“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 #2, Teaming Up in Bandhavgarh, Going Solo in Gujarat, Departure March 11, 2012
1 nt Agra Bear Rescue Facility inside Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, 4 pm visit to Taj Mahal, The Retreat.
1 nt Chambal River morning boat ride, then overnight on Gondwana Express
4 nts Bandhavgarh, Tiger Lagoon
1 nt transit Mumbai, Hotel Transit
3 nts Sasan Gir National Park, Gir Birding Lodge
2 nts Velavadar Black Buck National Park, Black Buck Lodge
2 nts Little Rann of Kutch, Rann Riders
Home to 300 rescued sloth bears, and source of employment for many of the former dancing bear masters, The Agra Bear Rescue Facility offers hope to end a life of cruelty for captive sloth bears. The Kalandar are semi-nomadic people that for centuries had captured sloth bear cubs from the forest by killing the mother, and trained them to provide entertainment to passersby in exchange for money. This cruel practice was their livelihood, a tradition handed down over generations. To save the bears from this horrendous existence, the Kalandars had to be offered an alternative way to provide for their families, which is one of the goals of the rescue facility.
No photos/video can be posted online, though they can be taken for personal use and opportunities for sloth close-ups were plentiful. It was my travel buddy’s brilliant idea to include the Bear Rescue Facility.
Along the Chambal River mugger crocs (one shown below, left) as well as the long-nosed. Gharial crocs can be seen, plus many birds, lots of local people and construction.
Indian Skimmers are often seen on the Chambal River and we briefly spied two sitting along the bank when we first arrived, but managed no photos.
A peaceful morning on the Chambal River was followed by an afternoon visit to the Taj Mahal. The same guide from my previous visit was arranged for us. He was eager to show off some new photo angles.
And then it was time to try our luck at tigers, and maybe even tiger cubs. We took the Gondwana Express to Bandhavgarh. The first tiger we met was missing an eye. This was the last tiger I had seen the previous year. We learned this was Kankatee, who had lost the eye in a fight to the death with another female. Kankatee demonstrated her fierceness by consuming the flesh of the tiger she had just killed. Tigers rarely eat other tigers. Not only was Kankatee fierce, but she was a mother, and we would have the privelge of glimpsing her three 7-month old cubs.
One of Kankatee’s 7-month old cubs (on 1st in pic) Kankatee’s damaged left eye (on 2nd in pic)
The cubs were enjoying the remains of a kill their mother had made. There were still some bones to be gnawed, which is what the cub is doing directly below on the right. All three cubs are visible in the bottom photo. In the center of the road, it is much easier to see the tiger. This cub, below, is 13 months old.Tigress Rajabehera came into view in the afternoon sun.
Naturalist Rajesh and driver Baloo suddenly became very animated. Sloth Bear!! We watched it chase a peacock in what could have been a scene from The Jungle Book. Only a quick, not particularly focused, photo was possible. We were thrilled to see a sloth bear in the wild after spending time with them at the sanctuary.
It had been a gamble to return to Bandhavgarh in 2012 in hopes of seeing tiger cubs, based on the previous year’s projections of mass pregnancies. But the gamble had paid off. My travel buddy had a fifth night in Bandhavgarh, but it was time for me to head to the western state of Gujarat.
Driver and birder CB met me at the airport of the coastal city of Diu and accompanied me for the Gujarat portion of the trip. It was great to be reunited again with CB. Our first destination was Sasan Gir, best known for being the only national park with Asiatic Lions (at least the only park in 2012).
The odds of seeing some of those lions are high because in addition to your naturalist and driver, there are also roving rangers looking for lions (sometimes on foot.) The rangers radio their findings to the vehicles/Gypsies.
Lion viewing that is monitored by the rangers is somewhat frustrating because they limit each vehicle to about two minutes. Finding our own lions was a far superior experience to the ranger supervised viewings. But I completely understand and agree with regulating lion viewing for the good of the species.
The Gir photos have a smoky texture to them because burning was so prevalent this time of year. The haze accentuates this photo of a young Blue Bull, giving the scene a fairytale quality.
Mottled Owls! A nice note to end on for Sasan Gir
Velavadar is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. And it is the world’s largest communal roosting site for harriers. Three kinds of harriers are regularly seen, and we saw lots of each: Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, and Pallid Harrier. Even though mid-March is not prime time for the largest harrier numbers, often at least one of the harrier species could be seen.
Velavadar is blessed with a fascinating variety of wildlife in addition to harriers. Blue Bull (Nilgai), Indian Wolves, Striped Hyena, and its signature Black Buck can all be found both in the park and the adjacent buffer zone. It is possible to drive off-road in the buffer zone.
I had CB to thank for all of the Velavadar sightings. His familiarity with the area and his willingness to maximize our time in the field really paid off, such as these sparring Black Bucks, with the younger male looking on (in the first of the four photos.)
Back at the Black Buck Lodge, a discussion about mosquitoes with the owner led me to explain that where I lived we had much larger and more menacing mosquitoes than any found in Velavadar. When the owner asked where my home might be, it turned out that he owned a gas station just a few miles away!
While mosquitoes may have been a topic of conversation at Black Buck Lodge, at Rann Riders in Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), the resident peacock that relaxed in the lounge was well versed on a myriad of topics. Here I am in an animated discussion with this fascinating bird.
Saurus Cranes spotted by CB enroute to Little Rann of Kutch
But I did not venture to Little Rann of Kutch to talk with a peacock; my main target was the Wild Asses. The herds always seemed to arrange themselves attractively, perhaps their uniform coloring added to their striking appeal.
I observed and photographed herds of wild asses at about 30 meters, while sitting or crouching low on the ground. As long as I kept my distance and remained still, the Wild Asses tolerated me outside of the vehicle.
When the Wild Asses had departed the rann to seek shade, Rann Rider’s Naturalist, Babulal, decided we should also depart to seek a den with fox kits. CB drove us to the den location and we watched a single Desert Fox kit emerged from the den. The mother could be seen on the horizon in her search for food.
The Indian Fox is a different species than the Desert Fox. Babulala knew where their den was too and CB did the driving to take us there. We exited the vehicle and sat about 10 meters from the den. Three Indian Fox kits were visible briefly. Then we were treated to the antics of one or two of the kits.
The most visible difference between the Indian and the Desert Fox is the black vs. the white tip of the tail.
Greater and Lesser Flamingos were abundant, but there had been even bigger flocks the previous month or two.
When the sun set on the final evening of my second safari to India, I could make the claim: You bet your wild asses India has lions and tigers and bears, oh my!