Environmental Studies in India

June 29, 2013

Farewell dinner.

June 28, 2013

Mangos on the road to Bangalore


June 27, 2013
Agasthyamalai Community Conservation Center (ACCC), Tamil Nadu

Today was our last full day in the field. Crazy that our journey is almost complete! In the morning, we headed to the Thirududai Maruthur temple, a 500 year old temple dedicated to Shiva. Support for restoration of the temple and establishment of a Bird Conservation Reserve next to it came from a Justice of the High Court in Chennai who grew up in the town. We ventured over to his home to meet his executive assistant, Sri Narambu, the man most responsible for managing the work they have done to conserve nesting and roosting trees for birds and bats. Every year from January to May thousands of Painted Storks return to the village to nest. This effort to renovate the temple to maintain the heritage of his village and Sri Narambu’s efforts to stop people from stealing birds’ eggs and poaching bats were truly inspiring.  The best part though, was the framed picture on the wall of Bill Clinton with the Justice’s son, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.


A few of us enjoying our last chance to bird watch.

Lunch was at Mathivanan’s (the ACCC director) father-in-law’s house. There, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal on banana leaves. After lunch, we had some down time! Yay! Just enough time to work on our assigned articles and sip on some chai while in the midst of the mountains.

Our favorite part of the day was the free t-shirts we received from ATREE! It’s exciting enough to receive a free t-shirt, but add in the fact that this was the cleanest article of clothing we now owned and we were ECSTATIC! Clean clothes! We happily wore our respective nature shirts (some had frogs, some had owls, and others had moths) to a street performance that ATREE helped develop and sponsor. The performance was held in a village on the edge of the tiger reserve. With front row seats, we watched  professional musicians, artists, members of the ATREE staff, youth performers from the area, and children from the community dance and sing about why conservation should be a priority.  It was great seeing how the community reacted to the play and to see ATREE’s conservation efforts put in action.

Our group and the ATREE staff with our new t-shirts!

Tomorrow morning, we leave bright and early for Bangalore. Can’t believe we’ve come full circle! It’s been an amazing and quick six weeks, and we have experienced so many different things: learning to eat rice and soupy vegetable mixes without silverware, speaking with Soliga community elders about efforts to take care of the forest, crossing rushing streams within a Tiger Reserve. I hope I speak for the group when I say this study abroad has been an invaluable asset to our education and to our understanding of how other countries look at environmental issues.

Our group casually lined up according to height in front of our ATREE field station.

Correspondent: Katelyn Whitt; Photo editor: Katie StitesE>

June 26, 2013 
KMTR, Tamil Nadu


This morning we woke up at our usual 6:00 AM and drove up into a wet evergreen forest located next to a tea estate within the tiger reserve. The hour and a half drive was beautiful and gave us another look at the intricate and unique designs of tea plantations. Once we arrived at the forest we separated into two groups. The first group led by our ATREE resource expert Soubadra, learned how to study the canopy by using the single-rope method to climb a tree. In the second group, each student briefly observed the forest vegetation and then came up with their own research question that they wanted to study. Examples of question topics we chose included leaf size, location of moss, and quantity and type of mushrooms. After a lunch break at the tea estate the two groups switched and completed the other task.

The Seuss-like views scenery of an active tea plantation. 

We all really enjoyed the canopy study. It took a long time for each of us to pass our safety check where we were required to demonstrate that we knew how to attach our waist harness and gear to ascend and most important how to switch the gear to attach the figure-8 piece and manage our descent. Once we passed we were free to climb up the tree and observe the canopy. Many great poses and pictures ensued.

Katelyn poses, suspended by the single rope system used to study canopies.

Perhaps the most memorable experience of the day was the constant attack of leeches. This was our first encounter with leeches in India and we were all a little apprehensive, but we made it through the day without any extreme panic or discomfort. However, we did all learn to habitually look at our feet every 30 seconds.  Also, it’s important to note that the leeches infiltrated our bus and now live there permanently.


These battered feet (and a hand) wished to remain anonymous.

Correspondent, Katie Stites; photo editor, Chris Rice

[Editor’s note: In fact, any leeches in the bus quickly perished as soon as we returned to the drier world below 900 meters. They can only survive in conditions of the wet evergreen forest, high in the mountains.]

June 25, 2013
KMTR, Tamil Nadu


With a chill in the air, this morning began with chai and spectacular views. We sat out on the porch of our mountaintop bungalow (“Jewel House”) sipping chai with blankets draped around our shoulders to fight off the early crisp morning breezes. This was perhaps the most beautiful morning of the trip, which allowed us to forgive the 6am wake up. After a quick breakfast of lemon rice and black gram, we set off for another, shorter hike. Our guides were Ezekiel, a former resident and current caretaker of the Fellowship property, and his assistant George. Some of us were hesitant to hike again after the previous day’s 6 mile adventure, but we made the ascent to Tharisana Parai (Vision Rock) none the less.

Katelyn and Hannah sit on the porch of the Fellowship, enjoying the view

                The trek was mostly vertical and we struggled to keep our footing along the wet path. The winding path under fallen limbs and up muddy, vertical stretches took 45 minutes. The views from Vision Rock made the slips and trips of the journey completely worth it. Nearly a dozen waterfalls, endemic palm trees, billowing clouds obscuring mountaintops, and our bungalow could all be seen from this vantage point. We took turns taking pictures with the beautiful including several, obligatory group shots shared between multiple cameras, shot at different angles with varying degrees of group attentiveness. There is one higher look out called David’s Rock on the same mountain, but we decided not to push our luck by traveling further up the challenging path.

                We slid our way back down from Vision Rock to the bungalow only to be greeted with another amazing sight—an endangered Lion-Tailed Macaque. This rare monkey species is found only in the Western Ghats and its numbers are dwindling. The LTM is a relative of the more common Bonnet Macaque, seen frequently along roadsides and known to steal our fruit, but slightly larger with more stunning features. It is nearly all black except for its signature a fringe of white surrounding its face. After learning about this amazing species, were extremely excited to see a specimen in the wild—especially when that sighting only requires looking off our porch.

Students cross the river on the way back to ATREE

                On wobbly legs we made our way down from the mountain. We all enjoyed the stay, but looked forward to the comforts of our ATREE Field Station. We cut our hike-time down by 2 hours on the way down and were much better at fording the small river along the way.  Midway through the hike we stopped for a cookie break that rejuvenated our tired bodies. It is absolutely amazing what a Vanilla Wafer lookalike can do for trip morale. We quickly made it back to the bus where we dug up several more snack varieties. All was right with the world.

                The bus seats never felt so good as they did on that trip back to the field station. Along the way, we made a quick pit stop along at Dohnavur Fellowship, the organization responsible for carrying on Amy Carmichael’s legacy and maintaining the buildings at the top of the mountain we visited. We were given several copies of Amy’s classic nature hits including the spellbinding “Shadow and Coolness” and the party fave “March on in Strength, My Soul” We’re all pretty excited to bump them on the ride back to Bangalore in the coming days.

See you all soon!

Correspondent, Chris Rice; photo editor, Gabby Murnan

June 24, 2013  
KMTR, Tamil Nadu

Today was a momentous occasion, a grand event!  Dr. Bob turned 60 and we all got cake!  Not just any cake, but spice cake with expanding birthday candles that hummed the tune of happy birthday as it bloomed.  Yes, it was glorious.  After we gorged ourselves with singing birthday cake, we headed to the start of an 8 km hike.  Destination: semi-unknown.  We knew we were hiking to a kind of lodge on top of a mountain to spend the night, but details we’re sparse, leaving us with more desire to hike quickly to the top.  Well, “quick” isn’t a word anyone would use to describe our trek, but it was enjoyable none the less.  We spent hours sliding on slippery rocks, fumbling over unidentified plants, crossing raging rivers, and chasing after our Forest Officer Guide, more akin to a mountain goat than a man, clad in a neon pink shirt.  6.5 hours later, we arrived at the Naraikkadu Fellowship lodge.

            Bridge along our hike(Photo by Ida Greenwell) 

            Crossing the river..don’t worry we all made it (Photo by Ida Greenwell)


The view from the lodge’s porch was both astounding and humbling.  Spread before us were mountains and valleys speckled with lakes and waterfalls, an entire landscape reduced to a paint-by-numbers view of India.  We learned from Ezekiel and George, the caretakers of the lodge, that the land was purchased in 1917 by the Irish-born Amy Carmichael as a refuge for orphaned children to spend their vacations.  She prayed to God for a place where she could bring the children to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Soon her prayers were answered.  The piece of land in what is now KMTR came up for sale and soon after a kind soul donated enough money for Amy to purchase it.  Ever since, children and Fellowship faculty have been trekking up the mountain to spend a month in the forest.

Even though the view was breathtaking, we couldn’t ignore the grotesque sounds of our stomachs as they reminded us that breakfast had occurred about 8 km ago.  So we all sat down on the porch and, for the second time that day, gorged ourselves.  This time we ate mountains of rice with sambar, the go-to meal of India.  With stuffed bellies and splendid sights all around us, we sat outside and enjoyed each other’s company as another adventurous day in India came to a close. 

Correspondent, Gabby Murnan; photo editor, Ida Kitche


June 23 2012
from Kerala to Tamil Nadu

                This morning we woke up bright and early and piled on the bus for the trip to the ATREE center near Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in Tamil Nadu. After a bit of a drive we stopped for a cup of chai served from one of the thousands of street-side chai venders. Back on the bus for another hour or so and then another pit stop for breakfast.  After breakfast it was another  few hours on the bus until another pit stop for lunch. When we arrived at the KMTR field station we were all struck with the ominous magnificence of the mountains that surround the field station.  After a short walk along side hill where horned owls are spotted we returned to the field station and were introduced to the Forest department officials and thanked them for letting us visit in this tiger reserve. We were briefed by the ATREE staff on the work done at the KMTR field station which included a nature education program for children and community conservation awareness efforts.  After the lecture the forest department officials surprised us with an injured horned owl they had found along the road and nursed back to health. We then all shared a delicious dinner prepared by the staff. After dinner we viewed a video made by the ATREE scientists discussing a temple festival that takes place each year in KMTR that has proven to be extremely disruptive to the flora and fauna. The scientists here at the KMTR field station have gone to great lengths to find ways to mitigate the negative effects of this festival that brings in hundreds of thousands of worshippers and tourists eager to enter and camp inside this highly coveted tiger reserve.  After the movie and a brief discussion we were given instructions to pack our bags with everything we will need for the next two days and to be ready by 6am the next day for the overnight trek we will be taking. Filled with excited anticipation we go to bed.


Our living arrangements at KMTR ATREE field station

Bird watching for owls at KMTR, a few minutes from our field station

On the road headed to KMTR

Correspondent, Ida Kitchen-Greenwell, photo editor, Becca Jacobs

June 22, 2013
Alappuzha, Kerala


We awoke early this morning to go to a restaurant for breakfast. We had dosa with potato masala, amda and black gram, puttu with chutney, and fried eggs. It was extremely tasty. We sipped our coffee and chai after the meal and then drove to a village where people’s livelihoods depend on clam collection. The night before, we chose a topic such as changes in clamming practices throughout time or governmental policy and water quality, and then we developed 2-3 questions to ask the people of Aleppey who collected clams. When we arrived we split into two groups of six, each with a translator, and walked to six different people’s homes where we asked the villagers our questions. This was a really valuable experience for us because we were able to gain experience doing field work and gained a greater knowledge about the way that these people live.


Gabby interviewing clam fishermen with ATREE staff member Murukan serving as translator

Becky entering lake water quality measurements onto community record board

We ate lunch at a fancy restaurant and had a set meal after we interviewed the local clam men. We then went to another CGH Earth Experience resort where we walked around the resort, checked out the butterfly garden, and organic garden. We ended up at the restaurant where we were blessed with large (American sized) cups of black coffee, biscuits, and fried vegetables that we dipped in some sort of sauce which tasted familiarly like ketchup or barbeque. There we all sat, pleasant and content with our current surroundings. The resort was beautiful and located next to the Arabian Sea. It was so near that we could hear the waves crashing against the shores. After drinking three cups of coffee, we decided to spend the rest of our two hours there on the beach.


Sand art featuring Hillary near the Marari Beach resort

The day ended with a special farewell dinner at the home of Shibu, resident naturalist for the ATREE center in Vembenad.

Shibu with his wife and son surrounded by happy purchasers of his paintings

Correspondent, Becca Jacobs; substitute photo editor, Bob Hagen


June 21, 2013 
Alappuzha, Kerala (The Back Waters)

Hanna, Kaitlin, and Kumar were up bright and early, enjoying a game of Frisbee on the beach, as the rest of the group trickled down to breakfast. For the last few days we have experienced Alappey’s fishing, clamming, farming, and tourism cultures. Today, we were knee-deep in the heart of it all, literally. After breakfast, the group set out on one of Vembanad Lake’s major tourist attractions, a house boat. The goal for this this ride was not to sightsee, though. We traveled across the lake to interview nine  households which reside in the back-waters of this aquatic ecosystem. From house to house we trekked, sometimes knee-deep, through water-logged backyards and berms which separate the lake from the paddy fields, 2 meters below sea level. The purpose of our questionnaire was to survey the source, quality, and overall perception of the water used by these households. For example, we asked “Do you think the quality of lake water has changed over the last ten years?” The responses from households varied, but overall they expressed concern for the water quality which has declined due to pesticide use in the paddy fields and pollution caused by tourism.

Preparing questions about the houseboat tourism in Vembanad to ask the staff of our houseboat.

All household had one common response: The lake is their life. Without the lake, there is no life. Our discussions were inspirational, to say the least. The people of Vembanad Lake utilize the water for every aspect of daily life. Whether a clammer, fisherman, paddy farmer, or houseboat employee, each person holds close an aspect of hope and confidence that the integrity of the lake will always remain.

Wading back out through the flooded front yard of one of our home surveys.

A late lunch on the deck of the house boat consisted of traditional Kerala bread, chicken, veggie curry, rice, and a staple food of the region, whole pan-seared Pearl Spot. Today’s questionnaire was provided by Snigtha, an ATREE intern. Our goal for tomorrow is to create our own questionnaire, focusing on the clamming industry. We are excited to see what more the back-waters of Vembanad Lake have in store.

Testing our balance on the narrow concrete paths and forging our way through the squishy mud.

Chief correspondent: Alicen Fleming; photo editor, Hannah Duff

20 June 2013,

Alappuzha, Kerala (Vembanad Lake)

The day began with a 7 am walk to the beach. Even though our pants were sopping wet before we got there, the rain soon cleared up so we could admire the sandy gray Arabian Sea. After breakfast, we boarded the bus only to find that the battery had died. We pushed and shoved with all of our manpower- well, mostly womanpower- but only managed to roll the bus down the road without starting the engine. We were forced to betray our trusty bus for a new set of wheels. We drove towards the lake, passed over the saltwater barrage that cuts through Vembanad, and then took a boat out to the fish sanctuary. The sanctuary is built out of sticks and bamboo and provides a safe refuge for the “Pearl Sport” fish to breed. This protected area for fish reproduction is necessary due to overfishing and stock depletion within the lake. Some brave souls in our group ventured to dive down and observe the fish nests built in the sandy crevices on the bottom of the sanctuary. When the water is clear, divers can observe the size of nest to indicate the size of the fish, as well as count the number of crevices near the nests to tell how many hatchlings are present. However, in the murky monsoon-flooded condition now, they could only find nests by touch.

Our visit to the fish sanctuary

Diving in Vembanad Lake water to observe fish nests!

After our lake outing, we pulled up to a beachside resort for a tour. The resort, Coconut Lagoon, was the first tourism enterprise started in Vembanad. Their 30 acres of land are split 60% for traditional paddy cultivation and 40% for rainwater harvest. We also viewed their butterfly garden, fish sanctuary, and anaerobic wastewater treatment. While the untreated wastes and effluent of other tourist resorts and industries in the area are disrupting Vembanad’s lake ecology, Coconut Lagoon is an example of well-informed, responsible ecotourism. On top of that, they fed us the best lunch of our entire lives. Let’s just say we all ate our own body-weight in delicious Indian cuisine and then graciously waddled away to pass out in food coma.

Fish sanctuary at Coconut Lagoon Resort

We spent the remainder of the afternoon split into 2 groups. One group went into the city for mangos and haircuts (only the essentials, you know) and one group went to the beach to throw the frisbee. Our small game of frisbee at the beach quickly became a crowd. We attracted more viewers than the camel rides. We shook some hands, swapped some names, and expanded our circle to encompass our 30 new friends in the game. Truly a spectacular day.

Chris and Dr. Hagen getting haircuts in town

Correspondent, Hannah Duff; photo editor, Erin Dougherty​

June 19, 2013
Alappuzha, Kerala (Vembanad Lake)

We started our morning at 8am with a walk to the beach. It started raining on the way so we stopped in for a cup of Chai as Manjunad, our bus driver, came to save us. By the time we got there, we only had ten minutes to run down and feel the water before we had to return for breakfast at nine. When we went to start our day, our bus had sunken deep into the mud and we all attempted to dig and push it out, but we had no luck. While we waited for new transportation to arrive, we were able to go back to the beach so that everyone had a chance to enjoy the exhilarating experience of the Arabian Sea.

Jojo, our ATREE coordinator in Vembanad, took us out to see the clam collectors in action. We walked through about 8 inches of water to get out to the point where the clams were brought in to be boiled. The women cook the clams in a large pot over a fire fueled by palm leaves. Then, they pour the opened clams into a swinging mesh frame where the clams are shaken apart as meat falls below. The meat is quickly cleaned in the lake water and sent off into the local market or other parts of Southeast Asia. We were all amazed by the intensive labor of the clam collection process.

 Afterwards, we visited the home of Dr. Deyal, a local conservationist, near the lake where we met with fishermen and clam experts to discuss the complex ecological issues of Lake Vembanad. This initiated a conversation about pollution in the lake and the conflict between the local farmers and fishermen.  The rice paddy farmers heavily spray pesticides on their crops which is detrimental to the ecosystem services and the abundance of fish life in the lake. Additionally, a barrage stretching a kilometer across the northern narrow part where the lake meets the sea opens and closes during certain times of the year to control the salinity level. The farmers argue for the closing of the barrage to keep the salinity low so that their crops can thrive, while the fishermen argue for the barrage to remain open during the spawning season. While there are many environmental issues involved with lakes and wetlands, Vembanad clam harvesters have shown local concern and have been able to implement decentralized sustainable regulations in an attempt to ensure the future of their harvest.

An example of a creative local rainwater harvest system (photo credit: Becky Crook)

The gang at Dr. Deyal’s house after a delicious lunch, a great conversation, and a walk around his food forest (photo credit: Becky Crook)

Correspondent, Erin Dougherty; Photo editor, Becky Crook

June 18, 2013 
Alappuzha, Kerala (Vembanad Lake)

Yesterday was a long and interesting day spent traveling across India! We began our journey saying goodbye to the beautiful and biodiverse Sigur Range of the Nilgiri Mountains, drove through the winding roads of the Western Ghats, and reached our final destination around 3:30 AM in Alappuzha, Kerala.  One of the major sites to behold along our route were the many tea estates throughout the Western Ghats, that stretched as far as the eye could see!  As we drove southwest through India, we drove straight into Monsoon weather, so pouring rain slowed us down quite a bit.

Today was very pleasant and informative, we began our day at the local ATREE office, met the researchers and staff, and got acquainted on the local conservation programs and environmental issues present here around Vembanand Lake.  We learned that the major sources of income in this area are fishing, clam collection, agriculture (rice cultivation), and tourism. Vembanand is the largest Ramsar site – a wetland recognized as having international significance – in India, where 1.6 million people depend on this site for their livelihoods. The lake has been altered for agriculture beginning in 1834, which entails construction of dikes around portions of the lake, and pumping out water, converting lake area into wetland areas suitable for rice cultivation. 

After a very interesting and interactive lecture on the area, we had a delicious lunch at ATREE, and soon headed down to the water and enjoyed a two-hour boat ride through the area.  Alappuzha has been called the “Venice of the East” because of the many canals and backwaters present throughout the area that we were able to experience!  About half way through out boat ride, we docked and were able to see one of the pump houses that pumps water out of the rice fields into the lake.  After our boat ride, we were able to do a little bit of shopping in the area, especially for fresh spices from a street cart!

Rowers on a “Snake Boat” (up to 100 of them!) practicing for competition (Photo Credit: Hillary Crabb)

Becky enjoying the boat ride on Vembanad Lake (Photo Credit: Hillary Crabb).


correspondent, Becky Crook; photo editor, Hilla

June 17,
Travel Day  .... 20 hours on the bus!

View through the front windshield of a rain-soaked Gudalur
Tamil Nadu

June 16 2013

Today we woke up a little earlier to re-visit the tiger tracks we found yesterday in the Sigur Range. We were accompanied by Dr. Johnsingh who led us in the Jeeps. Sadly, we did not find any tigers but we did get to see some of the awesome wildlife like wild chital and pea fowl. After an hour and a half of riding in the jeeps, we headed back to the house for bread, jam, and chai. Once we finished eating, we lazed around the porch enjoying the weather before heading over to our next location, the Chital Walk.

Around eleven, we got into the jeeps again and drove over to the Chital Walk, first making a pit stop at the local nursery. The Chital Walk is a compound owned by Dr. Priya Davidar and her family. Dr. Davidar is a plant ecologist and has worked at various universities including the University of Iowa. We talked for a while and she explained how the house is in the middle of a wildlife corridor meaning she gets to see all the exotic wildlife like elephants and gaur all the time which is really awesome! She even talked about the times when elephants would come up to the house to be fed.

We left the Chital Walk to go back to the house and relax until our next adventure which was to the elephant park. The elephant park is a park is owned by the Mahouts, men who take care of elephants like companions (similar to a cat or dog to us). These people really get up close and personal to the Asiatic elephants. We got to watch them feed and walk around. Dr. Johnsingh even got to go inside the pen and take pictures. We all had a chance to take some pictures and soon realized it was getting pretty late. We got home satisfied and tired, also realizing we had a long journey in the morning.

Chris, Hillary, Katie, Katelyn, and Gabby standing in front of a pair of the Mahout Elephants. (Photo credit: Gina)


With that we all say goodnight from Bandipur!!

Hillary and Gina

June 15, 2013    
Anaikatty Guest House, Tamil Nadu

This morning, we took a Jeep ride through remote Sigur range roads. Though the severe bouncing we all experienced was rough, it was a very lovely drive. The back roads were through scrubland; passing the small trees and shrubs as well as all sorts of sparse grasses as dirt was being whipped around us made it feel like a true safari. But it was the background of this small trip that was truly breathtaking. The clouds shrouded patches of the Nilgiri Mountains; in some spots the mountain ranges looked endless, surrounding us on all sides. For breakfast, we stopped at a permanent campground for men working to stop poaching. We had a bread and jam; this rare comfort food felt good going down. We also walked around a little and saw some chital bones.

Hillary, Chris, Hannah, and Katelyn enjoy the Jeep ride.

Jeeping through the Nilgiri Mountains!

After lunch, we took a walk. We saw tiger and elephant tracks along the way. We arrived at an Annaikallal Amma temple, the third of seven Bhavani sisters, which we had passed earlier on our Jeep ride. In March, about 200,000 people visit this temple over seven days. On the first day (which draws in the majority of people), a feast is prepared for thousands of people. After the first day, 200 goats are sacrificed and eaten. We also went down by the Kethrahalla River which flows past the Annaikallal Amma temple. We saw a herd of buffalo while we were wading in the river and enjoyed views of a beautiful waterfall far upstream where the river tumbles down from the mountains.

The group poses on a bluff, high above the confluence of the Sigur and Moyar Rivers.

Tiger tracks along our hike.

This evening has mostly been lazy. After the sun goes down, there is very little we are able to do. Everyone one is grateful for the break though. The sound of pens and pencils can be heard scratching along paper can be heard as some of us catch up on our journal entries while others our spending this time getting some leisurely reading done.

Correspondent: Gina Beebe, Photo editor: Katelyn Whitt

June 14, 2013  
Anaikatty Guest House, Tamil Nadu

“Leave Nothing But Footprints, Take Nothing But Field Notes”Early this morning, we departed Mysore and returned to the forest!  Our destination was the beautiful Bandipur National Park/Tiger Reserve.  Upon arrival, we met with Dr. Johnsingh, an esteemed wildlife biologist known for the first comprehensive study of a predatory mammal (the dhole) in India.

We boarded the bus after breakfast for a wildlife excursion. Along the way, we saw spotted deer, wild boar, and bonnet macaques. So awesome! Off the road, there was a trail that took us up to a lookout tower to view the Nilgiri Mountains. Before we could go in, Dr. Johnsingh had to throw a rock into the tower to make sure that there were no sloth bears hiding inside! The coast was clear, so we climbed the spiral staircase to a stunning view of these hazy blue mountains.

The gang on top of the watchtower.

On our way down the trail, Dr. Johnsingh showed us how young teak leaves can produce a red dye, so Hillary, Ida, Katie, and Erin took advantage of this opportunity for some natural war-paint!

Ida, Hillary, and Erin with paint from the crushed young leaves of the Teak tree.

Bandipur is connected to several other wildlife areas, so we ventured out of Karnataka into the state of Tamil Nadu to get to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.  We drove up a steep winding road, passing through tea and eucalyptus plantations.  Our destination was Needles Point, a little scenic trail off the side of the road.  It was SPECTACULAR. The wind was howling, the mountains were a hazy blue, and our hearts were content. We wished that we could stay up there forever, but alas, we had more to do.

The group at Needles Point.

Lunch was right on the river.  After, some of the group devoured mangos while the others went to explore the river. On our way out, we saw 3 elephants getting a bath. Such a cool sight!

A mahout giving his elephant a bath.

Later in the evening, we hopped on the bus again to look for wildlife. We stopped every few miles, hiking little trails off the side of the road under Dr. Johnsingh’s guidance. The contrast of the landscape was stunning. We were standing in this scrub forest, surrounded by red dirt and prickly pears. But behind us were these majestic blue mountains. Really an incredible view! 

Day one in Bandipur: success. So, here’s to more incredible experiences to come!

Correspondent: Katelyn Whitt, Photo Editor: Katie Stites


June 13, 2013

We began our morning with a visit to Chamundi Hill, the home of the 1,000 year old Shri Chamundeshari Temple, which is dedicated to the goddess Chamundi Devi. As we drove up, we saw a sign saying that this hill was one of the eight most sacred hills in Southern India, so we were all pretty excited. We walked through the temple, admiring the beauty and design of the statues and the intricate carvings. As we neared the end of the temple, we all waved fire onto ourselves, the ultimate act of cleansing in the Hindu faith.

The front face of the Shri Chamundeshari Temple

After the temple we headed back into Mysore to enjoy a traditional Southern Indian breakfast of dosas and butter. It was a great meal, especially considering dosas taste incredibly similar to pancakes. We then had a few cups of coffee and began our much anticipated afternoon of dance and music at the University of Performing Music and Dance. The college is one of two institutions in India that offer only music and dance classes. The university focuses on traditional Indian music and dance and offers undergraduate and master degrees. We all really enjoyed sitting in on a masters dance class, watching the incredible women perform. One dance specifically told the story of mischievous Krishna that liked to pull pranks on his mother. It was unbelievable to see how easy it was to follow the story through dance alone. We then sat in on a music class. Although we didn’t understand any of the lyrics, it was interesting to hear how different Indian music is compared to ours.

Masters students at the University of Performing Music and Dance in Mysore showcase their talents. (Photo Credit: Ida Greenwell)

We then had a few hours to either relax or grab another cup of coffee. After our break, we left for the Brindavan Gardens, which were located just outside of Mysore. Although the gardens were not very impressive, the light show at the end of the night made it all worth it. Despite swallowing mouthfuls of moths, we all enjoyed the show that was set to 90s music. When the song that played at every childhood rollerblading party came on, we knew this was a night we would never forget. As we headed back to our dormitory, we were all sad this day had to end.

The gang at Brindavan Gardens

Correspondent, Katie Stites; photo editor, Chris Rice

June 12, 2013,

Traveling in India has shown us many things: scenic mountaintop vistas, ornate palaces, breathtaking temples, and the joy of fresh fruit. This morning we polished off 20+ pounds of fresh mangoes, bananas, oranges, and pomegranates. After our fruit feast we headed onto the bus and off to Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary along the Cauvery River. The protected wetlands along the shore are home to dozens of species of birds and the Indian Crocodile. Walking along the waterfront we spotted Painted Storks, King Fishers, Pond Herons and Fruit Bats. Some of us even witnessed a King Fisher pluck a fish from the river and struggle to fit the large catch into its mouth. We even took a small boat tour of the river islands. Our group got close to several Indian Crocodiles and spotted many baby birds in their nests.

Picture 1: Katelyn, Gabby, Hannah and Becky smile cheerfully on the boat while bird watching.

Picture 2: Becky looks out over the water at the bird sanctuary while chilling in a tree.

Our tour of the Cauvery continued over lunch as we ate North Indian food at a restaurant situated next to the river. Under a grove of bamboo trees, we ate roti, potato curry, and other dishes. Next, we toured a nearby palace called Dariya Daulat Bagh. The palace was constructed as the summer home of the king of Tippu Sultan in 1784 The entire interior of the palace was lined with paintings of elephant processions, flowering plants, and battles between Tippu and invading colonizers. The palace has an open design to allow for light and cool air to penetrate throughout the structure during the hot, summer months. Currently, green awnings surround the palace protecting the paintings within and somewhat masking the beauty of the structure from the palace lawn.  

Picture 3: Katelyn and
Hillary leap with joy in front of Tippu Sultan’s palace.

After a taxing day of Mysore tourist activities, we headed back to our hostel to play cards and sip coffee. We’re all enjoying our final days of hot water and cooling fans before heading into the wilderness of Bandipur. The city and its luxuries have been good to us, but we’re excited to see what adventures the forest has in store for us (elephants, elephants, elephants, elephants).

Correspondent, Chris Rice. Photo Editor,  Gabby Murnan.


June 11, 2013

                 The crew got started at 8:00am this morning, a bit of a change from our usual 6:30am bird watches in BRT.  We began by walking through the Mysore University campus to breakfast.  The University has 240 colleges situated all throughout India with around 300,000 students total.  Mysore University in the city of Mysore is the main campus and has only Masters and Ph.D. level students.  Currently, students are on vacation so our stroll to the campus canteen was quiet and serene.  At breakfast we ate lemon rice and drank our favorites, chai and coffee. 

                  After our bellies were satisfied, the academic portion of our day began with a lecture by the lifelong distinguished professor, Dr. Singh.  We discussed the spatial, temporal, and behavioral separation among species in areas of southern India.  The convergence of the Eastern and Western Ghats Mountain ranges makes for very fascinating and unique ecosystems.  Dr. Singh and his research team discovered that species distribution in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary was naturally regulated by the animals themselves.  Large predators such as the tiger and the leopard naturally move away from each other’s habitats in order to lessen competition for food.  He also was able to show that species such as the lion-tailed macaque and bonnet macaque, which have similar diets, are able to coexist because they prefer different habitats, one in the dry-deciduous forest and the other in evergreen forests. Other primates (langurs) eat leaves while the other (macaques) eat fruit.  Additionally, we traveled to the Nature Conservation Foundation  headquarters and listened to an inspiring talk by one of its founders, Dr. Madu.  He described the foundation’s start as “an outcome of a small accident”.  The NGO turns curiosity about the natural world into research which then in turn becomes conservation practice, and finally, policy and law.  When asked by Dr. Hagen if he had any advice for us students, Dr. Madu urged us to be always ready to surprise ourselves; as conservationists, the more willingly we deal with surprise the more constructively we can engage with it and manage it.

                     For lunch we hopped in the bus and headed to Hotel Paradise for okra, eggplant, paneer, and naan.  After eating in the fancy hotel we walked out behind our bus and ate a few Indian sweets called lassi and pak.  Again, we loaded up the trusty bus and traveled to the Mysore Palace for the cultural aspect of our day.  The palace can only be described as a buttercream dream.  The light yellow and white walls of the palace built in 1912 by the 24th King of Mysore are awe-inspiring.  The home is said to be second only to Buckingham Palace in its grandeur.  We hired a kind gentleman to be our tour guide.  He told us that he had been a guide for 50 years and loved his job.  As he confidently strolled through the arches and vaulted ceilings of the colorful palace he gave us every detail about its history and the stories behind each painting and stained glass window.  Our 5 foot tall guide was also not afraid to tell people to scoot along if they attempted to get a free tour by tagging along behind our group.  At the end of the tour he declared, “India is art!”  After seeing the Mysore Palace, I firmly agree with him.

The Magnificent Mysore Palace

Our extremely helpful and informative tour guide through Mysore Palace

                  We drove back to our hotel and along the way we observed the city.  Mysore is far less crowded than Delhi and Bangalore and has a more artsy feel about it.  On almost every street corner there is a statue or a mural.  Grand architecture can be seen all throughout the city and green spaces are common.  After getting back to the hotel, the day concluded with a delicious dinner and a Bollywood movie.  The film was in Hindi with English subtitles and made Bollywood fans of us all.  As always we went to bed eager to start our next day of adventure here in India! 

People taking pictures of us because we are even more of a spectacle to them than the Palace

correspondent, Gabby Murnan; photo editor, Ida Kitchen-Greenwell

June 10, 2013,

This morning we said good-bye to the wonderful staff at BRT and started on our way to Mysore. Along the way we stopped at the Kesava temple. A friendly and informative guide took us around the temple and told us about its history. The temple was built in the 13th century and is dedicated to the god Vishnu, the operator. The temple is intricately carved with over 6000 images. 547 small elephant carvings line the entire perimeter to represent stability.  The temple was attacked by Muslims twice between the 13th and 17th century. The noses of all the gods carved on the temple walls were cut off to destroy the holiness of the temple because Indians do not worship broken statues.  The temple is no longer in use for this reason.

All of us saying good bye to our friends at the BRT Office and heading off for a new adventure in Mysore!


Very detailed carvings on the temple which took 68 years to build!

After touring the temple we continued our journey to Mysore. We arrived and had lunch and did a bit of shopping. We are staying in the guest house of an engineering school, next to the University of Mysore’s campus. We got to walk around a little and explore the campus. In the evening we met Geeta Jees cousin and he took us to a wonderful outdoor restaurant at the former Mysore queen’s house. It was an exciting day full of new adventures. We are all looking forward to our time here in Mysore.  

Correspondent, Ida Kitchen-Greenwell; photo editor, Becca Jacobs


Sunday June 9, 2013
BRT Tiger Reserve

Exotic Birds + Indian Temples + Soliga Villages + Tribal Dances = Becoming Cultured

Today we woke up around 6:00 am in order to go bird watching at 6:30. We had some chai before heading to our bird watching location. The chai here is so delightfully good. We were out bird watching from 6:30-8am and then walked to ATREE’s new field station that they are in the process of building. It was being built next to a few Soliga homes and the view from the balcony was beautiful. It was just an endless sea of trees. For breakfast, we had lemon rice, which is absolutely delicious. It has peanuts, jasmine leaves, and some other stuff I am unaware of, in it. We were also served pudi, which is a puffed up thin tortilla made of wheat, veggies for the pudi, and our favorite fruit here, jackfruit, which is hard to describe. Such a delicious breakfast!

Once we had devoured our breakfast and discarded our plates made of leaves, we headed back towards the current ATREE office. Here we were given chai and a fruit from a local tree called “jamoun”. This fruit is in the shape of a grape, only a little slimmer, and has a huge seed in the middle. Quite tasty. After our hour discussion of what we have learned here in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve Range, we were assigned to write one to two pages summarizing the conflicts of the conservation issues and also the struggles that the Soliga tribal people are facing with the forest department and the policies they have made. We were given an hour and a half to write, so while some people wrote, others took the opportunity to nap, journal, or read our reading assignment. Lunch was then served and after lunch we headed out to the temple and a Soliga village!

To get to the temple, the bus driver had to drop us at the bottom near the town center that we were staying by. We walked up the steep mountain slope and on the way, we stopped to take photos of breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys which seemed to be endless. The temple was at the top of the mountain and when we got there we took our shoes off and walked through a hallway. Inside the hallway to the left was the elephant deity statute and it had orange, yellow, and red “kunkumar” on it, which is the powder for between your eyes on your forehead. When it is put on your forehead, it is called “tilaka”. In this entryway, we encountered an aggressive cow trying to get through our group. After walking through the entryway, there was the temple in front of us. It was painted yellow and had deity figures sculpted on the top of the building on a pyramid like step design. A large courtyard surrounded the temple building. Unfortunately, the temple was closed on the day we got there so we were unable to go in. Instead, we walked to a look-out point that had an incredible view of the surrounding areas. Siddappa explained that we were standing on a 300-350 feet rock cliff with scrub forest in front of us. We were also able to see some shola forests! There was a monkey family hanging out in a tree to the right of the cliff and so we took pictures and watched them for a bit, while people took sneaky photos of us with their cell phones. The rock cliff smelled deliciously of incense. All the temples smell this way and it is such a wonderful odor! After our group photos and landscape photos were taken, we went back to the temple. Geeta and Siddappa bought us laddu, which you eat after every time you go to the temple because it is the way the gods give back to you after you have offered something to them. The best way to describe laddu is by calling it cookie dough with cashews. It is very sweet and tasty. If I knew what it was made of, I would further explain, however I do not. I do know it is wheat-free however. We then left the temple and walked back to the bus. Geeta bought us the cutest little tree of bananas. Tiniest bananas we had all ever seen. They were so cute! We then drove to the Soliga village and purchased some coffee beans and snacked on them. We then walked around the forest for a bit while waiting for the meeting to start. We held a meeting with the leader of the village, Ketegowda. The village’s name that we went to was called Mutagadagade-Podu. We discussed with the villagers how they feel about the forest conflicts and forest department trying to relocate them. What they think is the best way to conserve the forest and how the invasive species lantana is affecting them. It was a really interesting discussion.

Group picture taken outside the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple, atop a 300 ft. rock face

Our discussion with the Soliga tribal people, residents of Mutagadagade Podu

Afterwards, we headed back to the ATREE office where we had 30 minutes of free time and some chai and popped rice snacks. Then around 8pm a tribal group came to perform tribal songs and dances. They were wearing their traditional tribal gear so it was really cool to watch. A lot of people joined in and danced with the performers. After this we all ate dinner, said our good nights and fell asleep. Tomorrow we are leaving this wonderful place and while sad, are excited for our adventures in Mysore!

Having a blast, our last night at BRT, dancing with Soliga band around the fire

Until tomorrow!

correspondent, Becca Jacobs; photo editor, Alicen Fleming

Saturday June 8, 2013
BRT Tiger Reserve

We have settled in nicely at the BRT Field Station, with a special thanks to our beautiful cooks Renukamma and Veeramma. Many of us woke up early this morning to a pleasant alarm of tea and bird-watching. After breakfast we made our way down the road to Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) B.R. Hills Integrated Tribal Development Project. The project’s mission is “sustainable development of tribal people through rights-based approaches to health, education, livelihood security and biodiversity conservation”. With 540 students and 6 represented tribes, VGKK provides a holistic environment of which we thoroughly enjoyed spending our morning. One main aspect of our visit was to further explore the importance of sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). In this case, we could not leave without visiting the honey processing unit! Honey is one of the 24 NTFPs produced by the Soliga tribe. We also had the pleasure of nibbling on edible plants such as Amla and jackfruit.

Happy Kansans with BRT honey.

A honey processing plant in BRT that ensures fair wages for Soliga honey-harvesters and increases community incentive to conserve.

Around 1:00 we walked back from VGKK to have lunch at the station. Our next adventure was a trip to Kaneri Colony, a nearby Soliga village. On our way to the agricultural fields, we stopped by a temple where people were gathered for the new moon pooja. Kaneri Colony practices a multi-crop system of agroforestry, where coffee is grown in the under-story, and black pepper is grown on silver oak trees. A lecture in the crop fields was more than appropriate for a better understanding of current agricultural processes of the Soliga tribe.

Afternoon visit to the Kanari Colony, tricrop agricultural fields, and Soliga sacred sites.

After returning to the station, we gratefully attended a talk lead by Paramesh Mallegowda titled “Importance of Wildlife Corridors and Restoration in the Mysore-Nilgiri Corridor Landscape of Western Ghats, India”. A day of lessons in wildlife conservation, ecology, and agriculture was followed by a delicious supper (thanks again Renukamma and Veeramma). As we ready ourselves for bed, we look forward to another pleasant alarm of tea and bird-watching.

Alicen Fleming, correspondent; Hannah Duff, photo editor


June 7, 2013
BRT Tiger Reserve

We woke up in our BRT bungalows to a beautiful morning. We got to relax, have breakfast, and watch our 3 pet dogs from the field station chase the monkeys around the yard. Our favorite is the one-eyed dog which we have affectionately named Chai-clopse. After this productive morning dog-watching, we had the chance to sit and talk with a group of Soliga students. The Soliga are a forest-dwelling people who Siddappa works with closely here in BRT, mainly focusing on the sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products (NTFP). The Soliga community has dealt with many changes in recent years due to the harvesting restrictions that were put in place after BRT was declared a tiger reserve and the following reclamation of community rights to harvest after the Forest Rights Act passed in 2006. We got to hear Siddappa’s presentation about these recent issues and his work in Soliga communities while surrounded by Soliga students- truly exemplifying an honest, open, and integrative approach to community-based conservation.

We also had a time of discussion where many Soliga students shared about current issues their community is facing such as the loss of NTFPs (their main source of income) due to the spread of invasive species in the forest. We also shared about the environmental issues we are facing in the US due to the mistakes of past generations and an overemphasis on economic gain. The conversation was a beautiful collision of two cultures- one outspokenly “overdeveloped” and the other carelessly labeled “underdeveloped”. As we sat in a cluster on the porch, humbly presenting our problems to one another, we realized that we are both cultures full of problems. More importantly, we are all students who can learn to fix them.

Discussing environmental issues with the Soliga students

Katelyn visiting with Soliga students

Later in the afternoon we got to go on a safari where we saw sambar, gaur, wild boar, spotted deer and elephants. We also got to see the most beautiful evergreen forest full of knotted old trees and tangled roots. Perhaps the most exciting part of the day was our encounter with a mahout and his elephant in the village. We all took turns stroking the elephant’s trunk. He was a massive, gentle creature- his legs were loose and wrinkly, his toenails clumsy and clunky, and his skin speckled gray and tattooed with experience. He had the kindest hazel eyes that were marbled with the colors of the South Indian forest. He was beautiful although he was no longer wild. His captivity served as a reminder of the inevitable mingling between the natural environment and society here in India, and for that matter, between people and their environment all over the world.

Getting ready to leave on a wildlife safari

Correspondent, Hannah; Photo editor, Erin


June 6, 2013
BRT Tiger Reserve

After an exciting experience in MM Hills, we loaded up the bus this morning and made our way to Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve.  On the way, Siddappa had a surprise for us. We stopped in his hometown village to hike up a cliff at the northern-most end of the BRT Tiger Reserve. We passed caves adorned with shrines and learned about medicinal and household plants native to the area.  An old sacred temple awaited us at the top of the peak.  We slipped our shoes off and walked across the rock outcropping to enjoy the endless view of small villages and farmland below. Some of us had brought bananas and mangos in our day bags for an end-of-the-hike snack.  This idea didn’t turn out too well when the monkeys ambushed us.  One monkey ran straight up to Alicen and snatched her two bananas, while another monkey made a move for my mango.  Before he got to me, I surrendered and tossed it at him. After we ventured down the slope, we ate lunch in Kollegal. We were all excited to be in a restaurant, trying something new, but our favorite part was when Siddappa bought all of us ice cream!

This bonnet macaque stole Alicen’s bananas as we ascended the mountain; it was a hilarious moment for us all.

All of us atop a mountain bordering BRT Tiger Reserve.

We continued on our way to the BRT ATREE Field Station.  When we entered the park, we drove through scrubland and up into a dry deciduous forest that seems to be more wet than dry.  The trees reach heights greater than we have seen so far and the colors are far more vibrant. Immediately, we noticed a change in the abundance of wildlife. We already spotted a barking deer, several langur, and even a giant gaur.  When we arrived at the Field Station, we were all grateful to see comfy beds and private bathrooms.  The field station is very charming and it feels like we’re staying in a secret jungle bungalow.  Siddappa quickly introduced us to the staff and explained to us the goals of the BRT Field Station, which include the Soligas rights to harvest Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs). Our great day ended on a good note when we were served eggs, chicken, rice, and chipatis for dinner.  It seems that we all have a good feeling about BRT and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us here.

Erin Dougherty, correspondent; Becky Crook, photo editor

June 5, 2013
Goodbye to MM Hill

Today was our last day in the beautiful Malai Mahadeshwara (MM) Hills, and it was jam-packed with activities.  Our group informally referred to today as “Lantana day,” as we spent the majority of the day learning about the invasive species Lantana.  We began our day in the forest with an expert on Lantana, Dr. Kannan, who showed us where they conducted experiments on methods of Lantana harvest for management. After a delicious breakfast in the field, we trekked up to a very scenic spot, Eduruboli Peak,  where we learned a little about the history of MM Hills and some of the issues faced by the local peoples.  We hiked from the peak into a cool and shaded region of the forest (surrounded by curious and watchful bonnet macaques) where Dr. Kannan gave a very engaging talk about his research reconstructing the history of the introduction of Lantana.  The species is native to South America, but was first introduced into India by the British in 1807 as an ornamental and a hedge plant for tea gardens.  It began to spread rapidly in this tropical climate throughout the 1800s and was recognized as a problematic species in 1900 when the government passed a noxious weed act, although that act was not implemented until the 1930s because of conflict with Japan during WWII. Lantana abundance has increased dramatically in the Western Ghats region in the last 30 years (30-33%), which correlates with a severe change in forest management by the forest department.  There are significant conflicts with the forest department and local peoples, namely Soliga and the Lingayath people who rely on the forest for subsistence.

Dr. Kannan talking to members of a local Soliga village. (Photo Credit: Hillary Crabb)

After a delicious lunch, we went to the ATREE office where we were surprised with a cooking demonstration using all local ingredients by a local Soliga woman, Nagaratni! The dish was called Kodicapu and was fantastic and of consisted of moong (green lentils), a type pea (kind of like split peas), onions, garlic, and wild jasmine leaves!  We then visited a local Soliga village and interacted with the residents there. It was a unique and fantastic experience for all of us.  We are next off to Biligiri Rangaswamy  Temple (BRT) Tiger Reserve first thing in the morning!

Local Soliga women showing off the baskets they finished (Photo Credit: Hillary Crabb)

Becky Crook, correspondent; Hillary Crabb, photo editor


June 4, 2013 
MM Hills

June 4, 2013  MM Hills

We began the day a little later than usual and headed out to the MM Hills ATREE CCC (Community Conservation Centers). The group got to explore the two acres of land and learn about everything they were doing. Then we were given the task of using our new knowledge of the land and analyzing a certain aspect of the land that interested us. We took off in different directions to explore and analyze for a good couple of hours and came back with hypotheses and sunburns. Some of us were successful in our findings while others came up empty. When we were done, we headed back to the hotel for a delicious lunch.

The gang getting the tour of the CCC before our data collections.

After lunch, we spent the next couple of hours compiling our data from this morning into a paper that we would present. Siddappa and Dr. Kannan came and joined our group as well as an old friend of Geeta’s from Penn State. Dr. Kannan took us to a local craft shop that specialized in Lantana furniture. For those of you who are unaware of what Lantana is, it is an exotic species to India that has become a nuisance to many locals. This craft shop has become recognized for its help in controlling and utilizing the surrounding Lantana and making awesome furniture out of it. Not only is the material cheap but it is fairly easy to learn how to make it. Alicen even helped out some. The whole process was great and we were all really excited to come up with ideas of how we could use the same concept for our own homeland. Geeta-ji’s friend from grad school came to talk to us about some of the work she is doing with agroforestry in the southern part of India and we were very lucky that we got to listen. To say that we aren’t tired would be a lie and so with this we say goodnight!!!

The beginning and end process of lantana furniture construction

Alicen learning the trade of lantana crafting with artisans at a village workshop near  ATREE’s Community Conservation Center at MM Hill

correspondent, Hillary;  photo editor, Gina


A Spiritual Day, Indeed: A Summary of June 3, 2013 (MM Hills)

The day started off early, naturally, with a cup of chai to begin it off right. With our fill of caffeine, the gang hopped on the bus and went to a moist-deciduous (evergreen forest) patch of the MM Hills. Using a quadrant analysis, the herbs, shrubs and trees of a 100 square meter plot were counted. On the way back to the bus for breakfast in the field, we spotted giant squirrels and many Hanuman langurs, including a baby! I also managed to offend a bonnet macaque by pulling out my camera in front of him.

Hillary, Gabby, Katie, Chris, Hannah, Ida, Becca, and Erin enjoy breakfast out in the field.

After, the team went on a line transect/hike. The path we took was 500 years and is historically used by pilgrims to reach the temples of the MM Hills. During the hike, each person was assigned a plant and had to count the individuals along the trail (in many cases, the count was well over 200). The hike was breathtakingly beautiful; energy from all the bare-footed pilgrims could be felt as we walked along the path.

The group enjoys the scenic overlook during our hike.

The next activity for the day was going to the Mahedeshwara temple located close to the hotel. Again, it was extremely spiritual. At first, sensually, it was over stimulating. Bells could be heard from all directions, the smell of sweet laddus [doughy peanut balls] wafted in the air; we swam in a sea of colors from saris, the temple, and the entire surrounding infrastructure. The first thing we did at the temple was get blessed by the temple elephant. We each bowed before her and she placed her trunk upon our heads. After that, we went into the heart of the temple. Ash was placed on our 6th chakra (the third eye) as we walked in. We cleansed our mind with a candle next to a shrine of Shiva and then offered our blessings to this Hindu god. Flowers were offered to us as we exited. Next, we briefly visited other aspects of the temple. Lastly, we gave our blessings to Ganesha and left the temple.

The gang walked through the village market close by. Shortly thereafter, we came across a wedding celebration. Everyone was smiling, laughing, the women were wearing beautiful saris, and everyone was excited to see us foreigners smiling too and enjoying the celebrations as much as they were. Two men were dancing in the center of a ring of people; very rhythmically, they stepped around the ring with swords, seemingly to symbolize a battle.

Two men dancing with swords during the wedding celebration.

After all the excitement, some jewelry was bought from small vendors along the road and, like always, we bought a large bag of mangos which did not last the night; after a long day rich in ecology, spirit, and culture, almost all of us have found, there is simply nothing better than a fresh, sweet ‘n’ juicy mango.

Correspondent, Gina; photo editor, Katelyn

MM Hills

After a 6am start (and a lot of coffee!) we loaded the bus for our first full day of field work.  Hooray!  Yesterday, we had a presentation on the line transect method and the quadrat method.  We had gotten a little taste of it, but today we got to fully complete both methods.  This morning, we split up into two groups and did the line transect method along the road of a dry deciduous forest and in the actual forest itself.  We recorded the types of birds that we saw or identified based on their call.  Then, we identified how far away they were from our path line based on three categories: 0-5 meters, 6-10 meters, and 10+ meters.

Group 1 on their transect walk in MM Hills.

Lunch was served to us on banana leaves in the field and for dessert we devoured some delicious fresh mangos!  Shortly thereafter, we proceeded to the second part of our field work for the day- the quadrat method for vegetation surveys.  We squared off one 10 meter by 10 meter plot and counted the number of species of trees, shrubs, and grasses/herbs as well as the number of individuals of each one.  We found a lot of lantana as well as edible Jasmine and several others.  We then repeated the entire process in another plot!

Dr. Aravind explaining field methods to the group.

Since today was Katie’s birthday (yay!), she was surprised with a cake!  After singing Happy Birthday to her in English and Sanskrit, we all devoured at least 3 pieces of cake each.  Everyone was super excited to have some sugar!

Geetaji singing Katie a birthday song in Sanskrit (notice the giant cake in front of her).

When we got back to our hotel, we began to compile the data we had collected in the field.  We split up into small groups and graphed our quadrat method data to compare the species richness in each plot.  Our ATREE bird guide Seshadri then gave a presentation on our bird findings, indicating that we found more species near the open road walk than in the forest walk.

Our first day of field work was fun, but also exhausting! So it’s off to bed at 9:30!

Written by: Katelyn Whitt, photo editor: Katie Stites


MM Hills

Today we woke up bright and early in beautiful MM Hills. We started our day with a walk to a stunning overlook. We discovered the infamous lantana during our walk, an invasive species that is found all over MM Hills. After our walk we enjoyed Idlis and Chutney for breakfast. We then drove to the ATREE field station where we learned more about MM Hills and the Western Ghats in general, from Dr. Aravind. He explained to us that the Western Ghats are one of the four biodiversity hotspots in India. The 1,600 km2 mountain range has many endemic and endangered species. In the Western Ghats you can see such animals as the dhole, the elephant, the tiger, the leopard, and the lion-tailed macaque. Dr. Aravind also explained to us how to conduct field research. He explained that this information would be valuable for tomorrow, where we would be sampling vegetation in areas within MM Hills.

After lunch we drove down the hills into a valley to learn how to survey an ecological area. During our exploration, we encountered many different species such as Lantana, Jasmine, and Acacia. We then went on a bird watch, seeing a red whiskered bulbul, Indian robin, sunbird, and many, many babblers. We were finally learning how to spot and identify birds and we are now beginning to feel confident in our bird watching abilities.

Hilary shows off her bird watching abilities in a dry riverbed within MM Hills.

After our full day of exploration and bird watching, we were all exhausted and preceded immediately to bed. We can’t wait for another exciting day in MM Hills!

The sun sets behind a Soliga village in MM Hills.

Written by Katie Stites; photo editor, Chris Rice

Kanakpura to MM Hills

Study Abroad students, Dr. Hagen, Dr. Tiwari stand in front of the Valley School’s ampitheatre

This morning we awoke early to begin our trek to MM Hills. It was difficult to say goodbye to our new friends in Kanakapura including our ATREE hosts and village children. Last night, many of us stayed up late exchanging dance moves with kids in the village. We taught them the Macarena and they taught us “Gangnam Style” and a traditional Indian dance. Many of these children came out of their homes to wave us goodbye. It was truly a rock star exit.

Hillary reaches out of the bus to give some five to Yalachavadi village children as we leave the Kanakpura field station

Our first of two stops on our journey was to a new age school called The Village School. Here roughly 320 students ranging from 1st to 12th grade learn on an expansive multi acre campus. Surrounded by forests, students take a variety of courses all with the intention of encouraging them to “learn without fear.” Competition between students in sporting events is discouraged and tests are not administered until 9th grade. To many of us, this way of schooling sounded too good to be true. Katelyn and I discussed doing high school over again in this amazing environment. After a quick lecture, we were each paired with an 11th or 12th grade student. Our partners gave us tours of the campus and answered our questions about their school experience. The students were exceptionally bright and extremely motivated. Some students travel a total of 3 hours to get to and from school each day.

The crew stands in front of the tree that embodies the Valley School’s logo

We left The Village School, traveled for several hours, and stopped at a restaurant along the way. This was our first opportunity to eat non-vegetarian food since the trip began and Professor Hagen, Gabby, Allison, and Becca jumped at the opportunity. I am happy to report that no one suffered from Delhi Belly as a result of this chicken-fueled leap of faith. Our bellies full of delicious food, we piled into the bus and headed to Cauvery Falls. The views of the falls were absolutely beautiful, and we were happy to stretch our legs. Unlike the polluted lake from the day previous, the Cauvery Falls looked clean and refreshing. We would have jumped right in if not for the 200 ft drop and signs like: “Danger Place” and “Halt! Ignoring warning can cause much morning.”

(From right to left) Chris, Katelyn, and Hillary stand on a lookout point at the Cauvery waterfall

Our side trips exhausted, we piled in the bus for the final leg of our journey. The last 30 minutes of the drive provided spectacular views. We climbed mountain tops on switchbacks and were able to see India from a completely different vantage point. The bustling markets below seemed to slow as fog spread upon them and the surrounding hills.

We arrived at our hotel and our backs gave a collective sigh of relief when we confirmed that did, indeed, have beds. Still mostly full from lunch, we ate a light dinner and headed back to the hotel to test out our much appreciated sleeping arrangements.

Chullo (‘We Go’)

Chris, correspondent; Gabby, photo editor

Kanakapura, India

The sounds of jungle babblers and keols calling through our bedroom window early in the morning made it easy to forget the incessant honking and industrial bustle of Bangalore.  The city seemed like a distant memory compared to the natural vibrancy of Yalachavadi, population 1,000. [This is the village where ATREE’s Kanakpura field station is located.]  For some of us, the morning’s tones of nature awakened a sense of exploration, causing about half of the group to undertake a birding expedition at 6:30am.  For others, like myself, the melodic callings of birds caused a brief moment of appreciation for nature followed by a change of position and more sleep.

By 9:00am everyone was fresh and alert for breakfast and our morning session.  As usual, breakfast was a delicious home-cooked conglomeration of rice, spice, and fruit.  As the sun made its way through the eastern sky, erasing the lingering morning chill, we took our seats in the auditorium to learn about traditional agriculture techniques in Karnataka.  Due to frequent power outages we huddled around several laptops and listened to Manjunath Holahu, forester and former ATREE employee, explain the current agricultural practices of the region as well as traditional methods that have numerous economic, ecological, and social benefits.  For example, Manjunath highlighted the use of natural compost, native seeds, and living fences as means of sustainably maintaining agricultural lands.  In conclusion, our speaker listed several benefits of traditional methods such as chemical-free food, debt-free farming, and the lack of fuel energy in maintenance.

Manjunath Holalu teaching us about agricultural practices on how to capture rain and naturally irrigate farms.

By 1:00pm the sun was high and so were temperatures.  We enjoyed lunch indoors and attempted a tree identifying exercise.  All 23 specimens were native tree species found in our tree guide authored by our ATREE friends, Deepthi and Kavitha.  Having the authors of the book on hand ensured the success of our classifications.  Naming all the varieties proved to be quite a challenge.  Eventually we succeeded as pseudo-plant experts and moved on to our next session where Kavitha presented her study on tree distribution in farmland in Karnataka.  Unsurprisingly, it was found that most trees grow on the boundary lines of farms.  More surprisingly, she told us that the smaller the farmland the greater the abundance of tree species.  After Kavitha’s talk, we partook in my favorite part of the day, chai break!  There is nothing like a small cup of tea, a fifth of the size of an average American cup-o-joe, to reenergize a group of college students on a muggy afternoon in a foreign country.

When the unrelenting tropical sun finally began its decent to the west, we hopped in the bus and journeyed to the village of Byramangala, population 200.  As we drove into the village, several of us noticed the thick, navy blue streams running alongside the road.  We soon reached the water’s source: a highly contaminated reservoir from the Vrishabhavathi River.  The water stretched before us, a dark blue motionless slab of pollution; a testament to an ineffective legal system and a national push for industrialization.  Deepthi and Kavitha explained that around 25 years ago Bangalore’s waste and industrial water started being dumped into the Cauvery tributary.  For the past several decades the city’s contaminates have been moved downstream, unsafely altering 15 villages’ water sources.  Despite extreme policies combating toxic effluent, the problem remains.  Inhabitants of Byramangala suffer frequent skin rashes and there are whispers of polluted water- induced cancer (studies are to be conducted).  In addition to health effects, the contaminated water has caused a complete switch in agriculture.  Originally, the region predominantly grew rice and sugarcane, but the new water killed crops.  Now, farmers grow a hybrid breed of baby corn and fodder for cattle, the only plants that can withstand the pollutants.  The water is also used to raise milk-producing cattle, making dairy products the main source of income for villagers.  However, growing corn and producing milk does not magically erase contaminates placed there by the water used to cultivate them.  The milk and corn being outsourced are just as unsafe.  I was shocked to discover that most of the baby corn from Byramangala is exported to the United States where it is sold without any warning label.  Due to unenforced waste and industrial water policies and a growing globalized world pushing for development, the thousands of people who live in this region are forced to drink contaminated water and produce contaminated goods.

All of us at Byramangala Lake, smiling despite the smell!

View below the dam at Byramangala Lake, with huge piles of foam. The lake was a source of drinking water 50 years ago, but is now highly polluted with ammonia and nitrates and other toxic substances that endanger local villagers and poison ground water. The only fish able to survive in this lake are catfish and there is a terrible stench, which is blown round by the breeze.

As we left the village I saw a Toyota sponsored stand advertising pure and clean water.  It was deserted.  I asked Deepthi about what I had seen and she explained that the Toyota factory located in Bangalore is a major producer of hazardous effluent.  She also told me that the water was not free but 1 rupee for 5 liters, too much for a Byramangala villager to afford.  In essence, the Toyota Company, the cause of the contamination problem, is now attempting to save face by installing a drinking water station while at the same time making a buck.  When brought face to face with two-sided corporate shenanigans brought on by globalization and a lack of respect for human rights and the environment, all of us were reminded why we have chosen to dedicate our lives to protecting the fragile world we value and rely on so much.


Gabrielle Murnan, correspondent. Photo editor, Becca Jacobs


Kanakapura, India

View of the Bannerghatta National Park where elephants live.

Today was a very long, yet exciting day for us. We woke up early, went to Bannerghatta National Park, went on a safari and saw some animals, and learned about elephants! After the safari, we all went to the organization “A ROCHA” headquarters where we were served lunch and attended a lecture about elephants and elephant conservation.

We awoke around 6:30 am and were given coffee. After we finished our coffees, which may I add are not too potent and mainly milk and sugar, Kumar hurried us to the bus. Kumar is one of the employees at ATREE who is traveling with us. We then boarded the bus for a bumpy 2 hour bus ride and made our way to the Bannerghatta National Park. We arrived around 10 am and were informed things were running slowly because workers were currently on strike because they wanted higher wages.  After waiting for 30-45 minutes, we were let into the park and led to a cute outdoor cafeteria where we were served idli, which is made with rice and lentils and is like a little ball of bread. Coconut chutney and samba curry were also served on the side to dip our idlis into them. Masalavada was another side served and it is made of lentils and was a fried patty.

After we finished our breakfast, we were led over to a covered waiting area where we sat and waited to board a bus for the safari. Although we saw all the animals we expected to see in a habitat similar to what they inhabit, we were a bit disappointed with the safari because these animals were still, nonetheless, in captivity. The park is divided up within areas for each species and their natural habitats. The boundaries are marked by gates which people must open for us to enter. We first came upon some sambar and chital, which are the most common ungulates in India. We saw gaurs, which is a bull, and nilgais, which are wild boar. The next area we entered was the sloth bear area!!! They were so adorable and we saw one that kept pacing back and forth because it was protecting its territory. We then entered into the elephant section. As we pulled up, there was a herd of elephants with their owners walking next to them. The elephants had chains on their necks and front feet so that the owners can hear where they are and follow their tracks easier. Geeta explained that their owners bathe them, feed them, decorate them, and even sleep with them at night! We then entered the lion section where we saw many lion cubs playing on the road and on the other side was a tiger, which kept walking back and forth and the other lions were following it. We stopped for pictures and one lion cub began to chew on the back tire, so we had to move onwards to the tiger section. We saw a couple tigers. However, there were cages to our right that had tigers and male lions in them. This is because the tigers and lions take shifts walking around their section. This shift taking was found to be controversial. We also went to the butterfly exhibit and learned and saw butterflies flying around. So many species! Outside we saw a nilgiri macaque monkeys outside of the exhibit! So cool! Have yet to experience monkeys here, so we all look forward to seeing these mischievous creatures.

Two lions playing in the road on our safari

White tiger coming up close to the safari van to say hi

We then left the safari and met with Avinash, a wildlife biologist with the A ROCHA organization, and he told us about elephants and conservation work being done to protect elephant and human livelihoods. Everyone boarded the bus after this discussion and headed to A ROCHA headquarters where we were served lunch, which was rice with green beans, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, potatoes with curry, and yogurt. We were also given some Maaza soda to drink, which is a mango fruit juice, and is delicious. We ate outside in a semicircle and with our hands, which is the tradition here. We were surrounded by coconut and mango trees in a picturesque jungle region. We are all very excited to travel more into the jungle. Once our food was eaten, we went inside and watched a 55 minute video on elephants and conservation and then listened as Dr. Gopal Krishna at A ROCHA told us about his elephant conservation work. We learned that the three main threats to elephants are human and elephant conflicts, which end in electrocution of elephants, poaching for ivory from their tusks, and human land use, which interferes with elephants land use. We were also told that elephants and humans are similar to each other because we both enjoy the same food and like food that is not as nutritious for us, yet we desire it because it tastes good.

Mahout (elephant owner) riding his elephant down to a lake for a bath

When the lecture was over we headed back home to ATREE headquarters which was a very long and bumpy bus ride, especially since everyone was so exhausted. We stopped on the way back for coconut water which you drink with a straw straight from the coconut. It is very high in electrolytes and is a sort of superfood, so some people drank from them. We finally made it back to ATREE headquarters around 8:30pm and were served dinner. After this, we all went to bed because the day was so long and hot and we were exhausted.

Until tomorrow,

Becca Jacobs, correspondent. Ida Kitchen-Greenwell, Photo editor


Kanakapura, India

Today started bright and early at 6 am with coffee and bird watching. While practicing ornithology we saw a Wobbler, Minas, Sun Birds, Paraia Kite, India quail, India Robin, Jungle crow along with many others. We observed the tail lengths, coloration, and flight patterns of the birds.  During our journey we learned about the Tamarind tree. It is a tree that is good for extracting poison from the body. Its leaves and the fruit of the seed pod are edible and deliciously sour. We also came across a HUGE millipede.

Hannah, Katelyn, Alicen, and others observing a millipede found during our transect walk/bird watch. (Photo taken by Ida)

After bird watching we returned to the Community Based Conservation Center (CCC) for a delicious breakfast.  Next we listened to a lecture by Dr. Bejoy about the foundation, design, and illustration of Social Research.  He outlined qualitative and quantitative research, participatory and questionnaire surveys and participant observations. He explained the difference between the Classic or Positivist and Interpretive or non-positivist approach to social research.  Dr. Bejoy prepared us for our afternoon activity.

After lunch we walked to the small town that is near the CCC. We were able to observe and interact with the villagers.  We first wandered through the town and saw its eclectic assortment of mud huts called chacas and more traditional cement or cinderblock homes. Most of the homes are painted a brilliant turquoise and decorated with ornate designs around the windows and doors.  The children of the village all walked alongside us and giggled.  Kavitha, the coordinator here at the CCC translated what the local people told us about the history, social structure, and livelihoods of their town.  They told us that the town consisted of about one thousand people. The social structure of the village is divided into four communities or castes. We learned about their town’s main cash income, silk production, and we got to see the process of growing the worms and harvesting the cocoons.

A chandriky used to house silk worms for silk harvest - Kanakapura (Photo taken by Alicen)

When we returned from the village we each created a set of research questions we would like to ask the villagers to further understand some aspect of their lives. While presenting our research questions we got a taste of an Indian monsoon. Today was an exciting mix of new experiences and information.

Kavitha leading our discussion with the people of Kanakapura (photo taken by Alicen)

Correspondent, Ida Kitchen-Greenwell; photo editor, Alicen Fleming  

5/27/13 (Day 7)
Kanakapura, India

This morning, we ate a delicious breakfast of idli, sambar, and coconut chutney, then said goodbye to our friends at Moon Suites (Bangalore). Around 8:30 am, bags in hand, we set off to visit the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT). Upon arrival, Ms. Suma gave an inviting introduction as we discussed conservation, traditional knowledge, the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the purpose of herbariums. With coordinated work for over two decades, the foundation seeks to bridge the gap between modern medicine and the tradition practice of medicinal plant use. Our first stop on the tour of FRLHT was to the Informatics Lab where Dr. Ganesh walked us through the extremely comprehensive encyclopedic database for medicinal plants found in India. The database references medicinal plant use from 1500 BC to 1900 AD and includes: plant image, plant ID, botanical name, vernacular name, references for both, plant habit details, morphology of the plant, synonyms, distribution, medicinal use, and more. After the Informatics lab, we were shown how FRLHT uses Geographic Information Systems to map layer upon layer of medicinal plant distribution throughout the states of India. We then visited the Center for Conservation of Natural Resources (photo below) which is an IUCN site concerned with selecting highly traded plant species and identifying the status of these threated plants (vulnerable, endangered, critical). We then toured the Bio-Cultural Herbarium & Repository of Raw Drugs, which acts as a reference for plant use and identification. Since 1993, the herbarium at FRLHT has obtained around 3,500 of 6,000 medicinal plants!

Learning about I-AIM’s programs in their Center for Conservation and Natural Resources.

Of utmost excitement, our group was privileged enough to view palm leaf manuscripts, some of which are up to 500 years old (photo below). Traditional Indians used palm leaves to write manuals of medicinal plant use, which were used in almost every household. These manuscripts were written in Sanskrit and have been translated into many languages including Hindi and English.  The comprehensive research, and many hours of hard work, at FRLHT are truly inspirational and have resulted in the continuing of traditional medicinal plant use! Our next stop was to the Ethno Medicinal Plant Garden where we saw a vast array of plants that are used for everything from a wet cough, stomach ache, to syphilis.

Palm leaf manuscripts with Ayurvedic text.

By 5:30 pm we were on the road to our first field site! After a hospitable week in Bangalore and a long bus ride, we finally reached the Kanakapura Community Conservation Center where our friends Kavitha and Dipthi will assist us in our first real fieldwork. We are the first to stay in the new field station here, and we are extremely excited. We were happy to see it was built using the methods of Chitra K. Vishwanath Architects & Rainwater Club. So, after another terrific meal, I am up writing this blog as my classmates and friends are snuggled sound atop their sleeping mats and cots.

Today we have been lucky enough to view the delicate palm leaf manuscripts of FRLHT, and the first to sleep in the Kanakapura CCC field station. Whatever else pleasures will come, I know that we can’t wait to get our hands dirty.

Correspondent, Alicen Fleming

For more information on the Foundation of Revitalization of Local Health Traditions, visit their website at www.frlht.org


Today was no lazy Sunday. We saluted the sun with some yoga this morning and practiced some traditional breathing techniques. Afterwards, we went to lunch with our friend Kumar (from ATREE) at his house in Doddaballapura. This Lawrence-sized town serves as the final step in the elaborate process of silk-sari production; all the way from the silk cocoon to the market. When we arrived, his family welcomed us into their colorful home, the women all dressed in gold jewelry and beautiful saris. The men showed us around a few of the town’s workrooms wheremany of the people in Doddaballapura make their living with the machine-powered looms. On the way back from our tour we gained a following of curious neighborhood boys who liked to ask our names and then giggle uncontrollably at how funny they were. They proceeded to peek in the windows of Kumar’s house as we ate our lunch.

Lunch prepared by Kumar’s family and served on a banana leaf

Our meal was served on leaves that were placed on the floor. The women of the house walked around serving us pile after pile of delicious, flavorful food that we attempted to eat with our hands. Some of it got in our mouths so I’d say we are improving. After lunch we had time to talk with Kumar’s family. He has 3 generations all living together in his home: his grandmother, mother, brother, 3 sisters, and wife. They taught us how to write our names in Kannada and told us a little about the tradition of arranged marriages. Kumar even showed us some of his wedding pictures. Due to the fact that his wedding had 700 guests and lasted for over 5 days, all of us girls decided that we are definitely getting married in India. But that’s a task for another day. Until tomorrow…

Kumar’s family waving goodbye to us as we left

Correspondent: Hannah Duff, Photo editor: Erin Dougherty


Today, we had the opportunity to visit ATREE’s conservation genetics and herbarium labs. The conservation genetics lab members explained to all of us the process of assessing the variability of a species’ DNA. ATREE then refers to these conclusions to prioritize whether or not a certain species may be widespread (higher variability) or in need of protection (lower variability). In the herbarium lab, we learned the method behind plant taxonomy – how to collect, identify, and classify plant specimen.

After a quick lunch, we were able to visit a green building designed by Chitra K. Vishwanath, a renowned architect.  He talked to us about his company, Biome Environmental, which is composed of the Rainwater Club and the Chitra K. Vishwanath Architects. He emphasized the importance of rainwater collection, particularly in a region such as India. Through the examination of the water quality, pollution, and energy consumption of Bangalore, Chitra’s innovative design significantly contributes to the mitigation of these issues. He focuses on the installation of a rainwater catchment system, placing rain barrels on his rooftop which naturally purify the water for use throughout the household. Chitra has implemented the process of using materials from the lot, including soil and litter (plastic bottles, keyboards, etc.). The clay uncovered during excavation is processed into bricks for the walls on-site. Essentially, Chitra’s structures are constructed of 80% on-site materials. He then uses the top soil and compost from the Eco-Sanitation system to create a rooftop garden, where he is even able to grow rice. After a tour of his office building, he invited us into his own home just down the street. This is where we had the best chai tea yet. It was very interesting to speak to Chitra about his philosophy and perception of the future. He told us, “Today, homes are built based on material wealth, but we need to start building homes based on intelligence.” This simple statement is not only applicable to India, but even more so back home.

Chitra Vishwanath explains the design and construction philosophy of his organization.

When we returned, we were fortunate to experience the teaching style of Dr. Johnsingh. He discussed with us the importance of the Niligiri Biosphere Reserve, which includes most of the field stations we will be visiting. He asked us questions and ensured that we were still alert, even after a long day of learning.

It was a nice day to experience the city of Bangalore and dig deeper into the environmental issues of the urban landscape before we leave for the forests. While meeting Chitra was not originally on the agenda, I think that we all found it to be a wonderful surprise and a truly unique experience.

ATREE research associate Ashwini explains conservation genetics

correspondent, Erin Dougherty; photo editor, Becky Crook

New Perspectives on Old Ideas

It seems as though the jet lag has finally run its course, as we all began our day vibrant and full of energy.  Breakfast this morning was delicious as usual, and it was a great precedent to begin the day with. Today was a very special day at ATREE, as we celebrated the Ugadi festival, the festival of the New Year.  When we arrived at ATREE, the building was alive with beautiful colors and fragrant flowers.  The entryway was adorned with traditional Ugadi plants, including mango leaves, neem leaves, marigold and fragrant jasmine flowers.  Laid on the floor was a beautiful design called Kolam, or Rangoli, which are traditionally made of flowers or rice powder and symbolize the welcoming of life, this was made with many beautiful flower petals.   After the morning lectures, we were invited to join the Ugadi feast on the roof of ATREE, which, simply put, was enchanting. We were served 20 different traditional dishes on a giant banana leaf. It was the experience of a lifetime to enjoy this feast with the people of ATREE, and I will never forget the plethora of exotic and delicious foods that were served!    Following the afternoon lectures, we were privileged to tour the Eco-informatics lab, where a variety of geospatial research and projects are conducted, as well as the insect lab.

One of the many Kolam signs that decorated the floor of ATREE

The first lecture of the morning was given by the very talented Jagdish Krisnaswamy on climate change and Indian ecosystems, specifically the tropical mountains.  The first portion of his lecture was on the Greening and Browning Trends in Subtropical Mountain Ecosystems. Although his lecture was extremely technical, Dr. Krisnaswamy was a spectacular speaker and explained his research very well.  The second lecturer, Sharachchandra (Sharad) Lele gave a spectacular lecture about seemingly every aspect of Indian forests, from the ecology and biodiversity, to the history of policy and the many political dimensions of forest management and governance.   After the feast, we gathered in the intimate auditorium at ATREE to hear our final lecturer, Nitin Rai, who spoke about the impacts of conservation policy on livelihoods, knowledge, and rights.  Dr. Lele and Dr. Rai’s lectures resonated particularly well with me because we got to the heart of conservation issues in India, which are analogous to many of the problems of conservation around the world. Dr. Lele did not just list or mention laws and policies, but he explained the evolution of forest governance from the pre-colonial era to present day. The two lectures complemented each other perfectly, as they both confronted the big questions of conservation policies head-on.  Who benefits from forest protection?  And protected from whom? There is much at stake and there are many stakeholders when we speak about “conservation,” although it seems so straightforward at first glance.  India has such a rich cultural history and there is not a single tract of forest that has not been inhabited for eons by local peoples.  Conservationists seek to protect wildlife, which tends to exclude the human inhabitants whose livelihoods have been sustained by that forest for many generations.  Many competing interests, including the state governments, conservationists, and local people, all have differing ideas on what the forest is, what it should be, and how it should be managed going forward.  One tends not to think that social goals and conservationist goals are in competition, but this is very much the case in many parts of the world.  Dr. Rai’s lecture outlined the perspective of conservation as a modernization project that separates man from nature and denies history. By placing boundaries on what is forest to be protected, it gives the green light for development outside of those borders.

Today was mentally exhausting, as our minds were stretched in ways we never thought possible! We experienced so much, saw many things, learned new ideas, and most importantly, we gained new perspectives on concepts that many of us have previously learned through coursework and seen through our cultural lenses.

Katelyn Whitt at the Ugadi Festival

Becky, Gabby, Gina, Katelyn, Hillary, Hannah, and Alicen all wearing traditional Kutras and Pajamas.

correspondent, Becky Crook; photo editor, Hilary Crabb

Don’t Take Anything for Granite

After sleeping off our jet lag, we woke to another delicious breakfast cooked for us by our gracious host, Sri. We then were herded onto a bus to ATREE, the Ashouka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. We were greeted by the Director of ATREE, Dr. Ganesan Balachander. We were fed with delicious chai and cookies while he talked to us about ATREE. We were then introduced to Ganeshaiah K N. His wonderful enthusiasm for storytelling brought a different view of India’s mythology. What was even more interesting was the debunking of the myths and how it applied to our program. We were given a tour of the facility and got to see the work environment of ATREE.

After lunch, we headed towards Bangalore’s Lalbagh Botanical Garden. After we climbed out of the bus, we got an education about the biological importance of the flora both native and exotic to southern India as well as many different types of fauna. We observed the Ficus tree and learned about the many positive impacts it has on the surrounding environment. We also got a preview of the many different species common in India, like Rose-Ringed parakeet and bonnet Macaque. What was interesting though was the spectacle we made on the locals. It seemed no matter where we went, someone always wanted to take a picture of or with us.

Chris at the Botanical Gardens

One very interesting thing we learned at the Botanical Gardens was that we were standing on rock that was around three billion years old. The igneous rock that we stood was re-melted granite. One can tell that it has been re-melted due to the folds in the rock. We left happy but exhausted.

Three Billion Year Old Granite with a Temple at the Top.

Peace Out World, Goodnight Moon

Greetings from Bangalore!

After a disillusioning plane ride, we found ourselves in Bangalore, excited and jetlagged at 2 a.m. Breakfast consisted of rice-lentils-cakes with coconut lentil sauce and spicy Indian chili. We embarked upon a market journey in search of authentic Indian clothing. About 2 hours later, our bags were filled with beautiful Indian textiles: Kutras and pajamas.

Decked out in our Indian gear, we proceeded to ATREE. There we listened, rather ironically, to a speech about central California water conservation. It was mostly focused on the over-consumption of water and the biological impacts thereof as well as the social and economic perceptions of lawn care and water usage. This hit home due to the relatable impending Ogalalla aquifer water depletion.

Two words that can describe the streets of India: bustling and loud. We zigzagged through the streets, narrowly avoiding being smooshed by cars and mopeds. Under Geeta’s watchful eye we encountered a man with a machete and some coconuts… sweet coconut nectar pursued. We also managed to fill our packs with some fresh mangos courtesy of another street vendor.

At 9 p.m. everyone has passed out except for us so goodnight y’all.
Over and out,

Gina and Katelyn

Lawrence Kansas

Welcome to the webpage for the 2013 KU Environmental Studies in India Blog!
Our hope is that entries to this group journal will provide at least an outline of what we are seeing and doing while the experiences are still fresh.

Thanks for following along with our adventures and please feel free to leave us a comment!

Testing our balance on the narrow concrete paths and forging our way through the squishy mud.

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