As I usually say about holidays, it wouldn't be the same without a bit of a cock up along the way, would it? And when it comes to cock ups on Indian trains, I could write a book!
On boarding our train at Agra, it turned out that our Indian fixer, Ranno "The Big Cat" Sikarwar (proprietor of the Hotel Sunbird in Bharatpur, plug, plug) got us at the wrong end of the sleeper carriages. Which meant that at the next station, in Gwalior, we all had to leg it, 14 people and luggage, to the other end of the sleeper carriages. Oh, and we had four minutes to do it! Somehow we managed it, but it took at least one pull of the emergency cord in order for the train to stop long enough!
Being the gentleman that I am, I also gave my first class bunk away and spent the journey in second class. Which, thanks to the company (they know who they are), was most enjoyable. We also had all the smuggled booze with us, ha ha. Did I really get through a litre of rum? I hardly ever drink the stuff, honest guv! It certainly helped for getting a bit of sleep, but I don't believe I snored.
Monday 16th February.
Feeling rather wobbly on the platform at Jabalpur station (too drunk to be hung over yet!), some breakfast in a nearby hotel, we then set off on the three hour drive to Krishna Jungle Resort, near Kanha National Park. Incidentally, there is another resort here called "Tigerwoods". I'd like to think it has a golf course.
Check in, then lunch, then off on our first jeep safari at Kanha. I wasn't really on the best of form at this point, the rum had taken it's toll.
Nevertheless, it was a rather successful first safari, which included first sightings of Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Gaur (Indian Bison) and Baloo! (mother and cub Sloth Bear!). Others in our group also saw Dhole (Indian Wild Dog).
Bird highlights for me were 4 Lesser Adjutant Storks, White-Rumped Vulture, Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo, White-Bellied Drongo and Brown Fish Owl. The reader will notice that over the next few days, bird photos are rather limited. Digiscoping is impossible in the jeeps, this is where you really need a proper camera. So no photos of birds, well, apart from these:
Two very cute Collared Scops Owls in their regular roost within the Krishna Jungle Resort. Aaaahhhhh.
Tuesday 17th February.
The early starts keep getting earlier on these jeep safaris! Bird sightings to begin with included Red Junglefowl, Orange-Headed Ground Thrush, Brown Shrike and Streak-Throated Woodpecker. Over to the park gate for breakfast, loo, and news of a Tiger show.
The mahouts on their Elephants (if you want a dangerous job, be a mahout!) had found a female Tiger this morning, so off we went. Our Elephant got closer and closer to the Tiger, clearing the bushes for a better view. At one point it forced the Tiger to jump forward, roar and show her teeth! That made the Elephant jump, and for me to hang on (don't drop the camera!). A little obscured but she is there:
The afternoon safari produced another of my favourite birds of the trip, but not quite the best, Golden-Fronted Leafbird. Another Sloth Bear was also seen.
Wednesday 18th February.
This turned out to be probably the most memorable day of the trip, for wildlife anyway. I don't think anything can beat the experience of an Indian train.
There was another Tiger show this morning, which was the male from the photo I put on at the start of this tale. Following the Tiger was by far the best birding I had at Kanha. Which included Black-Hooded and Golden Orioles, Scarlet Minivet, Large Cuckooshrike and Stork-Billed Kingfisher (which astounded the jeep guide, as this is a Kanha mega!).
We then reached a patch of bamboo that was absolutely crawling with birds. Mainly a flock of Pale-Billed Flowerpeckers, but also Tickell's Blue Flycatcher and Asian Paradise Flycatcher. I then caught another bird in the binoculars, unlike anything I've seen before. Absolutely beautiful but not a clue what it was. Mad flicking through the field guide, I eventually worked out what it was. Black-Naped Monarch. What a stunning bird, and my favourite of the whole trip.
If I thought I'd had a good morning, that was nothing compared to other members of our group. One of our jeeps followed a Tiger (or the Tiger followed the jeep more like!) walking along the tracks for half an hour! Here's the proof:
And if that wasn't enough, a group of Indian tourists showed us a photo of an animal they saw during the morning. It turned out to be a Mouse Deer. It turns out that this is the first ever record of Mouse Deer at Kanha!
After all that excitement perhaps it was inevitable that the safaris in the afternoon, and the following morning were much quieter. Not much to add bird-wise, apart from Indian Vulture, White-Naped Woodpecker and Crested Treeswift.
Another Tiger and Dhole were spotted on the last morning safari, but all had gone by the time we were ready to look for them. Perhaps this was a sign that it was time to move on. Lunch at Krishna resort, then time to check out and set off on a four hour drive to Mowgli's Den resort, adjacent to Pench National Park.
Friday 20th February.
Pench was as far south as we were going, and the difference in temperature was noticeable. Or maybe it was just a hot day? Whatever the reason, it was the one day in the trip where the heat was a bit too much for me.
Pench National Park was where last year's David Attenborough "Spy in the Jungle" series was filmed. The forest is less dense than at Kanha, but that will also mean that there is less shade (for both tourists and big cats).
During the morning and afternoon safaris here, no Tigers were seen. We did manage a Golden Jackal in the afternoon though. Bird highlights during the day here included a magnificent Malabar Pied Hornbill, Brown-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Striated Heron, Ultramarine Flycatcher and Siberian Rubythroat. Oh, and Great Tit, they all count!
Saturday 21st February.
A 4am start? You call this a holiday!!!!!! Unfortunately it had to be done for a two-hour drive to Nagpur, then a morning flight back to Delhi. This would then allow for a free afternoon of either sight-seeing and shopping in Delhi, or birding at Sultanpur Jeel. Guess which option I chose?
Of course I went to Sultanpur. I've been there before and it's a great little spot, like a miniature Bharatpur. This is also where the Sarus Crane photo was taken, much better views of them here than at Bharatpur would you believe.
We did manage three more, and final, additions to the bird list. Which were Imperial Eagle, Wigeon and Mallard! It's quite hard to believe, but Mallard are rather scarce in India.
And with that, an excellent meal at our hotel in Delhi, washed down with a few bottles of Kingfisher lager ended a wonderful 12-day trip. Many thanks to everyone in the group for being such good company. Eventually I'll upload more of my photos onto Flickr and put a link to them in a future blog entry.
But if anyone's interested in going to India (I know I am for a third time!), then get in touch with Jo!