Thursday, May 31, 2018

Being Forest by Myself !!

“The steel blue of the fern-fringed pool where the water rests a little before cascading over rock and shingle to draw breath again in another pool more beautiful than the one just left - the flash of the gaily colored kingfisher as he breaks the surface of the water, shedding a shower of diamonds from his wings as he rises with a chirp of delight, a silver minnow held firmly in his vermilion bill - the belling of the sambhar and the clear tuneful call of the chital apprising the jungle folk that the tiger, whose pugmarks show wet on the sand where a few minutes before he crossed the river, is out in search of his dinner”… Jim Corbet, Man-Eaters of Kumaon.

I think whenever I start sharing my experiences about wild then this name i.e. Jim Corbet’s quotes comes to my rescue to give me a startup push, just the way in my childhood the Fiat ( I beg pardon) popularly known as Premier Padmini car used to make its engine start by a push! Indeed there have been other great wild life writers but the way Corbet has explored Indian jungles & penned them down; I haven’t found anybody to match him! It’s not just tigers Corbet writes but he write with equal zest about trees, hills, springs, birds & even the locals around the forests & that’s why it makes him a true wild lifer. Those who recognize Corbet as “man eater’s hunter”, I pity them as Corbet never loved shooting tigers by gun, it’s just to save some human’s life, he said I killed those tigers; in reality the man was a living jungle by himself! And no wonder when I started to pen down my recent trip from the land of Sal i.e. none other than Kanha, once again its Corbet whose words I started with! See the way he describes forest around a tiger, indeed tiger is there but it’s just in last line, the entire paragraph tells us about the world of tiger which we call habitat & every aspect of that habitat is equally interesting as well important for the tiger! Had I not read Corbet in my childhood, I wonder whether I have understood the beauty of jungle the way I do now! And when its jungle nothing beats Kanha, keeping due respect to Tadoba which is now pride of country’s tiger sightings, yet the ever green Sal has fascinated me the day I first saw them . There is something magical about kanha’s Sal forests, the road keeps on taking turns through the Sal trees walls on both sides, suddenly there are huge meadows surrounded by hills. And it’s not just tiger but the barsingas which are equally majestic, roaming on the canvas of grass lands bordered by green walls of Sal trees. Whatever the season may be yet the beauty is ever enchanting of kana forest & that’s why when it was gap of two years it seemed like ages to visit here!

Of-late I wasn’t been in kanha in mid May which indeed is a good season for tiger sightings yet even just to be within the Sal trees is most exciting for me. As my Innova started towards kanha from Nagpur airport, the first thing I noticed is the widening of the road. Its mammoth work which is going on & it will cut the distance by two hours to kanha from Nagpur, which sure is good news for the travelers to kanha. My only concern is the entire patch goes through forest, right from Deolapar which is last Tahasil in Maharashtra to Seoni i.e. first district in MP. Once up on a time this entire land was forest acting like a corridor where tigers must be roaming right from kanha to pench to tadoba, though our so called growth has now cut off this corridor yet there is still lots of wild life left around the road. And knowing our countrymen’s attitude for speed (when get a good patch of road) then all I am worried about road kills on this road! By me the entire road passing through the forest must be barricaded so as not to allow animals on road as there seems to have arrangement of underpass at frequent intervals, yet in a country where grown-up men cross the road from anywhere at their will & wish how can we blame wild animals for doing same! And then there still is issue of safety of reptiles as well smaller animals like jackals & porcupine, which can come through such barriers.

And while I was travelling to kanha, suddenly the dry weather becomes cloudy & black clouds started pouring all way along. This is the last thing you want as a photographer though rains are most essential for any forest yet the selfish photographer in me was upset with the weather, I must admit! I really don’t know about weather effect on tiger sighting but the poor light sure makes photography difficult & then entire wild animal’s body clock moves on sun, so there must be some change with sudden darkness around is what I feel. Though there have been sightings of the tiger in full rains yet the upset photographer within was concerned. But fortunately in kanha, the sky was still clear & it was humid hot outside the park.

My first safari was in Sarahi zone, for those who are not familiar to kanha, there are four zones in core part of kanha forest, kisli, kanha, mukki & sarahi. This has been made to avoid flow of tourists in one zone as well it’s a huge forest & you can’t cover even one zone in single safari. Then there is buffer zone too, which is in between the villages on fringe & the core forest. As per my information the major tiger sighting was going in kanha, kisli & mukki & I have got sarahi zone for first ride. With so many outings in forest now I know one thing if you are going to hit a jackpot then you hit it (read good sighting of tiger), despite any zone or timing! Yet it’s always advisable to have information of the sightings as well situation of water especially in summer as if there is no water in any particular part of a forest its obvious that there will be no major animals in that part! Sarhai as I have been told wasn’t having much water & tiger sightings are not that common though forest of sarahi is much unexplored & if you see a tiger in sarahi then its best chance that you get to see it for good length of the time. So the safari started & here is what I came across & posted in bits on FB, sharing the same to describe in words my exposure with a male tiger…

Undisputed King!
First ride at kanha after a gap of two years & its mid May, you are all geared up & though guide says Sarahi zone doesn’t have much sighting yet when you get to see a tiger in sarahi you see it in best way; & gypsy start rolling on hilly roads, you cross one up & a huge male tiger is walking leisurely ahead, marking his territory! For a split second it moves away from road & the gypsy goes past him giving you head shots, you can’t believe your luck, its dhamangaon male aka yuvraj, a very less photographed tiger, guide tells you, but you are engrossed in his massive yet graceful strides even the way he sits!! The knaha trip has started with bang, more to follow!..
One more of the undisputed King!

To get head on snaps of a young male tiger right looking in your eyes is a dream of every wild life photographer & I too am no exception to it! And when the male is Yuvraj aka Dhamnagoan male from Kanha the joy gets multiplied, I really wonder when a tiger looking at you head on in camera, what he must be thinking about us, may be nothing, just a blank stare yet those piercing eyes locks in yours, asking you, "what are you doing in my way?"! At the same time important is your position as if you can position your gypsy a bit lower side & at perfect distance to get eye level with the tiger then that’s best, which happened here with me & the tiger is on walk so you too have to keep in motion not to allow him too close to your gypsy, as no point in cause of anger to such huge tiger :)

Generous Kanha!

Kanha has never sent me back without tiger sighting & indeed kanha Sal’s has a lot more to offer than just tigers yet to see a tiger in kanha is always a special experience! May be just like the water of Himalayas tastes sweeter, so is sighting of tiger in kanha & this time the Dhamangaon male aka Yuvaraj obliged me with probably every angle you can click a tiger, really Sarahi zone rocks when it plays the tune! Here is one more pose or say mood of him.

Sarahi Sighting!

There is something special when you get to see a tiger in sarahi zone & sighting of yuvraj aka dhmangaon male confirmed it! Less numbers of vehicle isn’t the only thing but as this zone is less explored & tiger if comes on road gives you his full time, making you able to observe him at length! Here in this sighting yuvraj gave us every possible pose & he was least concerned about us, in his own mood! Here is one more from series...

Moods of the King!

One more from series of Yuvraj aka dhamnagoan male from Sarahi zone, Kanha! Tiger is ever alert, those ears listens smallest of sound around & those piercing eyes rarely miss anything! Tiered, panting due to May heat & sitting in the shadow from a long walk which was in search of kill as well territory marking, he seems relaxing but even the camera clicks he can hear which were on like a machine -gun fire! This one I liked most.. as so calm & in control he looked!.  ------

Don't angry Me!

The yuvraj aka dhamngaon male series continues; when I first saw him on road he was walking ahead obvious we were eager to get some head shots & for that we needed to go past him which is not allowed by forest law & it’s right as well the road was so narrow that with the size of tiger he is its nearly impossible. So we waited patiently keeping our gypsy at safe distance & watch him mark his territory on trees with jet of spray! He must have walked long so with luck on our side he stopped at a clearing on way & got down from the road, giving us space to go ahead of him & then again we could keep looking at this majestic king which obliged us with every possible pose. Here he is showing his canines as if he is angry at us but no, he was just tiered with May sun & yawning :)

Size does matter!

Many a times with head on shots of a tiger you don’t get to know his size yet if you go by likes on FB you will find every photographer dreams for head on shot of tiger. But to know the real size as well identify the tiger it’s important to get his side profile as it shows the lengths as well the pattern of stripes. Here the yuvaraj aka dhamnagon male gave us his full massive side profile while turning away from the road & he was empty stomach, so imagine what he will look like with full meal in!

My Home!

Off late I have realizes to zoom in on a tiger & get his solo snaps is ok but real pleasure & fun is in understanding its habitat, the forest in which he moves the way we move in our home! The tiger is most at ease in bamboos thickset as well woody terrain. I remember some ten years back the kanha meadows i.e. grass lands were the best sighting place for tiger but somehow recent sightings isn’t that frequent in meadows, may be kanha tigers are no more fond of grass land, just joking! But tigers prefer shaded areas with water body nearby where they can chill themselves out especially in summers of central India! Here is one home shot of yuavraj aka dhamangaon male where finely he is heading for water & possibly a kill around the water!

Well, as by now you must have got the essence, the very first ride has hit the gold for me & again I am not saying it’s all about tiger sighting, yet in a forest as big like kanha a male tiger sighting whose territory can be nearly fifty to seventy sq kms, you get to see him at length is indeed luck! As I have shared earlier also, every time I go to forest with a wish list & to see a full grown male tiger & capture his moods was a long pending agenda & I knew it’s not easy because as I mentioned to see a male tiger in itself is something rare & then to be able to have his time at length only except when sitting at water-hole, is very rare. As a male tiger when not sleeping or relaxing in water is on constant move & to cover as well protect his huge territory is a big job. This kanha trip made me able to watch a young & huge male tiger’s behavior at close & needless to say was a treat to that selfish, greedy photographer in me too!

And then two more things made this trip more memorable as that way every moment I spend in forest I relive again & again yet some of them are more precious! Sighting of sloth bear is one such as it has very erratic nature & you never know where it will head next or what it will do. Those who are veteran wild lifers only knows how rare & lucky one can be to get opportunity to see  sloth bear at leisure & in this kanha trip I got that opportunity four times. Many a people found sloth bear sighting as a very causal thing as they don’t know about the shyness as well it’s being endangered species! Hardly three or four decades back sloth bear was a common sight in most Indian forests even nearby hills of any town but as all other species habitats got demolished by we the human this big animals also is finding hard to get a home & result is now its existence remains mostly only in protected forests. Though at night it’s been seen hanging around near villages in buffers of the protected forests, rarely it gives opportunity to photograph in day light. In my nearly twenty years of visiting to kanha just once I could click a sloth bear in clear & this time I got to click it four times, now you can imagine the luck! This is how I described the scene…

“It has rained heavily last night & the air was damp in the morning as the earth was breathing steam due to absorbed rain water. The Sal trees were silent with no breeze & gypsy started taking turns through the silence around, the sun has yet to come up full & on the damp road ahead we saw a black rock rolling, the guide whispered , "sir bhalu chal raha hai aage"! In my many recent trips to kanha, I have never seen sloth bear in clear & the excitement was more than seeing a tiger! Bears are very unpredictable in behavior & that's why their sighting is always exiting!, though I was eager to click him by side or front, yet the entire frame from back with the bear amidst green wall was mesmerizing! And this trip I saw slot bear in kanha for four times & very clear, another bonus by kanha! Sharing first post of sloth bear…

This time sloth bear also gave every possible pose to us except standing. The best thing was to watch it drinking water as it sucks water & don’t use tongue like most other animals to gulp it. As well it displayed the way it digs the earth mounds for search of termite & making unpredictable moves all the times!

I have taken a full day safari also in kanha as well in tadoba this time. But let me share you it doesn’t necessarily guaranties tiger sighting in full day safari as we could see just one tiger in full day at tadoba but that doesn’t meant there are no tigers in tadoba, it means we were just unlucky as well in hot summer of tadoba as well kanha, the noon times are of no actions with every animal taking shelter in cooler places or shadows. In kanha most of water holes (read, accessible by gypsy) are under open sky i.e. providing no protection from harsh sun, so tiger avoids them only except very thirsty, so waiting is the only thing you can do & for that it needs lots of patience as well persistence to bare the heat! Though you may not be able to sight a tiger yet to get fourteen hours strait inside forest & you can witness many moments which otherwise you would have missed on the run for getting a glimpse of tiger! And these moments not necessary be involving big animals as jungle is always live & happening however silent & dead it may look on surface. On one such harsh hot May noon I saw a jackal under a tree standing upright on a small mound & howling as there was a tiger nearby where its puppies (don’t know what’s called to jackals’ new born), it was so fascinating as I have never witnessed jackal’s alarm call & the entire scene was like from a Disney animation movie! Or even you can stop to see the dance in air the paradise fly catcher does. Trust me you will forget everything watching this snow white long tailed bird in action & then try observing its habitat & click him on the background of those green bamboo leafs!

And then come the best part of full day safari as in summer real action starts late noon i.e. after 4 pm. While we were geared up for some sighting ahead, the weather was real hot & humid, the tigers were bound to hit the water holes soon & suddenly the wind started howling not just blowing, dark clouds covered the sun & tall Sal were started swaying on the tune of the wind! Our driver said, “sir toofan aanewala hai” i.e. there seems a storm coming & soon the wind was blowing at fearful speed, we hurried out of Sal as to avoid any tree falling on us & stood in open patch of ground. For next hour I realized what it must be for the forest guards as well labors who get caught in open in such storm as sitting in an enclosed concrete home, sipping tea & clicking snaps of heavy rains outside is easy but to face that rains with thunderbolt of lightning crashing all around with trees falling with nothing in between you & this wild nature, it’s a nightmare! But then that too was an experience which I won’t forget & it has made me to respect people working in forest more!

It’s funny the entire time in jungle as if you ask how was your day in jungle, then most people can replay in two or three sentence, if they haven't seen a tiger then the reply will be, ‘’Kuch dikha nahi yaar, bakwas hai ye forest”. But if they have seen a tiger then they will go on & on, telling how lucky they were & how cleverly they (not guide or driver) located the tiger & followed him. That’s all, but in actual even one ride in forest you can keep speaking or writing about but what is most important for me is like we saw CD’s of some events & rejoice those moments, when I am back in my concrete jungle I review those moments with Sals’ in my mind again & again. As I may be back in this so called modern world of ours but I have left behind a piece of mine which is everywhere in the forest, right at water hole to on the top of a Sal tree to got tagged with a termite house, making me feel yes I too am forest by myself! I think it’s this feel which is why one should go to forest & try to look rather live it by the words of Corbet as then only you realize life is not just being successful but its understanding the meaning of being successful & who better teacher than forest can be there for this self understanding! 

* plz do see  some more kanha/tadoba moments at link below

Sanjay Deshpande 
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