You’ve had a taste of my long-gone-month-long stay in India. From here to here. But I’ve not been entirely honest with you. I told you it was a holiday I took alone. That’s largely true. But for just over a week, right at the beginning, I was part of a small experimental tour put together by my ex-brother-in-law Simon. An Organic Adventure. About eight of us travelled through rural Karnataka and Kerala, looking at local ventures into organic and sustainable agriculture. If that sounds dull … well, you can’t have been there.
I have stories to tell. But it was the wildlife that always remains in my mind … even urban wildlife is so very different from good old English pigeons and magpies. In Bangalore it was wheeling and circling eagles. In Mysore it was enormous fruit bats coming out at nightfall, to find food; and by day there were the gossiping bovva- boy hornbills.
And in rural Karnataka it was frogs. We could see them constantly in the ponds near our lodgings, burping away by day and by night . The only thing that shifted them one morning was a rat snake, slithering around and looking for breakfast .
I used to go outside as darkness fell at 6 o’clock and listen. A complex symphony played out. First, a group of frogs would start their chorus, the noise intensifying until gradually becoming quieter again: then others would take over with their own ever-swelling sound. Crescendo … diminuendo. All through the night. Quite wonderful.
One day at a tea plantation at the edge of the woods (another story for another day) we suddenly – and I do mean quite suddenly – heard cicadas in the trees. From low beginnings the sound grew and grew, peaking at a crescendo so loud we had to raise our voices to make ourselves heard.. Then, just as suddenly , it died smoothly away to nothing.
My favourite sound? This. Every morning. Just as dawn broke, a whistling thrush – just the one – broke into song. It sounded just like some contented man, hands in pockets, ambling slowly down the street, whistling happily and aimlessly. And it made me happy too, every time.
And on our very first night in the rainforest, as I was unpacking, a whirring, clattering clockwork toy appeared from behind my rucksack. Only it wasn’t a clockwork toy. It was a very cross hawkmoth, complaining vociferously about being disturbed.
Then there was our stop off in Nagarhole National Park with its snowy-headed Brahminy kites, its kingfishers and eagles: its bison, its warthogs, its spotted deer, its mongooses and – of course – its elephants.
But more than these I remember the simpler pleasures: watching cattle egrets on the backs of cattle, benefitting from the insect life that definitely did not benefit the cattle. Glimpsing a water snake surging across a placid pond. Going on a trek across the empty paths of the Western Ghats, spotting vine snakes, parakeets, macaques, rufous-bellied eagles…. and for some of our unfortunate team – not me for some reason – leeches, which left angry red welts behind when they’d loosened their grip.
No hornbill was going to wait around for me to take a snapshot. I saw no cicadas. I wasn’t clever enough to snap a Brahminy kite or an eagle. So my pictures don’t match the text. It’s just too bad. I can enjoy both and I hope you can too: souvenirs of memorable rural India. Tales of what we actually did there are for another day.