Monday, July 11, 2011

Among Slimy & the Slithery

It's been a while since I woodcrawled and this blog seems stuck in a time warp. I've been running around a bit but nothing worth biting into has turned up. This weekend should change things a bit. Bandipur beckons and I'm finished packing though I'm still a good four days away from driving off down that familiar road!

The boredom was killing the blogger in me and I had to do something. Monsoon is not exactly the ideal time to be out woodcrawling but heck, it's better than sitting in my house and going through old pictures.

On the 26th of June, 2011 I told my car to go in any direction it chose, and go off where it thought best. Trust my car to find a place to potter around, and it did! I guess it's woodcrawling instinct seems unaffected by the wet weather. Meenvallam was drowning in the rains so it went further. On the outskirts of Mannarkad the road turns right to Silent Valley National Park and my car, it seemed, had it's plan worked out. It swung right and pointed it's nose to Silent Valley. Odd time, 11.30 AM, because you need to get into the National Park before afternoon but I did not realize that my car had other ideas.

Just before the ghats begins the guard at the forest check post waved me through without even bothering to get out of his chair. That was funny; I remember entering my details the last time I was there, or was that some place else. As the road climbed gently the little cascades started to appear. In Silent Valley water has the right of way. Almost all cascades flow over the road, not under it!

Silent Valley has the most pristine rain forests  in this part of the world and I knew then I did not have to be on time! It struck me that I was alone and had the whole day to myself. I did not have to worry if my co-passenger was hungry and squeamish about leeches! Here I was, all alone with my gear in the most beautiful forest at the right time of the year. One creature that I wanted to see and photograph was the Giant wood spider. I was hoping I'd see it this time around. If it had not been for my car, I'd have been staring at my laptop screen all day.

Further up the canopy closed over the road making me feel like I was driving through a green tunnel. Every turn had something interesting and I was out of my car as much as I was in it. Thank God for the weather sealing that only Olympus has!

A lovely little cascade on my left, recessed into the forest that I almost missed it. My car, apparently knew it was there! It stopped. It almost seemed like a scene out of Jurassic Park.

As I walked about I started noticing little things. Small flowers, ferns, creepers, and tiny creatures that I'd never have noticed sitting in a car.
It was like re-learning how beautiful God's creations can be from close up.

About 28 kms from Mukkali (the entrance to Silent Valley National Park is this beautiful waterfall. It is on the right of a hairpin bend and falls almost 50 meters in series of steps. It is impossible to capture its beauty on a single frame unless you are in a helicopter!

The lower half is more violent and falls in more sharper drops than the upper part.

I kept driving, stopping, driving, stopping all the way to the top. By the time I reached Mukkali is was a little after 1.00PM. No scope of a trip into the National Park. I wasn't too keen either. I hadn't packed a lunch when I left home and it was the wrong season for birds here. So after a little discussion with my car we made  the U-turn.

On the way down I had the other side of the road to survey so the routine of stop-drive, stop-drive started again. There was this little cascade again with the water running over the road but this time it ran for a considerable distance along the side of the road before spilling onto it. I started walking along the little busy water way. It was only when I sat on my haunches and stared into water I realized how really 'busy' the water was!

Crab; so well camouflaged that I would have missed them if not for their scurrying under the rotting leaf litter.

Others popped up on the rocks waiting for prey but scooted off to their crevices as soon as I stepped in their direction.

Then something caught my eye. A damsel fly laying eggs on the litter in the water. It would fly a bit, alight on a twig or leaf and curl its tail into a circle a pat the tip on whatever it was sitting on.

As I watched fascinated I detected a little wiggly movement in the water. Tiny red worms (?Blood worms). Popping up from the  mud and disappearing the minute I touched the water or picked out a floating leaf to get a good view. There were thousands of them and I was wondering how I resisted the temptation to sip a little of that cold water. Providence intervened, perhaps!

Under a rock, protected from the rain and the dripping water was a nest of a paper wasp. They were busy as only wasps and bees could be. I didn't spend too much time in conversation with them. It was not the right time to upset them so I clicked a few pics and walked on.

A strange polka dotted grasshopper was climbing a rotting log. I couldn't get closer and my long lens was in the car but the perspective through the macro lens was more like what the grasshopper would see. An endlessly long climb...

As I had been walking I heard the croaking of frogs but I couldn't find one despite my good eye sight! I could find damsel flies and worms but no bloody frogs. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a 'water droplet' going UP! How could a water droplet defy gravity? There had to be an explanation and I peered closer to inspect this curious phenomenon. The rock face was full of these little creatures, tadpoles with legs and froglets!

I had seen some amazing sights in Silent Valley but nothing to beat what I had seen in the last few hours. I got into my car and started downhill again. When I reached the hairpin bend at the 28th kilometer from Mukkali my car stopped. I had stopped on my way up but my car stopped again. This time I ignored the falls and walked into the wet forest on the opposite side. More ferns and beautiful ground fungi.

As I walked back to the car I looked up into a low hanging branch of a tree hoping to see some bird or some tree fungi. My eyes almost popped out of their sockets. There was an alien on the tree, looking at me with eyes at the tip of two stalks. A snail; that I'd never seen before. Half an hour and many photographs later  I got into my car, elated. This was a trip like no other.

I had spent a productive day, completely different from my usual jungle trip. No large mammals or birds, just 
God's little creations. The three bananas I had for lunch at Mukkali had by then been fully utilized and my stomach was grumbling again! I told my car to head home. 

As I rolled downhill again rewinding the sights in my mind I was thinking of getting home to a warm meal. My car stopped again! There; outside my left window was a web and in it's center the object of my desire. A Giant Wood Spider. Rumbling tummy was forgotten, rain was forgotten, the itchy leech bites were forgotten.
I only had eyes for this beauty, Never mind the fact it was missing a leg!

I did not know how I reached home. I only knew that God acts in strange ways. He showed me many fascinating things through the day but he reserved the best for the last.

Faith, they say, moves mountains. The entire Silent Valley moved for me.

Thank you God & thank you Car!!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Hijacked on New Year

Bandipur in winter is a wonderful place to be in. The weather is perfect; chilly mornings, warm days and cozy nights. The jungle itself is not too green but not too bare either, just the perfect blend of browns & greens.

New Year 2011 was around the corner and what better place to hang out in than in the wilderness. I hate noisy parties and would be a misfit in one. My idea of a good time is spending a quiet evening in the wilderness. Drunken revellry on the streets is totally abhorrent  to me. The best noises are not loud music & blaring horns but the soothing tones of the jungle sounds. A cricket here, a night jar there and a barking deer deep in the quite jungle.

My bags are always packed for a trip. All my jungles greens & browns go straight into my duffel once they come back from the laundry. I hate wasting time packing. With age catching up, last minute packing is hazardous because I realize I've forgotten that very important something when I'm half way into the journey!

Of course my photography gear is always ready. I just have to whip it out and start shooting. Back up batteries and storage cards always on standby, not to mention the back up camera too!

As D-day comes closer the mood is exhilarating. It's like being back in school. As the vacation draws closer we count the days & hours to be "out of the gates of....".

My friend the Colonel was also going to be there but we never expected that New Year would be hijacked!

Out of the blue an old school friend popped up. He's been hearing me rave about my trips to Bandipur and suddenly decided that he wanted to see what was so special about this place I haunted. Christmas & New Year is peak season and swinging accomodation at the eleventh hour was impossible. Besides my old friend wanted accomodation for a 'marriage' party!

I had to put my foot down. I offered to sacrifice my cottage so three could be accmommodated but he wanted to take a car load, if not two. I was stumped but I had an ace up my sleeve, my friend the Colonel. A good friend for a crisis like this. Hearing my sad tale he promptly offered me his cottage without batting an eye lid.

I wasn't feeling any more 'accommodative' so I told my hijacker that we'd solved the problem for one car load but everyone else could find their own accomodation. I wasn't just annoyed that my New Year was washed out but also that I had to deprive my good friend, the Colonel, off a holiday he too was looking forward to.

I was resigned to spending New Year at home but little did I realize that the sacrifice was not in vain. Gods are very prompt these day in rewarding or punishing. That is a story by itself and the second part of this tale; about Gowri, the enchantress.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


It's been a long while. Six months, as a matter of fact. Somehow the fingers seem to have lost their suppleness and struggles to find the right keys.

I realize I'm getting rusty so I'm going to exercise my fingers again. It's not that I don't have tales to tell but life has been going through many ups & downs. I know the best way to scramble back to normalcy is to go back to WOODCRAWLING.

Watch this space for Gouri....she'll break the shackles for me.