Sunday, 16 November 2008

A homopteran and a pteridophyte breakfast

My field assistant and me had no curry to take along with rice the other day cos’ we left really early (330 am!), so Army (that’s his name!) cut down a Pandanus plant and within each leaf were these stink bugs (Pentatomidae family, Order Homoptera) that he said we could eat, alive and whole! Hmm…at first I hesitated, then put in one, tasted exactly like Cinnamomum, quite good actually, so I had few, no, many more! There’s also another species of the same kind that they find in water below stones, he had brought that too, it was grounded with salt and chillies and he told me that some people are allergic to this bug. So I just tasted a bit, I preferred the cinnamon flavour instead. This is the pic of the bug, so if you find one, pop it in!

The previous field visit too, we had gone into the forest with only rice sprinkled with millets. So my field assistant then (Nyelik) quickly materialised a banana flower and an edible fern plant. This fern is probably called ‘Terimey soppu’ down South, had eaten it before, quite tasty. So after one hour of fire, we had this meal, really yummy!

Foods often a problem in field, so I tend to adjust to what’s available in the plate. Once, just once I ate a roasted collared treepie; although it’s a very common species, I admit I do regret it. Well, that’s that…By the way, saw this beautiful Oak leaf butterfly besides lots of other beauties. Will upload an exclusive butterfly post sometime…

Pasoh – the final cut

This post follows from the post titled ‘the art of selective felling’; is the last of the Malaysia visit travelogues. Wanted to post pics of all of us in the last chapter. The toughest part of the entire course was this; to say goodbye to friends we had never met even just few weeks back. We came together irrespective of religion, country, in some cases language, different sense of humour and what not and we departed as friends for life. We all plan to meet somewhere somehow and travel…but there may not be another pasoh-time with all of us together, probably there need not be…we remember the moments so well forever. 

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Of pigs and men

Before the rice crop is harvested, men from some households in the village slaughter their pigs around the ‘Naamghar’ (marked in the google earth image earlier). I am often referred to in the village as an “Aying” which means a non-tribal. So being an Aying I wasn’t to be present in this feast but later I was given a large slice of meat which I gladly ate.

The next day as I was learning a bit of Adi language from my friend Gekut, I asked him why I saw some pigs in the Egin the toilet whereas others are free-ranging. Oh, by the way, the Adi rear their pigs in enclosure below their home.

So when I asked about these pigs in the Egin and those I see outside, Gekut told me the male pigs are reared in bathrooms. So well, for three to five years all the male pigs have only seen the four walls around them and everyday few pairs of bums above them! Shux, what a life! The pigs that I have seen roaming around the village are all sows with their kids. Well, so I politely asked Gekut why don’t they prefer eating the pigs that roam around and he said “Shee, who will eat that, these pigs roam around everywhere and eat all dirty things, better to eat clean pigs from our own Egin”! This statement is a classic I think I will never forget! And well the other reason for eating only the pigs from the bathroom is that they put on a lot of fat, having not wasted it roaming around the village. Its  a cruel world!

The tale of two dinners and before and after

October-end, I rode a bike from Pasighat to Jenging to Ramsing (about 225 km) with a large rugsack behind me, a laptop bag in the front and a camera bag to the right. Most people must have thought I am a travelling salesman! It might have been a very pathetic mistake but well I took the risk and enjoyed it too. The bike was just repaired and I was not to travel faster than 40 km so it took me about 13 hours in total. A slow peaceful ride with the bike giving me trouble only about five times when I thought “what am I gonna do” and then the bike starts up and I continue precariously. Well anyways I reached Ramsing camp to meet the DFO, Mouling national park. Slept well and the next morning got to Bomdo village.

Here at the village things were a bit different now than last time, I had no person to cook and firewood at my disposal, so a meal was a painful ordeal. So I bought an electric stove from Itanagar, so now I cook using that but that takes a long time. So I spoke to friendly neighbourhood and requested them to cook me breakfast and pack-lunch which I can carry to field so it will save me a lot of trouble. The deal went on well, I give them fifty bucks a day and they cook me two meals and then I come back from field in the evening and cook my long-evening meal. But yesterday was different; as I finished cooking my meal another neighbour called me over to his place and asked me to get there immediately. I told him politely that I still need to eat my evening meal and then do some chores too. Anyways I obliged since it is extremely rude to turn down offers to come home in villages here. When I reached, he offered me rice wine which too I pleasantly obliged and after a mug or two, it dawned on me that he had me over for dinner! So he also set out dinner for me; fish from the Siang river and rice. I ate very happily drank another mug of rice wine and reached back my inspection bungalow where I stay. Then, watched a Chaplin movie just for some humour and then thought I should not waste my cooked meal and grabbed some to eat. When I took my first bite I realised it wasn’t cooked well! Then I felt really glad that I did eat some at another place. It was just luck that I was invited over for a meal before even I knew that my meal was not done well!

The day before that we had a birthday party of a kid; the first year birthday. By the way, when I walked into the home I was advised to cache my slippers in a place I can recover since its common here that people with old torn slippers walk out with new better ones, never to be retrieved! The old women sang together many songs and one of them is a really really beautiful song called “Tayer gamcha”, the theme of the song is about a man being old enough to get married twice! Here it’s a common practice to get married more than once, if you can afford it. The ex-Chief Minister (CM) Gegong Apang from a nearby village called Karko has married five times and has been the CM for about 22 years of the Arunachal State!

Anyways, today is the day after and I had a good field time for the last four days and I had my dinner at neighborhood too; rice and beans with a little meat.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The village by the river – Bomdo

This is the day I want to start to write about the village Bomdo in Upper Siang District, Arunachal, by the river Siang, called Tsangpo in Tibet. What inspires me to write I can’t tell but seeing the google earth image of my field-village could be a trigger. This is the village;

Circled above are two important places in the village, the left one is my home for a big part of the next six months; the inspection bungalow of the forest department, built over a graveyard! and to the right is the Naamghar, the place for local meetings and feasts.

In the next few posts I will write stories of this village, since I will be spending a good amount of time here. You may see earlier articles with few mentions too, but here I start listing anecdotes from the village. Interesting things keep happening; someone brings a hunted barking deer someday, all days they bring back birds, the local booze parties and well the lazy evening gossip and chat! I hope you enjoy reading them, because I am certainly going to enjoy writing them!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Wildlife post

Few weeks back I had posted a letter to my friend in Sarawak, the letter reached a month after that. So I asked my friend if its really worth it and she told me, she likes the stamps and the handwriting gives it a personal touch. So I went to the post office today and put interesting stamps on the next letter to her. Was amused to find leopard cat, sarus crane, nilgiri tahr and tiger on stamps. Looking back now, I do think its worth it; other things too such as writing with an ink pen, collecting stamps, posting and recieving letters. Emails can never change that i suppose! I also posted a DVD to another good friend, i hope it reaches too!

Sunday, 19 October 2008


Finishing reports, reading papers and arranging logistics for field work these days. No time to blog! But i will be finishing the Pasoh chapters soon and lo, my institute got a new digital slr with sigma 500 lens, heres me showing it off.

Also went to field last week September, a post coming about that too!

keep in touch

Friday, 5 September 2008

The art of selective felling

Perak Integrated Timber Complex (PITC) in the Perak state left the twenty of us a bit flabbergasted. PITC people have been selective logging dipterocarp trees for almost a decade now from the Temenggor Forest Reserve. The event that will remain with me forever is seeing a 2-m girth dipterocarp tree stoop to ground within ten minutes of play with a chainsaw. But I will keep that for later. We have good memories too, at least I do.

We all slept in two-man/woman tents except I think few who got rooms. Pasoh was a bed and breakfast resort in comparison with the field conditions at PITC; there was no electricity, generators ran from 6 pm till usually 12 am, no phones and internet, no shops 30 km in any direction. Our quote of the day everyday was ‘let’s go to the river’. After noticing the number of bathrooms (2), we figured a slippery walk to the river twice a day can’t be too bad. But it turned out to be the best bathroom there can ever be. Mornings we walk sleepily to the river 200 m away and the evenings we walk dog-tired with the proceedings of the day. The first time we walked me and Dtoon fell on our bum in wet mud so we took care during all our other visits to the river. In the beginning Pradeep, the frog-guy, Dtoon, ever-dancing Param and me were the only few that colonised the river, but in the end it was so much fun there was none of us who never went to the river for a wash.

Evenings were full of Sepak-takro, which is the south-east Asian version of volleyball, except that you cannot use hands, only the chest, head and feet, like in football. We thought it would take us years to learn, but after few days we Indians were not too bad! the locals who can even smash the takro with a banana kick must have surely had some laughs though!

We also saw an Orang asli community village, very similar to villages in north-east India or other parts of India. Presently an epidemic of Dengue and malaria was on in the village, so we were advised not to meet them.

Our group project (Lillian, Por [pronounced Paw] and me) was on butterflies. The three days we got lost, found our way, fell, slipped, missed butterflies, and caught butterflies, all in all super fun! At the end of three day data collection we found that forest and roads harbour distinct butterfly communities and we did some statistical-analysis and got these clear patterns. The event I wil never forget is an encounter with a Malayan tree nymph. 

We were supposed to catch one individual per species and kill it by pressing the thorax hard enough; quick death and mount each specimen onto an entomologists’ board. So the tree nymph that rarely descends two metres above ground was right in front of me, I instinctively swung the butterfly net I had, but he escaped mainly due to the excitement I was in, and then I caught him again but this time the wrong side of the net and all the while the two girls with me screaming ‘catch it catch it’. But even the second round failed and by then the nymph figured we were upto no good and I was happy that he escaped, would have been a pity to kill such a beautiful large slow-moving butterfly. We inventorised 45 species in our project which is high diversity to be encountered in three days.

Then was the day I might never forget. We visited sector 5 of the forest where selective logging is presently on. The men chose a large tree with a very business-as-usual way and we were wondering if they would really do it, they did. Two pics of the scene, one with the tree and one without, notice the canopy gap made in ten minutes.

We also were lucky to meet Dr. Christine Fletcher who has worked many years on bats so she and her team actually set out harp-traps and we saw three species of insectivorous bats up-close.

The last day we packed up and were ready to leave with mostly good memories, one very bad one. We were also given various lectures about how the system works and they follow the rotation method which ensures significant tracts of forests are left, but none of these convinced us. While the big tree fell, it also took down three other trees of medium size. I was wondering who gave us the right to play god.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Pasoh afterglow

Two reasons I chose the title; Pasoh is forever etched in my mind, for all the good times and all the good people I met there. The second that the forest floor indeed has afterglow! After the sun sets, the leaf litter glow reflecting moonlight; we noticed that even when there’s no moon they do reflect dim light probably starlight, or maybe the fungus on the leaf litter itself glows rather than reflecting light. Anyway, we planned many times to take a tripod with us and take a picture with say one hour exposure or more, but the times we lugged a tripod it rained, so I cannot put it up on the blog, sorry!
The first two weeks we had three night walks and the last week we practically were only night-walking sleeping in the day or day-dreaming. Why we did this is because me and Pradeep from Sri Lanka took up nocturnal amphibians as our independent project.
The first frog-sampling evening, a visitor walked by and we tried to stop him in vain, very strong fellow, we made him sit and pose and we also turned him around. Beeeaaauuttiifull

To start with, the first night was quite unevently almost till the end. But then Dtoon, an ex-soldier from Thailand was with us; sharp eyes and deadly reflexes! We saw a gecko on a tree, Pradeep pushed it down with a long stick and Dtoon (pronounced toon) jumped on it higher and faster than a gecko if it were human-sized! We still found the gecko more glamorous than Dtoon, so heres the pic of gecko.

Then Dtoon saw a snake on the tree bark, same sequence of events except no one jumped on to it. Pradeep carefully handled it and it was a non-poisonous bridled snake we later identified.

We saw many frogs too, beautiful ones…

And another gecko too. We named this guy ‘balli’ which is gecko in my language, Telugu. We knew its home range since every night we used to see him in the same tree bark and the day, I mean the night we don’t see him we just shout ‘goodnight balli’ and walk on.

Its not that we didn’t see snakes in the day time. There were a few too…

At the end of the project we were really really tired staying up for six-seven hours a night in the forest and turning leaf litter searching for frogs. I am very thankful to Dtoon for gecko-jumping, Sze-leng, Alyse, Lillian and Panitnard for accompanying us on few night patrols and to Pradeep too for teaching me about frogs and how to find them.
Next up is PITC, Perak Integrated Timber Complex in Temenggor forest reserve in Perak State, just below Thailand…

Late Russell Wallace, here I come!

“It (the Malay archipelago) produces the giant flowers of the Rafflesia, the great green-winged ornithoptera (princes among the butterfly tribes), the man-like Orang-utan, and the gorgeous Birds of Paradise” – Alfred Russell Wallace, in the “Malay Archipelago”
With these lines ringing in the back of my mind, I entered Peninsular Malaysia for an on-the-house field course by Centre for tropical forest science. The course lasted six weeks so you may expect the blog logs to be long! But following previous formats, will keep it more picture-oriented.

Alas, I cannot keep my promise of uploading beautiful 50 mm lens pictures because the films got spoilt at the airport when they got xrayed in my bag! So to start with, I would like to thank Manup, Dia, Pradeep, Lillian, Liwen, Alyse, Lydia, Param, Mumu, Ummul, Rhett, Rin, Rhona, Dtoon, big mama, Cici, Sandy, Du, Sze-leng, Juni, Kang min & Por for being there and for such a super time, and some of these peoples pics and some mine I salvaged are the ones I will be putting up. So, THANKS! Terima kasih!!!

As I entered Pasoh, a line that Juni said struck me and will remain with me forever: a garden amidst oil-palm. This is a good four-word description of Pasoh forest, which is roughly about 17 sq. km amidst an ever-encroaching oil palm plantations. But the core area of this forest will remain mainly since it is being utilised for intensive research. In 1985, a 50-ha permanent plot was established to monitor growth, establishment and mortalities of lowland evergreen forest tree species, of which so little is known. So the good news is, the 50 ha will remain till humanity does, or at least till research on lowland forests is on!

Mornings began with White handed gibbon calls, which last the first two hours of the day and the occasional ‘Kha-Khoo-Khaan’ of the dusky leaf monkey. We also often heard the helicopter-like sound of wreathed hornbills flying by and sometimes we were lucky enough to see them. After being briefed about Pasoh, about the CTFS and the 50-ha plot, we headed straight to the most interesting part of Pasoh, the ~60 m tall tower. View from top? Picture are arranged such that the view from all the sides is captured. Here goes…

The last pic is of the tower 2-3rd way up, there was still a wing which some of us that dared the wind and the sway climbed.
For the next few weeks we were to be taught entomology, ornithology and primatology basics which we thoroughly enjoyed. We also went to the town once in a while (once, actually in the four weeks!), spoilt brats that we were. We walked many km and then we had some ginger beer, which is not really beer, much much tastier than beer. So some pictures of the town?

The leaf litter almost everywhere in Pasoh glows dimly at nights due to a fungus that forms on dead and sometimes fresh leaves. The next chapter is about the night walks in Pasoh and few snakes, frogs and geckoes. So long...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

All not quite on the Eastern Front


I have been doing some travelling but to cities. a quick itenary: itanagar-guwahati-delhi-bangalore-mysore-bangalore-chennai-pondicherry-chennai-bangalore-delhi-guwahati-itanagar, all in 20 days!

The two trips to Delhi were for political clearance from Ministry of Env. & Forests and Ministry of External Affairs to attend a field-course in Malaysia. i wont go into the details because its not worth it. All in all, theres been no travelling to exciting places in the north-east, but hopefully in a day or two i am headed to pasoh forest reserve in malaysia for six-weeks on a field course conducted by Centre for Tropical Forest Sciences. They have been very considerate in accepting my application for this.

So in Bangalore i bought a low-light 50-mm lens for my film camera, so look out for the 50-mm sections from now on, which may start with pictures from malayland.

See you on blog soon...!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Wake up and feed the Mithun

The time at bomdo village started off on different notes. first of all, i was glad to meet the inspection bungalow caretaker dungé yalik in the village the only person i knew well before i set in alone to the village. Met his beautiful kids, and dungé himself will figure later in the commentary.
Well, for starters i slept well and the day started with feeding the home-mithun that dungé and in laws own. The last time she came home for salt, dungé doesn’t even remember, so it must be a long back. This lady is beautiful and didn’t take her seconds to get acquainted with me then she ate salt from my hands, take a look...
Then the day took off and i visited old fallows close to the village. The good thing with Adi cultivation sites is that every place has a name. I felt really good when i saw a fallow about 50 years old needed for my study and then there’s a small sequence in a one-year fallow called kanyong you would like to see.
When we reached the place, the mithuns came closer, one by one; they all thought we had salt. Finally we were surrounded by five of them! Before that we had seen a non-venomous snake; a kukri.

The evening was full of conversations with the village leader (head-gaam), second-in-command (gaam-buda) and others, with a tinge of the local rice beer of course.
The next day i planned a long trip with a local boy who ensured at least ten times if my legs can make the trip he has in plan for me and the timing we leave. As far as i saw he was convinced I can’t wake up at 4 in the morning and walk the rest of the day.

The day started at 425 and we left to go to fallows and forest adjoining the villages at about 5. Clouds figured we were having a field day and pitched in. So by 6 it was pouring and we decided to give a break for some time considering the fact that i was carrying expensive equipment. We reach a temporary house called poyup built in the jhum field of gaambuda and he welcomed us. Here, while i stayed a couple of hours i realised how hard people work for the rice they eat all year. In comparison with people like us walking to the nearest grocery store, haggling over the price and bringing home a bag, these guys literally slog their arse out. I took a video of the people planting rice seeds after the biggest chunk of work for the year; clearing the forest that is. Whats impressive is that theres a tune to planting “ho ohh ho ohh ho ohh” which supposedly help in not tiring them.

Then, we walked to some more fallows and got to a 50-m waterfall which was even more beautiful than the stream i visited the earlier day and i took a dip again, its beautiful and full of life, take a look…

Further ahead we saw a red-headed trogon (my first time) and a small chick in a nest, I couldn’t figure which species.

Then i got back to the village, before i forget i gotto tell you i met a Telugu guy in Bomdo village, only about 5000 km out of place. When i saw him i was really excited and i shouted to him, "telugaa meeroo" which means are u Telugu and he nodded and coolly said that he would meet me later in the day. He looked at me as if i was a leaf that fell on him while he worked and few seconds later got again busy in his work which was to build a canal in Bomdo.

The next day i packed out of bomdo to reach back Ramsing village and then in the evening after couple of rice wine glasses, decided to type this!