Category Archives: Wildlife

Malabar Daze: Silent Valley National Park


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go in search of the Lion-tailed Macaque in one of the last undisturbed tracts of Kerala’s Western Ghats


For a name like Silent Valley, the place was alive with sounds of the forest – the gurgle of the brook, the buzz of insects, the whoop of langurs and the chirrup of giant grizzly squirrels in the towering Culinea trees. When Scottish botanist Robert Wright explored the area in 1847, he named it after the relative absence of cicadas. Cicadas do not thrive well in wet climate; since Silent Valley does not receive nine months of rain anymore, the cicadas too were back…

According to legend, this dense jungle was once Sairandhri Vanam, where the Pandavas stayed incognito during their agyata vasa (secret exile). It was called Sairandhri after the alias assumed by Draupadi and the river was called Kuntipuzha after the Pandavas’ mother. Pathrakadavu is regarded as the spot where the mythical akshay patra was washed.


Though Silent Valley abounds in legends, it is its ecological importance that makes it special. Between its notification as a reserve forest in 1914 and declaration as a national park in 1984, a protracted and sustained campaign by the public, media, activists and expert committees had helped protect this unique habitat.

We were in one of the last tracts of undisturbed tropical evergreen rainforest in the world. Surrounded by steep ridges, hills and escarpments, Silent Valley’s topographical isolation allowed it to develop into an ecological island with an unbroken bio history that evolved over millions of years. Driving past tribal settlements and the forest gate at Mukkali, we reached Sairandhri and hiked through the wilderness accompanied by experienced forest guides.


Of the 960 species of flora here, 17 come under IUCN’s Red List. Our guide pointed out the giant tree fern Dinosaur pulpan, described as a ‘50 million year old living fossil’! Tapping the hard tree trunk, he intoned “Iron Wood of the Forest, in Malayalam Churuli, scientific name Mesua nagassarium.

Braving leeches on our walk, we reached the 100 ft watchtower at Sairandhri. The sign ‘Even Toddy Cats have stopped drinking in the park’ was clearly aimed at revelers. From the top, we got a panoramic view of Katimudi, Mukkalimudi and the Kuntipuzha river cutting through the valley.


Fed by several mountain streams, the river dashes down the Anginda and Sispara mountains in Western Nilgiris, and flows south through the park after which it is called Thuthapuzha before joining the mighty Bharatapuzha. A 1½ km path from Sairandhri led to the crystal clear river with a steel suspension bridge, a rusty relic from Kerala State Electricity Board’s controversial and now defunct hydroelectric project.

Silent Valley’s flagship species and mascot is the Lion-tailed macaque. The vedichakka fruit of the tall Culinea tree is its primary food source and over half the global population of Lion-tailed macaques can be found here. The park also harbours 25 species of mammals, 35 species of snakes, 12 species of fish, 255 species of moths and 100 species of butterflies.

OT Oct 2019-SILENT VALLEY lion tailed macaque

Photo Courtesy: Dhritiman Mukherjee (Outlook Traveller, Oct 2019)

These include many endemics like Malabar Rose, Malabar Tree Nymph, Malabar Raven, Buddha Peacock, South Indian Blue Oakleaf and Tamil Catseye. Mukkali, the park entrance to the south, is the only place in Kerala where all three species of Crow butterflies – Common Crow, Double Branded Crow and the Brown King Crow – are found.

There are other winged visitors too; the checklist of 200 species of birds includes Ceylon Frogmouth, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, Jerdon’s Imperial Pigeon, Peninsular Bay Owl and the elusive Malay Tiger Bittern. We spotted a Great Indian Hornbill swoop down from its lofty height. The peaks of Perumalmudi and Velliangiri Mala rose against the mountain folds while the tallest peak Malleshwaram is worshiped as a gigantic Shiva linga by local tribes.

Kerala_Attapadi Silent Valley DSC_0097

Trekking is not promoted within the park, though the buffer zones abound in numerous hikes organized by the Eco Development Committee – the Bhavani river trail (6km), the Karuvara waterfall trail (8km) past an Irula tribal colony and the Keeripara trail (10km) to scenic grasslands. Dark clouds swirled in and we just managed a hike back to our vehicle as the call of a Lion-tailed macaque resonated through the forests.


Getting There
By air: The nearest airports are Coimbatore (74 km) and Kozhikode (92 km).
By rail: The nearest railhead is Palakkad Junction at Olavakode (60 km)
By road: Drive 40km from Palakkad to Mannarkkad, pick up permissions at the Wildlife Warden’s Office and continue 20km to Mukkali, the park’s entrance. Jeeps can be hired from the Eco Development Committee at Mukkali to Sairandhri (23 km).

Area: 237.52 sq km
Altitude: 725 m to 2383 m above sea level
Location: In the northeastern corner of Kerala’s Palakkad district overlooking the plains of Mannarkkad (45 km).
When to go: The best time to visit is November to February.


Malleeshwaram Jungle Lodge
Set amidst 10 acres of protected wilderness and adjoining tracts of forest, Dominic Xavier’s rustic forest lodge offers three eco cottages and nature walks to interact with local tribal communities.
Pettickal, Sholayur, Attapady, Kerala 678581
Ph 099615 44663

Inspection Bungalow, Mukkali
Basic accommodation near the park entrance with three double rooms for Rs.600/day and two 8-bed dormitories at Rs.100/person, booked at the Wildlife Warden’s office in Mannarkkad (Ph 04924–222 056). There are also two huts that can be booked at 04294-253 225 (Rs.1000 for stay, Rs.3000 full package for stay, food and trekking).


Office of the Wildlife Warden
Wildlife Division, Mannarkad
Palakkad 678 582
Ph 04924–222 056, 94473 73736

Asst. Wildlife Warden
Mukkali, Silent Valley National Park
Ph: 04924-253 225


Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as part of the Wildlife cover story in the October, 2019 edition of Outlook Traveller magazine.


Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary: A river runs through


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the once dreaded Chambal ravines to see how conservation has transformed its wild past to unparalleled wildlife and a river teeming with crocs, skimmers and other secrets

Chambal camels transporting firewood IMG_3623

Carved by the river and eroded by flood and rain, the Chambal ravines run in a 2-6 km wide network of mud cliffs and scrub forest on either side of the Chambal River. For centuries, Chambal’s beehad (wilderness) has been the perfect hideout for those wanting to go off the grid – Rajput soldiers escaping Muslim persecution after the fall of Kannauj and Delhi, freedom fighters and rebel sepoys during the 1857 war of independence, villagers absconding after property and caste disputes to renegades, castaways and bandits. Could there be a better hiding spot for those on the run than this riverine maze at the tri-junction of three states – Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh?

The Mahabharata and Kalidasa’s Meghadootam identify the ancient Chambal river as Charmanyavati or the ‘River of Hides’ (çarman in Sanskrit means ‘hide’), on whose banks leather was dried. According to legend, the river allegedly originated from the blood of thousands of animals sacrificed by Aryan king Rantideva of Dasapura (now Mandsaur). It was on the banks of the Chambal, believed to be part of Shakuni’s kingdom, that the infamous game of dice between the Kauravas and Pandavas took place. When Draupadi was nearly disrobed after being wagered in the game of dice, she cursed the river for silently witnessing her humiliation and cried “Henceforth, anyone who drinks from its waters would be filled with an unquenchable thirst for vengeance.”

Chambal crocs IMG_3446

The legend seemed to ring true as long as bands of dacoits roamed the ravines seeking retribution. After most of them were killed and the others surrendered or joined politics, the pristine riverine tract was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1979 to help revive populations of gharial and marsh crocodiles. It was time for muggers of another kind to take over… The Chambal is one of the few large unpolluted rivers in North India before it meets the Yamuna, which drains into the Ganga.

Spread over 5400 sq km, the reserve is jointly administered by Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The sanctuary begins downstream of the Kota barrage in Rajasthan with its lower boundary near Panchnada, 5km after its confluence with the Yamuna at Bhareh. National Chambal Sanctuary is among the last surviving habitats of the highly endangered Gangetic River Dolphin (75 as per last census) and harbours over 1255 endemic fish-eating gharials (Gavialis gangeticus), 562 muggers or marsh crocodiles, eight species of turtles, smooth-coated otters and nearly 330 bird species at last count.

Chambal river safari IMG_3230

From our base, Chambal Safari Lodge, we set off on a jeep ride past Bah to Nadgavan Ghat boat jetty. We watched in amazement as camel herders guided a retinue of camels loaded with firewood across the Chambal. One could go on camel safaris along the ravines, but we opted for a boat cruise down the river. Turtles basked on the edge, large open jawed crocs sunned themselves and baby gharials peeped from tiny burrows in the river bank. The distinct ghara or pot-shaped snouts gives them the name gharial. Nearly 200-300 nests are produced each year, resulting in around 8000 hatchlings, of which only 2-3% survive!

Chambal is one of the best places to see large populations of Indian Skimmers, besides Black-bellied Tern, Thickknee and Pratincole. We spotted a large flock of skimmers, their curved orange beaks gleaming in the sun. As our boat approached they took off in their signature lop-sided flight, putting on a synchronized airshow with their wings literally skimming the water’s edge. Our naturalist trained his binocs to spot Black Ibis, Black-necked Storks, shags and Greater cormorants on sandy islets or the odd Gangetic dolphin breaking the surface. A sudden movement in the dry scrub shifted our focus to a lone wild fox, camouflaged perfectly; he stared at us warily before skulking away.

Ater Fort IMG_3099

Across the northern bank, a 2km hike led us to the fort of Ater, earlier known as Devagiri (Mountain of the Gods). Overlooking a key spot over the ravines, its lonely turrets and bastions are a great perch for raptors, especially Cinerous Vultures. Built in mid 17th century by Bhadoria Rajput chiefs Badan Singh Judeo and Maha Singh, the fort is accessed from the western gate with the entrance bearing traces of wall art, floral motifs and geometric designs. There are seventeen bastions and four entrances including Khooni Darwaza (Bloody Gate) and Hathiaphor and remnants of palace complexes with pavilions and balconies offering great views.

We returned to Chambal Safari Lodge at Jarar, set in a 120-acre farm run by Ram Pratap Singh and his wife Anu, an environment scientist. Jarar was the main seat of RP’s family since 1472 and the 1890s lodge served as a field camp for the mela (cattle fair) held twice a year, hence the name Mela Kothi. Ethnic cottages were set in blocks among thickets of vibrant bougainvillea and named after local trees and birds – Gharial was a heritage room in Mela Kothi, Dolphin and Sarus in the guest wing Imli Serai, Hans and Surkhab in Bougan Serai, Koel, Thickknee, Hornbill and Spoonbill in Neem Serai and Ibis, Tern, Skimmer and Barbet in Shisham Serai.


Thanks to its low carbon footprint, the eco-lodge was voted among the world’s Top 10 eco lodges in 2010 and won the INTACH Heritage Tourism Award in 2011, besides a clutch of responsible tourism awards. Camel rides, jeep safaris, village walks, river cruises; all activities involve the local community including camel herders, woodcutters and boatmen. Much of the kitchen produce and milk is sourced from the farm or local farmers and we enjoyed the fresh home-cooked buffets in the renovated late 18th century stable, surrounded by old trees and gardens.

After a jeep safari around the countryside to spot blackbuck, Indian coursers and the Sarus crane, we drove to Bateshwar, 9km away. As part of an eco-tourism project undertaken by the Chambal Conservation Foundation, Chambal Safari Lodge has renovated the family’s riverside retreat The Kunj. Located on a scenic curve of the Yamuna River with a private jetty and ghat, we admired the sweeping crescent of Bateshwar’s temples from the rooftop.

Bateshwar Ghats

Perched on a raised platform with ghats leading down to the river, the complex once had 108 Shiva temples built by kings, traders and devotees. Sadly, only 40 remain, thanks to the Yamuna’s shifting course. From The Kunj, one can take boat rides and a guided tour of the temples, ending with a brief prayer performed by the priest.

The name Bateshwar is derived from the main shrine of Bateshwarnath Mahadev, dedicated to Batuknath, Lord Shiva’s young ascetic form as he rested under a vat or bat vriksh; an old banyan tree still shelters the shrine. The whitewashed temples are dedicated to various forms of Shiva – the five-faced Sri Panchmukheshwar Mahadev, the underground Pataleshwar temple and Gowrishankar or Lord Shiva with his family. Just across the temple complex are mud caves and teelas (hillocks) inhabited by sadhus.

Ater Fort view IMG_3127

Every purnima (full moon night), Bateshwar’s ghats come alive in a grand maha aarti. Thousands congregate on Karthik Purnima for a cleansing dip in the river. Around Diwali a big month-long cattle fair is held on the floodplains of the Yamuna. Believed to be the oldest mela in the country, the Bateshwar Fair is the second largest animal fair in India after Sonepur Mela in Bihar.

After 10 days of hectic animal trading – camels, horses, elephants, donkeys, oxen, cows and goats – there’s a brief lull of a few days before the religious fair kicks in, bringing on a colourful pageantry of rural India. And then, just like that, the riverbed empties and the river flows through silently, the stillness occasionally broken by the gentle ‘plop’ of a turtle diving in…

Chambal river IMG_3216


Getting there
By Road: Access points are Bah (65 km from Agra via Fatehabad) and Dholpur (46km from Agra/Gwalior, 252 km from Delhi via NH3).
By Air: The nearest airport is Agra (63km).
By Train: The nearest railhead Bah has limited connectivity. The nearest major railway stations are Etawah 50km away or Agra, 65km away.

Where to Stay
Chambal Safari Lodge
Mela Kothi, Village Jarar, Tehsil Bah, District Agra, Uttar Pradesh 238104
Ph +91-9997066002, 9837415512, 9719501517
Tariff Rs.6,000-9,500+tax

What to do
River Safari (3hr) from boat jetty at Nadgavan Ghat, 25km/35 min from the lodge via Jarar, Badagaon and Jaitpur. Jeep safaris (Blackbuck and Sarus Trails) and Camel Rides to Ater Fort (Rs.2,500/person) also arranged, besides Guided Walking Tour (Rs.1500/person) at Bateshwar.
Ph 9997066002, 9837415512

MP eco-tourism boating on Chambal at Dholpur Bridge
Indians, Rs.1500/boat, Foreigners Rs.3000/boat (1 hr, max 6 people), Rs.150 guide, Rs.25/person Forest Dept entry fee, Camera Rs.50.

When to go
The best time to go is October to April. The month-long Bateshwar fair is held in Oct-Nov. Autumn and winter are ideal for birdwatching, when altitude migrants from the upper Himalayas and the Arctic are present.

DCF National Chambal Sanctuary, Mau Road, Agra, UP Ph 0562 2530091
DFO Morena, Madhya Pradesh, Ph 07532-234742
CCF Gwalior Ph 0751-2340050

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in May 2019 in Shubh Yatra magazine. 

Bera: Leopard Country


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore Bera, a remote boulder-strewn habitat in Rajasthan that boasts one of the densest leopard populations in India


For a place not notified as a national park or sanctuary, there’s surely a lot of wildlife action in Bera. Located at the foothills of the Aravalli range near Jawai baandh (dam) in Rajasthan, Bera is a rocky tract surrounded by villages, scrub forests and privately owned agricultural fields, making it a challenge to be earmarked as a wildlife reserve. Yet, this boulder-ridden landscape is a unique habitat that is one of the finest bastions of the leopard in India.

Almost equidistant from Udaipur and Jodhpur, Bera lies an hour’s drive from the Jain temple at Ranakpur and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kumbhalgarh Fort. As we drove in, Bera’s pastoral charm was evident – the fields were full of lacy fennel and maize, white tufts of cotton, golden ears of wheat and pink-stemmed castor.


Our base was Varawal Leopard Camp, a clutch of six Swiss tents and a cottage run by Pushpendra Singh Ranawat and his sprightly sister Rajeshwari. Over lunch, we learnt that the Ranawats claim descent from Maharana Pratap; Pushpendra represented the 17th generation after the legendary Rajput ruler and retraced the origins of Bera…

Back then, this tract of southwest Rajasthan bordering Gujarat was called Gorwar or Godwad. Since it lay on the lucrative trade route from Jodhpur to Mewar and Ahmedabad, there was regular traffic of traders, and hence dacoits. Once, Maharana Pratap’s fourth son Rana Shekhaji was accompanying his mother on a pilgrimage to her isht devi (family deity) in Mt Abu.


While conversing with the general of the small batch of accompanying troops, they rode ahead of the royal entourage. The queen’s palanquin was waylaid by dacoits and she had to hand over her paayal (anklet) for safe passage. She didn’t mention a word about the incident but when they returned, Maharana Pratap enquired about the trip. In reply, she displayed her bare leg. For his negligence, Shekhaji was exiled from Mewar and he set out with a band of men to carve out his own fiefdom.

Returning to these badlands, Shekhaji killed the dacoits and captured the area from the local Chauhan king Munja Balia. The Ranawats set up their first dera (base) at Juna (Old) Bera at the foot of the Aravallis under a banyan tree, finally moving their thikana to its present location 3km west.


Not many know that this small principality hosted several royalty who came here to hunt leopards. The maharajas of Mewar, Marwar, Indore, Rajkot and Bhavnagar all shot their first leopards at Bera. After hunting was banned and the Land Ceiling Act took away their lands, Bera’s erstwhile royal families turned into conservationists, helping wildlife enthusiasts and photographers track leopards using the knowledge of their ancestors passed down over generations.

In 1957, Umaid Singh ji of Jodhpur built a dam on the Jawai river, creating one of the largest manmade reservoirs in western Rajasthan. It became a haven for flamingos, geese, cranes and aquatic birds. We were visiting at a time when most of the water had been drained for agriculture and dark streaks on boulders marked the level when the dam was full… Wildlife trails reveal hyena, wolf, desert foxes, sloth bear, jungle cat, mongoose, antelope and smaller game though we spotted owls and the Isabelline and Bayback shrikes. However, the apex species is undoubtedly the leopard.


Over 64 leopards can be found in a radius of just 25 km, the highest leopard density in India. The reason was the inter-connected cave systems, an excellent spot for leopards to seek respite from the hot sun before they stir out to hunt. Leopards only choose caves that have cross-ventilation and an emergency exit. Being a hot-blooded animal, such an air-cooled habitat helps them maintain their body temperature. Pushpendra admitted that he learnt the ropes as a kid while holding the spotlight for his uncles on night drives. “My teachers were Neelam, Nagini, Ziya and I learnt all about leopards while observing their behaviour,” he says.

Bera’s tryst with leopard spotting began with Ziya’s grandmother and Zara’s mother Mangoli. Devi Singh ji’s pioneering resort Leopard’s Lair opened in 1997 and soon other brothers followed suit. Thakur Baljeet Singh started a heritage hotel at Castle Bera. Shatrunjay Singh Pratap and Katyaini run Bera Safari Lodge with stone cottages under the theme ‘leopards and shepherds’ – how wild creatures and pastoral Rabari herdsmen have coexisted for centuries.


Sujan’s Jawai, designed by owners Anjali and Jaisal Singh, takes luxury camping to another level with 1930’s industrial style tubular brushed steel furniture. Varawal Leopard Camp was started as recently as 2013, but still manages to holds its own thanks to Pushpendra’s keen wildlife knowledge and on-ground experience.

All the lodges are virtually enclosed by leopard country. Private decks offer uninterrupted views of the wilderness and the dramatic landscape of granite formations, scrub and sandy riverbeds. Experienced guides help track the elusive big cats in open jeeps.


Pushpendra drove us to Devgiri Mataji temple, accessible by an arched entrance and a long flight of steps leading up to the cave shrine. The idol is believed to have manifested itself on its own and the cave split to reveal it. The shrine is guarded by an idol of Bhairon and rock bees who are considered as the devi’s army. Leopards stir out moments after the priest leaves after performing his daily puja!

The oldest leopard in the area is Nagini’s father Daata. The leopards were named after their distinguishing attributes or habitats. Taking inspiration from the Nag Bavci Mandir or temple of the snake god where they were frequently sighted, the female leopard was named Nagini and her mating partner was called Nagvasi. Marshall was so named because he strutted around like one and was very strong.

MOWGLI with Temple

Shadewood loved sitting in the shade of trees to make himself near invisible. Neelam was always spotted against a backdrop of ‘blue’ skies. She was challenged by her offspring for territory, who was thus called Baghi (rebel). Neelam’s range spanned 67 caves and 40 acres of boulders and we were lucky to spot a male from her current litter of three at Jag Talao.

Sighting is not easy as one must scour the hills with binoculars. Don’t even attempt photography if you don’t have a tele zoom. While leopards in other areas and forested tracts have more yellow to merge with the foliage, the ones at Bera were a little grayish and muted for better camouflage against the lava rocks or grey granite.


Trackers spread out in the surrounding villages of Kothar, Siyana and Batu and the three hills Liloda, Badala and Pola to track their movement. The next morning, our pointsman Govind confirmed some activity at Kothar, where we spotted one of Nagini’s three cubs.

“Undoubtedly, females like Ruby, Ziya, Neelam and Baghini have given better sighting,” remarked Pushpendra as his 4X4 negotiated the treacherous incline of the granite hills with practiced ease. All around was an endless lair of boulders and rock, surrounded by a patchwork of fields and the Jawai reservoir shimmering in the distance. One of the caves Bhadreshwar Mahadev is believed to have a Shiva linga installed by the Pandavas.


Back at Varawal, we watched fascinating leopard videos and were treated to delicious home cooked fare personally supervised by Pushpendra’s mother. Their 120-acre farm has horses and cattle with fresh butter, ghee and chhaas available. Many of the local Rabaris serve as drivers, trackers or attendants at the resorts.

Our ‘man Friday’ Motiram Devasi looked magnificent in his traditional attire – gamchha, baudiya, dhoti, chain, kada and a bright red saafa (turban) that doubled up as a wallet to store things, a tiffin box to stash away a snack and a rope in emergencies, measuring up to 9m! He bid us a cheery goodbye and as we drove out, we saw locals busy in their fields. In a time of frequent man-animal conflicts, Bera was a shining example of conservation and peaceful co-existence…


Fact File

Getting there
Fly to Jodhpur (160 km) or Udaipur (150 km) and drive 3½ hrs to Bera. Jawai Bandh (12 km) and Falna (30 km) are the nearest railheads. Ranakpur is 60km away while Kumbhalgarh is 85km.

When to go
Bera is great all year round. Winters are most comfortable though summers give the best sightings. By July, the rains arrive and the Jawai river gurgles to life and the reservoir fills up, with water lasting till December, a good time for birding.


Where to Stay

Varawal Leopard Camp
Ph 9694889207, 7742133581

Bera Safari Lodge
Ph 9413312133

Castle Bera
Ph 02933-243186, 9829877787

Sujan’s Jawai Leopard Camp
Ph 011 4617 2700

Leopard’s Lair
Ph 8239365771

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of Shubh Yatra magazine.

Kabini: Wild tales of the Kuruba


Kabini may be a popular safari destination today but nobody knows it better than the tribes that once called it home. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY experience the Spirit of the Kabini with its original dwellers

Kuruba lady Puttamma IMG_7991

“I remember playing with tiger cubs as a child. I would string necklaces of kaare kai (berries) around their neck or limbs and cuddle them. They were our toys. Today’s parents give their children tiger dolls! I must have been six or seven then,” Puttamma recalls, with mirth in her eyes. Enthralled, we sat in the small hut of this Kuruba tribal woman in Brahmagiri Haadi, a hamlet on the fringes of the Kabini Reservoir.

Thrumming her little leather drum, she sang about the rain, the animals and the forests. She belonged to one of the many tribal communities displaced from their forest habitat when a dam was built across the Kabini River for irrigation in 1974 and their lives changed forever.

Backwater female IMG_1357

With a faraway gaze, Puttamma continued, “When a tigress killed a gaur, it would guard the carcass for three days and eat her fill. That was when my brothers would stealthily bring her tiger cubs home for me. We would play and pamper them before putting them back where we found them, in time for their mother’s return.” She spoke of a different reality, a different time; how life had been sixty odd years ago, and for centuries before.

The Kabini river forms a boundary between Nagarahole and Bandipur national parks. When it was dammed, the huge reservoir created to the south of Nagarahole inundated many villages, ancient temples and tribal hamlets. The Kurubas were relocated to the edge of the forests. “They claimed that we stay in the forest and eat up all the animals. So they chased us out. Neither are we in the jungle any more, nor are the animals, but mankind is consuming everything in its path. When we go to the forest, we don’t see half the numbers of animals that we used to.

Kabini landscape 2017-09-21 08.08.55

We all coexisted in complete harmony. If a Kuruba woman died at childbirth, other mothers would breastfeed the motherless infant as their own. If a child was orphaned, all would take turns to feed and look after it. We wore no clothes except the broad leaves of sal (teak) that we stitched together with twigs. We lived like the animals and knew everything about them, their smells, their behaviour, their movements. In fact, we were just that – pranigalu (animals).”

In the dry summer months when there was no genasu (yam and other tubers) in the ground to eat, they would catch fish from the river, roast it on the banks and drink lots of water. They would gather in large groups and bring out the drums and bamboo flutes as they would sing and dance the whole night right up to dawn. “There’s a song from those nights to beseech the God of Rain, to open the heavens and pour down for our food and survival.

Kabini Tusker 2017-09-20 16.11.11

When we spotted elephants, we would sing – ‘The elephants have come with their little babies, they see us but don’t do anything, come O moon in the sky and watch over us. Flocks of peacocks have come to eat termites and insects on the anthills, come O moon in the sky and watch with us’.” Puttamma seemed to have a song for every occasion.

We were on a Spirit of Kabini tour in a haadi (settlement) of the Betta Kuruba tribe, originally hunter gatherers who hunted wild animals and collected honey. They also wove cane baskets. Our Kuruba Safari Lodge guide Kishan clarified that they were called bett (cane) Kuruba for this reason and not because they stayed on bettas (mountain tops), as is popularly believed. Those who specialized in extracting honey were called Jenu Kurubas. Kurubas survived on genasu (yam), tubers, wild fruits, berries, jenu (honey), mamsa (wild meat), meenu (fish) from the holay (river) and kaad koli motte (jungle fowl’s eggs).

Orange County welcome IMG_7829

Puttamma explained how they would locate a fresh kill and wait for the tiger to have its fill. They would then take the meat, wash it well, smoke it over fire and cook it. A gaur can weigh upto 900 kg and a tiger can only eat about 40 kg of meat! Like the Masai tribe, the Kurubas had learnt to coexist and live off the creatures of the forest. Kishan surmised that their fantastic knowledge of plants and their medicinal and nutritional benefits perhaps came from observing elephants and other animal behavior.

Being the youngest of her siblings she was called ‘Putti’ (small one) and over time Putti-amma became Puttamma. She was originally named Bommi, after the Kuruba deity Bomm devaru. “Wherever there’s a mound of mud or stone, we place a leaf or flower over it and that became our god”.

Orange County Kabini IMG_8058

However, these forests, the elephants and all its creatures are looked after by the twin deities Gundrumaramma and Mastiamma, patron goddesses of the Bandipur and Nagarahole forests. Mastiamma’s original shrine at Mastigudi like many other relics has been submerged. We saw the relocated Chola temple of Koteshwaralaya and the ancient Nooraaleshawara shrine before returning to our wildlife resort at Beeramballi village.

Orange County Kabini, which opened a decade ago, has been recently rebranded as Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge. Designed like a haadi or small Kuruba settlement with thatched palm roofs and mud-plastered walls, it takes its inspiration seriously. There are Kuruba dances by a poolside campfire and naturalists sharing Jungle Tales on alternate days, a Night Trail to see the nocturnal world of insects, a Responsible Tourism Walk on the lodge’s eco-initiatives and an early morning Nature Trail for birds, butterflies and everything in between.


Our guide Shanmugham outlined the entire politico-botanical spectrum from Congress Grass (parthenium) to Gandhi gida or Communist grass (Eupatorium odoratum), named so because it is everywhere, though it might be a bit of a misnomer now. Shanmugham has been diligently documenting the monsoon flowers of Kabini and claims to be the first to spot Kabini’s famous black panther here. His favourite wildlife moments sound like Kung-Fu chase flicks – tiger chasing leopard, leopard chasing deer, dhol chasing leopard…

Beyond the resort’s rustic exterior there’s every luxury imaginable – plush private pool villas and Jacuzzis being upgraded, top notch cuisine at the Honey Comb restaurant, kebabs and local fare at Kuruba Grill, cocktails like Wild Kabini River at The Waterhole bar, an Ayurvedic Spa, a scenic Reading Room on the water’s edge with sunset cruises, coracle rides and bullock cart rides. As the only resort on the far side of the reservoir, it affords the most spectacular sunsets on the Kabini. Guests take a boat across to Jungle Lodges & Resorts (JLR) near Karapura for safaris.

JLR Kabini IMG_7720

Kabini is a historic area that served as an exclusive hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Mysore. It was the site of the legendary Khedda operations, where entire elephant herds would be stockaded into a khedda or ditch. Select ones were caught and trained for timber operations and the Mysore Dasara. The first attempt to capture elephants in this manner was made by Tipu Sultan’s father, Hyder Ali in 18th century.

Despite using his army, the Sultan of Mysore failed to capture any wild elephants. A stone inscription records his disgust with a warning about the futility of the task and his curse upon anyone who tried it in future. Like many other relics, this too is lost in the murky waters of Kabini.

Kheddah operations at Kabini IMG_7702

For nearly a century, no further attempts were made until the first British khedda operation by Colonel Pearson in 1867. Ironically, it was unsuccessful. When another British officer from the Canal and Irrigation Department, GP Sanderson took a shot at it in 1873, he met the same fate. However, his second attempt in 1874 at Kardihalli in the Kakanakote forest on the banks of the Kabini River was successful.

The unique feature of a Kakanakote khedda was the river drive, first conceptualized by Sanderson in 1891 in honour of The Grand Duke of Russia’s visit to Mysore. In a vast operation that involved thousands of people who beat drums and drove the elephants across the Kabini river into the stockade. Special visitors galleries were set up for distinguished guests and royalty to witness the drama. Over the next century, 36 khedda operations were held until it was finally banned in 1971.

Mr Kabini the elephant with the longest tusks IMG_9100

Khedda may be a thing of the past, but people still come in droves to watch a grand elephant spectacle. Post winter, the reservoir waters are released for irrigation. When the waters recede, dormant grass shoots begin to sprout, turning the tract into a giant grazing ground, attracting elephants and other herbivores in their hundreds.

The forested Zone A is larger and covers part of Nagarahole’s Antharasanthe wildlife range while the lakeside Zone B covers DB Kuppe range – the preferred route in summer. Unlike most other parks, Kabini does not shut down in monsoon and the jeep and 16 and 20-seater safari vans and boats are equipped with a canopy come rain or shine.

Kabini jeep safari 2017-09-21 17.17.18

All safaris in Kabini start from the Golghar, the river-facing gazebo at JLR. The boat ride accesses parts of the lake not reachable by jeep for sighting elephants and crocodiles. Nearby, the Viceroy’s Bungalow doubles up as a bar and conference hall where wildlife movies are screened.

In the verandah decorated with black and white pictures of kheddas and hunts, is the favourite chair of ‘Papa’ John Wakefield, long time resident director and ambassador at JLR Kabini. A simple memorial was erected after he passed away seven years ago while a tree marks the visit of Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn.

JLR Kabini IMG_7711

Kabini’s other wildlife legends include Mr. Kabini or the Bhogeswara Tusker, with ivories so long, they scrape the ground. The biggest leopard with the largest territory is the Water Tank Male or Torn Ear. We saw a tusker in mast, an ambitious jackal chasing a deer herd and the splendid tigress Backwater Female grooming herself. Increased protection has led to a spurt in tiger numbers with 221 in the Bandipur-Nagarahole tract alone.

Since Kabini is wedged between the two parks, the intersecting tiger territories, results in great sightings. The all-star gallery includes packs of dhol, gaur, over 300 species of birds and the sole elusive black panther that has been spotted only in the last few years. Rumour float about its relocation from elsewhere by the forest department but people swear by sightings in adjoining Coorg.

Kabini's famous black panther IMG_3786

The cluster of resorts in Kabini are all distinctive. Adjacent to JLR, is Water Woods – a small yet lovely waterfront property right on the banks. Luxuriant massages, swinging hammocks, home cooked food sourced from their vegetable garden and fresh fish made into succulent tikkas by their poolside restaurant overlooking the waters, make it a popular escape.

A little ahead, wildlife enthusiast Nawabzada Saad Bin Jung’s The Bison Resort has exquisite waterfront luxury tents and bush tents that blend the sensibilities of East-African wilderness camps with the romance of Raj era hunting lodges, complete with theme bush dinners. The wild tract abuts the lake on one side and the forest on the other, advantageous for elephant sightings right from the property.

Water Woods IMG_7761

Another eminent Kabini personality is tiger conservationist TGR ‘Tiger’ Ramesh whose resort Cicada Kabini was acquired by Coffee Day. Now run as The Serai, it offers waterfront villas and residences. However, away from the lake and facing the jungle is Tiger’s secret lair, his old home in Kabini, that was sold and renovated into Kaav.

Literally ‘sacred grove’, the really private 6-room property has four rooms in a complex with a common living and an upper deck facing the forest and two really plush tents on stilts nearby. Overlooking the disused old forest department road, you can spot bison and big cats right in your backyard.

Leopard with fresh chital kill IMG_1996

Manager Pavithra Kumar or PK is as excited at the sight of the Ornamental Tree Trunk Spider, as he is of leopards mating, a leopard dragging a chital kill or the black panther draped on a tree. He has documented these chance wildlife encounters in Kabini and over 40 species of spiders on the Kaav property alone. Just a brief walk around the house with pocket torches yielded Jumping Spider, Two-tailed spider, Giant Cross Spider, Giant Wood Spider and Tent Spider in minutes.

From peering at their patterns through a magnifying glass to a high-powered telescope to spot Saturn, PK literally opened our eyes to new worlds. The days are dramatic in Kabini’s forests and skies, the nights more spectacular. Kabini at any time is Nature untamed.



Getting there
Kabini is 224 km (4½ hours) from Bengaluru and 88km (2 hours) from Mysuru. Take the Outer Ring Road at the Columbia-Asia Hospital Junction to bypass Mysuru City and drive towards HD Kote on the Mysuru-Mananthavady Road. From Handpost towards Kabini. If coming from Calicut, the road between Mananthawadi and Kabini via Bawali is closed from 6 PM – 6 AM every day.

Wildlife safaris are done by boat on the reservoir or by jeep in the tourism zone of Antharasanthe (Zone A) and DB Kuppe (Zone B) ranges of Nagarahole National park. There are two drives a day of 3 hrs each, at 6:30am and 3:30 pm (reporting time at your resort is usually 30 min prior). While the safari cost is billed into the JLR per person tariff, most other resorts have an all-meals package and charge for the boat or jeep safari separately (Rs.1650/person), including a transfer to/from JLR.

When to go
The forest and weather is at its best between October to March with good animal sightings from Feb to May. The Gundre jatre takes place during Ugadi.

Water Woods IMG_7755

Where to Stay
Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge
Bheeramballi Village and Post
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 08228-269100, 080-25127000

Kabini River Lodge
Nissana Beltur Post, HD Kote Taluk, Karapura
Ph 08228-264402/03/05, 9449599754

Water Woods
19, Karapura, N Belathur Post Office
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 080 4673 2010, 99459 21303

Kaav Safari Lodge
Malalli Cross, N Belathur PO Kabini
HD Kote Taluk
Ph +91 9995803861, 9900613595

The Serai Kabini
No.60/1, Nishana, Karapura Village
Antarasante Hobli, HD Kote Taluk
Ph 08228 264444, 9945602305

The Bison Resort
Gundathur, N Belathur PO Kabini
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 080–41278708, 65590271, 7022155961

Red Earth Kabini
Badane Kuppe (Near Hosamalla)
Via Antharasante, HD Kote Taluk
Ph 8884733188 , 7022264116 , 8884733500

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in October 2017 as part of a wildlife Cover Story in Outlook Traveller magazine.

Silent Valley: In search of the Lion-tailed Macaque


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit Kerala’s ecologically fragile national park Silent Valley, the last bastion of the critically endangered Lion-tailed macaque 


The wizened hand of Usanaar flicked away leeches with the panache of a carrom champion. ‘Atta’, he cackled, flashing his toothy grin, ‘hence Attapadi, or Abode of Leeches.’ As we squelched through the moist undergrowth battling bloodsuckers that clung to us like limpets, we felt fortunate to be in the company of the most experienced forest guide of Silent Valley National Park.

‘Limestone, kerosene, tobacco leaves, salt, snuff…’ he rattled off ways to protect oneself from leeches. Like a multi-linguist Usanaar was familiar with scientific Latin names, the local Malayalam equivalent as well as English epithets. He tapped a tree trunk ‘Churuli, mesua nagassarium, very hard, also called Iron Wood of the Forest.’ He inspected some scat with his toe, ‘Asiatic Wild Dog, what we call Whistling Hunter.’ Reaching a clump of gigantic foliage he patted it with pride and announced grandly, ‘Dinosaur pulpan, giant tree fern, 50 million year old living fossil’! We almost felt the hands of time turn back and freeze.


We were deep in a remote patch of Kerala’s Western Ghats, in one of the last tracts of undisturbed tropical evergreen rainforest in the world. Cut off on all sides by steep ridges and escarpments, Silent Valley’s topographical isolation had allowed it to develop into what scientists call ‘an ecological island’. With an unbroken ecological history continuously evolving over millions of years, this was a unique region with immense biological and genetic wealth. Of the 960 species of flora here, seventeen are under the IUCN Red List.

First explored by Scottish botanist Robert Wight in 1847 and named after the relative absence of cicadas, Silent Valley throbs with the sounds of the forest. Far above in the towering Culinea trees, a loud whoop rang out clear. ‘Lion tailed macaque, Macaca silenus’, whispered Usanaar excitedly, alluding to the park’s flagship species. We followed his sure footsteps through the dense vegetation marveling at the wild flowers and orchids along the trail.


According to legend this wild region was once Sairandhri Vanam, an area so dense the Pandavas stayed here incognito during their agyata-vasa. The site of the once-proposed dam is called Sairandhri after the name assumed by Draupadi during exile and the river that passes through the valley is called Kuntipuzha, after the Pandavas’ mother. Visitors are permitted from the forest gate at Mukkali only up to Sairandhri, a 23 km jeep ride. We disembarked a little short of our destination and took a hike through the wilderness.

On reaching the 30 m high fire tower at Sairandhri we smiled at the sign ‘Even Toddy Cats have stopped drinking in the park’ before climbing up for a panoramic view of Katimudi, Mukkalimudi and the river cutting through the valley. A 1½ km path from Sairandhri led to the bed of the Kuntipuzha where a rusty steel suspension bridge provided the only means of crossing. A relic from the contentious hydroelectric project of the Kerala State Electricity Board, it was a symbol of the park’s conservation movement. Between its notification as a reserve forest in 1914 and declaration as a national park in 1984, lay a sustained campaign that ran for decades by environmentalists, public, media and expert committees to protect this unique habitat.


Gazing at the serene crystal waters of the Kuntipuzha gave little indication of its turbulent past. Butterflies pirouetted by the riverside and tiny fish danced in the shallows. The park harbours 25 species of mammals, 12 species of fish, 35 species of reptiles, 255 species of moths and 95 species of butterflies. Notable among these were Malabar Rose, Malabar Tree Nymph, Malabar Raven, Buddha Peacock, Fivebar Sword Tail, Southern Duffer, South Indian Blue Oakleaf, Tamil Catseye and Blue Nawab. Mukkali, the southern entrance to the valley, was the only place in Kerala where all three species of Crow butterflies – common crow, double branded crow and the brown king crow – can be found.

Of the 170 species of birds, the most sought after ones include Jerdon’s Imperial Pigeon, Peninsular Bay Owl, Shaheen Falcon, Ceylon Frogmouth, Great Indian Hornbill, Nilgiri Laughing Thrush and the elusive Malay Tiger Bittern. The lion-tailed macaque’s calls drew closer as we scanned the canopy of Culinea trees, where it shared space with Nilgiri langurs and giant grizzly squirrels. And suddenly we saw a troop of macaques silhouetted against the backlit green leaves. We whipped out our binoculars to see their inquisitive eyes staring back through a mane of white fur as their black coats shone like velvet. 


Though trekking is not promoted within the national park, the buffer zones abound in numerous treks of varying distances and difficulty over undulating terrain. The Eco Development Committee organizes short hikes like the Bhavani river trail (6km) to the tributary of the Cauvery, the Karuvara waterfall trail (8km) which goes past an Irula tribal colony and the Keeripara trail (10km) to scenic grasslands. One-day treks fan out from Sairandhiri to Poochappara, Neelikkal, Punnamala and Pandarakadavu, covering 15-20km. Longer hikes of 30km lead from Mukkali to Valakkad, Poovanchola, Poochapara and Soochipara, along abandoned bridle paths and camps at anti-poaching centres. However Silent Valley is slow to reveal its secrets all at once.

We said goodbye to Usanaar and drove back with our host Dominic to Malleeshwaram Jungle Lodge. Named after the highest peak in the Attapadi range stretching between Mukkali and Goolikadavu, the lodge afforded greater luxury than the basic Forest Rest House at Mukkali. Staying in rondavels (thatched circular huts) in the warm glow of hurricane lamps, we hiked to the viewpoint for an all-round view. The peaks of Perumalmudi and Velliangiri Mala rose against the mountain folds and somewhere in the distance, a lion-tailed macaque let out a loud long whoop.



Area: 237.52 sq km

Altitude: 725 m to 2383 m above sea level

Location: Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Kerala’s Palakkad district overlooking the plains of Mannarkkad (45 km). Western Ghats Silent Valley has Nilgiri and Nilambur forests to the north and Attapadi forests to the east.

Climate: The temperature shoots up to 30°C in summer. It can be very cold in winter when the temperature dips to as low as 8°C.

When to go: August to March is the main season but the best time to visit is November to February.


Getting There

By air: The nearest airports are Coimbatore (74 km) and Kozhikode (92 km).

By rail: The nearest railhead is Palakkad Junction at Olavakode (60 km)

By road: Drive 40km from Palakkad to Mannarkad, pick up permissions at the Wildlife Warden’s Office and continue 20km to Mukkali, the park’s entrance. From Coimbatore, the route to Mukkali via Anaikatti is 65km while the access via Palakkad and Mannarkkad is 120km. Hop on any bus to Mannarkkad from the KSRTC bus stand on Shoranur Road in Palakkad (Ph 0491–252 7298, 252 0098).


Tourist Information

Visitor Entry Fee: Indians Rs.35, Students Rs.25, Foreigners Rs.220
Vehicle Entry Fee: Jeep Rs.50, Mini Bus Rs.200
Camera Fee: Still Rs.25, Video Rs.200
Guide Fee: EDC Guide (Eco Development Committee) Rs.150, Honorary Guide (Forest Staff) Rs.250
Jeeps (for 6 people) can be hired from the Eco Development Committee at Mukkali to Sairandhri (23 km), for Rs.1000. All vehicles carrying visitors have to be accompanied by forest department guides.

For visitor bookings, contact

Office of the Wildlife Warden
Wildlife Division, Mannarkad
Palakkad 678 582
Ph 04924–222 056, 94473 73736

Asst. Wildlife Warden
Mukkali, Silent Valley National Park
Ph: 04924-253 225
Timings: 8 am to 12 pm



Malleeshwaram Jungle Lodge
A beautiful jungle lodge in a 10-acre patch adjoining large tracts of forest and tribal hamlets offering thatched huts and a stunning 360 degree viewpoint. Have an enriched eco holiday with trekking, waterfall visits, rock climbing, birding, wildlife sighting, studies in tribal anthropology, hamlet visits, campfires and trips to Silent Valley National Park. 
Ph 94465 72540, 94470 50701   

Inspection Bungalow, Mukkali
Basic accommodation near the park entrance with three double rooms for Rs.600/day and two 8-bed dormitories at Rs.100/person, booked at the Wildlife Warden’s office in Mannarkad (Ph 04924–222 056). There are also two huts that can be booked at 04294-253 225 (Rs.1000 for stay, Rs.3000 full package for stay, food and trekking)

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Saevus Wildlife magazine.

Pench: A Jungle Book Adventure


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY revisit the historic tiger reserve in Central India that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s epic novel The Jungle Book


‘It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.’ Stretched out on the verandah of Tuli Tiger Corridor’s plush jungle camp, our sense of languor and need to feed wasn’t far from Kipling’s century old description of the wolf pack. After supper, we retired early for our morning safari from the park gate at Turia, ready to script our own Jungle Book Adventure. Pench Tiger Reserve and its adjoining forests was the original setting of Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel, The Jungle Book (1894). But it wasn’t the first literary account inspired by the region.

From a detailed description of its natural wealth in the 16th century chronicle Ain-i-Akbari to several natural history books, Pench had captured the minds of many – be it Captain James Forsyth’s ‘Highlands of Central India’, Dunbar Brander’s ‘Wild Animals of Central India’ or Robert Armitage Strendale’s ‘Seonee – Camp life in Satpura Hills’. Strendale’s semi-autobiographical ‘Seonee’ and other wildlife accounts like ‘Mammalia of India and Ceylon’ and ‘Denizens of the Jungle’ formed the inspiration behind Kipling’s classic tale. But it was Sir William Henry Sleeman’s pamphlet, ‘An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens’ about a wolf-boy captured in Seoni district near Sant Baori village in 1831 that inspired Mowgli’s character.


Several places vividly described in the book were actual locations in Seoni District, like the ‘Seeonee hills’, Kanhiwara village and the Wainganga river gorge where Sherkhan was killed. Pench Tiger Reserve was a large tract of untamed wilderness comprising the Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park, the Mowgli Pench Sanctuary and a buffer forest. Located in the lower reaches of the Satpura hills, the park came in Central India’s AVSM range (Aravali, Vindhyanchal, Satpura, Maikal).

The forest road darted across the undulating landscape lined by dry deciduous vegetation. The open canopies, mixed forests, shrub cover and grassy patches supported high populations of Chital and Sambar. A solitary Nilgai craned its neck to munch on some vegetation while a large herd of Gaur ambled across the track. At 90.3 animals per sq km Pench boasted the highest density of herbivores in India. Criss-crossed by nullahs (seasonal streams), the gentle slopes rose up into flat-topped hills like Golpahadi and the park’s loftiest summit Kalapahad (650 m).


The Pench river, which lends the park its name, flows from north to south, cleaving the park in two. The river is the lifeline of the park but by April it dries up and a number of dohs (pools) serve as waterholes for wild animals. A hydroelectric dam constructed between 1973 and 1988 submerged 54 sq km of the park, resulting in the scenic Totladoh reservoir that attracts plenty of game and water birds. We parked our Gypsy near the Boat Camp and scoured the water’s edge through binoculars to spot coots, pochards, a Grey-headed Fishing Eagle and a White-eyed Buzzard.

Though Pench is renowned as a Tiger Reserve, it is also great for birdwatching with over 300 species of resident and migratory birds. In winter thousands of waterfowl like Brahminy Ducks and Barheaded Geese flock here. Four species of vultures can be found here – the endangered white-rumped, long-billed, white scavenger and king vulture. After an hour’s birding at the reservoir, we revved the engine to head back, disturbing a wild boar which eyed us with a surly expression. On our return trip, we spied a Crested Serpent Eagle on a dry branch, a Collared Scops Owl brilliantly camouflaged in the hollow of a tree and a Eurasian Thick-Knee (Stone Curlew) padding across the grass.


The park teems with rich wildlife including hyenas, jungle cats, wild dogs and more. However, we were a tad disappointed to have missed the principal Jungle Book characters. There was no sign of Baloo (sloth bear) or Bagheera (leopard), nor did we encounter Kaa (Indian python) or Akela (wolf), or for that matter Tabaqui (jackal) or Rikki Tikki Tavi (mongoose)! But the sudden screech of the bandar log (monkeys) in the trees and alarm calls of frightened deer in the bush alerted us.

We couldn’t believe our luck as we saw a striped creature pause by the track. It was Sher Khan! He snarled at the jabbering monkeys before sitting down in a thicket. We watched him in silent admiration for what seemed like eternity before the tiger, bored of our attention decided to slink into the undergrowth for some privacy. It was a befitting end to our jungle tale.


Later, we drove 18 km from the park gate at Turia to Pachdhar, a little village where we watched potters at work. Nearby locals collected the heady flowers of the mahua tree to distil their potent country brew. At twilight, we huddled around a campfire to listen to the sounds of the forest and tales of wildlife that continued late into the night.


Area: 758 sq km

Location: Seoni and Chhindwara districts of southern Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra

Getting there: Fly or take a train to Nagpur and drive 92km to Pench (2 hours). Turia, the park’s main entrance, is 12 km from Khawasa on the Jabalpur-Nagpur highway (NH7).

Fees: Park Entry Rs.100 Indians, Rs.1000 Foreigners, Wildlife viewing in Vehicle Rs.500 Indians, Rs.2000 Foreigners, Elephant ride Rs.100 Indians, Rs.600 Foreigners

When to Go: November to May

Where to Stay:


Tuli Tiger Corridor
Set in a 22 acre patch with earthy cottages, luxe tents, great swimming pool and a private lake
Ph 0712-6653666, 18002099050 

The plushest wilderness lodge in Pench run by Taj Safaris with 12 standalone bungalows and machans overlooking a dry nullah

Kipling’s Court
The MP Tourism-run property with rustic jungle cottages and a machan overlooking the river
Ph 07695-232830, 232850

Mahua Vann
Spacious cottages done up in natural materials, handmade fabrics and linen with recycled doors and windows besides great service
Ph 07695-290451, 8889231818

Tiger N Woods Resort
10 rustic machans (wooden cabins) in a mahua grove recreating a jungle experience
Ph 09755512826, 9833788358

Pench Jungle Camp
Riverside property with 12 Cottages and luxury tents recreating a tribal village
Ph 07695-232817, 232843

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Rail Bandhu, the in-train magazine of the Indian Railways.

Mass Effect: India’s great gatherings


In the world’s second most populous country, ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase unusual gatherings besides the Maha Kumbh Mela – bizarre festivals, wildlife spectacles, wedding marts, sporting jamborees, tribal meets and more


Kodava Family Hockey Festival
According to a local saying a Coorg boy is born with a gun in one hand and a hockey stick in the other. Like Punjab, this tiny region in Karnataka has given the country many brave generals and excellent hockey players. Little wonder that Coorg hosts the world’s largest hockey tournament. Recognized by the Limca Book of Records, the month-long ‘Family’ festival in April-May sees hundreds of far-flung Kodava families converging to represent their clan. Into its 17th edition, the annual festival is named after the maneypeda (clan name) of the organizing family, with cultural programs, feasting and matchmaking on the sidelines.
When: 14 April-12 May, 2013


Kabini elephant congregation 
Come the hot summer days of May when the river Kabini shrinks down to a trickle, massive herds of elephants gather by the dry riverbank. Groups of up to 500 Asian elephants that would otherwise be scattered in the dense forests of Nagarahole, Wayanad, Bandipur and Mudumalai, congregate to graze and bathe here in their quest for water in the dry season. Visitors speak of walking in fields of elephant dung! Base yourself at Kabini’s excellent wildlife resorts to witness the summer spectacle.
When: May-June

Saurath Mela
Every year, the tiny village of Saurath in North Bihar’s Mithila region hosts a mass marriage mart. A unique congregation of Maithil Brahmans, Saurath Sabha Gachchhi is held in a 22-bigha orchard donated by the Darbhanga Maharaj. Participating villages are allotted a dera (sitting place) where fathers scout for suitable grooms for their daughters aided by ghataks (middlemen). Marriages are fixed in a transparent manner after matching horoscopes by panjikars (registrars), who issue a certificate of non-relationship based on panji, genealogical records dating back to 14th century. The only catch, no ladies here!
When: 20-29 June, 2013


Shravan Mela 
In the month of shravan, lakhs of kanwariyas collect holy water from the Ganga at Sultanganj, carry it in pots on a kanwar (sling) and walk 105km across hills and rivers to offer libations on the jyotirlinga at Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar. Saffron-clothed devotees traverse the path from Bihar to Jharkhand, which becomes an unending sea of orange with chants of ‘Bol bam’ in the air. On Mondays, a day holy to Shiva, traffic rises up to 4 lakh pilgrims. Some do it on foot, some measure the length with their bodies, while another class of devotees called dak bams complete the spiritual marathon in 15-17 hours, without stopping for a single moment.
When: 21 July-21 August, 2013


Snake boat races of Kerala
Though Kerala is famous for epic festivals like Thrissur Pooram where temple deities are paraded on caparisoned elephants and Bharani mahotsavam at Kodungallor where devotees hurl abuses to awaken the goddess, the snake boat races are something else. The chundan valloms are 100-foot long crafts with a prow like the raised hood of a snake and require synchronized paddling by hundreds of oarsmen, making it the largest team sport in the world. Champakulam, the oldest boat race, kickstarts the racing season followed by the prestigious Nehru Trophy, Payippad, Kumarakom and Aranmula races.
When: August-September


Pushkar Camel Fair 
Bihar’s month-long Sonepur cattle fair and UP’s Bateshwar Mela are well known, but Rajasthan’s Pushkar Mela has evolved into a carnival. Rajasthani women in dazzling veils, men in fluorescent turbans, camel races, cultural programs, moustache competitions, tug-of-war between locals and visitors; there’s a lot going on. Besides trading in camels, horses and elephants, eye-catching stalls sell colourful stirrups to agricultural implements. Get a birds’ eye view from a giant wheel, explore the fair in a leisurely camel cart ride, try Israeli or Indian cuisine at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake or visit the only Brahma temple in India with active worship.
When: 9-17 November, 2013


Hornbill Festival
Held at Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, a permanent site 12km from the capital Kohima, the Hornbill Festival is the best place to catch all of Nagaland’s 16 tribes in one place. Ringing the arena are morungs (communal huts) of each tribe, where young boys learnt stories on culture and folklore from elders of the host family who sat around a fireplace and sipped thutse (rice beer). On showcase are traditional song and dances, archery, Naga wrestling, indigenous games and local delicacies like smoked pork. Buy Konyak beads and necklaces, Wancho wood-carvings, Phom black pottery or vibrant warrior shawls of the Angami, Yimchunger and other tribes. Besides rock concerts, motor rallies and fashion shows, there are also competitions to eat the dreaded Raja chilli (also called Nagahari or Tezpur chilli)!
When: 1-7 December

Winter migratories
Every winter, migratory birds flock to India by the thousands at various lakes and wetlands across the country. From Nal Sarovar and Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to India’s largest coastal lagoon Chilika Lake in Orissa, India becomes a large wintering ground for geese, pelicans, ducks, cranes and other aquatic avifauna. Spot painted storks at the tiny village of Kokarebellur near Mysore or flamingoes at Mumbai’s mudflats, Chennai’s Pallikaranai marsh and Sambhar, India’s largest inland saline lake. But the most amazing spectacle is the congregation of demoiselle cranes at Khichan, a tiny hamlet near Jodhpur. Being staunch vegetarians, the village community of Jain Marwaris idolizes the kurja (crane) for its vegetarian diet and monogamous nature. As part of a systematic feeding program, chugga ghars (feeding enclosures) on the village outskirts host these cranes with two feeding sessions daily (each 90 minutes) as the birds hop across from the dunes and the sky turns black with their wings!
When: Jan-February


Joydeb Baul Mela, Kenduli 
If songs of love and freedom, poor sanitation and three days of camping defined Woodstock; the Joydeb Mela is rural India’s answer to it. Held around Sankranti on the last day of Poush to the second day of Magh to celebrate the birth anniversary of  poet saint Jaydev, the festival draws baul singers, kirtanias and wandering minstrels of Bengal. Hundreds of pandals or temporary shelters on the banks of the Ajoy River resonate with songs of the divine and philosophical musings of Vaishnava saints. Nightlong dramas and dance ballets bring stories of mythology alive as visitors ramble about the terracotta temple of Radhabinod checking out stalls selling household goods, toys, stoneware and crafts.
When: Mid-February


Kila Raipur Sports Festival
What started off in the 1930s as a local village festival has transformed into an iconic event hailed as India’s Rural Olympics. The brainchild of Sardar Inder Singh Grewal, founder father of Grewal Sports Association, the bizarre sports meet at Kila Raipur near Ludhiana aimed to galvanize local youth of Punjab’s Doaba belt into sports. Expect tug-of-war, tent-pegging, freestyle kabaddi and races for camels, elephants, bullock-carts, khachhars (mules), tractors and even 80-year-olds! Locals showcase their unique talents – twirling gas cylinders, motorcycle daredevilry and towing vehicles with their teeth, hair, ear or beards. Adding colour to the proceedings, are Bhangra dancers, troupes of Malwai gidda, nihangs (blue-clad warrior Sikhs) performing stunts on horseback and running commentary by maraasis (traditional stand-up comedians).
When: First weekend of February

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 15 May 2013 in Conde Nast Traveller online.

Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary: Jamshedpur’s Crowning Glory


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY take a short detour from India’s Steel City to visit a hilly wildlife sanctuary home to a Shiva shrine, ancient tribes and vestiges of British plantations 


Just off the busy NH-33 between Kolkata and Ranchi high above the industrial haze overlooking the Subarnarekha River that skirts its base, the lofty Dalma Hills stretch for 16km like a jagged knife. For centuries, wild beasts and adivasi tribes made it their home, until JN Tata chose the scenic confluence of the Kharkai and Subarnarekha as the site of Asia’s first steel plant. One can only imagine the untamed beauty of the land before a century of development… 

Established as a wildlife sanctuary on 19 Dec 1976, Dalma has been less of a park and more a picnic spot for school and corporate groups from Jamshedpur and surrounding areas. Lores of rogue elephants, naxal movement and trekkers lost in the forest only added to its allure. But the recent renovation of the colonial era guesthouse near the summit has given day visitors a reason to stay back and appreciate Dalma’s charms.


As the road weaves past the elephant arch gate at Shaharbeda, scenic canals and adivasi huts with striking tribal motifs at Chakulia van (forest), the forest begins to close in. Coucals swoop across the path as the call of koels, quails and francolins ripple through the undergrowth. Gnarled roots of ancient trees enmeshed boulders like natural art installations. A row of villagers rested with their load of firewood.

The forest check-post at Makulakocha, with a Museum-cum-Interpretation Centre, Bamboo Hut, a basic Forest Rest House and a Deer Rescue Centre, marks the entrance to the wildlife sanctuary. A few elephants of the forest department chomped on clumps of hay, eyeing us sagely.


The Dalma Hill Range ran south-east to north-west and the park was divided into east and west buffer zones, sandwiching the core in the middle. The undulating terrain of hillocks, plateaus, valleys and open fields provides diverse habitats for Dalma’s natural wealth – several mammals, 84 bird species and 300 species of flora. The dry deciduous forest is a profusion of sal, gamhar, mahua and semal trees. We reached the Forest Rest House at Pindrabeda, which commands a great view of the plains below. Caretaker Munna welcomed us with tea and explained how this flat patch of land or ‘beda’ had a profusion of fruit trees called ‘pindra’ (randia uliginosa), though the site was also known as Mahukal (a long-tailed bird).

After handing him the provisions and food rations for our dinner and breakfast, we set off to pay our respect to Dalma Mai. Past her open-air shrine under a tree, we trudged up 1km to the Shiva temple and the Hanuman temple at Dalma Top, 926m (3047 ft). Our guide Dhananjay Singh accompanied us to the bandhs (dams) dating to the British era, when the area was used for extensive coffee and indigo plantations, besides gold prospecting. Coincidentally, Subarnarekha literally means ‘streak of gold’ and gold was indeed mined near the origin of the river at Piska near Ranchi.


While only unused wells, stone oil grinders and ruins of bungalows remain, names like Nilbadi (Indigo farm), Sarsobari (Mustard farm) and Kulmari Bangla still echo Dalma’s colonial legacy. For irrigation, the British had constructed dams like Badka (big) Bandh, Chhotka (small) Bandh, Neechla (lower) Bandh and Majhla (middle) Bandh. In the old days, there even used to be a haat (bazaar) near Chhotka Baandh!            

In a mosaic of six grasslands and the valleys of Bijli Ghati and Snan Ghati, the reservoirs and streams formed a network of 66 water holes including Samar Jal, Dong Jal, Makad Jal, Ranga Jal, Maha Jal, Teesri Nala and lyrical appellations like Chiping dadhi, Bhusi Jharna, Kas Jobhi, Hathitopa and Chiyak Pathar. We spotted the odd deer, Rhesus Macaques and the Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica centralis) leaping in the canopy of dry deciduous trees. The squirrels use the leaves of these trees to make nests called ‘dreys’. The park harbours tigers, leopards, Sloth Bear, Wild Boar, Dhole, Striped Hyena, Wolf, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, but we saw none.


Back at the forest rest house, while stirring some chicken curry over a wood fire, Munna lamented how there could be better wildlife sightings if only the forest was left alone. Due to religious festivals and pilgrim traffic during Makara Sankranti (Jan 14), Shivratri (Feb-Mar) and Bishu Shikar (annual hunt in April) animals had retreated to the core.

However by summer, as water sources dry up, large elephant herds congregate around the reservoirs, reinstating Dalma as a wildlife haven. As night fell, the distant lights of Jamshedpur twinkled like a carpet of stars beneath the hills while snatches of the latest film songs mingled with the sounds of the forest punctuated by the call of a frightened barking deer.



Area: 193.22 sq km (core 35 sq km, buffer 158.22 sq km)

Location: East Singhbhum and Saraikella-Kharswan districts, Jharkhand

Altitude: 154m-928m (max)

Temperature: Summer 22oC – 38oC, Winter 5oC – 28oC

Getting there: Drive 16km from Jamshedpur on NH-33 (Ranchi highway) via Pardih Kali Mandir and turn right at Shaharbeda. Shaharbeda is also accessible via Kandra-Chandil from the Kadma-Adityapur Toll Road; though slightly longer, the road is much better. At Shaharbeda, enter through the Dalma Forest Arch, cross the canal and turn right for the Makulakocha forest check-post, 4 km from the main road. The Pindrabera Forest Rest House is 11km uphill and the Dalma Hill top is 5km further ahead, the ideal terrain for SUVs.

Permits: For overnight stay at the 2-room Pindrabera FRH, acquire permits from Range Forest Office, Mango (Opp. Payal Talkies) Jamshedpur or Divisional Forest Office, Doranda, Ranchi Ph 0651-2480948

Fees: Entry – Adults Rs.2, Children Rs.1, Photography – Still Camera Rs.50, Video Camera Rs.200, Vehicles – Rs.20 2-wheeler, Rs.60 Tempo, Rs.80 Car/Jeep, Rs.120 Mini Bus, Rs.200 Bus/Truck, Guest house Rs.300/room

Timings: 6am-5pm

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Saevus wildlife magazine. 

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary: Nature’s Own Abode


ANURAG MALLICK visits the valley between Tamil Nadu’s Anamalai Hills and Kerala’s Nelliyampathy Hills to spot the Parambikulam Frog, Asia’s largest teak tree and other natural wonders


The dime-sized frog with bloodshot eyes stood still as it contemplated its next move while two pairs of eyes peered at it intently. My guide held up his palm animatedly, as if he had just been asked by a child to freeze momentarily. Then very slowly in a thick Malayali accent, he mouthed the words ‘Pa-ram-bi-kul-am Fro…g’ and twitched his eyes in that direction. It was enough to send the tiny amphibian scurrying into the foliage, but not before a few photographs had been clicked.

We were deep within Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary at a forest camp at Kuriarkutty on the banks of the Parambiar River. Here Dr. Salim Ali had spent 3 years (1936-39) watching hornbills. In commemoration, a bird’s gallery and audiovisual programs marked the Salim Ali Bird Interpretation Centre. It was on hallowed ground we had seen the Parambikulam Frog (Tomopterna parambikulamana), a creature so range specific, it was endemic to the sanctuary.


There was good reason why Parambikulam made it as one India’s 39 claimants to the UNESCO World Heritage tag. Located just south of the Palakkad Gap in the Western Ghats, it has been the scene of many scientific rediscoveries. Koori (Haplothismia exanulata), a saprophytic plant occurs only in heavy monsoons during the ‘climatic climax’, when weather conditions are ideal for its growth, yet its dependence on ideal conditions makes its life span tragically short. After a long gap, it was found here in 1951.

The park boasts 285 such rare, endemic and endangered plants, 1438 flowering species and 81 species of orchids. The rivers teem with 47 fish species, including the endangered Mahseer and Garra surendranathanii, a ray-finned suckerfish endemic to the Chalakudy River. After seeing the park’s namesake species we retired to our Treetop Hut overlooking Thunakadavu reservoir with a great sense of achievement.


The next morning we set off on a wildlife safari to Sungam range, the forest track leading us 6.8 km to the Pride of Parambikulam – the Kannimara Teak. Literally, the ‘first tree’, the lone 450-year-old specimen dated back to a time when natural teak forests covered the entire area. Rising up to 48.5 m with a girth of 6.57 m, it took five people with arms outstretched to encircle it completely. One of the oldest and largest ‘natural’ living teak trees in the world and the largest in Asia, the tree was awarded the ‘Mahavriksha Puraskar’ by the Indian Government in 1994.

During the 19th century the British had felled most of the original teak forests for timber by exploiting local tribal labour. Massive tree trunks were taken to the ‘top’ of the mountain slope and allowed to ‘slip’ down into the river, the practice eventually giving the place its name. Top Slip currently forms the tourism zone of Tamil Nadu’s Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary on the eastern slope of the Western Ghats. In 1905, a more efficient system was devised. The Cochin Forest Tramway directly transported teak from Parambikulam to Chalakudy before shipping it to the rest of the world from Cochin Harbour as Cochin Teak. Ironically, it was the revenue generated from Parambikulam teak that led to the development of present day Cochin Port.


Contiguous with Anamalai Sanctuary, the undulating park spread around seven major valleys and three river systems, dammed at Parambikulam, Thunakadavu and Peruvaripallam under the Par-Alayar Project in the 1950s. The 20.6 sq km reservoir harboured several aquatic fauna, including muggers, which often looked like sun-dried logs peeping through the water. Besides rowboats and bamboo rafting on the reservoirs, the active Forest Department organized a daylong Parambi Cruise in a Tribal Bamboo Houseboat, with on-board snacks and packed lunch.

The forest road climbed up the hillside to Dam View, a scenic vantage over the deep blue waters of Thunakadavu bracketed by Pandaravarai (1290 m) and Kuchimudi peaks. Valley View offered a sweeping glimpse of the picturesque Parambiar Valley, marked by the peaks of Kalynathy (1385 m) and Karimala (1439 m), the park’s highest point. We took an exhilarating boat ride in the reservoir to Veetikunnu Island, a cane forest bungalow located on a hilly islet (kunnu) of veeti (Sisam or Dalbergia latifolia).


For the true wildlife enthusiast, there was no dearth of things to do at Parambikulam with eco-tourism packages like overnight camping inside the forest, Full Moon Census or hiking 8km to an old Inspection Bungalow for Thellikal Nights. Guided treks included the Kariyanshola Trail, Hornbill Watching, Pugmark Trail and the scenic Cochin Forest Tramway Trek to Muthuvarachal.

Driving around Parambikulam was always rife with the possibility of a gaur, the park’s mascot, crashing through the undergrowth or a chance leopard sighting. Home to an impressive faunal array, Parambikulam harboured 39 mammalian species, including tiger, leopard, jungle cat, fox, bear, elephant, gaur, Nilgiri tahr, pangolin, loris and primates like bonnet macaque, Nilgiri langur and lion-tailed macaque. Of the 274 birds, Black-capped kingfisher, Broad-billed roller, Black woodpecker, Ceylon frogmouth, Malabar pied hornbill and Small pranticole were notable species. 


The park was home to four adivasi communities – Kadar, Malasar, Muduvar and Malamalasar, who had been resettled in six colonies. Their indigenous knowledge made them critical partners in the eight EDCs (Eco-Development Committees) at Parambikulam. Even today, the scattered dolmens (flat memorial stones) of the tribal headmen still stand testimony to a time when man and beast lived in harmony in these forests.

Where to Stay

The Forest Department at Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary offers a wide range of accommodation options (Rs.2,500-5,000/day for 2-5 people). The two scenic Treetop Huts with double beds and attached baths in the reserve forest area overlooking the reservoir at Thunakadavu and Parambikulam are much sought after and have to be booked in advance. Elephant Valley Lodge at Thunakadavu and Bison Valley Lodge at Parambikulam have three double rooms each. Tented Niche, seven Swiss-style tents lie in a shady grove at Anappady. Anappady also has a Mahseer Dormitory for 40 people while Tiger Hall at Parambikulam can lodge 20; ideal for backpackers.

Birdwatchers can stay at the Salim Ali Centre at Kuriarkutty, which has a hall for 10 people. For a little privacy try Vettikunnu Island Nest on Parambikulam reservoir, a secluded island accessible by boat with stay in a renovated wireless station (6 people). Bay Owl Shed at Bagapallam, Tahr Shed at Vengoli and Cane Turtle Shed at Thuthanpara accommodate five people each. Overnight camping is possible at Sambar Machan at Kuriarkutty, Peacock Machan at Vengoli and Cheetal Machan at Anakal Vayal with five beds each. Two guides accompany the group and arrange packed food for a fee.



Ecocare Centre, Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Anappady, Thunakadavu (PO), Via Pollachi, Palakkad, Kerala 678 661. Ph 04253 – 245025, 245005 Email

Entry Fees & Charges

Gate timings 7am – 6 pm (entry closes at 4pm)
Vehicle Fee Rs.50 (Light), Rs.150 (Heavy)
Entry Fee Rs.10 Indians, Rs.100 Foreigners, Camera Rs.25, Video Rs.150

Where to Eat

Being a wildlife preserve in an isolated pocket, eating options are few and basic. Parambikulam, the last settlement where the road ends, has a few eateries and Hotel Everest (Ph 04253-277 235) is the pick of the lot. South Indian staple like idli and dosa are on offer for breakfast while meals with fish fry and chicken curry are popular for lunch and dinner. It’s best to order food in advance. Sree Hotel (Ph 04253-277 217) and Sri Lakshmi Hotel (Ph 04253-277 234) are other options.

What to Buy

The Eco-Care Centre at Anappady sells park memorabilia like T-shirts, caps, picture postcards and stickers as well as bottles of honey and jam.



Location: Situated in South East Palakkad, Parambikulam lies in the valley between the Anamalai ranges of Tamil Nadu and Kerala’s Nelliyampathy ranges of the Western Ghats.

Area: 643.66 sq km: 390.89 sq km Core Area (Critical Tiger Habitat), 252.77 sq km Buffer Zone

Altitude: 600 m to 1438 m above sea level

Climate: Mostly cool and damp interspersed with light to heavy drizzles around the year. Heavy rains lash the sanctuary between June-August. Eastern areas get more rain during Oct-Nov. Temperature ranges from 15 C to 32 C and drops substantially at dawn and dusk.

When to go: Unlike other parks, in the rains, the Forest Department also organizes Monsoon Tourism from June-August, though the best time to visit is September to March.


Getting There

By Air: The nearest airport is Coimbatore, 100 km away, also an important rail link.

By Rail: The nearest railway station is at Pollachi, 39 km away

By Road: Parambikulam is 98 km from Palakkad. There is regular bus service from Pollachi (6 am, 3 pm) to Parambikulam via Anamalai (2 hrs) and Top Slip (11:20 am). From Palakkad, drive south to Kollengode, get on to Pollachi road and turn right from Ambrampalayam towards Anamalai, Sethumadai, Top Slip, Thunakadavu and Parambikulam, each place 12 km from each other. The Parambikulam Office Headquarters at Anappady is 4 km from Top Slip. The nearest petrol pump and ATM outlet are at Vettaikaranpudur, 23 km from Anappady.

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the Sep-Oct 2012 issue of Saevus Wildlife magazine.

Kaziranga: The Land of Giants


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the Brahmaputra floodplains in Assam’s premier national park in search of the one-horned rhino and other wildlife adventures


Like two Vikings in the sun, the rhinos faced each other, horn to horn, their stony mantles gleaming like armour. Safe from our howdah, we thought a battle would ensue but the creatures just sized up each other and calmly lumbered across to graze in the vast open grasslands. Nearby, a herd of swamp deer and hog deer nibbled away while a few breakaways lay curled, dozing in a cradle of reeds. Along the fringe of a marshy lake, a sounder of wild pigs rummaged for a meal. In the distance, wild water buffalos coated in mud froze like errant children caught in the act by the school principal. A lone Adjutant Stork surveyed the scene from a tall dry tree stump.

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Eastern Himalayas, Kaziranga in Assam stretches along the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River, which sweeps its northern boundary while the NH-31 runs along its southern edge, flanked by tea estates. The dense network of ponds, streams, beels (small lakes), grasslands, tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests have resulted in a rich tapestry of life. The unique topography and biodiversity environment prompted UNESCO to declare Kaziranga a World Heritage Site in 1985. Yet, its history as a protected zone goes back to a much earlier date.


When Mary Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon visited Kaziranga in 1904, she couldn’t sight a single rhinoceros. Utterly dejected, she coaxed her husband to initiate conservation in the area. The Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created on in 1905 covering 232 sq km. By 1974, it had evolved from a wildlife sanctuary into the Kaziranga National Park spanning an impressive 430 sq km. Often drawing comparisons with Africa for its wide open tracts, rich natural bounty and quality of wildlife viewing, today, this riverine habitat is known as the Land of Giants. Besides being a safe haven for the world’s largest population of the great one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga supports a notable number of elephants, tigers and the large Asiatic Water buffalo.

The presence of numerous jungle lodges and luxury resorts, and the option of jeep drives, elephant safaris, river cruises, sightings from machaans (observation towers) to nature walks on the park’s periphery makes Kaziranga one of India’s top wildlife destinations. About 15 species of India’s threatened mammals abound the region. In the leafy canopies of the forest’s southern slopes, animated hoots announce the presence of India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon. Kaziranga supports nearly 450 species of birds including the Bengal Florican, several species of geese, pelicans and teals, while its water reservoirs draw over 100 species of migratory birds from as far as Siberia.


Wild Grass, one of the oldest jungle lodges in the region and the swanky Diphlu River Lodge run by Assam Bengal Navigation, stand apart for top quality wildlife experiences – from bird trails with expert to boat cruises tracking river dolphins along the Brahmaputra. With delicious rustic meals at riverside camps, visits to traditional weaving units and cultural evenings under starlit skies with traditional Bihu dancers and drummers, it’s easy for anyone from six to sixty five to have a good time.

Summer trips with kids can be hot and humid, so don’t forget to pack sunblock, hats, good footwear, earthy-coloured cotton clothes, snacks, water, a pair of binoculars and a good book on birds to identify and tick them off the checklist! The park remains closed between June-September.


Fact File 

State: Assam
Area: 430 sq km
Altitude: 80 to 1220 m
Temperature: Min 5°C – Max 37°C
When to visit: November to May
Where to stay: Wild Grass Lodge, Diphlu River Lodge, Jhupuri Ghar

How to get there: There are regular flights such as Jet Airways ( and Air India ( connecting Guwahati to Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. Kaziranga National Park is 215km (5 1/2 hour drive) from Guwahati

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 26 March 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online.