Memorable outing in Dudhwa - Apr'18

For close to a year now, I have been touring with Vihang Travels. It has always been a wonderful experience so far to be in the august company of Yuwaraj, Makarand & other Vihang regulars

This time, they had selected an off-beat location in Uttar Pradesh nearing the Nepal border. They had made contact with a known name in that area and we hoped to have good time there

As usual a new WhatsApp group was created for all 8 participants (myself, Deepa, Bhaskar Athawale, Nainesh Amin, Amish Parekh, Avinash Mishra and off-course Makarand, Yuwaraj). The discussion lingered on whether we should expect tiger sighting on the tour or go without any expectation. Even on earlier tours I have been going with the expectation of enjoying the jungle (good birding is an additional bonus). Did not think much about tiger but obviously when you go for such safaris, somewhere down in your thoughts you do hope to see the real WILD life.

This time I had decided to carry the zoom lens for wild/birding and Macro lens just in case we see something interesting. Nikon point-n-shoot as well as the Binoculars were with Deepa. Packing was relatively simpler now with some experience of such trips.
{At the end of this blog have given some more details about the trip logistics}

28-Apr

Day started really early, we had to catch 6am fight, so 2:30 wake-up alarm and by 3:30am we were out of house. (OLA guys did give initial scare when the driver didn’t pick-up call even after calling him 3 times, quick cancellation followed and fortunately, the 2nd driver did answer the call)

Check-in and security check was smooth, and the flights were on time too. Mum-Delhi and then same flight continued till Lucknow.

At Lucknow airport, we met our local tour operator Siddharth Singh and from then he actually took control over things. We had 2 jeep-type vehicles at our disposal. Bags were packed in the overhead carrier and we quickly started for Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary. On the way we got water bottles and some snacks from the town. That’s where Makarand spotted an interesting Mataka-Lassi. All of us devoured it with gusto.

Since we were not sure about the travel distance and time, there wasn’t any plan for evening safari, which meant we could travel at leisure. Took relaxed breaks for lunch and tea in addition to the Lassi one.

It was about 5pm when we reached the Kishanpur Homestay. The plan was to have one night stay there and then move to Dudhwa next evening. Kishanpur sanctuary is part of the larger Dudhwa reserve but the chances of tiger sighting were apparently higher here.

We checked-in to the room and came out quickly for tea. Over snacks, we discussed about the location and safari plans for next day. Siddharth wanted to know our expectations as well as priorities (as in, should we give preference to tiger over elephant, or sloth-bear over rhino, etc.).

After snacks, we had a quick stroll outside the guest-house. The jungle was anyway very close from there and we did discuss the prospect of finding any snakes in the night trail. This area apparently is a natural habitat for the “banded krait”, a highly venomous snake.

We watched the setting Sun, heard some langur calls (implied that some predator was in the vicinity) and returned back to the rooms. Deepa did manage to see an Indian Roller bird at a distance, so birding officially began there itself.

Dinner was at 9, a simple local food and we quickly decided to go for a night trail. With all the talk about venomous snakes, Deepa was very skeptical about it but then she gathered all the courage and tagged along. Siddharth initially was reluctant to allow this as the predators here were known to prowl in nearby areas, but he didn’t even want to disappoint his clients. We settled for going only for about half a km from the gates, and the trail was immediately fruitful

Amish quickly spotted 2 shining eyes in a tree just outside the compound. On further inspection we realized it was a palm civet. What luck! And it even stayed put on the tree for next few minutes allowing us to take some record shots. (Let me digress from topic and state here that a “record” shot meagerly means a proof that we had seen it, this normally is a poor quality photo. Non photographers might wrongly interpret this as something to Cherish, a record. And hence the clarification.. I myself had that misconception when I got into bird photography).

On the trail we also managed to find a 2-tailed spider, some pairs of “six spotted ground bugs”, few scorpions peeping out of their dens, and the assassin bug

  Palm Civet (Cat)  

  2 Tailed Spider  

  Assassin Bug  

  Six spotted Ground Bugs Pair  

With all the days travel fatigue, we slept like logs till Makarand gave his characteristic wake-up call.

29-APRIL

Wake-up call was at 4:30 and by 5:40am, we had our tea and were ready to embark on our first safari. We split the group into 4 each, plus the driver and guide. The Open Gypsys quickly took us to the entry gates and before 6 we were already inside the Kishanpur jungle

The experienced set of Yuwaraj, Amish, Bhaskar and Nainesh went with Siddharth in the other gypsy and they wished us a beginners luck (since this was a first tiger safari for me and Deepa). Their wishes brought fruits immediately. Within 10 minutes, we spotted a young tigress (known as the Bel-danda tigress) right on the road. Our guide Altaf, spotted it at some distance and immediately alerted us to get ready. Quick record shots from the distance and we speedily approached the tigress. When we were about 50 odd feet, we realized that the tigress was actually walking towards us. What Grace! What style! We were just mesmerized by the gait. Within a minute we were joined by another gypsy and there were incessant camera clicks that could be heard for next few minutes. Altaf was well aware of the movement of the tigress and he knew that she was actually walking towards a small water puddle that we had crossed while approaching the tiger. He asked the driver to slowly reverse our gypsy and the tigress actually followed us closely till she reached the water source. Then she went off-road and entered into the ditch for water. While she was having her mouthful, 2 more Gypsys came from the opposite side. Luckily they could interpret our wild gestures correctly and stopped well before the puddle so as not to disturb the beast (or is it beauty?). Those 5 minutes (while she was drinking water out of our sight) felt like eternity but she emerged out majestically soon

Cameras were at work once again. Light was low, so increased the ISO, but beyond that there was no time to check settings. Slowly she walked till the road, stayed put there for few minutes and swiftly walked away to the other side of the jungle and went out of sight. She was walking towards the core portion of the jungle which is out-of-reach for the tourist vehicles. So that was the end of show for us. But what a treat it was, lasted for about 25 minutes in all.

We came out of that spell in next 10 minutes and started back on the safari (but with the lingering thought, “why are we even continuing now”). We could quickly see a shikra and few spotted deer. By 7 o’clock, we were near a big water body and a watch tower, we could get down on foot there. At the far end of the lake, Altaf spotted some movement that he suspected to be another tiger. It was really too far and we couldn’t see anything at all. But on his insistence, I pointed my camera in that direction and took a few guess shots. It turned out to be gold. We were actually looking at a big male tiger walking away from water (the chance photo came out really well as it showed the habitat perfectly along-with the tiger and the watchful swamp-deer). On seeing the photo in camera-screen, Altaf immediately rushed us into the gypsy and asked the driver to speed away quickly towards the other side of lake. On the way, we also alerted our other gypsy to head in that direction.

We patiently waited at the possible openings at the other side but couldn’t have any glimpse of the tiger. It was worth attempting it anyway as the male tigers there seem to prefer movement only in the night and were not photographed that frequently. Spending some 45 minutes in that chase and we were back at the watch tower near the lake. This is where we were to have our breakfast as well. But there was enough time to snap a few birds in the water body. Sighted the black-necked and woolly-necked storks there and also the swamp deer (बाराशिंगा in Marathi). We also went onto the watch tower and could catch a lovely pair of rose-ringed parakeets at eye level, we could also see their offspring peeping out of their nest.

  Black-necked Stork  

  Swamp Deer  

  Pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets  

  Juvenile in nest  

By that time our breakfast was arranged. The usual parathas tasted sweeter after the eventful morning. We did catch a few macro photos like butterflies, dragonflies and spiders

  Picture-wing Dragonfly  

  Cabbage-white  

Remainder of the morning safari did give us good images of spotted deer, and some storks on the water body but everything was pale in comparison to the show-stopper of morning. Our other gypsy managed to see one more tigress that was known to be relaxing near the water body during afternoons regularly. So they waited patiently at the approximate spot till 10:30 and did get to see the tigress walking from the jungle and entering into the thick bushes near the lake. One of her ear was cut-off in some earlier skirmish with another tiger, that’s how apparently she got the name “kankati” (कनकटी).

We returned back to the rooms by 11am. Rather than relaxing, we thought of checking the guest-house premises. There were good number of butterflies around; plus the spotted owlet gave us some nice poses.

  Spotted Owlet  

  Spotted Owlet  

After spending about an hour, we decided to take some rest but that wasn’t to happen. There was no electricity from 12noon and within a few minutes, the generator was out of diesel. Some of us still managed to remain in the room and take some rest but I just couldn’t do that, and preferred to roam outside under the tree shades. Even took out the macro lens and clicked some flowers there.

Our evening safari was at 3 and we were ready by 2:45 (lunch was served at 1:30). The plan was simple, the kankati tigress was known to come out of her hiding around 5pm so our gypsy was to wait there from 4:30 itself as we had not seen it in the morning. We had time till then, our safari did give us some good birding opportunities. We could see the Indian Roller, Changeable Hawk Eagle and a white bellied drongo among others

  Changeable(Crested) Hawk Eagle  

  Indian Roller  

By about 4:30, we stationed ourselves near the lake. The wait was long, very soon the sky suddenly became cloudy. It definitely looked like it will rain soon; it did not happen then but when it happened, we were really in bad shape. More about that, little later

Our long wait wasn’t entirely unfruitful. Within first 15 minutes, we could sight pheasant tailed jacana (lifer for me), could also see some hornbills flying around. It was getting little darker but we could witness a lot of bee-eater activity. Many males were probably trying to woo the female by giving her generous gifts of tasty dragon-flies

  Pheasant tailed Jacana  

  Bee eaters  

There was no sign of kankati anywhere, we waited till 5:45 but nothing, finally we moved on. On the way back, we could see the peacock and few more deer. The sunset as usual was very beautiful and the jungle in that light was looking fabulous. Just before moving out, there were a few calls from swamp-deer that aroused our attention, we waited patiently for 10 more minutes but then the calls died out slowly. It was getting dark and we had to also travel to Dudhwa guest house later, so we closed the safari there.

Rushed back to rooms and quickly moved the packed bags (we had already packed before leaving for the afternoon safari). We realized that for this 30odd km travel, we had to use the same open gypsy vehicles. That seemed like a novelty to start with. Bags were packed and we 8 (plus 4 other including drivers) managed to hop into the 2 gypsys. By the time we started it was already about 8pm.

It was completely dark outside and the evening clouds had now given way to thunder-clouds and lightning. The ride was truly an experience, the speeding open gypsy, the lightning, gusty winds and to match all that Siddharth was speeding like a race car. Luckily the roads were good. In between, we had to make a few stops for diesel, water-bottles, etc. and that delayed our final destination by 10-15 minutes

By the time we were nearing the Dudhwa area, we could experience some rain drops. We all prayed for delaying the rains as all our bags, including camera were in the open gypsys and even a moderate rain could have been a problem for us. Luckily the rain was not heavy so far. When we saw the boards of our guest house (some 1-2 kms before the gate), we thought we have made it but the real thing was yet to come. Before we could understand what was happening, we were bombarded by small stones hitting our head/face. Took us few seconds to realize that we were facing the hailstorm. Thankfully we were just entering the guest house gates by then, within 2 minutes we entered one of the guest-house rooms. We just dumped our luggage quickly inside (without checking whether those rooms were allotted to us or someone else). Our other gypsy driver was totally confused as he did not know what to do after reaching the gate and there was no one to ask. But they saw us and quickly followed. Most of the luggage was actually in their gypsy. It was quickly unloaded by all of us collectively but those few minutes were a lifetime experience.

Had the hailstorm started even 5 minutes earlier, we were doomed because on that road, there was no shelter for us to wait and open gypsy just do not provide any protection. But frankly, we all enjoyed that JoyRide.

Dinner was at 9:30 and this jungle guest-house only served vegetarian food. But the quality was decent. Our morning safari was at 6am, so the wake-up call was scheduled for 5am.

In all the hailstorm related melee, I seemed to have misplaced my spare camera battery. I vaguely remembered that I moved it out of the outside pocket of my waist-pouch but could not remember where I kept it. Left to a single battery, I will have to be careful tomorrow. For the next entire day, I kept thinking about this untimely miss, but couldn’t do anything about it!!

30-APR
We were ready for the safari by 5:45am. The safari gate was within the guest-house compound itself so there was no travel time to reach there. At sharp 6, we entered inside.

The first impression of the jungle was just too good. Amazing greenery all around, nice and tall trees lined up the sky on both sides. There were patches of lush green grasslands in-between. I don’t think the beauty can be described in words, it has to be experienced.

Maybe it was the impact of yesterday’s rain, but it was chilling cold that morning and the blowing winds were making it harsher.
Within few minutes we could see the Emerald Dove. The colors were really cool though we could not take any meaningful pictures.

If we were to watch rhinos, the only option available was to take the elephant ride, so we quickly moved to that area but we were little late. Apparently there was some VIP visitors for whom 2 elephants were reserved and the other 2 were already booked. Another option was to come back after an hour and take a chance but we decided to skip that and instead roam in the beautiful jungle looking for other inhabitants of the landscape.

On our way, we passed through a river that was flowing quietly and could see a crocodile basking in the morning sun. Could also see white-throated kingfishers on the shore.

  Indian Peafowl  

  White-throated Kingfisher  

Many more birds and trees later, at about 8am we saw glimpse of a tusker roaming alone in the elephant grass. Our guide Altaf was well versed with the pachyderms (his father is a mahavat handling a big elephant in the same jungle). We stopped our gypsy and waited for it to come out in the open. Little later it did make some movements and apparently it was trying to gauge our responses. If we were not alert enough, he might even had charged at us (that was Altaf’s experience speaking). Very soon there was another gypsy on the road and both following the movements of the tusker. After about 10 minutes, the elephant actually dashed towards the road (making some excitement in both gypsys) but swiftly went in between both the gypsys and dashed inside the other side of the jungle (which was thick compared to the grasslands where it was operating all this while)


All this action was happening near a watch tower which was also supposed to be our breakfast joint, our packed breakfast was to be brought over there. But before that, we spotted a grey-headed fish eagle near-by. It appeared to have made a fresh kill of an Eel. The eagle was tearing into the flesh and the blood could be seen on its beak even from that distance.

But in 2-3 minutes, it decided to fly away (with the Eel) from that spot (unlikely to be disturbed by us as we were really far from it and also at a height, though it obviously would have seen us). Few of us decided to follow the eagle little further while others got busy with the breakfast. Our tracking was immediately fruitful as we could spot the Eagle perched on a tree at a height of about 15 feet allowing us to take some more snaps. It changed the position 2-3 times within that area and we could take more photos.


Within 20 minutes, we joined others for breakfast. It’s fun having parathas in that open jungle with loads of wild animals around (though not visible openly).

The remaining safari gave us good sighting of the elusive Asian Paradise Flycatchers, they were in really good numbers but were very erratic in their flight, so taking photos was not possible. But we did get to photograph the ‘Racket Tailed Drongo’. I had managed to see it in 2 earlier trips but could never take photo. So this was also a lifer.

  Racket Tailed Drongo  

  Asian Paradise Flycatcher  

By 10:30 we were back in the guest-house. The lunch was at 1:30, so there was time to roam within the campus. My lone battery was still going strong so I quickly changed the camera lens to Macro and went out of the room. With Yuwaraj around, there can be dearth of good macro objects and this was middle of jungle, so had to find things of interest. Even before going for other things, we had spotted a bunch of butterflies mud-puddling near the safari entrance. Since the safari gate was still open for vehicles coming in, we decided to visit that area in the end.
We could quickly find nice specimens, some of which can be seen here:

  Common Mormon  

  Langur watching us closely  

  Fruit Mantis  

  Ladybug  

This went on till lunch time. During this time, we also managed to find the souvenir shop of the sanctuary but that was closed. On further enquiry, we came to know that it was closed now as the tender for that wasn’t floated recently and the earlier vendor had abandoned it.

After lunch I moved onto the mud-puddling butterflies. Approached them very cautiously (in the process mudding my elbows as well as knees) and did manage a few close shots. There were variety of butterflies all together. Could also see the common-map butterfly (which is not so commonly seen).

  Mud-puddling  

  Common Map  

Evening safari started by 3pm as planned, so far we had seen so much of bio-diversity that I had no further expectations from this safari and was prepared for a complete dry spell.

Shortly in the safari Altaf alerted us about a wild elephant group that was hidden behind the grass, this was very close to where we had spotted the solitary Tusker in the morning. The group was very quiet and for a few minutes we could not see it at all. We waited patiently for 30 odd minutes on the watch tower after which the group made an appearance far away on the horizon. It was a group of about 20odd elephant including 5-6 baby elephants of different height. Altaf hinted us that the group is likely to move to the far side of the water body and we can possibly observe it from a different watch tower. We immediately went there, that watch tower was little shaky but we risked it and got some more photos of the herd.

After the elephant herd, Altaf also spotted a sloth-bear at some distance. We waited a moment there. Took a record shot and then tried to go near it, but the bear had obviously seen us and it quickly darted into the jungle.

We did try to search that area through gypsy, we even alerted our other gypsy about it but we couldn’t get to see it again. While searching for the bear, I spotted a doglike thing and joked about it being a wild dog. But the moment Makarand saw it, he said it is a Jackal. Till then my camera was inactive but the moment I heard it’s a jackal, immediately the camera was raised and I took a record shot. A sudden and lucky find that was.

  Jackal  

  Black spot in center (sloth bear)  

And our day wasn’t over yet. We did spot a woodpecker, Malabar Pied Hornbill, White-rumped Shama, Yellow footed green pigeon (which is the state bird of Maharashtra), the crested serpent eagle and the chestnut headed bee-eater.

  Woodpecker  

  White-rumped Shama  

  Crested Serpent Eagle  

  Yellow footed green pigeon  

But that was not all, as a parting gift the Dudhwa jungle offered us a lovely specimen of dancing Indian Peafowl with it’s full plumage.

  Indian Peafowl  

With that we ended the safari on a very happy note. It was really a fantastic experience of the jungle for last 2 days.
In the night we also watched a jackal right there inside the guest-house premises when it jumped over a small internal compound wall

1-MAY

Today was going to be another day of long travel (and hence boring). Plan was to get up by 6, the vehicles would be ready there and by 7 we will move on for Lucknow, have breakfast on the way. If possible make a stopover in Lucknow city for some local sweets.

But there was still a twist in the tale. We were all ready by 6:45 but there was no sign of the vehicles. They had a punctured tyre somewhere on the road and reached only after 7:30. Which meant we had lost some precious time as we had to reach Airport by 1pm.

But the journey then was smooth and we did manage to reach Airport by 12:45 with just 1 quick break for tea.

By the way, just when we were about to get into the vehicle, I remembered about my motion sickness medicine. I opened the inner compartment of my waist-pouch for the tablet and there it was!! The lost battery for which I was cursing myself the whole day, was sitting there neatly. Then I remembered that I had kept it in the innermost compartment so as to protect it from the rain. All along when I was searching for it, it was there on me through the day!!

Flights were on time but by the time I reached home it was about 11pm.

Overall the trip was a grand success although 2 days out of 4 were spent only in traveling. The lush green Tarai jungle had its own charm and I would definitely like to spend more time there. With the hope of making another trip to Dudhwa soon, closing this travelogue here.

Last but not the least, thanks to the the wonderful company that we had during this period. All our fellow travelers made it really special and would definitely be going with them again-n-again (hope they have the same feeling too)

  • LOGISTIC DETAILS:
  • Best way to access Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is to reach via Lucknow
    • Lucknow Airport is about 240kms from Dudhwa
      • The road condition in general is very good except some places where some work is on-going and when it passes through crowded towns/villages in between
      • Roads are more or less flat all through (no hills/ghats)
      • Typically one would take about 4.5 hours to cover the distance
      • And with breaks it might take little more than that
    • Kishanpur sanctuary is part of the overall Dudhwa Reserve but is a separate area and it has different safari entrance as well
      • As per my knowledge, it is smaller jungle than main Dudhwa forest and the likelihood of finding a tiger here seems to be more
      • It also has a good water body that seem to be frequented by the local as well as migratory birds during season
    • The Dudhwa Forest Guest-house is very convenient place from safari point of view though there could be some mismanagement issues like frequent power-cut (sometimes the generator backup doesn’t work), non-availability of water in some rooms, etc.