Green hope for Maharashtra's big cats

In 2010, the Chandoli National Park was declared as a part of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. This missing piece of a green jigsaw fell into place, finally, ensuring that a large tract of forests in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra fall into one continuous stretch.

Backwaters of Chandoli dam. Pics/C Gangadharan Menon

Why Chandoli?
Chandoli on one side adjoins the Koyna Sanctuary, and on the other side the Radhanagari Sanctuary. This stretch provides for a corridor for the tigers and leopards to reach the forests of Goa, in case they choose to take a long walk.

Malabar Lily

As we set out to reach this green corridor, Janabai’s mango tree in this region was one of the stops. Finding it was an exercise in mud-track rally driving. The looming mango tree was at least 100 years old and had a story behind it. Janabai, a generous woman of her times, had offered money to the shepherd community called the dhangars. Thus, helping them pay their land tax to the British during pre-independence days. In her honour, they planted a mango sapling, and today, it towers over 200 feet, and is seen with its head and shoulders above the other forest trees from as far away as 5 kms!

Baya Weaver on its nest

Back at the base, we attended a training programme conducted under the able guidance of Mohan Karnat, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Kolhapur. A team of nearly 80 guards and officers were imbibing the latest methods of GPS tracking, using the best wireless systems, setting up of camera traps, and familiarisation with new laws that empower them. The senior officers and a special visiting faculty from other states jointly conducted this.

Yellow flowers with mist rising in the background

Bird-call time
A birding trip was on the cards the following morning. Soon after we left the road and walked on to the forest path, we entered the primary forest. The excitement was palpable as we came across the massive hoof-marks of a herd of bison as they trailed down a hill-slope. In another patch, wild boars had uprooted edible plants for dinner last night. We spotted Tree Pies, Babblers, Paradise Flycatchers, Woodpeckers, Drongos and ScarletMinivets who gave us company.

Representational Pic

When we returned, Karnat greeted us with news about the birth of few tiger cubs that were sighted in the reserve. But the location wasn’t disclosed; this we learnt remains a closely guarded secret privy to a couple of trusted officers. One of them, Shrirang Shinde, was an avid botanist who showed us several incredible plants in the area: Bamburti, a plant that’s used by localsto preserve dead bodies. Daatpadi that’s fed to cattle to increase their weight just before a village auction! Chirkha, which on being fed to a dying cow will make the cow stand up, albeit for a few minutes and Agara the grain of which is used by locals to cook food during drought, as it’s the only plant that survives extreme lack of water.

At Kaas, we witnessed a beautiful sight. Shinde, who has been studying the flora of Western Ghats for almost three decades, was part of a team that discovered a new species of grass. It was named Eulalia Shrirangi after the master botanist ShrirangYadav.

How to get there
>> Chandoli is 380 kms from Mumbai.
>> Turn at Islampur after driving along the Mumbai-Kolhapur highway.
>> It’s another 35 kms from there.

Best season
November to March Where to stay: Inspection Bungalow at Warnavati. Write to Executive Engineer, Irrigation Department, Mandur, Kolhapur 

Call: 02345226318 / 02342224539

Carnival time in kochi
Enjoy the last week of the year at a cultural spectacle called the Cochin Carnival, which is celebrated at Fort Kochi, every year. The festival includes several unique games, dirt bike races, beach volleyball and fireworks display along with cultural performances as part of the festivities. The carnival is celebrated as a continuity of the Portuguese New Year revelry, which used tobe held at the fort during when they ruled over these parts.
From: December 25 to January 1
At: Fort Kochi.  

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