Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nagzira – Head spinning hidden haven


Wild Dog pup

Nagzira had me gasping for breath; and then some. I spent barely 2 days there, but the sightings I had there were just mind-blowing. And I’m not raving about the tigers alone, though we saw them on three of the four safaris. I’m talking about one of the most charismatic predators of the Indian jungle – the dhole or Indian Wild Dog. Part of this joy comes comes from the fact that I was dying to see a large pack, having seen just a few scattered sightings of individuals in Pench and Tadoba earlier. And Nagzira came like manna from heaven.

I’d planned to visit Nagzira because it was one of those low profile parks, and yet there was quite a bit of chatter and tiger pictures on Facebook. What was difficult however was getting a contact there and finding a place to stay. And then someone put me in touch with Nadeem Khan (a professor from Bhandara and Nagzira lover and expert) and he in turn, put me into a very interesting group trip of wildlifers, organized by Rajnesh Naidu (one of Nagzira’s most ardent supporters) to rustle up interest and ideas for Nagzira’s progress and protection. And I listened, fascinated, as a diverse set of very committed wildlifers engaged in some serious conversations about conservation. Being part of this group really made the trip far more enriching.
Jai, one of the heir-apparents in Nagzira
We drove to Nagzira from Tadoba, a 4 hour drive on pretty decent roads. And we got there just in time for a quick lunch before the afternoon safari. Rajnesh hustled the whole group into 6 gypsies and as we drove into the park, I was amazed at the number of tourists. There were 40 vehicles that went into Nagzira, one of India’s most low profile reserves! What I assumed would be a quiet excursion was a full house!

Flehmen - Jai uses an organ in his upper palate to sense other tiger scents
We went straight to a waterhole where the legendary A-mark tigress and her two grown male cubs, Jai and Veeru were normally found. And sure enough, a few minutes after we got there, both the boys decided to give us a sighting. They came, drank and wandered back into the bush. And further ahead, we saw A-mark lying in the shade near another waterhole.

Brotherly Love - Jai and Veeru
And then the circus began – vehicles of all shapes and sizes jammed the road. Lots of private tourist vehicles, with no awareness on how to drive in the jungle. They cut in between vehicles, held up vehicles behind them, one of them even honked and another had his guests open the door and come out for a brief bit. The worst advertisement for wildlife tourism and a total shame. So much so that Rajnesh had to play traffic cop to clear the jam.

After the safari, we came back to the forest department tents near the gate. It’s a really nice little complex with very comfortable tents and excellent food cooked by local people. And there are bathing areas and loos and now they even have chemical toilets. A fantastic experience, very different to staying in a ‘resort’ and much more in sync with the forest.

The next morning, we set out to see the family again and saw them sleeping in dense bush at a distance. Then at breakfast (lovely poha and tea) at the forest complex near the beautiful Nagzira lake, one of our other gypsies came by to say that they’d seen a big pack of wild dogs eating a kill, barely a kilometer away. We dropped everything we had and rushed there, but the dogs had finished the kill. Then, just as we were ready to give up, our guide spotted the pack around 100 metres away, under a tree.


So we waited, near a waterhole, but without much hope for the dogs to come closer. It looked like they’d already had their fill. And just as I feared we had to return with only poor quality, long range pictures, the dogs started to get up. And, led by the cautious Alpha male, they walked towards us, to the water. In turn, at least 8 or 9 of the 17 strong pack came and drank and gave us unbelievable sightings. For more than an hour, I saw a whole pack of wild dogs, pups and all. One of my most unforgettable sightings.

The Alpha male makes the first move towards the water
That seemed to be it for the dog sightings when it was time to head back. Dhole typically don’t stay in a place for long, they keep running through the forest in search of food. Hoping against hope, we came back in the afternoon, and there they were, again, in the same waterhole. Then they saw some spotted deer and suddenly their body language changed. There was a lot more excitement and urgency in the pack and we were sure that a hunt was on. That was not to be, and they were content going back and forth to the waterhole. It was probably the only time in my life that I’d given up a virtually sure shot tiger sighting (barely a kilometer away) And if I could see wild dogs like this, I would do it again. And again.




3 trips and amazing sightings on each one. I was completely sated and thrilled with Nagzira. Day 2 was superb and went a long way in erasing all the negative energy caused by the traffic jams on the first evening. But the highlight was the conversations over dinner – about how to ensure Nagzira remained unspoilt by rampant tourism while still being a tourist destination. And in that regard, we were to meet Nagzira’s dynamic Field Director Mr. Srinivasa Reddy the next day.

The final morning, we’d all decided we wanted to see newer parts of the park and Rajnesh took us to a beautiful ancient Shiva temple. The peace and serenity of a temple in the jungle is simply to be experienced to be believed. But a newer temple building is being built and the ubiquitous ‘holy’ hindu days mean that even a secluded temple like this has so much litter around it. I wonder how we can disrespect our gods so much by throwing so much litter around our ‘holy’ places?

On our way back, to meet Mr. Reddy, we just missed A-Mark and her cubs at a waterhole but saw another pack of wild dogs in the bush. Four safaris and amazing sightings in all of them. And then we had a great hour long meeting with Mr. Reddy, it was so good to meet someone so passionate, committed and open minded, yet clear and decisive. We were also joined by Mr. Pathy, formerly of Gir National Park. He spoke about their measures to protect lions and how they acted on the poaching crises a few years ago. May their tribe increase!!

And that was Nagzira. I will never ever forget those wild dog sightings. The first time that tigers played second fiddle! And being part of that group was both enlightening and extremely stimulating. Many many thanks to Rajnesh (and Nadeem) for a superb time. Truly spectacular Nagzira.

Nagzira Trip Guide

Getting there
Nagzira is about 140 kms east of Nagpur (the closest big city and airport) while the closest town to Nagzira is Bhandara (60 kms) The roads from Nagpur are very good, on the whole and should be around 2 ½ hours or so.

Stay
The forest department tented complex at Pitezari gate is your best bet, the complex is clean and pleasant and the air-cooled tents are very comfortable. And the food is excellent!
To book, you can contact the President of the Eco-Development Committee, Nagzira. Alternatively, check out www.nagzira.com for information and also updates on the new online reservation system.

A couple of private resorts are currently under construction and should be hopefully ready for next season

Safaris
From next season, safari bookings are going to be online (through www.nagzira.com) with entry for registered gypsies only. No private vehicles will henceforth be allowed in for safaris.




Canine susu