Queens of the jungle
On our recent trip to Tadoba and Pench National Park, we managed to feast our eyes on four tigresses at their glorious best, besides some chill scenes inside the wild
"You've got to have luck on your side to spot the elusive tiger during a safari," a wildlife enthusiast once told me. I second the opinion after not having seen a single one on my first visit to Bandhavgarh National Park and later, the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR). Spotting the striped cat doesn't just need patience, but also luck. Fortunately, during a recent trip to Tadoba and Pench National Park, my stars seem to have aligned. I did not see just one, but four tigresses. Incidentally, my friend and I had planned to go to Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, but since we were too late to book the safari, we failed to get the core-zone bookings and chose to do a three-day trip to Tadoba and Pench, instead.
On our itinerary, we had four jungle safaris, and so, we were hoping to spot at least one tiger. When we arrived in Nagpur, our driver Ahmed took us to our first pitstop — Chava Resort in Chandrapur. To our surprise, we had wildlife enthusiasts Pravin Katre and Aditya Mangrolia for company on Day One in the Madanapur buffer zone of TATR. Since we were visiting in May, the temperatures had touched around 46 degrees Celsius. Zipping past the dry area of the buffer zone for more than an hour, our guide Vinod asked the jeep driver Manoj to park near a water hole, where we could hear a pair of tigers, Junabai and Kamkazari, mating. The noise of their roar and growling was an experience in itself. The wait was long, but those tigers never came out. But we managed to catch Junabai's two cubs. The first one was present at the waterhole. After sometime, another cub walked in and settled down for its pool time. Our day was made already, as we had managed to achieve what we had come here for.
On the next day, we went for an early morning safari in the Alizanja buffer zone at Tadoba. We had to wake up around 4.30 am, so that we could be on time for the safari an hour later. That day, we saw a lot of other wildlife including cheetal, chinkara, langoors, nilgai, barking dear, blue bull, spotted dear, flying squirrel, gaur, dhole, small Indian civet, jungle cats, sambar, chausingha (four-horned antelope), and a variety of birds and butterflies. Finally, our jeep joined other parked vehicles that were waiting for a tigress named Rani to come out of the hiding. She was apparently taking a nap. After waiting for more than an hour, we asked the driver to leave for another spot. It was while the driver was trying to manoeuver his way out, that Rani suddenly came out with an intimidating roar and crossed the road. Our jeep was barely 100 metres away from where she was. In fact, she came and stood right before our jeep, getting me on a photo-clicking frenzy. Exactly seven frames later, she was at a nearby water body to quench her thirst. It felt like she came out of the wild and posed like a celeb on a red carpet for us and left. In the same safari, we managed to see a fully grown male tiger, but we could not click him as it was hiding in the dry grassland and was out of sight within seconds.
After just two safaris, we felt like our trip was a success already. Post the two safaris in Tadoba, it was time to head to our next venue — Shrushti Jungle Home in Pench. On the second day of that safari, we saw yet another tiger at the Khursapar gate. We could not get a full view of it and thought this was the end of our stroke of luck. But, as the famous Bollywood dialogue goes, 'Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost', our best sighting was left for the last. On our way back to the exit, at a waterhole located 100 metres from us, we saw tigress T65. She posed like an actress, giving us a variety of shots. The last of the four safaris in Pench's Sillari gate was an early morning one. Though we didn't see a tiger, we saw a couple of pug marks on our way. But the water inside the core area of Pench was soothing to the eyes. After such great sightings, the water body was inviting and it just gave a picture-perfect finish to the end of our three-day wildlife getaway.
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