Thursday

Wayanad: Intense beauty
























Wayanad is that beautiful pause, the ever slight hesitation, that nearly realised doubt, so deliciously between a guess and a certainty. Almost real... or unreal. 


On a blissful pause, lulled by my imagination into bucking the tried and tested sights and sounds of a discovery. We took each day at a lazy pace, often plans were made only to be forsaken the next minute, while continuing to slow crawl the day. The soul demanded complete surrender to the experience










It was effortless. For a person who is not very used to trekking or taking in the strong sun, I was happily walking in the plantations, smelling the moist earth and gazing with wonder at Nature aplenty. Getting drunk on the mountain air and wilderness that waited outside my window. Catching the breeze coming off the expansive waters and inhaling the mist. Being strangely weather beaten by evening and looking forward to a good nights rest. 



















The thing about living in a plantation house is that there are many people always about. Yet it was a wee bit overwhelming to be surrounded by such open vast lands...the fear of the unknown (animals, ghosts does climb a notch higher, by night) - took some getting used to.
Calm prevailed at nightfall.  If you ignore the animal sounds, the birds tweeting, the odd desolation here magnifies the night, creating a oneness, a stillness. As if speaking directly to the core.  

 


































I sat listening to the caretakers stories of wild boars marauding the crop, how the labour had to stay prepared for such an attack, how gun toting hunters would be shooed away... fascinating life. I wondered often before closing my eyes to sleep, will I make a good farmer:D 

Every evening we'd sit in the massive porch on these long Plantation chairs, till it was night time, talking softly amongst ourselves, sipping hot chocolate or eating fresh fruits, while soaking the senses with this breathtaking territory. A lavishly created house from wood, Kerala style, perched on the edge of water, hills in the background, grass so green that it was unreal, thus claiming a reward full of pleasure from nature. 

Every morning I'd wake up for some reason by 5ish, open the curtains,  slide back into my warm bed, and gaze at the lights slowly creeping up in the sky,  dew laden foliage, for a true sense of the intense beauty in this extraordinary setting. And soon would be lulled back to sleep.

The road journey from Kozhikode airport to the plantation traverses through the ghats. Eye catching scenic views, dense forests, lofty ridges interspersed with dense fog, reminded me of Conoor. This lovely hill station snuggled amidst the western ghats, could so easily be the get away for the rich and famous I imagine. 





























A word of caution - travelling through the winding route at night aint sensible, because fog swoops in unpredictably and reduces visibility to near zero. Also may be a good idea to hire a four wheel drive, for that ground clearance.

Sunday

Jaw dropping. The Rann of Kutch




The sense of pride, the humility, the knowledge/information and above all the sense of sharing is so spirited amongst the local folks we interacted with, in our very short trip to the Rann, it enhanced my own awareness of things important to be reflected upon. When they say *Kuch din toh guzariye Gujarat mein*, the script writer understood the stunning spectacle called The Rann of Kutch.



Rann is no ordinary land. It is an experience 
A deep sigh 
A connection 
A wantonness of the soul


The hot sun, drew me to its halo and blaze, while being mesmerized watching the arid land, gaze back unflinchingly. The first halt was Ekal Na Rann (into Black Dungar -which btw ain't black, more like brown) into the Great Rann ...we sped through arrow straight roads from Bhuj, leaving in our wake, swirling dust.  

If seeing the Rann by the setting sun was wow, upon seeing the Rann by night light, I was transfixed. The moon made its appearance, sparkling its glitter on this incomprehensible vastness that fades off towards infinity.  An unimaginable black sky with more stars and constellations than I had seen in my entire life was spread above me. The app on my BlackBerry StarTracker, was having a field day, I wondered to myself, how come I have never seen such a sky in my own city?! Or do sooo many stars only show up in the desert? The starry sky seemed to merge with the unending dark horizon, leaving me spell bound, speechless, in awe. Within fraction of seconds, I was lying on my back in the salt land, staring up at the starry night, mesmerized, time stood eternally still. The whipping cold wind made me realize how alive that moment was. The entire universe was staring down back at me - twinkling. In absolute silence








It was almost a different planet. It was nothing short of a scene out of a sci-fi movie... I have seen many interesting places in the world, but I had never seen a sight like this ever in my life. It was not clear if what we were witnessing was actually reality, were we in the present? Or were our eyes playing tricks? Standing in the middle of one of the largest salt deserts in the world! Sometimes it felt like salt, sometimes snow, sometimes water....where were we?! 

The natural landscape of the Rann is white, till the eyes can see! With its blinding heat and barren expanses the landscape is equally mesmerizing and inhospitable. Too hot by the day where you find yourself peeling layers of clothes, too cold by night, where the thickest of wool seems too little. 

We walked on the cracked land, feeling the soft ground giving way as we walked. We took our steps gingerly, slowly, carefully (imagining all Hollywood scenes where the earth opens up or a quicksand engulfs humans!) . Every now and then, my shoes would dig into the ground, realizing, the wet white beneath my feet.  
















What was more astonishing to hear was that in the Rann of Kutch, they pump up the ground water and dry it up in the sun. The ground water levels are unusally high for what is barren and dried up land, with many underground streams. Wow. Unimaginable! 

The story has it, given how vast with extreme temperatures the Rann is, if anyone is lost in it, no search is undertaken. They are just considered lost and the locals call those lost in the Rann white souls. They will never be found. A reality check?






There are no roads, no signs, no cars, no lights, no shops, no stops! Had to all the time remind myself to not drift away too far. Yes the mobile network works very well. But consider this, if you are lost, how will you give directions to rescue you? 

Food was delightful all through the journey, Dabeli, gatiya, jalebi, thali,, theplas,chunda, poha at various halt points. We didn't really have to refrain constantly about *less oil* as the food most often was low on fats and awesome on flavour. 

The few hours spent in the greater Rann in moonlight, perhaps counts as the most surreal experience of my life. The desert bathed in the diffused glow of the moon light – a huge expanse shining like a gazillion brilliant diamonds! Soaking in the atmosphere of calm and peace, feeling one with nature. Had it not been the biting cold that eventually drove us to the warmth of our car, we would perhaps have pitched a tent and stayed up all night. Discovering such a unique, unusual place in itself is not just a matter of pride that it belongs in India, felt eternally grateful to have experienced it too. 

Pretty Lake Nakuru, Kennya


The morning sight that greeted us at Lake Nakuru, took my breath away! This couldn't be Africa! 




What a world of contrast from the arid dusty browns of the Masai Mara. This was a world of soft, cold, wintry day, with smoke coming out of our breath, the splendour of the mist and the greens, the birds and the rare rhino’s I had yet to know and meet… the magic waiting to unfold.

The quiet and the calm of the early morning light was delightful. For now, finding the next animal was a secondary issue – being out in the crisp air, filling my lungs with pristine oxygen was a high, indescribable; I was trigger happy discovering such picture postcard perfect snaps created by Nature, ready to help me show off, when I returned home :D

A band of dark clouds were creeping up in the western sky as we moved through the park towards the flamingo point to take advantage of the light while it was still present. We were a little disappointed with the ‘not so many flamingos” we spotted. 



The safari agents were not upfront honest, nor did we do enough homework ourselves to realize about the flamingos going elsewhere as a result of heavy rainfall and lack of salinity in the lake.

Sam drove us quickly through the slushy tracks onto the other side of the lake to a dotted shoreline of pink fuchsia flamingos gracefully taking in the early worm. On the water drenched track side, their more distant cousins the African White Pelicans played happily in the wet lands! :D








Sam informed us that the reason the flamingos appear to be standing in a line is because they are perched on a sandbar, eating rows of algae. As the lake begins to dry, the bird droppings stick around longer, creating more algae on sandbar, all along the edges of the shore. The more the algae, the more food there is, and therefore the more flamingos that are drawn in. The best time to visit this national park is in the height of the dry season if you want to see the million flamingo phenomenon.













Besides the pink-rimmed shoreline of Lake Nakuru we spotted a variety of other birds and animals 



– a flock of yellow-billed Storks, the rare White Rhino,  the Olive Baboons, Colombus monkey,  the common Zebras grazing by the track side, close enough for me to take a picture of their gorgeous designer booty!:D






















And more wildlife -the Yellow-billed ducks , Egyptian Geese, Dik diks, Hadada Ibis, Red-billed Teal, the Waterbuck, a Malachite Kingfisher, more African White Pelicans, the water bucks…













































Lake Nakuru, is the only fenced park in all of Kenya. It’s not fenced to keep the wildlife in, but to keep the poachers out. Poaching is a very real problem for the rhinos in Kenya who are abundant today, but were most vulnerable and near extinct, till a few years ago.



The lake has several swampy patches, making it perfect conditions for the rhino. We had previously learnt about the differences between the white and the black rhinos,  so we knew straight away that the above group by the lake were the white rhinos, grazing in a group. The dried mud looks like cement on their armoured skin. (below). The rhinos are mostly focused on the patch of grass in front of them, and not much else. Docile, with their heads down, you cant help but compare them with a herd of grass-chewing cows


These giant rhinos are slow to reproduce and have a built in defence mechanism to not have babies if it feels the environment is unsafe. For decades the wildlife of Africa has been decimated by hunters, so for decades, rhinos rarely reproduced. The Lake Nakuru project is so successful that rhinos are having babies and as their population grows, they’ve been transferred and donated to 23 other parks to help rebuild the rhino numbers in Africa. It’s an uplifting story and to watch these magnificent creatures, I cannot understand how people can kill them simply for the fibres on their horns. Such a waste

It was a quick transition leaving the lake park, heading into the city – one minute we were surrounded by the mist, cold air, animals, birds, the lush greenery of the highlands, then a short while later, we were zipping on a smooth tarred runaway with the street lights, the only reminder, for where we had been.