Situated on the Indo-Nepal border in District Lakhimpur-Kheri of Uttar Pradesh, the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve with an area of 614 sq. Km is one of the finest remaining examples of the terai eco-systems. The northern edge of the reserve lies along the Indo-Nepal border and the southern boundary is marked by the river Suheli. The Kishanpur Sanctuary located about 30 km from Dudhwa, is the other constituent of the reserve. Spread over about 200 sq. km it lies on the banks of the River Sharda and is surrounded by Sal forests of the adjoining reserved forests.
Shramjeevi express deposited us on the platform of Shahjahanpur on a hot Sunday evening from Delhi. Our plan was to reach Dudhwa forest rest house by night after picking up the guide from a small town, Mohmaddi. The Scorpio zipped along the state highway amidst falling dusk and oncoming lights of trucks, our excitement buzzed.
We carried on from Mohmaddi after a series of calls with the people who had helped with our bookings and plans. It transpired that the forest department would not let us enter as we would be late in the night reaching Dudhwa. We stopped at another small town – Gola, astinky dirty hell hole of a place and shacked up in the only place with ac rooms. The new plan was to leave early next morning for Dudhwa.
We reached Dudhwa next morning at 7 30 am and met with the range officer – Mr V P Singh. As is won’t with many a forest department booking, we had to spend some time pushing the guy before he gave us the rooms. Meanwhile another round of calls and we finally closed on the logistics – the plan now was to stay at Dudhwa FRH for the 1st 2 days and then onwards to Sathiana forest rest house for the next 3 days. With us would be a gypsy with a driver named Kismat and supposedly the best guide in Dudhwa – Sonu.
After depositing our bags and freshening up in 15 mns, we kitted up and were ready for our 1st safari. Yet to enter the park, our 1st sighting was a slaty woodpecker moving up a stately Sal tree in Dudhwa FRH.
Entering the forest we crossed the Dudhwa meter gauge railway track – Dudhwa is the only national park in India which has a fully functional railway line running right through it. A hangover from British times it was originally built to transport timber from the forest. Driving ahead we came upon a small waterhole with many different bird species foraging around it.
Moving on, the tall columns of Sal and teak thickened on either side of the track, the bright sunlight filtering in through the canopy in nicely dappled shadows. We spied a flock of Himalayan flame backs, the shy birds flitting off seeing us.
Such an abundance of Sal meant a thriving population of woodpeckers and we saw quite a few Himalayan flame backs, green woodpeckers and slaty woodpeckers again. We were fascinated with the slaty’s call – a haunting cry, which we heard while seeing them fly over the tree tops.
It started its trademark call – a distinctive loud 2 note whistle: wheet-tew (listen to the call at http://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Pitta-brachyura the 2nd one by Vir Joshi). I was fascinated to see it throw its head back like a bugler every time it called. It then puffed itself up perhaps to show – “this is my territory” to competitors and flew off.
The sal trees thickened around us as we went deeper. We saw a scaly bellied green woodpecker flitting from tree to tree, foraging. While trying to keep up with it, we saw another slaty on a high branch. The place was abuzz with woodpeckers!
Dudhwa is a birder’s paradise and the terai region is home to more than 400 species of birds. At a bigger water hole adjacent to the fenced off rhino area of the park, we saw a number of birds – yellow footed green pigeons, paradise flycatchers, great tits again & a large flock of oriental white eyes. While observing the birds flit around, a chital sounded an alarm call somewhere behind us and we froze, all ears. A while later it sounded again but further off, not to be repeated. All 3 of us had our pulses racing and suddenly we sensed the forest far more acutely, attuned to every movement and sound!
On our way back to the FRH we came upon a herd of chital grazing amongst the towering saal. The sight of the graceful chital amongst the ochre and brown of the tree trunks and dried leaves on the forest floor was sublime.
Before heading back into the forest in the evening, Joyce & I headed for the tree house – a closed machan 5 stories high. It commands a panoramic view over an adjoining wetland. Before we got there, a little macaque baby caught my eye.
On the way back up spied what looked like a stork billed kingfisher. I’m not 100% sure as the stork billed has a blue wing and this seemed to be grayish black. Request an id confirmation. It was terribly hot in the afternoon with the mercury climbing above 42 degrees celsius but we had the place to ourselves and explored it for a while. It was full of aquatic birds though at a distance – teals, darters, egrets, and a few more we could not make out.
Heading back into the forest, we saw a multitude of bee eaters, this one with a dragonfly in its bill. It kept hitting the dragonfly against the stalk to kill it. I thought this was too big for it to eat but it slowly maneuvered it in its bill and swallowed it! Observed another interesting behavior – the bee eater’s ability to turn its head 180 degrees!
We drove through the jungle tracks towards the S.D Singh waterhole. This waterhole is named after a forest range officer killed and eaten by a man eating tiger in Dudhwa in the 80s. We came upon a private vehicle who had seen a tiger about 20 mns back. The resting tiger had got up and melted away into the forest. We stopped and scanned the forest for a while. However after stopping for a while again at a point parallel and deeper to the 1st sighting point, we heard and saw nothing and moved on. Our nerves were tight in anticipation and my good friend Anirban was pretty stoked, what with this trip being his 1st proper safari inside a reserve forest. The only tigers he had ever seen before were in zoos and you can imagine his excitement!
At the S D Singh waterhole machan we saw a paradise flycatcher pair. Shy birds, it was difficult to get good shots as they flitted ethereally here and there in search of an evening snack. The male comes in both white and rufous colours. Young males have black throats and blue ringed eyes, which makes this a young one. This was our 1st sighting of these gorgeous birds till date.
The jungle takes on an ethereal feel with them around! After a while of enjoying the forest evening and its birdlife we headed back and our route took us past the beautiful Sonaripur FRH. Approaching it we came upon a pair of jackals. They were quite inquisitive, coming close to jeep to investigate. We bade them goodbye at the Sonaripur FRH towards which they loped off. Joyce , Anirban and I talked and fantasized about how it would be to stay in this FRH, open only to government VIPs. It looks out on the tracks connecting Banke Tal to the S D Singh waterhole, one of the best places for sighting tigers and all kinds of fauna.
It was a truly satisfying 1st day and though we were dog tired, Joyce, Anirban and I sat up for quite some time soaking up the feel of the jungle at night in Dudhwa forest rest house. The rest house is right adjacent to the core area of the forest and the entrance to the park was no more than 100m from our cottage!