Looking for Royal Bengal Tigers - Return to India 6

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January 27th 2018
Published: April 11th 2018
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27th January 2018

Madhya Pradesh

Return to India 6 (Click on 'previous' below the panoramas for earlier blogs)

25th January 2018

Looking for Royal Bengal Tigers in Bandhavgarh National Park

Continuing the travels of two somewhat elderly brothers, David (of ‘the grey haired nomads’) and the younger, Mike, (aka, ‘keep smiling’).

I’m not going to make any promises, but we’re going to look for tigers. The first problem is the arduous journey to get from Rishikesh to the tiger reserve at Banhavgarh. The second problem is that looking for tigers in the wild is rather like looking for a needle in a haystack, as I recall from our last visit in 2013 .

So, there’s another strenuous day ahead I’m afraid: another 6am start for a one hour dash in the dark from our hotel in Rishikesh, through all the red lights at city junctions, to the recently opened Jolly Grant Airport for our early morning flight to Delhi. After a long wait at Delhi, we’ll board a connecting flight to Jabalpur.

It’s 17.30 when we arrive at Jabalpur and our pre-arranged driver is waiting to take us on a further four-hour journey by car to Bandhavgarh. It’s a long day I know, but this flight option seems preferable to an extremely tedious overnight train journey.

Just half an hour from Bandhavgarh, the road is blocked where two lorries have collided head-on on a single-track bridge; one hanging precariously over the edge. With little chance that the road will be cleared overnight, our driver takes the initiative and follows a local 4X4 on a half-hour switchback journey over severely rutted farm tracks between remote cultivated fields, through narrow streets of long-lost villages, before crossing a further narrow bridge to re-join the main road some 30 minutes later. Finally, on our arrival at our accommodation, Tigergarh, at 10pm, we are greeted with refreshing soft drinks and garlands by the attentive staff.

My ‘little brother’, Mike, has planned this whole four-week expedition in minute detail and I have him to thank for all of the detailed research and administration.

He’s chosen well here at Tigergarh. We’re just a ten-minute drive from the entrance to Bandhavgarh National Park and our
Wheat fieldWheat fieldWheat field

They'll grow rice here during monsoon
retreat is nicely tucked away in the countryside. It’s a bit idyllic really, sitting here in the shade this morning, serenaded with bird song and the rustle of bamboo gently swaying on an Indian zephyr. Your phone won’t ring here. There is little or no phone signal and absolutely no internet. Who cares? We have found heaven!

Tigergarh, our chalet accommodation for the next four nights, sits in an oasis of green in what appears at first sight to be an arid over grazed landscape in the middle of nowhere. Our first safari into the park is later in the day, so a short stroll towards the local village seems a good idea. It’s quite chilly early in the day here, temperatures usually rising to the mid-twenties by midday at this time of the year. Here on the fringe of the National Park, smartly uniformed kids are off to school, park workers wobble their way to work on rustic bikes and helmetless modern youths on motorbikes are honking their horns to warn pedestrians to leap off the footpath. Cows meander along dusty tracks, going somewhere on their own for their daily stroll, a couple of goats are

Our accommodation. Cosy and remote. Heaven!
tethered to the fence by the yard outside a tiny lodging where mother does the daily washing and dozing watchmen snooze on their platform abodes over the fields, keeping watch for marauding wild boar on their crops. Beyond the village, ladies carry firewood home on their heads, farmers tend their stock: cows and goats graze as they walk amongst the bamboo scrub and sal trees, and rough-fenced fields of wheat sparkle emerald green. Here too are the crested Hoopoe, the stunning turquoise Roller, the sharp-billed Bee-eater and the ghostly Black ibis silhouetted against the sun in a dead tree.

The hotel staff are there to wave us goodbye as we leave in an open-top ‘Gypsy’ jeep after lunch and we are honoured to be joined by our host, Tigergarh’s owner, Gagan Gahlot, an avid wildlife enthusiast and photographer.

We have pre-booked four safaris with Gagan to maximise our chances of seeing the elusive wild tiger, having previously been disappointed at Ranthambore on our visit there back in 2013. Bandhavgarh National Park is considerably more laid back than the very commercial Ranthambore on any normal day, but the guides here, an essential requirement when visiting the National Parks, are striking for fair treatment and causing considerable disruption for many visitors and there are few jeeps about as one might expect. Things are not looking good right now

After some serious discussion with Park officials, Gagan eventually gains permission for us to travel in our own jeep accompanied by a representative from the forest staff acting as guide. We’re finally on our way.

The park is criss-crossed by dusty tracks through allocated safari zones in open meadows, grassy swamps, marshland and undulating forest, bordered to the north by a range of distant hills, pale yellow today in the afternoon sunlight. We’re looking for tiger pug-marks in the dust beside the track, eyes scanning the undergrowth and alert for the barking alarm calls of deer which might signify a tiger in the area.

Bandavgarh is particularly rich in mammals and birds. As a keen birder, the first hour brings some great excitement: peacocks galore, nervously scampering away, kingfishers, barbets, storks and owls, and mammals: nilgai, spotted deer, wild pig, mongoose, langurs and macaques eyeing us with much interest. This National Park is said to have the highest known tiger population
On safariOn safariOn safari

The dusty tracks
in India, but so far, the prized Royal Bengal Tiger eludes us.

It’s not until we are about to conclude this, our first safari, that our jeep comes to a halt; our guide alert, listening, scanning the undergrowth with sharp and practiced eyes. “There,’ he says in a whisper, “beyond the shrubbery, to the left of the tree.”

And sure enough, with our binoculars we can pick out the unmistakable outline of a tiger, fast asleep, on its back with its feet in the air. Then we spot another, just to the left, almost invisible against the bamboo! Silence: one jeep, four people, our hearts racing. Our cameras click, the obliging tigers don’t move, and after half an hour, we pass on. Mike is skeptical. He thinks they’re both stuffed and placed there to satisfy the tourists. Better luck tomorrow.

It’s Saturday, it’s still dark at 06.15 as we start our second safari. Gagan has organised blankets for us as it’s freezing cold at his time of day and he’ll once again come with us into the park. The guides are still on strike but Gagan will not give up on us. We’ll
Sleeping off their last meal?Sleeping off their last meal?Sleeping off their last meal?

Maybe, just maybe, they're stuffed.
pick up our Forest guide at the park gates.

We meet Park Rangers on elephants along the track and others riding bikes and motorbikes. They roll their heads from side-to-side, Indian fashion. There are no tiger sightings reported this morning.

By 10am the sun is warm on our backs and once again we have stunning blue skies to accompany us. Our driver stops to listen. An inquisitive jackal wanders around our jeep seemingly oblivious to our presence. A jungle cat appears across the track, ears pricked, sensing movement in the grass. But no tigers. Perhaps we’ll be luckier this afternoon in a different zone.

It’s quiet here this afternoon. There are few other jeeps around, probably because of the strike. We’re anticipating greater things and Gagan is looking more confident – he knows every inch of this park. There are clear pug marks on the track and soon we can see a group of nervous nilgai in the nearby forest, standing erect like bronze statues, ears pricked, their noses twitching and pointing. There are tigers about, that's for sure.

Shortly our driver responds to a call from another
She knows we're here..She knows we're here..She knows we're here..

She’s sitting now, watching us while she works out her best route;
jeep and we’re off, speeding over the bumpy track to where several others were watching and waiting; willing a tiger to appear. Our driver cuts the engine and we wait, silent as instructed.

And sure enough, there, to the right of us, camouflaged in the bamboo, is our tiger, some twenty metres distant, moving slowly through the long grass. Wow! It’s a female our guide tells us and she’s aware of our presence, keeping her distance parallel to our path. She’s unsure how to proceed, clearly wanting to cross the track to get to the water-hole behind us. She’s sitting now, watching us while she works out her best route; we can just make out her face through the grass. Suddenly she’s disturbed: a ranger on a motorbike is approaching and that clearly worries her.

A minute passes before she’s up again, decision made, heading back the way she came, stealthily parting the grass as she goes. We’re all elated and totally exhausted. That’s what we came here for. What an amazing experience!

Gagan suggests we move back in the same direction to see if she reappears further down the track.

There she is, moving slowly through the grass.
“We might get lucky,” he says. Our driver soon stops a hundred metres on and switches off the engine. We wait again, trembling with anticipation, perspiring, all eyes scanning the undergrowth for any movement…and suddenly there she is, right in front of our jeep, not ten feet away! She stops, scent sprays a tree at the side of the path, before sauntering across the track and vanishing in the forest. Magnificent! Lady luck strikes again (well, luck and a good guide or two).

The following morning we saw another female, fifty metres away and clearly aware of our presence with her head cocked as if to say, “I can see you,” before leisurely wandering off. That’s four tigers in four safaris and four more wonderful memories to tuck in our pockets. How I wish Janice was here to share it.

If you would like to join us to look for leopards, to see thousands of Demoiselle Cranes, Indian Great Bustards, and hundreds of Vultures, join us on the next episode of this amazing journey, by clicking ‘subscribe’ button on the right of this page and we’ll open the window for you!

Should you
The Royal Bengal Tiger - at last!The Royal Bengal Tiger - at last!The Royal Bengal Tiger - at last!

Too close to get the whole tiger in the frame with my 300mm lens!
wish to go to the first blog of this series, click on the following:



The Grey haired nomad

Accommodation: Tigergarh. http://www.tigergarh.com

You'll not be disappointed - guaranteed!

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


School time in the local villageSchool time in the local village
School time in the local village

Education, education, education. The route to prosperity.
Bunk-bed over the cropsBunk-bed over the crops
Bunk-bed over the crops

,,,keeping an eye out for marauding wild pigs.

11th April 2018
The Royal Bengal Tiger - at last!

Brings back memories
Wow! I saw a tiger back in 1979 just before I met Greg, crossing the road in front of the elephant we were riding. The feeling is like no other. Thank you for reviving that memory. Jean
13th April 2018
The Royal Bengal Tiger - at last!

Hello Jean, Memories are all we’re left with after every passing second. We’re still banking them! Lovely to hear from you & best wishes to Greg - caught in your post tiger trap! David
11th April 2018
On safari

On safari
Wonderful image David. Captures those memories of remote places and locals going about their business sharing a ride on lonely roads. Brilliant.
13th April 2018
On safari

Remote places
Hello Dave, Mike certainly finds the most remote places when he plans these journeys. The Thar Desert is still to come if I ever get around to the next blog. Meanwhile we’re off to Ireland for a month tomorrow!
16th April 2018

Big Kitty Cat!
This is so gorgeous! How lucky you were to have multiple sightings of these amazing animals... especially considering other tourists may not have even got through the gates with the strike. We intend to go back to this part of the world some day, and I need to make note of this park.
24th April 2018

Finding heaven
I do love going places where there is no internet and phone don't work. What an amazing moment to see her hiding in the bush... and then again walking across the track. I wish Janice had been there to see this. Don't ever make Mike angry because you have the world's best travel planner and you don't want to give him up!.

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