Tadoba: Where Tigers Take Centerstage

I recently visited Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra. This is a place I’ve heard about for years, but I’ve never really been able to go to. With help from a few amazing fellow nature lovers, I was made part of a summer trip, and there I was.

Known to many as the real land of the tiger, Tadoba had already created an impression in my mind as one of the best places to sight the orange cat. I thought about this at the end of my trip, only to realize that the former statement is true to its very skeleton.

With 8 game drives spread over 5 days, I was able to see different parts of the forest, each zone unique in its own way. My first ride started with a fleeting leopard at a distance, and i thought to myself, “Boy, this is going to be good!”. I was wrong; I didn’t see much that day! Nevertheless, a couple of bird sightings kept my satisfied, and I looked forward to a good night’s rest before the impending morning drive.

Day 2: We set out to explore Kolsa, a region about an hour away from where we stayed, which meant we had to wake up really early and get to the gate by 6AM – and we did! Halfway through the ride we had figured out that tigers were out and about, thanks to incessant alarm calls from langurs. After a two hour wait, we caught a glimpse of 3 cubs who seemed to be waiting for their mother to come back. We watched them for about 10 minutes and realized it was time for us to leave the jungle. I did manage to get a record shot of two of the three cubs though.

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We were scheduled to come back to Kolsa next morning, and since the cubs were waiting for their mom, we were assured that they won’t wander too far from this spot. We headed back for lunch and got some rest before our evening drive.

In the evening, we explored the same buffer zone I’d been to on day one. Some strong alarm calls almost gave us hope of catching a glimpse of a leopard, but we didn’t see much. That said, this zone was just ethereal. Beautiful streams, patches of green, and a huge prey base for tigers. The herbivores entertained us for the day, and we headed back in anticipation of Kolara, which would be our destination for the last 4 drives.

Day 3: Kolara was our gateway to the home of the famous core tigers of Tadoba like Maya, one of the most photographed tigers in the world! We entered the zone and in just 30 minutes, we saw Maya lazing under the shade of some trees, in one of the more popular waterholes. What a start!

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Vehicles lined up to observe the queen in all her glory. We watched her for a good 30 minutes before she got up, crossed the road, and headed into another part of the jungle. We were thrilled. We tried positioning ourselves according to where we could expect her to come out from. She didn’t. We then decided to move on and check out who else is on the move, and to our luck, found a big male tiger entering a nearby waterhole. This guy is called Matkasur, and he’s a young male who’s growing really big! Boy, he was quite a sight.

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Here’s an image of him getting up from his evening dip – almost looks like he’s admiring that egret, doesn’t it?

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Matkasur dipped himself in the water for a good 30 minutes before he took off to mark his scent and inspect the nearby island.

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Soon enough, Matkasur walked into the foliage. As the sun went down, we thought we’d head back after checking whether he would pop out of one last place; a fireline that served as a good vantage point.

As we were waiting for a final glimpse of Matkasur from a distance, we saw some deer also sensing his presence and freezing with curiosity. I randomly picked up my lens to get a closer look, and soon enough, Matkasur came by. What followed was amazing…

He didn’t seem interested in looking at the deer. What was more amazing was that the deer didn’t run away.

Just shows you that even these primal beasts kill only to survive.

PS: Extremely low-light conditions; not a technically great image.

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What a beautiful safari! With our hearts content, we headed out for a good night’s rest with the biggest smiles on our faces.

Day 4: The morning drive gave us brief distant sightings of 2 cubs and a mother, namely Chhoti Tara, who lives in the meadows. With the light absolutely against us, there was not much to photograph, but it was a heartwarming experience to watch cubs frolick in the wild meadows.

The evening drive had us locked in suspense as we had heard Maya was moving about in a certain area of the forest. After a good drive through the jungle, we came to the spot to learn that we had just missed her. Too bad, we thought, and we started our journey back to the gate for our exit.

Just about 10 minutes from when we started back, we caught a glimpse of Matkasur walking amidst the jamun trees, calling out to Maya. It was clear; this young man is in love. We saw him hardly for about a couple of minutes, but it was enough for us to go back with a smile!

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Final Safari – Day 5 – Morning

With just one safari remaining, I went in to the jungle with no expectations; I had already seen my share of tigers for the season. As we covered some good distance into the jungle, we had learnt that Maya was on the move. We waited at a spot for about 10 minutes, and out she came, boldly roaring. This was quite an intimate sighting, and I got to see her true beauty from close quarters; she was indeed gorgeous.

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She went into the jungle after gracing us for about 5 minutes, and we thought we might as well go and wait and the waterhole she was heading towards. We reached the waterhole and settled there. After about 30 minutes, we heard a few alarm calls by the waterhole, where we had secured a front-row seat. No signs of Maya yet.

Another hour passed with absolutely no action, just the random alarm call telling us that Maya was surely around, but not moving about much, probably napping. We figured we’d wait for another 30 minutes, as we would need the rest of our allotted time to get back to the gate and exit as per the safari rules. 25 minutes passed, and nothing. A few gypsys backed up and left the waterhole, and we were thinking of doing the same, when suddenly, out came our loverboy, massive Mataksur! Oh boy, how huge he was!

He slowly walked towards the waterhole, set himself in, and took a lazy summer dip to cool off. We clicked as many photographs as we could, and then just watched this huge beast in awe. What a way to end a trip!

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And that was Tadoba for me!

How to get there: Fly to Nagpur, it’s about a 2-hr drive from there.

Where to stay: If good food and a humble budget stay is on your mind, I’d recommend Chava Kolara Resort – Great meals, friendly staff, and one cute German Shephard who lives in their property!

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