Ultimate Tigers 2018 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Apr 30, 2018

Our Ultimate Tigers photo safari began in Delhi, India, where our group assembled before the departing flight to Raipur, the capital of the newly-formed (in 2000) Indian state of Chhattisgarh. When our flight arrived at Raipur International Airport we began the four-hour overland journey to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh and our photographic adventure was underway. The drive was as much a visual treat getting a taste of the rural culture of India as it was a transfer to our lodging. We made several stops along the way to photograph the daily scenes of village life as local farmers finished the harvest and were transporting the season's crops from the fields. Ox carts stacked to the sky with straw and hay were a favorite subject of our cameras.
Photographing tigers in IndiaOur jungle lodge was a small mostly open-air property situated just outside the boundary of the national park. Our comfortable rooms were set among the shady tropical sal forest—home to tropical birds, langur monkeys, and a plethora of colorful butterflies.  Following an afternoon exploration around the lodge area we settled into the comforts of our base and organized ourselves for the next few days of photography.
On most days, little of our day would be spent at the lodge. The next six days were spent exploring, tracking and photographing tigers in the vastness of Kanha National Park. Safari drives are the best way to photograph tigers, and our trip was planned for only two photographers, a driver and a park guide in each 4X4 safari vehicle. This allowed for plenty of room for shooting and for flexibility in our plans for each day of shooting. Of our six days in the park, each photographer had three days of special photography permits, allowing early and all-day access to the park. This was a welcome way to enjoy quiet afternoons of searching and waiting for tigers to appear at the park’s water holes without the presence of other safari vehicles. These breaks were much appreciated as quiet respites from the traffic of the morning and late afternoon throngs of visitors who must adhere to strict visitation times and their assigned travel areas. 
Every other day we had standard park access where we were required to leave the park in the late morning. We took a break for lunch back at our lodge and had a chance to download images and recharge our batteries. Standard tourist access had us back in the park by late afternoon, catching up on where we left off on our morning quest for tigers.
From the wonderful light of glowing "smoky" mornings to low-raking sunsets we were out and searching for tigers to photograph. One theme that rang true from day to day was how much we appreciated the incredible light India's jungle terrain had to offer. When not photographing tigers, we spent time shooting the many antics of langur monkeys, the ever-present foraging deer species, and the interesting mix of tropical birds. Kanha National park offers up one of the best areas of India to find and photograph sloth bears, spotted deer (chital), as well as the majestic barasingha, or swamp deer.
Along with all the wildlife photography an unexpected treat of the trip was the soundscape of the Indian jungle. While we were out photographing, the background sounds of forest fauna resonated across the countryside. Peacocks called from the edges of forest glades, racket-tailed drongos sang from the forest canopy, and barking deer could be heard "barking" from the thickets—all in all a wonderful mix of sounds to remind us of the jungle setting we were immersed in.
The ever-present bird calls and barks of deer in the forest were also our eyes and ears. By listening to the wildlife warning calls, our guides were able to tune in and track the presence and movement of tigers. Much of the time the arrival of a tiger would be announced by the alarm call of one of the prey species the cat might have been hunting. This clued us in on the activity going on in the forest around us. As far as jungle sounds go, however, there is very little as powerful as the roar of a tiger to help instill the wildness of this amazing location in a photographer’s heart. On more than one occasion the powerful vocalizations of the tigers themselves were an early announcement of their arrival on the scene.
On Wednesdays the park is closed to everyone in the afternoon, so we were off to the nearby village to learn about their culture and to photograph the community. Our first stop was with a local fishmonger carrying and selling fish from a bucket as he walked through the village. Our cultural photography experience also included a visit with a local chief's family and a welcome at a traditional Indian wedding for additional photography and merriment, as well as a little dancing.
Tiger in IndiaAfter one final morning safari drive in Kanha we reversed our journey back to Raipur and then boarded our flight back to Delhi.
As wildlife sightings and photography opportunities go, we observed a total of 25 different tigers on the trip—including cubs younger than two months old. The total number of our group's tiger sightings amounted to 64 different occasions—plus an exciting assortment of other photogenic species—during this highly successful trip.

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