SARANDA - Forest across 700 Hills

Saranda – Forest across 700 Hills

April 05-08, 2017

Saranda (Barbil, Odisha) had been on my itinerary for quite some time. From whatever little I knew about the topography, I was sure it would be a place to my liking.  I was more attracted by the descriptions shared by Sahir M Latif. In 2016, I had planned to drive down to Saranda, but changed my mind, fearing my car might not be able to get through the rocky terrain of the forest. Thus, after many reminders and pokes from Sahir, I finally could visit the place along with my extended family.

Saranda Heights (Pal Hutings)

Saranda Heights (Pal Hutings)

Sahir has a vast knowledge and experience about adventure tourism, wildlife tourism and nature trails. Saranda aptly fits right across the spectrum, and I am thankful to him for making it happen. 

We arrived on train from Howrah in early April 2017. The timing was a bit late in the season, primarily because we had not tuned ourselves for the summer. We were under the impression the hills would be cooler than our city. On landing at Barbil station, realised that summer had set in with full vengeance.  Nevertheless, for a wildlife explorer the lure of the forest takes away all the turmoil. We stayed at Pal Guest House at Pal Hutings (Saranda heights package). 
Sunset in the forest adjoining Saranda Heights (Pal Hutings)

SAL Forest adjoining Saranda Heights (Pal Hutings)

Pal Guest House is a typical old bungalow by the side of a hillock within Barbil town. The entire area 'Pal Hutings' is named after RN Pal the owner, a hunter (shikari), at one time. Mr Pal has this mansion where he and his family live and extra rooms are rented out to tourists. Pal Guest House is essentially 'a no frills' base camp from where you venture out each day to explore nature and the jungle.It is sandwiched between the township on one side and the vast forest on its backyard.

Endless waves of hills as seen from Kiriburu

The name Saranda means land of 700 hills. You are thus surrounded by waves of endless hills any which way you look around. Saranda also has the distinction of having the largest 'SAL' forest (Sal - Shorea Robusta) in Asia. The forest also has a good presence of Mahua trees (Mahua - Madhuca Latifolia). This time around Mahua was in full bloom, and its aroma is simply captivating. Many a poetry and prose has been written about Mahua and its hypnotic sweetness. 
Saranda - Asia's Largest SAL Forest

Asia's largest SAL (& MAHUA) Forest

And silently flows - River Karo

Saranda is not like any other reserve forest. Simply stated there is no forest infrastructure. It is wild wilderness.  Here the forest is dense around the path river Karo flows. There are many tributaries of Karo which flow down the hill and thus criss-cross across the forest. The significance of Saranda is that it is on the border of three Indian states - Odisha, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and was primarily a tribal (adivasi) dominated area. Importantly, the Saranda region (Gua, Bolani, Kiriburu, Meghatburu) is a very active iron ore mining region. Thus there is a constant conflict between the locals, wildlife and business. This conflict has many manifestations such as human - animal conflicts, depleting forest, polluting environment, rampant poaching, local v/s government conflict, etc. In spite of all these conflicts, the beauty of Saranda is simply outstanding.

Karo River making its way through the forest

Pachri Water Falls

Wherever there is Mahua their are admirers aplenty

Jhakri Water Falls .... we got a momentary glimpse of a Royal Bengal Tiger while relaxing under the waterfall.

Considering that it is a neglected area, infrastructure is lacking. Due to the intensity of mining the urban area is polluted with iron ore dust. However when you get to the core forest area there is peace, tranquility and calm. You are simply transported to another world altogether. Due to the conflicts, no one really has thought of creating an organized infrastructure for tourists to visit Saranda. The 'Latifs' are the only one who have come forward and created Saranda Heights - an exploratory package.

Within Saranda, there are many jungle camping areas, where one could setup a camp and explore the forest. Big cats have been recently sighted, who have crossed across the neighboring Simlipal range. There are evidences of Leopard, Bears, Bison, Sambhar and birds. But to do some serious exploration one must set camp within the Forest.

Jungle Night Safari at Pondul (Saranda)

Gleaming Eyes of a Bison during Night Safari

The months of November thru March should be a good time to visit the forest. But if you are a keen wildlife enthusiast, onset of summer has perhaps the best chance of spotting animals. We intend to be back in Saranda with a Wilderness Camp on jungle survival soon. Stay tuned.   

I fondly remembered Julie Andrews..  "The hills are alive, With the sound of music"  as we started our return journey from Saranda.

Glimpses of birds, butterflies and a gorgeous reptile....  -  

Common Lascar - Pantoporia Hordonia
Athyma perius - Common Sergeant

Blue Tiger - Tirumala Limniace

    Common Quaker Butterfly – Neopithecops zalmora

Tawny Coster -Acraea terpsicore
Common Earl - Tanaecia Juli
Five-bar Swordtail
Graphium antiphates
Common Swordtail - Graphium Policenes
Common Albatross - Appias Albina
Orange oakleaf, Indian oakleaf or Dead leaf - Kallima Inachus

Peninsular Rock Agama - Psammophilus Dorsalis

A medium sized lizard distinguished by the regularly arranged scales, flattened body and the presence of a fold in the skin of the throat. Predominantly a rock dweller, common at low elevations. the coloration is cryptic, particularly of the female, matching the rocks among which they live. In the breeding season the male becomes brilliant crimson red in colour on the head and fore parts of the body black elsewhere (breeding season May - Aug). The male maintains a territory and displays from a conspicious location by press-ups and nod of the head.  

Ashy Prenia  

Chestnut -shouldered Pretonia
Oriental White-eye

Common Sparrow

White-Throated Fantail

Brahmny Starling

White Throated Kingfisher in morning discussion

Copper-smith Barbet


rafikisafari said…
I am impressed with your work and skills visit also Rafiki Safari Lodge .