If its tigers were not famous, Melghat would have been known as a raptor or eagle sanctuary. It is, in any event, a birdwatcher's dream come true. This is rugged, forest country and with the right attitude, you could encounter unforgettable experiences every day. Remember too, that though you may not easily see the tiger, it is there. The forest is part of one of India's most vital tiger breeding habitats.
Melghat means 'meeting of the ghats' which is just what the area is, a large tract of unending hills and ravines scarred by jagged cliffs and steep climbs. At the northern extreme of the Amravati district on the border of Madhya Pradesh, lies the Melghat Tiger Reserve in the South-western Satpura mountain ranges. The exquisite hill forests support thick undergrowth and moss-covered trees underscore its virgin confines. One of the lesser-known wilderness areas, it offers fine trekking opportunities through its magical glades, a pleasure not always possible in the Indian jungle. As R G Burton says in his book Sport and Wildife in the Deccan: "much like an earthly paradise as anything can be in this unsatisfactory world."
Melghat Tiger Reserve encompasses an area of 1,676.93 sq km, which includes the 788.75 sq km Melghat Sanctuary and the 361.28 sq km Gugarnal National Park in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. The rest of the buffer zone (80 per cent of the Tiger Reserve) includes 526.90 sq km of reserve forest. The area has many historic forts, and is today the stronghold of the tiger. It was one of the first Project Tiger Reserves in the country. Located in the catchments area of the River Tapti, Melghat, a water harvesting forest, supplies 30 per cent of all the fresh water available in the vicinity.
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. The Sipna and Dolar flow 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 soil.
Melghat's rugged topography is characterised by steep cliffs and rocky ravines and more than the forest guards, this is what protects it from encroachers. The hills are between 200 to 1,500 m high, with Vairat Devi Point 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 the plateau and hills are fodder-rich saddles used extensively by wild animals. Teak forests and bamboo thickets combine to form prime tiger habitat... remnants of the once grand forests of Central India.
Two historic forts called Narnala and Gawilgarh guard the main east-west ridge. In 1803, in the Second Maratha 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.
The Bhavai Pooja is one of the local customs of the Korku adivasis, performed annually at the onset of the monsoons. Children between 10-12 years perform the puja. They bathe in the nala 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 from 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 nala or river the following day.
Rupa Bhavala is a nala 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 lovers 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.