Thursday, 20 January, 2011

PERIYAR TIGER RESERVE- India’s One of the Best Night Safari experience

January 27, 2010, Periyar, Thekkady, Kerala : Siddharth and me along with our spouses planned our annual vacation to Gods own country – Kerala covering Kumarakom, Allepey, Munnar, Backwaters houseboat and Thekkady. Thekkady was our important destination as important like the backwaters or kumarakom and it proved right – 2 core reasons : (1) Wild Life – it’s a national park and a tiger reserve also famous for its elephants (2) This is the only Tiger reserve in the country, where wild life enthusiasts like us can do a NIGHT PATROLING in the JUNGLE which was the core USP for it.

Here, one needs to book in advance with the department of forest and tourism in Thekkady. There are 2 slots only from 7 PM to 10 PM, 10 PM to 1 PM and 1 PM to 4 AM and each slot can take only 5 tourists each. Which means only 15 people can go for this adventurous Night walk in the forest. Ideally, the 5 member team is accompanied by 3 forest guards – 1 with torch and 2 with gun. Ideally, the objective of this activity is to explore the real jungle on feet (3 hrs / 15 kms walk) and contribute to the work of the forest department to patrol and protect the forest from poachers and sandalwood smugglers. Sandalwood is abundant here and the smugglers right from Tamil Nadu and Kerala travel all the way, barefeet in the jungle and cut the sandalwood trees which sells for a huge price. The smuggling of sandalwood is worth Rs 800 Crs per annum and this is more dangerous than the animal poachers. The Nightwalk guards were sharing their experience of once gunning down a gang (they don’t require a permission to shoot at night) and some skinny smugglers clad only in underwear (langot) and no other clothes on the body which was applied with oil, slipped out easily and fled into the dense and thick Periyar forests. For a change, unlike BG and KN they have walky-talkies and high beam torches along with their ammunition quota and they take you along the forest across various topographies – plain, hill, water body, dense forest, mangroves.
You pay Rs 1000 per person and when you assemble at the forest gate (we took the 7 PM slot), you register, sign a bond/undertaking declaring that you will be responsible for any accident/loss/death and not the forest department. Then they give you 2 gadgets. 1 Long khakhi leg covers / boot covers which one has to tie to be protected from poisonous insects, leeches and reptiles. (snakes are common). You get a torch (one per couple) which is very powerful. Our torch which we took along from Mumbai had a 300 m beam and the forest torches were 500-600m beam white lights. Flashes in Camera were strict no, talking with each other a strict no, breaking out of the group a strict no (no one needs to tell you not to do it – I Can bet no one lost in the jungle can find his/her way out by own), perfume or deo is a strict no.

We began our journey. Sid and Chinly opted out to relax – I believe it was a very big mistake missing this one – well as we proceeded further, post a 15 minute walk entered into the dense forest. The best kicker was to use your torch and explore the jungle and find the animals. The guards would ofcourse show you the animals they sight, with much ease and regular practice. The first life we traced was a herd of deer and that too a few feet away. We saw wild boars – a family of 7-8 – mama, papa and kids whom we followed for 2 minutes and they vanished in a swamp. The best excitement was when we heard huge sounds in the water canal nearby and all of us sped with huge expectations and yes, we found a herd of huge (5 ft in size) Sambhars with beautiful playing in the water and then fleeing away fast as they saw us.

The best part was when we moved from the swampy area to a plain land and across a huge distance the guards showed us a herd of elephants. It was too far and dark to capture so we cherished the live moments, though my video has a dull capture of if. We moved from the plain grass land to a swampy area where we were asked to walk carefully and very slowly to avoid slipping. Some of us did slip a number of times, though.  Our shoes and pants were all muddy by now, but all was worth. Soon we came across a swamy lake like structure and soon saw some movements – as we approached nearer  they were the beavers (seal types who live in swamp and water).

Post all the walk, as usual, we asked the guard – kuch bada dikhao (show us something big and worth) – a tiger or a leopard. But could not sight one, but the guard warned us and asked us to stay absolutely quite. We wondered why and soon he gathered us around some excrete or dung and he said “beware- a sloth bear” around. And the guard too looked a bit tensed and asked us to move fast. That was to avoid an attack, which we too had learned at Kanha – Sloth bears are more dangerous than the tigers or lions as they come from somewhere unexpectedly and start spitting on the victim. The spit / saliva has some acid which starts immediately reacting on the victim and the victim gets distracted. The bear in the meanwhile hides somewhere and jump and attack the victim from the back usually. Ideally the heavy animal does not hit or bang the victim, it uses its sharp claws to simply rip apart the victim – either an animal or human.  Another question which would come to your mind, would be how did the guard come to know from the shit that it was a sloth bear – the answer was that the shit was in round balls and black in color. This is usually the form and there were honey bee and bee nest particles in the shit and bears are know to steal and drink honey – tiger or leopard would never break a bee womb. And how did he know the bear was near –the shot was steamy soft and fresh and well, it’s the forest guards duty or skill to know all this.

Then we moved into a hilly terrain and finally I was getting too tired. We were again warned not to react if we see an elephant nearby, though we did not. It was said that if one reacts before a wild elephant, he is gone and if you behave like a good and silent boy the giant would not harm you. Soon we reached the forest gate post the most adventurous forest trip of ours. The night safari in Singapore was a made up one unlike this one – exciting, unexpected and unpredictable and that’s what wild is all about.

In the day we did a morning boat ride in the Periyar lake – saw many birds, eagles, seals, wild buffalos. This was worth too (Rs 60 per person). There are also other wild tourism options like bamboo floating ( you float on a bamboo raft in the eater throughout the day in the jungle, a day long trek on the hills and many more – most of the tourists would be foreigners while the Indian counterparts would be busy getting the Kerala Massage or doing Kerala spice shopping - we were short of time as the rest of the trip was planned and Sid would not have appreciated more of Wild life so left it for the future !

Monday, 17 January, 2011

Kahna National Park–The Mother of The Jungle Book !

January 28, 2009, Kanha, MP –Remember the the Mogli, Bagheera, ballu and Sherkhan and the song – Jungle Jungle pata chala hai, chaddi pahan ke phool khila hai ? Most of us grew up watching the beautiful cartoon show- the Jungle book on every Sunday morning and today after so many years it is a déjà vu’ effect when I eneter Kanha where Rudyard Kiplings “Jungle Book” is based on. It was 8:00PM when we reached Kanha from Bandhavgarh. Thanks to the MP government or the fact that tourism is the cashcow of the state that the roads are just beautiful. We checked into Mogli resort (The name maybe drew us here and the cost too guess around 1800 per room per night on CP). I remember our first reaction entering the resort and the same was of fear ! It was pitch dark and post checking in, we were requested to just walk a few steps and reach our hotel as the bell boy etc were having dinner. We walked a few meters and came back. It was pitch dark, pitch means you cant see anything even with a mobile torch ! Secondly the resort was sharing the boundary wall of the forest. Thirdly, they had made artificial ponds of water outside each cottage cluster where deers and sambars often jumped over to quench thirsts and where there are deers, chances of tigers and leopards being around are also there and some review we read had some tourists encountering the big cat within the resort and may be that was one more reason of ours booking Mogli ! But, our knees shook, a- we did not knew how far the cottages were and b- what could be there in store for us – animals or ghosts – you know the human psyche ! Btw, the driver on our way to Kanha had shared a story of 2 lady spirits, this time not in white standing in the middle
 of the road and the driver knowing something fishy over running them and they re-appearing again and again after every few meters ahead of his car for a stretch of a 4-5 kilometers which they say is haunted and do not take late night drives there, even today !
Anyways, we went back to the reception and requested the gentleman to escort us and he himself left the reception to guide us to our rooms and thank god. The trip began with excitement and more at 5:00 AM the next day with all our woolens on as we moved ahead into the Jungle book for our total jungle experience but still at the back of our minds to check out the Sherkhan of this forest ! We had read that Kanha-Kisli is one of the diverse and most beautiful jungle of the country in terms of number of animals and birds you could sight here. Foreigners came in mostly for bird watching ! And the sanctuary was famous for the about-extinct Barasinghas (12 horned deer species, much larger than sambhars) which liven in the swamps of Kanha, the mighty Bisons which could throw a tiger by its kick and even over turn a tourists jeep and the Wild Dogs which can chase a tiger out of breathe and compete aggressively in hunting the same deer with a better success rate as they are in groups and can simply “cheer” (tear apart) anything !

We moved ahead and the forest was just amazing on an early morning at 5:00 AM. It was dark and the morning began by a brown large hare crossing our path, before we could even dish out our cameras. I don’t know like a black cat was it lucky or unlucky, but we moved ahead ! It was reaaly larger than what one can think of – around 1.5 ft in length without adding a feet long ears ! We moved further and as the day broke, that first scene is even yet fresh in our minds. The fog was just at 5 feet above the ground – it was a thing feet long layer, where you could see everything below the belt and above, a very rare scene and the pink sunlight breaking made it more picturesque adding the beautiful fragrance of the forest, differenciating it from the neighbor Bandhavgarh.

The same process of locating a tiger, by a call or pug marks began but nothing came our way till 8:00AM and then we knew its time to giveup for the morning as the big cat usually doesn’t roam around post the sun is up. The driver and guide were more disappointed than us, but that is what the difference between Kanha and BG is. In Kanha sighting a Tiger is a not as easy. The reason being the topography, the swaps, the long grass land which can easily camouflage the smart cat and more over the huge big jungle. But, on the otherside, it has so much to offer that we motiviated ourselves and moved ahead as the driver took us to a swapy area and there we saw the rare Barasinghas – not one but a group. It was a very different and beautiful animal, one can not even find anywhere else in the world.

We moved further to look closely the herd of Bisons and the driver asked us to click pictures fast and move fearing if they charged the vehicle. More than the tiger, these big animals could be dangerous for the Indian tourists, some of whom don’t even think twice before wearing some Govinda- Red or Orange colored t-shirt and wearing some morethan required axe-effect (guess a tigress would go gaga over him ?) or eat some sandwich or paratha in the jungle and last but not the least cant stay silent without chatting loudly with co-passengers. God, a Bison should overturn one such tourist jeep, then some of the jokers would learn a lesson !
In our evening Safari, we yet searched for the Big cat. There were loud calls near a nullah (water stream like) . we waited there for an hour plus. There were other jeeps too. We saw the sambhars just in front of us shouting in a particular direction, which am sure was the Big cat, but there was no movement. The worst part was we heard a few roars, but seems the cat was sitting down and relaxing and would walk post it was dark. It was getting late and if we reach late at the gate their jeep permits and guide permits could get suspended for a week and these guys earn only in the 5-6 months when the tourists are around, that too when they get their names in turns. The monsoon months are to relax or alternate jobs. We decided to take a round nearby and comeback here, since if a tiger is there, it will not run or move that fast, we would spot it.  Well, since we had read about the wild dogs or dholes as they locally say, we requested the guide to take us there and soon we approached a lake called Sravan Tal, where the chances of spotting a tiger is also easy especially in summers. We saw some deers and monkeys here, but little ahead, we hearing some running sound on the leaf and guess what some dogs – 4-5 of them were running. They were thin, reddish-brown and normal looking but strong. These were the wild-dogs, whom we followed for a while and then they vanished into the deep jungles. We then moved further and came across a cluster of jeeps looking at something, When we checked, we were told there are 2 sloth bears there. Everyone was showing us a black spot near a definite tree and we tried our best with the binoculars, 40x zoom handicams but could not see that black stuff moving. Post half an our – forty minutes wait we moved ahead on being satisfied at seeing the sloth bear which could be a stone too ! But the fact that there were honeybee womb near by and the bears like feeding upon honey and there were mahua trees which is the core diet of the fermented alcohol for the bears, the rest of guides were sure to have seen the bears here since a few days. Wish we could have seen it closer. We came back, but with bad luck for the second consecutive time. Guess, the hare shouldn’t have had crossed our path !!

The next morning and our last safari at Kanha – All our prayers made, we reached the gate. Checking around for some information from the forest guards about any movements, but no one would share anything. The RFO whom we told that it was our last safari and his jungle was so beautiful, but we would not want to go without the tiger sighting was kind enough to reveal that there is a possibility of a tigress near the swamps and his elephants have left early in the morning to track it. We directly, without wasting much time went towards the area where we could see the elephants. The Mahouts (rider) said, he saw some movements in the morning. The day broke and more jeeps came around. There were atleast 5-6 of them. Soon all of a sudden, we saw the elephants reacting and to our left was a mighty shiny tigress walking with all its pride, letting the elephants know to beware- she is here. The mahouts were right. And soon, the tigress went inside the grassland and sat. The elephant safari began and we with more excitement and cameras and handicams on boarded the elephant and moved close to the tiger and soon saw it just from a 4 feet distance – with equal excitement and equal fear, that if we fell or if the elephant got afraid and even sat down near the tiger, it was the last day of our life. We captured some amazing moments of a stuff-toy like tigress rolling on the ground, with absolutely surf-ultra white chest and stomach which we saw while she rolled. We were told, she just had her meal and hence is lazy. It was a great moment seeing here eye to eye and that too for minutes put together. Was not feeling like moving back, but this elephant safari also has a time line of a 3-5 minutes and we were back to the jeep. We tipped the mahout for all his efforts and courage.

As we moved ahead, we told the guide and the driver to take us to No. 7 ! The background behind number 7 was our information sought from the mahout (post tipping) on which one single place he recommends us to sight a tiger since it was our last day and he had said No. 7 tigress. Every tiger or tigresses are locally names after the area / territory they live in like Shravatal tiger ; living near the Shravantal or Siddh-baba tigress, spotted around the Siddh-baba temple area. Similarly, Saat Number or Number 7 was a tigress which had given birth to a few cubs a month back, so according to the mahout she would definitely be with her cubs and not too running or moving around, so we could chance seeing her. But the driver had a counter view that the same tigress in fear of her cubs getting hurt and being possessive had charged and chased a tourist jeep for half a kilometer and he would not want to risk it. We still persuaded him to take us there, but that bloody hare, we were yet unlucky this time too !

It was getting late and we had to reach back to the gate in time.  I had seen almost all the animals in the wild till date, besides a leopard. Soon, as we were going out, there were very loud calls of deers and monkeys, maybe the loudest we had heard. It was sunny and the chances of a tiger walking was less, but who knows, there could be a tiger like me ! We stopped the engine and awaited. The calls were just coming from the front, 50 feet ahead of us and we could also spot deers looking towards a tree. Guess, what ? Thanks to Abhi’s binos and my 40x zoom handicam, we spotted the much awaited – Leopard. Though it was not very close, but it was a leopard, sitting beneath the tree and about to kill a prey, I guess. We were praying and wishing for the shiny yellow with black spotted cat to move closer, but on the contrary, the driver started the engine and asked us to quickly shoot pictures and he is about to zoom. The reason was that, unlike a lion or a tiger which would calmly and harmlessly walk a feet away from you, the leopard is one animal which could attack and kill humans and chase a jeep for long and at a 5x speed. We rushed away from the spot blessing the Hare which crossed our way to the first safari for such a pleasant sighting in the forest.

But, the hare would have been killed, if it came in front, as what happened next on our way out is something one would have never expected in the least of ones thoughts. The jeep broke midway ! We were greedy and had let all other tourist jeeps go past us thinking that we will be the last ones to leave today being the last day and the disaster happened. The driver had no walky talky, mobile no network and there were no weapons in our hands to protect if any animal would charge us in the middle of the jungle in our Open jeep. The worst part was that the driver didn’t knew what was wrong and cluld not get down the jeep. When we intervened and forced him down (we were still on board) the jerk came and told us the fuel was over ! We swore and abused him as all of us were getting weird thoughts over that last 15 minutes we were stranded. The silence of the jungle which we had earlier praised and adored was killing. The scent of the forest we loved was now terrorizing us as psychologically, we could smell some animals too !! But, this is what adventure was all about ! I tried recording the situation on my handycam, which I did till the swearing and abuses being thrown at the driver turned towards me and I had to silently sit down shutting my gadgets ! We forced the driver to do something and soon he started walking towards the gate, which was around 3 kms for help and that too with just a stick in hand. The guide said, good we are closer to the gate and the risk is not as much, but the fact was that the risk was still there. Listening to our prayers, God, sent a forest rescue van, which was coincidentally passing by, which stopped and gave us a lift till the gate. And that was an end to our great wildlife experience at Rudyard Kiplings- Kanha !

Kanha National Park
Tiger Safari
Wildlife in India

Saturday, 15 January, 2011

Yamla Pagla Deewana - Review and Strategy

One may call it a reiteration of the fact that Nitin Manmohan knows better filming than Karan Johar or Yash Chopra (former, no doubt) or it may be called as a reiteration of the fact that the Deols still have the balls to rock the nation more than or equal to what Rajnikant, Salman (Dabang) or Big B can ! Some told me that it was a come back for Sunny, Bobby and Dharam paa jee, but in my sense, they don’t need a comeback.

One may look at them (Deols) as underdogs, having delivered more hits independently than SRK, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khans of the world. (besides Bobby) The yesteryears He-man Dharampaa jee whos completed 50 years in bollywood, much more than Big B, was to my belief always underrated as against the Big B and Rajesh Khannas of his time, despite 250 films and acknowledged handsomest Indian Actor. And so was Sunny, but India remembers hits like Joshiley, Tridev, Chalbaaz, Nagina, Border, Ghayal, Damini, Gadar (National Award winner for that last 3) of Sunny Deol which were super duper hits !

Well, back to the subject – Yamla Pagla Deewana was an amazing entertainer – if u liked or appreciated the Dabang or Rajni types of movies this one was 10 times better with super reminders of the hit dialogies, stunts and situations of the yesteryear with a decent storyline, where no one could get bored !
Sunny gave the most rocking action scenes, which would beat Salman Khan and Rajnikant (btw, they too have their target markets and segmentations – UP-Bihar and down South respectively, the Deols too have a huge fan following across the Punjabs and Punjabis and they are all over ! I heard more cheers and whistles than in Dabang in a suburban theatre jam packed for the Friday 11 PM show.

Dharam was on his as usual charming act and almost 90% of the shots with daaru (alchohol) – what he is known for (don’t miss the suitcase he carries with glases and bottles and even chakhnas (snacks) when he travels. His sense of humor and famous Dance steps got more whistles than that of Sunnys dance steps and actions. Btw, Sunny beats Dharam on the daaru when he drinks it from a bucket (balti) !

Bobby was as usual trying his best to cope up with his bro and dad, somewhat trying to manage well, but overall the trio along with a brilliant comedy and acts by Anupam Kher, Mukul Dev, Johny Lever, Kulraj Radhava (the new heroine), Nafisa Ali and a lot of Sardars do a brilliant job, worth a watch !

The fundamentals of segmentation clearly works here – there were huge number of Sardars witn elaborate families watching this movie. My friends mom which is from Punjab was reminding us since a month about YPD (Yamla Pagla Deewana) and how the women of yesteryear loved to see Dharmendra ! And the cheers and whistles in the suburban theatre was loud to reach Caneda (Canada – the 2nd country of Punjabis post India) This for sure is gonna be a good hit (cant tell about South, besides Metros) but the movie would draw the hardcore DEOL FANS (till yesterday, I was not so sure about their fan clan) all over India and especially in the NRI Markets – US and Canada for sure ! Movies like Robot, Dabang etc remind us that there is a strong fan club for such movies and they despite any great story can really do well. YPD is also on the same lines with a strong package and add-ons.

It was a pleasure seeing the 3 Deols together in this LYBH- leave-your-brains-home- laugh riot depicting the larger than life style of the Punjabis, making pun of them while not demeaning them with small and multiple jokes around the plot. And above all Sunny, Bobby & Dharam pajee’s sincerity and passion to perform and give the best to the fans and audiences clearly shows in each act. A good entertaining movie with a good comedy, a great team work, fresh jokes, 2-3 hot item numbers and above all the loaded DEOL TRIO - I would rate is 4/5 and a must watch !

Movies like YPD, Dabang etc should give Farah Khan, Karan Johar and Ram Gopal Vermas and Priyadarshans of the industry a last warning on not to waste the audiences hard earned monies for their selfish business motives by giving the worst flops in the name of comedy or a good packaged story (even a 10 year old kid can make better movies than them) and a movie like this should remind them that they are what they are good at and not direction for sure and should focus on their skills of dancing (Farah), gay activism (KJo) and I don’t know what can Ramu on Priyan is capable or fit to do (may be retire, go on to Himalayas and meditate for life)

Monday, 10 January, 2011

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve - The baap of Kruger scene

Tigers chasing Sambar – The Baap of Kruger Scene !
2 Tigers on Land and 2 Crocodiles in water await to kill the Sambar
Tadoba (Nagpur), 12-14 Nov 09
Met the Chief Forest Officer, Thane Zone, IFS (Indian Forest Service Officer, equivalent to an IAS) – Shree Bhagwan a few months back with connection to business. Myself being a wild life enthusiast got into some long drawn conversations which resulted in live experiences and future of the Wild Life in India shared quite passionately by Shree Bhagwan. I shared my poor perception of wild-life in Maharashtra purely on my experiences at Melghat Tiger Reserve, Chikaldhara and on the under developed Sanjay Gandhi National Park which has immense potential but no-one doing much about it, and the way Madhya Pradesh has projected its sanctuaries like Bandahvgarh, Kanha and Pench.

Shree Bhagwan differed with me saying that one should go to Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (625 Sq. km), which is just 150 kms from Nagpur. Shree Bhagwan had headed Tadoba around 2003-2006 and he was passionate enough to show me some brilliant pictures of tigers and other animals there and I parked his views in my mind. We had discussions on my experiences of Wild life across India and South Africa and what can turn around the same in Maharashtra and the same was taken in positive spirit by Bhagwan ji and each point was given a logical reasoning and view which a layman can not have. The discussion with such a wild life lover and a passionate IFS official was very enriching and remained in my mind and months passed by.

One fine day, had plans to visit Nagpur and the thought lying in the corner of my mind lighted up. I communicated with Shree Bhagwan and he was kind enough to meet me and spend some time guiding and mentoring me on Tadoba-Andhari.

And then, the Headlines followed. We saw a breath taking scene, though post a long patient wait of 4 hours and the scene can be termed as a Baap of Kruger (No.1 National Park of the world). Usually, the scene of Tiger chasing a prey and killing is quite common – all would have seen on Discovery, but a situation, where 2 Tigers  chasing a Sambar and the Sambar survives by jumping into the water, but unfortunately 2 Crocodiles await their prey and the battle goes on for 24 hours and finally makes the Headlines of Times of India – Front page on 16th November 2009.

I witnessed the same and was able to capture a 35 minutes live video of the battle and Star News and Star Maza took my Interview and the same along with my video which was broadcasted on the National television at Prime time 9:30 PM on 16th November (Attached the News video)

                                                                        JALPESH MEHTA ON STAR NEWS EXPLAINING THE KILLER SCENE OF TADOBA ANDHARI TIGER RESERVE

The World class battle of Kruger

The famous Battle of Kruger, which took place in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the most widely-watched vidoes, after being posted on YouTube in 2007, it depicts how a buffalo calf, which is separated from its herd, survives a tug-of-war between a pride of lions and a few crocodiles. Soon after, the buffalo herd, in a stunning display of courage, regroups to rescue their young one, with full-grown members chasing away the lions.

The Rare Battle of Tadoba-Andhari

It was Telia Lake of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve where the battle went on for 24 hourson 13-14 Nov 2009
13 Nov : 6:30 AM : The poor Sambar (The Bigger deer species with long horns) was there grazing on the banks and suddenly 2 tigers attacked, but the sambar was lucky enough to run down the water and save its life, but it never knew that 2 crocodiles were awaiting their dinner ! The tigers went back, but were hiding in the bushes for the Sambar to come out. The Sambar struggled from the crocodiles who finally gave up and the Sambar came on the banks and the injured Sambar, unable to walk came out.
13 Nov : 5:30 PM : We sat in our jeeps (only 4-5 in the whole park, unlike 50 in Kanha)  from 2 PM and at 5:30 PM saw the female tiger slowly coming out of the bushes and strategizing her secret moves to attack. She took the way from water and then the bushes and finally attached but was unlucky again. I was able to capture the whole  live incident on my Sony Handicam with 2000X Zoom.
14 Nov : 6:30 AM : When we entered the park, the brave Samber had already lost its battle in the night and the Tiger was enjoying its breakfast and the 24 hours long battle thus ended.

A Background on TADOBA :

Tadoba is Dry Deciduous Forest of Central India with lots of leafy bushes, meadows and Bamboo trees. There are 3 ranges – Moharali, Tadoba and Kolasa. Main area is Moharali which is close to Chandrapur – just 25 kms and there are other gates like Kolara gates and Navegaon gates which are much closer to Nagpur, if one is coming from Nagpur – saves an hour. The Park is a Tiger Project and claims that there are 40 Tigers in the park. Other animals include panther, bison, sloth bear, hyaena, jackal, wild dog, blue bull, sambhar, cheetal, barking deer, four-horned antelope, chinkara, hare, porcupine, langur etc. There is a variety of Birds – around 140 and reptiles and insects. One should not miss the huge Cob webs and Spiders in the jungles of Kolasa.

How to reach : This National Park is in the Nagpur-Chandrapur district, easily accessible with good roads – takes 2-2.5 hrs from Nagpur (directly to Kolara or Navegaon gate) or through Chandrapur to Mohrali gate.
Jeep Safari : The only developed area is Mohrali (25 kms from Chandrapur) or one can say commercial – around 6-20 jeeps enter this gate while other gates hardly get 2-3. This gives you a place with less tourists like BG and Kanha and once can also have a little leniency in terms of timings. The park opens to Jeep Safaris (from 6AM to 11AM and 2PM to 6PM). We were there for just 3 safaris (1 Morning and 2 evenings). There are not much jeeps and hence no unions which has its own merits and demerits.
Places to stay : There were foreigners but not as much as in MP and may be this is what is lacking for the development – lack of awareness, hence lesser footfalls, hence lesser business opportunities, hence lesser commercialization (eg. Not many good hotels to stay except MTDC, Saras and moderate rates -1200-1400 for AC rooms and Tiger Trails – around 5000. There are not much private hotels and resorts either. Eating restaurants are also limited to 2-3. Chandrapur is also a decent option to stay (Hotels Sidhartha, Hotel Kundan Plaza)

The People, Guides, Forest Officials : The place gives you a real upcountry feel as not much developed or commercialized like Kanha and Bandhavgarh. There are still some villages in the park area and yet to rehabilitated, so you may find some adivasi – tribals cycling or walking around which is not so common in BG and Kanha.
The Guides and Forest systems are good and well trained, they have exchange programmes and trainings at BG and Kanha.
The Animal tracking is a but different here - No calls of Cheetal or Monkeys over movements of the Tiger or No common tracking of the Tigers movement like pug marks by guides or jeep guys who would identify an area where tigers are frequenting and all would try the luck there, which in most probability helps see the tigers.
Coverage of entire ranges – There are 3 ranges. Drivers of Mohrali Range prefer staying around Mohrali only and usually avoid going too far to other ranges like Tadoba or Kolasa giving fake excuses that there are not much sighting etc and the first timers get fooled. The reason of this is to save fuel and efforts driving (they charge Rs. 1300 for each safari and if they make you sit at one place waiting for the animal they save the whole cost). Believe me, the best forest so far I have seen is the Kolasa, which beats even Kanha in terms of the feel of forest. It was just one jeep and the roads are much less travelled with absolutely bushy roads with just two tyre lanes and huge long bushes even on the middle of the road and lot of greenery. It gives you that irky feeling of what if the jeep breaks down here as there are no other jeeps or connectivity – Kolasa drive is a must and there are some points where one can sight animals, though we didn’t like – Kakadghat, Ambewadi, Shravani Zari etc.

Some Useful Numbers :
Jeep Owners : Sameer Maji – 9325770530, Anil Tewade – 9579010493, (They can organize the stay etc without any charges) –Jeep Fees – Rs 1300 per safari; Guide Fee – Rs 100, Entry – Per Jeep – Rs 50,  per Person – Rs 20. Forest Office – TADOBA – 07172 251414; Forest Officer Chandrapur – 0712 2528953/2552518/2765

My Views on TADOBA and Wild Life Tourism in Maharashtra :

Most of us think of beaches or hills or pilgrimage when we think of holidaying near our home – Mumbai, somewhere close for 2-4 days or a weekend trips.  Wild Life which is a very exotic and upcoming tourism (Africa’s leading revenue making industry) – the problem is

(a)     Indians have not really taken this sort of a tourism so seriously, though there is a niche segment. –(My mother says, why do you have to go to such deep forests and for so many days just to see tigers – you can go to the zoo – The mentality of Indian tourism is primarily Beaches, Hills and Pilgrimage no matter however crowded they are !) In this age when space tourism or Horror tourism (you are taken to real haunted places where you “may” encounter ghosts or spirits) are evolving, India should look beyond the typical holidaying and wild life is such an area where more foreigners come as compared to Goa ! Many  Yound Indians are getting into Adventure Tourism and that’s a good sign.
(b)    The experience of Wild Life tourism has to be better than what one gets in the routine holidaying and that is what South Africa and many National Parks like Kanha or Bandhavgarh have achieved. Maharashtra is way behind.

Melghat (Chikaldhara, near Badnera Rly Station) was the saddest experience in wild life in Maharashtra, where could not see a small mouse in the forest, no regrets, but regrets over the poor attitude of the forest officials – the babu culture where they ridiculed the far claimed tiger project names by just a 30 minute safari on some jungle roads, where you literally don’t find any single insect, bird or animal and the guide had to be forcefully picked from home as no one in the village was willing to come unlike other places where the forest department has evolved the lives of local adivasis (tribals) bu uplifting them rehabilitating them and creating multiple job opportunities for them (guides, trekers, helpers, drives, jeep safari owners, restauranters and even employees of forest departments etc) despite of their illiteracy and lack of communication skills. If I could, would want the park to be delisted from being a Sanctuary but am told maybe the landscape of Chikaldhara is such hilly and terraineous unlike Kanha, BG. But in that case the place should not be promoted for tourism but should be maintained as a Core Area only.

Tadoba was great experience but luck factor was also strong. But Tadoba speaks of the future of Wild Life in Maharashtra and the scene sighted above is a challenge to all the national parks where tourists could see such a scene at all !

Bandhav Garh, Kanha, Pench in Madhya Pradesh or Ranthambhore in Rajasthan or even Jim Corbett have created a brand of theirs that attract tourists. Not that they have assured or 100% probability of sighting (Have know many who have spend days in the park with futile efforts to sight a tiger), but the awareness is so strong (through media, word of mouth etc) and the commercialization is strong (Good lodging, boarding, infrastructure, roads, security etc), that people visit these parks. Besides being Commercial, they provide great hospitality and service as they know that their house runs on the same – Right from Hotels, government officials to locals and that is one more reason.  The distance or reachability is also discounted. BG or Kanha are the most difficult to reach parks in terms of airport and rail connectivity (eg. To go to BG from Mumbai, one has to go by train to Katni or by flight to Jabalpur and travel by bad roads for 3-4 hours, but still lots of people come – lots of foreigners come as these places are becoming brands and the government plays a major role. The same happens if this Industry is taken seriously or the Department of Forest has some strong weight in the respective State. Or the last way is, if the Minister is a strong person with a vision and passion and a will to change things. In Maharashtra, the new Forest  Minister, is Shri. Patangrao Kadam and he is known for his administrative skills and the way he has mould the education industry and I sincerely hope and appeal to the Hon. Minister to help evolve the Wild Life Industry in Maharashtra. And hope to have more IFS officers like Shree Bhagwan who have given their lives for forests and wildlife and on whose names there are villages (In Tadoba, people have renamed their village as Bhagwanpur as the IFS Officer had rehabilitated the tribals and had helped them evolve in lives and had helped the Forest evolve as a valuable park.

Maharashtra is usually known for Beaches, Hills and Pilgrimage, but Wild Life is also abundant here. Tadoba, Melghat and Pench (One portion is in MP and other in Maharashtra) and even Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai – these can be developed and promoted very well and can attract good tourists as well as revenue to the state. Hope the state looks beyond Electricity, Sugarcane and Commerce !

Friday, 7 January, 2011

Wildlife Conservation and Empower Foundation...

Wild Life and Nature Conservation

Each one of us encounters China atleast once a day, either when we see a traffic signal urchin selling a Chinese toy or colleague carrying a new expensive looking cheap Chinese gadget to an extent that even the traditional Indian items like the lanterns for diwali (festival of light) and the idols of Lord Ganesha (the Indian elephant God) are made in China. We either appreciate or or crib about
China for its mass production strategy almost taking over the Indian market. Having said all, China definitely has given a dent in the Indian Economy and even the wildlife sector has not remained untouched of this dent.

All would have seen the 1411 Tigers and Save the Tigers Campaign, but, one of the biggest hand in the declining population of our National Animal is China ! The hunting for Chinese medicine and fur is the biggest cause of decline of the tigers.

The Wild Indian and Empower Foundation with this blog is trying to give all Indians a brief background on the whole issue with some way forwards too.

A Background :

Nearly one tiger is getting killed everyday in India despite many Tiger conservation programs, mainly due to habitat loss and indiscriminate poaching for pelts, bones and teeth used to make medicines allegedly providing the tigers strength. A 40000 Tigers number at the beginning of the 20th Century is at just 1411 today !

For a poor Indian farmer, for whom word suicide is like common cold, the money from selling a tiger equals six months of hard work on the fields, no wonder killing an endangered animal seems a tempting option. Tiger pelts can fetch up to $12,500 to $15000 in China.  Infact, there are poaching tribes existing in the country, many of them are caught with the tiger skins and bones and are spending their lives behind bars.

As per data by greendiary, even in the woods of Ranthambhore, the only dry deciduous tiger habitat in the world to spot the elusive cat, the tiger population has dwindled to just 35. Meanwhile, the number of people living next to the park has more than tripled, from 70,000 in 1980 to 250,000 today. The new arrivals have brought construction, logging and nearly 1 million grazing livestock. Even as their habitat shrinks the tigers tend to seek out this livestock, resultant in revenge killings by the farmers. Its almost humans versus tigers, with land getting more and more limited. Also, Human activities including carbon emissions, other pollution, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and climate change are driving an unprecedented wave of destruction and habitat degradation that is leading to species extinction on a scale never before seen in the Earth’s recent past.

I began with the Tigers for 2 reasons – (1) Tiger is our National Animal (2) Save the Tigers Campaign has atleast set the base or created the basic plinth about the cause and building on the same will be easy as there is much much more beyond the Tigers. And ofcourse, the government has various projects for other species too.

Equal number of Elephants (for their tusks & bones ), Rhinos (for their horns & bones) and Lions (for their skins and bones) are being killed year on year.  There are many species like the Indian / Asiatic Cheetah,  Snow Leopard, Barasingha, Rhinoceros,  Pink-headed Duck, Himalayan Quail, Gangatic Dolphins, etc on its way to extinction. If you even recall the last time you saw a sparrow in Mumbai. We are loosing animals and birds, an important part of our world and the day would soon come when our kids would be shown a tiger in a museum like our parents showed us the Dinosaurs !

What can we do ?

It is quite alarming – when you ask someone to Save the Tiger – How can I save a tiger is the first question and the cause itself gets killed in the first shot. The campaign gets you only one thing and that is Awareness, well atleast. But what next ? This is a bigger question.

Being friend with some CFCs  (Chief Forest Conservators) / IFSs (Indian Forest Service Officers) below are some simple ways on how a common citizen like me or you can Conserve the Wild Life or Nature.

CITIZEN LEVEL – A very important stakeholder for the Conservation are us – the citizen of India, who need to learn, understand and appreciate the cause. Then would follow the other steps.

  1. Awareness – The first and the most important step is creating awareness on the subject. For eg. How many of us know about the Wild life of India, how many of us understand and appreciate the same. How many of us consider Wildlife tourism as a holiday option ? How many of us have initiated a process of taking our kids and showing them the beauty of jungles, animals in their wild habitat and teaching them to appreciate the nature so they can conserve it. Ideally, thewildindia and Empower Foundation would try doing this basic.
·         One can read websites/blogs and forward good articles to the peer group for awareness. Do you know that Gangetic Dolphin is our National Aquatic Animal ? or do you know that there are many natural destinations near Mumbai where you can explore nature without the crowd of the tourists to the closest over a weekend ?
  1. Spread the Message - One can display their respect or love for the cause by means of using a wild animals picture on the desktop/laptop/screen saver or wear a T-Shirt with such cause (Surrogate advertising)
  2. Participate in a Campaign - One can participate in a petition/pledge for a certain cause (thesedays the same are online). Raise your voice against this injustice. Peaceful protest, human chain, petition and rally are some ways to do it. You can also write a heart felt and logical letter to the government stating your ideas about this issue and how it can be solved. Remember- an RTI has to be replied else the government officials are fined !
  3. Contribue and Collaborate - One can contribute (time, money) to various NGOs working in that area post being satisfied with their process. Choose and Fight for a cause - Visit Zoo / Circus and if you find poor state of the animals, you could directly or through an NGO file an RTI and fight for the Right of the animal. It hardly takes a few minutes of your life.
  4. Protest -Refuse to buy products that contain animal ingredients such as fur, ivory, and tortoise shell. Refuse to buy products that have been tested on animals. Think about what you eat.  You get Zebra, Antelope, Crocodile Flesh very easily in Africa. Some of my acquaintances in India have experienced Wild Hare, Deer and Peacock Meat. Ideally, all should become Vegetarians, but it’s a personal call. Buy recycled paper and save paper for recycling to help conserve forested habitats. Protest illegal tree –felling and Plant trees – a common one though

GRASSROOT LEVEL – The most important stakeholder for the Conservation are our Tribals. - Man-Animal Conflict has to be tackled at the ground level and its not that difficult. 
  1. Awareness at the GrassRoot level- One can Join the Forest department officials for some social initiative – As we all know that man-animal fight leads to the extinction of the wild life. Not just wildlife, even teak plantation would soon become endangered with the illegal cutting of trees. Here too, Awareness at the grass root level is required on what to do and what not to do. Forest department is too small in strength, be it anywhere in the country and would always require support from the citizens.
  2. Engaging with the Tribals and educating them as the same is the base, so that they who are on the ground can conserve nature first.
  3. Empowering the Tribals with employment generating opportunities (eg. Art)
  4. Promote Rural Tourism so a revenue generation can happen.
  5. One can donate Old Clothes, Old cycles, two-wheelers other household items to the tribals.
  6. One can mentor a tribal family or a class of tribal youth

SOUTH AFRICA - The Unbeatable Wild Life Experience

July 12, 2008, Johannesburg, South Africa : It was around 4 AM in the morning, pitch dark and 2 souls awake in the morning, one not so enthusiastic, till he was there – there at the Pilanesberg Wild Life Sanctuary, my maiden experience in the wild (in my whole senses, besides the ones when I was a small kid). We were on a South Africa business visit for the International Partners business of the bank post which I wanted a Saturday to be spent in the Wild of Africa, post much of Discovery Channel pumping in. With me was Gautam Sehgal who I convinced to join in with an add-on of the Sun City visit (where Ms. Worlds or Universe were held) in the evening ;)

The Pilanesberg National Park is situated in the Northwest province, about a 2 hour drive northwest of Johannesburg. The park ranks among the largest of the national parks in South Africa (it is in fact the fourth largest park), and covers an area of 55,000 hectares. It also has the bonus of being a non-malaria area and is home to the 'Big 5' – Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard.

A Dark green Pajero arrived at our hotel in the morning, with a 7 ft African (Vincent) greeting us enthusiastically at 4 in the morning with a warm namaste, courtesy his regular business with the bank and Indian officials visiting South Africa and courtesy my friend Afzal Azmi who had almost imbibed many DNAs of India in him !

We left and post 2 hours of lovely drive, experiencing the sun break in the midway reached the gates of the Pilanesberg Game Sanctuary. It was yet little dark and to our first surprise was the “Declaration Form” which made us sign on various terms, the most astonishing one “ I would be responsible for any accident or death caused due to any circumstances in the sanctuary and not the government or the sanctuary authorities. Like normal humans, since all were signing and as there was no scope of questioning at 6 in the morning, we too signed and moved ahead.

As we entered the scene around of the lovely jungle game me the dejavu of the discovery channels with light orange long grassland and a flat topography. And soon the 10-12 jeeps which entered together at the gate vanished into thi9n air.  The first animal which we saw, I still clearly remember was a Rhino along with a Baby Rhino, and that too while passing by, as in we did not put in any major efforts finding them as they were on their morning walks. The first sight of the large animal bigger than our Pajero was like still a dream. We waited there for the movement, though they did not much, we clicked a few pictures and moved ahead as Vincent said theres lot to se, as he has visited this place around 5 times.

The next 30 mins were boring, not being able to find any animal around, though a few birds which Vincent showed us but we were typical Indians and cared least for wasting time on the birds, wherein the britishers and Americans were shooting them as if they were more dearer than their spouses.

Soon, we entered into a different topography, a bit hilly at the end, but a greener grassland and we saw a scene which beats our first encounter – a herd of more than 100 Zebras ! The scene was fascinating…. The color scheme was breathtaking, any camera could not have captured. And as we moved closer, saw a few different type of animals camouflaged in the herd of zebras. They were neither horse, not goat, nor deer, but a mix of all called the wild beasts. This animal was fascinating as had never learned about it in school or as a child in a zoo or circus !  Well, this was just the beginning as per Vincent. He drove further and soon we neared a big lake and he stopped and asked us to stay silent. We did so ! But post 5 minutes asked him does he see something and he said he did, but now that something was not visible and soon in a while we saw a stone like structure move in the water and emerging on a bank near me and another smaller stone too flowing in. As it emerged, we knew we had encountered the Hippo and the Baby Hippo and Vincent felt or knew that and since these animals are extremely shy and sensitive, he had asked us to be absolutely silent and not murmur a word amongst us.

We moved further and saw many monkeys (Indians don’t care much as we keep seeing them so often, but there are 23 types of monkeys, 8 of them in this park) and also beautiful deers. Soon Vincent screeched and stopped on the way and showed us porcupines running into bushes, which we just managed to quickly take a note of. Hats off to Vincent for his sense of identifying or catching a life in the thick dense African forest. He says it’s the local tribal instinct and he is mostly right. We moved further and again halted as Vincent literally got out of the window to find us a huge herd of African Elephants ! They were far, but beautiful – thanks to my Sony 40X Digicam which could capture what the cameras could not and what a beauty – much different than the Indian elephants, these animals had huge ears and long white tusks and Vincy thanked, that they were not near !

Being so much impressed with Vincent and his instincts, and having seen these animals, we – the typical Indians asked for just one thing to Vincent – show us some Big ones ! Well, the park housed some lions and leopards but these animals were difficult to sight as the forest his huge and its purely on luck, where instincts also don’t work. But there are ways to arrive to this luck. Well, we were asked to hold our expectations low, so we don’t feel too bad if we don’t see one, but the overall package with so many animals was definitely much important. Vincent promised us more excitement and he only knew why and how.

We quickly had our breakfast (packed one at hotel) at a common point, where tourists were allowed to step down, refresh and answer the natures call. It was around 11 noon. And we spent 5 hrs in the wild.
We moved further and Vincent drove us suddenly over some hill, don’t know how and where did it emerge from and asked us confidently to await some surprise and soon we were in a terrain with long trees all around on a plain bushy land and then came our surprise – the tall shining giraffes – not one but many. This topography with tall trees was the best for the giraffes and our man Afro knew it – I shall call it common sense now and no instinct. As we traveled we saw many giraffes and one thing was common none were single. Were always with one to three fellow companions and then were told that these are unconfident animals and like to stay in small groups, of like minded ones, though not in herds. And 3 of them together can make hell out of a lions life and Vincent has seen a lioness being kicked 10 ft in the air by one of the giraffe. The best part with Vincent was to learn the detailed nature and habits of each animal.

Well, now the desire was to see the King of the Jungle and it was getting dark and we desperate, but Vincy said not to worry as dawn and dusk are the best time to trace the Big 5s and imagine what we encountered a Lion and Lioness and Majestic was the only adjective which could describe the scene. What and experience at Pilanesberg – a dream come true  ! And at this place took birth of my Bug for the Wild and Nature and I said to myself – India has much and why haven’t I explored it ?

We moved to Sun City post the great day and returned back to our hotel rooms as satisfied as cracking a big deal… but as a greedy human, the real dream is still due- the Masai Mara – Kenya-Tanzania migration experience in Africa – Hope to realize this dream soon !