India part 2: Kaziranga National Park


It has now been 3 weeks since I returned from India and about time I posted some more pics. After spending a day of sightseeing in Delhi, we took a 2 hour flight East over the snowy Himalayas, followed by a 4 hour taxi ride to Kaziranga National Park in Assam, East India. Wildlife photography was my main reason for this trip and, although the pesky tigers decided not to show their stripey faces during our 4 day stay, we were spoilt by all the other animals that were on offer. Here are some of the highlights:

Indian Rhinos:

Kaziranga is home to over 2000 Indian rhinos. These are similar to African rhinos except they drive around in tuktuks and love curry... oh, and they only have one horn! Despite the best efforts of anti-poaching programs, they are still threatened by the illegal ivory trade. These huge beasts seem very docile and oblivious 99% of the time but we were reminded to take caution when one started lining up to take on our jeep: shortly after the picture below was taken, we found ourselves staring straight at this lump of a male, disgruntled at being my camera's muse, heading towards us on the narrow track. I'm glad our jeep had a reverse gear as rhinos don't believe in warning charges - when they charge, it is with intent (unlike elephants who will often stop short of their target to ensure that underpants still need to be changed but no actual harm is done)...

Click on the images below to enlarge:

Elephants:

Kaziranga's wild elephant population is estimated at around 1200 and we had a few reasonable sightings of them in the distance, including of one swimming across a lake. However, the best photo opportunity came when a solitary male crossed the track in front of our jeep, paused to smile at the camera then headed off about his business...

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Domesticated elephants are common in rural India as their immense power is very useful for agricultural farming. They are also used in the Kaziranga for tourist safaris. I was sceptical about these before heading to India: I had doubts about the ethics and had seen various videos showing the mal-treatment of working elephants in other Asian countries. After observing how they were treated for the first 3 days and their seemingly loving relationship with the mahoots, my travel companion and I decided to give it a go before leaving. It was certainly an experience and I can see why so many people rave about it. The elephants allow you to venture into the long grass, inaccessable by jeep, and get much closer and view the wild animals from above, notably the rhinos. However, from a photographer's perspective, it was terrible - it was as if somebody had fitted a jeep with square wheels. I soon ditched my camera and just soaked in the surrounding atmosphere (which smelled a lot like fresh elephant dung)...

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Rhesus Macaque:

These cheeky monkeys seemed to be everywhere and were very photogenic, whether clambering through trees or playing on the rooftop of the park's reception centre...

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Birds of Prey

As the tigers decided not show up, I was pleased to be able to witness other magnificent predators hunting in their natural environment. We spotted over a dozen different species of raptor in the 12 days including various eagles, falcons, harriers, vultures and owls in Kaziranga (you'll have to wait until my next blog for the Osprey in Sundarbans though). I've always loved birds of prey, probably due to having a father who is a keen twitcher combined with my morbid fascination for gore!

(above) Pallas's Fish Eagle soaring through the trees.

Click on the images below to enlarge:

Other Birdlife

Where do I start?? Everywhere you look in Kaziranga, the trees and skies are alive with ornithological activity - the birds deserve several blogs just to themselves! My highlights were definitely hornbills tossing up and catching fruit and also the different species of kingfisher (more on those in my next blog too). There were so many brightly coloured little things flitting about, it did feel slightly different from your average trip to Leighton Moss (the local RSPB reserve where I grew up in Lancashire). Here is a big handful of what was on offer (I have fat hands)...

(above) Great Hornbill

(above) X-Wing Pelicans!

Click on the images below to enlarge:

I think that's about enough for one blog. I took just under 2000 photos in Kaziranga as it's very hard to predict when wild animals are going to do something exciting. I have images of various other birds but the quality just wasn't good enough to publish (often taken in low light at a long distance while the birds were moving). Of my favourites that didn't make the cut, the minivas, orioles and green-bearded bee-eaters stood out. The same applies to a fascinating family of otters that we observed lounging about, swimming and even catching fish but they were too far away for aesthetically pleasing photos. Next time maybe, next time!

I will posting a third and final blog from India soon, featuring highlights form Sundarbans, the densely forrested delta to the South of Kolkata. Also on its way will be a wedding blog which I have been writing since December but I haven't got round to finishing yet (I've been having too much fun behind the lens)!

As per usual, all my images above are available for purchase - you can get in touch via email: info@robinboot.com

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Until next time, namaste.

Robin


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