Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Yingkiong ho!

This is a post I write while heading to Yingkiong a town close to my research field site. Although the title post is inspired by Yukon Ho of the Calvin Hobbes fame, this trip needed a LOT more planning! For a year and a little more I was raising funds for my research, for half that year I gazed at my research proposal, waiting for a miracle, and for a month or so there has been a hullaballoo about getting the equipment, papers and the logistics together. Actually the meat of this article was only the last two lines but thought I will throw in a few ribs. Here, I list all the things that are in my three bags i carry, think I will have more words than any of my earlier posts had!

Miscellaneous: Water bottle - Laptop with charger - Phone with charger - an ink pen and a bottle of ink - one book to read - few pairs of clothing - warm clothes - couple of socks - soap - towel - brush and paste - an Adi knife called Yoxik - cap

Equipment: soil moisture meter - canopy densiometer - rain gauge - watchdog data logger - soil moisture / Ph sensor - GPS - lux meter - batteries for all equipment - gum boots - poncho - umbrella - dynamo torch - waterproof bag - camera - binoculars - camera tripod - 300 GB hard disk - brush to clean my laptop -mp3 player - 4 gb pen drive

Food & beverages: sambar powder - chatni powder - rasam powder - pappula podi - 30 chapatis - tomato onion dry curry - half a litre of orange vodka

Gifts: two watches for my field assistants - a poncho - three dynamo torches - a couple headcaps

Unmentionables: unmentionable!

All this stuff weighs about 18 kilos, two kilos below the 'pay your ass off' offer at the airport for excess luggage! Well, I am headed, I sit here behind in my dad's car and type this and looks like the next half year and more are going to be exciting!

Here is the stuff as seen through the scanner at the airport, its all there!

Here is the luggage of three people for six months, almost like house-shifting!

I know the blog has been idle for a while, but here I am headed to field and will write in many 'stories for boys' soon. watch this space!

Monday, 31 May 2010

A plastic graveyard

I was swooping through a mud road casually on an ancient scooter to the foundation for revitalisation of local health and traditions office somewhere close to Yelahanka New Town in Bangalore. For once, I was enjoying large patches of Eucalyptus trees, some native Sizygium, Mango trees, since this was after passing through the thick smoggy air on Airport road. A shikra was meticulously searching for a meal as I zipped through the road. Till then, I was enjoying the smells of damp mud, Euca trees and suchlike when I caught a pungent whiff. A tractor in front of me was carrying trash, some of it decomposed, some smelling fresh, most of it plastic wrappers of various sizes. Looking at it one could imagine where all this came from; someone from a house must have dumped twenty plastic wrappers yesterday; their stuff was neatly packed in these wrappers after shopping in a mall just a day ago, someone must have casually dumped all their extra food from an extravagant meal into the bin, someone else may have thrown their old keyboard, having no use for it now, someone else must have dumped a silver wrapper they packed their food in to keep it hot, some fresh Tropicana juice tetra packs and dozens of such items. A question popped into my head, 'where does this all go?' I had seen a landfill in Vidyaranyapura many years ago. This tractor I decided to follow.

Trying to avoid the whiff but not lose track of the vehicle, I followed it to about 3 km away. After few turns, I saw what I can call a 'trashscape'. At first, I didn't realise what it was, but lo a couple hillocks of white plastic trash appeared in front of me. There were at least a hundred Pariah kites (the word 'Pariah' here seems fitting) and crows grabbing at the contents of this trash heap. About twenty almost-about-to-die frail looking dogs made this place their home. Nearby I saw what looked like a treatment plant. So I casually struck a conversation with one of the folks at this 'plastic valley' and he told me. Large holes are dug in the ground with a JCB crane, and the plastic is filled into the holes. Some of the trash which may be organic is treated. The person I spoke to didn't know the exact details of what happens to this stuff. But another detail he told me left me awestruck. About 150 tractors like the one I had seen dump their contents into this place EVERYday! And this has been happening for more than five years!

Unable to digest the whole situation, I left the place, more confused and bewildered than earlier when I was seeing the shikra and the trees. Back in the north-east, I live in a village much less civilised, where people are not believed to be as intelligent as us city-dwelling modern people. They have been living in the same village for at least five hundred years. So where is their heap of trash? There is hardly any use of plastic and the little that seeps into the village is used up for starting the fire in the morning. I don't think its the best way to dispose plastic, but hey, they aren't at least burying it in the ground! In the nearest town Yingkiong, plastic is banned, so when you buy something you get it in a brown paper bag. In Itanagar town in Arunachal, there is a fine of 500 rupees for using a plastic bag. So why can't this be done in big cities where people are more educated and supposedly more civilised!

Back at home, every morning, a small three-wheeler comes home with a jarring honking sound to appeal to people to bring out their trash and deposit. Now, I know where all this goes so I feel guilty to hand over the plastic bag filled with trash to him. I am still looking for solutions, separate the stuff, use some for compost, collect the rest, items such as plastic, batteries and other non degradable items. But what to do with these. I still seek the solution and hope that someday my home can produce as little non degradable waste as possible.

PS the dump by the way can be seen from a satellite image, here it is, the white hill! For a clearer image, search for 'frlht' on wikimapia and then go west a km.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Top 10 things to carry to field

Just now, I thought of this post: to put down on paper things that can make life simpler in the field. The post is based on an assumption that one has to cook one's own food using firewood and that whats on the menu is whats available. Here, I might have lost more than half my audience, the other half may read along!

  1. A sharp knife/Dao/Kukhri/Katti – This is very essential to chop firewood. I usually don't carry one, since even on the check-in baggage it doesn't look convincingly harmless. Here, I have borrowed someone's dao.
  2. Sambar powder – This one is a panacea for all kinds of hunger; an occassional sambar, potato fry, any curry, actually, it can add flavour to any food. My mom makes this and packs it for me. MTR is a good backup too.
  3. Pickle/any podis/chatnis – These are great to have with just rice too. Never tried rice and pickle as main course at home but here it is sumptous with fresh onions. I also feel that I am bringing a small part of home with me here! Pickles are good for my Andhra blood too!
  4. A small knife – Here, the Adis use a Yoxik, in this particular village it is called Chigdo, photo below. This is very useful, for it is difficult, dangerous and funny too, to cut veggies with a big knife.
  5. A peeler/grater or a small pestle – This one's usefulness I can't describe enough. Ginger-garlic paste, dry fish chutney, peeling potatoes, these are only few uses of this contraption. Do carry one.
  6. Instant coffee powder – Its nice to wake up and smell firewood burning followed by the smell of coffee. Its also useful to make friends in a remote village. That way you always have something to offer. I've even got a friend here who is now addicted to it, he comes here every morning for a steaming cup of coffee.
  7. Radio – Very useful, works without electricity which may often be the case. But beware of Chinese channels!
  8. Umbrella and raincoat – Here in Upper Siang, it could rain anytime of the year, even while 'mine truly' is reading this.
  9. Inland letters – I've written several letters from field. Can't recieve any though, seems it may take even a year or more for a letter to get to Bomdo!
  10. Lastly, packets of 'Puliyogare, Bisibele bath, Sambar' pastes are very handy. They taste nothing like home food but are tangy enought to fill your belly.

I am not saying that these are the only things to carry or that these are the more important ones. There's also medicines, books to read, gum boots, several pairs of underwear and socks, woolen thermals, etc. But these are the more obvious things one needs to take to field. Listed above are things I've learnt to carry since I miss them when I don't. If you think you also have such a list and most items don't match the ones mentioned here, please post them and drop a link.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Against all odds

The yellow-throated marten is called 'Sikki' by the Adis here in the Upper Siang district. Today, I went to a 50-year old abandoned shifting cultivated field and saw several trees. Almost as many as I saw earlier in the adjoining patch which was abandoned following cultivation 100 years ago. Field work this time was a pain Align Leftsince February-end/March is the beginning of the cultivation cycle and everyone is busy. To top that, the day I landed here, there was some festival, called 'Mithun' puja, when Mithuns are slaughtered and meat distributed among the clans. If they talk to any outsiders, referred to as 'Ayings' here, their Mithuns and pigs may get killed by wild animals. I could immediately see the connection here. And one last detail, its raining cats and dogs here, in February that too!

So three days later, it turned out this way. Due to rains, the festival was cancelled and therefore i could meet people and the sun generously came out yesterday and ahoy field work began. This time, I am here to enumerate trees in different aged abandoned shifting cultivation fields, which brings me right back to martens. I was tired after the first field day after several months and was wondering why I chose such a remote and difficult to work in place. I took a few more heavy steps and heard movement in the undergrowth. This was so close to the village and at mid-day that I was expecting domestic pigs. But they were martens! One runs away, the other chases, the third, while passing turns around for a second or two and gives me a 'what are youdoing here' look. My field assistant Durik told me that they were probably fighting and that martens are against odds. Let me explain.

The Adis think/know that martens are never comfortable in groups of 3,5,7 and so on. If there are 3 or 5 or 7, one will get definitely eaten by the others. So I asked Durik if anyone has seen this happening and he said many people have and its for sure! And people from another village down the Siang river, Ramsing, told me the same too. Wonder whats going on! Another detail is that they never eat the marten meat here, but they do kill it when they see one, since martenskills chicken in the village. Anyways, for me after a tiring day in the field, I was happy to see three, although perhaps fighting with each other, martens!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Roy came along this time to Bomdo, Upper Siang. When I planned this visit, i was pensive: what about food, firewood is a pain to work with. And cooking for one person more so. But I didn't figure it out earlier, it was Roy who came along. From morning one, he was the pyromaniac. I would in the 4 days he was here, wake up and smell the fire. He also has super culinary skills. We'd had some very tasty curries in Itanagar together. There was this one day even in Bomdo, when we were out of veggies and we walked an hour collecting ferns. This fern we call 'Terimey soppu' down South (likely Diplazium species) is here as well. This was the one time we foraged for veggies, made the fire, cooked the meal and ate it, a very nice experience for someone hailing from Bangalore.I could picture him in the video of 'firestarter' by 'Prodigy'. Anyways, I figured, following his stay in Bomdo, I wake up, make the fire, cook my meal, pack it for field work, come back, cook again and feel pretty good about the whole thing! Thanks Roy, cheers!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Pakké rocks

Yes, back in the north-east, so the blog continues! Apologies for not posting often, but I wasn't here in the north-east and I did not want to change the main theme of the blog! This time before heading to Itanagar and then on to my study site - Bomdo village, I am at the first stopover at Pakké Tiger Reserve where my colleague (Amruta Rane) and her team are doing the tiger census which is going on right now across the country. This is the best opportunity to get into a Tiger Reserve and that too on an on-the-house trip, well actually, on-the-Forest-Department trip! But firstly, about what happened before I got here.

Guwahati & the dust-bath

Guwahati, the main gateway to north-east is quite a town: crowded, tambul (betelnut) chewers and spitters everywhere and now multiplexes and big malls. Its like a small city mimicking a big one out here. Another annoying thing about the city is the dust-bath, smoke and dust everywhere, and if you are anywhere near Khanapara, if you ever are, cover your face with a kerchief! Its like you take in dust in your nostrils before you take the smell of a forest anywhere beyond Guwahati. In fact, the only good thing about the place is that bus fare from anywhere to anywhere ranges from 3 – 5 rupees, and its been that way for almost four years now.

Anyway, I spent three days at Guwahati before I got to Arunachal Pradesh, not by choice, as you will read. My good friend Narayan's family has adopted me over the last few years and treated me as one of the family and taken me in whether I am headed to Bangalore or whether I am headed to field like this time. There was even once a tiime when I had a rupee left when I got to Guwahati since I had expected a bank to be open at 5 pm, it wasn't. So with all my luggage, which usually exceeds 10 kilos, I walked, to be specific from Bangagarh to Khanapara, almost 8 km! But when I got to Krishna bhaiyya's place I was treated like I would be at home: a hot water bath and a super-sumptous meal. But coming back to the topic of why I had to spent three days in Guwahati, I needed to apply for an inner line permit (ILP) for entering Arunachal. When I was earlier working with G B Pant Institute at Itanagar, I had a 1-year, all-Arunachal ILP, but this time to get a 1 week ILP to a single destination (in this case, Seijosa, the entrance to Pakké Tiger Reserve), I had to wait two days! Felt a bit sick, but hey, here I am! The first day in Arunachal began at Pakké, which brings us to the hot topic of the blogpost.

A sort of field-coming

After many months down South, it feels great to be back in the beautiful forests here. I got to Seijosa and within half hour was to leave for the Panch-iali camp in Pakké, where one of the five roads that lead to nowhere leads to the camp! First glimpse of Arunachal after almost a year, beautiful! The great barbet call was on which usually provides the timely beat of the sounds of the forest, nice lowland forest right in front of me, Duabanga, Erythrina and Toko, the local palm used for thatching, were flowering and yes Pakké rocks, they really rock. Each is a different colour, shape and has a different texture.
Pakké rocks
I call this one Roti, egg and butter!
Pakké rocks
A khaleej and junglefowl
We also saw several Khaleej pheasants and red junglefowl and on one occassion even together, wonder what that was about.

Then we took on the survey, this usually involves looking for pugmarks around nallahs, or streams. The first day we saw pugmarks of two tigers, at least one leopard and some wild dogs too. The second day, today, was one of the most beautiful walks. Often, we saw the Oriental Pied and the Wreathed hornbills and very often we would hear them flying over the canopy with a muffled Chopper-like sound. In all, we saw about 5 Wreathed hornbills and 3 Oriental Pied ones, all in a couple of hours walk.
I also took a bath at a stream, with some Puntius and Leopard Loaches. A bath after three days, after a dust bath at Guwahati, awesome!

Pakké rocks
A leopard loach
Charan da the person driving us to Seijosa also told us something interesting. There was this mammal that used to defecate in the same place for the last few months, according to him a cat. I couldn't think of a cat that does that and then he even took us to the place. Here's is the picture of the scat.
Pakké rocks

So Amruta and Charan decided that they can afford to leave a camera trap at the place and perhaps pick it up in a week. So we may get picture of this toilet-trained carnivore. I am really looking forward to what it might be, maybe I will write about it in a future blog post.
In all, truly, Pakké rocks!

PS: The cat stopped visiting its personal lavatory after they fixed the camera trap. Its most likely a civet, sorry for the loss of a loo!

A village gets connected to the world

Its just another Sunday morning, things are easy and slow; a bit laidback, a bit purposeful and a bit hungry. So, I got my bike out, eat a ...