Friday, February 27, 2009

Bandipur burns - Part 2 : The view from Gopalswamy Betta

If you have been to Bandipur, you would have heard of a place called Gopalaswamy Betta. A little hill (1450m above MSL) lying to the north of the National Park. It is famous for a small temple on it's summit. The deity there, Himada Gopalaswamy, gets the first part of his name from the uncannily Himalayan conditions atop the hill. For most of the year the summit is covered by a dense cloud of mist and it showers even when the plains are hot and dry. The entire hillside is covered by a verdant sea of grass with clumps of taller vegetation along the valley's between the hillocks. On a good day you can see the slopes of the Nilgiri hills to your south and beyond Gundlupet in the north.

On February 22nd, 2009 the Betta bore little resemblance to what I was used to. For starters the cap of cloud was missing even as we started the climb up the steep ghat road. The slopes on the left of the road was barren and the herd of elephants that are seen were absent. As we turned right at the first hair pin the green grassy slopes were replaced by blackened ash and scorched shrubs.

Further up the road the picture turned more grim. The slopes on either side of the road was an uniform shade of black interspersed with brown. As far as eye could see the usually verdant green was absent.

The stray sambar deer wasn't there but a half burnt antler. I hope the owner who shed it escaped the inferno.

Things didn't look too good on one side and we were bracing ourselves for the worst as we parked the cars beside the temple. The usual nip in the air that greets everyone on the Betta was absent today. Instead, as we opened the car doors and stepped out, we were enveloped in a suffocating and hot atmosphere.

The temple had it's regular crowd of devotees and soothsayers but we were on a mission and these trivialities were the last thing on our mind.
The western boundary of the temple overlooks the Bandipur National Park, and the Muthanga WLS further west. The sight the we beheld was straight out a horror film, at least to this small group that were present there.

Endless stretches of burnt grassland, and a large plume of smoke from a fresh fire beyond the curve of the hill. At first sight, it was like a volcano erupting. The smoke obscured everything around it.

The usual blame falls on the heat but I'm not sure. As we surveyed the destruction covering more than a 180 degree arc from east to west we saw all the signs that these fires were possibly man made. At least a major contribution was by God's most destructive creation. There is more to follow. Watch this space.....

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