Travel Tales Part 4
Gopegarh really came to its own after 5 PM. That was when all the day-trippers departed and the entire park was left to us, the only two boarders and the few staff who manned the canteen and looked after the park proper. Imagine living in a wilderness of about 5 square miles, full of forests, ravines and a lake and you are free to explore it at your own pace with not another human in sight. I guess I now knew how the owners of landed estates felt when they surveyed their domain.
|Part of the forest|
The Forest authorities have created a trekking trail which takes you through a fairly dense stretch of forest which has been left relatively undisturbed. This short walk, perhaps a couple of kilometers starts near the bungalow and ends up near the ruined fort and takes you down to the gullies that have been carved out of the laterite soil by the Kangsabati river and then up again to the sort of plateau I which most of the park is located. Opposite to this is a lovely sal forest which offers leafy walks up to the other end of the park, which however did not seem to be fenced. Consequently, as we saw the next morning when we set out for an early walk, it is easy for local tribals to enter and collect forest produce, which is Ok, but also to cut trees and as we saw a family doing, which is not. There is a lake of sorts at that end, now a little shorn of water, according to their website boating is available, but we saw no signs of any such infrastructure. The land is undulating, the sal forest giving way to a scrub jungle, all richly inhabited by a profusion of bird species. It can be and perhaps is a much-prized bird watching site. I managed to identify at least 30 odd species and I am not great at identifying small forest birds. An expert could possibly have increased this number quite substantially.
|Clouds built up|
One excursion that we made from the confines of the park was to the Kangsabati River. Previously known as the Kasai (I wonder why?) it flows gently through the plain a little way distant. We reached it by walking through cultivated fields, all green thanks to the river and we reached it just as the sun was being covered by ominous dark clouds. The clouds which appeared out of nowhere at it seemed threatened to drench us in minutes and cut short our excursion as we hurried back. Unfortunately, the rain caught up with us as were striding through a village that adjoins the park and we were forced to take shelter in a small under construction shed like structure until the rain retreated. It was pleasant to watch the rain come down and trail off the red laterite soil. Two young men joined us here; they were masons who had come to Midnapur from Garbeta and on hearing that we were travelers, insisted that we must see Gangani the so-called Grand Canyon of Bengal. I had already planned that this would be one of our destinations, and their local pride piqued our interest even more.
The rain had reduced temperatures considerably. And here, in what may be described a forest, it was quite cold. Swapanda had recovered fairly recently from a lung infection and I was worried that he may be affected again. Consequently, we repaired to our room and sat out in the verandah and watched the darkness fall. In a forest, darkness is accompanied by many pleasurable experiences. The cicadas call, the owls begin to hoot and you can hear much rustling in the undergrowth which you can imagine to be many unknown creatures. Here, however, the darkness also heralded the buzzing of mosquitoes so that we were forced into the room earlier than we would have liked.
However, we stepped out later to the dark wilds after the rain stopped. The clouds had parted and the stars were out in their thousands. Walking the paths of the park felt deliciously dangerous. God Knows what snakes would appear? Or perhaps a jackal? In the event, we only heard the calls of various night birds and returned to our room to a hearty meal of chicken curry and roti cooked for us by the canteen boy.
The night passed uneventfully except that we were woken up once by the calling of jackals. This is a sound that was ubiquitous in rural Bengal in our younger days. In recent times it is almost never heard. The last time I heard the calls was when I was living in the Lake Gardens’ Government Quarters. There was a wasteland adjacent to it which housed a collection of jackals and when times were right you could hear the sounds of this favourite denizen of Bengali folk tales.
We woke early the next morning to explore our domain further and debated whether we should stay here one night more. But restless travelers as we are, the vote was for the road and so we returned to the bus station and took a bus to Garbeta. The bus was crowded, though we were safely seated. The route leads north past the Salboni forest and in a couple of hours we were at Garbeta bus station. The route was pleasant, cultivated fields interspersed by forest, mainly sal, but many teak trees as well. Now for the Grand Canyon.