Home to Sita Mata, Luv and Kush during exile and to squirrels that fly
Situated in the south-east region of Rajasthan in Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Pratapgarh districts where three very ancient mountain ranges of India, namely the Aravali ranges, Vindhya ranges and Malwa plateau meet forming the north-western limit of teak forests, the Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary is well known for its unique biodiversity. Some of the main characteristic features of the Sanctuary are presence of the riparian vegetation, rare fauna and the perennial rivers that flow through it.
The places of religious importance include the world’s only Sita Mata temple, Valmiki Ashram with perennial streams and medicinal plants, Hanuman temple where Hanumanji was tied with a rope by Luv and Kush and Bhagi Baori. Another attraction is the markings on rock that can be seen at Lakhiya Bhata. Other worth visiting places include Jakham Dam, a place of adventurous trekking, water sports and rock climbing, Arampura Re-location Centre that is famous for the flying squirrel, jungle fowl, panther point, flora and fauna and Kher-Valley and Nangalia Dam, a picturesque place full of birds, crocodiles and aquatic plants.
Sitamata is one of the richest Sanctuaries from the point of view of biota. It can be considered as hot spot of Rajasthan as far as floral and faunal diversity is concerned. Nearly 50 species of mammals, 275 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians, 30 species of fishes and more than 800 species of plants have been listed so far.
Flying squirrel, Indian pangolin, rusty spotted cat, caracal etc. can be seen here. It was also famous for mouse deer and wild dog.
A unique feature of this sanctuary is its historical and religious importance as it has been the place where Sita Mata spent her exile without Lord Ram in the Ashram of Valmiki and brought up Lav and Kush. The sanctuary is named Sitamata Wildlife Sanctuary after Sita Mata. Her famous temple is situated in the heart of the forest area of the sanctuary. In the sanctuary can be seen the footprints of the two brothers Lav and Kush that are worshipped.
During Ashwamegh Yagna the horse sent by Lord Rama from Ayodhya was caught and tied to a tree by Lav and Kush in this forest. When Hanumanji came to free the horse, he was tied by the two brave brothers to a mango tree that still exists.
It is believed that when Lord Rama asked Sita to return to Ayodhya, she prayed to Dharti Mata to take her in her refuge. As a result, there was a half kilometre long and 2 m. deep crack that enveloped Sita Mata. The remains of this crater are still visible.
There are two streams that are very close and in one flows cold water and in another hot water. Near them on a high platform are Shivling and an idol of Hanuman.
It is said that a rock representing Sita Mata used to float in the water but it is not the case now.
It is believed that when Laxman came in a chariot to leave Sita Mata here, he was so overwhelmed that the tears from his eyes turned into the pools of water near Bhagi Baori. They are only 5 feet deep but are always full of water.
Lacs of devotees throng to the Sanctuary during the 23-days long Mela held on Jestha Amavasya to worship at Sita Mata and Valmiki Mandir.
The rare Indian giant flying squirrel, one of the largest flying squirrel in the world is found in this sanctuary. It is not capable of flight like birds or bats. It is an exciting experience to see it glide between trees by taking a jump from one tree to another and glide on air currents by spreading its skin flap and extending the wing tip by means of a cartilage at the wrist. The wings tips are kept at a higher level than the rest of the wing to form airfoil. The aerodynamics of gliding movement like direction and speed in midair are controlled by adjusting the wing tips to various angles. Gliding is always from treetop to lower heights. The fluffy tail acts as an adjust airfoil and also functions as an air brake before landing on the targeted tree trunks. A flying squirrel will also create a large angle while approaching the target tree decreasing its velocity and allowing all four limbs to absorb the impact of the landing surface. Short gliding distances are preferred to longer ones because the latter require broader landing platforms that are not available in the dense forest. Normally the horizontal distance in gliding ranges between 20 to 30 meters Gliding also helps in energy conservation in movement.
The tree frog is another rare species that inhibits this sanctuary. It lives on trees and lays its eggs there. It is expert in taking long jumps and climbing of walls.
In sylvan environs of this sanctuary, can also be seen birds like grey jungle fowl, Aravali red spur fowl, green pigeon, Alexandrine parakeet, stork-billed kingfisher, Indian pitta, black-headed oriole, Indian paradise flycatcher and purple rumped sunbird. Lesser floricans are also worth watching during monsoon at the eastern outskirts of the sanctuary.
In floral elements also the sanctuary is very rich. It is famous for climbers, lianas, tuberous plants, orchids etc. that are rare important species so far as Rajasthan is concerned.
The sanctuary is also rich in ferns and bryophytes. The sanctuary is known for its medicinal plants also. As many as 108 species of such plants have already been identified. It has 13 of the 32 endangered medicinal plants listed by National Medicinal Plant Board.
One interesting fact about the sanctuary is that it has trees on which mangroves of lemon shape grow that rot as soon as they are taken out of the sanctuary area. About one km from Seetabadi is a huge banyan tree that covers 12 bighas of land. Some parts of the sanctuary have such dense forest that it becomes dark at 4:00 pm
The 15 km long trail from Damdama Gate to Sita Mata temple and back has attractions like semi evergreen species, tuberous plants, orchids, Charoli grooves, sacred groves etc. Rampura to Tankia river and back trail that is 8 kilometres long has grassland, flying squirrel, jungle fowl, fauna and aquatic plants. Forest, grass patches and animals etc. are the main attractions of the 4-km long Kherwal Chowki and surrounding area.
It is said that in Sita Mata grows a plant named Hasti Palash. The juice of its leaves is a highly beneficial remedy for serious diseases like cancer. This was the result of a research study done by students of Rajasthan Agriculture University, Udaipur in 2003.
For wildlife lovers, this sanctuary is a must visit place.