Bhopal is a city of over 3 million people and we are sitting in its airport which, I am reliably informed, has 8 flights a day. Indian bureaucracy being what it is, I doubt it could manage more without travellers queuing down to the city. Getting here from our last port of call, Satpura tiger reserve, entailed 3 hours driving over roads dominated by cows, dogs, pedestrians, tractors, tuktuks, trucks and motorcycles. Fortunately our driver was skilled at Indian driving practices so with his hand on the horn, he weaved his way through the chaos with as much regard for safety as every other Indian road user and finally brought us to where we are now.
I keep wondering how we manage to survive such journeys without so much as a scrape. The horn is used by every motorised vehicle but nobody seems to take any notice, preferring instead to pretend they are alone on the road until they realise, usually at the last minute, that someone has to give way.
Anyhow, I digress. We’ve spent the last two weeks in a much more calm environment, visiting four of central India’s tiger parks, Tadoba in the state of Maharashtra, Pench, Kanha and Satpura in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The only resemblance to our road trips being the daily eight hour safaris in small but effective open-topped Indian jeeps travelling over rutted tracks, sometimes at speed, to reach areas of the park where alarm calls signalled the presence of tigers or leopards.
What has impressed me most this trip is the skill of the trackers who can spot a tiger print from the moving vehicle and tell its sex, direction and time of travel. That, coupled with their interpretation of alarm calls from sambar deer and/or grey langurs allows them to often calculate where it will next emerge from the jungle into an area where we can see it.
So, thanks to our naturalists and trackers, we’ve seen great views of tigers, glimpses of leopard, the so-called tiger food which comprises spotted deer and all kinds of other mammals and bird life. Of course, we have to respect the tiger and always give it space, but sometimes they take we humans by surprise and appear when we least expect them. On one occasion I was pointing my camera through the rear of the truck when a cub appeared out of the Bush right in front of my 100-400 lens. Of course, I tried a shot or two and later found some very close and out of focus stripes on one frame and two eyes on the other.
I’m posting images over the next few days. I’ve split up the tiger images into families, generally identified by names and/or numbers. So, we have Maya and her two cubs, Sonam and her five cubs, one of which is last year’s male who doesn’t want to leave home (typical!), a single male called Matkasur, a single female T27 Dhawajhandi and another single male, T30 Umarpani. Royal Bengal tigers are majestic animals. In the 2014 census, it was estimated that there were 2226 tigers remaining in India. Despite the increase in tiger reserves and their placement on the endangered list, many animals are still lost to territory disputes, poaching and conflict with humans. We feel incredibly privileged to have seen them. I hope you enjoy the photographs.