The day started on an ominous note, with mist descending on the streets and the light rapidly deteriorating. Lucknow, with streets dug out for laying drain pipes was bad enough without the mist. Fog made it almost un-motorable.
We had planned a road trip to Dudhwa National Park, a good 240 km away from Lucknow, close to the Nepal border.
|Unfinished New Bridge on Sarada|
|Grey Wagtail at Dudhwa Forest Lodge|
The huts of forest lodge were modestly equipped with all facilities except running hot water. A watch tower on the premises offered a panoramic view of the Suheli river. As darkness fell, it was time to retire after an eventful day.
On the way back, paths of the forest were once again lit by the evening sun. As the darkness descended, the cold, crisp air of the forest filled our lungs.
Dusk at Dudhwa
At the Forest Guest House, they tell stories of the legendry Billy Arjun Singh who had tamed a tiger that had to be eventually let off in the forest, where it turned a killer because it did not know how to hunt. Dudhwa, despite its open spaces, is being encroached from all sides by prime agricultural land that will surely surround and dissolve it one day like a huge amoeba. Nobody has the will to stop the metre gauge train that cuts along Dudhwa forest, carrying hundreds of people, several times a day. People, with their lethal waste of plastic bags, pan masala foils and other unfriendly stuff. It is a miracle that Dudhwa has survived so far.
ADIEU TO DUDHWA
The last day at the Forest Rest House begins with the customary packing of bags. We have been advised to leave well before lunch. We are impatient to get back to the forest. We have decided to go to the river and the small pond. There is no dearth of water in Dudhwa and that means there is no congregation of animals and birds at the water holes or rivers.
Road to Eternity through the Sal Forest
By the side of the pond, we were lucky to see a pair of Great Hornbills. Our guide tells us that it is a favourite spot for these fabulous birds.
Great Hornbill at Dudhwa
Nobody is quite sure about the tiger population at Dudhwa, but logistics of organised poaching cannot be ruled out here. Besides different types of deer, there are assorted animals like porcupines in the forest and at Salukhapur, the Forest Lodge inside the park, you can see them looking for food at the garbage dump in the dark.. On our night drive to Chandan Chowki, we see one on the road and it quickly disappeared into the foliage.
Our enthusiastic street-smart guide Sonu (alias an impressive 'L.D. Singh Naturalist & Member of the BCN' on his visiting card) tells us that at this time of the year, the best location for birding is the Kishanpur Wild Life Sanctuary some 50 km from Dudhwa. We decide to look it up on our way back, but are in for disappointment. The Chief Justice of India is visiting these parts and the Kishanpur WLS has been closed to outside visitors for two days in honour of his visit. We have also been advised to vacate our rooms at Dudhwa asap. A massive painting drive is on at Dudhwa for the VVIP visit, after which, we are sure, everything will fall back to its normal lethargic pace.
A Painter Giving Finishing Touches to a Board for VVIP Visit
Stork Billed Kingfisher at Suheli, Dudhwa
As before, crocodiles were basking in the sun in the company of terrapins and an assorted birds. And an elephant was off to work.
Elephant off to Work
Suresh & the Author
As we returned, each one of us was recapitulating in his mind, the most enduring image of our visit. For me, it was definitely the morning sun touching sal trees of the mesmerising jungle that is Dudhwa.
--Jitendra Bhatia from Dudhwa