Lazing in a bamboo armchair on a spacious balcony that overlooks the wide grassland evoked a sense of déjà vu. I felt I was here before, though with perhaps a few zebras and giraffes thrown in for good measure. Tall grasses swaying slightly in the cool breeze that blew up from the wide water body hid, what I imagined was the cheetah, waiting to spring into action at the water front. Well, the evening was action packed alright, but it was the jackal that sprang into a spirited chase of what I suspected would be a plover or a lapwing. Just then the canteen helper walked in with a hot cup of much welcome tea, and answered in a mix of Oriya and Hindi that the grasslands served as a nesting site of Oriental Pratincole and the jackal was in search of its eggs. Though common in the adjoining areas of Chilika, I had never heard of it nesting in this part of the country. I confirmed facts with the manager of the guest house who added that Dr Manoj Nair, the District Forest Officer of the area, first noticed the nests and took an initiative to provide safe homage to these birds and that data collection was also in progress. I set out to collect photographic evidence and discovered at least 10 nests within 50 – 60 metres along the banks of river Mahanadi. Few of them contained 2- 3 eggs, intact and healthy, but most were rummaged – broken shells and splattered yolks proving the presence of predators. Yes, the jackal was rewarded.
Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha is a paradise for nature lovers. About 360 sq km in area, the Sanctuary is located about 40 kms from Sambalpur, at the foothills of the Barapahar hills of the Bargarh District. Debrigarh’s dry deciduous forests and open grasslands adjacent to the Hirakud Dam on the river Mahanadi is considered the ideal habitat of the Chousingha, a small antelope that has been awarded vulnerable status by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The landscape is dominated by trees such as sal (Shorea robusta), sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo), dharua, and karayas (Sterculia urens), with expanses of vibrant grasslands showcasing the Indian Gaur, a dark bison clad as it seems in milky white socks. Hiding behind a thorny bush by the river bank I had a chance to observe a large herd at very close quarters. Walking along the jungle trail, I ran into grazing herds of Sambhar and spotted deer, langur and giant squirrels – although I wasn’t privileged enough to sight the leopards and lone tiger that supposedly inhabit these locales. But even a 45oC mid June could be rewarding if you are a bird lover. The perseverance of paradise flycatchers to nurture it’s chicks and the preening of oriental white eye on the branches of large trees are so mesmerising that one would fail to realise when the calm morning had rolled into golden dusk through the scorching noon.
There are three forest rest houses at Dhadrokusum, Chaurasimal and Dechuan, but at present, you can spend a night only in the first one. Well, despite the beauty of the sylvan setting, Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary can hardly be considered as a dream holiday. The Dhadrokusum forest bungalow at the junction of core and buffer area has been developed into a luxury resort, maintained on a public private partnership. The downside is rave parties and decadence in a setting so pristine. Nights here do not resonate with roars and barks, instead crass music and raucous laughter fill the air. Yet, despite the tyrannies of evening the attraction of Debrigarh is still magical and I will be back – for sure.