Sunday, January 9, 2011

Exploring Tribal Hinterland-Chapter 2- Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary in Kalahandi

Very few sanctuaries in India have name that is so striking at the first go if you listen to the word itself. Karlapat gets its name from “Kalra Patria Bagha” meaning Tiger with stripes resembling Bitter Gourd leaves. As expected not much information available on the sanctuary and that makes it even more interesting as it is as if you are completely exploring the unexplored. Some one once asked me “ Satyesh..why don’t you go and explore so many other beautiful places outside Orissa”. “ This life is too short to even explore the divine and pristine beauty of Orissa” was my answer.
Sarath was waiting downstairs and first look at him gives an impression of a guy who is too simple, too scared to talk. But we were wrong. Had a quick bath and after travelling for fourteen hours in the bus, I was feeling sleepy. And more than me , I was feeling sorry for a laggard Dasa. Our journey for Karlapat was still not a surety for that day as I had not collected the permit at the DFO’s office. Anyways looking at the overcast condition, it was even looking more bleak. Already we were late. Without wasting any more time, we rushed to the DFO’s office. DFO was not there and he could not be reached on phone. Oh Gosh. This was the last thing that one would have wanted. But I pleaded in front of the Asst Conservator of Forest, Mr Mohanta. Everyone around were surprised that why someone is pleading so much for visiting a sanctuary that no one normally visits. And that too someone has come from as far as Pune to visit Karlapat. It was out of world imagination for them. Finally my pleading worked out. ACF asked me to give an application. He called the Ranger of Karlapat and informed him about the case. I was asked to meet him. His office was on the other side of the road. Natha babu was eagerly waiting to meet this weird character who had come to visit Karlapat. I was to write an undertaking stating that I will be solely responsible if any untoward incident happens inside the sanctuary. Felt little bit sceptical that why I am being asked to write so. Are there any Maoists inside? Are there overflowing rivers inside because of torrential rains or what might be the case? Finally we were given permission. Sarath , our driver drove us to a stall for Breakfast. There begun our saga for the praise of Breakfast available at various places in Kalahandi and Phulbani. I mean the breakfast comprising Alu Chop ( deep fried Mashed potatoe inside a coating of flour), Bara (deep fried balls of lentils),Singhada ( Samosa) with watery but spicy Ghughuni ( spicy Lentil curry) is just amazing and mouth watering. The essence of this breakfast increases even more when they are served in plates made out of leaves and with fried chillies.We just went on gulping down as much as Baras as possible. With no hope of lunch in near future,we got an excuse to have a heavy breakfast. Bought some mineral water bottles as our good friend Sarath told that by even drinking water at Karlapat you will be surely greeting Malaria. Anyways forests in Orissa are known to be heavens for female Anopheles. Karlapat is situated around 30kms from Bhawanipatna on the Thuamul Rampur road. It was still cloudy and there was spine in air. Our good well mannered driver Sarath suddenly changed his tone and opened up. He was married and had two daughters .When asked about their education, he accepted that there was no point in sending them to school. Ultimately getting married is what they should be aiming at. Within no time we reached the gates of Karlapat Sanctuary. Wow…finally I was there. Stopped for a moment and took pics.

Entry to Karlapat Sanctuary

This was the place about which I had only heard and had some vague information. We enquired about Bagha Majhi at the first forest check gate and were told that he would be at the Phurli Jharan waterfalls which was just 5kms ahead and a stones throw away from the road. This gate closes down during the night because of animal crossings. But I am not sure about this thing as I didn’t see any board which said so. We proceeded towards Phurali Jaharan Waterfalls. Gushing sounds of the waterfall greeted us. But soon I was disappointed to see so many Beer cans thrown near the falls. Luckily no one was there at the falls. Or else this has been a favourite spot for all the Picnic goers of this region. Groups come over here to booze and go back , hardly aware that there lies a treasure nearnby in form of Karlapat Sanctuary famous once for Tigers. No more Tigers are there. I mean we have heard that there are tigers but I have never come across any report or writeup which says that there are still tigers present in the Sanctuary. As usually our faiku ( reminds me of Salim Faiku of local Hyderabadi Comedy Movie Angrez) Sarath roped in with his unwanted ideas. Let me tell you we were actually believing him for whatever he was telling until the next day when we realised that he was a great faiku. As per Sarath he had read in the local news papers that somedays back a Female Tiger has been sighted in the sanctuary along with its cubs. Our excitement grew and I was just roaring to venture into the core area of the sanctuary. Suddenly a forest guard came running from no where and gave us a Salaam. He mistook us for some forest babu. Then later told us that Bagha waould be there at jacom Forest Guest House at Jacom.After staying for another 10 minutes or so at the waterfalls, we left for Jacom.

Phurali Jharan Waterfalls

On the way , I felt little depressed to find out that rampant poaching is still going on. Some of the poachers were captured last year for killing a huge tusker. They were captured after that and were released with absolute ease. Many times Tigers have crossed roads as per Sarath. As the tlks were going on suddenly Sarath took a left turn from the main road on a Dirt road and soon I could see the guest house of Jacom. It is a typical forest dept type guest house but striking difference is that it is made out of wooden logs giving is a posh English look. Soon Bagha came out and greetings were exchanged. He looked like a typical Adivasi with curly hair and big twinkling eyes. Bhagha must have been in his mid fifties. Another guard Sitaram Munda also joined us. These two have been manning the Jacom Post since last so many years. They already had finished their lunch by that time. We decided to take a stroll near by to do some birding. Came across Scarlet Minivets & Sunbirds of different types.

Jacom Guest House

Near Jacom Guest House

Map of Karlapat Sanctuary

A stream flows nearby Jacom FRH. A perfect place for doing birding. I was wondering that why I didn’t try little bit more to do the booking at Jacom. For all who are planning to visit Karlapat after reading this write up, please do your best to do the bookings at Jacom. It’s worth staying here for one night. Your senses would get revitalised once you sip down a cup of coffee with background music of flowing stream nearby. Don’t forget to bring in your own ration. These guards add up as cooks also. And let me tell you the food that they prepare is worth trying out. They have never disappointed me , be it Chamundia, Kuldiha, Debrigarh or Ushakothi to name a few. We decided to go to Karlapat Village which is deep inside the forest and about 18km fom Jacom. Bagha would accompany us for the trip and would guide us. Forests in Karlapat are absolutely a nature lover’s paradise.

Patal Garuda Plant- Ayurbedic Treatment for Snake Bites

It was absolutely fog and mist all around and weather was little bit dampening ,so were our spirits. Still just wanted to get drenched in absolute beauty of Karlapat. There are some villages inside which again is a bad sign for Wildlife conservation. No wonder once a heaven for Tigers does not boast any number today. Bagha has a lot of stories to tell and his one of the major complains is that these villagers are only to be blamed for this state of Karlapat. “They are the killers”,yells Bagha. Soon we reached the other end of the Sanctuary where anti poaching check post is there. We again took a left turn towards Karlapat village. Saw paddy fields all around . Every paddy field has a machan in the middle of the field. This is mainly to protect the fields against Elephants. During reaping season, Elephants come down from the deep forests in search of easy food and no doubt they face the wrath of villagers.

Saving Paddy Fields from Elephants

I don’t blame villagers for the same. Obviously they have been living in the forests for so long and it is just unwise on the part of the conservationists to demand there relocation and rehabilitation in matter of days. But yes if at all they are being relocated, it is also the duty of the conservationists to see that they are properly rehabilitated. It does not end with villages getting rehabilitated. For example take the case of Jenabil village of Similiplal. Jenabil was relocated to outside Similipal from the core area. How many people go and see the plight of people who have been relocated? Until and unless that support is extended over a period of time, not in form of money but rather in form of proper guidance regarding spending of that money, they would again revert to illegal wood cutting and poaching after some time. Agricultural land that is allocated for the relocated people if not good is going to create that uproar and unrest. Rehabilitation would also include schooling of kids and may be something like animal husbandry or honey bee cultivation. Then only the process of relocation is going to be successful over a period of time.
We took a walk along the Karlapat village . Had some time to gossip with one of the local farmers, Pradhan babu. He had never seen a tiger alive in the forest and he must have been of around 50 years age. That means all the tiger stories are lie and there are no tigers in the sanctuary. According to him there are leopards present and not the RBTs. He had once seen in his childhood a dead RBT. The kill was made as a part of the game trip of Raja of Dhenkanal. He would come on the invitation of raja of Karlapat and would be accompanied by Gora Sahebs. Tigers would be killed and the dead King of Jungles would lie down on the ground under the foots of the physically alive but morally dead Kings and Goras. That was only time when Pradhan babu had seen a tiger. I looked at Sarath. He turned away his face and started walking.

We came back to Jacom and on the way picked up some mudhi ( puffed rice), tea powder, some milk powder and sugar. “What if there is no Desi Chickjen today, we will have good cup of warm tea at Jacom made by Bagha. What do you say Bagha?”,I asked. Bagha had a big grin on his face.
As tea was getting prepared, I along with Dasa took a stroll along the banks of Karlapat River. Looking for birds on tree tops, suddenly my eye fell on something that brought tears instantly. Those tears were tears of joy and not sadness. And that something was actually pugmarks of Leopard.Oh gosh...Finally I saw signs of Big Cat in Karlapat. I could not stop staring at the Pugmarks. Perhaps the Leopard had been there in the wee hours for a round. I tried to find signs of scats but there were none. This sighting rejuvenated us and with all the energy back in our Mitochondrias , we did climb back to the Jacom Guest House where our good frinds were waiting for us with hot kettle of Tea.

Picturesque Karlapat River Bed

Sipping down a cup of tea, I sat with my good friend Bagha. The old man had so many stories to tell me. And it has been always a pleasure to hear the unedited stories from the horses mouths. These are people who have spend their whole life protecting the forests of India with a stick in hand and with a payment that some of the wild life conservationists spend on Pedigree of their Dogs. Some years back, he was cooking his supper in the evening, Bagha smelt something unusual coming from the window of his cottage. He got goose bumps and started praying to almighty. Tiger was just 10 feet away from Bagha separated by a wall which was not that strong. As per Bagha, he felt that he won’t be able to see his grand children any more. For whole one night Bagha stayed inside the room hoping some one would turn up and save him from the Tiger. Wireless was not working (that’s what is the case in most of the sanctuaries).Bagha survived. How can King of Jungle kill his poor saviour? At the break of the dawn Tiger vanished into the forests.
I needed another cup of tea .Munda joined the conversation. They both were on the verge of retirement. They both had protected the forests and its Tigers. Now in some years, they would be back in home along with their grand children and doing some farming. But these forests of Karlapat would always remember them for their relentless service and vigil. Life would be better in home back in Ampani, but sweet music of flowing water of Karlapat and the calls of Langurs won’t be there to wake them up. 40 years back they were strong and bones had strength. Aspirations of a better life led them to temporary watcher role in the forest department. Training on Forests and Wildlife were imparted at Angul. Salary at the end of the month provided the economic security. But in the process they have sacrificed their whole life spending in the Forests , away from home and family.

Saviour of our Tigers

My good Friends

As day came to a close, we hugged them and said good bye. Bagha with display of all his intact set of thirty two shining white teeth said “ Next time you come back, we will prepare mutton for you”. I could just wish for them that they stay happily and get adjusted to new life.