Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Leh-Ladakh

परवा संध्याकाळी जेवायला बसलो होतो आणी जेवता जेवता बायकोने आठवण करून दिली … ह्याचवेळी एक वर्षाअगोदर तू लेह-लडाख च्या टूरसाठी श्रीनगरला पोहोचलेला होतास. डोळ्यासमोरून एकेक चित्र फिरू लागल…श्रीनगरला पोहोचल्यावर दल सरोवरावर एका हाउसबोटीत राहायची सोय,तिथला आम्हाला टोपी चढवणारा नावाडी,संचारबंदीमुळे जबरदस्ती श्रीनगरला वाढलेला एक दिवस, नंतरचा झोजिला पासचा कर्रर्र्रगीलपर्यंत(तिथल्या स्थानिक लोकांचा ऊच्चार) अगदी रोमांचकारी परुंतु पाऊसामुळे दरड कोसळण्याच्या शक्येतेमुळे धोकादायक झालेला प्रवास,दरीच्या अगदी काठाने गाडी जाताना पोटात पडलेला भला मोठा खड्डा, कारगील मधल्या तंबूत काढलेली रात्र,आर्मी कॅन्टीन मध्ये जेवण,कारगील ते रंग्दुमच्या प्रवासात अरण्यात मधेच कुठतरी थांबून एका भल्या मोठ्या खडकावर मिळून खाल्लेले घरचे खाऊ, रंग्दुमला पर्वता शेजारी ठोकलेले तंबू,रात्री केलेली शेकोटी, शेकोटीभवती बसून प्यालेले आर्मी ब्रांडचे "गरम पाणी", गोठवणा ऱ्या गारठयात तंबूत काढलेली रात्र, मध्यरात्री कधीतरी अचानक पडलेला बर्फ आणि "कोणाचेतरी" बेंबीच्या देठापासून ओरडणारी आवाजयुक्त किंकाळी "मी रात्रभर इथे राहिलो तर मारून जाईन रे वाचवा ", सामान घेऊन मिट्ट काळोखात आसरा शोधायला धावणारे सर्व गडी, एका धनगराच्या दगडी घरात घेतलेला आसरा,त्याच्या प्रार्थनेच्या खोलीत ऊब मिळाल्यामुळे उजेडास्तव ढाराढूर ताणून देणारे आम्ही,उठल्यावर गुडगुड टी , अख्या प्रवासात खाल्लेली असंख्य मॅगी पॅक्स,परत प्रवास,मधेच कुठतरी उंच डोंगरात थांबून जाडजूड मोरमॉन्टच्या बिळाजवळ झोपून काढलेला त्यांचा रानफुले खात असलेला फोटू, डोंगरातून प्रवास करताना मध्येच लागलेली छोटी छोटी गावं,त्यात असलेली नीटनेटकी घरे ,एखाद्या घराच्या ओटीवर खेळत असलेली छोटीशी गोंडस मुले,आमच्या गाडीला बघून त्यांनी केलेले टाटा,त्याचं ते निरागस हास्य आणि हात दाखवण बघून माझ्या छोटीच्या आठवणीने हृद्यात झालेली कालवाकालव,उंचचउंच बर्फाळलेल्या डोंगरावरून प्यायचा पाणी खाली आणायला पद्धतशीरपणे केलेले पाण्याचे मार्ग ,त्याच्या नंतरचे बरेचशे अंतर कापून नजरेत येणारी झन्सकार दरी (zanskar valley),झन्सकार दरीत पदुममधे एका होमस्टेत काढलेल्या ३ रात्र,तिथेच खाल्लेले स्थानिक पदार्थ ,मोमोस आणि थुक्पा, उंच डोंगरात अगदी कडेवर वसलेल्या बर्याच रंगीत गोम्पानां (Monastery) दिलेल्या भेटी.वर्षानूवर्षे चालत आलेली परंपरा,गोम्पामधे राहणारे ते लामा (Monks),आणि शिक्षण घेणारी लालबुंद गालांची इवलीशी छोटी छोटी मुलं,त्या लहानग्यांच्या निष्पाप डोळ्यात हरवून गेलेला मी, इनोवा चालवणारा व थोडासा शांत स्वभावाचा परंतु डोंगरातल्या खडकाळ रस्त्यातून सफाईदारपणे गाडी काढणारा युसुफभाय,स्कॉरपिओ चालवणारा आणि आम्हाला स्थानिक गाणी तसेच बरेच रीतीरिवाज व तिथले बारकावे प्रेमाने समजवणारा व अगदी डॉट सांगितलेल्या वेळेवर हजर राहणारा लोभज्यांग (ह्यानेच आम्हाला जुले बोलून स्थानिक लोकांना कसं अभिवादन करावं ते शिकवलं ), तिथे भासलेली आणि जणू परिसरातच मिसळलेली व सगळीकडे पसरलेली प्रचंड शांतता,परतीचा प्रवास,दरांग-दुरुंग हिमनदी,मधेच कुठल्यातरी दुर्गम ठिकाणी अशक्य असा निळ्या पाण्याचा जलाशय बघून थांबवलेली स्कॉरपिओ, जवळच असून देखील तिथे चालत पोचताना झालेली माझी दमछाक,(एकूण ह्या संपूर्ण प्रवासात नवीन हवामानाशी किंवा परिस्थितीशी (High Altitude) नीट न रूळण्यामुळे बराचसा प्रवासात मी गोगलगाय किवां Zombie झालो होतो… म्हंजी व्हायचं काय की ह्या समुद्रसपाटीपासूनची उंच व विरळ ऑक्सिजन असलेल्या वातावरणात दोन पावलं टाकली रे टाकली का माझ्या हृदयाचे ठोके आणि छातीची धडधड असली वाढायचे की न सांगितलेली बरी), असो , त्या जलाशयाजवळ एकदाशे पोहोचल्यावर त्या निळ्या पाण्यात पाय पसरून बसायला आलेली मजा,परत गाठलेलं कारगील,तिथे केलेली खरेदी,महामार्गा शेजारी असलेल्या ढाब्यात घेतलेलं जबरदस्त चविष्ट जेवण (आम्ही बटर रोटीची ऑर्डर दिल्यावर तंदूर मधल्या गरम रोटीवर अतिशय काळजीपूर्वक व सावकाशपणे डब्यातलं अमूल त्यावर थापणारा धाब्याचा कॅशियर / मालक )…. वेगळ्याच अश्या दुनियेत मी रमून गेलो होतो आणि एकनाअनेक चित्र सरसरत डोळ्या समोरून फिरत होती तेवढ्यात अचानक माझी मांडी हलवून माझी छोटी मुलगी मला म्हणाली ड्याडा तुझा फोने आहे… भानावर येउन मी तिच्या हातातला माझा मोबाईल घेतला आणि कानाला लाऊन "हॅलो" म्हणालो . पलीकडून आवाज आला "जय हिंद साब … मै कॅप्टन अजमीनदर पाल बोल रहा हू,पंजाब रेजिमेंट से, आप हमें ठीक एक साल पहिले झोजिला पास में मिले थे.…… !!!!! (TO BE Continued….)
View From Our Tent at Rangdum ....Dat is Before the temperature dropped down a lil bit ...to -4°C

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Surprisingly Happening Weekend

A friend's promise of showing me a lifer (ODKF)vanished into thin air of disappointment and bitterness.So to cheer myself up and to lift the mood I went birding by giving the Sunday afternoon nap a miss.Nature as usual did not disappoint and put up such a splendid SPLENDID display that all that disappointment now seems a very distant memory.so what happened? Here we go....
Biking to the hotspot I saw a pair of Indian spot billed ducks foraging faraway. Not having a decent shot of this species in my records I decided to approach the bird carefully .As I crawled through the mud and water to get a good shot the male amongst the pair noticed my movement and became alert.I desperately try to lay still even as the muddy water soaks my trousers and my Tshirt. I manage to fire couple of shots before the pair gets fidgety and take off. As am about to get up I hear a small commotion from behind some bushes on my right side.Still lying in the water I carefully take a peek and see that the cries are comming out from a frogs mouth who has been caught by a snake who is in the process of swallowing him !!!! As I fire another round of shots of the snake with it's catch I notice TWO watercock's grazing nonchalantly further ahead . clicking some pics of the two I stand up all dripping wet.
Standing up I notice a group of Indian Silverbill and some strawberry finches on a couple of branches.I take a couple of shots and make my way towards the tar road. I put the camera in my bag (HUGE MISTAKE) so I could clean myself a little. Iam busy cleaning the sand and mud from my clothes when a quail, with her two small chicks trailing behind, comes out and starts crossing the road . keeping my eyes on the quail family I begin removing my camera when all of a sudden a wild cat, it's golden coat all glistening in the afternoon sun, leaps out and lunches up in the air from behind some bushes and pounces on the mother quail. Missing its mark at the first attempt it leaps again in the air but the quail is too fast for it and calling out loud alarm calls it leaps in the air and disappears in the thick undergrowth on the opposite side of the road. This happens so quickly and instantly that I couldn't even get the camera out of my bag. My heart racing I somehow retrieve the camera and began searching behind the bushes to see if the wildcat is still hiding somewhere, but there's no sign of it anywhere. Waiting at the spot of another 10 min gets me nothing so I decide to call it a day . Riding my bike home with the wind in my hair there's a huge huge smile on my face. What a unexpected and a lovely afternoon this turned out to be.
Cherry on the top : As I sit down at my home to write this down I hear heavy and loud calling of a white breasted waterhen from the window. I grab the camera lying around and slowly slit open the shade and click this beauty calling out from the top of a tree !!!!
What a lovely awesome day this was.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TADOBA : BACK INTO THE WILD

My friend Pastan sounded me out sometime back in January this year for a Tadoba trip being planned around May end by one of his friends. I had just applied for leave for the Pench and Kanha back to back safaris (You can read about both the trips here : http://rantsofleonard.blogspot.in/2016/05/visit-to-evergreen-jewel-kanha-tiger.html and http://rantsofleonard.blogspot.in/2016/05/visit-to-evergreen-jewel-kanha-tiger.html ) and hence was extremely reluctant to make a trip once again to my boss’s cabin to sanction another round of holidays. But having visited Tadoba a couple of times before,the Forrest beckoned once again.After much deliberations and discussions I finally had an ok from the boss and we were on for Tadoba. Apart from knowing each other Pastan and I knew no one else from the group hence I was a little worried about how things might work out. Looking back my fears or worries turned out to be a just that and our group had such an awesome time that a next trip with the same people is being finalised as I write this blog. It was to be one of the most memorable trip there was both in terms of the sightings and due to all the wonderful individuals involved. Numerous discussions were held on WhatsApp and FB in anticipation of the trip. Including me and Pastan the Group consisted of ten people in total. There were Rohan and Saurabh who had planned the trip, then there was Parag, Akshay, Priyam, Ganesh, Shefali and the senior most member amongst us all shirish Kaka.

The D-day finally arrived and we were on our way. The Train destined for Chandrapur left Dadar as scheduled at 3.15 PM. Me and Pastan were booked in a separate compartment and hence were seated away from the main group. In spite of some herculean efforts by Rohan he could not get anyone to exchange our seats and be in the same compartment as others. After a light nap we joined Rohan and Company in their compartment for dinner. Everyone had bought along some or the other delicacy from home and it was an awesome feast as we had a delicious dinner in the moving train. Dinner over and it was time for a game of cards. It was great fun as players were randomly placed in groups to play court play. Amidst great enthusiasm and pulling each other’s legs no one noticed that it was almost one thirty on the clock!! Eyes Heavy with sleep we retired to our respective berths for some shut eye.

I was woken from my slumber by the incessant “chai-chai” sloganeering of the chailwallahs. Freshening up I saw that the train had halted for the bogey change at wardha. This phenomenon is unique and one of a kind for the Indian Railway. Let me explain – After the train reaches Wardha three AC bogies or coaches and four sleeper class ones are disengaged from the Sewagram Express (Name of the train that you take from Mumbai) and they are then attached to the Ballarshah passenger express which then travels to Chandrapur Station. We reached Chandrapur just after ten in the Morning. Getting in one of the sumo’s waiting for us we quickly begin to move towards Moharli gate. Travelling for about 10kms we reached the Padmapur gate and then leaving behind the Nagarjira Village we passed the Nawargoan Chowki of the Tadoba Buffer Zone. At both these gates our driver signed in the register as per forest department regulations.  

 We reached the Forrest department guest house – our stay for the entire duration- just before noon. This Guest house is situated just a few minutes away from the Moharli entry gate and walking distance from the Devada Buffer gate. After completing the check in formalities Rohan placed our order for lunch while we freshened up. What was to be a regular feature during our stay here Akshay and Priyam rustled up delicious glasses of a body cooling drink made from kokum syrup – Much needed to beat the Nagpur’s killer heat. Refreshed we walked over to the canteen situated in the Main compound for Lunch. Lunch was simple but tasty vegetarian meal. I would advise anyone staying here to give the Non-Veg stuff a miss and try out the sumptuous veg food the local ladies here rustle up. Trust me after eating the delicious food, Bhakri’s and other stuff you won’t miss the Non-Veg much. Lunch over we headed to our rooms to get ready for our first safari of the trip. 

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is one of the finest and largest National Parks in Maharashtra. It is one of 47 project tiger reserves existing in India. It lies in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra state. This beautiful wild paradise is situated 45 kms from Chandrapur District of the Indian State of Maharashtra, and is about 150 km from Nagpur city which is the nearest airport for visiting Tadoba national park. Its name 'Tadoba' is derived from the name of God "Tadoba" or "Taru" which the local tribal people believed in, whereas "Andhari" is derived from name of Andhari River. It is believed that Taru was the village chief who was killed in a fierce encounter with a Tiger and thus a shrine was made in remembrance of God Taru. This region was predominantly ruled by Gond tribes which had their own Kingdom in large area of Central India. Their descendants can still be seen in the local villages.

By the time we were ready our driver Rattan had already arrived. Proceeding to the gates we got in line for the Entry. Our gypsy had Saurabh, Ganesh, and Shefali occupying the front seats while I and Pastan sat at the Back. Guide for all our rides was to be Bandu. Some Lines for our Driver Rattan and guide Bandu. Both these gentlemen are the best in the business that I have seen so far. Most importantly they work even better when they are put together. The calm and composed Bandu has a soothing effect on the energetic and active Rattan as he drives. Both are immensely knowledgeable in the ways of the jungle and in tracking animals and make up for each other what the other lacks. Having knowledge sometimes invariable gets to one’s head but both these fellows are exception to this. Patiently and respectfully answering all my quires, offering additional titbits of info, pointing out small facts about the Tigers that we saw, placing the safari jeep in such a way that we got the perfect angle to shoot, maneuvering the gypsy carefully whenever the Tiger was on the move both Rattan and Bandu managed to do almost everything so perfectly that I was amazed at the way they went beyond their call of duty. Whatever shots and amazing sightings that we managed to get has to do in a large part to these guys efforts. Kudos to both of them. 

Today on the very first safari we decided to check the Telia Dam Area. It was here that the famous documentary “Tiger Sisters of Telia” which was aired on Discovery Channel was filmed. It documents the incredibly unique relationship between the tiger sisters named Mona, Geeta, Lara and Sonam. Blood ties them together, but instinct tears them apart. It is a coming-of-age story as the four sisters battle each other for dominance over their homeland. Once the girls grow older and stronger, instinct kicks in and they must separate and compete to take their mothers place for control of Telia Lake. Their bond is broken and the family is torn apart. To survive independently, each sister must make one large kill every week and alone, they each struggle. Desperate and starving, the four sisters make a startling choice. They join forces to hunt as a pack and take on dangerous prey, culminating in a never-before-filmed hunt of a tiger family taking down a sloth bear. They are feared, they are relentless, and together, they are unstoppable. In a matter of days, the tiger sisters become fearless and unstoppable taking down a couple of sambar’s and stalking a guar (Indian Bison). Known to be solitary animals, tigers not only prefer to live alone but also hunt on their own. Among the four, Sonam was the most aggressive and dominant one. She has now chased away her three sisters and mother from Telia and has taken over the area and has her own cubs from a huge male tiger who is called Bajrang. While the mother who had shifted to the buffer area has since died, the three sisters have marked Mudholi, Jakana-Junona and Devada as their individual territories. Just recently there was a sighting reported about one of Sonam’s sister-Lara from the Telia lake area with three cubs of her own who are around 4 to 5 months old.

As we took the turn on the road leading to the Telia Lake we could see couple of gypsies gathered near the far end and people standing and pointing excitedly in the bamboo grooves situated at some height opposite the water body and adjacent to the road that runs almost hugging the entire stretch of the lake. Now instead of going and joining the clump of gypsies at the far end (as some gypsies behind us did) our Driver Rattan very intelligently stopped our vehicle somewhere in between and told us to wait quietly. I could only see the wisdom in his words and actions later when after an agonising wait of some few minutes unbelievingly a Tiger Cub walked over from the dense bamboo grooves and sat bang opposite our gypsy straight at 12oclock!!! This was the male cub of the Tigress Sonam (Approx. 10 months old) who sometimes roamed his mother’s area alone. I was standing on my seat to get an eye level shot and to compensate the height at which the cub sat. Few meters separated me and the tiger cub who was studying me with his huge curious eyes. As he sat in the bamboo groove there were a lot of disturbing bamboo leaves and shoots that came in between as I struggled to get a shot while at the same time managing to keep my balance and foothold. I switched on to manual focus and fired a couple of shots. A Wild tiger at such close proximity is a rarity and after some time I kept the camera aside on the seat and soaked in the experience and got lost in the innocence shining out through the cubs eyes. Eventually getting up the cub stretched himself a couple of times and giving a huge goodbye Yawn disappeared back in the jungle.

Sonam's Male Cub at Telia

We decided to move on and check the Yenbodi waterhole which is almost adjacent but on the other side to the Telia Lake.Finding nothing there we proceeded to the Pandherpauni Waterhole number two. Reaching there we found out that there were number of gypsies waiting at the opening. Rattan our driver found a good spot for us amongst the lot. I could see Maya siting with her three cubs (two females and one male) in the tall grass adjacent to the waterhole. After waiting for some time the Male cub came out in the open nearer to the water, stretched himself couple of times before walking back to his mother sitting in the grass. Soon one of the Female cub walked out in the open and after walking towards us for a short distance defecated. After finishing its business it walked over to the water’s edge and sat near some rocks with its back to us. Another Female cub followed soon enough and sat adjacent to the first in almost identical position. The third male cub joined its sisters after some moments. Even though Maya stayed put up in the grass it was an awesome sight to see the three cubs out in the open and feel the camaraderie that they shared with each other. They were in quite a playful mood. I got this frame when the naughtiest of the three had climbed on the other cub and both of them were playing with each other.

Maya's Playful cubs 
With an eye on the watch and time drawing closer to head out of the gates our guide Bandu signaled to us to be seated. Even though we did not want to leave this awesome site of the cubs playing with each other, exit time decided by The Forrest department and its regulations needed to be respected and we headed to the gates.

But The Tadoba Jungle and Nature both were not done for the day. As we passed the Tadoba lake on the way out to the gates Guide Bandu pointed out a Raptor sitting on a tree adjacent to the lake. It was a grey headed fish Eagle – A Lifer for Me!!! Clicking some snaps of the majestic bird we moved ahead. Near the Chital Road area where the route splits into two we had taken the Tar road when moving ahead we saw two gypsies in front of us slowing down a bit. We soon came to know the reason – An Indian Sloth bear was ambling along casually under the fallen trees lying on the left side. The bear then decided to change paths and crossed the road in front of our gypsy before disappearing into the bushes. Light was really low as I picked up my camera and ramping up the ISO fired off a couple of shots hoping that I had managed to capture this rarity decently.

Grey Headed Fish Eagle and Indian Sloth Bear
What an awesome first day and first safari this was. Five Tigers One of which was almost too close for comfort, a lifer of a bird and a Sloth bear as a cherry on the top to finish off the day. With High spirits and huge smiles we exited the Gate. Reaching our hotel, over chilled glasses of kokum, all excited talk focused on the day’s sightings. Photos clicked were shared,commented,critiqued and praised as everyone took turns to freshen up. Dinner was had and everyone called it a day.

Post morning activities we left for our second safari of the trip. Telia Lake being closest to the Moharli Gate gypsies from this gate normally check out the Telia Dam area First up. As we reached the Lake we saw Sonam’s Male cub walking on the dirt track ahead of us. He was alone and was stalking one of the Several Sambar deer’s grazing on the green grass on the lake shores.
Sonam's Male cub Stalking a Sambar 
The Cub reached and ducked near a bush on the road and quietly got out from the other side facing his prey. The Sambar oblivious to the threat and totally engrossed in its feeding was coming closer and closer to the bush and with it to the Tiger Cub who was hiding in it. Even though the Cub had chosen an impossibly large sized prey compared to its own size and strength we were eager to see what the outcome would be. As the Sambar drew even more close to the Cub some sixth sense made it suddenly stop dead in its track. Raising its head the Sambar sniffed the air and letting out couple of huge alarm calls took off into the lake waters. The Cub stayed put for some time in the bush contemplating its efforts and maybe the failure. Then as we waited it slowly made its way through the thick tall grass growing adjacent to the lake waters and made its way to the dam and started climbing the paved stoned slope. Reaching on the top it turned around to give one last look at the line of waiting gypsies and disappeared on the other side of the Dam.

The Look by Sonam's cub before disappearing behind the Dam.
We moved ahead through the road which passes almost hugging the Telia Lake and on the way to the Panderpauni water holes we saw a huge number of deer which were busy grazing in the grasslands. What a lovely sight it was.

Deer Gathering 
Reaching Yenbodi waterhole we were pleasantly surprised to see a Tiger immersed in the water cooling himself from the unbearable heat. This was Bajrang - the Male Tiger of this Area. He was Sonam’s Paramour as well as the Father of her three cubs. It was with Bajrang that Waghdoe - the earlier resident male of this area had a territorial fight. Bajrang was the winner and a gravely injured Waghdoe then had to move into the Moharli Buffer area. This huge Male tiger sat in the water cooling himself for almost an hour. Giving us numerous poses and expressions he finally decided that he had enough of the attention and getting up went inside the bushes.

Bajrang at the Yenbodi waterhole

Third Safari (Evening) we first checked the Yenbodi waterhole and finding it empty went off to check the Jamunbodi Talab. There’s a paved pathway that climbs up a steep hill which takes you to a tiny cliff which overlooks downwards to the waterhole. This is the area frequented by two of the most well-known and huge Male tigers Matkasur and Gabbar. Tigress “choti Tara” also frequents this area. Looking down at the small water body that now remains in the summer we could see a Sambar immersed in the sludge and couple of deer having a drink. Our guide Bandu wanted to check out the 97 waterhole which sometimes was frequented by Matkasur. On the way there right on the turn of the 97 waterhole we found a pair of wild dogs busy in their own world. Some years ago huge packs of wild dogs used to roam the Jungles of Tadoba but now their population has drastically declined and only a few can be intermittently seen. Both these wild dogs were in a very playful mood and gave us plenty of poses with their antics. After spending almost thirty minutes shooting them we reluctantly turned towards the waterhole. Reaching there we found it almost empty, I say almost because in the absence of any bigger predator there were plenty of birds in the vicinity due to the presence of water. There was a Rufous Treepie Sitting quietly on a tree branch, couple of Purple sunbirds took turns taking a sip from the waterhole, A Magpie Robin trying to scare everyone away, a pair of Racket Tailed Drongo’s playing hide and seek with each other, a Black Napped Monarch sitting quietly on the water’s edge.

Towards the Yenbodi Waterhole  
Everything seemed so peaceful when suddenly a herd of wild Boar started entering the water from the left raised side of the waterhole while at the same time two wild dogs which we had seen earlier came to have a drink from the right side. Seeing the wild dogs the boars immediately backed off inside the bush. The wild dogs continued their playful antics inside the water at the same time quenching their thirst and after they had their fill decided to have a go at the wild boar family!!! Both the wild dogs started moving very cautiously towards the bush where the wild boars had taken refuge. But as they neared the bush both of them suddenly lost interest and moving further away from the waterhole they soon disappeared in the jungle.

WIld Dogs or Dhole 

Seeing the cost clear the wild boar family made their way into the water and started to hungrily gulp it. 

WIld boars quenching their thirst

We took off from there and reached the Pandherpauni Waterhole No.1., which was empty save for a lone lesser adjutant stork fishing for its breakfast. On the way towards the second waterhole a group of tiny Grey Francolin chicks crossed our path. We stopped to take a couple of shots but these cuties were too fast for us and our cameras.

 Reaching the Pandherpauni Waterhole number two we saw that it was chock-a-block with gypsies and two canters. Maya and her cubs were sitting inside the tall grass and everyone were waiting for her to come out in the open. Guys from Our other gypsy which had Rohan, Priyam, Parag, Akshay and shirish Kaka were parked just ahead of us. A small photo shoot took place with the guys shooting us from their gypsies and us shooting them in various poses.

All the Gems who made this trip an incredibly Awesome experience - A BIGTHANK YOU 
Knowing the futility of a sighting in such a noisy crowd Guide Bandu decided to move ahead and told our driver Rattan to head out for the gates as the park closing time was almost upon us. On the way back we had small halt near the stream which flows opposite the Forrest department rest house to take a couple of shots of a Sambar deer with huge antlers grazing in the grass.

Sambar Deer 
Our First night in the FD guest house was pretty uncomfortable for lack of cooling due to the faulty Air-conditioner installed in our room. While leaving for the safari we had instructed the Manager to have the AC repaired. Now on returning we found that there was absolutely no improvement so Pastan had a word with the concerned official who allotted a stand by room, reserved for higher ups, to us for the night. After freshening up we gathered here and played a couple of round of cards. Parag our “prime” mover was the star of the show during these games and also of the tasty dinner that followed afterwards.

Somewhere someplace an alarm buzzed on loudly. It was 4.30am early morning .All I wanted was to sleep Just a lil bit more but I put the mind over the mattress and jumped out of the bed. After Freshening up we were ready for our fourth safari of the trip. We decided to give Telia a miss and straightway headed to the Yenbodi waterhole. Waiting here for just a few minutes and Bajrang - the huge resident male whom we had seen yesterday made his royal entrance from behind the waterhole. I had Photographed Bajrang yesterday for quite some time hence I hardly shot a few frames of him sipping water and lazing in it and basically enjoying the attention he was getting from the gypsies around. My friend Pastan on the other hand standing beside me in the gypsy was burning his card like there was going to be no tomorrow on his 10 frames per second 7D MII. Further while going On the Tadoba Main road we came across a Sloth bear busy grabbing some breakfast on some termite hills. Moving methodically from one hill to another we couldn’t frame him properly due to plenty of vegetation in between. We were now headed towards The Tadoba Lake.  
          
The Tadoba Lake is a sanctuary in itself for the denizens of the forest, who struggle to keep body and soul together during these torrid summer months. It’s a serene vast Lake amidst the thick jungles of Tadoba. A waterbody which never dries up, even in the scorching heat of the harsh Central Indian summer. Sambar deer love wallowing in the pond, feasting on the submerged vegetation. Herds of Chital thankfully lap the water along the banks, drinking on a state of high alert. Ruddy mongooses scurry along, grabbing a sip or two. A crocodile lazes in the water on the shore with its jaws open. Wild boars find time to enjoy a gooey mud-bath. A grey Headed fish eagle watches the water preying for its breakfast. An Oriental Honey Buzzard hungrily quenches its thirst and then flies high up on its favorite perch on one of the tall trees surrounding the lake. An impatient pond heron tries to ambush the butterflies flying around. A herd of gaur casually ambles into the murky water, protectively shielding its juveniles by keeping them in the centre. Surprisingly, tourists hate to see this bustling activity at the waterhole. The Reason? : It means that the tiger is not around!!!

Tadoba Lake is a sanctuary in itself
But suddenly couple of shrill alarm calls ring out and echo in the surroundings and above the calm and tranquil waters of the Tadoba Lake, and all hell breaks loose. The pond is vacated in a jiffy. The sambar’s till now drinking so peacefully on the waters make a run for cover in the jungle, The Oriental Honey Buzzard takes off into the sky, wild boars lazily lost in their muddy pool immediately scramble and simultaneously register their protests by loud snorts, herds of deer grazing on the adjacent green grass run helter-skelter. The queen of the Tadoba Lake is on her way, it’s her turn to quench her thirst, and cool in the inviting blue waters of the Lake.

Our Gypsy driver Rattan parks our vehicle at the forked road and waits. He Motions towards the hilly area on the opposite side of the road, looks at me and says “she is going to come from there to over here, walk in front of you and go to the lake, please be ready with your Camera settings for a Head on shot”. I look at him in amusement but the look on his face is all of seriousness. Suddenly out of nowhere you see the reigning queen appear from the far side of the road, walking head-on towards you. What you feel at that time is unparalleled. As I swing the camera from my shoulders and prepare to shoot Rattan smiles indulgently at me and winks.

The Majestic and beautiful Maya is least bothered by the scores of cameras trained on her. She walks with a confident stride and unfazed abundance. Walking head on for couple of meters towards our gypsy she passes barely a few inches away from where I stand on the vehicle.

The one and Only - M A Y A 
Hair stand straight on the back of my neck and I have Goosebumps all over my body. I have momentarily forgotten that I have a camera in my hand and my fingers have slipped from the trigger. I am fully mesmerized by this Golden beauty walking past me. Going past our vehicle she marks the adjacent tree with a burst of her spray, sniffs the air for any unusual scents and walks majestically on the dirt road which is now closed for tourists. This road runs almost touching the shores of the Tadoba Lake. Going ahead she sniffs deeply at the inclined tree branches bent on the dirt road and turns back and heads to the Lake waters. Walking briskly on the shores of the vast blue lake she takes in her territory, spray marking a tree trunk here – sniffing for any new scents on some bushes there but at all-times walking with a grace typical for a queen. After walking for some time near the shore she decides to cool in the lake waters.


 Finding a suitable spot she lowers herself back first (Typical tiger behaviour-Tigers hate getting any water on their faces) in the water. Lapping hungrily at the cool water she has her full and relaxes while sitting back in the lake. Changing plenty of positions she gave ample amount of poses for the shutter bags. Rattan had very expertly kept pace with Maya’s walk and now we were right in front from where she sat cooling herself in the lake waters. At every such moment of this safari trip I am reminded of the immense skill and patience that both our driver Rattan and guide Bandu put in it for us, and whatever images that we got have a good amount of contribution of these two. After soaking in the cool waters of the Tadoba Lake to her heart’s content Maya got out and started walking back to the dirt road that all the gypsies were positioned on. Getting back on the road she walked a few kilometers towards the FD guest house Road with all the gypsies tailing her and then disappeared into the Jungle. 
  
Queen Of The Tadoba Lake - One And Only MAYA
 
After witnessing this great Maya show we decided to check out The Telia Dam and lake area which we had purposefully given a miss in the morning. Everything seems quite and calm as we reached there. But Tiger sighting or not I have come to just love this area in Tadoba. The lovely lake spread out on one side, bamboo shrubs on some height on the other side, long winding dirt road hugging the lake and showcasing its vast spread. If it was up to me I would park my jeep under the small tree on the edge of the turn and spend a relaxed and carefree quality time pondering on the mysteries of life. We waited here relaxing for some time on my insistence and as time to exit the gates came up called it a day and returned to the guest house. We were allotted a new room opposite our old one and thankfully this had an excellent AC. Having lunch we retired to bed for some shut eye.

Getting ready for the fifth (Evening) safari we had a minor reshuffling amongst our two gypsies. Shefali from our group was suffering from the terrible heat and required some much needed rest so it was decided that for the last two safaris Parag would join us from the other gypsy while Ganesh who till now graced us with his presence would be with the other group in their safari Jeep. At the entry gates some good natured ribbing took place amongst members of the two gypsies as to who would have better sightings now that members where interchanged and some shuffling had occurred. Playful Bets were placed as to which gypsy was going to have Lady Luck smiling at her and get more sightings.
Once inside the gates our first stop was to check the Yenbodi waterhole. We reached there to find the Tigress Sonam lounging in the water. She was continuously calling out for her cubs. We waited eagerly in the hope of seeing a family get together in the water with Sonam and her three cubs but the cubs did not make an appearance. Soon Sonam got out of the waterhole and disappeared inside the thicket behind. No sooner had she left Bajrang made an appearance and occupied the place. Soaking in the water for some time he too got up and went inside the Jungle. From here we decided to check out the Telia Dam area.

Reaching Telia we saw Sonam again sitting in the Lake and realised that after leaving the Yenbodi waterhole she had made her way to Telia through the Jungle. Even now sitting in the waters she was continuously calling out. Her male cub who roamed around alone in her area and whom we had seen on our very first day safari was not seen by any gypsy for couple of safaris now. Our guide Bandu made a guess that maybe she was searching for this cub and hence was calling so feverishly all the time. Continuing her calls she got up from the lake waters and slowly made her way through the thick tall grass growing adjacent to the lake waters and to the dam and started climbing the paved stoned slope. Reaching on the top she continued with her consistent calling, moving her head in all directions while giving the calls, and later climbed down to the other side. Unseen from anyone on the dirt track and from us from where we had parked the gypsy on the turn besides the lake under the shady tree we could still hear her loud calls as she searched for the cub behind the dam wall. We waited for some time till her calls started getting stronger again and she emerged from behind the shrubs lining the dam walls and crossed the road behind our gypsy and climbing the small bamboo shrubs disappeared into the bamboo shrubs. Passing through the Kolba area and through the closed Kojba fire line into Yenbodi we later saw her pug marks going into the Waghdoe area. Tracking her we came back to the Yenbodi waterhole only to see Bajrang sitting in the waters cooling himself!!! After spending some time in the waters for more than half an hour this huge male who had defeated the mighty Waghdoe to capture his territory got up to leave. He climbed out of the waterhole and started walking straight on the adjacent bund and then crossing over from the dirt track went into the bamboo shrubs. We parked ourselves at the junction of the Kojba line adjacent to the Waghdoe area hoping that Bajrang crosses the dirt track as he moves towards and into Waghdoe area.  We waited for almost twenty five minutes at the junction but due to continues gypsy movement Bajrang stayed put inside the Bamboo shrubs. After what seemed like an eternity this majestic beast came out and nonchalantly crossed the track in full glare of the numerous gypsies and amidst camera clicks got lost in the jungle in the Waghdoe area.

Clockwise from top : Bajrang at Yenbodi, Sonam in the Telia Lake, Sonam again at Yenbodi 
Returning on the way back to the Hotel everyone in our gypsy is in high spirits after such great sightings. We discuss the day’s happenings with members of our group gypsy and exchange notes with them. Spending another fun filled evening with the group we finished dinner and continued with the stories till eyes heavy with sleep we dozed off.

Last safari of the trip dawned upon us and we were up early and ready for the adventure. Waiting in the queue for the entry gates to open I casually mentioned to our group how exciting and fun it would be if we could get a tigress with her cubs in a single frame. As all the heads nodded in unison everyone knew that it would be a dream come true if it were to actually happen.

We wished the guys from our other gypsy for a happy sighting and were soon on our way. Considering yesterday’s activity Guide Bandu and driver Rattan unanimously decided to first check out the Yenbodi Waterhole. A gypsy with a full day permit (Gypsies with a full day permit are allowed inside the forest gates half an hour earlier then general timings) was standing nearby. We were crestfallen when the folks in that gypsy told us that the three cubs of Sonam were sitting in the water hole together and had just gone back into the jungle and we had missed the action by a matter of few minutes. With disappointment written large on our faces we decided to wait at the waterhole in the hope that the cubs might come out for a drink as the temperature rose. Waiting for another twenty minutes we saw one of the cub very shyly walking on the bund covered with bamboo shrubs. Instead of coming down into the water for a drink the cub walked straight onward on the way towards the junction. We reversed our gypsy and waited near the fire line for it to come out in the open.

One of the Three cubs of Sonam at Yenbodi Waterhole
On reaching the Junction an overpowering stench greeted us. This was coming from the Waghdoe area and our guide Bandu informed us that the tigers must have most likely made a Gaur (Indian Bison) kill and hidden it inside the thickets. Rest of the gypsies had gone ahead in the hopes that the cub seen earlier might cross the road while on its way towards the kill. Ours was the only gypsy kept waiting by our driver Rattan bang on the junction in the hopes that the extremely shy cub backtracks and instead of crossing over and going towards the kill turns back to the Yenbodi waterhole. As mentioned earlier too his instincts turned out to be spot on and the shy cub seeing so many gypsies on his path turned around and peeping from the road quickly darted back towards the Yenbodi waterhole area. Ours was the only gypsy to see this happen and I relished and enjoyed the moment thoroughly as I watched the shy cub quietly peep out from the bamboo bushes and walk down silently on the dirt track towards the Yenbodi waterhole.

Sonam's Other cub Walking back towards the Yenbodi waterhole
It happened so quickly that his crossing was over in a matter of minutes. We sped over to the waterhole from the longer route via the main Tar road as the shorter path taken by the cub was a one way designated by the Forrest department. Upon reaching the waterhole we found it empty save for a lone, huge Indian Bison satiating its thirst. But Waiting here for some time we were rewarded when another cub of Maya made its way from the bamboo shrubs behind the waterhole walking into the water and sitting in it for a good half an hour. Later it got out and curiously surveyed the surrounding area for some time before returning into the bamboo shrubs behind .

One of Sonam's bolder Cub at the Yenbodi waterhole
Moving away from the waterhole we went to the junction again and waited there expecting one of Maya’s cubs to come out and cross the road while going to the kill. We were waiting for some time now when we heard some movement from the bamboo shrubs.  Readying our cameras and training them on the approximate spot we waited with bathed breath for the Tiger to step out.Soon enough a Tiger did step out but it wasn’t a cub but Sonam herself who walked out eyes blazing and calling loudly for her cubs. She crossed over into the Waghdoe area and we could hear her calls as she called her cubs even after crossing over from deep inside the jungle. As she went in, our driver Rattan slowly took us through the road leading to the Ambewadi waterhole in the Waghdoe area and waited near a clearing while pointing out the place from where the tigress may cross over. As predicted by Rattan, Sonam came through the clearing and crossed over to the other side all the time calling for her cub. While we waited at the same spot she went to the now dry Ambewadi waterhole continuously calling and after some time crossed the road again and went back into the bamboo jungle.

We took our position back again at the junction near the Kojba Fire line and waited. Not long afterwards Sonam still calling out continuously came out from the bamboo grooves and crossed once more into the opposite side. Our driver Rattan immediately reversed the gypsy and positioned it on the road so that we could get a Head-on as Sonam looked sure to walk on the dirt track. We were ready with our cameras but another gypsy came from the other end and Sonam changed her mind and crossed the road and made her way back towards the Yenbodi waterhole. Only one logical option left now for us to do was to return to the Yenbodi waterhole, but as mentioned earlier this route being designated a one way only by the FD we had to go over to the waterhole from the longer route via the main Tar road.

Reaching the Yenbodi waterhole from the Main road we were greeted with the awesome sight of Sonam and her three cubs lazing themselves in the muddied water. The whole happy family played with each other while continuously taking sips of the water. It was a moment to savour and cherish and at the same time touching to watch this beauties from such a close quarters. To get Four Tigers in a frame and at such close distance was a dream and a cheery on the top of what was an awesome trip.

Family Portrait : Tigress Sonam with her Three cubs at the Yenbodi Waterhole
I considered it my privilege to see the cubs with their mother and noticed that even though wild they bonded with each other so well. It was almost a surreal and dreamy moment as the family played around in the waters without caring for all the shutter bags going wild with their triggers. After enjoying in the waters for a long long time they left one by one, climbing out from the waterhole and taking the route to Waghdoe area to feast on the Kill. First the cubs and last Sonam got up and walked out. We followed at a safe distance as they walked on the track for some time and crossing over went into the Bamboo shrubs to the left.

Once again Rattan decided to wait at our earlier spot near the clearing on the road leading to the Ambewadi waterhole instead of at the junction where all the gypsies had congregated. We did not have to wait for long as first Sonam walked out of the Thicket followed by all the three cubs. The last cub, shyest of them all, coming out in the open very briefly and bounding back into the shrubs.  She sat under a tree waiting and checking and let all the three cubs go ahead before getting up and disappearing into the Jungle where the kill was hidden.

Sonam with her cubs On her way towards the kill in the Waghdoe area 
This was my last look at the family for this season as monsoon would soon be over the Tadoba National Park when it closes for Visitors. As we made our way to the gates with huge smiles I remembered all the earlier trips I had made to this mysterious and lovely Forrest. Driving endlessly on the dusty, bumpy winding roads, a Silent jungle, no pug marks, no alarm calls, time running out, and the good light fading away, losing hope by the minute and how this trip with Tiger sightings almost raining on us had not only compensated fully for all those dry runs but had exceeded me and my friends expectations by a mile. I remembered this funny image Captured in Tadoba.

Caption for all the 'Tiger-centric' people who visit the parks.

This image and its caption is for all those 'Tiger-centric' people who visit the parks just to see the tiger and forget that there is much more beautiful things in the wild apart from the king himself.

For More Pictures please Visit  : 

https://500px.com/leonardrebello 

http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/profile/389544/

https://www.facebook.com/LeonardoDaFotogravinci/

Have you read about the Pench and Kanha trips? If not please have a look and leave your comments : 




Important Info You can Use about Tadoba Tiger Reserve:


Total area of the Tadoba Andhari Tiger reserve is 625.4 square kilometres. This includes Tadoba National Park, created in 1955 with an area of 116.55 square kilometres (45.00 sq. mi) and Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary created in 1986 with an area of 508.85 square kilometres (196.47 sq. mi). The reserve also includes 32.51 square kilometres (12.55 sq. mi) of protected forest and 14.93 square kilometres (5.76 sq. mi) of other areas. Densely forested hills form the northern and western boundary of the tiger reserve. The elevation of the hills ranges from 200 m (660 ft.) to350 m (1,150 ft.). To the southwest is the 120 ha (300 acres) Tadoba Lake which acts as a buffer between the park's forest and the extensive farmland which extends up to Irai water reservoir. This lake is a perennial water source which offers good habitat for Muggar crocodiles to thrive. Other wetland areas within the reserve include the Kolsa Lake and Andhari River. Tadoba reserve covers the Chimur Hills, and the Andhari sanctuary covers Moharli and Kolsa ranges. It’s bounded on the northern and the western side by densely forested hills. Thick forests are relieved by smooth meadows and deep valleys as the terrain slopes from north to south. Cliffs, various water bodies and caves provide refuge for several animals. Two forested rectangles are formed of Tadoba and Andhari range. The south part of the park is less hilly.
Tadoba is an ornithologist’s paradise as it houses one of the rarest species of birds. The most famous are the Cuckoos, Larks, Pipits, Drongas, Muniahs, Warblers, Collard Scops Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Shikra, White-Eyed Buzzard, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle,grey headed fish Eagle,Grey Jungle Fowl, Painted Spur Fowl, Red Spurfowl, Plum Headed Parakeet, Black Naped Blue Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, Peacock, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Painted Francolin, Tickell’s Flycatcher, Scimitar Babbler, Indian Pitta, Malabar Pied Hornbill.

The Tadoba Lake, Erai dam, Kolsa Lake and the Andhari River form the lifeline of the Tadoba forest. The astounding ecosystem of this forest is maintained by these water bodies throughout the year. Apart from these a number of creeks and rivulets are present in the forest plains and hills. Man-made water holes look after the thirst needs of the animals during the sweltering summers. Tadoba lies within the periphery of Chimur Hills which comprise the Moharli and the Kolsa range. A variety of landforms surround these ranges. There are deep valleys, rivers, lakes, deciduous forest on the hills and a number of bamboo trees. Such a varied habitat helps sustain many life forms.
Vegetation of Tadoba forest is of Southern tropical dry deciduous type. Teak is the prominent tree species in Tadoba forest. Tadoba national park is open for visitors from 15-Oct to 30-June every season. Despite of this, limited safari is possible from 01-Oct on current booking basis. Tadoba national park remains CLOSED for visitors on every Tuesday. Unlike Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Pench national parks safari charges here are same for Indian and foreign visitors.

Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is now divided into 3 zones: Mohurli, Tadoba, and Kolsa.

* Only 20 Vehicles per Safari are allowed in every zone i.e. Kolsa, Mohurli & Tadoba

* Out of these 3 zones, Tadoba Zone is in most demand by tourists. This zone has 3 gates and their respective number of vehicles for entry are –

Khutwanda (Vehicles are allowed to go from Mohurli gate): 7 Vehicles

Navegaon (Nearer to Khadsangi): 6 Vehicles

Kolara (close to Chimur): 7 Vehicles.

* Mohurli Zone has only one gate for entry and that is at Mohurli itself. This is the place where all the required facilities are available. At the same time, best of the sightings happened normally in this Zone. This gate has 34 entries available for safari. So vehicles for entry in this single gate are –

To Tadoba : 7 Vehicles

To Mohurli : 20 Vehicles

TO Kolsa: 7 Vehicles

Please note that entry to kolsa from this gate is sometimes closed as per forest department directives .This was the case when we were here. So better inquire and check with the forest department before you plan safaris.

Mohurli gate area has a Reliance Mobile Tower So Cell phone connectivity here is of Reliance only.

* Kolsa Zone is the most beautiful Zone as far jungle quality matters. But the sighting ratio is very low and Animal World here is very shy. This is the least demanded Zone by Tourist. A Forest rest house at Kolsa Village is also available in this Zone for booking. This Zone is also better accessible from Mohurli. This Zone also has 3 Gates for Entry and their respective number of vehicles are –

Mohurli: 7 Vehicles

Pangdi (Close to Sindewahi): 7 Vehicles

Zari (Nearer from Moharli and Chandrapur): 6 Vehicles.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Visit to Pench Tiger Reserve ~ Memories Awakened

Bidding adieu to ‘Chitvan’ and to Kanha (Read more about this trip here : http://rantsofleonard.blogspot.in/2016/05/visit-to-evergreen-jewel-kanha-tiger.html) Me, Sameer, Shriram and Amruta Got into the Ertiga, our pick up for the travel to Pench Tiger reserve. The Ertiga Driver Umar Bhai was a cool cucumber chap who drove the car swiftly but quite safely through the smooth roads. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere and below a shady tree we made a quick pit stop to polish off the packed lunch provided to us by ‘Chitvan’.We continued on the road to pench with Umar Bhai pushing up the accelerator a little bit more. The Ever vigilant Shriram who sat beside him engaged him in small talk in order to keep him alert while Me, Amruta and Sam dozed off for some time in the back seats. The Road passes through some pristine forests and eye pleasing Ghats. We were engaged in some small talk when vishaka called up and confirmed that she had arrived at the Tiger and Woods resorts where it was decided to be put up. Upon reaching the hotel we were welcomed by a smiling Vishaka. Accompanying her was Monu our friend cum gypsy driver cum travel car and gypsy fleet owner cum award winning photographer cum excellent tracker. As you can see, Monu Bhiya as we call him, wears a lot of hats, and carries huge responsibilities on his young shoulders but is always at hand for any and all help needed to make our stay comfortable.

We checked our allotted rooms at the Tiger and Woods resorts but did not at all find them satisfactory (No proper cleanliness in the rooms, gaps in the walls of the tree houses due to which there was a problem of insufficient room cooling and of mosquitoes.The property and surroundings were also not properly maintained and cleaned) We then decided to shift to the nearby Tribal camp which was a little further away from the entry gate.  

You will fall in love with the Tribal camp set up. Nestled cosily in the wilderness amidst the flora and fauna of Pench, It has a centrally located raised wooden machan with lounge chairs on top sitting prettily under a huge green leafy Mahua Tree , couple of Swings hang ready for you to take a nip, amazingly softly cushioned sofas lie strategically placed for you to just laze into, soft green lawn covers an adjacent circular ground and surrounding this central area are around 12 to 15 air conditioned elevated wooden cottages inviting you with their raw rustic appeal. The log cottages are sans the traditional brick and mortar holiday home types. Covered with dried grass that nature has built to absorb heat or cold, it gives you a glimpse of living ecologic! The log cottages or wooden Machaans also benefit the environment apart from several health benefits. Each Log cottage interior uses space judiciously and is designed with a lot of thought to create an authentic feel. With all essential living amenities, attached toilets and bathrooms with bathtubs and complete with hot and cold running water, and air conditioners you are assured of an excellent and comfortable stay.

Extending outwards from every cottage, is a large wooden deck overlooking the jungle - You can spend the evening gazing at the setting sun giving way to star sprinkled skies at night, with the gentle breeze for company lying on the comfortable beach chairs kept on it. The quaint mud and jute restaurant, with khaats and fresh food, offers fine dining with a range of cuisines, suited to each palate.

Tribal camp and its Surroundings 
We were a unique group of friends from varied backgrounds with a common denominator of love for nature and a craze for photography. Sameer-The calm and composed Nisarga Brahman’s lead who works in TIFR also a good Photographer, Vishu – IT professional, funny and easy-going from Pune but unlike the typical “Punekars” :P , Shriram –  Photographer, avid traveller and a businessman and The Quite Amruta a Dietician by profession and a budding Photographer (Got some Excellent Healthy eating tips from her). We all got along well and made a good spirited group. Cracking jokes, sharing stories about past trips, offering advice about respective fields of expertise and basically having one hell of a wonderful time. You come to know how a wonderful trip can be enriched by the people you travel with.    
  
Shriram, Sam and I were put up in one wooden cottage while Vishu and Amruta were staying in the one adjacent to ours. There were many water feeders/small ponds spread across the property which in turn attracted many birds.With plenty of time on our hands we started photographing the birds we could see. In a span of two evening hours I counted around 15 species of birds in the Tribal camp premises. Indian Rollers, Golden Orioles, Black Hooded Orioles, Black Napped Monarch, Jungle Babblers, Tickle’s Blue flycatcher, Male and Female Paradise Flycatcher, Magpie Robin, Common Robin, Grey Hornbill, a pair of Great Tits, Asian Pied Starling, Purple sunbird, Kingfishers, plum headed parakeets were some of the birds spotted.

By now a little hungry we had some hot, crispy pakoras and Lemon grass Tea sitting on top of the machan. Our dinner preferences were asked and conveyed to the kitchen staff. After Freshening up a little bit we had a awesome dinner in the quaint mud and jute restaurant. The Food was tasty and filling. Service was quick and spot on. After dinner prof.sam conducted a class/lecture on star gazing while Asst.prof.Shriram chipped in with valuable info all with live practical’s (Looking up the beautiful star lit sky). I got a crash course in star gazing, the milky way, various ‘nakshatras’, names of stars, Hindu Mythology, how to correctly identify the location of North pole with the help of the Ursa Major constellation also known as ‘SaptRushi’. Whew, I hadn’t had such huge tons of knowledge in such a short time since cramming for my Engineering vivas!!!!!  Another advantage of travelling with a varied group of people. Reluctantly we called it a day as we had an early morning start for the first safari tomorrow.
Waking up and after a quick getting over of the morning formalities had some good lemon grass Tea and biscuits.There are three entry gates to the park, the Turia gate (the most convenient entry gate), Karmajhuri gate and the Jamtara gate. Monu was ready with the safari jeep and we were on our way to the Turia Gate of the Pench Tiger Reserve for our first safari of the Trip. We soon reached the gates and parked the gypsy in the waiting queue to enter into the reserve gates. Upon completing the usual registration and ID formalities we entered the jungle.          
It is the visits to such places of scenic beauty that will cause you to stop and wonder at the awesomeness of nature. As you pass through deciduous teak jungles for hours without end, you will feel humbled and awed by the presence of Mother Nature. The fascinating and almost silent jungle environment (apart from the rustle of leaves and the occasional cry of a monkey or a bird call) ensures the time spent is not at all tiring but refreshing. During the safari, you could just sit back in the Jeep spotting the wide variety of mammals and birds and feel one with the jungle.
Pench National park, nestling in the lower southern reaches of the satpuda hills is named after Pench river, meandering through the park from north to south and is contiguous with the forest on the southern side in Maharashtra that has been notified as the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru National Park. It is located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, in the districts of Seoni and Chhindwara. Pench National Park, comprising of 758 SQ Kms, out of which a core area of 299 sq km of Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park and the Mowgli Pench Sanctuary and remaining 464 sq km of Pench national park is the buffer area. The area of the present tiger reserve has a glorious history. A description of its natural wealth and richness occurs in Ain-i-Akbari. Several natural history books like R. A. Strendale's 'Seonee - Camp life in Satpura Hills,' Forsyth's 'Highlands of Central India' and Dunbar Brander's 'Wild Animals of Central India' explicitly present the detailed panorama of nature's abundance in this tract. Strendale's semi-autobiographical 'Seonee' was the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Mowgli and his Many Friends
Kipling borrowed heavily from Robert Armitage Strendale's books 'Seonee', 'Mammalia of India and Ceylon' and 'Denizens of the Jungle' for the topography, wildlife, and its ways. Mowgli was inspired by Sir William Henry Sleeman's pamphlet, 'An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens' which describes a wolf-boy captured in Seoni district near the village of Sant Baori in 1831. Many of The Jungle Book's locations are actual locations in Seoni District, like the Waingunga river with its gorge where Sherkhan was killed, Kanhiwara village and the 'Seeonee hills'. Local tribals, mostly Gonds, revere Mansingh Deo, a legendary figure who was believed to be a magician who had supernatural healing powers. He would ride into the local bazaar on his tiger. There are two temples dedicated to him, the Chhota Mansingh and Bada Mansingh temples. 


Pench will seldom disappoint a birdwatcher. Over 170 species have already been recorded. Here you will be greeted by the Little Grebe and you may see darters, herons, egrets, Whitenecked Stork, pigeons, parakeets or cuckoos. Mynahs, shrikes, orioles, bulbuls, tailor birds, barbets, minivets, sunbirds, wagtails and munias are other birds a visitor could be rewarded with. Water birds are often found around the artificial wetlands created by the submergence of the Pench reservoir. The area is on the migratory route of waterfowl in winter. The area is located in the lower, southern reaches of the Satpura ranges, around 580 m. above sea level. The terrain is undulating, covered with several small hills jutting out like sharp cones.
Day one and we were allotted Route No. 1 – which goes something like this: Piyorthadi (currently closed by Forrest Department due to presence of Sharmili’s cubs)- Junewani- Bijamatta-Sapat- Kalapahad-Chindimatta-Zandimatta.
As we took the turn and climbed the slope for the approach to the lake known as Junewala Talab, Monu with his sharp eyes noticed some movement on the ground. He braked the gypsy and pointed out a crested serpent eagle feasting on a snake Kill. Taking some shots of the bird we moved on. Up ahead we stopped to click a grey hornbill feasting on some fruit tree. Further while passing through the dense foliage of the Sitaghat area a Jungle owlet flew past our gypsy crossing the track and sat a little bit ahead on the other side. This guy is normally so well camouflaged with its surrounding that it’s extremely difficult to spot him while moving in the jungle. We got a couple of shots of the Jungle Owlet before it went off the perch in search of prey. As we moved ahead on the safari track our guide pointed out a pair of Malabar Hornbills feasting on a wild fig tree. We also saw a Pair of Vultures sitting atop a tree. Inquiring further with experts I came to know that they were of TWO different species – the one on the Left being Indian or Long Billed vulture (Gyps Indicus) and the other being White-Rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis). 
Vultures : L to R:  Indian or Long Billed vulture (Gyps Indicus) and White-Rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis). 

Moving ahead we waited near the Tirah route to take in and hear if there were any alarm calls. We could see the play of a pair of Greater Racket Tailed Drongo’s on a small tree adjacent to the route. I tried clicking a couple of shots but these guys were so swift that I could barely focus. One moment they would be perched in lovely light but the moment I put the camera to my eye they would be off chasing each other. I was engrossed in their behaviour when vishu nudged me and pointed to a bird sitting in shadows on the other side of the road. I looked carefully and saw that it was a Common Hawk-Cuckoo (Hierococcyx varius), popularly known as the brain fever bird.
It was decided to check the area of the collarwali female and her cubs at Beejamatta area. When we got there we saw that the Forest department personnel were patrolling the area on elephant back. Collarwali and her cubs (Two Adult males from first litter ~ Age being almost 3 years and two female cubs from second litter ~ Age being almost 12 months.) were being constantly monitored by the Forest department. The Elephant with the personnel on top moved in almost every nook and corner even in small valleys trying to find the mother and her cubs who had not being sighted for some days. We hung around for quite some time but the tigress and her cubs were nowhere to be heard or seen and we decided to move on. Monu decided to check out the Naya talab area to see if the female sighted there had made an appearance. We made our way over there and waited just below some shady trees where the rise starts at the base of the waterhole. We had no direct view of the waterhole but a gypsy waited ahead on top in full glare of the sun and with direct line of sight to the water. Monu’s thinking was to not wait in the sun that too in such heavy heat. When on sighting the tiger there would be a huge “churning / commotion” as normally happens amongst the gypsies stationed at the top and of the people in it thus signalling to us from our current shady and comparatively cool waiting spot after which we would move in for the sighting.
The heat was so high that almost every half an hour or so we had to take a cool sip from one of the water bottles in the Icebox kept in the gypsy by our thoughtful hotel staff. I would like to mention here that the difference in temperatures between Kanha-A Evergreen Forest and Pench-A dry deciduous one is huge. While the temperatures at kanha in mornings would be quite cold even for this time of the summer season (So Cold that staff at Chitvan actually inquired with us and especially with the ladies if they needed warm blankets for protection while travelling in the gypsies!!!) the mercury here in Pench was really hitting the roof.   
We were in the middle of one such water break and had popped some sweets in our mouths courtesy vishu when the guide from the gypsy standing on the top signalled for us to come up. Monu was on the accelerator almost immediately and took us up and positioned the vehicle in a spot where we would get a good line of sight as well as angle to get some excellent shots. The Patdev Female was on the move. This female has three sub-adult cubs who stay with her but who are extremely shy and hence rarely seen. Now as I trained my binoculars near the thick vegetation in the small valley besides the water hole I could see the tigress walking carefully but confidently towards the water. Between a flurry of camera clicks she walked the open ground near the small water body that remains in the summer and promptly immersed in it to cool herself. From where all the jeeps stood we were unable to see the tigress sitting in the water. From time to time she would raise her head and check the surroundings. After drinking the water to her full she lay in it for another 20-25 minutes. After cooling in the water to her full the splendid animal got up and walked towards the bund made around the talab, her coat glistening in the midday sun she started climbing the slope.
The Patdev Female Coming out of the Waterhole

By now the surrounding was filled by the clicks of the numerous cameras trained on her from the surrounding gypsies. Oblivious to and Ignoring all this feverish activity around her the tigress after climbing the slope walked on the bund and then going past some bushes crossed the gypsy track route and disappeared into the jungle into the other side. We could see her on and off walking in the dense jungle. A herd of deer gave out some alarm calls while she stopped for some time but then completely went out of sight. It was almost time to head out for the gates so we decided to call it a day.


A quick and tasty lunch later we were back at the gates for the afternoon safari. While we were waiting for the gates to open at the scheduled hour a local woman approached us with a small basket of goodies. Selling fresh forest produce wrapped neatly in cones made from leaves her basket contained assorted goodies such as sweet and sour thin Strips of delicious tasting mangoes, dark red ripe berries sprayed with a dash of salt and steamed pods of dry peanuts. A very excited Amruta bought a cone from the lady and began gleefully enjoying the stuff. Offered a taste by her I too enjoyed some of them.
Basket of goodies.

This afternoon our second safari the route was similar to that of the morning.Checking various water holes on the way we headed to the Bijamatta talab. On one water hole we found a pack of around twenty wild dog’s and their cubs resting/sleeping in various positions. Monu informed us that this was the wild dog’s favoured location and they could be found here almost all of the time. We continued towards Bijamatta talab and upon reaching saw that a Sambar kill had been made almost near the lake waters, but it lay untouched on the spot. Discussing with Monu and our guide we came to know that the kill was most likely made at night and might have been made by the prominent male of this area – The Rayyakasa Male .We waited for the Tiger to make a show and sure enough after some time this huge guy stepped out from jungle behind the lake. I was totally mesmerised by this hulk of a tiger. He walked straight out to the water and drank his full, and then started walking on the water’s edge. After he had reached his favourite spot he turned around and got into the water. He lay there for almost an hour before standing up. Soaking wet and water dripping from his golden coat he walked right past the kill and slowly disappeared back into the jungle. We were not going to be treated of the sight of a tiger having his meal after all!!!!  
The Dominant,Majestic and Huge Rayyakasa Male

Pench has been a perfect spot for me to learn. It was here that I had my first proper sighting of a wild tiger. (You can read about that exciting encounter here: http://rantsofleonard.blogspot.in/2016/05/sighting-queen-sharmili-tigress-at.html)  It has taught me patience, observation and behaviour. Behaviour of not only the tiger but also about its various inhabitants such as bears, birds, antelopes,gaurs and primates. What makes this forest a photographer’s delight is the varied landscape, numerous water bodies, mountains, vast grasslands and the meadows around the Pench River which runs through the Reserve. Since this forest is visited by photographers from around the globe, one needs to find ways of getting creative in capturing and presenting his or her work. Knowing tiger behaviour is very imperative in capturing the right moment.
Day two and the third safari of the trip. Today morning we were allotted the Route No. 2 – which goes something like : Baghinnala-karmazari-Rayakassa-Malkundam-Alikatta-Patdev-Tirah-Jodamatta-Sitaghat-Jodamunara-Bison camp-Bodhanala. Once inside we took the long route through dense forest to reach the Karmazari gate. We saw couple of leopard pugmarks along with its cubs near a waterhole. We waited for some time but the shy animal that the leopard is it rarely comes out in the open in the presence of gypsies or humans. We continued further and waited for some time near a waterhole just besides the Karmazari entry gate as a huge male tiger is sometimes seen near here. Seeing no activity or even alarm calls around us we continued further. On the way we stopped to shoot a pair of streak-throated woodpeckers.
Male-Female pair of streak-throated woodpeckers

Going ahead we reached the Bodhnala forest check post which sits prettily opposite the Bodhnala Lake and a small check dam. We stopped here for some time to take a bathroom break and had a chat with the Forrest officials stationed there.
The Bodhnala Lake opposite which there's a forest check post 

Monu then decided to check the kill we saw yesterday at the Bijamatta talab. The kill was nowhere to be seen (most likely shifted by the tiger to some other place in the night) but to our dismay just as we reached Bijamatta we saw the Rayyakasa Male walking off into the jungle.This was a good opportunity we had lost as there were favourable lighting conditions for shooting.Shriram was especially crestfallen as due to low lighting conditions and strong backlight yesterday he was unable to make proper images of the Rayyakasa male.But nature is unpredictable and you have to face up and take the dissapoinments in you stride.


All of us were hungry at this point of time so we decided to have breakfast. We reached Ali Katta, a central point for all the safari routes where some of the safari vehicles were already parked. Apart from being a restroom stop, and a breakfast point Ali Katta is also the base for elephants that are deployed for patrolling by the Forest department. After having some sandwiches and snacks along with other refreshments packed for us by our Hotel we headed back into the trail. Returning back we checked the Junewala Talab  for any activity but apart from some Langur’s, deer and a lone crested serpent eagle sitting on a tree perch everything looked still and silent in this rising heat. We headed out for the gates as time was almost up.
Reaching our hotel there was still time for lunch so we had a small photo shoot of our group. Various and all types of poses were tried and clicked at various corners of the property. I had a chat with the proprietor of our Hotel Tribal Camp Mr. Sandeep Singh a jolly personality who had dropped by. He shared some interesting tit bits about the property. While we were chatting a member of his staff informed us that our lunch was ready. Swapping stories over a tasty and leisurely lunch we retired to our cottages for a tiny nap.
Fourth safari and we took a different route to check out the water hole near the Karmazari gate. This route was from the Baghinala area. Enjoying the jungle and going slowly we stopped to click the many birds which were sighted. We stumbled on a wild Jackal walking quite fearlessly and gaily on the safari track.

Jackal walking on the safari track.

He gave us a cursory glance and marked his territory on a tree nearby and went ahead on the track. We reached the Karmazari gate waterhole but instead of a Tiger we found a Huge Bison munching lazily on some wild flowers that hung from a creeper near the waterhole.After waiting for some time moving ahead we saw a Jungle Fowl pair grazing besides the track. On seeing our approaching gypsies both disappeared under the bushes adjacent to the route and were soon out of site. Moving further we reached the evergreen meadows of the Sitaghat area where loud alarm calls could be heard from the opposite banks of the Pench River. Scanning the jungle on the other ends with the help of binoculars I could see couple of deer standing on the alert with their tails high up in the air while a Jackal moved along lazily at the same time. A predator was definitely in the area but we could not locate it. This was the area of the tigress Collarwali and her cubs from The Rayakassa male tiger. 

Sitaghat area 


As we were waiting on the river banks we could see three elephants with their patrol Forrest guards moving towards us from the thick jungle bush. Like yesterday they were trying to locate the Collarwali female tigress and her cubs. On reaching us our guide and gypsy driver exchanged pleasantries with the guards before they continued on their way.By now the sun was pretty down the horizon and was starting to spread its golden rays upon the Forrest track. I clicked some frames of the beautiful golden landscape that lay ahead. On the way back we made a quick stop at AliKatta where I clicked some frames in the sunset hours and we were out of the gates within stipulated time.

AliKatta - Rest Point
 We got up early as usual for what was to be our last safari of this trip. I was soaking up the sights and smells of the Forest as we passed through this enchanting place and writing it to memory to recollect whenever needed. Passing through the Baasnala area we stopped to photograph a Rufous Woodpecker busy feasting on small ants on a tree. As we made our way into Sitaghat the ever alert and sharp eyed Monu braked the gypsy and brought it to a halt. He quietly pointed out something on the ground level. Looking to where he was pointing we saw a Crested Hawk-Eagle also known as changeable Hawk-Eagle sitting on a fallen tree bark with what seemed like the remains of a kill. We clicked this magnificent bird of prey in the Golden light before he took off. As we moved ahead into the Rayakassa area we stopped to shoot various birds we encountered such as Lesser Flame back Woodpecker, Crested Serpent Eagle and Orange headed Thrush. 
L to R : Crested Hawk-Eagle also known as changeable Hawk-Eagle and a Rufous Woodpecker

It was here in the same area that I managed to get a silhouette of my favourite bird a Rufous Paradise Flycatcher Male. Next up we decided to check out collarwali and her cubs at Piyorthadi but waiting there for more than an hour and seeing no movement at all we moved further to the Rayakassa Forest Camp area for a quick break for pressure relief ;). Now the time was almost up for us to leave but we decided to check out the Bijamatta Talab to see if the Rayakassa Male had made appearance at the water body. Reaching there we saw almost twelve gypsies waiting for the Tiger to make an appearance. We waited at the Bijamatta Talab till almost past time to head for the gates but it seems today we were not to be treated a sighting. We turned back for the gates and to our hotel.
After freshening up we had our lunch and proceeded to click some pics of the property. Clearing up the checkout formalities we bid adieu to Monu who had dropped by to say goodbye and also to the staff of Tribal Camp. It was Umar Bhai again who was to drop us off to the Railway station. On reaching Nagpur we made the customary stop at Haldiram’s outlet at Birdy’s for some orange Barfi and other delicacies. 
My all Time Favourite : Haldiram’s orange Barfi 
 
Our train, Vidharba express, was scheduled to leave Nagpur for Mumbai at 17.15 hrs. Another Fun filled trip had come to an end with GB’s of memories to be cherished for a lifetime. We reached Dadar, Mumbai at around seven the next morning. I accompanied Shriram to his house where I quickly freshened up, had some piping hot breakfast and thanking him for his warm hospitality made my way back to office. Another world another City I was back to the Corporate Grind once again. 

  

Some valuable Information You Can Use about the Pench Tiger Reserve:  


Topography: The terrain of the park is undulating with mainly gentle slopes criss-crossed by streams and nullahs. Most of these water courses are seasonal. Many of the hills are flat-topped and allow fine vistas of the forests around. The best known of these is 'Kalapahar' with an altitude of 650 mts. The Pench river flowing through the centre of the Reserve is dry by April but a number of water pools locally known as 'dohs' are found, which serve as waterholes for wild animals. A few perennial springs also exist. Recently a number of earthen ponds and shallow wells have been developed leading to well distributed sources of water all around the reserve. 
Conservation History: In the year 1977 an area of 449.39 sq km was declared Pench Sanctuary. Out of this, an area of 292.85 sq km was declared Pench National Park in the year 1983 and 118.31 sq km remained as Pench Sanctuary. In 1992 Government of India declared 757.89 sq km area including the National Park and the sanctuary as the 19th Tiger Reserve of the country. The name of Pench National Park was changed to "Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park" in November 2002
Wildlife: Tiger is the main cat species of the park present in good numbers. Commonly seen wildlife is chital, sambhar, nilgai, wild boar, and jackal. Other wild animals found are leopard, sloth bear, wild dog, porcupine, jungle cat, fox, striped hyena, gaur, chowsingha and barking deer. There are more than 200 species of birds including several migratory ones. Some of them are peafowl, junglefowl, crow pheasant, crimson-breasted barbet, red-vented bulbul, racket-tailed drongo, magpie robin, lesser whistling teal, pintail, shoveler, egret and herons. This national park is rich with chitals i.e. axis axis or more commonly spotted deer. There are 25 tigers under this umbrella of the Park. 39 species of mammals, 13 species of reptiles, 3 species of amphibians. Apart from mammals and other land-based wildlife, the park is also rich in bird life. According to an estimation of the wildlife authorities, the bird population in the park counts to be over 210 species like barbets, bulbul, minivets orioles, wagtails, munias, mynas, waterfowls, kingfishers etc.
Vegetation: The high habitat heterogeneity favours high population of Chital and Sambar. Pench tiger reserve has highest density of herbivores in India (90.3 animals per sq km).The forests are mainly Southern tropical dry deciduous and dry mixed deciduous forests.Teak Tectona grandis dominates, comprising 25-50 per cent of the species. Moyan, Mahua, Mokha, Skiras, Tendu, Bijra, Garari etc. are associates of teak. Dhaora Anogeissus latifolia, lendia/seja Lageostroemia parviflora, saja Terminalia tomentosa, salai Boswellia serrata, bija Pterocarpus marsupium, bhirra Chloroxylon swietenia and sirus Albizzia lebbeck are other trees. Bamboo occurs sparsely, restricted to some valleys. Chiltai, mahulbel and palas bhel are common climbers in areas along the river and large water sources.
The Pench hydroelectric dam straddles the Maharashtra - Madhya Pradesh boundary. The dam, constructed between 1973 and 1988 has resulted in the submergence of about 74 sq km area out of which 54 km is in the Park, the rest being in Maharashtra.
Almost all the animals seen in Kanha, except barasingha, can be seen in Pench. In April when the Pench river dries out, the animals use locally formed dohs as waterholes. The submergence of the Pench reservoir at the centre of the reserve acts as an artificial wetland where you may see hordes of water birds. You'd probably see chinkara in small herds in open areas and sometimes around Turia, Telia and Dudhgaon villages.Wild dogs are seen in packs of 12 to 15 near Chhedia, Jamtara, Bodanal and Pyorthadi.The wild boar is found almost all over the park, mainly in areas next to agricultural fields, especially in Chhindwara district.You would probably catch the sloth bear in its favourite hangout amidst the hilly, rocky outcrops and the mahulbel infested forests. Look around for them especially at Kalapahad.Jackals are sometimes seen next to villages near Tekadi, Alikatta and Chhindimatta.In the Bodanala and Budhgaon tanks situated within the precincts of the park, a large number of migrant waterfowl may be seen in winter. You may also see pigtailed ducks in large numbers near Bodanala tank. The Dudhgaon talab in Chhindwara district also attracts migratory birds. The pied or small blue kingfisher is also often seen in Pench.
Points of interest:


  • Turia Gate – entry point 2.2 km from ‘Tathastu’ (Pench Resorts)
  • Alikatta – core and meeting point of the Park
  • Junewani Talao – a small picturesque pond.
  • Piyorthadi – sight where you can spot  leopards
  • Baghin Nala – most famous for Tiger sightings in the past few seasons
  • Sitaghat /Raiyakassa – spectacular view of Pench river bank and spot for bird-watching
  • Bijamatta – a pond with rocky land and picturesque hilly region
  • Bodha Nala – Small lake with serene surrounding
  • Chindimatta – junction of roads from Chhindwara-Seoni
  • Kalapahad – highest point in the park. Wireless tower installed. Closed for tourists.
  • Jamun Nala Area – mostly Grassland.
  • Karmajhari – Entry gate on other side of Seoni Range.