Friday, February 9, 2018

Panna, Language of Wilderness!






“A great whispering noise began to rise in the woods on either side of the tracks, as if the forest had just noticed we were there and was commenting on it.”… Stephen King.

Stephen Edwin King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. Well, I too am a fan of King & his thrillers & though his above quote is from one such thriller The Body which doesn’t dealt with forests yet his these lines I have lived many times & my recent trip to Panna forest in MP wasn’t exception!

It was freezing winter morning & sun has just to break through the horizon when we entered at our first safari in Panna. Let me tell frankly I hate to be in MP forests in winters (with all due respect to my love for wilderness) as I don’t like cold & it’s very cold at this time in forests there! As well tiger sighting was not something Panna is famous for yet & though we don’t visit forests for tigers yet who doesn’t like bonus? And when within ten minutes we came across a tracking vehicle as Panna's half population of the tigers is collared, we just followed it for some distance & then our guide RP Omre decided to depend on nature's tracking i.e. alarm calls! Leaving all the vehicles we took another route way round & in few minutes we heard monkeys & spotted dear alarm calls & were sure about presence of tiger yet couldn’t believed our luck when three beautiful tigress (mother & 2 her sub adult female cubs) walked in one by one from the nearby grass & gave us ramp walk, drinking water on way before vanishing again in thickset around, leaving behind alarm calls & mesmerized faces of us i.e. foresters! Here is first set of the captured moments! The trip has started with a bang for the foresters (group of few like minded friends sharing same affection for forest)!!

Actually I hate winters of MP forests & especially Panna types where huge water bodies are present & Panna has been blessed with Ken River which flows right through middle of the park for most part of it. Yet Panna was long on my agenda to visit, for two reasons, one Ken River (karnavati) is known to be one of the cleanest rivers of our country & hilly terrain of Panna forest makes it best for leopards is what I have heard. Also my wild lifer friend has told me so much about biodiversity of Pnana that my curiosity bar has already raised pretty high making me able to overcome my hatred (sorry couldn’t find suitable word) against winter! Though Panna is one of the oldest district in MP & known to most of us by our Geography book reference regarding diamond mines, which are still there, right adjoing the park but no more that productive. Off late Panna has been in news, first for tigers absolution due to poaching of-course & then in 2009 MP forest dept took rejuvenization of tigers in the park. From Kanha & Bandhaavgarh pairs of tigers has been brought in & successfully relocated, so the park boasts now nearly thirty five plus tigers plus sub adult cubs & again regaining flow of wild life lovers. Though Panna forest has lot more to offer than just tigers & some eleven tigers have been collared to monitor them. A team of forest officials along with Wild Life Institute people monitors twenty four X seven ever collared tiger & let me tell you, it’s not easy job. As during our rounds in forest we came across many a times the tracking vehicle i.e. an antenna van with a tracking devise which give signals as per the location of the collared tigers & according to strong beep on the screen the tiger can be located to nearly in hundred meters radius. So, many tourist gypsy’s follows these tracking vehicles, in hope of tiger’s sighting but then nature is above any science as in a forest like Panna, even if a tiger is hardly few feet from you, yet it takes luck to sight the same & that’s real charm of tiger sighting!

Let’s not go in to the forest aq km area, trees, terrain & those type of things as that information is available on many websites, yet just in brief the Panna National park is some 650 sq km area means nearly 1.5 times of our Pune City (just to give idea of spread) but the figures won’t make you visualize the spread as this is just reserved park. Actually Panna is gifted with probably largest buffer area around the reserved forest because while I was travelling to & fro, from Panna, I realized there is no big town or factory or any such development within hundreds of kilometers of Panna forest. This is what makes Panna jewel of all the forest as it has capacity to absorb any numbers of tigers provided we acknowledge its potential. Though this detachment from the any so called development is curse also for Panna forest as this vast spread really makes it difficult to manage the tiger’s movement in & out of the park & which may be the reason why Panna tigers got disappeared in first place a decade back! As first the tigers does like to expand their territory & when they have vast land to explore they must have got out of park & second is with such a big forest around the main park, the entry of poachers really must be very easy & so must have been exit, after killing the tiger. And with no monitoring system in place, like the one right now, it must have been cake walk for the tigers, is what my logic is! Here is where tourism makes difference in tiger as well forest conservation, as it were tourists who realized that no tigers are being sighted in Panna & that’s how the entire system got woke-up & the full credits to forest department’s efforts to relocate specie like tiger & conserve it. As when we say tiger then it’s not just one specie but entire chain around it & that’s why a forest with tiger in it is a healthy forest as it has a complete life cycle within. But looking at the vast buffer spread around Panna forest I was really happy as it’s this forest we can use to accommodate the new tiger population provided the govt (read even Central Govt) supports MP Govt with funds to retain this buffer forest land & use it for building tiger’s habitat. The main hurdle is villages in this spread of buffer forests of Panna & the time it will take to shift these villages. Because till that time the man animal conflict will continue & outcome we all know death or defeat of the animals like tiger. A leopard is smart, it survives even keeping itself around the human habitat but tiger as being fearless walks & kills openly making it easy enemy for the humans!

Speaking about tigers & leopards, it was my one wish from forest to click a tiger with its reflection in water full frame & so many if’s are needed to come together for that i.e. sighting tiger in first place, near water body, the water should be still & the light & then tiger should look towards reflection & I can get clear steady shot! Well, forest always fulfils your wish, just bit patience & some luck! And Panna fulfilled, my wish with a beautiful tigress giving me the shot what I wanted with her reflection in water.

Another was getting a clear shot of leopard, as I have seen leopards but never was able to get a clear frame shot of it. Panna trips, I was looking forward to meet leopard as the hilly terrain makes Panna a perfect habitat for the Ghost i.e. nick name of leopard in forests, just for its ability to vanish on the background of dry leafs & yellow grays of forest. At one morning safari we were having a stop at center point (spots in the forest created for rest rooms as well to take a tea break) & suddenly alarm call rang from down of a hill. We had a hunch as our guide has said that is territory of a female leopard & she has been seen in last few days along with her cubs regularly. So keeping our hot tea cups (a boon in bitter cold) away we rushed in gypsy & it started rolling towards the area from where alarm calls of spotted dears were coming. And just after a turn we saw a gypsy ahead & a female leopard walking on road in front of it. What happened next was an act of great gesture; the gypsy ahead gave us the way so we can click the snaps of the leopard as the tourists in that gypsy weren’t carrying any cameras! Those who are regular forest visitors can understand importance of this gesture as where most guides, tourists won’t move away from such sight here these people were giving us way to take clear shots! Such things makes forest trips more memorable & make you realize yes this is spirit of wilderness! Well, just following the spirit of gypsy ahead the leopard also got down from the track & came parallel to our gypsy & we could clearly see entire front & side profile of the gorgeous animal & with the ease it walked, ultimate grace! While looking at the camera I realized why Leopard is called as Ghost as it was so difficult to focus on the leopard because of the spots it carries & perfectly getting camouflaged in that dry forest background. The entire drama must have lasted for ten minutes & she vanished in the depth of forest but yet forest has helped me to tick one more wish in my list! 

And yes the highlight of the trip was sighting & clicking of a tiny animal Tree Shrew, endangered actually. While we were waiting for alarm calls or guide sighted this rarest animal which is size of a rabbit but beautiful & is from the family of rodent. Its animals like Tree Shrew which makes a forest real rich in biodiversity but unfortunate that most tourists, even guides doesn’t understand their importance & neglect it. The forest as well tourism dept should made Tree Shrew like animals as forest ambassadors as there lies the success of awareness campaign of save forests like themes!

Best part of Panna forest is the ken river & the stretch it flows through the entire park & forest dept has made provision for boat ride also. In summer if you are lucky you can even sight tiger or leopard also drinking water from the river. Though in winters lots of birding can be seen along the river & yes crocodiles, lots of them, in all poses welcome you during the boat ride. It’s the boon of no urban or industrial development on upstream of Ken River which has allowed it to remain clean & unpolluted water, making it one of the best habitats for thousands of species of birds, fish & it was heartening to see the flora & fauna around.

Just to mention, we have given small shoulder bag along with Salim Ali’s bird guide to all the guides of Panna forest & in a small cozy gate together they thanked us for the same & it was touching gesture! As well one more thing needs to be mentioned & that’s service of the staff at the place where we stayed i.e. Ken River Lodge as when you visit some place then the accommodation also counts very high to make your entire experience a pleasant one & on that scale Ken River Lodge’s team topped in my list till now, is all I can say! Well, something I must share before concluding, Panna forest offers you & no tourist should miss it & that is night safari. In forest there are hundreds of creatures like hyenas or civet (udmanjar) or sloth bear, porcupine etc which are night crawlers means these animals mostly moves only after sun set & obvious that you won’t get to see them in normal day safari where you have to come out of park before sun set.   In night safari which is in buffer zone i.e. forest area around the core/ reserved forests, it starts by 6pm in even & by 9.30 pm you are supposed to be back. And in this time you get to see all above mentioned creatures (provided you are lucky) & though its darkness so you can’t actually do much of photography but it’s in darkness you really feel the forest around. It’s in this darkness which I experienced in night safari at Panna which made me remember words of Stephen King that you can actually feel the forest is whispering about you, looking at you via thousand of unseen eyes & then you start really loving as well understanding the forest. As the forest has taught you to listen a new language, language of wilderness; it has given you a new vision, vision to see in the darkness & made you able to inhale a new fragrance, fragrance of nature. With this new identity I come back from Panna with a prayer in mind that dear God please preserve jewels like Panna & yes a sense of responsibility, I too have a part to play in that, however little it may be.
 -- 

some more forest moments you can see at link below..

https://www.flickr.com/photos/65629150@N06/albums/72157691445868901



Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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