April’s a beautiful month in the Nilgiris; gentle showers caress the grasslands that are vast stretches of brown streaked with fresh green, and the canopies of the shola forests that are collages of ever-changing shades of red and green, brown and yellow. The forest floor is a mosaic of colour too, with bright hues of fallen leaves and flowers tempered by the background brown and moss green.
It’s time for renewal in the Nilgiris: there are cinnamon saplings in the forests, with young green and bronze leaves appearing almost translucent in the sunlight that shines through the canopy; the magnificent Syzigium trees are full of flowers and will soon be laden with sweet fruit; high up on a moss and lichen draped branch, pink and white orchids bloom, their ethereal fragrance wafting down with the breeze; the grassland herbs are flowering too, and there are strawberries near the swamps.
In about a month, the monsoon will be here. The sounds of incessant rain and strong winds slapping hill slopes and overlapping claps of thunder will echo through the mountains and merge together in a mighty roar. Enveloped in a swirling mass of mist and clouds, the sun and the hills will be hidden to the world for a quarter of a year. In September, the rains will wind down, and the curtains of moisture will rise to reveal the landscape in all its breathtaking splendour: full flowing streams, mushrooms of all shapes and hues springing up from soil and dead wood, animals and birds coming out to welcome the warming sun.
Gradually, the rains will stop entirely. Morning temperatures will plunge, and crystals of ice form on all surfaces: grass blades and herb leaves, swamps and windowpanes. Cobwebs beaded with dew will shine amidst the vegetation. The brown grasslands and green forests will again be waiting for the refreshing showers in April.
But it’s still April. Leaning on a fence I’ve set up for my experiments, in a patch of grassland between two shola forests, I hear the haunting call of a sambar deer from somewhere deep in the forests. I smile in solitude; it’s a year since I started field work in the Nilgiris!