A Travellerspoint blog

Tadoba National Park - Part IV

Great afternoon birding


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On the way to the park gate this afternoon, we stop to see the cotton fields and women collecting grass for their cattle.

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Black Shouldered Kite

This afternoon it has been decided that for a bit of variety, we will enter a different part of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, the Agarzari Buffer Zone.

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Seeing leopard paw prints just inside the gate, gets us off to a promising start.

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We see lots of beautiful and colourful butterflies around a particular meadow, but they are so hard to photograph when they are on the move.

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Purple heron

We head for some wetlands and spend most of the rest of the afternoon in and around this area.

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There are lots of birds around, but mammals are sadly lacking.

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Purple heron

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Little Cormorant

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Black Ibis

The fickle Asian Open-Billed Stork

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I'm coming in to land... get off my perch!

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Ooh! Changed my mind... I think I will find somewhere else to sit.

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Nah, you can keep your rock.

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Well.... actually, I think I prefer it over this side anyway.

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Perhaps this wasn't such a bad place after all.

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Intermediate Egret

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant

The first mammal we see this afternoon is this sambar hiding in the tall grass.

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Oriental Magpie Robin

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White Fronted Water Hen

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White Fronted Water Hen

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Asian Open Billed Stork

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Little Cormorant spreading his wings to dry them out

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Our fickle Openbill is back, with a snail in her beak.

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Sunset over the marshland.

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The light is fading really fast now, as we make our way back to the park gate.

We see one more animal on our way out, in the near darkness.

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Gaur

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He is eyeing us suspiciously from behind the grass.

And that brings a very abrupt end to my blog from our 2017 India trip. For some reason I did not take any photos after this. To be fair, I had an upset tummy in the evening and the next day for our long journey home (Tadoba - Jabalpur-Delhi-London-Bristol (including a stop in Delhi during their awful smog problem when schools and offices were closed).

For my birding friends: We ended up with a trip count of 71, 31 of which were lifers. That is what I consider a successful birding trip! And, of course, we did see FIVE tigers, so all in all it was a very good safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:46 Archived in India Tagged sunset india kite safari birding butterfly cotton wetlands heron egret stork ibis cormorant gaur tadoba sambar bird_watching tiger_park adjutant buffer_zone agarzari_zone openbill open_bill magpie_robin water_hen Comments (2)

Tadoba National Park - Part III

No tigers this morning


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Black Ibis
Considering it was only yesterday that we saw our very first Black Ibis, today the first thing we see is a whole flock of them flying.

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Another first: Muntjack AKA Barking Deer

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Gaur

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant - another new one for my list.

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Crested Serpent Eagle

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Green Bee Eater

The park is looking really pretty this morning, with rising mist and rays from the emerging sun seeping through the trees.

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Sambar in the sunrise

Wild Boar

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Sambar

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Vehicle Check
We are most surprised to find ourselves being stopped by the traffic cops in the middle of the park. Do they get danger money for being surrounded by wild animals at work?

Black Drongo

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Green Bee Eater

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White Throated Kingfisher

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Gaur

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We turn off the main road onto a smaller lane, and the next three cars coming the other way flash their lights at us. With high hopes for a tiger sighting, we set off at great speed!

Down by the waterhole there is a large gathering of Gypsy safari vehicles, all waiting for the tigress and her cubs to re-appear from the woods where they were spotted earlier.

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We sit around for ages, some 45 minutes or so, with no sighting of even a stripy tail!

A couple of birds appear to help us pass the time.

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Green Bee Eater

All too soon it is time to make our way out of the park and back to the lodge for lunch.

On the way we spot a gorgeous Indian Roller sitting on the telephone wire.

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And a couple of women carrying her stuff for the day in a bowl on their heads.

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Back at the lodge I discover just how dirty this game driving lark is, after wiping my face on a white cloth.

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Time for a rest and some food before this afternoon's safari – the last one of our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds travel india sunrise safari eagle birding travelling roller ibis parakeet kingfisher gaur barking_deer tadoba sambar drongo bird_watching lapwing indian_bison adjutant bee_eater muntjack sambar_deer Comments (3)

Tadoba National Park - Part II

A disappointing afternoon


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After this morning's exciting tiger sighting, we head into the park with great expectations.

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Getting tickets at the park gate

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Mongoose
We do see a Ruddy Mongoose as it disappears behind the trees.

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Down at the lake a gathering of Gypsies (Maruti Gypsy, the safari vehicle of choice in India) are waiting (and hoping) for a sighting. It doesn't happen and we all gradually move on.

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When we see a few Gypsies bunch up, we hope for the best: maybe another tiger sighting?

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No such luck: it's a Hoopoe. Much as I like Hoopoes, they cannot compare to tigers.

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Some beautiful reflections in a pond

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Sambar

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Black Ibis

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Why did the chicken cross the road? Indian Junglefowl

Mongoose
On our way out of the park, we see another mongoose crossing the road. I try to take a picture of it while the vehicles is in motion, but again it is not very successful.

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It has not been a very successful afternoon as far as animal spotting goes. Apart from the Black Ibis, which is a new species to us, the highlight is the red moon that appears soon after sundown.

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We continue to the lodge and have a quick shower and change before dinner. Again it is served buffet style – which I am not too keen on – but I have to say the food is superb. In fact, we all agree that the Vegetable Manchurian (crispy balls in a spicy sauce) is the best dish we have had so far on the trip. I am so excited by it that I even forget to take photos!

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:16 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india safari moon tadoba bird_watching mangoose red_moon Comments (5)

Tadoba National Park - Part I

Yay! Tigers!


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Before we left home, our agent in India contacted me and said the lodge were really concerned about the lack of English speaking guides in Tadoba. I assured him that as long as the guide could find us the birds and animals, we are not too worried about the amount of English he speaks.

I am therefore very surprised when our allocated guide greets us in English at the park gate this morning. In fact, he speaks a lot of (what I assume is) English, most of which I can't understand. He is enthusiastic and gregarious, chattering away non-stop.

There is a queue at the gate as usual

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I am interested to see that there is an equipment hire place right by the gate. What a great idea!

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Soon after we get inside the park, we see a number of vehicles parked up, looking across a pond to the bank the other side. Apparently we just missed a tigress with her two cubs. A girl in one of the other cars shows me the preview on her camera. What a shame, just a couple of minutes too late.

We do see our first crocodile on this trip, however.

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The lake is home to lots of birds too:

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Intermediate Egret

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Pond Herons

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Little Egrets

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Spotted Dove

We move on to another pond.

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Chital

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Open Billed Stork

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Common Sandpiper

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Pond heron - I love the reflections in the lake

Something spooked this chital.

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Our guide, whose name I didn't manage to catch despite asking three times, tells us there is a 50% change the mother and cub will come here to drink, so we sit and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

So are a few other vehicles.

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While we wait (some more), we watch a Pied Kingfisher in the far, far distance, doing what kingfishers do best: fishing.

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Indian Peafowl

When a group of chital turn up to drink, there is a fairly sure thing that there isn't a tiger in the vicinity – the early warning system is pretty good in these parts. So we move on.

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Tadoba is very different to the other two parks we have visited on this trip, in that the main road leading through the park is actually tarmaced. I know it means you can travel faster, with less dust, but I can't help but to feel that it somewhat detracts from the 'jungle experience'.

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This road used to be the main thoroughfare to Nagpur from Tadoba and was used by the local king in the 17th century, who constructed a number of pillars to show the way.

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Tiger

I am not complaining though; we see a few vehicles gathered on the side of the road, and just as we pull up, a young tiger appears in a clearing in the forest.

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Then we spot another one behind. These are two youngsters, probably brother and sister, around two years old.

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They stand there, looking at us for a while; and it does appear that they are going to be coming across the open plains and hopefully cross the road in front of us.

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Unfortunately, the children in the next vehicle get a little overexcited and noisy, and the tigers turn around and disappear into the forest from whence they came.

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We can see the occasional orange flash moving around behind the trees, but they do not come out again.

We move on.

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Hanuman Langur

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Brown Fish Owl

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Indian Roller

Sambar
We see a gypsy ahead with everyone pointing their weapons (cameras) into the bush. It is unusual to see a sambar this close to the road. He seems quite unperturbed by our presence, even briefly looking up from his breakfast.

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Yet again it is time to leave the park and head back to camp.

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Irai Safari Retreat welcomes us back with a full buffet breakfast: puri and sambal, mashed potato, spicy beans and a masala omelette with chilli.

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Time to chill for a few hours before this afternoon's safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:14 Archived in India Tagged india holiday safari trip national_park journey tadoba tiger_park tadoba_national_park Comments (3)

Pench - Tadoba

A lovely surprise awaits us in Tadoba


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This morning we are treated to a breakfast fit for a king, with cereal, fruit, watermelon juice; followed by egg, vegetable sausage, tomatoes. Then they bring out the kedgeree. I walk away from there absolutely stuffed.

Sorry, no photos.

Pench - Tadoba

We are having an easy day today, just driving between Pench National park and our next – and final – tiger reserve: Tadoba National Park.

There is not much to say about the first part of the journey, until we start seeing signs for Tadoba, so I will just leave you with a few photos from the road trip.

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Yet another bullock cart photo

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Village life

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Rakesh stops the car for us to get out and take some pictures as well as a stretch of legs.

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After quite a few miles of rural lanes, we venture on to the highway of sorts. It's a little disconcerting when you are faced with a long line of trucks coming towards you, on both sides of the road with no obvious space for it to pull in.

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The same goes for those trucks driving the same direction as us – this one only narrowly misses the red car coming the other way.

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Border crossing

For the last six days we have been in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and today we are crossing over the border to Maharashtra State.

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It doesn't affect us in any way, but trucks have to have a special licence for each of the states and are required to pass through border control.

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I love the beautifully decorated trucks that you find in India. You can see on this one that he has a sign saying: “All India permit”, meaning he is allowed to travel to other states too.

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They do like to overfill their trucks here though.

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The large, overfilled trucks play havoc with the road surface, leaving huge potholes and slowing down our journey considerably.

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Although the fact that we are slowing right down, means I have more of a chance to photograph the street scenes, such as these two men sitting at the road-side.

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Tadoba

We see signs for Tadoba, and turn off the main road. I have the name of the village where the lodge is located and the closest gate. The road scenes are getting much more rural again now.

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We see signs for the gate, and soon afterwards stop and ask the way to the hotel.

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We ask again.

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We know we are getting close to a park when we see this sign.

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The fourth time Rakesh stops to ask for directions, we are sent in the opposite direction. Groan. Here we go again.

It seems the whole village of Bhamdeli (where the lodge is located) is gated, as we have to wake up the guard to let us through. Rakesh shows him the piece of paper with the lodge name and address, and he points in the general direction we are heading.

After passing a few cotton fields, we find ourselves driving through this linear village, lined with hotels, lodges and camps either side. This is obviously where the bulk of the accommodation for the park is found.

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Cotton

Suddenly we see a unassuming looking sign at the side of the road, and turn into a side track. The first impression from the sign is a little worrying, this is the only hotel on this trip I didn't choose (I left it to our tour operator), and I don't know what to expect.

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My expectations rise considerably when I see the entrance gate to the lodge, however.

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Irai Safari Retreat

We get a warm welcome at the reception from the very friendly manager who not only has a great sense of humour, but also speaks excellent English. He scans our passports – or rather, tries, to, as a power cut interrupts the action. Fear not, his mobile phone does the job just as well.

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The bar and reception area

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The comfortable lounge

After a briefing about the hotel and its facilities, we are shown to our rooms. From the website I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am very pleasantly surprised.

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Paved paths lead to the accommodation

Rooms are located in cottages spread around the well kept gardens, and each cottage houses two rooms. Other than our immediate neighbours who are in a room within the same building (in this case it is our friends Lyn and Chris, of course), we are far enough away from the other cottages for it to feel very private and exclusive.

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Our side of the cottage - steps on the left of the photo lead to the roof terrace - more about that later

Each of the rooms has a covered seating area outside the front door, making for quite a romantic little niche.

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There is also a sunny balcony with a hammock for a relaxing afternoon siesta. There's even a BBQ in the corner – not that I am thinking of doing any cooking while I am here!

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The bedroom is spacious, with a separate cosy seating area.

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The bathroom features double basins and a proper bath tub. Personally I prefer a walk-in shower, but I know Lyn likes to have a bath.

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The lodge is owned by a member of the local royal family, and most of the furniture and ornaments are from his personal collection. I particularly like these horse-shaped door handles on the wardrobe.

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Swimming Pool

The lodge also has a very inviting-looking pool, so we get changed and head over there while it is still sunny.

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Just as I am about to get undressed, I discover a series of tiny little blisters on my shin, plus one that is quite large. They cover an area about the size of a mobile phone, in the exact spot that I had cellulitis earlier in the year. If this is a sunburn, it is rather worrying, as I have only been outside in the sun for around 15 minutes, and a large proportion of that was walking in the shade. After much deliberation I decide it is probably best not to go in the pool after all.

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Sunset

Instead I climb to the roof terrace with my camera equipment and wait for the sunset.

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The sky is a dreamy pink, later to turn a glowing orange; and I can see the lake from which the lodge takes its name from up here.

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Being situated in the buffer zone of the national park, there are naturally a number of birds in the vicinity, many of which are coming back to roost for the night. They fly around a bit before descending into the surrounding trees, rustling the leaves as they land, making quite a noise.

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On closer inspection, most of the birds are cormorants.

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With a few storks.

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And a Red Vented Bulbul thrown in for good measure.

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Plus a Rufous Treepie.

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Although the evening started off with a beautiful pink sky; as the sun gets lower, the mist wins the battle and colours the sky a dirty brown. The sun holds its own for a while as a golden globe sinking slowly to earth.

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Once the sun has gone down, I go in and have a shower (without getting my poorly leg wet – quite a feat and requiring me to be a bit of a contortionist) before dinner.

Dinner

Dinner tonight is buffet and very good it is too. We have dhal fry (a nice spicy lentil dish), vegetable keema (minced vegetable curry), jeera rice (rice with cumin seeds), methi mattar makhani (a buttery curry with fenugreek and peas).

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It is all very tasty and I go to bed a happy bunny, ready for another day in another safari park tomorrow.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:12 Archived in India Tagged birds sunset road_trip india hammock dinner safari border bbq lost swimming_pool maharashtra trucks sunburn royal_family tadoba blisters pench bullock_cart irai_safari_retreat madya_pradesh cotton_plantation all_india_permit ask_directions buffer_zone Comments (4)

Pench National Park - Part II

A very exciting afternoon Safari


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a lovely rest this lunchtime (apparently I missed a fabulous lunch by having a siesta instead of eating), I feel ready to take on more adventures on this afternoon's safari.

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The Gypsy arriving at the lodge for the afternoon safari. I love the misspelling of the word 'seat'.

We drive through a couple of villages to get to the park, with the usual daily activities

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Gaur
The first animals we see this afternoon are the gaur, AKA Indian bison, the world's biggest wild cow.

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Giant Wood Spider
These things are enormous! They measure about the size of your palm with even more gigantic webs. Every arachnophobe's worst nightmare.

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Pench is a pretty park, with some beautiful scenery and attractive features.

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Indian Grey Hornbill from underneath

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Hanuman Langur

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Indian Pond Heron

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Red Wattled Lapwing

Back at the same wetlands we visited this morning, we see some sambar deer lying down.

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And in the background a White Throated Kingfisher.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Chital Chase

On our right we see a few spotted deer sprinting along at great speed, followed behind by a huge herd of them, all looking like they are running for their lives.

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They just keep on coming, more and more and more.

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Something must have really spooked them.

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Then we see the reason for their panic: a couple of wild dogs! How exciting!

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As the hounds close in on the chital, I begin to fear for this little girl's life – I really do think she is going to become dinner.

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But she gets away and joins her friend. Phew.

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The two dogs soon become seven as other dholes (Indian wild dogs) join the pack.

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Then a Golden jackal turns up.

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To be joined by two others.

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I am hoping for an angry stand-off with the Wild Dogs.

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But nothing happens unfortunately. The spotted deer survives for another day; and the dhole and jackal go hungry for a bit longer. We eventually and reluctantly move on.

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Hanuman Langurs
We arrive back at the wetlands area where we were before; and the light there now is fabulous.

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The shoreline is also full of langurs, drinking, preening and playing.

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We spend some time watching their antics

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As we are sitting on the only dry ground that leads from one side of the lake to the other, the langurs are having to jump across the water, providing us with a perfect photo opportunity.

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The little one doesn't quite make it all the way across.

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It's getting late, so we start to make our way towards the gate again, grabbing what wildlife sightings we can on the way.

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Indian Grey Hornbill

Tigger woz 'ere
Just like domestic cats, tigers like their scratching posts too – this one has been used by a male tiger fairly recently.

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Banyan Tree
This single tree, part of the fig family, began its life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant, where a seed has germinated in a crack or crevice its host). The Banyan Tree is the national tree of India.

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Keelback Water Snake
We see a dead snake in the road, all shrivelled up, and I lean out of the car to try and get a better picture of it, when it suddenly raises its head, hisses furiously at me and slithers off. OK then...

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What an exciting afternoon we've had, we the chase and then the backlit jumping langurs!

The moon
As we leave the park and drive back to the lodge, I notice the moon is very bright tonight. It is full moon in a couple of day's time, so that makes sense.

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Dinner
Tonight's dinner is interesting, unusual and probably best described as a little staccato. First we are served a plate with fish fingers, pappad pakora and chick pea patties.

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Then a soup, followed by a plate of sprouted beans.

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When the waiter brings out bowls of roast potatoes, we assume it is as an accompaniment to the main course. It is not; it's a course in its own right. Oh well, I like roast potatoes.

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By the time the main course of grilled chicken, vegetables and garlic rice arrives, I am full up!

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I do manage to make room for the delicious strawberry delight dessert though.

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We linger with a drink after dinner as we don't have an early start tomorrow. Stay tuned for the next instalment as we move on to Tadoba.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:19 Archived in India Tagged national_park pench tiger_park pench_tree_lodge pench_tiger_park pench_national_park Comments (1)

Pench National Park - Part I

A very rare and endangered sighting this afternoon


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There appears to be some sort of confusion about our park tickets for today. It seems our agent booked them for the wrong gate, some 60km away. Hence the very early start of 04:30. Rakesh (the driver who brought us down from Jabalpur) is picking us up and driving us to the gate in his car, where we will change into the open top safari vehicle (known as a 'gypsy'), so that we won't get frozen solid by taking the long journey in an open top car. Wise move.

4:30 comes and goes. No Rakesh. At 05:00 I ask the young receptionist what is happening. He wanders off to check with the manager. After a few minutes, he comes running back and continues on to the car park.

A short while later a Gypsy arrives for us. There has been a change of plan. We are going to the nearest gate just a few kilometres away after all; and will pay for a new ticket instead, saving all the hassle of the long journey. That sounds good to me, as it would take well in excess of an hour to travel 60 km on these roads.

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We also have to pay for a (compulsory) park guide who will accompany us on this morning's safari. Once that is all in order, we can enter the park.

The first thing we spot, is an Oriental Honey Buzzard, another new tick on our life list.

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Seeing very fresh tiger pug marks is promising for a sighting this morning.

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The sun is just beginning to break through the mist as we make our way deeper into the forest.

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Dhole
We are very excited when our guide spots a rare and endangered dhole (Indian wild dog) in between the trees. Our very first sighting of this species in the wild.

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There are thought to be fewer than 2500 of these animals left in the wild, so it is in fact even more rare than the tiger.

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We follow him as he makes his way through the forest.

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Indian Ghost Trees
Found all throughout the park (as well as being quite common elsewhere on the subcontinent), the bark of this very distinctive tree (Sterculia urens) exudes a gum that is used for laxatives.

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Rufous Treepie

Jungle Fowl

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The sun is slowly warming up the air, but the mist is still hanging over the lower ground, creating a mystical and eerie atmosphere.

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

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Spotted Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Pond Heron

Changeable Hawk Eagle

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Another Peacock sunning himself

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Brown Fish Owl
The guide keeps telling us the name of this bird, but I just can't get what he is trying to say. It sounds something like 'ground peace owl'. It is not until very much later that I realise he is saying 'Brown Fish Owl'.

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We pass a flooded area with a Green Sandpiper feeding in the shallows.

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Golden Jackals in the far distance

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Indian Roller

Breakfast
We stop for breakfast in a dedicated picnic area. A structure has been created to provide shade or shelter you from the rain, but as the temperature this morning is still very much on the cool side, everyone remains outside to catch some warmth from the sun's rays.

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The breakfast box is rather disappointing this morning, especially considering how superior the food was at the lodge yesterday.

A rather hideous plastic Mowgli adorns the site, which is appropriately called Mowgli Picnic Area.

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We continue to a large wetlands area that is teeming with birds, and spend some time with binoculars picking out various species, many of which are new to us. It is all rather exciting.

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Indian Cormorant

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Bonelli's Eagle

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Green Sandpiper

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Little Ringed Plovers

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Painted Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Pond Heron having a bad hair day

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Great Egret

There are also a couple of jackals around.

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We reluctantly leave the pond area behind to go in search of more wildlife.

Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Hoopoe

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Chital

Nilgai
This is the first nilgai we see on this trip, and then only for a few seconds as she disappears into the forest.

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Jungle Owlet

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Black Drongo

Upon hearing loud warning calls, the driver stops the car and we sit and wait. There is obviously a predator in the vicinity, and a lot of very distressed langurs. We wait. And wait. And wait. As time is now getting on, we eventually have to move, despite not having seen any tigers.

It is time to leave the park and return to the Lodge as the park rules have very strict timings for just morning and evening safaris rather than the whole day as we are used to from Africa.

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On the way we spot these two gorgeous Indian Rollers, one with his lunch.

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As we were up so early this morning (plus I didn't sleep well last night), I decide to forego lunch and spend the time snoozing instead.

Stay tuned for the next entry.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india sunrise breakfast safari eagle mist birding picnic national_park pigeon peacock roller heron egret stork vulture dove langur gypsy owl cormorant jackal chital drongo bird_watching pench nilgai buzzard early_morning hanuman_langur owlet plover tiger_park breakfast_picnic pench_tiger_park pench-tree-lodge pench_national_park tiger_pug_marks dhole indian_wild_dog wild_dog ghost_tree indian_ghost_tree treepie jungle_fowl early_morning_mist mowgli sandpiper hoppoe snooze Comments (3)

Kanha - Pench

It's got to be around here somewhere, surely?


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Today we move on to our next tiger park in search of new safari pastures. The good thing about that, is that we don't have to be up at the crack of dawn to get to the park gates for 05:30 this morning. We can actually have a lie-in, and are woken at 7am by the barashinga deer shouting out a warning call to the other animals of an impending danger.

After breakfast it is time to say goodbye to Kipling Camp and the delightfully warm crew we have come to love. It is all very sad, but new adventures await us in Pench National park.

But first, the journey there. A road trip in India, especially in rural areas, is always an adventure in itself. I love photographing street scenes, and today's reoccurring theme is bullocks.

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Pench 55 kms. We're on the map! Today is a five hour journey from Kanha to Pench, on mostly good roads with little traffic.

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As we get nearer Pench, we turn off the main road onto country lanes through much more rural countryside.

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Gotta love those telegraph poles.

It soon becomes blatantly obvious that Rakesh has no idea where he is going. It is also evident that the people he asks for directions also have no idea where he is going.

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After stopping twice more to ask directions, we come across the entrance gate to the park. Although I cannot hear, nor understand, what they are saying, it looks to me something like “It's just over there, turn right then a few bends and then turn left. Seems simple to me.

The map below, which I photographed later on the wall in the lodge, shows how simple it really is. Or rather could have been.

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We drive down through villages and the road does not seem that obvious. We stop again, and Rakesh asks an old man, who then comes up to the car and demands payment for – what turns out to be – giving us wrong directions.

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We stop a couple of more times to ask different people, even flagging down a passing motorcyclist. We can see the type of person Rakesh chooses for his questions: well dressed, with an air about them that says the person has maybe been to school. Thankfully I printed out a list of all the hotel name and addresses before I left home, which was just as well, as Rakesh had not even been told where we were staying, let alone been given an address or directions; and out here in the sticks there is no mobile signal to phone the lodge even.

Each time we stop, we are sent in a different direction. We drive through some villages several times – I am sure we must have driven down every single road in this area by now. Twice, at least. Eventually we come across someone who reads the piece of paper with a look of recognition on their face. He sends us down a narrow country track, and we feel quite confident that this is the correct road, finally.

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But no. It leads to a lodge, yes, but sadly not the one we are staying at. (It would probably have been a good move to pop in there and ask, but we didn't think about that at the time)

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We drive around a few more country lanes, most of which we have already driven down at least once before.

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The villages are getting to be rather familiar now, and I am sure I can see people laughing at us.

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We reach another entrance gate to the tiger park, where three officials scratch their heads for a while, then write something in Sanskrit on my paper. Directions in Hindi, hopefully.

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As you can see from the map, it really is a very easy journey from here. Of course, we don't have the map, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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We cross the river for the fourth time. Or is it fifth? I feel intimately connected to each and every boulder by now.

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This village looks awfully familiar. I begin to recognise individual people.

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Rakesh shows the paper with the Hindu directions on it to a family who are just about to get on their motorbike. They nod and immediately start pointing. This is promising. I think the woman eventually says: “Follow us”, as that is exactly what we do.

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We go through the same villages yet again.

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Even the birds are looking bemused. I swear I can hear him tweet: “I am sure I have already seen that car at least five times this afternoon...”

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We get stuck in a bit of a traffic jam (consisting of just us) at a construction site. The workers are not keen to move their vehicle for us to pass – they are busy unloading bricks, manually one by one it seems.

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At an intersection the family we have been following dismount their bike and the austere and officious-sounding matriarch tells us to head off the road onto a very bumpy, not-really-suitable-for-this-sort-of-vehicle track. This is new territory to us this afternoon. How exciting!

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After what seems like an eternity of pot-holed sandy track (also known as the 'Indian massage'), and a couple of little villages, we spot a very welcome sign. A big cheer goes up in the car.

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Pench Tree Lodge

We are greeted at the reception with some refreshing wet towels with a difference: these are dehydrated into little 'tablets'; but with water sprayed on them, they come back to life! I have never seen this done before and I love it!

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Another member of staff turns up with a tray full of powder for the traditional Indian blessing of bindi – a small red dot on the forehead.

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The Reception
The reception is a free-standing open area with some seating, maps on the wall, toilets and the office.

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On arrival we are each given a rather splendid aluminium water-bottle (to keep, not just for the duration of our stay), and I am impressed by the bottle-filling station at the reception, using filtered water.

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Lunch
As it is already getting on into the afternoon, we go straight to lunch. A winding path leads from the reception to the restaurant, and although not far as such, it is considerably further than is normal for a lodge. You can barely see the restaurant from the reception area.

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The path is pretty though, with some colourful grasses, a couple of small bridges and a pond.

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Finally we can see the restaurant.

The restaurant is in another free-standing building on a raised platform, with two floors and an observation tower.

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There is an outside covered terrace, and next to the main building is an inviting-looking infinity pool and changing room.

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There are in fact two dining rooms, one either side of the kitchen.

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The food is as classy as the rest of the establishment and beautifully presented.

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Beetroot Salad

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Cauliflower Cream

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Chicken raviloli

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Chocolate mousse

Our Room
After lunch, we are taken to our rooms, along another long and winding jungle path.

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When I say rooms, these are in fact tree houses, some 18ft above the ground!

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After climbing the stairs we are greeted with a small entrance hall, leading to another hallway connecting the bedroom, dressing room and bathroom.

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Accessed through French windows from the bedroom is a large balcony overlooking the river – although the surroundings are fairly overgrown so you cannot see much. Lyn and Chris can see even less from their balcony.

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Distant view from the balcony, through a very long zoom lens.

We sit outside for a while, looking out for birds (not many) and waiting for the sunset.

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Black Drongo

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Female Plum Headed Parakeet

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Red Vented Bulbul

The sunset is very much a non-event, as the sun turns into a red globe, then later simply dissolves into the mist.

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Dinner
I am woken up from a nice little snooze by a telephone call from reception: “We have dinner arrangements for you tonight, what time would you like to come?”

In order to get to our 'dinner arrangements', we have to walk past the restaurant to “meet in the welcome area”. From there we continue to the lodge's own Organic Farm, where a BBQ area has been set up. The path is very uneven, with gnarled roots and small trees in the way, and lit only by occasional lanterns and our torches.

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The place is already full, and we are put on a table in the far corner. I had no idea there were so many people staying tonight, I haven't seen any other guests until now. The manager tells us they are all one group, from various countries, who have been on a cycling trip through the park.

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We are all a little confused by what is happening, but the food just keeps arriving: salads, soup, small portions of grilled meat...

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Again there is very little light, so it is quite hard to see what we are eating, and I am still rather full from our very late lunch.

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The arrangements are all very well done, but have an atmosphere of being somewhat too formal for my liking, a complete opposite to our last three nights in Kipling Camp where we ate with the staff. We were also spoilt there, of course, by there being only two other guests, making it really personal and informal. I find this a little too impersonal and touristy. I have to confess that I find the whole eveing a complete waste of time and effort.

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The mobile bar in an old hay cart

Despite the firepit near our table, we are all feeling a little chilly as the evening goes on. With no toilets down at the farm, we have to go back to the welcome area to use the facilities there, and we retire to the room for an early night as we have an even-earlier-than-normal start tomorrow.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:50 Archived in India Tagged road_trip dinner lunch getting bbq lost kanha organic_farm tree_house pench posh kipling_camp pench_tree_lodge rural_street_scenes bullock_cart luxury_accommodation Comments (4)

Kanha National Park Part IV - Kisli Zone

A disppointing turnout of animals in the park


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Having returned to Kipling Camp after this morning's game drive, we have time to take a little nap before lunch. David chooses to chill in a hammock while I snooze in a chair in the lovely shady courtyard.

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After another delicious lunch of egg curry, spinach, pumpkin, dhal and curd, we go off for the last game drive here in Khana.

This afternoon we are allocated Kisli Zone, and Astrid (the manager at Kipling Camp) comes with us. Lyn and Chris, however, go off to spend the afternoon with Tara (more about that later).

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The first thing we see this afternoon is a dead baby chital, who most probably died during the birth.

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A few minutes later we see a female sambar with her offspring, and I can't help thinking about the poor chital who lost her baby.

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Maybe this is her?My heart breaks.

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Rahim stops the car to show us pug marks on the track – that looks promising.

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The sun is getting low now, and we haven't seen a great deal yet this afternoon.

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The spider's webs are enormous out here, maybe some 4ft across. While I don't mind spiders at all, I would hate to walk into that web!

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Oriental Turtle Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Grey Hornbill

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

All too soon it is time to leave the park behind, despite having seen no tigers this afternoon. We see the piglets again by entrance as we leave - it is almost pitch black now.

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When we get back to camp, we are eager to hear how Lyn and Chris' afternoon went.

Tara
Lyn and Chris debated long and hard whether to come out on safari this afternoon, or to stay in camp and go with Tara, the resident elephant, for her daily bath in the river. I persuaded them to do the latter, and am so glad I did, for several reasons, not least of all the fact that we saw very few animals in the park this afternoon.

Lyn and Chris, on the other hand, are full of it. “It was the stuff that dreams are made of” Chris enthuses when I ask him about it. Here is a brief resumé of their experience:

Tara led the way for them down to the river, and the mahout made sure she didn't go in the water until Lyn and Chris – who were unable to keep up the same speed as their much larger friend on the walk through the forest – arrived. Into the deep part of the river she went, splashing about to her heart's consent.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

Tara then made her way to the shallow part near the bank where both Lyn and Chris were able to get into the water with the elephant, and even assist in washing her.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

She gets a good scrub with a rough rock every day to ensure she gets all the grime and dirt off her skin.

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©Lyn Gowler

When her daily ablutions were over, she showed off to her new-found friends, before crossing her legs ready for her pedicure.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

For Lyn and Chris this was most definitely a highlight of the trip, and I am so glad they got to experience this.

After a lovely dinner and a few drinks in the bar, it is time to tuck in for our last night at Kipling Camp. I am sad to leave but excited to see what our next camp, Pench Tree Lodge is like.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:25 Archived in India Tagged india elephant hammock spider tara pigeon kanha peacock dove chital sambar wild_boar kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park cheetal piglets tiger_safari kisli_zone hotnbill pug_marks low_sun elephant_bathing Comments (3)

Kanha National Park Part III - Moki Zone

Yet another tiger?


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept very well last night, and wake up this morning to an alarm call by the lake: a deer of some sort making a lot of noises to warn other animals of impending danger.

When Rahim arrives, he tells us he saw a leopard when he was on his way to the lodge this morning on his bicycle. Gulp. I guess everyone here must learn to co-exist with wild animals.

Kanha National park

This morning we are allocated the Moki Zone, which is a long drive from the gate, almost an hour. But of course we can game view on the way.

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Wild boar
It seems the wild boar we saw just inside the gate last night is still here this morning. And there is still not enough light to take a decent photo.

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We hear desperate warning calls from the langurs, and can safely assume there is a tiger in the thicket of bamboo. We cannot see him/her, however, so when the calls stop we move on.

A few minutes later we spot a pug mark in the road. This is looking promising.

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The sun is staring to come up now, teasing us with warm rays through the mist and the trees.

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Spider
We've seen a number of pretty impressive spider's webs these last couple of days, and the largest belong to the Giant Wood Spider (Nephila pilipes). This is the female, who is about the size of a small dinner plate. Chris is not happy – he hates spiders with a passion.

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We also see a lot of these odd shaped webs belonging to the funnel spider. We never see the spider itself though, as they are hiding in the bottom of the funnel.

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Morning are really quite cold here in the park, we are all dressed up with hat and gloves and Kipling Camp provides a blanket for our legs. I love the effect the cooler temperatures has on the weather: creating some beautiful early morning mist, esepcially over water.

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Cormorant

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Tiger
Three game drives, three tigers. We can't believe our luck when we spot another one this morning. He is very much hidden behind the vegetation, so it is not quite such a good / clear sighting as the presvious two, but we are still very excited.

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When he makes his way towards the road, Rahim races ahead to see if we can get closer for a better view.

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The tiger is certainly very much nearer, as he explores the undergrowth in great detail.

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There are now a number of vehicles on the road, but he doesn't seem to be the least bit bothered.

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He crosses to the other side of the road and continues his exploration.

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He sniffs and sprays and sniffs again.

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And continues his early morning stroll.

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Making funny faces while yawning.

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It looks like the tip of his right front tooth has been chipped off.

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And spray...

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This is a most amazing sighting in terms of distance, activity and time span: we are so close, the tiger is not just walking in a straight line, he is actually doing things, and it has been several minutes already.

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He certainly is a pretty boy.

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And then he was gone.

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Wow! 18 minutes in total from the first spot until he disappeared out of sight again.

We continue our quest.

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Collared Scops Owls, beautifully camouflaged in a tree

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Male barashinga with their magnificent antlers

At a designated site, we stop for a breakfast picnic. The toilets here are somwhat unusual – a fence made from long thin sticks joined together vertically encloses a small square area for 'doing your business'. No pit, no long-drop, no nothing. Just flat ground. Great if you are just having a pee...

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You'll be grateful that I don't take my camera when I go, and that I can't be bothered to go back.

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Alexandrine Parakeet - a new one for us

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Jungle owlet

Rahim stops the car for us all to sniff the air – the smell of a fresh kill. But there is nothing to see, unfortunately.

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Indian Pond Heron

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Large Cuckoo Shrike

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Green Bee Eater

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Black Hooded Oriole

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Hanuman Langurs

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Giant Wood Spider

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White Bellied Drongo

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Male Sambar

On our way out of the park after this morning's session, we spot the same (maybe, they all look alike to me) Wild Boar as earlier. They must live just inside the gates as we have seen them in the same small area on every visit.

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And so it is time to return to base (Kipling Camp) for some rest, followed by lunch, before this afternoon's game drive.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:54 Archived in India Tagged india sunrise spider mist tiger kanha parakeet cormorant sambar drongo jungle_owlet wild_boar barashinga kilping_camp langurs cuckoo_shrike bee_eater pond_heron scops_owl funnel_spider moki_zone Comments (1)

Kanha National Park Part II - Suri Zone

Another tiger?


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

When we arrive back at Kipling Camp after our morning safari drive, we are greeted with the very welcome wet flannels (a custom I like very much – here in India it happens after every game drive and is very much a necessity because of all the dust. In Africa, despite the same amount of dirt generated, the flannels are generally just offered on your very first arrival at a lodge, not usually thereafter)

Tara

One of the main reasons I chose Kipling Camp when I was in the planning stages of this trip, was Tara, the resident elephant. Featured in the book Travels on my Elephant by Mark Shand, Tara was gifted to Kipling Camp in 1989 (you can read the full story of how Tara came to live at Kipling Camp here)

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Lunch

A lunch table is laid out in the shady courtyard under the trees, and we have a refreshing nimbu soda (fresh lime soda) while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Lamb curry, okra, chillies, dhal, yogurt, chutney, poppadom and puri

All around the grounds there are signs of wildlife, from butterflies to frogs and birds.

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Greater Coucal

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Orange Headed Ground Thrush

Afternoon Game Drive

This afternoon we have been allocated the Suri Zone of Kanha National Park and we head off to see what this area has to offer.

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King Vulture, a very rare bird and a first for us

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Hanuman langurs

Sambar Deer

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Porcupine
There is much excitement when a porcupine is spotted; it's an extremely unusual rare sighting indeed and a first for us. Absolutely rubbish photo, as by the time I'd turned and pointed my camera, he was well on his way into the undergrowth. But trust me: this reallys is a porcupine.

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Jungle Owlet

Gaur (Indian Bison) - the laregst wild cow in the world

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Jackals

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Hanuman Langur

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This guy is also a new one to us: Lesser Adjutant

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And then he was gone

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Indian Roller

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Cheetal with a Black Drongo passenger

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Cheetal with a Common Myna on its back

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Cheetal

Barashinga
This particular genus of Barashinga, the Southern Swamp Deer, is only found here in Kanha National park, so it is obviously our first sighting in the wild, thus generating considerable excitement.

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We ford the river in a beautifully serene area, where we also spot a Common Kingfisher.

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Common Kingfisher

Bees Nest
The action of the bees moving in unison on this nest reminds me of a Mexican Wave.

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.

Barashinga in the water
As the sun becomes lower in the sky, we spot a small herd of barashinga in the water. As we stop they look up and across at us, water dripping from their heads, backlit by the evening sun. Another magical moment.

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More animals backlit by the low sun, this time cheetal

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More barashinga

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The last rays of the sun are seeping through the trees.

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

Sambar
The light is faded fast and it is getting dark quickly.

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Tiger
As we make our way back towards the exit gate to leave the park for the evening, I comment to Lyn that as we haven't seen a tiger, at least we don't have to tip the guide quite as much this afternoon. Then we turn a corner and see a number of vehicles all looking into the bushes.

Just as we pull up alongside them, we spot a tiger disappearing into the undergrowth. Wow! It is brief, but at least I manage to shoot off a couple of frames.

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“Hold on!” shouts Rahim, as he reverses the Gypsy at great speed, around sharp bends, on a badly potholed road, uphill; with some of the most admirable driving skills I have ever been party to. Experience and knowledge means he knows exactly where the tiger will be coming out of the bushes.

And he is right, of course. Again.

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Great excitement ensues as we are joined by the other vehicles (whose drivers were not as on-the-ball, or maybe not as capable, as Rahim, and thus much slower off the mark), to watch the tiger saunter down the road.

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It is getting quite dark now and I am having to push my ISO right up to 8,000 in order to get a decent shot.

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ISO 10,000 now, despite Rahim having moved the vehicle nearer the tiger for a closer shot.

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ISO 16,000 - gotta love the Canon 5D IV's low light capabilities!

Sadly we have to say “goodbye” to our new-found friend, as we have a deadline time to be out of the gate.

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There is now a mad rush to get to the gate so as not to be fined for overstaying our welcome.

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It's impossible to avoid the dust generated by the other vehicles.

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We do make a couple of stops though, one for a Sambar crossing the road...

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… and some wild boar.

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Including some little baby piglets.

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We make it out of the park without penalty and return to the lodge for a shower, change, drink and dinner.

What an amazing day we've had!

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:50 Archived in India Tagged india elephant lunch tiger tara national_park deer butterfly kanha bison bees vulture parakeet langur kingfisher jackal gaur chital sambar myna drongo indian_food swamp_deer porcupine coucal kipling_camp cheetal wild_cow travels_on_my_elephant mark_shand nimbu_soda thrush indian_bison adjutant barashinga spotted_deer wild-boar piglets Comments (6)

Kanha National Park Part I - Kanha Zone

Talk about "Beginner's Luck"!


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a restless night full of meflaquine dreams (nightmare-inducing malaria prophylaxis), I wake to a knock on the door. Thinking that Ahmed will leave our coffee on the table outside the door, I just shout out “thanks” to him. It is several minutes later that I realise he is still standing outside waiting for us to open the door, and I feel really guilty about leaving him there.

Kipling Camp has its own Gypsy (specially converted safari vehicle), driven by Rahim, who is not just an excellent driver, spotter and identifier, he speaks good English too and is a thoroughly nice person. This morning we are also accompanied by Jeswin, the resident naturalist at Kipling Camp, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Rahim ensures we arrive first at the gate, in the pitch black, some 50 minutes before they open. As time goes on, a huge queue forms (but unusually for India, it remains orderly), and by the time we are allowed in (after having passports checked and tickets issued), there are dozens of Gypsies behind us.

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Drivers queuing for tickets

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Long line of Gypsies behind us

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We are finally let through the gate

Kanha National Park is divided into four zones, and visitors must drive the circuit stipulated on their tickets. This morning we have been allocated Kanha Zone, The first animals we spot, just inside the gate, are a pack of jackals and some cheetal (Indian spotted deer). It is still very dark, so the pictures are extremely grainy as a result of the high ISO (ISO 32,000 for my photography friends).

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Sunrise

And then the sun comes up, and what a sunrise it is, culminating in an elephant and mahout appearing out of the mist. Such a magical moment.

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We continue driving, seeing more animals and birds along the way.

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Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

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Eurasian Golden Oriole

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Hanuman Langur

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Cheetal

Tiger

Before leaving the UK, I had warned Lyn and Chris that seeing tiger is not easy, and to expect maybe one tiger sighting for every five game drives. And here we are, before 07:30 on our very first drive when we spot a tiger in the undergrowth. Wow!

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The tigress strolls along, taking no notice of us whatsoever.

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She heads straight for us initially, then veers off to her left, pausing briefly to turn towards the elephant that has appeared behind her.

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As the tigress saunters down the path, Rahim manoeuvres the Gypsy to a better position, anticipating the she will cross the road right in front of us.

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He is right, of course.

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You can see from the fact that I have caught part of the car in the bottom corner of the photo, just how close she is.

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And then she's gone. After nearly four minutes of sheer adrenalin and excitement, we are left with just one word on our lips: “Wow!” “We can go home now” says Chris, “we've seen what we came to see.” What an amazing experience and such a clear and close encounter. What a beautiful animal!

How can you top that?

We continue on our game drive to see what else the park has to offer. At least the pressure is off now as far as finding tigers go.

We get quite excited seeing these Blackbucks, as they are a new species to us in the wild.

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The male is black, while the females are a more neutral fawn colour. Here seen with a male cheetal.

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Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Gaur (Indian Bison) sticking his head above the long grass

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At up to ten feet long and seven feet tall, the gaur is the world's biggest wild cow. They are HUUUUGE

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Wild boar

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Indian Peafowl

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Jackal

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Jackal

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Cheetal - apparently there are some 22,000 of these spotted deer in the park

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Cattle egrets flying

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Stonechat

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Stonechat

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White Rumped Vulture

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Paddyfield Pipit

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Indian Roller

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Common Kestrel

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Green Bee Eater

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Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

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White Fronted Kingfisher

Breakfast picnic

At the Visitors Centre, we stop for a picnic. Kipling Camp made us some lovely scrambled egg wraps, plus fruit and juice - the best packed picnic on the whole trip.

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The monumental arch is made from antlers from cheetal, sambar and barashinga deer. Very impressive.

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Back on the road again for a little bit more game viewing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Unlike African safaris, Indian national parks only allow visitors to enter for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon.

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Black Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Roller

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Sambar

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Changeable Hawk Eagle

What an amazing morning's game viewing, not just a tiger, but also quite a few lifers (new birds to us) to add to our bird list. Well done Rahim and Kipling Camp.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:31 Archived in India Tagged india elephant sunrise safari mist birding tiger peacock bison stork vulture peafowl egrets langur gypsy kingfisher oriole jackal gaur indian_roller chital sambar blackbuck stonechat kestrel wild_boar lapwing kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park breakfast_picnic cheetal pipit munia wild_cow Comments (8)

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