Bheema: The Peaceful Warrior of Kanha National Park passes away

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park
Bheema in Kanha National Park

It was in September 2016 that I wrote of the The Big Four Tigers of Mukki in Kanha. These Tigers had attracted the attention of all the Tiger lovers worldwide in the last 3 years. The most commonly sighted Tiger amongst them was Bheema, the peaceful warrior of Kanha National Park.

Bheema the peaceful warrior of Kanha Nationa Park

Almost everyone was beginning to reconcile that the Tiger behavior was changing in Kanha. Their belief stemmed from the fact that the four big male Tigers had accepted each other in a small area of under 300 sq kms. There were skirmishes on and off in the last couple of years. They all got injured, and recovered too.  But deep down few knew that Kanha Tigers are fighters and not quitters. They live and die like Tigers in territorial fights. It was a matter of time before they would show their true colors. Come October 2016, and we saw departure of Rajaram in a fatal territorial encounter with Umarpani male. You may read the same in the below link:

Rajaram (Kingfisher) Tiger dies in a territorial fight in Kanha National Park

Umarpani male is a huge and a powerful Tiger in his prime with some extra-ordinary lineage. You might like to read about him here.

People were still coming to terms with the death of Rajaram when Bheema was found in a condition bordering death. The Mahouts found him gravely injured while patrolling on their elephants. Such was his condition that the department could not even think of tranquilizing him lest he succumb to his injuries. He was lifted and placed on a stretcher by the forest department while conscious. I do not recall any incident when a Tiger has been lifted without tranquilizing in the wild or even in a zoo.

He was taken to a natural enlarged enclosure where he was put under observation and treatment. Apparently the damage to him was considerable, and he was in no condition for a surgery. A team of expert vets were summoned from across the country.

Bheema was born in July/August of 2011.

His father was Kankata and mother was Budbudi. He was one in the litter of four. One of his siblings Bajrang is still doing well in another zone of Kanha. Bheema was frequently sighted in Mukki and Kisli zones. He was one Tiger who was not shy of tourists, and gave ample photo opportunities, sighted almost twice a week if not more in his peak days, i.e. until summer of 2016. Usually his sighting was not just a glimpse. He was often seen walking on the vehicle tracks for kms. After his sighting the tourists would go back satiated and delighted always.

My personal experience with Bheema; the Peaceful Warrior

It was 11th June 2015, an afternoon safari. I had just finished an amazing sighting / session with Umarpani male which lasted about 30 minutes when we decided to go and wait at the Babathenga waterhole. We had zero expectation of any sighting. The weather was a bit humid, and suddenly we hear a sambar alarm call. For a moment I did not believe my ears, I looked at Naren on the wheels and the second alarm call.

Now, when a Sambar deer calls it is most certain that he has sighted a Tiger. And if he calls twice in succession then it means that the Tiger is active. We started our vehicle and headed just 50 meters ahead from where the call came. As we reached the area, the sambar called again. We switched off the ignition and waited.

Anxious moments…

I always advise my guide, and whoever accompanying me in the jeep never to stand up, just stay seated. Reason being, that more often than not the Tiger would see the standing eager people before the people will see him. When everyone’s eyes are eagerly searching for the big cat, there is a lot of nervous energy around. The Tigers are highly sensitive and would usually change direction when they notice anxiety. Hence everyone was seated, calmly active and actively calm in my vehicle.

Then Raju our guide pointed in one direction and murmured the most anticipated word, “Sirji Tiger”. His face was seen  from the tall grass. As everyone was seated in the car, the Tiger found a conducive atmosphere to make an appearance. We waited for him to come completely out of the grass. Once he did we started our vehicle and turned right where we expected him to follow us. Sure he did like an obedient son.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema coming out of the grassland near Babathenga

Tete-a-Tete with Bheema

Then started my vigorous clicking. We maintained a safe distance. I kept giving him mental assurance that “i love you my handsome boy”. He followed us, and did everything that a Tiger on his territorial round would do. Scratching, marking, spraying, flehmen, sit, roll, everything. In about twenty minutes that he followed me i clicked close to 400 shots. He was not leaving our trail. Finally Naren said, “Sir, it is time to go, we have only 30 minutes left for park closure time and we must move”. With a heavy heart i confirmed and we changed course.

On our way back, i started to think of various safaris i had done in my last 27 years in India. Two memorable sightings are, my very first Tiger sighting in Ranthambhore in 1990. And, second would be this sighting. Though there are many memorable ones, but getting two different male Tigers, and both head on for a considerable time in less than one hour is unusual.

Why i called him the Peaceful Warrior;

I called him the Peaceful warrior because he peacefully carried many combat medals (injury marks) on his shoulders with pride of a warrior. If I was to compare him with Link 7 aka Chotta Munna, or Umarpani male, Bheema was the most peaceful Tiger. He never unnecessary challenged any other Tiger for territory.  Stayed mostly in his own territory, and defended it pretty well till almost the last 3-4 months of his reign. His skirmishes with Chotta Munna in 2015 were quite one sided where he chided him away comfortably.

Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema carrying the trophies of many battles he fought and won.
Bheema the peaceful warrior in Kanha National Park
Bheema with many injury marks on his shoulders was a warrior who fought many battles.

But Chotta Munna has genes of Munna  (a legendary Tiger of Kanha). At 15 Munna is still fighting, and surviving. Chotta Munna started to give Bheema some tough time toward middle of 2016. On 1st October 2016 when the park reopened for tourism Bheema was sighted with a limp, and it seemed he had lost considerable amount of weight. He looked a much smaller version of his former self. Subsequently his sightings reduced.

Was he unable to hunt? Was he carrying some injury? Or, was he ill? There was nothing of consequence visible on him. There is no protocol to interfere in the lives of wild Tigers in India. The department only intervenes when they feel that the injury is serious and can disable the Tiger.

The passing of the Peaceful Warrior

On 4th December he was found by the patrolling forest staff. He was frail, his forelimb badly eaten by maggots. And he was found in the territory of Umarpani male. It is possible due to the constant disturbance by Chotta Munna he left his area and ventured into Umarpani male’s territory. I have always maintained that Umarpani male is the biggest surviving Tiger of central India right now. Not only in size, but in strength, and confidence also he is unmatched. The fact that he has dominated Mukki practically since 2011 speaks volumes about his demeanor.

Bheema was also not a diminutive Tiger by any yard of imagination Afterall he was given his name Bheema for a reason. He would have been a dominating Tiger in any other landscape besides Mukki. It was unfortunate that he got stuck between the two sons of Munna (Umarpani and Chotta Munna), else he would never have gone in his prime.

His fans including me were praying that he survives. But when i heard that the chances of survival are minimal i prayed for his ordeal to end.

Having seen Tigers for some decades now, i think, Tigers are born to fight. They survive because they fight. Choice is either they fight or they die. The end is mostly they fight and they die. Such is the life of a Tiger.

Sharad Vats

 

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Thirty Three (33) different Tigers sighted in Kanha since park reopened in October 2016

Different Tigers sighted in Kanha
Tigers of Kanha

Is it true? Yes, it is true, and speaks volumes about the efforts by the forest department in conserving Tigers and wildlife in Kanha. While many talk about the number of Tigers poached this year, very few discuss the number of different Tigers being sighted. Thirty Three different Tigers, including 11 cubs, is a healthy number, and that too just in the tourism zone. Please remember that these are not the numbers given by the forest department. But these are the Tigers sighted by the tourists. There is a documental evidence of the same. Significantly, this has been recorded in just 45 days. Besides, it is also reported that there are two pregnant Tigresses in this list, hence this number of 33 Tigers is bound to go up further soon. These many different Tigers sighted in Kanha is indeed good news for Kanha.

In October 2016 we heard about two Tigers getting poached and one Tiger dying in territorial fight. While nothing can be done about saving Tigers in a territorial fight, but in poaching it was done. The poachers of one Tiger were caught within 30 hours of the Tiger being found dead. Such a prompt action by the department is commendable, suggests dedication of the team towards the cause. Four people involved in the crime were arrested. On investigation it was revealed that they were local villagers who had laid a trap to get a wild boar or some large herbivore. But the Tiger walked in the area and was trapped. Unfortunate but true. The second poaching case is being investigated still. It is a matter of concern but i would still like to compliment the department for keeping these numbers to minimum.

With 22 adults, and 11 cubs the times ahead for Kanha look good. These are only the tourism zone figures, and the tourism zone is about 20% of the total area of Kanha. The latest camera trap census estimated that Kanha has over 110 Tigers as on date.  Of the total 22 adults sighted in the tourism zones of Mukki, Kanha, Kisli and Sarhi, there are 9 male Tigers. So the male to female ratio though not ideal, but it is close to being ideal. These are positive signs for the Tigers of Kanha.

Some experts had indicated that even if the Tigers disappear from rest of the protected areas, Kanha will still be amongst the last bastions of the Tiger besides Corbett. This forecast has been true so far, and i think it will remain true until something untoward happens.

List of Tigers sighted since October 2016 in Kanha include:

  1. Rajaram aka Kingfisher (died in a territorial fight in October 2016)
  2. Chotta Munna, aka Link 7
  3. Umarpani male
  4. Bheema
  5. Bajrang
  6. Jamun tola male
  7. Karai ghati male aka Dabang
  8. Junior Kankatta
  9. Supkhar male
  10. Munna
  11. Choti mada with two cubs
  12. Mahaveer feamle with 3 cubs
  13. Dhawajhandi female
  14. Umarjhola female
  15. Distt line female
  16. Neelam (pregnant)
  17. Link 8 female (pregnant)
  18. Link 7 female with 4 cubs aka Mundi Dadar female
  19. Unknown female with two cubs near Indri camp
  20. Female near Chimta camp
  21. Budbudi female, and
  22. Jamun Talab female

Conserving Tigers is not an easy task by any yard of imagination. Tigers roam free in large areas without boundaries, and with no technological surveillance yet. It is heard that soon there will be Drones to monitor them. With many villages around the parks, highways, inadequate forest guards, bio mass dependancy, forests and wildife are a soft target. But the forest department works relentlessly. They risk their lives from dangerous predators, stay away from families so that the forests can be preserved. Their sacrifice is hardly seen forget being appreciated.

I pray that you are able to sight many Tigers on your visits to Kanha. But a humble request to you all that please enjoy the park in it’s entirety. Yearning for Tigers alone can be a tad disappointing, hence appreciate the smell, sight, and sounds of Kanha. Trust me, it will leave you enthralled.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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Precautions to take while staying in a resort near a national park

First and foremost never go towards the forest on foot or in a vehicle if it is prohibited. There are gates from where all tourists vehicles enter. Use only the authorised gates to enter at the given time with a valid permit to enter the park. Do not even try entering from any other area in the protected areas. There are many precautions to take while staying near a national park. Some are listed below.

Caught in a national park without a valid permit will attract a jail term for you besides impounding of your vehicle. So please do not even think on these lines even if any local or a resort person tells you to.

Never leave the vicinity of the resort by yourself after sunset. Not even if you plan to just take a stroll around after your dinner. After sunset Leopards often tend to come close to the villages and resorts in search of food or the livestock. Tigers also move around in the night outside the protected areas. It is not worth the risk or adventure that you might want to experience.

If you must go out for some emergency work, and you must cross the buffer area of the forest, please do not go on a two wheeler. Ensure you are in a car and take someone along from the resort who knows the area, and do not forget to carry a torch for sure. Driving a two wheeler in a forested area is a huge risk more so in the night. If it breaks down, or a flat tyre, you can be in for a tough time. Four wheeler will at-least ensure your safety from the predators.

But if you happen to be in the Elephant country, then even a four wheeler is not a good idea to travel in the night. It is best that you postpone all your work for next day morning. Wild Elephants can treat your vehicle like a football. Hence it is in your best interest to stay in safe vicinity of your rooms.

Please do not even consider carrying any weapon even if you have one.  Caught with a firearm is a non bailable offense and attracts a term of up to 7 years in prison. But yes, it is a good idea to carry a wooden stick while on foot. No weapons whatsoever even in a safari vehicle.

While moving out of your room to go to the dining hall please carry a torch. Normally the electricity supply in the remote areas is erratic. Though most of the resorts have power back-up but it can take few seconds for the power supply to resume, hence carrying a torch is a good idea. These days there are wonderful caps which have a solar light, it is convenient to carry the same to as well. While doing the safari if the cap is on it keeps getting automatically charged, and in the night you can use it wherever you are going within the resort. Please click on this link below to see a good quality cap which i have been using for last 4 years.

Also be extremely careful not to go into bush, as there are many varieties of venomous snakes in the national parks.

http://www.ebay.in/itm/252642163895?aff_source=Sok-Goog

Precautions to take while staying near a national park
Solar cap, comfortable, and convenient

Stay safe and enjoy your safaris

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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What to do when you encounter a Tiger on foot in the Tiger country?

At the onset let me warn everyone that a Tiger is a perfect killing machine. So the best way to fight him is, not to fight him. This is a note from some personal past experiences, and wisdom of locals who occasionally meet the Tiger on foot in their own backyard.  It is quite possible that on your safari holiday you might also encounter a Tiger on foot inadvertently and unintentionally.

Please do not be anxious on how this might happen. Quite simply, the national parks of India do not have any fence, or walls. The Tigers move in and around the national parks to mark their territory, and in search of food. So often they come out of the forest and visit the outskirts of the resorts and the villages.

What to do when you encounter a Tiger on foot?

It is important to know that generally a Tiger is not interested in human beings. It is often noticed that he will leave the trail if he hears or sees you on the same trail. Having said this, it does not mean that you throw the caution to the winds. Also there are times that a Tiger would do a mock charge, i.e. come half way fully charging, then stop, turn around, and run away. These are serious and life threatening situations, so you cannot take any charge lightly, hence it is best to be prepared, and remember the below points if you happen to remember, when you encounter a Tiger on foot.

Stay calm

If you happen to sight a Tiger first then stay mum. Be breathless if possible. It is not easy not to get nervous, but your stillness before he notices you is your major chance of escape. If he has not noticed you, then stay quiet, wait for him to move on, and you later move in the opposite direction. Escaping should be the only motive, and avoid being foolishly heroic. Your anxiety can force a Tiger to take a step which he is not inclined to, i.e. attack you.

Pray

Whether you are a believer or a atheist there is no better time than this to start praying.

Stand up tall when you encounter a Tiger on foot

If you happen to be sitting on the trail, please stand up gradually, and stand tall. The Tiger must see you as a human being and not any unsuspecting prey animal. Tigers usually attack their prey from behind, specially when they happen to be sitting. He will mistake you for a small prey animal and charge. Hence stand up. By doing so, you have cleared to him that you are a human, and not his natural prey.

Signs that a Tiger is upset with you

If the Tiger is upset with you, he will show it by a growl, or he might take a stalking position. Now, what is a stalking position? Basically before a Tiger attacks, he crouches, his ears roll back, he freezes, focus on his prey, snarls, and charge. If he is taking that position, then you need to start backing up. Do not show your back to him, rather slowly and steadily just back up. When you love a dog his ears roll back, but not so with a Tiger. So please do not mistake Tiger’s rolled back ears that he needs to be loved. It is a clearcut warning to you, that he does not like your presence. Hence keep backing off slowly until the Tiger is well out of sight.

encounter a tiger on foot
Ears rolled back of a Tiger.

Never run

When you encounter a Tiger on foot, never run. Tigers are trained to chase anything running, and kill.

Encounter a Tiger on foot
This image was taken in Dudhwa National Park, when i was in a Jeep, and the Tiger decided to mock charge.

You will need to excuse me for the shake in the above image. This was the best i could get when i had a Tiger growling and flying towards me. I somehow feel it could have been lot sharper had other people in my Jeep not got hassled, and decided to shout and jump at the same time. Perhaps that did the trick and he abandoned his pursuit and turned back, but i lost a sharp image. This image perhaps needs another blog post altogether, so i would restrain myself from digressing further.

Climb a Tree

If there is a tree nearby, and the Tiger is a bit far, and you know how to climb a tree quickly, then go ahead. But be sure to reach at-least 15 feet high before stopping, as Tigers can jump upto 15 feet comfortably to get you down. Imagine how much is 15 feet, close to one and a half floor. So do it quickly if you can, else do not attempt.

If you encounter a Sloth Bear or a Leopard then the option of climbing the tree is out as they are both expert climbers, more so the Leopard.

Encounter a Tiger on foot
Forest guard who fought a Sloth Bear while patrolling.

I met the above forest guard in Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary, have forgotten his name, but will never forget my encounter with him. He had a bare hand fight with a Sloth Bear while on his patrolling rounds. The Sloth Bear stood on his hind legs, and fought with him for good 10 minutes. He did not loose hope and kept fighting. The Sloth Bear inserted his claws in the skull of the guard, but he kept on fighting. Perseverance, self belief, and not giving in saved him, but left him badly injured.

Make noise

If you have some metal, or something in your hand which you can make noise with, do it now. But do this only if you see that the Tiger has made up his mind to charge. If you have nothing on your hand, and Tiger is charging, then shout as hard and as long as you can.

Fight if you must and have no choice

When push comes to shove and you are not left with any choice then it is best to use presence of mind, and when a Tiger charges and jumps at you do the following:

Get as close as possible to him when he attacks you.

Hug him tight. Do not give him any breathing space. Hugging a Tiger can surprise him. All carnivores prefer distance, the fact that even while mating Tigers growl at each other, and avoid any physical closeness suggests that they avoid physical contact. Even Tigers fighting with each other keep distance. Initially they would slap each other, and wait to take a bite at the jugular vein on the neck of the opponent. Hence keep your neck away.

It is your weapon vs his claws and canines

Pick whatever you can, stick, branch, rock, and use it to protect yourself by hitting him.

Remember his weapons are his claws and canines, so stay away from them. Your weapon is whatever you get or have in hand. With his canines and claws he can hurt fatally. Tigers avoid fights. But if they get into the fight they will go for the kill, until and unless they are surprised by you, and just want to escape.

Continue to shout, and be as close as possible to him. Avoid his fatal bite, as not only it can kill, but it can give you some serious infection as his canines have lot of bacteria.

His weak spots could be his eyes, and nose, so strike hard there if you can.

If there is a water body close by, or a river, do not get into it until you have won a gold in the Olympics. Tigers are great swimmers, and will outpace you much sooner that you suspect.

Last but not the least continue to pray, and give in your best. Your best chance of survival will be the swiftness and shrewdness.

Let me end by saying what i started with, that the best way to fight a Tiger is not to fight a Tiger.

With prayers from me that you never encounter a Tiger on foot in the Tiger country.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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How to choose good accommodation in National Parks of India?

Once you have finalized the national park you wish to visit, the next big question is how to find good accommodation in national parks of India. Where to stay? The average length of stay in a national park can be 2-7 nights depending on various factors. If you are on a specific mission, i.e. following a story, or a specific Tiger, then the length of stay can be even higher than 7 nights.

You might ask who am i to give guidance on this. Well, having worked with the Asia’s largest Hotel chain for 11 years. And subsequently setting up Wildlife Lodges in few national parks, i think i have gained some experience in talking about this subject.

Important points to keep in mind before you choose your accommodation in national parks of India:

Budget

This is entirely your call. There are Jungle lodges of all kind of budgets near the national park. There are branded Lodges, value for money lodges, boutique, and basic lodges.

Location

It is important to know the location of the Jungle Lodge that you are choosing. Is it close to the national park? If not, then is there any other attraction nearby, like a waterbody, hill view, river, farms etc.

Nearby zone

This is the most important point. You must find out near which tourism zone is the resort located? Whether you have access to other zones from this location or not? If yes, how far are they. For example, in Kanha if your resort is near Mukki zone then the other gate is 50kms away, and reaching that gate can take well over an over. Similarly in Tadoba, Pench, Bandhavgarh, find out the nearby zone and accessability.

Month of travel

Staying in a tented camp is a great idea. But not so if you are traveling in peak summers or peak winters. However good the insulation of the tent might be but the moment the mercury touches 40 degrees it becomes a furnace. Likewise in winters, when the mercury plummets to 5 degrees you will feel like you are sleeping in a deep freeze. So it helps to find out the type of construction of the resort.

Recommendations

You must find out the ratings of the resort on forums like Trip Advisor. Read about the quality of food, cleanliness, safety, safari experience etc. Yes one can manipulate the feedback on such forum, but not considerably nor consistently. If the reviews are fake, someone will figure it out, and mention on the same forum again. But such short cuts are practiced by some Lodges which don’t take them far. Do not take the feedback lightly or for granted while choosing your accommodation in the national parks of India.

Ownership

It helps to know who are the owners and promoters of the Lodge. Is this Lodge their primary business, secondary, or is it promoted by a wildlife lover? Depending on this one can gauge the quality of the resort.

Reservation process

The reservation process of the resort will provide you an indication of the quality of the resort you are choosing. If the process is smooth, seamless, prompt, precise, be rest assured you are getting into a good place. This will give you an insight on how professional and personalised the processes are. It is a very important aspect while checking on good accommodation in national parks of India. Afterall this is the first link to the resort. The professionalism will reflect in the very first reply to your query.

Social Media presence

Social media presence is the norm of the day. If the resort is serious about it’s quality, then the same will reflect on it’s website, facebook page, twitter, instagram etc. The images on these platforms though can be manipulated but a discerning traveller can make out what is fake and what is factual.

My recommendation is to do a thorough research on the above for couple of reasons. Firstly it can make or mar your experience of the destination. Secondly, it can have a important dent on your purse.

Does it sound like too much of research? Oh yes, it is. But you are spending your hard earned money, so i suggest do sufficient research. If you have less time then leave it to your trusted tour operator to handle it for you. Give him your suggestions, and wait for his confirmations to check on the accommodation in the national parks of India. But how do you choose the trusted tour operator? Another blog for that i guess.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

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Ganges Dolphin census in state of Uttar Pradesh.

A survey is underway since October 2016 in the river Ganges in Uttar Pradesh to ascertain the number of Ganges Dolphin. It is being carried our in two phases. One from Bijnor barrage to Narora, approx 225kms. And the second from Kanpur to Fatehpur about 175kms in length. So a total length of 400kms along the river Ganges is being surveyed.

Apparently the numbers of Ganges Dolphin have reduced over the decades due to lack of habitat. They are mostly affected by the barrages, dams, pollution, and irrigation projects. A typical story of importance being given to economy over ecology. Ganges Dolphin live in the most densely human populated area of the world (Uttar Pradesh). Hence the immense pressure for survival and development is reason enough for Dolphins to be threatened.

Their total population is between 1200-1800 individuals, which is less than the wild Tigers in India. But the Tigers happen to get all the attention in the world to themselves. While millions is spent on their conservation, not even a fraction goes for conservation of the Ganges Dolphins. Their was a time when the Ganges Dolphins were found in large schools. Not any longer.

Just about 15 years back i was on a visit to a small town called Garh Mukteshwar on the banks of Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. This is located about 100kms from New Delhi. It is considered auspicious to take a dip in the holy waters at Garh Mukteshwar. While i was crossing the river to go to the other side which was more peaceful, i saw something just come up in the river and go down. Not knowing that one can expect Dolphins here, i curiously stayed focussed in the region, and their in a span of 15 seconds she comes up again. My delight knew no bounds on having sighted the Ganges Dolphins.

On my next visit to this town which was about 5 years later, i again expected to see this beautiful sight, but no luck. I asked the locals, and they said that for last 3 years even they had stopped seeing the Ganges Dolphins.

New threat to the Ganges Dolphin

A new initiative just might be a death knell for the Ganges Dolphin. Our Government has come out with a unique plan to use the rivers waterways to transport goods. This will threaten the Ganges Dolphins. Unfortunately not many rivers in India are big enough to transport goods. But Ganges surely is, and hence it must pay the price for it’s grandness.

Even if the census shows marginal increase in the Ganges Dolphin numbers it will be no reason to be happy as the waterways to transport goods will not be good news for the Ganges Dolphins. Why is it that man forgets that he inherited this planet with so many species to live with, but we don’t seem to be leaving a better planet for our next generation. Sad, but true.

Hope the Ganges Dolphin survives.

Sharad Vats

http://www.naturesafariindia.com

 

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Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park is an ideally located national park in India. Taj, Temples and Tigers is considered quintessential India experience. Ranthambhore provides the Tiger, while Taj and Temples are taken care of by Agra, Jaipur and Delhi.

Plenty of tourists plan their tours at the last moment. And with huge demand of safari permits, these last minute tourists were going disappointed. Hence to ensure that most of the last minute tourists get to visit the park the Forest management has started the Tatkal scheme in Ranthambhore National Park.

Ranthambhore National Park
T64 in Ranthambhore National Park

In this scheme there is an additional quota of 20 Jeeps kept aside for the last minute bookings. Maximum 6 guests are allowed per Jeep. The permit cost under Tatkal scheme is Rs 10000 per Jeep, over and above the usual charges of Rs 4400 per Jeep. The total cost is high, but if one is willing to pay there is a guarantee for a safari. Simultaneously this is also expected to reduce the black marketing of the safari permits.

The tatkal scheme was implemented on 1st October. And the sale in the first 10 days has generated an additional revenue of Rs 5.7 lakhs. The management plans to use this additional revenue for Tiger conservation. These are surely good signs from revenue perspective for the park.

New changes in the Ranthambhore National Park tourism policies

The park management has also opened a new zone No 11 next to Keladevi sanctuary.  This zone will accommodate the last minute bookings without adding any pressures on the existing zones.

To better manage the tourists near the entrance during the personal verification process they have segregated the tourists as per the zones. The entry and exit points of zone, 1, 4, and 5 have been realigned to facilitate tourists flow, and reduce waiting time at the gates.

Full day safari permits are also being issued. There are couple of eco-shelter facilities being developed at Amli deh, Depura Bandha, and Balash chowki. The guests can wait at these spots before restarting the safari.

Half day permits are also being issued and 5 additional Jeeps are kept aside for the same. The costs for the full day and half day safaris is higher than the normal safaris. But for the devoted, and sincere lovers of nature who wish to be inside the park longer it is a good opportunity to avail if one can afford it.

Ranthambhore National Park
Tiger in Ranthambhore National Park

Lot of people might say that this is excess of tourism. Honestly speaking it is not. If well managed and regulated, tourism is a huge tool for conservation. How? Well, tourism increases awareness, and awareness increases a will to conserve. Besides, it also generates extra revenue. This additional revenue if used judicially for benefit of local community and the forest can be a wonderful thing for Ranthambhore.

I think this will be a great thing to practice for rest of the national parks also. Regulate responsible tourism, generate addition revenue and conserve the community and the forests.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Will Panna be doomed?

I am beginning to feel for the soul of Panna National Park. It has already suffered a lot. In 2008 Panna lost all it’s Tigers to poachers. Panna became a closed chapter for many. But for one man, ably supported by his team, Mr Murthy revived Panna by his ironical will, and determination. It was an uphill task for him to bring Panna from ZERO to THIRTY FOUR Tigers. And now when Tigers had started to roar again in Panna, the news comes of a large chunk of Panna being drowned due to Ken-Betwa river linking project.

What is this river linking project? Our former Prime Minister (Mr A.B. Vajpayee) decided to mitigate the drought in the hilly regions of Bundelkhand. The whole region was practically parched, and agriculture was suffering. People had begun to leave their native towns and villages in search of work. Lot of farmers from Chattarpur area now work in metro cities as labour. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to link the two rivers of the region, so that excess water in the basin of Ken river could be diverted via a canal to the Betwa river thus irrigating lakhs of hectares of land.

But to divert this water the Daudhan dam is required to be built.  This will submerge a substantial habitat of our national animal, the Tiger. Infact, the wildlife experts like Mr Ranjitsinh feel that Panna National Park will be bifurcated. If this comes about to be true, then nothing and no one will be able to save Panna. The river basin has lot of grass and food for the herbivores, when this area gets submerged due to the dam, the herbivores will move on. This will affect the quality of habitat in a big way and what happens to the Tigers then is anyone’s guess.

What is being done in this project?

A 230km canal linking the two rivers is a humongous task. This will take a few months and few thousand men working round the clock to complete. Does so much of work in the heart of the forest disturb the wildlife? Without doubt, considerably, and beyond reformation.

But a bigger question arises now, what is the solution and how we can fulfill the needs of humans and Tigers both. Is there one, if at all?

I was in the region this May (2016), and again in August (2016). As luck would have it, i saw both the rivers in May. To my surprise it was Ken which had far lesser water compared to Betwa. I spoke to some locals in the region, and they all confirmed that Betwa has more water compared to Ken year round. But it is Ken which gets more water during the monsoons. So, if the project is to divert water during monsoons only then it is perhaps a good thought. But at what cost? Tigers? Forests? Too huge a price to pay i guess.

In August 2016 when i visited, Ken was brimming with water this year. But that was also because this year the rain gods have been more generous in this area.

My personal opinion

Nature is almighty supreme. It will find a way around this man made misadventure. Nature has survived without man for eons, and if we do not change, nature is prepared to survive alone. The experts and activists have tried a lot but could not convince the Government to stop this river linking. As of now there is little that we can do, but hope and pray that good sense prevails and the Government let’s go of this project.

Let us remember the fact that the human population is only increasing, and the forests and glaciers are only shrinking. From the forests of India around 300 rivers originate. Would someone not think that if Ken has more water today, then does Panna contribute to it? Logically, scientifically, yes? So if we take away the forest will the water not reduce? Isn’t this an elementary conclusion. What if these 10000 crores are spent, and Ken just dries up? Is there any insurance that the Govt will claim, and get the river back. I doubt it.

Praying for Tigers of Panna, and i am optimistic that they will be fine, as nature when it falls sick takes an antibiotic just like us humans. It is sad that those antibiotics are floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes and everything that harms humans than it benefits.

All, i can say at this point in time is, Lord, let thy will be done.

Sharad Vats

 

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Night Safaris in Kanha

Kanha national park in central India is starting Night Safaris in the buffer zone. Only time will tell if this is a good, bad or an ugly decision. Let us not jump the gun in ridiculing the step, neither let us support it with closed eyes, let us try and understand the pros and cons of starting Night Safaris in Kanha. This has been tried in Satpura and Pench National Parks already, and now being brought to Kanha.

Night safaris in Kanha
Safari in Kanha National Park

It is always better to know the negative and flip side first, followed by the positive side too.

Negatives of promoting Night Safaris in Kanha

Having personally done a night safari of about 2 hours in Satpura i know for sure that it is not easy to sight Tigers, or any other wildlife with naked eyes in the pitch dark of a forest. Either one needs to go in with the night vision glasses, which are not easily or cheaply available, or one needs a search light to see the animals. Please note one needs a serious search light in the night of the forest. Now, what do you think will this powerful search light do; it will make tracking animals easy, and it will hurt the animal eyes for sure, resulting in temporary blindness. So, we need to ask this question, is it worth it, is it required?

What if poachers also book these safaris in the buffer zone, to try and pick on the animals? Hopefully the forest department has thought about the repercussion and has a solution for this.

Will the night safaris not change the behavioral aspects of the animals? It is a known fact that the herbivores usually come out in the grasslands, or in the fields of the villagers in the buffer to feed on the crops. So when the flashlights start running around in the night, will they be able to eat in peace? The counter to this is that herbivores eat during the day in the grasslands. But not so in the buffer zones. We see them eating in the grasslands in the core zones of the forest as they are usually not disturbed in the vast grasslands of the core zone. But in the buffer area, the grasslands are not as big, the fields near the villages are small. So my gut feel is that the night safaris might disturb the feeding habits of the herbivores.

Positives of Nights Safaris in Kanha

  1. I recently read news that some poaching has happened in the buffer areas of Kanha. So the night safari will deter the poachers to stay away from the buffer zones for sure. It is a noted fact that most of the poaching happens in the buffer. While there is regular patrolling happening by the forest department and also the tourist vehicles, there is no patrolling but the tourist vehicles in the buffer zones. Hence these zones are far more susceptible for poaching. Hence any movement of tourism in the buffer zones will be a deterrent to the poachers. If done and controlled well, this can be the trump card of the forest department to curtail poaching.
  2. It surely will be a revenue generator as well for the forest department and they can utilize this revenue towards conservation of the flora and fauna.
  3. There are plenty of buffer areas in Kanha, like the Baisan ghat area, Samnapur area, area between Banjar river and Bamni. There is presence of Tigers in these buffers, hence any safaris during the day or night here will be only beneficial.
NIght Safaris in Kanha
Sambar Deers in Kanha National Park

Suggested steps if taken by the forest department may optimally utilize the night safaris.

  1. The tourists will need to be briefed about the code of conduct in the night safaris in Kanha.
  2. There must be standardization of search lights that should be used.
  3. Ideally a forest guard must accompany the tourists to ensure discipline during the safari.

Hope this initiative of night safaris in Kanha is a huge success in conserving the flora and fauna of Kanha.

Best Wishes

Sharad Vats

 

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Bandhavgarh of bygone times.

There is a lot of history hidden in the forests of Bandhavgarh. The Bandhavgarh Fort inside the national park is considered over 2000 years old. There is a mention of the Bandhavgarh Fort in Narad Panch Ratra, and Valmiki’s Ramayana. It is said that after killing the demon King Ravana, Lord Rama stopped here. He asked Nal and Neel, the two monkey architects to make this fort. It was these two who had also made the bridge to go to Lanka in the Indian ocean. The idea to make this fort was basically to keep an eye on Lanka from here, as this is one of the highest hills of central India. He made his younger brother Lakshman as resident deity of the fort. So the fort gifted to a brother (Bandhu in Hindi), came to be known as Bandhavgarh. Lakshman is also called as Bandhavdeesh after this.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort entrance
Bandhavgarh Fort
Inside the Bandhavgarh Fort

History of Bandhavgarh

Around the fort there are caves dug in sandstone which are over 2000 years old. One can see the Brahmi inscriptions on the walls of these caves. It is said that many saints and sages meditated in these caves. The Maghas, the Vakatakas, the Chandels inherited the seat of this fort. Finally in the 12th century the Baghels laid their claim on this fort, and until 1969 the Royal family of Rewa ruled this fort. The Royal family played a big role in conservation of Bandhavgarh. Though they did some hunting in this area, but they overall protected it as well. Once it was declared as a national park in 1969, they vacated the fort. Inside the fort one can still see the remains of the court, the treasury, the temple, the horse stable, and the school etc.

You can also see the statues of the Dashavatar (the ten incarnations) of Lord Vishnu here. There are two big lakes in the fort. The story goes that the water from these lakes seeps in, and then emerges from the foot of a 32 feet reclining Vishnu statue at Shesh Shaiya. Thereon this stream is known as Charan Ganga which flows through the Chakradhara meadow, alongside Siddbaba, and out of the park).

Bandhavgarh Fort
Brahmi inscriptions considered over 1000 years old
Bandhavgarh Fort
Caves where the saints meditated few centuries back
Bandhavgarah Fort
The Statues in the Fort

Kabir in Bandhavgarh

The famous mystic poet saint of 14th century, Kabir also spend quite a few years in the fort meditating, and writing his famous Dohas (the couplets famously known as the Kabir Vaani). There is a Kabir hermitage in the fort. On my visit here i was shown a secret escape from a room in this hermitage which apparently Kabir used often to move out from the fort. This escape used to take him to Kashi (Varanasi) to meet his Guru (Master). The Kabir panthis (followers of Kabir) gather here in the month of August every year for a two day celebration. This is the largest gathering of Kabir followers worldwide. They walk on foot till the Fort, stay put there, and come back after two days.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Kabir Ashram (hermitage) inside the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Matsaya (Fish) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
Varaha (Wild Boar) Avtar statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Kurma (Tortoise) Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The Buddha Avatar Statue in the Fort
Bandhavgarh Fort
The workmanship

It is indeed sad that after the Supreme Court decision in 2012 visit to this fort has been prohibited.  The reason is that this fort is right in the heart of the core zone of Bandhavgarh, and to go up to the fort one has to trek about 25 minutes from Shesh Shaiyya. Needless to mention that there are Tigers and other wildlife in and around the fort, hence it is not considered safe to walk up. Besides it does disturb the wildlife too. I have personally seen Sita with her cubs close to Shesh Shaiyya way back in 1996-97.

Meeting B2 enroute to Bandhavgarh Fort

For me a visit to Bandhavgarh was incomplete if i had not visited the Fort. Way back in 2004, once while trekking up, i encountered B2 in his early days on this route. There were four of us on foot, and at a bend, we see B2 come up from the valley on to the track of the fort. We froze right there, and so did B2. He paused for a moment, gave us a glimpse, and without bother left the track to go down the valley. What seemed like eternity was actually just 5 seconds.

This was my first encounter on foot with the Tiger in his own backyard. I breathed a sigh of relief. The trek is steep so the camera was around my neck. With B2 looking into my eyes from about 10 meters in front of me, i forgot that i had a camera, so clicking a picture was totally out of question. But the image imprinted on my mind of that moment is still fresh like it happened yesterday, thought it was almost 12 years ago.

The Temple priest

From 1997 till 2008 i trekked upto the fort atleast 4-5 times every season. Not only I loved the hike to the fort, but the view from the fort, the feel of the fort, and more than anything else it was meeting and talking with the resident priest of the fort that i always looked forward to. A very old man, tall, with a broad frame, deep voice, and an intense look in his eyes. How he stayed in this temple all alone in this national park always surprised me. No company, no radio, television i doubt if he ever knew it existed. He would give Charnamrit (tulsi water) pronouncing the sacred Sanskrit shloka:

अकालमृत्युहरणं सर्वव्याधिविनाशनम्।
विष्णुपदोदकं पीत्वा पुनर्जन्म न विद्यते।।

Meaning, “whosoever takes this sacred water is protected from any accidental death, deadly diseases, and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death”. This chant in his deep voice in the corridors of the temple would resonate in my ears for a long long time.

His story

He would walk down to the Tala village to secure his provisions and by late evening he would get back to Bandhavgarh. Once while going back he had an encounter with a Sloth bear. It is said that a Tiger emerged from the nearby grass, and fought the Sloth Bear away. Then the Tiger walked with the priest for some distance to ensure that he reached the temple.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Bandhavgarh Temple in the Fort

He once told me, “the Tigers are my family, and I know all the Tigers of the area around the fort”. We would sit in the corridors of the temple, and he would make tea for us. Then we would share our lunch with him. There were times we just slept off in the corridor of the temple. As he grew quite old, he became unwell, and was brought down from the Fort much against his wishes as there was no one to take care of him inside the Jungle.

What all is bygone, and will those days return?

Though Charger, Sita, B2, have all gone, and they have been replaced by many beautiful Tigers of today. But the enigma of the priest, the temple, and the fort cannot be replaced by any. For people who have seen the Bandhavgarh Fort miss it still. And those who have visited Bandhavgarh after 2012, know not what they have missed.

Bandhavgarh Fort
Yes, this is true. Just two Jeeps entering the Tala zone for a safari

The above photo is not photoshopped, yes there was a time when Bandhavgarh hardly had tourists. I recall sighting 10 different Tigers in 2005 in one morning safari of 4 hours. But the popularity of the Tigers and wildlife photography through social media has made wildlife tourism a big business everywhere.

Many resorts have sprung up in the area, Tala a small village now is a place where you will get everything you need, including a broadband, wi-fi, and a spa treatment. Do not expect the standard of the Spa to be anywhere close to a city hotel. To an extent if handled well, tourism can be a big conservation tool, but if gone awry, it can be a very disturbing factor for wildlife. So yes, those silent, peaceful days of less tourism are also bygone.

The rush of tourism has been regulated to quite an extent by opening of some more zones, and also buffer zones. Yet, one thing that has not reduced is the kind of Tiger sightings that are still taking place in Bandhavgarh. There was a lull year when there was a marginal drop in the Tala zone, but it seems the golden years of Bandhavgarh are almost back as far as Tiger sightings are concerned. The Tiger sightings of Bandhavgarh will never be bygone.

Sharad Vats

 

 

 

 

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