Category: Northeast India (page 2 of 2)

The Dance of the Bamboos

At first I thought it is the people of Mizoram who use bamboo to perform their celebrated dance, the Cheraw. After months of field research in remote forests of this small state in northeastern India, I know now it is the other way round. Through its intimate influence on the people, it is the bamboo that does its own dance on the mountains of Mizoram.

… This post appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 15 April 2014. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild. A slightly edited version of this article appeared in opinion/editorial page of The Telegraph on 12 April 2014 under the title Field and Fallow, Farm and Forest.

Bird by Bird in the Rainforest

Stop bouncing around like a ping-pong ball you tailless piece of shit!’ I said.

And it worked! The tiny, truncated bird, smaller than a sparrow, hopped onto a thin twig, and paused. Paused for just a couple of seconds, but after fifteen futile and frustrating minutes trying to glimpse the bird in the dense rainforest undergrowth on a misty morning, this was enough to get one clear view. If you can call staring through a pair of Swarovski 8.5 × 42 binoculars—my breath held to avoid fogging the eyepiece, my cold fingers clenched around both barrels, my shoulders and elbows locked, my torso twisted like a snake curling up an imaginary tree, my knees bent so that I could look lower in the undergrowth, past ferns and herbs and leafy tangles and fallen branches, through a tiny gap—at the briefly motionless bird twenty feet away, one clear view. A lot of effort, for one little bird.

… This post appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 11 February 2014. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

Bamboo Bonfires and Biodiversity

Can wildlife and slash-and-burn shifting agriculture coexist? This question led me into remote rainforests of northeast India in 1994 for a field research study in Dampa Tiger Reserve, Mizoram. In December 2013, nearly two decades later, I went there again. From the Anamalai hills in south India, I travelled across the country to initiate a comprehensive bird survey in Dampa, including a resurvey of my old field sites. As a prelude to other writings I will post here in the days ahead, I post below an edited version of an article about my work in Dampa in the mid 1990s. This article first appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Wildlife Conservation magazine (a remarkable periodical published by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which after a print run of over 112 years, perished with the recession in 2009). Original PDF here.

The heat from the fire is intense, even from a hundred metres away. The entire slope is ablaze. Piles of slashed vegetation and tens of thousands of bamboo culms that had sun-dried for three months burn ferociously. The bamboo hisses, crackles, and explodes, audible a mile away. Hot gusts of wind scud the fire upslope, throwing branches and small trees ten metres into the air. High above, unmindful of the billowing fumes, swallows and drongos, in a frenzy of activity, hawk insects. Ash and smoke darken the sky, reducing the sun to a dull orange ball. In twenty minutes, almost as rapidly as it started, the fiery spectacle ends. On the soil, only a blanket of smoldering ash and tree trunks remain.

… This post first appeared in my blog on the Coyotes Network on 31 January 2014. Read more in the The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

The tall tree

The tree stands tall—head and shoulders above the rest. Its long round bole reaches straight to the sky. Its branches hold out firmly, even as the leaves toss around and whisper with the wind. With its first branch at over a hundred feet and the uppermost leaves nearly half as much higher, the tree is one to reckon with—even a monkey would need to work hard to climb it.

High above, the tall tree’s branches hold clusters of red-brown, two-winged fruit. A gust of wind tosses the high branches and a couple of winged fruits with their package of seed take to the air and go whirring in the wind. In evening light, they are like fiery butterflies pirouetting in an aerial ballet.

The tree is a landmark, for those who choose to see it as one. In the distance, the weaving tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra courses through a winding dip in the land. The forest around is dwarfed by the tall tree. Across farms and scrubby undergrowth tangled with vines, only a smattering of trees meets the eye, and there are none so large. The tall tree is special. What does it stand for, even if it stands alone?

… This post first appeared in the Rainforest Revival blog on 20 December 2010. Read more in The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.