Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No space for gardening?

Many of us shy away from growing plants with the excuse that we do not have a backyard/front yard, we live in small flats etc. But gardening is all about having the will to grow a plant and having the patience to watch the plant grow. This is the message which came to me strongly when I noticed the Public Art installation near the Chandni Chowk Metro station by Prayas Abhinav of Bangalore.

The installation is on top of a tea stall and shows plants like ghobi, tulsi, palak etc which can be grown on top of the stall to meet the daily needs of the stall owner. The volunteer at the site explained to us proudly " Ma'm this is how we can all contribute to reduce global warming". I was touched.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Basket of Plants-Festive Gift

Give plants as a festive gift to your friends. You can make them look like a bouquet by arranging them in a basket.
But this is a bouquet which will remain with your friend for a long time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Honey Bees

I found this honeycomb buzzing with bees, snug under the creeper on my wall-the flaming glory.

I wondered where the honey came from. Then I saw the bees collecting honey
from the Madhu Malti flowers every day morning.

Social bees use waxy secretions from their bodies to build large nests and
containers in which to store food and raise young.

About a year later I found the nest abandoned. Probably the bees were bumble bees and not honey bees as I had assumed. They produce honey too, but in lesser quantities compared to honey bees.

Where did the bees go? Not far but onto the silk cotton tree branch right outside our house.

In India, beekeeping has been mainly forest based. Several natural plant species provide nectar and pollen to honey bees. Thus, the raw material for production of honey is available free from nature.

Tribal populations and forest dwellers in several parts of India have honey collection from wild honey bee nests as their traditional profession. The methods of collection of honey and beeswax from these nests have changed only slightly over the millennia.

The major regions for production of this honey are the forests and farms along the sub-Himalayan tracts and adjacent foothills, tropical forest and cultivated vegetation in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

Forest honey, mostly from rock bee hives, is usually collected by tribals in forests and is procured by forest or tribal corporations as a minor forest produce. Quite a large quantity is also collected by groups or individuals on their own.

Forest honey is usually thin, contains large quantity of pollen, bee juices and parts, wax and soil particles. The honey collector gets between Rs.10 and Rs.25 per kilogram of the forest honey.

Forest honeys are mostly multifloral. Wayanad district, which accounts for the bulk of wild honey in extracted from Kerala, yielded a total of 27,000 kg in 2006-07.

Wild honey is mostly purchased by ayurvedic drug makers, whose demand for natural, unadulterated honey has been on the rise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ikebana-Flower arrangement

Ikebana arrangement follows a rigidly fixed pattern – a triangle
of three points representing Heaven, Earth and Man. Emphasis
is placed on linear perfection, colour harmony, space and form.

The slideshow below has pictures taken at the annual exhibition of Ohara School of Ikebana at Lodhi Road, New Delhi held on 14 and 15 November, 2008. The theme for the exhibition is "Vasudaiva Kutumbakam' (The world is one family). was one of the sponsors for the exhibition.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Walking in the fields at Kangra (H.P)

The highlight of visiting my mother-in-law, who stays in Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), has always been the prospect of walking through the lush countryside. I was there late October, just before winter set in.
As always, the countryside is ever changing and never fails to reveal something new for my camera to capture.
The mongoose family scurrying about the neighbour's vegetable fields was amusing.

So was the sight of giant wood spiders alongside walking paths. The females are nearly ten times larger than the males, I believe. They weave the strongest and largest spiderwebs known to us. Shiny legs with yellow joints are their hallmark. Giant wood spiders are the subject of research- Humans would love to know the secret of creating the strong golden websilk. "In modern times, the Golden Orb Web Spider's silk is set to become a major product. The silk is almost as strong as Kevlar, the strongest man-made material which is drawn from concentrated sulphuric acid. In contrast, spider silk is drawn from water. If we could manufacture spider silk, it would have a million uses from parachutes, bullet-proof vests, lightweight clothing, seatbelts, light but strong ropes, as sutures in operations, artificial tendons and ligaments. Studies are now being done to have genetically engineered plants produce fluid polymers which can be processed into silk"

The wild red and white berries were all over.

The fields had spawned metallic mushrooms which vied with the pebbles lying around.

My husband was only too pleased to pose for a photo, framing a wagtail which he was pointing out to me!

More on my next visit!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Butterflies from Madurai

Madurai is in Tamil Nadu, India. The IV th Development Film Festival organized by Dhan Foundation of Madurai gave me an excuse to visit this temple town famous for the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. Living with the Park was screened at this fesival to an audience of over 400.

Dhan Academy is surrounded by green environs and the use of organic manure and near absence of plastic waste ensures that the place is a haven for a variety of butterflies.

The butterflies flitting about included common crow, lime, pansy, mormon, castor and many more. I could capture lemon pansy, chocolate pansy, a skipper ( my first) and plain tiger.

Lemon pansy

Chocolate pansy mating


Plain Tiger

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nature at our doorsteps!

Kitchen Gardens are a great vehicle to bring a little bit of nature into our everyday lives. While the plants and flowers are a source of joy in themselves, greater is the joy if these plants attract small wildlife like butterflies, insects, birds and squirrels as well.

Here is a slide show of the creative efforts of a group of ladies who are members of the Kitchen Garden Association of India.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gardening for wildlife

Flaming glory is a creeper common in the North of India, attractive with red bunches of flowers. I believe it is an exotic creeper but it is a popular one seen in many houses in Gurgaon. Here is a slide show on the wildlife it harbours!

Back-yard wildlife

If you observe carefully, nature provides enough surprises in our own back yard. Have a look at the slide show I have put together.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Urban wildlife- survival instincts of lapwings

The red wattled lapwing is a regular visitor to our neighbourhood park. So I was thrilled to see three spotted eggs on the ground on 5th June. The eggs were laid in the centre of the Park which sees morning walkers doing their rounds every day (who would not notice the eggs anyway) and young children playing football and cricket in the evenings. To protect the eggs the bird had laid the eggs underneath a tree-guard.

Today morning (9th June), I went to check on the eggs. There was no one in the Park. But I was delighted to see two small chicks with their mother. The mother noticed me as I was still at the gate and started alarm calls. The pitch went higher and higher as I tried to go close. The chicks scampered in one direction while the mother went in another. Soon the father lapwing appeared on the scene and started shrieking. Then, an amazing thing happened. The chicks suddenly disappeared in the grass and made themselves invisible. Almost simultaneously, sparrows and Indian robins started flying around the area even as the parent lapwings held on to their spots. I was mesmerised by this amazing act of community feeling!

Needless to say I had to return without a photo. I could not help but feel moved enough to write this blog!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Urban wildlife

We are fortunate to be in India where national parks are always within manageable distances. While following pugmarks to track a tiger or looking out for wild elephants capture the imagination of most wildlife lovers, we often neglect nature around us and closest to us. Feeling connected to life around us make us realise that we are part of a habitat. The more you are fascinated by forests, the more you learn to observe nature around us.

Read more on backyard wildlife at

Weapons of mass destruction

"Such is the lack of information about the biodiversity of Arunachal Pradesh that the Arunachal Macaque (Macaca munzala) - a species of monkey already known to the native people of Arunachal (especially to the Monpas of Tawang and the tribes of the West Kameng District) as Munzala or the “monkey of the deep forest”, remained unknown to scientists and biologists till it was “discovered” in 2004. The so called “discovery” was waiting to happen and it was after more than a hundred years that a new species of macaque was discovered (the last recent discovery being the Indonesian Pagai Island Macaque in 1903)."

Read an interesting article by Govind Singh at the link


Monday, May 5, 2008

Dudhwa National park

Dudhwa National Park-26-28 April, 2008

Situated on the Indo-Nepal border in District Lakhimpur-Kheri of Uttar Pradesh, the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve with an area of 614 sq. Km is one of the few remaining examples of the diverse Terai region. The Terai ("moist land") is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests at the base of the Himalaya range in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The northern edge of the reserve lies along the Indo-Nepal border and the river Suheli marks the southern boundary. It is home to a large number of rare and endangered species which includes Tiger, Leopard, Swamp deer, Hispid hare, Bengal Florican, etc.

The grasslands of the reserve are the habitat of the largest kind of Indian deer-the Swamp deer or the Barasingha, so called because of their magnificent antlers (bara-twelve;singha-antler). Decline in their habitats led to a drastic decline in numbers and a small area named Sonaripur Sanctuary was set aside in 1958 for the conservation of this rare species of deer. Later, it was upgraded to cover an area of 212 sq. km and was renamed the Dudhwa Sanctuary. In 1977, the area was further extended to include over 614 sq. km and was declared a National Park. Eleven years later, in 1988, when Dudhwa became a part of Project Tiger, the area of the Kishanpur Sanctuary was added to create the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.

It was the time of wheat harvesting and one could see neatly stacked wheat stalks at several places enroute to Dudhwa via Bareilly from Delhi. We had been told the journey to Dudhwa would be about nine hours. and also that we can expect narrow roads for about 50 km or so. But the roads we encountered came out to be really bad both on the way up via Shahjehanpur and the way down, when we came via Pilibhit. Fourteen hours by car to a Tiger Reserve one had heard little about!

Once we entered the reserve the roads were well maintained and the first surprise was a meter gauge railway right into the forest, in fact right into the core area as we observed later. Villagers we met at a tea stall were excited that the track had been approved for conversion into broad gauge.

We had booked our stay in Forest Rest Houses inside the reserve. The place was well lit with CFL bulbs running entirely on solar cells. Even the adjoining staff quarters had solar power.

Early next day we were told that two of the elephants allotted for safari had been requisitioned by Forest Dept for “operation man-eater leopard”. The leopards in Dudhwa lift cattle and turn man- eaters often. Compared to 77 tigers in the Reserve, the leopard numbers were only ten.

We are allowed to explore the forest in our own vehicle and that is what we did. Smoldering ash from a recent forest fire greeted us first. Soon we glimpsed chital and swamp deer and tiger pugmarks.

We also managed an elephant ride into the 20 sq. km rhino enclosure . The rhinos seemed placid , chewing on elephant grass, which came to life with jumping hog deer as we maneuvered our way.

The jeep ride into the forest in the evening proved exciting- Herds of swamp deer could be seen from the machan. The deer had shed their antlers, which were sprouting again for the next mating season display. The pugmarks of an adult tigress and four cubs seemed very recent and we followed them. Sure enough the huge tigress (again visible at a distance from the machan) surprised a herd of sitting swamp deer into sudden action. Calls by langur and deer filled the forest air. The whistle of a train came from the distance and a speeding train could be seen in the horizon view from the machan. The Gonda-Bareilly railway line passes through the National Park. Animals in this reserve must be quite used to this noise by now. One tiger and two elephants died in the tracks recently, Sonu, our guide informed. Ten trains run through the reserve in one day and every now and then we encountered people collecting fodder and dried wood in the forest. The train station located right inside the reserve carried people in and out regularly making a mockery of National Park rules.

Tigers and people are living on the edge in this Tiger Reserve, which obviously had a very good prey base. Herds of hog deer and a few barking deer and chital greeted us on the jeep route. Wild hog, another favorite of the tiger also showed themselves often. Swamp deer herds, which kept near water bodies, avoided tourist routes, but were obviously thriving as well.

Swamp deer in Dudhwa.

The guide pointed out to a distant herd of wild elephants, they are our guests, he said. “They have come from Kosi Tappu wildlife reserve of Nepal”.

A large partridge scampered away. Could it be the swamp partridge? Our guide for the day was not very sure. A serpent eagle displayed itself on a large tree. The cry of the brown headed fishing eagle made us reach for the binoculars. Bird life in the forest is good though not as plentiful as in Corbett Reserve.

I almost forgot to mention the wildlife spotted near our dwelling. As I was opening the locked room of the forest hut, a sound of something falling behind me made me look back. A pit vper had just decided to drop down from the roof of the verandah. As I moved away, it started hurtling towards me. Soon, the hot floor made it difficult for it to move. The canteen boys came, swirled it around a stick a few times and then dropped it across the wall of the adjoining forest. What if someone gets bitten, ( vipers seldom bite though) I asked. The local Hakim has herbal medicines for the bite and they work, he said. According to him, no one he knew died of the bite.

I read in an article in the BNHS magazine that the violet spikes of Pogostemon bengalensis, seen in the forests around, is the only confirmed herbal antidote for the venom of the viper. Thank God I did not have to try it!

The Reserve is dotted all around with anthills- a sure sign that sloth bear are likely to be around. Though we came across footprints and scat often, the bear himself proved elusive.

The Park did not have too many visitors as many of the forest guest houses were under renovation. A tree house with a good view of “Tiger Tal” is complete and is sure to be a hit with tourists. On the whole, a Park with huge tourist potential, if managed right.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The bear which came to Dhikala 25 years ago!

Daroji Bear Sanctuary, Karnataka

As we entered Hampi, the ancient city of Vijayanagar, scattered with the ruins of bygone splendour in granite stone, WILDLIFE was far from my thoughts. Still, a simple board announcing "Daroji Bear sanctuary just 15 km from here" caught my eye. We asked our guide if it was worth the trip. "sure," he said," be there between four and five in the evening and you are sure to see the sloth bears”. I looked at the watch. It was 11 am. After walking through the Vitthala and Virupaksha temples during the day we can hope to make it to the sanctuary before dark since we had hired a vehicle for the day.

I had heard about Wildlife SOS rescuing dancing bears and releasing them in rescue centres. May be this was one of them, I thought to myself. We reached the sanctuary in the evening, after driving through barren stone covered landscape for the most part. We drove through the sanctuary gate into an expanse of more granite blobs and keekar trees. Well placed sign boards throughout the sanctuary (the sign boards were there on the road along the drive to Daroji too) made sure we reached the watch tower by 5.30 pm or so.

To our surprise, there were a few tourists including a forest guard already there waiting for the bears to come out of their stone caves and descend to the tree and stone top where platefuls of jaggery had been placed by the guards to lure them. The bears are wild and are the residents of this area since time immemorial. Besides sloth bears, leopards, wild boar ( the symbol of both Chalukia and Vijayanagara dynasty) and peacocks are easily seen, the forest guard said. The peafowl were already tasting the food on the trees. Wild boars cannot climb the trees but a couple of them patiently waited for the bears, hoping for crumbs falling to the ground, no doubt.

Everyone was quiet and the only sounds were those of the partridges, which could be seen scampering about. ‘There he is’, muffled cries went out. A huge black figure had come out and was on his hind legs searching for something on a high rock cleft. ‘There is some food there too’-the guard informed. Soon three more bears emerged from under the rocks-huge hefty and black -very unlike the craggy bears one remembered from childhood-the bears, which danced for the kalandahar.

One huge bear climbed the tree and started eating. Peafowl and boars in attendance on the ground. One could watch the magnificent creatures through some powerful binoculars. They were too far away for my still camera to capture them.

I remembered seeing sloth bears in Ranthambore a few years back. I had also seen them in Corbett National Park during a visit nearly 25 years ago. ( See a snap of the bear which came to Dhikala below). From those days the sloth bears have reduced steadily in numbers due to poaching and habitat destruction that the forest department found it necessary to protect the species in an exclusive sanctuary. The sanctuary was formed in the year 1994.

The rock-strewn hillocks that stretch between Daroji of Sandur taluk and Ramasagar of Hospet Taluk in Bellary district have been the abode of Indian Sloth Bear (Melursus ursimus) since ages. In October 1994, the Government of Karnataka declared 5,587.30 hectares of Bilikallu reserve forest as Daroji Bear Sanctuary.

It is estimated that about 120 Sloth Bears are living in this sanctuary, apart from Leopards, Hyena, Jackals, Wild Boars, Porcupine, Pangolins, Star Tortoise, Monitor Lizard, Mongoose, Pea Fowls, Partridges, Painted Spur Hen, Quails etc. About 90 species of birds, and 27 species of butterflies have also been identified in this sanctuary in a preliminary survey.

Friday, February 22, 2008

carbon footprint

We had an online chat on the topic "Taking responsibility for one's carbon emissions" at The chat threw up grassroot level solutions which individuals can implement to contribute one's bit to a global problem.
Read the transcript at