Tadoba Tiger Reserve

To me, a good vacation is all about waking up early in the morning, sipping chai and talking life with loved ones, going for a nice, long walk, preferably beside a water body, eating good food cooked by someone else, sipping chai (again) while watching the kids play and writing about the day before dozing off. Visiting the Tadoba Tiger Reserve was one such vacation!

Tadoba Tiger Reserve is in the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is one of India’s 43 “Project Tiger” Tiger reserves, and the oldest and the largest National Park in Maharashtra, according to Wikipedia. We got there by road (a 7 hr drive, 440 Km distance), the guys taking turns driving our Fortuner, but it is possible to take a bus (nearest bus stop is in Chandrapur, a 32 Km away), a train (the nearest railway station is in Chandrapur, a 45 Km away) or even fly (airport in Nagpur, a 140 Km away) to reach the park.

We always try to cover a journey early in the morning, when the kids are still sleepy and the traffic and sunlight are low. There were 4 kids in the car, as we were traveling with a cousin and his family, and they kept themselves entertained by listening to good music, chatting and screaming the name “Tadoba” at the count of 3! We didn’t have to resort to using digital devices to pass time!

By noon we were at our resort “Jharana” ( wait for a review of it in another post) . After a delicious meal and a delicious-er nap in a cozy room, we were off to explore the area around our  resort. The resident Naturalist, Yogesh, accompanied us on a bird-watching tour. We got onto a rocky road, apparently a State Highway, and walked amidst dense jungle on one side and fields on the other. Water cascaded gently beside the road and the jungle seemed to be teasing us to explore. A marsh nearby invited us to sit on fallen trees and watch the birds feed and frolic. We spotted Black ibis, Crested serpent Eagle, Seven sisters, Red-vented Bulbul and  White-throated Kingfishers. We even saw droppings of a Sloth Bear with the exoskeleton of termites. I felt like we were learning  something new every step of the way. Our guide cum naturalist regaled us with stories and information about the wildlife and the region we were treading upon; Even the kids seemed to be absorbing everything.

Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds
Marsh beside the resort where we spotted birds

The next morning we woke up to steaming cups of chai brought right to our room, at 5 am sharp, for our Tiger Safari. We’d booked our entry online before coming and that’s the only way it is done. The Navegaon gate opens at 6:30 am. There is another entry gate but farther from where we stayed. After the gate-in-charge verified our details (carry an ID proof along), we made our way into the reserve on our hotel’ s Gypsy.

A baby and mama Langur
A baby and mama Langur

Langurs and Spotted Deer were the first ones to greet us. No sooner did we turn towards a lake, than we spotted Maya, a Tigress and her 3 little cubs. The young ones were jumping about while their mama relaxed. A veil of dry grass covered the family and prevented us from having a clear view of them. Just as we were waiting for them to come out of their hiding and cross the street in front of us, the bunch took off into the bushes.  Still, we waited.  When nothing happened for a long time and the kids began their own soundtrack, we left in search of the other Tigers and other beautiful creatures that inhabit the forest.

Maya and her cubs
Maya and her cubs

Bright-red, orange and yellow leaves on tall trees and on the ground and the chill in the air reminded me of fall season in the US. Picturesque landscapes and clean roads made me imagine we were driving through Yellowstone or some other National Park there. Tadoba lake, with its clear, shimmering water, blues of the sky offering a beautiful background and different birds like Pond heron, Lesser whistling Teal, Red busted Flycatcher and Snakebird strutting, fluttering or lolling nearby looked just like a painting.

 

 

Fall colors
Fall colors
Like a painting
Like a painting

We saw the lodge where Yogesh stayed as a kid with his family on trips to the park. We saw dilapidated buildings that once housed or educated the locals. The Wild has now reclaimed its ownership on them as the Government relocated people from within the park to without. The villagers have been compensated fairly by the Government of India, which makes me feel a tiny bit prouder of my country for taking care of its Wildlife just as much as its people. I sometimes feel there’s so much to see right here, in India, that I can easily spend all my life exploring its length and breadth.

The next day too we set out early in the morning for another Safari trip. Have you ever tried the early morning safari? Not yet? Please do! I guarantee you it is pure fun! Dark, deep forest all around, cold wind slapping against you from all direction and the gate opening to let you inside a whole new world! Just thrilling, I tell ya!

Get, set, explore...
Get, set, explore…

It was colder than usual and we were practically frozen but we enjoyed the ride and the beauty around us. It was our last safari in the Core area. I wanted to soak up every smell, sound and scene.

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Even though we spotted pugmarks, we didn’t see another Tiger. We almost drove to the other end of the park, near Moharli gate, but there was no sign of Choti Tara, Sonam or Maya (all names of Tigers!). But I wasn’t too disappointed. I watched 3 ruthless Wild Dogs chasing a Sambar Deer and a Sloth Bear slinking behind a bush. All of this happened so fast, I couldn’t capture them on my camera.

Everyday we’d stop for a quick breakfast and a break inside the park, in a designated area. The staff at Jharana would pack food for us and we ate it and stretched around a bit before the safari resumed again.

Breakfast inside the park.
Breakfast inside the park.

And we’d make our way back to the gate before closing time at 11. Some of us felt sad and angry when we couldn’t spot a Tiger, but what can be done?! It is all a matter of luck.

Rightly said!
Rightly said!

Like I always remind myself, enjoy the journey, not just the destination. And boy did I enjoy!

(The Safari into the core area of the park costed us Rs. 4500 (67 USD)  per trip per jeep)

We tried a safari into the Buffer zone as well. Buffer is the area between the Core of the reserve and the city. It prevents the Tigers from entering cities where there’s more likelihood of them being killed. It was a truly wild experience. The core area appeared well-manicured compared to this one! We drove through thick jungle, our jeep tyres crackling dried leaves underneath and making us feel as if we were being stalked. Thickets poked and brushed against us and there was no other vehicle in sight. At one point, the rickety jeep we were on seemed to lose hope of ascending a steep area and the guys had to get down and push it. We almost thought we’d have to walk back to the gate, which would have been an adventure (nightmare?!). Here too, we spotted some cool animals, the coolest being a Crested Hawk Eagle with its Mohawk and the bulky, muscular Gaurs.

Crested Hawk Eagle
Crested Hawk Eagle

We spotted pugmarks on the road and our guide heard grunting noises; Gaurs dashed deep into the jungle and an owl hooted to alert everyone. There must have been a Tiger somewhere! We waited awhile, as long as the kids let us, and drove on. I believe there’s a mystery in wondering whether the Tiger was watching us from behind a bramble as we waited for it to come out. I still wonder…

(The Safari into the Buffer area costed us Rs. 3200 (about 47 USD))

Though I felt like my body was going to crumble into million little pieces after a jeep ride, spending time in the jungle, away from the din of the city, truly energized me.

I enjoyed every bit of the Tiger Reserve, and I’m sure you will too!

Love,

Manasa.

(Wait for more in my next post!)

Black Buck Resort, Bidar

Did you say Black Buck Resort? In Bidar, Karnataka? A different State altogether! Would we be able to cover the place in 2 days?

Wait wait… Black Bucks, you said??? What wild animal can possibly survive the heat and aridity of Bidar?

A number of questions circled my mind and I tossed them at Prasad, who coolly directed me to the Resort’s website. I couldn’t believe he had already booked our stay!

I’d always assumed Bidar to be one of those drought-struck places with cracked agricultural lands, desperate for a drop of rain. Even the Resort’s website with its washed-out pictures didn’t look promising to me.  But of one thing I was pretty sure- anything would be way better than staying home over the long Independence weekend. So when time came for us to leave, I was super-excited; The kids were too. Medha, on our drive to the resort, kept saying our home must be thanking us for having left it alone for a while! I thought she made sense.

The drive was good; It took us through a landscape in mottled shades of Green (not the lush green of the Tropical Rain-forests of Western Ghats, but no desert either). On our way, we stopped to buy fresh fruits like Figs, Guavas, Custard apples and a couple of Raw Mangoes from a local vendor.

Figs along our way

Bidar is about 134 km from Hyderabad. We stopped for a quick visit to the Bidar Fort (details coming up in my next post)  and then headed to the Resort. It was difficult to find the place as it is located deep in the Forest of Honnikeri, beside the Vilaspur Lake. There were no markers or roads to lead us to our destination. We got there only after we called up the resort and asked for help.

Blackbuck entrance

Black Buck Resort is hidden behind a veil of Greenery and is surrounded by hills. But I couldn’t find a Lake anywhere. It must be hidden too, I thought, at first. Soon I learnt that it had dried up because of sparse rainfall for the past few years. We were slightly disappointed. The views from the balcony of our cottage were beautiful, but I’m sure it would’ve been breath-taking, had there been a sparkling lake instead of a grassland. Still, there was just a tiny bit of water and cattle could be found grazing or lolling beside it, which felt serene.

View from the balcony

We headed for lunch right away. Food wasn’t too rich or the variety too much; There were a couple of curries, freshly-prepared Rotis, Biryani and Rasam and Sambar to go along with Plain Rice. A simple Rice pudding served as a dessert. Everything tasted finger-licking good, as if it was carefully prepared at home… The kids (hard to please) and Grandparents (harder to please) ate without a fuss! Phew!

It was soon time for Tea/Coffee and Black Buck sighting. We boarded a Balero and our guide, Harish, drove us to a grassland quite far from the Resort.

Blackbuck Safari

It wasn’t exactly a Savannah as I thought it would be. Short grass  covered the land here and there; A Runway (Our Air-force has a training center there) ran beside it and factories surrounded the area. Harish informed us that the animals had gotten used to the noise, but I was skeptical.

Blackbucks leaping

Hordes of Black Bucks grazed and chilled and went about their business without a care in the World, until they saw us approaching; When they did, they took off running and leaping, and boy how they leapt! It was a surreal vision! They looked like they were flying, especially the younger ones, who kept jumping higher than the rest.

Despite the runway and the factories nearby, the place did look serene and I remember wishing how awesome it would be if I could capture the feeling of the place too.

On our return, we snacked on French Fries and Capsicum Pakoras (not part of the meal. We had to order separately) and watched documentaries on a Projector screen. I wish the Government of Karnataka, of which this Resort is a part, screened educational documentaries related to Bidar, its history and wildlife, instead of just advertising their other resorts  or playing a documentary on the Rain-forests of Sahyadri Hills like they did, although those were interesting too.

Then it was Bonfire-time, which wasn’t much fun at all with a bunch of kids (Medha and Madhav made a new friend there) who kept running too close to the fire or too far from the light.

Bonfire

We gobbled up our dinner (Good food again!) and headed to our rooms. We had to wake up early for some bird-watching.

The next morning we were taken on an easy hike along the periphery of the resort.

Hiking in the morning

We spotted a bunch of Langurs perched on trees and relaxing on rocks, watching us with interest as if we were the animals and they, the spectators (Who knows, it might be the case in their World!), Big Eagles circling overhead and a few other species of colorful birds. We searched high and low for Peacocks whose familiar cries we could hear everywhere, but couldn’t spot a single one. They were evading us, probably because of all the noise the kids were making.

Langur family

But everyone seemed to be having a good time walking, enjoying the beautiful views and spotting (or trying to spot) wildlife. A few visitors to the Resort complained of not having experienced anything special, but my family was pretty satisfied.

View of a hut on our trail

The hills, shrubbery, early morning dew on leaves, villagers digging a well, a mama Langur picking lice off her baby, another mama protecting her tiny one from us, the absolute tranquility of the place, interrupted only by the screams of Peacocks who played Peek-aboo with us or the giggles of our kids, everything, made us feel glad we’d visited this obscure place. I didn’t mind having my perception of Bidar and its beauty altered for good.

Cottages and the dried-up vilaspur lake

Medha wanted even more of the experience; She wasn’t ready to head back home. But when she spotted a Scorpion in our bathroom, her resolve wavered.

Scorpion in the bathroom

We helped her (hopefully) understand that the wild is the home of beasts and critters and we were only  guests there. We just needed to be extra extra careful and leave their home just the way we found it.

After a hearty breakfast, it was time for us to leave.

I felt our Home was too happy to have us back. And Medha agreed with me.

(We paid Rs. 4352 per adult per night that included accomodation+ all meals + safari + Bird watching +taxes)

Tirupathi – other attractions nearby

We had booked a couple of days at Tirumala, thinking we might be able to “see” the Lord Venkateshwara the next day, if we were turned away on the first, due to the presence of a large number of devotees. Fortunately, we had the Darshan right away, which opened up a lot of time for us to spend in and around Tirupathi.

We visited the Sri Vari Museum, which is at a walking distance from Sri Venkateshwara temple. I’ve visited Tirumala many times, but had never set foot in this museum or even heard of it before. We just happened to notice it as we walked out of the temple, and decided to take a look. There was no entrance fee. We walked through rooms lined with sculptures of Gods made centuries ago.I got an idea of how the art of sculpting has evolved over the ages from idols that look a bit knobbly to the latest, more shapelier ones.

There were paintings and pictures of temples hung on walls along with the other artifacts. Even though it was free, not many seemed to be visiting it, which, thankfully meant, we could walk around and gaze at the life-like idols for however long we wished to, and in peace.

We booked a cab for the next day, to cover as many places worth visiting as we could, before we had to board our train at night.

We went to see one of the very few Natural Arches in Asia, whose picture we had seen at the museum and decided we HAD to pay a visit. This Natural Arch (also called Silathoranam), caused by erosion, isn’t as awe-inspiring as the ones we saw at the Arches National Park, Utah, but it is beautiful in its own right, especially because it is said to have been a doorway through which the Lord himself entered, to take his residence at the temple.

20150112_094818There was a mini zoo within the premises, which the kids enjoyed.

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A small hike led us through a waterfall and a tiny temple.

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We went down to Tirupathi to visit the beautiful Iskcon temple. The realistic idols clad in rich, colorful clothes inspired me. But the downer was the way in which the people who worked there were trying to get us to make donations or buy a product, like salesmen. That felt jarring within a temple.

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Our next stop was Kapilatheertham, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, at the foothills of Tirumala. Right beside the temple is a waterfall that supposedly swells during the rainy season, but when we were there, it was nothing more than a trickle or two. We sprinkled a few droplets on our heads as it is said to wash away all our sins.

20150112_121637The temple looked very old and left me humbled to be walking on the very stones where the Kings and Queens once graced their feet upon.

Sadly, it didn’t look well-maintained.

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20150112_121327Our last stop was the SriKalahasthi temple, located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which is a 40 min drive from Tirupathi. From the outside, the temple looked pretty small, and dirty too; The river, Swarna Mukhi, looked like she had been transformed into a sewer; The surrounding area was crowded with shops, speeding vehicles and people, making it hard to reach the entrance of the temple; A snake charmer scared the little ones with his poor snake, which itself looked really scared. It felt like a Circus and not a place of immense religious and historical value.

Sadly, I couldn’t capture the grandeur I saw and experienced, once I set foot inside the temple premises. We had to leave our cameras/ cellphones behind in the car, as they were not allowed inside.

Built centuries ago, in an architectural style that kind of shows Man his place in the grand scheme of things, it truly made me feel small and of no consequence, whatsoever. The ceiling was high, the pillars supporting it, tall and imposing, the chambers dark and a bit claustrophobic. It stirred both, an eerie feeling and reverence, at the same time in me. The whole experience was other-worldly. And our walk within the temple felt never-ending, so huge is the temple.

But one thing I will always remember about this temple is our descent, 20 feet below, to see the Pathala Ganapathi. The entrance was small and we had to crawl through it to reach a narrow staircase, which plunged down into a dark chamber. There lay the Pathala Ganapathi, who seemed mysterious, due to the inconvenience he imposed on the devotees who longed to pay him a visit.

Descending seemed easier compared to climbing 20 huge steps up a staircase with no wiggle-room. It truly was an adventure, especially with a couple of kids. But the kids themselves seemed to be thrilled about the “adventure”.

There’s so much to see and do in India, I never thought visiting some of our historical and religious places could come so close to the adventure we experienced hiking through the National Parks in the US.