Monday, January 23, 2012

Chapter 2: Forests of Ghumsar- Where Tigers once used to prowl

Continued from Chapter 1

The Day Begins

Before sun rose above the horizon, we had left for Kaliamba for a detailed bird study of the area. Bijaya bhaina was there with us for the last day of the trip. We wanted to reach pretty early so that maximum recordings could be done. I was so happy to see Gendu ready at the Guest house to guide us into the forest. A round of warm cup of tea and we were ready to venture into forest. Elephants had been there last evening also and didn’t deviate from their usual routine of creating havoc in the area. We needed to be extra careful as they had not gone that far and were having feast in the hill top just nearby the stream that Gendu had talked off the pervious morning regarding the bird watching.

Drive through the thick forests of Kaliamba

After walking nearly for 20 minutes we reached the dried stream with small pools of water here and there. I asked Tapan and Gendu to stay back so that noise could be avoided. A waiting of 10 minutes and I was gifted with a flock comprising White Rumped Shama, Black Naped Monarch Flycatcher and Great Tits. We climbed up for another 100 odd meters to try out our luck. Gendu was still apprehensive about the presence of the Elephants and a strong smell in the air was evidence of their presence nearby. He advised us that we take another road in a different direction and we obliged. On the way to a waterhole present well inside the forest, a pair of Scarlet Minivets led the way before they passed on the baton to a Red Throated Flycatcher. These forests are so rich in bird life and we had not even spend a day completely venturing in them. I can roughly estimate that at least 150-180 different type of bird species could be present in the forests of Ghumsar. Kao-kuk…Kao-kuk call of Jungle Owlet perched very high on the top of a tree attracted our attention. According to Gendu, the forests over here has a very good population of Owls or commonly known as Pecha in Odia.

A Common Iora

Female Scarlet Minivet

A Brainfever Bird

My First Recording of White Rumped Munia

We reached the waterhole deep inside the forest where Gendu had intended to take us. There were some hoof marks of a Mouse Deer near the waterhole. There are many such natural waterholes in the area which is apt for wild animals to thrive in. But because of presence of many villages in and around these forests, they are not to be seen during day time. Some times Gendu gets to see the Barking Deers and Spotted Deers near the guest house itself during the evenings. We walked in the forests for another half an hour to see if some Malabar Pied Hornbills could be recorded but they didn’t turn up. We made the exit through the Kaliamba village during the mid noon. My last avifauna recording in the area was that of a group of White Rumped Munias which normally inhabit in the grassy forest margins and nest in trees. It was also my first sighting of the particular bird species in Odisha. Since we had skipped breakfast in the morning, already we all were hungry and enquired with Gendu if something would be available in the village for eating. Gendu went to his uncle’s shop in village to fetch some mudhi ( puffed rice)and biscuits as we made our way back to the Rest House. Took some rest and made notes at the Rest House itself. Gendu was back after 15 minutes and everyone relished the Mudhi with Pickles. After getting some life back we decided to rest for couple of hours and then go to Bhanjanagar.

A Waterhole inside the forest that is frequented by Wild animals

Malabar Giant Squirrel

I climbed up the Tree House on the Banyan tree and had a look at the whole compound. There was absolute silence in the area except for occasional calls of the Indian Giant Squirrel hopping from one branch to other of the Giant Banyan Tree. The century old tree and the Rest House were reminiscent of the past glory of Ghumsar and stand equally strong with a hope that the forests and it's wildlife will be able to survive in future also. Sitting in the tree house , I could hear the Old Banyan Tree and the Forest Guest House talking to each other.

Old Banyan Tree (OBT) : I saw the elephants led by Mangu Sardar, the tusker come yesterday and try to barge into your boundary. I think you were hurt by their action.

Forest Rest House( FRH): Dear friend, I am not hurt. Mangu Sardar was angry because his group wanted to feast on the farmlands of the Kaliamba villagers and they hurled crackers at them. That is the reason he came here to feast on the coconut trees. He is basically a good guy. I have seen him grow up from a toddler to the giant tusker that he is now. But he has become erratic and tempered after his parents were killed by poachers who had come from some far off place. Hiding behind the bush and crying alone, he had seen the men take away his father’s tusks. He sees every human being as his enemy from that day.

OBT: Oh I didn’t know about his past. Poor fellow. Next time he comes in, I will try to make him understand. He is a good living being by nature and is also compassionate. Children love him so much and often are among the first drawings that they draw in their note books.

FRH: Today, I heard Gendu telling someone over phone that couple of forest officials will be coming in the afternoon for some work and they will be staying here.

OBT: Hmmm. But you know that they will not be staying in the night. There are some people in green uniform with guns and red flags in hand moving in the area trying to threaten all forest officials. Also, I heard that they killed some poor forest guard in a forest called Sunabeda in Western part of our state to show their strength.

FRH: You remember those days when Tourists and Nature lovers used to come and stay overnight. They used to have so much fun. I used to envy you because they used to go gaga over the Tree House that you have. I used to be alone in the evenings along with my caretaker and drivers who used to prepare dinner in my backyard over earthen choolah. I used to love the warmth of the fire that they used to cook food over. There was so much life around.

OBT: Oohhh. So nostalgic. I feel like crying my heart out. Visitors would climb up the tree house and play cards over a round of Scotch. Whole tree house used to look brighter with kerosene lanterns. Talks of Wild animals and forests of Ghumsar used to take place. They often would mention about a place called Similipal and its Tigers in their talks. But I used to get happy when our Forest sahebs would also talk about our Tigers, our very own Ghumsar Tigers.
Brother, do you recall about our very own Mahabala, the Royal Bengal tiger of Ragada area who used to roam in the night near the hill behind you. Couple of times, he had also entered your boundary when everybody used to get asleep. He was so good looking and so royal but could not father any baby tigers as there was not a single perfect match for the poor Tiger in the whole area. All female tigresses had vanished because forests had reduced and there was hardly any food left for the Tigers. Mahabala died of old age without passing on his royal genes to the next generations. The last Tiger in whole Ghumsar area, Mahabala’s cousin living in the Tarsingi area was pelted with stones for an hour before being shot dead. Poor fellow was defamed as a Man eater whereas truth is that he was hell afraid of them. He used to run away seeing human beings.

FRH: But I suppose this is not new. I have heard our sahebs discussing that all tigers in India are facing the same fate. But do you know my dear friend that we have survived for more than 100 years. There are some people like our Sahebs still left who are doing their bit to save harmless animals and forests. By God’s grace and by the efforts of some good hearted human beings, we will be able to survive and so will many dear friends like you who are there in our forests of Ghumsar. I hope one day another Mahabala returns here to bring back the happy days of Ghumsar. So don’t be sad and cheer up.

OBT: Your words have really given me hope and I am happy now. Thank you my dear FRH for being my companion for so many years.

The Tree House atop Giant Banyan Tree

Century Old Kaliamba Forest Rest House

Bijaya bhaina called me as it was already late and we were supposed to move back to Bhanjanagar. We thanked Gendu by bidding good bye and gave a last glance at the old Rest House. As we drove past the Giant Banyan Tree, I could imagine it smiling and waving to us in joy.