I am sure 90 per cent of wildlifers may not have heard of Gomarda Wildlife Sanctuary and more than 99 per cent may not have visited it.
I am excited to be visiting an offbeat area. We start from Raipur (capital of Chhattisgarh) around 9.00 after a filling breakfast. November weather is just pleasant. The distance is around 200 km. I am told its about 4 hour drive and that is what it turns out to be. Smooth drive though monotonous since this is 8-lane National Highway with little traffic. All habitation is far away. There are no old trees to gaze at. Only at the fag-end, at Saraipalli, we touch the old, narrow road. And without any hint, just off the highway, on left there is a village dust track, which has arch announcing the Sanctuary, and a barrier to restrict unregulated entry. We pass through a sleepy village and as sudden as the entrance of the Sanctuary emerged, we are at entrance of the FRH at the edge of an old village pool. The barrier, the village and the FRH are all know by the name Tamtora.
Offbeat yes, it is so little visited that the main Tamtora rest house, Rathan Hut Forest Rest House (FRH) does not have an ‘English Seat’ in the wash room! (English seat is what we call the western style toilet seat in India.) No, no geyser. Subsequently, I visit Mado Silli FRH. This appears to be only few year old building. I expect the washroom here to have English Seat, but no, not even here!
The first impression is not very impressive – not up to the image I am carrying in my mind, not up to description in literature – ‘Lake type pond’, ‘Spender of Rathan Hill Range’, ‘Natural beauty inspiring visit’, ‘ wild animals at the pond in morning and evening during summer’…
I think, ‘Why I am not impressed?’ Oh! Plenty of reasons – the FRH is not the old British type. This is non-descriptive, all concrete with grills all over the building, giving a feel of a jail. The room is not at all attractively laid out or furnished. I try to pull open a curtain and the whole stuff falls on my head, thank god the rod is not heavy. The windows wouldn’t open. The lake-pond is shaped like any village pond and no extraordinary feature or lay out of the lake. No wild animals in this November winter month (but I acknowledge they may visit the lake in summer when the water is scarce.).
But this is the first impression and it is not the last impression. Last impress is ‘Mast’.
Mast is a Hindi word, which is more often used by the officials accompanying me, right from the Range Officer to Driver, than any other word. I have not heard so much use of the word in my life. They use it as noun, as adjective, as verb… to describe each and everything – the beautiful hills, an appealing tree, an interesting scene, a lake, a river, wild animals or even their sightings, the travel through the forest, natural beauty, a photo…. Everything is ‘Mast’, ‘Kya Mast’, ‘Bahut Mast’. I struggle to think an equivalent English word and realise that there is none which carry the spirit and excitement of this Hindi word and way it is being used. ‘Mast’ may be compared to beautiful, wonderful, lovely, exciting, cool, awesome and what not.
Gomarda is just raw nature. Animals, even the large bison bull, shy away.
We see a bear. It sees us and takes to heal. Runs inside the forest for about 70-80 m and from behind a thin stem to hide, looks for us, and when it finds that we are still watching, dashes still 150 m inside the forest and stops to watch for us again!
“There are few bison sitting”, points out Pardesi, local wildlife expert with us. We look around, there is a pond nearby. We find few bison coming from that direction and about to enter the forest patch. Soon we see more and more bison. They are in an opening about 50 m off the dust track. We count and it is amazingly large herd -36 animals! Mr Rameshwar Lal, the Range Officer with us points, “the largest herd in his Forest Range is about 85 animals strong!”
Spotted deer, in small herds, we see at several places, but all very shy – no chance of good photo.
The area beat guard accompanying us shows me a leopard photo. This has been caught on camera trap 4 days ago! Indeed, it is exciting. Forest management has restricted general movement on the track. A feet high rubble wall has been raised, blocking the road. The accompany party within minutes dismantle the wall and make way. Adrenaline is pumping – Lot of expectation. Time is right – around 5.30 pm. Sun is gone, it is getting dark and winter chill is in the air. At number of places we stop, we find pug marks of leopard – fresh, old, going, coming and what not. We did not see leopard, but surely, leopard must be watching us.
I visit the forest next morning also with the foresters. I see more forest – enjoy every bit. Rameshwal Lal has arranged for tea at one of the check post. It’s so refreshing and more so in the warmth of morning Sun.
Gomarda is certainly offbeat. There are no tourists. No vehicles are running around. There is no tar road. There are few dust tracks. It’s rich forest. Wildlife can be seen. Just great, I am impressed.