Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Gharghodan safari

It was 3.30 in the noon and the temperature was still 45 degree Celsius outside. The sun was playing the innings of his life and I was doing nothing except mumbling words of desperation at the sun and at the electricity department for doing what they are best at; load shedding.

But then like a merciful drop of raindrop on a parched land, my cell rang and it was Mr.X on the other line. Mr.X is one of the many forest department employees whom I have acquainted with since I came to Gharghoda. He was blabbering something that was making no sense and the only thing I could make out was that he was going on a raid to capture timber smugglers and if I wanted to join , he will be waiting for me at the forest guest house where I am currently staying.

I had five minutes to come with an excusable reason to explain to my boss that why I was leaving the office so abruptly . 3 minutes later, I was in my way to the spot where we had decided to meet.

There were four forest employees, one driver and one banker in that Bolero when it took from Gharghoda for the daring adventure to catch the tree thieves.

While on way to destination, which was 70 kms away, they told me that they had got information from the villagers that some timber fellers where cutting trees. And if we are lucky enough we would be able to catch them before they are able to smuggle the heavy wood out of the forest, probably Sagun. This area of Chhattisagrh has heavy plantation of Sagun and i’ts not rare to come across such smuggling.

Soon we were out of the city and curved roads dotted with green trees , lush fields and mountains of soil greeted us make the whole stretch beautiful. In between we also saw huge area of forest cover that was destroyed by wild fire.

Wild fire, they told me, rarely occurs because of natural cause. In 95 percent cases the fire is lighted by the Mahua collectors on behest of local Mahua merchants who find it cumbersome to separate the Mahua from the bed of dried leaves and hence they find it more easy to set the whole area on fire and take away the Mahua later.

The guards who are deputed to stop the fire from spreading have nothing highfi to battle this hot menace and they mostly rely on fresh branches of trees to extinguish fire and they admitted that once a fire starts it is very difficult to stop it from spreading until it has reached its zenith and starts dying down by itself.

The state forest department is spending large amount of money to plant trees and increase the forest area, but its efforts are being mitigated by the regular incidents of forest fire.

Then they narrated me a story of three bears, presumably siblings, who apparently after having their fill of Mahua decided that the shiny Tar road was the best place to have some 'after drinking nap as they laid there for 12 hours. Neither of them, inspite of being conscious, had any problem when the guards shifted them to a safer place using bamboo sticks. Ohh... How much I miss Jehenuma,TC.

And when they finally woke up, they walked away, still reeling on the feet to a nearby nullah to remove the hangover. My take is that these animals have been watching sitcoms too seriously.

One of the person sitting in the backseat narrated me of how he saved a life of an elephant calf who was stuck in the mud for 12 hours.

The guard was posted at a place, 90 kms from Gharghoda. And it was a night of heavy rains when he was told by the villagers that a herd of elephant had converged on a spot in the middle of forest and were showing signs of agitations.

When he rushed there he found that there were more than fifty villagers who had assembled there and were waiting anxiously to see why the elephants were so angry. As our brave guard went near he saw that a calf of not more than 2 months was trying to keep his trunk out of the mud pit in which he had fallen. The elephants were trying to pull out the calf but were not able to get a grip on him. And he was slipping back

So on a night when the rain drops were as huge as a peanut and the sound of thunder was making the overall atmosphere even more menacing, our guard decided to climb into the mud pit to pull the calf out.

The herd consisted of 15-20 elephants with 3 more calves and as you must be aware elephants, like any mother, are pretty unpredictable when it comes to the protection of their calves. But our brave lad took his chance and slowly but steadily walked towards them.

He told me that in spite of his being uniform totally wet , still he didn’t take them off, because he believed that the elephants recognize the colour of Khaki and would do him no harm and his belief was proved right as the elephants made way for him to climb into the mud pit.

Entering the mud pit was another thing and getting that scary calf almost another. And to make matter worse he had the company of so many huge agitated and confused elephants . Hardly any reason to feel comfortable.

The villagers were watching the whole drama unfold silently, perhaps thinking of what they will tell to the Bada Saheb who will scold them for not stopping an insane forest guard from taking up such antics. Or maybe they were thinking that whether the Gajraj will let them take away the body of the poor guard for a proper cremation.

Well fortunately, nothing of such short happened, and after 20 minutes of hard labour, the jumbo kid was pushed out by him. And everything ended on a happy note.

The guard then proudly tells me that when the elephants were moving back into deeper forest along with the rescued cough, the leader of the herd, turned back , looked at our dude and cried out in loud voice as she raised her trunk. Maybe saying thank you.

At the mention of this concluding remark all hell broke loose as the other guards who were quiet till now, started mocking him , calling him names that are too classy to be written here.

At this point we reached our village and saw our informer standing under a tree...

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