Tadoba Andhari, Maharashtra
Drive through the entrance gate at Mohurli and you are instantly into one of India last remnants of the great swathes of forests that lay west to east across central India. Its simple beauty of low forested hills, glistening lakes and open grasslands, once the lands of the ancestral Gond tribal communities, changes with the beauty of the seasons, and the growth and leaf fall of its predominant tree species of teak and bamboo. Within its natural boundaries lies a rich vault of biodiversity that would host all the key species that these jungles have hosted over countless millennia.
Situated near the northern boundaries of the large western state of Maharashtra, Tadoba Andheri, is the result of a fusion of old hunting blocks of the English Raj, converted into a national park called Tadoba in 1935 and a later sanctuary, Andhari. Today it covers a 625 square kilometre swath of ancient forest running north south in three separate forest ranges, from Tadoba in the north, to Kolsa in the south, with Morhurli sandwiched in between. Buffer forests make up a further 1100 square kilometres in which its plethora of wildlife and big cats can roam. Two monsoon fed lakes Tadoba and Kolsa give the vital ingredient needed to sustain the park’s life, as well as the Tadoba river from which it derives its name. Many of its hill fed streams empty into the Irai dam that forms part of its western boundary.
Today Tadoba abounds in tigers, with a number of individual tigresses and cubs comfortable with vehicles, but the park abounds in a host of other stellar performers too, amongst them shaggy Sloth bears, packs of wild dogs, huge Gaur, the ancestors of today’s cattle, leopard and crocodile, together with the deer and antelope to sustain them. Furthermore luxuriate in the butterflies and birds of these central Indian woodlands, with bountiful raptors, plentiful waterbirds and songbirds in their colourful plummages.
The park itself was little visited until the last decade, and was faced by mounting pressures from the increasing village populations surrounding and within its boundaries, all 54 villages, and the politically influential coal mining operations whose deep holes blight its external boundaries. Today thanks to better management, greater protection and NGO support and a wildlife tourism industry that has created an economic benefit beyond that of highly marginal farming activities or mining, the park is booming. Good tiger numbers exist, offering fabulous viewing opportunities - in a park that is open all year round - and stuffed full of both fascinating plant and birdlife, ensuring both casual visitors and keen naturalists can relish its bounty.
Tigers have abounded in these forests for millennia, and remain today in Tadoba forested landscapes in healthy numbers, certainly within the tourism zones within which Tiger Nation is most able to operate. Surrounded by dense human populations, heavy agricultural production and massive mining operations, Tadoba’s survival is by no means secure, but its ample and prodigious breeding females, proves that where ample food, water and habitat can be saved, so too can big cat populations be maintained.
Tadoba is part of what is known as the Satpuda-Maikal landscape, a swath of relic tropical dry deciduous forest that once dominated the central belt of India, provided the timber, especially the hardwood teak for the British Empire, the Raj, the ships and the railways during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Only small parts of it survive today from Melghat to its West, strung together like intermittent beads with other tiger reserves like Satpura, Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgrah in Madhya Pradesh and into Chattisgarh and Orissa in the east.
The reserve itself is characterised by low hills, few above 1000ft (circa 300 meters) dominated by the broad leafed and exceptionally hard teak wood Tectonia Grandis, and a tall bamboo called Dendrocalamus strictus. Other mixed deciduous trees like Tendu and Jamun, or Indian Blackberry tree, the stunning Bombax ceiba which sheds its snow like pods at the end of winter, and old religious favourites like Mahua, Banyan and Peepal trees abound too.
Amongst the hills are cliffs, caves and boulder-strewn streambeds that offer niches to all manners of life, and provide the watersheds for many rivers and streams including the Andhari river that flows through the park.
Besides Tadoba’s two main feline attraction of tigers and leopards, it has an abundance of other creatures with which to marvel at. It’s quite common to see packs of red coated dholes or Indian wild dogs, many a naturalist’s favourite creatures to watch as they play and hunt together. The park is also well known for Sloth bear, and a sighting of this black shaggy creature, a mother with her two babies on her back, or scratching its backside against a tree is a memory that will live with you for ever.
Tadoba also offers great viewing of small herds of Gaur, and ancestral wild cow of India, of which the jet black male, with its formidable build, will take your breath away. Deer species abound, including the chital or Spotted deer, ample large Sambhar deer, barking deer and the tiny Indian mouse deer, as well as the rare four horned antelope. Reptiles include the mugger crocodile in the lakes, the venomous Russell’s viper and Indian monitor lizards. You might just catch a glimpse of a Indian Pangolin or at night a ratel.
Over 200 woodland and riverine birds have been listed in Tadoba and 75 different species of butterflies, with unforgettable birds including the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the vocal Crested Serpent Eagle, the noisy Coppersmith and Brown-headed Barbets and the bright yellow Golden Oriole, to name a few.
This part of the Deccan plateau is shrouded in the myths and legends of its original inhabitants, the Gonds. Once great hunter gatherers, they are now principally farmers and herders, since the wave of Hindu settlers opened up these dark forests in the 18th and 19th centuries. Evidence of their tribal kingdoms can still be seen in the fortress of Chanda today.
The name Tadoba is thought to have derived from the legend of the Gond King Taru, who was killed by a Tiger. Today Gonds still flock to worship his shrine on the shores of Lake Tadoba, especially over their great festival season in December and January. Water from his lake, sprinkled on pilgrims’ agricultural fields, is said to ward off disease and pests for the coming season. Today you can see the ingenious forerunner to the telephone used by Gond kings to alert his subjects to his arrival. Large carved stone pillars, erected every hundred yards - still seen today besides the tar road in the park - with perfectly aligned tops, were joined together by connected ropes. A soldier’s tug from one end would result in a bell ringing 50 kms away at the other end.
The Gonds’ most sacred tree, the great Mahua, their ‘tree of life’, can be seen both within the Tadoba forests but also standing alone in the surrounding fields. It is said that the nectar of the mahua flower is a Gond baby’s first taste of life, before its mother’s milk, with a promise made to protect this tree and its surrounding forest all its ensuing life. The fruit of this broad tree is particularly cherished, by humans for its intoxicating liquor, but also its flowers by birds and animals too, for its sweet and nutritious juices.
* A park that is open all year, allowing one to see all the changes of a habitat across all the seasons
* A number of well habituated tigresses with their cubs
* Good chance of sighting the shy Sloth bear
* Packs of Dhole's or wild dogs are commonly spotted hunting and playing
* Some of central India's best native woodland bird species
* Some of India ancient Central Indian forest to enjoy and experience.
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