Nothing could have been a better start to a new year. Reliving some magical mornings of Corbett… the music of a Himalayan river with sparkling waters cascading down the white stones which slowly get lit as the sun peeps from the horizon and fumes of mist mingles with the first rays of the sun to create a seraphic landscape which has been forever embedded in my memory for more than a decade.
Over the years, while photographing this splendour a variety of subjects came and added a flavour to the glowing ambers of the Ramganga on a daily basis. Days normally start with redstarts, storks, greenshank and slowly graduates to a pied kingfisher and finally on one of the days a crested kingfisher takes over the misty throne of the Ramganga. However that particular morning of January 2017 was steaming with a thick layer of mist which made the light softer than usual. As I was waiting for my routine kingfishers, a group of smooth coated otters distracted me on the opposite direction as I observed their morning chores while they merrily swam braving strong river tides in search of a meal. For quite some time, I avoided the distraction but the otter antics were hard to resist and for a change I prioritised subjects over light and changed the direction of the camera. As soon as I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, behind my back, a ghostly figure royally stood on the smoking orange stones of the river. The subject was 200 times the size of the expected kingfisher and as soon as I looked back, we both stared at each other in shock.
At the blink of an eye the ruler of the Ramganga – a huge male tiger – traced back and ran back towards the bushes from where it was making up its mind to cross the glowing river. Some photographic opportunities remain edged to your memory even when you miss them. The frame was blank but the memory of the soul of the river in that dramatic set-up will remain forever.
For the records, here are few images from the year-opening photo tour to Corbett National Park.
A subject which has captured the imagination of photographers for decades – The Taj Mahal – is one of India’s most magnificent architectural marvels standing tall on the banks of a the Yamuna River in Agra. It was a random visit to the Taj and I went with an objective observing nature around the Taj. However the supposedly pristine Taj backyard is a garbage yard with the river being transformed into a dirty water body emitting smells that don’t allow you to stand at the location for more than a few minutes. Egrets, storks, kites etc. feed on this garbage site making it one of the most unpleasant Taj experience you can image. While the inner areas of the complex are being maintained with utmost care and disciple, should the Taj surroundings be ignored in this fashion? Wouldn’t the toxic waters around the Taj impact the natural ecosystem of the area and indirectly impact the structure and built of India’s most prized monument?
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!