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Friday, June 26, 2009

Ranthambhore – Day 01

Just after saying goodbye to all staff of Nature Heritage Resort we have been taken to the train station at Katni, where we took our sleeper train once again. We almost lost it, after having passed by a never-ending sequence of villages along the road between Bandhavgarh and Katni during the early evening hours; we have got to the train station just in time for getting in the wagon and go, and this rush had a cost, Cassio left his hat behind – most probably in the car back seat in the moment we parked in the station and took our luggage in the dark.

We passed more than 14 hours in that train, and finally arrived at Sawai Madhopur by the morning, and we have been taken to the Dev Vilas Hotel where we would spend the next 4 days to explore the Ranthambhore National Park. It was much hotter in Rajasthan than it was in Madhya Pradesh. The weather was extremely dry and we could notice differences immediately – there was that red dust everywhere and the scenery was mostly like semi-desert with dry and dry vegetation.

Typical Ranthambhore Scenery

The game-drives rules in Ranthambhore were different than in Bandhavgarh. There we had to share the jeep with guests of other hotels. The jeeps and guides did not belong to the hotel but to third-party companies hired by the Government; we were picked up by the jeep on the morning and afternoon, but it might be a different one each time – the guide/driver combination also changed, and they have a route assigned by the Forest Department before picking the guests at their hotels.

In Ranthambhore, there are 5 routes denominated by numbers from 1 to 5, being the Route 1 the one heading to the most Eastern side of the entrance while the Route 5 heads to the most western side of it – then the other 3 routes cover the East-Center, Center-Core and West-Center areas. The Route 3 is the one which covers the Core area, what is called the Heart-of-Ranthambhore where there is access to the Rajbagh Lake and it is the main area of the most famous tiger in the park: Machali, the oldest tiger in the touristic range if the park. Machali is to Ranthambhore what B2 is to Bandhavgarh.

Spoonbill Stork _MG_2693_F

In the first afternoon, we met our first guide: Ravindar. There was a main road starting in the first park gate that crosses a kind of Buffer Zone. This road took us to a second gate passing through a small canyon – after the gate, depending on what route we got, we could take a track to the right or to the left, or continue ahead. In that afternoon, we had Route 4, and then we continued ahead until reach the corresponding ranger’s checkpoint before entering the Route 4 itself. A very dusty track surrounded by rocky hills in both sides introduced us to this new environment, very different from Bandhavgarh.

Park main road

Welcome peacock
Peacock _MG_2785_F

We were still distracted assimilating the new scenery when the driver cried: Look! We immediately stopped the vehicle. There was something moving far away on the winding track ahead, but it was not close enough to distinguish what exactly animal it might be. We approached slowly and the guide then confirmed it was a tiger. That was really incredible that in the first 10 minutes of game-drive we could spot our first tiger in Ranthambhore – we were very excited with it.


The big cat was moving towards us actually, just walking calmly on the track, like a phantom not making any noise as the paw cushions smoothly touched the dusty ground. Despite the high temperature at that time, the tiger was moving around showing being plainly adapted to that tough weather. Ravindar explained that tigers would prefer to walk on the tracks indeed because the track would be cooler than going the rocks and bushes, but we indeed expected that they would be much more lethargic than they actually proved to be under such temperature.


T.17 is her name, a young but already adult tigress. In Ranthambhore the tigers do not get a name, but a number – less charming isn’t it? There are 34 tigers in the Ranthambhore core area and T.17 rules over a territory in the border of routes 4, 3 and 2, closer to the entrance. She does not have any cubs in the moment.


T.17 kept coming towards us and we backed off a couple of times along the route to give her more space. She walked to the left of the car making us think that she would go to the stream running just along the road, but then she turned to the right towards the hills and set her route away from us.


T.17 has 2 sisters, T.18 and T.19 and they are all Machali’s daughters (Machali is also known as T.16 – her official tag). T.17 had a female cub baptized of T.1, who was transferred together with T.18, her sister, to Sariska Reserve, the national park which has lost all his tigers to poaching. That is a truly sad story.


We could barely notice, but T.17 was wearing a radio collar for tracing. Ravindar said that 3 tigers use collars in Ranthambhore, and we personally guess that the collar may be necessary not for scientific research but to monitor T.17 just because her territory is on the edge of the core area, bordering the buffer zone where there are still active Hindu temples and many villagers circulating by bicycle or even by foot.


After T.17 vanished in the bushes on her way to the hills, we continued our journey into the Route 4, then feeling a big relief since we succeed spotting our tiger of the day. Along the route we saw many other animals and specially birds – and it was noticeable that the wildlife there was a bit different of Bandhavgarh. It was much easier to spot birds and frequently multiple species together.

Painted Stork
Painted Stork _MG_2717_F

Black-headed Ibis
Black-headed Ibis _MG_2722_F

The Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher _MG_2710_F

We came across a big waterhole in halfway to the end of the Route 4, where crocodiles were taking sunbath to raise their body temperature and chital deers browsed the grass and profited of the black drongos on their back to get rid of the parasites just like the well-known buffalos and oxpeckers symbiosis in Africa.

Crocodile Sunbath
Crocodile _MG_2728_F

Drongos and Chitals
Black Drongos on Chital Back _MG_2746_F

Framed by the spotted deer legs

Black-winged Stilt
Black-winged Stilt _MG_2702_F

Next we reached an area called Lakarda where a village used to exist before being relocated to the buffer zone. Lakarda is Machali’s territory, but there was no sign of her that afternoon. We then took the track to the very end part of the Route 4, a very rocky slope making the contour of a deep and shady valley. There we spent some time trying to track a leopard that lives in a cave around there; however we followed the loud Sambhar deer alarm calls for quite some time without success. Leopards are really extremely elusive cats. I already confess that despite all promising attempts, we had no chance to see a leopard in India. Maybe on next time.

Busy waterhole

Chital Stallion

The end of the first game-drive approached and we just made half-turn and went back to the ranger’s checkpoint and headed out of the park. It was a really great start, we could see an adult female tiger and many other animals – the Ranthambhore Park is different and beautiful.

Back in the hotel, the swimming pool was waiting for our evening splash. We went all the way back to the hotel already dreaming about the next safaris…

Langur Family
Langur Family _MG_2770_F

Baby Langur
Baby Langur _MG_2774_F

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bandhavgarh – Day 05 – Part 2

Raj wanted to break a record, 9 game drives, 9+ tiger sightings without interruption. We think we were not the only lucky people to see tigers every day; that week the tigers were very active at Tala Range. Deepak finally got better from his flu and wanted to join Raj and us in the last drive. That was very special: they told me we had the best team together in the same car, Raj, Deepak and Dino. Raj was excited like a child, called his wife to say that he had all his friends in the jeep, we were happy too. But he also said that the last time he did that they could find no tiger…we cannot even think about this possibility!

That afternoon, the pressure was high to find a tiger, and the best to do was to get to the last point where we were in the morning, the bamboo forest where Jhurjhura had probably passed the hottest time of the day hiding from the sun.

The possibilities were all about relying on Jhurjhura and her cubs, which had also potentially joined her after we left.

Like snipers, we set position on the road side and kept eyes on the bamboo thickets across the grass field. Moving the jeep back and forth, our crew of experts reported more or less where the tigers were hiding, but we actually could not see anything but dead bamboo leaves.

John and Digpal were there, too. This time, as there was not too much action, BBC was collecting background scenes for the documentary. The light was really good at that spot of Rajbhera. There were really good things to take picture of, with the golden sunlight hitting on them, like this old strangler tree.


We left the place a couple of times to check the vicinity for some alarms calls, but they were pretty much convinced that the Jhurjhura family was still behind the bamboos.

We were already loosing hope because the gate closing time was approaching and there was still no sign of Jhurjhura or of her cubs. Even if we would see a tiger that time, our 400-100mm lenses would give us a hard time not to blur the image. I remember seeing John Aitchison filming a beautiful sunset at Rajbhera, when finally Jhurjhura put her head out of the hide.


She got out and walked calmly through the grass towards the road. It seemed that she was still interested in the chital deers which she crossed back there in Rajbhera grassland on her way to the bamboo thickets.


She interrupted her walk a couple of times to raise the head above grass and finally she selected a man-made wall of stones on the border of the road, and rested.

Jhurjhura would not move from there by the next minutes, the thing was that the gate closing time had arrived. We were one of the last jeeps to leave the place; it was our last tiger saw in Bandhavgarh. The light was not so good anymore as the sun was already low behind some tree, then that area was totally in the shade, but still we could take a few more shots.


For the relief of Raj, Deepak and Dino, the mission had been accomplished; we saw the tiger again in our last game drive there. For the proud of the crew they beat their mark – for us it couldn’t be more perfect! For a couple coming from so far of India, for the first time, seeing the tiger once would be already a blessing, seeing so many in all excursions into the park was simply unbelievable!

Note: you can click on the picture to take you to the original size picture in our Flickr album page, being better to see the photographs you like. Or if you may want to go straight to our Flickr page, please access the link Our Flickr Page

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bandhavgarh – Day 05 – Part 1

Last day in Bandhavgarh. We were feeling so happy to have been awarded with some many tiger sightings that we didn’t want to leave. We actually could never imagine that we could be so blessed with that luck – we have almost seen each one of the 12 tigers that live in the Tala Range and plus, the New Male who does not belong (yet) to that area.

We had still 2 game drives to happen, but felt like we could not live anymore without that routine – safari game drives are so exciting that everyone gets easily addicted to them – the process of meeting the crew early in the morning and get to the gate, the wind blowing on our faces, the searching for tracks and sounds, screening the sand for paw prints, the thrill on each encounter before the tiger materializes just in front of our eyes, the forest atmosphere, the hot colors and smooth light through the trees towards everywhere we look while the jeep advances into the jungle, the tiger eyes meeting ours through the lenses of our cameras…

It is a never-ending collection of memories engraved in our souls that we will never forget. In the last morning drive in Bandhavgarh we just wanted to keep the rhythm, at least see any tiger, could it be a same one, could it be far away, male, female, cub – the important was to close this part of the trip with one more tiger. It would be so sad if we could not see a tiger in our last they there…

Raj took us straight to Rajbhera Lake, the lake formed by the dam in the north of Tala Range, where we had already been many times trying to spot the Jhurjhura female and her cubs.


Jhurjhura seemed to be hiding from us, we always listened to other people having been able to see her in the past days, but we had only a quick glimpse of one of her cubs running across the road. But this should be our last chance to meet her, so she had gave us a break from the hide-and-seek game: as soon as we arrived at Rajbhera area, Raj found out that she was just up on the hill preparing to cross the dam wall.



In reality, we could not be sure if she would cross the lake or if she would come downhill towards the other side, so we alternated with John Aitchinson and Digpal’s to each one of us keep in each side of the hill and notify the movements of Jhurjhura.


More jeeps arrived in the meantime and after quite some time Jhurjhura decided to cross to the other side towards the lake. We rush to the lake just around the hill and when we arrived she had already made her way over the wall of the dam, but she was still waiting on the top of some rocks just in front, along the lake shore. BBC was already filming the scene, actually one of the most beautiful scenes we could see so far, because the whole scenery was outstanding and the tones were superb.



Jhurjhura started the descent path towards the water and the sequence of her moves triggers the excitement in everyone. The crowd got delighted with the scene just happening in front of us.



Jhurjhura hesitated to dive but quickly got into water and crossed to the other border of the half-dry lake always accompanied by her own reflex in the Rajbhera lake waters.




She briefly stopped after the crossing to watch potential preys not far from there, but that time of the day it was probably too hot for a hunt – we never know!



She vanished in the high grass field for a while, and then we just moved to where Dino and Raj expected her to reappear on the road side. Magically she popped up right ahead the vehicle as expected and walked to the bamboo thickets on the other side looking for a cover, where she would probably settle for the next hours until temperature would drop to more suitable levels for hunting.


That is exactly what she did, and we left right there just after she disappeared in the middle of the bamboos.


We drove back to the main gate with that feeling of having one more mission accomplished, and as we made the turn on Chakradhara Meadow and took the main road through Siddh Baba grass land we met some jeeps parked by the road. That was the same point where we did the Tiger Show 2 days before. There was a Tiger Show still going on. Despite the hours, it seems that there is no more people left to go, so raj asked us if we wanted to go with him to the Tiger Show – the park chief ranger had just authorized him to take us on the ride despite the gate closing hours, he just made a special concession. No way would we turn down this opportunity…

There we went for the last time on a Tiger Show. We took the same mahout, Janooh, and his elephant, Bendjeni, to take us to where the tigress was sitting. Yes, Chorbhera again. That was our first tiger we saw in our trip and it could not be more suitable to see her again on our last Tiger Show, to say goodbye.


Raj had promised that a Tiger Show with him onboard would be a totally different experience. He could better instruct the mahout to do what he wanted in order to take better positions for photography and made the ride longer, nobody else in the waiting list, so we had Chorbhera just for us now.


She was relaxed, laid down more or less on the same spot where we saw the New Male on the previous Tiger Show. She looked at us with indifference; she might have seen many other people coming back and forth in the last hour.



She was alert but not concerned with our approach, until the moment when the elephant started to break some bamboos to eat. She changed her face expression all of a sudden – she got up quickly and snarled against us, looking fiercely to the elephant as if she was telling him off. And she kept snarling until we backed off, then she just settled down again and we left her by herself again.



Raj guidance on the elephant made all the difference, we could have a great moment with Chorbhera and a lot of pictures. We looked behind as Bendjeni was taking us back to the jeep, one last look of Chorbhera, she will always be our first tiger.


Note: you can click on the picture to take you to the original size picture in our Flickr album page, being better to see the photographs you like. Or if you may want to go straight to our Flickr page, please access the link Our Flickr Page

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bandhavgarh – Day 04 – Part 2

Still excited about the unforgettable tiger encounters in the morning, we passed the time between breakfast and lunch counting the minutes to the afternoon game drive. The weather was so hot, so hot that we could barely stand outside our hut, where we kept reviewing the pictures and reading Deepak’s book to learn more about the tigers of the park. By that time, after having read and listened to Raj and Deepak stories during the game drives and during the “happy hour” in the evenings, we already knew all the tiger family members by name and also their line of parents and grandparents until Charger and Sita, the tigers filmed by BBC so much time ago, who turned Bandhavgarh so famous around the World.

Raj met us at lunch to tell us that he would be our guide till the end of our stay at Nature Heritage Resort. That was great news. We had so much confidence in Raj that we could just sit back on the jeep and relax; just waiting for the surprises he planned for the game drive.

We left the camp early that afternoon to get into the park in the very first minutes of afternoon period. Raj wanted to show us a little of the park ruins. We drive straight to Shesh Shaya, where there are the remaining parts of a temple to Lord Vishnu. The human figure of Vishnu lays in front of a pool – this area is in the domains of Chakradhara tigress – there could be a possibility that Chakradhara was around there to hide her young cubs from the open areas, but she was not there.


Dino then drove back to the point where we saw Jhurjhura cubs crossing the road in the morning. We learned there that some people saw the tigress and the cubs getting inside a cave to take shelter, away from the burning sun light.

All these information is exchanged between the guides as the jeeps cross each other in the roads – they stop and blab a lot in Hindi, giving no chance for us to capture anything. It often worked, but sometimes we had the impression of Raj going exactly to the opposite direction where the other guides pointed for him – we believe that Raj usually followed his own instincts rather than buying information from others. In the end, we always saw a tiger – this is what matters anyway! As we couldn’t understand a word, we took the chance to watch other things, like this serpent eagle hiding from the sun.


Jhurjhura family was still in the cave, we could barely see one of the cubs’ paws dropping out of the cave.


After a few minutes, we decide not to wait for action since they looked very relaxed, and Raj bet that they would avoid the jeeps when exiting the cave, so Raj asked us what we would like to try see next: B2 again or Mirchani cubs again? He said these were the best chances since the weather was too hot that afternoon and these tigers were the last ones seen by the mahouts after gates have been closed in the morning. So despite B2 is a fantastic cat, we decide for Mirchani cubs – as they are 2 tigers, the chances are bigger, but always keeping in mind that mathematics is not 100% applicable in the jungle.

But mathematics was on our side that time. One of the Mirchani cubs came just towards us out from the forest – vision was clear, Raj made Dino take an excellent position just predicting the cub path and we could just be face-to-face with him as he approached the road.




He crosses the road just in front of the jeep and entered the grass land in the other side. For our luck the grass was not so high and we could follow him until he found a spot to drop that big body, his back towards us, though.



That was the same cub that had the porcupine quill on his head, and we clearly see that he managed removing it – good boy – but he still scratched the itchy wounds every other time.




As his mother in the morning, he took quite some time relaxing just for delight of the audience, and he seemed not to mind the sun at all. Look at those stripes from the back of the head to the tip of his tail: down to the neck it seems to have symmetry along the spine and as we follow the line towards the tail, the patterns smoothly looses the symmetry and assumes a random design – it’s the art of the nature.


It was so lovely to see that such a beautiful tiger was growing up in the wilderness; Bandhavgarh is a real paradise for its small population of 12 tigers. We could rest the whole afternoon there, but then Raj said that we were pretty far from the park entrance and we should start driving back to try our luck with B2 near to the Chakradhara Meadows on the way to the gate.


Not much far from where we were with the Mirchani cub, we saw a gathering of jeeps along the road, the people already clicking their cameras frenetically. It could not be anything else but TIGER!. A totally unexpected sighting. Not even Raj was aware that there was another tiger nearby – at least nobody had reported any.

The tiger was simply lying on the ground very close of road’s edge over a layer of dead bamboo leaves and surrounded by bamboo thickets. A very different scenery, with new colours and a new tiger. Bokha was his name.



Bokha is a nephew of B2, precisely, the son of B3. One interesting story about Bokha is that he is the only male tiger besides B2 in Tala Range. He has conquered his own territory out of B2’s without any fight. B2, despite his size and after having systematically expelled all intruders and all other challengers from Tala Range, he has tolerated his nephew, Bokha, around his domain boundaries and left to him a piece of it. B2 is a really a king, strong but diplomatic!



We were very excited with this magic appearance! We had just read about Bokha in our room that afternoon, and then we met him personally in the jungle. His unmistakable characteristic is the broken tooth.



We kept observing the magnificent tiger yawning, then standing up and leaving into the jungle, not before squirting urine on a tree to mark territory.


What a day!

In the way back to the lodge, as soon as we crossed the park main gate, we faced a queue of jeeps – can it be a traffic jam in that place? Actually there was a reason behind that mess. The sun was already down and the tourists were jumping out of the vehicles and pointing to bushes by the side of the road. The cameras flashing indicated the presence of something interesting – what could it be? A jungle cat? A jackal? Or maybe a fox?

Nope. We also get off the jeep (no other option because the cars could not move anyway). Finally we see what was attracting so much attention of the crowd: two rat-snakes mating. Come on!


Note: you can click on the picture to take you to the original size picture in our Flickr album page, being better to see the photographs you like. Or if you may want to go straight to our Flickr page, please access the link Our Flickr Page