The Spice of Life
When I lived in Kutch almost a decade ago, I was fascinated by the bird life there. It was hard to miss the large pink flamingos and the storks against the bleak landscape of the Rann. And finally I started noticing the many forms of life around me – both the big and obvious and the small and easy to miss. Meeting some excellent naturalists along the way has helped to increase my interest. What this translates into when I travel is that each journey is a lot more interesting.
In Kutch there were ornithologists who would name the birds just by hearing the call once, without even looking at the bird. It was certainly fascinating to be with them and now subconsciously I try to connect the bird and its call – my repertoire is still limited, of course.
Later in Karnataka, I was fortunate to do a naturalists training with the Chief Naturalist of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Karthikeyan. He visited us at one of our destinations to conduct a training programme for the village committee. I was trying to explain to them what a naturalist did, when he stepped in. We were in the guesthouse which was totally empty at that point. He looked around and pointed out several different types of spiders and explained a little about each of them. Suddenly
we were all noticing the many small insects that inhabited an empty building. Everyone automatically understood what a naturalist did.
Do insects creep you out? Do you prefer not to notice them? Well, then focus on the birds, the small animals, the flowers and the trees that are everywhere. Just keep your eyes and ears open. And slowly you will find that your travel experience is enhanced manifold.
While this is true for any travel, it is especially true if you are going to a forest area. Increasingly, tiger tourism has become very popular in India. The tiger is a magnificent cat and it is definitely a great thrill to sight it. Those who visit a tiger reserve and do not see a tiger come away feeling a bit cheated. Often they are so intent on seeing a tiger that they completely miss out on the many other species that cross their path.
I was once with a group of tiger fanatics – thankfully, we saw a tigress as soon as we entered the reserve. Even then, they were completely uninterested in the other species, however colourful and beautiful they were. We had a naturalist along who was very knowledgeable and showed us many birds that were beautifully camouflaged. The tiger fanatics were not impressed. They kept urging him to show another tiger.
I am at a complete loss to understand their thinking. Yes, the tiger is at the head of the food chain. If there are sufficient tigers in an area, you know that there is an ecological balance in the area. And that is why there is such a huge concern about depleting tiger numbers. However, the tiger will not survive unless all the other species do. So in a tiger reserve, you will get a rich biodiversity. If you have gone all the way there, you might as well appreciate it.
The Chaos Is Their Order
There was a time when afforestation programmes focussed on planting one species of a tree repeatedly. Time has shown this to be an incorrect policy. Of course, it looks good and neat to have the same species grow in straight lines. But it completely messes up the ecology of the area.
Nature is such a beautiful mix of order and chaos that if you look closely, a whole new world opens up. For example, look at a grove of trees. At first sight it is a bunch of trees growing all higgledy-piggledy. Look closer at any one tree. There is a definite pattern to how the leaves are laid out. The leaves themselves have a beautiful symmetry. If there are flowers, they have yet another pattern hidden in their colours. Of course, to notice all that, you need to look up from whatever is that latest gadget you are holding. The complete experience is to use all senses wherever possible – smell, sight, feel, sound. Go easy on the taste, though!
Recently I visited the village of Verlem in South Goa. With me were two insect experts. The entire time we were in Verlem, it rained heavily. Yet, these two were very excited to be there. It turns out that butterflies come out during the breaks in the rain and that is often the best time to study them. I certainly did not expect that. A whole new aspect was added to my appreciation of biodiversity during that trip.
Overall, I prefer animals, birds and trees to be of a size and colour that I can sight easily. But once you start to spot the smaller creatures, you realize just how fascinating they are. My latest muses are the tricoloured munias and sun-birds outside my window. They rarely sit still, making them very difficult to photograph and show off on Facebook. However, they provide me hours of entertainment – what more can I ask for?
Travel Another India partners with rural communities to set up inclusive destinations and experiences that keep the hosts, guests and mother Earth smiling. Here’s the website url: www.travelanotherindia. com