Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bharatpur, Ranthambore; heaven now, what's future?

Birds are the most popular group in the animal kingdom. We feed them and tame them and think we know them. And yet they inhabit a world which is really rather mysterious....David Attenborough

Seven years back When I visited first time to Keoladeo Sanctuary @ Bharatpur, little I know about birds  & when I visited again recently in winter I realized I know still lesser about them! How perfect the words of the great Naturalist fits to birds, I realized once again. All we can do is keep on watching them & admire the beauty of nature God has bestowed up on them. When I last visited Bharatpur it was summer & not an ideal season to visit the place but that time also what I saw was enough to give the idea what it could be in winters when most of the migratory visitors have landed there! From then each winter something & other kept popping up & my visit to India's birds paradise kept on delaying. this winter I just threw everything away, neglected my weakness towards the cold of north, stuffed all warm clothes in bag & booked my trip along with my friend nitin to Bharatpur! And it was worth all cold! The scene was like a home which we see in normal routine & the same home gets transformed when there is some function like marriage in the home! A colorful display not only from the millions of visitors from all part of the globe but even the trees have different shades from light green to yellow to deep green! Sky gets shades of reds & orange right from morning to setting sun & the whole sky becomes a huge canvas with different birds moving over like many brushes working at a time on it! Mesmerizing is the only term I can describe for the state of mind  in which most of the visitors go in there!

Going in details the best part is the park has maintained strictly no vehicle policy, you can take a bicycle or a manual rickshaw but the best way is to explore the approx 35 sq km park on feet. This policy has ensured the calmness which is most important for the undisturbed freedom the birds needs most. And then the enormous water bodies spread major part of the park which is home for these times of the year to all the migratory birds. The main part is these are shallow water bodies making sunlight to allow filter till the bottom & formation of algae is possible in it. It’s this algae which is food to all the insects & birds which forms a life cycle in itself. You can just take a birds guide along with a good binocular & start walk endlessly setting the binocular on any bird & admiring its beauty & trust me you will forget to look at watch. Or else hire a rick, keep your all camera stuff in it & go chase the birds & keep shooting them with your lenses till battery of your camera went dry! If tires then climb over number of watch towers erected all along the park & keep admiring the seen around you. A vast green wet land & blue sky above with a mild winter sun shining & a marsh eagle hovering over the wet lands making other birds alert & suddenly sky becomes gray, purple, white with the flight of thousands of ducks flying at a time! And finally at evening the setting sun makes the sky  colorful with silhouettes of various shapes of birds from ducks to storks on that background! I spend three evenings just to take snap of flying birds on background of the setting sun & it was fun; as some time the birds flew too high or too low from the sun & I wasn’t alone who has been engaged in this game, there were many who wanted to do that & finally I got few shots like that!

Though on one hand the scene is so heartening for a wild life lover on other hand threat of growing urbanization is looming over the park. There is a major state high way which rounds the park & the Bharatpur city itself has grown a lot in past seven years. The most significant damage is seven years back when I visited the place the sight of peacocks was so common that on nearly every house we could see them at the time of evening. And now the first thing I noticed is there hardly was any peacock seen outside of the park in city! We have hired a rickshaw guy, Jaswantsinh; when I asked him , what happened to all those peacocks? He replied " Insanone khaded diya babuji unhe" i.e. Man has driven them out from the city! It’s the outcome of increasing population, vehicles pollution & decreasing number of trees, indirectly reduction in habitat of the poor bird! And they have to resent inside the park! Sad, the authorities just think about inside the park & don’t keep an eye about such developments around the park! Even within the park there is a beautiful complex in the name of Rajeev Gandhi for giving information about history & surrounding of Keoladeo Sanctuary & there supposed to be a souvenir shop as well library. Unfortunately there wasn’t any person to look after the visitors neither the library nor the souvenir shop was open! Such is the state of our tourism attitude. Here I remind Jurong Bird Park which is in actual a closed zoo for birds but the way they have marketed it the place attracts millions of tourists. SO many souvenir shops with good eating joints are there, selling park mementos & every visitor does buys something for sure from them. Potential of Bharatpur is hundred times better as being much larger than Jurong & with natural habitat! But as with most of the places in our country the authorities are happy with what is going on & not interested in improving its status or else such lack of vision in maintaining what has been done wouldn’t have been there. There is  a small joint serving just tea & coffee inside the park that’s it! So if you are thinking of staying for a long in the park then you have to be on your own for that.

Another thing is poor condition of the rickshwalas who in actually are the real saviors of the park. In extreme cold or summer it’s a tough job to pull the passengers on the uneven paths of the park yet they seem to do it smilingly with enthusiasm which sometimes may irritate you. But for mere Rs70/ hour its worth; though there are guides at somewhat higher rate per hour even these rickshawals at least most of them know a lot about birds & park. Our rickshawla Jaswantsing was wearing chappal ( slipper) in morning when it’s cold & shoes in afternoon! Observing this Nitin asked him on second day , why so? Smilingly he said " Babuji mera number dopaharme aata hai" meant his son takes the shoes to school in morning & he used to get them only after when son is back from the school! This small incidence is enough to describe the financial condition of the rickashwalas working over there! Needless to say we gave him enough tip but there has to be some permemnanat solution as if they are happy & healthy then they will be in better position to make visitors get bonded with the park.

Also important is behavior of tourists in the park, again we are too bad when in public or group on front of keeping silence & peace. Here we have to learn from foreigners who silently keep observing the birds & admire the beauty instead shouting & trying to show others what you have seen! Yet it’s worth trip to Bharatpur & the charges entering park & entry system is quite easy. Just one thing I never understood that for non Indians the entry charges are nearly ten times, which is not anywhere in the other countries of the world!

On this back ground going to Ranthambore was a different experience. God knows what the authorities thinks about the park but the entry system is like making you feel that you are entering in any Atomic center, such were the security check in systems! Apart from the online verification of identification proof for booking the safari, one needs to show original document at the time of getting entry form where the route is allotted by computer & again at the entry gates. If it’s not enough the members who couldn’t accompany for the ride for any reason but have booked the safari with you in a group, their identification marks also are required, god knows why! The booking system needs the person who has already booked online to be at booking window by 5am in morning to get the route allotted! It’s a punishment & the entire system needs to be simplified. As what happens at such times is local agents & hotel punters team up with the booking authorities & a real tourist have to bend his knee in front of their chain & pay ransom to get the booking confirmed.

I have now visited nearly all parks of the country & Ranthambore safaris are costliest! Such was the rates that only foreigners can afford to have a separate Gypsy for the ride, rest all have to travel by the canters which carries 15-20 people! While the safari timings are minimum in compare to the other parks. When inquired then the answer was " Babuji saubko sath me leke chalana padata hai" is they have to share the money with all the authorities /segments involved in booking procedure!

Apart from this displeasure the forest in Ranthambore is at best at this time though if anyone is interested in just tiger then he should keep away during winter as the sightings are very rare. Water is abundant all around the park & geography of Ranthambore is such that there are lots of dykes & valleys where the big cat can rest without getting disturbed by tourists & exactly does that. Why I love visiting forests is not just the tiger but opportunity of many peoples who are associated with forests for their life & just to share their experiences is like seeing many forests at a time & with new dimension. At Ranthambore met one such guy,Rais khan! He is a living Ranthmabore in itself with nearly 30 years of forest outings under his belt the guy can see so many things with all his senses that one cant with all modern field glasses! Its an experience to know the jungle through him & it’s such meeting which makes forest outings most interesting. Unfortunate that our systems needs theoretical knowledge & a degree behind our name to get in to them or else people like Rais bhai would have been on top of the system! Though uneducated the man knows & loves forest like his first home & is an unofficial guide to even forest officers, giving them tips about conservation of not just tiger but species of the trees also!

Despite all such things when I start back from the forests like Bharatpur & Ranthambore, I carry along a sense of satisfaction which can’t be described in words. I don’t know how to describe in words what exactly I feel in forests but one thing is sure each trip makes me to come back again with more desire to explore the trees, the birds, the animals & the people who are part of those forests! I think it’s that feel which keeps us going. Friends forests all over the world are in danger & so are all the segments I mentioned above which are associated with them. Raisbhai was very sentimental when he said  " Saab 30 sal gujar bit gaye ye jungleko dekhte, bur dar lagata hai soch ke ki jada din nahi tikega ye sub, aisahi chalata raha to" ( Sir ,I have been part of these forests for nearly 30 years but I am afraid the way things are going this won’t last for more days).
We need more & more Rais bhais around not just only at Ranthambore but in every town & city & within each of us, then only there is some hope for the forests & the birds as well animals in them!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

Envo-Power Committee, Credai, Pune

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