--John Eickert


It is wonderful how nature heals itself after sweeping dramatic change. No matter the cataclysm: flood, fire- in the wake, nature turns to the whole, not the individual, to spin the interwoven wheel of life. Elizabeth and I adventured to Glacier National Park, in northern Montana, for a refreshing weekend of mountains, hiking and camping under the sky.


The number of burned areas throughout the northern Rocky Mountains is growing as our earth heats. Fires are now a summer constant. Unreliable words, spoken by verbose politicians, debate, yet the meaning of this change remain elusive. Here, after a great burn, a pioneer species known as fireweed is the first to take hold. It is a quick growing single stalk plant with a magnificent flowering head. The flower is a cheery light, pink-red color. It is a wonderful site to witness fireweed in full bloom, during the height of summer, amidst the hulking ruin of fire-blackened, standing, dead trees. It is observable and apparent that there is life after cataclysm, but what, if anything, is certain?

Native legend explains that fireweed chronicles key timing elements of summer. When the leaves turn green, the legend tells, there will be no more frost; when the stalk has bloomed all the way to the top (fireweed blooms in a whorl with the first blooms beginning low on the stalk and blooming in turn towards the crown) this is the height of summer and also marks the seasonal march to fall. Weeks later, according to legend, when the blooms have dried and floated out onto the wind using a cottony seed, frost will come soon. Therefore, summer communicates essential timing as “the fireweed is all the way up” or “the fireweed is all the way down.” These predictors are observable and certain.

We sat in the morning, after sleeping away a chilly night cozy in our tent and sleeping bags, in a fire-burned area amongst silent, sentinel, charred naked trunks. All around the fireweed sent cottony seedwhisps drifting up with the slight morning breeze. It was clear, calm and quiet, while we watched the morning mountains and whispered our delight in hushed reverent tones. We were conscious of the simplicity and wisdom of nature in spinning the wheel and the endless character of life. Somewhere, deep in the fireweed, a wolf howled and that one primordial sound tolled the reliability of nature. Nature may change, but it will never die. It is either on the way up or on the way down, always dynamic.


Our adventure, though brief, was glorious. It is the getting up and going out, despite the myriad of reasons to resist, which brings a closeness- is there ever true understanding?- with nature and the wheel. We sat by clean mountain lakes and dined on calorie laden sweet pastries. We hiked among towering peaks and listened to the shrill warning whistle of golden marmots. And we watched fireweed-cotton drift in and out of that superb setting. When is your next adventure? Cheers.



( Picture:  Fireweed, a flower of the Astor family

The sun-dial at Konark, Orissa, representing the wheel of life )


Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Infodiversity-rediscovering antiquity



During the last two centuries, the earth has lost approximately 65% of its living species, 85% of its spoken languages, all traditional kinds of trade  and rich legacies of folk worship


Rediscovering antiquity


Disappearing infodiversity may yet be saved, says S.Ananthanarayanan.


Landry and M’batu, scientist-archeologists, have reverse-engineered ancient Cretan pottery to recover samples of speech as practiced by those prehistoric potters.


We are all familiar with Thomas A Edison’s discovery of the phonograph, where he scratched a rotating drum with a needle that was set vibrating by sound striking a diaphragm attached to the needle. Now, when the drum was rotated again, with a needle with a diaphragm attached touching the groove which was made the first time, that same, first sound was heard.


Cretan pots




Cretan pots, dated  about 3,800 years ago, are decorated with a spiral groove that goes many times around, as if made by spinning the pots when still soft, with a metal

stylus sliding down the side.


Landry and M’batu said that if the Cretan potters had been speaking while they did their work, then the stylus would have vibrated with the speech, and would have recorded the sounds in the patterns on the pottery!


As the Cretan pots were glazed, any such traces were perfectly preserved. Micro-analysis of the grooves with “molecular mapping” has now shown that there were indeed some regular patterns in those grooves.  And with a consistent pattern discovered in several pots, it appears that the Cretan potters chanted a standard drone, perhaps a prayer, during the operation

Study of this (yet un-translated) prayer, with compensations for variations in the speed of the potters’ wheel, and using sophisticated, computer aided, statistical techniques has enabled decoding the phonemes of the prayer and other utterances unwittingly recorded!


This becomes hence a sample of actual speech retrieved from hopeless antiquity. And it serves to test out a theory of a global proto-language from which all modern languages have descended. Comparison of the Cretan sounds with ancient parallels derived from Sino-Tibetan and other proto-languages are said to have confirmed the notion of a common origin of languages!


Recovering lost heritage?


But such conclusions apart, the recovery by Landry and M’batu of a long lost human record is an encouraging departure from the disconcerting loss, in modern times, of the arduously garnered ‘evolutionary order’, biological and social, of millennia.


During the last two centuries, the earth has lost approximately 65% of its living species, 85% of its spoken languages, all kinds of trade outside that driven by currencies and banking, and rich legacies of folk worship to four major religions.


Such reduction in the diversity of social and ecological systems leads to the same risk that over-specialised biosystems run, in respect of survival. Instances are the extinction of dinosaurs, specialized civilizations, etc.


It is commonplace that ecologists call for protection of species of ‘wild’ grasses, such as crude varieties of wheat or millets. This is because these ‘seminal’ varieties, unspecialized by breeding for high yield or specific grain size, retain phenomenal resistance to attack by disease.


In case all samples of our regular strains of food-grain were destroyed by pest or disease, it is these ‘wild’ and ‘diverse’ varieties from which we would be able to rebuild the lifestyle on which we depend.


In like manner, the rapid erosion of the diversity of social structures at the altar of economic globalisation is seen to invite the risk of catastrophic breakdown of society, somewhat like Soviet Russia, but on a worldwide scale.


The breed of ‘informetrists’ study the levels of ‘information’ stored in social systems, and the effect that this store has on ensuring stability. Eroding this information hoard, for the uniformity that the marketplace demands, would be akin to the occupants of a life-boat throwing off their life-jackets to help the boat make better speed.


Now informetrists are taking heart at ancient Cretan potters being heard again, like so many ways that science is helping regain the legacy of the past.


The understanding of the gene has allowed the recreation of extinct species, the Siberian tiger, the blue whale, many kinds of red algae. Genetic records of rainforest species, so far thought lost, are preserved and awaiting possible revival.


Science has opened the doors to what may be our most valuable ‘fallback’, or safety net, as we press on with technological development, at the risk of the collapse of the house of cards!


[The writer can be contacted at]

Common Birds of India

White Eye





White Eye. (Zesterops palpebrosa )




 The White eye is the bird of the month.



A sparrow sized greenish yellow bird, hopping endlessly from branch to branch in garden trees, chirping occasionally a faint Ckik.....chik...with a conspicuous white ring around the eye is the White eye. It has a small curved bill which looks almost translucent when seen against the sun.


This bird is found practically all over the country. They sometimes gather in flocks of five to six birds flicking from branch to branch foraging. Their mainstay are insects, which they search sometimes hanging upside down from twigs, very much like the tailor birds and the tits.


There are slight variations in color and size depending on the geographical areas they live in. Five races have been categorized.


It is really amusing to see them feeding on berries in the season. They pick a berry which will be almost as large as their heads and swallow them laboriously. Flower nectar is also relished by them.


A little before their breeding season, which is mainly between April and July in Southern India, the male is heard a little more and he has a polyphonic sort of chirps. It stars feebly and grows louder and after the climax fades away feebly.


A very pleasant quiet bird, easily comes into gardens with medium sized flowering trees in search of nectar and insects. A tree which bears small cherries is sure to attract these birds into the gardens.


In the nesting season, both the parents build their nests not very high with dried grass fibres and cobwebs. They usally select the end of a slender branch and build the nests hammock fashioned- hanging and swaying in the wind. Probably they do this to keep the predators away.


2 to 3 pale blue eggs sometimes darker at the broader end are laid and both the parents share all domestic chores.


A beautiful quiet bird to have as a guest in your gardens.



( Photographs: Susan Sharma)


Corporates and Environment

Green - The Colour in Vogue!

Green - the colour in vogue!

-Govind Singh


Three of the Internet’s biggest brands - Yahoo!, Google and MSN  have decided to go green! And there’s more to it than just the colour!

Symbolizing ‘environmental friendly lifestyle/activities leading to a sustainable society / development’, green has always been the colour for all things environment!

Targetted primarily the US citizen and with the logo - “Many small changes equal one great change“, - aims to fight global warming and helps users make an action plan that fits their lifestyle!

Amidst green news and facts, the website also enables the users to calculate their carbon footprint! (- it takes only 18 seconds to change a light)- another initiative by Yahoo! is promoting the switch to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) within the United States.


In collaboration with, MSN has been the web-address of the Live Earth Concert! features a host of ‘green’ articles, photos, videos and events. Microsoft’s official ‘Environment Stewardship and Sustainability’ Commitment and related articles can be read here at Microsoft’s official website. is asking users to do just 3 things (for) now -

  1. switch to CFL light bulbs
  2. adjust (the) thermostat
  3. insulate (your) water heater

It also has several interactive features and a lot of links to Environmental Blogs on Global Warming and Climate Change all over the www.


Somewhere around the beginning of this year, a Blog by the name of ecoIron had, in a post titled  Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine.

Following this, Heap Media - an Online Australian enterprise came up with - Powered by Google custom search!

Google itself has something green up its sleeves. Built for the American traveller, lets users search for “environmentally friendly hotels” instead of just “hotels.” Powered by Google Maps, the URL also lists some green destinations within the United States.

Google should also be given credit for remembering all the different environmental days and festivals (e.g. World Environment Day, Earth Day, etc.) and changing its logo appropriately!


Call it environmental awareness, realization of a greater ‘corporate social responsibility’ or good business strategy…the Green Wave is here now and it does not seem to show any signs of fading away!

Back home in India, we havn’t been able to see much green so far! Although NDTV’s Environment Section has been around for some time, IBNLive has clearly taken the lead with its Citizens for Earth campaign. HindustanTimes also has a static page on Environment! However, our very own Internet Giants have so far remained unaware and untouched. It is time now that those who claim to be India’s No. 1 ISP brands come up with our very own green pages.

Anyone listening? 




Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars Part IV

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars 
 Part IV
-Saraswati Kavula


  I suppose in the name of conservation and conservation education, encounters

with nature too have become a sport, and an activity to be undertaken. I don’t

think I am any less culpable than those others. With these thoughts I still

managed to get a sound sleep inside the silent environs, gearing up for the

morning ride up to Gopalswamy betta.  Betta is a hill in Kannada and atop the

hill is the Gopalaswamy temple. What we got to see were the spellbinding views

of the Blue Mountains covered in the mists, “That side is Ooty, pointed out

Pradeep” while motioning us to move down the hill on the other side, and that

was where we saw the best view in the whole trip. A nice forest with a few open

grasslands on the hilly slopes, a herd of elephants with their babies grazing on

the left while a herd of Bisons grazing on the right. “Why are the hilltops

without any trees?” I asked. “Due to the heavy winds, no trees grow on the top

of the mountains. They like to eat the fresh grass  after the rainfall, because it is tasty and sweet” Pradeep said pointing to the elephants.  “Do they come up here? Yes, they come up to the temple very often”.


  As we walked up, I found a plastic water bottle lying around. It was a no

plastic zone. When I was about to pick it up, Pradeep said there was no need,

“There is a forest cleaning party, they will come and clean it up’, and when we

saw some broken beer bottles he said, “The guests of ministers and politicians

and big people, come here, and make party. It is they who throw most of this

stuff”. A forest department’s bungalow was under construction next to the

temple, to accommodate guests. Wonder what will happen to this place after that?

A more depressing thought crossed my mind, “What if any of the animals gets a

glass in its feet as it saunters up to the hill top in search of food?” No

answer to that one I guess. We moved on from Gopalswami betta. After driving

through a kaccha road inside a dense natural forest which was  not too far from

the Lodge, (I wonder if within a couple of kilometers forests change from a

semi-deciduous to deciduous or even evergreen forest) we

returned to our multiple choice breakfast, enjoying the time while we can

afford it.  


  From Bandipur we packed off to Bhagamandala, after passing through Mysore and

the Coorg District. Mysore, a nice little city, it was quiet, well laid out, and

very beautiful. May be not for long – the madness that took over Bangalore, then

Hyderabad, which is now spreading its tentacles has begun here too. “At first

there were just 600000 people here, today there are 1.2 million. Ever since the

software industry has been set up, lots of people from the north are coming

here, and with the crowd, constructions have increased and so have the

temperatures”, lamented the shopkeeper outside Jaganmohan Palace. “Well, Mysore

is much better compared with Bangalore, or Hyderabad”, I tried to console him.

“Can’t say how long this city can sustain its originality”, replied that man. As

we reached the outskirts of the city, “progress” was in sight – there was huge

traffic jam, due to road widening. As we got out off the bottleneck, we sighted

huge, trees lying uprooted on either side  of the road. The trees must have been at least 50-60 years old. “They have been cut down for making a four lane highway”, Marisami our cab driver (Yes, I could not overcome the desire for comfortable travel by cab, instead of changing four buses to travel 250 kilometers to Bhagamandala) told me, on enquiry. What if a human being was killed before his lifetime, that is a crime, but about killing a tree that still has a long life before it?


  Bhagamandala is on the other side of Coorg district. I chose the place since I

could not get a place at Mercara, the main centre of Coorg. Many people

dissuaded me from going to Bhagamandala, saying there is nothing there, except

for TalaCauvery, the birth place of Cauvery River. I was hesitant at first. But

since anyway, I had decided and wanted to see the Coorg region, went ahead.

Coorg itself was as a friend had described nothing more than coffee plantations

and home stays. A place full of many resorts, it had its own charm. But after

knowing that the coffee plantations stood on once dense tropical rain forests;

which had a diversity of plant and animal species; now replaced by one species

of animal, the homo sapiens and three major plant species – pepper, cardamom and

Coffee…a legacy of the British Rule. I will not be able to drink my cup of

coffee without a sense of guilt. “An average plantation is about 100 to 200

acres,” remarked Mariswami. “A small estate will be  about 20-30 acres”, Mariswami continued. “So these guys must be making pots of money!” I remarked. “No, now the rate of one quintal of coffee has fallen to just 1070 rupees” he replied. Must be because of competition coming from other third world countries’ exports, I said. ‘Yes, the market is really down’.

Ultimately all that natural forest, lost to make way for business, which has

finally stopped being profitable either. But I suppose better to have a

plantation than concrete blocks.


   Mercara is as bad as a overgrown unplanned tourist hill station can be, which

reminded me of another famed hill station, Munnar; which too is overgrown and

stuffy; where the other favourite beverage, “tea” has replaced the rare Shola

Forests in Kerala’s Idukki district.


  Bhagamandala was a surprise and I was glad to have come there. It is a small

village like town surrounded by hills with thick rain forest and just one small

six room hotel owned by the Govt. of Karnataka. Yet the hotel looks out of place

in all the serenity. Nobody stays at Bhagamandala except at weekends, and that

too to go up to the TalaCauvery 8kms away. But the day time brings in hordes of

“pilgrim tourists” who bring with them quite a bit of plastic and also carry

with them lot of plastic along with packed food.


  For now, Bhagamandala is still saved. But I am not sure how long it will

remain this way. The local mini temple is already being expanded in size. Soon,

the place may become highly important as a pilgrim centre and noisy “pious”

praying pilgrims will soon enough come to stay in Bhagamandala. New hotels will

come up and soon the place may teem with people making money out of the “holy”

business.  That would ring the death knell to the place.



  But for now, I have my peace, watching the rain splash on the forested hills,

giant rainbows peeking out of the cleared mists as the skies turn pink and

purple in the evening hours. TalaCauvery was just a stream jutting out of a cave

at the bottom of the Brahmagiri Hill, around which a pond was constructed, later

a temple arose with a couple of deities. Still quiet a serene and beautiful

place. But not anymore in future, bulldozers are chugging away and broken

granite litters the area, as the “temple is being renovated” with “just” rupees

Ten crores. The pilgrim tourists, zip from Bhagamandala to TalaCauvery screaming

aloud cat calls. There was a board with a Langoor painted on it, something in

Kannada which must have denoted the presence of Langoors in these forests. “Well

here are the Langoors” my thirteen year old niece said, as she watched the

screaming fellows inside the jeeps.


  The walk up from TalaCauvery to the top of Brahmagiri Hill was again

exhilarating as if we were walking up the clouds, the mist enveloping us, making

visibility quite low.

  Though I had wanted to stay back in the serene place, we were prevented from

such a venture by the ‘Langoors’ who had climbed the hill and were now screaming

at the top of their voices. The descent was again memorable as we got off the

auto rickshaw a few kilometers before Bhagamandala and walked down to the hotel

in the light showers.


  “I could just stay here forever, just bring some books and stay around”,

remarked my niece, who was not too willing to leave when it was time to go. It

felt the same for me too. “If nothing else, I could come here for the water”,

said my eleven year old nephew. True enough, even the water from the bathroom

taps tasted like mineral water. Guess that is what we missed out, in our rush

towards “progress” and “comforts”, finally, wanting to escape to places like

these after all the suffering in stuffy environs; hankering for achievement; the

only thing we seem to wish for is some peace and quiet, fresh air and water!


  On our second day at Bhagmandala, a strange thing happened. We waited outside

a little shop for our turn to call up home. Suddenly, my nephew, shouted, “Hey,

look there is a snake there!” When we looked up, there was snake waiting under

the tile roof, just above the shopkeepers’ head. The shopkeeper looked unfazed.

“It is just waiting to eat the rat. It will go off, once it gets the rat”, he

smiled. Very close to where the snake was, a rat was hanging with his life in

its tail. That was not all. A cat was waiting on the roof top, on the outside.

“What a situation, the rat can neither come out, nor stay in”, remarked my

niece. We waited a while for our turn to make a call, only in vain. After a

short walk in the village, we went back to the shop. “Did the snake get the

rat?” “Yes, it did and see it is gone”, replied the shop guy.


(photograph of cut tree on Coorg –Mysore Road.)


                                                                                       -( To be continued)



Weakened Jaws



--Shivani Thakur


Legend has it that when a ghariyal caught hold of the foot of an elephant,  Lord Vishnu with his sudershan chakra could only,  from its powerful teeth.  Alas these strong jaws are unable to save it from extinction. In its annual Red list of threatened species, published this year by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) the ghariyal has been up listed from “endangered” to “critically endangered. There are now only 200 breeding adults’ left in the wild.




Usually found in Indus, Brahmputra, Ganga and Mahanadi river systems it is adapted to calmer waters of deep rivers. These animals are slow on land and come to sandbanks to bask in the sun or lay eggs.  Unlike other crocodiles the ghariyals have a long snout with a bulbous tip on the males resembling a pot or ‘ghara’. It has razor sharp teeth for eating fish. The ghariyal is one of the largest species of crocodiles comparing to the Nile crocodile. It can reach the length of 5 meters, sometimes even 6 meters. The young ones eat larvae, insects, and frogs. However adults are mainly fish eaters and sometimes scavenge on dead animals. Breeding begins in the winter months of November, December and January; nesting is in the dry season of March, April and May. They lay about 30 to 50 eggs, which hatch in about 80 to 90 days. The eggs are laid in sandbanks by digging the soil and covering it from predators.



                  In 1970 the ghariyal population had declined to its lowest levels but a Project Ghariyal was started which brought its wild numbers to 400 in 1997. Deemed a success it was stopped.  According to IUCN the numbers have dwindled to 186 in 2006 almost half the population lost in a decade. The ghariyal faces threat from fishing and illegal activities such as sand mining that destroys their nests.  Its eggs are collected for medicinal purposes and the snout is thought to have aphrodisiac qualities. The croc skin is used in making bags and shoes.  The decline in population of fish which is its diet also one of the cause.



         Dr.Sandeep Behra, who heads the WWF’s ghariyal conservation program is amember of the Ghariyal Multi Task Force set up to assess population trends and avert its eventual extinction in the wild. In India, the breeding population of the ghariyal is found in two sites –the Chambal and a five km stretch of the Girwa River in Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary on the Indo-Nepal border. It was in the Chambal Sanctuary that the Project Crocodile was the focus of intense conservation.


         The ghariyal is not seen as an animal making much of a difference in our environment but it helps in keeping control of fish population.  An animal, which has survived from the time of dinosaurs, deserves its place on earth.



( Photograph of ghariyal from Chambal, courtesy MP Tourism; Photograph of the male’s ”ghara’ from wikipedia).


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