I have just come back from an amazing trip to Ranthambhore, in the magical country of India. I was there with my clients on my Tigers of India photo tour, where we spent 7 days hoping to see and photograph one of nature’s most beautiful of animals, the Bengal Tiger. It’s the third year in a row I’ve been lucky enough to visit this amazing place and see an animal that is one of nature’s truly beautiful creations.
Upon arriving in Delhi and having collected our baggage we passed through customs with no problems, then headed to the arrivals gate to look for our driver, it’s at that point the noise and heat of India hits you. Ahead of us was a 373km drive to Ranthambhore Bagh, passing through the real India with its locals and small villages, making best use of what they have and where everyone has a smile for you. The people who have the least have the most in the form of happiness, a lesson there for the western world I always say.
The Ranthambhore National Park, which is a part of the much larger Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, a Project Tiger reserve, lies in the Sawai Madhopur district of eastern Rajasthan. It is right now the only forest reserve in Rajasthan state and in the entire Aravali hill ranges where tigers exist. The Chambal River forms a natural boundary of the Park towards the east, and on the eastern shore of Chambal lies the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, this Project tiger reserve spans over 1334 sq. km of area, of which 282 sq. km is the Ranthambhore National Park.
Upon arriving at the Ranthambhore bagh, a lovely, warm welcome is always assured and after a quick freshen up we are served our lunch and we relax and unpack in readiness for the two safaris each day that begin the following morning. Never knowing whats in store and if you’ll see a Tiger.
The routine in the morning was an early start at 05.00am, the staff would make you an Indian coffee which was the perfect start to the day. The two jeeps I hire along with my guides arrive at 05.40 and we all set off to the park. I always tell clients to relax when trying to find nature as I have found if you put pressure on yourself then the nature just doesn’t show up. The mornings there are beautiful, lovely sunrises, and the noises of the place are so different to that of the UK wildlife, so many different calls its just an amazing place. The light is just magical in Ranthambhore and I cannot explain just how beautiful the mornings there are.
There is also so much bird life in Ranthambhore, so many different species most of which I’ve only seen in books. Stunning, beautiful calls! This place offers so much on every front. Alot of the animals and birds will let you know long before you realise a Tiger is around with their calls and sudden change of behaviour. Like this Jackal below having seen and smelt a Tiger hidden away, he froze letting us know something wasn’t right.
The pitch and sound filling the whole area as you wait to see if and where the Tiger is. Then try to guess where he or she might show, then you have a few seconds to react, compose your camera and get the best angle you can for you photograph.
On every visit to Ranthambhore I have worked with two great guides, Ragh and Salim Ali. Salim has worked on many programmes filming Tigers in India and more so Ranthambhore. One of the best was Broken Tail, where he and followed a Tiger called Broken Tail for over a year. Working with the best guys on the ground always helps I believe and over the years now a lot of respect and trust has built up with these guys that help my clients see these amazing animals.
At the last count their was as few as 1700 Tigers left in India. In Ranthambhore there is as little as 38 now covering a massive area which is split into 5 zones. Each day you travel in one zone in the morning safari and then another zone in the afternoon safari, while sticking to a strict code of conduct. You cannot drive off the track your on, and you just pray that you get lucky and see a Tiger on that particular day.
Hearing those words from your guide “Tiger” you go into autopilot as you try to get the right angle for your clients in order to capture that fleeting glimpse of one if not the most beautiful creatures on this earth-the Tiger. Going through the planned settings and angles hoping and praying the Tiger stays still long enough for you to capture that moment.
You just don’t know where or when they will show up and this only adds to the excitement for me. My fieldcraft is very strong but its always amazing to see how Salim and Ragh read the tracks and tell tale signs of whats around and whats gone before us which are all key to tracking and finding your subject whichever country you are in.
On our first full morning safari, after our previous day of no sightings, we were photographing some Kingfisher’s when this Tigress came from our left. Thousands of miles from home on a lone track among the beautiful jungles of Ranthambhore a lone female Tigress roams freely at dawn. The lady of the lake T17, I know her well, as several years ago when I made this journey alone, she was the first Tiger I’d ever seen in the wild. That moment rendering me speechless as I witnessed Mother Nature’s most beautiful of creations. So fitting for all my clients that she was the first Tiger encounter they’d had too. She is pregnant now, with only months to go before the birth. I’d like to think she came to let me know she’s managed to become pregnant as there had been many unsuccessful attempts beforehand.
The power and grace of this animal is hard to put into words, beauty that’s truly amazing. I have seen many beautiful animals in my life from childhood to the present day but the Tiger really is beauty personified. We had an amazing close encounter with her on this particular morning. She came from nowhere and walked her patch for around 20 minutes, scent marking, smelling the air and checking for other Tigers that may have entered her area. What a welcome for my clients, witnessing this amazing Tigress so close.
Both jeeps had captured some amazing moments with her during that day, making everyone’s wish of seeing a wild Tiger come true very early on into the trip. Over the course of the week we were treated to some amazing views of this animal, but there were also times when we saw nothing which made those encounters just that bit more special upon reflection back at our lodge.
Each morning we’d all wait for our jeeps. I’d go with one jeep in the morning safari then the other jeep in the afternoon. I’d be looking for angles, light and Tigers alongside my guide as we drove around looking for any clues that would tell us Tigers where around. I’m always on hand to offer help and support to my clients on all my trips, making sense of the smaller things in order for them to capture some amazing images to take home with them.
Once we got into our routine the time flied by, which always saddens me as I never want to leave this place once the week is up, such is the beauty and magic of the place. It was great to see all the clients having some wonderful moments with the Tigers that live in this area. You are driven around and without warning you have seconds to compose yourself then start taking photos. Getting the right angle onto the Tiger is so important and our guides are brilliant at this.
T17 who we’d seen on our first mornings safari often traveled around at dawn and rewarded my group with some wonderful encounters throughout the week. The following images where taken of her hunting for food in the morning light. Such amazing behaviour to see and capture, just like you see at home when you watch a domestic cat trying to hunt birds on a lawned area.
We always visit the fort at Ranthambhore during the weeks photo tour, it’s a magic place taking you back to a bygone era. The Ranthambhore fort is believed to have been built in 944 A.D. by a Chauhan ruler. It is strategically located on the border of Rajasthan and the surrounding forests were used as an outer defence to the advantage of the fort, making it one of the strongest forts of Northern India.
The fort has many buildings inside of which only a few have survived the ravages of wars and time. Among the remaining ruins, the two pavilions, Badal Mahal and Hammirs court and parts of the royal palace gave you an idea of the old grandeur.
During the periods of waiting and hoping to find Tigers we all managed to photograph some of the stunning birds that live in Ranthambhore, some of my favourite I’ve included below. Starting with the handsome White-throated Kingfisher, a stunningly colourful bird that I captured in some nice light, and cleaning, composing the subject in his natural habitat.
The Black Drongo, with his beautiful fork tail and jet black plumage.
The stunningly beautiful Indian Golden Oriole, a shy bird which was really hard to photograph because any noise from the jeep and off they would fly. Here I got lucky and composed him among the branches singing away in the late afternoon sun.
And the Indian Peafowl or Peacock with its amazing colours and plumage.
The trip had been amazing for all my clients so far and with more Tigers to photograph and wildlife the time was flying past. In my next blog I’ll post some amazing images I managed to get along with one of my jeeps that witnessed the lone male Tiger looking after his two cubs as their mother had died. We had a brief encounter with one cub and her father drinking. This event has made the global news as it’s the first time it’s been reported happening with Tigers. You can view the story here and I’ll post some images and part two of the blog soon.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients who came with me to India, thank you for your company everyone we had a really good time and many laughs along the way. I’m really glad you all saw and witnessed this beautiful animal in the wild and capturing some wonderful images. Many thanks to my guides, Salim and Rag who’s help and expertise really helped everyone in finding, photographing and seeing this amazing animal. The dates for my 2013 trip are now up on my website, click here to view them, many thanks.