Vultures of Central India

Vultures of Central India

Whenever we think of vulture we think of sulky and ugly looking birds feeding on rotten flesh of an animal but they are important to our ecosystem. Vultures are biological waste controllers. "Without them the consequences are significant," says Mark Habben, curator of birds at London Zoo in the UK.

Once found in millions, vultures in Indian sub-continent perished and their population declined to alarming level due to toxicity induced by diclofenac, a drug whose residues in domestic animal carcasses has led to rapid declines in populations of vultures across Asia particularly Gyps genus. Till the middle of 1980s vultures of the Gyps genus found in India were numerous to the point of being classified a nuisance as they were involved in many bird strikes. They were usually seen hovering over tall trees even in urban areas but the situation of today is pitiable. For every 1000 that India had at the onset of the 1990s only 1 remain two decades hence. It is rare to sight a vulture even in rural areas these days.

The vulture can still be seen in central India and out of nine species of vultures found in India, seven can be seen here. 

Indian Vulture Gyps indicus

Indian Vulture Gyps indicus

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Panna Tiger Reserve

The Indian vulture is medium in size and bulky. Its head and neck are almost bald, and its bill is rather long and has a wing span of 1.96 to 2.38 m (6.4 to 7.8 ft). These bird species inhabit open savanna and also open country near villages, towns and cities.

White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Kanha Tiger Reserve

This species is an Old World vulture native to South and Southeast Asia. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the population severely declined. In the 1980s, the global population was estimated at several million individuals, and it was thought to be "the most abundant large bird of prey in the world". As of 2016, the global population was estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals.

This is the smallest of the Gyps vultures, but is still a very large bird. It weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs) and has a wingspan of 1.92–2.6 m (6.3–8.5 ft). These vultures inhabit open country near human habitations like villages and towns.

Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus

Status: Critically Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh and Kanha Tiger Reserve

It is a medium-sized vulture weighing 3.5–6.3 kg (7.7–13.9 lb) and having a wingspan of about 1.99–2.6 m (6.5–8.5 ft).  It has a prominent naked head. It is usually found in open country and in cultivated and semi-desert areas. It is also found in deciduous forests and foothills and river valleys.

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

Status: Endangered

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh and Satpura Tiger Reserve

A small vulture with a very large range, the Egyptian vulture has an unmistakable appearance. Adults have largely white to pale grey plumage, which contrasts markedly with the black flight-feathers and the bold yellow bare skin on the face.

The adult Egyptian vulture measures 47–65 centimetres (19–26 in) from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail feathers. The wingspan is about 2.7 times the body length.

The Egyptian vulture generally inhabits open, arid areas and fields, but requires rocky sites for nesting. It is often found near human habitations.

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus

Status: Near Threatened

Best seen at: Nowhere common

The cinereous vulture is the largest bird of prey in the Old World and one of the heaviest and largest of all raptors. This vulture attains a maximum weight of 14 kg, (roughly 30 lbs), 1.2 m long (almost 4 ft) and 3.1 m (a bit over 10 ft) across the wings.

The cinereous vulture occurs in scrub, arid and semi-arid and open grassland, as well as forest. These vultures are generally seen during winter months in central India.

Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis

Status: Near Threatened

Best seen at: Kanha Tiger Reserve

This is a huge vulture, and is perhaps the largest and heaviest bird found in central India. The species is found mainly in the higher regions of the Himalayas. Weight can range from as little as 6 kg (13 lb) to as much as 12.5 kg (28 lb). The wingspan of birds varies from 2.56 to 3.1 m (8.4 to 10.2 ft). Himalayan Griffon is a winter visitor in central India.

Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus

Status: Least Concern

Best seen at: Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

A large, carnivorous scavenger, the Eurasian griffon may be seen soaring majestically on thermal currents in the warmer climate searching for food. It is is 93–122 cm (37–48 in) long with a 2.3–2.8 m (7.5–9.2 ft) wingspan and weighs about 7.1 kg (16 lb). A fairly vocal bird, the Eurasian griffon produces a range of different calls when interacting with other Eurasian griffons.

The Eurasian griffon occurs in a wide range of habitats, including mountains, plateaus, grassland, shrubland and semi-desert.

India Safari Photography Tips

India Safari Photography Tips

Are you planning for a wildlife safari in India? Below are few basic points to keep in mind for taking better photographs on your next safari holiday in India.

 

Know Your Gear Before You Go

Its not a good idea to go on a safari with a new or unfamiliar gear. Whether it is rented on bought new, you should know how your camera or lens works, what is its sweet spot, where are the buttons located and its functionality to quickly change the setting. In the jungle most animals will not give you time to stop and change camera settings, before you know they have either changed their position or vanished in the thickets.

 

Choose Correct Gear

Bringing correct gear on safari is very essential. This largely depends on what you shoot. In my experience the people I have taken on safari have carried all sorts of camera and lens from high end to bridge and point and shoot. But in my opinion you need a dslr with lens with enough reach to get decent close shots of animals. It is  recommended at least 200-300 mm lens for general wildlife and minimum 400mm for birds. You might also want to pack a wide angle lens as Indian jungles offer some beautiful landscapes.

Very often you will see animals including tigers at close quarters in the thickets or crossing roads. In this scenario, high end zoom or telephoto lens are not much of use. Therefore, it is wise to pack lens that does the job.

Most wildlife in India is active during early morning hours or late in the evening when light is very low. To get decent shutter speed you need fast lens and body with good iso performance.

Adapt According to the Conditions

Light conditions in the Indian jungle constantly changing. At one moment you are driving through the jungle and in next you come out on the meadow. With constantly changing light, it is a best practice to keep changing your camera setting. It can be painful and easy to forget but give you an edge to quickly point your camera and freeze the moment.

Light temperature is another aspect you need to take into consideration. Early morning light in central India tends to be cooler while day is very warm. If you like to make the most out your picture it is best to keep an eye on your camera’s white balance setting.

 

Bean Bag

We do not recommend bringing tripod for safari in jeep because there is just not enough space in jeep to install the tripod. Wild animals move fast and change direction, so tripod can become an obstacle rather than a helping tool. We however, recommend a bean bag which is much more practical and offers a better flexibility while you maneuver from one side of jeep to other. It is also easier to pack and bring. We will fill your bean bag before you go on a safari so you do not need to carry fillings with you. 

 

Focus on the Eyes

A wildlife photograph where the subjects eyes are out of focus loses a lot of its appeal. The reason is probably that we as humans are naturally drawn towards looking at eyes and if you can't see them due to blurring it's a little jarring. Whatever the reason, always keep the eyes of your subject in focus and if you can capture the sun glinting in the pupil you get bonus points because that really livens up the picture.

However, it is not always the case to get eyes in perfect focus specially when the subject is bit far off. In such case it is best to focus on face so you get important features of animals in proper focus.

 

Shutter Speed

Different shutter speeds produce varying effects with regard to subject blur and camera shake. Fast shutter speeds are desirable for stopping movement, such as flying birds and eliminating camera shake. It is worth remembering that is some situations movement of the subject during exposure can often result in a pleasing pictorial image. A minimum shutter speed should be 1/500.

Freezing moment

 

Shoot in Continuous Mode

Shooting in Continuous mode with 3-6 frames per second helps to capture many beautiful moments of action in the wild. It captures them in flight, leap and behavior and most important you don’t miss the shot when your subject is on move.

 

Shoot in RAW

A RAW file has much more data than a JPEG file. JPEG is in camera built processing of your photograph and is ready to print. But JPEG can fool you with its processing whereas RAW gives you the advantage to go back any time and process the image; do color correction, brightness and contrast, sharpening without damaging your original file.

Note: RAW files can be processed in Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom etc.

 

Shoot in Aperture Priority

For that nice blurry background and stand out wildlife photographs Av or Aperture priority mode is used with a decent telephoto lens. Do keep your aperture wide open with f/stops like f/2.8 or f/4 or f /5.6 to get minimum depth of field. These f/stops are mostly used in birds and mammal photography. Vice a versa for photographing landscapes you can achieve a maximum depth of field with f/16 or f/22 so that the scene is sharp from foreground to background.

Note: The shutter speed will be set automatically in this mode and can be increased by increasing the ISO values. Just keep this in mind that a narrow aperture like f/16 or f/22 will slow down your shutter speed and you might need a tripod to capture the scene during dawn and dusk.

Every zoom lens has a sweet spot which is generally 30-50 mm short of full zoom and a 1 f stop down. Find this sweet spot by practicing and observing images for sharper results.

 

Other Essentials in your Camera Bag

-Pack extra batteries and memory cards since you’ll have few chances to charge your camera and transfer photos throughout the day.

-Do not forget to keep a camera cleaning kit with dust blower, cotton swabs, cleaning brush and lens cleaning tissue.

-It is wise to pack extra charger. I have seen battery chargers failing and people getting dishearten due to non functioning charger.

-Cables, card readers and portable hard disc are other essential to have in your camera bag.

Protect Gear

Safaris can be very dusty due to loose soil and light suspended particles in the air, specially if you are behind another jeep. Therefore, it is advisable to carry some kind of protection to cover your face, head and gear. 

Go With Pro

It’s tempting to try and save money by organizing a safari on your own, but it’s worth it to go with a travel specialist, like Chinkara Journeys. Quality travel advisors can offer small or private tours so you are not fighting for a good view or moving on before you get the shot. A good guide will also have the knowledge and experience with wildlife to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time to capture stunning images. Going at it alone or with an inexperienced operator may lead to missed opportunities and subpar photos.

 

Research Your Subjects

It is always better to do some home work in advance before visiting any national park, tiger reserve or bird sanctuary. Every park is different in its terrain, habitat and wildlife and it looks completely varied at different seasons. So surf the web and ask your tour operator. Ask the lodge manager and there in house naturalists about the terrain, common sightings and kind of photography opportunities you may get. Do a research about the targeted animal species, their behaviour, routines & habitat.

Playful wild dogs

Bastar Dussehra

Bastar Dussehra

As with the rest of India, Bastar celebrates Dussehra. In fact, it is the region's most important festival, and all the tribes participate in the 10-day event. But Dussehra in Bastar is different from anywhere else. Here, instead of rejoicing over the triumphant return of Lord Rama (the hero of the epic Ramayana) to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, the tribals celebrate Dussehra as a congregation of Devi Maoli ( Bastar's native deity, revered as the "elder sister" of Devi Danteshwari, the family goddess of the ruling Kakatiya family), and all her sisters. Hundreds of priests bring flower-bedecked local deities to the Danteshwari temple in Jagdalpur, arriving with all pomp and show.

In the former princely state of Bastar, however, Dassehra has long held a different meaning, being the time when the Rajput ruler and his tribal subjects reaffirmed their special bonds over several days of spectacular celebration. Dassehra is the principal royal festival of the state, and uniquely linked to the personal Goddess of the Kakatiya ruling family, Sri Danteshwari Mai, an aspect of Durga, representing the feminine principle of shakti that is the object of worship and renewal in other parts of India at this time of Navratri (notably in the Durga Puja of Bengal).

Bastar Dussehra is believed to have been started, in the 15th century, by Maharaj Purushottam Deo, the fourth Kakatiya ruler. This would make it a 500 year old festival. For 10 days, the king (as the high-priest of Devi Danteshwari) would temporarily abdicate office to worship Danteshwari full time. He would seek, in confidence and through a siraha (a medium "possessed" by the devi ), a report on the state.

Jagdalpur's Dassehra also reflects the long historical influence of Orissa Brahmins on the rites of the Bastar royal house, with giant chariots in procession recalling the worship of Sri Jagannath at Puri. Traditionally, huge numbers of (non-Hindu) forest people from all over Bastar converged on Jagdalpur with their tribal gods to honour their Hindu Raja and relate their grievances. Members of certain clans and villages have age-old tasks to fulfil each year in building the chariots with specific woods and performing other rites.

Though the ruling family was Hindu and the festival has its roots in Hinduism, it has assimilated many tribal elements and is a perfect example of the unique amalgam of traditional Hinduism and tribal traditions that make up the local culture.

Ceremonial rituals

Bastar Dussehra is unique!

  • Bastar is in Dandakarnya, where Lord Rama is believed to have spent the 14 years of his exile. Yet Bastar Dussehra here has nothing to do with Lord Rama or the Ramayana.
     
  • Beginning with amavasya (dark moon) in the month of Shravan , Bastar Dussehra spans over 75 days, ending on the thirteenth day of the bright moon in the month of Ashwin. It is thus the longest Dussehra in the world.​

Colours of the Bastar Dussehra Festival

  • Bastar Dussehra involves the participation of diverse tribes and castes, each of whom is assigned a specific task, which they continue to carry out 5 decades after monarchies were abolished in India. For example, to build the two-tiered chariot, carpenters come from Beda Umargaon village; the special, massive ropes are twined by the tribals of Karanji, Kesarpal and Sonabal villages; the smaller chariot is pulled by the youth of Kachorapati and Agarwara pargana s; the larger chariot is pulled by the bison-horn marias of Killepal. Singing hymns at all rituals is the prerogative of munda s from Potanar village.
     
  • The festival involves rituals of extraordinary rigor like a girl swinging on a bed of thorns; a youth ( jogi ) sitting in vigil, buried shoulder-deep, for nine days; mediums, reputedly possessed by the local deities, dancing eerily on the roads.
     
  • The festival provides a forum for elected representatives, administrators and old-time tribal chieftains to confer on the state of Bastar at the Muria Durbar.

 Chariot pulling ceremony by locals

  • One of the most awaited events is the rath yatra . The massive rath (chariot) might look primitive to an outsider, but it is symbolic of the king's desire to patronize locals instead of bringing a fancy chariot from elsewhere and tribal taboos on using sophisticated tools to make the chariot. It is hewn afresh each year, and the sight of 400 maria tribe pulling it leaves a potent impression of tribal faith.
Five things to do in Chhattisgarh

Five things to do in Chhattisgarh

In the heart of the country lies Chhattisgarh among the newly carved states of the nation, still charting its destiny and with each passing year throwing up many surprises that would leave a visitor enthralled. It is a land where mysteries unfold at every step, where history awaits to be discovered at every turn and where nature pours forth its bounty as the journey progresses.

The remoteness made Chhattisgarh one of the least known parts of the India that, incidentally, still remains relatively unexplored. In this land you can do countless things and we have chosen the best to be explored. The best five things you can do in Chhattisgarh are:

 

Tribal life

The state prides itself on a tribal culture that dates back several millennia and the music, culture and craft of the tribal communities that can still be experienced across the state. There are as many as 42 tribes in Chhattisgarh and make up as much as 31.8 %. The highest tribal concentration is in the districts of Bastar, Dantewada and Jashpur. The main tribal community if Chhattisgarh are Gonds, Maria, Muria, Bhatra, Baiga, Halba etc.

Despite the push towards mordernity in the 21th Century, the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh have managed to retain their unique identity and continue with their age old practices. The forests have always been their friend and they have lived off and given back to the forest.

No visit to tribal area is complete without a visit to one of the local haats. The haat or the weekly market is the lifeline of the rural economy of Bastar where locals find items for daily needs. It is also sort of an outing for tribal communities and a chance for them to bring their produce to the open market. The haats are also a place to sample the local brew – mahua and sulfi and maybe even witness a fight cock. The tribal haats offer a unique opportunity and experience to the tourists to meet the locals and get a taste of traditional culture.

Baiga tribe of central India

Nature’s Goodness

With phenomenal 44% forest cover (12% share of India’ forest) including three national park and eleven sanctuaries, Chhattisgarh can undoubtedly be branded as the ‘green state’. Comprising mainly tropical moist and dry deciduous forests and significantly rich in endemic species as well as medicinal plants (more than 500 species have been identified so far). The wildlife and nature tourism, still at its nascent stage, keeps the tourist number low and promise a true wildlife experience.

Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary: Covering an area of 245 sq km, a sense of peace prevails here. Close to state capital Raipur at 100 km, the sanctuary is rich in wildlife with high concentration of Gaur or Indian Bison Bos gaurus and leopard.

Achanakmar Tiger Reserve: Covering an area of 557 sq km is comprised of hilly terrain Sal forest. The reserve is connected to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh and home to variety of wildlife including tiger, sloth bear, leopard and wild dogs.

Kanger Valley National Park: Located in the Bastar region, it is one of the most beautiful and densest reserve of Chhattisgarh. Lying in transition zone that connects moist peninsular sal forests and the South Indian tropical moist deciduous forests, Kanger acts as a corridor for birds where numerous bird species can be found which do not occur elsewhere in Central India. Other attractions inside the park include subterranean limestone caves.

Romancing the stone

History lies waiting to be discovered at every step in Chhattisgarh, a treasure trove of archaeological finds. Endowed with forest, rich mineral deposits and precious stones, this land held an irresistible allure to a succession of rulers.

Sirpur: It can be best described as a museum under the open sky and a town of temples. Located on the banks of the Mahanadi, Sirpur is an important historical site that date back to 7th century AD.  It has the archaeological remains associated with Buddhist, Shaiva, Vaishnava and Jain faiths. Excavations have yielded extensive ruins of ancient structures scattered over a vast area. Among the numerous temples and Buddhist monasteries (vihars), the most notable are the Laxman temple, Gandeshwara temple, Anandaprabhu Kutir Vihar and Swastika Vihar.

Bhoramdeo: Built in 1089 AD by Laxman Dev Rai, the Bhoramdeo temple has similar erotic carving to those at world famous Khajuraho temple. This exquisite temple has some beautiful examples of Vaishnava, Shaiva and Jain sculptures.

Sirpur temple carving

Fairs and Festivals

Festivals of Chhattisgarh tells the multi-hued tale of cultural ecstasy of the state. The ancient times of Chhattisgarh have scripted the history of many tribal and non-tribal festivals. From Dussera and Madhai in Bastar to Rajim Kumbh, the state is brimming with a pulsating palate of festivals.

Bastar Dussera: It is the region's most important festival, and all the tribes participate in the 10-day event. Here, the tribals celebrate Dussehra as a congregation of Devi Maoli (Bastar's native deity), and all her sisters. Bastar Dussehra involves the participation of diverse tribes and castes. Hundreds of priests bring flower-bedecked local deities to the Danteshwari temple in Jagdalpur, arriving with all pomp and show. The important event during dussera is the rath yatra (Chariot procession). The massive chariot is hewn afresh each year, and the sight of 400 maria tribe pulling it leaves a potent impression of tribal faith.

Bastar Madhai: This tribal festival is celebrated by the tribes of Kanker and Bastar regions, to worship the local God(dess). It travels through the year from one place of the state to another from December to March. It is held in a big ground, so that thousands of people can attend the ceremony, which starts with a procession of the local God(dess), followed by worship of the same. The event is celebrated with tribal dances, folk songs, and tribal theatre held in the open grounds to praise the Goddess. The Madai festival is a grand collective festival that connects all the various tribes of Chattisgarh by a common thread.

Rajim Kumbh: Rajim Kumbh is a Hindu pilgrimage held every year in Rajim of Chattisgarh. Located on the holy confluence of the Mahanadi, Pairi and Sondur rivers, Rajim observes thousands of Sadhu and Saints, who come each year to attend the festival. Rajim Kumbh starts from Magh Purnima (Feb-Mar) and continues for 15 days. People start coming to Rajim one day ahead of time, and take part in the special puja.

 

Fine Art

Gracing homes across the world these artifacts of metal and wood are proof of a fertile imagination and the fine hand of the craftsmen of the state. Using available resources, tribals have evolved a rich craft traditions and continue to create works of art in iron, bell metal and terracotta.

Bell metal: Metal casting is the most distinguished craft of Chhattisgarh. It is practiced in many parts of the state with Bastar being the hub. Made of 60 percent copper and 40 percent zinc, bell metal is cast using cire perdue or the lost wax process, which interestingly continues to be carried out in the same way as it was when first used.

Iron work: Recycled scrap iron forms the main raw material for this craft. It is used to create not just decorative artifacts but also household objects and farm equipment. The production method used for this craft is simple and indigenous as iron is beaten when hot. At Komdagaon nearly entire village is engaged in iron craft.