On the rocks – it rocks

 

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It’s 46°C. Sun is terribly bright. Sweating is just not stopping. It’s even oozing out of eyes! Terrible mid-June summer in Central India. But, if you are a naturalist and you are about to enter Satpura Tiger Reserve, popularly called STR, this is all tolerable.

My companion, Rajeev Sharma (SDO, STR) asks me if we should go to jungle at 5 pm, I say ‘No, we would not get much light hours at that time. Let us go at 4 pm.’ I know his concern was the heat, but for wildlife sighting and photography we have to endeavour it.

We enter the Madhai gate and start with the flat landscape, where there was a forest village, long back relocated. Fields have become grasslands for herbivore. As we leave the Madhai fields, it is all undulating to hilly landscape and there is hardly any straight road stretch.

Heat is still terrible. We are in open safari jeep. Hot air is blowing in the face as if from a fire-place. No hat can protect in this weather. I tie thin towel over my head, covering most of my face, except eyes and nose and tied knot at chin. This is a better protection. It is getting better every minute and by 5 pm I remove this gear.

It’s all forested – dense forest or light forest with few small breaks here and there. Technically, it is largely, Dry Deciduous Teak Forest and Dry Deciduous Mix Forest with major species being Teak, Dhaora, Haldu, Kardhai, Kem, Achar, Aonla, Salai, Arjun, Kullu…It’s a long list, since Satpura has huge diversity of forest types and associated flora.  It’s all interspersed with streams and rivulets – most of which are seasonal – there is no flow and hardly any water, presently.

It’s hills and hillocks and kuchcha (dust track) is weaving through all this maze. My mind has been subconsciously registering that the landscape is unusually rocky. Before I talk about it, Rajeev, as if he has read my mind, comments ‘Sir this forest is all on pathar (rock)’. ‘Yes it is on the rocks’ clicks in my mind.

Now I am consciously looking at the rock aspect of the forest, which is so pronounced. There are bare blackish or black rocks everywhere.  Huge rocks pilled together, Stand alone rocks, all rocky ground…

What is amazing such dense forest and huge diversity of trees, herbs, shrubs and grasses are growing virtually on bare rocks. So, it appears.

Nature has a huge versatility and strength to survive. It just needs a foot hold. I notice that barely an inch of soil on rocks, in crevices between rocks, or surrounding the rocks, is good enough to let the forest flora to bloom.

Here, I noticed that Dhaora (Anogeissus latifolia) though found all over the forest and not particularly in rocky terrain but here it grows well on rocks, its roots clasps the rock and go down in surround available soil!

There are some trees e.g. Kullu (Sterculia urens), one of the most beautiful trees, which stands out in hundreds of species, grows best on rock. Its fair colour, shiny bark, sculptured shape make it rock. Mesmerises.

May be, the quote “Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?” form pride and prejudice by Jane Austen fits in here well Satpura.

And rock is what acts as shelter cum umbrella for the Paraspani Tigress – a small pool with overhanging rock is the place she loves in the summer heat, pretty cool!

Certainly, STR rocks.

Pushp

(PS : The title of the pieces has been inspired by Rajeev Sharma’s comment that STR forest is growing on pathar (rock) from here I picked up ‘On the Rocks’ and my friend, Ravi Rebbapragada recently commented on one of my photos ‘it rocks’ and I thought it fits well for the amazingly rich forest of STR.)

Baba Thenga Talab Tigress

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I am in Mukki Range of Kanha. It’s around 5.00 in the evening. We are driving around in the forest in an open Zypsy.  Jasbir is sitting next to me while in the front of us sit Rajnish (SDO at Kanha).

We pass Baba Thenga Talab, as we did yesterday. As yesterday, today too a peacock is dancing. It’s typical peacock dance form most of you would know. The bird raises green-blue, massive and long tail feathers to form a grand colourful circle. This is meant to please a female, but none is here! It’s disappointing to find no other action. There is expectation of some excitement at a water body in middle of the forest. It is like ‘thenga’ to us.

Let me explain, for many of you may not know of this Hindi proverb – ‘Thenga Dikhana’ i.e. to show ‘thenga’. ‘Thenga’ means ‘to tease and shame a person for failure’. This is done by showing / waving a raised right hand thumb in the concerned person’s face! This pond in old days might have been the abode of a saintly old person, who might be in the habit of teasing people by showing ‘thenga’.

We go further down the forest and run into lot of India Bison (Gaurs), Spotted Deer (Cheetals) and a pair of Barking Deer as well. There is breeze blowing into our faces but we have to guard against the dust when a vehicle is going ahead or crosses. A layer of dust settles on everything. That’s the carry home stuff, when we are zooming around in forest on dust tracks.

Nobody says so, but all are waiting to see a tiger. ‘Dil Mange More’ (Heart keeps demanding more). As the time passes by, there is more and more anxiety.  But in a place like Kanha there is always hope.  But hope converts in actual ‘sighting of tiger’ only when you closely know about various tracks, the general  and current pattern of movement and usage of forest by different animals, seasonal differences, differences as per the time of the day or night… and in the end your luck, in present  case our collective luck! We are at some odds though. Rajnish is reported to have poor luck for sighting tiger.

It is time to start returning back. It’s around 6 pm. Soon, it would be twilight time. Jasbir asks Rajnish for return route. He suggests one but after a minute or two of brooding, Jasbir decides to return by the same route we came by.

Here, we again cross Baba Thenga Talab. Driver stops suddenly. Yes we have made it. A tiger is crouched dog style, is busy drinking water at the other end of the pool. It is not panicked or disturbed by our arrival on a dead silent scene. Immediately, the engine is switched off. We too keep quiet. On a closer look with a binocular we notice that it is eyeing us. We also find that it is tigress not tiger.

There are two peacocks feeding about 10-15 m from the tiger. They are not alarmed or nervous. Of course, they must be keeping an eye on the carnivore.

The tigress is in no hurry. I name it  Baba Thenga Talab Tigress for myself. It is not concerned or bothered at all by our presence at the other end of pool. It rather walks towards us on the western side of the pool. One peacock takes to wings and settles on a nearby tree branch.  The other one is bolder and keeps to its ground, literally. It’s strolling on the higher end of the slop of the pool on northern side.

The tigress coolly sits down. It’s sitting in open, no hiding as yet. We can see it clearly. And so can any animal in the pool view range. It seems to be happy, free from all worries and concerns.

The tigress then starts vocalising. We get excited, there may be more action. The vocalisation always have some reason – generally to get in touch with mate or cubs. Are we going to see a male tiger? Are we going to see three-four cubs running to mother to play? Sanctuary Asia describes different vocalisations as ‘when tiger call each other, they make a special ah-ah-ah sound. Loud roars (which can be heard over 4 km away) are used as a signal to keep other tigers away or as an invitation to bring another tiger closer. Loud moan are most often heard in combination with roars. Soft moans are used by mother tigers to gather cubs, or by individuals to announce their approach to other tigers. Prusten is a short, noisy, low-intensity sound made by releasing air through closed lips. It is used as a friendly greetings or a reassuring call between mother tiger and her cubs, or a courting pair. Growls, snarls, and hissing are used in aggressive and defensive encounters. Grunting, meowing, purring, and woofing are some other noised that tigers make when they are in close contact.’ To me the calls fit into none of these descriptions. And nothing happens.

The tigress just lies down. I wonder, has she been just exercising her vocal cord for more serious use later. It’s like, we used to hear at the final preparation of a function – ‘testing mike one, two, three’ repeated several times, while the mike sound is adjusted manually, during 30-40 years ago.

I realise, ‘After all tiger is king of the jungle, in this case queen and can do what it likes’.

We hang around. We wait for some action. All is quiet. A cormorant is perched on a stick in the middle of the pool but without any action. It seems as if it is part of the stick. And it remains like this for 35 odd minutes we were there!

Soon a wild boar arrives at the eastern end of the pool. Wild boar always seems to be of slow reflexes. The manner it arrives, disturbs a pond heron which noisily flies away. The bullish wild boar is taken aback by the flutter and it shivered back. ‘Oh no’ it thinks. ‘What a shame. I am afraid of a pond heron. What would jungle denizen think of me? It tries to regain its composure and look bold and confident. It drinks water and sits down to wallow in a pool. In the meanwhile, all the ho hulla makes the tigress raise its head to see, ‘What’s up?’ Now, it is the turn of the wild boar to get seriously nervous. He has not noticed the tigress at all and has been too carefree. He realises his carelessness and that he is ‘buying trouble’. In a flash, it dashes off the pool and disappear further away in the Sal forest.

In middle of all this, crow arrives from nowhere with its caw, caw, caw… and lands as close as possible, on a stem, just a metre away from the tigress! It drinks water and tries its best of disturb the tigress. Tigress did raise its head once to see what this naughty black bird is up to. Twice it flies over the tigress and tries to bite at the tail tip.

It is not clear whether two young sambar ‘does’ who arrive at the pool on the eastern end to drink water notice the tigress lying around on the western end. They are of course keeping an eye on us. They drink water in a strange manner  – they are parallel of each other but facing opposite direction.  Can it be that they are smelling a tiger and thus extra careful?

The Baba Thenga Talab Tigress lies there without a worry in the world. It does not seem to be in mood to rise and go into action. It is past twilight hour. It’s very rare that anybody would like to leave a tiger behind but we decide ‘let it be’ and leave. Leave satisfied.

Pushp Jain