Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve about 150 kms from Nagpur, Maharashtra is one of the best jungles in India. Spread over 1700 sq kms it is home to exotic wildlife that includes Birds, Sloth bears, Wild dogs, Leopards, Crocodiles, Nilgai, Indian Gaur and more. Oh yes! it has a high density of tigers too. With so much to offer Tadoba is always buzzing with activity but it was in a different mood that morning…
On Feb 21, we entered Tadoba’s buffer zone through Devada gate at 6:30 am. The sky was still dark but the early morning mist added its dreamy charm. Soothing aroma of the plants and cool breeze was refreshing. We had our usual hosts like Spotted deer, Sambhar, Indian Gaur keeping us company but there was no bird chirping…jungle was remarkably silent! For the next 1.5 hours our gypsy covered various corners of the Devada zone but there was not much activity.
At 8 am our safari gypsy parked at a water body where animals often visit to quench their thirst. We were kept busy by a few birds like Kingfisher, Egret and Indian Paradise Flycatcher trying to get their share of fish. Our guides Amir and Amit decided to stay put at this spot. Every single sound was being monitored by them for a hint on tiger movement. Any whisper of returning was rejected by them. “Wait karo!” was the expert opinion and we agreed. Time too travels slowly in these situations!
Suddenly, after about one hour of wait there was a rush of other gypsies towards our spot. They had seen a tiger moving towards the water body. There was no movement but the expectations were back with new mind games. Amit said it could be behind the bushes across the water straight in front of our position. I picked up the binoculars and after some search saw those elusive black stripes hiding there. Amir whispered, “shaant raho! woh paani ke liye aayega, ready raho! (Silence! he will come to drink water, be ready!)”. And truly so, there it was…a majestic walk towards the water body.
Engrossed in watching him, I forgot binoculars can’t click pictures! Amit almost admonished me,“Sir! photo khincho. Agar aap se nahin hota hai toh mujhe camera de doh! (Sir! take pictures. If you can’t do it then give the camera to me!)”. The authority in his voice was effective to release me from the magic spell of the King of Tadoba! At least for that moment…
It was a tiger cub which soon got busy with the water. Amir announced, “ek aur aa raha hai (one more is coming)”. Both the cubs were cautious while drinking water. Eyes carefully keeping a watch on the spectators of their royal arrival. I thought this is good enough sighting but then Amit exclaimed, “arey teesra bhi aa raha hai! (Third one is coming)”. We couldn’t believe our luck as it was indeed a bonanza. These were three male cubs, about 2 years old of Sharmilee – the shy tigress which ruled this territory. Cubs were indifferent to our presence and moved around in the water to their satisfaction. As long as humans don’t trouble animals they don’t care. We were humble subjects in the court of these siblings. The look in their eyes pointed straight at us had a message…Don’t mess with me!
Siblings seated in triangular formation was the defining moment for me. Did one of the brothers made his intentions clear by occupying the throne seat? Time will tell! For some time, I stopped taking pictures. I wanted to enjoy with nothing between me and them…no binoculars, no camera, no lens…nothing! After about half an hour of showtime, they went back to their hideout leaving us spellbound. My heart was full of gratitude towards Mother Nature’s blessing for this life time memory.
I salute the forest staff, guides, gypsy drivers, villagers who risk their own safety to ensure that jungle survives. They have witnessed wildlife action a million times before but for every tourist they express great enthusiasm, sincerity and commitment to provide best possible wildlife experience. It was our pleasure to learn from Tadoba where every element is in harmony. Mankind can’t survive without the magnificent flora and fauna of our jungles.
Save the Jungle, Save the Tiger!