Trip Reports
National Parks > A visit to Kruger Park in South Africa
Posted by Jacob Koshi on June 27, 2007

A visit to Kruger Park in South Africa

-Jacob Koshi M

Flights to South Africa from India are operated by Qatar Airways, Emirates, South African Airways etc. One can book tickets through the travel agent or directly through the internet.

In case of planning to club with visits to another country, request for Multiple Entry visas from the South African Embassy in Mumbai. Booking can be made through the net for stay in the tourist lodges or hotels near the Kruger Park. I stayed in a resort called Kruger Park Lodge which is close to Kruger Park. Bookings can be made through the internet to this place. Or if one is a member of Mahindra Resorts or RCI, they have affiliations to this place.

For those who intend to visit the Kruger Park, the following description & tips will help in planning the trip. 

Johannesburg to Nelspruit 350 kms Nelspruit to Whiteriver 23 kms Whiteriver to Hazyview 45 kms Hazyview to Paul Kruger Gate 41kms. Total = 459kms

 City bug (the 14 seater minibuses) operates from Joberg airport to Hazyview for Rand 200/- You can book your tickets online on www.citibug.com & pay using your credit card sitting in India.  The driver will have a computerised list of passengers. Show them your identity & he will take you in. There are other minibus operators also through whom you can book your tickets. Book your tickets both ways mentioning your date of journey & date of departure. For travel from Hazyview to Kruger Park Lodge (which is outside the Kuger Park), one can email & request for the Lodge’s vehicle for pickup for this small distance. This way, one can save lot of money for transport.

The lodge will arrange pick up from Joberg airport, but the rates will be prohibitively expensive. Once inside the resort, book your trips with tour operators who liaise with the lodge. Give them your preference of next day’s trips (they will explain over the phone the type of trip, rate etc) & your credit card number as security, they will collect you from your chalet at the preset time & drop you back after the trip.

In my case, I have booked a jeep safari trip starting at 5.45am & ending at 12.30pm.  Carry some cloths for the cold weather. The Kruger Park Lodge is an upmarket resort with spotless cleanliness & equipped with all the necessary things required for stay.  If you want to avoid using the restaurant for all the meals, (The restaurant & office building is some distance away from your chalet) buy breakfast items, eggs etc from the supermarket which is close to the lodge, but outside the lodge & store in the fridge. The restaurant food is purely continental & provide for lunch or dinner.  Besides, beer is very cheap & is available at restaurants.  International credit cards issued from India are acceptable for payment in South Africa.

Cell phones have full range even in the remotest area since connectivity is through the satellite. So, it is advisable to carry your cell phones from India for calling anywhere in the world. (You should take a SIM card with international roaming facility to call or receive, the rates of which have come down considerably after my visit) Carry your camera, binoculars & a powerful torch for viewing animals at night like deer, hippos etc at night from your chalet.

 

Kruger Park visit can be clubbed with a visit to diamond & gold mines on your return to Johannesburg.   All purchase made in SA will be charged VAT which can be claimed back at airports of departure in the prescribed counters.

Jacob Koshi M ( Click on the photo)

Little Known Destinations > Aravali Biodiversity Park
Posted by Susan Sharma on June 25, 2007

Nature does not protest, it adapts!







Nature does not protest, it adapts!

The Delhi bird Group organized a Sunday morning walk in the Aravali Biodiversity Park, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. Here are some thoughts from the walk.

The Aravali Bio diversity Park is formed out of degraded land reclaimed from the business house of Scindias who had a mining lease for the 2.3 sq.km area. This means that anything that can be plundered out of the forest/earth including mica, sand and water have all been taken out.

So instead of the sprawling forest the ridge was once, we have land pockmarked by pits and hillocks with "Vilayati Keekar" growing all over, thanks to the areal seeding done by the forest department.

2004- Enter the DDA and Delhi University. The pits are cemented (with biodegradable slurry) to encourage rainwater retention. Native trees are planted under a systematic planting program to slowly remove the "Vilayati Keekar", which being an exotic species do not harbour native insects or birds.

June 2007 - A group of nature lovers take a walk in the Park. Dr. M.Shah Hussain along with Dr.Yasir lead the walk.

Coppersmith! little cormorant in flight! Koyal! Parakeets! The birders are excited at almost every turn.

As we walked on, Indian Robin, Red Vented Bulbul, White Eared Bulbul, Purple sunbird, common Mynas, Wren Warbler and some flying Black kites become common sightings during the trail. Plain tiger butterflies and blue pansy flitted about in the area
where native vegetation has started taking root.

At least a couple of peacocks showed up close; though the morning was pierced by their calls often.

Every now and and then a thundering sound of planes taking off from the airport nearby kept reminding us we are not far from an international airport.

As we reached the periphery of the park, a bevy of peahens took off into the air. Monsoon is expected in a week, and all of them must be having eggs about to be hatched or just hatched chicks. A group of over 30 walkers would have set the alarm calls for them. They have chosen the nursery space carefully-slightly higher ground with thick bushes so that rainwater will not harm them.

Do peahens also tend to remain close to each other while raising the young? So that they can forage by turn may be? Do peahen mothers care for peachicks not their own?

At the end of the walk, one was amazed at the manner in which nature adapted. The mining pits are now small water holes attracting water cocks and cormorants-Cementing the areas with bio degradable materials -the little bit of egging on by the CEMDE, Delhi University (Center for Environment Management & Degraded Ecosystem), is rejuvenating the forest.

Selective planting of native species like Berry, Jamun,Khiorni, Guava and Anar trees etc. are automatically collecting around them the natural biotic creatures-birds, butterflies, ferrals.

Nature does not protest but adapts!

Photographs in order of appearing
1.The soil is rich in Mica
2.Walkers in single file
3.Dr. Husain
4.Bird watcher
5. Natural lake

See photographs of som eof the birds and butterflies at DelhiBird
by clicking here
http://tinyurl.com/2t5mfy
[Open in new window]

Bird Sanctuaries > In search of Mahseer
Posted by Karthik on May 20, 2007

Doddamakali Fishing Camp (12th May 07, 140kms from Bangalore)

My mind and soul both were craving for some kind of adventure and I was also sick and tired of slogging at work. Actually, I was looking for agn opportunity to unleash my Beast on the road and it came at the right time. This is about a trip that Netra (my wife) & I cruised along the gorgeous locations of Karnataka (Halagur – Malavalli – Doddamakali) searching for Mahseer. It was just ’awesome’. That’s the only word comes to my mind when I think about it. This write-up is all about three entities - we two and BISON (the Bullet).

Meandering through the woody landscape amidst the forests of Karnataka is the Cauvery the most majestic and sacred river of South India. The river offers both adventure and opportunity for nature lovers. Nestled along this mighty river is the Doddamakali Fishing Camp, world-renowned as home to the great ‘Mahseer’ - the finest & the largest tropical sporting fish known to man. Tucked away from the milling crowds, yet close enough for you to reach, this camp offers a slice of nature that is entirely unique, one in which you can totally feel free! JLR has exclusive rights to vast stretches of the Cauvery. Four different kinds of Mahseer (Large Headed) fish are found in these waters Silver, Gold, black and Pink. However, in light of decreasing sizes and numbers of good specimens, ’Catch-and-Release’ has become a necessary practice. Other fish often found are carp, catfish and many small ones useful as bait.

Doddamakali Camp is situated 6km upstream from Bheemeshwari. This place is as remote, rugged and as primitive as any place could be. Hugging the River Cauvery, the Camp is absolutely protected and riparian—sylvan in solitude and great for bird sightings & Mahseer fishing. Mammals that are spotted around the Camp include leopard, elephants, wild pigs, sambar, spotted deers, the highly endangered grizzled giant squirrel, Malabar giant squirrel and jackals. Reptiles that can be sighted are marsh crocodile, turtles (Leith’s Soft Shelled Turtle, an endemic species is found in these waters), chameleon, python, cobra, russell’s viper and banded krait. However, the Mahseer fish is the main attraction of the waters of River Cauvery

Over 200 species of birds have been identified around the camp. Among the water-based birds, you can spot the grey-headed fishing eagle, spot billed duck, small pied kingfisher, black-bellied river tern, osprey, and many more. There are also a number of rare land-based birds such as the honey buzzard, tawny eagle, pied crested cuckoo, etc. Our cruise was quiet smooth till Mandya through the four-lane highway. After that the roads were little bit rough & uneven. After doing some left, right turn and riding on smooth road, Netra & I reached the old tarred road and then kacchi sadak.. the way to Doddamakali.. 8 km stretch which took us around 45 mins-1 hr. It was very interesting journey on that road both times. We were finally at camp at 11:40am, but via a slope hugging zigzag path with no soul around.

After reaching there we were welcomed with a glass of lemon juice. It was like "amrut jal" or may be "tirthanm" after 3 hrs ride. I couldn’t resist jumping in to the river even after reading about crocs & whirlpools in the stream; swam for an hour and then lunch around 1:30. After lunch we were at river side & I fixed my fishing rod to ankle the Mahseer; a legendary fighting fish which can grow to over 100lb in weight. These fish are famous for being able to strip a reel bare of 40lb line on the first run and can easily swim upstream, against rapids, at over 20 knots. Netra was resting on hammock & fell asleep.

Putting her to sleep, I swiftly changed into my fishing gear and taking my trusty spinning tackle, called forth with determination. After I had worked out the kinks from my casting arm, I was rewarded by a Silver Mahseer, who seized my large spinner with a vengeance as soon as it struck the water. In no time the reel was singing, my arm was straining against the pull from the Mahseer, who was whizzing downstream looking for refuge in the rapid and rocks. This gave me time to overcome the initial shock of hooking a big one, and also a respite to my pounding heart. I now concentrated on landing this monster. The usual tricks of playing and tiring the fish were applied with great care and eventually I landed my first 1 pound Silver Mahaseer which is the smallest anyone could catch, after about an hour of sheer grit and pleasure.

Around 4:00 we went for the coracle ride... Delirious with excitement, Netra & I jumped into the Coracle. Not fresh to such conduct, indulgent rowers stop me and hand over a lifejacket in glowing orange. I put it on, and gingerly get into a coracle that shudders fleetingly under my weight. The coracle whirled, twirled, swirled, and finally drifted rhythmically. The oar touched the water with a plop & hit the rocks, Netra & I started disquieting the Gille (guide) for some local wildlife news as usual

We were there till the tea & planned to climb up the roads around 5:00pm, except for my BISON no vehicle can reach out there. On the way back we spotted couple of spotted deers, wild fowls, and mongoose. By the time we reached Halagur, it was past 6 pm. Since we were on a day tour (no accomodation available for the night) we had to return to Bangalore. We had spent only about 8 hours at the camp but it was an extremely satisfying and relaxing trip. My mind was away from all the worries of every day life and was raring to go back to work full blast.

Cheers Karthik

hrkart@gmail.com
Little Known Destinations > Chintpurni, Dharamshala, Pragpur
Posted by Susan Sharma on May 19, 2007

Chintpurni, Dharamshala, Pragpur, April, 2007 

-Partha Praim Pal

 

It has been long time since we both (Kirti and myself) took a break from Delhi on religious reasons . As some of you are aware we had been blessed by a daughter some five months back – we undertook a visit to Chintpurni, Chamunda, Kangra Devi and Jwala ji along with Vanya (our daughter).

We reached Chintpurni on 14th evening. Next morning I woke up very early more due to people’s voice walking in the street – All eager to do a darshan early morning being Basaikhi weekend .Not expecting any bird life in that cacophony of people ,Radio, Stereo and of course Mandir mike – I moved out of the Dharamshala with heavy feet and heart with my Binoculars hanging on my neck .

Indian Wild Life Club


Just 200 mtrs from the Dharamshala, I hit upon a dirt road, which took me to semi jungle kind of a habitat, which lifted my spirit. There was a sudden expectancy in the air . Nearly 15 pairs of Asian paradise flycatcher with their long white tail fleeting around with few just couple of meters away.  A pair of Blue rock thrush, Flocks of Plum headed Parakeet and Common Rose finches, Ten odd golden orioles and quite a few more species were sighted within span of hour. Only regret being I didn’t listen to Kirti’s advice of carrying the camera for the walk.

 

Indian Wild Life Club

16th afternoon we reached Paragpur our destination for next two days. We stayed in a resort called “Judge’s Court” basically a Pre independence Haveli turned into Welcome heritage resort . As expected luxury at its best mixed with old royal eloquence. Paradise flycatcher once again was the highlight of the little birding I did around the property, not to miss the Grey Hornbill’s fight for nest with the Rose ringed parakeet who ultimately lost all the three juveniles to aggressive Hornbill, omnipresent brown headed, Blue throated barbet, tiptoeing Grey wagtail, various warblers, various Myna & starlings,  huge flocks of Common Rose finches etc.

 

Indian Wild Life Club

17th was again an out and out  religious day with three of us visiting the balance temples as mentioned above.  Except an odd sighting of Egyptian vulture and Himalayan Griffon at Kangra fort area, no birding.   Down with a severe headache due to excessive heat,  I didn’t have the strength to do any birding that day , though we reached the hotel by 5pm.
18th morning was the D day marked for my morning birding at Maharana Pratap Sagar wetland which is 20 odd kms from the hotel.  Armed with my camera and binoculars ably supported by driver Daler Singh we reached the destination early morning.  Initial scanning of the area was very disappointing though villagers informed us in advance that all migratory ducks have flown back.

I was awe struck by the huge water body. Initial disappointment gave away to some relief when I saw a Little Ringed plover feeding at the edge of the water.

 Indian Wild Life Club


Gradually one after the other species came tumbling out as if they were hidden in some closet – only favouring the brave who can fight the ever rising temperature which was getting unbearable with every minute, though cold draft from the Sagar did help me to stay there for nearly two hours . Whether it was terns, wagtails, larks, pipits, Blue tailed Beeaters, Bar headed geese,  First winter Palas Gull, Eurasion wigeon, Small pratincole, Lapwings and of course my only two lifer of the trip Richard Pipit and Eurasian Skylark,  I enjoyed every bit of the two hour of birding.
 I cannot wait to visit the birding paradise again. 
(Text and photographs--Partha Pratim Pal )

Bird Sanctuaries > A Haven for birds
Posted by Raghavendra Rao on May 16, 2007

A Haven for Birds 

-RagooRao

 

The River Kaveri, which takes it’s birth high up in the Western Ghats, flows down Karnataka state feeding the parched lands and turning them into bountiful yielders of precious food and then meanders through the valleys of Tamil Nadu blessing them with her bountiful precious water for their land, finally merging with the Bay of Bengal.

 

Indian Wild Life Club

 

As the river flows through Karnataka over undulating terrain, plenty of small cataracts and some very impressive waterfalls are formed. This river is reverently called the Life-Line of Karnataka. As the river meanders through the terrain plenty of small islands are formed all the way along it’s course. These islands are a host to plenty of Flora and Fauna all evolving with nature and thriving. One such spot in the river’s course, close to Mysore-about 12 kilometers, is the Naturally formed group of islands filled with Pandanus plants, Pongamia trees, Mahua trees and a score of other plants playing host to many breeding birds. The banks of the river are filled with Bamboo and other tall majestic trees. This is The Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, where regular nesting birds come to nest and raise their young.

 

Indian Wild Life Club

 

The river being filled with a lot of boulders also plays host to the Marsh Crocodiles and the waters are filled with fish. A pristine home for breeding birds. The bamboo and other trees also provide a good habitat for most of the birds of Karnataka. The main season for the migratory breeding birds is from Aug to Sept. and  for the other breeding birds it is Dec to March. The islands are a very safe Haven for these nesting birds tucked away inside the deep waters of the river and safe from any land predators. The water being infested with Marsh crocodiles even human interference and vandalism is kept at bay, thanks to the Marsh crocodiles. In one of the islands even the crocodiles build their nests and breed. One can always find the crocodiles basking on the rocks. 

 

 Indian Wild Life Club

 

An ideal location for the birds. The river surroundings are all fertile paddy fields, which provide a good source of Crustaceans and other aquatic life as forage for the parenting birds. The Forest Dept. of Karnataka regulates the visitors to this place and unauthorized entry is prohibited. The serious visitors are taken around these breeding islands by row-boats to have a glimpse of these birds and their young.  Even motor boats are not used to keep noise pollution away.  Visitor facilities are excellent and good view locations are also provided.  There are rest-rooms, a small refreshment canteen a little away from the riverside is also provided. Overnight staying is not possible and also not encouraged by the Forest Dept. In all, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is a Haven for Nature Photographers, Ornithologists, and a beautiful place to visit. 

 

 Indian Wild Life Club

 

It is really reassuring to see such a Naturally evolved place still maintained in its Pristine condition. Any Nature Lover will enjoy the visit and would always love to come back often. A List of nesting birds is also displayed with all their details and with appeals to conserve them.

  

Indian Wild Life Club

 

The Regular Birds: Open billed Storks, Painted storks, Spoonbills, White Ibis, Pond Heron, Little Heron, Plumed Heron, Night Heron, Darters, Little Cormorant, River Terns, Plovers, Red-wattled lapwing, Peacock, Black Ibis, Kingfishers and the River Otters which  are a source of amusement as they dive in and out of sight of the visitors.

 

 (Text and Photographs-RagooRao)

Little Known Destinations > 5 Guys, a Black Scorpio, and a place called Doddamakkali
Posted by Bijesh on April 30, 2007

Distance from Bangalore: 125 Kms
Suitable for: A weekend outing close to nature.
Activities: Joy fishing, Coracle ride, River side / Mountain trekking.

One thing which stands vivid in your memory above all will be the hospitality of the staff. Kudos to the team…

So what if it’s not the season time…so what if the greenery has given ways to the golden dry color spread across….so what if the sun was brawny enough to boil the cauvery water…WE HAD A BLASTING TIME…..

With no mobile phones or televisions to bother you, it’s an absolute cutoff from the outside world. (Infact, to know who won the world cup cricket, we had to wait and ask a visitor who checked in the next day.).Winding road which goes down to the JLR resort is an attraction by itself. We, 5 guys in a black Scorpio, reached the place by 1.30 Afternoon. Major attraction of this place is off course fishing. Along with professional anglers, even the amateurs can try their luck in joy fishing. Since it’s the “catch and release” policy which is followed, no worries on damaging the eco system of the river too…

Coracle ride on cauvery is not to be missed. Go round and round and click as much photos as you can…. Be sure you are abiding to the rules and regulations. Major one being the usage of life jackets which are provided by JLR. Staff will not let you in to the water with out the same.

Let me upload few pics for you all.

A word of caution: It’s a tough n rough terrain, so if you are off to this place in your “lovely lady” kinda vehicle, you’re gonna regret. Road will budge only in front of toughies like a Scorpio or a Jeep. Especially the last few kilometers of downhill windings.

 

Little Known Destinations > Wayanad
Posted by Bijesh on April 13, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wayanad







Unruffled nature…… Undisturbed peace of mind……Untouched natural beauty...If this is what you are searching for to have an ideal breakaway from the normal frantic schedules….Then here it is….. It’s Wayanad for you.

We were 5 guys in the herd and the intension was to hit the road to a serene world. And we found one…. Though little bit skeptical bout going in to the forest during off season, we decided to take a chance. And believe me; we never regretted the decision through out the journey.


We started from Bangalore by 6.30AM in a Silver Tavera and yes the journey was fun (With the new Bangalore Mysore highway in place, we saved few hours also.).Good part of the journey was that on the way we had to cross Bandipur forest . Drizzle added to the fun as we stopped on the way to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, And we were really hoping to see a tusker. But naaaah…It was just silent wilderness.

After crossing the border to Kerala, after a few stretches of winding roads which deserves a special mention for the quality and maintenance, we saw the board on the left side of the road which read Jungle Park resort.

We took the kachha road and as we moved on, on either sides we could see only greenery, greenery of the forest with leaves drenched in the rain. Cool breeze running allover gave us a boost both for our tired body n soul. As we moved on, we could see a gushing stream right in front, crossing the so called kachha road.

Driver was hesitant but took the vehicle ahead through the same. We stopped the vehicle and had a nice time splashing the cold water on our face n body. We took some photographs and again started moving towards our destination, Jungle park resorts.

We were surprised to see the mist which covered the entire visibility at times. We stopped again to take photographs of the mystique nature and then moved on to reach Jungle part resort by 11 O Clock. Even at that time the fog was pretty strong in the jungle and it was marvelous to see huge trees in the background with misty fog all over the place.














We were welcomed by hot cup of Chai by the caring staff and the cottage key was handed over। Our cottage was slightly far from the main building, inside the forest, which added to the thrill n fun। We became nomadic inside the forest with our camera and the handy cam, pretty much nothing to do other than capturing the beauty of nature to the maximum।

After a good homely lunch, we again moved out, this time with a guide, deep into the jungle. Only issue was the Leaches all over as it was rainy season, but with the after shave lotions and deo sprays, we won over the leaches.

Though we had plans of visiting all the tourist spots nearby, like the pakshipathalam and bhoothathaankettu, we decided not to move out anywhere and to be inside the jungle only for the whole day. 120 Feet tall treetop house built for tourist by jungle Park resorts was a major attraction

No words can explain the raw beauty of the jungle in Wayanad and we went on clicking our cameras till the evening.

At night after the dinner, we had a nice time inside the cottage where the power supply stops at 10.30PM. Being in the middle of the jungle with no telephones or televisions to distract was an experience by itself.
The next day we packed our bags to the next destination Mysore। The beauty of the Wayanad forest will remain ever green within our hearts and hey, we recommend this wonderland for all you jungle lovers. Be there, experience and then you will know what I meant. Hope these few photographs will help you in imagining at least 10% of the fun n frolic we had during our stay.
Little Known Destinations > The Frog Temple at Oyal and SArus Congregration
Posted by Vikrant Nath on March 14, 2007

 *BACKGROUND*

It was but the Fifth Day of the Seventh Year of the Third Millennium. The bright sun on a cold and windy winter morning was divine. The past fortnight at Dudhwa National Park had been completely packed and hectic. And as I drove past the sunny Lakhimpur town, National Environment Science Camp 2006-07 was finally over. Karavan Heritage and Nature Society had hosted this Camp for several school students from all over the country. The Camp had been a resounding success.

* Just around twelve kilometers from Lakhimpur, en route to Sitapur, lies the village of Mohamdabad. It was here at the jheel near this village that I sighted this huge congregation of Sarus Cranes. I The Sarus is one of the most enchanting sights of the countryside. A fleeting moment of a real life experience of the wild transcends endless hours of the best wildlife movies or watching animals in captivity. And if you have ever seen the Sarus dance during their courtship, believe me; your life has been worth living. I counted around 9 pairs that day.  I bid farewell to my feathered pals and set off with a resolution that I shall be back here very soon.

*VISITING THE WETLAND ONCE AGAIN* 8:00 AM. 16^th February 2007. The meter gauge passenger train is chugging past the beautiful railway station of Oel. This place is unbelievable.  It evokes the romanticism and innocence of a lost age. 

*NARMADESHWAR SHIV TEMPLE AT OEL* I begin my brief trek to the Narmadeshwar Mandir, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is the auspicious occasion of Shivratri today.  The temple, popularly referred to the as the Medhak Mandir (Frog Temple), stirred my imagination a few years ago, when a friend told me about it. I catch a glimpse of the huge dome shaped roof of the temple. It seems quite impressive. I soon reach the gates of the temple. The beauty of earthy brown color of the brick temple is unmatched even by marble or red sandstone. A small but devout crowd has gathered for worship. I, too, collect a pooja ki thali and step in the temple compound. This temple is awe-striking. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful and possibly one of the oldest living extant temples in Uttar Pradesh. I have seen far more impressive temples than this. But this temple has a unique identity that distinguishes it from any other temple anywhere. The garb-griha (the sanctum) of the temple has been constructed over a frog shaped structure. It seems as though a frog is bearing the weight of the temple on its back. The sanctum, located at least 20 feet above the ground level, is accessed by means of steps on all four sides. . Even after many hundred years, the sanctum walls partially retain the old vibrant colors and floral designs. The devotees have thronged around the Shiva-Linga.  The place is pulsating with divine energy. The ambience is both somber and festive. After a while, I offer my obeisance to the Deity and climb down the steps of the temple. The main temple along with the four surrounding minor temples presents a grand sight. The frog structure and bas-relief sculptures upon the walls appear quite puzzling. The sculptures even though crude make an interesting study. I try to locate a spot where I can capture the beauty of the entire structure in totality. It is a futile effort. I end with many images of the temple. Full of admiration, I am eager to gather more information about its history and heritage. Luckily, I meet the Rajguru (the Royal Priest) of the temple.

*HISTORY AND HERITAGE OF THE TEMPLE*

He tells me that this temple has been built by the magnanimous Royal Family of the Oel Estate. The temple, according to him, is Four Hundred Years old. An ancestor of the Royal family found the Shiva-Ling in the holy waters of the River Narmada. It was consecrated and the temple was raised here. This temple is an invaluable possession of the Family; who refuse to part with it even in the most pressing circumstances. Another very interesting aspect, the Rajguru tells me, is that this is originally a Tantric Temple (like the famous Khajuraho temples). The sculptures on the temple represent the Tantric symbols. In fact the Frog itself is a Tantric symbol. Vedic practices have long replaced the Tantric traditions. I find all this fascinating and wonder why this great heritage is shrouded in oblivion!

VISITING THE MOHAMDABAD JHEEL AFTER A MONTH*

It takes me around half an hour to reach there to reach the jheel. There water seems to have receded somewhat. I look for exact spot where I had sighted the Sarus congregation. But this time not a single Sarus is to be seen. “Hard luck,” I mumble to myself, “perhaps I should have reached here earlier.” But I am not disappointed. I decide to wait for some more time resting underneath the roadside Arjun tree. A Collared Bush-Chat catches my attention. I like her acrobatic sorties from one reed to another. I also sight some drongos, lapwings and kingfishers. Relaxing lazily underneath a tree shade near a placid lakeside, on a nice sunny day, is a regal pleasure. I partake my share, but soon realize that I have my royal duties to attend to tomorrow. And I’d better reach the Oel railway station well in time to board the return train to Lucknow. I have hardly walked a 100 meters that I notice four large birds hovering high up in the sky. Their flight indicates that they are preparing to land. I focus my binoculars. . I am eager to see them land. With their wide wings outstretched and thin long legs pointing towards the earth, they use the air current to encircle the spot they want to land. Though high above the ground, their gradual descent has begun. The afternoon sun pinches my vision, but how can I ever forgo the sheer joy of this sight! The four paratroopers are now in descent. With every passing moment, they appear larger and larger. And then the touchdown; that is what is called perfect landing. They run a distance, strictly observing the laws of motion. The birds settle on the jheel and immediately get down to business. Of the four, one bird simply vanishes somewhere. The other three scamper for food. I shake my head in disbelief. They are Sarus!  Now I am simply thrilled. While I observe the Sarus, a few lads ferrying sugarcane on a bullock-cart observe me. They enquire about my pursuit. They tell me that their village jheel is home to many Sarus Cranes. I ask them if they can take me to the jheel.

*THE SARUS CONGREGRATION*

Yet again I savor the delights of rural India, as the bullock-cart rocks ahead to Gajnipur. Upon arrival at the village and during the walk to the jheel, I am joined by many more escorts. My escorts bombard me with a variety questions. They, finally, conclude that I am a government official making a count of the State Bird of U.P. They emphasize that I must mention Gajnipur in my report. They opine that this might help in the development of their village. Before long, I reach the edge of the village jheel. I wonder if this is the Shangri-La that the Tibetan mystics talked about. Before my mortal eyes, I behold a large congregation of Sarus, lined as though in a queue. I take a deep breath. This is no dream. A journey that began more than a month back has been fulfilled. *I count twenty-eight Sarus in the queue. Another pair is seen on another side of the jheel; that makes it thirty. Plus the four at the Mohamdabad jheel, makes it thirty-four in all. Wonderful!** * The villagers tell me that the Sarus is unmolested in this village. People respect the Sarus and do not harm the bird. I laud their attitude. They feel happy. I tell them I’ll be back. I take a final look. The grace and beauty of the birds leaves me spell bound. I retrace my steps wondering whether the Sarus can survive the rapacious encroachment of its habitat by the ever expanding sugarcane farms and sugar mills in this region.

 

Little Known Destinations > Dattatreya Ashram, Murbad
Posted by Susan Sharma on March 11, 2007

Indian Wild Life Club 

Ant hill in the premises                             

 

Nature lovers’ haven in the outskirts of Mumbai

 

-S.Ananthanarayanan

 

Indian Wild Life Club

A short two hours drive from Mumbai takes one to Dattatreya Ashram, a dream come true of Prakash Tendulkar, mountaineer, swimmer, yoga exponent, Sanskrit scholar, nature and medicinal plant enthusiast and civil servant; and of his wife, Jyotsna, mountaineer, trekker, storehouse of Maharashtrian cuisine and folklore  and professor of Statistics in a leading Mumbai College.

 

With the help of an architect from Kalyan, Mumbai, Prakash was able to finalise the design of the ashram - the Geodesic dome, surrounded by 10 comfortable dwelling rooms, laid out in the form of a “lotus opening out”.  

At the entrance to the Ashram are a massive Mahua tree and 3 teak trees, originals of the plot before Prakash came there. Almost no tree was cut in the layout of the Ashram, but ever so many were planted!

Indian Wild Life Club

Over 150 types of medicinal plans thrive in the plant beds. A start had been made with 33 varieties that were already in the farm – which were identified and labeled. 

 

There are varieties of trees, there is a solar cooker,  the farm has its own cows, with calf; and Nandi the bull, till Prakash gave it away to a farmer who had lost his own. The farm also has Bambi the dog, ever ready to welcome visitors, and sundry birds, cobras, monitor lizards, rodents, insects, wild boars, rabbits, nature’s bounty!

 

There is a pebble walk, paved with pebbles collected from different rivers in India and even from the banks of Manasarovar, in Tibet. “The idea is that a walk down the pebble path can bring to the walker the benefit of visiting all the rivers and Manasarover too”, quips Prakash.  

  

Prakash and Jyotsna would love to have you over. Just drop them a line, at pstendulkar@yahoo.com. 

( Text and photographs-S.Ananthanarayanan)

National Parks > Trip to Dachigam National Park, Srinagar August 2006
Posted by Susan Sharma on February 08, 2007

Trip to Dachigam National Park, Srinagar August 2006

- Susan Sharma

Just like Maharashtra has a national park right next to its capital Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir has a national park within Srinagar, just a couple of km from the heart of Srinagar. Dachigam is famous for protecting the last few numbers of Hangul deer in the wild. Seeing a wild hangul was on top of my list when I visited Srinagar in August 2006.

August 15, Independence Day, was just a day away. The Indian Army was out patrolling, with an armed gunman at almost every 100 meters or so. Going to Dachigam meant organizing passes and special permissions, which the owner of the houseboat we stayed in gracefully organized. So we set off to see hangul and black bear both of which are famous residents of the Park. Just as we entered the park we saw a group of grey langurs, again endemic to this forest jumping about in the trees. On closer look these langurs did look different from the langurs we see in Delhi; much bigger and indeed, grey. I was happy that no one including the forest guard and the army person who accompanied us objected to my using the video camera.

Next stop was an enclosure where the forest officials had rescued a baby black bear whose mother had been killed (probably by angry villagers whose crops the bear raid often). This small fellow was trying eat rotis and drink milk provided in a pan. I could have taken a photo but did not. Somehow the idea of photographing a deprived baby black bear in a cage right inside a national park did not appeal to me. (My camera bag refused to open for the leopards caged inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai too).

Suddenly we were told to keep away all cameras as we were entering a high security zone- permission to enter this area was difficult to obtain-Mr. Chapri our host informed us. Our group consisted of my husband, son and a French couple. ALL OF US WERE CURIOUS-MAY BE WE ARE GOING TO SEE THE PROTECTED HANGUL FINALLY!

Our ‘Qualis’ entered a huge gate to reveal a beautifully maintained villa and park-the winter residence of the erstwhile Prime Ministers of India. We were told this was the private house to which Indira Gandhi retreated when she wanted privacy. The outside of the building was paneled with oak tree logs. The garden had huge trees. A very peaceful place –right inside the Dachigam National Park!

What about the hanguls we asked. The forest guard replied that one has to climb up to much higher altitudes to see them and all those areas are now out of bounds thanks to militancy. He assured us that in higher altitudes there were black bears and Himalayan Monals in plenty- but the area is infested with militants and none is allowed to go trekking.

I had seen a documentary on the demilitarized zone of South and North Korea. The film showed how the DMZ protected highly endangered deer and antelope population of those areas thanks to heavy patrolling and some awareness among the army personnel who helped feeding these animals in periods of extreme weather conditions. May be a similar miracle is happening in Dachigam too- or is that being too optimistic?

Our forest guard companion was very happy to talk about his experiences. He was a dedicated man –dedicated to saving the black bear in particular. He passionately believed that the Dachigam forest will survive only if the bear population is healthy and thriving. The forest belonged to them and then only to man he told us. We did see glimpses of gurgling streams inside. The air and water inside is pure and one will never get ill if you stay inside the forest, another Kashmiri who was working with the rainbow trout project explained.

Our next stop was the rainbow trout center. Here the trout are bred scientifically and the produce sold outside at reasonable prices-one person is allowed to buy only 2 kilos in a day. The scheme is so popular, that all the produce is sold out in a couple of hours. The trout center was well maintained. I had never seen such large trouts before. Gulmarg has a trout centre where tourists can buy coupons for fishing - again in a rationed manner- one coupon entitles you to four catches. But the rainbow trouts there were not so big.

Suddenly we were told our time inside the Park was up. We had seen all that was allowed to be seen by tourists.

I asked for some pamphlets on the Park. Our forest guard friend gave a moth eaten book produced by Sanctuary magazine for the Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K Government. It had obviously been written at a time when the Park had seen better days. I thanked him and as was happening all too often during our trip to Kashmir, my eyes filled up, this time for the beautiful animals in a beautiful park.

I could not but admire the pride and faith of the forest guard who reaffirmed my own faith that you can never subdue nature. In that sense our visit to Dachigam had a silver lining.Indian Wild Life Club

( Hangul stag by Joanna van Gruisen taken from the Sanctuary publication)

 

More photographs of nature/wildlife in Kashmir Indian Wild Life Club Female musk deer in a deer sanctuary on the way to Aaaroo Indian Wild Life Club Ghorals in the sanctuaryIndian Wild Life Club Gulmarg slopesIndian Wild Life Club Lidder River which runs through Kashmir

Note: Our trip was organized by Discovery Journeys, Gurgaon.  For customised and personalised trips/tours contact them at 


http://www.indianwildlifeclub.com/EcoTourism/Discovery-Journeys.aspx





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