Saturday, 19 March 2011

Guwahati's Golden Langurs

Golden Langurs, Guwahati

I never thought of Guwahati as much more than a crowded, concrete-dominated transport hub, which has nothing much to offer the visitor except for a few moderately interesting temples. But this perception was at least partially shattered when I found out about a well kept "secret" about some amazing inhabitants of Guwahati. The city is home to a small troop of Golden Langurs, an endangered and very rare species.

My previous perception of Guwahati: Cluttered, ugly, disorganized concrete sprawl

The Golden Langur's primary habitat is a small area on the border of Indian and Bhutan where only few humans live, so it is truly a surprise to find any of them in the middle of a dense urban centre like Guwahati. Perhaps around a dozen individuals have managed to hang on to existence on a small island in the Brahmaputra river, surrounded by Guwahati city on both the opposing banks. Peacock Island, as it is named, is also home to an old temple, which attracts worshippers throughout the day. The monkeys have probably survived partially due to feeding by pilgrims, but even so they remain wild animals too this day. Fortunately they have undisturbed nights as all humans leave on the last ferry around 17.00 in the afternoon.

The approach to Peacock Island ferry

Ferry worker

Peacock Island is tiny - but big enough to sustain its Golden Langurs

After learning about this rare primate species I was excited to spend half a day in Guwahati waiting for our flight back to Delhi. This gave me a chance to head to Peacock Island to look for the monkeys. But after searching the fairly small island for about 30 minutes I was unable to find them anywhere, and a Dutch couple who had heard my tales of the monkeys became convinced that they were not there and gave up the search. But suddenly on my third circling of the island I heard some noises and followed it to discover the flock in an almost perfect position to be photographed!

This individual clearly demonstres why the species is described as Golden

A younger individual, which is just starting to acquire its golden fur

Another young monkey jumping from tree to tree

I spent a good half hour with the Golden Langurs and while doing so attracted lots of locals, who were curious to find out why I was so fascinated with a little group of monkeys - not knowing that they were looking at a very special and endangered species. The Golden Langur looks fairly similar to the common langur which is very common in India. But as the name suggests it is clearly distinguished by the golden colour of the fur found in the mature adults.

After bidding the monkeys farewell I made my way back to the mainland and went for a walk through Old Guwahati, which provided another pleasant contrast to the dirty and the crowded bazaars of central Guwahati. It consists of several leafy neighbourhoods with a variety of parks, temples, ponds, lakes and quiet streets sprinkled out over the area. I ended up at the Dighalipukhuri water tank opposite Assam State Museum and was amused to find the locals walking on water in a big water and air tight plastic bubble. So of course I had to try it also! Overall, it was by far my best day in Guwahati so far.

Scenic Urra Tara temple next to one of Old Guwahati's pleasant ponds

Busy, but leafed and broad street in Old Guwahati

A couple of locals trying out walking on water

Your's truly in the bubble - not actually walking in the bubble since it is almost impossible to stay upright

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Funfair

My niece Ina looking down on Mokokchung's Funfair from the ferris wheel

During our Christmas days Mokokchung I noticed a big Funfair erected on one of the town's major sports grounds. Such fairs travel all over India according to local festivals and holidays. Nagaland is an obvious place to set up shop for Christmas.

The fairs in India are still a bit on the primitive side, with various stands made of bamboo and a few kid-oriented amusement rides that are all a bit on the slow moving side - which is probably fortunate given the general safety standards of the place. The stands vary from those selling snacks, to those selling little magic trick kits (with live demonstration of how to use it) to game stands.

The most popular game taking up about 1/3 of all the stands is a simplified Roulette-ish game where you can bet money on certain outcomes generated by a little spinning wheel. There is a selection of prizes you can win, like teddy bears and various items for the home. These prizes seem to be mostly for show though, as all winnings were paid out in hard cash. This of course makes it gambling, and therefore illegal in India, but if anyone asks they were all just trying to win one of those really cool wall clocks in a flowery frame.

Local men trying their luck at one of the gambling stands

A view of some of the different stands. It is my nieces Ina and Avi with their father Lima on the right side of the picture.

Ina and Avi riding the Carousel

The machine room for the ferris wheel. I would not imagine this to be 100% reliable.

The entry gate to the Funfair or "Disneyland Mela" as it is apparently named

Nearby fireworks celebrating Christmas
(The events described in this post took place on 25 December 2009)