Friday, April 23, 2010

Nainital Bird Heaven

From Kathgudam onwards the height appears striking. One can see steep rising hills with  tortuous winding road network. The climb up is steep and can be risky as the barriers on the side are missing at places. The driver of our bus drove with confidence and practiced fluency.  I held myself taught, not used to such heights and the plunging deep valleys. 

The place disappoints, we were going to Sat Tal which is some 14 km from Nainital. On my first visit I realized that Nainital was no more a tourist heaven it is more of a builders' paradise. Most of the hills have human dwellings - even flat systems. The sight is disappointing since few green patches remain. 

All the way through this part of Uttaranchal, I could see devastating effect of urbanization - unplanned and rampant. This was not what Jim Corbett had described in his books on man eating tigers and leopards. The urbanization certainly means end of the road for natural environment here. The lack of right policy regarding development in tourism zones  is apparent in this country.    

Sat Tal in Naini Tal district is a birders paradise still. The worst are the garbage  dumps - conspicuous by their absence. Whole surroundings are littered by plastic bags  - the quantity is astonishing. 

Kainchi Dham were we go for birding exhibits a rabid example of this, the rivulet is choked with plastic bags, litter and no one bothers. The tree line of the banks is receding and settlements are replacing them. The same devastation is apparent at Sat Tal township which is bustling with hotels, restaurants, colonization and private villas and what not. Thankfully Pachmarhi in MP has been saved from this scourge being a cantonment and a wildlife sanctuary that begins immediately.  

Naini Tal township is literary a Bhendi bazaar of milieu of tourists creating chaos. During my birding tours we have avoided this township which reeks of stuffed houses, choked bazaars and settlements littered with garbage on roofs and everywhere. Once a nature's paradise no more now.    

Pangot at greater height is untouched by ravages of uncontrolled tourism. But the forest denudation at places is of concern. I have seen hillsides occupied by settlements that are completely devoid of vegetation. Pangot offers mesmerizing view of Himalayan Ranges and is home to unique species of animals and birds. 

Corbett Tiger Reserve retains much of its glory in the core areas and the surroundings. But expanding civilization and urbanity sounds a death knell for this beautiful tiger heaven. The reserve is home to large number of bird species and fall in popular birding circuit in India.           

Many tour operators conduct bird watching tours  in Northern India. On a bird watching trip one can checklist a very large number of avian species.  But forest denudation is slowly destroying the habitats of birds in our country.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Destination Kerala: Backwaters

Lying parallel to the Malabar Coast in Kerala is an interconnection of salty lagoons, canals, rivulets and lakes. This is what constitutes Kerala’s back water the famous tourist destination.  The canals are man made as well as natural.

The back waters are inundated by thirty eight rivers and run half the length of the state.   The formation of backwaters is due to low lying islands that act as barrier across the mouth of rivers flowing down from the Western Ghats.  

Most of the towns and the cities of Kerala are located amidst the backwaters. These towns act as starting or ending point for backwater cruise. Some cruise lengths exceed over 200 km. 

The ecosystem is unique due to merger of fresh water and saline water of Arabian Sea. At places there are patches of cool fresh water where saline water is prevented from flowing in.  Backwaters are hence habitat for unique and some endemic aquatic species, large number of water birds are dependent upon this system. The rows of coconut palms, verdant leafy bushes on the banks of backwater provide greenish hue to the landscape.

The overall composition of backwaters accords serenity and calm.  The romance of an enchanted boat ride along side picturesque landscape is the highlight feature of backwaters.   The Kettuvallams as house boats are known in the state are a major tourist attraction. The Kettuvallams are grain ferrying barges which have been converted into house boat accommodations.  The house boats offer luxurious amenities and modern facilities. They are well equipped with furnished sleeping rooms and modern toilets. The dining area and sit out is usually on the deck.

Except during heavy rains the season for house boat cruise is practically year around.   The house boat tours can be booked through tour operators in India. There are various tourism packages available to enjoy a holiday on boat at these stretches of serenity.

The state offers much more than backwater cruise on the waterways. Kerala it is home to fantastic wild animals and birds. There are large numbers of National Parks and tiger reserves in the state for wildlife watching. Sightseeing on tours is exciting. Ancient monuments, Hindu Temples embellished with bewildering designs and array of colors, forts and palaces enthrall the visitors. The architecture of the state has a unique style with admixture of foreign impression at places.      

The diversity of life, exotic culture, Malayali cuisine and warm hospitality makes Kerala the most visited state in India. It is God’s Own Country so pack your bags and fly.