May 18, 2009

Ek din Achanak…


Ignorance is bliss at the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, as the car trundles along the bylanes thick with vegetation, entwined banyan trees, rubble, pebbles and dry leaves, when the guide decodes the meaning of Achankmar as Achanak – sudden and mar – assault, it dawns on you that you are indeed a great prey for the leopard that is rumored to be sauntering around. It is too late to turn back. Guide Sahniwal says it has been a chilly morning and our dear pard will probably come out and bask in the sun rays to beat the chilly climes. Leopards are nocturnal animals, active after dusk. Sometimes, they can be spotted basking in the sun atop their favourite rocky vantage points or having a siesta up in a treetop. The locals proclaim that the leopard was sighted just last weekend when a Canadian couple were on their way back from the city.
Last weekend sighting by no means translates that you can sight a leopard now. Animal sighting is like rolling a dice. Just because you haven’t had a six for 42 times doesn’t mean you will have it now. Or just because you had a six recently, doesn’t mean you will not have another again. Wildlife sighting, according to the locals, is about Deepak Chopra’s synchronicity - being at the right time, at the right place. And doing the right thing. Like hiding, becoming alert, not fidgeting and being ready with the digicam.
Hours of craning the neck out of the diminutive car, a thorough scan from the watchtower, surreptitiously approaching the watering holes and the sunny rocks for one whole day did not yield any results. Sahniwal says we could spot a deer, at least, if we are lucky.
A sudden gale of wind passed out with a wave of heady floral fragrance engulfing the car. Guide Sahniwal asks, ‘scent lagaya kya? Now, the deers will never come close to us’, he said. Oh dear!
The only way to spot a deer within 500 metres distance is to conquer a deer's defense of smell, sound and sight, in that order. A deer’s olfactory is 20 times superior to humans. To be able to spot that spotted beauty in here, you need to tackle both your air scent and your ground scent.
Ground scent is the trail you leave as you walk through the grass and dried leaves. A deer's sense of smell is so fine tuned, they know the exact hour of your passing, so they will keep away from you.
Seasoned wildlife enthusiasts, however, have a solution. Use leather boots (no socks as any cloth on your feet will hold and spread the odour) and don’t use any perfumes. If you are used to these fragrances, you can use a suppressant or a scent block to offset it. Right now, in this sanctuary that is at least 100 km away from the nearest keyboard, forget the scent blocks, even spotting a deer seems tough. Look for trees with langurs, they usually have deers underneath, he informed us.
But as the sun calls it a day and the Achanakmar Coffee Centre serves its last series of coffees and chais, it is time to hope for the best the next day.
The reception centre here showcases the escapades of wildlife enthusiasts in Achanakmar. A few snapshots of the sanctuary in full bloom in the spring months of February and March, the spotted deer caught at its most vulnerable moment, the langur taking a look at the Red Bulls beverage can, the Wild Buffalo at its lethargic best etc.
Over a cup of coffee, the locals at the coffee centre will regale you about the how the bison broke open the SUV’s glass pane with its horns alone, how a group of deer ‘posed’ for a wildlife photographer’s lens and other such tales.
Sahniwal keeps reiterating that wildlife sighting may or may not happen at this time. Frankly, it would be silly to expect animals to come visiting you when you are traveling in a noisy revved up vehicle spitting out exhaust every minute. The altitude is so steep that it is literally impossible to navigate on those muddy roads without revving up the accelerator.
Also the number of cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep grazing in these parts happily belies the presence of a wild animal that could prey on these cattle. The reality, however, is that it is a win-win situation for those who graze animals here. Either the animals have their daily grub without any cost to its owner. Should they become prey to any wild animal, it means they now have something more valuable in their hands. The rumour is that when an animal dies because of a tiger or a leopard attack, they send back their animals to the same spot for the next two to three consecutive weeks after smearing the cattle’s skin with a poison. So the next time the wild animal gets the cattle, it will die because it has consumed the poisonous skin. A dead tiger or leopard is then discovered once its body rots. The stench helps them discover the dead wild animal. Now, the animal is open for trade.
However, with the recent WWF funding, the sanctuary is now equipped with the necessary infrastructure to battle the poachers. Two barriers that open only with human intervention, guards with bikes to chase the culprit in times of crises, wireless sets for quick communication has prevented several poachers from walking away with their loot.
Up, up as you go further up from any of the roads into the sanctuary on a safari ride, you reach the watchtower. A dome that gives you a 360 degree view of the sanctuary. Most people believe watch towers are for leisure tourists to be able to spot an animal in the dense. Far from it! Watch towers are primarily to look out for forest fires. Of course, it also gives you a good view of the entire fascinating landscape of the place around.
The watchtower here, on a sleepy afternoon, is a total silence zone. Once your car comes to a grinding halt and even the flash of the camera shuts down by itself, Achankmar transforms into a silent zone. Even the crickets and cicadas are snuggling up in their nests this lazy noon. The blanket of calm in broad daylight seems a little unnerving. The bamboos are certainly taking a nap after all those laborious swings, the sal trees relaxing, in almost a kaizen stance with zero movement. The trees seem as though they have conspired to intensify the silence. By the way, silence too is measured in decibels. Anything below 20 decibels is silence and right now, the silence here appears to be 2000 decibels. Deafening is perhaps the apt objective.
Perhaps, this is the calm before the leopard storm. What if the last of the Wild Bison has decided to survey the shiny White Indica and see if the tyres really have air in it? Having got used to the constant sounds of traffic, electronic gadgets and the trrrring of the telephones, silence seems scary in this part of heaven. Psychologists call it ‘sensory deprivation’ which can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and antisocial behavior. Ah, that explains the hallucinations of a sloth bear silently meandering around the road to reach for us in the outgrowth. The same bear that is used in circus as dancing bears and despite its tag of a sloth, it is known to outrun humans in times of distress. Human distress that is!
Driver Rangaswamy’s impatient honks pierced the silence and gave us a sensory overdose. Ah, the sounds of modern day life! His single minded devotion to keeping his car squeaky clean even in these rough roads brings us to a little flowing stream. A stream that flows along merrily as though it is straight out of those ‘sceneries’ that you can hang in your bedroom! Too good to be true. But then, the icy cold water wetting the fallen branches is so very real. A small, culvert lets you soak your feet in the chilly waters.
There seems to be some romantic connection between the placid waters and the trees on the bank. Almost like young men showing off their six packs to impress the girls out there, the trees stand tall showing off their naked roots. The water has obviously washed off the mud attached to the root and what we have is raw under branches, the lifeline of the tree. The water from the stream is so clear and placid, it transforms into a mirror to double the beauty.
Somewhere a far, you hear the shuffle of feet. ‘Woh dekho chital’, we are informed. Someone hears it as cheetah and scrambles to the car. But it is chital, or the spotted dear, abundant in Achanakmar. It was a herd of six. True to the guide’s words, the deer were spotted under a canopy of trees replete with langurs.
Spotted deer are extremely nervous animals and are always on the alert for a stalking predator. They are often seen under trees housing langurs for two reasons. Langurs warn them about approaching danger because they are perched up there and secondly, the tidbits dropped by the Langurs make easy pickings for a meal.
The deers are indeed graceful animals. They walk without making noise, when they look, they mean no-nonsense. When they run away, they do so without stumbling anywhere or stepping on the wrong place.
It seemed as though the deers had kindly consented to give us a 20 minute show. It seemed to be in perfect bliss as long as it grazed in the highlands. But the moment it sounded an alarm, it took to its heels and vanished into thin air. One moment, a content animal, the other a petrified being. Surely the deer practices the ‘live this moment’ philosophy. How else can they shift so effortlessly from one state to the other?
The safari ends in late afternoon. Achanakmar does not have any eat outs where you can do a formal sit down lunch. The best it gets is fresh maida bhajia hot off the kadai with pieces of hara mirch, onion and jeera in it. For someone who has been starving for anything tasty and hot, the bhajias taste divine. By the way, the fast food here is not really for the visitors who are few and far in between in the cold months of November and December. It is for the weekly haat (bazaar) that happens here every Friday afternoon. People from villages around like Lamni, Keonchi etc display their wares to make a quick buck and proceed home before it turns dark. On offer are cane baskets, cotton garments, haldi, wooden handicrafts, ripe guavas, herbs and Ayurvedic roots, fresh gajar, mooli and lauki and the works.
A mobile open air pharmacy, however, attracts the maximum crowds. The shoppers meet the doctor-cum-salesman-announcer to discuss their health issues. ‘Daud ke jaate ho kya’, the doc asks if the patient has to ‘run’ to relive his intestine. In their parlance, running to the loo is equivalent to having loose bowel movements. The doctor also prescribes medicines for anything between laryngitis to sexual dysfunctions. With vials, bottles, syringes, dirty white polythene covered pills, all that the open air clinic needs is a sturdy charpoi that can take the weight of an occasional outpatient and a fast-talking doc. Clinic timings: 11 pm to 4 pm.There is also a pitstop for the forest labourers here. As your axe gets sharpened, you can load yourself with hot chai and pav served right there. The haat’s products are a far cry from what we see in the city. This one is more a weekly shopping update for the farmers, labourers, cowherds and animal grazers.
About the park:The Achanakmar wildlife sanctuary constituted in 1975, comprises 557.55 sq.km of lush forests. It forms part of the North west forest block of Bilaspur forest division. It is around 55 km north-west of Bilaspur. Nearest railhead is Belgahna Railway Station. Forest vegetation mainly comprises sal, saja, tinsa, bija, bamboo. Gaur (Indian wild buffalo or bison), chital (spotted deer), barking deer, wild bou, bear etc are among the animals commonly sighted even while in vehicles around the sanctuary. Leopard, Gaur, Chital, Wild Bear, Tiger, leopard, striped Hyaena, jackal, sloth bear, Indian wild dog chital, sambar, nilgai, four-horned antelope, chinkara (mountain gazelle), blackbuck, wild boar are the other common animals sighted here.
The sanctuary is about 60 km away from Amarkantak, which is the origin of River Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. The sanctuary is wrapped around by the Mekhal range of mountains known to be the rendezvous of the Vindhyas and Satpuras. The sanctuary is predominantly hilly with altitude ranging from 20-1,000 m. Best time to visit: November – June. The sanctuary is closed for public between July 1 to October 31. So when it does open in November, there are tales about the tiger, the panther, the sloth bear and whatnot. Some of them sounding so true, some so fake. Yet, what is a sanctuary if it does not have a few wild sightings to boast about?
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May 5, 2009

How Anushka got the Arundhathi look

Published in Wow! Hyderabad, May 2009
Character Stylist Deepa Chander of Arundhathi fame shares a few trade secrets with MANJU LATHA KALANIDHI on how to snag the right ethnic look. Also places to shop for best results

It’s funny how Deepa Chander, Telugu industry’s most in-demand character stylist owes her first break to designing to a lowly carrot, palm tree and a bhutta (corn). It was her first ‘hobby’ attempt at designing these costumes for an amusement park’s opening that won her accolades and her first movie assignment Rockford. More about her journey so far, in her own words.
TWIST IN THE TALE: I’ve been in Hyderabad since 2000 and I am now doing character styling for my 42nd movie. Initially, I wanted to design sets for movies, but my passion for clothes got the better of d├ęcor and I landed up styling for characters. I would like to call myself a stylist, not just a costume designer, because I also work on the hair and accessories to get the complete look.
MY WORK, MY MILESTONES: The red tie-up choli for Bhoomika in Missamma, the cropped hair for Prabhas in Chakram and the no-nonsense look of Anushka in Arundhathi are close to my heart. I’ve also styled Lakshmi Manchu for her new television series.
HOW SHE GOT THE JEJAMMA LOOK FOR ARUNDHATHI: I first charmed all the great grannies to show me the photographs of their times. I spoke to them extensively, found out what was trendy one hundred years ago, the kind of jewellery their grannies wore for weddings etc. I studied Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, went back to the history of gems and precious stones, the kind of jewellery in vogue in those days. I culled out information from old paintings, portraits, artists, photographs, sculptors, history books, spoke to the descendents of royal families and looked up their heirlooms. Finally, I used my own imagination with a little cinematic license to come up with the look. I have used natural fibres and vegetable dyes along with the warp and wefts of that era.
BOX ITEMDeepa’s suggestions for the right ‘ethnic’ look for young girls:Hair, outfit and accessories are the three elements that complete your look. Pick two out of the above three elements while playing up your look. So if it’s a lavish outfit and ornate accessories, keep your hair-do basic. If it’s a simple saree, go full steam on accessories and play up your hair. • It’s either Kancheevaram or the embroidered. Don’t go for an embroidered Kancheevaram. It is look having garlic bread with Andhra pickle. Let its original beauty stand out. Don’t mask it with silly beads and chamkis.• Back to basics is back in style. So papidi billa, jada ghantalu, vankeelu (armlets) add to a good look. • The trick is to not do what others are doing. So if every one turns up with nail polish, you should do a U-turn and show off your mehendi and vice-versa. While the rest are sporting off designer bindis with loud sheen, opt for solid monochrome traditional kumkum powder. • If everyone is turning up in heavy sarees and tight joodas, go for a plain chiffon, a sexy choli, one rose stuck behind your ear. Recreate that 60s look. It is all about doing it in style and differently.• For men, the minimalist look is back. So keep the stole, chunky finger rings and bracelets at home and turn up in classic long kurtas with just a watch on your wrist. I believe men should show off their strong arms and leave it bare without the gold accessories.• Try out short sleeves, backless cholis and slacks only if your arms, back and your thighs are toned. These cuts are meant to show off your figure and will fall flat if you don’t have a great figure.
Places to look for:• Silks: The government and co-operative handloom showrooms have the best and classiest silks. Handloom House, APCO and Co-optex near Nampally are good places to look for. Ideally, buy two or three contrast pieces and get it stitched at your local designer for a stunning effect. • Kurtas: Nothing beats the Lucknow in Chikan wear with self-embroidery. Beads, sheen and crystals can never match the eternal look of embroidered kurti. Unless you are the groom, opt for simple, timeless pieces.• Fancy accessories: Laad Bazaar. Charminar. The cluster of shops in a little nook to your left as soon as you enter Laad Bazaar has some of the best fashion jewellery.