Saturday, January 27, 2007


India's Republic day means & doesn't mean a lot of things to people. But to school children, itz fun time again. Marchpasts, community processions, speeches, flag hoisting, songs, skit, dramas & chocolates!!! It was 9ish in the morning, when I reached the Chalghatta school. For a change, all the kids were neatly seated, and awaited the proceeding to start. The chief guest was to arrive, and there was no sign of him. And soon, there was these colorful distant objects in the sky that got the kids excited. Parachutes, balloons ? None of us cud make them out.

The 6th std kids rehearsing

Shivaji & a look-alike!
Awaiting the chief guest.

Finally, we decided to go ahead.

The culturals started, but we guyz had to move to the Bellur school.

Initial photshot with Chetna & Hena.

' Bharath Matha ki Jai'

The Anganwaadi kids.

The Vande matharam song. Chetna & Hena had trained these kids for it. One complicated version, with tounge twistors galore.......I regarded it as pain & torture to my kids.......but to my surprise they pulled it of with aplomb.

Loose control... One more time! for THE skit. The 'Punyakoti' song. Chethan, who sang was running away with the song. I barely managed to click a few snaps.

We had wonderful masks for the cows & tiger, but the one for the calf wasn't available, and we had to make do with a rabbit mask!!! Here Punyakoti is talking with her calf....'bout her impending surrender to Mr. Tiger.

After sentimental scenes, Punyakoti goes to Mr. Tiger, who for reasons I haven't fathomed all my life, feels sorry for wanting to kill her and instead of sending her back & going home, jumps from a cliff, and ends life!!!!

Teaching with my 5th std kids goes like this....45 minutes of English...restlessness.....and suddenly they jump and say 'Uncle, we will dance'......and thats it...they have their 'n' dances...that includes Dhoom machale!!! Here, we have them as Gopika's cribbing 'bout Krishna!!!

Speech in English. Chetna came with a simple written speech, and thrust it in my hands. None of the 4th & 5th were ready to speak it out, for they can't read it in the first place. Shocked. Well, thats the way it is. And, as I loudly contemplated writing the English in Kannada, and getting it read. Manjunath, a 3rd std kid, jumped, and forcefully said, he wud do it, and did a wonderful job of it. Long way to go for us.

3rd std kids singing the poem 'Bannadha thagadina thuthuri'

Man...this song has climbed up to the top of my charts. Something like 'Jannadha pannadha mangagallee'......Monkeys... please don't see, speak & hear evil! A dance, that evokes lot of laughter amongst kids.

End of celebrations. Lots of volunteers missed. Sunand, Dharin & Ami joined. And, the best part was the culturals at the Bellur school. Last Independence day, the kids just watched as pooja & speeches took the centre stage. But this time it was the otherway.
After we left the school, came across this injured Brahminy kite. It may have done well with some attention & care, we left it to nature & moved away. And, so are these govt. schools ?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kodachaadri trek day 2

We pitched our tents, and crashed. Well, thats damp squib is what Sunand would say. And, lo...he didn't let me sleep. He pulled me out for the new year celebrations, that began a day earlier. A cake with 7 candles surfaced!!! Some game.... soon pettered away, and it was the time for anthakshari around a bonfire with competition from other trekking groups, camped just a stone throw away. I sneaked out, and crashed.

Soon, I was pulled out in the name of a 'night trek'.....Deepak, Sandeep, Sunand & me went up to one of the Kodachaadri peaks. I was dragging my feet. Lot of moonlight, outlines of distant hills, a valley, grasslands and forests. We reached the top, and lied down on a carry mat, and starred at the sky. A clear sky, the brightness of the moon, kept some stars away, but still it was breathtaking, it was midnight, and Orion - the hunter - was right above. We watched amazed, and asked questions over-awed, "What if a star falls on us ?"
(pic, flicked from the web)

Nest day morning, the last day of the year, I was slow to be off the blocks. The gang had started for the sunrise. I went up to the peak we had gone the previous night, only to realise the rest of the gang was at a much taller peak. That gave me some time for myself.

As I moved around, on a crater like peak with wild grasses. I stopped, the pounding began, will the snake stay ? I slowly moved, and aimed, it seemed to laze in the morning sun. No movements, as I inched closer, with increased beating, it turned out to be a snake molt! I was excited beyond measure. Therz absolutely no pattern on the skin, and I am finding it difficult to identify it. Yes, I got it home in a lunch box. Note that the head & tail are very close. It has eyelids!

Encyclopedia Britanica article on snakes

The trek began around 10ish. Look at these snow clad leaves. I was amazed. After closer scrutiny realised it some fungus deposit on dying leaves.
Western Hill Catmont. Flowers pollinated by bees, wasps & ants [Isaac].
Thats amazing, for a lot of flowers evolve to have a specific species pollinate their flowers.

As the gang caught their breaths, after the steep & labourious climb down from Kodachaadri. We reached a eatery, and were awaiting 'Puttu'. Meanwhile, I went out to explore a small path that beckoned. And as I stepped into thick vegetation, I could see a skink rush away, and I lost sight of it. The next half an hour, I some point it came out......the rustling of the leaves was a dead give away. Importantly, you need to maintain the silence, as you move, spot it, peer thru light tunnels in the dark forests. Little Skink: Mabuya macularia. Skinks the largest of all lizard families, with over 1,300 species feed on plant material & insects.

The puttu finally arrived ;-)

By now, we were in real thick vegetation, quite dark, rapid decent, and my bruised knee. Wonderful trees all over. I just wasn't able to capture them due to pressure to keep up with the group! Notice the leaves. There were four or five leaves at the tip, and just one of them was real long. I couldn't believe my eyes! Was this the characteristic of the plant......or was it the light source that just elongated a leaf ?

These bright colored fruits(?) were sticking out of the ground. I find them quite fascinating, have no clue what they are. The small plants closeby seemed to be associated with it. They were found close to a stream (which had leaches), alongside a unused jeep track.

Dense forest. Trees. Climbers. It was bewildering. And some of them pretty tall. Herz one. Sunand & Deepak (left to right).

Seed dispersal is another interesting aspect in plants. The plants devise various mechanisms to ensure that their seeds reach, far & wide. Fruits are once such mechanism. Many a time, the pod bursts and the seeds are flown, hopefully far away. Here, you see the pod(the conical structure), the brown seeds, and the white radiating threads in a parachute fashion from each seed. A little breeze shud suffice to take the seed away. Wonder, what aerodynamic fundas apply here.

We finally reached this tall waterfall. ArishinaGundi falls. Barely had time to getinto water. Away from the falls, just above the flowing water, besides the rocks where a colony of spiders. Lots of webs, and spides galore. As I watched them, I was zapped to find spiders inside water!!!! Wondering - what the hell - and kept starring at them, took a few pictures, that didn't come out so well. Thought, I shud check this out with experts. As I kept watching the water-borne spiders, blood gushed in, and I realised I was looking at spider reflections!!! Ha....what a let down!!!Well, herz a unsolved mystery. Found a spider inside this nest. Itz real white. With almost straight edges. It looked like a tissue paper folded on a branch and stitched. Mmm...adaptation of a tissue paper thrown or nature's yet another creation ?
The trek was to get over in another half-a-kilometer according to the local guide Vijay, and we walked for atleast 30 minutes!!!
The Gang.

As we walked towards kollur, the new year celebrations started hitting us. Here the road was turned into a greeting card!

A lovely trek. Perfect way to end the year. Would like to go back, with a smaller group, and examine the flora-fauna closely. Thanks KMA.


The Book of Indian Reptiles & Amphibians: J. C. Daniel
Common Indian wild flowers: Isaac Kehimkar
The Private Life of Plants: David Attenborough

And, Karthikeyan, Ullas, & Joby.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Kodachaadri trek day 1

Forests fascinate. You see lifeforms everywhere: zapping you. And, believe me, soon you start wondering 'bout them. What is it ? Why ? How ?? And, there in begins a journey to understand life around you.

Kodachaadri is a peak 1343m above sea level in the western ghats, quite close to the Arabian sea. Dec 29th saw me wind up a project, heave a huge sign of relief, and catch 22 (or 24 ?) other blokes for the KMA led trek.

We stopped at a resort like place for early morning activities. Quite a few birds around, but I just couldn't get close to any of them ;-) These leaves caught my attention. And, that insect (who-what-why). Also seen was a big bird - a kite like bird - quite far off, and I didn't have my binoc's with me. see those seemingly dried brown leaves ? I had always wondered at them. These are small plants called epiphytes that grown on the big tree. They put up big leaves (those big brown stuff) in a tight circle around the stem. This enables it to catch rain water and form ponds. Falling leaves from above, decay, and pass nutrients. Birds come for water in these ponds and leave behind nitrogen rich droppings. Other visitors could be Mosquitoes, Dragonfly's, frogs, beetles, lizards, small snakes. Its party time out there! Also called Bird fern nest, and commonest of these epiphytes are bromeliads.

A huge tree trunk lay across our path, and you see the orchids. Orchids are mostly epiphytes, and they are not parasites. Orchids have an exciting tale apart from living on other plants or rocks, their name comes from the Greek orchis, meaning "testicle". Well, Theophrastus (370-285 BC) used that term to describe a class of plants that had testicle like roots. And, the name famously stuck.

Pied Paddy skimmer (male)

Crimson tailed Marsh Hawk (male)
Moving on, Dragonflys here. Thanks to this online book, I got to identify them.

Flaming spike climber. All wild flowers identified here are thanks to Isaac Kehimkar's book on Common Indian WildFlowers.

Common Jezebel on Common floss flower. One of my favourite butterfly. The plant is an aggresive invader, rampant due to felling of evergreen forests[Isaac].

Orchid. I thought this could be a catterpillar, and gently touched it. Notice the roots. Some dangle the roots in the air, and absorb moisture in the air. Some spread it on the branches, and absorb the water(along with any absorbed nutrient) trickling down.

By this time, it was afternoon, Jharna, Sunand & me - we had got lost - blame it on orchids & dragonflys - and were the last to reach this amazing waterfall. The path was quite adventerous - walking besides a stream, on rocks, slippery at times.

This looks like a 'Tree frog', unfortunately I don't have a better picture.
Hill Blepharis. Bees polinate the flowers.
Common burbush. Interstingly, the lower leaves in the plant have three lobes, while those on the flowering stem have single pointed apex[Isaac].

Spot the insect.
It was a long day, my left knee showed up an earlier running injury. And, I struggled once the climb & decent began. This majorly hampered my movements, getting closer to the subjects, and having time to photograph. And, had also finished up one of the two batteries I carried. And, so got very choosy in clicking. Stayed away from people & landscape snaps.