Travel

Valparai

Paradigm lost, Panthera Tigris found

On December 5, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had passed away. The city of Chennai came to a screeching halt for 24 hours. The stillness was eerie. It didn’t help that we were already dealing with demonetization, the government’s mischievously impotent strategy to fight corruption. It was a stressful day. But it was nothing compared to how the city would look a week later.

On December 12, we were bruised by the state’s worst cyclone ever. The wind was howling at speeds of 150 kilometers per hour. Roofs and panels were getting blown away. Glass windows shattered, trees uprooted, and power lines disrupted. Ten people died. Many livelihoods were lost. It was our second consecutive winter of managing a calamity. Last year, we were put through a flood crisis. It has not been a good winter for us so far.

I won’t ever forget it. But it isn’t because nothing eventful ever happens in the city. Or because I live in a third world country in which the progress is adjudged on the seamless accessibility of Starbucks and 4G. It is because I finally spotted wild cats during the first weekend of this month.

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Crested Serpent Eagle, Valparai

Solo travel: The low frequency sound of silence

I travel alone to the hills because it’s how I want to experience the world for now. It’s not as though I am one with the sand and the sky or anything fancy like that. I just feel interconnected to the sum of their moving parts. It also lends itself more to discoveries, life-changing or merely chimerical. The more people I am surrounded with – the less likely I am to feel the pulse of the environment. And it’s not just because how loud and obnoxious they can be.

Exploring a town, a village or the woodlands is an exercise in self-centeredness. I couldn’t be more self-absorbed. If one travels with like-minded folks, it can be a delightful experience. A sharing of primordial sensibilities and digestible proportions of love and laughter.

However, with the wrong individuals, travelling can be stressful. A nuisance like no other.

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Southern Flying Lizard, Valparai

The lizard or the panther?

I used to obsess over spotting wild cats in their natural habits. Leopards, tigers or jungle cats, it didn’t matter. I would feel like a fortunate son of the earth as long as it had whiskers. While I gave up the search in favour of bird-watching, the felidae family members continued to haunt me.

Even now, when I explore the hills of south India, I keeps my ears open for an untamed roar. A guttural cough maybe. Any sign that a darling of the feline variety is on the prowl.

I haven’t seen a single one though. Just pug-marks and poop. But I can’t complain. I have had the privilege of seeing many other gorgeous beasts. Considering that I am not a conservationist or a census assistant, I should just shut up and consider myself a lucky bastard.

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Indian Sloth Bear, Meghamalai

Bear mountain blues: Meghamalai

Does the journey really matter more than the destination? It sounds like a consolation prize to me. Why must I emotionally invest in a process when I can figure out what my goals are, and do what I can to achieve them? Last week’s visit to the Meghamalai mountain range left me with some answers. A lot more questions too.

The drive from the foothills of Chinnamanur to this esoteric paradise is a rocky but calming one. Only bird calls and cicada songs interrupt the quietude. Yet there’s excitement in the air. Always the promise of rare fauna lurking by the roadside. But for three winters, Meghamalai had me on a streak of bad luck. As bio-diverse as the range is, it had seemed barren to me.

Last weekend, things changed. I spotted a large Sloth Bear on a balding cliff side. He saw me too. And nobody got hurt.

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It’s okay to cry over spilled milk sometimes

* Apologies for accidentally disabling the comments on this post

I may not travel to space,
breast-fed on oxygen and love,
in my lifetime but
I can moonlight for milk stains
on star-lit skies.

While in Kodaikanal a few months ago, a friend showed me something up in the skies I had only seen once before as a child. Just before the stroke of midnight, Arun Venkataswamy – a talented photographer and astronomy junkie – and I went for a stroll to gaze at the stars. He hurriedly pointed towards a section of the sky above a canopy of trees.

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Vattakanal

Wake up and smell her paintings

It was a quiet morning in Kodaikanal.

The forest was still and its citizens – cuddling in the mist. The trees looked like silhouettes of ballerinas. And out came the sun with a mild splash to wash the darkness away. It held hostage our dreams in small proportions and our love for infinite space.

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Indian Roller

To believe is to see: Southern Indian Roller

One summer night, they held hostage
a darkly sky and the square root of Pi;
their only ransom – a family blue jays
basking in sunlight, like
caramelized lemon pies.

I haven’t had a conversation with Tio Stib outside of the comment sections in this blog. But I feel like I know him well enough to write about him. Tio, a writer and traveler, lost his eyesight late in his life but he soon found himself through a reignited passion for living.

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Great Hornbill, Valparai

The hills are alive with Hornbills

Even silence
is a song
in the hills,
leather is just skin
and fur is in vogue
only during the kill.

Valparai is a sleepy-eyed and fauna-rich town on the Anaimalai Hills range of the Western Ghats. It is one of the few hill stations in Tamil Nadu that is not a total ecological disaster. In the two days that I spent over there in January, I had lady luck dipping a hot-cross bun in a cup of lemon tea and giggling with me.

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Shikra, Perungudi

A freak of nature on a leash

Shikra , Choolaimedu

Shikra, Choolaimedu

It seems as though it is only our species that is fixated on celebrating its ability to adapt. We treat it as though it is a triumph of the human spirit. We sometimes feel entitled to it. Most tellingly, we pretend like it is within the realm of our control. As though our instincts are not governed by laws set in motion millions of years ago.

We swam away from the ocean, learned how to walk upright, invented the wheel and even decided to use currency to climb atop the food chain. If we had not changed, periodically and holistically, we would not have survived.

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Indian Gaur vs Kid, Valparai

Man vs beast: Carpe diem, baby

Indian Gaurs, the largest bovine species in South East Asia, are magnificent creatures. They live like retired Mafia bosses in reserve forest areas in and around the hill stations. They coexist harmoniously with the locals in nearby areas. But conflicts do arise.

A year ago, while driving from Valparai to Thrissur (in the state Kerala), I saw an alpha male Indian Gaur trampling the crops at a tea plantation. At a distance, the caretaker and his son were assessing scare tactics to chase it away. After a short discussion, the kid armed himself with a log of wood and a large stone. He seemed to approach the Gaur with confidence yet caution.

He flayed his arms with panache, waving the stick like Gandolf in a street fight. The beast stopped grazing to look up for a few seconds. The kid inched closer, holding the stick higher in the air.

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