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.
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.
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.