A big black shape loomed in the middle of the road as I was exiting the park one night. It wasn’t moving out of the way, so I braked. By the time I came to a stop, I realised I was sitting 2 ft away from a wild, fully grown bear, the red fruity marks of its last meal still fresh and wet upon his muzzle, and so close that I could have reached out and patted it dry through my open window. I don’t know which of us was more surprised.
The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve offers plenty of opportunities for such close encounters of the wildlife kind. And several other interesting sights as well. Such as the imposing stone pillars that we saw every day on our way from the MTDC guest house at Moharli into Tadoba. The road is flanked for a good distance by these impressive structures that are conjectured to have been either antique lamp posts or some sort of communication device for the Gond king of Chandrapur, as he made his royal way through the forest to Nagpur. As it happens, the king of Chandrapur was relieved of his royal rights by the Bhonsles of Nagpur in the mid-18th century, but these pillars still remain as an intriguing testament to the majesty of the tribal kings of this area.
It’s a lush forested area, with a variety of tree species. I was most taken with the oddly beautiful and aptly named ghost trees with their white branches. The mahua is everywhere, with its distinctive smell — if you ask around in Moharli, you could probably lay your hands on a bottle of the mahua’s best-loved by-product, the eponymous liquor. Scattered throughout we saw lovely kusums and flowering silk cottons, which bloom from late winter to spring. Especially around the waterhole at Panchadhara there are Arjuns, for those of you who enjoy trees with their own stories.
The waterholes dotted around the park are a beacon for animals, especially in high summer. Even in January, near the Pandharpauni waterhole (about 5 km north of Tadoba Lake) in the evening, we saw deer and boar till our eyes bubbled, placidly eating their fill. Another afternoon, we surprised a bear by a waterhole, and he lurked till we left, because the poor thing hadn’t had his drink.
One memorable morning, I was out at first light, and coming around a narrow lane through the bamboo, happened upon a gaur in the middle of the road. Looking to the left, we saw two young gaur, and off to the right, a nursing mother and her young, an almost incredibly cute thing with huge ears that in no way foreshadow the colossal adulthood that will soon descend upon its owner. It was quite something to be in the middle of a family of these huge but elegant animals, the closely packed bamboo on all sides of the car breaking the early morning light as it played upon the animals. And then, as suddenly as we had come upon them, they were gone. We came upon a huge solitary male in the evening, chomping quietly by the side of the road. My guide whispered urgently in my ear that adult males, if on their own, have been known to charge. This one was in no mood to crumple my car, and quietly consented to being photographed.
Yes, that’s right, my car. The park authorities allow you to take your own vehicle inside the park, provided it is a four-wheeler. I saw a recent model of Maruti 800 gleefully puttering about inside, and the driver said he had driven all the way from Nagpur in that same car, his family cheerfully crammed inside, many times.
Tadoba is a magical place. Those who bring their sense of wonder and adventure, and are prepared to peer into the undergrowth, will see things they’ve never seen before. The sheer profusion of the animals, the close quarters viewing, the abundant beauty of the reserve itself, all come together to make Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve a special experience. And the best part is that it is so accessible, and yet so remote from the world that surrounds it.
Location: In Chandrapur District in the Vidharba region of eastern Maharashtra
Distances: 142 km SE of Nagpur, 45 km N of Chandrapur
Route from Nagpur; NH7 to Jamb via Bori; SH264 to Chandrapur via Warora; district
road to Tadoba NP via Moharli
When to go; The park is open for most of the year, but the recommended times are Nov to May. The guides will frankly tell you that the high summer is the best time to come. The water gets scarce within the park and the animals congregate around the water that is available — and provided by the Forest Department, courtesy manmade watering holes that are filled every so often by tankers. You can frequently see tigers cooling their backsides in these holes. April and May are prime tiger-spotting time, but be advised that the temperatures in the park climb up to 46 degrees
Go there for Tigers
About the Author
Avtar Singh recently moved back to New Delhi and is sorely missing driving around the country. When not being the Assistant Editor of Delhi City Limits, he is to be found looking at maps of the country and occasionally even leaving town.