Those of us in Delhi must have traveled atleast once the long, metalled road which runs parallel to Tughalaqabad Fort. Opposite the fort, if you care to notice, is what appears to an unexpected patch of wilderness in this burgeoning city (It actually is). One landmark spot in this ‘patch’ is Sports Anarchy of India’s Firing Range, a breeding ground for Jaspal Ranas and Major Raghvendra Rathores (more seen in Coke ads than pulling the trigger). To return to the wilderness, the area in and around the SAI shooting range — one that I have been calling a patch of wilderness — is registered in the govt files as Asola Bird Sanctuary or Asola forest reserve. If my opinion matters, Asola is bad advertisement for both a reserve and a forest; and sanctuary my foot. Delhi Ridge offers far more (including love birds). Nevertheless, considering this ‘reserve’ falls in the Aravali range and a red-stone mine-belt it is more welcome than brick-and-mortar ugliness.
While working for The Pioneer, sometime in late ninties, it was possible for a dozen of us journos to spend a whole day inside this 'sanctuary' — a picnic of sorts, since we carried enough booze in our cars’ boots. Rahul Gupta, then covering the reporting beat for ministry of environment, secured the permission (he did better; ensured a guide too lest we should get lost?). Thus, a band of boozards met up for a day-time soiree and had a field day; for the ignorant, it was just a ‘media visit’. The troupe included Asha-Manish Swarup (now in Associated Press), Wilson John and Ganesh Swaminathan (our chief reporter, then). We spent the whole day in the stripped-off woods, negotiated rocky & excessively thorny terrain and, in the bargain, ruined the better part of fake Levis (thorns scratched away the fabric in ugly designs). Through out the day I feasted on wild berries and meals borrowed from female tiffins. We were luckier to spot lotsa birds, starving blue bulls and bakris let out to feed them by neighbouring villagers (the guide continued to haul the owners for letting their flock in). One never realised we were within the drawn territory of Delhi. Manish used his Nikon to make those seemingly petty moments look like historical events.
It was the return journey which actually made my day. With a few waywards like me in my rickety maruti (called Rampyari) we decided to take a route diagonally opposite to others. Drunk and daisy, we found the road which connects Faridabad with Gurgaon via Gwal Pahari (I later came here many a time for climbing rocks and enjoy a drink with friends; or sometimes just to savour the drive which reminded me of hills). The route actually gives one the feel of a mountain drive. It has tortuous turns and hairpin bends, besides massive views of high-rise civilization from a delectable distance. Even today, I relive the moving sunsets which I spent here with rum and rummages. And there have been several witnesses to this post-Asola love: Ajay Dwivedi, Aparajita Basu, Yusuf Begg, Chutki (she prefers Vaijyanti these days) and a score of other gullible souls who rose to the bait.