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!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dung ball heros - a beetle battle

Dung beetles come in two varieties, the hard working types and lazy bums. Hard working beetles locate their target by a strong sense of smell. Once located, they pull off chunks of the mess and roll it into balls, a job usually done by the male watched by his partner. Ball is then rolled straight off to a desirable location by the amorous couple who then use it as food cum breeding chamber.

Once in a while a lazy bum lies in ambush, especially while the female is not around. The male intent on rolling the ball in a straight line despite any obstacles. The bum tries to take advantage of this obsession and some times succeeds but often has to be content with a small chunk of the ball.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'm a dung beetle & that mess is my food!

Strolling around in a scrub jungle has certain advantages, and disadvantages. It puts you close to the action and gives a grandstand view of the happenings in the undergrowth. Of course, it also makes you a tempting target for thorn's, bugs and leeches. In the preoccupation to avoid the latter we may miss some interesting things closer to the ground.

The dung beetle maybe an uninteresting creature and to many of us the porcine equivalent of the insect world because of it's habits. Let me assure you, a closer look will halt you in your tracks. It is an enterprising creature and will fight to keep its mess ..... Er! I mean it's prize.

Dung beetles are classified into rollers, (the one in the picture) tunnelers & dwellers. Rollers simply roll the dung into balls and roll them off to the to use as food or a brood chamber. The tunnelers bury the dung where the find it and the dweller s simply live in dung (Yuck!)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Part - 1: Warming Up

I knew I was not made for hard-core trekking but I knew I could manage without giving up if the start was perfect. For someone who has only walked on flat tarmac scrambling over loose rock in search of some prehistoric (?!) rock painting and burial sites was a new experience.

My trekking guide was Muthuswamy, a Veerappan look alike but without the trade mark whiskers. He told me the site was half a kilometer over a gentle slope and would take an 'easy' fifteen minutes to reach.

As we started climbing Muthuswamy realizsed quickly that his assessment of 'easy' was rather misplaced in my case. "Ukkaranuma Saar?" (Do you want to sit, Sir?), he queried, looking very concerned. He must have thought I was having a heart attack the way I was gasping. I reassured him and quickly started snapping pictures. My ego did not permit me to accept defeat. If I sat, he would know. Despite protests from my knees I resolutely kept pace. I was determined to see this to the end.

Finally, when I reached the spot I was soaking. Aching joints & twitching muscles are all forgotten as soak in the view. The experience is incomparable, well worth breaking into sweat and panting for. Then, after the momentary sense of light headedness the exhilaration takes over.

Discovering my feet...... literally

We all have two legs with the feet attached at one end. We are never conscious of them except when they hurt. They take us from point A to point B without ever letting us know that we are putting out entire weight on them. That is, when we walk on familiar ground.

When we are forced out of our environment we become acutely conscious of them because our surrounding dictate our reactions. For city slickers it can become an unpleasant surprise if we are not too careful with them, like yours truly discovered over the weekend.

Of course, the experience of 'discovering my feet' was exhilarating. It took me over hills, down into the valley, through the scrub, along the river and back to my car without ever protesting at the ill treatment it got. Confined to a heavy boot and soaking in sweat would not have been what their idea of a wilderness holiday but at the end of the day we congratulated each other and decided to do it more frequently.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Prologue - Woodcrawling along 'Little River'

A middle aged man with a generous middle is not the ideal profile for a trekker but the temptation was too great. So, with a prayer on my lips I have set forth on what appears to be a long journey of discovery.

I have never trekked before. Most wildlife parks do not allow people to saunter around and disturb the jungle folk but there are exceptions. On the Udumalpet - Munnar road, straddling the Tamil Nadu - Kerala border lies a patch of wilderness that is just being discovered. The Chinnar (literally translated - 'little river') wildlife sanctuary on the Kerala side of the border is contiguous with the Indira Gandhi WLS in Tamil Nadu. The check post used to be closed after 6 PM earlier but now it's kept open all through due to the heavy tourist traffic. The road used to be famous for encounters with elephants and gaur grazing beside it.

My interest was the result of what was a wasted trip. We had driven to Munnar on a weekend to try to get a glimpse of the elusive Kurinji. We did not know that disappointment was in store as the heavy traffic caused a jam on the road and an endless que at the entrance to the Eravikulam NP. We had time to kill but nowhere to go and as we drove downhill we looked more closely at the signboards put up by the Kerala Forest Department.

We had, earlier, stopped for breakfast while going uphill. Then we had seen a herd of gaur on the ridge across road also having their breakfast. So when we halted at the check post we made enquiries about forest entry. Vehicle weren't permitted but you were free to foot it, we were told, and the guard directed us eco-tourism center next door.

The trekking is organised by the Forest Department with the active involment of the local tribal community. The center issues the entry passes and allots a tribal guide who accomapines you into the forest with only a stick for protection! It didn't seem a good idea at that time but therin lies the tale of how I discovered my feet.