It only seems like five minutes since I was in the Tiger reserve of Ranthambhore in India and twelve months have passed since those beautiful encounters with the Royal Bengal Tiger last April in the year of the Tiger. I have just returned from 8 days there with clients on my Tigers Of India photo tour, where we spent some amazing moments with these beautiful creatures. Everyone’s wish was to see these animals at the same time and maybe capture them on camera and that’s exactly what they all did during our time in the magical country of India, a firm “Welcome Back“ greeted us all.
After the early evening flight on Saturday from Heathrow, Terminal 5, British Airways, we arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning where our air conditioned transport was waiting to drive us the 370km drive to Ranthambhore and our accommodation on the outskirts of the National Park. We drove through many cities and small towns that were a cauldron of beeping horns, mopeds, cows and children and tuk-tuks, real India all around us. We stopped off to fresh up, a cup of hot, sweet chai and a bite to eat, before setting off on our path to Rajasthan, the vast state of kings that shares a border with Pakistan. The colours of the buildings are brilliant, bright colours that come zinging out of the deserts, simple clay houses all painted iridescent pink, domed temples are blue and people clad in colourful clothing right the way through to the village elders its an amazing drive and one where you see the real India.
The Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is the single largest expanse of Dry-Deciduous Forest left intact in India, such forests were found all along the North and Central Aravalis but in the last few decades they have been badly degraded and right now this Tiger Reserve is their last strong hold.
Its one of the best place’s in India to see the mighty Bengal Tiger, one of the most stunning, handsome and awe-inspiring creatures on earth. The Ranthambhore National Park, which is a part of the much larger Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, is a Project Tiger reserve; it lies in the Sawai Madhopur district of eastern Rajasthan. It is right now the only forest reserve in Rajasthan state and in the entire Aravali hill ranges where tigers exist. There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we’d pass through the main gate, our way to one of the 5 zones you are allocated before each trip,with each zone being around 25 km plus in size, where your jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around the chosen zone,with a very strict code of conduct on board eg.no shouting/loud noise, you cannot get out of the jeep, its all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount.
On Our first full day of safaris both jeeps had some amazing views resulting in great close ups of the Bengal Tiger. On this trip I have two small jeeps that can sit 6 people plus driver and guide, however, I only put two people in each enabling better movement and space for the clients photography as I have first hand experience that this is the very best way to photograph Tigers from the constraints of a small jeep where timing is everything. We had two safaris per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon taking us into the late evening light.
I rotated myself during the day between each jeep, so each group received my help with the correct apertures and camera settings for the Tigers, also working alongside the expert knowledge of two of the best guides in India who I worked with last year; Salim Ali- star of the BBC programme Broken Tail seen below in the trailor working with Colin in Ranthambhore for over 400 days tracking this Tiger. Ragh heading up my second jeep, the best local guides giving my clients the best chance to see these amazing animals perfect recipe for success.
On that first day everyone saw and photographed Tigers and for me it was the perfect welcome back to this amazing place in India. I could see the look of surprise and shock a little to what each group had witnessed that day, remembering my first encounter, so I knew that look on the clients faces. Below is an image taken on the first day as we watched this female Tigress stalking Samba Deer, crouching low just like a domestic cat on the lawn at home the only difference being this cat weighed almost a quarter of a ton.
Words just cannot do justice to one of the most beautiful animals on the planet going about its life around you, heading towards you as you slowly feel your heart beat increase, its such a special moment that was mirrored by all the group. There are less then 3000 Tigers left in India and here on day one we were having encounters that you just would not believe.
On the second day there was a census to count the Tiger numbers so as a group we visited and photographed the fort at Ranthambhore along with all the coloursand people that visit this place to pray and pay respect to their gods, the women bringing their children as the men walk behind,passing through the many gates and dark corridors on the way to the temples to pray. The fort can be seen in the image below on top of the large rocks, being looked over by a female Black Faced Langur Monkey with young.
The Ranthambhore fort is believed to have been built in 944 A.D. by a Chauhan ruler. It is strategically located on the border of Rajasthan and the surrounding forests were used as an outer defence to the advantage of the fort, making it one of the strongest forts of Northern India. The fort had many buildings inside of which only a few have survived the ravages of wars and time. Among the remaining ruins, the two pavilions, Badal Mahal and Hammirs court and parts of the royal palace gave an idea of the old grandeur.
Once you reach the top the view of the Tiger reserve is breath taking with views stretching for miles. I photographed through one of the many fort holes here showing the park in the distance, giving you a sense of scale of the place. Its a wonderful place and I can highly recommend a visit here if you are ever visiting Ranthambhore.
It was great to see some of the guards which I had made friends with the year before. They do an amazing job with limited resources keeping just over 30 Tigers safe from the ever presence of poaching. They showed me around and were very kind and helpful to my group by letting us pass through the main gate and onto our zone for that day with minimal fuss. I only wished the many politicians and people involved with Tiger conservation around the world could see the frontline in the battle against poachers and give them more equipment and resources, because on the ground we are asking these fellows to risk their lives against a well organised band of poachers. Once these Tigers have gone the whole area falls and the Tiger will not return, very sad but money has to be channeled into helping the guards around India in keeping the Tigers alive. I was shocked and saddened by how these guys stop poachers with their limited resources.
After the census had finished we settled into our daily routine with an early rise at 5am, coffee from the staff before the two jeeps came to pick up the different groups, then setting of in search of the Tiger. It is guaranteed to send adrenalin coursing through the veins, whilst every movement in the undergrowth raises the expectation of a sudden appearance of this animal, striped body, footprints in the dust or the warning cries of deer all serving only to heighten the almost unbearable sense of excitement as you watch and listen for the first clue that a Tiger is around you. The photo below shows one of the seven gates we pass through during our safaris.
The mornings for me are the best, the sights and sounds of the Jungle are amazing,so very different to back home. Every call you tune into and having to stay on small tracks as you try to see what is happening far ahead by listening and watching for tell tale clues that the ghost of the forest is about. Warning cries from other animals like Deer and Monkeys are the first indicator somethings not right, then in a flash a Tiger appears as above. This female was hunting and I captured her walking through a shaft of light.
I always say on my blog the different wonderful and beautiful moments I witness in nature but for me seeing and watching this animal in the wild is one of those moments I truly love and ranks as some of the best times I have spent watching wildlife. We followed this female as she was actively hunting prey through the forests, sometimes appearing to vanish without trace only to reappear on the tracks that the jeeps use, then standing so still you struggled to see her if you lost eye contact.
The size and build of these animals is amazing, and to see them so close is something I cannot put into words. After the morning safari we’d have breakfast at around 10am then rest until our afternoon safari from 3pm until around 6.30-7pm. This was our routine for the rest of the week and as with everything you love, it goes to quick. Sitting with clients in both of the jeeps I always discussed which were the best settings, giving my advice in these testing conditions, where a Tiger can just appear from knowhere then vanish before you ever got your camera ready. I demostanded the best ways that I have found to capture those moments, working with different focal lengths and lens, all the time trying to capture what you see.
As the week went on some of the sightings were at a distance, we did come across a female Tigress protecting a kill among a dry riverbed where she was well hidden from view. She had killed a Samba Deer some days earlier and was feeding, then leaving it, all the time going back. She had cubs in the area, well hidden from view and she would vanish then reappear again often going to feed and tend to her young.
This photo captured that first moment we made contact with her as she hid the kill really well and had cubs nearby, it was a dry riverbed with overhead cover from the forest trees. She took nearly two days to finish the kill off and we just watched from a distance before she headed off and walked past our jeep and headed out of site towards where she may have had her cubs safety hidden. It was clear from her nipples she was feeding cubs and I was praying they might show but I was told by Salim that it was to early and in another 4-5 weeks they will be around and feeding. I’ll have to wait until next year when there may be a good chance of seeing them at nearly a year old fingers crossed. A number of other females are pregnant also so there’s lots of new life on the horizon, which will be great for their numbers.
Over time as we watched this female Tigress a crocodile seemed to be heading towards the kill but in the end he chose another path from that one where the Tiger was.
The whole group captured some amazing images of the Tigers and this female was the most popular, where over a period of a couple of days we had a great insight to her behaviour which was fascinating to witness.
The week there pasted far to quick and before we knew it the time had come to leave Ranthambhore and head off home. I wished I could have stayed as I really love this place and its Tigers, it has a magical feel to it, an old fort taken over by nature. We headed for the airport the same way we came, packed lunches in hand as we started the journey home, thank you to my clients for your company, big thank you to Ragh and Salim for your help and expert tracking and guidance with the Tigers.
Many thanks to the staff at the Ranthambhore Bagh where we stay, great food, warm welcome and a great base for this trip. Next years details and dates on on my website here, I only take 4 people maxim, 2 person per jeep, this is the best for photographing the Tigers I have found over my time there, as space in the jeeps is crucial to capturing that shot you sometimes only have seconds to take before they have vanished into the forests.
I will be releasing a few more limited edition prints very soon to go along with the 3 others I currently have, where 50% of the profits go to a charity I work with to help rise money for Tigers around the world; 21 Century Tiger. Where they spend 100% of your money in helping Tigers around the world, these animals are in real danger of extinction and need as much help as possible so that future children get the chance to see this amazing animal in the wild.