We started off to Chandrapur on 18th May. Avinash, Suma and I boarded Sanghamitra express at nine in the morning. It was a tedious journey – but was worth the treat we got once we reached Tadoba. On Wednesday morning, we reached Chandrapur. From there we travelled to Tadoba (Moharli main entrance) in a Tata sumo. Once we reached there, we met Shalik Jogwe – the one who would help us through our stay in Tadoba. We set off on our first safari as soon as we reached – we didn’t bother checking in or freshening up. Tadoba's landscape early that morning:
It was this first safari which helped us get a proper idea of what we will see in the next two days. Rufous treepies were everywhere – practically everywhere. They were one amongst the commonest stuff you find in Tadoba. Indian rollers – just too many of them. Sirkeer malkohas, Shikras, Oriental Honey Buzzarrds, Crested hawk eagles… all in the Moharli range. Our water bottles were empty, and we hadn’t had time to fill them up before setting off for the safari. Half way through, and we were DESPERATE for water… at least I was! We reached a point where we couldn’t proceed to the main road… the mud road was blocked, and there was no entry to the main road. It was in THIS VERY main road that a tiger was drinking water at a waterhole.
WHAT A FRUSTRATING MOMENT WAS THAT !!! We were so close to a tiger, yet so far from it! There was a village bus which ran through the road we were in front of. As the bus passed by, we could see the people in it pointing fingers at the waterhole we couldn’t see, saying - “sher dekho! Sher dekho!” (Hey look there’s a Tiger!) The bus passed, and then two people in bicycles turned up on the road. We asked one of them if he’d seen the tiger. “Haan woh sher abhi bhi wahin pe hai… bada hai.” (Yes, the tiger’s still there. He’s big) We waited there for around forty minutes, in the hope that the tiger will get up from the waterhole and come to the main road… but that didn’t happen. We decided to head back before more people come and tell us they’ve seen the tiger we couldn’t see. Why become prey to even more disappointment? The same evening at Moharli, we still didn’t find a tiger.
The next day we set off to Kholsa range of TATR. This range was comparatively greener, and it looked like there could be some hope for butterflies. We saw a couple of spotted owlets, spotted deer, and much of the common stuff (Rufous treepies, Indian rollers and drongos). But we didn’t find any butterflies. Later that evening we decided to head to Tadoba range, as Yuwaraj Gurjar and his team had missed a tiger sighting by just five minutes there, the same morning. Avinash had assured a tiger sighting saying his instincts rarely fail. I trusted his instinct, kept my eyes open for a tiger. Gradually the safari came to an end. Still no tiger. This was when we started getting desperate. We now NEEDED to see a TIGER. Forget the cubs and all the super-hyped stuff showcased on INW. .. we needed a TIGER… !!!
That evening Avinash had lost his mind… totally. I was very disappointed – one more day to go and still no tiger. We were all going mad – four safaris and not a single tiger… we were beginning to think that coming here was not worth, when tomorrow arrived.
The next day morning we set off for our next safari in Tadoba range. Yuwaraj Gurjar, Chaitanya Hirlekar and Vedwati Padwal joined us on our trip. It was good to have them with us, they made the trip more enjoyable. We travelled a while, and reached a waterhole in the middle of Tadoba range. There were four more vehicles in front of the waterhole other than ours. We could hear alarm calls of spotted deer and barking deer around us. There was a long interval between each call. This ‘interval’ kept reducing… and we were surrounded by more and more alarm calls. Everyone got excited. The other wildlife photographers who were waiting with us got ready with their cameras. Everyone strained their eyes for a tiger. In this excitement, an Indian cuckoo shrieking – ‘one more bottle! one more bottle!’ added some background music
Then entered the queen… a little glimpse of her rump, then her ear, a little more of her stomach… in no time, there was a GORGEOUS tigress in front of us, approaching the waterhole. She entered the scene, settled in the water, graciously drank some. She gave us precious seven minutes… and I had videoed the entire sequence (with my Canon 500D and 18-55mm lens using the High definition video mode). After she had enough, she got up. She looked at the crowd staring at her. Without a care, she turned and walked away… into the shrubbery and out of sight. She left us enchanted. I was speechless. I closed my eyes and recalled her stunning beauty. Opened my eyes, and Shalik said - “congrats on your first tiger!” Avinash congratulated me with his big smile I thanked him the same way. Click on the image to view full size:
Yuwaraj, Chaitanya and Veda looked at me and gave me their unique facial expressions that meant “congratulations!” I sat down on the seat, and told myself “Wow…. I just saw a tigress… a real wild tigress… just TEN FEET AWAY!!! And I videoed her!!!” We went back to our room, and watched the video like a hundred times (okay, I’m exaggerating) But we did watch it countless number of times.
We went back to the same waterhole in the evening safari. There were around twelve gypsies (I think) around the waterhole this time. This was too large a number for any tiger to appear in front of the waterhole. There were spotted deer alarm calls here and there, but not enough to get excited about a tiger’s presence. I knew that there would be no sighting in this safari – there were people freaking out because of someone falling off a gypsy… there were people laughing (includes me too. But I was laughing really soft, no one could hear.) Many vehicles were revving up their engines and cooling them down again god knows for what. People were sneezing, babies were shouting… a tiger would definitely not come here now. We used this opportunity to click pictures of ourselves – exchanging cameras and clicking group photographs. This was quite fun…. There were some Red vented bulbuls, Orange headed thrushes and monarch flycatchers near the waterhole. They were all drinking water. Avinash borrowed Shalik’s 300mm lens and used my 500D body to video these birds. I had a few clicks with Shalik’s 300 f/4 too. Included this Black naped monarch flycatcher:
It was late in the evening by the time we reached the main entrance. We collected our stuff, said bye to everyone and set off to Chandrapur to catch Sanghamitra express back to Bangalore.
It was a wonderful trip altogether. It was great to meet Yuwaraj, Chaitanya and Veda. They really made the trip a lot more lively and fun. Thanks to Shalik Jogwe, he took us around and helped us throughout the trip.