Kali Sarda

Kali Sarda

-By John Eickert


The people who live in New Delhi are among the most fortunate on earth. Not only do they live in a pulsing energetic city, there is so much to do within a days traveling distance. Indeed, one of the most remote and secluded rafting opportunities is only an express train away.

The Kali Sarda begins as a trickle amongst the glaciers and yak pastures hard against the Indian border with Tibet. The Kali Sarda flows south until it slows, and then merges into the great Ganga. The river forms the border with Nepal, the Nepalese call this river the Mahakali. The jumping off point for a rafting adventure is in the rail end town of Kathgodam, which is just north of Haldwani. From there, it is a long, but scenic bus ride to the put in near Pithorgarh. The Kali Sarda marks an ancient route between Tibet and India.

Just north of the border at the head of the Kali Sarda valley, is the sacred lake Mansarovar and sacred Mount Kailas. Pilgrims would trek north looking for spiritual guidance while traders came south with salt and other goods. This is also Corbett (Carpet Sahib) country- though the national park bearing his name is further west. The names Kumoan, Champawat, and Chuka mark towns where Corbett dispatched man-eating cats. Since then the Indian terai has changed greatly and to find the track from a tiger or a leopard along the lower Kali Sarda would be an unexpected pleasure.

Of mention is the hill station above Haldwani called Nainital. Nainital is known as the Switzerland of Asia, standing along the lakes and peaks a traveler might be reminded of Switzerland, well, er, maybe. Switzerland or no, Nainital is a beautiful place.

A rafting adventure down the Kali Sarda should take about seven days. Longer would be better and allow more time for bird watching. The Kali Sarda is an important flyway between the Tibetan plateau and the Gangetic plain for a wide variety of birds. Along the river are several temples and ashrams; there are also waterfalls and delightful sand beaches. In the lower stretches, as the Kali Sarda nears the Gangetic plain, fishing should be good for mahseer. I have not fished this river, but I did see others fishing and they said they were having good-luck. Isn’t that what fishermen the world over says?

A rafting adventure on this remote river could be booked in Delhi or in Haldwani. Though the river is not as difficult as others in India, the lack of roads and few villages creates a different feel. Where the high, cold Zanskar is rugged, rocky, and remote, the Kali Sarda valley is lush and green, the air warm. In all, the Kali Sarda is a remarkable treasure so close to such a large city. The people of Delhi are lucky! This is the year for you to raft this river.

Plan now. Take the time and when you go take your time. Cheers.

Common Birds of India

Cattle Egret.( Bubulcus ibis )

Cattle Egret.( Bubulcus ibis )

It is a common scene in the country side to see buffaloes and cattle grazing around and a white slender bird tagging along them wherever they go. This is the Cattle Egret named so because of its habit of going around with cattle. In Hindi it is called Gai-bagla..

This white bird with slender long legs and yellow bill is distributed throughout the country. Both sexes are alike except for in the breeding season when the male has golden-orange buff colored plumes on its head neck, tapering towards the back. These birds go around with grazing cattle in search of insects, that are disturbed by the cattle and catch them. The moment an insect takes away from the grass it darts and catches it. Grass-hoppers, small frogs and lizards are its favourite feed.

These birds can be seen around pond shores also looking for beetles and small frogs in the water. Once it is evening, a flock of these birds take off in an arrow-head formation flight to their regular roosting trees. These birds are very silent and very wary. Their take off is a marvelous sight to see. Their flight is also very gracious with soft wing beats in slow motion.

Flocks often patronize the same tree for roosting. Nesting is chiefly around November to March in the southern part of the country and June to August in the northern part. This is probably because of the varying food availability. The nest is a twiggy mass lined with its feathers in trees more around water bodies. They colonize these trees and share the tree with other shore birds. Eggs are pale bluish white and 3 to 5 eggs are the normal clutch. Both sexes share all domestic chores. The young are very gregarious and both the parents have a tough time feeding them.

A gracious white bird whose flight is a marvelous sight to watch.

By Ragoo Rao

Did You Know ?

Mask and Mime in the Jungle

Mask and Mime in the Jungle

Life in the wild mimics city life in more ways than one, says S.Ananthanarayanan.

It is not just the rule of the stronger or the swifter, it is more a game of deceit, ploy and strategy! How similar to advertising, marketing and the ways of the share bazaar?

Batesian mimicry Henry Walter Bates was a British scientist who studied Amazonian butterflies that use deception to keep predators away. The Heliconid butterflies of the Amazon, better known as the Passion Flower butterflies, live in groups and shelter from the rain in shrubs of the Passion Flower. This plant has evolved toxic leaves, to be safe from insects. But the caterpillars of the Heliconid have developed resistance and actually use the toxins in the leaves to make the butterflies themselves poisonous to eat!

Snacking on a Heliconid leads to such discomfort that those who have had a taste steer clear thereafter. But the interesting part is with related butterfly species which do not have this kind of protection. The related species have evolved to have wing shapes and marking deceptively similar to the Heliconid. Predators that have learnt by bad experience to avoid the Heliconid then also stay away from the related, but quite palatable cousins! This kind of ‘borrowed’ protection, which has been found in many more instances, is now known as Batesian mimicry.


A well known instance is the Indonesian Papillio butterfly, whose females are able mimic a number of other, foul tasting species.

Another instance is of the Eastern Coral snake, a relative of the cobra and the mamba and found in some states of the USA. This snake is venomous and has characteristic colouring to announce itself. But the harmless Scarlet King snake has evolved almost identical markings and is able to piggyback on its deadly look alike!

Enter game theory This week’s Nature carries a report on a study of the frequencies with which species should be found to mimic alternative unpalatable models. Typically, if the mimics outnumber the model, then the model itself would lose its protection and may need to evolve away from its harmless double. But nearer to life would be a case of closely resembling toxic models, one being more toxic than the other, or being more abundant than the other. The mimics may then do better to imitate the more toxic or the more abundant kind. In cases not clearly demarcated, there may be an optimum mixed strategy of looking like one or the other, so that the protection is maximized.

The mathematical methods of game theory, now common in the corporate world, may find ready application. Paradox But the study reported in Nature, of species of frog that live in the Ecuadorian Amazon, seems to contradict this simple rule of predator evasion. The non-poisonous frog, Allobates zaparo, shares territory with a very poisonous frog, Epipedobates parvulus, and a related but less noxious one, E. bilinguis. Both the poisonous forms have distinct but similar patterns of red warning spots. Now, the study shows that the non-poisonous variety chooses to mimic the less toxic model rather than the more poisonous one. Not even a mix, of sometimes one model and sometimes another, but just the less poisonous one. This seems to be counter-intuitive! The answer has been found to lie in the way predators react to the two poisonous forms. Encounter with the more toxic one is so unpleasant that it teaches an avoidance of anything even similar. But in the case of the less toxic form, the lesson is to avoid just that specific kind.

Thus if a mimic were to look like the more poisonous model, then it would be safe from predators that avoided the model, but not from predators educated by the milder form. On the other hand, looking like the milder model would give protection from all predators!

 [The writer can be contacted at]


A visit to Kutch Marine National Park ( Part I)

A visit to Kutch Marine National Park ( Part I)

-Chaitanya Nimavat


The state of Gujarat has many firsts in it’s crown. Marine National Park is one of the brightest feathers. In 1980, an area of 163 sq. KMs consisting 42 islands falling in Gulf of Kutchh in Jamnagar district was declared as Marine National Park and an area of 295 sq. KMs declared as a Sanctuary area.

Marine National Park and the sanctuary fall in the inter-tidal zone along the Jamnagar Coast and the islands in the gulf of Kutchh. The whole area is a treasure for nature lovers, biologists, marine scientists and tourists. It possesses a great diversity of habitats, Coral reefs and Mangroves.

The island opens to a heart throbbing view of rich marine diversity in its mud flats, creeks, coral reefs, estuaries, sandy strands, marshy shores and mangroves. Temperamental tides visit the shore twice a day. And such various forms of habitats support a rich eco system. One can see a multitude of fish, birds, corals, many sea creatures and worms.

A group of 60 Participants visited the Marine National Park last 28th and 29th January under the flagship of Youth Hostel’s Association of India, Gandhinagar Unit. We reached there at 12: 42 PM in high tide. After introduction and ice breaking session, we had our lunch. As the sea water started to go back, we started our journey to bag an unforgettable experience of our life.

We went through a muddy shore on the eastern side of the island. We saw big amount of sea grass drained and reached the shore in tidal force. Then we saw sea worms. Sea worm is a worm like earth worm, with lengths of half to two meters’ and lives in soft sand under the shallow sea water. We also saw colorful sponges, shells, chunks. We had a thrilling experience of walking in knee reaching mud, which is called ‘saari’ in local dialect. Hence being on the western coast of the island, we also were fortunate to spectaculars view of Sun set.

( Text and Photographs by Chaitanya –Light house, tube worm and Neptune Crab)




-Shivani Thakur

Along the southern parts of Western Ghats a species similar to our domestic goat is found. For all of us to comprehend the importance this species would be difficult. But this is no ordinary goat. This is the Nilgiri Tahr and it is endangered.

The tahr is found in the high ranges of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.They belong to the family Bovidae that includes even- toed, horned antelopes. Its similar counterpart is the Himalayan Tahr and the Arabian Tahr.

The tahr is considered the primitive cousin of true goats. They posses certain characteristics of primitive goats-antelopes such as similarity of horn size in both male and females and certain other features that characterize true goats such as striking coat color, difference between the sexes and presence of odoriferous glands. Probably their this vulnerability is responsible for their diminishing numbers.

The tahr is mainly found in the Eravikulam National Park near Munnar in Kerala. The 97 sq km park situated at an altitude of 1,400 to 2,695 meters along the Kerala –Tamil Nadu border is its abode.

The distinctive features are its brown coat with dark brown band running down the center of the back and a lighter white colored chest, belly and throat. The horns are 40cms in males and 30 cms in females. They generally have small herds grazing during the day and resting in the night. Male tahrs are known to fight during the mating season or over the territory.

In spite of being in the protective land their population has suffered. From 1,008 in the year 1997to merely 600 in 2002. They prefer open terrains, cliffs and grass covered hills. In 2004 the park was ravaged by a forest fire resulting in inadequate supply of food for them. But in 2005 good rainfall and effective steps taken by the authorities helped in increasing their population. They also face threat from predators like tigers, wild dogs, leopards and jackals.

The tahr might not be considered one of the many species to have a direct effect on our environment but conservation of large bodied vertebrates and other forms of flora and fauna are more prone to extinction as their resilience to human induced disturbances are directly proportionate to the extent of the habitat and food sources available.

There are many views regarding the sustainable use of resources. This ideology basically advocates opening up of forests resources to local communities for harvesting. But this sustainable use can change into over exploitation. classic example is the high extraction of fruits from Myristica spp and Garcinia spp of trees in the swamps in the Western Ghats. Although the tahr is a species still not majorily affected by human intervention because of its obscurity and the fact that little information is widely available. Yet due to its loss of habitat and many predators, there is need to be aware of the threat it can face if its habitat is opened up.

It is a widely known fact that nature has a way of balancing itself if left to its own devices. Maybe we should start looking at the tahr as no ordinary goat but part of our rich bio-diversity.

( Photograph of Nilgiri Tahr by by K.K Mustafah from an article which appeared in The Hindu dated January 16, 2005)

News and Views

News and Views


Conservation of wildlife has come to mean taking action to help endangered or near extinct birds and animals to a large number of people. However, conservation is much larger than that. Conservation refers to keeping the web of life intact. Unless we are aware and love and protect all the links in the web, the chain can weaken and break at any point.

That is what seemed to have happened to the white backed vulture. The spate of projects and awareness films about this bird has now confirmed the great importance of this bird in keeping the web of life intact and healthy. The cattle egret is another bird we take for granted. No, it is not endangered; but is about as common as vultures once were. We have an article on this bird in this month’s ezine in the series “common birds”. 

Shivani’s article on nilgiri tahr “not an ordinary goat” connects the endangered to the ordinary. In keeping with our general mood to understand more about marine life, we have the first part of an article about a visit to the marine national park. Do read our chat transcript on marine biology too.

And Views…………. “

"Every judgment in this country is a future investment for the judge who made it.“

"Soon after independence we had the great notion of nation building. Now no one talks about that. We talk of globalization.

There is a disjunction between culturally valued goals and culturally proscribed means, and that will remain if we don’t change substantially.

The upper middle class is becoming inner-directed, as against outer directed. Yet they don’t realize that public welfare is connected with their own”

T.K Oommen, Author of “Crisis and Contention in Indian Society”, quoted in The Hindu dated 1 March 2006

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