Life In Southwest India


An elephant eats jackfruits in the backyard of a house in Valparai, Tamil Nadu. COURTESY OF SREEDHAR VIJAYAKRISHNAN

Thanks to Yale e360 for this reminder of the amazing nature we witnessed from 2010-2017 while living in the Western Ghats.


The Anamalai Hills in India’s Western Ghats region, shrouded in mist. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

The Young Writers Awards, presented by Yale Environment 360 and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, honor the best nonfiction environmental writing by authors under the age of 35. Entries for 2020 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner. Read all the winners here.

Song of the Western Ghats: A Green Island in a Crowded Land

For a young ecologist, the mountains of the Western Ghats are a respite from India’s intense urban life — a lush land of monsoon rains, elephants, king cobras, leopards, and a spectacular assortment of birds — and a place where wildlife and villagers still largely manage to coexist.


A dhole, or wild dog, in the Western Ghats. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

What is it that draws us to the quiet, to the green? To the mist-curtained mountains, where everything is crystal clear – leaves in high definition even against an overcast sky. Where leopards leave their mark in soft mud, and you smell where an otter has walked.

Do we bow down to how humbling it is, to live in these places, and breathe this air? Our days here end when the moon’s begins, and then we cede this ancient land to the wild. Would we dream of living in reverence like this, in our gray, densely packed cities? We give to nobody there; we do not share the land with myriad life forms the way we do here, in our mountains and forests.

What do we do when it rains here, in these forests?

Sometimes, I let it touch my skin, kiss and caress me, because I am a stranger here still, and this rain overwhelms me. The land is ruled by the elements — the mist, fog, rain, and wind visit as often as the sun and the moon. Life doesn’t pause here for the rain; its diverse forms are no strangers to the monsoon — the whistling thrush still sings, the cicadas abound, and so I watch.

As an ecologist, I am grateful every day to be here, to experience the natural world beneath the tall trees and work under their majestic canopies. Today, I pull up a chair and set it up so the rain splashes onto my feet, and I watch the mist as it plays with the mountains. I think of how this magical misty mystery of a scene is so different from that of this land when it’s drenched in sun and tea glistens and birds flash brightly by…

Read the whole essay here.

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