Saturday 15 April 2017

Postcards from Andaman : Baratang Caves

During my trip to Andaman in 2014, I (with my family) had a chance to go to the Baratang caves. We were staying in Port Blair, and from there, we took a cab before even dawn broke, to Jirkatang, about 40 kms away. It was kind of a checkpost where a lot of other cars and trucks and buses and the sort were already there, all parked to the side of the road in a long queue. Many others kept coming and they all kept parking one behind the other. 

At about 6 AM (or was it 7?), we set out like a convoy in the same formation, one behind the other, accompanied by armed forces to the front and back. The reason for this is that we had a 50 km drive ahead of us through the 'Jarwa reserved forest' in order to reach Baratang. This area is inhabited by the locals, who do not like interacting with the outside world. Photography and overtaking is strictly prohibited during the entire journey. Unlike smoking in public places, it is actually 'very strictly' prohibited.

After we crossed the forest, we had to take a 30 minute speedboat ride to the island where the limestone caves are. Following are some of the pictures I took during this visit.

A 30 minute speedboat ride to the island

In order to reach the island, we need to pass through dense, mangrove forests

After the ferry dropped us off at a jetty, we had to walk a further 1.7 kms to reach the caves

Cave entrance

The naturally formed limestone deposits form beautiful patterns

A narrow gap on top is the only source of light inside the caves

We were really tired after we got back at around 3-4 PM to Port Blair. This was a good experience, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. The cave itself is good, but honestly, not extraordinary. I enjoyed the journey though, but some might argue that it is not worth the effort. My opinion? Go if you have a day to spare, and are alright to walk the extra mile (quite literally). It might be a little difficult for elders though, so do keep that in mind.

I only posted once last week, but I'll make sure I get back in the groove and post this Wednesday. Have a great day and a great weekend!

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Humans, the agents of destruction : The story of the 6th mass extinction

(image courtesy :

Before I start with this post, I would like to mention right now that I will try to keep safe distance from the moral aspect as much as possible in this post. I am no one to comment on what is right, what should be done and what should have been. This post is about looking at everything from the impartial eyes of nature and its evolutionary process.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let us start with a term everyone is familiar with... 'Extinction'. In simple terms, it is a dying out or termination of a species with no remaining living members. The dinosaurs, the dodo, the woolly mammoth and the likes are prime examples of this phenomenon. Can you add a few more to the list? 10, or maybe 5? Unless you are a biology buff and are thorough with the topic, I'm sure you'll struggle to find too many more names. But guess what? Since life started on earth, roughly 40 billion species have become extinct, which is around 99% of all the species which ever existed.

Why does extinction take place really? The reasons are many. But consider this. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. It has undergone numerous changes in terms of geology, climate, atmospheric composition etc, and continues to do so to this day. In order to adapt to the changing environment, some of them evolve, most of them die, because that is how nature works. And because life is so much about co-existing, the extinction of one species might lead to drastic changes in the entire ecosystem. Sometimes, species are wiped out if some other species out-competes them. Mutations and natural selection are also reasons why extinctions might occur. These processes are fairly gradual, when we look at it in the time-frame of thousands or millions of years. But sometimes, certain events wipe out a major chunk of all the living species, much 'quicker' in the geological time frame, when more than 50% of all species go extinct. These events are called mass extinctions.

There have been 5 major mass extinctions that we know of.

ORDOVICIAN-SILURIAN : Occurred about 450 million years ago, when more than 60% of all living beings were extinct 
over a period of about 10 million years. This probably took place due to the formation of gigantic glaciers and dramatic worldwide fall in sea levels, which in turn might have been caused by a gamma ray burst, which again in turn might have been caused by a hypernova explosion (basically an explosion much larger than a supernova). The cause is actually all speculation at this moment, but the proof of the massive die-off lies in the various strata of rocks, which shows absence of fossils in the layers formed during those times.

THE LATE DEVONIAN : Around 365 million years ago, more than 70% of all species got extinct over a period of maybe 20-25 million years in a series of mass extinction events. It probably happened due to global cooling, which might have been caused by an asteroid strike, or a massive volcanic eruption. Simultaneously, the ocean levels fell and its oxygen levels depleted (or ocean anoxia). One of the theories also suggests that plants, which were taking a strong hold on land, absorbed so much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, that it caused global cooling.

PERMIAN TRIASSIC (THE GREAT DYING) : This is the worst known mass extinction event, where about 95% of all species got extinct about 250 million years ago. The cause was most probably a series of volcanic eruptions in an area called the Siberian traps (its area roughly the size of western Europe), which lasted a million years. It directly resulted in an increase in global temperatures by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. The release of gases in the sea floor lead to periods of too much oxygen in the oceans (hyperoxia), and later, too less oxygen (anoxia), and marine life suffered greatly due to this.

: About 200 million years ago, the super-continent Pangaea started to break up, which lead to volcanic eruptions in many parts of the world. The sudden release of methane and carbon dioxide lead to a large scale global warming. Scientists know less about this event than the others, but it seems that ocean life was hit much harder than plants and land animals. This event hence, paved the way for the age of the dinosaurs, which would last around 135 million years.

CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY (K-T) : Probably due to a massive asteroid/comet strike 65 million years ago in the Yucatan peninsula off the coast of Mexico (as evident from the Chicxulub crater), about 75% of all species got extinct (including the dinosaurs), paving the way for the age of mammals and birds. A lesser known theory also suggests that a massive volcanic eruption in India could have been the cause too.

'THE CURRENT ONE' : The previous mass extinctions were either due to hypernovae, volcanic eruptions, change in tectonic plates, or asteroid collisions. This time it is us.
The impact that human beings have had on our planet is unprecedented. Ocean acidification, rise in global temperatures, and mass extinctions itself have happened before. But the current events are unique in many ways. Never before has a single species taken over such a significant percentage of the world's primary production. There has never been so much habitat destruction, and the introduction of non-native and invasive species the world over, as we see today. There also has never been any species which have had such an impact on evolution itself. Even though the term hasn't been officially coined yet, scientists think that because of the changes in the environment due to human intervention, a period, either from the onset of Industrial revolution in the 18th century, or from the 1950's, marks a beginning of a new epoch, and many call it the 'ANTHROPOCENE'.

If it all seems like an over-exaggerated fairy tale, such as 'Climate change' is (*sarcasm), let me give you a little reality check.

As I've mentioned before, extinction is a natural phenomenon. In normal conditions, there is usually a constant rate of extinction. For example, it is estimated that in case of mammals, 1 species get extinct every 700 years or so. Want to take a guess as to where we stand according to the current extinction rates? Would you say 5? Maybe 10? 100? 200? No, the current rate of extinctions are at 1000 mammal extinctions per 700 years! Sea life? Well, the acidification of oceans is at the highest in more than 800,000 years, and at this current trend, by the end of this century alone, more than one-third of the species will go extinct. Let's go a little further. Invertebrates, which make up about 97% of all living beings, have declined by 45% in the last 40 years alone. Amphibians, many of whom have survived multiple mass extinctions for the past 350 million years or so, seem to have been hit very badly too. At a normal rate, 1 species of amphibians go extinct in a 1000 years. Current rate? 45,000 extinctions in a thousand! Another fact is that the numbers which I have given above, are conservative estimates, as we are yet to find out more data. So in all probability, things are much worse.

The 5 major mass extinction events probably occurred over millions of years. The Anthropocene started just around 70-200 years ago, and already, the current extinction rates are higher than the K-T extinction. So the peak of the 'Anthropocene' might be closer than we expect.

Will the humans survive the extinction? Probably, but maybe barely. We might have made great progress in science and technology, but what we forget is that the key word here is 'co-existence'. While it seems that the changes in the environment are only affecting the plants and animals, it will come bite us back one day. For example, we are not directly affected by global warming yet, because we have AC's to keep us cool. But it has an effect on the animals and plants outside too, who do not have the luxury of AC's. Eventually, they will die if the increase in temperature is unbearable. So if the corns and the cucumbers die off, we will eventually be hit by famines and droughts, which might lead to an all-out war, as history has seen many times over. What then? Nature has its own ways to balance everything out. If not famines, then diseases might wipe half of us out. The rising ocean levels are no longer a myth; many parts of Bangladesh, Phillipines, USA, India, you name it, might be swallowed up by the sea within this century alone. There is also something called the 'Thermohaline circulation' (also know as 'ocean conveyor belt'), which has a huge impact on the global climate. I would love to explain that too, but I feel my post is already too long, so click here to read it up on Wikipedia. Basically, if the Thermohaline circulation stops, there will be mass extinctions in the seas, the climate will change drastically (how though, nobody can predict), and it will lead to a massive increase in anaerobic bacteria, which emits one of the most toxic of gases, hydrogen sulfide.

These are but just a few possibilities out of so many others. Frankly, I am very positive about a lot of things, but for the future of mankind, not so much. My intention behind writing this post is to make people aware about what our impact on the world is, because everyone knows we are a threat to our planet, our very home itself, but not many know to what degree. In my opinion, leaving aside good or bad, right or wrong, humans are indeed the agents of destruction. We are a very strange and mysterious entity, unlike anything ever seen on earth. Our instinct is not to live with nature, but to control it to favour our way of life. But, unlike asteroids and volcanic eruptions, we do have a conscience. Because things are still not out of hand at this moment, and if we want to put a stop to it, we still have time. Humans might be the problem for all this, but the only answer to all this is also, humans.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe"

- John Muir

References : by Jeremy Hance

Thursday 6 April 2017

Postcards from the hills : Bandajje falls trek

2016 had been a year of treks for me. This is not because I went to a hundred treks or something (I totaled 5 I think), but because I had never trekked before last year, and these 5 'climbs' made me love trekking so much. Hence, if I look back at my 2016, I think I can confidently say that trekking was one of the highlights of the year.

Out of all the treks though, this one is the most special. After all, this was my first ever! The trek took us about 4 and a half hours and it was one of the most tiring things I had ever done in my life.

We camped at night, although we forgot an essential accessory to set up one of the tents, and so some of us had to sleep in the open. And it rained a bit at night, which added to the cold. Click here to read about the entire experience in detail.

I have compiled a few photographs from that trek below. 

We stopped by a stream on the way in a place called Gundya.

We were chilling there for half an hour before we had lunch and made our way to the starting point

A few butterflies were also chilling by the stream

Our destination as seen from the starting point

Found a stream on the way up. Great place to take a breather, freshen up and drink some water

After 4 and a half hours of trudging through the forest, we come out into the open, all exhausted, and relish the view

We set up a campfire at night. It was pitch dark. We barbecued some pineapples and bananas, the only source of food we had for the night

Waking up in the mornings be like

The Western ghats at dawn

Sunrise. We left shortly afterwards and made our way down in about 3 hours.
The brunch after that was the best ever!

Let me know whether you like this post in the comments below. Take care everyone and have a great day! Next post coming up on Saturday.

Saturday 1 April 2017

Postcards from Delhi : Humayun's tomb

In the month of August, 2016, I was in Delhi, taking a break from office and meeting up some friends. It was quite hot during the day those days, and even though I wanted to step out of the house for a bit, I did not want to travel long distances either. I had to meet my friends in the evening, so the first part of the day was pretty much free for me. Even though the blazing sun and the annoying humidity was discouraging me to step out, I also wanted to visit the Humayun's tomb during my week-long stay in Delhi, because it was only 3-4 kilometers away from where I was staying. So at 2 O'clock in the afternoon, after lunch, I paid a visit to the tomb with my camera. Here are a few photographs from the visit.

The entrance gate

A view of the Humayun's tomb in black and white

I think Humayun's tomb is a beautiful monument, maybe even comparable to the Taj Mahal. I was in awe of the scale, grandiosity and architecture of the tomb. I spent about an hour there, admiring each and every corner of the monument.

Have you been to the Humayun's tomb? How was your experience? Feel free to comment.
Another post coming up on Wednesday. Have a great day and an awesome weekend!