Monday, May 15, 2006

The Census of a different kind - Koyna Nagar

I had heard about the animal census and what all one could see and experience in the sanctuaries all around India.... and Koyna Nagar for one was a real attraction with its dense jungle, the vast backwaters created by the Koyna Dam and the teeming wildlife in it. I have been hearing about it from Aniket and was really enthused to see what it was all about, which brought about this experience of mine. The experience was both heartwarming as well as agonising. Five of us, Abhijit, Shankar, Santosh, Myself and Shailesh started off on Thursday night, May 11, 2005 with plans to reach Chiplun in the very early morning and then on take the bus to Koyna Nagar so that we could do some early birding before we enrolled ourself for the counting.

The bus started at 9.30 pm instead of the 8.30 as was given to us and then proceeded ahead. The bus took a halt near Panvel and while getting out of the hotel after a small snack, the driver, who was quite drunk managed to break the axle of the steering. The bus then wobbled all the way to Khed at around 6.30 pm, with lots of abuses and comments from the commuters as well as people praying for safe journey.............imagine the driver breaking at every corner and turn in the ghats and backing make the turn... making us all sweat at the thought of the bus toppling over into the ravines any time..

We managed to get rid of the bus and then picked up a truck to get us to the destination, Koyna Nagar. This time though, there were no nasty surprises. Koyna nagar, at 8.30 am was teeming with the early birds though we missed quite a lot of the very early ones...but had a good glimpse of the Indian Robin, Magpie Robin, Brahminy Starlings, Coppersmith Barbets, Large Barbets, Red vented and Red Whiskered Bulbuls, Tailor Birds, etc. etc. This activity took most part of our early day, with filling up forms and other stuff to add to our chores for the census activity.

With around 21 participants enrolling from all over Maharashtra, especially Satara, Karad, Mumbai and Sangli, the forest dept officials found it difficult to segregate and make groups. Ultimately with lots of discussions, the batches were split and sent to the different water holes for the final activity. I, Abhijit, Rahul and Saurabh along with our guide Sagar were alloted the Kisroli water hole which was situated high up in the hills. The other spots were Pali, Zungti, Karanjawade, Maldev and Shirsinge. We started in the launch with other groups going to the nearby areas at around 2.30 pm and reached our alighting point at Jhadpola at around 4.00 pm. We trekked up to the village in another half an hour, and after a stop of around 15 minutes, proceeded further ahead to the last village in our destination. By the time we reached the village which contained only two houses with just the oldies living there to give us company. We stayed back at the night recounting and listening to the stories of Mr. Janu Bavdhane, the 70+ year old and his brush with the wild animals and the horror stories of how he was attacked by the sloth bear and the bison at various time and how he escaped by the skin of his teeth.

Next morning was fresh and sunny and saw us trekking it up to the water hole to set our camp of the next 24+ hours... The water hole was around 1/2 an hour trek from the Janu's house and was in the midst of a very dense forest. There were trails of wild animals leading from different directions which made us wonder what we would see through that night. First we checked out for the pug marks and found quite many bison, wild pig, sambar, bhekar foot prints. Seeing the dilapidated machan built at a height of around 8 feet right next to the water hole made our heart sink..........5 of us could definitely not stay in "that" place !!! We had to choose an alternative location. After quite many sites chosen, we at last chose a higher and farther location just above the trails. We all were quite busy then, collecting the dead branches and cutting down the smaller ones to help build a hide for our activity.

The entire day, then was spent waiting in the machan, but alas, the wild animals decided to give us a long vacation, with no sighting at all and indeed no photographs of the four legged variety, though we were still being entertained by the Black Bulbuls, Yellow Throated Bulbuls, a lone owl hooting at continuous intervals but decided to remain incognito, blue tailed parakeets, vernal hanging parrots, and much much more........ a sole raptor, could be an eagle, looking at its size, gave us a magnificient view of taking a dip in the water and then cleaning and preening itself just on the branches above it. We were also delighted to see 3 Nilgiri Wood Pigeon having a drink and then roaming around in that area before they went for their final roost for the night.

Evening dawned and the action started. The first bison was sighted checking out the area for predators and being very wary. It was accompanied by a group of around 4-5 with one young being spotted in their midsts. It tooks us quite a long while before we could see it distinctly but then the light was fast fading out........and with that our hopes of a good photograph. The sun set in the horizon and brought in its satellite into full glory, it being the full moon day..... At around 8.30 the alpha male decided that it just needed a drink. It was continuously calling and snorting its way down the trail to the water and kept on snorting and calling for a very long time. We were chilled and quite scared by the noise it made and just wished that it would never come near our hide...... thankfully it didnt.....but someone else did...and that's another story.

Our hide was covered in three side with the fourth side covered by an outcrop of huge vertical rock, which made it a natural deterrant. Being quite sleepy and hungry, we decided to eat and out came the packs of chivda and biscuits and khajoor and the like. It was neither the time or the place to light a fire to cook rice and dal.... The barking deer called intermittently from the opposite slopes and we could also hear quite many footfalls, but the forest being quite dense, the light was hardly enough to discern the animal, far from identifying it. A small quick footstep to our left caught our attention and Sagar who identified it as a hare, which went its way searching for roots, tubers and fallen fruits of Jamun, a favourite among the Sloth Bears. By the time sleep took over our senses, we decided to take turns to stake out and keep alert with two guyz always awake with an interval of 2 1/2 hours, but I know how difficult it was not to doze off in the sleeping bag and the chilling wind blowing outside.... but the animals kept coming. AT around 2.30 I was shaken awake from my sleep by Rahul who whispered........"something is coming towards us, wake up!!".. the footsteps kept coming with intermittent snorting which identified it as a wild pig... and we just didnt know what we could do, the pigs were famous for launching a direct attack without any provocation..... the footsteps came in just outside the protective wood cover and some instinct made me react....i switched ON the powerful head lamp to see a huge wild pig the size of a small calf peering at us. The blinding light surprised it so much that it just snorted in surprise, turned around and ran away in an instant...........the speed was quite unbelieveable. Later I learn from Sagar that this was the wrong thing to do as pigs attacked when surprised and maybe we were lucky this time. Such experiences occur which just makes one wonder what happens next !!!

Waiting for the sun to appear, we were all quite exhausted with the previous day's bus ordeal and looked forward to greet the first rays of the Sun. The sun brought with it new hopes and much needed mental strength for us to venture out into the open to check out the area and the water hole for pugmarks. Our tasks complete and the forms filled in, we trekked back to Jano's house for a cup of tea and then proceeded back to the river for the boat ride back.

The boat which was supposed to come at 10 a.m. unfortunately had some trouble and reached us at 4 p.m., a sheer waste of the whole day in waiting for it and for the passtime, cooking noodles and eating it and then hunting for ripe Jamuns to eat, which after a while, got so boring that we all dozed off... We were joined by the other group of Shailesh, Shankar and Santosh who were in the next waterhole and who also were to come in the same boat... they thought that we had left them and came lookin for us. We then proceeded to the Avasare Centre from where we picked up Mr. Shinde - the second in command and proceeded back to Koyna Nagar. Reaching Koyna Nagar at 7.oo pm, we found that we couldnt get any place in a bus or jeep, but fortunately a jeep was slated to leave for Mumbai at around 8.30 pm. A rushed up dinner and we were packed like Sardines inside the Cruiser (15 of us in it) for our trip back. We also found out that the other groups were lucky and had reached Koyna Nagar at around 12.30 they were nearly home and we were still to start the journey back.........what luck !!!!

You should really experience the trip.........with no leg space and hardly any space to move, and heat and sweat...........wished the trip didnt end that way.... but then reached mumbai at 4.30 am to catch the first local back start the Monday.....back to office and work...

Would definitely try out the five day census next time, that is much more exciting as we trek out the whole area earmarked to us and go on the look out for the wild animals. And tiger sightings are quite often done in the 5 day census....

Feedbacks are most welcome.................and would be very much appreciated