Niligiri Field Learning Centre - Batch of 2016
Niligiri Field Learning Centre – Batch of 2016

Keystone Foundation, one of Kotagiri’s popular ‘eco-systems’ welcomed the NFLC 2016 cohort into the newly constructed dorms after a tiring journey from across the globe. Even though jet lag was a dampener for some, the Cornelians’ counterparts here soon helped them settle into a comfortable rhythm and absorb the ambience in and around the Keystone campus.

Gokul teaching the NFLC class traditional Badaga dance
Gokul teaching the NFLC class traditional Badaga dance

Orientations and introductions inaugurated the much-awaited semester along with informal chats about the different cultures, towns and people over tea. These informal conversations saw the first seeds of friendships  sprout and grow stronger in the classroom during the ‘Cross Boundary Exercises’ (CBE). The first CBE or more accurately ‘ice-breaking exercise’ was a peep into two very different cultures. The Cornelians and the Keystone Students were both required to enact a mime depicting their lifestyles and whatever they could relate to as a group. While the Cornelians enacted a typical day at Cornell University, the Indian students demonstrated what life in a remote village was like. The NFLC core team formed an impromptu third group to portray the morale and spirit that lives within Keystone.

After completing elaborate introductions, the semester kicked off with Ecology broadly being the theme of the week. The students soon discovered that to pack Ecology into a single week was impossible. However, they were exposed to its different components, by the end of which they could better appreciate and understand what Ecology was about.

A Skype session on ‘Sustainable Development’ with Steven Wolf from Cornell University opened the Ecology week. Themes such as “needs” and “poor” and the relationships between population, affluence and technology were key points of the lecture. Short outdoor excursions and experiments in the afternoons complimented the afternoon lectures well. A stroll round the hill, a hike through the Banagudi Shola (sacred grove) and conducting experiments in ‘Happy Valley’ were strategic and enjoyable activities that kept the otherwise dreary afternoons alive.

Understanding the intricacies of mapping
Understanding the intricacies of mapping

Lectures continued throughout the week: Anita Varghese introduced the fundamentals and basics of Ecology and Conservation that was a new topic to some and a revision to others but nonetheless helpful to everyone. Wetlands, pollinators and landscapes were also topics given special attention to by Shiny Rehel and Manju Vasudevan, a guest speaker. Madhu Ramnath, another guest lecturer, addressed the subject of ‘Systems of Knowledge’  and shared his experiences with the Durwa people of Bastar. Lastly, interactions with wildlife and human-wildlife conflict and coexistence by Sumin and Abhishek were the concluding lectures for the Ecology week.

NBR Bus Tour - at Mukurthi Peak
NBR Bus Tour – at Mukurthi Peak

While each lecture was informative, interesting and backed up with concrete examples, the highlight of the week was the NBR bus tour. The day proved to be exciting with activities such as horse-riding and rock climbing and at the same time educational by observing and learning about the different kinds of forests and biodiversity.

To sum up, the Ecology week was not only holistic in terms of topics covered, but it also set the ecological context of the NBR to understand the interaction between different systems and the unity and synchronicity of man and nature. Similarly, mutualistic interactions in and out of the classroom gave rise to synchronicity,  which in turn, grew within the walls of ‘Manda Arae’ giving birth to a new community, a new family, better known as the NFLC family.