A Spotted surprise in the Tigerland

For me, this India visit was almost like jumping into an oven !

I started from London with a temperature of 8 degree centigrade and when I reached the forested outskirts of Bandhavgarh – it was soaring high 48 degrees! Coming out from the Jabalpur airport gate at 1:45 in the burning afternoon - the drops trickling down from my water bottle spilled over the heated floor and they disappeared instantaneously – quick evaporation.
What an Indian summer it has been this year!

My visit to B’garh was in fact a last minute alternative for the cancellation of previously planned Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve. Within the constraints - Bandhavgarh was the only feasible choice for me.
But, the moment I finalized my destination as Bandhavagrah – the sad demise of the famous Tigress – the mother of three innocent cubs – came to me like a big blow. Not only that I felt extremely distressed – but I felt so ashamed of this incidence. The brutal instincts of just a handful of wildlife killer overpowers the multitude of love of millions of nature lovers ! The thought of orphaned cubs shatters me down to pieces. My heart is still not ready to accept this at all!!
Anyways, in this grim situation - the welfare, protection of the three orphaned cubs and the promises & hope of a strong action was a bit of solace that I motivated myself to pack my equipment bag.
Delhi – Jabalpur flight touched down an hour late and the taxi driver was waiting ( & sweating) in the fierce heat at 13:30 hrs outside the airport gate.
I started the drive to Bandhavagarh right away. As I reached the bumpy vibrating road patch before Tala – the headlights of my car suddenly went off. Pitch dark….rough road …and we could not move even an inch ahead. I wonder why this particular patch of the road has been like that for past so many years. It’s a familiar torture for every visitor to Bandhavgarh.
My taxi driver managed to make a series of phone calls to several mechanic(s) and after a makeshift fuse built from a broken piece of wire - finally made me reach Tala late in the night. Thank god I was still able to reach well before my morning round.
Next morning - my first safari was in the Magadhi zone - not a much preferred zone as the sightings are very limited here. But to my luck, just within first half an hour – we spotted two tigresses and one of them gave me a good time moving through the trees, crossing the roads and finally seeking some aquatic shelter in the small pond of water near Sehra meadows.

Mukesh Burman is a wonderful companion in Bandhavgarh and his presence is always a pleasure on every safari in the park.
It was also nice to meet so many wild lifers and nature lovers who were flocking in Bandhavgarh during the same time. Spent some joyful moments with Sandeep Desai, Harshad Barve, Kiran Kanzode, Pankaj, Sharad, Nikhilesh Trivedi, Manish Bagalkote, Anant Shahane, John Isaac, Micheal J Vickers and many more.
As the main A & C routes were closed due to the recent incidence- the movements in the jungle remained very restrictive and B’garh already being a small park – all the time I was struggling to get the “real feel of the jungle”.

The Spotted Surprise

It was the end of my last morning round ....9:30 am ….returning to the main gate ....via Sidhababa.....the familiar grassy open patch near the stream…and on the opposite side unfolded the most exciting moments of my jungle life !
Firstly, to expect a Leopards in a strong Tiger territory - is an exaggeration of wishful thinking! Just the sight of a leopard in itself is a great joy in a place like B'garh.
Taking a strategic position atop a high rock - this feline ghost kept an alert eye on its probable prey and suddenly started stalking towards a deer below and then it was all an astonishing display of sheer speed, agility and strength !!
Am I seeing a dream.. ??? My eyes could not believe what all was happening in front of me. The grace, the glory and the gasp !!
Being totally mesmerized...I lost a sense of everything around me ...
Whether to use my 500mm+1.4x or stick to 100-400mm ? Whether to pre-focus only on the predator or both prey and predator? Whether to use a larger depth of field...but then losing the shutter speed.....the unwanted blurr....whether to push the ISO...........whether to use AI servo or not.....how to balance the shadows and sunny patches..... hundreds of questions crowded in my mind ….AND ….I had hardly only two seconds available to decide all that !
There was all the chance of messing it up completely if I thought too much about technology!
My heart stopped for a while but never realized that my finger on the shutter trigger was still doing its job inadvertently… Some 9 frames frozen in 4 secs!
When I looked to the captured frames in my viewfinder ...I skipped a heart beat! Its so good that cameras don't have hearts but have only chips! If my Canon equipment had a heart …I would have surely missed this shot !
This whole power game lasted just for a 4 seconds and I was speechless for next 4 days till I downloaded the images on my home machine in London !!

In the later rounds – it was all usual sightings around Banbehi, Ghoda demon and Mirchaini. It was good to see the Mirchani cub walking towards us amidst the usual chaos of vehicle rush and cacophony of excited visitors.
Some good ticks to my bird list with some late summer species like Orioles, Hawk Cuckoo, Monarch, Paradise FC, Thrushes etc.
But in spite of a fruitful spell of eight safaris- I was still feeling something missing this time inside the forests of Bandhavgarh. If one does not visit the nostalgic Rajbehra and Chorbehra areas- the visit doesn’t feel be satisfying. I badly felt the absence of these two areas. The grassy, aquatic surroundings of these iconic areas are definitely an indispensable asset of this tiger reserve.

Moreover the vacuum created with the death of a mothering tigress further bends it down.
However with a heavy heart and my bag full of a few random images...I left Bandhavgarh ...with a serious question in mind ...whether this tiger land is prospering or declining !! The coming couple of years will probably tell the answer!!

More images can be seen on - http://www.saleeltambe.com/