She lands in my lap

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We are driving to Churna Forest Rest House (in Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, last month). My forester friend, Shashi and our host, Shib, talk of possibility of sighting a Giant Squirrel. I have read about it. In fact, STR logo carries the outline drawing of the Giant. I tell them, “I would love to see it.” In fact, I am excited. I have not seen this earlier.

As we arrive, after protocol salutes for senior officials, we are seated at a nice spot in the lawn, in front of the FRH. Soon, the table is laid and tea is served. It’s high tea in view of presence of senior foresters. It includes nuts, biscuits, sweets, fruits…

As soon as the fruit plate arrives, we are joined by an unexpected guest. And of all the possible guests, it has been least expected – Giant Squirrel!

It has been keeping a watch on us, from an adjacent tree, arrives behind us with stealth. It seems, it is unable to get a clear view of how the table is laid and how to target the favourite stuff. It leaps and lands in my lap to get a clear view of the table! I am taken aback and so are others. Nevertheless, I keep still. In no time, the squirrel grabs a piece of apple and dashes off.

The local forest guard in attendance tells us that this particular Giant has learned the art of getting /stealing food from visitors. It has become bold to pick the stuff from plate and has no fear of man.

There it is, feeding on the apple, sticking to the truck of the tree next to us, in typical squirrel style – upside down. The tail and hind legs provide grip while it holds the apple piece in between front legs. Oh! Interesting – it removes the peel before eating the apple. Does it know that these days apples are covered with insecticide, pesticide and a layer of wax.

We are able to look at the Giant close enough to count moustache hair, take number of photos. Shashi even takes my photo watching the Giant at close quarters.

After finishing the apple, it is ‘dil mange more’. The Giant returns back to the table but by now only biscuits and empty cups are left. It is disappointed.  A friend offers biscuit but it just ignores.

It is angry. It notices a kitten feeding on a biscuit behind us. The Giant gives the kitten a bite stiff enough for it to make sharp and shrill cry.

Local forest guard shows us two more giants in nearby trees but they are barely visible –feeding up in the trees. Giants actually love big trees and remain in upper canopy, rarely coming to ground. He also shows a giant’s home in the foliage – some tender leaves have been laid into a circular bed.

I notice, the friendly Giant is indifferent to us, and sharply looking at two new visitors. It notices a bag of eatables. It runs to them and immediately attracts attention. The story of grabbing a fruit goes on.

Pushp

 

Post Script

Indian Giant Squirrel is endemic to India. Its distribution is in the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats and the Satpura Range, as far north as Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the largest squirrels. It is dramatically coloured involving creamy-beige, buff, tan, rust, reddish-maroon, brown and black. There are some variations among the subspecies of which, ten have been described. The one mentioned in the blog is Ratufa indica centralis.

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.

 

Pushp