The journey to Nameri National Park was two hours long. We passed through a familiar terrain of fields and forests. We had managed to make a booking at Jia Bhorelli Wild Resort. The journey, from the main gate of Nameri National Park to the village, is a long one. It’s best to come to come with a drop vehicle or you’ll end up walking a long distance to either camp. The first camp to be established in the forest was Nameri Eco Camp. Situated near the local village, the camp has tents and has an earthier, rustic feel to it. However, our camp was located a good 2 km inside the fields (near the Mishing Tribes). Our camp had cement cottages and watch-tower houses built on stilts. With a central eating and lounge area, there wasn’t much to complain about. Although, the cemented structures weren’t in sync with their green surroundings, we didn’t mind the mismatch, especially since there was a fan in the room. Mr. Sharma, camp manager, wasn’t around. So we filled in the register and moved into our stilt room. Dhon, Mr. Sharma’s right hand man, is not only resourceful but quite affable. After a basic meal we settled in our room.
By 4:00 pm we headed to find the river Jia Bhorelli. I wasn’t confident of the route through the fields. Dhon had offered to send a boy to guide us but Basil thought we’d figure it out. After a while, we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. So we started walking along the route that lead to the other camp. It was evening and sunset was quite near. So we started walking back. On the way we were accompanied by a cowherd and a trailing dog. By the time we reached the camp, Mr. Sharma had reached. We enquired about the activities that could be pursued in the forest reserve. Out of all of them, rafting and the trek (walk) in the forest sounded interesting. To get our permits, to enter the Nameri Forest Reserve, we had to visit the Forest Office. At 7 pm, in the darkness of the fields and with only fireflies and stars to guide us, we followed the camp guide. The only houses were like dots spread across the vast expanse of land. We manoeuvred our way through barbed fences, grass, and animal dung and tried to see the flashlight in front of us. We were accompanied by other guests of the camp. One of them (a doctor travelling with his wife and sons) befriended us and we decided to do the trip together the next day. On our way back, it was darker and the fireflies were flickering like hundreds of tube lights gone faulty. The firefly walk was definitely worth it. Dinner was wholesome meal of rice and chicken. By 9 pm we were packed in bed.
Day 11 – Nameri National Park Morning Walkathon
The next morning, we woke up at 6:00 am . The sun, a large fiery ball of red gas, was shining outside our window. After a cup of tea, we walked to the forest ranger’s office. We split into two groups with three armed guards in all. The doctor and his family joined us. The walk to the main river crossing was another two kilometres, at the very least. We saw birds on the way and I started chatting with the forest guard. He said there were sightings of tigers, on the very trail, we were walking on. In the past months, villagers were injured by tigers too. He therefore advised against walking in the dark, in the open fields or by the river.
At the River Jia Bhorelli, a boat took across to the banks which lead to the main forest. We came across a sambhar deer tied to a stump. Further on, in the rangers quarters, there were elephants with mahouts on their backs. We continued walking further. The forest was stunning, a paradise of trees and birds, bustling with life. I regretted not getting binoculars or a book to write down the name of the birds. It was getting warm, but the forest trees shielded us from the rays. From the forests we walked into the plains of golden grass. We saw a tiger pug mark and in the distance, hornbills were stirring a noise. I wasn’t too happy walking in the forest with just two armed guards for protection and the possibility of a tiger roaming around. We saw a lot of elephant dung on the way. Unlike rhinos who crap in the same place for a little over a month, elephants crap all over the place. As we approached a watch tower, we heard a loud roar. I almost thought it was a tiger. The guards were alert. There was three wild elephants ahead and they had sounded their warning. We climbed the tower and observed in silence. The guards were a little tense but tried not to show it. One of the elephants was with a calf. Elephants can be equally dangerous in the wild and its best to respect their space. We walked slowly back and order was restored. The sun had come out and it was nearing 9 am. We walked back the same trail, took the boat and went walking to our camp. When I sat, I realised I was very tired. We gulped breakfast down and headed to take rest.
After lunch, we went walking to the River Jia Bhorelli (this time through the fields near the camp). I looked cautiously for animal dung or pug marks. When we reached there, it was wonderful. Since the river was less powerful here, you could see the rocks beneath it. A tribesman was fishing and we decided to take snaps. Unfortunately, it was about to rain and was nearing 6 pm. So we rushed back, getting drenched in the rain. In the evening, there was a Bihu dance organised. We all chipped in 500 INR for a group performance. It was wonderful, the songs, the dance and although not much made sense to me, I loved whatever I saw. They asked me to join, but my two left feet prevented me from moving. We handed a token sum of money. Dhon looked on. He said since the girls were young, it wasn’t right to join in the dance. I learned from him that the songs ranged from fishing, to River Jia Bhorelli to love.