Man and Animal are Equally at Home at Kalagarh Forest Rest House

We arrive at Kalagarh Forest Rest House at 1.30 pm. The very sight of the place cheers –typical British Bungalow, soothing exterior – Cream colour distemper washed walls, with green slanting tin roof.  A large verandah invites you to sit and watch the panorama in front. I accept the invitation. Take a seat. I see, a large open area circles all around the Rest House. The uniqueness, here is a massive banyan tree. The aerial roots falling down from canopy all around have been weaved together to form about half a dozen, medium-size tree trunks, spaced out in the open area. Cemented circular platform has been made around the main stem. It is suitable place for meditation.

Kalagarh FRH 1928

I take a small stroll around. I notice the name of the Rest House written large at top of the triangle made by the slanting roof. Also written is its year of birth – 1928! That is, the rest house is 90 year old exactly, almost as old as my father who dates 1927!

This is a typical two suits bungalow with a large hall in the centre. The entrance opens in to the hall. One can enter the rooms from the hall one on the left and another on the right. One door opens at the back, where there is a dining hall, large enough to seat a dozen guests.

Kalagarh FRH Banyan

I notice that a door from the dining hall lead to the back side where the kitchen is located separate from the bungalow. I notice real action happening there. Preparation of meal is in full steam.

Plenty of windows, high ceiling, large bathrooms – building so made that it is cool is summer and warm in winter.

Incidentally, we are in a large group, largely retired forester friends and family. Mrs   Sunita Pant and Mr Suresh Pant, Mr Hira Singh Karmiyal, Mr Satish Chandra Upadhayay and his son’s family and of course, me and wife Sunita. Friends oblige me with one suite and another is given to Upadhayay ji’s son’s family. Rest of the gang use a place nearby for sleeping in the night while rest of the time we are together.

During my last 38 years of wildlifing, I have visited innumerable forest rest houses. The food is simplest and most common. Generally consists of yellow dal, one subji (lady finder or ghiya or aloo or mix) and chapati. Of course, papad is also severed. Onion and chilli is offered for salad. But nowhere, even in top hotels, you get such taste and satisfaction. Same is here in Kalagarh. I call this lavish as curd and burfi has been added. Banana and apple too are here. The result is I end up over eating.

Later in the night, after a refreshing visit to forest, we all gather in the hall.  There are gossips, jokes, memories recounted. Local Range Officer, Mr Bhatt also joins.

Incidentally, Mr Bhatt has been our kind host. He has arranged thing. He spends half an hour with us. In between, taking note of our needs and ordering boys to manage. When he leaves, he particularly mentions, ‘Please do not roam around or let the children play outside the Rest House, as tiger or elephant may be around.’

Can it be that close? Is Mr Bhatt exaggerating? I know in forest, wildlife is bound to be there but to remain bound in as if the tiger is watching through the window or elephant is ready to knock the door, sounds odd.

I do go out in verandah and try to see in the darkness if some elephant or tiger can be spotted.  I do not venture off the verandah. Doubt has been ingrained in my mind by Mr Bhatt. I just tell myself, ‘you never know.’

It’s pretty cold. I wrap myself in a blanket. It’s difficult to see in the dark but clearly much easy to hear. One Nightjar is calling at regular frequency and pitch. Yes, there is clear alarm call by a spotted deer. It instinctively excites – may be a tiger or leopard is there. The Ram Ganga River is flowing adjacent to the Rest House on the right, making sweet music.

In the morning, I wake up early and get ready by 7.45. Sunita too is ready in the next 20 minutes. I have been expecting, some of our friends who have gone to sleep in rooms in a nearby forest building, may need the suite. The need actually arise. There has been no water in the other building due to some malfunction. So our suite is made available to friends.

It’s chilly. Sunita and I enjoy hot tea. There is still time for all to get ready. Thus, breakfast has to be another hour later.

It’s sunny outside. There is no other building in the area except a small temple on the bank of the river across the road. It’s forest all around. We stroll around the rest house. I notice there is a kuccha road about 80 metre on the left of the rest house. We walk there. As is my habit in forest, I try to have a deeper look in front, right and then left. I look at the back also once in a while. Yes, I also look at the tell-tale signs below on the track. Oh!

Kalagarh FRH Tiger pug mark 2

I notice fresh pug mark (foot print) of a male tiger going away on the track. I carefully scan the track for another 20 odd yards and I realise, this is tigers’ highway. I see pug mark of a tigress also, coming from the opposite direction. There are number of clear foot prints and all apparently from few hours to few days old! Further down, I see elephant dung as well! A chill passes through my spine, so exciting.

Kalagarh FRH Tiger pug mark

Indeed, man and animal are equally at home in and around Kalagarh Forest Rest House. Also, Mr Bhatt has not been exaggerating.

Pushp

A Cool Herd of Nilgai

We arrive at Haldwani to our family friend Pantji’s (Mr Suresh Pant) home by noon, by Shatabdi Express. My wife accompanies. Pantji has retired from forest service some time ago. Today, it has been fun, food, gossip, and attending a mela (local fair) with Pantji and his wife. Next day the caravan moves. We reach another old friend Karmiyal (Hira Singh Kermiyal) living near Ram Nagar. Karmiyal is also a retired forester. It’s larger group. It’s eating, gossiping, visiting nearby forest.. We all stay with Karmiyal tonight.

Next day, it’s still larger caravan. Another retired forester, Upadhyay ji (Satish Chandra Upadhyay) joins with family. Now we are in two cars.

We are on Ram Nagar-Kalagarh road. This is about 40 km drive in the buffer of famous Corbett Tiger Reserve. The road up to Laldhang is metalled.  Rest of the road is Kuchcha (un-metalled). It passes through biodiversity rich forest.

The forest is technically moist-mix-deciduous and thick. Road is narrow. Every nook and corner brings in new perspective, new sight, some or the other animal. Its excitement and more excitement. There are several seasonal streams approaching this ‘Terai’ area from hills and have broad spans. Terai is land between hills and plains. One such stream fell soon after we pass Dhara Chowki (forest check post). This is extra exciting. As we cross the dry river, on temporary road made by compacting the bed, all shout stop.

We see a herd of six nilgai sitting around in a circle, on a slightly raised part of the river bed on our right. They are not bothered by our arrival. Animal’s security instinct can be clearly seen here. They are roughly sitting in a circle, all facing outwards in different direction – virtually all combined they have a 360 degree view!

We have seen nilgai innumerable times but here bang in the open, all animals sitting cool, with no intension of getting disturbed. It seems they are used to man and vehicle. They are enjoying Sun after chilly winter night.

There is plenty of light. The animals are obliging to be shot. We take ample photos. We take photos in different postures – sitting, walking, galloping…Thoroughly enjoy the drive through forest.

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We reach Kalagarh around 1.30 pm. It’s lavish lunch at the rest house. In the late afternoon we go to different part of forest – fresh air, luxuriant vegetation, calm and quiet, lovely.

Later in the night, the Forest Range Officer, Mr Bhatt joins. As normal, he wants to know how it has been in the forest. Nilgai herd finds specially mention.

Mr Bhatt informs us that this herd is common sight. The group is bold and daring. They are crop raiding lot – during the day they enjoy sun and shine of the forest and during night enjoy the delicious meal of paddy or wheat or mustard… in agricultural fields some way down on the outskirt of the Reserve.

It is a pity that animals are not able to differentiate between forest and field, government or private land. They do not understand boundary. Where there is a barrier created by man, for food, animal would jump across, if possible.

We have an overnight halt at Kalagarh. In the morning, after breakfast we start back to Ram Nagar. We enter the forest gate around 11.30. This is indeed not the right time for wildlife watching. By this time, animals are generally resting – hiding in bushes, high grasses or in deep forest.

But no, as we approach Dhara Chowki stream, nilgai faithfully oblige us again. Today, it is much larger herd, around a dozen animals. The beauty is, this group has a bull also plus several young ones. Today, they are sitting closer to the track in the river bed.

We stand here and watch and admire and photograph.

Maybe due to our prolonged stay, some animals rise. Calves take advantage of mother standing – two young ones of a female start feeding together. They are not bothered by our presence, and use the opportunity to the fullest. They feed for several minutes. I too use the opportunity to the fullest – Take more than 50 shots!

Can you believe, we do see a tiger during the visit but nilgai has found priority in ‘Glimpses of Wilderness’. You know why.

 

Pushp

 

PS : Nilgai or blue bull (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is the largest Asian antelope and is endemic  to the Indian subcontinent. Nilgai is diurnal (active mainly during the day). The animals band together in different type of groups. It’s herbivorous and prefers grasses and herbs, but eats woody plants also.