Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hirudin day

Madla camp


Woke up late in Madla camp today. With eyes still half open I cut about 2 cm candle, put some wood together and started a fire. Coffee next and then Shankara anna made me rice and dal. Plan of the day was crossing the swollen Somavahini river and going to abandoned paddy fields in Hipla and Karvani villages. After breakfast, we went to the river to inspect, plan B! To go to Kesave village but through a longer route because we can't cross the stream and although Kesave camp was on the other side of the river, the fields we had to visit were on our side. We had enquired earlier if there was an alternative route without crossing the river but no one in the Forest Department knew. Shankara anna said that we should find a way on our own, so it was to be.

We left at 11 am hoping we can go along the side of the river. Though a river winds a lot, we thought it can't be more than 5 km since the jeep trail was only 3 km. We start to walk. I hadn't judged the terrain in this season and was wearing slippers, much to the delight of the leeches. In all the muck/swamp the slippers proved what they are called and several times I had to fix broken slippers. In all this commotion, there was no time to even remove leeches. It took us abut 3 hours and about 100 leeches must have had bottoms-up from my feet. We reach at 2.15 pm, finish vegetation sampling by 3.30 and walk back in about 2 hours since we knew the route. Another 100 leeches. I reach camp, take this photograph and salted them. I'd have never imagined a day like this in field. I drank a cofee, had evening meal and put my feet in a stream closeby and the fish cleaned up most of the mess in my legs. Later I lie down writing this and conclude 'leeches suck!'

Sorry for the grossness of the picture, but it was quite tempting to post!

Chinese whispers!

Last night in Bhadra, Madla camp I was listening to Queen. Before that I tuned my Radio to short wave to look for more interesting channels than Akashvani-Hassana. First channel I tuned in reminded me of times in Arunachal and after listening to Queen I was thinking ‘all we hear is, Chinese channels’. Now somebody please tell me why there are so many, so many Chinese channels. Does this have anything to do with the fact that the radio I was using was ‘Made in China’. I can understand this if I was in Bomdo village in Arunachal, I was so close to Tibet, it was but natural to tune into Chinese channels. There was even a program teaching Chinese in English. Wan-an I remember hearing which means good night and then I turned off the radio. And yes, how do they produce that music with jarring instruments, sounds like elephants are tuning their trunks! I do listen to a bit of Chinese classical music but to hear this in a camp in forest is not a pleasant experience, believe you, me.

By the way, then I found BBC, good one. I remembered listening to BBC in Garo hills and Arunachal and felt nice to tune in from Bhadra. A discussion was on about the similarity between Hinduism concept of beginning of the world and that of science. A radio is, I think the best thing to have in field and the best thing to gift your field assistant after the field season! My MSc field assistant Shankara anna, who I am presently with in my camp after three years told me, ‘everyday when I turn on the radio you gave me, I think in my mind, ‘Hi Karthik’!’ Apparently the radio was even offered a price of 1500 bucks, but he wouldn’t part with it. It’s a Grundig hand-crank radio, he has also tied a wire to its antenna to make it reach out. A minute of cranking produces ten minutes news or some good music or some Chinese music. This time, it had batteries to save all the cranking! I gave another radio to a friend in Ramsing, Upper Siang, will he be listening to it everyday too!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Blog's not dead, long live the blog

Since its been a while since I've written and since I've been in the north-east, I thought I'd post at least something I wrote sitting in my field site three months ago. Also, I almost forgot my blog password, so better keep writing and log in more often!
No pics, but this one doesn't need.

'The Hindu means home to me

Waking up at 7 am and smelling the coffee brewing and breakfast cooking was a schedule for me everyday in Bangalore. The newspaper would be dropped anytime between 7 and 7.15 am and I would be eagerly waiting to pick up a cup of coffee and read 'The Hindu' newspaper. Having a grandfather who worked for the newspaper for almost fifty years and a cousin who writes for the Hyderabad edition, we always subscribed to the Hindu. Saturdays and Sundays were even more special with the Young World and Sunday Magazine supplements, and sometimes better still, Book Reviews. The Editorial, the crossword and the Calvin and Hobbes strip will remain my all-time favorites.

Working in north-east India on wildlife for the last year or so, I haven't had access to the Hindu, although for a month I subscribed to the pdf version of the paper which was quite expensive so couldn't follow it up. The website version was not the same as reading the paper although I often browse it. But this time when I got back from home I brought few copies of the paper.

My schedule here is quite different. In Arunachal Pradesh where I work on birds and shifting cultivation, no one can afford to wake up at 7 am; I wake at 4.30 most days and cook my breakfast and then head to field. They say the early wildlifers get the birds! I come back few hours later and then settle down and today on the 30th of January still enjoy reading the Hindu copy of January 3rd I picked up from home! Paul Krugman says the republicants have started whining in the days before Obama has taken power, LTTE have been blown in Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka and the army is headed further north, beef slaughter houses in Bangalore are going to be closed temporarily and so on and so forth.

The point being that sometimes when I miss home, reading this paper I catch a glimpse of the leisure hours at home when mom makes coffee and breakfast and my chore is merely to wake up and then head to college. Here it's quite different, slightly more independent and sometimes a bit tiring. But when I read The Hindu, it still feels different; I take a leap two thousand km south-west to back home sitting on my sofa with a cup of coffee! Maybe, I will ask my mother to post me the Sunday Magazines copies too!'

postscript: Now, the Hindu has a north-east edition, YAY!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Just orchidding

March was the month when forest was cleared and burnt for shifting cultivation. Close to Itanagar too there were lot of fires; when interviewed on radio, the forest department kept saying people out there who go for picnic and throw their lit ciggarettes are mostly to blame. They have to be sure that they put off their ciggarettes.

No one goes there for a picnic, all the beer-drinkers and ciggarette-smokers are right here in town. The folks cultivating in these forests are also people who have come from other districts, attracted to the place since its closer to a town. This kind of cultivation is very very different from that practised in remote villages in arunachal. While in remote village, people let a cultivated patch recover for almost a decade, here its mostly 4-5 years before a patch is recultivated.

Anyways, the point is the other day we took a walk in these forests and saw a big tree fallen on the ground with quite a few orchids still clinging on. So my friend took two of them and I took one. When we returned we put them in buckets with moist sand and within few days the orchid i brought looked healthy. Then, we put it on a mango tree and tied it up and now about two weeks later, its flowering! Beautiful, take a look...

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Gone fishing (nocturnal version)

One night in Itanagar, after we were on high spirits after some rum, we figured we had no curry to eat with rice. Tamang da who was with us immediately said that night is the best time to fish. Just before we left, we had discussions about river-ghosts, the ones that pick up fish from nets setup by the village people in the river. God alone knows if they are referring to otters or some other animal. Anyway, it was 12 am by the time we left and the river was actually shining with starlight. So the net was belted out in the Senkhi stream and in about ten times we got quite a lot of fish by 2 am. Like the last time, we were dropping back the kid-fish into the river; the ones too small. Here’s the catch… 

Rains reign

In the Upper Siang district, it rains more than four metres a year...and there wasn't a month without rain in the last year i visited. Often its depressing if I have planned out some work already. But if you are carrying no perishable equipment, then its fun jumping in.

So this time it happened like this, from Jengging I had to reach the Bomdo village and the monsoon has already struck here and it started raining. I remember reading in a John Steinbeck book about this character who could describe ten or more different kinds of rain and he found all of them irritating. Well, theres only one kind of rain here; hard rain which takes breaks to drizzle before it brings along a landslide and a roadblock. But I am quitting my institute presently and had to get back few equipment to return to the institute to get the 'no due' certificate and had to give things like a radio and few cds to some of the villagers. So I waited two days, no break in the rain.

Then morning before yesterday's we left...rain or no rain, gotto finish this thing. 10 am we left on a bike from jengging and rode continuously for three hours to get to Bomdo, 70 km away. Once I reached the place, my friend Gekut quickly made some pop corn and tea. The thing about riding in rain is that one is fine till the point he stops.  The time when we stopped at the village I shivered like the richter scale was at 7 or something! At one point I had to pee (locally referred to as 'minus'!) and my hands were too numb to even feel the trouser button, was a struggle! Next stop Ramsing village 30 km on the way back. The home that I reached I asked for some rice wine to warm us up and then headed back to jengging to reach at 6 pm. Got back, took a hot water bath and all the good things followed as mentioned in the blog post before this.

Oh before I finish, I spent one day photographing waterdrops; this is the best thing you can do when its raining continuously and better still if you have a 500 mm lens...here's the output...

An ode to Jenging

I call it the 'Holiday inn' of Upper Siang district. More than once I have reached this place late in the night in freezing cold. Another time I reached the place after riding for 70 km on a bike which gave me little trouble; the back tyre got punctured, the kicker broke, petrol got over and the engine wouldnt just start a couple times. Every time I reach the Circuit house in Jenging, a hot water bath, a superb meal, a warm bed, electricity to charge batteries and signal to make calls await me. To add to this, the person in-charge is a sweet Nepali person, who seems to know each time I hog a lot that I havent eaten too well in the last week.

So, this time too when I reached the place after riding in rain for 140 km for six hours, I was in heaven, with few pegs of whiskey to go with of course! I wrote an ode...after many many years...served with few pictures for flavour...

'Sweet memories of Jenging

In the morning, sunlight lazily pierces through the valley to cause a delayed dawn
and birds eagerly pick up their early worms and ripe fruits
The streams tirelessly produce their perennial soothing sound
and I meet an occasional local picking up leaves and certain roots

In the night, the giant mountains morph into silent ghosts
and clouds tonight have ushered the stars
A distant frog is muttering sweet little turrings to his potential mate
and the night as usual in my memory leaves pleasant scars

Three hills away I see a bike spiralling down the road
An occasional owl calls a high-pitched teewoo
As i get back to my warm bed content after a sumptous meal
Here's another place in the north-east India I wont forget too'

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Now…that’s something to blog about

I met a granny in the village Bomdo this time who has walked to Tibet! She along with another fifteen people walked for 12 days to reach what they call ‘Mimet’ around the year 1950. The walk was mainly for bringing back salt although various other barters would take place, I have listed here few…rice and rice beer were exchanged for wheat powder or salt. The exchange rate was pretty simple; 1 cup rice beer fetches one fist amount of wheat powder or a cup of salt. Various other things that were exchanged were bamboo combs and other artefacts and ginger for Dao (a knife), wool and certain fruits. Granny very enthusiastically brought this spin that’s at least 60 years old and posed for the picture to depict how they extract thread to make clothes.

Other interesting facts were that people with heavy bags were invited to rich homes whereas people with light bags were invited to poor homes. Naturally people carried a lot of weight and granny told me people would carry about 50 – 60 kilos! The other strange thing about the trip is that people who die on the way are not brought back. And whatever happens on the way the group is all the time happily singing and walking.
So, basically people from Bomdo village were walking at least a distance of 150 km and more through tough terrain full of forests and snow near the Indo-Tibet border to bring back salt and knives. I already knew that Adi people are physically tough but now I just think they are from the planet Kryptos!

Headhunters’ ball – Reyee Gaye

The ‘Aran’ puja was on this time when I reached Ramsing village. Reyee Gaye dance was the feature that interested me; I reached the place outside the Naamghar (a large hall in the village where all group activities take place) in the evening where the young as well as old experienced men would do the war-dance, a practice continuing for hundreds of years. Bit of background…Adis were headhunters even just a century back, intense conflicts amongst sub-tribes of Adis existed although they are all at peace now. The headhunters would all gather in the Naamghar with their sheaths and knives and leave for the war
As good rock shows and concerts, folks did come out late and the light was low, but I got few pictures; because of the low light it seems like the men are shaking vigorously but they really are on a slow four-by-four beat with “huh huh huh huh” while heavily thumping the ground. You really have to be there to know that this indeed is ‘war’ dance; the air is full of dominance and a display of strength. Notice the camouflage with leaves and bamboo, the knife carried is called Yoxa and the sheath is called Tamkum, though it looks a bit weak, it’s made of bamboo and reinforced with cane knittings and a knife cannot make through it with one stroke. The Yoxa that one of the men carried while dancing was the actual one used many decades back for head-hunting. Now, of course the dance is a cultural event every year and the practice of headhunting has phased out.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Itanagar meet and buy wild meat market

This I had to post sometime, it’s been on the back of my mind. About 2 km from the Forest Department office in the State capital Itanagar is the meat market where I have had more sightings of mammals than in my field site. Here I saw my first ever Binturong. The other species I have come across; giant squirrels, giant flying squirrels, crestless porcupine, macaque (either Assamese or Rhesus, can’t make out from the lump of meat), muntjacs, civets and once even a wreathed hornbill.

Some may call it hunting for subsistence, who has the right to stop them from hunting in their own community-forests, don’t they have the right to eat meat, etc. But damn it, I think the rarer species have to be just not hunted; binturongs, hornbills and few other species, I don’t know hunting of which species is justified but definitely here it’s not for subsistence, I think there should be a clear distinction between hunting for the pot and hunting for the money pot. Well, each time I walk out of this market having seen some species being sold like I did today after seeing the crestless porcupine I wonder what ever could be a solution to this. I don’t feel this bad when I see a species being brought back in village I stay in for my field work where certainly not a gram of the meat is sold, its distributed amongst the clan and family members.

I am now thinking hunting has at least three tiers to it. 1) hunting for consumption, 2) hunting for selling the meat like mentioned in the earlier para, 3) hunting for fur /skin/ bone trade. I think the last form of hunting is least justified in comparison to the first. Comments, debates, opinions, anyone?

I managed to take a pic of the porcupine yesterday, but I wonder if anyone could take pics all the time in the market and keep interviewing the people without getting hit. I always leave the meat market quite morose.

PS: The local newspapers covered this issue well and the Forest Department raided the market too. It seems like the issue is being taken up more seriously these days (May 2012).

Friday, 6 February 2009

How the tangkum lost its tail…

The rufous-throated partridge here is called the Tangkum by the Adis. It has a very interesting call Whee-Wooo with an ascending tone according to Grimmett’s bird book. We hear it in the forests here every other day. So one day, the partridge went Whee-Wooo and a squirrel dropped a fruit it was eating. A barking deer got alarmed when the fruit fell on him and scooted and thereby caused almost a landslide. A crab in the river was peacefully basking down below in the river when a pebble hit its eye and the crab lost its eye.

So here in Adi community, for any justice they have a formal meeting called Kebang. So the forest organised a Kebang and the Kebang’s verdict was to fine the stone. But the stone said, this dumb barking deer slid over me and therefore I rolled, mine not to reason why. Hmm said the council, call that deer, let’s fine him and get this over with, we got other work to do. The barking deer barked that he was only doing his morning foraging duties when he was alarmed by this seed that fell off the sky. The seed was summoned, the seed said, I was only hoping my fruit is eaten and I get dispersed peacefully somewhere till the rains when this silly squirrel dropped me half-eaten, mine not to reason why. “Summon that squirrel”, council said. Squirrel bickered that he also as the deer was doing his early morning feeding when he heard the Tangkum call and don’t know why today the ascending tone was really at an ascent.

“Get tangkum here, double quick”. Tangkum came Whee-Whooing and quickly figured there was no way out, although he begged the council’s mercy that early morning is the time he calls for a pretty girl tangkum and really it wasn’t his fault. Yet, he had to give up something, causing this whole ruckus. “Take my tail with twelve beautiful feathers”. And that’s how the tangkum lost its tail, a fine Adi story.

The boys of the village also trapped one today with a sling-trap, this is the picture of the beautiful bird, no tail as per the tale.

The walk to the village by the river

Having spent three peaceful days discussing my plant work and visiting clearings from Ramsing Inspection Bungalow, I headed this morning to Bomdo village to carry on birding work. So early morning we woke like good birds do for worms and got to the bus stop; this is any arbitrary place where you find a stone to park your arse and where the respective driver can see that you have been waiting long. So I waited, long (from 630 to 830) then I found a tipper truck and got myself and my two bags beautifully cemented, but the trip only lasted halfway. I was headed 25 km from Ramsing to Bomdo whereas the tipper tipped me off to a place called Hawa camp, only 9 km from Ramsing. So I park my butt again and wait for more helpful wheels. Two hours later, I decided to come up with a one-liner and start walking towards the village: ‘The main difference between an opportunity and a difficulty is the one to be ignored!’

One may wonder why I didn’t walk to the village since morning because most wildlifers will agree that 25 km is walkable in four-five hours. The only thing, things actually, were my two bags in front and back of me, don’t they look heavy…

About six km later I saw a beautiful stream and someone had left a mug for me to drink, so I drank from the cup of life!

Birds on the way many; golden bush robin, sibias, unidentified harrier, etc. The reason I kept walking was hoping that some vehicle will give me a drop of at least ten of the remaining 15 km.  that didn’t happen at all. The usual Border Road Organisation vehicles were not dropping many civilians because one of their tippers had dropped from the road until the Siang river and four civilians were killed. So for the next two weeks at least, I think no long-lifts for civilians by BRO.

The only other thing that happened was that at some point after climbing a short cut for half an hour or so I realised I had dropped my binoculars cover. So I cached my two bags in the forest somewhere and literally ran back more than a kilometre to retrieve it. I am a good retriever usually, my old Jawa I took back from a mechanic after keeping it with him for a year, I retrieved my job at Greenpeace, my drum kit which I am yet to retrieve from a friend (which I am sure I will) and certain other examples. In fact the only thing that I wanted to for sometime to retrieve but I couldn’t and now don’t care to try is my ex-girlfriend!

Well, I puffed and panted and couldn’t find this stupid bag, well I need to buy this sometime when I go to a town like Guwahati. Anyway, that was another significant thing during the walk. Then when I came back out of the shortcut to the tarred road, I met this old lady from Bomdo who keeps sending vegetables for me at the place I stay, very sweet lady. So I walked with her a km, she kept talking and I kept saying things in the bits of Adi I have picked up. Later I figured that for a large part of the conversation she was telling me which all veggies were available at her home in Bomdo which I can gladly go and pick! Then she took a detour to collect fire wood, I kept walking.

Then, the last significant incident, on another shortcut to the village I saw this 50+ year old woman and her family walking in front of me. Here it’s a custom to greet people and generally ask them if the day is tiring, whether they went very far or that you are tired or that you have come from very far, etc, etc. So I asked her how she is and she gave me a surprised look, I thought she had seen me coming because for almost twenty minutes I was trailing them. When I looked closely I figured she was taking a standing pee. When I was young and in fact even now, I thought women can’t pee when they are standing! But this lady just stood-at-ease with her legs about 1-m from each other and peed!!!

I reached the IB…somewhere during the journey I’d realised that I hadn’t brought sambar powder, the ultimate mom-made panacea for flavouring food. But when I reached my camp, the Bomdo inspection bungalow, I had stashed some from my last visit in November and this will be more than enough for the next ten days. And then there was rice, dal, salt, oil, batteries, etc, etc. nice…very nice.

In the meanwhile a kid came to the IB with a basket full of veggies the old woman had sent! I think the first thing she did after she returned home dispatched some with her grandson, so my first meal here was sambar-rice, ghee and some lovely powder (for you Andhrites reading this, Putnalu podi)  we eat with rice from Andhra. And I was thinking a walk may be uneventful!

By the way, the house-Mithun of Dungé Yalik is home again after last May, when I was here in the village too! They only come around once/twice a year in this village it seems, these are some real feral cattle they have here.