Monday, May 26, 2008

Ranthambhore National Park

Welcome to Rajasthan! The land of beauty!! Welcome, to Ranthambhore National Park! The land of the Tiger. Camp Ranthambhore. 20th to 25th May 2008. 40 people staying at the Hammir Resort. The first day began with a visit to the Ranthambhore Fort. A view of the Padam lake, one of the three lakes of Ranthambhore, was something to cherish. The fort is massive.
It's specaled with Hanuman Langurs who are either pouncing on bits of food or jumping from tree to tree. We reached the top most point and were looking at the lake below spotting Marsh Crocodiles swimming in it, and Sambhar Deer wading through the water and a White-necked Stork flying above us. We waited for a good 30minutes or so. Only a couple of us knew why we were waiting there. For that one chance. That one glimpse. That one sight that would set the pace of this camp. We were scouting the lake and the surroundings with our binoculars and as sudden as a flash of lightning, we realized, there were stripes moving through grass far away near one of the ruins. Then emerged that god-like animal. The Tiger. Mayuresh was describing what the Tiger was doing, and I was trying to explain to him that he was wrong!! Because I was seeing the Tiger walk towards the road and he was saying the Tiger is walking towards us!! Bewildered!! Took us a whole minute to realize neither of us is wrong!! There were indeed TWO Tigers!!! Talk about double bonanza!!! Talk about LUCK!! Talk about the RECORD breaking smiles that were starting to show on our faces!! TWO Tigers!! Both emerging in the open, walking next to each other, along the lake side. Two sisters, walking in front of our eyes!! Tehn disappearing into the vegetation, and emerging centimetres away from the water and then entering it!! We were witnessing gypsies frantically swerving here and there to get an angle that would help them see what the Tigresses were doing! We, however, at our vantage point, were the winners by a looonng way!! I can STILL feel that warmth within, the second the two Tigresses emerged out in the open and began walking together. That smile creep onto my face. The feeling that softly said to me, " Yes! It paid off!" "Yes!!" The excitement that is still within me!! Im beginning to believe that I have a way with the feline family! Incredibly so. Just minutes before the Tigresses were spotted, I was saying to a few of the campers, that a Tiger will come out from one of those ruins there and walk to the road. I had had NO idea whatsoever, that it would really happen!! and not one but TWO would come!!! I guess Rajasthan's way of welcoming me back just shows how special the place is to me. Always will be. I know the homely feeling that settled in when I set foot on the Sawai Madhopur station. It can never be replaced by anything! I can only hope that I will always get my chance to keep going back!

So even before camp had began, our group had seen the big cat that we'd come to look for! :) Everyone was super excited as we set out for our first ride the next morning. 2 cantors and 40 people. Off we went on the 22nd at 5:30am. A few minutes into the park and we spot a Tiger cub eating from a kill in the valley to our left! I dont think anyone realized what we were seeing! It just hadn't sunk in! A cub!! Eating from a kill!! Eating with utmost concentration. Shaking his little head about in a strong effort to get the meat off the bones. And then, standing up, walking about, and then sitting, and then returning to the kill. All this, being watched by us from above. Luckily, everyone in both the cantors was able to see this magnificient sight. No one missed out on it. That evening , we saw another part of the jungle, but no Tiger.

The next day, on the 23rd, my day began with Ranthambhore giving me the BEST birthday gift I could have EVER asked for. An hour into our ride on the morning of the 23rd, we came to a point where there was eevry chance of a Tigress ebing spotted since we'd had reports the previous evening that she had been spotted there. Just as we were about to take a right turn, our guide pointed to the top of the hill and said, " Tiger!! " BANG! Everyone was jolted from their seats like an electric current had passed through them. No sudden movements. Complete silence. And very very good concentration levels. The requirements and instructions at a time like this. We fumbled quietly for our binocs and cameras, whichever we could lay our hands upon and all this without removing our eyes from that spot. And there she sat. A gorgeous female on top of a hill, with the air of the Queen around her. Seconds after that, another yellow and balck and white head emerged from behind her and began walking down the hill towards the open area to our left. A cub!!!! The cub got camouflaged in some bushes in front of us but we knew he was still there. And then, the female got up, walked down right in front of us!!! Very close!! She chased a Sambhar Deer in front of us. A try. The herd of Sambhar fled the scene ASAP. This female then went ahead, and sat down all comfortably on the grass. The hidden cub then followed and came out in the open. We were starting to go mad when we realized this was not it! One MORE Cub came onto the grass!!! There were 2 CUBS!! and 3 Tigers!!! Right in front of our very very stunned eyes!! The cubs proceeded to the pool of water on the left, in the open. The Mother followed. She lay down in the water, to cool herself, and then one of the tiny tots came in beside her. The other cub lay down in the water behind her, with his/her back to us. I have NO words to explain what was going on inside my head that time!! I wanted to give a bear hug to those 3 Tigers and our superman of a driver Vinod and to everyone around!!!! Madness I tell you!! Happy Birthday to me!!! Turning 19 like this!?!? Who would want more?!?! They sat there in water displaying their antics for the next 36minutes. After which one of the cubs got up, went to a tree, and tried to climb it, and then the other one joined the first one, and they stood under the tree, contemplating what to do and how to capture this tree!! The mother however, was still chillin out in the water leaving her cubs to their play time contemplation. She kept changing her positions and giving us wonderful poses!! Its like she was modelling for us there!! Those 2 cartoons however, were bored with their tree and came back into the water soon after. Then the mother, and both the cubs were out of the water under the tree, the mother was licking one of the cubs and showering her affection on the little one. We were witnessing the private life of a Tigress and her 6/7 month old cubs!! Felt heavenly!! I'd waited for this since ever!!! Ive realized, the BEST things in life come when u least expect them!! It's spellbounding to see how she was looking out for her cubs, how they were hiding behind trees when a gypsy came along, how they waitd before they concluded that it was safe to emerge, how they tried to climb trees and got bored, how they sat and drank water, how they yawned, how they played with each other!! It's something that qualifies as "one of the best experiences of my life"!! I genuinely couldn't have asked for any more. I know who's blessings are upon me that this is happening. And cant stop being grateful to that mighty power that resides in my mind each moment. That mighty power who is the god of all Crocodiles! :)

That evening was our last ride. We saw no Tiger. It didnt matter to me. It was a day I'd thought fit of being one the BEST! The afternoon had been spent with the people I place in the Treasure department of my life. Doc and Fatji and Ushmuddin. Our kids got to talk to people like Fatji, Prern Singh Bindra and here their inputs on wildlife. I got to spend my entire afternoon with them and relive the times spent with them 4months ago. :) The 3 hours spent with Doc the previous night had been wonderful. Quality time. And finally some satisfcation. I'd been dying to meet these three again!! I guess it was just meant to be my day! :) So, in this way, camp Ranthambhore turned out to be one heckuva 5 day period with all sorts of madness. New campers, new faces, new bonds, and of course, new things learned, new experiences! Splendid is the word!! Too good. Now, being back in the City of Cement, writing bout these camps, the experiences, the important things that made the camp what it is, feels so strange. Oh yes, the train journey back was quite a memorable one too!! Considering 86 people were occupying 40 seats!! :) Foliage Outdoors rules!!!! And so does camp Ranthambhore!!! :) Thank you Rajasthan!! Thank you Ranthambhore!! Thank you Croc Hunter!! ;) Ranthambhore jindabad!!!

Pench Tiger Reserve

A forest located on the border on Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. A tiger reserve shared between the two states. Pench-Maharashtra, and Pench-Madhya Pradesh are two parts of the Pench Tiger Reserve. We visited the part in Madhya Pradesh from the 14th to the 19th of May 2008. A group of 53 people. A students camp with us 4 instructors. A forest known for its recent Leopard sightings and known to be home to that famous striped cat called the Tiger too. We were staying at the Heaven's Garden resort which is about 10-15minutes from the main gate of the reserve. 9 gypsies and one reserve. Our very first ride led us to that one animal that makes me jump in my seat and my own skin!! That rarely seen quiet rosetted Feline. The Leopard. The first ride to Piwarthadi led us to a huge male Leopard, who we spotted mainly because of something that was glistening somewhere into the bushes. Using the binoculars, we realized it was a killed Spotted Deer (Chital) stag. Moved the binocs to the left, and realized the chap who'd killed the Deer was sitting there in the most royal of positions! Mr.Leopard. A gorgeous golden coat with beautiful black rosettes and a constant stare. Sitting on a pile of leaves behind a fallen tree and looking intently at his kill and suspiciously at us! My previous experience (as mentioned in the previous article) with a Leopard lasted 75 seconds. I was completely preapred to understand if this guy got up and left at the 76th second. But it was 48minutes and he was still there!! What a record!! We left the place at the 57th minute. In the afternoon, once we were back in the reserve, we headed right for the Leoaprd spot. And there he was!! Kill half eaten, lazing around royally on his pile of leaves, behind the same fallen tree, moving his tail up and down waving the flies off, ocassionally lifting up his head, and lying down again! This guy, had eaten so much, he couldnt even get up and walk!! Ive never known of a Leopard who tolerated human presence for 2 hours!! 57 minutes in the morning, and another 46 in the evening!! I Still can't believe this!! It's been a fabulous day!!! And throughout the rest of the camp, EVERY other gypsy saw at least 1 Tiger. There were 2 Tigers spotted totally, and 3 sightings. My gypsy, however, did NOT see a Tiger, as in, the campers all did. The only person who didn't, was me! Everyone there was stunned because I wasnt depressed or sad at not having seen a Tiger. I dont think anyone understood the importance of that Leopard sighting. Someone waits 7 Loooooooooong years and then finally sees a flash of a Leopardess, and then, within the next 5days, sees another Leopard for 103minutes!! That ENTIRE 7 yr time seems so worth the wait!! That sighting lasted me an entire camp!! Not seeing a Tiger did not put me into depression! Because I was way too happy!! Nothing could beat that sighting! (Is what I thought... until the next camp came along!!) :) Life just keeps getting better and better right now!! :) Happiness prevails.. and now, we go to the next article. :) Exit- Pench Tiger Reserve briefing.. proceed to Rajasthan!

Sunday, May 11, 2008


It has been 8 hours since I've been back from Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, India. It has undoubtedly been a rocker of an experience. We left Pune on the 5th of May, by Gyan Ganga Express. Reaching Katni Junction on the 6th, we proceeded to Bandhavgarh and reached Mogli Resort at around 1:30pm on the 6th itself. We had a group of 36 in all. 4 camp instructors and 32 campers. Of the 32 campers, 27 were kids and the rest, adults.
Bandhavgarh, the land which has the highest Tiger population density in the world! A forest which is ENTIRELY different from any of the forests Ive seen so far! It's hills, rocks, sand, Sal trees, wildlife, weather, peace and calm, are all part and parcel of Bandhavgarh. A wonderful place to be in. The gorgeous meadows of Chakradhara, Raajbehra, Sidhhababa, etc., are an expanse of awe with Lesser Adjutant Storks in the water, Chital (Spotted Deer) grazing in the distance, and that majestic yellow and black striped Cat lying somewhere in the protection of the grass. The Tiger. Lying low, resting, ready for attack, walking, sleeping, running after Deer, and all its other activities, that make the Feline attraction so majestic! Our very first ride into the park was on the 7th in the morning. Waking up at 4am (IST), we entered the park at 5:30am. On that day, the route assigned to my gypsy was Route C. A very very beautiful route, great forested patch, wonderful activity of wildlife. I was half expecting a Tigress to come walking out of one of the thickets on the left and cross the route and go to the other side. I guess I should have expected the other half also! (Coz no such thing happened!! :( ) Anyway, we saw a lot that morning, on our way to the Central Point of Hardia. After that, we went to Sidhhababa meadow. And there she was... seated on her rock.. watching. The Sidhhababa female (Tigress) who was surrounded by three Elephants who were carrying tourists to her seated site for offering them a closer look at her. Our Elephant walked through leaves, water, rocks, sand, mud, possibly anything that came in his way, and reached her. She got up just as we reached her. A BEAUTY to the core!!! Ive no words to describe her. A pregnant Tigress, walking ahead, with us following in COMPLETE shock! (Plus, that Elephant wasnt contributing .. he was being really shaky and hence, so was the camera! ) She walked, marked a tree, turned around and looked at us in our respective faces, walked on ahead, waited, walked, sat at the edge of a stream, drank water with her eyes on us and our not-so-co-operative Elephant who thought it was upto him to chase her away. So we stepped into action and made him go back. Frustrating a gorgeous pregnant Tigress!! We aren't cruel!! So back we went. She took the chance, and got up, walked around the two other Elephants(much smaller than our's) with other tourists on them, and found herself a nice cosy spot and lay down. She slept on her back. :) a huge Tigress, sleeping like a domesticated kitty cat! How cute is that!! And now, common sense, would make people want to leave the poor soul in peace, and observe her antics.. but no! Our bunch of campers listened to us when we aksed them to keep quiet. But our jurisdiction unfortunately doesnt extend to all tourists there. People in bright red and orange clothing, with flashing cameras (illegal!!) and very very loud voices, talking about how the Tigress was very lazy! You have NO idea about the fury I felt then. If it hadnt been for 4 kids in my gypsy and 2 adults, I would have even said everything I wanted to! But kids hearing an instructor abuse stupid tourists isnt a bright idea. So the thought got abandoned. Instead, I took a different way to this. I got out my camera. And while people clicked away at the Tigress' changing positions, I clicked away at them! :) I got photos showing the torture they put a Tigress through. A tigress who's supposed to rest, and if allowed, she can do that in our presence! Only if we keep those traps shut. But apparently it's a very tough thing to understand. I pity the people who come there to enjoy a "picnic" and yell and shout and express their excitement in the worst ways possible. Educated people. Shameful.
After getting a wonderful time watching her, by learning to ignore the blabbering all around, we headed back to the gate as it was time for the park to close. So off we were. Our people being elated at having gotten close to the Tigress on the Elephant. That evening we had our second ride in the park. Evening rides don't have routes alloted to gypsies. One can choose where he/she wants to go. The trademark moments of this camp were sighting the Raajbehra male (Tiger), the Sidhhababa female crossing our path and giving us a beautiful one hour on our last ride, the Tigress at Andhyari Jhariya whom we followed for 65 minutes from 5:30am, the Patiha male cub (Tiger) who we spotted sitting faaaaaaaaar away in the bushes... but were super excited all the same!!The brilliant birds and those awesome Vultures that glided their way everywhere, that rare Egyptian Vulture, the injured Long-billed Vulture, their roosting sites, that MASSIVE Bandhavgarh Fort and the even more fascinating habitat in Bandhavgarh of meadows, marshes, drylands, green forests, hills, all in all an awe inspiring Reserve! Then the next highlight being the Raajbehra male making a dash at a Chital and killing it and then dragging it into the grass to ensure no visibility.
Oh yes, and truely saving the best for the last, I now announce, that after 7 freakishly frustrating years of searching and waiting, I have FINALLY spotted my FIRST Wild Leopard!!! While returning from a one hour observation of the Raajbehra male (Bhokha) , who by the way, is stunningly handsome, we were racing away to reach the park's gate in time before it closed, and on our way, some Cat like animal crossed the road in front of us at a little distance from us, and went into the forest on the right. I stopped the driver immediately saying it's a Jungle Cat. The guide with us, said it's a Tiger cub. We stopped. The cat stared. We stared back. Then it sunk in. Leopard. Leopard!! Leopard!!!!! Oh dear lord!! Just out of the blue!! Without warning, without anticipation, she's there! Right in front of my eyes! 10 feet away from me. Looking at me. Contemplating her next move. Her eyes talking faster and faster. My eyes big and flabbergasted. She turned, ran, stopped, and turned again, to look at us, waited. And then it dawned on me - photo!! I fumbled for the camera while she took a few more paces away. I clicked, while her head was behind a thicket and only her body and tail were visible. She was far away by then. I didnt even care about the photo. I had just seen a Leopard for an ENTIRE 75 seconds!! People I know, who have seen a Leopard before, have told me - "It stood up, jumped, and went away." , "I saw it for 4 seconds! How do i know if it was a male or not?!" , "Those cats dont stay man!! U get the camera, look up, and realize they're gone!!" . And with so much of a feedback, my instinct told me, - "Observe. Chuk the photo. Just observe." That's exactly what I did. Observed. One photo. And 75 seconds of observation. A Leopard. I don't think anyone understands the importance of this sighting. 7 years!!!! And now suddenly, when I'd given up hope that I can spot one in the wild, it just comes! Well, after we came out of our dazed state, we realized we had 5 minutes to make it to the gate. So it was do or die. The race had begun. We sped across no matter what we spot now. Tiger , Leopard, Sloth Bear, who or what came, we kept going!!! Reached the gate with 4 seconds to spare for closing time. :) PHEW!! I can actualyl FEEL that excitement!!
Undoubtedly, this camp, has been one heck of a rocker!! With much more stuff than mentioned in this article, it's been a splendid time knowing a forest I can only wait impatiently to go back to!! The sessions with the campers, the meal times, the rides, the frustrating times when we had to control the kids, the chase for the Rat Snake, the Wolf Snake caught on campus, the Scorpions, the early morning tea times, the rooms!!! Everything was downright amazing!! Memories that will last all of us for a very very long time Im sure! The night spent sleeping by the pool, looking at the stars with rain drops falling on our faces now and then.. it all seems so clear. Like the water that glistens on a dark night with a full moon over it, causing the ripples to shine and shimmer. Moments of glory and those not so bright (-the train journey back to Pune) ; this camp, had it all! :) So the next time anyone is travelling by the Darbhanga Express, make sure u have enough memories to last you that harrowing journey and some left over till you go back again! :)
So for all those wilderness residents of Bandhavgarh, here's a salute to their majesty, their existance, and their sheer effect on us. May the Land of the Tiger live on!! :)