Little worlds within worlds

The cartoon caterpillar

When you are born with an insatiable wonderment about nature and carry it into your adulthood, you tend to observe and pick up tiny things around you. On a morning walking your cat, preparing a vegetable bed patch, or whilst catching the water for the day! Only flip side? sometimes you are caught without a camera or phone to capture the moment! at other times, you have to make a mental note and come back after chores; or if your specimen is off in a hurry, you pause your works quickly and go and grab your phone or camera (depending on what is alive at that point! most often one is dead on the battery or space! 😉 ) so that you can get photos! The observation has nothing much to do with it though! And one can still always always enjoy the company of little things – camera or no camera!

The cartoonish caterpillar that I walked into

And that was how this guy got my attention! The mornings temperatures here rise to a crescendo very quickly and so everyone has to follow the early bird, to survive! Here I was, up early and digging up an earth patch to prepare it for veggies, when I saw this guy snouting its way around! The whole appearance itself is like that of a cartoon character (or one of those Japanese anime character types, don’t you think? with the dotty eyes and spiny tail? :)) And my hands were generously coated in soil and dirt! I thought of finishing up the work and heading in for a phone, but this fella seemed in a hurry to get on with. And so I quickly decided to stop, wash, run in, get a phone and take a shot (this shot). Here’s a video of the fella, scurrying! 🙂

And after all the shots and work, I walked in to check on the species of this little guy! Turns out, it is the caterpillar of the Vine Hawk-moth (Hippotion celerio). I was curious about its host plants (larvae of moths and caterpillars are usually dependent on a few or many host plants that they love to devour on their journey towards winghood! :)) While there isn’t a lot of information on this, on the internet, a listing indicates cissus species and impatiens (balsams) and I suppose that could be the case here, as those are to be found in the vicinity. Now to wait and see if we can spot this fella in the moth form!

Until the next nature observation post, take a look at your backyard and let me know what you find there! 🙂
PS: Caterpillars (or cats as they are fondly called 🙂 ) get a bad rep as pests or some for their toxicity. But remember, they play their own equally important role in their natural environment and as adults too!
Found this nice website that talks about how the author reared these cats! You can access the website here: https://breedingbutterflies.com/hippotion-celerio/

Here’s a picture of the adult moth, for visual identification (taken at a different location, long ago – Bengaluru, 2018)

The cute green alien

Ever wondered why movies go to such lengths to depict aliens with quite a lack lustre creativity, when nature has a bounty of alien-look ideas to borrow blatantly from? 🙂 The green caterpillar instar of the common mormon is definitely high up in that list!
Fact note: I came across the mormon sect while reading Sherlock Holmes, as a kid, long before I ever laid eyes on the mormon butterfly. But it was fascinating to later learn that the name derives from the idea of polygamy and the female mormon adopting different forms, including a wonderful mimic of the toxic rose. The early instar looks like a poop splat of a bird and is missable for most, because you aren’t looking for it. The real alien inside comes out well and truly in the final instar and if you happen to be missing this one around you, you surely need glasses! 😉

So, next time around, don’t go to the movies for aliens! Just look at your neighbourhood curry tree or lime trees! 🙂

Sahasram (‘ஸஹஸ்ரம்’) – The 1000 mile journey

The beginning or the end?
(Let’s just say, it’s somewhere out there in the complicated circle of life!)

It is a popular saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Herculean it may be, but start it must, somewhere; sometime; somehow. 1000 is a daunting number, as anyone who knows the sanskrit word, ‘Sahasram’, will tell you. For it connotes limits and thresholds, for better or for worse.
Just to set things clear from the outset – this IS NOT your average ‘how I turned over a new leaf’, or ‘how I became an environment conscious individual’, or even your ‘I have transformed and sold my “possessions” and moved to the country’ types! This is about an honest struggle full of heart to walk a path of compassion and coexistence. You can trust me on that. Yes, absolutely! 🙂

Art by yours truly; tutorial credit: Sheshina @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Puhi5j5Zf0&t=631s

Part 1 – Confessions, of the petty kind

I loved nature, from childhood. As Lord Byron is supposed to have said, ‘I love not man the less, but nature more’. And so there was always this yearning to stay close, to the natural ecosystem. Yearnings only go so far, before the practical life takes over; and walks over it and bends it backwards. More on that long backstory of a journey in another post. Long story short, I took the conventional route of being a common woman and a decent family provider. ‘Coz it had to be done. The unsettled nagging continued, nevertheless; a lack of connect – with people or places; except for the superficial. It took a very many years, a very many attempts, a very many hardships, to steer life in the direction I was hoping would ground me; root me; and complete me. Finally, yes, finally, we have reached that turn on the road; Will it see us through? Is there a possibility of fruition – of a living that is more close to nature, respectful of natural resources and serves our role on this planet – to conserve rather than deplete it. To live, and feel that it has been of some purpose, besides the obvious self-serving one. This then, is that journey – a humble attempt at a sustainable and ecologically respectful living.

Walk with us, follow this post, if you would like to join our exploration – of the self, its strengths and weaknesses and where it takes us; and support us with your encouragement if you find it worthy of your support.

Art by yours truly; tutorial credit: Tanoy@ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fhw5Nq4M6A

Part 2 – Of societal qualms

Only when you have truly experienced the sense of not ‘being at home’ or ‘feeling at home’ in a place/ environment/ situation, can you possibly fathom the sense of restlessness of someone struggling to ‘fit in’. Growing up without adequate security is often a harsh reality for many, in the lower social strata. And some of the primary elements of that security stems from identity and support – a place to call ‘home’, a roof over your head, a societal support system that begins with the family and extends into the larger community of friends and fellow kinsfolk. In the absence of all or many of the above, one is often found wandering, within the spaces of time and the mind – constantly rooting and uprooting oneself. It’s not a stable system and needs constant calibration to maintain sanity. From the primal human needs, this then extends to the larger conformist cliches of society – be it related to age, gender, ‘academic’ qualification, ambition, all of which can easily bypass/ sideline (and usually do) skill, ‘knowledgable’ qualification, passion, integrity. It’s through such ‘society’ that some of us trudge through, to literally ‘make’ ourselves. And ‘living’ becomes a space where reality and illusion blurs, into one composite.

When reality and illusion blur into one composite

Green Dreams – Agumbe

The start of a new beginning

The year was 2003; and we were all enthused and looking forward to the weekend trek. This was my first trek! And marks the beginning of many more to come. The location was Agumbe, the destination was Narasimha Parvatha, the highest peak in Agumbe. The rides those days, were a lot less optimal in the ‘comfort’ experience but no one really went to lengths complaining about it. When there was ‘chaat’ and ‘dosa’ to be had at 2 am, at a stop! 🙂

Day 1 – The ascent to Narasimha Parvatha

It was a foggy January morning, when the bus made its way through the winding roads of the western ghats – my first whiff of the cold fresh air of the ghats! By the time we were near Agumbe, the bus had emptied itself, leaving only 7 passengers, six of us, another passenger, a driver and a conductor! Around 6.00 am, we were dropped off right outside a small restaurant, where we met Mr. Raghavendra Pai, who gave us directions to Mallandur from where we were to hire our guide for the trek. Though we did not stay or go around Agumbe, it gave the quaint village picture of the ‘Malgudi Days’ fame that I used to love watching on TV. We soon found out that they also had a very different, efficient and interesting paper delivery system as well – which involved a speeding minivan that whizzed by the small hotel and dropped the daily morning ‘Yuga Vani’ speedpost, literally with a thud on the dusty mud side road! After a 5km walk on a forest department built tar road, we reached Mallandur, where a few enquiries soon lead us to our guide’s house, near a ‘kallu mane’ – the house of M R Krishnappa alias MR.

A typical shola grassland landscape where the grasslands can be with rocks and boulders while the shola forests cloth the valley folds of the hills

From the bottom of the trail, till the view point / vista point, it is a well defined trail without much steep climbs. From the viewpoint, Barkana Falls could be seen as a shimmering silver sliver across the valley on the mountains on the other side to the left of the view point. From hereon, now and then, the trail would vanish and MR alone would know which direction to take, while we followed behind. Also, the jungle got thicker and steeper in some areas and we started taking more short breaks, to ease a leg, or wet a dry throat. After a 7-8 km walk, we could hear the sound of running water, and soon enough we reached the top of the falls. It was a beautiful scene (for a first timer like myself) with the falls going over a bed of boulders that we had to cross over to get to the boulders overlooking the gorge of the falls. The water was clear, cold and refreshing to us tired trekkers. By then it was 12.30 pm, and the lunch call was slowly but surely heard from our bellies. So, we unpacked our rations and sat down at lunch – chapathi with chutni pudi, jam and bread, and oranges and chocki. With a bit of resting and cooling our heels in the water, we set off for the next phase of the trek from Barkana Falls to Narasimha Parvatha, that MR said would be a bit more difficult that the first phase, with no more defined trails and more steeper climbs!

The route was thick jungle with no signs of trails whatsoever, in most places,except when we came upon a peak or a clearing, where there
were signs of some kind of trail made due to human treading on the grassland. But inside the forest, we had to just about go above and beneath fallen logs and push against branches and make our way.

The Seetha river on which Barkana Falls is situated flows gently

By 4.30 pm, we were close to Narasimha Parvata with a last little stretch remaining.With renewed vigour we decided we could make it as planned and finally reached the peak by 5.00 pm! This was my first trek through the shola grassland mosaic that is distinctive of the western ghats! and little did I know, its pull would continue to be a life long journey. Everyone clambered on top of the big boulder at Narasimha Parvata, to get a view of the landscape around and relax! About 15 minutes later, we decided to head down to the campsite clearing, which was a little distance downhill from the peak. Well visited by humans as observed by the presence of litter! The camping kit was soon out – the light weight tent and accessories, the water purifier and the light weight pots and pans! Near the campsite we saw the remains of what must have been a young cow or calf, a vertebra here, a leg there and a face with skin torn and dried out. MR informed us that it might be the handiwork of a wild cat ( the cat family species – perhaps a leopard or so ).

Its hard to find good guides like MR nowadays!

Soon the tent was pitched, firewood was collected, and water from a small water hole was tested with the purifier! By then folks wanted to see the sunset and so headed back to peak before it got late. But by the time we reached there, the sun had already gone below the horizon; also the fog prevented us from sighting the sunset in its full glory. Made our way back and got to dinner preparations. Dinner was a combo of chapathi and MTR RTE. Chatting around the warm campfire sit out, it was 10.00 pm and time to head to bed.

Day 2: Descent to Kigga and onward

Day2 saw us wake up early to take in the sunrise and then pack up the camp gear as we headed down a relatively clear trail down to Kigga on the other side (this mud trail is commonly used by the locals). A bus ride from there took us to Shringeri where after a good bath, we went to visit the famous temple, followed by a sumptuous lunch at the temple. Walking around the streets of Shringeri, we were treated to Goli Bajjis and tea, before riding the night bus back to Bengaluru!

The team that made it to the top! 🙂

PS: This is from the era of pre-digital SLRs, when the 35 mm film roll had to capture memories! and hence the old style photo quality 🙂