Friday, September 9, 2011

Shravani Aitar

 (This article appeared in the magazine Shravan - Bhadrapad (2008) published by Vivekanand Environment Awareness Brigade. The prolonged rain-showers this year prompted me to post this article a little late in the season)
The monsoons have receded, with the season of intermittent rain-showers and sunny moments making its appearance. The denizens of the jungle are shaking their drenched coats looking forward to soaking in the sunrays. The birds are chirping louder while the lone caterpillar after feasting on the green growth of the monsoons has decided its time to be a butterfly. Adult butterflies are searching for those open spaces with sunrays filtering in to gather energy from the Sun God. It’s also time for those with the penchant for these wild places, experiences and the lesser-fauna to step out with extra vigour and explore their surroundings. A time to spend the hard earned Sunday to rejuvenate ones senses after a week-long rigour of the work place. I luckily happen to be one of those who celebrate their “Shravani Aitar” in the jungles of the Sanhyadri. Those who wish to join have to pack their bags on Saturday morning lest we waste time in the evenings for our journey into the wilderness. This Sunday the destination is Savri Waterfalls in Netravali.

Travel from Panjim to Netravali via Margao, Chandor, Tilamol, Zambhauli, Rivona, Colamb is an experience in itself. But the picture of the enchanting Savri falls is always at the back of your minds. Stop at the Budbudyachi Tali, pay your homage to Lord Narayan and proceed straight towards the Amba Ghat. We are on our way to Mangal, the village of the Velip community atop a hill. The road to the village is a steep climb and in a bad shape. In other months our vehicle could have taken us directly to the village but not today. The evening rains which greeted us in Netravali have made the road unmotorable and it’s advisable to walk the 3 kms to the village. It’s dark by the time we reach the base, and the Cicada’s have already started their orchestra. The frogs are still around though not as plenty as a few months ago. We hear one calling very close and it’s a pretty loud call. Sangam decides to locate the call and we join him in his search. It’s not an easy task we realise and then behold under a fallen leaf of a Kumbyo (Carea arborea) tree, we find the smallest frog that we have ever seen with his vocal sacs larger then himself. Omkar as usual goes into frenzy with his camera and gets some pretty good images. He, you will realise, is developing into a good photographer and a keen observer.
Cat Snake

The walk is actually a climb but keep a watch around, its time for the snakes to be out. The last time we were here, we saw the Common Wolf Snake near a pile of laterite stones. But the night is too young today and it will be some time later that the probability of seeing snakes would be more. The night is cool but you are perspiring and short of breath by the time you reach the village. Rohidas Velip is eagerly waiting your arrival and is a little anxious too since you are more than an hour late. He has made arrangements for our stay in the local temple and the common facility centre constructed by the community recently. Being a temple premise, the food is obviously vegetarian, but the flavour is out of the world and I assure you that you will eat more than you usually do, especially after the climb to the village.

Sleep comes naturally in this setting and as you go out to “answer natures call” before you hit the bed, you hear the rasping calls of the Leopard somewhere far away in the distant hills. You know you are in the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest sanctuary in Goa covering an area of 240 Do not waste time chatting or playing Carrom with the local boys in the adjacent house and sleep well. Rising early is the key for a good “Aitar” and that is exactly what we are here for.  

I wake you up at 5.30 a.m. and you will see the women already busy with the daily chores. You on the other hand curse me and for a moment wonder why you are here away from the cosy comfort of your bed. But the assurance of a promising day in the jungles will urge you to get prepared for the day ahead. Rohidas is at the doorstep with a wide smile to greet you. Do not forget to thank him for his hospitality as he thanks you for coming and invites you again. Offer money for the food that was cooked by his family but do not offer him anything else, lest he gets offended. A shake of hands or a hug on the other hand will widen his smile from ear to ear. The sky is changing shades as you walk down the hill and is showing various shades of blue.

Stop near the Netravali Panchayat and if you are lucky, the road side hotel will be open. Treat yourself to a hot cup of tea. The fragrance of the tea and the village atmosphere prepares you for what lies ahead. Turn on to your right from Netravali and park your vehicle where the tar road ends. You have arrived in the Savri village to begin the real journey.
The Draco

You may feel that the walk through the village may not be good enough. But think twice and keep a watch around. The Draco is best sighted here as it glides between coconut trees, in the dense jungles it may be difficult to sight. The red coloured spikes of the Clerodendron are like magnets to many butterflies especially the Blue Mormon and the majestic Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly in India. Do not run behind these for a photograph since they are fast fliers. Patience is a virtue when photographing butterflies. Wait patiently but be alert and they will give you a chance when they settle for a few seconds to sip in the nectar from the flowers.

Walk along the water channel carved in the hill side and stop at the place where the locals have put a diversion bandhara to irrigate their fields. Look around and you will realize that you are in a paradise for butterfly watchers. The Common Hedge Blues, the Line Blues, the lone Angled Pierrot and the Ceruleans will always be there mud-puddling by the river side. The Soldier, the Grey Pansy, Tamil Yeoman and the Leopard will be basking on the shrubs by the river side and may be joined by the handsome Cruiser and the Red Spot Duke. It’s also the time for the magical Malabar Tree Nymph to glide in the canopy. You will see why they call this butterfly the nymph as it glides like a fairy through the trees. There cannot be a better sight than this and the image will transpire in front of your eyes everytime you close them and think about the butterfly.

You may have ignored the dragonflies and damselflies before but not today. One, because they are too many to ignore and two, because I am with you. I have grown to love these creatures over the last few months and have been able to explore their world to be astonished by their diversity. Omkar has caught this bug too and is growing confident with every passing day. Ignore his antics while trying to photograph the rare Pied Reed Tail, let me help you in identifying the common ones. The tiny Stream Ruby on the rocks is not uncommon and a wonderful sight when it flashes the brilliant red in its wings. Do not mistake the one sitting next to it as a different species; it is the female though it looks completely different. The adjacent vegetation is a great haunt for the Black-tipped Forest Glory. It is all over the place but somehow knows about your presence and all your attempts to get a good close up image will be in vain. Waiting patiently will help but we need to go ahead.

Walking in the river bed has its own charm. Do not follow those who jump over rocks. Wade into the water and experience the refreshing feeling unmatched by anything else. The next bend in the river will bring you face to face with my most loved waterfall…. The Savri. No other waterfall I have seen falls with such gusto with its waters having a musical tone to it. Take a dip but venture into deeper water only of you can swim. The cold waters are not for the faint hearted as you will miss a breath at the first contact with your skin. But I am sure you will not miss the chance. For those who want to dip only their feet, keep them still for the fish to clean them of dead skin and debris.

Being one in the jungle can lead to loosing track of time. We can’t afford to do that. Need to get back to the office and the daily routine tomorrow. The thought is unsettling. I do not know about you but the dip in the crystal clear waters of Savri will keep me going for the week as I look forward for the next “Aitar”

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