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Old 3rd December 2016, 20:13   #1
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Default The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

A short photologue

Dudhwa. The land of grasslands, swamps and tall sal trees. Renowned for its rich fauna, including swamp deer, Indian rhinos and huge tigers. And for the conservation efforts of Billy Arjan Singh, who was somewhat of a tiger himself. Contiguous to Royal Bardia National Park in Nepal, Dudhwa is located in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, and had been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while. I had thought that someday I would drive down and experience Dudhwa as an appetizer, while Corbett would be the main course. But this time when I got a chance to visit the park with a few friends, I jumped at the opportunity even though it meant flying down to Lucknow and then hiring a vehicle.

Forest road
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The sun rises through the mist
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Sunset behind a stalk of grass
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Pastel sunrise
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While I kept my hopes in check regarding mammal sightings (wrong time of the year), I was looking forward to the mist, dew and soft November light that I could expect to encounter. Incidentally, Frederick Walter Champion, the pioneer of wildlife photography in India, and an inspiration for Jim Corbett taking up a camera, spent a lot of time in these forests of erstwhile Oudh, taking some iconic photos.

I took a night flight to Lucknow. Early next morning we started for Dudhwa. We were traveling in an Innova that had done more than 2 lakh km, one couldn’t make out (hint: I drive a Toyota). Traffic was crazy, as was our driver. He kept honking like mad, expecting people, cows and other vehicles to jump out of his way. Often we scraped past an old person or a cow or a truck with 2 inches to spare. Not a good start to a trip that was supposed to be ‘relaxing’. We went via Sitapur – Lakhimpur – Palia Kalan to reach Dudhwa. Four years back, on the way back from Kumaon, I had driven on the Philibit – Gola – Lakhimpur – Sitapur – Lucknow stretch. The roads were a lot emptier then.

Great Indian rhino
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Train line passing through the forest
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Semi-tame rabbit on the lawn of the forest rest house
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Swampdeer-scape
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Gateway to light
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Marsh harrier
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We spent the first few days at a tourist complex right beside the forest entry gate. Shot a few interesting sunset photos during a late afternoon walk. The forest guards told us that a tiger is sighted regular behind the tourist complex. One evening around 8 pm we heard the alarm calls of cheetal and langur. Seemed the big cat was afoot. Went near the fence, and waited for a while. No luck. In the end, we didn’t see any big cats during our stay in Dudhwa, but another safari vehicle encountered a big male tiger in the evening when they were coming back from their afternoon safari.

An afternoon safari in Kishanpur was disappointing. I had high hopes of taking portraits and animalscapes of swamp deers, but they were too far away, and there was too much haze in the afternoon. My pre-visualized shot of a swamp deer stag, with its head emerging out of the mist, in beautiful light, didn’t materialize. Maybe someday. On the way back from Kishanpur, we stopped at Palia Kalan, the nearest small town. Went inside a dhaba, and gorged like crazy. No non-veg or liquid refreshments were allowed inside the tourist complex, which was run by the forest department. So we needed to make up a little bit for the last few days of abstinence.

The deer and the sun
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Giant wood spider
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Swarovski
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Tunnel
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Morning perch
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Then we shifted to a forest rest house 13 km inside the park (the same one that Guru Dutt, may he RIP, wrote about on Team BHP, many years back). The mornings were misty, with dew shining on every grass blade. The sun took its time to rise, and for the first couple of hours in the morning, the light was quite magical. The evenings were a bit chilly, especially if one were driving around in a Gypsy. I would typically spend a few hours alone on the FRH terrace. The Milky Way would be out after 7 pm. The fireflies would be twinkling all around. The grassland would slowly get covered by the rising mist, and leopards would start calling (the forest guards told us that there were 8 leopards around the forest rest house). The deers would give their alarm calls as they were chased by the leopards. The moon would light up the misty grasslands after rising a little before midnight. The cold and crisp breeze would make my hands and nose a little numb.

Sunset over the wooden pillar of a forest bridge
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The morning sun finds it difficult to penetrate the canopy
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Butterfly at the FRH
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Racket-tailed drongo
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The trainline. Max speed of trains when passing through the forest is 30kmph. Still, animals get run over from time to time.
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One night, on our way back to the forest rest house (it was pretty late), we narrowly (and luckily) missed an encounter with a wild male tusker. Imagine a forest trail lit up by the Gypsy headlights. Visibility is limited, since mist is swirling everywhere. And then you see the fresh footprints of a big elephant on the narrow track, which is flanked by 12 feet tall elephant grass on both sides (so no way of turning quickly, and lateral visibility is almost nil). The forest guide told us that the elephant had been on the road a little while back, and we needed to be very careful (apparently that pachyderm was a cranky one). So we ended up driving slowly and carefully through the mist, especially at every blind curve. I wasn’t too concerned, since I encounter elephants regularly when driving in the Nilgiri forests, so knew that as long as we saw it before it sensed us, and maintained a safe distance, we would be alright. I guess it was more thrilling for my friends who don’t face such situations pretty often .

Armour over the gaunt ribs of Baankey, the grand old rhino of Dudhwa. He was weak due to old age and after a nasty fight.
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Sunset through undergrowth
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Magical forest. Canvas effect added later.
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Contempt #animal_behaviour This big male saw our vehicle, cooled walked across to a tree trunk, and started peeing to show his dominance and attitude. Sigh, this is what I end up shooting when I am starved of tigers. But the light was interesting lol.
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Dew
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Sunrise #haunting
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In the end, this trip was not about sighting and shooting wildlife, but more about experiencing the forest with all my senses, and chasing the light. Not that it stopped me from cribbing when the scene was lovely and the light was perfect, but there was no animal subject for my photos. I plan to be back in Dudhwa next year, when the grass has dried up, and when there is a higher chance of encountering the Dudhwa tigers. There is another FRH that I am rather keen to visit. Perhaps I will do that long drive from Bangalore and club the Dudhwa trip with Corbett and Pangot.

Heron lit up by the early morning sun
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Safari
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Morning walk before sunrise
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A friend saying adieu to the sun
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Old 3rd December 2016, 20:28   #2
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Default re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Great photographs and narrative. Must add this to my list.
Some questions, if i may?
Regarding the FRH, is it available for tourists or does one have to get it done through Government sources? Secondly, you mentioned that you were coming back in poor light or when the sun had set. Does one need permits here (normally "in" timings are sunrise and "out" timings are sunset) or was the FRH was inside the park? Which other FRH is a must do, as mentioned by you? How many days should one plan?
The pastel sunrise is a great photo.
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Old 4th December 2016, 13:00   #3
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Default re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Quote:
Originally Posted by earthian View Post
Great photographs and narrative. Must add this to my list.
Some questions, if i may?
Regarding the FRH, is it available for tourists or does one have to get it done through Government sources? Secondly, you mentioned that you were coming back in poor light or when the sun had set. Does one need permits here (normally "in" timings are sunrise and "out" timings are sunset) or was the FRH was inside the park? Which other FRH is a must do, as mentioned by you? How many days should one plan?
The pastel sunrise is a great photo.
FRH should be available for tourists, but one would have to go through the forest department. VIPs have preference :-)

I was coming back late in the night, with special permission. Ordinarily you wouldn't be able to do that.

3 days should be good for Dudhwa. But longer if one wants forest immersion.

A few more photos.

Sunset through the tall grasses of Terai
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Two heads
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A villager. Right outside Kishanpur zone. These fields get visited by deer, wild boars and elephants in the night.
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Portal
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A pukka structure for forest guards. Morning drive.
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Late afternoon sun shining on the trunk of a tree
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Practicing autofocus on fast (very fast and randomly) moving birds
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Dudhwascape
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Rhino B&W
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Pearls
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P.S. there seems little interest for these less visited forests #Indiaunseen. A pity, I make a conscious effort to visit these kind of places.
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Old 4th December 2016, 22:14   #4
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Default re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

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Originally Posted by nilanjanray View Post
P.S. there seems little interest for these less visited forests #Indiaunseen. A pity, I make a conscious effort to visit these kind of places.
Lovely as always Nilanjan!

I agree but somehow I feel its for the better that these are left alone.

I have read about the legendary Billy Arjan Singh and have also seen the famous documentary, what an icon truly a tiger as you rightly said.

Some really extraordinary pics, loved it totally.

As I see these, I just let out a big sigh... when can I go rambling again.

Regards,
Salil
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Old 5th December 2016, 11:43   #5
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Default re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

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Originally Posted by Trojan View Post
Lovely as always Nilanjan!

I agree but somehow I feel its for the better that these are left alone.

I have read about the legendary Billy Arjan Singh and have also seen the famous documentary, what an icon truly a tiger as you rightly said.

Some really extraordinary pics, loved it totally.

As I see these, I just let out a big sigh... when can I go rambling again.

Regards,
Salil
Thanks Salil.

I am researching less visited forests to places to go to, perhaps in Chhatisgarh or the North East. The NE is out there, waiting to be explored. E.g. Dibang Sanctuary, in one corner of India.

A few more shots.

Sunset. Different settings to get a different look
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Parakeets
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Ducks, not sure about the names. They were there for one second, before they flew off.
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Nature's jewellery
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Plum-headed parakeet, I think.
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Changeable hawk eagle. High ISO shot.
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The sun rises in the forest while a lone cheetal crosses the road
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Sunrise from the forest rest house. Woke up early, nursing a bad hangover, to shoot such photos. Had to play around with metering and exposure for some of the shots.
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F-18, Super Hornet.
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Dangerous wildlife encounter
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Old 6th December 2016, 12:55   #6
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

The pictures are just wow !! Supremely beautiful, very well composed and look professional to the T. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 6th December 2016, 13:08   #7
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Superb photographs Nilanjanray, made my day. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 6th December 2016, 13:14   #8
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Wow, breathtaking pictures. You should write about photography too.. Happy clicking.
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Old 6th December 2016, 14:47   #9
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Beautiful snaps, all of them.
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Old 6th December 2016, 15:11   #10
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Nilanjan,
Splendid photography indeed.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful location
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Old 6th December 2016, 16:38   #11
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Quote:
Originally Posted by mustang_shelby View Post
The pictures are just wow !! Supremely beautiful, very well composed and look professional to the T. Thanks for sharing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Superb photographs Nilanjanray, made my day. Thanks for sharing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aditya2703 View Post
Beautiful snaps, all of them.
Quote:
Originally Posted by srikrishna717 View Post
Nilanjan,
Splendid photography indeed.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful location
Thanks. Glad you liked them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by anand_hc View Post
Wow, breathtaking pictures. You should write about photography too.. Happy clicking.
I recently posted a small field review of the D500 on a Nikon website, with many of these photos.

A couple of morning shots

Watery sun rising over the misty grasslands
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A drive later in the morning
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Old 6th December 2016, 17:47   #12
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Some of the photos are frame worthy, Nilanjan! I hope you are mounting at least a couple of them. That first shot has an ethereal quality and the one with the semi-tame rabbit has absolutely amazing colours. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 6th December 2016, 17:56   #13
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Super Photos and lovely writing - I could smell the forest.

My favorite, for some reason, is the super hornet and that lovely picture of the lonely forest road.

And now the compulsive traveler in me itches.
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Old 6th December 2016, 19:43   #14
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Excellent pics. The sunrise pics are superb.
Though no luck with big cats, you always have reason to visit again.
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Old 6th December 2016, 20:07   #15
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Default Re: The misty grasslands & haunting sal forests of Dudhwa National Park

Im planning to go to Dudhwa when I go to Lucknow in three weeks time. You've kindled fond memories though its not what it used to be like in the 90's when I frequently visited the place. My Grand Father was a Forest Ranger and was posted in Dudhwa for a very long time. In fact he got my Dad married while he was living there. Its a beautiful and a calm place. Thanks for the excellent photos. I will try my luck with the camera when I'm there.
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