The trip to Bandhavgarh National Park in December last year, got me bit by the “Tiger bug”. That was obviously because of my first tiger sighting over there. Soon after this trip, I started making plans for another visit to a Tiger Reserve in 2016…and this time it was Tadoba, or as they say, “The real land of the tiger”!
This was a 3 nights/4days trip and a total of five safaris were booked for Tadoba and one for Umred Karhandla WLS. All arrangements for the stay and the safari bookings were done by Mr.Saurabh Kurve of Tiger’s Heaven Resort.
Our first safari of this trip was at Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary. This forest, located about 58kms from Nagpur and around 70kms from Tadoba (Navegaon) is home to a famous tiger called Jai, who is currently known to be one of the biggest tigers in India. Sightings of Jai, T6, Chandi and their cubs have been quite good over here since the past few months, but unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough. There wasn’t much expectation from just a single safari, but still we did pray for something unexpected to happen. Nothing as such happened though 😦
Rest of the safaris for the next three days was at Tadoba, Navegaon gate. At first we were a bit skeptical about this gate, because from what we heard from most people and from other trip reports was that, the Moharli gate is usually known to be the best in terms of sightings. Luckily this turned out to be the opposite during our trip! We were blessed with some amazing sightings of Maya (one of the legendary tigresses of Tadoba) and her cubs in all the 5 safaris that we had.
Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve, located in Chandrapur District of Maharasthra is the state’s oldest and largest National Park. This Tropical Dry Deciduous forest spreads across an area of 625 square kilometers, and is home to a variety of Flora and Fauna. The Bengal Tiger is the key species of the forest, more than 80 tigers have been recorded in the reserve (as of December 2015). Other mammals include : Indian Leopards, Gaurs, Sloth Bears, Dholes (Indian wild dog), Striped Hyenas, Chital, Sambar, Nilgai, Chausingha, Barking Deer, etc. The forest also houses a wide diversity of birds and reptiles.
One big advantage of Navegaon gate was that, the Pandharpauni lake area (territory of Maya) was just a few kms from this gate, and because of this we could reach the spot very early. Also during the end of each safari, all the vehicles that came from Moharli had to leave early because their gate was too far from this spot, but we were able to stay back for 10-15 minutes more.
It was day 2 at Tadoba, and during the afternoon safari we went to a place called “Jamni”. This area falls under the territory of another famous tigress, popularly known as “Choti Tara”. Just as we reached the place, we noticed 3-4 other cars waiting ahead. All the photographers had kept their lenses pointed to the other side of the forest, and we could see the guides were trying to spot something through their binoculars. On reaching the spot we came to know that they had seen a leopard climbing up on one of the trees, it was quite far away from where we were parked. Our guide took out his binocular and scanned the trees ahead, but not even a single “spot” could be seen. After waiting there for a couple of minutes with no movement or a trace of a leopard, we thought that maybe they had seen something else or even if it really was a leopard, then it must have been gone by then. There was an hour left for the safari to end, and we decided to take a turn and go back towards the pandharpauni lake. But just as we were about to do this, we heard the alarm calls of a langur and a chital (spotted deer)!
A few minutes back everything was just like an usual summer afternoon in the forest, the deer were grazing, langurs were resting in the trees and there was the occasional chirping of birds, everything seemed so peaceful but, now there was a change in the atmosphere, the forest was draped in an eerie sense of fear and there was an unusual chaos among the denizens. We kept our eyes peeled towards the distant trees, the alarm calls were still on…and then suddenly there was the plot twist! Far away from one of the trees, something dropped down at a speed of light and pounced towards a young deer, but could not catch it. All the animals went haywire and ran for their lives, it was the Spotted Queen of Jamni and she had stepped her paws on the ground! Soon after this she disappeared into the thickets, almost like a phantom vanishing in thin air. Unfortunately none of us could take even a single photo of the moment, most probably because it took place quite far away and neither did we expect it to happen so fast and suddenly.
This was the first time that I saw a leopard in the wild, and undoubtedly the excitement level had reached its peak. We waited there with a hope that she’d come out in the open or at least give us another chance to photograph her, and it did happen! She reappeared near an abandoned school building by the side of the forest.
There was an open grassland near the forest and just as we wished, she stealthily walked towards it, came out in the open and gave us some excellent photo opportunities before disappearing back into the forests again!
The sighting lasted for just a few minutes, but it will remain in my memories forever. It was just three months back that I got my first Tiger sighting during the trip to Bandhavgarh, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine of getting my first leopard so soon! We all know how elusive they are 😀
This particular safari was the best of all, not only because of the tigers and leopard but, we also came across two Dholes (Indian wild dog) on our way back to the Navegaon gate.
Everytime we went to see Maya and her cubs at the Pandharpauni lake, we came across one particular area at the road where there was a strong odor of a rotten carcass. It came from a recent kill made by Maya, and the carcass was hidden somewhere inside the forest on the opposite side of the road. Once the relaxing session at the lake was over, Maya along with her cubs used to come through the grasslands, cross the road and enter the forest, most probably because it was lunch/dinner time for the kids! This happened in almost all the sightings. As soon as they got up from the lake, all the cars rushed towards that road. Everyone tried to get the best spot, some wanted to go as close as possible for that perfect selfie and the photographers just wanted the best angle without any obstruction in front.
After that amazing leopard sighting, we revisited the Jamni area on our fifth and final safari. This time we did not get to see the leopard, but got a sighting of the legendary Choti Tara. We saw her taking a nap beside a waterhole, it was quite far away though.
The entire trip was very successful in terms of wildlife sightings. Our stay at Tigers Heaven Resort was an excellent experience, received very good hospitality and everything was well organised. Thanks a lot to Saurabh ji for making our trip so memorable.