MON­SOON WILDER­NESS

Airports India - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS & TEXT: NAVIN M RAHEJA

As the mon­soon clouds surge over much of North­ern and Cen­tral In­dia, a tinge of sad­ness hits the wildlife en­thu­si­asts. Shucks, all the na­tional parks and sanc­tu­ar­ies will be shut down now. There is noth­ing I can do, seems to be the com­mon re­frain. For most, it’s time to pack up their DSLRS and binoc­u­lars and wait for the na­tional parks and sanc­tu­ar­ies to re­open af­ter the pas­sage of rains. So you can’t re­ally do any­thing while these ar­eas are closed to tourists, right?

Wrong! let me tell you from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence - which stretches to good 40 years - that mon­soons should not de­ter the de­ter­mined wildlifer from pur­su­ing his in­ter­est. I my­self have had some of the most re­mark­able wildlife view­ings dur­ing the so-called “off pe­riod’’. This is also the time to sharpen your wildlife skills, or what the late, great Jim Corbett called the ‘jun­gle sen­si­tive­ness’.

True, you can­not ven­ture in­side the tourist zone dur­ing the rainy sea­son - but the wildlife is not aware of the fact!

I know this may sound cryptic to some of my young read­ers, so let me elab­o­rate: wild an­i­mals do not ac­cept man-made bound­aries, and are prone to ap­pear at the fringes of pro­tected forests at odd hours. The fact that usual tourists are ab­sent from the scene dur­ing this pe­riod also some­how make the an­i­mals be­have more like their nat­u­ral selves.

Driv­ing down from Ram­na­gar to Mo­han and be­yond to­wards Marchula, along the bound­ary of Jim Corbett Na­tional Park, I have lost count of the num­ber of tigers, ele­phants and leop­ards I came across on

this par­tic­u­lar stretch. This re­gion al­ways seems preg­nant with pos­si­bil­i­ties, and of­fers in­cred­i­ble en­coun­ters - rains or no rains. The ever pop­u­lar Dhikala and Bi­jrani zones are closed for vis­i­tors dur­ing the mon­soon, but the equally fab­u­lous Sita­bani and Jhirna re­gions are open through­out the year.

Dur­ing the mon­soons of 2014, while hav­ing a drink on the lawns of Jhu­mar Baodi – the RTDC run ho­tel sit­u­ated within Ran­tham­bore Na­tional Park in Ra­jasthan – I had a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. It was still two hours to mid­night and si­lence had crept in unan­nounced (as it usu­ally does in places sit­u­ated near a for­est), when a spot­ted deer gave an alarm call some half a kilo­me­ter away. I didn’t think much of it – a fright­ened chee­tal of­ten gives one or two calls and then stops. But nev­er­the­less, I or­dered an­other serv­ing. The fact is, even a single deer call is suf­fi­cient to arouse a wildlifer, and I am no ex­cep­tion.

Ten min­utes later, the chee­tal re­sumed its alarm call – and soon it was joined

by a Samb­har deer! Mean­while, the calls be­gan to get louder. And then I heard that un­mis­tak­able sound which all wildlife lovers yearn for in a for­est – the deep ‘awmmm’ of a tiger growl. It came only twice, but that was all I needed.

“Looks like T24 has started pa­trolling,’’ I mut­tered to my­self. T24, the hand­some male tiger of Ran­tham­bore, had a habit of ven­tur­ing out of the for­est at fairly reg­u­lar in­ter­vals – and could of­ten be seen on the Ran­tham­bore road, on the out­skirts of Sawai Mad­hopur town. It by then was branded as a no­to­ri­ous tiger, which had killed three peo­ple in re­cent years. Of course with the fourth killing of the for­est guard, it was caught and is now liv­ing in the ex­ile at Udaipur Bi­o­log­i­cal Park in cap­tiv­ity.

At that pre­cise mo­ment, a ho­tel bell-boy came rush­ing to me with the news, “Sir, T24 has come out on the road.’’ I bolted

in­side the build­ing and sprinted to the first-floor ter­race of Jhoomar Baodi, to its very edge, from where it’s pos­si­ble to look at the grounds out­side its main en­trance, right till the wide park­ing lot sit­u­ated some 70 me­ters on a down­ward slope. Luck­ily, I was armed with my high­pow­ered torch.

It was pitched dark in the park­ing space. I waited for an­other growl. Sec­onds passed in ag­o­niz­ing slow mo­tion. Twice I de­cided to switch on the torch, but killed the im­pulse. I knew a silly pre­ma­ture move could de­prive me of the chance – how­ever slim it seemed at that time – of sight­ing the tiger.

My pa­tience was fi­nally re­warded. The third growl reached my ears af­ter 10 min­utes or so, and al­most in­stan­ta­neously my thumb – as if act­ing on its own vo­li­tion – pressed the blue knob on the torch. The park­ing lot was awash with white light and in its mid­dle stood T24. He threw one care­free look in my direction, turned back and van­ished into the dark­ness.

The ac­tual en­counter with his high­ness lasted a few sec­onds – or thump­ing heart­beats, if you will – but it left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on me. Tak­ing things into to­tal­ity– the deer call and the hopes it raised, the sheer ex­cite­ment of an­tic­i­pa­tion, lead­ing to the grand fi­nale – was per­haps one of my finest tiger sight­ings in re­cent times. So what if it didn’t last longer and I could not take a pho­to­graph? Trust me, at times these things do not count one bit.

I re­mem­ber reading a great pho­tog­ra­pher’s quote some­where: “There will be times when you will be in the field with­out a cam­era. And you will see the most glo­ri­ous sun­set or the most beau­ti­ful scene that you have ever wit­nessed. Don’t be bit­ter be­cause you can’t record it. Sit down, drink it in, and en­joy it for what it is.’’

This is ex­actly what I did on that starry night at Jhoomar Baodi. Mon­soons make the jun­gle much more beau­ti­ful, and of­fer great op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­ven­ture. The Chilla area of Ra­jaji Na­tioinal Park in the Shiva­lik hills of the Hi­malayas is an ex­cel­lent place to be in dur­ing the rainy sea­son. Don’t be up­set be­cause the main Chilla for­est is closed for the mon­soon. Stay in the for­est rest house or GNVN Tourist Bun­glow sit­u­ated on the banks of Ganga Canal, both are ex­cel­lent. In the early morn­ing or late af­ter­noon, drive down through the im­mac­u­lately main­tained road con­nect­ing Chilla with Rishikesh. The su­perb vista, with a canal on your right and acres of green for­est on the left, should be enough to make your drive en­joy­able. Chances are – again, I am speaking from a sense of ex­pe­ri­ence – you are likely to come across a herd of ele­phants, spot­ted deer, samb­har, and even that elu­sive and moody prince of the In­dian jun­gles – the leop­ard!

Hu­mil­ity is a qual­ity which ev­ery bud­ding wildlife en­thu­si­ast should have or strive to cul­ti­vate, for one has to ac­cept what na­ture of­fers you. It can’t be de­manded and grabbed.

Many a time, a sure-shot ‘sight­ing’ is spoiled be­cause a child sit­ting in a Gypsy starts laugh­ing or cry­ing un­con­trol­lably, and the mo­ment is lost for­ever. It’s im­pos­si­ble to en­vis­age all those things which can go wrong – so take things in your stride and do not im­pose your will on na­ture. It never works. Corbett’s ‘jun­gle sen­si­tive­ness’, which I men­tioned in the be­gin­ning of this ar­ti­cle, is an in­valu­able tool for wildlife en­thu­si­asts and pho­tog­ra­phers. The sen­si­tive­ness which Jim Corbett de­vel­oped dur­ing his jun­gle jour­neys in the hills of Ku­maon and Garhwal saved his life twice. Over time, this same sen­si­tive­ness has pulled me out of some ex­tremely dan­ger­ous cor­ners. But that is a story for an­other day. (For al­ready pub­lished sto­ries and films on

wildlife by the writer, which have run on Na­tional Geo­graphic channel, Do­or­dar­shan Na­tional channel and Do­or­dar­shan (In­dia),

please log on to www.ra­he­ja­group.org).

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