My journey in wildlife photography began in 2006. I have visited the Project Tiger forests — Kanha, Nagarhole, Pench, Nagzira, Navegaon, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh and Tadoba, all national parks and tiger reserves — as the big cat is my most favourite animal. However, Bandhavgarh, Pench, and Tadoba remain my favourite forests, because of the opportunities for the sighting of tigers and the diversity of the forests.
Tiger sighting is a very tricky thing in the forest. You require some amount of luck along with a professional guide and photography gear. I have been blessed with some memorable sightings in Bandhavgarh National Park and that’s why Bandhavgarh is my most preferred forest. Some of my Bandhavgarh memories, captured in my camera, have won me many prestigious International and National Awards in Nature and Wildlife Photography.
During my visit to Bandhavgarh in May 2019, we got news that a tigress called Dotty and her cubs were seen roaming in the Magadhi zone. Therefore, in my next safari, I decided to visit that area. It was summer and I had high hopes of seeing the tigress and her cubs or some other predators visiting the waterhole to quench their thirst or to just cool off.
As we started our safari early at 6 am, we began to hear some alarm calls of deers and Grey Langurs (monkeys). The calls were getting stronger and stronger; so we decided to wait near a waterhole in the Magadhi area. But after a while, the alarm calls stopped completely. For almost half an hour, we could not sight any predator. The other safari Gypsies started to leave the spot.
But I had decided to try my luck. I told my guide and the driver not to move anywhere; no matter even if we drew a blank. Luckily, they agreed and we sat quietly watching the thickets and bushes around the waterhole.
As I had woken up at 4 that morning, after an hour’s wait, my ears and eyes had begun to give up. I was almost dozing off when suddenly, my guide poked me saying: Saab, andar kuch movement hote sunai de raha hai… taiyyar rehna! (Some movement is happening, be ready). As he spoke, we began to hear the alarm calls again, especially from the langurs. There was massive movements in the bushes and the shrieks grew louder. I became alert; ready with my finger on the camera trigger… and within minutes, we witnessed a tigress coming towards the waterhole, along with her three gorgeous cubs.
Dotty emerges with her cubs
Here in front of our eyes was Dotty with her cubs! The cubs were sub-adults, almost 14–15 months old, and were in a playful mood. While coming towards the waterhole, one of them had hunted a langur. That explained why the alarm calls were so frantic, especially by the langurs.
The hunter-cub was jubilant and proudly showing off his trophy to the other members of the family. Soon their mother Dotty, who was not keen to enter the waterhole, decided to take a nap behind a tree. And that opened the floodgates for the cubs to freak out in the waterhole. All three were enjoying their playtime and the hunter began the ‘catch-my-trophy-if-you-can’ game with the other cubs. It was a terrific show, which appeared to me as if a water polo game was going on.
There were mock fights and the entire waterhole area became a sports arena. Boxing, wrestling, racing, punching, chasing… it was sheer delight to the eyes of any photographer. I tried to freeze some of these unforgettable moments on my camera. This turned out to be one of my best sightings ever.
By the time the show ended, I had finished half of my camera’s memory card. I will surely visit Bandhavgarh in the future. But will I ever witness such an awesome sighting again? I doubt it.
The writer is a member of RC Koregaon Park, RID 3131