Quirky and Thoughtful Moments From My Trip to Yunnan, China

I spent one and a half months in Yunnan, China. Here are some of my favourite photos from the trip.

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People and Life!

I love how people in China follow discipline. But I have often wondered to what extent should rules be made – who should make them and if it’s okay to force people to follow them?  

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Elephants of Jinghong Town

Elephants are powerful, sacred, worshipped and wild. They are one of the most threatened, large animals living on this planet. In Yunnan, they were like magisterial titles – found everywhere – on roadsides and on footpaths. Beautiful, aren’t they?

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Of course, there were other animals in Jinghong town! 

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Canopy Walk Near the Town of Mengla

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I walked above the canopy. I realised that even if we, as humans have (technically) put ourselves above nature, none of us are mentally above it. Even the most enlightened ones have prayed and bowed down to mother nature. They sit ‘under’ the Bodhi Tree. Then why are there people who think it’s okay to destroy nature and that humans are superior?

What really makes us superior, intelligent and powerful? 

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Forests 

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I think trees are the most beautiful and unique entities of this planet. 

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Historically, forests have been used for human needs. Humans have extracted whatever they need from the forests. Plants, animals, fruits and nuts. Some people think forests are their rights, some others think forests belong to the wild animals and there are those who think forests and animals can be managed to gain what they think is the most important!

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So why do we need forests, or shall I rather ask what are our greatest needs?

Subsistence, consumption, recreation, luxury, or biodiversity…

What do you think?

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Colourful Nights at the Bar 

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I have always loved meeting people who share the same values as mine – nature conservation and sustainable living. Unfortunately, there’s no sustainable way to have the ‘occasional drink’. Even the most ambitious conservation leaders like to intoxicate themselves and unwind with music and deep conversations.

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Sustainable Cycling! 

Cycling slows down my life. In this fast-moving world of progress and development – cycling through the mountains of Yunnan in Mengla was just like meditation. I thoughtlessly cycled long distances and watched the trees along my way. Somedays, I parked my bike and lay on the grass with my binoculars to look at birds and stars. 

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One last question, so are the planet’s forests meant for the wild animals or the timber or the fruits or for human recreation – should we sustainably manage the forests for our needs or leave the forests alone – who should decide and when? 

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How To Avoid Leeches?

In the simplest definition- a Leech is a parasite that sucks blood. If you happen to wander around during the monsoons in the Himalayas or the Western Ghats of India you will encounter them in large numbers. They live off another organism and suck the blood (literally) of their host. Usually it is vertebrates that play hosts to these leeches. During my endeavors in the forests I have seen them attack a slug, a toad, many dogs and most commonly human beings. They usually make their way up from the host’s foot and crawl up till they find an area to suck on. They are capable of attacking any part of the human body including eyes, nose, mouth, vagina, penis, ears and breasts.

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Kodagu District lies in the Western Ghats of southwestern Karnataka. The district’s elevation is roughly 900 meters above the sea level. Most of the land is covered with coffee plantations and the rest is evergreen forest. In my quiet and peaceful hamlet within the coffee plantations, I lied down on a bench in my veranda watching rain and birds. They say an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. The devil had taken over my mind. I impulsively decided to venture out in the forests barefoot. I wanted to feel the clean, moist earth and moss that covered the rocks. I had been warned not to go out without gum-boots for the fear of stepping on snakes, dangerous invertebrates and of course thousands of leeches that would attack me in no time. But often, I do as I like, and went to take a walk barefoot. When I returned I had at least ten leeches clinging on to me in a short span of ten minutes. Most had grown from a mere 2 cms to over 12 cms in length. They had sucked my blood and grown ten times their original circumference. Some had fallen off leaving a profusely bleeding wound while others still hung around my legs, upper arms and neck. 

The point is, leeches are harmless to human beings. But they do send a shiver down the spines of most people who are not accustomed to them. Also, once attacked, each one’s body reacts to it differently causing irritation and inflammation. Most leech wounds would heal in a period of a week. Sometimes the wound leaves a small, itchy scar behind. The tiny dark scars most often go away in the second week. I’d like to say, if you plan to get attacked by leeches like I did or are wandering around in moist forests, you must keep in mind your sugar levels or any other coagulation disorders that you may be suffering from. In no case should a person diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus (DM) come in contact with leeches. The wounds of people with DM do not heal easily. Having DM may cause unnecessary complications, like infections.

(On a side note- I’d like to point out to those of you who think that DM only hits the elderly, that’s a myth! DM can affect anyone at any age. It is also important that you do not have any suspicions of increased sugar levels. In my case I was sure of not having elevated sugar levels in my blood, thanks to knowledge gained in my 7 years of medical schooling)

For people who are still grossed out by the idea of getting leeches on themselves, and as a general precautionary care- I have got easy ways to stay away from these blood suckers just for you:  

  1. Pluck it out: In an unfortunate incidence of watching a leech crawl up on you or feeling it in an unwanted area on your skin, you could simply pluck it out. That being said, there’s a specific way of doing it. You can’t just flick it off like a mosquito or a fly. With dry hands, tightly grasp the leech in between your fingers and pull it out. Now roll it using the pads of your thumb and index finger and flick it like you would the striker in the famous eastern origin game of Carrom. On most occasions you will have a bleeding wound. Use a bandage or dettol to prevent any infections.
  2. Use Salt: Salt has been popularly used by people who go to leech infested areas. The benefits of common salt against leeches are well known to the indigenous tribes of India. Salt can be sprinkled directly over the leech to kill it almost immediately. I have seen locals carry a special stick. Before getting into the forests they wrap salt in a piece of cloth and tie the ball at the end of a stick, like shown in the picture below. It is super easy to use, carry, store and it lasts long. Just slightly wet the ball at the end of stick and apply to wherever the leech attacks. Interesting isn’t it?

    A special salt stick prepared by the locals in Sikkim to keep the leeches at bay. As seen in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge; in a study done by Jokem Bam et al (Jul 2015)
    A special salt stick prepared by the locals in Sikkim to keep the leeches at bay. As seen in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge; in a study done by Jokem Bam et al (Jul 2015)
  3. Rub Vinegar: I learnt this technique from an old experienced man who had lived in the forests for more than 30 years. For him getting leeches off himself and fellow travelers was an everyday task. He tells me that rubbing vinegar all over limbs, thighs and soles of the feet can help prevent leech attacks.
  4. Tobacco: Just like common salt, tobacco has been frequently used among ancient Indian tribes. They rub a mixture of crushed tobacco and water over their limbs to protect themselves from leeches before entering the forests. I remember the old man from the forests mentioning that he uses tobacco for his pet dogs. Dogs often sniff around in the forests. As a result, leeches get inside their nose. An easy way to ease out the troubled dog would be to get him to sniff on a mixture of tobacco and water. A modern variation for trekkers and people like you and me would be to carry a cigarette along. Powdered tobacco from the cigarette can be put directly on the leech to kill it immediately. (Please don’t smoke in the forests)
  5. Eucalyptus Oil: If you have eucalyptus oil handy apply it all over your body. This does not let the leech stick to your body. Although the oil has a very peculiar smell and not everyone would like you to smell like that in the forests.
  6. Iron and lighter trick: When I was 16 I learnt about leeches. I found them very interesting and started scanning the internet. Most people were looking for ways to get them out of their body. This method is indeed a very cruel way of getting rid of this tiny animal. Warm up a small iron piece, like a safety pin or a corkscrew using the lighter flame. Now pierce it straight into the leech’s body. This will burst the animal and it will fall off immediately. Take care not to over heat the iron.
  7. Leech proof socks: This is by far the easiest way to prevent leeches from attacking you. You could buy a pair of professionally made leech socks in any of the outdoor apparel stores (I personally love Decathlon). But if you are not going to be using it often this would sound like a dead investment. In that case you could use any of the thick cotton socks/stockings or soccer socks that are long enough to cover your calf up to your thighs. This will keep you free from leeches on your trek. Thank me later 😉
  8. Alcohol: Alcohol has been proven to be very effective against leeches. Drinking alcohol is the best way to get rid of a leech that has inadvertently entered your mouth- although it is best to prevent such a thing from happening; possibly speak less when you are in the forests 🙂 If a leech has bitten you- putting an alcohol based sanitizer or drinkable alcohol on it should also work.

I was once working on a biodiversity survey in the Western Ghats when a leech entered a friend’s eye. We had to do a quick procedure to remove the leech immediately. A friend had to pull his upper lid up and lower lid down to expose the area as much as possible. Another friend pulled the leech off using her fine grip. The aftermath was not so scary, my friend’s eyes were all normal in about eight hours and his vision was also all right. In such circumstances washing the eye might help but a mild betadine solution will get the creature off. Usually it is advisable to carry betadine eye drops as part of first-aid kit. I read about this only later and confirmed with a few of my ophthalmologist friends.

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Picture by Shrikanth Nayak during his daredevil endeavours in the forests!

Leeches in general are not very deadly, they just leave you bleeding profusely (for a little while before the blood coagulates) and with an unnecessary itch. Sometimes an infection in a person with poor immunity can be triggered but most healthy individuals with protective footwear should be all right in the forests. The most natural way to get rid of them is to let them suck on your blood and fall off naturally, unless they have entered one of your body’s openings!

Don’t forget to tell me if you’ve encountered leeches in your life. I’d love to know how you got rid of them 🙂

PS: I hope you enjoyed reading this. Any help with my travel funds will be highly appreciated

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A Window In The Life Of A Physiotherapist Lost In The Woods

The best window ever!
The best window ever!

“Open the window of your mind. Allow the fresh air, new lights and new truths to enter.” -Amit Ray

The above quote popped into my mind as I opened this beautiful window in one of the best rooms I had ever lived in. I thought about my journey, a very difficult one, from being a professional physiotherapist to being in the wild, always! From rejections to depression, from working under a really terrible boss to standing up for it and quitting on my own terms, with only the last 500 bucks in my account to calling a friend and asking for some money to have a meal. At 26, it is rather difficult to call a friend or parents to ask for money. Lucky are those who haven’t faced this situation in their lives and those for whom this task is easy!

When I re-think of what life (which I once thought was a bitch) has done to me over years- my eyes hold tears and nothing else. The subtle difference being, now these tears aren’t just the tears of sadness. There’s a whole lot of happiness and sometimes a lot more emotions! Why in the first place had I, a doctor from a reputed university working at a renowned hospital ever quit her well paying job? I now know the answer!

Because life is all about the little joys, smiles and real happiness. 

The happiness that you discover within yourself. When I spent time at an Ashram of a renowned Saint Maharshi, I learnt that each human being has a whole big universe within. This encompasses our emotions, feelings, wants and needs. Within all this lies a piece of happiness and that genuine happiness, I have discovered envelopes me when I am lost in the woods. That enlightened mind full of thoughts, with the feelings that I need no-one when I am in the forests watching infinite little croaking frogs and colourful flying birds! They are indeed my best friends. Maybe they couldn’t give me money when I needed it the most. That’s when I realized “I love man no less, but nature more.”

When I get up in the morning, I feel extremely mesmerized by the forests with fresh, happy and peaceful thoughts every single day. How beautiful life gets with these thoughts, I thought, looking out of that window. A woodpecker comes and knocks at the panel by the side of this huge window. I talk to him, he tells me he’s confused. But I still continue talking. I smile at him and he’s still confused as to why he can’t make a hole in this bloody thing? He checks along the panel to make his nest, a place safe for his family. I tell him, we are human beings, the smartest species on earth, and no matter how hard he tries, he wouldn’t be able to make a hole there! Probably after some time he understood and left my window, leaving me again to lose myself in my own joyous thoughts of the forests and rains.

Many people ask me- do I ever feel lonely in the woods? The answer is an empathetic NO! And it will always be NO. I am merry within, my thoughts are pure and I have made friends with nature and creatures. How many of us today can think of making friends with and getting close to nature? For now I have known how to make money for myself or at least live a life with just the basics! The forests taught me something very important- it taught me to be less greedy, less needy and still be happy!

How many of us today are fighting for a job, a girlfriend or a companion, a lot of money, a house, a vacation, exotic food and some more luxury like new trendy clothes, smokey makeup and latest skincare? But I am just standing at my window and looking at the forest, lost within myself, being joyous!  🙂

Do I need more from life, no!

And you? What is that one thing that gives you happiness. Share in the comments below, I will be more than happy to read!  🙂 

PS: Any help to my travel fund will be highly appreciated.

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How I Met My ‘Courage’

‘Courage’ the little frog sat comfortably across this fast flowing stream. It looked as if he had made friends with the stream and her fast flowing water. The very strong wavy water was trying to protect it from predators.

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The rocks neighboring the water made it even more difficult to reach the frog. As soon as I stepped in the stream the water flow increased and the waves stopped me from getting close to Courage. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to give up. I had to prove to the stream and her friends that I am different. I am not the human being who throws plastic at them and usually comes to destroy them.

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I am going to observe this frog and help conserve him. So I put my foot down and went ahead. While I played with the fast flowing waves, another Whistling friend joined in. Thrush, the bird, occupied the canopy above me and watched all the drama below. He looked at me like “Oh just another creepy human being”. But wait, there’s more to me, I thought as I struggled to keep my foot down in the waves.

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The rocks had decided to stop me as well. They turned slippery and asked moss to cover them. I knew, these are not inanimate objects that we look upon them as. They are in fact the beloved children of Mother Earth, live creatures in themselves. All these life forces come together to make a brilliant cradle for the survival of human beings. In return it is our duty to give back, as much as we can.

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As my mind recited these thoughts, Mother Nature seemed to guess this already. She calmed down a little, after a good twenty minutes of my struggle through the rocks and waves. I had reached where Courage was. He posed for me and said ribbit-ribbit. Two more frogs jumped in and these I decided to call- Moxie and Energy!

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As I got out of the stream, I felt super happy. All the adrenaline rush and this new bond of frogship felt really wonderful. I was on top of the world. When I first decided to cross the stream, I was afraid. But as I gathered my courage and decided to take this path, I made friends on the way. These friends might not be able to party, wish me birthday or Whatsapp me, but they will always be there. Having them as companions, I realized, I don’t need anyone else!

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Travel lessons- Find your soul, what are you?

The beautiful blue sea at Kodi Bengre- A small town on the coasts of Karnataka, India
The beautiful blue sea at Kodi Bengre- A small town on the coasts of Karnataka, India

The sea is so gorgeous. When you stand in front of it, it shows you what space you occupy in this huge world. You’re a tiny speck lost in yourself, difficult to find and constantly fighting with the numerous external and internal factors. Who knows what you are, who you are? No one, but you yourself will find the answer one day.

Some say you must meditate, maintain relationships, listen to your parents, follow your elders/mentors, explore and travel to get there, to lead a happy life. But I doubt! I don’t think anyone can answer it for you.

No one but you will know whether you need meditation, exploration or a relationship! It just takes one moment, one thought, to realize and find your soul. Although when will that thought trigger, no one knows. It isn’t age dependent or time dependent. It just happens, like you fall in love but it is still a mystery.

And whether you have the guts to let that thought run your life defines whether you sail successfully like what a ship is suppose to do or are tied to the shore, which is also what some ships do.

The choice is yours of course!

PS: Show love in the comments, by sharing this with your friends and by helping me fund my travel.

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