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!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Formula 1 turtle

Now, who said turtles are slow. I, for once, disagree. Bandipur this April had a surprise in store for me. The Flap-shell turtle. I've seen terrapins & turtles basking in the warm sun many times in BR Hills, Bandipur and elsewhere, but never so close up. Close enough to experience the discomfiture caused by the defensive spray of it's obnoxious secretion.

Safari on that day began in a pall of gloom. The overcast sky was not a good omen. Large mammals would wait for the sun to rise high in the sky. That was till we saw a shiny object lying beside the jeep track. Kiran, our driver, braked and jumped out. "Flap shell turtle", he announced. This was something different. Better than sighting an elephant or gaur. We all jumped off to examine this strange creature. 

Ensconed under it's protective shell it was unafraid of us. It just withdrew it's head and appendages deeper inside and lay still. When Mithun, our naturalist tried picking it up it sprayed him in annoyance. That did not prevent everyone from having a feel. After we had had a close look we decided to leave it be, then as an afterthought we thought of putting it back in the water before some vehicle ran over it. So we left it on the edge of the water hole. The events after that unfolded very quickly. 

It took a little over a minute to gather courage to peep out of its shell. Bit by bit, the nose, the eyes, and then the whole head came out. 

Once it got the bearings the next move took me by surprise. Suddenly the stumpy legs shot out, pressed back against the earth and propelled the disc toward the water. Before I could align the camera, (the pictures speak for themselves), it was off like a missile.

The next three meters were done in three seconds, as my camera's time stamp would tell me. Pushing hard, it fell off the edge of the pond, righted itself and scrambled off again.

Once it hit the water's edge it took under a second to disappear; head, shell, appendages and all.

If it can travel at a meter every second, it would cover some four kilometers in an hour. Not bad for a turtle. Perhaps, the Formula 1 turtle of Bandipur!!

The Vigil

7.45 AM, 19th, April 2009. Bandipur National Park

The langur troop is feeding & playing on the treetops. All. Except one. 

He is the Sentinel & it's his job to keep vigil. 

The safety of his troop is his responsibility and frolicking is not on his agenda.

He watches. Resolutely. Unwaveringly.

He knows the price the troop will pay if he relaxes. He watches......

....... and watches.......

...........till the rough clatter of the diesel engine disturbs him. He breaks his vigil to look in our direction.
 "It's you!", his mocking expression says it all. "You pesky humans. Why are you always disturbing us? Cant you leave us to ourselves?" 

"How I wish I could be so care free like you. Oh! For a few winks of sleep......."
"No! I'm the Sentinel. My duty is to my troop. Go away pesky humans and leave me to my job. I have a family to protect". 


And the watchman goes back to his Vigil.

Resolute & determined to protect.

Undeterred by minor intrusions, like pesky humans!

"Halt! Who goes there?"

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chameleon on a Suicide Mission

Last Sunday was going to be one of those boreing weekends, or so I thought. As I contemplated my camera bag I remembered that the E3 had not been on a trip for a awhile. Siruvani has been an enduring attraction but poor planning always ensured that I never got there. So I thought, why not today? I hadn't anticipated any obstacle but I had underestmated my mother. She wasn't very keen, especially with a suspect ear problem that had the penchant to act up at all the wrong moments.

I loaded my gear into my car and thought I'd take a drive closer to home. There was Kava & Valiya_erie. So off I went to explore the world. As I reached close to my destination my phone rang. It was a friend from Coimbatore inviting me to see some fancy new equipment they were installing. I did not need any other excuse and pointed my car north-east on the NH 47.

After the formalities and a brunch I was wondering what to do with the rest of the day. Siruvani beckoned, but I wasn't sure. Uncharted territory for me and an unpredicatble ear problem, so I decided to explore a straight forward route I was familiar with. The road to Silent Valley National Park through Anaikatti. The drive out of Coimbatore was uneventful as we drove past the Salim Ali Center for Ornithology, some spiritual Ashrams and hamlets, unless of course, a pile of dried elephant dung can be termed interesting. The blue jay was too busy chasing dragonflies to be interested in giving me a pose.

Some fifteen kilometers before Mukkali the dashboard clock told me it was time to return. Disappointed with a half-finished drive I turned around to head back, not anticipating I'd be involved in aborting a certain roadkill.

Just after Anaikatti the road goes parallel to a little rivulet and as it crests ridge the road dips and turns to the right. I saw something green on the edge of the road and slowed down. Then I slammed my brakes and jumped out. It was a chameleon crossing the road.

It was literally on its toes, only the claws touching the hot asphalt, as it verrrrrryy slowwwwly moved toward the center of the road. The situation was alarming. Any moment some speeding vehicle could run it over. I had to head it of. 

I went in front of it and shooed it. It just turned further towards the center of the road, gave me a backward stare with its highly mobile eye. It seemed to be asking me,"Who in the hell are you?"

For the next few minutes we were hopping about on hot asphalt. The creature trying to go south across the road and me trying to head it north, off the road. This bizzare dance had it attarct someone and it did. An old lady sitting under a tree waiting for a bus saw the commotion and ambled across to investigate. What she saw must have had her in splits but she kept her composure. Perhaps, pitying me because she would have thought the baking sun must have garbled my brain. Then she saw the cause for my strange behaviour and advised me, "Pachondi saar, pudichukonge" (Chameleon sir, catch it). 

I would have, if not for the two kilograms of E3 and lens in my hands. I've always wanted to do a Jeff Corwin and why would I forego a chance.

Then providence decided to intervene in a dramatic fashion. A Tamilnadu State Transport Corporaton bus sped into view as I was doing a jig on the road. Certainly the driver must have seen me and decided I was having a sun-stroke. As he closed in on us I waved frantically to the other side of the road. He swerved to the left, missing the chameleon and me by a few inches, glared at me and sped onward.

I gasped in relief, partly because all the dancing was making me pant, and partly because I noticed the cause of my exertions going off in a hurry; and he was going the other way.

Maybe the mad cap dancing in his way or maybe a few tons of steel & rubber whizzing past his nose. Whatever it was he'd shelved his plan to cross the road and had returned to the safety of the roadside scrub.

As for me, I was tired but proud. I'd prevented a roadkill. Even if it was only an insignificant creature, it still was God's creation. 

Rakesh, Soumya & gang would have been proud of me!!