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How to plan a safari and select zones in Tadoba?

Over the last decade Tadoba has firmly established itself as one of India’s premier tiger safari destinations, and for a good reason! The Tadoba habitat and the greater Tadoba landscape houses an incredible number of tigers supported by a large number of waterbodies (1 per 2 sq. kms on an average as per the Forest Department recommendations), good prey density and a dense bamboo and teak jungle.

Tiger tracking and eventual sightings in Tadoba are fabulous all year round, be it winter, spring or summer (note that most zones remain closed owing to the Indian monsoon that is from July to September).

Before going into the technicalities, let us dig into the details that matter right away!

Zones, areas and demarcation:
The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, like all reserves throughout the country, has tourism and non tourism areas. The tourism area is divided into - Buffer and Core areas. There are 6 ‘Core safari’ entry gates and 12 ‘Buffer safari’ entry gates. All these gates lead to forests with a fantastic tiger population!
While planning your trip, you have to keep in mind that this is a massive tiger reserve with an area which would soon be 2000 sq km and thus the gates are located at considerable distances from each other!

For example, the distance between the Mohurli and Kolara gates is a whopping 100 kilometers (2.5 hours by the road allowed for normal vehicular traffic, around the national park).

The 6 ‘Core safari’ entry gates are:
1. Mohurli
2. Khutvanda
3. Kolara
4. Navegaon
5. Zari
6. Pangdi

Of these, no matter whichever among Mohurli, Khutvanda, Kolara or Navegaon gates you enter from, you have the exact same area allowed for tourism and tiger spotting!

These 4 gates, thus, allow you to explore the tourism areas of Tadoba Zone (containing areas like Tadoba Lake, Pandharpauni, Navegaon meadows, Jamni, Kolara road, etc) and Mohurli zone (containing areas like Telia, Kosba line, Jamunzora, Aswalhira, etc).

While the remaining 2 ‘Core safari’ entry gates that is Zari and Pangdi are located on the eastern side of the tiger reserve and give you an exclusive (not allowed from any other gate) access into the tourism area of Kolsa, a beautiful forest which is less visited and thus comparatively unexplored!

The 12 ‘Buffer safari’ entry gates are typically located around the ‘Core Safari’ entry gates (barring a few).

Below is a quick reference of where the Buffer gates are located with respect to the core zones:
1. The Agarzari, Devada Adegaon and Junona zones are located around the Mohurli ‘Core Safari’ entry gate.
2. The Ramdegi-Navegaon zone is located around the Navegaon ‘Core Safari’ entry gate.
3. The Kolara zone (buffer), Madnapur zone, Alizanza zone, Sirkada zone are located around the Kolara ‘Core Safari’ entry gate (but can be easily accessed from Navegaon ‘Core Safari’ entry gate too.
4. The remaining Buffer gates are located around Chandrapur town and toward the Kolsa core zone.

It is important to understand that the following Buffer gates allow you to explore the exact same area:
1. Ramdegi-Navegaon and Alizanza.
2. Kolara zone and Madnapur-Kolara zone.
3. Devada Adegaon zone and Junona zone.

Buffer versus core conundrum:
This is the biggest question that besets not just the novice but also the hardened safari-goer! Most of us, and naturally so, would associate the ‘Core’ as a region with far greater greenery, less disturbance from human activities, much more animal and bird density and above all - a far greater probability of spotting tigers as compared to the ‘Buffer’.While this may be partly true in most national parks, Tadoba is an absolute exception to this fact!
Before I explain how to choose the zone, here is a quick explanation of what is ‘Buffer’ and ‘Core’.

The Core zone is basically the central area (like an atom’s nucleus) which comprises the originally demarcated area of the national park with stricter rules, zilch human disturbance and (usually) no villages or settlements.

The Buffer zone is the area of forest that surrounds the core, acting like a cushion or a shock absorber to the core (like the atom’s electrons!). A few human settlements exist while managed and sustained human activities are allowed in Buffer.

The main assignment of the Buffer forest is to protect the Core forest and ensure the animals have a safe passage for migration. Buffer forests also connect the National Parks to other sanctuaries and adjacent Tiger Reserves through ‘Tiger Corridors’.
Now, in the case of Tadoba, since the Core had excess tigers, many sub-adults and transient tigers moved into the buffers. The buffers, quite notably, have good natural and man-made water sources, dense vegetation and large, undisturbed patches of forests. This ensured that the tigers found a safe haven for their existence, breeding and habitat.

Over the last half a decade or so, Buffers in Tadoba have had a considerably larger number of tigers as compared to the core!

Tracking tigers and seeing other wildlife in Core versus Buffer:
Most Buffer zones contain a lesser population of ungulates and other prey species (Tigers in the Buffer at times resort to cattle lifting) than the Core and thus their alarm calls on sensing the Big Cat (the most reliable means of tracking tigers) are less in number than the Core.
The Buffer zones have many more roads than the Core; the jungles in most Buffers are denser and greener than the Core and thus, the rational mind would say that tracking tigers here would be more difficult. But, an incredible number of tigers makes up for the hindering factors mentioned above!

When to visit Tadoba:
Another question that has many a seasoned safari enthusiast baffled!

Should it be winter, when the jungle dons it’s most verdurous and lively coat of green, with abundant water and plentiful prey or should the safari be planned in the incredibly hot and dusty summer months, when the acute shortage of water makes tigers move toward the existing waterholes, making sightings almost assured!
While this question cannot be answered without being biased, I have tried to reason with both schools of thought.

Before I explain it, let me stress on the fact that tigers are seen throughout the year. Some of my most exceptional sightings, ‘road-shows’ and memories with tigers have been in the winter season!

Post monsoon and winter - 
The forest is lush and green and tigers have plentiful water everywhere. Alarm calls are less frequent and tracking tigers is slightly difficult as compared to summer. But, tigers prefer walking on safari paths due to the cool climate; need to mark their territories and the fact that the tigers actually love walking on the soft and dry safari road sand. If you are a photographer wanting to make unique images, if you are a tiger enthusiast who wants to spend quality time with tigers in action/motion and if you enjoy the raw and ultimate thrill of tracking a tiger, then the months from October to early March are for you!

Summer - 
It is dry, hot, and dusty. It gets scorching by April. Most of the waterholes dry up and tigers being animals who absolutely love water, you are bound to see them at the existing waterholes. Knowing their daily habits and movement patterns makes it comparatively easy to track them! If you are someone who wants to spend large amounts of time with many tigers and who wants the fundamental probability of a tiger sighting to be as high as possible, then summer is the time for you!

Choosing the zone/s:
Before choosing your safari and the zones, you need to have your priorities straight. Deciding on the main objectives of your tour can make the planning process a breeze.
Knowing a tiger tracking specialist or an agent who is constantly updated with the tiger sightings and movements and who can predict the tiger sightings a few months in advance is crucial. An expert like this would make your job easier allowing you to enjoy the actual safari, leaving all the planning to him/her.

Mixing and matching zones, Buffer and Core, is always a great idea!

Important tip:
Safari permits for the many gates in Tadoba are extremely limited, the booking for which happens 4 months prior to safari date. Most permits get fully booked many months before the safari date.

It is always a wise decision to plan your Tadoba safari tour at least 130 days in advance!

This will ensure that your booking specialist cuts no corners, has all options in terms of safari zones and hotels available and thus provide you with a fabulous safari experience!

Before you choose (and book) the hotel, ensure the Zones you want are available and are easily accessed from the hotel.

We know of a lot of stories when people have booked a hotel online (because it looked good and it indeed is) but all the ‘happening’ safari zones around it were fully booked! This made them travel for hours to reach the ‘available’ safari zones thus sabotaging their overall safari experience!

It is always recommended to book a Tadoba tour with a recognized wildlife operator or a Tadoba expert, who knows what is to be done!

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