Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nannaj - Bustard or Bust?

My best picture of the elusive Great Indian Bustard!!

Common Kestrel 

My binoculars needed zoom lenses! The solitary male Great Indian Bustard (GIB) that ponderously walked across the grassland was almost a kilometer away. But the very fact that I would see one in the wild(?) was a cause for celebration. Not that it gave the camera any joy, but hey you have to leave something for next time, n'est ce pas?

One of India's most charismatic birds, the Bustard has been virtually condemned to extinction. Once common throughout India, the rapidly shrinking grassland habitats have spelt the death knell for this beautiful bird. In Nannaj, with a claimed protected area of around 1200 sq km, there are a mere 10 GIBs. And worryingly, they haven't produced any offspring for the last two years. Anyways, this isn't a doom and gloom blog, so let's look at the brighter side - the birds are there, for now. And hopefully they will breed. And flourish. Again.

Blackbuck at Nannaj
I was in Nannaj as the first stop on my post-monsoon wander. As the rains ebbed, the feet started itching and the camera demanded action. After speaking with Dr. Pramod Patil, GIB fan and Nannaj expert, I was advised that October is the end of the GIB-viewing window, so I decided to take my first trip there. Just 22 kms from Solapur in South Maharashtra, Nannaj is also home to blackbuck, wolves and a vast variety of birds, boasting of some excellent raptor sightings.

A squatting blackbuck
Excited to have the chance to see this beautiful bird, I hit Nannaj virtually directly from the train station (with just a small break at the hotel). The best chance there is through a small viewing hut at the edge of the grassland, with enough space to seat 8 people and slits in the walls for cameras. All in all, pretty good arrangements.

As soon as I got there, the three gents already sitting there pointed to a speck a long way away. It was only when it moved did I realize that it was a living thing! Peering through my binocs, I made out a beautiful male GIB, strutting around, feeding in the late morning warmth. Our guide and Nannaj veteran Mr. Bhagwat Mhaske said that he normally is near the hut most mornings. But this day, he chose to stay away and in fact moved even farther as the day grew warmer. 

So we headed to another portion of the grassland, where you can drive your vehicle. And we came across a beautiful male blackbuck, walking all alone on acres of grassland. Made for a lovely sight. Then, on one of the high tension cables sat a lovely Common Kestrel. Common may be in its name, but I'd never seen one before. And the Kestrel kindly obliged with a photo session before he flew off to find some food. And while coming back, we saw more birds, including a pair of black caped larks (so I was told).

Pair of Scaly Breasted Munias
We retired to the Forest Guest House for an excellent home cooked lunch and came back early afternoon to try our luck again with the Bustard. But the tease that he was, he didn't come any closer. And neither did the blackbuck or the harriers. We saw them all, but nothing close enough to photograph. Chatting with Mr. Mhaske, we understood that there are 10 birds in total, including 2 males. The others are scattered around the grassland, with this male being the best chance of a sighting at this point.

Late evening sun at Nannaj
Back early the next morning, hoping Mr. Mhaske's predictions come true. For the first hour, we couldn't even spot the fella. Then we saw him, much closer than yesterday and heading towards us. Cameras ready, prepared to get a great frame. But the bustard that he was, he stopped halfway, turned and disappeared down a little incline, to remerge at the same spot as the previous day. Where he would stay for the rest of the day. And with him went my chances of any real bustard photography.

Grey Backed Shrike
So we focused on the other wildlife at hand - more larks, a pair of scaly breasted munias, a beautiful grey backed shrike amonst the avian visitors. My most unusual sighting though was a blackbuck on his haunches, almost cat-like in his pose. Later that afternoon, we took a ride through other parts of the grassland. The puzzling bit is, while there seems to be enough habitat for a reasonable population of bustards, they have just not been able to breed of late. Hopefully they'll get over whatever is holding them back, so Nannaj can at least have a viable population, if not to the numbers that existed even during the 90s where the count was anywhere between 100-150 individuals.

As for me, I aim to be back in July/August, the best season for viewing these majestic birds. And hope I can do well enough with just my camera for company, not even a pair of binocs!

Till then, here's to the Great Indian Bustard!

Nannaj Trip Guide

Getting there
Nannaj is about 22 kms (1/2 hour) north of Solapur in South Maharashtra. Solapur itself is a major rail head on the Mumbai-Chennai/Hyderabad/Bangalore line so has excellent rail connections. It's 455 kms from Mumbai and 260 mms from Pune, the nearest big cities. 

Though there is a Forest Guest House complex in Nannaj itself, it is currently closed due to water shortage. Solapur itself has plenty of stay options. I stayed at the Lotus Hotel, a new, clean, comfortable and reasonably priced hotel at South Sader Bazaar, VIP Road ( Tel- 0217- 2311999/299) The manager, Mr. Shahjahan was excellent, very helpful and arranged our vehicle as well.  

Wildlife Watching
There are no real safaris as such, you drive to Nannaj, pay your entry fees (Rs. 130 per day including camera charges) and walk up to the hut and park yourself there. There are other parts of the grassland where you can drive, so you'll need your own vehicle - preferably one with good road clearance - a Tavera or Sumo would be a good idea. 

You can eat at the Forest Guest House, where the caretaker Mr. Gaikwad makes excellent local vegetarian food if given enough notice. It was truly exceptional food! 

Other tips
Lotus Hotel is vegetarian, so the meat-eaters please take note and ask for alternative sources of non-veg food.
Best to carry your own bottled water to the Sanctuary. Though Nannaj village is nearby, the bottled water on offer there does not have names one is familiar with.
Carry bananas or biscuits  in case you feel peckish during your wait. Walking to and fro out of the hut can ruin potential sighting opportunities.

People to meet

Mr. Bhagwat Mhaske, guide with the Forest department. He's been at Nannaj for more than 20 years and what he doesn't know about the place isn't worth knowing. He's sen groups of more than 20 individuals less than 20 years ago, and he hopes that this beautiful bird can breed again and restore its numbers to more stable (and less precarious) levels.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ranthambhore II - Magical Sequel!

T17 or Sundari, Queen of the Lakes
Rarely, if ever, does a sequel perform better than its first part. And our first Ranthambhore trip had already set the bar really high. Add to that a superb Bandhavgarh visit and the Ranthambhore sequel had a virtually impossible job to go to the top of the table. So we went in hoping, but not expecting to end our Wildlife Wander on a real high. But hey, this was Ranthambhore and when the gods are with you, boy do they lay out a treat!! 7 safaris, tiger sightings on 6, 11 different tigers sighted. Plus Shikra, White eyed buzzards, Golden Orioles, Paradise Flycatchers, Thicknees, Crocodiles. All added up to make it my best trip to Ranthambhore ever!

It all started with a rather frustrating first safari. We looked all over Zone 3 for T17 or T19 and her cubs but no juice. On our way back we passed by Rajbagh, the summer palace and there was his majesty T28 perched on a little bridge across the water. He started to walk towards us so we all headed to where we expected him to emerge. But the rascal stopped midway and lay down somewhere in an island with thick bush. And never emerged.

T28, the dominant male
The next morning, we entered through a different gate to head to Zone 5. Barely a couple of minutes in, I saw a huge form move languidly through the bushes. Tiger! And, wonder of wonders, it was T28! Probably making up for last evening. He walked down to the road, marked his territory a few times and climbed a hill to head back to Rajbagh. I still believe he came all the way only because he wanted to make up for the previous evening!

Spirits boosted, we headed further and as we climbed a beautiful hilly path, Vijay Kumawat (superb wildlife painter, more on him later) said in the middle of another conversation – Tiger on road. I thought he was joking but as we looked ahead, there indeed was a tiger on the road. It was T17, queen of the lakes and a new mother. She very rarely ventured this side of the park, especially now that she had two-week old cubs!  As we walked with her, it was clear that she’d come to mark her territory. She sprayed at every turn in the road and strutted about like the queen she was. She stopped for a drink and then wandered about, spraying and sniffing every other minute. As she finally headed back into the bushes, we could barely believe our luck. Two superb sightings, that too of tigers who were very rarely seen in this part of the park. When you’re meant to see something…

The third morning was thrilling even though it was the only safari without a sighting. But in less than 10 kilometres, we saw evidence (very, very fresh) of 5 tigers. And as far as the signs go, we saw them all – fresh pugmarks of T25 (a large male) really fresh tracks of T17 again, straight out of a waterhole. We saw droplets still wet on the mud track. But no sign of either tiger. Then we carried on further into Zone 5 and were suddenly assaulted with a pungent odour. The unmistakable scent of fresh tiger scat, which our driver had run over. We retraced our tracks and saw pugmarks of a tigress with two cubs and even signs of them sitting in the middle of the road. And this tigress had never been seen in that area before. Much though we tried, we saw no tigers but it was an incredible safari all the same because we were so close to so many tigers. Made us reflect on all our incredible sightings and how lucky we were to be at the right place at exactly the right time.

Brahminy Mynah
That evening, Hemraj joined us on the safari and we had Zone 4, home to Machali (or T16) Ranthambhore’s Queen Mother and probably the most photographed tiger on the planet. She wasn’t in a mood to appear (she came out an hour after we crossed her area) but Hemraj said that he was sure we would see T6 (or Romeo – a handsome male tiger) lazing in a cave. And as if on cue, there he was, in a little cave next to the road. As we drove by, he raised his magnificent head to look at us and then plopped back to rest. He was an exceptionally good-looking tiger! We quickly got out as the rest of the circus arrived went looking elsewhere.

T6 or Romeo - What a handsome bloke!
And that happened to be right behind the hill where T6 was lying. There was a leopard kill there and we decided we would wait for the spotted one. While we waited near a waterhole (at a distance from the kill to allow the leopard undisturbed access) we saw some beautiful birds frolicking in the water – mynas, paradise flycatchers, drongos, fan tailed flycatchers and bulbuls all enjoying themselves, and keeping an eye on the shikra who looked to gatecrash.

Wild boar feasting on a leopard's kill
And then, we saw something move towards the kill. Accelerated heartbeats, adrenaline rushing, we slowly made our way there. And saw something dark starting to feast on the carcass. Finally a Leopard, we thought!! But our hopes of seeing a rare leopard were bested by something even more rare – a wild boar eating a kill!! While I’d heard of wild boar scavenging kills, I was seeing one for the first time. Here he was, confidently tearing into someone else’s hard earned kill. What a pig!
A pair of thicknees with their little 'chicknee'
The last day of our Wildlife Wander – three incredible months coming to an end. What did it have to offer us? How would this amazing journey end? Straight up as we entered Zone 3, we saw tracks – vehicle tracks, all headed towards Mandook (or high point) And that could only mean one thing – Tiger! Either T19 with her cubs or her sister T17. So we obediently followed, till we hit a traffic jam near a waterhole. And sure enough, in the water were T19 and two of her cubs. As we waited for our turn in the queue, the crowd was turning increasingly restless. But we waited, and the reward came (as it always does for patience) Just as we got our turn, the tigress and one cub came together and affectionately nuzzled. What an awesome sight!!

T19 or 'Krishna'
Then we knew they were going to move. So Hemraj asked the driver to drive way out in front. So we left the rest of the crowd and drive a few hundred metres away where we hoped they would cross. And we waited. Again, patience was rewarded as they walked towards us, and crossed in front, giving us a friendly (??) looked as they walked past. They disappeared into the valley and as the VIP jeeps followed (in vain I may add) we turned back and spent a pleasant half an hour on the shores of Rajbagh lake. Watching the water-birds and enjoying the breeze. And there, we saw a mother sambhar cleaning her calf’s ears with her tongue! The things you see in the jungle.

That evening we got Zone 5 again. A tad disappointed, since I had already been on this route twice and wanted to go to a different part of the park. And this time, we saw another male tiger, T25 or Zaalim. He was resting peacefully in a waterhole as we drove by and gave us a quiet 15 minute audience. For those who don’t know, he’s the father who’s bringing up his two female cubs after their mother died. A phenomenon that was hitherto never ever recorded. We knew that the cubs were also in the vicinity, but didn’t manage to see them. But we did manage to see and salute this amazingly responsible father. May his tribe increase.

Zaalim (T25) looking longingly at a passing lapwing
And so we left Ranthambhore on a serious high. So many different tigers, wonderful, close sightings – couldn’t have asked for more. And with the news that three tigresses had given birth to cubs (T17, T39 and T41) the forthcoming season holds a lot of promise at this most spectacular of tiger reserves.

Supreme Court willing, of course!!

Ranthambhore’s ‘people to meet’

Hemraj Meena
Naturalist, home-stay owner and living-breathing Ranthambhore encyclopedia. He grew up in a village on the periphery of the park and is living proof on how the tiger can benefit enterprising local villagers. And there are few better in this country than Hemraj at tracking tigers – I have been the beneficiary of his incredible skills many many times and spent so many happy safaris in Ranthambhore with him. Over the years, he has also developed into a fine photographer. Also, from being a fantastic guide, his own hard work and zeal has helped him progress tremendously. Do stay at his Tiger Home (or drop in at least) for some incredible stories of Ranthambhore’s amazing tigers. Check out Tiger Home at

Murli Dher Parasher
Another product of the local villages, Parasherji is an incredibly gifted wildlife painter – a pioneer in his craft. It’s hard to tell a painting from a photograph sometimes. But more importantly, he has used his gift to inspire and aid a whole generation of wildlife painters at Ranthambhore. His Ranthambhore School of art teaches talented young village kids to paint and has spawned a new income stream for many local youth. Check out their remarkable charcoal technique, which uses soot and rolled up newspapers so even kids with little resources can learn to paint.

Aditya ‘Dicky’ Singh
One of Ranthambhore’s free spirits, avid conservationist, superb photographer and hotelier, Dicky is another Ranthambhore lifer.  His Ranthambhore Bagh is another of those properties that wildlifers prefer over ‘resorts’ and over a drink or six, he will regale you with his stories of Ranthambhore. Check out Ranthambhore Bagh at or Dicky's own blog at

Vijay Kumawat
One of Ranthambhore’s up and coming young painters, Vijay is remarkably gifted. His paintings and charcoals are simply superb. Added to this is his gift for photography, his knowledge of the park and his overall interest in wildlife. Check out his work (both paintings and photography) on Facebook and you’ll know what I mean.


Juvenile Shikra


Paradise Flycatcher

Peacock from an interesting angle 
White-eyed buzzard

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve – Tiger Royalty

The next king of Ranthambhore?
Ranthambhore is, in my opinion, the best place on this planet to watch wild tigers. Some of my most memorable sightings have been set in these incredible surroundings. Where else can you see a tiger with a 1000-year old fort in the background? Or lazing languidly after an afternoon nap in a medieval summer palace? Or a tigress regally surveying her kingdom from a royal ‘chhatri’?

I must confess to a special affinity to Ranthambhore. It’s where I saw my first tiger and many, many more over the years, and the bond has only grown stronger. Thanks to my friend and naturalist extraordinaire, Hemraj Meena, I have closely followed the fortunes of several of Ranthambhore’s tigers over the last decade, so much so that they actually feel like family – any good news or new cubs are cause for celebration and any bad news feels like a punch in the gut.

We went to Ranthambhore twice on this trip. The first time was more like a pitstop en route to Dudhwa. And the other was the finale of this leg of my Wildlife Wander. Both times, Ranthambhore outdid itself, almost as if it taken it upon itself to provide me with the best tiger sightings across my three month trip. And, in addition to the tigers, we spent an incredible few days at Hemraj’s Tiger Home with Karen and Simon Spavin, hugely travelled wildlife enthusiasts and incredibly knowledgeable birders and photographers. We also had the privilege of spending time with Nalla Muthu, film-maker par excellence and probably India’s finest wildlife storyteller. It was fascinating to see his skill, passion and patience at work. It’s no easy task especially given that most of the time you have no idea where to find your stars! Sometimes for days or weeks on end. And even when you do find them, they are usually in no mood to shoot, or probably give you a few fleeting glimpses. Much like our Bollywood superstars!

T19, one of Ranthambhore's dominant tigresses
T19 polishing off her kill
On our first trip we saw T19 with her cubs, together with their father T28. She was with her male cubs amid thick lantana, finishing off a chital kill. As she gnawed at the remains, she was constantly snarling at one cub, who was angling for a quick bite or seven. Finally he got too close and she reared up, gave him a tight smack and then dragged the kill away while he lay down like a sulking little child. Then, they all came into the open and disappeared into a nala. One male cub emerged further ahead where his dad lay in the water. Father and son shared a few companionable minutes before the cub was nudged away by the big male. He’d had a bad day at work – injuries from a territorial fight, so really wasn’t in a mood to babysit a frisky youngster.

Big Daddy T28 (or Star Male) licking his wounds after a fight
We now had tigers in 3 different directions, so we had to choose which one to focus on. We decided to stay with the big male and he rewarded us by moving out from the water hole to lie in the open. Then the family slowly came together to join him, but a quick little growl told them that he was still not quite in the mood for conversation. So T19 and two cubs moved away and we followed them.

A cub mock charges at us 
Mum keeps a close eye on us
Then, one of the cubs decided that he wanted to play catch… he stalked us through the bushes and then suddenly made a dash towards us. Of course he didn’t really intend to come close and quietly sat in the bush, smiling to himself, I’m sure.

While we were with the cubs, I was thinking to myself, here we are, completely neglecting a huge male tiger, barely 20 metres away. How often are you so spoiled for choice? And then, something told me to turn my head away from the cubs. And to my amazement I saw T28 barely 15 feet from us, walking head on towards our gypsy. No one had seen him come. I was so awestruck, I forgot to line up my camera. He walked up, veered away at the last minute into a bush a few feet to our left, marked his scent and walked alongside our jeep and down the road. I found that I had stopped breathing for a few seconds. It was an absolutely incredible moment.

Brown Fish Owl 
Red vented bulbul having a drink

Checkered Keelback

Love the colors of the algae on the water
And that ended one of my most memorable trips into Ranthambhore’s forests. The next few safaris produced some really close shaves, where we missed tigers by a few minutes here and there. But it was more than made up by all the other things we saw. In one of the waterbodies we saw a number of beautiful checkered keelbacks. We also saw vultures (long necked and king vultures) brown fish owls and finally, a beautiful lake covered with impossibly coloured purple algae.

And that was our first Ranthambhore visit. One improbably fantastic tiger sighting, that we reckoned would be impossible to outdo. But little did we know how much more Ranthambhore had in store on our return leg!

Ranthambhore Trip Guide

Getting there

Ranthambhore is arguably the 'most easy to access' Tiger Reserve. Sawai Madhopur (SWM), the adjoining town is a major junction on the Mumbai to Delhi/Jaipur trunk line hence train connectivity is excellent. From Mumbai, the Delhi August Kranti Rajdhani is the best option (leaves Mumbai at 17:40 and reaches SWM the next morning at 06:30) and on the way back it leaves SWM at 20:45 and gets into Mumbai at 10:15 the next morning. There are a number of options to Delhi, including the August Kranti.

Jaipur (140 kms) is the nearest big city and airport, a comfortable 3 1/2 hour journey on excellent roads.

Ranthambhore has it all. From budget hotels to home stays to mid range to complete opulence, you can get the whole nine yards. 

For those who prefer a home-like ambience, there is none better than Tiger Home ( built by Hemraj Meena, a local who is one of the park's finest naturalists. A personal friend, Hemraj's dream had always been to have a place of his own where he can host wildlife lovers. And Tiger Home does exactly that. It's a really comfortable 8 room house with air-conditioned rooms and all the mod cons. Excellent home cooked food and very helpful staff make you feel genuinely like you're at home. And the best part is the company, Hemraj's experiences are incredible and you could well meet Nalla sir as well and hear all about his stories with Ranthambhore's amazing tigers.


At the mid-level, two of Ranthambhore's best options are the Ranthambhore Regency ( and Aditya Singh's Ranthambhore Bagh (

The luxury options include Taj Hotels' Sawai Madhopur Lodge, Oberoi Vanyavilas and Amanbagh. 

There are many many other hotels and resorts, but for me, home is Tiger Home!

Ranthambhore offers two types of safaris - gypsy (6 seats) and canter (approx 25-30 seats) Unlike most other parks, here the bookings are on a seat basis, so you can book 2 gypsy or canter seats without having to pay for the whole vehicle. All bookings need to be made on the website (

Please do book well in advance, especially if you need gypsy bookings. And always carry your ID proof with you, since there is invariably some checking at the entry gates.

Other attractions 
Ranthambhore Fort and the Ganesh Temple - one of Ranthambhore's most distinctive features is the huge fort that looms over the park. This medieval fort also has Rajasthan's oldest Ganesh temple, which attracts thousands of visitors, especially on Wednesdays.

In addition to the core area of the National Park, the adjoining Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary is also very pretty. Open even in the monsoon, this forest has beautiful high mountains and lots of flowing streams. There are tigers here as well as leopards and hyenas. Certainly worth a visit.

Other Tips
Ranthambhore can get really hot in summer, so sunscreen and comfortable clothes and headgear is important. It can get equally cold in winter, so a thick jacket is a definite requirement.

Another factor is the dust, so if you're troubled or allergic, a face mask will come in handy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve – Benevolent Tiger Gods

Bamera, the King
The tiger gods smiled. At long last. On our third trip to one of the Meccas of tiger sightings, we finally got the kind of sightings that Bandhavgarh is known for. On five of our 7 safaris, we sighted 9 tigers, including two sets of cubs. But the crowning glory was a superb, hour long, private audience with their father Bamera, the king of Bandhavgarh. And what a tiger he is – truly worthy of the crown that he has inherited from Charger and B2, two of Bandhavgarh’s favourite sons, whose stories are etched in local lore.

Kankati's inquisitive little cubs
On our very first safari, we had three very good reasons to be wowed by Bandhavgarh. The cubs of Kankatti, the Siddh Baba tigress, gave us a great sighting. They appeared on top of a hill and gradually walked down, and sat there as countless cameras clicked. The only bummer was that I was shooting into the light. But then, you can’t ask for everything, can you?

That evening, we went to Khitauli, one of Bandhavgarh’s three tourism ranges  where tourism is allowed, along with Tala (the premium zone) and Magdhi. There we heard sambhar alarm calls at a waterhole and sambhar calls being probably most reliable sign of a tiger, we waited. Finally a sub-adult male tiger walked slowly towards us (and the waterhole), but another gypsy driver was in too much of a hurry and that ensured that the tiger never came near, but walked away into the bushes. We’re Indians after all, patience is a virtue that doesn’t come easily to us.

The next day we drew a blank on the cat sightings. But we did see a tiger. A beautiful little one, with wings no less, very close and in brilliant light. Just shows that there is so more much to see in our forests, when we move our focus even slightly on the big boys.

A tiger with wings
The next morning was the Bamera tease act. He was holed up in a cave the whole day. We were barely 100 metres away, we knew he was there, he must have seen and heard us, but he didn’t move. Little did we know that he was holding out for the grand performance the next morning.

She was watching us for a while before we even realized she was there
That afternoon, we had our first sighting of another family, the Banwei cubs. We were waiting at a waterhole with a patch of thick jungle right behind, where they’d stashed away a kill. Suddenly, with no movement or sign, we saw two burning eyes watching us through the trees. The tiger then came out in the open for a brief while, gave us a photo opp and disappeared back into the jungle. We later caught a glimpse of his siblings and mother as well, but no pictures.

The final morning, we were in a forest department gypsy, kindly provided by the Deputy Director, Mr. Mridul Pathak. As an aside, I was truly impressed by how hard our forest department works to save our precious wildlife. I was trying to reach Mr. Pathak on a couple of occasions, but always had his phone out of coverage area, so I sent him a message. He finally called me at close to 11 pm that night and he had just left the forest after supervising the patrolling of tigers in sensitive areas (read areas with close proximity to human settlement) to avoid any untoward incidents. To have the Deputy Director spend half the night personally patrolling the forests speaks volumes for Mr. Pathak and his team and also the work ethic of the otherwise much-maligned forest department.

Back to the tigers and a dramatic final safari awaited us. As we entered the park, we immediately saw Bamera, striding in full view of all the gathered gypsies. We waited at a distance to allow him room to cross, but he suddenly veered towards us and cross the road barely 10 feet in front of where we were parked. Then regally surveyed his kingdom and headed towards his family – the Siddh Baba cubs.

We tracked him as he walked through the undergrowth, sometimes through sight and at others through the alarm calls.  Finally, we saw him sitting in a clearing, with a male cub right next to him. Father and son sat peacefully till Mama called, and the cub dashed off to her in a flash. They were joined by another cub (the third was probably guarding the kill) as they lazed around digesting what looked like an enormous meal.

Bamera looked like he wanted to move on, so we decided to stay with him. And he thanked us for our choice with a superb walkabout, just for us. He crossed the road, then emerged again, and crossed again, constantly looking at us with not a little curiosity. And some amusement I dare say.

Don't you dare do that again!
We went back to the cubs and found one of them perched on a fallen branch. Her brothers and mum were in no mood for any action, as they had moved to a shaded waterhole. And they did not even move.

We still had time to make a recce of the Banwei area and sure enough, two of the cubs were lying in the open, the kill polished off, taking a post-breakfast snooze. We took a few pictures and left them to their nap. And we left, probably as sated as all the tigers we’d encountered that morning.

Bandhavgarh lived up to its reputation as a tiger paradise. To see both sets of cubs was fascinating, but to see the lord of the jungle in all his glory, was truly mesmerizing.


Bandhavgarh Trip Guide

Getting there
Bandhavgarh is about 180 kms (3 hours) from Jabalpur and 100 kms (2 hrs) from Katni, the two nearest big towns and major rail heads. For the Delhi bound, there is also a daily train from Umaria (34 kms)

Bandhavgarh is one of the most popular wildlife reserves in India so the accommodation options span all sorts of budgets and types of properties. The excellent Bandhav Vilas was where we stayed in ( Manish, the GM is a fantastic host and he has a superb set of people working for him. Ram Singh, the Naturalist is again excellent, with fantastic instincts and knowledge. And Jagdish, their ace driver is an accomplished naturalist himself.

The other options include Taj’s Mahua Kothi, Tiger Trails and MPTDC’s resort, all of which have been recommended by other travellers.

As with all MP forests, safari bookings can be made online ( The Bandhav Vilas folks will arrange your safari bookings and gypsies, if you give them the required details well in advance.

Other Tips
Bandhavgarh will most certainly provide tigers, but before you book your safaris, check with the hotel on sightings to finalize which zone you should travel to.

Also, the hotel will arrange pick ups at the nearest town – Katni or Jabalpur if you let them know in advance.

Also bear in mind that Tala is a ‘premium’ zone, so an additional Rs. 1000 needs to be paid per safari in the Tala Zone.