Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bhitarkanika National Park--Part 1

Our Boatmen

After 3 days of hectic schedule at Satkosia, it was time for us to explore the Amazon of Orissa- Bhitarkanika National Park. I had booked one Room in the Forest Guest House at Dangamal. Actually wanted the Log Cabin at Habalikathi because of the name sounded adventurous itself. But was told by the Travel agent ( all the bookings for Bhitarkanika is done by a Private Travel agent of Bhubaneswar) that they don’t do bookings for the same. So went ahead with Cottage at Dangmal. Entry point for Bhitarkanika is through either Khola Check Gate near Rajnagar or through Gupti by boat. After having a wonderful breakfast at Bubun’s place, we did hit the NH 5 and drove non stop till Chandikhol. On the way had nostalgic discussions on the life that we all used to have in School( Deepika in Rourkela). The way our batchmates have become AVPs and VPs in organizations based out from London and Singapore in matter of 5-6 years. The way they shuttle between Sydney and Shanghai. On the contrary one of us was struggling with CAT exams for last 4 years ( Finally the Old Monk has cracked XIMB this time) and the other was confused about his career; flip flopping between the role of a HR guy and life of a wanderer in the remote forests of Orissa. But let me tell readers, keeping aside one’s preferences; life of a wanderer is far far more interesting than that of a HR Manager or a Venture Capitalist.

By the time we reached Chandikhol, my good friend Old Monk had become restless. His basic necessity-spirit was not in the “items to be carried” list. So his spirit was down. We reached Rajnagar and the first sight of a Bar- Old Monk with a ton (absolutely not toned) of fat became an Olympic Sprinter. Soon the smile came back on Bubun’s face as his ration for day had been met. We reached Khola by noon and collected the Entry Pass. Forest Officials at the office were more than happy to help us with a Boat and deal was settled for Rs 4500 ( that’s the official rate). Boat men, his assistant, Bubun and me left for Dangmal. It was going to be one and half hour boat journey to the heartland of Bhitarkanika-Dangamal. After the tiger stories of Satkosia and Baisipali, it was now the turn of the Crocs. Our Boatman and his assistant were Uncle –Nephew duo and were encyclopedia of the region and the folklores attached with it. I was surprised to find the way Forest departments in Orissa have become professional in their approach. They have infact interviewed the boat men and the assistants and trained them on the skill of handling tourists.Normaly the assistants add up to the role of Guide. Bubun and me felt like a Hollywood Superstar as if we had bought a yacht in the Mediterranean. Sun was shining at its full glory and water was crystal clear. Forest of Mangroves was all around. Hardly 15 minutes we would have sailed when we came across the first sight of the monster. A 12 feet Croc basking in the muddy banks , least perturbed about the sound of moving boat. For us it was so exciting. But for the Uncle-Nephew duo it was as if a sight of a house lizard eating a cockroach. Later on we realized why there interest was not expressed. It was just a trailer. Huge Crocs , some of them measuring upto may be 16 feet , black in colour ( They have been named Ravana kumbhira by the locals) were to be seen every where.Stories of Crocs pulling ladies and cattles into the water was overflowing from the Boatmen. We all were excited abou this venture. I have realized that even if you know that some of these stories are faked, still you love them. That’s what sets up the tone for adventure.

First Sight of the Monster

Another Close up

Along with the Crocodiles along the river bank, one thing that actually made me fall in love with Bhitarkanika was the spirited show of livelihood of localites in the villages along the bank. For everything they are dependent on the river; river full of crocs. We saw kids coming from school, small thatched huts with barns of paddy in the front courtyards, boats laden with paddy sacks ready to be transported to the local markets in Kendrapada, Rajnagar and Chandbali. The essence of villages come from the reflection of sunlight on the cow dung layered courtyards, the smell of burning woods and cow dung cakes coming from the thatched roof of small kitchen, the slow walk of old village temple pandit with a bunch of flowers in hand, distant chanting of hare rama…hare krushna (pala in Oriya) oozing out from the mikes with a typical accent. I miss this so much. Having seen the village life so close, I always get nostalgic when I write this. Honestly I can go on writing this experience as an epic.

Coming back to Bhitarkanika, we reached Dangamal around 3 in the afternoon. One has to walk almost a km to reach the reception of the Forest Guest House. Infact there are so many types of rooms available over there. We checked in to one of the rooms. Typical Forest Guest House type with high roofs, neat white bed sheets, Teak Wood beds and Mosquito nets. Quickly went to the restaurant over there and as expected gulped down wonderful prawn curry and rice.

There are so many things to be explored in Bhitarkanika Sanctuary and one needs to plan meticulously and have time in hand if you need to experience it to the fullest. Things that were part of our plan was:

Day 1: Check in at Dangamal by afternoon. By afternoon we were supposed to take the boat to Bhitarkanika Forest Block. Things to be explored were the Ancient Siva Temple; white lotus pond and the Shooting tower of King of Kanika. If you are lucky then Chital and water monitor lizard sightings will be there. And then we were supposed to come back to Dangmal. At the jetty, as were leaving around 4, the local forest chap warned us that if we don’t return to Dangmal by 5 then there will be a fine imposed on us. Kind of guys we both were, we were ready to venture into the Bhitarkanika forest in the evening and ready to take the risk. Still he pursued us to change the decision, but we were hail bent and ready to pay the fine. Then came the Brahmastra, the statement that made us feel that we were behaving like two kindergarten kids. He said “ if you want to venture out at this point of time by paying fine, you are free to do so. By your fine amount we are not going to be rich. Its only for your safety that I told you so”. That was it. He became a good friend of us. Time for us was to listen to some more croc stories from him. We all sat in jetty as sun was setting. He told us the reason why one should not stand still near the water for longer duration as one may fall in the range of submerged crocodile. One needs to constantly keep on moving. Also the story of Crocodiles coming back again and again to the same place over the years for laying eggs is an amazing fact that we never knew. It was getting dark. We walked back towards our cottage. While we walked back, took snaps of the grazing chitals near the Guest House. And let me tell you they were all around. I had actually never seen so many chitals at one time. There is in-fact a grassland in-front of the cottage where you can see so many Chitals grazing. There is also a captive breeding center of Estuarine Crocodiles at Dangmal. During the breeding season, eggs are collected by the forest officials and then brought to Dangmal where hatching takes place in conducive environment.

Accomodation at Dangamal

Cheetals were more than happy to pose for us

A Paradise for bird watchers

Sunset at Bhitarkanika National Park
We didn’t have much to do in the evening except for gazing at each other and remembering the days spent at Baisipali and Satkosia. At Baisipali we were treated as royal kings and here we were one of the other tourists. Come on some body give us that attention.After all we are here to spread the essence of Orissa to the outer world.Just Kiding.. Our Cottage was really cozy and with outer temperature becoming really cool, warm temperature inside was a welcome experience. Suddenly we heard some body shouting outside our room. When we came out , saw little kids of nearby room really getting excited by seeing wild boars infront of the room.I mean I had never seen so many easy sightings in any sanctuary until I visited Bandipore National Park in Karnataka..
Where ever you look around, you will see twinkling floursescent eyes of grazing animals. We sat over there and looked mesmerized by the scene. After an hour we went in for an early dinner as we were supposed to leave early for Ekakula, a virgin untouched beach on the eastern coast of India. If you miss the high tide time, it would be difficult to take the boat to Ekakula and we didn’t want to miss that opportunity.
Had a superb dinner of fish curry and rice. Kind of foodie we are, half of the money gets goofed up in food itself. After all one does not get fresh catch always and that too when you stay in metros. We ordered the Canteen guy to pack some pooris and allo bhaji for next morning so that we could have left early and have lunch in the boat itself.
But wait its not over for the day. The best part was yet to come.
I have always been amazed by masai grasslands of Africa whenever I have seen any of the television series in Discovery or National Geographic. That’s because you see so many animals grazing on the grass lands , unperturbed by human presence and cameras. Can you believe that same thing I was seeing at Bhitarakanika. As we were finishing our Dinner, we were informed by the Restaurant chap that if we wait for another hour, we would see the wild animals in plenty.It happened the same way. There were hoards of Wild Boars and Chitals all around. It was an amazing sight. I was barely 10 meters from the wild boars and they were looking at me. What a sight.
Came back to the cottage with an experience to remember for life time.

During Night....felt many sightings of wildlife

There was no stopping

One of the success stories called Bhitarkanika

Coming Up:
Bhitarkanika Saga Continues with Bagagahana, Habalikathi & Ekakula