Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot...
That's the science of walking to most of us. But stealth is a highly prized skill in the walker, and when you have a hobby like bird-watching, it is of paramount importance, a significant skill in an art called woodcraft, a must for all of us who desire escape from our thickets of concrete.
My second post on the blog would have been based on my experience of walking around Old Delhi, but for an amazing walk a few days ago that changed my mind.
I accompanied my friend Megha to the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary on March 09, on a day that boasted of perfect weather. Not too hot, bright blue sky, a little breeze, and terrible light for photography.
We walked into the Conservation Education Centre where we met Mr Sajeev TK of the Bombay Natural History Society, who decided to show us around the place. So, armed with cameras and binoculars, the three of us set off into the park.
Asola is an area of open scrub forest, gnarled and knobbly vegetation dotting its landscape. Home to a fairly diverse assortment of flora and fauna, it is wonderful to walk through.
In case you have a guide, of course. Otherwise you are likely to get lost.
There are, as I have learnt, two ways of walking through a natural environment. Lay persons like me, walking 'silently', will make a fair deal of noise by animal standards, startling many really amazing creatures away, before even getting to see them. Also, we will manage to see, hear and identify much fewer creatures than there are present.
With someone who knows his woodcraft, though, you are instructed to walk in actual silence, which is when you realise what a racket the average urban walker actually makes, only it is masked by the engines, the horns, the screams and shouts that stay with us all the time.
You stop to admire trees, plants and flowers, realising that the beauty of forests must be savoured nice and slow. Stand still, listen to the sounds of nature (at Asola, there is also the faint hum of vehicles, the distant echo of loudspeakers. And horns. What would noise be without horns?).
To get to the point, though, the above described moment of stillness is the beginning of one's instruction in woodcraft, the point where the forest begins to yield its secrets, many a time giving to you the privilege of a long, satisfying observation.
Masters of woodcraft; of whom I have met a few; will walk the same route with you, but be aware of many more things than the lay person can see, hear or sense.
Which is basically how our walk with Mr Sajeev turned out. Woodcraft we saw, as we'd walk slowly along a path our guide knew like the back of his hand, waiting at specific locations, becoming familiar with the keekar trees, as well as the occasional neem, tesu and khejri.
Butterflies and birds became visible in their own time. Redstarts, White-eyes, Petronias added to the more familiar bulbuls, robins, babblers, warblers darting in and out of the foliage.
There was a small mongoose family that held our attention for quite a while. Moving in and out of sight on a little sandbank, nervous of our presence (I realised I walk very noisily), they were around for enough time for us to to take a few pictures.
Even better, though, was the sight of Purple Sunbirds feeding on flowers of the Tesu tree, the male's brilliant coloration arresting our attention.
Asola is set amid breathtaking surroundings, the Adilabad-Tughlaqabad ruins and the Lotus Temple visible from parts of the park premises.
It's a wonderful place to visit, early in the morning when the heat hasn't set in. Moderately strenuous walking, and the thorns know their business, so good shoes and tough denims are in order.
As is a bottle of water, a pair of binoculars, a notepad and pen, and a camera.