Day -1 Kunwaria Forest Range:
Villages besides the roads:
As you go out on the roads of Odisha across the villages, the first thing that strikes you is that villages are extremely small in size. Even the district head quarters of Nayagarh is perhaps one of the smallest district head quarters that I have ever come across. The embankments’ of the Muddy fields containing half harvested paddy appears like a big patch work on land. Small grocery shops besides the roads having freshly cut stalks of green and yellow Banana along with small stocks of pulses, grains and spices to sell along with selling loose Beedis come and go. Almost every village invariably has fish filled lily-littered duck ponds. Kingfishers watch silently from the telegraph wires. Roosters and Hen along with chicks keeps running around the village roads. Villages nearby to the forest area have barbed fencing made up of” Babool” bushes to keep ambush hunters at bay from the live stock.
The villagers spread their newly harvested grain on the road to be winnowed and threshed by the wheels of passing by vehicles. Men naked above the torso and carrying a Green and red checkered “Gamcha” on the shoulders sitting beside their palm- thatched huts or working on the paddy fields. Women draped in “Sarees” without blouses, yet their appearance never suggests nudity.
“Bhaina” seems to be verbal replacement for bringing warmth while talking to a strange male. It’s a Odiya equivalent of” Bhaisahab” in Hindi, and” Anna” in south India. Odisha is a delight for a foodie like me. Odisha offers variety of food in different Genre like Veg, Non-Veg, and desserts. A typical day starts with sumptuous breakfast of “Bara” (Made up of Udad Dal), and “Chap” gravy (a thickish gravy made up of potato and Chana) served more often than not in a “Dona”. For people who having a sweet tooth can have a delectable “Chena Poda”, It s a preparation of Chena baked in dona leaves, it’s a caramelized and smoked dish and tastes distinctively vivid and is perhaps one of favorite sweet dish.
A lot has been spoken and written about non – veg dishes of Odisha, but I would like to give a special mention to the Veg delicacies of Odisha. If south India is famous for chopping vegetables to the infinitesimal finess, Odiyas make vegetables in as raw form as possible. The vegetables are cooked in mustard oil and when eaten with rice tastes like heaven. One delicacy which deserves a special mention is the “Dalma”, Its Dal based dish and is cooked with boiled vegetables in raw form, and even the potatoes are not skinned.
Kunwaria Forest Guest House:
We left Bhubaneswar early in the morning by 7 o clock. It was a “Poornima” (a full moon night) and all the villages were celebrating the festival of “Baito Bantaro”, celebrated for cutting of crops and paying tributes to all the traders who earlier use to sail across the sea and rivers to sale across the trades.
On the way after having our breakfast, I spotted a tree on which leaves were swaying in all the directions. This was a definite sign of avian life on the tree. We stopped out Jeep at some distance away from the tree and started observing the tree. We initially found out that it was a group of the usual "Black Drongos" doing their usual chirping and fighting on the tree. But soon the surprises started flowing in. It was an "Immature Eurasian Golden Oriole" that came along and gave us so many patient shots, and soon a "White Rumped Shama" came along for a short while. We were so happy that we could not believe our luck. We didn’t even cared about the trucks and other heavy vehicles passing by us on the road, but it was a engraving experience of bird watching and photo shooting.
A White Rumped Shama
An Immature Eurasian Golden Oriole
Our bookings were done at the forest guest house. As we approached the guest house we found out that it was locked. We waited for about half an hour before “Trinatha Da” appeared approaching the Guest house on his almost antique black bicycle. On realizing that we had waited for about half an hour, he was very upset for keeping us waiting. It’s a typical looking forest guest house with well managed circular lawn forming the core of the entrance. Backyard of the guest house has old teak trees. Old teak wood furniture graces the bedrooms. Beds have rectangular frames to support mosquito net. In a quick decision it was decided that "Dalma" and Rice to be cooked for the lunch and by the time lunch gets prepared we will do some bird watching. We never ever thought that the trees around the forest guest house would have so much of surprises for us. “Lesser Golden Backed Woodpecker”,” Jerdons Cloropsis” were there. It was my first sighting of Cloropsis and was amazed to see and realized that why this bird is rarely seen even being in abundant quantity.
A Lesser Golden Backed Woodpecker
We also went out to Kunwaria Dam to do some bird watching. A "Grey Bulbul " was sitting on the bark of a bamboo tree, loads of colourful Dragon flies were moving around. We didn’t expect much as it was already noon and Bird life is almost nil during that part of the day.
A Grey Bulbul
We went to the Kunwaria Sanctuary in the evening. Thanks to a courageous driver our bolero jeep managed to trudge through the rough terrains of the sanctuary. We were accompanied by 2 forest guards. I would like to make a special mention to the condition of the forest guards in Odisha, and its not only about Odisha but for entire India. The condition of forest guards is quite miserable. Underpaid, Unarmed and no security for future. The forest guards are doomed to live in extremely sub-human conditions. The forests are fraught with danger. There are animals in the wild, man-eaters sometimes, and also the armed gang of poachers, out to cut trees and kill animals. These faceless people are a crucial cog in the wheel for the survival of wild life in India. While a wash of money is being pumped into various tiger reserves, these forest guards subsist on abysmally low salaries, lack of basic amenities and bereft of recognition. India’s forest staff operates in appalling working conditions: Guards use open toed footwear, they lack simple facilities like torch… jeep, wireless sets or gun. When they are posted in anti poaching camps in the desolate interiors of the forests, they lack both sanitation and protection against elements and wildlife.
The forest atop was filled with all kinds of birds specially Parakeets. While doing bird watching and chasing the hoof marks of Bisons on the forest carpet. All of a sudden there was a loud sound of a big Sneeze and as we tried to make sense of the situation, A large bison jumped from the bank of the river and crossed the river in one jump. What could we see, despite our cameras being in on condition we could not even think of clicking the shutter. It was such a close encounter that made us realize that the kind of power a Bison could posses.
A Small Blue Kingfisher
It was getting dark and despite it being a full moon night we didn’t wanted to take our luck to extreme, especially after the Bison incident. We reached to the forest guest house while buying the grocery and a Desi Chicken for the dinner. While preparing it was time for “Trinatha Da “to enthrall us by the legends and stories about the forest and Animals. The forest guests’ house naturally becomes the hub for getting the stories and legends between the travelers and the care takers. As the stories were engraving and gripping so was the dinner, the dinner was so very delicious that it surprised me that how such a well mixed food could be cooked without any mixer grinder that too on an earthen stove. The tasty food was a perfect end to a perfect day, full of revelations and explorations. Eyes were just so confused in the night that snap shots of entire day were not allowing them to close and the tiredness of the body was forcing them to stay awake.
Stay tuned to the blog for more of Colourful Emerald east….