27th April, 2015, Lailad Forest IB, Nongkhyllum Wildlife Sanctuary, Meghalaya:
The cold and wet night lay glittering with fireflies like dancing pixies of the forest. Circling, they cast their teeny torches upon the soft dripping grass beneath my feet, turning it momentarily green, before the darkness engulfed it. Overhead, in the orangish halo of a grey sky, hung the Great Bear, bearing witness to humanity, as it had done for millenia. Since the advent of fire, to the great wars, and now, the Age of Technology. He stared back, a solitary observer of crashing waves and flickering fireflies, while the rest of us looked at our screens for comfort. A manmade satellite circled the earth, a steady star imprisoned by gravity, connecting a million voices and faces, bringing them together and pushing them apart with equal ferocity. We stood protected from the cacophony that night, from anger, jealousy, lust, fear, insecurity, joy, love, happiness. Only one truth remained- the circle of flickering fireflies lighting our flickering dreams.
27 April 2015, Umtasor, Nongkhyllum Wildlife Sanctuary, Meghalaya:
The sky, a joyous blue splattered with wisps of cotton, turns an ominous grey. The tall white barks of those splendid giant trees, naked but for spotches of pistachio-colored lichen, lie shrouded in a sudden mist. The shrill 'cuckoo-cuckoo' of the Eurasian cuckoo pierces the enveloping darkness. Golden-bellied bush frogs have embarked on their 'tut-tut-tut' chorus, resembling a child's hand drum in sound and joy. If only glimmering frogs with brilliantly colored ballooned throats could sing babies to sleep...
It was early afternoon but the sky was a heavy grey with the occasional threatening rumble of rain. Staccato explosions or 'bamboo-bombs' sounded in the jhum fields on the neighboring mountain. These sounds traveled far in the clammy stillness of noon. I sat in a long hall with rectangular glass windows set within white metal frames. These windows looked out at the tall gold-green bamboo crowding outside. The cicadas kept up their sleepy orchestra, a sound that resembled the 'whirrrr' of a creaky old bicycle speeding down-slope, pedals locked in position.
On one side of the grey-floored hall was a kitchen- a rickety table, a soot-crusted fireplace and a square cement space for washing utensils. Last night's dinner- soggy papad, spicy fish chutney, rice and a few unwashed utensils cluttered the table. Next to the table was a door, white like the rest of the hall, except for two outdated calendars. A rosy-cheeked peach-faced Jesus stared down at us mortals with bored glassy blue eyes.
I'd had grand plans of grinding all the groundnut and packing the scattered luggage for we were to return to camp that evening. I was using a mixture of crushed groundnut and tinned fish as bait to trap rodents. Crushing groundnuts without an electric mixer demands a return to the Stone Age. I had no choice but to pound groundnuts with a heavy stone at an excruciating rate of 5gm nuts over 5 long minutes. And while I did this, the stubborn jumpy nuts would hop across the room and attract fiery red ants who would very casually, proceed to attack me.
That afternoon, the lazy droning of bees was lulling me to sleep. Fighting drooping eyelids, I set out to rummage the food sack in the kitchen. Lumbering towards the kitchen, I caught sight of a long rope-like structure hanging down the kitchen door, staring intently at me. Startled, I took a step back.
It was a snake.
I must have alarmed it, for it stretched its slender neck and slithered on to the table, weaving a graceful path through the utensil mess. Having reached the end of the table, it reached towards the cement box. Here, it paused, then struck up a defensive S-pose, flattening its body and flashing an iridescent blue. It looked even more fascinating in this posture, with a bronze head and a yellow throat to match. I respectfully took a step back.
The striped keelback slinkered atop more utensils, climbed into the fireplace, slid up a log and then reached for the chimney with half its body suspended in mid-air. Within merely five seconds, the entire snake had disappeared up the chimney, its slim tail flicking a nonchalant goodbye to the open-mouthed human standing a mere meter away.
Butterflies, those marvelous delicate insects splashed in tropical colors inhabit a parallel universe as quirky as an Alice in Wonderland. Indian butterflies must be the most creatively named critters of all Lepidopterans (lepis-scale, pteron-wing i.e. scaly-winged). Out here we have exotic Emperors, oriental Nawabs, royal Rajahs with their mischievous Princes, lithe Courtesans, gaudily painted Jezebels and a host of staid Barons, Dukes, Archdukes, Seargents, Admirals, Earls, Counts and Knights- colorful characters that would put Queen Elizabeth's court to shame.
Most butterflies are fearless creatures, finding joy in intoxicating nectar and numerous affairs in their rather short but eventful lives. At first glance, Mormons seem to be the exception, with long trailing coats and sombre expressions. However, like most godmen, they will indulge in frequent salacious behavior, behind flower curtains of course. The edible Common Mormon butterfly of India mimics another unpalatable butterfly called the Common Rose. This innately ruthless fashion-designer quality of blatantly plagiarising unsavory rose-filigrees ensures that the Mormon can carelessly stroll past hungry birds without a care in the world.
The royal court also has a Jester with large round eyes, an upturned nose and the typical striped clown uniform. Additionally, the modern butterfly kingdom is home to Pansies (slang Apologies) as brilliantly colored as a pride parade. Shady corners of the province are taken over by drunk Sailers, swaying and hurtling past passerbys in search of high spirits. Wanderers and Vagrants- the hippies of the butterfly world, flit in and out of the realm like cotton fluff on wind. Devious Demons, pale ghostly Psychs and brown wizened Wizards that turn dung into food add a touch of magic to the mundane.
The ‘wild’ side is represented by stealthy Leopards, Tigers splattered in fiery oranges, sky blues and dark coal stripes, Zebras, salacious Tits, urbane Jays and pesky Ravens. The Oriental Map butterfly is an expert geographer, and carries the entire map of the empire on its fragile wings. He is helped in his expeditions by Angles and Flats, the best mathematicians of the century. The Mime butterfly caters to the masses, his highly entertaining antics leaving onlookers in splits.
This colorful diversity of bizarre members of the butterfly society will definitely leave you wanting more...
The butterflies of northeastern India were my faithful companions, fluttering about our campsites, settling on bare shoulders in the middle of icy cold baths, lighting up the browned forest floor and splashing our dirt-covered sweaty bags with shades of fiery orange.
P.S: I am merely an amateur when it comes to butterfly identification. Please do correct this article in case of incorrect captioning.
A river- its waters a magical blue- the blue of the eyes of an elf queen; boulders: grey, peach, white; gold sands studded with pebbles the color of pink roses, marble whites, Venus-blues, old parchment yellows and sunset skies; sands that turn to glistening pearls under the waning moon; the Milky Way snaking its riverine course across the ink jet sky; steep greyed cliffs that frown down with dried grassy eyebrows; a deciduous forest lining the river- dark emerald greens covering a silvery nakedness; pitcher plants stashed with delicate butterflies in chambers filled with the Devil's nectar; fresh pugmarks of a leopard as it emerged from its forested abode for a drink in the coldest hour of the night, shy hoof-prints of the barking deer; slinking footprints of the civet as it nosed around in the food-pit for last night's remains; fish nibbling at your toes- nibbling off the day's tiredness; human palm-like mongoose prints disappearing into the waters; bottom dwelling fish with bright blue bellies and orange fins slinking into rocky crevices; the silence of the night interjected by gurgling riffles; dawn's silence broken by the muntjac's bark; veins of fire lighting up waters as transparent as a damselfly's wings; a rock to sit on, a blue pool to stare at, pen and paper in hand, some friends to write to...
The above describes our campsite at Kundelgoff by the banks of the Mahadeo river within the Balpakram National Park, Meghalaya. It is part of a letter written to my friend Partho on 30th Jan '15 from unarguably one of the most breathtaking places on the planet.
Which is the most beautiful place you ever visited? Share your experiences in the comments below.