The Winter Wilderness Training Program was held from 4th to 9th December, 2022. People from different parts of the country – Mumbai, Ranchi, Ranthambhore, and even an Iranian citizen living in Baroda! – journeyed to the Vanghat Lodge in Marchula on the outskirts of Jim Corbett National Park to take part in the program. Over six crisp, cold days, the participants were immersed in tranquil nature, far from the madding crowd, to learn about conservation and sustainability. Delhi to Ramnagar traffic delayed the Programme by a few hours The participants and coordinators arrived by the evening of 4th December, taking a short gypsy ride followed by a river crossing on a raft to reach the lodge, where a moonlit welcome took place. After an ice-breaking introductory session and a short talk on ‘Where We Are’, the participants called it an early night after a delicious, hot meal, to prepare for the next day.
As the morning dawned clear and cold on the 5th, the participants were guided on a bird walk on Champion’s Trail, named for F.W Champion; culminating by the river, where the beautiful Wallcreeper was the stand-out sighting! This was followed by a talk on sustainable tourism by Mr. Sumantha Ghosh, the owner of Vanghat Lodge, and a hearty Kumaoni meal, complete with bhang ki chutney and mandua (ragi) ki roti. One of the coordinators, Bhavya, gave a presentation on animal signs and their identification. A Great Barbet made itself known by its loud calls, and Bronze Drongos performed aerial acrobatics by the riverside in the setting sun, bringing the second day to a close.
The morning of the third day began with a competitive birding exercise, where participants were divided into two teams and encouraged to identify birds themselves, with the help of bird guides. Coordinator Laxmi gave an illuminating talk on plants and their identification, and Kushagra spoke about the history of conservation in India. The evening was an exciting one, with an elephant sighting mere metres from the lodge gate, as a tusker crossed the river and passed by Vanghat, watched in wonder by the participants. Following this, Kushagra gave a talk on Asian Elephants, their behaviour, mating strategies, and his work on elephants in northern Chhattisgarh.
On the 7th of December, participants got their first sighting of the goat-antelope, the Himalayan Goral, with a small herd visible on the sheer cliffs across the river from the lodge. One goral appeared to be in a playful mood and entertained everyone with its antics, running back and forth across the steep incline. Participants were then led on a short trek along the Chimtha trail, and sighted the uncommon and beautiful Long-tailed Broadbill. After the trek they took a dip in the cool waters of the Ramganga! In the evening, another coordinator, Mohit, gave a talk on sea turtles, with a focus on his research on Olive Ridley Turtles and their movement in the seas on the East and West coasts of India, and Bhavya spoke on Ungulates. One of the program’s participants, Colonel Upadhyay, gave a fascinating talk on celestial navigation!
The next day, the group crossed the river by raft to trek to a nearby waterfall. The trail was littered with signs of an elephant’s passing. Vimla ji, a member of a local women’s self-help group, Harela, spoke to the participants of the challenges of living near a tiger reserve, and the experiences of the villagers who had been relocated from the core of the tiger reserve many years prior. A sighting of a pair of Great Hornbills delighted everyone that evening, and Sambar and chital alarm calls alerted everyone to the presence of a leopard nearby. That evening, there was a talk on urgent conservation issues and challenges, such as free-ranging cats and dogs and the illegal wildlife trade. Participants rounded out the program watching a documentary on the life of Jim Corbett, warmed by hot water bottles!
The next day, after another hearty breakfast, participants said farewell to Vanghat and left, making a stop at the Harela shop in Ringora village before continuing on their journeys to their respective homes, having made new friends and many memories!