A day in the life of a wildlife photographer…

A day in the life of a wildlife photographer is how I would describe my first wildlife safari experience. I went on a safari organized by this wildlife photographer I have been following on Instagram for a while, Suyash Keshari. A friend had been on his safari and gave really good reviews of it, so when Suyash announced his upcoming safaris I decided to go for it, even though they were a little costly for my taste.

A little about Suyash and his team before I get into my experience.

Suyash is a wildlife presenter and a filmmaker. My first impression of Suyash was, he’s cute! But the more I started to follow him, I realized that he is more than just a pretty face, I realized how passionate he is about the work he does. From the stories he has shared, he has been a wildlife and wildlife conservation enthusiast ever since he was a little kid. He has rescued 21 dogs so far, which to me says a lot! He is an excellent host, a very good storyteller, an impressionist, and an absolute joy to be around. He primarily works at Bandhavgarh National Park(MP, India) which he calls his home, and has lived there on and off for 11 years now. I am amazed at how much he has accomplished in such a short time, given that he only started professionally in 2019 or so, but maybe it’s not so surprising given his background. He is an experience in himself.

Suyash’s team consists of award-winning Naturalists cum Photographers ranging from 3 to 18+ years of experience, and a lot of them are native to the place. They are excellent drivers, great storytellers, and funny impressionists. They are passionate and enthusiastic about tigers and wildlife. They talk about tigers day in and day out and yet never get bored of it. One thing that I absolutely respect about them is that they are very conscious about not littering the jungle and keeping it clean.

So on to my safari experience.

I did not know what to expect of this Safari since I had never been on one. I could either be focusing on Wildlife experience or on Photography like almost all the members of our group. I wanted a little of both so I spent the first few safaris enjoying the wildlife and a few in between trying to capture the wildlife.

Our day mostly looked like eat-sleep-safari-repeat. We woke up at 4 in the morning, were out for morning safari by 4:45, had breakfast in the jungle halfway through the Safari, came back by noon, ate lunch, took some rest, and were out again for an evening safari by 2:30 that ended around 6:30, and was mostly followed by a night safari that lasted until 11 in the night, after which we would come back to lodge, have dinner, go to bed and repeat the whole cycle. It was exhausting, sometimes so exhausting that people could hardly sleep, and yet the lovely jungle weather made it all bearable and we were at it again day after day.

Since I went for the monsoon safari, the jungle was in its best form. There was a fire in Bandhavgarh in March this year that burned down multiple regions of the jungle, and yet with a few showers, the jungle flourished with different and brilliant shades of green. This goes to show how quickly nature can heal itself if given even a tiny bit of help, a thing that Suyash kept repeating while we were there and a thing that we have seen time and again.

One of the things that I absolutely love about the safaris is Gypsys! Gypsy speeding through the jungle, beautiful trees holding Langurs, Chitals hopping from one place to another, birds chirping and fishing over ponds, elephants patrolling the jungle, jungle echoing the sound of its inhabitants, mountains surrounding and protecting the forest, and cold breeze blowing through your hairs, all the while tracking pug-marks on the muddy soil or trying to catch a glimpse of a Tiger through the thick browns and greens, how can anyone not fall in love with this!

I was almost in tears when I caught sight of a Tigress and her cubs up close. We had a few far off sightings before, but it was in one of the morning safaris, when we heard of a tiger spotting. On reaching the spot, through the trees we saw a blurry glimpse of 2 cubs rolling on the ground. We waited for an hour and half before the cubs decided that they were thirsty and needed to use a water body across the road. Vehicles were positioned on either sides of the road, giving the cubs enough space to cross the road and for us to get a good sight of them. The first cub was almost at ease with all the attention and calmly walked across the road, but the second one was nervous and quickly ran behind its sibling, they drank water and quickly ran back to the bushes. We waited for another half an hour before their appeared again, this time with their mother, Dotty. She came out of the bushes and all the vehicles quickly started following her movements to get a good view. Like I said before, the naturalists with us were photographers as well so they have a very good sense of photogenic positions. Dotty came out of the bushes, walking towards the road, followed by her cubs, and this was a sight that almost brought me tears, it was beautiful, it was bold. I am amazed at how these animals are at ease with all the vehicles, people and attention they are given. If I was a tiger, I am pretty sure I would either be hiding into the dense forest or charging at people if I came across one. We followed Dotty and her cubs, while they crossed the road and hid again into the bushes.We waited for them to come to a pond nearby, it took another few minutes before they were out, but in no time were back into the bushes again. We played this hide-n-seek game for the remainder of our morning safari. This thrill of finding the tiger makes you forget about the everything else.

Dotty and her cub. Credit: Vatsal Parekh
Dotty’s cub. Credit: Vatsal Parekh

Another thrilling sighting we had was during one of our night safaris. We were out looking for a tiger, we found a pug-mark and were following it, but after an hour of searching, it seemed like a dead-end, so we decided to stop by a tree where a few owlets were sitting, everyone was clicking photos when we suddenly heard a rustle in the bush and a tiger leaped out of it. I froze. We took a turn so that we could see the tiger head-on. I was on the front seat, my heart racing, all sleepiness drained from me, 20 meters of distance between the tiger and us, and pitch darkness all around except that of Gypsy’s headlights and moon. The tiger was looking for someone, perhaps another tiger, he smelled a few plants and disappeared into the bushes. We still had some time left so we went on to search for another tiger when we spotted our group. It seems like they were following someone, which is when we noticed a tigress walking through a bush. We followed her for a while, saw her mark her territory, and then disappear. That was the first time I saw a tiger pee, lovely! On our way back we got lost in the bushes, it took us a few minutes to get on the main road, all the while I was worried we might step on a tiger’s foot or tail. Uttam bhaiya had caught a headache in the middle of the safari, but it was amazing to see how he didn’t let that get in the way of his tiger.

Here’s a video from the night captured by my safari mate Aditya Vohra —

The last safari for the trip for me was a night safari, although we didn’t see any tigers, I got to ride with Gudda bhaiya. I had heard a lot of stories about him from my friend and I knew I had to do at least one safari with him if I got the chance and I was not disappointed. He is an entertainer, a proud local, and an excellent naturalist.

The sky during our night safari.

One of my favorite times during the safari was when I saw food being prepared for elephants, or Hathi Roti as they call it. It is made out of Soya, Wheat, and Brown Chickpea flour and can be easily mistaken for a giant pizza base. I knew I had to taste it or I would regret it later, so I did, and it was delicious, tasted like Bhakhri(Flatbread), and had a sweet aftertaste.

Hathi Roti — Credit — Vatsal Parekh

Another one was when I went for my first safari. It was dawn, the sun had not come up yet, we were driving through the village towards one of the forest gates when I saw herds of Chital deers on either side of the road licking the salt from the soil. It was a beautiful sight. I never knew animals licked salt. I learned quite a few things about animal behavior. I learned about the unusual friendship of Chital and Langurs — things like how during the day Langurs uses its strong eyesight to spot a Tiger and make a sound to warn Chitals, or how during the night Chitals uses their sense of smell to detect Leopards and warn Langurs resting on the tree top, or how one call from Langur means a Tiger is around, but a call back from another Langur means it is a Leopard, or how Langurs eat 20% of fruit and drops the rest for Chitals to eat. I learned how a male Chital wears a crown around its antelopes to attract a female mate or how a Langur can be abandoned from its troupe in some cases(I cannot remember which). I also learned about how Tigers get their names from their behavior or their stripe patterns or their territory, for example, Dotty gets her name from a dotted pattern on her forehead, while her sister Spotty gets her name from a T-pattern spotted on her forehead. How Dabhadol(Dumbledore) gets her name from his territory and how a tiger who would often charge at people was called Charger or how a tigress who always roamed alone was named Solo ❤.

Before this trip, I had been very ignorant about all the beautiful birds that live in this world, the count of birds I knew was less than 20, but the jungle introduced me to so so so many beautiful birds, whose names I still cannot completely recall, but I am more mindful of them now.

Crested Eagle. Credit: Vatsal Parekh
Peacock calling out to its mate. Credit: Vatsal Parekh
Kingfishers. Credit: Vatsal Parekh

For me, this safari was more about getting a glimpse into the lives of wildlife photographers, naturalists, and forest life. I realized it is all about searching, waiting, and getting lucky, or as Suyash puts it, it’s 25% searching, 25% waiting and 50% getting lucky. And of course, talking about your animals as your pets, talking about them, day in and day out, and never getting bored of it. Listening to our naturalists and guides talk about tigers always reminded me of how I talk about my dog and how every animal I saw in the jungle reminded me of her, it’s love. I did not expect this when I signed up for the safari, but I am glad to have experienced it.

I need to give a shout-out to the lodge that hosted us, Kings Lodge. I appreciate how the staff made our stay so comfy. I loved them serving homegrown organic food, keeping the place Eco friendly(for real), keeping our rooms clean, escorting us to our rooms after dark(in case we encounter some of our forest friends), welcoming us, and asking us about our safari and cooking delicious hot meals for us, especially the packed breakfast as early as 4 in the morning and dinner as late as 11 in the night. I respect the staff for all the hard work they put in considering how short they were in number and how odd our timings were.

I realize how curated this safari was, everything was planned to give us the best experience, be it stay or vehicle or food or safari, be it breakfast in the jungle or welcome drinks, or evening popcorn(my favorite part of the day, that is how much I like popcorn!) or comfy Gypsy sitting, it was the little things that made a difference and this experience a memorable one. As far as the safari is concerned I do not think I would have had this experience if I had gone with a normal touristy safari.

I did not think I would, but while writing this blog, I started missing all of my safari mates. I think I was a little overwhelmed by it all when we first met. Sometimes I find it hard to express myself and I can come off a little rude or bleh, I tend to take some time with strangers, but by the time I start to get comfortable with everyone, its always time to leave :( But to my fellow safari mates reading this, I miss you. Anokkhi, Shweta, Aditya, Kajol, Sarthak, Vignesh, Utkarsh, Vatsal, Sikandar, Suyash, Vijaybhaiya, Uttambhaiya, Guddabhaiya, thank you for being a part of my experience!
P.S — I miss playing ATLAS.

#SafariWithSuyash

Ooh, and here’s to my first celebrity photo —

I do not know what other safaris would be like, but I have been told that I have been ruined for life with the excellent sightings we had and the lovely weather that the monsoon brought with it.

For anyone looking to join these safaris, there are a few coming up in Oct-Nov.

“What we can see, we can love. What we can love, we will fight to protect.”
#SafariWithSuyash ❤

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