We’re in the jungle of Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, a central state in India, at a watering hole surrounded by colorful birds, gentle spotted deer, mammoth gaur (Indian bison), and many other types of creatures big and small.
The lush, vibrant green Sal trees around us release a smell reminiscent of jasmine, while the trill of India’s national bird, the peacock, floats through the air. The trees above us are alive with the movement of Grey Langur monkeys leaping effortlessly between branches and calling out to one another, many with their young safely secured to their bellies for the ride. Everything is alive.
Suddenly, silence blankets the jungle and a sound rings out piercing the quiet moment; a spotted deer has issued its unmistakable warning call and the animals flee.
Here in Bandhavgarh, that only means one thing - a Royal Bengal tiger is near.
As if on cue, a lone male tiger appears from its well-camouflaged position. Each step he takes is intentional, and he moves with finesse and grace. It reached 107℉ today and he needs to cool himself off in the water. At first, this elegant big cat quenches his thirst and then delicately slinks into the pool where he stands regally composed yet relaxed, enjoying the serenity of the water.
We had been waiting for countless hours to see a single tiger like this, and had come to India with the sole mission of photographing these animals taking advantage of the cool water during the height of summer. This scene not only tells a part of their story but also is idyllic - like a painting come to life - not to mention a continuation of my visual style featuring one of the most treasured animals on Earth. These big cats can be invisible and are only seen if they want to be. Finally finding one in this setting felt like a childhood imagining rendered in real life.
In my mind, textures are one of the most artfully significant factors of photographing animals here in the jungle, and I wanted my image to help bring this to life. I love how the undisturbed water, subtly rippled from the tiger, feels like an extension of his delicate presence while amplifying the signature pattern in his bold coat. The lush, dense grassy hill beyond the pool adds environmental context, while the final rays of evening light aid in naturally spotlighting this mythical and elusive creature.
There is a tranquility within this image in complete opposition to an animal that should, in actuality, be revered for its might and power. Yet, as always, the balance of mother nature is so precise, so significant. There are no other animals that behave with as much self-assuredness, poise, and grace while at the same time remaining apex predators with no other rivals or fears in the world.
Here in Bandhavgarh, Jambhol and his kingdom of tigers own the jungle.