I walked in early to the bus stop and sat quietly in a corner, observing life returning to its activity on a new day. My bus was to arrive only at 8.30 and I had nearly 90 minutes at my expense. Morning fog was clearing up slowly, but still managing to keep the sun hidden behind it. A couple of chai shops were open and the few people who were seen at the bus stop were gathered around the shops. Noisy auto-rickshaws arrived and departed occasionally, bringing in more people who would walk up to the chai shop or taking away some out of there. Once in a while, some one wandered next to me asked where I was headed. “Chilla”, I would say and they would move on as if satisfied with the response. A few helpful would go on to say that my bus should arrive at 8.30.
I decided to take a walk, trying to fight the sleepy morning creeping into my body and mind. The Barrage across Ganga was close by and I could see the bridge on it fade into the mist and beyond. Mysterious and deep waters of the Ganges lay still on one side of the barrage, with a layer of fog protecting it from the sun. Concrete walls of the barrage restricted the flow into steady trickle. Wooded banks of the river were occupied by bold and noisy alexandrine parakeets, seemingly proud of their green camouflage. A bunch of jungle babblers wandered on the ground searching for insects. A pair of restless pied mynas kept moving from branch to branch.
Fog was making its way out by the time my bus arrived. Earth was still covered by a thin invisible layer of wetness, as a reminder of the dew accumulated through the night. Distant hills remained faintly visible, blocked by residual fog. Soon the bus sped past the barrage and we passed the gates of Rajaji National Park. We drove along the canal that carried the water out of the barrage. A few Gujjar herdsmen entered into the bus from the villages that dotted the periphery of the park. It
was 9am when I reached Chilla, a village in the heart of Rajaji national park.
Late February is not exactly the best time of the year to visit the wilderness in these parts. The migratory birds would have gone back by then, and the mammals would still be spending most of their time deep inside the forest. I was not exactly hoping to see much either – I was there just to get a feel of the park and enjoy its landscape and the forest. I hired a jeep from the first jeep-owner who approached me. We finished the entry formalities quickly and were on our way in the jungle very soon.
Dust went up freely as we drove through the forest. The amount of dust on the road was a good indication of the traffic on it and the number of tourists who visit the place. We encountered thick forest as soon as we moved out of Chilla. My driver did mention that we can’t expect to see any big mammals on our way. I did not bother.
Parakeets dominated the canopy of the park. There was hardly a moment when I did not hear them scream or whizzing above us as if they are in a real hurry. A few minutes of drive and our road merged into a dry riverbed and we continued driving right on the river! As we drove on, a sandpiper went looking around for food in the puddles formed by the leftover water on the riverbed. A herd of chitals, stomach full with the grass that grew on the riverbed were resting quietly in a corner. A pair of them playfully fought with their antlers as we watched. Moving further, our noisy jeep caused commotion among an unusually large gathering of peacocks. An eagle looked at us with its sharp and watchful eyes. Indeed, we did not sight any big mammals as the driver we predicted. Short hills with thick forest cover, and river running in the middle of them makes up the landscape of the park area. It is a beautiful drive, which always makes the visit worthwhile.
An Indian Roller
I spent rest of the day chatting with the naturalists and other residents of Chilla. As I kept looking for a barbet hiding in the canopy of a tree, some one walked into me and asked the question that I always get to hear –
“So you are interested in birds?”
I nodded, and he turned out to be one of the naturalists with a wealth of information on the birds in the park. We discussed birds for a while, and then he gave me a good lot of information on Corbett, where I was heading next. I soon moved on to the elephant stables, hoping to have a peek at them.
The safari elephant enjoys a private moment
Jogi quenching thirst!
A youngling, Jogi was walking around the stable freely, under the watchful eyes of the caretaker. He had every feature of a young and naughty kid, agile and restless, walking all over. Baby elephants are a treat to watch, their presence seems evoke a soft happiness from inside. He walked into his drinking water tank, dipped his trunk and sipped a few bucketful to quench his thirst. He saw me approaching, and to my surprise, turned around and started walking towards me! He looked friendly and I stood and waited. He came close and stretched his trunk, as if to shake my hands! I wished I could speak to Jogi at that moment and make friends. I did the next best thing – I spoke to the caretaker –
“Wo kya chahta hai?“, What does he want?
“Khana maang raha hai!” came the reply. Jogi was looking for food. He must have been used to travellers falling in love with him and offering goodies till he is pleased. I did not want to fall behind. I quickly came back with some edibles for Jogi and thrusted them to his stretched trunk. I massaged his forehead gently and he seemed to be mighty pleased. Of course, I was pretty pleased too.
Sun was already moving towards the horizon and it was time for me to leave. I took the first bus to Haridwar and made my way out, carrying memories of noisy parakeets and the naughty Jogi.
RAJAJI NATIONAL PARK INFORMATION
The park is located between the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, and is a 20 to 30 minute drive from either of the towns. It is a 6-7 hour drive from Delhi. The forest department reception is at Chillawali village, often called Chilla. This serves as the gateway to the park where you can get permissions and hire jeeps for going into the forest or book your elephant safari. A typical 30km jeep safari lasts for two to three hours and sets you short by Rs.500 to 700. To know about other places of interest around here, see my post on Rishikesh.
Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam(GMVN) has a guesthouse in Chilla, which is the ideal place to stay for park visitors. Book in advance in the weekends. The next option is to stay in Rishikesh or Hardwar and drive to Chill
a early in the morning.
The park is a tiger reserve, but sightings are not common. Elephants, wild boar, a few type of deer are commonly seen fauna of the park. The park is spread over an area of 820 square kilometers in Shivalik range of hills.