BIG CAT COUNTRY
WORDS PARITA PATEL
PHOTOGRAPHS HIMANSHU PANDYA
GREAT FROM Mumbai
GREAT FOR A wildlife weekend
Resting against soft pillows on a verandah as you sip green tea, is a pretty good way to spend the evening. Add to that a view of the pool and, beyond it, the jungle with the occasional rustling of dried leaves raising your hopes of spotting an animal, and you have a few days of absolute bliss to look forward to at tigress@ghosri, a boutique resort in the buffer zone of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra. Run by conservationists Poonam and Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, who converted their villa into a homestay, it’s a gateway to all that Tadoba has to offer.
The villa and the adjoining two-bedroom Neem Cottage look like the home you’ve always wanted to build if you had the time. The brown-and-beige colour scheme fits right into the jungle theme, and the French windows bring in lots of natural light. Animal references are everywhere; the Dhanwateys have clearly been particular about choosing every artefact – framed images of the animals that visit their unfenced property dominate the walls, a family of wooden elephants takes centre stage on a table even as a glass turtle looks like its about to walk off it.
A monitor in the living room shows a constant feed from the property’s watering hole, called the tiger taka, which is visited by leopards, wild boars, langurs and, of course, tigers. So, while you dig into the food served by the ever-smiling staff, you can watch the live video feed and rush to the terrace to get a view of the ‘visitors’ when they pop around for a drink. It’s an unreal feeling to know that shy tigers and elusive leopards are just a half-minute walk away.
While safaris into the reserve are de rigeuer there are other ways to spot the wildlife here too. The 5-Sense Hike is a low-intensity walk that gives you a feel of the forest You learn about alarm and mating calls, how to identify animals from their droppings, and also about fires that could destroy the forest. While the staff explains the difference between a tiger’s and a leopard’s pugmarks, a sambar sounds an alarm call. A leopard is probably around. Everyone is on alert, expecting it to emerge from the bushes. After a good 30 minutes, you realise the leopard isn’t in the mood to be gawked at. Minutes later, you stumble upon tiger pugmarks, deep enough to make a cast. The staff carries a cast-making kit in case you want to make one as a souvenir. If you’re looking for something more intense, give jungle patrolling a shot. The staff patrols the forest daily to check for possible threats, to make sure no one’s cutting down trees and to look out for forest fires. The walk goes through difficult terrain, sometimes up sharp inclines, where you have to bend to avoid the sharp low branches, but you might be rewarded by a spotted deer staring into your eyes. It soon realises you’re the enemy and runs away, its hoofbeats getting fainter and fainter at the homestay, this is the sort of resort you didn’t think would exist – a place of luxury, conservancy and the sweet sounds of the jungle just outside the front door.