Fun in Kanha and Tadoba Andhari, with a first foray into Barnwapara
15.11.2011 - 27.11.2011 25 °C
Kanha National Park
Had a brief trip to India last fall, so of course had to fit in some wildlife. Before I get out my final Turkey Blog instalment, thought it time to update some wildlife adventures! I had had such a great time in Kanha in April 2012, I decided to head back in November. This park is lovely and so large there seems endless places to explore. This time, we tried out Muba Resorts, a wonderful, natural spot at the Mukki Gate of Kanha. (I really should check out the Kisli Gate side one day!) Muba is set in an extensive and mostly natural property of trees and grasslands. The accommodation is large, comfortable and clean (though no air-conditioning, which might affect your comfort in the summer). A great value, the cottages are easily accessible yet remote enough that it is delightfully quiet at night. Except when the resident langur troop decides to have a party on your roof! The food was very good here and the staff incredibly responsive. While our safari driver was responsible and responsive his wildlife knowledge was not terribly strong. This would be the only thing lacking here for the serious wildlifer, but then again, this not unusual.
Kanha in November is very cold at night and I can only imagine how cold it gets as winter really sets in! The moist air, hot afternoons and cold nights actually created rather magical mornings. When I left my cottage in the dawn hours there was so much dew falling from the trees around us that it sounded like it was raining. Dewdrops were lying on everything in the forest, sparkling in the dawning light.
We had some really good tiger sightings this trip, far better than the summer visit, which only goes to show you the vagaries of tiger spotting. We had a fun sighting with a mum and her two adolescent cubs, who were so shy. One darted across the road to his calling mum, while the other paced in the jungle gathering his courage before making a run for it down the road from us. Much more shy in Kanha but more rewarding somehow. We came across the same mother early in the morning of our 6th drive as well. This time she was having some alone time. Sitting on the side of the road, happily grooming herself, before she stretched, got up and sauntered down the road. We literally stumbled upon her, my friend exclaiming in a loud whisper… tiger, tiger, tiger. That’s when I realized, spotting a tiger is never a single utterance. It invariably comes in three’s. Not sure why. Any other spotting seems to be a single utterance… “Leopard”, “bear”, “grey hypocolious” (yes, really!), but, not the regal tiger. Tis always an excited and loud whisper “tiger, tiger, tiger”
We’d had a few slow drives in the park, though still lovely for birds and deer, but when we took off for our 8th afternoon drive, that changed! The first few hours of the drive were also very quiet, so for the last 1/2 hour of our drive we decided to head to an area where a male leopard had been spotted near his kill the day before. We parked on the darkening track and sat quietly. Hard to do sometimes with others in the jeep, but we are old hands at it. Was lovely. The light was slowly dimming as the sun set, casting wonderful shadows on the tall forest and bamboo around us. Suddenly, we were startled by a peacock sticking his head out from the brush. He was seemingly just as startled, and let out a loud warning honk before disappearing back into the undergrowth. We started to laugh at the poor peacock’s alarm, stumbling across us, when we realized our error! Something else had startled the bird. A huge battle was taking place in the bamboo as something was chasing the poor peacock. He was running back and forth in the bush, honking his alarms as what we presumed to be a leopard, was in hot pursuit. After a few tense moments, it got very quiet, and then a sudden, even louder commotion arose and the peacock was caught. We were standing in our jeep and peering vainly into the bush, when our driver whispered loudly, “leopard!”
A large, magnificent male leopard sauntered out of the forest on the opposite side. I’m sure I held my breath, because my experience with leopards has always been for them to see me, and then quickly melt away. This boy was not so timid and very curious about the drama we had been witnessing across the road. Who would possibly have the nerve to come into his territory? Let alone hunt? He posed in the middle of the road, staring into the bamboo before turning and walking along the forest edge, right toward us!!!! I could not believe it. He came quite close, before finally entering the thicket. Then there was a brief snarling confrontation, and the intruder made a rapid exit. Maybe a female? Wow! Such excitement!! But we couldn’t linger, as we were already pushing it for making it out the gate, so filled with the Moment, we drove off. Such a Moment!
We also had good bear sighting this trip, both on our first drive, and later on our penultimate drive. The latter being a really good one, rounding the corner, and there was a lovely ambling sloth bear, walking along the road, without a care in the world. So lovely.
We had a wonderful 10 drives and some fantastic encounters with our four-legged and feathered friends!
Barnwapara Wildlife Sanctuary
And then we were off for the 5 hour (more like 6) drive to Barnwapara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh. We were staying at a sister property, Muba’s Machaan. Just 2 nights we had there. The Machaan’s are cottages set up on stilts and made entirely of wood. They’re set in a low forest and scrub property, with a lot of birds, which again was quite natural. Barnwapara was a bit warmer than Kanha, which would likely be a problem in the warmer months but it was quite comfortable at the end of November. The Machaan’s are also good for families, with each one having a large bed as well as a set of bunk beds. They are set quite far from each other though, so bring a good flashlight for night.
Barnwapara is a beautiful but rather sad forest, with a wide variety of habitats and good water. The forest reminded me a lot like Pench Tiger Reserve in MP, but, sadly, the amount of poaching that has occurred here is tremendous. The government is apparently serious about protecting the forest and bringing it back, but right now it’s a bit sad. We did see a large herd of gaur, wonderfully crossing the road and posing for us. Also saw a Nilgai, that barked continued alarm calls upon seeing us. We heard the alarm call of a sambar as well, but that was about it. Even birds were more of a rarity than I’m used to in the parks. It’s amazing how man can strip the resources of a place so thoroughly. The forest is beautiful though, so am hopeful they will be successful at reviving the wildlife of the area.
Tadoba Anhari Tiger Reserve
Our final destination was to Tadoba. I had previously been there in the extremely hot weather of May 2011, so was curious to see the differences. But first we had to get there! The drive should have been relatively straightforward as a major highway went from Raipur to Nagpur. Yeah, that’s the story at least. An estimated 6 hour drive took us 12.5 hours! as our driver, in an extremely small and unsuitable-for-the-side-roads car, took a short-cut! Sigh… Lordy help me for shortcuts! There we were, after dark, trying to see on my Google Maps how the heck we were going to get where we needed to be, calling the helpful and concerned people at the Royal Tiger Resort. After stopping in a small village to get some village men to tear off a part of the car that was dragging into the wheel well, we bumped our way to get permission at a park gate to travel the last leg of our journey, through the actual reserve. If that had been denied, we'd likely have been another 4 hours. Assuming to additional shortcuts were applied that is. Actually turned out to be good timing, cause we came across a Russell’s Viper crossing the road… exciting!
We finally arrived, and thankfully the resort’s rooms were large, comfortable and had loads of hot water, warmed on the roof during the day’s heat, which was very welcome after that drive! Royal Tiger is located at the Moharli Gate right next to the jungle. We each had a deluxe room, which, for the price was exceedingly good value. The rooms were clean, spacious and as previous mentioned, loads of hot water. The food here was also very good, homely fare, and a similar good value. The folks running the resort were very helpful and accommodating as well. The only negative I’d have with the resort, was the incredible amount of bright lighting, everywhere. We tried to turn off as much as we could around us, but this was light pollution in the extreme. Unnecessary and really quite un-eco-friendly, especially when it’s set up right next to the park proper.
We opted for our own arrangements for safaris, although I hear the resort’s arrangements are good. Following a detailed recommendation from a fellow Trip Advisor reviewer, we contacted Ishmail, a forest guide, who along with his driver brother Mubarak made our safaris quite seamless in a not-easy-to-organize park. Only thing to note for anyone interested in using their services is, their English is not fantastic, so would be tough to arrange unless someone in your party speaks Hindi/Marathi. Would be happy to recommend and pass on their contact information if anyone is interested.
Tadoba is actually fairly small, with the long main road running straight through it. After the Supreme Court ruling in October, this meant many of the smaller, side trails were closed to meet the percentage requirements of the core areas open to tourism. Other routes over the hill that I loved so much from last trip were also closed. Sadly it seemed to mean there was even more of a focus on tiger chasing, though happily, the majority of the travellers to the park seem to be far better mannered and more respectful of the wildlife than other tiger spots I’m used to. Good distances are kept when sightings are made, and there is no pushing or aggressive behaviour, that I witnessed in these 8 drives at least. Also unusual, foreigners pay the same as Indians for access to the park. Our guides told us, this increase in Indian fares cut down on the weekend partiers that would previously come from Nagpur and had increased the better behaviour we witnessed. Interesting if it can be verified. Certainly anecdotally I’d agree.
Tadoba is one of the best parks for chances of tiger spotting that I've been to in India. And this trip did not disappoint. In fact, even during the monsoon, sightings are apparently very good. Being able to go into a park during monsoon is an unusual plus and I hope to experience it some day. Our first drive brought us upon a lovely female, part of a mating pair, as she relaxed in the grasses, then checked out the smells, and wandered around the jeeps. Even though people parked well back from her, she was completely unphased by jeep loads of people, and spent a long time wandering around, often very close to us, before sauntering back into the forest.
A young family was very active in one area a - mum and 3 fairly old cubs. We came across the three bold cubs, even with a forest ranger on foot directing the jeeps to allow photos for all. The unconcerned behaviour was very like the lions of Gujurat. All 3 of the cubs came out at one point, and then in another, 2 of the them wonderfully took turns sharpening their claws on a slanting tree, before climbing into it for a bit.
Again on our last drive, this time wonderfully away from the masses and at the end of the drive, we came across one of the cubs on a small track. He was alone and had been cooling off in a pond before heading back to his family we rounded a corner and almost ran into him. We had to keep backing up down the road as he kept coming straight at us, until we were able to pull over and allow him to walk off. A future King of the jungle!
Thinking our drives were over, we were happily surprised by an offer to take us for a morning drive in the Buffer Zone. The forest department is developing it to allow more drives and variety of landscapes in the park. They're also creating some overnight rest-houses, set up in concrete stilts for another experience. This could be very good indeed! W woke up our forest guide from a local village and then set out. In October/November in many forests of India, you find masses of giant wood spiders, always in my past experience, high in the trees. Well, turns out they're high in the trees, because people clear paths through them at the lower levels! This drive, they were everywhere!!! Ishmail grabbed a big branch to clear (most of) them from coming directly into my face as we drove. Mostly it meant breaking the webs, but during the course of the drive, the branch ended up with a lot of spiders! And though most were caught, I still concentrated on dodging and weaving the stray web/spider, heading straight for me! Lynnie, for once, am glad you weren't there!
Too soon it was over and we were driving back to Nagpur for our overnight train to Delhi, dreaming of “tiger tiger tiger.”