New Delhi, India
June 18, 2005
Despite all that, the crowds, the traffic, and the distinctly step-motherly treatment meted out by government, wildlife authorities, tourists, and just about everybody else, Rajaji’s worth a visit.
We were returning from Glasshouse on the Ganges and reached the first of Rajaji’s three gates - the one at Motichur - some distance beyond Rishikesh. The guard (very generously) informed us that the road didn’t exist till a little beyond the gate. "Go to the Chilla gate," he suggested. "It’s better there."
The Chilla Gate lies next to Haridwar. Just beyond Haridwar town, on the road to Delhi, there’s a traffic island, from where a longish bridge leads off to the left; at the end of the bridge, you again turn left and then follow the road into the reserve. After losing ourselves at various places along the way, we finally managed to reach.
To deep disappointment. We were too early for the elephant safaris through the park; the minibus would go only if there were a minimum of 10 passengers; and the private vehicles for hire would charge 600 rupees for 3 hours. We couldn’t afford to spend 3 hours racketing about inside Rajaji, so we decided to take our own car.
Half an hour’s drive took us fairly deep along a mud road (rough in patches), into the forest. The jungles are mainly of sal trees, with stretches of grassland in places - and a dry riverbed (which fills up during the monsoon). Rajaji is renowned for its elephants and is supposed to have a small population of tigers and leopards. We were realistic enough to not expect to see any big cats, but we ended up not seeing any elephants either. Yes, we drove over lots of elephant shit, and we saw a tree trunk stripped neatly of its bark by a wandering pachyderm, but we didn’t actually see any elephants.
Not that it was all disappointment, though. We did see loads of wild boar (including a herd of mothers and babies scurrying frantically up an earthbank) and spotted deer and plenty of birds. There were red-vented bulbuls, pied wagtails, sunbirds, and - best of all - Indian rollers, a noisy trio of squawking, blue-winged birds that swooped and whirled above us in a dead tree, weaving in and out between the bare branches faster than I could focus my camera. Delightful!
From journal Garhwal: A Glimpse of the Ganges