Birds in Paradise


During 1980s and 90s, Keoladeo has been my regular haunt. Foresters, Suraj                      Ziddi and Daulat Singh, my friends used to be there. It used to be so soothing to be in a wilderness, which was unique in all respect – World Heritage Site, National Park, birding heaven… It was so relaxing and cheerful those days – cycling, boating, preparing list of birds sighted, boozing…

It was 1989, when during a visit I met Sunayan Sharma, Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) and Research Officer. I noticed he has been keenly involved in bird watching and photography. He was head strong. He was dedicated to forest and wildlife. Soon, we struck acquaintance. With association during next few visits, we became family friends.

Sunayan has been an old school forester, dressing like a forester (wearing felt hat), talking like a forester (wildlife storytelling), and working like a forester (order is order), boozing like a forester (enjoy every bit). He has been bold and dedicated. He has been one, who would visit forest daily, without fail. He loved photography. I remember, once to photograph Sarus Cranes at nest, he got a hide built in the lake itself and used to spend hours cramped in small space. I am sure he had seen Keoladeo so closely, as few might have done.


Keoladeo National Park

Later, he had second spell in 2006-08, which was much more challenging. First, he became the Director of the Park i.e. he was responsible for the entire show.  Secondly, over the years, protection and conservation had become more and more difficult. Thirdly, Keoladeo is a network of artificial lakes and need water to flow into them from Ajan Dam, which the farmers and their political bosses resented and managed to stop it altogether. Fourth, the Park, from the grasslands, swamps, and woodland was being encroached by Vilayati Babul (Prosopis juliflora) all over.

By 2006, the Park was completely devastated – dry lakes, weeds all over.  Keoladeo was on the verge of losing World Heritage status.

Sunayan is a man, who cannot sit back or take things lying down. He went all across to meet engineers, experts, funders and politicians to develop and initiate a scheme for bringing water to the Park. He ultimately succeeded and now water is not a major issue.

Taking advantage of his deep knowledge about the drainage system of Bharatpur and adjacent flood plains, he developed a scheme to tap the Govardhan drain, carrying lot of flood water from the plains of Bharatpur and adjacent areas of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Today, the canal built to bring this water to the Park is the lifeline of Keoladeo.

He developed a unique system of removing the Babul from the Park. This was in collaboration with the villagers living on the periphery of the Park. They were temporarily allotted small plots of forest to dig out the trees and wood was theirs. Only condition was that they have to remove it completely including the root stock. Initially, with lot of persuasion only 4 members of a family joined the operation but gradually the programme took off. In few months, it was adopted by all the 15 villages located on the periphery of the Park. This was win-win situation for both – Park as well as people. Park got back its grasslands, clear waters and original stands of sacred Kadamba trees in several places and people got wood. About 10 sq. km. area of the Park was recovered in about one and a half years. With the sale of harvested wood, hundreds of families could build houses, marry daughters and buy more resources.

This was not as simple as it sounds. First of all many of his colleagues discouraged him in doing so. They pointed out he is rubbing the law on wrong side. Secondly, Bharatpur is a typical town with complex political atmosphere. With great tact, he managed to take different leaders along. Furthermore, he maintained fairness and transparency in dealing with all villagers so that there was no antagonism or fights.

Sunayan retired in 2010. Nevertheless, he remains a forester to the core. He has written a book on Sariska sharing his first hand experiences and learning.  Sunayan and me visited Keoladeo in September 2017 and spent leisurely two nights. I suggested to him that he should share his unique experiences of Keolodeo also with larger audience i.e. he should write a book. We briefly discussed the outline.


Bholu, Pushp & Sunayan (Left to right, during 2017 visit)

And here it is. ‘Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur – Birds in Paradise’ has been published recently by a leading book publisher, Niyogi Books in New Delhi. I am sure this would be certainly of interest for any bird watcher and would be an asset on   bookshelf.


Subji Bazar in Making

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Bholu calls Sunayan Bhai. He informs, “There is not a drop of water in the pools! Openbills have arrived but have not started nest building. There is no sign of rain. If it does not rain in two-three days, they may leave.” All in all, he is suggesting no use visiting Bharatpur bird sanctuary.

Incidentally, any keen bird watcher, at least in India would know Bholu. He has spent his whole life watching birds in Bharatpur and is a knowledge bank on avian. Sunayan has been involved in research in one spell of his posting here in 1990s and in another spell as manager in 2000s.

Sunayan Bhai calls me to tell about the futility of visiting Bharatpur in absence of water. I check the weather forecast. There are indications of rains three days later than our planned dates. So we postpone the visit for three days.

I am mentally prepared and sure that we will meet the arrival of monsoon and the visit is going to be unique. Delhi to Bharatpur is short train journey of about 170 km, taking three hours. All signs are positive. It starts raining at Delhi railway station itself and throughout the journey, either it is overcast or raining and so it is, at Bharatpur station! What luck! Weather gods are with us.

Luckily, Sunayan Bhai has been driving from Jaipur and has timed the arrival at Bharatpur as my arrival time here. Thanks to Sunayan Bhai, has he been not at Station, it would have been very difficult to get transport to Ghana, as the forest of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, i.e. Keoladeo Nation Park is called, as the whole city is water logged. It’s raining almost continuously.

It’s heavenly scene at Shanti Kutir, the Forest Rest House – peaceful, serene, tranquil…

So our decision turns out right. It has been raining heavily since last night. Some water has collected in pools, ponds and lakes in the Park. It’s lush green all around. Everything – herbs, shrubs, trees, animals, birds, people – all are happy and cheerful.

Next morning we go inside the Park. Incidentally, many wildlifers wouldn’t know that Bharatpur is important birding area in monsoon as well. People know this largely as migratory bird abode. Migratory birds come around autumn and leave before summer.

During monsoon, Keoladeo comes alive with formation of heronries in several parts of the Park. Locations are generally groups of scores of trees partially submerged, in middle of ponds and lakes. Its ‘n’ number of species of herons, egrets, cormorants, storks crowding in thousands of nests – some pure colonies and some mixed.

Right from nest building, mating, egg laying, chick emerging to grown babies ultimately flying away, it is all the time action packed with movement of the birds, foraging,  food collection, noise of chicks pressing parents for food, defending nest and chicks… One is never tired of watching something new happening all the time – never a dull moment.

Today is just the beginning of the heronry formation. And the first species to start is the Asian Openbill Stork (Anastomus oscitans). At two sites, we could see four trees taken up by more than 200-250 birds for nesting. In fact, some are repairing the old nests – discarding or adding twigs. Bholu tells me, Openbill is always the first one to start heronry and they prefer pure colonies.

This is first time I am watching Openbill closely. I realise two things – it’s a beautify bird with pure white body and black tail with reddish pink long legs but its bill (on which it is named) looks like a deformity! Reading literature makes it clear that this deformity like structure has evolved over a very long period of time because of the food habit of the bird – it eats snails and like stuff and the gap in centre of upper and lower mandible allows it to be able to crack the shells and enjoy the food!

All the time several birds are flying away, several are arriving with twigs for nest while some pairs are busy in love making and some are actually mating. Some are busy in aerial displays to impress or attract a mate. They seem to be happy lot. Some of these are wading through swallow waters of the pond for food. The wing span reveals its large bird. Number of nests on each tree is large. It is indeed crowded. But this number also provides security from predators and raiders.

The signal about monsoon arrival and beginning of nesting season has gone down faster than satellite phone. Already some Darter and Cormorant are exploring vacant trees adjacent to Openbill nest trees. Bholu tells, soon it would be like a subji bazar. For those who do not know, subji bazar i.e. vegetable market is known to be most unorganised, crowded and noisy place in India!


Launched into Sundarbans


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I am excited. I am ready before the appointed time of 8 am, and, in fact, we leave 10 minutes before from The Astor Hotel in downtown Kolkata for Sundarbans. It’s about 100 km drive. The traffic has not thickened as yet. We pass through Kolkata central, Kolkata suburbs, and are soon driving in the interior of Bengal towards south-east and pass through congested towns of Baruipur and Canning. At places, it is single lane road!

In about two and a half hour, we are at Godkhali, our destination by road. The name gave me a little shock for ‘khali’ in Hindi, as many of you know, means empty. If God is Khali, who will fulfil the greed of ever demanding man. Anyway, here onward, all travel is going to be by motor boat (launch) only. A forester friend has taken care of all the logistics – I have to be just there to relax, eat, enjoy the luxury and admire the wonder. The boat supervisor and his assistant have come to escort me from the car. It is a small walk to jetty. I stand at the head of stair leading to jetty and eye the scene. I can see, the white beauty, Bharat Laxmi, parked at the end of jetty stair. I am elated to board the boat. I envy myself to be able to make it to the unique landscape.

The driver and cook also welcome me, and here we go.  There are score of boats and several jetties around, and lot of movement of man and material. One of the towns in the region, Gosaba, is just across – people are connected to mainland by boat only. It is a question of getting used to it, since it is few minutes ride across. I see a boat carrying three motor bikes along with people. The bikers continue wearing the helmets as if not to waste even a second in speeding away when they land.

For those who may not know, Sundarbans is the largest delta (10,200 sq km) in the world formed by the convergence of two mighty Himalayan rivers, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, both of which flow into the Bay of Bengal. Sundarban Tiger Reserve is part of the delta. The entire area is a conglomeration of river channels, creeks and inhabited or forested islands.

I inspect the boat a little closer since this is going to be my companion for two days. I can see, from ‘bow’ about 7-8 feet space is open with rope bundles lying for tying the boat at jetty and rope hold on either side. There is flight of 8-10 steps to go to lower deck while two steps on its either sides take one to upper deck. The upper deck, has a driver cabin which can, besides the driver seat two more persons, in front of the cabin is a foot raised platform about 5 feet by 6 feet for people to sit or lie down on. The passage on either side has a chair placed. If need be, many more chairs can be placed. Behind the driver cabin is room with a large bed for staff to rest. Behind the room, till the tail, there is about 25 feet long open space with drums of fuel and fresh water, anchor and several of other miscellaneous stuff, and stair to go down to lower deck from the back. Lower deck houses two small bed rooms, two toilets and a dining hall. The section behind is partitioned off, comprises of boat engine and kitchen. The supervisor tells me, “The boat is 59 feet long. Of the boat’s height, four feet remains under water.”

I have the whole boat to myself. Tea is served. I stretch on the platform and enjoy the ever changing and passing by scenes.

We are cruising in the Bidhya River. The channel is quite wide. I can see many ships carrying merchandise to Bangladesh from Kolkata. It looks like a train of ships. This is an important trade route.

Also, the area is inhabited with several villages on both banks of the river. Sundarbans is a tidal delta. Presently, I feel that the water level seems to be rising. I check the tide times on net. Yes, this is high tide time and going to peak around 4.30 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, the boat is steadily cruising. The driver tells me, “The speed is, generally, 10 to 12 km per hour.”

The sky is overcast and all uniformly grey. In bigger channel e.g. the confluence of the Bidhya and the Malta rivers, where the channel is more than a kilometre wide, the view is somewhat monotonous – the grey sky almost merges with the grey water surface and the forest appears as dark, thin dividing line on both sides.

The cook announces lunch. I move to the dining hall. Wow! The spread covers the whole table –soupy daal, fried cottage-cheese and potato curry, okra curry, curd, papad, potato shreds deep fried, green salad, steamed rice and sweet rosogulla! It counts perfect 10!! And it’s all so tasty that I do not feel like ending. This is a luxury on water. Yes, I know, there are many, more luxurious, cruises catering to throng of tourists, but this is a different ball game. We are boating through a tiger reserve!

Soon, we leave the habitation behind and it is forest all around. I cannot peak deep inside but as we pass narrow channels or closer to the banks of islands, the vegetation is conspicuously different from inland forests I generally get to see.

This is all estuarine system of tidal swamp forest, largely comprising mangroves. These mangroves tolerate daily inundation of salty sea water in high tide! There are numerous uniqueness of the forest. I can count few, which I am just watching. One, the forest is refreshingly shiny green or yellowish green. No dust. Two, here and there are dashes of yellow or red leave canopies breaking the scene. Drying leaves. Three, these are low height vegetation, none of the lofty trees we see in inland forests. Loose soil cannot support lofty trees. Four, there is not even an inch of dry ground to be seen. Inter-tidal zone. Five, it is all alluvial soil. Six, nowhere any rock can be seen. Slit being brought in by rivers all the time. Seven, the vegetation is very dense. Eight, because of the forest falling in tidal delta, plants have evolved unique survival mechanism – some species are standing on stilts, others have pencil thin or dragon like thick aerial roots  (breathing roots called pneumatophores bearing lenticels for gaseous exchange)…

I can recognise Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Passur (Xyocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza) and Mangrove Date Palm (Phoenix paludosa) though there are many more species present in this highly productive ecosystem.

Among the trees, one that stands out is Sundari. I do see one closely at the interpretation centre. I notice, the trunk develops buttresses and is grey with vertically fissured bark. The tree is in flowering. The pinkish bell-shaped small flowers form panicles. The canopy is conspicuous with drying bright yellow leaves ready to fall.

Sundarbans delta forest is apparently named after Sundari tree. I am told that in good old days, Sundari used to the dominant species here. I go by this idea, though there is also a thought that Sundarban is combination of Sundar (beautiful) and ban (forest).

Towards, late afternoon, the sun shows up. Forest brightens up. Monotonous grey is converted to varying hues. Sky and water liven up. We are passing through narrower channels and several smaller rivers. By and by, it is nightfall. We are going on and on. I am slightly worried. How is the guy driving? He has not even switched on the boat light! Probably, the sky light is guiding the course. Soon I realise, it’s foolish of me to worry. These people know the delta like the back of their hands. Though it’s manual driving but virtually auto-piloted with digitisation in their minds and hands. Without any doubt, they drop me safely to my night halt destination – Sajnekhali Resort.




Post Script

Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world formed by the convergence of two mighty Himalayan rivers, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra, both of which flow into the Bay of Bengal. This delta consists of 10,200 sq km of mangrove forests spread over India (4,200 sq km) and Bangladesh (6,000 sq km). The Indian Sundarban region consists of 4,200 sq km of Reserved Forests along with 5,400 sq km of non-forest area i.e. a total of 9600 sq km. Of this, Sundarban Tiger Reserve is spread over 2585 sq km. The entire area is a conglomeration of river channels, creeks and islands which total 102 in number. Of these, 54 islands are inhabited and the rest 48 islands are forested. Sundarban tidal delta experiences ‘the average tidal amplitude of 2.15 metre (maximum 5.68 m and minimum 0.96 m)’. There are host of wild animals found here among which, tiger tops the list.

There are 100s of species of plants in Sundarbans. Some of the important species are Sundari (Heritiera fomes), Dhungul or Passur (Xyocarpus granatum), Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), Goran ( Ceriops decandra) and Keora (Sonneratia apetala); palms Poresia coaractataMyriostachya wightiana and Nypa fruiticans (Golpata); and grasses spear grass (Imperata cylindrica) and Khagra (Phragmites karka).


Ladvi – Fit for Hermit’s Abode

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It is night when we enter the Ladvi FRH. There are two suits on the first floor. The room is big. Chowkidar and others quickly do bit of dusting – re-spread the bed sheet and arrange blanket and pillows. I open the door at the other end. Oh! There is huge balcony. I prefer to spend time out. Staff lay a sofa, half a dozen chairs and a table here. Soon they are done. I take only five minutes to change and fix a drink and come out to balcony and incline on the sofa.

I am in another world. The moon is 3-day waned and the chandni is spread across the scene, lighting it softly. The Narmada, is inconspicuously flowing in front of me – almost running parallel, half a km spread of greenish water sheet, slightly simmering under the moonlight.  The scene sends a cool wave through my spine and now my mind understand, and I whisper  ‘Ma Narmaday’ i.e. mother Narmada. There is no artificial light. There is no human being. There is no noise. There is no disturbance. There is nothing in-between me and nature.  I envy my own luck. What an opportunity because of my forester friend, Anil Nagar. I mentally thank him.

A bamboo grove on the left side and few scattered trees on the right and open scrub in front without any construction make the rest house, a prefect site for meditation. I am virtually sensing spirituality in the air and surrounding.

In the night, the nature is over enveloping.  I am overwhelmed. I love to forget everything and be light and fresh. Moon’s soft light, indeed, always fills my heart with joy and love. If fact, I have named my daughter, Chandni. And yes, the presence of a water-body in forest makes the scene complete. I can hear a nightjar in the back ground. There are insects, moths…. around. Many of them are already resting in my bed.  I have to close the door of the room. I am sure there must be minor mammals, amphibians, reptiles active down there – busy in nitty-gritty.

I have been at Ladvi during the day. Incidentally, rather in fact, Ladvi is an important nursery of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, spread across about ten acres of forest land. There are nursery beds spread to wherever the eyes go. Staff is busy in all kind of nursery activities. The water sprinklers are spraying water across to one and all plants. Oh, one malfunctioning sprinkler sprays some water on me as well. As an impulse reaction, I step back.

I can see there are beds with old plants, may be two-three old. There are beds with sand filled polythene bags, recently seeded, and saplings just emerging in most of them. There are few beds holding one-year old plants, left over of this year’s distribution.  I bed particularly attracts me. It has saplings of Baobab (Adansonia spp.), the famous inverted tree of Africa. The forester in-charge of the nursery informs me, “This monsoon about 4.5 lakh, largely teak and other forest tree species, and some fruit bearing plants have been sent to forest divisions around. 10,000 plants have gone to a village panchayat.” While going around, we pass through a bamboo grove – the massive plants on both sides of a narrow jeep-able path, have formed a beautiful tunnel.

And then, when we emerge in the open, I am unable to believe that we are just 200 m from the bank of a river, the mighty and revered Narmada. I feel like running to touch the sacred water. I do not run but I do touch the water!

Incidentally, Ladvi falls between two sacred temple towns cum Narmada Ghats – Mandleshwar and Maheshwar. These are thronged by lakhs of pilgrims and tourists.  Here at Ladvi, it is our own Ghat, a rare privilege. I do go to Maheshwar in the afternoon. The boat ride exposed the dirt and garbage on the Ghat.  From the middle of the river, I can see, Gods or Goddesses live there in majestic and massive temples. At Ladvi there is no garbage on the Ghat and the Gods are everywhere – a perfect place for hermit’s abode.


Everest, Antarctica & all that

I have to fly to Indore from Delhi but I am caught in traffic jam to airport even though it’s not peak hour. Delhi’s traffic is unpredictable. I spend quite a few anxious moments. I do say a prayer. Thank god, I am just in time to rush through the process and be among the last to board.

Slightly stressed, I decide to take a short nap. I have a window seat – first row, first seat! It’s too bright outside. I pull down the window shade and soon I am out.

My forester friend, Shashi Malik is with me. As soon as I wake up, he suggests ‘Pull the window shade up.’ I am slightly hesitant. It appears from the corners of the shade that it is quite bright outside. But I oblige. Bright it is but the scene is really interesting. I sit up and notice.

We are flying over a solid white formation of clouds – Quite attractive. I generally do not take photos in plane but here this is compelling.

I have seen many friends commonly posting photos from plane which look like screen shots of Google Earth Satellite maps. Yes, I have seen some photos of clouds also posted.

These days I am flying at least once every month, but hardly take photos. Several times, even if there is good opportunity, delay in pulling out the camera results in the scene passing by! This time it is different. I pull out my new phone and start shooting right away.

Nature is wonderful.  The very first thought is ‘I am on cloud9.’

There is solid white uneven layer of clouds. Is it surface of Moon? Not really.

Bright sun lends snow white texture to the layer. Is it snow? Not really.

There is massive mountain rising out of the layer. Is it Everest? Not really.

And lo, there is a formation as if a river flowing on flat land meets a circular fall? Is it a frozen fall? Not really.

In India, traditionally cotton is spun manually. Raw cotton is filled in a room and massive bow is hung from ceiling and expert spinner works on this. The whole room is all white with balls of cotton which break up into fine cotton with flakes flying all over. Now, we see a layer of cotton spun by nature. Is it cotton? Not really.

Then, there are thin fluffy light clouds flying over the solid white layer which looks like ground? Are we flying only few hundred feet above the ground? Not really.

Clouds are shaped like tips of icebergs in the whitish blue sky. Have we arrived at Antarctica? Not really.

OMG! Looks like clouds are imitating the Hydrogen Bomb testing scene. Are we watching a photo released by North Korea? Not really.

Soon we are descending. There is fast and drastic change in scene. Nearer ground all the cloud formations and Sun is gone. Suddenly we are engulfed in thick fog. It sends a chill down the spine. It feels cold. We are supposed to be insulated from outside weather. Has somebody opened a window of the plane? Not really.

What a transformation as we land – It’s all grey, No sun, no cloud… It’s raining – indeed, that is what the clouds are about.



Meenpur Anicut Tiger



Can you see? I stress hard. Curse my eye sight for being poor. But I am wearing glasses. I know though, it’s no match to normal eyesight. The landscape is marshy with hardly few land marks. It is an expense of a broad nala (rivulet), with lush green grass, few small brush wood plants, one or two dry patches, four spots where water is visible. After about 150 metres, the nala turns left and there is forest beyond.

My friend, Jasbir (Mr J.S. Chauhan, the Field Director of Kanha) has seen it with a binocular. I also try with binocular but without luck. Jasbir tries to explain the location ‘look straight beyond the second small water patch behind a slightly dry bush.’ I try hard with full concentration. Jasbir again asks “have you located the place?” “Yes”, I say, just to avoid embarrassment, but slowly add “I cannot locate it.”

“Look, look now, it has moved its head a bit” Jasbir tells me.

“Oh! Yes, I can see.” I almost shout. A sensation passes through the body. I can see the top of the black ear with white solid circular patch and very small yellow of the head. Some movement of the animal, made it clear – yes, it’s a tiger, sitting behind the dry bush in a depression, probably pool, hidden from our view. I am excited. This is my first tiger, of the first ride, of this visit to the Kanha Tiger Reserve (in Madhya Pradesh State of India).

We now wait impatiently. There is a very good possibility of its rising and making a move for us to see it fully, and may be for a stretch of time.

It takes full 20 or so minutes since our detection that it gets up. The world of wildness is strange. Three-four spotted deer have been grazing, may be just a 25-30 odd metres further down from where we have been watching.  They merely jump away to give way in case tiger decides to take that route. No alarm call and no panic. Likewise, a peacock has been feeding even at a lesser distance on the right. The tiger decides to take that direction. The peacock makes a call and flies away in haste and settles on a tree about 50 metre away.

It is clear that the tiger has been sitting in a small pool as rear and bottom parts are wet and appear dirty.

Jasbir and Khare (Mr Surendra Kare, SDO, Kanha) hold a rapid mini conference and conclude that this tiger should walk on Andha Kuan (Blind Well!) road. We cross the anicut and stop at about 100 m.

We spend anxious moments, for the tiger is nowhere. Khare spots it. The tiger is playing a trick. It set down just 10 m off the road. It is waiting for us to pass by and give us a slip.

Poor chap. But the good part is, it has a plan and it sticks to it. It soon decides, ‘OK, do whatever you want but I continue.’

Tiger comes to the road. Leisurely it walks in front of us. It’s past six. The light is quite low. I do some video. Jasbir takes some photos at 3200 ASA! In old days of ‘Negative’ and ‘Transparency’ films this was impossible. Such high speed films were just not made. I still do not like to go above 400 ASA on my SLR.

It is now very much clear that it’s huge male tiger – as they say, king of the forest.

I ask Jasbir, ‘What is the name of this tiger?’ It so happens that in tiger reserves, some popular and regularly sighted tigers are given name. Jasbir is not very happy with the naming and gaming culture. Scientists are now giving more clinical name like, T 7, T15 … Giving such numerical names, to me sounds like insulting tiger. They should carry lordly names. In good old days, there used to be tigers called Sultan, Raja, Dhitoo…

For the sake of convenience and not to let this tiger remain anonymous in my memory, I call it Meenpur Anicut Tiger.

In between, the tiger would stop, look around, kind of inspect its territory and if necessary mark it, by releasing a spray of urine backwards on the stem of a prominent tree. This, it repeats few times. This is a mystery – which trees to mark, how many trees to mark and more important to have enough store of urine!

Not to mention, but at one place we notice tiger crouches and lowers its back portion to relieve itself. The process seems to be somewhat painful as the animal quite visibly shakes its entire body violently to let the stuff pass out. Jasbir thinks loudly ‘Constipation?’

We have been watching the Meenpur Anicut Tiger close to twenty five minutes for about 500 metres.

Finally, at one place, it moves away from the road and goes tangent and we can see it cross a dry nala about 70-80 metre inside and disappears in the forest as well as approaching night.

I think, ‘Where is he going?’

‘Is it to some suitable place to hunt?’

But, spotted deer have been grazing just near where it has been sitting. Jasbir points out that it appears to be well fed from the look of the belly.

‘OK, water?’ But, that too was available where it has been sitting.

‘Is it out for a stroll?’

‘Is it out to look for a girl friend?’

‘Is it out to secure its territory?’

Many questions come to mind. It is difficult to answer all these unless one can read tiger’s mind. So said Rudyard Kipling

‘What of the hunting, hunter bold?
Brother, the watch was long and cold.
What of the quarry ye went to kill?
Brother, he crops in the jungle still.
Where is the power that made your pride?
Brother, it ebbs from my flank and side.
Where is the haste that ye hurry by?
Brother, I go to my lair to die!’


Pushp Jain


Salai – Out of Box


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I am driving through Madhav[1] forests which are described in literature as ‘northern tropical dry deciduous mixed forest’. There are patches of ‘dry thorn forest’ also in the area. In general, there are patches of Kardhai (Anogeissus pendula) forests, Khair (Acacia catechu) forests, Salai (Boswellia serrata) forest, mixed forests, riparian forests etc.

But it is not as simple as that. It may be dry in context of moisture /water but otherwise, it is not as ‘dry’ as that. As we pass along, different locations have different conditions resulting in changing scene every minute. And if you look closer, that is beauty of our forests.

In April month, forest is ‘bone dry’. Except for patches along the lakes and water channels, most of the trees are leafless or with dry leaves. Nevertheless, each and every patch of forest amazingly sends vivid images to mind which get ingrained in the memory.

I realise, if we do not notice, this is simply a ‘jungle’.  But if we look with interest and open eyes, there are those trees, herbs, shrubs, grasses, flowers, leaves, fruits… Every species has different character – colour, shape, size, height, and trunk and leaf, flower, fruit, & wood….It does not end at that in a forest. Every species plays important role in the ecosystem.

Madhav area is mostly hilly with plateaus and nalas. The slopes are gentle and rarely steep. As we approach hill tops and higher plateaus, I am particularly fascinated to see patches of Salai forests. I have come across similar patches commonly in Sariska and Ranthambhore Tiger Reserves also.  Here I may say, Salai forest is no technical classification but for the sake of emphasis on Salai species, I am calling it so.

Salai shines out in the mix. It stands out with its colour, shape, size, height… It dominates the mix. Most of the Salai trees stand tall and branch higher up while, there are few which profusely branch at breast height itself. It’s a moderate-sized, deciduous tree.

Salai has shiny, bright, light golden look, making it stand out among the blackish trunks of Khair and Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) as well as inconspicuous cream-black Ghont (Zizyphus xylopyra). But in this mix competing for attention is Salai’s another neighbour, Dhaora (Anogeissus latifolia) with bright light grey colour smooth bark with whitish patches!

There are variations of creamish, golden, orangish or yellowish look of different specimens. Paper thin upper most layer of the golden bark is peeling off, all over, revealing very soft green hue and smooth texture of the inter bark. I get down, take a walk in few such patches, feel the thin bark and peel few of them and touch the soft, smooth inner greenish layer of the bark.

I know that the Salai wood is soft and used for making boxes and its gum is used for medicinal purposes. Internet sources reveal that Salai ‘is used in cheap furniture, ammunition boxes, mica boxes, packing cases, cement barrels, well construction, water pipes, matches, plywood and veneers.

‘The tree yields a yellowish-green gum-oleoresin known as salai guggal from wounds in the bark. This gum has an agreeable scent when burnt. The gum is called the Indian frankinscens and used in medicines, perfumery and for scented fumes, used for incensing and freshening the air. Gum is used in medicine against rheumatism and as diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory and astringent.’[2]

Crowning beauty of Salai is that it occurs in hard, sallow soils with poor moisture conditions. It’s an ‘out of box’ tree whose wood is used for making boxes.




[1] Madhav National Park, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, India



T 7 Bounds Away to Freedom

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For anybody with some interest in nature, tiger is always an interesting subject. But, this is rather a different kind of tiger story.

This story is woven around loss of all tigers from Sariska Tiger Reserve (in Rajasthan State of India), relocation of tigers to the Reserve and the tiger ‘T 7’. It’s a long story but briefly, all the tigers in Sariska get poached in early 2000s, without Forest Department noticing the disappearance, which, though must have happened over a period of time and not overnight! The government remains in denial mode for quite some time saying ‘tigers may have gone out and will come back!’ But, the truth cannot be hidden for long.

In 2005, re-introducing tigers to Sariska is planned. This is first ever, ambitious tiger relocation plan in the world. Lot of debate and discussion goes into it. Finally, a male tiger is relocated from Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve (also in Rajasthan) on 28 June 2008. With more shiftings, Sariska has five – two male and three female  – tigers around November 2010.

This is another story that no litter is delivered, in spite of several signs and evidences of mating. This becomes an issue of concern and scientific debate but nothing convincing emerges. Wildlife biologists are out of wits. So the crisis continues. I have been aware of all these developments.

It is about 5 years ago. I am on a visit to Sariska. To be precise, it is 23 February 2011. A great drama is unfolding. The forest is pitch dark. It is almost midnight. There is a torch light flashing momentarily now and again. About a score of people are hanging around near the entrance of a huge enclosure. In normal situation, one will not be walking around at this time of the day or rather night, in a tiger reserve.  The crowd is largely forest officials and some media persons. There is anxiety and tension in the air.

The enclosure is about 15 feet high, made of very strong wire mesh fencing and iron angles.  The enclosure has about a hectare of dry deciduous natural forest along with some herbivores e.g. spotted deer and blue bull inside.

We notice beams of head lights of a caravan of about half a dozen vehicles on the main road approaching towards us.  Another 10 minutes, we can hear noise of trucks and jeeps taking the dust track linking the enclosure area with main road. There is whole lot of excitement and confusion – which position to take to be best able to see action. Officials are tense for the state (health) of the tiger after a long, rough road journey of several hours.

Just to ensure that the tiger is safe and also for the sake of excited crowd, one of the forest officials with the cage lifts a small slit door in the cage’s main door. And the crowd in unison shouts ‘tiger’. What is visible is the white of the chest of the tiger with few black stripes. There is some moment also visible. So, it seems o.k. I take few pictures for the sake of recording the unique event.

Soon the cage with tiger is downloaded from the truck and rolled up to the mouth of the double door entrance of the enclosure. The opening in the door is just enough to fit and aligned with the cage door which would be pulled up to open.

All people are now standing close to the fence to a get a glimpse of the tiger jumping out of the cage into the enclosure. I position myself at a place very close to the wire mesh of the enclosure and insert my camera lens through a gap and slant it in the direction of the possible leap of the tiger into the forest. It takes only split second, as soon as the door of the cage is pulled up, the tiger disappears into the darkness of the forest. I blindly click three times as soon as the door of the cage has been lifted. The action is over within seconds.

Tiger is left to itself and all disperse within about ten minutes in the available vehicles. The enclosure will allow the animal to settle into new environment and get acclimatised before it is released into the forest, few days later.

On the way back, I review the photos on camera’s screen and it is disappointing. The shots appear to be all blank and black. Later on, I download the photos on to the laptop. I take close look at the tiger release photos which appear to be blank. And Lo, I cannot believe myself that I have just about captured the tiger’s leap out the cage!! The photo is dark, but exciting and full of action.

This is a male tiger, called T 7. It is the one of the male offspring of the most famous wild tigress of the world in recent times, Machhali, in Ranthambhore. Ranthambhore is packed with tigers and T 7 is not able to carve out a territory for itself.

It is again a very long story, but T 7 has been wandering around for several months, homeless and a serious problem animal!  Last, it has taken refuse in Keoladeo National Park, a bird sanctuary, not really suitable for a tiger. It is picked up from here and shifted to Sariska.

T 7 has been renamed ST 6. It has settled into a tiger reserve without any untoward incidence happening. Furthermore, it is reported to have fathered first litter of two tiger cubs in August 2012. Breeding has been successful after more than four years of tiger reintroduction programme. Sariska is no more jinxed. The tigers are breeding here and there is hope of their survival…



Wonders of Kipling Landscape




The time is passing by as we are driving around in the forests of Barnawapara in Chhattisgarh. Soon the Sun is setting. I am getting anxious by every passing moment. We do see a bison. It is inside the forest and shows only its bum and heads deeper inside the forest! There are few spotted deer here and there. No prize sighting as such.


Another reason of anxiety is fading light – I will not be able to shoot an animal, though of course, I may enjoy watching, if encountered.


It is 6.15 pm. Already twilight. I notice a large black bundle like stuff on my left about 100 metre inside the forest. I think I have made it. It is not difficult to decide it is a sloth bear.

As a first reflex action, I fish out my SLR camera with a telephoto zoom. It shows terrible poor light.  I increase the film speed from 200 ASA to 1250 ASA but still no chance of a shot. I soon remember that I still carry a Sony Camcorder in my bag. It captures light somehow in late evening also. It is an old baby gifted by my daughter, Chandni, about 8 years ago and I continue to carry it along out of habit, though using very little.


Luckily, the bear is in no great rush. It is still in sight. When I focus my video camera on the animal, it has started moving in the forest from left to right. Soon it decides to increase pace into run and hop along. It soon crossed the road. We can still see it now and again for about 200 metres inside the forest until it is hidden behind the bushes.


It is a good sighting. I am very happy. We congratulate ourselves for the luck. I thank the driver from managing it i.e. the selection of route and timing. I am relaxed for being able to make it, though I did nothing much except asking the driver to stop for listening to animals calls, if any.


I am sure, wildlife watchers would agree, sloth bear is difficult to come across. It comes out of its lair much later in the evening, virtually when it is night and retires before dawn!


In my life long experience of wildlife watching, I recollect seeing sloth bears in Sariska and  Ranthambhore and Himalayan black bear in Corbett, but always in night and generally at long distance – few glimpses here and there – No chance of photos.


I am, thus, happy to share with you this quarter minute crude video which will give the real feel of wilderness though you may have seen many good photos of sloth bear done by professional photographers in controlled conditions or spending ages with some semi-wild animal.


Barnawapara story does not end here. It is raining luck today. The forest guard sitting behind me says ‘sir ek or bhaloo, ulte hath per’. Even before, I look to left, the driver says ‘sir ek or bhaloo, right may’. So there I am confused – to look at a sloth bear on left or the other one at right! The one on the right is relaxed and sitting comfortably across us and easily eyeing us straight. No chance of any photo now – still or video – because of low light. One on the left is full of action. It is jumping around and soon makes a dash to cross the road to be on the side of one on right. It appears to be a pair, though frankly it is difficult to say. Soon we see both are together and exploring for the food around.

And do you know where we find these bears?  The first one has been about a 800 metres and the pair about 300 metres from a water pool called Bhallu Pani (Bear Pond)!




In fact, this forest or jungle is no different, and falls in the same Central Indian landscape as that of ‘The Jungle Book’ of Rudyard Kipling where the Baloo, a sloth bear, is among the important characters, and who is mentor and friend of the main character, Mowgli.


Well, expecting to see Mowgli as well, will be asking for too much.


Pushp Jain