The day before our last safari, we were on our morning drive in the core zone. Going towards Panchdhara, we saw three tigers at the far end of Tadoba lake on our right side.
Soaking on the edge, was a tigress―Queen of The Lakes―called “Maya” and her 2 sub-adult cubs.
One sambur hind was drinking in the shallow water at a distance away from tigers. Sambur hind was alert on seeing an approaching Wild Boar. A group of Lesser Whistling Ducks was also floating in the water nearby.
On the far side of the lake, was a herd of Spotted Deers grazing under the shadow of several Black Plum trees (Jamun Tree). The entire scene was so colorful and different, that I would like to try illustrating here. On this side of the lake, where the forest path for gypsy runs, has a small patch of ground, dotted with Jamun and Arjun Trees. Both trees are evergreen and provide dark shadow under it. Further, on the edge of the lake is a ground, covered with light yellow (dried) grass and strokes of green grass at several places. Then, the blue shimmering water of the lake which is a perennial water source for animals. On the far side of the lake a row of Jamun trees under which, grazing Spotted Deers were distributed in the dark shadow. The Jamun trees were full of lush green leaves, starting from light green at the top and then gradually changing its shade to the dark at the bottom. The backdrop of these trees was filled with the bare teak trees in a pale brown color, depicting the dense network of branches and having a background of the grey sky above.
Our guide insisted us to search in other areas as he thought, tigers will refrain from leaving the lake for the day being blistering hot. We left the lake area taking a detour through nearby areas, we went towards another lake called “Pandhapauni”. There’s an open glade where we stopped our gypsy and waited in the hope to see the tiger, coming towards the lake for soaking or drinking. Neelgai or Bluebulls were grazing on the patch of grassland on the distance. A group of Grey Langurs was sprawled over an enormous Pipal (Peepul) tree, and a few on the ground, puzzled and staring at passing vehicles.
Around the Pandharpauni lake, there was a water storage tank on a little mound, installed by the Forest Department, for birds & animals to quench their thirst in that scorching summer. Black Drongos, Common Kingfishers, and several other bird species were descending on the pond one by one to drink. Red Wattled Lapwings on the edge, were scattering away other birds from the pond. Spotted Deers and Peacocks were also there for water. A Monitor Lizard emerging from bushes behind the Pipal tree―with its lumbered walk―went straight towards the pond to sip some water.
After waiting for about an hour, we decided to go back towards Tadoba lake and see if Maya and her cubs are still there. Over the route, we encountered a Crested Hawk Eagle―calling out for a mate―on a leafless tree. It was a large-sized bird, crest fluttering with the wind, deep yellow eyes with an intense look, searching for a mate. Suddenly, it took a flight in response to another call that came from a distance, showing off its large size with expanded wings. It was amazing to see it taking off with grace, lowering its upper body first, legs bent and ready to jump and then taking flight at the same time expanding its wings, made our day.
Photo Hunt for Blacky
We were discussing the presence of a Black Cat―A Melanistic Leopard (Female)―in the reserve and if we could search in the area where she was spotted last time by other tourists. We came to an area called “Jamani(जामनी)” and started searching the area. Our guide stopped the gypsy and started looking towards a spot and said there’s a movement that he noticed. Eagerly, we also started scanning the area. A black figure moving its shoulder muscles slowly started to project from the small downhill. Our excitement reached its high level and in the hope of spotting a Melanistic Leopard that we were discussing about.
As the black figure came more into our view and who’s body looked significantly large for a leopard, we then realized that it was not a leopard but a Sloth Bear and we laughed!
A Large furry body and sharp but long white claws powerful enough to take down a human in one strike. This bear was alone and was walking by the forest path in the woods on our left side. We gave him some space by halting and then it came on a forest path and started walking in front of us and we followed him from behind. After a long walk on the path as well as in the bushes on the right side of the path, it came back towards us and then descended down for the woods on the left and disappeared.
We then drove towards Tadoba lake and Maya was still there on the far end of the lake. It was time now to leave the park with the hopes of seeing this family of Maya from close distance in the evening safari.
We entered in the core zone around 3:00 pm and sped towards the Tadoba lake with expectations held high. As we reached the spot where we had a clear view of the other side of the lake and where we had seen Maya with her cubs in the morning. The place was quite without any activity and Maya had left the lake already.
We drove towards Panchdhara and suddenly saw 3 tigers on our right front. Nearly 20 meters away from us, Maya was sitting on the edge of the lake watching over her cubs. Cubs were splashing and jumping in the water. It was an amazing sight. Sun was setting down and Maya’s body was glittering with orange as the sunlight touched her.
Soon, Maya also joined her cubs and we had almost an hour of pleasure watching this family―from so close distance―for the first time. Maya’s female cub was full of energy and she was teasing her brother and mother. The excitement within the tourists filled the atmosphere as the burst of camera clicks began. I was just standing still, completely mesmerized by watching the bond between a mother and her cubs.
Most Daunting Moments
Following our regular route, just on the path―above the small ascent―near Tadoba lake, our progress took a sudden cessation, and gypsy couldn’t move further due to some problem around the wheels. Our guide and driver tried their best to fix the problem but it did not seem to help. Tension raised when the guide and driver requested to leave us with the gypsy and go to Forest Rest House to send a message for help.
We were right in the middle of the core zone, where a ferocious tigress rules and also an aggressive tiger patrols. As the driver and guide started their walk towards FRH, there was a pin-drop silence amongst us and looking at each other, we started discussing what could happen.
There’s a rule in all tiger reserves or national parks, that you are not allowed to get down from your vehicle at any situation. Provided that, when it comes to a life-threatening situation, no rules or regulations really matter. So even if we had attempted to run, seeing an approaching danger, it would have been a stupid move and resulted in a fatal loss.
We were totally aware of the presence of dangerous neighbors―A tigress with her 2 sub-adult cubs―lying nearby within 50 meters distance and a Marsh Crocodile lying down the small ridge on which we were waiting for help.
Even though we were stuck in a situation, we had never heard of a single incident that a tiger had jumped in the gypsy and attacked tourists. So that was kind of a comforting thought–for me at least–but we were worried about the Guide and Driver. As they had to walk towards the FRH and call for help. Hats off to their courage and for taking such efforts for us.
Every time we saw other gypsys coming towards us, expectations raised in the hope that this might be at our rescue, but to our disappointment, they were all just passing by and carrying other tourists. Only stopping and inquiring for a moment to know what happened with us.
The temperature was around 48ºc and unbearably hot, and there, we were standing in our (open) gypsy under the sun, scared, sweating and wishing desperately NOT to see any animal approaching towards us. Fortunately, after a while clouds covered the sun and saved us from being sun-burned and also started to pour a little bit. Almost an hour and a half passed and then to our great relief, showed our driver and guide coming towards us. They had called for help and said another gypsy is coming for us. New gypsy came in and without touching the ground, we shifted in the new gypsy and turned towards exit gate as the time for evening safari was about to end.
As we raced towards Tadoba lake, to see Maya with her cubs (with the feeling of being safe in a gypsy which was in good condition), we saw there were 10 – 12 gypsys standing one after another and now looking in the opposite direction from the lake. We inquired about what happened and if they saw any activity on the slope covered by woods. One of the guides on the other gypsy told us, Maya just passed with her cubs―through the queue of standing gypsys―a few minutes ago. They were so close and tourists (lucky ones) got the best photo captures of these majestic big cats. We missed this incredible moment by the difference of just a few minutes and thought how unlucky we are. But then, strikingly, waking up from the regret, we realized that we were actually the luckiest ones, as the tigress did not walk in our direction, circled around our gypsy―sniffing every corner―and eventually jumped in, thinking of us as an evening meal for her and cubs…. Phewwww!! 😅
Wild dog killed sambur
Leaving the lake, we went towards Panchdhara again as there was still some time left for us to spend in the park. We came across 2 gypsys standing still and a guide looking towards the thicket. A renowned wildlife filmmaker was recording the wild moment that had recently taken place before our arrival. Pack of Wild Dogs had hunted down a Sambur Hind and devouring it one by one. A couple of them were tearing the flesh and a few were sitting nearby, waiting for their turn to satiate the hunger. This incident too had taken place while we were waiting for our New gypsy to come for our rescue. We could have witnessed this event take place in front of us as we were not far away from this location.
It was now the time for leaving the park as the sun was setting, with the light fading away and dusk was advancing. Going towards the exit gate, there was a silence amongst us. Feeling of frustration was rising within because of the incident and we lost about an hour and half of 3.5 hours safari, substantially a long time where even a minute also matters a lot. Only a true avid wildlife enthusiast can understand the pain of such a loss of time. Incredible actions happening in the jungles is what everyone comes to witness here and goes with memories of excitement and thrill. But in the end, we understood the helplessness of our driver and guide, who tried their best in the hour of need and they are surely not the ones to blame for our loss. That’s how the evening safari came to an end and we were going to be ready for our last morning safari with full of excitement and curiosity.