India Safari – Tigers, Dholes, Gharials & the Taj Mahal
This Tiger Photography Safari to India has been designed to provide you with viewings of two of the things that most people wish to see during a visit to India. Tigers in the wild, and the Taj Mahal. The two locations have been seamlessly combined into one safari. There will be a maximum of three clients per vehicle during any safari. Photographers on Safari have also combined the hustle and bustle of Tiger Safaris with a beautifully relaxing few days on the Chambal River, where you will have the opportunity to photograph some amazing birdlife as well as the critically endangered Gharials. Less than 400 adults of this spectacular fish-eating Crocodile species remain in the world today.
The Best Location to see Tigers in India
Where is the best place to see Tigers in India? This is a question that is regularly asked of me. There is no definitive answer to this question and the very nature of Tigers’ behaviour makes the answer to this question somewhat unpredictable. Ranthambhore is by far the easiest Tiger park to reach after flying to India. The problem with Ranthambhore is that the zones are allocated randomly on a daily basis. There is very little chance of seeing a tiger in half of the zones. I have also visited Khana twice in the last three years. It is a beautiful park but you are only likely to expect two reasonable quality sightings during a whole week’s safaris. Bandhavgarh has consistently provided more sightings than any other park, but things have recently become more uncertain there. The situation regarding the dominant male Tigers has become quite unstable and it lacks a really dominant male. This means that cubs and sometimes even their mothers are killed by the incoming males. This makes the female tigers more wary and more difficult to see. At this moment in time, Tadoba National Park has no such problems and appears to be by far and away the best option in India. The 2016 safari provided clients with 11 Tiger sightings. They saw 9 different animals. They also saw Sloth Bears, Wild Dogs and a Leopard. The Gharials were extremely abundant.
Why I recommend Tadoba National Park
I cannot predict how many Tigers you will see in any future trip. What I can do is to tell you what I experienced during my “recce” to Tadoba in 2015. I did eight safaris in Tadoba and saw Tigers four times. It was not the number of sightings that amazed me, but it was the incredible amount of time that we spent with the animals. There are two females there, “P1” and “P2” that were totally at ease with vehicles and were never in any hurry to disappear deep into the woodland. I came back with well in excess of a thousand sharp and “in focus” photographs of Tigers from my eight safaris there. That is more than the total number of pictures from all of my previous ten Tiger Safari tours to India combined. Quite astounding.
About Tadoba National Park
Tadoba Tiger Reserve is one of India’s 47 Project Tiger Reserves and is situated some 150 km from Nagpur. Tadoba has now been amalgamated with two other reserves which form the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. Our time will be spent solely in the former Tadoba Reserve. Tadoba itself is 116 sq km in size and although the routes can be a little repetitive over a 6 day period, it is a beautiful park and the backdrops for the tiger shots are stunning. The park’s landscape is dominated by teak forest and bamboo. There are also cliffs, caves, marshes, lakes and streams. Tadoba is home to 65 mammal species, 74 butterfly species and 195 different birds. The Park is closed on Tuesdays, but the buffer zone remains open for jeep safaris on that day.
The Mammals and Birds
The species that I photographed were; Bengal Tigers, Asian Leopard, Sloth Bear, Guar (Indian Bison), Nilgai, Dhole (Indian Wild Dogs), Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Chausingha and Marsh Crocodiles. I did not spend a great deal of time photographing smaller birds, but was quite successful with raptors. I photographed Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, White Eyed Buzzard, Crested Honey Buzzard, Stork Billed Kingfisher and Shikra.
Whilst there are quite a number of tigers to be seen in Tadoba, I chose to spend the most time with those that would give the best photo opportunities. These were the dominant male Tiger, the pregnant female “P2” plus “P1” and her two 14 month old cubs. I spent in excess of 4 hours in the company of these 5 tigers during my eight safaris in Tadoba. I was able to photograph them from every angle imaginable and in many varied lighting conditions. It was an unbelievable experience and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. You will note that one of the Tigresses is now pregnant and should have cubs with her that will be less than a year old for our 2016 safaris.
Dholes (Indian Wild Dogs)
I have only seen a glimpse of one of these animals prior to my visit to Tadoba. I saw a pack of four on four of my eight safaris here. They are really beautiful animals and were totally oblivious to our presence. They walked by our vehicle not more than a couple of metres away on several occasions. Once again I was with these animals for much longer than anyone would expect in such a brief visit. I was with them for more than 90 minutes and saw some rarely seen behaviour by the dogs. Our first sighting saw them run past the Tigress with her two cubs. The Tigress was not pleased and chased one of them deep into the woods. The others dashed back and forth giving animated alarm calls. Then the Tiger cubs emerged and gave chase to the other three. Our third sighting saw the Dholes eating a Sambar Deer carcass within 3 metres of the road. A Leopard had killed the Sambar Deer and had been chased off by the Dogs. One was eating and the other three were keeping watch at all times. They took turns to eat or to be on guard duty. This pack has puppies that are hidden away at this moment in time. They should, hopefully, be regularly seen in 2016
Leopards are usually seen only for brief moments and they are, more often than not, partially obscured by trees and grasses. Once again I was amazed at the amount of time spent with this gorgeous creature. She was with us for more than 30 minutes. As mentioned before, the Leopard had been driven off from her kill by the Wild Dogs. Twice she circled round to see if the Dogs had finished eating. On one occasion she walked into a beautiful patch of light. Within minutes of the Dogs disappearing she was back near the carcass. She carefully approached from several different directions before shooting back into the undergrowth. Finally, once that she was sure that it was safe, she went back to the Sambar and had her fill.
Svasara Jungle Lodge, Tadoba
Svasara Jungle Lodge is the premier luxury destination at Tadoba and is situated just 300 yards from the park entrance. It is set in 10 acres and has 12 spacious suites with all the modern amenities and luxuries. Each room has air conditioning, a fridge, colour tv, a fan plus an en-suite shower and toilet. The fixtures and fittings are not dissimilar to those found in any European hotel. The food is excellent and quite varied. Rooms are on a twin-share basis but single rooms are available at extra cost. The hotel will provide the services of an English speaking naturalist guide during our safaris.
The Taj Mahal
No visit to India would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Taj Mahal. What is even more fortuitous is that we are due to arrive in Agra at 5.30am and have no wildlife safaris scheduled until mid-afternoon. That means that we can do an early morning visit, which is always the best time, and also our afternoon boat safari on the Chambal River. The Taj Mahal is one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” and is a truly spectacular monument. You will be shown the best vantage points from where to take some stunning photographs that you will treasure forever.
The National Chambal Sanctuary
This sanctuary was created in 1979 to provide protection for the critically endangered Gharial. It has been a huge success and the species has been brought back from the brink of extinction. It consists of a 400km stretch of the river which is up to 6km wide. Fishing has been totally banned and all wildlife, shrubs and trees in this area are protected. This provides a safe habitat and a plentiful supply of fish for the Gharials. The Gharials are similar to crocodiles but uniquely have a long slender snout with a large bulbous tip. This sanctuary is the only place in the world where Gharials can be found, and the numbers have now risen to around one thousand. There are also around 300 Marsh Crocodiles here –another critically endangered species, and a number of Gangetic Dolphin in the river. The stretch of river that we use is between one and two kilometers wide. It is often flat calm with mirror-like reflections but there can also sometimes be ripples across parts of the river.
Whereas Crocodiles are often described as prehistoric or ugly, the Gharials are stunningly beautiful. Their long snout is packed with rows of much smaller razor-like teeth than the Crocodile, and their unique profile makes them much more appealing than it’s counterpart. They also have a much brighter and smoother skin, which gives them some amazing colours in the early morning or late evening light. Some of the Gharials are very nervous and disappear into the water when our boat is quite a distance away. Others stay much longer and will allow us to get within a few metres of them. Unlike the Crocodiles, these creatures live solely off the fish in the river and present no danger whatsoever to humans. The Chambal River is not considered to be a “holy river” and does not attract the constant washing and bathing by the local people. This means that the water is crystal clear and almost without pollution. The Gharials live for up to 60 years and the biggest males can be over twenty feet long -weighing almost 1 tonne. I photographed one of these giants here in 2015.
River Dolphins and various Mammals
You will have the opportunity see the highly endangered Gangetic Dolphin while on the river. They show themselves from time to time as they breach the water’s surface, showing about half of their body. This is extremely brief and virtually impossible to photograph. You will see lots of Red Crowned Roof Turtles from our small private boats. I also photographed a number of Jackals, Rhesus Macaques, Nilgai, a Bengal Monitor Lizard and a Jungle Cat. A large number of Indian Flying Foxes and the occasional Owl roost in trees in the grounds of our lodge and can easily be photographed most times throughout the day.
The Chambal River is a bird watcher’s paradise and the sanctuary currently boasts 311 species of resident and migratory birds. These include the rare Indian Skimmer, Greater Thick-Knees and Small Pranticoles. A pair of Egyptian Vultures regularly nest on the cliffs adjacent to the stretch of river that we use. Other species that I photographed were Osprey, Long Legged Buzzard, Indian Peafowl, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Greater White Fronted Geese, Bar Headed Geese, Ruddy Shelducks, Comb Ducks, Spot Billed Ducks, Indian Rollers, White Throated Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Greater Coucal, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Collared Scops Owl, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, White Breasted Waterhen, Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Temminck’s Stint, Greater Painted Snipe, Black Winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Grey Headed Lapwing, Red Wattled Lapwing, Pallas’s Gull, River Tern, Oriental Honey Buzzards, Black Shouldered Kite, White Eyed Buzzards, Long Legged Buzzard, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Indian Darter, Indian Cormorant, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Little Heron, Grey Heron, Black Ibis, Red Naped Ibis, Painted Stork, Asian Open-billed Stork, Black Necked Stork, Black Drongo, Indian Robin, Common Myna, Red Vented Bulbul, Common Babbler and White Browed Wagtail.
Chambal River Lodge
Chambal Safari Lodge is built round an original farmhouse set in 30 acres of well-established trees. Some of the trees and the original parts of the farmhouse are over 100 years old. There are now 8 additional cottages with electricity, en-suite showers and toilets. The food is prepared from locally grown produce to a high standard. The calm and gentle waters of the Chambal River are best explored on private boats supplied by the lodge. Their own boatmen are exceptionally skilled at cutting the boat engines and manoeuvring them as close as possible to the birds and animals. Trained naturalists will also accompany us on our boat safaris. No less than 198 different species of birds and mammals have been seen in the lodge’s grounds. The lodge even has it’s own semi-tame Palm Civet Cat that can sometimes be spotted after dinner. There are five different local excursions run by the lodge that can be chosen instead of some of the river safaris if you prefer. These include jeep safaris in search of Sarus Cranes or Blackbuck Antelopes.
Click here to see Indian Safari Photos in the Gallery
Photographic Tuition & Previous Encounters
Time is put aside to ensure that each person receives the necessary help and advice to enable them to make the most of their photographic opportunities. Participant’s photographs are viewed on a computer on a regular basis, and a constructive critique session addresses any problems that may have been encountered during the day. Complete beginners will not only learn how to, but will also be regularly taking take top quality photographs during this safari. Non photographers and artists are also most welcome. The 2016 Tour provided some really close encounters with a tigress and her 10 month cubs. In 2017 we had repeated encounters with 8 month old cubs and incredible experiences with an Asian Leopard and a Sloth Bear. These two encounters produced, by a huge margin, the best photographs of these two species that I have ever taken. The Gharials, as always, were amazing.
The itinerary has been designed to facilitate clients being able to take a 15 day trip whilst only taking two weeks off work. Travel between the UK and your destination is done during weekends, maximizing your photography time in India. Should clients not wish to do 8 boat safaris in the National Chambal Sanctuary, some can be substituted with other activities run by Chambal River Lodge (e.g. Blackbuck safari or Sarus Crane safari).
Day 1, Saturday Feb 24th; Depart LHR (T5) at 19.30hrs
Day 2, Sunday Feb 25th; Arrive Delhi 09.10hrs. Take overnight sleeper train to Nagpur. Packed lunch on train.
Day 3, Monday Feb 26th; Arrive at Nagpur approx. 10am. Transfer to Svasara Jungle Lodge in Tadoba (approx. 3 hrs). Afternoon jeep safari outside park. Lunch & Dinner
Day 4, Tuesday Feb 27th; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD.
Day 5, Wednesday Feb 28th; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD.
Day 6, Thursday March 1st; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD
Day 7, Friday March 2nd; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD
Day 8, Saturday March 3rd; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD
Day 9, Sunday March 4th; AM & PM jeep safaris inside park. BLD
Day 10, Monday March 5th; Morning jeep safari outside park. Road transfer to Nagpur. Overnight sleeper train to Agra departs 15.55. BL & packed dinner.
Day 11, Tuesday March 6th; Arrive at Agra approx. 05.20 hrs. Early morning visit to Taj Mahal. Morning road transfer to Chambal River Lodge (2 hrs). Afternoon boat safari inside the National Chambal Sanctuary. LD
Day 12, Wednesday March 7th; AM & PM boat safaris inside the National Chambal Sanctuary. BLD
Day 13, Thursday March 8th; AM & PM boat safaris inside the National Chambal Sanctuary. BLD
Day 14, Friday March 9th; AM & PM boat safaris inside the National Chambal Sanctuary. BLD
Day 15, Saturday March 10th; Morning boat safari inside the National Chambal Sanctuary. Afternoon road transfer to Agra. Evening train to Delhi. Overnight Delhi. BL
Day 16, Sunday March 11th; Morning transfer to Delhi airport for 11.10 departure to London. Arrival at LHR (T5) 15.10hrs
N.B. Providing there are a minimum of 5 clients, the cost will be reduced by £400.00 per person.
Included; All accommodation while in India on a twin-share basis. (Single supplements available subject to availability at time of booking). All internal transport plus meals & excursions where indicated in itinerary above.
Not Included; International flights (currently £600 – March 2017). Meals where not indicated in itinerary above. Tips & all items of a personal nature.