Crystal and I just returned from our scouting mission to India in preparation for our brand-new Tiger Safari! Although the flight was long and the jet-lag was real – it was nothing short of incredible and this will prove to be one of our signature trips for years to come. There is NOTHING quite like being alone in the jungle as a tiger emerges from the brush…
We spent time photographing in three different National Parks but decided on the two most productive for the new Backcountry Journeys trip – Tiger Safari: India. Respectively these parks are Kanha & Bandhavgarh. We also explored Pench National Park and while beautiful the Tiger sightings are not as good.
Bengal tigers are the most common of the five remaining subspecies of tiger and are found primarily in India. There are thought to be roughly 2,500 left in the wild. Bengal tigers grow to be up to 10 ft in length with a 2-3 ft long tail, and weigh between 240 and 500 lbs. As the national animal of India, the Bengal tiger roam the forests and grasslands in which they like to live, mostly in the national parks of India where the endangered cat’s numbers are actually on the rise!
After transferring in Hong Kong we began our adventure in Delhi. Delhi actually consists of two components: Old Delhi, in the north, the historic city; and New Delhi, in the south, since 1947 the capital of India, built in the first part of the 20th century as the capital of British India.
Delhi is a city of people who love food. It is perhaps THE place for food in all of India. If you like Indian food, then any trip to India will be remembered for the restaurants and famous dishes just about as much as anything else. In fact…one of our FAVORITE parts of this trip was the food!
The lodges we selected for our trips serve up some of the best locally inspired Indian Cuisine on the planet – much of it grown in their own organic gardens. Don’t like Indian food? No problem – they serve Western as well – and dinner time after the safari is simply excellent with naturalist presentations, unique appetizers, and a full bar.
After landing in Delhi from international flights, we take a short in-country flight to Jabalpur, one of the major cities of Madhya Pradesh. This gets us much closer to the national parks. Mythology describes three evil spirits in the Jabalpur region who were defeated by the Hindu god Shiva. Weather in these parts is marked by very hot summers, with Monsoon season running between June and September. Cooler temperatures prevail between December and February, making January through April peak times to visit the region. While it does get quite warm in March and April (82-97), the humidity and rain are lower making for more pleasant days.
Our Tiger Safaris will travel during these times as they are far better for Tiger photography as the brush is thinner. Also, the majority of wildlife tend to gather at watering holes during the warmer months.
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh National Park, located 120 miles northeast of Jabalpur, is found in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Named after an ancient fort, Bandhavgarh National Park belongs to the Vindhyan mountain ranges of central India and it boasts to have the highest density of tiger population in the country. Once a hunting reserve of the royal family of Rewa, Bandhavgarh was declared a park in 1968. Visitors here can enter the park one of two ways, on the back of an elephant, or by 4×4 vehicles. The chances of seeing tigers here are quite good, and it did not disappoint. There are three main ‘zones’ here: Tala, Magdhi and Khitauli. Tala is the richest in terms of biodiversity, featuring the most tigers. The park contains 37 species of mammals with the tiger sitting at the top. There are more than 250 species of birds, about 80 species of butterflies, a number of reptiles. There is a saying here that goes something like: “In any other park you are lucky if you see a tiger. In Bandhavgarh, you are unlucky if you don’t see one.” The landscape is a mixed forest of bamboo, sal, grassland, and a complex of deciduous forests.
Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park is the largest national park of Madhya Pradesh. It is divided into two sanctuaries called Hallon and Banjar. Created in 1955, the park stretches over an area of 940 square kilometers. The forest of the Kanha Tiger Reserve was originally inhabited by the Gonds and the Baigas, two indigenous tribes. In fact, villagers of these tribes still occupy areas near the park. The park is home to a significant population of the Bengal tiger, Indian leopards, the sloth bear, barasingha, and Indian wild dog. Fun fact, the forest depicted in the famous novel by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book is based on this area!
Sloth Bears & Leopards
Yes, we were lucky enough to photograph both Sloth Bears & Leopards as well as a host of other wild critters (and you will likely as well on our 12-day itinerary).
Leopards are a rare sighting in India as they tend to stay out of the way of the more dominant Tiger population.
If you keep your ears ‘peeled’ while on the lookout for tigers, you might hear the grunt and snort of the Sloth bear. This large, shaggy-coated beast makes a good deal of noise as they pull down branches to get fruit, dig for termites and ants, or snuffle under debris for grubs and beetles. Even at between 200 and 300 lbs, this guy’s main predator is the tiger, so while you’re out looking for tigers, so are they! Sloth bears are considered solitary, however, they are seen from time-to-time in groups when resources are good. Unlike other bear species, the Sloth bear does not hibernate and will routinely carry their young on their backs, a fantastic image for any wildlife photographer to capture!
Russ Nordstrand is an award winning Landscape & Wildlife Photographer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in private collections throughout the world and he runs Photography Tours & Workshops in the most beautiful and inspirtational locations in the Western United States and beyond.
Russ has been hiking, backpacking, photographing and guiding people in the wilderness areas, deserts, canyons and mountains of the world since 1997. He has logged thousands of miles on the trail and for many years in the past decade over half of his nights were spent in a tent in some far flung outdoor destination.
His Photography reflects an awe and admiration of the great, wide and still wild world we live in. Often his subjects include towering canyon walls, mist shrouded mountain lakes or wildlife in their natural habitat. It also reflects a commitment to preserving these places for the health of our world and for those who come after.
It would be a lie to say he does it completely from an altruistic standpoint. Like any great outdoor photographer he loves the thrill of wild, remote places and the accomplishment of nailing that shot after waking up three hours before dawn and hiking in the dark!
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)