- Some Thoughts and Information
Driving from Nagpur towards Tadoba, I was struck by how few fields there were. It was the end of April, and the scorching sun was a reminder of the harsh summer. The heat only increased as we approached the coal fields of Chandrapur, and we stared aghast, as our driver informed us that the hills we saw weren’t natural ones, but had been the earth which had piled up when the mines had been dug. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the mines themselves, but the size of the hills (or should I say ‘mountains’?) were a clear indication of just how deep they went. As for the people who worked there, I could only imagine their plight considering how hot we felt, despite the comfort of our car, and the distance from the mines! It was a sobering thought, reminding us of the price we pay for electricity, and comforts we so take for granted.
It seemed somehow ironical that Chandrapur is also home to Tadoba, Maharashtra’s oldest and largest National Park. That it is a Tiger Reserve, and boasts of 65 tigers in all, only made me wonder at how it would have been, before man discovered the presence of coal, limestone and manganese here!
Of course, the tigers had been threatened long before the industries came. These were once the hunting grounds of kings, who ensured that their walls and homes were filled with trophies, and cared little for what was left behind in the forest. Man-Animal conflict was evident even before that, from ancient times when a local chieftain fought a tiger to save his people. He is considered a deity, and a temple dedicated to him deep inside the jungle is still visited by locals. It is his name, Taru, modified over the centuries to Tadoba, which gives the sanctuary its name.
Considering this rampant mining and industrialization, as well as all the other environmental threats posed, it was a surprise to see just how alive the forest was. Over the three days we spent there, we not only spotted many animals and birds, we also saw tigers, and discovered a heritage aspect of the forest too, not to mention its sheer natural beauty.
The Maharashtra Forest Department is obviously making an effort to keep the forest safe, while at the same time, ensuring revenue through tourism. They have opened online booking of safaris, as well as forest guest houses, canters (open buses) are also available for safaris (but only on the main roads. They can’t enter the narrower paths). The forest itself is well maintained, as are the paths and the fire breaks. Most of the villages inside the core zone have been relocated, and only a few still remain.
While these efforts are to be appreciated, there is much that needs to be done. There are a few things that struck out, in just the three short days we spent there.
- Most of the guides are undoubtedly experienced, and know the forest inside out. They know the names of each tiger/tigress and often regale us with stories of their doings. While this is great, it is sad to see that they know next to nothing about the other animals or birds. Barring just one of our guides, the others didn’t even know the names of the birds that even Samhith and I could recognize!
- On one of our jaunts into the buffer zone, we were unlucky enough to find ourselves with a new recruit – one who didn’t even open his mouth for an entire hour. It was only when we finally gave up and asked questions that we realized that he literally knew nothing. He was just one of the local chaps picked up and posted in the buffer zone to cope with the heavy load of tourists in summer. Needless to say, we didn’t spot a single animal in the forest on that safari. Not even a bird!!! It was only when I kicked up a fuss and complained to everyone I could think of at the office, that they deigned to ensure that we got a more experienced guy the next time.
- It is evident that they need to be better trained, so they can appreciate, and more importantly, help visitors appreciate the importance of the other species which make the jungle their home.
- Succinctly, we need more naturalists, not guides.
- My second peeve was the sight of private vehicles inside the forest. I have no idea of the number of jeeps or the number of people allowed inside on a daily basis, but whatever it is, I can’t imagine why any forest would allow tourists to drive inside the forest, considering we already know how irresponsibly we behave. I know this is true of other sanctuaries too, and it is something I believe needs to be addressed.
- The third issue is more of a concern, ironically, of the rampant growth of tourism. It is not the visitors who bother me, but the infrastructure. The area outside the gates is burgeoning with resorts and hotels. While some may try to follow environment friendly practices, I can’t see all of them ever being able to, at least considering the present state of affairs. It is evident that tighter rules and regulations are needed, before the entire area turns into a concrete jungle, filled with people and the inevitable issues that follow.
While these are issues concerning the forest itself, there are other issues facing the tourist.
- When it comes to accommodation, there are many options – from budget hotels to highly expensive, luxury resorts, there is no dearth of choices. What is missing are homestays, which is surprising, considering there are villages outside, and homes can easily accommodate visitors too. Shouldn't there be more homestays than hotels? I heard of a few which have recently opened, and I will update this post when I get more information.
- The bigger issue is the booking of safaris. As I mentioned earlier, online booking of safaris is possible, but the actual process is tedious and confusing. The booking does not provide for the jeep, which is a basic necessity, so arrangements have to be made separately. This of course, leads to more confusion, which is why it seems to be easiest to make the bookings through the resort or through contacts.
Finally, the answer to the question most of you have been asking – where we stayed, how we booked, and of course, the costs!
- I usually like to plan every aspect of my trip by myself, and when I planned this one, that was the idea. However, after more than a month of trying all options, I realized that with my budget and time, it was best to hand over the details to someone who knew the ropes. After much dithering, I decided to contact someone who came highly recommended, and left everything to him. He made all the arrangements for us, from picking us up, to our stay, food, safaris, permits, to dropping us off at the airport, and all within our budget. He put us up at a small place he owns, which was basic but comfortable, and the company was great too. Needless to say, we were completely satisfied.
- As for the cost, it depends on the budget you have in mind, so it is something you need to decide. Also, there are plenty of options, from high end resorts to basic accommodation, so I am sure you can find something that fits you.
- The same goes for the itinerary too, since it depends on how much time you have. Having said that, plan for at least 4 to 5 safaris, so you have a good chance to spot as many animals and birds. The core zone is closed on Tuesdays, but you can explore the buffer zone on that day if you are so inclined.
- Finally, if you are planning a trip, you can contact Manish Varma at firstname.lastname@example.org for the arrangements. Or, you could call him on 08055920303.
Other Posts on Tadoba:
This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here.