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Tadoba Andhari, a vintage tiger reserve which is liable for conserving more than 120 tigers, was always one of my bucket list destinations which I covered on March 2021. Safaris are the best way to explore ones photography skills inside. But this time it was not just a photography trip. It was my first trip in the covid era - what we call the new normal. Rusted by the daily office chores I was excited to explore the jungles of Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. It was indeed a challenge for me and uncertainty of the trip due to the new norms of Nagpur kept haunting in my mind. Finally I took the risk and out of determination, I decided to give it a go. Tour arranged by Satrajit Dutta of TRULY WILD EXPEDITIONS ( Click Here for contact details)

Train journey was always my favourite and there I was boarding from Secundrabad, heading towards Nagpur. It took just about 10 hours to reach and the next morning I was on the car, my mind geared up against all fears of the covid restrictions at Nagpur. 144kms - 2.5 hours and voila! There I was standing in front of Waghai Resort which was more beautiful than I thought. With decorated cottages and an excellent group of Resort attendants, it was a bliss. I had my evening safari on that day and I geared up for that with a lot of expectations. We had booked a total of 6 Safaris (4 core regions and 2 buffer areas). Now, from the very beginning, I would love to tell you that its not always the tigers you should be eager for. Its always the serenity of Jungles you have to get the taste of.

On our 1st safari at Junona buffer region, I was truly mesmerised by the beauty of the jungles, marshes, open wetlands and bushy forests. The buffer area forest is a bit different than what you would expect. It is more flexible, dense and gypsies are free to barge in wherever there is a chance. With sightings of Spotted deers, Sambars, Langurs, it was a great start indeed. And within 2 hours of the safari, Indian Sloth Bear was in my list too. With no tiger sightings that day, I motivated myself to search for raptors and other birds around and I got sight of a Lesser Adjutant Stork, Red Naped Ibis and more. When safari was nearly over, with 40mins left on hand we heard that tiger has been spotted with a kill nearby and I remember my driver rushing through the dense woods, shrubs and taking me to the sight. The place was filled with smell of dead deer (as that was the kill, as told by all others) and we were told that the tiger was went somewhere inside the forests. Well, the king decided not to show up!

Next day was the trip to Khutwanda core area. The core regions of the Taboba reserve restrict the gypsies up to a speed of 20Km/hr and more than that you are certain to receive a dust bath. Only 20% is open to the normal tourists, while the rest is restricted. Here tigers have their own territorries and you would have to wait for them to appear in their areas. That's the basic difference between core and buffer zone (for any readers who have not yet ventured). Buffers hardly have any specific region for tiger sightings. everything is a possibility and chase, where as core involves more waiting and less chasing (at least that is what I felt). Driving through the Khutwanda gate in the early morning with a cool breeze, I lost myself in the orangish-yellow tones of the forest. My vision was alert for any Raptors and as well as Khutwanda Female (LARA) tigress. On our way to the core gate, I was astonished by the presence of cheetals, Sambar deers and wild boar. I was carried away by the deers, langurs, birds so much, that I did not even hear properly that langur's call was audible from a distance. and it implies - "Tiger Approaching..." Setting up our gears, we became ready to snap pointing at the potential area but.. 10 20 30 mins went off calls were no more there and all was silent again without a sighting.

But on the other hand, we were so lucky to have come across the Indian Wild Dog or Dholes which are vulnerable in IUCN red list and also the sloth bear was an added gift of the day. In Tadoba, we say there are 4 VIPs - Leopard, Bear, Dholes and Tiger along with one VVIP - Blacky or the melanistic leopard that ruled the jungles. So here we ticked off 2 VIPs. Great evening no tigers but the beauty of the Jungles were magical enough. Upto this you might be thinking 3 safaris without tiger sighting and its a waste? NO. For nature huggers like us, we love to photograph everything we see in front. (Oh here i shall tell you that Tadoba safari and an unprotected lens means - your lens is going to be dust-bathed. So we need to be extremely careful with our way of covering the lenses while not in use.

Next was the day for Agarzari buffer and trust me when I say that Agarzari jungle is the most beautiful of all. Here I had a brilliant start. Why? 7am in the morning - deep jungles with colored flowers and light not even reaching properly, we saw a leopard walking down the red jungle roads. For a minute we kept on seeing him walking and as we approached, he jumped getting inside the dense bamboo forests. Though he did not come out to sight again, but we had our happy leopard sighting and the heart was already beating faster. evening safari at Khutwanda opened the score card and that also twice. After a crazy round of search for tigers, Maya's cub came out and 10 to 13 gypses all circumfered the small lake in Maya's territorry with machine gun like shooting sound all over! I was so excited to see my 1st tiger in wild that I forgot every thing and only one thing in focus - to make something unique. Maya's cub gve us a small show and after a long vain search, we decided to go to Teliya side for Sonam & cubs. Off drove our driver towards the mysterious Teliya this time, with the sun starting to go down the horizon we rushed and rushed. On our way we stopped for Osprey and pied kingfisher and then as we advanced to the main lake of teliya, there they were! Sonam with her 3 cubs resting on the meadows and they gave us hour of sighting. Though they were far, my 600mm pretty much did the job and that whole time I got mesmerised looking at the stripes. Truly they say that Tigers are hypnotising! I reached back to my hotel with loads of gifts but who knew there was more to the trip? The evening went off by staring at the shots and enjoying the delicious buffet from our beloved Waghai Resort. They seemed to have set a mark of their own in making utterly amazing foods.

It was the 6th safari and now we knew what frames we need and where to find the subjects. We got some beautiful frames of crocodiles and wild hogs this time and it was indeed a bliss. Khutwanda gate and teliya at the very first was a good plan instead of visiting the stereotypical places of tigresses like Maya/Choti Tara and so on. Since we were visited with Ospreys, Savannah Nightjar and as well as beautiful peacocks in their habitat, we were on our track of composing the nature's gifts through our camera. We waited for some time in potential places and finally the long wait started. In the jungles, everyrhing is so much unpredictable. We were informed that Sonam was sitting in the grasslands with 1 of her cubs for a long time and there we were waiting for her to rise up and walk. 20 minutes - 30 minutes - 45 and 1 hour went off and still no Sonam in visibility. Safari ending time was edging and thus we decided to go for other things. moreover, the clouds started to pour softly. Well that ended our scheduled safaris in Tadoba. Then why was I so happy while telling you the tale? Why was the tale worth telling? BECAUSE WE BOOKED ONE MORE IN THE EVENING - A TATKAL SAFARI BOOKING (VIP QUOTA) into the Dewada-Adegaon buffer, which was a village concentrated buffer area.

After 2 hours of safari and a bit of Indian Gaurs, Fish Eagle and Rollers, finally a langur call. A faded one but it seemed that the driver was determined to follow that! Last 1 hour left of our tadoba trip and there we were few feet away from Madhuri's sub adult male cub who was walking like he was already the King. The orange hues of the dying Sun seemed to have poured all the gold on him and as he walked towards the water for a bath, shutters ran like a machine gun. He was so royal at whatever he did and in the last 30 minutes, we forgot our safari ending time and the driver rushed like Fast and Furious into the opposite bank of river Irai with a hope of a head on. And there we were facing the prince just 3 to 4 feet away from us. I lost myself in his kingly stare which told me to Bow Down maybe! He roamed around the bushes and came our again and so was our driver while chasing him and making our position suitable for wonderful shots spending more than 30 minutes that was bounded for all gypsies! At a point of time his distance was so close my 150-600mm G2 could not focus anymore! may be a mobile phone would have been helpful. That feeling is never completely described in blogs or words. It is something you have to experience yourself! With your own eyes with chills running down your spine.

The trip was finally an amazing one and we are grateful to all the drivers and guides out there who have tried from their heart for sightings. We are grateful to our resort owner Mangesh for one of the most comfortable stays ever with beautiful quality of service. And most importantly, thanks to TRULY WILD EXPEDITIONS for making it through the covid times.

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