We began this morning with the arrival of our driver and car….with music blaring and horn honking. The Jungle Hut manager immediately came running out and told him to be quiet because it was still early!!
As we were driving to the field station, I noticed groups of women walking with urn shaped plastic jugs. I realized that they were carrying water jugs and were headed for the local well to get their water for the day. As we passed, they were talking and enjoying each other’s company as they completed their tasks.
Once at the research station, we changed to the Institute jeep and loaded up for a morning in the field area. I was given the best seat I the car….shotgun, while Michael and 5 others sat on bench seats running down the back of the jeep.
As we had just entered the preserve, I saw two guys stopped on a motorcycle and one was signaling by crossing his arms at his wrist and flapping his hands in the air. I thought that he was signaling that there was a big bird nearby, but soon realized that it was the sign for elephant!!! We saw a huge elephant (a tusker is what they call them) and there was immediately a debate about whether this was an elephant that they already knew or if it was a new one. I tried to take a photo, but unfortunately couldn’t get the front of his body. They use the shape of the ears and tusks to make identifications.
We stopped at the entrance to the forest/jungle area to meet the head of the park rangers and to pay our respects to him. Suresh said that it is very important to keep good relations with the officials in the area so that they will allow them to continue their work. By the way, this area is actually a tropical dry forest, but as many of the locals call it the jungle, I am going with that (seemingly more exotic) term. We then stopped again to pick up a tracker who lived in a neighboring village. At first they thought that he wasn’t there, but he showed up and climbed into the back of the vehicle as well….carrying his machete of course!! Finally, we stopped at another enforcement area and spoke to yet more officials….once again to pay respects.
We then drove about 10 kms (6 miles) on a small road and entered the jungle itself. Suresh is part of a worldwide experiment called “50 hectare plots”. There are 20 such plots in different places of the world and they are being used to study which species are present, when they grow, and when and how they die. He established this plot 20 years ago and has been working with it consistently since then. They are tracking each type of plant that is 1 centimeter (2.5 inches) or larger in diameter….quite a feat when you think that the plot covers about 125 acres. When the plot was originally established, they roped it out into grids (the mind boggles as to how you would do that) and metal poles were planted at the corner of each small sub-plot. Unfortunately, the elephants decided that the poles were good for other things and started pulling them out of the ground, so they had to replace the poles with granite rocks that have been painted on the top to make them more visible.
The census process is tedious, with Suresh carrying the data from the previous census and the others searching the area for the plants. As they find a tagged plant, they measure it’s diameter and Suresh records it. As they are looking for the plants, they also note ones that have died (the one we saw died from “Elephant use”), and new ones that have appeared. Each plant is marked with a metal tag and is painted with a yellow stripe of paint to indicate where it was measured. Another of the scientists carries a graph paper map which is used to find the various plants. It takes about 4 years to complete the census of the plot and then the process starts over again!!!
Michael and I enjoyed watching the men work for about an hour, but neither of us were feeling very well at that point, so we asked Suresh if we could return to the jeep. He sent one of the trackers back with us…..he didn’t trust us to find our own way back…..wonder why. As we were walking, the tracker was constantly looking for snakes and other dangers and at one point told us to hurry along as this was a known elephant charging area and that it was very dangerous. Fortunately, I didn’t hear him say this, but Michael told me after the fact!!
We rested in the jeep for another 30-45 minutes before the others return and we once again piled into the jeep. They spent a great deal of time showing us the wonderful areas of the jungle. We stopped at one (man-made) lake and Michael was able to add the Sambar deer to his life list of animals seen. They also showed us an area where wild Turmeric grows. It is a large leafed plant with a tuberous root that is the turmeric. It is dried and powdered to make spices that are used in cooking. At one point on the drive, the smell of mint wafted into the jeep and Suresh told us that there was a wild mint patch nearby.
We stopped at the Forest service headquarters and had a cup of black, SWEET tea. It tasted wonderful!!! The headquarters has places that people can stay and a canteen area where they can eat.
I haven’t talked much about the hot drinks here. They are most often served with milk and sugar and are very sweet. We asked for Black and no sugar a couple of times and they all think that we are crazy!!! They are not served in cups or mugs, but in small glasses or in metal glasses, with the obvious problem being that you have to be careful not to burn yourself. The Indian’s manage this by holding the cup at the very top and then turning their hands so that the hot liquid is not running over the part of the cup that they are holding. I have not seen any hot drinks being served in paper or styrofoam cups……always in glass or metal. As a result, when you get a drink, you sit (or stand) at the shop and drink it there……think Jittery Joes without the tables.
As we were driving away from the jungle, we saw a large elephant coming out of the forest along a well traveled path. As I got out to take photos, I realized that it was one of the tamed elephants and was being followed by his handler. Suresh told us that his name was John…..the elephant’s name that is …not the handler.
When we returned to the Jungle Hut, we asked our proprietor for some bananas and he brought some that were grown on the property. They were extremely sweet and the coolness felt good. He, and all of our hosts have been very concerned that we aren’t eating more, but we both felt that it was best to take food only in small, bland batches.
Michael and I spent the next few hours just relaxing around the property and trying to sleep our way back to health. We enjoyed sitting outside as the sun was going down and watching the growing dusk. It was also interesting to note that it was completely quiet….no street sounds, people sounds or even animal sounds!!! I am sure that is one reason that this is a popular travel destination.
The crew from the research station had agreed to come to the Jungle Hut for dinner and we enjoyed hosting them there. Six scientists and our driver joined us on the veranda for drinks (doesn’t that sound grand) and wonderful conversation. Several of them were working on elephants and their knowledge of the local animals was amazing. We started talking about monkeys and one of the women described an interesting phenomenon that she has seen…… the monkeys will get on top of a bridge, and as a fruit/vegetable truck passes under the bridge, one monkey will get out into the road so that the truck has to slow down. As it slows, the other monkeys jump into the truck and start throwing our various fruits and vegies. We laughed to think how they picked the monkey that had to sit in the road.
We both were able to eat some potato chips and Michael had a bit of soup. I was at least able to watch the others eat dinner, so that must mean that I am feeling better!!!!
I ended the night by sharing my shower with a very unhappy leech!!! Needless to say, I kept my eyes on him at ALL times!!!!