Thursday, April 16, 2009

Corbett National Park - Part 2 - Elephant Fest

Vam: Upupa Epops!

Saru: What?

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

Elephant Crossing!

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 guessed it Mattar-panner. For those interested in continental food, they alternated between masala noodles and masala macaroni! The staff were extremely nice.

Day 2

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"

Dancing Peacock

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!

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  1. Vamse,

    simply awesome. the baby elephant and the herd in the fading light - left me stumped. national geoggraphic magazine would hv been proud with those. wonderful and thanks for sharing. you should organise an exhibition of your wildlife photos soon.

  2. Oh my! Vamsee this is so awesome!

    2 year pregnancy? :D thats so difficult for the mommy elephant (and also for the daddy if they have such a thing but I think they do). I always wonder how the baby elephants walk just under their mammoth mothers.

    The birds are beautiful. Are you using a good telephoto lens? The composition is remarkable too!

    cheers, Priyank

  3. The elephants are really cute. Especially the little ones crossing the road. Its amazing that you got to see such a wide variety of birds and animals. Saru must really be kicking himself for not going with you. Is there a part-3 to this trip? :)

  4. beautiful pictures Vamsee!
    And the baby can't get cuter than that!
    Am planning a vacation to Corbett this summer. Now i know what to expect. :)

  5. great pics..... your narration is just amazing!

  6. Oooh...your elephant photos make me so nostalgic for Kenya. My favorite is the one of the entire herd in the dusk background. Well, atleast you can say you still saw a tiger at Corbett. LOL.

  7. its time i make a visit to the jungles...lovely pics

  8. Terrific terrific pictures vamsee :) Elephants are one of my most favorite animals. I especially liked the cute photograph of little ones crossing the track. I have always wanted to this Corbett tour. Thanks for the fantastic report :) Looking forward for more.

  9. Vamsee, lovely pics and narration! Thanks for transporting me back to Corbett :-) and to that close encounter with the elephant (whew!). The pic is interesting... our guide was the only one standing up while the rest of us were trying to sink into our seats and wishing we were elsewhere! Nikhil - where are the videos??

  10. VJ,
    Thanks. I am going to pretend I didn't see the second part of the comment because I don't believe (even for a second) that my pictures are that good.

    I know....2 year pregnancy and they are ready for breeding in another 2-3 years!! Maybe they have that weird hormone that women have that make them forget about the pain during pregancy/labor.

    Saru and I are both kicking him for not coming:) When Nature India goes on their next good trip, he is all set to come.

    Wandering Soul,
    Make sure you stay at Dhikala. The sightings they are great.

  11. I showed the photos to Vidit and guess what.... he thought it was a baby Tiger because it was so small in the picture. He named the two baby elephants Vidit and Yashas too. We both enjoyed the pictures. Must have been exciting to see them at such close quarters.

  12. Hi Vamsee! Another hectic week after the Easter break...
    Wonderful shots of the Corbett NP. Love the elephant pictures. I've experienced something similar in Kenya many years ago... ;))

    Meanwhile Blogtrotter has finished posting on Brasilia 2008. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

  13. hi vamsee

    cant stop coming back to look at your photos. the 7th and 8th snaps take me back to my sculptures again. if only i had made the posts after yours, i could have used your photos


  14. Vamsee, Babies are sooooo cute and they all seem so happy. Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. You started with 'Upupa Epops' and I was expecting a pic of it. The coincidence is I have posed on 'Upupa Epops' just yesterday. ;)

    Lovely shots of the elephant herd.

  16. Hey Vamsee! Fantastic narration! You are a good storyteller. And the crimson sunbird pic is sooo good! I have a video of the elephant walking towards Garima's jeep and with Manoj's voice saying 'woh charge nahin karega'... Will upload it, and the others, soon. Waiting for part 3 :)

  17. A wonderful selection of your wildlife - thanks for sharing your beautiful part of the world

  18. Now you really make me think if I should take up birding:) So many interesting people you get to know! But what on earth is a Bird-Nazi? Is she killing all of them on her trips?
    On the other hand, I don’t need convincing about elephants – those truly magnificent creatures fascinate me!

  19. How wonderful. Most of us will only dream of being able to see such sites. I especially love the baby and mother elephants.

  20. You were so close to those elephants, even the Mother and baby, what a great experiance. Peacock looks great too putting on his desplay.

  21. Anu/Prashanth/Lakshmi,
    Where are you these days? You don't blog as much and visit my blog as much. Kenya.....would be a dream vacation!
    Yes, it was wonderful watching the mom-baby interaction.
    I can only imagine how you guys felt!
    We (in our jeep) we were not as worried because Manoj kept telling us that it was OK.
    Thanks for the comments. The reason I write these travelogues is to mentally escape back to the destinations whenever I want.

  22. Suganya,
    That is so cute and funny that Vidit named the baby elephants.

    Thanks for visiting. Must have been great to have visited Kenya

    You can come back and visit as often as you want. I am sure nature provided lot of ideas for sculptures.

    I know!! Show the pictures to Sriram and tell him that I went there.

    The picture of Upupa Epops was really could not post

  23. I had heard from the others about your trip reports and now I know what the fuss is about ! Wonderful writing and pics. So when's our next trip together ? :) Madhavi

  24. Guess, you had a blast there. A great place for wildlife photography. And you are true. There cant't be a cuter photograph.

  25. Hi Vamsee,

    Amazing naration, not a 'mechanical' trip report, but an 'emotional' experience. Can feel the beauty & excitement of Corbett again by reading & looking at the pics. Can't wait for part-3, keep writing.

  26. Hi Vamsee,

    All the photos are really amazing. However, could you please confirm if the photo under the description of the oriental skylark is actually of an oriental skylark. The ones I get to see have a tuft on their head and that is one of the important features I use to recognize them. This one also seems a bit lighter in color (especially the breast and underbelly). Sorry for being such a troll but just had a doubt.

    The narration is really mesmerizing. eagerly awaiting part3.

  27. Vam, as always am left mesmerised after reading your blog. You are a 'natural' when it comes to writing.

    And the pix are amazing.I really have have have to do a birding trip.

    The elephant ones were beautiful. Made me revisit my own experiences at Corbett and Nagarhole.

    Keep it going mate and hope we do a trip together soon.

  28. Uma, are being too generous. BTW, you HAVE to post your video somewhere. It will be cool to see it.


    No no...she does not kill birds. She is very strict about birding at least once a week!!

    It was SO cool to watch the babies. Hope you guys make it to this part of the world some day.

  29. exposemaximum,
    Thanks....That picture IS really really cute.

    Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comment. I basically write about my experience and not worry about bird lists.

    Welcome to my blog. The bird you are thinking about is a crested skylark. That has a crest on its head. I have a picture of it on my trip report for Bhimashankar (see my popular posts).

    YES. We should do a trip together and YES....let's go on one of Adesh's birding trips.

  30. Vamsee, Awesome pictures! Hasitha liked the baby elephants road crossing picture and the Crimson sun bird picture.As soon as she saw the pictures she said "oh elephants I like it".

  31. What a fantastic post!! This is so on my list of places to go. It was nice to see a healthy herd of elephants, and those furry little babies are so adorable!! One of my friends did his research on the elephants of Jim Corbett NP - I've always envied him. Your pictures and account make me wish I were there too.

  32. Madhavi,
    We can go on another trip any time you want!!

    It is so sweet that you actually showed the pictures to your daughter!! Am glad she loved them...and YES...we can plan something fun on your next trip to India

    I was very impressed with Corbett. It was very well maintained and the wildlife was incredible!

  33. Beautiful snaps with excellent supportive writing. I think you must have spend waiting game a lot to capture this amazing snaps.

  34. You seem to have had a wonderful time with the elephants, it shows in your narration and your pictures. I m sure we would get to see some Elephants in Bandipur in 10 days time. And if we get lucky maybe we will see a Tiger...much closer.

    On that part on Elephant behavior, there much more to anticipating an Elephant charge than what your guide told you. I m happy for you that it was a mock charge.

    Beautiful post Vamsee.

  35. What a lovely collection! I love all the photographs..The kids are sooooo cute...:) Your trip must be very interesting...Amazing capture!

  36. Rajesh,
    The waiting game was not much. There were times when we would shut off the jeep and sit quietly, but the elephants were sighted as soon as we entered the grasslands.

    I hope we see much more in Bandipur

    Unseen Rajasthan,
    Thanks. It was indeed amazing.

  37. Vamsee,
    I was reading your post when you reached my blog this morning.

    This post is fabulous and your pictures are beautiful. That of the elephants at sunset is stunning. I did not sight a tiger in Corbett when I was there last Feb, but like you did, enjoyed quite a bit of avi-fauna. Thank you for a great post and sharing your experience at Corbett NP.

  38. Wonderful photos and stories - very interesting stuff about elephants - I never knew males were not welcome. Do the males hang out together when not needed?

  39. Celine,
    That is some coincidence!! Thanks for your comment. I was more overwhelmed with the sightings of baby elephants and birds than the overrated tiger!!

    Welcome to my blog. Male elephants do hang out together...i think it is called a bachelor herd or something like that.

  40. Hi Vamsee! Very interesting to read your information about the elephant. Thank you for sharing.

  41. What a brilliant safari you had there! Good info on elephants too. It was nice to see the baby elephants as well.

  42. Beautiful Safari photos.
    Thanks for showing the nature site.

  43. What a wonderful trip you had! How exciting to see a tiger in the wild. And you bird and animal pix were great. Especially the baby elephants. Thanks for sharing your safari!

  44. Lucky you! We didn't spot a tiger during our trip (more than a decade back) even though the guides gave us plenty of drama indicating every now and then that there was a tiger in the vicinity - which may have been true, can't say. :)

  45. India is beautiful. I haven't been there. I like your post.

  46. Wow, what a great trip, and post. The elephants are sooo close, the babies adorable. And a tiger to end the day. Too cool! Awesome captures.

  47. so enjoyed the trek and your elephant photos are awesome each and every one. your photos and commentary were great.
    have a wonderful week.

  48. Hi Vamsee! TGIF and a holiday here!! Look forward to seeing some more... ;))

    Blogtrotter is still turning around Vilnius. Enjoy and have a great long weekend!

  49. The picture of the adorable baby elephants is lovely !!!

  50. świetny blog , zainteresowały mnie Słonie , bardzo ciekawy opis , pozdrawiam :)

  51. Thats very close to the Elephants...And beautiful pic of the Crimson bird...Got some real cool pics of the birds coming to my house as well. will post them soon.

  52. excellent pictures and narration. especially liked the baby elephant crossing :)

  53. Dancing Peacock must be a rare moment you can get to capture. And I bet it must have been a little scary when the elephant headed straight towards the jeep. One good information you've mentioned was about how to make out whether the elephant's angry or not. Should be useful when I travel to one such National Park. It's a pleasure to read your blog and browse through the posts with such awsome pictures. Thanks, for sharing these.

  54. You have shared really awesome post about birds and Corbett National Park India is located in the central foothills of Himalaya between the Himalayan & Shivalik ranges....
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  55. The Corbett National Park is a primal jungle as Rudyard Kipling put it. The Corbett National Park was first delimited in consultation with that great hunter and conserver, Jim Corbett.

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