15 years ago when I started working in one of India’s most stunning forests, the damp smell of the leaves that dazzled the forest floor overlooking a magnificent saal canopy and the musical sounds of crystal clear water cascading down the white rocks shining like jewels, as the first rays of morning rays kissed the Ramganga, were some of the first soul touching moments of Corbett which continued to draw me back to this magical landscape in various professional capacities.
The blue waters of this spectacular river and the presence of glittering coat of a shy and elusive Corbett tiger trespassing the divine landscape always made me skip a few heartbeats. Years passed by and then emerged a tigress from this river as a goddess and with the attitude of a bold mermaid who loved the rich blues of the Ramganga. She became a showstopper and for the first time Corbett was known because of a tiger called Paro. Having followed the stories of various tiger families across tiger habitats of India I always waited for an opportunity to observe a tiger family that ruled the rivers of Corbett. I anxiously waited for her future generations as I was curious to see a river denizen raising her young in the dramatic yet challenging terrain.
Over the past many years I followed various tiger families in various tiger habitats of India. As Paro walked out with her tiny borns dangling in her mouth last summer, I was geared to document a special story I had been waiting to work on for over a decade. A perfect character and the perfect family in some grand backdrops. The monsoons swept away half of her motherly aspirations and she was left with one male cub – the chosen one.
A little prince did not hesitate to take the first bold steps in a river rubbing shoulders with her mother. His antics made him a heartthrob as he braved the winters, climbed tree stumps and exhaled breaths of gold in the misty golden mornings of the Ramganga. He was always a little slow in catching up with her mother. But eventually he did make it every time.
However the night of May 27th was tough for our entire team as we knew the young prince had strayed a little too far and he was in danger. It was a night when a grieving mother battled an intruder and her cries echoed in the vast grasslands she owns. It was a night where we waited every minute for the sun to throw the slightest of light on a small water puddle which was the last refuge for a Prince who dreamt of ruling the river.
RIP “The Little Prince of Par” …
Your tales will be embedded in the soul of the rivers which have been your playground in the past one year. I pray for your the future generations of stripes who will continue to rule the rivers like you aspired to in the years to come.
I have been on the road since the first week of March. From a fortnight in high altitude terrains of Himalayas in search of Snow Leopards to shuttling between Corbett & Ranthambore guiding guests from South Africa, United States & United Kingdom. Here is a quick round up for March 2018.
The Snow Leopard Expedition was a memorable experience with 6 sightings of 8 individual cats. The tender mother and cub moments enthralled our guests and the bold male gave some excellent photographic opportunities.
Paro’s young cub in Corbett has been looking in great shape and being the lone cub he is growing up fast. His antics around the river and river beds of Dhikala would be etched in sighting records of Corbett for years to come. Ranthambore on the other hand has been going steady and the major turn of events has been the sudden surge in sightings of Krishna (T19) and cubs post March 2018. Machali Junior or Arrowhead littered in the last week of February but the cubs have not been seen post the first report and the survival of the young cubs is questionable. The other consistent sightings have been Laila (T41) and her Blue Eye male cub. Noor (T39) and her female litter of 3 cubs are now showing signs of separation. Ladli (T8) and the cubs have been regularly seen along with the separated male cubs of T60.
Stay tuned to this space for some more exciting summer reports from Wild India in the coming months.
I just wrapped up the second Corbett schedule for January 2018. This time it was a photo safari with a young talented bunch of shutterbugs in Dhikala. The highlight for this schedule was yet again elephants in the cloud of mist floating over the grasslands. It is very critical to value the importance of simple moments in the wild and focus your energies on them. I am glad that my guests realised the importance of photographing elephants in winters and some outstanding perspective were created every morning.
And yes we did bump into a few tigers in our quest for light and mist…
Here are few more images depicting the winter moods of Corbett
The 2016 edition of Tiger Marathon – the annual back to back tiger photography tours by Nature Wanderers – ended this week with some exemplary sightings in Ranthambhore and Corbett National Park. While the lakes were productive again in Ranthambhore, we also got the opportunity to photograph the newly crowned mother T60 and her 3 cubs. Sessions with Noor (T39) and T57 were equally intense and productive.
Corbett on the other hand along with expected elephant action was ruled by Paarwali sightings as the river mermaid of Ramganga gave multiple opportunities for photography in typical Corbett habitats. Here are a few images created in the past fortnight.
It is the end of season and as I look back at the hectic 9 months, some of those glorious wildlife moments keep flashing in my head. With more than 150 game drives in Ranthambhore, the focus of the season was on Krishna and cubs. My brief fortnight-long stints in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett and Sunderbans were rewarding as well. Escorting some of the best photographers in business, it was a great knowledge sharing experience on the field. Though in most of the game drives I wasn’t shooting much since I was escorting and mentoring photographers, I did squeeze in time for some personal drives in Ranthambhore and those were the times my camera was in action the most.
Presenting a compilation of my top 14 wildlife moments for 2014-2015.
1. Krishna & Cubs – October 2013
The season started with Ranthambhore and the first glimpse of Krishna and her cubs in the band of golden morning light at Rajbagh remains edged to my memory till date. The experience lasted for not more than 10 mins but our gang of photographers created some dream images that by far are the best images of T19 and cubs from that time from October 2013.
2. The King & The Fisher – Nov 2014
Amidst the hysteria around T39 (Noor) and her cubs one fine morning in November 2014, a tiny kingfisher caught my attention. The background was a typical Ranthambhore habitat and resulted in this image. One of my favorites from the season. Worked on similar concepts whenever the opportunity was right. Infact over the next many months after shooting this, I did a lot of birding around tigers – from Kingfishers, the stone curlews, drongos, peacocks, robins. The first creation is normally the best creation and rest are more of duplications in order to better this.
3. In His Kingdom – Kanha – Dec 2014
Kanha in winters has always been special for photography. Not for tigers but because of the mist and the meadows. During one such game drive in Kanha, we bumped into the majestic Munna. My experiments with Tilt Shift lenses on tigers have helped me in creating some unique wide angle perspectives. The saal forest backdrop offered the perfect opportunity to pull out the glass from the bag.
4. A morning at Rajbagh – Jan 2015
There was something about that morning at Rajbagh. The soft morning light filtering through the mist was just enough for shooting this wonderful show put up by Krishna and her cubs at the edges of the lakes. Our gang of photographers were stunned in silence after this wonderful action packed sequence – probably the best action by this terrific family throughout the season. The soft light, the grand backdrops, the orange winter coats of the cubs… am sure the lensmen present that morning will vouch for this being probably the best tiger action of their lifetime.
5. The Winter Couple – Jan 2015 – Bharatpur
End of Jan, we took a small break from Ranthambhore and shot in Bharatpur for a few days. Despite of the low activity of birds in Bharatpur, I decided to focus on a subject I love to work with – the Sarus Cranes. Morning to evening sessions with Sarus led us to this beautiful pair of cranes that walked out in unison in the early morning mist of Keoladeo with the sun just popping out from behind deep in the horizon. As I looked through the view finder to shoot this image, I had goosebumps all over seeing this dramatic setting of the Keoladeo marshes.
6. Thunderbold Krishna – Feb 2015
The master hunter Krishna silently disappeared in the Rajbagh grasses one evening in Ranthambhore. Unaware of what is going to happen, my vehicle reached the spot and as I changed my equipments to focus on a group of cheetal grazing in a small patch of open grass, Krishna stormed out like lightning in the small patch of light dispersing the group in all directions.
7. Tiger Off-Springs – Ranthambhore – March 2015
It was a 30 mins sighting that morning at Rajbagh and not more than 5 mins of hardcore tiger action. Krishna cubs played like maniacs in that backlit set up. A storm of lenses surrounded them as the lake water splashed all around with the mother joining the play sequence.
8. Bears and Bears – April 2015
I remember this morning as one of my best game drives in the park. We were running after the mother T39 (Noor) while her cubs were already been seen by a flurry of vehicles in zone 1. In our pursuit we bumped into a different specie of a mother who walked on a forest floor bed full of palas (flame of the forest) flowers. Post this all the vehicles dispersed from the cubs location and we spent a nice peaceful exclusive time with T39 and her cubs.
9. His First Catch – Ranthambhore – April 2015
A moment which will be engrained in my memory till my last breath. The inexperience male cub of Krishna (T19) attempted to bring down a cheetal. He struggled for more than 40 mins to kill the cheetal. A power-packed sequence but it was painful to see this through the view finder. Read the entire photo story on this blog – https://shivangmehtaphotography.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/the-first-catch/
10. Stripes – The Extreme Portrait – May 2015
Over the past few years, I have developed this taste of shooting extreme closeups of tigers. Scaling up the focal length to around 1000mm+, composition needs to be really precise. This summer, inspired by some frames and compositions from Tiger Dynasty (by Nalla Muthu) I wanted to go tighter than usual. I had a discussion with Nalla on his certain ultra tight compositions. God was kind to gift me with a calm and composed T24 sighting soon after those talks with Nalla where I made effective use of a 1000mm focal to create a series of super tiger compositions.
11. The Ramganga Queen – May 2015
I normally don’t run after tigers in Corbett. However May 2015 was an exception. The Par tigress was obliging photographers with their dream Corbett images and I forced myself to join this race. A few misses and finally we caught her one morning in Dhikala.
12. The Cave Dwellers – Bandhavgarh – May 2015
The Patiha family has been controlling a major chunk of tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh throughout the season. We spent 1 morning with the 3 cubs in this cave set up which is one of the most unique habitat image series of tigers I have shot till date. The reddish rocks, the contours in the rocks, the gradients and patterns and the sparkling stripes made an interesting combo and the 10 odd images around this cave have been amongst the top backdrops for tiger photography for me.
13. Krishna Clan – Ranthambhore – May 2015
Over the months, it has been an experience the changing behavior of tiger cubs. The playful Krishna cubs were now displaying signs of independence by making their own odd kills and small fights showcasing dominance. But the attachment with the mother was seen time and again and during this morning in May 2015, 14 month old tiger cubs were caught suckling.
14. Star walked the ramp – June 30, 2015
The lakes of Ranthambhore can surprise you anytime of the day. Rains had an impact of the sightings of the park in the last few days of the park closure. It was the morning of June 30th and everyone was hoping for 1 final glimpse before the park closes for monsoons. We decided to take a final lap of the lakes before leaving and caught Star (T28) walking in the pristine backdrop of the fort and on a carpet of green. It was long and silent walk with no vehicles around. A befitting end to a season!
Deep inside the heavily wooded forest of Corbett National Park rests a Machaan that gives shelter to hundreds of photographers, naturalists and tourists visiting Corbett every year. Approximately 30 feet in height, this old machaan gives a panoramic view of the picturesque Dhikala grasslands and the Ramganga river that supports a multitude of life forms in Corbett National Park. “The forest is always buzzing with activity,” the statement holds true once you spend a quite afternoon on this structure in the heart of wilderness.
It was the month of June when Kahini and I set off from the Gairal forest rest house in Corbett early in the morning in search of the dominant male tiger in the Khinnauli belt. We had been tracking the striped beauty for the last 2 days and our chances were becoming brighter as we saw fresh tracks early that morning along with frantic alarm calls of spotted deer. However luck was not in our favor again as after waiting for over 2 hours near the river side (where we were expecting the arrival of the tiger) the beast still eluded me and my camera.
As we continued our journey by heading towards the Dhikala grasslands the passing vehicles informed us about tiger movements on the Sambhar Road and we rushed towards our beloved Sambhar Road watchtower which gives the perfect view of the area in which the tiger was prowling. We boarded the machchan at 8:30 am and strained our ears to listen to the faintest of sounds of the alarm calls that would announce the arrival of the king. In the next couple of hours the forest went silent and the cool breeze put me to sleep. A watchtower can be a wonderful place for catching some sleep as the calmness and tranquility of the forest is very relaxing indeed.
The silence was broken by a black jungle crow that woke us up with his hoarse calls and to our surprise we sighted a beautiful collared falconet right in front of us. The atmosphere was filled with excitement yet again as a pair of pallas fishing eagle took off from inside the forest and stormed past the watchtower making a screeching sound giving us a great shot of the flight of the eagle. Following this Kahini spotted a pair of pied kingfishers hovering over the river in search of their lunch. Their close cousins – the white throated kingfishers – followed them and looked stunning with their colorful wings wide open.
Amidst the birding action, a small herd of spotted deer inched closure to the river and boosted our chances of tracking the tiger. The weather was perfect for a tiger to approach a water body as it was getting hotter and humid as the clock ticked. And then the spotted deers in front of us made a low alarm call. We could see that all the deers were pointing in one direction and stamping their feet in the water in nervousness.
The excitement was at its peak as this is what tiger tracking is all about. This is why the tiger sends shivers down the spines of the jungle folk when it moves fearlessly in forests of India. It was only a matter of time now and we were anxiously waiting as everything was falling into place… 10 minutes went by and by now the alarm calls became louder. Our eyes were glued to a patch of lantana from where we were expecting the tiger to come. My sleep had vanished and I was ready to shoot with my fingers half pressed on my camera shutter. It was 4 pm and with a slight disturbance in the lantana, out walked the tiger. Those magical stripes were shining brightly in the sun and the tiger walked past the deer herd majestically to choose his preferred spot in the river.
It was a big male and he rested royally in the middle of the sparkling Ramganga for the next 20 minutes!