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.