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

Monsoon Magic

I love the game drives into Bandipur during the monsoons. Wildlife amidst lush green surroundings and drops of rain is such a refreshing sight. On more than a few occasions, I got lucky witnessing some interesting behaviour and action, other times, pure joy of making images in the rain drenched forest. I have picked a few such moments!

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Headless | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Off with your head! A jungle myna displays its hapless victim.

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Stripe-necked Mongoose devours a snake that saw no escape

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King Pool | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A long gone king poses in his pool close to the safari track

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Heavy soaking | Chital – Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

A beautiful stag stands still enjoying the generosity of the rain gods

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Kingfisher | Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India

Post rains, a white-throated kingfisher contemplates its next move.

This year the monsoon has finally made its presence felt. Time to make the best of what the jungles have to offer. Bandipur, Kabini…we just have to see!

 

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!

Barsaati nullah di Kudi

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Barsaati nullah di Kudi | Bijrani, Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand, India

A week in Corbett hadn’t borne any fruit (read tiger sightings). The highlight of the trip so far had been a wonderful sighting of the very rare Leopard Cat, Common Green Magpie and a Collared Falconet! All three of course in the Dhikala region. Sightings in Bijrani had been poor and the jungle trips were ending in disappointments.

Wrapping ourselves in multiple layers including thermals, we set out yet again for the morning drive in peak winter. The bone chilling cold was only starting to leave as soft light shone through the sal trees. The gorgeous winter sun turning everything into gold that morning.

Driving past the barsaati nullahs (watercourse that flows during rains), Dhasmanaji guided the gypsy onto a track leading to a waterhole. Pramod jumped in excitement and pointed ahead…Tiger! Over a hundred feet away, a flash of orange and black disappeared from the road side into tall grass.

Rushing forward to the spot, there was no sign of the tiger. We backed up and waited by the side of a barsaati nullah, in hope that it would reappear. Minutes later, there was a rustle in the thick grass, soft cautious steps approaching us and then she emerged. The gorgeous morning light enhanced the beauty of this young lady and we shutterbugs finally had an overwhelming sighting.

Image shot with: Canon – 1D Mark IV + 500 f4 IS

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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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 

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 

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!

My Maiden Tiger shot

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Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Canon 40D + 100-400 IS lens

As we entered Bandipur for the evening safari,  I asked Adil what he thought he might see on his maiden safari. “We are going to see a tiger” came a confident reply. Having done enough drives without a wild cat sighting, I thought to myself “yeah…like we are actually going to see one”. It was a “normal” drive. We saw the chital (spotted deer), Indian peafowls, elephants. As we were going down a slope near the reserve, I heard an excited yell TIGER! TIGER!

I saw Vishnu Anna jump off his seat and rush toward the driver asking him to stop the vehicle. I looked in the direction he pointed and scanned every inch for the tiger. There she was! Sitting in a clear patch of green grass at a distance of about a hundred meters. Stray bamboo branches made it very difficult for the camera to focus on the tiger. Low light conditions didn’t help either. After five minutes, she lay flat and flipped over to the left. Then she got up and disappeared behind lantana bushes. We tried hard and spotted her again behind thick foliage. Waited for half an hour for her to come out in the open and then left.

The mere sighting gave me a high. For many it was their first tiger sighting. For me the first capture on camera. It had been a long time desire to photograph a tiger. Thrilled? Yes! Because the first shot was due for 4 long years! Satisfied? No! But I knew this is just the beginning of many more tigers to see!

Ranthambore Diary

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While I download pictures from a ten day long Rajasthan trip, which of course included Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, I leave you with a picture of this magnificent male tiger (popularly known as Sultan) from my previous trip to the same reserve with Toehold Travel and Photography in December 2014, skippered by dear friend and award winning photographer Sachin Rai. Wait up for more treasures captured from this trip to the lovely jungle. 

 

Culmination of the food chain

Elephants, Tiger and a Peafowl | Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India Canon 40D, Sigma 500 f4.5

Many a time we marvel at the beauty of a peacock dancing to the oncoming rains or appreciate the gentle giants frozen in their respective positions shielding their young or the mighty tiger basking in the sun after a good hunt and a full stomach… But all three at a time is a rare sight and I was lucky to witness the rarity.