You must get moving when the light is beginning to seep into the sky. Otherwise you might catch yourself staring down from the tall watchtower to where your blue-black jeep crouches in the empty grassland, wondering if the bulky vehicle does not ‘kind of resemble the animals you had set out to see..?’
Getting in early is the key to this forest reserve. If you notice, the small unusual birds that hop around your government guest house precincts disappear after 9 in the morning. Jungle life also starts and retires early. And ‘bison point’ is a good 25 km, 21/2 hrs of being driven on dirt road tracks, into the Reserve.
It has rained heavily last night, and my escort, Sudhir, who also drives the jeep, stops the vehicle and shows me leeches. “They will be all over the forest floor today.” The sun, brighter for the night’s rain, is up, and the incisive shape of a harantol, the green pit snake, reveals itself after close attention: A sharp shape of head held aloft with two black bead eyes and beyond the flurry of leaves, the tail, with a translucent veined underside that gives it the camouflage of a long innocuous leaf.
A paradise fly catcher (swargiya nartaki, if you will!) crosses over in a flurry of white; a finger index sized sunbird in jewel colours waits to be spotted; a wild rooster runs before us, panicked by the jeep, almost forgetting it can fly away; clusters of unseen male cicadas rub their wings and make that cicada sound, and suddenly switch off in unison in those many stretches where icicles of moss hang off anjan trees bent over a knee length growth of the karvi shrub…. The karvi, just one of the surprises of this forest, lives flowerless for six years and in its seventh, dies in a swan song of purple flowers covering the forest floor.
Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary
You must spend time at the sanctuary, good time, early mornings and late evenings. The sanctuary lets you in between 6 am and 6 pm; make the most of it.
Four tigers and two cubs, the herd of bison who allegedly rest on the grassland in a circle, keeping their young ones in its midst, the many kinds of owls, anteaters, frogs, snakes, squirrels and insects… the almost oppressively green stretches of forest land across the two hills connected by a meadow, seem indifferent to the human presence that makes its way through them. Your local guide can trek with you through the long stretches of kuccha road that goes into the heart of the forest, or you may come in a jeep. The landscape changes, from thick forest with an undercover so dense that “even if there is an animal next to us, we won’t see it” to large open meadows of dry grass and wildflowers on a bed of bauxite, where bison come to graze. A large unrolling canopy of blue skies crowns the landscape.
A few constructed steps down the forest path, and the Konkan lies spread out before us… layers over layers of mauve hills, sunlight playing over stretches of green; lakes in the further reaches of your eyes and beyond them, more mountains. A small hamlet gleams in the evening sun.
Karud Ghat, Govandsari Kurli Dam reservoir, Dhamni Dam reservoir, Phonda Ghat… the forested plateau has spots that gathers them together in spectacular vistas.
Down in the village of Dajipur, which, my guide tells me, is named in honour of the engineer of the dam, Daji, is a circular, youthfully designed display hall that tells you more about the inhabitants of the forest, has large mounted labelled photographs and interactive quizzes on display, and pug marks of important forest inhabitants (interspersed with human pug marks!) cast in plaster, in the Hollywood tradition.
You could take a walk down to Sunset Point, a few feet away from the large arch that announces the beginning of the Sindhudurg area, and join the many tourists trying to carry home a precise photographic memory of the multiple strands of green in the vista before them.
The lazy pleasures of hanging about
In this cusp of shifting geographies and cultures, not very far from Shahu Maharaj’s kingdom of Kolhapur, announcing the beginning of the rough mountain terrain of Shivaji’s Sindhudurg, you might get pleasure in conjecturing what roots have given birth to which strand of the local culture. Like I did, listening with surprise to the loudspeaker ringing out bhajans rendered by a classical singer on Diwali morning.
You could, of course, just drink tea at the village tea stall and watch the afternoon pass by… be a spectator to a long drawn game of badminton, contemplate the local nouveau riche house or place of worship, or talk to a child and discover how very off the mark every surmise of yours about the place and its people seems to be.
If you are staying at Radhanagari, it is well worth the visit to climb the few steps up to see those shores of the Laxmi Talao, the reservoir lake of the Radhanagari Dam, which extends all of 28 km, all the way to Dajipur. There is a cluster of old ruins on an island in the reservoir where Shahuji is said to have occasionally rested and supervised construction “with the help of his binoculars”.
Location On Phonda Ghat, near the backwaters of the Radhanagari Dam
Distance 475 km SE of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By rail 81/2 hrs + road 11/2 hrs By road 121/2 hrs
Route NH17 to Tarele via Lanja and Rajapur; district road to Dajipur
When to go The sanctuary is closed between June and October. November- December has fine weather. It can get really hot, really chilly and really wet, in different seasons. Be prepared for November rains. April is hot, but good for animal sightings
Tel: 022-22044040, 1800229930
STD code 02321
By Hansa Thapiyal
About the author
Hansa Thapiyal is interested in the mysteries and habits of storytelling. She has been writing, collecting images, and has made one installation. She is learning to travel and is dreaming of making a film.