April 2018 saw my third visit to photograph the Tigers of India, although this was the third time, the anticipation of that first tiger sighting was still as exciting as ever. That first glimpse of a tiger walking freely in their space sends a tingle down the spine & we didn't have to wait too long.
Our clients made a point of noting it took only 25 minutes, & what a fantastic sighting it was to start our Bandhavgarh-based Tigers of India adventure. Our first encounter was with one of Spotty's cubs. She has three cubs, approximately 18 months old, but they're now rarely seen all together. As our guide liked to say – they're in their ‘probationary period' learning to be independent & to develop their hunting skills, but still coming together as a family on occasions. We could see one of the cubs resting in the leaves by the waterhole & what a fantastic treat it was to see her cooling down in the water a few hours later.
The excitement of the first day set the scene for the rest of the week. Of course, these are wild animals & nothing can be guaranteed. Sometimes a sighting may be from a distance & sometimes through the thicket at the side of the track, but the percentage of fantastic photographic opportunities was phenomenal.
David & PN, the pair that set-up NaturesLens, have, over the years, developed a close rapport with the best drivers & guides within the reserve. These guides & drivers know the landscape of Bandhavgarh very well, & all that it has to offer; their expertise certainly paid off on our daily games drives.
One of my favourite images to capture is the tiger emerging from beautiful golden grass, and, as the tiger approached the drivers knew exactly where to position the jeep to get the shot.
The drivers & naturalists are continually listening for alarm calls & looking out for pugmarks, which indicate the direction of movement & timescale. If a pugmark has collapsed around the edge, it may well be several hours old, but a clear, crisp pugmark is fresh. On this occasion, the tiger's movement could be tracked along a dried up river bed & we were able to spend a couple of hours with her as she stretched, wriggled & yawned!!
For the morning game drive, an early start is always essential, so a 4.30am alarm call is a norm. Breakfast time is flexible, dependent on tiger movement & sightings but there's guaranteed to be a tasty treat in store for our clients, & an opportunity to stretch legs in a specified area – often the central region of the reserve, when you can meet up with other safari-taking participants.
Mid-day is a time to chill in the hotel pool, catch up on some sleep or spend time processing images, before heading out once again for the afternoon drive.
The Tigers are, of course, our main photographic target but there's so much more to see & it's great to be able to capture some of the other species which the jungle forests & grassy plains of Bandhavgarh have to offer.
We'd had a fantastic week, the accommodation as always was superb, serving excellent food & the group made for magnificent company, &, as we headed out for our final drive everyone's thoughts were the same – let's make this a good one & end on a high – & we certainly did!
We watched from a distance as the tiger relaxed in the morning sunshine on the other side of the waterhole. Then, as she made her move, she disappeared below the bank … & to the delight of our clients gently strolled up the bank to give us a perfect sighting to end our trip.
So long Bandhavgarh – until the next time!