Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mis-adventures on a bike

Working inside a Tiger Reserve is a privilege. Working inside a Tiger Reserve on a motor bike is taking things one step further.  I have had some very nice experiences when on work inside KMTR. I have seen anything from a rare snake to birds like broad tailed grassbird to elephants and even a leopard when on the bike.
A gaur that almost threw me and Chian off the bike!

Similarly, I have also faced situations when death (well almost!) looked me in the face and I lived to tell the tale, especially when working at night. On several occasions the tires get punctured when on the road, away from human settlements and I end up walking atleast 3-4 km to get stuff to fix the bike or push the bike itself in hilly country back to field base.  Other times, at night, with the rain gods pouring away, I have had to ride back with heart in my throat hoping not to bump into an elephant or two which apparently come to the road when it rains! Another time, I have had to ride thru a mud slide!
With the trusted Yamaha navigating thru a mud slide!  PS: No bravado here! got this for the records!

A recent experience in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve with my cousin vinay becomes one among the long list of misadventures when doing field work.

We were visiting a Tea Estate near Gudalur called Madhuvanam. Our task along with many other biologists and researchers was to survey the place for amphibians and arrive at a comprehensive list. We took two days to do this and the estate was a wonderful place to be. Over 50 species of birds made our day including the Great Pied Hornbills! At night, we were treated with sighting of the rare Malabar Torrent Toad which Vinay spotted and picked up to show me- the only so called expert around at that time! For two days we enjoyed our stay there and got back to Gudalur where another colleague, Thomas from the French Institute had to head back to Bangalore. We then went with Tarsh (our host) to his house on top of a hill in the outskirts of Gudalur. The house was serene and I wish I could have lived there for ever! 
the valley at Maduvanam estate

Me and Vinay were bound to return the next afternoon and had half a days time to spare. We dint know what to do. Eventually, we decided to ride into Mudumalai and then to Bandipur. Getting transport early in the morning was tricky. It was Deepawali time and all were either celebrating or plain busy catering to the high tourist demand. Luckily, Joby, who lives in Gudalur had a bike which he offered to us. We agreed and left early the next day. The mist had not lifted and chill was strong. The 20 odd km felt like 100 km! The National Highway inside the park was relatively empty and not many vehicles, except only at few places. The forest, however, was Pink. Yes. Pink because of dear Lantana which has grown everywhere. Up the trees, up the tall bamboo shoot. Down into ditches. You name it. We did not see any animal except for the Cheetal and a group of Sambar deer.
Not satisfied with this, we decided to take the forest department safari in Bandipur. Surprisingly, the bus was almost empty and we got tickets!. I dropped a few names and said I had worked in bandipur a few years ago. Probably that and my camouflage attire made the ticket issuing forester to allow me to sit next to the driver in the bus and get a front view of the forest!. The ride started. People were yapping in the bus. An well meaning idiot googling on his smart (ass) phone for calls of lion, tiger and peafowl and playing it loud in the bus for his kid and the kid aping the call. Another bunch apparently slept off!
Torrent Toad spotted by Vinay

The forest was pretty pink again. The game roads were muddy and the view lines for 10 m on either side were empty. Again, only a few cheetal. An odd langur.Vinay spotted a treepie and yelled Malabar Trogon. The bus driver stopped. People wanted to see what we had seen. I saw the tree pie but the mind's eye was looking for a trogon. A trogon in a Dry deciduous forest! It took me a while to figure out what vinay had seen and he too, by then realized that it was only a lowly treepie. 
We moved on. No animal crossed our path. A small heard of gaur were up ahead. We reached closer and the poor animals tried to move away from the road but could  not penetrate the thick wall of lantana. They ran helter skelter and some ran on the road. Further ahead, one gaur became two and two became four and soon there were not less than 50 Gaur all walking on the road. I could count 25, the driver said there are not less than one hundred. It seems Gaur never go in such big herds. I had never seen or heard of such a large herd. 
That done, we got back from the ride and waited for the critical mass to take another ride at a discounted price. A bunch of hippies came by and said the fare was expensive and returned. The department chaps wound up the tour saying the time was up. We had time left and decided to drive down to Moyar. We stopped enroute to shoot a great black woodpecker which was on a roadside tree and calling away. About half way to Masinagudi, a small town before Moyar, disaster struck.
The throttle became non responsive. The bike would not move. It was illegal to stop a vehicle inside the reserve but who cares and what choice did we even have anyways?! Unfamiliar with the bike, vinay and myself started to figure out what went wrong, then we saw a small piece of cable hanging loose from the carburetor. We tried fixing it but the cable was too short to fit in and we dint see any loose end to fit it in! Assuming the piece had fallen off, we walked up and down the road for a few meters in vain. 
Vinay suggested we upturn the bike and see where the cable connected. But, I had in the past removed and put the throttle cable in my bike and knew that it fit in the carburetor and decided against it. Instead, I pulled out my ever trustworthy swiss knife and unscrewed the throttle handle and noticed that the cable was cut!. Such a simple thing. We stopped the next vehicle that went past and checked up if there was a mechanic nearby. They said the nearest was in Gudalur. By then, we were starting to run short of time for the bus. I called up Tarsh, our host who was on a survey on other side of Gudalur. He said that I will either have to push or leave the bike there and get back somehow to catch the bus. 

I tried pulling the cable back and fixing it but it fell short. By then I had pulled out a pocket nose plier. I decided to try pulling the cable with the plier and see if the bike moved. It did! Quickly, wiping our greasy hands on to the grass nearby, we picked up our bags and began our journey.
Initially it was hard to pull the cable in one hand and controlling the gears on the other and all the while concentrating on the road ahead! Somehow, we reached Gudalur. A distance of 25 km from where we got struck! All the passing cars and busses were all eyes at our antics. Vinay on the pillion with 2 camera bags, me riding the bike with a nose plier and both of us trying desperately to spot some wildlife!

With an hour to spare for the bus, we quickly got the cable fixed and then raced to Tarsh's house where we had left our stuff and again raced back to eventually catch the bus.
While our misadventure taught us a good lesson, all through the bike ride, I was hoping against hope that our tiers would not get punctured. That would have been the last thing we both wanted! Luck, seemed to be on our side and nothing of the sort happened. And yet again, I won and the Bike lost!
With Muthu and John, trying to fix a punctured tube back in the field station! Ages ago.
 Not formally edited. Forgive typos!

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