Showing posts with label Tholpetty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tholpetty. Show all posts

Sounds in the Dark

Crickets chirped and frogs croaked in the dark moonless night. Vinay and I lounged outside the little cottage at the edge of the Tholpetty Forest (part of Western Ghats Rain Forests of India), soaking up these sounds.
Suddenly the melody of the night was interrupted by the sharp alarm call of a Chital (Spotted Deer). As I floundered in the dark for the sound recorder and switched it on, the alarm calls continued. After eight such calls, convinced that all the other denizens of the forest have been adequately warned, the Chital fell silent. The entire forest seemed to be on alert, listening and watching for the events that might unfold.

We saw our host, the owner of the cottage where we stayed, tiptoeing away into the night. On seeing us, he told us excitedly it was an alarm call for the King of the Jungle - Tiger. We joined him in the silent expedition to the edge of his farm, bordering the forest. Once again we heard the alarm call of a Chital; this time it was much closer and was a single call followed by an unmistakable grunt.

The tiger must have been very close when it was discovered; that explains the single call before the Chital sprinted away from imminent danger and tiger’s grunt of disappointment for having his cover blown yet again.

Few minutes later, a twig snapped perhaps a hundred meters from where we stood. “Did you hear it? Tiger is now less cautious and is no longer stalking, as he knows his presence has been discovered. If it was wet season, we could have tracked the pug marks in the morning, but now there won’t be any clues left on the fallen leaves and dry grass”. Our wildlife enthusiast host was every bit familiar with this landscape.  Though we could hardly see our own feet in the dark, we could clearly ‘see’ what was happening around us by listening to the language of the forest. We felt truly connected to Nature through a common language that is beyond words and is far more impressive.
Listen to these sounds of Tholpetty forest by clicking this text.

Especially the sounds in the dark seem to have a mysterious quality to them, which I came to relish as a child living in a farm house. Decades ago, on an eventful night, the sound of flapping wings outside my window woke me up. I remember lying awake in my bed, listening and wondering what might be the big bird outside my window and why does it seem to be flying around in circles.

The sounds that followed bewildered me even more. There was a ‘thud’ on my closed window, followed by ‘scratching’! It didn’t take me long to realize that something had squeezed through the gap in the iron window and is now scratching away at the nylon mesh. Before I could react, there was a soft thump on my bed; impact of some creature landing right where I was sleeping!

I jumped off my bed and flicked on the lights…click…click…nothing happened! There was no electricity! It was pitch-dark. There were no more wing flaps or the scratching and the only sound I could hear was the crazy thumping of my own heart.  Just wanting to get out of there, I found my way out of the room and closed the door behind me. However fearful thoughts kept nagging me: “What if that creature had also crept out of the room along with me and is behind me right now?”

I stumbled across to kitchen and managed to find a matchbox and a candle. As I lighted it, the little flame flickered and bravely fought back the engulfing darkness. I sat in the drawing room and contemplated my next move. Courage and logical thinking were the highly praised virtues in my family and the last thing I wanted to do was run into my parents’ bed room like a scaredy-cat, screaming “A demon got into my room”!

Even at the age of nine, I was sure that there was a perfectly logical explanation for all this. I kept asking myself “What type of creature has big wings that make flapping sound as it flies in circles during the night? How could it suddenly shrink itself and squeeze through a small gap in my window? Why would it target me?” My mind drew a blank on these questions. I continued to listen attentively for a long time and all I could hear was the big wall clock ticking away and few mosquitoes that were delighted to find unexpected company in the middle of the night.

I must have drifted off to sleep on the sofa, when I woke up the light was streaming through the windows and birds were singing.  My parents were surprised to find me dozing in the drawing room. I put forth the last night’s puzzle before them and my father was convinced that the wing flaps were from a fruit bat which perhaps flew around the cherry tree, eating those fruits. That didn’t answer the question of who jumped on my bed after squeezing through the window and scratching through the nylon mesh. When we examined the mesh, we saw a small hole and my mother was aggrieved that a mouse had got into the house yet again! Perhaps the ‘thud’ I heard came from an owl that pursued the mouse, forcing its prey to escape into my bed room.  On seeing the owl the bat might have fled the scene, which explains why the wing flaps stopped soon after. That night the creature that had struck terror into my heart was caught – a little mouse! It was three different creatures of the night that had caused the sounds that frightened me and I could not find the answer because I was trying to link all the sounds to a single one! I knew then to appreciate the mystery of sounds in the dark and found a new perspective on listening to the sounds of nature.

Special Mention: Thanks to Ron Harton for publishingn this blog on his website: NatureWriting.

Trees that Watch Us

Recently Vinay and I trekked in Tholpetty forest with a local guide. Tholpetty forest is part of Waynad, Western Ghats. This forest is adjoining Nagarahole forest and is located in Kerala.
Tholpetty - Waynad
On entering the forest, we struggled to walk without stepping over the dry leaves that were scattered on the forest floor. We had to be as silent as possible so that we do not unduly advertise our presence to other denizens of the forest. This was even more important in this trek as we had seen more than half a dozen lone Tuskers on the previous  evening. 
Lone Tusker
However, this proved more difficult than I had anticipated: every few steps I invariably stepped over a dry teak leaf that crunched loudly under my feet. A troupe of Langurs watched us from their tree top perches and they seemed to wonder what we are up to in their forest.
We came across trees that had notches in their bark, resembling an eye. These notches or “eyes” might have been created when old branches had fallen out from the trunk of the tree. Our guide mentioned that tribal folks salute these trees with reverence; they believe these ‘trees with eyes’ always watch out for them and their forests. The way he looked at these trees with part reverence and part hesitation, convinced us he would have saluted the trees just like a tribal man, if it wasn’t for our presence.
Eye-shaped notch on the bark
As we progressed westwards into the deep jungle, the canopy of the trees grew thicker and the ferns covered the jungle floor. A stream was murmuring somewhere nearby and the air was filled with the chorus of Green Barbets, interjected by the calls of Malabar Grey Hornbills. As we carefully picked our way across a wet and slippery nullah, we came across elephant footprints that looked as though somebody had dug holes that were a foot in depth and a foot in diameter.  Water standing in the these footprints was still muddy indicating the elephant had passed here within the last few hours. There was a single set of these footprints; probably they belonged one of the lone tuskers we had seen in the previous evening.
Just as we were about to continue on our trek, we noticed the pug mark of a tiger, evidently just a few minutes old, as the grass that had bent where the tiger had tread, had not sprung back yet.  In fact, when our guide pointed out, we noticed there were two sets of tiger pug marks, one slightly smaller than the other. This was undoubtedly the queen of the jungle with her cub. It was no longer wise to continue on the same track, as a tigress with her cub tends to be very aggressive. We turned back, thrilled that we got so close to the queen of the jungle and walked where she had just walked; slightly disappointed that we could not meet her;  thankful that these majestic creatures still roam the forests.
Tiger Cub Pugmark
We had retraced a few steps, when I heard a strange clattering sound in close quarters and I stood still, only to hear this sound echoed from other corners of the forest. It was a sound of trepidation and seemed to stand out from the rhythm of the forest. When I looked back, Vinay was pointing at the towering giant of a tree.  I had to scan the tree for some time, before I could see the owner of this sound, who was demurely hiding behind the leafy branches, contrary to the bold calls he had just produced. This Malabar Giant Squirrel high up in the towering tree directly above us, was the one who had given these alarm calls, which was unfailingly reciprocated by his friends far and wide. He was clearly saying "Be Alert, Be Alert" in his language. Was he sounding this alarm for us or for the tigress?
In the forests, when we watch with the eyes of the forest folks and hear with their ears, every sight and sound has an enthralling story to tell.
On our way back, when we met the trees with eyes that watched us, we instinctively saluted them with a silent prayer in our heart... "Please keep the tigress and her cub safe... May this forest remain a forest forever..."

We were not yet out of the forest cover, but the magic of the forest was rudely intercepted by the sprawling plantations lined with electric fencing. Forest trees cut and cleared away to grow tea or coffee... a mixture of chemicals like copper sulfate and different varieties of weedicides used carelessly... all so that we humans can enjoy our beverages... if your question is "so what?", not to mention the irreparable damage to the delicate ecosystem of our Western Ghats, these chemicals are invariably washed down in the Monsoon rains and join our rivers which supply drinking water to us. Are we sacrificing clear and clean drinking water just for drinking coffee and tea? This is just one of the many examples where our actions are affecting the earth.

Coffee plantations lined with electric fence
The planet will survive and evolve as it has done for billions of years, but what about us? Who is more susceptible to global warming and depleting ozone?
Though our traditions are derived from paganism and our ancestors worshiped Nature, today we hardly take note of how our actions affect our planet that has always given us everything we need. It is not just the trees that watch us, it is the planet earth itself watching us now.
We are currently exploring some ideas on how we can help and here I have to mention Sanctuary Asia (a leading magazine on Nature and Conservation in India). Fortunately, there are some people who believe our destiny is intricately linked with our natural heritage and tigers themselves and are working tirelessly in this direction, here is the link to explore: