When Mat and I first moved to India, we did a lot of cycling. Cycling was a big part of our lives back in New York and we brought bikes with us to India, optimistic that we would find a way to log some good miles in and around Bangalore.
In the beginning, we were successful, and had some great days out on the bike, logging anywhere from 40 to 80 miles in a day. One weekend, we decided to ride about 60 miles outside of the city to a campsite called Camper's Creek, spend the night, and ride home. We packed up our panniers with sleeping bags, a tent, and a change of clothes, and headed out early that Saturday morning.
The ride was great once we got out of heavy Bangalore traffic, and eventually took us through lush green farmland and rolling, rocky hills to our destination. The campsite is actually the homestead of a couple who live full-time in Bangalore and spend their weekends in the country. There they have a small farmhouse with a kitchen, and they let campers pitch tents on their property for a very reasonable fee, which includes home cooked meals and shower and toilet facilities.
The best part about Camper's Creek was the warm welcome and hospitality we received from the owners, Nithin and Wilma. They offered us tea and snacks upon our arrival, and after getting us settled they showed us around their extensive property, 15 acres of land situated in a lush jungle valley, some of which they use to farm fruits and vegetables.
We felt that our first visit to Camper's Creek was too brief, so this past weekend, we decided to go back and spend three full nights. We hitched a ride with Nithin and Wilma on Friday evening, rather than cycling, and had a lovely long weekend relaxing and exploring the farm and surrounding hillsides, trying to spot elephants and wildlife, and listening to the perpetual cry of peacocks and symphony of birdsong.
LOVE FOR THE LAND
What I love about Nithin and Wilma is their respect for their land and the precarious balance of its ecosystem. They do everything they can not to interfere with the health of the wildlife that lives there. They practice organic farming methods, a rarity here in India, using natural pest control methods to avoid harming the local bird populations. The number one threat to their crops is actually cattle that belong to the neighboring villagers, who often bring their cattle to graze on Nithin and Wilma's property when they're away.
The bird population of the area has clearly decided that their home is a safe place, as all the bird boxes in their fenced-in porch were occupied, and there were several intricately woven nests in the rafters, with birds fearlessly coming and going as we sat and observed the goings-on around us.
Nithin and Wilma know a tremendous amount about the plant and animal kingdom on their farm, and going out walking with Nithin was a thrilling education as he identified every footprint and dropping, pointed out animal alarm calls, and spotted wild deer, peacocks, ducks, quail, doves, and eagles.
STALKING ELUSIVE ELEPHANTS
Camper's Creek sits along an elephant "corridor", and there is frequent elephant traffic through their farmland. Elephants, however, are notoriously shy, and it's rare to actually catch a glimpse of them, though they may be close by at all times.
We were unfortunately unable to spot any elephants, though we saw evidence of them everywhere, from dung to fresh (enormous!) footprints. Elephants are capable of serious damage to trees and plants, and we saw entire coconut trees uprooted, branches torn, and teak trees stripped of bark, all by the elephants that had passed through.
Much of the forest on Nithin and Wilma's property is a tangle of thick, thorny vines and bamboo, very difficult and painful for humans to walk through, which the elephants are able to flatten in seconds, and we saw the tunnels they had created through the dense vegetation.
It was exciting to walk through the forest and see these clues as Nithin explained the elephants' movement patterns and incredible sense of smell, their social natures, their loyalty, and their ability to hold a grudge when anyone tries to harm them.
Even though we weren't able to see any, it was exciting knowing they were so close by, and that they probably knew we were there and were keeping a low-profile. I had to respect the fact that they didn't want to be seen, and was happy to let them go about their business.
BABY JACKRABBIT RESCUE OPERATION
Nithin had loaned a section of his property to a neighbor to farm, and on Sunday the neighbor was out on his tractor, tilling the soil. After some time, Nithin saw the neighbor stop the tractor in the middle of his work, and look towards the house where we were. "I think he sees something," Nithin said, and took off at a full sprint towards the field.
He came back with a blue cloth bag in his hands, and inside were two baby jackrabbits, just a few weeks old. The neighbor had spotted them in the grass as he was working. The mother had jumped off and abandoned them when she heard the tractor coming, and these two tiny bunnies were shivering, traumatized in the grass.
The neighbor had scooped them up, knowing Nithin and Wilma do not kill animals, and handed them over to them. Nithin placed them in a vacant rabbit habitat he already had on his property, and at the end of the weekend took them back to his compound in Bangalore, where he keeps a few other domesticated rabbits, and has been nursing them until they are old enough to survive on their own.
Nithin and Wilma are in the midst of building a lake to catch rainwater and provide a watering hole for the local wild animals and neighboring farmers' livestock. They are well informed about the water scarcity problem in India and the lack of rainwater catchment systems, and are doing their part to help. They are also doing their part to help to maintain the health of another man-made lake in the area that has been built by the forestry service for the same purpose.
Nithin and Wilma share my goal of reducing waste and single-use plastics, and have re-purposed plastic bottles and containers to grow seedlings in, and have used old tires as hanging planters in their garden, painting them and growing beautiful flowers in them.
A THRIVING ECOSYSTEM
It's clear that the ecosystem on Nithin and Wilma's farm is a healthy one, as the place is buzzing with activity 24 hours a day. Just to sit, be still, and observe what's going on around you is better entertainment than television.
There are praying mantises perched on flowers, waiting for their breakfast to come along. There are dozens of varieties of butterflies fluttering from flower to flower, taking sips as they go. There are spiders spinning webs and catching moths, dragonflies buzzing around bird baths, finches building nests in the rafters, and lizards stalking their eggs.
We fell asleep in our tent each night to the sounds of crickets and frogs, with glinting spider's eyes shimmering in the surrounding grass, and awoke to the cry of peacocks, roosters, and hundreds of other birds singing to the sunrise.
Spending the weekend in a place like this gave me hope that despite what humans have done to ravage the planet, incredible biodiversity still exists, and there are people who are actively safeguarding it. It's our responsibility to spread our knowledge about the importance of protecting our environment, and respect for all the living creatures that inhabit it.
Thank you, Nithin and Wilma, for doing your part, and for providing such a wonderful and peaceful place to pass a weekend surrounded by nature!