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India – Tiger Safari

Author: migyero
Date of Trip: November 2006

Back from two months of travel in India where we visited 5 parks: Kaziranga (Assam), Corbett (Uttaranchal), Keoladeo (Rajasthan), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan) and Bandhavgardh (Madhya Pradesh).

Here is the description of our tours in this magical country on the tracks of Kipling and Jim Corbett.

KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK – ASSAM

Traditional arrival in India from Europe: Paris – Mumbay – Delhi (to recover a large heap of vouchers there) – Calcutta

It seems that nothing moves nor changes in Calcutta, always as many ricksaws, auto-ricksaws, bikes, cars, trucks and buses that the past leaves. I like this city where one sees the print of monsoon on the walls.Two days to walk in between Bengalis; always so friendly.

Twenty-two hours of train and 6 hours of bus later we are in Kaziranga N.P. classified as world heritance of UNESCO. We place in a lodge state, Haranya Lodge, a clean and sympathetic place.

We are there for 6 days of morning and evening safaris in the three parts of the park. It is the beginning of the tourist season and there are not lots of people. We prefer this because the Indian animals are even more shy than their African cousins.

Fauna presents in the park: about 1500 rhinos, 1200 elephants, 1000 wild buffaloes, 86 tigers and about 100 leopards, hyenas, jackals, chital, sambar, munjac, rhesus, macaque, commun, langur, pythons, cobras and about 350 birds.

First day, Western part in the afternoon: rhinos, elephants, munjacs, langurs, macaques.

Five minutes after our first entry in the park, our two first rhinos, that starts well, like often one of the major animals of the park welcome us: a female and its carf. The “elephant grass” in this season is very high, approximately 2,5 meters. Thus just some pictures for the startup of my Canon 20 D in bush condition.

A part only of the park is accesssible in this period of the year, they rebuilt the tracks after the monsoon, which was abundant this year. In each part of the park 25% of the tracks are open. It is nevertheless largely sufficient to see a lot of animals.

We will see about15 Rhinos today, a heard of elephants,buffaloes twice, munjac dears several times and once langurs and macaques. In all 250+ photographs: it will be necessary from day to day to note what it is on the CompactFlash cards.

This park is the most professional one, on the level of rangers, of all of India.The best success of animal protection in India with safeguard extinction of Indian Rhino. It is the centenary year of the creation of the park, new uniforms and rifles for the guards. This park is not included in the Project Tiger, whether 86 tigers are listed. It is the only park where we see the anti-poaching patrols at work every day, but also the head chief of the park inspecting it.

Second day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambar, chital, munjac, langur, eagles and water birds of all kind.

Today, Eastern part in the morning and Western part in the afternoon. A good score of rhinos, twice a heard of elephants being refreshed at the river, three times buffaloes, a female sambar, a heard of munjacs and one small heard of chital, langurs, two Indian fish-eagles and a lot of migrating water birds, of which a colony of pelicans. No tigers, no leopards.

Third day same as 2nd day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambars, chitals, munjacs, langurs and macaques, Indian monitor lizard, eagles and water birds of all kinds. Eastern part in the morning and Central part in the afternoon. Finally, beautiful pictures of rhinos with the good light, a heard of elephants being refreshed at the river, three times buffaloes in the mud, the three type of dears by far, both type of monkeys and birds by far. We met and discussed with the head chief of the park, which authorizes us to enter the park earlier on thenext morning, a very very big privilege.

Fourth day: rhinos, elephants, chital, munjac, langur, eagles and water birds.

Central part in the morning and Western in the afternoon. Thanks to our early entry, 06H00 instead of 07H30, we could see from very very near a large male rhino and an awaking young one. What a great show in a foggy morning to see these prehistoric monsters grazingthree meters from us! But, also a young Indian monitor lizard taking the first sunbeams. This afternoon we will still see other rhinos but not from very near and elephants bathing.

Fifth day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambars, chitals, munjacs, langurs and macaques, eagles and water birds.

East part in the morning and central part in the afternoon. Like the days before, full of rhinos, elephants twice at the river, buffaloes in water and mud, the three type of dears, both type of monkeys and lots of birds.

Sixth and last day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, the print of a tiger, chitals, munjacs, langurs and water birds.

Already the last safari in Kaziranga, Central part in the morning. Some rhinos of which one very near, our last elephants and buffaloes, chital and munjac dears grazing quietly, a heard of langur and a lot of migratory birds. Yesterday we missed in the afternoon a male tiger whose pugmarks could be seen in the tracks of our jeep. The rangers say to us that a large male passed yesterday on the track 15 minutes after us. And it is already the exit of the park with a beautiful rhino near the gate which seems to say to us, “Bye! See you soon.” Thus again 06H00 of bus + 23H00 of train to join Varanasi, our favorite city.

VARANASI – my favorite city in India

In the night during the crossing of Bihar, my wife’s backpack (hung under her with chains and lock) was stolen. All of her clothing, shoes, large medicine bag and large bag of toys to give to one poor family, were stolen.

We remained eight days in this city that, I say one more time, we love. We stayed in two different places, initially three nights in Maruti Guest House in Assi Ghat then four nights in Gampati Guest House in Meer Ghat.

What happiness to find oneself in this city full with contrast and so alive!The pleasure of walking every morning on the Ghats to take pictures of these nice Indian people.

After one night in the train for Delhi, a car driver awaited us at the railway station direction Uttaranchal and Jim Corbett N.P.

JIM CORBETT NATIONAL PARK – UTTARANCHAL

Fauna presents in the park: 135 tigers, about 100 leopards, about 800 elephants, sambar dear, chital dear, langur, macaque, 10 to 30 sloth, bears, otter, python, cobra, gavial, crocodile, monitor lizard and over 280 bird species.

The dream of much of the visitors of national parks in India is to see the bengal tiger in front of them. It is also the dream of all Indians, therefore thereare now crowds in the parks where the tiger easily lets itself see (Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgardh). Further, the directors of these parks have authorised the entry of too many cars.

We have stayed in Ramnagar 2 km of the gate of Ijrani in the East of the park, the first afternoon safari was donefrom this gate. As usual, after the entry, a troop of elephants wishes us the welcome, we remain more than 45 mn with them. A wind of madness does seize all the jeeps of the surroundings; a tiger was seen. Everybody drives speeds to have the opportunity to see the tiger!

We arrive in the dried up bed of a river where about fifteen jeeps are vying for the best position to see a beautiful male tiger laying down at more than 200 meters far from them! What madness to see all these people getting down from the jeeps, which is prohibited, jumping from jeep into jeep by hustling all and all on their passage (impossible to take a good picture because of that) and shouting instead of keeping silent. Still more shouts, the animal condescends to rise and aproach us.

The tiger, aggravated by the noise and the madness of the vehicles decides to go up on a hill and disappears. Our driver (very profesional and calm, I am always lucky to have the best one) places our jeep on the way of the tiger; after 10 mn waiting there it is on the road 10 meters in front of us. Unfortunately, we are not alone and the other jeeps are hustled, they overtake us and make flee the majestic king of the Jungle definitively in the thick forest. Result: only two good pictures.

Second day, morning Bijrani Gate, afternoon Jhiona Gate: chitals, sambars, langurs, macaques, king vulture, king fishers and many birds.

No tiger in this second day but great pictures of dears and monkeys as well as king vulture (vulture with red head), the track of a very large python having crossed the road 15/20 mn before us.

Third day, morning Jhina Gate, afternoon Bijrani Gate: chitals, sambars, langurs, macaques, king cobra, king fishers and many birds.

No tigers, elephants or leopards, pugmarks of a sloth, bear and a king cobra fleeing with our approach.

The following day visits in morning of the winter house of Jim Corbett 25 km of Ramanagar before going back to Delhi.

Thus not so conclusive that this 2nd park of which I had a joy, it would have been necessary that we stayed in the North of the park in luxuary lodges to have access to the gate which goes towards Dhikala in the center of the park where finds gavials, crocodiles and other headlights of the park. It is my fault, I wanted to save money while placing in Ramnagar.

KEOLADEO NATIONAL PARK – BHARATPUR – RAJASTHAN

Fauna presents in the park: sambar dear, chital dear, blue bull (Nilgai antelope), langurs, mongooses, jackals, striped hyena, python, cobra, water snake and over 430 species of birds.

A sad news in connection with this park: the female tiger which had flees died of disease in July 2005.

As usual in Bharatpur, we stayed in Ashok and Indu place at the Safari Guest House which is a place not expensive and really clean with one calm and slackened environment. This park is universally famous for its migratory birds and residents who come from three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. You can visit by foot or bicycle. Siberian cranes come to spend the winter there. I was lucky to see from very near a family: the mother, the father and the baby. This time I didn’t see any of the pythons because it was too cold so that they leave their burrows (22 to 24 °C only).

I took nice pictures of male and female blue bulls in the marshes, of sambars as well as a few birds including one colony of 3,000 storks.

After eight days on Bharatpur, we went to Udaipur by Jaipur always in a car with a driver and Ambassador. Two days of rest and shopping in Jaipur and housing in a Maharadja Hotel. A suite nicely decorated to rest! We discovered that it is in Jaipur that Indian traditional puppets are manufactured, will bring back from there 19 pairs! One hopes to resell some.

Departure early to join Udaipur 350 km from there. We take the national highway with arrival at the beginning of afternoon. We stayed in Kankarwa Haveli on the edge of the lake in front of the famous white marble palace used for the James Bond film, “Octopussy”.

Udaipur is a very tourist city but alleviating thanks to its lake and palaces. Visit of the city palace, boat trip on the lake and shopping downtown take us our three days on the spot. We failed to bring back a pup we met downtown, but considering the French Administrative formalities, we gave up the idea.

RANTHAMBHORE NATIONAL PARK – RAJASTHAN

Fauna presents in the park: tigers, leopards, sloth bears, sambar dears, chital dears, blue bulls (Nilgai antelope), Indian antelopes, langurs, crocodiles, pythons, cobras and 250 species of birds.

At 06 AM we started in direction of Sawai Madhopur, the city near Ranthambhore. We raised there towards 06 PM just after night had fallen.

The park of Ranthambhore is in this moment in the storm. Indeed a recrudescence of the poaching with fact of falling the number of tigers with 22 and that of the bears to 10. One week before we visit it 5 people of the park had been arrested for poaching. This fact the park can be visited only in Canters (trucks carrying 22 noisy tourists); 12 Jeeps have one exemption for the luxury hotels lodges.

I have there a friend who is guide naturalist in the park. We could have a jeep during the four safaris we made. The park is divided into numbered roads from 1 to 12 allotted to the various vehicles entering the park. Best are the 5 and the 6.

1st morning day: road N° 6: 2 tigers, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and a lot of birds of which one was a king vulture with red head.

Entry at 06H30, the temperature of the night is still cold : 6 °C. After checking inside the park, we directly went to stay in observation close to one of the lakes of the park where a female tiger and its two cubs of 18 months have elected for residence since a few days. After 5 mn one of the cubs (the male) leaves tall grasses and poses for the posterity in front of the vehicles. His sister comes to join it a short moment before they do return into the tall grasses for waiting the return of their mother. Two or three good pictures, that starts well.

We leave to explore road 6 until 11H00, the exit time of the park. Sambars, chitals, blue bulls and langurs are left to photograph, as well as a king vulture with red head which does not fly away of it tree when we approach.

First afternoon day: road N° 5: 3 tigers, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls, crocodiles and a lot of birds.

Entry at 02 PM, it is 26 °C, it is better than in the morning. In a curve of the road 6 the female tigers and 2 cubs of the morning walk on. The rest of the afternoon we followed road 5 where sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and other birds still give us some beautiful pictures spots, like some crocodiles.

Second morning day: road N° 6: sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lot of birds.

This morning lots of pugmarks of tigers but no visual contacts. That’s no problem, once again sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lot of birds are there.

Secord afternoon day: road N° 2: sloth bear, tiger, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls, crocodiles and lot of birds.

The road N° 2 is not famous for its spots of tiger but the forest is very nice there. After half an hour we see emerging of our line a male sloth bear which crosses the road in front of us at full run! Brilliant, no picture but what a sensational feeling. After a long curve in the thick forest a large male tiger is lengthened across the road. We are absolutely alone during more than an hour with the king of the Indian forest who scrapes its head, changes position with less than three meters from us!!! I took more than 200 pictures and a lot are superb.

For the return and the last exit of the park we saw sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lots of birds. Fresh pugmarks of a male leopard crossed our road but we didn’t see it.

Ranthambhore, as to each time I went there does not disapoint me. It is the fourth time that I was there and it is always too superb and magic, it is my favorite park by far.

Departure at late evening to rejoin Jaipur then the following day connection until Agra to take a night train which take us to Umaria in Madhya Pradesh the nearest railway station from Bandhavgardh N.P.

BANDHAVGARDH NATIONAL PARK – MADHYA PRADESH

Fauna presents in the park: 60 tiger including 20 in the tourist zone, 30 leopard, 15 to 30 sloth bear, sambar dears, chital dears, macaques, langurs, pythons, cobras and 250 species of birds.

We joined Umaria at 06 AM at the lodge (the Nature Heritage lodge). A car takes us along to the park. We left our luggage at the hotel and we had our first safari. The weather is very cold at night and in early morning in December in that part of India.

More than 90 jeeps are authorised in this small park, a madness. The guard of the park is an obligation and really not used. This park is almost dedicated to the tiger. Since the end of 2002, it is now impossible to do one two-hour elephant ride, the elephants are used only for “the elephant circus”. These are three elephants which take turns to show with four people at the same time. The tigers are located in the forest during 3 to 4 mn. and for 12 euros per person, it is a big business, as in Pench and Kanha.

First morning day: Langurs, chitals, marabou, storks. We hope to see the tiger, no chance, only the pugmarks, we saw a few chitals, langurs and some marabous. I must ask the driver to stop to take them in picture!

First afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. Same circus from the morning.

Second morning day: 3 tigers, langurs, chitals, marabou, storks and some birds. After a race with several jeeps we stop to await our turn for an elephant ride: a female tiger and three youngs (15 months old) are located. After 45 minutes of waiting, it is our turn, we are with an Indian tourist and his son (eight years old), we saw these three tigers exactly 3,30 mn and because the father and the kid were moving all times we didn’t take any good pictures, those of my wife are all fuzzy because of the kid who didn’t stopped pushing her to see the tigers. Afflicting spectacle, or how to make money on the back of the tourists.

Second afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. I explained to our driver that we are also interested by the remainder of the fauna of the park, we are not here to see only the tiger.

Third morning day: 5 tigers, langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. The driver had understood us, we stop when we grow too rare animals. My wife decided not to come more the morning, too cold (-2 °C at the beginning this morning) and not enough of visible animals. We arrive at the concentration of vehicles awaiting their turn for the Elephant Circus. There I had make 2 turns for the price of one this morning; I am likely to talk with a Kénian of Indian origin who is biologist and naturalist; he explains to me why best is to go up on the last elephant making the circus and by giving a tip to the mahout (100 rupees: 2 euros) one can remain longer. We climb both on an elephant, he prevents two Indian tourists to join us. The 1st turn we will be 7 mn near a female tiger and it’s 4 cubs 18 months eating, 2 Sambar dears; and 15 mn the 2nd time! Unfortunately he leaves the park the very same day. Thank you very much my friend, and he invites us to Kenya where he works for the national parks and the conservation of the vultures in Africa.

Third afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture and some birds. Just a king vulture with red head, not many things to see.

Fourth morning day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks and some birds. This morning I said to the driver that I did not want elephant circus so we turned in to the park to see few animals.

Fourth afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture, some birds and also parasitic lianas on trees. We decided this afternoon to make pictures of the forest and especially of a parasitic species of liana which makes nodes around other species of trees. The driver and the guide do not understand our passion for this trick, but it is splendid and we appreciate the spectacle.

Fifth morning day: three tigers, langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture and some birds. This morning the chance is with me! We enter first in the park and after 20 mn along one of the roads, we see a female tiger and it’s two cubs 2 years old (already two beautiful males larger than it!) to go in front of us and to stop at the edge of the road. I had 8 mn of pure happiness alone with them before the other cars with their noisy tourists arrived. Three of them overtake me and put themselves between the tigers and me and shout, “Tigers, tigers”. Result: the 3 tigers run into the forest. Indian tourists who do not respect anything! One wants to throw them in the mouth of the tiger to make them conceal.

Fifth afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, peacocks and some birds. Like everyday, puff out dust behind the other jeeps and anything to see because of too much noise.

Sixth morning day: Two peacocks! The roads which we take into the park are given every morning at the entry by one of the persons in charge of the park. This morning for my 6th day, they give me the road B where there are no animals. I make a scandal and before the end of the safari I say to the driver and to the guide to bring me back to the hotel. We decide not to make the afternoon safari, it is too much.

Assessment of Bandhavgardh:

Two full days are largely sufficient to visit this small park. To see the tiger, it is necessary to have an “elephant circus”. The famous French photographer, François Savigny, at the time of his last stay in this park was fired off by the director. He asked to be able to take pictures of tigers. Not possible now even for profesional photographers, therefore they do not come any more in this park.

So it is better to remain longer in Ranthambhore than in Bandhavgardh. When it is known that the foreign tourists 10 times more expensive than the Indians one expects another thing than this elephant circus . Kipling and Corbett must be turned over in their tomb!

Assessment of these 5 Indian parks:

Kaziranga – Assam: 9 out of 10; Park very well preserved, lot of animals, really profesional gards and guides.

Corbett – Uttaranchal: 6 out of 10; Too many authorized vehicles.

Keoladeo – Rajasthan: 9 out of 10; for the bird-watchers a paradise.

Ranthambore – Rajasthan: 9.5 out of 10; My favourite park, very professional guides, lot of animals to be seen.

Bandhavgardh – Madhya Pradesh: 2.5 out of 10; My Disappointment of the trip, guards and guides obscured by the tiger and not professional.

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