Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hemis National Park

The most spectacular thing I saw on our trip to the Bethuadahari forest last April – indeed, one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen – was a mammoth Couroupita guianensis in full bloom.

The tree is commonly called the Cannonball Tree, but its Tamil name suits it much better: Nagalingam. The flower’s reproductive organs – the reduced style and stigma, and the hood (a prolongation from one side of the staminal ring that arches over the ovary) – give the combined effect of a Shivalingam with a snake’s hood poised over it. (You can see this clearly in this photo by Emblatame.)

The flowers have large, fleshy petals and sprout directly from the trunk. The trunk of the tree we saw was thickly clustered with flowers, and the ground was carpeted with fallen petals, and the air was heady with their perfume. Mrunmayee said it looked like something out of Avatar.

Back home, my animated description of the tree left my mother unimpressed. If I didn’t walk around with my eyes closed, I could have seen the same tree in Calcutta, she said. I was skeptical: surely, I could not have overlooked such a striking tree in my own city. “There is one in the south-east corner of the Governor’s House compound,” she said. “Go and check.”

Being reluctant to admit defeat (not to mention jobless), I actually went to check, and there it was. Before the week was out, my mother had espied three more Nagalingam trees at various places in the city.

I like trees in the abstract, but regrettably, I know little about them. Which is to say, when I see a tree, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a tree,” and I leave it at that. But I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy for people who can spot and identify trees, and who, even while strolling through a city street, sometimes remark upon an unusual tree, or point out a commonplace one and mention some interesting attribute.

But on the Ladakh trip, I discovered that I am not bad at spotting animals. Our trek took us through the Hemis National Park. It doesn’t exactly teem with wildlife; at an elevation of 3,000–6,000 m in a rocky landscape devoid of greenery, that is too much to expect. Unfortunately, we could not spot the famously elusive Snow Leopard, but we did see some other animals, and I was rather kicked that I managed to spot many of them before anyone else in our group did.

1. Lizard (of some sort), the very first animal I spotted on the trek. It was basking on a rock, absolutely motionless, and I was able to get shots from several angles.
2. White-Capped Water-Redstart (I think). We saw lots of sparrow-sized birds, and this was one of the most colourful.
3. Unidentified bird.
4. Red-billed Chough. In the lower legs of the trek, crows and ravens were the most common scavenger birds. Then shortly before Tachungtse, we crossed some invisible line and above it, Red-billed Choughs and their yellow-billed cousins held sway. They were completely fearless, flying all around the campsite and coming right up to us at dinnertime for scraps.
5. The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture. Even when we were at 17,000 ft, the Lammergeiers were high above us, circling, always circling. Fortunately, no tortoises fell out of the sky.
6. Robin Accentor. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see the falling snow.
7. Bobak Marmot. They gamboled all over the mountainsides that ringed our campsite at Tachungtse, and boxed with each other in comical fashion. They seemed to have little fear of humans, and would let us get surprisingly close to them.
8. Mountain Vole: It scampered across our path and retired under a boulder whence, with beady eyes, it watched us click photos and tramp past.
9. Oriental Turtle Dove.
10. European Magpie. A striking and beautiful bird, and of course, the real villain of The Castafiore Emerald.
11. Blue Sheep, which is neither blue, nor a sheep.
12. Common Redstart. It sat on a steeple at the Hemis monastery while I tried to focus on it at the extreme telephoto end of my zoom lens. Then, just before I clicked, it took off, and presented me with a rather dramatic photo.


Ravis said...

This is completely spectacular. I hate you and I love your blog. I also love the little vole. The vole looks like it loves you too. It's so curious and so timid...wonder if it ever managed to make love to a female vole. It must have been attracted by plenty of them, judging from its eyes.

Ravis said...

Those tree root bridges photographed by you rank topmost among the most amazing things I've ever seen. Not that I've seen much, but still.

Pratiti said...

Gawd, Raktima.

Ravis said...

What? You haven't taken a patent for weird comments, Contiti!

Priyanka said...

Favourite's number three. And the vole.

Where else did your mother spot these trees? I want to see.

Sroyon said...

@Priyanka: Sadananda Road, Harish Mukherjee Road, and Assembly House compound. Details when we meet. (My mother also claims there are specimens at the Agri-Horticultural Garden and the Botanical Gardens.)

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

The "dramatic photo" is stuff Nat Geo magazines are made of :) And I love the vole too.

Chellam said...

Stumbled upon this site by sheer chance.Didn't know that so much was being done to enjoy nature and spread the good word. It's people like you who'll keep the world as beautiful as it is by letting us all know what it is that we need to savour and preserve for posterity. Keep it up

Sroyon said...

@Chellam: Hey, thanks! (Though I daresay you overestimate my contribution.)

maumita said...

you will find a nagalingam too many inside future foundation school

fleur-de-lis said...

At Belur Moth.
I second Chellam.

fleur-de-lis said...

except the stumbling part.

Rara Avis said...

I THINK I picked up one of these flowers today near the High Court. It was raining and I was walking without opening my umbrella and this one dropped right beside me. Had only one petal, poor thing. I picked it up and took it to a friend whose house was two hours and fourteen minutes away, who had never seen the flower before and was amazed by it.
(I figured out an hour later in the bus that you had blogged about the same flower.)

In other news, you used exactly the same sentence for the Kanji in a later post.
-when I see a tree, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a tree,” and I leave it at that.
-When I see a kanji, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a kanji,” and I leave it at that.
Is that a signature sentence or an accident?

In OTHER news, what an absurd comment I had made earlier.

Rara Avis said...

Not that the new comment is MUCH better. :P

Sroyon said...

It was a deliberate reference. In the kanji post I specifically referred and hyperlinked to this one: "Kanji, to me, are like trees."

ahsu said...

Luv your clicks and the easy way you write. :)
I was searching for a name for the flower that reached me as a friendship wish.
Entered Nagalinga and reached a page that brought me here.
:) tried sarpalinga, and reached elsewhere.
But at both places, the flowers and the tree the same.. or similar. :O
btw, the mountain vole my fav too.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you