Rajaji National Park: A Rajashahi wildlife experience
A park less-travelled, Rajaji is a hidden gem in the form of a Wildlife sanctuary. Nestled among the Shivalik ranges, Rajaji National Park’s pristine beauty and rich biodiversity provides a sight for sore eyes for wild lifers, while teaching the world a lesson on how to combat the dangers presented by railway track that intersect a wildlife sanctuary.
When we think of Uttarakhand, we immediately remember great spiritual destinations like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Char-dhamyatra, and the holy mosque at Meerut. It also brings to us the beautiful memory of outstanding Hill stations like Mussourie, Nainital, Auli and Ranikhet. We also know the important cities located in or near Uttarakhand like Dehradun, New Delhi and Chandigarh. In wildlife too, Uttarakhand’s very own Jim Corbett National Park is one of India’s most popular national parks. But why isn’t Rajaji National Park nearly as popular?
During my last visit to Haridwar, while trying blend my spiritual visit with the adventurous experience of wildlife safaris, I came across the fact that there exists the Rajaji National Park just 36 kms away from Haridwar. It is accessible by a simple Uber, Ola or even local auto Rickshaw. So I landed early in the morning at 6:00 am when the park opens and hired a Gypsy for my family to explore the reserve.
Rajaji National Park is very rich in bio-diversity and spans over an area of 820sq.km. It includes several wildlife sanctuaries like Rajaji, Motichur, Chilla, parts of Dehradun, Shiwalik, and Lansdowne Forest Divisions. These sanctuaries were amalgamated in 1983 to Rajaji National Park, named after the Late Raj Gopalachari: the last Governor General of India in British period. The Holy River Ganges flows through the National Park for a distance of 24km, besides innumerable streams and rivers. It offers ample opportunities to nature lovers and tourists to enjoy the India’s most captivating landscapes and wildlife.
We were informed in the beginning that Rajaji is home to more than 500 elephants,12 tigers (including Royal Bengal tigers protected under Project Tiger), and 250 panthers. It also has spotted-deer, sambhars, jackals, hyenas, jungle cats, leopard cats, civets, wild boars, barking deer, gorals, two kinds of bears: Himalayan-black and sloth, and over 315 bird species. The Asian Elephant for which this park is known for are in the Northern and Western most boundary (protecting it under Project Elephant). Primates like the Rhesus Macaque and the Hanuman Langur are also common here. The Indian Hare and the Indian Porcupine are among some of the small mammals found in the park. Reptiles in Rajaji include one of the largest Pythons, King Cobra, Common Krait, Indian Cobra and the Monitor Lizard. This rich and diverse fauna makes Rajaji National Park a perfect wildlife and birding destination.
Moreover, you can observe several interesting bird species inhabiting this park. India’s National bird, Peacock is found here in abundance. Innumerable variety of butterflies and small birds also add to the beauty of this place. Rusty cheeked Scimitar, Babbler, Golden-spectacled Warbler, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Brown Hawk-Owl, Drongo Cuckoo, Indian, Slaty Headed Parakeets, Great Hornbill, Red Jungle Fowl, Lineted Barbet, Crested Kingfishers, Black Hooded Oriole, Khaleej Pheasant, Woodpeckers, Finches, Thrushes and so on. During winter, a large number of migratory birds visit the National Park.
Ganga and Song rivers, flowing through the park, are home to a wide variety of fish, like Goonch, Trout, Kalabasu, Mahaseer and Chilwa besides some crabs and small fishes in streams feeding big rivers..
During my own safari, I witnessed large open areas where I could see nothing before the horizon. The region is foliated by the Sal Forest, the Western Gangetic Moist forests, Northern dry Deciduous forests, and Khair-Sissoo forests. Low Alluvial Savannah Woodlands cover the drier southern margins of the park, whereas the Shiwalik Chir-Pine coat the high reaches of the hills.
The roads have not yet been developed, and mainly consist of rocky and stony paths, resulting in a bumpy ride. However, we were still successful in seeing 33 bird species. We spotted green peacocks, red junglefowls, oriental pied hornbills, common grey hornbills, white-bellied drongos, spangled drongos, rose-ringed parakeets, plum-headed parakeets, small green bee-eaters, chestnut-headed bee-eaters, purple sunbirds, common-golden back woodpeckers, Indian mynas, bank mynas, jungle babblers, rufous treepies, Indian golden orioles, Indian roller birds, hoopoes, pied bush chats, grey wagtails, yellow wagtails, spotted doves, white-throated kingfishers, spotted owls, barn swallows, red-wattled lapwings, little ringed plovers, crested serpent eagles, black winged kites, changeable hawk eagles.
The Chilla range corridor gate in Pauri District is the best route to enter Rajaji national parkas the elephant safari has resumed on November 15, 2018. The three tuskers Raja, Rangeeli and Radha were trained for almost a year before they were deployed to take tourists on an hour-long safari covering about 4 km of the reserve. After the death of Rajaji’s most popular elephant Arundhati, only male elephants were left in the tiger reserve. Mahouts find it difficult to control these males, and so elephant safaris had come to a halt. Also a “crèche” for baby elephants has opened in Chilla range facility is meant for baby elephants to run around, indulge in playful activities and keep fit. Pits, ponds, and a flat muddy grounds are provided in the area, it is a sight you should not miss!
Also the park is a splendid example of how the problem of the killer railway track that ran through the park left animals the most vulnerable to accidents, was resolved with the coordination, cooperation and hard work of all departments.
You have to spend some time to explore this eco-tonal zone formed due to the merger of the Shiwalik and Himalayan Ranges in Rajaji National Park. A visit to Rajaji national park is essential to witness the richness of India’s wildlife and biodiversity