Along rolled a tiger

It was safari number five and overcast conditions loomed over us as we entered the Moharli gate. While there was a cool breeze, some dark clouds hovering above us screamed of certain rain.

Ratan (our driver guide) proceeded towards Jamunbodi Lake with the hope of finally showing us a tiger. We stopped at the view point and I made a few images of the beautiful setting. A panoramic view of the lake is what I hoped to capture. My only regret was that it was overcast and the beautiful afternoon light that transforms the lake into a magical place, was absent that day.

A little ahead on the road, we noticed that a jeep had stopped and the occupants were looking upwards at a higher branch. As I was wondering what bird it could be, an Indian Roller took flight and flew right over us. Hoping the bird would perch close by, I kept my eyes on it. While it did land on a branch near me, it took off within seconds. A disappointment indeed.

Vikram excitedly announced ‘roller dikha toh tiger definitely dikhega’! No sooner had he spoken those words, our guide pointed to the right and said tiger! I strained my eyes and looked in the direction he pointed. I saw some movement in the bushes and soon a tiger emerged from the foliage.

From the foliage

Our guide identified the tiger as a female who is popularly called Maya. She slowly walked out into the open, giving everyone present, a grand view. In no time, from just a handful of jeeps, about 10-15 lined up there. Excitement knew no bounds for driver, guide and tourists for it had been almost three days since a tiger had been spotted.

She neared the jeeps, with clear intentions to cross the road. Armed only with a telephoto lens, all I could manage was a portrait of this beautiful tiger as she trudged along and finally crossed the track.

Deep focus

She crossed the track and seemed focused on something. Scanning the surrounding area, we discovered where her focus lay. A couple of Sambar Deer grazed, oblivious to the fact that a tiger had them in sight.

Person of interest

We were expecting some action, but unfortunately for the tiger and us, the sambar let out an alarm call. They had finally spotted her. Slowly, she made her way into denser foliage and then out of sight.

Where them sambar at?

As we were soaking in the sighting with smiles and handshakes, heavy drops fell on us and moments later we were in the middle of a cloudburst. All of us were drenched to the bone in that heavy downpour. Even the rain jacket didn’t help much to me and the equipment. We drove out and took shelter at a forest department office until the rain receded. We made one more round to the area we saw the tiger. No sign of movement, we decided to exit the park.

After we returned to our homestay, I immediately wiped all the equipment and put it out to dry. All was well..no issues!

It was later that evening, Vikram narrated to us about his unique connection between an Indian Roller sighting and a tiger. Every time he has seen that bird, he has spotted a tiger. Incredible!

Tadoba is a jungle close to my heart and it has rarely disappointed. That evening our stars aligned and thanks to the Indian Roller, along rolled a tiger.

From my trip to Tadoba in October 2019. All images made with Nikon D850 along with a 600 F4 VR lens.

Making a splash

Aditya and I set out for a safari into Kabini, as usual in the rickety forest department bus. Hopeful as always, Aditya announced to me, “We will see a big cat, Kittu Mama!” I smiled as the driver crossed the check post and onto the old MM Road (Mysore-Mananthavadi). A few kilometers down the road and crossing a bridge, a photographer beside me, jumped off his seat…Tiger! Tiger!, he remarked excitedly! As the driver reversed, a gorgeous tiger came into sight, sitting in a small pool below the bridge. It was the Tiger Tank female.

No sooner had the bus stopped, the entire crowd in the bus swarmed towards the front seats wielding their mobile phones and point and shoot cameras. The bus was loaded with tourists from Kerala and in a matter of seconds, I was pushed away and in front of me stood the Great Wall of Kerala! With absolutely no space to shoot or see, I put the camera down and stood beside the door. With all the commotion in the safari bus, the tiger eventually got disturbed and left the scene.

Disgusted and disappointed, I got back to my seat and turned off the camera. No hopes of shooting in this bus, I thought to myself. As the driver explored various routes, we sighted elephants, gaur and chital. No signs of leopard lazing on a tree or the even more exciting male who occasionally sits on the temple especially during monsoon months.

The driver veered towards the backwaters road and was stopped by Aditya. Lets try the hoskere waterhole, he suggested. Enthusiastically, he took us to the waterhole, all eyes widened as soon as the waterhole came into sight! A young tiger was enjoying the cool waters in the mild drizzle.

My first thought was she might make a quick exit as soon as she sees our vehicle. Not even remotely perturbed, a dry twig floating in the pool soon became a toy for her and entertainment for us.

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Wading the waters, she took time out to set her gaze upon us and inspect what was causing all the noise!

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As she neared the edge of the waterhole after entertaining us for almost ten minutes, she stared into space as if in deep contemplation.

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A minute later, she got out of the pool, scent marked a few trees beside the safari track and made her way back into the woods. Quite easily the boldest tiger I had seen in Kabini. The disappointment having missed the previous tiger, was overturned with the joy of having witnessed such a lovely sight.

In the last two years she has become arguably the most photographed tiger in Kabini and is now a busy mother of three tiny cubs. Until we meet again!

Images made with Canon 500 f4 IS + 1D Mark IV  in July 2016

When you least expect it

As the sun started setting, deer alarm calls got louder. We traced the source of the alarm calls and landed at a waterhole. We waited patiently hoping a big cat would appear and quench its thirst and satiate our hunger to see one. A minute or two later, Uncle Promodh whispered loudly…tiger tiger! Our driver/guide Bomma and I jumped off our seats and looked in the direction Uncle Promodh pointed…and in the foliage, he sat camouflaged, not a tiger but a beautiful leopard!

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In hiding

He got up and as predicted , walked out into the open. We had already backed our jeep and were waiting for him. Soon as he stepped out, I started shooting, hoping he would stop and look at me. He did just that! Stopped for a couple of seconds, stared into the lens and casually walked away into thick lantana foliage leaving all of us speechless!

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Out in the open

An exciting finale to the safari for all of us but it was Andrea and his father Giovanni who were overwhelmed for this was their first ever jungle safari and the elusive cat graced the occasion!

Shot with: Canon 1D3 + 500 f4 | Feb 2015

All roads led to Arrowhead

Around the same time last year, I was in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, as part of my backpacking trip which included Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur. It also happened to be my second visit to this picturesque tiger reserve.

Few drives into various zones in Ranthambhore had not yielded any big cat sighting yet. Knowing that we had good a chance of tiger sighting in the Rajbagh lake zone, we set out with renewed energy that morning. An ever enthusiastic Nagendra Ji kept our spirits high and at the same time was keeping watch for pug marks and tiger trails. Alarm calls, fresh pug marks and  exchanging information from other jeep drivers/guides led us nowhere!

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Awoken from a slumber | Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan, India

As Nagendra Ji instructed the driver to take a narrow track and drive along that route, I eased back into my seat and was soon lost in my own world. Halfway journey into my dreamworld, the jeep eased to a stop. While all the occupants were off their seats, my dreamy self tilted to the right inspecting what had caused this interruption! Yeh toh Arrowhead hai! An excited Nagendra Ji called out!

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For the next thirty minutes, she yawned, laid down, posed for the camera and also did a brief cat walk leaving us immensely satisfied. The rest of the day was spent only reminiscing the sighting.

A new King

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Basavankatte Male | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Scattered drops of water falling out from the sky disappeared into the baked safari track, leaving no trace. The summer had taken its toll on Bandipur with most of its waterholes in a pitiful state. Looking up, I wondered, is there any respite for the jungle from this heat?

It was as if someone above was listening to me! An hour into the drive and the scorching sun finally hid behind dark clouds, claps of thunder pierced through the forests, heavy drops of water landed with a splash and soon we welcomed rains. As we took cover and quietly rejoiced, the forest was turning a new leaf and someone was going to proclaim himself King!

Continuing on our safari, we passed many puddles of water and our driver-guide had to carefully negotiate the slippery track. Few hundred yards ahead, a huge male tiger walked on to the track and occasionally went about, scent marking his territory. Watching all this in the drizzle, we decided to inch closer. Sensing the proximity, he turned around and gave us a deadly stare!

At that moment, everything including the rain stood still! It was as if Lord Indra himself had stopped the rains and silenced the thunder to announce the arrival of the new King!

A year of blogging

Cool breeze passes by as I sit by the backwaters in the dead of the night. Beside me, a couple of friends cast their imaginary fishing lines, and enact a struggle as if they had caught an African catfish (an invasive species). My thoughts wander toward the evening safari during which we narrowly missed the Black Panther.

Many such memories from various jungles came flashing back as I sat by the banks. Narrow misses, close encounters and no sightings in game drives are common in a wild life enthusiast’s days. All of these experiences penned down, one story at a time in the blog. A year gone by since it’s inception and I have somehow managed to post 52 photoblogs.

While choosing pictures was not so difficult, the writing part definitely was! Travel, meetings, busy times, lack of focus, no peace and quiet are excuses I often come up with. Despite that a blogpost went online every week. That being said, most importantly it has improved my writing and increased focus on the smaller details.

The last year has seen some significant development, from switching camera gear to Nikon and shifting hunting grounds. Bandipur an all time favorite, now faces stiff competition from Kabini which is slowly working its way up the list of favorites.

Commemorating one year of blogging, here is a collection of favorites from the above mentioned parks.

Here’s to more shooting, writing and blogging!

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Celebrating Tigers

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Tiger and Tourists | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2012

The mere mention of the word tiger is enough to get the adrenaline rushing for most people. If they see one, even if it were a glance, they feel blessed. I remember a sighting in Bandipur when a jeep full of people were dumbstruck throughout the ten minute sighting and spoke only after the tiger left. Such is the charisma of the striped cat.

People from all over the world and of course India too, throng various national parks and tiger reserves that our country has to offer. Popular parks like Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench (Madhya Pradesh), Tadoba (Maharashtra), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Corbett Tiger Reserve (Uttarakhand), Mudumalai, Bandipur, Nagarhole, Periyar (Southern India) to name a few, host a large number of tourists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers every year. The agenda of the trip is very clear in their minds – Tiger!

Yesterday, 29th July was International Tiger Day, an annual celebration to raise awareness for tiger conservation. I think we must celebrate the existence of this magnificent creature everyday.

The above image is of a tigress from the Bandipur, fondly called Gowri. Many visitors that evening felt blessed as she graced us with her presence. Having raised multiple litters, she has left behind her legacy in Bandipur. To many more tigers and many more sightings!

Image shot with: Canon 300 2.8 IS II + 1D Mark III

 

Tiger! Tiger!

Three road-blocks, a few sambar deer alarm calls, loud tiger roars and the nervous impatience!

It was half past five and we were driving towards a dam in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. A solitary barking deer and then a herd of chital (spotted deer) flanked the road and were grazing peacefully. Few moments later a sambar’s alarm calls broke the silence of the forest. Each sambar call was followed with a loud roar. A tiger had announced his or her presence! Alert chital were looking in all directions with fear in their eyes and restlessness in their posture. With bated breath, we waited, as minutes passed, the alarm calls stopped and so did the roars.

The silence of the jungle had returned and we continued on our drive. After driving around for about fifteen minutes, our driver Swami suddenly took a u-turn and headed back in the direction where we earlier heard the tiger roaring. Driving past the same herd of deer and half a kilometer later, the jeep came to an abrupt halt! Swami whispered…TIGER!

About two hundred feet away a tiger sat on the safari track like she owned the jungle. A few seconds after we spotted her, she started walking in our direction. I focused my camera and fired away. She stopped at a culvert, raised her tail and sprayed…she was scent marking the area. After she was done, she glanced in our direction and started walking towards us. As she came up the slope, I had goose bumps and my camera went on overdrive.

It was way past 6 pm and the day light was fading away fast. The tiger, now barely fifty feet from the jeep, stopped, stared at us for a few seconds. Thankfully I was in my senses to keep the shutter button pressed! She then turned and disappeared into the lantana undergrowth.

The entire sighting lasted about 2 minutes. To have such an encounter with this magnificent animal was unforgettable.

Shot with: Canon 40D + 100-400 IS 

Fully fed and riding high

At the Bandipur forest reception, a couple of department drivers informed me about a leopard sighting that happened earlier that morning.

A spotted deer (chital) had been hunted the previous night and the leopard perched on the tree with its prized kill and a full tummy. The morning visitors were treated to this glorious sight. Assuring that the leopard would still be at the same spot, the drivers wished me luck.

Entering the forest at 4 pm, we headed straight to the spot where the leopard was last seen. A few vehicles were already lined up, the leopard must still be there, I thought to myself. Driver/guide Siddhu pointed in the direction of the leopard.

I’m fully fed! Do not disturb! | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

He was perched quite contentedly on the lowest branch of the canopied tree. With lantana bushes coming in the way, I had to stand and attempt taking photos with a heavy lens and no support. To make matters worse, the other occupants in the jeep were literally jumping up and down in excitement. Mutiple shusshss’ and please don’t shake the vehicle…did not help either. I managed a few frames, before the rest of the vehicles lined up with loud excited visitors. Too much noise disturbed the afternoon siesta and the leopard came down the tree to hide in the thick foliage. Divers and naturalists told us the deer kill was on the ground and the leopard must be feeding on it.

We left the spot and drove around other parts of the forest seeing umpteen number of birds, gaur, elephants and a transformed Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Lush greens and previously dry waterholes were now filled up. Well, most of them at least. It was a good feeling to be back in my favourite reserve after a bout of heavy rains.

On the return lap of the safari, we drove back to the leopard spot. He was now seated on a higher branch and was in and out of sleep. I made a few images and a video too.

His Majesty | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

As the sun set and it got colder, Mr. Leppy curled up (not literally) and went to sleep.

Curled Up! | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

The fully fed leopard was content with his meal and I was content with the evening drive and a refreshed and transformed Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Images made with Nikon D750 and 600 f4 VR II 

Tale of two Tigers

Tiger! Tiger! Left…left!

I was rudely awoken from my power nap. I’d like to call it head banging (there is limitation of comfort in sleeping during a safari). I turned to my left looking for the tiger, no sign of it. I turned for confirmation- Indu Mami and Amma pointed in the direction of the tiger.

On a second look, there he sat camouflaged in the blades of grass. Only the ears and forehead visible. Unsure about getting any closer right away, we held our excitement and waited. I made a few images during that wait.

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I see some stripes | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

Minutes later, our driver/guide Sanjay, suggested we move ahead slowly. The tyres had barely moved a few feet, the tiger got up and disappeared into the lantana. Our sighting ended abruptly!

Driving up and down the road with the hope of spotting him again was futile.

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Camouflaged | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

After a while, a Jungle Lodges vehicle was heading in the same direction we saw the Tiger and minutes later, the vehicle came rushing back. Sensing a sighting update, Sanjay quickly turned the jeep around and received confirmation. A tiger had been spotted not too far from where we were. As we reached the spot, we were in for a disappointment. There was a line of vehicles parked already and the tiger was lying about 50 feet away from the track. While all jeeps had a clear view of the tiger, we unfortunately were left looking at the lantana bushes. After about 10 minutes all the action and excitement came to an end. This tiger too had disappeared into the lantana. The drivers decided it would be a good idea to wait at the nearest waterhole. Maybe the tiger would walk in to quench his thirst there.

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Waiting in line | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, 2011

It was around 6 pm when we drove up to the road leading to the waterhole, jeeps were parked and tourists pointing towards something. The tiger was on the move! Yet again, we missed the sighting despite being so close. As it was getting darker, one by one the other jeeps started leaving. After fifteen minutes, we slowly rolled the jeep down the road, when all of a sudden Sanjay stopped the jeep and in a loud whisper – KITTU!

I turned to the right and there he was – The Incredible Hulk looking right at us! He was caught completely unawares. Assuming all the vehicles had left, he decided to cross the road. I grabbed the camera and fired away with shutter speed 1/20 seconds in that extremely low light. By the time I increased the ISO setting, the tiger decided to move into the dense foliage. It was truly an adrenaline pumping moment!

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Incredible Hunk | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka 2011

My Uncle and Aunt from Solan (Himachal Pradesh) on their maiden safari were treated to two tiger sighings. And that’s why I keep telling people I have ‘beginners luck’. I drive with them and we see Tigers. Touch Wood! Of course, the person who deserves total credit is Sanjay; a fantastic tracker and very lucky with big cat sightings.

Images made with: Canon – 40D + 100-400 IS 

The queen of Bijrani

A little over a year ago, I visited the Bijrani side of Corbett Tiger Reserve. The forest rest house, small canteen, ever smiling staff especially Manish, the quiet but starlit nights and an occasional jackal doing the rounds with the hope of getting tit bits of food post closure of the canteen… vivid memories from there.

The agenda of the trip was simple, photograph tigers in the Bijrani zone. Memories of briefly spotting a young tigress on a glorious morning in February were still fresh. Would she honour us with her gracious self again was the big question?

We were welcomed with rain at Ramnagar. The morning drive was a washout though we hoped the skies would clear and the afternoon drive would bear fruit. Post lunch the dark clouds disappeared and the sun shone brightly upon us.

As we drove through a wooded area, a Paradise Flycatcher caught my attention. Before we could train our lenses on him, he gave us the slip! Dhasmana Ji suggested we follow pug marks of a tiger seen on the track earlier on the drive. As he reversed the jeep, my dear friend Subbu (who was standing on the back seat) excited called out Tiger! Tiger! In a nullah (dry rivulet) and under a huge log lay a sleeping tiger. It would have been impossible to spot the tiger if Subbu wasn’t standing atop the seat.

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Spot the tiger | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

A zoomed out picture for one to visualise the distance from the nullah and the angle too.

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Closer view of the tiger with a 500mm telephoto lens | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

Our exclusive rights to the tiger sighting did not last long. Soon a horde of day visitor jeeps were lined up in whatever space they could manage. Dhasmana Ji suggested we stick around for he was sure she would get up later in the evening and we would have our opportunity to make images.

After almost 1.5 hours, and all day visitor jeeps leaving, we stopped on the safari track which cuts the rivulet….envisioning some images with the habitat and the tiger walking towards us, time flew by. With the waiting time a quarter short of an hour, we moved to another rivulet crossing to see if the tiger had been spotted there. Negative there too.

As we reversed our vehicle back to the original spot, we spotted the tiger walking on the rivulet. By the time we got there, she had already reached the edge of the safari track! She stopped and then made herself comfortable in a small puddle. Minutes later, she decided it was time to get up and make it our money’s worth 🙂

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Wet and walking | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

With just three jeeps in the forest, we followed the tiger as she walked on the safari track, up a hilly area, mock charged a herd of sambar deer to our utter astonishment. And finally sat on the safari track as we were nearing the end of our jungle drive.

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Poise | Queen of Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve

The above picture summarises that exciting evening drive with an ageing tiger who once ruled a large part of Bijrani reminiscing her glory days. Someday I shall have it printed and put up on my wall reminiscing the Corbett days.

Photos were made using the following equipment: Canon – 70-200 IS, 500 f4 IS, 1D Mark 4, 6D 

Prince of hearts…king of the Jungle

A kingdom may last for ever, but a king’s reign always comes to an end. With the passing away of Prince, a new king will take over the kingdom he possessed for years in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Known for his large territory within Bandipur, he would freely roam the jungles with nonchalance. There have been instances when tourists have spent the entire safari, which can last almost three hours, with Prince walking from one end of the tourism zone to another.

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Walking his Kingdom| April 2016

My earliest memory of Prince dates back to Dec 2009 on a morning drive along with friends. Because of good tracking skills from our driver/guide Siddhu (then with Tusker Trails), we stumbled upon this magnificent tiger walking on the safari track. Least bothered with the presence of our jeep, he continued sashaying along the track, thereafter scent marking a few trees and finally settling into his private pool.

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The Royal Bath | Prince of Bandipur – Dec 2009

On that day, my friends and I were treated to a sighting that lasted a little over ten minutes. It was overwhelming to watch a tiger at close quarters enjoying his time in a waterhole. I couldn’t take my eyes off him and for the most time, the camera laid forgotten by my side.

I didn’t know then that I would be deprived of another sighting of Prince for the next four years. During an evening safari with the the Forest Department, we received information from another vehicle that a tiger was spotted at a waterhole. We rushed to the spot and sure enough, he was sleeping at the edge of the waterhole. Minutes later, vehicles started piling up and he moved further and further into the water. In all these years of visiting various parks, I can confidently say that Prince is the most adorable looking tiger I have seen yet.

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Innocent Eyes | Feb 2014

It saddens me to know that the Showstopper of Bandipur will not grace us with his presence anymore. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers will miss our very own PRINCE.

Here is a compilation of some of the best sightings of Prince in the last two years.

It was purely intuitive of Santhosh (driver/guide Jungle Lodges) to take a chance at Prince’s favorite waterhole. We reached the spot twenty minutes into the safari and there he was, cooling himself on a harsh sunlit afternoon.

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Comfortably numb | Jan 2015

A sighting that lasted more than 20 minutes that afternoon, it was also the beginning of my tryst with Bandipur and its popular inhabitant.

Another time in August 2015, while exploring Bandipur during the monsoon with the hope to make some interesting images, we are graced by Prince himself, lazing in a small puddle of water.

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Poise | Sep 2015

With Santhosh again at the helm of affairs, we drove from one end of the reserve to another after receiving information of a sighting. We spotted Prince as he turned towards the waterhole from the safari track.

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Lazing tiger, flying dragon | Sep 2015

Sighting a big cat in the lush greenery of a jungle always fills me with joy.

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A stroll in the jungle | Sep 2015

Few weeks had gone by with no sighting of Prince and with growing concerns over Prince’s whereabouts and health, he laid all doubts to rest. We were treated to a sighting so close to the safari track, I just about managed to fit the tiger and his meal in the frame.

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Not quite a king’s meal | Sep 2015

A large waterhole next to a temple inside Bandipur has always attracted a host of birds, sambar and spotted deer, elephants, gaur, etc. Never having seen a tiger at that waterhole, it was a fitting end to an otherwise uneventful safari.

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Fire amidst greens | Aug 2016

Entering the waterhole cautiously, I assumed he would casually sit and cool himself. Instead, he started kicking and splashing water.

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Splashing exit | Sep 2016

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Prince is no more. He ruled the jungles of Bandipur and our lenses for long years. Shooting Prince since his youth till the end, I have grown alongside as a photographer. Little did I know that watching him in a playful mood in the waterhole, would be the last photograph I will ever click of the majestic figure.

This momentary sadness will be overshadowed by all the memorable sightings you have given me. Rest in peace my friend!