About Me

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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 :)

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!

Tiger!!
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 . . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Luck multiplied 3.5x :-)

With the peak tiger season almost up on us, the wife and I had decided to make a quick foray to central India for a chance at meeting the king of the jungle. We selected the relatively long Good Friday weekend to visit the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. This was the place where I first got hooked on to photographing wildlife (I still vividly remember coming across the tigress called Dhoom Kati with a cub during that earlier visit!). So with mounting anticipation we boarded the Nizammudin Express to Chandrapur, the nearest drop-off point from Hyderabad. After an un-eventful train journey, we duly arrived at the Serai Tiger Tented Resort on the periphery of the national park at around 8.30 AM. After breakfast and a bit of a rest, we headed in to the national park for our 1st safari of the trip at 2.30 PM.

Safari 1, 22nd April - 2.30 PM
The first safari began with us heading towards the Teliya Dam area under relatively hot sunshine to see if any predator was near the water body for a drink. But due to the late noon heat, we saw very little fauna around the banks for the lake. While circumventing the lake however, we did come across a spot where a Green Bee Eater was sitting on a beautiful perch. While we stopped to take a few pics, the actually flew a short distance and plucked an insect literally mid-air and returned back to the perch. Though I did not manage to get a flight shot or a shot of the hunt, did manage to get some shots of the bird with its prey.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With no luck with the predators near the Teliya Dam area, we slowly made our way back to the main road to try our luck near the Andheri river. News of sightings of 2 tigers (male and female) around this area the previous day increased our hopes of sighting the king. While driving on the main road we came across a very co-operative Indian Roller (Blue Jay) which we photographed for close to 10 mins. Rollers that you find near cities are generally a bit jittery and shy and do not let humans approach at such close distance, but this one was different and did not flinch when we got close.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


We went off-road after this point and headed straight to the Andhari river. We first traversed the left bank of the river looking into nothing but dense bamboo shoots. I imagined a tiger in my head at every corner as the shoots were playing tricks with my mind due to their orange-tinged stems with black bands. But with no real sighting this side of the river we proceeded to the opposite side and duly ran in to a posse of gypsies (around 10 in all - I am still wondering how we managed to park at a location so narrow) with folks eagerly awaiting a tiger. You would be surprised at how fast news of sightings spread in a forest and the earlier sighting had by no doubt reached more people than we had imagined. Along with this crowd, there was also a filming vehicle parked nearby and the ranger inside that was absolutely sure that a tiger was sitting on the far bank (the spot from where we had originally come from!). So we decided to wait it out withstanding the commotion all around us due to the narrow confines. A couple of other rangers who came by on foot moved towards the river bank to ensure that there indeed was a tiger inside and came back with good news of a tiger lying down on the far bank. Within another 10 mins the tiger slowly came by to the little rivulet to drink and the commotion levels just went way above acceptable levels.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With everyone jostling around in their vehicles and their seats, photography proved to be extremely difficult. Due to the noise that all of us had collectively made, disturbing the peace and quite of the king’s neighborhood, he decided to walk away in a huff. But not before snarling at all of us, especially the rangers on foot, for good measure.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



With a sighting happening on our very first safari Shaon and I had a sense of deja vu as the same thing happened to us late last year in Pench. However, the downside was that we never saw another predator throughout that earlier trip. Hoping and praying that this one would also not go down the same road, but with adrenaline pumped up from the recent sighting we headed back on to the main road. Nothing else happened for the rest of the evening and we duly headed back to the Serai Tiger Tented resort for a well-earned cup of tea and relaxation

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


Safari 2, 23rd April - 7.00 AM
Though we had left the resort relatively earlier in the morning (5.45 AM to be precise), we still had to spend close to 45 mins outside the main gate waiting for our tickets to be verified. Definitely room for improvement there! With the disappointment of entering the park later than what we had hoped for hanging heavily over our heads, we all felt that we were off to a bad start. But within a km from the Mohurli gate we ran in to a pair of Indian Wild Dogs (Dhole), considered to be one of the VIPs in Tadoba and slightly above the tiger in terms of rarity in seeing them. That's how things happen in the wild, you can go in to nooks and corners of the jungle without seeing a single being, but you can also run in to a wild predator right next to the main gate of the national park.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


Along the way we also spotted a Woodpecker that was flitting about before settling down for a brief minute to provide a chance to photograph it and observe its beauty.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


Heading onwards, we spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle’s nest in the distance just off the main road. Though we could spot the bird inside, due to the height, light and dense foliage, I could not get a decent picture of it. We proceeded off road to see if we run into any luck with a sloth bear or a some more bird-life as we were traversing a small nala. We ran in to an Asian Paradise Flycatcher right next to our vehicle and before we could react and stop the vehicle to take pictures it vanished like an apparition in to the bushes. Round the bend we noticed a relatively large bird sitting on top of a nice perch. Heading closer we confirmed it to be a Crested Serpent Eagle, probably the mother of the earlier bird we had seen in the nest and it was quietly looking out for a prey. The bird showed no sign of alertness or alarm at our presence and continued to pose for us for the best part of 15 minutes and did not move even when another vehicle approached from the opposite side.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With the sun now out in full force, we stopped seeing any other bird life out in the open, so we decided to head back out of the park.

Safari 3, 23rd April - 2.30 PM
After a quick shower and some much-needed rest, we got ready for the next safari with news that none of the vehicles in the morning saw a tiger. We were all hoping that with the heat now emanating from the ground, all animals would come out in the open to waddle around in the pools inside the forest. With renewed hope, we headed towards the park only to be made to wait once again at the entry gate for administrative work to get completed. After waiting under the blazing hot sun, we heaved a collective sigh of relief when it was finally our chance to enter the park!

This particular safari was one of the most difficult ones what with the heat and the dust making guarding one’s camera and lenses much more challenging! The wildlife that we saw was also relatively limited in nature and we did not come across even a single tiger even though we waited at Yen Bodi for close to an hour. On the return journey to the main gate we did see a wild boar at relatively close quarters and our luck with the wild dogs continued with one more sighting of this rather elusive creature of the Indian jungles. We also briefly saw the Sloth Bear just getting in to dense shrubbery on our journey back.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


Safari 4, 24th April - 7.00 AM
With no overnight rains as we had originally predicted, the day dawned with the promise. Unlike the earlier days, most of the strategy was to clearly wait it out at one of the promising waterholes as against going all over the place. We picked Yen Bodi over Jhamunjhura due to the fact that this spot had enjoyed sightings of a tigress and her cubs in recent times. Also, this safari also turned out to be the most rewarding in terms of photographing birds as we spotted a Shikra, White-eyed Buzzard and an Yellow-toed Green Pigeon within the first half hour of our entry in to the park.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



Along the way to Yen Bodi, we also saw the Streak-throated Woodpecker (needs to be cross-checked) and a relatively closer shot of a wild boar after in bolted across the road in front of us

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



We got to Yen bodi with no further adventure and started our long wait there at around 8 AM in the morning. At Yen bodi, a rather friendly Nilgai was spotted near the vehicles and it started getting close to vehicles and was generally acting in a friendly manner. The forest guard present there explained that the animal had grown up in an enclosed environment earlier before being rehabilitated in the wild. The animal showed no signs of alarm or concern when our latest group of wild dogs showed up for a drink in the waterhole. Both Tejas and I agreed that the Nilgai, with its naivety did not stand much of chance in the jungle and would be consumed by one of the predators sooner than later. ‘

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



Calls of the junglefowl happened around us heightening the anticipation for everyone. However after a wait for an hour and 15 mins, no predator showed up except for the Wild Dogs

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With a sinking feeling we all decided to move away from Yen Bodi towards the Tadoba Lake for a chance at some bird photography. We immediately had some luck with a couple of Open-billed Storks who were patiently waiting near the banks of the lake.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


After patiently photographing these for a few mins, we went further ahead and ran in to a pair of Oriental Honey Buzzards sitting on top of a tall tree. Though the light was relatively harsh, we still managed to photograph them before the driver pointed us towards what appeared to be a Grey-headed Fish Eagle. We moved closer to the bird and photographed that for close to 10 minutes before it had enough of us.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr



From Tadoba 2011 Apr



By this time it had again become extremely hot and we decided to head back towards the main gate. For most of the folks this was the last safari on their trips and they headed back with a bit of heavy feeling that we did not get to see any more predators apart from the wild dogs in the last 3 safaris. This feeling turned in to one of frustration and disappointment when we heard the news of the tigress and her 4 cubs being spotted crossing the road exactly at the spot we were waiting for her for the best part of the morning. To add insult to injury, we came to know that we had missed her by just 10 minutes. One gentleman on the gypsy with us was close to tearing his hair out and required a bit of philosophical counseling on the ways of the jungle before he regained his composure! The rest of the ride to the guest house happened in complete silence and understandably so...

Safari 5, 24th April - 2.30 PM
Our final safari in to the park happened more out of chance by than by choice. After the disappointment of missing the tigress and her cubs we were ready to throw in the towel with frustrated references to our earlier visit to Pench which ended on a similar note. Since our train back to Hyd was later in the evening, it was felt that we could squeeze one more safari. As luck would have it, our hosts at Serai Tyger were able to find us tickets for one more safari and it turned out to be the best of the lost as we were blessed with awesome sightings of a tiger, cub and tigress respectively. We hooked up with Subhash (guide - 08055257451) and his brother Narender (driver), both residents of Mohurli and entered the park along with Mr. Suez Akram, Managing Partner at the Serai Tyger resort.

Subhash had earlier mentioned that they had never missed out on a tiger sighting any time him and his brother had gone in to the forest on safari together. With hopes of another sighting at these words we headed in to the jungle first to the Andari River. No sighting here but loads of dust! We proceeded onwards to Yen Bodi and stopped briefly near the checkpoint to sign in. After this stop, we proceeded to take the first right in to Yen Bodi on a road which apparently had been closed until recently due to the presence of cubs. Within 5 mins of us entering on to this road, Shaon spotted a tiger just about to cross the road. With heart racing, I just managed to shoot a couple of pics of this tiger before it moved away in to the thicket. Subhash had a knowing look and a huge smile on this face!

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With our spirits soaring we decided to try our luck once again at Yen Bodi. This particular trip was turning in to a gold mine and there was no reason not to try our luck with the elusive Yen Bodi tigress and her clan once more. Reaching Yen Bodi we saw a posse of Langur monkeys and Chital near the water body. With such sightings, we did not have high hopes of seeing the tigress but still decided to wait it out.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



Within half hour of our wait, we started hearing Sambhar alarm calls and Subhash confirmed that the tigress would come out any time. The parody with sambhar continued for another 15 mins before the calls abruptly stopped. With bated breath we waited and very overjoyed when a little cub came out with tentative steps. Everyone went crazy with excitement, so much so that someone honked to demand another car to move out their way!! The cub could not take in so much excitement and duly went back in. At some level we felt sorry for the cub because we knew that it had come out for a drink and we had disturbed it in the process of trying to get a better view :(

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


With some vehicles pulling out after this, we decided to continue waiting it out. Suddenly Subhash urgently whispered in to my ears and I looked up to see the glorious sight of a fully grown tigress just entering in to the water hole. She was duly followed by her cub who had earlier retreated after the commotion. I guess the cub’s thirst had overcome it to the extent that it forced its mother to come along for a drink. The tigress and her cub spent the best part of the next 20 mins frolicking in the water and gave us the best sighting that Shaon and I had witnessed so far in our journeys. After this, it was a mad rush to the gate, but our adrenaline levels were so high that we did not mind the bumpy ride one bit.

From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr


From Tadoba 2011 Apr



After duly thanking Subhash, Narender and Mr. Akram, we got in our cab to get to the Chandrapur station. The cab’s headlights caught a black-naped Indian Hare but since I had packed away all my gear for the journey, had to be content observing it through naked eyes. We proceeded on to Chandrapur and waited for close to 4 hours as our train had gotten delayed. Notwithstanding this delay, we eventually made it back to Hyderabad at 7 AM the next day with outstanding memories from Tadoba!

Would like to acknowledge the role played by Jungle Lore in making our recent trips in to the jungles memorable and peaceful! Also, the Serai Tyger Tented Resort deserves special mention for their great accommodation and generally friendly atmosphere!!

National Geographic Photos