A man can only resist so much before he gives in. I tried hard. Told myself that I had already done a few trips this year, and maybe I should wait till next year. Then people started posting photos of cubs from Tadoba. And other gorgeous tiger photos on Facebook didn’t help. In the end, resistance was futile, as the Borg had predicted.
I have been to Tadoba a few times, and end Oct/early Nov is not the best season for sightings. But I was hopeful that Tadoba wouldn’t disappoint, given that it hadn’t received much rain during the monsoons.
This was another solo trip, and an overnight drive. I started from Bangalore around 10 pm, since I wanted to reach Tadoba in time for the afternoon safari next day. A few years back, during my first Tadoba trip, I had started after midnight, and after a crazy 1100+ km drive, with just a 45 minute nap at a fuel bunk, I had reached Kolara Gate in Tadoba by 14:15 pm. This time I wanted to take it easy, given I had other plans after Tadoba.
I have a déjà vu feeling every time I get onto NH7, my favourite highway in India. This was the fourth time this year I was driving on the longest highway in India – I had already done two roadtrips to Satpura, and a long one to Uttarakhand. Before a long drive, I always have targets in mind, with multiple waypoints and ETAs. This helps in breaking monotony, and keeps the mind alert. I try to get down and stretch for a couple of minutes after two hours of driving, and always drink a lot of water. This time I didn’t plan to stop for breakfast or lunch, so carried F&B such as bananas and oranges, black coffee in a 600 ml Pepsi bottle, biscuits and chocolates, and nuts.
I took a one-hour nap somewhere after Kurnool, a few metres away from a toll booth. It is a good idea to check the surroundings before stopping the car on a highway. Fuel bunks where many trucks have stopped, or well-lit toll booths are relatively safe options for these power naps. My SOP is to keep one window – far away from me – a couple of inches down, and the driver’s side window up, so that no one can reach in e.g. with a sharp object. And to keep the car key/wallet/mobile hidden – either in my pockets ( I wear cargoes during drives), or covered with something.
Filled up diesel in Hyderabad. The bad stretch after Adilabad had improved, so I was able to make good time to Karanji. From Karanji, I took a right and went to Kolara via Wani – Warora – Chimur. A few stretches were horrendous, but that didn’t prevent Bison, my 4×4 Fortuner, from maintaining a decent speed. Driving 1100 km with one hour of sleep is tiring. But excitement and adrenaline kick in when one is about to go on a safari. I reached Kolara a little after 1 pm the next day. I had decided to give Kolara FDCM a try, because it was right beside the forest, value for money, and had some other benefits (seek, you shall know). Had a quick shower, went to the dining room for lunch, got my camera gear ready, and was ready for the first safari well before time.
It had rained in the morning, so as feared, the afternoon safari was disappointing. The most interesting incident happened after the safari, when the Gypsy was dropping me back to FDCM. A snake was about to cross the road. I saw it in the light of the high beams, asked the Gypsy to stop, and jumped down. Just when I managed to get prone on the road – to get an eye level shot – there came two idiots on a bike. They seemed drunk, though Chandrapur district was supposed to be dry. We asked them to stop but shouting and giggling, they passed over the tail of the poor snake. It didn’t seem hurt, but did an about turn and vanished in two seconds.
Next morning I was able to spend an hour with a tigress, Chhoti Tara, one of the two tigers in Tadoba wearing a radio collar. It was an overcast day, so I wasn’t able to get any golden hour shots of her, but I wasn’t complaining too much. I had a few close misses in the next few days, which was a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, as always, I focused on enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of the forest with all my senses.
After a couple of days in Kolara, I shifted to Moharli. There is a shortcut to Moharli from Shegaon (Shegaon is a small hamlet on the Chimur – Warora route), I took that narrow forest road. I stayed at Moharli FDCM, which is located a hundred metres away from MTDC. When I am traveling alone, I don’t mind roughing it out, as long as the location is good. I stayed in a tent, with a few bugs for company. There was an attached loo, Indian style. No washbasin. It would get hot during daytime, and cold in the night. But Moharli FDCM – like the Kolara one – is surrounded by the buffer zone forest, so that tilted the scales for me. As long as I can hear the wind rustling through the teak trees, smell the forest and hear alarm calls in the night, I am happy in a rustic tent. One night, after dinner, I spent a couple of hours in the FDCM watchtower which overlooked the fence. I could see a big stretch of grass below, and then the trees started. Sambars and wild boars were out in the grass. There were cheetal alarm calls from time to time, but no big cat came out of the trees.
I had two more tiger encounters during the trip. One was early in the morning. I was waiting in the Gypsy on the tar road passing through the park, hoping that the tigress with cubs would show up, when we started hearing cheetal deer alarm calls near Telia lake. We turned the vehicle and went inside. A tigress (Sonam) came out of tall grass, walked on the bank of the lake for a few hundred metres, climbed the embankment and disappeared into the undergrowth. She was pretty far from me, and light was bad. After a few scape shots, I put down my camera and watched her till she vanished. I saw the same tigress again on my last safari in Tadoba. It was near dark, when she appeared. She walked on the far side of the lake – a few hundred metres away – for 5 minutes. If she had come out 30 minutes before, I would have had a few nice environment shots, with the golden sky, and perhaps even the setting sun reflecting on the lake. But that was not to be.
Maya/P2 – the famous tigress of Tadoba – didn’t favour me with a darshan this time. She had always come within a few feet during my previous Tadoba trips.
Next day, I stayed in bed till 7 am. A luxury after waking up at 4:45 am for the past few days. I had a long drive ahead of me, and wanted to recharge my batteries. I would be passing through unknown forest roads in the dark, and some of those roads lay in the notorious Chambal division.
The Moharli – Shegaon forest stretch is lovely in the morning. But then the 8-10 feet wide village road becomes very dangerous, filled with booby (shitty is a better word) traps. I hope that toilets get built fast in these tiny hamlets. I had to drive and maneuver very carefully. So much for Swachh Bharat in the interiors of the country.
There is a shortcut from Shegaon to Chandrapur – Nagpur highway. If you are coming from Moharli, reach Shegaon, take a left for Warora, and after 100 metres, take a right. Ask anyone for Tembhurda road. Last time I had taken that road, it didn’t show up on Google Maps. This time, it did. In fact, Google Devima(ps) didn’t throw any tantrums this time, and did a pretty decent job in guiding me through roads less traveled. Off topic: Google Devi becomes a homicidal sadist the Himalayas, and has told me – multiple times – to turn and plunge into 1000+ feet gorges. Thoda scary hai, her mindset. God knows what will happen once AI – and our vehicles – become smart enough, and we become dumb enough, to start relying too much on tech. I believe that already we have multiple (unfortunate) incidents where some idiot driver trusted GPS navigation too much, without using common sense.
I reached the wonderful four-lane Chandrapur–Nagpur highway. And instead of turning left and South towards Bangalore, I took a right and headed North. I was heading to Ranthambore, and wanted to try and make it to Kuno Palpur Sanctuary – some 900 km away – and spend the night there. I didn’t have any firm plans, but thought would I would just keep on driving, and see where I reach.