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2018 India: Tigers, Lions, Sloth Bears, the Taj Mahal and more

Key Information

Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Duration: 20
Cost: £5990, €6830, $7850 Delhi/Nagpur. Single Room Supplement: £779, €887, $1020. Deposit: £750, €900, $980.
Places: 9

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Tigers in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India

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Tiger! Surely one of the most evocative creatures that still shares our crowded planet with us, but for how much longer? Of all the mammals that wildlife photographers dream of photographing, the magnificent Tiger surely tops the bill! But Tiger photography is not an easy thing to do. Unlike, for example, Lions in Africa, Tigers in India and other parts of Asia are rare and far more secretive, at least in many wildlife sanctuaries.

 Those making short visits to the wildlife reserves of India are sometimes lucky enough to see a Tiger or two on their travels, but often views are brief and quite often there are no sightings at all. To see and photograph Tigers well it is necessary to spend plenty of time and also to visit the very best and most reliable Tiger reserves in India. Furthermore, the very best period for frequency of Tiger sightings is from late March to May, with the period November to February, when many overseas wildlife photographers come to India because of the cooler weather, being much less good.

In order to make those Tiger photography dreams come true, we will be exploring what is probably the best wildlife sanctuary in India for Tiger sightings at the present time, the little-known but brilliant Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra in Central India. This huge and remote park, situated in the hill ranges of central India that were immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in the Jungle Book, protects vast tracts of largely deciduous forest which still hold many Tigers. Tadoba is currently recognized by discerning wildlife photographers as one of the very best places to go if one wants great photography encounters with Tigers.

In this wonderful reserve in Central India you can expect, not just hope, to get multiple sightings of these extraordinary and beautiful predators, often at close range, and sometimes one can watch them for long periods at a time! Staring into the huge, cold yellow eyes of a Tiger just a short distance away is an awesome experience, and Tadoba is where it can happen. We will explore the park by jeep and some of the Tigers are now so used to the presence of people that they seem unconcerned by their close proximity. From the well-sited lodge we use at Tadoba, with its expert guides, our group members have a good chance of sighting over 10 Tigers during a 10 days stay, and we could even record as many as 20-30 or even more!

 (By this we do not mean the number of different Tiger individuals, but the cumulative total of number of Tigers seen per day.) Needless to say, Tadoba has recently become something of a Tiger photography Mecca, but it remains far less well-known than places like Bandhavgarh and Kanha, even though, in our opinion, it is even better.

Tadoba holds a great variety of other wildlife and among large mammals offering good photography potential are the huge Gaur (or Indian Bison), the beautiful Chital (or Spotted Deer), Sambar (a large Red Deer/Elk-sized species), Nilgai (or Blue Bull, one of the world’s largest antelopes), Wild Boar and two species of monkey; Rhesus Macaque and the characterful Hanuman (or Grey) Langur. The sanctuary also produces regular sightings of Leopard, Jungle Cat and Golden Jackal, and we even have a very good chance of multiple encounters with Sloth Bear and a fair chance of coming across the rare and declining Dhole (or Indian Wild Dog).

Tadoba holds a rich selection of birdlife and amongst the species that often provide superb wildlife photography portraits are Indian Peafowl (the males will be in full display at the time of our visit), Lesser Adjutant (a huge stork), Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk-Eagle, Indian Scops Owl and Jungle Owlet.

The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is of course the major focus of this Indian wildlife photography journey, but our rich tapestry of experiences will be further enhanced by spending some time in other parts of this huge country.

At the very start of our photography tour, we will pay a visit to the city of Agra to see and photograph the ethereal Taj Mahal, a building that represents a pinnacle of human achievement and one which epitomizes the romantic India of a bygone era that pinnacle of human achievement. The riches accumulated by the Moghul emperors were used to build awe-inspiring strongholds and some of the most fabulous palaces and monuments ever constructed. Their lives and times seem like a fairy tale to we inhabitants of a much more crowded and less simple era, but they live on in the remarkable monuments they built that now emblazon India’s rich architectural heritage.

Afterwards we will explore the wonderful National Chambal Sanctuary, a little-known reserve on the Chambal River, one of the last clean waterways in Northern India, where we will have superb opportunities for photography with two species of crocodile (the long-snouted Gharial and the thick-set Mugger), Gangetic River Dolphins, bizarre Indian Skimmers, Bar-headed Geese, Great Thick-knees and River and Black-bellied Terns.

The next stage of our Indian wildlife photography journey will take in three national parks in the state of Gujarat in western India. The Little Rann of Kutch is home to most of the remaining Indian Wild Asses (or Onagers), Lesser Flamingos, the lovely Indian Courser and many other interesting creatures. To the southeast lies Velavadar National Park, where we will enjoy close-up encounters with the beautiful Blackbuck, surely one of the most striking antelopes of all. We could even photograph a Grey Wolf or a Striped Hyaena here.

Finally we will round off our wildlife journey through Gujarat with a visit to Gir National Park, famous as the last place in India and indeed the world where the Asiatic Lion survives. This attractive sanctuary also harbours much other interesting wildlife, in particular Leopard and Chowsingha (or Four-horned Antelope).

Asiatic Lion in Sasan Gir, Gujarat, India

 

INDIA WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR ITINERARY

Day 1

The Wild Images India wildlife photography tour begins this morning at Delhi, the capital city of India, from where we will travel southwards to the historic city of Agra. Here we will make our way to the incomparable Taj Mahal, a mausoleum of ethereal beauty built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, that really does live up to its reputation and more. This immense building seems to float on its white marble plinth whilst inside the light filters gently down to softly illuminate the jewel-encrusted tombs of the emperor and his beloved. The Taj Mahal is positioned at the edge of the city, immediately above the Yamuna River and happily the far bank of the river is still undeveloped, making for an unspoilt backdrop for photography of this deservedly celebrated monument. After our visit to the Taj Mahal we will head for a small but comfortable and welcoming lodge near the Chambal River for a two nights stay.

Day 2

Today we will explore the National Chambal Sanctuary. This important wildlife sanctuary is situated on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states. Here the Chambal River, the last unpolluted major river in northern India, flows between low erosion cliffs as it approaches its junction with the Ganges. The wildlife sanctuary, which also includes part of the state of Rajasthan further upstream, was set up to protect the healthy population of crocodiles that survives here, and also a population of the highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphin.

By taking two boat trips on the river, we should be able to closely approach and photograph the crocodiles as they sun themselves on the sandbars, both the long-snouted Gharial and the more conventionally-shaped Mugger. Typically one encounters large adult male Gharials with a bulbous protrusion on the end of their snout, smaller adults and immatures and even tiny juveniles, all with long rows of fine teeth on display and streamlined, thinly plated bodies that contrast with the more conventional and fearsome-looking teeth and heavy armoured plating of the thick-set Muggers. We also have an excellent chance of seeing the blind Gangetic River Dolphin and we may even be lucky enough to watch them jumping exuberantly, although sometimes they show little more than their backs. Photography is a real challenge, however, as they usually give little or no notice they are about to surface or breach.

The most notable bird species of the Chambal is the localized Indian Skimmer and we should be able to photograph these bizarre creatures living up to their name as they flap across the river, intermittently dipping their ‘broken’ bills into the water, or flocking on small islets. Other photography attractions include the declining Red-naped (or Indian Black) Ibis, the handsome Bar-headed Goose, Bonelli’s Eagle, the hulking, huge-eyed Great Thick-knee, the noisy River Tern and the uncommon Black-bellied Tern. There is often a photogenic Brown Hawk-Owl in the lodge gardens.

Day 3

Today we will return to Delhi and take a flight south to Ahmedabad in western India. From the capital of Gujarat state we will head a relatively short distance westwards, our goal the salty ‘wastelands’ of the Little Rann of Kutch, where we will stay for two nights in a small but welcoming lodge run by a local landowner.

Day 4

At its southern edge the Thar Desert gradually gives way to the vast saline flats that form the Great Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch. These flats, which were once part of the Gulf of Kutch (it is said Alexander the Great embarked from a port in the gulf at the end of his abortive campaign to conquer northwestern India), are still inundated by the sea during the monsoon months.

The Little Rann of Kutch is the last stronghold of the Indian Wild Ass (or Onager), which is now protected by the 4954 square kilometres (1913 square kilometres) of the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary. The open flats of the Rann are a wild place, but offer little in the way of sustenance, even to a wild ass, but the bushy and grassy areas towards its periphery are a different matter and here we shall surely encounter a good number of attractive Indian Wild Asses. The endearing little Bengal (or Indian) Fox may also be encountered. Our wildlife photography safaris here will be by means of an open-topped 4×4 truck, but we can get out and walk (or crouch down) anywhere we want.

At the edge of the Little Rann are a number of wetlands and here we could encounter both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes (this region of India is the only area outside Africa where the latter species breeds). Other potential subjects for photography include Great White Pelican, Western Reef Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Woolly-necked Stork, the attractive Painted Stork, Asian Openbill (an extraordinary stork with a bill adapted to cracking the shells of pond snails), Comb (or Knob-billed) Duck, the stately Sarus Crane, Black-necked Stilt, Pied Avocet, Marsh Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull and Gull-billed Tern.

Areas of dry cultivation and wasteland hold two more specialities that make nice photographic subjects; the attractive Yellow-wattled Lapwing and the beautiful Indian Courser, while the lovely Rosy Starling (a winter visitor to India) can sometimes be found in large, approachable flocks at the edge of villages.

Indian Wild Asses in the Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India

Day 5

After an early morning excursion at the Little Rann we will travel southwards to Blackbuck (or Velavadar) National Park, situated near the Gulf of Cambay to the north of Bhavnagar, where we will stay for two nights at a comfortable lodge. In the late afternoon we will have our first wildlife photosafari in the park.

Day 6

Blackbuck (or Velavadar) National Park is one of the last areas of relatively undisturbed grassland in Gujarat and is famous for its large herds of elegant Blackbucks, which we will be able to see and photograph at close range (the males, with their long, spiral horns, are especially striking, and the backdrop of tall, dry grass, ranging from yellowish-white to reddish-brown in colour, is especially pleasing). Blackbucks have a habit of leaping into the air when agitated or alarmed and we will be wanting to find some taking to the air as they cross the dirt tracks that criss-cross the sanctuary. Their leaps make for fantastic action photpography!

This wildlife sanctuary is also well known for sightings of Grey Wolf, which we have a good chance of seeing (on one visit we watched one chasing a herd of Blackbuck, causing utter confusion and panic!). Sometimes they are close enough for photography. This is also a good place for photographing the splendid Nilgai or Blue Bull, a large antelope. We might also encounter Striped Hyaena, but the chances are only modest.

This 34 square kilometres (13 square miles) sanctuary also holds some interesting birds, in particular the localized Sykes’s Lark. Towards the end of the afternoon Montagu’s, Pallid and Western Marsh Harriers arrive over the grasslands preparatory to roosting here.

Day 7

We will have another chance to explore Velavadar early this morning before we head southwestwards to Gir National Park for a three nights stay at a comfortable lodge. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of Gir.

Days 8-9

Gir (or Sasan Gir) National Park protects 1412 square kilometres (545 square miles) of mainly dry deciduous forest, acacia-dominated scrub jungle and grasslands amongst the rocky hills of southern Gujarat. Originally protected by the Nawab of Junagadh, the area became a national park and wildlife sanctuary in 1965.

Gir is most famous as the last haunt of the endangered Asiatic Lion, a close cousin of its African relative and a species that once extended from Greece to central India, but is now reduced to a small surviving population in just this one national park in Gujarat! (There are plans to reintroduce this form in other parts of India, but as so often happens in this country, even endangered wildlife issues are fraught with local political rivalries!)

It is of course the Asian Lions of Gir that have brought us here and we shall be concentrating on getting good images of these interesting creatures during our visit. The lions take both natural prey inside the park (especially Chital or Spotted Deer, Sambar and Wild Boar, and also domesticated cattle belonging to the local Maldhari herders in the surrounding wildlife sanctuary, where local people have access rights. Reduced to only about 20 individuals by the early 20th century, the number of Lions has now recovered to over 400. We will use open-topped jeeps to explore the sanctuary, concentrating on finding the Lions and obtaining good opportunities for photography. We should all have at least a couple of encounters during our visit and we will be hoping in particular for fine shots of an adult male with a bushy blackish mane.

Gir is also a good place for coming across both Leopard and the little Chowsingha (or Four-horned Antelope), as well as the commoner Golden Jackal and the attractive little Chinkara (or Indian Gazelle).

A wide variety of bird species inhabit the park and birds of prey in particular, including Indian, White-rumped and Red-headed Vultures, and both Tawny and Crested Serpent Eagles, provide good subjects for photography.

Asiatic Lion in Sasan Gir, Gujarat, India

Day 10

After a final excursion at Gir, we will drive northwards to Rajkot and catch a flight to Mumbai for an overnight stay.

Day 11 

This morning we will continue our journey with a flight to Nagpur in central India. From there we will drive southeastwards through partly cultivated and partly forested terrain to the edge of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in the state of Maharashtra for a nine nights stay at a comfortable jungle lodge. We should arrive in time for our first wildlife photosafari by jeep into the reserve this afternoon.

Days 12-19 

The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (sometimes referred to simply as Tadoba National Park) covers a vast area of forest in northeastern Maharashtra state. The wildlife reserve has an area of 625 square kilometres (241 square miles), is mostly clothed in teak, sal and bamboo forest and holds a good population of over 60 Tigers, as well as Leopards, Indian Wild Dogs and other important mammals. In recent year it has sprung from obscurity owing to the quality and frequency of its Tiger sightings. Tadoba is an amazing and rapidly up-and-coming destination for wildlife photography.

We shall be spending most of our time in the Tiger Reserve itself, where the habitat diversity is excellent and the density of Tigers high. Each day we will make morning and afternoon wildlife photography excursions into the park by jeep (but please note that the park itself is closed on Tuesdays, so that day we will visit other areas), exploring a range of habitats including tall sal and teak forest, patches of evergreen forest and a number of wetlands including a large lake, marshes and pools. Large grassy meadows, the sites of former villages and their surrounding cultivation and pastureland, dot the park and in the early morning these meadows can be covered in low-lying mist, creating some beautiful landscapes. In places hills rise high above the rolling forests.

As we patrol the park tracks we will be keeping a constant lookout for Tigers. The best times of day are early morning and late afternoon, when Tigers can regularly be found walking along the tracks or stalking across the meadows, or even drinking or taking a bath in one of the pools.

Tigers in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India

We will be using open-topped jeeps to explore Tadoba, with skilled local driver-guides who are experts on the geography of the park and have an intimate knowledge of the park’s Tigers and other key creatures. Our driver-guides seem to have a feel for where a Tiger will appear, so we should have a high chance of plenty of encounters. We could watch one of the huge territorial adult males on patrol, at times walking right past the jeeps showing utter indifference to our proximity, or strolling past the cubs he fathered last year and showing equal disdain (to the distress of the cubs, who clearly want dad to stop and play!). We could find some well-grown cubs playing around in the meadows or woodland, chasing each other, stalking imaginary prey or running around with an old bone in their mouths. Or perhaps a female sprawled in the shade with her younger cubs around her, glaring balefully at these interlopers in her world. On other occasions we might watch Tigers drinking or even bathing in a forest pool. Tiger movements are of course unpredictable, so it is quite possible to go for some time without seeing one, and then have a fantastic series of magical, close-range photography encounters in succession! It is all a matter of chance with these incredibly beautiful carnivores.

Although Tigers dominate the scene at Tadoba, they would not be there were it not for a healthy population of prey animals. We should also have some good opportunities to photograph the beautiful Chital (also known as Axis or Spotted Deer), which is much the commonest large mammal in the park and we will soon get used to their yelping calls, which rise in pitch when they sight a Tiger.

The other really conspicuous species is the Hanuman (or Grey) Langur – they are everywhere in the park, sitting in playful, rowdy groups by the roadside or climbing high in the trees. (The local form is now sometimes treated as a distinct species: Northern Plains Grey Langur.) Monkeys often make for great ‘photo ops’ and the langurs, the Bandar Log of Kipling, with their long, long, curling tails, graceful loping movements and cheeky faces fringed by a ruff of hair are certainly rich subjects. Mothers with small babies are commonly met with and often pose unselfconsciously for some really gooey shots! (Or try long distance telephoto shots of sunlit solitary monkeys sat by the roadside, or crossing a dusty, shadowy track). There are so many photography possibilities here.

Sambhar Deer swimming in a lake at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra, India

The huge Gaur (or Indian Bison) can be seen regularly here and we are likely to come across herds of these placid bovines feeding in the forest, or wandering across the track in front of our jeep. Close-up photographs of the massive heads and horns of these impressive beasts are often the shots that make the most impact.

Tadoba is a good place for Leopard sightings and we have a reasonably good chance of at least one encounter during our visit. Tadoba also hosts packs of Dholes (or Indian Wild Dogs) and the chances of seeing and photographing a group of these attractive predators is pretty good, although they tend to be quite unpredictable in their movements. When encountered, the dogs are often quite unafraid, continuing to go about their business together, whether hunting or some other kind of social interaction, regardless of the presence of a jeep or two.

This is also surely one of the best places in India for seeing Sloth Bear, and we have a good chance of having a number of sightings during our visit and may be able to photograph bears drinking at the waterholes.

Other mammals that are regularly encountered at Tadoba include Rhesus Macaque, Golden Jackal, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, Indian Muntjac (or Barking Deer), Sambar, Chowsingha (or Four-horned Antelope), Nilgai (or Blue Bull), Northern Palm Squirrel and Indian Hare. There are slim chances for Indian Porcupine, Ratel (or Honey Badger) and Small Indian Civet. Marsh Crocodiles (or Muggers) can be found in some of the wetlands, while Sambar feeding on the aquatic vegetation (and often almost submerged) makes for some unusual photographs.

Although it is the prospect of close encounters with Tigers and other large mammals that will have brought us to Tadoba, this extensive park is an excellent place for birds too. The dry Sal forest and clumps of bamboo that dominate the park and its buffer area hold a wide variety of species and amongst those that may offer good opportunities for photography are the huge Lesser Adjutant, the beautiful Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Crested Hawk-Eagle, Indian Peafowl (which should be displaying at the time of our visit, a magnificent sight), Grey Junglefowl, the delightful Indian Scops Owl, the quizzical little Jungle Owlet, Crested Treeswift, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, the striking White-naped Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback and the huge Stork-billed Kingfisher. Sometimes a Brown Fish Owl or a Mottled Wood Owl can be seen roosting close to the park roads, but at other times they move position and disappear for weeks on end. Tiger kills attract dwindling numbers of White-rumped, Indian (or Long-billed) and Red-headed Vultures.

Outside the park proper there are interesting photographic opportunities. There is a lovely wetland area that we can visit and anyone who fancies an interesting cultural experience can explore a local village where the friendly Gond tribal people are usually happy about being photographed as they go about village life. Indeed the children want to be in every photograph!

Day 20

After a final jeep safari at Tadoba we will return to Nagpur airport, where our Indian wildlife photography tour ends this afternoon. (There are flights from Nagpur to Mumbai and Delhi.)

One incredible sunset at Sasan Gir in Gujarat, India

Accommodation & Road Transport

The hotels/lodges used during our India wildlife photography tour are of good standard almost throughout (and the lodges at Gir and Tadoba have swimming pools). The lodge at the Little Rann of Kutch, where we spend two nights, is simple but charming and very pleasant and all rooms have private bathrooms. Road transfers are by cars or small coach, but we use open-topped jeeps (with up to 3 or 4 participants in each) inside most of the sanctuaries (we use an open-topped safari truck at the Little Rann of Kutch). Roads in India are very variable, but average mediocre.

Walking

The walking effort during our India photography tour is easy throughout. There is little walking involved.

Climate

Typically it will be warm to hot, dry and sunny (early mornings are sometimes cool) in the parts of India being visited. Although overcast weather is not infrequent, rain is uncommon at this season.

Photographic Equipment

If you are using a DSLR for wildlife photography you will need prime telephotos, with or without converters, that cover the range 200-600mm or more.(If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful photography results with a high quality digital bridge camera with an 18-20x or higher optical zoom. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.


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