Chambal Crocodile Sanctuary (7.3.11)
Decision to visit this prime biodiversity spot was a delayed one. Every one swung into action in limited time after relishing a relaxed lunch. Though weather was pleasant on reaching Sason Bridge around 4.45 pm, there was no clue to get down. Ajay Singh, PSO, in the meanwhile did mention about frequent assembly of large sized fish and crocodiles right below one temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. One km downstream, it was on the other side of the river. One lost no time in taking good shots of the clean and wide river in the fading sunlight. A bird akin to Owl but smaller than Eagle frequently and very romantically flew here and there, without giving any chance to shoot. A cousin of his was spotted very close to our dwelling place in Etawah a fortnight ago.
Immediate contact with the Circle Officer of Chakar Nagar through local police and Sri Manish, SDO, Bharthana(otherwise preoccupied with the sudden appendicitis operation of his son) ensured arrival of Sri M.S. Beg, SI, Chakar Nagar PS and his five armed policemen within 25 minutes. Not only they were familiar with the terrain but they had also summoned Sri Jaikishan, the Forest Dept. Motor boatman. Interaction with them revealed that they were more than eager to take us for a ride to the crocodile country at Jagtauli (8 kms away). A previous exposure of this kind to some other friends three weeks ago was going to be handy.
After a drive of half a km on a bumpy forest road through the mazes of ravines, we reach very close to the Chambal River. A wait of 15 or 20 minutes follows, still there is no trace of Jaikishan. We utilise the occasion to take a short walk on the green meadow on the bank and in appreciating sand formations below the crystal clear water. A few birds are spotted doing some exercise. Beg and his associates inform that sand as well as water of this place is very sought after, so much so, that one of the former S.P.’s used to have jerkins of water collected from mid-stream regularly for the sake of his stomach ailment.
Suddenly, we get the rare opportunity of seeing an adult crocodile below the pillar no. 4. Neither he was close by nor far off, but he was oblivious to our presence. Due to distance, although it was difficult to photograph, ripples caused by his graceful movement could be seen for some time. It was a rare sight to behold. We never knew that it was going to be the only ‘sight’ in broad day light.
At last around 5.25 pm, when sun started descending, Jaikishan, our Man Friday appears in his sarkari boat, having got delayed due to non-availability of required 10 ltrs .of diesel. From the word go, we begin questioning him: How many crocodiles are there in the sanctuary? , How far is the sanctuary?, Are we going to see any of the creatures since it was becoming dark?, How are protected species kept?, Was there any difference between the Crocodiles and the Gharials? etc.
On being prompted by Aditya Tiwari, one learns that the crocodiles had to wear a Kara (round bangle of iron) around their mouth, which enables them to attack and gulp only the small fish and that, supposedly, human beings were spared from their possible attacks. While crocodiles are a large long tailed reptile with powerful tapering jaws, the Gharial have very long slender muzzles. JK adds that we were going to see some Dolphins as well after a ride of 5 to 6 kms.
Luck seems to favour us around 5.35 pm when I was aiming at the sparkle created by the setting sun- one by one three crocodiles were spotted on the other bank of the river. At the first sight, we decided to ‘shoot’ at them with whatever photographic apparatus we had, though visibility was not very clear. Next option of taking the boat close to the bank was also exercised. Inevitable, however, happened and the crocodiles in question hid themselves below the water, sooner than expected. We had to be satisfied with what was in store.
One also saw a group of white cranes, multi-coloured cranes, snake birds, peacocks, Surkhav, a red coloured bird and a bird with a prominent cap. The last named gave ample ‘opportunity’ to be shot but somehow, we had a miss. It was interesting to hear, however, from Amit at this juncture that Charwa, a hefty animal of the size of a lion frequented this area and that the widely prevalent jackal was not lagging behind in destroying the crops.
As it was getting dark, we pass very close to Mithali village. Everyone was relishing the sunset so much so that stillness of the deep water did not attract till one of us decided to taste it. JK added to our information bank by whispering that depth of the river over here was 5.55 metres.
What a wonderful sight we saw next once again on the left bank. It was soothing mustard field against the brown and green background of the ravines, thus creating a brilliant reflection. Very close by was the Shyam Baba ka temple, once again dedicated to Lord Shiva. The depth of river had increased to 10 metres, by now, as per JK.
As if the sight of soothing mustard field was not enough, we were blessed with a marvellous view of one peacock walking leisurely on the bank. Oh yes, it was not alone, there was one more slightly away, may be its pair. They seemed to be in romantic mood. Fresh photography was resorted to when we saw green fields once again on the bank. Reflection was more mesmerizing than the actual object.
When attention was being taken away from the crocodiles, it was the turn of Dolphins to enter the fray. Around 6.05 pm before we pass by Kela village, JK shows three of them pursuing their playful antics in water while coming out to have a breath of fresh air. Though we could not figure out their appearance and size, ripples caused by them in otherwise stagnant water were sufficient to mark their dominating presence in close vicinity.
By 6.10 pm we enter the sanctuary area at Jagtauli. As water was stagnant here, depth was reported to be 10-12 metres. Despite our prayers, no crocodile could be seen on the vast beach. Ideal time was reported to be between 12 noon and 4 pm. The isolation of the place, together with the depth of the river had made it a perfect setting for the breeding and nursing of the crocodiles.
To satisfy our urge, therefore, we looked for them on the small green islands. They were not there as well. When we finally left the boat to walk on the green right bank, all of a sudden, JK pointed towards ripple in the water, very close by. The crocodile over there did not appear to be in a hurry as compared to his previous ‘friend’. The view was better and closer but darkness was a hindrance. Within five minutes we were lucky to see another one. We did not leave the place immediately, though there was no hope to have another ‘sight’. By breaking ourselves into sub groups, we began exploring the area. This crocodile centre having a population of over 200 crocodiles and 1600 gharials was only of its kind in the country. The rare Ganges river Dolphin, the sole member of the Cetaceans group was reported to be one of its most prominent attractions. In addition, 150 species of birds are also sighted here.
The stories of Phoolan Devi, Seema Parihar, Kusuma Nain, Rajjan, Lovely, Salim, Nirbhay Gujjar etc. all dacoits, who used to throng the place once upon a time during their transit, keep us occupied after we were free from the natural wonders of the sanctuary. One has to hear their tales, as primarily due to their presence till the seventies, this wonderful habitat was not exposed to the outside world.
Before it gets really dark, a glorious moon rise over the east bank, in a way, gives us a befitting farewell. It was a pleasure to photograph it from the colony of crocodiles as also the boat when our retreat to Etawah begins. No longer, it is a hurried affair. All the boat occupants begin to enjoy biscuits and cold drinks to beat the monotony. We do not forget to express our profound gratitude to J.K and M.S. Beg for having exposed us to the pristine river ecosystem of Chambal. In a nutshell, it was quality versus quantity. And quality won, in the ultimate analysis.