Tiger Safari India - Tadoba national park; from obscurity to big hitter in one year!
Tiger Safari India - My first visit to Tadoba National Park
I first visited Tadoba national park back in 2008 as part of a long held dream to visit India during the 'life giving' monsoon rains. That might sound like a pretty silly thing to do, considering nearly all of India's tiger sanctuaries close on June 30th before the 'major rains' fall on the parks and make it increasingly difficult to get around. However back in 2008 Tadoba was one of the few national parks which remained open during the monsoon and we timed out visit for the first week of July.
It's hard to say when a particular tiger sanctuary really starts to 'hit the big time' and be known and respected on an international level. Even with modern social media and photos of tigers reaching millions of wildlife lovers in just a few hours, there need to be a few fundamental boxes ticked off before a national park starts to attract visitors from all over India and the world. You need to have tigers whi are habituated to the 'constant' vehicle traffic through the season and ideally a certain quality of vehicle and guide who can provide a medium standard of interpretation (it doesn't happen all the time!) and finally a lodge or lodges established in the area to provide a certain comfort of style. When I arrived back in July 2008 only the first criteria was 'ticked off', but that didn't stop be from visiting and staying in the far from inspiring goverment run lodge.
The first morning was an interesting experience, as we found the chef and the waiting staff from the night before fast asleep on the dining room tables. They seem to be unaware of our request for a packed breakfast and we had to gently cajole them into the kitchen to boil a few eggs and make those classic Indian tomato sandwiches. Our first drive was on Sunday so from the main entrance gate it was a little crowded - at that time local people could drive their own vehicles inside Tadoba national park.. We did not have to wait long for our first tiger sighting as barely 20 minutes into the drive we briefly spotted a tigress walking within the forest alongside the beautiful Tadoba Lake. She kept a constant distance between herself and the waiting jeeps and rather than wait along with the other vehicles we decided to explore a park that our eyes and ears were enjoying for the very first time…..and what a park. Not only do you have two beautiful large lakes with huge meadows encircling them, the forest is completely different from any other park I have visited, especially the sheer abundance of Bamboo, which as it goes through its various life cycles, creates diverse habitats for mammals and birds alike.
On the afternoon drive there were fewer visitors and we chose to explore the park as fully as possible so we had knowledge of all the different areas. Tadoba is one of India’s largest tiger sanctuaries so you can chalk up some considerable distances exploring all its different habitats and dispersed wildlife populations. We enjoyed close up sightings of large numbers of Gaur and Wild Boar and just as dusk approached and we were about to leave the park we had our second close encounter with a Sloth Bear of the trip; who proceeded to climb up a fallen tree as if enjoying the attention of the two jeeps observing close by. Birding was also excellent with good sightings of Black Ibis, Spoonbill, White Eyed Buzzard, Shikra, Indian Pitta, Paradise Flycatchers, Racket-Tailed Drongos, Grey Hornbills and Golden Backed Woodpeckers.
The following morning Daulat and Sandeep left to return to their families in Pune as we once again awoke at 05:00 and set off on the morning drive. It was noticeable that the quality of guiding in Tadoba was fairly poor and I enjoyed observing Vipul gently correcting the guides regularly as we roamed through the park. That morning we were to enjoy one of those perfect tiger encounters where all your senses are involved in tracking where the tiger is and then these same senses are even more heightened as you wait in hope for your first glimpse of the King of the Jungle.
It was Monday morning and only four other vehicles were waiting to enter the park; again we chose to explore further afield to see as much of Tadoba as we could, but were soon stopped in our tracks by the simultaneous alarm calls of Grey Langurs and Spotted Deer. We waited to judge their location and distance and then drove off to investigate further. We eventually found ourselves back at Tadoba Lake but the calls had stopped. We drove off slowly and very soon encountered alarm calls again, this time even more frequent, with the Langur calls almost like fireworks exploding into the air all around us. We could trace the movement of the predator who was walking in the forest just back from the large meadows that surround the Lake. We waited and waited and then there she was, Tadoba’s very own ‘Lady of the Lake’, stepping out into the Meadow and walking slowly and deliberately along the forest edge. Elated at being so richly rewarded for our patience and enjoying the sighting on our own, we watched with binoculars as she continued her journey for 10-15 minutes before again vanishing into the surrounding forest.
That afternoon was our last safari and we all felt that any other sightings would be a bonus. We had been told of a well known waterhole where a male and female tiger had been spotted the previous day escaping from the summer heat. We decided to visit this area first and the presence of one other jeep with excited occupants quickly alerted us to the fact that a tiger or tigers were there. We approached slowly and observed with joy the sight of a huge eight year old male tiger relaxing in the middle of the pool. The size of his head and shoulders showed this was one of the dominant tigers in the park and I am sure he always got first use of the refreshing pool!
The following day we left Tadoba with sadness in our hearts. It had exceeded our wildest expectations and the fact it is one of the very few parks in India that is open during the monsoon only adds to its appeal (not anymore!). This is not an up and coming park, it has already arrived and I hope that the powers that be can do everything possible to protect this jewel of a sanctuary. If you would like to visit Tadoba national park as part of your tiger safari in India then click on the following Tadoba wildlife safari to get full details.