Manas, through my lens by Pallabi Chakraborty

A mother rhino with her new born calf at Manas NP

Manas… a name I relate to with passion. I had fallen in love with the Manas as soon as I had seen photos of my friends who had visited the Park when we were in college. My love for Manas was concreted as soon as I put my step in it. Working for WWF-India in my dream place was no less than a fairytale. The first day of work (for collecting data on indirect evidence of tigers and other animals) is still etched in my mind as if it were only yesterday. I saw a fresh pugmark of a male tiger on the sand for the first time and imagined the tiger walking majestically down the river bed minutes before our arrival! That was 6 years ago; however, nothing much has changed. I still get excited to work in Manas and see a pugmark or camera trap photo of a tiger.

Kilometres of walks inside the forest were tiring, yet, were a source of immense joy and content. My friends (Binita, Sharavana, David) and I would compete to walk through the tall elephant grassland patches without tripping or falling and sometimes climbing big rocks by the river bed and other times of getting more data on tigers. Our field camp was where, while preparing for dinner, we heard stories of our team leader’s rewarding experiences of rigorous field work during wildlife surveys and get inspired. The inspiration, the lessons, both tough and encouraging, along with the memories are my valuable take-away from this natural World Heritage Site.

Binita, Pallabi and Sharavana busy inside Manas with a forest guard
 Pallabi, Sharavana  and Binita at Mathanguri 
A rhinoceros 
A great pied horn bill
A herds of  Asian Elephant inside Manas

The landscape of Manas is contiguous with Royal Manas in Bhutan and this is what makes the forest so incredibly beautiful and diverse which is unlike any other protected forest in the state. My personal view of Manas is that it has been gravely left to its fate after the end of the civil unrest in the last decade. Nevertheless, the resident wildlife of this forest has shown miraculous resilience and has rebound in population. I wonder sometimes: are humans really the supreme creature on earth or do we still have a lot to learn from nature?

Apart from the sheer excitement of learning about the different aspects of vegetation sampling and collecting indirect animal signs, or deploying/monitoring camera traps to capture photos of tigers, the occasional sightings of different species of mammals and birds was breathtaking. I remember stopping in my tracks on facing a herd of gaur (Bos gaurus) during the survey on tiger prey, along with Binita! They were a mound of muscle power and still were wary of our presence, as they looked straight in our direction and walked away without any other reaction. Another day, as we were returning after our survey in the gypsy, an alleged ‘rogue’ elephant blocked our way for some time, before being chased away by two blank shots from the gun of the forest guard who had accompanied us. The gun shot and the alarmed trumpet of the big tusker pierced through the jungle, chasing away flock of birds and squirrels sitting peacefully on the trees, and made our hearts skip a beat and cause temporary deafness. Another memorable incident of Manas is the sighting a troupe of the rare golden langur inside the Ripu Reserve Forest (buffer of Manas Tiger Reserve).

Spotting another rare species, the chital (Axis axis) and running for our lives at the thumping sound of a herd of gaur or elephants: the list of amazing experiences is never-ending. And yet words and pages fail to capture all that is stored in the heart. So, keeping my precious memories in the depths of my indelible storage box let me hope for continuous safety and prosperity in Manas.