This and that

Well, it’s been a while, but I knew this day would come. A day when I’d be staring at an empty post, needing to fill it in, and not having any pictures to describe. Nope, I haven’t gone gallivanting anywhere, so no photos to share. My bike is running good, so no problems there. Touch wood.

If anything, my stomach is throwing a lot of burn. A bad infection does that to you. And medicines to fix that. I guess they are working, as the pain and incidences of it have been reducing with each day. I am staying away from coffee, with just tea and milk.

Not sure where I got the infection from though. Depends entirely on how long a bacterial infection takes to show itself. If it’s a few days then it would be something from Saturday evening. I really doubt Sunday evening, as no one else seems to have been affected. Even Saturday sounds a tad doubtful cos of the same reason. Could it be a water based one? But the symptoms of those are a lot different! Oh well, enough discussing my stomach problems, I’ll plow on with a bit of pain in the stomach.

June has traditionally been the month I fall sick. The onset of the monsoons and the change from summer to a cooler weather does things to me. Or maybe it is plain bad luck. Can’t beat last year though! That has to be the worst, needing a whole week off from work. To save a day’s leave I tried to get myself up to work on the Friday. Couldn’t manage more than a few minutes.

The arrival of the Monsoons also means that I put on hold all travel plans, except for Monsoon specific plans. It doesn’t help to go get drenched anywhere. It’s not a time for safaris, nor a time for beaches. Treks are interesting and I am really keen on trying one out this Monsoon, maybe one at Agumbe with the leeches. Need to see.

I miss the times spent around the Jog belt in 2013 and 2015 though. The 2015 one was depressing, with not a spot of rain, dried up rivers and waterfalls, and people all over complaining about the lack of rains. Last year seemed to be worse, although from what I’ve heard it was better further North of Karnataka. Only the Kaveri onwards things have been really bad. I really want it to rain well this year. With a strong El Niño looming over the latter half of the year things can get really bad next year.

Talking of climate, it is interesting how Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord has brought climate change into the conversation. And am surprised, in fact, shocked, to notice how many people around me are deniers. These are educated engineers who I work with every day, who’s opinion goes like “Do you expect me to believe that we humans who are such a tiny portion of this large planet can actually influence things on it?”. And “This is natural. Earth goes through such processes.” I tried the usual things. But making people understand and shake up their opinions and facts isn’t really an easy thing. It goes way beyond facts.

And then there was another who agreed with me, but kept insisting that nothing will happen to the planet. This is the usual George Carlin line of “we’re fucked, the planet will still be here.” Of course, who is complaining about the planet as a physical entity in the first place?! But it is good to make sure you set your viewfinder from time to time. He also added his own thing to the list – magnetic poles might change soon, exposing us to cosmic rays.

It is pointless to argue that life is threatened on the planet by our activities – “Life always goes extinct from time to time”. “We, humans, will find some way to exist.” Unless you really care, it is hard to convince a person that species going extinct in the planet because of you is not a good thing. Yes, we might continue to exist, but it’ll be a lot more precarious existence, where we have to deal with a lot more intense climatic events in a cooked up planet. As a species, humans will not likely be wiped out, but the evidence increasingly points towards it. And more importantly, we don’t know what’s in store. We’ve never lived in such a warmed up planet. The duration when we seemed to have multiplied and prospered is a mere 100 years. We reached 1 billion only in 1800 and the next 1 billion in 125 years! The last 5 have been added in 90 years! Remember that until then our growth was kept in balance by a combination of war, disease and other factors. The larger chunk being disease, not war.

As Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book, this period of 100 years(less if we consider the post WWII timeframe) where we seem to have seen a lot of “prosperity” might just be a calm before the storm. It is unprecedented. Of course, you cannot talk to people all this. Belief systems aren’t about facts, as the oatmeal so clearly puts it.

But then, having individuals believe or not believe in something that is going to fuck with most of your species is hardly going to make any difference. The biggest difference has to come top-down. One only hopes it does. Although these days am rooting for climate change to do its thing so that the planet can get this over with. And start afresh.

Until then, would be better for me not to get worked up when I hear so much idiocy. God knows, there is no shortage of it!

The end of an era and the start of another

Bull

After putting it on sale for close to a month, I finally sold my old bike today. I was barely using it as I had switched to the new one. Yes, it was only an upgrade from one to another, and they are lifeless machines. But I couldn’t help going back and looking at how so many things changed once I got the Bullet. I had never done ‘rides’ as such. Two wheelers weren’t meant to leave the city!

I discovered the joy of open roads, and more importantly I discovered the joy of hidden roads – two-laners that are away from the Highway and used mainly by those who live in those places.

I discovered the joy of solo rides. To be by myself, on some unknown road between Devalapura and Huliyurdurga. What would happen if the bike broke down, or if there was a puncture? Oddly, I never had any such issues. Punctures need specific inputs, in the form of nails. Unless someone stands to gain by it, the chances are really low.

I discovered the joy of the ‘thump’. The short bottle silencer was the chief partner in crime, with a purring sound that never really got too loud for me to worry about noise pollution. It was ideal, and more importantly legal. Too bad that people now prefer loudspeakers like the Goldie and the Indore!

I could never go fast on the Electra. It was a bike that loved being around the 70-80 kmph mark on highways. You stay on 70, but you move to 80 to overtake. That’s about it. It wasn’t fast. Not even close. You don’t ride it to race. You ride it to experience.

It surprisingly gave me a lot fewer problems than what people who own Royal Enfields crib about. There were some issues with the odometer cable conking out, some issues with the battery initially when the service guys screwed it up. But it shed them off, and kept getting better and better.

After waiting one whole hour, I gave it to a guy from Kerala. He seemed excited on the prize. I wished him luck, that my luck with the bike would continue with him! There was someone else who was supposed to visit me. His brother was supposed to come down this weekend and he had planned on getting the bike. He dropped out at the last minute as the brother’s travel plans got changed. I guess it was destiny that the guy who bought it ended up with it.

Now, onwards to the era of the Bullet 500. Why did I buy it? I asked myself this multiple times. It wasn’t the speed. But I had had my eye on it ever since it got released. The time of its release coincided with that of my getting the electra. Would I have bought the old bike otherwise? I don’t know. Guess this is destiny too.

Looking forward to more rides, and more joys to discover!

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Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills

We had been looking forward to this trip for a while now. Divorced from the pressure of big cat sightings, the BRT Tiger Reserve in the BR Hills offers up a wide array of wildlife – from a wide variety of bird species to elephants and tree shrews. The trees here are greener unlike the bare bones trees of the deciduous forests in Bandipur or Nagarahole. The guide said that there were four varieties of forests in those hills – from shrubs and deciduous to moist evergreen and evergreen.

Despite the short distance between Bandipur and here, the elevation gain changes a lot. There are no peacocks, which are so ubiquitous everywhere in Bandipur. The Langurs are also fewer. And despite being a drought year, there was a surprising lot of water in the waterholes. The elevation helps.

The camp itself is set in the middle of the forest, unlike JLR’s properties in Bandipur and Nagarahole. This means that there is no external power connection. What they had last year was a diesel generator running for 3 hours in the morning and 3.5 hours in the evening. This time, they had installed solar panels which promised power all the way till 3 or 4 AM. It lasted till 1 AM one night, and I slept like a log the second to notice.

Being in the middle of the forest also means that you can be woken up by deer calls in the middle of the night, sounding the alarm over a passing leopard. You can stand around the camp and see spotted deer, wild pigs, and even one barking deer passing by. The birding in the camp is itself amazing, and we spotted both types of barbets, Jerdon’s leafbirds, a yellow-crowned woodpecker among others.

But the surprising thing this time was the safari. Unlike with the big two reserves where you drive around for a long time not seeing anything, and suddenly something big turns up, BR Hills has a lot more to offer. You are constantly noticing something every 5-10 minutes. The forests are noisy with birdsong – whistling thrushes, Indian and Hawk cuckoos compete to be heard above the din of horseflies. And of course, Crested Serpent Eagles!
Crested Serpent Eagle

Although we hardly seemed to have seen much the first evening, we came away happy. There was a lone elephant cow grazing on the side of a hill, and she looked very weak and bony. This being summer, and right at the fringe of the monsoons, this was expected. Hopefully, the monsoons will be good and there’ll be good fodder for everyone soon.

Elephant
Elephant

Continue reading “Dhole packs and bathing elephants at BR Hills”

The snake in the hole

Around 4 PM on Tuesday as I was working from home, someone rang the bell. Father answered it, only to find no one. Turned out some of the workers’ kids nearby had done that. They were now busy looking at the other side of the road. Turned out they had seen a snake cross from our side of the road and go into a hole in the empty site opposite our house.

On looking closely, the snake had coiled itself inside that hole. I pulled out my camera and shot a pic to see what it was. I thought it would be a rat snake, but the neighbour who had seen it was insistent that it was a cobra. He turned out to be right.

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Even if I could concede that he knew what he saw, I was a bit worried about letting on to the standing labourers that it was a cobra. Most labourers’ first reaction to snakes is to beat them to death, and I really wanted to see the cobra go its way. The labourers and other assorted people standing nearby eventually lost interest and went their ways. The snake stayed put. A few kids came down to watch, one decided to pick up a stone to throw. A few stern words and they were off, no stones being thrown.

Continue reading “The snake in the hole”

Bees on honge flowers – 2017

I did this last year around the same time. But there can never be enough of a thing of beauty.

It’s the start of summer again, and the honge (Pongamia) tree in front of the house is in bloom. It will be so for a couple of weeks more and will throw out a carpet of flowers on the street and on the car. Given that all the streets in my area are lined with these trees, it is a continuous carpet all around.

As every year, these flowers attract bees. There are 2 kinds of them, smaller and larger. The smaller ones are Apis cerana(Asiatic honey bee) and the larger are Apis dorsata(giant honey bee). I like the flowers with the red holders and the white petals, looking like bells. The bees attach their tongues to the base of the flowers where the petals start and suck from there. It is almost like watching a syringe go in and come out.

Unlike last time, I kept the aperture at 8.0. What was happening with a lower aperture number was that some parts of the insect would go out of focus. An aperture of 8.0 and even 11.0 brings a bit more into sharpness.

Asiatic Honey Bee:
IMG_2658 Continue reading “Bees on honge flowers – 2017”

Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake

After a long time, I stopped by Mallathahalli lake for some birding. It’s a place I was using for running, but that stopped 4 years back as the path had become overgrown. Even though most of the 2.5 Km track is cobblestones, it’s amazing how much Parthenium can grow out of the gaps!

This time I was looking specifically for one kind of bird – the rosy starling. They are winter visitors and found in huge numbers and I was inspired by this photo from zenrainman on his lovely twitter feed.

In case you are wondering where those birds are, that ‘cloud’ near the middle is what you are looking for.

I remember seeing these birds a few times on earlier walks around the lake. So this time, I carried the camera to see what I can get.

The first thing I saw on getting off the car was that the yellow tabebuia tree was in bloom, and amidst those flowers was a flock of rosy starlings. Talk about beginner’s luck!
Rosy starling

Rosy starling Continue reading “Some winter visitors – Mallathahalli Lake”

The Bazookas of Kabini

Visits to Kabini began in May 2012, initially as a one-off visit. Yesterday we returned from our 6th visit to that place. So much of it is the same, and yet so much different. We now know many of the naturalists, and they recognise us. Even then, every year it’s a different experience, bringing its own set of birds and animals. And even humans in the form of other guests. Sometimes even that trend is bucked and we start noticing people who had been seen in earlier trips, and their idiosyncrasies. And usually hoping we don’t end up with them in the same jeep.

Given its high density of Tigers and leopards, and that prized catch – the solitary Black Panther, Kabini sees a high density of ‘Bazookas’. A Bazooka is anyone, usually male, who has a camera attached to a large lens. The camera is usually a single digit Canon, or equivalent Nikon, and the lenses would be in 600mm usually. Despite the differences in brand, model or lenses, all Bazookas are united in one thing – they want to see big cats, and only big cats. They would be doing regular trips on forest safaris, but they always want big cats, and in different variations – a big cat sitting, or a big cat marking, a big cat posing with forelimbs on a mound, big cat in water, big cat drinking water, big cat resting on the ground looking at the camera with mouth open.

Continue reading “The Bazookas of Kabini”

Finding peace

How does one break away from it all? Can one really break away from it all? Or is there no option but to stay on the hamster wheel and keep moving till eternity?

Am not going to do another whine here on how mundane life has become. The mundane has its own attractions. A sense of routine brings its own (false) security. There’s nothing wrong as such with it, that people need to go screaming, live like it’s the last day of your life! Or Do something different today! Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara! Go backpacking in Europe!

It’s been a while since I stopped caring about such guff. Have come to realise that all it means is that you have too many friends of FB, so your average feed is full of vacations, and you have bucketloads of money to take off wherever you want to and you don’t really know what to do with it.

So yes, how does one break away from it all? Is it possible? In a way am thinking of an escape, a temporary refuge/world/dimension that you can escape to and come back. And no, I don’t necessarily mean physical ones. You could physically escape to some ‘resort’, but that’d hardly help if you are taking everything with you mentally.

Is it possible to carve a niche and settle a world in your everyday life and escape to it? That’s where physical activity/meditation come in. All those escape hatches like running, cycling, meditation, these are what help you stay sane. But, do they?

I remember writing about this once, about the need for escape hatches and being able to come back to tackle what life is throwing at you. And I was left a comment saying that I should probably look at the opposite approach which is embracing whatever is being thrown at you. At that time, I disagreed. I believed in escapes. How do you manage to stay sane, and come out in one piece when you are going through a lot? Will what goes in, come out exactly as is? Won’t the experience change you, for good or bad? What if it does? Why shouldn’t it?

I really don’t know what I believe in, anymore. While escapes are nice, do they always leave you refreshed to get back? Or do you get stuck in a mode where you are only looking forward to the next escape? Where your mind is on the escape, and not on what you’re dealing with.

How does the other approach of embracing the whole thing and dealing with it fare? Hard to say. Would it depend on the duration and the intensity? Something to deal with for a few weeks, might be better to deal with and then get out. Something that you have to deal with for years, like an illness in the family, might be worth having both approaches? Either way, embracing is necessary. But how does one stay sane? What if the problem is emotionally draining and taking a lot out of you?

This is where defences like stoicism or detachment come into the picture. To be able to immerse yourself in the activity, but not let it get to you. To be able to observe your emotions and not go with them. To be able to elevate yourself one level above your emotions.

And how easy is it? It isn’t. After months of meditation, some my own attempts, and some guided, am now scratching the surface. At some moments, am able to notice my rage, the sudden spikes in stress, during activities like driving. But the excess rage I used to work myself up to aren’t there as much. At home, it isn’t that easy. I still get thoughts when the mind is empty, and they do play a lot on me. It’s going to be a long path ahead, and it won’t be easy. But the start is there, and some results are being seen.

But the key thing is that it also works as an escape hatch. After a stressful day being able to just go in to this other world, and then come out is refreshing. It feels peaceful, the opposite of the rearing to go at everything feeling. And that’s what you want after a point, to be able to sit back and not feel like the world is crashing around you, that you can’t go on like this forever.

The future might not be promising, the past might not have worked out as you wanted, but the present is OK, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you are able to breathe in and breathe out. It feels good to just feel yourself alive. What more can you ask for?