Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roads Across Odisha-2

Kusanga forest range and the Satkosia Gorge

After spending a wonderful, captive  and enervative day in the Kunwaria it was time for us to explore the Satkosia river gorge on the river Mahanadi from the Kusanga forest range side. Satkosia is the deepest river gorge in Asia and like any other gorge has two banks, one is the Anugul side (which is a big tourist attraction and has a lot of Tourist inflow), and the other one is from the Kusanga side. The Kusanga forest range is virtually a virgin tourist land. It gets reflected from the way the forest officials treat you. They give you a warm hearted welcome and while interacting with them one can never sense a sniff of usual Sarkari Babudom.

We decided to leave the Kunwaria forest guest house early in the morning by 04:30 AM and everything went according to plan. By the time the small town of “Charichak” (in Boudh district) came we could see the oil in the cooking pans of eating joints heating up and inviting us for another sumptuous breakfast. This time it was “Puri” and “Alu ki Sabji” that filled our hungry bellies, but it was the fresh piping hot “Jalebis” made the day for start for us. The “Jalebis” were so delectable that even while writing this post made my mouth has water in it.  
After having breakfast we could listen to the chirping of the birds which was a definitive sign of birds increasing their morning activity. I must give credit to our luck; we again spotted a tree besides the road which was full of bird activities. It was a pair of “Scarlet Minivet” which was gracing the tree.

A Female Scarlet Minivet

A Male Scarlet Minivet

That stretch of road was like a prime bird territory, at every hundred odd meters there were Parakeets, group of Parakeets sitting on naked tree branches, fighting for the best placed perch; we enjoyed the entire stretch to the fullest.

 An Alexanderine Parakeet

A Plum Headed Parakeet

On the road ahead we observed a jungle river flowing besides the road, and riding high on our luck we went a bit inside to explore some more bird life around the river and we were gifted by spotting of a “Copper Smith Barbet” making her usual sounds of “Tuk-tuk” on the tree top, on the rocky bed of the river were the usual lizards and chameleons were basking in the Sun.

Copper Smith Barbet

Thanks to a lot to these welcome stoppages in the journey we reached the Kusanga Range office by 09:30 AM. There we met Mr. Panda, the Forester for the Kusanga range, Panda ji is a plum Man, with deep and long mustaches and side locks and happens to be a rare pure vegetarian amongst Odiyas that I came across.

When we reached Kusanga, Panda ji was busy in getting the Autopsy done of a dead Deer found in the buffer zone of the reserve; Panda Ji told us that the body of the Deer had no visible marks or signs of injury or death due to old age, so it is compulsory to do an autopsy to determine the cause of death. This gave us signals that how serious forest department has become towards conservation of wild life.

As soon as Panda ji got free from the work, we left for the Satkosia gorge. At the entry of  the reserve, just opposite to the first beat house at “Sitalpani” is the Guest house of PWD, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of the “Chowkidar” of the guest house, who died in the same guest house in a winter night. Almost all the Jungles have their equal share legends of places having presence of divine as well as evil powers.

The road to the gorge Snakes between the low foothills that sound the beginning of the Eastern Ghat Jungles, and as we were trudging through our jeep, I observed a banded racer snake resting on the forest floor, basking in the sun. I immediately asked the driver to stop to the Jeep and jumped from to the jeep to catch the snake, but the snake showed me why the word “racer” is so prominent in the name of the species. It just took off and within seconds was out of our sights in to the crevices of stones besides the road.

The Satkosia Gorge:

Satkosia is the meeting point of two bio-geographic regions of India; the Deccan Peninsula and the Eastern Ghats, and this multi dimensional geography contributes to immense biodiversity.

The Satkosia gorge is the life line of the “Satkosia Tiger reserve”, from the gorge the jungle reveals its shape, the jungles are undulated and the hill appear like a big elephant forehead and appears like a herd of sky blue elephants with the largest elephant being in the centre and the smaller ones on the periphery.

The Satkosia Gorge

I was astonished to see the size and flow of the Mahanadi River and was more than astonished to see the cleanliness of the river even towards the end of its journey. Perhaps this river remains so clean because most part of it flows through thick Jungles.

On the both the sides of the river are the enormous and long sandy banks. We were searching for pug marks all the way on the sandy banks, but failed to found any. The valley was echoing with the horns of Hornbills. To cross the river we took a dungy boat rowed by a long bamboo, operated by an old man perhaps in his early 60s. The secret to a successful and safe journey in such a boat is to be very still once you have boarded and settled in the boat and it is up float. One also needs to keep draining the water out of it, which comes through the small pores on the boat on a continuous basis. I was already anxious to be in such a boat without life jacket and by observing that the rowing bamboo which was approximately 15 feet long was getting entirely sub merged in the river made me very nervous.

The Man (Boat Rower)

The Machine (Boat in which we crossed the deepest Gorge)

We reached the Tikarpada side of the gorge and still I had not taken a sigh of relief as I knew it was only job half done, as we also needed to sail back to the Kusanga side on the same dungy boat.

 We reached to the beat office of the “Anugul range”, the forest guard there was a young lad in his early 20’s, while talking to him in office, I observed a leopard skin kept on the cupboard, I could not control myself and asked the forest guard, that where it was seized and what has happened to person from whom this was seized? He told us that it has been seized from local, who already is facing cases in related to poaching and right now is out on bail. While talking to the forest guard on this his frustration and angst was clearly visible. Knowing this several questions struck my mind like, how on earth someone who has been found with illegal possession of an endangered and critical wildlife species can be allowed to get bail and roam free? What kind of courts and rules do we have? How can we counter organized poaching through such lame and handicapped set of laws? With such weak laws how our law enforcing agencies can actually enforce the laws on the poachers? Are we not wasting taxpayers’ money by filling water in pot from top with several holes in the bottom?

As we went back to the Kusanga range after crossing the river we kept on discussing the issues related to stopping the poachers and suddenly Sethi ji a forest guard showed us a long scar mark on his head which he received while fighting with the poachers who had come to cut wood in the forest area.

We stopped near the anti poaching camp, as Panda ji told us that there is a Salt lick at the back side of the camp. As we were approaching the salt lick we observed some heavy movement in the leaves of the tree and to our surprise it was a pair of “Malabar Giant Squirrel”, doing their usual acrobatics in the tree foliage. In Odiya a giant squirrel is called as “Nepali Musa” (meaning a Nepali Mouse).

Malabar Giant Squirrel

It was already lunch time and our morning breakfast had lasted long enough to provide us energy to give way to the lunch which was waiting for us at the range office.

In the range office while waiting for the lunch, Panda ji showed us Plaster of Paris imprints of tiger pug marks, which were obtained during the last animal census. As the food arrived the rice and the mutton gravy tasted wonderfully well and made my believe stronger that the “chowkidars” of the forest departments are a different and exotic breed of cooks.

As the evening was falling down, we decided to leave the Kusanga and travel back to our guest house at Kunwaria.

While going back on behest of Sethi Ji we opted for an unconventional route which he claimed could save our 30Kms. The road passed through some of the extremely small villages of Boudh district. All the villages had government primary school, with a universal pictorial identity of kids sitting on pencil going to school. As our jeep passed through these villages apprehensive eyes of Men and women gave us a skeptical look and followed us till the time they could follow us.

By the time we reached the Kunwaria guest house it was already 6 in the evening and we started packing our bags to leave back to Bhubaneswar…

Stay tuned for the Kuldhia wild life experience from Odisha in the coming blog-post.