I recently returned from an unbelievable ten days exploring and photographing Asiatic wildlife in Pench and Kanha National Parks. These parks, located in Madhya Pradesh, constitute two of India’s top tiger tiger reserves. I was visiting the parks courtesy of AndBeyond and Taj Safaris who had invited me to stay at their spectacular lodges while I collected material for some magazine commissions.
Starting off at Baghvan Jungle Lodge in Pench was a real treat. This national park is the place that provided Rudyard Kipling with the inspiration to write the Jungle Book and it remains an enchanting place to this day. Best of all, it is less popular than its illustrious neighbouring parks so, if you are lucky, you might have it pretty much to yourself, especially mid-week. It is the first place in India where I have been privileged enough to do a three hour afternoon drive without encountering even one other vehicle! The forest is also more open with large grasslands making wildlife viewing more productive. I enjoyed some spectacular sightings of Gaur (Indian bison), big herds of Chital (Spotted deer) and families of Sambar deer. A sighting of a rare jungle cat (with an uncanny resemblance to our African Wildcat back home) pouncing into long grass as it hunted small birds was especially rewarding. However, nothing could match the sheer excitement of viewing a ‘streak of tigers’.
Sitting on top of an elephant and being surrounded by five tigers was a sight that I’ll never forget. The tigress had just killed a Sambar deer and the four sub-adult cubs were enjoying some boisterous play ambushing each other and fighting before they settled down to a tug-of-war over the deer carcass. It was an extraordinary sight and only my second time to have ever seen tigers in the wild. I felt very fortunate to witness the behaviour and interactions of a group of Asia’s endangered iconic cats. I jumped at the opportunity to return the next day and we were greeted by five very fat tigers chewing on the last few bones from their kill.
The next stop on my itinerary was at the newly opened Banjaar Tola Lodge on the edge of Kanha National Park. Katherine flew in from Mumbai and joined me for an amazing long weekend of luxury in the bush. There is no doubt that this AndBeyond/Taj Safaris lodge has raised the bar three notches above their nearest competitor. They are setting the standards in India with a product that can hold its own against the best lodges in Africa: something previously unheard of in India. Great service, friendly staff, excellent food, a stunning location on the Banjaar River and thoughtfully designed luxurious safari tents all combine to produce India’s premier wildlife camp.
I was photographing the new lodge for AndBeyond and, at the same time, collecting photographic material from Kanha National Park for my magazine stories. This was not a ‘hardship assignment’ and what a bonus to get to share it with Katherine. While the tigers continued to elude her, we still enjoyed some top sightings of the rare Barasingha (Swamp deer), Gaur, Sambar, Chital and Langur monkeys. A morning drive up onto the plateau (unsuccessfully) in search of Dhole (Indian Wild Dog) rewarded us with some spectacular views over the park and a rare sighting of a Black Eagle.
All-in-all a thoroughly worthwhile trip that provided me with some great material for magazine pieces (first one is due out in the March issue of Discover India) and a chance to experience two of India’s top wildlife safari operations. Can’t wait for my next assignment back in the bush, which comes in March with a return to Ranthambhore in Rajasthan. Until then…