Vam: Upupa Epops!
Vam: Upupa Epops!
Saru: What the hell?
Vam: Upupa Epops is the scientific name of the bird Hoopoe. Isn’t it funny - Up-upa Epops!
Saru: Show off!! Now you know scientific names too?
Vam: Just this one. Madhavi and Ram kept saying it so many times.
On this trip, I met a lot on interesting people. There was Madhavi, the valedictorian of Adesh’s revision class. She had a great attitude. She said “I love being outdoors. If I see some birds and animals, great! If not, I love being outdoors”. Madhavi’s husband Ram, also known as Mr. Mr. Raj (inside joke) is a techie turned teacher who has a resident snake in his bathroom! There was Garima who calls herself a bird-Nazi and loves to travel. Her travel itinerary puts mine to shame. Her husband, a non-birder took a vacation within a vacation by excluding himself from the trips. Another couple – Nikhil and Shibani were cool birders. The ever agile Nikhil would spot the bird first, photograph it first AND have the time to show us the location of the bird. Shibani would listen to stories with her famous opening line “What are you saying!!”
Then there was: Harshad, the guy with the bazooka (600mm lens) who works only 175 days a year and devotes the rest of the time to his hobby; Naren, the walking talking encyclopedia of information; Rajesh, the weather man who could make a joke out of anything; Captain Haridas who brought the best homemade peanuts; Jayanti, whose trip reports borderline poetry; Sangha, the silent but brilliant photographer and finally Uma, the bird sweet-talker (more on that in part 3).
As for Adesh and Manoj, it won't be an exaggeration if I say that they are two of the best birding guides. Their enthusiasm for birding is infectious. I am so glad I went with them to Corbett .
We went on my FIRST ever safari in India, the afternoon of March 24. As soon as the jeep entered the grasslands the guide said “Elephants!!” We saw a huge herd going away from us towards the river. We spent some time photographing them, until Uma said “I can’t believe I am taking so many pictures of elephant butts”. Taking the cue, our driver took us to a road where we were able to intercept the elephants. Then the ‘GRAND PARADE’ began. This was my first time seeing an elephant in the wild and I was thrilled. I saw tuskers and elephants and baby elephants of all sizes.
Elephant Herd grazing (They eat 300 - 600 pounds a day!)
While you are enjoying the pictures, here is some of my newly acquired knowledge about elephants. Elephant herds consist of related females - mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts etc. A male enters a herd only for breeding and leaves shortly after. Their leader, called a Matriarch is the oldest and most experienced elephant in the group. She makes all the important decisions for the herd.
This giant came close to our jeep, checked us out, and raised its trunk deeming us harmless.
Elephants getting a mud bath! (Mud acts as a suncreen and protects from insects)
I have some pictures below that show how close we were to the giants. Most of the elephants were oblivious to our presence, but some were suspicious and came close to check us out.
This one comes straight at this jeep...a head on collision waiting to happen. The driver starts the car, ready to reverse.
At the last minute, it turns away. The driver/guide explain that it is very easy to make out when an elephant is angry. It will spread its ears out wide to intimidate its opponents.
An elephant is ready to breed from thirteen years up until they are fifty. The baby is born after an almost 2 year (22 months) pregnancy. Given this, moms are very protective about their calves. The babies we saw were mostly walking under their mom’s body. It was very interesting to watch the mom-child interaction. Once in a while, the baby would fall and the mom would give it a little push to get it back on its feet. It was very funny to see the calves play with their trunks, not quite knowing how to use them.
Mommy and Baby Elephant
Can there BE a cuter photograph??
This one wandered away from its mom just for a minute
I don’t know how long we saw the elephants, but the sun started setting in, so it must have been a while. We stopped at the Ramganga River to look at some waders. At sunset the river turned a darker shade of blue and made for a pretty picture with the mountains in the back ground.
As soon as they finish bathing, elephants give themselves a mud bath to put a protective layer on their skin. They are (pachyderms with sensitive skin:)
For me, the best bird sighting of the evening was to watch the aerial song display of the oriental skylark. This is a tiny sparrow size bird that marks its territory and attracts mated by flying in a spiral at a high speed while fluttering its wings and emitting a high pitch song. If we were to do this, we would be tired in a second while the bird did this routine for at least a minute and then plopped down and sat on a stone. After a few minutes, it started its routine again.
It was 5:50 and we were supposed to be out of the forest gates by 6:00 PM. The driver stepped on the gas and when I say he stepped on it, he did so with his lead foot. Those of us casually standing on the seat of the jeep were jerked back into reality. We sat, holding tight and were taken out of the forest at a lightening speed. When the dust settled, it landed on our bodies and clothes.
After a nice hot shower, we went to the restaurant for dinner. The food at the restaurant was good with great variety. There was the Aloo-Gobi on day 1, Gobi-Aloo on day 2 and the very different Aloo-Mattar on day 3. Not be out done by the dry dish, were the gravy dishes. They ranged from Cholee-paneer to Rajma-panner to...you guessed it Mattar-panner. For those interested in continental food, they alternated between masala noodles and masala macaroni! The staff were extremely nice.
After a good night's sleep, we woke up to the calls of a nightjar. We had our bed tea., got ready quickly and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. They say that your appetite increases when you are in a jungle, but I was still shocked to see the number of omelets the group consumed! And these were double egg omelets.!There was a tub of butter and jam on the table and loaves of bread that kept disappearing at an alarming rate!
We took off on our Safari drive at 6:30. It was cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain. The only thing that was happy at the prospect of rain was this beautiful peacock. It was in full display and was dancing in joy. My first time seeing a dancing peacock, I was ecstatic. It shakes it butt while turning around in a circle - quite a comical display. All through the day we would hear alarm calls from peacocks which sounded like "Bachao.....Bachao"
We saw some Indian rollers, raptors, kingfishers and an owl before it started raining. We stopped in front of a stream and watched the rain for a little bit. Here is a black&White of the scenery.
When the rain stopped, we took off again and that is when I got my super-duper bumper catch of the day - A Crimson Sun Bird. This is bird with a sharp curved beak and has some of the brilliant metallic colors. The bird was feasting on honey and was moving very fast, so it was next to impossible to get a good shot. I ended up with this.
Crimson Sun Bird (Not Bad!)
In the afternoon safari, our first sighting was this huge group of spotted deer - Chital. They were all resting in the forest when they woke up to the sound of our jeep. They reluctantly obliged for this picture and went back to sleep. In our 3 day stay, we saw all four kinds of deer - spotted, barking, hog deer and sambar. One thing I liked about Corbett were the rules. You can only enter the park at 6:00 AM. 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM was silent time when gates are closed. At 6:00 PM sharp, they close the gates again. Visitors are not allowed to get off the jeep at any time and this is strictly enforced.
This was our third safari ride into the park and we had still not seen the tiger. They make such a big hoopla about the tiger that you want to see it, just to tell people you did. We waited at a stream for an hour and then drove to the high bank where we saw ghariyals and crocodiles the day before. We got off the jeep to stretch our legs (allowed at this viewpoint). We had barely been there 10 minutes when JP, the guide starts screaming "Tiger...Tiger...Woh Dekho Tiger".
Panic struck because we were not in the jeep. My eyes darted from one end of the parking lot to the other. Fear on one hand, excitement on the other....I combed the place until I saw where JP was looking. Far away in the woods, a tiger jumped off a cliff and was swimming in the water. Oh What a sight!! The sun was setting, the steep canyon walls were casting a shadow in the Ramganga River and there was a tiger in the middle of it!! It was not a close, heart-pumping sighting, but exciting nevertheless. All of us had binoculars, so we were able to get a good look at the tiger. Manoj had the presence of mind to set up the spotting scope and some were blessed enough to have caught a closer look.
What a glorious end to the day!
For more stories around the world visit "That's my World"