A forest is defined as a dense congregation of trees, thick and thin, small and large, young and old. Then again such forest are categorised as evergreen forest, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, mangrove forest and more and again sub categorised on the basis of types of trees available. The trees thus form the building block of a forest and the other lives (micro to large) depend on it and play their respective role in the food chain. Meanwhile, the forest gains its popularity by the one in the top of the food pyramid. I was in one such forest known for the tiger as the top predator – Simlipal National Park.
My regular readers by now must have developed an idea that most of my trips are unplanned and sudden. This was again another to add to the list and it turned out to be adventurous. The day before travelling to Simlipal I tried to book the forest guest house through the online reservation system but the site was down. But I could not drop my plan then as the bug in my mind was poking me constantly.
I went through the brochure I had, madly searched for the phone number of the forest guest houses in Simlipal. This is where I found the phone number of Lulung Aranyaniwas, the one nearest to the main entry gate of Pithabata. I thought this would be the ideal spot to stay in the forest and also go for the morning safari without spending much time travelling.
I called up and booked a room for the next two consecutive days. The person on the other end confirmed the booking. I was surprised to get the booking done in such a hassle-free and smooth way. The forest was supposed to close for the visitors the next day and I presumed this was the reason for available rooms.
Like any forest in India, Simlipal too remains closed during the monsoon months (from 16th June to 31st October.) I planned my forest visit on 15th of June – the last day, last show. With our fingers crossed and a lot of hope, we started for Simlipal.
The landscape gradually changed as we approached Baripada. The urban landscape transformed into the forest-like area with an abundance of Sal trees (Shorea robusta) on either side of the road. The foresty feel was engulfing us and our excitement rose. This is when we entered Baripada, the major town near Simlipal forest. It seemed to be a small town with less population.
Driving further through the rural and forest region and we reached the main entrance of the Simlipal National Park. It was the Pithabata gate and we were supposed to make our entry with our vehicle at this check post. As our driver was writing the entry details we were sweating in the sweltering heat. It was tremendously humid and the temperature at its maximum.
Three kilometres interior within the jungle from the entry gate of Pithabata was the large compound of Lulung Aranyaniwas. From the entry gate, we were denied entry sighting the reason that it was not the proper way of booking and our booking was not legitimate. In the same way, the passenger of another vehicle too was turned off for some reason.
At this time we were in a soup and were completely clueless as it would be dark soon and we were homeless in this thick forest. None of our phones had any connectivity and we could not inquire about the hotels in the nearest areas. Our only thought then was where do we stay for the night in this dense forest? With no food since morning food was just not in mind then. Perplexed and haggard we were looking for a solution when the guards at the entry gate came to our rescue and gave us the name of a couple of hotels in Baripada, the nearest town that has decent rooms and can be our stay for the night.
We drove for 22 km to reach Baripada town and finally finding our stay for the night at Hotel Ambika. It was a standard hotel with clean and decent rooms. We luckily got a decent AC suit. We were so relieved that it seemed to be our heavenly abode. It was like a five-star suit for me at that time. We liked the hotel, food and the services so much that we extended our stay for another night (there was another reason too).
As mentioned by the forest officials at the Pithabata entry gate the hotel even arranged for a Bolero for us to enter the forest. Small cars with less ground clearance are not allowed. The charges of the vehicle along with the vehicle entry, individual entry, camera fee and guide charges were paid in the hotel and they took care of all other formalities.
Ignorance took its toll on us again. We thought this would be a forest safari like the one in any other forest in India that drove us for a couple of hours within the forest seeing wildlife and the vegetation. I had absolutely no knowledge that this would be a totally different safari or rather not a safari.
The next morning we were in front of the forest gate. Entry formalities were done and we were ready to go for the last day last show of the season in the Simlipal forest. This is when two small vehicles with two families of ignorant visitors like us arrived. They were completely clueless about how to save the last day last show in Simlipal with their small vehicles and a lot of expectations.
Our Bolero driver, who was a regular and a popular man taking visitors for sightseeing within Simlipal. He was well acquainted with the forest officials. He proactively became their saviour and saved their day and a long drive from whichever destination they have started from. He arranged vehicles for each family. On the advice of our hotel manager we started late and in due course of this mess, we were further delayed. Still, we were happy to see the day saved for our co-traveller.
Confidently we denied purchasing the lunch and water coupons at the entry gate and with great hope and excitement entered the forest area with our guide. The very first thing we enquired was what else can we see in this forest other than the beautiful forest scenes. We wanted to say wildlife but out guide answered for a day sightseeing trip you can see two waterfalls and a salt bed.
I was shocked to hear the term sightseeing. I have heard of safari in the forest but never did I hear sightseeing. Then I directly enquired what all birds and animals can be seen here? He along with the driver replied nothing except few macaques and squirrels. Hering this we were highly disappointed. But still, with hope, we went ahead.
The Simlipal National Park is spread across a huge area of 2750sq km. This vast area experiences a different pattern of rainfall and the character of the soil varies in separate zones. Thus, giving scope for a wide range of vegetation varying from dry deciduous to the moist green forest. Various sources and data say that this is a home to a large number of faunal species – tiger, elephant, deer, squirrels and a huge variety of birds.
But repeatedly our guide and driver in a casual manner said it is better not to keep any hope. More we entered the forest the vegetation and the undergrowth became thicker and denser. Abundant red silk cotton trees (also known as Semul) and Sal dominated the forest. So thick was the foliage that spotting any birds or any animal was near to impossible.
This was one of the densest forests I have ever been. Rocking through the rough forest trail and listening to the guide and the driver’s non-stop conversation (which we were incomprehensible to us) we kept gazing through the windows. The forest had a different character which was quite unlike others that I have been so our initial few hours of the drive was exciting.
Later on, the excitement was giving way to monotony. Till then no wildlife was seen. Occasional herds of cows and buffalos were seen driven by the Indian cowboy, group of honey gatherer and scattered tribal villages within the forest broke the boredom. We reached the first point in our sightseeing itinerary. It was the Joranda waterfalls.
We walked down the trail within the dense trees to see a magnificent waterfall plunging from a height of 150 meters (490 ft). It was all green around and the white thick streak of water gushing down straight from the greener mountains. It was an overwhelming sight and yet a sight to be remembered forever. Nature has blessed the place with bountiful beauty. I fall short of words to describe the ethereal feeling while being in this divine place.
While returning to our vehicle we came to know about the horrific stories of the Naxalite attacks in the forest check post of this location. During the disturbed times, there was a great loss of animal life along with human life in Simlipal forest and since then the animal population in this forest have declined, as per the guide.
The next destination was the Barehipani waterfalls, again set amidst the green surrounding just at the eye level after a little descend through the trees. This is two tired waterfalls and is the icon for Simlipal in the printed brochure. This is again a spectacular waterfall in the lush surrounding.
We were in the forest for a long and now we were hungry. Our vehicle was driving towards the Barehipani Forest Canteen through some luscious valley, grassland and tiny tribal villages. The Nawana valley in this setup is a bright green undulating plane, said to be the coolest region of the forest. The temperature is said to drop down to freezing point during winter nights and resulting ice on the blades of grass melts with the first rays of the sun.
Now it was a tough time as we were hungry and had already finished off our snack and water in stock. While the driver and our guide were having their lunch in the canteen we had to control our thirst and hunger senses by diverting our mind into the other things. We did not purchase food and water coupon and so they could not provide us with any. It is arranged in this forest canteen on order from the forest entry gate so no extra pack.
As we roamed around the surrounding village in hope to see any bird (or with an intention to trick our brain to think anything but of food and water) a local asked me to click his family photo in his language which I obliged. Then he said something which someone translated to – “bring this pictures with you when you come back to Simlipal again”.
I was so touched by the simplicity of these innocent villagers. When I had no idea to be back in this place again they had a pure hope that I will be back and will also get their photo along. Through the mediator at hand, I asked for their address and promised them to send their pictures by post as no courier service operates within this forest. Happily, they said that they will collect the same from the post office. (This was the first thing I did after I returned back home.)
Our thirst and hunger vanished and now thoughts of the remoteness of this village and the tough lives of these simple villagers ran through our mind. Thus we reached the last and final destination of our sightseeing trip in Simlipal. It was Chahala, the main attraction here is the salt bed. Birds and animals are said to come here in the morning and evening to meet the salt requirement of their body. The Maharaja of Mayurbhanj had his rest house here in the ancient times which has now been transformed into the forest guest house.
We were extremely exhausted during this day-long journey in this sweltering heat without any food and water. We could not wait any longer for the birds and animals to come to the salt bed to feed on salt so we requested our driver to take us back to the hotel so that we can meet out food and primarily water requirement.
The return journey was painstakingly extra long. It was a different route from outside the forest through a never-ending bad road that shook us to our bones and covered us with dust. The road conditions were severe and this made the drive even slower and we were on the verge of thirstful death when finally a roadside tea stall saved our lives. We reached the hotel in the evening and had no more energy left to move ahead and thus extended our stay here for another night. Soon I was dead in the bed (I slept like it was my last sleep.) 🙂
Simlipal, of ‘Khairi: The Beloved Tigress’ fame was definitely a forest experience to be remembered forever. It will be remembered forever for its uniqueness, the simple locals and the adventure we had on the last day before the closing. Even without any sighting, I would call it a super hit last day last show of the season in Simlipal.