bengal tiger in a grassy gully looking at camera

Tiger Safari in Bandhavgarh 2023

I’ve just got back from a great wildlife photography trip in Bandhavgarh, India, to see the tigers and am now sitting indoors with a jumper on adjusting to the somewhat colder temperatures of the UK! My cats are also happy that I’m back as they clearly didn’t want me to go.

It’s a fair old trek to get to the place starting with the journey to Heathrow airport, 9+ hour flight to Delhi then almost a 6 hour layover for the internal 1.5hr flight to Jalbapur airport followed by a 3.5 hour transfer to the hotel with all the joys of the Indian roads. Repeat in reverse with the layover waiting for the international flight on the way back.  

I last visited in 2019 when it was very hot and dry (about 45oC) but this time the weather was a bit different with temperatures only around 30oC and it rained quite heavily several times (extremely unusual). Whilst this made the heat bearable it did make it much harder to find the tigers as they weren’t so keen on visiting the waterholes. This resulted in an awful lot more driving around looking for them, although on the plus side it wasn’t so dusty after the rain and it was easier to see the tiger tracks in the wet sand!

Sometimes this is all we saw

This was a group trip with Exodus (more about them in another post) led by Paul Goldstein staying in the Nature Heritage Resort hotel.

This is a reasonably nice little place with variable quality rooms (some have been refurbished) of a decent size all with fridges, air conditioning (although it’s a bit noisy) and an overhead fan. They also have TV’s but I never turned it on so no idea what’s available on it! There are tea and coffee making facilities and you get a small bottle of water per person per day for free but have to pay for all other water and drinks (not expensive). There is a large walk in shower, which can take some time for the hot water to appear only to strip your skin off. Rooms are cleaned every day. Oh and yes, they also have a lovely little silver tabby cat roaming the grounds 😊

Hotel at night

The food is a basic buffet style but very nice (so long as you like curry) and they cater for vegetarians very well. Although it’s curry most of it isn’t very spicy so your teeth won’t melt. They have Wi-Fi but it can be rather temperamental to say the least. There is also a decent pool you can use to unwind after hours in the jeeps.

The hotel does take credit cards but they really don’t seem to like doing so and will try to make you pay cash. Do not pay in pounds, always pay in rupees.

It’s a tough old trip with very early morning wakeup calls (04:30) and some long days. Typically you are out on the jeeps by around 05:00 and back at 11:30 then out again around 15:00 until 18:30-19:00. It is possible to get some limited all day tickets (we had two days of this) that allows you into the park a bit earlier and to stay in all day until a bit later and go into any zone. These are very very long days! 

The jeeps used are the Suzuki Maruti Gypsy jeeps. The two front seats are for the driver and the park mandated ranger. Then there are two rows of two seats for photographers. They are quite cramped with limited leg room or storage and if you’re in the back row you will get a lot of ‘air’ going over the bumps! 

This was my first trip using the new Nikon Z9 and it worked pretty well. I had spent a bit of time learning how the focusing system worked and configuring the various customisable buttons to take advantage off it. Overall it was a success and focused in most cases with failures usually down to me pressing the wrong button in a panic 😀 I tended to stick with 10 frames per second rather than the max of 20 just to reduce the sheer volume of pictures needed to be reviewed and culled. To be honest it was more than enough for this sort of trip.

Long lenses were the order of the day and I hired the Z 400mm f2.8 from Lenses for Hire. It’s an amazing bit of kit (as it should be for the bloody price!) and the built in 1.4x Teleconverter is really useful. I also had a 2x TC as well and amazingly when used with the internal TC the image quality was still surprisingly good to give a focal length of 1120mm. Unsurprisingly hand holding this is not very easy so a monopod is the ideal solution, especially as the jeeps are low on space.

We had several good sightings of tigers, including a really good one where everything came together. The light was great (just before sunset), the tiger walked to the ideal spot, faced the right way with no branches or grass in the way and, most importantly of all, we were in the right place at the right time! Made it worth the sitting in the heat for several hours.

Tiger head on stare

Another highlight was getting to see two new species, a Jungle Cat and a Sloth Bear! I’ve no idea how the ranger saw the Jungle Cat the first time as it was literally just the rear end hidden in a bush. It started to move and had about 2 seconds to get the camera pointing in the right direction and take a couple of pictures before it was gone. Not an ideal picture but I was happy to have even seen it 😊

Jungle Cat

Then a couple of days later we had a second sighting that was amazing as we had about 10 minutes with it out in the open walking on granite, logs, in the grass etc.

This highlighted the potential benefit of the all day ticket as it was around lunchtime and there were no jeeps other than our own. During normal hours if something interesting is found the reality is that it can be utter chaos with to many jeeps on small roads all fighting for position.

The Sloth Bear was equally lucky as it was spotted in the dense jungle and then ambled across the road in front of us. This was on the last day so a nice way to finish the trip.

Sloth Bear

A few tips for anyone going on a trip like this:

  • Take a dust cover for your camera/lens. It can get incredibly dusty when dry and it gets everywhere
  • The jeeps have limited space so multiple photographers, big lenses and camera bags don’t work. Take a small rucksack for backup body, lenses and other bits
  • An insulated water bottle is useful to keep your drink cold during the heat of the day
  • A monopod is essential for using a long lens in the jeep as you could be holding it for a long time
  • Take Imodium instants. Enough said 😄
  • The hotel hand out blankets before you go on the jeep. Take one as the jeep seats get sticky in the heat
  • Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Malaria is low risk but check before leaving
  • The internal flights have a weight limit of 15Kg hold luggage and 7Kg hand luggage. They do weigh the hold luggage and you might have to pay extra. They never bothered looking at the hand luggage (camera bag) but try not to make it look obvious its heavy!
  • When going through security at Delhi airport (domestic and international) be ready to remove everything from your camera bag. They wanted lenses, cameras, leads, batteries etc in the trays. If you don’t your bag will be pulled and checked in their own sweet slow time.
  • 400mm-600mm lenses seems to be the most used range. I also took a 70-200 plus 2x TC but didn’t take a single picture with it. You are not g going to need a wide angle lens.
  • A bandana or mask is useful to cover your mouth and nose when driving on the dusty roads
  • Power adaptor needs to be a Type D socket
  • You have to tip the drivers and ranger. Try and get small denominations when changing money. If there are several of you in the vehicle it’s easier to rotate the tipping and then you don’t need as many small notes.
  • Be prepared to accept the fact that it can get very chaotic on a sighting with many jeeps all getting in the way. It can be frustrating.



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