Monday, August 25, 2008

Edge of the forest

One can drive up and down the Velachery-Tambaram Main Road for years without suspecting the presence of some wonderful natural riches by the side of that road. As you head to Tambaram, leaving Medavakkam behind, you will notice a grove of eucalyptus trees bordering the road. If you should look up slightly, just over the top of the trees, you will spot a small hillock in the distance. What we usually do not realize is that we are crossing the southern edge of the Nanmangalam Reserve Forest, a 320 hectare area of scrub jungle, surrounded on all sides by the newer real estate developments of Greater Chennai.

On Sunday, we knew where to stop, because we were going for a short hike into the forest, a walk put together by the Madras Naturalists Society for the Madras Day celebrations. Though termed a 'forest', the area has very few trees; even the eucalyptus is an import from Australia. The vegetation here is scrub jungle, which once upon a time covered most of this part of the world. Bushes grow up to be about 6 feet tall and that's good enough to get lost in! The land rises slowly and then, all on a sudden, you get to a clearing and peer down into a granite quarry - one of three or four which were worked out and abandoned about a century ago. These days, rain water flowing down to collect in these quarries creates artificial lakes that shelter a variety of bird species, some lizards, small animals and a scores of insect species. The poster boy of the forest though is the Great Indian Horned Owl, which nests along the crags of the quarries and pretends to be supremely unconcerned with all the humans gushing at it. We did not get to see even one of those birds, but there was so much to see that we didn't mind tramping around through the scrub for a couple of hours.

Scrub it may be, but it is still largely unspoilt wild land, coveted by quite a few. This guard shed with its complement of 2 guards is the bulwark against the forest being completely run over by poachers, petty criminals and land grabbers who are waiting for the slightest chance to get a toehold in!


Kris McCracken said...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m really enjoying your stories and pictures. You really bring out the uniqueness of Chennai to this bloke in Tasmania. Thanks very much for the effort!

Shantaram said...

>> Kris>> Thanks again! I've been finding out so much about the city myself that it doesn't seem to be too much effort!