The connectivity bars on my phone started doing the vanishing act as we drove further into the green stretch. As we took a sharp turn from the last village standing between us and our destination for the next two days, what lay ahead of us was the 12-km river bed stretch which needed to be crossed before we arrived at our destination deep amidst the green expanse that engulfed us through out the camel-ride like journey. An hourlater of the bumpy ride we were face to face with the enigmatic Shivalik Range that stared right back at us combined with sporadic streams and brooks amidst myriad of flora and fauna.
A nature lover's delight
The thing about the Forrest resort at Rajaji National Park is the fact that it has a little something to offer everyone. An eco-tourism resort, it is very strategically placed right outside of the main reservation yet, not too far. So if you are lucky, like the staff at Forrest, a leopard may just pay you a visit without you having to step outside of the confinements of the luxury tents like it happened a couple of days before we got here. Naturalist Vineet narrated, how while having lunch at the Gole Ghar, he realised he was staring at a leopard napping on a tree trunk not far from him. "As exciting as it was to see the beautiful creature so closely, we could not ignore the underlying danger, however, before we could react, the leopard sensing human presence or perhaps the danger from us, decided to quickly make an escape" he explained at the bonfire later that night. Since Rajaji National Park comes under the Elephant project, these tuskered giants often make appearances around the resort, especially in the night to quench their thirst. However, apart from the big animals, the Retreat amidst the thick lush green foliaged forest interspersed with majestic Ganges and other streams calls for an experience to be just another one amongst the ferocious tigers, swift leopards, solitary bears, creepy cobras, bellowing deers, chattering monkeys and many more.
But if your idea of a quick break from the crazy city life is to laze in the warmth of the sun, Forrest allows you to do that too. The retreat is well furnished with all the modern and carefully chosen facilities that one can ask for. Choose from the twenty well appointed superior thatched cottage tents set in the background of rustic environs providing opulent and intimate memorable experiences. But if there is small inkling of some activity to keep you busy, well, the resort is fully equipped with recreational activities like, trekking, in house games, River-Rafting in Ganges and mountain biking trips.
A mammoth experience
Big stone boulder, greyish silver huge rocks to be precise, is what I was staring at from a distance. The jeep came to a sudden halt as if the driver had spotted something. The eyes grew curious and started imagining things because for the past one-and-a-half hour, the expectations of seeing the world's largest land animal seemed very bleak. And then something moved. Was it a small rock that just slid past the big one? But then it dawned within a second when the long trunk pushed the bum of her little one to climb a step which the little one was struggling with. One little push and he or she was already ahead of the mommy elephant yet making sure not to drift apart too much. But this was not just it, a minute later another mother-calf pair joined them. It was just like a play date of sorts just it wasn't amidst the confines of the city. By now everyone was standing on their toes to get a better look at these humungous creatures who without any hesitation were displaying their softer side. "They are known to be aggressive and charge at humans if there is a child in the vicinity" said Ajay Ghale the Naturalist who accompanied us to the safari. "And mind you they may look like they can't run...but they are fast so we need to keep distance" he cautioned in the background. The binoculars did help us see better but could not give us the perfect view. Ghale advised to move the jeep to a better location for a clearer view and seconds later it was almost as if we were watching the show straight from the balcony seats.
Satisfied over the fact that we didn't go empty handed, we left the wild beast to do their best. The sighs were now replaced by grins that ran from ear to ear and as we drove away not having the slightest bit of idea what was waiting ahead of us. A full grown male displayed his tuskers as he bathed at the river bed, a site straight out of the discovery channel. Suddenly the celebrations came to a standstill because all eyes were on this mammoth like creature who looked perfect in his humble aboard. One can't help but realize how perfect these animals look in their homes here in the jungle, in their homes. We left the giant to do go about his life without interfering too much and headed back to the camp.
A bird watchers delight
Currently there are 430 species of birds including migratory birds that can be spotted at the conservation. If you are a bird enthusiast, you will find plenty to keep your eyes pointed upwards. While on the prowl to locate a herd of elephants we chanced upon many of the winged species, the most common being the Crested serpent eagle, which we found twice perched atop the naked tree tops. Ghale was quick at spotting the Blue Jay more commonly known as the Indian Roller who it seemed was unperturbed by the fact paparazzi like clicks that I thought he was more than happy to pose for. "Vultures are another species that are found in abundance at the Rajaji National Park" claimed Vineet the night before and as luck would have it, two Egyptian vultures went flying right over our heads which were chanced upon by the driver of our jeep.
5:00 pm in the evening meant breaking for some masala chai and biscuits near the watch tower. The watch tower proved to be a bird watchers haven as we were able to spot some more species like pairs of parakeets, a woodpecker pecking his way into a bark of a tree and a Pied bushchat and the group of yellow-footed green pigeons. And by the time we were about to exit the gates of the park, a group of peacocks along many wild fouls happen to graze in harmony, on a grassland.
Another hour into the jungle and it was already dark in the woods, it was now time to leave the jungle to head back to safe grounds. We bid adieu to the serene green of the jungle and headed straight for our resort which was another 25 kms from here. Darkness surrounded us as we wheeled our way out from the jungle. It was just about fifteen minutes by the time we hit the main roads only to come across a giant herd of Elephants who had left the safe confines of the jungle to venture out and show off themselves as they sipped water from the Chilla Barrage, what a site, we all thought because saying anything here would mean disturbing the peace. So we drove by the giant animals and took deep breaths, content with what we saw.