Satkosia Where Wilderness Stands Still

IMG_1641Dhruba Jyoti Chakraborty

In the last week of November 2017 we planned a visit to Satkosia. The best way to reach Satkosia is to take the Dhauli Express in the early morning and reach Bhubaneswar by lunch time. After a quick lunch you could drive down to Satkosia or take an A/c Volvo bus, a distance of 220 kms which could take you about 4 hours to cover. The roads are tolerable and fairly good and the drive is quite pleasant.

We were a group of 20 adventurous senior citizens who planned to do something new to get the blood flowing in our veins. We decided to stay at Satkosia Sands Resort in Badmul and opted for the Swiss Cottage tents on the sandbars of the Mahanadi River. The tents are at best rudimentary but the experience exhilarating.

Spread over 796 square Km  Satkosia Gorge Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1976 in Odisha. Spread over four districts,namely Angul, Budh, Cuttack and Nayagarh, Satkosia Gorge has an exclusive geomorphology feature as Mahanadi cuts it through the Eastern Ghats. Satkosia derives its name from the words sat (seven) and kosh (two miles), meaning 14 miles or 22 km, which is the length of the gorge on the Mahanadi river.

The meandering gorge, with a chain of low lying hills and thick forests on both sides, has the appearance of a place where time stands still. But do not be fooled by the calm waters, because there is danger lurking in the form of ferocious crocodiles and strong undercurrents, which can be fatal at times.

The gorge is home to the endangered long-nosed gharial, muggers, fresh water turtles and many kinds of fish. Reptile fauna include the king cobra, banded krait, python and gecko. The bird species found here are equally splendid, including both resident and migratory birds.

Away from the bustle of city life, Satkosia mesmerises us by the charmingly rustic environs. Here, in these soulful surroundings, you find nature at her gorgeous best. The beauty and panaromic view of the High Hills around with Deep Forest and Wide Sand beach of River Mahanadi will attract you.The green water of the Mahanadi, flanked by huge mountains with dense tropical forest  long snout  Gharials resting on the banks of the river, a view that is guaranteed to bring out the poet and give a serotonin blast to the explorer in you. Go for boat rides on the Mahanadi, jungle treks, walk along the banks of the Mahanadi at the crack of dawn, spend your time star gazing , where their diamond twinkle is not subdued by the glittering electric lights, Satkosia is a hidden gem.

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The Narmada Tales

By Dhruba Jyoti Chakraborty

Aarti of Narmada MaiAfter the wonderful and mesmerizing spectacle  of the Marble Rocks and the Dhuandhar Falls we proceeded to Amarkantak. Sumit Mitra ,one of our friends travelling with us, and designated by the group as logistics manager, was up and about ordering breakfast and pushing the rest of the group to pack their bags to get it loaded on the Travera.Target Amarkantak by lunch time.Anta Kanha & Pench 060

The drive to Amarkantak takes about 3 hours. But the road was beautiful. We reached Amarkantak and checked into the MPTDC hotel. Please remember that Amarkantak is strictly a vegetarian place.

Indian religious rituals are basically water centric. Whether it be birth, marriage or death holy water, usually from the Ganges is a must. The entire Indian ethos is based on the famous tagline of Kinley “boond boond mein vishwas.” So it was almost a foregone conclusion that our wives would insist on visiting the place from where the Narmada originates. Ahoy Amarkantak here we come.On the way to Kanha from Amarkantak

The Narmada  river is one of the most sacred of the five holy rivers of India .It has always been an important route between the Arabian Sea and the Ganges (Ganga) River valley. The river was called Namade by the 2nd-century-CE Greek geographer Ptolemy.Anta Kanha & Pench 138

Emerging from central India in the Amarkantak Plateau, it holds a rich, diverse religious significance and geology and the locals have a book full of stories associated with it. Most of these stories lie behind a mythical veil, but no doubt have a special place in the Indian religious mind. According to a myth, once, Lord Shiva, Narmada Kund at Amarkantakmeditated so hard that he started perspiring. Shiva’s sweat gathered in a tank and started flowing in the form of a river – the Narmada. Another legend has it that two teardrops that fell from the eyes of Lord Brahma, the Creator of the Universe, yielded two rivers – the Narmada and the Son. . Pilgrims bathe in its holy water to wash away their sins. Legend has it that once every year, the mighty Ganga comes to     Narmada in the garb of a black cow,  to take a holy dip into its water. The river in this region flows in the shape of ‘ॐ’ (spelled and pronounced ‘Om’), which is a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Indian religions The Amarkantak region has a rich natural heritage. It is the meeting point of the Vindhya and the Satpura Ranges, with the Maikal Hills being the fulcrum. Three rivers – the holy Narmada, the Sone and the Johila  spring from the Amarkantak plateau.

Anta Kanha & Pench 136

The Ancient Temples of the Kalachuri Period are located bang opposite the Narmada Udgam Temple complex. Traditionally this temple is ascribed to Raja Karan Dahariya, King Karna of Dahala, who supposedly ruled over Amarkantak. Beglar reports that it is the oldest existing temple. The Machchhendranatha Temple has an image of Ganesha on the sanctum door lintel. A Shivalinga is placed inside the sanctum.Pataleshwar Temple of the Kalchuri Dynasty at Amarkantak

The Pataleshvar temple is also dedicated to Shiva. As it is constructed slightly below the ground level hence called Pataleshvar ( the god of the nether world). Narmada Udgam Temple is a large temple complex housing the tank which is said to be the origin of the Narmada river. There are two temples, facing each other and connected with a mandapa, one known as Narmada Udgam temple and other as the Narmada Mai temple. Both the temples have a female deity inside the sanctum, There is a legend about the construction of these temple which mentions that the goddess Narmada appeared in a dream of a banjara (nomad), Rewa Nayak, and asked him to clear the site of the present kund (tank) which was covered with a mass of dense bamboo jungle. Rewa Nayak cleared the site and installed an image of the goddess. His image was also installed, probably by himself or by his descendants

 

 

A Close Encounter

Dhruba Jyoti ChakrabortyIMG_1641

We reached Kanha on the 15th of March and checked into Bagheera Jungle Resort, far away from the maddening crowd. The air smelt sweet with the aroma of Mahua flowers and the palash were in full bloom.The Palash flowers in full bloom in Kanha

The weather was pleasant. My wife and me and went out to the verandah behind our room to soak in the mesmerising landscape. The sun was setting, casting long golden shadows on little patches of water in the now dry Banjara River. The jungle beyond was already becoming dark and soon the predators would be on the prowl. A grey wagtail with its typical cheee cheee cheee decided to take a dip in the evening and was busy preening itself.Grey Wagtail

Our safari was booked for the next day and we had to enter through the Mukki gate. After a quick dinner we retired for the night.

The Kanha Tiger Reserve is prime tiger-land… the epitome of Kipling country of saal forests, of sunlight and shadows, of a myriad streams, of  rolling meadows and all the wildlife imaginable and  home to one of the world’s most endangered deer – the hard ground barasingha.Barasingha

Kanha is horseshoe shaped valley and the whole park area is surrounded by  the spurs of the Mekal. It became the perfect location for Stanley Breeden and Belinda Wright’s award winning National Geographic  Film, “Land of the Tigers”.We entered Kanha through the Mukki gate. We went deep into the forest. Our guide parked the jeep in a spot on either side of which were thick bamboo thickets.

Soon other gypsies trundled in. The sambar had barked its alarm call. The langurs were chattering away trying to warn everyone. After some time the calls fell silent. Soon the other gypsies went away. But we stayed put.T-2 coming out of Bamboo thickets

After about an hour and a half the calls started again. There was a crackling sound of bamboo saplings breaking under the feet of the running sambar which was giving its hasrh alarm call “kaak kaak kaak”The Royal Walk

     None of us can forget that moment. T-2 emerged from the bamboo thickets and started his majestic walk. It was a royal  spectacle. The T-2muscles rippled in the morning sun and T-2 strolled down the dirt track. It was a disdainful ambling gait. We had to reverse our gypsy for a mile, our eyes fixed on the royal serenade.Jackal Kanha pleases everyone who visits it, irrespective of the season. It is always challenging to find big cats. You’ll see  plenty of langurs, the odd Indian bison, maybe a family or two of wild boar and the odd lonesome jackal or two. Over 260 bird species have been recorded here too.

Yellow Wattled Lapwing

 

 

Dhruba Jyoti ChakrabortyIMG_1641

The Bombay Mail via Allahabad huffed and puffed its way into Jabalpur at 5.30 pm, late by about 45 minutes, which by Indian Railway standards was quite commendable. It was mid-April and the weather was pleasant and the heat not unbearable. As a matter of fact it was quite pleasant.

The best way to enjoy the sheer charm of these rocks is by taking a boat ride in Narmada. We had planned to do this the next morning and after an early dinner retired for the night. I told my wife that I would love to see the sunrise over the cliffs and this merited a wake up call.

After a quick breakfast, my wife and me and two other couples, friends of ours, made it to the boating point. A boat ride amidst the marble gorges was an adventure by itself. As the boat moved upstream, the texture and colour of the marble on the cliffs changed. from dazzling white to pale yellow and from pinkish hue to different shades of green.

The effect produced by the scattered and reflected sunlight, now glancing from a pinnacle of snow-white marble reared against the deep blue of the sky, touching here and there and again losing itself in the soft bluish greys of their recesses amidst the white saccharine seamed by veins of dark green or black volcanic rock, was like a painting on a divine canvas. Did you know that the Marble Rocks have been considered as one of the thousand places that you should see before you die?  

across the falling water.Visitors musts never miss out on the hopping aspect, as marble artifacts from the local vendors

  The Chousath Yogini Temple at Bhedaghat is the largest yogini temple in India.The village is situated at the confluence of the Narmada and a small stream locally known as Saraswati but known as Banganga at Karanbel. Because of the sangam (confluence) of two rivers, this place is considered holy. Cunningham mentions that King Gaya Karna took bath at this place with his queen, son, prime-minister, commander-in-chief etc at the occasion of granting a land to a brahmana. Queen Gosala Devi, widow of King Narasimha Deva, also took bath here while making a grant of a village.

The Lazy Leopard Of Pench

Dhruba Jyoti ChakrabortyIMG_1641

In the second half of April 2017, I travelled through the wilderness of Madhya Pradesh with my wife and two other couples, all wild life enthusiasts, seeing life in the jungles. We had decided to drive from Kanha to Pench. So after an early morning breakfast we moved out in a Travera towards Pench. Our accommodation was at the Jungle Camp near the Turiya gate. We had a great sighting of the Tiger T-2 at Kanha and the group wanted to sight a leopard in its natural habitat in Pench.Plum Headed Paraqueet

We were informed that the drive would be around 3 hours. But on ground conditions the drive usually takes about 4- 5 hours. The approach road to Pench is a single lane road and not maintained properly. Be sure to pack some sandwiches before you leave as there would not be very many lunch options on the way.Oriental Honey Buzzard

We reached Pench at about 4.00 pm. The manager was extremely courteous and arranged for a high tea for us which was quite delicious. We retired after an early dinner ready to start for the safari next morning.

The area of the present national park has a glorious history. A description of its natural richness and wealth occurs in the Ain-i- Akbari. It is also the setting of Rudiyard Kipling’s famous work “The Jungle Book.”Barred Jungle Owlet

The undulating topography supports a mosaic of vegetation from moist sheltered valleys to open dry deciduous forest interspersed with waterholes and grassy shrub land. The Pench tiger reserve has the highest concentration of herbivores in India – a staggering 90.3 animals per square kilometre._MG_0731

On your safari you can sit back and let your eyes wander around the mesmerising landscape.The early morning sun breaking through the leafy canopy of the deciduous trees setting the forest afire. The crunch of the gravel under the wheels of the jeep breaks the silence of this enchanted forest as you drive past some amazing creations of nature. Giants with twisting tentacles and arched branches, sculptured and ghost-like ficus racmosa,with bleached roots clasping black boulders, lofty teaks with dusty leaves and the ubiquitous Mohua trees, the fruits of which make the sloth bears tipsy.Anta Kanha & Pench 355

Pench is the home of a plethora of wild animals and birds. It is the habitat of Sher Khan. It is also one of the best forests for leopard sighting in India. Apart from these you will be able to have great sightings of wild dogs, jackals and hyenas and the Jungle Cat. The lush grasslands are a good breeding ground for Cheetal, Sambar, wild boar and gaur. Look above your head and you will find scarlet minivets, Indian rollers, kingfishers, plum headed paraqueets,white eyed _MG_0746buzzards crested serpent eagles jungle owlets and other avian life._MG_0859

We had booked 3 safaris at Pench. The first morning safari was an experience not to be forgotten. A young male tiger cub made a sprint across a patch of grassland and then disappeared among the tall grass.

But our main focus still remained the elusive leopard. On the last day we had a morning safari and we had to reach Nagpur in time for our flight back to Calcutta. But the shy and lazy leopard of Pench was still as elusive as ever.

_MG_0860

We entered the jungle at around 6.00 am and made a dash for the leopard country. A rocky area with sparse vegetation. We had our cameras ready and our eyes peeled. Suddenly the sambar started its tell tale ‘kak kak’ But it was more frequent and at shorter intervals than it usually is when it spots a tiger. Our guide was certain that there was a leopard in the vicinity. We went up and down the jungle track. Eight pairs of eyes peeled, expectations high and excitement mounting. Where was the lazy leopard of Pench? Suddenly the guide in a hushed voice told the driver ‘rukh rukh rukh’ And then pointed out to us the “Lazy Leopard of Pench” basking in the morning sunshine on a rocky outcrop, tired after a night hunt. The spots clearly visible and the tawny coat lit up in the golden hue of the sun. It was indeed a wonderful breathtaking moment, an experience to be cherished.