From her earliest childhood, her father and mother used to drive from Bombay to Madras, where they would stay for two or three months in the summer.
They would drive along the back roads and would always stop along the way at a couple of wildlife sanctuaries. They are no longer there now – replaced by factories or businesses.
One of India’s leading environmentalists, Director of CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Environmental Education Centre) and President of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, and author of many books, including most recently Sacred Plants of India, Dr. Nanditha Krishna has always been fascinated by the natural world. She credits her family, especially her father and her great-grandfather for introducing her to the wonders of nature when she was a child.
At the wildlife sanctuaries they visited along the road to Madras, they would see many birds, and lots of leopards, tigers, elephants, deer and gaur. Gaur is the Indian bison; they are not the same as water buffalo. The gaur is the tallest species of wild cattle, and they are still found today in the forests of India.
Dr. Krishna recalls the leopards as being “very curious.” “The tigers were very shy and would just disappear.” “Spotted deer were dainty and elegant.” “Sambar deer were big.” There were wild boar and several different species of monkeys – macaques and langurs. There were also Malabar squirrels which are large tree squirrels, called giant squirrels. She saw a black panther once. “It was magical.”
They would go from Bombay to Bangalore – off the main road and off the beaten track. The Dandeli forest is the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka; the river Kali and its tributaries wander through the forest. Bandipur National Park is adjacent to Mudumali National Park, with the Moyar River running between them. “We saw so many animals – mongoose, snakes, peacocks. And a huge variety of birds.”
Whenever they drove up to Ooty, a town in the hills of the Nilgiris, leopards and tigers would often cross the road. “When a herd of elephants was on the road, you would have to stop and wait because they could be unpredictable. The gaur were also unpredictable.”
When they saw leopards and tigers, her father and she would get down out of the car and go through the trees to have a look. Her mother, like mothers everywhere, was worried about their safety. “My mother was always shouting at my father, ‘Don’t get down!!’”
Whenever they saw a leopard, her father would say, “Come, let’s go as near as we can.” They would watch the leopard, and the leopard, equally curious, would watch them too. “Animals don’t attack unless they feel threatened or are hungry. They were just as curious about us as we were about them.”
“In those days, the animals were very curious, but the tigers were so shy.”
After serving for several years as the Dewan (Prime Minister) of the state of Travancore, Dr. Krishna’s great-grandfather, Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, who is remembered as one India’s greatest statesman, went to live in Ooty where he spent the summer months and sometimes part of the winter. He lived there from 1948 until he passed away in 1966.
During this time he was the Vice-Chancellor of two Universities. When Nanditha was there as a child, C.P., as he was known to his friends, (she called him Thatha or “Grandfather”) would take her for daily walks into the forests. This is one of the most beautiful regions of India, with steep green hills, covered in green vegetation, dotted with rocks and boulders. The road there makes a steep climb, with many hairpin turns, up from the Mudumalai Forest or from Coimbatore. Ooty was popular with the British because of its cool, temperate climate.
On their walks, C.P. showed Nanditha how to find edible berries and which berries were poisonous. Because he had an excellent western education, as well as a profound knowledge of Indian culture, he would often quote English poetry. If they saw a yellow flower, he would quote from Wordsworth’s poem about the daffodils –
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils; …”
She remembers him fondly, “He understood the beauty and harmony of nature. He knew places in depth…he taught the art of silence.” Often, they would simply “sit and watch a lake or a river.”
To be continued in part two…
Top photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96109131@N00/ Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / Mudumalai Forest in Tamil Nadu.
Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Nanditha Krishna outside the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.
Third photo: Rakesh Kumar Dogra / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A Malabar Giant Squirrel, or Indian Giant Squirrel, in the Mudumalai Forest.
Fourth photo: Yathin S Krishnappa / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Leopard in the Kabini Forest Reserve, Karnataka, India.
Fifth photo: Courtesy of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation / C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar as a young man, early twentieth century.
To visit the website of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, click here.
To find Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s book Sacred Plants of India on Amazon, click here.
© Sharon St Joan, 2015