The sounds of elephants breaking reeds, of a dozen brightly colourful birds, the fierce toy gun notes from a Giant Malabar Squirrel. Tranquility? No. That stands ruined by the incessant singing on loudspeakers from temples and churches.
In my three nights right near the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, at Thattekad, in Kerala, the only escape from this aural onslaught was after sunset. Even in far-away spots, where highly sensitive birds like the Sri Lankan Frogmouth make their nests, strains of music reach you.
Think of the people and wildlife who bear the consequences. We know how noise harms human health. But it also hampers birds from communicating with each other, and even attracting a mate! But the local authorities appear — like many local authorities all over India — to be hesitant to take on religious institutions even in the public interest.
The tourism industry frequently discusses models where local people host visitors, bringing in a win-win for both. During my three intense days of watching birds in Ernakulam district, I realised how, even without thinking of it, tourists with an interest in birds, end up involving the locals.
Most often, we rush into their plantations — a patch of pineapple where a green spiderhunter sits, or homes that house a rare owl in the backyard. There is no tangible benefit to these busy farmers in engaging with tourists, but they welcome the birdwatchers with amusement and respect. They let us sit for hours staring at a bird, at best asking us where we are from. To me, with every passing foray into the wilderness, it becomes even more important to recognise how linked enjoying the wilderness in India is with the generous attitudes of local residents.