Roving in the Woods

Saturday, May 10, 2014. I walked in these woods at 5 am. Just the two of us – my husband and I!As I write this, it sends shivers down my spine even to this date, though with a difference. Today, I am neither frightened nor terrified just because I sit to share this from the coziest corner of my war room.I went there to spot those winged, feathered, 2-legged warm-blooded and egg-laying vertebrates from the Class Aves to see their flight of life as free agents. It was a visit to Bird Sanctuary at Kumarakom, a beautiful tourist destination near Kottayam, Kerala.Of late I nurtured this secret passion and decided to take the plunge, oblivious of the fact that a 2km traipse would I need to tread before my eyes meet theirs.We arrived at the main gate beyond which the vehicles were disallowed. A few steps more and we were at the gate. The security guard saw our entry tickets and guided us about closure of Tower no 1. That meant a 100 more steps to reach Tower no 2. He also advised us to keep guided by our nose till the end.We took our first steps toward where we’re destined to – to spot the avid flyers.”2 kilometers walk, and that too, through this dense wet forest?!” “That’s a snarl.” I murmured incoherently.A few steps down and I began to realize a faint sense of foreboding… not because my feet were unhappy, but it was the silence – too loud to get my rejoinder.I went mute…The brew of thoughts: ‘I want to go back, I don’t want to visit’ began to spill out. At one point, I nearly skipped a heart-beat. Let me say, I was brutally honest about the ‘fear’ barrier of a jungle walk when even the breeze has not woken up.This was well scripted on my mind. I had no solution to this new normal since it was I who put this song to ‘play’ and ‘repeat’ automation – right from the moment we landed at Kochi airport, “I MUST visit Bird Sanctuary” – as if something was keeping me from it – not once, or twice but at least 3 times!So, it was I, and not you, him or her, who had to find solution for moving past – the fear, dread and wonder!My husband sensed my fears. He held my hand. He also took my bag in his custody, and if there be a need, I knew he would hold and backpack me through this timber trail.Something held me back… I wanted to react against the inner system that lay dormant with known fear. What, if a reptile passed by? What, if I stamped on it or what if some unforeseen gets seen? I erected one1000 and 1 thoughts on a baseless foundation.

My eyes were alert and roved constantly.My husband separated a big branch from a tree and handed me with a ribbing: “Just hit if something approaches you.” You never really know, Sweetie!This light-hearted jesting made for the irksomeness that tick bites gave me on the bare portions. The redness and itching kept aggravating. The insects didn’t leave me. I was worrisome I may not get Lyme (disease caused by tick bite in the heavily wooded areas)! Hence, Tip No.1: Cover yourself to optimum at such places.Well, my husband knows me well – like any other does. He calmed my worries. I loosened my imaginary leash with charming unpredictability and headed for the walk. With the fear poured out of the spout, I started walking with confidence. I was determined to rebel for a higher purpose; no matter it was a slippery slope!All through this journey, nature was 0 kilometers away. And, it was beautiful!Another hindrance was Kumarakom – the name itself, and it was funny!Somehow, the spellings didn’t gel with my tongue initially. I had to make a mnemonic something like we used to memorize the ‘hard to grasp’ and our self-styled ways to “Ratta Maar… “To cite an example: My brain was always short on remembering the planets, so my father helped me thus: “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.” And, lo! I always placed them right in the Solar system, thenceforth.The pneumonic of Kumarakom was my creation. We have a friend with second name “Kumar” who couldn’t accompany us. So I kept saying Kumarakom, something like, persuading them to come with us.Well… !It’s is a lovely tourism destination near the city of Kottayam in Kerala, just 15Kms from the nearest railhead Kottayam. Kochi, which is at 94kms, is the nearest airport. It takes you there in 2 and half hours. Taxi costs about Rs.2000.This town sits on Vembanad lake on the Eastern bank of which lies this sanctuary (also Vembanad Sanctuary).This is the largest freshwater lake in India, stretching about 110kms. Almost all resorts have close proximity to its shores so one can imagine the magnificent view even from one’s rooms. The in-flux of houseboats, country boats, and speed boats all abound, ready to take you anywhere and everywhere on a vast ocean of backwaters that Kerala is so famous for.The bigger the hole in your pocket the more the fun here! Water transit is exorbitantly priced!The experience of all kinds of boats is differently unique. The country boats introduce you to a fisherman’s village life through the narrow lanes of backwaters. You have the virtual water roads, so to say, lined up on both sides by majestic coconut palms trees.Almost all resorts own their houseboats which take you to a day or overnight cruise.Kerala beckons… no wonder it’s called God’s own country.We go there year after year and build more appetite. The word appetite takes me to the gourmand’s delight. For non-vegetarians and Kerala cuisine lovers, it’s matchless.I cannot recommend vegan food.Going back to my forest walk – Hardly did we walk for 15mnts that I sighted a cemented bridge over backwaters with a near broken edge. We had to cross it. There were several to follow later. It broke my focus syndrome. I stood there for a minute indecisively…The first persuasive lesson from my husband came here, after which I could walk convincingly. We spotted another couple making us 4. We exchanged pleasantries and continued our walk.It was a long walk with safe hurdles. It rained the previous night so intermittently we stamped on the wet soil. The narrow lanes of backwaters were lull except for some occasional sounds and walk of waterbirds, and the only transport to the watch towers was your own lower extremities.The trees on both sides of the pavement stood secretly still.Barring the hoardings by the Kerala Tourism at 2 or 3 turnings, we were only reading our minds walking on a path that had no switchback. Our eyes could scarcely see beyond 10 steps. Eleventh step would turn to a new horizon – not quite like The Lombard street of San Francisco, but it was definitely an uneventful stretch where we could not fathom the upcoming.Having traversed nearly 1 and half kilometers we met another couple with a small kid. We eavesdropped on them. The husband was too tired to lift the toddler.Here comes my Tip no. 2: A walk with small children, please do not consider. Let them grow their wings to see the winged creatures. I wouldn’t say it’s an unsafe trod, but the long stretch requires a definite watch management for the bambinos.We finally arrived, a bit breathless and gasped to look at Tower no 2 – the observatory point. Having found it closed we walked a bit more to approach a dead end. We were thirsty.My 3rd tip: Carry some water with you as the climate makes you sweat and you need hydration even in early mornings. Remember, it’s a coastal town.

We climbed up the zig-zag iron stairs. The view was awesome. The narrow stairs allowed only one person to stand at one level. As we went up the ladder top, a big lock welcomed us. It could frustrate us had we not seen the guard approaching soon, accompanied by 5 more couples. He opened the lock. We all went up to have the view our walk was focused at.And, the disappointment lay here…Since we went there in the off-season for bird sighting, Egrets, Waterfowl, Cuckoo, Owl and Heron – all went missing. All we could see were the White Pelicans swirling around at the top branches. But the walk was worth it, though a bit rugged.For the same reason the article title was about the walk and not about birds.I framed the nature forever in my mind…Value addition: It is the first scientifically formed and preserved sanctuary in India with about 200 species of birds. It dates back to 1840 when the founder Alfred George Baker brought up Kumarakom village and this sanctuary, by reclaiming 500 acres of wetlands from the lake and planted mangrove trees into 14 acres for birds to help adopt this as their home. The climatic peculiarities of this region helped further.We were on our return now. I felt like a free bird. I was able to smile, chat and also walk my own way. What was fearful to start with turned fancy post -visit.I learned that a tourist’s place can’t be hazardous. The Tourism Department takes care of our fear, safety, joy and adventure. It gave me the best kick-start of the day!Fear… ? What fear?? I thoroughly enjoyed this long stretch!Richie Norton says, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.”I was happy I redefined myself and completed my walk. If I happen to visit again it will be between November and February so I could write about birds. I took some pictures on the return that’s why couldn’t bring the essence of early dew and denseness of the forest before sunlight, and neither could I capture the un-trodden wetness.Last tip: For birds’ enthusiasts – visit in the season. For the rest of us – go anytime.The beauty neither has a season nor does it migrate. It’s like an everlasting love.