Sunday, December 8, 2013

And I Missed the Tiger Happily!

I'm always astonished by a forest. It makes me realize that the fantasy of nature is much larger than my own fantasy. I still have things to learn….Gunter Grass

G√ľnter Wilhelm Grass is a German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is widely regarded as Germany's most famous living writer. And no doubt in that as look at the way he has described forests & I fully agree with Gunter as my some of the best times have been with forests! And so was my recent week long trip at my most favorite places i.e. Kanha, Pench & Tadoba! What one could have asked as a holiday! Though it was start of December yet thanks the weather change due to Helena, the latest typhoon which had hit Andhra coast, it was pleasantly cold & not usual bone chilling cold at Kanha. But the increased costs of safari i.e. entry fees in forests & gypsy charges have surely hit Kanha tourists. Also the online booking process & stringent entry norms such as identification of every tourist & not allowing any change in the group bookings, all has been taking toll on numbers of visitors & though not openly but the whispers are amongst guides, dhabelwals, gypsy owners & resort people about the worry for the reduced numbers of tourists. Forests needs to be made dearer to common man & costing of forest trips is definitely matter of concern & with current rates it’s been restricted to upper class of the society. If we want the forests to survive then it has to be made affordable to masses then only the awareness will be there. Especially school & college kids, target them & come up with special packages for them is what I will urge to the forest people & policy makers.
Here as usual however one may deny yet while moving through the forests everybody’s eyes are searching the Tiger & though forest offers so many other spectacular scenes yet the importance of Tiger remains. During my trip though I saw number of times the king of jungle yet I missed him also on many occasions & yet I was happy in missing the Tiger! Many will say it’s a lie but what I gained instead was equally or even more exiting, so sharing these moments in form of takes, like they do in Hindi film shooting!
Take One
As usual tracing an alarm call from Chital for the tiger on a tall sall tree my guide pointed towards a nest & mentioned it of vulture. Already sighting of a vulture is getting rare than that of tiger & a vulture sitting at nest was some excitement , so I asked driver to stop & tried to click the bird, with many attempts & positioning the gypsy at right place, yet I failed to get a proper snap & we moved off leaving the nest & the vulture. Just some 100 meters ahead there was a naalh & as we approached the nallh a tigress get up from there & within a flash crossed the road &vanished in the bushes! All I could do is admire her walking across! The guide said “sabb khali time waste kiya vulturepe”, though I was happy that for a while I had forgotten the tiger & missed him happily!
Take Two:
The story in Pench wasn’t different, now its turn of Oriental Dove, a small but very attractive bird & I wasn’t having any clear snap of it till now. So when came across one pair of the bird that too at very close range, I couldn’t wait to click it till I get a good shot. Was admiring the beauty through the lens of even a small tattoo like gray patch on its neck, I didn’t realize the time which passed & suddenly a gipsy came from opposite side telling there was a tiger right near the road & how they got great snap of the animal & when they came to know what I was clicking, the expressions on their face were worth clicking itself! Again my guide then murmured something like “kya saab miss kar gaye tigerko kabutarke liye!” But the fellow didn’t know that again I have missed the Tiger happily! As the beauty of Oriental Dove has made me forgot everything around for a while!
Take Three:

The tiger missing trail continued in Tadoba also. Traveling on a gypsy & in dust storm generated by tires of other gypsy's suddenly my eye caught a leaf in a giant spiders web & then I realized it’s not a leaf but a grasshopper may be double that of size than the spider & I stopped to watch the action. In minutes the last struggle of the poor fellow stopped & the spider was at work. When I saw through 500 lens, was surprised to see a small orange color spider mounting on the bigger spider; my friend atul dhmankar who is authority on forest by himself updated me that the bigger one is female & its male spider which is much smaller in size than female & interesting is he can met the female only when she is busy in eating her prey otherwise she will end up eating the male when free! Also I always used to wonder when spiders don’t have teeth how it eats it prey? Atul cleared that doubt also as female spider injects venom in the preys body through her fangs & the venom is so strong that it liquidates all the tissues as well bones of the body of the prey & then she suck out all that liquid & leave the dried leftover to be flown away! Cruel it sounds but that one of many facts of “Killing for Living”, logic of the jungle! Forest is full of such surprises & again we missed a tiger sighting in clicking this whole action which other gypsies got but I was happier than to have witnessed something equally exiting as it’s the smaller species which actually keeps the forest alive & many of us overlook such scenes in search of bigger animals!

Take four:

In forest there comes a day when all day you move around & neither you sight a tiger nor you saw anything unusual or exiting & with dull mood you come back to your room. There was one such day at Kanha & at night I was just standing in verandah of my cottage, it was real chill wind outside in Kanha & saw two service boys of resort standing in front of my adjoining cottage. They were waiting to serve some guests who were partying & may be celebrating their tiger sighting! The boys weren’t having any warm clothes & were shivering due to cold outside. I called up the manager & asked how many such boys are there in resort? He said some odd 8-10 numbers it must be. I asked him to go to nearby village shop, get 10 sweaters & called all service boys of the resort & handed them over the sweaters! The lightened up faces of the boys made me forget the dullness of the non sighting day & yes I again have missed the Tiger happily that night!

Not that I didn’t saw any tiger, I did but what was more fun is there were such times when most of the tourists would have preferred not to waste time on other animals & head for the tiger, but I was happy with other excitements in & around forests.

Take five:
Scarface, name given to the biggest male tiger in Tadoba forest because of the scars he carries from his territorial fights with other male tigers; & may be even at par with any big male tiger in entire Indian forests & he is huge ! Real thaliva, the boss of the Tadoba forest!
We saw his big pug mark in dust on a early morning ride & chased him to click after three hours of search & wait; agreed the forest offers so many excitements yet nothing beats experience of tracking a tiger in forest as that excitement is beyond words & finally when you see the animal, speechless I became is all I can share!

Now after the takes let’s have a look at something which a wild life traveler should not forget to see & that is looking around the place you are staying! I have a habit of walking around after the morning ride & evening ride & it’s does makes me compare the life styles of the people living around the forest especially the villagers. On contrast of villages like Khatiya at Kanha & Turiya at Pench, Moharli at Tadoba was a shock to me. Usually the fresh air & fragrance of the vegetation is what greets you at such walks but at Moharly it was stench of human excreta as the road to forest was the place for the morning rituals of all Moaharli villagers & that’s the cause of smell. Surprisingly there was a banner of some local leader being congratulated for allocating funds for a community center for the village but no thing such as public toilets are there at Moharli; making villagers to use road as a common toilet. Tadoba is a national level tourist attraction because of tiger sighting & such scene isn’t a matter of pride for the place especially while enetering in the forest itself! The forest department with their funds or with the help of NGO’s can surely build some good toilets for the village. Even that’s duty of tourists also to offer some help on this front. Same is the story with forest department toilet conditions which are at the gate. At Kanha & Pench you get toilets well equipped & clean like a good resort but Tadoba lacks very much on this front & a lot is needed to do on cleanliness & hygiene. The guides at Tadoba were just one step above mute & deaf is all I can comment! As a guide is the main link between forests & tourists but unfortunately instead explaining tourists about the details of the forest, most guides were busy in chewing tobacco & chatting with the driver all the time during ride & spitting that tobacco in park only. Such attitude  makes the  tourists  feel detached from the forest &  naturally  if they don’t saw  the Tiger  the trip  turns in to unhappy event. And all blame is put on the forest which has no fault in it. Another surprising thing was camera fee being charged at Tadoba for higher range lens i.e. above 250mm! Rs 500 is being charged for such camera, means if there are 4 such cameras in the gipsy then you end up paying Rs 2000 per trip, an amount more than rent of gipsy ride! While no other park in country charges for camera, this is sheer looting & wrong encashment of popularity the park enjoys for the Tiger. And foolish part is when you are denying higher range lens then the tourist will try to go more near to the animal to click him with lower range lens! The shocker came when in mid forest our gypsy was stopped by a so called forest patrol unit on two wheeler & we have been asked to produce our id proofs along with each of us was made to say our name! I felt like we are not wild life loving tourists but some drug traffickers stopped by cops & the guy doing so
Mr. Nibuddhe(this is his name) seemed to be enjoying his job & next three days I was seeing him doing this with sadistic pride. I have seen many forests but never had come across such pathetic way & that too when all identification has been duly checked at gate while entering in park! What park management of Tadoba is thinking of tourists by adopting such measures only god knows it! They should make new routes to make tourists more exposed to forest & start something like Center with facility like toilets & snacks at the abandoned office places in central part of the forest. Our forest department needs to make a detail analysis of such policies & compare our parks with other States & adopt good policies which will make tourist satisfied with their experience. And most important make them consistent as we same throughout the State to avoid confusion amongst tourists, especially the park timings & booking charges types.

Friends our responsibility towards the happy moments at forest doesn’t ends at the gate of the forest while coming out of the forest, rather it starts from there. What we should carry back home is not just the snaps & Tiger magic but this responsibility feeling which we have towards forest.

Lastly a take describing what can be done from your side when you are not in forest & trust me its equal rather more joy giving than tiger sighting!
Take Six:

Back home in Pune, few tribal (local residents) people & forest staff from Pench forest, Madhya-Pradesh has been invited to Pune by anuj khare's nature walk, Sanjeevani Dev & Pune forest dept, to have a look at how tourism & locals can work together in hand. Pench Director Mr.Alok kumar & Park Game ranger Mr.Tiwari from mp forest & Sunil Limaye CCF, from Pune forest were the main who took initiative in this event, as they were visiting Dandeli forest for the same purpose & on way back we invited the team at pune.We gave them treat at Vaishali hotel, famous Pune eating joint & handed them some goodies & they were so happy, as none of them ever seen any big city nor sat in even railway & not knew what is "masala dosa"! Happy that we can give them some fun & joy as these are the persons who protect forests for us!
Forests offers best moments of fantasies coming true to human & it’s up to us only to conserve these sights as or else they will really remain a fantasy only & we will do is repent for our negligence to ruin our own happy moments!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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1 comment:

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