Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks on the search for tigers.
The first National Park I visited whilst exploring India was Ranthambore. It's located in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan, and is one of the biggest and most renowned national parks in Northern India. It's also thought to be the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. There are lots of lakes and beautiful old forts within the park, some of which you can walk around and discover their crumbling beauty.
Out of all the parks I visited this one seemed the busiest and most touristy. Large cantors holding up to 20 people, as well as smaller jeeps, jostled for position on the one tiger viewing I had here. It felt like a bit of a bun fight to be honest, and I was surprised that the tiger really didn't take any notice and just carried on stalking her prey! She unfortunately didn't catch the deer, but it was great to have my first sighting of a tiger even if it was a bit hectic. One tip if you visit here is that no-one stays in their seats when a tiger is spotted, so be ready to do your part of elbowing to the front of the cantor if you want to see anything. The tiger I saw was called T17, daughter of the Lady of the Lake. She was called only by number to try and prevent poaching. In the past tigers with names have become well known and popular, making them worth more for poachers.
The old fort at Ranthambore is really worth visiting. There are some steps so be prepared for a bit of a climb, but it is worth it! From the top you can look out over the park, seeing some beautiful views. You'll probably be stopped by people on the way around asking to take their photo, and sometimes taking yours too. There are some people out there who have some random snaps of me...! Look out for the monkeys who are quite common here, they weren't aggressive but do like the marigold garlands you can buy from the top of the fort, so be prepared to give yours away to them if you buy one.
After about 10 minutes we were rewarded after the first of the cubs appeared from the undergrowth.
Travelling on, the next park I visited was Bandhavgarh. This park probably boasts the highest density of Bengal Tigers in the country, and also has a high number of leopards. A park consisting of forested hills and wetlands, it is also home to nilgai, wild boar and jackals to name but a few. Covering around 450 sq km the park derives its name from the ancient fortress that sits at the top of 800-metre high cliffs. The park was greener than Ranthambore, with more trees and vegetation. It was here that I had my first proper sighting of not one but two tigers. The tigers in question were a brother and sister known as the Magdi cubs. Alarm calls had been heard in the area, and the day before the tigers had been sighted in the particular area of the park we were in, so we parked up and sat waiting in the jeep to see if a tiger would appear. After about 10 minutes we were rewarded after the first of the cubs appeared from the undergrowth. A few minutes later and an excited shout went up when its sibling appeared as well. They stood at the edge of the jungle for a few minutes before leisurely crossing the track in front of us and disappearing into the bamboo on the opposite side.
As they were cubs, around 2 years old, they were obviously quite a bit smaller than the adult tigers. But this was a difference I noticed more looking back at the photos where it's easier to compare the differences. Unfortunately we heard the next day that the male cub had been killed by the dominant male in the area. Additionally, I had news after returning home that the female cub had been killed as well, also by the dominant male. I feel privileged to have seen them, and to have been able to capture them on camera so that others can see them too.
On a lighter note, it was at Bandhavgarh that I witnessed how to go about fixing a flat tyre whilst on a game drive. First of all get your spare tyre from the back of the jeep...if it isn't there flag down a passing jeep and take theirs. Next use your car jack...if that's broken, wait for another jeep to pass by and take theirs. Finally if you haven't been attacked by a tiger, and not too remote that other jeeps do actually pass by, you'll be good to go!
Throughout the game drives I used a 70-300mm zoom, which I found useful as you never know how far or close the animals will be to your vehicle. The majority of the wildlife were within reach of the zoom, although if you go to focus on bird photography you will need a longer lens.
The last park I visited in India was Kanha. This beautiful national park is said to have provided inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's 'The Jungle Book'. Its lush green trees, grasses and meadows contrasted with Ranthambore's drier appearance. As well as the tigers, Kanha provides the opportunuity to see barasingha, a swamp deer which has been close to extinction. At Kanha I was luckily enough to have another tiger sighting, of the female tigress Umarpani. I would class it as the best sighting I had throughout the whole trip. After hearing the alarm calls of monkeys we decided to wait in the area and see if we were luckily enough to spot a tiger: we were! She came walking up the track towards us out of the jungle, before drawing level with the vehicle and disappearing back into the vegetation. She didn't seem bothered by us at all, and even stopped to scent mark a tree. She was thought to have had cubs hidden in the jungle nearby, and had just gone off to have a quick snack before returning to them. According to the guide all of her cubs have survived into adulthood, and I think she had already had 3 litters, so an excellent record.
Other animals that you could see at Kanha are: gaur, sloth bear, jackal, jungle cat, python, leopard, monkeys as well as numerous birds including kingfishers, owls, parakeets, partridges and pea fowl to name a few. Some are easier to spot than others, and I was luckily enough to see a leopard. He was just peering out the bushes, before deciding to jump out and run across the track directly behind the vehicle and disappearing back into the jungle. There were only a couple of other jeeps there at the time, which made it all that more special.