The tiger is the world’s largest cat. The Siberian tiger is the very largest, followed closely by the Bengal tiger of India. And, the biggest tiger in India today lives in Bandhavgarh, is named Bheem, and weighs an astonishing 750 pounds (340 kgs). That’s a very, very big kitty; bigger than any male lion we saw in Africa. We went to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, and thanks to Jodi’s magnificent planning, stayed at what has to be the best option in Bandhavgarh: the Roaring Salvan County, where we spent four days with its naturalist owner, Varun, who also happens to be the lead tiger photographer for National Geographic in India. He went with us on all our safaris, and explained all the different warning calls the animals made and what they meant, and gave us some good wildlife photography tips.
Safaris work differently in India than they do in East Africa. There are morning and afternoon safaris, each with firm entry and exit times and a limited number of spots that need to be reserved in advance (hence, the reason we were stuck in Hyderabad longer than we would have liked). The drivers do not have radios, so they cannot communicate with each other that way if they see something. Plus, as compared to east Africa, the line of sight was much more limited here so if the tiger wasn’t close, you weren’t going to see anything because the woods would hide him or her. In all, it felt more like a real hunt than Africa did; we can see why you are not guaranteed to see a tiger. But there are many other unique animals to see in the reserves, so we hoped for a tiger but were also excited to see the other animals. Oh, and they also patrol on elephants.
Two park rangers on their way back to camp, then going off to patrol the park on elephants. They use elephants because they can go anywhere and cars cannot.Our first day, we really lucked out and saw the relatively rarely sighted sloth bear about 10 minutes after entering the park. We also saw spotted deer, sambar deer, big neelgai antelope, two kinds of monkeys, wild boar, a jackal, peahens and peacocks, including a peacock who decided to dance for us at length with his glorious tailfeathers upright. Toward the very end of our time slot, we found out there was a tiger ahead so off we raced to try to get there before we had to start for the exit. We came upon several vehicles with all the occupants standing up, clear evidence of a tiger. We found out this was not just any tiger, it was Bheem! Unfortunately some idiot woman took a picture with her ipad with the flash on (which is forbidden) just as he was approaching, so he got scared and ran off. But we did get to see him. I couldn’t get over just how very enormous he is. And better yet, the driver of the flash-using-imbecile was required to leave the area as a sort of punishment.
The second time out we went into the buffer zone (as opposed to the core zone, where our other three safaris were to be), where we heard two tigers roaring back and forth for a while, which was really cool. They didn’t come into sight though. We saw some of the same animals we’d seen the day before, plus barking deer, gazelle, a hare, jungle fowl (look just like chickens) and a grey hornbill. On our third excursion we spotted a female tiger but only briefly, at a distance. The highlight of that safari was a gaur, which is an Indian bison. He was very big, but not yet fully grown.
On our final safari, we lucked out again and got to see a fully grown female tiger cub up close for quite a while as she waited to cross the road we were on to get to a lake, and then crossed right in front of us. She was beautiful! The forest itself is also beautiful, and our time spent in Bandhavgarh was a very peaceful break from the noise of India…more on that later…
More photos below: