For some an ideal day may start with bed tea late in the morning. Not for me – not definitely while I am on vacation. On an ideal vacation morning, I would find myself up and about – all ready for a day’s adventure – even if it is for something as tame as a walk inside a bird sanctuary. After all the corporate grind provides little scope for any kind of adventure. Unless of course one were to call poor performance appraisals and client escalations adventures.
India’s national transport was waiting for us at the hotel entrance and a chauffeur in Lungi greeted us. It took him just 15 minutes to take us to the Kumarakom bird sanctuary. There the guard gave us entrance tickets of 50 Rs. each with a warning about bad path thrown in free of charge. In the earlier sanctuaries we had visited there were boat rides. But this one unfortunately did not have one though a canal ran along the slushy path through the undergrowth. We plodded through braving the slush, climbing over one fallen tree and ducking under another. Unlike proverbial good children who had to be seen and not heard, the birds chose to be heard and not seen. We heard a myriad of chirping but hardly any of the denizens of the air came into view as such for over 20 minutes before an owl finally decided to make a brief appearance. This was followed by a couple of stray sightings.
We labored on. As we walked on the chanting of mantras from across the canal joined the chirping of birds. And human voices could be heard. We looked across to see house boats and some buildings. It was kind of disappointing and took away a bit of the feeling of adventure. You know it does not feel like exploration with civilization so clearly in sight. Well it was never an exploration after all – just a bird watching walk. That made me wonder about the whole point of bird watching. People who know me will be acquainted with my habit of raising fundamental questions at the most inopportune moments. But well, that’s me.
So the bubble cloud appeared over my head and transported me to the various bird watching trips I had undertaken as the processor in my head whirred into action, analyzing the utility of this seemingly fruitless activity. Slowly some answers began to emerge – the beauty of the birds, the thrill of the chase, the intellectual pride attached to any piece of knowledge. For some the beauty of God’s creation alone would suffice to motivate them to undertake arduous journeys through slush and mire. But then there is this little fellow in the head who asks why not enjoy the beauty through pictures on the internet without undergoing all the trouble. So the next thing is the thrill of the chase – looking out eagerly for the birds, the disappointment of not finding any and the sudden spurt of joy when you spot one. And last but not the least, as a geek one feels good spouting off about cormorants, babblers and warblers to the astonishment and awe of the uninitiated.
By then we had reached the watch tower, passing a couple of other groups along the way. We climbed up the tower and looked around but could hardly spot one or two species. I regretted not having brought my binoculars along. On our way back however we stuck gold as we paused at a point near the lake. We came across a couple of teals, spoon billed kingfishers and a few others. As one of the bird books had mentioned, one may walk all around a forest without spotting a single bird but end up finding a huge variety of birds – all in one spot. That is how bird watching works. The trick lies in identifying that sweet spot and then waiting patiently. Doesn’t life in general also work more or less along the same principles?
On our way back, we met a lady, who indicated to us that we really had no need to jump over or duck under the fallen branches. There was another route to the site completely avoiding the branches. Like how I always do in life, instead of searching for the optimal solution around the branches, I had grabbed the first solution that had come my way. I realized in my projects at work also I got trapped by the very same attitude – the tendency to grab the first solution that comes to my mind even though it would be tedious and time consuming rather than continue to look till I find a more optimal solution.
Some of the things in life you get too little too late. Such was our meeting with a boatman when we were more than halfway back. He offered us a ride to the entrance. We decided we may as well walk – it was for touring the sanctuary we had desired a boat. That was already done and it was time for us to return to the hotel. So we had to decline and made our way back to the auto that was patiently waiting for us. The little journey did not end like fairy tales with lovers meeting but as it is usually the case with journeys on India’s national transport – with the auto driver demanding an additional 50 bucks for his efforts on our behalf. We did not want to spoil the rest of the day – so we shelled out the ransom money and got rid of him.