Jungle Odyssey

One weekend at Jambughoda wildlife sanctuary.
By Bindu Saxena
Do not burn yourselves out. Save the other half of you and your lives for pleasure and adventure. Get out there, ramble out yonder and explore the forests.”
Abbey.
Erected for every traveller, for all seasons and good reason, these guide, inform, and caution us about the hidden hazards, and also provide useful knowledge about the place we set out for.

It was my first experience with the woods in Gujarat. My fingers itch to write that it’s a place to be in at Navratri, when the world’s longest dance festival is held here for nine nights. Celebrated in reverence of the divine goddesses, the prevalent part of the dance and worship called Garba and Dandia Raas are inseparable part of the identity of this state.

A friend invited us to witness this most famous festive tradition in Vadodara.

Keeping the city as base, we stepped outside our tiny world. We travelled far and near, but it was the weekend trip to Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary that had me engulfed completely. Though the entire trip was an experience, anything Hat ke keeps lingering.

A 77-kilometre drive on the Vadodara-Halol roadway took us to the place. A sudden sensation of delight made my experience worth cherishing.

For a holiday filled with excitement I made sure I fill both channels of my nose with the smell of nature. So, we booked a night in an eco-tourism resort.

After a butter-smooth drive for nearly 55 kms we entered an unknown area – in interior roads those that were neither so bad nor so good, too. Finally, we made headway to a kutcha road.

It was time to locate the resort. It was at this moment that the GPS system withdrew its support. A thought crossed our mind. Would it be likely to find a resort down this kutcha road?

The width was enough for one four-wheeler to take its course. Surrounded by shrubs, trees, and dead silence, we found ours has been the only vehicle all along.

One could see a pond on one side, a few broken cowsheds, and barely a human life.

Jungle Odyssey

As we drove past, I felt a frightening fun and unknown nostalgia. Lightning and thunder with a meagre presence of sunshine started playing hide and seek.

At two odd points we met a fork and didn’t know which way to turn. What if the path we chose proved wrong? How would the car be reversed if the direction was incorrect?

For our assistance, a drunkard signboard with an arrow hung lazily in front.

We crossed our fingers and followed it.

Finally, we reached the resort. It was a happy surprise to see about 20 vehicles already parked in it, neatly.

The anticipation to get down from the car and enter its gate was like a child in me. And it is always there.

Not alone to this jungle odyssey, it’s for every place I chose to visit.

I suffer from hodomania, you know.

Take away

Read all signboards. These are meant for us.

Kutcha roads are not covered under the Global Positioning System. Therefore, to read every little word especially on an unknown voyage is of paramount importance. Value it.

Keep the alertness and curiosity of a child intact so you read what your companions missed.

big bamboo tree

This magnificent forest has a variety of flora and fauna. The former category is dominated by teak and bamboo, and the latter has leopard, the top predator, with other animal species like sloth bears, jackals, wild boars and a variety of reptiles.

Except for tall bamboo trees we saw none, but the poetry of nature sung many songs in our ears.

And, that’s the beauty of a holiday – away from the mundane, refreshing, restful and quiet!

We were refreshed and ready for a good breakfast.

Through the day a frequent power outage with limited power back-up was a bit annoying, so to fill our day, we headed to Pavagadh Hill which is 20 kilometres from here. During Navaratri, this hill station fetches a mammoth rush because atop the hill sits the temple of goddess Kali. It can be accessed in the luxury of your personal vehicle or via a rope way.

At its foothill lies a UNESCO Heritage site – Champaner. We visited two of the six mosques here. King Vanaraj founded this place in the 8th century. The name comes from the then governor, Champa, who ruled Gujarat from Patan.

It began to rain. It was time to drive back to our campsite.

It rained heavily. A thunderous spell, indeed! It lasted for two hours. The fury of high-decibel lightning sounds was scary like halloween characters.

The temperature dropped, but humidity scaled upwards. Power was not restored for one hour. The mosquito coils saved our skin. Amidst candle-light chats it was time to appreciate a vegetarian meal.

The tiny amphibians kept hopping around as we stepped out. Don’t you cringe at the sight of these toads?

I hadn’t seen such a big lizard! At least one of these looked long and ferocious like Uromastyx, the dragon lizard. No wonder, they get their grub in abundance.

We lay in the dark and enjoyed the sounds and smells slowly drifting away to sleep…

Take away

None of the rooms had a television set, perhaps to encourage the guests to enjoy the outdoors.

The area is safe during the day, but one is advised to stay within the premises after the sunset.

We filled our evening with a revisit to day’s fun in the absence of clinking of glasses.

Contagious optimism prevailed at 6 am in the morning, when we heard peacocks call.

The eerie, high-pitched sound like a crying baby made us look for it in vain. Bright and breezy we were eager to visit Kada water reservoir.

The road was narrow. Surrounding it was tall and not so tall, thick and not so thick forest on either side. Though we didn’t find any birds or animals, we saw them painted on boards at intervals.

Till almost five minutes before the dam, we found a fairly steep walk. It was the parking point for the vehicles. One might decide against walking up broken stairs, in a secluded point having a stony, uneven and wet passage, but a group walk becomes encouraging, enjoyable and enriching.

It was a breathtaking view! The fog was almost at the surface of the earth.

Down in the valley, the thickness of the trees – of varying height, density, and colour made a brilliant combination.

I was in complete harmony with nature.

The smartphones had all the answers on our fingertips.

I got to know I was standing at one of the rarest portions – almost 4.5 per cent of the land in India – which are covered under forests. And in this tiny percentage, it houses about 500 wildlife sanctuaries and over 80 national parks.

I began to learn what I unconsciously unlearned during all these years of growing up.

It was easy to understand that wildlife sanctuaries used to be the hunting grounds for the rich and famous in the past, which is now a punishable crime.

Just between you and me, I was told my great grandfather used to go for hunting and I did remember having homemade pickle of deer.

Both are declared protected sites where human interference and activity is limited except for educational, recreational and research purposes.

For maintenance, both receive assistance from the Central government.

badra sanctuary big

In the case of a wildlife sanctuary, an owner can be the government, a private organisation, and even a person, too. Tree cutting is banned. Entering and roaming inside it is easy as it is not a fenced area.

However, a national park, which is a relatively recent concept was introduced in 1969 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), has a definite boundary. One is not allowed to enter until prior approval is obtained with a valid visitor’s ticket procured but one cannot roam about freely. The visitors can see the park only under a guided tour in a jeep or jungle safari.

This sojourn also had me salute the exacting feat of a wildlife photographer. Holding his heavy camera with knowledge of what to do when the ‘magnificent moment’ comes is just phenomenal.

It is certain that a holiday rejuvenates. So, until scientists prove that it helps a human immune system, too, to fight diseases and our doctors prescribe, “Go on a holiday” let us holiday!

Back at Vadodara, incessant rains dimmed the Garba festivities, but my jungle odyssey left me in high spirits.

For me, it was a real therapy. And if it made you smile even once, I will consider myself successful.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, an enriched environment influences the function of T-cells, a type of white blood cell essential for immunity.

Scientists conducted a research on mice at Queen Mary University of London. The mice were not given any drugs. They found that alterations to their living space alone made them more prone to having a protective inflammatory effect.

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