“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”...
Henry David Thoreau was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher & no wonder his words telling us about need of going in to the wilds (read as wildlife) is outcome of blending his two characteristics i.e. naturalist & philosopher. As it’s in the wilderness you realize what you are missing in our so called developed urban life which we call career or success, (whatever as it makes no difference actually)! No surprise every time I visit any forest which is in actual a home to wildlife above such words are my best companion to start my sharing about what I have experienced & I am happy there are many wise men like Thoreau to help me to express myself when my words fail me!
The recent Tadoba trip was no exception rather with ace international photographer friend Vikram Potdar along, the trip was going to be interesting as we were going in to forests (I mean specifically for photography & touring) after a long time, courtesy lockdown for nearly an year & then the destination was Tadoba where every minute something keeps happening around you, all you have to do is be patient & get lost in the seemingly dry yellow grey shades around! And add to it some wonderful characters including another friend Anirudh Chaoji who is now stationed in Tadoba & working for branding as well welfare of the people around Tadoba forest which we call as buffer area & it takes hail of guts to do something as crazy as this i.e. giving up city life & comforts & go & live in forests & people over there but that’s the way to make wildlife survive & thanks to such people for that, the trip was not just about wildlife but about people also which are very much part of the forest at Tadoba! Though the trip was planned nearly a month or two earlier yet when it was time to step out of home again the lockdown threat was looming on the head mainly in Vidarbha region where Tadoba is located, yet we took option of driving down for 900 kms & stopping only on small road side joints away from urban settlement & drove for fifteen hours straight to & fro from Pune. Fortunately roads are in good condition & the new link via Jalana, Sindkhedraj, Mehekar, Yeotmal bypass took us directly via Varora to Moharli i.e. Tadoba entry village gate in fifteen hours from Pune.
The best part of being in the forest is, once you are in those greens, yellows & greys too (for Tadoba) & inhale the air carrying fragrance mixed with aromas of hundreds of trees & animals & birds, you forget the hours of journey you have put behind & get rejuvenated for the action ahead & lots of it when Tadoba is the forest! Same way with eight safaris (and a night safari also) ahead, we were not tiered at all but eager for the morning & hit the gate at 6 am in morning. One good thing is the entry checking system is much stream lined wasting less time of the tourists four identification yet I haven’t understand one thing why there is so much fuss about change of the name as in these times when you book safaris months before there are all the chances of some member not being able to make it for the trip & then instead wasting the money (Tadoba is no more cheap cost wise) if the other members decide to add another willing member, it’s not allowed by Tadoba park rules! Guys, please find out a solution on this aspect as well I came to know that there is no refund or adjustment of the dates also if you can’t make for the safari even due to lockdown! Well, if the park management is earning on the vacant slot by sending gipsy in the place of the tourists who has cancelled their safari, why not refund their money or offer them another available slot, we want to promote the forest right, & that’s not going to achieve if we become unpopular by non-tourist friendly rules, is what I feel! And then these are tough times for all so cancelling a safari without refund is a big dent of pocket of the most tourists is also a fact! I hope these words reaches to some concerned authority & some solution will come out from it!
Well, the best part of the trip was interactions with people in the forest as through them only we get to know many things about these greens. These are the guides, drivers, forest guards, officers, dhabawalas, resort boys & yes friends like anirudh also. We as a tourist visits once or twice at the most to one forest but these people are living year long here & for years & they have treasure of stories about the forests, animals, birds & people also! Only by listening to them ( I am bad at it though) you truly starts knowing the forest & then you can see many things ahead of you which earlier you wouldn’t have noticed & same is about hearing as well smelling senses also in the forest! On such rides our guide Mangam who was a native from nearby Agarzari village (most of the guides & gypsy drivers are from villages around the forest) was telling his tribe’s worshipping the forest. Their main god is Bada Dev resides on Mahua tree making it sacred & needless to say the tiger is also their god! Then one of the guides told a wonderful story about famous male tiger nicknamed Baghdoh (sorry forest frds, difficult for me to remember a tiger by some number) helped healing another tigress named Sonam who got injured in a fight with a sloth bear. Incidentally Baghdoh happens to be father of Sonam tigress & he killed a big domestic cattle bull as Sonam has got seriously wounded on her head where she can’t lick the wound & neither can hunt. In such cases (injuries) death of such injured tiger is the only outcome as when you are a tiger then nobody comes to your help when you are in a problem, that’s curse of being a tiger! But nature is wonderfully strange & not nobody but another tiger came for help of Sonam & licked her wound to help it heal & feed her by hunting for her! I don’t know whether this is true of false but it indeed is amazing to listen such stories of forests!
It’s through such sharing I came to know one wonderful thing about Tadoba that the buffer which is spread over some 1100 sq kilometres accommodates nearly 75 villages with one fifty lakh (1,50,000) human settlement in it & over hundred tigers roaming freely among them & yet since 2012 there is not a single poaching case of tiger here (there are tiger deaths due to accident or manual interference i.e. electric shock due to fence or live wire types). At the same time every year there are nearly twenty plus human deaths due to tiger attack, yet no human openly kills a tiger, amazing isn’t it? As this is co-existence of the man animal at its best & let me tell you that are not easy to achieve neither it has been achieved over night. Years of sweat & blood & man hours from forest dept, NGOs’ as well local villagers has made this possible & that’s why while all around the world wildlife is in danger, it’s in Tadoba, numbers of the tigers is increasing & that’s sign of a healthy wildlife! Though this is beginning, as the population keeps increasing of both humans as well of the tigers (read as wildlife) the challenges also will increase & we must be ready for that! As few years back villagers going out in open for nature’s call (toilet) was a major problem all around Tadoba forest causing hygienic issues as well that’s the time when tiger or leopard used to attack on such villagers. Now with toilet blocks in most homes both the issues has been reduced a lot though water as well treating of the biomass (human excreta) is still a problem making few villagers go in open for toilet, Mudholi village is one such! We need to find solutions on the same & the new problem is the wealth has bought packaged goods in these villages so the by-product is garbage & that’s a big trouble to nature! We have to make villagers now aware about dry & wet garbage segregation as well garbage treatment techniques to be taught to them. We can tie up with dry garbage collectors from the nearby cities & take it away at the same time.
At the same time there are now gas stoves in many homes, again an important aspect for man animal conflict as the villagers (mainly women) now don’t have to go to collect firewood in the forest & get them-selves exposed to the tiger! Then one most important aspect (on which I will be assisting forest dept) is skill development among the local youths. We will have to train them on civil works like plumbing/ electric repairs, masonry, solar equipments maintenance & yes waste management as then they won’t be dependent on just forest as guides or gypsy driver for earning but other professions also can help them for their livelihood! Remember we can’t protect forests by making people living around the forest our enemies or just by driving them away by taking their lands & using it for forest.
If we think only the humans are enemies of the wilderness then the Tadoba faces challenge by none other than the nature itself. With nearly one fourth of the forest area covered by the bamboo forest the latest challenge is after every thirty years the bamboo flowers & then fruiting happens & then the bamboo is dead! When I mean dead it actually dries & gets uprooted & with temperature soaring to 45 degrees in summer these dried bamboo patches are like Napalm Bomb, ready to explode any time! Bamboo if is beauty as well life of Tadoba then with such characteristic it can be death also for the Tadoba & with major bamboo plantation on flowering the Tadoba management seeks action plan ahead to work out new plantation as well avoid the forest fires & for this right from Drone survey to technical inputs, many fronts each of us can assist the forest dept!
Well, coming back to the sightings Tadoba always fulfils my (and everybody’s) wish & this trip was no exception. On the huge grass land with a backdrop of wooded hills wanted to see a male tiger & Tadoba helped me ticking up my this item on the wish list! On a morning safari from the said patch of grass we saw another gypsy ahead with people waving hands towards us, the only meaning in forest of this is, there is tiger! And it was one-way so that gipsy couldn’t follow the tiger & like in Western Cow-Boy movies, long ahead on the red track I saw a tiny dot moving towards us. Soon the tiny dot grew larger & it took shape of a huge male tiger & I can still feel goose bumps by that sight! Which I will cherish for long! This is Enchanting Tadoba & with the promise to visit again & to get enchanted once again, I said adieu to those bamboos & the red clayed tracks...
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