Tag Archives: Tiger

In memory of a Star on International Day of Forests


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Star breathed its last yesterday and it is certainly the most disheartening news to hear on the International Day of Forests. Star, also called as Sitara was actually one of the stars of the forests of Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. As per news reports Star or Sitara, which was named T-28 in forest records died after being tranquillised. Perhaps a tranquilliser overdose took its life. He was tranquillised in attempts to rescue him from a village in Khandar area on the park’s periphery. It is said that this 13 year old male tiger had strayed close to a village where people had surrounded it. Forest officials reached there and in attempts to rescue, tried to tranquillise it.

Ironically, the theme of this year’s International Day of Forests is : Forests and Sustainable Cities and we probably lost Star because of this ever-increasing pressure on forests from the surrounding human settlements. The news of his death reminded me of the day, I had seen him on the safari. Just a short encounter of 11 minutes was enough to get etched in the memory for ever. That’s the reason that news of his death saddened me. Star was named so because it had a 5 point star mark over its left eye and also has bird shaped mark over the right. Rajbagh area of the park was his favourite place to give audience to curious, thrilled, overjoyed travellers from around the world.

It was cold winter day on January in the year 2011. Our morning safari  yielded no tiger sightings. Then came the afternoon safari. Normally in all tiger reserves across India, safari vehicles will have a specified route. There might be three-four or more different zones in the park and a safari vehicle is limited to a particular zone. That means, if you are in zone 2 for the morning safari, your route is limited to zone 2 only. Vehicles are not allowed to overlap the zones. This is done to manage the tourist traffic inside the park and ensure that a particular area or the wildlife in a particular area is not abused quite often because of any particular attraction and tourists are evenly distributed.

Also read: Some wild moments in Sariska!

But on that particular trip, we were guests of the district officials and hence we had a special number safari vehicle which has access to all zones. Although I am not at all fond of sighting sprints of safari vehicles inside the reserve, but that day our driver thought that he had the duty to give us a tiger sighting. Hence around 5.20 pm in the evening he received a call on his walkie-talkie about a tiger sighting and then for next ten minutes we had a bone-churning dash towards Rajbagh, which was quite a distance from that place. That’s where the T-28 or the Star male aka Sitara was on his evening stroll.

There were already hordes of safari vehicles there, might be more than 60 to 70 people around at that particular time. He was already spotted inside the jungle and everybody was waiting for him to come out in open, which he eventually did with full gusto fit for his stature.

Also read: Shh…Tiger is here!He than proceeded to make the marking. One of the favourite acts of tigers to mark their territory.

Have a look: Two cubs on play at Panna- A photo essay

It then cam to the road. Looked in a very playful mood. It was  very interesting to see how these big cats maintained their composure as well as indifference despite of being surrounded by so many humans. They were least afraid but equally attentive. I don’t think they would be unaware of any lurking danger. But they were quite sure of their territory and their command over it, where they were kings. Sitara has history of getting too close to safari vehicles.And, then relaxed itself giving full view to all safari vehicles.After few minutes, it again made the move. Kept playing in the mud.Looking for tiger? Read : Spot the tiger in this wild image!

And then Sitara decided that it was the time to end the day’s audience and it walked away. It crossed our way, moved to jungle on to the right. Even than it didn’t disappear immediately. It kept everybody interested, but didn’t return. After a couple of minutes, it went deep inside. In the fading light, it was soon impossible to keep track of its stripes.Love wild? Read: Dudhwa sans tigers!

It all ended in just 11 minutes- the royal show, but gave everybody around a plenty to cheer about for rest of their lives.

Changing colours? Read: White Tiger – When mutation becomes exhibit!

Star aka Sitara aka T-28 was a young tiger, full of life and glory as well. Having born to tigress T-27, it was first spotted in 2008 but it established itself very quickly among the ranks. Got the name and fame as well when it got the courage to challenge the great tigress Machali. It is being said that in 2009 Sitara and Machali had many territorial fights. Sitara controlled a large territory and despite fights with Machali, also mated her two daughters including Sundari.

But all will be tales now. Goodbye Star!!

Have you been fortunate to have sighting of this particular tiger? How was the experience? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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Kankwari : A fort and a history in deep jungle!

Between visits to Bhangarh and Kankwari forts, I had other three notable experiences. All are worth independent posts, that would certainly be in coming days. But, to me it seemed rather more appropriate to write about Kankwari fort immediately after Bhangarh. It helps more in drawing comparisons and parallels.

Kankwadi Fort1
Kankwari fort as seen from the Kankwari village

Although the visit to Bhangarh fort had its worth because of all the stories attached to it and I was impressed by the fortress city as a whole, but I was largely disappointed by upkeep and ruins of the Bhangarh fort. In that context, visit to Kankwari fort right next day was a huge surprise… a pleasant one.

Kankawari Fort as seen from the lakeside
Kankwari Fort as seen from the lakeside

I had read about Kankwari Fort sometime back but never had chance to visit it in my earlier trips to Sariska Tiger Reserve. Even the information available about fort has been too little, too less, baring one critical historical fact that this fort was used by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to imprison his brother Dara Shikoh in 17th century. This has been always the selling point to popularise this fort. Another known fact is that the fort was built by Raja Jai Singh I of Amber who was a senior general in Aurangzeb’s army and grandson of Raja Man Singh, one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court.

Closer look of Kankwari Fort from outside
Closer look of Kankwari Fort from outside

Now, the locational facts and present situation: Kankwari fort is located right deep inside the Sariska National Park and Tiger Reserve. Its alone on a hillock in the middle of the jungle, with just a handful of families to its company, who live in the Kankwari village at the base of the hillock. Obviously, the fort is located in an area with no other human access, this being a protected forest in reins of a Tiger Reserve. The fort was also a point of contention some six years back when there was a plan to open the fort for eco-tourism, which was opposed tooth & nail by the then central environment & forest ministry. Probably the plan was shelved as a result. On the other hand, Kankwari village below had to be relocated out of the core tiger area to make the critical tiger area as ‘inviolate’ i.e. out of bounds for human use. But few families are still there living in the Kankwari village.

Front view of the Kankwari Fort
Front view of the Kankwari Fort

So, under these conditions, when we finally managed to reach to the Kankwari Fort, it was a big surprise for us. Going there is tough as you hardly get a proper guidance and direction to move into the restricted forest. Only way to reach Kankwari fort is through a safari in tiger reserve.

A welcome gate in the jungle, many kms before the actual fort
A welcome gate in the jungle, many kms before the actual fort

Fort is on a hillock and once you reach on the top of the hillock, there is a gate to enter the fort, which leads to another gate through a big fortified passage on the cliff. See the images-

As soon as you enter the main gate is a lounge (locally this structure is called as tibara or तिबारा in Hindi, a hall or shelter with three open arch gates, image below) which looks refurbished recently. Perhaps this was the renovation going on some years back to promote tourism to this fort, before this was halted.

Entering inside the fort
Entering inside the fort

Then on the right side are stairs to go up the fort.  After one enters the inside gate, there is a huge fortified compound on all sides. Stairs from the front strangely look very small to enter a fort.

Stairs to go up the fort
Stairs to go up the fort

Once you enter the small gate after climbing through these stairs, you reach to a intricately designed compound which looks like a garden. There is a small but deep tub in the centre. Initially it looks like a place to take bath, but it is very deep and has no stairs to go down. It might be place to store water. The intricate designs in this compound look like carved out of white marble but actually they are made of limestone. Too beautiful indeed. See for yourself-

Looks like a beautiful designed terrace garden
Looks like a beautiful designed terrace garden

Then there are another stairs to go up to next level-

Stairs on the right to go the fort from the seemingly terrace garden
Stairs on the right to go the fort from the seemingly terrace garden

In the image above you can see a set of rooms on this floor. These all rooms are interconnected. There is another staircase on the left minaret to go up. There are another two levels once you move up with two areas on the lower level- front and back and one front area on the upper level.

The rooms are well designed and seemingly in good condition, even the designs. What is also there, like other forts, is the number of stairs and passages, connecting one part to another and one level to other. Also overwhelming is the view from the top of the fort. It provides a 360 degree view of the jungle below, and believe me, its most fascinating part of the fort. See for yourself (click the image for full view)-

Hardly anybody comes to the fort, but few empty bottles and cartons were testimony of some odd liquor parties held here away from the eyes of the world.

Only guard to this fort high up!
Only guard to this fort high up!

Another interesting part is the back portion of the fort. Earlier I told about small stairs going up the fort from the front. But then there is another stairs from the lower level that takes one to the backside of the fort. Towards the back, when one thinks that it is the end of the fort, there is another area not visible from front.

Another stairs leading to the back
Another stairs leading to the back

From an opening in the wall towards both sides is the way to go to backside. There are some hidden rooms in the wall and then there is a huge baoli sort of pond, which locals say was the place to punish the rebels. Some people say that Dara Shikoh was kept here. To me it looked like a huge water reservoir. But it was interestingly designed-

There was a separate way for the horse army to enter the fort. There was a way upto the fort from the side of the lake-

Wall on the lakeside is actually the way for the horse army to come uphill to the fort
Wall on the lakeside is actually the way for the horse army to come uphill to the fort
Horses used to enter the fort through this gate
Horses used to enter the fort through this gate

Most Important things to take care off:

As I said earlier, this fort is right deep inside the Sariska Tiger Reserve, hence it falls under restricted area. Only way to go to fort is by taking a safari for tiger reserve, along with a guide. One has to pay full safari fees and the guide fees for that. To reach the fort, you have  to pass through safari zone 2 of the reserve. Since you have to take a safari to go to the fort, you can only enter the jungle, hence the fort on designated safari timings, i.e. 7 am to 10 am and then 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm. These are the times to enter and exit the jungle, so one has to reach the fort, see it and come back to the exit gate- all in three hours. Its a tough task because of the distance of the fort from the entry gate, which is around 25 kms of tough bumpy jungle track. SO, considering the time strain it is not possible to see animals and fort, in single safari. But you can still be lucky to see plenty of wildlife on the way, as one passes through the thick of the wild. Well, this all is from the main Sariska gate of the reserve. There is also another gate towards Tehla, which is called Tehla Gate of the reserve. This fort is slightly closer to the Tehla gate. But then, tourists coming from Delhi mostly prefer Sariska gate. Tourists coming from Dausa side will prefer Tehla gate.

Another thing to note is that this fort is not under ASI or the tourism department. Being inside the jungle, the fort comes under the control of forest department. However, if any maintenance work has to be done to the fort, than that is done under the supervision of the ASI. So, one should hope that when you reach the fort, the forest officials have left the gate open to enter. When we reached to the fort, there was absolutely nobody at the fort. Gate was not locked and our guide led us inside the fort. As per information I gathered at the booking office, very few (less than five percent) tourists coming for the safari in Sariska, go to the Kankawari fort.

So next time you are in Sariska, keep time for a separate safari to the Kankwari Fort.

Any questions? Write me, I will be more than happy to reply with best of my knowledge.

Returning to the tiger in Panna

Panna Tiger1Panna tiger reserve has a special place personally for me. I have three personal firsts associated with this national park. It was here that I had my very first tiger sighting in the wild. This was also the place where I had my first and only tiger sighting while sitting on an elephant. Lastly, this is the only tiger reserve where I visited twice and had tiger sightings on both the occasions. And this time around, it was fortunate sighting of two cubs (photo above and below). Unluckily though, their mother remained elusive, although she was around.

Panna Tiger2

The gap of almost eleven years between these two visits to Panna had been a period of turmoil for this Tiger reserve. The story of Panna Tiger Reserve has not an ordinary one. A story of all hopes lost to an extraordinary resurrection. By 2009, Panna has lost all of its tigers. An area known for its precious diamonds and tigers was left with no more than an abandoned piece of land. Panna had gone the same way as Sariska in Rajasthan four years earlier. I felt the pain of photographing one of the last tigers of Panna.

But story of Panna’s revival was unparalleled in wildlife conservation, something that Sariska is still struggling for. A new team of officials was handed the charge and tigresses were brought in from Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves. A male tiger was brought in from Pench. Tigers were reintroduced into Panna and the endless efforts of the staff to ensure that they were raised safely within this deteriorating habitat. Combined with other efforts, in just five years tiger count in Panna went from zero to 25. Today Panna has more than 30 tigers. Just three years after the process of revival started, in 2012 Panna Tiger Reserve was awarded National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) award for active management and monitoring.

So, being in Panna once again and feeling the thrill of photographing the wild cats in their own habitat was so fulfilling.

 

Photogallery: A monkey ‘business’ in Ranthambore

They might be most less talked about animal, when it comes to Ranthambore- we talk about tigers, crocs, monitor lizards and much more, but certainly not about monkeys. Although monkeys are integral part of the tiger reserves and ones to give the indication of spotting a tiger, but still here we are talking about monkeys of Ranthambore fort, which is located inside the tiger reserve and is claimed to have only temple in world of Trinetra (three-eyed) Ganesha. Devotees throng this temple, many of them on their foot for kilometres and some do encounter an odd tiger on the way.  Well here is a peek into monkey ‘business’!

Siberian Tigers make a comeback in China

Siberian Tiger on prowl
Siberian Tiger on prowl. Photo: wallsave.com

Once believed nearly extinct in China, the Siberian tiger, the largest member of the cat family, is making a comeback, the result of a decade-long effort to restore its natural habitat by banning logging, hunting and trapping. Chinese have been amazed not only by the apparent growth of the tiger population but also by how far the felines have spread. It made headlines around China this year when tigers were seen near Jiamusi, a city 140 miles from the Russian border. In China, the number of Siberian tigers living in the wild (far smaller than those in captivity) has been listed in government statistics at between 18 and 22 for some years. Nobody knows the exact number, because the Chinese don’t have tracking collars on the tigers, but there could be as many as 40 now and that the population is growing. Conservationists believe that the number of tigers has doubled in the last decade and that the area populated by tigers has become much larger.

Siberian TigerCredit goes to campaigns to restore the degraded forests in China and Russia. The latter began tiger-protection efforts in the 1940s and has the largest population of Siberian tigers, between 400 and 900, according to the World Wildlife Fund. But in recent years, China has caught up and might even be moving ahead in creating tiger-friendly habitat. Chinese efforts on behalf of the Siberian tiger have won worldwide praise among environmentalists. A 2010 report in the journal of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies compared China’s preservation efforts favorably with India’s and ventured that China might even earn the right to claim it “saved the tiger.”

The King in his moods
The King in his moods

Tigers are endangered throughout the world: Their population in the wild has dwindled from an estimated 100,000 in the early 20th century to as few as 3,200 today. Siberian tigers, also known as Amur or Korean tigers, are among six surviving subspecies and are native to the boreal forests, or taiga, of China, Russia and North Korea. Although they weigh as much as 675 pounds, Siberian tigers are elusive creatures that slink into the forest when humans approach. Although Chinese still buy illegal body parts of tigers — poached in India or killed in captivity — for traditional medicine, the wild tigers have not been hunted in China since the 1950s. In fact, hunting of all animals except rats is banned in China.

But many people in the down-at-the-heels villages near the Russian border trap other animals, which also has an effect on tigers. First of all, tigers can easily be snared in traps. More important, trapping sets off a destructive cycle of theft; if humans steal the deer and wild pigs that are the tigers’ natural prey, the tigers in turn are prompted to steal the humans’ livestock.

Source: Tiger chronicles/WWF/LA Times

 

 

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.