“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 #3 with Two Other Travelers, Departure March 12. 2015
1 nt Sightseeing in New Delhi, Hotel Le Meridien
5 nts Kaziranga, including Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, Wild Grass Lodge
1 nt New Delhi in transit, 4 Points Sheridan
4 nts Kanha, Chitvan Jungle Lodge-Mukki Section
2 nts Pench, Tuli Tiger Corridor
3 nts Tadoba, Svasara Jungle Lodge
First, some Delhi sights.
Just like our naturalists in the jungle, our guide in the city that was arranged by Wild World India was knowledgeable, personable, and flexible, resulting in a pleasant outing for us all. Nature’s beauty pageant started when we looked through the window on the left hand side (thanks for the seat request by one of my travel buddies) of the plane to Guwahati (before our 4-ish-hour drive to Kaziranga.) And the beauty continued throughout the entire trip.
While our whole itinerary was well crafted and full of excellent wildlife potential it was Kaziranga that was our number one goal to try to see Indian Rhino and Elephants, and it lived up to its reputation our expectations! Thanks in good measure to our excellent guide Tarun, who works at Wild Grass Lodge.
The 3 zones of Kaziranga visited by tourists—east, west, and central, all produced memorable highlights. The first rhinos were often sighted while queuing up to enter the park. Below is our first photographable rhino sighting after entering the park in the Central Zone.
While thrilled with the rhinos, the Kalij Pheasant was very exciting to see as well.We heard it thrashing in the bush, like a crazed rhino, long before we saw it. Red Jungle Fowl and Hog Deer, which we knew as shy creatures in other Indian parks, were more relaxed and willing to be photographed in Kaziranga.
We wasted no time in booking the elephant back safari in search of rhinos and set off on the ele the next morning at 6:30 am. in the Central Zone. Lots of Swamp Deer (Soft Ground Barasingha) and Hog Deer.
Swamp Deer (Img1), Hog Deer(Img2), Swamp Deer(Img3)
But then a rhino—mother and a calf! It would be the smallest calf of the trip. Elephant calves join their mothers on the outings and take advantage of a chance to nurse between the two shifts.
Water Buffalo and a Burmese Python made their homes in the Western Zone, along with the Malayan Squirrel, a creature that captivated us all with its weasel-like body and long tail.
Rhinos in the East, rhinos in the West and colorful birds everywhere–Kaziranga was keeping us busy!
Then it was elephant time in the Central Zone and the Eastern Zone, which had the largest herds.
We were delighted to catch rhino and elephant together. We saw this only in the Eastern Zone
Also interesting, but not quite as exciting, was the elephant and water buffalo combo in the Eastern Zone.
The river was full of activity. A family of smooth coated otters was dining on catfish. They were on the opposite bank so photos were tough, but we were able to watch them for about 20 minutes.
Sharing the branch were three Assam Tent Turtles and one larger Indian Roof Turtle.
The river was inviting to rhinos and even the water buffalo took a swim, their horns protruding like snorkels.
Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater(above img1), Blue Bearded Bee-Eater (above img2), Lineated Barbet (above img3)
Each morning we passed the buffer area of the park containing farms. Controlled burns were a common occurrence in Kaziranga in March. (Fire photo taken by Michael Ortner)
Intense green in early morning light-Central
No trip to Kaziranga is complete without a visit to the Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, with the highest concentration of Western Hoolock Gibbons anywhere. This “small” or “lesser” ape is the only ape found in India. Male and juvenile gibbons are black, while females are brown. It is necessary to hike with a local ranger to find the gibbons. Populations of Western Hoolock Gibbons have declined by almost 90% over the last 30 years, and it is now considered to be one of the most endangered 25 primate species in the world. The sanctuary has about 100.
Western Hoolock Gibbons are monogamous and we miraculously found a mating pair. Even the ranger was astounded The juvenile, below, is hanging on to its parents as they mate. Females give birth every 2-3 years and the offspring stay with the family up to 10 years.
The sanctuary is also home to Black Capped Capuchins O (on the left). Near the entrance gate and offices was a domestic calf.
All of us at the Hoollingapar Gibbon Sanctuary
Returning to Kaziranga from the gibbon sanctuary, we encountered a celebration of a holy time.
A feisty male rhino gave us a little charge. Nothing too close or frightening, thanks to Tarun’s level headed response and retreat. But the rhino made it clear he viewed our departure as good riddance.
In contrast, this gal below was not annoyed, merely curious.
During our stay in Kaziranga, we did not seen any tigers and had not expected them, even though the population of tigers is high. A good place to look for tigers is from the watch tower in the Central Zone.
Sunset from Central Watch Tower by Michael Ortner(Pic1), Sunset from Central Watch Tower by Andreas Schmidt(Pic2)
We said good bye to our Naturalist Tarun and thanked him for our marvelous time, then departed Kaziranga. But one more bonus was in store—fruit bats. Not far from the park boundary was a tree that had been home for many years to hundreds of fruit bats.
Did we want to stop and have a look? But of course.
Flying bat by Michael Ortner
All three of us had been to Kanha previously and were eagerly awaiting a return. Rajendra, my guide from my first trip was awaiting the three of us. Let the Kanha adventure begin!
Dawn was routinely misty and mysterious, inviting our speculation of what the day might bring.A hidden sambar, a preening peacock, a pair of sparring hard ground barasingha, an embracing mother and baby langur, or maybe even a tiger!
“Aap Ne Baagh Dekha?” was a useful Hindi phrase we learned on the trip. Translated: Have you seen the tiger? We could answer that question in the affirmative many times over due to the skills and expertise of our Naturalist Rajendra (Rajan for short).
Despite our passion for the tiger, we continued to be fascinated by the langurs and challenged by bird photography. Heck, were enthused by everything!
Jungle Babbler in the leaves, which are the star of the photo, Roufus Treepie, also known as the tiger bird because of its color and because it has been seen picking meat out of the tiger’s teeth.
Sometimes bird watching included mammal watching as well, depending where the birds decided to land. The Indian Pond Herons seemed to enjoy perching on the Barasingha in a symbiotic relationship. The birds get a meal of insects and the Barasingha are rid of pesky bugs that burrow into their coats.
Chital were abundant in Kanha as they were in all the parks. The fawns were always a nice find. Back at Chitvan Lodge we appreciated the frogs and butterflies.
We still had more tiger viewing in store at Kanha. A tiger known as New Male at his waterhole was the most photogenic of the remaining cats.
When our four nights at Kanha came to an end, we did not have to bid farewell to Rajan; we had arranged with Wild World India to have him come with us to Pench and Tadoba!
Pench was in our itinerary for scenic beauty and for logistics so we did not expect the abundance of tiger activity that ensued. But first, some Pench’s spectacular scenery, with a few birds here and there.
Common Myna in Flame of the Forest Tree (Below Pic 1), Alexandrine Parakeet (Below Pic 2)
Taken by Andreas Schmidt Male known as Rajakasha – One of three 18-month old cubs. We could get a photo of the 3. Limping female was the name given to a tigress with an abundance of white on her chest, who of course limped. Thelimp did not seem to impair her significantly. The white fur is almost blinding when the sun hits it By Michael Ortner, Limping Female Limping Female enjoyed the same pool as Rajakasha, within half an hour of his dip.
Running Golden Jackals by Michael Ortner (Above last Pic)| Handing Off the Baby (Below 1st Pic)
Pench had really come through for us. What more could we ask for in our remaining days in Tadoba? Picking a very farfetched sighting, we jokingly declared that we wanted to see a honey badger in Tadoba. In his 20 years of guiding, Rajan had not seen one, so he got a laugh out of our request. The joke was on us! Another group reported seeing a honey badger during our stay. We couldn’t believe it. Then it crossed our path as well, but for only a moment in low light.
Honey Badger photos shot quickly and in focus by Michael Ortner
Our first morning we found Dhole (Indian wild dogs) getting a drink and some Sambar posing nicely.
On two occasions we saw a sloth bear. We found being first in the queue helped with sightings of this shy creature. Our first bear was timid and hid behind foliage. Our second sighting was quite by surprise, as we were waiting for a tiger to emerge from the brush. We ended up with both a tiger and a sloth bear within minutes and meters of each other, though the tiger was not photographable.
The Ruddy Mongoose had eluded us throughout the trip, so when it briefly appeared from the underbrush and scampered into the light, we quietly cheered.
Maya the tigress washing her face caused a sensation – Maya settled in for a nap, sitting on a fragrant flower she just had to sniff. Very catlike.
Bronze Winged Jacana, Golden Oriole, White throated Kingfisher, very elusive Grey Jungle Fowl (male)
Waiting for Namdeo the tiger to take an afternoon dip paid off. He dipped, sipped, and napped. He even took a swim and then proceeded to mark his territory under the flame tree. Now that’s classic shot! On another occasion we watched Namdeo chase after some Sambar drinking at the waterhole, but his heart was not in the hunt.
(Both swimming tiger shots by Michael Ortner)
Looks like a Langur Convention, Common Hawk
Night Jar Study:
Indian Night Jar, Savanna Night Jar
Birdlife along Tadoba Lake includes
Grey Headed Fish Eagle (pic 1), Wattled Lapwing (pic 2), Tadoba Lake is habitat for Muggers. Below, left: just a part of the head and the eye is visible(Pic 3 & 4).
Namdeo, back on dry land after his swim, walked through tall grass:
We saw the Dhole pack from our first morning two more times in Tadoba.
Sunset by Andreas Schmidt (Pic 2), Dhole photo by Andreas Schmidt(Pic 3)
The whole pack is included in the final shot—3 adults and 2 pups.
As tiger populations improve, the pressure on wild dogs increases and their pack sizes shrink. In years gone by dog packs could number in the 20s, 30s, even up to 60. A sizeable pack of dogs is a formidable opponent to a tiger or leopard, so these cats avoided dhole territory when pack sizes were so big. That left more prey for the dogs and a safer environment for them to raise their pups.
When packs are smaller, overall more habitat is needed. For several small packs to establish a sufficiently large territory (40-48 sq km), some of the packs may need to leave the rich core areas of the park. As dhole enter into the buffer zones, not only is there less prey, but the odds of contracting domestic dog diseases increase.
Wild dogs that contract diseases further decrease pack sizes. It is a vicious circle.
Returning to tigers one last time, as Maya strutted across the field; she attracted the undivided attention of all the Chital.
Aap Ne Baagh Dekha? Have you seen the tiger? Not only had we seen the tiger, but we were privileged to have viewed numerous cats in a variety of habitats, engaged in interesting behaviors.
The kind of excitement and variety like we had in Tadoba has earned the place quite a reputation, and as a result there were seemed to be more people/Gypsies in Tadoba than other parks. All the more reason to have Rajan accompany us to be sure we had an early start and to be able to take advantage of his uncanny ability to predict animal behavior—especially that of tigers.
Namdeo was causing a traffic jam in Tadoba. It is good that tigers get the right of way.
Not much was included here on lodging and food. That’s because I go for what’s “out there.” But all accommodations on each trip ranged from good to spectacular. Temperatures were cool inside even when it was hot outside, due to building materials, fans, A/C, shade or all of the above. Most importantly, the lodging was ideally located. Food was consistently great and not too spicy! I am a wimp with hot spices. In sum, the food and shelter always contributed to my enjoyment of each area.
The photos for which credit is given to the photographers were taken with DSLR cameras. For all the rest, I used various super zoom bridge cameras, always with a fixed lens. Zoom ranged from 20 to 50 times optical. I always take more than one camera on safaris. I usually used a monopod. The DSLRs had “The Pod, bean bag with a bolt,” attached to the bottom of the camera body. That’s now my favorite stabilization device too. But in the Gypsies there often is not a frame on which to place a bean bag—something to consider. Rajan was always keen to take charge of any spare cameras and shoot. His intimate knowledge of the environment showed in his photography. My advice: bring a spare camera and hand it off to Rajan!
Here’s Rajan on the right of this group shot.
The only disappointment in any of the trips was that The Men in Blue were not victorious in the Cricket World Cup that took place during the third trip. But like nature, some things are just out of our control.