The Cobra

I got a phone call this morning from our driver.

Sir, are the children at home?

Yes. Why?

I caught a small cobra over here at SAP and I want to bring it over there to show them.

I suspected another harmless rat snake, because last week he brought a rat snake from the office campus. It was not…

Pic of the Day – The Monster

Somewhere out there in the forests of spider valley is the monster that left this stool behind. And they say that the tiger is the king of the Indian jungle. Not even kitty messes with these things.

Pic of the Day – Oh the Irony

This sign is across the street from the ITPL, here in Whitefield. I’ve always loved the irony of it…

In Search of Spider Valley – Part II

Continued from part I

So we were off onto a broken dirt track that supposedly led (in the wrong direction) towards Kempakerai and supposedly would return to blacktop within a few hundred meters. The latter was true and soon we found ourselves climbing a mountainside, deeper and deeper into the jungle. Within a couple of kilometers, we climbed to a ridgeline and came to a fork in the road. There was a stone sign, presumingly giving directions and distances. Unfortunately it was in Tamil and nobody in the car could read the Tamil script, so it was no help. Both directions seemed equally jungly and we were certainly not where we planned to go, so we randomly went left. Within a few minutes, we came to a bridge over a dry riverbed. We parked the car and started exploring up the riverbed.

It was easy walking and we could look for animal tracks if any were to be found. They were to be found in abundance, but were all cows and goats. There might possibly have been deer among them. I find the tracks difficult to discern, but there were at least three types of spoor in the river bed. There were the usual cow patties, the tiny balls usually associated with goats and deer and a third kind. It consisted of small, elongated cylinders, about one centimeter in diameter and three centimeters long. These were in turn woven into logs. I’d seen them before while hiking in the Western Ghats and there were no goats of cows in that area. Might they have been sambar or chital?

Eventually, we stopped and had a lunch of bread and hard boiled eggs brought from home. We were at a bend in the riverbed, just below a peak. As we ate lunch, we watched a small jungle fire slowly spread. We photographed it, listened to its crackle and eventually decided to clear out of that area lest we get caught in a spreading forest fire. That was the first of several such jungle fires we saw. None of them seemed to be in any hurry to start a conflagration the way fires in the Pine Barrens do. We need not have been concerned.

So we went back to the car and made our way back to the work in the road, so that we would not be caught on the wrong side of the ridge if the fire reached there. As the fire was far from the fork, we quickly forgot about it and went to explore the other way. We wound our way down switchbacks with spectacular views of a large valley between two rocky ridge lines. Eventually the way came down to the valley floor and as we drove along, passing tribals collecting sacks and sacks of tamarind. We also started seeing elephant dung. We reached a washed out bridge over a dry river bed (the same creek as before, only downstream) and rather than risking getting the Innova caught in the sand, we stopped there and started exploring the riverbed and the trails in the area. We found the usual signs of domestic animals as well as old, dried up elephant spoor and what appeared to by a deep footprint left when the earth on the riverbank was last soft.

Taking a break back at the car after one of the exploratory forays, we shared our cookes with some villagers heading home after collecting tamarind. They were delighted to have our cookies and the eldest man among them divided them up very carefully, ensuring that every man and woman received the same number of cookies. After they finished, rather than simply tossing the bag aside, they took it with them. Can I infer that tribals don’t litter? If so, I’m delighted. Wrenzo informed us that they had told him that we should not be around after dark as elephants regularly came through there and you never knew what mood they might be in.

We still had time though, so we set out to use our last hour before we had to leave. We followed a trail uphill through the scrub jungle. Sammy was loudly announcing that we were in the scrub jungle and that there were elephants and leopards around; ensuring that there would in fact be no leopards or elephants within a one kilometer radius. Near the top, we saw a group of large, dark, rounded shapes? Elephants or boulders? If they were elephants, they would likely bolt if we approached. If they felt that the young had to be protected, it could turn ugly, so I held the kids at a safe distance while Hanna and the Daniela’s sisters cautiously approached. I brought the kids up when it was determined that they were boulders. We did find lots of dried up spoor in the area of the boulders. There were no recent signs or tracks however, leading me to believe that the pachyderms have moved to wetter areas –possibly to the banks of the Cauvery – for the dry season.

We also found large, ground based spider webs everywhere. Notably, they seemed strewn and clumped among the rocks of the riverbed as well; seemingly washed there. Given that the riverbed has been dry for weeks or months, this is a testament to the durability of the spiders’ work.

When we got back to the car, Wrenzo informed us that some of the jungle dwellers had told him that there was one lone elephant in the area with an injury. It was ill tempered and had overturned a vehicle a couple of days earlier. I’m not certain about the authenticity to embellishment ratio of the story was (especially given that the signs of elephant activity were old), but I’m certainly glad that we did not see any lone, irritable elephants.

Reluctantly, we returned to Bangalore. This is exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for this past year and I’ve already started formulating plans for the next trip. Interestingly, during the trip, I recorded our various places in my GPS. It is a Garmin Forerunner and not really intended for navigation, but rather as an advanced training device. It is a useful tool for marking locations and recording paths. After arriving home, I put them into Google Earth to see just how far off we were and what landmarks we should keep an eye out for next time. I now believe that we were actually in “spider valley”.

Astonishingly, we ate lunch a mere mile downstream from Kempakerai. Had we continued up the river bed, instead of turning back due to the jungle fire, we’d have shortly reached Kempakerai. Had we driven another few minutes instead of stopping at the bridge, we’d have reached the same by road. The directions had been correct; despite not mentioning the fork in the road. We had thought that we were north of where we were, on the main Anchetti-Pennagaram road, when in fact we were south of that on a road that was not on the map. Where we parked the car the second time was about 4km from the banks of the Chinar river and a mere 12km from Hogenakal Falls as the crow flies. The other option for spider valley has a road running through it. The valley we were in has a paved road, but it is only a single lane track; not a proper road and it seems to fit Anderson’s description quite well..

In any case, I plan to return.

In Search of Spider Valley – Part I

I’ve been reading a lot of Kenneth Anderson lately. He was originally a big game hunter who worked in the middle decades of the 20th century in South India. He made his name hunting down numerous maneaters (both leopards and tigers), as well as the odd rogue elephant and people-killing bear. In his later years, he became a writer and a conservationist. He had a slightly earlier and better known counterpart who followed a similar track; a man Jim Corbett, who now has a tiger reserve named after him at the foot of the Himalayas. Corbett concentrated on North India and Anderson concentrated on the south; mostly places within a 200 mile radius of his home in Bangalore. Anderson serves as an inspiration to South Indian nature lovers and conservationists. In fact, there is a local conservation group named after him; which reminds me that I’ve had a sealed envelope with my membership application sitting on my desk for a month and need to call the courier service.

A considerable part of his writing involves an area of Northeastern Tamil Nadu, north of the Cauvery River and especially an area he calls Spider Valley. Hanna mentioned that she’d like to do a bit more hiking before heading back to Germany. As I’d already been scouring maps, Google Earth, finding it on wikimapia.org and going through a blog post about a recent hike there, I suggested that we try to find this place. I say “try to find” as Anderson wrote forty years ago about events a decade or two prior to that. In addition, he was often coy about describing exact locations for fear of them being stampeded.

So we set out from Bangalore yesterday morning with the objective of finding either the village Kempakerai or Kodekerai, both of which are repeatedly mentioned in Anderson’swritings. The general idea was to find one of the villages, find a local willing to work as a guide and then hike a bit; or just wander off into the woods as we saw fit.

Within an hour and a half, we had reached Denkanikotta. After that, we entered the hill country and it became very jungly. Along the way, we were lucky and spotted a crested hawk eagle sitting in her nest near the roadside. Things looked promising.

Nested Hawk Eagle

Nested Hawk Eagle

After subjecting the poor raptor to the paparazzi treatment (though we used a telephoto lens so that we could keep our distance), we continued on our merry way. Getting as far as Anchetti was easy enough after that, the directions from the villagers became vague; often with half the men in a hamlet turning out to debate the proper way to go. Eventually, at one hamlet, we were told to turn onto a dirt track and that Kempakerai would be a few kilometers up the track. We were also informed that the rough dirt track would turn into clean blacktop soon after leaving the village. The only catch was that it led to the left. If we were following the road from Anchetti towards Pennagaram, these two villages should have been on our right. Such is finding your way in India.

Foreigners are not allowed to have Survey of India topographical maps, so we have to rely on Google and asking for directions. This is a pity as that region has not changed much in the past half century and I have excellent orienteering skills with a map and compass. Given our past experiences with “I don’t actually know the way, but I don’t want to say so. So I’ll just give directions based on my best guess”, I resigned myself to not finding spider valley that trip. I presumed the track to lead off towards the North side of the Anchetti-Pennagaram road and thought that in any case, we’d find a nice place to do some hiking and with a little luck, we might even come across the forest department’s Aiyur rest house; where we might be able to find more reliable information.

So we followed the track.

To be continued.

Whoah!

Dani’s twin sisters are in India, along with appropriate significant others. Holger was also in Bangalore due to a business trip a couple of weeks ago, when this story took place. So we all piled into the car and drove to Tiruvannamalai to show them the temple there. It started off well. The drive there is always beautiful, we stopped at the roadside at one point to let the kids collect Tamarind and we had a nice biryani (rice based casserole) for lunch at a restaurant in Tiruvannamalai. Then we went to the temple.

The Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai is magnificent, as I have said before. We strolled in took in the architecture and atmosphere and went straight to the temple elephant so that the kids could get blessings from it. Shortly before reaching the elephant, a beggar woman approached us. Somehow, we managed to get past her without her following and we reached the pachyderm safely. Charlotte emptied my pocket of coins; giving one at a time to the elephant. It takes the coin, gives it to its handler and then touches your forehead with its trunk in blessing. Sammy was too frightened to try it.

Just as we were about to move on, a man smiled and stepped next to me. He loitered for some time. This is usually the signal that he is the insidious bastard type of tout. Then he started with a song and dance about how he needed 100 rupees to get back to Chennai. I told him to get lost. I loathe professional beggars with the fury of a thousand suns. Any able bodied person who consciously chooses to beg instead work is not a good person in my book. Tellingly, the one phrase in Kannada that I know is to tell such people to get a job.

He left to look for another mark and I continued on my merry way.

A while later, we were lounging near one of the small shrines near the eastern gopura. I stepped away to photograph temple monkeys. Another fellow came up to me. This one was wearing the saffron (orange) dhoti of a devout Hindu sadu. He started to tell me that he lost his pass and needed help. I mentally groaned. “Here we go again. Why won’t these people leave me alone?” Saffron dhoti or no, my patience was at an end.

You would not do this if I was Indian!

I turned and walked away.

He stammered…

I am not a beggar! All Indians are not beggars!

Then he walked away.

A short while later, he returned. I had moved over to the tank (artificial pond) to watch a kingfisher hunt, but the others had remained in place. He pointed to me and said to Holger.

Your friend said that all Indians are beggars! We are not beggars!

He went on accosting Holger for a few minutes. I never said that and don’t think it, so I don’t know where he came up with that idea. As far as I could tell, there are four possible reasons he acted that way:

1 – He was just unbalanced.

2 (the cynical version) – he was just using it as a psychological lever to pull at our heartstrings and do a scam. After all, nobody wants to think of themselves as bigots and people may be inclined to try and prove that they are not under such conditions.

3 (slightly less cynical) – He was trying to scam me, but was still genuinely offended at my gruff response.

4 – He was genuinely the engineer that he claimed to be and genuinely in need of help and had no clue what a riff-raff magnet foreigners are. Middle class Indians are often shocked at some of the experiences I’ve had. I distinctly remember Siva being wide eyed about the guy asking for my socks. If he does not personally know any foreigners, he may be unaware of this and not understand my reaction.

I do wonder what it was.

Facepalm Meadows

I finally got around to joining the Palm Meadows mailing list. For the better part of a year now, I’ve been clueless to the political goings-on of my neighborhood. It seems to be practical and handy. For example, I now know about the debates over the security processes at the front gate and won’t be surprised by any changes.

It is also extremely entertaining.

One fellow recently actually read his newspaper delivery bill and found that he was paying more than the newsstand price. I pay more than the newsstand price. I pay twice the newsstand price; 10 rupees per issue instead of five. It is worth 5 rupees to me to have it delivered to the door at 6:30 in the morning instead of taking the time to go to the newsstand. I may have lost a nanosecond or two of sleep over it sometime in November. I’m not sure.

But oh did it set off a firestorm!

Soon the topic turned to the milk delivery guy. He does not come to our house, but he does come to a couple of the houses on the street. Apparently, someone ranted that he charges 3 rupees a liter more than the store cost. This rant was met with much general agreement about robbery and how even 1 rupee per liter is too much. One neighbor even went to far as to do an absurd, back of the envelope calculation of 3 rs per house in Palm Meadows per day by 600 houses and came up with over a lakh of potential milkman income; causing him to rant even more. These kinds of calculations were how pets.com managed to get venture funding in the 90’s. Palm Meadows has a high vacancy rate due to the financial crisis and only a fraction of those homes get milk delivery. At best, the milkman makes the middle class income of an ordinary bureaucrat. I wonder how this rage against the ‘dadagiri’ the milkman’s cartel will turn out.

Now I understand not wanting to be overcharged because I’m perceived as an easy mark. I’ve had my own stories to this effect. This however is clearly a case of paying a small premium for convience. The fact that the elite of society can get their knickers in such a knot because an enterprising individual is making a modest living off of others being willing to pay for convience boggles my mind.

There is only one possible reaction…