Thursday, March 06, 2014

Family Adventures in the JNU Ravines

Long long ago, sometime in the mid-eighties, I received massive amounts of documents to translate. My husband volunteered to keep our son engaged while I typed away through pages about Borobudur and Buddhist Art and Architecture. It was quite a satisfactory arrangement but I was curious about where they went and what they did.
One fine day I was free and we three set off on our ancient Java to the nearby Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus. After parking the motorcycle somewhere, we headed off into the wilderness which still surrounds much of the campus today.
At first we trudged through brambles and got all hot and dusty but just as I was at the end of my tether we reached The Adventure! There was an arduous clamber down rocks, well worth the making like a mountain goat for down there was a crystal clear stream. We rested, munched on sandwiches, and sipped on nimbu paani  after wading in the cool waters and splashing off the tiredness. 
As we lounged in the shade, we saw a big owl-a great horned owl I think it was! Even as I type out this account, I chance upon a newspaper article from some ten years after which talks of a Proposal for a National Park on JNU land. Smeeta Mishra Pandey reports that the Campus Development Committee of JNU had "initiated a project to convert 400-odd acres there into a national park for neelgai, horn owls, porcupines, foxes and snakes as part of the Save JNU Ridge campaign. "The JNU Executive Council has also applied to the Forest Department of the Delhi Government to declare a large section of JNU, from the Poorvanchal to Paschimabad area, as reserved forest area under the Indian Forest Act." goes her article where Depanjol Chakraborty, then security consultant, JNU is reported as saying:
I live in a staff quarter near the School of Physical Sciences. Neelgai often walk into the little garden I have in the morning. There were so many of them earlier. We could spot them at all places and all times. But now one gets to see them only in the early hours.
My husband had often spoken of seeing neelgai wander the JNU campus. According to the above quoted article, 
there is tremendous pressure on the vegetation and wildlife on campus from the people living in the nearby slums and villages in Munirka and Vasant Kunj. ``Every evening one sees people returning from the JNU campus with loads of firewood, '' says Prof Mridula Mukherjee, member of the JNU Campus Development Committee.``One can also see cattle returning to the nearby villages after grazing on campus for the entire day. Forest cover has thinned in certain areas of the campus which need to be protected now.''
The article mentions that the ravines are located deep inside the 1200-acre JNU campus, are about 100 ft deep and 220 ft wide and almost inaccessible, making them a natural reserve for wildlife. According to the write-up, 
the trees native to the region includes Khejri (Prosopis Cineraria), Babool (Acacia Arabica), Safed Kikhar (Acacia Leucaphloca) and Dhao (Anogeissus Pendula). These trees do not require much nurturing and grow in arid regions. 
We also saw many exotic butterflies but, alas, we did not glimpse the common palm civet According to another newspaper article
Some butterflies found commonly on the campus are Red Pierrot, Blue Pansy, Common Silverline and Lime Butterfly. The Indian Cabbage White, Painted Lady and Indian Fritillary are migratory, flying 400-500 km from the Himalayas to reach Delhi. 
I think I saw the Blue Pansy that day.
The Hindu reports
The 1,000-acre JNU is also home to nearly 80 species of butterflies, over 24 species of reptiles, hundreds of insects and around 12 species of small and large wild animals including the Indian rock python.
We wound our weary way back in the late afternoon, plucking wild bers, pungent but full of protein. Yet though we were thoroughly exhausted and had lots of scratches all over, this was an adventure I shall never forget and one which I'm grateful my son had access to in those tender formative years.
No urban adventure "parks" and other paid for enjoyments can ever bring to us, man, woman or child the wonders and sense of fulfilment that a foray into wild nature offers.
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