Dec 17

Tiger Safari Kanha India Part 3

Tiger Khan. Kanha, India. 2017

We had been having good luck. With the exception of our first day at Bandhavgarh, we had great tiger sightings every day. Curiously, all the tigers we had seen were female. A male tiger sighting was conspicuously missing. Thankfully that was remedied in the fading light of the last hour of our last day.

Tiger Tongue. Kanha, India. 2017

He was a large 8 year old male and he was quite the character. We noticed he had an injury on the front of his left shoulder.

Tiger Fun. Kanha, India. 2017

We followed him for for an entire hour and he was so much fun to watch.

More Tiger Fun. Kahna, India. 2017

He had a long name and number so we started calling him Sher Khan after the tiger character in “The Jungle Book.” Truly he was the king of the Jungle.

Sher Khan. Kanha, India. 2017

Dec 17

Tiger Safari Kanha India Part 2

There was a tiger who roamed the hill top and she was a ghost. Our naturalist Partha told us that this was the tallest hill in Kanha. He said that from time to time there were paw prints that would be seen on the roads and paths that crisscross the area, the hill was rather remote, and the roads were rarely used. This tiger was talked about among the rangers and naturalists but all that was known was that she was a solitary female.

Chandra the Tiger. Kanha, India. 2017

We had been driving and tracking all morning and the day was warming up. The ranger traveling with us suggested going to the top of the hill not so much in hopes of spotting a tiger but precisely because it was remote, peaceful, had great views and maybe if we were lucky we would see something. The road was windy and steep and none of us were thinking we’d see any tigers. We were thinking about lunch and bush breaks.

We stopped for a moment and there was absolute quiet and stillness. Suddenly the ranger pointed “tiger!” and there she was, maybe 20 yards ahead. Christy and I reached for our cameras and watched as she lay down in some tall grass and began to roll around. She was about four years old and very beautiful. We followed her for a few minutes while she patrolled and marked a tree or two before retreating into the jungle.

Chandra Poses. Kanha, India. 2017

The ranger knew the area well and speculated that she was headed to a water source further down the hill so we followed the road for a while and turned right at a fork. Continuing downhill we met a busload of local children being taken for a tour of the park, the were adorable in their smiling faces and matching hats.

Continuing to track, the ranger knew exactly where to stop. there was a small break in the foliage and he said this was where she would come out. A few minutes later she did.

Chandra. Kanha, India. 2017

We had a little more time with her before she again went into the jungle. I asked Partha what her name was and he told us she was very shy, rarely seen and didn’t have a name. Apparently in Kanha many of the big cats had numbers instead of names. We decided to give her a name and looking at her markings I suggested Luna for the moon shapes on the top of her head. The Hindi word for Luna or moon was Chandra, we all agreed this was a good name. From that time forward she became Chandra.

Dec 17

Tiger Safari Kanha India Part 1

Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve was our next stop. We came to India to photograph tigers and so far we were having really good luck. Kanha was a larger park than Bandhavgarh, and with many more tigers. I also found the scenery at Kanha to be completely different. It was very diverse and beautiful.

Sunrise. Kanha, India. 2017

The forest was denser here with fountain like sprays of bamboo shooting out of the ground every few feet. There were broad swaths grasslands and dense forests of Sal trees. Some of the Sal trees were quite ancient and we saw one tree which may have been a thousand years old. There were also working elephants kept by families of Mahuut which are the traditional elephant owners and trainers in Indian society. They are very careful to treat their elephants humanely.

Mahaut. Kanha, India. 2017

I asked our naturalist Partha what the difference was between a forest and a jungle. He explained that it was controversial and while both seemed to be forests, jungles had denser undergrowth and thicker vegetation. I began to see the wisdom of this distinction as we traveled deeper into the older parts of the park that had been less disturbed. The sounds and the atmosphere changed and you felt as if you had entered another world.

Jungle Light. Kanha, India. 2017

Partha had two field guide sitting atop the dashboard of our jeep, one was “Birds of India” the other “Mammals”. As a biologist I was curious about the various species and habitats seen in the region so I chose “Mammals”. I saw that there were two species of bear, one being the sloth bear of Kipling’s “Jungle Book” fame. These sloth bears were extremely rare and sadly we did not see one in the wild, although we sat for quite a while at one location where we thought there was either a tiger or a leopard. Turns out, based on the tracks, it was a very shy bear.

Dec 17

Tiger Safari Bandhavgarh India

We arrived at the jungle in the heart of India in the dark, and we could hear and smell the sound of the insect and animals, grasses and vegetation all around us. We were warmly greeted at the Samode Safari Lodge by the wonderfulful Priyam and Naturalist Anshuman and taken to our room. There would be a 5AM wake up call and we needed to be on wheels at 5:30. The goal was to be in the Bandhavgahr Tiger Preserve by 6AM. The morning was not as cold as we expected even with the wind whipping at our faces in the open air jeep.

Sunrise. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

Bandhavgarh is a fairly large tiger preserve which lies in the heart of India and by all accounts, it offers the best tiger viewing in the wild in India. Tigers are native to India so I suppose that makes Bandhavgahr the finest place to view wild tigers in the world. We were informed by Anshu that there were over 60 tigers in the preserve and their population was growing, this was fantastic news. Tigers are beautiful animals and my favorite of the large cats. Last year we were very fortunate on our tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park in Northern India to see a spotted deer kill by a young female named Arrowhead. This was very rare and we were honored to experience it. We shared this information with Priam and Anshu as well as some of our photographs and this set the bar fairly high, but Anshu was confident we would have a great experience on our Bandhavgarh safari.

On our first full day we spent 13 hours in the field, drove over 200km and didn’t see any cats. The activity of the cats was unusual, there were very few signs of activity from any of them. The naturalists and local guides were discussing this and speculated that there had been a large animal kill up on a ridge and the tigers had congregated there and would stay put for the entire day. We did however see Giant Wood spiders, Golden Jackals, monkeys, bison, a hunting cat and a Kingfisher. All beautiful and wonderful to see.

Leaping Tiger. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

Our second day began similarly with a 5AM wake up call. We were up and read to go in record time. We were positive and certain this was the day we would see tigers. It was a colder morning and I had to wrap my hands in a blanket to keep them from stiffening up and getting too chilled. When we entered the Preserve, Anshu saw that there were fresh tracks so the tigers had come down off their perch and things were looking up. Knowing this information, we decided to head over to a water source that a family of tigers was known to frequent. As we drove up there were a handful of safari vehicles full of people photographing like mad.

Sisters. Bandhavgarh, India. 2017

The tigers were here! Anshu spun our jeep around and backed into the group, we were slightly to the side and uphill of the tigers and we had great light. There were four tigers, a mother named Spotty and her three female cubs. It was an incredible sighting. We watched and took photographs as the tigers jumped and splashed and played for several minutes. When they were done playing, the tigers leisurely walked by us, sprayed a tree to mark their territory and disappeared into the jungle.

We didn’t see any more tigers which was a little disappointing but it was all right because we had had such an amazing experience. The day was beautiful and just being out in nature enjoying the jungle, fresh air and sunshine was wonderful.

Dec 17

Exploring Kolkata India

Resident. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, was exotic and unique in a whole new way. Even from the air, as we arrived by plane, I could see a tree growing out of the top of an abandoned brick smoke stack. There seemed to be a tension between human habitation and pressure from the encroaching natural world. This tension was palpable in a way I had not felt since staying in Yarkand in the Taklamakan Desert of western China.There, the ancient city was awash in sand as it was being consumed by the desert. In Kolkata as we drove and walked the streets of the old city was being consumed by vegetation, plants and trees. Once grand temples and theaters, homes and palaces were dissolving into beautiful faded ruins.

Devi. Kolkata, India. 2017

This city was once the British capital of India, a wealthy thriving port city centered on trade. Kolkata sits on the Ganger River and after some distance, this flows out to the Bay of Bengal. According to our local guide, the city began to fall onto hard times when the British moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi. And yet people continued to come to this city which had a reputation among the educated and learned and it’s intellectual community thrived. So too it’s spiritual community and we visited very beautiful shires dedicated to the mothers Kali Maa and Durga. I found I had a special connection to Durga while Christy reaffrimed her deep connection to Kali Maa.

Kolkata Women. Kolkata, India. 2017

The British have left their mark on Kolkata and the Victorian section of the city contained wide Boulevards and large buildings, many still in pristine condition, but here too many have been shuttered and fallen to nature.The Queen Victoria Memorial was a highlight to be sure and we visited it close to sunset. The orange orb of the sun hung low over the building and the sky also radiated a deep orange glow. It was gorgeous.

Victoria Memorial. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata is the city of the goddesses Kali Maa and Durga and we visited many shrines dedicated to them both. We were fortunate to receive a blessing at the main temple to Kali Maa which was built in the early 19th century. Inside the main shrine resides the tow of the goddess which was said to have fallen to earth in ancient times and is so sacred that not even the main priest is allowed to view.

The remaining sacred sites we intended to visit were down river so we boarded a riverboat and pushed off into Mother Ganges. The Ganges is a very rapidly flowing river at this point whose depth changes several feet from low to high tide. We were traveling as the tide was rushing in. Along the banks we could see small barges and boats, hulls pressed into the mud, waiting for the rising water to refloat them. Also along the banks were the many “Ghats” or “Gates”, entrances from the towns and cities for people to freely walk, each with steps which led down to the water and each with a white temple of Shiva.

Smoking. Kolkata, India. 2017

As we journeyed down river we passed under a cantilever bridge built by the British during WWII and it remained in outstanding condition, continuing to see heavy use. We arrived by boat at the Bellur Math, the monestary for Rama Krishna Paramhansa and had a walk around this very spiritual place. Then getting in a car and driving across the Ganges we came to the Durga temple where Christy would walk downtime Ghat and plunge herself into the river. She had been wanting to immerse herself in the Ganges for quite some time and this was the perfect location. Changing into a sari she went down the steps just as a rope was strung across to close it off. High tide was coming and the water was rapidly rising. She had to be quick and with the help of a local she sat and plunged five times under the water, an auspicious number. A visit to the Durga shrine finished our time in Kolkata and we were off to the airport.

Dec 17

Exploring Bodh Gaya India

We arrived in Delhi and it was as if we had never left. Our friend and guide Rohit was smiling as we exited the secured terminal area. He held a welcome sign and gave us a a hug. It was so wonderful to see him and to be back in India. The traffic had improved since our last visit but the air quality had not. Still, we laughed and joked and got caught up over the happenings of the last year.

Our first day would be a catch up day, a day to do all the little things needing to be done like laundry, writing and a nap. Also, I wouldn’t be driving again for several weeks which was a relief because I couldn’t imagine driving in India, and honestly I needed a break. That evening we’d have dinner at a fantastic local restaurant “India Accent”. While in India I intended to eat vegetarian. I’ve said that Buddhism made sense and appealed to my head while Hinduism was beautiful and deep and appealed to my heart. Either way, eating vegetarian in India felt like the right thing to do.

Smiling Monk. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

Next on our agenda was a flight to Bodh Gaya, to see the Bodhi tree where the Buddha first attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya was little more than a small rural community thronging with travelers, monks and nuns from all over the world. First we stopped at The Great Buddha statue. We were required to remove our socks and shoes to walk around the site, thankfully the ground was very smooth and comfortable on the feet. We circumambulated the stupa and spoke to a few of the monks. I watched a group of nuns clad in pink walk in and sit to listen to a brief discussion of the site so I walked to the back of the group and sat with them. I’m not sure what was said but I found the experience really enjoyable. On the way out several groups of Indian travelers stopped us and asked to have their picture taken with Christy and myself. We happily obliged and walked the photographic red carpet so to speak back to the entrance.

Offerings. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

I’m not sure what I expected the main Mahabodhi Temple complex to be like, maybe like Sarnath and Deer Park where the Buddha gave his first teaching. The complex loomed before us and it wasn’t at all like Sarnath, whereas Sarnath was an ancient stupa surrounded by a ruin, the Mahabodhi Temple was bright and alive. The air vibrated with footsteps and chanting, incense and light.The Bohdi tree was there as well, nearby was a small stupa marking the very spot where Buddha attained enlightenment.

Bodhi Tree. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

After entering the main stupa, we spent time in quiet meditation. It was filled with devotees and as they continuously filed through, many made offerings of flowers and silks. Inside, a 10th century seated Buddha painted in gold, was having it’s robes changed by a monk as people bowed and made prostrations. It was rare and wonderful to be in an ancient place so alive and active, where you felt as if time itself stood still.

Monk. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017