After two days of driving too and from Ranthambhore to Delhi airport, dropping off the first weeks clients and picking up the new ones it was good to be back on the trail of the Tigers. Once again my new client hadn’t ever seen a Tiger and it was his wish and dream to see one in the wild. After our morning coffee and a routine I was so use too now,we entered Ranthambhore this morning. The noise, and chaotic nature of Delhi replaced with the calm and beautiful morning light.
Both of my jeeps were allocated their zones and once more we set off on a well practised routine. The mornings are so special in Ranthanbhore, the smells, the flowers, the light, you can even smell some of the animals and where they have scent marked certain trees etc.
Once we entered our zone it wasn’t long before we heard Samba Deer alarm calls, often this is the first sound you hear that may indicate there is a Tiger around. We stop the jeep, turn the engine off and just listen. By listening and letting nature tell you whats happening around you there is some much you can learn and lots of information that can be gathered by doing this.
On this occasion the noise and calls just slowly stopped and we started our jeep and continued on the small dirt track you have to stay on throughout the whole duration of your safari. While you search and look there is so much to see, as Ranthambhore is far more than just Tigers.
We carried on, then in a flash..”Tiger..Tiger” those famous words over the years I have become accustom too. We looked over to our right and there was a big male Tiger cleaning himself. He was T23, a very rarely seen and shy dominate male of that area. My client took some images, people including myself often freeze on their first view of a wild Tiger but the noise of his shutter going indicated he was fine.
He was very aware of us, and getting a closer view amongst the dense habitat was a little tough. Within a few moments though he got up and vanished as quickly as we had found him. Clients always wish to see a wild Tiger, thats why they book this trip with me but I have to say as I remember it well. There is no better feeling than seeing your first Tiger and now in my case seeing your clients see their first so I was overjoyed here.
We tired to track him but he went deep into the forest and you have to stay on that small dirt track within your zone which is for the welfare of the Tigers and the safely of people in the jeeps. We carried on and once more you settle into the routine of listening, turning the engine off, ands watching for tracks and clues. The mornings for me always often up the best chances to see Tigers as its cooler and they transverse their territories during this time.
After capturing alittle more of the wildlife of Ranthambhore later we had a chance encounter with T19. We didn’t see her cubs this time as she was hunting but it was still a wonderful moment and for my new client having never seen a wild Tiger to now seeing two in his first day was amazing. My other jeep also had some amazing encounters with T19 and her cubs so all and all another great day on the first day of the second trip.
Ever client from my 2014 trip now had seen and got some lovely images of Wild Bengal Tigers which is what I always try to deliver, but nothing can ever be promised as these are wild animals and don’t turn up when you want them or land or sit somewhere where you have enticed them into with food. So nothing can be promised and no image can be planned you really just take what you can and get.
I hope our luck as a group continues after this first day with 5 more days of safaris left. I will report back in a few days time and I hope you are enjoying these blogs back home. If you would like to join me on my 2015 trip then please click here for more information, all the best from Ranthambhore, India.
The first week of my Tigers of India photo tour is now over and like in the title the time has really flown for my clients on their first week. Tomorrow I leave the peace and quiet of the rural countryside of Ranthambhore for the noise and chaos of Delhi to drop clients off to the airport and then pick new ones up the following morning before heading back to Ranthambhore on Monday. The first week as been everything and more with regard to Tiger sightings and images so I’m so pleased for all my clients my wish is that the second week continues with the luck we have had.
The routine as mentioned in previous blogs does not alter, 5.30am and we are on our way to the National park. Once we enter, anything can been seen and your cameras are ready. Over the last two days I have visited my favourite zone which has some amazing lakes among its landscapers.
One the first day we entered this zone, went through our checks with the guards and paperwork, a few moments later we were among the landscape. My jeep turned a tight bend on a small dirt track and there was a massive male Tiger- T28 just sitting on the ground sleep. We approached with great care and turned our jeep engine off and just watched him, amazing.
He woke up though and I just watched him and his actions, making a wonderful first contact as captured here. He seemed alittle troubled and let out a bit of a raw/yawn and the image below I think was a clear warning to leave him be. A few moments later he was up and just walked off, vanishing into dense cover and away from us.
An amazing encounter once more for my clients very close and very lucky we felt. Soon after we were back on the small dirt track and carried on searching and looking for the Tigers. An hour or so passed and we had a bref encounter with Sultan Of Ranthambhore, a two year male who I last saw in 2013 with his mum as a one year old. he was the only cub and grew really big very fast. We saw him around a watering hole before he vanished. he doesn’t have a territory of his own yet so is still quit nomadic.
The morning passed really quickly and it wasn’t long before we headed back to the guard house and back to the Ranthambhore Bagh for breakfast. Yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, toast and then a few hours of sleep and rest thats the basic pattern we all do each day after each mornings drive. 3pm and both jeeps packed with our supplies, and water and we are back out heading to our allocated zone. This first week has just been brilliant and on most occasions both of my jeeps had the same zones and shared in their riches and success photography wise. My hope is this continues next week.
Serval hours had passed on that afternoon and there was no Tigers around, the zone we were in was very quiet, some nice birds and other images to be had but the time was nearly up.
As we were returning to the guard house and home after a very hot and dusty day with Salim Ali– the best guide/tracker in India. We turned a small bend on a tiny road and this was what was coming our way. Almost a quarter of a ton, dominate, ruling his kingdom with fear and removing anything that stands in his way.
I think we’d almost in our heads switched off as we were returning home, I had easter eggs on my mind as I just couldn’t believe loving chocolate so much that I was away from home at such an important time in the year to eat as many as you can in a day which is often what I do on this day.
Knowing animal behaviour is often the key to better photographs and a more relaxed subject on ethical grounds and you never stop learning and in the five years I have worked and ran my trips here in Ranthambhore I have learned alot about wild Tigers from my good friend Salim Ali. We have great banter too, lots of jokes, laughter and practical jokes during those many hours of searching for them in tough, hot dusty conditions carrying your heavy camera gear across your forearms so you dont smash it up as the roads and journey is very rough and bumpy. Yesterday I witnessed for a brief moment something that may have gone so wrong through just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and Salim took the wheel and got us out of a tricky position.
I’m not going to dramatise this event, these are wild animals and when you’re in the way its your own fault as this is there home end off. But here we were just in the wrong place. As this male Tiger was walking towards us we started to reverse which is hard on a small dirt track with a 100m drop down to a small river on one side and a sheer wall of earth on the other. You have to go back and get out of the way. We were doing that at the same time watching what he was doing, then a canter, a large bus with people in came around the corner, it too going home and this blocked us in and stopped us dead in our tracks. I heard the gear system of the canter change and the driver put the vehicle in reserve and try to go back as he did this the Tiger changed his behaviour and went from Tiger walking to Tiger hunting in a second and his face, the situation felt instantly different.
As Salim tired to reverse the jeep,the canter found it hard to navigate going backwards all the time this Tiger was covering the ground to our front fast, crouching down and looking to the right as he had seen Samba Deer his main prey. Alarm calls from Deer, Monkeys rang out as Salim in Indian shouted at the canter driver to get the thing moved and back as quickly as he could as a situation was coming that might go wrong.
The Tiger was now 2 foot away from the left hand side of the jeep, Salim was on the right of me and I was the passenger making me closet to him in hunting mode. When a Tiger is in this mode everything else around him is of no concern, blocked out, focused purely on the hurt. Here though with the angle, the noise the deer escaped and he kept coming forward to look for another from the road and once again came so close to the jeep I could almost touch him.
None of us panicked , you go into auto mode and all I thought was if he enters my side of the jeep or goes for me as they swipe their prey with their massive crawls which breaks the neck of the prey I will have to put my long lens and monopod to my front and in his way. It would do nothing but it was my best bet and thats all that went through mind as Salim shouted above the engine noise to the canter driver behind to move backwards fast. I had never been in a position like this and through no fault of our own we were in the middle of a hunt with a highly charged male Tiger. bursting with adrenaline. The whole thing seem to last ages but it was only a few mintues, time enough to see the dangerous situations you can be invoked in by being in the wrong place and the wrong time.
We all feel fear, it can render you powerless, but its what you do with that fear that counts and we managed to get clear in the end as he carried on coming forward. Pulling to the side as he vanished into cover chasing those deer. We still had to pass this place and get out of the forest and we just then drove like crazy to get back.
It wasn’t until that evening after our evening meal that Alan and I spoke about what could have been and there were people inside that canter staying at our hotel that later said they watched all of this and saw us in this position and though it looked really bad for us. Underlining just what could have been.
I hope I have explained this the best I can, the image shows him smelling the air, licking and tasting the air and an intense feel about him. I feel we were very lucky, so lucky but my thanks, respect and hand goes out to Salim who got Alan and I out of that potential very dangerous situation where for a moment I was going to have to walk the walk should he get angry or attack our jeep something I wouldn’t recommend however much you can do some as I say.
Wild animals can never truly be trusted and understood and if you ever forget this as visitors in their world then thats the time you could pay with your only life and thats the lesson I learnt on Good Friday whiling dreaming of an easter egg. The following images tell that story I hope.
The image below is the last one I took before I put my lens down and readied myself incase he came. Its not sharp and slightly soft due to this changing situation.
That evening all I could think of was our lucky escape before going to bed. This morning was the last safari for some and then to the airport so I was up early once more and got a coffee and bananas and went out onto the road to watch and hear a new day begin. Then our jeeps arrived and we went to got our permits and entered the kingdom of the Tiger. The sky had a few clouds in and as we drove around the sky became really angry and displayed the signs of an incoming storm.
We checked around the usual places that Tiger frequent at Ranthambhore but no sightings. We then headed back to the main gate and waited out the storm that had started, angry raws of thunder followed by lighting.
An hour or so passed where the heavens just opened up, in India rain is really bad and heavy and soon some of the roads and buildings were flooded. After the rain had stopped, we decided to go around our zone but the rain had unsettled everything so we didn’t really see much this morning. We packed our cameras away and headed back to our hotel. A welcome warm brew was waiting for us once we got back home and my usual breakfast of fresh yogurt and fruit was also ready for me.
I was sorry for some of my clients as this afternoon was to be there last drive. Two of my clients have booked the whole two weeks so that have the next seven days once more to increase their already amazing images of this place. After lunch we headed into Ramthanbhore and drove to the lake area once more and saw a male Tiger sitting in long grass. We found an ideal vantage point to watch him and after around half an hour he moved off and as most of the Tigers do here just vanished into the forest without trace.
No matter how many times you see these amazing animals you never tier of seeing them, natures most beautiful animal. below are a few of my favourite images from today that I hope you like.
Tomorrow I head to Delhi airport a trip of around 7-8 hours by road to drop of some clients. I then go and meet my friend and his family who live in Delhi before getting some sleep then back to the airport in the early morning to pick those new clients up and then back to Ranthambhore where the whole trip starts again with safaris and Tigers fingers crossed working with the same drivers and I cannot wait.
I’d like to thank all my clients for your company over the last seven days, I’m over the moon you have seen the most beautiful of animals and captured some great images. Thank you to my guides too, Salim and Raj for your hard work, banter, and jokes along the way. My Ranthambhore Live blog posts will continue next week, where once more I really hope to transport you to this magical place in the north of India and its amazing wildlife. Until then I’d like to wish you all a happy easter and all the best from India.
The last two days have been amazing again for sightings of Tigers, both of my jeeps have had some beautiful moments and some lovely images. Machali still plays heavy on my mind though after an amazing hour with her a few days ago. She hasn’t been seen since by the trackers and forest guards looking for her. I hope she is ok and in no pain, any news from here and I will put this on my blog.
As I write this, two magical days have passed where both of my jeeps have spent some wonderful moments with a mother and her four cubs which are a few weeks old. Its very rare for a Tigress to have so many cubs and T19, Machali’s daughter is a great mother already and her mum would be very proud. There are just to many images to post from the last few days. So I will post a few of my favotires then finish this blog with those cubs.
Our routine everyday is the same, this might sound repetitive but its the best way to maximise your time looking for these wild Tigers here it really is. Each morning starts with our wake up call at 5am. I have been up an hour before that though as I love the mornings and have a coffee and go for a walk on the road and around our hotel before my clients wake up and meet our guides at 5.30am.
Then we head to the National park and get allocated our zones, ready our cameras and enter the kingdom of the Tigers. I always try to be the first jeep into the place as its a special, special and unique place. I make sure everyone knows what to expect, settings and angles and different images. We then spend around 4 hours, twice a day,hanging off a small jeep as we drive around the tiny dirt roads tracking this beautiful animal. Sometimes you get lucky other times you don’t but the wildlife around is just off the scale with so much to photography other than the Tigers.
Owls, Leopards, Woodpeckers, Egrets even the flowers of the trees below make an image using a slow shutter speed. I always say to all my clients that there is always a image to be taken and I show that with my photographs. Never do i gave up and just sit there, my mind, my creative side kicks in, my magic comes to the surface and I play that arty side out with my photographs that inspire those clients around me which is always my aim.
There is truly always an image wherever you are I believe and have always worked like this. The wildlife in Ranthambhore is just truly, truly amazing and its a place I feel so at home in, my only wish would be to camp out but its too dangours. A few more of my favourite images from the last two days are below I hope they inspire you all. No set up, nothing made up, contrived, just pure, raw nature in all her glory and for me the only way to capture wildlife as a wildlife photographer.
As I write this in my room, with a few hours to spare before Im up again and back of the trail of the Tigers I am relieving every single moment because everything I see and capture in nature is special to me. I’d like to finish this blog with some of those cub encounters we all had, with a truly beautiful tigress who takes after her mum- Machali. She has the same fight, drive and determination in her genes you can see this.
A truly beautiful animal and one of my favourite Tigers in Ranthambhore after her mum. She rules one of the best areas of Ranthambhore, keeping all those that challenge her at bay with a ruthless streak born into her from her mums genes. Watching her hunt and stalk prey she is a master, a total master at the art of surprise and killing.
Over the last two days we have been in the same area watching her and for a few brief moments her cubs that in most parts she keeps well hidden. She has four in total and is often seen hunting, when not hunting she’s just relaxing, playing and be an amazing mum. Watching out for any intruders, rogue males that would kill her cubs in order to mate with her. She’s always on watch and so beautiful to be able to see and share those wonderful moments with you all with my images of her.
Its been so hard to see those cubs as her mum is so very protective as you can imagine. Hunting and then vanishing into deep cover to feed them and check on them. Often all you can see are her eyes,then for a brief moment the cubs are led out by their mum for a drink and a bit of a play before returning to that deep cover for their protection. Very moving to see these baby cubs and a real privilege.
Once they have had a little play and drink they go back to the forest and mum then just has a well earned rest but is always on guard and alert and guarding them with her life, mother nature at her very best and so enduring to see and watch for me and all clients who have some wonderful images of these cubs.
Amazing, amazing and more amazing is all I can say about this years trip. Every single client is having moments they never dreamed off in the best place in the world to see wild Tigers. I can’t really say much more and I hope the few images I have posted have taken you to this place I sit in as I write this before heading to bed. Im up in a few hours and if I’m honest I can’t wait, Tigers are beautiful, they are amazing and very special to be around.
I have alot of interest and emails asking about if I’m doing this trip next year. If you click here you will see the link and all the details, a few spaces have gone already and I only take four clients ( max) each week and I run this trip for two weeks. I have had over a hundred safaris myself in Ranthambhore and I no the place, the staff, the guards and locals well.
Its a wonderful place truly is. I hope you have enjoyed the last blog entries, some of my clients have two more days left before leaving on Sunday for the UK. I pick my other clients up on Monday, next week and the whole trip starts again, until then all the best from India.
Today for me has been a very touching and moving day, we spent an hour in the company of Machali, the Queen of Ranthambhore. She is seventeen years old now maybe even more and hasn’t been seen for months presumed dead. Many people have been looking for her and a few weeks back she was spotted once more. After another early rise and out before first light heading to the national park of Ranthambhore we were once again given our zones and off we set on the search for wild Tigers.
As we traveled along the dirt track, dust everywhere, the light was beautiful. One of my jeeps was in another zone to us and we found ourselves alone. We looked over to our left and there was a Tiger sitting down. Instantly the word “Machali” was said. There she was, missing for months and now laying down on the ground. As we drove closer she became aware of us. That first contact with a wild animal is always special to me. We got within a safe distance of her and turned the engine off. She turned around to see us and I couldn’t believe she was there I truly couldn’t.
Not long after we’d arrived she got up, its then I first noticed how poorly she was. I had read that she was unwell and in her final days but it wasn’t until she stood up that the true extent of those rumours became very real. I took some photos but stopped if Im honest and she limped pass the jeep, her tongue almost at times falling out of her mouth as she no longer has any teeth in there to hold anything in.
I will not publish those few photos of her limping past my jeep or any other that show her in difficulty because I want to remember her in the best way I can as I feel she is on her last legs so to speak and may die very soon. She’s in a bad way, four years ago I had seen her and she looked well, last year I had a brief encounter but nothing special but here I was with my client tucked away, with no other person around watching the Queen Of Ranthambhore as she’s known.
For a number of years the forest department in Ranthambhore have put dead Buffalo out for her to eat as she can no longer hunt and kill her prey having had all her teeth over the years fall out or drop out. She is famous for killing crocodiles here and this is where is legionary status begun and her teeth started to come out. But a recent decision to stop putting food out and let nature take its toll has come into place I’m told. I would like her to dead her way and with some dignity so even though its hard I feel its the right thing to do and let her leave this world as she came in on her own terms.
It was very unsettling because there was life all around her yet her she was in real pain and slowly dyeing before my very eyes. She walked past the jeep and went into the water, backing herself in very slowly and carefully, limping so bad she was almost using three legs instead of four. No images were taken during this time as i watched wanted to get out and help her as I truly hate seeing animals in discomfort but this is a wild Tigress I am talking about and no teeth or not it pays not to get too close and I didn’t want to anyway really.
She settled in the water and stayed for for well over forty mintues, slight moving her position from time to time. While she was doing this the sun was still raising, bathing the whole area is some amazing light. The conditions were beautiful with little wind and no noise we just sat there and took photos of her and watched and it was amazing if I’m honest. This Tigress was written off a while back, presumed dead and here we where feet away from her.
Then without warning she very slowly got up and begun to walk away from our postion. We were able to follow her a bit before she vanished into the dense forests there. All the time her pace was slow and the pain and discomfort she was in was painful to see and watch for me.
She was gone then and that was most probably the final time I will see her alive as she’s really looking weak and very thin, some of the images I have of her walking you can see her pain in her face but those I will never publish but you have to take my word for it they show a Tigress in real trouble and almost at the point of giving in. I hope she goes asleep without pain and does not wake up and is remembered as the most amazing Tigress that even walked the planet if I’m honest.
My client and I had a chat about what we had just witnessed before heading back to our hotel and breakfast. What I had seen though troubled me all day, I took those images to bed with me as I had a few hours of sleep before a quick lunch and then out for our afternoon safari. I went in the other jeep because i rotate myself through both jeeps so all clients have time with me and learn from my experience there as I have had over a hundred plus safaris now in Ranthambhore and I’m still learning about this amazing place I feel.
We were in one of my favourite zones for that afternoons drive, zone Three with its impressive lake and old fort building that litter that part of the national park. It wasn’t long before we heard alarm calls and we saw a male Tiger just sleeping in the tall grass. We made a decision to stay there and just wait for our moment because sooner or later the Tiger will have to move. The without warning he stood up, had a bit of a stretch then disappeared into the tall grass and we didn’t see him again.
We played cat and mouse most of the afternoon really hearing alarm calls and waiting for signs there were Tigers around. It was nice though to sit in a shaded area and watch the place unfold before your eyes. The morning though and those images kept coming to mind as I thought about Machali and if she was ok. I just couldn’t get what i saw out of my mind. Then an alarm call, the place seemed to just got mad and there was news that T19 and her four cubs were around the lake.We waited as often nature can and does tell you whats going on as long as you just read the singals. At that time another big male in the distance headed over the small walkway crossing onto the small island the Tigers often use to sleep out the heat of the day.
Salim our guide then got word where the cubs were and so off we went hanging onto the jeep for dear life, dust flying everywhere intense heat raining down on us as we drove to where they were. Once we arrived there were many other jeeps, all watching a small little island in the distance. The cubs hadn’t been seen alot and here we were engine turned off watching a small peace of land to our front.
Then I heard cameras going off from the other jeeps and we all looked to our front, at this point both of my jeeps were together so all my clients would see these cubs should they show. Then in the far distance, one, two, three and four cubs left their mum- T19 and played a few feet away. They were so far away that the images were not great and this one is the best of a bad bunch as they were so far away.
You can just about see them but fingers crossed we head back tomorrow and they might still be there. Its been an incredible few days so far for all my clients in Ranthambhore. Amazing sightings of wild Bengal Tigers and some special moments already. We have lots of time and days left in front of us so fingers crossed we have more great luck and more great sightings. Im off to bed now as its late here in India and another early start beckons shorlty. I hope you have enjoyed my posts so far and the future ones, all the best from Ranthambhore, India.
I didn’t sleep much on my first night in Ranthambhore even after the marathon journey to get here. So an hour before my alarm I was up, press-ups, sit ups,shower and dressed ready to go. I went downstairs and met the night watchman and grabbed a coffee. I headed out onto the road. A routine I have now done for five years, I like the noise, the sounds, smells of the place at that time of the day and the peace and quiet. The odd vehicle passing me as I drink my morning coffee fix.
I love the mornings there just beautiful. Its wasn’t long before my two jeeps I hire and guides turned up for my clients. I rotate myself each day through both jeeps to help, support and be there for all my clients throughout their trip with me. Salim, Raj came and we all took off for national park, heart racing. After signing in and been allocated our zones we were off. The is a zone system in place at Ranthambhore, where you are given a different zone every drive and you have to stick to strict guidelines and the path this is to ensure your safety and the well being of the Tigers first and foremost.
Both of my jeeps were given their zones and we headed off, past the many old gates left over from when the fort at Ranthambhore was a fortress. Its such an impressive place, now taken over by nature and the Tigers. Within ten minutes of driving we heard the word “Tiger,Tiger”, we looked to our right and there he was. T34, a dominate male Tiger passing through his kingdom. Heart racing, seconds to compose yourself then capture what you see before he’s gone. My client in the jeep hadn’t seen a Tiger ever and here she was photographing one on her first ever drive which was wonderful and I was over the moon as over the years I have had many clients turn up who’s greatest wish is always to see this amazing animal so when they see one for the first time it makes me happy.
He was walking fast, on the hunt for Samba Deer, passing our path and then disappearing without a trace in a matter of minutes, what a welcome back seeing this shy male Tiger. After a pause to see if we could hear any alarm calls which lets you know his movements and often direction of travel we started out jeep and carried on further into our zone, still not believing what we’d just seen a few moments before.
We soon picked up the track of another male T24 on one of the tracks the jeeps use. The Tigers often use these paths to travel through their our territories. Listening for alarm calls,parking up with the jeeps engine off we tired to just listen which is often the best way as other animals let you no whats happening around you.
After driving around we saw a few other jeeps and a friend of our guide signalled to us a Tiger was there. Quickly we got into place and saw another male Tiger- T24 a massive dominate male sleeping on the forest floor in flecked light. Both my jeeps were there saw all clients where taking so amazing images. The following are what I captured alongside my clients.
An amazing encounter yet again and two male Tigers on our first morning has been the best start to any of my trips in the five years I have ran them. We moved on as time was getting on and soon before we left the park that morning and returned to the Ranthambhore Bagh for our breakfast. Omelette porridge, mango juice and Yorkshire tea with toast is my breakfast of choice there and it never disappoints.
Then some rest before our afternoon safari which starts at 3pm sharp. The heat is harsh in the afternoon, and suncream, hats are a most but more often than not I sunscreen up and enjoy the rays on my head. Again we were given our zones and off we went in search of the Tigers once more. Having worked with these same guides now for five years we know each other and what my clients want so more often and not I leave them to it and their expertise.
It wasn’t long in that intense heat that we saw T24 again, we found him asleep inside a cave. Not moving or even bothering with us and the jeeps as he slept. The odd time his eyes would open to just let us no he was watching us.
Such an amazing moment when you see and spend time watching these truly beautiful animals in their own envoriment. My clients got some great images of him again before we set off further into our zone. There is so much wildlife other than Tigers though at Ranthambhore, so many birds, Deer and ground mammals it truly is the jungle book in many ways.
After a few hours and with the light fading we heard some alarm calls, Tiger..? I asked..? maybe Salim said. Then from the hidden grass a female appeared from nowhere. It was T22 who I’d last seen last year. She was passing through and walking with great purpose past a Spotted Deer kill that I saw on the ground. She walked straight past this and onto a wooded area where she scent marked a few trees before heading off into the dense forests all around us.
Such an amazing moment when you see and spend time watching these truly beautiful animals in their own envoriment. My clients got some great images of the Tigers. There is so much wildlife other than Tigers though at Ranthambhore, so many birds, Deer and ground mammals it truly is the jungle book in many ways. Some many different images also from wildlife to plants to just about anything. Here I took this image of some tree roots I really loved and the reflection in the water as the sun was setting providing there are images everywhere here.
What an amazing first day for my clients, as I write this before I head to bed it still is unbelievably how lucky we all were today. Four sightings, three different Tigers lets hope our luck continues in the coming days and weeks. An amazing day and lets hope that luck carries on for my clients seeing this beautiful animal, so goodbye from India, I hope my images and words have taken you to this magical place so far and more updates as the week progresses all the best.
Hello from India, after a long journey by train from my home, then plane then taxi to reach the Ranthambhore Bagh Im now in my room writing this first of many blogs. In my fifth year of visiting this amazing place and running my own photo tours here I wanted to do something different this year time allowing. Im just about to go to bed as we are four and a half hours ahead and after the last 24 hours I along with my clients are wrecked so an early night is needed.
After seeing the new dawn in as we flew towards our final destaion. The view below us was breatkaing. Once we got to the airport we were picked up and then we were driven to our home for the next two weeks, the Ranthambore bagh, owned and run by friends Poonam and Aditya Singh. Once unpacked we went outside to where you have your freshly cooked Indian cuisine which is the best I’ve ever had. While you eat your surrounded by the traditional India music played by the locals that are invited in to provide the background music which is brilliant
My clients loved the food and we had a nice relax before tomorrows events, 5am tomorrow morning we wake up with a lovely coffee and banana, I’m up earlier than that as I do my morning exercises then get dressed and stand on the road with my coffee as I love the sights and smell of the morning there. At 5.30am sharp we are picked up by the same guides I have been working with for those five years- Raj Kumar, Salim Ali, two of the best guides in India by none.
We then enter the kingdom of the Tigers and it all starts. I have two weeks with clients, some 24 – 4 hour safaris in total and I’m so looking forward to showing my clients this amazing place and its Tigers fingers crossed. So this year I’m going to be writing my blog directly from India and not once I get home. Hopefully taking you on the same journey with my words and images almost as we experience it.
I wont sleep tonight I know I wont in readiness for the morning, my bags and cameras cleaned and packed, I’ve gone through the routine and gear with each of my clients so everyones ready. I cannot explain this place its magical. just like the jungle book by Rudyard Kipling. I love India and the Ranthambhore bagh is brilliant and almost home from home when I’m here as the staff look after me and my clients so well. Getting me coffee, ice cream and all sorts from the local market which is lovely.
Before I went to bed tonight Aditya’s and Poonams daughter Nyra Singh stopped me and I took her photo, she ran to the little shop there and picked up a tee-shirt she liked to show me as you can see. She has grown up so much over the last few years and is a lovely child. Most children when they see me either cry or just stare as I’m tall, bald and tower over them, but she shows me her favourite tee-shirt which i found really funny.
Right I’m off to bed, cannot wait until the morning and I hope to update the blog as often as I can during the coming two weeks, all the best back home everyone.
I have just returned for a two week trip to the amazing island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Its my second trip there in as many years and I had the privilege of working alongside and shadowing the work of the Sumatran Orangutan Conversation Program – SOCP. This charity that helps Sumatran Orangutans and their rainforest homes was set up by Dr Ian Singleton originally from the UK in 1999. Their vision is to prevent the extinction of the Sumatran Orangutan and safeguard their habitat.
After a journey of over 10,000 kilometers I landed in Medan and straight away that heat hit me, you never forget the heat and humility in Sumatra. After waiting for my bag I was picked up by SOCP‘s driver and driven to their office in downtown Medan.
A busy place far removed from the jungles there. I met all the team from Ian downwards and had my first Sumatran coffee. Its the best in the world I believe and I love coffee. After going through my timetable for the first time I headed to the mess building just around the corner and settled in to rest for a couple of days and in readiness for my trip which was to begin on the Monday with an internal flight to Banda Aceh, the most northern tip of Sumatra.
After a pleasant flight we were picked up at the airport and we drove north stopping off for some lunch. We were heading to a place called Jantho, a beautiful wildness in Aceh saved from the palm oil and logging companies and now a heaven for a very successful reintroduction programme by SOCP. The place can only be reached by off road vehicles so the last bit of the trip was done on these massive wheel-based jeeps of testing terrain. Lucky for us Sumatra hadnt had much rain in the last 3 months, their driest on record another sign if it were needed to the continuing changing patterns to the weather and environment through globe warming.
The site is a protected area of exceptionally rich lowland forest, with an unusual high density of fig trees, one of the orangutan’s staple foods. There is also a river which is at the foot of the forest, which can be crossed by people, but cannot be crossed by orangutans making it an natural barrier. Its a reintroduction site for SOCP’s rescued Orangutans taken from their lives as pets or trophies by locals. Once in quarantine they are given a full health check and looked after and monitored before they come to Jantho. There they are given further monitoring before that gate opens and they taste freedom for the very first time in the forests there.
Once we arrived there we settled in and unpacked and met the dedicated team that all work to help those critically endangered Sumatran Orangutans live out the rest of their lives in a safe environment. Jantho was to be my home for the next three days, I wanted to find and photograph the wild Sumatran Orangutans that live there too along with those released from their torment for the very first time. I quickly unpacked and chose to sleep outside, the river in the background and the noise of the forest all around me.
There are a series of small huts there, with a generator that comes on for a few hours in the evening, The place is right in the middle of one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in. It truly blew my away with its beauty. We had two nice ladies that did the cooking, they must have thought I’m mad not liking chill as Indonesian people have chill with everything. So I just asked for simpleness please, eggs, rice, fish all plain and they looked after my food needs very well.
That first night I didn’t really sleep, new noises, new smells, new places, new stuff always keep me awake. I could wait to get amongst it as I say. I found out what time sunrise was and I was detailed who I would be going out with. The researchers, trackers go out everyday to find, watch and monitor the orangutans there. I met my guides and got my gear ready before the generator turned off at 10pm sharp. I was laying in my make shift bed listening to the river in the background and hearing every noise it was amazing, I couldn’t sleep a mixture of emotions, what was ahead and so on. I got up way before my 5 am alarm, I think it was 4am, the ladies get up early too to prepare your breakfasts and packed lunches to take out for the day.
I couldn’t speak a word of Indonesian but the word. ” Coffee” is universally spoke and understood I feel. Aceh coffee is the best in the world trust me, its from the province of Aceh in Northern Sumatra. I had a few cups that first morning, grabbed some eggs and rice and I was packed ready, bursting with energy in readiness for what awaited me. Even though I was there to capture photographs that will help SOCP in many ways I never have any per-conserved images in my head. I take what I see and work with what I have this approach never puts pressure on myself and more often or not works for me.
With a thumbs up to my guides, we were off to the tiny boat to firstly cross the river the moon lighting our way. I had trackers and researchers with me. As I got into the boat, heavy mist covered the river and I had to go alone due to the size and weight of myself and camera gear on my back. In total darkness the boat slowly crossed the river its was amazing as I hung onto the sides of the boat for dear life. Once we got to the other end anything could turn up so I was ready.
I went last in the line of trackers as I always like to be the guy at the end of the line. I had around an hour or so before first light and in darkness I cannot explain unless you have been in a dense rainforest we climbed up, vertically for an hour. Head torches lighting our way, the noises and sounds of the jungle all around me. The going was tough, grabbing tree roots to pull myself up as we tired to reach the top of this ridge in time for the dawn.
Once we reached the top, my legs returned back to their normal state and weren’t burning intensely as they were with a one hour climb. The path ahead was flat and I soon noticed we were almost level with the tops of the massive trees there. Soon the trackers had found a nest and there was a female sleeping inside. I slowly took my camera bag off and got my kit ready working with two camera systems with two different focal lengths.
I sat down and the sun lit the place up as the female climbed out of her nest, the morning mist hanging heavy in the air it was a wonderful and very moving experience to watch and see her. The rays of light penetrating the dense jungle canopy where I under-exposed a lot to give me this amazing effect of light and her shape.
To watch a wild Sumatran Orangutan wake up, come from her nest and have the sun shining on her through the dense jungle canopy has to be the most special moment I have ever had the privilege of seeing while among nature, it truly does. For the next 20 minutes or so I watched her feed, drink the water from the leaves before disappearing into the dense jungle. These images capture that moment that I was so lucky to see on that first morning in Jantho.
Once she had gone, I sat down and reviewed some of the images on the back of the camera and I had manged to capture some wonderful moment showing how the light fell. Once the guys were ready we headed off deeper into the jungle in search of further Sumatran Orangutans. Sadly apart from a few Orangutans around the release cages my luck on that first day didn’t continue and we didn’t get close to another wild Sumatran Orangutan that day but I was so happy what I had witnessed in the morning I think I was still high on the moment if I’m honest.
When headed back to camp in the last rays of light, crossing the river once more to reach our camp and our evening meal made for us by the two ladies that live there and do all the cooking in very limited conditions.
That first day was amazing and just as the day was coming to an end and I was off for a shower then bed I saw one of the staff bring in a young female Sumatran Orangutan that had come from the forest and just collapsed. The vets and dedicated staff there worked hard to help her. At first I watched them from a safe distance without my camera, letting them do their magic with drips, blood and other checks they were doing. I went and got my camera and just sat outside this room and watched, routing for the orangutan to pull through.
All the time in the background I could here the steady bleep of the heart rate monitor indicating life and a pulse. It was a truly haunting sound, breaking the still of the night. My heart almost kept up with it as I desperately willed her to fight, fight I was saying inside and live as I watched taking photos of a very private and moving moment. I feel these images though need to be shown to show the passion, love and sheer dedication to keep every single Sumatran Orangutan alive there. I had a massive amount of respect for the vet and the staff, respect is earned, not something you give or buy, having never met these fine people before they had my respect straight away as they fought so tirelessly to save this young female.
On a day that had given me a rare moment in wonderful light it now offered me a sight I wished Id never seen as it was harrowing to watch this young Orangutan hang on and fight for life. Its hard not to be angry to, witnessing such things as humans, their vile role in the destruction of Sumatra are to blame for this apes suffering and the countless others that have gone before her and after. The constant bleep of her heart ringing out in the silence of the night, troubled me, haunting as if you looked away the noise could still be heard, I couldn’t escape it the more I tired the louder it got. The vet, a wonderful lady soon had things under control and they closed the door of this makeshift theater and turned out the light so the little one could sleep.
I took those images to bed with my that night, they canceled out those in the morning I was so excited to see. Welcome to Sumatra Craig I said to myself as this is the front line in helping these critically endangered great apes. I didn’t sleep well that first night as the mosquito’s rained down on me I just didn’t sleep thinking of that harrowing scene and for a few moments I hated mankind and wanted to do something but I couldn’t. I found out in the morning she had made it through and had been transferred to SOCP’s quarantine in Medan. I was to visit there the following week so I was keen to see her fingers crossed.
The following morning we were up early and I was going to explore Jantho so more and see some of the work they do there reintroducing those orangutans that have had a shocking life so far back into the wild. Once the Sumatran Orangutans have spent time in quarantine they are moved to one of SOCP’s release sites.
Here they are put into cages for a number of weeks where they are watched and monitored. contact is minimal so the Orangutans never come into contact again once released into the wild. Many have stories so bad you couldn’t even imagine in your worst nightmares, the following images are of those almost ready for release and testament to the love, care and handwork of the SOCP staff at Jantho. All the Orangutans there have had shocking starts in life, a world you couldn’t even imagine, the remains of that start still bare fruit in their eyes I felt as I sat and watched and photographed them all.
Its a long long road back to the wild for the Sumatran Orangutans without their mums but from what I saw every single person involved from the top to the bottom has a passion to return these great apes to their natural homes and this is very enduring to witness. Once released the trackers and researchers monitor them for as long as they can to just make sure they are doing ok. No contact nothing like that and in time they go off and find their own place within the magical place that is Jantho.
On my last day in the amazing Jantho I went for a walk with one of the forest rangers that accompany you here. We walked through rivers, through the rainforest and it was amazing to see the different species that live here just a spectacular place.
I was truly sad to leave Jantho, in three days I feel I’d only just scratched the surface of the place and its wildlife, my guides tell me there are Sumatran Tigers there two. I have to go back, I just have too for weeks perhaps next time.
As we left Jantho the sun started to set. A head of us was around an 8 hour maybe more drive to Tripa to try and photograph the burning of the forests there but it was going to be hard to get into through security etc. But we all got our heads down in the car as we drove south.
As the night passed and we where in sight of Trip and the amazing Leuser Ecosystem the sun was just started to rise, filling the air with the most wonderful colours that I have ever witnessed . This place is one of the few remaining in Sumatra and is under grave danger of being flattered and there are many campaigns to save it.
As we approached nearer the sun was coming up and I could see so many images in my head. we stopped the car many times but the area is very sensitive and a tall, westerner with a camera is not welcome in these parts so I took a few images and then the blacked out windows had to stay up as we entered the blacked-mailed area in which Tripa is. Most of the population there have been brought off and are involved in someway with the palm oil industry. There are many spies and people that will inform the companies of your presence so it was like working behind enemy lines it wasn’t nice to see the hold these massive companies has on this area in order to control it and its forest for their own gain.
The beauty of Jantho was soon replaced by an aggressive feel in the air, I could feel my own anger already building as I sat in the car and drove to meet our contacts there. I was told it wasn’t certain if we could even get into Tripa such was the tight security after the worlds press and many campaigns had highlighted the vileness that’s happening there. The news came back to us that three days of rain had put out most of the new fires so any images of burning wouldn’t be possible.
Once we met our contacts on bikes they drove us past lots of checks and onto a part of the Tripa swamp forest that had been set alight three days earlier but the rain had given the area a small reprieve. I have had experience in the past in Sumatra of visiting the wastelands killed by the mindless greed, local people doing the large companies dirty work for a few dollars. Once we arrived and got out the vast waste land of Tripa greeted me. Its hard to put into words as I walked among the burned remains of a once proud and beautiful rainforest. The following images I hope convey my thoughts at the time of seeing this shocking, truly shocking site.
After the beauty of Jantho it was really upsetting and greatly moving to be walking among where once stood some of the worlds finest rainforest. The earth still warm beneath my feet as though I had gatecrashed at illegal party I had no invite too. While the world debates whats happening here I was standing on land that 3 days ago was burning the only saving grace was the rains. Three days of rain had put out all the fires almost a last shout for help to the world before the whole area was to be burnt. As we were there a guy drove up on a motorbike and through our translator he’d said to move as the whole area was to be fired later.
A few pockets of green life had hung on, escaping the first wave of fire. As I knelt down I saw a splash of red..” no way it cant be..?” I said, it was, a lone Ladybird among the burnt reminds of its home. I love Ladybirds, their colours and markings are just beautiful and here among this tattered wasteland one had hung onto life. A last stance against those destroying this place, as I took this image I should have put in in my pocket and took him with me to release into a better environment but I didn’t. I hope he used his wings to escape the coming fires I thought and walked away.
Words, memories and my photographs are all I can use to describe this scene from hell, this is happening at such an alarming rate there will be nothing left soon. When its too late for those in power to be stopped. Without the handful and I mean handful of dedicated charities on the ground fighting a massive war, often at times putting themselves at risk if they don’t play ball with the government. two steps forward four back. The last remaining pockets of rainforest are in the hands of people being pulled in all directions with the common aim to bleed the riches of the land, make their money then retire leaving Sumatra. The whole are is releasing so much greenhouse gases, heat and population into the air at such an alarming rate that now we have so called experts telling us what we all knew all along. That the earth is warming, the seas are getting warmer and the world is under attack from what we are doing in a nutshell.
As I stood on the fresh burnt land, birds sung in a last act of defiance, with nowhere to go, nowhere to nest it was greatly upsetting to here their song at what should be a beautiful moment when you hear birdsong. There was nothing for those birds, their calls weren’t returned by their would be mates, they’d moved on to a better place leaving those males stuck there singing for a mate in a soleless territory. heartbreaking. This was a crime scene I stood among, soleless, completely soleless and to here a local say you better move I wanted to stay and say move me, I wanted to protect what still stood but silly I no. All sorts of emotions go through your mind those working in this hell must get use to it a little. Those that visit like me are moved behold words. I wanted somewhere to sit and take it all in but we had to move on. We were lucky not to have been moved on already such is the paranoia of the firms and locals that work for them.
We left Tripa, and I sat in the car, undid my window and took a last look back at what would be gone in 24 hours, that feeling of helplessness stayed with me throughout the trip as the person I am I try to do all I can. To have no choice, to be able to nothing is a feeling I dislike. Sumatra is a place full of beauty and the local people are very kind but it has a side that grinds you down once you see the total destruction of the place around you.
I cannot cover my whole trip in one blog , so there will be two more where I will cover my second week in Suaq Balimbing, a peat swamp area and then my time in quarantine. A place where the Orangutans learn to heel their hurt with love, care and dedication from the staff there. It was a very moving place for me, full of stories of abuse and hurt you couldn’t even make up, but those Orangutans are the lucky one. 50 babies are there, meaning 50 mothers were killed by those that took their babies. A sentence I have trouble getting out let alone understanding. I will pay my own respects to those mothers and babies in my future blog posts and slideshows that I have planned.
I would like to thank Dr Ian Singleton, the head of SOCP for inviting me over, thank you to all his staff for looking after me during my time there and on a personal note I was very proud to be alongside you all, seeing the incredible work they do to save this critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan and their forest home which is also home to Tigers, Elephants, Rhinos all hanging onto dear life. They are fighting at this very moment to save large areas of the Tripa swamp lands that form part of the Leuser Ecosystem. To help the ongoing fight then click here to sign their petition.
I hope my images, my work and what I will show will help you guys in turn the Sumatran Orangutans many thanks.
Nature has always helped me throughout my life, I’m very lucky to have had a wonderful mother that introduced me to nature at a young age. With Mothers day coming up this month – 30th March 2014. I wanted to post this slideshow as a thank you to her and her legacy that lives on in me and my photography, as she is no longer with me having died many years ago now.