I would say, Primal call-Prelude to Nagzira is as applicable to Anindya as to me or any city-locked forest lover.
Last February late evening alone in my room when the urge came to go out of my walls and roam among tall trees and pristine nature, I remembered Nagzira.
Half a decade ago Anindya returned from a field trip in Nagzira forest while in his second year graduation, and showed me forest pictures teeming with live wild animals. His response to me was brief, “Nagzira is a small forest packed with animals, but it may not be for usual tourists.”
He added, “We heard leopard calls from the trees outside our dormitory at night.”
Nagzira remained in my mind a special place from that moment.
The remarkable February evening extended to late night when I closed my laptop. Barring mishaps, I would be in Nagzira core complex beside the beautiful lake for five uninterrupted days during mid-March. Only three weeks left.
FDCM online forest resort booking for Maharashtra forests
In connected world it is possible to evaluate and acquire something you desire without leaving your room. Nagzira resort room bookings I could do from Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM in short) website that displayed the phone number of the in-charge Pankaj. I had to wait till next Wednesday to get in touch with him. Wednesday and Thursday are closed for tourists when Pankaj is available on phone.
Loghut, Madhukunj, LataKunj and Holiday Homes
Exploring staying options in Nagzira, I was pleasantly surprised to find as many as four desirable options for stay in Nagzira. Loghut was the costliest, Rs.2794 per day with taxes, and Holiday Home was the cheapest, around Rs.1730 per day with taxes, Madhukunj and Latakunj in between.
Though I preferred Madhukunj because of its glowing praise I saw during my Web research, neither Madhukunj nor Loghut was available for five consecutive days. Instead, I settled for Latakunj and finalized the booking.
It was a good choice I felt, as I found a solitary remark in the Web mentioning Latakunj as beautiful and beside the lake. It is not as famous as Madhukunj or Loghut, but it satisfied my basic needs fully.
The name of the Nagzira forest is Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve while Navegaon Bandh, or Navegaon dam is the destination twin to Nagzira. Most tourists visit both as did Anindya and his group. But as I knew Navegaon to be mainly a dam-like very large lake with plenty of birds and cheetals, I dropped it. Let me be in undiluted Nagzira forest for the whole period, I decided.
Navegaon lake, photo credit Anindya
I had a fair idea of how I would feel in Navegaon. If I were in a team I would surely have gone on to Navegaon. But not this time.
Clarifications from horse’s mouth
Intervening few weeks rolled by swiftly. I got in touch with Pankaj, the FDCM in-charge at Nagzira, and cleared up finer details. He was always courteous, informative and never in a hurry—a thorough professional.
Pankaj explained, “You must have a forest guide for the whole period of your stay in Nagzira. That is the rule.”
I accepted, “Yes, that will be fine, the guide must be having good knowledge about the forest and its inhabitants. I would like that.” The guide can also be my companion when needed, I thought to myself.
Vaguely I could sense that one of the main jobs of the guide will be to see whether the visitor doesn’t stray into prohibited areas—there are many rules and restrictions in the forest I knew. The guide needs to ensure that the visitor remains within the rules.
That’s reasonable to me. Reserved Forest is a sacred place, like a temple. There can’t be hordes of people running amok inside such a forest. The animals, trees, birds, the peace, and tranquility are not to be disturbed at all.
At last it was 15th March. I trudged along the endless Kolkata railway station platform sweating. No porters during late noon. My compartment stood at the front—a long walk.
Kurla express is a modest train in this route, taking five hours more than its illustrious sisters like Mumbai Mail or Geetanjali Express, to reach Gondia only about 1100 kms away. But I gathered that it usually runs on time.
Fortunately, there was no rush in the compartment. I always enjoy near empty compartment in my train journeys.
With a few hours sleep the night passed, morning progressed and at 11 am Kurla Express stood solemnly at Gondia station, one hour late.
Pulling down my luggage from the train I became free at last and stood on firm ground of the Gondia platform. Something bothered me. Looking up I felt a mild shock. The sky was covered with thick unmoving drab grey clouds. No sign of a chink of blue sky in the tight cloud cover anywhere. As if it had come to stay forever.
That’s why even in mid-March the light was dim. Without light, all scenes and impressions would die in the forest, I knew.
“Is this usual?”, I asked an elderly gentleman who seemed to be local.
“No, not at all. For the last few days it is like this, there were a few light showers also.” He informed readily.
Well, on occasions we clutch at straws, and hopes die hard—if it was like this for the past few days, it should pass off during my five day stay, I hoped.
Shrugging off my dejection I called my friend in Gondia. His place was near the station. After a cup of tea with him I boarded my pre-arranged car. Mahesh Ukey, the driver was young. Quickly we became friends. Time passed quickly and in two hours we stopped in front of the Pitezary gate of Nagzira Tiger Reserve.
At last. Not yet inside the forest, but right at the doorstep!
Waiting for Pitezary gate to open
Pitezary gate is one of the main gates of the restricted core area of the Nagzira Tiger Reserve. The wide closed gates looked imposing. Just beyond the gates inside the forest, a few tall trees swayed in the wind.
It was 1.30 pm and the gate would open strictly at 3. That is the inviolable timing for tourists. It was only 11 km to my Latakunj from here—the distance is just a stone’s throw away, I thought, and looked again at the closed gates.
Waiting at Pitezary gate, Nagzira Tiger Reserve
Prakash, my pre-assigned guide was waiting for me at the gate. Cheerily he welcomed me and in an instant became a part of my small team.
Prakash explained, “At 6 am to 10 am morning the gate remains open for tourists to go inside the reserve forest. That is the morning safari time for tourists who stay outside and get on to their Gypsies or cars for a few hours’ drive into the forest. Afternoon entry time similarly is 3 to 6 pm.”
It was past lunch time. I felt hungry and tired. The shanties around served only tea and biscuits this time, no meals. A few locals lazed. Turned out to be forest guides waiting for their safari.
Food stalls at Pitezary gate, Nagzira Tiger Reserve
“Where goes this road?” pointing to the road on the left, I asked Prakash.
“Saab, this is the way to the Wildlife Tourist Lodge. There are other lodges also along this road.” He informed.
Road to the lodges outside core area, Pitezary gate, Nagzira Tiger Reserve
Yes, I remembered reading about these staying places in Nagzira tour reports. Not many stay inside in FDCM resorts. Majority stay here at the gate lodgings for a day or two, go into the forest on safari once or twice a day, and then move off. Intention mainly is—animal sighting.
Near gate-opening time, I boarded my car and waited impatiently. The two life-like Gaurs on the gate looked at me with impassive eyes.
Imposing Pitezary gate to Nazira Tiger Reserve about to open
When at last the large gate was pulled open, I felt a flutter of joy. If you wait for something too long, pleasure in getting it peaks. To me the actual entry, the car rolling in and accelerating, was a release— like a bird flying free from its shackles.
The forest was not spectacular, but I was prepared. In March most of the trees would have shed their leaves. It was the dry time—rains few months away. Being a mixed forest, some of the trees had lush green leaves and soothed.
The road was built on rocky ground. Journey was not silken smooth like a metal road. I smiled silently—this is forest. My tiredness and irritation slowly melted away as we moved slowly along the bumpy road.
And when the King of birds majestically stood for a second at the middle of the road and crossed over, I felt completely at ease.
Majestic peacock welcoming in Nagzira Tiger Reserve
The car slowed down and stopped. After crossing the road, the beautiful bird also stopped. He stood still for a moment, as if showing off his grandeur.
The peacock stood still for a moment as if showing off his grandeur
And then, as we started the car, without any hurry he moved away into the forest gracefully.
The peacock moved deeper into the forest gracefully, Nagzira Tiger Reserve
The sun was still behind cloud cover. But a shadow lifted from my mind. What a welcome!
I felt at home.
More to come...