Tag Archives: Turtle walk

I Belong to Everywhere: Ontiangadi

This is an attempt to bring back nostalgia. Continued from- “I Belong to Everywhere: Vasanthanagar“.

‘Ontiangadi’ literally translates to The Only Shop’ in Kannada, and it is the name of a village in South Kodagu, where my paternal lineage hails from. Now, this village has grown beyond just one shop, into a tiny township.

As a child, I would come here on those weekends, when my parents came down from Bangalore. But whenever I came here, there has always been a calm of a different kind. There are two ancestral houses located within the large premises: one nearly 200 years old which is now used as a warehouse and the other, around 50+ years old that is currently being resided at by our family. The latter is surrounded with coffee plants, paddy fields, overflowing ponds and streams, an open well at a walkable distance to fetch potable water. This place has always seemed magical to me, then and now!

View of the farm from our ancestral home in Kodagu
View of the farm from our ancestral home in Kodagu

While the green paddy fields have been a treat to the eyes, the offseason is when I have lived some of my best holidays. The paddy field would turn into a playground when my cousins, other kids from the village and their cousins, would all congregate here for a game or two of football. Not with a foot-BALL, but with hollow balls of pomelo skin (grapefruit).

And then, came the first monsoons: we ran to the large wild-mango tree and fought a mango war. Who won or lost the battle would be decided by how much mango juice we were soaked in and who got the maximum scolding from our elders!

The farm and the mango tree, on the drier days in Ontiangadi
The farm and the mango tree, on the drier days in Ontiangadi

Wait for a few more days to pass by and the monsoon will peak. Then, the streams would overflow and bring that time of the year for our prized catches: Laying bamboo traps to collect fresh water eels and Koile meen (a local fish in Kodagu), fishing out mud-crabs from crevices along the downstream were normal. On (un)Lucky days, one or two smushy crabs would turn out to be snakes after being grabbed out 😀

Once, the workers had brought home several soft shelled turtles which they had found while working in the paddy field. It was timed well with my then recent experience of volunteering for a sea turtle conservation project in Chennai. With all excitement and inspiration, I had written to so many organizations about my new discovery in the western Ghats 😀 Aaah, what memories!

Clockwise from top left: 1. Koile meen, 2. Freshwater shrimp, 3. Cattle, 4. A soft shelled turtle
Clockwise from top left: 1. Koile meen, 2. Freshwater shrimp, 3. Cattle, 4. A soft shelled turtle

Apart from this, the ‘Subramanya temple’ at Byrambada and the ‘Palli Swamy Dargah’ (Pulkimaad dargah) have been important landmarks in and closer to Ontiangadi. A nice warm day even now, is often concluded with a hot plate of palam pori and a cup of kattan chai from ‘Ganesh hotel’ at Ontiangadi.

'Ganesh hotel' at Ontiangadi, Kodagu
‘Ganesh hotel’ at Ontiangadi, Kodagu

I borrow my surname from this village and so, definitely a part of me belongs here 😀

If you liked this story, you might also want to give a read to: “OMG! Life has changed!” for some more nostalgic content.

To be continued as- “I Belong to Everywhere: Kumbaldal

The Turtle Walk in the beaches of Chennai

One of the things on my bucket list – ‘The Turtle walk’ : An all night trek along the beaches of the East-Coast road.. It’s more of a walk with a bunch of similar minded volunteers with a sole intention to find Olive Ridley turtle nests- and relocate the eggs to a safer location.. Among the seven sea turtle species, five have been tracked in India during their breeding seasons between December to March. Among them, the Olive Ridley turtles: famous for arribadas or mass nesting are found along the Coromandel coast in large numbers.

We had booked a slot for ourselves on a fine weekend and traveled to Chennai to be a part of this volunteering and to learn more about these turtles. All the volunteers had gathered at the Neelangarai beach by 11.00.p.m where we all had an interactive session with the organisers which enabled us to clear all our doubts about these reptiles. The walk started at around 1.00.a.m as we were told that most nesting happens late at night and leaving later would allow us to find more nests which we would miss out if we start early.

As we kept walking, suddenly someone found a baby turtle in the dark. We were all excited and began to look out for the nest where there was a possibility of finding the other hatchlings. However, we couldn’t find any, owing to the dogs that could have eaten them up or the babies would have already swam into the sea.

The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day
The Baby turtle- Our prized catch for the day

The sea turtle hatchlings always walk towards the brighter side(usually sea water in normal conditions). Hence, we had to switch off all the lights we had and just one person stood in the water holding a torch, which the baby followed inorder to reach the water. It was amazing how these babies find their way into the sea and it is disturbing to know that due to modernisation, the cities/land is getting brighter and these turtles are walking towards light(township) and becoming prey to several factors.

The baby being guided towards water with a torch
The baby being guided towards water with a torch

We then continued to walk.. We found so many dead turtles(which reminded us of the brutal fishermen, ship propellers which pose a great threat to the turtles), pufferfish(Fugus), cats, cuttle fishes etc. along our way..

A dead pufferfish along the beach
A dead pufferfish along the beach

We walked and walked and could not find a single nest. It was already 02.00.a.m and time for the fishermen to venture into the sea for their daily vatch. We crossed numerous hamlets along the coast- most of them were extremely filthy where the fishermen were pooping in the water, staying insensitive to the number of people walking there.

And then.. We reached Besantnagar Beach- the end point of our trek. We were all extremely sad that we hadn’t found any nests- the sole purpose of us going all the way from Bangalore was not met 😦 Just as we were all about to depart, the organiser got a call from a volunteer who had reached there much earlier. They had found a nest: Right there, under a pull cart, in the dirty sands of Besantnagar beach: ‘Thank God.!!’ was the first exclamation from all of us. It was followed by a ‘WOWWWww’ 🙂

The volunteers unearthing the eggs
The volunteers unearthing the eggs

We removed 147 eggs out of the nest. We could understand that the turtle had come to land for the first time in this season. While they were measuring the nest size, we got a message of spotting another nest nearby. It was all worth the travel from Bangalore 🙂 We found 42 eggs in the second one- Probably the turtle had come for the 3rd time in this season.

A volunteer measuring the nest's specifications
A volunteer measuring the nest’s specifications

The organisers will keep an account of the depth, width, temperature and the distance of the nest from the high/low tide; create a similar incubation atmosphere in a safer location/artificial hatchery. Then, let all the babies into the water when they hatch out after about 40-45 days. It is amazing to know how these turtles come back to the same place where they were born, after about 12 years for breeding. These 12years are called ‘lost years’.. It is still unknown what happens to these turtles for those twelve years in the sea.. Yes, Radio tagging has lately been in use to study these hatchlings once they enter the sea on their maiden swim which is still an ongoing subject of research. So, Yes! These hatchlings are going to return back to this same place where they were born only after 12 years, and that time, to start yet another generation of turtles..!

Of late, there are a few more places across India promoting conservation of sea turtles. You can be a part of it too at places like Chennai, Orissa, Ratnagiri, Andaman Islands etc. When are you planning your beach trek? Keep me posted 🙂