I spent 18/19 October at the Periyar Tiger Sanctuary with fellow traveller Brian who I met in a Cochin hotel. Two years later, he was to join me for a year or two in Jakarta to work at the same language school.
Sunday 20th October 1.15pm
Back in Basuto Hotel, Ernakulum, Cochin.
The sights and smells are with me again. Periyar was distinctive for the lack of odour from a human presence, yet we were there as were a few others. Brian and I didn’t stay in the guest house. Although there were beds available, for some perverse reason, the overgrown boy scout of a warden refused to let us stay there.
Brian and I were glad about that because the boy scout was either scared of the dark or of the wild animals whose domain this was so they were free to roam. He kept the lights on and played loud music which reached us for a while as we set off for an observation tower.
There we were free to listen and be part of the natural scene: squirrel chipmunks playing or squabbling on the roof, a boar snuffling through the undergrowth below. The leader of a troop of monkeys, possibly gibbons, calling nearby. Or was the echoing resonance of the hills and vegetation distorting distances and our perceptions? Seeing is believing it is said.
As we’d boated in, we’d seen a pair of otters playing at the water’s edge. Snapping turtles sunned themselves on the stumps of once majestic trees which spike the surface of the manmade lake. A family of elephants waited to wade across to a headland opposite until the boatlaods of gawping camera clicking tourists had moved off.
That day, on a ramble through the woods with three acquaintances from Kovalum met by chance but as if by arrangement, we saw a mongoose being harassed up a tree by Thekkady villagers.
Other close encounters and observances included an osprey snatching a minnow from the water; birds of many a hue: a flycatcher, a pair of horn bills, but rarely crows. We could identify a fish eagle soaring majestically. Without a keen ornithologist’s eye and attention to nomenclature, our attunement to the birdlife, although keen, was restricted to exclamations of delight at the great many varieties visible and to listening to the endless tape loop of sounds as one after another staked their territorial claims around us.
An hour would be spent following the progress of a caterpillar, its coat of fine filaments reflecting the dappled light reaching us through the teaks and other trees giving us shade. Later that gently enquiring and undulating creature would metamorphose into a butterfly of exquisite design: maroons and viridians and other vivid shades in delicate patterns which are a pleasure for our eyes and a warning to predators.
Perhaps the design served as camouflage, or it scare off a spider of such dimensions that even we would cringe away. At dusk one evening, Brian and I took a stroll along a path wide enough for a family of elephants, who we figured had probably made it. Brian was just ahead of me when suddenly he sprang back, as if he were Indiana Jones in peril.
Stretched across the path, but only visible from an angle as the light played across it, was a blanket of a web, large and thick enough, we said, to capture an elephant or two. We backtracked to our lookout post high above. There I told him about a spider I’d seen at Kovalum which had got me scared.
A lass had came across to those of us in the restaurant at Moon Cottages to say that a spider was preventing her from using the toilet. Naturally, we had to investigate, and, yes, it did seem rather large, but with spindly legs so it wasn’t a tarantula. It was on the wall directly behind, but above, the flat toilet. I took a broom and with the handle tried to encourage it to go over the wall and off into the natural surroundings it came from. It wasn’t willing and grabbed hold of the handle and jerked it hard enough for me to have to be more forceful in ejecting it.
There were no spiders in our perch, so Brian and I felt safe as the ceaseless and remorseless struggle for life continued around and below us.