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Thursday, May 14, 2009


Editor's Comment: First off, Adu wishes to apologise for the undue delay in publishing his trip report. This trip was made on April 21, 2009, Adu's 11th birthday, and he managed to finish this report only today.

Second, I am officially turning over this blog to Adu and will only assist him in publishing it as his stenographer/secretary. The photographs will remain mine but all text content and sketches are his.

NOTE: For some reason, I was unable to upload the pictures. This blog will be updated as soon as I can resolve that problem.

On my 11th birthday, we decided to go to Ranganthittu, with two grandmothers, two grandfathers and one set of parents. In the morning, I had cut the cake, received an ample sum of money, and at 9:00 a.m. was ready to get into the car. It was a hired vehicle, and it stood gleaming dully next to the house. While mamma and Ajji sat in the back, everybody else sat in front and daddy and me sat next to the driver. We started off and soon got out of the city.

"Shall we go through the NICE road?" asked the driver in Kannada. "Mmm, yes", replied daddy. "I find it much easier." "Why is it called the nice road?" I asked, intrigued. "The abbreviation of the name of the company that built this road is N-I-C-E," said daddy. "Oh!" I said.

We soon reached a place where we had to buy a ticket from a guard, who, quite, frankly, looked as though someone had whacked him on the head with an exceptionally heavy brick. "Where are you going?" he asked dully. "Ranganthittu," said the driver and daddy in unision. The next man, in contrast, was reasonably bright, and we bought another ticket. Then we sped off again only stopping to buy some chips and cool drinks. We reached Ranganthittu much later and stepped out of the car to a simply symphony of birdsong, and, looking through my new binoculars, found a red-vented bulbul. I watched him for sometime, then daddy came and I gave him the binoculars. He frowned through them and then gave them back to me. "Look at that bush," he said pointing "and tell me if it's a magpie robin or a pied wagtail." "It's a pied wagtail," I said looking at the glossy little bird fluttering around optimistically. After that I followed a noisy little Blyth's reed warbler, which chucked surprised and with some difficulty around a huge berry.

Then daddy gave an exclamation and I looked up to see a painted stork flying majestically carrying nest material in its bill.

We wandered down to the water's edge where we got a boat to ourselves. I sat down in the front and looked around. The boat rocked from side to side alarmingly as the forest guard got in. He sat in the seat behind me and with apparent ease, picked up the heavy oars and started rowing off and soon there were many birds all around. On a small isle which seemed rather overcrowded to me, paddy birds rubbed shoulders with egrets, painted storks and open billed storks, while below, on the ground, where he could not reach the nesting birds, lay, with his (or her) mouth open, the first crocodile in the wild that I had seen. With practised ease, the forest guard rattled off the names of the birds on the island and then pointed out the crocodile.

Then we went off and next came to a strip of rock on which two river terns huddled together despite the heat. White Ibises kept a respectful distance from the bigger birds among which were darters or snake birds. The forest guard was bent on calling the same bird both names. As I turned to see the birds, another one flew past our boat. "Darter or snake bird," repeated our forest guard in case we had missed the point. We returned to terra firma and had lunch.

After we had lunch, mamma asked if I wanted another boat ride. "Will it cost much?" I asked. "Mmm, no," she replied. I nodded. Ajji and Ajoba stayed behind while the rest of us went off to get a boat.

We got a boat and set off. We saw nothing quite exciting until we saw a pied kingfisher. This was a bird I had long wanted to see and saw it as soon as our guide pointed it out. It was going over the water in quick, zooming circles, occasionally veering off course. Then it suddenly stopped in midair, apparently gazing at the horizon, displaying an ability to stay in one place in the air, which I thought only hummingbirds possessed. Then, suddenly, it quite literally dropped. It dropped in a slanting line and dropped as a paper kite might drop, with a suggesting weight about it. But, somehow, it had an air of business and straightness about it it. It dived with a splash near a rock, and I flinched because I had noticed that for quite a distance around the rock, were underwater rocks, only a foot or so below the surface. It seemed to me that the kingfisher, descending from its great height, would smash into this and break its skull, not to mention its beak. However, it popped up again, apparently perfectly all right and hovered around for more fish. "Usually, you wont' see it after five o'clock," our guide told us. "Its got chicks, that's why it's so late."

We went back. The journey back home was anything but uneventful. The elements were determined to make the journey memorable one. There was a huge thunderstorm , and for the first time in my life, I felt my buttocks going to sleep. I think it was worth it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My Favourite Place to be - Finale

This is the third and last part of the series on B.R.Hills that has excerpts from Adu's diary. I got so much flak over my explanatory notes in the last two entries that I have decided that I will only introduce this update and stay silent.
Adu was thrilled over all your comments, oral and written (that I dutifully conveyed to him).
Excerpt from Adu's diary:
We went on the morning safari, but since we never saw anything, I shan't write about it. But we did go birdwatching and the first we saw was an ashy drongo. It is smaller than a crow and comes, unlike the crow, in many shades of black. It's underside is, unlike most drongos, pale grey. It has the typical forked tail and a curious glare. We heard the grey tit, a call like a sparrow's, magnified wonderfully. We saw the palebellied drongo, a drongo which is just like the ashy drongo, except for, as the name suggests, the snow white underside.
We also saw lots of grey wagtails which perched everywhere.
Then we went for the evening safari. That was when all the excitement happened. A pond on one side, and vegetation on the other. As we were going along, there was one elephant on the vegetation side. A female and she was alone. Then we saw the others, like pieces or rock moving. And then we moved forward. The elephants got together and pushed the babies behind and the elders in front, making a big, undestroyable wall in front of us. They sniffed each other, making sure there were no traitors, and their usually flapping, mobile ears had flattened themselves against their bodies.
Animal Planet had educated me well. It would not be the sort Valmik Thapar experienced, but I knew. They were going to charge. I was at the front, but I had turned fully around, kneeling on the seat. I would not have been surprised if my tongue was hanging out. Then the matriarch broke the formation. Ten tons of muscle, fat and a bone crushing trunk came running towards us faster than a chital. We zoomed down the path and waited. Then Narayan uncle looked at us and said: "The elephants or back home?" Mamma, me and daddy were all for the elephants. The Narayans were secretly hoping we would choose the elephants. Only Pappu uncle, Heena aunty, and Yash and Krusha opposed us. It was five against four. After much coaxing, Pappu uncle changed sides. 6 against 3. Yash started crying. Then daddy spoke in the way a general might a new cadet: "Yash, we're wasting time." (Editor's remark: Good lord! Do I sound like that?).

With the expression of an innocent man being led up to the gallows, Yash nodded. We went up beside the elephants. A smaller elephant, with the end of his trunk curled around some grass trumpeted and ran to us. He pushed his trunk towards us to shoo us away. The elephant trumpeted again. The Narayans leant back relaxing. They might have been sunning themselves on a beach. Then Yash started hyperventilating. "Uncle lets get home, lets get home," he whimpered. So we started. I pride myself on knowing that we went straight along the path that we were going, we would come to the camp. Then Narayan took a turn.
We went on for sometime and stopped. "Now," said Narayan uncle, "forget about sightings. Just look at the jungle. We stirred ourselves and looked about us. The beauty of it suddenly came down. No one had cut up the lantana but it grew sparsely. The canopy had grown, untamed, untouched. Untained by civilization. People describe twilight in the jungle as scary, but it wasn't. It was sleepy, peaceful. No real path. Only some dirt cut out of the flourishing vegetation. Narayan brought us back to the jeep by asking "Do you know where we are?" We nodded. "We are in the core zone," he said simply, grinning out at us, his grey eyes twinkling. I couldn't believe my ears. Centenarians have prayed for every moment of their lives just to get their wrinkled noses on the fringes of the legendary core zone. Then we saw our first bison.He was a bull. Never mind six pack abs, he had 18 pack abs. We came out of the core zone and then the third excitement of the evening came along.
A forest department vehicle had skidded and fallen into the ditch. After much unheeded shouting, the jeep was got out, it went on its way and we on ours.
In the excitement of the wildlife I have not told you what happened at the camp itself. In the first place were the pickpocket monkeys.
The pickpocket monkeys got their names because we gained their trust. We had a lot of monkeys in the camp and we fed them a few things. Bananas, bread, biscuits; everything worked. At first, we could only feed the big ones, because the little ones were either too scared or got chased away. But we soon learnt to be sneaky. One of us would feed the big ones, thus distracting them and another person would feed the little ones. The monkeys, slowly, warily became friendly. The underdogs, or rather the undermonkeys came first, until the whole troop accepted us.In their eyes we were now monkeys. I'm proud to say they trusted me first, so I saw a lot.
Another thing was the babies. They were cute, curious and extremely innovative. If you were lucky, you could catch them playing when all the tummies are full so that they could aford to be picky.
An adult would pick up a stick and finding nothing interesting about, it would fling it away. A baby would pick it up and all the babies would come over. On an impulse one baby would snatch the stick and run up a tree. The others would give shouts of apparent rage and race up the tree. And then the one with the stick would go down, where he would be rugby tackled and the next monkey who got it would again repeat the procedure until they all got tired and came to me for titbits. If they didn't find anything, they would do as their name suggests. One hand would hold the pocket open gingerly while the other hand would dig through the pocket, pulling out every last crumb.

By the end of our visit, I had become a part time member of "Tail-loss's" troop.
End Excerpt.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My favorite place to be - Part 2

The Biligirirangan Hills, or B.R.Hills in Mysore, was where we went on a short holiday. Adu's diary offers enticing information excerpts of which I'm posting here. This is the second part of this three-part series on the B.R. Hills.
There will be some photographs merely to showcase some of the world's most beautiful animals and birds but they will not detract from Adu's verbal portrait of the forest and its denizens. I reiterate that I have not corrected any part of his diary and have only edited sections which offered too long an explanation or description. For the most part, I have been truthful to the diary itself.

Excerpt from Adu's Diary: We came back and said thank you to the naturalists and lazed around for a bit. Yash and Krusha played TT (ping pong for my American friends), I wrote while Mamma and Heena aunty swapped stories. There was a nine-year-old boy there. He was rather short, so we assumed he was five and marvelled at how he played TT.
He was one of the rangers' sons and he was dressed like Mohammed Rafi, with black shoes, a black pant, a black shirt and bright red embroidered coat. "Oi! Mohammed Rafi?" called Pappu uncle. "Aiy!" said Heena aunty to Pappu uncle while frowning. "He is dressed like Mohammed Rafi!" protested uncle. They both stared at him and called "what's your age?" The boy returned a ball with natural ease and answered, to our surprise, "nine". Mamma, Pappu uncle, and Heena aunty put their heads together to discuss the fact that he was short, Yash and Krusha continued playing, daddy went to the tent, and I continued writing. Then, when we were all togther, we went to the bonfire. End Excerpt.

Mohammed Rafi was a very famous movie singer. His melodious voice is beloved of generations of Indians. One must forgive Adu this description since he has only heard of Mohammed Rafi and listened to some songs which have been played at home. He could not have known how Mohammed Rafi could have been dressed. Rafi was known to be a very soberly dressed individual and was never known to have sported flamboyant attire like that described by Adu.
Excerpt from Adu's diary: From a little way off, we could see the bonfire, a little red, glowing coal coloured something in the bonfire area. We walked along and ate food in the Gol Ghar. I finished first, and walked to the bonfire and pulled my chair as close to the bonfire and stared at the flames. My mind went blank and stayed blank, until someone interrupted me. "What's your name?" a small voice cried in Kannada. "What's your name first?" I countered.
"Ha! The last time we went to Jungle Resorts, also we met an Aditya," he said, as if I'd been following him around for no other purpose than to keep meeting him. End Excerpt.
Adu's name is Jayaditya and he's Adu only for those who know him well. He can be a little testy at times with other children of his own age.
Excerpt from Adu's diary: We sat for a moment in silence, then they left and I sat like a rock till a big boar trotted in and stiffened when he smelt me. I walked off and dragged everybody to the bonfire. It was a cozy gathering, with my feet resting on a snoozing dog. The little boy sitting on Narayan uncle's lap and everyone else forming a semi-circle around the fire. "What's his name?" asked Heena aunty suddenly. Narayan Uncle opened his mouth to answer, but the little boy cut across him quickly. "Adarsh", he said. "He answered before Narayan could give him another name," said daddy, his face half in the shadows. In order to get his revenge, Narayan went on, looking at Adarsh fondly, "His mother and brother both stay in Mysore, but he's always here. Know why?" he ended with a mischevious twinkle in his eye. Everybody nodded their heads and asked why. "Well," said Narayan uncle, "There's a little Soliga girl here..." "When did that happen?" asked Adarsh. The two of them had a silent scuffle in the dark, then everybody got up and went to sleep. End Excerpt.
Soligas are the hunter, gatherer tribes of the B.R. Hills forest range. Expert trackers and keen observers, they are known for their skill in collecting honey which is sold through a cooperative. A large tribal village exists very close to the Jungle Lodges camp but tourists are not allowed to disturb the tribals there. A few tribals may be found early in the morning during the morning safari with the children waving madly at the passing safari jeeps. If you happen to be there, please wave back. You will be rewarded with lovely smiles.

Excerpt from Adu's diary: The next morning, we went for the safari. We saw, to my surprise, a huge tusker with even huger tusks, with pink spots all over his forehead cmoing blurred and drunkenly down his trunk. For four or five minutes, he stood quietly, his trunk half-heartedly putting food into his mouth, but more after playing around with (for a human) the knee high vegetation. He fixed his intelligent, honey coloured eyes, with their black pupils on each of us, then on the entire party.

I turned my attention away from him and to what Narayan uncle was saying. "...and when he charged me," he shook his head and went on, "it was uphill, like this only -- when I think of it -- my heart stops for a moment. Then, two other jeeps came along and deciding that there was too much noise, the elephant turned and, with a brisk, purposeful walk, he set off on his own business, thank you very much.

If Veerappan had been alive, this tusker would have been the first to go to the happy browsing grounds. End Excerpt.

For those who are unaware of Veerappan, he was the most notorious poacher and sandalwood smuggler South India has ever known. In his long career as a poacher and smuggler, Veerappan was responsible for the deaths of several elephants, the denuding of the forests of highly prized sandalwood trees, and the deaths in encounters of several policemen who were sent to catch him or kill him. Veerappan was eventually shot dead in an ambush when he sought medical attention.

Excerpt from Adu's diary: That evening again, we went for the safari. The hill myna was haunting us again, but to make up for that, we saw a brown fish owl. While at Kabini, we had very nearly murdered Afsar for not showing us this bird.

The brown fish owl is a funny bird. It has deep brown feather tufts, the same color as its wings and back. Its chest and stomach are the colour of half-dried clay, with dark vertical lines. It has a white collar invaded by the regiments of streaks. The face is all grey, and two darker lines extend from the beak and slant over the eyes, giving the impression that it's frowing at you. The brown fish owl is the only owl which has bare legs. All other Indian owls have feathering up to their feet. We also saw the sparrow hawk. This one we saw was immature so its wings head and back had a deep brown and a striking pattern of grey. It took very keen eyes and constant alertness to spot it. The mature ones are with the same pattern, only the background is the blue of a sky before a storm. End Excerpt.

Still to come: Birdwatching, the elephant charge and the pickpocket monkeys.