March 23, 2012

THE RIVER CALLS - Inside the heart of the Cauvery

The drive from Bangalore to Kanakapura is an exercise in patience. Burgeoning traffic and the physical expansion of the city limits has put a tremendous strain on the narrow highway which is already bursting at the seams. Trucks, motorcars, and buses honk and swerve, trying to accommodate themselves in the narrow highway all the while threatening to push you down the road into one of the many lakes that dot the landscape.

Kanakapura itself is a town on the verge of booming even more. There are new, upcoming constructions all over, giving it the feel of being a recent suburb of Bangalore. But the moment you maneuver past the narrow lanes of this important administrative town, rural Karnataka smiles at you. The scene shifts and you cross several small villages with cows grazing around. Then, just as suddenly, you enter a seemingly surreal world. Everything changes into an arid shrub land and then into a bustling forest. Villages are left behind and you would be excused for forgetting that this sight is a mere couple of hours away from the madness of the city.

The change is dramatic as Bangalore is really not more than 80 - 100 km away. For a first timer, it must surely seem as if Bangalore is an aberration and this was what the local region was really like before development crept in. You experience lush forests as far as the eyes can see, deep valleys with patches of green even in the dry season, and the sudden drop of altitude as you enter the world of the Cauvery.

Whether you are arriving from Mysore through Bannur or from Bangalore through Kanakapura, the altitudinal drop has to be felt to be believed. From the soothing ambience of the Bangalore plateau to the dry heat of the Cauvery valley, you enter a different world where cell phones still do not work and access to the benefits of electricity is an exception and not the norm. There is a sudden stillness as the heat takes over all actions, humans’ and animals’ alike, and then you hear the Cauvery.

At first, you may not notice the gurgling sound in the distance but when the gush reaches your ears, you will know that you have arrived. Massive waves crash into ancient rocks, boulders tumble around unattended, froth swirls from some unknown whirlpool - all this show the beauty of the valley.

This is the isolated Cauvery Valley, the last stretch of the free flowing mystic river in Karnataka, before it flows down the Hogenakkal into Tamil Nadu and spreads wide in the Thanjavur delta. This small stretch of land is where some of the most dramatic fauna is found, from the endangered giant squirrel to a large population of river otters and the tiger of all fishes - the Mahseer.

In fact, the story of JLR is the story of conservation of these vital resources and how protection could enrich the livelihoods of several villagers who had earlier considered it futile to protect these resources. They had believed that exploiting them would be a better source of income. Before embarking on the wonders that this valley offers, knowing a bit more about this fabled river would be an enlightening experience. This is because the Cauvery is not merely a river in these parts but a source of life and the cradle of civilization since times immemorial.

The valley serves as the meeting ground of dedicated anglers who visit from all parts of the world and of serious nature enthusiasts who walk miles to click pictures of their favourite birds. It is also a preferred relaxing ground for thousands of corporate workers who are whisked away from the glitzy world of their hi-tech wonders into this primeval land in a matter of hours

March 19, 2012

An Urban Relief - Also know as the Bannerghata National Park

There are two types of urban dwellers. One who live in modern urban sprawls basking in the city life, their only connect to nature being annual holidays to exotic locations. Then there are those who have the fortune of access to green oases within the urban chaos in the form of parks and lakes. As with dwellers, cities also fall into two categories. One part with little or no greenery and the other which has the fortune of having remnants of ancient forests.

These cities form part of an exclusive worldwide chain of the last remaining urban forests. In these cities, nature still has space to breathe and provides us with a much needed whiff of fresh air. Hence, inspite of all the terrible chaos, Mumbai still has the Borivili National park, residents of Bhopal for all its recent growth still find time to visit the Van Vihar National Park, Delhiites have some relief in the form of the vastly reduced ridge, Mysore has the Chamundi Hills and Karanji Lake and Bangalore can still count upon its remaining parks and of course the Bannerghatta National Park on the outskirts of Bangalore. Living in a concrete jungle, the escape to Bannerghatta National Park is but barely a few kilometres away from the city centre.

The Bannerghatta National Park is located on the edges of the suburb with the same name, about 20 kms from the city centre. Primarily a dry forest tract, it is part of the original forests that extended into the Cauvery Valley, with most of the forest still intact. Accorded intensive protection and classified as a national park, Bannerghatta is every Bangalorean’s first brush with nature.

The Bannerghatta complex is used for a variety of environment education programmes and as a popular camping site. There are facilities for safari and stay. A state of the art, modern butterfly park has been inaugurated recently and a zoo facility exists. Thus, it is a perfect getaway for the tired denizens of the city.

As a concept, JLR as an organisation spreads the message of conservation far and wide. The park being among the first introductions to wildlife for children across the city, JLR utilizes the camp to further the interest of conservation. It is one of the very few JLR units with a dormitory that can accommodate children at a much lower cost. JLR organizes camps during the holiday season primarily focusing on nature based activities. These camps are organized as two to three day events wherein children get to experience nature first hand.

Additionally, the camp plays host to the Naturalist Training Programme conducted by the Chief Naturalist of JLR, S. Karthikeyan from time to time. The programme has been well received and very popular. Several budding naturalists have enrolled in this course and have contributed to the message of conservation in whatever ways possible.
The three day course has emerged as a favourite amongst nature enthusiasts. Karthik, who has worked in the field of conservation and education for more than twenty years, now uses the subtle interactions of nature to imbibe a sense of awe among participants. He, in his humble manner, may have possibly contributed to creating thousands of budding naturalists over the past few decades.

This understanding imparted through the Naturalist Training Programme goes a long way in promoting a sensible understanding of the environment while encouraging the birth of new ecotourists.

Bannerghatta Nature Camp will continue to be every child’s first brush with the environment, ensuring that they colour their imagination with the myriad hues of nature and imbibe an appreciation of the wild from an early age.

March 3, 2012

Kabini Glory

Some 80 kilometers from Mysore, through a beautiful country landscape with curving roads, large tanks and few vehicles, past the heart of rural Karnataka, and in the shadow of vast forests of the Western Ghats lays the Kabini River Lodge.

A showcase to the wealth of Nagarhole and indeed wild Karnataka, Kabini has a rich history dating back to more than a century. Kabini is a visual treat. Sambars, spotted deer, gaurs, wild boars, elephants, leopards, tigers - it is the place, widely considered to be the mecca for wildlife sighting.

The forests extend as far as the eyes can see. Sandwiched on both sides by the Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Nagarhole National Park, the Kabini River preserves among the last remaining wilderness in the country.

What is now the Kabini River Lodge was earlier the hunting Lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore and a favorite of his guests. The lodge is located in Karapura Village on the backwaters of the Kabini dam. During the late 18th and early 19th century - it was common to see Viceroys of the British East India Company at Kabini. Lord Mintow, King Edwards, Lord Mountbatten, Lord Irwin and the Russian Grand Dukes visited Kabini during their stay in India. Later on, JLR took over and began its path breaking experiment of community based ecotourism in a wilderness setting.

The journey begins at its very gates and its story is best told while sipping coffee at the very regal Viceroy Lodge. The antique furniture, the regal appearance and dozens of very old photographs whisper about the ancient roots of the place. There are photographs of the Maharaja of Mysore and his hunting party, some black and white stills talk of the elaborate kheddah operations undertaken to capture elephants.

Crocodiles silently submerging, otters curious enough to offer a few seconds of precious viewing, birds totally nonchalant and assured of the protection accorded to them, leopards observed more on trees and silently fading away into the wild, elephants frolicking in the waters and the tiger frequently seen looking over his kingdom - the magic of Kabini is not explained in mere words.

There are more prints of hunting parties of every sort, tigers, leopards, gaurs and mahseers. History breathes from each brick and the forests have tales to tell.