Home > Totternama > Sariska – Return of the Stripes

Sariska – Return of the Stripes

Waking up on a chill December morning is an ordeal. It was still dark and cold when we loaded up sandwiches and water in the car and headed for Sariska at dawn. 50 km down NH-8 to Dharuhera, we took the left turn to Bhiwadi; 10 km further realized that we were probably going in the wrong direction, made enquiries, veered around and came upon the turn to Alwar. A few shoe shops, a juice vendor, a tree and this road inside. That was it!  No signage! At a junction further ahead we stopped again and asked for directions, turned right and took the road beside Ashiana village, another left and an immediate right and we were on Alwar Bypass. It struck us that while driving on Indian roads “SPOKEN DIRECTIONS” are far more reliable than written ones. Signages are few, often misleading, either plastered over with posters or well concealed from view. The best thing is to ask pedestrians or bystanders when in doubt.

Driving down the sunlit country road flanked by glorious yellow-green mustard fields shrouded in early morning mist was sheer pleasure. At Kurd Chawandi near Tijara we stopped to breakfast on ‘garam-garam’ Aloo-Pyaz, Mixed Paranthas and hot tea, at Chirag restaurant – a shudh shakahari, pavitr hotel. The single lane road was practically traffic-free. Aravali hills formed a corrugated backdrop against panoramic vistas of emerald green fields.

Mid morning, after a brief wait at a railway level cross near Alwar, we took the right turn from the second roundabout, passed over another railway crossing and sped along the road immediately to the left. At a fork we took the uphill road on the right which led straight to Sariska, 40 km further on.

The blue signboard announcing Siliserh Lake Palace Hotel was easy to miss. The narrow, badly maintained road to the palace wound along an ancient aqueduct; bordered by eucalyptus trees, gooseberry orchards and lush green fields. Heavy traffic of motorbikes, Jugaads and jeeps on the road frequently forced us off the tarmac. There were several eating joints beside a large pool at the point where the road climbed towards the palace hotel. Inside the compound, there was just enough space to park about 10 cars. The palace which was built by Maharajah Vinay Singh of Alwar in 1845 as a hunting lodge have recently been converted into a heritage hotel maintained by RTDC. We paid the entrance fee and climbed up to a balcony. Down below, the azure lake lay shimmering in the clasp of grubby, fractured sandstone hills; tinged yellow along the brim by mustard blossoms. There were birds along the lake edge; near the shore an old man in white ploughed the field with a white bullock; we could see villages in the distance. A strong wind ruffled our hair and bent potted plants kept along balustrades where guests sunned themselves. We sat sipping tea on the balcony for a while, taking in the idyllic setting. Back at the car park, we found clean, spotless toilets close by. Refreshed, relieved we resumed our journey to the sanctuary.

The road became progressively worse as we neared Sariska. For a kilometer or two within sanctuary limits we were forced to grind along edges of cavernous potholes in low gear. Entry tickets were available from the Project Tiger counter located on the main road, 500 meters from the sanctuary gate. We could either take our car or hire open air Maruti Gypsies run by the forest department. We chose to drive ourselves. At the sanctuary main gate we had to provide vehicle and driver name for records. The sanctuary rules prohibited us from straying off the main road. Playing music on car stereo was not permitted. Under no circumstances were we to step out of the car.

The asphalt road within the sanctuary was in bad shape. Possibly intentional – it helped to limit speed within the stipulated 30 kmph. We drove along at a snail’s pace scanning the the jungle on either side of the road. My wife was the first to catch sight of a wild boar. It seemed quite unconcerned by our presence and continued to munch grass. Uncharitably, the first image which flashed across my mind was that of Obelix grilling wild boar over bonfire. Further down the road we spotted groups of peafowl, Sambar, Nilgai and Chital. They peered at us curiously but did not pay us much attention when we stopped close by. Trees closed in as we moved deeper into the jungle. This was dry deciduous forest and foliage was not very dense. At several places it opened up into savannahs of brown grass. Occasionally a Sambar or Chital streaked across the road. Sometimes they paused to stare before vanishing into the undergrowth. A pack of jackals, brownish, with ears perked up, strolled along the road. Grey Partridges waddled about picking at the ground and jumped inside thickets as we approached. Peafowl were everywhere, on the road, under the shade, top of trees; the peacock easily spotted because of its fluorescent blue green feathers. Several parrots roosted on a bare tree, giving it a transient pale green foliage.

Signboards along the road announced the distinguished residents of Sariska caracal, leopard, tiger! In 2005, the sanctuary earned the dubious distinction of being a tiger reserve sans tiger. Three tigers have since been reintroduced and are reported to be faring well. We were fortunate to spot this one!!!

Langurs – black faced and long tailed stalked the road in groups, hoping to be fed by visitors. On one occasion we stopped the car to feed them and got mobbed by the gang. They climbed over the car, stuck to the windshield, perched on side mirrors and tried to insert fingers through windows.  Later, forest officials reprimanded us for feeding them. We understood that instead of helping them, we were harming them. By giving them food we discouraged animals from foraging which was ultimately detrimental to their well-being.

The main road ended at Pandupol temple, dedicated to Hanuman. Langurs and Rhesus monkeys walked about unmolested, under the auspices of the monkey god. According to legends, Pandavas spent part of their Vanavas here. The stone arch over a cascade is reputed to have been created by Bhim by smashing his mace (Gada) on the rock. We parked our car near the temple entrance and walked a little way inside. Water trickled over large smooth boulders, there were silver fish in stagnant pools, a Sambar stared at us from inside a palm groove, squirrels scurried about, a kingfisher sat perched on a palm tree, all around it was quiet except for the rustle of leaves. Back at the temple there were a group of cacophonous pilgrims. Near the sign which exhorted to keep the temple premises clean, a man performed his daily ablutions. A visit to the stinking toilet and the litter was sufficient for us to drop the idea of having samosas from nearby shops.

The sanctuary gate was close to 25 kms from the temple. It was getting late, the slanting evening sun rays had withdrawn to cliff tops.  We turned left from the sanctuary gate intending to return via NH-8 instead of Alwar. A dilapidated fort over looked Thana Gazi  town where we stopped to fuel. A short snack break at Virat Nagar and we hurried on to Shahpura where the road met NH-8. Driving on the pitch dark country road with oncoming vehicles on high beam was extremely difficult. We breathed a sigh of relief as we touched the highway. NH-8 was choke full of trucks which necessitated frequent lane shifts and weaving through traffic. It was late night when we reached Gurgaon, braving traffic jams, rogue drivers and wheezing trucks.

Although we couldn’t spot the star attraction of the sanctuary, it was a delightful experience. During the visit, we noticed several people step out of their vehicles violating the sanctuary rules. People flung tea cups out of the car and littered several spots.  We were ourselves guilty of feeding animals, for our pleasure and for the fantastic photo op.

I hope we all realize that the wildlife sanctuary is the home of animals – they are born and raised there, that’s where they live and die. As guests enjoying their hospitality and goodwill it is our responsibility to respect the animals and their environment instead of spoiling it. We should stop being selfish, at least for the while we are being with them.

RTDC Siliserh Lake Palace Hotel

RTDC , New Delhi
1st Floor, Bikaner House
Pandara Road, New Delhi – 110001
Tel: +91-11-23383837, 23386069, 23381884

RTDC Hotel Bookings: http://www.rtdc.in/rtdcconnect.htm

Chirag Hotel (Shudh Shakahari, Pavitr Hotel)
Kurd Chawandi near Tijara
Mob: 9982448744

Sri Ganapati (Sweets & Gud Wallah) – Virat Nagar
For hot Gajar Ka Halwah and Moong Dal Halwah
Mob: 9829861527

Viratnagar ke Prasidh Pakode Awam Dahi Wade wale
For those unforgettable pakora’s and mirch bajji’s
Mob: 9636057950

Note: Preferably carry food and water. Once inside the sanctuary, nothing will be available until you reach the Hanuman temple. The food available near the temple is not clean or hygenic.

Warning: Entry to the reserve is free on Saturdays. But noisy pilgrims throng the temple.  Hords of schoolchildren descend on the sanctuary. Buses honk you off the road. In my opinion, avoid visiting Sariska on Saturdays.

Photo Courtesy: Subha Varma/ V P Vinod

Categories: Totternama
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