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Four Days at Dudhwa Tiger Reserve

Reaching Dudhwa

Dudhwa National Park is a unique wildlife reserve of the country. It’s a place where every informed wildlife enthusiast will be eager to visit. The reason is simple; Dudhwa is unique in many features. Firstly, It’s a tiger reserve which itself attracts! Secondly, Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, part of Dudhwa tiger reserve is world famous for its gharial population, an endemic aquatic reptile of India. Thirdly, success of Rhinoceros in Dudhwa makes it a home to diverse kind of animals and ecosystems. I was very excited from inside when I got the confirmation call from Mr. Fazlur of Katerniaghat Foundation about my participation at Dudhwa Bird Count. My first visit to any national park and that too in Dudhwa!!
I also had a very important meeting with a famous environment lawyer on Saturday, but the call from wild was strong and, though for a moment I was in dilemma but I chose passion again. The other reason was also that the visit was already planned couple of weeks ago and
I promised my presence there. So.. 14th February, Valentine’s Day was my ticket booked to Shahjahanpur which was also waiting for getting clearance of waiting. I packed my stuff, put my recently repaired Fujifilm S1500 and laptop in my backpack and headed off to Dudhwa. It is 6 hours journey from Delhi railway station to Shahjahanpur and train came late by 15 minutes. 9.20 PM train leaving station and it is packed from inside. Being late hours and no confirmed reservation it was indeed a struggle to find a place to keep my seat. I found a side berth where 2 people were sitting. One of them whispered in my ears, ‘Do you want seat, I have one.’ I was very tired and mentally stressed a lot over few things in past days. After a couple of conversation, we settled out for 100 bucks and I got a middle berth seat of his brother in next compartment. 9.50 PM I laid my back on the berth and had a sound rest. It was first time since April, 2012 when I was sleeping in a railway berth after a gap of 20 days.

15th February, 3.35 AM.. Shahjahanpur station reached. I gave my berth to an old man who was sitting with a old lady in the next berth. He was glad to get a berth. I told him, this seat is for you till the journey ends and you can sleep till u want and his wife was so much happy hearing that from me. I got down at Shahjhanpur station. Next was to reach bus stand to take bus for Palia. I took a cycle rickshaw for 15 rupees and he dropped me at bus stand. There was one bus for Palia which was fully packed. I couldn’t get the confidence to get in but the rickshaw walla insisted that I should leave by this only, as there is no guarantee of next bus. I asked from the enquiry and  they said, ‘kuch nahi keh sakte saab.. ye bus kal sham k baad ayi hai’ (This bus came after last evening). I had no option but to get in and make some space for me. I saw there are many luggage and cartons kept beside the driver’s seat which if moved strategically can atleast make some place for me to sit. When the owner of those cartons ignored my call, I myself started pulling them and keeping them one over other. He couldn’t ignore this and finally forced to helped me. Finally, I too had a seat. It was dark everywhere. I asked, ‘Palia jaegi’ . ‘Haan’. ‘Kitne der mei pahunchaegi?’. ‘2 ghante to le hi legi’. I was told by Fazlur that I have to take bus towards Palia and should call him when reached Palia. I asked conductor, ‘How much to Palia’ and he said ’78 rupees’. I saw the ticket.. ’97 kms’. Bus started within 10 min. and here it goes….Dudhwa is just 2.5 hours away!!

After taking a nap for about 2 hours, I could see forests on both sides of road. Saw my mobile, it was 6.00 AM but still darkness hasn’t subsided. I could see a board written.. ‘Dudhwa tiger reserve, Speed limit 30 Km/h’. This type of boards was placed repeatedly. After few minutes, there was a barrier where it was written, ‘You are inside Dudhwa tiger reserve, speed limit 30km/h’. That really enlightened me. About 20 minutes later Palia reached. It was a major bus stop and bus was idle for atleast 20 minutes at Palia. Conductor got down with his toothbrush and soap to get himself freshen up. I got down from Bus and called Fazlur. He said, get in the same bus you came, it will go to Dudhwa, just 10 km from there and get down at the Dudhwa barrier. I asked the driver if it will go Dudhwa and he said yes. I again got inside and waiting for the bus to start again. Bus started, and I again purchased a ticket. This time 13 rupees and 14 km to go.  I dropped down at Dudhwa barrier and called Fazlur. Time was 7.10 AM.  He asked me to go inside Dudhwa campus and meet Forest Officer Mr. V.P. Singh. Mr. Singh was talking to some people in the lawn and called me himself and we chatted for few minutes. He directed his staff to open a FRH (Forest Rest House) so that I could get fresh. Finally, I am inside Dudhwa’s official border!

Dudhwa Day 1

Before getting in FRH I talked with few local staff and tried to find possible ways to explore Dudhwa and utilize my day at max. There was no water in bathroom so I again came out of my room to ask someone to fix it. I saw an elephant with 4 people sitting on top of it going inside the forest. The elephant looked happy with them. I enquired about it and got to know that, each elephant costs 600 rupees with 100 rupees per person. A forest guide will charge minimum of rupees 200. I thought to go on a ride but then stopped thinking that for 2 days we will be doing this only. I was tired very much and needed a sleep. I opened laptop and tried to watch a film but slept very soon. I woke up to some noise outside my room and could identify it’s of Fazlur. I came out of room and by eye contact only we could identify each other. There were 3 more people sitting with him. I found a face very familiar and he was the first to talk amongst them with me. He introduced himself as Jay Pratap Singh, herpetologist. We talked for a while over the tea. Fazlur asked us to be here by 4 PM and we are free for now. Four of us except Fazlur went to the watch tower which was just in front of the rest house. We smoked couple of cigarettes and chatted. I got introduced to the other 2 guys. One was Mr. Vipul Maurya and other Ajay Rawat. Vipul is a wildlife enthusiast and a PhD scholar with several research papers on wildlife. Soon he shared his experience with snow leopards and other similar stories. Jay showed me few Muggers from there in the waterlogged area adjacent to Dudhwa campus. It was too far for me but could locate through my camera’s zoom feature quite easily but lately. We soon decided to go on Mugger watch. Jay had a car with him and he drove all the way from Chandigarh to Dudhwa. The 3rd guy with them was a boy who just graduated in forestry and did his bachelor’s project in Dudhwa. All of them came several times in Dudhwa and knows the park quite well. Jay told me that in Nakuwa forest, part of Dudhwa we can see many Muggers. We left Dudhwa campus in half an hour in Jay’s car. We stopped near that waterlogged area and Jay showed me Muggers basking on lifted area. We could locate 3 of such crocs.

A Mugger at a waterlogged area in Nakowa forest.

The Mugger basking at river bank of Suheli.

 On the other hand of road Jay showed me a python too. That made our day! We drove little further to a bridge on Suheli river. It was a small river but quite deep. I spotted another mugger basking on river bank. It was so beautiful. I clicked couple of shots and wanted a closer one. But when I moved towards him, it slipped away into the water. May be he is not in a mood for fashion photography. After that, we went to Palia as Vipul needed few things from market. On the way back to Dudhwa, we stopped at a hotel called Tigerhino for having some food. I could see only two hotels on the way.. one was Tiger’s Den which is maintained by U.P. tourism and other was Tigerhino. Jay told me that these two hotels are the only good place to stay close to Dudhwa. After having food we headed towards Nakowa Forest again. There we could see big raptors. It was Eurasian Griffon. 

While we were coming; we could see several spotted deer and also took few clicks. We came back campus before 4 PM. We were given our locations for next two days and name of the partners. Vipul, Jay and Ajay were in the same team. I was paired with some person called Dr. Jaswant Kalair who also happened to be Joint Secreatry of Katerniaghat Foundation. I was later informed that, I have to catch up with him in Bhira (a village near Palia) and guide is not yet confirmed. Every team had two of us as members with one guide and a gypsy car with driver. My location was Madhaa rest house. Newer to Dudhwa I didn’t know where is it and what is special about it but Vipul told me it’s a wonderful place, have comparatively better tiger density and Jhaaditaal which is a wetland close by is the largest habitat for swamp deer. Every one wished me best of luck and also told me that I am lucky for my partner as Dr. Kalair. Sonu, a forest guide asked us to leave soon as it will be darker and the place is quite far. He also informed that there could be no guide but Dr. Kalair himself so well acquainted with the region we will be hardly needing any guide. We all left the Dudhwa campus within 5.30 PM or so. From Dudhwa to Palia we had to cross three rivers.. Suheli, Ull and Sharda. I have seen Sharda earlier at Poornagiri also but never imagined it could take up such big size downstream.

Dr. Jaswant was waiting at an Indian Oil petrol pump in Bhira. He welcomed me very amiably and we could have hardly a discourse when a person swiftly took my hand and shook hand with me. While holding my hand he gave his introduction as Vikram Tiwari. He told me that I have come to a very wonderful place and the place we were going is a paradise for bird watching. He took some names like Bengal florican and Bengal red spur fowl. Dr. Kalair brought his own car and asked us to follow him to the rest house. Vikram wanted to accompany in my car, but I insisted him to be in the Dr. Kalair’s car as our gypsy was open and it was cold outside. We headed towards Madhaa rest house. Dr. Kalair’s car was going at a good speed, sometimes it got difficult for my driver to catch up the pace with them. After nearly 25 min. drive we could see the barrier of Madhaa. The road was typical jungle road; rainfall in recent days made them little muddy too. Our gypsy being 4x4 wheeler was not difficult to run through it. A forest guard asked to take him with ourselves so that we are not lost in the jungle and also introduce to the people of rest house. Vikram was very excited to drive at night through the jungle and told us that if lucky we may have a glimpse of the king of the jungle. I asked the forest guard sitting behind about the animals found here and he confirmed that tigers and leopards are sighted regularly among carnivores. I was also curious and wishing to see one and asked driver to drive slow and let Dr. Kalair reach. I didn’t want to miss out any thrill of the jungle safari at night inside a core area. 

The road in Madhaa at night
Very soon, my wish came true and we could mark a presence of a big animal near about 50 meters from us. His eyes were sparkling and it just came close to our car. It came just in front of our car’s headlights and we could spot it as a matured spotted dear..may be female. It crossed our vehicle and stood near a bush. I clicked couple of pictures in very low light condition. After clicking few shots I had to increase the ISO setting to 6400 and place the cam on overhead handle of the vehicle to get a long exposure shot. I could get a better photograph and asked the driver to move. We reached the Madhaa rest house and there we had a brief conversation. Vikram was surprised to know that I am very new to birding and don’t have any experience of birding. Dr. Jaswant relieved him by saying he is there who can guide me. Dr. Kalair was not in a mood to stay in the rest house so he wanted to leave and come back next day morning. Vikram asked if my camera batteries are charged and I can hand over the charger to him which Dr. Kalair will charge at his home. There was no electricity connection in the rest house. Vikram also introduced me to a forest guard Mr. Rakesh Shukla.. a well built man around 50 years with a masculine voice and thick moustache. Dr. Jaswant told me that he will come next day at dawn approx 6 am and he left with other people accompanying him in his car.

The forest staff were treating me like guest and frequently asking for any needs. They took me to my room. The building was made during British rule and rooms were quite big and very well furnished from inside. There was also a set up for fireplace inside the room. I was surprised to see this today that also at a place like Dudhwa. It took me not second minute to realize this building is indeed a work of British architecture. They kept a LPG lamp which was lit at fair luminosity. I insisted to come with them and enjoy the bonfire outside with them. They placed chairs for me and forcibly asked me to sit in chair instead of the bench. Soon they served me with tea. We were sitting in lawn around a bonfire and talking about the wildlife of Madhaa. Rakeshji showed me the temple just adjacent to the rest house which is known as temple of ‘Madhaa Baba’. According to him it’s a very ancient temple and during May-June there is a big festival where people from far places visit this temple, thousands of people come during a day. This temple is certainly a disturbing thing for the wild animals of Madhaa.

 After the tea, I went to the room and never realized when I slept. At 10.30 PM, the driver woke me up for dinner. We got down to the ground floor where food was ready served. They prepared curry of carrots with potato and pulse with chapatti and rice with salad. The food was simple but very tasty. The driver was in the next room adjoining mine. A staff asked me if I want him to be placed in some other room but I insisted him to be near me as I didn’t want to be completely isolated at such a place. After the dinner I again went to the rest room, put alarm for 5.30 in my mobile and slept. I was imagining about the next day will be going to be very exciting for me.

Dudhwa Day 2

It was already 6 am when my eyes opened. After a long time I had a sound sleep. I opened the door and moved my eyes around.. it was still dark. I got freshen up and woke up driver. Nearly, 6.30 AM we were ready. Dr. Kalair also reached by then. He came in a Bolero today with another guy. He introduced him as Harkirat Singh, a wildlife enthusiast and son of his friend. Harkirat had another person with him in his car. So, altogether we were a team of 6 people. The weather was quite cloudy and rain was already forecasted for both the days. Dr. Kalair wanted to explore a area little around by walking till few wetlands. On the way we noted the birds we could observe. Red jungle fowl was the first species we noted down. There were 8 of them moving here and there. Very soon we were welcomed by Treepie, Jungle Barbler and peafowls. Dr. Karnail was constantly looking around the trees. He didn’t want to miss even a single bird hopping around. ‘There is a Alexandrine Parakeet! Can you see that?’, he said in manner which was loud enough for us but not shouting for us. Every one of us looked at direction he was looking. Before we could locate the bird, he quickly said Emerald Dove. He asked Rakeshji to take us to the wetland near the rest house. We went there and saw few more species around that region notably Rose Ringed Parakeet and Crested Bunting. We then came back there to take the gypsy and explore the jungle. Rakeshji was sitting in the front seat with the driver and he was more like a guide in the woods for us. He has been working in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve for nearly 20 years and knows very well about each corners of the national park. I and Dr. Kalair were sitting at the back end seat which was at top of all the three seats. Harkirat with his friend was siting in the middle seat. Harkirat had a binocular with him while Dr. Kalair had Sony Digicam with 15X optical Zoom. No one of us had DSLR camera and at many instances we could feel the importance of having a DSLR.

Crested Serpentine Eagle

On the way we saw a raptor sitting on a tree quite far from our vehicle. We clicked few shots and Dr. Kalair looked upon through the binocular and confirmed it as White Crested Serpent Eagle. We took a path going parallel to a water canal called ‘South Khiri Canal’. Soon we saw Black Kite, Oriole and few other species around. Can you look something there? Oh it’s a spotted deer, I said. Rakeshji said, yes Chital, paani peene aa jaate hai yaha. Seeing our vehicle it ran across the road into the forest. Another one followed him.. another one… a younger one too… two more.. It was a family. By the moment we reached that place, they all have crossed the path and gazing on us. Till we could focus our camera they started running. 

A Spotted Deer standing in front of our Gypsy. Soon 4 more followed them and ran towards thick bush on right.

This is a very common behaviour with deer species. They will first stop, look at you for some time and then run. We managed to get few clicks and moved further. The weather was very cloudy and Dr. Kalair was very unhappy about it. He was repeatedly saying that if the weather would have been little sunny we could see many birds here. We kept moving on the path and were able to identify Racket tailed Drongo, Woodpecker and Black Drongo on the way. We reached the road. As there was a barrier with a lock, Rakeshi had to summon the forest guard from the checkpost which was about 100 meters far. As soon we landed on road, rain came down. Dr. Kalair asked Rakeshji to hault in a nearby Dhaaba until sky gets clear. We stopped near a Dhaaba and had tea. We discussed few issues of Dudhwa like the railway line going across the core area. Now a days, other than poaching habitat disturbance due to rail and road is a big challenge for conservation inside the protected areas. Dr. karnail shared few of his stories related to Dudhwa and his prime role in conservation and his association with Katerniaghat Foundation. He is also Joint Secretary of Katerniaghat Foundation.  Like that we chatted for long but rain was continuing to fall. 

The railway line which goes through Dudhwa
We were waiting eagerly for the rain to stop. When it was over an hour and rain didn’t stop but lowered, we decided to go back to rest house and take the Bolero as the gypsy we had is open from all sides. We reached back Madhaa rest house around 11.15 AM. Harkirat had caught cold by then. He came unprepared with just jacket to guard him against the cold air in our open vehicle and also he never thought that weather will take a turn like this. At first, Dr. Kalair asked for lighting the fireplace so that we all could get some warm. Harkirat needed it more than anyone else. All of our clothes were wet by rain. We all went inside my room and soon the fireplace was ignited and we started warming our hand sitting on a chair. After nearly 20 minutes, a forest ftaff came and informed breakfast is ready.
 We went downstairs and there were fresh hot paranthas, a vegetable mix, bananas with sweets for us. We all were quite hungry and had sufficient amount taken. Our plan was to eat for the entire day as we were waiting for the rain to stop and move back to the our work. The sky was dark, rain was not seeming to stop any near. Dr. Kalair went upstairs as soon he finished off his brunch but I and Harkirat stayed back and were enjoying the scenery around. Rain didn’t stop the monkeys from being naughty and playing here and there. Me and Harkirat found some time to talk and he was telling me about his interest in photography and many other things. He did his B.A. in Economics and now wants to pursue his career in wildlife and that’s why he wants to work with Katerniaghat Foundation. I suggested him few things and after nearly an hour we decided to go back to room when rain didn’t stop. Dr. Kalair was sitting in the chair and taking a nap. After few minutes he went to the other room to sleep. Very soon me and Harkirat also slept. The weather was cool, and the fire inside the room made it ideal for a good sleep. We took blankets and slept for nearly 1.5 hours. It was already 4.30 PM, when when we decided that today no birding can be done. Also, the sky was getting darker and darker. Every one of us assumed that it will definitely continue tomorrow as well. As mobile networks don’t work at the place where we are right now we had to prepare a plan for tomorrow now by itself. After a short discussion we concluded that we will go ahead with the weather. If sky would be clear then in the morning around 6.30 AM I will leave from here with all luggage because we also have to reach Dudhwa campus by evening. And if rain keeps falling then it would be around 11 AM or so. In both cases, I had to pick Dr. Kalair from his home. It was 5.15 PM when rainfall was very light or early stopped. Someone had to see Dr. Kalair’s home as well. So, I accompanied him in the Bolero and asked our Gypsy to wait for me at the Madhaa barrier till I return. Skyw as fairly clearer then but wind was blowing. Dr. Kalair was repeatedly saying that wind is in wrong direction and very soon it will be raining heavily. We reached Dr. Kalair’s farm house which was at Bhira, There we had a cup of coffee at his lawn. There were 10 more gentlemen sitting and were having evening gossips. After finishing coffee, I needed to be reaching Madhaa soon as weather was really uncertain. Harkirat dropped me off at Madhaa barrier around 7 PM. Roads inside the forest have turned really bad and the driver was guided by Rakeshji at many instances on how to drive through it.  It started raining as soon we reached the rest house. The staff who came to give tea in my room informed me that dinner will be ready in half an hour. I saw the clock, it was 7.45 PM. I opened the kit given by the organizers and started looking through the magazine Kat’s Eye which is published by Katerniaghat Foundation. There were two editions of them inside it and then started looking through another booklet on ‘Birds of Uttar Pradesh’. Driver came to call me for dinner and we had our last dinner at the rest house. Today there was pulse and saag (leafy vegetable) with chapatti, rice and salad. The staf asked me about tomorrow’s plan and I told them most probably by 6.30 or 7 AM if weather don’t ditch otherwise it will be around 10 AM. He said he will prepare breakfast at 7 AM then. I told him just a tea will be enough at that morning. By this time it started raining heavily. I came to room and was wondering about next day wishing that it shouldn’t rain more. Whole night it rained and I slept around 10 PM. Tomorrow I also have to pack my stuff and prepare to leave the rest house.

Madhaa Forest Rest House

Dudhwa Day 3

Me with Rakeshji
Our pray was listened and after a heavy rainfall overnight sky was clear. The weather was perfect for late morning sleep. I woke up the driver and asked to wake up Rakeshji and inform him that I am coming in 20 minutes. Rakeshji was still getting ready. He apologized for being lazy but he is not to blame here. No one expected rain would stop and weather was like that. Even the staff who prepared food for me was also sleeping late. On seeing me laving he hurriedly prepared tea. I asked him to click a picture of me and Rakeshji. 
It was already 7 past 15 when we left the rest house. I said no to lunch as we I was not sure whether we will be having time or even return rest house. We could see sun’s first ray coming in from between the canopy. We had to reach Dr. Kalair’s home and pick him up. He promised yesterday that he will take me to Jhaaditaal today. Jhaaditaal is the place about which Vipul was saying. It was a place where everyone should at least visit if ever come to Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctaury. Any national park or biosphere reserve comprises of several sanctuaries and protected area and the region as whole is called Reserve Forest of National Park. Same goes with Dudhwa and it has several sanctuaries within it like Nakowa, Kishanpur, Katerniaghat etc. On the way we spotted a group of Wild Boar too. It was too fast to click a photograph but I managed to take a blurred image of them crossing the road. 
The Wild Boars running across the jungle road.
We reached Dr. Kalair’s home around 8 AM and after having tea we left soon. Dr. Kalair wanted to do the birding on road today as roads inside forest are not good and also he wanted to visit a wetland called Nagariya wetland. As soon we were leaving from his home on the road with farms of sugarcane, something came flying and stopped just behind our vehicle. Dr. Kalair shouted to stop the gyspsy. It was a owl and it was sitting on road just behind our vehicle. We asked the driver to drive little backward so that we can observe it closer. It was some owl but juvenile stage. Dr. Kalair and me clicked several photographs of it and he didn’t comment on the species name as he was not sure. He said this species is not commonly seen. We keep moving on road watching for birds. Sun was shining bright and all the monkeys went up high for basking. Few of the birds could be seen sitting on top branches. It was like every organism were eagerly waiting for the sunlight to come. We stopped our gyspsy on road near a small wetland. It was kind of waterlogged area around a narrow drain. Due to low lying topography water got collected and vegetation developed around the water body but there was very good diversity of birds. There we saw two species of wagtail, white throated kingfisher and several other birds like cormorant, jacana etc. Suddenly, Dr. Kalair whispered in my eyes, ‘Can you see the common kingfisher?’
The Common Kingfisher which excited Dr. Kalair.
It was hardly at a distance of 25 meters from us. It was a bridge over the drain and the bird was sitting on a branch. We clicked few photographs and it fled away. He showed me Tit, Prinia. Lineated Darter and Indian Roller in that region before we moved ahead. Soon we could see Harkirat in his Bolero coming from opposite direction. We were heading towards Madhaa barricade on the road and Dr. Kalair asked him to park his Bolero there and join us in our gypsy as weather is quite clear. Harkirat said he saw Sarus Crane today. I was very much eager to see Sarus crane, not just because its state animal of U.P. but also the fact that I never seen it since 2 years. Dr. Kalair said, they are very common here and you will get to see not only Sarus but many other stork species too where we are going. My heart wanted to go Jhaaditaal but Nagariya wetland must be a good one if Dr. Kalair is insisting on it. We planned to go Jhaaditaal on return. It was ateast 30 km we have covered by now and nearly 40 new species of birds already recorded for today. Every where there was sugarcane farms alongside the road. We were moving through human habitation, far from Madhaa now. We went to a wetland near Khutaar before Nagariya wetland. We had to walk by making way through sugarcrane cultivation but then saw several beautiful species of birds there like Lesser Adjutant, Sarus Crane, White Bellied Drongo, Pied Bushchat, Black Necked Stork, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Red Wattled Lapwing etc. After spending nearly 25 minutes there and watching through binocular we noted them down in the datasheet once Dr. Kalair confirmed the species name. 

Nagariya wetland was still 15 km far. Time was already near noon and I didn’t have breakfast as well. We stopped at Khutaar at a Dhaaba and had tea and some fried things with that. I also bought two biscuit packets for rest of the journey. We then headed towards Nagariya asking people and following the signboards.   Finally we reached the fenced road to Nagariya wetland developed by the Forest Department.  It is a huge wetland and there were few hoardings written about its protection under National Wetland Conservation Program. There are watch towers being made near the bank of the wetland. We went up to the watch tower but the birds were present very far from there so decided to go to the next watch tower. During our short drive between the watch towers we spotted several birds like Common Cot, Purple Moorhen, Grey Heron, Purple Heron and Black hooded Oriole. Sarus Crane and Black Necked Stork were quite common. Dr. Kalair told us that Black Necked Stork are indicator for good health of a water body. After spending nearly 20 minutes, we left from the place. 
Sarus Crane, an endemic crane species to India, This is also state bird of Uttar Pradesh.

It was already afternoon and Dr. Kalair received a call from Fazlur that we have to reach Dudhwa by 2.30 PM. We were atleast 50 km from Dudhwa according to my guess and we had to drop Rakeshji at Madhaa rest house too on way back. As time was running out, we understood that we might not get time for lunch today. I regretted to say no to forest staff for lunch. We took the way alongside South Khiri Canal to reach Madhaa. It was a straight path parallel to Madhaa and took atleast 45 minutes to reach the familiar path of Madhaa.

South Khiri Canal. It is source of water for many wild animals at Madhaa.
 On the way we saw a small deer like animal running across our path. It was so small and quick that I couldn’t even point my camera towards it. Dr. Kalair told me that it was a Hog Deer. We kept moving looking here and there. On the way we could spot many serpentine eagles sitting on tree branches. We also saw an Yellow Footed Green Pigeon and Purple Sunbird. Suddenly my eyes caught two birds flying overhead with long beak much like hornbill. I showed Dr. Kalair and Harkirat and driver to stop the vehicle. We couldn’t spot it near. We got down of the Gypsys and soon spotted them on a tree nearby but it again fled away. We moved towards the bank of the canal and tried to locate them on other side of the canal. After watching carefully for 5 minutes, I could spot them ona tree on other side. We clicked several photographs within the capacity of our camera. 

Oriental Pied Hornbill. 
Himalayan Griffon.

It was a hornbill that was sure and after watching it carefully by binoculars, Dr. Kalair said it’s Oriental Pied Hornbill which is seen rarely here. It filled all of us with joy getting to see so many birds today. Soon we saw Rufous Woodpecker and Black Rumped Woodpecker. After dropping Rakeshji at Madhaa rest house we headed straight towards Dudhwa which was atleast 25 km ahead. On the way to Dudhwa we came across Himalayan Griffon on dried trees along the road. Dr. Kalair informed that they are migratory raptors and have started visiting here after a long gap. I asked Dr. Kalair how to reach the place where Rhinos are present. He told me that we one first need to reach Salukhapur with vehicle from where elephant has to be hired to visit the Rhino habitat. He assured me that he will arrange some vehicle for tomorrow till Salukhapur in morning. Near about 3.15 PM we reached Dudhwa campus and rushed inside the meeting room straight.

There was Deputy Director of Dudhwa alongwith Vice President of Katerniaghat Foundation with media persons and participants. It was nearing towards end when we reached and after few minutes it was time for tea. During tea we got to know other participants. Vikram came late and joined us at tea.  I was telling Jay about a visit to Salukhapur to see Rhinos on which he informed me that Dudhwa is closed due to rain. Soon I got confirmation from Mr. V. P. Singh too. That means Jhaaditaal will be closed as well. I asked couple of other people they also said the same. I was little disappointed that after coming to Dudhwa I will be missing those two places for which Dudhwa is famous for. Anyway, I was quite sure about the visit to Jhaaditaal as I have been to Kishanpur Sanctuary and roads were not that bad and also rain stopped a day before so by tomorrow if no rain falls then road would be in much better condition to drive. I was hopeful also for the reason that Kishanpur village is inside that sanctuary and vehicles keep moving through it so roads have to be better than other parts of Dudhwa.  After tea we again gathered inside the meeting hall. Vikram informed that he counted 235 birds and also claimed that he has their photographs too. Though few of them found it very hard as our team with an expert like Dr. Kalair could hardly identify 86 species and Vikram’s was three times higher but on claiming that he clicked their photographs as well made every one accept it. The Deputy Director said, this type of program was organized for first time and after seeing the success of this he will try to organize atleast two bird counts per year from now. The post tea session continued for 20 minutes and couldn’t be held for long as many had to leave the same evening. I was quite tired today. The people who were staying back had to be given rest rooms and that kept Fazlur busy. 

Cottage no. 5, the one behind, where we stayed last night at Dudhwa
I was given a room at cottage no. 5. It was better than earlier rest rooms, built relatively later. I was soon informed that Vikram will be sharing the room with me. My luggage was in Harikirat’s car and I was waiting for them to get free from other people. There were several people from Delhi, one of them was a young lady named Rajni Shankar who came with her mom. Her mom came to me and asked about my profession and all. I gave her my card and she told me that her daughter is a wildlife photographer. I saw Harkirat waiting near the car for me so I had to stop the conversation and rush to take my luggage. While I was returning from car towards room Rajni herself came and gave her card. They were going to see Tiger’s Haven which was built by Billy Arjun Singh, the person whose efforst resulted Dudhwa into a national park in late 70s. I came in the room, put down my backpack and saw Jay’s group got rooms just in the front cottage. We sat in the verandah and were smoking cigarette when Vikram came and asked me to accompany him for birding. It was late evening, around 5.30. I was not in a mood to go with him and wanted to be with Jay’s group but Vikram insisted me several times. I could understand he wanted to talk in alone with me. He took me through a forest road which was just opposite to the Dudhwa campus gate. I asked him where he is taking me. He told me that we will be going to Dudhwa railway station and have tea. I asked him how much far on which he replied just few minutes’ walk, quite near. It was obvious that birding was just an excuse, later he didn’t open his camera and he told it himself that he took with him so that we can talk without disturbance. Vikram said he is doing birding since class 5th and he is coming to Dudhwa since 10 years. That made me quite surprised, and if this is true then for him finding 235 birds in 2 days won’t be that much hard. We kept talking and walking. It was about half an hour walk, after which we were able to reach Dudhwa railway station. It was completely dark by that time and I told Vikram that it is not right to drag me inside the forest so late. He would always pass some weird reply in a joking way. For him it was fun and adventure but for me it was not at all enjoying. Over it, roads are full of mud. My shoe was completely covered with wet mud and also was finding difficulties to walk sometimes. It would be atleast 4 km from Dudhwa. We had samosa and tea and headed back. It was so dark and scary for us. Vikram asked me to keep talking. When we make noise then animals get awared about our presence and take safer place. In that way, the chances of sudden encounter is reduced and the animal don’t attack when it feels safe. Vikram was talking louder than me as he knew this trick. We reached the campus around 7 PM.

I found most of the people gone out as their rooms were locked and cars were also absent. I was sweating so much after that marathon that my clothes were wet, so needed to change them. Vikram sat over the chair and opened a bird guide writing few names on a paper. Fazlur entered our room and asked where we absent were and said you people missed something very interesting. He was very excited. We asked what happened. A herd of elephant blocked the road near Dudhwa barricade. I came to inform you but no one was here. Oh shit, we missed something very interesting then. I told Vikram that we should have stayed back. Vikram took it lightly as its very common for him. I told him, I have never seen elephants in wild on which he laughed. He asked me to keep this as secret only. Anyway, Sonu came half an hour later to call for dinner. During dinner I met a group of under graduates from Nainitaal. They were all forestry students. We were talking and having fun when Rajni’s mom entered the dining area and told that her daughter’s one feet is bleeding, thanks to leeches. She didnt have any antiseptic lotion so I gave her my hand sanitizer. Later we got to know that their car got stuck on the way to Tiger’s Haven where Rajni has to get down and during that only leeches caught her feet. After dinner Vikram took that group to a walk, but I returned middle as I didn’t want any trouble. With me another boy of that group came. We came in my room and I was showing him my films when Fazlur came. We started discussing how things went for us. He informed us that the group which went to Sathiana couldn’t reach rest house as elephants blocked their way. They were called back and sent to some other rest house and could manage to reach Sathiana only next morning. Soon Vikram came back. Fazlur jokingly said, ‘you will be soon arrested for violating Wildlife Protection Act, 1972’. Anyway, we enjoyed a lot that day and I was feeling sleepy. Time was already 11 PM and I couldn’t control my sleep.

Saal Forest Rest House, where I stayed the first day before moving to Madhaa.

Dudhwa Day 4

It was last day of our stay at Dudhwa. I asked Harkirat a day before to talk over phone in morning. He kept the word and called me but I was in bathroom so got his message. I called him up. He asked me to be ready and he will pick me up but confirm if Dr. Kalair will be coming. I told him to wait for my next call. I called Dr. Kalair…his phone was coming unreachable. Harkirat said he will pick up Dr. Kalair from his home. Vipul left Dudhwa when I went to Jay’s room. We sat in the same verandah and cursing the weather for spoiling our last day at Dudhwa. Neither we saw tiger, missed elephant and now whatever chances to see swamp deer and rhinos are also washed off. Jay and Ajay were saying it may be not possible to see Jhaaditaal today but I knew if Dr. Kalair wants he can.We talked with Sonu, and he said Jhaaditaal may be reached but only with Dr. Kalair. I called him again, this time ring goes and he received. He asked me to come Bhira as Jhaaditaal is near to Bhira and coming Dudhwa and again going back will be waste of time. I asked Jay if that would be possible. Jay didn’t want to miss the opportunity and told me that he may stay one more day so might be needing my room to keep his luggage. He asked Sonu if he could get the room for one more day on which Sonu showed his inability. So, it was now planned that we all will pack our stuff and leave here by 10.30 so that we can reach Dr. Kalair’s home at 11.30 and leave for Jhaaditaal by 12 noon. We finished our breakfast at the rest house. Paranthas and bread butter with tea. The forest staff who was serving the breakfast was named Kamaruddin.  Jay told me about kamaruddin that he is the most famous guide and very honest forest guard who has been working here for over a decade. Kamaruddin and we talked over the breakfast and shared contacts before leaving the place. It was 9.30 AM and we went inside our rooms to get ready for check out. Near about 11.00 AM we were able to leave Dudhwa after saying bye to all the people present there. Jay has a Maruti Suzuki Zen Diesel model. We went through the same place where I first saw the muggers and the python.
The Python which caught Jay's attention.
 Suddenly Jay rememberd about the python and backed his car to have a glimpse of the constrictor. Woo it was there and now can be seen clearer. He was so happy to see it again. I also saw a turtle at the same place. We were in hurry so clicked few shots and left. On the way we also went to see one of the friend of Jay who lives nearby Dudhwa and who started an NGO for environment awareness. Jay needed to inform that he may not be able to come for the lunch together with him. It was a short meeting and we left for Bhira after that. We only stopped at Suheli for any croc sighting but today water was quite deep and that makes chances few. We didn’t have time to stop and explore river bank so we headed on road. I called Harkirat and he was also on the way. We entered Bhira around 12.15 PM. On road only, we saw Rajni’s car crossing us and she said Hi from inside. Soon we found Harkirat’s car coming from front on other side and Dr. Kalair’s car as well. We all stopped our car and said hello. Dr. Kalair needed to go Mailani and has a work for few minutes so he asked us to wait at his friend Ishwar Singh’s petrol pump. He left and we went to the petrol pump where we sat on chairs and were talking about cameras. Harkirat wanted to buy a new camera so found a good guide in Jay. Also both of them belong to same native place so they found very comfortable to talk in Punjabi. After few time Dr. Kalair joined and we had tea together. Then we went to the field office of Katerniaghat Foundation at Bhira where Dr. Kalair gave the vegetable, flour and spices to a staff and asked him to prepare lunch for us and we then left for Jhaaditaal. We all were so glad that we were going there. On the way Dr. Kalair stopped at Forest Ranger office and enquired about the best road to go there. We were going to see Jhaaditaal today because of Dr. Jaswant Kalair only.

Soon we entered Kishanpur Sancturay. There were three barriers on the way which I had to open each time for letting our Pajero in. Harkirat was smart enough to bring a 4x4 wheeler.  Anormal 2x4 wheeler is not good for forest roads especially after rainfall. After nearly 2 km, we came over a road which was artificially built uplifted. It was obvious that this road is specially maintained like this because a lot of people travel on this for Kishanpur village. We could see several other vehicles like tractor and motorcycles running on it. We soon reach a barrier which was locked. It was Kishanpur FRH. The guard opened the barrier for us. I saw a board written ‘Jhaaditaal 3 km’. 

A group of Spotted Deer gazing at us at Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary near Jhaaditaal.

Jay Pratap Singh. This photograph was taken at Jhaaditaal watch tower.
This region was comparatively undisturbed from human interference andwas giving a feeling of intact forest. I can’t explain exactly what makes it different but it was looking like a forest made for tiger. Dr. Kalair informed that this region is famous for frequent tiger sighting. Last year there was a tigress with cubs here. We all were thrilled and our eyes were moving so fast across scanning each and every leaves in a hope to see the king. We could see the watch tower of Jhaaditaal and swamp deers. There was a group of whistling duck and porchards near wtar on our side. Dr. Kalir asked us to get down slowly and not making noise. After few minutes we went up the watch towers. 
We could see many birds out there. There was a good number of Swamp Deers which is locally known as Barasingha (meaning: possessing 12 branched antler). Dr. Kalair opened his bird book and started looking through the binoculars to identify them. Red Porchard, Common Porchard, Whistling Duck, Black billed Stork, Purple Heron, Gargany and many species he counted at a stretch. Harkirat and Jay spotted two muggers head to head. Jay also spotted a dead swamp deer lying there. Dr. Kalair said the number of swamp deer is reduced due to rain and its quite possible that they moved towards highland due to rainfall in recent days. He told that last week he saw around 250 swamp deers and this number doubles near summer. 

Swamp Deers at Jhaaditaal. This is world's second largest habitat for this majestic species endemic to India.

Fauna of Jhaaditaal. Wonderful place!

The two head-to-head Muggers at Jhaaditaal which caught everyone's attention.

We stayed at the watch tower for half an hour but every one wanted to stay there only and keep watching the beautiful scene out there. It was so beautiful experience that it can be only felt and cannot be described in words. We tried to move little inside the forest but roads were really bad after 50 meters so we decided to return. On the way we saw several more birds. Our eyes were still searching for a glimpse of a tiger but seeing a tiger was not in our luck I guess. Today was the most memorable of last three days and it happened only because of Dr. Kalair. We returned to the field office and there we were greeted by Mr. Suresh Chaudhari who was busy preparing the checklist of the bird counts. We all were hungry and food got served very soon. It was almost 5 PM and they asked if any of us want to stay overnight in their guest house. Jay had a plan for Pilibhit and I had already a reservation for train at midnight. Jay needed to leave the place soon so we left the office and stopped at Dr. Kalair’s farmhouse for coffee and again left for our destination. I was with Harkirat and he insisted on going to his farmhouse at Khutaar which is also on the way to Shahjahanpur Station. We reached his farm house after 30 minutes drive. I was greeted by his family members very gracefully. Soon his father came out and welcomed me. He insisted to have dinner but I was full so he insisted to pack it for me. While the food was getting packed, we enjoyed tea and had a very good conversation with Harkirat. Harkirat’s uncle was going to some place and he will be dropping me at Shahjahanpur railway station. They treated me so nicely and that’s the thing I like about Sikh families. They treat guests with very utmost care and try not to let any one leave unsatisfied. They got me food packed which had egg fried with paranthas and to my surprise 4 pieces of chicken as well which I got to know only when I opened it for eating at station. The uncle who was driving me was also very interesting person and he kept me involved during the whole journey. He discussed about my works and also what his nephew aspires to. It was a quite long journey in his car but how time passed we never realized. He dropped me till station premises. It was a wonderful ending of a wonderful day. It was 9.30 PM and my train will be coming at 11.40 PM. I started messenger on my mobile and had a couple of conversation with few of my friends and then had the dinner. I couldn’t finish the food so put it inside for later. I was feeling very sleepy so put my mobile alarm at 11.10 PM and had a nap. I woke up to the alarm call and went outside the waiting room to buy some cigarette and came back to the platform number 3.

Train was 10 minutes late and came around 11.50 PM. I got inside. My ticket was in RAC so for next 6 hours I have to spend sitting and next day I had an interwview at 11.30 AM in Delhi. After spending 4 memorable days here it is ok for me to sacrifice a night’s sleep at least.

Spotted Deers at Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary.

Some Special Features of Dudhwa

1. It is only national park in India where you can find 4 species of deer: swamp deer, hog deer, spotted deer and barking deer together.

2. Jhaaditaal is the habitat for largest population of swamp deers and second largest in the world.

3. Dudhwa is the only place in Uttar Pradesh where you can see Rhonos. Rhinos were reintroduced here in 1980s. Other states which has Rhinos are Assam, West Bengal and Bihar.

4. Gharials of Katerniaghat are one of the three natural breeding habitats of the species in India.

5. Mugger crocodiles are quite common in the tiger reserve and have been observed living sympatric with gharials in Girwa river.

6. Gangetic dolphins and Elephants can be also sighted if one is lucky enough.

And yes beware of monkeys. They will welcome you as soon you step in the boundary of Dudhwa and they don’t think twice stopping a car or snatching food from your hand but they will definitely not harm you and prefer to keep away from you in other cases. In some cases, they may prove to be your true friends in deep forests.

The map of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve as displayed in Dudhwa campus.

In case you don’t have your own vehicle

Dudhwa is well connected by road to Delhi with frequent bus services. Nearby bus stops are Palia, Mailani and Bhira. Buses going to Gaurifanta also stop at Dudhwa. It is advised to get down at Dudhwa otherwise Palia if you are on your own. Other less time consuming way is to reach Shahjahanpur by train which will take 6 hours from Delhi and then take direct bus to Dudhwa which will take 2.5 hours. To visit the forest you can hire elephant or book a gypsy there only at reasonable cost. If you have own car there is fixed charge for road services of Rs. 300 and then Rs. 100 per individual. A forest guide will charge Rs. 200. So one doesn’t need to worry about anything but be sure that the park is open and explore a little about weather. Don’t go to Lakhimpur! Dudhwa is in Palia and Lakhimpur is just the main town of Khiri district and Dudhwa’s headquarters.

Altogether Dudhwa is a rich habitat of rare animals. National animal, national aquatic animal and national heritage animal all three can be seen in this national Park which is also known for the contributions of Billy Arjun Singh. It is paradise for bird watchers and over 500 species of birds are reported from the forests of Dudhwa. Also, the pressure of tourism hasn't touched Dudhwa but there is great pressure from roads and railway lines which cuts across core area. Presence of several villages inside the forest is concern but I find it very amazing that besides having all these since centuries, Dudhwa has still maintained its pride and proving to be a unique success story in wildlife conservation.

Go and see Dudhwa..not as Tiger Reserve.. but as a Wildlife Habitat.. Experience the rich biodiversity and old forests and you will just fall in love with Dudhwa.

Me, Dr. Jaswant Singh Kalair and Harkirat Singh in our Gypsy.