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Vinod Goel

Safari Talk - Rajaji National Park in April and June 2015

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Rajaji National Park

Vinod Goel

 

For the last 6 years I have been visiting Rajaji National Park, Haridwar in Uttarakhand in search of a Tiger but never seen once.In the second week of April 2015, I was informed by my guide that a tigress was sighted by the tourists – hardly at a distance of 3-4 kms from the entry gate of Chilla Range. Hence, I decided to visit the Park.

In the evening of 15th April, during my first safari, I was lucky to locate a nesting site of an Oriental Pied Hornbill on the safari route. Eventually I saw them mating on the next evening (16th April). It’s a very unique and a lifetime shot for a birder to capture such beautiful moment. After their mating was over, we moved ahead toMeethawali Rest House. With a pace of only 200 meters, we observed a small group of elephants who blocked our way, almost for 20 minutes. It was indeed a good feeling to observe their activity.

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As soon as we entered the park on 17th of April, we heard loud (and sharp) calls of Cheetal (spotted deer) making us stop at our places. We also saw a male Leopard on its toe in the Sal forest. Later in the riverbed, we were fortunate to see a Crested Serpent Eagle being harried by a Jungle Crow (eagle had a toad in its talon).

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During one of the jungle safari near Khara Chowki, our guide showed us the Black Stork in a search of fishes in the water streams. The sight of the stork spreading his wings to create a shadow in the water while moving his beak was an intense moment to look at. The shadow creates a darkness in the water, forces the fish to go towards the light, and hence makes it an advantage for the black stork to catch them. The unique strategy of the black stork catching his prey kept us busy for almost half an hour.

 

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On the morning of the 18th of April, while I was entering the details into the register for Jungle Safari at the booking office, I saw a tourist, exclaiming with excitement, having a sight of the Leopard on the road hardly 100 meters away from the barrier. Hearing them, I too looked out for the same and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of the male leopard.

 

19th of April, on my last day of the safari, I was being accompanied by Swami Ji from PawanDham Haridwar. We saw a number of birds such as Black Francolin, Indian Roller, Peacock, Pied Bushcat and a Shrike. Post crossing Mandwali Chowki, my guide-driver noticed a Snake in the undergrowth on the right side of the safari route. He stopped the vehicle in a safe place and asked us to observe the snake – a Python. I had my own doubts on the same, since I have observed python at a number of National Parks and Sanctuaries for the past 11 years. I kept taking pictures whenever I saw the opportunity. After spending about 20 minutes, the snake moved towards the dry river bed. We could no longer see the snake.
I had observed one thing that it is a perfect place to see Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Nilgai, Jungle Fowl, Peafowl and a wide variety of animals and birds.

 

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In the evening, I visited the Haridwar Range (Ranipur Gate) of the park, since here leopard sighting chances is quite bright. After a proper permission at the gate and forest guide, we began our safari. We saw a leopard perfectly camouflaged in green covers at a distance of hardly 20 meters from the road. We spot a male leopard crossing the road and melted into the green cover on our right, later we found the same leopard sitting over the boundary wall. A female leopard also tried to climb the wall, but couldn’t since she was getting distracted by the humans on the other side. After sometime we heard a call from a Cheetal indicating the presence of a predator in the vicinity. We completed our safari at the Chilla Range with lots of pleasant moments of the elusive cat.

 


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On 20th of April, we left from Haridwar quite early in the morning, reaching Delhi at 10am. After reaching Delhi, I went through the pictures of the snakes that I had clicked. Somehow, I had an intuition that the snake was King Cobra. I sent two of the pictures for identification to Mr. Rajesh Bedi, well known wildlife photographer. He informed me it was indeed a King Cobra (female). He has also observed how few people have had the opportunity to take a good picture of the King Cobra in the range. The very same day Rajaji National Park was declared as a Tiger Reserve. It is the 48th Tiger Reserve of the country.

 

Since the park was getting close for 5 months due to monsoons, I decided to try my luck yet again to see the big cat. My son Bharat, suggested me to explore all three ranges in Rajaji National Park (which can be visited by making Haridwar as a base camp). I spent my first day (10th of June) at RanipurGate and was lucky enough to see three leopards in the late evening. After completing three safaris at the Chilla Range (11th and 12th June), I went for a safari in the Motichur Range. This was my first ever visit here. Motichur Range is no doubt, different from others, since it is filled with Sal trees where besides leopards and tigers one can also have a good sight of elephants from a close distance. We were lucky to see two Tuskers in the wild.

 

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After the morning safari on 12th of June, it was talked about that a tourist vehicle has sighted a tiger in the water body at GhasiRam; tiger had left the place as soon as it saw the vehicles. In the evening, our guide informed us that the tiger killed a Sambar Deer at the GhasiRam waterbody. I decided to take a risk of checking the same for a chance of tiger sight in the next morning.

On the next day, after entering the gate I told my guide-driver to take the vehicle to Ghasi Ram water body without making stops at any forest Chowki. On reaching the specific spot, we moved to the slope and the Cheetals who were present just 20 meters away from us, started making loud and clear calls. We couldn’t see the predator. Patiently we waited for some time, and then behind the bushes on the small hillock, the tiger came out and went back at his hideout on seeing us. After two minutes, it came back and stood for some time and looked at us and went back. Half an hour later it came back to look at the prized catch of yesterday, stared at us and went into hiding. In the absence of the tiger at the kill, Jungle Crows were having a gala time, since they had their breakfast in front of them. After munching flesh, they were quenching thirst at the water body adjacent to the kill.

 

We waited for another 40 minutes at the same spot near to the kill (300-400 meters). We observed that the tiger was approaching the kill from the bushes directly opposite to us. It came back, saw us and without having anything, it went back to the bushes pretending he is not interested in the food. Personally, what I felt that the tiger was shy and wanted to be left alone to feed on the kill. Therefore, with respect, we decided to leave the spot. (He was getting disturbed from the other vehicles which were passing by from that area.)

 

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As far as I am concerned, my search for the tiger in Rajaji National Park was over. I have been visiting this park for more than 5 years. This year I made a point to visit all three ranges in Haridwar. People believe that number 13 is an unlucky number. However, for me it proved to be a lucky number, considering my last safari was dated on 13th June, 2015.

Edited by Vinod Goel
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