A monsoon day in Agumbe.

 

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Early in the morning

 

Visiting a rainforest has always been on my wish list. One of my childhood fantasies  (fueled by Robin Cook’s Congo), was to discover something unique and useful, like some magic herb or a new species of animal, watching giant man eating plants in their gory splendor, living off fresh forest produce, finding beautiful waterfalls and living in handmade tree houses or old forgotten log cabins. Sort of Tarzan, Anaconda and Robinhood rolled into one. Of course as age and logic grew, (or so I would like to assume, atleast in the case of logic), the fantasies sobered down to real ones of camping in the wilds keeping as much distance as possible from the reptile species!

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Most of these ideas used to float around in my brain when we would be travelling between destinations and all that was available to see out the car or bus window would be dark, unpenetrable forests for miles on end. Those were times when cars had rudimentary stereos, buses were basic and we did not have the luxury of earphones!

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can you spot the waterfall far far away

Travelling from Mangalore to Shimoga entailed crossing the Western ghats from Agumbe. This was one leg of the journey which was considered with a bit of apprehension. We would make sure to climb down the mountains when there was broad daylight, and kids would be asked to sit quiet for the fear of disturbing the driver. We would suddenly see some animals in the wild, darting across the road in a blink and you miss kind of way, probably as startled by us, as we were of them.  Over  years of deforestation, the stretch became infamous more for the Naxal movement rather than the wild animals crossing our paths.

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Is it not a great place for a tree house? 

 

 

As kids, the half hour journey down the ghats would seem twice as long and scary. This was probably why I failed to appreciate the wonder existing right before my eyes, all the while fantasizing about something way beyond.

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a hair pin bend
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Agumbe lake

Now the forests are threadbare, and there seem to be noisy people and plastic strewn around everywhere. But come monsoon, every year, the Western ghats become a sight of abundant lush green beauty. I now understand at least a bit of the anxiety with which the environmentalists rue the the loss the natural habitats. To lose such beauty to deforestation seems a crime deserving life imprisonment. And paradoxically, this makes Agumbe more beautiful for me. I feel that I should savor its beauty for as long as we allow it to be, and try in any possible way to help preserve a gem existing literally in our backyards before we lose it forever.

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Agumbe is a small village nestled in the midst of the Western ghats in Shimoga district of Karnataka. Till recently, it owned the unique distinction of being called the “Chirapunji of the south”, because it received the highest rainfall in the whole of South India. A title it seems to be fast losing, due to declining rainfall in this region.

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Agumbe village

The forest is home to about  150 species of frogs and 85 of snakes  (who knew there were so many types) and still counting. Apart from these, it is home to other animals like monkeys, langurs , hornbills, leopards and flying lizards.

The village has a rustic charm and seems to be stuck in a time warp, only broken by the addition of kurkure packets of varied colors hanging from most tiny shops! This charm made for its choice as the famous “Malgudi” in R.K.Narayan’s famous serial Malgudi days.

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The house where Malgudi days was shot

This time, when I got a chance to go to Mangalore, I was prepared. To enjoy the green and the charm that is Agumbe. And enjoy I did.  I now wish for a log cabin in Agumbe, where I am doing some ecological conservation work. Me and my day dreams!

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Monsoon, yet again!

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It is that time of the year again. This morning, I opened my eyes my eyes to heavy grey skies. Granted that the monsoon has officially entered India about a month ago. But just like a painting whose beauty cannot be appreciated at the beginning, and develops gradually over time, so also the monsoon!

After one wave of heavy rains, its fury had abated for sometime. Giving room for the green to bloom.

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I feel that the rains have moods and feelings. And so also, the place where it rains. For example, I have experienced the rain in London. (Thinking about it, that’s the only country apart from India,where I have experienced the rain). London looks gloomy, upset and sort of ill when it rains. As if it is in a surly mood.

But in India, it is a different story. The rain positively makes everything bloom. And glow. And happy. And Vibrant. I could go on. The green seems to materialize from anywhere and everywhere. Like the cracks between the road and in the walls of dilapidated buildings. Like the green layer of moss that grows on the zinc sheet roofing. Entwined, on the electric poles. On the barks of half dead rotting tree trunks.

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Different shades of green. Literally like a “habba” as they say in kannada. A festival of sorts. Celebrating the arrival of the rains.

Granted that persistent rains have some associated nuisance value too. Especially in a city.Think dirty pavements, dengue ridden puddles, the wet smell of clothes which refuse to dry and muddy footprints on your just mopped floor.

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But just getting out of the city, you experience a seachange in the way you enjoy the rain. Pristine green countryside, green expanse of farms and fields extending into the horizon and waterfalls abound.

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All you feel like is to cycle to some place far far away, settle down under some random tree, listen to good music and watch the rain kiss the earth. Bliss!

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Enjoy the pics and have a great weekend!

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Describing the indescribable- Pangong Tso

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There are times in our life, when we are left searching for words to fill in a near adequate description. And failing. Pangong Tso, is one such experience. Whether to call it a lake or an experience is confusion enough. No adjective is adequate enough to describe the sight of it or the over whelming feeling that goes with it. Yet, let me try my best to tempt everyone to get rid of any inhibitions and get going on the next flight to Leh, before you get too old to combat the altitude sickness!

Not a journey meant for the queasy or soft bummed, a five hour drive on one of the scariest and weirdest roads lead you to Pangong Tso (by the way, ‘tso’ is lake in Ladakhi- and I really love the way it sounds, so Tso it is!). Weirdest because, the landscape changes from one extreme to the other within the span of a few kilometers.

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You just get used to seeing endless barren brown mountains, when with the sudden flick of nature’s fingers, you see really rocky ones (the kind that scare you of an avalanche). This is followed by snow capped peaks near the Changla pass, which is then replaced by dusty ones which blow sand storms. Suddenly, from nowhere are green closed valleys with boggy streams, which are home to handsome, sleek stallions –right in the middle of nowhere leading to nowhere! The valley then turns into a grey sandy desert followed by another green stretch filled with half mongoose half dog like creatures called marmots!Phew!

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Marmots!

 

 

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Boggy streams, with the horses far away!

 

The weather is equally quirky- as if playing with us! One moment you are huddled in sweaters with the windows of the car drawn up to the next, when you are fanning yourself hard with the sleeve of your sweater and then suddenly you are wishing fervently that you have not left your windcheater behind in the hotel!

The only solace all through the journey is provided by the driver stopping over at a small joint for some very much needed and equally yummy honey ginger tea near the Paagal Naala bridge( apparently called so, owing to the difficulty in assessing  the moods of the stream!).

Just when you are resigned to watching the whole spectrum of browns around you-BAM-you are zapped with a sudden sparkle of vibrant blue visible from between the mountains. A blue that is so dazzling that it blinds- the first sight of Pangong between the mountains.

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Pangong means “High Grassland Lake” in Tibetian. Situated between three lands, India, China and Tibet, we get only one third of the lake which then flows into Chinese territory. The line of Control runs somewhere in between the 134 kilometer long lake which is almost five kilometers at its broadest and situated about 14270 feet above sea level.

Seeing Pangong lake can turn an atheist into a staunch believer in God. I say this because, though most things appear to have a scientific backing, there are things which are so extra ordinary that they almost seem impossible.

Take for instance the fact that it is a SALT water lake! Apparently because there is no outlet for the water,  and so salt deposits have built up over the years.

Or the fact that though there are almost NO fish or aquatic creatures in the lake, there are hordes of Brahminy ducks, geese and sea gulls cackling around  looking extremely well fed and healthy! What do they even eat???

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Or the fact that the lake even got formed, because Ladakh gets almost no rain! So how did so much water happen to be?

And the best  lies in the changing colors of the lake which very much looks like the shade card of asian paints. Suddenly vibrant blue to suddenly green to turquoise and then a moody angry grey in a span of two hours –a visual feast.

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I can count atleast five shades of blue in this pic!

You suddenly realize that you are really miniscule in nature’s scheme of things, and begin to understand the vastness of the universe! Though there were a minimum of two hundred tourists around, there was such a sense of tranquility. The others seem so far away and no sound reaches you apart from the soft lapping of the crystal clear waters on the shore.

The only regret about the trip was that we could not stay back to see the sunrise or the sunset, which are supposed to be spectacular! And the fact that, at the beginning of the summer, the lake is still frozen enough that you can have dinner sitting on it (if you are willing to risk a frost bitten back side).

Nevertheless, Pangong Tso, seems as close to heaven as it gets…or probably is actually a small piece of heaven that God sent for us as a sample! Truly, the indescribable!

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Cycling in Pondicherry

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There are certain memories in life which stay with you vivid and clear. You remember even the smallest details of the memory as distinctly as if it just happened. Oxford, UK was one such memory. I was hardly eleven at that time, but it still made an enormous impact. The majestic stone buildings with ivy climbing on to the walls, the mild chill in the air, people casually walking into cafes with satchels slung on their backs, neat tidy rows of houses which looked similar to each other,just as though they had stepped off the rack of a toy store, cobbled roads, and CYCLISTS.

In India, the only people whom I knew cycled were us school kids, and people who could not afford a better means of transport! That cycling would be a preferred vehicle of choice for professors, students who actually owned cars to ferry them back to their hometown and even really old people, was something I could not fathom.The way they locked their cycles with chains to the parking place oh so casually impressed me. And to know that they called their cycles “bikes”,a word, which in India meant a motor cycle, made it sound ever so cool!

We generally outgrow most of the fetishes of our childhood as we mature, or so I believe. My love for cycling was something which stubbornly but secretly stuck on. Secretly because, generally and practically speaking in most towns of cities in India, we do not encounter doctors or bank managers or teachers or chartered accountants whiz away on their cycles for work. I am not saying this as a snob. It is just reality. And staying right across from the place where I work takes away from me, the freedom to rebel against this cliche!  On occasion, I have also had his fear of being branded as a “weird” shrink(I do worry about my practice, you see) if I did go against the norm! I also do not live in a place like Bengaluru, where cycling in super stylish cycling gear complete with a helmet and radium piping, would be considered cool. I would be stared at on the road, as if I were a two headed alien who had suddenly landed on this earth!

Hence, sadly,my love for the bicycle remained in the closet for long into my adulthood. I would vow to myself that, when I went to Amsterdam, I would cycle to my hearts content( maybe, going to Amsterdam would be so expensive that I could only afford to cycle across!).

Till, I went to Pondicherry. It was surprising to see cycling still existed as a prominent means of transport for both the young and the old, saree wearing aunty to an expat!

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Even more exited to hear of a cycling tour of Pondicherry, offered by Sita Cultural center which is a one stop shop for everything you want to do.From scuba diving to bollywood dancing to cooking lessons, this hole in the wall, blue, building which I failed to find despite whizzing by it thrice, is a hub for all adventure.

cycle tour

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And so my adventure started at 6 in the morning with my guide Manisha and a cycle.

To start the day cycling into the small gullies of Pondicherry was not on my agenda when I went, but I really ended up enjoying my sojourn. Pondicherry is divided into a tamil quarter, a french quarter and a muslim quarter. I have no idea what the last quarter of the whole comprises of!Maybe the christian quarter(just to round off the national integration part).

And this is what I saw

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Large houses built in Chettinad style with embroidery like wooden  panels adorning them. These were houses of Soldas, the Muslim tamils who worked in the Portugese army. They were given a dual citizenship, based on which most of the descendants are now staying in Europe, and come only in the month of July for trading in spice. Rest of the time, the houses are restored and maintained as they were hundreds of years ago!

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That the buildings in Pondicherry are colour coded. For example, the Aurobindo institutes are grey in color, the Government buildings are yellow, the French buildings are orange and the like.

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For the film buffs,this is the house where the crew of “The life of Pi” stayed during the shoot.

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An artist’s depiction of how to make the best of waste! Made out of plastic bottles he found in the trash.He also apparently made a sculpture of a huge boat with people depicting how the city was saved during the tsunami.

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Courtyards with a beautiful mix of French style architecture and the very Indian rangoli blending smoothly with each other

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Temples on the roadside with fierce looking Goddesses, not yet open for the day’s prayers

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The beautiful sunrise, yet again.

Huge cathedrals, mosques and temples residing in harmony, with devotees quietly going about their business.

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A bakery with fresh morning produce.

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Fisherman's wharf.

I enjoyed myself so much, that ending the ride was saddening. But as the saying goes, "When you want something badly enough, the universe conspires to give it to you”, I discovered a cycling club back home.So despite the lack of coffee shops, designer gear and Victorian buildings,now, every weekend I relive the memories of my childhood, cycling early in the morning with the wind gushing on my face and drinking tea from the dhaba on the roadside. Fair enough deal, if I could say so!

The many moods of monsoon.

It is finally monsoon again. After playing truant for nearly a month, it has started pouring cats and dogs. And how the landscape changed! Trees that were wilting have suddenly sprouted green. Stone paved paths suddenly have grass nudging from their edges. The skies are grey, waiting to open up at any moment. Suddenly, there are cranes aplenty pecking their way through green expanses of paddy without a care for the poor soggy scare crows, farmers working in the rain with plastic raincoats and sheets of rain making the road gleam.

The earth smells fresh and green. Forests look lush and waterfalls erupt onto roads as if to please us. Clouds float low and make travel seem dream like.

I love rain in its many forms. I love the slight drizzly kind, when the wind blows chill and you get rain in your hair, and you can walk in the rain without getting fully drenched. Long walks in such rain rejuvenate me. I also love the angry kind when the sky suddenly decides to open up and pour barrels on poor unsuspecting me, and before I realize it and can open my umbrella, it is done. I am soaking wet and still standing with the umbrella half open! It used to happen all the time in Mangalore, and used to come at the end of a hot spell which made me hot, sweaty and irritable. And there is also the insistent, consistent middle of the path rain which keeps on for hours at the same speed, neither too much nor too less. Granted, life becomes depressing then, but on the positive side, this is the best for plonking myself on the ledge of a window with a hot cup of tea, a great book and roasted corn.

If there is anything I enjoy more than rain itself, it is the opportunity of travelling during monsoons. This time, I had the pleasure of traveling along the almost virgin forests of Gerusoppa in Uttara Kannada district for the upanayanam of my nephew. I was so zapped by the natural beauty around me, that I did not want to blink for the fear of missing out something more beautiful. No words can do justice to what God, or nature or some supreme power out there decided for the world during the rains.

Hence the photographs. Enjoy the many moods of monsoon.

The elephant camp at Sakrebail, was wet and beautiful. The elephants seemed to be good spirits with the cold weather, and did not mind visitors.

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Sudden rains marooned a motor boat in the water. Looks exciting, like a wreck with treasures, waiting to be explored.

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A sudden burst of green along a paved path.

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The sight of the grey skies. The silver lining behind the clouds. donotwanttoblinkable!

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The back waters of the river Aganashini.

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Can you see the water fall on top, between the trees? A lovely view of Gerusoppa ghats.

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A walk in the clouds…

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There is small, old, slippery, mossy stairway leading to a lookout point just at the beginning of the mountain road. The top is really filthy, but the view more than makes up for it!

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Green carpet of paddy for miles and miles.

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DSC_0220A lovely temple pond with still mint green waters.

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