Lisa G Saw
duration of the holiday, restricted to zones within the park and not being able to go wherever you like, we still managed to have an amazing time and that was definitely down to Himanshu and the drivers. I thought it had been challenging for the drivers of the boats in the Pantanal but these guys in India demonstrated even better skills at manoeuvering narrow tracks when there were, at times, 20 other vehicles...and this was supposedly off-peak! There was sometimes quite a lot of shouting amongst the locals, which didn't provide an altogether peaceful wildlife watching experience, but it wasn't that often when it was so chaotic, thankfully.
On each safari we had a local forest ranger accompany us to help locate the tigers and tell us the names of the other wildlife we were seeing, including many different types of birds. The knowledge, experience and communication skills varied amongst these rangers, but then again, they don't get any kind of formal training. The incentive for them to be good at their job was in the tip they'd receive at the end of the game drive. For the most part I was lucky and had good rangers who worked hard and were rewarded proportionately. They'd be checking out the prints in the sand alongside the track and also listening for the alarm calls of the other wildlife that gave away the presence of tigers. It was mostly the langurs (primates) and the two main deer species that we'd hear, the spotted deer and samba deer. The jeep was often stopped, with the engine being cut, so the ranger and driver could suss out in which direction the alarm calls were being heard. Then we'd head off in that direction. Sometimes it felt like a wild goose chase as it didn't always end with a feline sighting. Other times, it was so quiet, all the wildlife apparently were sleeping or very inactive, which, let's face it, wasn't surprising considering the heat! Our attention was focused on seeing the tigers at dusk and dawn and only outside of these times did we get a chance to stop and appreciate the other wildlife and landscape.
Just like the wildlife, we took refuge from the scorching heat in the middle of the day. We'd usually be back at the resort by 11am, except for on the two days when we had full day safaris. We'd have brunch, which usually filled me up for the whole day, and then spend time in our air conditioned rooms looking at photos or catching up on sleep. I often went to cool down in the pool. I'd do a running jump to get in to avoid burning the soles of my feet on the hot paving! Then, at around 3pm, we'd reconvene at the jeeps ready for our afternoon safari. There were usually just three of us to each jeep. They were open vehicles with no sides or roof. This gave uninterrupted views of the park and wildlife and were excellent when it came to taking photos and moving around the vehicle, but gave no protection from the dust and sun. As a result, I wore my wide brimed hat, shirt and trousers all the time to protect my skin and avoid the faff of applying and reapplying sunscreen and insect repellent all the time. We'd been warned about day biting mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, for which there is no prophylaxis, so avoiding being bitten by remaining covered up was the best approach. Whilst we were out and about, and especially on our full day safaris, we would take shelter from any trees we could when we weren't actively watching the wildlife and waiting for something to happen. There was one waterhole we spent quite a bit of time at and Paul often referred to the nearby trees as 'the living room' when we took shelter there. It also conveniently doubled up as 'the toilet'. Those remaining in the jeeps would face forwards whilst a handful of others would stand behind various trees and relieve themselves bush style. Luckily, there were no unexpected visitors. For the most part, the rule was, no getting out of the vehicle, for obvious reasons! There were a few fenced off areas within the park where we would drive to for food, drinks and toilet breaks, so mostly it was wise to wait until such times when it was safe to alight from the jeep.
It was vitally important to keep our fluids up during the course of the week. I've never drunk so much in all my life! You'd think that would result in extra need for the toilet but that wasn't always the case, if you were quite dehydrated. I wore a tube scarf around my neck to shield my face from the dust at times, when we were on the move. Sometimes I'd dowse it in water to help keep me cool. Other times I'd pour a little water into the top of my hat and then put it on, letting the water trickle down my head and face. It was lovely! I'd do whatever it took to cool down! On our first full day, two of our group were worse for wear by the early afternoon and they returned to the resort when one of the drivers was making his return to collect more cold water for the rest of the afternoon. On the second full day I started to get a headache myself and so made the decision to go in for an hour and a half, along with three others. However, thankfully, after a swim and time to chill out in my room I was fine to go back out for the rest of the day. We had the added bonus of seeing Solo, an adult female tiger, cross the road right in front of us and walk through the trees just five to ten metres away. It was amazing to see her so close. She seemed unphased by us and on a mission to find somewhere shady to relax. In fact, we saw her again later, on our way back to rejoin the others. She was lying down under an overhanging rock.
As is customary with Paul's trips, we all took it in turns to be in his vehicle with varying degrees of trepidation. Having learned my lesson from the Pantanal, I made sure I was only wearing socks. I didn't want to risk treading on his bare feet again with my shoes on! He'd never let me come on another one of his trips, I'm sure! I felt more confident with my photography skills in terms of having the right camera settings, so it was an added bonus that I wasn't scolded for doing something wrong. On the downside, in the quiet moments of waiting, I had to endure hearing the same jokes as before from Paul. I was willing the tigers to get up and move to save us! Actually, I was pleasantly surprised when we had a few quiet moments waiting. I love those peaceful times when no one is talking and you're just listening to the sounds of the forest around you. We could have done with more of that!
In terms of the tiger sightings, they were amazing! Just like in the Pantanal, we had 100% record for sightings across the eight safaris we went on. I'm starting to wonder if I'm Paul's good luck charm! We saw 22 different tigers in that time...and there I was, before I'd left for the trip, wondering if we'd see any tigers at all! We were just 10 mins into our first game drive when our first tiger was spotted! It was a sign of things to come! However, I ought to point out that kind of 'hit rate' for sightings is incredibly rare! For some of us it was our first time seeing tigers and we were thoroughly spoilt. Paul kept telling us we didn't deserve it! You hear of people visiting these parts and not seeing a single one, so we weren't blasé about it. It didn't really cross my mind that we might see multiple tigers together, but we did. There were two groups of cubs that we saw quite a bit of and had plenty of time to watch as they interacted with each other. It was amazing. The first group was Solo and her four 7 month old cubs who were often seen close to some rocks. Though they weren't fully grown, they weren't cute and cuddly little creatures! They were often seen really close to the dirt track and one time, when I leant out of the side of the jeep to try and get an unobscured photo of one of the cubs who was looking straight at me as she lay down, about 10 metres from me, I felt a little unnerved. I realised I was touching distance from the bank and she might have been eyeing me up thinking 'mmm...dinner'! Thankfully, she didn't have the speed of a cheetah, nor the inclination to spend any energy, so I was safe. Tigers like to silently stalk their victims. Nonetheless, I did't linger in the position long!
The other set of cubs were Dotty's three male 11 month old cubs who we saw play fighting in the water on several occasions. That was incredible! They were really going for it! They'd be up on their hind legs and jumping in the air. Sometimes they looked like judo experts, other times they were almost dancing in the water. The first time we saw them there were only two playing, but on the subsequent visits to the waterhole we saw all three play fighting. On the last visit, our final game drive, one of the male cubs had managed to kill a langur and was using it to taunt his brothers as if to say 'come and get it'. When he went into the water with the langur in his mouth, I knew it wasn't going to end well. He seemed somewhat confused when he managed to drop the limp creature and then couldn't find it. Their antics even made it onto the Mail Online Home Page! Paul submitted some photos and a write up, plus one of our group was taking video footage rather than photographs, and his amateur footage was also included (you can follow the link below to see the article - it's an interesting read and the video is great to watch). What we witnessed was something really quite extraordinary and extremely special. There were drivers and guides around us saying they'd never seen anything like it before. They'd never forget it! Paul told us he'd never seen behaviour like it in all his 20 years of coming to see tigers in India!
We had the opportunity to go on an elephant ride whilst we were in the national park. The idea is that you can get closer to the tigers because they're unphased by the presence of elephants and so hopefully get some better close up shots. Paul assured us that it was run by an ethical group and the elephants were well looked after. There's no denying, it's a good source of income for the locals. In countries like India and Thailand they're used to using elephants to work, like in other countries they use oxon and horses. However, there was something that didn't sit right with me. I felt very divided about riding an elephant. From a photographic point of view, there was no denying my desire to get closer to the tigers was really strong. But I've always loved elephants and would much rather see them in the wild, free to roam and not being used for human enterprise. Whilst I gave in to temptation, for which I feel rather sad now that I did, the experience didn't add to my overall enjoyment of the trip, not was it an amazing sighting of a tiger. I wouldn't do it again. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on what they would do if the opportunity arose. I just hope that you make sure the elephants are being well looked after.
My lasting memory of the trip, aside from the playful cubs, was the snarling face of a female tiger wanting to cross the road. She was about 10 metres away, looking at me directly, our vehicle being in her path. For that brief moment my face wasn't shielded by my camera. Instead, we were eyeball to eyeball. Her power and beauty took my breath away and completely intimidated me. She didn't look in any way vulnerable. But she is! Sadly, there are people in the world that think it is okay to kill tigers for their coats and body parts. Like so much of the world's wildlife that have been in rapid decline, tigers need our protection. We should stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves and try to take better care of the planet that is our home!
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Tigers in India Story
I've just returned from another fantabulous wildlife experience booked with Exodus! This time it was seeing tigers in India, specifically Bandhavgarh National Park (see map). This was my fourth trip with professional photographer Paul Goldstein and we had a small group of just 14. Our accommodation for the week was at the Nature Heritage Resort, very close to one of the entrance gates to the national park. We had lovely rooms, great food and service, plus a nice swimming pool to cool down. It was needed. I thought the Pantanal was hot, but this time the temperature was in the low 40s all week! It was often seriously hot even by 9am! It will come as no surprise to hear that we were woken at 4.30am every morning, once again, to be amongst the first through the gates when the park opened at the start of each day. It wasn't a hardship since it was the coolest part of the day! I don't think the temperature dropped below the 20s even at night!
Himanshu was our local knowledeable leader, full of enthusiasm and always quick to respond to any issues or problems. He worked hard to make sure we had a great trip, which involved lots of work behind the scenes. There was a great team of drivers too, who took us out in the safari jeeps each day. Despite the severely limiting factors imposed on our safaris by the Indian authorities, such as staying with the same vehicle and driver for the
Article on the Mail Online Website
Further Information on Tigers (WWF Website)