26-Dec-2008 -- We left Bhubaneswar early before dawn, I Kashinath and our reliable driver and Man Friday all rolled in one – Ananta. We passed the town of Dhenkanal while it was still dark and took a left turn at the crossing of Banarpal near Talcher. After Talcher we crossed the Samal Barrage on the Rengali Project. The beacon lights on the tall chimneys of the Super Thermal Power Plant of the National Thermal Power Corporation at Kaniha were still flashing as daybreak had not completely happened. We crossed Khamar, Pallahara and reached Barkote, from where we turned right and took the National Highway 23 to Rourkela.
The Survey of India District Map of Sundargarh clearly marked Jharbera as being five kms away from the small town of Bonai, and we edged towards it. Halfway to Bonai, I realized that something was seriously amiss, as the Garmin indicated that the CP was a good 27 Kms away, whereas the map showed Jharbera to be only 5 kms away from the main road. Kasi tapped the Garmin, and checked the batteries, assuming that wrong indications were being given. I presumed that the Degree Confluence Project people had goofed up somewhere and given the wrong locations.
We stopped at the point where we were to take a left turn to reach Jharbera, and I unfolded the map. It was only then that I realized that the District Map did not have the Lat/Long details. Fortunately we had with us the Survey of India 1:250000 Topo sheet of the area, and after careful scrutiny of the Google Earth imagery we got pointers and soon located another Jharbera, 25 kms away, which fell under the jurisdiction of K.Balanga Police Station.
We went up till Lahunipada, and after a quick lunch at a roadside eatery teeming with truck drivers we drove on further till K.Balanga. The Nav pointer indicated that the CP lay a good 3 kms away inside the Mohura Reserved Forest .
We entered a small road in front of the K.Balanga Telephone Exchange and drove on for two kms, passing the small hamlets of Patalasahi and Khariabahal till we reached a dead end as the path dipped into the Kurhadi Nalla, a small stream which had a fast flowing shallow flow of water. We left our vehicle at this point, and descended down the steep bank into the river. The nearby villagers had dammed the rivulet in places by placing rounded stones and pebbles, and this gave us easy access to cross over, notwithstanding the fact that I lost my foothold on one of the slippery rocks and fell flat into the river. Fortunately the only thing hurt was my ego, but this was put off and we resumed our walk into the forest on the other side of the Nalla.
The other side of the river was thick scrub land, being the periphery of the Reserved forest. In fact, a walk through a scrub forest has to be measured. Wild grass and groves of bamboo, thistles and bramble, thorny trees and shrubs surround you. There was no well laid out path. What you need are a good pair of shoes, thick denim jeans, ample drinking water , a machete or an axe along with a stout stick to clear the path. A pair of sunglasses would be good protection against the tall shrubs and low height branches which very often sprang on one’s face during the forward progress. We avoided walking too close to the ant hills which were scattered like mini sand castles. Originally, the scrub forest had been a good mix of dry deciduous and evergreen forest which retained their leaves through the year and was teeming with wildlife like wild pigs, boars, foxes, jackals, jungle cats, wild dogs, porcupines, rabbits and hares, peafowl, wild cockerels and troops of black bucks. ( The terminology applied by the Survey of India Maps was “dense sal forest”).But now the scrub was a tropical dry forest, which was fast turning into a stunted thorn vegetation. There is hardly any wildlife, thanks to the local hunters (we met a motley bunch, armed with bows and arrows and catapults, none of whom would face the camera and they scuttled away as soon as they saw us). The occasional forest fires too played havoc and resulted in total obliteration of the vegetative cover. These forests are being destroyed mainly due to human interference, the principal being cattle grazing and cutting the vegetation for firewood. This destruction was evident all around. The terrain turned rocky and sparse with much barren area in between. Small copses of trees had birds nesting in them. A variety of birds apparently visited this scrub forest, and the most commonly sighted was the peacock.
The scrub forest spreads across several acres of wasteland where the Forest Department had undertaken lot of afforestation work. However the results of these were dismal, it was more of a number game, where the number of saplings planted was more important, rather then the number that survived and took root.
We forded the river and after a short ascent up the bank found the remains of the foundation of a bridge. There were small mowed rice fields all around but we did not encounter a single human. There were numerous paths leading into the thick scrub, we tried our luck on a couple, following them up till the point where they deviated from the nav indicator. The third path took us into the thick forest, and the Garmin signaled that we were in the vicinity of the CP. We were suddenly startled by the barking of dogs followed by crunching of the dry leaves and snapping of twigs, and from the scrub emerged a group of around ten tribals, either Mundas or Santhalis, some of them young boys, all armed with bows and arrows. It was a hunting party with four dogs, looking out for some meat, be it a wild pig or if luckier a deer. They were as startled as us, and were reluctant to talk, presuming us to be forest officials. None of them would face our cameras, and in spite of our requests to accompany, they soon scurried off into the scrub.
These tribals have been nurtured and enriched by the forests in which they have been working since time immemorial. The customs of tribal life including their religious practices, arts and artifacts, social fabrics and folklore have all been nurtured and enriched by these forests in which they have been living in virtual symbiosis from the dawn of human history. The forests are an important part of their taboos, totem, riddles, festivals and decorations. For these forest dwellers, the Vanadevata , or the forest god was venerated. The trees were converted into the abode of spirits. Marang Buru, the presiding deity in the Sal grove holds a place of veneration and ceremonial worship by the Santhal tribes in many part of India. To cut down a tree meant depriving the spirit of its home. Very often if it became imperative to cut down any tree, special prayers for forgiveness of the tree spirit were performed before a tree was cut down or another abode offered to the Vanadevata. The worship of forests, plants, trees and animals and appeasing them is still in vogue and the forest is treated as divine. These forests link the past with the future and whisper the words of centuries.
The CP lay centered atop a small mound with typical scrub in the area. It was a nondescript area, with the scrub all around. The EPE was only 6 metres, as the mound on which the CP lay gave us clear and near 100% reception from eleven orbiting satellites. Once again, the description of the four cardinal points was rather monotonous, with scrub all around. However for academic purposes, the views are described below:
East of the CP lay small shrubs and wildflower bushes. There were a few small saplings of mixed trees life sal and teak. There was no grass cover, and the ground lay exposed.
West of the CP was the small mud mound with small growths of sal and teak saplings. The rainwater runoff and caused the exposure of many small rocks and pebbles from the loose earth on the ground, and it is certain that the mound would be leveled off in the next few monsoons.
North of the CP lay a level ground with one midsized sal tree. The rest of the vegetation was mainly short bushes, which stretched all the way to the horizon.
South of the CP lay a dense cluster of tall trees. There was a small gully which was probably a stream during the rains, across which lay a cluster of mixed growth of trees. We identified mango, teak, cashew, tamarind and a guava tree.
We had ventured deep into the scrub, about 600 metres from the discernible path, and I was anxious to pack up early as it was nearly 4.30 P.M by the time were finished with the photographs. I had a lurking doubt about the way back. In the distant we could here the frenzied barking of the dogs, and I guessed that the hunters would have a boiling pot that night.
We heard the screech of a peacock and soon saw one perched on a dry sal tree, beautifully silhouetted in the setting sun. The peacock being the national bird of India is a protected species, and hunting it a grievous offense. However, the meat is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities, and many are wantonly killed for this. I hurried the team up, and we packed up the equipment and made our way back. It was a good one hour hike to our base, and we tried unsuccessfully to keep on the path that we had taken while coming. However we were soon lost, but as we were following the gurgling stream, we were sure of reaching the point where we had forded. Even though we were deep inside the scrub, and a good two kilometers away from the highway, we could hear the distant pressure horns of the trucks on the highway.
We reached the broken bridge foundation, and were surprised to see that the water level had risen alarmingly. It had risen by more then a foot and the stepping stones that we had used to cross over were all submerged. We tried to rest our puzzled minds, and searched guessed the possible reasons. I guess that the villagers regularly dammed the small stream to catch fish, and either some dam upstream had been loosened, or maybe, the stream had been damned downstream for an overnight catch of fish. There were no one around, and I made a mental note that I would stop at the village on the way back and clear this puzzle.
We crossed the Nullah and were soon at our base. It was nearing sunset, and we hurriedly made our way out of the forest. We soon reached the highway, which was chock a block with tippers, spewing smoke and dust. It tool us a good one hour to clear the jam and by the time we reached the NH-23 it was 8.00 p.m. We made our way towards the industrial town of Rourkela, for another CP the next day.
CP visit details:
- Distance to a road: 3.50 km
- Distance to a track: 1.25 km
- Distance to houses: 2.50 km
- Duration: Four hours from start until we were back to base.
- Time (distance) for the hike from Base: 2.00 hours
- Time at the CP: 3.45 p.m. on 26th December 2008
- Measured height: 208 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 6 m
- Topography: the general area is scrub forest with some big trees. There are a few paths, but the CP area is untrodden. Numerous anthills dot the area. There are dry streams which flow into the river in the jungle. The area will be impossible to traverse during the monsoons.
- Vegetation: Scrub jungle, with elephant grass, trees and abundant man height vegetation.
- Weather: Cool, 16° C (felt temperature)
- Description of the CP: Located in a small clearing amid sparse forest growths.
- Given Name: The Santhal Confluence
Rating of this hunt:
- Degree of Challenge:
3 – A tiring hike in the scrub forests with a lot of bush bashing.
(1 : very easy drive to the point; to 5: a death march - glad it is over)
2 – Pleasant scrub jungle with monotonous views of short trees and bushes. (Scale: 1= not interesting at all; 5= take your breath away)
- Culture-social factors:
2– No people encountered, no human habitation or activity in the vicinity of the CP, though we did see some hunters (Scale: 1=dull; 5= most stimulating.)