Today, in the mad rush for “tiger sightings”, most of India’s wildlife tourism has been channelled to what we sometimes call “star reserves” — Ranthambore, Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgarh. Sadly, the obsession with a “guaranteed tiger sighting” and getting that perfect tiger image in this DSLR age has made most tourists and wildlife photographers forget the sheer joy of experiencing a forest — that incredible feeling of being one with nature and all its myriad creatures. This week’s Eye is a travel special on forests. Explore the mysteries and stories of the real jungleland.
Mad rush: A tiger on my trail
To those who are willing to brave the hardships involved in travelling to obscure forests where no luxury resorts mushroom, where often a lone chowkidaar manning a rustic forest rest house is the only human soul around for miles, where you must carry all your food supplies, where water must be fetched from the nearest nullah or a well (if you are lucky!), the forest rewards them with a glimpse of its undiscovered jewels and an experience of a lifetime. I am among those lucky few to have had such an experience some years ago in a little-known wildlife sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.
Tiger sighting: An encounter in the woods
A flash of yellow streaked through the lush greenery that enveloped us. I strained my neck to get a glimpse of the unlikely episode unfolding in front of our jeep. It was a tiger, walking nonchalantly along the thick woods of Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary situated in BR Hills of Karnataka, 86 km from Mysore. This little-known wildlife sanctuary is home to at least 44 tigers, 75 leopards, 600 elephants but it’s not easy to get a glimpse of the fauna because of the limited safari tracks and hilly landscape.
Forest essential: Why Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a blessing
At a time when India, and the world, reel from the impact of human-made chaos resulting in drought, floods and unbreathable air, green expanses like the SGNP assume greater importance. As Debi Goenka, who leads the Conservation Action Trust (CAT) points out, this forest is one of the two things that protects Mumbai from the fates of Delhi and Chennai.
At home with the lions
Bhushan Pandya has been shooting and documenting the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, the last abode of Asiatic lions in the world, in Saurashtra region of Gujarat for the last three decades. In 1996, a photograph he shot of a a lioness in the backdrop of the sea provided evidence that Asiatic lions had also made the coastline of Sutrapada their home. Now 60, and nearly crippled by a road accident, the photographer still returns to his beloved forest.
Arunachal Pradesh: Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride
Arunachal is “magical”, “mystical”, “wild” and the “final frontier” on travel websites and guide books. It’s all that and much more. The natural beauty of its green valleys, mighty rivers and rugged snow-capped peaks with a mind-boggling diversity of tribes and their cultures make it the ultimate destination for people of all interests.
Cochin State Forest Tramway: Here ran the timber train
Until 2013, visitors could enjoy the Tramway Trek, a two-day guided walk arranged by the Kerala forest department, to explore a section of the remnant tramway. With the forest declared a tiger reserve in 2009, pressure mounted to stop the trek as parts of it fell in the core area. I was fortunate to visit it in 2011 just before it was discontinued. Driving past Tamil Nadu’s Top Slip, our group of four crossed the state border into Kerala, where the forest staff allowed us in after an exhaustive search for contraband.
Into the wild: Leaves out of a Venezuelan forest
One could never know what a forest walk would bring, but almost always, it was rewarding. Drunken butterflies, killer frogs and the elusive jaguar – a doctorate project in the forests of tropical Venezuela turns out to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Sariska Tiger Reserve: The cat on the roof
In Sariska, visitors whom the tiger eludes take home memories of its pugmarks. They are found in the dust of the forest trails, each helpfully circled by the tip of a human forefinger. The guide who finds them considerately leaves his mark for the benefit of his peers, and the truckloads of visitors they bring in every day to harass the local fauna
The call of the night
A mansion in the middle of wilderness, the hour of dusk, and the rustle of the wind in the trees. Forests have always inspired the human mind to explore the paranormal. Author Kankana Basu talks about how listening to ghost stories in her childhood awakened in her an insatiable hunger for the paranormal and led to pen down the book Lamplight: Paranormal Stories from the Hinterlands.
Window to the great outdoors
For city-bred souls, apart from cooling and cleansing the air, urban forests offer a glimpse of the wonders that the wilderness has to offer. And as it’s usually city folk who are deciding the fate of our “real” big-daddy forests, once they learn to appreciate this, hopefully they’ll want to protect those.
Book by the brook: The best ones to read in leisure
Planning a visit to a wildlife sanctuary? These books will immediately transport you to wonderland after your day safari. Pick one, you will love it.
The reel jungle
Now, while we are talking about jungles, how can movies that captured the spirit of nature be left behind? Here are a few movies that you should definitely watch.