Pondicherry

Meanwhile in Pondicherry it was only 37 today. I took the moped there from Auroville in the morning to have a new pair of glasses made. I had my current pair made there too, 3 years ago. Eye tests seem to be growing more sophisticated all the time.

Running around Pondy on my moped, I discovered a nice book shop, where I bought Amitav Ghosh's new novel "Gun Island" and two books by Michael Ondaatje. Gun Island is Ghosh's first novel after his non-fiction book "The Great Derangement" - which was the one I was actually looking for. There he addresses the failure of artists and writers properly to address the Climate Emergency - he says that future generations will be mystified by its absence in the literature of our times. So "Gun Island", according to reviews, does weave the Climate Emergency into its plot.

Afterwards I had a nice pasta and pineapple juice in an Italian-style restaurant where I was the only customer, and then stopped in at the Ashram to pay my respects to Sri Aurobindo and 'the Mother'. On the way back, feeling desperate again for something cold, I stopped at Marc's Cafe in Kuilapalayam, and had some amazing nitro cold-drip coffee, served in a wine glass. Really better than beer. The coffee is grown locally in the Western Ghats and roasted in Auroville.

Auroville

I'm in Auroville for a few final days before returning to Israel/Palestine. I've been coming here for several years now, though usually for a much longer period. This year I decided to spend the majority of my time in Tiruvannamalai.

Auroville is the utopian dream-child of Mira Alfassa, an alternative international township based on the ideas of human evolution by Aurobindo Ghose. Today around 2500 people live here from all around the world, and the community continues to grow. Last year it had its 50th anniversary.

It's a beautiful and inspiring place, though not everyone's cup of tea. Sometimes I fantasize about living here though I was thinking today that it has rather too many rules - it's something that Aurovillians themselves sometimes say - rules of entry, rules of conduct, whatever. Otherwise it probably would not preserve its distinct character. I always think that its truly a miracle that the place continues to exist at all.

Auroville may declare itself an international township, and have a kind of unique status, but it must still abide by the laws of India. So, in addition to Auroville's own painstakingly formulated rules, are the limitations placed on it, and on those who wish to reside here, by the Indian government, with its ever-changing visa immigration laws. On the one hand these are generous, yet on the other restrictive. The number of questions that I was asked in Chennai airport this time made me think that I would not return again to this country. If they wish to ask questions, let them do so before granting the visa, not at the port of arrival, please. I hear of multiple cases in which people are actually turned away at the border or sent back home.

The journalist Robert Fisk once convincingly compared visas to a disease. Of course, that's just a statement of a privileged white man. I haven't let border controls deter me from traveling places till now, but I think I'm finally growing weary of them, as well as the accompanying invasion of privacy.

Nature Walk

I found a Swiss couple today willing to split the cost of a guided nature walk in the forest. This was very enjoyable and interesting. After donning special anti-leech socks, we went in, accompanied by Ajesh, from the Manan tribe.

All of the forest guides are recruited from the tribal peoples who have traditionally lived in the area of the park area, as they know the terrain and the wildlife intimately. He was able to give the English or Latin names for everything we asked about. Wild animals are shy, so you don't often see them. Now the rains have started, all the wild animals move away from the area we were in towards the lake. Elephants need to consume about 350 kilograms of vegetation each per day, so they go where the food is. There had been a tiger sighting a month ago in the area we were in. There are leopards and rarely, black panthers. The tiger may have been coming for the gaur, a kind of bison that is the largest in Asia, weighing up to 1500 kg.

Or maybe he was coming for deer, of which there are three kinds in the park, sambar deer, barking deer and mouse deer. The latter is a tiny creature, among the smallest of the deer family.

We saw frogs and toads (which disguise themselves as leaves), and lots of Nilgiri languirs - a large ape with a long tail, a black face, and a grey beard, as well as frogs and toads, which cleverly disguise themselves as leaves.

The park is full of interesting trees, many of them quite ancient. Bamboo (which is a grass, rather than a tree. Among fruits there are mangoes, jackfruit, and a fruit that resembles a kind of sour grape. There are 20 species of figs, including one called the strangler fig, which has an interesting life story. Birds eat the fruit, leading to the seeds being dropped into trees. During the rainy season, the seeds sprout roots high up in the tree, in any hollow with moisture they can find. These are aerial roots, that then surround the tree.

Years later they spread down into the ground. For a long time the fig will live in intimate embrace with its host tree, till starving it of carbon dioxide and eventually killing it - a process that can take hundreds of years.

Another fig is a spiny but hard creeper, thicker than one's arm, that you can see shooting upwards to impossible heights.

The largest tree that we saw was the tetrameles - a specimen that was at least several hundred years old. It secures itself with flying buttresses that look like they have been constructed out of concrete, and the girth of its base is simply enormous. Apparently there's a famous one at Angkor Wat, but the one we saw was in its league.

There are also lots of sandal wood trees, which need to be guarded night and day - dozens of rangers are scattered through the park. A kilo of its wood, said our guide, can fetch 20,000 rupees. Other valuable trees are the rudraksha, with its brain-like seeds and lots of huge old teak trees. Our guide says that there is no problem of deforestation in this area, and the park is well guarded against any kind of poaching (thanks to the budget from our entrance fees). However, climate change is still a problem. In his childhood Ajesh says that he remembers cool winters, and that the streams and brooks would flow with water the whole year, rather than just a few weeks, as is the case today. Tourism and strict government control are mixed blessings; providing organized work for the tribal people through the park foundation; obviating informal guiding of tourists, and raising the prices of basic goods.

Ajesh said that in a high season, he would do the walk we did up to three times a day, but the demand is mostly from foreign tourists. Indian tourists are lazy - they mostly like jeep tours or boat trips. When families come they immediately expect to see wild animals, as if the 350 square kilometer park was just a large zoo. But he said that in recent years there had been a slight change and Indian tourists were beginning to hit some of the trails in the park.

When we came out of the park we pulled off those anti-leech socks that had protected us well, though in the process a couple of leeches still managed to hitch a ride on my exposed skin. You don't feel any kind of bite, and the leeches are not harmful, but they suck out copious amounts of blood. Afterwards while I was enjoying breakfast in a nearby cafe, one of them was making a meal of me - I looked down to find my foot bloodied as if after a serious injury.

Thekkady / Kumily

After a month in Tiruvannamalai, I decided to escape the heat and head up to Thekkady in Western Ghats. No one comes here in June, at least not western tourists, so I 'm the only guest in this homestay guest house, at a cost of 400 Rs or 5 euros per night. Which is fine with me. I can do my regular work + some reading and writing. There's a lovely roof-top garden for guests. The temperatures are a nice 25 or 26 in the daytime, and there are lots of showers to keep everything fresh and green. Unlike elsewhere in India. According to the Guardian 43% of the country is in drought. Villagers are deserting their villages and farmers are committing suicide. Twenty-one Indian cities – including Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad – are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020.

Tiruvannamalai

39 degrees and time for afternoon rest; following lunch with the standard fare of rice, rasam, sambar, gram, a spinach dish, perhaps, followed by buttermilk. Discussion about sadhana and Nehru, with my kind old host.