Sabyasachi Patra

A visit to Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary

It was a long time since I had visited Parambikulam and had been planning to visit it for some time. Finally I decided to go to Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary in the month of October to take advantage of the long weekend in the first week. I knew it would not be an easy journey due to the roadbuilding works in progress. However, I had not expected such a start.

I had a meeting in office on the first of October and had planned to leave after lunch time. The afternoon was hot with the sun beating down mercilessly. The full blast of the airconditioning had come to the rescue. Suddenly I heard something falling from the vehicle, but was not sure what it was. I was wondering what fell down and looked through the mirror. I realized that the spare wheel cover has fallen down from my Tata Safari. I had to drive a further kilometer and half before I could take a U turn. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the spot, someone had already taken away the wheel (Stepney) cover. This is the problem you face, when you drive alone. If I could have stopped immediately, then I would not have faced this problem. Cursing myself, I drove ahead.

I stopped at Krishnagiri and then next day proceeded to Parambikulam. The road building work was in progress and vehicles were moving in both the directions. It is not a pleasing experience to jostle for space with 40 feet long containers. I missed the directions and entered Tirupur. Lack of knowledge of Tamil, became a big hindrance in finding my way out of the town. Tired and enervated, I reached Polachi in the evening.



Next day morning ie on 3rd of October, I found my way to Parambikulam to discover that my booking has been allotted to someone. I introduced myself and the forest department officials allotted the DFO’s bunglow to me. I was surprised to see a number of tents and concrete buildings. This place used to be the corridor for Gaur and elephants. In the late eighties there used to several hundred guars congregating in the place. Unfortunately, one overenthusiastic forest officer lacking in foresight, created a clearing for the forest bungalow. Though the forest officer was later transferred, more and more constructions came up in the area.

In the afternoon, to my horror, I realized that photographers had to go in a canter for the Safari. What is the point in driving a 4WD vehicle to the forest, if you can’t use it inside the forest? Finally, I got permission to drive it inside the sanctuary. I took a forest department guide for directions.

First, I found a tribal settlement near a dam. I was told that the chances of finding dholes and leopards is high in the area, especially in the mornings. Since, I didn’t find even a deer, I realized that the human disturbance is taking a toll.

Sabyasachi 20081003 4195 The guide signaled that there is a guar at a distance on my left. The calf was suckling. I pulled out my 40D with Canon 400mm f2.8 L IS USM and 2x II TC and clicked a few shots handheld. I was waiting for a better angle, as the gaur was facing away from us. In a few minutes time, the forest department bus reached the spot and started honking. So I had to move to the side of the narrow road and made space for the bus to overtake. The gaur mother got disturbed and didn’t allow the calf to feed anymore. I felt terrible. Unfortunately, the forest department officials don’t realise that they are disturbing animals.

I reached the Kanimara Teak. It is a 450 year old living teak tree. I clicked a few photographs and came back. We found a few gaurs, however, they ran and crossed the road. They were clearly nervous by the signs of people.

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While driving back, the sun was going down the horizon. I parked my SUV and created a few images of the backwaters.

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I had planned to get up early in the morning and drive down to Kannimara Teak. I was told that at times you can even find dholes and sloth bears on the road.

Sabyasachi 20081004 4257Next day morning I got up as soon at 5.30 am but was feeling uneasy due to the spicy food. I somehow motivated myself for the morning safari. Saw a gaur adolescent near the road. The light was pretty low. However, using the bean bag, I got a few sharp images. There were no other sightings.

Back in the guest house, it was time to pack, as I wanted to stay in the tree house. After lunch, the guide came and we drove down to the tree house at Thunakadu. It was near a village. I was astonished to see a large village and song and dance going on. I was told they were celebrating the Wildlife Week with blaring music and dance and drama by the villagers. The tree house had basic amenities, however, I was delighted to see a Ratufa indica (Indian giant squirrel) on a tree about 30 feet behind the tree house.

Around 4 pm, I drove down to the tunnel area. The Nilgiri langurs were restless at our presence and were hiding behind dense foliage. I couldn’t get a decent shot, however got a nice image of a ratufa indica and its kid.

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The mom was calling the kid near itself and was teaching it to nibble at the leaves. It was certainly a nice sight. This tranquil setting was interrupted, when a car came behind us and honked. I was surprised, as no vehicles are supposed to be allowed inside the forest. Later, I realized that forest department officials, get tourists to drive inside on some arrangements.

We parked the vehicle and started trekking. It was tough on me to carry my 400mm f2.8 L IS USM lens weighing 4 kgs apart from the camera and tripod etc. To compound the problem, I had earlier twisted my heel and it was not in good shape. Nevertheless, I carried on for some distance before, the guide asked us to turn back.

The lunch was a simple South Indian chapatti and a little amount of fried beans. I normally, don’t complain about food in the forest, so it was ok for me. It was better to sleep, as the loud music continued till about 10 pm in the night.

 

The next day morning started at around 5.30 am. It was still dark. I wanted to reach the dam to catch the sunrise. I saw a herd of gaur (Bos gaurus) at a distance and stopped my vehicle.Sabyasachi 20081005 2-6 The herd, numbering about 15-16 ran and crossed the road. I was surprised at their behaviour as they do so when there is poaching pressure. Later on I came to know that the guars are killed and eaten by the locals. People in Kerala eat beef and the gaurs are poached for their meat. A male gaur can weigh up to 1100kgs. Still man can instill fear in them. Man has certainly cemented its places as terrorists among all the species residing in Earth. We terrify all species, big and small, including our own brethren.

The false dawn was breaking and there were no signs of the nilgiri langurs. I reached the dam and realized my mistake. We were certainly not facing at the east. Due to the language barrier, the guide probably could not tell us the fact, if at all he was aware. Anyway, I photographed a few cloud patterns and then returned back to the hamlet. A few wild boars were sleeping piled up, one on top of the other. I had never seen a sight before. On one pile there were five wild boars sleeping and on another there were three.

After freshing up, I went for breafast. It was a simple affair in a small thatch restaurant in the village. I just wanted to satiate my hunger given my experience with the dinner the previous day night. I slowly started nibbling at the dosa, the way a Indian giant squirrel (ratufa indica) does to leaves. However, I could not believe it. I chewed a bigger chunk of the dosa. Within seconds, realization dawned on me that it was the best dosa I had ever had in my life. I even ate one more and realized that the taste of the previous one was not an aberration. I am sure, my friends in the Taj hotels will berate me, however, I have no hesitation in saying over and over again that the dosa in that small thatch restaurant was much better than what I have tasted in India’s best five star hotels.

The guide got some information that a Nilgiri langur was sighted nearby. We drove down to the spot, but the Nilgiri langur’s hid themselves behind thick vegetation. Later on when I came to know that people poach these Nilgiri langurs and prepare pickles out of their meat, I realized that it was perhaps expected.

Anyway, with a heavy heart due to lack of any significant sightings and images, I started driving back. There was a big function at Anamalai to increase awareness and a lot of people had gathered. Tourist vehicles were blaring their horns and fouling obscenities at each other while negotiating the hair pin bends. Alas, this is what our wilderness places have been reduced to..Am not sure, whether I am going to come back here in the near future..

(Written on October 2008)

Sabyasachi Patra
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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning Cinematographer and shoots for international broadcasters, feature films and corporates to make a living. He is a passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer and has won awards and accolades for his documentary 'A Call in the Rainforest'. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
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