Posted: 14 Sep 2016 10:28 AM PDT
Sighting the komodo dragon
‘Hello Ms. India, please come here, ” says the forest ranger at the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, obviously referring to my bright and chirpy travel companion. The Indonesians’ fixation with India and everything Bollywood is almost as crazy as the tourists’ fascination for the large pre historic komodo dragon that inhabits these islands. In fact virtually every Indonesian that I have met in my trip seems to be excited about Bollywood heroes, with Shahrukh and Salman topping the list. But for today, the centre of attraction is the komodo dragon, the dinosaur of lizards, the largest living species of lizards in the world that can grow up to ten feet and weigh over 70 kgs.
The Komodo National Park
It is a hot and humid afternoon and I will do anything right now for a can of Bintang beer. Instead I follow the ranger’s gaze and see through the montage of woods. But it is not the monstrous dragon, but its favourite prey, the Timur deer that gazes back at me, sitting quietly, camouflaging with the browns and greens of the landscape.
This is neither my first visit to Komodo Island nor my first sighting of the komodo dragon. I had visited the Komodo National Park last year and had hiked around here as well.The national park , comprising of volcanic islands Komodo, Rinca , Flores and an archipelago of 25 smaller ones is a mix of savanna grasslands, dry and thorny shrublands with patches of deciduous and cloud forests, making it an ideal habitat for the world’s largest lizard species, the komodo dragons.
My first sighting of the Komodo Dragon
I can vividly recall my first sighting of these larger creatures. Windswept and refreshed, we had barely got out of the two hour ferry from Labuan Bajo last year and had just entered Loh Liang, when we were greeted by the many hues of the emerald tinged Komodo island. It was a beautiful day, the breeze was blowing through my hair and I was walking around the jetty in gay abandon, when I heard my fellow travellers call.
A large male komodo dragon was approaching us with its tongue darting, sniffing for blood. As it crossed our paths, it stared at us, long and hard for a while and then slowly dragged itself, in the opposite direction, crouching on all fours and moving at its own pace, dominating the entire island that it virtually owns .
Stories fill the air. Dragons are the kind of stuff that legends are made of and the komodo is no exception. They are called ‘Ora’ and the original inhabitants of the islands, called Ata Modo still live here. This is a story straight out of their folklore – the tale of a dragon princess , Putri Naga who fell in love with a human, Najo. She had twins, one of them was a handsome little boy called Si Gerong and the other, a lizard named Ora. Both of them were however separated at birth.
Several years later, Gerong went into the forest and was hunting a deer when a large lizard appeared from nowhere and attacked him. As Gerong decided to kill the wild creature, his mother, the dragon princess interrupted the foes and narrated the story. She asked Goreng to consider the komodo dragon as his equal and to be affectionate . And so the people even today accept the komodo as their own and protect it, despite the fact that these dragons can attack and kill humans too. Even today, the locals believe that the dragon princess hovers around the cave , where her husband was buried and where she gave birth to the first komodo dragon, her Orra.
Looking for the Komodo Dragon
The sea breeze floats in, lifting our spirits. Back in the present, we are still looking for the komodo dragon. The ranger points to some burrows in the ground, where the female komodo lays eggs. In fact she does not need a male to reproduce and fertilise eggs, he adds. And the young komodos are deft climbers and they climb trees almost as soon as they are born. They can be eaten by their own parents or hunted down by adult komodos. So, you will find them on trees until they are at least four years old, he adds. I instantly look up, wondering if there is one sitting right above my head.
We keep walking, looking for the komodo dragon but there is no sign of it. The ranger continues to interest us with some more facts. They have a strong sense of smell and can hunt down preys, including humans. They can smell blood even from a distance and they have venom in their bite, says the ranger . I also read that they feed on corpses, sometimes humans as well and the locals used to cover the graves to protect them from the dragons.
Recent kills by the komodo dragon
I ask the ranger if there were any recent kills. He is silent for a while and then admits that some people have been attacked recently. The first is a tragic story of an eight year old boy whose stomach was ripped out . This happened about eight years ago, the first in 33 years . And then there there is the story of an European who went into the waters and was never found, but for his sunglasses. The komodos are great swimmers, he adds . They may seem very slow but can suddenly run at a very high speed, almost like a dog,” he explains. He insists that no one strays alone without a ranger around. I wonder if their forked stick is protection enough, but he smiles and says that they have enough training and they do share a rapport in their own way.
We continue our hike. The landscape slowly changes from stunted shrubs to a few scattered trees. The oceans paint a beautiful background as I lose myself in the landscape. The weather is a bit cool We see more deer, monkeys and even jungle fowls and then suddenly he hushes us. Basking in the afternoon sun on the sun-dappled floor of the park was a large male komodo dragon, that looks rather disinterestedly at us, while we go crazy on the shutter. A nervous silence fills the air, except for the occasional hiss from the lizard. My ranger quietly gestures me to stand behind it, as he takes the photograph. Its the probably the only celebrity I have ever posed with.
Facts about the Komodo Dragon
Scientists believe that the komodo dragon, one of the largest prehistoric predator may have arrived in Indonesia from Australia based on evidence got from fossils.
They were believed to be the inspiration for the movie King Kong
Early cartographers used to draw pictures of mythical creatures like dragons and say Here Be Dragons to warn people of dangers. It is believed that one such map exists marking places around the present Komodo island. Perhaps it was a reference to the larger than life predators.
The locals called it ora or land crocodile and they used to feed and protect it.
The komodos are found today only in about four islands in Indonesia.
Komodo Island and Komodo National Park
The Komodo National Park spread over the volcanic islands of Flores, Komodo, Rinca and an archipelago of smaller islands house over 5000 komodos as of date.
The park also houses deer, monkeys, wild buffaloes, several species of snakes and birds
The park is now a designated World Heritage Site and Komodo Island is now a marine biodiversity hotspots and part of the Coral Triangle.
The original inhabitants of the island called Ata Moda are very few in number today .
There is more to Komodo Island than just komodo dragons. Snorkeling, scuba diving, sun bathing and island hopping are very popular here.
Getting to Komodo Island
Labuan Bajo in Flores is where you begin your journey. Flights from Bali connect to Labuan Bajo
You can rent a sailing boat and visit the Komodo National Park and then go island hopping and snorkeling
A typical itinerary for a two day sailing trip would include a visit to Komodo National Park, cruising from Labuan Bajo to Rinca, Padar, Kalong, Kanawa Island. You can snorkel at Pink Beach and head to Manta Point to see Manta Ray as well. Meals are served on board.
Although it is ideal to stay in the boat , accommodation is also available at the park and you can contact the rangers.
Some tips while on Komodo National Park
Dress lightly and bring a lot of water as it gets very hot here
Do not wander away on your own and stay close to the ranger and your group
When you see a komodo dragon, stay still and quiet. Do not attract its attention with your movements
This is for women . You are advised not to come if you have your periods as apparently the dragons have a strong sense of odour
More on Indonesia
Note – I was in Indonesia last month, courtesy the Ministry of Tourism, ” Indonesia.Travel” who had invited me on the #tripofwonders trip to Jakarta, Bintan, Komodo Island and Bali.
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