27 August 2011

simlipal tiger reserve

I had always wanted to come to Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) and plans for the same had been made and dumped several times. With a bunch of friends ever ready to explore Incredible India, STR would somehow always take a back seat. I personally am an avid wildlife enthusiast but with passions encompassing a variety of things and aware of the fact that a visit to any square inch of India is not wasted I patiently waited for STR’s time to come which I knew it would. I was holidaying in Gangtok when my friend Sushobhan called me up and fixed the dates for Simlipal. I must admit I was shocked at the sudden and unexpected turn of events. I had proposed STR several times before but post the 2009 naxal attacks inside the park apprehensions would always get the better of us but if you are uneasy of the unknown you would never be a true traveler. We were not comfort seekers but explorers so I agreed readily. The trip was supposed to commence on 21st April, Thursday and finally the day arrived. Conservatives reprimanded us for planning to go out to a place like STR where there is nothing to “see” and in this unbearable summer heat. I paid no heed. It is a different story altogether that people hardly know about STR and what all there is to “see”.

approx map of STR
I was serving in the pool of the new project I had been assigned to and thus going out on a Thursday was not a problem for me. I had done some exhaustive research on the tiger reserve and I must admit that one of the major reasons were the two waterfalls within the reserve, Barehipani and Joranda, the former of which is allegedly the second tallest waterfall in India dropping from a height of 399 m on river Budha Balanga. I had also read the Simlipal Appraisal Report which for the first time made me realize the enormity and range of problems plaguing STR.

the retards (amit, prashant, vikram, sushobhan, from left)
It was known to the whole of us that the train to Balasore would leave Howrah at 10.50 PM but around 8.00 PM I received a frantic call from Prashant who told me that the train was actually scheduled to leave at 8:35 PM. All hell broke loose. It sounded so unbelievable. I mean, such a thing had never happened to me. How was I supposed to pack my luggage and reach the station within 20 odd minutes? It was next to impossible and even if I would anyhow manage (my home hardly being 5 km away from Howrah) what about the rest of us who were already on their way from Salt Lake, no less than 20 km from Howrah. I packed my luggage (obviously missed many essential items of clothing and even my debit card) with a hysterical pace, hired an auto and by God’s grace reached the station in a record 15 minutes. It was already 8:30 PM and I stood just outside the new station complex. Despite repeated assurances that they were minutes away from the station and a multitude of advices that ranged from “go and pull the chain” to “stop the train anyhow” to “plead to the driver to delay the train by a few minutes” my friends arrived huffing and panting almost 40 minutes later. In the meanwhile, for the very first time in my life, I saw the train I was supposed to board chug away from the platform in front of my own eyes and I stood helpless waiting for a bunch of people who still adamantly said, “bus ek minute aur.” It was around 9:15 PM when the whole of us assembled together at the station and mourned the loss of money and wastage of time. I had never thought I would live to see such a day.

general landscape of mayurbhanj
Balasore, the place where we had to get down was hardly four hours by train so the only option left was to board another train and travel in the general compartment. We had our dinner at the station itself (Food Plaza) and waited for our train that ironically arrived at 10:50 PM. We instead got into the reserved compartment and sat beside the washroom bearing the stench that we were well assured would wither away once the train moved out of the station and the compartment gets ventilated. The stench stayed but our self assurance that the TT would melt hearing our tragic story and allow us in the reserved compartment didn’t. We were told to get down and take the general compartment at Kharagpur. We thought of looking for alternatives to reach Balasore from Kharagpur but realizing it would be sheer wastage of time three of us (Prashant, Vikram and myself) got into the general compartment while the others (Sushobhan and Amit) went inside another reserved compartment assuming that the TT wouldn’t surely come checking all over again (and they were so right). But it was an experience in itself after so many years.

NH6, running parallel to STR's west periphery
We finally got down at Balasore at around 2:20 AM and that was when we came to know from the law-breakers that while we somehow squeezed our way from Kharagpur they had a good sleep all this while since some seats were empty. Good for the law-breakers and we moved on. Like always, a weird sense of sensation gripped me the moment I stepped out of the station. Like I always maintain, no matter however big or small, popular or obscure a place is, coming there for the first time and that too in the middle of the night is surely fascinating. I have this odd hobby of adding districts I have visited so far and it feels great when the list keeps growing. We were really tired (can’t really say for Amit and Sushobhan assuming their comfortable train ride) and needed a cup of tea. Balasore turned out to be better than what I had imagined. It’s the district headquarter after all. Some shops were open and we inquired for buses that could take us till Baripada, some 60 km away.

breakfast at a jashipur dhaba near STR
There was a busy road a while away from the station and we were assured that we would get our bus from there a couple of hours from now. We moved on and had tea at a stall near the “busy road”. Prashant and Sushobhan loitered around while the rest of us, besides killing the many mosquitoes that kept sucking our blood, discussed plans for the day to break. We were still unsure of where to enter STR from. I had read we could enter from either Pithabata (20 km from Baripada) or Jashipur but I was unsure of the later. Mr Biswajit Mohanty had told me to go for Jashipur but considering it was almost 120 km away from Baripada we were in double minds. If there was any provision to enter STR from Pithabata why go to Jashipur at all?

going around!
While discussions kept flowing, to our utter surprise, we saw an air conditioned bus come and halt near our tea stall. It was around 3:10 AM and we were not expecting a bus to Baripada anytime before 4.30 AM (as told by the shopkeeper near the station). We were excited for sure at the time that would be saved and swiftly got into the bus. We were five of us and there weren’t that many empty seats so we had to “adjust” but by the time we reached Baripada at around 4.30 AM each one of us had rested enough on our “respective seats”. We got down and after having yet another cup of tea started inquiring on how to reach STR. I asked a couple of autowallahs if they would take us to STR (via Pithabata) to which they either plainly refused or asked for an exorbitant amount but none said that tourists were now supposed to enter STR from Jashipur only. We asked some localites but gauging their response I wondered if they had even heard of STR. Finally, on a cumulative basis, collecting data from various sorts of people we zeroed on the fact that we would have to leave for Jashipur. We took a bus with very narrow seats and left for Jashipur just at daybreak. It was around 5.30 AM and by the time we reached our destination it was around 9 AM. We were either sleeping most of the time or looked at amazement at the beauty of the state. Distant hills and vast undulating plains full of greenery and red soil were the norm.

inside the crocodile breeding centre, ramatirtha
Someone had told us that STR was still not open for tourists though I had a hint of hope considering Mr Mohanty hadn’t mentioned anything as such. We got down at the Gurguria Range (FRO) and after inquiring from a gentleman (who said the park was very much open for visitors) busy with his satellite phone we hired an auto and went towards the National Park Range (FRO) from where the entry would be sanctioned. It was a wonderful place, located just off NH6. It was around 9.30 AM and permission would not be available after 10 AM but we still had a problem, we didn’t have a car. We frantically looked around but realizing that this was not Kanha or Ranthambhore were there would probably have been an assembly of cars outside the gate and here there was none, a sense of disillusion crept in. And that was when our forest guide for the day, Mr Ratho Behra arrived on the scene. Initially there was some sense of confusion when we mistook him for a pimp who we thought would fix a car at a higher price but he was actually trying to help us. He told us that he knew a driver and if the need be (obviously the need was) he could arrange for one.

mr ratho behra outside the park range, jashipur
He dialed a number and within 15 minutes a young man arrived with his Bolero. Our joys definitely knew no bounds but there was still some confusion regarding how the day would go, where the waterfalls exactly were and if the driver would show us that and a lot many more. We negotiated with the driver and agreed on Rs 1700 and Rs 250 for the forest guard, though I am unsure if the amount we paid to enter the reserve, which amounted to Rs 420 for a group of five, the driver and the guard and two digital cameras included any fee for him. We got hold of some information brochures and a booklet on STR whose data matched exactly with the website STR maintains. Things were clear now and our forest guard, whom by now we had realized was a man eager to show us around, guaranteed us to show the falls but not the tigers or the elephants. We assured him that we were not here for the tigers but the place per se. It was already 10 AM and with permission granted we were ready to move but prior to that we need to have some food.

river confluence at ramatirtha
Mr Behra directed the driver to show us the Mugger crocodile park managed by Crocodile Breeding and Management Project at Ramatirtha since 1979. It was also a place of Hindu pilgrimage where Ram and Sita had come during exile. Mr Behra showed us some holy markings on the rocks that allegedly belonged to Ram and Sita. More than the Croc Park what amazed me was the beauty of the place. It was a rocky area situated at the confluence of rivers Khairi and Bhandan. There was a lone temple but on the other side of the confluence. After spending some time there we came to a dhaba where we had a delicious spread of roti, tadka and omelette and after getting our lunch packed set off for the reserve. We must safely ignore the ruckus Mr Behra created when he refused to get our lunch packed in polythene and asked the dhaba owner if we looked like “jail ka kaidi”. The helpless owner had to arrange for utensils to pack our food. We lost much time in the process.

confluence of khairi n bhandan, ramatirtha
Mr Behra, time and again, reminded the driver, who somehow looked reluctant to show us places, (maybe he didn’t consider Rs 1700 worthy enough for the day or maybe he was just like that) that the fate of the reserve and ultimately his livelihood rested to a good extent on the tourists that come here and it was his duty to send them satisfied and more so to them who showed signs of understanding and didn’t haggle for “tiger sightings” randomly. Though I can further debate on the aspects of tourism and how it affects our forests but then STR immediately needed some popularity. It would become difficult for the government and the forest officials alike to ignore the park if and when it comes to limelight. Media had a few darling reserves of which STR was not.

outside the STR, jashipur
STR, despite being one of the largest and the most beautiful and appropriate places for housing a healthy tiger and elephant population is more in news for being a hotbed of naxalism, timber smuggling, poaching and habitat degradation. The buffer area has almost been wiped out of wildlife except the occasional chital or peafowl and post the attacks of 2009 the motivation level of the ground staff is not to speak of and looking at the driver I could well make out the health of the reserve. On paper, STR is a tiger reserve, an elephant reserve, a national and international UNESCO recognized biosphere reserve all put together but on ground it is one of the most crumbling forests in India which requires immediate attention from the government and the civil society alike. I had read exclusively on the various problems that have been affecting STR but I wanted to see that from my own eyes. Unlike Kaziranga, where I had seen so much of activity around the reserve, STR was eerily silent. We were perhaps the only tourists for the day.

entering STR via gurguria range
Taking a detour from the place where our bus from Baripada to Jashipur had left us on NH6 we went further across the Gurguria Range (FRO). We got some fruits and some sal pata plates and pushing through the forested plains and distant hills came at the entrance (Kaliani Forest Checkgate, Karanjia Forest Division, Gurguria Range) of the reserve. While our driver and the forest guard proceeded with the entry formalities we spent time near river Khairi and that was when a group of tribal boys came running to us. They wanted to show us something. We followed them to the base of a huge tree where a chameleon was struggling to get free from the jaws of a hungry snake. We explained the boys not to disturb the “laws of nature” but they insisted we free the chameleon. I took a twig and tried poking the snake which would just not let the poor reptile go. After much struggle and arm-twisting we were finally able to free the chameleon which hurriedly scaled atop the tree.

laws of nature
Meanwhile, the entry formalities were completed. We hurried back to our car and finally entered the reserve and that fulfilled one of my long cherished dreams. It was an amazing feeling. Looking at the forests I wondered how long our heritage would stay intact. Powerful sections of the society, unparalleled in greed and yet others who don’t want dialogue or peace (and who have a lot many sympathizers from amongst the intellects) are potent threats to forests and Simlipal was no exception. We passed a village pointing at which our forest guard told that it had been recently razed down by a group of wild elephants. I asked if compensation was prompt to which he gave a blank stare and pleaded ignorance. Unlike elsewhere, our forest guard was quite active and wanted that we get the best of what the park had to offer. He had so many stories to tell. He said the park had “four types of tigers.” I was shocked for a while but let him speak further. Without pausing he mentioned all the types which included the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Indian Leopard, the Black Panther and the Cheetah. I tried making sense and explained that leopards, panthers and cheetahs were not “types of tigers” and panthers are merely melanistic variants of leopards (and other large cats) and that cheetahs were long extinct in India. I am unsure if he took my words because in another shot without a pause he said that a foreigner had told him that. I thought of putting a stop.

bee hive laden tree
As we drove down an array of villages inside the buffer area we came across a place where our guard got the car stopped and pointed towards a gigantic tree on the other edge of a huge pond lying near the trail. It was full of beehives. What an amazing sight it was. We could see forested hills beyond the hive laden trees. It was such an amazing feeling to see pristine and raw nature from such close quarters. We continued on our way across vast plains full of mahua trees. The sweet fragrance of flowers lying on the ground had filled the air. As we zoomed past we came across a gang of tribal women selling hadia. I had always wanted to taste hadia and mahua and this was a golden chance and that too buying original and authentic stuff right from people who make it at their homes. What can beat that? We got down and gulped down a bottle. It tasted good and sold cheap for Rs 20 a litre. I thought it would make me feel dizzy but nothing of that sort happened. It was quite light on the contrary.

tribal women selling hadia inside STR
Our guard took us next to show a huge sal tree named Maha Sal Vriksha. Sal trees are native to South Asia and can reach heights up to 35 m but this one was much taller. It had an interesting story behind its survival considering the fact that I had seen many sal trees cut and smuggled out of the forest. The guard told that it was the territory of a wild and maniac elephant whose fresh dumping we could see strewn around. In a whiff of caution he told us that if ever a wild elephant were to charge the best thing would be to stay calm, not to run and to fold your hands in obeisance. I wondered where he got that training from. The forest guard was unarmed because allegedly almost the entire park was under the writ of naxalites who would feel threatened under such a scenario which could invariably lead to much conflict. After having admired the tree and the surrounding forest we headed further for the Whiskey falls. It is to be noted that Whiskey is not mentioned in any of the park catalogues but we had done enough research before our arrival. The guard was visibly shocked when we told him to take us to that fall. I had never bathed under a waterfall before. I had no idea if bathing under a fall in the middle of a forest would attract danger but we were pretty excited. It was located deep inside the forest with no one to help if a tiger were to attack, which though looked unlikely. I had read blogs about the waterfall and knew that people bathed under it so not that we were there to break laws, moreover, Mr Behra didn’t protest to that idea. Prior to that we stopped at a tribal makeshift stall where we had some roasted chickpea and for the first time in my life smoked weed, only at the insistence of the forest guard, who seemed much like a pro. It was great fun indeed. It was an enthralling experience and the forest and its life was slowly but surely unfolding in front of us.

a makeshift shop inside STR
Moving on, while on the way to the falls, looking around at vast green plains with tribal homes in the distance, empty Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan schools, tribal children waving at us (Christian missionaries and Hindu groups backed by Sangh Parivar have a troubled presence here converting and reconverting tribals which sometimes gets violent too) we reached a road from where the falls was moments away. There was a huge stone in our way. Prashant, Amit and I got down to get it removed but it would not budge. It was rooted deep in the soil. Meanwhile, Sushobhan was not finding his camera cover and was under the impression that he had left it at the shop where we had weed.

beat office from where sushobhan ran away
Without even informing any one of us, while we were busy uprooting the stone block, he ran away from us in a direction which certainly didn’t look familiar. Vikram, who was not helping with the stone saw him run away. Others were still busy with the stone. Finally, after much maneuvering when the stone came off we came to know about Sushobhan’s heroics. I have a weak eye-sight but others saw him running towards a forested hill. We were all very angry at his antics. After all, this was not a city where you can run behind and catch up with him. It was a jungle and an alien territory. We were now running short of time and it was already around noon. The forest guard and Prashant went to seek help from a beat officer who was hardly half a kilometer away. Others waited anxiously and played with the village dogs. After some half an hour we saw Prashant cycling (taken from a villager probably) towards us but with no one riding pillion. Minutes later we saw a motorcycle approaching us and others could now see Sushobhan as also the beat officer and our forest guard. Sushobhan as usually was unrepentant and smiling but he was duly served a bagful of filthy abuses. He obviously ignored them all and gleefully went inside the car and told us to hurry up.

enroute the whiskey falls
The forest guard told us not to worry and that he knew almost everyone inside the forest. He assured us that there was no naxalites in the forest, at least not in the area he guards. He also didn’t know of any timber smuggler or of any mischievous elements inside the forest. It sounded too good to be true. For a while, I thought if the forest officials where hand-in-glove with the timber mafia who smuggled out valuable timber because of the lax security on the pretext of naxal presence. It was a complex thing to comprehend but I preferred waiting more before drawing conclusions. Things can’t be generalized in a diverse nation like ours. While it is known that corrupt forest guards and higher officials often indulge in malpractice but painting everyone in the same brush would be foolish on my part. There was almost no wildlife in this part of the park (north) and thus it could be concluded that poaching and akhand shikar has taken its toll. This part of the park was poorly protected and was to a large extent left to the mercy of naxalites and poachers whose presence was conclusive if not obvious.

first glimpse of whiskey falls
Amidst all this discussion we halted at a place from where I could see a narrow trail leading deep inside a cluster of tall sal trees. We all got down. The air had a slight chill and my heart skipped a beat. The forest guard told us to follow him, not to make much noise and to be together. It was the month of April but the park seemingly didn’t have shortage of water so I wondered why a tiger would come to the base of a waterfall but the topography of the place and the general feel did scare us a bit. Imagine what would have happened if a real tiger were to come in front of us. Such is the aura of the majestic animal.

after having bathed in the whiskey falls
We kept walking beside a stream keeping an eye on the surroundings. We could hear the fall and the first glimpse was majestic. It was a small one but beautiful beyond description. I can’t describe the place in words whose beauty was much beyond the rocks, the water, and the greenery around. The silence of the forest, the feel of thrill, the various permutations and combinations running in your mind, the prospects of uncertainty, all this put together makes it something incomprehensible. Reaching the base of the fall, we quickly removed our clothes and crossing the steam over the rocks reached a place from where the cool waters directly fell over us. Ah! That was pleasant to say the least. After all, I was bathing under a waterfall for the first time and that too within a tiger reserve. We spent quite considerable a time below the thunderous waters of the fall and our forest guard was busy taking our pictures. When we finally moved out we couldn’t keep thanking our stars that a tiger didn’t really come there.

barehipani falls, 399 m, budha balanga river
We were quite behind our schedule and had no time to have our lunch. Moving forth, the next stops were the falls of Barehipani and Joranda, perhaps the highlight of our trip. Driving almost uphill and transcending lustful green forests we finally got to see the Barehipani. It was unbelievable seeing a waterfall this tall falling from a height of almost 400 m when river Budha Balanga drops over a cliff in a deep valley. My excitement knew no bounds. I incessantly kept on taking pictures and admiring the beauty of the whole place. It was heaven on earth. Moving even further we came across Joranda.

joranda falls, 150 m
Joranda was less than half the height of Barehipani but it was a single drop of almost 150 m down a cliff and it was a sight in itself, stunningly beautiful and unparalleled so far. It was getting dark and we thanked our stars that we could see them both. I would have been thoroughly disappointed had I missed any of the two. We decided to turn back for the Chahala Salt Licks were animals would gather at dusk for a dose of the essential mineral requirements. It had been an amazing journey so far and it felt sad that our journey was slowly coming to an end. It felt great to have actually come to a place about which I had read so many a times and a place that was so close to my heart. Chahala was in the core area of the park, at least this was what our forest guard told us. We could hear the cries of peacocks as we drew nearer to the salt lick and as luck would have it we also saw a couple of them crossing the road and flying around in frantic flights. Going deeper in the forest one gets a divine sort of feeling and that was quite palpable. Mr Behra showed us a muddy area with a grassy overgrowth where he said wild elephants came for cooling off. He also told us to keep an eye on the surroundings. Though this part of the park had precious nothing in terms of wildlife but you never know. Forests have a kind of weird thing about them. You always end up seeing the unexpected. It’s a way of telling the humans that they are way more divine than we believe them to be. We more than obliged.

chahala salt lick, STR
We saw a Bolero returning from the salt lick and that was perhaps the only sign of visitors other than us in the entire park for the day. Our apprehension got the better of us when our guard told that they were not visitors but family members of a “forest officer” and the “officer” himself. He was returning from his daily duty of inspection around the jungles. We had no reason not to believe. We got down from our car and crossing a patch of huge eucalyptus trees reached the salt lick. I moved near the burnt and damaged guest houses and the office buildings. That was the first thing I had wanted to see. That made me angry. I had seen the photographs before but seeing it from your own eyes makes you realize how some elements of society were hell-bent to bring about anarchy. I don’t know what animosity they could have with the animals that can’t defend themselves. If you are angry with the establishment why take out your anger this way. It was sheer mindlessness on the part of the alleged naxals who did this and that was in the summer of 2009. They had threatened the forest officers and manhandled and looted helpless tourists. After that ghastly incident the few tourists who came here stopped altogether and why not? Tourists were still not allowed to stay inside the forest houses, the few which still exists. It would take time for the infrastructure inside the park to be built but more than that it is the confidence of people that the park needs to build upon and that is difficult without a blueprint for Simlipal that is eager to come out of the mess and the downturn in its destiny.

what do the naxals want to prove?
Looking at the horizon of the barricaded salt lick we could see chitals grazing, licking and playing along with no threat of a predator whatsoever. While I stayed there admiring nature’s beauty and the bounty this park could hold if allowed to flourish to its potential I saw a gentleman coming towards us. Some of my friends were already with him. I thought he was some guard coming to tell us to move out because it was about to be pitch dark. I also moved towards them. The guard turned out to be the Forest Range Officer, Mr Prabhat Mallick. He introduced himself to us and thanked us for coming to Simlipal. I was amazed at the humility of the gentleman. I mean, he was a FRO and he had come out to meet and thank us. We were overwhelmed and the ensuing chat of over 40 minutes was one of the best things that had happened to me in a while. He told us about the health of the park, about the 2009 attacks and three more which he had survived. Despite all the odds, I could see his eagerness to think of a bright future for Simlipal. This is the kind of enthusiasm and optimism that drives me crazy and makes me feel good that the country still has some real good men. I discussed with him the general health of the park to which he sounded a bit disillusioned but was very forthcoming on certain issues relating to the tiger census whose reports had been recently published and which had sounded the death knell for Simlipal. Mr Mallick was sure that there were tigers in the south of the park and if adequate care is taken they could return back to the north as well. He told us about an independent census done by the forest authority that came in direct conflict with the data provided by Project Tiger. A few gaurs, wild elephants, chitals and some birds was all that the north was left with. The south, closed to tourists, still had its share of plenty, if I may afford to use the word but the divide has to go and we need to talk of the reserve in its entirety and that looked exceedingly difficult as of now.

chahla FRO
He told us that tourists like us were few and far in between and that made us feel good. Most of others who come are one a witch-hunt of sorts for the elusive tiger failing to see which they reprimand the officers. All this made me think of the existing picnic culture in India where people are oblivious of certain things and come with a predetermined mindset. A jungle is a place of learning, reckoning and understanding, of things that are good, things that are bad and ugly and things that can be revived and how. We are as much guardians of our forests and its priceless heritage as the forest officers are. We have to equally share the responsibility and a sense of duty. More than not seeing the tigers and reprimanding the officers, as if it were a zoo, a far better thing to do would be some introspection as to why we couldn’t see one. Sharing the guilt wouldn’t make us gullible but smart on the contrary. I felt angry at this trend of tourism catching up where people don’t even realize the basic fact that a FRO is far more learned than most of us and he deserves our respect and admiration, for he works under the most deplorable of conditions and for something far more tangible than the cricket matches we win and the blockbuster movies we make. Much the same for the foot-workers including the forest guards but that would require some maturity and thoughtfulness which we so easily assume to be elite.

road to chandipur
It was an engrossing chat and I got to know so much about the park. I had many questions to ask (smuggling of timber, poaching, animal density of certain key species, wellbeing of the ground workers, naxal problem, relocation of the villages outside the park, etc) but we didn’t have time and we couldn’t stay inside. We had to leave but not before exchanging our numbers and a promise made to Mr Mallick that we would come again. He thanked us another time and told that it was good to see the park getting tourists like us who were not only understanding but aware of things. I couldn’t feel any better. It was already pitch black by the time we were back on our way to the exit. Moving out, we could see some people in the forest (they were not supposed to be there at this point of time and we were sure they were up for some mischief, maybe timber or firewood) but since we were unarmed and vulnerable to attack we had to speed off. The leafy branches of a tree blocked our way but Mr Behra (who merely had a thick wooden stick as his only means to safeguard him and the whole of us) didn’t get down to see if it was actually a sloth bear holding down the branches as he was apprehending. We somehow managed to scuttle under the foliage and within half an hour came back to the main road via the same checkgate.

chandipur beach, balasore
We went to the same dhaba where we had our breakfast and since we still had our lunch we had that for dinner and went to a nearby hotel (as per Mr behra’s recommendation). The dinner was bad (the vegetables half-cooked and the chicken red with artificial color) but we were eager to go and rest. The hotel was pretty cheap (Rs 700 for a room of 6 and we were 5 of us) but awesomely clean and well-maintained. It was amazing to have got such a striking room for such a decent price and at such a place and like I always maintain, India will never cease to surprise you. After all, we are in the most interesting country on earth. We paid our forest guard Rs 300 (Rs 50 more than what he had asked for considering his hospitality, affection, friendliness and eagerness to take us around). How I wish our forests get more such Mr Behras and Mr Mallciks. I know they are not reluctant to work and safeguard our heritage. On the contrary they have a greater sense of duty than most of us but then looking at their salaries and the living conditions and with no voice to fight for their cause whatsoever theirs is a lost cause which needs an immediate representation for they are the frontrunners in our means to protect our forest and all our animals within their confines.

prashant n his acrobatics
I could see the lack of training they have and despite all odds the eagerness to serve the forests which is more out of love than greed of money, which nevertheless they are not paid much of. Despite the hectic train journey, lack of sleep or rest and the entire day’s going around we were not tired. We were worried of mosquitoes but they thankfully never came and after some adda and chit chat amongst ourselves for how the day went and what the next day had in store for us we retired to sleep.

a new day has come
We woke to a beautiful morning and Jashipur was a small nondescript Indian town yet beautiful and fresh. I could see the distant forested hills from the balcony and the metallic road straight down. We dressed ourselves up and moved out to take the first bus to Baripada but despite having the tickets we couldn’t board it and that was because the ticket collector had made others sit in our place (after having our tickets we had gone for breakfast and maybe the ticket collector thought we had disappeared for good). We returned back much ahead of the scheduled departure but he had already donated our seats. We had to come back in the next bus and it was annoying waiting in the heat.

nautanki at chandipur
We reached Baripada and took another bus to reach Balasore. It is always enriching to look at the country side and generate a sense of how well-off the place is. Our train was supposed to leave at night so we had enough time with us and we decided to go to Chandipur, one of the shallowest beaches in India, perhaps in the world. We hired an auto and going across the shiny pitched road cutting across shrimp farms and fields reached the beach. We had our lunch, booked a room and left for the sea. It was famous for the horseshoe crab but we couldn’t see any therein. It was low tide and despite having walked for miles and miles the maximum water that could reach us was not beyond our knees. We spent some time in the shallow water playing and fooling around and posing for photographs and clicking around. When the sun was about to die amidst the multi coloured hues of the sky we left for our hotels. Chandipur is nothing exotic but ideal for a weekend outing when one just needs to relax, eat, drink and make merry. The country side is beautiful and people friendly.

chandipur beach
We met an Australian group who had come to India and were touring the nation in an auto while we were having tea and thought it was a nice idea to explore the treasure that our nation is. We left Chandipur at around 8 PM and reached Balasore station within 40 minutes and before boarding the train to reach Howrah and continue with our dal-chawal life went around the town. We entered a fair that said it sold local handicrafts but shockingly it was more Made-in-China than local. Seemingly, irony is ruling the Indian lands.


  1. Great travelogue Vivek, made my day! I'll visit Simlipal in a week's time and will be staying in the Jamuani Forest lodge inside the park, near Jashipur. Could you please share with me Mr. Behra and Mr. Mallick's number? After reading your story, I'm pretty keen to meet them in person.


  2. great story...
    it makes me visualize how you guys enjoyed.
    i hope i will take a glimpse of Simlipal one day.
    there is nothing peaceful and exotic than exploring beauty and
    secrets of nature.

    ...thanks to share

  3. Hi vivek... This is really helpful... We are planning to visit simlipal this month.. I just wanna know is this place safe for girls or not...?? I mean if you're planning to go out for a holiday with your friends...

  4. hi anon - i wouldn't say it's unsafe for girls! just that, try staying at jashipur for the night if you are planning to stay overnight! planning accommodation inside the forest - if allowed, is not something i would recommend you guys if you have girls with you!

  5. Thanks a lot.... Atrayee..

  6. Hello Vivek.....It was a pleasure to go through your travel diary.
    I am planning to visit Simlipal In January 2015. I come to know that the forest rest houses are at Jamuani & Gurguria.
    Which one will be better in terms of scenic beauty.

  7. Hello. Jamuani frh is not in dense forest area. Its better to stay at chahala

  8. Hi. How many person should ideally be in a group if it has girls?? What is the bare minimum time 1 has to give to witness the striking beauty of the sanctuary?

  9. good... I am a resident of Jashipur... bt u narrated it quite closer...

  10. good... I am a resident of Jashipur... bt u narrated it quite closer...

  11. Thank you my friend for ur visit. We are happy to welcome u here.Next time if you want to visit, Please contact me. I will make ur tour more streamlined. This is my native place. Though Iam working as a Scientist in NML, But during November and December I was there on holidays.I want Similipal must be very popular among peoples. There are many other places which u missed out in ur tour( though u covered most of them), Next time before visiting Similipal drop an email to me. I will send u the basic idea about the place and the best available things.
    Thanking You
    Santosh Pani

  12. Hello Vivek,
    Can you give the contact number of the hotel you mentioned here at Chandipur?

    1. i am afraid i don't have it but there are multiple lodging options so you should be good if you are going there..

  13. great depiction of a memorable journey, kudos

  14. Great travelogue Vivek.
    Thanks for writing.
    It will definitely help people who want to go to STR.