Trip Reports
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





Bird Sanctuaries > Point Calimere
Posted by Mohamed Sheik Ravuthar on February 07, 2007

POINT CALIMERE

M MOHAMED SHEIK RAVUTHAR

Forests and wildlife of Nagapattinam district

  • Point Calimere Wildlife sanctuary with a total protected area of 30 square kms, is home
  • to the largest population of the endemic Blackbuck in south.

Other animals of the sanctuary include the jackal, spotted deer, jungle cat,

feral horses, black napped hare, etc. including a variety of reptiles.

From October to January nearly 90 species of migratory water birds

visit the sanctuary and its surroundings. They include Flamingoes, Painted storks,

Pelicans, Spoonbills, ducks, teals and a variety of shore birds. The best time to visit

the sanctuary for bird watching is November-December. The sanctuary is open to

visitors throughout the year.
 

A Forest Rest House at Kodiakkarai is available for visitors to the sanctuary.

Visitors may contact Wildlife Warden at 04365- 253092 or

Ranger, Kodiakkarai at 04369-272424

 

                  

   Blackbuck- the most important herbivore               

 

 Olive Ridley turtles nests in the sanctuary beach from Jan-March

                                                                   

 

         

              On 14th November, 2000 a 35 ft long Bryde’s whale was rescued
            from mud about    10 km  west of Kodiakkarai. The rescue operation was
            carried out with the active support of district administration. Pic: Top: A full grown    Bryde’s whale. Bottom: Diagram showing padding of whale for towing during rescue.
The sanctuary is now declared
as a Ramsar site
 
 
Sanctuary vegetation
 
Tropical dry-evergreen forest covers nearly 15 sq.kms of Pt. Calimere Wildlife sanctuary. The forests are mostly of the nature of scrubland that stands on low sand dunes located on the western half of the sanctuary. Manilkara hexandra, locally called Palai is the most important evergreen species of the sanctuary forest. In the sanctuary grasslands the dominant
graminoid is Aeluropus lagopoides followed by Sporobulu tremulus and Cressa cretica. The forest is home to 154 species of medicinal plants
like Mucuna pruriens, Solanum trilobatum, Tinospora cordifolia Randia dumatorum and Cissus quadrangularis
 
                       

 
National Parks > Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai
Posted by Susan Sharma on January 14, 2007

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai-A report

By Sushant Sharma, Member, IndianWildlifeClub.com
sushant01@hotmail.com

After reading about the plight of Borivili (East) hills, Mumbai, I decided to visit the West side of Borivili Hills whch is also known as Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The park is described as the Green Lung of Mumbai and treks and trails criss cross the park.

At the gate we were told that there is no arrangement for any kind of transport to Kanheri caves. We can walk if we wish. And walk we did. The trails along the monorail track were littered with waste and human excreta. We had to watch each step. But soon the overpowering stench was so unbearable that all we wanted to do was return to the clean air of Mumbai.

Here are some pictures of the Park which I took. They tell a story which do not need any words.

Map of SGNP taken from their official site



Houses within the national park



More houses

Next to a heap of trees cut down (by who?), the board with bird pics proclaim

"We also have a right to live and enjoy. We are few in numbers.  Please allow us to survive.  Don't destroy our habitat."

Little Known Destinations > Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary
Posted by Susan Sharma on January 14, 2007


Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary-Home to the Himalayan Monal

The beautiful dancing peacock has been an inspiration to all Indians to aspire for beauty and dignity. On one of my visits to Himachal Pradesh I visited the pheasantry at Sarahan where I saw the other relatives of the peacock-lesser known members of the pheasant family. The Himalayan Monal with the stern and clever look and a rainbow on its tail feathers left a lasting impression.



Both my husband and I are happiest when out in the wilderness and before long we were planning a trip to Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, in Uttaranchal India, which is the home of the Himalayan Monal.

We travelled by road, driving from Delhi to Rishikesh on the first day. After halting at Rudraprayag, we proceeded the next day to Chopta via Mandal and Gopeshwar. Once in Chopta, you already soak in the mountains of KedarNath Wildlife Sanctuary.




The forests of Kedarnath Sanctuary is the catchment area of Alaknanda River. The forests comprise a Musk Deer Sanctuary and also reserve forests where villages exist, supporting reasonable good forests where one can hear the call of the koklass pheasant and monals early in the morning. Sighting monals is not that easy as these birds are extremely shy and vary of human presence.

From Chopta you can take up the bridle path to Tungnath temple (trek/horse) –about 5 km-and you will flush monal enroute.




The peaks of Kedarnath which can be reached after a 14km trek, transport one to a heightened spiritual experience. It is no wonder that the majority of Indians who trek these mountainous routes or ride up the bridle path are seeking spiritual fulfillment. The peak “Kedarnath” is believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva.




This biological reserve of Kedarnath Wildlife Sancuary is 975 Square Kilometer in area. It is home to a number of endangered animals such as Musk deer, Himalayan tahr, Serow and Pheasants. The sanctuary is part of the Garhwal Himalayas.

The vegetation is diverse and most of the forest types are sub-tropical, temperate, sub alpine and alpine. The undulating terrain ranges from about 1700’( 518m) to 22,901’(6980m).

From Tungnath you could take another bridle path to Shokharkh - a less used path in forests but lots of chances to flush monals and observe them. You will have a good sightings of kalij along the motor road above Mandal and definetly hear Koklass pheasant at Shokharkh.






Photographs by Shashi and Susan Sharma:
From top :
1. Head of Himalayan Monal Pheasant
2. Garhwal Himalayan peaks from Chopta
3. Vegetation of the sanctuary
4. Kedarnath Peaks at sunset
5. Undulating terrains which are monal habitat

(More photographs of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary appear at
"Wildscapes.net

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