Sunday, February 18, 2018

Forest, Teacher of Patience!

“A forest is a living thing like a human body...each part dependent on all the other parts. A forest needs its birds, its beaver...all its animals and plants. The forest gives shelter to the birds, but they repay the debt with the insects they eat, the droppings they leave, the seeds they carry off to plant elsewhere. The beaver builds dams for himself, but the dams keep water on the land, and although the beaver cut trees to use and to eat, their ponds provide water for the trees during the hot, dry months....Listen, and you can hear the forest breath.”  Louis L'Amour.

Louis Dearborn L'Amour was an American novelist and short story writer. His books consisted primarily of Western novels; however, he also wrote historical fiction, science fiction, non-fiction, as well as poetry and short-story collections. I am fan of Western movies & the dry arid terrain it portrays & yet it’s the original residents of those plateau i.e. Red Indians who were very close to forests which is direct form of nature. And that’s why no western story teller can keep away from nature & L’Amur is also no exception to this rule. His above quote tells the story of life cycle in forest in least of words & yes how I love to live them by being in forest!

“We tracked her till here, it was toiling full day safari & we went through that route at least 5 times & seen her pug marks all along on the dusty route, could feel her presence around, yet it needed that timing & luck on our side to capture & then you see a tigress sitting on road & resting after a tiered long walk! Friends, in forest we all are eager to see a tiger & I am not exception, but the real thrill or excitement is in looking for these pug marks on dusty road, alert ears trying to catch alarm calls of sambhar, langoor, spotted dear even that of peacock or barking dear & eyes scanning green around for those yellow black stripes & suddenly while you are chasing the pug marks fresh on the road ahead, there she is, sitting right on the road, looking straight in your eyes, telling you, I will show myself only when I feel, that's what a tiger is in the forest!”

And that’s how the Bandhavgarh magic unfolds in front of your eyes rather all your senses! This is how my encounter with tiger in Bandhavgarh was & the trip has started! The first thing you notice in Bandhavgarh is not the towering massive cliffs of Badhavgarh fort, visible from most part of the park but very existence of tigers & lots of them. You see pug marks, fresh on the thick dust over tire marks of gypsy’s, you can hear alarm calls of all the animals mentioned above & of birds like peacock too, its fall winter & ground is covered with teak wood’s fallen leafs & you can hear silent paws walking on them & the crackling sounds of leafs under those paws, you can inhale stench of kill here & there & the vulture wandering up in the sky confirms location of the kill & you know yes here is a forest where tigers roam in abundance! This is what MP tourism boasts off, Land of Tigers! Though let me warn you yet it takes your lucky day to sight even a tiger as in my last trip here, two years back in peak summer, it was like raining tigers all around us. So when I get an invite from my friend sunil yadav, “sir aap panna aa rahe ho to yah bhi aa jao” ie sir you are coming to Panna which is very near, then do drop in at Bandhavgarh”, I couldn’t stop myself to decline the invite. It just like a drunkard passing from a bar & gets dragged inside by the neon sign display of the bottle, somewhat similar. Many won’t like the analogy yet a diehard forester can understand what I meant about the invite from a nearby forest on way from where you are passing by!
Before I start with Bandhavgarh sharing, one a must to see place from Panna is vulture point; indeed many of those who visits forest  (mostly for tigers) won’t like to waste time in looking at vultures yet its not about just the vultures but the natures wonder in making of such places is also worth seeing. It’s a gorge & rocky cliff in shape of horse shoe deeps down nearly 400 fts & the surface has cracks/ fishers/ faults (in geology language). This has become a perfect breeding place for a bird which is used to heights as a vulture can fly even a mile high in sky & at this place it’s safe from every predator as well from human interference. You can see hundreds of Himalayan griffon vultures along with long billed vultures nesting & doing all the acrobatics in the sky above this gorge & you won’t notice how the time flies! It’s unfortunate that the magic big bird like vulture which is an important link of biodiversity chain in wilds, is taking its last breath & only in forests like Panna or Bandhavgarh can find its home. That’s why such forests are so important for not just wild life lovers for entire Earth’s future!

Coming back to Bandhavgarh, best part was it was nearly fifty percent less cold than Panna, a boon for me. The drive from Panna to Bandhavgarh is like mostly through buffer of the forest as it’s this belt of nearly 200 km which was actually a corridor for wild animals few decades back. Recently I read that forest or say green cover of our country has been increased by 1% & that’s great achievement as on one side our population is ever increasing & naturally we need more land to accommodate needs of this population. So the forests are the worst hit to give way for land for human needs & on such background is forest cover has increased that’s really a welcome news. And MP plays vital role when its forest land as over 75,00sq km which makes nearly 10% of the forest cover of entire country is in MP. And in that also 50% is in Umariya, Katni, Mandla, Panna, Seoni districts which hosts tiger belt ie Kanha, Pench, Bandhavgarh & Panna! May  be hardly a century back all these forests were connected & animals like tigers were free to roam all around but under the name of development as well human needs we cut down the corridors & all that of these wonderful forests has been left is in pockets. Yet while travelling to Panna from Jablapur as well from Panna to Bandhavgarh & way back Jabalpur I once again realized the way Forest God has been happy with this belt of MP. Though the roads travel most of the time through forests its price is being paid by the animals like civet, jackals, hyenas & many as they don’t get training in wilds how to cross a State High Way & for this mistake of theirs poor fellows gets victims of road kills. I saw two jackals, one civet & a languor got killed by some speeding vehicle in just my two travels between these places, so imagine how many wild animals must be losing their lives in entire year on these roads, for no fault of theirs! Why can’t we train our every citizen that while travelling through forests look out for the animals crossing, thought there are enough sign boards along these roads making drivers aware about animal crossing & safety but what we lack is a system which will take notice of offence & punish the culprit. In a country where nearly over hundred thousand human beings loss their lives in road accidents, who cares for loss of animal life, is the saddest part in wild life conservation! We can think of enough under passes on every road going through forest area & then fence all along both sides of the roads, this may seems crazy idea but to conserve wild life we need crazy ideas is a fact!

Bandhavgarh as usual cat & mouse game about tiger sighting as I agree forest is lot more than tiger yet I must admit frankly I was keen to see some tigers & let me tell you this is something even full day safari cant assure you. Because its a huge forest divided in three zones, Magdhi, Tala, Khatouli & then there is buffer zone, making it like you are in tiny dingi in an entire ocean to explore! Well I did take a full day safari & even after spending strait eleven hours in forest, yet I saw just two tigers (tigress if specific) that too in last hour of the safari. But to follow the alarm calls & track the pug marks, nothing bits that thrill; just like in our child-hood we used to play the hide & seek game, here its tiger which is hiding (not actually) & you are supposed to locate it by all these signs! Interestingly while we were waiting at a water hole where a male female tiger couple has been seen earlier I could click a barking dear clearly which was bonus as its very very shy dear to capture clear. It took almost twenty minutes to come to water hole & actually drink water, so must scared it was & shy of our presence, though we have kept absolute silence & enough distance from the water hole. But real drama happened later as we were so engrossed in looking at barking dears cautious moves that we forgot how much time has been passed & it was well past 4.30 pm, which is general time of tiger’s movements. So we decided to go down the road where water hole was situated & as we left behind the water hole which was on a turn we saw fresh pug marks of a tigress down the road & even signs of her sitting on the road. We have just missed her, this is what forest is. Agreed it teaches you patience & lots of it but it teaches you one more thing, in life it’s all about luck & timing, & this principle is applicable in our normal city life also. Everything has to be timed perfectly, may it be acknowledging somebody’s efforts or to reach at school gathering of your son for his performance, all is about timing!

Just prior to my visit there was unrest at Bandhavgarh park following some friction between park management, i.e. forest dept & gypsy drivers along with guides. And all the gypsy drivers & guides were on strike for nearly four days causing chaos in safaris. I have been at many tiger parks & this aspect of bonding between forest dept & gypsy drivers as well guides which actually are link between tourist & the forests is very vital but unfortunately very few field directors have understood this relations importance from the angle of forest conservation is a bitter fact! Agreed there has to be discipline while you move through the forest but let’s don’t forget the hefty revenues coming via charges forest dept is charging per safari & then after paying such charges tourists does demands tiger sighting which is a constant pressure on the gypsy driver & the guide! We need to balance both things i.e. park discipline & desire of the tourists. This can be achieved by regular dialogue between senior park management & guides, which many a times doesn’t happens due to ego of senior officers (is what guides thinks) resulting clashes of this type which isn’t in interest of tourists in the end!

As I mentioned earlier while forest cover all over India has increased unfortunately Maharashtra & especially our Pune district is following opposite trend. Tree/ Forest cover has been decreased by nearly 26 sq kms in only Pune district in last one year & this is very dangerous sign as agreed we may be having most Industries, IT parks, Real Estate growth & Smart City tag too, but high time at what cost we are achieving all this development! No one denies importance of growth but when I look at miles & miles spread forests between Bandhavgarh to Panna & compare the same with our baron lands which are mostly covered with slums, our polluted rivers & dry hills, I wonder where we are heading under the name of growth? Whose job is it to plant few big trees if we are building few apartments & see those trees are growing too? It’s my job, this is why one should take out some time & visit forests like Banadhavgarh as this realization about my responsibility towards forests is what I get back along. And yes I get along patience & lots of it too as to cut a tree need few minutes but to plant one & make it survive needs lots of patience & efforts as well dedication, same which is needed to sight a tiger in the forest & then luck does follows is what I have experienced, as nature always rewards you when you try to be with it! 

Before I conclude, was able to see moon’s eclipse at Bandhavgarh & let me share nothing better than to walk under moon lit sky on full moon day on the roads around forest, as some experiences you have to just live by yourself than trying to explain them, is all I can say & I am lucky being able to live them! 

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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