All species in an ecosystem behave as ‘keystone species’! Ecological balance, the dependence of species on one another in order to sustain life on the planet, was the central theme of discussion in a talk by Dr. Surya Prakash, held in one of the most remote villages in Uttrakhand. Owing to the busy lifestyle of people in Kolti, the talk was scheduled for evening. This gave us enough time to greet our friends in the immediate wild.
Mornings break early during summers. As the sun oozed its mystical golden rays over a green mountainous landscape, two young birders were ready to venture out deep into the forests with a man, who has been working on wildlife conservation since the last four decades. Our birding account had opened already as we filled our bellies with a light breakfast at the famous ‘char-dukan’ in Mussoorie. The Blue whistling thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Grey hooded Warbler, Russet’s Sparrow, House Sparrow, Black-lored Tit, and the Oriental Honey Buzzard were already on the move!
A cemented road soon abandoned us, as we descended down into the forest. Perhaps the birds here were already aware of our presence; hence they did not display themselves in the open! The lesser world of wings then captured our perception. Ranging from the Indian Tortoise Shell to the Painted Lady, from the Grass yellow to the Chocolate Pansy, all of them could be seen gliding delightfully in a slope laden with wild daisy flowers. Atop flowers, on the ground, on leaves and on all possible places they sat, as if they wanted to be clicked! After a couple of clicks on the shutter a gradual walk started on steep slopes full of gravel and dry needle leaves of the Chir! Already the slopes were hard on the injured knee of Dr. Prakash and the slippery dry leaves added to the woes!
Soon some clouds condensed the daylight, which obstructed good camera shots! Some Black Bulbuls and a folk of Slaty headed Parakeets flew across the beautiful scene, further romanticizing it! Great barbets too joined the party. Grey tree pies and, Long – tailed Minivets and Black Drongos too didn’t feel uninvited. With cool breezes blowing and our tiredness lured us into taking a short break and feasting on some Bananas…
The forest now divulged a denser shade. The vegetation changed from the tall Pine and Chir trees to ripe ‘Kafal’ and Rhododendron trees. To our dismay, the Kafal trees were not yet ripe. One could have sat by the fresh water stream, with feet in the flowing waters and munching on handful of this seasonal fruit, all day long watching birds! Nonetheless, alongside the stream there was a lot of bird activity. Spotted Forktails, Rufous Bellied Woodpeckers, Black headed Jays and hunting parties of Fire capped and green backed Tits could be seen everywhere. Butterflies were on the move too. The Blue Admiral and the endemic specie of the Black- Vein Caphusa were the highlights. Just then a beautiful call was heard, in no time Dr. Prakash identified it as a call of an Oriole! But could one find Orioles in such a setting?
Spending some time at the flowing stream was the next thing on the agenda. Butterflies, Cicadas and birds were all clicked and identified, but the ‘Oriole kind-of-call’ remained a mystery! Just then a black and reddish bird was spotted flying across. A Maroon Oriole to our delight! Its territorial call and behavior was really a pleasure to watch, for the very first time.
Soon we were on our way to the village, walking very softly and prudently on a short stretch where the Himalayan Monal was spotted the last summer. Lest! Every day is not a Sunday. Having arrived to the village now it was time for Lunch, which was prepared with the help of Shubra and Swati (Working in the village as Volunteers to teach the English language to children). Lunch, small chats and imbibing the village went on till Dusk, when some showers fell from the skies above. No time was wasted in preparing and savouring Coffee!
In the evening, when the village ‘Pradhan’ returned to the village, the wildlife Talk was underway. Not many Kolti dwellers participated in the talk, owing to the day’s hard work and subsequent desire to doze off. In the talk Dr. Prakash highlighted the importance for conserving wildlife and the vital link (interdependence) between species. Examples of Vultures and increased wildlife – human encounters made their way into the talk. Also, there was a mention about threats to wildlife from hunting and poaching activities.
Through the talk the call of a Nightjar persisted in the background. Early morning it was identified to be the Savvana Nightjar. With early morning sightings of the Blue throated Barbet, Eurasian Cuckoo, Upland Pipit, Black Francolin and some Stonechats we left the village.
A pony was arranged for Dr. Prakash as the knee injury had worsened. In such an unforgiving terrain it is indeed very difficult for one to go birding. There are two routes through the jungle to the village. One is 5.5 km long with steep slopes and other 7.2 km of gradual slope.
We would like to express our heartiest gratitude to Dr. Prakash for walking down to the village and giving a wonderful talk ,in spite of his knee injury!
Trees like audience gaze at the progress of events around them. Events, which constantly shape the future of this silent audience, take place at such a pace that anything novel seems to be off beat as soon as it is created. Yearning to be better than the other has left no space for the admiration of an idea conceived just moments ago. Competition as it is called has reduced the element of satisfaction to a mere by- product. No one has the time to reflect on this weird progress of events. It is as if everyone is being forced to see a popular mainstream show in theater without any exit. Such a closed theater continuously taxes upon the mental and physical spaces of individuals in it. In such a chaos, there is always a struggle to reach the stage and perform!
Sadly, no applause but screeching voices of criticism are heard. Yet there stands a silent spectator, a tree, wondering where life has gone. The children, who used to swing on its branches, pluck fruits and make houses, have ceased to exist. Each morning the performers used to look up to him from their homes. Now they look down upon him from their balconies. Birds do visit him, time to time, but in ever decreasing numbers as they have no space to breathe in this theater! Some monkeys stole from the actors and used to hide inside him to fill their stomachs, but they too have forgotten what it was like to eat his fruits. The performers play a role in this theater, which is not their real self; they have got so used to playing it that they hardly realize its implications. Everyday a new performer is born and taught to act rather than to live!
There were times when these trees happily stood. Living souls used to visit this Indian theater and record the beautiful experiences they came across. Mesmerizing performances, outstanding knowledge systems, elegant art and literature were the very essence of life. Perhaps the souls were more rooted to the ground rather than flying in the sky. Travelers like Hiuen Tsang sought after these joys while traveling. Today even travel is reduced to process of minting money. This concept of exchanging papers seems to be central to any activity that happens in this world. To support this, there are norms and rules created by the social gods. The theater seems to be well captured by this so called popular culture, where some sparks of revolution occur time and time again, but as said – “The show must go on”; it really goes on.
The need of the hour is not to put up a counter show, but to free ourselves from this act of performing. Let’s go back to the Treasures that nature has in store for us, which till date were hidden behind the curtains! Let’s travel and experience the life and challenges, owing to our performance, faced by people living close to nature and hence rediscover the valuable.