June 22, 2020

Sahyadri Tiger Reserve - An Unknown Forest (Part 2)

Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary

     Koyna reserve is the northern part of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. The Koyna river originates from Old Mahabaleshwar and initially flows west of Mahabaleshwar but then it does not descend in Konkan, instead it turns southward and then about 50km south it turns south east. There at koyna nagar Koyna Dam was built. This dam is one of the biggest dams of maharashtra. Now because of this dam there is great water divide and precisely this has helped to create prestine jungles in the mountain crests of Sahyadri around the Koyna river forming the Koyna Wildlife Reserve.

     The "Koyna wildlife Sanctuary" is divided in following segments as we go from north to south.

1] Shindi / Met shindi (tourist zone & buffer zone starts)
2] Vasota / Met indavli (Tourist zone & Core zone starts)
3] Maldev/ Kusawade (core zone)
4] Pali (core zone)
5] Jhungti (core zone)
6] Dicholi (tourist zone)
7] Shirshinge (core zone)
8] Nawaja (core zone & buffer zone)
     Each of these zones are valley or catchment zones formed by tributaries of Koyna River. It is a high rainfall zone and because of divide of dam backwater all these regions are difficult to reach and hence it has very good quality of forest. Ofcourse there are some villages still existing in these parts of forest as these villages has been there for centuries but they are sparsely populated and most of the area is left untouched.
1] Shindi / Metshindi
     We can reach to this area by road+ ferry boat from Mahabaleshwar. A road from the base of Pratapgad travels south for about 40-45. We also cross Madhu-Makarandgad on the way. They we cross water by ferry. The road further leads us to Tapola. We can also take boat from Tapola or Bamnoli to reach this place.
     After crossing by ferry there are several villages Morni, Mahalunge, Arav, Shindi, Met shindi, Ravandi. Around these villages we find Mahimandangad, Parbatgad, Chakdev. These villages are in buffer of the sanctuary and forest department is interested in promoted eco tourism in these villages. ofcourse exploration of widlife must be done on foot. There are no vehicle Safaris. A trek route can take us from here to Vasota. It is almost trek route of 14 Hrs and no one in the way to guide.
2] Vasota
     To reach here we must travel by boat. We can hire one from Bamnoli or Tapola. You can also climb by foot from village called Choravane which arrives at Nageshwar temple.
     New vasota fort is part of tourist zone but old vasota is part of core zone. We can also visit Nageshwar temple which is part of tourist zone. There is a confirmed siting of 1 tiger in this part of forest. possibly 1 more in old vasota area. Old vasota is also known to have sloth bear population. If you are lucky there is a high chance to spot herd of Indian gaurs- favourite food of Tiger from top of Nageshwar or Vasota. It is very difficult to spot mammals on foot as they are very alert and you are not !!
3] Maldev / Kusawade
     It is a very dense forest zone with just 3 villages and now they are also mostly abandoned. There are no heritage locations around but from bio diversity perspective very wealthy area.
     Officially you can not visit this area as it is part of core zone, even if you have permission normal wayto reach this area is by boat from Koynanagar or from Bamnoli. But there is another way on foot if you are adventurous enough. If you travel from Chiplun to a village called Sakhar then you can climb towards Maldev by "Sarichi wat"
4] Pali
     Another cathcment area defined by the name of village "Pali." But interesting part is that there is a fort named "Paligad" in this area which is highly unexplored and there is absolutely no information about it. Last reference of this fort I got from Harish Kapadia's book - Trek the Sahyadri's. Today this fort comes in core parts of Koyna forest and hence impossible to visit officially.
     As usual there is no way to reach this place except Boat. No roads. There could be a possible way from Konkan but I am not aware of it. Forest is stunning. I haven't been able to witness this part first hand but my friends from forest department have shared some photographs and they are enough to entice any nature lover. There is a big "Sada" near Pali village which is among the first of similar features we find southwards. Sada is a feature where plateau is filled with volcanic rocks.
5] Jhungti
     Another enigmatic area with very dense forest and part of core zone. Approach only by boat. This area has confirmed resident tiger movement. Ofcourse like in forests of plains, tigers of mountains do not stay in one area for long and hence not easy to pin them down to any one specific area but still with high density of forest and high availability of food tigers tend to stay in this area longer.
     Like i mentioned in Pali area, another unknown fort named "Jhungti" is located in this valley. It is suppose to be similar to Jangli Jaigad fort, a small fort on the crest of mountain guarding a route to konkan. With the same logic of Jaigad with can call this fort as Jangli Jhungti
6] Dicholi
     It is a big area consisting of Dicholi & dhokawale villages and around. Unlike other area's this is not really formed of a watershed. This area has lot of flat area and plateaus making it a favorite grazing area for Gaurs and Sambar.
     On the opposite side of dam there are villages called Kathi, Gojegaon, Gawadewadi etc which are out of forest reserve and has facilities of eco huts. With permission from forest department we can take a boat from these locations to Dicholi area and explore the jungle. Being easy to reach, this area has been kept as tourist zone by forest department. Ofcourse all this exploration is on foot and there are no roads around for safari.
7] Shirshinge
     Another corezone area formed by a catchment of koyna's tributary. Shirshinge, Zadoli, Punavli are some villages from this area. Nothing special to mention about this area except now we are almost at the end of the Koyna sanctuary.
     This area is better accessible from Koyna dam. As Koyna dam and its hydropower project comes in very high risk area, forest department and overall administration are very sensitive about who goes in this area. It is more to do with Security of state rather than wildlife. But still wildlife has benefitted out of this protection.
8] Nawaja
     It is the southernmost zone of Koyna sanctuary. It is also known for the 4th phase of Koyna hydropower project where the underwater tunnel takes water from dam in konkan to create electricity. Nawaja is the place where the tunnel is placed under water. It is a highly protected area. Part of this area comes in core zone and part in buffer zone. There is also a ghat roads which services only for hydropower workers and support team. Rest of the traffic moves via Kumbharli ghat which marks the end of Koyna wildlife sanctuary.
     Nawaja is famous for two attractions. First is Ozarde waterfall, an amazing waterfall easily accessible to tourists as it is in buffer zone. Second is Jangli Jaigad to which trek route goes from Nawaja village and is in core zone. Jangli jaigad fort is sitting right on the top of 4th phase of Koyna project and hence not easily allowed to visit. Trek route is also not well marked and it is very easy to get lost in this jungle (not recommended at all !!!). Through Trekdi I have been able to take treks to this fort at least 10 times but now with strict rules of forest department it is tough to get permission.

     I will be writing about Chandoli wildlife sanctuary in my next part. I will also be sharing more photographs in coming days.

Sahyadri Tiger Reserve - An Unknown Forest (Part 1)

     Sahyadri Tiger reserve is the most recent Tiger reserve of Maharashtra notified in year 2008. This tiger reserve is the only tiger reserve in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.

     This forest is formed of various sanctuaries which were exisiting long before. To give additional protection to Tiger, these areas were notified as Tiger Reserve. This Reserve when formed included

> Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary
> Chandoli Wildlife Sacntuary

and now it is extended upto
> Radhanagarti (Dajipur) wlidlife Sanctuary

     The Tiger reserve has core area of 600 sq.km. and buffer area of 565 sq.km including total 1165 sq km. making it one of the top 10 of Project tiger by sheer size. This tiger reserve spreads for about 100km from North to south but overall width of this forest varies from region to region. This makes it a very unique type of reserve.

     The buffer zone of this forest start south of Pratapgad fort near Mahabaleshwar which coverts to core zone near Vasota Fort. The core zone runs south till Koyna Dam wall and then after small buffer area another core zone starts around Bhairavgad near an abandoned village called Patharpunj which runs till Chandoli village. another long stretch of buffer zone till Gaganbawda fort/ghat and then kicks in the parts of Radhanagri Sanctuary which runs till fonda ghat.

     As per 2009-10 Tiger population estimation excercise it is estimated that there are about 7 tigers in the Project. But it is also thought that this prediction could be erronious as this terrain is highly remote, mountainous to get true population. Also the new protection might have kicked in little bit of population boost. Ofcourse this area is more Leopard friedly than to tigers and hence very healthy population of leopards.

     As all of you have noticed that this Tiger reserve though notified recently holds and old forest and is dotted with lots of Forts and subsequently lot of heritage and stories, I will be covering entire forest part by part. So keep reading !!!