Today was our last full day in this beautiful National Park and the pressure was on to try and find a tiger. We followed the usual routine of picking up our local guide as we entered into the park. After only a couple minutes drive into the park we saw something moving in the road ahead. We slowed down and then the guides said to us in a very quiet manner that it was Asiatic Wild Dog puppies playing and that their parents were by the side of the road in the long grass.
We settled down after the initial excitment and watched (and in my case photographed) the puppies and the adults play with one another for nearly half an hour. It was a lovely sighting and a great way to have a first encounter with a previously unseen species that is just so appealing. We continued on our way to find a tiger, once the dogs had disappeared into the forest and before long we stumbled upon a huge Sambar stag standing proudly in the road. He posed for a few photographs before slowly moving aside, he showed absolutely no fear of us in the vehicle.
Once again we headed South to get to the location where the tiger had been seen the day before but once again we were distracted. This time a herd of Chital were running across a meadow at high speed, a few seconds later a Wild Dog appeared and within a couple of minutes another two emerged from the forest. We then watched the small pack make repeated attempts to hunt the Chital by running at them and the deer would then scatter at high speed. We assumed that this was to try and work out if any of the herd were weak or ill and they could then pick them off. After multiple attempts and no success the pack trotted off into the forest and after a few minutes we left them to go in search of the tiger once more.
We came across the same jeep that saw the tigress the day before and once again they had struck lucky. They had heard alarm calls close to a waterhole and sat patiently before the tigress appeared and drank for a few minutes. They had a great view and some of the people got some lovely photographs. We were a little envious we had not seen the tigress but we did feel priveleged that we had been lucky enough to see Wild Dog attempt a hunt.
In the afternoon we sat and waited in the area the tiger had been seen on both occasions but this afternoon she had gone to ground and there was no sign of her. Our first good sighting of a tiger would have to wait. After an afternoon of waiting and no results we went back to the lodge a little disappointed and after our dinner we went to bed to recharge for the next day.
This morning it was a 6 o'clock wake up (after Assam I thought this was a lay in) and we were off at quarter past to head to the park gate. We once again picked up the local guide, who is a complusory addition to the team and set off into the park. We started off by heading straight for the same spot as yesterday, where the tigers had been seen mating. By the time we got there, there were already all the jeeps allowed in the park in place, these were all Indian tourists here for the weekend. After an hour or so waiting for the tigers to show themselves we moved on, later we heard the park officials had closed the loop to any vehicles so the tigers could be left in peace.
We then spent the rest of the morning driving around in the Northern part of the park, which is usually much quieter than the Southern part. On our way, we came across a group of Langurs sitting by the side of the road and we stopped to get some photographs. Up until these Langurs I had taken surprisingly few photographs as we had been so focused on seeing the tiger. We spent the rest of the morning driving around but saw very little indeed, there were a few Chital and a few Sambar here and there as well as a timid wild boar. Before we knew it we had to be out of the park (all Indian parks close during the middle of the day) and we got back to Tiger Trails Lodge for our breakfast.
After lunch it was time for our third game drive in Tadoba and we were hoping this would be the drive we would get our first good sighting of a tiger. We went out to the Northern area we had visited earlier on in the day and again we saw very little. We went from waterhole to waterhole but nothing much stirred, the animals were staying in the shade avoiding the heat of the sun. At one waterhole we got quite close to a wild boar before it flew off into the undergrowth in alarm. After about two hours we came across another group staying at the lodge who had a close encounter with a tigress, who walked across the road right in front of them. We stayed put hoping she would reappear but once again we ran out of time and had to leave the park for the lodge.
That night we had a traditional meal and we were invited to cook our own bread and make our own dessert,
much to the local staff's amusement as we were all rubbish. We went to bed after a long hot day ready for our third day in Tadoba Tiger Reserve.
This morning I got up at 7 o'clock and went downstairs to meet the guests and our guide, Harish, for breakfast. After we had finished our breakfast we went to pack our bags and all met up in reception to get into our vehicle for our 3 hour transfer to Tadoba. We were in a Toyata Innova, a large MPV, and the journey took us just under the suggested 3 hours. The last few hundred yards to our destination were a little bumpy and we got to see a few local villages on route. We eventually arrived safely at Tiger Trails Lodge, this is a small and simple lodge much more like a home than anything else and we were met by the owner's son, who looks after everything.
I was shown to my room, in the main building and had an hours rest before it was time for lunch. Whilst we were staying there, there was another Naturetrek group, but we kept ourselves seperate. After lunch we had an hour and a half until our first game drive in search of tiger and we had been told that there were reports of a mating pair in the South of the park. We were told this would be the focus for this afternoon's game drive and we were also warned to take a sun hat.
We set out in the early afternoon and it was around the 40 degree mark, which was a little on the hot side. We got to the gate and picked up our local guide so in total, there were seven people crammed into a small little Suzuki jeep. We then headed off to see if we could get a glimpse of the tiger and after about 30 minutes we got to the spot. When we got there, there must have been 30 other jeeps lined up ahead of us queuing to get a glimpse of one of these poor tigers. It was then our turn to have a look and we could see the big cat's outline through our binoculars but it was not a photo opportunity. We moved around the corner and parked up as we hoped the tiger might move our way. After a couple of hours and no movement we headed off back to the lodge for our dinner and a rest. We did see our first Chital deer, our first Sambar deer and some cheeky Common Langur monkeys.
At two o'clock in the morning I checked out of my basic and a little grotty hotel and headed off to Kolkata's Howrah station. As we were driving to the station we saw that there were a line of taxis stretching all the way down station's approach. When we reached this point there was absolutely no movement and after almost half an hour sitting in the same spot my driver turned around and went to look for another way to get me to my platform. Eventually this meant we had to drive the wrong way down a dual carriageway and go down the exit road from the station and into the car park by the platforms. He helped me with my bag and we went to the platform to wait for my train.
As everybody's seat (or bunk) is allocated in advance, you know which carriage you are going to be in, this means that you can go to the exact point on the platform where your carriage should be. So at four o'clock I climbed aboard my home for the next 19 or so hours. The train actually left half an hour early, well half an hour earlier than it said it was delayed by, so it was a good job we got there with plenty of time. I tipped my driver. padlocked by big bag underneath the seat and climbed into my top bunk for a couple of hours sleep.
The next 18 hours were a rather lonely and boring affair as nobody spoke English except for a few basic words and the gentleman below me would not unfold his bunk. This meant I had no seat and no window to look out of. I spent all 18 hours in my bunk reading, playing with my PSP, listening to my music and using my mobile as a secondary gaming device.
We eventually made it to Nagpur and with the help of the train guard (who I gave a good tip) I knew when to get off. I was met at the station platform by one of Travel Inn's representatives and he escorted me to the vehicle waiting outside. I was then driven for 15 minutes to the Tuli Imperial hotel. This is a grand 5 star hotel in the centre of Nagpur and I wasmet by the manager. They offered me my dinner but all I wanted to do was head off to my bed and catch up on the sleep I had missed the night before. The next day in the hotel was a day of relaxation and a chance to get nice and clean. I also met the three guests that would be joining me for the pre-tour extension of Naturetrek's Tiger Direct tour.