king kobra at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

In Search of a Tiger: My Journey to Rajaji National Park

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Elephant at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

Trip Dates: 15th April to 19th April’15

I have been visiting Rajaji National Park for the last 5 years in search of a tiger but never saw one. A few days ago  I was told by my guide that a tigress is being sighted by tourists hardly 3 to 4 km from the entry gate of Chilla Range, hence I decided to visit again. I stayed at Pawan Dham Ashram on the Haridwar-Rishikesh road from 15th to 19 th April 2015. The most popular entry gate to Chilla Range is about 12 km from Pawan Dham Ashram.

During my first safari in the evening on 15th April, I was lucky  to locate a nesting site of Oriental pied Hornbill on the safari route and  my patience was rewarded when I witnessed their mating on 16th evening. A very rare moment and a lifetime shot for the birders. After the mating was over we moved beyond Meethawali Rest House. After moving about 200 meters  we observed a small group of elephants who blocked our way for about 20 minutes. But it was good to observe their activities.

Pied Hornbill mating at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

 

In the morning of 17th April as soon as we entered the park gate, loud and sharp cheetal( spotted Deer) calls stopped us moving. After placing the spotted deer in the vicinity we happen to see a male leopard on its toes in the Sal forest. Thereafter in the river bed we were fortunate to see a crested serpent eagle being harassed by a jungle crow as eagle had a toad in its talon. Our patience was rewarded as we could see a pair of toads in the talon of crested serpent eagle.

eagle with kill at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

During one of the jungle safari near Khara Chowki guide showed us the black stork in search of fishes in the water stream. While moving his beak in the water the stork was spreading his wings to create shadow in the water. The darkness created would then force the fishes to go towards the light and this movement would be taken advantage to by black stork to catch them. This kept us busy for more than half an hour and in understanding the strategy adopted by black stork to catch his prey from the waters.

stork at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

In the morning of 18th April while I was entering details into  the register for jungle safari at the booking office, tourists on seeing a leopard on the road ,hardly 1oo meters from the barrier, shouted in excitement. On hearing I too came out  and was lucky to have glimpses of  the male leopard .

On the last safari on 19th April I was accompnied by Swami ji Sh  Sahaj  Prakash of Pawan Dham. We saw a number of birds such as black francolin, Indian roller, peacock, pied bushchat, shrike. After crossing  Mandawali chowki my guide -cum driver  noticed a snake in the undergrowth on the right side of the safari route. He stopped the vehicle at a convenient place asked us to see the snake .He told that it is a python. However I had my own doubts as I have been observing python in a number of National Parks and sanctuaries for the last 11 years. However I kept on taking photographs whenever opportunity arose. After spending about 20 minutes the snake moved towards the dry river . We could not see it further.Accordingly we too moved towards Meethawali Forest rest House and completed our safari at Chilla Range.

king kobra at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

After reaching Delhi I went through the photographs of  the snake. Somehow I had a gut feeling that the snake is a  king cobra. I sent two photographs to Sh Rajesh  bedi, well known  Wildlife photographer of India for its proper identification. Within no time he confirmed that it is a king cobra{female}.He also observed that very few people had the opportunity to see and take a good picture of king cobra in the Chilla range.I was really thrilled by his observation as I have been going to Rajaji  National park in search of a tiger  but nature gave me more than a tiger. A lifetime and memorable sighting of king cobra in its natural habitat.

The team members of  Wildnest Travel And photography Pvt Ltd who organized my trip insisted me to visit the Haridwar Range(Ranipur Gate) of the park as chances of sighting a leopard are quite bright. After proper permission at the Ranipur gate and a forest guide we began our safari.

I observed that it is a perfect place to see spotted deer, sambar,  nilgai, junglefowl, peafowl and a variety of other animals and birds. We saw a leopard perfectly camoflaged in green covers hardly 20 metres from the road. After sometime we heard call from a cheetal indicating presence of a predator.

Leopard at Rajaji Vinod Goel Wildlife Photographer

We could spot a male leopard crossing the road and then melted into the green cover on our right.  Later on it was found sitting over the boundry wall. A female also tried to climb the wall but could not as it was disturbed by the humans on the other side. As the time of safari was coming to end we came out from the gate with very pleasant memories of the most elusive cat.

In the wee hours of  20th  April we left Haridwar and reached Delhi by 10 a.m. Same day news paper revealed that Rajaji National Park was declared a Tiger Reserve on 20 th April 2015. It is the 48th tiger reserve of the country.

Let us hope the condition of the park would improve and people may see tiger in the natural habitat after washing their sins in the holy waters of Ganges river.

Know more about Rajaji National Park

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About Vinod Goel

He joined Customs & Central Excise service in 1982. As a civil servant, his job takes him to various parts of India, which gave him an opportunity to capture our wild heritage, through his camera. His passion for wildlife photography started in 2004 when he was posted at Raipur (Chhattisgarh) and this passion continues till today.

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