I spent the last days of 2009 and the first days of 2010 in Kabini, Nagarhole. For over three decades now the cusp between the year gone by and the one just born has been spent by our family in one wild place or other. Its our way of reminding ourselves of what has real worth -- where our time, energy and life should be spent.
This time we had our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Siddharth with us and what a blessing that was. Seeing the forest through his eyes unleashed pleasures I had forgotten. A termite colony with larvae that he said looked like badams. Spiders that had him break into "incy wincy", a large bonnet macaque he decided was a "Fath Matath". An elephant tearing up bamboo from his forest, an experience he found both fascinating and scary. Anish holding up a checkered keelback snake that wriggled, which turned Siddharth's eyes into saucers.
It was wonderful to sit each evening with 'Papa' Wakefield and listen to him tell tales of days gone by, most of which had something or other to do with Billy Arjan Singh. We also spoke of Calcutta, where I grew up and where Papa spent ten working years between 1955 and 1964. Many single malts were consumed in his balcony.
We even managed to spend 30 minutes with a leopard perched up on a horizontal tree branch. When virtually every vehicle in Kabini turned up at the location, we beat a hasty retreat, happy to watch giant squirrels in a more quiet part of the forest.
And yes, we also got chased, pretty seriously (for over 100 metres!) by an unprovoked female elephant whose presence we only discovered behind us when she left her bamboo cover to come an "see us off" in the most dramatic way imaginable.
It was sad to see JCB machines digging trenches along the entire road network at Nagarhole. On top of the destructive "view lines" created so that tourists could "see" wildlife and the massive transmission lines and the highway that cuts through the park, these drainage trenches, created to protect the roads at the cost of the forest itself, are likely to unravel a fragile ecosystem, which is already riddled with an invasion of unwanted weeds.
I worry that Kailash Sankhala's prediction might come true. He told me that:"The more money you give the Forest Department, the more havoc they will create in the forest. What they need is respect, support, protection and communications equipment to do their job properly, enough money to ensure a decent standard of living for their families. The rest is Nature's job."
This said, Nagarhole is still one of the finest wildernesses in India, where tigers are still secure. In the days ahead, hopefully, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers will realise that these forests are going to be key to India's survival when climate change moves into high gear.