Nagzira Tiger Reserve Entry Point(Pics: Uttara Gangopadhyay)
It was the last forest safari for us at Nagzira-Nawegaon Tiger Reserve (NNTR) in Maharashtra. We had already completed four safaris, and the forest had welcomed us whole-heartedly. We saw plenty of birds, deer, bear, gaur, even a leopard. But we still hankered for the sight of a tiger. Would the fifth safari be lucky for us or would we go back without seeing any tiger?
It was the height of summer, middle of May, when the temperature soared to above forty degree centigrade even in the shade. But this is the best time if you want to try your tiger luck in most Indian forests. Animals big and small gather at the waterholes to quench their thirst, some even got into the water to shelter from the heat.
Accordingly, we took an overnight train from Mumbai and reached Gondia, a station just after Nagpur.
Earlier, owing to paucity of accommodation, visitors used to spend the night in Nagpur and drive to NNTR, which is 60km away by road. But now several private resorts have come around the Pitezhari and Chorakhamara forest gates. We were booked into Nagzira Nature Camp located at the edge of Chorakhamaravillage.
The Nagzira Nature Camp was picturesquely set near the huge Chorakhamara Lake. A row of tents were set at one end of a garden. The tents – with attached washrooms -- were erected on cemented platforms and simply but comfortably furnished. The thatched dining hall was set apart on the other side of the garden.
“We have tried to keep this place as natural as possible. So you may find insects, frogs and other small creatures around the tent or in the dining hall. Kindly adjust and rest assured, you will not come to any harm,” said one of the service staffs who showed us to our tents.
Our safaris were pre-booked (online) and we left for our afternoon safari.
Earlier, Nagzira was a tract of forested land that acted as a corridor between Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra and Kanha National Park of Madhya Pradesh. It was declared a reserve forest in 1879 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1970. Later, it became a part of the Nagzira-Navegaon Tiger Reserve (NNTR) with the inclusion of the Navegaon Lake and its adjacent forest.
Car safaris are allowed twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. There are two parts in the tourist zone in Nagzira. The road splits into two at the Chorakhamara Forest Office, where our papers were checked and the compulsory forest guide allotted. One road went through the old Nagzira forest and the other through New Nagzira.
Our dream of seeing the twin tigers, Jai and Veeru, were dashed long ago when it was discovered they had migrated to another forest, crossing villages, highways and probably a river.
There are several watch towers inside the forest. A nature interpretation centre next to a forest office inside NNTR gives a fair idea of the animals found here.
It was our last safari in NNTR. Suddenly, a passing car informed us that the dowager tigress Mai has been noticed in a particular zone. Another car was already there and its occupants were looking intently at a bush. We too queued up next to them and tried to see what they were seeing. In the beginning, we could not see anything. Then as our eyesight adjusted to the dark undergrowth, we could see a faint yellow and black stripes.
Someone noticed a tail, someone an ear, someone the underbelly.
Then probably disturbed by our stares, Mai thought it was time to do a disappearing act. She stood up.
As the grand old tigress stood in front of us, cameras whirred madly. She looked in disdain at the few cars assembled, ignored the sound of camera shutters, and slipped further into the dense undergrowth. It was hardly a matter of a few minutes but a memory of a lifetime.
Information: There are several entry points for Nagzira; of them, Pitezhari and Chorakhamara are the most popular as there are several private resorts around them. Most of these resorts are comfortably but simply furnished. Do not expect lavish arrangements. Some are very basic. Some of the popular resorts are Nagzira Nature Camp, Nagzira Tiger Resort, Kanchan Resort and the relatively more lavish Muba Jungle Resort.
NNTR remains closed every Thursday and other select days, such as Holi. It usually remains open between October and mid-June. Only a limited number of cars allowed for the twice a day safaris, which can be booked online (http://mahaecotourism.gov.in/). Park entry and exit times differ according to season. An authorised forest guide accompanies every vehicle. Park entry fees and guide charges apply. Carrying a recognised photo identity card is must during safaris.
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