“A birder’s paradise! That’s what everyone calls Dudhwa,” Sonu-ji, a renowned Naturalist in Dudhwa, told us.
Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is located in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh. It’s a vast wetland ecosystem spanning across Dudhwa National Park, Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary, and Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. Possibly one of the most breath-taking forests in India, Dudhwa mesmerises with a mammoth-list of wildlife, and most importantly, its unparalleled symmetry of endless straight tunnel-like jungle-paths flanked by towering trees spreading their arms over all creatures underneath.
Every morning, the sun paces the sky above the sleepy forest, negotiating tall sal trees till someone allows a peek into life beyond the thick canopies. From there it trickles down, nudging the topmost leaves and sending chills of warmth to everything living shrouded in the dew of night.
Slumber dispels as ‘God beams’ engulf the mist-laden forest. From being in eerie silence, the woods fill up with sights and sounds that reawaken to a new day. On many a chilly February daybreak, I roamed in darkness to witness this astounding phenomenon that ebbs in less than an hour, much before I could have my fill.
Creatures of Dudhwa
He walked like a king (of Kishanpur) with intent writ in his every stride. He looked not at the array of inquisitive humans as he trudged to the side of the pond. There the Tiger stopped to ponder for a moment, then lowered his majestic head to noiselessly slurp water to his content before returning to his place of choice.
Entirely erased from mainland India, the One-horned Rhinoceros was reintroduced in Dudhwa in 1984. Transported from Pobitara (Assam) and Chitwan (Nepal), the first set of seven rhinos led to an unprecedented regeneration of a lost, native animal population. This mamma Rhino staring at an inquisitive photographer atop an elephant, reiterated my hope that one day this ‘vulnerable’ creature will again be abundant.
Most of India’s population of Barasingha resides in Dudhwa, the marshy forest land and abundance of water making for ideal living conditions. In 1958, to make Dudhwa a safe home for the Swamp Deer, it was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary.
The forest of Dudhwa effortlessly camouflages the Nilgai—the blue of morning light, brown of jungle grass, grey of setting sun. Extremely shy animals otherwise, these blue bulls instead chose to confront my lens, waiting unabatingly for the jeep to roll so they could return to some more grazing.
Cats can be most elusive. I wouldn’t have noticed the Fishing Cat, an endangered species, in the bushes of Dudhwa forests had it not been for the driver of the jeep coming to a sudden halt in the middle of the road. The dusk-smeared hour would soon become one of my most memorable times in the wild.
The lake near Gate 1 of Dudhwa is ‘Eden’ for crocodile-lovers, and perhaps the closest one can get to watching these reptiles in their natural habitat. Camera in hand, I stood transfixed as some sunbathed immovably for hours on end, others soaked their thirsty skin in the cool waters of the lake, while a minority few loitered the banks unsure.
I spent an incredible amount of time watching birds (over 80 species), especially when we spotted three variants of Hornbills and birds like the Griffin Vulture, Nightjar, Swamp Francolin, Bengal Florican, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Storks, and White-eyed Buzzard.
Each passing hour in Dudhwa is inimitable. Trees stand still; long, straight paths travel as far as they always have. But the sun romancing leaves changes, so does the swaying of grass, movement of animals, call of birds, swishing of dried leaves on the forest floor and the ripple of water in ponds.