Seeing Through The Eyes Of a Naturalist

What happens to you on a holiday when your husband is an early riser, a birder and nature lover? I shall reveal it to you because my husband is one. On most holiday mornings, I find myself stranded in a hotel room with our kids while my husband is enjoying the peace of the dawn in the background of chirping birds. To worsen my situation, their body alarms set off the moment I step into the bathroom. So that I hear one is crying on the bed and the other one pounding the bathroom door. This sort of cacophony on holiday mornings does leave me peevish and cranky. I don’t resent his having a good time but I certainly mind being stranded alone.
Well, this is the only downside of being married to a naturalist. And comparing it to the up sides, it is quite worth it. To begin with, I get to go to places unheard of by most people, be it picnic spots, day trips or weekend getaways. And while in that place, I get a chance to do and see very special and uncommon things. So was also the case in our recent trip to Kotagiri. A quaint little hill town, perched in the shadows of its popular siblings Ooty and Coonoor. But it enjoys its solemn solitude in the wild company of bison, bears and leopards. Kotagiri is beautiful. Despite my hollering kids, the mornings here felt so nourishing with its fresh tea estates, sanguine climate and cottony misty sky. The best part about this holiday was having no agenda or scheduled itineraries to follow.  Nevertheless, we had some very exciting and adventurous excursions.
The day of our arrival was quite uneventful or probably just relaxed with a pleasant stroll around the serpentine paths along the tea estates and then sipping hot masala chai in the gelid air. But my husband had made plans for the night. A night safari across the hill town to sight some crossing deer, bears or even leopards! Frankly, I did not give it much thought because the prospect of sighting animals in the wild though very thrilling doesn’t seem very promising to me. However, we went ahead with the plan soon after dinner. One of my husband’s old acquaintances accompanied us on the safari as a local naturalist cum guide. What followed next was the most unexpected drive of my life.                  
Out of the village limits and into the unknown we drove. There was no sign of light or life except for the inkling and hope of wild beasts crossing our path. In this eerie darkness we stopped the car, turned off the engine and headlight and sat still. After a couple of minutes the guide flashed his torch to detect any animal movement. But of course you don’t get lucky just so soon.
So we drove ahead and entered the Curzon rainforest. A deep, dense and absolutely dark forest, with high potential of animal sightings. My heart was pounding with fear and excitement. I was wondering if our car broke down here in the middle of nowhere, which animal would look out for us. But the thought of catching a bear in action allayed all fears. Sadly, all bears seemed huddled inside that night and only a Black-naped Hare dashed across. We crossed the jungle with bated anticipation but nothing emerged.
We went further down the valley and tea estates to Keel Kotagiri, bumping high and low over dirt tracks and navigating baleful spiral bends. My husband confesses that it was one of the most arduous driving experiences of his life in pitch darkness. After 3 ½ hours of manoeuvring the car we were a tad disappointed for having sighted just some hares, wild boars and a lone porcupine. Yet, trust me; the whole experience of that night, of letting ourselves into the strange sinister paths and woods was exhilarating and thrilling to the core. This is the real upside and privilege of being a naturalist’s wife. Most people aren’t even aware of such exciting opportunities.
The next morning was an overcast sky with a slight drizzle coming down through the gauze of mist. This forced my husband to abort his birding session. And so we soaked in the damp chilly breeze of the hills but with a pinch of salt. It seemed our plan to trek inside the Longwood Shola Reserve might as well be cancelled. But thankfully the sky cleared itself in some time and we continued with our plan. After some persistence, we obtained the permission from the forest department to enter the shola forest. Visitors are allowed with only an accompanying forest guard.
A few meters inside it and I was awed by the raw beauty of it. This is the closest that I have walked in a real rainforest. Damp, thick foliage carpeted the undulating narrow path. Smell of the soggy trees filled the still yet fresh air and an unusual quietness pervaded its dense surroundings. The forest is a haven for bird life especially the endemic Nilgiri species which are beautifully colourful but the passing showers sent them into hiding. Nevertheless, my little boy was overjoyed to spot the frolicking Malabar giant squirrels over the tree tops. Same time a leech clung on my husband’s leg and only after sprinkling enough salt over it, it curled and fell off. Blood sucking leeches are very common in rainforests especially after rains.
 Longwood Shola looked enchanting with its fallen logs, mossy streams and gentle valleys. And chances of a bear or leopard though rare were looming. This was another highlight of our trip and thanks to my husband for introducing us to such amazing aspects of nature which not many people get a chance to enjoy and appreciate.
Apart from this, we did the usual things, driving around the hill countryside, halting at beautiful meadows for our toddler girl to play around for she was so fascinated with the grazing cows. And of course we relaxed a lot or rather tried to whenever the kids gave an opportunity! It was a splendid family holiday where I also realized that the wonders of nature that opened before me and my kids eyes were the gift of a nature loving husband and father.