Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Palamau Story: Day 2..

I shall never grow up !! This would have been the exact childish way of describing a memorable trip if i had penned down in 1997..! I want to represent the child very much, who had seen, smelt and felt nature for the first time and i cant help if you people get bored..
With the plans of staying at the lodge tossing in heads, we prepared ourselves for our first jungle trip. It was 4:45 A.M. We waited for the gate to be opened up. I still remember the design of the gate - a colourful iron plate shaped in the form of two gaurs having a fight ! It was cold but less humid..flooded with songs of birds..known and unknown. We had Biswanath as our guide. He was a short, dark and shy guy with a muffler around his head and neck. The forest official, whom we got introduced on our first day, allowed our jeep into the forest after making some official notes. I used to call him "Forest Uncle".. Infact, I was the happiest person when the wheels rolled into the forest. It was a kachcha road of red loamy soil with tall grasses growing in between the wheel trails. I started off with a casual conversation with Biswanath and within minutes, he felt quite comfortable in our company. Biswanath advised me how to become a good wildlife watcher. "You have to be silent, patient but have to keep all your senses active. You may also have to be agile under necessary circumstances," he said. I listened to him like his most obedient student.
The jeep was only covered on top to give the visitors a wide view of forests around. We came across an open lush-green grassland dotted with few unidentified trees with good canopies. Then we drove along a big water-hole. Suddenly, Biswanath instructed the driver to pause. I peeped out as much as i could in curiousity but was not allowed to leave the jeep. There were fresh footprints of elephants along with their dung beside the pool. Biswanath, with his expertise, examined the dung and informed us that the big tuskers had left few minutes ago after quenching their thirst. I was a bit sad but still never less excited. So, with big hopes, we again started off. There were massive sal trees on both sides and a layer of fog floated few feet above the ground. During my careful screening, i noticed numerous heaps of soil, about 3-4 feet high on the ground, in between the tree trunks. It seemed like some kids playfully scooped out and piled up soil in the form of cones. Biswanath quickly understood my confusion and exclaimed, "these are the termite mounds!"
The stretches of sal disappeared almost abruptly as we came to a place full of bamboos on both sides. I had questions in my inexperienced young mind about this sudden change of composition of forest but the bamboos did not look like artificial plantations. At this spot, the ground was distinctly elevated and the road looked slender flanked by two hills. The driver said, "these tender bamboo leaves form a favourite part in the elephants' diet." In this way, while enriching ourselves, we moved on stealthily with chirps of birds ringing in our ears and reached a tall watch-tower beside another water-pool. The tower was in concrete. The road, leading to the tower, had dense bushes and shrubs and according to our Biswanathji, they made excellent hide-outs for the "King of the Jungle". So we were escorted with utmost caution and care to the tower-top. It was a breath-taking bird's eye view of the forest ! Winter dictated the trees either to shed off their leaves or turn yellow. The sun's first rays lit up the alternating green and yellow patches of the forest and flocks of parakeets, bathed in sunlight, flew above the forest, announcing the beginning of just another day.. There was a mixture of sounds with a grave silence underneath. We waited for about half an hour at the tower but there was no luck! Finally, conserving and gathering more of our patience and inhaling the pure breeze, we decided to return. Just opposite to the gate, there was "Chacha's dukaan". At the shop, there was a big kadai of buffalo's milk simmering and thickening with time. Chacha, a Muslim old man, used to prepare the yummiest tea (the best tea i ever had till now!) with thickened milk from his kadai and a pinch of elaichi. The tea, when served, had the milk casein floating atop. Biswanath screamed from a distance, "Paanch tthho chaayein, Chacha...!" He was a different man after the trip..

I managed myself to sit on a slender wooden bench and cherished the tea..All of a sudden, trumpets were heard from a distance..We discovered two elephants enjoying a banana treat near the government tourist lodge..I ran breathlessly towards them to have a closer look.. The Mahaut or elephant keeper was standing beside them. I was informed that the elephants were trained to give rides to the visitors inside the forest.."Do they have names?", i asked. The Mahaut replied, "Yes, one is named Juhi and the other one is Anarkali". Though i had seen elephants at the zoo before, but they were a special sight for me..Their health inferred that they were well-fed and well-kept.They shook their heads and ears and it seemed they were trying to interact with me in their own language. Papa followed me to the spot. I asked, "Can we go for an elephant-ride tomorrow in the earliest hour?"Papa agreed. Mom has been my darling always and she supported too.
In the afternoon after lunch , i was sitting in the hotel veranda, bathed in warm sunlight. A  group of black ants was busy in carrying off a dead millipede to their nest - a feast indeed. A tailor bird was feeding its nestlings. Two squirrels were playing hide-and-seek on the branches of a nearby tree. Bees buzzed from flower to flower. In the meantime, I got attracted to a big black spider with great legs who had just finished off building its web. It was exceptionally busy in keeping its web tidy. With a desire to see its actions, i intentionally threw a small piece of paper into its web. The spider became alert by its vibration and rushed to explore if it was edible. But, after a thorough examination, it concluded the paper piece to be a "waste" on its web and dropped it finally by unwinding. Its reaction reminded me of hardship of cleaning my own room and throwing off unwanted things into the dustbin. There was also a small pool in the garden with floating water-lilies and a troupe of langurs came from nowhere to drink from it. Thus, it was an active afternoon where I discovered myself to be the only idle organism but a very patient observer! Biswanath's teaching was, to some extent, getting fruitful..! Yes, i am proudly announcing it...
Got some good news in the evening..Papa had booked a room at the government tourist lodge for the next day. We decided to go for an elephant ride in the morning and a jungle trip by jeep in the evening. Since we were not allowed to leave the hotel premises after 10 P.M. for security reasons, we decided to finish off our dinner fast and go for a walk along the road parallel to the forest area. My mom stayed at the hotel room. Papa and me, feeling ourselves to be brave-hearts, went for a night-walk with a not-so-efficient torch. Naihar and the forest were separated by a metallic road followed by a wide trench. Just after five or six steps we flashed the torch at the forest area. About a fifty eyes sparkled all at once!! "Papa, it will be good if they are deers and not dhols (wild dogs) !", i said in a low voice. Our rods adjusted to the dark and cons to the torchlight and finally found the eyes to belong to a herd of spotted deer foraging. Their coats were shining with health and the males displayed the finest of horns! Turning the torch towards our way covered by tall trees on both sides, we proceeded further. I was really feeling scared for the first time. My father was afraid too but pretended to be fine. It was too cold , dark and foggy.. My nose freezed almost and became numb..Hoots of an owl added to the uncanniness of the then atmosphere. Papa said quite confidently, "the deers are foraging peacefully..so there are less chances of presence of a tiger over here". I replied in offense, "there are lots of tiger-food over here.. a tiger may be stalking in ambush"..Both of us stopped our conversation when our torch suddenly started winking. "Papa.. i dont think it's safe to proceed..", i uttered in a trembling voice. Papa quickly replied, "exactly!" and we both turned back together..At that point of time, we felt some movements in the dry leaves beside the road..and before further exploring it to be a snake or whatever, we both ran breathlessly towards the hotel gate...What a brillant night-walk! We were, truly, courageous!

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Palamau Story : Day 1..

It was in December, 1997 when i discovered my passion for wildlife...I was in the seventh standard in school. My papa is totally aware of my zoophilia since childhood and arranged for a trip to the Palamau Reserve, now in Jharkhand. We boarded the Shaktipunj Express and reached our destination around 4-30 A.M. The morning was chilled and so foggy that i could only see what's in front of me upto 2-3 feet. A man waved his hand with a torch and asked papa, "Kya aap Betla jaaoge?" My papa agreed and we started off in a jeep..The road was dark..the headlights of the jeep struggled their way through it..All of a sudden, two eyes sparkled at a distance..the driver applied brakes..i asked, "Is that a deer?"..The driver smiled and replied, "naa Munni, ek gaai thaa"..The road was packed with trees on both sides and it was too dark to explore..I was tired by the journey and dozed off on mom's lap..When i woke up finally, i found myself in a well-decorated room of Naihar..it was 10 A.M. by the clock..I was curious and went to the veranda...O My God! It was like heaven..a very colourful garden with the rarest of flowers in bloom..and a flock of jungle warblers in their business..I had a breakfast and started walking with papa towards the point of entry into the forest.We got introduced to a forest official in duty and after knowing about my love for wildlife, he advised me for a jungle trip in the earliest hour of the day as greater chances of viewing wildlife lies in the early morning..A government tourist lodge on a tilla beside the forest-gate caught our attention and we went there to have a look..A plate displayed, "Last tiger seen by : Vikram Kumar on 24.11.1997". I was overwhelmed because the sight of a tiger would be a treasure of a lifetime. A care-taker approached and we expressed our interest to see the rooms for staying though we already booked rooms in our current hotel.One room was enough for three but the lights were inadequate..Papa was excited and said, "This will add to the awesome feeling of staying in the wild!!" The balcony protruded into the jungle at the back..and we found some salt-licks tied to the trees there. The care-taker informed,"Yahan hiran aataa hain".. Hearing this, there was a sparkle of happiness in my eyes as i was feeling the presence of wildlife with all my senses for the first time..