Photographing wildlife in India
We’re the first jeep on the scene. “Tiger, tiger!” the spotter exclaims and points into the bush. There he is, in all his magnificence, lying among the undergrowth. He’s barely visible, his stripes blending with the branches and grasses to conceal his form. We focus and zoom in with our cameras. The tiger yawns, slowly gets up, and stalks off into the mist, turning his head back towards us for one last glance. By then, other jeeps have arrived, their passengers all craning their necks for one glimpse of the tiger.
Our guide is convinced that we should stay in this general area, so we wait. The tracking elephant, who can leave the road and go into the bush, reappears and the mahout says that the tiger and his mate are heading back this way. Our guide starts ordering the 10-12 accumulated jeeps back to form some semblance of order and make a wide spot on the road where the tigers may cross. Then the spotter whispers excitedly, “Tiger coming! There!” As I swing my camera towards the direction he’s pointing, a jeep pulls up, cutting off my view. I hear a few choice Hindu expletives from our guide, but I settle down and continue to follow her as she ambles across the road in front of all those jeeps and craning necks.
Once she’s left the road, our guide orders the new jeep to a space where they won’t block our view of the bush. And then the male tiger approaches. As I zoom into a close-up of his face, he lifts his lip in a brief snarl. He’s king of the bush and we are the paparazzi. And, king that he is, he slowly paces across the road without paying us further notice.
Only when he has disappeared do I realize how much adrenaline is rushing through my bloodstream. We excitedly compare photos as the jeeps disperse back towards their various routes.
It’s high time for breakfast and we make our way to ‘Centre-point,’ the only location in the park where we may dismount from the jeeps. Our guide spreads a tablecloth across the hood of the jeep and unpacks the delicacies the lodge has prepared for us, from stuffed chapatti rolls to paneer (cheese) sandwiches. We buy spicy chicken pakora and sip coffee and tea that the lodge has provided from metal mugs.
By now the air has grown quite warm, and we discard our fleece jackets and pack away the blankets. Wearing the buff across my nose and mouth is hot, but when we meet up with other jeeps it’s necessary. The mist has made way for very fine, insidious, red dust that gets into everything. (It makes for very atmospheric photos, but later, when I returned home from India, my cameras needed serious cleaning.)
For another few hours we follow our route, stopping for the gaily colored Indian Rollers, Green Bee-eaters, peacocks, owls and other raptors, the photogenic Langur monkeys, and herds of spotted Chital deer. By 11:30, we’re back at the gate where we say goodbye to the spotter and make our way back to the lodge.
There the staff awaits us with damp towels to clean our faces and hands, a cloth swatter to dust off our clothing, and a refreshing glass of fresh lemonade. We have a few hours to relax and eat lunch before we climb back into the jeeps for our late afternoon drive. We pretty much repeat this routine for the nine days we’re in Bandhavgarh and Kanha. It never grows tedious.