“I’d like to get to India once in my life to see a tiger and the Taj Mahal.” That simple wish blossomed into three fantastic trips that expanded well beyond a tiger and the Taj, all in the span of just four years, with the expert guidance of Vikram Singh of Wild World India.
Trip #1 as a Solo Traveler, Departure March 26, 2011
1 nt Delhi, Ahuja Residency, followed by a day of Delhi sightseeing and overnight train
4 nts Kisli section of Kanha National Park, Tuli Tiger Resort
2 nts Mukki section of Kanha National Park, Royal Tiger Resort
4 nts Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Nature Heritage Resort
1 nt Delhi, Ahuja Residency after Overnight train to Agra to see Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, day room at Mansingh Palace
2 nts Jim Corbett National Park-Biranji section, Camp Forktail Creek
2 nts Jim Corbett National Park-Dhikala section, Dhikala Forest Rest House
Tigers presented themselves in numerous other attractive settings and poses, such as this large male cooling off on a sweltering afternoon…
…and this juvenile in the shaded forest……in this case, a well camouflaged cat who demanded privacy……plus a more obliging subject that resulted in several expressive portraits. Though the tiger is not visible just out of camera range, it chased this leopard up a tree. Kanha had a magical feel to it, perhaps because of the variety of species that inhabited the diverse and lush environment. At times the landscape was the focus, even over the tiger. Resting on a distant bluff, a tiger is visible, below. The Hard Ground Barasingha (deer) make their home only in Kanha and their growing numbers are a conservation success story. They were fairly easy to see because Rajan knew where to look.
Even easier to see were the Chital. These spotted deer were everywhere. In contrast to the delicate stature of the chital, stood the formidable Gaur or Indian Buffalo. I found it challenging to get appealing pictures of these bovines, though I did find their white stockings attractive.
Rajan made sure I had ample opportunity to appreciate the many species that made up Kanha’s Kisli sector. We were not in constant pursuit of tigers.
The Common Langurs provided hours of entertainment. A front row seat to their antics was easily arranged because they were so relaxed around the vehicles/Gypsies.
Each early morning our departure started off with a chance to see Spotted Owlets chicks in their tree cavity nest, located near the queue. Even those without a birding life list could appreciate the avian diversity of Kanha, such as the Green Bee-Eater or my personal favorite, the Eurasian. Hoopoe, with its tiger-like crest.
But the bird that always stole the show was the Peafowl, the male being the Peacock. After four nights I traded the Kisli sector of Kanha for the Mukki sector and I also traded brothers. Rajan’s brother, Ashok, became my guide in Mukki. On the journey between Kisli and Mukki we saw the rare and elusive Chousingha antelope, which has four horns on its head, although two are not much more than bumps.
While the tigers proved more prolific in the Kisli sector, Mukki would shine when it came to Dhole (Indian Wild Dogs.) A pack can contain dozens of dogs, but the pack we saw consisted of two dogs. Another canine—the golden jackal—provided some of the most exciting memories of Kanha. When I reunited with Rajan several years later, he still recalled our sighting of a jackal with a kill.
Bandhavgarh was the second “tiger park” on my itinerary and the unpredictability of tiger behavior was underscored here during my four night visit. It was not until the final 2.5 hours of the final day that the tigers materialized, and then we had 6 sightings of 5 different tigers! Interestingly, it was not just me that temporarily had run out of tiger luck; the entire park had become tigerless for a few days, much to the chagrin of guests and naturalists alike. So when three 2-year old cubs appeared on the road, my naturalist and driver were thrilled. And so was I.
Our last tiger sighting on that eventful final morning was a female with one severely injured or missing eye. At the time I did not know the role this cat would play in a future visit to Bandhavgarh. But I was pretty sure there would be a return the next year because word was out that most of the females in the Talek Zone in Bandhavgarh were pregnant and those that weren’t were expected to be by the monsoons. That meant a decent chance of seeing cubs the next year.
During the three day tiger drought, there was plenty to see, though it took effort in some cases, such as this night jar, which is well camouflaged while it sleeps during the day. In contrast, the Indian Roller’s brilliant blues couldn’t be missed.
Always a delight were the Common Langurs, especially the babies. Who couldn’t love those little faces?
And then there was the beauty of Bandhavgarh’s landscapes, whether embellished by animal life or not.
There was a lot about Wild World India to be impressed with: their fine guides, the fact that Vikram visits personally at some point with all clients (if possible), the excellent accommodations and fine food, but I was also especially pleased at how they were able to maximize transportation schedules to get the most out of the hours I had in India. For example, I took the Gondwana Express, the overnight train, which arrived in Agra just after 4:00 am, allowing ample time to arrive at the Taj Mahal when it opened (6:10 was opening time for me in April) for nice morning light.
To be sure I was well fed, rested, and could take advantage of that morning light, I was whisked from the train to a day room at Mansingh Palace, breakfast included. Then a professional Taj Mahal guide accompanied me and pointed out the best vantage spots for photos and even took my second camera to click away, making sure I was the subject of some of those shots. That’s especially important when visiting the Taj Mahal alone.
In my opinion, no Taj Mahal photo shoot is complete without the resident Rhesus Macaques.
My final destination was Corbett. CB was my driver and self taught birding expert who brought me to the park and then handed me off to Naturalist Harise. Enroute was a stop to look for the long-nosed Gharial crocs.
Corbett birds: Pied Kingfisher, Green Magpie
Though similar to the common rooster, the Red Jungle Fowl was an elusive prize that so often flitted into the underbrush with only a flash of briefly visible color. Fortunately, this guy hung around. In addition to the spotted Chital, the large Sambar Deer, and the barking Muntjac Deer that can be found in many Indian parks, the Hog Deer of Corbett are not common elsewhere.
Wild boar seemed to be more relaxed in Jim Corbett National Park than the other parks I had visited. This one was very engaged in digging his hole, ignoring our vehicle altogether
Naturalist Harise’s sharp eyes uncovered a Rock Python and a Monitor Lizard, both sunning themselves & My spotting skills produced a lizard on the wall of Dhikala.
Forest Rest House.
Corbett was in my itinerary not so much for tigers–though I saw two briefly–but for the Indian Elephant. I still remember my first Indian elephant sighting. It was a single bull. We found elephants in herds and other times roaming the forests alone.
In preparing for my first trip to India, I wanted to know about some of the past kings, such as the famous Ashoka who was transformed through Buddhism from a ruthless ruler to one of great virtue. In honor of this king, the Ashoka Chakra wheel graces the center of the Indian flag . Of course I learned about Shah Jahan, “King of the World,” who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, who had died in childbirth with their 14th child.
What I didn’t know was that I’d be treated like a king (queen in my case) during my stay by Wild World India! I also didn’t know I’d be privileged to watch the Men in Blue win the Cricket World Cup!