the male it would be an exclusive sighting away from the crowd. The NW group was cooperative and agreed to jump into this plan and we all entered the forest with anxiety and anticipation.
I always believe that Nature plays an equalizer and 2 weeks of positive decision making and risks that were hitting the bulls eye backfired that evening. The Blue Eyed male had walked out of the park area to the nearby village. Vehicles around the Mahaman dam had a good sighting of the mating pair of tigers. However the spirits were still up because when in the wild, you need to be prepared for failures.
The next morning I decided to stick to the books and since the movement was evident in the Mahaman area we entered the forest in a routine manner. Within minutes of entering the park, frantic langur alarm calls at the Charger Point attracted our attention. I could faintly see a male tiger in the foliage and his trajectory was towards the road. The elephant mahout who was tracking the tiger had other ideas as he blocked the male and pushed him inside the forest. During the months of March and Apr this was the 8th incident I witnessed when forest officials obstructed the movement of a tiger without any reason.
As I was watching and cursing the dramatic turn of events at Charger Points a series of faint cheetal and sambhar alarm calls excited my driver. “Mahaman area sahib” he remarked. With just a exchange of glances we decided to quietly sneak off the area and rushed towards the Mahaman dam. A fully grown male and female were royally enjoying the early morning breeze. As more and more vehicles piled up at the location, the couple moved towards the foliage.
I had witnessed the legendary mating of Sashi (Bamera) and Vijaya (Kankati) last year but this particular act of mating looked very different. The female seemed to be disinterested and walked off as soon as the male made advances towards her. Every few minutes the female would walk away and for around a couple of hours we hardly saw any actual round of mating.
The identity of the pair was still in question. A section of the naturalist crowd present onsite felt it was Mukunda but the apparent body markings on the male were different from Mukunda (who later turned out to be the tiger blocked by the elephant early in the morning). The female was another question?
Tiger Nation reported later that the female is I9 (Indrani – last litter of Badhrashila female cubs). The male is reported to be Jobi (M9).
The sighting of the this couple continues to be prominent around the Mahaman area as I write this blog. Increasing tourist patrols and awareness levels definitely impacts wildlife positively. As the tiger season has progressed more and more new tiger identities have come into the limelight signaling the presence of stripes in the fringe forests of prime tiger habitats around the country.
My 50mm hysteria continued after the first bit of experimentation in Corbett and this time the decisions were bolder for the subject and opportunities in question were rarer and the risk of missing out superb tight frames was higher. However trying this on the striped cats was great fun never-the-less. The reactions of the people around me was very amusing whenever I mounted this mini-glass on my camera. I remember that while I was creating a 50mm perspective of the devoted one eyed beauty Vijaya (Kankatti), someone in the crowd of tourist was murmuring in the background – “Seems he has forgotten to put his lens in excitement !”
Pleased to share some of the images created during my recent trip to Bandhavgarh National Park:
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!