The Forests Of Wonder
Anuranjan Roy paints an evocative portrait of Arunachal Pradesh’s treasured Pakke Tiger Reserve.
Photo: Anuranjan Roy.
I am the bat, the bat is me.
In the darkness of a cloudy night in Pakke Tiger Reserve, my eyes are of no particular use. Perched, not atop a gremlin on a Gotham skyscraper, but on the viewing verandah on the edge of the Khari Forest Rest House grounds, I listen. To the jungle's OST – the metallic grunts of sambar, the alarmed shrieks of barking deer and the soft hoots of an owl. Somewhere out there, stalks the black panther of the Nameri range, the master of the night. Very near, as my trek next morning will confirm via his pugmarks, is the tawny, striped king himself.
Where the eyes fail, the mind fills in. Such is the magic of Pakke.
Admittedly, a portion of the preceding paragraph was my imagination on hyperdrive, but the inputs were quite real. A place like Pakke casts that special spell wherein gullible folk like me feel compelled to wax lyrical about the 'feel'. We just can't help it.
Conservation is a very practical issue – the issue of our survival as a species. Even on the more practical basis of hard-nosed science and boots-on-the-ground, Pakke is a trendsetter. Yet, regardless of whether you are the data type or the dreamy type or, as is very likely, both, Pakke ticks all the right boxes.
Long-running political insurgencies and rampant poaching, supported by the powers-that-be, had pushed Pakke to the edge. Now under the exemplary leadership of Tana Tapi, District Forest Officer, Seijosa, for the past 10-11 years, it has roared back and how!
Two treks along the riverbeds of the Khari and the surrounding thickets reveal it to be a veritable metropolis of wildlife. Pugmarks and scat assure us of recent activity by animals like the dhole, elephant, gaur, sambar, wild boar, fishing cat, leopard and tiger, not to mention birds galore, all within about four hours of trekking by a not-quite-Bear-Grylls newbie. If that isn't the sign of a thriving wilderness, I don’t know what is.
Everywhere I go, be it the rest houses or the anti-poaching patrol camps, a deep pride in what had been achieved is evident in the forest staff. At the Nameri (East) Anti-poaching Camp, the simple joy with which the men posted there tell of the elephants that come daily to the salt licks directly underneath their camp, speaks volumes.
The odds under which these men work are tremendous and the pay nominal. A scrap of motorcycle fender encountered on a trail tells a somber tale. Earlier in 2015, a forest staffer on his way to work on his motorcycle had lost his life to an elephant attack. It is to the immense credit of Tana Tapi and his team, who by involving the local Nyishi tribe and enabling them to see the benefits of conservation, that poaching in Pakke today is close to zero.
Photo: Anuranjan Roy.
A Land of Bounty
Words cannot do justice to the beauty of Pakke's landscape. My appalling lack of knowledge in tree names does not help either. Deep river valleys rising into progressively higher mist-covered tangled hills seem to me to be the abiding image. Towards the interior, bamboo tracts and overhanging vines add to the mystic atmosphere of these semi-evergreen forests. Vellore trees in all their stateliness stand tall above the canopy, observant sentries of this old jungle.
Myriad rivers like the Pakke, Nameri and Dikrai that course through Pakke make for incredibly lush vegetation supporting amongst many wonders, four species of hornbills. Hornbills, in a way, come to symbolise my idea of Pakke in general. These forests are so beautiful that every time (which in Pakke is quite often) these outrageously coloured birds fly overhead, I just have to watch.
The rest houses themselves are at well-chosen locations, especially the ones at Khari and Upper Dikrai, which overlook the river valleys from a height and distance that is quite perfect.
An afternoon, indeed many afternoons, can be spent just looking out onto a dead tree in easy view from a viewing verandah of the Khari Forest Rest House. The tree may be dead, but it serves as a rest stop for creatures full of life. Chestnut-headed Bee Eaters, Dollarbirds and Blue-throated Barbets amongst others made extended energetic cameos on their way to whatever it is they had planned out for the second half of the day. Halloween costumes for all ages and sizes. Shop for Halloween costume ideas 2018 for kids, sexy plus size costumes, costume accessories, and more. Shop for 2018 adult costumes, Halloween costumes for kids and latest trends and styles of Halloween costumes and Halloween merchandWe literally have the largest selection of new Halloween costumes for men, woman and kids in the world.
Evening at the Upper Dikrai Forest Rest House was memorable too as the arrival of a boisterous male 'makhna' sparked commotion, followed by an organised defense in the elephant herd of six, who were until then peacefully feasting. Great Hornbill pairs flapped their way across an orange sky and the river to their roosts for the night, oblivious to the unrest in the land-bound giants below.
A small slice from the daily drama called jungle life that I was privileged to see.
Photo: Kalyan Varma.
"Do you want to follow in the direction the tiger took?" is not a question I get asked everyday. On foot, in a jungle that city-bred bones like me would classify as impenetrable, I was glad that the question was being asked by someone whom I had learnt to trust.
Sanjay Disso, a member of the Special Tiger Protection Force and my guide during my stay is an extraordinary man. Well versed in the ways of the jungle, every minute spent in his company is a learning experience. His vast collection of animal stories couldn't have sounded more matter-of-fact than when stumbling, slipping and tripping through the beguiling, endless jungle. He talked of them, as someone would of their own cousins, with glee and joy.
The chaotic boar families, elephants tumble sliding down steep rocky slopes and bears floating about unperturbed on Pakke's rain-swollen rivers – this was his world into which I was privileged, through his words, to get a glimpse of.
As if his long, hard days at work aren’t enough, he is also a talented painter decorating the rest houses of Pakke with images of hornbills, leopards and giant squirrels. His supply of fibreglass hornbill beaks to the Nyishi for their traditional headgear keeps both the natural and the human heritage of Pakke alive.
Labour of Love
The Information Centre at Pakke is by itself a commendable achievement. Information boards designed with a keen sense of colour and scale cover everything from mushrooms to elephants. Storyboards linking local Nyishi folklore to the wildlife of the landscape are a very nice customised touch. This is a space designed by folks who are deeply in love with Pakke and want to initiate any visitor down the same path.
It is not hard to follow. My visit is in the so-called 'off season' of early May but I couldn't have been more pleased. All of Pakke has that special vibe to it, a one-of-a-kind charm. The enthusiasm of the brave team that protects it is absolutely infectious. Leopard and tiger sightings I keep no fixed expectations of and everything else I have seen wowed me to no end. I'd much rather have animals live their own lives independent of compulsions to parade before the casual tourist. The truest happiness is in knowing that this is a place they prosper, in jungles mysterious and magnificent.
This night at the edge of the Khari Forest Rest House, listening to the jungle concert, pretending to be a bat, truth be told, is not all dark. My eyes see something, but it is more of a vision than anything of practical value. Scores of fireflies fill the dark void, little flashes of light, now here, now gone. Having experienced this cathedral of abundance, they are more like little messengers, each one a unique nature tale. A personalised light show of stories, some past, some future and some writing themselves as of this moment in these forests of wonder.
Author: Anuranjan Roy.