There are passes in Melghat that invaders from the north traversed to reach Berar where the Imad Shahi dynasty was founded in 1484.
Two historic forts called Narnala and Gawilgarh guard the main east-west ridge. In 1803, in the Second Maharatta War, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who later became the Duke of Wellington, captured the Gawilgarh fort from the Marathas. Melghat was an automatic choice when Project Tiger was launched in 1973.
'Bhavai Puja' is one of the local customs of the Korku adivasis, and is performed annually at the onset of the monsoons. Children between 10-12 years of age carry out the puja. They bathe in the nalla or river near the village, catch a frog and bring it back to the Hanuman temple, where the frog is put in a small pot of water. The direction in which the water splashes is believed to indicate the direction from which the rains will come. The children then put the frog in a bamboo basket after smearing it with wet mud and go house-to-house singing that the pools have all dried up. People who hear their song, come out of their houses and pour water over them. In the evening, the frog is brought back to the temple and released into the nalla or river the following day.
'Rupa Bhavala' is a nalla that originates from a plateau in Gugarnal National Park and joins the Gadga river as two waterfalls, and ultimately meets the Tapti. Local legend has it that the place is named after two youngsters in love who jumped off the ledge here, in the face of parental opposition. The story of the girl Rupa and her young lover is believed to symbolise eternal love, in the union of the two waterfalls.
Melghat lies at the southern end of the Satpura ranges. The river Tapti, which is the northern limit of the reserve, branches into five major tributaries – Khandu, Khapra, Sipna, Gadga and Dolar – all of which flow through the reserve, with the Sipna and Dolar flowing through the core. Several pools and streams course through the area, but in the summer only a few small water sources remain. A few perennial streams ensure both water and pasture for herbivores. Small traditional earthen dams are constructed every year to augment the water sources and conserve the soil.
Melghat's rugged topography is characterised by steep cliffs and rocky ravines and more than forest guards, this is what protects it from encroachers. The hills are between 200 to 1,500 m. high with Vairat Devi Point being the tallest at 1,178 m. An irregular succession of hills and valleys vary in altitude and gradient, with numerous spurs branching off from the main ridge. Between plateau and hills are fodder-rich saddles used extensively by wild animals. Teak forests and bamboo thickets combine here to form prime tiger habitat… remnants of the once grand forests of Central India.
Melghat is a prime habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger, Panthera tigris. However, it isn't easy to spot a tiger in Melghat, so look for remnants of kills or scratch marks on trees or pugmarks as signs of the presence of the great cat. And if you see one, consider yourself twice blessed, for the real joy is being in the tiger's home in the first place.
Leopards and jungle cats thrive here, and the area is also home to the rusty spotted cat. Packs of dholes roam through the forest, and wild pig root about in the luxuriant undergrowth. Jackals and hyenas scavenge fresh kills. Foxes and wolves have also been seen, though less frequently.
The Indian bison or gaur is another important animal of the reserve. Magnificent specimens can be seen alone or in small herds of five or so often feeding in bamboo clumps. Generally left alone, large tigers have sometimes been known to bring down a gaur!
But the tiger's staple diet is deer, predominantly sambar. Barking deer or muntjac, chinkara, chausingha and chital are plentiful. Blackbuck are also resident as are mouse deer and nilgai. You can spot langurs in the trees, or hear their alarm calls in the jungles. They share their high-rise homes with tree shrews, flying squirrels and bats.
Ratels, sloth bear, palm civet, small Indian civet and porcupines are other creatures found in the reserve. The Tapti river harbours a small population of otters, several species of frogs and over 24 species of fish.
There are 16 species of snakes that have been documented including the green vine snake, python and the cobra. Fat-tailed geckos, forest calotes, lizards and several species of fresh water turtles are also found here.
Additionally, over 250 species of birds have been listed in Melghat, but it is most importantly a raptor paradise. Birds of prey include the Crested Serpent Eagle whose call often fills the skies. Hawk eagles are found almost all over the reserve, while Eagle Owls restrict themselves to large trees near the streams and rivers. Reports that came in towards the middle of the year 2000 suggest that vulture numbers have dropped. Crows and Rufous Treepies are among the first birds to be seen near kills.
The Golden Oriole forages in trees for insects and fruit, and you might spot the bright yellow head of the male. The Black-hooded Oriole is also found here. The Gold-mantled Leafbird or Chloropsis camouflages itself beautifully, but listen for its melodious song, to locate it. Grey Francolin and Jungle Bush Quail may suddenly burst out from the undergrowth, but they will allow you only the very briefest of sightings.
Parakeets, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Racket-tailed Drongo and bee-eaters are relatively common in the reserve as are the Black-rumped Woodpecker and the Stork-billed Kingfisher. The Black-capped Kingfisher may be seen around Bitkilpatti near the Dolar village, on some occasions. Crested Larks can be spotted in scrub and grassy areas where sightings of the Great Bustard have also been reported.
The Fairy Bluebird, which was once reported in Melghat, is not seen any more but the Forest Spotted Owlet believed extinct was seen again after 113 years on 25th November 1997 by Pamela Rasmussen, David Abbot and Ben King in Shahada near Taloda.
Early mornings and dusk are unquestionably your best bet. You might encounter a sloth bear in the morning, and several other birds and animals during the day near waterholes. If you are lucky, you could spot owls and panthers (leopards) at dusk just as you are leaving the sanctuary.
30 sq. km. of the Tourism Zone is well protected with a profusion of shrubs and grasses where large concentrations of herbivores are found.
The Wad Pohe waterhole near a massive banyan or wad tree upon which a machan rests, provides a lookout point at a few small pools. The area is prime sloth bear country.
Gaur can be spotted between Semadoh to Raipur and on the Dolar plateau where the core area starts. Rhesus monkeys frequent the area near Gawilgarh fort. One can spend hours sitting atop machans at the Fitakaripani waterhole in the hope of spotting sambar or tiger, barely 15 m. away.
Bana Aam or 'Bear's Mango' is a perennial waterhole upstream from the nalla, Rupa Bhavala. This place is the hub of wildlife activity in summer. Umber Pani or 'Gaur's graveyard' is another small waterhole dug amidst the rocks. Gaur, peafowl, junglefowl and langurs frequent the place. It is located in a narrow rocky nalla bed, with steep slopes on either side. Lantana weeds and a few trees including the small umber, Ficus glomerata grow here, at the base of which lies the waterhole.
The sloth bear is found in the escarpments around the Narnala and Gawilgarh forts. The area around Chikaldhara, a hill station affords an opportunity to see sambar or a foraging sloth bear. Bears are often found amidst the bamboo on the hillside, camouflaged by the huge black boulders that lie in the mountains. Night drives along the tarred roads of this famed tourist resort town may reveal plenty of nocturnal wildlife including civets, owls and, with luck, a leopard.
Waterbirds are seen in the Sipna and Tapti rivers, especially in the winters. Owls, particularly the Brown Fish Owl, are seen in the older, larger trees that overhang rivers and streams. Eagles and falcons are most likely to be sighted on the steep hills and cliffs that characterise Melghat.
If you are quiet, crows may give away the location of fresh kills. You might even chance upon the tiger! And if you chance upon a road kill (sadly on the increase since the roads were tarred) be sure to report it to the authorities. The hill-station of Chikaldhara (25 km. from Melghat) has all the commercial benefits (and disadvantages) of a popular tourist spot with old Victorian bungalows of colonial design.
Forts at Gawilgarh, Narnala and Asirgarh bordering the reserve, are of great historical interest. They stand on precipitous slopes and have defied conquests in earlier times. Today they offer a splendid view of the surrounding plains (Don't forget your camera and binoculars when you trek up to vantage points!).
About three kilometres from Makhala village in the reserve towards Jarida, is a beautiful waterfall with splendid mountains in the background and wild bananas growing in the rocky crags. The spot is barely four-five metres from the Mahkala-Jarida road. Local tribal communities include Korku, Gond, Nihal, Balai, Gawli and Gaolan. But the Korkus dominate, (60-65 per cent of the local populace). You would need a local guide at least as a translator. Be sure to sample the sweet, mouth-watering milk-based sweet called rabdi - a delicacy made by the Gawlis!
The Nature Interpretation Centre at Semadoh, established in 1988, attracts tourists throughout the year. It has a museum, an amphitheater and a canteen.
Permits to trek can be obtained from the Conservator of Forests and Field Director, Project Tiger, Melghat.
You may not see any large carnivores on your trip. But, if you are alert for tracks and droppings, especially on the dry riverbed of the Sipna river, the thrill of decoding the signs they leave behind and enhancing them visually with your imagination, may well match the real thing.
If you do have permission to walk at dusk, arm yourself with a stout bamboo to hit the ground on as you move to communicate your presence to ground-dwelling creatures like snakes that may be about.
If you do see a large predator on foot it is advisable to move slowly away to allow it right of way. Then stay still. Do not panic or run.
Since the fire hazard at Melghat is a serious problem, please do not smoke, and carefully put out every last timber in your campfire before leaving.
The Field Director, Project Tiger, Melghat Tiger Reserve,
East Melghat Division, Amravati - 444602.
0721-2662792/ 2663604; E-mail: email@example.com
Nature Conservation Society,
C/o Kishor Rithe, "Pratishtha", Bharat Nagar,
Akoli Road, Near Sai Nagar, Amravati - 444605.
The summers temperatures can cross 400C. In winter, Melghat is cool with temperatures dropping below 150C! Between 1,000 to 2,250 mm. of rain falls during the monsoons. But the quantum received by different valleys varies because some of these fall in rain shadow belts.
December to May is the best season to visit Melghat. In summer, the forests are thin and the visibility good. In winter, it is more difficult to sight animals because of the profusion of reeds, grasses and weeds like lantana but this is when animals are in their prime condition making wildlife viewing a pleasure. When the grass is tall, animals could lie as close as within three metres of forest trails and still remain successfully hidden.
Chikaldara Convention Complex (MTDC). The place is located 20 km. from the reserve, away from the eastern border in Amravati District. Tel.: 0721-20234/ 20263. The Semadoh Tourist Complex situated inside Melghat, is run by the Forest Department.
For reservations, contact: Field Director, Project Tiger, Paratwada, Dist. Amravati, Maharashtra – 444805. Tel.: 0721-662792; Fax: 0721-62493.
The rest house at Kolkaz is a favourite with staunch wildlifers and provides a beautiful view of the forests around. Book in advance. The facilities are not extravagant. For reservations, contact Divisional Forest Officer, East Melghat, Dist. Amravati. One could also choose to stay at the rest house at Dhakna. For reservations, contact the Divisional Forest Officer, West Melghat, Chikaldhara, Dist. Amravati.
By Air: The closest airports are Akola (160 km.) and Nagpur (260 km.)
By Rail: Badnera is the nearest railhead. The Bombay-Howrah Express, Ahmedabad-Madras Navjeevan Express, Ahmedabad-Howrah Express arrive here. Within Maharashtra: the Kolhapur-Nagpur Maharashtra Express and the Bhusaval-Nagpur Passenger Train can be taken.
By Road: Chikaldara, a popular hill station, is connected to several major towns and cities. It is about 763 km. from Mumbai and 25 km. from the reserve. Nagpur (230 km.) and Amravati (100 km.) are closer, and State Transport buses are available from these cities to Chilkaldara. All buses going via Paratwada to Dharni and Burhanpur stop at the Tourist Centre in Semadoh. MTDC also organises excursions to the reserve. One can travel by jeeps arranged by the Forest Department on the forest roads within the reserve. Camping and trekking arrangements within the reserve can be made at Semadoh Tourist Centre.