Roads Across Odisha-3
The Kuldhia Experience:
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.
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.
Chestnut headed Bee Eater
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.