“No!” uttered my elder brother (Dada).
“It’s not going to be like any normal conducted tour. It will be a different sort of tour.”
“What about the location?”
“Probably the location that I will prefer, firstly and lastly a jungle”
“Ok! All right”
“I will decide the spot and call you later.”
The line got disconnected.
My Dada is always bearing a free and judgmental mind quite apart from the orthodox ideas. With keeping a balance between expense and location he chose the Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary in Odissa.
Sign of four
We were four heads- me, one of my friends (Soumyakanti), my elder brother (Abhijit) and one of my brother’s friends (Arjun). My elder brother Abhijit Bhunia was script writer cum sound director and photographer. Arjun Ghosh the perfect zoologist I have ever seen teaches zoology in college. He also indulges into the photography amateurishly, also has good command over the foreign language like Spanish. I and my friend were just college students.
We boarded the Dhauli express from Howrah on 23rd December. At the full bloom of our agility and muscularity we managed to board safely jostling with the very crowds. It took nearly three hours to reach Baleswar station.
It was almost mid-morning; the morning sun was on a little scorch. The Baleswar station was sufficiently outfitted for the regular passengers, accommodating a number of platforms.
We stood huddled with our luggage, brushing off our pants and collars. The express whooshed past us. A group of passengers were seen to be in hustle also with their luggage. Concertedly we carried our luggage with spurning away the repeated trade cry of the porters and auto drivers. We got out from the station.
A man having a stocky figure approached us and introduced him with us. He was our guide, Shyamal Dalui. He was appointed by my Dada prior to our tour. There was another man, who was our driver. This long-haired man was quite amiable and every time a faint smile was seen to be crossing his lips. They took our luggage gently and made us seated in a white Tata Sumo.
Amidst the hilly backdrop of Nilagiri and Kuldiha range our Tata Sumo made its way along the national highway. We made our urgent phone calls on the way, as our guide warned us about the unavailability of the network inside the jungle.
On the national highway from Baleswar station to Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary
The driver wanted our ID cards essential for entry to a forest. But my Dada, the main head of our group was found to be forgotten his ID card at the eleventh hour of his packing expedition who devoted the whole last night to pack his luggage. The ID cards of the rest three solved the situation, also by the tactfulness of the driver.
Within few minutes our car entered in the main fringes of the forest and it took a narrower road leading through the jungle. Under the canopy of Sal & other deciduous Deccan plants the main jungle road prevails reclusively. Our car hummed through this jungle road with a slow pace and made us wobbling against each other. We reached at the Kuldiha FRH (forest range house) and took a dormitory.
Kuldiha Forest Range House
Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary is about 300 sq km of hilly landscape in Balasore district constitutes the Kuldiha forest. It is close to Nilagiri forest towards north and Mayurbhanj forest in northeast. Sukhapata and Gagua hills separate Kuldiha from Simlipal. This thick wooded forest of the region accommodates wild animals like the elephant, leopards, sambar, bison, gaur and giant squirrels. It also houses a variety of birds like hornbills, hill myna and peafowl. The streams drenching this area are also the habitat of reptiles. Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary is the perfect niche for these endangered species.
At the very brink of our dormitory there was a dense wood sloping towards the top, covered with the lush of shrubs and trees, entrenched by a trench from the forest range area. Our first wild visitor was waiting in an unexpected manner. An intermittent moaning noise was constantly running through our ears. Initially I misunderstood it as a bird. But the sense of detection and instant comprehension was quite high to Arjun Da. Caressing at our every footstep and cautiously restraining our every footfall against the dried leaves we approached for it.
The mind-puzzling greenery of the trees and the camouflaging attributes of our visitor put us in confusion to spot it. After some fixed vision the reality came to light. In naked eye from at least thirty hands distance I could spot two brown figures resting on a bough. My Dada and Arjun Da took a clear snap by their high definition camera.
Our first visitor was a group of langurs!!!!!!
The entire forest range area was made at a suitable location inside the forest. So abiding the little inadequacies of here we got bustled. At day time there is no electricity, making the solar panels to get excited to illumine the dormitories at night.
We took our lunch on a mahogany table, within the air of earnest reception and hospitality. Our driver was seen to be a perfect jovial man who also took part in serving foods to the guests. After a long exhaustion we ate our lunch with relish, which was cooked delicately.
“There is a unanimous fame about the Odia cooks all over the whole India!” exclaimed my Dada.
It was the second turn to be familiar with our second visitor. Following the response and eager eyes of others I settled down at my collars. For a while it seemed that I am belonging to the fairy world of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ which was unraveling their anomalous nature.
With my first glance it grabbed my attention by its brilliant red colour, lively and pure. Sunlight gave it the extra tint with its magical rays. It moved within a flash and started prancing all over the forest range area. The habituated eyes in our nearby trees, orchards or railings got an awe-struck gaze with the morphological magnification of a small squirrel. Yes it was a giant squirrel, quite larger than normal squirrel with having the same homologous organs.
The giant squirrel that grabbed our attention
The third visitor emerged just like a fugitive. With the air of nonchalance it started to roam all over flaunting its many hued fantails. It cast a look of a royal unconcern to the onlookers. By the sheer stroke of opportunity some people held their camera prodded by their instinct & approached for it. Other eager people were also in haste to catch its view. A rough female voice crackled in the air!!! She cursed and shouted to all the photo catchers for hiding it from their view in a spurt of arrogant Bengali tone.
That is why the wild entities always tend to stay apart from human society. Sensing the upcoming danger our visitor managed to flee with cocking a snook to us. It was an adorable peacock.
The clock strikes at three. We set out for a new location Jadachuwa, 9 km from our resort. En route we took a halt, got down from the car and followed our guide.
The swashing sound of water hit my ears. It appeared as if I entered to the monolithic age (Stone Age). I could sense the dampness and earthy smell of the place. A stream took the possession of the place, coming down step by steps naturally hindered by stony obstacles. As we approached above, we could see that the stream was gushing from a mossy lap of stones, taking the toll of the place.
By magical spell of a wizard, the stones and boulders strewn all over, gave the place a solemn and grave calmness under the shadowy shelter of the gigantic trees.
The stream drenching the forest
The guide took us to a wetland situated at a corner of the jungle. We could spot a trail of big pug marks approaching towards a pond. They were easily recognizable to be of elephants. I could feel the thumping sound in my mind visualizing about the jumbo animals, striding at a long foot steps. The guide told us that the pond was a regular place for those elephants which served them water.
The pug marks of the elephants approaching the pond
We drove towards Jadachuwa. A few jungle fowls crossed our path. There was a guest house in Jadachuwa enough posh and suitable for the jungle visitors. But the forest department imposed a closure on it pondering the safety of the wild creatures.
At one side an empty area was left, isolated by a big trench from the ambit of Jadachuwa guest house. “It’s a saltlick in this jungle.” said our guide. Soumyakanti looked curious and proceeded.
“A salt lick is a deposit of mineral salts used by animals to supplement their nutrition, ensuring that they get enough minerals in their diets.” said Arjun Da.
“Is it made here artificially?”
“Yah here it’s an artificial saltlick”
“But I can sense its commercial motive here.” urged Soumya.
“Artificial salt licks are to attract wildlife such as deer and moose, along with smaller creatures like squirrels. Animals may be attracted purely for the pleasure of the humans who install the salt lick with the goal of watching or photographing animals around the salt lick.” said our guide.
We spent that night in our dormitory. In the faint light of our room we sat together. Soumyakanti was in mood to shuffle and rearrange a rubik cube, which he brought to kill his boredom. But he was in mocking modesty to demonstrate its solving procedure to others. He picked Arjun Da quite gullible to talk about it, but he found my Dada contentious when he approached him.
“By the way I’m not teaching you about it!” hurled Soumya after a light altercation with my Dada. Arjun Da and Dada was on a little tussle about the comparative theme between the Sherlock Holmes film and TV series.
It was 24th December. The exploring stuff of a new place and inner urgency made my Dada to wake up earlier being a daily late riser. He pushed everybody to get ready for the jungle trekking. A narrow passageway was leading through the jungle from the forest range area. We followed our guide and this time he was another man, a staff in Kuldiha FRH. This time there was another group of photographers in this trekking, also guided by him.
Arjun Da told us to fix our field of view by 360* and to be aware of every minute sounds.
We walked under the shade of the tropical trees. The benevolent morning sun was peeping through leaves, singing the song of the immobility of profound silence, urgency of the jaded leaves scattered here and there, grim toughness of the boughs… The long eucalyptus trees stood adamantine. Somewhere various orchids were sprung out from the ground or trunks of the long trees.
The presence of the trees like Acacia, Arjun, Mahogony and Sal were also perceptible. There were lots of parasitic trees, extending out their branches in geometrical pattern to consume their host. Somewhere it is helical; somewhere it is serpentine, annular, straight, curved and many other forms.
“All parasitic plants have special organs, named ‘haustorium’, which connect them to the conductive system of their host and provide them with the ability to extract water and nutrient from the hosts.” said Arjun Da.
The jungle way prevails with the serpentine plants
Some tawny (coloured like copper) soil mounds (heaps) were seen to be amassed here and there. There were various mounds to be seen; some were as big as mountain, some were medium shaped and some were small. At a single glance it seemed to be brittle (breakable) at a single stroke, but it retorted against my hands by their solidity and compactness. It was damn hard like a stone! It was ‘Termite’s mound’.
A termite’s mound in the jungle
With a sense of utter vigilance everybody’s eyes were running through all over; through the fronds, bushes, boughs; through the slightest gap between the leaves; through the hindmost trees, branches and leaves.
Playing giant squirrels were common sight everywhere.
Professor Arjun Ghosh was quite proficient in the realm of ornithology (the branch of zoology that deals with scientific study of birds) as well as zoology. He was crammed with all sorts of information especially about Indian birds as well as others. The sense of optical and auditorial recognition seemed quite high to Arjun Da. His black pair of eyes through the frame of the spectacle comprises the sharp vision of a hawk. In the stark darkness he holds the ability to identify small to smallest insects along with its species. The traits of a good zoologist were imparted by his maternal uncle from his very childhood, who went on to the expedition to introduce young Arjun to all sorts of birds in the lap of nature without using any binocular. Arjun Da made us familiar to many birds visible in the Kuldiha forest.
‘Sun Birds’, the common and endangered family among the birds. Arjun Da and my Dada managed to take lots of photographs of these birds with their exertion. Sometimes I and my friend took part in spotting the location of the birds. Some of these birds are quite restful; some are skittish, jumpy; some are moderate. The species visible in Kuldiha are- Purple Sunbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Rufous-winged Sunbird, Red-chested, Spectacled Spider hunter etc…
Somewhere the wood peckers were pecking the woods with making a hammering sound; somewhere the colourful parakeets were on a hustle (busy) at the very top of trees. There were also Hill Mynah, Drongo, Hornbill, Blue Robin, Kingfisher, Linet and many others.
Our jungle way hits to a small rocky hill. We started to ascend to the top with a slow pace. The scattered dung-cakes here & there gave us the allusion about the frequency of leopard, bison and other herbivores. At the very high point of the hill we took a halt.
From the very top we got a panoramic view of the entire jungle. A verdant (green) landscape cradling down and disperses all over. The entire jungle seemed to have cloaked by a green blanket, emerged from an unfathomable abyss.
The view of the jungle from the top
At the hill
Here one thing must be included, the swanky group of photographers seemed quite lacking of common sense. Sometimes they were found to be calling each others with a loud tone of voice, which was absolutely antagonistic of the basic rule of the trekkers especially when they are inside a jungle. Surprisingly this guide was also found to be quite uncanny. He did not hesitate for a little talking in his special cell-phone loudly, perching on a big stone on top of the hill. He was altercating vociferously with his phone in outright Odia accent.
We returned to the FRH and spent few hours by bird watching in the vicinity. We took our lunch.
Our driver promised to let us have a close encounter with the jumbos. The Tata Sumo revved and made its way through the jungle road. Seated in our car my mind was drifting to the universalism of the elephants.
“In ancient times the elephants played a major role in warfare as well as consolidating the security of a territory.” said me.
“Please don’t get dramatic again!” leered Soumya.
“But the sense ‘Drama’ was quite majestic to Indian history.” said Dada.
Arjun Da was silent. The Tata Sumo was racing through the jungle road.
“Alexander reached the borders of India when he had a substantial number of elephants under his own command. He defeated the king of Punjab, Porus deploying his special war elephants. Looking further east again, however Alexander could see that the kings of the Nanda Empire & Gangaridai could deploy 3000 and 6000 war elephants. Such a force was many times larger than the number employed by the Persian and Greeks, which discouraged Alexander’s small band of men and they effectively halted their advance into India.” enunciated my Dada.
Another Tata Sumo was seen to be stopped in front. This time a ‘dantal hathi’ (tusked elephant) was reported to be seen. A forest guard was on duty. He wore a traditional guard’s apparel, held a stick and buckled a gun. We happened to talk with him. An elephant had just crossed the road and it was expected to exist nearby inside the jungle. The guard and driver were made to be sure that we could run if the elephant would attack.
They took us to the nearby passageway leading through the jungle. With keeping aside the dangling branches and creepers, brushing off the cobwebs and managing our every footfall against the dried leaves we proceeded. Unsorted pug marks and scattered dunk-cakes were foreboding about the constancy of the elephants through this path. Somewhere broken stones, broken trunks, trampled foliage gave the same allusion. Being blended with strange thrill and fear we were walking on…
The trail continues
A tapping sound was lingering in the air for a few minutes. We came near a bush from where the sound appeared to come.
The guard and driver, who were leading us, went to the different directions to perceive the source of that sound.
“Try to find the advance escape route!!!” Arjun Da whispered.
A jungle parakeet cried! It momentarily perturbed the weighty silence prevailing all around us and thereby causing my heart bits to pound upon my chest.
“Aren’t you feeling scared?” whispered Soumya to me.
I was silent. I was not in condition to express my feelings. A weird sensation of suspense was hovering over my mind. There was no way left but to wait patiently.
The guard gave a smacking sound to hint the driver from his position. They were again united.
“The elephant seemed to have been moved more inside, hard to track them at this time.”
“After a while there will be no daylight.”
“It’s better to depart this place right now.”
He led us to another shortcut way to escape easily, one part of which was through a narrow rocky passage beside a deep chasmy gap. The only thing worried me that was my slippers, which I wore for this afternoon presuming that there would be no trekking like journey. I was in quite fidget in restraining my slippers against the topsy-turvy or jagged or up-down stony obstacles, with avoiding a further slip or skid of my legs. The passage way ultimately ends to the main jungle road.
I heaved a sigh of relief. “You haven’t any idea about the danger we left behind. If the elephant took a slightest attempt to chase us, there would not be any single way by which we could escape our death!” said Arjun Da. My Dada gave a supportive smile. Arjun Da has seen the condition of the human victims who were trampled by an elephant. It was hard to describe about the condition of the contorted corpses killed by an elephant.
“We the human beings are dull-headed, but the elephants were proved to be more over smart!” said the guard lecherously. The guard was also in utter tension about his five thousand rupees, which he kept beneath his bed at night and forgot to keep it aside in the morning.
One thing I forgot to mention, our first encounter with the jumbo yesterday.
It was the exact converging time between day and night, the twilight falls. The west horizon was at dusk, hushed the entire jungle gradually as the daylight faded.
We were completely engrossed at the very presence of two deer on the salt lick of Jadachuwa, tenderly licking away the salt.
The news darted to our ears unexpectedly!!!! Our guide took us to the nearby spot, where the presence of the elephants was reported. We stood on the main jungle way, leading through the dark forest by two sides. There was the weighty silence everywhere. Amidst the dark woods that evening seemed to be weird which outwit our normal daily evenings, as if it was in attempt to unfold the most sinister things from its core.
The normal humming sounds of the birds was almost on the verge of ending and the crickets started its chirping. At the right side of the road a herd of elephants were reported to be gathered inside the jungle. After long silence a rumbling sound was heard from the jungle, as if somebody is trampling the leaves and gnashing the boughs.
Again an intermittent hideous thumping sound was heard. The guide made us aware that it was nothing but the hitting sound of the heavy legs against the bark. I stood froze at my feet, feeling a long term trembling in my legs. I could hear my faster heart bits. The rumbling and thumping sound was again on the board, made me feel that the sound was engulfing the entire right side. It gave me instinctive caution that the jumbos were very nearer to me & it would trample over me by any chance.
Everybody was talking in whisper and I could sense the tinge of suspense striking everybody including the guide too. Sometimes we proceeded and sometimes we retroverted sensing the upcoming presence of the jumbo. In this regard our driver seemed quite mercurial and fast, having a lithe figure. He and our guide were leading us, every time they were seen to be speculating about the position of the jumbos.
A faint trumpet (the cry of an elephant) was heard!!!! After some moments the rumbling sound was again heard and this time it was the sound of approaching.
It was almost dark, a faintest daylight was left. Our driver outstretched his torch and alighted the flash of the torch upon a front portion of the road. In that torch light the most awaited entity materialized from the dark and gently crossed the road to enter the other side of the jungle. I heaved a sigh of relief at the first glance of an elephant in that jungle.
The guide made us aware that there were still some elephants in the right side jungle and all of them were in spree to return home. Resorting the same way we waited to catch a glimpse of another elephant. But the elephants appeared to be more over smart. The driver told us “Khub chalak! Era ektuo norbena, protita step era bujhe bujhe fele” (They are very clever! They will not move single inch of their body if they sensed danger. They are decisive at their every step.)
We ventured to exert our last effort to get the view of the jumbos. Our car drove us to a spot. There was no sunlight left and it was completely dark. Our guide and driver took us through a rocky path with lighting his torch. In the stark darkness I could feel the eerie presence of bushes and trees by two sides, which silently witnessing our trail to get the view of that gigantic grey figure.
It ultimately halts at the top a reservoir, from where the entire view of that natural reservoir is visible. It was completely night, made our view quite inaccessible in plain eyes, but heralding its presence by the strong gushing sound of water. The guide put his torch light on that water source; a small falls was seen to be merging with a water bed, flowing torrent.
“The elephants used to come here to quench their thirst. So the elephants are very common in this place.” said the driver.
No. We still did not get any another view of an elephant.
“Last Friday I got a tip of 500/- from a group. The group encountered with a bear on the open jungle road.” said the driver.
“You own self driving the car?”
“What about the bear?”
“It proved to be very ferocious. It was in complete attempt to pounce upon the car and attack.”
“Then what you did?”
“I stroked the accelerator quickly and managed to run the car with a full pick up! By the way we came out of its range.”
“We also heard about the presence of leopard in this jungle.”
“Yah it is. But there is only one leopard is survived in this jungle.”
“But it’s difficult to get its view easily. It likes to live recluse.”
“Have you ever got any view of it?”
“I work here for seven years. But I only saw him once perched on a tree.” said our guide.
The last night we spoke a lot with our guide and driver.
That day we hired tents to spend the last night in Kuldiha. The tents were in the ambit of FRH, rigged up quite luxuriously with an attached bathroom. I and my friend was in a tent, my Dada and Arjun Da was in a tent face to face each other. We sat together in front of our tents. My Dada was quite adept to narrate any incident or any matter in his own ways. He cracked some solid jokes and funny incidents about his school life, made us burst into laughter.
A scuffle was heard. Somebody was heard scolding some group of people for a while in Odia accent. The fracas was from the main office in FRH.
The five thousand rupees of that guard were reported to be stolen. A group of workers were suspected to stash the amount, left FRH at noon. We felt sorry for such a loss of that guard, who would earn a short amount of salary treading the entire jungle everyday. Under the star-studded sky the long puff of marijuana seemed profound. The cosmic consciousness was merging with the infinitude.
It was a long term peace being adrift in the silence of the dark night. The life is not about grasping bookish knowledge, not about filling pages in the answer script, not about toiling hard on the text books, not about solely taking part in the rat race; life is just like a breeze, just like ‘blowing in the wind’.
“How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man…” I could feel the immortal lines of Bob Dylan on that night within me.