inyathi

India Tigers and Other Wildlife

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I noticed there are a couple of reports on here about India, having visited the country three times now, I thought I’d add another one as I’m sure there must be other members keen to go there to look for tigers. My aim is to provide information on the national parks I’ve been to with bits of trip report mixed in. My first trip was in Dec-Jan 89/90, this was a combined wildlife and cultural trip, during which we visited Delhi, Naini Tal (a hill station in the Himalayas and a good area for birding), Corbett NP, Agra (Red Fort & Taj Mahal), Fatehpur Sikri, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo Ghana NP) and finally Ranthambore NP. This was a great trip, we had brief views of tigers in Corbett and excellent views in Ranthambore, however I’ve decided not to write more about this trip as I suspect an awful lot has changed in 20 years especially in Ranthambore. Instead I’ll just write about the two more recent trips which were in 2004 and 2007, on both safaris we finished up down south in Kerala visiting Periyar NP so when I come to write about Periyar I’ll combine the two trips, everything else will be in chronological order, I hope that makes sense.

 

The first part will follow shortly

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We went to Ranthanbore a few years back over Christmas and saw no tigers, although a British couple had seen them on the game drive right before we arrived. We were there a couple of days. Poaching was really bad at that time we were told. Too many people and too much poverty.

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Inyathi,

 

Thanks a lot. Look forward. Actually, I wish you can include bits and pieces from your trip in the late 80s and tell us how things have changed and your impressions of then and now.

 

Regards

Hari

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Inyathi,

 

Thanks a lot. Look forward. Actually, I wish you can include bits and pieces from your trip in the late 80s and tell us how things have changed and your impressions of then and now.

 

Regards

Hari

Agree! :angry:

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Hi Hari, thanks I'll try and add in some impressions of how things have changed where appropriate as I go along or at the end unfortunately I don't have a diary or any notes from my first trip so my memories of some things may be a bit sketchy.

 

India 2004 11th February to the 1st of March

 

Delhi – Khajurao – Bandavgarh NP – Kahna NP – Pench NP – Mumbai – Periyar NP – Kerala Backwaters

 

All the photographs taken on this trip were taken with 35mm cameras, an EOS 30 + 100-400mm lens or an EOS 300V + 28-80mm lens and then scanned.

 

Flew into Delhi arrived at our hotel at about 3:00 a.m. and did get to bed until about 4:30 because the rep from Banyan Tours insisted on giving us a full briefing for our entire trip, pointless and very annoying.

 

In the morning went straight to the airport, so no sightseeing this time except through the taxi window. We flew down to Khajurao in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) in central India.

 

Arriving in Dehli 14 years after my first trip, it's very obvious that there's a lot more traffic and many more cars of the 'hot hatch' variety, not so many of the familiar old Ambassadors, clear evidence that India is on the way up at least in the cities.

 

Khajurao

 

MP has some of the best tiger reserves in India but it is a long way from the Delhi, India is after all a huge country. For example to reach Bandavgarh NP by train from Delhi is a journey of 16½ hours, I’ve no doubt that travelling by train in India is an interesting experience but if your time is limited then flying is the best option and the nearest airport is at Khajurao. Of course this is not the only reason that most tours of MP start at Khajurao , the village is also the site of some of the most famous temples in India. The temples which are around a thousand years old are adorned with some of the most beautiful temple carvings in the country, which depict scenes of everyday life. They are best known for the numerous carvings of beautiful women known as Apsaras (Celestial Nymphs) and especially for the erotic carvings which are thought to illustrate scenes from the Kama Sutra. I’ve resisted the temptation to include any photos of these particular carvings as they are definitely X-rated and besides only make up a small percentage of the carvings. The various groups of temples can all be seen quite easily in a day.

 

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Parsvanath Temple one of the western group of temples at Khajurao

 

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Close up of Kandariya Temple

 

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Apsara or Celestial Nymph

 

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Hoopoe, quite a few birds can be seen around the temples

 

For more information on the temples have a look at Asian Historical Architecture

 

It’s a long drive from Khajurao to Bandavgarh NP along some pretty awful roads at least that was the case in 2004. We left our hotel at 6:00 a.m. stopping at a nice place called Ken River Lodge also known as the Tree House to have breakfast; the lodge sits on the edge of Panna NP/Tiger Reserve overlooking the Ken River, making the lodge not only a good place to have breakfast but also a good place for birdwatching. We didn’t enter Panna at all but at the time there were thought to be over 35 tigers in the park, just a few years later there were found to be none left. Recently several tigers have been introduced to Panna, personally I think this was a much too hasty response to a very embarassing situation, and I won't be at all surprised if the these new tigers disappear.

 

After a flat tyre which took a considerable amount of time to sort out followed by a lengthy stop at a garage to have it fixed, during which time we ate our packed lunch, we eventually arrived at Bandavgarh NP around 4:00 p.m. just in time for a short game drive in the park.

 

 

When organising our trip the travel agent offered us a choice between having a bird guide or a tiger guide, since you don’t go to Madhya Pradesh to see birds* you go to see tigers, we opted for the latter. Our guide Nanda Rana to our amazement turned out to be a Nepalese aristocrat from a family who were for about 100 years the illegitimate rulers of Nepal until 1950 when the king was restored to the throne. He is an expert on tigers and proved himself to be an excellent guide with the most amazing ability to find the big cats, after a while we nicknamed him the tiger magnet. He and his wife also a tiger expert now own/manage a lodge called Singinawa on the edge of Kahna NP.

 

*There are lots of beautiful birds in MP; there just aren’t any that you can't see elsewhere in areas that have a far greater variety of species

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Bandavgarh NP

 

At 44,000ha Bandavgarh is only around a quarter of the size of the Maasai Mara, however this is probably fairly close to the average size for an Indian national park. Despite its small size the park supports one of the highest tiger densities in the country and should have a population of around 40, making Bandavgarh one of the best places to see these magnificent animals. The park is mostly covered in sal forest and bamboo jungle, interspersed with grassy meadows known as maidans. Aside from tigers the most commonly seen mammals are chitals (spotted deer), sambar deer, muntjac deer, wild boars and grey/hanuman langurs. Other mammals like dholes (Asian wild dogs), jungle cats, sloth bears and other smaller mammals are seen much less often. There are also some 250 species of birds in the park. The main section of the park is dominated by the ancient Bandavgarh Fort which consists of a number of ruined walls, temples and other buildings perched on top of a small plateau.

 

On our first afternoon drive we had fantastic views of an adult male tiger and a large male cub.

 

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In India all tourist accommodation is outside the national parks, we stayed at a tented camp/lodge called Churath Kothi 10 minutes away from the park entrance at Tala. After our visit the lodge was taken over by And Beyond & Taj Hotels and is now called Mahua Kothi and the tents have been replaced with bungalows which is probably no bad thing as it was pretty cold in February. We then had 2 whole days in the park.

 

On our first morning we left early to reach the park gate by 6:30 a.m., because you have to stay outside the park you need to get to the gate good and early otherwise you will get stuck in a long queue of jeeps and end up waiting a long time to enter the park. Bandavgarh lies roughly on the Tropic of Cancer so you’re a long way north of the equator which means the mornings can be very cold especially in an open vehicle, so it’s important to wear lots of warm clothes. Soon after we entered the park we ran into the back of a traffic jam, a male tiger was walking through the bush along a bank parallel to the road, this wasn’t a great sighting as it was still very early so there wasn’t enough light to photograph the tiger instead I opted to photograph the awful jam of jeeps in front of us.

 

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We carried on with our game drive seeing a lot of langur monkeys and chitals although very beautiful these deer are so common that like impalas in some African parks you stop noticing them after a while. Much of the time while driving in the park you don’t see a lot else, although we did spot a golden/common jackal before we were summoned for the so called ‘tiger show’.

 

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Hanuman Langurs

 

Basically while you’re game driving, mahouts (elephant drivers) are sent out into the jungle to locate tigers when they find one or more of them, one mahout stays with the tigers while the others head for the nearest road, they then radio all the jeeps and everybody drives as fast as they can to where the elephants are waiting. You then mount an elephant and are taken off into the jungle to view the tigers, sometimes you get a fantastic view sometimes you don’t it’s all a matter of luck on this occasion we were lucky and had very good views of a tiger and a tigress.

 

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We then returned to camp to have breakfast before returning to the park, normally in India you’re not allowed to stay inside national parks during the middle of the day but in Bandavgarh you can if you’re visiting the fort which you have to do on foot. After driving to the bottom where there is a huge statue of Vishnu you walk up a fairly long path going up the side of the hill near the top are some cliffs where vultures can be seen nesting. Once we’d reached a suitable spot amongst the ruins we enjoyed a picnic lunch and then relaxed until it was time to walk back down to our car for an evening game drive

 

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Temple buildings Bandavgarh Fort

 

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Langurs Bandavgarh Fort

 

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Gateway Bandavgarh Fort

 

The next day we drove around for sometime waiting for the ‘tiger show’ when we were summoned we arrived to find a queue of jeeps already waiting, however to our huge embarrassment the elephants were brought straight to us first. Our guide Nanda had spent many years in Bandavgarh and knew everyone in the park and so would always make sure we got preferential treatment. On this occasion the mahouts had lost the tigers so we had to search for them for some time, travelling at speed through the jungle on elephant back was quite exiting though you have to try and avoid getting too bashed by the vegetation and by the end I was starting to feel slightly seasick. We eventually caught up with the tigers but we didn’t get a great view. In the afternoon went for a long game drive to look for dholes but didn’t see any or much else except for a lesser adjutant stork an uncommon relative of Africa’s marabou stork. After dinner we were taken on a night drive through the farm land surrounding the camp and found some chinkaras/Indian gazelles which are more common there than in the actual park.

 

 

The following morning we left Bandavgarh around 7:30 a.m. taking a picnic breakfast and headed for Kahna NP arrived at Kipling Camp in time for a rather boring lunch.

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When we went to Bandhavgarh in 2006 the system of ordering the elephant rides was not related to who had been queueing longest nor who knew everyone within the park - earlier in the day the driver, or another representative of the company, would go and submit names to an official - and then names would be drawn randomly (so we were told, who knows) and so the order was down to luck of the draw...

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Hi Kavey,

 

I may be completely wrong about the tiger show, but as soon as we arrived Nanda wandered off to speak to one of the mahouts or somebody and moments later an elephant was brought to our car. Nanda although very nice was extremely arrogant and not averse to throwing his weight around, so it certainly apeared as though we'd jumped the queue but may be it was just a coincidence. We got the impression that he treated the mahouts, rangers and park officials much as if they were his servants.

 

On one occasion Nanda told us that while he'd been working in Bandavgarh some researchers said they wanted to come and radio collar one of the tigers, he wasn't at all happy about this after all the park is very small all the tigers are well known and the mahouts always know where they are, so he told them if anyone comes and collars one of my tigers I'll beat the s... out of them. When he told us this it sounded like he'd really meant it.

 

Whatever the case we had great views of tigers, my next post will follow shortly.

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Crikey, it's certainly possible... and given how things sometimes work in India (I'm Indian myself, btw) I know that in any arena there are people who jump the queue or get the best of what is there either through intimidation or bribery or some kind of old boys network... there's always some inequality going on!

 

(Not suggesting this is unique to India, btw, but I know it's something that's rather prevalent in some areas of life)

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Kahna NP

 

Kahna is one of the biggest and definitely best national parks in India, the main park is 94,000ha surrounded by a buffer zone of 100,500ha making it one of India’s most important tiger reserves. It is also home to two species no longer found in Bandavgarh. The first and most important is the so called ‘hard ground’ race of the swamp deer or barasingha (Cervus duvauceli branderi), this subspecies was almost extinct but after careful management there are now 300-400 in the park. An unsuccessful attempt was made to reintroduce these deer to Bandavgarh. The second species is the magnificent gaur, the world’s largest extant species of wild cattle they’re often called Indian Bison though they are not bison but true cattle, never common in Bandavgarh the last animals were seen there in 1989.

 

Habitats in the park include sal forest mixed sal and bamboo jungle deciduous forest and grassland. There are two types of grassland in Kahna large open Maidans (meadows) often former village sites which attract herds of chital and barasingha and in the hills to the east of the park plateaus known as dadars. Quite African in appearance the grassy dadars attract herds of gaur and also provide a home for the curious four-horned antelope or chowsingha a little like a steinbuck except the males have a tiny extra pair of horns and also nilgai. Asia’s largest antelope the nilgai is a little bit like an eland except for its tiny horns, less graceful than some of its African counterparts, when the nilgai was first described it was considered sufficiently odd looking that its scientific name Boselaphus tragocamelus means ox-deer goat-camel. Due to its size and variety of large mammals Kahna is one of the few Indian parks that can compare favourably with some of those in Africa.

 

Again to try and reach the front of the queue at the gate you have to leave camp pretty early because it’s so cold (at least in Feb) the camps/lodges often provide blankets and hot water bottles. Like Bandavgarh Kahna offers tiger shows however in this case you must head for one of the ranger posts to buy a numbered ticket and then wait your turn, which means you can’t drive too far in case you need to race back to meet the elephants. Tigers are often seen on game drives to find them, apart from looking for spoor, usually pugmarks on the road, drivers often stop to listen for alarm calls. Deer species and also langurs emit distinctive alarm calls whenever they spot a predator, the call of the sambar India’s largest deer is particularly useful as they don’t alarm for smaller predators except for wild dogs which are common in Kahna. Although there are picnic sites at the ranger posts where you can eat you’re packed breakfast as with other parks you have to out during the middle of the day which means returning to camp for lunch.

 

The park gates reopen at 4:00 p.m., again you have to leave early to get to the front of the queue this is particularly important as you have to be out of the park immediately after sunset around 6:30. This means it’s impossible to drive any great distance in to the park and entering in the afternoon can be a bit like taking part in a rally. Tiger sightings on game drives range from the absolutely fantastic, no other vehicles, to the absolutely awful with loads of other jeeps lots of revving engines, shouting and no concern at all for the tigers. Part of the problem is that almost all safari vehicles in India are little Maruti Gypsies with inward facing bench seats in the back, fine for chatting to your companions but useless for viewing wildlife. Unless you’re content let your guide tell you when there’s something to look at, you really have to stand up all the time something not everyone can do, the seats are not raised so when you’re sat down your forward vision is obstructed by the cab, asking to sit in the passenger seat isn’t an option unless you’re a midget. Everyone standing up in their cars to try and see the tiger is clearly not ideal; at the time of our visit some lodges had started using proper African style safari vehicles, certainly I would think that all the And Beyond/Taj camps/lodges should have proper vehicles.

 

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On Our first afternoon in Kahna we drove into a melee of vehicles on a bridge watching 2 tigers complete chaos very noisy with more vehicles arriving behind us, we only got a brief glimpse of the cats. Luckily we had another 5 whole days in the park to find some more.

 

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Barasingha hind

 

First full day in Kahna, there was no tiger show but in the afternoon, following up on alarm calls we found a tigress walking along the road with two cubs following alongside in the safety of the jungle and no other cars fantastic, though not much light for photography. This was followed by a nice herd of gaur

 

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Second day Kahna, two tiger shows in the morning saw first a male tiger lying in the grass, a nice view but could have been at Longleat Safari Park, followed by two tigers with a sambar kill in the jungle also saw a jungle cat. In the afternoon had excellent views of a male tiger on our game drive but sadly spoilt by masses of other vehicles and lots of shouting “where’s the tiger” “can you see it” and lots of revving engines again. Our guide Nanda anticipated that the tiger would cross the road so we moved to give him plenty of space unfortunately some other people saw us and rushed over preventing the tiger from crossing.

 

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Cub photographed from elephant back

 

Third day, more gaur but no light for photography, so drove up to Bahmni Dadar a beautiful grassy plateau very reminiscent of Africa, got a brief view of a nilgai and good views of chowsingha as well as great views of the park. On the way back down found a nice bull gaur and then further on in some sal forest two good sized tiger cubs ran across the road in front and then a third strolled across behind us in full sun and no other cars, incredible!!

 

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Chowsingha four-horned antelopes

 

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Cub viewed from our car

 

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In the afternoon we checked in to Shergarh Camp outside the park’s other main gate

 

Fourth day, got off to a very bad start thanks in part to not receiving a wakeup call at the agreed time, in my rush to get ready I dropped my camera with my 100-400 lens on to the concrete base of my tent, fortunately it was in a CCS pouch, the filter was completely shattered and had to be removed using pliers. Luckily to my amazement the lens was fine, especially since I’d already accidently bashed it against a vehicle roll bar on an earlier African safari in which the filter also shattered. Remarkably I’m still using the same lens without having had it serviced/repaired. Fortunately I haven’t dropped or bashed it since, I guess it shows how well made they are. During the tiger show saw 1 big cub asleep and then 4 more walking or running at 1 point coming out into the sun which was great. We then saw a nice group of gaur in the afternoon.

 

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Maidan at dawn with barasingha herd

 

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Chital Stag

 

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On our Last day in Kahna, on the morning drive we had a fantastic view of 6 dholes walking along the road in front of us. After picnic breakfast at the ranger post went out on an elephant for the tiger show, found 2 tigers had good view, the mahouts usually turn their elephants around after a while to ensure that everyone gets a view as you normally sit back to back facing outwards. After a while the tigers had had enough of us and wanted to leave, however the mahouts knew there were other visitors waiting back at the road so every time a tiger moved an elephant would be manoeuvred to block its escape a clear case of blatant harassment. Eventually presumably because our time was up the two tigers were able to escape, after picking up more visitors the mahouts took off after the tigers as if they were competing in the Grand National, we were thoroughly disgusted by this experience.

 

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Dhole

 

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Barasingha Stag

 

Kipling camp located in the buffer zone not far from the park’s Kisli Gate was originally established by two old British colonials Bob and Anne Wright (their daughter established the Wildlife Protection Society of India). It’s a perfectly nice camp set amongst some sal trees however the food a mixture of Western and Indian was rather bland, though this may have changed. The food in India can be excellent but unfortunately some lodges/hotels assume that foreign tourists won’t like proper Indian food so they serve not particularly good Western food and very toned down Indian food.

 

Shergah camp near the park’s Mukki Gate was still under construction at the time of our visit, the rooms Meru style tents on concrete platforms were finished and were fine if a little cold, however the main lodge building wasn’t quite finished. Fortunately this didn’t matter and we had a very pleasant stay and very nice food. The camp is run by an Indian (naturalist) Jehan Bhujwala and his English wife Katie who were very nice, though we thought he was perhaps a little laid back given the lodge wasn’t finished, when not accompanying us on game drives he was reading a book. The only thing I didn’t like, on their website it says Cosy tents are individually spaced inside a wooded grove, the wooded grove was actually a young eucalyptus plantation. Anyone who’s walked into a eucalyptus plantation will know that they are completely lifeless there are no birds or anything else, outside of Australia virtually nothing lives on Eucalyptus. I mentioned this and suggested they thin them out and plant some native trees in amongst to attract more birds and other wildlife, whether they took this advice I wouldn’t know.

 

Although the distance between the two camps isn’t great it was nice to stay at two different places, because Kahna is bigger and more diverse than Bandavgarh it’s worth spending more time there. Apart from maximizing your chances of getting a good tiger sighting, the longer you stay obviously the more chance you have of seeing other animals like dholes, jungle cats or maybe if your very lucky (we weren’t) sloth bear or even a leopard. February is not a bad time to visit, the mornings may be freezing cold but once the suns up it doesn’t stay cold for long but doesn’t get too hot either. March/April should also be good times to go, May/June isn’t usually recommended because it gets punishingly hot, but tiger sightings can be fantastic and if you’re hoping to see action this is the time to go.

 

We left Kahna quite late around 9:00 a.m. arriving at Bagvanh Lodge outside Pench NP around 2:00 p.m.

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Thanks so much Inyathi for your report and great photos thanks to an indestructable lens. You had well rounded visits with much more than tigers and you had quite a guide for your trip.

 

Seasick on the elephant, now that could be a miserable predicament.

 

Was your stay 3 nts Bandhavgarh and 4 in Kanha? I am planning a similar trip so your info is helpful.

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I’m glad my info is useful. We stayed 3 nights at Bandavgarh which was I think long enough because the park is quite small had we stayed longer we might have been lucky with some of the more unusual mammals but I suspect we would have just seen more of the same.

 

At Kahna we actually stayed 6 nights 3 at Kipling and 3 at Shergarh giving us 5 whole days in the park, as I said earlier it’s worth staying much longer in Kahna because it’s bigger and more varied. Do you really need to stay that long, may be not but then our sighting of the dholes was on the last day, had we left earlier we would have missed them but would still have left happy because of our great tiger sightings. Sadly a lot of visitors to Kahna and other parks are so obsessed with seeing tigers that the other wildlife might as well not exist. When you’re on the elephants for the tiger show you’re unlikely to see anything else, so it’s good to have time to do some proper game drives, giving yourself plenty of time also means that if you’re lucky with the tigers at the beginning you can then relax and enjoy everything else Kahna has to offer. How long you spend in each park does of course depend a bit on where else you go, before we booked our trip I’d never heard of Pench NP (the subject of my next post), because the park had only just been opened up for tourism so was still very unknown. Since our trip, some other exciting parks in MP have been added to the tourist map.

 

We were very lucky with our guide, obviously having our own private tiger guide added somewhat to the cost and to be honest had our travel agent not suggested it we wouldn’t have requested a guide. At Bandavgarh he knew the park like the back of his hand, at Kahna (at the time) he didn’t know the park very well at all, but his knowledge of tiger behaviour was such that this didn't matter, he could simply ask at camp where best to go. On the occasion when we saw the tigress on the road with the two cubs, when we first saw the cubs they were crossing a firebreak and there was another car with us but once the cubs were out of sight the other car drove off and disappeared. Nanda however knew from langur alarm calls or maybe just superior knowledge which way the tigers were moving and decided we should stay in the area securing us a fantastic sighting.

 

I would guess that at the best camps/lodges the naturalist guides will be pretty good so you shouldn’t really need your own private guide.

 

I will try and add my next post a bit later

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Pench NP

 

Pench National Park lies in the Seoni District of MP on the border with Maharastra surrounding a reservoir formed by a dam on the Pench River. The main park is 29,900ha with a buffer zone of 46,600ha. The Seoni area was the setting for Rudyard Kiplings famous novel The Jungle Book.

 

We had opted to only stay one night at the Bagvanh Lodge (which now belongs to And Beyond/Taj Hotels); just to have a brief look at the park. To our amazement they actually had a proper safari vehicle a Toyota possibly imported from Africa as it forward facing stepped seats in the back. On our afternoon game drive we had good views of wild boar, chital, sambar, nilgai and gaur but no tigers.

 

In morning we had excellent views of two dholes on the road but only rather briefly due to the arrival of a couple of men on bicycles. After that we visited a dam for some birding, then went to look at a baby elephant (domestic) otherwise we saw very little of interest.

 

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Since the lodge manager was a good friend of Nandas we were expecting to get preferential treatment, however one of the other guest’s turned out to be the travel writer Brian Jackman, so we were a little suspicious that he was getting VIP treatment and so perhaps they hadn’t taken us on the best route for our morning game drive. Still we couldn’t complain as in Bandavgarh and Kanha on 9 consecutive days we had seen more than 1 tiger everyday and Brian was nice guy and we enjoyed chatting about Africa. In the afternoon after a short uneventful bird walk we drove to the nearby town of Nagpur said goodbye to Nanda and then flew to Mumbai.

 

Although we didn’t see tigers in Pench we did have good views of other animals enough that I wish we’d stayed longer, Pench is starting to gain a reputation as a good place to see tigers, quite recently the BBC Natural History Unit shot an excellent series ‘Tiger a Spy in the Jungle’ in the park.

 

Not far from Pench is another national park called Satpura which is only just becoming known, we weren’t aware of it at the time of our trip. It’s not a particularly good place to see tigers although there are said to be 40 in the park, however it is probably the best place in the country to see sloth bears, leopards that remain invisible in most tiger reserves are often seen as well during the day. There are good numbers of gaur and the park also has blackbuck an animal I’ve only ever seen in the distance at Bharatpur, there used to be some in Kahna but they’re now extinct as the habitat isn’t really ideal. Satpura is as far as I know the only park in MP where you’re allowed to walk, If I go back to India I will definitely try to go there. The place to stay in the park is Forsyth’s Lodge.

 

Unfortunately our onward flight to Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala was cancelled due to a strike, so we were stranded in Mumbai for a day. The lodge manager at Bagvanh had kindly suggested that we visit the Bombay Natural History Society HQ to birdwatch in the surrounding national park giving us all the details. However Banyan Tours who were responsible for all our travel arrangements messed things up for us, to get to the BNHS office you have to pass through a Bollywood film lot and they were quite wrongly convinced that we wouldn’t be allowed through early in the morning when we wanted to go, so when we got there it was too hot to see anything at all. The guys in the BNHS office asked us why we’d come so late, very annoying though I suspect are hastily arranged guide for the day a smartly dressed Mumbai lady was probably quite relieved as she’d never been birding and certainly wasn’t dressed for it. We had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to get to the airport in time for our flight to Kochi not good.

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Sadly a lot of visitors to Kahna and other parks are so obsessed with seeing tigers that the other wildlife might as well not exist.

 

Not just in Kanha... at Bandhavgarh too.

 

We were horrified by the sightings you describe where hundreds of cars are revving, manoeuvering, hooting, visitors are shouting from car to car and no-one is paying the slightest thought to not disturbing or blocking in the tiger.

 

So we asked our driver and guide to keep us away from these spectacles as much as possible, even if meant seeing less tigers. We also stressed that we wanted to see other animals too.

 

It took quite a bit of repeating to get them to believe us - they were so used to guests that were single-mindedly focused on the tigers, no matter what and how, they couldn't imagine we would sacrifice a single sighting just to avoid that mad crowd.

 

But they did get it in the end and we took our own path. And had some magical sightings without the madding crowds.

 

Also, we did one elephant back ride and, whilst the sighting was good, we hated the experience as a whole - from the waste of time queuing for our turn along a road with nothing to see, to the way they almost tried to trap the tigers to stay in one spot...

 

We refused to do any more of these, again, we had to repeat a few times for our guide and driver to believe it. But infact, we got so close to our quiet sightings in the car that were longer and more peaceful that we didn't miss the elephant rides at all.

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Thankyou for your very good report on the Indian Parks, inyathi. My only experience is of my 2006 visit to

 

Kanha. I ,too, was less than impressed by the behavior of the mahouts around the tigers. my mahout was

 

moving the elephant around so much that I didn't get a satisfactory photo, and the tigers looked stressed.

 

One ran off, and the other moved around constantly in the grasses. Nobody seemed to care about the animals

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Thankyou for your very good report on the Indian Parks, inyathi. My only experience is of my 2006 visit to

 

Kanha. I ,too, was less than impressed by the behavior of the mahouts around the tigers. My mahout was

 

moving the elephant around so much that I didn't get a satisfactory photo, and the tigers looked stressed.

 

One ran off, and the other moved around constantly in the grasses. Nobody seemed to care about the

 

animals. My guide from the camp was very good, but of course he had no control over the mahout as he was

 

back with the vehicle. I suggest that people wishing to visit the parks avoid weekends and feast days,as

 

young men in private vehicles ruin it for other visitors. I just loved India, and had a wonderful time, but

 

perhaps my experience at private camps in Africa has made me very fussy about how I view wild animals.

 

 

Jan

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excellent reports. still my dream someday to see a wild tiger.

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Thanks Jan, completely agree the wildlife in India is fantastic but if you’ve visited Africa a lot the safari experience simply doesn’t compare. The problem is mahouts, guides and drivers chasing fat tips from ignorant tourists who only care about getting a good view regardless of the cost to the animal, of course this happens in Africa as well. I’m not sure how you solve this problem.

 

I was lucky to have some great sightings and get some very nice photos from the elephants but the harassment of the tigers on our last ride was such that if I ever go back, I won’t bother going out on the elephants, besides game driving when away from the crowds was much more enjoyable.

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Kerala

 

At the airport in Kochi we were met by our bird guide Raschid Ali who would be with us for the remainder of the trip. We then drove straight to Periyar NP, this is a very beautiful drive when the road goes up into the hills we arrived in time for a late lunch.

 

Periyar National Park

 

Periyar at 77,700ha is a sizeable park surrounding Periyar Lake which was create when the Periyar River was dammed in1895, despite the loss of forest caused by the building of the dam Periyar supports a lot of wildlife and is one of the best places in India to see wild elephants and is also a very good place to see gaur. Periyar’s forests are home to the Nilgiri Langur and at higher altitudes the lion-tailed macaque two monkeys that are endemic to South West India, the colourful Indian or Malabar giant squirrel and in the few small areas of grassland the endemic Nilgiri thar. The latter species a type of wild goat is very rare in the park and is much more common and easily seen in other parks higher up in the Nilgiri Hills. This region of India known as the Western Ghats is also home to a great many endemic birds and the park’s forests are a great place for birding. Although it is also a Tiger Reserve there are thought to be about 30 in Periyar they’re very seldom seen.

 

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Periyar Lake

 

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A beautiful but sad reminder of the forest that was destroyed by the Periyar Dam

 

Accommodation, unlike most other national parks in India you can actually stay inside the park, around the park hq at Aranya Niwas is the Aranya Niwas Hotel and further back along the main road is the somewhat cheaper Periyar House. Beyond Aranya Niwas further into the park sitting above the lake shore on a peninsular is the Lake Palace Hotel, actually a former Maharajah’s hunting lodge rather than a palace. Just outside the park in the village of Thekkady are a variety of hotels and guest houses.

 

If you have Google Earth, type in ‘Periyar sanctuary’ and you can get a good clear view of Periyar Lake and the surrounding area.

 

I have visited Periyar twice now once in 2004 and again in 2007

 

On our first safari we stayed for 3 nights at the Lake Palace which is only accessible by boat, the hotel is a beautiful place with just 6 rooms and although a bit basic is really not a bad hotel considering it’s government run. The room at the north end of the hotel looks across a little bay to a quite sizeable patch of grassland over the other side part of a strip of grassland that runs right around the lake between the lakeshore and the surrounding forest. This grassland attracts grazing animals from out of the forest perhaps we were extremely lucky but one afternoon/evening after returning from the day’s activities we saw a mixture of a good sized herd of gaur and sambar grazing opposite the hotel.

 

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On another evening 3 dholes came out of the forest and ran across the grass before disappearing again and wild boar could also be seen grazing during the day. From the other end of the hotel one evening we saw a nice little herd of elephants grazing just below the hotel. The principal activity at Periyar is boating on the lake looking for large game and watching the many waterbirds as well as admiring the beautiful scenery. The Lake Palace obviously has its own boat to take guests out on the lake which is great because the main tourist boats carry a lot of tourists.

 

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One of the park's tourist boats at Aranya Niwas.

 

One morning we had a nice herd of elephant all to ourselves

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and on our last morning heading for Aranya Niwas a group of smooth-coated otters.

 

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The disadvantage of staying at The Lake Palace if you’re a birder is that the birds that you see from the boat are all common Indian waterbirds, to see the local endemic species you have to get out and walk in the forest, Periyar is one of the few parks in which you are allowed to walk but you can only do this from Aranya Niwas not from the Lake Palace. To really stand a chance of seeing a good number of birds you need to be in the forest very early, which is difficult if you’re at the Lake Palace because you have to take the boat back to Aranya Niwas. To walk you have to be accompanied by a ranger/guide, in 2004 there were bad forest fires in the park so there weren’t many rangers/guides available. If you want to birdwatch you ideally need to stay at the Aranya Niwas Hotel so that you can walk straight into the forest, it looks like a nice hotel though I’ve not stayed there, however I have eaten there and the food is excellent. Aranya Niwas, is also the place to be to see giant squirrels and Nilgiri langurs both of which are very common there, as are bonnet macaques.

 

To be continued very shortly

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Lovely report, Inyathi. Thanks for sharing ...... You've for sure seen far more Tigers than I have!!!

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Unfortunately when we returned in 2007 the Aranya Niwas Hotel was fully booked so we stayed for 4 nights at a place called the Spice Village in Thekkady not a bad place only about ten minutes or so from Aranya Niwas. We went on several very successful bird walks led by a very nice local guide called Shaji who works for Tribal Trackers E.D.C. (Eco Development Committee) an initiative that provides employment in the park for local tribal people. He had in fact also guided for us the previous time and is an excellent bird guide he also recognised us which was nice. On one walk we found a dhole with pups lying in the road and some great birds like Sri Lanka frogmouth.

 

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Sri Lanka Frogmouths

 

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Grey Junglefowl, the wild chicken of Southern India

 

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Orange-headed Thrush

 

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Malabar Giant Squirrels

 

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Nilgiri Langur

 

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Bonnet Macaque

 

As well as birding at Aranya Niwas we drove to a place called Gavi over to the southwest of the park passing through some magnificent scenery.

 

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At Gavi beside a much smaller lake is a little vegetarian hotel called Green Mansions where we had breakfast, before boating across the lake to bird watch in the forest on the other side. Sadly Shaji wasn’t allowed to accompany us so we had to make do with the naturalist from the Spice Village who was nothing like as good a guide. Our car was waiting for us on the road so we then drove towards the Meenar Dam to look for lion-tailed macaques, on the way back we got the most amazing view of an entire troop of these very rare monkeys in some trees right beside the road.

 

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Lion-Tailed Macaque Eating Wild Jack Fruit

 

On the drive back to the Spice Village as soon as we left the park our driver put his foot down and drove at breakneck speed ignoring pedestrians and other cars so we nicknamed him Michael Schumacher, the drive was really quite frightening at times but then almost all driving in India is pretty frightening. We decided we couldn’t leave Periyar without going on one boat trip so we joined the hordes and boarded one of the park launches, the game viewing wasn't as good as the previous time and we quickly got quite bored with the naturalist from the Spice Village who was stood at the front with a microphone as his knowledge was not as great as he thought it was.

 

One evening I opted to go on a night walk in the hope of seeing some nocturnal mammals, I had to walk from the Spice Village down to the national park entrance to join a group of other people. Walking through some little areas of forest around the entrance and alongside the main road produced a few wild boars, some sambar and muntjac and a couple of owls pretty disappointing really. Around the park there are a number of watchtowers where apparently you can stay the night; this would have been a much better option.

 

2004

After leaving Periyar we drove to the famous Backwaters an area of lakes and canals popular with tourists who often go and stay on houseboats. In our case we stayed just two nights at a place called Philip Kutty’s Farm which was nice and the home cooked Keralan food was excellent though the area was a little noisy at times. We spent our time either relaxing or birding/sightseeing in the area, on the afternoon of our last whole day we drove over to the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary which was good as we saw quite a few nice birds however we would rather have gone in the morning but it was 2hrs drive so we decided it was too far. If you’re a keen birder the reserve is worth visiting and I think there are places to stay next to the reserve.

 

2007

After Periyar we spend two nights in the old part of Kochi before flying home, Kochi is fascinating place with loads of history, lots of interesting architecture and is also famous for the Chinese Fishing nets down at the beach.

 

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If you like seafood then then the local food is fantastic.

 

If I’d had more time I would have liked to have gone higher up into the Nilgiri hills to look for Nilgiri thar as well as more birds and also to have visited Nagarhole NP in neighbouring Karnataka another great place to see elephants, gaur and dholes. Nagarhole and three other contiguous national parks form one of the largest protected areas in India.

 

Main 2007 trip next

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You really saw a variety of parks. Any plans for the future?

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Posted (edited)

This is such a fantastic thread. I am really enjoying reading about so many parks I hadn't known about, as well as parks like Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore with which I'm more familiar. You have some wonderful pictures; I'm eagerly awaiting more.

Edited by Marks

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Hi Atravelynn,

 

This time next year I shall be back in the Serengeti, I just hope I don’t wake up one morning to find a road crew at work outside my tent!

 

Beyond that I don’t have any definite plans, it’s a big world and the list of places and animals I’d like to see is still pretty long even for Africa. Probably just about top of my world list is the Pantanal for jaguars followed by maybe Madagascar.

 

Otherwise I’ve just watched a beautiful BBC wildlife doco on the mountain gorillas and so a return to Rwanda is a possibility as I’ve been to the Nyungwe Forest, then again I’m currently reading ‘Secrets of the Savannah’ by Mark & Delia Owens so Zambia has a certain appeal, there are lots of places I haven’t been to there. There’s also lots of Central and West Africa I’d like to visit .

 

As far as India is concerned aside from Satpura NP in Madhya Pradesh that I mentioned earlier there plenty more parks and other places left to visit in the south, the west and the north east and maybe even the high Himalayas, then of course there’s also Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Though I probably wouldn’t go back for a while just because there are other places I’d rather go to first.

 

Thanks Marks, it’s nice to be able do something with my photos rather than just leave them cluttering up my hard drive.

 

I’ll add my next post on India in a day or two

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Posted (edited)

The road crew comment would be even funnier if it were not so plausible. Those dhole puppies have to be a wildlife sighting highlight!

Edited by Atravelynn

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