Come summer holidays and you head towards the cooler climes and not to a jungle near a burning city. That’s the reason why, with a mixed trepidation, we started our short summer vacation in a lesser known Tiger reserve in Tadoba, near Nagpur. We knew it was a very hot place and we were travelling with 3 kids. Our main concern was to keep the kids from falling sick in the summer heat. But again, summer is the best time to visit any wildlife sanctuary because that’s the time when wild animals come out looking for water and prey.
We took a night train (CST-Napur Durronto Express) from CST to Nagpur. Whether you are taking a train, flight or travelling by road, Nagpur is your hub. From there you need to travel by road to reach Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur district which is a good 150 kms and takes roughly 2.5 hrs.
The highway ride is good and smooth but once you leave the highway, the road is mostly a broken track passing through small hamlets, barren landscape and herds of domesticated animals. It continues like this for another hour and so by the time which you start wondering if that’s what you are going to see for your entire stay. But then when you are least expecting it, you start seeing the forests and picturesque Irai lake.
Tadoba is an upcoming wildlife sanctuary, you won’t find four or five-star luxury resorts. The closest to a resort we could find was Irai resort in Bhamdeli, barely one or two kilometre from the Tiger Reserve. From the resort you could see the picturesque Irai lake. It also boasted of a small but interesting library. You won’t believe me but with five jungle safaris (3-4 hours each) cramped in 3 days, I still managed to read three books from the library.
The people at Irai were a friendly lot. They helped us with the jungle safari bookings and permits. They even packed some sandwiches (cheese, vegetable, chicken, omelette) and water bottles for our safari.
The next morning our open top gypsies arrived promptly at 5:15 am. The reserve opens at 6 am sharp. You need to compulsorily avail of the services of a forest guide whose fees are included in the permit fees. You may drive your own car but you still need to take a guide along with you. These forest guides are trained professionals/villagers who know the jungle and are experienced enough to know how to react in certain unforeseen circumstances.
It’s 6 am but the sun was already up promising a hot day ahead. The jungle was alive too with its various flora and fauna. We saw bamboo trees, wild bushes and other trees too; oops I forgot to ask their names. Don’t judge me; I was more interested in spotting a tiger or a leopard. But one tree I couldn’t forget is the ‘Ghost tree’. It was as white as a ghost and barren. The guide told us that it keeps on changing its color as per the seasons.
In the first hour or so, we moved to various water spots where the animals came frequently to drink water but we spotted nothing apart from barking deer (they bark when they sense danger around) and spotted deer. We also spotted some birds like Indian Pitta, Crested Treeswift, Orange-headed Thrush, Paradise Flycatcher etc.
It was almost 8 and the heat was already overbearing. We were moving towards the Andhari Lake which was a hilly area. I had lost all hope of spotting a tiger when suddenly a big female jungle cat chose to cross our path. The driver of the car suddenly put his brakes. He asked us to be quiet which was nearly impossible with two little kids in the car. The royal cat slowly and elegantly sashayed in front of us without the slightest hesitation. At one point, she even looked into our eyes. Just imagine the moment! I was scared and I instantly lowered my eyes to break the eye contact but my toddler was simply fascinated at seeing a real tiger.
“Mamma, see tiger. Tiger is so big and so cute.” She went on and on till the tigress disappeared into the bushes.
Once we had spotted the tiger, we thought it was wise to head to the resort. The excitement had ebbed and the heat was unbearable.
In the evening, we started for another safari; this time in the buffer area. We had heard that a mother tigress had been spotted with her four cubs. The buffer is nothing but almost uncharted jungle area close to Chandrapur highway and the villages. The Tadoba Andhari Reserve is spread in 625 sq kms but only 20% area is thrown open for the public. There are 5 villages inside the jungle which the forest department is trying to rehabilitate. Though there are no man-eating tigers, the village people frequently lose their live stock to the jungle animals.
As soon as we entered the buffer, we realized it was quite different to the core safari. There were no proper roads but only mud trails and bumpy rides. This part of the jungle even looked sinister with dense foliage and bushes closing onto you. We spotted two sloth bears, herd of sambhars, gaurs or Indian Bisans in the wetlands but no tiger. At last, we were moving towards the exit, when suddenly appeared in our vision four little tiger cubs walking along with their mother. My little one was dozing but as soon as she heard us murmur ‘tiger’, instantly she got up. A couple of them were looking back repeatedly with excitement while the mother got scared. She quickly took all her cubs inside the bushes and disappeared. This experience was different than the previous spotting but again that tigress didn’t have her cubs to protect. A mother is a mother, whether she is a human or a tiger.
We spotted more animals and birds in the next couple of days and our friends spotted crocodiles and a leopard but nothing could compare with the excitement of spotting a tigress and her cubs. On return, my daughter proudly told everyone, “I saw five tigers. One mamma tiger and her chhota tiger babies. Mamma tiger loves her chotta babies because they are so cute.”
The four days flew by without a hitch and a glitch. No sickness and no boredom; only plain excitement and fun.
After reading my article, if you feel like planning a trip to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, first do read my helpful tips:
- Book your accommodation first. I would recommend Irai Safari Retreat but Swasara is equally good though a little far.
- Book a transport from Nagpur to your hotel. The hotel will help you with it.
- Don’t rush to Tadoba as a last minute thing. To enter the reserve you need to get your permits weeks in advance. Again, your hotel will help you make it. Though there is a buffer zone which has been thrown open to public recently and which doesn’t require a permit to enter, it’s not the same thing as the core jungle safari.
- Don’t litter the jungle or your private safari company will be heavily fined for the negligence. Also, you can’t step out of your vehicle in the jungle except at the main gates to visit the loo.
- Durronto train doesn’t have a pantry. So don’t forget to pack some dinner.
- Carry a good sunscreen, sunglasses, hat/cap, cotton dupatta to cover your face and hands etc. The same goes for your child.
- Pack only comfortable loose cotton clothes. Full-sleeved is better if you want to avoid tanning.
- Carry some snacks (thepla, khakhra, biscuits, popcorn, wafers etc.) with you especially if you are planning to go with kids. Tadoba is a very small place. All the basic amenities are fetched from Chandrapur, which is almost 40 kms. So sometimes the hotel might be short of bread or bottled water.
- If possible, carry a carton or two of bottled water from Nagpur in your car. Bottled water is expensive in Tadoba and with the oppressing heat, you need to keep yourself hydrated at all times.
- Don’t forget to pack your camera and binoculars.
- Tip handsomely. The livelihood of the villagers and hotel staff depends on this reserve and the tourists. They are friendly people, appreciate them.
- Food is good and edible. But don’t expect seven-course gourmet meals here. Make this holiday about connecting with the jungle and its inmates rather than your gastronomic cravings.
- Vodafone and Airtel networks are not accessible. If you want, take a Reliance sim card or stay blissfully disconnected like us.
Hope you have enjoyed reading about the jungle safari as much as I did being on it.