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.
(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.)