Tag Archives: national parks

The giant turtles of Keoladeo national park

Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur has been the earliest and most popular of bird sanctuaries in India so much so that until few decades back whenever plans to visit a bird sanctuary will come in mind, name Keoladeo used to prop up almost instantly. But this park, popular for its cranes and once a critical wintering ground for endangered Siberian cranes, is also known for its giant soft shelled turtles. Park has seven species of turtles.

The number of turtles is very good, in few hundreds. There are many myths and folklores associated with these turtles, but indeed there lifespan is very good. In that sense many turtles here are said to be living here for more than couple of hundred years. Now the catch is that this park doesn’t have perennial source of water. It depends lot on monsoon rains and water sourced from near by reservoirs through canals. So when water gets dried up, turtles move towards a pond located besides a historical temple situated right at the second barrier of the park.

Watching turtles at this pons is an exhilarating experience. There is a temple complex, an ashram adjacent to the pond.

Temple complex
There are big numbers of monkeys in the complex as well

There are stairs going to the pond from the temple side. The caretakers of the temple often feed turtles with wheat flour in attempt to bring them towards the stairs for exciting tourists to see them. In return, tourists will pay them tip for their efforts.

Temple caretaker luring turtles with wheat flour

Its fun to watch this lovely creature coming up to the stairs to get some quick food. They are different in age and sizes. Often more than one will come to the stairs.

Three turtles on the stairs

For me personally, it was first time to watch these turtles so closely and it was very exciting to photograph them. Monkeys around the temple often bring a twist to the tale, when they loot the bounty meant for the turtles. Its thoroughly entertaining.

Looting the bounty
Keeping a close eye on the proceedings
Filled in both hands… still looking for more

But despite these side-artists, the main character is still the turtle. Here comes one :

Swimming towards stairs
Gets his food and pulls himself back

Getting some close shots was fascinating, like this one-

…and this one too:

Putting its neck back into the shell…

A closer look of feet and the eyes:

Here comes another turtle to give an audience and also gives a glimpse of its size-

…same way to retreat back, what a power nature has given to this creature-

Holding its food in the mouth…

Neck looks so decorated…

You can spot turtles in the national park at many other places as well. You need not essentially go to the pond to see them…

Enjoying some sun
A bigger one…

In other water bodies of the park..

So, next time you go to the Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur don’t forget to give some of your time to this lovely creature as well.

Where: Keoladeo Ghana National Park (erstwhile  Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary)  is located in Bharatpur city of Rajasthan. Park boundaries almost touch the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border. Park is just 20 kms from Fatehpur Sikri and 65 kms from Agra. Park gates are located right on the  Agra-Jaipur National highway. The turtle pond, as it is famously known is just a kilometre from the park gate and left of the second barrier, which actually is the entrance to the park.

 

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Shh… Tiger is here!

Its International Tiger Day and tigers are all over in the news for last few days. From missing of tiger Jai in Maharashtra’s Umred Karhandla wildlife sanctuary to debate of inflated tiger count in India’s tiger reserves… but for the tiger lovers, there is nothing like a good sighting of a tiger in the wild. But there are times when in wild you know that tiger is there around you but you are not able to see it. Those are the very thrilling but also very frustrating moments.

A look at such moments, when tiger sighting ends in agonising wait or… extraordinary thrill.

With a pug mark so fresh… you know you have missed the tiger just by… but then who know that. He or she might be still around, watching you!

Tiger1

When, all you have to remain contented with is these marks on the trees. These scratches might not make any sense to us, but are a clear-cut signal to the other tigers. A tiger scratches the trees to mark its territory, so that no other tiger trespasses. Well, when marks are there, tiger must be somewhere around. Isn’t it!

When, you are sure its around. Even the call is there for all to listen but the big cat is still elusive or just playing games with the tourists. Foresters, the guides and the so-called experts… all can sense them, but they are equally nervous as the tourists as the tiger plays truant.

At times, you might even have an unmistakable glimpse from behind the woods, but that might not satisfy your appetite. Will it!

Tiger6

But whenever it enters a scene, it enters like a bollywood hero with a round of cheers and applause around.

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In the ensuing enthusiasm the novices might miss the view but how can the seasoned ones miss the stripes behind the bushes!

Tiger8

And, finally when it comes, it makes its mark, literally. Man would not like to see a fellow human being in this act, but photographers will never like to miss the shot in wild- a tiger making marking. It is another of tiger’s way to mark its territory, dare you not cross the line!!

Tiger9

And, when he is marking, a human trespass can be very dangerous. But here is a lucky escape though.

Tiger10

He finishes, turns back to give a glance and smiles on his own magnanimity.

Tiger11

Looks ferocious but don’t worry, its dead and dead long ago, when tigers were not meant for conservation, but for hunting of royalty. Thrill to see stuffed tigers for those, who can’t see the real ones!

Tiger12

But few people have penchant to capture the real in fine lines. Might look like photos to some, but they are the paintings and are realistic paintings. Realistic in the sense, that the painted ones are not just any tiger, but real tigers inside the park and you can even match the stripes, birth marks. Hats off to the art!!

Tiger13

Panna Tiger Reserve : Few images sans tigers!

This is last post from my visit to Panna Tiger Reserve and National Park last month. And this one is not about tigers. I had always enjoyed wild, whether there is sighting of a big cat or not. Wild is always beautiful. Wanna Tiger Reserve and National Park has a beautiful topography and it owes much to the beautiful Ken river flowing through the reserve. It works as a lifeline for the forest and the wildlife here as you can see in the image below.

Ken river at Panna

A pair of Nilgai, no jungle in India is complete without them!

Nilgai at Panna

A male sambhar crossing the road. This is one of the favourite foods of big cats.

Sambhar at Panna

Something I captured for the first time- a spotted deer making a mating call to his partner. Novices will often misjudge a deer’s mating call as an alarm call for the tiger sighting.  But it’s different from that.

Spotted Deer at Panna

Deer and monkeys resting together in summer heat. Jungles are well known for stories of friendship between deers and monkeys. And this is for real. Both of them will alert each other for an approaching hunting predator- mostly a big cat- a tiger or a leopard. All forest guides use their alarm calls to track the tigers and show them to tourists. A monkey has a very sharp sight, so it will climb up the tree and keep an eye on the tigers and once it notices any, it will raise an alarm call, apparently to alarm its deer friends. Similarly, a deer has a very sharp sense of smell. It can smell a big cat and not just that, it can also sense whether the tiger is in hunting mood. It will then raise an alarm call for monkeys to alert them. Beauty of nature! Isn’t it!!

Deer-Monkey friendship at Panna

This is another of my first time captures, an Indian nightjar. It was hard to locate despite being very close and guide pointing towards it, because it was so beautifully camouflaged between dry grass and stones, that one can’t notice it on a cursory glance. Then, it was also surprising for us to see that this bird was sitting so calmly in such a scorching morning sunlight. A wonderful sight though.

Nightjar at Panna

Kingfishers are always my favourite birds, hence I was delighted to see this stork-billed kingfisher enjoying its day in Panna.

Stork Billed Kingfisher at Panna

After Dandeli reserve in Karnataka, this was my second chance to encounter a woolly-necked stork. Looks so majestic.

Woolly-necked stork at Panna

Ken river also has a large number of crocodiles. After crossing Panna Tiger Reserve, Ken also has a crocodile and Gharial sanctuary. Here we can see a crocodile calmly swimming in Ken through the core area of Tiger Reserve. Though it is tough to locate crocs during summers as they like to remain inside the water to keep themselves cool. In winters we can easily see them lying on rocks alongside the river enjoying sunlight.

Crocodile at Panna

It is also possible to do a boat safari in Panna Tiger Reserve. This is a hard an hour safari at a very nominal price. On your luckier days, you can also get a chance to see some wildlife on both sides of river, and who knows… may be tiger too. There have been instances of tiger swimming across the river for either hunting or changing territories.

Boat safari at Panna

Two cubs on play at Panna – a photo essay

Tiger is a solitary animal, it likes to be alone in its territory along with his female partners. Often tigers get injured, many times fatally in territorial fights. Even two brothers will search for different territories once they are adult enough to hunt and feed for themselves and hence eventually their mother will leave them. As I mentioned in my last post (Read: Returning to the tiger in Panna) I was fortunate to watch two cubs on play. Mother was around but we couldn’t see her as she was down in a nullah at a cooler place. Cubs don’t look like cubs as they were almost more than a year old, but were still with their mother. We and the few other tourist vehicles located this family on a grassland right on the banks of the Ken river. Ken river flows through Panna Tiger reserve.

So here are the two galleries of the cubs on play- one for each of them. Here is the first one-

This was the first cub. He then disappeared suddenly, presumably joined his mother in the gorge between two river islands. It was an anxious wait for the tourist to seem him or the other ones again-

Panna Tiger14

Actually the tigers were quite far away from the place, where we were parked. We couldn’t have gone closer. I have not zoomed and cropped the images (although I could have) so as to give readers the perspective of the distance of the tigers despite capturing them from a 400mm telephoto lens. So after a long wait, another cub emerged from behind the bushes on the other side, almost invisible behind them. It was a delight to capture him in camera. See for yourself (you can miss him in first few shots because of the long dry grass. Remember my post: Spot the tiger in this wild image!)-

Its always thrill to watch big cats in the wild, but without disturbing them. Panna has a turnaround story of tiger conservation. But there are always dangers looming. Recently read a report that Madhya Pradesh has lost nearly 16 tigers, including seven in Pench reserve, due to poaching and others reasons in the last one year. As tourists, we also need to alert, alarmed, caring and careful. Lets enjoy more and more years of this lovely creation of nature.

Spot the tiger in this wild image!

However close you watch a tiger in a zoo, you won’t get that excitement. But you won’t be able to contain your anxiety on the thrill of watching a tiger in wild, in its own territory- however distant it might be. Am I wrong? You won’t say so, when you see satisfied faces coming out of tiger reserves after end of every safari, especially in India- home to most of the tigers in world in wild. Its different every time- the thrill, as I have felt in my all sightings of tiger in wild. This one was no different.

So, can you spot the tiger in this photo below, taken on my very recent visit to Panna tiger reserve? Have a closer look-

Spot the Tiger1

Tough, isn’t it? Spotting wild cats in the wild, especially the elusive ones, need a sharp pair of eyes and a powerful camera to shoot. But even a 400mm telephoto lens is not enough to capture the big cat so clearly, when it is so far. So for all purposes of photography, we need to crop and zoom. Let’s see, if the first crop helps (below)!

Spot the Tiger2

Well, few sharp ones would have spotted him, but will still be tough for most of us. So here is the second crop (below). This will be great help, I guess!

Spot the Tiger3

Now I believe, most of us would have have spotted the tiger very clearly, Isn’t it? If someone is still finding it difficult, then here is the third crop of the image (below)-

Spot the Tiger4

This would have perhaps confirmed all the wild guesses! So here is the fourth crop to give the cat a closer look-

Spot the Tiger5

Now you can go allover agin to the first image and try to spot the tiger. That would be interesting. You can still wonder how the tiger was spotted in the first place (from a distance of more that half a kilometre away, deep in dry grassland). At times, few incidents, few catches, few shots- just happen to be interesting. I hope you agree!!

On Lion Trail – A photo journey

When it comes to big cats, undoubtedly they sway all the enthusiasm of tourists in their favour. Thats the reason that although forests themselves hold inherent beauty with all important fascinating wild life other than the cats, but when one goes to a sanctuary there is a single point motive of seeing a big cat in wild. If you don’t see a big cat in a safari than you will hang your head in disappointment at the end. In this respect, we were fortunate enough to get a good sighting of an adult lioness within first half hour of our safari in GIR national park of Gujarat, only home to Asiatic lions in the world.

This lioness was alone and perhaps looking for her cubs (thats what our guide Aasif said). But she remained around our vehicle for more than ten minutes, giving us an eyeful. Have a look at her different moods.

Here is a video of the lioness from my YouTube channel. Watch the video and see, how oblivious was this lioness of human presence around her.

About GIR: GIR National Park is located in Junagadh district of Gujarat. It is only home to Asiatic Lions in wild in the world. Park has more than five hundred lions and lions are literally overflowing. This park remains open from 16th October to 15th June every year.

Land of dreams on a digital mission

Crater Lake Cyclist_Whit Bazemore
Crater Lake Cyclist_Whit Bazemore

USA has always branded itself as a ‘land of dreams’ for travellers around the world. So much so that it even launched a music video ‘Land of Dreams’ by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal to market itself in potential markets. Interestingly four years after the launch this song still continues to be best showcase for Discover America. But now the dreams are being disseminated digitally as well. At least, that’s what the fourth annual Brand USA mission to India promised.

Grand Teton
Grand Teton

Starting this year, Brand USA, the agency that looks into the marketing and promotion of destination USA in international markets, will commence direct consumer campaigns in the Indian market. These campaigns will be more “digital” in character, with focus on young travellers and undoubtedly many of these campaigns will run through the social media.

Riding upon the success of ‘Land of Dreams’, Brand USA has now also commissioned world famous travel and adventure film makers MacGillivray Freeman Films of ‘Everest’ (1998) fame to make a film on USA’s natural attractions with a special focus on 100th anniversary of National Parks.

Carroll Rheem, Vice President Research & Analytics Brand USA
Carroll Rheem, Vice President Research & Analytics Brand USA

Carroll Rheem, VP – Research & Analytics, Brand USA said in Delhi last week that the agency has created “video assets” for digital campaigns and these will be driven through online platforms, which are frequently visited by travellers for information on US destinations. Brand USA has been running direct consumer campaigns in 10 overseas markets so far, and from next year, these will be expanded to 2 more markets, and India is one of them.

Leading a roadshow of US suppliers in New Delhi, as part of Brand USA’s annual India trade mission, Rheem said that the country is an important source market for the US, and there has been consistent growth in the long-haul share of India to the US over the years. In the last 3 years, this share increased from 20% (2012) to 26% (2014), she added.

While the US is looking for a CAGR growth of 4.2% to achieve its target  inbound figure of 100 million by 2021, the growth in Indian inbound numbers to the US holds a lot of promise with a CAGR growth of 9.6%, and is expected to continue for the next 5 years. Around 9.62 lakh Indians visited the US in 2014, registering a growth of 12% over the previous year. USA expects the Indian inbound to cross the 1,000,000 mark in 2015.

Only concern for USA is extremely volatile currency market and its impact on long-haul travel, but that is still to be watched out for as this Indian currency devaluation has yet not started showing its impact. Generally a devaluation of 10% could be a cause for worry but USA hopes it not to affect outbound travel from India to US.

Brand USA 4th India Mission Delegation
Brand USA 4th India Mission Delegation

US delegation included destinations, attractions, hotels and receptive operators. The Brand USA annual India trade mission recorded participation of 35 suppliers, representing 21 companies from the US. These included tourism boards like Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, San Francisco Travel Association, NYC & Company; Visit Florida, Visit Orlando, Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau, and Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau;  DMCs like 7M Tours, Sans Incredible Vacations, and Maxim Tours; shopping attractions like Simon Shopping Destinations, and Sawgrass Mills; and hotels like Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and The New Tropicana Las Vegas.

The roadshow was held in Chennai and Mumbai, before concluding in New Delhi.

Best places to go in 2014 – Ranthambore National Park among the list

Star-eyed TigerRanthambore Tiger Reserve and National Park in Rajasthan, India is among the best places to go in 2014 as per the no other than National Geographic. It has compiled a list of 20 places in the world, which ought not to be missed next year. The Best of the World list reflects what is authentic, culturally rich, sustainable and superlative in the world of travel. Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan in India is one of the most celebrated tiger parks in world alongwith Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh. Ranthambore has been home to one of the most revered tigress ‘Machli’, a lead in one of the most well known wildlife fights between a tiger and a crocodile. Sighting a Royal Bengal Tiger in its territory is altogether a different experience. (Read: Tale of two tiger sightings)

A monitor lizard at Ranthambore
A monitor lizard at Ranthambore

Well known Tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar reccently said in an interview about Ranthambore- Tigers of Ranthambore rewrote their natural history for world to read, see and record. The first records of kin links among tigers were established here as were the first records of the male tiger in the role of father and looking after cubs.  This has also been established by  Kim Sullivan’s recording of the baby sitter in Bandhavgarh and, more recently, Balendu Singh’s record of the male tiger bringing up cubs after the tigress died. Earlier most believed that the male killed the cubs. Ranthambore also gave us the first pictures of tigers killing in water, fighting crocodiles, eating pythons & porcupines, of a bear attacking a tiger, of a secret life of mother and cubs in the first six months of the cubs’ existence… so on.  

On its selection what National Geographic says about Ranthambore-

Eyeing the Tigers in Rajasthan

On the bumpy road to Ranthambore National Park, warden Balendu Singh says, “It takes some luck to see a tiger.”

Sun sets at Rajbagh, a place famous for its tiger sightings.
Sun sets at Rajbagh, a place famous for its tiger sightings.

Not long after, he stops on the verge of a dusty trail inside the 151-square-mile reserve. Ensconced in tall grass, a male tiger, T-25, lollygags on his back in the sun, as playful as a house cat. When two chubby cubs emerge, wrestling, rolling, the bigger cat bats them away. Singh lifts his camera, recording it all. As the first male tiger known to raise cubs orphaned by their mother, T-25 is making history.

Indeed, things have changed since this temple-laden, lake-mottled, brushy expanse of land in central India served as the royal hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Back in the day, even Prince Philip shot a tiger here for sport. But since 1973, this wildlife-rich terrain has been a protected area and tiger reserve. Abundant with monkeys, leopards, wild boars, foxes, macaques, crocodiles, and birds, Ranthambore’s exotic landscape—punctuated by a crumbling, ancient fort—evokes scenes from a Rudyard Kipling tale. Here roam 24 glorious adult tigers, and the population continues to grow. “We’ve welcomed 26 cubs in the last two years,” says Singh, who blames deforestation and poaching for the decimation of India’s once plentiful tiger population. With conservation in mind, the park limits the number of visitors. Yes, one has to be lucky to glimpse a tiger, but Ranthambore makes its own luck. —Becca Hensley

Travel Tips

When to Go: Ranthambore National Park is open to visitors October 1-June 30. Daily opening and closing times vary seasonally. Morning visits are best since animals typically are more active and visible.

How to Go: Ranthambore national park is well connected with all the major cities and station in India. The easiest way to reach Ranthambore is to take a train to Sawai Madhopur. This town is well connected with trains to/from Jaipur, Bombay and Delhi.

Nearby Airports – Jaipur and Kota

Distance by rail:
Delhi – 362 km, Agra – 227 km, Bombay 1027 km, Kota – 108 km, Jaipur – 132 km

Distance by road:
Delhi – 480 km (via Dausa), Jaipur – 180 km (via Tonk)

Mist over forest at dawn, Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda. Photo: Thomas Marent, Minden Pictures/Corbis/National Geographic
Mist over forest at dawn, Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda.
Photo: Thomas Marent, Minden Pictures/Corbis/National Geographic

Meanwhile, the top 20 destinations for 2014 (in alphabetical order) selected by National Geographic are:

  • Alentejo, Portugal
  • Arbil, Iraq
  • Bolaven Plateau, Laos
  • Cacao Trail, Ecuador
  • Cape Verde
  • Cathar country, France
  • Cordoba, Argentina
  • Derawan Islands, Indonesia (readers’ choice)
  • Guyana
  • John Muir Trail, Scotland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Nahanni National Park, Canada
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Northern Territory, Australia
  • Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda
  • Puglia, Italy
  • Ranthambore National Park, India
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Sochi, Russia

Don’t miss any of them.

Dudhwa sans Tigers

Dudhwa Tiger reserve is one of those tiger reserves in India which are loved by conservationists. What else to prove that Dudhwa is known for one of the most popular names associated with tigers in India- Billy Arjan Singh. Dudhwa, not as glamorous as Bandhavgarh or Ranthambore or Corbett, but is a beautiful forest. Don’t go there with a single point ambition of seeing a tiger, and you will enjoy much more what the jungle has to offer. Dudhwa is located in Kheri district of Uttar pradesh in the terrain bordering Nepal. Travel to Lucknow or Shahjahanpur via train and then go towards Palia by road. Dudhwa main gate is another twelve kilometres from Palia.

Dudhwa is the only place in India where you can see one-horned rhinoceres in wild besides the Kaziranga in Assma, which ofcourse is dedicated to it.  At Dudhwa, Rhinoceres are kept in a separate enclosure where tourists can enjoy an elephant safari. That’s the only way you can see rhinoceres. Rest of the park area has to be accessed on four wheel vehicles. Actually it is one of those tiger reserves, where you are allowed to go inside on your own four wheelers, albeit after paying a fees and taking a guide along. Rhinoceres have been kept in a safe enclosure probably to keep them safe from fights with tigers. Although it would be tough for a tiger to attack a full grown rhinoceres, but a baby rhinoceres could be an easy target for the big cat.

Dudhwa is also rich in wildlife other than tigers and rhinoceres. This forest is dense and that makes it difficult to spot the wildlife, specially the tigers, until they are walking on the safari track. Due to marshy grasslands it is also called to be heaven for bird-watchers, with many rare bird species found here. Dudhwa is also known for biggest concentration of swamp deers in world. Being on the border of Nepal makes it tough to monitor the movement of wildlife as well as poachers. Security is a big issue and that makes the wildlife very vulnerable. Elephants are also among the prominent features of Dudhwa. Dudhwa is bordered by two rivers Suheli and Mohana. Besides, a full tourist camp at the main gate, there are few forest rest houses inside the reserve, where one can stay overnight and watch wildlife.