Friday, 19 October 2007

The real netherworld

‘Zhili bili’, as SJ Gould substituted for the dull phrase ‘Once upon a time’, the grandmother of the lord Thunder wanted to change the course of the Someshwari river, now called the Simsang river and she picked up a huge boulder from an area notified now as the Balpakram National Park. She wanted to block the river and divert the waters to make the land fertile for agriculture. Tired as she was, she went on slowly when suddenly a cock crowed and Thunder was awakened. In fear she deposited the boulder in what forms now the Chutmang peak and scurried away. Now the Garos say that the Chutmang peak is the exact shape of the valley upturned and have kept the story alive for many generations. Both the pictures below are at the same scale on google earth. Doesn’t seem like a good fit!

Chutmang peak forms the north-western part of the Balpakram national park which is spread over an area of about 300 sq. km. About three months earlier when I visited the peak, we did find tiger pug marks close to the peak near a cave. The park is unique because it was actually bought from the communities by the Forest Department in an effort to protect the wildlife of the region. I had been working with the group ‘Samrakshan’ for about five months and was waiting for an opportunity to get to the park. Such a fortune knocked at my door when Dr. Kashmira, Dr. Christy Williams and Nandini from Valparai came by to Baghmara to do just the same. Christy had earlier done a study on elephants in the region about a decade ago and was very excited to be there.

Nimesh from Samrakshan and the rest of us reached the Mahadeo guest house by about 2 pm and later we went to the famous helipad within the national park, yes a helipad inaugurated by none other than the late Shri Rajiv Gandhi. From there we saw a little less grand canyon. Christy told us that no one had explored the depths of the valley and I thought that for once I did see virgin forests in my life, so that’s a life not wasted! We returned to the Mahadeo camp and took a walk into the park in the evening and the first sighting that excited us was a tusker that Christy claims he had seen earlier during his study. Here is the picture of the big-guy.
Later in the night we took another walk in the forest looking for nocturnal mammals and Nandini had promised us she would show us flying squirrels. But we walked for almost an hour and didn’t see any and we got back to the camp and dozed off into a pleasant sleep. Morning me and Nandini started our walk at 530 am and in the next 15 minutes spotted two Himalayan yellow-throated martens. It was a misty morning and photography was not an option. By the time I ran back to the camp and called Christy and Kashmira, the martens had scooted, and we carried on our walk ahead looking for other mammals and birds.

Later in the day, Kashmira told us about hoolock gibbons, whom she had studied for her PhD. She told us that gibbons start calling late in the morning after they have fed for a while and she imitated the calls to perfection as well. Later in the day we saw a Malayan giant squirrel, up close since the guy was habituated to people and lived close to the forest department quarters.
In the evening we decided to get back since Kashmira and others had to leave the next day. But on the way we got off the vehicles and walked in Baghmara reserve forest which was dominated by Sal trees. After walking for more than an hour looking for squirrels, we found a loris, it was my first sighting of the slow loris, so I was ecstatic.

So, for a trip that lasted only about two days we had quite a few sightings! In fact it seems that in the land where souls of people and not people reside do support a lot of wildlife!

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