Anjan K das
August 20, 2010
Occupying a huge swath of territory in the centre of Malaysia is one of the world’s largest areas of protected rain forest. This is the Taman Negara (Malaysian for “ National Park”). It occupies 4343 sq km of land spread over three states, Kelantan, Pahang
and Terengannu. It is claimed that the landscape here has remained unchanged for the past 130 million years, event eh recurrent Ice Ages made no impression on it. Originally named after King George V, it received its new name after independence.
We approached Taman Negara from Kuala Lumpur driving east past the Genting Highlands. Later we left the tolled Highway system to enter the “Normal Highway”, not fenced off, with crossings regulated by traffic lights and still at least four lanes. No highway
in this country has even a passing resemblance to ours in West Bengal.
We stopped for lunch in Jerantut, where we had the most marvelous lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Even here in the heart of Malaysia, all the workers were from Indonesia. I talked briefly to one of them using our driver, Mahendran as an interpreter. She had
arrived just the day before, referred by an agent from her home village who had sent workers here earlier. She expected to earn at least three times what she earned at home and be able to send money home. Her situation is the same as ours, at just another
From Jerantut, the road became a little more quiet, traffic thinned down. Small patches of jungle appeared, giving us a brief idea of what lay in wait. Once Mahendran had to break sharply to avoid running over a water monitor which was about to cross the road.
This is a familiar figure from the Bengal countryside, though not so common nowadays. We soon turned into a smaller two lane road. Now the jungle began to close in, interspersed by plantations. After about 4 hours driving we were at the Kuala Tahan. This is
one of the principal entry points to the National Park and here the road ends. You have to cross the Tahan River to enter the forest proper.
Standing on its banks we began to get an idea of what Malaysia must have been like before the advent of the Europeans. The local population now called the Orang Asli were the sole inhabitants of these jungles, sharing their space with tigers, the Sumatran rhino,
Malayan Gaur and the Elephant. Even today small number of these large predators adnd their prey persist together with uncountable numbers and species of birds, smaller animals and a profusion of reptiles and insects in numbers that boggle the imagination.
We crossed the river to our resort. The Mutiara resort is on the other side of the river adjacent to the forest. There are lovely chalets, with all the mod cons and if you leave the compound you are immediately engulfed by the forest which lies adjacent ready
to devour these puny creations at the earliest opportunity. We were here; at other entry points it is possible to go for long treks as well as to climb the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia, Gunung Tahan.
The resort organizes all sorts of activities; these included a jungle night walk. It is extremely thrilling to walk along the jungle trails, seeing myriad forms of wildlife, mainly insects and snakes, sambar deer and something I did not know existed, a mushroom
that glows in the dark! We ended with a marvelous dinner at their restaurant. Overlooking the Tahan River, this restaurant serves cuisine from all over the world. It is also possible to get a much cheaper meal at restaurants on barges moored on the river,
but tonight luxury seemed to be the way to go!
Next day we went for a canopy walk. The world’s longest canopy walk has been constructed a stiff 3 km walk from the resort, its height soaring to 150 feet over the ground. It was a revealing experience as we walked from stage to stage, once coming face to face
with a flock of parakeets and then seeing the Tahan river flow muddily into the distance. The trees were unbelievable, their size and girth larger than anything I have ever seen before.
The resort itself is also extremely relaxing. You can simply sit on the verandah watching the world go by, as birds flit through the trees that dot the campus. That is what Susmita did, refusing to tramp through the sweaty rain forest. We saw among others,
a pair of racket tailed drongos, one of my favourite birds.
We had only the weekend there, but it is ideally suited for a long stay, when you can sit and watch the birds, walk the trails and raft lazily down the river. Staying here gave us an insight to why it is that rainforests are best approached from the river.
Trying to force a way through the undergrowth is madness .It is also dangerous, It is much more comfortable to approach deep into it by Nature’s highways and that is what many tourists do. We have done the same in many occasions in the Sunderbans.
We drove back even faster, in about three hours. As we entered the lights and traffic of Kuala Lumpur, it seemed a dream that just three hours away, the primeval forest lay, ready to awe us as it has our ancestors throughout human history.
Anjan K das
August 20, 2010
In medieval times the route to Central India from the North lay through a gap in the Aravalli mountains, south of Jaipur, or rather, Amber. To guard this route developed the fort of Ranthambhore. It got its name from its situation above the Tambhore hill.
This combined with the adjoining Rann Hill gave it its name. It was built by the Chauhan Rajputs in the tenth century and became their refuge after Prithvi Raj Chauhan was defeated in the battle for Delhi in 1192. It was lost to Muslim invaders and then recovered
by the Rajputs and has had a chequered history since. The last major siege took place in the last year of the sixteenth century by none other than Emperor Akbar. Later it was taken over by the Jaipur throne after the heydays of the Mughals and was with them
Today it occupies pride of place in the Ranthambhore wildlife sanctuary which it overlooks. Ranthambhore is one of the important Tiger Project Parks in India and it is one of the last remaining bastions of the Royal Bengal tiger. About 40 of the remaining 1411
(wonder where we got the figure) live here.
We reached Ranthambhore by train from Jaipur. There is a convenient Intercity Express that leaves Jaipur at around 11 am and reaches there by lunchtime. The station is built like a Rajathani haveli, the turrets a reminder of the martial traditions of the Rajputs.
We caught an auto and were transported to the Tiger Den where we were staying. The road skirts the park and we could see several hotels which had encroached on the buffer zone. I remember reading about a controversy that rocked this place some years ago when
prominent hoteliers were accused of encroaching on Forest Department land. They included some prominent wild life experts and conservationists, who, in keeping with Indian tradition felt that rules were for other people.
Be that as it may, the Tiger Den is a collection of cottages grouped in clusters, all fronting on a lush green lawn. One group of cottages fronts the swimming pool. The compound has been planted with trees and it backs onto a lovely guava orchard which alas
was separated form it by a barbed wire fence. There is a bare plain in front of the resort and this ends on the road that leads to Madhya Pradesh, and beyond this the jungle starts. The vegetation s mainly dry deciduous, but the principal trees in the forest
are the Dhok trees. These trees which make up the majority of the vegetation in this park, remains ostensibly dry and lifeless throughout most of the year. It bursts into life at the onset of the Monsoons and stays green for about two or three months before
reverting to their dry condition again. There are also plenty of palash, some palm trees and of course the babool. The advantage of this is that animal viewing is easy, infinitely easier than in the green vegetation of the Eastern Indian forests.
You can visit the forest at two times, early morning and late afternoon, using either jeeps or canters, Canters are large vehicles. Seating up to 30 odd people, it is surprisingly maneuverable. However jeeps are much better in that they travel faster and can
reach areas where the canter can’t. We went for three safaris, two in the morning and one in the afternoon. Game viewing is not the only reason I visit a forest. Forests are for enjoying the trees, the topography, the water bodies, the birds and then the animals.
There is a huge thrill in seeing the tiger and other large carnivores, but it is a mistake to suborn the whole experience of entering the forest to seeing the tiger. This prevents one from enjoying many other things that are an integral part of the forest
experience. For the record we saw a huge leopard, but no tiger.
But we did see a vast variety of birdlife both inside and outside the park. These included water birds and forest birds. The tree pies here are astonishingly tame and come easily to ones outstretched palm in order to pick up crumbs from them. On one occasion
as many as three tree pies sat on Susmita’s palm pecking at biscuit pieces!
The Ranthambhore Fort is now a magnificent ruin, a Ganesh temple inside it is the focus of local piety every chaturthi. About 50000 people circumambulate the Fort before climbing the 250 oddd steps to the temple to pay homage. We were there during Chaturthi
and I was amazed to see old men and young, flighty girls and portly maidens all walking barefoot in the forest to cover the 6 km distance around the fort. The wildlife however makes itself scarce during this time, so that is a disadvantage for the tourists.
The weather specially was so very comfortable. This is the best time to visit North India. The skies were clear and the sun reasonably tolerable even at high noon. The nights were crisp and cool and Tiger Den fed us very well, so that we were really sorry to
have to return to Delhi on the way home. Till we come again, may the Dhok trees bloom every monsoon!
July 19, 2010
On one of my trips to Dandeli, we had a day to spare from work. I had always wanted to go rafting and finally my colleagues agreed for it. :) Rafting in Dandeli is organized by Jungle Lodges. So we headed to Jungle lodges from Kulgi. We met Mr. Shashidhar,
who took us to the Supa dam, which is an hour’s drive from the Dandeli city. (Here when the water is let out from the dam during the morning and evening rafting is possible.)
River Kali (Kalinadi) is a daunting River since its black. The river has its origin at Diggi in the Western Ghats and flows westwards to join the Arabian Sea near the town of Karwar. She is the fastest west flowing river and many dams have been constructed
to produce electricity.
So as we reach the banks, there’s a briefing on the rules of rafting. We choose our boat a small one since we were 4. (Choose the smaller one as its lighter and you have more fun on the water). We have a guide who goes through the standard procedure of rafting.
We have our safety jackets and helmet on. We are excited as ever. Once the rapids start its amazing they v named each rapid point.
This place is excellent for birding and a walk along the banks will help you capture some amazing shots of the bird life. All my birding was from the boat. I noted River terns, Darters, Black-capped Kingfisher, Malabar Pied Hornbills, Grey headed Fishing eagle,
Brahminy kite and Honey buzzard to name some.
The rafting is 9 km long and is exciting. You pass islands and the flora is spectacular.
Towards the end they let the rapid water come on you full force:)
The whole time you enjoy the adventure. :)
A photolog of this amazing experience :)
June 26, 2010
I was bit taken aback by the reach of urbanity as we neared Bharatpur bird sanctuary. The feel was missing but not for long. The wetlands as I discovered are a paradise for bird lovers. I was leading a group of Germans
and this was my first trip to Keoladeo Ghana.
The Sibes have gone but the sanctuary retains much of its glamor. At Bharatpur a two day trip yields a checklist of more than 150 species of wetland birds. Some of the bird we check listed here and at Bund Baretha include:
Little Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, Glossy Ibis, Siberian ruby throat, Bar Headed Geese, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Open-billed Stork, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow,
House Martin, Hume’s Warbler, Black Bittern, Cotton Teal, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Coot. Grey Francolin, Tickle’s Thrush, Brown Crake, Booted warbler, Great white pelicans, Spot-billed duck, Sykes Warbler, Common Crane, Sarus Crane, Black necked stork,
Dusky Fish Owl, Purple Swamphen, Wood sand piper, Spotted redshank, Green Sandpiper, Bronze-winged Jacana, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Lesser spotted eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, King Vulture, Temminck’s stint,
Oriental Darter, Grey Heron, Indian Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Purple Heron, Painted Stork.
We could sight Indian skimmers at Bund Baretha but could sight whiskered tern, Ferruginous pochard, Spanish sparrow, oriental skylark, Russets sparrow and more....
Our next destination was Chambal River Sanctuary more than an hours drive from Agra. It is a pristine river parts of which are designated as river sanctuary. Chambal is a unique destination as apart from birding this
is a good place to see Gangetic dolphin, Marsh crocodile and the endangered Gharial. On a boat trip we could come across Indian skimmers, sand lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Brown Crake, Long Legged Buzzard, Variable Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Bonelli's eagle
on nest, brown fish eagle, booted hawk eagle and brownhawk owl.
A day is enough at Chambal River Sanctuary for
birding trip during winters. Most of the bird watching is done on the boat ride but substantial number of birds can be seen on the banks. The
boat ride is about three hours and covers a long distance.
For avid birders Chambal is a must see destination. Most of the tour operators include this destination in their itineraries for birding in Northern India.
November 10, 2009
A visit to Kerala is never complete without a peek into the deep forests the State can still be proud off. Waiting nearly two hours to get permission to drive through the Illithod Mahagony Forest was forgotten once our vehicle entered this near pristine
forest. Till recently, we were told, the access to the forest was unrestricted and the area was a favourite with plastic throwing tourists. The State forest department stepped in and went a step further. They managed a court stay on the Aquaduct which was
being constructed on the banks, parallel to the River Periyar. The completeion of this canal would have meant no access for the animals to the river. For now the animals are happy!
candle flowers grow wild on the roadside
entrance to the mahagony forest
canopy of mahagony leaves
an enveloping tree trunk
Periyar River (300km long) flows through the dense forest floor.
abound (thanks to abundant bird life)
survives and grows, unstrangled!
September 26, 2009
I was in Kangra (Himachal Pradesh) late October, just before winter set in. As always, the countryside is ever changing and never fails to reveal something new for my camera to capture. The mongoose family scurrying about the neighbour’s vegetable fields
So was the sight of giant wood spiders alongside walking paths. The females are nearly ten times larger than the males, I believe. They weave the strongest and largest spiderwebs known to us. Shiny legs with yellow joints are their hallmark. Giant wood spiders
are the subject of research- Humans would love to know the secret of creating the strong golden websilk. "In modern times, the Golden Orb Web Spider’s silk is set to become a major product. The silk is almost as strong as Kevlar, the strongest man-made material
which is drawn from concentrated sulphuric acid. In contrast, spider silk is drawn from water. If we could manufacture spider silk, it would have a million uses from parachutes, bullet-proof vests, lightweight clothing, seatbelts, light but strong ropes, as
sutures in operations, artificial tendons and ligaments. Studies are now being done to have genetically engineered plants produce fluid polymers which can be processed into silk".
The wild red and white berries were all over.
The fields had spawned metallic mushrooms which vied with the pebbles lying around.
My husband was only too pleased to pose for a photo, framing a wagtail which he was pointing out to me!
More on my next visit!
August 22, 2009
August 15, Independence Day- An ideal day to check out the hill station near to Chandigarh since we were already in Chandigarh on a visit.
The weather was good. It had rained for two days so the drive up was picturesque. We stopped the car many times just to take in the scenery. On the way we passed many other cars doing the same. Ha! this is like heaven after the hustle bustle of daily life.
Scenic view from nature camp. Double click on the photo and notice the blue water tank on the left.
Read the full report at the link
May 06, 2008
We also managed an elephant ride into the 20 sq. km rhino enclosure . The rhinos seemed placid , chewing on elephant grass, which came to life with jumping hog deer as we maneuvered our way.
The jeep ride into the forest in the evening proved exciting- Herds of swamp deer could be seen from the machan. The deer had shed their antlers, which were sprouting again for the next mating season display. The pugmarks of an adult tigress
and four cubs seemed very recent and we followed them. Sure enough the huge tigress surprised a herd of sitting swamp deer into sudden action. Calls by langur and deer filled the forest air. The whistle of a train came from the distance and a speeding train
could be seen in the horizon view from the machan. The Gonda-Bareilly railway line passes through the National Park. Animals in this reserve must be quite used to this noise by now. One tiger and two elephants died in the tracks recently, Sonu, our guide informed.
Ten trains run through the reserve in one day and every now and then we encountered people collecting fodder and dried wood in the forest. The train station located right inside the reserve carried people in and out regularly making a mockery of National Park
Tigers and people are living on the edge in this Tiger Reserve, which obviously had a very good prey base. Herds of hog deer and a few barking deer and chital greeted us on the jeep route. Wild hog, another favorite of the tiger also showed themselves often.
Swamp deer herds, which kept near water bodies, avoided tourist routes, but were obviously thriving as well.
Read the full report at
February 04, 2008
Ecotourism- Impact on wildlife
The latest environmental issue attributed to eco-tourists is a massive threat to an already endangered species. It appears that the tourists may be passing potentially deadly diseases to the great apes they spend so much money to view in the wild.
Every year the economies of African nations receive a boost from wealthy tourists willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars for the chance to get up close and personal with majestic gorillas and chimpanzees. But new evidence has come to light
suggesting that humans are infecting the apes with deadly respiratory viruses.
The first direct evidence linking human contact to disease deaths of great apes was found in the Ivory Coast. Chimpanzees at the West African nation’s Tai chimpanzee research station were killed by human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) and human metapneumovirus
This throws a wrench into the eco-tourism equation. Tourist money has undoubtedly had a positive impact on both the economies of desperately poor African nations and the situation of endangered great apes. Eco-tourism helps fund conservation projects and
has reduced poaching by making the animals more valuable alive and in their natural habitat than they would be dead. However, an outbreak of a virus carried by an unwitting eco-tourist could potentially wipe out an entire community of apes, which could drive
the endangered species toward extinction.
Scientists have proposed that all humans in close contact with the animals be forced to wear a mask. The mask rule would have to apply to all eco-tourists, as most people would be completely unaware that they were carrying a deadly virus. The viruses generally
have no symptoms in humans. Conservationists also want to increase the distance that must be kept between human and ape. Currently, tourists must stand at least seven metres from the animals, but there are calls to increase that to 10 metres.
Source: Guardian Unlimited
December 13, 2007
According to the International Ecotourism Society, the market for conservation-oriented tourism continues to grow; in 2004, worldwide ecotourism and nature tourism were growing three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole.
The popularity of nature-based travel led the United Nations to hold a World Ecotourism Summit and declare 2002 the International Year of Ecotourism. More than 55 million Americans are interested in sustainable travel, which protects both environment and
culture, according to a study by the Travel Industry Association of America sponsored by National Geographic Traveler.