Spending three nights and four days in a jungle is no doubt fun, relaxing, interesting and there’s absolutely nothing you’d need to worry about! With cozily nestled resorts that offer you everything you need while on a holiday to their humble staff and jeeps rights at the doorstep, a safari getaway is simply the best you can make of your trip. But, if you’re the kind of person who often looks for a mix of adventure and mystery in every trip, Nagzira is the place for you! The abode of leopards they call it; the Navegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve, unlike other national parks, surprises you with an experience that is raw and unsullied in its own way. A vital forest, linking central and southern areas of forests such as Kanha, Tadoba and others, this forest is uniquely named ‘Naag’ after a snake temple situated in the middle of the forest and ‘Zira’ which means a ‘source of water’ that comes from a hill in the place. Interesting, isn’t it?
In the day, the paths tell a different story here, the soaring trees whisper secrets of the luxuriant land, pugmarks hide tales of the evasive creatures that roam these paths, alarm calls are bound to keep you at the edge of your seat and langurs are likely to snatch a pack of chips or two from an open backpack! Nestled between the Bhandara and Gondia districts of Maharashtra, Nagzira is the perfect place for a truly wild adventure! But, this is not the prime reason I’d convince you to visit this particular jungle. What adds to your adventure here is the sheer excitement of living in the core of the place! Yes, that’s right. Nagzira offers its campers a chance to stay in rest houses situated in the very core of the forest. Now, if you’ve been to Corbett and stayed in Dhikala, you know what I’m talking about but the rest house here is basic with limited facilities, simple but clean rooms and a setup that may not be similar to what resorts in other national parks offer. On the contrary, it’s more than enough when staying in the core is a treat in itself and you would read in a bit why the experience is absolutely unforgettable. Topping it all off, the view of the lake from where you’re staying is simply breathtaking and you can sit on the banks for hours, watching or photographing the birds and animals that come for a drink. If the odds are in your favour, you may even spot a leopard or two on the banks!
The safari is a different experience all together though. Tall, dense vegetation, narrow paths, buoyant fog wrapped over picturesque lakes and sparkling morning dew mixed with the smell of fresh earth and tree bark, Nagzira, in all its glory is a place you’d love to come back to, every time. In winter, the cold clings to you like static no matter how many layers you wear and your eyes sting from the chilly wind in an open jeep but, once you drive deep down the woodland, the blissful sight of deer nibbling at crisp grass in the day’s light, distant hoots, the occasional rumble of leaves as a langur peeps at you and the morning sun are bound to calm your soul, bringing warmth for sure. Known and preserved as ‘green oasis’ of the state, hilly slopes, dry deciduous vegetation, moist soils and teak make up majority of the forest and is home to 166 species of birds, 34 species of mammals that include the leopard, wild dog, tiger, jungle cat, sloth bear, small Indian civet, gaur, nilgai, chital, sambar deer, mouse deer, langur and more and also a number of reptiles like the Indian cobra, rock python, keelback, bull-grog, tree-grog etc. From seed to mud, sun and water, this land hums the tune of life, each verse fresh and delightful.
But, as the night engulfs Nagzira, the once azure sky now quietly marrying a poetry of stars, you’d be thinking twice just to step out alone. With the rest house shutting out all its electricity at roughly 7:30 pm, you’re left with nothing but a torch to find your way in the inky darkness and the rest house staff suggest you’d rather stay indoors post dinner time.
During my stay there, our rooms were only as far as a five-minute walk from the entrance with a whole view of the pristine jungle right out front, a lake stretching before us and the glimmering stars above. Unusual hisses and croaks, buzzing and hoots, whistles and bellows made me jump and it irked me the same, each time I had to make that walk in the dark. Midnight brought its share of surprises with the sudden rattling of leaves right outside my room’s window, the screeching of langurs somewhere nearby or loud echos of a sambar deer in the woods. On the second night, I woke at around 2 am to alarm calls deep in the jungle as they intensified with each passing moment. Quickly peeping out the window, I scanned the place to spot any signs of a leopard in the vicinity. Every sound could be heard loud and clear in the grim silence of the night, often jolting me awake at ungodly hours for four days. Even the wind felt as though it imitated sounds of the wild and I would patiently try to get some sleep before the sun came out. Of course, the day made us smile with unexpected sightings and stories to remember but, apart from a fear of the dark, the night gave us an opportunity to grab a blanket and sit in the verandah with friends, chatting, laughing and anxiously waiting for any signs of a big cat. That experience is something I’d cherish for a lifetime.
How to reach Nagzira Tiger Reserve?
Reaching a nation park can be slightly tricky due to the lack of direct connectivity but with proper help and information, your drive is sure to be hassle-free. The easiest way to reach Nagzira is by air. First, you catch a flight to Nagpur (the Nagpur airport has well airline connectivity to other major cities in the country). Once you get off at the airport, you can hire a taxi to get to the tiger reserve. The distance is about 160 km.
If you’re taking the bus, Sakoli is the closest bus stand situated on the Mumbai-Kolkata Highway and roughly 22km away from the tiger reserve.
By train, the nearest railways stations are Tirora railway station at 19 km, Gondia railway station at 45 km and Bhandara railway station at 75 km respectively. You may then hire a cab to reach your destination.
What’s the best time to visit?
Winter is preferably the best season to visit the national park. Safaris the in summer can be extremely exhausting and living in the core means a lack of air conditioning. Hence, visiting Nagzira in the winter is a better option. Thick fog greets you as you enter the gates and you would find a pair of jungle owlets huddled in the same spot, each time. Summer sure brings its own share of thrilling sightings in a lot of national parks around the country and you would find animals near the water holes quite often but of course, the beauty of winter is magic in itself.
Nagzira will always hold a special place in my heart for it made me love the experience of a wildlife safari even more and as Jim Fowler rightly quoted, “the continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life!”