Our visit to Phura and Palak

Waiting for daybreak, the roosters were literally ruling the roost. When we stepped out, visibility or rather the lack of it was quite surprising. The heavy misty dew was settling around us. While we fumbled along the path to our tea stall, my orange Ayappa lungi was the only element spottable from a distance. My embarrassment at having ditched the less conspicuous alternative was long lived,  but never owing to rude stares. We could  feel a drizzle around and Nimesh patiently explained to a sleepy eyed me that it was the falling dew....the rains were still a couple of months away.

Where we stayed

This was my first stay at any part of Saiha and I was completely humbled by the sensitivity and hospitality extended by the people around. From the old chowkidar uncle who cooked for us and brought in an assortment of chutneys to an old lady who brought Raddish and Antrum (mustard leaves) from her field for us (refusing to let us buy it off her). The woman running the tea stall also was most disarmingly warm.

The village has about 200 plus households and seems almost picture perfect, with its houses of wood planks and thatched roofs, a large field , a small market place , 2 huge churches a small post office and handfull of shops excluding the make shift hawking of Burmese goods (huge lighters, blankets , shoes etc). We stayed at the forest department's guest house and were generously taken care of the by the aged but agile chowkidar uncle (pic on left).

 The homes like their Saiha counterparts bear the name of the head of the household along with his designation professionally or in the youth groups, church and other such associations. Usually blue and green boards are painted with white/black announcing the various positions/designations of the head of the household.

Along with the name/designation boards most homes also display remains of the animals they’ve caught. Tails of squirrels and feathers of various birds are very common. We also saw the skulls of something akin to a gaur , tails of civets hornbill casques etc. When I’d initially heard about hunting in these parts I’d wondered how much hunting can possibly be going on? This visit proved to be an eye opener. Wherever we went, on foot or in a vehicle we saw young men with catapults and guns. We heard a minimum of three gunshots a day and of course saw the range of trophies on the doors of homes. Infact the younger kids are often playing with beautifully put together bamboo toy guns. After visiting Palak and seeing the lively tree hopping squirrels it was a tad depressing to see three of them being roasted over the fire at our regular morning tea haunt in the marketplace.

A toy gun made of bamboo

  Late evenings were accompanied by the sounds of drums and songs. The rhythmic sounds and the excitement of our companions to join the evening song and dance at church was a regular feature once the sun was down and animated breakfast conversat

Towards Palak Dil

We visited Palak twice during our stay at Phura and I still haven’t had enough. The lake itself is mesmerizing in its simplicity added to it the long walk to get there from phura is nothing short of being the same. It’s a tad tiring 6 kilometers from the forest guest house, but worth every step of the way. Through the first 3 kilometers we have the valley on our left with its rice fields. We were four, and each was busy doing spotting of their choice, one peered at butterflies, another strained some neck muscles to sight birds and chased after the falling leaves. Nimesh has been here multiple times and was enjoying this walk after the long gap. Yours truly looks for birds and squirrels and they did reveal themselves generously to this novice. While crossing the fields at the very beginning of our walk we amongst many others saw some splendidly blue green rollers and a very clumsy descent of a coucal down some bushes.

Gradually the fields give way to slopes that have been left to their own device for some time, and then the final downhill descent which is marked by the beginning of a forest growing thicker by the step. Dense- the word now has an image association. I felt like quite the city idiot because I did spend some time wondering what the thick vines and creepers were. Were they going up or coming down? Eventually I just decided to enjoy the sight and leave deciphering for later.
A lone black trunk bearing witness to some previous Jhum

Numerous calls which most of us could not trace –to- source accompanied us throughout the way. At the descent we are also joined by the cool moist wisps of breeze. The noise made by a falling leaf is not something that I gave any thought to, till this walk. But it is something that takes me by surprise here. The forest thick green, contains within it various stages of decay and growth. Leaves -tumbling, falling, gliding towards the ground as they break their last contact with the tree. Almost each brush against a branch or trunk till the final landing can be heard. I could almost hear the wisps even when it was just floating mid air I think!

I had seen a shadow of a squirrel on our first visit and was thirsting after a better opportunity. No sooner had I expressed this desire that Nimesh glanced up and there was one on a large not very leafy tree. Here one second and scurrying on to the next branch the next. I saw it leap from one giant trunk to the neighboring one in its entire bushy splendor and had to stifle a whoop of pure delight. The second trip was dotted with many sightings of these. Small ones, large ones, playfull ones and calm ones, later looking them up in the field guides I realized they are called, the Hoary Bellied Himalayan Squirrel, Stripped Himalayan Squirrel and the Orange Bellied Himalyan Squirrel.

At Palak

Finally we pass a gate which must be there for some ornamental value as it really does not close the entry into anything nor open up to anything. Two pillars and a gate on it and open space all around, a bit amusing I must say. The sun was bright and harsh so the amateur’s (that’s us) camera’s and binoculars weren’t given the most conducive environment. From a small clearing on the bank aided by these we watched the pond herons, egrets and the moorhens in action.

The viewpoints (mini watch tower like huts) were not accessible so I spent the better part of my second visit on a larger clearing on the bank, while the trio trained their binoculars from a smaller better covered patch. I’d had enough of binoculars and guides for the day and was looking forward to some quiet time. Like a lazy birdwatcher cum reiki practioner (which I’m not) I fancied myself sending out non threatening vibes to all the bird and animal life around , hoping that the vibes would be read as friendly and some would come to have a dekho at me while I get a glimpse of them. Looks like my fancy was turning true, for in a while I had some spotted doves pecking in the leaf litter some meters way, followed by a gorgeous emerald dove, I kept straining to hear the flap of the wings of the hornbills, with no luck. Two egrets headed straight to the banks where I was planted. I think they spotted me too and changed course just before landing. The moore hens also wandered around not too far.
On our way back my perfect content was slightly punctured by the fact that I had missed the hornbills. No sooner had I said this out loud that Nimesh pointed out to the clear expanse in front of us and there……about 5- 7 of them were gliding across the lake into a thicket on the bank. One after the other large black wings passed my vision and I was stunned into silence (a rare occasion Nimesh would say!!).

My content was finally perfect I walked back sighing and smiling to myself.

Kawlchaw once again

Visited Kawlchaw again in the the third week of January. I was still semi ticklish about the thermocol balls instance. This time around I was left to my own device and had the camera as a companion. Kao has been reduced to the trickle of large bladder but the ruckus it creates in the flow is almost equivalent to the stone crushers around. Kaladan still flows almost akin to my last visit. 

The trickle of the Kao

Spent some time sitting at a spot where the two meet and watched boys cast their tattered nets and bring it up empty. But they seemed to just enjoy just rowing up and down the shores.

Fishing in Kaladan

Took a walk along the bank and through the market on one side, quietened my growling hunger with some Chow and walked across the bridge down the other bank and settled myself in a manner where I was out of sight for the bathing shrieking children. Sat around trying to decode the camera’s features and then just watched the to and fro rowing.

The bridge across the Kaladan

The tripod attracted too much attention from the children some of whom ran about heralding my arrival shouting ‘ Tv ‘ ... ‘TV’ ...‘TV Camera’. Sufficiently embarrassed I put the eye sore away. The water as usual was soothing to the nerves , regretted not taking a dip but the full -bladder -trickle of Kao couldn’t tempt me enough , while the Kaladan had already been claimed by a boat and the bathing children. Watching the action from the sidelines is just as enriching.

Gulaal and what followed

Watched Gulaal last year about this time and loved the film. The charector played by Piyush Mishra had me enthralled.  Wrote this after watching the film.

What separates the voice of mania from normalcy?
They dwell under one roof
Offspring’s of the same womb
Sisters conjoined

Normalcy hears her other's wailing song,
Is habituated (or so she thinks) ….to her lament
Smiles and humors her
Benevolent and feeds her

Then annoyed, threatens her

Mania in her rapture unaffected by these affections and afflictions bestowed
In seeming rapture, but she watches and reads -speaks truths that her kin won’t hear
In her crazed songs she weaves
Images that normalcy fears to see
Her intonations echoing the alternate truths , those that her sibling doesn’t perceive

They turn up- discomforting her -reminding her that all demons are not to rest
Like the many coffee mugs in my house, no matter how many I wash, there are more that my patience test

9th Jan - Drawing

One of the activities we'd thought of while the children continued to visit us was drawing. This again was something Nimesh and John took up with the schools around as a part of conservation education. The group visiting us was definitely on leave from school and we thought ideas like the film and drawing sessions would not only entertain them but also provide an opportunity to talk about wildlife and forests.

About ten children came in to draw and  magazines were scattered around for them to pick up images they would like to copy. There was no pressure to draw anything in particular.  Most children over the eight years tried to attempt at a picture from the magazines while the younger ones were more comfortable drawing homes!

Remrem at her focussed best.

We had  had about an equal number of children outside the house peering and peeking inside but hesitant to walk in despite our invitation. Many came up to the door giggled and sprinted away. It was quite festive, the colours, excited chirpy voices inside and out!

A child called Zuali has been a regular in her visits. I was surprised when she declined paper and crayons saying she didn't want to draw, but even more pleasantly surprised when I saw her rushing around from one child to the other giving suggestions and comments, bringing our attention to broken pencils and the need for sharpeners or erasers . I don't remember ever having such classmates or friends, who'd not only be happy in not participating (voluntarily) but also derive joy by actively helping the others. As far as my interactions as a child or my informal interactions with a group children are concerned this was a fairly new and delightful experience.


                                              This is Zuali studyting the drawing of Puipuia.

When all were done with the never ending finishing touches we wrapped up by putting up the drawings on the wall and door.

Since then we've had many young visitors pass by to take a look at the drawings. The group also bring in their friends for a dekho.