Friday, January 21, 2011

Now that's what they call a break!

 Weekends were suddenly boring. I am the sort of person who simply HAS to DO something when she has nothing to do. When I have nothing to do, I sleep. But how long can one sleep? Especially during an extended weekend. I was missing my cubicle (gasp). And my sanity.

That was when my equally crazy friend Abhishek texted me, asking if we could go check out the (feathered) birdies at Vedanthangal. Yes, yes, please- Lets go!! I was going crazy at home after a flopped vacation plan, might as well do something fun. So our itinerary included the Vandalur zoo (of which I cherish special memories- it was a favourite haunt of ours- dad and mine) and the bird sanctuary, all in twelve hours of a Sunday.

So I’m giving the tour plan here, the big hearted girl that I am. It is a fun thing for like minded people to do on any given day.

We started the tour from Nungambakkam railway station. It is advisable to get tickets from the starting point to Chengalpet and return. I would also advise you to re check the ticket for the right number of persons/ destination, as the people at the ticket counter are prone suffer from loss of hearing due to the stressful job they undertake- dishing out tickets. We noticed only at the final leg of our journey that we were travelling with a ticket that authorized transport for only one person.

We got off at Tambaram. It takes about 40 minutes to reach this suburb. The bus stop is adjacent to the railway station and almost every bus stops at the Zoo. It takes about 15 minutes by bus. Tickets are economical- 20 bucks per head plus 25 for camera. I was wondering why they never considered cameras that came with mobile phones- until I entered the exhibit-area. It is impossible to capture any worthwhile picture without a camera that has a decent zoom capacity. I would also recommend the BSA cycles kiosk where cycles are available for hire (Rs 30 an hour, Rs 200 caution deposit). Inspite of what people may say about the zoo being small and incomparable to other bigger-better zoos, it IS huge and walking is tedious. More tedious than cycling uphill, I should add.

The enclosures seemed well maintained; kids would love a visit to see the animals in a wild setting. A lonely giraffe, a zebra couple that would show us only their rear end, elephants- quite a number of them, crocodiles and alligators that were basking in the strips of sunlight that managed to penetrate their enclosure…Everybody says hello to you guys. But the best of the lot was the white tiger enclosure. With their cubs. Sunning themselves and looking at the camera flashes with undisguised pride. For a visitor, they were quite a sight. But for someone who knows how many hectares of land a single tiger would claim as his territory, and see close to six tigers stuffed in a quarter of the same region- it pained me. But atleast they were alive and breathing here. They cannot run and prey, they cannot piss and roar and exhibit territorial ownership, but nobody would shoot them here. Good or bad?

Another should-not-be-missed enclosure is the aviary. It is a netted enclosure that houses around 15 different species of birds. They seemed to be having a ball- flying hither-thither and making a racket. Food – nuts and the like- was served, we noticed, in some sort of bird tray. We noticed a lot of multi-coloured flowering plants, but I think a few fruit bearing trees would do a whale of change for the birdies. So would some animal interaction (A’s idea).

Once we were done meeting most of the animal junta, we headed out, paid for the cycles and into the zoo canteen. It seemed super crowded, so we left it to look out for better eating spots. Back to Tambaram, and Ratna Café opposite the railway station. Decent place, good food, bad loos.

Shouldn’t have typed all of that in the same line.

Train to Chengalpet- another 40 minutes. The bus stop is close to the station in this suburb too. Sadly, government owned buses to Vedanthangal are not very frequent. But private buses ply at irregular intervals between the sanctuary and Chengalpet. We were lucky enough to seat ourselves an empty bus, but had to wait till the bus filled itself enough to barely stand on its wheels and not crash to the ground. The drive was another hour and a few minutes. It is recommended that you travel with friends with whom you can talk the time away or carry recreation; else it might bore you enough to make you want to hunt me down.

Entry is very economical here, again. Ten bucks per adult and twenty five bucks for the camera. When you walk by, white flecks on green is all that you can see. Slowly, you come to a halt. Then you marvel. Hundreds of thousands of birds nesting on every available patch of vegetation in the marsh. The dominant species was the painted stork, with their massive wing span and majestic gliding skills. They also knew what a sight they were, and were repeating the acts for an insatiable audience; the show offs.

If you looked closer, you would find pond herons and night herons close to the soil, a lone spoonbill..and a crowd of crackling cormorants. As the clock inched toward 6 pm, shift focus to the skies. Flock after flock of birds come back to roost after a day’s hunt, in perfect formation. To those who would appreciate it, it is a visual treat. What would you get from an over dose of birds? Nothing but pure, unadulterated bliss.

Boarding a bus back to Chengalpet seemed quite a feat, considering the crowd and the frequency of buses. It is advisable to learn the art of elbowing people out, trodding on the feet of people who act smart with you AND at the same time guarding your camera and possessions before you set out on this trip. I don’t quite remember the bus journey back- I was tired, smelly and sweaty. (p.s- carrying a deo is a good idea) The train journey was as uneventful, until we realized one of us had no ticket. Thankfully, the trip ended just as perfectly as planned, with no surprise ticket checks.

I think something like this is mandatory to all those who think their lives are going on a super fast highway- Stop, take some time to smell the flowers, ride a bicycle, click some pictures, laugh with a friend, look at the blue of the water and appreciate it..I don’t remember what I did at work today, but I sure remember the bluebottle butterfly that happened to flutter by my window for five whole minutes. It made my day.

**All pictures by Abhishek Jawahar.