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 2ft away from a wild, fully grown black bear, the red fruity marks of its last meal still fresh and wet upon his muzzle, and so close that I could have easily reached out and patted it dry through my open window. I do not know which of us was more surprised.

The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve offers plenty of opportunities for such close encounters with the creatures of the wild, and several other interesting sights as well. The imposing stone pillars that we saw every day on our way from the MTDC guesthouse at Moharli into Tadoba, and the structures, for instance, on either side of a long road. These looked as though they were conjectured to either be 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 5km 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.

Atul Loke
A blue jay perched on a tree trunk
A blue jay perched on a tree trunk

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 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 a special experience. And the best part is that it is so accessible, and yet so remote from the world that surrounds it.

ABOUT TADOBA ANDHARI TR

The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is almost in the centre of India. Which is nice, since practically everyone can get to it. It actually started life as the Tadoba National Park in 1955. The Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary, which is contiguous with it, was notified in 1986, bringing the size of the park to a very respectable 625sq km. The whole entity was notified as a Tiger Reserve in 1995, and hasn’t looked back since.

Being a notified Tiger Reserve and hence part of Project Tiger, this gem of a wildlife preserve is much more than just a National Park. What that means to you and me is that the forests are better protected and guarded, the animal sightings are at closer quarters and of a high and frequent grade, the accommodation facilities are very good indeed, and, to top it all, you have a very good chance of seeing the beast himself, the tiger.

Tadoba is so called because there is a temple by the Tadoba Lake, dedicated to a local Gond eminence called Taru, who apparently died while fighting a tiger. The villages of the area – there are still six villages inside the reserve, awaiting rehabilitation outside the reserve, and numerous villages surrounding it – are predominantly tribal, with a sprinkling of other groups.

A black-faced langur
A black-faced langur

Scientifically speaking, Tadoba is a southern tropical dry deciduous forest of the Deccan Peninsula, and what you see around you is primarily teak forests along with bamboo thickets, with a significant presence of other large indigenous trees such as mahua, ain, dhawda, tendu and jamun. This particular reserve is interesting because there doesn’t seem to be a core forest that you aren’t allowed into; indeed, the whole reserve, not being very hilly, is remarkably well served by roads. The forest guards close off these roads when they think that the situation calls for it; but the forest itself is in very good shape, barring some degraded patches on the western and northwestern peripheries, and the forest department hasn’t seen the need to close off big chunks off it.

This park is very well managed and has been for years, and the visitor benefits from the expertise of the men that look after it. The park is safe for the animals; their habitats being protected, they don’t feel threatened. This also adds to the enjoyment of tourists, because you don’t need to be part of a wildlife film-crew with a Discovery Channel budget and four weeks to spare to get the flavour of Tadoba. Quite simply, the animals are everywhere.

There are chital herds and the sound of the young bucks locking antlers with each other is ubiquitous in the mating season. There are shy barking deer (muntjac) and sambar and chousingha and wild boar galore. There are bears, huge beasts that are generally elusive but that you can spot by the waterholes. The huge gaur – Indian bison – is here as well. Monkeys of various types roam around in hordes. And there is, of course, the tiger.

Busy Chandrapur nearby is full of the money that sitting on an apparently inexhaustible vein of coal brings. Western Coalfields Limited is a big presence on the very road from Chandrapur to Tadoba, as is the huge MSEB Thermal Power Plant that supplies power to the Western Grid. There are cement factories around the area and, of course, the huge BILT paper mill at Ballarpur and even an ordinance factory in Bhadravati. These big industries share an uneasy relationship with the pristine park they so closely adjoin, but the good news is that the notification of Tadoba as an eco-sensitive zone is in the works, and when it comes through, nobody will be able to do anything worth the name within 10km of its periphery. Tadoba may be made of coal, but if the government does the right thing, the reserve will remain the way it is.

ORIENTATION

The Tadoba Reserve covers the hilly area known as the Chimur Hills. The Andhari Sanctuary, stretching over the Moharli and Kolsa ranges towards the south of the park, is less hilly, and derives its name from the river flowing through it

Tadoba Lake, practically at the centre of the Tadoba Reserve, is a crucial perennial water source for the region. The reserve is peppered with many other lakes, and has large meadows and the occasional shrub land punctuating the thick tracts of forests.

Light from the setting sun filtering through the trees around Tadoba Lake
Light from the setting sun filtering through the trees around Tadoba Lake

While the Tadoba area of the reserve is serviced by two gates, Navegaon to the north and Moharli to the south, the Kolsa part of the reserve to the east can also be accessed by two gates, at Pangadi and Zari. The Khutwanda Gate, where the Tiger Trails Resort is located, is the entry point for visitors approaching the reserve via Shegaon and Mudholi, instead of Chandrapur. This route has another access into Tadoba via the Katejhari Gate, also on the western side, 10km away from Khutwanda Gate. If you don’t have a car, taxis can take you to the MTDC resort in Moharli (20km away) and the FRHs inside the reserve (45km).

The Navegaon entrance is superficially closer to Nagpur, on the Umred-Chimur-Khadsingi route. The road to the Navegaon Gate from Khadsingi is terrible, and there is a rule that you must exit the park from the same gate that you enter from. So, unless you’re a day-tripper or have reservations at the FRHs within the park, it doesn’t make sense to enter from here, since you can’t drive through the park to the MTDC at Moharli.

We advise you to go around to Chandrapur and enter from Moharli. It also places you closer to the quietude of Kolsa, on the far end of the park. It’s now worth taking the shortcut that runs from the Chimur-Warora Road through to Moharli, where you turn off at Shegaon and go past the village of Mudholi, on the route that has been fully tarred recently. Various motorable pathways leading from around the Tadoba Lake area allow for good wildlife watching in different parts of the reserve. The viewing is especially rewarding near the waterholes, with Pandharpauni and Panchadhara being standouts. Set up at different locations, including Panchadhara and Vasant Bhandara waterholes and those around the lake, make for excellent wildlife spotting.

A jungle cat
A jungle cat

There are FRHs in Tadoba as well as Kolsa, though the suites at Kolsa are more remote and quieter. The ones at Tadoba are beautifully situated overlooking Tadoba Lake – which is swarming with crocodiles, so don’t bring your bathing suit – and are very comfy indeed. There is also a Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resort at Moharli, very close to the Moharli Gate, which is extremely serviceable. Even if you’re staying at the MTDC resort, book a night at the FRHs; they’re so cheap, it makes sense to use it just as a place to take an afternoon nap till you start driving around again. You can then decide in the evening whether you want to stay inside the park or go back to your room at the MTDC. Also, make sure you call ahead and check that there is no internal animal census on when you’re planning to come down; the park is closed on the days of the census.

Guides: The Wildlife Department employs local men from the villages inside and around the park as authorised guides of the park. They are mandatory to take along, but are worth it, being founts of knowledge, and unfailingly courteous and obliging. If you take a night stop inside the reserve, you can keep the same guide all day, and the next day as well.

Entry 80 Guide 40

There is also an excellent interpretation centre near Moharli.

Spotted deer and her fawn, Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve
Spotted deer and her fawn, Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve

Two and three-wheelers are not permitted in the park. At Tadoba, the forest department’s 12-seater mini-bus is available for jungle safaris. However, make sure that you organise your car before you come to the park, since there are no cars hanging about the periphery waiting to be hired. This is a tiger reserve, and there are rules about these things. There is a limit of 50 cars allowed inside the park, so make sure you get in early.

Entry per vehicle 750–1,000 (for 6 pax) Timings 6.00–11.00am and 3.00–6.00pm Guide fee 300 Closed Tuesdays

Tip Timings are the key. You must log out from the central area of the reserve, where the FRHs are, by 6.00pm. Also, when inside the park, you can’t drive between 11.00am–3.00pm

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Tadoba’s biggest asset is the possibility of frequent and ample wildlife sightings. However, for those looking for extras, there’s a shrine near Tadoba Lake and an excellent interpretation centre, amongst other things

Driving Around

The roads inside, largely unpaved, are very manageable by any car with a good suspension. Those who’ve always fantasised about weaving around in thick forests, complete with creatures of the wild making an appearance every now and then, a-la-Hollywood jungle movies, here is where your fantasy comes true.

Visitors on a jeep safari at Tadoba Andhari TR
Visitors on a jeep safari at Tadoba Andhari TR

The reserve is beautiful at any time of the year, and the sheer numbers of the animals ensure that you’ll see something that you’ll find enchanting, even if you don’t see the tiger himself. Or herself. Tigresses with cubs are sought-after sightings, and children love them. However, silence within the car is a big plus; animals are shy, and blaring music or crying babies will scare them off. Don’t swim in the lake. Crocodiles were introduced here a few decades ago, and have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the forest officials. Carry field glasses since there is a huge variety of avifauna.

Temple visit

The temple dedicated to Taru is under a large tree by Tadoba Lake. An annual fair, held here between December and January, attracts crowds of adivasis. Permission from the forest department is needed to visit the temple, since it is on the shore of the lake and hence on animal paths to the water. The forest department is rightly adamant about minimising the discomfort to the animals, especially when they go searching for a drink.

Interpretation Centre

For older children, one of the best Interpretation Centres around is in Moharli, where simple well-planned exhibits bring the science and romance of wildlife alive.

WHERE TO STAY

The best option here is Tiger Trails Jungle Lodges (Nagpur Tel: 0712-6541327, Cell: 09822930703; Tariff: 10,000 per person, with meals) – a country-style guesthouse in the Chichghat Forest Valley. The luxurious Svasara Resort (Res-ervations Cell: 09370008008; Tariff: 21,500, with meals and two safaris) is near the Kolara Gate. Camp Tiger Serai (Cell: 09881389437; Tariff: 6,500, with meals) is another beautiful property near Moharli Gate, with good food. The MTDC Tourist Lodge (Cell: 09579314261, 09021480465; Tariff: 1,450–3,200) in Moharli village is situated next to the Irai Lake.

Other good options include Resort Saras (Cell: 09422139353; Tariff: 4,000–4,500) in Moharli and Chava Kolara Resort (Cell: 09021128158, 09860001538; Tariff: 3,000–3,500) in Kolara village.

AROUND THE PARK

Chandrapur (45km)

The town is the seat of an old Gond kingdom. The outer bastions of the walled city still exist, and there is an old Mahakali temple just outside the gates. Otherwise, it is a bustling town. The nearby town of Bhadravati (26km) has an interesting Jain temple complex. Be sure to look at the graphic representation of how the site was found, towards the left of the entrance.

Courtesy MTDC
A magnificent bison
A magnificent bison

There is also an old fort in the area. The general area of Chandrapur and Gadhchiroli is also the seat of three of Baba Amte’s set-ups, including Anandvan in Warora, a short hour or so from Chandrapur on a good road, and his son Prakash Amte’s Ashram in Hemalkasa in Gadhchiroli District. Anandvan was started as a leprosy aid centre, but has grown to include deaf-mutes and the blind and other physically challenged people, and the aged, and general relief work for the people of the area. Prakash Amte apparently has a pet tiger or two that he feeds by hand in Hemalkasa, but the forest department is uneasy about all this and it is wise not to ask the forest officers about it. However, to do all of this would be hard if you’re not spending the night somewhere in Gadhchiroli.

Chaprala Wildlife Sanctuary (70km)

Located in Gadhchiroli, the Chaprala Wildlife Sanctuary is an interesting day-trip, if you leave in the morning. Be advised that you’ll get back late, and if you’re staying inside the park, you need to be at Moharli Gate at or before 6.00pm.

 GETTING THERE

State Maharashtra

Location In Chandrapur District

Distance 110km S of Nagpur

Route from Nagpur Via Mancherial-Chandrapur-Nagpur Road    

Air Nearest airport: Nagpur (150km/ 3hrs) has good flight connections to all metros. Hiring a cab for the whole day will cost about 3,000

Rail Nearest railhead: Chandrapur (45km/ 1hr) but Nagpur (linked to all metros) has better transport options

Road From Nagpur, take NH7 till Jamb and then SH264 to Warora. Turn left to Shegaon (16km), via Aashta, Goshri, to Khutwanda Gate. Or, you can take the district road from Warora to Moharli Gate via Mudholi. From Chandrapur, take the road to Moharli Gate

Bus State buses ply from Chandrapur to Tadoba, thrice a day for 40

 FAST FACTS

When to go November–March is pleasant but April–May (upto 46˚C) is the best time for tiger spotting. Park closed during June–July

Wildlife/ Forest Dept Office

Field Director

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Rambag Colony, Mui Road

Chandrapur

Tel: 07172-251414

STD code Chandrapur 07172, Nagpur 0712