Losing yourself – Monsoon Safari

I begin this blog with the assumption that we all know jungles are closed down for safaris in monsoon except few places like Tadoba, Ranthambore and likes. The accessibility to jungle during this period is limited. Forest department rules and regulations are unique to the park so it is difficult to predict if jungle will be open or closed during monsoons. For example monsoon jungles safari were allowed in Tadoba till 2016 but not anymore.

The time when I did my monsoon safari was unique. What would you do when you have break for yourself while you switch jobs? No rewards for guessing what I did. I went to a jungle. I was serving my notice period in my previous organisation when I happened to catch up on FB chat with college friend. This friend of mine also happens to be tiger infatuated and he was one who recommended doing monsoon safari. I was sceptical and I had my own reasons. The reason that I was not sure if I should be doing the safari in monsoons are as follows:

  1. Monsoon meant most of jungle road would be closed so limited access to jungle
  2. When it rains heavily, water is abundant in park so chances of seeing tiger is very less
  3. During monsoons jungle becomes so dense that even a tiger at a distance of 20 feet would be difficult to spot
  4. As wildlife lover, I knew this could be also breeding season for most animals and I had no intentions to intrude
  5. Damaging camera gear due to rain was my biggest concern

Ignoring all above disadvantages, I agreed to do the monsoon safari. Why? You just need one good reason to succumb to your addiction, right?

I had one too. Only one reason to do monsoon safari – getting shot of orange coat with black strips in green backdrop during downpour. My friend had great experiences during monsoon safari at Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve located in Maharashtra so this was the location that was chosen. We blocked 6 safaris so as to increase probability of seeing tiger.

When we reached Tadoba in last week of August, it was monsoon at its peak. Weather was humid and moist. Discomfort was not just because of the weather but also because of various insects that were plaguing our room day and night. To make matters worse since it is non-tourist season the resort upkeep was not great and water on taps was also murky red. It matched the soil colour of Tadoba!

I had my fingers crossed after all Tadoba is known for good tiger hit rate. Initially luck didn’t favour us it seemed. First three safaris went absolutely dry. I began to question myself if it was this right decision to come to jungle in monsoon? My fears were turning out to be true after every safari. We had first three dry safaris no sighting except pug marks of leopard, a distant sloth bear and monitor lizard.

Bear Sighting at Tadoba on dark cloudy gloomy evening

It was our day 3 at park and I was wondering if I should pack up. It was real humid dark and cloudy. Just matching our moods. No movement of leaves and humidity to its peak. It was a sign that it was gonna rain heavily. Not a great start to day. Just to pep ourselves, me and my friend decided to take 700m early morning walk from our resort to entrance gate of jungle. Our 4th safari had started and few hundred metres on jungle road, we saw the pack of dholes hastily running around in open scrub land that runs parallel to a rain fed nullah. Our resort was on other side of this nullah. I realised we were been watched during our early morning walk. We were oblivion to fact that pack of wild dog (dhole/whistling dogs) around 13 of them were few hundreds metres to our right flanking us. The thought was scary. Maybe nullah was the only barrier that protected us. As small as they look Dholes are ferocious pack hunters. However I didn’t bother photographing Dholes as spotting tiger was on my mind. This friend of mine had even greater dilemma. He had never seen male tiger and was desperate to see a male tiger. Male tigers are lesser in numbers and hence more elusive. So we would have to be extremely lucky to see a male tiger. But I didn’t know what to say to him. We had not seen tiger pug mark, sighting a male tiger was a distant dream.

However I am person of hope. I consoled my friend, “Don’t worry we will see male tiger”. Did i really mean it, I don’t know. We were at end of our fourth safari. My guide and driver were also tired tracking the elusive predators. Our guide opted to wait near a small man-made pond which falls on regular pugdundee used by animals. This pond was covered by bamboo thickets from all sides. The jungle seemed to be silent. The only sound we could hear was water droplet falling off the tree’s on to the bonnet of our safari gypsy. All four of us were chit chatting. We had given up hope of seeing a tiger in this safari too. We were buying time in jungle. I was sitting behind driver and guide was siting next to driver. Guide was facing me and talking to me. The pond was about 50m behind me. The guide was telling some jungle lore and suddenly he cut his sentence and exclaimed,

” Sir , tiger is behind you !”

I had goose bumps! Tiger behind me! By the time I could turn around huge chunk of muscle weighing around 200kgs lifted itself from that pond. It was male tiger. My friend couldn’t believe his luck. Neither could I. He was one of shy males known as Navegaon male. I assume he had been sitting their for long time, hiding himself and watching us. He cut across bamboo thickets and crossed the road ahead of us only to disappear into hills again. 3 to 4 mins of his sighting made my trip. After all I got the shot I was looking for.

The only tiger we saw during our monsoon safari on dark dull cloudy morning !
Elusive Navegaon male.

We ended 4th safari happily. The icing on cake was to see wild dogs had made kill at same spot where we saw them in morning. No wonder they were much more relaxed now. However I couldn’t photograph them as we were running out of time. Our hopes for last two safaris were on a high again.

Luck does not favour you always. 5th safari started with sleeping pack of wild dogs at same spot. Guide told us they will stay a while, so we got into tiger chase. No luck. It started thundering and raining heavily. I kept my gear inside. My gear wasn’t capable to handle water, so couldn’t risk of damaging it. At end of safari we were stuck because of flash floods. I was least concerned. Reason we had company of wild dogs. They were all around us. With tummies full, the pack was in playful mood. It was fun observing them. Finally after almost 30 mins of safari exit time, we were rescued by team of forest official and taken through another route of core forest. It was all muddy and slimy. We were drenched and I was worried about the gear. The gypsy 4 wheel drive did a great job of getting us out of jungle. While coming out of jungle I felt like I was doing night safari in Jurassic world! Best part of safari – my gear survived.

One of males from pack of Dholes/Whistling dogs. They entertained us. The image is grainy because I raised ISO levels to highest to get shot in extremely low light.

Last safari matters became worse. Heavy rainfall-no tiger sighting and ended on low note of me losing my iPhone inside the jungle. It fell down somewhere. I was not sure to be happy or to be sad. To be happy because I got the tiger shot I was looking for or to be sad for losing iPhone. I was in mixed state of mind.

Now when i recall those 6 safaris I believe the spirits of wild have always been watching me. I remember this safari not just for tiger, wild dogs, bears but for finding my iPhone year later. At same place where I lost it. The spirits of the wild had been kind to me and left a message for me. They wanted me to come back to them again and again. To lose myself in jungles, only to find myself. It is only in jungles I have realized…

“When you lose yourself, you discover who you really are..”

Long live spirit of wild!

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