Am I in Paradise?

I arrive at Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh around 1 pm. But have I come to the right place? Have I come to a mela (fair)? There are vehicles and more vehicles, may be two hundred plus!  There are people and more people. A peek into the restaurant puts me off. It has a long queue of people waiting to eat. All eyes are on the kitchen door – every bowl that comes out, many feel, it is for me.

I am in shock. What is happening? Why? I have been travelling for various activities in the State for last 5 days and planned one day in this wilderness. In work, more so in field, I forget day, date, holiday and all that.

I meet the Director. He is not happy with all the crowd and pressure but not stressed. What can I do if there is no accommodation or food for hoards of people? The place cannot take more than a score of vehicles and say around 200 people is now swarmed with 10 times pressure!! It turns out, it is a long weekend because of festival holidays and people from nearby towns have descended to Barnawapara for some quality time. Quality time?

I have been to Barnawapara several times. First, it was almost two decades ago in 1997. What to say of tourists even wildlifers were not aware of the Sanctuary. The Range Officer, in-charge of the Sanctuary, used to visit once in a while.  During last 5-6 years, Forest Department has been focused on this wilderness with intense management inputs. Larger positive change has been due to shifting of half a dozen villages from the Sanctuary which resulted in contiguous area being available to wild animals and lesser competition from man and livestock. I myself see sea change with common sighting of cheetal and Bison. In one visit, some time back, I even see three sloth bear in different locations during one evening. I have not seen so much of sloth bear during my whole life!

There has been some confusion in the beginning but ultimately they arranged for me to stay at the forest rest house, exclusive place far from the tourist complex and disturbance.

In the late afternoon, a guide accompanies me for a visit to forest. I am taken aback by the situation. There is not an inch of forest free from tourists – All along, there is a vehicle behind and in-front of my vehicle.  There is nothing more than dust. In two hours of going around, I see just one cheetal! One only, not a herd! This animal clearly appeared confused. Maybe slow-witted and is unable to decide on a hiding place.

When the Sun is down, I decide, let us wait at one place and let all the hulla-gulla be over and when it is quieter some animals may come out. We park at tri-junction to keep an eye on the roads and see if some animals emerge but nothing because there is one or the other vehicle noisily passing. I soon notice another vehicle has stopped 50 metres behind us. It waits behind us for half an hour. They probably think that we have some trick and they will share the booty we earn after all this wait. When we start, this vehicle follows us. There is nothing but disappointment.

On my return, I stop for a while at the Director’s residence. He offers me consolation, cup of tea and hope. It cheers me up. The deal is, on the morning round, a forest official will accompany me with a bunch of keys – keys for entering the wonderland i.e. the core of the Sanctuary, which is restricted entry with barriers all around.

At dot 6.00 am we leave the complex. There are vehicles and vehicles filled to brim with colourful lots. We take one of the roads to forest. We drive slow, taking a chance for some sighting.  Vehicle after vehicle overtake us! It’s rat race. After about three km of this madness, we reach a barrier. The official opens the lock, let the vehicle in and lock the barrier back.

Oh! It’s different world. There is no vehicle or human beings. It is melody of bird songs, smell of the earth and soothing sight of greenness. Here and there we see cheetal herds grazing and in no rush. We see few sambars also.

We go around a wetland on the way. There are some water birds. I notice a crested serpent eagle perched on a pole. I look at the tell tale signs on the sandy banks. It is clear, lot of action happens around. There were foot prints of cheetal, nilgai, wild boar, peacock and what not. I am keen on large carnivore. And there I find it. Very clear foot prints of a leopard – a trail of them. Seeing foot print of a carnivore sends a chill down the spine.

Sun is just about out. Chill in the air is lessening. Little mist is rising from the ground. The dust track is not trampled as rare vehicle passes here – grass is growing all over it.

I ask the driver to stop. There is good mix forest on both sides of the road. Sun light is filtering through the foliage. It lightens up the rising mist in shafts creating unique aura. I am entirely mesmerised by the sight. Am I in paradise?

I notice that this is particular to the location. Combination of n number of factors – the time, angle of the Sun rays, light intensity, mist, foliage pattern, gap created by dust track…

I ask the accompanying party to remain quiet. I fill myself with the sight, inch by inch, spec by spec, leaf by leaf, beam by beam…

I feel I am in thin air. Nectar is dripping. A pleasant fragrance has filled the atmosphere. It’s all surrealistic. My whole self is not me.

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I brood, ‘What is paradise? Who has seen the paradise? What is the essence of paradise?’ My heart tells me ‘I am in paradise. I can feel this. I can breathe this.’

And there before my eyes I see
Such beauty that could never be
Revealed in places fixed below
As set before me all aglow
Such wonders ever outward flow

  • Valerie Dohren

My whole self is elated. I am floating in a different world. This is one of the rare moments of life. I envy my luck. I thank god for showing a bit of it very clearly.

I think, my day, my month, my year, my decade… has been made.



Birding with Trip & Todd

Delhi traffic kills, virtually. To avoid the torture, I start early at 7 a.m. Though my destination, Zorba the Buddha, is only 35 km, I take 70 minutes to reach. But still cool, going by Delhi’s standard.

Zorba is an oasis in the concrete and car jungle, one among several farm houses in the area.  As one enters the gated complex, just off Ghitorni Metro Station, it’s far from the madding crowd. The difference is conspicuously visible. It soothes the nerves. One feels, the drive all the way has been worth it.

Zorba, in fact, is an exotic location for really exclusive meetings – rustic, green and charming. Everything has been tastefully done with sense of aesthetics. This 3-4 acre farm land has been converted into conference facility with 4-5 halls of different capacity and about 15 rooms for lodging. It’s a full boarding place. Good part is, it is vegetarian only but with immense variety – it’s not dal-roti only. Bad part is the timings for food are very rigid. Dinner at 7 p.m. is too American!

We are organising a three-day international ‘dialogue on transition to clean energy’. I am going to stay here for two nights. Incidentally, I have been allotted a three-person sharing room. Frankly, I love privacy but there is limitation of number of rooms. I check into the room and find I have a choice as the other two occupants have not arrived as yet. As luck would have it, the arrangement in the room is two beds on the main floor, and there is a mezzanine floor, half the room size, with a queen bed. It’s as good as private room. Though I have knee problem, I do not mind a flight of steps. I just grab this exclusive part of the room and feel happy.

About half a dozen international participants and about a dozen Indian participants have reached by last night and settled at Zorba. I find, some friends enjoying morning tea. I meet Ravi from Vizag and Ramesh from Goa. I chat with them for few moments. I notice, some distance away, three international participants are also enjoying tea. I know two of them, Todd and Ron. I am just thinking of reaching them, when, Todd walks toward me. We smile at each other, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.  Soon, Todd introduces me to the new guest, “Meet Trip, president of EJ and my boss.” I extend my hand, warm hand shake, its huge hand! While Todd joking adds “He has come to keep an eye on us!” I notice Trip is tall, past 6 feet, innocent looking attractive face. He is wearing a sweet smile. He is old but does not look his age. I develop a kind of affinity right away.

Puhsp with Trip at Zorba

I decide to meet participants formally and informally as they arrive for breakfast which starts at 8.30. The breakfast is from 8.30 to 9.30. I grab a plate and eat leisurely while participants come and go and I meet most of them here. Interesting part of the arrangement is there are no tables for meals – chairs are put in a circle in a lawn. About dozen of us are sitting around and talking. Most of the participants are known to me. We have organised such consultations at this very place about half a dozen times during last 4-5 years.

Trip is also sitting here. He hears a bird calling persistently, probably, wanting not to be missed. He asks me, “This looks like an interesting bird. Can we see this? What species?”

I tell him, “It’s Crimson-throated Barbet, also known as Coppersmith, more because of its habit of persistently calling throughout the day, took, took, took…” I wonder at the energy level! I know the bird is very difficult to spot in spite of one knows from where it is calling – remains hiding in the foliage. I try to help Trip but in vain.

Lisa Evan joins. She is fan of my blog, ‘Glimpses of Wilderness’, and never stops praising it and even passing on some of the postings to her colleagues. She informs Trip in detail about my naturalistic interests and keen involvement in wildlife watching. I am rather overwhelmed by the praise and sheepishly say, “Oh! Nothing great, I am just sharing some of my experiences in nature.”

Trip is now quite seriously interested. He wants to subscribe the blog. I tell him, “It’s free and open access blog.” He later Google and locates it.

During the stay at Zorba we continue of talk, off and on, about birds around. I tell Trip that there would be about two dozen species here. He notices a bird in the open grassland area. I tell him, “It is a lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing.” It’s amazing that peacocks are found roaming around the complex and we can hear them frequently.

Trip and I decide we will try a formal birding in the Zorba complex itself for first half hour of the breakfast time i.e. 8.30 to 9.00, on our last day of the conference. Todd gets a hint of it and suggests he is joining too.

I for one, get ready by 8.00 to be sure that there is no rush and I am ready to straight join the conference later. This means, I am all set for birding in a formal dress meant for conference. I am old school guy and like to wear formals for meetings.

Trip & Todd join on dot, equipped with binoculars. There are old trees in the complex, more so on the boundary. Natural bushy growth, decorative plants, bamboo, palms…  The land is not plain – it’s undulating, hillocks here and dips there, and small water bodies. All this increases the potential for birds. We start from the boundary from the rooms’ side. Most conspicuous of course, is peacock, calling shrill from roof top. Across the boundary, we notice a Red-wattled lapwing, in fact one more join it. Todd takes a good look; wants to make sure that the red wattle is there. I explain an interesting part of lapwing ecology, “it nests on the ground and in case some predator approaches the nest, it would drop one wing, appear to be injured, and walk away from the nest and attract the predator towards it and flies away when the animal is at a safe distance from the nest. Smart of it!”

Caw, caw, cav, cav… “Can you hear this? This is Crow Pheasant. (I see the literature later, and it more famous as Greater Coucal these days.) It’s larger than crow, black but with rust colour wings and back. It’s found in the bushes and often comes out in open area near the bushes.” We try hard to locate it but fail. Nevertheless, I assure my friends to count this in.

“Oh! There’s a quail,” Todd points out. In fact a pair, just at the edge of a bush. On good look, we all notice that this is much larger than quail and I identify this as Grey Partridge (Now the species in India is called Grey Francolin). I have not been expecting to find this but happy to see the pair.

In the meanwhile, one, less than a finger size bird is humming in a blooming tree– I ask friends to look whether it has a long curved beak. We find the bird is female of Purple Sunbird. Male is very easy to identify with radiant and bright blue-purple-black colour while female is drab and dull coloured. Trip is excited to know about the tree species as well. I tell them it’s Bauhinia (Kachnar). Soon all the leaves would be gone and tree will be entirely flowers only, a sight without parallel.


Common Myna and rock pigeon are all over. One does not feel like counting them in. Several Pariah Kites (Small Indian Kite) are circling overhead.  I notice a Black Drongo for a moment but before friends could notice, it flies away. Trip tells me, “No worry, I have seen it yesterday.”

We reach a Ficus (peepal) tree in fruiting. It’s busy place. I suspect one grey hornbill in upper canopy but not sure. The tree is packed or sure with Large Green Barbets maybe 25-30 of them – all busy gobbling maximum possible. I hear Red-vented Bulbul. Yes, few are around in bushes and small trees and some arrive at the Peepal as well. Todd has verified the red vent, as well the triangular black crest.  I want to be doubly sure, am I watching white cheeked bulbuls? I could see long curved crest and white cheek as well as coloured vent. Interesting, I have not expected this as well. (Incidentally, later when I consult literature, I realise that this is Red-whiskered Bulbul or Crested Bulbul.)

We move to a small pool and for sure, a White Breasted Kingfisher is holding the fort. Trip has seen this species yesterday and in his search online, found another similar looking bird. I have suggested it can be White Breasted Kingfisher and he agrees now, “This is the one”.

It’s nine. We need to finish, otherwise we may miss the breakfast, while the birds are enjoy theirs. At the last leg, I show my friends common babblers. I amuse them with the story that they are called seven sisters (Sat Baheni). They are found and go around in a group of about seven birds!

I notice another species of Myna – Brahminy Myna. I show this to friends. Soon, Trip points to a barren pole like stem of a dried tree with few holes at the top end. “Are these some bird’s nests?” Before I form an opinion, a Brahminy too decides to explore the hole and it results in fierce drama. Within split second a Coppersmith emerges and strongly attacks the Brahminy. We notice, Brahminy, a much larger bird, is clearly in shock and meekly flies away and settles on a branch way away from the danger zone. Coppersmith sits on a naked branch, virtually puffing its chest and flexing muscle, telling one and all “I remain hidden in foliage does not mean I am meek. Anybody who dares to come near my nest will have it.” We decide it is better to leave and not get caught in cross-fire.



 Post Script

Birds We See at Zorba 

Red-Wattled Lapwing – Vanellus indicus

Large Green Barbet or Brown Headed Barbet (Psilopogon zeylanicus)

Crimson-throat or Crimson-breasted or Coopersmith Barbet – Psilopogon haemacephalus

Myna Common – Acridotheres tristis

Brahminy Myna or Brahminy Starling – Sturnia pagodarum

Peafowl – Pavo cristatus

Grey Fracolin (formally Grey Partridge) – Francolinus pondicerianus

Rose Ringed Parkeet – Psittacula krameri

White Breasted (or throated) Kingfisher – Halcyon smyrnensis

Black Drongo – Dicrurus macrocercus

Pariah Kite, now known as Small Indian Kite –  Milvus migrans govinda

Purple-rumped Sunbird – Leptocoma zeylonica

Common Babbler – Turdoides caudata

Red-vented Bulbul – Pycnonotus cafer

Red-whiskered Bulbul or Crested Bulbul – Pycnonotus jocosus

Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove – Columba livia

Crow Pheasant now known as Greater Coucal –  Centropus sinensis




Pilgrimage to Chhoti Haldwani

This is my third pilgrimage to Chhoti Haldwani. I call it pilgrimage because a visit to Jim Corbett’s home will be a pilgrimage for any wildlifer. For those who may not know, Corbett has been the legendary man-eater hunter and conservationist.

We used to call this place Kaladhungi. I notice Kaladhungi is a larger place and includes several villages around. My earlier two visits have been in 1980s when I used to regularly Corbett National Park nearby.  Chhoti Hadwani falls on a road joining two towns, Ramnagar and Haldwani, around 50 km long. I still vividly remember, the drive on this road used to be wonderful – this single lane road used to have lush fields on both sides and sparse habitation; scenic hills on the left and planer landscape on the right. There would be hardly any vehicle, and one felt like breezing through a dream. Midway on this road, another road goes up the hills to Nainital, popular hill station of North India and a well known tourist destination.  Bang on this tri-junction spot is located the heart of the place, Jim Corbett’s house, now a museum. I remember this has not been conspicuous– just a normal house, British style bungalow with one small block on the side. The place was not maintained those days. There was very little stuff in the place and one used to be done with the visit in five minutes.

No more so now. Things have changed. As far as the drive is concerned, it is no more wonderful. It’s a broad two lane road. Lot of fields are gone taken over by habitation and commerce. The traffic is thick. All that drive fun is gone. As far as the museum is concerned, this too has changed, but changed for better. The place is with the Forest Department, which has turned this into a real museum.

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Corbett’s Bungalow is restored, maintained and suitably painted. The surrounding area has been developed into lawns. Suitable slab have been put with biographical note on Jim Corbett. Two busts of the Corbett are adding dignity to the place – one in the lawn and another on the verandah of the house.  An effort has been made to fish out some old pictures, documents, and stories and displace them for visitors to see and read, and be better informed. Some paintings have been done to recreate history.  Whatever little furniture was there has been displayed. There is a souvenir shop for tourists to spend time and spend money. The shop has been named after his accomplice and regular companion in jungle, Moti.

This house was developed in 1915 by Corbett as his winter home to avoid cold at his ancestral home in Nainital. The interesting part of the story is that it is not only the house he developed but an entire village, which is now known as Chhoti Haldwani. He had bought 40 acre land and let it out to about a dozen families. He helped them build houses, develop fields, make canals, build protection wall and raise corps and flourish. He did not take rent on land or share in farm yield. This was his family. Entire village was his home.

Another thing that has changed is that Chhoti Haldwani has now been developed into ‘Jim Corbett Heritage Village’, promoting nature walks, bird watching, home stay and providing unusual experience to visitors at a nominal price. This has been the effort of Corbett Gram Vikas Samiti (Community’s Society). Mr Pandey, one of the key persons associated with the Samiti facilitated our visit to the village.

One thing worth mentioning is the gun Corbett gifted to Sher Singh for crop protection. This muzzle loading single barrel gun is now the pride possession of his son, Trilok Singh. In the village we visit Trilok Singh, he brings out the gun and shows it to me!  I lift the gun and find this unusually heavy. It is a different matter that I am not able to recollect lifting any other gun before. I feel, may be one need not fire this. Just throwing it on an animal would kill it!

Another feature of the village is an old Chaupal. Chaupal is a raised platform in open area of a village, where people collect for formal and informal meetings. Corbett had developed several Chaupals, one of which is still intact. Incidentally, this happens to be adjacent to Trilok Singh’s house. Thus, we have the gun and Chaupal together in one picture.

One good new addition in the village is a rustic, tastefully built and furnished hut to serve as restaurant for visitors.  The interior, furniture, and display are all work of art and highly appealing. The Samiti offers us tea, and, thus, an opportunity to spend some time in the hut and with them and reflecting back on Corbett.

I am sure any wildlifer will love this pilgrimage.


Man and Animal are Equally at Home at Kalagarh Forest Rest House

We arrive at Kalagarh Forest Rest House at 1.30 pm. The very sight of the place cheers –typical British Bungalow, soothing exterior – Cream colour distemper washed walls, with green slanting tin roof.  A large verandah invites you to sit and watch the panorama in front. I accept the invitation. Take a seat. I see, a large open area circles all around the Rest House. The uniqueness, here is a massive banyan tree. The aerial roots falling down from canopy all around have been weaved together to form about half a dozen, medium-size tree trunks, spaced out in the open area. Cemented circular platform has been made around the main stem. It is suitable place for meditation.

Kalagarh FRH 1928

I take a small stroll around. I notice the name of the Rest House written large at top of the triangle made by the slanting roof. Also written is its year of birth – 1928! That is, the rest house is 90 year old exactly, almost as old as my father who dates 1927!

This is a typical two suits bungalow with a large hall in the centre. The entrance opens in to the hall. One can enter the rooms from the hall one on the left and another on the right. One door opens at the back, where there is a dining hall, large enough to seat a dozen guests.

Kalagarh FRH Banyan

I notice that a door from the dining hall lead to the back side where the kitchen is located separate from the bungalow. I notice real action happening there. Preparation of meal is in full steam.

Plenty of windows, high ceiling, large bathrooms – building so made that it is cool is summer and warm in winter.

Incidentally, we are in a large group, largely retired forester friends and family. Mrs   Sunita Pant and Mr Suresh Pant, Mr Hira Singh Karmiyal, Mr Satish Chandra Upadhayay and his son’s family and of course, me and wife Sunita. Friends oblige me with one suite and another is given to Upadhayay ji’s son’s family. Rest of the gang use a place nearby for sleeping in the night while rest of the time we are together.

During my last 38 years of wildlifing, I have visited innumerable forest rest houses. The food is simplest and most common. Generally consists of yellow dal, one subji (lady finder or ghiya or aloo or mix) and chapati. Of course, papad is also severed. Onion and chilli is offered for salad. But nowhere, even in top hotels, you get such taste and satisfaction. Same is here in Kalagarh. I call this lavish as curd and burfi has been added. Banana and apple too are here. The result is I end up over eating.

Later in the night, after a refreshing visit to forest, we all gather in the hall.  There are gossips, jokes, memories recounted. Local Range Officer, Mr Bhatt also joins.

Incidentally, Mr Bhatt has been our kind host. He has arranged thing. He spends half an hour with us. In between, taking note of our needs and ordering boys to manage. When he leaves, he particularly mentions, ‘Please do not roam around or let the children play outside the Rest House, as tiger or elephant may be around.’

Can it be that close? Is Mr Bhatt exaggerating? I know in forest, wildlife is bound to be there but to remain bound in as if the tiger is watching through the window or elephant is ready to knock the door, sounds odd.

I do go out in verandah and try to see in the darkness if some elephant or tiger can be spotted.  I do not venture off the verandah. Doubt has been ingrained in my mind by Mr Bhatt. I just tell myself, ‘you never know.’

It’s pretty cold. I wrap myself in a blanket. It’s difficult to see in the dark but clearly much easy to hear. One Nightjar is calling at regular frequency and pitch. Yes, there is clear alarm call by a spotted deer. It instinctively excites – may be a tiger or leopard is there. The Ram Ganga River is flowing adjacent to the Rest House on the right, making sweet music.

In the morning, I wake up early and get ready by 7.45. Sunita too is ready in the next 20 minutes. I have been expecting, some of our friends who have gone to sleep in rooms in a nearby forest building, may need the suite. The need actually arise. There has been no water in the other building due to some malfunction. So our suite is made available to friends.

It’s chilly. Sunita and I enjoy hot tea. There is still time for all to get ready. Thus, breakfast has to be another hour later.

It’s sunny outside. There is no other building in the area except a small temple on the bank of the river across the road. It’s forest all around. We stroll around the rest house. I notice there is a kuccha road about 80 metre on the left of the rest house. We walk there. As is my habit in forest, I try to have a deeper look in front, right and then left. I look at the back also once in a while. Yes, I also look at the tell-tale signs below on the track. Oh!

Kalagarh FRH Tiger pug mark 2

I notice fresh pug mark (foot print) of a male tiger going away on the track. I carefully scan the track for another 20 odd yards and I realise, this is tigers’ highway. I see pug mark of a tigress also, coming from the opposite direction. There are number of clear foot prints and all apparently from few hours to few days old! Further down, I see elephant dung as well! A chill passes through my spine, so exciting.

Kalagarh FRH Tiger pug mark

Indeed, man and animal are equally at home in and around Kalagarh Forest Rest House. Also, Mr Bhatt has not been exaggerating.


A Cool Herd of Nilgai

We arrive at Haldwani to our family friend Pantji’s (Mr Suresh Pant) home by noon, by Shatabdi Express. My wife accompanies. Pantji has retired from forest service some time ago. Today, it has been fun, food, gossip, and attending a mela (local fair) with Pantji and his wife. Next day the caravan moves. We reach another old friend Karmiyal (Hira Singh Kermiyal) living near Ram Nagar. Karmiyal is also a retired forester. It’s larger group. It’s eating, gossiping, visiting nearby forest.. We all stay with Karmiyal tonight.

Next day, it’s still larger caravan. Another retired forester, Upadhyay ji (Satish Chandra Upadhyay) joins with family. Now we are in two cars.

We are on Ram Nagar-Kalagarh road. This is about 40 km drive in the buffer of famous Corbett Tiger Reserve. The road up to Laldhang is metalled.  Rest of the road is Kuchcha (un-metalled). It passes through biodiversity rich forest.

The forest is technically moist-mix-deciduous and thick. Road is narrow. Every nook and corner brings in new perspective, new sight, some or the other animal. Its excitement and more excitement. There are several seasonal streams approaching this ‘Terai’ area from hills and have broad spans. Terai is land between hills and plains. One such stream fell soon after we pass Dhara Chowki (forest check post). This is extra exciting. As we cross the dry river, on temporary road made by compacting the bed, all shout stop.

We see a herd of six nilgai sitting around in a circle, on a slightly raised part of the river bed on our right. They are not bothered by our arrival. Animal’s security instinct can be clearly seen here. They are roughly sitting in a circle, all facing outwards in different direction – virtually all combined they have a 360 degree view!

We have seen nilgai innumerable times but here bang in the open, all animals sitting cool, with no intension of getting disturbed. It seems they are used to man and vehicle. They are enjoying Sun after chilly winter night.

There is plenty of light. The animals are obliging to be shot. We take ample photos. We take photos in different postures – sitting, walking, galloping…Thoroughly enjoy the drive through forest.

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We reach Kalagarh around 1.30 pm. It’s lavish lunch at the rest house. In the late afternoon we go to different part of forest – fresh air, luxuriant vegetation, calm and quiet, lovely.

Later in the night, the Forest Range Officer, Mr Bhatt joins. As normal, he wants to know how it has been in the forest. Nilgai herd finds specially mention.

Mr Bhatt informs us that this herd is common sight. The group is bold and daring. They are crop raiding lot – during the day they enjoy sun and shine of the forest and during night enjoy the delicious meal of paddy or wheat or mustard… in agricultural fields some way down on the outskirt of the Reserve.

It is a pity that animals are not able to differentiate between forest and field, government or private land. They do not understand boundary. Where there is a barrier created by man, for food, animal would jump across, if possible.

We have an overnight halt at Kalagarh. In the morning, after breakfast we start back to Ram Nagar. We enter the forest gate around 11.30. This is indeed not the right time for wildlife watching. By this time, animals are generally resting – hiding in bushes, high grasses or in deep forest.

But no, as we approach Dhara Chowki stream, nilgai faithfully oblige us again. Today, it is much larger herd, around a dozen animals. The beauty is, this group has a bull also plus several young ones. Today, they are sitting closer to the track in the river bed.

We stand here and watch and admire and photograph.

Maybe due to our prolonged stay, some animals rise. Calves take advantage of mother standing – two young ones of a female start feeding together. They are not bothered by our presence, and use the opportunity to the fullest. They feed for several minutes. I too use the opportunity to the fullest – Take more than 50 shots!

Can you believe, we do see a tiger during the visit but nilgai has found priority in ‘Glimpses of Wilderness’. You know why.




PS : Nilgai or blue bull (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is the largest Asian antelope and is endemic  to the Indian subcontinent. Nilgai is diurnal (active mainly during the day). The animals band together in different type of groups. It’s herbivorous and prefers grasses and herbs, but eats woody plants also.

Wonder of ‘Sanskara’

It’s a cool place. Cool within quote – neat and clean, 360 degree view, air in the purest form, clear sky and density 0.4/0.5 forest. The panorama has a kaleidoscopic muted spread of colours. Foresters friends know about forest density but other may wonder. Briefly, I can say the canopy cover of tree in the forest is 40/50 per cent, which means dense forest here.

We are comfortably sitting around at the top level of a beautifully designed and constructed Watch Tower in middle of the forest, far from the madding crowd. The cosy floor is equipped with fixed stone table and benches.

Ashok ji with us appropriately words the weather – gulabi thand i.e. early winter when cold does pinches but is enjoyable and pleasant. One can wear warm clothes or can do without them. One can sit in sun or shade, both ways, it’s ok.

I am excited. I am not listening to what friends with me are talking. I am smelling the forest. I take time to capture the visuals in mind first before camera. Dhok is predominate species in the forest. It’s clearly visible all over from the forest canopy – small leaves are drying, turning to reddish-pinkish-brownish, difficult to name one colour. In fact, Dhok canopy does not look like canopy but as if mist is spread over. Different tree species are contributing different colours to panorama, green of course is common, in different hues, but there is rare yellow or greyish touch here and there. Most conspicuous in the drama is white top of the canopy of a temple in middle of tree mass.

I recollect while we have been on way to this region we saw patches of forest terribly degraded so much so that tree species have been so over exploited for wood and fodder and browsed so much by domestic livestock that they are not growing beyond bushes!  We are told that there is too much of anthropogenic pressure – that is man as well as his animals. This is much beyond the carrying capacity of the forest and thus we see degradation all around.

Naya Nagar forest block is an oasis in this degraded forest landscape. How come? And that is the why we are also here.

In one word, this is because of Satyanarain Joshi of Ladpura – State Vrish Mitra awardee about a decade ago and recently, Amrita Devi Award of the Forest Department of Rajasthan Government for 2015. Satyanarain is the lead person of Joint Forest Management Committee of Ladpura villagers and local forest department for Naya Nagar Forest Block of Mandalgarh Forest Range of Bhilwara Forest Division of Rajasthan.

There are thousands of Joint Forest Management Committees in the country since the fag end of the last century when this new concept of participation of the local communities in forest management was conceived and introduced. Soon corrupt bureaucracy and greedy locals connived and grabbed the new institutions and ensured virtual failure of the programme. It is a different matter that things looked great on paper with rosy statistics. The degradation of forests continued.

One obvious question comes to my mind. While so many of the JFMCs have failed, how Naya Nagar JFMC has succeeded? I raise this question directly to Satyanarain.

He explains, “My father is now in 90s. He has been a village senior and once a member of the legislative assembly (MLA), but he leads a simple life, spending time at the farm involved with agriculture and animals or in religious and spiritual matters. He heads a famous temple trust, where animal sacrifice has been stopped with his persistent efforts. On top of this, he is very sensitive to forest and wildlife and strives to protect them even going against his own fellow villagers, if necessary. This is what I have inherited. This is what I have seen. This is what I have learned. This is in my blood.  This is my ‘Sanskara’.”

Naya Nagar JFMC has been carrying on forestry and protection activities in the forest area with limited financial support of the Forest Department but with keen involvement of the Committee. Over the period of time the support has almost gone dry.  Satyanarain says, “We have to keep at least 4 watchmen for a minimum period of four monsoon months to allow seeds to germinate, saplings to develop and the forest to grow and ground water to recharge. I have been carrying on the protection work by managing to collect about one lakh rupees per year from friends and my own pocket for the payment of salary of the watchmen.”

Will any bureaucrat believe, Sanskara has been able to protect 20 sq km of forest with peanuts of private donations!



Wilderness having a free run in Asirgarh

Asirgarh is a fort of huge size and of huge importance, being strategically built at the gateway of Deccan by one Adil Khan. Talking of size, I read the simple data engraved in stone at the entry to the fort – 3300 ft long, 1800 ft wide, 60 acre and surrounded by wall up to 120 ft! Talking of importance, it is known as ‘Key to Deccan’!

I have been travelling around Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh and visit to Asirgarh has been on the list. It’s September. The monsoon is in air. It’s not hot. We start around 8.30 a.m. after breakfast. A forester accompanies me. The place is around 50 km from Khandwa, 22 km short of Burhanpur town to which the fort lends historical touch, though, there is whole lot Mughal history scattered around all over Burhanpur.

Incidentally, the fort was originally known by the name, Asa Ahir, the real builder of the Fort in early 15th Century. Over the period, the name has been abridged to Asir and the fort has been expanded.

As is usual, the fort is located at the highest point in the landscape –  259 m above ground and 701 m above m.s.l. It’s Satpura Hills. Satpura name sends a wave of excitement through my spine – it’s one of the most important, biodiversity rich hill ranges of Central India.  It’s a 3-4 km drive up a narrow and rough track – at places one has to back to take a turn! Of course, very difficult if some vehicle has to pass from opposite direction. To add to the difficulty, while going up, left side is steep fall and right side is steep wall of the hill. Because of monsoon, the road sides are full of luxuriant growth of vegetation, making the road still narrower.

Frankly, I do not have a particular interest in monuments. I really do not like forts which for one certainly involve climbing 100s of steps and walking long distances, at times in scorching sun and throng of people all around.

There is flight of steps, twisting and turning, and passing through a massive gate – if I remember correctly, forts are so designed that attackers on elephants cannot have access to them!

I have been thinking. Would it be worth it to write about the fort in my blog. I keep the decision pending – will decide after the visit. But, the situation makes me decide as soon as I arrive at the plain ground in the fort, there are Grey Langurs (monkeys) waiting to welcome. A party of them has been busy jumping around, hobnobbing or what.

There is a massive overgrowth of herbs and shrubs all over – Adding green contrast to aging walls, buildings and ruins. Path in the fort is made narrower with growth of vegetation on both sides. Luckily there is no tourist around, which is indeed rare. As I walk, at every foot fall, grass hoppers take off and disappear in the vegetation -Hundreds of these large and colourful creatures. I am afraid I may not step on them but I see them only when they hop off from path to plants. I do manage to take few photos of these interesting insects.

Jama Masjid is one land mark in the fort which is pretty intact as well as neat and clean – Delicate carving at the edge of arches is pretty interesting. I look out of one of the arches. Amazing – All the pink, yellow, blue… bloom makes me feel as if I am watching a mini valley of flowers – certainly cheers.

Another arch provides a panoramic view of the part of the fort, which is rather more forest than fort – Quite soothing.

As I come out, on the steps of Jama Masjid, I find few dung rollers busy, as the name suggests in rolling dung! I try to find the name of the roller. There are very large number of species and it’s rather difficult to identify, but I could narrow down this turquoise coloured, glazing and shiny creature to being a ‘Jewel Beetle’ – appropriately named.


As I walk around, I notice some of the stretches are well wooded – Kullu or Ghost Tree (Sterculia urens) is conspicuous among them.

It’s pleasant as the cool breeze is blowing. Sun is still not overhead.

I must mention that water management in the fort has been adequately addressed with elaborate system of wells, ponds, reservoirs… and Mama-Bhanja Talab system (literally meaning Uncle-Nephew pond system) is the jewel of Asirgarh.


Finally, talking of nature, I must say, it does not loose any opportunity – plants can been seen growing even in minute spaces between building blocks of the fort, and not even that, fungus is growing on the blocks themselves!


The Mystery of Darter

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“What’s that?” exclaims a lady loud enough for us to hear. She has noticed a large black bird perched on a branch of a barren, submerged tree with wings and tail spread out like a cloth hanging on a line for drying. What makes me really turn back and look at the family is the reply from the lady’s teenage daughter, “Mom this is Darter. It goes under water to catch fish. When it comes out, it has to dry wings because its feather does not have oil – water sticks to them.” My first reaction is ‘smart girl’. I remember some issue of waterproofing with features of Darter.

Incidentally, I also find Darter conspicuous in Ghana (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) and among the most noticeable. The description of the bird is quite complicated and I am simply quoting this from online source for those who may be interested – The Oriental darter or Indian Darter is a large bird, measuring 85 to 100 cm in length and wingspan is 115 to 130 cm. The bill is long and measures 7 to 8 cm and it has long slender neck. The crown and neck of the bird are brown, darkening downwards to become black in the body plumage. The wing coverts and tertials have silvery streaks along the shaft. The iris is white with a yellow ring around it.[1]  For those who are not interested in detail, the photographs can suffice.

It’s not a shy bird – Goes about ‘business as usual’ – tourists or no tourist, disturbance or disturbance, I am not sure, but, may be, fish or no fish! It happens to be among my first photos of the shoot during the trip. At times, it has made a forced entry into frame while I am shooting something. It comes around and be in foreground of the frame!

On one occasion, I see it drying itself and suddenly it dashes (almost crashes) into water and disappears. I wait and wait with camera ready. I am excited with the thought that it will emerge with a fish in beak and I will have a good opportunity for photography. Alas! It has just disappeared with not a sign. I am sure, it has tricked me!

And on another occasion, we are just relaxing sitting on a bench and watching the water hyacinth filled wetland in front. There is a pair of Bronze-Winged Jacanas busy feeding, on what, we do not know. And, here flies in a darter and settles in a Babul tree partially submerged in the wetland. But where has it settled? It manages to merge so much with the tree, that it becomes a puzzle to find– no, it has not spread wings or tail and just set like a vertical line with slender neck straight up along with the beak pointing to sky – is it praying?

What amazes me further is the flexibility of the neck – it turns and twists it so much, so far, and so tediously that I feel, Baba Ram Dev can learn a trick or two for yoga from Darter for stage shows.


I recollect that during our three days-two nights, we do see Darter where there are wetlands, but yes, they are not in swarms, few here and some there – thus attraction remains.

As I am writing this, several questions regarding feathers – waterproof or not and oiled or not -crop up in my mind. I feel I should satisfy myself. And I also realise, it will be a good idea to pass on scientific explanation to readers regarding lack (or whatever) of waterproofing in Darter’s feather.

I have been sure that just a quick internet search and viewing few pages will be enough to gather the stuff. But, it turns into complicated basic science questions, which Wikipedia alone cannot answer.

But, let me start with Wikipedia page on Oriental Darter /India Darter (Anhinga melanogaster). It simplifies things – ‘it has wettable feathers and it is often found perched on a rock or branch with its wings held open to dry.’[2]

Wettable – what is that? We have simple questions – Are the darters feathers waterproof or not? Are they coated with oil or not? Wikipedia does not answer these.

In this context, we refer to another facet of darter’s ecology. It’s known to spend most of the time roosting, resting or swimming. It is known that darter hunts for fishes inside the water. Another article mentions the issue differently ‘Since their feathers are not completely waterproof, they absorb water and are less buoyant, allowing for faster swimming and diving. Darter swim with their wings extended and paddle with their webbed feet. After swimming, darters sit on branches in the sun and spread wings to preen and allow them to dry. [3]

This article explains the usefulness of darter’s feather for being ‘not completely waterproof’ as an asset. Our questions are still not answered even by this detailed article. Rather another question is added here. It says ‘spread wings to preen…’

This brings us to a paradoxical situation as one of the roles of preening is spreading oil on feathers! Yes, I explore some literature about preening. First of all, several species of birds, particularly waterfowl spends hours in preening. Why it is that important? One good article explains –

Such is the act of preening, where each individual feather is meticulously maintained. As ducks check and re-check their bodies, they are actually cleaning each feather, removing any insects or lice, re-aligning the feather to its maximum aerodynamic position and then conditioning it.

This conditioning is the subject of much of the aforementioned scientific debate. Ducks, as well as a number of other bird species, actually coat their feathers with an oily substance that attributes to their apparent waterproof bodies. This is done through the uropygial gland, better known as the preen gland (and, also known as oil gland).

The preen gland is located near the tail of a duck, has a small, nipple-like opening, and is covered in short tufts of dense feathers.

A review of literature shows that this gland has been the subject of much scientific study due to its apparent mystical powers.

However, what we know for certain is that, by working the gland with their bill, ducks retrieve the substance on their head and face, and then spread it over their body. Such gives their feathers a shiny, oily appearance, and the unbelievable ability to shed water.’[4]

Another article regarding Darter particularly suggests, ‘They also squeeze their feathers through their bill to remove excess water and repel water with oil from their enlarged preen gland at the base of the tail.’[5]

The preening angle adds a contradiction. It is clearly suggested in several articles that ‘Birds pick up oil on their beaks, by rubbing against the uropygial or preen gland near the tail, and then rub it over their feathers. This coating insulates the interlocking barbules in the feather. As water cannot penetrate through the oil coating, the feather is waterproof.’[6]

I decide to look at an academic, detailed feature on feathers. This explains, ‘The interlocking Velcro-like structure on many bird feathers creates the smooth, flexible, and resilient surface that supports flight and sheds water. Arranged in an overlapping pattern on a bird’s body to expose the waterproof tips, contour feathers allow water to roll right off a bird’s back. Birds constantly maintain their waterproof coat through extensive grooming, or preening to ensure that every feather is in good shape.’[7]

What brought us closure to answer to our questions is the note on preening in a book  – Not all birds have a preen gland. Ostriches have lost their preen gland over time as their ‘earthbound’ feathers do not need to be groomed for flight. African Darters also lack preen gland and the absence of fatty oil allows their feathers to get wet – an adaptation to hunting underwater. [8]

I speak to several experts and most of them assume Indian Darter does not have preening gland because it has to dry features but it is not confirmed.  To add to the confusion, I have got a good photo of Darter from this Ghana visit with clearly visible preen gland at the base of the tail. Not only that, the bird has taken its beak right up to it!  Is it a pseudo gland? Or the gland does not have oil as found in many species?

Darter - is it looking at Preening Gland

Sorry, friends, I have gone too far and must conclude. I feel, nature has deliberately made Darter like this – feathers are ‘wet-able’ or ‘not completely waterproof’ or ‘not oiled’ in the tourist’s word, so as to allow it to be ‘less buoyant’ and be able to ‘make fast movement underwater and hunt easily’,  and Darter do preening probably to maintain feathers and not to oil them.

I must say, Darter has proved a tough nut but I have liked cracking it this far. May be some original wildlife biologist takes this over from here and make this very simple information available, simply.




















Babul of Ghana

I find bright yellow flowers – small woolly balls – spread all over I go – dust tracks, on side of roads, bushes … I am in Ghana with a forester friend, Sunayan Sharma. As we drive through the Park to a have a macro view, I notice trees are decked with bunches of yellow balls. It is clear that this tree species is typical of Ghana. Incidentally, Ghana is known by other names also, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan). I like the name Ghana as that’s the tradition name of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Talking of name, common name of the tree I am talking about is Babul. From literature, I find ‘the species is Acacia nilotica and it is indigenous to the Indian Sub-continent as also in Tropical Africa, Burma, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and in West and East Sudan. In India, natural babul forests are generally found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Karnataka.’ All said and done, it is commoner than common trees of India.

Frankly, it does not carry any impressive image in literature. I recollect an old say, quoting my mother who used to say, “Boya paid babul ka to aam kahan say khaye.” That is, ‘if you have sown a babul tree (which is all over thorny) than how can you expect to get mango.’

You may wonder, ‘Then, why I am talking about this tree? What is so great about it?’ That’s valid questions but during my two days in Ghana, I learn the importance of the species and it really amazes me. Yes, that is why, I decide to look at it closely.

We take a walk behind Shanti Kutir, the Forest Rest House in middle of Ghana. The area which used to be a complex of wetlands is now dry. There are no birds – not literally but in the context that it used to swarm with thousands of birds of more than 100 species. It is now grassland-cum-woodland. I notice Babul is conspicuously present all over. I further notice, most of the trees along the dust track are not standing. The stem could not bear the load and most of the trees are lying down of one or two stout branches. This might have been for decades but it has not impacted the growth of the trees in any way! A similarity that comes to my mind is that instead of standing, a man is inclined on a bed sideways, with thick pillow tucked in between an arm and body so that the upper part the body is inclined at an angle to bed.

It’s leisurely walk and no serious birding. Soon it’s twilight. We find a bench facing a patch of grassland. We are tired and it feels better to sit down and remove camera bag weight from shoulder. I have some fixed up stuff in my bag and we chill, as kids say. I am sure we are prefect picture for a postcard of two old, as well as, old friends enjoying a carefree life.  After a while I notice, the forest beyond the grassland is really thick. I ask, “Sunayan Bhai, what’s that.” He replies, “Our same old Babul.” I could not believe babul can stand so tall and thick as well. Mostly, I have noticed, the tree is scattered and ruggedly shaped or rather shapeless.

Sunayan has been the director of Ghana about a decade ago. He knows the forest closely. While discussing the character and usefulness of the species, I find it amazing. In nutshell, ‘It grows in varied soil conditions. It flourishes even in alkaline soils. Even the existence of saline water in the sub-soil is not injurious. It’s almost evergreen. It is a domestic tree and villagers like to plant it around their houses, wells, compounds and in the agricultural fields. Almost every part of the tree finds some use. The tree is highly versatile.’ Furthermore, this tree is largely used in Ghana by several species of birds – egrets, herons, storks… – to develop mass nesting areas, called heronry. OMG! It’s all in one.

Next morning, we visit the core of the core of Ghana – Sapan Mori. It is pronounced as Saapan Mori. Saapan means ‘of Snake’ and Mori means a drain. Here these drains have sluice gates which have been installed in whole area to regulate water in wetland complex. At Sapan Mori too there is one such sluice gate. Probably, here, there is more concentration of water snakes in the channel!

On both sides of the narrow dust track, there is mix of wetlands, marshes, grasslands, swamps. I recollect in good old days, about three and a half decade ago, we used to see few Siberian Cranes here which, alas, is no more so. Now, we do see a pair of Sarus Crane, our domestic crane, which is also our tallest bird. Sarus too is not common these days.

Coming to the subject, there are trees scattered in swamps and wetlands and you will be surprised to know that these too are mostly Babul. They can tolerate partial submergence for some part of the year and get along. The good part is, they are very important for birds – nesting, perching and roosting. Sunayan Bhai adds “inclined trees at the edge of the water are the nesting places for birds like White Breasted Water Hen, Dabchick…”

This can go on but I will like to conclude, Babul, the commoner, is certainly special for Ghana. I am sure, you will agree.


Jis roj Diwali hoti hai

Another Diwali is here. It does bring some good change, at least change in season. There is a spirit of festivity, though one is lost in traffic and shopping in cities. Many friends and relatives visit mechanically just to pass on some sweets and/or gift. They are so busy that they do not have time to enjoy.

I share here the flavour of my sweet Diwali.

I do shopping at the time of opening of the shops before the crowd emerges and swarm the market. I even do not use my car to go to market as there are traffic jams and no parking space available. I use e-rickshaw – this is less than half of the car parking charge!

I visit only few relatives and friends but make sure that they are free when I, alone or with Sunita, my wife and sometimes with Himal, my son visit them. It has to be a relaxed chat, sometimes running into hours.

For example, at Kamal’s (my cousin-cum-pal) place we land at 10 pm. Since it is late, I think we will not stay long. It happens to be my dry day as well as Kamal is entirely dry so I suggest, “I can take Neembu Pani”.

Vedica, Varun’s wife prepares wonderful lime-soda, complete with a straw in a tall glass. Relishing. But this turns out to be only the beginning. Soon a tray with four dry fruits arrives, followed by a tray of four sweets and another tray of four namkeens!! This is when the family has already taken dinner!!!

It is fine, sometimes display is required in Indian culture but here Vedica insists that she will prepare everybody’s plate.  I am not even sure if Vedica is filling my plate but foolishly,  I keep saying, “ do not put this … do not put that.” She hands over the plate to my wife first. I continue with my protests while another plate is being filled and end up receiving a plate full of two sweets, two dry fruits and two namkeens, only!

After 45 minutes, we start to rise but Varun says, “Tauji, please. Tea is almost ready and we will enjoy that.” Kamal asks, “What’s the hurry? Do you have some work at home?” I honestly say, “No.” Whole family ask us to just relax and enjoy. And we do relax and enjoy sharing jokes and developments; exchange of family news; reflecting back of fun filled moments spent in past etc.etc.

When we start to rise again around midnight, Varun says “Tauji Chai may maza nahi aaya. Thandi ho gayi thi. Mummy please prepare hot tea.” Another fun and joyful hour.  Laughter and more laughter… That is ‘Happy Diwali’.

I do not like to stress myself at festival time. I have taken leave for Chhoti Diwali. (It’s like Diwali Eve.) Earlier, I used to be on forefront in installing and decorating home with lights, flowers and Diwali specific decoration. Now I like Himal to take lead. I only help and support, if necessary. Generally, it is old stuff which has been used for more than a decade. Every year some stuff becomes useless and some new is added. I like traditional handicrafts and ensure that one or two are added each year.

Diwali puja (prayer) is the climax. There is a set norm on the kind of decoration and layout for the stuff at the place where puja has to be performed at home. Sunita spends hours in setting it up.

We being Jain, puja of all 24 Jain gods with focus on the last one, Mahavir Bhagwan, is the prime one. Of course, Puja of Lakhsmi goddess and Ganesh god is must. We also do puja of our ancestors like that of gods.

In good old days, when there has been no wax candle and electricity, oil lamp has been the way to create light. The lighting of earthen diyas with mustard oil and cotton wick is traditional and we do it without fail. I just love this part most. I wish,

Hey darkness, go away from us

Hey divine light, touch us

Hey man, let us spread brightness

Hey man, let us simply make it Diwali



PS : On this occasion, I am immensely impressed by

a poem by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and love to share.


जब मन में हो मौज बहारों की
चमकाएँ चमक सितारों की,
जब ख़ुशियों के शुभ घेरे हों
तन्हाई  में  भी  मेले  हों,
आनंद की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ ‘दिवाली’ होती है ।*

जब प्रेम के दीपक जलते हों
सपने जब सच में बदलते हों,
मन में हो मधुरता भावों की
जब लहके फ़सलें चावों की,
उत्साह की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ दिवाली होती है ।*

जब प्रेम से मीत बुलाते हों
दुश्मन भी गले लगाते हों,
जब कहींं किसी से वैर न हो
सब अपने हों, कोई ग़ैर न हो,
अपनत्व की आभा होती है
*उस रोज़ दिवाली होती है ।*

जब तन-मन-जीवन सज जाएं
सद्-भाव  के बाजे बज जाएं,
महकाए ख़ुशबू ख़ुशियों की
मुस्काएं चंदनिया सुधियों की,
तृप्ति  की  आभा होती  है
*उस रोज़ ‘दिवाली’ होती है .*।               –

–अटलबिहारी वाजपेयी