Bandhavgarh National Park is one of the best places in the world to see wild tigers. It’s located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, an 18-hour train ride southeast of New Delhi. The journey by train is the best and easiest way to reach this remote reserve. The nearest airport is six hours away, and you should avoid the pothole-covered roads that lead to Bandhavgarh.
Bandhavgarh is best known for its healthy tiger population and the relatively easy spotting of this magnificent cat. However, there are many other mammals, as well as more than 250 bird species, which make visiting this rugged mountainous park an exciting and rewarding nature experience. There are a number of large meadows, remnants of human habitation from the time before Bandhavgarh became a tiger reserve, which attract large herds of spotted deer.
Sambar deer prefer forests in the higher elevations. Both kinds of ungulates are the tigers’ main prey. You might encounter some wild boar, and with any luck, Indian wild dogs or even a sloth bear. With even more luck, you can spot a leopard high up on a cliff in areas where they're relatively safe from their enemies—the tigers.
Tiger photography is a real challenge. The best way to see tigers in Bandhavgarh is from the back of an elephant. And elephants never stand still. They always move, even if the mahout gives them a command to stop flapping their ears or pulling off bamboo leaves with their trunks.
On top of this you usually have to deal with very poor light. Tigers escape the heat during the day either by lying in tall grass in wet meadows or near creeks in dark forests. Even using ISO 200 with ƒ/2.8 lenses, you often need to shoot at shutter speeds of 1/60—handheld, of course.
Because of the light conditions, big glass is best—a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens and a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens, although a 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 lens also works well. Most people can't handhold a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens very long, so using the slower but much lighter 100-400mm lens makes photo shoots easier. Using image-stabilized lenses also helps to photograph these majestic animals.
Digital photography has a great advantage over film as you can switch the ISO settings immediately without changing camera bodies. It's difficult to find a film that can reproduce the tiger's color in the proper shade, like digital files can. But no matter how difficult it is to capture a tiger in the wild on film or on a digital sensor, it's much more rewarding than shooting them "Hollywood-style" on game farms.
The park is closed during the monsoon season from June to October. The best time to see tigers is in the dry season from the end of January to the end of March. In April and May, the weather can be unbearably hot and tigers aren't very active during this time.
Contact: Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation Limited, www.mptourism.com.
Shooting while riding an elephant presents logistical problems; namely, how to carry the necessary photo gear and get to it easily and safely. A standard shoulder bag is too unwieldy, while a photo backpack makes it too hard to get to your gear. The solution is a waistpack or photo vest. Both provide security for the gear, freedom of movement for you and easy access to items you need.
Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge (www.tiger-resorts.com) is located within walking distance of the park's main gate, making it a convenient base of operations for photographing the area.