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Trip Report:

India Special Tiger
Trip Report


We did very, very well with Tigers on our special five-day photo safari to one of India's best tiger parks, Bandhavgarh. In four days we had a total of 12 different Tigers, and between us we had a total of 23 sightings. Of course, some people saw more Tigers than others -- I'll explain why, below, but everyone achieved great Tiger photos.


Day 1. Delhi to Bandhavgarh. Yesterday, I arrived from our Snow Leopard expedition, meeting Mary and the rest of the group who would be traveling to Bandhavgarh. Today we flew to Khajuraho where we were met by our four SUV drivers for the 5.5 hour drive to Bandhavgarh. The drive went uneventfully, although we stopped for a leg-stretch at what-turned-out-to-be a cow cemetery, probably where road-kills were dropped off. Red-headed and Egyptian Vultures perched on the trees nearby, and a dog trotted up the road, climbed the bank, and headed to the carcasses to scavenge. We reached camp just after dark, headed for dinner, and afterwards got our gear arranged for the next day’s shoot.

Day 2. Bandhavgarh. A great tstart. We left the lodge just after 6AM, driving to HQ for our permit for Jon Two, and our group was among the first vehicles lined up to enter the gate, which opened at 6:40. Within ten minutes we had our first Tigress, standing on a low mound that surrounded a water hole. She disappeared into the brush before we could shoot (Mary was a few cars ahead and got some shots), but we backed up, and a short distance away a male Tiger emerged from the same brush line.

tHe headed away from us, paused to look back, and I got a wonderful shot of the leaves that tricked my AF.  He rubbed his chin upon a tree, walked passed, and scent-marked, and a few minutes later the Tigress reappeared, following his path. We were ready for her, and got some nice, but distant, shots. The two tigers disappeared in the forest, where they mated, emitting an almost nasal-like roar while doing so. We stayed in the area, hoping that the cats would cross a clearing or go to water, but although there were occasional alarm calls, and more roars from matings, the cats didn’t appear. Later in the morning, around 10AM, one of the two Tigers appeared at the waterhole, but whether it had already drank, or was waiting until later, it didn’t present a shot – just a tiny glimpse of a white belly in the bamboo.

jA Golden Jackal did come in to drink, and then fed at a Wild Boar kill that the tigers had killed earlier. At one point, Jungle Fowl spooked the Jackal, which fled, but finding the area tiger-free, the Jackal returned to feed. Most likely, one or both Tigers would be feeding there through the afternoon. Late on our game drive we had a pair of Jackals that slipped into the forest when we approached, but returned to the road and trotted towards us when we drove by and waited.

tAn Orange-crowned Ground Thrush was my photo highlight, as we had this robin-sized thrush hunting in the leaf-litter close by, providing frame-filling shots. The white cheeks, lined by bands of black, give this bird a distinctive look, and today, the best shots I’ve had of one. Indian Bee-eaters cooperated for nearly everyone, and Phil and Jan’s vehicle did okay with a Long-crested Serpent Eagle.
Pali, new to India, had the best luck, seeing our first two Tigers, and then having the two two-year-old cubs walk across the game track quite close to his vehicle. Mary had a third Tiger sighting, too, a distance view where a mother and four cubs hid in the grass. Photographers on an all-day pass were on elephants, and apparently had the Tigress and her cubs in the forest for much of the morning.
The morning was overcast for most of the time, with occasional breaks of sunshine, so the lighting, soft and even, was perfect throughout the game drive. We dodged a bullet, as a serious-looking thunderstorm cracked thunder and dumped rain about five kilometers from our lodge. Last year, at Pench, we got soaked when a rain storm hit us during a game drive. In all, with FIVE tiger sightings for the day, it was a great start.
dPM. Most of the group was assigned to Jon One, Talla Gate, although Pali’s permit had him back in Jon Two where we had the morning tiger activity. Pali stayed at the waterhole, where the Wild Boar carcass lay, for three hours with only a Jungle Fowl appearing. Still, I’d have done exactly the same, as I would have expected the tigers to come to water at some point. On his drive back to the lodge, on the main road, a Leopard appeared and crossed the road, so his patience was rewarded.
Thunder rumbled in the distance and at times dark clouds loomed along the horizon but all of us escaped rain. My guides, from what I could understand, said that the leopards and tigers don’t come out in this type of weather (I had heard the same about activity in the rain), but to me it didn’t make sense. Nonetheless, no one saw a tiger this afternoon, although in two different locales Sambar Deer gave alarm calls, so something was moving.
bWith threatening storms the light level was low, and at 3:45 I took a meter reading – ISO 1600, 1/400th, f5.6. That’s low light for that time of day. Periodically the light improved, but for the most part the afternoon light was dim and somewhat flat. Crested Serpent Eagles, good views of Malabar Pied Hornbills, Bee-eaters, and a glimpse of a Jungle Cat were some of the afternoon’s highlights, but the best, perhaps, occurred late in the day when we found a Sloth Bear feeding in an open area. It was getting late, but my driver and guide risked staying a few minutes extra and the Bear ended up walking fairly close to the road. We had less than 15 minutes to return to the gate, and we were late by two minutes, but we were behind a VIP, and thus we had the excuse that that vehicle blocked the road and prevented our on-time arrival.
With a Leopard, Jungle Cat, Sloth Bear, Golden Jackals, and four Tigers for the day, we had a spectacular introduction to Bandhavgarh.

bDay 3. Bandhavgarh
Although the sky was clear, low clouds or fog made the morning game drive quite cold. Steve and Albert purchased an all-day permit and left 15 minutes before the rest of us, while our group was among the first to enter the gate. The morning was incredibly slow, with a highlight being a Eurasian Hoopoo and little else.
PM. We had Jon One, and soon after starting our route we noticed a herd of Spotted Deer that seemed both alarmed, alerted, and curious. As a herd they moved in to a swampy gulley where we suspected either a python or a Jungle Cat was spotted. Initially my guides thought it might be a leopard that had made a kill, but the deer would have ran on, and not approaching the predator. It turned out to be a Jungle Cat, which I had the briefest and eyes still unfocused view of, but the cat stayed hidden and although I thought the deer would flush it, they did not. Tigers were reportedly seen in the morning near the check point, so we headed there.
You never know if time waiting on one opportunity might be your only worthwhile event for a game drive, or if you should go on, hoping for a tiger. This time, as it turned out, we should have spent less time with the deer, as a Tiger crossed the road and provided several British tourists, on their last of six game drives and on the birthday of one lady, a great shooting opportunity. Alarm calls were still sounding, and we followed the calls, but at one point we had to go check in and we left the scene.
Meanwhile, Mary and Jan had had a good Tiger – the one we should have been after, and got shots of the Tiger back-lighted that were quite nice. Her driver and park guide stayed when we left – they never checked in – and the Tiger came out once again for more shots. Obviously, Phil and I missed it!
This tiger, Spoty (due to the spots on her face) is the daughter of Patiha, and the sister of Doty ( a D on her face) who lives in Magdi Zone and where they were born. Spoty has mated at least once, but did not raise cubs, while Doty has small cubs, and has seen her carrying cubs across the road.
lOur driver was very disappointed, feeling that he blew it, but it’s the luck of the draw. On the way home, in an area where we’ve sometimes had tigers we did have a Leopard, a young cat but not a cub, close to the road. I sort of blew that shot, too, as I adjusted my exposure, but the aperture was at f9, so the shutter speed was only 1/50th sec. Luckily, I panned, and out of the burst I should have something. The Leopard paused, but by the time we repositioned ourselves she was looking away (full frame!), and then slinked off when another vehicle drove up.
Steve and Albert had seven Tiger encounters, the first at 1:30PM. They had the mother tiger, Rajbehra, with four cubs, and then two other females. The cubs played, and Steve shot at least 16 gb. They were happy with their day permit.

mDay 4. Bandhavgarh
Today the dawn was clear, and cold, and all of us were in Jon One. The morning was a good one, with a Sloth Bear that was close to the road, which then crossed, and, from a distance at least, stayed in view for fifteen minutes or so. A family of Rhesus Macaque Monkeys groomed close to the road for some nice behavior shots.
The mother Tigress with four cubs had moved from Jon Two to our zone, and had a kill up a dry wash. After our breakfast stop at the Meeting area we headed to the kill. A mahout was there with his elephant, and in moving about the Tigress decided to move, and walked close to the road. She didn’t cross, but stayed in the open behind some bamboo where some of us had a view and good shots. There was a fairly large crowd, and the ‘window’ was small, and I did a lot of my shooting with the 800mm mounted on my RRS monopod and monopod head. I was steady with it, and after getting some shots signaled for some folks to drive in front of us (off track, now) to get some frames before they returned to the road.
PM. Everyone raced towards the Tigress for the evening shoot, and Mary and Steve hit the timing perfectly, with the Tigress and all four cubs on the opposite side of the road from the kill. One by one they crossed, with the mother looking partially melanistic as her backend was black with mud, apparently from soaking in a pond. Two of the cubs, males, crossed right after each other, and the third surprised Steve and Mary when it bounded across the road – great shots if they were ready. The female cub, fourth in line, emerged from the grass carrying a baby Macaque Monkey, that she held by a flap of skin on its back. As Steve said, it looked more like the cub was carrying a toy than carrying food, reminding him of his poodle at home.
I heard about the great luck back at the meeting area, and after checking in we drove to the dry wash where Phil and Albert, and Paly were already in position. We could hear occasional growls but it didn’t look promising, so I drove off with Jan and photographed Crested Serpent Eagles and Common Kingfishers, before returning to the tigers.
A small herd of Spotted Deer noisily tramped through the forest, on a direct line to the kill and the tigers. One or more of the cubs gave chase, unsuccessfully, but one paused in the dry wash long enough for Phil and Albert to get shots. Jan and I saw two cubs playing, but in the thick bamboo, and with dusk approaching, there were no shots.

Day 5. Bandhavgarh
Our fourth day of our actual tiger safari and perhaps the best day any of our groups have had, collectively. We had a total of three Tigers, beginning with a female Tigress at the cement waterhole where Paly had spent several afternoons waiting for a cat. Today, minutes after the gate opened, the cat was sitting beside a tree, tfacing the vehicles that lined up to photograph her. After a few minutes she rose, and walked over to the pool where she drank – again offering good shots, and finally disappeared into the bamboo.

We continued on, and a short time later encountered a tourist with a full-day pass who was watching another Tigress about 100 yards off in a grassy meadow. There was no view, but her elephant soon arrived to take her to the tiger and, as she approached, the cat got up and ran off. It moved towards the road, and I worried that it was shy, but after paralleling the road for several minutes, then walking down the road, the cat, on its third appearance, turned and walked right to us.



Three vehicles were lined up side by side as the cat approached, smelling the base of a tree where the cat did a flehmen display, then turned and walked deeper into the bamboo. The elephant and the woman followed, and we moved on.
Mary, with Phil, finally had good tiger shooting for him, along with good bird photography. Steve, who was alone in a vehicle, encountered another Tiger, a male, and the brother of the other two tigers (all now just over four years old). This male sat in the road, and Steve had the cat to himself for nearly twenty minutes. Eventually the tiger got up, walked into the bamboo, rested, and then returned to the same waterhole to drink. Afterwards, the cat gingerly stepped into the pool to soak, where my vehicle, with Albert, found the cat, facing us for great shots. We stayed until the cat finally rose and walked back into the brush, and still made it back to the gate five minutes short of the cutoff.

tPM. Three of our vehicles were the first three at the gate, and all of us headed directly to the waterhole where we hoped to find the tiger. It takes 15 minutes to reach the pool, and when we arrived water marks indicated where the tiger had been as it crossed the road and rested in the bamboo. Although the water tracks looked fresh, my driver said that the Tiger hadn’t been to the water since noon – so perhaps the tracks just looked new?
At any rate, my vehicle parked in the sun where I thought was the prime position if the Tiger returned. Paly’s vehicle left almost immediately, as he had had three days waiting, unsuccessfully at this waterhole on other afternoons, and he hoped to shoot new subjects. In fact, he did see and photograph the dominant Tiger here, New Male, although the male was around 100 yards away and, for a photo, Paly had to stand on the roll bar, with his ankles held for security.
Our other two vehicles eventually peeled off and went looking, but Albert and I remained. Nothing happened, and by 4:45PM we were getting a bit bored.

tHowever, I suggested we stay, as the first hour would have been the time to leave, when the Tiger was less likely to move, and now, any time, the tiger might get up from the bamboo and return to the water. Meanwhile, Mary’s vehicle, with Phil, and Steve and Jan returned, although Mary’s driver messed up and basically double-parked on the main road, cutting off the view of some British tourists who, like us, had stayed, waiting, the entire time. One of the men made a big stink, and Mary’s driver was getting directions and shouts from everyone – ‘pull forward,’ ‘back up,’ etc. Meanwhile, the Brit was complaining to Mary, who calmly explained that she wasn’t directing the driver but nonetheless, the experience was painful and somewhat ruined the experience. The driver did eventually back up, which presented a clear view to the bamboo where we expected the Tiger to emerge.
tAbout that time, one of the other park guides tried to orchestrate the parking, and suggested drivers back up to clear a wider space for the Tiger to cross. As he was trying to do so the Tiger got up and crossed the road, giving us a nice view as the male emerged from the bamboo. From there he crossed to the waterhole, drank, and then, one paw at a time and quite gingerly, he walked into the pond, facing us, and laid down. The light, now after 5PM, was great – the pond was in shade and so we had no shadows, and after twenty minutes or so the Tiger got up, stood, and walked to the bank, then walked towards us along the shoreline. Great shots.
The Tiger entered the road again, and laid down, but cars blocked our tview. The cat then stood, and walked down the road, giving a moaning roar, which I suspect may have been an assembly call, trying to attract his sister (both our the sons and daughters of Rajbehra). As he walked down the road one of the Forest workers rounded a corner on his bicycle, and stopped, with the Tiger veering into the woods and the biker doing a U-turn. We left the cat at that point as it was now 15 minutes to closing, and we had a fast drive back.
In all, we now have 12 different Tigers, and 23 sightings in four days!

Day 6. Bandhavgarh
Today illustrated why we stress patience, and why yesterday’s vigil at the waterhole was typical, and required, for good tiger shots. Today, no Tiger was seen in any of the three Jons, or tourist sectors. And in the evening, a tiger was supposedly sleeping in a bamboo thicket, far off across a meadow, but was not seen. Each day, for the impatient or imprudent, could be like this, and hopefully everyone on this trip realizes not only how lucky they were, but how important the protocol we followed actually is.
tIn the morning we did Jon Two, where we had such good luck the last two days, but aside from tracks, and one bout of roaring/moaning, we had no evidence of tigers, or sloth bears, or leopards. We did birds, but the morning was somewhat slow, with the best, for my vehicle with Paly, being the Eurasian Thick-Knees, nocturnal shorebirds that rely on camouflage. I’ve been looking for these birds since we’ve started here, but was told that today it was the first time any had been seen. Apparently, they migrate.
PM. We had Jon One, and although my vehicle had Langur Monkeys barking alarm calls the signals were confused, because some of the monkeys just continued to feed. Yesterday, however, we had Langurs giving alarm calls for the male Tiger, but after a while the monkeys apparently lost interest and stopped calling, and actually descended to the road where they galloped along, heading further up the road. Today, at one point, a group of Langurs moved through the forest, making a lot of noise, and causing me to wonder how keen their vision was, for a tiger or leopard, hearing that commotion, could press itself flat to the ground and wait, and make an easy kill. That is, unless the monkey’s vision is so acute that, like humans, they might detect the motionless shape or pattern of a tiger or a leopard.
Everyone did birds or monkeys or deer, and for Steve and I it was backlighted Spotted Deer, with a buck sporting a wreathe of leaves, and Mary having one with a bd
bamboo shaft stuck to its antlers. We also had great shooting of a Greater Coucal – resembling the black coucal of Africa, and an Adjutant Stork, a look-alike for Maribu Storks. A Changeable Hawk-Eagle was building a nest, pulling at leaves to add to the nest lining, but the bird was high and no shots.
In all, it was a fair afternoon, not especially exciting, and obviously anticlimactic, but illustrated once again how lucky we had been, and what a great shoot we had. Today, no one was worried, and in some ways a great reality check for the way things can be in Bandhavgarh, or elsewhere.

As I said, we did quite well, but as this trip ended we returned to Delhi where we would meet our new group, for our first trip to Gujaret, Western India, where we'd seek the Asiatic Lion in the Gir Forest, and a variety of other subjects found here. We were sorry to leave Bandhavgarh, but excited about the new trip.