Our (mis)adventures at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

One for the frame – our first vacation in 2021

After 8 months into 2021, we decided that we wanted to get away for a little bit. Actually, the hubby wanted to get away. Ever since I started my freelance work, and everyone is at home, all days are equal and I seem quite content with the routine, but like I said, 8 months have passed so perhaps it was time. Being semi-naturalists (we will come to the detail of that later), we opted to go back to the forests, which was our last getaway, circa December 2020! The tigers beckoned, or so we told ourselves.

I gave my assent after the hubby did some research and suggested we do a 4 night stay at the Welcome Heritage Hotels, different than the Red Earth resort we stayed at on the previous trip. The day before we had to leave is a super busy one, what with having to drop off our four-legged wonder to a temporary doggy-care, and me having to pack for myself and the 2 girls. The hubby was more misty-eyed than our labrador at leaving him, and when we had the evening without him at home, it somehow felt empty and quiet. I was wondering why or how we called ourselves busy before getting him, the same way we wonder why or how people without kids can ever be busy. It was just us – i.e. the two of us, 2 girls and my mother in law. No fuss, no constantly looking to see what he’d attack or rip apart, or him following us around quietly, or waiting ecstatically while any of us ate anything. It felt very strange.

Meanwhile, the packing ordeal! It really makes me wonder if I am simple or not. I so hate packing half the house — to get away from the house! So ironic I say!!! But then you know when you’re going into a forest area that you’re at least 15 km from civilization and can’t get things as easily as you do in a city. I almost felt like cancelling the trip itself due to packing and planning exhaustion (eye rolls)

We are a punctual kind of family. Early risers too, especially so for vacations. We managed to get all ready, set and go by 6 am the next morning -and the early morning drives are something of an event. Music and enthusiasm and driving in familiar territory, knowing there’s quite some km to cover. About 500 or so. We take turns, entertain, amuse ourselves, eat the worst kind of junk, drive each other nuts with the noise, play mindless games with the children and quiet them down when they ask the dreaded question -‘ how much longer’?

Google maps has a strange way of taking you through obscure routes. Google, the mother and father of our existence -so co-operative when we ask any question, but so vengeful when we ask for directions. Why Google Why? On most trips, we are certain we can save at least an hour if Google hadn’t made us drive into tiny winding lanes into villages, slowing down our impressive average speed. To cut a long story short, it took us all of 10 hours after some misadventures, and we felt really welcomed at the Welcome group resort. We even managed to lunch at 4 pm, have hi-tea at 6 pm and dinner at 8 pm.

The lovely resort – a pathway, and the place where we usually had hi-tea

The resort was a sight to take in. Lush greenery, beautiful cottages, amazing food, lovely ambience, it was indeed and truly a serene calm place to unplug. Speaking of unplug, Airtel had pretty much no connectivity, and the resort doesn’t provide room wi-fi. Go figure. But as we all know, this is the kind of thing that forces us to do other activities. Like sleep and watch television instead of the phone :>

A view of some of the villas

We decided to spend day one relaxing and experiencing the delights of the resort. The girls wanted to swim when they saw the beautiful pool. Among the 1,362 items I packed, it seems swimwear didn’t make it. Some waterworks ensued, they’re produced in an instant these days. Meanwhile, the hubby and I decided that the time had come to soak in the luxury spa treatments. As luck would have it, the spa was closed and would re-open the day after we checked out. Excellent. Our day reserved for just these kind of things now looked empty. We then caved into the kids demands set out to the closest town to buy swimwear for the kids. Or something like it. We settled for some androgynous cotton t shirts and shorts, and finally, despite the drizzle and gloomy clouds, we made our evening worth it by letting our kids ‘swim’ in the pool, playing old Hindi songs on the Caravan, and me sitting like a movie heroine with an intelligent book, trying to multitask -reading, watching over the kids and listening to the songs. Until other families decided to invade the space. Soon the pool was filled with a slightly large family, who were super friendly and brought their little kid to the pool. Within 13.5 minutes, my kids, especially the younger one managed to give a complete history and biography of our family to the strangers. I made a mental note to never share details of financials like net worth and bank accounts with her. Of course the strangers said very nice things about my daughters being very social. I laughed to myself, asking for the millionth time -why so talkative? But I don’t say it out loud coz it is clear as a crystal from which side they inherited the talkative gene ;>

Mealtime rituals at the restaurant were amazing. We would arrive like clockwork … at the time cited for each meal. I am sure the restaurant staff thought I am a step-mom, coz I refuse to feed my kids or chase after them – they can make their own eating decisions. The hubby and mother in law meanwhile bring things for them to try, feed them, pick up after them, and I sit around like an evil mom, finishing my food in ten mins and then generally looking around. Ok, not just looking around but calculating if/when/how I can burn off the calories I consumed. Hey! I got in 30 mins of physical activity minimum on each day I was there. So don’t judge….

The second morning, after debating and inspecting the weather from 3.45 am onwards, we finally made a decision at 4.45 am to do the morning safari. The hubby gets a special calling from tigers, naturalists, and his intuition, which dictated that we must make an effort for spot booking of the early morning safari. By 5.30 am, with two kids cleaned, brushed and shouting ‘Tiger, tiger, tiger’, we set off to try our luck with spot booking a gypsy for the forest safari. We picked the gate closest to our resort, the Madnapur gate. The zones we stayed at were not the ‘core’ forest area, but buffer zones. Our luck didn’t favour us as we couldn’t get a spot booking, and befriending the authorities didn’t help secure a booking despite our sincere pleas. However, they saw our sad faces and got us a booking at another gate, and finally, by 7.30 am, we got onto the gypsy, fresh and energetic. Cut to 3 hours later, and we have now returned from our 4th safari at Tadoba with no luck of seeing the tiger. However we did see wild boars, sambar deer, spotted deer, nilgai and nilbull, along with several other bird species coz, duh, the hubby is a birder remember!

The Indian bison/gaur
The Sambar deer

Speaking of birding, the conversations in our trips go something like this. We won’t say dove, but spotted dove. Not owl, but barn owl. Not peacock but Indian peafowl. Of course species like black headed ibis, cormorants, cattle egrets, black shouldered kites, shikharas, short toed snake eagles, Indian rollers and so on are common enough when we go to the jungles. Right there with kingfishers, woodpeckers and barbettes. But I do have to admit that maybe forests wouldn’t have been fun if we hadn’t turned into the semi-naturalists family courtesy the hubby. I say semi, because, while we like animals and birds, it seems we are terrified of the creepy crawlies! I find that ironic. I feel like an Arjuna awardee in front of these 3, who shriek, scream and stop mortified in their tracks because of some bug, insect, or some such creepy crawly. What do you expect in a jungle, I ask them? And then I gloriously clear their path or hold their hands to steer them from the grave dangers to the safety of our destination, whatever it may be.

The Short toed snake eagle

Coming back to Day 2, after the tiresomeness of the safari, we ate, relaxed, hit the pool, ate again and ended the day on a high note due to the excellent food. Yet again the early morning safari for Day 3 was booked, and after saying our ‘Please let us spot the tiger’ prayers, we slept early. I bailed out of this, as I was quite content with the jungle ride from the previous morning and refused to chase the Holy grail of tiger-spotting. I wanted to stay in, rest, read and write. It was a beautifully pleasant morning and I got all of those done in the 5 hours that the rest of the party left me alone. Drinking my tea, reading in a cool, natural setting – definitely my ideas of bliss. I found that my concentration power to read uninterrupted hasn’t died fully – it just needed the right catalysts. I managed to finish 2 books that I’d started weeks ago during this short stay and felt very satisfied! The family came back from the safari, hiding their disappointment of missing the tiger again, by stating that they spotted the Mottled Wood Owl, and that they saw fresh pug marks of the tiger for sure. Ah well, this was only our 6th attempt, after our 2017 Jim Corbett National park visit, and the 3 safaris we took in Tadoba in Dec last year. But hey, it seems both our trips were in off season. That’s some consolation prize for us, right?

Elated in the gypsy, before the second attempt at tiger spotting
The Mottled Wood Owl
Consolation prize -pug marks

Day 3 evening we spent some additional time making family video calls from where we had wi-fi, and then playing games in the indoor game room. I am certain very few families can do as poorly as us in indoor games. But we are a proud and happy lot. We dabbled in foosball, table tennis, billiards and carroms, and it was lovely coz most people had checked out and there was no one to watch us. We struggled teaching the rules of carroms, to our defiant daughters who love to make up their own games and rules all the time. Finally, when only the red and one coin each of white and black remained, we noticed that it was 8.10 pm and we were 10 minutes late for dinner 😉 We happily abandoned the board and apologetically stepped into the restaurant.

And finally, Day 4 -we freshened up, ate a hearty breakfast and said goodbye to the lovely resort that had been home. I knew I would miss it. Deep down inside we already know we will keep coming back until we spot a tiger at Tadoba 😀

We made our trip back in 9 hours – with almost no break anywhere. A feat, considering our age ranging from 5 to 70s, our myriad needs and moods. It was a pleasant drive back, and once more we noted how the roads in Telangana are so wonderful to drive on compared to the bad roads of Maharashtra. Tired and weary, when I got home, I realized that more than the resort, it is the resort staff I missed. Coz my favourite part is always coming back to a room that has fluffed pillows, straightened sheets, spotlessly cleaned and wonderfully fragrant. Not to mention neatly arranged toiletries and a sparkly shiny beautiful bathroom! If only I could get them to do my house everyday…..;)

Girls who love to pose