Photo Tours

Dancing Peacock, Trumpeting Elephants and a Treehouse

The last time we traveled to one of the national parks for a photo tour was in 2012 when we got lucky to sight 3 tigers. Its been a while since we traveled to only a national park and decided to do so this animal sighting season – typically during summer. That’s enough for the wife to take over and complete the logistics – itinerary, bookings all finished in a jiffy.

We start off on a cloudy AM early May, up until which day, it was unbearably hot and we were pretty happy with it as that would mean more animal visits to the water holes. Alas that was not to be. More on that later.

The drive was through the familiar Bangalore Mysore highway, which is chock a block with week end traffic. After a quick stop over at Maddur for breakfast, we pick up pace and make it to Gundlupet and Masinagudi via Bandipur, the stretch from Gudlupet via the pristine national park.MasinagudiAndBack

Although its not a good thing to have a very busy high way passing through a national park, it cant be helped if the road was there before the park was declared a tiger reserve. But the road itself is well maintained, with a big section on either side of the road cleared off all vegetation to improve visibility of crossing animals. We were hoping some animals would cross but that was not to be :(. Even with such meticulous maintenance, accidents involving wild animals are heard all too commonly. We the supposedly better brained amongst earth’s species must use it at appropriate times I guess to save the already depleting wild life.

I do hope it dawns on all using the road.

Back to our trip now. The first destination was a tree house (Forest Hill Resort) at Masinagudi. I have been on tree houses atleast twice before, but it was the first for the both of us together. The tree house itself was a pretty good find, especially amidst the jungle (this one actually IN the jungle, outside the resort fencing, ideal for spotting wildlife. The other treehouse actually also had a machan on it, but was already taken so we had to settle for this one we were at. It was indeed a unique experience to be living in a space with the trunk of a living tree (on which, around actually, the tree house was built) dominating the space, which had a queen sized bed, an attached bath room, all at over 10 feet in the air, with chirping birds flying across.

IMG_0522We settled in quickly and after a good lunch (very tasty vegetarian food is served here) enjoyed the views from the many windows on the tree house. We had planned for a safari on the govt bus, which starts about 12/15 KM from the tree house and therefore left for the place by about 3.45 to make it for the 4.30 safari as advised by the manager at the resort, Radhakrishna. He was kind enough to send word through a driver, who had taken another set of guests a little earlier to reserve tickets, which as a good thing as it was a pretty long queue being the week end.

DSCN3925 DSCN3918The safari in a bus was in the core area of the reserve, but we were not expecting to see many animals, so had carried our 3rd Camera, a superzoom that’s versatile enough to shoot from wide angle to extreme telephoto (60 X Zoom). The only issue with this camera though is there’s no RAW shooting and that’s an issue when it comes to correcting the images, as many images in a safari situation might have to be taken in a sub optimal condition. DSCN3987We however were lucky enough to sight a Peacock dancing, a group of Langurs, a family of Gaur, although at a distance, a lot of Chitals, some Sambar deer and the best of the lot – a family of wild elephants with a real little one in tow, grazing peacefully. DSCN3959It was amazing to watch how the family would make sure the little one is well hidden even from the camera:). The safari lasted about 45 min and we arrived just in time before the park’s elephant training area closed for public, so rushed there.

DSCN4021We were able to witness the tamed elephants, that are used for various activities by the forest department, being fed, lovingly by their Mahut’s. It was funny to watch how the animals are demanding, with one of the elephants trumpenting loudly to demand for sugarcane and coconut instead of the millet ball it was being served. Seems like its got a sweet tooth and wanted a desert to finish the meal. It was also funny to watch the Langurs and wild boars moving about to steal the scraps left during the feeding, with some langurs venturing in to the kitchen, steal a handful of the millet balls being prepared for the elephants and enjoy it on the barricade.

We get in to the car and return to the tree house, before dark as was recommended by the manager. After tea at the restaurant area, we return to the tree house to relax, when the best experience on this trip happened. We were shaken out of our slumber by a loud trumpet of an elephant and it was hard to make out where it was with the torch light we had, but the sound was close enough to shake the tree house. Next morning we saw a lump of elephant dung, less than 50 feet from the tree house. Apparently, the folks from the other tree house, who were on a machan actually saw this herd of elephants… what a miss:) After this incident, the manager took no chances, and drove down to the tree house on his 4 wheeler to ferry us to the restaurant area (about 100 mtrs from the tree house but importantly, inside the fence) and dropped us back after dinner. Dinner too was lip smacking so was the engaging conversation with some other guests, a couple from Scotland, with whom the discussion topics were varied.

We were hoping to sight some other animals or the elephant herd it self would return but none of that happened, although we would peer through the many windows every time we woke up.

The next morning safari was on a jeep, arranged the previous night, to start by 5.30 AM so got up at 5.00 to be ready. The driver, a naturalist himself, arrived on time, picked us up from the tree house to ferry up to the restaurant and after a quick dose of tea, we leave by road in to some parts of the forest in which jeeps are allowed. It was a very foggy morning, with rain overnight and until about sun rise, we were driving through very short visibility. That was however sufficient to see chitals, sambars and peacocks enjoying the morning mist and a graze.

MasinagudiBandipur 39With the clouds in the sky, peacocks were very active and their numbers too were pretty high. We sighted a lot of them as we drove through, stopping briefly for the sun rise, at a view point mid way through the safari and returned empty handed need we say:)

This time through we had carried the entire camera gear – a go pro session, my D 810, a sigma 150/600 zoom, the superzoom 3rd body and accessories. Although I had carried my 2nd body, a D300, I did not see the need to carry that one with the 70/200 lens. We always carry a bean bag these days for support instead of the tripod/ monopod for jeep/ vehicle safaris. Not much in terms of pictures, but some settings which had changed during a routine sensor cleaning service the previous day could all be restored back as we photographed.

After a quick bath and feeding the friendly dogs at the treehouse, we leave for our next destination, the close by Bandipur National Park. Just when we were about to leave a gray hornbill taunts us right out side the billing area of which we manage to get a few mediocre pictures as it was all in the shades of a large tree on which it was perched. The act of photographing it was a good lesson in patience – which is an absolute must for wildlife photography though:)DSCN4097

In to the car and start the drive towards Bandipur and it starts raining – on our spirits as well…. The entire timing of the trip was with the assumption it would be the hottest part of summer so the chances of sighting the big games would be high. As we drive the 20 odd KM towards Bandipur, we see a sort of a pile up ahead and guessed it might be due to road side sighting of elephants, which is common on this stretch and it was indeed elephants – a mom and her little, adorable baby… we snap a quick snap and move ahead to make sure we don’t pile up traffic.DSCN4103

Arrive at the Jungle Lodges Bandipur and lo and behold, we are allotted the Mayura cottage, after we spent the entire day in the company of Peacocks:)

A regular lunch at the gol ghar, a quick siesta and a few paces up and down the cobbled (or should I say interlock blockedJ) walkways on the campus, it was time for the tea and start of the safari – not without the drama of a heavy down pour, further reducing the chances of sighting anything. Luckily we were grouped with four other photographers and a couple of enthusiastic medico’s from UK. We set off in to one of the many mud ways across the high way after all the formalities at the department office, we draw our weapons (camera’s) in anticipation of the big games. But other than many chitals and some sambar deer, it was another evening of birds – peacocks, woodpeckers et al, despite the best efforts of the dejected driver cum guide to get some real game sighting. We came very close to sighting a leopard, some elephants though, which crossed the paths up ahead but vanished in to the bushes on the side by the time we got there.. Grr…..MasinagudiBandipur 8MasinagudiBandipur 11

We return half disappointed and half in anticipation for the next day, we watch a wildlife program at the JLR campus – which I must say has improved considerably across size, facilities, customer service etc, finish up an early dinner and retire for the day, having woken up early that day and needing to wake up early again the next day.

MasinagudiBandipur 19Get up the next day dutifully again at 5.30 AM and start off on the safari by 6.15 at the department office. The new tracker/ guide cum driver crisscrossed the reserMasinagudiBandipur 16ve and did his best to get us to see some real game and this time too, it was not to be. Another set of birds – serpent eagle, spot billed duck, the same set of spotted owlet mother/ kid combo with a red mongoose and a monitor lizard the non bird sightings:(. A chital feeding it’s little one was the best image of the day.MasinagudiBandipur 33

Return to the resort by 9.30 AM, finish up breakfast, get ready and hot the road. Drive up to Lokaruchi near Ramanagara for Joladarotti lunch and are home by 3.30 PM, in time for wife’s Yoga classes:)

This trip although was a let down on sightings, reinstated some fundamental lessons when it comes to equipment.

  1. Always double check the equipment before the trip – the go pro car mount has a screw come off, making it impossible to repair just before we started (which is when I noticed it)
  2. Shoot a few snaps on the camera to ensure no setting have changed on the camera for whatever reason – this time it was the service the previous day.
  3. Take extra snaps to learn the nuances of a new lens during post processing…

All in all, it was a good trip. Hope to be luckier the next time, hopefully this season itself.

Pictures, maps and video’s included on this post.

Let me know what you thought of this post. I have excluded technical details of the photo tour. If it helps I can include it from the next post. Let me know if so.

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