Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Walking in the Eastern Ghats

I have been to Western ghats an umpteen number of times, and felt enchanted, hearing the bamboo trees rustling in the wind. This time I went to Eastern ghats where my friend is working to retrieve a critically endangered bird, Jerdons Courser, endemic to 40 sq km area in Sri Lanka Malleshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
I stayed at the forest field station at Badvel, 60kms from Kadapa. It was a long and tiring journey for me in the bus for 14 hours. As I reached Kadapa, we straight headed for a meeting with the District Forest Officer. I was dead tired, but was all set to meet the officer and talk. He spoke about various initiatives he took to help local people gain from forest resources. We shared a lot of ideas on how we can work out a sustainable living for local people. My mind was rolling with ideas.

By the time we got out of the DFO’s office, it was almost 7 pm. We went to have sugar cane juice and head to Badvel. The junior researcher Sumant who was working with my friend Rahul got talking to me about film making. I want to be a film maker, he said. As we crossed the forest path in the dark night, Raheem (he drove the Armada and was also a snake and bird expert), suddenly put the brakes..Snake...he said and we jumped out of the jeep and saw a small cat snake going into a bush..it was shiny black with stripes..a baby cat snake..I was thrilled.it was too fast for me..could not take a picture!!
Went to have a quick dinner at a hotel, went to the forest field station and crashed..I woke up late the next day. Aslam (the cook, cleaner and bird catcher) made coffee and breakfast. I watched out and saw an old man sleeping on a cot..sleeping peacefully under a tree. Kids were playing with marbles, it was a different environment. We thought we would go to the forest to set camera traps. Me, along with S went to the forest, but came back as the path was bad due to rains..we spent some time sitting outside the house..tomorrow, we have to set the camera traps, said S.
The bird is highly elusive, declared extinct, many years back. Later, some researchers from Cambridge university found that these birds still existed, but in very few numbers. It was then, the local government decided to step in to retrieve the bird. Later, the Royal Society of Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK, partnered with Bombay Natural History society (BNHS) to work on this project. Rahul was made the head of this project. It was prestigious but extremely difficult. RSPB gave camera traps to be set on field, to capture images of the nocturnal bird.
Here is more, if you want to know what has been happening.

The next day after lunch, S and me headed to the sanctuary and the entire journey was amazing. We walked into the forest, making sure every camera was set in a proper way. This took us like five hours. I did not see many birds because it was a cloudy day. I managed to see a few common birds. I just sat on the mud in the forest, listening to various birds. It was blissful. I forgot the world. It was almost 7 when we go back to the field station. Had dinner, chatted up, watched some tv and crashed. Soon, Sunday came. It was time to go vegetable shopping. We went to the local market and thought we could make some pasta, for a change. Saw a woman selling small chicks coloured in yellow, orange and pink in a basket. Three rupees each, she said. I quickly pulled out my camera. Was painful to see them like this! After lunch, me and S went to the forest again. The weather was a little humid, but there was breeze. It was not hot. This time, saw a dove nest and a small egg inside it. This forest is unlike the western ghats. It was a scrub jungle. I don’t know how many thorns pierced my skin as I waded through the forest. The place was full of thorns. We had a great five hours in the jungle.

We came back home and I made pasta for dinner. Thankfully, turned out to be very good! I was in the kitchen teaching Aslam how to make pasta. He said he will make it one day for these guys. I was listening to Aslam’s tale in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary as the pasta was getting ready. A great dinner, and a long conversation with R which lasted till morning. On where we want to travel, what we want to do..it is kind of nice when people can relate to you in so many ways. The next day morning, we had planned for a trek to Brahmagiri and then head to the unexplored forest. It was rather a cloudy morning when we started. On the way, we saw so many birds- a cormorant perched on a tree, many coots in water bodies, ducks. We stopped at a place..where there was a beautiful lake..and mountains.. I stood there watching the lake.
After a few minutes, we went our way further. I suddenly saw some weaver bird nests. Rahul, isn’t that weaver bird nest, I asked. Oh yes, Raheem, stop, he said. We walked towards the nest and saw the beautiful male bird hanging on the nest and flying to and forth, sometimes perched on brown maize grass. The bird was very attractive. It was a baya weaver. We spent almost half an hour near the nest..it was very tough to capture them on camera, but we tried.
As we went our way further, Raheem stopped. Snake, he pointed out at a small snake on the ground. It was a dead snake. Looks like someone has killed it, Rahul said. We put a small agarbatti next to it and walked. We then went to a temple..Raheem said they serve food free of cost. We did not carry anything and we were hungry. We went to the temple, thankfully people were speaking Hindi. I spoke to one sadhu there, who said there was some Reddy baba who meditated here for 12 years. He passed away three years back and this temple was built in his memory. We got one laddoo for ourselves. Temporary relief from hunger! We then headed to the place where lunch was being served. I had never done this before, but there are always firsts in life..We went to get food. The food was extremely hot n spicy. Sumant and me had tears in our eyes as we were eating. Wait Sumant, buttermilk, let us get it. Fortunately they had buttermilk, we finished our lunch, washed our plates. Ufff yaar!! Sumant pulled out a packet of sunfeast biscuit. Give it to me also, I said. Aaj sunfeast ne bacha liya..We walked out of Reddy baba’s place and thought we should walk into the forest. We went ahead..there was a small patch of road leading into a path..we jumped out of the jeep and started walking into forest. We saw a flock of imperial green pigeons on a tree. It was an awesome sight to watch! A bunch of butterflies sat on the ground. We walked close and took some pictures. Let us sit here and watch some birds, Rahul said. We sat in the middle of the forest. It was the most amazing time of my life. I loved every second of it. After spending long time there, we walked again and took another route. We saw a narrow winding road and walked again to another part of the forest.
Though they were a part of eastern ghats, they were not scrub jungle. Verdant green with tall lemon grass, the walk into the forest was a memorable experience. We saw a pile of bones left by a leopard. A small purple butterfly hovered around me, guiding me till we got out of the forest. It was a thrilling moment. The feeling in my heart cannot be expressed in words, definitely not. It is more like experiencing being in the abode of nature, breathing medicinal plants, the aroma that wafts through trees, through the wind...there is only silence.. Like my friend says, I feel safe and secure in forest. I feel the same! I am never scared here. I know nature will protect me. After spending a lot of time in the forest, we came back. It was soon time for me to leave. As I left the mountains, I had tears in my eyes. I had no heart to leave the place. I made a promise to the mountains, to come back and be in their shelter, to feel protected!
Living in a small town, with simple, loving and helping people was a humbling experience. It doesn't take much to be happy, not a lot of money, not great luxuries. The simpler the life is, the better it gets. :)