A couple of weeks back I took a road journey with my new found freedom and the car that bears the sign ‘Hound Inside’ with a friend to Valparai. Though an avid and prolific traveler in India this part of the country was a ‘white spot’ for me. We started off over the Nilgiris via Coimbatore into the Western Ghats. Arrived in the evening, hunted the bungalow that we had booked for the 2 nights there.
It was a bungalow on a tea estate owned by Hindustan Unilever. Well to be frank it was even a FAM tour for me as I being in the travel trade am always looking for beautiful and off the beaten track destinations for my guests.
We had made up our way through the Anamalai Tiger Reserve with great views of the Aliyar Dam. The next morning my friend was up taking pictures of birds around and we decided to look for the elusive and rare Lion tailed Macaque and the Great Indian Hornbill. With some luck and direction of NCF India we did manage to see the macaques and spent a couple of hours helping the man who was on the main road asking vehicles to slow down for the sake of these beautiful creatures. We were amazed at the attitude of the people driving through as we found people feeding them and cars speeding and almost running them over. Now imagine the fact that there are only a 1000 or so of these beings in the wild.
What happened to these, the tiger, the leopard, the gaur, the sloth bear and the Great Indian Hornbill. The vistas of tea gardens greeted us all around and the sorry sight of Gaur in them. There are people around who think Gaur feed on tea bushes!
My companion who works for the WWF India enlightened me. The tea gardens were all on forest land. It was the forest that had to make way for the tea, the pepper, coffee and all the spices that the human palate fancies and tickles our taste buds. With the forest gone gone were the branches where the macaque could swing and the hornbill could perch and probably survive. And all this ‘forest land’ is managed by big corporations or handed over and leased to them and has even been leased to others. I understood that there were just 5 or 6 players there, all of them household names.
We all like our cup of tea and coffee but do we like it laced with blood? For me the tea or coffee from Valparai has that aftertaste.
These days when we have discussions about curtailing tourism and creating non violate spaces for the Tiger and Co. we should think aloud about alternate methods and means by which we can get back the forest land that has been robbed from the Big Five by the other Big Five there.
Do we need that surplus of tea. Should tea be cheap? Should we export all that first grade tea? Do we need to export? We the People of India are anyway getting the third and fourth grade as the best is exported. Should we export our natural heritage too?
The photograph of the lion tailed macaque has just that message for me. He lays his head on a branch dreaming of the forests we humans have robbed him of. If we talk of resettling villages around national parks, wont it be easy to relocate the multinational corporations. They are anyway on leased ‘Forest Land’. Cant one lease be commuted to extend the lease of life that the Western Ghats and only the Western Ghats can give us Indians?