Pani Ray Pani

Forester In-charge of Gomarda calls to say, “The rains have failed. Water sources are dry, even in monsoon!” As a crisis management, he has planned installing solar pumps at two ponds crucial for wildlife. “The process is taking time,” he sounds dejected.

I am disappointed to hear all this. Anyway, I am reaching Gomarda next day. I will see if anything can be done with a follow-up with senior officials.

Next day, early morning I am on rail. Past noon, arrive at Raigarh. At station another forester receives me. His first words are, “Sir, see these clouds,” looking towards the sky, “they built up and fizzle out. No rain in the Sanctuary. It may rain here and there, but nothing in the Sanctuary!”

We take lunch at Raigarh. The cloud built up is massive – all dark grey sky. It starts raining as we leave. Our friend is depressed. “Sir, see, this will rain for a short while here and vanish. Even road side would have no water collected.”

The forester is a worried man. Being a Range Officer, he has a great responsibility. Whole July and August, he has been looking towards sky with hope. Whenever there are clouds, he prayed, “Hey God, pour in my forest. Please fill dry tanks and water ways. My animals would face very difficult time.”

Nature has its own way. There is heavy downpour now, light shower than or no rain, as we transverse 50 odd km distance to the Sanctuary. Whenever, we reach a dry patch, our friend says, “Did not I say?”

We stop at Tendudhar Check-post – entry point for Gomarda. It starts raining. Staff host us black tea. Incidentally, they correctly call it red tea as the colour is not black but actually reddish. As we sit here, sipping tea, the clouds are earth shaking thunderous. It’s lightening now and again. Rain is now real heavy down pour. We wait for the rain to slow down.

Our forester friend now changes his thought. “Maybe it’s you who have brought the rain. Maybe this works today?” We are now ascending in the hills. After an hour or so, the rain has almost stopped but the whole forest is enveloped in thick fog.

My first thought is, “A foggy winter day of January is here live in hot monsoon month of August.” I ask driver to stop. I want to feel this on ground, smell it, taste it… Let the spirits be drenched in the wonder. Entirely, out-of-world stuff.

As we approach a culvert on the narrow hilly forested track, there is huge gurgling sound. It’s water rushing over the rocks hidden in foliage on the hill face and gushing down into forest on the other side. Amazing. Now our friend is excited. He is feeling that it has really rained in the forest. He wants to reassure himself with one more proof. He asks driver to rush to Adhar Pani.

This is a nala, a seasonal stream, and waterfall. It gets active when there is sufficient water in the catchment area. As soon as we reach the spot, our forester friend and the driver jump of the vehicle and dash to the location about 200-300 m away. I am careful on the rocky, sloppy and slippery land. Our friend is a bundle of excitement like a kid. He shouts, “Sir, come quickly, Himanshu, where are you…”

Adhar Pani nala is flowing again – Flowing full blast!! In the deep gorge, the water is gushing down to enrich the valley and spread life and love. The joy on the face of my friend is indescribable. He simple says, “Thank you. You have done it.”

Inside my heart, I am happy to hear these words of credit. Fact is, I have done nothing. Humbly, I say, “It’s the result of your prayers. I just happened to be here on the occasion.”

Now, it is the ‘Mast’ atmosphere – unexpected and unbelievable.  As we go down, the nalas are criss-crossing the landscape. They cross the road at about half a dozen places – all these are over flowing with more than a foot of water. We see an anicut – water is flowing over the bund. A temporary bund of sand bags could not bear the pressure and breached. Low-lying areas are all water sheet. Frogs are happy lot – one can feel from the clear and crisp noted emerging from them. Peacocks are dancing. Birds are chirping… Celebration is in the air.

God has not poured pani, it is amrit. Life is flowing through the forest. Joy is written large on every leaf, insect, bird, animal…

Pushp

 

P S : Amrit is elixir, nectar and all that.

Gomarda Cheetal

We are passing through Reserve Forest Compartment no 910. This is among the best wildlife sighting areas in Gomarda. Forester friend accompanying me alerts me, “See Cheetal!” I can see two cheetal about 150 m away behind a layer of trees. As soon as we stop to see them, they dash off. I am happy to see that they are present. There is life in the forest, I mean wildlife.

During the tour, off and on, we come across Cheetal i.e. Spotted Deer in twos, four-fives and even herds of about 8-10 animals. As usual, animals like to maintain distance from homo-sapiens in such Protected Areas (PAs) – remote and with substantial anthropogenic pressures. Man-animal conflict is serious. In some situations, they are chased away from agricultural fields. There can be poaching pressure outside some PAs.

Cheetal is among the commonest deer of India. In some of the high profile Protected Areas, they are found all over in large number. In Corbett Tiger Reserve one easily see herds of even of 200-300 animals. In Kanha they are everywhere and pressure on meadows is so much that even the grass quality is deteriorating in some places and pockets in meadows are enclosed, excluding animals, to allow natural regeneration of grasses. On the other hand, there are PAs where one may not see even one animal. It is not that they are not there but the population is small and shy.

Cheetal at Corbett Tiger Reserve

Thinking of Cheetal, I can vividly member photographing Cheetal almost at a touching distance only recently in March 2017 at Panna. With the backdrop of famous Ken River, Cheetal go about their business. Stags have a good pass time locking antlers. There is loud noise when antlers strike each other and lock. There is lot of pushing and jostling. Is it for fun? May be, it is more serious business.  Does are watching all this, though not apparent, but may be with deeper interest. And all this is happening just 10-20 m around us!

Cheetal at Panna Tiger Reserve

Coming back to Cheetal of Gomarda, we are out to search for bear in a potential area. It’s cloudy as it and its late evening. Here we run into a herd of about dozen Cheetals including large stags. I ask our driver to stop vehicle some distance before we are too close. The diesel vehicle is nothing else but noise. The herd immediately notices us but appears to be not shaken. In about two minute stop they do not run away. I ask the driver to move ahead to a more appropriate and closer point and ask him to switch off the engine. He thinks that switching off the engine would make them run. I say, “If they go, they go, we have nothing to loose.” But for a change they do not run away.  We are now much closer. My SLR camera is of no use in such low light, but my mobile works! I take photos and even video with my mobile (You can see, the shared video is good enough for record.).

Minutes later, when it is felt that we are getting late for bear search, we start. It is at this moment that the Cheetals decided to run away. As I have stated time and again, the paradox is that animal do not run away from their worry, but cross in front of us – hopping one after the other. They could have easily run away inside the forest. It is my first close and really satisfying Cheetal watch in Gomarda as good as any prime Protected Area.

Pushp Jain

PS : Gomarda is a Wildlife Sanctuary in Raigarh District of Chhattisgarh State in India.