India Wildlife Spectacular

Tigers, Asiatic Lions and so much more

The awe-inspiring Tiger is perhaps the ultimate quarry for wildlife photographers, and we will help you get to grips with this endangered and often elusive animal . (image by Mark Beaman)

The awe-inspiring Tiger is perhaps the ultimate quarry for wildlife photographers, and we will help you get to grips with this endangered and often elusive animal . (image by Mark Beaman)


Wednesday 14th March - Monday 2nd April 2018
(20 days)

Leader: Inger Vandyke
Group Size Limit: 7
Tour Category: Easy walking and comfortable accommodations


Tiger! Surely one of the most evocative creatures that still shares our crowded planet with us, but for how much longer? Of all the mammals that wildlife photographers dream of photographing, this one surely tops the bill! But it is not an easy thing to do, unlike, for example, Lions in Africa, Tigers in Asia are extremely rare and far more secretive, at least in most of their remaining range.

Those visiting the wildlife reserves of India are sometimes lucky enough to see a Tiger on their travels, but often views are brief and quite often there are no sightings at all. To see Tigers well it is necessary to spend plenty of time and also to visit the very best and most reliable places. Furthermore, the very best months for frequency of Tiger sightings are April and May.

In order to make those Tiger dreams come true, we will be exploring what is probably the best sanctuary in India for Tiger sightings at the present time, the little-known but brilliant Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. This huge and remote park, situated in the hill ranges of central India that were immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in the Jungle Book, protects vast tracts of largely deciduous forest which still hold many Tigers. Tadoba is currently recognized by discerning wildlife photographers as one of the very best places to go if one wants encounters with Tigers.

In this wonderful reserve you can expect, not just hope, to get multiple sightings of these extraordinary and beautiful predators, often at close range, and sometimes one can watch them for long periods at a time! Staring into the huge, cold yellow eyes of a Tiger just a short distance away is an awesome experience, and Tadoba is where it can happen. We will explore the park by jeep and some of the Tigers are now so used to the presence of people that they seem unconcerned by their close proximity. From the well-sited lodge we use at Tadoba, with its expert guides, our group members have a good chance of sighting over 10 Tigers during a 10 days stay, and we could even see as many as 20 or more!

Tadoba holds many other large mammals, and those offering good photographic potential include the huge Gaur (or Indian Bison), the beautiful Chital (or Spotted Deer), Sambar (a large Red Deer-sized species), Nilgai (or Blue Bull, one of the world’s largest antelopes), Wild Boar, Rhesus Macaque and the characterful Hanuman (or Grey) Langur. The sanctuary also produces regular sightings of Leopard, Jungle Cat and Golden Jackal, and we even have a fair chance of coming across the rare and declining Dhole (or Indian Wild Dog) and the largely nocturnal Sloth Bear.

The reserve holds a rich selection of birdlife and amongst the species that often provide superb portraits are Indian Peafowl (the males will be in full display at the time of our visit), Lesser Adjutant (a huge stork), Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk-Eagle, Indian Scops Owl and Jungle Owlet.

The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is of course the major focus of this Indian journey, but our rich tapestry of experiences will be further enhanced by spending some time in other parts of this huge country.

At the very start of the tour, we will pay a visit to the city of Agra to see and photograph the ethereal Taj Mahal, a building that represents a pinnacle of human achievement and one which epitomizes the romantic India of a bygone era that pinnacle of human achievement. The riches accumulated by the Moghul emperors were used to build awesome strongholds and some of the most fabulous palaces and monuments ever constructed. Their lives and times seem like a fairy tale to we inhabitants of a much more crowded and less simple era, but they live on in the remarkable monuments they built that now emblazon India’s rich architectural heritage. Afterwards we will explore the wonderful National Chambal Sanctuary, a little-known reserve on the Chambal River that is home to two species of crocodile (the long-snouted Gharial and the thick-set Mugger), Gangetic River Dolphins, bizarre Indian Skimmers, Bar-headed Geese, Great Thick-knees and Black-bellied Terns.

The next stage of our Indian journey will take in three national parks in the state of Gujarat in western India. The Little Rann of Kutch is home to most of the remaining Indian Wild Asses (or Onagers), Lesser Flamingos, the lovely Indian Courser and many other interesting creatures. To the northeast lies Velavadar National Park where we will enjoy close-up encounters with the beautiful Blackbuck, surely one of the most striking antelopes of all. We could even sight a Grey Wolf  or a Striped Hyaena here. Finally we will round off our journey through Gujarat with a visit to Gir National Park, famous as the last place where the Asiatic Lion survives. This attractive sanctuary also harbours many other interesting animals, in particular Leopard and Chowsingha.

Itinerary

Day 1  The tour begins this morning at Delhi, from where we will travel southwards to the historic city of Agra. Here we will make our way to the incomparable Taj Mahal, a mausoleum of ethereal beauty built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, that really does live up to its reputation and more. This immense building seems to float on its white marble plinth whilst inside the light filters gently down to softly illuminate the jewel-encrusted tombs of the emperor and his beloved. The Taj Mahal is positioned at the edge of the city, immediately above the Yamuna River and happily the far bank of the river is still undeveloped, making for an unspoilt backdrop to this deservedly celebrated monument. After our visit to the Taj Mahal we will head for a small but comfortable and welcoming lodge near the Chambal River for a two nights stay.

Day 2  Today we will explore the National Chambal Sanctuary. The sanctuary is situated on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states. Here the Chambal River, the last unpolluted major river in northern India, flows between low erosion cliffs as it approaches its junction with the Ganges. The sanctuary, which also includes part of the state of Rajasthan further upstream, was set up to protect the healthy population of crocodiles that survives here, and also a population of the highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphin.

By taking two boat trips on the river, we should be able to closely approach and photograph the crocodiles as they sun themselves on the sandbars, both the long-snouted Gharial and the more conventionally-shaped Mugger. Typically one encounters large adult male Gharials with a bulbous protrusion on the end of their snout, smaller adults and immatures and even tiny juveniles, all with long rows of fine teeth on display and streamlined, thinly plated bodies that contrast with the more conventional and fearsome-looking teeth and heavy armoured plating of the thick-set Muggers. We also have an excellent chance of seeing the blind Gangetic River Dolphin and we may even be lucky enough to watch them jumping exuberantly, although sometimes they show little more than their backs.

The most notable bird species of the Chambal is the localized Indian Skimmer and we should be able to watch these bizarre creatures living up to their name as they flap across the river, intermittently dipping their ‘broken’ bills into the water, or flocking on small islets. Other photographic attractions include the declining Red-naped (or Indian Black) Ibis, the handsome Bar-headed Goose, Bonelli’s Eagle, the hulking, huge-eyed Great Thick-knee, the noisy River Tern and the uncommon Black-bellied Tern. There is often a photogenic Brown Hawk-Owl in the lodge gardens.

Day 3  Today we will return to Delhi and take a flight south to Ahmedabad. From the capital of Gujarat state we will head a relatively short distance westwards, our goal the salty ‘wastelands’ of the Little Rann of Kutch, where we will stay for two nights in a small but welcoming lodge run by a family of local landowners.

Day 4  At its southern edge the Thar Desert gradually gives way to the vast saline flats that form the Great Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch. These flats, which were once part of the Gulf of Kutch (it is said Alexander the Great embarked from a port in the gulf at the end of his abortive campaign to conquer northwestern India), are still inundated by the sea during the monsoon months. The Little Rann of Kutch is the last stronghold of the Indian Wild Ass (or Onager), which is now protected by the 4954 square kilometres (1913 square kilometres) of the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary. The open flats of the Rann are a wild place, but offer little in the way of sustenance, even to a wild ass, but the bushy and grassy areas towards its periphery are a different matter and here we shall surely encounter a good number of attractive Indian Wild Asses. The endearing little Bengal (or Inbdian) Fox may also be encountered. Our photographic safaris here will be by means of an open-topped 4x4 truck.

At the edge of the Little Rann are a number of wetlands and here we could encounter both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes (this region of India is the only area outside Africa where the latter species breeds). Other potential subjects for photography include Great White Pelican, Western Reef Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Woolly-necked Stork, the attractive Painted Stork, Asian Openbill (an extraordinary stork with a bill adapted to cracking the shells of pond snails), Comb (or Knob-billed) Duck, the stately Sarus Crane, Black-necked Stilt, Pied Avocet, Marsh Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull and Gull-billed Tern.

Areas of dry cultivation and wasteland hold two more specialities that make nice photographic subjects; the attractive Yellow-wattled Lapwing and the beautiful Indian Courser, while the lovely Rosy Starling can sometimes be found in large, approachable flocks at the edge of villages.

Day 5  After an early morning excursion at the Little Rann we will travel southwards to Velavadar (or Blackbuck) National Park, situated near the Gulf of Cambay to the north of Bhavnagar, where we will stay for two nights at a comfortable lodge. In the late afternoon we will have our first safari in the park.

Day 6  Velavadar (or Blackbuck) National Park is one of the last areas of relatively undisturbed grassland in Gujarat and is famous for its large herds of elegant Blackbucks, which we will be able to see and photograph at close range (the males, with their long, spiral horns, are especially striking, and the backdrop of tall, dry grass, ranging from yellowish-white to reddish-brown in colour, is especially pleasing).

The park is also well known for sightings of Grey Wolf, which we have a good chance of seeing (on one visit we watched one chasing a herd of Blackbuck, causing utter confusion and panic!). Sometimes they are close enough to photograph. This is also a good place for photographing the splendid Nilgai or Blue Bull, a large antelope. We might also encounter Striped Hyaena, but the chances are only modest. This 34 square kilometres (13 square miles) sanctuary also holds some interesting birds, in particular the localized Sykes’s Lark. Towards the end of the afternoon large numbers of Montagu’s Harriers and smaller numbers of Pallid and Western Marsh Harriers arrive over the grasslands preparatory to roosting here, making for an impressive sight.

Day 7  We will have another chance to explore Velavadar early this morning before we head southwestwards to Gir National Park for a three nights stay at a comfortable lodge. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of Gir.

Days 8-9  Gir (or Sasan Gir) National Park protects 1412 square kilometres (545 square miles) of mainly dry deciduous forest, acacia-dominated scrub jungle and grasslands amongst the rocky hills of southern Gujarat. Originally protected by the Nawab of Junagadh, the area became a national park and wildlife sanctuary in 1965. Gir is most famous as the last haunt of the endangered Asiatic Lion, a close cousin of its African relative and a species that once extended from Greece to central India, but is now reduced to a small surviving population in just this one national park in Gujarat! It is of course the Asian Lions of Gir that have brought us here and we shall be concentrating on getting good images of these interesting creatures during our visit. The lions take both natural prey inside the park (especially Chital or Spotted Deer, Sambar and Wild Boar, and also domesticated cattle belonging to the local Maldhari herders in the surrounding wildlife sanctuary, where local people have access rights. Reduced to only about 20 individuals by the early 20th century, the number of Lions has now recovered to over 400. We will use open-topped jeeps to explore the sanctuary, concentrating on finding the Lions. We should all have at least a couple of encounters during our visit and we will be hoping in particular for fine shots of an adult male with a bushy blackish mane.

Gir is also a good place for coming across both Leopard and the little Chowsingha (or Four-horned Antelope), as well as the commoner Golden Jackal and the attractive little Chinkara (or Indian Gazelle).

A wide variety of bird species inhabit the park and birds of prey in particular, including Indian, White-rumped and Red-headed Vultures, and both Tawny and Crested Serpent Eagles, provide good subjects.

Day 10  After a final excursion at Gir, we will drive northwards to Rajkot and catch a flight to Mumbai for an overnight stay.

Day 11  This morning we will continue our journey with a flight to Nagpur in central India. From there we will drive southeastwards through partly cultivated and partly forested terrain to the edge of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in the state of Maharashtra for a nine nights stay at a comfortable jungle lodge. We should arrive in time for our first jeep safari into the reserve this afternoon.

Days 12-19  The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (sometimes referred to as Tadoba National Park) covers a vast area of forest in northeastern Maharashtra state. The reserve has an area of 625 square kilometres (241 square miles), is mostly clothed in teak, sal and bamboo forest and holds a good population of over 60 Tigers, as well as Leopards, Indian Wild Dogs and other important mammals. In recent year it has sprung from obscurity owing to the quality and frequency of its Tiger sightings. Tadoba is an amazing and rapidly up-and-coming destination for the wildlife photographer.

We shall be spending most of our time in the park itself, where the habitat diversity is excellent and the density of Tigers high. Each day we will make morning and afternoon excursions into the park by jeep (but please note that the park is closed on Tuesdays), exploring a range of habitats including tall sal and teak forest, patches of evergreen forest and a number of wetlands including a large lake, marshes and pools. Large grassy meadows, the sites of former villages and their surrounding cultivation and pastureland, dot the park and in the early morning these meadows can be covered in low-lying mist, creating some beautiful landscapes. In places hills rise high above the rolling forests.

As we patrol the park tracks we will be keeping a constant lookout for Tigers. The best times of day are early morning and late afternoon, when Tigers can regularly be found walking along the tracks or stalking across the meadows, or even drinking or taking a bath in one of the pools.

We will be using open-topped jeeps to explore Tadoba, with skilled local driver-guides who are experts on the geography of the park and have an intimate knowledge of the park’s Tigers and other key creatures. Our driver-guides seem to have a feel for where a Tiger will appear, so we should have a high chance of multiple encounters. We could watch one of the huge territorial adult males on patrol, at times walking right past the jeeps showing utter indifference to our proximity, or strolling past the cubs he fathered last year and showing equal disdain (to the distress of the cubs, who clearly want dad to stop and play!). We could find some well-grown cubs playing around in the meadows or woodland, chasing each other, stalking imaginary prey or running around with an old bone in their mouths. Or perhaps a female sprawled in the shade with her younger cubs around her, glaring balefully at these interlopers in her world. On other occasions we might watch Tigers drinking or even bathing in a forest pool. Tiger movements are of course unpredictable, so it is quite possible to go for some time without seeing one, and then have a fantastic series of magical, close-range encounters in succession! It is all a matter of chance with these incredibly beautiful carnivores.

Although Tigers dominate the scene at Tadoba, they would not be there were it not for a healthy population of prey animals. We should also have some good opportunities to photograph the beautiful Chital (also known as Axis or Spotted Deer), which is much the commonest large mammal in the park and we will soon get used to their yelping calls, which rise in pitch when they sight a Tiger.

The other really conspicuous species is the Hanuman (or Grey) Langur – they are everywhere in the park, sitting in playful, rowdy groups by the roadside or climbing high in the trees. (The local form is now sometimes treated as a distinct species: Northern Plains Grey Langur.) Monkeys often make for great ‘photo ops’ and the langurs, the Bandar Log of Kipling, with their long, long, curling tails, graceful loping movements and cheeky faces fringed by a ruff of hair are certainly rich subjects. Mothers with small babies are commonly met with and often pose unselfconsciously for some really gooey shots! (Or try long distance telephoto shots of sunlit solitary monkeys sat by the roadside, or crossing a dusty, shadowy track). There are so many possibilities here.

The huge Gaur (or Indian Bison) can be seen regularly here and we are likely to come across a herd of these placid bovines feeding in the forest, or wandering across the track in front of our jeep. Close-ups of the massive heads and horns of these impressive beasts are often the shots that make the most impact.

Tadoba is a good place for Leopard sightings and we have a reasonably good chance of at least one encounter during our visit. Tadoba also hosts packs of Dholes (or Indian Wild Dogs) and the chances of seeing a group of these attractive predators is pretty reasonable, although they tend to be quite unpredictable in their movements. When encountered, the dogs are often quite unafraid, continuing to go about their business together, whether hunting or some other kind of social interaction, regardless of the presence of a jeep or two. This is also surely one of the best places in India for seeing Sloth Bear, although the chances during a single visit are only fair.

Other mammals that are regularly encountered at Tadoba include Rhesus Macaque, Golden Jackal, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, Indian Muntjac (or Barking Deer), Sambar, Chowsingha (or Four-horned Antelope), Nilgai (or Blue Bull), Northern Palm Squirrel and Indian Hare. There are slim chances for Indian Porcupine, Ratel (or Honey Badger) and Small Indian Civet. Marsh Crocodiles (or Muggers) can be found in some of the wetlands.

Although it is the prospect of close encounters with Tigers and other large mammals that will have brought us to Tadoba, this extensive park is an excellent place for birds too. The dry Sal forest and clumps of bamboo that dominate the park and its buffer area hold a wide variety of species and amongst those that may offer good photographic opportunities are the huge Lesser Adjutant, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, White-eyed Buzzard, Crested Hawk-Eagle, Indian Peafowl (which should be displaying at the time of our visit, a magnificent sight), Grey Junglefowl, the delightful Indian Scops Owl, the quizzical little Jungle Owlet, Crested Treeswift, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, the striking White-naped Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback and the huge Stork-billed Kingfisher. Sometimes a Brown Fish Owl or a Mottled Wood Owl can be seen roosting close to the park roads, but at other times they move position and disappear for weeks on end. Tiger kills attract dwindling numbers of White-rumped, Indian (or Long-billed) and Red-headed Vultures. The impressive Malabar Pied Hornbill can also be found here.

On Tuesday when the park is closed we can still have some interesting photographic opportunities. There is a wetland area that we can visit and anyone who fancies an interesting cultural experience can explore the local village where the friendly Gond tribal people are usually happy about being photographed as they go about village life. Indeed the children want to be in every photograph!

Day 20  After a final jeep safari at Tadoba we will return to Nagpur airport, where the tour ends this afternoon. (There are flights from Nagpur to Mumbai and Delhi.)

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard almost throughout (and the lodges at Gir and Tadoba have swimming pools). The lodge at the Little Rann of Kutch, where we spend two nights, is simple but charming and very pleasant and all rooms have private bathrooms. Road transfers are by cars or small coach, but we use open-topped jeeps (with up to 3 or 4 participants in each) inside most of the sanctuaries (we use an open-topped safari truck at the Little Rann of Kutch). Roads are very variable, but average mediocre.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout. There is little walking involved.

Climate: Typically it will be warm to hot, dry and sunny (early mornings are sometimes cool). Although overcast weather is not infrequent, rain is uncommon at this season.

Photographic Equipment: For the larger mammals and the crocodiles a 200mm or 300mm will often be the most useful lens, but we also recommend a 400, 500mm or 600mm lens for many bird shots, mammal close-ups etc. (If your budget does not run to prime lenses, a high quality 100-400mm or similar zoom can be a great alternative.) Alternatively, you can get wonderful results with a high quality digital compact camera with a 20x or higher  optical zoom. If you have questions about what equipment you ought to bring, please contact us.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £5990, €7070, $7850 Delhi/Nagpur.

Price includes all transportation (including the Delhi-Ahmedabad and Rajkot-Mumbai-Nagpur flights), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £779, €919, $1020.

Deposit: £750, €900, $1000.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Asiatic Lion, Gir Forest. This is the late and magnificent 'Sultan'. (image by Mike Watson)

Asiatic Lion, Gir Forest. This is the late and magnificent 'Sultan'. (image by Mike Watson)

Asiatic Lions at Gir Forest, just a playful tumble between two sisters. (image by Mike Watson)

Asiatic Lions at Gir Forest, just a playful tumble between two sisters. (image by Mike Watson)

Way too cute! Asiatic Lion cubs at Gir Forest. (image by Mike Watson)

Way too cute! Asiatic Lion cubs at Gir Forest. (image by Mike Watson)

Asiatic Wild Asses at sunset at the Little Rann of Kutch. (image by Mike Watson).

Asiatic Wild Asses at sunset at the Little Rann of Kutch. (image by Mike Watson).

Two mature male Blackbucks square up to each other at Velavadar. (image by Mike Watson)

Two mature male Blackbucks square up to each other at Velavadar. (image by Mike Watson)

...and a couple of younger male Blackbucks sparring at Velavadar. (image by Mike Watson)

...and a couple of younger male Blackbucks sparring at Velavadar. (image by Mike Watson)

Hello nasty! A huge Marsh Mugger crocodile basks in the early morning sun at Chambal River. (image by Mike Watson)

Hello nasty! A huge Marsh Mugger crocodile basks in the early morning sun at Chambal River. (image by Mike Watson)

A weird, fish-eating Gharial slips quietly into the water. They are still commonly seen at one of their last strongholds, the wonderful Chambal River. (image by Mike Watson)

A weird, fish-eating Gharial slips quietly into the water. They are still commonly seen at one of their last strongholds, the wonderful Chambal River. (image by Mike Watson)

Sometimes you find a Tiger just lolling around in the morning, after the hunting is over. Even right beside the road, like this one was. (image by Mark Beaman)

Sometimes you find a Tiger just lolling around in the morning, after the hunting is over. Even right beside the road, like this one was. (image by Mark Beaman)

The Dhole (or Indian Wild Dog) is one of the most sought-after mammals in the forests of central India. (image by Mark Beaman)

The Dhole (or Indian Wild Dog) is one of the most sought-after mammals in the forests of central India. (image by Mark Beaman)

Time to back up! An impressive Gaur or Indian Bison. They share the forests of central India with the Tiger, but adults are rarely attacked, for good reason. (image by Mike Watson)

Time to back up! An impressive Gaur or Indian Bison. They share the forests of central India with the Tiger, but adults are rarely attacked, for good reason. (image by Mike Watson)

A Chital (or Spotted Deer) stag in early morning rays of sunlight. (image by Mike Watson)

A Chital (or Spotted Deer) stag in early morning rays of sunlight. (image by Mike Watson)

A Sambar fawn crosses a forest track. (image by Mark Beaman)

A Sambar fawn crosses a forest track. (image by Mark Beaman)

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