Second day at Siruvani and the road to Silent Valley

09/01/2014

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My second leech bite in two days. These terrestrial leeches hide in leaf litter and are heat-seeking, attaching to any warm-blooded thing that happens by. Messy but not dangerous, and I’m told that after a rain the leeches come out in full force. We were lucky to have dry weather.

December 24. Summary: checked out of Patiyar, ran the gill net, and collected in two spots just downstream and just upstream of the third check point. Had a near-miss on drive to Silent Valley, and we received some bad news upon our arrival: Arun and Magesh are sent back to Coimbatore to return the Jeep because the owner decided he needed it urgently. Took dinner and slept at Silent Valley Guest House.

After getting nothing in the gillnet, we checked out from Patiyar and drove down to where we had parked the car the previous day. Today’s sampling sites are just upstream and just downstream from the checkpoint so there was not a lot of hiking to do.  I was able to rinse off my dust in one of the pools, and yes the water was clear and clean—both Arun and Magesh had no issues drinking directly out of this stream, though I opted to stick with purified water—in my view, there is too much wildlife nearby, and I know about Giardia. I’m also quite determined to have formed stools throughout this trip.

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Garra stenorhyncus. from a side or a top view it looks like the mouth is on the top half of the fish’s face, as one would expect of a top-feeding fish…

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…but the real mouth is on the bottom of the fish. I’m not sure of the significance–adaptive or otherwise–for the horn-like structure that makes the “fake face”

The collection itself was an easy one—no long hikes through elephant-ridden leech havens (though I did manage to feed another leech today—that’s two bloody spots in my sneakers so far). We harvested mostly the same species here, with the addition of a couple of species of barb (genus Puntius), and maybe even a new occurrence for one of the Garra species (Indian algae eaters). Some of the Garra we saw were intriguing–some species had mottled brown/olive/tan blotches, others had tubercles on the head, and there is one (G. stenorhyncus, I believe) whose head is shaped in a way that makes the fish appear as a top-feeder with an undershot lower jaw, but this “lower jaw” is actually the fish’s nose and the real mouth is underneath just like other algae eaters. There was an abundance of the Indian trout (Barilius), and the forest officials who accompanied us to monitor our activities (and also to help) were delighted to take all of the Barilius we caught—I’ll bet they were quite tasty.

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The water was clean, fresh, and about 20°C.

From where we were in Siruvani it’s a relatively short jog over to Silent Valley National Park. However, short in distance does not translate into speed of travel. Roads in India seem to come in either the “dilapidated” and “extremely dilapidated” varieties, and when it comes to switchbacked mountain roads, the latter might actually be preferable, only for keeping things within a safe speed. Once we got into some better road on the climb to Silent Valley, Mani hit a turn a bit too fast and came close to rutting the vehicle against the uphill slope (i.e., a wall of rock) and then overcompensating we ended up going the other direction and planted the Mahindra at the edge of the downhill side. Mani was a bit shaken and very apologetic, but it was just a mistake. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic. Driving in India is unquestionably very difficult. You must anticipate the reactions (or lack of reactions) of other vehicles, pedestrians, livestock, and dogs and cats, while doing your best at avoiding pot-holes and slowing for omnipresent speed bumps. There’s always slower traffic to pass and faster cars that will pass you and cars coming in the other direction and passing each other, seemingly without acknowledging your head-on collision course—it is, of course acknowledged and skillfully calibrated so that collisions don’t happen (or happen at extremely low frequency compared with what you’d expect). Add to this the facts that most roads are either unmarked or identified in an alphabet that I can’t read (Tamil or Malayalam) and they drive on the other side of the road, and there is plenty of reason for me to decline any offers of driving here, and I’m perfectly happy to forgo making use of the international driver’s license that I had gotten specifically for this trip.

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It’s some kind of bird, right? Beyond Gallus gallus, my South Indian ornithology is a bit rusty. Nice photo by Manimekalan.

Upon arriving at Silent Valley we received notice that the owner of the Mahindra urgently needed his vehicle back, and there was no way to say no. It was after 11:00 pm that Magesh and Arun drove the vehicle back to Coimbatore to secure a new vehicle (with a driver) and return to meet us the next day. Dr. Mani stayed with me at the Inspection Bungalow and we would be taking a Jeep tour of Silent Valley the next morning until Arun and Magesh returned from Coimbatore.

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Elephant moat around Patiyar. One of the downsides of weighing 2000-5000 kg is the effect on jumping ability. A tiger would cross over this without even recognizing it as an obstacle. Elephants are far more common and would not recognize Patiyar’s brick walls as an obstacle.

Adding to the building frustration of the evening was the fact that Dr. Mani’s iPhone had a dead battery while his charging cable was en route to Coimbatore with Arun and Magesh. My Motorola was dead as well, and even though I had my iPhone with a full charge, swapping the SIM cards did not work–apparently mine is a “locked” phone that cannot be used with a different SIM card than one that is on my ATT account. We would have to wait until morning to find a shop that was open (on Christmas Day) where we could get enough charge on the phones for Mani to get in contact with Arun.

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The biggest challenge of Siruvani? Downing a full bottle of warm Black Knight. It’s the love child spawned from white-wine-in-a-box and Colt 45.

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