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#9 Bandhavgarh National Park, India

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

Tigers are an animal that everyone knows, loves and wants to see, which is why it’s been high on my bucket list for some time. What everyone forgets to mention though is how damn hard they are to see! I suppose that’s the trouble when you follow lots of people on Instagram who work full time in these parks, they’re doing drives daily and you only get to see the highlights and you just want the same! We opted to go to Bandhavgarh National Park, not the prettiest of the parks, but supposedly offers you the best chance to see tigers. For our first time on tiger safari, actually seeing them takes priority over anything else. It was my first time in India, Aurelie’s second, and like everyone, we were a bit worried about getting the famous Delhi belly. Thankfully neither of us got sick, quite the opposite in fact, we ate like kings the whole time we were there. It was some of the best food i’ve had for a long time - beats my local Indian that's for sure!


After a 4 hour drive from the airport to our hotel out the outskirts of the park, it was beginning to get dark, so no time for tiger tracking. Instead we met our guide for the rest of the week, watched a short documentary on the park and had dinner.. Drives are expensive in the park, so you have to maximise every minute of them, you get one in the morning and a shorter one in the afternoon. That means getting up at 4am each morning to be ready to enter the park at 6.30am. Along with our guide you get assigned another guide from the park itself, some are better than others that’s for sure, and it’s pure luck who you end up with. Once the park gates open the race is on. it varies for different zones, but there is about 20 - 30 jeeps per zone. All the jeeps speed off in search of the illusive tiger. Somehow everyone seems to go in different directions, all claiming they know where the tigers are, but in reality your guess is as good as mine. They can just go off where they were last seen yesterday and known places they frequent, its all a game of luck at the end of the day, with some educated decisions along the way.


Unfortunately our first day there was wet, which is not good for tiger sightings. We didn’t spot a tiger on either of our drives, pretty demoralising for your first day. But that’s the fun - I guess? - of trying to find wild animals, it would almost be boring if you could just find one on your door step! On day 2 we had better weather, but not better luck. Another day without a tiger sighting. by this point I’m even starting to wonder if they even exist! The next day started off a lot better though, the sun had just risen and there was a lovely warm orange glow, as we were driving along there was a cry of ‘tiger tiger tiger’. The brakes slammed on and the two guides looked around trying to spot it, both claiming that they had found it first, but in reality it was eagle eyed Aurelie who spotted her. It was a beautiful female tiger called Baschi, about 4 years old. She was just laid to the side of the road. So discreet, so camouflaged that the jeep just a few meters in front of us drove straight past her and were none the wiser that a tiger was just there.


It makes you wonder how many tigers we drove past the rest of the trip! She sat there basking in the morning light for a few moments before getting up and crossing the road and strolling off into the distance. It was our first ever tiger sighting, and I think my favourite moment of the trip. The light was just perfect and it was such a relief. That was just the just the first of 5 tigers we would see that day. After breakfast we saw another female. Unfortunately she was injured, she also had some cubs, but they were not to be seen.

Later that afternoon in zone 2, we waited patiently by a watering hole that a mother and her 3 young cubs were known to frequent, after nearly two hours of waiting, 2 cubs emerged from the shrub. As is often the way, every jeep in the zone was at the same point as with the rest of the park being quiet it offered the best chance to spot a tiger. It makes trying to get a clean shot is difficult. Everyone is rushing to get the right angle and it proves difficult to get any sort of shot you have dreamt of, especially as they move so quickly! They play in a watering hole for some 30 minutes before leaving again. The watering hole was a man made one, and it didn’t look very natural, so from a photography point of view it wasn’t great. But to see two young males playing in the water is a memory that I won’t forget in a hurry, you can't win them all right?


The next couple of days gave us a couple more tiger ‘sightings’ I use the word sightings lightly. What you and I would class as a sighting isn’t what a guide classes as a sighting. A tiger tail - which could even be a twig - some 300 meters away would be classed as a sighting. Most of the tigers sightings we had weren’t very photogenic, and you often you needed your tele lens just to see them! Luckily the park is packed with other wildlife to keep your eyes occupied throughout the day. There is defiantly more to India than just tigers. It’s also so ridiculously hot, and we weren’t even in a particularly hot month, we would spend the hours between the morning and afternoon drives in the hotels swimming pool and catching up on some zzz’s.


Our final day gave us one final sighting, and rather fittingly it was Baschi, again. Like the first sighting she in some nice morning light. These were probably the cleanest shots we got the whole trip. She wins the award of being my favourite tiger for her good sightings! We spent nearly 40 hours in a jeep in pursuit of tigers, and probably had about 50 minutes with one in our field of vision. But in a way the safari becomes less about seeing the tigers but more about the thrill of the chase. It lets you take your mind off everything else and just concentrate solely on trying to find these black and orange stripy cats! When you think about it we are lucky to see any at all, trying to spot an endangered, camouflaged animal in a huge park from a moving jeep - it's a wonder we saw any at all! I didn't get the photos I was hoping for, but all that means is we'll have to go back again some time in the future...



zacharytknowles

April 2019

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