The tumbler trap

  • Vikram Jit Singh, None, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Sep 14, 2014 11:11 IST


Fish poachers deploy many an ingenious method but this one was startling. On a ramble through the Shiwaliks, I came across a boy and a man placing steel tumblers in a gushing rivulet near Nanakpur village on the Pinjore-Baddi highway. I initially thought they were pulling out urns that had been released into the rivulet with coins and like material as a ritual for the dead. But on closer examination, it turned out to be a ‘katori’ trap for minnows (small fish).


The poachers would place ‘atta balls’ in the katoris, cover the face with a cloth, pierce a small hole through it, and wedge the katori between submerged rocks. The minnows would seek the atta and get trapped in the katoris as not all the fish managed to find the opening in the cloth from which they had entered. Within 30 minutes, the duo had trapped 35-40 minnows. Though not the ideal table fish as per our genteel tastes, minnows are rich in food value and are also preferred by wetland birds. These two poachers, who worked in nearby factories, happily declared they would savour the minnows after lightly frying them in oil.


One of the biggest of lions shot in the Gir forests at the dawn of Independence now adorns the Rajput Regimental Centre at Fatehgarh near Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. But therein hangs a shikar tale interwoven into the mesh of tricky politics and armed stealth that finally ensnared a ‘nettlesome’ princely state for the Indian Union. In October 1947, then Brig Gurdial Singh, a Sandhurst alumni, was given command of the Kathiawar Defence Force and tasked to assist in the accession of Junagadh ruled by a dog-loving Nawab and whose Dewan was Shah Nawaz Bhutto. The military operation was couched in utter secrecy and sensitivity given that the communal cauldron was simmering. Brig Singh later retired as a Major General and died in 1971. His younger son, Harpreet Singh Sandhu who is settled in Panchkula, recounts the story of those epic times.

Brig. Gurdial Singh, in turban with rifle, stands in the centre. PHOTO COURTESY: HARPREET


Brig. Singh had moved in and deployed his troops according to the plan. He then awaited orders as MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and VP Menon consulted each other and deployed political means to bring Junagadh to heel. Biding his time till the political directive for a military operation was delivered, Brig Singh indulged in his passion for shikar. He was a fine marksman whose skills, especially with the shotgun, had earlier come to the notice of Mountbatten himself.

The idling force commander first brought down a leopard that had been active in the Ramnath temple area of Rajkot. Brig Singh then went to the Gir and hunted this fine lion with a single shot through the flanks and the heart from his .375 Holland and Holland ‘Royal’ double rifle. Since the Rajputs were his parent regiment, and in keeping with the officer tradition of those times to donate personal possessions to build up regimental properties, the lion was mounted in a glass case and presented to the Regimental Centre by Brig Singh.


Kuljeet on his night patrol. PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH

Boozards who staggered into 13 liquor vends of Balachaur sub-division in Punjab were startled by peculiar photographs: of a Russell’s viper! The viper pictures had been placed there by the vends’ owner, Kuljeet Singh, to make his employees and customers aware of this viper and inform him of its sighting in their area. Kuljeet was helping snake-rescue expert Nikhil Sanger collect viper specimens for venom extraction by herpetologists, Rom Whitaker and Gerry Martin, in furtherance of their nationwide project to study regional variations in venoms. But as luck would have it, the vipers, which are rare in the Balachaur area, did not surface before any of the liquor employees or customers and the herpetologists had to make do with only two vipers gathered from elsewhere.

Kuljeet is a rather unlikely candidate for wildlife conservation: by appearance, culture and persuasion. Many years back, he was a compulsive hunter bringing down sambar, neelgai and wild boar with a shotgun or a .315 rifle. But he noticed over the years that wild animals were dwindling. A chance sighting of a splendid herd of neelgais glowing in the winter sun mesmerised him and turned his thoughts away from blood lust. Kuljeet is compulsively a creature of the night. He patrols from dawn to dusk the roads along the Shiwaliks to keep liquor smugglers at bay. Now, he also ensures no poacher dares enter his area of patrolling.

Kuljeet and his men also assisted Sanger in January 2014 to rescue five Rock pythons that had hidden in silt piled under a bridge on the Chandigarh-Nawanshahr highway.

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