Lists!

Made a start on the ‘list’

Mammals

Axis axis                                       Spotted deer (Chital)

Pteropus giganteus                        Indian flying fox (fruit bat)

Ratufa indica                                 Indian giant squirrel

Reptiles

Psammophilus blandfordanus       Blandford’s Rock agama

Hemidactylus frenatus                  House gecko

Birds

Actitis hypoleucos                           Sandpiper

Bubulcus sp.                                  Cattle egret                                       

Chalcophaps indica                         Emerald dove

Cinnyris asiaticus                            Purple sunbird

Corvus splendens                            House crow

Dicrurus caerulescens                     White bellied drongo

Dicrurus macrocercus                     Black drongo

Gallus gallus                                  Red junglefowl                

Halcyon smyrnensis                        White-throated Kingfisher

Milvus migrans                                Black Kite

Oriolus chinensis                             Black-naped oriole                                         

Pycnonotus cafer                             Red-vented bulbul

Spilornis cheela                             Crested serpent eagle

Terpsiphone paradisi                      Paradise fly-catcher (female)

Treron bicinctus                            Orange-breasted Green Pigeon

Turdoides striata                            Jungle babbler

Butterflies

Catopsilia Pomona                          Common emmigrant

Eurema hecabe                              Grass yellow

Leptosia nina                                  Psyche

Papilio demoleus                             Common lime

Pareronia valeria                              Common wanderer

Atrophaneura aristolochiae               Common rose

Ants

Oecophylla

Crematogaster

Hymenoptera

Apis dorsata                                       Rock bee

Apis cerana                                         Asiatic honey bee                           

Xylocopa sp.                                       Carpenter bee

 

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We are coming to the end of the visit now – I leave next Monday.  Today was a momentous day because we interveiwed and appointed our Centre for Pollination Studies staff.  So here is the Centre for Pollination Studies team – photo taken just after we had let  them know the good news.

Been a busy week James and I gave workshops and a seminar. 

Tomorrow back to Orissa – here is a few photos from the last visit.

Our field centre in Orissa

Lily pool

Orissa

We drove to Orissa which gave me a chance to watch the landscape change.  Rolling along with Tagore songs on the cd player and Arpon and Parthib singing.  The air was hot but heavy and soft, the rain always waiting in the wings.  Tagore was a Bengali polymath who lived at the turn of the century, and is so influential in Bengal, especially in poetry and song.  He won the Nobel prize for literature and is adored here.  His songs are divided into love, nature, devotion and patriotism (love of country rather than nationalism). I had snippets translated for me, which I am assured don’t  really represent the beauty of the original.  Another reason to learn the language, however, as I am pretty much limited to greetings, asking where things are and saying how hot it is I have a long way to go!
We crossed the agricultural plains and entered a landscape dotted with groves of trees, homesteads with pools and fields full of vegetables and fruits.  We met up with Mano, who has joined the project as field assistant in a place called Nilgiri, a kind of frontier town.  You turn off here and go deep into a land of small holdings and forest.  Mano is a kind of fixer, he arranged our lunch of dal and rice (I find that people offer me spoons less than they used to so I must be making less mess with my fingers!) and sorted out our entry permissions into the forest reserve.  On our way to Kuldiha we stopped and looked at some potential field sites for our project. India works in mysterious ways.  We were rolling along and passed a man carrying long bamboo poles.  Mano called out to him and he stops, nods assent and takes us across some small paddies to a vegetable plot, surrounded by a living fence and planted up with a number of gourds and a tomato crop.  No it wasn’t his plot but he thought the owner would be interested in our project.  So he talked about the crops for a bit, accompanied us out and went on with his poles. So for those who are following the program this would be an intermediate plot with forest nearby but with many neighbouring fields and possibly some modern agricultural practices such as pesticide application. We went to Kuldiha to drop Arpon at the field station.  This is the jungle proper and I would have absolutely loved to have spent a night there.  It’s remote with no electricity (which means no fans) but in the hour I was there I saw more wildlife than in all the rest of my trip put together.  Arpon has found 137 species of ant alone.  There are two PhD students out there and it is a tough environment to live in full time but so incredibly beautiful. The station is surrounded by an elephant trench which also keeps out a number of other beasts.  The forest floor is relatively open, the trees support orchids and tree ferns.  The black naped orioles flit through the branches, quite heavenly.
We pushed on to Chandipur where we stayed the night and met up with Pranab, our project partner in Orissa.  We had a meal in the Forest Department’s guesthouse.  We sat on their little jetty, over the Bay of Bengal, eating pakora and drinking a beer.  The electricity failed and all there was were stars.
In the morning we got up early to walk out on the strand. The sea retreats 4 km here, and turns on a 6 hour cycle.  The sea was out and we wandered over the wet sand, picking over shells and horseshoe crabs.  The fishermen were coming back in, with a poor catch of a handful of tiny fishes and crabs.  They were hunkered down on the sand untangling their net.  How do they survive? We spent the day visiting potential sites.  The area is largely tribal, arranged in villages of homesteads.  We sat down with several local famers, under their thatched eaves and courtyards.  Lots of curious children, chicken, goats and everywhere mahoa flowers and tamarind drying in the sun. I smiled a lot.  The language here is Oriya, so I am completely lost. However, thanks to the amazing partnerships we have, the project progressed and we identified several potential sites. After swinging by Kuldihar again we finished up in Panchalingeswar, a pretty village in the foothills.  At Kuldihar the heat had built up oppressively and while we were there it finally broke and the rain lashed down with hailstones the size of marbles. Although, in the morning we travelled back to Kolkata we made a trip to the local temple. As Mano’s family are very involved in temple life we had a great guide.  The site is up a hill, nestled in a grove.  There is no central building, just a scattered shrines and stalls selling devotional bits and pieces.  The sacred site of interest is a waterfall fed pool.  You lie across it and plunge your hand in to feel Shiva’s five – well they were described as ‘siblings’ –but I have since read they are linga.  They are rocky protuberances.  I had a go and was indulged by the others.  Then we had chai.  Yum.  As a final flourish we went to visit a possible building for our site office / accommodation.  Mano had casually said his uncle had a house he might rent to us and we mooched along to have a look.  The house was newly built.  It has three rooms plus bathroom and kitchen area with a rather fantastic hallway.  It has a walled garden that we can use as workshop space and fields close by that we have been told we can use as an experimental garden. Also a roof terrace which looks like the perfect place for a moth trap and also an evening snooze. A beautiful village.
Back in Kolkata James has arrived!  We are giving workshops and seminars while working on project design and planning another trip to Orissa.
Have acclimatised to the heat now.  Hope it’s not too cold at home. 30 feels just about right

Just come back from Orissa – it was really successful trip but am enconsed in preparing a workshop today. So just a few more pictures of Kolkata today and will up date with new news and photos tomorrow.

There are lots of grand villas scattered around Kolkata


This park is a five minute walk from the guesthouse.  It has a network of ponds and a swimming lake.

Bengalis are musicians and poets: Parthib singing

A Bangali version of Blowing in the Wind being sung!

Kids enjoy it too 🙂

 

Kolkata 2

The weather is always doing something in Kolkata.  At the moment the summer rains or “nor’westers” are with us which means that it’s humid during the day with thunderstorms in the evening.  In the morning as I leave my nice chilled room and step into the hallway my glasses steam up.  In the evening the air cools as lightning bolts dance across the sky and the rain pours down like all the gods of India have turned over their bathtubs.  Yesterday evening I went out for a walk and was caught in the deluge, I ran for cover into a tailor’s shop along with about 30 other people.  We all steamed together waiting for the rain to stop and the power went out.  Out came the candles and mobile phone torches. Immediately the traffic snarled up and I later heard it took Rahi an hour and a half to cross the flyover since a couple of trees had come down over the road. I ran back through puddles, happily with my new umbrella!

People are very sociable here.  I was invited to Parthib’s house for an evening with some of his friends.  It was lovely. They are all very musical and were singing a number of traditional Bengali songs with beautiful voices.  Also a Bengali version of Blowing in the Wind.  As always in Bengal, it was accompanied by a succession of lovely dishes.  Sitting with the windows open and a light breeze with people singing it was really quite like being in Spain with Glorita singing or Mario playing.

ParthioutsBallygunge campus

Kolkata street on a sunny day

Agatarla part 2

Next stop was an intensive plot, 50 ha of intensive vegetable production including a number of gourd species.  We wandered along a railway track and scrambled down into the fields.  Here they were growing spiny gourd which requires hand pollination due to lack of pollinators.  It is done in the morning, the male flowers open only early and each male flower can pollinate 5 -6 female flowers. They are picked and touched to the females. If we can demonstrate that beekeeping and other interventions can eliminate the need for hand pollination we will have a strong case with which to approach govt.

An intensive plot

The last place we visited on that first day was a Jhum area, which is a term for shifting cultivation practised by tribal people.  This year’s land had been very recently cleared (by burning) in preparation for planting.  The family occupying the area certainly have their work cut out, perhaps 40 ha had been burnt and this will be planted up with a mixture of crops, sown together.  Some of the slopes were very steep.  Beyond the burnt area, the forest rises up, home to a group of Hoolock Gibbon – which I didn’t see (gutted). A small extended tribal family are living in the area.  Ideally patches are cultivated on a 7 – 10 year rotation but because the area the tribal people have available is shrinking, the rotation has become shorter – about 3 – 5 years which isn’t so great for the land.  Tribal people have newly established rights to the forest and the dept. of Agriculture is doing its best to support them.  The small homestead was occupied by four huts, traditionally bamboo and thatch but a couple are corrugated steel.  The farmer showed us around and is happy to be part of the project.   Actually, I think he has been part of more than one international project!! It’s kind of a convenient place – surrounded by forest and certainly free from pesticides but it has a road going right past it so good access and less walking for the research fellows 🙂 .  The farmer and his family are well used to being photographed (see below).  The traditional greeting is to touch your hands to your chest which indicates ‘you are so dear to me’.  There are strong family ties with the idea that you might be dear to someone taken for granted – it kind of made me sad for England.

This shows the kind of clearance that is achieved

Photo opportunity!

A traditional hut

The family

The most surreal event was being taken to a house to see bees in a cupboard.  Knowing that we were keen to talk to bee keepers, our partners in the area really outdid themselves by stopping at a village we were passing to introduce us to a man who had a hive of Apis cerana in his cupboard.  Not by accident I hasten to add, the villagers had taken a swarm and put them in the cupboard, leaving the door slightly ajar to allow them access and had recently harvested a jar of raw honey.  Perhaps the most surreal part for me was that, the things originally in the cupboard had not been taken out.  Bees and books sharing space.

Cupboard bees!

Next day we were up bright and early to drive 3 hours up into the tribal lands.  It feels as remote as it is, now relatively peaceful but being up by the border and historically quite volatile it was an area that visitors might think twice about driving through at night (especially visitors who stick out like a sore thumb (me!).  As we drove we caught the tail end of a cyclone and hurtling along winding roads, overtaking the lorries creeping painfully up steep hills, we ploughed through the rain, with the thud of large hailstones glancing off our roof.  By the time we reached the research station we were visiting, the rain had begun to subside.  And the place we ended up was like a small piece of heaven.  A hill research station, newly invigorated by a scientific team of 5 young scientists and their experienced director.  Met by smiling faces and umbrellas we were hurried into the office and sat behind a desk to meet the team, who arranged themselves in front of us and introduced themselves.  We were treated to tea and traditional sweets and unable to wait for the rain to stop we went out to look at the experimental areas.  15 ha of land, some already down to experiments and managed by this amazingly enthusiastic team of scientists. Almost any experimental set-up can be managed here and the team are very keen to collaborate on the project.  What a fantastic resource.  After we had looked around we went to a small guest house across the road and here we were served a meal made by the team. A Bengali feast which was constructed completely from the produce from their gardens: pointed gourd, dal, fresh tomato chutney, even their own rice.  And fruit: water melon, pomegranate, apple, grapes and banana all cut and arranged so beautifully.  It must have taken an age – they are very isolated there and they have used their spare time to practice their culinary skills.  Through the window was a view of a  cultivated plain, dotted with huts and beyond, the forest and hills, their summits wreathed in mist.

As my camera battery ran out, I am waiting for others to send me their snaps.

Agatarla part 1

We arrived in Agatarla with the first shower of rain since October, the temperature plummeted to 31 and it felt almost cool as we crossed the tarmac.  In Bengal they say that when visitors arrive with rains then the rain is from the Gods. It’s a good omen. Agatarla is the capital of Tripura, a northern state, bordering Bangladesh and is itself only 5 km from the border. It is carved into the jungle, the roads in a grid pattern lined by lock-ups selling, making and fixing anything you might need.  The main street, a kind of Oxford Street, is a bustling mix of modern shops and traditional market. There are a profusion of tuk tuks as well as bicycle rickshaws which ride perilously close to the huge painted lorries with ‘Blow Horn’ on the back.  And everyone does.   The area is a great producer of fruit and vegetables and the market is currently a cornucopia of melons, which make everything we have in England look hilariously puny.  The houses tend to be bungalows, many with woven flattened bamboo walls but there is a general trend in the direction of concrete – which is more secure and lasts longer –although I expect insufferably hot.  The latter can be grand, painted in bright colours, each with a small plot of tropical flowers and fruits.  Grand is a theme.  The railway station looks like a palace. Along the lanes, the forest scrambles to come back in.

We are staying at the state guest house, I do not have my own room, I have my own suite complete with conference area !  I don’t think I will even sit in all the chairs available. It is positively palatial, faced in pink marble, with a grand entrance and cool white marble floors throughout.  We have two staff a piece looking after us and the kitchen is wonderful.  I am battling my English need to tell everyone not to bother and am being appreciative of the honour that I am being given. Not that anyone can understand me and I am seriously starting Bengali lessons when I get home, I will not survive without it.

Tripura state guest house bedroom

and the lounge / conference area

Our visit has been architected by Baharul Islam and as the days go by I can see the skill he has.  We are appearing to just come across just the right sites in just the right places, all of which is, I am sure, the result of very detailed planning.

The first afternoon we visited an organic small holding of about 1 ha.  The arrangement is what is called a ‘composite’ farm here and what we would probably think of as a permaculture plot.  Behind the homestead is a pond for fish and irrigation (and ducks).  Around and beyond are plots of various fruits and vegetables in particular a number of gourds, including our favourite ‘pointed gourd’, and brinjals (aubergine) of several types (there are a great diversity of brinjals in India), cucumber and tomatoes and others.  There were also some lime trees.  The farm is run by an early adopter who took up this kind of farming in the face of local opposition.  But by making it work he has won over the local community and now trains other farmers and made an amazing success of his enterprise.  One of the most exciting things for us is that he keeps bees.  He has four hives of Apis cerana, a small honey bee indigenous to the area.  His son opened the hive and showed us the queen, I have never seen anyone open a hive with so much skill and so gently, it was beautiful to watch. The hives produce about 6 litres of honey a year.  The truly exciting part is still to come.  When Sri Nitai Saskar started he had to hand pollinate his pointed gourd but with 4 Apis cerana hives per hectare he doesn’t need to do it all. He also felt that overall production of pollinated crops had increased by around 30%. This gives us incredible hope for our project.  We were beside ourselves.  But the good doesn’t end there as Nitai Saskar Is keen to be involved and has agreed to act as a training centre.  He can feed up to 100 at a time.

  Talking to Nitai Saskar at the Krishnadhan Memorial composit farm

Apis cerana and the gentle beekeeper

Apis cerana

The next day we went up to Teliamura which we had identified as a possible project area using google earth (!).  We were lucky with the weather, it didn’t top 33 today and was around 29 for much of the time (I am acclimatising, put the heating on for me when I get home!). The first stop was at a site that has a certain amount of pesticide use in the rice but is also close to the forest – what we would consider within our project framework to be intermediate (not an intensive area but not in the forest and not completely pesticide free).   The site grows a lot of limes, which are pollinated by the common lime butterfly (those Victorians knew what they were up to eh? ;)).  I wish I could post the smell of a sweet lime, freshly picked under the tropical sun.  It is a soft smell, the sharpness is almost a whisper.  It’s no good – I can’t describe it, you will have to come and smell for yourself.   Among the vegetation we saw a couple of dragonfly  which were beautiful, one incredibly fancy (common picture wing – no photo)  that it could have been a butterfly from a distance if it’s flight pattern hadn’t been so distinctively dragonfly like.

Fish pond

Gourds are encouraged to climb over trellis

Think it’s a ‘pied paddy skimmer’

Ant nest in a lime tree – Crematogaster species

We then went to a homestead (close by) where they were growing pointed gourds and where the lady who owns the homestead has agreed to have an experimental plot for us. Basically she will look after the crop and record yield, our field assistants will record pollinators.  Pointed gourds are going to be a recurring theme of my life for the next three years, they are a key crop and very dependent on pollination services. I can’t imagine what the girls giggling in the shade made of me, Indian women are so incredibly groomed, even when they are going into the field.  I was in clothes I consider suitable for the field, cool and practical but ultimately pretty charmless with my big funny hat.  I must look a scream to them.  Although it looks productive the land stills offers a fairly meagre income and any improvement in production will improve livelihoods.

Lady at far left is gooing to grow a plot of gourd for monitoring yeild change after intervention.

Anyway -enough for today! to be continued …..