Divinity, Goddess’s fight! ?
Venue: Ranthambore, India.
11th June 2015
After few hours of ride from the airport, passing through shrub lands and common landmarks, I knew, i was inching towards Ranthambore. The morning sun ensured I was mentally prepared for the absolute summer spectacle that would follow for the next few days. Far across, few Camels pushed their way into a patch of a shade that actually didn’t offer any shade but some respite from the killer rays of sun. Village peasants with their colorful turbans had ventured out to catch up on their day’s work. Women folk carrying water pots from a near-by well, hurried, perhaps, for a busy day ahead. A typical morning routine as I knew, it would be minutes before i get into my hotel. And here I was, once again, in the land of Tigers! Ranthambore!
I was so tired, all I could think of was immersing myself in a ice filled bath-tub, forgetting my camera or tigers or anything else. I opened my eyes only to pull on the sheets as the air cooler was far too cold in the room. What an irony to a suffocating summer?
It was the month of June. Just a week before the annual ritual of monsoon rains. Around 3:00pm, I set out in my jeep with every bit of excitement and eagerness for my tryst with big cats! It was very hot! Blazing hot! The only way I can express the intensity of the harsh summer was to imagine myself holed up in a heated oven! 46 Degree Celsius. I set out in the jeep only to be hit by the very warm air but it was pleasant compared to the sun rays that burned me all. The brown forest had a very earthy feeling all through. With the merciless sun spraying and spewing fire all over, the sheer excitement of Tigers and some thing new, pepped me up. It was unusually hot as my jeep climbed the rough terrain. I was sweating big time, getting dehydrated- being out under a killer sun was very unforgiving. At one point in time, all i did was to bend my head to get some respite from the harsh elements. I could get myself back into the game around 430 pm when some one shouted - There is a tiger out there! We went ahead up the road and saw few jeeps parked out there. There he was… He was right in middle of a bush up on a small terrain off the road. This was on the edge that led to a narrow slope deep down the hill. It was virtually impossible for any of us to go in there. Also as the tiger moved into the narrow road; that was the end. I couldn’t see him at all. I didn’t even take out my Camera. As the sun drifted down, all the jeeps that were with us, scattered and moved on. There weren’t any other clues nor news, so decided that we stay-put out there for some time. The air had suddenly got much cooler and i looked above only to see clouds running towards us. At times I wonder the pace of nature, it does beats us every time. Within the next fifteen minutes, the whole park was filled with shadows and in no time, i could hear few thunderstorms, hitting behind the hill that we were at. Hastily, I pulled out my raincoat and ensured all my gear was well protected.
For so many years, I have been watching so many documentaries about the onset of monsoon and rains lashing out in Ranthambore. Deep inside, I was overjoyed. I was anxious now, not for any tigers but to get drenched in the rains, standing in middle of the park! The light drizzle became much bigger with thunder and lightening screaming all around! The open jeep just ensured, we were dripping in full flow. We drove towards the south side of the park and was welcomed with full-throttle rains, so harsh that it hit the bonnet of the jeep with loud thuds! Small and big tributaries in the park, the sound of thunder-storms became bigger and louder. For a minute, I wasn’t sure in which part of the park we were in. The sound of hard rain became much louder and louder as the wet wind screamed past my ear, every now and then. For sometime i couldn’t open my eyes as the monsoon rains was hitting me right from the front. Wind blew so much that the trees and its branches were
sashaying all around. I saw some spotted deer enjoying the sudden splash of rain even as it shook the water off its body, every time. There was this huge Honey Buzzard, taking refugee in a big branch but couldn’t do anything than just enjoy nature’s extremes. After half an hour or so, the sound of rain came to a grinding halt. Phew! What a season! The best of my experience and finally I was in Ranthambore during Monsoon!
i eagerly waited for the sun to rise. I eagerly waited for me to get in! The morning sun shone with all honesty as the golden light soaked the entire forest that had turned partially green. The roads were damp, patches of green every where. The wetness on the leaves still could have been felt! Some of the plants and tree branches still hand few rain drops that shone like a diamond or like a star in the brightly lit forest. The rays of the sun pierced through patches of tree branches lighting up the forest floor. Far across this peacock danced to get his mate’s attention even as this kingfisher looked around a small puddle for its forage. It was unusually a quiet morning when we drove all around before getting into the RajBagh area of the forest. We drove past the historical fort anticipating some action but it was again, empty. I looked up to see the sun playing hide and seek and the shadows spread itself on the forest floor short and wide. We inched few yards ahead and someone in the jeep almost screamed, Tiger! After which it was absolutely silence! Hush! These were Krishna’s (T19) cubs, two females and a male seated in a triangular position just ahead of us. One of the female tiger (Arrow Head) cubs got up, walked past us, sniffed around before heading back. There was this unusual stress and storm building up I thought. All three tigers were looking at one another, off and on. I could sense something was brewing.
Lightning, Arrow Head’s sister watched her all the time, making a frowning face. She wasn’t happy but closed her eyes. Arrow Head watched her younger sister all through and stood up silently without a noise. The shadows on the floor almost vanished and the tender breeze took a pause. I was looking at these tigers breathlessly. Even on a cold, tender and chilly morning, I was sweating. I held my camera to take my position. All the three tigers were around 15 meters from my jeep. My heart was pounding and beating loud enough to disturb the cats! I was telling myself, this is it! Something gonna happen now! And I watched Arrow Head getting into a stalking posture, slowly and steadily walked. Time stood still when she got close. Very close to Lightning who was sleeping without a care and clue! And momentarily, Just one push from her paw to her younger sister’s face – Battle began. It lasted 10 seconds. Those 10 full seconds when this battle was fought and their brother watched curiously from a distance. The forest echoed with their roars that was loud enough to deafen my ears instantly. Both the sub-adult cubs stood up and growled, battling for supremacy. In one such split second, these sisters were united even in their fight! I could see one body with four legs. Divinity! To me it seemed like a Goddess in action. Goddess of the Forest! And it was over! Both went back to their places but the battle was fought and won by the elder cub, Arrow Head! All these happened few feet from where I was. My hands trembled like a leaf, but yet was steady! I was sweating with joy, accomplishment, contentment, surprise and anxiety. I couldn’t believe what I saw and photographed. I looked around - I wanted to scream! I scrambled for my camera and checked the images I had taken. I was smiling ear to ear!
A once in a life moment for me.
Canon Gear, 70D, 70-200 USM, ISII, 1/1600, f2.8, ISO 800
2-March-2016, Central Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa.
It was the day and time for me to depart from Ndutu and drive into Central Serengeti. I had an excellent time last year and with earnest thought of riding on the same luck, I got into the jeep. Knowing the fact that it was a long journey on the road, had stocked snacks, coke and few water cans and more importantly, my camera equipment was pretty much in the stand-by mode! It has to be, is it not?
Warm morning…clear blue skies…dusty roads… and we slowly exited Southern Serengeti. It took more than an hour before we hit the main corridor road – by this time sun was blazing enough to bake a cake. Out there was endless plains, a mix of green and brown meadows all through, with stray mammals here are there. There was no end of sight barring few small sized mountain, very far across and on either sides. Watching these few impalas and zebras grazing on the brown grass, letting their guard down, it was a dry and also a tiring feeling. For sure there were no signs of predators out here. I don’t know when I drifted into sleep – Guess, I would have slept for half an hour or so – With warm air hitting me, long journey and no predatory excitement (J ), it was but natural for me to take few winks!
Hyena! Our Naturalist who was manning the wheels pointed at this lone predator, and stopped the jeep! This hyena was quite far. I was surprised since this was not a typical prey base especially this stretch had no herbivores movement – but you never know! ; He was running to the other side, may be to catch up with his clan. Moving on, back on the road! I looked at the watch – 12.00noon! Another 3 hours for sure to reach Central Serengeti! I was dying to get through this journey. After an hour or so, saw a thick cloud of dust on the farther side of the plain. We were quite curious and out came the binoculars.
Vow! Cloud of dust, mid-day, blazing sun and I see nothing less than a thousand of Wildebeest running towards the road we were on! For few minutes, I noticed there were few hundreds of them already towards our right, it was so hot, I could see mirage formation so very clearly. These seemed like waves … and I could literally see heat waves… and as the herd came close, thumping sound of wildebeests literally knocked me off. Not one, not two… but hundreds and thousands of them. The dust formed an enormous layer on the ground and more or less, became a layer of cloud as hot wind pushed the yellow dust upwards. I was sweating in severe heat but this was a spectacle I could have never missed! I was in trance – surrounded by hundreds and thousands of them, they sure were in a hurry to cross the road and move towards Central Serengeti for greener plains and more importantly water holes. This was the pre-migratory period – a time before the actual migration towards up-north.
As I was framing them, I could see nothing but a layer of tusks, mirage and sky of dust. Even as hundreds of Calves were jumping to get to the other side of the road, I was going hysteric hearing the distinct sound they make “UhhAaaaah” (in my own verbiage) – Imagine - all of them grunting together. It was nothing but a sea of them! Here is one such image I made during that moment.
My Gear: Canon 70D, 70-200 IS II.
8-April-2017, Zambia. Chinzombo Camp, South Luangwa River, Zambia.
The open skies never looked so dull and dry! The entire morning I drove in anticipation seeking few cats but in vain. There were pug marks, here and there, but nothing beyond. I assumed the South Luangwa pride might have retired deep into the bushes. It was yet another day, it was yet another disappointment. I got back to my camp for lunch with mixed emotions. On one side, there was this anticipation of what is in store for the next few days while on the other side, the dry game drives literally had made me desperate.
A light lunch and I looked up towards the sky. Black clouds began to whisper and I had to kick myself for the luck I am in for. In few minutes, it rained and rained. I was sipping a home made lemonade at the verandah of my camp watching the heavy rain lashing all over the park. All of a sudden, a huge bolt of lightning struck and where? Right next to my camp burning the internet transmitter! Well, this was the last thing to happen. I would be lying if i say I was never so much dejected in life than at that time. Rain stopped in a while and around 3 in the afternoon, i embarrassingly got ready for another drive. Deep in my mind I was feeling awkward even to step into the boat that would ferry me to the other side of the river where my jeep would pick me up! I looked up, smiled and told myself - Well, the game is not over, until its over!
A dull but damp evening! The rain had literally made all animals scurry around deep into the park. Few tuskers here and there went on with their own business but that didn’t make me happy! My naturalist and friend, Brian, looked at me, tried all his tricks to pep me up! He then told me - I will not let you go until you get what you want! I smiled ear to ear as we stopped for sun-downers. Sipping coffee, i looked around as hope sprung up deep within. As the evening sun hid behind the thick clouds and darkness enveloped all around us, our dear friend, Simon took the search light. Yes, we ducked ourselves into night-safari! Minutes passed by and an hour flew by! We looked around and finally decided to check the north side of the park once again!
The air was very wet. I could literally smell the wetness in it as cool breeze lifted my spirits. I re-looked at my camera settings. The wet night clouds sprayed some rain drops here and there as the crickets ensured we hear their music all through. A quiet night and my jeep ploughed through the water logged park with that water splash sound. Night-jars flew in and around us, perhaps getting attracted to the light. It was a moonless sky. I was at least hoping i could see the stars but even those had disappeared. Far across a Hyena hooted but that definitely didn't make me smile. Few minutes passed when I suddenly asked Brian to stop the vehicle!
Roooooooaaaarrrr! It was the roar of a lion, a faint one though! The jeep came to a screeching halt as we used our experience to navigate. We moved in the direction where the roar was coming. It became stronger and stronger. Our jeep moved into a very narrow path that led to a clearing and suddenly Brian exclaimed! Sanjeev, That is Ginger!
Here was this Pride Male, the majestic Ginger sitting in middle of the clearing and roaring! Every time he roared, the sound pierced through the silent night, creating waves! I could feel the decibels hitting our jeep. With the light on him, Ginger was shining! He was shining like a burning star in a moonless night. His mane was glittering! His cold but intense and fierceful eyes almost popped out when he gave a stare at us. I could sense his sound, rather, feel his sound, every time he roared! It was as if he was calling some one, perhaps his brother! His roar would travel miles and miles and here I was, watching this king from a very close quarter. I had goosebumps. I had such an unexplained feeling of watching him. The forest was silent but with his Roar! And his roar was joined by another one, presumably Garlic’s! That's Ginger’s brother. Eventually, both brothers got together, nudged and went into the thicket, perhaps calling it a day!
As we headed back, Brian and Simon, were the happiest since they could see me smile - ear to ear and what an evening it was! A truly Exceptional! A true Zambian night safari! As i got into the boat that would ferry me back into my camp, I was not embarrassed. I was not feeling awkward for not having seen any cats for the last two days! My heart was thumping, my heart was pounding! I had to scream. I wanted my scream to be so loud enough to reach some one back home in India :) More so, I wanted her to respond back. And I screamed - Loud but not as loud as Ginger's roar! It was only heard by Brian and Simon. Late into the night, when i was about to retire to bed, I could see few stars burning but then I just ignored them! I had seen my star already! I had my star already!
The night was cold and wet.. and guess I got pulled into a dream and was sailing with Ginger and Garlic, all through the night!
Venue: Chinzombo, South Luangwa River, Zambia.