Today, I will tell you an unusual story. You must have heard about the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the Sirmour District of Himachal Pradesh.
The Sanctuary, with a total area of 402.80 hectare, is well connected by a wide network of roads. The entire Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of only Renuka Reserve Forest and has been declared as “Abhayaranya” or Sanctuary with no rights recognized in this area.
A pair of lions was brought to Renuka Zoo from Zunagarh during 1975. The lion was named Raja and the lioness was named Rani.Both could not adjust to climatic change and died. Again in 1977, another pair of lions arrived here from Trichur in Kerala. This pair adjusted quickly and within three years, their first cub was born, and it survived. Interestingly, the entire population of the wildcats at the safari was the progeny of the first cub. Over the years, the number multiplied to 32.
As their number increased, Lion Safari was started at the sanctuary. But the lion population started dwindling and within a span of 38 years, all the lions perished. It looks like manmade tragedy. It was result of flawed reproduction programme or inbreeding for more than three decades, which weakened their bloodline.
According to doctor RS Kishtwaria of the College of Veterinary Sciences Palampur, the flawed reproduction programme weakened their bloodline and devastated their gene pool. The entire stock lost the Asiatic lion's basic characteristics and immunity to disease. What a tragedy. Reports say a plan to bring a pair of lions from Gandhi Nagar in Gujarat is in the pipeline. Others say plan has been abandoned .
Renuka Ji is otherwise a holy place, a pilgrimage centre. In earlier days, the roar of lions could be heard for miles. Alas, today, there is not a single lion alive in the sanctuary. The last lioness Nisha breathed her last in April 2015.
I have nostalgic memories of Renuka Ji. When we visited this place in June 2002, almost a dozen of these wild cats were still there. The wildlife sanctuary and the zoo are located across the Renuka Ji lake, which is dedicated to mother of lord Parshuram.
We stayed at Himachal Tourism guest house ,which is just by the side of the lake. Frankly speaking, we did not know at all about presence of lions in the area. It was a big surprise . As we crossed the lake, there was fencing of the sanctuary. In an open enclosure, we spotted more than a dozen Asiatic lions roaming freely. If you called them, they came near the fence and looked at you with piercing fearless eyes. No wonder, this wild animal, with all its majesty is called king of jungle.
It took us time to come face to face with reality that we were actually watching so many lions at one place. Even at Gir forest in Gujarat, known as the lion sanctuary, we could hardly spot four lions during jeep safari. I remember vividly, as we were going in open jeep, a lion came from opposite direction, looked at us and crossed the road.
The lions at Renuka Ji looked more tamed. They looked restless as if they were waiting for something. At that time, their keeper called them. Now we realised that it was time for them to have their food. All of them fell in line and moved towards a building with single door.
I, my wife Uma and my son Ankur, started from Delhi and picked up Ritu, Uma’s younger sister Rama’s daughter, from Dehradun. My elder sister Sudesh, brother-in-law Yash and their daughter Sona drove all the way to Renuka Ji from Faridabad in Haryana.
Renuka Ji is situated at a height of about 2000 feet above sea level, surrounded by lush green forests. Main attraction of the area is Renuka Ji lake which is 3214 sq. meter in area and is in the shape of a sleeping women.
Next to it is Parshuram lake, which stores excess water of Renuka Ji lake through underground channel. Two lakes symbolise deep love between mother and son. Renuka Ji is said to be incarnation of goddess Durga and Parshuram, an avatar of lord Vishnu. An annual fair is held here in the month of Kartik for five days when supposedly, the mother and son meet.
Legend has it that thousands of years ago a powerful king, Sahasrarjuna, killed Maharishi Jamdagni, husband of Renuka Devi. There is a belief that the devoted wife jumped into the lake to escape falling prey to the lust of the tyrant king. Gods saved the pious lady. When Parashuram the son of Renuka and Jamdagni, learnt about the whole episode from his mother , he marched towards the kingdom of Sahasrarjuna and wiped-out the king and his entire clan.
Renuka Devi Temple complex built on the banks of the Parashuraam Lake has four temples. The first one with pink domes and beautiful murals on its outer walls, houses the ten avatars of lord Vishnu. Facing the Vishnu avatar shrine, there is an ancient shrine of Parashurama with shikara type roof. It houses an idol of Parashurama in his warlike attire.
Behind the Parashurama shrine is a small white shrine facing the Parashurama Lake. Known as Shri Parashurameshvara Mandir, it depicts Parashurama worshipping a Panchmukhi linga of Shiva. A flight of stairs takes one to a temple dedicated to Renuka Devi. She stands in the sanctum sanctorum dressed in dazzling red, holding a number of red bangles in her right hand, a sign of devotion to her husband.
Climate of Renuka Ji suits migratory birds. Good news is that two new feathery visitors, Baikal Teal and Orange-Bellied leafbird, have been sighted at Renuka Ji wildlife sanctuary this winter .This is the first such sighting of two rare birds in Himachal Pradesh.
Baikal Teal breeds in the far-east on the edges of Tundra and has made its way through the Asian flyway to reach Renuka Ji wetland. Baikal Teal is larger than the common teal with characteristic green nape and yellow black circular neck and throat. The habitat preference of this species is wetland and marshy areas where it can feed on microflora in lake ecosystem .
If you have time ,explore Sangrah a village 26 km from Renuka lake. We could not because of lack of time. According to Indiatimes, Sangrah has houses made of slate tiles and the walls are made of a mixture of mud, cow dung and a paste of urad dal (a type of lentil). Interestingly, there is a house in the village as old as 700 years. It is difficult to guess how many generations have lived in it. But Indiatimes says 400 generations have lived in this house. It has survived impact of many natural disasters.