Life in the wild is an extension of life in its most pristine and untouched form. Forest and wild life have always impacted our urban lives in a positive way. This impact ranges from a cleaner environment for us to model after to valuable ecological zones for our society to exist. I was introduced to this world when I was going to 6th grade. My family and I were on a trip to the Jim Corbett National Park. This first encounter of mine with the forest was simply bliss. The month of our visit being May, the weather was ridiculously hot and dry. As we entered the park for the first time, I was sure that I would be able to bear the heat for the entire duration of our safari. But the moment we entered the thick forest, the weather changed magically. Under the canopy of the trees it was very cool. A pleasant breeze made the weather soothing. This first visit was the just the tip of the iceberg of the happiness and excitement I would experience.
The forests are blessed with a rice flora and fauna, a large variety of animals and birds in their natural habitat, a sight one can relish for years. For me who was hungry for tiger-sighting, it was also a little disappointing that I did not spot a tiger, but the eagerness to look for the royal Indian Bengal tiger made me study and absorb the nuances of the forest even more. On returning I spent hours recollecting and reliving our Corbett experience. To my surprise, I had the chance to be a part of a quiz for wildlife enthusiasts in a couple of months. As we represented our school, we won the second prize. The quizmaster asked me how I knew so much. I answered honestly – told him that I guessed names of states or animals according to the weather and the local names. He seemed pretty stunned at that answer and praised me for my thinking. At the end of the quiz we were given a sample copy of The Sanctuary Asia magazine. That was a turning point. Not only was the magazine very captivating, but subscribing to it regularly got me hooked to the wild.
I kept reading various articles from different websites and magazines. I mopped up small details, thought about how economic progress almost always come at the cost of ecology and felt like I was learning about a new world. My next opportunity to visit a National Park came after five years. This time we visited the Bandhavgarh National Park. The Bandhavgarh Forest has the highest population density of tigers. Before the trip I made it a point to read a lot about the park. Bandhavgarh Park is divided into three zones – Tala, Magdhi and Khitouli. After reading up a lot of recommendations from people who had visited the park earlier, I realized that the Tala Zone had the maximum sightings. I therefore insisted that 4 out of our 8 safaris should be done in the Tala zone. After reaching Bandhavgarh, I was shocked when our naturalist said that in the last two months tiger movement in Tala zone had reduced drastically. This was my first lesson – one can never predict nature, no amount of reviews and predictions can help, when nature takes it own course. Our naturalist also jokingly called this the Law Of The Jungle. During our first 4 drives, in the Tala zone, we did not have a single tiger sighting. But the drives did not lack any fun. We experienced a variety – from torrential rainfall that drenched us to the bone, left us cold and shivering, to dry and dusty drives that left us with a “mud pack” our rides were never dull even without the tiger. The roller rolling in the air, the peacocks letting out mating calls, the langurs, wild boars, night jars or kingfisher varieties subtly taught me that each small creature enjoys a unique place in the jungle. How conveniently we forget to keep this in mind when we are back in our urban environment.
Our fifth, sixth and eighth safaris were in the Magadhi zone – one brimming with tigers. All our drives in the Magdhi zone were a huge success. The drives were also very eventful and frightening at times. We were fortunate to witness tigers in a variety of moods. Our first sighting was a trademark ‘tiger crossing the road’. The other sighting involved me seeing through the brilliant camouflage of a tiger. The best sighting was that of a tigress that mock charged at our vehicle. This was the longest sighting we had. We spotted the tigress while turning on a corner. We followed her for about half a kilometer. She appeared tired in the sun and sat under a tree near the road. All of us were watching her through our binoculars. We all noticed one thing in common – the tigress kept staring at us. We had never encountered a tigress so close to us, for such a long time, looking at us straight in the eye. After a while she got up and appeared to be crossing the road. Hearts pounding, we got ready to click pictures. She came and stopped in the middle of the road, gave us a sharp look and showed us her razor-sharp canines. Within a second she charged at our vehicle at full pelt, giving out a loud growl. She was as close as 5 feet from our vehicle. And then she suddenly jumped into the bush adjoining the road. We left, as soon as we recovered from the shock of our lives. Even for our naturalist, this ‘mock-charge’ was a one in one thousand experience. As we rushed to leave the jungle after this experience, we were pleasantly surprised to spot a tigress by a waterhole, drinking water to her fill, not bothered with our presence, bathing in the water, snapping at a kingfisher and showing us that the tiger is truly the king of the jungle. Nature displayed its variety in all our safari drives in the jungle. The unpredictability of the sightings coupled with the variety made me realize how small and insignificant I am – just a speck in this world. Truly humbling.
After my trip to Bandhavgarh, I also visited the Kanha National Park. The Kanha National Park is a denser forest. I visited the park around Christmas of 2015. The weather was very cold. Enjoying forests in two different seasons is a real delight. The highlights of my Kanha trip were some amazingly detailed pictures of the Indian Roller sitting a top a dead tree and driving behind a ‘barsingha’ deer which was caught in an unfamiliar place. The difficulty in spotting a night jar, an owl camouflaged in the bark of the tree and the vultures feeding on the carcass are all sights I can never forget. Each animal / bird in the nature has a feature that helps its survival and retains its unique place in the surrounding.
After three amazing visits to the forest, I started craving for a fourth one even more. The more you visit the forest, the more you enjoy it, and the more you like it. The forest definitely offered something that is hard to find in our day-to-day urban lifestyle. The first thing one notices in a jungle is that one is totally off the grid. Time spent without mobile network and without wifi really helps us to connect with our inner selves. It gives a complete break from our daily life. In a jungle you feel a unique closeness to nature. You observe movements of a deer herd. You also get to observe animals protect themselves. For example, if a herd of deer notices any predator nearby, the deer raise their tails. This is a sign of high alert. One gets to see the brilliant camouflages of various animals right from that of a tiger to a wild boar. A keen observation of the landscape can help us in identifying locations a tiger could frequent. In a hilly area, a tiger will always prefer a cave, whereas in a flat terrain the tiger will prefer meadows (the tiger is very adept in camouflaging itself in the meadows). The forest is very peaceful. If one is quiet enough, one can hear the sound of a water drop falling to ground. Silence and patience can actually help in predicting the movements of various animals around the jungle. This quiet and peaceful environment is indeed very rejuvenating.
However the forests in my country India, though very beautiful, are getting depleted at an alarming fast rate. Efforts from certain NGOs and the Government are helping in controlling the depletion. But these efforts may not be enough. An immediate and drastic change is necessary to preserve whatever forest wealth we have. The state of Madhya Pradesh in India has a high concentration of ecological zones and national parks. Many experts have come up with several ideas regarding forests in this state. The state has five national parks. An NGO is making constant efforts to make a plan to make sure that all these national parks are inter-linked. This will help in better movement of the animal population and help in increasing population of the endangered species (especially the tiger). Parks like the Bandhavgarh National Park are an island. There are no new tigers coming into the park. This makes the gene pool of the park very poor. Again this problem points to the need of a better connectivity among forests. The state of Arunachal Pradesh also has a high number of national parks. The state is famous for its many bird sanctuaries. However the presence of mobile towers and newer symbols of progress like roads and high ways are a deterrent to this population. I am convinced that it is definitely worth thinking how we can preserve the ecological zones, and explore options to achieve prosperity through progress without affecting this treasure. My country India is fortunate to have abundant forests and a diverse wildlife. Protecting these resources ought to be our top priority.
Indians have inherited a huge legacy from their ancestors. Pristine form of nature is the best kind of legacy to have. India is a country located over three weather zones: The Tropic Zone, The Sub-tropical Zone and The Temperate Zone. This means that a country like India also has a very diverse wildlife. A boom in economy post the 1990s has seen us use more and more land and many other resources for infrastructural development. An urgent need of space for the ever-growing Indian population has promoted deforestation at a large scale. It is our best interests to safeguard our forests. We must strive in protecting this invaluable legacy and help in maintaining a balanced environment for the generations to come. A close encounter with nature forced me to think and analyze these aspects. Hence the wild for me, is no more a vacation destination – it has gained a place in my mind, heart and brain.