A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in it's entirety. . . I believe in photography as one means of achieving an ultimate happiness and faith! - Ansel Adams

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India - A journey into the wild!

Planning a "hot" weekend excursion... Two months back a casual discussion with my friend on visiting a national park for our May – June sojourn threw up Tadoba - Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), located in the Indian State of Maharashtra, as an option. The park was not only brimming with tigers, but we had also never been there earlier, and the place had been in news as a number of tiger cubs had been born there in the past 12 months. The best part was that we could cover the place over a weekend! While we knew that temperatures in this part of the country could touch 48 degrees Celsius in May – June, we also knew that summers were the best time to sight tigers and the number of casual tourists too would be fewer. Coming close on the heels of my visit to the Ranthambhore National Park, I was naturally excited about the prospect. Deciding to look no further, we packed our bags and set sail....
For a slide show of complete set of pictures from Tadoba - Andhari Tiger Reserve, please click HERE.

Exploring the wild side of Maharashtra... Also called the "Jewel of Vidarbha", Tadoba - Andhari Tiger Reserve is Maharashtra's oldest National Park located in the Chandrapur district, about 155 KM from the Nagpur International Airport. TATR is home to about 43 Royal Bengal Tigers (Panthera Tigris Tigris - India's National Animal), some 80 species of other mammals and 280 species of birds. A Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest, it is largely a flatland with 40 per cent of its area covered with bamboo trees, which gives it a unique appearance. Compared to other popular tiger reserves in India, TATR is relatively under-explored and under-photographed. The place has only of late been attracting tourists and is slowly coming up on the Indian wildlife circuit. At the moment, however, people from the Nagpur - Chandrapur belt comprise bulk of the tourists.

The moment we stepped out of the plane at Nagpur airport, in the evening, we experienced scalding heat and we immediately knew that we were in for some testing times. Our journey to Tadoba began on a good note. Even as we were driving towards Chandrapur we sighted a Jungle Cat, pair of Spotted Owlets perched on a tree, Common Palm Civet and Spotted Doves. The trailer was good....we now had to wait for a few more hours for the film to begin! The wait seemed quite long. We reached the MTDC Moharli Tourist Complex at around 10 PM and retired for the day after having dinner... with dreams of sighting a tiger.

Tadoba, a birder's paradise! ... For the first day we decided to choose jungle safaris (morning and evening) inside the Tadoba range of the forest (Moharli and Kolsa ranges being the other two open to tourists). As we drove through the bamboo lined tracks of Tadoba, we spotted Sambar Deers, Chitals (Spotted Deer), Gaur (Indian Bison), Indian Wild Boars, Barking Deer (Muntjac), Black - naped Hare, Common Mongoose, Indian Peafowl (Peacock - National Bird of India), mischievous and errant Common Langurs (Hanuman Langur - they are my best friends!), Changeable Hawk Eagle and the rare Flying Squirrel (we were lucky enough to see it glide). Owing to the bamboo thickets, animal sightings were fewer when compared to some of the other national parks in India. Every now and then I would feel the urge to climb one of the many machaans (watch tower) that dot the forest and soak in the panoramic view from there.

As we passed the scenic Tadoba Lake, we spotted an Asian Openbill, Great Egret, Pond Heron, Oriental Honey Buzzards (some were perched on trees, some sitting along the shore) and Peregrine "Shaheen" Falcon. We patrolled the range and halted at two prominent water holes (Ambepat and Jamunbari), waiting for any alarm calls that might signal the arrival of the King of the Jungle, the beast of prey, the tiger himself. These water holes enabled us to indulge in birding and we had some excellent sightings at Ambepat - Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Oriental White Eye, Brahminy Starling, Grey Junglefowl, Great Tit, Black - naped Monarch, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Blue - winged Leafbird, Black Headed Munias, Orange Headed Thrush, etc. The area was buzzing with birds and several of them came to drink water and give us photo-ops. Thanks to the wait, our bird count was a respectable 40 something by the end of the day.

However, the tiger proved elusive throughout the day. In the evening we heard alarm calls near a water hole (Ambepat) and waited patiently, crammed with 10 other vehicles, for the tiger to come and quench his thirst. The tiger, though, never came. He probably neared the spot and walked away elsewhere (or maybe just sat some place nearby keeping a watch on us), maybe to return later so he could drink peacefully away from the gaze of human eyes. We returned to the hotel with a heavy heart. We were schedule to tour the Moharli range on the following day and so we joked on our drive back that tigers would be sighted in the Tadoba range tomorrow. While the mind knew that sighting a tiger is a matter of chance, the heart wouldn't listen!

On a dhudum - dhadam - dhudum journey...Visitors to the Tadoba range of the park should be prepared to receive some jolts of their lifetime. The entry gate (Khatoda gate) to the Tadoba range is about an hour's drive from Moharli. The drive on that stretch (located outside the park) is so bumpy that it will rattle every bone, massage each muscle and jangle many joints. One may be well advised to carry a crude seating plate with shock absorbers on the underside or a pillow (a la Saif Ali Khan of the Bollywood blockbuster 'Dil Chahta Hai'). The jungle tracks inside the Tadoba range seemed to be a joy ride in comparison! Wildlife lovers are always prepared to brave bumpy rides inside the jungle, but on an approach road, which is dotted with villages, it is appalling to see the road in such pitiable condition and further highlights the grim realities of the Vidarbha region! Occasionally one sights boards saying Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana... may be someday there will be a decent road which makes the journey a bearable one - more so for people like us who haven't had the fortune of sighting a tiger.

Tryst with the Charming Lady of Moharli... Moharli range being the most popular amongst local tourists, the forest officials permit more number of vehicles (about 20) inside this range compared to others. It was thus imperative for us to enter the park early. Alas, all hopes were dashed as a scuffle broke out outside the gate in the morning, thereby delaying the entry of vehicles by a good 45 minutes, sigh!

In order to prevent disturbance to a tigress and her litter of four cubs, the route to the water hole where they frequently come to drink had been recently closed to tourists. This left us with the Teliya Lake area and the main road (its a coal-tar road) with its water hole number 2 to search for the tiger. We first toured the beautiful Teliya Lake area which is surrounded by grassland. Herein we spotted a solitary Lesser Adjutant Stork and Mugger (Marsh Crocodile) lying on the lake shore. Perched on a nearby tree we spotted four-five Oriental Honey Buzzards, which, save for one, flew away as vehicles neared the spot.

After spending some time here we drove straight to water hole number 2 and camped there for the rest of the morning. The forest guide Neelkanth told us that the tiger would surely appear here as apart from Teliya Lake this was the only other source of water for him and of late he had been quite regular here.

Thirty minutes later we heard an alarm call from a Sambar Deer and we all stood up on our seats expecting the tiger to soon put in an appearance. Things however quickly quietened and we slumped into our seats. After a two hour wait under the scorching sun and with barely half hour left for us to head back, we heard the rustling of leaves behind the bamboo thickets. Suddenly one could see some movement through the thick vegetation (perfectly camouflaged) and finally, stealthily a gorgeous four year old tigress appeared before us. Her golden coat, glistening in the sun, is one of the best I have seen. Charming young lady, I must say! She sat in the water hole and drank from it for five minutes. All we could see, as she lay there, was her face. Our view was obstructed by a huge tree and we were cursing our luck for that. She then got up, glanced around and disappeared into the bamboo thicket and rested at a spot about 10-15 meters inside... bamboo-zling onlookers.

Though pleased with the proceedings thus far, our instinct told us this would be our last and only sighting during the trip. We were, however, not willing to give up!

During the evening we drove straight to the water hole number 2 and parked ourselves beside it. Afternoon turned to evening, a State Transport bus passed by us (!!!); Sirkeer Malkoha, Indian Roller and many other birds came, quenched their thirst and went away. We even sang some Bollywood songs, in muffled tones, calling for the tiger. However, there were no alarm calls, no movement. The sun was just about to set on the horizon and we decided to drive back.

Upon reaching the hotel we learnt that in the Tadoba range tiger sightings had occurred (as we had expected - Murphy's Law). In one instance a wary tiger and a huge gaur (Indian Bison) were found sharing a water hole with each giving the other angry stares and making attempts to go at each other. We got to see the video of the entire proceedings and struggled to sleep later in the night!

A memorable drive in sylvan Kolsa... Our last tiger safari was in TATR's most scenic, greener and cooler range, the Kolsa range, which lies on the other side of Andhari River. It's the kind of forest we imagine while reading books. Even though we had been forewarned that tiger sightings in this range were rare, we nonetheless pushed ahead, hoping to try our luck. As we entered through the Moharli gate and took the diversion on the right towards Kolsa, we were welcomed by the sight of a Sloth Bear. But he was so shy that he immediately made for the bushes. Owing to dense growth in this area, we had to constantly mind our head for bamboos jutting out. But the drive was indeed a memorable one, trees here were taller compared to other ranges, water more abundant and the sheer beauty of the place made up for fewer sightings.

As we waited at a water hole, a vehicle came and informed us that they had sighted a male tiger at a point where we had been several minutes ago. They had been there before us and therefore enjoyed the privilege. This again proved the importance of entering the park early as I had mentioned in my earlier post as well. However, we learned from the same people that the tiger didn't drink at the water hole then and there was a possibility he might reappear. We abandoned our current position and rushed to this spot. After some patient wait we decided to check out some other water bodies. On our way we spotted a Crested Serpent Eagle and a Common Hawk Cuckoo each carrying kills. We were blessed!

Disappointed at not having sighted a tiger we decided to halt near the Andhari River on our way back. The place is a veritable hotspot for birds - Indian Pitta, Common Kingfisher, Greater Racket - tailed Drongo, Black - naped Monarch, Asian Paradise Flycatchers, Rufous Treepies, etc. were all playing over there. Kolsa was also home to plenty of woodpeckers.

Tigers, and more!... At the end of it all, though we were a trifle disappointed at having sighted a solitary tiger for a few minutes, we were happy at the wonderful birding opportunities and jungle sightings, in general, that we had. Not to mention the sight of the extremely shy Sloth Bear, who is even more difficult to sight than a tiger is. I am sure there are a lot of hidden treasures in this jungle, tucked away somewhere in the thick vegetation. All in all I would say Tadoba - Andhari Tiger Reserve is a good place for people who have loads of patience and want to enjoy the jungle in its entirety. The tiger is not just the only attraction. If one is willing to accept this fact then TATR is an excellent virgin destination for serious wildlife enthusiasts and a birder's paradise!

Following is the complete list of birds we sighted at TATR -

Spotted Owlet, Spotted Dove, Brahminy Starling, Black Shouldered (Winged) Kite, Common Kingfisher, Common Hawk Cuckoo, Oriental Magpie Robin, Common Myna, House Crow, Rock Pigeon, Indian Roller, Pied Myna, White Throated Kingfisher, Asian Openbill, Great Egret, Pond Heron, Long Tailed Shrike, Indian Pitta, Oriental White-eye, Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Male & Female), Crested Serpent Eagle, Black Drongo, White Bellied Drongo, White Browed Fantail, Peregrine "Shaheen" Falcon, Great Tit, Rufous Treepie, Black Naped Monarch, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Blue Winged Leafbird, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Orange Headed Thrush, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Black Headed Munia, Jungle Babbler, Large Billed Crow, Greater Coucal, Green Bee-eater, Purple Sunbird, Red Vented Bulbul, Red Wattled Lapwing, Eurasian Thick - knee, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Black Rumped Flameback, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, Common Cuckoo, Asian Palm Swift, Cattle Egret, Eurasian Sparrow Hawk, Common Tailorbird, Lesser Adjutant Stork, House Sparrow, White Eyed Buzzard, Shikra, Sirkeer Malkoha, Ashy Prinia, Brown Headed Barbet, Changeable Hawk Eagle, White Naped Woodpecker (Male & Female), Indian Peafowl, Grey Junglefowl.

Closing thoughts... Before I end I would like to highlight some points -

  • The process of entry into the park can be a bit baffling for the first time visitor to TATR. The following variables are subject to change at the drop of a hat - number of vehicles permitted inside, routes on which vehicles can travel, place of booking (it has now been shifted from the gate to Chandrapur), etc. Planning and getting hold of a good safari operator is thus imperative, lest you waste time and energy in trying to get in rather than enjoying the wildlife inside.
  • A fact that annoyed me the most was that anybody who has a four wheeler can use it for safari as long as he hires a forest guide. Now one has to wonder what experience does such a person have of driving inside a national park and what does he care for the rules of the jungle? - another Bandhavgarh National Park type tragedy (where a tigress died on being hit by a vehicle) is perhaps waiting to happen! This is also not all. An S. T. (State Transport) bus periodically passes on the arterial road (see pic, one can see other vehicles waiting patiently for the tiger) in the Moharli range of the park - inside the core area! Let me not comment on this matter any further, it needs to be denounced in strongest terms!
  • Coming to the place of stay. Accommodation facilities in Tadoba are very limited. We stayed at the MTDC Tadoba Moharli Tourist Complex. This is the place where most people choose to stay (Hobson's choice). Like most MTDC hotels, its trump card is its location. It is located at a five minutes' drive from the Moharli gate of the park. And like most MTDC hotels, the benefits end there. Food is barely comestible (though I must admit that the chap makes good fresh lime juice and dal fry), service is ofcourse non-existent, rooms are just about liveable. In fact, in the room where two of my co-travellers were staying, thousands of big black ants (Carpenter ants for the scientifically minded) emerged out of the bathroom sink (a la 'The Mummy', the Hollywood movie) the moment they stepped in!
  • As the Indian economy has been galloping over the last few years, the Tadoba - Andhari Tiger Reserve has come under immense pressure from industries wanting to mine coal in the vicinity. While coal is essential for meeting our energy requirements, should it be permitted in an eco-sensitive zone? It is for the nation to choose - whether we give importance to mining coal, which spews life threatening carbon dioxide, or protect the forest which releases life saving oxygen.

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."
- Henry David Thoreau


Indli said...

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Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog..and great photos. Being your room-mate for this trip made me completely rewind and relive this trip.

sharmila said...

so which one is better .... Ranthambore or Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve ?

saw the slide show ... lovely bird n stunning tiger shot !! enjoyed reading the post too :)

The Legend Returns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Legend Returns said...

@ Baskaran: Thanks so much for your comments.

@Amitabh: Thanks for your comments. One of the key reasons I started the blog was for me to be able to relive the memories. Am glad it helped you too.

@ Sharmila: While both reserves are brimming with tigers, I will definitely rate Ranthambhore better than Tadoba for the following reasons -
1) It is a professionally managed park. Safari bookings can be done online and zones & vehicle are allotted on a random computer generated basis. Thus you are not at the mercy of safari operator.
2) Tigers over there are not people-shy. Consequently they are not afraid of venturing out in the presence of humans, thereby increasing the probability of sightings. Absence of bamboo / dense vegetation also enables you to sight more animals in general.
3) Varied terrain and dash of historical splendour, which is so much more pleasing on the eyes

Vivek Rao said...

Nice pics, and very nice description of the whole trip. Would be a great place to visit, i'm sure.

A friend of mine had been to Tadoba as part of the Tiger Census team, some years back. He had the opportunity to move about deep within the forest with the rangers, camp on machaans and observe the tigers more closely in their natural habitats. He said this experience was way different from the normal tourist one.

Nishant Singh said...

Excellent!! Your blog gives me food for thought for a visit to Tadoba.

@Vivek - your friend is so lucky!!!

suchi said...

hi there, great work!!! nice sense of photography
,very informative and creative...worth reading it!!! keep doing!!! i have joined you.


above is my blog..hav a look sometime if possible

Safique said...

This is wonderful Maneesh. I was looking info on Tadoba on net & fortunately came across your blog. I am an avid wildlife fan and just started my photography - your pictures are quite lively and there are lot in this blog to learn from you. Thanks.

my blog: http://www.safiques-nature-beckon.blogspot.com/

- Safique

The Legend Returns said...

@Safique: Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for your wonderful comment! I will definitely check out your blog :)

Apurv Pirke said...

Your blog is too nice... Quite lucky watchin tigers all i want to say that is next time you visit TATR do keep in mind that visiting TATR now requires pre Reservation. So next time whenever you visit TATR firstly get assured your reservation.

The Legend Returns said...

@Apurv: Thanks a lot for visiting my blog and leaving behind a comment! Will surely keep your suggestion in mind :)

Anonymous said...

By the way wot market,segment & strategy do u trade?

Nice blogs & photos.



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