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Friday, August 12, 2011

Dudhwa - Terai Habitat - The Seize

I have been many times to Lakhimpur Kheri District in Uttar Pradesh perhaps India's largest. It is a terai belt called Himalayan Foothills. My trips took me to Bhira, Gola Gokernath, Mohammadi, Singhai, Tikunia, Palia and Chandan Chowki besides other townships. There are major sugar mills and khandsari located in this UP district. Singhai was once famous for swamp deers and hunters nothing remains now except man and his farms.

As keen wildlife man I had read accounts of man eating incidence at this tiger heaven.      

Unfortunately I have been able to come near the reserve or go across many times - but no safari. As these where all business trips. I have also moved along the Kishangunj WLS a good habitat. Farming is the biggest scourge in the swamps fed by Sharda River. Every year the river floods and inundates many human settlements. But due to excellent alluvial soil all the region neighboring the badly shrunken National Park is under sugar cane farming reducing the tiger habitat. The proximity of such large concentration of humans to forests is striking. 

This is the reason why distant places like Gola and Mohammadi have suffered from man eating incidence. The animals strike human blood in sugar cane fields near the tiger reserve. They can easily move using the night cover through scattered pieces of khair forests and swamp land to reach the townships. 

Anyway I missed a safari here in spite of being so close. I still remember the Samosas of Gola and its bustling township. The Hindu temple of Gola Gokarnath is famous all over the country. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The sights and smells of this region are bewildering, from the smell of shit and muck to that of roadside mouth watering gastronomic delights. The tiger reserve survives amidst the sea of humanity. On one side of it is the porous Nepal border which makes the park susceptible to poaching and smuggling. 

I hope the administration is pro active in protecting this heritage wealth for posterity. The successful translocation of One Horned Rhino is heart warming. The preserve is also an excellent birding destination.

Lakhimpur Kheri can be accessed by road and rail from Lucknow the former is better. The train (Mailani Express) - if my memory serves me right - that connects the two is a horrible travel experience.  Please drive in day time, the accommodations are at Palia about 40/50 km from Lakhimpur Town. Interim night stay can be made in hotels of Lakhimpur.  Evening/Night travel is not advised at all.          

Wilds of Seoni Hills

Part of Central Indian Highlands so vividly and elegantly described by Capt.James Forsyth during the Raj...these hills are part of the Satpura Range. The Central Indian Forests where once contiguous and  were teeming with wild life and floral biodiversity. If you have not read the book do read it.

The Seoni Hills are where the story of Mowgli the Wolf Child is based. This is also known as Kipling Country since he wrote a fine account of these forests and Wainganga River in his book "Jungle Book". Rudyard Kipling has knit the wild denizens into a complex web of imagination that allures many to visit these highlands from all over the World. All the characters of this classic book live in the jungle even now, though the wolf has become rare.

With increasing urbanization lot of habitat types that support rare animals are being lost. Outside the reserve plains, grasslands and scrub have been completely overtaken by civilization. Increasing population, agriculture and industrialization further threaten these pristine jungles of India.     

The Seoni Township is a small city now with bustling commercial activity. Fifty km from it towards Nagpur lies the Pench National Park which encompasses Seoni Hills. The forests where once connected with Kanha Tiger Reserve, but I do not think they are anymore. The town itself is bare, but the jungle is met with at some distance. Most of the drive to Pench is pleasant as scenic splendor of dense canopy, undulating terrain  and green hills unfolds.   

Due to the ravages of time the forest have been greatly denuded but timely intervention saved the remaining. Most of the rock formations are pristine with black cotton soil and clay here and there.  Adjoining to Pench is Rukhad Wildlife Sanctuary now part of the tiger reserve. The WLS offers good sightings of animals including tigers and leopards. You can still come across Bison and deer crossing like it was everywhere in olden days. The area is well inundated by rivers and nullahs which are the life line of the ecosystems here. Water Holes or pools are referred as Dohs, perennial springs also support life in this region.    

Wildlife seen is tiger, leopard, bison, sambar, spotted deer, wild dog, sloth bear, barking deer, langur and Nilgai, The Indian wolf at Pench frequents outer areas around villages but are not often seen.     

Extensive jungle is connected with Seoni, Balagahat and Dist. of Nagpur.  The forests stretch from the State of Madhya Pradesh and ingress into Maharashtra. Most of the tourism takes place from Turiya Gate in MP. The MP border at Khawasa is the access point to Turyia Gate. In order to enjoy wildlife safaris one can stay in numerous Pench resorts that offer accommodation. The jeep safaris in the preserve need to be booked in advance during the rush season. The safari offer chance of sighting the spectacular animals of the Hills. 

The Central Indian Highlands also encompass Pachmarhi Hill Retreat and parts of Kanha.The distance from Jabalpur to Pench is about 200 plus km. From Nagpur it is 80 km. Both are connected by air with Mumbai & New Delhi. From Kanha the reserve is about 200 km.