In the early 1980s whenever I visited Lucknow for some official purpose and found the forest guest house at Forest Headquarters at 17, Rana Pratap Marg- in the heart of city- occupied, I was offered another option – to stay in forest Guest house in Kukrail forest, Lucknow. I never used this option for the simple reason Kukrail was away from the city, about ten kilometres from Hazratganj, I did not have my own transport, taxis were almost unknown to Lucknow in those days, Kukrail forest guest house had no catering facilities, and there were no restaurants nearby; and lastly it was unsafe being in the middle of ‘jungle’ that had the reputation of harbouring anti-social elements and drunkards in the fold of the forest. However, these days distances have shrunk down because of easy availability of both public and private transport.
Kukrail forest is now known for so many things besides being a picnic spot. Kukrail forest got its name from Kukrail river or nullah that flows through it. The total length of Kukrail river is 27 km. It originates from a place called Asti in Bakhshi Ka Taalab Tehsil in district Lucknow, and end its journey into the river Gomti, near Gomti barrage in Lucknow town. Until early 1970s the water of Kukrail river was reputed to have certain medicinal properties. It was said that if a person had a dog-bite he could wade through Kukrail waters and get cured. Nobody ever challenged the authenticity of the claim but over the years people’s faith into the curative properties of Kukrail got eroded. Now wading through the Kukrail water is full of perils – the water is so unclean.
The Kukrail forest can be imagined a serene place in those days of 1970s and 1980s. Its serenity provided the ideal shelter to a stray tiger in 1988. Cover of the forest, running water in Kukrail river nullah, and food in the shape of live neelgais made the tiger stay in Kukrail for about a fortnight. However, after due deliberations by forest department, the tiger was finally shot dead by one Mr. Thaku Dutt Joshi from the height of a machan. These days there is hardly any spotting of wild animals except some stray neelgais.
For many Lucknow people Kukrail forest is a picnic spot, for many others it is the place you can go for your walking or jogging in morning hours. For new band of ornithologists in Lucknow it is a good place for bird-watching. Forest department claims one can watch here about seventy-five species of resident birds besides many local migratory birds, particularly at the end of winters.
There is a Forest Rest House and few ‘green huts’ and ‘gypsy huts’ mainly for the stay of forest personnel. The forest guest house more often serves as a venue for some official or semi-official parties organized by forest officers to have some fun.
In good old days few officers did stay the night there despite the fact that staying there was difficult in absence of catering facilities and its ‘out-of-the town’ location inside jungle. Stay was possible for only those who had resources and wished to have fun of staying in ‘jungle’ within the city limits. These days not many forest officers on tour stay there. Staying in some guest house or hotel is more convenient to them.
Kukrail forest has many faces. The massive Kukrail forest sprawling in an area of about five thousand acres had got its highest legal status, the Reserve Forest, right after Independence in 1954. The area was acquired by government from the land of eighteen villages as early as 1946, and planted up with some local tree species. Probably in order to give some peace and solace to city dwellers part of this forest – about hundred hectares- was put aside for recreational purposes and developed that way in 1970s, beginning since 1973. This recreation forest with a nature trail and supported by the necessary paraphernalia of picnic, is a popular spot for family picnickers.
But that is not the end of it. The forest is quite often used by educational institutions too in collaboration with Centre for Environmental Education (CEE) or such other organizations associated with environmental activities, to carry out awareness campaigns among students and common public.
An auditorium and its paraphernalia in the very campus are often used for official workshops and seminars.
In god old days when forest minister or top bosses of the forest department wished to perform some business in strict privacy they silently came to Kukrail, away from the maddening crowd of city, and performed that. These days there are no secrets to guard.
Kukrail forest also is the launching pad of an ambitious national project for saving the rare crocodile, the Gharial, since 1975. Kukrail forest has become a hatching and rearing centre of this species and continues to be so in present times. In early 1970s Gharial had become a critically endangered species, its world population running only in few hundreds. Kukrail played a key role in its ex-situ conservation.
There are special enclosures and ponds meant for the breeding of crocodiles, mainly ghariyals, from the eggs picked from the riverbed of Gerua river flowing through Katania ghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich district. Eggs are hatched under simulated nest conditions as obtained in nature at desired temperature regime for about 70 days. Hatchlings, when they are four-year-old, are released in various rivers of the state like Chambal, Sharda, Ganga, Ramganga, or Ghaghra; in order to replenish the dwindling stock of ghariyals in those rivers. This operation, initially, under National Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary, spread in three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is going on since 1975, almost half a century. And about 6000 gharials have been released so far.
Later, towards the end of 1980s, they started breeding of fresh water turtles too in Kukrail to replenish their dwindling population in various rivers, but mainly in Ganga. Both these activities are going on sustained basis.
And the wildlife wing of the forest department has a good wildlife museum and interpretation centre in Kukrail for those who are keenly interested.
The research wing of forest department keeps experimenting with the growth of trees here in Kukrail, particularly for the purpose of reclamation of Usar lands. They keep laying their experimental plots for the purpose, year after year. If you ever meet a research guy of the forest department, he would boast to be having such advanced techniques and infrastructure like mist chamber, tissue culture lab and hardening chambers in Kukrail, besides a few gardens of medicinal plants.
The scrub forest of Kukrail has all the typical local tree species like babool, vilayeti babool, kanji, khair, jangal jalebi, sheesham, kathsagon, jamun, gular, sihor etc but interestingly every year Kukrail in the first week of July provides a good chunk of land for forest department’s token plantation on Van Mahotsav, sometimes presided over by some VIP, and keeps adding many new tree species like Eucalyptus, Gulmohar, various Casias to the existing tree stock.
In the middle of 1980, they launched an ambitious project of breeding about two dozen of endangered animal and bird species, and laid out some enclosure too. But somehow the project did not take off, and the officers-in- charge of the project remained content to look after breeding of crocodiles and turtle and overseeing activities in a few wetlands.
I am told now the forest department is in the process of launching a few safaris in Kukrail forest. May God give us all right wisdom!
Through the Kukrail forest passes River Kukrail. In good old days its water was clean. Now it is turbid, dark and sooty. Except in rainy season the amount of running water is pitiably very low. One can see a barrage also on this river, run by irrigation department. You cross over this barrage and find yourself in the forest on trans side of the river.
Actually, the story of Kukrail forest is also the story of loot of forest land by whosoever could do under the tutelage of politicians and high bureaucrats. Fact is forest department was too generous in leasing and doling out its land to various departments, organizations and individuals in 1960s and 1970s, until the coming up of Forest Conservation Act 1980. Large chunks of Kukrail forests, particularly in East Block, were leased out to certain agriculturists for the purpose of farming. This land in few hundred acres was silently encroached and could never be taken back by forest department. Prestigious institute like Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) came up only on the land of Kukrail Forest. So did Dhyan Chand Astro Turf Stadium for hockey, and a timber depot of Forest Corporation.
Kukrail forest has become like an island surrounded all sides by habitation and cultivation. It is always prone to encroachment, the builders and land mafias always having an eye over it. No surprise some of its area is surreptitiously encroached over the years; as for forest department it is always very difficult to determine its actual boundaries Kukrail forest. Encroachment is always done slowly, stealthily, bit by bit, in phased manner.
Over the passage of time, Kukrail forest Lucknow got enclosed from all four sides by habitation – some legal, and some illegal.
Are those in the forest department really going to make a high wall around to save Kukrail from encroachment, I really don’t know, but I often wonder.
But the story of Kukrail forest is not exclusive of its own in Lucknow. The story of LIT (Lucknow Improvement Trust) forest, also known as Moosa Bagh forest on Hardoi Road, is almost similar to Kukrail forest. This piece of forest, although not as extensive as Kukrail Forest, once away from the town, is now an island amidst new residential colonies coming up. Its area is roughly 300 acres only.
There were few patches of forests in Sarojini Nagar area too but they all silently disappeared. The present premise of Scooter India Ltd, an undertaking of UP Government, is what used to be a chunk of forest in mid 1970s.
At the time of Independence there were many ‘forests’, the pieces of land recorded as forest in forest and revenue records. Some of them had trees, many others were only barren. In the course of time many of them have been gulped down slowly, in toto, by developers, or encroached upon partially by public.
Mr. Mohammad Ahsan is a freelance thinker, writer, poet, theme photographer, monument explorer, avid reader, book hunter. Earlier, he worked for Indian Forest Service wherein he specialised in wildlife management. He retired from government job in 2012.