In 1217 A.D. a young adventurer departed
from his native Venice on a voyage of discovery. Among the other incredible stories
he related in his "Book of Marvels", he spoke of a wondrous land filled
with curious animals, like elephants, rhinos and the great striped cats. That
land was India. The man was Marco Polo.
long, Africa has been regarded as the Mecca of Wildlife. Justifiably so, but in
the recent years the natural wealth of the Indian Subcontinent has begun to offer
naturalists, tourists and researchers a fascinating alternative to the once dark
continent. But there is a fundamental difference between the wildlife experience
of the Indian Jungle and those in Africa. To begin with, tropical jungles are
dense and most often the visibility is fairly restricted. All too often visitors
lured to India by tourist brochures, which promise exciting Tiger Safaris,
are therefore disappointed to see fewer animals than they expected. It's not that
the surviving jungles are thinly populated, but that most creatures, which have
mastered the art of camouflage and deception over millennia, are virtually impossible
to spot unless you know what to look for. With the help of an experienced guide
part of a tree stump takes wing to reveal itself as a roosting nightjar, or, an
imperceptible movement in the grass turns out to be none other than that of the
endangered Tiger, an ultimate and a majestic combination of beauty and power.
It is also necessary to explain why so many birds than mammals are seen.
Mammals are largely nocturnal, retreating into their hideouts during the day,
and are usually silent. On the other hand most birds are diurnal, not so shy of
man and quite vocal. Moreover there are far more birds than there are mammals.
India has about 1200 species of birds against 350 species of mammals. So, while
spotting a hundred species of birds in a day is not unusual, a mammal list of
even 10 species is considered good. But the mystique and the romance of exploring
the jungle here, perhaps for this very reason, is greater than anywhere else in
Natural India awaits discovery. Despite the heat and humidity,
people are drawn back to the forests which Kipling immortalized. In any event,
the secret for the visitors lies in knowing what to expect and in understanding
that the privilege of stepping into a pure and untouched world is a reward in