Sunday, September 11, 2011

Strange Tiger Encounter

In spite of their endangered status tigers pop out from anywhere, I mean any forest. Unlike panthers they do not pop out in the cities albeit some cases have taken place near Dudhwa National Park

I used to visit a village for some purpose near my home town Jabalpur. On the way to the village there is a steep climb or ghat as we call in Hindi. There is a left turn off the Kundam Shahpura Highway that reaches Baghraji. From the main road after few km of drive in the plain you reach the ghat which twists and turns upwards on the rise. As you make a descent you reach Kundwara which has a quaint little rest house and is a favorite picnic place for nature lovers and families from Jabalpur.    

I used to visit this village called Baghraji (Tiger place) often crossing through the good patch of forest on the way. One day while returning back from the village we reached the ghat around 7 pm. It was a busy day since the weekly bazaar was at full swing. I would often come across spotted deers in this patch of Kundwara forest range, but I was sure due to regular movement of villagers I wont see them today.

We began to climb up on my open jeep, me and my salesman beside. At a point on the rising hill there is a sharp S turn and you can see what lies far ahead but no immediately ahead. It was here that my salesman pointed out some animal in dim light.

"It certainly does not look like a spotted deer", I said. "Well lets see", I continued to drive. We were about to reach the spot when I saw one animal climb down the mountain slope and vanish. The other one moved up hill and we could see it climbing slowly as we reached the spot. 

I turned the jeep and threw the head light upon him. I sat stunned for a moment and then in shaky voice whispered, "Its a tiger".    

It was a tiger in fact two of them, the other one a female was sitting down on the slope of the hills perhaps very close to me. I could see the male tiger climbing uphill about ten feet from me. He was hesitant to climb since the female was down there. I had a good look at him before he vanished into the dense canopy.

Not used to big cats my salesman sat petrified frozen to death. I straightened the vehicle and drove off, I could have peeked down the slope but did not. The tigress could have been too close for comfort...her comfort. These animals charge at you in defense if you venture to close.  

We heaved a sigh of relief especially my companion as we reached the main highway. For me it was exciting and encouraging to see tigers outside the protected areas. For my salesman it was a sacred moment as he had come across the vehicle of the Goddess. How ironical, people would kill these magnificent creatures in spite of the such regards.

I heard the mating cries a couple of days later whence I stayed overnight at Kundwara Rest House. This was around three am. The male was scene regularly by the forest ranger near the nursery tank where it came to quench its thirst. The female was never seen...probably breeding in some secluded patch of forest. 

After a year nothing was heard about tigers in Kundwara Forest Range as I did not happen to go there. But certainly the animals might have moved far across the long corridor.  There cubs may be surviving now hope they are for a few tigers more. This patch of forest perhaps connects to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in MP. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Luxury Resorts New Trendsetters in Tiger Reserves

From basic amenities in the sixties and seventies the accommodation business has come a long way in the tiger reserves. The rest house still remain but accommodation official visitors, politicians and VIP guests. As tourism  increased the need for accommodation became necessary in parks like Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. 

In eighties people familiar with jungle life established resorts with basic amenities. Since modern commodities had to be fetched from far of towns the offerings where simple. Tourists came in small numbers and accepted whatever the resorts offered as there was no other option. These resorts did brisk business whence tourist numbers increased.

By nineties there was a bull rush for setting up of hotels and resorts in these parks and elsewhere. The awareness generated by various films made on tigers and other wildlife increased the number of visitors to the park. With better tourism infrastructure coming into the picture the number of visitors wishing to stay in luxury also increased. The demand for luxury and 3 star accommodation has increased in the preserves.

A large number of 3 star resorts hotels well equipped for tourism has sprung up in recent times. Besides accommodations and organizing tiger safari the plush resorts offer spa facilities and even Ayurveda massage. But what is desired more is a company of naturalist guide, well stocked library, wildlife interpretation center, hides for bird watching etc. Big concerns like Taj Hotels have established resorts in Central Indian Parks. Club Mahindra Holidays are also planning to establish property at Kanha National Park.      

Comforts. clean hygienic food, ample luxuries are what these luxury resort hotels offer to the tourists. Kanha Pench and Bandhavgarh are full of such accommodations that offer 3 star facilities. Of late competition has forced many properties to be sold or wind up.           

There should be norms or rules set up for establishing properties in the buffer zones. Some laws have been enacted which will restrict construction near the parks. 

Useful forest trees

For tribal communities the jungle means more that tigers and leopards. In time of duress they had survived on offerings of the forests. Pushed into deep recess of the forest by invading civilization they lived for long with the womb of the jungles. With a benevolent governance things began to change but then massive destruction of the forest lands left nothing for the forest dwellers.  

Any way time had come for them to join the mainstream. But with very little understanding of the modern world and little education they are trapped in the quagmire of an overpowering civilization. Likewise the wild denizens are in a greater stress due to terribly reduced habitat. The man animal conflict have pushed many species to the brink of extinction. 

The tribal communities still survive on minor forest produce like Mahua, Chironzi, Ber, Amla, Palas and many shrubs that are used as medicine. These produce are in short supplies and their saleability is going down. Mahua fruits in obtained from the Mahua tree which grows well in the jungles. The  fruits are used to  make butter and liquor the latter from dried fruits. The tree has many medicinal properties as well. 

Similarly the Char tree yields a very tasty fruit and the seed is used to garnish condiments. The tree grows well in the Central Indian forests. Amla or Gooseberry tree is the boon of the forests as the fruit is rich in vitamin C and consumed by vast population in India. Ber is a popular fruit eaten all over India. The tree is a medium sized shrub that grows few feet above the ground. Palas tree yields a yellow orange dye that is used in coloring and in the Holi festival. The Palas Bark exudes a resinous substance called Lac in Hindi. It is used for sealing envelops and other packaging.  

The powdered bark of Arjun tree found near streams and nullahs is used as a blood pressure medicine. Similary many forest trees yield edible fruits like Bel, Kaitha, Morchhali, Jamun to name a few. The forest help conserve water but also offer survival materials to humans.

The destruction of habitats has not only exterminated endemic species. It has resulted in loss of many natural products useful to humans. If we do not save our trees a wonderful natural heritage would be lost for ever.