It was our eighth safari in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, in Vidharbha, Maharashtra, and my eyes and camera were still searching for a clear view of the king of the jungle. Disappointed, as we planned to call it a day, we heard an alarm call. An atmosphere of uneasiness appeared among the birds and langurs on the trees around us and I was sure that there was a tiger around.

During the first seven safaris at Tadoba, we only managed unclear sights of a tiger, leopard, bison, langurs, cheetals, sambhars, sloth bear, wild boars, lots of birds and raptors. But the last safari was different. As we turned at the crossing, a female sambhar came running from the bushes in front and after crossing our gypsy went into the jungle. But the alarm call and other noises continued. We stopped and tried to see what was going on. The call kept moving, which indicated that the tiger was moving about.

Our eyes kept following the female sambhar and suddenly we saw the tigress chasing a sambhar calf behind the trees. Our patience had paid off, but dense dried grass only allowed us to view the entire game with no chance of photographing the kill.

The entire game sequence happened right in front of us ~ the chase, which resulted in the calf getting separated from its mother and eventually being killed by the tigress.

The sambhar’s cries made me a little sad as the tigress jumped and pounced on the calf, killing it, playing with the dead body for a while before dragging it into deep jungle to finally enjoy her lunch. We were still waiting in our gypsy on the tracks, hoping that the tigress will come out of the dense grass and enjoy her lunch in the open so that we can shoot her. But it was almost 10.30 a.m., past the deadline by which the vehicles need to be out of the gate. Reluctantly, we came out, determined to come back to the spot the first thing in the afternoon safari.

After lunch nap

When we reached the spot again we found the almighty queen of the jungle enjoying the warm sun after her lunch. She sat there in the middle of the tracks and was totally undisturbed by our presence. The majestic tigress wanted to enjoy a nap in the sun and why not? Anyone would want to have a nice sleep after a tasty and delicious lunch, like she had. This gave all of us more chance of watching her and taking her pictures. Even in sleep she obliged us and gave some exquisite poses that I haven’t seen before. There is no substitute for first-hand experience and, therefore, this entire sequence of events since the morning got etched in my memory as the most stunning experience of my wildlife safaris.

The safari

We had arrived at Tadoba on a morning in February. Though summers would have had been the best time for a trip to the forests, but then for Tadoba, as they say, anytime is a great time to sight and shoot (photographically, that is!) a tiger. We were welcomed to the jungle by a few birds ~ Mottled Wood Owl, White eyed Buzzard and a few langurs. The owl had placed itself in such a manner that locating it would have been very difficult but then the bird couldn’t fool our experienced eyes. The langurs playing on a nearby tree also were a wonderful sight.

We continued into the jungle, and just after a small drive, suddenly a bison calf was sighted and our driver stopped the gypsy. A bison calf cannot be left alone by his parents, so we waited for the family to come out of the jungle and give us photo opportunities. They did come out and along with them came two egrets. The bison family slowly crossed the road right in front of us and then vanished in the thick forest. We moved ahead and a herd of bison provided us the next photo opportunity. Soon they also moved away into the jungle as if they objected to us clicking their pictures non-stop and without permission ~ maybe they wanted us to pay them before taking pictures!

Clean reserve

As we kept searching for the largest carnivore of the area, we found that Tadoba was “sparkling clean”. Not a piece of plastic or any garbage could be seen anywhere. In fact, we noticed jeep drivers and guides picking up plastic from the jeep tracks and putting them in their vehicles. I guess in that sense, the Tadoba forest department is doing a great job. Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, “the jewel of Vidharbha”, is Maharashtra’s oldest tiger reserve. Tadoba was established in 1935 and declared a National Park in 1955. Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary was notified in 1986 and the park and the sanctuary were unified in 1995 to declare it as Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). TATR is one of the larger tiger reserves that is not well-known among the masses and thus the reason for its excellent health. It still maintains the pristine eco-system of the rich bio-diversity of the forest. Another specialty about this place is that it is one of the few tiger reserves that are open all year round. The monsoon sightings here are considered phenomenal.

Geographic location

The Park is situated in the Moharli hills of West Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. It is 623 sq km in area, the biggest among all National Parks in Maharashtra. On the northern and western boundaries of the forest are hills with dense forest. To the south-west is a huge lake. It is a southern tropical dry deciduous forest with Teak as predominant species.

Other main members of the forest flora are Ain, Bija, Dhauda, Haldu, Salai, Semal, Tendu and bamboo. The bamboo forest defines the typical tiger territories. The name Tadoba comes from Taru, the local god and Andhari gets its name from Andhari river, which flows through it.

Legend has it that Taru was a village chief, who was killed in a legendary battle with a tiger. A shrine dedicated to Taru still exists near the Tadoba lake. Local villagers are mainly Gond tribals who speak Marathi and Gondi. The reserve has three zones ~ Moharli, Tadoba, and Kolara. Moharli and Kolara are part of the Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary. Not much human life now exists inside the park. In 2013, one of the four villages inside the park, Nawegaon, was relocated.

In 2014 another one, Jamni, was relocated and the other two, Palargaon and Rantarodi, were relocated in 2015. This ensured that the only population in the park is that of animals. One of the main attractions of the majestic wildlife preserve is the six-seater open-top Gypsy jungle safari trips, which guar
antees a visitor close encounters with the tiger.

All in all, I would say, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is a good place for people, who have loads of patience and want to enjoy the jungle in its entirety. The tiger is not the only attraction. If one is willing to accept this fact then TATR is an excellent virgin destination for serious wildlife enthusiasts.