Dudhwa. The land of grasslands, swamps and tall sal trees. Mentioned in the Ramayanas. Renowned for its rich fauna, including swamp deer, Indian rhinos and huge tigers. And for the conservation efforts of Billy Arjan Singh, who was somewhat of a tiger himself. Contiguous to Royal Bardia National Park in Nepal, Dudhwa is located in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, and had been on my ‘to visit’ list for a while. I had thought that someday I would drive down and experience Dudhwa as an appetizer, while Corbett would be the main course. But this time when I got a chance to visit the park with a few friends, I jumped at the opportunity even though it meant flying down to Lucknow and then hiring a vehicle.
While I kept my hopes in check regarding mammal sightings (wrong time of the year), I was looking forward to the mist, dew and soft November light that I could expect to encounter. Incidentally, Frederick Walter Champion, the pioneer of wildlife photography in India, and an inspiration for Jim Corbett taking up a camera, spent a lot of time in these forests of erstwhile Oudh, taking some iconic photos.
I took a night flight to Lucknow. Early next morning we started for Dudhwa. We were traveling in an Innova that had done more than 2 lakh km, one couldn’t make out (hint: I drive a trusty Toyota). Traffic was crazy, as was our driver. He kept honking like mad, expecting people, cows, and other vehicles to jump out of his way. Often we scraped past an old man or an oblivious goat or a truck with 2 inches to spare. Not a relaxing start to a trip.