Sunday, 12 April 2009

Palamau National Park, Jharkhand

Our morning safari into the forest started at 6.00am. It really WAS just like the Jungle Book, and the sound of the dawn chorus emerging from the misty undergrowth was superb. We spotted a decent array of wildlife: many species of birds, a grey fox, groups of deer, a family of bison in search of water, and hundreds of monkeys. The elusive tiger is now in great danger across the whole of India. We later discovered that here in Palamau there are now only 17 tigers left according to an ecological survey in 2007.
We later went to the Betla Fort, which was probably the most amazing fort out of the four others we have seen so far. The ruined fort contained many features of its Muslim past, such as intricate decoration and arches in which the two sides met at a sharp tip. We went inside the redbrick bastion, which was surrounded by loose bricks on the ground that had been lost over time, not to mention a vast array of vegetation, most of which seemed quite dry as a result of the current arid climate.
As we explored, we found a small archway tucked into one of the interior walls and we saw some very irregular steps, so we decided to try our luck climbing onto the ramparts. On reaching the top, the view around was fantastic, as we could see other areas of the fort lying within the greenery. We wanted to follow this wall-less path around the top to reach the distant remains, but after a little walking time we found ourselves having to turn back due to the collapse of the fortifications. We showed no fear of falling over the sides!
Next to be explored were the grounds of the fort and we noticed a couple of large cylindrical pits that descended many metres below. One was probably used as a dungeon as it had no escape route; whereas the other looked like it had an underground tunnel that was linked to other areas of the fort. Surrounding all this was the magnificent scenery of Jharkhand: what a tragedy that the internal political unrest here has stifled the massive potential of development. We are staying in a bizarre complex, complete with possibly the world’s most creepy manager, together with hourly power-cuts or flickering lights and women up on the roof completing the tiling.
On our return we walked around the village of Betla. Some schoolboys tagged along for a short while, one with a scowl and two with smiles! The old village houses provided shelter for both man and beast, and beneath the roofs were large shelves for the storage of firewood. In a courtyard on a table lay the body of an old man, surrounded by his family and being attended to by either a doctor or cleric. Perhaps it was already too late? In the next yard goats grazed, children played, and across the street women gathered by the well to perform the ritual of washing. Here nobody asked ‘What country are you?’ but instead they just stared blankly.
Our final jeep expedition was to be to the confluence of two majestic rivers in an area of outstanding beauty. As we approached the rivers, it became obvious that only sand was to be found now in the riverbed: for 9 months of the year, there is no water at all. Thinking back to our time last week on the Sam sand dunes, there was nothing else to be done but take an action shot and return to our base. Tomorrow is going to be another early start, and an exciting prospect: we are to delve deep into the jungle on the back of an elephant!

Juhi the Elephant

After rising early at 5:40am we intrepidly explored the dense undergrowth of Palamau National Park the Indian way. We clambered onto Juhi the elephant and onto a rickety wooden platform ready for take off. The mahoot (elephant driver) closed the door of the fence that bordered the base on which we were sitting, not that it made us feel any safer! As the elephant marched forward we were being swayed due to an imbalance of weight and we are surprised we didn’t fall off!
It was much better to explore on elephant back because we went through small tracks and low-lying canopies of vegetation, where we met another bison, and deer seemed fairly abundant. The tranquillity here was outstanding and when the elephant stopped, the only sounds we could hear were birds twittering, and creatures of mystery scurrying through dense dry vegetation. Oh! And the occasional monkey call!
We saw many more of the langurs today and some rhesus monkeys, but also kingfishers were spotted in a clearing. The kingfishers were beautiful in colour. I would describe most of the ones we saw as a fluorescent grass green colour, but we also spotted one that was electric blue.
Prior to ending our elephant trek, we went to a small waterhole where the elephant could take in some much needed water. The elephant walked into the small lake slightly and we both fell to the front of our wooden cage because the elephant’s front feet had sunk more than its hind ones.
It was quite uncomfortable riding on top of the elephant because our legs were rubbing on the side of the elephant and the wooden base. Not only this but as the elephant walked past a tree deep inside the forest, Simon’s foot got caught between the side of the elephant and the tree, leaving Simon very confused and Jon as well. I mean, are ankles supposed to twist that much?!
As the elephant made it through parts of the jungle where there were almost no more paths, it would create accessibility by grasping the vegetation with its trunk and forcefully pushing it all to the side. More often than not though, this was not necessary as the elephant could just barge his way through. Never mind any high-reaching thorny stalks that caught onto our clothes and skin! It would have been nice for you to clear that for us Mr Juhi!
The morning on the elephant was absolutely amazing and to top that off we had 2 onion and potato filled parathas each with ketchup, plus masala chai and water. They don’t do lassi in the place we are staying so we are waiting to find a lassi bar as soon as possible! Mind you, if this place did do lassi, the consequences would probably be very severe following consumption!
Today we are heading towards Calcutta and we are due to arrive there at around the 4:00am mark, but the trains always seem to arrive later than scheduled.


  1. The elephant obviously loves si 2.
    How do u know the bison were in search of water … were they carrying empty polyurethane containers !!
    Interesting to find the elephant clears a path as it walks … I didn’t know that interesting fact…. I feel sure there would be a market for them in London.

  2. I was looking on the net for some infos about Palamau national park, I will be visiting the area at the beginning of January.
    Could you share some infos about it?
    How did you organize the trip there? Did you contact a local tour operator? How about the overnight? How could you arrange the elephant ride? I will be very grateful for any kind of help.
    Ferdinando, Moscow, Russia

  3. sorry