Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tadoba trip 2012: 8 wild tigers in one day

When you plan to go on your first wildlife safari, you expect it to be an adventurous trip. My adventure began much before I was anywhere close to the forest. It was summer in 2012 when a bunch of us planned a trip to the Tadoba tiger reserve. It involved a train journey from Mumbai to Chandrapur for which we had booked 3-tier AC tickets. All were in the Waiting List and none got confirmed by the date of travel. Fortunately, we had 2 confirmed Sleeper class tickets but there were 6 of us. We were wondering what to do with the train ready to leave the platform when our adventure began.

Nikhil was at the ticket counter trying to buy wait-listed Sleeper Class tickets but right then, the whistle blew and the train was about to leave. We called Nikhil and asked him to hurry up as the train started moving. Nikhil took back the money from the teller and ran towards the train. The moment Nikhil was in sight, the rest of us started getting into the train and in true DDLJ style, we pulled Nikhil in at the last minute. All 6 of us were in the sleeper class of the train now with 2 confirmed tickets. We just hung around waiting for the TC. When he showed up, we explained the situation to him and paid the fine hoping for some seats to be available at some point during the journey (due to last-minute no shows).

The train was packed and there was no scope for any free seats. This was to be an 18-hour journey and it was the sleeper class of a train during the hot summer. We were trying to tackle this situation by trying to cheer each other up when a gentleman in the next berth took pity on us and offered us one of his seats while he managed in one seat with his children. Thanks to him going through this trouble for us, we now had 3 seats between 6 of us. We were to bunk in groups of 2 so it was Nikhil and Shreerang, Rukshana and Swapna and as usual - Rakesh and me! While this was still quite uncomfortable, it made the overnight journey bearable.
The gentleman in question here was Mustafa Bhai. He gave up his seat for us inconveniencing his wife and kids because he believed in helping others whenever God offered him an opportunity to do so. His mom had been to Karbala (Iraq!) and he had gone to Mumbai with his wife and kids to receive her up after the long pilgrimage. Not only did he help us during the journey, he also arranged for our transport from Chandrapur station to Tadoba. It was touching to watch his brother receiving them at the station, kissing his Mom's hand with teary eyes. The pilgrimage meant a lot for all of them and they were all really happy to see her. We were then picked up by Zakir in his Sumo, he helped us arrange for a Safari jeep at Moharli and also waited back till it was clear that we were getting a jeep.

We booked the two available rooms at the MTDC resort as soon as they were available online. However, we were in for a bigger problem when we reached the entrance of the forest. It turned out that we had to book the safari in advance and get permits for the safari. We had done none of this and were in a fix when Shreerang became our knight in shining armour. Like we see in movies, the guy made one phone call and a minute later, the gates were being opened for us. All through our drive till the resort, Shreerang had been showing us posters of a man he knew. While we didn't pay much heed to his boastfulness, it turned out that it was Shreerang's association with the influential man in the posters that helped us get our names on the VIP quota list. The VIP quota extended to arrangement of a safari jeep. Problem solved and we started the Safari at 3PM.

A paper bag was given to each jeep entering Tadoba-Andhari with some instruction imprinted on it. I was told that we have to be very lucky to spot a tiger in a safari and there have been times when people have returned without seeing a tiger.

As I kept waiting anxiously through the drive in the forest, a heard a voice saying "There!". The first tiger we saw was lying between bamboo bushes and the view wasn't too clear. We moved on hoping to see more when we got our second sighting - Three male cubs just lying around, having fun!
I was excited as this was the first time I was seeing a tiger in the forest. I had often read that if you really want to witness the might of the tiger, you should see in the wild and not in a zoo. And here I was, watching tigers in their natural habitat. Their stripes looked much brighter than they look in movies and videos. They were at a distance and were not moving much so I was a bit disappointed. I said to myself, "Is that it? What's so great about that?". Well, that changed in a few minutes.

Our third sighting was a tigress with her 3 cubs! This was right next to a small, artificial water body in the forest. The cubs were too shy to come out of the woodwork but we could see a bit of them before they ran in. The tigress came out though. It circled the waterhole, leaned gracefully and drank some water.

This was cool, I was now getting a much better view of the tigress and actually felt like I am watching her do something natural in her natural habitat. Right then, the tigress looked towards our jeeps and started walking towards us. There were two jeeps with around 12 people in all. The little little chitter-chatter turned into pin drop silence as we saw the tigress come towards us. She walked truly like she owned the road, the jungle, and each one of us! The photographers kept clicking and the spectators kept watching with open mouths while she nonchalantly crossed the road just ahead of us and disappeared in the forest to our left. For the rest of the ride, I kept looking behind me with high levels of alertness.

We then stopped at the Tadoba lake where we saw more wildlife than in the rest of the safari. We saw some crocodiles too. We were told that the crocs here had eaten up a wild boar the previous day. We also saw a decaying corpse of deer close to the water that had a cut off leg. The guide said that it had probably been attacked by these crocodiles. Without a leg, it couldn't survive long.

This brought us to the end of our extremely fruitful safari. The VIP quota was for just one day and we couldn't go on a morning Safari the next day. So we stayed up till 5AM playing Uno and Uno bluff (a game invented on the fly). The next morning, after a late breakfast, we were off to Chandrapur in Zakir's car. In Chandrapur our first stop was Mustafa bhai's house. We were received very warmly. We had discussions about several things and were treated with some delicious kheer. The lady in the middle with the neck cast is his mom.
We were then given a quick tour of the city by Mustafa bhai's brother, Mohammad Bhai. We saw the Anchaleshwar temple. He took us to a sweet shop and then to Sanjay lassi center, where we were all forced to have some wonderful lassi. Meanwhile Mustafa bhai was at the railway station trying to book our tickets!

We had 5 confirmed tickets for the return journey. The sixth person had to pay a fine. This was a lot better for everyone else other than Rakesh and me because as expected, we were to bunk on one berth again!

Awesome pictures and valuable inputs by Nikhil Bangera.

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