Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tiger Ahoy

Tiger Ahoy@Tadoba

Visitors to any Tiger Reserve are so obsessed with tigers that they forget to observe rest of the wildlife, flora and other fauna. Little do they realise that sighting a tiger can never be guaranteed as it is always a matter of chance. After all it is their home and we are intruding into their privacy! Animals have the right of way.
Ghumakkad at Moharli Gate of TATR. In Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), a very apt cartoon is painted on a check post's wall about tiger sighting. It says it all!

Talking of the obsession with the word 'tiger', most private resorts/hotels/guest houses in Tadoba include the word 'tiger' Sample these names:
  • Tiger Trails
  • Royal Tiger Resort
  • Tiger Safari 
  • Tiger Den etc.

So much so that the forest department has painted the poles of all the sign posts to resemble tiger skins. Cute isn't it?

We even saw a signboard of a 'Home Stay' close to Moharli gate of TATR. It said two AC rooms and one non-AC room. Shows the entrepreneurial spirit of local residents.

Coming back to TATR and tiger sighting, once again it was a pre-dawn start to be at Moharli gate at 5am to grab an early entry. However, such an early arrival is not required once you have booked the safari on-line in advance as we had done (www.mahaecotourism.gov.in). Yes, if any safari seats are still available, then the spot booking window opens at 5am. However, only mini bus/Canter seats are generally available on spot basis. 

All the gypsies (open 4-wheel drive vehicles made by Maruti in India)/ Canter (open mini buses to seat 18 people) entering the park are controlled by the Forest Department. The resorts/hotels at Moharli have a tie up with the forest gate to send a pick up to the resort/hotel. You don’t have to pay extra for this. A printed copy of on-line booking receipt along with photo ID of team leader is required at the time of entry. Sample of a Safari booking receipt is shown below.

Park timings.

All vehicles enter the park 6AM onwards, even though in summer months the TATR is supposed to open at 5AM. You can see the queue of gypsies led by our vehicle in the picture below. Each Gypsy comes at Rs 2000 for a 4 to 5 hour ride. It seats up to 6 passengers.

It reminded us of the queue of vehicles in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, East Africa after a Double-horned Rhino had been sighted in Tanzania Africa- read the story .

Next day, we were not the lead vehicle. And we had a fleet of gypsies ahead of us as well as behind us. Pictures.

Interestingly, the gypsy drivers are organised through a registered society. See the picture. 

Previously, you could call for a particular gypsy directly. Now it is allocated on random basis so that every gypsy gets a turn to serve a customer. I thought this was a nice step in streamlining the process. Those resorts who own their own vehicles, can send their guests provided they have a safari booking! 

Total number of vehicles entering TATR per day is limited. For example, through Moharli gate only 26 vehicles are allowed in the morning as well as afternoon safari. Only exception is additional VIP permits which at times may go up to another 15-20 vehicles. Each Safari lasts between 3 to 4 hours and costs between Rs 1035 to 1285 depending upon weekdays/weekends. This includes telephoto lens charges of Rs 250.

However, no vehicle can enter TATR without a Forest Guide for which a fee of Rs 300 is charged. The guides are well trained and speak fluent Marathi or Hindi. They can communicate in broken English as well. They have excellent knowledge of the forest and its rich flora and fauna including avi-fauna--the birds.

Here is Sanjay, our Guide on Day-1 explaining the history of TATR after boarding our Gypsy like a Port Pilot.
There are face masks available at local souvenir shop to protect you from intense heat, dust and radiation. Ghumakkad dons one such mask! Can you recognise him?

Coming to Tiger sightings.

Tiger’s food i.e. Spotted Deer and Sambhar were seen in plenty.  Barking deer was also seen but could not be captured on the camera.

As also Gaur, the Indian Bison can be seen in herds.

You can see Vinay 'shooting' a Bison from close quarters.

Here is another herd of bisons, crossing our track.

We kept going from one water hole to the other in search of the King of the Jungle. Like this spot where we waited almost half an hour because the Barking Deer had given repeated calls. And the langurs also showed alertness. See the pictures.
Notice the number of vehicles which had converged on this spot in  the hope of  a tiger sighting.

But we had no luck at that water hole.
Tiger sighting is a matter of sheer luck. Out of three safaris that we took, we saw a tiger in two of them. The first sighting was on a ridge as the Tiger climbed the ridge, well camouflaged in bamboo thickets. Against afternoon Sun, we could only see a silhouette. Pictures.

However, on the 2nd day we drove to Kolsa region in south-east corner of the park. See the map below.

A 45-minute bumpy ride from Moharli gate through thick bamboo tracks proved to be rewarding.

We first spotted the tiger in the bushes. Lying down, cleaning itself, then standing up. All this was well hidden and you could hardly see the king of the jungle. Pictures.
 This one is by Vinay.
Even the slightest movement caused lot of excitement in each vehicle full of tiger watchers-- both young and old!

But after an impatient 15-minute wait, the tiger got up and started walking in the bushes. It was a sign that he may just cross the track ahead of us. All the four gypsies were loaded with cameras and waiting. Finally, he obliged us and came on the path ahead of us. Some 80 meters away, it crossed over. Those fleeting moments will remain etched in our memories. Pictures-- some of which have been shot by Vinay Prasad.
Few telephoto shots.

This one by Vinay is awesome!

The tiger walked like a king. Lonely yet majestic. And the morning Sun behind him, added to the effect. 

Our previous Tiger sighting was in Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan in 2013. That was after 17, yes seventeen years of safari hunting in many Tiger reserves in the country. For 17 years we had no sighting. Therefore, Ranthambhore sighting was like a big victory. You may like to read the Ranthambhore Tiger sighting to feel  the excitement then.

As we mentioned earlier, we made an endeavour to capture rest of the flora and fauna as well. 
How do Tigers and other animals survive in summer? What is their source of water? TATR has many lakes, ponds and water holes for the animals. Here are some pictures of Tadoba Lake and Telia Lake.

Both Tadoba and Kolsa regions of the park have adivasis आदिवासी, local residents living in a village right in the middle of the jungle. They live in harmony with the animals who do no harm to the human beings. A picture of Kolsa village not far from where we sighted the tigers! Scary isn't it?

But these adivasis and villagers maintain Nature's balance. Unlike we 'educated' city dwellers who are hell bent on degrading the environment. We hope we do not destroy our nature's wealth else we will be seeing the tigers only in the zoos and museums. The thrill of sighting even the pug marks (see picture below) can not be easily explained!

There is plenty of bird life in TATR. We did capture few shots as birds are more difficult to 'shoot' on camera. Stay connected, we will bring another story on Birds of Tadoba separately.

Hope you enjoyed browsing this 'Tiger Ahoy' story. Please do share your experiences of Tadoba or any other Tiger Reserve which you may have visited earlier. On behalf of Team Tadoba, we thank you for sharing our thrill.

TATR has a unique 'thank you' signage which thanks the tiger (in marathi language) instead of you.
Thanks for browsing

   Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 19th May 2015