Small incidences stick to our memories and make you smile. Here is one of them during a Corbett film shoot with dear friends – Gautam & Doel and ofcourse Kahini.
A strategy was laid to track the tiger behind Khinnauli Forest Rest House (FRH) of Corbett National Park but in a forest instincts are given the first preference. We had decided to do a round of the Dhikala chaur before crossing the Ramganga for checking the area where the tiger movement has been at an all time high during this season. As our vehicle started from Gairal FRH, little did we know that a few amazing birding moments awaited us that morning.
Our vehicle moved slowly uphill from Gairal towards the main road that leads towards Dhikala amidst swooshing forest comets (paradise flycatchers) and spangled drongos, sambhars and cheetals gearing up for their early morning graze in open river beds, great Indian hornbills and dollar birds adding a glitter to the forest with their vivid colors and whistling pittas, our eyes split wide open when we saw an avionic wild spectacle. A pair of male scarlet minivets playing midair in perfect morning light splashing their bright red coats that made the normally deciduous Haldu tree look colorful and beautiful.
We were nearing Khinnauli now and our plan to cover the Dhikala grassland was still intact and suddenly Kahini wanted the vehicle to be diverted towards the bridge to cross the Ramganga. “Why are we diverting and not sticking to the plan?” the initial thoughts running through me and Gautam which we did not express since forest instincts are something that are beyond human imagination and you can’t question them sometimes. But still from a photography and filming perspective I presume we had made up our minds to shoot some elephants in the chaur and had already started visualizing the shots.
Crossing a couple of wooden bridges, our vehicle passed through the patch of a grassland buzzing with green bee-eaters… some of them relishing dragonflies as their breakfast. We parked on the banks of the Ramganga and the waiting game was on.
Sambhars in the middle of the river were their to guide us with the tiger movement so we were observing some finer moments. A full grown common kingfisher that was resting on the opposite bank took off for a deadly plunge in the glittering river and as it successfully emerged with a fish flapping its wings and shredding diamond-like water droplets, I was glad it chose a rock near me to settle itself and gave a final blow to the fish by banging it on the rock. A few meters ahead a river lapwing chic followed her mother’s instructions and kept following her hopping from one rock to the other.
As the action was happening towards the left of our vehicle, langurs far away in the tree gave frantic alarm calls. The wait was over and the tiger had given away the cover. Vehicles started queuing up and all eyes were glued to the langurs. The stripes were moving behind the bushes and had been spotted. It was quite evident that the tiger wanted to beat the morning heat and rest in the cozy comforts of the river and was looking for a spot.
A Terai tiger walking on the thickly wooded and steep Himalayas slopes is a treat to the eyes as it is here one can see the true power and persona of a Royal Bengal Tiger even when it is simply walking. Displaying true character traits of a Terai tiger, our full grown male easily walked on the rocky and tough Himalayan terrain and from my view finder I could see the muscular shoulder cuts that were shining brightly as he walked out in the open. The cuts became more prominent and visible as the male started his descend towards the nullah where it was planning to rest.
As we were admiring the beauty of the striped wonder, Gautam spotted a pied kingfisher that was constantly hovering a few meters away from our vehicle trying to analyze the fish movement in the river. As the kingfisher hovered for some time and inched closer to check the section of the river near our bank, she went out of focus in my viewfinder and my camera automatically zoomed into a patch of grassland where I saw a movement.
A pair of shining ivory was moving in the bushes and within moments strong ripples disturbed the calm river water as the second ruler of the park emerged into the river. A mighty tusker walked passed the river making it a perfect Corbett setting – a tiger resting towards the right, a kingfisher hovering inches ahead and a tusker quenching his thirst in the middle of the river.
We say it’s the land of the roar, the trumpet and the song and the 10 odd vehicles witnessed it in true Corbett style.
This is a note I had written a few years back after my maiden visit to Bandhavgarh. This piece was published in SWAGAT (the official in-flight magazine of Air India) in early 2011 as a travel article on Bandhavgarh. Though the incidence is pre-historic now but the memories and emotions I went through during that visit are still as fresh as ever. The note is also a befitting tribute to the late legendary king B2 as this was the first time I shot him in Bandhavgarh.
“Bandhavgarh won’t disappoint you Sahib. But you need to show me a tiger in Corbett in return” said my guide cum driver Narayan (aka Angu) as I was getting ready for my first safari in a forest outside the cozy comforts of Corbett for the first time in 2 years. My last non-Corbett forest expedition was Kanha in 2006. I went to Bandhavgarh with extremely high expectations as my good friends and fellow photographers always spoke highly about the forest. Facts like the Tala zone of Bandhavgarh has the highest density of tigers in one particular forest zone were always fascinating but made me wonder if Bandhavgarh without the acclaimed tiger shows of the forests of Madhya Pradesh would live up to expectations from a sighting perspective.
My safari had started on a good note as according to one of my numerous forest superstitions I consider rollers as a lucky charm and this time I sighted and shot an eye level shot of an Indian Roller that perched itself on the board that said ‘Welcome to Bandhavgarh National Park’. As we started our afternoon drive, Angu made me familiar with the territories of the legendary Bandhavgarh tigers – Rajbehra male (Bokha), Jhujhura female, Kalua and the Chradhara male. Have always admired the beauty of the majestic Bandhavgarh tigers in the photographs taken by my counterparts and was wondering if luck would favor me during this trip.
As we were crossing the grasslands, my eyes noted a small movement at the top of a dry tree and to my delight a charming Malabar Pied Hornbill emerged from behind the dry branches out in the open. The Great Indian Hornbill that we normally see in hills of Kumaon is one of my favorite birds but the sighting of an equally beautiful Malabar was a treat to the eyes.
As I could see the sun touching the horizon in the far corners of the Chakradhara grasslands, I knew that my evening drive was nearing an end and Angu was able to read my mind. Meanwhile, a passing gypsy informed us that a leopard was sighted near Chakradhara a few hours ago. “Sahib don’t be disappointed. We need to offer a prayer before our morning safari and I am sure the tiger god will shower blessings on you,” he remarked scanning the grasslands using my binoculars. I am a strong believer in supernatural powers in the forest and I asked Angu to bring along a coconut and incense sticks for the morning puja.
At the break of dawn I offered my prayers at a small temple underneath a beautiful banyan tree and set out for my early morning safari. Soon we came to know about a tiger show happening near the Chakradhara grasslands and rushed towards the point. The majestic Bamera male was sighted resting in the dense undergrowth and as my elephant was approaching the beautiful male I had mixed emotions as for me because of the exposures I have got in Corbett, a tiger sighting is not satisfactory until I track it myself and my patience pays off. The full grown Bamera male looked gorgeous and it goes without saying that I was so pleased to see that the reigns of royal Bandhavgarh are in the hands of such healthy male tigers.
Having spent around 10 minutes with the Bamera male, I sat in my hotel room thinking and wishing to track him on my own during my evening safari. To my luck as I was entering the park in the evening, Angu got the information that the Bamera male was sighted in the grasslands of Chakradhara and as soon as the gates opened we rushed towards the grassland and waited there for around 40 minutes. At 3 in the noon and the sun shining brightly, it was unlikely for a tiger to come out in the open patches of the grassland. I asked Angu if we can check out the Jhurjhura belt and return by 4. He readily agreed and as we were on our way to the Jhurjhura waterhole, Angu saw some movement in the bushes. Suddenly two cheetals gave frantic alarm calls and rushed out of the bushes and I could see a tigress crossing the path near the undergrowth. “That’s the new Jhurjhara female! The first litter of the Jhurjhura female… she got separated from her mother few months back,” informed Angu.
God was finally giving me what I wanted and the prayers were working… I was pleased with the evening proceedings so far. We reached the grasslands at 4:15 in search of the Bamera male and I was happy to see my tracking would now be supported by a heard of cheetal grazing in the area. At 4:45 pm, the majestic male walked out in the open amidst the belling of the Sambhar deer and he patrolled his territory in grand style. He walked, marked his territory and strolled in front of my eyes for the next 20 minutes. By around 5:10 pm a fleet of vehicles lined up to view the wild spectacle. A full grown male tiger walking unperturbed openly in a grassland – that’s what Bandhavgarh is known for!
I had got most of the shots which I had visualized and I had decided to take it easy on Day 3. For a wildlife photographer visiting Bandhavgarh, sighting of the legendary B2 is always a dream. There are some tigers that are edged in history books as legends. B2 – the dominant male of Bandhavgarh who has been ruling his territory for over a decade now – is a warrior and has survived an issue that plagues the future of the Indian tiger i.e. human animal conflict. With a significant part of his territory in the buffer zone of the park, B2 has had a history of launching attacks on livestock and he frequently patrols areas adjoining nearby villages.
The saal forest that was giving me cover that early morning has been witness to some tragic deaths in B2’s family because of human animal conflict. As Angu and I were discussing the issue, the forest reverberated with cheetal alarm calls. The langur monkey who was my guide pointed toward the saal forest and gave more alarm calls. In the middle of the hustle and bustle I could see the stripes and as we rushed towards the grassland where we were expecting the tiger to walk out, the mahout shouted from the elephant’s back “B2 is walking out!”
Luck was favoring me and I decided to make the most of it. I asked Angu to go ahead of the grassland area as I expected B2 to cross the road adjoining the grassland. A chain of vehicle followed as the giant was patrolling his home turf slowly approaching the road. In a truly royal and tiger-like fashion B2 walked on the road looked at my vehicle and snarled. He stopped at a tree just adjacent to the road, raised his tail and marked his territory and walked off the thickly wooded saal forest.
I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. A face to face encounter with the legend of Bandhavgarh, a lovely evening with the Bamera male and the Jhurjhura tigress and ofcourse around 50 species of birds that I shot – am sure Bandhavgarh has a lot of hidden treasures which I am yet to explore.
Writing is not new in my dictionary… I have been writing a lot for various publications in the past and a lot of people suggested that I should compile all my writings in the form of a blog. The idea was definitely appealing but as a wildlife photographer I prefer spending time on the field and with limited connectivity it becomes a challenge to maintain a blog. However I decided to start 2012 on a different note by starting this blog which I will now keep on periodically updating with engaging notes.
Travel diaries full of wildlife action and experiences is something which I love to read and narrate as well. That has been one of the key forms of writing I have done till now apart from the conservation view points. However this blog would have a photography flavor as well. Over the year my zeal to be closer to nature and natural history moments has taken me to a number of forests and I would like to take this opportunity to showcase some of my location specific learnings through this blog space.
India is a heaven for wildlife photographers full of pristine wildlife destinations. Each location has a unique habitat with varied shooting conditions. As a wildlife photographer I spend some time researching on destinations before planning for a shoot and the research is normally from a 360 degree perspective – weather, logistics and most importantly photography!
Apart from the routine travel notes, my attempt would be to pick up destinations and cover the photography aspect of the destination by concentrating on subject centric photography pertaining to a park or some interesting perspective on photography in a park which I consider worth sharing.
I hope you find these writings interesting and useful. Feel free to send me your comments and feedback.