Thursday, December 8, 2011

World Wildlife Fund and Nature's Best Photography Contest

TIme for a little Harvey Wildlife Photography news, aka self serving promotion, aka Harvey Wildlife Photography propaganda... Call it what ever you like, but here's my news:
World Wildlife Fund Cards (Front)

First, I sold 4000 greeting cards to WWF Canada in the fall this year. The cards are selling in packs of 12. There are three tiger cards, three polar bear cards, three black bear cards and three lion cub cards. Each card has a picture on the outside, a picture on the back and a water mark picture on the inside page. The other inside page is left blank, leaving room for notes to friends and family.

The cards are printed on recycled paper, printed with vegetable dyes and are priced at $14.99 per pack. You can purchase them here at the WWF estore.

For more examples of what the cards look like you can see them on my website.

Secondly, I had a photograph recognized as "highly honoured" in the WIndland Smith's Nature's Best photography contest.
A Taste of Daisies

 I was pretty happy that it even got that far considering that there were 21,000 entries from photographers around the world. My picture has been published along with the other winners in the Fall, 2011 edition of the Nature's Best Magazine. For anyone who really enjoys nature photography, this magazine is full of amazing pictures of wildlife.

The little bear cub in the picture is a domesticated little guy. He was about six months old and was trying to taste the daisies. He didn't have very good dexterity in his big paws, so he had a difficult time getting the flowers to his mouth. When he finally got a taste of a daisy he quickly realized that he didn't like the taste of it after all and promptly spit it out.

More pictures from this sequence can be found on my gallery.

Two and a half more months until I am back up in Manitoba photographing polar bear moms and cubs. Check out our polar bear gallery from 2011.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

India Summary...

India Summary
Words learned:
I am very weak at learning words from different languages Forgive me, as the spelling will not be correct. It will be written as it phonetically sounds to me.

Soo Korea- Thank you.
Rrokoe- STOP!
Chello- Let’s go
On safari, you use the word rookoe ( you roll the 'r's backwards if that makes sense) any time you see something that you want to photograph and Chello when you are done. And of course, Soo Korea is used a lot as I am always grateful when people help me with something. After all, Canadians are polite right?

One of the photographers in our group kept on saying “no problem” in Hindu to every stranger that he met. Kind of drove me batty to be honest, but it was also futile, as no one ever knew what he was saying. I think there must be a lot of different dialects from one area to the next as he would be told that he wasn't saying it correctly, so they would correct him, then the next place we went, they didn't understand what he was saying either and they would correct him too. This happened every time we arrived at another pit stop or another village, city or resort. 

Favorite Foods:
Bada- A traditional deep-fried appetizer. It has bread, potato, and onion and is rolled in peanut crumbs. It reminds me of a really really good tater tot.
Naan- a bread that is served with lunch and dinner. 
Tikka Chicken- As either a kabob or part of a meal with rice.
Aloo parathas- is a potato/bread pancake that is served at breakfast and is delicious! The recipe is in the link.

Indians truly are masters of spice. It’s lke they have access to about 100x the spices that we have access to. I hadn’t even heard of 90% of the spices that they mentioned that they cooked with. At the same time, it was my experience that of the typical six dishes served in each buffet; at least three of them each would have a curry base. According to my taste buds, regardless of how many spices you add to something when the base spice is curry, the end result flavors don’t change much. Of course, this may just be my experience and maybe my palate isn’t sensitive to different flavors. I don’t know, but honestly to me one curry dish tastes just like the next.

I found the food to be very high in fat. The curry dishes were quite rich with what I would imagine must have been cream. Also any time meat was served, it was swimming with grease. Our fast food restaurants have nothing on the way they serve their meat dishes.

From a health perspective, I loved the way they presented rice. I find in Canada I don’t eat much rice because I don’t like consuming a lot of sodium and every time I eat rice, the sauce that comes with it is almost always drenched in soya sauce. In India, it would be a healthy chick pea/curry sauce, which I thought was a much healthier alternative.

My favorite foods of the trip were the aloo parathas, bada, a chicken sausage (I have no idea what the chicken sausage is called. If it is a traditional dish and anyone out there knows, I would be delighted to find out.) and tikka chicken.

India is a different and amazing place. I can understand how people love India. I can also understand how people hate India. I really have a love/hate view of my experience with India. I love the beauty and cleanliness of their national parks, the kindness of the people, the colourful clothing, the wildlife; specifically the spotted deer, leopards, peacocks and of course the Bengal tigers. I loved the Taj Mahal. Honestly, I could spend at least two full days photographing the Taj Mahal before I got all of the sunrise and sunset views that I would have liked to have captured. I would also have to plan to be there during the full moon as the views of the Taj Mahal during that time are supposed to be amazing! I loved some of the food and the cooperativeness of the people amongst the absurd traffic. Most of all, I really loved the people. The people I met were all so kind and accommodating and incredibly hospitable. The wildlife and Taj Mahal were the highlights of my trip, but I will never forget the beautiful people.

I have a few “hates” too and I very rarely use the word “hate” in my vocabulary, but in this case I will make some exceptions. I hate that while we have snow banks in the streets in the Canadian winter, they literally have garbage banks in the streets all year! And if it isn’t in a pile, it is plastic and paper waste strewn everywhere! Their sacred cows aren’t fenced. Unfortunately it means that they wander loose in the streets where there is no food, so they eat the garbage and die what I can only imagine would be an excruciatingly painful death. They then lay there decomposing in the street. It disturbed me seeing people relieving themselves in public everywhere and anywhere without even trying to go around a corner or at least turn their back to traffic. In cities and villages I literally don’t think I went ten minutes without seeing someone going to the bathroom..not in the bathroom!

It bothered me that men always tried to open doors for me and always offered to get my bags while ignoring my roommate who is a foot shorter than me, 80 pounds lighter than I am and a woman. I don’t need help with my camera gear. It is light to me. It is not light to a woman who is 5’1 and 115 pounds. Because she is a woman, they would always try to help me and talk to me when it was her who organized the trip for our group and had all of the information that they required. They knew she had the information too, but still wanted to talk to me.

I hate the fact that it is very difficult to even get an Indian visa because their system is so incredibly flawed that many people have to go to the visa centre four times before they are finally accepted and you can only book one visit per week unless they make an exception.

I of course hated the traffic, but was thoroughly entertained at the same time. I hated that they don’t seem to care about their animals and would just assume throw rocks at a dog as pet it. I love animals. I love pets and I had a difficult time not petting all the dogs and even the cattle that roamed without any interest, expression or enthusiasm. I realize this sounds strange, but our cattle look healthy and even though they are destined to end up on our plates, they look full of life. The cattle in India are just lifeless. As strange as this sounds, it took all I had not to reach out and pet the cattle and show them some affection. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to risk being bitten or diseased somehow so I refrained from touching any animal other than 'Pumpkin', my temporarily adopted dog. I felt especially badly for the dogs. In North America they are loved and treasured. They love people and are more often than not very exited to see their owners and many love to get a pat and some affection from any stranger who likes dogs. In India, the dogs are lifeless. They don’t even lift their heads when people walk by. It is even difficult to determine whether they are alive or dead sometimes. No one shows them affection and I didn’t see one dog that appeared to be loved or cared for. It was killing me not to permanently adopt "pumpin" from India and do what ever it takes to bring her home with me.

In summary, I loved India; the culture, the people, the history and I hated their filth, disorganization and abandoned, weak, “skin and bone” animals.

The thing that I had to/have to constantly remind myself of is that I have no business imposing my values on the way that other people live their lives. I don’t know what it is like to live on a couple dollars a day alongside 1.2 billion people, many of whom are struggling just to survive. We only have 33 million people in a country that is three times the size of India. From my observation, Canadians on social assistance without any employment who may or may not work even an hour a week have a better standard of living than most hard working Indians who have full time employment.

The big question is will I return to India? And my answer? Yes, in a heartbeat! I will definitely be back; possibly more than once. Clearly my love for India is much stronger than my hate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Indian Accommodation Reviews...

Our safari started in Delhi. The population of Delhi is 18 million. Once we landed in Delhi, we stayed at the Lalit Hotel.
The  Lalit hotel is very clean, the staff are friendly, the grounds are safe and the food is very good. We went to Agra for a couple days to see the Taj Mahal, so they were kind enough to lock our big wildlife lenses in their large safety deposit boxes until we got back. The boxes are based on a two key system like a regular safety deposit box. It was nice to be able to relax while in Agra knowing that my camera equipment was safe.  A tip for requesting a room? Ask for a room away from the train tracks so your rest is quieter. It was a nice stay, but I wouldn’t stay there again. When I am 20,000 miles away from home, I like to keep in touch with my business, home and I like to blog daily. If I am staying in an expensive hotel, I think it is very poor form for a hotel to charge for internet service too. There are lots of hotels that have enough class and customer service to realize that nickel and diming is low class and don’t charge for internet service. Next time while in India I will stay at one of them.

While visiting the Taj Mahal, we stayed at a hotel called The Trident in Agra. Agra has a population of 4,380,793. The Trident hotel is the perfect hotel to stay at while visiting the Taj Mahal. It is clean, safe, and a ten minute drive from the Taj Mahal. The staff are great, the rooms are quiet and comfortable, the grounds are gorgeous, the pool is beautiful, they have free internet and a free business centre and the food is absolutely amazing! The next time I am in Agra, I will look up the link to this hotel from my blog and book it again without hesitation. I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in seeing the Taj Mahal stay at this hotel.

After arriving back at Delhi, we stayed one more night at the Lalit hotel, then flew from Delhi to Jabalpur and had lunch at a really swanky hotel in Jabalpur.( I can’t remember what it is called, right now. It will come to me.) The population of this city is 1,267,564. The lunch was fantastic! Okay, now do you remember when I spoke earlier about the suggestion that we needed to bring spare rolls of toilet paper? Here it comes. Not to worry, it is PG… so, after lunch I looked for the bathroom before our four hour drive up the windy mountain roads to Bandhavgarh. The bathroom in this swanky beautiful hotel is the most gorgeous floor to ceiling marble bathroom that I have ever been in. It is architecturally creative and beautiful. I get into the bathroom stall and notice that there is water all over the place. There is less water in the shower room of a water park! It’s a good thing that I looked around before dropping the trousers as I quickly noticed the culprit of the mess. I believe it is part of the muslim culture not to use toilet paper. In many bathrooms there is a hole in the floor and a water tap to assist you in cleaning yourself. In this bathroom there was a high pressure sprayer like something you would use to spray the dirt off your car. I had visions of spraying something that I didn’t want on to something that I would have to wear in the car for the next four hours. There were just so many issues around the discomfort of that idea and my lack of experience with that method that I decided that my best option was to go to the car, sneak some toilet paper, hover and go western style!

Four hours later we arrived at NatureHeritage. This resort to me is like a three star resort or so with five star service. It is very comfortable, the people are very friendly and speak quite good English. They jump to help you and carry your gear at any opportunity. They never needed to be asked to help us with our luggage or photography equipment. Every day on safari we have bags of lenses and photography gear to lug a short distance to and from the jeeps. The staff were always at our door ready to help us and always on time. They were fantastic! The food at Nature Heritage is abundant, tasty and every lunch and supper were different on every day. I couldn’t believe the amount of different foods that they served us. They had wireless internet for us and even though it didn’t always work, even when it was down, it would only stay down for a couple hours, then would be back up again. We had a fantastic stay at Nature Heritage. I will definitely stay there the next time that I go to Bandhavgarh and would recommend without hesitation that anyone going to Bandhavgarh stay there as well.

From Bandhavgarh, we drove four hours back down the windy roads of the mountain, had another great lunch at Jabalpur at that same restaurant in the beautiful hotel (I still can't remember the name of it) then continued on four more hours to Pench where we reached our next hotel reservation at the Tiger Corridor. The Tiger Corridor hotel has the appearance of a five star resort. It looks fantastic, the rooms are spacious and beautiful, it has a fancy dining room and bar the entry to the resort is grand and beautiful. But what is it really? Well, they put 6 photographers with heavy gear that has to be lugged twice a day in the very end chalets. We walked at least 125 yards to the jeep and from the jeeps to our rooms after the game drives . We then walked to and from for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The chalets while spacious are so far away that they are very inconvenient and lacked that intimate feel  that a resort would offer if the chalets were located in a closer proximity to the necessities. Also the staff do not go out of their way to help you with your bags. When we have to carry 50 pounds of camera gear 125 yards four times a day with no help it does become quite challenging. It wasn’t so bad for me, but my roommate is a lady who is 5’1. Her gear almost weighs half of her body weight and they would watch her struggle with it without offering help, so between the two of us, I had all of my gear and some of hers and it was a challenge for both of us. We were just barely able to carry all of our gear that distance and would always have to stop for a break to re-group before getting to our room. If a resort is going to have this kind of set up and are going to book photographers, they really should use their heads and either book them closer rooms or have golf carts to assist the photographers get to and from their rooms with their gear.

The food was quite good. The wait staff did a great job as did the cooks. The food was quite tasty, but they didn't offer much variety. It was generally similar meal to meal with a couple exceptions in each meal. They didn't put near as much effort into variety of meals as did Nature Heritage.

The one saving grace of the tiger corridor is their naturalist Devies. He was amazing. He went above and beyond for us and was fantastic! A couple of the managers and one of the waiters also had very strong customer service skills, but as a team they were pretty weak. Their jeeps are very comfortable for tourists with point and shoot cameras, but are completely inappropriate for serious photographers with professional equipment. I was very happy that we contracted out the jeeps and guides outside the resort as they were much more functional for photographers. Lastly the resort didn’t offer any wi fi or internet service of any kind. To me this resort is a 5 star resort appearance wise, but a 1.5 to 2 star resort service and functionality wise. I will not be back.

I hope this information helps anyone who may be interested in traveling to similar areas that I visited in India. Of course these are just my opinions. I made sure not just to rate these places, but to provide reasons why I was either impressed or not happy with the places that we stayed so you can decide for yourself if these resorts may be places that you may consider on your adventure as the reasons that I may like or dislike a place may or may not bother the next person.

Happy Trails

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pench National Park

Pench Day Four
Langour monkey mom and baby
Today Elizabeth and I photographed spotted deer and monkeys mostly.  We didn’t see much, but it was a nice day and it was fun all the same.

Pench Day Five
Today I was in a jeep with Chris. We photograph really well together. We got some great portrait shots of monkeys, some nice shots of spotted deer and a changeable eagle hawk. On the way home I heard an alarm call that sounded like it was close to the road. We tried to figure out where it was coming from, but the light was quite bad at this point as it was already about 6:15p.m. so we started to head back to the main gate. About fifteen seconds later, the guide spotted an Indian leopard. It was perched on a rock and seemed to pose for us for a while. Chris had the right lens ready and got some great shots of him. I took a few as well but to really do it justice I would have needed a different camera/lens combination, so rather than set up and shake the jeep in low light, I just took a couple lousy pictures with the wrong lens as a keep sake. This way at least one of us would have the opportunity for a good shot and Chris nailed it. Even at horrible light she still pulled it off. It was still pretty exciting. Most people don’t get a chance to even see one Indian leopard in their lifetime and I saw two and have a great shot of one of them, so I am pretty happy.
Indian leopard

Pench Day Six
This morning at about 8a.m. Mark and I saw a tigress and her two cubs. She is the mother that actually has five cubs, so the other three must have been resting somewhere else. This mother has a collar and was a baby when they filmed her family in “spy in the jungle”. It was an exciting sighting that lasted a few minutes as they came out of the bush and walked down the road. Unfortunately for us, they were walking away from us down the road. One cub briefly turned around and Mark got a couple nice shots of him. I missed the opportunity. I had the other two tigers in my lens and I didn't notice that the other cub had briefly turned around. I have been kicking myself all day.
 This afternoon we didn’t see much. We drove around and photographed the odd deer, an occasional peacock or two and a golden jackal in great light. We saw a blue bull male and came across a herd of Indian Gores. They are kind of like a cross between a cow and a bison.

Travel Day Pench to Nagpur to Delhi
Above is a troop of red faced monkeys. We were stopped on the side
on the side of the road waiting for the last vehicle so I thought I would
roll down the window and video them. The dominant male took exception
to this and mock charged the car screaming and showing his fangs. Kind of intimidating really!

We left the hotel in Pench at 9a.m. It was a two and a half hour drive to Nagpur, then a 90 minute flight to Delhi. Before getting on the plane I bought a pop, finished it, then couldn't find a garbage can, so I just held on to it, figuring I would give it to the flight attendant so she could dispose of it. We were on the shuttle bus heading to the plane and a guy noticed me holding on to what was obviously an empty pop can. He looked at me like I had three heads and suggested I throw it out the window. That is what they do in India. You are pretty hard pressed to find a garbage can. Garbage is just strewn everywhere. Every city and every village looks like a landfill. The country may be gorgeous, but anywhere there are significant amounts of people, the land looks like a landfil. It is truly disgusting. 

We finally got into Delhi where we had a great dinner with the representative from the company who organized our trip. We had a great dinner in a really nice restaurant as we listened as he educated us on Indian foods, spices, culture and different safari options that India has to offer. We had a great meal and a really nice visit. From there we were dropped off at the airport at 10:30p.m. By the time we changed our money back, checked our bags and got through security I barely had enough time to have a quick snack at the lounge before saying goodbye to Chris (everyone else had already gotten split up).

This is turning into a long day. I am currently in the Vienna airport. From Delhi I had a 7.5 hour flight to Vienna, a four and a half hour layover, then will have an 8.5 hour flight to Toronto, a five hour layover, then a three and a half hour flight to Edmonton. That is essentially two full days of traveling before I can have a decent shower and sleep in a normal bed. I get in to Edmonton at 9p.m., home at 10p.m., then I take Gaye and Kiera to the airport at 4a.m. the next morning, then it is back to work again. I cancelled my morning clients, but will be at work at 10a.m. till 9p.m. Definitely a string of a long few days! Oh well all is good. The weekend is coming and I will catch up on Sunday.

My Indian wildlife images are here...

Next trip; polar bear moms and cubs in Churchill in March.

Pench Day Two

Today I was paired up in a jeep with Mark. The morning drive was a bit of a write off. I’m not sure that I even got my camera out. Sometimes we are so focused on photographing tigers that we forget about all of the other really cool animals that the park has to offer, so in the afternoon I decided to take pictures of any photogenic animal if it was in good light.
Changeable Eagle Hawk
 We photographed bee eaters, an Indian roller, a changable eagle hawk and a red faced monkey. Still no tiger, but I enjoyed that game drive. Tomorrow I am with Elisabeth. She doesn’t like photographing birds or monkeys, so I am going to suggest that we focus on spotted deer. They are very pretty and I don’t have many pictures of them anyway.

Pench Day Three
Today I was paired up with Elisabeth. We had fun. We didn’t have many stellar photo opportunities, but it was fun all the same. We photographed languor monkeys, spotted deer, Alexandrian parrots mating and a serpent eagle. A fun day considering we didn’t see any tigers. It can get a little frustrating when nature doesn’t cooperate with our plans, but as wildlife photographers we learn early on that some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.

My Indian wildlife images...

Travel to Pench National Park and Day One

We had a long drive from Bandhavgarh to Pench. The countryside is beautiful, but if you've seen one village, you've seen them all and even in the tiny villages you will see people relieving themselves right on the street. They aren't even modest enough to turn around. I would have thought they could at least go behind a building, but nope. They don't seem to need any more privacy than any of the other animals do. Seems bizare to me, but what do I know. Below is a typical countyside traffic jam.

By the time that we got to the resort, it was still four hours away from dinner time and we were all hungry. Dinner time was late at this resort and we were starving! It was finally dinner time and we were all quite anxious to get some food. Between the hunger and a little bit of disorganization at the lodge, amoungst the six of us, three photographers were trying to lead the group. Unfortunately only one of them should have been speaking as she was our leader. I felt badly for the Indians at the resort. They have a difficult time communicating with us with their broken English at the best of times and they were getting conflicting instructions from three different photographers. This; combined with hunger and a long day set off world war III! Two photographers were all of a sudden not so happy with one another to say the least. I was a tad embarrased and could only imagine what the people of the resort thought of us.

Pench Day One:
Considering that we almost had world war three between two of the photographers that turned into the entire group, the air was cleared and everyone was very friendly and civil this morning which was nice.
This resort is quite nice, but a little disorganized. The service isn’t as good as in Bandhavgarh and they have no internet connection here. Arg! I will have to catch up on the blogs when I find some internet again.
Game Drive Day One:
On this morning’s game drive we saw lots of the same game as in Bandhavgarh. We did see a blue bull though. (which is a large antelope that Bandhavgarh doesn’t have) and lots of peacocks. Pench National Park is 800 square kilometres with each game drive route being 50 square km’s where as Bandhavgarh is only 500. They estimate that there are 33 tigers in this park as opposed to 25 in Bandhavgarh.
So far Richard and Janet are the only ones who have spotted a tiger, but I am optimistic about this park as the grass isn’t as high and the forests are not nearly as thick. In most places you can see up to about 75 meters into the bush as opposed to 0-10 meters and in some places up to 30 meters in Bandhavgarh. Because the bush is much less dense here, it should be much more conducive to photography. This morning we photographed a golden jackal and some monkeys for a few minutes, but that’s it. Hopefully we will have more luck on our coming drives.
Indian Roller
On this afternoon’s game drive I would like to report that we saw at least one of the three tiger families. One tigress in this national park has two cubs, one has three and the third has five cubs. We did see some tracks, but that’s it. We had a fun game drive and did bring out the cameras a few times. We photographed two different coloured spotted owls, a purple headed eagle and a sambor mother and baby. Hopefully before we leave I will have a better chance to take a few pictures of the spotted deer in good light as they are very pretty and there are hundreds of them all over the forest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Day 6...

Bandhavgarh Day Six
This morning as we were on our game drive we heard the monkeys sounding their alarm calls, so our guides started looking for a tiger. 
Baby Langour Monkey

The next thing I heard was “leopard! Leopard!” A leopard was pretty far away in the forest. He ran to the left and we lost him in a valley, then he sprinted the other way actually coming toward us. I was trying to get the right camera ready and meter it and our driver told us he’d be coming out of the bush behind us on the road. Sure enough, seconds later he jumped across the road and disappeared in to the bush on the other side. I was really lucky to get one good shot of him as he jumped across the road. I didn’t really know it at the time, but leopards are very rare in India. In fact the leopard that we saw this morning was the first leopard that our guide had seen all year. That would make it a once in a lifetime sighting for tourists like us on safari. About half an hour later we heard alarm calls again and came around a corner to see a beautiful tiger walking into the bush. For the first time this trip, the light was perfect and she wasn’t far away from us. Unfortunately she was walking away from us and didn’t look back, so we didn’t get any decent pictures of her.
Rare Indian Leopard sprinting across the road

The afternoon game drive was okay. We saw tracks and heard alarm calls, but didn’t see anything exciting. The tigers amaze me. When we are in Africa the lions in the parks are the kings of the jungle and they know it. They don’t try to hide and really don’t care about any humans. These tigers are in the same position and yet, they are rarely seen outside the cover of the bush. They don’t run away from humans, but they certainly don’t hang around either. Between the sightings that all of the jeeps in our group had, the sightings averaged about 20 seconds to 90 seconds at the very longest. If I had to guess, I think the reason for the skittishness of the tigers is because the tigers in National Parks in India are still poached quite frequently.

This evening one of the guides invited us to his home. He lives in a house about the size of our living room and kitchen combined. In that house live six people. One room has three beds together and a tv and the other room has a kitchen and two cots against the wall. The water and bathroom is outside. They were a very gracious family and welcomed the four of us and were very proud to host us. The family has a 30 year old daughter who is married and doesn’t live with them anymore, then two boys and a girl in their 20’s. Their mother didn’t speak any English, but you could tell she was delighted to have us in her home. They sat us down in the kitchen as our guides’ daughter started preparing a meal for us from scratch on a cutting board on the floor, then cooked it on an element powered by a propane bottle. Our guide apologized for not having very much food, but insisted on feeding us a special treat called “bada”. It was a special occasion, so they opened up a bottle of coke for us and we chatted as the daughter cooked the treat that is served on special occasions. Bada is a potato and parsley? And bread and some other spices that is kneaded up into small sections, then is rolled in finely crushed peanuts, then is deep fried. It is served with an optional dip of tomato and green chilli peppers.

We had a really enjoyable evening with the family, but then had to get back to the lodge. Before we left, they insisted on giving each of us small presents (stickers and pictures of tigers with Bandhavgarh National Park on them).

I have really enjoyed the Indian hospitality here so far. They are such a kind people. They are inviting and proud, soft spoken and polite everywhere we have gone. Our visit with the family in their home really showed us how kind they are. They didn’t have much food in the kitchen and wouldn’t eat any of the food that was prepared as they wanted to make sure there was enough for us. It was very important to them that they serve their new North American friends.

Tomorrow morning we get up early and drive eight hours to Pench National Park where we will have five more days of tiger safaris. We are crossing our fingers and hoping that our tiger sightings will improve.
My Indian Images...

Bandgavharh Day Five
This morning was pretty much a bust for everyone in regards to tiger viewing. None of us have seen a tiger in a couple days, but that’s the way it goes with nature sometimes. I think people sometimes have the misconception that wildlife photographers get off the plane, take a few pictures, have a few laughs and go home with great images. When there are a lot of good sightings it almost feels that way. When there aren’t any sightings, it is 7 hours a day of driving around on bumpy mountain roads, hanging on for dear life. That’s okay though as it is still driving around a beautiful forest and mountain side. To be fair, there are tons of spotted and sambor deer and monkeys all over the place, but we are here for the tigers, so 90% of the time we speed on past them. Thankfully I have a few pictures of them. Spotted deer are beautiful. They are much prettier than any deer that I have ever seen before.
Large Male Spotted Deer

 On our way home from our morning game drive, we did come across a large troop of languor and red faced monkeys as well as a herd of spotted deer. The deer and the monkeys work as a team as they both send out alarm calls if they see a tiger. It is entertaining watching them as the monkeys will break off large leaves the size of my foot from the tree tops and drop them. The deer love to eat the lush green leaves and don’t leave any behind.

I was trying to ask my guide some questions today and he tried his best, but gets frustrated with me when I don’t understand him. The Indians are very nice, but they say certain syllables in ways that we have a difficult time repeating and we say words that they have difficulty with as well. That, combined with the broken English that they speak and we often have communication difficulties.

My question for my guide this morning was “Have you been to Pench National Park before?” We are going there in two days and I was curious what the park was like. The response came back “Yes it is very beautiful. The forest is teek”. I nodded that I understood. “Yes, your forests here in India are very thick.” I replied. He looked at me like I had a hole in my head and responded “teek, teek. “The forests there are very teek.” This game continued for about two or three minutes until I figured out what he was saying. What he was trying to say is that the forest is very teak. The forest has a lot of teak trees in it.

That is just one example of the communication break downs. We have them daily and sometimes it’s kind of entertaining.

This sign is located at the exit gate of the Bandhavgarh National Park.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Day 4...

Tigers Day Four
Finding a tiger in the Bandhavgarh National Park is somewhat like finding a needle in a haystack. The park is only about 30 square miles and the tigers roam in and out of the park, so it is difficult to say how many there are, but they guess about 25. We drive around all day looking for fresh tiger tracks on the sandy roads. Both sides of the road is thick jungle in most places with the occasional open field or sparse forest. From there it is guess work and signs of nature.

This morning we found tracks. Based on the tracks the guides can tell whether the tiger is male or female or cubs. Based on the area of the park and where the last sightings were, they can tell which tiger it is because each tiger traverses a territory. We were driving this morning and came across a terrible sewer smell, so based on the tracks and the area; the guides knew which male tiger it was. Due to the smell, they knew that he was on a kill (I would imagine that when the tiger perforates the bowel or large intestine of an animal, the stench from those organs was probably what we smelt). We knew approximately where he was and figured he was resting after a big meal. There was a watering hole about a kilometre away so we figured that he might like a drink after his meal. We positioned ourselves on the road between the smell and the pond. Then we waited quietly listening for alarm calls. There are a lot of monkeys in the tree tops that we don’t see. Once the tiger starts to walk, the monkeys start making an alarm call and that is what we were listening for to determine where to position the jeep and where to look. This system of course is used by all of the drivers in the park. With 11 jeeps per route, once the drivers see the tracks and hear the monkeys, a group of jeeps converge on the area that the tiger is in quicker than a squad of police cars on a thief.

With no tiger sightings in our route we stopped by an owl nest on the way back. The nest is just a big hole in a tree and the male and female owl were perched on the edge of the hole sunning themselves. Unfortunately they weren’t going to let us spoil their rest and wouldn't even open their eyes. Oh well, the pictures of them are still pretty cute even though they were sleeping.

This afternoon we found mother and three baby tiger tracks, but unfortunately couldn't find them.  We waited near where we thought they might be and a monkey was quite busy sending out regular alarm calls. 

We have three jeeps (two photographers per jeep) and we all got skunked today. Hopefully we will have better luck tomorrow. We have two days left here at Bandhavgarh. From there we drive about eight hours (so they say, but I will believe it when I see it. What ever they say drive duration is, it is wise to add two hours. This is India!). Once in Pench, we have 5 more shooting days, then we drive a couple hours to the local airport, then we fly back to Delhi and back home.

So far this trip has had a lot of cultural lessons...and a few faux pas. No, I didn't mention all of them. Some of them didn't include me believe it or not:)

 I have been in Muslim countries before and I've always enjoyed my time with the people. They are very kind. Always smiling and very accepting and welcoming of strangers. Although we must stick out like a sore thumb I never feel like any more of a tourist than if I am in the States. Actually in many ways I feel more comfortable here because they know that we are foreigners and go out of their way to make us feel welcome. It is kind of funny. In some countries you don't dare take the locals' picture as they feel that you are "stealing their soul". Here when people see you with a camera, they almost ask if you could take their picture. They love posing for the camera and showing off their pretty saris. The women of any age take it as a compliment that you want to take their picture. They love the attention and don't ask for anything in return.

My India Images

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Day 3...

Day Three
We didn’t have any tiger sightings this morning in our jeep. Chris and Mark had a sighting for a minute and a half. It is difficult photography as it is very common to only see the tiger in plain view for up to two minutes. This doesn’t give a person much time to get the metering and settings right. You kind of have to do it on the fly and you either get good images, or they are all throw-a-ways. Again we stopped to photograph the langur monkeys near the end of the drive.

My highlight this morning though was feeding “pumpkin”. There is a stray dog with a broken leg that was never set. She walks with a pretty bad limp, but is very sweet and doesn’t beg, so you can’t help but to sneak her some food. I’m sure that is why she hangs around the entry gate to the park. If it weren’t for the tourists, she likely wouldn’t get fed at all.

We named this stray dog 'Pumpkin' and
and temporarily adopted her during our stay.
We smuggle her food from our meals.
I couldn't put my finger on what exactly bothered me about the animals here. I think I finally figured it out. The dogs in North America are often happy to see people and get a pet and some affection even from the average stranger. Here, no one pays any attention to them, so most of them just look lifeless. They have no expressions; they just look like blank slates. The other interesting thing is that I have only seen one domestic cat so far. Apparently cats are bad luck, so no one will have them in their homes. The only cat that I have seen (except for the tigers of course) is a very small grey cat that was very skittish and I am assuming wild.

Afternoon drive- We kind of slowly wandered around the park, taking pictures of monkeys and spotted deer. We puttered around at a slow pace and the park was pretty quiet. Then we heard that there was a sighting of ‘broken tooth’ and the pace picked up significantly. We got a couple brief sightings of him through the bush, then one last sighting as he crossed the road. When he went into the bush the last time, our driver looked back and said “hold tight!” We had 30 minutes to get back the gate before the park closed, so our driver drove like a maniac to get there on time. I was trying to hold three cameras and lenses so they didn’t 

bang into one another while attempting to hold on for dear life. My colleague photographer in the front seat looked back at me and said “If anything happens my blue cross insurance card is in my passport in my jacket pocket.” I had to laugh although when we’re going that fast through the bush and on windy mountain roads I suppose it is a reasonable comment. :)

Here are my wildlife images from India.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Day 2...

Tiger Safari Day Two:
This morning we started the same as yesterday. We were on route D-B and saw some peacocks and a barking deer, then quickly saw tracks on the side of the road. The guides said they belonged to Contucky. She is a mother of two cubs. I wasn’t getting too excited as we saw lots of tracks yesterday. Basically you are on a sandy/rocky road and there is dense jungle on either side of the road and occasionally you come across a small open field or small watering hole. We made our way up the mountain on this very twisty, rocky road, then started back down again. On the way down the guides heard an alarm call. (When the monkeys see a tiger, they freak out and sound an alarm for the other monkeys that a tiger is in the area. The deer hear that and they go into a tizzy too). Coming down the mountain side, we come around a corner and see 5 jeeps on the side of the road. 
First Tiger Sighting; For the Bandhavgarh
enthusiasts, I believe this is 'B2'.

Our guide briefly talks to one of the other guides, looks back at us and says “hold on”. All of a sudden we are flying down this small twisty road with hair pin turns. He slams on the breaks and about ten seconds later this large male tiger meanders out of the bush on to the road. He walks toward us a bit, then the driver again puts the pedal to the metal so we can wind down the road one more turn to get us into position for a few more shots. Sure enough the tiger appears from the jungle again, walks towards us 20 feet, then heads back into the jungle again…And that was my first sighting of a male Bengal tiger in the wild. A sighting that I will likely remember for years to come.

On the way back to the lodge we found a troop of lamur monkeys and although the sighting wasn’t as exciting, the light was perfect and we sat and photographed them for about half an hour.

On our afternoon safari, we went back to the area where the male was seen in the morning drive and waited for a couple hours. Drivers were taking this opportunity to have a little snooze, everything was quiet, there were 11 jeeps full of tourists and photographers just waiting. All of a sudden we heard one alarm call (It sounds like a high pitch “oo”) from across the valley. Seconds later, eleven vehicles were started and went racing down the narrow mountain roads. (The Japenese have nothing on our Indian drivers with their controlled slides). All of the vehicles lined up and we watched as the tiger was about a kilometre away on the mountain side. He was too far away, so one by one we headed back. We got to a corner and spotted a female tiger and the excitement began again! The idea is to get ahead of the tiger and guess where she is going to go so we can get good pictures of her. So we take a few pictures, then the driver says “hold tight”. That is your two second warning. By the time he starts the engine, you had better be in your seat and holding on because it is pedal to the metal within seconds. The guide doesn’t just want to get ahead of the tiger, but he also wants to get ahead of all of the other vehicles, so he can position his photographers for the best shot.

All in all a very exciting day. The only good pictures that I got today were pictures of baby langures, but we have about ten more days of tiger safaris, so hopefully on some of those drives we will encounter nice tiger photographic opportunities in nice light.

A fun day. On the way home we even stopped for a quick sunset picture showing the mountains in the background where we were photographing the tigers.
Here's my wildlife images from India.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve Day 1...

Tiger Safari- Day One:
Bandhavgarh is set up into four zones and each vehicle is assigned a zone for each drive so some areas don’t become too congested. There are 11 vehicles allowed per zone.

As soon as we got in to the park we saw several peacocks. Nice, but not what we are here for. On the safari we have also seen jackals, owls, a lot of spotted deer and sambar deer. In the morning we saw a mahout on his elephant. It was pretty neat as he rode passed us. The park has a dozen or so mahouts on elephants within the park. The jungle is quite dense and the people can’t see the tigers in the thick bush so the mahout rides around through the jungle making lots of noise in the hopes that he flushes out the tigers on to the road or open area so that the people can get a glimpse of one.

On the morning drive we were on route B,D and we drove by three sets of tiger tracks. They were easily outsmarting us as we would drive by once and see tracks on one side of the road, then by the time we doubled back only 15 or 20 minutes later, we noticed a second set of tiger tracks on the road. One of the tigers that was in the area has three cubs under 5 months old, so we were pretty excited about the opportunity of seeing her and her babies, but no such luck.

Anyway, that’s it for day one, so the score for the first day is tigers 1, photographers- 0.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Taj Mahal

After traveling all day we finally made it to Agra. The light was perfect and we were excited to check it out. Once in Aga we hit the heavy traffic again and watched the sun starting to set as we were once again in bumper to bumper traffic. We finally got out to “The Garden” and there were no flowers, the river was mostly dried up and it really wasn’t attractive. I was thinking “really? This is all the rage? The seventh wonder of the world? What the heck is the hype all about?” So it’s off to the hotel. What a first day. We spent the whole day in the most miserable traffic imaginable, we miss our sunset and the pictures are brutal!

Taj Mahal day two…

The ladies arranged for us to get to the Taj early before it opened and what a great idea that was! We were there 30 minutes early and there was already a line up of easily 60 people. Security there is very tight at the Taj as Taliban groups have been caught twice plotting terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal. We weren’t allowed to bring in any shutter release cords (as they look like detonators to the security guards) and no tripods, no backpacks and no food. Once inside it is obviously pretty stunning. 
Moments later a guy grabs me and shows me the exact spots to stand for the best pictures. I give him 30 rupees and thank him. I thought that would be the end of it as the picture views were very good. By the time I tried to get back to my group, I couldn’t find them. Meanwhile he is dragging me all over the place. “Stand here and shoot there. Now stand over here and look there. Lay down on your stomach here.” I took some pictures and gave him another hundred rupees. (About 2 bucks. I didn’t have any more change). I thanked him and tried to get back to my group. At this point I had paid him way too much. He told me not to worry, he claimed that he knows where they are (of course I know he is full of it, but he shows me the sunrise and insists I follow him) “Hurry, hurry” he insists. Well, I don’t have anything to lose. I couldn’t find my group anyway and there was a sunrise. He took me to the exact spots with the best views of the sunrise behind the Taj Mahal. The tiles that he had me stand on are dirtier than the others. Clearly he had done this before…like every day! I gave him half of what he was asking for and he still made out like a bandit and made about $15 which is crazy considering most people would have made about $1 or $2 tops for those services. Finally I met up with someone from our group and she is with another guide doing the same thing. I tried to show her the spots he showed me but the sun had changed and opportunity was over. From there we spent time photographing adorable Indian toddlers and Indian families in the most perfect light with the perfect background.

Feeling guilty we looked for the rest of the group. As it turned out, I may have overpaid my guide and they tell us not to over-tip. He will eat well for the whole month, but he earned it. I think I got some great shots, so I certainly have no regrets.

My one regret was that once again while we were racing around like maniacs trying to find the perfect pictures, I noticed that there were headphones and tour groups. I may have gotten some great sunrise shots, but I don’t know anything about this place. Thankfully, our guide has a degree in Indian history. He told us the entire story of the Taj Mahal with such passion. I don’t think any tour leader or recording could have come close to as good a job as he did. He had us fully engaged and completely interested in his story. I was almost teary eyed and simply blown away once I heard the story. From the reason it was built to the fact the Taj closes to the public every Friday so 2000 workers can clean and provide maintenance on it one section at a time. The city of Agra even re-located all of their factories as the pollution was causing the marble of the Taj to get dirty and hard to clean. The Taj Mahal is really is India’s treasure and one of the worlds most amazing wonders!

I will have to order a good coffee table Taj Mahal book when I get home. (I don’t have room for anything extra with all of my camera gear) and I will butcher the history of the Taj, but will try to summarize the story briefly.

  • Two teenage sweethearts fall in love. She was 14 years old and he was a just a few years older. Although she was part of a harem, he only loved her. He had 14 children with her and she also had three miscarriages.
  • She never left his side. Even in battle they were together. This was unheard of as women never socialized with their husbands.
  • After 19 years of marriage she became septic and died. On her deathbed, her last wish was that he didn’t re-marry.
  • For two years he was stricken with grief and didn’t leave his home
  • He decided that he was going to build a monument in her honor.
  • The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build with 20,000 workers. It is built entirely of marble and the decorations that you see on the wall aren’t paint, but precious stones that are inlayed in the marble.
  • The Taj Mahal had a ramp that went around the building. That was two miles long, so they could get the marble to the top.
  • The Taj Mahal was built in 1630.
  • Taj Mahal loosely means beauty beyond comparison.
  • The four pillars around the Taj are built at varying angles. One is 92 degrees, one is 91.2 degrees, etc. Each one is at a slightly different angle. The reason for this is it can withstand an earthquake of 8 on the richtor scale. If there is an earthquake that is significant enough to damage the pillars, the pillars will fall away from the dome one at a time, ensuring that the dome is not damaged.
A close up view of two small sections of the court yard wall surrounding the Taj Mahal. On the left, you will notice that section looks older than the section on the right. 2000 workers come every Friday to clean and perform maintenance on the building and grounds. As shown, this includes replacing the fancy trim around the perimeter of the grounds.

From a photographers’ perspective, the Taj Mahal is amazing for architectural and lighting reasons.
As the sun rises and sets, the Taj Mahal lights up differently, accentuating different parts of the monument and grounds. It is simply amazing!

In case you didn't notice my links, you can see images from the Taj Mahal here. You can also see images of the people at Taj Mahal here.

Heading for home, I kind of had to laugh at myself. Yesterday I was annoyed about the crazy slow congested traffic with the incessant honking that just never ends. This afternoon on the way back, I was relaxed with out a care in the world. We came very close to getting in to two accidents, came very close to hitting a pedestrian at least twice. We saw the effects of three accidents and yet I was completely relaxed. It is amazing how quickly our senses adjust. There were as many starving cows eating garbage today as there was yesterday, we still saw dead animals on the side of the road, the honking, congestion, dirt and garbage was still everywhere, but it doesn’t take long to dull your senses and get used to it.

The Ultimate Faux Pas

The Ultimate Indian Faux Pas…

There is always a story with me. This time I don’t know what my excuse is. Maybe it was because I arrived in Delhi at 4a.m., then just a few hours later headed out on our Agra excursion or if it was because I hadn’t eaten in so long or the heat? The lack of sleep? The crazy drivers in India? Or maybe I can blame it on a little culture shock? Or perhaps all of the above. Regardless, I definitely committed the ultimate faux pas in India.

We drove for hours in bumper to bumper traffic. Cars and trucks were constantly honking, the smog is unbelievably bad and it seems that everywhere you go there’s wall to wall and curb to curb people and vehicles. It is stressful witnessing near accidents so regularly. Traffic lights, one way streets and painted lines on roads are merely suggestions. I don’t even think they know why there are street lights, lines or stop signs seeing as I didn’t see anyone adhering to any of them. I think they just figure they are for mere decoration.

So, I am low on sleep, low on sugars and trying to gain a little rapport with our driver. We are chatting about their festival Dariwal, he tells me about how much Indians like to move to Canada, he answers my various questions quite politely and we discuss his religion briefly as we pass by various mosques. It was then that my hunger started really getting the better of me. I was light headed, feeling a little weak and queasy and we were still several hours away from Agra in bumper to bumper traffic. So what do I do? I of course get a snack out of my bag and start munching. I couldn’t possibly imagine being rude to my new friend. He is busy driving in the nastiest traffic you could imagine, so I offer my bag of food by putting it up near his face so he can see it. Nice right? I’m hungry, he’s probably hungry. He’s busy with both hands on the wheel, swerving, and honking etc. But what do I offer him?…BEEF JERKEY!! I am such a fool!! Cows are sacred to Hindus. Reincarnation ring any bells?!! I may as well have been eating his ancestors in front of him. Then I ask him if he would like to share them with me! Insult to injury I had to hold the beef jerkey up near his face so he could get a good wiff of it! As I was offering, Chris; one of the other photographers was trying to say “No”, but she was just a little bit too late. I had already practically shoved my dead sacred cow in his face.

Okay, the beef jerkey thing was not the highlight of the day, but it was just weird all around. I saw several people urinating or bathing in the street, entire families of 4 or 5 on motorbikes, babies sitting on mom’s lap as dad swerves the bike in and out of traffic without the appearance of anyone other than the driver actually holding on to anything. We saw a lot of things for sale along the side of the road, the most common being motorbike helmets. Ironically though, we only saw a handful of people actually wearing helmets.

We finally got to Agra late, took a few pictures of the Taj Mahal in bad light from across a mostly dried up river then drove an hour back to the hotel that is located ten minutes away. Supper was good though and I’m really looking forward to sleeping in a bed tonight!! Tomorrow’s another day. I will try not to exchange beef recipes with my Hindu friends. I did apologize, but somehow an apology just doesn’t make up for eating their sacred animal, then offering them a taste!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Arrival in India...

Arrival in Delhi

Well all the flights went perfectly. I didn’t even have so much as a layover where I had to sit down to wait. On paper it looked like the flights were spaced out well, but when you factor in the time that it takes to get through security and time changes, there was just enough time to get from one flight to the next. This flight plan could have been a disaster if any of my flights were delayed, but thankfully they weren’t.

The Turkish airlines that go over seas are still my favourite carriers. Their planes are awesome.

On my flight from Istanbul to Delhi we were about 30 minutes outside Delhi so I decided to use the bathroom one last time. I hope this isn’t an omen for things to come, but an Indian woman in her 50’s was coming out of the bathroom before I went in. There was urine all over the seat, she didn’t flush and there was water every where and the sink was plugged. ! I couldn’t believe someone of that age would behave like a pre-teenager. Actually that's not fair. Most children aren't nearly that inconsiderate or disgusting! Oh I hope she is the exception. I don’t know that I would want to deal with that kind of behaviour on a daily basis!

Arrival in Delhi- The first thing I noticed in Delhi is the smog. We got in at 4a.m. and the smog is just brutal. It is even bad in the airport and hotel. I’ve only been here two and a half hours now and already my throat is bothering me. The driving wasn’t a shock to me. The landscape, the traffic and pollution reminded me a lot of Kenya (except the pollution is worse and they have lots of these three wheel green motorized carts called tuk tuks).
Okay, so the travel wasn’t exciting…I’m glad it wasn’t! My only entertainment was the Indian checking my passport and declaration card on the way in. He must have had a long shift because he would flip through my passport, then fall asleep briefly, then he'd wake up and start flipping through it again. He did this about three or four times. I think it took him about ten minutes just to find the page in my passport that had my Indian visa.
Well, I should check out. I need to get a shower and some clean clothes before heading on to Agra.