Unknown India: the Inside View

В Национальном парке Казиранга экспедиция передвигалась на слонах, штат Ассам. Фото: Леонид Круглов
В национальном парке Казиранга экспедиция передвигалась на слонах, штат Ассам. Фото: Леонид Круглов

One of the teams of the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society has successfully completed their work in India. It is the first complex expedition in the history of the Society to a little-studied sector of India. Leonid KRUGLOV, together with other members of the expedition, sums up the results and makes plans for the future.

Within two weeks, a group of RGS researchers traveled through the north-eastern regions of India from Bangladesh to Myanmar and back: the state of Meghalaya in the foothills of the Himalayas, the plateau of Assam, the mountainous regions of Nagaland. The result was basically a gigantic transect.

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Сельскохозяйственные террасы, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Сельскохозяйственные террасы, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов

We will be able to sum up the final results after we complete the laboratory tests. However, it is already clear that we have managed to gather a rich ethnographic collection describing the way of life of several peoples at once.

"We have fulfilled the key mission objective – we have laid the foundation for further expeditions of the Russian Geographical Society to India, created a solid foundation for cooperation with the National Geographic Association of India," said the head of the expedition, director of the Youth Work Department of the Russian Geographical Society Anton Yurmanov.

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Руководитель экспедиции Антон Юрманов держит в руках фрагмент глиняного сосуда, который был найден под огромным фикусом в деревне Лонгва, штат Нагаленд. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Руководитель экспедиции Антон Юрманов держит в руках фрагмент глиняного сосуда, который был найден под огромным фикусом в деревне Лонгва, штат Нагаленд. Фото: Леонид Круглов

In Shillong, Meghalaya, we held our first working meeting with Vice-Rector Prabha Shankar Shukla from North-Eastern Hill University. The prospects of cooperation were discussed, including the opening of the RGS center in India, joint expeditions, internships, and phenological observations.

“For example, many species of migratory birds leave our country every year. Part of them goes to India. It is interesting to find out when they arrive here," Anton Yurmanov explained.

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Мегалитические сооружения на въезде в штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Мегалитические сооружения на въезде в штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов

Throughout the expedition route, samples of soil fauna, and insects were collected. Since we were here in the dry season, we were looking for certain micro-habitats where living organisms are preserved in a refugium, or in a "small nature reserve", as scientists say.

In the forest protected areas, we found leaves with water condensation. Bamboo sticks, which the locals harvest for their needs, were found on household plots. As it turned out, many interesting organisms can be extracted from sticks.

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 Вдоль реки Сиджу экспедиция передвигалась на лодках. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Вдоль реки Сиджу экспедиция передвигалась на лодках. Фото: Леонид Круглов

In Kaziranga National Park, Assam, we saw trees whose bark is peeling off. Beneath it there is a special world of diverse living beings, and most of them are new to science.

Here, in Kaziranga Park, we met a floating aquatic plant Salvinia. Its folded leaves contain a large number of small soil animals, including collembolans, and not only aquatic ones.

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В гостях у племени в долине реки Сиджу, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов
В гостях у племени в долине реки Сиджу, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов

“In general, I am very pleased with the results of the expedition. We managed to find such places where new species of animals are hiding. I hope they will be described soon," Natalia Kuznetsova, zoologist of the expedition, shared her conclusions.

Kaziranga National Park is one of the few protected places in India, which is in excellent condition. Ecosystems and landscapes have virtually no traces of human presence. There are many large mammals, various insects, rich soil fauna, birds.

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Зоолог Наталья Кузнецова изучает наличие микрофауны в придорожных водоемах, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Зоолог Наталья Кузнецова изучает наличие микрофауны в придорожных водоемах, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов

“An amazing place, with a very large variety of species of birds. We were able to observe large flocks of both sparrows and geese. Perhaps it will be possible to determine the location of new interesting species,” said the ornithologist of the expedition, consultant and coordinator of the project "The RGS: Environment" of the Youth Work Department of the Society Victoria Grudinskaya.

In the state of Nagaland, studies have been conducted in the field of avifauna, and they turned out to be very interesting. We managed to take blood samples of birds. Once in the laboratory, we will determine the content of Haemosporida – intracellular parasites.

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Орнитолог Виктория Грудинская и руководитель экспедиции Антон Юрманов ставят сети для ловли птиц. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Орнитолог Виктория Грудинская и руководитель экспедиции Антон Юрманов ставят сети для ловли птиц. Фото: Леонид Круглов

On the way back from Nagaland, the expedition took water samples. The source was lowland reservoirs, quite eutrophic, that is, rich in organic substances. There are many higher and floating plants in them. For example, water hyacinth and various ferns. It is these habitats that are interesting places to identify new species.

“I am already preparing a description of a new type of diatoms. We plan to name it in honor of the famous Russian geographer, orientalist, and member of the Russian Geographical Society Andrei  Snesarev, who studied India 120 years ago,” said the biologist of the expedition Maxim Kulikovsky.

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Биолог Максим Куликовский изучает древние растения, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов
Биолог Максим Куликовский изучает древние растения, штат Мегхалая. Фото: Леонид Круглов

Currently, another team of this RGS’s expedition continues to work in these regions of India. It managed to find traces of the crash of an American plane from World War II. We are sure that our colleagues will share new discoveries in the near future.

About the expedition

The complex expedition of the Russian Geographical Society began on December 27, 2022. Location: Republic of India, Tajura region, states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. Main tasks: conducting ecological, biological, geographical, geological, ethnographic (among the Adi, Mishmi, Konyak tribes) research, search activities to identify the crash sites of Allied military aircraft from 1943-1945. Expedition leader: Anton Yurmanov, biogeographer, director of the Youth Work Department of the Russian Geographical Society.