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Our Very Versatile Visits to Van Vihar (Wildlife Week Special)


Our Very Versatile Visits to Van Vihar
(Wildlife Week Special)

Meghna ‘Phoenix’ Ghatak

Van Vihar is a part of the collective cultural memory of Bhopal, where every resident and visitor had taken a long stroll in its precincts, early on Sunday mornings or throughout the day. Situated on the banks and backwaters of the historic upper lake, this national park functioning as a zoological park has a meagre entrance fee and an additional fee for driving one’s own vehicle inside. Many families and youngsters here have a weekly habit of renting out a cycle from the zoo administration and paddling from one enclosure to the other.

From our common experience, the entire stretch beginning at the left hand turn from the CM House road, precisely from the temple with an elaborate bronze lion statue at the entrance, was a picnic spot. Boys would speed down the inclined road and frequently be turned back by the sight of surprise police check posts or speed up to the gate of Van Vihar or Manav Sangrahalaya. Every new vehicle owner in the city has an unnamed tradition of rolling their new vehicle down this stretch overflowing with tourists, joggers, weekend loiterers and of course, hawkers.
A Tiger Yawning in Van Vihar

Much of my student days were spent loitering up and down this familiar road, or cycling down the length of Van Vihar, to catch a glimpse of the tigers snoozing in the sun or walking to and fro their living spaces. The tigers, exchanged from various other zoos had interesting names such as Bandhu from Bandhavgarh and had bonds with their caretakers who were kind enough to at times introduce their wards to the on looking crowd, who would gape at their camaraderie. I had mimicked a caretaker’s call to a sleeping tiger once and it had emitted low growls and raised its tail a couple of times, much to the amusement of my friends.
A herd of Black Buck crossing the road next to a board describing them

Once after a brief rain spell, when my mother and I had stopped to catch the shade of a tree, a wandering black buck had allowed me and a little boy, the luxury of caressing him, while it grazed the grass surrounding the tree. My mother had switched on a camera with shaking hands but the moment she could focus the lens, the buck galloped back into the verdant that grew victoriously inside the park.

It was here that I came to know that the glass boxes containing lazy snakes could also contain suspense. A single mouse would be let loose inside these boxes filled with a few slithering serpents and spectators of all ages would pin their noses to the glass walls to stare at the mouse trembling on the summit of a tall thick twig installed inside.
A Female Neel Gai

During the wildlife week, safaris would be organized both by the zoo administration as well as adventure companies and the visitors would be taken to the enclosures of bears, leopards and tigers that have been rescued from various poachers, animal entertainers and traders. Taking pictures of the enclosures were forbidden and information regarding the rescue and the well being of the animals was provided during these trips.
A Cattle Egret

All kinds of migratory birds can be seen here and even on one occasion, Flamingos with tints of fire on their wings were spotted wadding in the lake. Kingfishers and peacocks are a must spot here and crows and cranes can be always found hoping over the leftover meat in the enclosures of the tertiary carnivores. Many of the bird pictures previously published in the blog were clicked here, on a cool Sunday morning, paddling a cycle with my budget camera on the loose.
An Indian Stripped Hyena 
It was here that I heard a Hyena laugh for the first time and it was also here during one overgenerous monsoon season, that a crocodile had escaped into the lake and was caught terrifying the traffic on VIP road in the vicinity. It was here that during a college trip to Manav Sangrahalaya, I had heard a tiger roar for the first time before hearing it again on the curfew stricken Kaliyasot Dam road where they roamed free. It was here that we sent a turtle that we had found on the side of the road for adoption and also tried to administer first aid to an injured turtle again found on the road.  It was also here where I learnt that a single loud sneeze can send herds of Cheetal (Spotted Deer), Nil Gai (Blue Bull) and Wild Boars soaring back into the wilderness, leaving only wavering grass in their wake.
A Singapore Turtle 

Van Vihar maybe a small ex situ conservation strategy for flora and fauna but it’s a discreet initiative of human rehabilitation for the sake of the wildlife, where the villages of Prempura, Dharampuri and Amkheda were relocated with government funding in the early 1980's. The villagers can be seen visiting the site of their ancestral gods, inside the protected area, once a year to pay their respects without harming the wildlife. Every October, they can be heard singing some devotional songs unanimously as they all march down the depths of Van Vihar in their finest clothing, but ever so quietly. This example of peaceful symbiosis is the solution that the world needs in today’s chaos.

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