My first visit to India was in April 2016, also with NaturesLens, & I fell in love with the place, we had some excellent tiger sightings in Tadoba, but let’s just say I came away with some ‘unfinished business’ so it didn’t take much persuading to book myself onto the Indian Wildlife Photography Holidays that NaturesLens had arranged for May 2017.
In the weeks before our trip there had been many posts on social media showing some incredible tiger sightings, so the anticipation grew, & Bandhavgarh didn’t disappoint. It has to be said, however, that nothing is guaranteed – we heard of a few people who had seen very little. Still, NaturesLens put everything in place to give their clients the absolute best opportunity, securing top-class drivers & guides. They, over our time in Bandhavgarh, became part of our ‘Team Tiger’ group.
When I refer to ‘sightings’, I mean ‘photographic opportunities’ not a shadow in the bush which is hardly distinguishable or a bum shot! When I say ‘photographic opportunity’, I mean time to capture an image of quality that meets my standards & that I would be happy for others to see. In total, over the week the group encountered 17 different tigers, some shared moments with numerous other folk & some exceptional exclusive moments with no one else around other than one Gypsy vehicle – just you & the tiger – those are moments to treasure.
This image is very much one shared with practically everyone else on safari. For several days Kankatti & her cubs visited the waterhole at pretty much the same time each day, so naturally, everybody gathered to witness this special event. We sat & we waited for over an hour in the blazing heat – about 45˚ – & then suddenly the sound of camera shutters. I couldn’t see anything to start with thanks to the beautiful growth of bamboo, but then the family appeared, walking around the waterhole & bathing in just the perfect spot.
What an absolute treat!
A somewhat quieter moment – just two Gypsy vehicles, both part of our NaturesLens group & the beautiful Banbehi chilling on a cold rock. It was a fabulous photographic setting but with two main challenges. Firstly, she was laying on the rock facing the wrong direction & additionally, that one great big long piece of grass right across her head – oh, the joys of wildlife photography! A waiting game commenced, but sitting watching a tiger just a few feet away from you is such a delight it didn’t matter how long we had to wait. Eventually, she rewarded us & turned her head & with the grass swaying in the breeze, I was able to capture a clear shot.
And so to one of those precious moments when it’s just you & the tiger. As you drive around Bandhavgarh, you see many vehicles with three, four or even six photographers jostling for position. With NaturesLens there are never more than two clients in each Gypsy, along with the driver & naturalist. On this occasion, I was with Pui Hang, one of the founders of NaturesLens. It was early morning, the sun was just rising, the light was beautiful & as we turned a corner, we suddenly saw a tiger ‘disappear’ into a sidetrack. As we pulled up alongside the ‘no access’ track, she was walking away from us. Cameras at the ready we both sat repeating the mantra ‘turn around, turn around, please turn around’ & she did, several times as she slowly meandered down the track. This was my first meeting with Dotty & it was truly perfect.
Dotty turned out to be pretty special for me as she once again provided one of those ‘precious moments’ – this time fellow traveller, Peter … we’d been spending some time photographing the langur monkeys & were somewhat behind the rest of the group. Our driver decided to stop at a waterhole to allow us to photograph some of the birds in the area & as he stood to look around, he spotted, at the bottom of the steep bank, the head of a tiger right in the very corner & hardly visible. What a spot … it was Dotty again. We watched as she walked around the waterhole & took a leisurely mud bath. She wandered through the meadow – our driver knew exactly where she would be heading & drove around to a different point of the track. Sure enough Dotty came straight to where we had stopped, emerging through the long grass, this time in the late afternoon sun. Another perfect moment!
Our time at Bandhavgarh was pretty special. A great group of people who are now dear friends, super accommodation, excellent food & superb drivers – all down to NaturesLens & the detailed planning that goes into each & every of their photography holidays.
And finally … back to the beginning … anyone who has been to India, particularly Bandhavgarh, will no doubt tell you with extremely fond memories where they saw their first tiger … the Rajbehra cubs at the waterhole were mine … I watched them from a distance playing on a small island on the other side of the waterhole. We were close to the end of the session & the number of vehicles was starting to thin out. One of the cubs began to walk around the edge of the waterhole, took a quick dip & then came across the ‘manmade’ dam walking within a few feet of us … what a fantastic start to the trip!
And so onto Gir, the only natural habitat of the Asiatic Lion & the second of the two Indian Wildlife Photography Holidays that NaturesLens designed that could be joined into one seamless whole … it has to be said, spotting & subsequently capturing images of these magnificent lions is a very different experience to spotting tigers but when you do wow, & double wow. But you need to bide your time, Gir is a slower pace than Bandhavgarh, but the rewards are just as good, if not better in a different way than those sightings of the Tigers!
Our accommodation was basic but very spacious & extremely comfortable with three of the most critical factors – hot shower, lots – & I do mean lots – of absolutely delicious food & lovely, friendly & helpful staff.
We had been in the park a couple of days before our first encounter, but boy was it worth the wait. Our guide told us to get our cameras ready …. quote ‘the lions are going to cross the road & you’ll get one chance’. Then shivers went down the spine as we heard a roar & four lions appeared through the bush … but they didn’t cross the road. Instead, they lay down at the side & stayed there for a good 30 minutes in the glorious evening light. As I said wow, & double, wow!!!!
Unlike the tiger parks in India where all the tigers are named, or at least numbered, the lions have no name or identification. Their territory is more extensive than that of tigers but, with the help of local trackers, the guides & drivers get a good feel for where the lions might be.
As always NaturesLens ensured we had the best drivers & guides & thanks to them we were privileged to have several incredible sightings. With pretty hefty daily camera fees – yes, here you have to pay to take a camera into the park – I chose only to take the 1DX2 with the 500mm lens expecting to see the lions from a distance … but it was not to be so! The majority of sightings were pretty close & as a result, I got some pretty awesome portrait shots.
The lions would always appear in groups, generally of about four to six but rarely lay together. It was pretty special therefore to see these two enjoying a bit of time along with the tail echoing the shape of the trees behind!!
In addition to the Tigers of Bandhavgarh & the Lions of Gir, there is a lot of other fantastic wildlife in India.
The Langur Monkeys are a real favourite – so many images to choose from, but I love this one chilling amongst the green foliage & the gorgeous spotted owlet playing peek-a-boo!!
Some of the birdlife is simply stunning. Here we have the Indian roller, a long tail shrike, Oriental white eye & Tickell’s blue flycatcher, & the stunning peacock, so lovely to see in its natural habitat.
I started by saying I had ‘unfinished business’ following India 2016. Is it now finished? Never! I achieved more than I ever hoped for & got shots I could only ever dream of before … but that just spurs the desire for more. Bring on India 2018 – I can’t wait!
Join the NaturesLens Indian Wildlife Photography Holidays in 2018
For 2018, we have already planned a trio of Photography Holidays that can be joined together to form one seamless journey through India, that will be amazing – or you can attend the separate events individually or perhaps join the Lions of Gir & the Tigers of Bandhavgarh into a two-week trip that echoes the tours held in 2017 with Jayne.
Starting with the Tigers & Leopards of Kabini at the end of March – specifically March 30th – April 7th – to be led by John Rowell for NaturesLens, then the amazing Lions of Gir follows on the dates of April 7th – 13th, this trip is being led by myself & then the trio of trips ends with the Tigers of Bandhavgarh Photography Holiday between the dates of April 13th – April 22nd.