Close Encounters at Chilika

Orissa has been on my bucket list for a very very long time and finally I made it there! A state rich in culture, heritage, art just to name a few… Despite not being a birder, I was keen to visit the famous Chilika Lake and it turned out to be a unique experience. We arrived at the ‘boarding’ point at Mangalajodi and the frail looking long narrow wooden boats raised more questions in my mind than reassurance.. Without giving my mind a free run, I quickly entered the boat and made myself at home at the assigned seat. Suddenly I was at the water level and the world around me seemed to be at my eye level…



A bird’s eye view, as it were…

Escorted by a local guide, we set course almost immediately. Our boatman used a bamboo to push the boat which ensured our ride was non-polluting. It did however make me renew my commitments to weight reduction! The boat glided smoothly, its silent passage broken only by the breeze whistling through the Phragmites karka and wave ripples tapping against the hull. Birds in the surrounding wetland seemed undisturbed by the occasional putter of a motorised boat which seemed like a cacophony to my ears.


Armed with a  brand new binoculars, I could see the birds up close and as my husband described it, ‘ as if we were watching a colourful silent movie!’ I can now understand what is it that makes people fanatic about ‘birding’!


The borders of the Chilika lake at Mangalajodi has several water channels that run in between grassy islands. However humans cannot really walk on these our guide said, as our feet sink in the slush- a fact confirmed when I sighted a fisherman whose legs sunk in till his knees as he walked around manipulating his fishing net.


I watched in amazement as the brilliant Swamp Hens made merry and they seemed to be the most populous members! Their iridescent blue plumage was a striking contrast with the green shades of the aquatic foliage. The slush did not seem to bother the Black Tailed Godwits as they waded easily searching for food. The islands were a hive of activity with the busy orange-legged Black Winged Stilts, Whiskered Terns, Golden Plovers all of whom failed to disturb the graceful Purple Heron. It stood rock still observing its prey and hopefully was successful.

Chilika, Mangalajodi
Swamp Hens and Egret

Our boatman seemed to know the channel routes and steered the effortlessly through the numerous watery-lanes and by lanes without a map or GPS! The guide preferred to lend his binoculars to us and could identify a bird species from a distance with his naked eyes. 


Wow!

Heron

As we moved deeper into the lake, our boat changed direction and the sun was climbing up to its zenith which meant I got a free ‘heat treatment’ for my back. Yet the Cormorants seemed to be enjoying the very same golden rays! Their wings spread out like a magician’s black cape as they looked disdainfully at their brethren. The three types of Egrets tested my new found identifying skills! Did the Little egret have a black beak and yellow claws with black legs or was it the Great Egret?? 

Which Egret?

Suddenly we spotted an incoming Harrier that circled and swooped in search of a prey and an Egret flew away with a distress cry that warned others of possible danger!


The Northern Pintails were the only ones who seemed to be swimming, giving photographers their best angles from a safe distance. The orange-brown Brahminy Ducks flew as a couple, in a majestic flight. In the distance, the Black Headed Ibis and Open Billed Storks tirelessly pecked for food undisturbed by the surrounding overly active Asian Pied Starlings.


Birding, birdwatching, ducks, Mangalajodi



There was plenty of activity near the tall reeds as well. The Clamorous Reed Warbler was well.. clamorous in a perfect camouflage with the tall shoots of the Lesser Indian Reed Mace. The Painted Snipe stood still in meditation as a lone Kingfisher sat on a pole surveying its territory.


Chilika, birding, travel
Whiskered Terns and Kingfischer

And when our expert from Foliage Outdoors excitedly, called for silence, I knew we were on to something special. He pointed out to a rare Crake, whose feathers glowed a lovely brown, maroon and red! Now I know the inspiration for my grandmother’s prized Paithani… 
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A Bronze Winged Jacana tiptoed over floating leaves unmindful of humans gaping at its stunning colours.


All in all it was a rich first encounter. One in which the birds successfully won my attention from the diverse aquatic flora. I am sure I have got some names wrong and missed several species but I am happy with this lot. Does it mean I will switch loyalty from trees to birds… 


Nah! Not yet!


Brackish water, reed, chilika, Orissa





Brackish water, Chilika, Orissa





Bird photography is not my skill and I hope my words alone will spark an interest in birding among the ignoramus. If I have succeeded then Foliage Outdoors is among the best resources to embark on an amazing friendship with feathered friends.


Cheers!


Information:
This is not a sponsored post.


The website of the Chilika Development Authority has detailed info. 


Click here for a comprehensive list of bird species at Chilika.


Mangalajodi Ecotourism offers clean basic food and accommodation and birding trips.



Godwit Eco Cottage is another option. 


This page on the BirdLife International website lists some aquatic plant species.

Unanswered by Kunal Narayan Uniyal

I read, a lot, both online and the old fashioned paper books. I buy a few but I source most of my books from a library. What I don’t do is review books. The reason is simple, some one has given all they have and more to create something (possibly unique) and I dont think I am best qualified to comment on it. However, I do comment whether I like the book or not, do I recommend it or not and so on… 


Recently, I happened to read an e-version of a book called Unanswered by Capt Kunal Narayan Uniyal, which was sent to me by Novemberschild @romspeaks . The Publisher is Samaya Sakshaya




What sparked my interest was the name… Unanswered. Would it be a Mystery/Thriller/Romance?? Nothing had prepared me for what I eventually read… an intensely philosophical book. It is the author’s spiritual journey put forth in a combination of text and prose. It is the result of extensive introspection and reading of ancient texts. If you are looking for light reading, then this is not for you. 


Capt Uniyal discusses various concepts like Immortality, Morality, Ego, Pain and Suffering, Death, Religion. He has also put forth his thoughts in the form of poems. An unusual and effective style that brings forth his thoughts and ideology as the author has mastery over both prose and poetry. The chapter the got me totally interested was the one dealing with What are prayers and Why do we pray?  Yet another very interesting chapter is ‘The Chosen One’ where Capt Uniyal writes about people who have walked a different path. He concludes this segment with, “…  Know that you are the chosen one; know that you are different; know that you can bring new hope and make a difference to mankind. You are an individual soul, climbing the stairs of evolution, faster and higher than your counterparts. Alone walks the chosen one, who dares to think. But he is surefooted and knows, without looking back, that someday the trail carved by him will be walked upon !…” 


Whoa!!!


‘Unanswered’ is highly recommended for anyone who thinks beyond the mundane existence and is reluctant to read the accepted ‘texts’ for answers to questions that would obviously arise from the said thinking. This book will be the first stage that will prepare the thinker/reader for an in-depth journey into the search for peace, tranquility, truth and maya.  


A word of advice, do not rush through the book, instead read it one chapter at a time. Think, introspect about what the author has to say and reread the chapter if required. Only then move on. 


Stay Happy everyone
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The White Ghost

The White Ghost! Words that one usually associates with paranormal beings, dark nights, the other world and so on. There is yet another kind of white ghost that is visible to the naked eye and tangible to touch.


Do I hear your ‘what’ and ‘where’???


Without any further ado let me not increase the suspense. A tree called Sterculia urens is commonly referred to as the White Ghost simply because of its shiny white trunk. In fact, its said that this is the only tree that can be identified in the dark because of the colour of its trunk. 


Gir, Sasan Gir, Trees



I am told that it is commonly seen in Tadoba but I encountered it in the forest at Sasan Gir. We were there to see the King but the White Ghost was the one that held my attention. It gave tantalising glimpses in a distance as we cruised around in our Gypsy (a vehicle by Maruti Suzuki). Now you saw it and now you don’t. It had disappeared behind a mass of Teak trees. Sanctuary rules forbade us from getting off the Gypsy to go closer to investigate. The closest we could manage was at a distance of about 50m but the image has stayed with since.


Trees, Gir, Gumtree



My amateurish images on the point on shoot camera do no justice to the stunning trunk texture. The totally bare branches had a pannicles of inflorescence at its end. Some trees had extensive branching resembling a dancer with multiple outstretched arms.


Our guide called it the Gum Tree and I have since learnt that the gum karaya exuded by this tree is used as a thickener, stabliser and emulsifier in foodstuffs. Roasted seeds are eaten. 


I had seen one tree of this type on the Sinhagad slope but that trunk was not as dramatic as the one at Gir. I am told that the tree trunk changes colour, a fact that I have yet to verify.

Gir, Tadoba, sterculia urens, gumtree,
Fruit and leaf of Sterculia urens (this image from the tree at Sinhagad)

In his book ‘Deshi Vruksha’ , Prof SD Mahajan has described this tree in detail. Belonging to the Sterculiaceae family, its flowers don’t look like flowers, fruit does not look like a fruit either.

The bark of this tree changes colour from white to copper tinges, flaky and green when its leafless. Pradip Krishen’s ‘Jungle Trees of Central India’ has a wonderful collation of images of this magical bark!


Trees called Shivan (Marathi name for Gmelina arborea), Kinhai (Albezia procera) and Arjun (Terminalia arjuna) also have dramatic yellowish white trunks.



Have you seen this magnificent tree? Do you know of any other beautiful tree? 

Take care and Happy  Tree Spotting!
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A Trek For All Reasons

The Kas Plateau has attracted huge interest from nature lovers and people seeking a good spot for a days trip out of Pune. However its very beauty and easy accessibility has caused the Kas Plateau to become a horribly overcrowded place when in the flowering season (Aug-Sep) every year. For this very reason, I grabbed a recent the opportunity to visit the Raireshwar Plateau which also is home to several ephemeral species. My visit lived up to all my expectations in terms of floral diversity and beauty and as a trek of course. The final part of our  route to the Raireshwar Plateau involved climbing up 328 steps at a dizzying height and this may possibly be the deterrent reason as we encounted almost no crowds there.


Puen, Western ghats
The picturesque countryside beckons

After an early start from Pune, we drove down to the Korle village and walked up to Raireshwar. The track was fairly easy except for large stones embedded in the track. Monsoon rains in the initial part of the season had painted the entire region into brilliant green hues. However the rain gods had frowned upon the state it was no different for us.. the easy trek turned to a tough one as we had to deal with the blazing sun. The occasional cloud drifted across to provide some relief as did three water falls flowing down from the top of the mountain range. This climb can take about an hour in good weather.  


Pune, Shivaji Maharaj
Spot the track as it winds up the mountain

                                                 

Walking up in the blazing merciless sun

The track joins the tarred road for a short while and again turns towards the plateau. Technically, the route is motorable till the base of the steps and one need not trek up all the way (Its the Ghera Kenjalgad road according to my map). Of course that means missing out on some phenomenal views, raptor sightings as well as the changing flora with increasing elevation. So take your pick!


The steps that I have mentioned are part stone part iron ladders into and over the craggy mountain face and have a protective hand rail on one side. They are sufficiently wide for a trekker to climb up along with her gear. While we had only a gentle breeze to break the heat of the sun, I am sure the situation must be different on other days considering that we were now at over 4000 feet above sea level. Yet the view as one climbs up is stupendous, breathtaking, plus every other adjective you can think of.. provided one does not have fear of heights!


Zoom in to see the steps

The steps taper off into the plateau where I met a couple of boys selling ‘เคคเคพเค•’ (buttermilk). They were perched in the branches of a tree with the container hanging from the lowest branch. What a great spot to sell to thirsty weary trekkers! We gladly took the glass he offered (Rs 10) but it did not offer the relief that buttermilk usually does, due its intense garlic garnish! I wonder why they did that…


Unlike Kas, the plateau was not totally flat but had some gentle undulations and all were covered with the cream/yellow coloured blossoms of the Indian Arrowroot (called Chavar in Marathi) – Curcuma caulina. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking with respect to flowers!

At the top
Curcuma caulina flowers (Chavar)

We had to walk some distance (possibly about a kilometer but seemed like much more in the intense sun) to reach the temple area. Raireshwar is home to the temple where the young 16-year old Shivaji cut his finger at the Shiva temple to take oath of a Hindavi Swaraj. Hence the huge historical importance of Raireshwar. (The pujari had left by the time I made it to the temple so I was unable to get ‘darshan’) En route to the temple is a spring that emerges from a Gomukh. Beyond is the Pandav leni and a quarry that has sand with seven-colours. We could not make it to the caves or the quarry but I am told both are worth visiting. There is small village on the plateau and there was a board indicating a school… I wonder if it was functional…. The locals do provide simple wholesome fare which is well worth a try.


The structure with the white roof is the temple where Shivba took oath of Hindavi Swaraj



Dipmal outside the temple
Inscription in Modi script in the temple wall
Shivaji statue installed recently

The return journey seemed faster possibly helped by some clouds that took the bite out of the sun. All in all a wonderful day’s trek from Pune… one that is certainly recommended especially if you like to spot and identify flora. We were lucky to see a Blue Mormon Butterfly! 

All in all, this trek met all my criteria of a perfect weekend outing– walk, views, trees and flowers, history, heritage, new destination. 

Treks, Raireshwar
Kenjalgad visible in the distance

Inspired to plan a visit?? Here are some images of the flowers we spotted, to help strenthen your resolve


Sun-kissed flowers seen growing along the steps
Chlorophytum species
Adelocaryum malabarica (aka Kali nisurdi)
Water, Pond, lake, Raireshwar trek
A lovely pond on the plateau. A serene peaceful spot
Impatiens dalzelii (aka Pivla terda)
Murdannia sp

There is so much beauty just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed in India. So many places that one reads of but never makes the effort to visit. We have finally begun this journey. 


What about you? Go on . Start now… Its never too late..
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