A Diamond in Panna


This is new landscape. It is huge undulating grassland with scattered ruins, may be 2-3 sq km in size in middle of thick forest. It’s perfect with a water-body present in the centre. I have not seen this in my about dozen or so visits during my project here in Panna Tiger Reserve about a decade and half ago.



Small Fortress in Ruin

Small Fortress in Ruin

Oh! This has been village Talgaon. On enquiry I find, four years ago in 2013, it was relocated.  It has been a big village – 177 resident family and 74 non-resident families. The relocation has been done with due compensation and as per the decision of the community.

Incidentally, this grassland is now known by the village name. In fact, this whole area is known as Talgaon Plateau, which is the highest of three levels of the Panna Tiger Reserve – Talgaon Plateau, Hinouta Plateau and Ken-River landscape.

I am amazed by the silence and beauty of the whole grassland. We park the vehicle at the edge of the lake. I reflect. At some point of time long ago, man took this land from nature and converted it to a ‘gaon’ – a boon for man and bane for wildlife.  Presence of man, surrounded by wilderness of immense importance harbouring tiger, sloth bear…had its impact. Man’s activities – agriculture and livestock rearing – are in conflict with that of wildlife. Crops are browse for herbivore and livestock food for carnivore. Nobody could have imagined that one day situation and conditions would be ripe for man to give away the land back to nature. This is, wheel taking a full turn.

In Central India, we come across land vacated by relocation of villages from wilderness areas, be it Kanha, where more than two dozen villages were shifted in 1970s or Satpura where more than three dozen villages shifted during last 4-5 years. Villages are being shifted from Protected Areas all over Central India including Panna, of course with the concurrence of community and with due compensation and rehabilitation.

What is interesting is that a shifted village leaves behind cleared area, which was converted into agricultural fields. This becomes excellent grazing ground for herbivore – deer and antelope – and as a consequent becomes an attraction for carnivore. Thus, whole range of wildlife revolves around these productive areas.

I see the history scattered around the lake. I inspect two chhatris (elevated dome shaped pavilions) just near where we are parked. These are not so luxurious / arty as we find in several historical cities e.g. Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan or Gawalior and Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh but simple brick structures, now weathered and in ruin. I can see, two hundred metres away, almost touching the lake water, a small fortress like structure, again in ruin.

I walk around the grassland quite a bit. Shifted village remains – temple, school, hand pumps, piles of rubbles or partially erect structures at the site of several houses, left behind after removal of valuable building material e.g. rafting, doors, windows etc which have been taken away to be used in the new house, brings out emotions in me. I notice – a slipper here, a shoe there; scattered broken bangles and earthen pots; torn clothes or fire places, in the now desolate kitchen areas of some broken houses – all reminder of era gone by. I strongly feel the old and new history should be restored and preserved to give the place a unique character.

I can see new occupants of Talgaon. 150 metres away under a tree a female nilgai is busy grazing. She is not bothered by our presence. A jackal is busy trotting through grassland but alert – out to look for some prey. It’s not scared due to us, but maintains a distance. We can see spotted deer droppings. Oh! It’s exciting – we find a trail of leopard’s foot prints on a dust track.  Wildlife, which was bone of contention and constant cause of man-animal conflict is now having free run of the place.

We drove around kuchcha track of Talgaon. I wonder, how long it will be, when this becomes one of the best hubs for wildlife in Panna. My thought is interrupted with the chirping of a family of four yellow-wattled lapwings – slowly they walk away while hotly arguing and trying to  sort out some family issue.

What a surprise. As we emerge from the Talgaon grassland, pass the field staff quarters, turned left on to the main track of the plateau, a sloth bear is surprised to see us. It has been foraging at the edge of the road and quickly shuffles around to enter into the forest.

No doubt, Talgaon is wonderful part of the core of Panna. I talk to the Park Director, Vivek Jain and describe my experience and feeling. He agrees and updates me, “Talgaon is high tiger density area.” Indeed, it’s a diamond in Panna.



PS : Panna is prime tiger land and is a notified Tiger Reserve. I had the occasion to work here on a photo documents around four seasons in 2000-2001. Of course, subsequently, I have visited here several times. Many may be surprised that Panna has real diamond mine as well!

Rocky Tops on Top of the Central India



It’s May. Summer is full blast in India. Except for the hills in north, the temperature during the day soars to 40+°C. What to do? Travel, I must.

A forester friend helps. I land in Pachmarhi. But no, I am not here because it’s a hill station of Central India. I am here for Satpura Tiger Reserve of which this region forms part of. Yes, of course, cool, cool place.

We decide to spend the afternoon to go around nearby landmarks. We wind up and up for 10 km, closing in on lofty hills in view, rising almost vertical, like a fortress. There is forest all around. It’s Sal forest but with a difference – stunted grown and much branched trees instead of towering Sal trees with straight stems, we mostly encounter. New flush of Sal leaves lend the forest rather too bright yellow-green hue. But, refreshing.

A board standing few feet taller than the place announces, Dhupgarh – 4429 ft. Yes, we have arrived, not at a but the land mark, the highest point, not in Pachmarhi, not in Satpura, not in Madhya Paradesh but whole Central India!

Immediately, what attracts attention is imposing, beautiful bungalow – typically British. Without going into history, I can say, the building, probably built more than a century ago, stands looking as if built yesterday. Forest Department has tactfully converted this into Dhupgarh Tourist Interpretation Centre. Nobody can touch this now. I understand, several hotel chains eye such properties and grab/ with hand in gloves with, you know whom!


There are two sides of Dhupgarh coin – sunrise point in the east, and logically bang opposite, more famous sunset point.’

It’s only 5.15 pm and sunset probably is another hour later. We walk to sunrise point. OMG! On top of the top of Central India, there are amazing looking rugged rocky hillocks – Facing the full blast heat of the sun round the year, one hillock has turned entirely black. These hillocks have different perspective from different sides. The eastern end of the somewhat small flat top of Dhupgarh suddenly ends with land falling virtually vertically for may be 300 metre. It’s a 180° massive panorama of miles and miles of undulating landscape with hillocks here and there, spread across, and all densely forested – this is Satpura magic.

Standing by the railing, cool breeze blowing into my face – I wonder and brood. The guide once tries to point to few known points in the panorama but I ignore.

I wonder what Captain Forsyth must have been like who is reported to have found Pachmarhi for the world in 1862. He must have walked to Dhupgarh as well. Did he know the uniqueness of the landmark? Even if no, he must have realised.  No doubt, the English had best of the both worlds during their rule in India.

I can imagine, under the dense canopy, on some narrow dust tract, there may be a tiger walking by; in the grasslands, the gaur herds or may be spotted deer are peacefully grazing, unconcerned of tomorrow; for sure, some langurs may be watching me from top of the some trees down there and wondering ‘What is that monkey looking at and for what?’

I mostly travel in forest, and thus, it does not strike me – we are alone at Dhupgarh! It’s not possible for such a famous touristy place! I am informed ‘today is Wednesday and on Wednesday, tourists are allowed for first half only, thus no visitor.’

Oh that’s it. There being no disturbance, while coming up we do see a heard of Indian Bison which has been grazing on the right side of the road, walks past to the left in front of us and we clearly see them – at least half a dozen, if not more.

An attendant has prepared tea. The whole place is for us. A table is laid bang in front of the Bungalow – it feels like lordly.

As the sun is slowing sliding down, we walk to the western side of the flat top. Oh. The top is gradually descending, and has been laid into steps to go down to viewing point. Though the sunset can be viewed from anywhere at the western end. The viewing point has been laid out as an open air theatre – amphitheatre.

It’s not the sunset of the kind, where you see the sun ball displays varying cool colours as it slides down the horizon and disappears, inch by inch.

Here, it appears the sun has disappeared much before going down the horizon. No dramatic colours. The amazing feature of this landscape is layer beyond layer of ridges unto infinity – all forested and rugged. The green hills, as the sunset nears, get shrouded in mysterious grey haze – surrealistic, indeed. There is no green any more. It’s all grey tone, hill darker and the surrounding layers of mist lighter. This all is contrasted by orange sky and bright orange ball going down.

I wonder what Dhupgarh is like with tourists. I get another occasion to visit – the ten km winding road is now a race track, one jeep chasing the other. Up there, there is not an inch of space for parking, more than 50 vehicles.

Dhupgarh is a kaleidoscope of colours – you name it and you find one or the other person dressed in. There is a mix of people of all age, size, colour, caste, state and region. There are people and people all over.

Dhupgarh amphitheatre is too dhupy, I mean sunny, and people hang around all over the place. All places wherever there is some shade and better still some place to sit, are occupied.  Lone canteen is packed. Some people just cannot stop eating and drinking.

Around 6 pm, the sunset point seating area is packed. I take more photo of the pack than sunset. Amphitheatre becomes a sefie-istan – selfie sticks of all size are out and people are very busy. Only, few people are enjoying sunset and panorama while the rest are busy in shooting.

I just brood, what difference the whole lot to tourists can make to a place. As the sun goes away, assembled crowd fizzles out within 15 minutes. We keep hanging around. Soon we are alone in the amphitheatre, but people left behind an infection. Taruna says ‘Uncle, you are looking smart in Satpura Tiger Reserve hat, let me take your photo’. For Satpura, I smile.





Kanger Now Flows in My Heart

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I am in Raipur. Work is finished. I wish, I should have a break. A forester friend advises a visit to Kanger Valley Nation Park. Sounds interest. Logistics turn out tough – it’s about 330 km drive to Jagdalpur, the district headquarter of Bastar. The Park is another 30 km. Stay has to be at Jagdalpur. Stay at the Park is not advisable.

Long way to go, I plan to start at 6.00 am in the morning. No way. Wait and wait – the taxi driver has his own schedule, arrives at 8.00!  I use the time to finish up with a filling breakfast – long way to go. It’s comfortable SUV vehicle. I am the only passenger.

I am told the drive to the Jagdalpur is about 6 hours. I notice, the route is fine & roads are good & traffic is thin. Nevertheless, it ends up taking 9 hours to Jagdalpur.  Have to take about two hours break. Around 1.15 pm I notice, the driver is about to doze off. I make him stop, wash face and take a cup of tea. I keep an eye him. He is clearly sleepy and not accepting it.  I take a decision. He should rest for a while. Otherwise, he may put me to rest forever.

We are near Kondagaon. There is no hotel or rest house nearby. I remember from a previous visit, a complex of a NGO in nearby village, helping local artisans in creating pottery and metal artefacts and support with marketing the produce.  The metal stuff is unique to the Bastar region. I have bought some handicrafts from here which were liked by, to whomsoever I gifted. I can buy some stuff and driver can rest.

We halt at first wayside Dhaba for quick grab of meal. My memory back up indicates we are near the site, but not sure. I do not remember the name of the village or the NGO. I discuss the place with the Dhaba owner, Yes, I am right. We are hardly a km away from the site.

It’s Kumhar Pada – Kumhar is potter and Pada is a village i.e. potters’ village. The NGO is Saathi Society – Saathi means associate / friend. It’s rustic, spacious, open complex – few spread out buildings. Lot of green area. There is a display hall. I do not feel, many people come here for retail purchase.

The driver parks the car under a tree and dozes off immediately. I make a round of display hall and do some shopping. I have been expecting, it may take some time but in 20 minutes it is all done. What should I do?  I must let the driver rest for one-two hours, for him to get over his drowsiness.

I think I should find a quiet place to relax. I talk to a gentleman in the NGO office. He happens to be the manager of the place. What happens is unbelievable and this happens in India only, so to say. He shouts for a boy. A boy comes running. The man orders “get the key of the rest house. Get a bottle of water and come with me.” There is a set of rooms behind the office – again rustic simple setting, dormitory kind of place – wooden beds with cotton mattresses. Fresh bed sheet is spread on one. Fan is put on. I am shown the washroom, in case I need. The manager ensures that I am comfortable. And so I am. I never imagined this. They even do not know my name, what to say of identity!  After a good rest, we are on the way.

I am lodged at Jagdalpur Forest Rest House (FRH) at Van Vidhyalaya (Forestry School). The school is meant to train field level foresters. I am told, old FRH has been taken over by some other government agency. Since land was available, a guest house has been developed here. This is six-month old building, already in bad shape. The architecture, layout and surroundings are disappointing beyond description. I wish they could have just copied from some old rest house. I remember visiting Adwar FRH in Kanha Tiger Reserve, where a British time FRH in bad shape has been restored, brick by brick. Effort has been made to have old style wash room fittings and furniture as well. No light, no fan, no AC is required. Nature is all around. Van Vidhayalaya FRH is an antithesis of what a FRH has to be. All this is not important, but does matters for a traveller.

In the morning, I am ready on dot. We leave around 8.00. A Deputy Forest Range Officer, in short a Deputy, accompanies me. In half an hour we are at the Park.

I have done some online exploration. Park is actually 200 sq km of forest – around Kanger river. The valley starts at Tirathgarh waterfall and merges with the Kolab river on Chhattisgarh-Odisha border. It’s around 33.5 km long valley and on an average around 6 km wide.  Kanger river transverses through the heart of the Park. Besides the famous Tirathgarh waterfall, the other most notable feature of the Park is caves – several limestone caves. They feature stalactite and stalagmite formations. There are several of them and according to online literature one of them, subterranean, is more than a kilometre long!

I look forward to lot of action. We enter Kotumsar Barrier. It’s pleasant weather though will soon get hot. We drive through forest, not so thick.

The forest from Kotumsar Barrier to Kotumsar village is apparently dry mix deciduous – not thick, teak is present in good number. This gradually turns into moist mix deciduous forest and end up into a bamboo grove before we exit from the Park to a village to again enter into forest after a 5-6 km of village landscape.

As we enter the village, I see a baby girl at a hut door. The overall frame is interesting, but as soon as I get down, the girl disappears, like a bird from a branch. An old man comes out on seeing us. He brings the girl out. I do take two-three photos for the sake of it but it is not the same frame. I see a woman coming down the road in tribal attire. Oh, she is photogenic but she shies away from being photographed.

The best part is whether inside the forest or outside, the life is at ease. There is no traffic or crowd. The time seems to have slowed down.

Soon we re-enter the Park at Netanar Barrier. The plan has been to take a round trip of the Kotumsar Forest Range.

From the Barrier, we go to Kailash Cave. Kailash is another name of the Shiva, the Hindu God, whose symbolic presence, a Linga, is represented in temples. In this cave, the Shiva Linga has formed naturally with lime stone. The cave is up the hill – it is uphill task for me with Osteoarthritis. My knee will not allow. I just hang around to have a feel of the place around. A flex sheet poster is fixed here, highlighting highlights of the Park but most out of place stuff, to say the least- gaudy.  As it is, it will not last even one season! There are no tourists. Two workers are busy cleaning up the place. The Deputy engages in conversation with the workers, who are local tribals.  Soon there is commotion. A monkey has picked up one work’s bag containing miscellaneous stuff, including food and a bottle. The monkey is trying to pull the bottle out. Bottle is special attraction as this contains local homemade brew – Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) booze! Lot of shouting saves the stuff.  It saves the day for all – the tribal without it would go mad and the monkey with it would go mad.

As the luck will have it, the narrow kuchha road is blocked – under repair and it’s not possible to go forward. We go back all over – a detour of about 20 km! No worry, it happens in forest.

In the afternoon, I spent time at Tirathgarh Waterfall – must see for anybody who visits Bastar. It’s mesmerising site. I have already written about it in my blog previously. Here, the Deputy Ranger has arranged lunch. Lovely. I take the liberty to rest for half an hour after lunch.

We are on the road again – travel in the forest touching the Kanger now and again – musical flow, small twists and turns, rocky terrain at some places, and quite pools at other places.

There are few land marks, as we go. One is Kanger Dhara. Here the site is scenic – the river is passing through rocky terrain with small falls here and there and thick forest up, above the rocky walls of the gorge – steel grey rocks, green forest and white water! I spent some time – just relaxing on a rock and listen to the Kangeri music, watching the river flow by.

At this point of time – last week of March month – the Kanger Dhara is a different site for a different reason. The flat and clean surface of rock selves provide perfect site for drying flowers of Mahua tree, so laboriously collected and which is life line of the local tribe. All visible flat rocks on both sides of the river are covered with drying Mahua flowers. These will be later fermented and brewed into local liquor.

Well, this is indicator of human influence in the Kanger. Though there is only one village Kotumsar inside the Forest Range, but there are score of villages on the boarder of the Park. The tribal people’s lives are woven around forest – fuel wood, minor forest produce, medicinal plants, food, meat… In my entire trip, I do not see even one wild animal! Obviously it’s poaching. I am disappointed. The literature lists even the presence of tiger, which I do not expect here, but at least some deer, but no.

I am told that these days, because of local political movement, nobody dares to question any local person for any activity in the forests in Bastar. It’s a free run of the forests. In fact, the other Forest Range of the Park, Kelong, is not accessible, as movement people do not appreciate outsiders.

We zigzag along the narrow kuchha road in the hilly terrain. The forest is lush green, even in summer. An endangered bird species, Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) is found here. The guard with us keeps track of about 3-4 groups, comprising of about100 odd birds – an expert in locating the species. He notices few birds near Dandak Cave, but before I can set the binocular, they fly away! Hill Myna happens to be the State Bird of Chhattisgarh.

Dandak Cave is again similar to Kailash Cave – limestone cave up the hill.  I, of course, do not venture to go up.  But what is interesting is that the massive rocks forming the hill side along the road from where the way to the cave leads up, too are admirable – they are all different shape and look like sculptured.

Down below on the other side of the road, flows the life line of the forest, the Kanger – bluish green, deep, quiet pools. The whole panorama is picture perfect.

The sun is going down. It is cooler.  I get out of the vehicle and quietly walk for 15 minutes, in the solitude, and drink in the spirit of nature. The Kanger now flows in my heart.


Pushp Jain

Chandni here & Chandni there – what a lovely coincidence

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Animal babies are lovely – Innocent looks, naughty acts, playful moods, not a care in the world…

I am in Panna Tiger Reserve. Based at Karnawati Forest Rest House, it has been wildlifing mostly in Madla Range of the Reserve. I am told that in the adjacent Hinouta Range there is a very young elephant baby – less than a month! Oh my god! That is exciting.

I plan it out. I decide to spend one night at Hinouta Jungle Camp. Here the Elephant Camp is nearby. So it will not be touch and go. I can spend time.

I start with bags and baggage in the morning jungle drive at 5.45 am. It’s still not full light.  As a routine we go around the forest, chase tiger which plays hide and seek. There is always a news – the guy passed this way few minutes ago, the lady is hiding in the bushes, cheetal is calling in fear of a large carnivore… But no direct sighting. Of course, we see pug marks i.e. foot prints of tiger at number of places. Cheetal and sambar are a plenty, in all kind of actions and so close, one can almost touch.

We reach Hinouta Jungle Camp around 10.30. Hungry. First thing to do is to eat breakfast – traditional stuffed paranthas, pickle and beans. I am so hungry, I decide to convert this into brunch by stuffing in more paranthas, as it is almost 11.30 and merely two hours later the staff will start pressing for lunch!

I do not want to delay meeting the baby. Immediately after eating, I take my equipment and dash to the elephant camp. I see that the elephant camp is just across the boundary. In fact, there is short cut and I do not have to go out of the resort gate even.

I see several mahouts (elephant drivers) and chara-cutters (helpers of drivers) crowded around in one verandah, probably busy playing cards.

As soon as they see me and I enquire about the baby, concerned Chara-cutter, Prakash, comes out immediately.

I can see the mother and baby in a nearby hall with completely open front. Baby is hiding being the mother. Prakash tries to bring baby forward. Mother makes some rumbling noise as if talking to the baby, “Cool baby cool, Prakash is here, no worry.” Baby is quite small in comparison to mother, but huge in isolation. Lovely – A woolly ball. Some fodder is scattered around.

I do not want to disturb the baby and nursing mother directly. Let the people close to family direct the mother-baby and me so that there is no stress and tension. So, I give directions to Prakash and Prakash to me, to manage watching, spending time and photo-shoot.

Just to give you a brief background, Panna does not have wild elephants. Domesticated elephants are kept for tourism and surveillance to visit off-track dense forest. These elephants include male and female. They mate and so we have more elephants.

In Hinouta Elephant Camp there are 10 individuals – 5 adults and 5 calves, of all age. The group is headed by a grand old lady, Vatsala who is going strong at 97.

Prakash has steered mother and baby out of the hall, behind the camp. It is virtually jungle. While the animals settle down and relax, I start small conversation with Prakash. He informs me “the mother is 55 year old and is named Roop Mati. The baby has been born on 25 February.” I calculate, ‘today is 18 March, it’s just 21 days old!’

I ask if they have named the baby. Prakash informs me it’s ‘Chandni’. Oh my God. This is a pleasant surprise. My daughter is also named Chandni. Chandni has been uppermost in my mind today. It happens to be her 35th birthday. Only an hour ago, I texted wishes to her. And here God has provided an opportunity to meet baby Chandni, while the other Chandni is 13000 km away in States. This whole coincidence endeared the baby more to me.

Roop Kali is not allowed to go to forest these days since she has a small baby and there can be an encounter with tiger which can prove fatal for baby. Now, being out of her abode in open, she is heading to forest. Prakash has to stop her and bring back again and again. And as the mother goes, the baby follows. It’s difficult situation for photography. When Roop Kali is brought back, Chandni would hide behind her. Once, mother protests by loud striking of trunk to ground and raise dust for not being allowed to walk free to forest.

At times, when baby is left behind, the mother would shout. On one such occasion, I try to engage with Chandni by doing pep talk and taking some portrait shots, when it decides ‘enough’ – she cries so loudly that the mother trumpets and comes rushing back, and I have to take care of myself! I have never imagined that an elephant baby can call so loudly.

As it is, they are pampered lot. Mother gets extra porridge and jaggery. Prakash brings freshest tree branches for fodder from forest. A vet visit every week and administers required supplements. Baby is entirely on mother’s milk. So she will be for about three months. Vatsala loves Chandni most. As soon as she is back from the forest, she would reach out to Chandni. The other young ones too try to please her by their gimmicks. Talking of young ones, I remember of an elephant calf about half an year old in Kanha Tiger Reserve. It would rear up and surprise visitors by giving a back kick. The strength is so much that one can get toppled over, if not careful. This is the usual trick babies around 3-month and somewhat older play on unsuspecting visitors to have some fun of their own.

Chandni is an added attraction in Panna. I am told, most of visiting keen wildlifers do come to meet and spend time with her these days. Yes, why not. Where would you get such opportunity – to look into eyes of less than a month old elephant and actually touch her!

Pushp Jain

Tirathgarh – Garh of all Natural Tirath

As luck would have it, I am in Bastar. Here too I am on my way to Tirathgarh, 35 kilometre from Jagadalpur, the district headquarter. About a kilometre or so before the destination, we cross a small bridge below which flows a placid small stream – Nothing unusual.

We pass through two manual toll gates mounted by locals to charge some token fees for development of the area. A row of small shops in shanties line both side of the road. The items on display consist of plastic packs of snack, biscuits, aerated drinks, bottled water; some shops selling freshly fried pakoras; and some shops selling parsada for the temple…All these add vibrant colours to otherwise drab surroundings and harsh hot weather in the end of March month – It’s full blast summer, temperature souring to 38 degree centigrade.

I am guest of the Forest Department and end up at an exclusive facility called Van Chetna Kendra, bang opposite Tirathgarh… Wow! I am face to face to a massive waterfall.

I sit down on a sofa, stretch my tired legs on the table in front, postpone photography… It is just to relax, admire and capture the essence… a caretaker brings tea and snacks…feels like a paradise… I enjoy the luxury, far from the madding crowd.

The gorge has been cut into steps over which the transparent water gets transformed into pure white – It is as if, milk is rushing and gushing down the steps – Ever in a hurry to join the pool below. It creates a continuous vibrant music. Incidentally, Tirthgarh is one of the tourism jewels of Chhattisgarh and is boldly promoted by the State Government.

I wonder where from these huge sheets of water, cascading down the fall, coming from.

Deputy Forest Range Officer with me brings my attention to the small stream we crossed before reaching here. Oh no. I do not believe. “Yes”, the deputy says, “it is Kanger river!”

I am not able to judge the height of the fall. It can be 100 m or more? But online search corrects me – 91 metre or 300 feet. Further, I find 135 visitors have reviewed the site at Google  and given dashing average 4.5 /5 rating. I for one give it 5/5 rating.

I do not have strength to go to the foot of the fall in the deep gorge, but I can see stream of people joyously making the journey down. There are well laid spiral of steps. It is not only that many of them are bathing in the hard hitting water falling with gravity, they are jumping with joy, bliss…it is simple people gathered from across the country side. They know how to enjoy life without inhibition and give themselves to the situation, and be one with nature. Just enjoy… just do it…

In India, we have a tendency to link all natural wonders to religion. This becomes business for the temple caretaker and vendors selling parsada – A miscellaneous mix of flower, fruits, nuts, sweets etc which is offered to god, through the temple caretaker/priest, who keeps some for god and rest he returns for visitors’ consumption. At Tirathgarh, just near the foot of the fall, juts up a small rocky hillock, on which a small temple is installed, where our simple folks flock to be fleeced by the caretaker!

Soon lunch is served. It’s simple but fresh and piping hot food – Lovely. After filling meal, I take a small stroll. It’s all soothing green. Moist deciduous forest surrounding the fall complements the great experience – unforgettable.


PS : I have added some photos of the fall and surrounding in monsoon.

What matters is the man behind a machine, so is it in wildlife management


I make first quick round of the Panna Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh, India), after arrival early in the morning from Delhi. Wonderful. Wildlife is all over the place – Cheetal, Sambar, Wild Boar, Chinkara…

I get back to the Karnawati FRH where I am lodged. As I get out of the vehicle, one gentleman greets me. I do not know him but nevertheless courtesy demand, and I reciprocate. I see, he is six feet tall, slim & trim, thick moustache, smart man. I get the impression ‘this man must be from army.’ We do not talk.

Later in the night, the caretaker, Bhure Lal peeps in to my suite while I am relaxing and scribing notes of the day, “Sir, Range Officer is here to see you.” As I rise to welcome, here enter the gentleman about whose greeting me in the morning, I just narrated. Pleasant surprise. There is no physical sign of his being a Forest Range Officer – no potbelly, no dullness, no shrewd looks…

The gentleman is Amar Sigh Gond, Incharge, Madla Range of Panna. I ask Bhure Lal to manage a drink.   Amar politely declines, “Thank you sir but I do not drink anything.” And adds, “I only take simple meal.”

Strange. I ask myself, “Can there be a simpler person in forest service, that too in a wildlife sanctuary, who does not drink, does not drink even tea, supper teetotaller!” Bhure Lal later informs me, “Very rarely, he takes few sips of tea, out of courtesy to provide company to a senior guest.”

Amar tells me, “Sir, I have walked every inch of Panna.” That’s commendable. It’s one-line complete introduction of a forester. These days even guards need bike to go around forest. Amar’s mobile keeps ringing, non-stop. He is either giving orders or taking orders.

You may wonder, ‘why I am writing about a person in my wildlife blog?’ Indeed, I think, it is equally important to talk about wildlife managers and for that matter about persons who have devoted themselves to wildlife conservation.

Amar’s contribution is immense. Just for the background, Panna lost all of its tigers because of various reasons, including mismanagement around 2000s. This unfortunate situation was beyond belief. A plan to rejuvenate Panna was perceived by reintroduction of tigers by relocating surplus animals from other Tiger Reserves. First tiger was reintroduced in Panna in March 2009 and immediately after this Amar joined the Reserve. He has been part of tiger reintroduction success story, almost from day one.

Amar is tribal to core, literally. As his surname indicates, he belongs to Gond tribe of Central India – Joint service 21 years ago in 1996 as a humble Forest Guard. Incidentally, he belongs to the nearby area, Buxwaha in adjacent Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

Initial days of ensuring security to relocated tigers have been very tuff. Keeping track of tigers without satellite radio collars was always testing job.

Amar has been a keen wildlifer. He says, “I used to climb and sit in trees regularly for hours to watch and monitor wildlife.” He proudly narrates the story of a tigress, numbered as T 2. “While I am up in one tree in Madla one day, T 2 with four cubs arrives and settles below the tree. The camera noise alerts the cubs and they look up. The tigress also notices my presence. Interestingly, the tigress does not feel threatened and remained below the tree for more than an hour!”

Amar’s immense courage in protection of wildlife and controlling wildlife crime have been duly recognised n number of times. He has received several awards and recognitions. Latest being the State Wildlife Conservation Award 2016 few months ago. Similar award he got in 2011 also. Amar has received formal appreciation letters and awards from the Panna Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Conservation Trust several times. Amar proudly adds, “Sir, I received appreciation from the Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Shri Jairam Ramesh ji also in 2011.”

It is apparent the management has posed full confidence in him. Though he is junior rank official but has been assigned a senior post. Yes, he is a man of rule and law.

Amar says, “I am most happy working for and watching wildlife. The day I am not able to go to forest, I get depressed.”

In the end, I may add, forests and wildlife are under pressure – encroachment, poaching, tourism, development…. Amar is very important and India needs more Amars.


Red Silk-Cotton – Weaving Varied Blooms


This has happened just by the way. Other day my friend, Arun Pandey, from Chhattisgarh posts a picture of Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba), popularly known as Semal in North India on Face Book. The unusual part is that it has yellow bloom! This is new for me. And this is not common at all.  That is why, Arun has posted this.  Generally, Semal has red flowers, almost maroon or scarlet.

In Delhi, it’s maddening. Invariably one is pained by pollution, traffic, work and social pressures. In spite of spring, my whole attention is on green, yellow and red traffic lights; khaki files in office; spending hours glued to laptop, criticising environment ministry for its undoing, updating website or busy in media outreach.

How and why I am so blind to my surroundings, I am unable to believe and understand. Now, Semal being at the back of my mind, I screech to halt just near the Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I have not noticed this ever before – a Semal with orange bloom! Wow! The unique part is just 100 m further down is another Semal with normal maroon colour bloom. Both the specimen are in full bloom, loaded with tones of flowers. These together make unique spectacle.

I think, I must share this amazing beauty and uniqueness with friends. I make mental note of which spot and what time of the day to photograph these trees to get right composition and right Sunlight. I think, I will work out a day, in the coming few days, with lighter work pressure and carry my professional equipment. I know the bloom would not vanish soon.

My mind is fully awake to Semal. Yes, of course, other blooms also get registered. I am mesmerised by Kachnar (Phanera variegate), just next to my house in our small garden in full bloom – all flowers, no leaf.  Next day, I have to attend National Green Tribunal, an environmental court for a petition for protection of wetlands of the country. I take a road through the heart of the city. Oh, wherever I see, now and again, I come across Semal. Semal as it is, is a huge tree with massive trunk and spiral branches. Near liberty Theatre on New Rohtak Road there are several Semals. The traffic is so thick that I barely take a note of which tree to photograph subsequently on photo shoot day. Here again, I notice a specimen with orangish bloom.

When I am about to reach NGT, and negotiate Bara Khamba Road roundabout, there is massive maroon round canopy protruding from middle of buildings and almost reaching the sky, of a Semal growing at Mandi House, near the Metro station by the same name.

Next day, I have to go again to NGT. That is so much the better. I take down town route. I shoot the Semals near Liberty Theatre. I wonder, what composition to use. I decide to include houses, shops, people and vehicles in frame to involve the urban landscape.  What surprises me, is the ingenuity of the Horticulture Department – planted a Semal tree at the median to a narrow road!  They are not so big presently, but will grow into traffic stoppers in times to come – Incidentally, one young tree has orange flowers with petals having reddish tips.

When I pass by Gole Market, I see several Semal trees, mostly normal red – the dropped matured flowers all over the foot path, on bushes, on roof of low houses, on fences…

After attending to the work at NGT, I decide, I will shoot Lajpat Nagar Metro Station wonder.

I am passing though Lutyens‘ Delhi i.e. central part of New Delhi, largely developed by the British for offices and residences of the power that be.

India Gate is a famous landmark here. There are about a dozen roads radiating from around it. There is non-stop, fast running traffic. Suddenly, I notice a Semal tree, which has still different bloom – it is  orangish yellow! I cannot miss this. I dare to stop the car, as closer to foot path as possible, and put it on blinker and within 2-3 minutes finish the shoot. Now, the problem is that I wish to take closer shot and I am in extremely right lane while the tree is in a house at the edge of the extreme left lane. I back up in my lane for about 100 m so that the destination can be reached diagonally. Yes, I am able to do it – Happy to taken closer shots.

From Central Delhi, I drive to periphery of South Delhi. On flyover adjacent to Lodhi Hotel, I notice trees with lighter red bloom and little further down two trees with very heavy and thick bloom of regular maroon colour. I get good shots.

Another half a km, on Defence Colony Flyover, I find a Semal with almost yellow bloom! Wonderful. The canopy is parallel to the railing of flyover. So close, I can almost touch. I look down and the tree has been entirely circled by shanties – the tree appears to growing out of roof of one of these houses. Roof of all the surrounding houses is covered with Semal flowers. I notice a tree about 200 m, along the road below the flyover. That’s profile picture of a yellow bloom Semal.

And another half a km, I stop 100 m short of Lajpat Nagar Metro Station. I document the orange and maroon bloom trees together with a focus on their surviving in middle of maddening traffic and habitation all over.

Delhi has very good greenery base. There are trees such as Silk Cotton, Indian laburnum (Cassia fistula) commonly known as Amaltas, Gulmohar (Delonix regia) with conspicuous reddish bloom which paint the city bright and beautify. There are trees such as neem (Azadirachta indica) and jamun (Syzygium cumini). Of course, there is real wilderness with Aravalli Hill Range originating here and passing across the city with its scrubby and dry deciduous forests.

After enjoying the Semal shoot day, I feel like yelling, ‘hey ladies and men, get out of rat race and look around and enjoy and appreciate nature. It brings in real cheer – cheers’.

Leafless silk cotton is a sight to admire

At every nook and corner, massive & lofty

Loaded with bloom, it’s tons of flowers

Delhi is painted scarlet, maroon, red and orange

Birds are drunk of syrupy nectar &

Soon fruits ripen & cotton floss flies around

It’s a snowfall lookalike in summer in Delhi

Pushp Jain


Post Script

Red Silk Cotton (Bombax Ceiba)

Red Silk Cotton grows into a huge tree – 20-30 m high. The bole is straight, covered with short, stout, straight and conical prickles up to 1.2 cm long when young, but these are sloughed off in older parts of trees. The bark is pale ashy to silver grey in younger and middle aged trees but becomes rough with irregular vertical cracks in older trees. The wood is soft wood.

The leaves are palmately compound (look like the palm of the human hand), and 15- 30 cm long. Each leaf comprises five-to-seven leaflets, measuring 10-15 cm long and 7-10 cm wide, and arranged like the fingers of the hand, and radiating from a common petiole up to 20 cm long.

Flowering occurs profusely between February and March and is conspicuous on the leafless tree. Flowers occur singly or in clusters, large (7-12 cm across), bisexual, open, and cup-shaped, fleshy and filled with nectar. Calyx is cup-shaped with three lobes and 3-5 cm in diameter. Petals are 8-12 cm long, scarlet or sometimes maroon or orange (rarely yellowish), and fleshy.

Fruit is a capsule, oblong to ovoid, about 10-15 cm long, narrowed at both ends five-valved, light green when young, turning brown at maturity. The inner epidermis of the fruit wall produces the floss. At maturity, the seeds get surrounded by the white floss. The seeds are obovoid, smooth and 6-9 mm long. The surrounding floss helps them easily float in the air currents and get dispersed. This is what given the species name of silk cotton.

An interesting fact about the possible life of a B. ceiba is that a 727-year-old tree of the species in Mo Pagoda, Nghi Duong Hamlet, Ngu Phuc Commune in Vietnam was given the status of a heritage tree of Vietnam in March 2011.






Onkareshwar – A National Park in Waiting

I am in Khandwa. The district has good forest. I am keen to visit some wildlife area. There is no well known National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary or Tiger Reserve around. What to do? Where to go?

My forester friend suggests I can visit Onkareshwar National Park with small detour, while I go back to Indore to take flight to Delhi.  This is a proposed national park.

Ideal time to go to forest is early morning or evening to be able to spot some animals and have correct light for photography as well. In prime protected areas, there are fix times for safari in morning and evening. This never works out is non-hardcore wildlife areas. We leave after breakfast i.e. around 9.30.

By the time we are in the region of the Onkareshwar, it is 11 am! The local forester with us tells me, “Sir, there are leopard, wild boar, cheetal (spotted deer), sambar, nilgai (blue bull – antelope), Chosingha (four-horned antelope) to count few main mammals which are usually sighted in the Park but it’s not the right time of the day for wildlife viewing.” I entirely agree and am not expected to see even a rat. Nevertheless, going around the forest itself is a pleasure and raises my spirit.

We arrive on the bridge on Narmada with dam on the right and little water flowing down stream in main river course, followed by Power House with larger part of water from the reservoir coming out from the turbines and passing down the channel.  This is Narmada Hydro Electric Project with Indira Sagar reservoir behind it. This dam has drowned more that 400 sq km of pristine forests upstream!

What we are visiting is part of the remaining forest on the bank of the reservoir. We are driving on a new highway to Bhopal developed due to the Project. This is not widely used road though one day it would have good amount of traffic – bane of the National Park and wildlife therein. On both side of the road is teak forest. We enter the forest on the right side about 5-6 km down the Dam at Kaladev. Just 200 m away is Kaladev Forest Guard Camp.

This is a kuchcha track. Forest is thick – in technical term the density of 0.6/0.7! Teak (Tectona grandis) is the dominant species. It’s dry deciduous forest.  Regeneration is good. The forester informs me, “there are very few spotted deer!” That is shocking.


Soon I notice the reason, there is very little grasses – whole ground flora is entirely weedy. This is an irony – a medicinal plant, Van Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum), has become a weed and is of no use to herbivore! I see all open areas full of Van Tulsi.

Second reason is brought to my notice by local forester is Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) leaf. Fresh flush of leaves from young plants at the ground level are collected. This is major minor-forest-produce in Central India. The leaf is used to make India cigarette called ‘bidi’ – dry and crushed tobacco leaf is rolled into the Tendu leaf and folded at ends.

Tendu leaf is collected in summer. To facilitate collection, the ground flora is set on fire and burnt, leaving nothing to eat for grazing animals e.g. spotted deer. Though this burning is illegal but the contractors for the collection of leaf do this invariably and without fail. The staff is never able to catch the culprit. They just run around to extinguish fire at one place while the contractor /collectors set the other area on fire. This fire is devastating – ground flora is lost, micro-organisms and even some reptiles and small mammals are killed, regeneration of trees too is affected. Besides, the sight is repelling.

Soon we notice, a newly white washed another forest guard camp. This is Mathni – previously a village site, which was shifted because of submergence in the Indira Sagar. The water has receded as the reservoir is not filled to full capacity of 262.13 metre.  We can see the water sheet about half a km away. Fresh grass is growing in the receded portion of the reservoir. Conspicuous in this landscape is remains of massive Banyan tree – main stem still erect while huge dead branches are scattered around. We hear some animals stampeding – oh, cattle! The forester informs, “This is feral cattle, being of no use to villagers, was left behind when they left the village.” I know, this is good fodder for larger carnivore e.g. leopard and tiger.

We notice some people inside the forest – local villagers? No, the forester notices that they are probably workers for Forest Development Corporation, who are removing some marked trees! Thinning of the tree crop, which is a management practice.

Soon the action is there in front of us. We come to a screeching halt. It is rather painful to see a full grown healthy Dhawda (Anogeissus latifolia) tree lying felled across the road – blocking the path. I do not see any reason for the tree to be felled. The forester too feels that this healthy tree located by the side of the road should not have been felled.

Oh! This is unbelievable – we see two female Nilgai (antelope). I have not expected anything at all. And a little later a full grown bull Nilgai. Lovely.

The ups and downs of undulating forest landscape ultimately lead us to a wonderful site – Boria Maal Forest Jal Camp. We are at the edge of reservoir. Huge panorama is spread across – Picturesque view of the irregularly shaped reservoir and forests around it. Its miles and miles of water sheet – sunlight flashing from the mild waves on the surface as if sun is falling on shaking thousands of mirrors. The cool looking water sheet is a mirage – it’s a deep water body and you never know of the turbulence brewing. At times, even a powerful motor boat cannot negotiate it from across, where a tourist resort, Hanumanthia, is located.  I am told, the Chief Minister of the State is keen to visit this Jal Camp but his two attempts by motor boat from Hanumanthia previously failed.

A small boat, parked at the edge below, adds to the scene – A picture perfect. A crude looking, poorly conceived eco-tourism site /camp has been developed here. There are two small portable plastic and aluminium cabin put here. One has been made into a double bed room, so tiny that the twin beds with a coffee table in between just fit edge to edge in the room. There is small bathroom attached. The other one has been converted into a dormitory to accommodate four persons. One tent serves as a kitchen.  The camp is an example of truly shabby, most awkward, really un-aesthetic and uncomfortable arrangement. Only good thing is solar power, though I am sure, it would not really work in government setup.  They must be using backup generator to do some business or keep the visitors in dark.

Soon, it was time to leave. We drive back. Again, unexpectedly we see a pair of Four-horned Antelope.  I am amazed that neither the nilgais we met while coming down nor this pair of antelope shy away as much as they should be in forest, which is not frequently visited by people. It seems these animals are used to seeing people and vehicles.

The weed packed open stretches of forest pain me. I imagine palatable grasses are growing here, and I am watching herds of spotted deer now and again.  The scene of weed removal in many hectare of grasslands in Gomarda Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh and appearance of grasses again and consequent wildlife sighting there flashes back in my mind.

As we emerge from the forest on to the highway at Kaladev, I feel sad. With a sigh, I think, what a pity, this forest has not been notified a Protected Area for three decades in spite of indication at the time Narmada HEP project was cleared. Omkareshwar has national park staff and management in place and some infrastructural works have been done.  All this is ineffective unless the Park is actually notified legally, since at present, forests are under the physical control of territorial forest division.

Protection and conservation issues can be taken care once the National Park is notified – there would be no felling of trees, there would be no minor forest produce collection, there would be no hunting,  there would weed management, there would be relocation of herbivore and carnivore  to populate the area. This can become a real vibrant wilderness and tiger country.


Pushp Jain


Post Script


Omkareshwar National Park & other Protected Areas Waiting for Ages to be Notified


Date Activity Remark
07.10.1987 ‘Forest Clearance’ for Narmada Hydro Electric Projects for 411 sq km area, largely going into submergence. One of the Clearance conditions is that a committee would be constituted for suggesting a programme for protection and management of wildlife. The suggested scheme would be implemented with the support of Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). The idea is to compensate the forest and biodiversity loss.
08.01.1988 State Government Constitutes Committee  
  NVDA engages Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun and Friends of Nature (FoN), Bhopal to 1. Study the flora and fauna impacted due to submergence and 2. To suggest declaration of protected areas ( PAs) outside the reservoir.  


WII of India Submits report

FoN submits report

These organisations suggestions creation of one national park and two wildlife sanctuaries of total 760 sq km area

Too long a time taken (6-8 yrs) in completing the study.
23.04.2004 After ten years, a committee visits site! NVDA again gives a consultancy to Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal to suggest constitution of PAs.

IIFM dilute the suggestion for PAs by WII and FoN – decrease the area and divides the areas in weaker PAs.  It suggests creation of one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves of total 646  sq km area.

In spite of receiving reports by 1996, no action for 8 years, only a site visit. Action initiated to dilute the reports.
30.07.2004 PCCF (WL) suggests creation of one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves of total 697 sq km area somewhat more than suggested by IIFM but still less than suggested for PAs by WII and FoN  
19.10.2004 State Wildlife Board recommends notification of  one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves  
2005-06 Developmental works from the perspective of wildlife management initiated. Wildlife management officials appointed and continue to be in place. The actual control of the area remains with the territorial divisions. Staff in place, while no forest in physical control
27.10.2010 Principle Secretary (Forests) organises a meeting for constitution of PAs. It was decided to prepare and present documents for notification of only two Conservation Reserves of total 153 sq km area. Notification documents can be prepared in days, while it is taking years.



Sept 2013

The main committee meets –  decides on preparation of management plans for the proposed PAs.

First draft of the management plan

Second draft of the management plan

Present Wildlife Manager and staff are in place. Some protection measures e.g. communication in the areas e.g. roads, bridges, culverts, forest guard camps have been developed.

Actual control of the area is with territorial forest divisions.

Wood and non-wood harvest are taking place, resulting in disturbance and habitat alterations, and regular fires affecting ground flora. It is suspected that poaching too is happening.

In spite of condition of forest clearance in 1987, now thirty years later, 2017, the PAs are yet to be notified.


Khurasani of Mandu


I am visiting a senior forester friend based in Nimar region in South-Western part of Madhya Pradesh. This is West-Central India. He arranges an exposure of the region for me, which includes some unique places. One of them worth mentioning is Mandu.  Mandu, a hill fort, is known for love and romance, and exotic natural beauty. Mughal called it ‘the city of joy’.

Overnight, we have stayed at home of a local host at Khargone. In the morning, breakfast starts with Halwa – a real sweet and heavily buttery stuff. I am taken aback when the host tells me that this delicacy is made of seeds of Afeem! Afeem is opium, a narcotic! Opium is also famous as ‘God’s Own Medicine’. The host assure that the seeds have been treated – no narcotics to be concerned about. All said and done, I am keen. This is a new dish for me. And it involves a kind of adventure. We eat a bowl full of halwa and drink a cup of masala tea. All is normal! I prepare to leave, when I am informed that this is starter only! The ladies are busy in the kitchen, we can smell the stuff. There is no way I can refuse. So another round of traditional north Indian meal – stuffed parantha (fried bread), spicy dry potato vegetable and curd.

Filled to brim, we start around 10.30. End-January weather is just pleasant. It’s sunny and cool. After two hours, we are driving in a hilly terrain. Good forest – though it’s dry. Hills look desolate. Forest does not make the impact at this point of time, being of dry deciduous nature with teak as dominant species, which is mostly in leaf fall.

As we ascend the plateau and drive around, three things strike conspicuously – monuments, poor people living is shacks around them and Khurasani.

Regarding monuments, there are 48 of them, including palaces and fort; tombs and memorials; mosques and temples… I rapidly go through pages of a book published by Archaeological Survey of India on Mandu to get some rooting of history and monuments.

Mandu is famous for the selfless and devoted love between Baz Bahadur, a defeated ruler who turned to music and Rupamati his main associate and consort in mid-16th century. The glory of Mandu is said to have subsequently faded, though, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan have visited Mandu for brief periods.

It is reported that most of the standing monuments were built between 1401and 1526 AD, the age when the Muhammadan kings of Malwa ruled independently from Mandu. Jami Masjid, Hoshang Tomb, Jahaz Mahal & Hindola Mahal are some of the famous ones.

I am not a keen lover of monuments. But Mandu is different. I loved to have one round of exposure. I am surprised that I visit about a dozen of these monuments including Rani Rupamati Pavallion; Baz Bhadur Mahal, Jali Mahal, Chorkot Mosque, Malik Mughith’s mosque, Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal, Jami Masjid, Hoshang ShahTomb and others.

These monuments have grandeur but are simple and austere. What confuses me about these Mahals (Palaces) created by Mughal rulers is virtual absence of rooms in them – where is the private space that too for kings and queens? Secondly, all these monuments lack any art and delicate carvings. Thirdly, for the sake of convenience some of the structures have used the stuff obtained by cruel demolition of old temples.


What attracts me most is Khurasani – the very first sight hooks. There is nothing like this in indigenous species of trees in India. I have not come across Khurasani in my far and wide travel in forests and otherwise in India.

My forester friend too has flagged the species to watch. He is right. It’s worth it.

First attraction is bulk of the trunk. We actually measure one, which at breast height turns out to be 7.3 m in circumference! By this scale, I am sure some bigger ones may very well be more than 10 m. Second attraction is the shape – it’s like a cone or bottle with big bottom. In comparison, the canopy is smaller, irregularly scattered. Presently, being leafless – looks like an art installation!  Third attraction is the bark – somewhat shiny and copperish-creamish colour. Fourth attraction is, some of them may be 500 year old. It is just a guesstimate, can be more or less, but pretty old. Fifth attraction is the conspicuous fruit – about 8-12 inches long oval dull green big fruit. This is known as Khurasani Imli. Imli is tamarind. Sixth attraction is its capacity to store water. According to one source, ‘Old trees are known to have a capacity to store upwards of 120,000 litres of water. Aboriginal people in Australia and Africa have known this for long and have devised their own methods of tapping this water in times of scarcity.’

The local vendors all over Mandu, more so at the monuments, are selling, Khurasani Imli. They are selling the whole fruit, as well as seeds with dry pulp around. The pulp has mild sour taste.

There are several Khurasani scattered in the Mandu landscape. Local vendors point out that the tree was brought from Africa and planted here particularly for soldiers to carry with them, to meet shortage of drinking water, during wars. They point out that the most important property of the fruit is that it decreases thirst.

One article on internet indicates ‘The tree that we are talking about is the Baobab, also known as the Boab, Monkey Bread Tree, Boaboa, and Bottle Tree among others… The Baobab has nine species, six of which are native to Madagascar, two to Africa and one to Australia.’ It’s difficult to pin-point species, origin and its history of arrival in Mandu without going into research, which of course, has not been the objective of my visit.

All said and done, Khurasani fruit attracts us – let us feel and taste it. We stop at one vendor. It’s not very expensive. One cost us, Rs 50. He breaks it open – bangs it against a rock and the fruit split into two – pulls out the fresh interior stuff and removes seed with pulp from the fibre. Offers few to us to taste – yes it is sour, but mild, not as strong as Indian tamarind. There is just little pulp around seeds. He packs the stuff in a bag – A bit of history and souvenir to carry home.



Mast, Bahut Mast Gomarda

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.

Pushp Jain