Into the Wild: Satkosia Tiger Reserve

With just one more month to go at XIMB and job offers in our drawers, we undertook an adventure into the wild. This account written by me narrate our adventure at the Satkosia Tiger Reserve.

Day 0:

We were planning to leave for the journey on the 26th as it was a holiday and the 27th was a Sunday. But thankfully we didn’t get any reservations for the weekend because of the holiday rush. I’ll explain the “thankfully” part a bit later in this account. At 3 pm I got a text message from Shreyas that we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning and he asked me to check out for trains leaving Bhubaneswar to Angul at morning. Angul is a tiny industrial city located 120 kms from Bhubaneswar. We had planned to visit the Satkosia Tiger Reserve located around 60 kms from Angul. Of all the trains that left at morning, we finally narrowed down on the Bhubaneswar-Bolangir Intercity Exp which leaves Bhubaneswar at 06:45 am. Shreyas went to make the draft for the reservation. I played tennis for an hour or so at evening, came back and finished my packing, had dinner and dozed off early by XIMB standards at 11 pm as we had to wake up early at 5 am the next morning.

Day 1:

I woke up and was surprised to see my corridor buzzing with fellow mates & music! There was some party going on and many of our folks were awake at that moment. I went to Vaibhav’s room to check whether he was up and I found him to be in all his humor. Kshitij and Shreyas were also up. I quickly took bath and readied my bags by 05:25. The first glitch in our trip was that we didn’t had any camera with us. The one guy to whom we had asked for camera forgot to charge it and later took it away from us telling that he was leaving home that day. The only camera that was left with us was Shreyas’s 3.2 megaPixel! I went up to the 5th floor to check out on Kshitij and found that the party was going on there at Chachu’s room! There were like 8 people enjoying the early morning with music! Sonam who was also there at the party got up seeing me and told me that she was coming with us to Angul. The party broke up and all of us walked down the stairs to leave the hostel.

We reached the railway station at 06:15 and to our shock found a long queue outside the ticket booking window. Only 25 min were left for us to book our tickets. We went to the other ticket window on the 4th platform and if it wasn’t for Sonam, we probably couldn’t have gotten the tickets for the train. The train was almost full and we managed to squeeze into the little space in the first coach of the train just after the engine. Vaibhav and Shreyas climbed up to the upper berth whilst Kshitij, I and Sonam sat at the lower berth. As soon as the train started moving, Vaibhav & Kshitij dozed off. Shreyas got into a meditative state. Later in the ride I found out that none of them had slept for more than 2 hours that night save me. That explained the early morning blues! After watching all the sleepy faces I dozed off too besides Sonam and kept waking up periodically just to check where we had reached. It took the train a little more than 2 hours to cover the 120 kms journey to Angul.

We reached Angul at exact 09:00 hrs. With bags at our back, we kick started the adventure by crossing the railway lines and getting out of the railway station. Outside the station we spent the next 15 minutes haggling with the auto rickshaw drivers. Defeated by the reluctant drivers, we finally took one and got to Sonam’s place. Sonam had planned to surprise her family by not informing them before about her arrival. At Sonam’s place we met her mother and her little brother, had some sweets and rushed out to the tourism office. We couldn’t stay longer at her place as we were in a hurry as we had to submit the draft and get to Tikarpada on time. Tikarpada is one of the spots of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. On reaching the tourism dept’s office we found it to be closed. We called the person with whom we were communicating about the reservations from XIMB and got him there at the office in 15 min. It took us nearly 30-40 min to wait for the person to come, submit the draft and inquire about the mode of transportation to our spot. We found that the last bus of the morning had already left at 09:00. The only option we had was to either wait for the 3 pm bus or to take the ‘tempo’ direct to Tikarpada. Taking the tempo was bit expensive. But, with no option left at our disposal and doing a 60 km journey solo in a tempo sounding tempting, we jumped on it after bringing the fare down to Rs 600 from Rs 700. We just had to pay Rs 25 more for the registration.

Having eaten little since morning, we had our tempo stopped near the edge of the city and got ourselves loaded on some samosas and vadas with tea. We also got a couple of pieces of what I would call a large chunk of jalebi like sweet. The tempo ride was a trip in itself. We swiftly moved from the streets of Angul to the fields on both the sides of the road to the emergence of mountains in the background to forests on one side of the road and fields on the other to mountains on one side of the road and a mix of trees and green lands on the other. The ride was smooth throughout despite being a roller coaster in the countryside. The beauty of the landscape, the groggy eyes, the anticipation of new surroundings and the chatter was how I would sum up the tempo ride to Tikarpada.

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On reaching our spot we caught hold of Bharat who will be acting as our guide for the remainder of the trip. We got to know about Bharat from our friends who had been here at the Reserve only a few days back. Bharat showed to us our tents. Kshitij and Vaibhav took one tent, Shreyas and I took the other one. There were two beds inside each tent, a small side table placed on which were mineral water bottles and a few cakes of soap. There was a second small room at the back of each tent probably for changing clothes. Behind every tent there was a bamboo structure containing the toilets. We kept our bags in our tents and freshened up a bit. We then had lunch. The cafeteria was open on all sides and had the Mahanadi in the background giving it a totally wild look. We were served rice with vegetables, daal and egg curry in lunch. We had tea made up on the chullah together with our lunch.

With bags in our tents and food in our stomach we started our trek with a dip in the river Mahanadi. Carrying our towels and spare clothes, we trudged towards the banks of the river.  The terrain was rough thanks to the rocks of all size and shapes. We were a bit sceptical about stepping into the river. At one end there was a threat of a crocodile gobbling us up and on the other there were sharp objects on the river bed which was making it difficult to walk into the water. Waves of electric shock passed into our body as we stepped into the icy river waters. One dip in the water was all that was needed to recharge our body. The drowsiness of the travels and the limited sleep totally vanished from our body and we were like free once again. Kshitij, Shreyas and I became a little more adventurous after the dip and swam towards the deeper part of the river. We planned to make a sharp cut back towards the shore after swimming for a while. We made it back easily in the first try. Though my hand hit one huge rock which was invisible over the surface of the water. Kshitij’s foot got pierced by a sharp object which was lying on the bed and therefore the second time Shreyas and I did the swim. Shreyas went for the dive and I followed him. I made a mistake of swimming freestyle. Freestyle was a mistake because my speed is slower than usual and I got caught up in the currents. I didn’t realize that fact and I was slowly floating away from our decided course. I panicked a bit. I caught hold of Shreyas’s hands who himself climbed up a boulder. To me the river gave a fake impression of a still water body from outside. However, inside it was moving slowly but surely towards the sea. This incident made me realize the hidden powers of a river which my mum used to tell us!

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From Left: Kshitij, Shreyas, Mudit (the author!) and Vaibhav Pandey

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From Left: Kshitij, Vaibhav and the author

We were now refreshed for the trek that awaited us. We tagged along with Bharat who took us for a long trek alongside the river. Coming from an arid part of the country (Ahmedabad) Orissa for me has been a heaven. The landscape of the state is tempting. The flat green lands end unto the greener mountains which appear to have risen out of nowhere. The mountains are not too tall and not too short. They’re of just the size which makes them feel accessible and at the same time not becoming too intimidating. The Tikarpada landscape was a mix of green fields, river, the white delta, green mountains, a blue sky with a mischievous shade of white and yellow.  After almost an hour of walking we were at the banks of the river once again. This time the banks were guarded by boulders. Our troupe gave in to the beautiful views of this spot and spent the next hour lying down on the rocks relaxing. Vaibhav and Kshitij slipped into a peaceful slumber. Shreyas engaged our guide Bharat in a chat and I explored the scenery and took pictures of it.

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Relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery at our favourite spot!

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After spending sometime at the spot which instantly became our favourite  we decided to get back to our camp as it had started becoming dark. The colour of the sky turned into deep indigo as the sun went down the horizon. The yellowish-white tinged sky now gave into the night sky illuminated by the soft white light of the moon which was straight on top of our heads. The new colour of the landscape and the running river along side our trek all these reminded me of the landscapes I used to imagine during my primary school English lessons. I don’t know why but it brought me closer to the classics like Malgudi Days and others which I used to read when I was a kid. This long walk back to the camp was the most exciting part of the day for me. We were walking alongside the river. We could see the loaded boats of the fishermen sailing through the dark waters of the Mahanadi. We had heard of the gruesome incidents of ferries capsizing in the waters of this mighty river drowning hundreds of people just a few hours ago. All those horror stories didn’t perturb us one bit as we walked on and on with Bharat leading us from the front. It didn’t get pitch dark thanks to the moon above. Still, as we had to cross a lot of wild vegetation I switched on the in-built torch of my cellphone. We had not only forgotten to take a camera with us but also didn’t bring any torch with us. This is funny because just a couple of months back I used to carry my torch everywhere even when on campus at night. But when carrying it really became a necessity, it was not there for me. It had gotten rusted and had stopped functioning all thanks to the water that I had spilled on to it which went unnoticed. While walking I felt an urge to listen to some classic Hindi songs which Vaibhav promptly turned on to on his cellphone. Surprisingly, the lyrics of the song he had turned on were matching with the moments we were experiencing…

On reaching our camp, we first went to the cafeteria to get something to eat. We ordered a couple of plates of pakodas with tea. Kshitij and I, the two non-vegetarians in our group had a plate of chicken pakodas. By some divine intervention it came to our notice that we can get beer here at the camp! Thinking that we’re all set for the night, we got bottles of beer ordered to our camp. Shreyas accompanied Bharat and got some snacks to go with the drink. After finishing the pakodas and freshening ourselves up for the night, the four of us got the chairs together around the table outside one of our tent. We opened our beer bottles along with the bags of chips and nuts and enjoyed the night. Sometime later Bharat and one of the guys brought us our firewood. We had our dinner (it was chicken this time) and when we got back to our tents we found that the wood had already been lit up. We pushed the chairs towards the fire, sat there and enjoyed the night listening to the nature and watching the wood blow up in curtains of smoke into the dotted sky. Tired of the travel and the treks we retired to our beds early by 23:30.

Day 2:

The cosiness of the quilt was making it difficult for me to get out of my bed. I had woken up 30 min ago but wasn’t able to step out of my bed. Shreyas and Vaibhav were up. We had initially planned to go out for a boat ride through the course of the river at 6 in the morning. But when I woke up it was already 07:30. Kshitij was still sleeping, Vaibhav was brushing his teeth and Shreyas had probably gone to the toilet. We quickly got ready and reached the cafeteria. As it was too early for breakfast we had to settle for some tea and biscuits.

Boating in Mahanadi is officially banned for the tourists at Satkosia. Only the fishing and the government boats are allowed in the waters. The ban was enforced only recently when a ferry full of people capsized in the waters. Nevertheless, watching crocodiles sun bathe at morning was what we wanted to see before biting into our breakfast that morning. And we had asked our boatman to do those honors! We reached the banks of the river and there she was sitting pretty on the surface of the water, apparently carved out of one log of tree – the fisherman’s boat which would be our pre-accident Titanic of the trip. The day before while swimming in the river we had seen a beautiful ferry docked not far from our spot. The four of us instantly fell in love with that piece of wood and enquired whether we could lay our hands on that boat the next morning. We found that it was actually a government property meant to ferry the officials and their families across the rivers.

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The Boat!

So, one by one we started stepping onto our boat. Kshitij sat on the tip of the boat. Vaibhav & Shreyas sat in the middle together. Now came my turn. Standing at 5’11 and weighing almost 80 kgs I was the tallest and athletically built of the five (incl the boatman). So, as soon as I stepped onto the boat it wobbled furiously. It was now sure that the fate of the five persons on board that fishing boat resided on my bum movements that morning. I was the person who was balancing the boat! The initial few minutes of the journey were threatening. The boat was swinging wildly from left to right. A fear was growing amongst us that the boat might overturn as we weren’t able to get the right balance. The thought of becoming the breakfast for the crocs that morning was turning real. Vaibhav was also increasingly becoming concerned about the whole plan of watching the crocodiles and all in such a situation. He was the only person on that boat who did’n’t know how to swim. Mindful of our fears, the boatman decided to row the boat closer to the shores. We abandoned the plan of saying hello to the crocodiles and instead took our boat to our favourite spot where we had been the last evening. I took my headphones out for the first time in the trip and got lost in the music which was blending perfectly with the scenery. The fear of the boat capsizing into the river was instantly zapped.

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We reached our spot where our boatman showed to us the natural caves in which fishermen of the area rest many times when they’re out fishing in this part of the river. We walked for a while towards the other direction from our spot which we hadn’t been to the last evening. While returning back to our boat, the boatman pointed towards the other side of the river. There, sitting on the white silt was a crocodile! We could clearly see it from our point. The crocodile vanished later on when a fisherman stopped on that bank and his kid stepped out of the boat. Our return journey in the boat was much smoother. We were no longer scared of falling in the water save for one incident that involved me. While stepping on the boat I had forgotten to remove the jacket which I had tied to my waist. I had one of my foot on the boat and the other one on the shore. Didn’t realizing this I untied my jacket sending the boat in a tizzy! This scared the shit out of my friends! 😀

Back home, we went to the cafeteria for our breakfast. We were served aloo – puri in our meal. Now aloo-puri is the last thing which I would eat on Earth. I hate aloo-puri! And this hatred goes back to my school days when once during my lunch I puked after eating aloo-puri and since then I rarely ever touch this meal. Grudgingly, I ate some puris. I knew that I’ll need energy when we’ll be going for the trek to the waterfalls sometime later. After the breakfast Shreyas and I went to the shops to load ourselves with some snacks and toffees for the trek. Vaibhav & Kshitij went to the tents to pack things up as our check out time of 11 am was approaching. We packed our luggage and kept it in an enclosed luggage space near the cafeteria. The last night we thought of stopping here for another night. They were giving us a discount of Rs 800 if all four of us chose to stay in only one tent. We were tempted to accept the offer but then we found that we wont have much left to see. We had covered most of the spots that was to see. Also, we found that both Saturday & Sunday were completely booked. We were lucky we came here on Friday. There were just two more people apart from us four there at Satkosia. This gave us the freedom to explore things on our own. Had there been more people there we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the sounds of the nature as we did being alone there.

At the market centre I saw an unfurled Indian flag which reminded us of the fact that it was the Republic Day!

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We set out for one final trek. This time we were in the search for the great waterfall of which we had heard a lot last night. We left at around 12:30. We had snacks, toffees, towels and spare clothes for we had planned to take one final dip near the waterfalls itself. This last trek would become a rather long one. We walked through the Crocodile Research Centre, the government quarters (guest houses) and then finally into the forbidden forests (Core Area). The Core Area was prohibited for the tourists to enter by law. While walking into the jungle, we came across a tree house overlooking the river. We climbed onto it to look at the view of the river from there. The tree house must have been closed for the passers-by too as the entrance to the top was blocked by a log of wood. We walked and walked until we finally reached what we thought was the course of the ‘waterfall’!

The Treehouse

The Treehouse

When we reached the waterfalls we were disappointed as we had expected something big. We were carrying clothes and towels with us as we had planned to take a dip in the reservoir. Instead we found a very tiny little stream running down in drops from somewhere up the top. We stepped on the stones and jumped over the water to reach the jungles above. Our trek turned into an elephant trail when we found elephant foot marks and fresh dung. Our guide led us very quietly towards the upper reaches of the jungles where he thought the elephant was hiding from us. The whole episode of standing quietly for the elephant to make a move was enthralling! Shreyas and Kshitij went to check out the elephant hiding spot more closely whereas I and Vaibhav stood near the ‘falls’ guarding our luggage and checking out the photographs we had taken during the trip.

The 'Waterfall'

The ‘Waterfall’

We couldn’t find the elephant so we headed back to the path through which we had entered the forests. While returning to the camp we found a huge crocodile cooling himself off on one of the delta’s nearer to our path. Bharat our guide took us as near to him as possible. We crawled through wild vegetations and bushes, slipped in the sand, rustled through the leaves and  finally reached the closest possible spot to the crocodile. Shreyas tried making videos of the creature. Vaibhav was taking pictures atop the banks when while climbing down towards us he made some rustling noise with his feet which scared the croc. He quickly splashed into the river. We were thankful to Bharat for helping us see a crocodile so closely in his own natural habitat. Unfortunately for us, despite walking more than 20 kms in the treks in total, the only wild creature we could see in the forests was the crocodile. We didn’t even cross one snake. But all in all we had a really good time in the jungles. We walked and walked and nobody of us four ever complained about anything. The closest we came was in that boat. Though we had a genuine concern while cancelling the plan to sail closer to the crocodiles. We returned back and found our tempo was already there and was ready to take us to Angul. We asked him to stop for 15 more minutes. In that time we rushed to the banks of Mahanadi and made one final dip into the cool waters. We held each other’s hands, took a deep breathe and jumped inside the waters. Instantly all the sweat, the dirt, the droopy eyes and the exhaustion of walking 10 kms vanished. We were charged up once again. Vaibhav was so excited that he exclaimed that taking a dip in the Mahanadi was the best part of his trip. The great thing in this final dip was that none of us were scared of the crocodiles any more. We knew that the crocodiles are also scared of us and it is damn difficult for the humans to find them floating around. One has to find them! We took a quick swim, dried ourselves up, took our luggage and jumped into our tempo. On reaching Angul we had our lunch at Sonam’s place. After the lunch we quickly took our train tickets and jumped into the Bolangir- Bhubaneswar Exp home. Sitting in the train I felt so tired and exhausted that I fell into a deep slumber. My eyes felt heavy. On returning back to Bhubaneswar we first headed to our X-Cafe and had a light snack.

All in all it was a great trip. One of the best I had ever undertaken. The most important thing about the entire trip was that I was with a bunch one of the most amazing people. I had a really great time with my folks – Vaibhav, Shreyas & Kshitij. The experience together was priceless and something which I would cherish for the times to come.

Costs

1. Cost of Accomodation: It costs Rs 1600 per tent (2 persons in one tent) which includes lunch, dinner and breakfast (next day)

2. Cost of Guide: If you hire a guide and take him along for long treks you can offer him anywhere between Rs 100 to Rs 200 depending upon the distance traveled.

3. Cost of Transportation: Almost all the trains that go towards Bhubaneswar/Puri/Visakhapatnam through the Sambhalpur – Bhubaneswar line stops at Angul. It’s usually a 2 min stop. From Angul the first bus leaves around 7 am, second at 9 am and the third and the final one in the afternoon around 3 pm. The bus ticket costs Rs 50. The second alternative (and costlier one) is taking a tempo direct to Satkosia. It will cost you Rs 700 one side. The more the number of people (it wont be able to accommodate more than 4-5 people) the cheaper it will be. The advantage of tempo ride is that it will be flexible – you can get down anywhere on the route stretch your legs or have a cuppa.

4. Cost of Boating: Although it is banned, you can hire a fisherman’s boat at Rs 200 to explore the Mahanadi.

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