It was the 15th day of January. While almost everyone was happy, celebrating the festival Sankranti, I was disappointed hearing the news on the ban of tourists to the Gudisa hills.
It was one of the most awaited trips of the year. The very first one I’d be doing with my friends on my Ford. Alas… destiny has its plans… good or bad, we need to accept and move on…
But how did the plans my destiny had for me turned out? Good or bad?
For the busy bees, here is a quick digest.
Vehicle: Ford Freestyle Titanium 1.5 TDCi.
Fuel Type: Diesel.
Fuel Consumed: 90lts.
Kilometers Travelled: 1160kms.
Route Taken: HYD-TATR (HVK RouteO)
HYD – Adilabad – Khelapur – Karanji (left towards Wani from under a flyover) – Wani – Warora – Chimur.
Road Condition: Excellent roads till Karanji.
From Karenji to Wani the roads are average. From Wani to Warora the condition is beyond worst and a nightmare for low slung sedans, hatchbacks.
Route Taken: TATR-HYD (HVK RouteO)
Chimur – Warora – Jam (left from Jam Jn towards Karenji) – Adilabad – HYD.
Road Condition: Again, the worst Chimur to Warora stretch. We have taken a long route (115kms extra) to avoid the time consuming and tiring Warora - Wani route and took Warora – Jam - Adilabad which turned out to be the best decision.
Butter smooth Nagpur highway and super stable Ford ensured I always maintain 120kmph+ speed.
Route 1 – HYD – Adilabad – Khelapur – Karenji (left towards Wani from under a flyover) – Wani – Warora – Chimur.
The shortest route but the roads slowly turn worst.
Route 2 – HYD – Adilabad – Khelapur – Karenji (straight towards Jam) – Jam (right towards Warora from Jam Jn) – Warora – Chimur.
100kms longer but not as bad as route 1, Worth taking.
Karenji to Wani is average. Wani to Warora is filthy dirty and worst. Warora – Chimur is bad.
Route 2 - Can skip the Wani – Warora stretch.
Resort: Beyond Stay Mahua Tola.
(Beyond Stay Mahua Tola, Tadoba 086469 07777 https://maps.app.goo.gl/kLuk6dpaMN5R43iG8)
Price: 7500 / day Inc 3 beds + unlimited food for a suite room.
Review: This is my second time staying at Mahua Tola Resort and it again turned out to be an excellent stay option. 5-star rating for the food, quality, and service.
Mr Shukla, the manager, again turned out to be an awesome guy as usual.
Recommended many and will continue to recommend. Must prefer option if staying with family.
Safari 1 (Day 2): Kolara Core Afternoon Safari.
Price: 6500 for a Gypsy (6 per Gypsy allowed) + 250 for 600mm Telephoto lens.
Safari 2 (Day 3): Madhnapur Buffer Morning Safari.
Price: 4500 for a Gypsy (6 per Gypsy allowed) + 250 for 600mm Telephoto lens.
Safari 3 (Day 3): Phalasgaon Buffer Night Safari.
Price: 5500 for a Gypsy (6 per Gypsy allowed) + 250 for 600mm Telephoto lens.
Special mention to the safari guide Amit and driver Anil for their superb spotting skills, knowledge of the forest and route.
6 Gypsys went in for the night safari and ours was the lucky 1 to spot a Leopard too close after a month almost. Special thanks to Amit and Anil. Strongly recommend having them as a guide and driver if you plan for a night safari. Contact details will be shared on request.
1. Photo walk with Mr Shukla to the lake beside the resort where pugmarks are often seen.
2. Gondmaholi kayaking with Mr Shukla to spot some beautiful birds.
The previous day, the 22nd of Feb, I Topped up my fuel tank with 40 lts Diesel and Nitrogen topped up.
Had my dinner, packed bags and it was my time to sleep.
It was the morning of 23rd, 5:15 AM. The excitement was real! The D Day has arrived and we were all set to start in just an hour!! This very thought has made the really short 1 hour very long.
I took bath, freshened up, for the final time checked all my camera gear, cleaned my sunglasses and I was all set for the amazing drive.
Dumped all the luggage in the boot, cleaned the car, it was time for some quick snaps to boast in my Instagram, WA and Snapchat. Obviously, who wouldn’t!?
23 Feb, 2021
Hyderabad - Karenji
Just a gentle press on the push start button depressing the clutch, the diesel beauty vibrated all over the place and started with the typical melodious diesel clatter. “Melodious!? Really!?” May ask the petrol heads. Only a true diesel guy knows the feeling I’d say.
It took few minutes for the cold started engine to settle down and within just 15 mins I was below the ORR Medchal entry. Yeah, ORR is close to my home.
It was 6:35 AM by the time I was on the proper highway on a good pace cruising the way. The traffic was not much and the roads were excellent. It was opposite to what my experience was during the 2017 Tadoba trip.
It was a bad day, certainly a really bad day. Just 2 days before the trip I caught a cold followed by fever. Never worried if it was COVID, but was certainly worried if I would be able to make it for the trip and drive to Tadoba.
The day has arrived and my worst fears came true. I started driving with really bad health. The time was 8:45 AM just a few kilometres ahead of Adilabad, I was having fever, bad night sleep, medicines that induce sleep the previous day mixed with some crazy thoughts of having a Tesla Autopilot in these situations. A tinge of dizziness took over me and I near-missed crashing a truck while overtaking it from the rightmost lane at high triple-digit speeds. My ORVM almost brushed past the truck. That was one scary moment in my driving experience.
Finally, it was time for me to take a halt, have breakfast, home-cooked curd rice to avoid any further pain in my already soar throat, I halted just after crossing Adilabad toll plaza and the time was 9:30 AM. The day was sunny and sultry, I switched off my AC to sweat a bit and come to my senses, washed my face, had my breakfast and took a tablet that provided much-required relief to me. Clicking pictures are mandatory and is induced in our “Roadtrippers Culture”, after a good bit of photo session, I resumed my journey towards Khelapur (MH) at 10:00 AM.
I always believe in taking short breaks every 300KMS-400KMS of continuous driving unless it’s an emergency. This although increases the drive time to a good 1hr, it’ll certainly help us maintain the balance of our mood and help us concentrate on the road without having sleepy eyes. It also gives much-needed rest to the car’s tires. I don’t believe in following the often-said norm “Non-Stop 800KMS drive”. I’m not an ambulance driver on emergency duty neither I’m planning to grab a place in the records book. Call me a newbie or an oldie, I don’t care as far as I’m following good practice.
The time was 11:30 PM, I filled my diesel tank with 13lts fuel at Khelapur HP Fuel Station (MH). Did I say I suffer from “range phobia”?
From Khelapur to Karenji is around 30mins drive. We reached Karenji at noon and now we have started the main stretch and tedious journey to the most awaited destination bidding goodbye to the butter smooth highways.
Karenji – Wani
Karenji to Wani takes 45mins and the drive is through some of the bad roads often traversed by the worst drivers. One such driver was the MHRTC bus driver who came close to me and we would’ve ended up head-on if I had not taken the rocky path on the shoulder of the road. These are the advantages of having a crossover, SUV or a CUV! No other car except these high raised cars can take such abusive roads with such ease avoiding some nasty crashes.
This road takes us through coal factories, deviations, and some narrow bridges. This might sound interesting for some, but trust me, this is one horrible and energy-draining path. What lies further ahead is just the worst.
After a bad drive, we arrived at a Wani junction which confused us during our 2017 trip. Having learnt a lesson from the horrible past, we took the left from the circle.
Wani – Warora
And this is the stretch. The worst part of the journey, energy-draining, body paining stretch. And in cars like the Ford Freestyle where the suspension is as stiff as a rock, more beatings were inevitable.
The drive is for 1 hour takes us through the worst of the worst roads which are always under construction. The pathetic state of this road since 2017 describes the sad state of life of the native villagers.
It's better not to speak much about these roads and carry to the further parts of the journey.
Warora – Chimur
The time was 1:45 PM. After a tiring 1hr 45mins drive we arrived at what is officially called “Vana Kshetr”.
The roads were beautiful and it was obvious for a quick photo shoot. The roads covered with forests on either side give a beautiful look to the road. But the happiness was short-lived! There was mass deforestation on either side of the roads. This described the pathetic state we were in where we are “clinging for development & modernization”. What added to the misery was a bad Warora to Chimur stretch. Not as bad as the previous one though. Finally, the time was 2:30 PM and we have successfully crossed Chimur.
Chimur – Tadoba / Beyond Stay Mahua Tola
A 30mins drive to the resort through a mix of bad and good yet typical forest terrain and we have reached the resort. Those doing this trip be aware not to travel on low slung sedans and hatchbacks.
The time was 3:01 PM. Ahh!! What a feeling! We finally, after traversing through the worst of roads, arrived at the place after a long wait of 3 years! Can’t describe the feeling and there are no words that do justice to it.
We got down from our car, and Mr Shukla was standing with his fellows offering chilled juice and wet wipes. Sadly, I could never drink the chilled juice considering my sour throat.
The time was 3:15 PM and we were extremely hungry having travelled from Hyderabad through some extremely bad roads. We straight away washed our hands and went to the outdoor dining area… What a sight it was!! The beautiful open garden without any boundaries that merge with the forest… we were immediately relaxed with the sight. “Nature is the best cure” and the saying never goes wrong.
The server requested just 5 mins to serve the delicious lunch prepared exclusively to match our spicy taste buds and we finished it quickly gulping piping hot rotis and curry only to escape to our rooms jump on the cosy beds for a deep evening sleep…
It was 5:00 PM. We were in deep sleep; the phone rang and it was Mr Shukla to inform us the evening tea and snacks were ready. He was quick enough to sense the laziness in my sleepy voice and quickly asked if we want it to be served inside our room. I said no, and we left to the open dining space. We quickly had our snacks and set to the evening photo walk with Mr Shukla hoping to see some owls and birds.
We walked far inside the forest and reached the lake.
We searched for some birds and owls but couldn’t find any. I peeped into my 600mm Sony G Master lens to see the treetops but was left in despair. “The wildlife is unpredictable. You don’t know what the very next second would transpire into.” The coming 2 days and 3 safaris are proof.
We spent a good 1 hour inside the forest and were back to the resort and escaped into our cosy rooms.
I spent another 1 hour in setting up my camera battery, SD card and cleaning my lens for the next day safari. It was 7:30 PM, we had some delicious dinner,
had some talking with Mr Shukla and after a very hectic tiring day behind the wheel of my Ford, we called it a day.
24 Feb, 2021
The Kingfisher and its Cath!
The previous day was a hectic one and we were fast asleep in the cool and calm mornings inside the woods. The AC was off, windows opened wide to welcome the cool forest air to fill the room. It was 5:30 AM, after a night of very deep sleep, we woke up to the fresh cool breeze, the chirpy birds and their melodious songs!
We called up Mr Shukla and requested our breakfast to the room. The tea was served hot and the biscuits crispy. And the breakfast? That’s one tasty, mouthwatering parathas!
It was 8:18 AM we went to the terrace attached to our room and enjoyed the warm morning views.
The birds chirping, leaves rumbling and the trees and bushes till my sight has reached made me feel like a home away from home! The forests are somewhere I feel belonged to, I feel happy and I feel like a home away from home.
After finishing breakfast, we went to the dining area to enjoy the view of the lotus lake inside the resort patiently waiting for a beautiful photo.
“Wildlife is unpredictable. It rewards the patient eyes, sturdy hands and stoical postures.”
After a good 30 mins struggle with the heavy 600mm G Master lens in hard postures, the wildlife rewarded with one of the best and the first photo of the trip. The Kingfisher with its catch. One of the best feelings for a wildlife photographer is when they find the most rewarding picture after a lot of struggles.
Kolara Core Safari
The time passed quickly. It was noon and time for lunch. We quickly had our lunch and hopped into our Ford with Mr Shukla. The drive was to Kolara core zone afternoon safari.
It was a 20 mins drive from our resort and we were at the gate by 1:30 PM waiting for Mr Shukla to finish off the entry formalities.
By 1:50 PM we were in our Gyspsys waiting for the gates to open and enter the sprawling forests.
The Sandgrouse was the first bird to welcome us into the Kolara forest and patiently posed for a click.
Followed by many beautiful animals and birds. How many beauties we may find in the forest, the eyes of a wildlife photographer will always desperately search for the big cat. I was no exception.
We drove all around the forest. Multiple rounds around Maya Tala - Tigress Maya, The Queen of Tadoba’s habitat yet, we couldn’t even get a glimpse of her.
The one golden rule in the wildlife is,
“Avoid target safaris. Enter the forest not to see the Tiger but to witness the wild in its natural habitat. Be patient and enjoy nature and wildlife. It’ll reward the purest souls who find solace in the forest”
And I never failed to follow this golden rule. However desperate I was spotting the big cat, I never avoided nor failed to appreciate the sheer beauty of the forest and wildlife. As said, it has rewarded me than all the other entrants in my entire trip.
After multiple rounds inside the core zone and some beautiful moments at the Tadoba lake clicking some beautiful pictures,
mother nature had her plans to reward me.
The time was somewhere around 3:00 PM. We again reached the Tigress Maya abode. Langur calls and the deer were running, The Gypsys lined up and people standing alert while the photographers busy with those heavy lenses in their hands. There were shutter sounds all around and the guide signalling to calm down. The environment changes drastically all in a glimpse when the big cat arrives! It was real and there she was, sitting under cosy bamboo bushes with sheer magnificence.
What a sight it was!! Finally, wildlife has rewarded me with the best pics of Maya. We spent good 30 mins at the place and left with not so heavy but happy hearts.
There are few new rules in the core zone by the MH Forest Dept.
1. No Gypsy is allowed to stand at a place for more than 5 mins and 15 mins in case of tiger spotting.
2. No Gypsy is allowed to take a U-Turn. It must follow the designated path, turn all-around and arrive at the desired location. No matter what.
3. Every Gypsy is tracked by a GPS device.
Though the tracking made sense to me considering the poaching risk, the other 2 rules did not. That just spoils the entire experience and excitement. Anyway, I have no power of reverting them.
After a few more hours inside the forest, the time was 5:45 PM and it was the time for us to exit the forest. By 6:00 PM, we were outside the core zone gate talking with fellow photographers about our experience and checking out each other’s captures. It feels so good to be in a like-minded group of people sharing the same level of interest as we do.
We were in the resort by the dawn, freshened up, had some tasty dinner and called it a day.
25 Feb 2021
Madnapur Buffer Safari
The wind was cool and the windows wide open welcoming the cool breeze. I was fast asleep wrapping myself in the cosy blankets. The time was 3:30 in the morning and I woke up to the wake-up calls of the housekeeping. “sir, aapka aaj morning safari hain sir” said the voice behind the room. The man patiently waited there for my response and left quietly.
The time was 4:30 AM, I was quick enough to have the last 10 mins of sleep and get ready to catch up for the morning safari and to see what the forest has to show this day.
It was 4:45 AM, after a quick chatting with the ever-energetic Shukla, we hopped into our beloved Ford Freestyle, started the engine and we were all set to enter the Madhnapur Buffer Forest.
I often come across people who say they were “disappointed with their trip because they did not see a Tiger!” Few say their money got wasted on a “useless trip”! and few say the other way. But I say mother nature has everything in its lap to show us. Mother knows their children. She only rewards the “purest souls” and not the “commercial souls”. For those who go to a wildlife sanctuary only to spot a tiger, better watch the Discovery channel!
When I say mother nature has everything in its lap to show us, I mean it. This day I was lucky unlike the others en route. I have seen not 1 or 2 but 3 rare sighting animals on my way to the buffer safari gate. Fox and Wild Dogs they were. Quick enough to pass through the way and escape into the forest.
The time was 5:30 AM. I was at the buffer gate. Mr Shukla, as usual, had completed all the formalities and we were inside the forest by 6:00 AM.
There was no GPS tracking this time and the joy in the driver’s face was evident. We took an offroad path. The path not taken by the other Gypsys. The path that was not a path.
We made multiple rounds to multiple locations and water bodies in the forest. We couldn’t spot even a single animal. Not even a bird! The co Gypsy occupants already started calling it a dry day, a wasteful safari and with other demeaning names. I was least bothered and had my tasty breakfast amid forest overlooking a beautiful water body just beside a forest check post having some quality discussions with the police staff.
The time flew fast and it was already 9:00 AM. The cool and breezy wind has turned into the harsh sunlight. I removed my jacket, cap. I made myself light and comfortable. We were just aimlessly roaming inside the forest maintaining a slow pace wondering at the god’s creation.
The time was 9:25 AM and a Gypsy was reversing fast. Then guide of that Gypsy has signalled to the driver of my Gypsy and I understood what it was! I quickly stood, switched on my Sony camera, removed the lens cap and held the heavy 600mm G Master lens in my hand and there she was! 10 months old female subadult of Tigress Junabhai, the first Tiger I have ever seen during my 2017 Tadoba trip in the same location.
This is the early separated one. The youngest of the second litter of Junabhai. She was frightened, possibly seeing a bigger animal. She was running fast crossing the path and hit a tree trunk! She gave a frightened look, a growl, sniffed the trunk for any possible danger and disappeared into the woods…
The brief encounter of just 8 mins was memorable. It was close, really close. It has given me some beautiful shots, my parents some memorable moments and Mr Shukla some memorable videos.
As I always say,
“Forest will reward the purest souls who find solace in the forest”
Out of all the 6 Gypsys that has entered the forest, It was only ours and the other Gypsy to have found the tiger.
It was 10:00 in the morning and we were out of the forest as the previous day, with happy hearts.
After a quick shopping buying some hats, shirts and some souvenirs at the nearby store, we were at the resort, checking the photos and updating WhatsApp status!
Gondmaholi Lake Kayaking
We had a delicious lunch at the dining hall and it was already 2:30 PM. I slept for a few hours and by 4:00 PM after having some delicious pakodis and hot tea, I was all set to “explore the unexplored” on my Ford Freestyle.
Mr Shukla, well aware of liking had planned a Kayaking and birding trip to the Gondmaholi lake. It was 4:30 in the evening. After a good soft roading session on my Ford, we were at the lake bed. We entered the Kayak quickly wearing the life jackets and carefully holding the camera.
The Gondmaholi lake, a beautiful lake situated amid the Phalsgaon buffer zone, home to a variety of beautiful birds which is not known to many. The Govt. of Maharashtra and the Forest Department had started Kayaking at the lake to boost local tourism and to provide a livelihood to the otherwise uneducated and unemployed youth.
We did a full round inside the lake on our Kayak followed by the local youth on a lifeboat. 4 per Kayak are allowed and each Kayak must have a guide which takes the count to 5.
It was a nice 1-hour trip with the sun setting, our Kayak slowly rowing and some beautiful birds in the water with the golden hours as a backdrop! Some of the best moments they were…
I had spotted Pond Heron,
Northern Pintails, Spot-Billed Ducks, Red Crested Pochards
and The Oriental Darter – Snake Bird with the beautiful sun setting backdrop.
Such beautiful scenes never I’ve seen in my life.
Phalasgaon Buffer Night Safari
The time was 5:30 PM and we quickly hopped into our Ford and left for the final safari of our trip, the Phalasgaon Night Safari!
It’s a 10 mins drive from the lake and at 5:45 PM we were at the Phalasgaon safari gate.
Destiny had its plans for the last safari. Mr Shukla who was there with us for all the safaris had to leave to the resort on some urgent work skipping the much-awaited night safari.
Now it was me, my camera and my parents in the Gypsy. The sundown, dark pitching in and the gates open taking us to the deep forest. The night was cold and I had no protective gear. It was just a thin half hands wildlife T-shirt and camouflaged shorts covering my body. The trees were tall and thick and it was a dark gloomy forest which all of sudden wore a very deep and frightening look. The total opposite of what it was just a few hours back!
The driver, Mr Anil and guide Mr Amit need a special mention. You ask me the reason? I ask you to read till the end.
The driver upon our guide’s request quickly took us to a water body where Tiger is often seen. On our way, we’ve seen a Nilghai drinking water. I asked my driver to stop. And I begin clicking photos.
The driver said let’s move but I ordered him to stop! We spent a good 10 mins shooting a Nilghai! The driver was looking at me like a madman staring at a Nilghai. But only a photographer can understand the real reason that I was accustoming myself with the condition and understanding well to strike the perfect balance between aperture, ISO and shutter speed to get a perfect shot for the night is dark, wildlife is unpredictable and I have to be ever ready.
After spending a good 1 hour at the lake, I asked my driver to move. I had a very bad headache because of the strobe lights used by the guide. I turned off my camera and dozed off in the super bouncy Gypsy. It was 9:15 PM already. Just 45 mins for us to get out.
We were roaming in the forest like a madman and I was sleeping with a bad headache. The guide woke me up. “utho sir, udhar kuch dikhayi diya” said the guide Amit. I was hopeless of any spotting yet, optimistic at the same time. I woke up, switched on the camera and checked all the controls. The driver Anil took the Gypsy a bit inside the forest deviating from the path.
The night was dark and scary. The wind blowing sharp and cool and the leaves rumbling making noises… the strobe light on and the headlights off! I peeped into my camera and the 600mm G Master zoomed to just half its limit and there it was sleeping! The beauty that I’ve never seen. The beautiful beast that many of us have only read and heard of but have never seen. The rarest of the animals, the Leopard!!!
What a sight! What a sight! A close 13mins encounter left us with lifelong memories and tales to tell to people and friends… the sighting blew my mind and my headache vanished too!
The animal woke up
and jumped only to disappear into the pathless woods…
It was 9:50 PM, we were outside the forest before 10 mins excitedly talking to the forest guards. I hope now you got the reason why I said the driver, Mr Anil and guide Mr Amit need a special mention.
At 10:00 PM sharp, we have left to the resort in our Ford in the empty forest roads…
Beyond Stay Mahua Tola
We had our dinner, spoke to Mr Shukla telling him how much he missed the sighting, we showed him some pics, sent a few to Mr Amit and Anil, updated the same as my WhatsApp status and called it a day.
26 July 2021
Beyond Stay Mahua Tola
The last day of our trip… This very thought has given me a sudden saddening vibe. The much-awaited trip came to an end! As the saying goes, all good things have an end, this good vacation too had to end. The only thing that mattered was the way it has ended. In a good way or not so good way. And this very thing, I leave it to the readers to judge…
This day, we planned we will wake up late, enjoy the noon and start late.
The time was 9:15 AM. We woke up to the worker's voices. Freshened up, we went to the dining area and had our breakfast. We left for Kolara gate at 10:30 AM and spent 30 mins buying some more souvenirs for our family and friends. It was 11:40 AM we returned to the resort to pack our bags.
We finished our lunch early, went to our rooms and took a quick nap. The time was 3:30 PM and we started our drive back to Hyderabad bidding goodbye to Mr Shukla the team and the Forest.
Coming back to the first question,
How did the plans my destiny had for me turn out? Good or bad?
Leaving this answer to my readers to guess, I’m putting an end to this beautiful journey.
Goodbye until the next wildlife road trip on my XUV500 AWD.
Few More Photos From The Trip
A group of Spotted Deers at Kolara Core Zone
Red-Wattled Lapwing at Kolara Core Zone
A Female Sambar Deer and Doe at Kolara Core Zone
Red-Vented Bulbul at Kolara Core Zone - Breakfast Views.
Red-Vented Bulbul at Kolara Core Zone - Breakfast Views.
Side Lit Picture of a Spotted Deer and Doe at Kolara Core Zone
Side Lit Picture of Spotted Deer at Kolara Core Zone - Tadoba Lake
A Male Sambar Deer at Kolara Core Zone
Spotted Deer at Kolara Core Zone
Side View of a Male Sambar Deer at Kolara Core Zone - Tadoba Lake
Honey Buzzard at Kolara Core Zone
A Male Sambar Deer at Kolara Core Zone - Maya Tala (Tigress Maya's Zone)