Tadoba - The Wilderness is Calling!

The below article has been written by me with some (a lot of!) inputs and edits from the wild life expert of our family, Anup! 😀

You are deep into the woods, in the very core of an exotic jungle! Your gypsy is parked and the engines are shut. The driver and the guide have suddenly become extra alert and are signaling you a fervent “shhhh”. A langur sitting on the tree above you is making strange sounds (calls) as if warning others of some eminent danger. There is palpable nervousness in the air. Everyone is focusing their energies in the direction in which the Jungle guide is pointing at. This goes on for quite some time…. And then, finally when the orchestra of these calls and the excitement levels reach a peak, a beautiful Tigress emerges out of the rugged terrain and seduces you with her enchanting walk… You can’t get your eyes off this striped beauty and she in her “not-bothered” way makes you all fall hopelessly in love with her…

 

Ladies and Gentlemen – this was my first encounter with “Maya” and this is the charisma of Tadoba Tiger Reserve for you!! This land is blessed with astonishing eco system and is ruled by tigers! This drama and excitement is for real and I can bet on anything, that this feeling of spotting a tiger in the wild is one of the most exhilarating feelings you can ever have.  I hope that after reading this blog you will be inspired to visit this place.

Let me rewind a bit and tell you how it happened for us…

Having known him long enough, I was aware that the wild life enthusiast in Anup was sorely missing his otherwise frequent jungle safaris during our initial parenthood days. So, when one day Anup suggested a getaway to Tadoba, the mom in me flinched but the wife in me agreed with an enthusiastic YESSS! To be honest, the logistics of June’s feeding, nature’s call, driving on the rough terrain and in the unpredictable weather and most of all keeping Junu engaged was just too much for me to contemplate all at once! A baby (that too, a very talkative one) on a safari for FOUR / FIVE HOURS just seemed more like a hassle than fun to me, then!

June, like most kids of his age, loves looking at animal’s pictures, copying the sounds but I really wasn’t certain if this interest level was good enough for him to sustain a 4-5 hours long safari. With a concentration span of few minutes, hours on a jeep with no chance of stepping down or talking loudly seemed faaaaar fetched.

But all that was before we went! Fortunately, our first safari with June went much more smoothly than I could ever imagine and as they say there has been no looking back since then!

There are huge positives of taking that jungle safari with your little one…

I feel that visiting a jungle with your little one is one of the most stimulating, educational and exciting excursion that you will do as a family. But it will be as worthwhile for you as the little one, only if you do your homework beforehand.

A few realities do exist….

We all know that there are no sure shot fixes when you travel with a kid. You might have it all planned out in your mind, but in reality nothing might go as planned!! So, be mentally prepared for the unexpected! I will share what we did and what worked well for us in a bit but before that, here are some facts and pointers to help you plan the trip.

About Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve: Located in Chandrapur district, this 625 sq. km. spread of sprawling forest is one of the highly bestowed national parks of India. The name ‘Tadoba’ is the name of the God “Tadoba / Taru” as per local tribal whereas Andhari river strolls through the forest gave Andhari Name. The forest consists of 6 Zones, with Mohurli being the famous and most known zone. Tadoba is home to more than 88 Tigers. Other species found here are leopards, wild cats, foxes, jackal, Indian Gaur, spotted deer, Sambar, barking deer, four-horned deer, monitor lizard, striped hyena, civet, Jungle cat, Badger, Crocodile, and Langur. The park is also a paradise for bird watching!

How to Reach: We usually drive down from Nagpur as it is just 120km away and the roads are in decent condition and I’d suggest the same to you too. Just for your information, Chandrapur is the nearest Railway station and there are plenty of flights, trains and buses connected to Nagpur from almost all major Indian cities.

Best time to visit: March to May is the best time to see a tiger. The post monsoon time from October to November, is a good time to visit if you want to witness refreshing views of a lush green jungle sprawled with flowers.

We recommend you to plan a 2 nights trip to Tadoba. This will include 4 Jungle safaris. Regarding stay options, there are a variety of resorts to pick from Budget Category to Luxury category to Super Luxury category. We have tried quite a few of them on our multiple visits. For our recommendations on stay options, please drop us a message!

A Day in Tadoba:

MORNING SAFARI starts pretty early and if you are not a morning person (like me), getting yourself and the kid out of the bed might sound way too demanding on a vacation. Having said that, I would still strongly recommend that you do atleast one morning safari during your stay at Tadoba! Trust me, you will not regret it…

The jungle gates open at around 5.45 AM and we are usually amongst the first two – three jeeps entering the jungle (since Mr. Wildlife expert feels that this will increase the probability of us spotting the animals.) I might crib, be grumpy and almost tell Anup to go by himself – while getting up, but it’s been totally worth it – every single time! 😀

I usually pack a carry-on bag with essentials and lay out our outfits for the day, the previous night itself. One good thing about staying in a good resort is that you need not bother about having your breakfast before leaving for the safari. You will have a cute little picnic basket (with sandwiches, parathas, water bottle) packed and placed in the gypsy even before you mount it.

Once you reach the entry gate of the jungle, the driver will complete the formalities and you will then be assigned a Guide. Your guide is one of the most crucial factors in determining the success of your safari. He will be with you throughout the safari, will give you insights about the flora and fauna, will share interesting anecdotes, and can drastically increase the chances of you spotting animals. Tigers are territorial animals, so if the guide knows of the area where one was last sighted, it will increase your odds of spotting one!

I admire the way Anup’s love, enthusiasm and knowledge about the flora and fauna of the jungle makes him form a natural camaraderie with the guide and the driver. And I’d suggest you do the same – be pleasant to your guide and show him your seriousness and respect for the jungle and he will be motivated to make it worth your while. (And a good tip never hurt anyone! So, do that too! ;))

So from 5.45 AM till around 10AM, you will be in your gypsy, exploring the jungle. I am sure the magnanimity of this bountiful jungle will leave you mesmerized and in awe of mother nature. Somehow, these safaris have an ethereal effect on me and it is very difficult for me (with my limited vocabulary) to explain it in words. I suggest you to experience it for yourself and feel your own feelings 🙂

Usually, after around two hours of starting the safari, you will halt for a short break. It will give you just enough time to stretch yourselves, attend to nature’s call and may be strike a conversation or two with fellow tourists.

One distinctive trait of the tourists in these jungle safaris amuses me every time. A verbal / nonverbal communication is struck when one jeep passes another one. A gesture of hand is made (asking if they saw the king of the jungle) from one and is returned with either a dejected nod of the head or with a twinkling yes. The “yes” is then usually followed by an excited and detailed narrative.

So, at around 10 AM the driver will start the journey back to the main gate and at around 10.30 AM-10.45AM, you will be back at your resort. The guide will get down at the entry gate and this will be the time for you to show him your gratitude by offering a tip (you can keep it at around Rs. 200).

You can spend rest of the day relaxing at the pool or playing indoor games or simply catching up on a quick nap cuddling your little one, before its time to go for the EVENING SAFARI. Some of the resorts have small library kind of setups with interesting books and photos of tigers, wildlife and the flora and fauna of the jungle. These can be pretty interesting as well.

We recommend you to have an early lunch and drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated. One thing that I have observed about the food at these jungle resorts is that it is good but not like fancy gourmet meals. I feel that this holiday is more about connecting with the nature, its inmates, the locals and fellow wildlife enthusiasts rather than for satiating one’s gastronomic cravings. You will observe that the meal time conversations will largely revolve around – how one spotted a tiger, or how they missed spotting one. One thing that I found pretty amusing on my first trip was the names with which the staff refers to these tigers – Maya, Matkasur, Choti Tara, Sonam, etc… Such domestic names for the most ferocious beings might sound offbeat initially but trust me, you too will soon get into the rhythm and start referring to them with these funny first names 😀

EVENING SAFARI – The next safari would start by 2.30 PM and will go on until 6.30 PM. In the evening safaris there is a very high likelihood that you would spot a tiger around a water hole. As most of the animals would be taking a recluse from the heat, water holes become a good choice to take shelter for them and gives you a good chance to spot them. Again evening hours from 5PM – 7PM is good time as a lot of animals are on the move. You can be in for a pleasant surprise, if a shy leopard or a coy bear decide to cross the same path which you are traversing, so be ALERT and on the lookout! Keep your hopes high…You never know when you would spot one!

You will be dropped back at around 6.30 PM. We usually head straight to the room after this. Our sole aim is to freshen up, give June a healthy filling dinner and put him to sleep as early as possible! Post this, we like to have a quiet and peaceful dinner in the comforts of our cottage.

Safari Bookings

Remember to book the safaris in advance. You can book online or through the resort that you plan to stay at. The resorts usually have some pre-booked safaris with them. So even if there are no safaris visible online, the resort guys can still arrange safaris for you. And if both fail, we have even gone for “VIP Safaris” (which implies – a higher cost :P) which our resort people helped us with. It is subject to an approval from a forest official and if you are staying at a renowned (with good connections) resort, then clearly the VIP safari can be arranged.

Link for booking the online Safari: https://nationalpark.mahaonline.gov.in/User/Availability.aspx

Please note that booking a safari does not mean that you have booked a Gypsy/Jeep as well (which is an obvious necessity, isn’t it!) You have to book a jeep separately. To make our lives easier, we prefer making our safari bookings through our resort only. This way we don’t have to go through the hassle of booking – a resort, a safari and a jeep – all separately. All we do while booking our resort is to explicitly tell them to book for the planned number of safaris along with Jeep, and its done!

Some more technicalities before choosing your accommodation:

As stated earlier, there are 6 entrance gates to this jungle. All of them are geographically separated from each other and are spread out in a 20km – 140km range. So, if you book a safari at one gate and your resort is at a different gate, you will surely regret it later. You will unnecessarily spend longer in commuting and it will leave you less time in between the two safaris. Also make sure that your chosen accommodation is not very far from the safari gate.

Expense for a safari will be roughly around Rs. 3500 – Rs. 4500 (including park entry fee for vehicle, guide fee, jeep Charges, tip & misc.) Please note that this is rough estimate for a 6-seater jeep. If you do not mind sharing it with another family or couple, then your expenses will reduce accordingly.

As promised before, here is what we do and what works well for us when we travel with our little wildlife ranger:

  1. Early to bed and early to rise! Well, we really try to follow this old saying on such trips! 😀 We put in our most sincere efforts to put June to bed early the previous day. By now, you know the ungodly hour (told you, I am not a morning person!) morning safaris start at. So try to put the little one to sleep by 7pm. A way to ensure this will be to make him/her miss the afternoon nap.
  2. Early mornings can be cold whereas it might get warmer as the day progresses. So dress up the kid in layers and remember to carry a cap as well. Comfortable, loose and full sleeves cotton/hosiery clothes will be ideal. Full-sleeved (even if it is hot) will help avoid tanning.
  3. Please note that you cannot step off your vehicle anywhere in the jungle (other than the main gates) even for nature’s call. So, carrying a diaper (even for a potty-trained kid) won’t hurt. Don’t worry too much on this as the break after 2 hours is nicely timed in this respect too!
  4. The safari rides are very bumpy at times and you don’t have safety belt so be careful at all times.
  5. Carry some snacks and basic medications from home itself as Tadoba is a very small place and the nearest somewhat bigger place, Chandrapur is at a distance of 40km.
  6. There can be sudden downpours, but most of the jeeps have the plastic covers handy. So, do not worry about carrying umbrellas or rain coats.
  7. Mosquito spray – a Must!
  8. A good sunscreen and sunglasses – again, a Must!
  9. Sundry items: Hand sanitizer, extra pair of clothing, a hat/cap, a cotton dupatta to cover your kid’s face and hands (if it gets too dusty or hot), eatables, small toys, etc.

Keeping them busy during the safari…

June is a happy kid if he is occupied. When there isn’t anything to do or anyone to play with, he can be the grumpiest kid. So, here are some of our tried and tested ways. I hope some of them prove useful for you as well…

  1. RELAX and have FUN – yes, that is my first and the most important tip. I feel that if we are having fun, June has fun. So, plenty more tips are coming up next but do remember this all the time!
  2. Take silly selfies together
  3. Before the trip, go to the (cheap) kids store near you and buy a bunch of cheap toys, wrap them up and then let your little one choose a “gift” every hour. It will work like a charm! 😉
  4. Play a game of 20questions. If you have never played this before, then here is a short description for you. Think of a (little obvious) person, place or thing (related/not related to the jungle) and let the little one and your spouse take a turn to ask you a “yes” or “no” question until one of them (obviously, the little one 🙂 ) guesses what you are thinking of. It’s an easy way to keep the kid busy for some time atleast. But remember to keep your voice low.. 🙂
  5. Pick a new nickname for each of you for the trip, to be used in the car. Start with 10 points, you lose a point every time you call someone by their actual name.
  6. Rewarding (or bribing as they call it) might not be the smartest things to do in an ideal parenting world, but we are guilty of it. Anytime, June spots any animal (a deer, a bird or a peacock) without us pointing at it, we applaud and at times reward him with a “Gems” 🙂
  7. Get clever with snack packing. I have 2 small, light-weight plastic organizers with four sections each. I fill the little compartments with raisins, small crackers, honey dipped amla, blueberries, cherries, etc. That way June gets a variety of small snacks to munch as per his wish with minimum mess and less space usage. This engages him for some time as well.
  8. Good old “I Spy”. You can start by choosing an object in the jeep or in the jungle, or anything. You can tell the color or the first letter of the object and say “I spy something which is red and starts with ‘f’”. Have your kid guess until the right object is chosen.
  9. Lessons learnt about the nature when you are amidst the nature are never forgotten. So, engage them with interesting and simple to remember facts about the flora and fauna of the jungle. Read up a bit before the vacation and you will be amazed at how fast the little one will grasp these insights.
  10. Get some interesting apps, videos and shows on your phone and keep it charged. Carry a kid friendly head phone as well. As I have said previously, sometimes it’s better to have them seated calmly with a screen than fighting them out! Use your best judgement here.

I’d love to hear your experience and tips on engaging your little one. We all are learning here and your tips will be beneficial for all of us.

Other Attractions: Apart from the jungle & safaris, there are few more popular places near Tadoba that you may like to visit – Shiv Mandir, Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir, Urjanagar Lake, Durga Maa Temple, St. Michael Church and Ayyappa Temple.

A special mention to the Tadoba Lake, which is situated amidst Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, is inevitable. It is truly a bird watcher’s paradise! The eco system around the lake is home to around 200 species of birds, some of which are the Indian pitta, white-eyed buzzard, paradise flycatcher, Indian roller, and orange-headed ground thrush flock near the lake. Located towards the southwest part of the reserve, this lake acts as a buffer between the forest of the park and the farmland which extends up to Irai water reservoir. It’s also a habitat for the Muggar crocodiles, which can be easily spotted here! (see if you can spot in the below pic 🙂 )

My final thoughts… On our jungle safaris before June, I used to see kids talking loudly, getting excited and out of control and I always used to wonder WHY PEOPLE COULDN’T CONTROL THEIR KIDS IN PUBLIC, and then I BECAME A PARENT! 😀 By this, I certainly do not mean to say that all this is ok! All I mean is that we as parents try our level bests but there are moments when things get out of control. So, for those moments (which I hope – do not come!) remember to take a deep breath, calm yourselves and then try to pacify the little one. And remember to pat your back for making an effort and I am sure that one day you will remember his/her FIRST SAFARI experience with as much fondness as any other firsts: smile, step or word!

Comments

  • Anurag Ghatole | Oct 18,2017

    Quite an amazing blog this. Like we all have our set of games for each kid some of the games mentioned here will be refreshing to try out. Visiting the forests in winters need all the preparation in the world! I remember me and Richa in Ranthambore trying to protect Shaurya (6months old then) from the biting cold by feeding him while his mother took all the cold. Better to have best warmest layer as the outer most. Didn’t know Anup was so interested in wildlife! Gud to know.

  • Aarsh ratnaparkhi | Oct 18,2017

    Nicely written which can help many people in many ways. Great.

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