Renée always wanted to see wild Tigers so when the chance came to visit India, she wanted to travel with a guide who understood her and had compassionate for the wildlife.
BY Renée Ferster Levy
When I was honoured to be invited to a friend's son's wedding in Delhi, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to visit natural places, see local wildlife, observe animal behaviour in the wild, and learn about the ecology of a new area.
I started researching options and with Wildiaries’ help, organised an unforgettable experience of "Wild India" - a week exploring Pench and Bandavgarh National Parks.
In the lead-up, Wildiaries’ guide Bhavesh was helpful with information, especially warning me of currency change problems, as India had just removed the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation.
Prepared with an itinerary, meeting time and contact details, I flew to Nagpur to meet Bhavesh. From his first friendly greeting to our farewell at Jabalpur he was extremely thoughtful and informative.
I am an avid birdwatcher and ecologist, so it was excellent being able to learn from his vast knowledge of birdlife, as well as unforgettable views of wildlife in the reserves. This is what makes all the difference. Getting an insider’s perspective, someone who can answer questions, explain local customs and who shares a common passion for wildlife and landscapes.
The reserves have strictly regulated access, with fixed numbers of open jeeps ("Gypsies") given morning and afternoon entry, with their own drivers and guides. The list of participants were checked meticulously and it was great have someone local dealing with all the administration!
The park guides have an incredible knowledge and great skill in finding animals. We had incredible sightings including the highlight for Bhavesh, a stunning Blue-throated Bee-eater out of its normal range. A passionate photographer (his photos are amazing), Bhavesh had lots of great tips for photography which really helped me with my new equipment.
Accommodation was in a small family-run place with cabins on stilts right in the forest, so some excellent bird species were seen right from my verandah and while walking around the site. They also have an elevated sitting area, where you feel part of the forest and were visited daily by a Tickell's Blue Flycatcher almost too close to photograph. Food was delicious, including a packed breakfast for our 5am safari starts, enjoyed later in the Tiger Reserve. The owner and employees were all very friendly and helpful.
The media is so focused on Africa being the place for safaris but India has it all. Herds of deer and antelope, preyed upon by big cats and wild dogs, stunningly-coloured birdlife and beautiful, colourful landscapes.
We watched a pack of wild dogs (dhole) dismantling prey next to a shallow wetland with deer only a few metres away, holding their ground and giving repeated loud warning splashes with their feet. The dogs later passed very close.
We travelled through dense forests of Teak, among the purest remaining stands in India, with a diversity of trees, grasslands, and stunning views of the River, where to my amazement there were large herds of Spotted Deer grazing on the opposite bank.
Sunset was superb, with birds flying into sunset colours, and golden reflections in the water. Imagine my delight when, on our last day there, the guide saw a sudden change in the deers' behaviour - from grazing quietly they were intently staring at one spot, heads up, tails erect, and our guide said there must be a Tiger there ... a moment later I saw movement in the long grass and there it was, stalking through the long grass!
I would have been happy if this had been my only sighting, but at Bandavgarh with its central high mountain topped with distant temple, we were lucky to have three more, each closer than the last. Watching a huge tigress lazing next to a lake, reflection and all, was breathtaking. She glanced across at the observers, then rose to drink from the lake edge, circled around and flopped down again, cleaning herself, licking her giant paws and rubbing her face clean.
How great it was to have unrushed time to sit and watch incredible scenes like this unfold. Sometimes, on trips, we forget to slow down. Often stopping and waiting creates opportunities that no-one else gets to see. The ability to spend time at one spot is vital in this kind of trip, and hugely appreciated as it creates magic and unforgettable moments.