17th September 2009
The day dawned overcast and gloomy. Our plans for leaving early for field were thwarted by various complicated and interacting factors (time of breakfast preparation, fuel filling in the jeep two name two). With absolutely no hope of finishing work in time (before lunch, that is) me and Nandy set out in the invader towards beautiful Tenbere. But not before we had talked to half a dozen forest department employees, and had procured the imminent company of the very voluble Christy Forester. Halan Ranger at Kargudi requested us to deliver a bag of rice to Chikalla camp, and arrangements were hastily made for us to have lunch there too. One problem solved – no need to get back home before lunch! Three quarters of a confused hour later, we had deposited the Forester, his crew of four and half a sack of rice at Chikalla camp, and headed towards our respective transect sites. Chin Boms and Manban (APW, Christy Forester very kindly allowed him to accompany in spite of his help being required at the camp) were my helpers for the day.
It so happened that stream point 782 was about 400 m from the road in a low lying valley. To reach it, we traversed through what can only be described as gentle rolling slope. It was so gentle that it seemed almost apologetic about being a slope and if given a choice, it would have certainly been a plain. The gentle rolling slope was covered in the fresh greenness of year old growth of grass littered only with the bright purpleness of a flowering herb and a few stunted trees. The green continued uninterrupted for miles and miles, into the next hill and beyond. Then we walked into a slope that definitely did NOT regret being a slope, and reached it’s base (point 782) just to find that there was no lantana there. I had found a wonderful place: NO lantana! For as far as the eye could see in all directions...no lantana! Say ‘lantana’ and my instinct is to get down on all fours, to crawl through whatever expanse of this plant lies before. If you’ve ever done that, you would also be familiar with the feeling of claustrophobia that comes free with it. But here was an uninterrupted landscape. Only the grass and the trees. Just the way a forest should look and behave. Unfortunately, and for all practical purposes, this stream was absolutely useless for me, since my objective is to look at lantana variation at different distances from the stream. So we abandoned the picturesque slope (every inch of one’s being screaming somewhat philosophically - “why the hell should there be slopes?” while trudging uphill) to look (very biased-ly) for a stream that did have lantana.
I haven’t walked long distances in a forest for so long that the long walk that followed was one of the most magical things I have recently experienced. The lantana free landscape, unfamiliar trees, silence broken only by cicadas and the tidbits of trivia from Chin Boms (“Madam, the large fruit Phyllanthus is fruiting” or “we use this grass species for thatching roofs” or a long tale of tiger sightings beginning with the words “when I was at the Chikalla camp.....”). The scenic walk (I later discovered on Arc View) was about five kilometres long, and we finally hit a stream near Chikalla that had a respectable cover of lantana around it. By the time we ended the transect, a very angry sky confronted us with an angry outpouring of raindrops. We had to make a dash for Chikalla camp (“it is very close by, madam” Chin Boms had promised). Never has something close by taken so much time to reach. Down slope, up slope, three soaked humans and one very fogged-up pair of spectacles (which, if I may say so, DO NOT help vision at all) later, we finally walked into Chikalla camp to find steaming Kanji and kurma waiting for us. Eating in the forest is an experience by itself. You can gobble up unimaginable quantities of food without noticing it very much, and polish plates till they need no washing. So you really shouldn’t judge me when I tell you that I tucked in a heaped plateful of kanji with a heaped plateful of kurma, and did not even complain about it. After our soul-drenching walk, the food felt so divine, that I almost started believing in God.
Nandi was still at her transect, so Christy Forester very generously took it upon himself to keep me entertained till she arrived. He talked about his family, his cars, his various and diverse jobs, his postings, the charge sheet against him, his family, himself, his son, his son and oh did I mention, his son? For a whole hour. Then Nandi came, and he very generously took it upon himself to entertain her as she ate a late lunch. He talked about his family, his cars, his various and diverse jobs, his postings, the charge sheet against him, his family, himself. He did not get time to talk about his son. Mostly because our day was over and we had to head back. I envy that man for having led such an action packed and thrilling life. And to have the energy to talk about it at his age!! We said our goodbyes and came back to hot tea at the field station.