India is an incredible country – a vibrant, bustling place that overwhelms the senses. There’s nothing that quite prepares you for the noise, dust and heat that assaults you upon arrival and I came back from this trip more worn down than when I had departed. Having said that, India is a great place for photography. It may be one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but in terms of wildlife diversity it is also one of the richest.
Kanha National Park is located in the Satpura Hills of Madhya Pradesh. Verdant Sal forest covers most of the park, interspersed by grassy meadows and rocky ridges. This is the area where Rudyard Kipling gained inspiration for his novel “The Jungle Book”. It’s easy to see how such a beautiful environment could have inspired Kipling.
The aim of my trip was to photograph a broad selection of Kanha’s wildlife, but at the top of my wish list (like many other photographers) was the Bengal Tiger. It was a difficult prospect to try and photograph these magnificent cats within the limited time I had available, however I was lucky enough to see seven different cats whilst I was there. Photographing them was extremely difficult – often I just caught a fleeting glimpse of orange and black stripes melting into the jungle, or a tail flicking out of the long grass. In the end I managed to get a good photo of this tigress lying on the forest floor. She had three sub-adult cubs, which were resting out of sight.
Tigers are the top predators in their ecosystem, and have been a prominent symbol in Indian civilisation for centuries. It is a sad fact that tiger numbers have fallen by about 95% in the past 100 years and they only occupy 7% of their former range. I feel privileged to have seen this magnificent animal in the wild but I am greatly saddened by its current demise.
The birdlife in Kanha was amazing – the park hosts over 200 resident and migratory species. The 600mm lens and cropped-frame Canon 1D MK IV allowed me to get some great images of bee-eaters, owls and a number of other feathery creatures. Peacocks are a common sight in the forest, but you can never tire of their beautiful feathers and extravagant display.
Perhaps my favourite creatures to watch and photograph in Kanha were the langur monkeys. These playful primates provided hours of entertainment and fantastic opportunities for photographs. They live in troops that consist of around 20 or 30 monkeys, led by dominant males. They can often be a good indicator of nearby tigers or leopards, because they give a distinctive alarm call if a cat is spotted.
My award for “least favourite animal” undoubtedly goes to the Giant Honey Bee. Imagine your average honey bee and then double the size. Then imagine having two of these incredibly huge, notoriously aggressive beasts stinging the inside of your ear canal… for ten minutes… that’s what I experienced… and that’s why I don’t like them. To this day I still don’t understand why they launched an airborne assault on me when I was minding my own business! I certainly won’t be going remotely near a colony of giant honey bees anytime soon! However, I do appreciate the spectacular nests that they build on the underside of tree branches.
After recovering from the bee incident (which included a visit to a local hospital) I was back up and photographing the spectacular animals around me. This included soft-ground barasinghas and an Indian leopard. Leopards are difficult to spot in India, due to their timid behaviour and highly effective camouflage.
Overall, I found my trip to Kanha extremely rewarding. It is a beautiful wilderness with a profusion of wildlife – a small haven in a country that is fast changing.