Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Forest, Tiger & Me!

“The book of forest has no beginning, as it has no end. Open this book where you will, and at any period of your life, and if you have the desire to acquire knowledge you will find it of intense interest, and no matter how long or how intently you study the pages, your interest will not flag, for in nature there is no finality.”  Jim Corbett.

These are the words I read when I have never ever been in a forest but its these & many such words from the greatest wild-life lover, conservator, writer whatever you call him, (I never liked calling Jim as hunter, not even man eater hunter) which made me to visit the forests &  there is no end to this passion! Every time I visit forests something new I get to see & when I get out of the forest I am a better man is what I feel by myself. Though of late I avoid forests in winters as the age is catching up & hecticness of forest routine makes the body takes toll, especially the winter mornings of Central India! Yet the addiction of those greens is such that rarely I can restrain myself that too when there is a cause like helping to the people who are real guardians of the forests. One such occasion came for touring Tadoba which by now has become tiger hub for all wild lifers, where we keep supporting in our little way to the guides as well guards by various means. This time its donating nearly 250 pairs of shoes to all the guides of TATR as well gate staff at Moaharli which is main entry gate to the park. I was accompanied by wife Ashwini & her collogue yogesh, who works on their own under RASA foundation for forest conservation.  In a cozy function we handed over the shoes to the guides at hands of Director Mr. Ganpati Garad who is a wonderful orator also & in his crisp sharing underlined the importance of role of guides in wild life tourism. That part will come later; also present were officers as well Dy Director Core Mr. Goeakr. What was more heartening, all the guards as well guides gathered for a group snap with us & thanked us for our support to them. It’s not that forest dept doesn’t care or support guides or the guards but then each of us in whatsoever way we can contribute is always welcome. Because forest conservation is not just job of some department or so called govt, as we too are equal part of that very govt! To my surprise there were nearly ten numbers of lady guides also present, which is important aspect as its sign that women are also joining wild life sector which was supposedly a male dominated one!
Though it was late November yet the infamous central Indian winter wasn’t at its best & I was glad for that, for two things, one as I mentioned earlier I myself doesn’t like cold much & second is sighting of not just tiger but other animals too is bit less in very cold weather! Obvious that with less water bodies, summers are always at its best for tiger sighting at Tadoba yet winter has  its own charm on forests, covering the entire terrain with every shade of green & even the animals wear darker & more colorful coats with the season! 

So here are some of my sightings i.e. "ankho dekha haal”…

We reached very late at tadoba after day long drive nearly 1100 km from Pune in one single day, thanks to Toyota Fortuner & with just 3 hours sleep were up for morning ride & still we reached to gate when most of the gypsy’s had been left & probably entered last in forest. There is always a debate about what is good position to enter in forest, while many veteran wild lifers are keen to enter first, logic is as all the night park is closed for tourists & tiger hunts mostly at night so it’s been on move & every chance to get some roaming tiger on road first to the first entrant. And once the vehicles start moving it might go inside from main track, though after visiting so many forests I have come to conclusion that most tigers are used to vehicles & unless it’s a new tiger or young we can say which are bit shy; the tiger cares a hang about vehicles! I witnessed many incidences even in this trip also to prove my logic which I will share eventually. And about entry in park many a times the late you enter there are equal chance of sighting a tiger which just by instinct has moved off-track from the road because of approaching sound of a gypsy & can come out when it feels the road is secure to move. As by now we all know tiger likes to walk on jungle roads than from the foliage or grass as it has soft pads in feet & to walk on road track is easy to walk without making any sound of crunching of dry leafs, which is essential while hunting as well lesser chances of injury to the paws in that way!
So first safari we entered late & best part of the forest is as you inhale the fragrance of greens in your lungs there goes your all tiredness, so did mine on that morning. Yet the sleep deprived eyes were not ready to give-up the sleep & I was trying to take in the fresh cool November air & sun was yet to come, entire surrounding was in misty mode. As our gypsy was taking turns through the bamboos thickset suddenly we saw two of the gypsy’s waiting ahead & people in that waving frantically towards us as they saw us approaching & the sleep has vanished from our eyes as I knew by the waving of those people that there has to be tiger somewhere around! And just when we stopped, there comes a tigress with collar around her neck, Choti Tara, & started walking towards us. By now over the years in forest I have started believing in luck as its hardly fifteen minutes we have entered in forest & a tigress is walking to me, a scene for which people longs days & days & many a times they have to return without even a glimpse of the tiger. Agreed I have seen enough tigers yet every time thrill & excitement is different, especially when such unexpectedly you encounter the animal, then its more! For a moment I felt sad for the waiting gypsy’s as its our vehicle which has got head on shots of the tigers but in forests luck keeps shifting gears, so part of game. And seems that day our luck was over flowing as our guide a veteran Tadoba man, Bandu Mankar, kept a finger on his lips & said “Sir bacchepan aahet” (sir, cubs are also around). In forest most important thing is silence as then only your hearing senses can help you & there you know how useless we are to use our natural senses like hearing or seeing or smelling! First I couldn’t hear anything but then when Bandu pointed figure to a direction in shrubs, I could hear a faint “miyaw”, yes its cubs & they do make sound like a domestic cat! The tigress also responded with similar whistle type sound & those who thinks tigers can only roar, for them, tigress makes a peculiar sound to call her cubs or to instruct them which is not at all a roar! And then responding to her calling, come jumping like toddlers two small cubs of just 2/3 months old, from the foliage on road. Again forest has surprised me as I was longing for such sight for years & let me admit frankly, the more you go to forest the more it makes you greedy for such longings! As however times you go to forest you know something you haven’t seen yet & forest never send you with empty hands especially if you are die hard wild lifer! Here I was witnessing one of the best sight in forest, a young tigress guiding her toddler cubs for outing & making them expose to the forest around, unaware of all the humans around & cameras shutters which were clicking like machine guns!

Real drama followed later, once the cubs vanished in grass land along with mother, we waited for half an hour & suddenly when we thought sighting is over then one of the cubs crossed the road behind our gypsy & again the tigress came on open road from the grass. It was wonderful winter morning, clear blue sky & bright morning sun lighting the forest, a light breeze flowing over the forest & those majestic yellow black stripes walking on red road from the dancing yellow grass with those piercing green eyes looking at you!  I reminded my-self how lucky I am to witness such sight & such scenes which pulls us towards the forest again & again at the same time tells us it’s my duty too, to save such environment! By now entire sleep from the eyes has vanished & it’s like a fresh start of the day.
While we were waiting for the tigress to come out, which is best time in forest as your all senses are alert, a slightest moment or sound you start noticing! And it’s this time when you see many things which makes you realize patience pays, as a tiny colorful butterfly silently landed on a small teak tree leaf near our vehicle & for a moment I forgot all about the tigress watching its wings flutter! The green leaf’s background was like a canvas for the multicolored butterfly & it was enjoying sun bath, unfazed by all the vehicles moments around which are focusing on tigress. In forest it’s not all about tiger but every second something is happening & its here you learn to take notice of smallest details around, a habit which has helped a lot back in my work & in home too!

Later three days thereon we explore tadoba forest & to my surprise even in winter the tigers kept us busy, Here I will share some inputs for those who complaints they didn’t have any sighting even in four or five safaris (which eventually happened for next three days after we left at Tadoba). Well, the reason is before summer to avoid forest fires, forest dept clears the dry leafs & branches fallen all along the forest trails. And numbers of workers are busy in doing the clearing work all day long, so there is lot of human moment in the forest which drives the animals deeper in forest i.e. away from vehicle routes! So while visiting the forests it’s important to get such information about park details. One more aspect is weather forecast as if its cloudy then that’s not good weather for sighting as well for photography. Though forest is best by me in any weather & situation yet for those who are first timers, I can understand their eagerness for tiger sighting & to avoid disappointment of lesser chances of sightings such information is important before you visit any forest!

After tadoba, though my plans were to return to Pune yet I got a call from a friend in Pench, MP & in spite my uncomfort for chilly winter of MP, I couldn’t resist temptation to visit there as pench forest is at its best in winter! Many people who have been to pench do like the forests but often comes empty hands on tiger sighting front. But my case is reverse, every single time I had been to pench I was gifted with some unique tiger sighting & this time also pench didn’t disappointed me! Here I will share a classic experience especially those who complains about not lucky about tiger sighting… We all long for just a glimpse of tiger when we go to forest but have we every thought what it takes to locate one single animal in the vast spread of the jungle? As per my experience, tiger sighting is mix of luck, patience & experience! I had just two safaris at pench & on evening safari when we were wandering on lesser known parts of forest, we came across a lone gypsy which has got a flat tire & we stopped for help. The guide of that gypsy said he thinks he heard tiger roaring in lantana bushes across. Our guide was a veteran named, hemraj said its territory of legendary collerwali tigress & she comes on road approx 5 pm, so we thought giving shot & wait. There were languor’s waiting & chitals herd grazing nearby & some fifty feet stretch of grass after which thickset of lantanas starts. Nearly 45 minutes waiting during which even the earlier gypsy left, suddenly a languor gave its typical scratchy alarm & the chital herd sprang away, means both of them have noticed the tiger & seen it also! From the lantanas the legendary collerwali tigress stepped out in the grass & with most stylish strides gave us a classy look, crossed the road & went to water hole across the road, drank water & vanished in the woods! The tigress has recently given birth to three small cubs & in total nearly 26 tigers she has gifted to Pench MP, till now; what a contribution, she was radio collared for safety of her cubs’ earlier, so she got nicknamed as collarwali tigress!! This is where experience & patience can make the difference in tiger sighting as well even knowing the forest better, as hemraj the guide has used his knowledge of memorizing the moment area as well time of the tigress & used it. This is what is expected from the guides especially with the tourists who are not regulars to the forest. At the same time the guides should use their expertise to make tourists understand finest details of the forest like behavior of other animals when they notice presence of tiger as all these things creates interest about forest in the minds of the tourists. Also the tourists should keep patience & trust in the guide allotted to them as many thinks guides & drivers are making time pass to save petrol, when they stop at one place after hearing alarm calls!

After I come back in Pune & posted few snaps on FB groups & there are real good groups like Sanctuary or CLAW or Tadoba Wild Images by Atul Dhamankar; this is very good platform of sharing information, knowledge about Indian forests. On one of groups some person has posted snaps of vehicles traffic jam type situation & frenzy of tourists to sight a tiger. I won’t name the park but I feel this is outcome of restricting park tourism areas by Hon Supreme Court. As take example of Tadoba, with all good officers working hard for park management yet the routes open for tourism are less, making whatever vehicles are in park coming at same spot again & again & especially if tiger moment is observed then more the reason. The route from Moharli to Kolasa range is closed so more vehicles moves in same zone. And you can’t blame tourists as they come all way round just for tiger, so whenever one sees a tiger everyone wants to have his piece of cake. Here the role of guides as well gypsy driver is very crucial as they have to satisfy the tourists’ demand of showing them the tiger yet it should not breech peace of the animals movement is to be observed. With due respect towards sentiments of all wild lifers & every species in forest, I personally feel every first timer to the forest should get to see the tiger! As that is what makes him come again & again to the forests & then he starts understanding how wonderful place forest is! And then only we can cultivate the seed of responsibility towards conservation of forest in him, so first step is tiger sighting! This aspect of wild life tourism should be bought to the notice of Hon Supreme Court to open every single piece of forest land to the tourists as its these people who will later help for conservation of the forests, only thing is the tourism should be controlled in such way that enjoyment doesn’t becomes botheration & that is possible by more forest staff & awareness. Closing down major part of forests or restricting tourism by stringent rules isn’t the solution as it’s these tourists which are eyes, nose & ear of forests. Many a time a wounded animal has been reported by the tourists before forest department comes to know about it, such is advantage. As well it’s in a way continues vigilance, so poacher’s movements also gets curbed; rather we can think of night safaris to avoid poaching which happens mostly at nights. And we can think of giving special license to regular tourists with entrance test like we conduct for driving license & then only allowing them for night safaris!

Remember each of us has a role to play in conserving the book named forest, at-least my forest trips have taught me that much & that’s what even legends like Jim Corbet also has been telling to us over the years! High time for all wild life lovers to get united on this conserving future of forests, forgetting about the status i.e. govt or private & act united. Because forests are habitats of millions of wild species of which tiger is at apex & if that gets vanished then with it will go charm or very purpose of our living, is all I know!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.


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  1. Its great, words are not enough to describe this just wowwww
    Gauri Bhagat
    email - gauri.gsb@gmail.com

  2. Its great, words are not enough to describe this just wowwww
    Gauri Bhagat
    email - gauri.gsb@gmail.com

    1. thanks a lot gauri, do share with all ur wild life lover frds as well non lovers too :)

  3. Excellent,wonderful to read.Gives one who has not experienced these forests,a great insight into them,and the wildlife that inhabits them.

    1. thanks simon; thats what i wish, everyone should once visit the forest :)


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