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Old 28th August 2010, 03:20   #1
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Default Heaven & Hell @ the same place....... Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come

Come monsoon, many of us start thinking about getting wet in the first showers, going to an enchanted forest, trekking to get lost in the clouds of mist and see the waterfalls . Melghat is one such pace in central India - the only hill station of the region surrounded by a thriving Tiger reserve and generally a heaven on earth kind of location.

It is to this destination that I am headed over this weekend.
Many of you on this forum will know me as a maverick Cardiologist from Nagpur with a penchant for 4x4 vehicles and a deep love for the forests, heading over to Pench or Tadoba Tiger reserves over almost every weekend to seriously pursue my deep interest in Wildlife Photography. Well, this weekend my destination is to a lesser explored Tiger reserve.

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The forest in Melghat acquires fresh green colors with the first showers. Yet, these remote villages though surrounded by bountiful nature, are home to several malnourished children. It is difficult to comprehend how malnutrition, caused by insufficient food during the summer and further complicated by the communicable diseases that spread during the monsoon, can exist amidst such natural beauty.

A brief introduction :
Melghat means 'meeting of the ghats' which is just what the area is, a large tract of unending hills and ravines scarred by jagged cliffs and steep climbs. The exquisite hill forests, thick undergrowth and moss-covered trees underscore its virgin confines. It lies at the northern extreme of the Amravati District on the border of Madhya Pradesh, in the southwestern Satpura mountain ranges. If its tigers were not so famous, Melghat might best be known as a 'raptor' or eagle sanctuary! It is, in any event, a birdwatcher's dream come true. Remember too, that though you may not easily see them, this forest is part of one of India's most vital tiger breeding habitats. As a whole Melghat encompasses an area of 1,676.93 sq. km. which includes the 788.75 sq. km. Melghat Sanctuary and the 361.28 sq. km. Gugarnal National Park in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. The rest of the buffer zone includes 526.90 sq. km. of reserve forest. Located in the catchment area of the River Tapti, Melghat, a water harvesting forest, supplies 30 per cent of all the fresh water available to the people living in the vicinity.

History:
There are passes in Melghat that invaders from the north traversed to reach Berar where the Imad Shahi dynasty was founded in 1484.

Two historic forts called Narnala and Gawilgarh guard the main east-west ridge. In 1803, in the Second Maharatta War, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who later became the Duke of Wellington, captured the Gawilgarh fort from the Maharattas. Melghat was an automatic choice when Project Tiger was launched in 1973.

'Bhavai Puja' is one of the local customs of the Korku adivasis, and is performed annually at the onset of the monsoons. Children between 10-12 years of age carry out the puja. They bathe in the nalla or river near the village, catch a frog and bring it back to the Hanuman temple, where the frog is put in a small pot of water. The direction in which the water splashes is believed to indicate the direction from which the rains will come. The children then put the frog in a bamboo basket after smearing it with wet mud and go house-to-house singing that the pools have all dried up. People who hear their song, come out of their houses and pour water over them. In the evening, the frog is brought back to the temple and released into the nalla or river the following day.

Habitat :
Melghat lies at the southern end of the Satpura ranges. The river Tapti, which is the northern limit of the reserve, branches into five major tributaries – Khandu, Khapra, Sipna, Gadga and Dolar – all of which flow through the reserve, with the Sipna and Dolar flowing through the core. Several pools and streams course through the area, but in the summer only a few small water sources remain. A few perennial streams ensure both water and pasture for herbivores. Small traditional earthen dams are constructed every year to augment the water sources and conserve the soil.

Melghat's rugged topography is characterised by steep cliffs and rocky ravines and more than forest guards, this is what protects it from encroachers. The hills are between 200 to 1,500 m. high with Vairat Devi Point being the tallest at 1,178 m. An irregular succession of hills and valleys vary in altitude and gradient, with numerous spurs branching off from the main ridge. Between plateau and hills are fodder-rich saddles used extensively by wild animals. Teak forests and bamboo thickets combine here to form prime tiger habitat… remnants of the once grand forests of Central India.

Conservation History :
Melghat area was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1974. Presently, the total area of the Reserve is around 1677 sq. km. The core area of the Reserve, the Gugarnal National Park with an area of 361.28 sq. km., and buffer area of the Reserve, the Melghat Tiger Sanctuary with an area of 788.28 sq. km. (of which 21.39 sq. km. is non-forest), were together re-notified by the state government in 1994 as Melghat Sanctuary. The remaining area is managed as a 'multiple use area'. Previously, Melghat Tiger Sanctuary was created in 1985 with an area of 1597.23 sq. km. Gugarnal National Park was carved out of this Sanctuary in 1987.

Flora and Fauna :
Melghat is a prime habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger, Panthera tigris. However, it isn't easy to spot a tiger in Melghat, so look for remnants of kills or scratch marks on trees or pugmarks as signs of the presence of the great cat. And if you see one, consider yourself twice blessed, for the real joy is being in the tiger's home in the first place.

Leopards and jungle cats thrive here, and the area is also home to the rusty spotted cat. Packs of dholes roam through the forest, and wild pig root about in the luxuriant undergrowth. Jackals and hyenas scavenge fresh kills. Foxes and wolves have also been seen, though less frequently. The Indian bison or gaur is another important animal of the reserve.

The tiger's staple diet is deer, predominantly sambar. Barking deer or muntjac, chinkara, chausingha and chital are plentiful. Blackbuck are also resident as are mouse deer and nilgai. You can spot langurs in the trees, or hear their alarm calls in the jungles. They share their high-rise homes with tree shrews, flying squirrels and bats.

Ratels, sloth bear, palm civet, small Indian civet and porcupines are other creatures found in the reserve. The Tapti river harbours a small population of otters, several species of frogs and over 24 species of fish.

There are 16 species of snakes that have been documented including the green vine snake, python and the cobra. Fat-tailed geckos, forest calotes, lizards and several species of fresh water turtles are also found here.

Over 250 species of birds have been listed in Melghat, but it is most importantly a raptor paradise.

Forest Owlet [ Heteroglaux blewitti ] :

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Until its rediscovery in 1997,[7][3] this owl was known from only seven specimens collected in the nineteenth century. http://www.orientalbirdclub.org/publ...King-Owlet.pdf

In 2000, a survey of 14 forest areas across its former range located 25 birds at four sites in northern Maharashtra and south-western Madhya Pradesh

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Today, the Forest Owlet remains critically endangered, and the current population has been estimated at less than 50.

One of my objectives of this trip is to try to sight this enigmatic bird.


Archaeological Richness :
The Gavilgarh fort on the Chikhaldara plateau and Narnala fort abetting southeastern part of Melghat Tiger Reserve add to the aesthetic value of the area. Visitors to these archaeological monuments enjoy the serene forests in the backdrop.

The darker side of this heaven
Melghat: a synonym for malnutrition

Malnutrition is a byword in the forested hills of the Melghat region inhabited mostly by Korku Adivasis. Every year 400-500 children between the ages of 0 and 6 die in the region, comprising Chikhaldhara and Dharni taluks, according to official figures from 2005.

The Problem:
Thousands of kids die every year in the tribal area of Melghat (Maharashtra, India) due to lack of medical attention and nutritional support. Increased incidence and rapid spread of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, typhoid, and dysentery are primary cause of high child mortality. Situation worsens during monsoon when the food supplies are low and the communicable diseases are at their peak.

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A mother with her malnourished child in Melghat.


Important points to plan a trip to this place:

Permits to trek can be obtained from the Conservator of Forests and Field Director, Project Tiger, Melghat. You may not see any large carnivores on your trip. But, if you are alert for tracks and droppings, especially on the dry riverbed of the Sipna river, the thrill of decoding the signs they leave behind and enhancing them visually with your imagination, may well match the real thing.

If you do have permission to walk at dusk, arm yourself with a stout bamboo to hit the ground on as you move to communicate your presence to ground-dwelling creatures like snakes that may be about. If you do see a large predator on foot it is advisable to move slowly away to allow it right of way. Then stay still. Do not panic or run.

Since the fire hazard at Melghat is a serious problem, please do not smoke, and carefully put out every last timber in your campfire before leaving.

Best season :

For the adventurous sort, the rainy season is an excellent challenge to be there.

The summers temperatures can cross 40º C. In winter, Melghat is cool with temperatures dropping below 15º C! Between 1,000 to 2,250 mm. of rain falls during the monsoons. But the quantum received by different valleys varies because some of these fall in rain shadow belts.

December to May is the best season to visit Melghat. In summer, the forests are thin and the visibility good. In winter, it is more difficult to sight animals because of the profusion of reeds, grasses and weeds like lantana but this is when animals are in their prime condition making wildlife viewing a pleasure. When the grass is tall, animals could lie as close as within three metres of forest trails and still remain successfully hidden.

Accommodation :

Chikaldara Convention Complex [MTDC]. The place is located 20 km. from the reserve, away from the eastern border in Amravati District. Tel.: 0721-20234/ 20263. The Semadoh Tourist Complex situated inside Melghat, is run by the Forest Department.

For reservations, contact:Field Director, Project Tiger, Paratwada, Dist. Amravati, Maharashtra-444805. Tel.: 0721-662792. Fax: 0721-62493.

The rest house at Kolkaz is a favourite with staunch wildlifers and provides a beautiful view of the forests around. Book in advance. The facilities are not extravagant. For reservations, contact Divisional Forest Officer, East Melghat, Dist. Amravati. One could also choose to stay at the rest house at Dhakna. For reservations, contact the Divisional Forest Officer, West Melghat, Chikaldhara, Dist. Amravati.

Transport :

By Air: The closest airports are Akola (160 km.) and Nagpur (260 km.)

By Rail: Badnera is the nearest railhead. The Bombay-Howrah Express, Ahmedabad-Madras Navjeevan Express, Ahmedabad-Howrah Express arrive here. Within Maharashtra: the Kolhapur-Nagpur Maharashtra Express and the Bhusaval-Nagpur Passenger Train can be taken.

By Road: Chikaldara, a popular hill station, is connected to several major towns and cities. It is about 763 km. from Mumbai and 25 km. from the reserve. Nagpur (230 km.) and Amravati (100 km.) are closer, and State Transport buses are available from these cities to Chilkaldara. All buses going via Paratwada to Dharni and Burhanpur stop at the Tourist Centre in Semadoh. MTDC also organises excursions to the reserve. One can travel by jeeps arranged by the Forest Department on the forest roads within the reserve. Camping and trekking arrangements within the reserve can be made at Semadoh Tourist Centre.

Useful contacts :

The Field Director, Project Tiger, Melghat Tiger Reserve,
East Melghat Division, Amravati - 444602,
Maharashtra. Tel.:0721-662792/07223-20214 (Paratwada).



My route :


I'll be taking this unconventional route to go :
Nagpur-57kms-Katol-42kms-Warud-96kms-Paratwada-67kms-Semadoh
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The other route is the excellent NH6 via Amravati.

My route on google maps:
Nagpur, Maharashtra 440001, India to Semadoh, Maharashtra, India - Google Maps

Semadoh Forest rest house - i'll stay here :
Wikimapia - Let's describe the whole world!

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Sun Rising over hills of Melghat Tiger Reserve

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Life's interesting when lived on the edge, because that's where you aren't silhouetted by the mass of miscellaneous things... on the edge, its just you and the wide horizon; that is where freedom is a reality.


It is to this yonder I am headed in a coupe of hours.
I will continue my chronicle when I return back on Sunday night.

regards,
Dr. A Ghosh


Brothers in Arms (File Photo)
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-ro-i-arms.jpg

Last edited by abheekg : 28th August 2010 at 03:22.
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Old 28th August 2010, 03:32   #2
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hello sir,

i just breezed through the rainfall of information you've posted! One question, why "hell"? because of those children?

ANyways, all da best for your adventure,

and i really like your photos!
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Old 28th August 2010, 03:43   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unoczar View Post
hello sir,

i just breezed through the rainfall of information you've posted! One question, why "hell"? because of those children?

ANyways, all da best for your adventure,

and i really like your photos!
Thats correct. And this issue is the other objective of my trip. I want to do a photo feature on the hardships of the tribals during the rains.

Thanks for your kind words.

Dr. A Ghosh
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Old 28th August 2010, 11:03   #4
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Hey Doc, Nice pictures as always.

Remember me? The Kodak Z612 guy .
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Old 28th August 2010, 11:16   #5
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Excellent narration doc. I spent my childhood in a small town of Yavatmal district surrounded by Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctury so the forests of central india are close to my heart. The lush green teak and bamboo forests in monsoon is treat to eyes. Melghat is a hidden diamond not known to many of us leaving in concrete jungle. Lack of development has its positives and negatives and Melghat is no exception. It surely is heaven and hell at the same place.
Eagerly waiting for your trip log.
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Old 28th August 2010, 11:30   #6
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Hi Doc,
Nice start to this TL. Waiting for more.
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Old 28th August 2010, 12:15   #7
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>>>abheekg,

Re. the abject condition of the tribals in Melghat, I presume that their condition is generally speaking, no different from that of tribals elsewhere.

Acute poverty, lack of clean drinking water nearby, no medical facilities, no educational facilities, lack of land for agrarian use (no formal titles to the land that they live on) are all common strands that run through all regions of a similar nature across the length and breadth of our country.

Then if you add rapacious businessmen/industrialists out to make unreasonably high profits by exploiting the forest with conniving babus and netas- that is a potent and lethal mix for the original inhabitants-the tribals.

It makes terrible and terrifying reading when one learns of all this. Our India is a very self centred, individualistic and brutal place, where one cares only about one self /one's own family/one's profits and not about society at large. There is no such thing as enlightened self -interest.

You had the brutal elimination of Shankar Guha Neogy in MP by corrupt businessmen who were opposed to his attempts to protect the tribals and their environment. Vedanta's rape of Orissa is in the public domain now for all of us to see, and if we have any good sense, to learn.

But, apart from this, please enjoy your expedition and provide us posts and pics. Let us know how your steed braved the sojourn.

Regards

Last edited by issigonis : 28th August 2010 at 12:18. Reason: Corrected grammatical errors
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Old 28th August 2010, 12:17   #8
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Am Glued to this thread and waiting for Monday
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Old 28th August 2010, 17:51   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abheekg View Post
Thats correct. And this issue is the other objective of my trip. I want to do a photo feature on the hardships of the tribals during the rains.

Thanks for your kind words.

Dr. A Ghosh
Great initiative Abheek ,let the photos pour in.

So you would need a rain proof 4x4 to visit such places right ,what are you using now?
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Old 29th August 2010, 21:16   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gandhi View Post
Hey Doc, Nice pictures as always.

Remember me? The Kodak Z612 guy .
I do Ronak. Great to meet you here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by C300 View Post
Excellent narration doc. Lack of development has its positives and negatives and Melghat is no exception. It surely is heaven and hell at the same place.
Thank you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sami316 View Post
Hi Doc,
Nice start to this TL. Waiting for more.
here you are

Quote:
Originally Posted by issigonis View Post

please enjoy your expedition and provide us posts and pics. Let us know how your steed braved the sojourn.

Regards
My Gypsy was a dream to drive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KRRaj View Post
Am Glued to this thread and waiting for Monday


Quote:
Originally Posted by joshguy View Post
Great initiative Abheek ,let the photos pour in.

So you would need a rain proof 4x4 to visit such places right ,what are you using now?
I drove my soft top Gypsy and you are right I need a water proof 4x4 also.
A 4x4 Sumo is on my radar till I have the moolah for the Defenders and the Landcruisers

I am back from my super successful Melghat trip. This trip was the perfect mix of pleasures of driving on scenic routes coupled with good photography.
The bonus was sighting the almighty in the night.
Here are some teaser pics from this journey :

Rain swept winding roads
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-15102179144c6ccc5c05f76-copy.jpg

Thousands of such waterfalls enroute
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-waterfall2-copy.jpg

Chana Masala..... ahaaa !!
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Chameleon on the road !!!
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-chameleon-road-melghat-copy.jpg

Misty FOUR......
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-four....-copy.jpg

Pugmarks in the nalla......
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Vine Snake with snack
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Leopard at Night
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A difficult life
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The colours of Monsoon
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-colors-monsoon-copy.jpg

This trip was exceptional in terms of reptile photography.
I will post more tonight.

I am already in planning phase for a long photography drive of my dreams : Delhi to Nagpur in a Land Rover Defender http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...-planning.html (Delhi to Nagpur in Jeep Captain's Land Rover Defender - route planning)

regards,
Dr. A Ghosh

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Last edited by Rudra Sen : 5th September 2010 at 22:01.
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Old 29th August 2010, 23:03   #11
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Doc, amazing pics there.What's the kit? And yes of course, waiting for more to be dished out.
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Old 29th August 2010, 23:06   #12
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The snake shot is awesome! How did you get that?
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Old 30th August 2010, 02:54   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sachinj12 View Post
Doc, amazing pics there.What's the kit? And yes of course, waiting for more to be dished out.
Thanks. Since there was rain everywhere, I carried only 1 body (my canon 40d) with a wide angle macro zoom lens and kept my telephoto standby in the bag - good thing I did for I got some great bird shots with it & of course the leopard in the night. More on the leopard later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ampere View Post
The snake shot is awesome! How did you get that?
The vine snake was a non poisonous snake and it gave me a lot of time & allowed me to get close to it as it was slowly devouring the frog. I also have a closeup of the eye which I will post after processing.

I got another snake in this trip - this time a poisonous one. A spectacled cobra in the front yard of the forest bungalow.
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-3863417951_773c16a572_b-copy.jpg
notice how far i hav take this pic from. Unless you are trained or sure about the identity of a snake you should ever go anywhere within its range.

The forest bungalow where I stayed.
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-3757716716_14ba12c101_b.jpg

Would you like to trade you favourite corner/seat in the cafeteria for this? You could, if you were a Tiger.
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-2216195489_311c18938d_b-copy.jpg
A small pond cut off from mainstream Sipna river at the Melghat tiger reserve. We saw the tiger pugmarks near this pond.

Pebbles in a stream. can yo see the water and the fish ?
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-1882986482_5de9056565_b-copy.jpg

Got the enigmatic forest owlet thanks to a wonderful informed local who led me to the place where it was usually seen and then we located it using its calls.
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Don't they look like mustached oldies ? Saw 2 of them . Thats 4% of the entire population worldwide.

Not to be confused with the ubiquitous spotted owlet.
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A Bull frog perspective
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-bull-frog-perspective-copy.jpg

And death........
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Bull frog roadkill. Every monsoons millions of reptiles die on our highways

A death moth in my room
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-moth2.jpg
Called so because of the skull markings on its head.

A Crested Serpent eagle - Potrait (cropped)
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This is the Tiger of the skies. Shot with the telephoto lens and then the image cropped. The Crested Serpent Eagle, as its English and scientific names suggest, is a specialist reptile eater which hunts over woodland for snakes and lizards.

Heaven...........
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-heaven........-copy.jpg

Beautiful extreme conditions.
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-19535394144c6cf0e6f18be-copy.jpg

Chikhaldara from a distance during the trek
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-335948671_9a7a0ccaa7_b-copy.jpg

A great pic to end a great day
Heaven & Hell @ the same place.......  Melghat Tiger Reserve here I come-3490535021_38d960c90d_b-copy.jpg

More coming soon including some more great reptile (snake shots) and of course the encounter with the leopard at night.

regards,
Dr. A Ghosh

Last edited by abheekg : 30th August 2010 at 03:04.
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Old 30th August 2010, 04:59   #14
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Wow Doc,
Amazing pics. I wish if I could ever take the pics the way you do. After checking out the pic of the snake, I really got a chill down my spine as I am terrified of snakes. Waiting for more.
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Old 30th August 2010, 06:18   #15
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Surreal!!!
Thanks for sharing.
Yeh dil maange more, actually a lot more.
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