Memoir of My Maiden Jungle Safari to Tadoba Tiger Reserve

Womendiaries
Author: Ashwini Shinde 

Ashwini is an ex-banker,a nature enthusiast and an amateur photographer.
She shares a passion for birding and jungle excursions with 
her husband Rupesh and Son Aarya.  

 

[responsivevoice_button voice=”UK English Female” buttontext=”Listen to Post”] We are a family of avid travellers. We aim to tour at least twice in a year to different destinations. We had recently finished our Sri Lanka tour and were now looking for an offbeat vacation destination. It was January of 2017. Tadoba Andhaari Tiger Reserve was on mind. But we were unable to decide if it’ll be worth spending Rs. 75k on 6 jungle safaris. Because like Zoos, no one can assure sightings of animals at wildlife sanctuaries. We finally decided to take our chance! We booked our very first safari to Tadoba Andhaari Tiger Reserve, not knowing, this trip will be a turning point for all our future tours.

The day finally dawned and we took a train to a place called Chandrapur. Mr. Atul Dhamankar, a renowned wildlife photographer, author, and naturalist, came personally to pick us up at Chandrapur. We were booked in a Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MDC) hotel situated near the Moharli gate of the sanctuary. We found ourselves lucky to get a cosy lake facing room. Our very first sighting was from our hotel room. Three domesticated elephants were bathing in the lake to cool themselves in the scorching 45 degrees Celsius temperature. The majestic animals were a sight to behold. We even spotted some herons and we considered this sight as a good omen for our trip.

Alert Sambar Deers

The summers in the region are brutal. We were equipped with nose buffs, round hats, sun glasses, camouflaged t-shirts and many water bottles to remain hydrated.  At around 3 pm, an open Jeep came to pick us up. We were accompanied by a guide. Our quest to spot the royal  great Indian Tiger began!  As our jeep inched into the jungle, we spotted several animals like deers, wild boars, monkeys etc. But our eyes were longing to see the Tiger.

Enthused Ashwini with Son Aarya

Our drive took a turn toward Pandharpauni. We could see lot of other gypsy parked at a spot. This was our very first sighting of a wild tiger! This particular tiger was recognized to be a dominant male tiger in the sanctuary known by the name ‘Matkasur’.

Matkasur was relaxing in the pond water, undeterred by the excited crowd gathered to experience his majesty!  We were ready with our cameras to capture the fantastic beast. We waited for an hour to see the tiger move, but the ‘Matkasur’ didn’t relent.

Matkasur Cooling himself in the pond

We started moving along ‘chital road’. Suddenly my son Aarya urged to stop the gypsy. He had spotted something near a tree alongside the road. It was a leopard, merely 10 feet away from our gypsy! We found ourselves lucky as ours was the only gypsy stationed there and we were about to witness this agile animal in action. The leopard had locked its prey and was least bothered about us watching him. We feasted on the dramatic scene for 10 long minutes and managed to click multiple pictures.

Leopard Spotted on Chital Road

After the leopard vanished into the jungle, we moved further along. We spotted the tigress named Sonam at a waterhole. But the tigress was too far away. First day of our safari ended with the spotting of two tigers from afar and a leopard.

The next day Mr Atul Dhamankar accompanied us and that day we covered the buffer zone. Mr. Atul Dhamankar is an ocean of knowledge about tigers and wildlife. He had a privilege to work with the forest department and WWF for a long time. It was an opportunity for us to learn many things from him about the jungle and animals.

Buffer zone is the extended area of core zone of the jungle where villagers and animals co-exist.  We spotted the buffer queen ‘Madhuri’ tigress sitting in the bamboo plantation. But she was still very far. At the buffer zone, we spotted several species of birds including a vulture around the backwaters of Erai dam. We spotted a huge Indian bison and 2-3 wild dogs. By afternoon, our safari was over, but we still longed for a good tiger sighting.

Indian Bison Spotted in the Buffer Zone of Tadoba

We started afresh for our next safari, feeling optimistic about the picture-perfect sighting of a tiger. As we moved along the Telia lake, we spotted a few Chitals Deers fighting.  The memory of the thud of their horns clashing against each other is still fresh in my mind. We continued looking for the tiger while returning from Telia Lake. Before we could end our safari, we thought of returning back to the waters to check if we can spot the tiger!  Around 20 vehicles were parked at a distance. We felt a glimmer of hope to have a close sighting. We were parked along other vehicles at a place where there was lake on one side and jungle on the other.

There she was! ‘Sonam’, the tigress.  Sonam is featured in the famous documentary film, ‘Tiger Sisters of Telia‘ produced by Discovery Channel. Just 10 vehicles away sitting near the water. Her golden stripes glittered in the sunlight. We were in complete awe of the beauty granted by the almighty to this majestic creature. It was such a soul satisfying moment.

Just then, Sonam rose from the spot. For a brief moment I thought, we would be losing this opportunity of very close sighting and Sonam will vanish into the jungle.

Sonam was looking to cross the road. She began marching towards our gypsy, looking for a space to cross the road. She was standing right there, 5 feet away from our gypsy. She paused for minute, expressed her anger with her loud roar and marched past our jeep to cross from behind into the jungle.

Sonam, as she walked past the vehicles

What a day it was!

The next day I woke up dreaming about ‘Sonam’. Today was our fourth safari. By now we were accustomed to the jungle. We spotted the same animals again in different situations, trying to observe their behavior. Today we spotted the graceful ‘Crested Hawk Eagle’.

Crested Hawk Eagle

We moved into an area called Jamni. 10-12 vehicles were parked at a spot. This area is frequented by the tigress ‘Choti Tara’ and her cubs. Presence of vehicles waiting made us feel lucky. Into the meadows of Jamni, we spotted Choti Tara with her 2 cubs. They were fathered by Matkasur. It was a heart-warming sight watching the cubs play with their mom. This was the first time we were seeing tiger cubs. One cub among them is named Chota Matka who has grown up now and is more fierce than his father, Matkasur. He is now in search of his own terriroty and a mate.  The second cub was named ‘Tarachand’. We learned later that he died in December that year due to electrocution by barbed wires surrounding the farms around the Jungle.

On our way back to the hotel, we halted at Khatoda gate for restroom break.  The gate is also a checkpoint for tourist guides where they make an entry about the sightings they had. As we alighted the gypsy, we heard a pack of wild dogs barking. 15-20 dogs swished past the road where we were standing. A pup couldn’t pace up with the dogs and was left behind the pack. It howled aloud and then hopped to the direction of response from other dogs.

Wild Dog spotted Near Khatoda Gate

Fifth day of our safari was disappointing as we only spotted Sonam around the Telia lake. But she was so far away that she appeared like a yellow dot.

Our sixth day was our final day of Safari. Many days of planning, the sightings and sounds of different species of birds and animals, the thrill and the experiences, it was all going to end today! Reinvigorated to make the most of our last trip, we began in our open gypsy. As we entered the jungle passing khatoda gate, our guide asked the driver to stop. We spotted a tiger cub behind the bamboo. It was a brave baby. It enthusiastically stared at us just like we were looking at it.

Devdoh Cub Spotted Near Khatoda Gate

It came right in the middle of the road, gave a little angry roar, as if it was proclaiming its territory, and moved back into the jungle. It returned with its sibling and both crossed the road. It was now turn of the mommy tigress to cross. ‘Devdoh’, the tigress emerged from the bamboos, called for the cubs, and upon receiving a response, moved to the other side of the jungle. This early morning episode of the road crossing feat of the tigers made our day and is etched in our hearts forever!

Devdoh Tigress

From there, we moved to a place called Yenbodi.

While checking for movement around, we heard a screeching ‘Sambar’ call followed by tiger roars. Roaring aloud, big daddy ‘Matkasur’ made an appearance on the road ahead. The calls made by Matkasur were mating calls given for the females in his territory. Our guide Jayendra was very proactive. He gauged Matkasur’s next movement and turned the vehicle towards 97 waterhole. Through the entire drive we had followed Matkasur head-on. Yenbodi to 97 waterhole was a 1 km distance throughout which, we captured Matkasur’s majestic walk right in front of us. He exited from a fire line on 97 waterhole and entered the water body to rest. The head-on walk of a roaring dominant male tiger is a dream sighting for any wildlife enthusiast, and we had experienced it for 45-45 minutes in our very first jungle visit. What a way to have an ending to this long dreamt tour!

Matkasur Scratching It’s Head to Mark Territory

We concluded our very first Jungle Safari amidst the endangered species of India, Tiger!

These 6 safaris made us fall in love with the jungle. The birds, the animals, the experiences, it was all surreal and we knew, this is not going to be it for us! The jungle gave us more than what we had expected. The animal movements, the sharpness required to spot them, sudden events in the jungle, the thrill of it all! It enriched us in a way I cannot describe in words!

We started our return journey back home all the while talking and planning about our next safari visit!

Tigers spotted in the safari:

  • Matkasur
  • Sonam
  • Little Tara & her 2 cubs
  • Devdoh & her 2 cubs
  • Madhuri
[Since tigers are an endangered species, tigers nowadays are called by their collar names (e.g. T-24,T-36) to track their movements.]

 

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