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Friday, 01 June, 2018, 16 : 15 PM [IST]

A Terai Sojourn with TUTC!

Although Dudhwa National Park has a pre-eminent position among the Tiger Reserves in India because of it’s association with the life of India’s best-known naturalist and conservationist, late ‘Billy’ Arjan Singh, the National Park located in the most diverse Terai region in Uttar Pradesh hasn’t been able to gain the limelight compared to many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries because of several reasons. However, there has been some attempts, of late, by both the government departments and private industry stakeholders of the area, to bring some order into the wildlife tourism ecosystem in the Dudhwa National Park and its adjoining wildlife sanctuaries of Kishanpur and Katarniaghat, so as to regain the lost glory. P Krishna Kumar who visited Dudhwa on the invitation of The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC) -run Jaagir Lodge, the only world-class wilderness lodge in the area, encapsulates his travel experiences.

I had my reservations while confirming my participation for a familiarisation trip to Dudhwa National Park at the invitation of TUTC which has recently taken over the management of Jagir Lodge, marking their diversification into wilderness tourism. The reasons were many, but key being the long road travel, the rigours of a road journey of 270 km from Lucknow to Dudhwa located close to Nepal border in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. However, the fascination to see the unseen side of Uttar Pradesh, the most ‘happening state’ of India hooked me in.

The road leg of the journey as expected was a mix bag. No complaints, since we are made to believe that our country is on a major mission to build and upgrade our road and highway infrastructure. But, at the same time, despite the adventure factor involved, there cannot be any better mode than roads to explore the country-side of India. The almost 6-hour road journey to Dudhwa was quite educational and eye-opening. While the ultimate charm and lure was a generous ‘sighting’ of animals in their natural habitat, the journey to and from Dudhwa gave a fair glimpse of the robust rural economy of UP and India with its strong agrarian base, and therefore, a fair idea of what would an agrarian crisis or distress mean to people and the country?

Jaagir Lodge
Jaagir Lodge, tucked away from the main road few kilometres from Palia town and nestled in the middle of sugarcane farms, has been a family bungalow few years ago. A colonial era bungalow, it still resonates with that ambience at every inch with period furniture, artefacts, etc. strewn around abundantly. The original structure of the bungalow has four luxury suites and three luxury rooms, which although are not of uniform sizes, is lavishly appointed and spread out to accommodate even a family.

In terms of the facilities, Jaagir Lodge resembles a palace with guests are treated like royalty by highly professional associates of TUTC, which otherwise is a challenge for resorts located at remote destinations. Moreover, Dudhwa hardly have choices when it comes to premium accommodation, others being couple of local budget hotels and few villas operated by UP tourism. For the next tourism season, starting November, the Lodge will be adding four Luxury Huts and two Luxury Villas to its inventory. In order to make the evenings more entertaining for guests, they are also setting up a ‘Safari Club’ with pool tables, bar counter, etc.

Although Jaagir Lodge is bit removed from the protected areas, the atmosphere at the Lodge is typical of a wilderness lodge with professional naturalists engaging the guests with valuable information about the wildlife and their habitat.

Unintimidating Safari Experience
Unlike other national parks in the country, Dudhwa is unintimidating to visitors as there are far lesser visitors and safari operators around it. There is no over-crowding of vehicles at entry gates to get into the parks. However, when it comes to safari experience, Dudhwa is no inferior to other parks in terms of its rich and diverse flora and fauna. Of course, because of its sheer area of the core of almost 490 sq km and a buffer of 190 sq km, the sightings of animals can be a challenge, especially because of the dense nature of Sal forest and the thick undergrowth as large area of the park is flood plains. However, I strongly believe that the pleasure of park visits is not solely in sighting of animals but about the excitement associated with every ‘call’, the wild chase for the sighting following the direction of the ‘calls’, etc.

Fortunately, our two-day sojourn at Dudhwa didn’t go in vain. We had our fair share of luck at Kishanpur, a wildlife sanctuary which is part of the Dudhwa national park, when a young female tigress came right on our tracks and waylaid us for almost half an hour, giving our cameras a good feast with her postures. Known in the local parlance as ‘Kankatti’ for her facial features, she hesitated to move away from the jeep tracks despite the crowding of jeeps around her.

Even the Jumbo safari to the Rhino conservatory in Dudhwa is a delight for visitors. There is a 27sq km Rhino conservation area within Dudhwa National Park. Started in 1986 by translocating five Rhinos from Assam as part of conservation, today Dudhwa has a very healthy number of onehorned Rhinos.

The forex business of the parent company will be demerged into CKFS

Dudhwa National Park is also known for its rich avian population. It is being said that more than 600 species of birds are seen in Dudhwa and the forests around it. The Jhadi Tal in the middle of Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for migratory birds from as far as Siberia in the Winters. Lot of Bird Watchers visit these areas during winter months. Special watch huts are erected along the length of the lake to facilitate watching of birds for such enthusiasts. UP Eco-tourism society has started promoting these areas through Bird Festival from this year.

Although we had to drop Katarniaghat sanctuary, another interesting range which is a connecting link of the entire corridor to Nepal, as we were told that the boat ride in the Gairwa river is stopped for some safety reasons, Anoop, our young naturalist from TUTC, very well compensated for it with an exclusive Safari into the Sathyana area, which is on the fringes of Dudhwa. At the end of it, Sathyana, a totally neglected buffer of Dudhwa, turned out to be equally or more exciting cog in the whole wilderness experience for us with close sighting of the Swamp deers, wild boars, sambars, flying cats, and missing by a whisker of a Big Cat on the kill!

Challenging turf
While every attempt is made by organised operators like TUTC in coordination with the government departments to instil some kind of order into the system of these Parks, lawlessness continues to prevail in these parks, that too at the behest of the powers that be. While offroading is strictly prohibited in the core during safaris, we could see jeeps carrying senior officials and their relatives blatantly violating such norms giving scant regard to the instructions of the guides and the laid down guidelines of the Park. On one occasion, we came across a driver of a senior Forest department official, who was on a joyride with his family in the Kishanpur sanctuary, threatening the Forest guide for questioning off-roading and rash driving in the Park. In Sathyana, we could see trails of human presence at several places in the Park, in some instances not far away from the guard room set up to nab poachers.
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