Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Tale of the Tadoba Tigers

Gabbar and Matkasur had a fight today near 97. May be, they were fighting over Maya, the region’s prettiest female. Because of this fight, Bhobda is not to seen at all. Choti Tara is also missing in action. These are the conversations that happen inside Tadoba Tiger Reserve and all these characters are tigers and tigresses. This is the land of the tigers and all you hear are their tales.

The beautiful face of a Royal Bengal Tiger at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Last week, after many years, I embarked on a relaxed wildlife holiday (my favorite kind of holiday). The destination was Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, a large tiger reserve, located just south of Nagpur in Maharashtra and one that boasts of an increasing tiger population and of amazing tiger sightings.

The king of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Most of us Indians and international tourists as well associate great tiger sightings with Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, or Jim Corbett tiger reserves, but if you talk to hardcore tiger lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, they will say that Tadoba is possibly the place where you can script ‘The Jungle Book’ in today’s era. Such is its rich wildlife action.

A healthy male spotted leopard has just spotted its prey at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

As soon as I stepped into the Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge, my luxury home that is located a short distance away from the Kolara gate entrance, I became one with the tiger tales. Be it the black board at the entrance, the security guard, the receptionist, the chef, the jeep drivers, the waiters, the room service personnel or the naturalists, they all spoke one language, the language of the jungle.

The mighty strong canines of a Tadoba wild dog, India

Maya and her cubs are doing well. In fact, the cub population of Tadoba is increasing. Indian Pitta has recently arrived into the forest and has started building its nest. Gabbar, who used to live in the core region of the tiger reserve has now moved into the tourism zone and thus altering the dynamics of the tiger population in the tourism zone. Off late, leopard and wild dog sightings have improved tremendously. Due to the extremely dry weather, tigers are sighted near water holes pretty regularly.

A Tadoba Tiger Reserve Wildlife Jeep Safari Experience

You can sense a certain passion and frenzy as you hear these tales. As this was my first time visiting the Kolara Gate of Tadoba, I took a while to adjust to the names and to make the right inferences. I am pretty sure, you too must be wondering what is going on. Let me help you with that…

A Tadoba wildlife jeep safari leopard road crossing experience

Maya is possibly the most photographed tigress in the world. The people at Ranthambore say it is Machili, while the ones at Tadoba say it is Maya. She has 3 healthy cubs whose father is Bhobda (he is called that as he has lost one of his canines). Gabbar is the biggest male in the region and he is never shy of picking up a fight with other male tigers. In fact, one of his fights was so bad that he suffered a lot of serious battle wounds and had to be treated by the forest department. Matkasur is another big male who is still young and possibly the one in line to Gabbar’s throne. 97 is one of the popular watering holes.

The arrogant and mean stride of a big male tiger from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

I hope you are getting the drift. Jungle tales, tiger tales, cub stories, territory invasions, fights, mating rituals, kills and so much more. Without even stepping into the jungle, you get to know all of this and it piques your interest so much that you want to see all this with your own two eyes.

The spotted leopard look, Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Well, I didn’t think any different. I avoided the weekend as I wanted the forest to myself. The last thing I wanted during my safari were picnicking crowds and loud families with kids. I booked myself one evening safari and 2 morning safaris. The evening safari was slotted for Monday. There was no safari on Tuesday owing to the weekly holiday. And my morning jeep safaris were slotted for Wednesday and Thursday.

Indian Pitta - Front from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

My first safari from the Kolara gate landed me a sighting of the injured Matkasur male tiger who apparently got into a fight with Gabbar over Maya. His injury made him so tired that he showed no interest in the large herd of sambar deer that came next to his watering hole. He didn’t move an inch in spite of the sambar deer giving alarm calls continuously.

Alpha male and female wild dogs from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India

After spending a good time waiting for Matkasur to get up, we were rewarded with him staring at us, walking towards us, cooling himself in the watering hole and then disappearing deep into the bushes. The rest of the safari was full of wild boars and pigs, spotted deer, sambar deer and langurs, but no more predators.

Red Wattled Lapwing in front of a Tadoba Tiger

My next safari into Tadoba was an absolute bonanza. It seemed to rain rich sightings all through that morning session. It had rained the previous night and most of the forest wore a green and fresh look. Due to the rain, you could hear consistent bird chatter in an otherwise quiet forest.

Injured Matkasur Male Tiger relaxes by the 97 waterhole at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

As soon as we started our morning safari, we spotted 2 brown fish owls, one on either side of the road. Shortly after, we rain into 2 alpha wild dogs, a male and a female. Then, we met Matkasur again…this time at a different watering hole. As soon as he left, we left onto the Panchdhara area, and ended up spotting a handsome male leopard. The sighting was possibly my best leopard sighting till date. I got to follow this Panchdhara Male (as he is referred to locally) for 20 minutes and that too including 3 lovely road crossings.

A beautiful male leopard from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

While I was being treated to these gorgeous leopard sightings, some other groups who had opted to stay at the 97 watering hole got to see the mating of Maya and Gabbar. News travels pretty fast in the Indian jungle and as we were heading back to the 97 watering hole, we bumped into Choti Tara, a very beautiful and big tigress. She was so big that you can easily mistake her for a tiger.

Collared Scops Owl from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

In between all of this predator action, I spotted the ruddy mongoose, spotted deer, barking deer, sloth bears, sambar deer, crested serpent eagles, a juvenile oriental honey buzzard and much more. As you can see, this morning wildlife safari was a true wildlife extravaganza.

Tadoba Sloth Bear standing on its hind legs

It felt like the jungle gods and goddesses were showering their blessings on me. According to my naturalist, such rich sightings are usually seen once every week. And to have a good leopard sighting in it is truly extraordinary.

Yellow footed green pigeon - the state bird of Maharashtra - seen at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

A rich wildlife sighting gives you immense happiness. You should have seen me beaming from ear to ear. I am usually stingy with tips, but I was so happy that I was keen on tipping everyone who shared my happiness.

Gaur crosses a jeep track at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

My 3rd and final safari was not an extravaganza like my second one and I didn’t end up seeing the tiger or the leopard.

Gaur mother and calf grazing at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

But, I did end up seeing 2 insanely grunting sloth bears including a quiet sloth bear road crossing, a pack of wild dogs devouring a kill, another larger pack of wild dogs on the prowl, a large herd of gaur who seemed to be grazing peacefully, the yellow footed green pigeon, which is the state bird of Maharashtra, the very rarely seen collared Scops Owl roosting in a hole of a tree, the beautiful Indian Pitta that was busy collecting twigs and leaves for its nest, many Indian Rollers, many paradise flycatchers and lots of birding action.

Sloth bear roams the jungles of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

By the end of my 3 wildlife safaris into Tadoba Tiger Reserve, I had ended up seeing all of Tadoba’s Big Five (Tiger, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Wild Dog or Dhole and Gaur). I think that was a sweet achievement. My naturalist also told me that I definitely did have a great and lucky 3 wildlife safaris.

Barking Deer from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Not only did I see the Big Five, but I got to see the burgeoning population of wild boars, nilgai or blue bull, sambar deer, spotted deer or chital, barking deer and other prey that are the main reason for a healthy increase in the number of predators.

Pack of wild dogs ready to go on the hunt at Tadoba

I might not seen any tiger cubs (which I am aching for as I have never laid my eyes on one) or seen the mating of the region’s biggest male and the prettiest female, but I did return an immensely happy man. May be, the next time, I will see tiger cubs playing in front of my camera or may be something more extraordinary. Who knows? Such is the aura of the tales of the Tadoba Tigers. You have to be one with the jungle to truly understand its true inner beauty!

An alpha male white dog from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Which Gate should I opt for?

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve has 6 gates – Moharli, Kuswanda, Navegaon, Kolara, Pangdi and Zari. Moharli and Kolara are the ones that allow the maximum vehicles to enter and have many hotel properties located near by. Personally, I have entered via Moharli and Kolara and prefer Kolara for easy access to excellent wildlife sighting opportunities.

Female Sambar Deer at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

How to make safari bookings

Maharashta Forest Department allows individuals to book their wildlife safari online. All you have to do is choose your date and gate. I prefer to let the hotels do the needful as they know the latest rules and regulations.

Matkasur Male tiger walks to a watering hole at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

How to Reach Tadoba

Nagpur is the closest domestic and international airport. Chandrapur is the closest rail station. It is best to reach Nagpur and then take a car from there to Tadoba. Depending on your choice of gate, the typical distance is between 120 and 180 kms and the typical duration is between 2 and 3 hours.

Brown Fish Owl at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Best Season to Visit

Like with most of Central India national parks, the summer months are best for sighting owing to scarcity of water. But, as Tadoba is one of those tiger reserves that is open all year round, it gives you the special opportunity to see a tiger reserve during the monsoons, especially activities such as mating rituals, nesting, birthing, etc.

Big Healthy Matkasur Male Tiger of Tadoba

Places to Stay

The only true luxury option at Tadoba is Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge. They are located near the Kolara Gate and this is where I stayed at during my recent trip. The Maharashtra tourism run hotels on Moharli gate side offer a simple and decent budget option. Serai Tiger on the Moharli side is a mid luxury option on the Moharli side. I have stayed with all of them on my previous visits to Tadoba.

A pack of wild dogs on the jeep track inside Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Things to keep in mind

Tadoba is unusually dusty and warm. Hence, it is advisable to carry some water and a piece of cloth that can help you cover your head, neck and nose. May be, find something to protect your camera too.  And the key thing to keep in mind is that Tadoba is closed every Tuesday.

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