Thursday, May 7, 2009

The great escape.

Mountains, oceans, heritage places, forests... the list is endless when it comes to choosing one
for that much-needed break. Coordinators share the experience of their wonderful holidays

Call of the wild
Forests have always seemed inviting to me. More than hill stations or sea beaches. Perhaps this attraction owes much to the fact that the first time I went to a forest, I was a baby, barely a few months old. My first experience of actual wilderness of forests was when I still had not learned to walk - our elephant had been attacked by a rhinoceros who was protecting her child. Of course I have no remembrance of that incident but it still thrills me. Our elephant, the brave hero, had kept us safe.
Since then, I have been to many forests in all parts of the country. After 13 years or so of going to forests, the first time I had seen a Royal Bengal Tiger in a forest — the image is still etched in my mind, it had been in Kanha forest reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Since then, we have been rather lucky for we’ve been blessed with tiger sightings in Bandhagarh and Pench (both in Madhya Pradesh) as well as Chitwan forest in Nepal.
Recently, we went to a truly unique place to try our tiger luck. However, the peculiarity of this forest is that it does not have tigers. No, it has not been severely struck by poaching but is home to the world’s last Asiatic lions.
Gir National Park in Gujarat is 1412 sq km of deciduous forest interspersed with semi-evergreen and evergreen flora. We reached the forest lodge by afternoon. Resting that day, we mentally prepared ourselves for tough routines for the next few days. After all, they all began at 5.30am! Gir National Park provides tourists with the option to hire jeeps which they can use to enter the forest twice daily. We had to take an official guide with us who would not only provide safety but also help us spot animals in their camouflage with their experienced and well-trained eye.
The first day of our trip whipped up our excitement for the jungle lived up to our expectations - smell of the trees, and the presence of concealed life all made the adrenaline rush through our veins!
We saw spotted deer (chital) and their ample number proved they were enjoying a good life in the forest. On our route, we reached one of the several lakes in the forest. There we saw an uncommon sight — two crocodiles! Furthermore, as we were in that particular clearing, we could hear a lion roaring from a nearby-forest!
We did not spot a lion that particular trip, but in the evening, we struck luck. Just as we neared the exit, it was close of the day as well as our second trip, and we were informed that a lioness had been spotted nearby. We hurried to the place and there she sat — beautiful with the royalty of a queen. Several jeeps crowded around but she hardly seemed to care.
There is a great difference between lions and tigers. Tigers tend to be shyer and usually prefer to hide away from humans. However, lions hardly bother. Secondly, while tigers may attack (after a warning, with an exception of the tigers in the Sunderban delta), lions never attack unless they are either greatly agitated or hungry. After clicking pictures of the first lioness sighting of my life, we left.
The next day began with excitement. As we started our journey, we suddenly saw a blur of movement to our left. The jeep was immediately stopped. There, having jumped from a tree was a leopard that ran past the jeep, barely five feet away from me, and hid amidst the trees! We did not get a picture of this but seeing it with our eyes was enough. Later during the day, we saw wild dogs. These animals live in groups and due to their teamwork are generally more dangerous than the big cats themselves.
During our evening trip, we faced yet another exciting situation — a lioness was drinking water from a stream that was at a lower level and would soon rise. We, along with several other jeeps, patiently awaited, only to have our patience rewarded as this beauty walked past our jeeps into the forested area.
The sun soon disappeared below the horizon and it was time for our next day to begin. We were extremely excited as each of us felt exceptionally lucky. We found a lion walking in front of our jeep!
It was one of the rarest and luckiest of times - having a full grown lion in all it’s royalty walking in front of our car, following the road, for nearly 15 minutes! One might ask if we were scared but, in all honesty, I can say no - the gorgeous King of the Jungle having graced us by his presence awed us and left us praising the experience.
Then it was time to leave. It was hard to bid goodbye to the beauty of the jungle. Being an avid forest lover, it is truly surprising that people can be heartless enough to kill these majestic beasts for monetary gain. After all, wildlife is the rainbow that shines over our country, and perhaps even the entire world.
Aankhi Mukherjee, Calcutta
Girls’ High School.


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