“In Nepal it was easier to take life day by day.” ― Jane Wilson-Howarth,
Day 8 – June 9, 2015 Sauraha
Yesterday was humid. A heavy humid that makes you feel like the whole world’s weight is on you. In the morning I was at the clinic with T. We were there to get her the last dose of IV. I walked back to the barracks from the clinic. I spent most of my remaining day in the office, reading and drawing out a research framework. We still have a long way to go.High point of my day was the leopard crawl. I was just walking to the mess for lunch when I saw both the cubs out for their afternoon stroll. I was just watching them when Tika came towards me. I just let him walk. He literally walked all over me, even tried to climb my leg and yes, he gave me a small scratch. It burns and hurts a little, but it was all worth it. What a beautiful animal!
We also have a new visitor on campus. Jack Kinross is a Leopard researcher from New Zealand and he is here to rewild Tika and Ram. I didn’t really speak to him but overheard a few things. They are worried about the inoculations that either the keeper or the leopards need. I am not sure who needs it the most. They will also begin playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ with the cubs to teach them how to differentiate between friends and enemies. This is a simple game wherein the keepers will be the only people who will be kind to the leopards and others will not behave well with them. I didn’t really like this when I heard it, but I guess they want the cubs to understand the hard realities of life. When they will be out in the wild, they will be ferocious animals, protecting themselves and not really trusting others easily. It’s a little sad that the world works this way, but this is how it is.
Over lunch, Shashank told us how they had tried to keep the rescued deer and peacock together in the same area. “But they did not like it at all. The peacock started flying and fluttering and deer started barking. They had never seen each other. If they were raised like other wilds, they would have known each other, but as domesticated animals they were just frightened,” he explained. I just thought about what happens when we are removed from our natural habitat. One is a direct effect that we can see, but the unknowns are so many. These unknowns reflect throughout our lives, in ways that we cannot even fathom.
D and I walked back to the barracks but we did not want to go in. So instead, we started visiting all our animal friends. We started with the leopard cubs, the deer, the elephants and the peacock. I met Aman, who is one of the mahout’s son. He has a beautiful smile. There was no electricity and we knew it wouldn’t be coming back until 7. I tried to delay my shower as much as possible. Instead, I washed more clothes, and waited. By the evening, it got so densely humid. It seemed that it will rain but it wouldn’t. When it was time for dinner Shoubu Dai, our cook ( dai means elder brother) was still running late. The only relief was the small drops of rain that had finally began to fall. The sky looked majestically bluish pink. D and I sat on the stairs reading, waiting for food and rain.
PS: I was reflecting on the time before I came here, and I am glad that I packed really well. I am using almost everything I got. Thank you family, for helping me.
With T at the hospital | Room Window, trying to save myself from the heat
Jack and Asis (left); Aman (right)
Day 9-June 10, 2015 Sauraha
The rain’s aftermath was not too visible when I woke up. Except the jackfruit tree right outside our barracks. It was reduced to half of what it was earlier. There was a huge branch sitting right on the ground. This was the only indication of the previous night’s rain. The soil was not wet, the temperature had not lowered. It was all the same, except the tree. I was not even sure if it was the rain and the wind that had brought it down. Shoubu dai, was on a four-day break, and I saw his replacement walk into the kitchen. A few hours later I would be introduced to him. His name was Buddhi and he won my heart by making a brilliant hot lemon tea.
Jack joined us for breakfast. We were in fact a biggish group for breakfast: Chiran, Shashank, Asis and Baburam (wildlife researcher). Jack was insisting that the leopards be radio collared before they are released. They all moved to the office post breakfast to discuss the matter ( I wish I was there, to know what was happening!)
We went to the office later, and began our framework building. We worked quietly for 3-4 hours. It was extremely interesting for me to look at all the work that is happening in human-widllife conflict and to develop our own analytical framework. We decided on using a mixed model method and I think we are off to a great start! The staff at NTNC made us more comfortable as they got us two more standing fans. Sitting and working in front of them, I did not feel the heat at all.
Yesterday, the unnamed deer was released. He was in NTNC for so little time that they did not even give him a name. Around evening time, the wildlife experts went to the deer’s enclosure and opened it for him to get out. Even after waiting for minutes, he would not budge. In about half an hour, all the researchers, foresters and keepers had gathered near the enclosure. The deer could not see all these people, but it could sure sense something was happening. It began barking so painfully that I got goosebumps. Bishnu dai, is one of the wildlife experts here. He decided to get the deer out. This was extremely scary for the deer, not only did he bark more loudly, but he began to cry too. They caught him by his horns, and legs and brought him out. The longer they held him, the louder he cried. I don’t think he was even aware of what was happening. I stood there, thinking, here is a creature who is about to be freed but he does not want it. He had not eaten grass since the day he arrived. In fact, he had been trained to eat human food. How was he to know where he was being taken? And even though the wild was his home, how would he embrace it. He looked so ill-prepared to return. They took him to the edge of the forest, right next to where the elephants are. Hearing the deer’s cry, Hemgaj (the baby elephant) and his mother rushed to the spot. The deer was released here and he ran into the jungle. In a minute, he was gone. As soon as he leapt into the forest, it began to pour. I wondered long afterwards, about him. What would be do? First day in the forest and the rain. I don’t think he felt free.
When it thundered again, Tika and Ram were playing outside. Hearing the sound, they ran to the keepers. The leopard cubs helped me get my mind off the deer. T and I, stood by their window and saw the keepers feed them milk. We stood there for a long time, in the pouring rain, peeking into the cubs’ room. It is so beautiful watching the keepers, acting like their mothers. They were not so different from a human baby. Asis and Tikaram are great at their work. I wish them all the good energies of the world.
PS : I walked into the market with D after lunch and clicked a few pictures.
(Above) At Sauraha town; D’s working (below)
Day 10 –June 11, 2015 Sauraha
Nag: I have never seen a reptile so closely before. But yesterday I did, when they called us to show a rescued python. More like the people in the restaurant were rescued from the python. Yes, they found the creature in the kitchen of a restaurant devouring a cat. He couldn’t eat it completely, and vomited the cat out. That’s when they called NTNC, and the NTNC experts bagged the snake and brought it on campus.
I was just walking to the mess for breakfast, when Chiran asked me to accompany him. He took me to the spot and asked me to lift that bag and I, unsuspecting, lifted it. Chiran asked me to estimate the weight. The correct answer was 7.5 kgs. When I was told that what I had lifted was actually a bag full off reptile, my mouth feel open.
For a creature that strong, he was not reacting at all. He was in the bag, motionless. When they took the python out, it was still very still and not making a ruckus at all. Santosh, the herpetology expert drew him out and examined it. He was able to deduce that this was a Burmese python and not a rock python because of the steep tapering pattern on the head and the presences of ocular muscles. Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth. They are capable of reaching 23 feet or more in length and weighing up to 90 kilograms. The one that we had was a young one and not fully grown. I had the honor (or dishonor?) of putting the python on my neck and taking a picture. I was not sure I even wanted to do that, I felt it was disrespectful to the animal, but I did it. I have happily deleted those images of mine. It was not an act of bravery, when like 5 men were holding the poor reptile. I did touch its skin and it was extremely cool and so exquisite to touch.
When they finally did leave it, it moved with an astonishing speed. It disappeared into the jungle in a minute. I later read that Burmese pythons are in the vulnerable species list. Habitat depletion, continued demand in pet trade, and hunting for their skins and flesh have landed them on the list.
What happend to my motherland? At lunch, I got into a very serious discussion with Chiran and Shashank What started just as a cursory talk about Narendra Modi’s following in Nepal, transformed into a full discussion about India-Nepal relations. I had always assumed that the two countries would be at peace, but I did not know of all the things that have gone wrong. The killings and the war that happened in Meghalaya in 1987 stood out the most. Chiran’s father was working as an employee of government of India in Shillong. Chiran was in India for more than 15 years. In fact, he was not the only Nepali to have spent so many years in Shillong.
“The Nepali settlement in Meghalaya dates back to 1824, when British India deployed Gurkhas to clear the malaria-infested Northeast India. Initially, British India wanted to set up its base in Cherapunji but, as a result of heavy rains throughout the year in the area, they chose Shillong, which later became the capital of Northeast India. The 1960 census shows that the people of Nepali origin were in majority in Shillong. But they were stateless because of India’s Land Ceiling Act, which came into force to protect the local ethnic communities and safeguard the rights of India’s tribal communities across the rainbow region. The Khasi Students Union was the tool of the state politicians who used it to unleash a terror campaign against the minority Nepali population living for centuries there. In 1987, the president of the Khasi Students Union, Bull Lyndoh, spearheaded an anti-Nepali terror campaign. Two years later, Lyndoh got the state government’s ministry of agriculture portfolio as his reward,” says Gautam Gurung, a journalist.
At the outset, the 1987 communal riots broke out in the coal mine areas of Jowai in the Jaintia Hills. Politicians and student leaders, backed by the state police force, attacked Nepali settlements there. In Shillong, the Gorkha High School was burnt down, and Nepali settlements in other areas in the capital attacked. Over 35,000 people of Nepali origin were driven out of the state in less than a week. The state government even terminated the tenures of dozens of government employees of Nepali origin simply on the ground of being Nepali speakers.
“It is also true that for the past several decades, the “foreign origin” tag for political gains has been the leading factor in state-organized communal violence in Meghalaya. Vulnerable Nepali villages scattered across the state, have been the targets of Khasis, Garos, and Jaintias of Meghalaya. Neither the state government bothered to probe the killings or massacres of innocent people of Nepali origin in the past, nor has the federal government done enough to protect the people of Nepali origin in Northeast India,” said one of the issue experts on internet.
Rather, some Indian states have designed laws to curb the rights of Nepali speakers living for centuries there. Such laws as Land Ceiling Act, Schedule Tribe Reservations, Inner Line Permits for non-natives, have shaken the Nepali settlements in Northeast India. Such laws have also stoked anti-Nepali sentiments because of the typical Nepali traits of sheer hard work and skills in agriculture, rearing livestock, and other professional vocations.
Now the future of these very Nepali speakers has become more acutely uncertain, especially in Meghalaya. “Modi is the first prime minister who has brought the fate of Nepal and India to a more important level. Earlier, it was just the work of diplomats,” shared Shashank. When I read more about this, I found reports as recent as 2010.
When India-Pakistan play a cricket match, 70% of the people support Pakistan. I was shell-shocked. Chiran also told me about all the border problems that Nepalis face when they cross. “We are searched completely, bribe is demanded.”
There are more problems:
-In 1975, after Indian annexation of Sikkim, Nepali King Birendra proposed to make Nepal “Zone of Peace”-‘where military conflicts will be off limits.’ 110 countries of the world accepted but India rejected this proposal.
-In 1989, India imposed economic sanctions over Nepal for 13 months after Nepali King Birendra tried to buy anti-aircraft weapons from China. Birendra reversed his decision within 14 days, but India kept on imposing economic embargo over Nepal for 13 months.
-Government of India provided asylum (in Noida) to the entire Maoist leadership of Nepal when they were declared to be a terrorist organization by USA and the Nepali government. Indian government refused to hand over Prachanda and co; to the Nepalese government despite numerous request from Nepali government.
-Of the 26 districts of Nepal sharing border with India 21 districts are currently facing the problem of violation of their territory by India.
I have not even written about the recent ‘work’ that Indian media did of covering the earthquake. After this discussion, I felt so horrible. Sensing my mood, Shashank and Chiran literally hugged me and said, “ India-Nepal have beti-roti ka rishta. It is that deep.”
Kumroj: After lunch, we left for our first field visit. We had interviews with the Buffer Zone Committee members and it was very fruitful. I wish I could write more, but my brain is buzzing with other work related stuff. Will attach photos of Kumroj in one of the later emails.
The evening: IN the late evening, Chiran took me and D to the market. I basically was out of cash and needed a visit to the ATM. When we walked back to the barracks, I could not help notice how many jasmine and marigold plants were planted on campus. I stood outside for a long time, looking at the light that the fireflies were emanating in the jungle, taking in the fragrance of the flowers.
I was about to retire for the night, when T knocked at my door. She wanted to talk. I had a very stressful conversation about team dynamics which was intermittently stopped to capture the numerous crickets that had appeared in my room. T was good at it and I soon picked up the skill. Even after throwing out a dozen crickets, we were still seeing more. I did get to practice my ‘cricket catching’ skill. But it was quite tiring. We gave up, and decided to just let them be.
I slept with one thought : I wish peace upon this mountain country, and wisdom upon my motherland.
Additional Sources for information used in this write up:
The Gurkha Holocaust by Gautam Gurung’
PS: Had morning tea with mahouts. More than telling their story, they wanted to know so much about me. They wanted to know about America. As if they wanted to escape out of this life through my words.
PS 2: They told me how they treat their eldest elephant, and I felt that the Eldest Elephant is in a far better place than old people in India.
My tea is being brewed
Navigating the insects in the bathroom has taught me how to respect other’s boundaries. Ha! Well, technically, if you have almost 4-5 species of arthropods around you, you will feel like being mindful of their existence. Atleast I can’t wage a war against them at 4 am in the morning. That is how I started my day. Stuttering inside the bathroom, trying not to step on a large beetle. I went back to bed, feeling like I needed to shower, but too lazy for it. A few hours into the day, and we were ready to work. Spent most of the morning working at NTNC office. We are productive people.
In the afternoon, T and I had an appointment with a local tailor. T needed to get herself a Nepali salwar kameez. We had already spoken to Rama (she cleans and helps in the mess) who was going to escort us to the reliable man. Rama took us through a pagdandi, which was right next to the jungle. Sauraha is just on the fringe of the jungle. We passed the government elephant breeding center, Tharu museum and a few stores selling cola. Rama speaks in broken Hindi and English but despite all the language barriers, she loves to have a conversation. She told us about her children: two girls and a boy. Her husband is working in Malaysia as a security personnel, contracted for 3 years. She will not see him till then. I was almost shocked hearing that. How hard people work to earn a living. Later, she took us to her house and showed us the Wall of Fame. She had over 25 medals decorated on the wall. “ My children are excellent, “ she said showing us the medals. The adjoining wall had a big wall art: a rhino and elephant that were painted by Rama’s 15 years old son, Arpit. Her house was small, clean and smelled great. Parents just spend all of their energy raising their children. Rama will not see her husband because they need that money to send the kids to school. Its all the same, be it India or Nepal. Money and children govern so many of the choices that adults make.
In the town, we passed by the local houses. Rama introduced us to the corn farmers and the lady was more than happy to pose for me.
Mohfusil. The smell of cow dung, fields and hard work, hit me as soon as the truck left Sauraha town for one of the byroads that leads to Kumroj. We are evaluating the feasibility of expanding the homestay program in Kumroj, with one of the most marginalized communities in the region, the Derai. The place is just 5 miles, but it felt like an eternity driving there. I think I was not sure of what to expect, plus I had a heavy head.
We met officials from the Buddhirapti Municipal Committee and leaders of Kumroj Buffer Zone User Group. Most of the conversation was in Nepali and I followed a little bit. It reminded me of my Express days, especially when I visited villages in the interior of Maharashtra where the language was more challenging than in the city. We learnt quite a lot about the issues that locals face.We visited all the homestays in the region. This will feed well into our research.
People of Kumroj are mostly farmers. We passed fields where they were growing rice, wheat and corn. We were sitting in the open top area of the truck and for the first time in days I could feel cool wind in my hair. It was phenomenal.
Day 12-June 13 2015 Sauraha
I don’t have any original pictures of yesterday to share. It was Saturday, the only off day in the week and I spent the first half of of my day cleaning. I have started loving the whole idea of washing clothes. The smell of clean clothes, the detergent and the opportunity to wet my feet is just great. Then I love putting the clothes to dry on the string. Picking up each one of them and jolting them, the cold water droplets falling on my warm face: the feeling is just indescribable.
I went to town for a walk with D later and I bought a beautiful elephant print red skirt. We walked into this kickass handicraft store where I helped D get a shawl for his mom and fiancee.
Later part of the day I sat in the office writing the Nepal diary, but I struggled. My heart was not in it. Sorry if yesterday’s post read a bit forlorn. I guess its the green vegetable they make for lunch and dinner that is taking a toll on my writing 😛 (PROMPT: Laugh). No, seriously, they make a vegetable out of pumpkin leaves (not pumpkin itself, but its leaves). The first time I was rather enthusiastic about it, but after having it every single freaking day, twice, I have grown to hate it. I can remember its taste hours before lunch and gawk. I hate the sight and the smell of it. Well, excess of anything is bad and by feeding me those leaves so often they are literally killing my love for greens. I will not let that happen, so I told Chiran, very nicely if we could change. There is hope in the world, so may be, tomorrow I don’t have to eat it.
I hadn’t seen Tika and Ram for the last two days and I was missing them. A couple of days ago they started building an enclosure right outside my window for the leopard cubs. They have been put in that enclosure and they don’t come out now. The update on their rehabilitation is: Jack who is a conservationist and a wildlife photographer found a leopard cub and to his credit successfully rehabilitated it. That rehabilitated leopard’s name is Asa, the leopard of hope. You can read about the whole story here. All the pictures I have attached today are taken by him. The grown up leopard is Asa and the little ones are our campus leopards.
So, moving to Tika-Ram. As I said earlier, Jack is here helping with their rehabilitation. The enclosure is being made to minimize human contact for Tika and Ram, because if they get used to humans then they will not be able to protect themselves. How ironical are homo-sapiens! Here there are humans, raising leopards in a way that the leopards can protect themselves against other humans! Jack is playing the bad cop and Ashish and Tikaram Tharu will be playing the leopard’s mothers. In fact, two days ago, I even saw this in action. Jack kept kicking the cubs and Ashish was standing watching them. I wish I can write better about this journey unfolding before me. I wish I knew more details. For now I am just a bystander, listening to conversations in different pockets of campus and putting it together. I can’t get too involved with the leopards because of my own project constraints.
I met my project advisor, Professor Dean Current for dinner. He is here for a week to oversee our work. To celebrate his coming, Chiran got us a Pinot Noir. I remember, the dinner ending quite late. It was pouring outside. I was almost about to return to my barrack when I saw Chiran peering in the leopard’s room. I ran there and saw Ram and Tika still awake. Asis was sitting on the edge of the bed, helplessly. He had been trying to put the cubs to sleep since the last two hours, but the older one, Tika, did not want to sleep. Both of the brothers were mewing loudly and I stood at the window, watching them while I was getting wet in the rain. I looked around the cubs’ room and saw that a tiny light was burning, right beneath the light were a 100 crickets, completely covering the wall. I marveled at Asis, his love for the wild. His passion just hit me in the head and heart. I wish I can get some from him. He appeared to me in such a unity with nature, inside the room with leopard cubs and a 100 crickets. Not resisting nature at all.
I went off to sleep around 10, the rain making a loud swooshing noise. I love falling asleep to the rain’s lullaby.
Day 13-June 14, 2015 Sauraha
I was stepping out for breakfast when T knocked on my door, complaining of severe stomach ache and weakness. She said she was not hungry and wanted to sleep for a few more hours. I told her I will wake her up at 10. Fifteen minutes later when I walked up to the mess, T had already left for Dr Raj’s clinic. Prof Dean, D, C and I, went to the clinic. It was suspected to be appendicitis and she needed to be taken to Bharatpur, for a video scan (ultrasound). I left with her immediately. Its about 40 minutes drive and someone from NTNC was waiting for us at Bharatpur. Two ultrasounds and an hour later, we were still unclear about her problem. A surgeon in Bharatpur was ready to operate her because all her clinical symptoms were of Appendicitis. Dr Raj suggested were move her to Kathmandu. Flight tickets were arranged, her stuff was brought in and Prof Dean and she flew to Kathmandu. She is still under observation. We were very worried and hoped that she gets better.
Spending time in hospitals upset me.
The rest of the day was very busy. D and I were very efficient with work and it feels like we made a major headway with our research framework. After spending 4 hours in office, it was time for dinner.
We had dinner with Dr Amir (he is the Veterinary doctor here) and Bijay ( Accountant) for company. We had a great discussion about Amir’s work in vulture conservation that he undertook in India and Nepal. At one point of time, (1980’s) India had as many as 80 million white-rumped vultures. This was the highest in the world, all thanks to the practice of Hindus. Because Hindus didn’t eat cows, a dead cow was meal for vultures. Of the estimated 500 million head of cattle in India, only 4% is consumed as meat, rest all went to the vulture. A few decades ago New Delhi had up to 15,000 vultures in its carcass depositories.
A decade later, vultures began to disappear from India’s skies. The reason was a drug, we all know, Diclofenac. It is an anti-inflammatory and it was given to livestock as a means to decrease their diseases that occur from intensive cattle rearing. The birds were often found dead next to the carcasses of livestock and it didn’t take too long before researchers began to find a link. The birds were consuming meat from animals that had recently been treated with diclofenac. Through eating that meat, the vultures were also being exposed to the drug which quickly attacked and shut down their kidney function, leading to a rapid death. While it was estimated that only 1% of cattle might have carried a lethal dose, this alone was enough to destroy the vulture population by a staggering 61%.Amir, worked with the Bombay Natural History Society and monitored this vulture count and studied the reason for its decline.
I am shocked that I had no clue about this. I went off to bed soon as the next morning was set for our field visit. I set an alarm for the first time in 12 days, not relying on my body clock. PS: I did get up 5 minutes before the alarm went off. More at : http://www.care2.com/causes/diclofenac-a-drug-that-killed-vultures-in-india-and-now-europe.html#ixzz3d8NslqF6
Day 14 – June 15, 2015 Sauraha
Megahuli is a small bustling village/town. The roads leading to it are challenging : they are uneven, bumpy, stony and full of potholes. But outside the window all you can see are mountains, rice fields and happy people. Children and mothers, old men biking, ladies sitting and chatting, beauty parlors and life in its daily splendor. I love people of the mountains, they have so much respect for the mundane-ness of daily life.
We were going to Meghauli because the town is haunted by the greatest human wildlife conflict in the region. This is our site of work and we will be spending a week here soon. Our first stop was in the inner most village, Andaroli where we had an interview with a local who lost a lot of crop from wild boars. This was followed by a 2 hour interview with the President of the Meghauli Buffer Zone Committee. We were sitting in a newly painted, barren room and I asked me questions in English. We had the vet Dr. Amir to translate my questions in Nepali. D and I walked out of the room, 2 hours later feeling exhausted and accomplished.
For lunch, we visited a homes-stay run by the indigenous Tharu people. There are 5 home stays in Meghauli (pictures attached) and they are authentic and beautiful. The rooms are made of mud and cow dung and you can see how cool they were, just because no cement was used. For lunch, all I could eat was dal-bhatt and saag. But the highlight of the meal was the aquatic snails that everyone around me ate. The snails came with their shells and to eat it you had to suck them and chew the mollusks inside. The shell went back into the utensil. Every time someone ate a snail, a ‘slurp’ sound would be made. It was beyond hilarious, eating with the BZMC people, Amir and Bishnu Da (a wildlife expert from NTNC) and hearing those slurps. Amir offered me some locally made rice wine. The first sip burnt me to my core and I could feel the liquid literally reach my stomach. It was the potent. If you ever had neat rum, you would know what I am talking about. When I finished eating, only I was offered a large glass full of thick curd and bananas because the Tharus thought I had not eaten well! It was so difficult navigating that.
We had some fresh lemon tea after lunch and had a good meeting with all the home-stay owners. The rice had begun its work. I started to feel sleepy and we walked through a field to see the Tharu museum. To my luck, they couldn’t find the key and so I lied down on a wooden bench under a gol-ghar. I never knew I could sleep in just a little shade. The heat was beginning to get to me, but the little shade was such a respite. Who needed a fan?
The journey back was good. Amir and I, were the only people awake and we talked about the hills, animals. animal diseases, hindi movies and Amir’s lack of Hindi speaking skills. We kept in touch with Prof Dean and Shashank (who are in Kathmandu) with T. In the evening, she had a sudden pain and she was rushed to the OT to operate. I hope everything goes well with her.
By the time I returned, I was so tired and my eyes were burning. So that is the reason why yesterday’s post was so out of life.
I had dinner with Dr Amir and D and I went off to sleep, giddy with fatigue.
Attached: All pictures from the trip