The Trail of Tigers (Bandipur Stories – 1)

We reached Bandipur after a 5.5 hour ride, including breakfast. The weather was pleasant, the roads had been decent for the most part. But just when we thought we could relax after Gundlupet, we found that they had decided to ‘expand’ the section from Gundlupet towards Bandipur. If you’re on a car it can be uncomfortable. But when you’re on bikes, it gets stressful and is also a safety issue. But we managed to reach JLR’s Bandipur place by 1:30 PM.

After lunch, we headed out earlier than usual. Somehow, the seat we thought could accommodate three was supposed to only seat 2, and A had to move to the front, next to the driver. This later turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. There was a massive parking problem at the forest office considering this was Christmas, and there were queues to get into a forest department vehicle. They seem to have fixed the delay for safari vehicles, by making guests enter their details before starting. This meant that we were off really quick from the office and into the forest a few minutes later.

A Crested Serpent Eagle was the mandatory first pic as always, but the driver ignored it saying there’s some other sighting in front. We went there and there were multiple jeeps and minibuses standing and people clicking away at something beyond a waterhole. For a change, this turned out to be a Tiger! The Tiger was sleeping, and very occasionally would lift its head up to survey the surroundings before going back to sleep.
A sleeping tiger

Gets up to see what the hue and cry is for

The driver gave us some details. The Tiger was named Prince, was around 15 years old which makes him a granddaddy pretty much, has a swollen foreleg and is nicknamed Kunta. We figured he might not live too long, and it won’t be surprising to see some news of him soon.

Within minutes the traffic increased and we soon had a traffic jam as pretty much every vehicle landed up there.
Traffic jam in the jungle

Soon the jostling for better photo shots started. There were two collisions as buses tried to move back and those behind were caught unawares. Two days on, our driver(for that day, not the current one) confirmed that there were actually three collisions in total! (He had moved on after a few shots and his jeep had seen a sloth bear and another tiger on the same frame!)
Two minibuses in a collision, driver not happy

We moved on from there, saw a few other animals, including a bird which we had no clue what, as it was too skittish and flew away. The forest was bare and dry. The trees looked dead. But this being Winter and the forests being dry deciduous this was expected. Even the invasive Lantanas had not flowered, the drought having taken its pound of flesh.

We got back to the same waterhole and found that the Tiger had gotten into the water. And there was a huge crowd of safari vehicles all over the place.
Looks left...

White behind the ears...

After some 10 minutes he got out of the waterhole, peed into the grass to mark his spot and moved on into the forest. My view was mostly blocked by another jeep, but A got an excellent video of it, thanks to his being in front. (which I can add to this post once he gets it into his laptop).
And decides to get up...

Pees...

And moves off into the growth...

After that we drove around, and very far away we spotted two sloth bears moving. By the time we got close to them, they were gone. But we would seem them later the next day.

***

The last safari, the morning of the day we were to head back, we drove around with little success. The only sign of a tiger was some tiger scat.
Tiger scat

We eventually reached the same waterhole as the one where we had seen the Tiger two days back. Turned out that there was another Tiger with a Tigress in tow, inside the bushes. This was a different Tiger, known as Madesha, around 5-7 years of age, and the Tigress was unknown, around 5 years old by estimates.

We waited around, and the Tiger eventually emerged behind us. Too far for good pics, and got caught between two trees which the camera kept saying is what I was aiming for. He walked on and went into some bushes.
A tiger appears from the growth
Tiger disappears into the growth

Most jeeps including ours went to the other side, waiting for him to emerge that side. But he didn’t. We went back to the old spot to see if the Tigress would come out. After some 5 minutes, she came out bounding, and with 5-6 strides had traversed some 100 feet and disappeared into the bush.
A tigress bounds across

Neither of the tigers was seen by any vehicle rest of the day. There might be news of cubs next year, one hopes.

Rest of the pics here:
Bandipur - Dec 2016

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