Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Roads Across Odisha-4

Roads Across Odisha-4

Mangalajodi Bird Sanctuary

It was again an early morning start, and as always we had to be precise with our timings as it was also my last day at Odisha and I had to catch a train from a station nearby Chilka. We were scheduled to leave for Mangalajodi bird sanctuary situated in the Chilka waters. The Mangalajodi wetland (10 sq. km.) is a freshwater swamp to the northeast of Chilika Lake. Mangalajodi is home to over 3, 00,000 water birds of around 200 different species, both resident as well as migratory. Mangalajodi happens to be scheduled wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention as well.

Pair of Bramhiny Shell Ducks

 Little Cormorant

It was time for us to face our first instance of uncertainty, in what I should call a meticulously planned journey. Our driver for the first two trips had committed to us to be in front of the hotel at 6 o clock, but didn’t turn up. Also efforts to reach out to him on his mobile were futile. Thanks to a courteous hotel staff, an alternative cab was arranged for within half an hour and I and Satya left for our destination.

We had absolute no information on how to explore the waters of Mangalajodi, the geography and species as both of us were weak at recognizing water birds. A hoopoe greeted us on the banks of the back waters along with wagtails. But still we had no idea how to venture in to sanctuary. Nearby the banks were 2 men working on their boats and Satya ventured ahead to ask them regarding way to exploring the sanctuary. The person informed him that we had to get the receipt of the payment at the welcome counter of Mangalajodi, we informed him that it was close. After a short deliberation the person in blue shirt nodded and said that you can pay the money later and he will take us around. We looked at each other, no one in the sight till farthest of the points and to trust on someone like that and to go with him in back waters was a great risk, but somehow our instincts came in and we decided to board their boat.

We were not expecting much out of this trip while boarding the boat, but as soon as the boat went off, the boat man pulled out the bible of ornithology in India “Birds of Indian Subcontinent”, by R Grimmett, C Inskipp we were just spell bound. A person who hardly looks like literate person is referring to a book on birds??  Meet Madhu Behra, the eco guide and a proud conservator and member of Wild Orrisa. Wild Orrisa is the behind the scene catalyst for converting a tribe of Bird poachers in to avid bird watchers and die hard conversationalist.

Living Legend- Madhu Behra

Madhu Behera is true representation of modern day Valmiki, from being a poacher himself till mid 90’s when there were even less than a few thousand birds remaining in Mangalajodi area to making it a tremendous success story to make the latest bird census above 3 Lacs. Madhu bhai has been instrumental in conserving the birds of Mangalajodi. His own income had dropped from around Rs. 2,000 a day to around Rs. 2,000 a month. His life had changed and today protecting the birds seemed to be all that mattered to him.

With very few tourists coming to Mangalajodi made us ask him a question that how long can he and his family sustain such low income levels, and with so low levels of income why would he not go back to hunting? Madhu bhai smiled for a while and said “Ab to bird watching ka hi nasha hai, ab job hi ho bird watching hi pasand hai” (Now I like bird watching and no matter what happens he will not go back to poaching , but will continue bird watching only). And as we were just about to get emotional with this statement byMadhu bhai, Madhu bhai with all his excitement said “Black winged Stilt”. From “black headed Munia” to “blue throat bee eaters”, the names were flowing so smoothly out of his mouth that we felt that we were in company of a biologist. He was aware of breeding habits, eating preferences, migratory path of the birds… every thing that one needs to know about birds and was not even a high school pass out. Even some of the so called “bird experts” will run for their money in front of Madhu bhai’s knowledge. With all the knowledge about birds, Madhu Bhai comes to you with humility and openness to share his knowledge. Madhu bhai is not only an example of a conservation success story but also signifies where our education system has failed so miserably? Yes I am referring to the application part of education.

Pair of Black Winged Stilt

A Bronzed Tailed Jacana

A Purple Moorhen

As our boat rowed along the swamps we came across pacific golden plover, herds of Bramhiny Shell ducks, Bronzed tailed jacana, Non-breeding Pheasant tail jacana, purple moorhen, Terns, Weaver birds, Painted storks, Eurasian spoon billed…It was like watching a wild life film on water birds. On every stroke of the rower something new was coming in front of us.

Whiskered Tern

A Streaked Weaver

Large Egret

Black Headed Munia

Pacific Golden Plover

While on the boat we had breakfast of sweet bread and Banana along with Madhu Bhai and his cousin who was rowing the boat.

Just the time we were having our bread, some noises started to come from the grass lands and herds of small birds started flocking in the air all of a sudden and Madhu bhai made us point above, it was a Shikara on hunt in the skies, and the birds were alerting each other from the predator.

 Eurasian Spoon Bill

A Grey lapwing

While being with Madhu Bhai, many questions started coming to my mind, why forest officials are getting paid if they cannot protect the resources for which they are getting paid? Why academic and other qualifications like proximity to bureaucrats are more required then the on field knowledge of wild life? Why our government does require NGOs to apply common sense and bring change in the society? The questions are enormous and I am quite sure that answers to these questions will snatch many IFS officers of their jobs and colonial bungalows where they stay with all the royal amenities.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Roads Across Odisha-3

Roads Across Odisha-3

The Kuldhia Experience:


I dedicate all my travels till date to comrade late Dr. Kamla Prasad, whom I have affectionately call “Tauji” , whose spirit to travel has always somehow inspired me to reach out and explore the world around me. I also use to call him modern day “Rahul Sankrutyayan”, on 25th of March 2011, he lost his battle with cancer and his spirit became free to travel anywhere without limitations of this world. I will always remember the shear energy that he used to inject in his conversations with his shear presence and words. Tauji will always live in memories of everyone around him.

The Kuldhia wildlife Experience:
After coming back from Kunwaria wildlife sanctuary we took a good nap in Bhubaneswar, as we had to catch Jan Shatabdi express to Balasore early in the morning to reach to Kuldhia wildlife sanctuary, Balasore seems to be another Indian town stuck up in between its Indian name and it’s British Name. It was named Baleshwar in the older times, but British changed it to Balasore. I believe whatever be the name of the town in future; the taste of the Bada chaps near the railway station should remain same forever (the prize as well).
 Kuldhia is famous for its Elephants, and I till now never had an experience of coming face to face with wild elephant and I was thrilled and excited with just a thought of it.

The Kuldhia plays a vital cog in the wheel for elephant corridor in eastern India. It is connected with Simplipal and Mayubhanj forest range and serves as a transition point for wandering herds of wild elephants.  Kuldhia also boasts of around 300 native elephants, apart from the wandering population.
With expressways coming up in Odisha to give way for faster logistics, the elephant corridors and with them the Elephants are getting lost every day and the electrification of the forest boundaries, resulting in electrocution of elephants and young calves adding to the miseries of the giant pachyderms. And its not only the gentle giants who are getting agitated by all this, the humans are also at receiving end. When we reached the small town of Nilgiri to seek permission for entering the Kuldhia wild life sanctuary, the mood in the town was somber but filled with anger. The wandering elephants are running havoc in the nearby human settlements and local paddy farmers were out on streets let the governments know that even if a single elephant does trespassing in human territory, they will be dealt with harsh way. Readers might feel that this could be harsh step but the kind of compensation offered by government of Odisha for elephant damages is nothing but a joke. From partial damage of crop to full damage the compensation ranges from Rs. 500/- to Rs. 2000/-, it also raises a pertinent question that, is our government serious about protecting wildlife?

After receiving permission from leisurely paced Babus of the forest department, we proceeded towards our destination. As we entered the small tenements en-route to the sanctuary we observed the roads are in pathetic state in fact it seemed like a sabotaged road with pot holes depth ranging in meters. On inquiring the driver confirmed our suspicion and said that the road has been dugged up by the wood poachers so as to avoid any swift action from forest department when their men are at work.

As soon as we entered the sanctuary after showing gate pass to a name sake forest guard, we saw heavy activity in canopy of trees and we left our jeep to get few glimpses of elusive Malabar Giant Squirrel. Plethora of times that we have seen the Giant squirrel in the Jungles of Odisha and Karnataka instead of Maharashtra (Giant squirrel is state animal of Maharashtra), makes me believe that making an animal state animal or national animal does not necessarily results in its conservation and is just a symbolic representation. Extinction of Tigers is a story which under production and I suppose the giant squirrels in Maharashtra are following the same story line.  

Malabar Giant Squirrel

We reached the Kuldhia forest guest house at around 11:30 AM. We were welcomed by a fully grown Peacock in the rest house walking around the circumference of rest house.  Satya straight away went for a bath and I decided to look around for a few birds. Again I could observe big nests of Giant squirrel very close by to the watch tower and soon the forest officer in the rest house Manoranjan by observing me came to me to know what I am looking at.


Till the time Satya came out, I had already befriended Manoranjan and had shot a few good pictures of Peacock and Giant squirrels.  The food was ready by the time I took bath and it was time to  start enjoying another course of sumptuous Odiya meal.

After having our food we took a walk around the FRH and then it was time to test the comforts offered by the bed in the room. After enjoying a power nap of around 1 hour, we asked Manoranjan to accompany us for a walk in the forest. He obliged and as soon as we entered the forest we could see an entire colony of plum headed parakeets resting on the top of the tall saal and teak trees. We kept on walking till the time we reached a big rock having a lot of den like voids. Observing closely we found excretion of a carnivore with hairs and high calcium content.  We climbed up the rock to see if getting elevated helps us to uncover any wildlife, but failed to do so.

By the time we came back to the rest house we were informed by the cook named Hari Bhaina, that it is good time to sit at watch tower and wait for tuskers to come to the salt lick which lies directly in line with the watch tower. We were sitting there, as the sun was going down air was getting a cold. It was a perfect setting for a cup of Tea (chai) and biscuit. As we were enjoying our sips of hot tea, the discussions went in to snakes and their stories. As we were discussing the matter in great detail, all of a sudden Satya whiskered excitingly and asked us to look towards the salt lick. It was a young male Tusker who visited the salt lick.  We went down the watch tower, but were warned by the forest officials not to go too close as tuskers away from their herd are vulnerable and susceptible to charges on humans.

Tusker In Kuldhia

It was a perfect start of the day -1, and just before our dinner we were getting more and more indulged in to wild stories of the sanctuary. The Hari Bhaina told us that there is a small temple of Jungle deity on the fringes of rest house. The Deity is known as Budhi Thakurani. The temple is said to be ancient and when the local king use to come to Jungle to capture elephants for domestication, he used to pay tribute to the deity before starting his operation. Also the Hari Bhaina has seen elephants come regularly at the temple and   consume the Prasad offered to the deity.  We decided to pay our visit to the temple as well in the morning. After having our dinner we went for a night safari with special permission from the range office.

As we left on our jeep with Manoranjan, I was keeping a watch on right side of the road and Satya was giving surveillance on the left side. As soon as our jeep passed a small bridge on a Nallah, I observed an odd leaf on the tree and directed my torch in that direction to observe that it was a fully grown Fish Owlet sitting on the bark of the tree. It gave us patient shots and then flew away.

 Barking Deer

Fish Owlet

White Rumped Shama

On our course of Night Safari we also came across a barking Deer, unaware and not bothered of our presence.  We came back the rest house and were too satisfied to go to bed.
Before sleeping we had already chalked out the plan to go to Risia Dam early in the morning to do bird watching.
Early in the morning we left for the dam and were surprised to see so many birds around the dam. We could observe that Manoranjan was a quick learner and had learnt the art of bird watching very quickly and was eager to learn more.  


Common Iora

Chestnut headed Bee Eater

Crested Bulbul

Sun Bird

It was not only birds who were more than happy to give us shots, but reptiles were also getting in line to do the same. 

Chameleons basking in Sun

We had to leave dam site a bit early as Manoranjan had to report to forest rest house to relieve one more staff.

We left for the rest house had our lunch and left the Kuldhia rest house to go and attend our Friend Man Singh’s marriage in Cuttack. It was a truly wonderful experience of unchained and untamed wild life experience in Kuldhia.