Of Tar Balls and Missing Catamarans

Was supposed to return from Kihim last evening and all was well with the world. Then, a cursory call to the Mandwa jetty led to the realisation that all ferry services to the Gateway had been abruptly suspended. What should have been a peaceful 90 minute return home rapidly turned into a 5 hour nightmare… Catching a rickshaw to Alibaug, finding a vehicle willing to come here at a less-than-astronomical rate, negotiating the traffic at Wadkhal, at Pen, at Panvel, at Belapur, at Vashi, at Deonar, at Sion (and everywhere in between); transferring to a local taxi and finally reaching home at around 10.30pm.

Another thing that bothered me immensely on this trip was finding tar balls on the otherwise beautiful Kihim beach. I have since discovered that this is an annual “phenomenon” caused by the monsoon winds blowing illegally-dumped oil onto the sands. It happens all through the year but the oil usually disintegrates before coming to land. Not so when the winds are strong.

The National Institute of Oceanography has a detailed explanation on something that has been going on for decades with no apparent solution in sight.

Never again will I go there at this time of year!

Panna and Bhopal

Made a trip to Panna Wildlife Sanctuary in Northern MP. Although it’s a tiger reserve, we certainly didn’t see any big cats – not a single carnivore for that matter. There was a lone pug-mark during the last jeep ride but none of the excitement that one has when one is trying to catch a glimpse of the animals. A high point, though, was seeing a large number of Chinkaras (Indian Gazelles) on the plateau.

As far as insects are concerned, I saw a lot of Rounded Pierrot [Tarucus nara] and Lesser Grass Blue [Zizina otis] butterflies, a plume moth and an unidentified creature with an attitude.

Went to Khajuraho for a day but it was quite a washout because of the weather. Finally, after dodging the rain for 2 hours, we decided to give up and go back. Having always seen photographs of the famous (and infamous) sculptures in sharp relief, the results from my own camera was a let-down.

Before returning to Bombay, I stopped off in Bhopal and had an opportunity to see Bharat Bhavan by Charles Correa. I’m afraid the place is not being utilised to it’s potential. Also, the Museum of Man was a disaster. They have acres and acres of space and a large part of it is just lying there – doing nothing. Sad.

Disappointing Dandeli

Took the long weekend to go to Dandeli in North Karnataka. Having heard so much about the forest over the years, maybe I expected too much. Species density for both, flora and fauna – was decidedly low although the forest itself looked lush enough at first glance. However, being mostly Teak plantation, even that tattered veil will be torn aside once the leaves fall in early March.

Malshej Ghat

I’ve been to Malshej Ghat before but this time it was well after the monsoon had withdrawn from Western India. We stayed at the Flamingo Resort which has deteriorated a lot since the last visit. It was in private hands for a while and now that the MTDC has taken it over again, it seems to be going to the dogs. It’s a pity because the location is so beautiful and there’s no competition for a hundred kilometres.

I was with a group of amateur entomologists from the Bombay Natural History Society. The BNHS has been conducting distance learning in that subject for the last few years and since I’ve always been interested in the little creatures, going into the wilds with like-minded people gives me an extra kick. The highlight for me was seeing – for the first time – a beautiful butterfly known as the Indian Red Flash [Rapala melampus]. I don’t have a worthwhile image but you will find one here.

Amboli Camp

Going to Amboli [1st – 5th] was worth it, I have to say. The train was an hour late while returning and 7½ hours late when we went!

Among other things, the 45 species of butterflies we saw included at least three first time sightings for me including the Malabar Spotted Flat [Celaenorrhinus ambareesa], Grey Count [Tanaecia lepidea] and the Redspot Duke [Dolpha evelina].

Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary

Haven’t had a long break for ages so the trip to Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, about 200 km South of here, was very welcome. It’s a lovely green place and I thoroughly enjoyed camping there but for one thing. The tree cover, in many areas, comprises exotic species like Eucalyptus and even (horrors!) Casuarina. Most of them are of considerable maturity so they must have been planted en masse when the dam was constructed in the early 1960s.

Koyna reservoir is infamous for being built directly over a fault line and for the devastating dam-induced earthquake in 1967. Wildlife was either sparsely distributed or very shy because we hardly saw anything. There were some birds and a fair number of butterflies but not nearly as many as there should be in a place like this.

I’m not one of those people who thinks a trip to the wilderness is incomplete without sighting a large mammal – I tend to look at the diversity of smaller creatures to gauge the health of an ecosystem; and in this respect, Koyna is found wanting.

Forgot to Mention my Trip to Germany

Made a trip to Germany for ten days last month. Got tied up with work on my return and never did get around to writing about it at all.

Visited Interzum (interior products and services fair) in Cologne and Ligna (for the wood industry) at Hanover. Both were huge – the latter needed bus routes inside the grounds! Finally went to Wismar on the Baltic coast to visit a factory that manufactures OSB. It’s a material that should do well in India provided the price is right. The only city I didn’t like was Frankfurt. Dirty, crass and very very cold (not the temperature – I sweated there).

Had a fairly good (if hectic) time and saw a new country. Was very impressed by the public transport systems and the fact that people went out of their way to be helpful.

The French could learn a thing or two about how to treat tourists…

Trip to Rajkot

Was in Rajkot from 16-18 June and quite disappointed with the architecture – or lack of it. Expected to see beautiful Havelis and old style houses but my hopes were dashed on the concrete boxes that have sprung up like weeds in an unkempt garden.

On a single trip to the town of Wankaner I didn’t get an opportunity to visit the old Palace – it was undergoing repairs for the damage suffered during the terrible earthquake of 26 January 2001 – our first Republic Day in the new millennium. I’m talking about the real start of the 21st century and not Y2K. I hope there isn’t still some confusion about that!

On a personal note, I took the monsoon there with me. It poured cats and dogs (and fish and frogs) in Rajkot – an area that suffers from almost perennial drought. I hadn’t even carried an umbrella and I encountered low-level flooding on the streets!