Saturday, December 27, 2008

Basking Crocodiles

The first sight of Ramganga River forced me to call halt! The jeep driver was bit surprised at sudden intrusion into the smooth drive to rest house in Corbett tiger reserve. This was my first visit to Corbett in Uttaranchal a few years back.

With the large stretch of clear blue transparent waters and white stone on the banks - Ramganga river is an enchanting site to behold. I had never seen such beautiful river in my life earlier.

We were on the way to Sarapduli rest house in the core area of the Corbett National park famous for tigers and wild elephants. Sarapduli in my opinion is the best place to stay on a wildlife safari although certainly not star class. The rest house is surrounded on three sides by dense forests and a steep slope in the front which leads to the river bank.

Though silent at day time Sarapduli comes alive to the roars of the tigers and alarm cries of deer in the night time. For a wildlife lover what more? In wee hour of the morning in bitter cold and dense fog a number of Indian birds of come to perch on the surrounding trees and shrubs.

On my first day I photographed basking crocs on river bank. It was one of the best photo shoot I have had of the reptiles. I missed a tiger by a whisker, whence returning from the photo shoot. The pug marks were clearly visible on the damp soil of the trickle from the marshy grasslands. I could see sweat on brows of the accompanying forest guard as he ushered me out of there back to the rest house.

In summers the rest house is crowded by wild elephants and the whole camp is alive in the night. It is feverish with activity in effort to ward off the elephants and there cubs from the premises of the rest house. Elephant watchers visit the park February onwards to see wild elephants that are every where especially in the extensive grasslands.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Kanha Kisli

The name brings nostalgic memories of Kanha of old. I remember when I first visited Kanha in early seventies. That time the National Park was popularly known as Kanha Kisli.

The reason for the park being called Kanha Kisli was due to villages in what is now the core area of the park. When you enter the park from Khatia gate you first reach Kisli, here the village has been shifted out of the park and only the British period rest houses remain. Besides the two rest houses and canteen an MPTDC hotel and a dormitory has come up and a day center for the forest staff. The petrol pump is also functioning at Kisli.

Outside the park in the periphery of the buffer zone the lodges at Kanha have far overtaken the rest house which now caters to VIPs and Government officers of top ranking. At that time the rest houses where in near dilapidated condition and you had to cook your own food. At the time of my visit the village at Kisli was still there but shifted soon after.

Tigers prowled the vicinity of the rest house we stayed in, and one could hear the roars at night time. Thankfully tigers still prowl there and roars can be heard even now. Villages at Kanha where shifted earlier and the rest house is now a museum. At hill top at Kanha the Field Director’s residence is enveloped by forest canopy and is one of most enviable object for a tiger lover like me.

Kanha museum is worth visiting informative and entertaining as it is. For those on tiger safari Kanha is a resting stop where one is allowed to consume eatables prohibited elsewhere in the park. If you are not carrying food then visit the canteen for some hot tea and spicy samosas.

On that trip I spotted a tigress and large herds of Bison or gaur as they are called in Hindi. The gaur population was depleted in 1976 due to rinderpest attack. The swamp deer or hard ground barasingha where struggling to survive and were penned in a large enclosure. This assured of an increasing population in times to come and conservation of this rare animal is history.
The road to Kanha was lined with pristine forests and small but quaint tribal villages. Now a whole community of retailers, small business men, hoteliers and what not has added to the population. The urbanization forces you to find succor within the National Park.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Elephant Trekkers – The Mahouts

The most exciting experience of tiger safari in Central Indian tiger reserves are of course the elephant rides which take you into the deep recess of the jungles. Albeit long rides on elephant back is a thing of the past with only Bandhavgarh offering it? This long ride is subject to availability and to current policies of the reserve. And exorbitantly costly affordable only by those who are cash rich.

Nevertheless tiger safari on elephant back can still be enjoyed for a short distance during the tiger shows. During tiger show you are taken on an elephant back from your vehicle to the spot where the tiger has been cordoned by a group of park elephants. One can enjoy elephant safari at Bandhavgarh tiger reserve, Kanha and Pench National Park in Central Indian tiger reserves.

Elephants bear the gruel of the rough terrain and a difficult routine so do their riders or mahouts. The routine starts at perhaps four in the morning in winters it is freezing cold. The elephants are fed by the mahouts and then saddled if you may call it that.

In the National Parks wild tiger trekking on elephant begins immediately at predawn in the darkness of the night. As expert trekkers that elephant drivers are they succeed often. With a clue here and there a pug mark fresh, alarm calls of distressed deer or a tiger roar whatever. Picking these clues the mahouts ride deep into the inaccessible forest and trek down the tiger.

The communication between the elephant and his driver is a matter of marvel. The team work that whole lot of driven elephants and their drivers is a marvel again. By the time the tiger is located and shown to you much of trekking has been done. Keeping the located tiger at one place is again demonstration of the mahouts skill and the resilience of their animal.

It is not easy to keep the tiger at one place yet they succeed amazingly. If the tiger gets restive they manage to hold him for a long time till beyond a certain point he is wisely let go off.

Elephant ride in through the dense canopy of dagger like and equally menacing bamboo clumps, steep rocky inclines and twisting water beds is an experience never to be avoided. Though petrifying at times you will relish the thrill of this elephant ride. Trust Me!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where can I see the tiger?

Lot of tourists come to India hoping to see the tiger - rare and endangered - charismatic and powerful. Many ask me where can I see the tiger best?

There are many qualities about the Bengal tiger which makes it extremely popular all over the World. Myths and legends galore and the superhuman prowess of the tiger's strength the list is endless and would go on and on. Certainly I have encountered very few tourists who wished to see a tiger because it was endangered - Believe me!

Another reason is the thrill that the animal exudes among humans at its sight. Unfortunately many myths and mysticism associated with the animals has been the reason for its persecution. The tiger's power and strength has made many people believe that any part you consume of the tiger will deliver potent effect....nothing can be far from truth. Hence Chinese system of medicine is committed to the same fallacy and the tiger suffers. For most of the tiger poaching is due to the demand for its bones and other body parts in Chinese medicines. (SIC!)

Well, coming back to the question the best places to see the tiger in India are definitely as follows:

Kanha National Park - Central India

Bandhavgarh National Park - Central India

Pench National Park - Central India

Ranthambhore National Park - Rajasthan

Corbett National Park - Uttaranchal

Panna National Park

Choose these places in order for a tiger safari tour to see the tiger. Kanha and Bandhavgarh are my favorite places. All the above are tiger reserves and receive good degree of protection under Project tiger hence the tiger population is growing here.

When planning for a tiger safari in India one must first find out all about where to see the tiger best in accordance with one's itinerary. Contact a good travel agent online and get maximum tour details possible.

It is best to plan our trip in advance and assure all the travel details before leaving for the trip. There are many luxury hotels in Kanha and other National Parks. Choose the one that fits your budget and delivers what you desire. Many luxury hotels at Bandhavgarh, Pench and Kanha arrange tiger safaris for your trip. Some even provide trained naturalist guide service withing the package.

A minimum three nights package tour is advised since in that period you have an optimum chance of tiger sighting in the parks. Though tiger tourism in India is expensive some what but it is worth going for a tiger safari on your visit to India. Safaris are the best ways to celebrate holidays and long vacations.

The best season is always except during the holiday period and festival times when the traffic in the parks could be unnerving and hinder wildlife sightings. These places are by all means good for birding trips especially in winters when the migrants arrive.