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Riding the tiger.

The unpredictability of wildlife is something that all of us photographers live with. Often it’s a grit your teeth and get on with it, sometimes its pure tears of frustration but occasionally, just occasionally, the sublime occurs, it’s as if the gods smiled.

The trip to India that I have just returned from fell brilliantly into this last category. Two years ago Dan and I led the natures Images tigers trip, and whilst the logistics worked well, the tigers clearly never read the script. It’s hard to keep a group motivated day after day when your star performer gets a monk on and refuses to cooperate. This trip, again with Dan and Natures Images, couldn’t have been more different, yet it was to the same place at the same time of year.

I wanted to spend a bit more time at Bhandavgarh so I headed out ten days earlier than the group. My first afternoon was incredible, the tigress Eesha walked out onto the track just 30 mins into our first drive and because there were only 2 other jeeps, performed brilliantly. Late afternoon light, stunning tiger, it doesn’t get much better.

The next few days were a bit of a blank but compensation came via birds I hadn’t photographed before and some lovely golden jackals.

A couple of days later we had the day of the trip which started with a breakfast meeting with Kankuti, another tigress at her water hole. The light was Ok but it was a great start. Later the same morning we were driving in the back of the park when Judy spotted Haroon, a 5 year old male in the prime of his life.

He walked towards us through the forest, stopped to sniff a tree and flame (when he pulls a face and inhales the fragrant scents of other tigers). He then popped across a gap, and walked down the road straight towards us, I thought the meeting with Eesha was good, this was amazing.

During the rest of our trip before the group came out we had a number of blank tiger days but did pick up another couple of fleeting encounters. The reality of working here is to be lucky, isn’t it always! If you can find a tiger on your own you can control the situation and have an incredible encounter.

The problem is that if alarm calls from spotted deer and monkeys are heard all the other jeeps descend like a plaque of locusts. Some of these jeeps, full of iphone toting tourists, have shockingly aggressive drivers, they simply rush the tiger and create stress for everyone, including the tiger. My language at such times was fruity to say the least!

When Dan and the group arrived I had high hopes we would have a good trip. I had worked out a number of strategies to help and Haroon and Kankuti were showing well every few days. In stark contrast to our last trip we had incredible tiger encounters on the first couple of days. One was with Kankuti at the drinking pool and later we had an incredible session with Haroon.

There were blank days when it was frustrating working hard searching for tigers and not seeing one. You always knew they were close, fresh pug marks and scat were regularly seen but they just kept out of eyesight.

Bhandavgarh is one of a number of tiger reserves in India, all offer something different and the time of year can have a significant part to play. December is the Indian winter, it is actually cold and tigers like it warm, not hot but nice and toasty.

In the hot summers they regularly bath in water holes to cool off. Photography now is easy but whilst the winters offer less predictable tiger encounters, when you do get one you often get better images.

The group that joined Dan and myself were excellent, great banter with understanding personalities that made running a trip like this a pure joy. Thank you one and all, I can’t believe I was actually at work, what a great time.