A walk in the forest – Part 1



Nearly two decades ago I was taken on my first ever walk in a forest by a man who was born in 1875, roamed the jungles of the Himalayan foothills during the early 1900s and died in 1955. He achieved this feat through his books that recounted the thrilling hunts for man-eating leopards and tigers. This man, who is now my greatest hero and role-model in life, is the great Jim Corbett: the man who set a little Sri Lankan boy on the path to becoming a conservationist through his beautiful books. I do not possess even a millionth of the knowledge of the forests that he did and I know for a fact that I never will. Never in my lifetime will I gain the experience, to observe and interpret the beings of the forest that he possessed. However, today I would try to draw from what I have seen, heard and experienced in the jungles of Sri Lanka and take you, my friend, on a walk through the forest. Even though this will be a meager affair compared to the walks I had with Jim, this shall be my way of paying homage to a legend. Since enough time has been devoted to introductions, let us now commence our little walk this beautiful morning.

It is pleasantly cold at this early hour despite us being in a dry zone forest. The dew drops on the grass on either side of the jungle track reflect whatever little sunlight that fall on them in an innumerable number of directions; creating a dazzling visual treat. The breeze brings to us the many thousands of smells that are unique to the jungle. To me this is the pinnacle of life. To see, hear, smell and breathe in the spirit of the forest and the millions of its inhabitants. We will enjoy and live each moment of this walk my friend, but we mustn’t forget that the jungles could be unforgiving to the foolhardy. Therefore we shall perform a delicate balancing act of exercising caution while reveling in the jungle’s beauty during our walk.
To our left we hear the melodious call of a male ‘White-rumped Shama’ tirelessly establishing his territory. If we cast our eyes into the dense forest we shall see him, darting to and fro flashing his orange and black coloration, singing his beautiful song made up of many a note. Another Shama calls to our right and thereby lets all within earshot know that that patch of forest is his.

Fifty or so feet ahead of us, a pair of grey mongooses (Alu-mugatiya) has now come onto the track. Taking a quick look at us they retreat with alacrity into the forest. However I have learnt that mongooses exhibit a behavioral pattern of returning to the path if no further disturbance is sensed, and I’ve used this knowledge to photograph mongoose at close range. Therefore we shall crouch by the side of the road and cease all movements. Patience my friend, is an invaluable virtue in the jungle. Hardly a minute passes before the pair now comes onto the track. Failing to see us in our obscured position, they move along the track for a few yards before crossing over to the other side and vanishing into the thick undergrowth. We have thus, by understanding the behavior of an animal, observed them in their natural state, going about their business unhindered.


Further along the path, we come across a puddle of muddy water along the edge of which are many dozens of butterflies. They include species such as ‘Blue Mormon’, ‘Common Bluebottle’ and ‘Lesser Gull’. Having aggregated to intake the minerals dissolved in the slush, these insects are of a collection of colours that would be the envy of any renaissance artist. During the next hundred yards of our walk we see the tracks of a bear that has walked this path during the night, the hoof marks of Spotted deer (Thith-muwa) and those of a Chevrotain (Meeminna). We also pass a monitor lizard (Thalagoya) busy destroying an ant hill in search of termites.
We are now within sight of a ‘T’ junction nearly fifty yards down the path, with the connecting track, perpendicular to ours, leading to the right. It is there we spot a large male Sambhur (Goana) lazily grazing to the left of our track. The next few seconds will teach us the deadly necessity of having our ears trained on the rest of the jungle as we observe a thing of interest with our eyes.

A troop of grey langurs (Eli wandura), on a tree roughly ten yards down the connecting track, that we have failed to notice, having been engrossed with the sight of the sambhur, now gives their unmistakable alarm call. This call can be described as a medium pitched short cough. The sambhur has now completely stopped its feeding and is looking straight down the connecting path. He has his large ears fully erect and focused in the same direction. Suddenly he gives his loud and piercing alarm call which if written down would be a ‘Pngaaang’. Simultaneously he paws the ground with his forefoot but does not run. The langurs are still issuing their alarm call and upon closer observation of the sambhur, we see his gaze, although fixed, is slowly moving from right to left. After a few long seconds, the alarm calls of the langurs end and the sambhur resumes his feeding while slowly moving in our direction and subsequently disappears into the forest.

This, my friend, is our opportunity to become detectives in the jungle. We will now assemble all that we have seen and heard, and try to construct a larger but accurate picture. As Hercule Poirot, the famous detective from Agatha Christie’s books, would say; ‘let us now employ our little grey cells’.

To be continued: