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On the wild side

Friday, May 04, 2018

Summer is the best time to visit a national park, as animals are easier to spot, but one should take care not to create a disturbance, says Raju Kane

It was a hot summer morning, three years ago. Even though it was only 9.30 in the morning, the temperature was already in the mid-forties. We were in a jeep on the banks of the Telia lake, inside the Tadoba-Andhari National Park.

We had spotted a tigress near the lake earlier in the morning. My friend, Shalik Jogwe, a local, and a brilliant wildlife photographer, was sure that the tigress had three cubs and she was bound to return to the lake with them and had decided that we should wait.

I had been visiting Tadoba for seven years by then and after having made friends with Shalik, I understood the wisdom of listening to his advice. Shalik had given up a teaching career to pursue his love for wildlife and was in the Park practically every day for ten hours or so. He knew the Park better than the back of his hand and could predict the behaviour and movements of the animals with a fair degree of certainty.

By now we had been waiting for a couple of hours and while I trusted my friend’s judgment, I was also getting a bit anxious to explore other areas of the Park. After all, unlike Shalik, I was visiting Tadoba for only three days, time enough to squeeze in five safaris, before returning to that other jungle — this one made of concrete—Mumbai.

Just as we were about to leave, another jeep came by and the guide in that one informed Shalik about spotting a huge male tiger. After listening to the account, Shalik predicted, based on the male’s location and direction it was spotted moving that most likely it would emerge on the main road and asked the driver to take us there. We reached the desired spot and waited.

The sequence that follows is etched into my mind. As we waited at some distance we saw a couple of villagers — most likely casual labour employed by the forest department — cycling towards us. As they came closer, we heard some twigs breaking in the bamboo forest to our left.

“He is probably chasing a kill,” Shalik whispered excitedly even as he started waving to the villagers to stop. Both of us stood up, our cameras ready, our hearts beating.

Suddenly about ten feet ahead of us, a sambar cub rushed out of the undergrowth and across the road, followed immediately by a fully grown male sambar, also running across the road at full tilt.

Before we could even think the next thought, a massive male tiger burst from the forest and as he cleared the undergrowth he LEAPT, clearing the entire width of the road, some 15 feet, in that jump. Its paws were outstretched, desperately trying to grab the male sambar. He missed by a few centimetres and all three animals disappeared in the forest on the other side of the road.

Shalik and I had our cameras ready, but such was the speed of the encounter—it must’ve taken microseconds—that neither of us got a single picture.

In half a lifetime of visiting different forests in India, I have had several memorable encounters. A tusker has threatened to charge the jeep I was in at Nagarhole.

Another time, we had to backtrack from an aggressive sloth bear mom because she felt we were coming too close to her and her cubs. A male tiger has even charged at our jeep, because we had inadvertently come between him and his kill. Most of the time I have managed to get some pictures as a souvenir of these encounters.

But by far that gigantic leap by that male tiger in Tadoba must rank as my most dramatic encounter in the wild. In my mind nothing underscores the immense power that a male tiger possesses than its ability to take that long a leap. And the pity is that such was his incredible speed that I don’t even have a picture.

As the summer is fully upon us, this is the best time to head to the jungles and enjoy the wonders of nature. As ponds and water holes dry out, the animals roam over ever larger areas, making them easier to spot.

So do head to our national parks and also take your children with you. The earlier they learn to appreciate the wonders of nature, the more likely they are to become conscious citizens, focusing on issues of environment and conservation.

But while you visit our forests, remember that they belong to the wildlife. We are guests and as guests have to ensure that our actions and behaviour do not either disturb the environment or harm the animals.

Here is a list of simple rules that you should follow

Clothes

  • It is a good idea to cover yourself properly while visiting a forest. This may save you from insect bites.
  • Ensure that the clothes you wear tend to blend in with the forest. Don’t wear loud or bright colours as this may disturb the animals and drive them away.
  • Ensure that you have a good sun hat, especially in the summers. Places like Tadoba and Kanha can become brutally hot in summers. One trick I always use is to soak a napkin in water and wrap it around my ears to ward off sunstroke.

Behaviour

  • Never go close to any animal. The jungle is their space. Respect it.
  • Never get out of the vehicle when in a jungle.
  • Don’t litter. If you find anyone littering, stop them. Take your trash out with you.
  • Don’t take plastic bags in the jungle.
  • Never smoke in the jungle. Also do not enter the forest while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Taking infants or very small children into the jungle is never a good idea. They may start crying and disturb the animals.
  • When out in the forest, listen to the sounds of nature. Switch off your cell phones before entering the park and never play music.
  • When you spot an animal, especially a tiger, don’t speak. Be quiet and enjoy the magnificent spectacle.
  • While taking pictures ensure that you never use the flash.
  • Remember that there is much more to the forests than just spotting a tiger. Enjoy the whole experience.
  • Always listen to the instructions of the guide accompanying you.

Indian forests have an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. Soak in the experience, get a fill of chlorophyll before you return to this congested, polluted city.

Here are some national park options THAT you could visit over a long weekend from Mumbai

Kanha
Nestled in the Maikal range of the Satpura mountains, Kanha National Park is huge—spread over 940 sq kms. If you include the buffer zone, the total expanse of the park is 1940 sq kms.

Kanha provides a mix of habitats. From the magnificent Sal forests, to grasslands to swamps and rocky outcrops. This makes it an ideal home to a whole range of wildlife, from majestic tigers to other predators like leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, wolves, foxes and civets. The herbivores include the famed barasingha, Indian gaur, chousingha, chital, sambar and barking deers. Kanha is also home to over 300 species of birds besides numerous varieties of reptiles.

Getting there The nearest airport to Kanha is Jabalpur about 175 km, five hours away. If you want to take a train, the best option from Mumbai is to take the Vidharbha Express to Gondia and hire a cab from there. Kanha is about four hours’ drive from Gondia.

Stay Numerous resorts dot Kanha, from mid-range accomodations to ultra-luxurious properties by the Taj Group.

Best season March to June

Tadoba
Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), to give the park its full name, has in recent times acquired well deserved fame as the national park that provides the best chance of spotting a tiger in the wild.

Located in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, the park is spread over 1,750 sq kms and consists of varied habitats including teak forests, bamboo forests, rock outcrops, meadows and lakes.

Apart from tigers, the park is home to mammals like leopard, chital, chinkara, langurs, nilgai, barking deer, flying squirrel, sloth bears, gaur, dhole, striped hyena, small Indian civet, jungle cats, sambar, and chousingha. Its lakes are home to several marsh crocodiles and sightings of chital entering a lake to escape from a tiger only to be attacked by a crocodile are legion. The park is also home to about 200 species of birds.

Getting there The nearest airport is Nagpur, about 150 kms away, while the nearest railway station is Chandrapur, about 45 kms from the park.

Stay Numerous resorts have sprung up around the park, given its increasing popularity with wildlife enthusiasts and tourists. These range from mid-range to luxurious properties.

Best season March to June

Nagarhole
Nagarhole national park is spread across 643 sq kms in the Mysuru and Kodagu districts of Karnataka. The park has the river Kabini snaking through the park. The forest is mostly of the moist deciduous kind with majestic teak and rosewood trees dominating the forest. Abundant supply of water means it also has lots of swamps and rivulets snaking through it.

The main attraction of the park, apart from the tiger, is herds of wild elephants. The backwaters of Kabini are the ideal habitat to spot these pachyderms. Other fauna include Indian gaur, leopard, sloth bear, dhole, antelope, barking deer, sambar jungle cat, leopard cat, gray langur, civet, mongoose, bonnet macaque, Indian giant flying squirrel, hare and pangolin. Home to over 250 species of birds, the park is also a favourite with bird-watchers.

Getting there Nagarhole is about 90 kms from Mysore—the nearest airport as well railhead.

Stay A wide variety of hotel options are available from mid-range to luxury resorts

Best season March to June

Gir
Sasan Gir is spread over about 1,400 sq kms in the Junagad district of Gujarat. It is the last abode of the Asiatic Lion and also a major conservation success story. When the park was notified in 1963, the Asiatic Lion had been hunted almost to extinction. But relentless conservation efforts have seen the number of this majestic animal cross 500. So much so, that for the last few years, there has been talk of re-locating some of them into another forest in Madhya Pradesh.

Apart from the lion, the main attractions of the park include leopard, chital, chinkara, langurs, nilgai, dhole, striped hyena, small Indian civet, jungle cats, sambar, and chousingha. The habitat is mainly dry deciduous forest and scrubland. Kamleshwar, the biggest reservoir in the park is also home to march crocodiles. Birders will find over 200 varieties of birds in park, including the critically endangered white-backed and long-billed vultures.

Getting there From Mumbai, the best option, if you want to fly is to go to Rajkot, about 160 kms and then take a taxi. If you want to take a train, the best option is to get off at Junagadh, which is only about 45 kms away.

Stay Options to stay range across price points from air conditioned tents to luxury resorts.

Best season March to June

Pench
Spread over 750 sq kms across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, Pench offers a slightly less crowded alternative to Tadoba. Its undulating topography supports a mosaic of vegetation ranging from moist, sheltered valleys to open, dry deciduous forest with fairly open canopy, combined with considerable shrub cover and open grassy patches. The forest is famous for being the original setting of Rudyard Kipling’s classic, Jungle Book.

Like Kanha and Tadoba, Pench is home to several mammal species including, of course the tiger—Kipling’s Sher Khan—leopard, chital, chinkara, langurs, nilgai, barking deer, flying squirrel, sloth bears, gaur, dhole, striped hyena, small Indian civet, jungle cats, sambar, and chousingha. It is also home to 285 species of birds, including four species of the now endangered vultures—white-rumped, long-billed, white scavenger and king vulture.

Getting there From Mumbai, your best option to get to Pench is via Nagpur—the nearest airport as well as the nearest railhead. Nagpur is about 90 kms away, a drive of two to three hours.

Stay Numerous resorts, across price bands are available for stay. Inevitably, most of their names are inspired by Kipling’s Jungle Book.

Best season March to June

Bhigwan
If you are not hung up on the big cats, or if you are more interested in birds or just don’t want to travel long distances involved in visiting the parks mentioned above, you should give Bhigwan a try.

Bhigwan is a small town on the Pune Solapur highway. It sits next to the backwaters of the Ujani dam and is as such one of the finest birding sites in peninsular India.

It is also the place to go if you want to see and photograph Greater Flamingos (bigger than what we get to see in the creeks around Mumbai), who flock there, literally in their hundreds. Apart from Flamingos, you will be able to spot many species of Ducks, Herons, Egrets, Waders and Birds of Prey including the elusive peregrine falcon, one of the fastest birds in the world.

Getting there Bhigwan is about 95 kms from Pune and in that sense an easy driving distance. However, considering that the best time for sighting birds is early in the morning, it might be a good idea to stay overnight at Baramati, which is about two hours (110 km) from Pune and half an hour away from Bhigwan.

Stay There are numerous mid-range and budget hotels in Baramati to choose from.

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