That yellow tint to leaves is forlorn. It is sad to see them shrivel, shiver, and fall off. I’m standing in front of a line of bamboo islands I’ve been watching for three winters. The cold January breeze helps them shuffle and shed their green coat – it is time, it whispers as it blows the leaves away onto the hardened ground. They say winters of Kanha are the shortest. But I found that we age faster in winter. Kanha’s winters are louder because of the rustling leaves, and the sound picks pace as the seasons age.
The longest is summer that proceeds winters with such subtlety that you don’t realise it advance like the winter – winter grips you through your bones, summers are hard to comprehend. No one — man or woman — feels an angel when the hot weather is approaching, stated Rudyard Kipling in the classic Plain Tales from the Hills. And it remains, and lingers, and makes one endure, or yearn, for a better season.
Then it happens, the sky bursts under pressure, rain tears through the clouds, lightening splits the horizon, and the bereaved ground is kissed. A cloak of green, dark and thick, shrouds Kanha’s landscape – the streams trickle to rivers, and a network of vessels breathes new life.
But Kanha, all through the three seasons, never really dies. Its ebbs and flows, pulsates high and low, breathes in deep, exhales long. It does not become still except for a moment in between the seasons when you feel time stop still, suddenly there is a profusion of flowers, or insects, or vegetation, and you feel the rawness in it, fearful and overwhelming at the same time.
Three winters are too short to learn of Kanha’s secrets. And observing this wilderness not only through the eyes of an outsider, but as a dweller of this place, among the people, among insects and spiders, reptiles, birds, and mammals, is the only way to decipher the secrets of nature – to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, touch it, love it, fear it, dream it, to let it consume your body and soul, is the key to understanding nature.
In the past three seasons I could explore a bit of three different landscapes – the Garhwal Himalayas, the flatlands of Kutch, and the granite stone hills of Hampi, along with the central Indian highlands where I dwell. All these ecosystems are facing anthropogenic pressures – all of a different sort, but all with surprisingly similar solutions.
I’m looking back at the previous year with curiosity. It seems to be full of pessimism, of dying landscapes like grasslands, forgotten giants like elephants and tigers, of the disbelief that our forests are endless, of how all these dreadful scenarios are the result of our reign on Earth; but I also found solace in the company of a tree, in rescuing a bird and see it fly free, in rehabilitating several snakes, and in looking into the eyes of spiders as well as tigers. Here’s a look at the last year’s journey with fellow travellers, friends, and loved ones. Some already featured on Sahyadrica, some are new, but all of them are frozen memories that taught me something I’d never forget.
March | Hailstones
Kanha Tiger Reserve
A freak pre-summer storm turned violent one warm March day, raining hail over a vast area of Kanha, damaging winter crops ready for harvest, and shedding flowers of the summer trees.
April | Two sides of the same coin
Corbett Tiger Reserve (read more)
Forests and agricultural fields, although at odds since man learnt to plough land, are sources of direct livelihood for a majority of India’s populations – and the interface between the two, as seen here in Corbett Tiger Reserve, needs to be as porous as possible.
October | Nameless
Hampi, Karnataka (read more)
The halls of Hampi, a world heritage site in Karnataka, is full of stories carved unto stone, some of them of shikar. They depict people on elephants and horses hunting what appear to be tigers – nameless and faceless – with a spear. The feelings in this (nearly) 500 year old carving and in our generation of seeing a tiger are somewhat similar, albeit vastly different in context.
November | Winds of change
Kutch, Gujarat (read more)
A tern turns in the wind at the wetlands of Kutch. Wind is considered as one of the solutions to our energy problems, and many flatlands and bald mountains are being converted into wind farms to harvest its power. However, some are also protesting against such farms especially because of the damage they do to birds such as cranes, vultures, flamingos, and many others.
November | An accident or a murder
As power-lines spin a trap of heavy-duty metal wires over our heads, birds crash into them and fall lifeless on the ground. A greater short-toed lark lies still on a mudflat after such an incidence.