I woke up in the morning to the cacophony of Mumbai’s crows, and found myself missing the homestay in Kerala where I spent the last few days. The morning’s sounds there were the last hoots of owls and the first notes of warblers. The house was near a little creek off the Periyar river which is too small to appear on maps. On my first afternoon’s stroll down to the creek I took the featured photo. In the three days that we spent there, I didn’t see anyone take the boat out, although it was in too good a repair to have been abandoned.
God’s own country, as the pompous advertisements of the 1990s said of Kerala, is a little too crowded and prone to service strikes to be what it claims. The minibus which took us from the airport to the banks of the Periyar river passed through an unending stretch of one and two storied houses surrounded by trees, and interrupted by busy crossroads where the humidity and heat seemed to have encouraged the mushrooming of small shops. It was only when we crossed the bridge over the Periyar river that we saw the first bit of landscape which justified the advertisements’ tagline. The beautiful landscape which you see in the photo above was full of the birds whose calls I find myself nostalgic about.
The bird sanctuary across the bridge is named after the legendary ornithologist, Salim Ali, who, in the 1930s, recognized this area as a hot spot of biodiversity as intense as north-eastern India. This was an idea ahead of its time. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the uniqueness of the ecology of the Western ghats was more widely appreciated. Sanctuaries and protected forests were set up. If it wasn’t for such measures, a passing tourist like me wouldn’t be able to spot over a hundred species of birds in three days in this place. Even by a little village pond on the outskirts of the sanctuary, like the one whose photo you can see above, one sees over a dozen species of birds. There are dangerous mammals in the jungle, of course. Elephants are in constant territorial conflict with people. Pugmarks of a tiger have been seen once. But, by and large, this rain forest and the banks of this river are places for quiet walks.