Monday, June 14, 2010
Five Seasons And a Vuvuzela
It’s three in the morning and the mercury will not dip. The heat burns the skin the way cold water scorches the hand after you’ve burnt it and plunged it in cold water.
I’m in my shorts lying down in a bug-ridden bed staring at the fan, the wires holding it and that hole. I get up to slow down the fan blades. There’s no speed-controlling knob. There’s a switch and the fan propels. That’s it.
In June, Delhi’s a potboiler. Walking around Pahargang (a lively place with a seedy reputation in south Delhi with cheaper accommodations, closer proximity to cinemas, shopping, the New Delhi train station and Connaught Place), feels like getting out of the staid frying pan in to the fire (much like the local open kitchens called a tava dhabba). The area’s seedy brow-raisers probably stem from the Gen-X hippies looking for Dharma and Karma – as you can tell from that shaggy look and T-shirts stating, “If god is everywhere, why look for him?” A red-light district lurks somewhere in the ‘hood. And that’s probably about it. An Amsterdam-er would find that normal but again that’s a Dutchman, with a penchant for high flights.
The monsoons are coming. The other day a newspaper (nobody sells newsprint better than Indians. For Rs 20, you can pick up all the English dailies bar the financials and still pocket the change) reported a disciplined punctual monsoon was on its way to south India. The forecast was wrong. India’s first monsoon is kicking in with a Super Cyclone Phet heading towards the western state of Gujarat. Breaking news from NDTV reports a change of mind from the Phet – its now heading towards Oman. The good news is now accentuated with the expectant cool showers. But then again this is a weather forecast. There’s news yet again of the rains, dubbed “Tracking the Monsoon” – it’s showering the northeast region. When one is constantly living in and out of a pressure cooker and a deep freezer, it makes sense to track your rains. The report ends with a promising teaser this evening on a TV special called “monsoon express.” If you are into meteorology, astrology, fortune cookies, crystal balls and stocks and bonds, this is a program you can’t miss.
Back home we’re prone to weather bashing. Summers just too hot. Winters’ bad. When autumn falls and spring renews, its either winter dread or summer anticipation (Its probably reverse psychology along the southern boundaries). It’s tempting to envisage a weather-reversal, with Delhites experiencing Bhutan’s seasons and the Bhutanese, a hot, humid, foggy, wet, cold Delhi. Forget the grass, even the weather’s greener on the other side. The news gets updated yet again; Phet is now upgraded to a tropical cyclone. It might do damage to Lahore. Gujarat is gearing for it. I hope it brings relief, not mayhem.
48 hours on and I’m back in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. The skies are overcast but instead of a cool summer feel, there’s a chill in the air. Evenings are a colder. Has the heat wave in Delhi got me nauseous and delusional? I don’t know but I’m feeling under the weather. Global Warming’s now officially become Climate Change. Keeping track of this thing is like vaporizing clouds. You burst one and the next one appears – kind of like the weather in Bhutan.
For a small country, this kingdom of 38,394 sq.km is blessed with the good climes. The kingdom’s northern belt is almost uninhabited, with the odd yak herder camped here and there. The trekking trails through this region are some of the most spectacular. Its home to the Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Blue Poppy, the aphrodisiac worm and some of the most beautiful stretches of untouched terrain. The northern region of the country consists of an arc of Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows reaching up to glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 7,000m (23,000 ft) above sea level; the highest point is claimed to be the Kulagangri at 7,553m (24,780 ft) with Gangkar Puensum enjoying the distinction of being the world’s highest unclimed mountain at 7,570m (24,840 ft). The lowest point is in the valley of Drangme Chhu, where the river crosses the border with India. Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasture for livestock, tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds and herders.
The Black Mountains in the central region of Bhutan form a watershed between two major river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 1,500 and 2,700m (4,900 and 8,900 ft) above sea level, and fast-flowing rivers have carved out deep gorges in the lower mountain areas. The forests of the central Bhutan Mountains consist of Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests in higher elevations and Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests in lower elevations. Woodlands of the central region provide most of Bhutan's forest production. The Torsa, Raidak, Sunkosh and Manas are the main rivers of Bhutan, flowing through this region. Most of the population lives in the central highlands.
In the south, the Shiwalik Hills are covered with dense Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, alluvial lowland river valleys and mountains up to around 1,500m (4,900 ft) above sea level. The foothills descend into the subtropical Plains known as the Duars. Most of the Duars is located in India, although a 10 to 15 kilometres (6.2 to 9.3 mi) wide strip extends into Bhutan. The Bhutan Duars is divided into two parts: the northern and the southern Duars. The northern Duars, which abuts the Himalayan foothills, has rugged, sloping terrain and dry, porous soil with dense vegetation and abundant wildlife. The southern Duars has moderately fertile soil, heavy savannah grass, dense, mixed jungle, and freshwater springs. Mountain Rivers, fed by either the melting snow or the monsoon rains, empty into the Brahmaputra River in India.
The climate in Bhutan varies with altitude, from subtropical in the south to temperate in the highlands and polar-type climate, with year-round snow, in the north. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. Western Bhutan has the heavier monsoon rains; southern Bhutan has hot humid summers and cool winters; central and eastern Bhutan is temperate and drier than the west with warm summers and cool winters.
In more ways than one, the seasons in Bhutan are the year’s minute and second hands, keeping track of the year. The winter is grand if the peaks are snowcapped; the summer is cool if the monsoons are timely. Though you can walk all year round, nothing quite carries the song that heralds the onset of spring or the golden falls on breezy autumn days.
Having said that, what can beat watching the World Cup in Africa right now? The vuvuzela buzz is evidence – absolutely nothing!