Covering an area of about 500 sq.Kms., Dudhwa National Park, along the Indo-Nepal border in the Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh, is best known for the Barasingha or Swamp Deer. The grasslands and woodlands of this park, consist mainly of Sal forests.
The Barasingha is found in the Southwest and Southeast regions of the park. Among the big cats, Tigers abound at Dudhwa. There are also a few Leopards. The other animals found in large numbers are the Indian one-horned Rhinoceros and wild Elephants. Apart from this, there are Jungle Cats, Fishing Cats, Jackals, Civets, Sloth bears, Sambhar, Otters, Crocodiles, and Chital.
We embarked on our journey to Dudhwa with a specific purpose. I knew that Dudhwa is rich birdlife and that hundreds of avian species are to be found in Dudhwa. Also, I knew the terrain well, since it was here in Dudhwa that I was initiated into the fascinating world of “Bird Photography” by my photographer friend from Kanpur – Neeraj Mishra.
The only thing that worried me was that we were visiting Dudhwa in the month of August, which was off-season for the resident birds.
But all my preconceived notions were swept aside once I found myself inside the sanctuary. The lush green marshy land, with pastel grey clouds floating above and rays of the evening sun lighting the wooded shrubs with Storks perched on them, presented a sight that was truly marvelous.
And yes, there were birds plenty, even in the off-season. Dudhwa was like a veritable feast laid out for me.
Dudhwa is a bird watcher’s paradise. This National Park perhaps houses the greatest number of Owls and Storks. Also, found in plenty, are the Great Indian Horned Owl, the Forest Eagle Owl, the Brown Fish Owl, the Tawny Owl, the Dusky Horned Owl, the Scops Owl, Brown Wood Owl, and the Jungle Owlet.
The Storks, which abound here, are the Black Necked Stork, White Necked Stork, Black Stork, Painted Stork, White Stork, Open Billed Stork, and the Adjutant Stork. We also saw a variety of colorful birds like Woodpeckers, Orioles, Pittas, Kingfishers, Minivets, and Sunbirds.
The grasslands of the reserve are the habitat of the largest kind of Indian Deer – the Swamp deer or the “Barasingha”, called thus because of their magnificent antlers (Bara: Twelve and Singha: Antler). The decline in their habitats led to a drastic decline in numbers and a small area named Sonaripur Sanctuary was set aside in 1958 for the conservation of this rare species of Deer.
Later, it was upgraded to cover an area of 212 sq. Kms. and was renamed the Dudhwa Sanctuary. In 1997, the area was further extended to include over 614 Sq. Kms. and was declared a National Park. Eleven years later, in the year 1988, when Dudhwa became a part of “Project Tiger”, the area of the Kishanpur Sanctuary was added to create the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.
About 1,800 Barasinghas live in the Reserve now and their majestic herds are often seen, especially in the grassy wetlands of the Sathania and Kakraha blocks.
Apart from Swamp deer, there are at least 37 species of mammals, 16 species of reptiles, and over 400 species of avifauna. Dudhwa is said to have 101 Tigers and 4 Leopards. Recently the Hispid Hare has also been sighted from this area.
As we traversed deep inside the sanctuary, we saw two huge Rhinoceros grazing in the open grasslands. We were told by our guide that in the year 1984 a major Rhinoceros Rehabilitation Project was started since the forests had once been the habitat of the Rhinoceros 150 years back.
Five Rhinos were relocated from Assam but two of the females died due to the strains of transportation. These were replaced in 1985 by four more females from Nepal. Presently numbering around 15, the Rhinos have become an integral part of the Dudhwa forest.
Night drops suddenly in the Dudhwa region and we saw in the under bush a pair of eyes glowing like brass buttons; they seemed to rival the distant glimmer of the Forest Lodge where we stayed overnight. The Dudhwa Forest Lodge is for those who crave solitude and luxury in the bush. You can hear all kinds of weird noises emanating from the jungle adjacent to the Lodge.
After a quick shower in the Lodge, furnished with capacious beds, throw rugs, a toilet area, and a basin, we were escorted to dinner by the resident chef. Dinner was a simple affair with Chappatis and Chicken curry. After dinner as we luxuriated in our bed, the silent night vibrated with animal sounds emanating from the jungle.
That night we learned the true meaning of solitude, for, in a park as large and haunting as Dudhwa, it is easy to feel terribly alone; yet we reveled in the feeling of living on the edge. In my dreams, I imagined I heard a Tiger roar and it was akin to an unfinished symphony.
I sat bolt upright in fear and realized it was my photographer friend – Neeraj snoring!
The next morning we felt a little foolish about our fears as we woke up to a blur of bird song and the sigh of cool forest air; yawned in the king-sized bed and got up lazily to prepare for the day’s trip out in the wilderness. We sat on a patio to get a ringside view of the action in the forest.
Iridescent birds swooped and glided on green boughs. It occurred to us that there seemed no real reason for us to move from where we were – ever.
The world outside beckoned and we went for a game drive after breakfast. Yes, we wanted to have a glimpse of the big cats. Our driver told us that only the lucky ones get to see Tigers. They are extremely secret animals.
As we drove deep inside Dudhwa forest, we saw an old drooling Buffalo, impending death writ large in his rheumy eyes. He had been abandoned by the herd and seemed vulnerable and stripped of his dignity. His only friend was a solitary Stork who darted around him looking for insects on his rippling armor-like hide.
He gazed at us sightlessly and seemed to typify the human condition rather than the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest.
We were getting a little impatient for we haven’t yet been able to have a glimpse of the big cat. Our driver – Navin was very knowledgeable and he literally knew the forest by the tip of his finger. Finally, he took a deft right turn and stopped the vehicle adjacent to a watery hole.
He told us that a week back, two tourists from Canada had sighted a Tigress with her three cubs. We suddenly became alert and waited with bated breath for the appearance of the Tigress.
Suddenly, we saw her lazing in the shimmering sun; her even breathing seemed to rustle the long grass around him that rippled like the waves of a green ocean. The Tigress resembled a 400 lb prizefighter capable of packing a mean punch. Near her yawned a good feed Tiger guarding the playful cubs. A deep meaningful familial camaraderie was apparent.
After a few minutes, we left, musing on the wonder of it all. Dudhwa is one great wild areas of the world where the eternal wildlife drama unfolds spectacularly.
Traveler’s Fact File
Entry: All visitors to Dudhwa National Park have to obtain entry permits from the Director of the Park, whose office is at the district headquarters of Lakhimpur Kheri. A daily fee is charged for hiring a vehicle depending upon its size.
The town of Bareilly is the nearest major railhead and has train connections to most major cities in northern India, including Delhi and Lucknow. Dudhwa has its own station too, but connections to it are scarce. Palia, 10 Kms. from Dudhwa, also has a few trains coming in from other parts of Uttar Pradesh. The nearest airport is at Lucknow, 250 Kms. from Dudhwa.
Both Lucknow and Bareilly (besides other cities like Delhi) are conveniently well connected by road to Dudhwa. Private coaches and buses are operated by U.P. State Road Transport Corporation connecting Palia to Bareilly, Delhi, Lakhimpur Kheri, Shahjahanpur, and other towns.
Vehicles can be hired at Dudhwa to go on a tour of the park. A more Eco-friendly and much more exciting option is to embark on an early morning Elephant ride. The chances of spotting animals including big cats are pretty high.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Dudhwa is between November to May. The park remains open to the public from November to June. But, by June, it’s usually a little too hot for comfort. Remember to take your woolens along if you are going between December and February. It can get pretty chilly here, in the foothills of the Terai.
Accommodation in the park is available at Log Huts, Lodges, and forest Rest Houses at Dudhwa, Sathiana, Bankatti, Kila, and Sonaripur. All are pretty minimalist (except the one at Dudhwa, which has a small canteen attached to it) and charge a nominal tariff of a couple of hundred bucks a night.
Also in the park, on its southern periphery, is a Lodge owned by “Billy” Arjan Singh, the conservationist who has largely been responsible for the setting up of Dudhwa. Another option is to stay outside the park; Palia has a handful of hotels.
The hotels in the town obviously charge more than what you’ll pay in Dudhwa; about Rs.750-1000 a night is a fair estimate.