I had planned to stay back at the hotel with The Hindu Times and CNN. I've read enough old accounts of orchid hunting: "Despite the terrain we only lost one man..." But orchid hunting in the Western Ghats turned out to be a lot less strenuous than Christmas shopping. It involved an SUV on loan from the Trivandrum Botanical Gardens, with driver, and Indian colleagues with my sense of humor. Sorry, America, only those who have been through the British school system and the old caste system of the English can, deep down, be on the same wavelength.
We were hunting orchids along the roads because that is where the oldest trees are: not chopped down but left for shade, not jungled up but separate, receiving their share of sunlight. And it's only on the oldest trees, Dr. Motes says, seventy-five years or more, that orchids have time to grow and can find that crusty old bark they love.
Kerala is the most populous state in India. True, whenever we stopped under a particularly old tree on those country roads, there was always a house and garden nearby where we could negotiate for a bamboo pole, be observed by grinning groups of school children walking home or locals on crowded buses charging by, their elbows jutting out of windowless sides.
We did not lose one man on those trips; we did find a Dr. Motes, more than happy, as he saw these Vanda species in the wild. And I was more than happy to just slide into my SUV seat to go hunting orchids in the Western Ghats.