Saturday, December 26, 2009

Turquoise Waters & Emerald Isles - an Andaman Adventure

For a woodcrawler like me the world always has remained GREEN. Everything I saw and loved had a shade of green attached to it. All other colours were just colours. Not worthy of a second glance.

That was till a week ago. My sis and Bro-in-law convinced me that there are more colours in this world beyond the Greens my myopic eyes would see and deposited me in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, on a tiny patch of land called Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

It ensured that my eyes opened to another colour and hordes of new creatures that I would otherwise have never cared to even look at.

Of course, I had no choice but look & stare at BLUE and its shades for the next five days.

The mainland was some 1000 kilometers away across the blue waters and I am not a swimmer. The Bay of Bengal is not exactly the place I'd want to experiment my limited talents in.

So it was Blue, Blue & more non-stop Blue between 19th and 24th December.
To share my experiences just click this Turqoise link

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Writer's Block

I know mental blocks. Your brain becomes adamant and refuses to co-operate. You become lethargic, the world seems to move around in slow motion and you feel like you are floating in a cloud of distressing haze.....

..but this one stunned me. A Writer's Block.

My brain is still sniggering at my helplessness though it keeps a straight face when I give it my most annoyed look! It knows my finger's won't cooperate till it tells them to.

I have tales to tell; of Bandipur & B.R Hills but the words have dried up. I really don't know whether to knock my head somewhere or simply pull out that annoying lump inside my skull and dunk it in the washing machine.

Obviously, the second option is not an option at all but I'm so flustered I don't mind trying it out. I have a nice sharp machette that would do the trick without much trouble but something has come up now, that I am reconsidering this drastic option.

My sis tells me that the seas off the coast of the Andaman islands are full of rejuvenating life and energy. Perhaps the angle of the sunrays reflecting off the waters of the Bay of Bengal hit the head at a different wave length that it cools the brain rather than cook it!!

So I've accepted her offer to go and grill my brain off the coast of the Andaman's. Maybe when I return, my brain would have learnt a lesson and will allow my finger's to cooperate again.

Watch this space. I'll have lot's of new tales and pictures and it will be different. Blue seas in contrast to my green jungles. Perhaps it will deserve it's own exclusive space here, maybe titled something like "Snorkeling, Island Hopping & Pickling your brain". See you soon......

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Scratching Post

This is an old tale.

August 2009. My fingers refused to skim over the keyboard and my mind had gone blank. I was afflicted by the writer's block and had been ailing for a few months now. An occasional spark reminded me once in a while that all was not dead. Beneath the ashes were some embers trying to rekindle.

Two months without a whiff of a jungle breeze was getting to us. Skanda's school ensured that we were kept busy and both of us had felt the tug almost at the same time. Onam holidays were just around the corner and it was time to load up the travel gear and roll.

Skanda was adamant this time, that we stay a couple of days longer because we had had a long break from our favourite patch of wilderness, Bandipur. The unusually strong monsoon hadn't abated and we were prepared for a damp experience.

The light drizzle made things worse early in the morning. We were chilled to the bone and were bumping around half asleep. The weather ensured that the denizens of the jungle too weren't too keen to step out and shake the lethargy. That was till we rounded a corner on the Sollikatte road.

Standing undecided between the two roads was this elephant. The drizzle had wet the beast that it was looking dark and dangerous. The caked mud on it's forehead and back suggested an irritated pachyderm trying to get rid of pesky flies and mosquitoes. It looked towards us, lifted a leg, as if to walk down the track we were parked on. Then, better sense prevalied it turned and moved off rapidly in the opposite direction.

It seemed to have a single point agenda for the morning. If you were wet, itchy and cold; what better than a languorous session of scratching. We realized the beast's intention. It was on it's way to a favourite spot in the jungle.

The Scratching Post.

Once it reached it's destination, a tall tree stump devoid of any branches and foliage it got about it's business earnestly.

First the shoulder.

Then the belly.

The itchy butt after that...

.... and finally the tail.

"Oh! What a feeling?", she rumbled and ambled of into the dense lantana.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reptile luncheon

As a rule I have been more fascinated about mammals. Reptiles and bird haven't been sufficiently interesting for me to hold my attention for too long. But then, I had told you earlier, this Bandipur sojourn was different.

I was taking a nap after a heavy lunch, feeling rather like a well fed python. The children, my son and niece were ushered out and conveniently deposited on the hammock outside the cottage. Suddenly I was woken by yells of "Snake, snake", and I heard someone tell that it was in the process of swallowing it's prey. I grabbed my camera and rushed out, not remembering to switch to a longer lens.

There was a crowd below a silver oak, predominantly children, all craning their neck upwards. I too joined the mob and despite the hint of a crick looked upward. My jaw dropped as beheld a scene that I had only seen in pictures. A green vine snake was dangling from a branch with a garden lizard hanging out of its mouth. The head nad neck had already disappeared into the mouth and the rest of the lizard was following fast. I had no time to rush back to get another lens.

I had seen one green vine snake in my mango tree a few years ago. That was too high up and at night. Here was one dangling before my nose and I had almost ruined a golden opportunity. I had no choice but make do with the lens attached to the camera.

What a sequence it was? The lizard disappeared from view centimeter by centimeter........

.... till only the tail was left. The snake lay horizontally on the branch and drew the narrow tail inside like a noodle.

With a final twist like a spring uncoiled the snake moved off up into the tree.
The last of the lizard disappearing from view.

The only evidence of the event was the tell tale bulge just beyond the snake's neck. It would have probably laid up in some crook of a branch digesting it's meal. For the next week the snake would have had no thought of food.

Now. Just think about it. Eat a meal. Rest a week. What a great way to live. If only we could also eat & live like a reptile!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Of Dholes & a Gaur

May, in Bandipur, should have been hot. It meant dry grass and sparse undergrowth, which, in turn should mean good wildlife sighting. This May was different. It had been raining regularly all summer and my recent trips had all been under overcast skies.

As I drove into Bandipur I was having a niggling sense of disappointment. The grass was fresh and the lantana was dense. I had promised my sister a trip with a difference and I wasn't sure of it anymore. The upside of it was that forest fires would not happen. Wet weather would douse any enthusiasm a spark might have and that gave me some comfort.

Evening safari started on a dull note. The sky was overcast and stray droplets of an impending storm threatened to ruin our drive into the jungle. My only consolation was that the was that my gear was ready to take on the rain even if I was not. The only thing to do was to sit back a wait for the storm to blow over.

It was close to 6 PM. Light was failing rapidly as we crossed the highway into the eastern side of the park. Bomma braked suddenly because in front of the vehicle, on the left of the road were 8 dhole; pups & adults. Further on was a lone dog, perhaps that alpha male, being filmed from another vehicle. Not wanting to disturb the filming we halted on the track.
Suddenly the pups disappeared into the dense lantana. At first it appeared that it was our presence that disturbed the pack. Then it became apparent that the reason for the disturbance was not us but a huge male gaur.

At first as the bull advanced the dogs held their ground, even making mock attacks.

The bull wasn't deterred. It was intent on crossing over despite the snapping dogs.

He just charged through the pack scattering the dogs before him.

Once he had waded through the pack and reached the jeep track he halted as if to show that he had not run in fear.

After a minute he crossed the track towards the dense lantana bordering the road.

Just before he disappeared into the bush he halted for a moment with his rump towards us, exhibiting a wound just above his tail. Perhaps a legacy of another encounter with a pack like this some place elsewhere at another time.

Truly a majestic beast.

May his tribe increase...........

..... and may he live to fight and survive many more days in this in this paradise called Bandipur.


Finally I got my tiger.

After years of woodcrawling with an open mind nature relented.

I've been tiger tracking for awhile now and my luck hasn't been anything to write home about.
This May, everything changed. An extraordinary trip on the whole, with a gaur chasing dholes, a snake eating a lizard and the icing on the cake - my first tigress in Bandipur. (Follow the link to join me in tiger tracking)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cleaning up at Chinnar

On the 3rd of May, 2009 I was supposed to be in Kodakarai. It's a small village far removed from civilization. I heard about it from friends in KANS, an organization working for conservation. KANS was going to conduct a medical camp at Kodakarai as the villagers had to literally trek through jungles to reach a hospital. I was a volunteer but I couldn't make it.

The guilt was eating me and a Sunday was being wasted without any meaningful contribution from my side. Silent Valley called but when I contacted the forest office there I was told that no transport was available. Disappointment there too. My sister was down for holidays and the children were bored. Through the mist of guilt a place beckoned; Chinnar.

I hadn't been there for a while. The Bandipur Awareness Camps ensured that my jungle trips were in that direction since the last few months. I had forgotten about this little jewel of a jungle.

We packed lunch and drove off at 11.00; a bit late in the day but nevertheless a trip was on.

We crossed the check post into the Indira Gandhi WLS & NP and a couple of kilometers my eyes were popping out. Not because I saw a herd or elephants or some such thing, but because I saw three young men picking up plastic lying on the roadside. Nothing gets my adrenaline flowing like "anti-plastic" drives. I had to get out and meet these young guardians of the forest.

They were from Pollachi and were part of a small group of youngsters volunteering to clear plastic waste from along the Udumalpet-Munnar road. They were doing it in association with the RFO's office in Pollachi.

Chinnar was dry. Thoovanam falls were a trickle and the treks were suspended due to fear of forest fires.

It was not cause for disappointment. There was work at hand. The weekend crowd were making their contributions and the guard at the Tamilnadu check post was having a field day!!

I didn't any more inspiration. By the time the trip was over, the boot of my car was full of plastic waste. My son and niece were the lookouts, their heads poking out of the sunroof searching for abandoned plastic bottles. My sister and me were picking them up and depositing them in the boot.

At the Kerala-TN border the forest personnel thanked us for our contribution and the Eco-development Committee members promised to dispose them off properly.

As we crossed into Tamilnadu again on our way back we met the group with the RFO. They were carting the waste in the RFO's jeep. I made many friends that day. All between 15 & 20 years old. We have a common cause that we all support.

We drove off feeling contented. The Sunday was not wasted after all. As a bonus, not 30 meters off the road stood an elephant calf and family posing for pictures. A sight I have never seen in Chinnar till today!

Elephants in the Mist

It's been a little while. Vacation actually makes you busy, especially if you are parenting alone! This piece is overdue by three weeks and I always agree when someone tells me, "Better late than never".

Bandipur, in April, is really sweltering. The waterholes are empty, the grass is dry as tinder and fires are not uncommon. The elephants and gaur prefer to migrate to greener pastures in Kabini and Wyanad. It is therefore very nice to go out into the jungle and be enveloped in a pleasant mist in the middle of summer.

Summer showers follow me and when I drove into Bandipur Safari Lodge my friend Gangaswamy was there to greet me. He had a wry smile as he commented, "You got the rain with you again sir?". Then he added, "It's good for tourism, the waterholes will fill up and the grass will sprout again. The elephants and gaur will stay". I was glad he acknowledged my contribution to the tourism industry. If not anything, at least I'd have contributed to a pleasant stay.

So when we went out into the jungle the following morning I was not expecting much by way of wildlife. After all summer was peaking and the herbivores would have migrated. The clouds that followed me was still overhead. I would probably not have to take my camera out this morning. The mist had cut visibilty to less than 50 meters and the light wasn't too good. That was till we came across this herd. 

Next to a tree by a salt lick were two ladies. The weather seemed to have affected them too. Looking very unhappy, the only movement was their waving ears.

Then one of them woke up from the stupor hearing the rumble of the jeep's engine. As she realized that we were not moving she became annoyed at the disturbance. She started towards us.

As she came forward she seemed to remember something and halted in mid stride; then she wheeled around and ran off into the trees squealing in protest.

The outstretched trunk was desperately signaling to someone or something hidden in the copse of trees she was running towards.

Almost as if she was telling someone, "Go away! Scram! There's danger here".

Once she reached the cover of the trees she signalled her companion to also return to her side. The companion too appeared disturbed when she realized the reason for the agitation.

Then the real reason for the commotion appeared on the scene. A calf, perhaps a year old and undoubtedly curious. No wonder the adults were going berserk.

It was the turn for another one to take up the charge, and she did. Like others, she too wheeled around at the last minute and returned to the safety of the herd.

Finally, after they realized that we were not budging, wisdom prevailed. The herd gathered together and wandered off into the mist. Mother, aunts, cousins and all.

After all, summer has it's own share of surprises. Bandipur never disappoints. It never has & never will. My favourite pilgrimage spot in the world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nature heals: Bandipur Burns - Final Chapter

It's time for us to circumspect. If nature can heal itself why can't we cure ourselves of our illnesses. No. I don't mean our physical  maladies but the mental ones. Perhaps only nature can be so forgiving despite the incorgible nature of man. How else can you explain the change from a scortched landscape to a beautiful green meadow being littered with our wastes?

I'm talking of Gopalaswamy Betta. Late last February, even before summer peaked the scene was desolate. Burnt hillsides as far as eye could see, billowing plumes of smoke in the horizon as forests burnt uncontrollably. Bandipur had been reduced to ashes.   

Two months later, 18th April 2009, I was climbing uphill with apprehension. I was not sure what sights would greet my eyes. As the jeep rolled upward we could see the water sources were still dry. The customary elephant herds were missing on the slopes. Then, as we crested the first hill my breath escaped in relief. The colour today was predominantly green!

The earth was putting on a resolute show for man. Little flowers and wild ginger sprouts intermingled with the green to remind us that no matter what, nature will forgive and make up.

Of course the scars still showed in some parts. The dark shades of charred earth and the brown of dead timber were visible in the midst of the newly sprouting green.

"Physician, heal thyself" Luke 4:23 from the Bible is applicable to my fellow professionals. Nature heals herself, but unfortunately her goodness is lost on us. We continue to abuse her by throwing garbage on her, tearing her apart for myopic business interests and burning her up. 

Time has come for mankind to realize that patience to has a limit. Nature is turning on us gently, to remind us that she has tolerated this abuse for long. She throws signs in the form of natural calamities that have been increasing in frequency. 

It's upto us now to correct our faults, before this Yuga reaches another Apocalyptic end.

"Krishaa nee begane baaro!"