Anjarle. It was supposed to be another one of those coastal villages of Maharashtra . A fishing community, coconut plantations, fishermens’ boats and their nets, a beach and the sea in front. That is what i expected.
We made our way on the bike through the ghats of Konkan. Verdant hills, flushed with the delicate new leaves that spring forth with the rains bordered one side of the road. On the other side were deep, treacherous valleys, that still afforded a panoramic view of tiny villages, paddy fields stretching on forever and still more mountains ahead. Tiny waterfalls gurgled down the slopes- the rains hadn’t yet turned them into raging monsters. Densely packed trees, plains with a blanket of green grass and pretty yellow flowers, muddy rivers flowing calmly below the bridges, opportunistic kingfishers biding their time for the perfect catch, mangrove patches filling in the intermediary spaces, and the wind in my face, along with a sprinkling of the rain! The iora sang to welcome us, the kingfisher saw us through every ghat, swallows greeted us at every village.
And I sat and reflected. On the beauty around me. About what i should do ahead. About how i should enjoy today and the next one year. About how I would form a bond with this place, the sort of bond i yearned to form with Mumbai. A sense of belonging to some place. Like school. Only, without the ugliness. Just pristine, untouched, virgin beauty.
And so I reflected when the warm, salty smell of the sea suddenly got me curious. I am in the middle of mountains, where doth this come from?! When just as suddenly, the road opened up and to my left I saw the white rolling foamy waves of the sea! That’s when I realized I wasn’t in Konkan anymore. I’d reached heaven.
Heaven stretched on boundless, like the waves that enveloped it on the left. The lush hills on the right wouldn’t pause though, they had a mind of their own- wouldn’t allow the traveler to reach his destination early- they wanted him to live for the journey, not for the destination. So we went on and on, up the mountain, catching glimpses of the sea and of the mountains and both seemed to be nestled within each other, like star crossed lovers destined never to meet. Up the bike went and we came upon a patch of open land, only to be greeted by a jackal! I could have reached out and petted it, so close and unafraid it was, so unaffected by human presence. Then came the fishing boats- not miniscule excuses for a boat, but strong and sturdy, all covered with tarpaulin to protect them from the rain. Followed by the village, comfortably ensconced among the mountains, with coconut groves and paddy fields in its immediate surroundings.
To cut a long story short, we went ahead with the vulture survey. A nest can be assumed to be active by the presence of droppings at the base of the coconut palm. This year, there was just one vulture nest here. The tree had white droppings spattered in places. We saw no bird. While speaking to a local, I heard a ‘spat spat spat’ and looked to see fresh droppings at the base of that very tree. I looked up, holding my binoculars with hands trembling with the bottled up anticipation of three long years.
The film on vultures at CEC. 99.99% population declines in India. Population crash affecting the Parsi funeral customs. Dr. Vibhu Prakash’s work. The efforts of international bodies. The final culprit- Diclofenac. Caused kidney failure. Slow death. Rotting carcasses. Heart rending stories. The urge to save them. BNHS. Opportunity to work ex-situ. Opportunity to work in-situ. In-situ made more sense. The people should be the saviours, not a bunch of scientists. The contained excitement, the palpating heart, the quickening of breath.
None of this crossed my mind, only a simple curiosity to check what’s above sufficed. There it was. The white backed vulture. Whitish-brownish featherless head, black wings. It spread its wings to reveal the triangular patch of white. My binoculars could not contain the bird. With some flapping, it flew off and nestled itself in the midst of some trees ahead. My very first ‘wild’ vulture. Completely worth the seven back breaking hours I spent on the bike getting to it. And better than first love...
Want to work on vultures? Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra runs an excellent vulture conservation program along India's western coastline. The cherry on top is that they accept volunteers. So you could unwind after a particularly hectic week along the scenic Konkan coast gorging on fish, interviewing villagers gazing wonderstruck at these critically endangered beauties.
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