From 2/4/2005 – 26/2005, my wife and I went to India on a World Wildlife Fund trip. This was our first trip with a digital camera. We had replaced our two film camera bodies with a single Canon EOS 20D. We also replaced our wide angle lens, due to the 1.6x conversion factor of the camera body. We began using our current wide angle lens, a 17-85mm EF-S Image Stabilized lens.
Obviously, we hoped to see tigers on this trip but were trying our hardest not to get our hopes too high. It is very possible to go all the way to India on a trip specifically designed to maximize tiger viewing and still not be lucky enough to see one. So, we tried our hardest to prepare ourselves for the possibility of poor luck. Of course, we also hoped to see a lot of other amazing wildlife that exists throughout India.
Our total counts for the trip were 180 bird species and 21 mammal species. Even those impressive stats do not do justice to this truly wonderful and very different trip for us. Surprisingly, even many of the human aspects of the trip were incredibly interesting. The culture of India is truly unique. We saw evidence of the early Jain and Hindu culture, as well as the later influence as the Muslims and Christians came through. Many aspects of this even caught the attention of this misanthrope.
We flew through Frankfurt and into Bangalore. Even in the hotel Oberoi in Bangalore we began seeing wildlife. We had a day and a half there. On our first day, we saw a Brahminy Kite that actually came down to the pool and drank from the swimming pool. I hope that the chemicals in the pool did not hurt the beautiful bird. There were also squirrels, frogs, and other birds around the hotel’s well landscaped, but small, grounds.
On the morning we left Bangalore for Nagarahole National Park, our brand new camera, which had been recording some small amount of purple haze on some photos, began to cover every photo with purple haze, making it completely and utterly useless. During our three days at Nagarahole, we did see our first tiger, though we were the only one’s on the trip with no camera to record the event. The tiger crossed the road in front of us and then walked along a tire track facing away from us for some distance. It was incredible.
One of the women on the trip generously shared her photos with us. As I have not yet heard back from her regarding permission to print low resolution images of her photos, I will not post them. If I manage to contact her, and she agrees, I will post some of her photos.
We were also incredibly fortunate to see a pair of dhole, or Indian wild dogs, in this park. They are beautiful and playful dogs that do not resemble the African wild dog very much at all. They are shorter, but also slender. They are a reddish brown solid color on the body with black noses. They also had the remains of a spotted deer kill.
It would take too long to list all of the wildlife we saw in any of the parks. We considered ourselves very fortunate to have these views, despite not having a camera with which to photograph any of it. During the time in camp, we contacted family in order to attempt to get a new camera shipped to us. The answer was that both DHL and FedEx would require 6 business days to get a package from New York to either Mysore or Bangalore. This was not the answer.
On the way back through Mysore, we were supposed to see a palace. Instead, we took a rickshaw tour of the city looking for a camera and never finding another 20D. Going through Bangalore, we tried again. Still no 20D. We considered the Rebel G, but it did not have some features we require and would have been a waste after the trip.
We made a last attempt with a 3 hour wait in the Mumbai for a connecting flight on the trip from Bangalore to Nagpur. By phone, we found a camera store with a 20D. We did not have time to go into the city and get back for our flight. However, the store was willing to deliver it to the airport … for cash only, due to only having new technology for credit card purchases.
So, we took as much cash as we could from the cash machine, converted the rest of our U.S. cash, and borrowed money from a fellow traveler. The two delivery men arrived on a motor bike with the camera already out of the box. They could not come into the airport, so we had to purchase the camera for a large amount of cash in the parking lot. It felt like a drug deal. We tested the grey market camera with no valid warranty in India or the U.S. in the parking lot and paid the cash. The camera is still working, as is the U.S. version that was repaired under warranty when we got home. We should have had two camera bodies for the trip. Now we do.
Now we were ready for Pench Tiger Reserve complete with camera. I was photographing a pair of Grey Langur Monkeys, an adult grooming a younger monkey, when another young monkey completely ruined the photo by jumping right on the adult’s (presumably Mom’s) head and over. This is one of my favorite photos and is pure dumb luck.
Rhesus macaques are less common than the langurs, but still seen frequently enough to get decent photos.
Spotted deer are plentiful throughout the parks of India, or at least the parks we visited.
The Indian Roller is a phenomenally beautiful bird that is very similar to the Lilac Breasted Roller of Africa. The only difference I see is the lack of the two long skinny tail feathers of the Lilac Breasted Roller.
The tiger trackers start out on elephant back every morning looking for a tiger. When they find one, they take park visitors into the bush on elephant back to see the tiger. These are wild tigers, though they are somewhat disturbed by the experience. The trackers essentially interrupt the tiger’s activity. The tiger then lies down with elephants around essentially waiting with the patience of any cat until the elephants leaves him/her alone.
Here is a picture of the cute, young, female elephant that took us to see a tiger. Since she is small and young, it was just the two of us on the elephant with the mahout.
When the elephant turned around so that my wife, facing the other side of the elephant, could see the tiger, she grabbed this shot. (This one is cropped quite a bit from the original.)
Nilgai are an interesting antelope species that was hunted in India to too great an extent. I am not sure how low their numbers were. However, renaming them from nilghor or blue horse to nilgai or blue bull helped to give the impression that they are cows, and thus sacred. It’s sort of an interesting use of religion for conservation.
After Pench, we drove to Bandhavghar National Park, the location of our best tiger viewing. On the way, we encountered an interesting sighting of homo sapiens. These are Muslims performing a festival that is probably not practiced by Muslims in most of the rest of the world. I apologize for not remembering the name of this festival and not being able to find a reference to it on the web with photos like this to confirm what it is. It may be Holi, which appears to be a festival of color in spring. That would be around the right time. However, I see no images of people dressed like this and dancing in the streets.
When I asked my doctor whether I needed to take any extra precautions for health in India over the trips I had already done, such as Africa and Latin America, she said the real risk there is the same as here, traffic accident. Do you think she may have been right? (Note that this road is not wide enough for our bus and this truck. We both had to go off on the shoulder as we passed. This was common.)
While we waited hoping that the tiger searchers would find a tiger in Bandhavghar National Park, we continued our game drive and had an excellent view of India’s national bird, the peacock.
Then we got to ride another elephant in to see a large adult male tiger. Unfortunately, this was supposed to be a view of a male tiger that had treed a leopard. However, an idiot on an elephant before our trip in was reportedly juggling two cameras and not holding on to anything and had forgotten that the bars around the platform atop the elephant come up so that you can get on. She fell off the elephant in front of the tiger. The tiger’s reaction was not what I would have expected. The thud scared the tiger, giving time for the leopard to get away. The even more frightened mahout got the also very nervous elephant to lie down in front of a tiger, not something any self-respecting elephant likes to do. Then he got the woman back on the elephant. Needless to say, the idiot was loudly and vocally angry with the mahout. Damn homo sapiens ruin everything. Anyway, you may recognize this as a larger version of my avatar. I also have this hanging in 12″x18″ size on the wall behind me.
Shutterbugs: This was taken hand held from the back of an elephant with an EOS 20d and a Canon 100-400mm EF L IS lens at 275mm, for a 35mm equivalent lens of 440mm.
We also saw this young tiger, probably about 9 months old.
We spent a while sitting and watching a variety of smaller birds flying over a pond. In among many shots that didn’t come out, a few, such as this one of a bee eater in flight did work.
The wooly necked stork is a beautiful bird. Note the iridescent purple in breast and wings.
This was an interesting and unusual view of a sambar deer reaching to eat leaves.
This grey langur monkey appears to be contemplating the beautiful view below.
The Indian jungle cat below was certainly an unexpected treat. These are about the size of a house cat and could probably be mistaken for one quite easily.
Khajuraho is a group of Indian temples that predates any outside influence of either Muslims or Christians, dating from about 900 to 1000 AD. The temples are of an architecture that I have not seen previously. Further, they are highly ornate with statuary all around every building. The statuary includes many scenes from daily life, including farming and war. However, the parts that interest me are the differences in culture and lack of inhibition that allowed for the representation of all of the positions of the Kama Sutra around the temples. Here are some photos of the area.
Here is an example of the level of detail on these beautiful buildings.
This is an example of one of the sex scenes on the sides of the building. Note that in all other scenes I saw, all of the elephants were serious and looking mostly forward. Check where this one is looking and the look on his face.
This one is relatively tame in being fairly standard sex, though lots of it.
This one, on the other hand is a bit far off from what might expect a thousand plus years ago. However, please keep in mind, there were other quite interesting ones, including homosexuality and just about any position you can imagine. However, I’m going to leave it at this. I’ve gotten pretty far from safe for work.
While many others of our group took a tour of Delhi, we decided on some birding in the slums. There was a wetland there. People were bathing in the water. There was a lot of trash around. However, there were still some very good birds. Only one other person joined us on this excursion.
This is Hamuyan’s Tomb. As usual, women are the real innovators. This was designed by a woman as a tomb for her husband. Later, a similar design would be done even more elaborately by a man for his wife. Interestingly, the second version, the Taj Mahal became far more famous. The first of these is Hamuyan’s tomb; the second is the classic view of the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is all marble with semi-precious inlays like these.
Back on the sex theme, This is a pool that was used for some interesting parties. However, what was even more interesting was that this palace, or rather palace complex, was the palace of a Muslim mogul who was very progressive about equality and religious freedom. He had three wives, one each of Muslim, Christian, and Hindu. The palaces for each within the complex were all in the styles of the religions of the wives. It’s quite interesting, and quite a contrast to todays lack of religious freedom. Anyway, this is the pool where they had some presumably very interesting parties. I’ve also posted the sign from the site to see the official description.
After we were done with the human excursions we did a little bit of birding in Koleadeo National Park at the end of the trip. Here is a beautiful owl from the location. This is a dusky eagle owl chick, an adorable and enormous fuzzball.
I’ll leave this log with a single sunrise photo from our last morning.