Tadoba Trip: A curtain raiser

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  • Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) is Maharashtra’s oldest and largest National Park. The current TATR (625.4 sq km) was established after Tadoba National Park merged with Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary
  • TATR is divided into 3 forest ranges – Tadoba, Kolsa, and Mohurli (sandwiched between the first two)
  • The rain-fed Tadoba and Kolsa lakes together with the Tadoba river sustain the park’s diverse eco-system.
  • It is open from 15th October to 30th June
  • Closed every Tuesday (and on Holi) but the buffer zone is open
  • Book your safari online before you look around for any accommodation or transport
  • It helps if you can arrange for a good guide and driver but they are readily available at the gate on a rotational basis but a good one may not be guaranteed

The first time I had heard of Tadoba was around 2012, when my friends had gone there and come back with a lifetime experience of tiger sightings. I also learnt that in Tadoba, the question to be asked was “how many?” and not “did you?”.

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Our final group of 9

My experience in the Sunderbans was very disappointing and although Kaziranga rewarded us generously with wildlife and otherwise, we did not see the elusive Royal Bengal tiger. So, a Tadoba plan had already started germinating in my head but our sudden transfer out of India put a big spoke in my planning wheel. I was planning to go last year during my daughter’s school break but came to know that the park closes for 3 months after June. This year, I was determined to go. My brother was also game for a tiger safari in April. Our initial tour group of 3 ultimately trebled in size to a very nice mix of 9 with the members’ ages ranging from 11 to 83!

We booked our plane tickets to Nagpur in January as Indigo was giving an amazing round trip offer of around INR 5,800. After intensive googling, I zeroed in on Serai Tiger for our lodging. However I learnt later that we should have started the process by first booking our safaris. The booking system here is totally different from the African safaris! Thankfully, by various permutations and combinations of entries through different gates, the camp manager Mr Dev booked us 6 safaris.

We flew to Nagpur on April 1st and spent that night at the house of my old school mate Swagatika, who I was meeting after December 1977!! She was incredibly and unbelievably gracious not only to house all NINE of us but also serve a delicious spread of palak paneer, Kolhapuri chicken, prawn malaikari and doi maachh (fish in yoghurt sauce). This informal gathering at her house proved to be a good icebreaker (while snacking on authentic Bengali vegetable cutlets) as most of the group members hadn’t met each other before. The manager at Serai Tiger even asked me once, if we were all very old friends, such was the visible camaraderie amongst us.

After dinner, my friend told us that many beautiful birds visited the garden in front of her balcony early in the morning. We made a mental note of it but did not take her so seriously as we probably thought how many birds can visit this concrete jungle?

I woke up early to give her company in the kitchen and had more or less forgotten about the birds. Suddenly, the oldest (and the most experienced wild lifer) member of our group urgently called me to the balcony. What a sight greeted my sleepy eyes! Birds of all hues and sizes were very busy with their morning chores around the verdant patch in front of us. Parakeets flew around in gay abandon. And bird calls greeted us from all corners. I will let the photos do the talking but I rued the fact that I had not gone out earlier to see a few more. Birds don’t enjoy the heat of the summer and are usually around in the early hours of the morning and again around sunset time.

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After a sumptuous home-made dosa breakfast, we left for Tadoba in the big van sent to us by the lodge. The roads were smooth and we reached in time for lunch (very good taxi driver Prakash Dungre +91 9423404693) and soon got ready for our first safari. We had been warned about the deadly heat in that part of the country but had also been assured that in early April, the heat will be bearable. However, while driving to Mohurli gate in an open Gypsy, we felt we were passing through a furnace. Our hats and sunglasses hardly provided any relief. The jungle did not provide a canopy either and we got roasted almost until sunset. Looking at the headgears of the other tourists, who were all dressed up as the infamous bandits of the Chambal Valley, we all realised that we had made a BIG mistake in our estimation of heat. But our excitement and very good sightings made us forget the heat for a while. More about the beautiful forest and its flora and fauna in my next post.

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The beautiful Tadoba
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A must, if you are going in summer

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR FIRST-TIMERS

Safaris can be booked by you online at this site. Bookings are open 120 days in advance but they go away very quickly. However, some resorts do it for you at a nominal charge. A safari costs about Rs 3500 per jeep. Not person. Keep some cash with you.

  • Forest entry fee – Rs 1000
  • Gypsy charges – Rs 2000 (IN CASH) unless the resort arranges one for you before
  • Every camera over 250mm lens – Rs 200 (in CASH)
  • Compulsory Guide – Rs 300 (in CASH)

The group leader’s name along with his/her ID details are required during the booking. He/she MUST be present while entering the park; else the permit will be canceled. It is better to enter more names, as cancellation is not an issue (a jeep can carry a maximum of 6 people plus driver & guide). Add-ons are allowed but I am not too clear about how it is done — all I can say is that it can be done at the gate for an additional fee. According to rules, the names cannot be altered after the safari booking but some do it illegally. Usually, only the group leader’s ID is checked but a random check may happen any time. So it is better to keep your IDs with you. Remember to carry a printout of the online receipt with you at all times.

A much cheaper canter bus safari has now been introduced but you must reach the gate very early and wait for the bus to be filled up to a required minimum number of tourists.

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Tadoba map

There are SIX gates or points of entry at Tadoba National Park:

  • Moharli/Mohurli (approx 180 km from Nagpur): NINE vehicles allowed every morning and evening (total of 18 a day) for a tiger safari from this gate.
  • Kuswanda Gate (approx 140 km from Nagpur): FOUR vehicles allowed every morning and evening.
  • Kolara Gate (approx 120 km from Nagpur): NINE vehicles allowed every morning and evening.
  • Navegaon Gate (approx 140 km from Nagpur): SIX vehicles allowed every morning and evening.
  • Pangdi Gate (approx 250 km): TWO vehicles allowed every morning and evening.
  • Zari Gate (approx 190 km): SIX vehicles allowed every morning and evening.

Accommodation facilities are best found near Mohurli and Kolara gates.

MTDC and FDCM guest houses are the best located and cheapest places to stay with all basic amenities. However, food options are very limited. They only have online booking facilities. Do not try to call them.

Royal Tiger Resort is another very affordable place right next to Mohurli gate. It is a favourite haunt for photographers. There are other resorts too to suit your budget needs. Check this site for very comprehensive information on TATR.

We were very happy with our stay at Serai Tiger Camp. The “tents” were very spacious and comfortable and the food very wholesome. The staff was also very helpful and polite.

At the Kolara gate, the most famous high end resort is Svasara but Chava is much more reasonable and very good, according to my friends who have stayed there. Their food is very good too but 100% vegetarian. The biggest plus of this gate is that it is much much quieter than the very touristy and noisy Mohurli.

 

 

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