Just Forests!

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Wild, mysterious, remote, lively and not just green but spotless green is how I found the jungles of Chattisgarh. Accompanied- by a young or (should I say younger?!) photographer, Bharat we began our journey from Raipur. We got onto the NH 6 for Barnawapara for what turned out to be a real wild experience.  

Stop who goes there!Once on the open highway the country turned green. There were paddy fields with intermittent patches of forest all along.  Being morning the surroundings were alive with human and animals going about their daily tasks. Egrets flew around , women in colourful attire worked the fields, Cattle on their morning strollstreams of cattle with the that characteristic tan tan of the cow bells  waded by, a couple sat up in a machhan to guard their fields against wild pigs, a goatherd wearing a conical hat ran after his mischievous animals.

We made sure Baghel, our driver,  drove slowly though we were still sometime away for Barnawapara, but so what? For us the journey was as important as the place especially if it happens to be so beautiful.  Our joyful reverie was regularly broken as centipedeesh trucks with countless wheels; carrying iron ore and other stuff to feed the factories of the state whizzing by. After about an hour’s journey we crossed the river Mahanadi at Arang. Arang and Tumgaon are two tiny roadside villages where you can stop for a stretch and some chai. 

Into the lion’s mouthThe Indian countryside is full of pleasant surprises- reflecting people’s ingenuity. About 7 kms after Tumgaon, to our right, we saw a giant gateway shaped like an open jaw of a spotted lion complete with deadly white teeth and blood red gums. A roaring way to enter a temple!  

We were constantly on look out for sign posts or mile stones to guide us but came across very few. Though we come across some sign boards which said yahan doda milta hai (Doda available here). Doda is highly intoxicating local drug. It’s a big favorite of long distance truck drivers as it helps keep them awake.  We continued our journey trusting our instincts and Bhagel’s sense of direction .

forest-road.jpgWe reached Patewa about 65 kms from Raipur and turned Barnawapara. The pot holed NH6 gave way to a bumpy ochre coloured forest road to take us to Barnawapara. The road beware! will give you enough bumps to shake every bone in your body. I had a tough time taking notes for my write up. What I encrypted was quite undecipherable, though had the inane pleasure of having invented a new script in the process! 

 We checked into forest huts and after a cat nap and quick lunch set for our jungle jaunt. We boarded an open jeep with beat guard Mr. R.K.S Thakur and forest guide Mr. Mitro as our companions. At the wheel was an over enthusiastic driver who made the already bumpy track jumpy. Our request to walk the wild path was politely turned down. We or anybody else could not do so or go unescorted due to safety issues.  

The lush green trees and wild undergrowth, the oxygen laden air, the damp soil beneath and the magnificent blue sky above made the place unbelievably fresh, clean, and green.We began our visit and like all good travelers immediately wished to see a tiger or a leopard waiting for us. Sorry folks no such luck here. Give these animals a break, we have killed most of them and those that are left are not really interested in walking past. So relax as the jungle offers lots more. 

As we drove the jungle surrounded us on all sides, it’s so thick at places it seemed we were going through an endless tunnel. The jungle was alive and pulsating. All my dormant senses suddenly awoke. I could see, smell, feel, hear and imagine differently – but not to talk – and in the process discovered a new world. Tall mud coloured termite mounds peeked out of bushes and trees housing thousands of ants that industriously recycle the forest resources. The air was around was intoxicating as the floor abounded with fragrant herbs and grasses. The aromatic and enchanting smell of Ban Tulsi or Wild Basil stood out as it spread its sweet fragrance in the entire forest.  Between the forest floor and trees, it’s so green; it’s easy to miss the tiny forest folks. Insects! Colourful insects of unimaginable size and variety. After all the world belong to them as there are more insects (spiders, butterflies, ants, beetles, cockroaches, etc)  on earth then all the animals put together.  We saw numerous spiders some more than six inches long that waited patiently in giant webs strung across the road to trap a passing prey. Fortunately we found no spider big enough to trap us. But who knows you may be the lucky one. 

 There were numerous unseen birds, hidden in thick foliage, each with a unique call, some naughty crickets perhaps sleep talking for it was past their time to do jhing jhing, blue, spotted, white, striped, brown butterflies that reached the tree tops in search of nectar, busy ants going about their daily task of stocking food in their nests.  

gaur-jee.jpgAs the day progressed our drive through the forest got more engrossing. We looked hard, peered through the thick forest hoping to catch a glimpse of some animals. Mitro our guide suddenly asked the driver to stop and pointed ahead. He had seen a Gaur. Gaur where? All our untrained eyes could see was the thick forest. We got down very quietly. Mr. Thakur and Mitro aligned our sites in the right direction. There it was an adult male. Tall, dark, broad and handsome and standing more than five feet tall with his majestic head, adorned with horns, looking straight at us. Yes this was it our first big animal sighting that too a four legged wild animal …mad frenzy for cameras Bharat readied his camera focused and clicked. Too late the gaur had moved on, not giving a clear shot. We now had the apparent satisfaction of being there, seen that.  

We crossed numerous streams and rivulets and stopped by number of watering holes or talaabs. The watering holes had interesting names like  Parsa Pani, Marer Talaab, Mohada Talaab, 178 Gudagarh Talaab, etc. The holes looked apparently deserted but were very much alive. Numerous birds called from the surrounding trees, dragonflies, in most striking colours sucked up moisture from the banks, a brightly coloured small blue kingfisher in full plumage waited to dive, crickets sang their jhing jhing song, and clans of langoors flew over the trees perhaps happy to see their cousins from the city.  

It become pitch dark by time we headed back for the forest guest house. The forest which was so colourful sometime back was now coal dark. It was eerie ghostly feeling but strangely not the least scary. We switched off the headlights and rolled down the windows of the jeep and were transported to a  fairy land. Thousands and thousands of fire flies twinkled on the trees and bushes on either side, crickets, cicadas, frogs and other creatures of the night sang in perfect rhythm with the fire flies twinkling. A nature’s symphony complete with special effects. We stopped and just listened and soaked in this unforgettable sight. 

Next morning we said our good byes to Mr. Thakur, Mitro and others and headed back. This was end of our adventure at the sanctuary, happy at the thought we saw so much and experienced the jungle which words can never describe enough. Never mind if we did not sight the big things in the process got a chance to see the lesser things which too make jungle for what it is. 

Background

Barnawapara is named after twin forest villages of Bar and Nawapara located in the sanctuary.Barnawapara is located in north eastern part of Raipur district and sanctuary covers an area of 250 sq km of which about 45 sq kms is hilly with scattered hills going up to 400 meters in altitude.  Barnawapara has tropical dry deciduous forest and the important trees being Teak, Saja, Beeja, Lendia, Salai and Bamboo.  The sanctuary is bisected by number of streams and rivulets besides numerous watering holes or taalabs. It is bounded by two tributaries of the river Mahanadi – Balamdehi in the west and Jonk in the north east.

The road network (seasonal forest track) inside the sanctuary is well maintained and connects most the places where tourists need to go. Tourists are escorted in a vehicle. Forest department provides Gypsies or a battery bus to visit the sanctuary. As in all sanctuaries tourists are not allowed in the core zone The unique thing about the sanctuary, according to forest officials whom we met, despite there being 21 villages inside the sanctuary, plenty of wild life exists and there have been no cases of poaching. This is one the best managed sanctuaries with very little issues of people wildlife conflict. Barnawapara has good prey base for its carnivores and fodder for the herbivores and enough water through out the year due to high rainfall as a result animals rarely venture out of the sanctuary in search of food and water. 

  Things to see and do

There is so much to do in a jungle and yet not do anything. A jungle offers unlimited opportunity to discover, explore or just wander stare and soak in the experience which remains with you for a lifetime. At Barnawapara be prepared to see wild animals and also be ready for disappointments. Wild life sighting, as Mr. Thakur the beat guard at Barnawapara put it, is just a matter luck, time and chance – all happening together! Watering holes in and around Barnawapara offer the best chance to spot wild animals. Main watering holes that can be visited are Parsa Pani, Barna Pani, Mohada Talaab, Marer Talaab,  178 Gudagarh Talaab,  Sun Suniya Pani, Rampur Tank, Bagmadi Talaab and Maharaji Nala. Animals like Chital, Gaur, Sambhar, Bear, Four Horned Antelope sometimes Leopards (or if you are really lucky a Tiger) and other animals besides migratory and local birds can be seen here.  Explore the area around as much as you can. Always be with or near the forest guides for your safety moreover the forest guides are quite knowledgeable and have keen eyesight to help spot animals.  

Top of the world

Dompahari watch tower (4 ½ kms from Barnawapara) High above the ground rising far above tree line; built on a hillock the tower gives an unobstructed 360 degree view of the sanctuary. Far ahead in bluish hue are rolling hills of Deopur, Mandal, and Tilsa Pathar. The sanctuary appears bowl shaped. Below is a sea of forest with not patch of bare earth to be seen. It’s full of  teak, sal, bamboo and numerous other trees and bushes with all imaginable shades of green, broken at places by patches of white with flowering teak trees. Take your time enjoy the view, feel the breeze coming from all directions, see the birds skimming the tree tops or a distant sound of an animal calling. Dompahari watch tower gives one of best all around views of the sanctuary. Over 70% of the sanctuary can be seen from here. Though nothing to write home about this is the possibly the only pace where you get a cell phone signal in the sanctuary. Just an additional incentive for the well connected. 

 Flora and Fauna

Flora: Teak, Saja, Beeja, Lendia, Salai, Palash, Bamboo, Amla, Amaltas, Bija, Khair, Haldu, Ban Tulsi, etc

Fauna:Mammals: Leopard, Gaur, Neelgai, Sambhar, Spotted Deer, Sloth Bear, Wild Dog, the little known Mouse Deer, Jungle Cat, Porcupine, Kakkar and the elusive TigerBirds: More than 150 species of birds such as Golden Oriole, Robin, Tree Pie, Egret, Teal, Heron, Racket Tailed Drongo, Barbet, Crow Pheasant, Jungle fowl, etcReptiles: Monitor lizard, snakes such as Cobra, Krait and Python 

Miscellaneous                                                                                                                                    Things to carry. Torch and enough batteries for your cameras as charging may not be possible, binoculars, mosquito repellent. Forget your cell phone for there is not even a strand of signal in the sanctuary except on tree tops. Some villages around near the sanctuary have statutes of Ravan the ten headed demon king.  Fondly called Ravan Raja the statues are placed on pedestal on an open ground and used as a prop for Ramlila. There is also a village with a similar sounding name – Rawan- just outside Barnawapara.  

 Sanctuary Fees                                                                                                                                                Entry fee: Rs. 25/head (children below three are free)Vehicles Rs 50/- for car, jeep, etc, Rs 100 for a minibus/lorry. Vehicle fee is in addition to individual entry feeGuide: Rs 60/trip (approximately two and half hours)Cameras: Still Rs 25/day/camera. Video/Digital Video Camera: Rs.250/day/camera. Cine.Rs.2000/day/camera. (For cine camera prior permission required from Chief Wildlife Warden, Raipur)Vehicle hire charges: 30kms Rs 500 fixed, thereafter Rs 16 per km 

Around the Sanctuary                                                                                                                        A number of ancient and archaeological sites exist near the sanctuary which can be visited along with Barnawapara. No public transport available, best to have your own vehicle. 

Sirpur: 32kms from Barnawapara also en route on the Raipur- Sirpur-Barbaspur-Barnawapara road. Located on the banks of Mahanadi, Sirpur has a 7th century Laxman temple.  The place also has ruins of Buddhist monasteries and Vihars built between 6th and 10th century AD and is said be bigger than Nalanda in its expanse. 

Turturia: 13km from Barnawapara. Turturia is situated in the Northen Boundary of the sanctuary besides the Balamdehi river. The place is believed to be abode of sage Valmiki and the place where Luv and Kush, the sons of Rama and Sita, were born.   

Matagarh: 2 Kms from Turturia, old temple of Goddess Durga. 

Narayanpur: 9 Kms from Turturia, 9th Century Shiv Temple. 

When to Visit

November to June (The sanctuary is closed from July1 to October 31)A stay of at least 2-3nights is recommended to have a real chance of sighting animals. Those in a hurry can also make a day trip from Raipur for a short but an interesting trip 

What to wear

Cottons in summerLight woolens in wintersSturdy walking shoes, Hats, caps, scarfs (optional)   

Where to stay

Forest village at Bar.50 beds in allDormitory Rs. 125/bed/dayDouble Rooms: Rs.300 and Rs 400/dayAll rooms offer very basic amenities but are comfortable with clean with attached bathrooms/toilets. No running hot water. Electricity can be erratic for there is only limited solar lighting.

Advance reservations must: Contact Divisional Forest Officer, Raipur, 0771 2427640 

Tourist Cottages at Mohada (under construction at time of my visit- September 2007).Well located in middle of the forest and over looking one of the talaabs. Airy rooms with big picture windows and wood paneling on walls. Tariff: Not decidedReservationsChhattisgarh tourism board, Paryatan Bhawan,
G.E. road
Raipur
– 492 006, Chattisgarh
Tel: 0771-4066 415, Fax: +0771-4066 425
Email: contactus@chhattisgarhtourism.net
Web: www.chhattisgarhtourism.net
 

Where to eat

Forest Guest House is the only option. Rs. 60/- per meal (Thali with roti, subzi, dal and chawal). Place the order in advance for all meals including tea. Carry your own food if you get hungry often 

Getting There from Delhi

Air:  Raipur. 90 minutes. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Air Deccan 

Rail:  Gondwana Express and Chattisgrah Express – DailySamta Express Tuesday and SaturdayBilaspur Rajdhani – Wednesday and ThursdayTravel time 18 to 24 hours depending upon the trainRaipur to Barnawapara 100kms (approximately) 3 to 4 hoursFrom Raipur NH6 to Patewa. Turn left at Patewa to reach Barnawapara via Raitum and Rawan. No public transport. Hire or take your own vehicle from Raipur. A sturdy vehicle with good suspension is best 

Contact addresses:Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, ChattisgarhAranya Bhawan, Medical College Road Raipur 492009Phone: 0771 2552221 

Chief Wild Life WardenAranya Bhawan, Medical College Road Raipur 492009Phone: 0771 2552223 

Divisional Forest Officer Garhi Chowk, Near Police Head QuartersRaja Talaab, Raipur Phone: 0771 2427640  

Just Forests!

Published in: on 4 January , 2008 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jungle Jog in Similipal

jungle-in-the-morning.jpgjungle-in-the-morning.jpgjungle-in-the-morning.jpgI share with you a beautiful experience that I had during my recent visit to the forests of Similipal We left Baripada late afternoon for Similipal. After about fourjungle-in-the-morning.jpg hours drive we arrived at Chaukha – deep inside Similipal forest. The bright full moon was just rising as we checked into the forest guest house that had huge glass and wooden doors all around. It was beginning to get quite cold so a fire was lit outside. We had some interesting company of forest officers who had lots of stories to share about Similipal and its wild habitants both scary and amusing. Soon we had a herd of wild elephants -for company who come to feed – seven of them with a baby – thankfully some distance away separated by a wide trench. Being a full moon night we could make them out quite distinctly. They were trumpeting every now and then. We were told elephants can charge and the wide trench was no barrier for them and in the recent past they had broken into the forest guest house and taken away things to eat! “God if they happen to come again?” The thought was enough to keep Shevanti and me awake for the entire night – scared we were! We were visited by a bat who must have found us quite amusing – sitting up on a cold night when everybody else slept peacefully. Then there were sounds of the jungle – elephants, barking deer that kept us guessing besides the tap tap of a leaking faucet that really scared us. We laughed at our selves for we knew if an elephant was to charge or leopard or tiger attacked there was nothing we could do even if though we had stayed awake.                                                                                 

 Morning cme and we drove to the jungle. I had never seen forest before. It was so thick that there was hardly even a patch of bare ground. Though we did not see any wildlife, I found the forest was to very alive – perhaps spirits of the forest! We also saw two marvelous waterfalls. Falling from a great height & plunging into deep gorge with that distinct waterfall signature sound that many of us herd and loved – absolutely out of this world for me. Here are some photos which can say more than what i write.

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We left Similipal forest in the afternoon and had lunch at a place with a rather musical name – Gudgudia. Gudgudia has a orchidarium that nurtures various species of orchids found in Similipal We reached Chandipur, a town by sea side near Balasore, late in the evening. Now we had the effervescent Bay of Bengal for company. Its huge waves came right till the boundary walls of our guest house.

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By the sun rise the sea had amazingly disappeared far back leaving behind a wide and a wet shallow beach. We left after breakfast to catch the train to Kolkata. Our short and a pleasant stay at Similipal and Chandipur had left us recharged for our lives in the city! 

Published in: on 14 October , 2007 at 5:37 pm  Leave a Comment