by Amruta Rane
While exploring the forest, Kumar showed her some footprints, but not of people…
Nitya was fascinated by the stories of rainforests she had heard when she was young: a magical world with big, tall trees that made you feel like an ant, and all the colourful birds and large animals. Her favourite bedtime story was one about the Hornbills and the hunter in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh.
At first, Nitya thought of these stories as fairy-tales, but as she grew older she discovered that the dense forests and the wildlife in them existed for real. On one of her vacations, Nitya’s parents took her to Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. There she met Kumar and Pahi from a nearby village. They said they would take her into the forest.
Nitya wanted to start exploring straight away, but Kumar smiled and said that she first needed to dress properly for the walk. So she put on camouflaged clothing, hung a pair of binoculars around her neck, put on a hat and wore comfortable shoes. She packed a water bottle, mosquito repellent and a raincoat in her backpack, together with a book on the wildlife of Pakke. Pahi smiled and said, “Now our little explorer is ready to go.”
They began their forest walk. The huge-tall trees were so dense that although it was mid-morning, it felt like late evening as the sunlight barely filtered to the forest floor. She looked up and saw colourful flowers and fruits on trees that were being visited by even more brightly coloured birds. While looking up, she tripped over a large tree root, and this made her shift her attention downwards. The forest floor was equally mesmerising. There were mushrooms on tree trunks, and streams were flowing with crystal-clear water through which different shaped and coloured stones could be seen. Kumar showed her some footprints, but not of people! They were the tracks of elephants, barking deer, civets and a tiger! Kumar told her that animals often come to drink water in this place.
They continued walking, and by now Nitya was feeling like Mowgli in Jungle Book . While she was daydreaming, Pahi suddenly grabbed her hand and pulled her behind a large rock. He pointed to a round-fat animal in the tree that towered above them. “Wow! A real jungle bear just like Baloo,” Nitya exclaimed in a whisper. “But a bear with a tail?” After the animal had gone they all looked into Nitya’s book and realised that they had sighted a rare mammal, a ‘Binturong’ or bear-cat, which is found only in the rainforests of north-east India.
It was hot and sweaty, but Nitya was enjoying her new discoveries in the rainforest. Whilst walking along quietly absorbed in the strange sounds of the forest, she suddenly heard a loud “ whoosh whoosh whoosh!” She looked up and saw a massive bird flying across and perching in a nearby tree. Was this the bird from her childhood story, which she had seen only in books and on the internet? She held her breath – yes, it was indeed a Great Hornbill.
Picture: Rainforest of Pakke
Credit: Amruta Rane