Our previous post on Tadoba Diaries – Introduction, was the second visit to Tadoba’s forest explaining the experience of the forest from the beginning. But our First Visit in Tadoba, began with Madnapur Buffer Zone. Before visiting Tadoba, we had 6 safaris in the wild especially Tiger Reserves. We were spellbound by hearing and watching all the stories, encounters and tiger videos on the internet. We had an immense desire (and still continue to have) to see the tiger in front of our very own eyes and experience the thrill. With this desire, we had 5 safaris in Kanha National Park―one of the most beautiful jungles of India―in Madhya Pradesh, and 1 in Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan. Unfortunately, we never saw a tiger in any of those safaris, but experienced the beauty of these natural treasures and fell in love with the jungles and its inhabitants.
Though we did not see any wild tiger in our previous safaris, we definitely felt its presence around us. Other animals like spotted deers, sambur deers, peacocks and langurs start giving alarm calls when they spot a predator. The alarm call is a specific sound these animals produce to alert other animals about the presence of a predator. We heard such alarm calls in our past safaris.
Seeing a tiger in captivity is no fun/thrill than seeing it roaming in the jungles. Alarm call excites more than anything when a tiger is in the vicinity.
We weren’t expecting tiger in buffer but… 🙂
Undoubtedly, we were really hopeful to see the tigers in Tadoba National Park. As its area is comparatively small and the tiger population is really good. Our friend Mangesh Deshpande, suggested to plan 1 safari in the buffer zone i.e. Madnapur Buffer and then have remaining safaris in the core zone. We all agreed and booked a safari in Madnapur buffer zone. While approaching the entry gate, I was not really expecting to see any tigers in this buffer zone. Due to the past experiences of our tiger tours and also slightly because, I had that thought lingering on my mind of being such a bad luck, that tiger doesn’t even want to show itself in front of me 😀 . Moreover, I also had heard that there are very fewer chances of seeing a tiger in the buffer zones compared to the core. Core zones are without human interference―except tourist vehicles during the day―hence tigers prefer to dwell in there.
Our Safari Started
We were on an evening safari in this buffer zone, which begins at 2:30pm and ends at 6:00. This Madnapur zone was a newly declared zone and therefore had less number of vehicles to enter the park. Our permits confirmed, documents verified and we drove towards another checkpoint. All gypsy were waiting there for the barricade to lift up and allow them to enter into its various areas, such as waterholes, ponds or any lakes. We went deep inside the forest to check the waterholes and artificial ponds, created for wild animals.
Neelgai or Bluebulls were also spotted grazing in the grass. Neelgai is the largest antelope in the Asian subcontinent and are endemic species. It’s very easy to differentiate males and females. Females have a brown or tawny color coat and are mostly without horns. Male Neelgai has a blueish-grey coat with horns on their heads. These are diurnal animals and are active mostly during the day.
One Monitor lizard was rustling through the bed of fallen leaves on the ground. At the same time, Indian Hare was also making its way towards the thicket of Bamboo Woods. Indian Hares are not rabbits although they belong to the same family. Hares have strong and long hind legs unlike rabbits. These mostly leap forward jumping in a ZigZag pattern. This particular area of the park is consists of Bamboo Trees predominantly spread all over.
Some waiting and came a big surprise 🙂
Around 4:00 pm , we came back to the main waterhole next to the checkpoint. Shortly, some other vehicles also joined in. There was a waterhole at about 40 meters away from us with enough water for a tiger to soak in it. The waterhole was surrounded by two huge trees on both sides. There was no sign of a predator around and hence a mother Grey Langur had descended to the waterhole for quenching its thirst with her baby. A Purple Rumped Sunbird was trying to drink from a dripping PVC pipe joint nearby the waterhole.
Few tourists spotted some movement on the left side in the thicket of bamboo and whispered, Tiger!!. All the heads and camera lenses turned towards the left, fingers ready to burst out with clicking. The orange figure, with the shoulders muscles moving up and down in a slow-motion, was noticed and excitement ascended within. Silence prevailed and slowly, the tiger came in focus, walking gracefully towards the waterhole, licking its upper lips. We were spellbound by its rippling muscles as he walked. It was a male sub-adult cub of the tigress called “Zunabai“.
The deep orange color on the tiger’s back gradually merging with white at the belly was distinctly stood out in the greens around the waterhole. Black stripes, parallel and evenly spaced were overpowering the orange and white. The size of this cub was surprisingly large and it left us awe-struck. He slightly lowered his head for the water―eyes fixated on us―and slowly began to sup up water by curling its tongue backward. We were enthralled by watching a wild tiger in front of us.
I had goosebumps when he stared me in the eyes. Nothing can express the feeling or emotions of a tiger’s stare. It’s beyond words.
We were witnessing the most powerful animal of the forest, which rules and protects its kingdom. He then gently immersed his hind legs first in the water―to soak―and then sat down. After positioning himself comfortably, still looking at us, he then started drinking again.
This cub soon joined by his shy sister. A female-cub of Zunabai, walked in and started inspecting the area from behind a huge tree. Kind of like a peek-a-boo. She also then immersed herself in the water, like her brother and both were looking at us. It was a spectacular sight to watch wild tigers from so close, soaking in the water. Feeling of the heat on that blistering day of summer was already washed away by the excitement of this encounter. Enough of soaking is done, the male cub got up, flicking water from his body and walked out of the pool. He walked towards another tree on the right side. Then he raised his upper body, put his forelegs on a tree trunk for stretching and to sweep out the laziness. Yawning and Exposing his curved claws in this position, he scratched the tree and went further.
Both cubs then rushed into the thicket exhibiting a playful mood. They were away from our sight and there was no way we could follow them. Our guide proposed to take a detour in search of their mother in the nearby areas. Mother tigresses keep close to their cubs until the separation takes place within the family. Time for separation in this family was yet to come because the cubs were not capable enough to hunt. We came back inspecting through other areas and we saw this entire family sitting inside bushes. Zunabai was sitting ahead and the cubs behind her, watching activities of birds.
Road show and Royal Walk
All the gypsy were aligned on the track watching this family. The male cub then rose and started walking towards the track, making everyone retreat and give him a way to cross. Zunabai remained sleeping in the bushes could be due to a long-held search of prey. He walked in between the vehicles with his sister following him. He seemed really comfortable in the presence of humans/vehicles and crossed the track in his own style. This particular moment revealed the size of a cub from a close distance. He looked really big compared to the vehicles on the other side. Soon, he emerged from the bushes on the other side and started walking on the path, having all the vehicles following behind.
This tiger then changed its course into the woods on the right side and disappeared. We waited for his family to show up there but nothing really such happened. It was already 5:40 pm and we had to leave for the exit gates. No gypsy are allowed to stay in the park after 6:00 pm. So we left for the exit gates with our beaming faces, looking and smiling at each other. This was just the beginning of great encounters and thrilling moments that followed in the next 4 days. Madnapur buffer made our day and ensured we will not be disappointed with the tiger sightings.