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Telling Tales: Ramphool Gujar, graduate

An occasional series on the more interesting – and helpful most of the time – people I come across during my travels.

“Calling one of them Bina is alright. But naming two of them Bina-1 and Bina-2 is for the SPCA.” I said.

“But the minister was personally involved in every step of their growth.” Ramphool stood his ground. “So it’s fine.”

Sariska more: Ramphool

Sariska more: Ramphool

I gave up; between the two of us he would be dealing with the Binas more. Whether it was ‘1’ that just bounded away or ‘2’ that was spotted munching on a sambar – would be his tussle. Then, being a trained nature guide – and a tribal – I believe he would know the difference like I do between Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif. Anyway it wasn’t such a grappler of an issue right now as only one of the Binas were transferred from Ranthambore National Park to revive the big cat population of the Sariska Tiger Reserve in January this year. Bina Kak, the environment and forest minister of Rajasthan was very fond of the cubs and apparently showed a lot of interest in them, hence the christening.

With the latest addition the number goes up to six in Sariska. Now in a reserve covering over 800 square kilometres, what are the chances of seeing one? Don’t worry with the math – none of the half dozen groups who did the safari that morning came across even a pugmark.

Sambar country: Sariska

Sambar country: Sariska

“A lot of it depends on your luck also.” Definitely pertinacious but Ramphool was so charming that I believed him. Well, almost. I told him about a tiger census survey I participated in the Thekkady Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and how it took an entire week to spot just one. And I was far, far away from the settlement areas that the guards were more worried about bumping into Veerappan than wild cat. Here we hover around the periphery – the core forest area is 500 square kilometres – that too in four-wheel drives. What are the chances?

“So you want to do a trek into Sariska?” Ramphool asked.

“Yes, preferably till a watering hole.” Years ago I was told that these little water bodies are where the big cats gathered. Something like our pubs. And I remembered seeing a lot of fresh pugmarks into which I poured Plaster of Paris so the really bright guys could count them later.

Snarly welcomes

Snarly welcomes

“No, it’s not possible to trek into Sariska.” Ramphool smiled handsomely at my exasperation. “But I can take you around the periphery through a dried-up stream bed.”

I parked my car a few kilometres away from the main entrance to the reserve, near a forest guard’s office cum residence. He was hand-pumping water for a bath after his morning round. A bunch of langurs snarled and a sambar sauntered by with a steady gaze and twitching ears. The sparse scrub thorn gave way to a thicker deciduous forest. We treaded gingerly down the steep scree to the stream bed. Ramphool was sure of some rock pools some distance away. We began our trek.

Dwarmala next

Dwarmala next

For two-odd hours we strode and slipped over rocks, bruised face on prickly boughs that hung over the lacustrine path (I did, he negotiated them skilfully) watched rhesus monkeys vaulting across the branches that loomed overhead. Ramphool told me he was associated with an NGO which worked in the villages teaching the villagers rainwater harvesting. He had also put in time with several environment protection drives. He grew up in the forests and becoming a nature guide was the only thing he ever wanted to do. Even though he had spent the bulk of his hitting-40 years in the wild he was still fascinated by it.

“To know wildlife, you need to understand chemistry, biology, geography even philosophy.” He said.

A slithery saurian wriggled across my path and I stopped in my tracks. From a distance I could hear the peal of cowbells.

It was time to turn back.

***

The trek

The trek

“Next time I will take you on a trek to that mountain,” Ramphool told me pointing to the soaring Dwarmala in the horizon as we walked back. We worked out the trek route as we lunched together. It would start from Sariska. Ten kilometres of motorable road and then four kilometres of arduous climbing. We would be passing through quaint mountain hamlets like Rekhamala and then Dwarmala. I promised to look him up next time around and took down his number – 08890155510.

He made me write down his full address as well.

“And please also note that I am a graduate too.”

I did.

***

If you are planning to use Ramphool’s service for either the tiger safari or the trek through the periphery – including the newly-designed Dwarmala trek – just tell him that you read about him ‘on the computer’.

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