Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Archive for January 2014

A Frosty, Dry Winter in the Palani Hills

with 8 comments

Perumal Peak (2,000 meters) the distinct mountain (that is NOT a volcano) of the Palani Hills rise above winter mist as seen from Kodaikanal int he early morning of December 30th.

Perumal Peak (2,219 meters) the distinct mountain (that is NOT a volcano) of the Palani Hills rise above winter mist as seen from Kodaikanal in the early morning of December 30th.

Few people associate southern India with freezing temperatures and a cold, frosty climate. With a polar vortex and other unusually arctic conditions keeping parts of north American in a frozen slump it is easy to see why a slight chill in the tropics would not make the news. Yet, for a few weeks –and sometime longer- of the year, the Western Ghats as well as Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands experience chilly, winter weather that is in sharp contrast to the heat, dust and humidity of the lower plains. These hill ranges, be they in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka or Sri Lanka, all host plateau areas averaging 2,000 meters and extending up to 2,695 meters at the highest (in Kerala’s High Range). This year, after what is apparently a failed North East monsoon, there were waves of cold weather experienced in the hill stations of Ooty, Kodaikanal and Nuwara Eliya. The cold weather was covered by the Hindu (Kodaikanal and Ooty) and Sunday Times (Sri Lanka).

Scenes from a frosty winter in the Palani Hills. Rubus (raspberry) with frost and Cyathea sp. tree fern,

Scenes from a frosty winter in the Palani Hills. Rubus (raspberry) with frost and Cyathea sp. tree fern,

 I’ve always liked winter weather because of the clean views that one is rewarded with in the upper reaches of the Western Ghats and Central Highlands. This time, my sojourn in Kodai was timed with the visit of my KIS classmate John Miller, his wife Val and their two boys. On our side, Lenny accompanied me on this short visit to Kodai and the Palanis. We joined our other friends in Kodai and were able to take several hikes out to several special places in the hills. We experienced frost on the way to Kukkal and it coated the lawn of our home just before New Years!  I got a very painful lesson in the chilliness factor trying to ride a motorcycle without gloves on one of those mornings when the temperature had dipped below zero.

The images in this post are taken from this week and also include two Landsat views of the area that were collected in the week before we arrived. The data is courtesy NASA and the USGS through the Eathexplorer service. I have spent several hours downloading, stacking, clipping and then editing the images to emphasize areas that are featured in the attached photographs. The Nilgiri Hills view was so sharp and clear that I thought I would include it. I’m looking forward to a visit back to both Eravikulam and Mukkurthy in the near future. It has been far too long since I’ve walked their magical grasslands…

Landsat 8 image of the High Range and Palani Hills. (Click for enlarged view)

Landsat 8 image of the High Range and Palani Hills. (Click for enlarged view)

Landsat 8 image of the Nilgiri Hills. (Click for enlarged view)

Landsat 8 image of the Nilgiri Hills. (Click for enlarged view)

The hike to Kukkal of course is a pilgrimage that I make as often as possible and it has featured prominently in past posts. This series of images highlights the landscape that one encounters on its exposed ridge.

Cloud Land's Peal as seem from the road to Poombari.

Cloud Land’s Peak as seem from the road to Poombari.

Gaur-Proof Fences in Kukkal. Farmers and residents in the Palani Hills are trying a number of things to discourage the increasing number of gaur from getting into their farms. Here is one of the more ingenious methods:  used sarees as fencing!

Gaur-Proof Fences in Kukkal. Farmers and residents in the Palani Hills are trying a number of things to discourage the increasing number of gaur from getting into their farms. Here is one of the more ingenious methods: used sarees as fencing!

Kukkal ridge and temple summit looking north. The Anaimalai Hills are visible in the far right.

Kukkal ridge and temple summit looking north. The Anaimalai Hills are visible in the far left.

Kukkal lower ridge looking south back to the temple summit.

Kukkal lower ridge looking south back to the temple summit.

Perumal Peak, in its classic profile seen from Coaker's Walk before the gates opened on December 27th.

Perumal Peak, in its classic profile seen from Coaker’s Walk before the gates opened on December 27th.

Old place, new light: the Old Cemetery on Lower Shola Road in Kodaikanal.

Old place, new light: the Old Cemetery on Lower Shola Road in Kodaikanal.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-01-26 at 5:07 pm

2013 OSC Field Study to Sri Pada

with 2 comments

Collage of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada's 2,243 meter summit.

Collage of snapshots of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada’s 2,243 meter summit.

Every December it is my privilege and pleasure to lead a group of DP I (Grade 11) OSC students up the slopes of Sri Pada in order to study the mountain’s ecology and appreciate its value as a stronghold of biodiversity in a rich Sri Lankan cultural landscape. This year I invited the DP Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter to join our group of eleven DP ES&S students. We were supported by our teaching colleagues Sonalee Abeyawardene and Celine Dary  (so there were added opportunities to explore ideas of pilgrimages in literature and converse in French during our three days out!). Several students had just completed a heart-pounding SAISA tournament in Muscat and hopped from their airport bus onto ours as we headed up into the Central Highlands on a clear Monday morning.

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada (center and right) and degraded forest near the Fishing Hut (left). Max, Chadoo and Teresa laying the transect and looking for plant diversity.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

A contrast in habitats. A monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak WIlderness area.

A contrast in habitats: a monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak Wilderness area.

Looking for orchids  and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1900 meters). John visits a favorite area..

Looking for orchids and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1,900 meters). John visits a favorite, familiar area…

For all students, be they biologists or ecologists in ES&S, the three-day visit to Sri Pada and the Peak Wilderness area offers a unique opportunity to conduct field studies in a biologically rich but anthropogenic influenced landscape. The trip is a unique learning experience, one that is perhaps less appreciated by students in the moment but invariably remembered with great fondness. As usual, we based ourselves at the Moray Estate Fishing Huts. These three rustic cabins are rented out to ecotourists and people willing to put up with simple amenities in order to experience a uniquely beautiful location. Significant time was spent simply getting to the huts and back but once at the Fishing Huts there were all sorts of opportunities for learning. The huts lie at the boundary between manicured tea estates and mid-elevation sub-montane tropical rainforest. This year I highlighted four themes of study for the trip:

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’
Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Our main study day was on Tuesday December 10th (my brother Brian’s birthday!) when the ES&S class ascended the peak. Based on the fitness and gear that the group, I decided to make it a day trip and not spend the night on the top. We went with light packs for the day and were able to conduct a series of line transects as we gained altitude on the peak. The idea was to observe and record changes in plant diversity as we traversed human and natural landscapes and gained altitude on the peak. I had decided to leave my heavy camera gear in Colombo and was armed with a lightweight Canon Powershot, GPS and small temperature probe. The small allowed me to take quick snapshots of the wealth of plant life on the forest trail- and the detail isn’t too bad. Because the hike is physically demanding, there was little time to linger but the group managed at least five transects at different elevations and habitats. We got to the temple around 1:00 –it was pleasantly empty as the season was still a week away from starting. Our lunch of peanut butter and Nutella wraps was shared with a wandering Australian, we rang the temple bells, appreciated the summit temple and then headed back down. One of the students- Max who had been in Muscat playing football for OSC -had a sore knee and we took the last bit slowly. This facilitated a meandering conversation and time to observe the forest much more closely. It was dark by the time we got back to the Fishing Hut.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right the ES&S  class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right, the ES&S class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

On the final morning we were able to look at a patch of degraded forest and a eucalyptus plantation. These habitats offer a fascinating contrast to the sub-montane forest. There are numerous invasive species colonizing these disturbed areas but also a gratifying number of native species also making a start. Down below us the biologists completed a biotic index study of two streams (one from the forest and one from the tea estate). We were moving back to Colombo by 10:30 and school wrapped up two days later. Now, as we begin a new term, the classes will be sifting through their data, science journals, photographs and memories to consolidate their learning on Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain.

Past OSC school trips to Sri Pada have been reported in this space:

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012 trip)
OSC's ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

OSC’s ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

Looking over the Peak WIlderness area to the east of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Looking over the Peak Wilderness area to the east and south of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area. This was a week before the pilgrimage season officially opened up and the temple area was serene and quiet.

Sunset over Sri Pada.

Sunset over Sri Pada. Taken on Monday December 9th after a cold stream traverse.