28 January, 2008

Dr. Sleeploss, or How I Learned To Stop Hallucinating And Love Paranoia

Did you know you can get an amazing high by just not sleeping? It never struck me before when I was regular with missing sleep but now that I got a chance to stay awake thirty-six hours and driving all the while non-stop (it's been quite some time since I hadn't hadn't slept), I realized I was into another world after twenty-four hours of no sleep and only four from the day before. I remember being extremely happy, not with myself or with the world or with anyone in general, just happy. My speech was slurred, I stammered and broke sentences awkwardly and had bad grammar too. I'm sure my vocabulary had decreased to that of a four-year-old's but I can't vouch for it because my memory was playing up and was exaggerating my previous jungle exploits to my friend who was with me on this birding/nature-spotting trip to Mudumalai NP and Bandipur NP.

The plan, basically, was to just keep going up and down the main road of the two national parks hoping something would turn up in our headlights. But that was not to be so. The main road that runs through these parks is a national highway connecting Mysore and Ooty, and it being a weekend, a Republic Day weekend to add, traffic was heavy. Now, how heavy can traffic be on jungle roads in the middle of the night? Well, ask us. There was not a moment when we were alone on the road. There were vehicles of all kinds (bikes at three in the morning, Maruti 800's overstuffed with people, trucks overloaded with goods and what not) passing us as we were crawling around at low speed, vainly in search of elusive creatures of the night. There was either a vehicle overtaking us, or someone's headlights blinding us from the front or lights blinding me reflected off the mirrors (god, I hate people who don't dip lights in traffic). The only sightings we could manage (when we were not giving way and being overtaken) was a female Sambar with calf, a lone male Gaur (who was least bothered by our very close presence and our headlights on him), and an elephant who'd decided that he was invisible to us because his head was in thick bush and his (rather large) butt was the only thing sticking out of it.

After staring at (rather large) elephant rear anatomy for about ten minutes, we decided to get moving as we thought he wasn't exactly going to turn around for us and pose (photography being possible only with a 50mm f/1.8 lens with the camera cranked on ISO 1600 and shutter speeds being in the range of 1/16th to 1/8th of a second). Further down the road we saw an about ten-foot tall stump of a dry tree glowing with fire inside it, embers falling onto the dry grass below. Worried about our beloved haunts and with fear of losing them completely to forest fire, we hurried and made our way back to the check-post and told the guy there of it. The check-post turned out to be a police check-post not a forest one, and the guy there didn't seem to be interested in leaving his warm bonfire for some raging forest fire in all its element somewhere far off, so he said it'd be taken care of in the morning when someone would surely see it. Correction, someone else would surely see it. We persisted and finally managed to get him in the car and take us to the reception centre where a real forester would do something about it.

So, off we went to the reception centre, wheels spinning wildly and spitting out dust behind the car, to the Bandipur reception centre. It was about four in the morning, and we surely didn't expect anyone to be awake, but we were hoping to wake someone up and ask them to do something. At the reception centre, the guy from the check-post went knocking on the front door and called out an unintelligible name. Five minutes passed and nothing happened. He did it again, and I joined in on the knocking with gusto. Still nothing happened. We went around the whole building knocking on every knockable object and shouting for someone to wake up but that someone in there was soundly asleep while our much beloved forest was burning down to ash. After a fruitless fifteen minutes of screaming and knocking (the people driving past the reception centre must've thought a local mental hospital must've had a bust-out or something.), the guy from the check-post decided he'd have a look at the fire after all, and so away we went. We stopped in front of it and the guy needed pointing out as to the whereabouts of the fire. After ascertaining that what we were pointing to was indeed a fire, the guy announced, "yeh to mamooli hai. (this is insignificant.)" with the least bit of articulation and stress. Surprised more at his delivery than at the significance of his words, we returned the guy to his post and went our way, all thoughts of being awarded the National Bravery Award erased from our minds.

Highlights of the trip included a couple of Black Baza, a Besra Sparrowhawk female, some Nightjar that we couldn't ID, a field mouse, and a troop of Common Langur that always looked you in the eye when stared at. Weird, aren't they? Oh, also a male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher who was a showoff and such a schmuck that de'd get in the way of me trying hard to shoot a Malabar Whistling Thrush. As you know, MWTs are some of the hardest birds to shoot. They love to skulk in the dark bush-floor and rarely are out in the open. And being completely black does make life for a photographer harder than having ice-cream in hell. Thanks to the TBF's antics, all I got of the MWT was this:

On the way back home, it was well past the thirty-three-hours-since-sleep mark and I began to hallucinate. Twigs on the road prompted heavy braking, and when my buddy inquired as to the need for that, I said, "didn't you see that snake? We almost ran over it. Did you see what kind it was?" The black-and-white concrete posts delimiting the hill roads and preventing vehicles from falling off into deep ravines started to look like a horde of male Pied Bushchat. The squealing from the disc brakes also prompted stops to look for a never-before-heard bird call. Paranoia then set in with the drivers of vehicles being overtaken being "slow dunces" and that of those overtaking us being "mindless fools".

1 comment:

jayaprakash said...

Make it brief for better readability.