By DN Singh
Those who have travelled through the enthralling Marine Drive road that links Puri with Konark must have been left awestruck by the wealth of nature in myriad shapes.
The road is flanked by the ocean on one side and greenery on the other, dotted with villages which together produce a repository that has survived the vicissitudes, naturally and otherwise.
On the right side, while driving towards Konark, one hardly misses the signboard reading Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary, a heritage that survived the odds from the time when India was imperial.
Beyond the sanctuary limits, a long stretch of forest with casuarina, neem, cashew and a plethora of tropical herbs exists, swelling here and shrinking there, weathering the periodic scrubbing of the tidal invasions and human interventions.
While standing on the road eyes hit a prism unraveling the exotica of nature’s revelries, the cascading waves of the ocean flapping at the shores and faint silhouettes of fishing boats, with coloured masts, trying to cruise through the turbulent waves .
As night falls the reign of nature gets predominant on and around the shores, sprinkled with innumerable red crabs crawling the entire expanse and the predators swarming on this crustacean delicacy.
When night matures the blue vault practically rains the glory of a heritage that one can touch and feel. But that is the rosy side of the story.
We could not resist our zeal to take the right turn and enter the massive gate written on ‘Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary’. The earthen tracks were flanked by trees and herbs. Some with massive casuarinas, cashews, even traces of Mangrove and many others.
After about a drive of 500 mtrs there came a surprise and a pleasant one. A huge antelope cleared the 15 mtr track with a single giant leap and vanished into the forest. Also a surprise because Balukhand Sanctuary is a home to the little sand deer population.ho
Besides, there is quite a good population of spotted deers, jackals, Hyenas, barking deer and so on those who remain fed on the massive population of red and other crabs who all over the huge expanse of the serene sea beach.
As we entered the core of the sanctuary we chose to walk down inhaling the purity of the morning breeze getting filtered through the thick foliage.
On a small patch full with grass we noticed quite a number of sand deer feasting on it. Closer we went for some pictures , they raised their heads and ran towards the forest, as if disapproving of our cordial teasing.
Occasional flitting of the rare Black Bucks with their majestic looks offers an awesome gravity to the area.
Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary or Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary that makes a fabulous sandy tract serves as a remarkable transition in between Puri and Konark.
The area falls under the ecologically sensitive zone where Puri city is adjacent to the Western boundary of Sanctuary, whereas two rivers Nuanai and Kushabhadra, subject to the tidal influences, pass through the sanctuary plays as important role in maintaining the agricultural activity on the hinterlands by arresting erosion of soil and boost productivity.
The Talabani area, adjacent to the sanctuary boundary on the western side, is extremely important for the Puri town as a sweet water zone and thus has to be preserved at any cost. The land is also the source of more than 30 springs, which are renowned for their myriad wildlife-they are home to more than 300 species of rare plants and animals.
“On an average more than 2000 people daily go inside the sanctuary for sustaining their livelihood, which results in habitat loss and degradation for the fauna residing. So they usually stray into the fields of villagers in search of food by crossing the sanctuary limits which results in Man-animal conflict and road kills. The greatest threat to fauna residing in that place is the national highway connecting Puri and Konark which passes through the sanctuary. As per officials records on an average 5-7 deers are injured/killed in road accidents in a month”, informed a forest department staff requesting not to be named.