Dancing Elephant

 

I am staying at Hinouta Jungle Camp, just adjacent to entry gate of Panna Tiger Reserve with family and friends. Jungle surrounds the Camp. I can see domestic elephant camp about 200 meters away. One afternoon, we decide to meet the elephants and mahouts, and just walk across.

Uniqueness of Panna as far as domestic elephants are concerned is the 100-year old grand lady, Vatsala. Vatsala has been brought from Kerala to Hosangabad  in 1971 and shift to Panna in 1993. She has worked in Nilambur Forest Division of Kerala in her early days. The grand old lady love calves born at the camp and take full care of them. She is always there from the day baby is born to help the mother in calf-care. She is docile. She does not mind touching and caressing by visitors. One mahout tells me that she has never shown displeasure to anybody inside or outside the Camp. It is a different matter that one male elephant, though named Rama, has behaved like Ravana with her – grievously injuring her with his tusk not once but twice during last 15 years. Reserve management has sent Rama to Vanvas i.e. shifted to a separate forest camp while on the other hand, Vatsala has been relieved of all work. She is free to have good time.

Vatsala

There is action all around. We see there are at least four calves at the Camp. With an adult, they are busy eating. My friend, Amar Singh Gond, Forest Range Officer, joins us. He takes our photo with Vatsala for posterity. In the meanwhile, mahouts tie naughty calves. These calves playfully kick and push visitors, which can hurt.

Panna Calves

I am attracted towards a calf about two years old, who is swinging. On observation, I notice that the baby is actually dancing with rhythmic movement of trunk, tail, ears, legs and body. Incidentally, the dance is pretty fast and continue at least till we are there i.e. about half an hour.

Noticing our interest, Mahout, Ekka Jhabru joins us. He informs me that this dancing calf is Purnima. He points to another older elephant calf, Vanya, a seven year old female, about 100 m away. We notice that this young lady too is dancing but much more softly, its rhythm involves front feet only, which automatically gives a little swing to the body.

I think this is a coincidence. Ekka tells me, “No, this is not the case. Vanya is elder sister of Purnima!” “Genetic?” I wonder.

Incidentally, elephants go to roam free in the nearby jungle around 7-8 am. They come back around 5 pm and enjoy laboriously prepared meal – food balls cooked from rice, aata (wheat flour) and besan (gram flour), salt etc. There can be variation in quantity and contents depending upon age and health of elephants, and season.

Continuous i.e. non-stop dancing is real energy. I brood, “Can this be due to meal just taken?”  Ekka updates me, “Purnima is normal in jungle, it is only when it is tied in the evening that it dances continuously till it falls asleep. Similar is the case of elder sister, Vanya.”

“Where is Purnima and Vanya’s mother?” I enquire. I am shocked to know that their mother, Mohan Kali, lives in another forest range, Chandra Nagar, 30 km away. Here, another adult female, Anar Kali, has adopted the calves. And of course, Vatsala is always around to watch and take care. What a fraternity.

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Remember Mowgli?

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Shashi tell me, “Today we are going to one of the most important landmarks in Central India – Mowgli Land.” The very name Mowgli makes me keenly interested. Most of you would know that Mowgli is world renowned character from The Jungle Book, a fiction written by Joseph Rudyard Kipling in nineteenth century (1894). Mowgli is portrayed as man-cub reared by wolves, living among wild animals almost like a wild animal.

We start from Seoni after breakfast around 9.30. We are driving on a four lane road. As we progress, in one and an half hours, from four lane Seoni-Mandla State Highway, we are on two, and than one, and later no lane road. Finally, it’s dead end! We have arrived.

I notice from a sign board, we are in Kanhiwada Range of the South Seoni Territorial Forest Division. The place is closely surrounded by hills which are densely forested all around. Looking down a narrow gorge, I notice a rivulet flowing. Tej Bhan Pandey, Sub-Division Officer, with us informs, “This is the Hirni River, a jungle stream, originating in Rukhad Forest Range near Seoni.”

Shashi tells me, “This place is also known as Amodagarh.”  Garh is for a fort. I notice it is isolated enough today and wonder what it would have been centuries ago. There is no fort or ruin around, which I can see. I wonder if this is just an imagination. Local forest guard shows me the remains of a wall which is supposed to have surrounded the fort! This is virtually a pill up of stones, which can be imagined as ruin of a boundary wall.

Amodagarh is in middle of Reserved Forest. I think, ‘there must be some mention about the place in the history of the region in the Working Plan of the Forest Division’. We check the Plan later but find nothing about Amodagarh. Few internet pages mention, Amodagarh has been Sona Rani’s palace, though no serious literature is available. On Google Map, I am able to locate the place –Seoni (State Highway No. 12) – Kanhiwada – Chhui – Mordungri –Amodagarh.

One thing I can certainly assume from the site is that Amodagarh must have been among the tiniest forts in the country. Second, I can assume many would not have known the existence of this fort because of the location. This looks more like a hiding place.

I notice a group of local tourists arrive in two cars. They straight away take to stairs going down to river. It is clear they know the place. Forest Beat Guard of the area tells me, “This is local picnic place. Families and friends spend time here, eat, dance, sing and have fun in the river and forest around.” In fact, Google Map too mentions Amodagarh as a picnic spot!

Madhya Pradesh Eco-Development Board seems to be promoting the place as the forest around which Mowgli stories are weaved. A statue of Mowgli-Wolf has been erected, though, not quite attractive. A watch tower and a cafeteria have also been developed here.

I vaguely remember some lines from The Jungle Book, read 40 years ago, and some scenes from the Jungle Book movie seen later. Somehow, this really does not seem like the Jungle where the Book is plotted.

I glance though some pages on internet. It excites me to know more about Mowgli stories and more about the author. First of all, Kipling is born in Bombay (1865), lived here for six years as a kid, and after 10 years returns to work as a journalist for 7 years. Clearly, he does not spend lot of time in India. But then, he has been much appreciated author in his 20s itself. In fact, The Jungle Book (1894) has proceeded by the book ‘In the Rukh’ and followed by the book ‘The Second Jungle Book (1895)’. There have been many more famous stories in between.

The truth is that The Jungle Book is a fiction and Mowgli (man-cub), Bagheera (black panther), Baloo (bear), Sherkhan (tiger), Raksha (mother wolf), Kaa (python) etc are all characters. There is mention of ‘Seonee’ in some stories but Kipling never visited the present day Seoni forest. Nevertheless, some literature mention that he used what he knew, what he read, what he heard and what he dreamt in his stories! What surprises me more is what I learn from Britannica – ‘Kipling has received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907’!

I remember, for quite some time, Pench forest (i.e. Pench National Park/ Tiger Reserve) has been marketed as Mowgli land by the M P Forest Department, Seoni District Administration and Pench resort owners alike. Kanha Tiger Reserve in adjacent districts too has been reported to share the Mowgli glory. I tried briefly but could not find any sure proof of the forest where Mowgli stories are plotted.  I end this piece with a question, ‘Where is The Jungle Book plotted?’

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Forest Rest House – My House So Often

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I am delighted for my forester friends and for naturalists like me. The Supreme Court today has done a wonderful thing. Forest Departments across the country have got a much needed support and moral boost. The Forest Rest Houses were for foresters, are for foresters (?) and will be for foresters for sure – No more take our by district administration or ABC…

The Supreme Court of India has ordered today:

  1. The control of Forest Rest Houses, including their reservation shall under all circumstances remain with the Forest Department.
  2. At no circumstance the control of the FRH/IB’s located inside the forests be taken over by the District Administration / Government.
  3. Forest Rest Houses / Inspection Bungalows located within the forest area including the Protected Areas shall not be transferred to private and commercial entities in the name of public –private partnership or by whatever name such an arrangement is called, for promotion of any form of tourism including Ecotourism.
  4. The Forest Department should make every effort to retain the basic plan and elevation of old FRHs/IB’s many of which are heritage buildings, while making improvement / addiction to these buildings.

This is landmark development for all forest departments, foresters, naturalists and wildlifers. It’s a Supreme court concurred by Government of India.

 

 

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Payli – Hidden in the backyard of Seoni

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We start from Seoni around 4.00 in the afternoon. It’s still quite bright and hot being mid-June. Monsoon, I am told has got delayed. I am not aware where exactly we are going. I am only aware that we are going into some forest area and we are staying overnight. Shashi Malik, my forester friend, tells me, “just enjoy”, meaning ‘just chill’.

Our first halt is Dhuma, a small town on Seoni- Jabalpur highway (Madhya Pradesh). It’s at a locally famous sweet shop for Gulaab Jamun with Rabadi. This is real delicacy but GJ, almost the size of a grenade, is loaded with sugary syrup, and pure thickened milk Rabadi. The dish is as good as a bomb of a ton of calories. Nevertheless, I enjoy as I have somewhat sweet tooth. It’s certainly quite filling. Shashi offers tea later, but I politely decline. I want the taste GJ & R to linger on for some time.

After another 30-40 minutes of driving on four-lane monotonous highway, we turn right and are now driving on a single-lane road in hinterland. There are small hamlets, few and far. There is no other vehicle to be seen. What is amazing is the forest. It must be 80 per cent dense forest, largely teak. I can see that presently this looks like 20 per cent dense forest because of leaf fall – straight teak bolls without canopy. Its monotonous creamy-greyish spread – miles and miles of it. Soon in monsoon, this will be all green and look like 100 per cent dense forest.

It’s late evening. I suggest to Shashi, “Let us switch of Air Conditioner and roll down windows. Have some fresh air.” Shashi agrees. As we roll down the windows, in comes somewhat hot air, but fresh, mixed with fragrance of the forest – unpolluted. I wonder, I may not fall sick, for these days, I breathe ‘severally’ polluted air in Delhi and my system has got acclimatised to dirty stuff.

Shashi tell me, “We are passing through Shikara Range of North Seoni Forest Division.”

While we are breezing through the forested landscape, it is almost night fall when we suddenly halt at a place where half a dozen government vehicles are lined up and the place is buzzing with people. I notice, this is a huge complex, with lot of backyard area and lawns in the front. The building is quite big, built on a six feet raised platform, with two floors comprising five big size suits and a dining hall.  It cannot be called a Forest Rest House in the traditional context. This is in fact called, Payli Jungle Camp. I can vaguely see a water body beyond but cannot make much of it.

Shashi tells me, “There is a long story behind this complex, built may be a decade ago. This is in compensation for Old Payli FRH.  To cut the long story short, the old one got into the submergence area of Bargi Dam created on the Narmada river.”

At the Camp, I get to know Gaurav Choudhary, DFO of North Seoni Forest Division, and M K Sapra, PCCF (CAMPA) who is visiting the region to inspect the works. We spend some time together and in fact later dine together.

It is in the morning, I realise how amazingly wonderful place this is. There is huge Bargi Dam back water spread in front of the Camp which is zig-zagging into undulating hills and hillocks. In the morning Sun, this is silver sheet with ripples painted. There is forest all around. An old road intrudes into the water body for long to Payli Island. There are several islands one of which houses British time Old FRH. As crow flies, the Bargi dam is about 12 km from here though by road it is more than four times i.e. about 50 km!

Around the complex, I can see some play area for kids. A nature trail (Environmental Awareness Trekking Trail) has been developed for tourists to have some walks through adjacent forest and reach the islands and water-body.  In fact, the Camp is being managed as Eco-tourism facility. Later, I look at the Madhya Pradesh Eco-Development Board’s web page and this describes the Payli Eco Complex as

Backwater of Bargi dam forms a huge lake having enormous potential for tourism development. Realizing this fact, Madhya Pradesh Ecotourism Department Board is introducing “PAYLI” a small village sharing the backwater on its edges, just a 50 km drive from Bargi dam one can enjoy the true beauty of nature and many nature based activities such as:- Trekking, Bird Watching, Waterfall, Boating & Adventure based activities It offers accommodation in Camping Tents & Rest house, Canteen facility. Surrounding area of Payli is also good for nature tourism which includes bird watching, mammals sighting.

Franking, this facility is in making and a visitor keen to rough it out in nature, can certainly enjoy.

After breakfast we start back. On the way back, Payli is spread large on my mind. I can understand, Payli Jungle Camp has been named after the Payli village nearby, but I wonder why the Payli village has been named so. I know, Payli does not have a meaning as it is.  I feel, it can be distortion of Payali (Bowl) or Paayal (Anklet, worn by many Indian women) and to conclude, I may say, the name is closer to Payali as the landscape is bowl shaped valley with hills all around.

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