Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Visit to Sonda on June 27-28 2009

The lack of rains in Bangalore and the sultry weather conditions drove me to make a quick plan to head to the Western Ghats. The choice of destination was a non-descrepit place called Sonda in Sirsi district.

History: Not aware of a lot of history, but Sonda happens to be the seat of Shree Vadiraja Theertha and is one of the 8 Mutts that govern the Krishna temple in Udupi. By a tryst of destiny, I happen to belong to this particular Mutt and have visited this place on atleast 2 previous occassions. The temple itself is around 700 yrs old and Shree Vadiraja Theertha was the 20th guru in the lineage of Shree Madhwacharya Theertha, who propounded the Dwaitha philosophy of Hinduism. The current head of this Mutt is the 36th guru and goes by the name of Shree Vallabha Theertha. The previous guru, Shree Vishvesha Theertha passed away in 2007 after heading the Mutt for more than 50 yrs.

Left from Bangalore by the 10.30 pm Rajahamsa and reached Sirsi by 7.45 am on 27th morning. We heard that the bus for Sonda had just left and the next one was not expected for another 2 hrs. I was not at all disappointed since it was raining and I spent the time wandering around the town, breakfasting over 'buns' (a delicacy of North and South Kanara districts of Karnataka) and enjoying the rain. Our bus eventually arrived and after a 30 minute ride for a distance of 19 kms, we reached Sonda. Upon reaching the temple, we found out to our dismay that all accommodation was booked and we were left with nowhere to stay. But my mother and I are made of stout stuff and we decided not to be bothered by such minor hiccups. Leaving the worry of the night stay at the back of our minds, we did the round of the temple and paid our obescience to the resident dieties and the Vrindavana of Shree Vadiraja Theertha.
The lunch gong was sounded at 12 pm and after stuffing ourselves with the good food that was offered by the temple, I headed out towards a lake near the temple to do some birding while my mother decided to do some reading of the devotional books that she had wisely carried along to cater to situations like these.
The birding was not very exciting, but I found directions to couple of other 'tourist' spots nearby. So, I headed back to the temple and lugged my mother for a walk of 3 kms to a Venkataramana temple. What was relieving of this temple was that there was not a soul around, the gates to the temple were closed (not locked) and we were pretty much left to ourselves. We marvelled over the architecture for a while and then headed back to our HQ.
On the way back, we noticed a board to 'Tapovana' which is the place where Shree Vadiraja Theertha used to meditate and the lord used to appear to him. While we were comtemplating to make another 3 km walk to this place, a localite appeared on the scene and suggested that we do not make this walk since the route goes through forest and in these season there are bound to be leeches by the dozen. Considering that I was bare-footed and that my mother already was not too keen on simply ambling around, we returned to the temple. I took off once again, armed with my mammal guide to make some enquiries with the locals on the possibility of the LTM (Lion Tailed Macaque) infesting these forests. Ventured into the forests, enquired with the locals and got negative results. Hanuman Langur - Yessir, Bonnet Macaque - Yessir, LTM - No Sir :(

It had become dark by then, and not wanting to be lost in the forest, I made haste to the temple just in time for the evening puja. The walks in the afternoon and evening had made me hungry and though I had intended to skip the dinner (after the heavy lunch that I had), I was actually looking forward to a good meal and a nice sleep after that. To my dismay, my mom suggested that we have 'Pallara'. To those who do not know what a 'Pallara' is, it is nothing but any food item without rice. So, while the sensible people headed to have the regular dinner, my mother and I and few other people sat down for the 'pallara' which my mother assured would be served in sufficient quantities so as to satiate my appetite. Though the dinner was good, there was only one serving and I had to wash my hands with still a major portion of my stomach desiring for more food. Thankfully, the bus journey on the previous night and the exertions of the day had made me quite tired and the moment I slipped into my sleeping bag, I was sound asleep.
The next morning, we woke at 6 am, took a dip at the temple tank, paid another round of obescience and packed our bags to head to another place called Swarnavalli, around 9 kms from Shree Vadiraja Mutt.
Once there, we walked around the place. Couple of lines on this temple. This was founded by Shree Adi Shankaracharya and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha, Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva. It also houses a Veda Pathashala and the place reverberates through the day of the young lads chanting and learning the vedas and upanishads. Rather pleasing to the ear, much like any child singing rhymes.
The river Shamala flows nearby and I dragged my mother to see the river and also to visit the Sondha fort, which I was told was along the banks of this river. Lunch was at 2pm and we had a good 4 hours to finish this tour. As on the previous day, when we reached the bridge to cross the river (the fort was on the other bank), we met another friendly local who again put the fear of leeches. This time I had my footwear, but my mother would have nothing of it. So, we walked back to the temple, left my mother there to continue her reading and I walked back to the bridge, crossed the river, took the path along the bank which after about 100 mtrs led into the forests.
After about another 1/2 km, I reached the 'fort'.
The place had a huge stone bench (Raja's Seat), 6-7 cannons and a Shiva temple.
Rather sad king I thought to have a fort this small!! After resting there for a while, I began exploring the forests, when I realised that the earlier place I had seen was something like the king's 'durbar'. The fort itself was huge and was taken over by the forests. Strewn all around were mutilated rock carvings of an era gone by, just lying around. Saw 3 bath-tub kind of structures.
Wanted to explore some more, but time was running out since I had to return to the temple for lunch and then catch the 3pm bus back to Sirsi.

To our luck, the afternoon puja went on longer than usual, due to which we had to miss the 3pm bus and opt for the 5.30pm bus instead. To kill time, I convinced my mother to visit a place nearby called 'Sasyaloka'. This is a fine place maintained by the Karnataka Forest Department and a local NGO and houses saplings of rare medicinal plant, flowering plants, foreign plants etc.
My mother gamely tagged along, but a chance encounter with a snake, made her turn back to the safety of the temple while I ventured ahead and returned an hour later.

On reaching Sirsi, there was one last place I had to visit and this was the Marikamba Temple of which I had heard a lot.
Fortunately this temple was just about 1 km from the bus stand. Rounded up this walk with a quick Bhel puri and contentedly we boarded the 7.45pm Rajahamsa bus which then safely deposited us in dear old Bengaluru at 5.30 am on 29th June 2009!!


Bandipur Roadkills Campaign - 13/14 June 2009

With the Bandipur traffic restriction plans in the news, we decided to prepone the roadkills awareness campaign by a week. Sunil Gaikwad and I left from Bangalore in the morning in my Thunderbird, with the rest of the gang supposed to leave Bangalore on sat afternoon and meet at Gundlupet by evening. Sunil and I reached Nanjangud by 11 am and deviated to Chamarajnagar to have a word with the District Commissioner Mr. Manoj Kumar Meena regarding the opposition he was facing in implementing the ban. Try as we did, we could not meet him since he was not in office and when we visited his residence, the security did not allow us to meet him. Despondently, we returned to Nanjangud and headed to Gundlupet where we were joined by the rest of the guys by around 7 pm. After finishing our dinner, all of us headed to the Kekkanahalla check-post. Sunil and I retired for the night while the rest gamely took up their duty of stopping the vehicles and advising them about safe driving in the forest.

Since a lot of opposition for the ban had come from businessmen, traders and transporters, KANS did a quick check on the types of vehicles that traverse the forest between 9pm and 6am. The results of the study were:
1. Trucks carrying flowers from Ooty to Banglaore ply at night. They are plucked in the evening and have to be transported over the night to keep the freshness intact.
2. SKS has 2 buses plying every night, one plying from Kerala to Bangalore and other one Bangalore to Kerala.
3. 20 Karnataka Government Buses ply every night: 10 from Bangalore and 10 from other States.
4. 9 Kerala Government Buses ply every night: 5 from Kerala and 4 from Bangalore.
5. 8 Tamil Nadu Government Buses ply every night: 5 from TN and 3 from Bangalore.
6. Thursday and Friday nights experience heavy interstate truck movements carrying Rice, Sugar and Vegetables.
7. Vegetable Trucks on Saturday from Manjari (Kerala) ply towards Hassan travelling in the night to reach morning Sunday market.
8. Trucks squeezed with 1000 of ducks/chickens travel in the night because that causes less stress for the birds and hence less number of deaths.
9. It is tough for the concerned authorities to check these trucks in the night, many travels in the night to avoid payment of Regular Marketing Committee and they can also skip checking of documents in the night.
10. When a road kill of wildlife happens, the guards are generally informed of this by the passing by vehicles. The guard checks the animal and calls the doctor. Postmortem is done and the body is either burned or buried (incase no wood available to burn it). Finally record the road kill in Majjir (we did not get this word; assume some kind of record book). It is very difficult to track the offenders.

Our vigil was called off in the morning. After breakfast and some photopgraphy, we headed to Gudalur to visit the farm of our fellow KANS member, Bala, called Jungle Home. After enjoying the hospitality, which included some delicacies made from jack-fruit and a tour of his resort and a round of horse-riding, we decided to leg it back to Bengaluru by around 3pm and reached home eventually by 11 pm after completing hard but satisfying ride of 725 kms over 2 days.

Laxmeesha Acharya
Kenneth Anderson Nature Society

Soumyajit Nandy
Rakesh Gupta
Vasanth Kumar
Satish Pari
Sunil Gaikwad
Prakash Matada


Melagiri Bio-diversity survey

Dear Friends,
Call for volunteers for Melagiri Biodiversity Survey
Kenneth Anderson Nature Society ( and Asian Nature Conservation foundation ( ) are jointly conducting a biodiversity survey in the Melagiri region of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts.

Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, a professional research and conservation trust, is the lead agency for the survey and they have deputed a team consisting of 2 full time researcher officers, GIS expert and a field assistant all lead by Dr.Bhaskaran for a period of one year.

Kenneth Anderson Nature Society is an NGO whose members are serious, non-professional naturalists and conservationists drawn from all walks of life. KANS was born in these very forests one year ago.

Background of the region:

The Melagiris are a range of hills on the Eastern Ghats, bound by the river Cauvery on the west. Forest covered hills and valleys are the predominant landscape, with the highest peak of Gutherayan rising up to 1390mtrs. The forests are largely dry deciduous with some stretches of shola forests on the slopes of Gutherayan peak. The total reserve forest area is around 1400 sq km, with representative presence of nearly all animals and birds expected to be found in a similar habitat. The ruling monarch of these jungles is however the Elephant.

Purpose of the Survey:
This is a hitherto unknown area is covered extensively in the stories of Kenneth Anderson. The objective of the survey is to take stock of the forests, which have been deteriorating over time. We hope to bring to public light the beauty and diversity of these forests and also highlight the socio-economic issues facing conservation in this region.

A Sanctuary is being proposed in this area and we hope our inventory of the species and inputs on the human-forest interaction issues will lend weight to the proposal.

Survey particulars:
The Survey is broadly divided into the following categories:
1- Bird count for temporal and spatial distribution of bird species and populations (transects).
2 – Vegetation (transects).
3 – Reptiles
4 - Fishes
5 – Mammals (transects, camera traps).
6- Biotic pressures and effect of human activities on forests. (socio economic questionnaires)
7- Man animal (elephant) conflict. (questionnaires being done by a full time dedicated M.Phil student)

8- GIS mapping of the landscape with overlapped layers of vegetation maps, species distribution etc.

Call for Volunteers:

We request your help making this survey a success. We require volunteers to carry out transects and field surveys. None of the volunteer work is full time and can be carried out on weekends or holidays. Transects will be carried out by teams of two. Participation dates are flexible.

This is an excellent opportunity to experience the little known jungles frequented by Kenneth Anderson and experience a unique area of the Eastern ghats.

These are territorial forests and facilities are meagre to say the least. Accommodation wherever possible will be provided in places such as anti-poaching camps, forest guest house etc,. Otherwise please be prepared to sleep under stars like Kenneth Anderson did!

Reasonable level of physical fitness is expected as the transects will involve walking over distances measuring 6 to 8 kilometers, over densely wooded hill slopes. A willingness to rough it out and enjoy the outdoors are an essential requirement! There are no other prerequisites.

The survey is a voluntary unfunded project and no stipends or reimbursements will be paid for the volunteers. The survey work will begin in the month of July and continue for a year.

Please do drop me a mail at giving your interests to enable me to keep you informed about programs as they develop.

Warm regards
Sanjeev Kumar S.R
Vice President
Kenneth Anderson Nature Society.
Mob: 9362321000