This is first time I am visiting Achanakmar in monsoon. We start early around 6.30 in the morning. Clouds are hanging heavy in the sky, threatening to pour any moment. It’s somewhat psychological that as soon as I enter a wildlife reserve, there is that extra excitement though there is similar habitat before the entry to the reserve as well. The difference is that outside there are people and vehicles while inside its minimal anthropogenic disturbance.
The landscape is lush green from top to bottom. It’s so soothing.
Sal forest is looming large and high. There is parallel with people here. There is order with most of the trees standing straight like most of the human beings are straight and normal. In the Sal forest there are few odd ones bending and leaning awkwardly like in the human beings there are some odd nuts. Another parallel is that young ones are thin and full of vigour while old one are stout and some even diseased e.g. Sal Borer (an inspect) infestation, which if severe, can kill a tree – very much like diseases in old people.
Travel through forest is possible only with a four-wheel drive jeep. Even this vehicle is slipping and skidding, now and again.
A spotted deer notices us and we notice it. It stares at us from behind the undergrowth for long moment. It does not run away. We let it be. No chance of photo either.
Soon we are passing through dry deciduous mix forest. In monsoon, there is no ‘dry’ element and it sounds absurd, but in summer I have seen the dryness and proneness to fire of this very forest. This forest is contrast of Sal forest. There is no order. It’s a maze of vegetation with many kinds of herbs, shrubs, bushes, small to large trees and as the name indicates – mix. Visibility inside this forest is almost zero. We hope to see some animals which may emerge on the road and clearings here and there. We get a glance of a huge wild boar. It runs, stops & watch us, runs, stops & watch us … Ultimately dashes off from left to right crossing the track in front of us and we could see it clearly! No chance of shoot though, because of its bullet like speed.
There is undulating landscape. There are steep climbs and descends. We are passing through bamboo forest. Again, very thick. Subsequently, I find that India has a vast diversity of bamboo – 125 indigenous and 11 exotic species!
Here, bamboo grows in clumps. There are leaves from top to bottom. The clumps are of no particular shape and close enough to become continuous light green leaves wall, with few breaks. Here, in one break, we notice a barking deer. Barking dear as we know is small, very shy, generally solitary and never met with in open and runs away as soon as it sees man. But this guy turns out to be different. Though it gets nervous first, but does not run away – just ignores us and continues feeding. The patch is bushy and dark. I do take a picture, just for the sake of it.
We soon reach a site where there is more wildlife sighting possibility. This is Jalda. This used to a tribal village, which was relocated and rehabilitated outside Achanakmar way back in 2009. The agricultural fields of the village are now meadows with green grass for herbivore, while water tanks of the village are source of water in vicinity of feed grounds. Herbivore attract carnivore. It is disappointing to find not even one animal in the huge open landscape, where one can see half a mile this side or that.
We stop at the forester’s camp at one end of the meadow. He is known, and, thus, we decide to take a break. He obliges us with tea and biscuits. Lovely, nothing like sipping tea in middle of the forest and enjoying the freshest air and greenest surroundings and with expectation of good wildlife sighting and… It can even be a leopard walking on the dust track adjacent to which we are sitting, enjoying tea. It is not wishful thinking. It is quite possible as only 200 m away on the road we saw its fresh pug marks (foot prints)!
Our forester friend explains the absence of even the commonly seen, spotted deer. A wild dog is in the surrounding area for several days now and it keeps chasing the deer and, they are, thus, scattered in the surrounding forest. Adult deer is no game for a single dog, but it does picks up new born, here and there.
Soon a bike stops next to where we are sitting. It’s a worker on painting job for sign-boards in the forest. The guy is nervous and breathless. He tells ‘there is large herd of bison on both side of the road, just half a km away from the camp.’ He feels threatened since bison are at close quarter. Though he has been afraid of crossing them but he has to come anyhow.
We quickly board the jeep and dash off to the site. And there it is. First of all we notice a large, mature female watching us from the edge of the track – huge, muscular, z black animal. There is one big female sitting behind this animal. Soon, we notice another, another ….. In all we counted 23 animals. They are relaxing, ruminating – most of them sitting on both side of the road while few stand to keep a look out for any danger. Soon the female we notice first crosses the road to mix with part of the herd on the right. This has a chain reaction. The animals sitting on the left one by one cross over to the right – some of them nervous, bolted across. This is nature’s cat walk and run, unfolding before us, a fulfilling sight.
(PS : Based on my recent visit to Achanakmar on 10-11 July 2016)