Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kanha - hEY The CAT's R Lazy!!!

Kanha – 14 – well thats the perfect vibe.....for the word(any numerologist will concur on that) and where do I start....err well To do or Not to do...and of course there goes the frantic calls from the Secretary of the Madras Naturalists to Vijay Kumar concerning the elusive, slippery nay missing Me. Well as Sheela put it... my reputation preceded me....so that was the con...nay gossip in the A.C. Coaches of the Chennai - Jaipur(Jeypore) bound Train (of course poor me was in the Gen. Class.) just as we reached Nagpur enroute Kanha for a week long sojourn. Nagpur was hot 'n dry simmering well beyond 35c and soon we found ourselves bundled off in the 3 Toyota's (nay Toyata kualis as our Pasha (the travel agent and lead driver) referred them there). Now I had a request....an S.O.S. please stop by an ATM....for I was virtually penniless....little chillers was all that I was left with, if I didn't draw any money then Vijay Kumar our Malabari leader was to underwrite me! And so the search for the ATM began....enroute from Nagpur to Kanha (260km long drive).....we were soon on the NH-7, little did I know that this highway linked Benares with Cape Commorin. For thats the route amidst the ghat roads the ranges of the Satpura that leads you to Kanha. Lunch was an optional break at a motel and finally our Toyatawalla Pasha agreed to get me to an ATM at Seoni (pronounced Sivni the half way point and our Toyatawalla's base). The ATM was another surprise....SBI – Indore....Grrrr!!!....for the machine seemed to know its after all the machine age and that humans can wait!..and wait we all did in the Toyata's!!...for poor me to finish the transaction which am glad despite the mysterious shut down and restart!!! Anyway as good luck would have it we the Madras Naturalists brought the rains along and must be credited for cooling the Kanha Reserve. The rains just preceded us in Seoni and ofcourse there was the virgin reserves of Kanha calling out to us and bring down the simmering heat. Giving us company enroute was the ubiquitous and chweet narrow gauge line a rare phenomena to see in the plains and the train was rather short with a quaint diesel engine but our Pasha clarified that this train journey was economical on the narrow gauge, a 12 hour trip from Nagpur to ________ the closest point to Kanha and then it veers off to Jubbulpore. And Seoni incidentally has the pride of being the largest and sole narrow gauge railway junction in S. Asia. Well that didn't surprise me for Nagpur incidentally also hosted one of the only known Railway Museums on the Narrow Gauge networks in S. Asia. And on Nagpur I was also glad to know that this was the city of Ambedkar and more important the city where the Reserve Bank of India had centralised all its accounts and has all the glimmering tons of gold (solid gold bars i bet) stocked in its cellars (reminded me of the 1991, balance of payment crisis). Finally we reached Kanha (Kisli Gate) vide the State Highway 11 and 11a from Seoni at 7.30 that eve....ofcourse thats followed by the hustle and bustle of finding your favourite beds at the dorms.... and supper was at 8.30...hot vegetarian food, must give our appreciation to Dubey the Asst. Manager of the Reserve Kitchen and Canteen maintained by M.P. Tourism. He was one soul that was rare and too willing to believe in “Adithi Devo Bhava”, ofcourse it came for a price.

Day 2 we set off for on our maiden entry at 5.30 early morn., after a great cup of chai, courtesy Siddarth, canteenwalla, into the lush greens of Kanha.....on a Canter bus steered by Joseph, Joseph thats unusual for this part of India aint it! and when Joseph got to know that we were from the South then you know it all opened up...mallu!!...you'd be sure to find them across the globe and Joseph was indeed a great blessing to us all. He just knows how to steer us round n round the reserve, well informed and trustworthy a driver, a rare species amidst the other rarities of Kanha! And a must interact person in Kanha. Ofcourse there was a lot of hype....about the cats...cats and cats....they say officially its 130 but unofficially its 65! God!! Do the big cats exist at all? We keep riding around in our canter and witness some of the rich bird and mammal species of Kanha – Cheetals (Spotted deers) galore, Sambhars, the elegant Barasingha (Swamp deer family) an endangered mammal unique to Kanha that has managed to do well over the past two decades, a solitary barking deer, jungle pheasants, jungle crows, peacocks and peahens swarm around and then where is the tiger?????? ah well is it so easy? I thought so? Nay! Thats the sort of answer with a disdain......from Ramanan, a veteran Naturalist and photographer, someone who has been to Kanha almost half a dozen times and each time its a different experience for him to narrate. So mystique and myriad! Is that Kanha!! Hmmm anyway no tigers to watch that stroll across for us but then there's the silver lining and thats the Tiger Show of Kanha goes along with an elephant ride a short stroll on the elephant's back once they corner the tiger in the tourist zone.... Well a visit to this daily tiger show is rather nice. And looks the like the tiger is used to human intervention.... we observed the tiger, an adult, rather cool, merrily lazing next to a kill (an Indian Gaur). Trust me this tiger was just as lazy as any other cat would be....lazed nay dazed he was to the tons of visitors and noise that was all around him and he just didn't care....so much so...some of the Naturalists came to the conclusion that the whole show was 'fixed'! not as bad as the cricket shows we watch I guess!! Infact one rumour around the place was let off by Sudakar and that was perhaps they doped the tiger with sufficient calmpose....tee hee. Anway's that apart well well we were thrilled that the tigers after all that controversy does exist and as Vijaykumar says...that sums up the food chain cycle.... its still intact with the biggest predator still existing in flesh and blood and one need not worry anymore, ofcourse certainly not a lazing cat for us to click off after that long 26 and odd hour journey to Kanha.

Later that eve we once again decided to take the canter ride into the Reserves and oh my what a long que of jeeps waiting to enter....at least 15 ahead of us but then thanks to Joseph who bulldozes his way, in the process bumping off a jeep and amidst the screams he veers into the reserve, but thats not fair who cares...its the jungle law...of mougli....:) and hmmm no tigers at all for us that eve! but those jeeps that preceded us got lucky.....luck man as they say plays a big big role...:( After that we visited the OAT (open air theatre) and the museum, the documentary on project tiger and Kanha was informative but overall the OAT was a let down, poor maintenance evidenced the sad state of affairs in Kanha. But one thing we decided that the next day on it was the jeep for us and not the canter....and Joseph our benefactor was condescending and kind enough to get us 5 jeeps at a good rate.

Day3 at 5 we get ready, never have i got ready that early in ages, and in the jeeps we go for our long safari's round and round the park!! lots of birds and other mammals but the tiger? Well thats a ?? We get info of the Tiger sightings in and around Kanha and the Tiger show is on! But then we decide a big NO and yeah we stand by it. Ofcourse the last laugh is with a fellow naturalist who is fond of the Langur (the Indian Monkey) and my me his fascination and the pics he shot of the Langur...terrific!! is not just the word. The morning ride ends by 11 A.M. (by the way thats the time the Park shuts down in the forenoon) And we wait for the evening ride. This time around its another jeep that I embark on and as we go around the rains come. Wow convection rains and its lovely, the thunder storm and the clouds hanging over us is inviting and we understand thats its a heavy downpour in Kanha and all jeeps are advised to roam around the periphery of the Park. So all we do keep criss crossing the beaten track until the rains decide to accost us too and there we all huddle into one of the observation huts in the Park. The rains here are so inviting and it cools off the otherwise hot dry Kanha Park.

Day 4 we get off early as usual and this time its once again in search of the elusive cats. Well as they say bad luck could not get better than this. But then behold we had a great bird watching group. Name the bird that your were expected to see and our birdies saw it all. And on the mammals, reptiles and birds that its better described by Chitra whose wishes almost seem to always come true at Kanha and I always wondered how did she connect to Kanha?? And to write about Kanha as Chitra put it across in the monthly bulletin of the MNS: “Somehow the magnificence and awe that an image of a tiger evokes was missing in the rather orchestrated sightings we had of it. Moreover, most sightings were of sleeping tigers or tigers lolling around. But a few of our members actually saw a tiger on a hunt. The park claims to have about 500 Barahsinghas, 130 Tigers, 60 Sloth Bears, 96 Leopards, but as visitors are allowed into just a fourth of the park one gets to see these animals but rarely. Bird watching opportunities were not many as we spent quite a large amount of time chasing the elusive tiger, however we managed to spot many raptors (Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brown Fish Owl, Sparrowhawk, White-eyed Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and White Backed Vulture), and the Peafowl regaled us with many displays of its fine plumage. Some other interesting spottings included the Malabar Grey Hornbill, the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Spangled Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, and Painted Francolin. We were disappointed that we hardly got to see any reptiles, amphibians or interesting insects except for the odd visitor to our dormitory (the large beetle, the 6-inch black scorpion that had everyone running helter-skelter) and the olive coloured snake that one of our members almost stepped on during the nature walk.” ...there they were all and I saw them just that am no avid bird watcher. However the official claims are all contested and the cats as we all know factually are less than half of the official figures, well thats another controversy thats been raging for quite a while now and lets not get into that right now. Later early evening a Canter ride visit to the nearby village - Mocha, and a peek into the local shandy (market) was exciting. The village artefacts were aplenty and so is the vegetable and fruit market. The brown sugar (demarara) and Gur was enticing and ofcourse last but not the least was the local intoxicant drink that all of us got to sip....WOW!! Thats not all for the evening we get to see around 5 pm the elephant feeding, my me thats an awesome no one should miss in Kanha. First the Tusker get his share and then comes the family and the little ones and the females in the group they all wait patiently in a row for those huge balls made of Ragi, jaggery and other nutrients. Trust me you can control an elephant to a certain extent and when its feeding time all you can do is make them stand in a line and when the balls of food arrive its helter skelter and no man can control hunger pangs of these little gluttons...the little ones goading each other for the food with a naughty smile and an eyes filled with love and sweetness, in each little elephant calf was such a memorable sight that neither me nor Ambika or Chitra could forget in a life time.

Day 5: Got us going once again pretty early and this was ofcourse going to be a long drive to the plateau of Bamini Dadar and as Chitra wished all her wishes come true! All she wanted to see was a bear and a some of the other cat species and a snake well well lets see how lucky she got!! And just as we go winding in the known trails towards the plateau suddenly ahead of us is another jeep of those avid documentary fellas filming and they signal us to stop...why and in loud whispers.....its a bear....ooh la la. Hey Chitra one wish of yours is there...and they want us to go back a short distance which our jeep driver didn't accede to and lo suddenly the Sloth bear goes past on the left side....pretty sweet (and a pretty young fellow) looks like this one is upset with the many humans around filming and he runs along and then crosses road right behind our jeep and on to other side lo he is gone...lost into the thick wilderness of Kanha!!! We then proceed up up and above into the plateau of Bamini Dadar and my me the meadows of this region tall elephant grass, made good bird watching and finally across the abandoned air strip and to the view point. Aha breathtaking views that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and on our way back good lord Chitra's another wish.....some other cats!...and there we see the elusive shy jungle cat....that was a rare sighting.....Infact this cat didn't seem to be bothered about us, he was pretty much engrossed in his hunt for a while until he suddenly noticed a jeep full of weird onlookers gazing and clicking him off...good lord for a moment he did realise that we thought he was the spectacle nay factually it was spectacular a find. However Ananthakrishnan had better luck with Ramanan. And the pictures he shot stood testimony to that.

Later that evening we decide to go on a nature trail (ofcourse thats a walk) nothing noteworthy but for some bird watching and halfway through we are tired and the rains force us to abandon the walk and allow us to stray outside Kanha. We are off to the Chai(Tea) stall piping some hot tea as the rains bless us one and all. Later that evening its time for our last dinner at Kanha and we are one and all profusely thanking the Kitchen staff, the Manager and ofcourse Joseph, our man of honour. But the splendid evening was overshadowed by the killing of the black scorpion that accidentally wandered into our dorm....(the scorpion was stoned by one of the kitchen boys and it was spontaneous for which he repented later, for we did explain to him that they scorpions have a right to co-exist, and he would done good to stop after having chased it out rather than follow it and stone it) and the other bad event was the good old me who strayed out into the night on the pretext of having some kheer at the other restaurant and ofcourse when it was late for me to get back Vijaykumar had the jitters and raised an alarm, well well nothing happened to good old me, I was destined to be safe like the cats, which they say has nine lives! whether or not they are lazy!!

Day 6: Early morning another annual trip comes a circle and we are all packing off to Nagpur. Our Toyotawalla is ready to get us going. And we are cruising down the highway, with a halt at Seoni for some import – export and then the odd tyre that gives way not once but twice (yeah the stepini too) despite which we make it to Nagpur well before noon only to disperse into our respective material worlds.

All Images: Courtesy and thanks to: Ananthakrishnan, Chitra, Ramanan (Madras Naturalists Society).

Fact File.
Location: Geo Political - Mandla District, Madhya Pradesh, Central India. Kanha lies in the Maikal Range of the Central Indian Highlands at a latitude of 22o7’ to 22o27’N and 80o26’ to 81o3’E. The altitude range in 450 mts to 950 mts (m.s.l.). Summer temperature ranges from 11° C to 43° C while in winter it is from -2° C to 29° C. The annual average rainfall is 1600mm. It has links to other tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh and falls on a circuit of Khajuraho, Panna, Bandhavgarh, Jabalpur, Kanha, Pench and Nagpur.

Area: 1,940 sq. kms.

When to Visit: April to June and November to January

Getting There.
Air: The nearest airport is at Nagpur (266-kms) and is connected by various domestic airline services with Mumbai.

Rail: For those from the South and West Nagpur at 266 km or and from the other parts Jabalpur at 169-kms are the most the convenient railway routes to visit Kanha. Travelling in the narrow gauge railway line from Nagpur to the closest point of Kanha would be recommended only if you have ample time at command for it takes easily 12 hours and more as the passenger train halts at every other station.

Road: Kanha National Park is connected by road with Jabalpur 175-kms, Khajuraho 445-kms, Nagpur 266-kms, Mukki 25-kms, Raipur 219-kms.

Within the park: Koshi - Kanha (9-kms), Kishi - Katia (4-kms), Kishi - Mukki (32-kms). There are regular bus services available from Jabalpur to Kanha.

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