janzin

A dream of wild India, finally realized: February 2016

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India was only a vague thought in my mind--"someday"! I knew I wanted to see tigers, and the myriad of new birds, but it all seemed so foreign and daunting to plan; even more daunting to try to navigate it on our own. I figured that when we finally did go to India, we'd have to go with a group tour, which is really not our style. I'd researched group birding tours, and even inquired about some. But then one day I read the wonderful trip report "Stripes of Wild India" from @@Atravelynn and @@michael-ibk. Maybe, just maybe, it was more feasible and easier than I thought to do India privately?

With dreams of tigers and dhole I contacted Wild World India, who had planned Lynn and Michael's trip as well as those of several other SafariTalkers. I did not even bother contacting any other agency as it all fell together so quickly and easily with Vikram of WWI. The price was surprisingly reasonable, much less per day than an Africa trip. At first I had only planned on the central tiger reserves: Tadoba, Kanha, and Bandhavgarh. But after much (well not that much!) deliberating we decided to do Kaziranga as well; which meant cutting out one tiger reserve. In the end, I was a complete copycat :P and essentially booked the same trip as Lynn and Michael with just a couple of less days! And I arranged to have the same highly recommended guides that Lynn and Michael had used: Rajan in Central India, and Tarun at Kaziranga. Within just a couple of weeks it was all settled!

Our itinerary was:

Day 01/17 Feb 2016/Wed: Arrive Delhi (City tour) (we arrive at 1 in the morning) : Sheraton 4 Points
Day 02/18 Feb 2016/Thu: Fly Delhi to Nagpur, drive to Tadoba : Svasara Jungle Lodge
Day 03 to 05/19 to 21 Feb 2016/Fri to Sun: Tadoba Tiger Reserve
Day 06/22 Feb 2016/Mon: Drive Tadoba to Pench: Tuli Tiger Corridor
Day 07/23 Feb 2016/Tue: Pench Tiger Reserve
Day 08/24 Feb 2016/Wed: Drive Pench to Kanha: Tuli Tiger Corridor
Day 09 to 11/25 to 27 Feb 2016/Thu to Sat: Kanha Tiger Reserve
Day 12/28 Feb 2016/Sun: Drive Kanha to Jabalpur, Fly Delhi: Sheraton 4 Points
Day 13/29 Feb 2016/Mon: Fly Delhi to Guwahati, Drive to Kaziranga: Wild Grass Lodge
Day 14 & 15/1 & 2 Mar 2016/Tue & Wed: Kaziranga
Day 16/3 Mar 2016/Thu: Drive Kaziranga to Guwahati, Fly Delhi & Departure

 

It was all arranged so that we would not miss any game drives during the weekly park closings; we would be traveling during those periods. Perfect!

Our arrival via JFK-->Amsterdam-->Delhi on Delta/KLM went smoothly and more or less on time, and we were met cheerfully at the airport by Wild World India's representative, Abishek. By the time we arrived at the Sheraton 4 Points, it was close to 3 a.m. and needless to say we were ready to fall into bed. But, alas, that was not to be because apparently the Sheraton did not have our reservation, and no rooms available! After much argument by Abishek (who assured us it had been booked and paid for and reconfirmed earlier that day--and I believed him 100%) they still could not come up with a room, and so we were shuttled off to the Ibis Hotel. This would not have been a big deal except that it was now past 4 a.m. :(

We were due to be picked up at 9:30 for the Delhi tour, but we moved it up to 10:30 so we could get at least a little much needed rest. An inauspicious start, but honestly that was the only minor "hitch" on the entire trip, and the Sheraton made up for it later...

After breakfast at the Ibis, were picked up by our guide for our Delhi tour. First stop was the Qutub Minar complex, a 13th century World Heritage site of . I'll spare you the history lesson but for those interested you can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qutb_complex

A very picturesque archeological site of minarets and mosques. The Qutub Minar itself is the tallest brick minaret in the world.

 

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The carvings on the columns are intricate and beautiful.

 

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Love the layers of colors

 

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The famous Iron pillar of Delhi supposedly never rusts, due to its composition. Its origin is somewhat in debate. http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/incredible-rust-resistant-iron-pillar-delhi-001503

 

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For those of you waiting for wildlife, we saw our first Indian mammal here, the Three-striped Palm Squirrel

 

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as well as our first Indian life-bird, the Rose-ringed Parakeet. Little did we know how ubiquitous they would be!

 

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Great you started, had been eagerly awaiting your report. Looking forward to visit all these parks again with you, and I´m sure you will have lots and lots of stunning pictures for us.

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Next stop on the "greatest hits of Delhi" tour was the tomb of Humayun, another World Heritage site. It is sometimes considered the precursor to the Taj Mahal. Its in a lovely garden site, and quite impressive.

 

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It was peaceful and quiet here, a nice place to relax from the hectic streets of Delhi.

 

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We were already tiring by this time (mid-afternoon) and while I driver wanted to take us into the old town and the market, we resisted. Next time! Instead, we opted for a quick drive to the Presidential Palace area, and a brief view of the India Gate.

 

We drove by the Bahai Lotus Temple, and grabbed a quick photo from the road.

 

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We couldn't really see much at the Palace but here is the India gate in the distance.

 

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Finally, we were taken to a very nice place to have a late lunch (unfortunately I have no memory of the name) but it was our first Indian meal, and excellent! After lunch we were so exhausted that we just went back to the Ibis and opted for granola bars and wine for dinner. Yes, wine, because the Sheraton had sent over a bottle as an apology for messing us up the night (morning?) before! Oddly enough, it was an Italian wine, and not too bad. We had an early morning wake-up---3 a.m.--for our flight to Nagpur, and the beginning of our real adventure.

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The longest journey starts with but a single step.

Now you have started please keep them coming.

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Great you started, had been eagerly awaiting your report. Looking forward to visit all these parks again with you, and I´m sure you will have lots and lots of stunning pictures for us.

Yes Michael I figured I'd better get it going and finished before the next trip--Kenya in September!

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Wow - a nice new report to enjoy! I am especially looking forward to the bird shots (and Tigers!)

 

@@janzin - your architecture photography is as good as your wild bird photos.

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The next morning we got our first taste of dealing with domestic India air travel. Luckily, Abishek had procured our boarding passes in advance, because the lines for check-in were astronomically long, and chaotic. Honestly we would have needed to be there three hours ahead if we hadn't had the passes. With the boarding passes we were able to bypass the longest of the lines. This is really an important tip...when flying through Delhi...make sure to have boarding passes in advance! On our way home, for our international flight, we requested that Abishek bring us our boarding passes, which was a tremendous time-saver as well. (It was never an issue at the smaller airports, luckily.)

My big worry is always the weight of my camera bag, but it was never weighed. However, what I hadn't anticipated was that security made us take everything out of the bag; every lens, every charger, camera body, etc. It was a little nerve-wracking and chaotic trying to keep an eye on it all with the general chaos of security, but all went well in the end.

 

The flight to Nagpur was uneventful, and we were met on the other end by our guide, Rajan, and a driver, and we were on our way to Svarsara Lodge, arriving in time for lunch.

Our first game drive was to be that afternoon. We didn't dare hope we'd see a tiger on the first drive...but...of course we secretly hoped :D

This season in Tadoba had seen a big uptick in visitors due to a very photogenic and cooperative tigress, Maya, who had three cubs. We had been warned of the crowds at Tadoba--it is also quite close to some larger cities so many local folks had been coming to see Maya and the cubs. So we were prepared for the insanity...and it was a good thing we were.

Well, we were not 15 minutes into the drive when this happened:

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MAYA! Right on the road! Okay, this tiger business is going to be easier than we thought! Well, we got spoiled, but we would learn our lesson later. Meantime, we just reveled on our first encounter with a wild TIGER!

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She didn't do much, just walked down the road. But that was fine :D

 

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We also got our first taste of the way of tiger "hunting" in these central parks. That is, lots of rushing around jockeying into position, lots of stops and starts, lots of people standing up in vehicles and basically going nuts. We'd been warned...we followed as best we could. Rajan and our driver were always expert at finding the best position, anticipating where she would come out, etc.

 

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The cubs were nowhere to be seen, but we were quite satisfied with seeing Maya on our first outing. What an exhilarating experience! And...it also happened to be my birthday...so BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!!

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@@janzin ah it's all coming back to me from last December - will enjoy following your journey! You were so lucky to see Maya right away and your photos don't show the insanity I know you go through to get in a good position to see a tiger when one shows up - super birthday present!

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Posted (edited)

@@janzin ah it's all coming back to me from last December - will enjoy following your journey! You were so lucky to see Maya right away and your photos don't show the insanity I know you go through to get in a good position to see a tiger when one shows up - super birthday present!

 

Ah yes @@SafariChick, the insanity! For some reason I don't have many photos of the craziness. I guess I was too busy holding on for dear life :rolleyes: Here's a small gathering at one of the waterholes....typical "waiting for Maya and the cubs" scene. Not too big a crowd here!

 

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BTW if everyone looks bundled up here...it was quite chilly in the early mornings! We always wore hat and gloves, and there were blankets in the gypsy every morning. But it quickly warmed up...and became unbearably hot by mid-morning.

Edited by janzin
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Posted (edited)

I'm sure we saw other animals and many birds on that first afternoon, but it was eclipsed by seeing our first tiger. In fact, given that I really don't have day-by-day notes, I'm just going to give a synopsis of our other sightings during our time at Tadoba, as well as some impressions.

The routine at Tadoba was: for the morning drive, get in line well in advance of opening so as to be, hopefully, the first vehicle to enter the park. Entry at this time of year was at 6:30 a.m. In theory, this gives one the advantage of happening upon a tiger in the road early morning, or at one of the waterholes, before another vehicle could chase it away. Also (as can be seen in the photo above) being first gave you a prime position at the waterhole; if you came late, you ended up in back.

 

It also had another, less obvious advantage: being first, you did not have to ride in the dust raised by vehicles that came before you!

 

Sighting board at Svarsara on our arrival day. Note the many leopard sightings...sadly, we only had one very brief glimpse of leopard, and no photo opp :(

 

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A word about the dust in Tadoba in the dry season--you can not imagine it. Really. Even if you are told about it--it will be 10x worse than you expected. I pooh-poohed the dust issue as we always found it less of an issue in Africa then we'd been warned about. Well, not the case here! It is a fine, red dust that permeates everything. Many people, including guides, wear face masks or scarves around their mouths and nose. We didn't bother with that but do be sure to keep your camera wrapped as much as possible! In fact, upon leaving Tadoba we had Rajen stop in a town so that we could buy some cloth to wrap the cameras in (although the dust at Pench and Kanha wasn't quite as bad.) Every night I needed to clean the dust from every crevice of my camera...when I returned home, I literally washed my lenses and camera by wiping them down with damp cloths and q-tips.

Another interesting point regarding the dust; you'll notice that most images taken in Tadoba have this red hue from all the dust in the air, coating the foliage, etc. It made for some very lovely photo opportunities, especially in late afternoon. The light through the dust could be incredible.

 

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Staying at Svarsara, which is at the Kolara gate, has the advantage of being an easy five minute walk to the entry. So the driver can bring the vehicle to the gate a bit early and you can walk to meet them closer to opening time. In this way, we were always first or 2nd at the morning drive. Did it pay off?

 

Actually--not much. The areas of the waterholes (and most of the wildlife) is about a 20 minute ride from the main gate. We never saw any cats during those early mornings! But perhaps we were just unlucky. Someone we spoke to had an incredible sighting of Maya and the cubs on the morning we left for Pench (more on that later...)

The afternoon drive had a similar routine. We were always first or 2nd in line...although walking to the vehicle in the heat of the afternoon was not as easy as in the cool mornings, even though it was only 5 minutes. Rajen would kindly carry my camera pack when I grumbled about the heat <_< Once in the park, we would always make a bee-line for one waterhole or another, hoping to see Maya (or any other tiger!) We'd usually head straight to the waterhole she'd recently been preferring, and sometimes just park and wait. Some days this paid off...and some days not. It seemed frustrating to me at times to just sit in one spot waiting (in the baking heat, with no shade or breeze.) But when it paid off...it was worth it!

 

Some more mammals from our drives.

 

Chital, of course, are the most common deer in Tadoba. Never missed seeing them on a drive!

 

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The diminutive Muntjac is not as easy to see, and is often solitary, unlike Chital or Sambar which are usually in larger groups. We only saw a couple here.

 

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Sambar cooling off in a very small "waterhole"!

 

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Ruddy Mongoose--we saw a few.

 

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A large troop of Northern Plains Langur.

 

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Edited by janzin
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Great photos - and how wonderful that Maya came out for you straight away! Tadoba is a bit of a madhouse indeed, but it certainly delivers terrific sightings.

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@@janzin lovely start to your report, I'm almost tempted to stop reading now as I know further posts are going to make me want to go to India!

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@@janzin I'm looking forward to your TR, shame about the sleepless start, however a tiger within the first 15 minutes is magical. I like the reddish tinge to the Tadoba photos and especially the photo of the group of langurs.

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@@janzin lovely start to your report, I'm almost tempted to stop reading now as I know further posts are going to make me want to go to India!

 

@@Zubbie15 isn't that the whole point? LOL it was reading these reports that finally got me to India!

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The waterholes--when not bearing tigers--were often great for birds, giving us something to photograph during lulls.

 

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Along with several waterholes, Tadoba also has a very large lake. This seemed like it would be a good place to spot a tiger, but we never did. However, it was a
another great area for birds, and other wildlife.

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The shores of the lake always held Indian Cormorant, Red-naped Ibis, and Asian Openbill, Many smaller birds too, such as wagtails, but because we could not get close, they were too difficult to photograph.

 

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The area around the lake also seemed to be the favorite hang-out for this Crested Hawk-eagle, we saw him there nearly every drive.

 

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And one morning near the lake, we watched as this Shikra hunted very low to the ground!

 

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I'm sure you're wondering--did we see more tigers??

 

On our first morning in the park--the drive following our initial drive with Maya--we weren't driving too long when Rajen said--"tiger in the road ahead!" Sure enough, a large male tiger--Matkasur--was just starting to cross the road! Once again, I thought to myself, this is too easy! (Little did I know....)

 

He calmly crossed the road, stopped to look at us, and continued on his way. A magnificent male!

 

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The other side of the road had a steep hill which he climbed over and out of sight. Rajen thought he might reappear at a nearby waterhole. This particular waterhole is viewed from above, its a very beautiful spot.

 

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However, after waiting awhile, it was clear he had not come in this direction. In fact, although we passed this waterhole several times during our stay, we never saw anything at all at this one--not even a Chital! Still, this road held some nice sightings of Gaur and other wildlife (the image of the Gaur posted earlier was from this road--you might recognize the high grass.)

 

Since we are speaking of Gaur, here's a young calf from Tadoba.

 

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@@janzin I like the idea of the birding lulls at the lakes between tiger sightings.

 

Tadoba really turned itn for you with the tigers in the first day or 2 at least!

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Wow, great start to this TR Janet! Your photos are fantastic as usual.

 

Alan

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@@janzin lovely start to your report, I'm almost tempted to stop reading now as I know further posts are going to make me want to go to India!

 

@@Zubbie15 isn't that the whole point? LOL it was reading these reports that finally got me to India!

 

 

Haha @@janzin, that's true - my issue is after our last safari my wife doesn't want to travel without our little boy anymore, and it's going to be a few years before he's old enough to go on safari. I keep dropping hints trying to chip away at her resolve though, maybe I'll be successful eventually. :unsure: In the meantime I'll just have to enjoy the reports here.

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Enjoyed reliving the greatest hits. Bahai Lotus Temple eluded me/us. Nice quick snap. And speaking of quick...15 minutes to your first tiger and what magnificent views and shots. Whatever happened after as far as tigers were concerned, you hit it big right off the bat! The craziness you mention and illustrate surrounding tiger sightings is all part of the experience, but I agree it is best to ignore it and forget it and focus on the center of attention and cause of the craziness. I noted you saw at least one more tiger.

 

The old sightings board at Svasara! Glad you included a shot of that.

 

Thanks for your findings on the dust. It can get bad. You nicely incorporated the dust in the chital shot. Hope all your equipment cleaned up well with the Q-tips, etc.

 

Glad Vikram and Wild World India worked out so well, as they did for us and for me in the past. A pleasant contrast to pricing in much of Africa is right. Looking forward to the rest of your adventure!

 

Your Feb trip reported in July makes me feel better about May and June excursions that have gone unreported.

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Lovely images @@janzin ........

FYI - there now is the availability of the special all day photography pass in both Tadoba and Ranthambore for those interested.

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Lovely images @@janzin ........

FYI - there now is the availability of the special all day photography pass in both Tadoba and Ranthambore for those interested.

Wow that's great to know! Will definitely explore that on the next trip. I'm sure its worth the cost to have a little less chaos.

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Thanks everyone for the nice comments! I'm glad to be bring back some nice memories for @@Atravelynn @@SafariChick @@michael-ibk and others who have been to these parks. Maybe a return trip is in order soon (I'm definitely trying to plan one!) But first back to this report...

 

Because there are limited roads that were open at the time we were in Tadoba, and many were one way, the drives seemed to get a bit repetitive after awhile. So for one of our drives, I asked to go down to another section--Telia Lake. It was a long drive, and a nice change of scenery, but we saw no tigers. However, we did get some great birds.

This Green Bee-eater was cooperative, hunting on a branch right next to the road by Telia Lake.

 

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A pleasant surprise was this Sirkeer Malkohoa...not a great shot as it was backlit, but a bird we were excited to see. It is related to the Cuckoos.

 

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I'll take this opportunity to post some more birds from Tadoba. There were always birds to see and photograph...although I found it a bit difficult to shoot birds from the gypsy vehicle. Of course, you can't go off-road so no way to get closer. Also, there is usually no way to use the bean-bag when shooting birds, so hand-holding is a must. Many of my better bird shots were taken when we stopped for lunch or on the grounds at Svarsara Lodge. There were many very common birds that I did not get a great photo of, such as the Oriental Magpie-robin, the Red-vented Bulbul, and even the Rufuous Treepie. These were all over yet I have few photos!

 

Jungle Babblers are common all over these central India parks, and easy to photograph at the lunch stop.

 

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A bird I really, really wanted to get a good photograph of was the Plum-headed Parakeet. We were lucky to find one on one game drive in some trees that weren't too distant.

 

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Another common raptor is the Crested Serpent Eagle.

 

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This female Purple Sunbird was in the gardens of Svarsara. Unfortunately I could never get the male!

 

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We were entertained by this Orange-headed Thrush while we waited in one spot for quite awhile listening for alarm calls. Never heard them but the thrush at least posed.

 

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@@janzin - beautiful photos as always. I'm really looking forward to the rest of this report.

 

Apologies, if I missed it elsewhere in the report but what camera equipment did you use?

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Love the birds. Your notes should come with a health warning to non birders. Snapping away at birds whilst waiting for mammals to show up is how most of us got hooked and there is NO escape or cure.

Keep em coming janzin. Great photography.

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