“It’s not whether animals will survive, it’s whether man has the will to save them.”
~ Anthony D. Williams
We were in Alwar to attend a friend’s wedding and had a full day at hand to explore the surrounding. We had seen enough quota of palaces and forts in this trip and were not willing to visit one more. On the other hand, the lure of the jungle is something which is hard to resist and so we decided to the spend the day by making a trip to the Sariska Tiger Reserve which was nearby. So a cab was booked and the four of us started on another jungle adventure, our second in this trip !
Located about 45 KM from Alwar, Sariska has come a long way from being the hunting grounds of the Alwar state to becoming one of the most important centres of Project Tiger. This 866 sq KM of wilderness was declared a protected reserve in 1955 and was given the status of a Tiger Reserve in 1978, beginning of a bittersweet journey. Its topography supports dry-deciduous forests and grasslands which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Though flanked by hills, Sariska has a relatively flat terrain when compared to Ranthambore. The relative absence of big cats and other big carnivores means a large population of large and small game. Though we did not see any of the 13 tigers that the reserve is said to have, the rich fauna was pretty exciting to witness.
Most of the activity in the jungle seems to be concentrated around the water-bodies, and being a relatively dry time of the year, the lakes and ponds were buzzing with animals, birds and reptiles. There were herds of deer and wild boars by the banks and many varieties of birds. Some very large crocodiles were lying around lazily on the far side of the lake and birds flocked around them without any fear, while animals maintained a respectful distance.
The Missing Tigers of Sariska
In 2004, disturbing reports started coming that there were no tigers left in Sariska. Though the official accounts alluded this to “temporary migration” of the cats to other areas, saner investigations agreed the fears that the reserve had lost all its tigers (there were 24 in the previous census).
The loss at this scale could not happen because of natural causes, and no carcasses were ever found to indicate either that or death due to a disease. Though the forest officials remained hesitant in admitting, and kept feigning ignorance and surprise, it pointed to poaching gone extreme. With its five guns, two revolvers, three jeeps and four motorcycles, the forest department could not be completely blamed for the disaster.
A public outcry followed and the authorities relocated three tigers from other reserves to repopulate them, and other measures like relocating the villages that lay within the reserve area. The number of tigers in Sariska stands at 14 in 2016; and while it is a matter of happiness for everyone, it is also a grim reminder of the fragility of our forests and a need to remain on constant guard.
The forest crisscrossed by well laid (though unmetalled) roads, so we were able to cover greater distance in less time. We came across herds and herds of deer, sambhar, neelgai, wild boars, langurs and monkeys. Two animals which we had not seen previously were the Jungle cat and a wild dog. There are ample species of the avian family, many of them migrants, and we could spot peacocks, parakeets, kingfisher, spotted owl, pelicans, and more common ones like the treepie. The abundance of wild life masked the disappointment of not being able to see the big cats and we were quite happy with the sightings.
Human activity was never completely absent from Sariska and there are ruins of ancient temples and forts scattered everywhere. The Hanuman Temple is quite famous and attracts quite a few devotees. The medieval Kankwadi fort is located in the middle of the jungle, its claim to fame being the place where Aurangazeb interned his elder brother Dara Shikoh during the war of succession after Shah Jahan’s death. Since we had limited time available, we could not visit these places, do give those a chance when you are there.
So this was Sariska for you. We are embarking on another trip to the Jungle this weekend, this time to Central India. Will bring back with some more stories from the wild soon !