It was 4 pm. We were having the time of our life soaking in the jungle around us, ducking when the branches or vines came in the way. Sitting on top of the jeep, we were wondering how we missed out the bison hidden behind the bushes along the kuchha road. The other group in the jeep ahead of us was sure lucky! They had spotted the bison almost within a hand’s reach…….. so they said!
Suddenly the sharp-eyed driver Ramesh stopped and frantically pointed to his left. What was he showing us? Dr Kavade asked the driver to take the jeep to the clearing where ….. we were looking at a bison. The majestic 60-ton beast was staring at us, I guess trying to decide whether we were a threat or not. As we looked at it in silence alternating between gaping at it and taking photos, it nonchalantly started chewing some grass. In some time it ambled into the bushes. Hey! We did spot a bison.
Gleefully we resumed our way back to the village. As we headed into a grassy clearing, lo and behold, there was a shikra swooping down upon a hapless Pipit pecking in the dry grass. The sudden sound of the jeep distracted the hunter and all was lost. The swoop of the shikra was so dramatic before it was startled….. stunning!
But it all started in the morning. Malewadi, a small hamlet adjacent to Dajipur forest reserve, the place where our group of 15 trekkers with Ujwala Khandekar of Heritage India were staying. Dr Shrinath Kavade was to help us understand the dynamics of a forest reserve. The forest reserve of Dajipur assigned us two jeeps with expert drivers to navigate through the kuchha road. Trekking on foot is not allowed as the animals are allowed to freely roam around. After a hearty breakfast of upama …… all organized by Ujwala Khandekar. The whole kitchen if you will, with all provisions for eating and staying, stuff to cook and sleep, hauled all the way from Pune to Malewadi. Not to forget two tents for those who wish to experience living out of one. The arrangements to live out of two houses, courtesy Shivajirao Padwal, a retired soldier, to whose family this land belongs to, had painstakingly made it livable for us. Having a bath with the water heated over a wood fire, homes with the floor painted with traditional cow dung and electricity to make us city dwellers comfortable, certainly gave a good mix of living in a traditional village and cater to our gadget loaded lifestyles. And no network gave a rest to our mobile phones for sure! Heritage India had certainly looked out for every situation.
So, here we were with a packed lunch of parathas, boarding two jeeps and setting off for our educational cum adventure tour into the deep woods of Dajipur. Driving through the jungle with trees closing on us on both sides would suddenly break into a clearing of dried golden grass. Bird calls interjected with the hoots of langoors broke the constant hum of the jeeps from time to time. As we entered quite deep in the forest, the jeeps came to a halt.
Dr Kavade then took us to the interiors where we suddenly came across a stream glistening in the dappled sunlight. As we looked around Dr Kavade pointed out the various fauna around us. The place was a live demonstration of humus formation. The giant vines seeming to bind the forest together, the saprophytes, the recyclers, providing building blocks for the vegetation around. Despite a very thin layer of soil, the rich humus, the right amount of rainfall, the slope of the hills make it a unique environment where a wide variety of trees, shrubs vines and so many other plant families survive. As Dr Kavade explained, this area is home to some species not found anywhere else in the world.
Rightfully declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it also provides shelter to the Indian bison, Shekru, pangolin, langoors. Not to speak of the butterflies. Every grassy clearing was dotted with these colourful insects. Varieties of the striped tiger, blue butterfly, the buttercup and many others would float past us….. an array of coloured pieces dancing past us. Dr Kavade showed us the caterpillars, the pupa hiding within certain bushes loved by these butterflies. Not to mention the several indigenous species endemic to the region.
The three days we spent travelling through the forest was being one with nature. The heady perfume of sweet wildflowers or the peppery smell of the wild pepper wafting up from time to time, the cool wind flowing over the streams and dense growth was like inhaling pure oxygen.
The trek to Shivgadh was thrilling and slightly precarious as we traversed very narrow paths right at the edge of the hills. But the view from the plateau was worth it for sure.
Devrai or the sacred grove is a unique concept followed in many countries under different names as Dr Kavade explained. Many times it is a sacred place for burials or protecting certain rare species of flora fauna. Walking through such a grove was peaceful and tranquil. We learnt to be silent and experience the sights, sounds and smells around us.
An unexpected treat on our way back on the third day was a visit to the backwaters of Radhnagari dam. Children we were at the waters having fun.
Green forests with water bodies tucked away at intervals……. The jungle is to experience. Nature’s bounty, the lungs of the planet, the niches where the wide range of living things live in harmony.