Story Of The Month

My visit to Dudhwa National Park

My visit to Dudhwa National Park
-R.Mohan
 
When I was young I always had a fascination for jungles and had imagined extensively about visiting jungles.   I had the first chance to be inside a tiger reserve in December 1977 when I visited Wayanad for some work. Though I did not see any tigers or leopards, I was totally thrilled with just seeing the “beware of tigers” sign boards struck on trees, when we entered the Waynad forests. I was awestruck with its thick undergrowth and could sense the presence of wild animals.  We could see an occasional deer or two and their movements in wild were stimulating.  I could understand how difficult it is to spot any wild animal, in such thick undergrowth providing wonderful camouflage.

Later after I passed my CA final exams, I was posted in February 1980 to Sitapur for inspection of State Bank Of India branch there.  When I entered Sitapur from Lucknow, I noticed a big sign board at the entrance of the town, advertising Dudwa National Park. I began imagining my visits to this tiger forest with a fond hope of seeing the great cat in the wild. 
As we went about our chores of inspection of SBI, one day I broached the subject of visiting Dudwa, to the SBI branch Manager Mr. Raj Kumar who was non committal about the possibility of such visit. I also did not bother to push my request.

During the course of inspection, it was felt that we may have to visit the SBI branch in Chandanchowki for some confirmation as required by inspection.  Hence Mr. Raj Kumar arranged for a jeep to visit SBI Chandanchowki branch which is 10 kms inside Dudwa National Park close to Nepal border.
We started around 6 am in the morning from Sitapur and I was delighted with the prospect of being in thick jungles about which I had only read and dreamed about.
 
Dudwa is a good four to five hours way from Sitapur by road.  We reached Lakhim Pur Kheri and then Hargaon. It was then we crossed Sharada River. There were no bridges at that time to cross this river and one tried to cross where the river is not deep. It was quite cloudy by that time. The driver was a bit nervous as we were crossing the river, there may be flash floods which comes quite suddenly. However there were no flash floods and we crossed the river and reached Palia, about 25 kms before Dudwa National Park entrance gate. I was very surprised to see wheat fields just like the ones you see In Punjab and it was beautiful. Later I learnt a lot of farmers from Punjab have settled there in that area and brought their farm skills to make that area bloom with wonderful wheat fields. 
We reached the entrance of the Dudwa National Park and we met the forest officers who gave us directions to reach the SBI branch in Chandanchowki. I was nervous and thrilled to be in the canopy of very thick forest having some really tall trees. We came across a fork road leading in two directions and we were not sure which way we had to take to the branch. The driver stopped the vehicle and we all got out of the jeep to stretch ourselves and feel the jungle.

I walked some 100 feet from the jeep in the forest just to feel the forest. Just then the driver switched off the engine of the jeep and got out to check some persons for directions.  I was suddenly engulfed in a most powerful silence I have ever experienced in my life. My entire body became very alert and my ears were straining to hear any noise in the forest. It was very remarkable feeling of awareness.  I was rudely shaken from eerie silence when clutter of a leaf falling just behind me and this  shook me up completely.  I could never imagine a simple fall of a dried leaf can create so much impact.  It was my first experience of jungle in my life and has created a tremendous impact in me to understand and appreciate silence in every form of communication including music.
Later we reached the SBI branch at Chandanchowki which is situated near a tribal area called ‘Tharu’. The premises of the branch were small and only three persons were posted there; branch manager, an accountant and a security person with a double barrel gun.

As soon as we reached the branch, the manager requested us to make ourselves comfortable with what was available there. Then after some thoughts, he requested us for our vehicle to get some tea and sweets. We requested our driver to help him. When we had our tea and sweets, the branch manager informed us that he had sent the Jeep across the Nepal border which is just one or two kilometers away from the branch to get us tea and sweets.  I was feeling very funny to savor imported hot tea and sweets from across the border.
After the niceties were over, the branch Manager sheepishly asked for some ball pens and stationery. I was a bit surprised. I was always under the impression that such requests are made by the inspectors or auditors. I have not come across such a request from an auditee. I was quite amused and we collected some ball pens between ourselves and handed them over to the branch staff.

Then the story unfolded. The previous night the branch manager had to go to meet his family in Palia around 35 kms from the branch. He went in the motor cycle ably assisted by the gun man.  When they were returning in the evening through the jungle, they found a herd of elephants blocking the road. Hence they had to wait for several hours before these elephants left. They reached the branch well past midnight.  During their ordeal with the elephants elsewhere in the jungle,  some small time dacoits riding bicycles ( Not riding  horses as they show in films), who had raided the nearby village and were scooting to Nepal , saw the SBI branch . They decided to try their hand looting the branch as well. They were confronted by the part time night watchman, whose resistance was promptly and efficiently brushed aside. When they entered the premises they were dismayed about not being able to lay hand on cash and other valuables which were kept in a chest which was locked overnight. Then they checked for some valuables but had to be content with looting some stationery items like paper weights, pencils, scales and ball pens. This they did and on the way back to their cycles along with the loot, they gave some tight slaps as well to the part time watchman. The watch man pleaded that he can do nothing about cash that has been closed and he had co-operated by allowing them to loot the stationery items and hence he should be spared. However even dacoits have their fair sense of karma and fair play. They told him that without some effort they are not supposed to take anything and enjoy the benefits as the same will not stick with them. Hence to do the effort (parishram), they had necessarily to beat somebody even though he might have looked the other way and not confronted them. The watchman requested them to allow him to have at least a torch so that he can find his whereabouts in the dark; which they allowed. Now we understood why the branch manger requested us for some ball pens.

After we finished our task for which we had visited SBI Chandanchowki, we made some visits into the jungle in our jeep with a forest guard arranged by the branch manager. It was really thrilling to be amidst very lush undergrowth and tall trees. I certainly felt good to see a group of Barasinghas which made me feel very nice.  I was told by local Tharus, that it is easy to spot a tiger which crosses the road very close to the branch around late evenings. However our driver was not amused and he wanted to be back in Sitapur by night and did not want an experience of facing elephants blocking the road.
 
We also visited a dwelling of Tharu tribal, in Dudwa. I was completely surprised at the cleanliness of their dwelling. The kitchen utensils were spotlessly clean and were gleaming in sunlight. I was informed that they simply use river sand for cleaning their utensils which removes the grime and oil in the utensils leave them sparkling. The entire area of their dwelling was litter free and it was a great lesson in hygiene to me. I was certainly reminded of my visit to a local tribal area in Waynad, where I found them spotlessly clean and their small huts were clean and they were dressed immaculately. I somehow felt that we have to learn a lot from them as they were in sync with Mother Nature and have an understanding and insight beyond city dwellers about health, hygiene and laws of Nature.

I had to be content with sighting of Chitals and Barasinghas in Dudwa and reluctantly returned to Sitapur. The experience of going through the jungle left a great impression on me. It never mattered to me that I could not spot the great cat. At least I could understand how tough it is to watch it in its natural habitat and that is an experience and lesson of life in itself. When we returned, the wheat fields near Palia glowed in gold in the sunset and that was an experience to behold. 

(R.Mohan is a chartered accountant based in Bangalore and can be contacted at 
akriti53@gmail.com  or anaghastudio@dataone.in)


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