By now, I am sure, most of my readers would have known my long and continuous fascination with Ranthambore National Park. Rugged, raw and remarkable – the terrain can also be described as rough by first-timers to Ranthambore. But travel a little on its undulating terrain, with tigers for company, and you are bound to fall in love with the place…Like I did over three decades ago, when I was but a budding wildlife enthusiast.
Today’s article, however, is not exactly about Ranthambore. Rather, it’s obliquely connected with Ranthambore because of some recent developments involving the state’s forest department as well as the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The development is this: the NTCA has given in-principle approval to develop the Mukundra Hills region near Kota as a full-fledged national park! Now, some readers may not be able to grasp the immense importance of this, so let me explain.
Mukundra Hills reserve falls roughly 100 kilometers from Ranthambore, and the two regions are connected by a largely undisturbed corridor. In the past one decade, there have been a number of instances of tigers moving from Ranthambore to Mukundra Hills. Now add to this the recent burgeoning of tigers in Ranthambore (right now, it has highest number of cubs in any national park in the country). There is every possibility that in search of new territories, the young tigers will move out of Ranthambore in the not so unforeseeable future. And, pray, where are they likely to move to? To Mukundra Hills, of course!
Spread out in an area of 700 square kilometers – some 100 kilometers larger than Ranthambore – the Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve consists of an undulating landscape, very similar to its popular cousin. It has a sufficient prey base, and at present leopards and bears hold sway over the region.
A picturesque lake in the centre of the Tiger Reserve is one of the many attractions of Mukundra Hills.
At present, tigers from Ranthambore often stray into Mukundra Hills. But they do not stay here for long. But I am told by several forest officials of Rajasthan that the area has immense potential and once the right conditions are created, it can boast of a healthy tiger population – probably healthier than Ranthambore!
I recall with relish – though with a tinge of sadness – the case of Broken Tail, a hugely popular tiger in Ranthambore, which walked all the way to Mukundra Hills a few years ago. He even made the place his home, but was unfortunately knocked down by a speeding train.
In recent times, a tigress from Ranthambore was spotted on the edge of Mukundra Hills.
A natural corridor some 100 kilometers long connects Mukundra Hills with Ranthambore. It’s a miracle that in this age of rapid urbanization, this corridor is intact and largely undisturbed. Experts feel that once Mukundra Hills Reserve is developed, the corridor will act as a life-line for tigers moving between the two reserves.
Now for some important facts about the place. Mukundra Hills is at a distance of 22 kilometers from the bustling town of Kota. The reserve is part of three wildlife sanctuaries: Darrah, Jawahar Sagar and Chambal.
Recently, an expert committee appointed by the Rajasthan Government to demarcate the area of the
Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve submitted its report to the forest department. According to the then Chief Wildlife Warden of the State, A C Chaube, a notification to this effect would be issued within it soon.
Significantly, the National Tiger Conservation Authority has also given in-principle approval for the new tiger reserve.
At one time, Mukundra Hills was the hunting ground of the Kota rulers. Old timers will tell you that till about the mid 80s, the region had a tiger population – but as the focus started shifting towards the two established reserves – Ranthambore and Sariska – Mukundra Hills faded into the background.
But now, things have started moving for Mukundra Hills. Out of the 700 square kilometers of its area, 417 square kilometers is being prepared as its core zone. The remaining area would constitute its buffer.
With a new tiger reserve like Mukundra Hills coming to the fore, tiger tourism in Rajasthan would benefit in many ways. For one, it will take away the immense tourism pressure from Ranthambore and Sariska. And also ensure that tigers of Rajasthan have a better chance of survival.
Raheja Productions recently covered Mukundra Hills in detail. Those of you who might be interested in knowing more about the place should look for our documentary on the subject – It will be telecast on Doordarshan National, in our weekly show Wilderness Days (telecast every Saturday at 11 a.m.).
My work as CMD of Raheja Developers does not permit me as many trips into the jungles as I would love to make. But Mukundra Hills is the place which is definitely on my radar – and hopefully I will be there before the onset of summer!
For more stories and films on wildlife by the author which have run on National Geographic channel, Doordarshan National channel and Doordarshan (India), please log on to www.rahejagroup.org