Tiger Yawn

Farewell B2

Much has changed since our last visit to Bandhavgarh last year.  Many of the tigers that we met and loved last year are gone.

One of Jhurjhura’s cubs died during the monsoon shortly after we left.  However, the remaining two are still alive and remain inaccessible to the public.

Chorbehra the Limping Tigress lost her life in a territorial battle against Kancutti Tigress.

Chorbehra Tigress emerging form the jungle

Her cubs have been driven out of the park and now reside in its outskirts.  Keen to protect them, the forest officials have set up a checkpoint in the area and the cubs can occasionally be seen sat on the side of the Highway Road.

Kallu, who we all thought was heir apparent to B2’s throne disappeared in October and to this day, no one knows what happened to him.

Kallu, son of B2

A new male has recently appeared in Zone 2 of Bandhavgarh and rumours are rife that it is Kallu but until facial recognition has been carried out, this cannot be confirmed.

Mirchani Tigress’s two sub adult male cubs have been taken from the park and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo for the rest of their lives, having been accused of being man-eaters.

Mirchani tiger cubs crossing the road

But perhaps the biggest and saddest news is the death of B2, the King of Bandhavgarh, on 22nd November.

B2 Lord of Bandhavgarh deep in thought

B2 was gravely injured in a territorial fight against his son.  Severely weakened and unable to hunt, B2 killed cattle to survive but was shot during one of his raids.  When he was eventually found, there were maggots growing in his wounds and he was extremely weak.  The forest officials tried to save him by tranquillising him to take him to be treated, but sadly, B2 died en route.

The new Lord of Bandhavgarh is B2’s 6 year old son, Bhamera.  Just as B2 waited until his grandfather, Charger was too weak to defend himself before he struck, cunning Bhamera did the same.  Whilst he did not kill his father outright, the wounds that he dealt B2 were most certainly a contributory factor in his death.

When I left Bandhavgarh last year, I knew that there was a possibility that I would never see B2 again but it saddens me nonetheless.  Farewell B2, my friend.

B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh

Male Tiger of Bandhavgarh

Tigers of Bandhavgarh

After a rocky start to our trip thanks to the ineptitude of British Airways, we eventually arrived in Bandhavgarh, 24 hours later than scheduled.  Rather than take the overnight sleeper train from Delhi, this year, we opted to fly from Delhi to Jabalpur.  The travelling was still hardcore, but by opting to take an internal flight, we saved ourselves a second day of travel.

Macaque hugging tree

We arrived at our destination an hour before the afternoon game drives commenced.  After a quick freshen up, we went to meet our naturalist.  Much to our delight, we recognised Sanju from our previous trip.  Upon arriving at Tala Gate, we were also very happy to see that our friend Blind Dog, Rosie was still going strong.  It felt like we had never left.

Indian Deer

Our assigned route was B and D – one that we were very familiar with.  As we drove along the route, I was overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia tinged with much sadness.  There was the Meadow where we had witnessed Chorbera teaching her cubs how to hunt and the stream where she used to lay in whilst watching her cubs at play.  The crossroad where we had sat for over half an hour waiting for the Mirchani cubs to cross the road.  The plateau where we first met B2.

Monitor Lizard

We wondered what would be in store for us as we didn’t know the new tigers but were hopeful that we would catch a glimpse of the new lord of bandhavgarh. Sightings were more sporadic because the temperatures were much cooler in November which meant the tigers did not have to come to water.

One of the new tigers was Jhurjhura male, the son of Jhurjhura tigress who had tragically died of injuries sustained when hit by a car the day before we arrived in the park last year. Ironically, Jhurjhura male hated cars and had been known to charge them when he spotted to them so I was more than a little nervous when we came upon him by chance.

Jhurjhura Male Tiger in Bandhavgarh

I need not have worried as our guide was well aware of Jhurjhura’s temperament and gave this most beautiful tiger the space he needed to go about his business. Jhurjhura is rarely seen so the fact that we were lucky enough to have encountered him on our first day, I took as a good omen for our trip.

Our second day gave us the sighting we had hoped for. Bhamera, son of B2 and the new lord of Bandhavgarh. His beautiful face was ruined during his deadly combat with his father but forever made him instantly recognisable.

Bhamera son of B2

As ever, Sanju knew exactly the path that Bhamera would take so when he drove us away from the tiger, we trusted that he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, within minutes we could see the new dominant male heading in our direction.

It wasn’t until we left Bhamera as the sun went down and I looked at the back of my camera that I realised where we had left him. The image staring back at me left a lump in my throat – it was the very spot where we had first seen his father, B2. It seemed fitting that we should leave him there, resting where his father used to pose so graciously for his adoring audience.

Bhamera resting in Bandhavgarh park

I had hoped to meet fierce Kancutti, the new queen of the Meadow. I hadn’t realised that she had lost an eye to Chorbehra when they fought and I was intrigued by this sister of Jhurjhura male. Sadly, we never got the chance as she was nursing very small cubs and sightings of her were therefore rare. We did however, meet Bhamera’s new queen, Benbai.

Benbai tigress of Bandhavgarh

Benbai is a magnificent mother and a fierce protector of her cubs. Indeed, when one of the mahouts went into the brush where we knew she and Bhamera were resting with their cubs, it was Benbai who roared and charged the elephant whilst Bhamera led the cubs higher up the mountains.

Chorbehra’s cubs are thriving on the outskirts of the park. The rangers are keen to protect them so have created a special area where they can roam and hone their skills. There have been many sightings of them, mainly at dusk. We had hoped to see them but we were not lucky. Ironically, the cubs survival is largely due to their father, Bhamera, now taking a hand in their upbringing. It seems that B2’s bloodline runs strong.

We left the new tigers of bandhavgarh feeling that changes were coming to the park but probably for the better. Bhamera is busy securing his borders and spreading his seed everywhere. This will ultimately prove to be his undoing but such is the circle of life in Bandhavgarh. I look forward to coming back to India to see how the tale unfolds.

Hunting Tigress

Chorbehra Tigress & her cubs

I wasn’t feeling very well after lunch so I opted out of the afternoon game drive.  I really wish I hadn’t as David took some wonderful pictures of Chorbehra tigress with her two cubs.  They appeared as he was exiting the park.

Chorbehra was walking through the forest with her male cub.

Chorbehra Tigress and cub

Her daughter was unsure whether she wanted to follow her mother and brother or to stay put. Ultimately, she decided to follow them as she didn’t want to get left behind.

Chorbehra Female Tiger Cub

Chorbehra tigress spotted a potential prey and started to chase it.

Stalking tigress

Her cubs start to follow her but the little female gets distracted by a butterfly. When she realises that she is getting left behind, she hurries after her brother.

Female tiger cub on the plains

But by the time she gets to the stream, she can no longer see her family so she starts crying to let them know that she is lost. The male cub hears his sister and stops.  He looks around to try and find her but he can’t see her so he turns around to go back for her.

Chorbehra Male Tiger Cub

When the male can’t find his sister, he too starts calling.  Their respective cries sparks a flurry of alarm calls which destroys Chorbehra tigress’ element of surprise thereby giving her no choice but to abandon the chase and to retrieve her cubs.

Pug mark

Bandhavgarh Tiger Safari

Our tiger safari was full of amazing tiger sightings and their stories touched my heart. I thought it was fitting that our first tiger sighting was of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh. He looked old (which he was) but you could feel the power and majesty emanating from this magnificent big cat.

B2 photographed during our tiger safari

Meeting Mirchani Tigress and her three cubs was also memorable but for different reasons. Little did we know that in just a few short years, her two male cubs would be captured and imprisoned in Bhopal Zoo, accused of being man-eaters.

Tiger cub crossing the road

Chorbehra, also known as “Langdi (limping) Tigress”, was a firm favourite. She ruled the meadow and could be frequently found sitting in the river, watching her cubs while they played. The brother and sister cubs have a tough time sustaining themselves as their mother’s limp means she was unable to make frequent enough kills.

Tiger cub in the bushes as photographed on our tiger safari

Kallu is a son of B2 and the heir apparent to all his father’s lands.  Though not as big or as strong as his father, this young male is cunning.  Our guide told us that in every challenge fight to date, Kallu had lost to his father, but somehow, he was still managing to take over parts of B2’s kingdom.

Kallu tiger stare

During one of our game drives our driver suggested a visit to the 35 foot long statue of Vishnu which is located halfway up to Bandhavgarh Fort. Carved out of a single piece of sandstone, this statue was a sight to behold.

The path leading to and the area where the statue is located looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie – there is water falling into a pool just below the statue and monkeys chasing each other across the statue.

statue of vishnu

Vishnu is the God of Preservation. The statue dates back to the 10th Century and shows Vishnu reclining on a bed of the coils of  the seven hooded serpent, called Sheshnag.

Whilst the tiger was our primary target species, the park is full of other fantastic wildlife such as the elusive sloth bear.

Sloth Bears in Bandhavgarh National Park, where you can also photograph Bengal Tigers

This sighting was an extremely lucky one as we almost drove past the black mound, which turned out to be a mother sloth bear standing on her back legs with her cub sitting on her shoulders. As soon as she realised that we had seen her she dropped to all fours and ran away with her cub clinging to her for dear life.

Sambar deer were in plentiful supply and proved to be our friend many a time by making alarm calls whenever a tiger was nearby.

sambar deer in water

The langurs and their babies provided us with hours of entertainment with their antics. The extremely young babies were instantly identifiable by the fact that their fur was dark rather than the trademark white.

Baby langur monkey

Just look at how wonderfully expressive their faces  are.

Langur Monkey

The park is also home to many different species of birds. However, since I am not a huge bird fan, I didn’t make much of an effort to photograph them, with the exception of this stork who simply looked evil!

Stork

After our last game drive was over, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast before heading out to Katni Junction to get our train. Upon arriving in Delhi, we transferred to our last hotel, the Bijaj Indian Home Stay. As our flight home wasn’t until the following morning, the day was ours to do whatever we liked. We planned to do a spot of shopping, but our trip was cut short because it was simply too hot to be wandering around the shops.

The flight home felt anti-climatic after the excitement of 6 days in Bandhavgarh and the trip turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated. I came home wanting my own digital SLR and powerful zoom lens. The photographic beast had been unleashed!

Jeep in Bandhavgarh Park

Jhurjhura Tigress of Bandhavgarh

Jhurjhura tigress was a daughter of B2, Lord of Bandhavgarh.  Until her untimely death, she was one of the most bold and successful mothers in the park, having raised two healthy litters and nursing her third which consisted of 3 cubs around 6 months old.  Her mate and father of all her litters is a shy male called Bokha, her father’s competitor.

The trip that David and I were booked on was supposed to be a combination of jeep and elephant safaris.  However, upon arrival at the National Heritage Resort, we had been told that all elephant safaris were cancelled.  At the time, it wasn’t made clear to us why they had been cancelled, only that it had something to do with a tigress dying and all the elephants were being used in an intensive search for her cubs.

The tale surrounding the circumstances of her death and the desperate search for her cubs unfolded in the days we were in the park.

Initially, there were rumours that the tigress had been attacking tourist jeeps and then been hit by one.  Obviously suffering from internal injuries, Jhurjhura tigress had dragged herself back to a watering hole before dying.  As this rumour spread, there was much talk of Bandhavgarh being closed to the public to protect the remaining tigers.  However, it was later found that these rumours were false and had been deliberately started to hide the truth.

Jhurjhura tigress died on 19th May 2010, after having been hit by a vehicle the night before when some so-far-unidentified “important” visitors entered the park for an allegedly unauthorised and illegal night-drive. It died in the Jhurjhura area of the Reserve and, hence, has since come to be known as the “Jhurjhura tigress”.

Following her death, there then began the desperate race to find her cubs.  Without their mother’s protection, they were now prey to other tigers and predators, villagers who did not want them roaming near their villages and worst of all, poachers.  Daily, we asked for news of the cubs but there was nothing.  Every morning and evening, we saw the elephants in the park, searching.  Routes A and C, believed to be the area where the cubs were hiding were closed to the public.

Finally, after about 5 days, the orphans were found.  At six months old, the cubs were already eating meat so it was decided that an enclosure would be built around their area and food would be provided for them until they were older and able to fend for themselves.  It is hoped that one day, they can be rehabilitated.  For me, this is probably the best outcome for the orphaned cubs.  The thought of them being captured and shipped off to a zoo does not bear contemplating.

The killing caused a furore in India and abroad. According to the member-secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, enough evidence was available to indicate that two vehicles were involved in the accident. The vehicles entered the park after the closing time at 2130hrs and, unofficial reports indicate, carried sons of two state ministers who are one-time princelings. Wielding their power and influence they squelched proper investigations. Vociferous demands, including even from the central Ministry of Forests & Environment, for a Central Bureau of Investigations were ignored. The State’s Forest Department simply handed over the investigations to the provincial Criminal Investigation Department. By doing this, they effectively put a lid on the case and demonstrated their utter indifference towards the protection of tigers.

In these days of declining tiger numbers, every piece of news about them makes it to the media. Sighting of new-born cubs or deaths, mating or refusal to do so by relocated tigers, all make it to the media in fair amounts of detail. There are any number of non-governmental organisations that are running campaigns with a view to raising awareness about the need to save tigers. Clearly, there is visible desperation about the plummeting tiger numbers in the country and internationally. Yet in the midst of all this universal concern the brazen apathy of the country that calls itself “The Tiger State” is incomprehensible. Sadly, the tiger is very much under threat in the “Tiger State”.

Welcome to Bandhavgarh signage

Bandhavgarh – we have arrived

We eventually pulled into Katni Junction at 0515hrs where we were met by 3 cars.  After a further 2 hours in the cars, we finally arrived at Nature Heritage Resort. After 2 days of hard travelling and very little sleep, I could not wait to go to my room to freshen up and to get some shut eye.  The resort was absolutely gorgeous and the rooms have to be seen to be believed.  Truly luxurious.

Before retiring to our rooms, there was a quick briefing on the rest of the day’s itinerary – rest, freshen up, lunch at 1pm, afternoon game drive at 3pm so we were to be at the jeeps for 2.45pm.

For the next six days, our itinerary was as follows:-

4.00am: get up
4.30am: be at the jeep to be driven to Tala Gate
5.00am – 9.00am: game drive around Bandhavgarh National Park
9.00am: return to lodge for breakfast, freshen up, review of photos and maybe some sleep
1.00pm: lunch
2.45pm: meet at jeeps for game drive
3.00pm – 6.00pm: game drive
6.00pm: return to lodge to freshen up
8.00pm: dinner and review of photos

Getting up earlier than I would normally to go to work was hard work but after a couple of days, I got the hang of it.  The itinerary may look like a punishing schedule, but in reality, it wasn’t when you take into account how much free time we had in between eating and going out in Bandhavgarh National Park. Having finally arrived, I couldn’t wait for my first game drive.

2.45pm: David and I left the lodge and met up with the rest of our group in front of the jeeps.  We were to ride two people to a car so that we would have plenty of room for our photography equipment.  After we were assigned our jeep and driver, we rode in convoy to Tala Gate.  Upon arrival, we joined the queue of cars, waiting to be allocated a route and guide before gaining access to the park.

Queue at Tala Gate, Bandhavgarh

After what seemed like a very long time, our driver came back, accompanied by a guide and we were off! Our tiger safari had finally begun..

Steps to Jama Masjid

Bandhavgarh – How it all began

Last summer, I accompanied David on his wildlife photography course.  At the time, I wasn’t really into photography but I was keen to see the cats at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Smarden.  During lunch, the course instructor showed off some of the photos he had taken whilst in India.  His photographs of tigers in water instantly caught our attention and we wanted to know whether we could travel with him in the event that he went out there again.  As luck would have it, he was already planning his 2010 India trips, so as soon as the details were released, we booked ourselves on the course.  Roll on 18th May 2010!

In preparation for this trip, David hired a Canon 50D camera body for me and a Canon 100mm-400mm L series lens for the two of us to use. I wasn’t convinced that I needed a DSLR so hiring a camera body and using his existing collection of lens made more sense.

The week leading up to our departure was fraught with problems.  On 14th April, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano had erupted bringing European airspace to a standstill and now, its volcanic ash was threatening to ground flights again.  Even if the volcano didn’t erupt for a second time, British Airways cabin crew were threatening to strike and our travel dates were right smack bang in the list of those affected.  It looked like our trip was not meant to be.  But Lady Luck was on our side. On 18th May, the skies were clear and our flight went ahead, in spite of the industrial action.

Upon arriving at Delhi at approximately 7am local time, the first thing to hit us as we got off the plane was the heat.  It was HOT, 35 plus degrees hot.  Now, I’m not a hot weather type of girl.  I am far happier in cold weather than I am in hot weather and the only reason I had agreed to a holiday in India at the height of its summer, was because the intense heat was the only way to guarantee a tiger sighting i.e. we would see them at various watering holes.

We had a few hours to kill before our overnight train journey to Bandhavgarh, so our host gave us two options for killing time.  (1) we could go straight to the hotel and wait there or (2) we could take a wander around the market and take in some sights before going to the hotel for lunch.  David and I had visited India before about 5 or 6 years ago but we were keen to re-acquaint ourselves with this beautiful country, so we went with option 2.

Indian Market Day at the start of our tour of bandhavgarh

The plan had been to walk through the market and then visit a mosque, however, after an hour or so, the heat proved to be too much for some of us, so rickshaws were organised.

Jama Masjid is probably the largest and best known mosque in India.  It faces west with three entrances.  Each side is covered with open arched colonnades, each having a lofty tower-like gateway in the centre, leading to a courtyard that is so large, that it can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers.

Jama Masjid interior

Our visit however, was short-lived.  Some of the worshippers noticed that some of the women in our group had bare arms and/or were wearing skirts so we were asked to leave.  The time now was approximately 11am and the heat was fast reaching the point of being unbearable. We unanimously voted to head to the hotel, where hopefully, the air conditioning would cool us down.

After a few long cold drinks and some lunch, we headed to New Delhi train station where we would board our overnight sleeper train to Bandhavgarh.

We arrived at the train station early, so I took the opportunity to buy a length of chain on the train platform to secure our luggage to our bed to ensure that it was not taken in the night.  To be honest, I doubt that the chain would have been of any use to someone carrying a bolt cutter but the purpose of the chain was to serve as a deterrent to anyone who might have had designs on our bags.

Given the heat, my preference would have been to stand in the shade until it was almost time for the train to arrive, and then to move to a more suitable spot for boarding.  However, our host was most insistent that we stand where the doors were likely to be, i.e. under the blazing sun where there was no protection or relief from the heat or the glare.

Delhi Train Station Platform

This did not suit me at all, and as my jeans began to burn my skin, my sense of humour started to fail.  Just when I thought I would snap, there was an announcement – our train was delayed by up to 35 minutes, possibly longer.   The thought of cooking in the sun for a further period did not appeal to me, so I picked up my luggage and marched into the shade, followed by the rest of the group.

We amused ourselves by getting to know the rest of the group better, aided by bottles of cold water to keep us cool.  The train eventually arrived and we boarded, grateful that the air conditioning was ice cold.  David and I were lucky to end up at the end of the carriage where we had a private area to ourselves with plenty of space for our luggage.  Cases secured, David took the lower bunk whilst I climbed up into the top bunk for the long journey to Bandhavgarh.

First Class Cabin