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Ultimate Tiger Safari to India with Cinnamon Nature Trails

Tracking the Magnificent Tigers of Ranthambhore National Park, India on a photographic safari

Amongst all big cats, the Tiger reigns as the largest predator in the Panthera genus. Males weighing in at over 250 kilograms, they are truly the most majestic of all cats and a must see for all animals lovers.

Cinnamon Nature Trails, the award winning wildlife and adventure tourism division of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, now offers a unique photographic safari to explore India’s premier national park for Tigers, Ranthambhore.

We specialize in taking the yearning nature lover to wild and free areas exploring the wealth of wilderness that still remains in our world. This expedition to Rajasthan and Ranthambhore is with a focus on the tiger.. and we carry a 100% record of seeing multiple Tigers during all our very succesfukl safaris concluded to India.

In May 2016, Chitral and Vimukthi conducted a Safari that yielded 13 Tiger sightings and this time, we are going after young cubs seen at Ranthanbhore along with the majestic T 19 ( Krishna) the daughter of the much celebrated Tigress ‘Machli’ who passed away recently.

They then conducted 2 more Tiger safaris in 2017 with another staggering 17 Tiger sightings, and are set to head back to Tiger country in April of 2018.

“Selecting the best seasons to almost definitely see Tigers and tracking these big cats is just magic” says Chitral Jayatilake, Head of Eco Tourism at Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts. With over thirty years of experience in tracking and photographing Sri Lanka’s leopards, Chitral will personally lead these limited expeditions and also conduct a Photographic workshop during the safari sharing his experiances with the travelling guests with Cinnamon Nature Trails.

The tours will also be accompanied by Vimukthi Weeratunga, who is a Wildlife & Fisheries Biologist by training, graduated with a BSc majoring in Wildlife & Fisheries Biology from the Oregon State University, Oregon, USA. He was trained under the Wildlife Institute of India on wildlife management.

“This adventure is for the Big Cat Lovers, an opportunity to track and photograph the largest land based predator in Asia, bring along your love of the jungles and loads of patience, as we head out to the wilds of Ranthambhore tracking its most respected residents. Don’t forget your binoculars,” adds Chitral.

Few have had the good fortune to see this majestic animal in the wilds, the rush of spotting stripes among the shrubs and the chatter of shutters clicking in an unforgettable experience. Daily debriefs on photography will avail opportunities to learn from each other. Bonds made in the forests they say remain forever. Join these limited outings in search of India’s big cat experience in the company of Cinnamon Nature Trails.

Searching Maya’s Cubs

My travels beyond the shores of Sri Lanka’s wilderness took me to Ranthambhore national park thrice in 2015 searching stripes in the great Indian wilderness. After 41 tiger sightings in the breathtaking Ranthambhore canvas, I looked beyond Rajasthan in search of more locations to see this amazing cat that stands out from the rest.

Highly recommended by Paul Goldstein of UK, we set our sights on Tadoba national park set in Maharashtra. Over 650 square kilometers extend, Tadoba resembles the dry zone wilderness of Ceylon more than Ranthambhore and amazingly, in all that space, they have an allotment of 47 Gipsy jeeps roaming at any given time.

Our objective over 10 game drives was simple and clear.. we travelled from Mumbai to Nagpur and then a further 200 kilometers away from the 18 million populous in the state capitol looking for two sets of tiger cubs.

Maya and Sornam were both mature females and they have both cubs aged 7 months, Sornam blessed with two cubs and Maya with three. The Theliya lake hosts Sornams range while a further 18 kilometers away along the ‘Pandarpuni’ region is Maya’s domain.

We arrived at an untimely moment with forest guards burning a fire line alongside all tracks that were still burning during our first game drive, this obviously changed the natural tiger activity sending the cats away from all roads that are on fire.

Our Indian expert guide Gajan Bopat was optimistic, We’ve got ten drives and we will see the tiger said Gajan much to my relief after seeing the fires.

we entered the park daily from the ‘Muhrali’ entrance and checked Sornams range initially before driving to Maya’s territory almost like a routine. On the 3rd drive well past 9 am, we were suddenly stopped by a jeep and moments later, one of Sornams cubs walked across perhaps the male cub, more adventurous to roam alone without the mothers presence. That was encouraging and certainly raised our hopes of freezing one moment with these amazing cubs at Tadoba.

The freezing temperaturr4s early morning forced us to wear heavy protection almost like on a snow leopard quest but I wasn’t embarrassed as most of the Indian visitors too were similarly taking their winter cloths in the morning with the chill existing almost pass 9 am each day. We pressed on in our hunt to spot Maya’s cubs as her terrain was certainly more photogenic and inviting to us as photographers.

But it seems like Maya had her own thoughts of almost teasing us with her precious family. We missed the cubs twice and that was almost painful, we were now into our 9thb game drive, alas! time was running out and Maya seems o be a step ahead of our plans all the time.

It was 0930 Hrs on the 8th February when we arrived at “Nmudi” water hole… almost a full compliment of jeeps ahead of us waiting for the queen of Pandarpuni and her offspring to arrive at the party. And thirty minutes later, I could sense the excitement in the jeeps ahead and do nothing much but look on and watch the 04 tigers cross the road a hundred meters in front of our Gipsy. It took our driver Sujee quite an effort to wade through fifteen jeeps to get into a spot from where we can see a glimpse of the cubs playing and I raised the 500 Mil and saw all three in the frame for not more than ten seconds. The 1DX fired two bursts and the show was over.

Hurriedly I previewed in anxiety and the nine drives was worth the effort, Five days of work, beating the morning chill and the burst of dust later, I had all three of Maya’s cubs at seven months of age.

The search for Maya’s cubs was successful, This mother having her first litter is blessed to inherit her mothers territory after a snake bite sadly killed the senior female at ‘Pandarpuni’, now her daughter Maya rules the lakes at the ‘Khatoda’ range.

As we boarded Jet airways at Nagpur transiting Mumbai to Colombo, my flashed back that ten seconds which made an unforgettable moment at Tadoba.

It wont be long before I return to this fascinating tiger reserve to track Maya, Sornam and Chotidhara, along with the fabulous male tigers Tadoba puts on show for the yearning traveler.

For now, Maya seems to be well in control and will care for her cubs at least till they are 18 months of age. Perhaps she will have new cubs mid next year when I return to Tadoba which I miss already on a flight back home to Sri Lanka.

Chitral Jayatilake
Photographer – Writer

Queen of the Lakes

Big cats have been a fascination since childhood, that drew me to Yala, Wilpattu as often as one could travel. And in our efforts to present what’s ours to the world, we’ve done countless safaris and a dozen film productions highlighting our natural world and the usual density of leopards in Sri Lanka.

Thirty years hence, I’ve carried with me the passion to explore more big cats elsewhere. A brief visit to Kenya several years back had exciting moments with the Lions and Cheetah while leopards being more elusive in the savannah eluded me but I’ve had my fair share of moments with the spotted one back home.

It was now time to see the largest cat of them all, outweighing the Mara lion easily by over 70 pounds, we set out to explore the majestic jungles of Ranthambhore, India in search of Kipling’s Sheer Khan, it was an expedition to see, photograph and observe the Bengal Tiger.

It was mid April 2014, and my first visit to this amazing forest, and the langur’s were at their frantic best calling in a frenzy, all eyes peeled the forest when I picked up some movement of stripes among the vegetation, Tiger I called and there she was, in all her feline glory emerging from the bushes and briefly looking at me for a fraction, the camera fired one burst and she disappeared silently with photographers previewing their images anxiously.

For me, my dream of photographing a tiger in the wild, achieved and we headed back to our abode just outside of the periphery of Ranhambhore ecstatic seeing the tiger.

My resort guides were animated, ‘Sir seeing a tiger on your first game drive is very lucky’ they said, as I went through my little Tiger Guide book trying to ID the Tigress I saw in the wild. She was T 19, named Krishna, the daughter of the famed tigress Machli, who’s starred in as many as 20 documentaries around the world, almost an ambassador for Indian wildlife.

Krishna, daughter of Machli’s off her last litter, had a sister, Sundari ( T18) who was later moved to Sariska national park in an effort to boost tiger numbers there.

I knew that Machli was now the senior citizen of Ranthambhore, perhaps the oldest wild tigress on record at 17 years, and seeing this queen of the lakes in the wild would be the ultimate dream. It was our 5th game drive on zone 5, when the driver whispered to us, “Machli’s been seen by the water” and that was just amazing news. As the Jipsy approached a cluster of vehicles, we saw the ailing female, resting in the water and I could see the aging cat gently moving her limbs, almost in pain. She’s raised 9 cubs, who’s already produced more young, and her daughter Krishna is now occupying Ranthanbhore’s prime zones 2 and 3, with her own set of three very young cubs, Machli’s done her duties above expectation, and now an Indian Icon in the wild, given a lifetime achievement award by the forest department of India.

I returned with an ambition to launch guided Tiger safaris in Ranthambhore, based on our success in 2014, and we had three back to back tours planned in March, April of 2015. A short three hour flight to Delhi and we traversed to Sawaimadhopur by overnight train, and it was great to be back in Tiger country.
My guides hurriedly got the supplies and water in the jeep, and off we went searching for stripes in the wilds off Ranthambhore. I’ve seen Krishna’s three month old cubs 12 months back and couldn’t help dreaming of seeing the cubs now, fifteen months plus, they would make any photographer happy.

And as we drove thirty minutes into the park, the Jipsy came to a screeching halt, Tiger the driver said, and there they were, grown cubs playing in the water with a soft shell terrapin.
Three days later, we were rewarded by the entire family of three cubs and Krishna at a kill, then walked pass the jeep almost too close for most of the short lenses, and laid by the water in a show of amazing tiger family behavior.

This 570 pound predator with powerful paws which can open a buffalos ribs with one swipe began playing and caressing the cubs with such tenderness, it was such a show of the softer moments a tigress enjoys in her terrain raising three grown cubs, in the wilds of Ranthambhore.

23 more game drives in the next 4 weeks yielded an amazing collection of moments with tigers,
T 6, ‘Romeo’ mating with T 41, ‘Leyla’ just twenty meters from the jeep was a spectacular moment, and the one that blew away the photographer’s were when Krishna’s cubs began playing in the open on zone 3, forty minutes of sheer magic, with powerfully built cubs leaping in the air and rolling over, it was almost a National Geographic moment unfolding before us and the cameras fired endlessly capturing some of the best cub behavior this season.
We flew back home richer with amazing array of experiences in Tiger country, The temperature has now risen from a fair 37 degrees in late March to 43 degrees in early May. Three tours and 23 guests seeing Tigers in the wild, I returned to Colombo looking forward to 2016, when we head back to the wilds of Ranthambhore to pick up the tiger trail.

The Queen of Lakes in Ranthambhore – Machli is now been cared for by the Indian forest department in a Non Tourism area, its now too late to see this amazing tigress in the wild, but I’ve had that moment with her back in 2014, To me she has passed on her mantle of being the Queen of Lakes at Ranthambhore to her daughter Krishna.
Being the first tiger I saw in the wild and the tigress who’s raising three fifteen month old cubs, Krishna’s deserving of this priceless title.

May the tigers in India be safe, free and wild and the legend of Sheer Khan echo in the wilds of India for generations to come.

Writer / Photographer
Chitral Jayatilake
Head of Eco Tourism – Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts

Cinnamon Holidays in Africa

The Cinnamon Nature Trails team has been creating unforgettable memories in Sri Lanka’s natural world and it was a natural transition for them to explore similar experiences beyond the shores of Sri Lanka.

The Concept of Cinnamon Holidays was born to offer unique nature and wildlife based tours beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. The Tiger safaris conducted in India’s Ranthambhore and Bandhaavgarh national parks was a phenomenal success and the next phase was to explore Africa and its magical wilderness.

All Cinnamon holiday experiences are led by Chitral Jayatilake, Head of Cinnamon Nature Trails or Vimukthi Weeratunga, senior biologist in the team who accompanies the small teams of safari goers celebrating moments in the wild.

Both Chitral and Vimukthi being accomplished photographers, the experience is made richer by creating a flavor of almost a photographic safari with mid event workshops and photo tips shared by the experienced photographers with participants. The trips are designed to observe and enjoy what’s wild and free while grasping the tips needed to make the most of each opportunity in the wilds, and freezing them in lasting memories captured on your cameras.
The Kenya safaris gets even better when the add-on lets you fly to Rwanda to trek the cold Virunga Mountains tracking the amazing Mountain Gorilla. A short 50 minute flight from Kenya and first class arrangements are made by Nature Trails to drive you up to a mountain hideaway from which you begin trekking to see this most endangered primate which will be a humbling experience.

All safaris in Africa are conducted in private parks based in luxury camps, accompanied by Masai guides and Land cruiser jeeps drives. The experience is designed to be luxurious but tailor made to cater to your likes all in the company of men whose lives have been spent exploring the natural world.

“Await more exciting options from Nature Trails in the coming months, our focus is to celebrate what’s wild and free and help you explore this amazing world at your pace, tweaking all attention to detail and helping you make images that will change the way others admire the wilderness.” says Chitral Jayatilake.

Chitral Jayatilake
Vice President – John Keells PLC
Head of Nature Trails – Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts