The bark of India’s ghost tree changes with the season from pale pink to green, and even at times light blue. But it’s the summer skin of white that gives it that other-worldly feel. It stands out against its surrounding as the slim branches curl and twist and spread, leafless poking up to the sky.
A member of the gum family, the ghost tree, also called mahua, has soft wood that appeals to tigers. They sharpen their claws or mark the bark as part of their territorial messaging. The tree begins life pushing its way through a rocky landscape and is normally found with stones at its base. This deciduous tree with horizontally-scattering branches grows as tall as 49 feet on hillsides and higher ground. This invites the cautious leopard to drag its kill to the top to better keep a wary eye out for tigers. And the ghost tree calls to sloth bears, too, for they are fond of its flowers, which, once digested, turn into alcohol. You may find the bears sleeping near a waterhole after having their fill of the mahua’s flowers.
Man has also found the ghost tree useful as it releases a natural karaya gum that is used as a laxative, and as a thickener in cosmetics and medications. In manufacturing, it is added as a binder, emulsifier and stabilizer in preparing beverages and foods.
The sometimes spooky-looking trees live in Tadoba National Park, also known as Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, one of India’s 47 project tiger reserves. Estimates suggest only about 3,900 tigers are left in the wild on the entire planet. Of all the big cats, tigers are the most endangered. This park is said to have up to 72 tigers spread over 241 square miles, which means you have a good chance at spotting these magnificent creatures.
Although the major attraction here is, of course, its tigers, the park is home to large herds of chital as well as sambhar, barking deer, chousingha, gaur, Nilgai, and whistling wild dog. At night, you may glimpse one of the small civets. For bird watchers, they can search for some 195 species of birds such as the honey buzzard, the crested serpent eagle, the shy jungle fowl and paradise flycatcher. Reptiles include the endangered Indian python, terrapins, star tortoise and cobra. During the monsoon season, spiders abound including giant wood spider, signature spider and red wood spiders.
Landscapes dotted with ghost trees and the stunning wildlife make for a rewarding safari adventure such as on the 15-day Naturally India journey, which focuses on India’s wildlife in Tadoba as well as two other parks.
Enjoy this brief video of two brothers.
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