For a long time I had been looking at various places where I could spend some time perusing my interests in photography and birding. Problem was, these places were in different parts of the country and multiple trips to India will be needed to cover each of these places to even scratch the surface. A series of incidents created a situation where I would have about 20 days to spare in India. It was almost as if powers to be had heard my plight and have decided to overwhelm me. Let me provide an analogy to explain it better: Dogs sometimes chase cars, but they would not know what to do with one if they caught it. I had only dreamt of getting a long vacation where I can visit places in wilderness for extended period, and now the dream was right in my face. I had not the slightest idea about what route to take. Hence I decided to use a scientific and highly advanced method for choosing my destinations from my wish list: using random(ish) selection and asking helpful people.
Once that was done, I got in touch with couple of really helpful people on INW (Sudhir Shivram, Santosh BS) and planned out my route. Santosh’s awesome and informative blog Huchchara Santhe was an invaluable resource for planning this trip and he had patience of a saint in answering my queries. So a big thanks goes to him.
Ultimately my route turned out as follows:
- Tal Chappar
I planned to spend about 4-5 nights at each place. What followed was a journey, that left me rejuvenated and hungry for more. I have tried is to put my experience into words with visual aid from some photographs I was lucky to make. Let me be upfront and say, no amount of photographs or my poorly chosen words will do justice to what I have experienced.
Land of the tigers, located in the heart of India. I think that would be more or less how this place can be described. For long I had been wanting to visit Bandhavgarh but never had a chance. This time when I saw that I do have time to make this trip and logistically it would be possible for me to fit it into my schedule. As an added bonus, Sudhir Shivram was conducting a workshop on the dates that were suitable. I jumped at that chance and registered. All that was left to do was twiddle my thumbs and wait till the day the my train from Hazrat Nizamuddin will start.
As I was starting my journey from Delhi and I had a whole day at my disposal till the train left for Katni. Now what is a man to do, if he is in Delhi and have a few hours at his hand. Simple, find a willing partner in crime and go hunting for good food. Problem is not that good food is hard to come by, problem is agreeing with the aforementioned friend about which restaurant amongst the good ones are better. You are spoilt for choice with Gulatis, Kareems to specific road side stalls that may specialize in Naans, Parathas etc. In this case my friend and fellow food lover Prateek agreed to give it a go at Kareems (having paid a visit to Gulati’s the previous night for some delicious lamb). Suffice to say that obscene quantity of food was ordered and mooched off in a matter of an hour. Do try “Nargisi Kofta” if you go there.
After almost missing my train due to wrongly displayed train number on the platform, I was able to board the train. Train started on time and had very few stops in between . The journey couldn’t have been better. I slept soundly to the rhythmic motion of the train and was wide awake when we reached Katni Jn. at 7:00 am. I was picked up by the car arranged by Kings Lodge. The driver was a cheerful local youth called Izahar. He gave me a subtle warning that the last few kilo-meters of the road to Tala are on bad road. I took it in my stride. After all I am well versed with pothole ridden roads of India, how bad this road could be. Turns out I was right. The road started with minor potholes, developing into major craters and ruts. Thats when I saw the magical transformation. All of a sudden there was no road but a trail, which disappeared and gave way to an abomination that no one shall ever consider as road. After a bone-jarring and nausea-inducing journey for an hour (or was it a year), we finally reached Tala and then the lodge.
We were immediately treated with wet towels by the attentive staff (I thought they wanted to make sure my ID papers match with my dust-filled face) and were shown the room. The rooms were tastefully done and well appointed. They had nice sit out areas and our room bordered on a bamboo thicket, treating us to a variety of birds including Tickels Flycatcher. Despite being an upmarket lodge, the staff was very personable. They even ensured that I get the right amount of sugar in my tea. Naturalists at the resort were very good and knowledgeable and gypsy drivers were pretty darn good. I saw that Varun, current manager at the lodge, was taking time to meet and talk with each guest.
Sudhir and rest of the gang joined up by end of the day. After a round of introductions we were briefed about our schedule. It went as: Morning jeep drive, Brunch followed by a power nap, Evening jeep drive followed by a leaning session with Sudhir. These sessions were filled with information about photography, creative vision and post processing as we came to know a bit later. However we all went to sleep dreaming of orange and black. I am sure the dream gods in Bandhavgarh have pre-packaged dreams of such kind for all the hopefuls. 🙂
Our Safari next morning was in Magadhi zone. Sudhir joined us for this round and we started. Early morning was cold and misty. To the amusement of our driver and guide, Sudhir stopped the Gypsy at a place and we started shooting landscapes, spiders, sun rays etc. While it may sound strange to some, but it was a lot of learning and in this case we got to learn some new concepts as well as started looking at seemingly mundane scenery with a creative eye (or we hope creative eye). We discussed some of the finer points of composition, colour balance as well as focusing and absolutely picked Sudhir’s brain.
While were were busy shooting small wonders of the forest i.e. flowers, spider-webs etc, a jeep halted next to us. Tourists in the jeep were puzzled at what we were trying to do, apparently trying to shoot a spiderweb was not something they imagined one shall do in this tiger heaven. Driver of the other jeep just made a offhand remark that we must have seen the tigers then. Anyone who have been to tiger reserves would know the power that kind of statements would wield on the tourists. Quick exchange of directions gave us location of a point where a Tigress and her cubs were guarding their kill. In a manner of practiced manoeuvre, our driver took of in the direction indicated by them.
We reached the scene, and were told that the tigress and two cubs are in a small ditch with their kill. Unfortunately, no one was allowed in. However some forest department officers wanted to verify the kill for some odd reason. Well, you know as they say “Quid pro quo” (where is that darn big grin icons). We escorted them to a vantage point near the ditch. A few minutes wait and out saunters a beautiful tigress. After a few minutes hesitation, she decided to cross the path. We waited for sometime, but cubs were not feeling as generous.
Ah, so the tiger gods smiled on us. Obviously we all returned with a silly smile on our face and excitement about checking our pictures of the day. But the day was not over yet. There was a nice session planned by Sudhir that covered further details on what goes into making a better photographs. I loved the concept of pre-visualization. And obviously there was a quick session of critiquing our images. I believe the dinner tasted distinctly of humble pie :D, and I loved it.
To be continued ..