Monsoon flora of Eravikulam National Park

The main reason to go back to Erivakulam National Park again was to see the flowering of Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes Kunthiana, in the featured photo), which happens once in 12 years. But this time I remembered to take my macro lens so that I could take a few more photos. I managed to take passable pictures of some of the flowers in the rain. Balancing camera and lens while holding an umbrella and making sure that the optics remains dry was a major challenge though.

I’m able to identify very few flowers down to species level. Some of them I can identify up to genus. Many, especially the small ones, whose flowers lie at the edge of visibility, I could not identify even in my many field guides. Please help out if you are an expert.

Seven views of the Elephant’s Head

The highest peak in India south of the Himalayas is called Anamudi. The Malayalam word means Elephant’s Head. The 2.7 Kms high peak is easily visible from a distance. When I saw it again, I was struck by how apt the description is. It does not take too much of imagination to see an elephant’s head in the shape of this peak.

The morning started sunny with a mild haze, but by midday clouds had started gathering around the peak. By early afternoon the peak was barely visible. The clouds did not lift before we left the neighbourhood. The changing weather gave me a chance to get a variety of views of the peak in half a day. Looking at these photos brings back memories of a nice walk.

Flowers and birds of Munnar

The accessible part of Eravikulam National Park is a disappointment at first sight. It is a narrow sliver of protected land between plantations. A black-topped right of way cuts through it. If you look at everything on the way carefully, it might take you an hour to walk up the road, and another hour to walk back. In spite of this, it is a jewel of conservation. The number of birds and plants you see on this walk is immense. It is only when you see this variety that you realize that the park spreads far, and tourists are allowed only into this little stretch. As usual, what I managed to photograph is a small part of what I saw.

The walk is up the flanks of the “Elephant” whose head is Anamudi. Rising to 2695 meters, this is the tallest peak in India outside the Himalayas. I did not look for the famous butterflies or amphibians of this region. Nor did I look at the insects which must be ubiquitous, given the number of insectivorous birds that we saw.

The Rules!

I was fully twenty minutes from the nearest toilet in Erivakulam National Park when I saw the rules posted in the featured photo. I don’t quite understand rule 6: why are people holding flowers banned from the park? Rule 1 was clear: you are not allowed to tell off a dwarf goat if it deposits its dung in the park. A related consideration is not extended to human males in rule number 4. Very specieist, (but then I’m happy that national parks are specieist) but also a little sexist. Fortunately, not having broken rule 3 (do not drink large amounts of fluids in small glasses), I did not find it hard to abide by rule 4.

I found it much harder to abide by the rules inside Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Thattekad. It was easy to avoid perfumes, since they were not lying in wait. Was I wearing colourful cloths? The Family laughed at the very idea. Even birds, which see more colours than humans, would not mistake my cloths as colourful. Item 4 was not a rule, but a suggestion which we had decided to ignore. But rule 9. That was bad. A field guide for birds, one for animals and another for plants! I wasn’t even carrying one of them. I thanked the fates that the guard at the entrance had not bothered to check my backpack. The next time around I will not test my luck.

The fearless brown mongoose

A typical mongoose skulks in shadows. It will refuse to meet your eyes, and will run off into a thicket if, by chance, it does. As a result I have very few photos of mongoose. I had taken a photo of one from hiding fifteen years back in my mother’s garden. What I remember most clearly about it was its pink nose. When I saw the mongoose which you can see in the photo, the first thing I noticed was the distinctly brown nose. Although the animal is grizzled, its coat definitely has more brown than that of the widespread Indian grey mongoose. But what I found extremely surprising is that it did not seek the shadows under the bushes.

I found its fearlessness absolutely fascinating. After taking a meandering path over fifty meters of exposed territory, it sat in the open and began to scratch itself. That gave me the opportunity to take the photo which you can see above. I love the look of silly bliss on its face, but more importantly, I managed to see that its feet are black. This nails the identification as Herpestes fuscus, the Indian brown mongoose.

On the other hand, this makes the sighting extremely anomalous. The species is supposed to be nocturnal. This sighting was made in the open area just behind the cafeteria in Eravikulam National Park. This is disturbed land: a sliver of vegetation between tea estates. We were told by one of the forest guards that a band of wild dogs had just passed through this stretch of forest. Was the lack of shyness and the fact that it was about at 10:30 in the morning an indication that it had been disturbed in some way? I wonder.

A meeting over tea

On our way back from the Eravikulam National Park, we saw a massive black shape between the neat rows of tea bushes which line the slopes here. The bus driver stopped obligingly to let us figure out that the shape was not a rock but a lone bull Gaur. It had its head down and seemed to be rooting at the tea. I’d seen this before. Gaur move through the aisles in these plantations, and if they destroy tea, it is by accident. Their target is the smaller herbs and grasses that grow on the verge. There is something about tea that they don’t like. I’m happy that they leave the pekoes to us.

The genus Bos includes both the Gaur (Bos gaurus) and domestic cattle. It seems that their ancestors developed and migrated from Africa at the same time as humans. The single male that I saw is among the last of a species that diverged and evolved in the forests of India, and is now on the verge of extinction due to loss of habitat. What a sad end that would be to this marvelous and gentle giant!