Chasing the tiger

With children on their semester break and at home, we felt like a complete family once again and this definitely called for a celebration (aka a trip to somewhere). We opened the new year by visiting Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve near Nagpur, in Maharashtra, India.
Honestly, we as a family are not wild-life enthusiasts. Among natural attractions, we would any day vote for a beach holiday over a visit to a nature reserve. That may be the reason why we have not been to any of the nature reserves in our vicinity, around Bangalore!

So then why Tadoba?
1) To see a tiger in the wild.
Summer is always a great time of the year to spot an animal as elusive as the tiger or as shy as a leopard as they tend to visit water bodies to quench their thirst. We were going in January (and not flexible on time/season of visit). Due to the high population of tigers in Tadoba (115 in all), chances of spotting one is fairly good any time of the year.
2) To see a tiger in a different forest setting.
Most of India consists of moist deciduous forests, while the western and central region that Tadoba lies in is dry deciduous forests, therefore making the flora also interesting and different.
3) To drive a long distance (a dream of mine).
I have always wanted for the four of us to drive over a long distance for a holiday. We spilt the nearly 1200km journey (one-way) over two days, with a night halt in Hyderabad. Each of us drove no more than 2-2.5 hours on each leg of the drive, making it pleasant and enjoyable without any one very tired or stressed driver ๐Ÿ™‚

Enroute…..

The forest of the Tadoba Andhari National Park is divided into three zones (Tadoba, Moharli and Kolsa). Each zone has a core zone (only forest) and a buffer zone (mix of forest and non-forest land). There are several entry gates into the core zone and the buffer zone. Most resorts and homestays are found around a few specific gates like Moharli, Khutwanda (also spelt Khuswanda), Navegaon and Kolara which are entryways to the core zone. There are buffer zone gates close to these core zone gates.

Tadoba – core zone

When choosing accommodation, pick a place that is close to the entry gates that you have booked. For example you cannot stay at a resort near Kolara gate while your entry is from Moharli gate simply because they are so far apart (60-odd kms!). Eventually the core zone visited via the gates at Moharli, Khutwanda, Navegaon and Kolara is the same.

A really small temple, bus stand and few rustic coffee shops make up the little village outside Mohurli Gate

There are two safaris per day per gate with a limitation on the number of vehicles that are permitted in the forest per safari per gate. So it is important to book well in advance on the prescribed website. Wild life enthusiasts recommend atleast six safaris, we did three safaris and I must say we were lucky to spot tigresses and their cubs on all three trips – 15 in all!

The morning safari starts at 6/6.30am and the afternoon safari starts at 2/2.30pm – the half hour time change depends on the time of the year. The duration of each safari is 4 hours, with a short break in between.

Thick of the forest
Dense bamboo

The buffer zone is mostly dense bamboo and includes villages and large tracts of agricultural land. The core zone is dense bamboo, with lots of teak trees, trees of medicinal value, a tree whose trunk resembles the hide of a crocodile and aptly called crocodile bark tree, and a very special tree called the ghost tree whose trunk and branches change colour depending on the season from white to light green to light pink. The Indian jujube (ber) trees are very common and when I saw the berry-laden trees it reminded me of my childhood! I know these berries as ‘borroms’, green when raw that turn pale yellow and a lovely burnt orange when fully ripe and oh so sweet-sour to taste! I have eaten so much of this berry as a child that I had a sudden longing for it once again!

Crocodile bark tree trunk
Ghost tree trunk
Borroms or Indian jujube

The forest is home to a variety of birds; we saw kingfishers, ibises, storks, owls, marsh harriers and Maharashtra’s state bird – the yellow footed green pigeon and much more.

Maharashtra’s state bird – the yellow footed green pigeon

We saw a sloth bear, a wild boar, loads of spotted deer, sambhar deer and even a gaur and missed the leopard – he darted off into the wilderness in that millisecond it took us to shift our focus onto his majestic self.

The tigers are something else! They are so used to seeing humans that they saunter around without a care in the world while we in our jeeps with fancy cameras like the paparazzi literally chasing and hunting the bengal tiger, India’s national animal.

On the first safari, we saw a tigress and her cubs that appeared to be taking a morning walk beside the road. They seemed a bit shy and quickly disappeared into the thicket. The guides of the various jeeps keep updating each other of the tigers’ movements. During the afternoon safari we were informed that a tigress and her cubs were near a watering hole. When they have hunted and eating a meal, they tend to feel more thirsty and visit watering holes more often. It was well worth the wait! She emerged from the bushes with such a majestic gait that we were simply stunned into silence and watched her as she knelt to take a few sips of water. As she walked on, one by one, her four cubs came by. She appeared to have asked them to stay put while she walked along on her evening jaunt. Tigers tend to mark and survey their territory twice a day – in the morning and in the evening. Watching her as she walked on was grand!

Our third safari was in the buffer zone. We drove by the Irai reservoir which is home to a variety of birdlife. Our meeting with another tigress and her cubs was a bonus! We watched as they simply lay around, well, doing nothing! One of the cubs was quite a curious fellow who lifted his head every time he heard the safari jeep and curiously looked at us humans and then would lie down again and then repeat the process ๐Ÿ™‚ We moved on deciding to let them be, only to be treated to the sighting of another mom and her cubs. These had just had a meal and were resting and simply lazing around, stretching and yawning and trying to find the right posture for a good siesta! We stayed there simply watching them and would have continued doing so if we had more time!

The drivers and guides on the safari are locals. They belong to villages in the buffer zone of the forest reserve. They know the forest and its inmates very very well. Some of them have spent their childhood playing in the very same forest or collected firewood when they were a little older – all this long before the area legally became a national park. If you chat them up you learn so much about the flora and fauna.

They have an exceptional ability to sight birds and animals. They spot pug marks from sooo far away that its unbelievable! One of the guides told us that there are few behaviours of the tiger that are nearly impossible to sight: hunting, fighting, mating, giving birth and cubs being carried by their mothers. The tigers we spot on the safaris are clearly bolder than others in the tiger reserve, just like us humans and our various personalties ๐Ÿ™‚

A pregnant tigress finds it difficult to hunt large animals. During gestation, tigresses find it easy to prey on smaller animals such as fawns and wild boars. Their soft meat is preferred by young cubs too. When cubs start to learn to hunt, the tigress half-kills an animal and brings it to the cubs to finish the job. By the time the cubs are 1.5 years old they are ready to hunt. The cub that makes its first kill gets to keep the carcass to itself. By now they are ready to move on and make their own life. In fact, if you are near a carcass and the wind is blowing in your direction, you can ACTUALLY smell it (we did!!)! Tigers tend to cover a lot of ground during the day marking their territory, if there is a carcass, they will return to it by nightfall.

Before it was notified as a tiger reserve in 1995 there existed the Tadoba National Park that was formed in 1955 and Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary, two different entities, jointly today it is the tiger reserve spread over 625 sq. km. People had easy access to the area and they would come in all kinds of vehicles (two wheelers, autorickshaws, cars and vans) and picnic around the Tadoba Lake that is in the core zone. Slowly and one by one, rules were imposed. The villages within the core zone were relocated to the buffer zone. You can spot flat lands without any vegetation in the core zone where there used to be villages, wild vegetation is yet to make its presence in these areas. Next, vehicles were banned and also picnicking. Nowadays only safari jeeps are permitted. Each jeep carries a paper bag for any trash generated. Cellphones are disallowed. Cameras are permitted on paying the required camera fees. Huge fines are levied on rule breakers.

On the banks of the Tadoba lake, there is a temple dedicated to Taru, a tribal chief who, according to legend died fighting a tiger. He is worshipped every year in a festival which sees the coming together of a large number of tribals.

Temple in the jungle

As one traverses along the well-laid road in the core zone (In total there is about 50-60km of roads inside the forest. During the rainy season these roads get washed away and need to be re-laid!), it is difficult to miss a continuous line of manmade pillars that stand equidistant from each other. According to our guide, these pillars belong to the times of the Gond Kings who used this very same road for their travels. A rope would be passed on top of the pillars through rings and bells would be hung on the rope. When the king was on his way, the rope would be tugged at, the bell would sound and the message would be conveyed to whoever it was as the receiving end of the king’s upcoming travel ๐Ÿ™‚

Communication pillars on what used to be the royal road

One must understand that a safari does not start and stop with the tiger. Do not be disappointed if you do not see one. Make the most of the trip – get to know about the forest and all it holds because the flora and fauna are all interconnected and need each other for survival. It is indeed a fine balance. There is a lesson for all of us if we wish to see it and learn from it. This hoarding conveys it best.

Some useful links:
1) Two very informative websites about Tadoba National Park. Click here and here.
2) A map of the national park.
3) Booking page here and here. The second link is more user-friendly than the first one. The booking page is not easy to use. You can seek help from your accommodation to make the bookings on your behalf.
4) For a brief understanding of Tiger Conservation see here.

Random tip:
Carry something to protect your hair from the dust. A hat might keep the sun away, but not the dust.

12 comments

  1. That was a great description of what sounds like a trip worth making! It also makes me so happy to read about how these forests are being managed so that we can marvel at them on the wildlife’s terms…and now I want ber….. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anita! Yes it is worth making the trip and really heartening to learn about the efforts that go into tiger conservation. I want ber/borroms too, very badly!!!! Will WhatsApp a pic only for you ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  2. A detailed, beautiful travel blog on Tadoba and on forest conservation in general. Not just passion but one needs blessed skills to pen their travel experience that will be useful for many more enthusiasts. Author is really blessed. Very happy to read and share. Thank you so much. Stay blessed

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Vara! If I can make even one reader happier after reading my posts, then I am even happier than the reader ๐Ÿ™‚
      Feel free to browse and read my other posts when you have time. I will be happy to receive your feedback/comments.

      Like

  3. Kirana….. Wonderfully compiled and written.. The fotos have been really well taken… It really gives a clear picture on what to expect and how to go about it.. A lovely guide… Thadoba has been on my bucket list for years!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anisha. Happy to note that you found the post useful. Pics are joint-family-effort sans moi ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you can take a much-deserved break and plan a trip to tadoba soon.

      Like

  4. Hi Kirana,
    Beautiful article and you say that you are not a wildlife enthusiast. Your description of Tadobas forests and the its residents was very apt and detailed.
    Loved the observations and the way you described everything the land,the trees,berries,birds and the animals.
    Well done.
    Brought back some very fond memories of visiting this park twice.
    Being a wildlife lover, i was involved in a survey to estimate prey densities in various forests.
    Tadoba was one of them And I had a chance of staying here for 8 days at a time ,twice.
    And we had to walk in these forests , 4 kms at a time, at dawn and dusk. It was fascinating to work
    in these jungles and meet the animals while on foot. Had a chance of seeing a Tiger while on foot near a small dam. Tehlia Dam ( I think) The lake to is mesmerizing. Since we were doing this survey, we were housed just in front of the Tadoba lake in the forest buildings. I remember the short bamboos, the crazy heat and the fascinating wildlife which we met ( and enumerated too ).
    Your writing made me travel back in time.. in 2002 and again in 2004. Sorry for the long rambling.
    Cheers, keep exploring..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Rohit, a pat on the back from you is the equivalent of a highly recognised award for me. Thank you so much for not only reading this post, but taking time to ‘ramble on’ about your trips to Tadoba as it made for an interesting read; so don’t apologise!
      Acc to me, a wildlife enthusiast will commit a part of a year to the cause of wildlife, which we don’t do. But we do have immense respect for nature and try in our small ways not to hurt it anymore than it has been injured.
      If I went to see a historical monument, we would get into the details isn’t it? Like who it is dedicated to, the story behind it, the art and architecture, etc etc.
      A forest is similar. The guides are so happy to share the knowledge of the forest! Like i said in the post, a safari should not start and stop with the tiger. A safari should be looked at entirely from every little aspect and only that makes a rich story. And that story needs to be told. If from this blog, even one person is happier and one person is better educated, I will feel a sense of achievement.
      Thanks once again!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.