About Me

My photo
Hyderabad, AP, India
I used to be a bit of a drifter, still am partly, but life is getting more and more organized recently due to a special someone. I love playing and watching cricket, I have recently realised that I have a very big interest in wildlife and birding. I work for a blue chip company. I am well and truly blessed! No complaints there :)

Picture this...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bera - where leopards hunt in the darkness!

From Bera

Bera, a beautiful albeit slightly dusty little hamlet around 140 kms away from Udaipur is one of the very few places in India where one can see a leopard (panthera pardus) in all its full glory from relatively close quarters. I have had my fair share of ill luck in sighting and photographing this spotted enigma with a trip missed here and an opportunity missed there, so when the chance to go to Bera to see my first leopard in the wild presented itself, I jumped at it with all gusto.

After an early morning flight from Hyderabad in to Mumbai and a pre-lunch flight in to Udaipur, I reached Bera at around 4 PM completing a 2.5 hour drive through Sirohi and Pindwara. The road to Bera is excellent up to Pindwara, but the last 40 odd kms are not the best... I completed a sumptuous lunch at Leopard’s Lair, the place I was checked in to stay and got ready just in time for the evening safari. I met Thakur Devi Singhji, my host and the resort owner, one of the most knowledgeable leopard enthusiasts one would come across and he gave me a brief around the history of the place and all the different initiatives taken by him in ensuring the safety of leopards in the region. There is no notable prey base in this region barring a few chinkaras and hares, and the leopards are heavily dependent on domestic cattle for sustenance. Earlier any leopard kill in the region would be poisoned by the shepherds and a leopard that returns to partake in the meal would meet a gory but inevitable death, but Devisinghji and his son Shaileshwar Singh (an aspiring rally car driver) started compensating shepherds for their losses and this has drastically reduced the number of such cases over the last few years. The very survival of the leopard has only been possible due to the commendable effort put in by Thakur Devi Singhji.

We headed to a hillock locally called Liluada on our first safari of this trip. The keen eye of local spotter Samparkanji picked up our first leopard for the day in the form of Zara, the residing leopard princess of Bera. She was peacefully sunning herself on top of the hillock and I started photographing my first leopard in the wild!

First Leopard in the wild!!
From Bera

After about 20 minutes of photographing and just observing her in wide-eyed wonderment, we were greeted by the site of another leopard peeping out from behind the bushes. This was Zara’s kid Vivaan aka Charger. I just could not contain my excitement and went berserk with my camera shooting both the beautiful leopards until the sun went below the horizon and I could shoot no more...

Vivaan aka Charger
From Bera

Charger and Zara
From Bera

With the darkness of the night enveloping us, we spent a bit more time near the hillock with the hope that one of the leopards would come down to hunt and we could possibly photograph them from close quarters, but that was not to be on this particular night.

The timing of my visit was in the transition period between winter and summer in the north and as a result the nights were chilly but the days were adequately reminding us the onset of a brutal summer. Leopards during this period prefer to spend most of the time inside caves which are relatively cooler and the only chance to see and photograph them is either early in the morning or late in the evening. With this knowledge we started relatively early for our next day’s safari to the same location as the previous evening. This time around we saw Charger at a slightly closer distance than the previous evening.

Charger early the next morning
From Bera

Though Charger is now apparently better habituated to vehicles, he still did not like spending too much time with us this morning. He made a beeline for his cave around the circumference of the hillock and we had to really focus our binoculars on the rock face to follow his movements.
That we were even able to see him was only possible due to the Thakur’s keen eye and knowledge of the leopard’s movement. The cat was so beautifully camouflaged and was in its element!

Camo King!
From Bera

Before long he decided to lose us completely and went into the thick scrub to never show up again. We waited until it became too hot and the chances of any of the leopards coming out from their comfortable caves diminished. We decided to sit the rest of the day out at the comfort of the resort and beat a hasty retreat back to the aptly named Leopard’s Lair.

In the evening we decided to start a bit earlier to try and get some birding action at Vellar village near Bera. The village boasts of a smallish water body that supports a fair amount of migratory and endemic bird life. As soon as we entered the lake bed we spotted a flock of lesser whistling teals and Comb ducks. The group took flight due to a local fisherman’s approach and flew right over us giving us a good opportunity to photograph them in flight.

Lesser Whistling Teals
From Bera

Comb duck
From Bera

The lake also is home to plenty of crocodiles (some reputed to grow as much as 12-14 feet) and we caught a couple of the smaller ones sunning themselves out in the open. In addition to this we also saw a flock of sandpipers, black-tailed godwit and a beautiful juvenile painted stork.

Crocs of Bera
From Bera

Black-tailed Godwit
From Bera

Juvenile Painted Stork
From Bera

After spending close to an hour at the lake we headed back to Liluada to try our luck with the leopards once again. At the hillock we were greeted by the news that a big male leopard (locally called Cut Ear due to a nick in his right ear) was seen sunning outside a cave but had decided to get back inside just a few minutes before we arrived at the location. We were understandably disappointed but decided to wait it out at the same spot with the hope that he would come out eventually. He did not come out but Charger did and what a sight it was! For the first time spotlights were put into use and we were able to see Charger up on a rock behind some scrub. The whole setting was surreal and I was extremely thrilled to be able to get a passable shot even though I was shooting at 3200 ISO! However, Charger decided to move on in search of his next meal and we had to be content with the all too brief but thrilling encounter!

Charger at night!
From Bera

With a leopard sighting and some photography opportunities in all 3 of my safaris so far, I was expecting more on the 4th safari next day morning. This time we were heading to a different part of the countryside to a rocky area near the village of Chamunderi about 20 kms from Bera. This place was reportedly home to 3 leopards and a striped hyena. Shaileshwar, who I had already mentioned to be an aspiring rally race driver showed no hesitation in driving up the steep hillock to get us to a vantage point from where we could see the rest of the countryside for any signs of wildlife. However, nothing was visible - not even birdlife - and we had to return back empty-handed ruminating on the first disappointment of the trip.

In the evening we once again went back to Liluada and after about an hour of waiting behind the hillock, we heard news that one of the leopards had made a kill of a stray goat near the hillock and thus started one of the most thrilling encounters I have ever had in my life in the wild.
We proceeded in a great hurry to the area where the leopard was sighted. Zara was sitting on a rock very close to the road when we arrived. Within minutes she was joined by Charger who immediately started gorging on the kill without worrying about the kill actually belonging to Zara. The next 1 hour we spent so close to both these leopards and there were a couple of instances of madness that I should recall here. The first one was when the jeep had to be restarted to position ourselves better but the self starter would not work and all 3 of us in the jeep had to get down and push the jeep along to start it in pitch darkness with 2 leopards only about 30 odd feet from us. The second was when the jeep was finally started but was vibrating badly enough for me to be unable to get a decent shot, I had to get down from the jeep tripod et al and shoot from the ground with the leopard only about 20 feet from me. At that moment due to the adrenaline rush, I did not think much about it, but later when the entire thing sank in, I did feel a bit uneasy that I had taken such a risk. Never again I suppose!

Leopards in the night, best experience in the wild!
From Bera

From Bera

From Bera

From Bera

From Bera

From Bera

After this unbelievable stroke of luck I was bursting with joy and was chattering away like a kid in a candy store! From not having photographed a leopard in the wild ever to have shot one from as close as 20 feet was something even beyond my 'wild' imagination.

I had one more Safari to complete the next morning but I knew that nothing could equal the sightings from the previous night. We headed once more to Liluada and saw Zara walking in to the distant hillock away from her cave. However, she disappeared behind a clump of rocks soon. After Zara, it was the turn of Cut Ear to put in a brief appearance outside his cave for a brief while but he too disappeared after the sun came out to beat down strongly.

Zara walks away as if to say goodbye!
From Bera

After this last safari I journeyed back to Udaipur to catch my flight back to Mumbai and from there on to Hyderabad. Like most other trips of mine in search of wildlife, this one was also organized by the friendly and knowledgeable folks from Jungle Lore and as always it was a pleasure to travel with them! Thanks Gaurav and team :)

The best time to visit Bera is between November and March when the weather is the best in this region and leopards spend most of their time out in the open to enjoy the soft warmth of the winter sun. Udaipur is the best transit point for folks traveling from outside Gujarat and Rajasthan and has good connections with Mumbai and Delhi. The alternative is to fly in to Ahmedabad and drive 5-6 hours through Mount Abu up to Bera. One can also take an overnight train from Mumbai to Jawai Bandh, the railway station nearest to Bera.

Hope this has been a enjoyable and informative read, looking forward to hearing from you! Please do write to me at ajsportatgmail.com for more information. Cheers!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ladakh - the land of high passes...

Pictures at roadlesstaken.in/landscapes

Its been a long-pending dream of Shaon’s and mine to visit the surreal land of high passes and updates from colleague Rohit, marathoner extraordinaire who ran an half marathon in Leh as part of the La Ultra, only reinforced the urge to pay a visit to this extraordinary land before the end of the year. With Diwali just around the corner and the opportunity to squeeze in some time off during that period, we finally decided to take the plunge and head to Leh in what was to be the beginning of winter up north.

A quick peek into our itinerary:
Day 1 - travel to Delhi, overnight at Delhi
Day 2 - early morning flight in to Leh, acclimatization to the high altitudes and rarefied oxygen (O/N @ Leh)
Day 3 - continue acclimatization, easy tour to Shey and Thiksey (O/N @ Leh)
Day 4 - Drive to Alchi and back via Sangam, Magnetic Hill, Nimoo (O/N @ Leh)
Day 5 - Drive to Nubra valley via Khardung-La (O/N @ Diskit)
Day 6 - Drive back to Leh (O/N @ Leh)
Day 7 - Drive to Pangong Tso via Shakthi, Khar (O/N @ Leh)
Day 8 - early morning flight to Delhi

Pictures at roadlesstaken.in/landscapes

We landed early on a Saturday morning in Leh at the spectacular Kushok Bakula Rinpoche airport. After a quick struggle into warm clothes to keep the all pervading cold at bay (-1 deg. C), we proceeded to the beautiful Oriental Guest House at Changspa, a bit away from the noise and bustle of downtown Leh. After settling into a heater-less room, but one provided with ample blankets, we decided to rest for the entire day to help with the acclimatization process.

On Sunday, while continuing to take it relatively easy, we also took a short drive to Shey marshes with the hope of spotting and photographing some endemic avifauna. Apart from the ubiquitous Black-billed Magpie, not much was on show and as the weather also threatened to play spoilsport we decided to head back to Leh. The only highlight was getting relatively close to Stok Kangri, the tallest mountain in the Stok range of the Himalayas. On returning back to the hotel, we ran into a set of friendly blokes from Chennai and Delhi with whom we decided to travel over the next few days.

With no connectivity on my phone, Monday dawned with loads of promise ;)
The plan was to drive on NH 1D all the way to Alchi and back the same day (a total distance of ~140 kms). We started on our journey at 8.30 and our first stop was outside the village of Spituk to photograph these beautiful reflections

From Spituk we proceeded onwards to Nimmo and crossed some of the best lunar landscape I have ever seen. There are sections where the NH is arrow straight and one can literally lie down on them to shot the amazing vista. On this road one also reaches ‘Sangam’ where the Indus and the Zanskar rivers meet. The views are beyond words and a landscape photographers dream...
This is also the spot where a scene from the movie 3 Idiots was filmed.
Past Sangam is the village of Nimmoo, its a small nondescript village which has a beautiful monastery on top of a hill and one gets a glorious view of the same from a few vantage points along the road

At Nimmoo we stopped for a short tea/snack break and then proceeded onwards to Alchi, which has probably the only monastery which is ‘not’ a knee breaker in Ladakh. Its slightly downhill from the main village and is relatively old but reasonably well-maintained

While returning back from Alchi, we made a brief detour to Likir, another beautiful monastery. The ride was eventful in that we got our first sightings of the Chukar partridge on the trip, but could not photograph them as they were acting very jittery. I requested for me to be dropped before my monastery so that I could resume the search for the Chukar on my own. I started walking back only to realize that I was probably the only soul on the road for miles together. The feeling of loneliness was definitely overwhelming and was compounded by the fact that the Chukars were nowhere to be found... all told, was an unique experience!

The rest the journey in to Leh was uneventful and ended with some successful pics of the black-billed magpie. For now I had to be content with these photos and wait another day for the Chukars!

Pictures at roadlesstaken.in/landscapes

The next day was an early morning start as we had to get to Khardung La as early as we could do avoid the long military convoys enroute. Khardung La has the reputation of being the highest motorable road in the world and is considered to be every motorbike enthusiasts’ challenge. The distance from Leh is ~40 kms with the last 15 of them being very treacherous due to the quality of the road and the layer of ice on the road. But first, the view of Leh from the Khardung La road

When we reached Khardung La, the weather was below 0C and the mountain air was crisp. Pulling on all our warm clothes, we got down to enjoy the hospitality of the Indian Army up there with a hot cup of tea. After photographing the vista from atop the highest motorable road in the world, I noticed some bird activity at that altitude. There was a group of Yellow-billed choughs foraging on the mountain top right beside the army outpost presenting an opportunity to photograph them in flight. However, this was easier said than done due to the rarefied oxygen in the air and the freezing temperature. Holding the camera steady was a challenge. Did manage to get a couple of shots and also photographed a Juvenile Golden Eagle, the biggest raptor in the world!

The drive from Khardung La to the next army checkpost at North Pullu was equally treacherous and we almost skidded off the road a couple of times. The entire way down was filled with ‘hearth in the mouth’ moments and matters weren't helped by the view of a transport vehicle lying upside down in the valley... However, we reach North Pullu without any incident and briefly stopped to photograph a few wild yaks enjoying the winter sun.

Pictures at roadlesstaken.in/landscapes

Onwards we proceeded towards the Shyok river and valley which houses the villages of Diskit and Hunder. The first view of the Shyok river was no less stunning than the earlier vistas we had seen and every turn brought with it a surprise in terms of landscape!

The journey up to this point was fairly long and tiring, a few even throwing up along the way. It is advisable to travel on a light stomach as the winding roads and the high altitudes do not make matters any easier.

Diskit was a good break in the journey and we checked in to a small hotel at the outskirts of the village. After a hearty meal, a few of us opted to head towards the famed sand dunes of Hunder and also go on a bactrian, double-humped camel ride!

Since Diskit is at a relatively lower altitude when compared to Leh, sleeping at night was easier and the temperature was not as cold as at Leh. After an early morning breakfast at the hotel, which some of us gave up, due to the long journey ahead of us back to Leh, we first climbed upwards to the the Diskit monastery. The beauty was awe-inspiring and we could see miles across the valley due to the clear visibility.

Our original plan was to go up to the village of Turtok on the line of control, but with distances and motion sickness not helping our case, we instead decided to head to Panamik, a small village along the valley known for its hot springs. This place is ~50 kms from Diskit and not as extraordinary as claimed, folks can definitely give this as pass if you are short on time.
On the way back to Leh, we stopped near the sand dunes of Deskit to photograph the landscape... and as luck would have it, my first reasonable shots of the Chukar!

We reached Leh by around 5 PM in the evening after a long journey of ~6 hours. After the back-breaking drive, none of us really had any energy left to grab something to eat, so we went straight to bed with a promising visit to Pangong Tso planned for the next day...

Pangong Tso is an endorheic lake located ~140 kms from Leh and can be paid a visit to in a day. The elevation for Pangong is higher than Leh and the road passes through the mighty Chang La, the third highest motorable road in the world.

Chang La was colder than Khardung La and it was difficult to remain outside of the vehicle for too long. After having the customary tea provided by the Indian Army (the army also offers free health check-up and oxygen for people suffering from AMS), we proceeded to Pangong Tso via Taktok and Darbuk. The landscape, as is the case wherever you go in Ladakh, turned out to be more unique than what we had seen before and we kept a close lookout for any wildlife as our driver Shabbir mentioned that he had seen a Snow Leopard on this very same road a couple of years back. Though we did not come across a Snow Leopard, Shabbir’s sharp eyes did find a group of Bharal (blue sheep) grazing about a kilometer away on top a hillock. The Bharal are the snow leopard’s prey and they are as rare as the cat itself! After photographing to our heart’s content, we proceeded to Pangong Tso through the customary Indian Army post along the lake bed.

Pangong Tso has been made popular in recent times due to the filming of the popular Hindi movie “3 Idiots”. Its probably the place to visit in all of Ladakh if you find yourself short of time!

After spending close to an hour at Pangong Tso, a couple of our fellow travelers started complaining about breathlessness and feeling giddy. So, without wanting to take any further risks, we started our return journey back to Leh through Chang La with brief stopovers for some photography and lots of throwing up!

We reached Leh late in the evening and the rest of the evening was blur as we had to pack up for the early morning flight next day.

Have uploaded all the pics from this trip on my website (roadlesstaken.in). I will be thrilled if you could take a minute to leave your comment there!!

Pictures at roadlesstaken.in/landscapes

Travel Tips:
Call and confirm your hotel room’s availability before you fly in.
Check with them on availability of heater, hot water before you check-in - pipes do get frozen in the winter and there is a regulation in Leh against using non-electrical heaters!
Good warm clothes are a must, do not plan to procure them locally if you do not want to be assaulted by the cold as soon as you land, we almost did . . .
Check with your travel agent on the type of vehicle they would be providing you with. Ensure that you get a Innova or a Scorpio. They seem to be handling the mountain roads much better
Ensure that you procure Inner Line permits before heading towards Nubra Valley or Pangong Tso
Ensure that your vehicle comes with at least 2 portable oxygen cylinders. This is absolutely essential when traversing the high passes.
Do not spend more than ½ hour at high passes like Khardung-La and Chang-La

Do reach out if you have any questions before planning your trip to Leh!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

T17, T6, T39 . . . raining cats ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

After the great sightings we had in Tadoba in April, it was time to try our luck at the country’s premier tiger reserve, the Ranthambore National Park - known for its much-documented legendary tigers like Machili and Genghis. On the outskirts of the small town of Sawai Madhopur, Ranthambore also enjoys great access from many parts in India due to its relative proximity to the city of Jaipur. A visit to Ranthambore provides one with an wholesome experience as the park boasts of a range of flora and fauna endemic to this part of the country.

This time it was Navin, Vidya, Rohit and your’s truly who made the journey up north in to Tiger country. Our flight in to Jaipur was a bit of an adventure in itself as we ran in to heavy turbulence and an unhelpful captain whose announcements were patchy and ineffective most of the time. After duly arriving at Jaipur close to midnight, we did the relatively shorter drive in to Sawai Madhopur and checked in to Ranthambore Forest Resort at around 3 AM! With the morning safari starting at 5.30 AM, we had better got some shuteye to avoid dozing off in front of a tiger ;)

The first safari began at 5.45 AM in the morning and we got a gem of guide in the form of Nadeem. He was well-read, very knowledgeable and conscious of our photographic needs. I would strongly recommend Nadeem (Ph: +91-9875186731) for anyone who is interested in visiting Ranthambore in the near future. We entered the jungle in to Zone 2, a relatively popular zone for tiger spotting due to the abundance of water bodies. With heavy rains this year in and around the core and buffer areas though, the viewing of tigers has come down reportedly. We went in with the hope that we will get ample bird life and if lucky see a tiger or a leopard :)

Bird life we did see, a few lifers at that - Brown Fish Owl, Stork-billed Kingfisher.

Stork-billed Kingfisher
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Spotted Owlet
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Brown Fish Owl
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

However, our luck with the cats was looking spotty and before long almost all of us nodded off mid-way in to the safari :)
With the heat rising from the ground and bird life settling down in the shades, we decided to head back to the lodge for a break and some rest. On the way out Nadeem led us towards Jogi Mahal (some info on Jogi Mahal) which is just near the main exit gate from the park. We saw a few gypsies with people excitedly pointing to the other side of the lake and there she was - T17 (aka Sundari aka Sattar), the resident queen of the lakes (link of Tiger queen). For some of us it was the first sighting of a tiger in the wild and the setting could not have been better! After observing the tigress for some time and seeing her walk around the lake, Nadeem alerted us to the possibility of being able to get closer to her if we rushed outside the park gates. Nadeem’s reading of the situation and his knowledge of Sundari’s beat helped us get this frame!

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Sundari aka T-17, up-close
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Jogi Mahal, has hosted dignitaries like Rajiv Gandhi
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Just before the tiger came by a beautiful Indian Hare ran in front of us to escape from the tiger. Since all eyes were on the approaching tiger, we missed an excellent opportunity to photograph the Hare in motion. Lesson learnt!

With elation at having seen a tiger at our very first safari, we returned back to the lodge an happy and boisterous bunch with all the sleep forgotten in the adrenaline rush.

The second safari in the afternoon began under a scorching sun and with news that we had been allotted zone 3 which houses the Padam Talab and Raj Bagh lakes. These lakes have played hosts to many a tiger in their time at Ranthambore and we were excited at the prospect of being able to see for ourselves the eco-system present around these lakes. Am also told that zone 3 is the smallest within the park. Having entered in to the park at ~3.45 we immediately ran in to a resting Sundari right next to the main entry gate near the fort complex. She had selected a dilapidated temple for escaping the heat of the day. Immediately we were surrounded by hordes of gypsies all eager to see and photograph the striped beauty.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

After some time she started licking her paws and started grooming herslef. Nadeem, ever alert to the possibility of getting good pictures instructed the driver to get in to the road behind the temple ahead of the other gypsies. Within 10 mins, Sundari crossed the road right in front of us, not before sitting right in front of our gypsy for a few mins to think of her next course of action.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

After a very short while, she moved in to the thicket and headed towards the lake to cool off. Her departure led to a mad rush to get to the lake to see her cool off in the water. After waiting next to the lake for close to half hour under the roasting sun we saw Sundari saunter in to the lake after alarming a group of Sambhar deer standing by the lake!

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From that point on it was cat and mouse with Sundari as she moved back towards the main entry gate. At one point, she walked along the ramparts and was only about 10 meters from us and standing up at an elevation. But due to our excitement and constant movements in the jeep, all of us messed up the shot :(

After this brief walk she entered in to zone 2 and we had to say goodbye to her. Post all this rush, we settled down to explore the jungle proper within zone 3. Ultimately this decision to venture closer to the lakes turned out to be for the best because we ran in to some severe weather in the form of an andhi (sand storm). Since we were very close to the Raj Bhag lake we got to see some stunning display of waves splashing about in an otherwise calm surface and birds struggling to fly against the rough winds. With all the sand around, we had to put our cameras in and spent the time just enjoying the beautiful cold air and talking to Nadeem about the issues plauging the wildlife and the jungle in Ranthambore.

Andhi Pics and video Courtesy Navin Sigamany here and here

After this respite we did a quick circle around the lake and saw some interesting bird life in the form of the Eurasian Thick Knee and Great Thick Knee (lifers for most of us). We also saw an interesting piece of wildlife interaction between a couple of parakeets and a monitor lizard which was vying for space on top of a tree. The birds were pecking the living daylights out of the lizard which had pushed itself in to a tight corner. We would have loved to see this through to the end, but with time running out and some tree-falls expected within the jungle due to the strong gusts, we decided to head back to the main gate and end the day with some great memories!

Great Thick Knee, notice the leg bent outwards after the knee
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

A great slideshow on the history of the park and legendary stories around Machli and other popular tigers awaited us at the lodge (courtesy: Gaurav from Jungle Lore).

Safari 3 again saw us venture in to zone 3 - the news earlier in the day was that Sundari had completely entrenched herself in zone 2 and we would be lucky to see any more of her in any other zone. This time we decided to spend more time on the bird life. As soon as we entered and reached the Padam Talab, we saw a beautiful Osprey (lifer!) perched on a distant tree. With expectation we headed deeper in to the jungle and came across a pretty Little Heron (lifer!) who was sitting relatively closer to the road. After spending some time photographing her, we also a full grown marsh crocodile slowly come above the surface of the water to check us out. With just the eyes jutting out, she was quite a sight!

Little Heron
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Marsh Crocodile
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

The rest of the Safari was spent around the Raj Bagh lake with some sightings of spotted deer, wild boars and a few huge Sambhar deer. With no predator in sight, the animals were just enjoying their time in water as we headed out of the park

Safari 4 took us to the intensive and tough zone 1. The enticing factors were the presence of 2 tigers in this zone as observed earlier in the day and the chance to sight a leopard, much more elusive than the tiger. With hopes really high we ventured in to what personally turned out to be the most frustrating and demanding safaris on this trip. This particular day was extremely hot and the roads in to his zone were particularly difficult and extremely steep at many locations. With the heat belting down on us and driving on such difficult roads, holding on to the camera and also to the railings on the jeep proved to be quite a task. We finally stopped near a forest chowki to stretch our legs and the only thing that we were able to spot and photograph were a few ubiquitous Rofous Treepies (aka Tiger Toothpick) that had gotten used to human presence. With no action and a very still summer afternoon, we could not wait for this safari to end. But we did manage to shoot a painted spurfowl (lifer!) and the relatively small and shy Jungle Bush quails on our way out. An evening spent in the pool in lukewarm, chlorinated water completely what turned out to be a disappointing day in comparison to Day 1.

Painted Spurfowl
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Jungle Bush Quail
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

On Safari #5, we got zone 4, the home range of the most popular and most photographed wild tiger in the world, Machili. Zone 4 was also home to a sub-adult male tiger called T6 and the news was that sightings in this zone were particularly good. After the relatively dry safari the earlier evening, we were all hoping for a change in luck. Ranthambore has been a very productive location for many a wildlife documentary filmmaker, not only due to the rich flora and fauna, but the relatively better educated and equipped guides available here. During our visit, we were privy to 2 filming units doing stories on Tigers. Some popular documentaries shot in Ranthambore include Tiger Queen and Broken Tail. The reason I mention is that the jeeps carrying the filming crews always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, so much so that we ended following them whenever we sighted them in our zones. In our safari in to zone 4, we saw one of the filming crew vehicles coming towards us from the opposite side. We sensed that something was afoot and we followed their direction to get to a cave about 20 feet above the ground to see our first male tiger on the trip, T6. Though we could see striped skin showing through the dense foliage, the situation was not most conducive for photography. We waited for a long period for the tiger to move, but from what we understood, the tiger could have possibly made a kill recently and would not move any time soon. We were however hopeful that we would get an allocation to the same zone in the evening and we would end up spending some time with this tiger. With these thoughts, we proceeded to exit from the park, but not before photographing a white-eyed buzzard circling directly overhead.

Jeep carrying film crew and right up-close with a tiger
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

White-eyed Buzzard
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Instead of getting zone 4 as we had earlier hoped, Safari 6 pushed us in to zone 2. With some news on sightings of T19 and T39 in this zone, we headed in to the jungle with cameras ready. This time instead of pottering around and shooting all kinds of bird-life we decided to go all out just for the tiger and headed deeper in to the jungle. We did briefly stop to shoot a beautiful peacock with all its feathers out in full glory

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

As we made our way to the Nalghati area of the park, we noticed a bunch of gypsies parked by a small water body. With a rush of adrenaline we made our way to the small pond and we were greeted with the sight of T39 cooling off along the banks of the pond!! The light was brilliant and the whole area was abuzz with excitement. Nadeem helped position the vehicle directly in line with the tigress and we got some memorable photographs of this beautiful feline cat.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

After about ½ hour of this special show, the tigress made to get up and walk away from the pond

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

But with all the vehicles lining themselves up all along the shore of the pond, she had but no choice to look for an alternative route. She sat down wherever she was to ponder the conundrum before beginning to walk along the river bed.

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

However, all the vehicles (which had grown close to 20 now) was keen on getting more of this beauty and kept following her wherever she went. She climbed a small hillock to catch a breath before coming back again for quick sip of water. All this while, the filming crew vehicle kept parking their jeep at whatever location the tiger wanted to cross over in to the Jungle. Eventually a ranger of the forest who had come in with his family had to step in and warn them off to give the tigress enough space for her to get in to jungle. She made a dash for it sensing the opportunity and we were all slightly disturbed that all the people who sighted her, us included, did not think of her needs while clicking away to glory :(

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

After the exhilaration of spending so much time with the tigress we went back to the lodge to catch the finals of the IPL. The day ended, personally on a great note, with Chennai pulling one over Bangalore in the finals :)

The great sighting the previous evening had satiated our thirst for tigers. However, with Machili not having been sighted recently, we were really hoping to wind up in sytle after a look at her in Zone 4. This particular safari Nadeem was unable to join us and we had to venture in with a new guide who hardly opened his mouth :\

On the way came across an Indian Hare foraging for breakfast in beautiful early morning light and also a brilliant interaction between a pair of kingfishers who were making a meal off a frog.

Indian Hare
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

White-throated Kingfishers, sharing is caring ;)
From Rantham'notso'boring ;)

Proceeding onwards, we reached the forest department’s chowki within zone 4 to check with the resident guards on any sightings. They informed us about the time that Machili spent in a water body nearby. With curiosity aroused we proceeded to check out the spot and look for signs of her presence. It turned out that she had spent time at the water body the previous evening and she probably had found some food to keep her away from there. We also saw a few tiger pug marks leading away from the main road and the resident experts opined that it was T19 and we probably missed it by about half hour.

We proceeded on from that location to try our luck at other water bodies within the zone, but it did appear that our luck finally ran out and we would return back with no great sightings this time around. While stopped to listen in to any alarm calls, we heard a call coming from a bund above where we were, we rushed to the spot and we came close to a bunch of sambar deer which were raising loud calls. It was clear that a tiger was hidden inside, but after a brief while the tiger seemed to have gone back to sleep. We waited around this area for close to an hour before realizing that it was time for us to leave if we were to make it out of the park without facing any fines. So with a mixed feeling we finished our last safari in the park and headed to the lodge for the long journey back home.

In total we went on 7 safaris, on 4 of which we had sightings of the tiger. Would have been incredible if we had spotted a leopard, but that was not to be. Ranthambore, in addition to the big cats is also popular the smaller cats like Caracal and the Jungle cat, hopefully next time around we would be able to see these!

The trip was organized through tour operators Jungle Lore, the same guys who took care of my earlier trips to Pench and Tadoba. The total trip (7 Safaris, stay @ 5 nights/4 days, all meals during our stay, pick-up and drop in an A/C Xylo) cost us INR 21,600/-

If anyone is interested in going on future tours with Jungle Lore, get in touch with either Gaurav or Kaustabh (numbers on their website). While you are at it, check out this awesome video of Machili attacking a spotted deer from behind a tourist gypsy. She is indeed a legend!!

Signing off until another foray in to another jungle happens soon . . .