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Friday, May 19, 2017

India - in search of the Bengal Tiger

«Incredible India» - royal animals
India is a fascinating country. Full of mysticism, contrasts and colors. A challenge for the eyes, ears and nose. I have often traveled to India, mostly business, but also had time to discover the beauties of the country. For a long time it was my goal to photograph tigers, which are unfortunately threatened with extinction. I knew it would be difficult to make good pictures. The national parks are huge and good sightings are not granted. And when you see them, up to twenty vehicles can be fighting for the best place. Not so my thing!

But I wanted to see and photograph this beautiful animal. So I booked a trip in a small group of photographers. The Ranthambhore and the Bandhavgarh National Parks were the destinations. But India, with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, is huge and so are the distances to the parks. Opportunity to make a "cultural stopover" in Agra and Jaipur on the way there. A visit to the Taj Mahal as well as the washermen at the riverbank of Yamuna River belong to Agra like a tour of Itimad-ud-Daula Mausoleum and the Friday Mosque Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri.

Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan, also called Pink City, is known for the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. The Fort Amber, located just outside of Jaipur, impresses with its huge appearance with many small details. The troublesome way to the hill can be covered on foot, with the jeep or on the back of elephants.

After a long and arduous journey, the first main destination, the Ranthambhore National Park, is reached. Right on the first day I am very fortunate and "Arrowhead", a young tigress shows up in the golden morning light. The reflections in the Padam Talao Lake have something mystical and "Arrowhead" is probably just as surprised at her reflection as I am.

The Ranthambhore National Park is the former hunting ground of the Maharajahs and the park with the ruins of the palaces, recalls scenes from the Jungle Book. The diversity of the fauna is great, and apart from tigers, I can photograph many other, rare animals. The Nilgau antelope is only indigenous in India, although it is safe but rarely seen. The Jungle cat belongs to the wildcat family and is usually found in wet but also dry areas. The Gaur, also called Indian bison, is the largest extant bovine and usually lives in dense forests. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1986. And last of all, the Red junglefowl, the primary progenitor of the domestic chicken. They are extremely shy and therefore rather difficult to photograph.

With well over 40 degrees Celsius (hundred degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade, it is even too hot for the tigers and  and they love taking baths to help keep themselves cool. The search for the animals gets sometimes difficult and the many hours and distances in the brutal heat demand a lot of patience. But every sighting is a highlight and compensates for the hardships.

Of the total of seventeen safaris, I was able to make good tiger pictures on ten safaris. The yield was better than expected. The Sloth bear (Baloo in the Jungle Book) has unfortunately never shown up. All I could see were the tracks of his nightly wanderings. But a rare Leopard has shown itself for a very brief moment.

Although the trip was exhausting and the heat was extreme, the trip to India was more than worth it. And not quite insignificant: I had no stomach problems all along. Not self-evident in India.
More images:

Indian Wildlife