Machli Jungle Ki Rani Hai

Once upon a time, there was a boy, who was fascinated by story books, comics and tales by his Naani. He lived in that fantasy world of so many characters and stories. One day, whilst he lived in Mumbai, came a movie opposite to his house, The Jungle Book, an animated movie, based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. The boy starry eyed went for the movie, during the course of the movie they also were selling the comic book with the same name. Fortunately, the kids parents bought one for him.

 

All of a sudden, the Indian jungle was alive in front of his eyes everyday, Kaa, Bagheera, Baloo, King Louie, Col Haathi, Mowgli all would dance around all day in his imagination. He would re-read that comic endless times. Somehow, the negative character in the movie, for this kid, Sher Khan was also a hero. Some fascination for the mighty, arrogant, cunning lord of the jungle kind of remained in his mind.

 

As life progressed, for a brief period, this kid was left at his maternal uncle for about 3 months time in Baroda, interestingly, that phase was a very good one. His uncle had made an arrangement with their office help Pandubhai to take this kid to the local zoo(Kamatibaug) everyday. So sitting on the little seat on the rod of the huge Atlas cycle this kid would everyday lap up the chance to go to the zoo and see his favourite animals. Apparently, retold by Pandubhai, the kid would daily sit in front of a tiger cage, the tiger’s name was Vitthal, for almost an hour talking to Vitthal. 

 

Time flew and the kid grew, his life was more involved in studying and trying to escape from studying both which didn’t quite work out well. Amazingly even though he always loved the woods and read books about the jungles and forests and saw programs on Nat Geo or Discovery, this kid actually never made it to the jungles. He did get one chance during a school trip to Gir but that was a 2 hour routine and nothing more.

 

Eventually the little kid grew up into a man and decided to marry, when you marry atleast you get to go for a honeymoon, so as luck would have it the kid’s lass and the kid planned a honeymoon in Uttar Pradesh(Now Uttarakhand) and as luck turned out one of the two places that they were visiting was Jim Corbett National Park.

 

The kid and his lass both were actually having their first real fling with the jungle. Little did they know it was a triangular love affair. The forest around Dhikala in Jim Corbett National Park has never left the kid’s memory till date, 14+ years have passed, but he swears he still remembers the smell of the jungle. The tree’s so tall that he had never seen before, the introduction to Jim Corbett’s book (Man Eater’s of Kumaon) happened then and that kind of increased the whole fantasy game even more. No, they didn’t see a tiger there, they didn’t even spot herds of Elephants, as far as sighting was concerned it was kind of poor, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, wild hogs, a hornbill, a few parakeets was just about all that they spotted yet the jungle sorry the experience left a lasting effect.

 

For many years they didn’t travel much and life’s other routines took over, then once again a trip was scheduled to a tiger reserve in Ranthambore. By then that kid, that is me had a kid who was 8 years old. :) Time flies I tell you.

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Ranthambore has got many relics mingling with the woods and vegetation that is growing all over it. All this adds up to the viewing experience.

 

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A full grown adult male spotted deer

 

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A Sambar baby looks us up!

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A pair of wooly necked strok were busy feasting on an algae infested pond

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A crocodile soaks up the sun on a cold morning.

 

The wait to spot a tiger in the wild was just getting longer and longer. For those who have never gone to spot a tiger let me just describe the whole fervour.

 

Apparently, most tigers are not social unless during mating season, tigers are usually alone. Female tigers have smaller territories depending on its strength anywhere from 6-14 square kilometers. Male tigers have even bigger territories of 15-25 square kilometers and there might be some 3-4 female tiger’s being in the vicinity of the male tiger. Apart from some very rare instances most of the times the male tiger and the female tiger are never together apart from a few weeks when they are mating.

 

So challenge no.1 is to locate one tiger, unlike lion’s who are in a pride you have to search for one tiger who has a significantly large territory. Usually these animals are nocturnal and move more during colder periods of the day rather than during hot periods. So either your chances are good early morning or late in the evening before it gets so dark we can’t see.

 

The tracking is usually done by drivers and guides who take you on a safari and whilst in the early morning they might be guided by pug marks more often than not they depend on a call by a langur or a deer. Now this is a very interesting way of spotting a tiger. The guide hears a call and raises his hand signalling everyone to be quiet. Everyone stops, the jeep also is shut, everyone tries to listen, the sound of the jungle reverberates in your ears. Pin drop silence, fresh air of the jungle, a small chi chi by a bird somewhere, a fly buzzing by your ear, the rustle of dead leaves as the deer walk on them, you can hear the jungle come alive!

 

Cooo…

 

You whisper to the guide

kaun hai?

us taraf ped pe se koi langur awaz de raha hai..

Apparently, when the tiger is on the move, a langur or a deer who ever spots it keeps giving an alarm call to all others alerting them that the Big Boss is on the move. The whole experience of keeping quiet, listening to that one hoot from a distance, tracking that hoot and seeing which direction it is being relayed is by what the guides gauge the location of the tiger. This whole exercise when there is pin drop silence and you actually absorb the jungle just by your eyes, ears and nose is what makes the whole experience quite fascinating and unreal for me.

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Mornings be so wonderful in the woods! Dawn at Ranthambore

Okay so back to my story, after the first safari was unsuccessful, the second day’s morning safari was pretty eventful as we managed to actually spot a leopard of all people. Amazingly, there was no alarm call, there was no evidence we were going to see it and all of a sudden it was me who thought he saw a deer walk and asked the jeep to stop and we realised it was a leopard. Early morning the leopard seemed to be walking back up the hill, as the guides would generalise, leopards spend the day in higher ground away from the tiger ground. This fellow was quietly walking away, he crossed the road whilst we stood there transfixed, he paused for a second looking at us and then as if we didn’t matter kept on walking on his merry path.

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This fellow posed just for a second! Terrible shot I know, but the excitement of having spotted a predator!

No tiger, but hell a lot of excitement, Bagheera’s fair cousin after all :D

 

The next safari we got into a zone that was special, it belonged to the legendary & the most famous tigress of the country and apparently she had killed something in the morning and our guide and driver excitedly took us to the spot. Machli, the tigress, is probably the most photographed and most well documented tigress amongst all Indian tiger’s not just that but infact a  report says that India had earned about USD10 million per year due to tourists attracted by the tigress for the last ten years!!!!  She has stories galore, they call her the Park ki Naani as she was 17 year old then in the last stage of her life and many of the powerful tigers in Ranthambore were her kids! So we stood at that spot where she had been seen in the morning for an hour, I was transfixed and did not want to move even if that meant 4 hours of waiting. Eventually, whilst we were busy shooting a mongoose some movement was noted below a banyan tree it was dark and far she was moving, she was spotted, but, as most tiger’s are, she was lazy and in the noon at 3 pm she was in no mood to move she actually lied in some nullah (waterbody) where we couldn’t see it.

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The first sighting!!!! Albeit quiet far and zoomed up!!!

After so many years, so much of a wait, a glimpse from miles away, I didn’t want to go or give up but my driver and guide took me around teaching me to enjoy the jungle and all other aspects and not be crazy about the tiger. They were right, but, it was my first time! Sigh… after about 2 hours of zipping about we came back to the same spot hoping that now that it was a bit of late evening and considerably cooler she would probably make a move. The fact that she had some kill around there made our chances bleak. As the time went by, the exit time was nearing and most of the other jeeps started to go, I was feeling gutted, I didn’t want to go. We were the last jeep and I requested by driver, last 5 mins then we will go away.

 

Just as my driver’s patience was wearing thin and late exit fine looming on us our guide excitedly gushed in a whisper….

woh hili

woh hili… 

jhadiya hil rahi hai….

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Finally she emerged! Her snooze was perhaps over! Yay… she was moving!

Those two minutes when you try to spot the movement are like crazy, you feel you are blind, then eventually we saw her moving, she was still quite far, but she came out of the bushes and climbed a rock and sat down, we could see her in full but she was quite far.

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She sat down at a vantage point, probably eyeing her kill and whiled a few minutes before flies ensured she didn’t stay there!

We gaped, looked in our binoculars and soaked the feeling of watching a tiger, free and on its own, not a care or worry in the world she sat there, yawned, shook her head to get rid of the flies, gaze about and allowed us for a minute to understand what her world was like.

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For a minute she looked into my lens! Zoomed image but boy she looks magnificient doesn’t she?

The most powerful beast was all alone actually, every one stayed miles away and yet as she again got up and made a move Cooo went a langur, for a change, human’s had spotted it before the monkey’s! As she moved down from the hill the langur shrieked harder. The jungle suddenly seemed to be coming alive as she moved and then it struck us, it was moving towards a road crossing.

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Some how in this image she looks quite short and actually like a long lost kitten!

Our guide took us to a spot where he reckoned the tigress would come out, for a few anxious minutes we lost it, we wondered if we might not see her again and then a few bushes moved, and like the cutest of kitties, she emerged, cutest she looked from a distance, but, as fast as lightning it dawned upon you, as she walked and walked towards us, decreasing the distance to about 6-7 feet of our jeep we actually experienced how enormous and how terrifying the feeling can be. She never for an instance indicated or even took notice of us apart from a casual two moment glance. No even an iota of threat was issued by her, we were a total non event for her. Perhaps she was so used to having camera’s chasing her for so many years she stopped taking notice. But boy when she came really near our jeep, before it crossed it, this was not something we were used to and it was certainly a first for all of us, we had frozen, I had stopped clicking and grabbed by son close to me. DSC_0238That moment was indescribable, fear, joy, ecstacy, excitement, nervousness everything in one and you dared not shriek at that moment. Something that you have wanted to experience for so long in your life suddenly happens like a blur in front of you and you don’t even know how to react!

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That blur of a moment is still alive in my eyes, she went a little away from our bushes and lazily plonked herself on the floor again. In those 5 minutes of activity it had given memories of a lifetime to a few people. The beast as some would call it was beautiful, graceful, light footed, arrogant but above all was free to its own will! Yes, this wasn’t a tiger in a cage, it was in its own free world, where she could sleep all day or walk miles if she wished. Yup that was my first tiger in the wild.

 

Machli I guess was worth the wait of 35 years! The queen of Ranthambore, Park ki Naani, Lady of the lake are some of the names of her but none appeals to me more than Machli. Apparently Machli was the trigger point for many more encounters in the future to come, which I am all going to recount in the next few posts. Here are a few pictures of the most picturesque Ranthambore, for a reserve in Rajasthan you will be surprised by the number of water bodies it has and all of my pictures are from March!!

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Nothing and I repeat nothing can compare to this experience of stalking the biggest stalker of them all in his own backyard! Yes spotting a tiger in its natural habitat is an experience one can only comprehend once they experience.

 

 

 

Celebrating Diwali Goa style!

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It is usual for me to be at home during Diwali, this year though was different as we ventured out to Goa. Diwali here is slightly muted, perhaps it has a lesser hindu population I guess. However, we saw huge Demon like structures being built everywhere whilst we were trying to find our house that we had booked in Nerul. Upon checking out in the night we came to know that these people actually had built huge Effigies of the Asura named Narakasura who as per the legend dictated to us by one lady at the bakery terrorised, exploited and killed the locals. Eventually Lord Krishna came to the rescue of the people and killed this demon, this day incidentally falls a day before Lakshmi Pooja.

The lady was keen enough to inform us that the statues of Narakasura are made of dry leaves, wood, paper and fire crackers. The made statues are then carried out in a procession whilst they abuse and taunt the demon and burn it post nightfall.

A lot of people, including non Indians found these statues quite interesting and would be seen photographing them or taking selfies with them!

Here are a couple of other such statues that we saw..

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Bird Watching

Honestly, till before I bought my camera, I was never inclined in watching birds or identifying them, I did know a few species that were common but nothing more than that. Its the camera’s advent in my life and simultaneously friends like Shail, IHM and Sangeeta that I slowly but surely started identifying the birds. Once into the identifying thing, I realised how little we took notice of such pretty creatures, even though some of them were so near us we knew so little about them. After beginning to identify thanks to these buddies, internet and FB Group like the Indian birds, I have noted that as many as 19 different species visit my garden!!!! I never knew so many different fella’s actually came about to take a look at me every year!

The Birds of Indian Subcontinent (book), internet amazingly aided in the keen interest that was not developing. In fact since I started noticing these birds and I am thankful once again to my lovely friends Shail, Ihm and Sangeeta for this I have realised that every step I take outdoors is now so much more interesting than before, that so many of these fellas are there to be looked at, identified and noted albeit in the mind!

The day my friend Nitinbhai sent me the details of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat’s program of bird watching in Kutch I had decided that I was going to go. It was a total no-brainer, I knew that perhaps the best season is probably still about 50 days away but I wanted to find out the places where to look more than anything. What I did not anticipate was the fact that I was going to be amidst a crowd of hard core bird watchers (read lovers), Ornithologists, Botanists, Conservationalists and Environment activists!

It was fascinating to listen to these folks either when I asked them something or whilst they conversed with each other. To be frank I felt tiny, there was so little I knew about the world around us and I wondered what the hell was I doing all this while? So many questions never arised in my mind about how what happened and why? The finer details of all things around us amazed me and that there are so many people who actually look out for these things and appreciate it and try to understand solve the puzzle is surely something to be appreciated.

I also met one very senior bird watcher, Mr Shantilal Varu, apparently he has been keenly into bird watching and record keeping since over 50 years!!!! I found it quite staggering really, in an age when no such bird books were available as easily, there was no internet how this gentleman went about watching birds and identifying them. Fortunately for me, he was in our jeep at all times during this trip and I absolutely was amazed by the amount of knowledge the man had gathered about birds from so many years of observing them, he could tell us their traits, flight patterns, their call types and so much more. Also he would just not guess any bird unless he got a clear sight of it. Everything thing he saw, he would carefully note it down in small writing pad he had at all times. He then regularly transfer’s all this records into a diary that he maintains which could be useful for bird record keeping! Quite intriguing to me how much a man can love something and how dedicated and disciplined he becomes thanks to it. Simple pleasures of life I guess are just around us, its only about when do we realise them!

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All in all I must confess I am falling in love with this activity, yes, perhaps I will never be as dedicated to this one thing or be very disciplined about record keeping and yet I must say this bird watching is enthralling. :)

Since we are onto the bird watching theme, here is one passage migrant, a first timer for me, Red Backed Shrike, that Mr. Shantilal helped me identify. This Red Backed Shrike is a carnivorous passerine bird of the Shrike family, also known as the butcher bird for the way it consumes its prey. You can visit here to see how it holds its prey and eats it. This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Whilst it makes its journey to Africa for about a month in September you can spot them in Kutch! Amazing traveller these birds are I tell you! Here are a few shots of it that I managed to capture! :)

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Hailstorm!

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As we left Khajjiar and headed back to Panchpulla after seing some threatening skies which promised to drench one and all it seemed like the crowds were riding faster than us… they were always engulfing us no matter how fast we drove!

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And then it began, rain at first and suddenly the sound on the tin roof sounded rocky! It was not just rain, but hail….

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Slowly at first…

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We even went out and caught some

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then the pace increased…

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So much Hail!

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The feeling of driving in the Hailstorm was wonderful and something new for me… we gushed with excitement as it went tip tap tapak on our tin roof!!!!

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And after about half an hour of driving the hail bid good bye and blue skies again appeared! :D

Hut on a ledge!

In Dalhousie, we stayed at a humble homestay named birds and chirps, true to its name, it had a lot of birds around it, apart from the birds, there was this house on the edge of the mountain which really caught my fancy. I didn’t manage to go around to the house to check out what sort of views they got of the valley as their house seemed on the bend of the ledge. Regardless the house made for some good pictures especially with the sun setting behind it in the evenings and the clouds deciding to make unique patterns in the sky!

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Every evening, the residents of the house would all get together around this cot and chit chat and gaze around. I can seriously assure you, these guys although they live here are not at all bored of the view or perhaps never get enough of it! The thing about not going there or not interacting with them I can actually keep imagining what all they were thinking, doing or loving about the place.

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Here are some other hues of the same hut! :)

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A new highway…

Ek rasta...  aha aha...  teen raahi... aha aha.... :) :)

Ek rasta…
aha aha…
teen raahi…
aha aha…. :) :)

Yes, I know the story of Leh is still uncomplete, but well I have had to time, plus another holiday ensured that I have way too many tales to tell alongside the slavery of the routines! But well, I just had to share this picture of the highway from Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh, it felt like you were probably travelling in Europe, grass on the sides of the road, flowers on almost all the trees and no litter!!!! The drive from Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh is not a express highway and yet, its just the sort of highway I love, loads of curves, swerves, trees and an empty road! :)

I prefer these highways which have a lot more character than those expressways where you just drive in straight lines at a million miles an hour! :D

Here are a few pictures of the highways from Hindustan ka Dil! :D

The slope, the lonely tree... the amazing greens in the month of march!!!! :D

The slope, the lonely tree… the amazing greens in the month of march!!!! :D

Miles and miles of these road sides that left me amazed! Its in India!!!!!! :D  Fine road, greens alongside sprinkled with flower petals!!!!

Miles and miles of these road sides that left me amazed! Its in India!!!!!! :D
Fine road, greens alongside sprinkled with flower petals!!!!

Flowers greet you all the way to Bandhavgarh! :D

Flowers greet you all the way to Bandhavgarh! :D

The road to Bandhavgarh!

The road to Bandhavgarh!

A lone mango tree on the road side for you to pluck raw mangoes! :D

A lone mango tree on the road side for you to pluck raw mangoes! :D

Highway highs!

Well after we left Rumbak and Hemis we decided to make some time by travelling in a car for a change and not walking. This meant two things, one we cover more places and second we stop losing weight. Yes the 5 days in Rumbak saw a 2 kg weight drop :D and don’t you think I am complaining. Anyways, one Gulzarbhai came with his Innova to pick us up from Zinchen where we waited for him for a while. Gulzarbhai was a Kashmiri who was living in Leh. Conversations with him were of the most interesting kind, we had a buddhist Ladakhi as a guide, a Kashmiri muslim as a driver and you just know you are in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and so you know where the conversation is headed! Some really wonderful things came through but that is for some other day. Today I will just share a few pictures from Zinchen to Khardungla via Leh, all pics taken whilst we reached the so called Worlds Highest Motorable Road Khardungla!

As we left Rumbak and started approaching Leh. Do notice how the landscape keeps varying!

As we left Rumbak and started approaching Leh, the landscape was something like this. The Poplar trees indicate human habitation. Its only where humans live that there are trees, or else major part of the region is totally barren.

Some roads look a tad like you are in Kashmir!

Some roads look a tad like you are in Kashmir!

That is the highway that connects Srinagar to Leh, we are about to enter Leh and I love the contrasts in this picture!

That is the highway that connects Srinagar to Leh, we are about to enter Leh and I love the contrasts in this picture!

Leh is a dusty town, fast becoming touristy and a hub like Manali as more and more tourists alight here and make it a base for the activities to explore the Ladakh region. But amidst the chaos and wires and markets are also some views you don't want to miss out on! :)

Leh is a dusty town, fast becoming touristy and a hub like Manali as more and more tourists alight here and make it a base for the activities to explore the Ladakh region. But amidst the chaos and wires and markets are also some views you don’t want to miss out on! :)

Then as we leave Leh and start climbing Khardungla here is an aerial shot of the town with Shanti Stupa high up ensuring peace in the little town!

Then as we leave Leh and start climbing Khardungla here is an aerial shot of the town with Shanti Stupa high up ensuring peace in the little town!

and then as we leave civilsation behind and head for higher, colder stiffer, difficult curves of Khardungla!

and then as we leave civilsation behind and head for higher, colder stiffer, difficult curves of Khardungla!

The tallest peak in this picture is Stok Kangri, we lived 5 days near its base in Rumbak. Looks a fair distance away doesn't it?? We covered this distance in 5 hours of driving!!

The tallest peak in this picture is Stok Kangri, we lived 5 days near its base in Rumbak. Looks a fair distance away doesn’t it?? We covered this distance in 5 hours of driving!!

One more of the same!

One more of the same!

Then the winding road takes us higher and higher!

Then the winding road takes us higher and higher!

When the clouds make way for the stark blue sky it looks that much more pretty!

When the clouds make way for the stark blue sky it looks that much more pretty!

The first check point on the way to Nubra Valley via Khardungla is at South Pullu! where huge ice cubes had formed thanks to the extremely chilly winds that came from this direction! It was unbearably cold to stand out here!

The first check point on the way to Nubra Valley via Khardungla is at South Pullu! where huge ice cubes had formed thanks to the extremely chilly winds that came from this direction! It was unbearably cold to stand out here!

I did say huge ice cubes right!? This huge as big as a brick!!!

I did say huge ice cubes right!? This huge as big as a brick!!!

As the road turns white read of snow its only the military convoys that cross us. During the peak tourist seasons they have traffic jams here. Thankfully we came in the peak of winter and there were no tourists! :D

As the road turns white read of snow its only the military convoys that cross us. During the peak tourist seasons they have traffic jams here. Thankfully we came in the peak of winter and there were no tourists! :D

Just another turn, just another picture!

Just another turn, just another picture!

When the distance boards are not on the floor but have to be hung up higher as snow might just cover up the floor signs.

When the distance boards are not on the floor but have to be hung up higher as snow might just cover up the floor signs.

and then... finally...

and then… finally…

the summit or pass... all passes in Ladakh are called La and hence this is a pass on Khardung mountain so Khardung la...

the summit or pass… all passes in Ladakh are called La and hence this is a pass on Khardung mountain so Khardung la…

Khardungla is a gateway to enter the Nubra Valley and also the life line to Siachen posts, the worlds highest battle ground. Khardungla is kept working all year through so that the military has continuous access to resources.  More picture and stories from Nubra in further posts! For now its Julley! :)

Khardungla is a gateway to enter the Nubra Valley and also the life line to Siachen posts, the worlds highest battle ground. Khardungla is kept working all year through so that the military has continuous access to resources.
More picture and stories from Nubra in further posts! For now its Julley! :)