The Brahminy kite is a familiar sight in our skies. Its systematic name is Haliastur indus. The term ‘haliastur’ means ‘whistler’. The Brahminy kite does have a call that sounds like a hoarse whistle.
In Hindu scriptures, this diurnal raptor represents Garuda, Vishnu’s mount. The Garuda is the official bird of Indonesia’s capital city and lends its name to the national airline of that country.
The bird is also known as the Red-backed sea eagle in Australia. The Langkawi archipelago, off the coast of Malaysia, is named after the Brahminy kite. ‘Langkawi’ means reddish-brown eagle in colloquial Malay.
The adult Brahminy kite has a distinguished plumage that sets it apart from the other urban raptors. It generally feeds on fish, crabs and frogs, and usually nests on trees near waterbodies. When necessary, it will scavenge for food at harbors, slaughter-houses and fish shops.
The only reason why I continue to live in this garbage-laden, dog-infested, over-congested and rapidly decaying concretised shithole called Bangalore, is the proximity of a few good birding locations.
Ranganathittu is one such. Spread over just 700 square meters, this sanctuary is one of India’s smallest. Yet, it is home to well over one hundred avian species and several other flora and fauna.
During the winter months, the star attraction at Ranganathittu is the Eurasian Spoonbill. So named because of its characteristic flat bill, the Spoonbill is a long-distance migrant that comes down to India all the way from Europe.
Come October and hundreds of Spoonbills arrive at Ranganathittu to breed. Spoonbills prefer shallow waterbodies and feed on small aquatic animals, like snails, frogs, crabs, aquatic insects and young fish. Spoonbills have a typical feeding style. They walk around in shallow water with their open bills dipped in, constantly sweeping for prey. The bill snaps shut instantly when it touches its prey.
While the Eurasian Spoonbill is a winter visitor, there are many other resident avians at Ranganthittu that are just as spectacular. The gorgeous Painted Stork is one of them.
So is the Asian Openbill Stork. And the Oriental Darter (alias the Snakebird), and the Woolly-necked Stork, and the Spot-billed Pelican, and the River Tern, and the Great Thick-knee, and the Indian Shag, and many more.
And look out for the Marsh Crocodile (or Magarmach, if you prefer). Ranganathittu is one of the few places where you can see the endangered Marsh Crocodile in its natural habitat. You can usually spot a couple of these magnificent monsters sunning themselves on the rocks.
There is a large colony of Flying Foxes at Ranganathittu. Flying Foxes, FYI, are bats. In fact, they are the world’s largest bats.
If you take a boat across the lake, the boatman will take you very close to these crocs and foxes – for a small financial incentive, of course!
The entry fee is Rs.50/ per head (per Indian head, that is). For foreigners, the entry fee alone is Rs.300/-. And that, to my mind, is not fair. Why do we always assume that visitors to our country are all stinking rich and are all very happy to pay ten times the normal fee?
The fee for a common boat is Rs.50/- per head. Or, if you have money to spare, you can shell out Rs.1000/- for a four-person boat and a prolonged half-hour ride across the lake. Shell out another Rs.100/- to the boatman, and that half-hour can become one hour!
The gardens around the lake are equally rich in avian life.
Look for the Green bee-eater, Grey wagtail, Oriental magpie robin, Black-rumped Woodpecker and India’s smallest bird, Tickell’s Flowerpecker. About the size of an adult thumb, this elusive little fellow prefers to feed on the fruits of the Singapore Cherry tree, which is where I snapped this Flowerpecker trying to gulp down a meal.
Distance from Bangalore is about 120 km, an easy two-hour drive from the city. Ranganathittu is close to Mysore. If you prefer, you can stay at Mysore for a couple of days, and visit several birding spots around the town.
Ranganathittu is good for a visit through the year. If you want to see the Spoonbill, visit during October-March. If you’re serious about birds and photography, then strictly avoid weekends. Mid-week is strongly advised. Visit the place as early as you can. Ranganathittu opens at 8.30 am, at which time you will probably have the place to yourself.
Please avoid loud clothes. Dull greens and browns are the correct attire. We don’t want your ultra-tight jeans and bright-yellow tank-top to scare those poor birds, do we?
Do avoid exposing large amounts of your skin – and not for moralistic reasons. There is no shortage of mosquitoes and other stinging insects at Ranganathittu. Odomos is well advised.
If you have no car, no worry. There are many buses from Bangalore and Mysore. Or gather a few friends and hire a taxi. The nearest rail station is Srirangapatnam, but I think a road journey is far better.
Just grab your binocs, hit the road one fine morning, head for Ranganathittu, and leave your worries to the birds!
I am a badly frightened man. With each passing day, I watch the society in which I live descend into savagery.
Ahimsa paramodharma. Non-violence is the ultimate religion.
So said a man whom we venerate as the Father of our nation. He died a violent death himself, ironically. The violence that followed the death of this apostle of non-violence claimed dozens of innocent lives and underlined the importance of his message.
It is a message that never seems to get through in our country.
Mob justice is for savages. Violence leads to more violence. Revenge leads to more revenge.
I’ve seen what happened in India in 1975, what happened in 1984, what happened in 1992, 2002, 2004, 2015, 2016.
I’ve watched buses being burnt, shops being looted, men being hacked, women being stoned, children being terrorised. I’ve had friends sobbing on my shoulder as they told me their personal stories of horror and brutality.
Even in the cyberworld, or especially in it, the savagery is genuinely frightening. Social websites bring out the worst in people. My friends on Facebook post ghastly stuff on my timeline, gory pictures of maimed human beings, scary sermons of savagery.
Recently, some whacko in Chennai did something cruel to a feral dog, and posted a video on Facebook. And the entire nation erupted, as people poured out violent invective against him. Kill him, hang him, castrate him, burn him, throw him off a roof, rip off his head.
The man was arrested, but that didn’t satisfy anyone. The invective just got worse. Jail is not enough, hang him. No, hanging him is not enough, first torture him. It went on and on.
Yesterday, someone posted a story about an alleged rape victim who chopped off her attacker’s penis, before he could penetrate her with it. The man is now in critical care and fighting for his life. And once again, the invective was scary in its intensity. What was even more scary in this case, was the cruel joy that many women showed in their messages. Well done, he deserved it, all men must have their dicks chopped off, and much much worse.
Hundreds of men in India get trapped in false rape cases and are ruined for life. How come no one says we should chop off the private parts of women who file these fake rape cases?
India leads the rest of the world in the number of deaths due to dog bites. Twenty thousand Indians die of rabies each year. How come no one says we should burn those rabid dogs, chop their heads, rip their nuts off?
What’s happening to our society? Mob justice, violent invective, brutality, savage glee. Riding on the pavement. Breaking traffic lights. Running over elderly pedestrians. Throwing garbage into the neighbour’s yard. Chucking beer bottles on the road. Midnight rave parties. Blaring loudspeakers. Bhajans through the night. Firecrackers at odd hours. Defecating in public. Urinating before children.
If someone says something nasty, beat him. Someone eats something that you don’t like, lynch him. Someone looks different and dresses differently, strip her. Someone has a god’s image tattooed on his leg, break it. Kill. Maim. Dismember. Decapitate.
Mind you, not all these savages who bay for their fellow human’s blood are illiterate roadside thugs. Some of them are my friends on Facebook, educated people in corporate jobs, people I eat and drink with, people I share my city and my life with.
And that is exactly what frightens me. It’s only a question of time before these savages turn on me. Only a matter of time before my maimed and mangled body appears on someone’s timeline and everyone posts messages saying I deserved it.
We were always a society that found it easy to justify gratuitous violence. We are rapidly becoming a society that gleefully celebrates savagery.