Friday, March 11, 2011

The Jungle, The Rabies, and the Toad Soup


Rainbow, looking east from Flag Hill

Namaste everybody. So this is the sixth week of my studies at the Landour Language school. I only have three more from this point on, and, frankly, I'm still a damn long way from being able to speak truly good hindi...but, oh well. Anyway, from this point on, I'm thinking I'll make a sort of last ditch effort to get down what is maybe the most important thing when it comes to speaking the language, namely, verb tenses. There's so much that will still take years and years to internalize, like genders (why the hell is the chair male?) and intensifiers (don't expect an explanation: intensifiers are an untranslatable concept for English speakers, beyond the fact that they add.....intensity), but I think if I get the verb tenses down, then I'll know at least enough for my Hindi to be useful on the street....




View south east from Flag Hill, towards Haridwar and Rishikesh

And speaking of Hindi:

HINDI LESSON 3:
1: Meenduck pani na digiyey.
(Please don't give me frog water)

2: Babita key pass bahoot meenduck shakti quikey bahoot meekduck Pani piyi.
(Babita has lots of frog power because she drank lots of frog water.)

3: Beywakoof! Tum kya kar rahey ho!
(Idiot! What are you doing?)

4: Fredrick, Vo Norwegian log, ko "Party Sweeds" nahi pasand hai.
(Fredrick, that Norwegian, doesn't like "Party Sweeds.)

5: Gupt almari mai Obama rukhiye.
(Please put Obama in the secret cupboard)

Yet another view from Flag Hill. Looking due south in the direction of the village of Bhataghat

The weather has improved in a major way: now it's clear almost every day. In the mornings I can almost always see the snow ranges. And spring has finally advanced all the way up out of the valleys. A couple of weeks ago I had to hike down 3000 feet to get warm, but now the Rhododendrons are in bloom all the way up in Landour itself.

That being the case, I've been hiking around a whole lot. These days I usually take this cheap (rs. 450) trekking bag I bought and fill it with lots of water and books, and then go up and down the mountain trails, often to the accompaniment of the variously quizzical, amused, happy, or surly looks of the local Garwalis. As a foreigner, I never can quite predict how that weather-worn old doodwallah that just came around the bend in middle of the jungle two thousand feet below Bhattaghat is going to react to me. Sometimes he'll just stare at the ground, sometimes he'll give a Nameste, sometimes he'll try and engage me in polite conversation that I can barely understand (though we both do our best), and sometimes he'll immediately assume that I'm lost, that I have no business being where I am, and will take offence when I don't go where he thinks I should. So, it's always an adventure.

From the trail down to the village of Khatta Pani (Bitter Water). That day I was trying to get down into the valley in the center of this picture.

But I've expanded my personal geography quite a bit, though it seems that the more I explore, the vaster this part of the world seems. In the end, there's only a certain distance that one can go in a day from Landour. I still haven't been able to get across the Aglar River, which is the primary drainage around here (it feeds into the Yamuna, about 30 miles away). So everyday in the morning when I look out towards the high ranges I can see tens of villages and whole mountains that I have yet to explore.

Dr. Seuss' Nightmare Trees, below Khatta Pani, looking up towards Mussoorie.

One thing that I did discover this year, in part because of my wanderings around a village called Khatta Pani (sour water), is why so many of the trees around here are so damn weird. There will be large patches of woods, usually in close proximity to villages, where the trees will look like all of their branches just fell off one day, though there will still be a few clumps of distressed looking greenery clinging to them here and there. When I first saw these areas, my assumption was that the odd-looking trees were a separate species, though I later learned that they're the same sort of trees one sees elsewhere. The reason they look the way they do is that the villagers, who need quite a bit a firewood in the winter, have been forbade by the government to actually cut the trees down, so they make do by stripping the trees of as much of their wood as they possibly can without actually killing them.

More Dr. Seuss' Nightmare Trees, with Mussoorie visible in the background.

The result is startling and rather ghastly (I named the trees Dr. Seuss's Nightmare Trees..... because that's what they look like). Still, one obviously one can't blame the villagers for just wanting to keep warm.

View down into the deep, relatively untouched jungle in the bottom of the valley.

Still, it's possible to get to places where the jungle is still more or less intact: the woods directly around the top of the mountain I stay on is protected, so here the jungle is still fairly thick, and then down below, in general, the more rugged the terrain is, the more undisturbed the woods are.



The same damn picture that I accidentally posted twice.


Near the bottom of the ravine, looking back towards Mussoorie.

For example, the jungle at the bottom of the picture above was still in good shape, though the water courses at the bottom were full of trash that had been washed in from Mussoorie.

Giant Indian faux cactus plants. About 400 feet above the village of Mauana, and 3000 feet below Landour. There are a number of plant species (all of them Succulents, yes, Succulents) in India which look exactly like American cactus, but are in fact unrelated to their New World counterparts. They simply fill the same ecological niche as cactus and so, through the process of parallel evolution, developed into organisms that wouldn't look out of place south of Tucson.

Big Rhododendron tree

Oh, and now the Rhododendrons are in full bloom. In some places the whole sides of mountains are turning red. And you can eat those flowers...the taste is weird, but rather pleasant. Apparently is you have a whole bunch you can boil them up and make a strew out of them (at least, that's what the principal of the Language school, Mr. Chitranjan Dutt, said....and he knows Sandskrit).

View due north along the valley of the Aglar River, from below the village of Ladoor.

In other news, I got attacked by a dog out in front of a Tibetan restaurant...the dirty son of a bitch ("he wrote with a hearty guffaw") has the reputation for being quite a sweet, harmless, playful animal, with everyone except me. I wound up having to get 5 damn expensive Rabies shots at the Landour Community Hospital..what fun. The upshot is, however, that the worlds cutest Punjabi Christain nurse works there...so, getting bit by dogs in India isn't all bad...

Neon paddy fields in Ladoor. The camera doesn't quite capture it, but when the sun is at the right angle, and shining somewhat behind the paddy fields, they seem to glow this surreal neon green color.

The village of Mauana, above the valley of the Aglar.

One of my favorite views in the Landour area. This is from above Mauana, looking south, towards the village of Kulti, which you can just make out about midway up the mountain in the center of the picture. The trail I took this from leads down to the water course that carved out that valley.

A recent landslide, from the last monsoon season (so less than a year back). Creepy.

The picture above, and the next few, are from maybe the most interesting place I know of in the Landour area. Again, it's deep down in the ravine at the bottom of a valley. I would put it at about 3800 feet below Landour itself. In this case, it really is just a canyon, through which the level of the river drops about 75 feet. There are about seven small but nice waterfalls, along two separate streams. If so much of the water wasn't being diverted upstream, the area would be totally impassable.

But when I first blundered into the area I had no idea what I was in for: the stream was choked with boulders, so I couldn't see the drop-off until I was directly on top of it. Then, quite suddenly, I found myself in a narrow, steep sided, black canyon.

The canyon itself only extends for a few hundred feet, and it's an enjoyable scramble down and up. It ends in a surprisingly deep, clear water pool. Right now the water is probably hypothermic, though from about mid-April on, it would be a great place to go swimming.

Again, I've never seen a white person anywhere remotely near there, though one time when I was down there, this group of about ten Garwalis, many of them with these big, weird, primitive looking muskets, came blundering out of the jungle. My first thought was that I had wandered into a gang of dacoits, but it turned out they were just out hunting Barking Deer (illegally, but what was I to do?). I think I made their day; they probably had never seen a white person in those parts. They were quite polite too.

Also, one of the best things about going down to that area is that, on the trail back, there's this clearing that at about 4 o'clock everyday fills up with village belles from a place called Mauana. It's the Mauana Babe Brigade, and it's great. I guess all the young women from Mauana go there after they finish working in the fields and gathering wood and such. The only downside is that when I get there I'm usually pretty sweaty and funky because I've been out hiking for the last five hours. But oh well.

This is'nt that great a picture, but it gives you some sense of what this place is like. That pillar is an island, and the stream bifurcates and flows around either side of it.

One of the many small falls in the area.

Looking to the right of the pillar, down the canyon.

Another waterfall on the stream that flows to the left of the pillar.

Where water drips out of the walls from weird formations that look like half-rock half-moss (I still haven't ascertained which) stalactites.

The pool at the end of the canyon. It looked about 10 feet deep, was crystal clear, and would be great for swimming later in the year (the water was damn cold then).

Yet another waterfall in the canyon.

Ladoor again, in dramatic lighting. Landour is on the top of the ridge in the extreme right of this picture.

The Little Ladoor Rascals LLRs. Whenever I come by, they run out and start shouting fake English at me, which sounds something like "Shur Shur Ello, Shur Shur, Thank You Shur, Goodnight Shur." I have to pretend to throw rocks at them to make them go away.

Toad

So, finnaly, we come to the Meenduck Pani (Frog Water). This requires a bit of explanation: Landour gets much of its water from a small stream, about 2500 down, below a village called Kulti (the big waterfall from the first post is along the same stream, further up). There are three pump stations that bring the water up the slope to town. Pump Station 1 is the one actually located beside the stream itself. About 50 ft upstream from the station, there's a damn that collects about half of the flow. From there, the water passes through a small canal and enters a catchment basin, in which there's a pipe with the end blocked off and holes punched in the sides. The water gets sucked in through the holes, enters the pump station, and then is pushed up to the next station, about 1200 feet feet above.

But there's a problem. As far as I can tell, the toads around here migrate downstream. Therefore, when they hit the damn, most of them wind up sliding down the canal and into the catchment basin. There, if no one cleans them out, they die....the walls are too steep for the toads (who actually are quite adept climbers) to get up, and the water is so cold that eventually the toads sort of "chill out" and sink to the bottom, where they die. Also, a they frequently wind up with their arms and legs sucked into the holes in the pipe, which also kills them.

So, when the toads find themselves in this situation, what they do is swim around for a bit, breed, "chill out" and slow down, sink, and die. So, whenever I go to the pump station, the sight that usually greets me is two or three recent arrivals furiously swimming about, twenty or so "chilled out" individuals having a damn toad orgy in a corner, five or so with arms and legs stuck in the pipe, a bunch who have sunk to the bottom and are on death's doorstep, and a multitude of toad corpses laying on the bottom......it's disgusting enough having toads breeding in your water supply, but to have them breed in it, and then die, is just too much.

Whenever I go down there, I save the toads who happen at that time to be on their way to the great beyond. Not that I really want to, but I just don't have the heart to let them all freeze to death. Now, there is of course a fairly easy solution to the Toad-Deathtrap problem: if they just put in little steps (like bathing ghats), the toads would be able to get out, and I wouldn't have to refer to my drinking water as Meenduck Pani (Frog water, there being no distinction between frogs and toads in Hindi). But the guys who run the pump stations seem to be content to have the water be full of toad corpses, to have the holes in the pipe blocked with toad limbs, and to have the whole toad population in the stream go extinct.

That's all I have to say about that.

Toad soup. Yum.

Toad Deathtrap

Mighty rock-climbing toad.

The ravine below the pump station.

OK, so, that's all for now.

As always, I miss everyone, except Brian.

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