Monday, March 26, 2007

One small step - The Moon

I'm rather fond of looking at the moon and stars on clear nights. The loveliness of the moon, as it rises, is breath-taking. Living in a city, though, it is not always possible to see it rise from the horizon.

On a full moon night, a month ago, I was sufficiently inspired to take a shot of the moon. I trudged up to the terrace, camera and tripod in tow. The moon presented itself in all its glory. It was late evening, the moon had not yet climbed to its high point in the sky and still retained a gentle yellowish tinge. Its patches were clearly visible to the naked eye. There was not a cloud in sight.

I set up the tripod, mounted the camera and took the shot. I was rather stunned to see that I had succeeded in getting a snap of a perfectly circular white disk against a black background. Tinkering with the many controls and settings of the camera, yielded no better results.

This rather fantastic failure, prompted me to look up many websites that have tutorials on how to take snaps of the moon. Most of these are extremely useful and after a study, I was able to produce the following last week.

These are not stellar shots, I would be the first to admit to that. These are baby steps and if there is anyone out there, who has been struggling with the same problem, this is intended to give them a start. I am so overjoyed to have seen craters, that I must share these.

Camera : Canon Powershot S2 IS
Lens : Canon TCDB58 TeleConverter Lens
Tv mode : 1/160
ISO : 50
Optical Zoom : Full (18x)
Lens Adapter : LensMate ( Many thanks to Anoop, for suggesting this)

Comments and suggestions, on how I may better this effort, are most welcome.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Land of the Tiger - Kanha

Kanha National Park is located in Madhya Pradesh. The nearest airport and railhead is at Jabalpur, around 175 km away(6 hours by road). The Park is immense, nearly 940 sq Km.
A minimum of 4 days are required to see all the routes of the park. Though a part of Project Tiger, the park is primarily set up to protect the Barasingha (Swamp Deer).

Getting there

We arrived at Kanha from Bandhavgarh, covering a distance of around 250 Kms. Our transport was a Sumo and I assure you, no other vehicle can make the journey. The road was quite nice in some parts and completely disappeared in some stretches and the path reduced to a carpet of sharp stones.
For large parts of our journey there was no humanity or evidence there of, in sight.

Time taken: nearly 6-7 hrs. Cost: Rs. 6500

Where to stay

We stayed at Wild Chalet, the sister resort of Tiger Trails. Wild Chalet too has comfortable cottages and wonderfully comfy beds. (I mention the beds in particular because I had to get out of them at the crack of dawn!) I especially liked the straw carpeting, a nice way to encourage local enterprise. The food here is also Europeanized. The exception being the Aloo Parathas and lemon pickle that we had for breakfast, simply delicious!

The manager of the hotel is a Mr. Eric D’cunha. He has authored a book on the birds of Kanha and is a wild life enthusiast and a good photographer. He has 2 very friendly kittens, which follow him around. So if you are scared of cats, ( I adore them) do watch out. I had dinner with one of them in my lap, very friendly and quite harmless.

There is a small garden, over looking a stream that flows behind the resort. It attracts several water birds.

Cost: per head, per 24 hr day:Rs.2500 (inclusive of boarding, lodging and 2 park safaris)


Langoors at a shallow stream

The jungle at Kanha is really quite beautiful. It is very easy to see what inspired Kipling. The trees are very tall and grow straight without too many branches, lots of sal. There are enormous plains covered with tall golden grass with fluffy white tops.

Chittal (Spotted Deer) (L to R) Juvenile Male and female

A large number of birds can be seen. The number of tigers here is quite large, around 135. However, given the size of the park, they are spread out and many of the cubs are radio collared. We saw 2 young tigresses on separate days, both with collars.

Chittal Adult Male. Horns still covered with a velvety covering

Indian Roller

We were in Kanha for 2 days. We could not cover all the routes of the park. A minimum of 4 days is required. It is essential to get over the “hunt for the tiger” and concentrate on the other wildlife that Kanha has to offer. Particularly, the Barasingha (Swamp Deer) . We saw a few Barasingha but always in the morning mist and always quite far away.

Tigress, 3 yrs old

Grey Hornbills at Dusk

The avian residents of the park are many, especially the racquet tailed drongo, which is quite a spirited trouble maker, it mimics calls of several birds, even the Sambar Deer’s alarm calls. It rarely sits still though and I felt very privileged when one obligingly posed for a few seconds.
Be prepared for long “waiting for the tiger” stops, where a couple of jeeps, having heard an alarm call, will enter into a futile wait for the tiger to emerge.

Racquet Tailed Drongo


Tigers(3F) Lagoors, Barking deer, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Gaur (1), Barasingha, Jackal.

King Vulture (Red headed), Indian Rollers, Bee eaters, Racquet tailed Drongo, Pipit, Hawk Eagle, Green Pigeon, Bunting, Munia, Magpie Robin, Coucal, Scarlet minivet, Spotted owlet, stone chat, teals, egrets and herons, white breasted kingfishers, Red wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorants, honey buzzard, crested serpent eagle.

Rufus Backed Shrike

Red Wattled Lapwing

Best time to visit

April-May or Nov-Jan Park is closed during the monsoon. We visited in Nov. Visiting in the summer months always ensures a better sighting. There are several large bodies of water at Kanha where the animals will congregate in huge numbers, when water is scarce. The mating season of the Barasingha is also a good time to visit apparently.


Similar to Bandhavgarh, very cold in the mornings ( by indian standards ) around 15 C. Carry lots of warm clothing. As the day progresses it becomes increasingly warmer. Sunscreen is advisable. The jeep routes are very dusty and at the end of the safari, all occupants will be covered by a thin film of golden dust. Wear a scarf or hat to cover your ears and hair. Sunglasses are a must, mostly to protect from the dust.

What I liked

The park was well maintained and clean, despite the large area that it was spread over. Guides will often stop jeeps to pick up any stray plastic they may find.
If you are staying at Wild Chalet, ask for Mr. HiraLal to be your guide. He is their most experienced guide, well respected and a very energetic person.

What I didnt like

The elephant show at Kanha was a disappointment. If possible, try to avoid it all together. It was poorly managed, there was no numbering system and jeeps tore around the park at top speed to get to the sighting point. Chaos ensued and there were raised voices and the music of jeeps backing up!! The tigress that had been sighted looked extremely irritated and walked off in a huff.
The Mahout was not on very good terms with his elephant and hit it often with a stick. Though it would not have caused much pain to the animal, given its enormous bulk, I felt it was unnecessary.

Land of the Tiger - Bandhavgarh

Bandhavgarh National Park is spread over the vindhya hills in Madhya Pradesh. It consists of a core area of 105 sq km and a buffer area of approximately 400 sq km of topography varies between steep ridges, undulating, forest and open meadows. The density of the Tiger population at Bandhavgarh is the highest known in India.

It has around 64 tigers (according to the guides and it certainly does seem that way.) Most of the land is hilly, rocky terrain which keeps the tigers relatively in a high concentration and increases a chance of sighting. The jungle itself, is not as beautiful as Kanha - which has very scenic forests ( More on Kanha in the next blog)

CharkraDhara - The centre plain.

Getting there

Bangalore to Mumbai - Flight ( Kingfisher Airlines )
It was our first experience with KFA, great service and a very enjoyable flight with surprisingly wonderful food (for an airline).

Mumbai to Katni

Train number: 1071 Kamyani Express
Timings : Dep 12:40pm Arr (Next Day) 9:50am

The train was taken from Kurla Station, which was without doubt one of the dirtiest stations I’ve seen. Even the first class waiting rooms are awful. There is a relatively good book stall in the station though. The toilets must be awful for I could smell them a mile away.
There was practically no food available on the train (no pantry car) and the stations along the way did not yield any gastronomic delights either. Fortunately for us, we took some cookies to munch on. The scenery was not very inspiring; take along a good book (I read Gone with the wind) or some other diversion.

Katni to Bandhavgarh (105 Km )

Katni is a tiny little village/town. Theres a pedestrian over bridge to be crossed to reach the exit gate, travel light, the trolley bags won’t be of any use here.
Our hotel arranged a pickup at Katni Station. We travelled in a Sumo on a dusty bumpy track blasphemously called a road. Time taken – 3.5Hrs Cost Rs.2100

Where to stay

We stayed at the Tiger Trails Lodge. Wonderful, well furnished cottages with extremely comfortable beds and clean bathrooms. Food is decent (They try very hard to Europeanize it; it doesn’t have its natural spicy flavor.) Tea in particular, is the insipid European-make-your-own kind. But I found that if you ask, they are most happy to serve proper Indian 'cha' as well. There is no typically Madhya Pradesh cuisine, apparently. So the food is a kind of generic north Indian fare. Hardly any Indian guests there, so the staff will be delighted to converse with you in Hindi. Very friendly, and they all have interesting jungle stories to tell.

Cost: per head, per 24 hr day:
Rs.2500 (inclusive of boarding, lodging and 2 park safaris)

Jungle & Safaris

The park is very well managed and maintained. Having seen all of South India's parks, I feel the south can do well to learn from MP.
There are 2 safaris per day Morning 6am to 12pm and 3pm to 6pm.

Langoors, Female with baby

The jeeps line up at the gate and the park opens at sharp 6am. Each jeep gets a guide from the forest department, in addition to the driver from resort who serves as another guide. All jeeps are similarly equipped.

Badi Guffa - Caves where we had breakfast

The guides are local people, they speak Hindi and if you can converse in it, you are in for a treat.
The morning safari carried our breakfast, which is eaten picnic style off the bonnet of the jeep at a center camp of the forest while waiting for the tiger to be sighted by elephant.

The elephant show

It sounds like a circus event, but it’s actually well worth doing once.

Our Mahut and Elephant - Balram

The elephants go out at around 4 am and scour the forest to sight one or more tiger. Once it is found, the camp is informed and the jeeps are given numbers and queued up to see the tiger on elephant back. Costs: Rs.100 per person. Our Mahut was very gentle with his elephant and was very helpful in getting great pictures, so we tipped him generously. If you take his snap with the elephant, you can be guaranteed he’ll be mighty pleased.

It is exciting, to see the tiger so close and the pictures that you get are amazing. We did 2 such shows in Bandhavgarh, for we were not lucky enough to see the tigers on jeep.
Being a small park, it is well managed and the tiger sighting is well controlled and does not reduce to a chaotic scramble. Care is taken to see that the animals are not disturbed.

The forest is quite dense and not very scenic. But the concentration of tigers is quite impressive. In all of the national parks we visited, tourists would ask "did you see the tiger?" here they ask you, "How many have you seen today?" We met a couple from York who saw 13 different tigers in a single day from the jeep.


Tigers(2M,3F) Lagoors, Barking deer, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Jungle Cat. One Tiger was with Kill. ( Major Bonus)

Tree Pie, Wag Tail, Rufus backed Shrike, Rose Ringed Parakeets, Peacocks, Serpent Eagle, Golden backed woodpecker, Grey Hornbill, Wood Owl, Red vented bulbul, Jungle fowl, Lesser Adjutant crane.

Red Vented Bulbul

Best time to visit

April-May or Nov-Jan Park is closed during the monsoon. We visited in Nov. The Guides said that visiting in the summer months ensures a better sighting, since water is scarce. However, there is also a tourist rush and the weather is unbelievably hot.


Its freezing in the mornings ( by indian standards ) around 15 C. Carry lots of warm clothing. As the day progresses it becomes increasingly warmer and by 12 noon it is quite hot. The sun is very harsh, carry sunscreen. Wear a scraf or hat to cover your ears and hair (its very cold in the morning and dusty later). Sunglasses are a must. Binoculars are also a must and the guide will usually have a pair too ( but they arent very good )

What I liked

Park was very clean, practically spotless. There are little makeshift toilets inside the park as well. No water is available there, though. Guides are well informed and very polite. The tiger show was very well managed, with minimum inconvenience to the tigers.

Wild Chalet organized a little tribal dance for their guests. It was quite nice. The tribal ladies were a bit shy at first but later, got quite pleased with the response from the small but enthusiastic gathering. The men performed some rather dangerous looking acrobatic feats as well. There was a large australian group at the resort and the ladies were coaxed into joining the dance, I rather think it was a fun way tp involve the tourists.

What I didnt like

The souvenir shop at the park left much to be desired. There is a better one (privately owned) just outside the park.
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