Tigers are difficult to photograph in the wild—and the reason so many images of these spectacular cats, used commercially and editorially, come from game farms. For this Ultimate Tigers photo shoot, we have obtained special photography access, by permit, to Bandhavgarh National Park—one of the world's most impressive tiger reserves—that 99.95% of visitors to the park will never experience.
Virtually all of India's famous tiger parks are crowded with tourists and are tightly controlled. Visitors arrive early after breakfast at the park gate where they are assigned a prescribed route—whether or not tigers have been seen on this track for a long time. The vehicles may only go forward—a real problem if a tiger appears out of photo range behind the "jeep." The normal game drive lasts 3½ hours, the park closes midday for 3½ hours (strictly—no matter if you are viewing a tiger, or not) and opens again for an afternoon game drive for another 3½ hours.
With special permits, half of our six shooting days will be unrestricted, route free, allowing us to travel on any track—and in any direction—where and when tigers are seen, and permitting us to enter the park a short time before it opens (while animals by the roadway have not been disturbed), and to stay a little later than closing time to capture the best light at sunrise and sunset. We do not have to leave the park at midday on those days, letting us stay within the park from sunrise to sunset.
On this trip there are only two photographers, plus local guides, in each 4x4 vehicle.
Bandhavgarh National Park has one of the highest tiger densities in the world. The park covers 168 square miles, predominated by sal forest combined with mixed deciduous/bamboo forest and broad expanses of grassland. Imposed across the skyline is an impressive plateau, crowned with the ancient Bandhavgarh fort—thought to be some 2,000 years old—rising more than 2,600 feet above the forest.
There is no shortage of prey in the park for both the tigers and the less frequently seen leopards. Several species of ungulates including chital (spotted deer), sambar, muntjac, nilgai, chinkara and chousingha are all on the big cat menu as well as wild boar. Other species we may encounter as we traverse the park include sloth bear, Indian fox, black-faced langur and rhesus macaque—plus jackal, jungle cat, mongoose, ratel, and more than 250 species of birds.
Our tiger quest may start by sighting huge fresh paw prints in the dust. Then we hear the snorts of deer and the chatter of langurs from the trees that betray the presence of these elusive cats. With palpable tension we wait in silence for this king of the forest and, hopefully, it saunters into view with hardly a glance at the human intruders. We are there in the dry season when most leaves are off the trees—making it easier to spot the big cats.
Our last photo day features the ancient Hindu and Jain temples at Khajuraho, built between 950 and 1050 AD The Khajuraho temples have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monuments have a rich display of intricately carved sculptures—famous for their erotic and sexual themes which leave little to the imagination and comprise about 10% of the incredible statuary.
Be sure to read Joe Van Os' 2016 Ultimate Tigers trip report in the Photo Safaris blog.
Day 2 (Apr 4 in Delhi)
Participants arrive in Delhi, India. On your arrival at the international airport in Delhi, and after clearing customs and immigration, our representative meets you for the transfer to our hotel.
Following breakfast we depart for the airport for our 3-hour business-class flight to Khajuraho. Arriving in the afternoon, we drive (by car) to Bandhavgarh. During the 5-hour drive we pass through the bustling villages and countryside of Madhya Pradesh. (BLD)
We photograph for six days in Bandhavgarh National Park. On three of those days four photographers—in two vehicles—have full access to the park—no zone or route restrictions—by special photography permit. The other four photographers—in two vehicles—follow a typical national park track, assigned each morning by the park service. Only five vehicles in the park per day (total—and no others—for any other traveler) may use the special permit. Some of the five may be reserved for film crews. We have obtained six days of permits allowing each participant three full days of all-access permits. Those participants using permits have an early breakfast and head to the park gate where they are be allowed entry 15 minutes before opening the gate to all others—approximately at sunrise. Participants following the typical tourist route leave at the same time to get in queue for the morning route assignment, with lunch at the lodge. The potential for photography, tigers or other wildlife, is also good on the tourist tracks. (BLD)
We enter the park again this morning for a game drive on the assigned tourist track. In the afternoon we drive to Khajuraho. (BLD)
Day 11 (Apr 13 in Delhi)
We photograph the famous monuments and statuary at Khajuraho. The monuments at Khajuraho are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historical records note that Khajuraho temple site had 85 temples by the 12th century, spread over eight square miles. This remaining cluster of 20 Hindu and Jain temples was built between 950–1050 AD and dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Jain patriarchs. They are richly carved with outstanding sculptures that are frequently sensual and, at times, sexually explicit in nature. The name Khajuraho is derived from the abundance of khajur date palms commonly found in this region. We fly to Delhi in the early afternoon. Dayrooms are provided at an airport hotel. Following dinner we transfer to international terminal to catch onward flights for home. (BLD)