Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in eastern Maharashtra is without a doubt one of India’s best-kept secrets. Although Tadoba was designated a reserve in 1955, we hadn’t heard of it until recently. A visit in late March left us deeply impressed with its flora and fauna.
The 626 square kilometres of combined forest (Tadoba, named after the local Gond deity, Tadu, and Andhari, after the river) are part of some spectacular terrain teeming with wildlife. The flame of the forest tree was in bloom, and its starkly bright, orange flowers stood out amidst the faded, dry vegetation. The ground was completely covered by fallen bamboo and tendu leaves, many of them moth-nibbled into exquisite lace.
In our three-day visit, we trawled the roads by jeep and drew close to herds of muscular gaur ruminating in tall bamboo thickets, found sambar stags locked in combat under jamun groves, and observed tiger siblings frolicking in the serene Telia Lake as their mother kept an eye on the wide arc of people in jeeps. Time and again, we slowed down to take in the vistas which were not just magnificent, but empty. It was a reaffirmation of paradise beyond our crowded cities.
There were two particularly memorable sightings. The first was the discovery of a wild dog pack with five adults and seven pups. It was the first time we’d seen the russet coloured, pointy faced, expert hunters, the dhole, and we stayed with them all afternoon as they rested in the dappled light of a glade. As it got cooler, they arose, stretched and greeted each other before setting off, their movements choreographed to the music of Dr Anish Andheria’s expert commentary and exact predictions.
The second one was of a leopard in broad daylight. What was unusual was that we had left the sanctuary on our last day, and we saw him on the fringe of the forest, walking in the middle of an empty field, not far from some village huts. When he saw us looking at him, he hunkered down in the shadows and minimised himself with every fibre of his being. His eyes were firmly on us as he planned his escape, making a timely dash into a thicket.
Even in this brief encounter, we could admire his tremendous beauty, Olympic star athleticism and chess player’s mind. But his demeanour was that of a pathetic criminal making an escape. Surely he deserves to live in dignity in his own space. We have relentlessly carved ourselves into the forests, leaving less and less space for wildlife. Predators spill out every now and then, and sometimes leopards do live in close proximity to villagers. Conflict is inevitable, and lives are lost on both sides. It is vital that we explore the concept of co-existence and provide green corridors for the migration of wildlife into adjacent forests.
Nagpur or Wagpur?
Nagpur, the nearest big city, is booming and several large companies are setting up their operations there. Its proximity to several forests with tigers, such as Bor, Pench, Nagzira, Meghat and Tadoba, and a new forest-proud culture is turning the attention to a possible name change to Wag (bagh/tiger) pur. Even if the old name persists, the city has gained increasing clout from being closely linked to many atmospheric, game rich forests.
Plan Your Trip
How to get there — Take the train or fly to Nagpur, where a car booked by your lodge will pick you up. A 2 hour 15 minutes drive to the reserve.
Best time to go — October to June; Feb to April optimal for tiger viewing.
Opening Hours — 5.30 to 10.30am, 2.45- 6pm. Tuesdays closed
Explore — Tadoba Lake, Telia Lake, Bhanuskiddi Drive, Panderpauni and Katejhari.
Stay at — Moharli and Kolara are the two main gates. Tiger Trails, Svasera and Irai Safari Retreat are near Moharli. The forest rest house is spartan but well located near Tadoba lake in the core of the forest.
Affordable style — The log hut inside Ngzira National Park at R1,700 per night.
Look out for — Gond tribal pillars and the Tadu shrine next to the Government rest house under a peepal tree.