Walks, Vultures & Whiskey – XIV – Part B

We sat down in the living room as Qamar asked us what would we like to drink and I was craving for one.

Beer, Rum, anything. I was pretty relaxed and with Indiahikes saying NO this, NO that, I felt we all deserved a drink!

We sat down with Whiskey and Rum as Neeta brought us fresh from the oven – Gujarati Handvo. Whatever little I know of Gujarati food was thanks to Pankaj and Babu Bhai- his friend with whom we trekked around Ladakh last year.

Over delicious savoury home made Handvo (like a pie) Neeta and I bonded over food. I mean here was another foodie who when not trying to save rare species cooked food as a therapy. What a pleasure!

I also got an insight into their lives, their small world. They met when Qamar was in college, a senior who was one of those rare people of those times to take up Forestry. And here he saw a fresher walking in, the only girl with jungle boots and he said he was hooked 🙂

Neeta decided even when they were going around that she didn’t want a family, she was passionate about this and very clear about it.

When they got married both knew what they were getting into, no family, long distance marriage as they would be travelling in different directions. To see such love, trust,comfort and patience between them was refreshing.

She rarely saw him, maybe once a month, sometimes as much as 3 to 6 months, their communication were only calls, checking if they were ok and the rare time they were together at home like this, they made the most of it. I was truly thankful they allowed us into their space knowing how little time they get to be together.

The chemistry between them was amazing, how often do you get to see that?

Personally, I have noticed that solid relationships like that were becoming a rarity nowadays.. Huge Egos, distrust, lack of understanding, the need to control among so many people I knew and when I saw this, it gladdened me.

This was no marriage of convenience. This was about two passionate people who found each other.

As Neeta spoke about what she does, she spoke about this very interesting research on Vultures. Now, Now, don’t roll your eyes and just read  🙂

We usually detest or just ignore when someone even mentions them, after all they are scavengers, right? Neeta said they are the best cleaners of ecosystem.

Villagers revered them for generations. Any dead animal would be placed on the pit and they would be cleaned up. They were holding the ecosystem together.

So it was pretty alarming when they found out the Vulture population was decimating fast. Like total alarming destruction all across the sub continent.

This was going to have devastating effects to the environment if it continued. So after years of research they found out who was the ‘Culprit’, it was a bloody painkiller. Yup.

The cows that were used for milk manufacturing had machines up their udders like most commercial milk factories have.

The cows were not used to these bloody machines and it was painful so they started giving ‘painkillers’ to the poor cows and what happens with painkillers?

The pain subsides for some time so these manufacturers including smaller milkmen started giving them huge doses of painkillers and the result was this. Now can you connect the dots?

So when the dead cow was placed, the vultures were having doses of that medicine as they were eating their intestines as that med was still stuck there and guess what that resulted in. Unbelievable isn’t it?

This itself took her and her team many years to come to this conclusion and now most important was how to take action.

She moved pillar to post contacting environmental organizations to governments to local bodies to other countries as the vultures were dying all the way up to Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond. She got them to listen to her, know the results and action had to be taken as soon as possible.

I asked her how did they find a solution and what did they do? This is where I became a big fan.

She said first we contacted all medical/pharmaceutical  stores and explained the effects and this was a long process, to start from grass roots to educate and to tell them to stop selling that particular pain killer as it was over the counter medicine. This was tedious just by itself. And how about educating the rest of them? Puppetry!

Puppetry? Yup they called in an old traditional Puppetry group from Rajasthan and the team toured villages, remote places all over India and used the concept of story telling to educate. Connecting and Educating.

She knew that once the women join in, the men will follow. So yup this they did for years travelling all over the country, remote regions with different teams and it slowly but surely helped. The Vulture population was back on track but remember this took 12 years!

In that process something happened, a wonderful side effect.

Puppetry – the art which was dying into oblivion slowly revived. The group got many opportunities to perform after that, they were able to successfully revive their art.

Now can you imagine how I felt, how everything else paled in comparison.

I looked at this world around us differently. How many people like her around the world are doing this for years and years? It was a passion,a commitment, a dedication to make a difference. To delay our destruction as Qamar put it.

Neeta put it so well when she said, when people think Wildlife conservation, they romanticize it, like saving the world or going to some remote exotic place and doing something amazing but the truth is it requires patience, lots of patience.

For example, a researcher like her and her team had to observe snow leopards for instance, they not only had to track it but wait patiently for days, months and jot down every little movement, action of it.

The wait is tiring because you are jotting down little facts and it’s mundane, nothing exciting but that’s what it’s all about. Most of the times you just sit and wait for a whole day and nothing happens so you do it the next day again and again and this goes for months/years…

We ate a delicious meal of Paneer, Rotis and Garlic Rice. The Garlic Rice was a special by Qamar’s mother and Neeta learnt it from her, a family recipe. Isn’t it beautiful how things like this get passed on?

Qamar regaled us with something or the other. The couple for all the intense work they did were light hearted, took life as it came, enjoyed the moments they had, were totally in the present moment.How many of us can say we do that?

I remember Qamar mentioning River Dolphins and that was their next project. With Ganga being declared a National Waterway, this would spell a death knell to the dolphins.

With more big ships coming in, this would lead to their destruction. The Ganges river dolphin were essentially blind and their sensory receptors could only make out certain sounds and light. So these poor dolphins would get attracted to the huge ship sounds, they would get crushed… Another species moving towards extinction..

Now the Wildlife Institute was looking at volunteers for their projects. A 10-15 days program where basic necessities would be paid by the Institute and the volunteers job would be to jot the movement of the dolphins, yes the most valuable yet tiring info on it.

I gave my mail id to Dr. Qamar to please let me know when I can apply if that opens. I really wanted to. I told him I am good at jotting and observing those so called boring details for hours and I meant it.

As Qamar walked back with us to the accommodation, he related according to him a ‘funny story’ of a lion attack. He remembered he and his colleague were tracking lions and photographing them and they were in thick foliage of the jungle.

He completely missed one lion that was in the bushes and it pounced and I mean full on pounce like you see in the movies on them and there was no escape, he saw his life flashing before his eyes,those jaws, paws, claws, full on kill and it was a matter of seconds and in that second, the lion heard a call from his lioness! In mid air, the Lion turned around and went back to his mate! He said I have to thank that lioness!

I was energized, rejuvenated and so wired. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. How blessed to actually be in such company.

As a traveler, one always seeks something interesting, something different from the mundane especially when one takes a path that’s quite off beat.

To encounter such people, for them to share a part of their world to us, it is one heck of a privilege.

It took me some time to sleep that night as I recalled those conversations. What an evening.

The desire to travel solo from now on became stronger. It was time to get away from familiarity and venture into the unknown.







2 thoughts on “Walks, Vultures & Whiskey – XIV – Part B

  1. What a delicious experience you had Swapna, relishing my favourite Handwo and interacting with a couple worth knowing so much. If the Handwo is cooked over a coal sigree instead of gas, the taste is still better ! Men and Mountains both feel mesmerising in your latest travels.


    1. Thank you Sid for reading! Got more info on the delish Handvo thanks to you! I think I have been plain lucky so far and I hope it continues in my future travels 🙂


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