Working for the past 9 years in WWF Bhutan has given me an opportunity to understand the environment and appreciate nature in a more delightful way. Visiting field and communicating with project implementers is the by far the best means one can learn about impacts and the progress of projects. I have been fortunate to have projects spread across the country giving me a diverse learning opportunity. Over the years I have made several field trips but my recent trip to Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) located in southern Bhutan was of an experience of no equal.
We started our journey on a bright and sunny morning. The trip was pleasant, except for the bumpy ride through the new hydropower plant, Punasangtchhu Hydropower, due to construction trucks. On the way, we decided to halt at one of the guesthouses in Gelephu which is in Sarpang district. The weather was a drastic change, dreadfully hot but a relief once we reached the guesthouse with air conditioning facilities.
I had a peaceful sleep, but could not help fear what lay ahead since PWS lies in the wild reaches of the forest. The park had long remained isolated due to a porous border with India. But I kept my worries at bay and the following morning we continued our on our journey.
We were accompanied by the park manager from Royal Manas National Park, the District’s Forest officer and the Officer in charge, and of course forestry staff. The first halt was at the construction site at Theomba. It was only in 2009 with WWF support, PWS began conservation work. Until then, PWS remained a paper park. I had previously seen pictures of the headquarters, with just the base of the construction site in progress. However, on this trip, I saw a lot of impressive progress with the building almost finished. Luckily the contractor was also present to provide us with a brief update on the building. We also had a tour of the staff quarter construction site which was also near completion. Later, both contractors of the two sites treated us with some tasty homemade snacks which we ate heartily.
We then continued our journey towards PWS base. Having heard of unfortunate incidents of bomb blasts from the Indian side, I was a little apprehensive about the whole journey. Saying a silent pray in my mind, we started our long journey. We had a group of six forest staff in front of us leading the way. Their eyes and ears were fully open, and their guns stood tall beside them.
Monsoon season had made the roads harsh and bumpy, and we also had to cross three rivers. It was very interesting to note that most of the roads actually fell in India. Along the way, we crossed SingyeGeog,where human wildlife conflict is rampant, but this has been controlled by provision of electric fencing, seen as a blessing by the local communities.
The whole journey took almost two and a half hours, and it was a huge relief seeing the green roofs of the forest staff quarters after passing huge heavily adorned forests. We were received by the forest guards stationed in the park and were led to the newly constructed dining hall where we were served tea and biscuits.
Later we were shown to our rooms to freshen up. The weather was unbearable and I sweated my guts out, so it was refreshing to take a shower. But the moment I got out of the washroom, I started sweating again, so I knew my whole trip would be this way.
Thereafter we started off our field tour with the forest staff and a tour to the Royal Guest House. We were welcomed by two forest guards stationed in the house and given a tour. It was a beautiful building with a lovely veranda where you could actually see the beautiful trees blissfully showering the whole forest. We made this visit short and continued on our field tour.
While we were trying our best to enjoy the ride despite the bumpy road, and sweating profusely and cursing silently about the harsh weather, we spotted a herd of elephants with their calves. All my sweating disappeared in a second and I got all excited seeing wildlife for the first time. I immediately got up on a pickup truck and craned my neck to get a better view. My boss took out his camera to get some shots while some of the forest staff walked over to get a better look. I took out my mobile and tried my best to shoot some pictures but with little success.
The elephants, probably females, stopped by the river and drank water while the calves just dipped themselves in the cool water. It was an amazing feeling just to stand there and gaze at them. I felt content that such wildlife exists, knowing we are responsible for the preservation of such wildlife.
Led by the forest staff, we then walked for several kilometres to catch a glimpse of the famous chital (spotted deer) commonly sighted in the Sanctuary. Unfortunately we did not get to see any wildlife at that time, except for some pug marks made by wild dogs. Since it was getting dark, we decided to head back to the staff quarter and made our way to the dining area.
There was a huge gathering in the dining area that night, where the DzongkhagForest officer spoke to the forest staff on the commendable work they were doing, despite the isolated location and harsh weather. The staff thanked WWF for providing funds for the construction of the dining hall, the provision of solar lights, a television set for recreation, and a generator for the television. The evening ended with some cultural songs and dances performed by the staff while we enjoyed our dinner.
The next morning I was awakened by a knock on my window. I looked out and saw a forest staff informing me that there were chitals nearby. The time was 5:30 am and I got up and took a look outside, but I was too sleepy to see anything and went back to my bed.
Later the sun started shining and I could sleep no longer, so I was forced to get up. I took a quick shower and went off to see if the chitals were still there. Luckily they were and I had a nice view of a herd of seven to eight chitals happily grazing on the grass.
After some time we had our breakfast and it was time to leave the field and head back to Gelephu. We again had to go through the gruelling weather and the harsh road. I was exhausted but had a great feeling of contentment as we conquered the rough road.
Heading back to the capital of Thimphu felt good, as I would be able to sleep in my own bed. However, I truly gained a huge amount of hands-on experience and became four shades darker! I am highly encouraged to go on such trips in the future and would encourage my fellow colleagues to do the same.
Additional information about the park:
Area - 269 square km
Established – 2003
Support by WWF began- 2009
Geographical location - Sarpang district
Wildlife richness - Elephant, Gaur, Spotted deer, and Golden langur
Conservation Challenges - staff capacity, border security, transboundary issues, restraints of conservation being implemented for the first time in the park
The chirping of birds at the break of dawn heralds the start of a new day. While urban folks are deep in slumber, chimneys in far-flung villages exude wisps of smoke announcing that people are up already. How contrasting is the way of life between the two communities, the so called urbanites and the rural inhabitants. But the chirping of birds will remain the same as long as shrubs and trees grow in these two places. The sound of nature is imbedded in the multitude of elements that constitute our world. From the gushing streams of the Himalayas to the meandering rivers of the Amazon, from the roar of the Amur Tiger to the screeching primates of Madagascar, nature’s orchestra reverberates with its original composition and creative ingenuity.
The origin of music, in the modern sense, can be traced back to 4000 BCE when Egyptians created harps and flutes. By 2500 BCE early form of the trumpet was developed by the Danes. The guitar, which inspired creation of the violin, was created in 1500 BCE by the Hittites. In 600 BCE Pythagorus, the famous mathematician well known for his discovery of the Pythagorus Theorem, developed the octave scale. Aristotle wrote on the music theory scientifically and brought about the method of notation in 350 BCE. Boethius in 521 BCE brought the Greek system of notation to western Europe and wrote on the idea of the opera. After the fall of the Roman Empire, most of the music was commissioned by the church. In 600 CE Pope Gregory built the Schola Centarum, the first music school in Europe. With the dawn of the Renaissance in 1465, printing press was first used to print music and enabled composers to organize their pieces. The writings of Boethius, one of the influential Roman philosophers of the 6thcentury, were republished in Italian in 1490. The onset of the Renaissance was the beginning of the golden age of music which showcased some of the greatest musical minds ever produced in the west.
In South Asia musical culture has been traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Although very little is known, certain musical instruments such as the bow-shaped harp and variety of drums have been identified from the small terra-cotta figures and among pictographs on seals. The iconic dancing girl statue of the period has been suggested to represents a temple dancer similar to those found much later in Hindu culture. Scholars of history and human civilizations believe that the coming of the Aryans, a semi-nomadic tribesman, from the northwest in the first half of the 2ndmillennium BEC wiped out the Indus Valley Civilization.
The origin of Indian classical music goes back to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. Vedic traditions and Hinduism has a primeval influence on Indian classical music. The two popular forms of classical music influenced by Hinduism are the Kirtan, a musical form of narration or shared recitation of spiritual or religious ideas and Bhajan, song with religious theme or spiritual ideas. Interestingly, Buddhism does not have strong affiliation to music in the similar manner other than some form of music associated with rituals and prayers.
Our world is filled with innumerable sounds of nature. People living close to nature perceive a wider range of natural sounds than those of us living in urban societies where music has evolved dramatically due to advances in sound technology, and the traffic noise in cities contribute to the loathsome urban din. Music in its pure form is intrinsic to every culture and is associated with emotional, cultural and cognitive nature of human mind. The universal appeal of music irrespective of which part of the world you come from is the magic that bring different societies together through its beats and rhythms plucking the human cord.
In nature, the most complex acoustic displays, next to Homo sapiens, is exhibited by the singing humpback whale found in all major oceans and seas around the world. Birds, on the other hand, sing with such intense melody that Luis Baptisa, leading expert on bird song, has drawn fascinating parallels between bird songs and human music in the use of rhythmic variations, pitch relationships and combination of notes. Deep in the woods the lone whistling note of a Hill Partridge combined with the rhythmic call of barking deer awakens the sleepy forest to life. Passing by woods on a mid-summer night, the hooting of an owl chilled with gusts of wind that pull down broken branches at your feet with dripping drops of rain produce such haunting impression that linger in your mind for days. Away from the woods, the tranquil flow of mountain streams and the deafening clap of thunder, the whistling breeze on forest trees and the sweeping gale on hillsides are all but a glimpse of the creative range of nature’s octaves.How can one surmise to recreate such amazing sounds of nature? Osho Rajneesh mesmerized by nature once remarked that nature is so creative that it can never be recreated. Humans can only imitate nature but never recreate it.
Imagine the world without sound. Our life would then be a huge silence! We would miss all the wonders of nature’s sonic masterpieces and inspirations that lie therein. Some may, however, argue that life would have adapted that way. Music has often been associated with the peak of human emotion that we call love. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino of Illyriaremarks, “If music be the food of love, play on”. Although the lovelorn Duke muses that the excess of music might cure his obsession with love, the strong bond between love and music is obvious. Music plays an important part in Shakespeare’s plays and often carries the plot. Perhaps, he did believe music to be “the food of love”. Irrespective of universal acceptance of the statement, one thing is certain, if two lovers like the same form of music they are drawn closer when the music plays. Armando Menezes in his poem ‘The Train’ compares the earth to a violin and the train to its bow. The sound created by the motion of the train is what he relates to music. It is interesting to note that the train imagery is also allegorical to our journey of life - stopping by stations briefly and then carrying on as individuals bound for our ultimate destination. We are but just a tiny bit of nature’s prodigious creation. In nature we rely and in nature we live, and yet we often forget nature in the midst of our hectic day-to-day life. Can’t we all be a little more conscious and a little more caring? Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, ‘If we can ground ourselves, become one with the Earth and treat her with care, she will nourish us and heal our bodies and mind’.
WWF Bhutan's Chening Dorji shares his experience on birding in Bhutan and his book the Wings of the Dragon.
Nature always seems to inspire a sense of calm and peace. Perhaps this is why birding came so naturally to me. Although I have been doing this for the past 20 years, the excitement that I feel when I go birding is truly unexplainable. Hearing the birds chirp, the leaves and branches of trees dance about, the insects and other animals, natures ochestra is a truly beautiful site.
Wings of the Dragon is the culmination of years of hard work that was only made possible with the support of my friends and family at WWF Bhutan. I am truly grateful to be surrounded by colleagues who always support what I do. I am truly blessed to be able to do what I love and work with Young Bhutanese Birders from all over the country. My hope is that the Wings of the Dragon inspires youth to love birding as much as birding as inspired me.