After seeing a random post on a social networking site I came to know that Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) management has decided to keep park open for tourist during monsoon with limited vehicle entry permit. I knew Tadoba never disappoints its visitors but during monsoon things will be different and chances of sighting will decrease significantly. But desire of seeing striped beauty in lush green jungle was such a strong temptation that it has ruled out all probabilities and I just decided to give it a try. After all wildlife photography is all about keep trying and trying.
I contacted my local connects and logistics were arranged on the fly. Accommodation was arranged in MTDC and gypsy was booked only glitch was there were no online bookings for entry permit and I have been told that I will have to go to collect the permit before each safari from the gate. It was bit uncomfortable but later I concluded that it was worth compromising some comfort.
As we reached gate we got good news that FD has decided to keep open all the routes including some of the new routes which were closed since last two years. These routes include –
Tadoba Range: Pandharpaoni, Kala Amba (3 km); Kala Amba-Jamunzora-Vasant Bhandara-Ambat Hira-Katezari (12km); Waghai-Water Hole 97 (3.5 km).
In Kolsa range route from Botezari-Ambeutara (3km), Kakadghat-Ambatchuha-Wanarchuha (5 km);
In Moharli, Aswal Hira Circular Road (4.5 km), Waghdoh Circular Road (7km) and Katrani Line to Andhari River (7.5km).
We decided to visit Pandharpaoni, Kala Amba first as it was new route for us. As soon as we reach Pandharpaoni we were rewarded with a female tiger sighting. Tigress was sleeping deep inside bushes occasionally moving her tail to keep flies and other insects away. This was her tail movement which allowed us to spot her, otherwise she was so camouflaged that even experienced spotter might had tough time in spotting. We spend some time there hoping she may wake up and may walk towards the road, but soon realized that she is in no mood of obliging us with her grace so we left her in peace and comfort hoping to try our luck some other place.
First day was comparatively easy; other than a sleeping tigress, few gaurs grazing by the side of the road and a sambar deer fawn, entire jungle was calm. No alarm calls, no rushing vehicles. This is the best part of travelling into jungle during offseason; one can avoid the gypsies and private vehicles bumping into each other.
It was almost dark when we reached Telia Lake. Other than chirping sound of birds everything else was silent. There was one more gypsy parked beside us and they also seem to be enjoying the morning glory of jungle. After some time their guide and driver discussed something and moved ahead waving hands to us. We interpreted as they were trying to tell ‘there is nothing to wait for’. But we were not in hurry and wanted to enjoy this lovely morning for some more time so stayed there. By now sun light was touching the canopy of the trees and visibility was slightly improved. Suddenly our guide, who was an old fella, pointed his shaking finger towards opposite bank of the road, ‘Tiger…’ I jumped off my seat and took my camera out but couldn’t find it anywhere. Width of Telia Lake is good enough for a tiger to sit comfortably at the bank without being spotted by normal human eyes. And this is where a good guide plays a vital role.
With the help of my guide once I got my eyes settled I was baffled, there were two. One tiger was rubbing its face with other, I though they are cubs and playing with each other. But soon after I realized this is not a playing behavior, Oh My gosh!!! This is a mating pair, without wasting any moment I fired in burst mode and don’t remember how many shots were clicked. With-in few seconds their love making was over female growled and punched male and male slowly moved inside the dense bushes. Female waited for some time then she also joined him behind the bushes. My hands were shaking and my forehead was numb. I was still not able to believe that I just recorded a tiger mating sequence.
I had read it somewhere before and I was experiencing the same with my own eyes that tiger mating may take place at any time of the year. When mating, tigers become very unpredictable; they almost forget where they are and who is around. Their behavior completely gets changed and some time can be dangerous if encounter on foot. The female rolls on the ground, waves her paws, and finally crouches on her belly. The male, which up to that moment just watches his mate, now stands over her, utters series of roars, and generally seizes her nape with his canines without piercing the skin. Once it finishes male tiger will quickly get out of the way as female will often jump and will try to hit him with her forepaws. This love making sequence continues for couple of days sometime 5-6 days and multiple times in a day.
I was hoping they may come up again in the open and may be slightly closer so that I can get better photo opportunity but as I said earlier, their behavior turns very unpredictable and they decided to spend rest of their day in the privacy. We visited couple of times to the same spot during both safaris of the day but we never saw them again, though heard their growls couple of times.
Our second day was over with lots of excitement. Other than this lifetime moment we came across two different packs of wild dogs, which is also an unusual thing.
Since most of the happening moments occurred near Telia previous day, so we decided to visit Telia Lake first before going to Tadoba range. As we entered narrow Telia road we saw two gypsies who were ahead of us started moving quite fast and that sudden fast movement was surety of some sighting. Soon after we came to know for what they were running after. It was ‘Sonam’ who was walking in the middle of the road. Sonam is one of the four litters of Madhuri and a very bold and beautiful tigress. She was walking slowly without being disturbed by the vehicles behind her. Road was narrow so there was only option to go in a queue and watch her back; I was slightly disappointed as I was not able to see her face. But soon after there was a wide opening in the right side of the road, Sonam took right turn stopped and given us a sharp stare and also some photo opportunity to me which made my day. She was looking as gorgeous as her mother. Then she decided to take a detour and went into deep jungles. We were standing silently eyeing the place where she entered and hoping she may come back. But she has a long way to cover. This was our last glimpse of Sonam.
We had a shorter day as we had to catch flight back to Pune same day. So with heavy heart we came out of Jungle and started for Nagpur.
Next day morning I got text, that the female in mating couple was Sonam. I was so happy and excited to imagine Sonam playing with her cubs.