Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tadoba National Park~ Pursuing those charismatic stripes!

           Are you a fool? They asked me. It’s an India vs Pakistan semi-final of the cricket world cup, and you want to see some stupid tigers? If you are an Indian, this is quite a believable statement. But fortunate I am that I dint fall for it, and went and saw those stupid, magnificent Tigers instead. Yeah! That’s foolish.

                Tadoba is a well-known national park in Maharashtra spread across the area of around 120 sq. km. It’s placed 100 km south of Nagpur and about 45 km north of Chandrapur. There are plenty of trains both to Nagpur and Chandrapur but if you just can’t wait to witness some stunning creatures, a flight to Nagpur is your safest bet.
                After driving around Chandrapur for a while sipping yummy lassi and making purchases of random clay pots, we reached Tadoba. There are number of gates you can access but we decided to go for Moharali which is the closest one to Chandrapur. You have to book your entry in advance at the forest office in Chandrapur or there is no way they are letting you in. We reached the booking office in time and were quite pleased to see a short que. As we asked for three passes for Tuesday with a cheerful smile, the polite officer (politeness is an extremely rare virtue when it comes to government officials in India) calmly pointed his finger towards something scribbled in green paint on the wall next to him. “The park will remain closed on Tuesday”. We were shocked! What are we going to do now? This puts our entire plan in jeopardy. I don’t know why but we even argued with the official about letting us in as we had no idea about this stupid rule. Strangely, he didn’t argue back! At all… And said nothing other than a plain, simple No! We decided not to test our luck and made bookings for the next day. We booked 3 Safaris which seemed to have guaranteed at least one encounter with the beast of the jungle. And headed toward the MTDC guest house.

                The guest house was practically a haunted old structure. An overstaffed place with an under maintained boarding. Everyone there seemed extremely busy gathering in a tiny room and watching cricket highlights than serving us basic living necessities. We feasted on a wannabe sandwich and settled down in the bug infested rooms. It was dark and it seemed like we were the only women, in fact people staying there. Thanks to the 1 billion population of cricket lovers. We even slept with a wooden axe that we bought at a tribal craft shop next to the pillow. :P

                In the morning everything took a drastic twirled! A glance outside the terrace filled my eyes with insane amount of birds against the lush green land. Effing magical! But we dint have time to chill, as we had to rush to our Gypsies for our first trail. 6 a.m.!
The chirping birds, scent of the burning grass coming from a distance and great company set the mood right! The open gypsy, which I always find very glamorous for some reason was filled with our chatter and anticipation while we waited at the gate. We gave each other naive instructions on how to shut up in the jungle and constantly keep all your senses alert. We were a bunch of kids entering a candy factory!
The trail began with breeze soothing my hair and silence never imagined before. I took the “keeping your senses alert” bit a little too seriously. I would get excited over every little sound heard and every unfamiliar scent smelt. The guide asked me to chill! God! He wasn’t nice. The magnificence of the jungle often gets flatly ignored in our desperation to sight the creatures living in it. It makes me wonder how we need to “find” things in order to truly appreciate them. What’s right there is just isn’t enough. Strange! The jungle was magical! No form of fiction can do justice to it. It’s one of those things that require a first-hand experience. The subtle chill of early morning, light filtering through the leaves, monkeys sunbathing and this entire universe existing without missing a human presence. Man! What was that??
The guide periodically showed us some interesting animals and birds followed by a few quirky details. One of the interesting facts, like all other national parks, Tadoba guides are hired exclusively from around the area. Basically people who are sons of the soil and completely habituated to the jungle. Not his etiquettes, but the guide’s knowledge about the jungle was absolutely impressive. For some reason he kept promising us confidently that we will be encountering a tiger soon. Our hopes reached sky high, every sound seemed like an alarm call, and every smell stinked like a tiger! As if seeing the wild cat would be the end of the world as we know it. No! we saw nothing. Not even its tail that day.

Next ride was pretty much the same. Although equally pleasing and enchanting, it was accompanied by similar disappointments. No tiger! The guy in the next gypsy saw a Leopard, a tiger and a very rarely sighted bear. That was brutal! I felt betrayed by the gods of justice. In an attempt to supress my distress I eat up the ill testing dinner and cuddled up in the blanket with a hope of a better tomorrow. And yeah! there was the wooden axe.
The next morning I was strangely hopefully. The newfound obsession was quite exciting. The world was divided into the people who have seen the tiger and who will see the tiger. I wanted majorly to escalate to the other side. A cup of hot chaha later, we hopped into our fancy gypsy, soon to realise there were just 6 vehicles entering the jungle today. Oh the cricket match! Seemed like we have the stupid tigers just to ourselves. We entered the jungle with an added rigour. The cool breeze seemed comfortingly familiar. Seeing the number of deers hoping around was like seeing dogs on the streets of Mumbai, Ample! Some species of birds were mind-blowing! The colours that nature can produce is unbelievable. We spent a lot of time photographing birds, trees and monkeys. As it seemed highly possible that the tiger will ditch us this time around as well.

This was our last Safari, the time was running out. The part of me pretty much gave up. The trees and deers seemed suddenly photogenic. We were encountered by a big group of Sambars. What beautiful creatures! We wanted to take as many pictures as we could before they run away. Sambars have this specific trait of not letting humans near them. They are quick and disappear into the forest in a matter of minutes. The shutter was clicking continuously. I dint realise how close we had gotten to the animal. I could see right into his eyes. Strange right? It’s almost impossible for a sambar to not run away into the forest. As we were busy clicking him from various angles, the guide quickly gestured the driver to go further and stop. Before we could notice, the time stood still! There it was! The most magnificent sight you could see. The bright yellow beaming fur with sharp black stripes. And the gaze that can freeze you right that second. For a minute I didn’t want to take photographs or come up with words, I just wanted to look! It was a mother with her cute little cub quenching their thrust near the water body. As soon as she sensed our presence she ran into the bushes, the cub followed her. Mother tigers are especially protective. All we were supposed to do now was wait for them to come out. All the six vehicles were waiting in extreme silence (even the guy who already saw a range of animals the previous day. Dude! Was he in a zoo?) The beating of heart, the rush of adrenalin and this strange comradery between every human present there was something hard to articulate. We waited as if we had no hurry in the world. Finally, taking her own time, the lady came out in grandeur. She looked at us as if we didn’t matter. She was the queen and we were startled. She waited for the cub to come out and he followed her like an obedient child. They didn’t rush, or run! No way! That’s too petty for the one who rules that land. They turned away and all we could see was two stunning figures walking further away from us in complete nonchalance. We couldn’t leave before they completely disappeared into the brown glowing grass. The driver rushed the vehicles in an attempt to make it back in time. We said almost nothing to each other. Just sat in silence trying to make sense of the last few minutes as the fast blowing wind attempted to push us further into the dream. I don’t know why this was such a powerful moment, or why something we see so often in imagery around, moves you so much when seen in flesh and blood. But it didn’t matter, all I could think was the wind, the tiger and my next journey to Tadoba.

10 songs that can not ascape your playlist while traveling!

Music sets the mood for your travels. Of course silence has its own significance, but I love the idea of having a background music for my journeys. That’s how often I remember those times in retrospect.

Here is a list of 10 wonderful songs that have awesomeness strung all around them:

1) The answer is blowing in the wind by Bob Dylan

2) Dil chahta hain

3) Leaving on the jetplane by John Denver

4) Dekha hain aise bhi by Lucky Ali

5) Hotel California by The Eagles 

6) Aane wala pal~ Film Golmal 1979

7) Galway girl from PS I love you

8) Piano man by Billy joel

9) Ek purana Mausam by Jagjit singh and Guljar

10) Dil gaye ja by Lucky ali