Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kerala Wildlife

A strip of land on the leeward side of the Western Ghats the Indian state of Kerala abounds in enchanting things. The altitude variations and diverse geographical features makes this land heaven for wildlife.  The forest types are true Tropical evergreen, semi evergreen and deciduous. 

The state contains little less than 10,000 sq. km of forest teeming with endemic, rare and common animals and birds. The wilderness is protected in numerous conservation centers notified as wildlife sanctuary, National Park and Tiger Reserve.

The popular tiger reserves are Periyar and Eravikulam National Park besides Nilgiri Biospheres Reserve is a biodiversity hub of International significance. The major fauna are the Bengal Tiger, Elephant, Chital, Sambar, Bison, Leopard. Nilgiri tahr, Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Sloth Bear, Swamp Lynx, Flying Squirrel, Indian Muntjac, Jackal and Jungle Cat. Some less known animals are Stripe-necked Mongoose, Bonnet Macaque, Rusty Spotted Cat, Nilgiri Marten, Dusky Striped Squirrel, Small Clawed Otter, Briwn Mongoose, gray Slender Loris and Ruddy Mongoose.

Kerala is also home for King Cobra the biggest venomous snake in the World.  The number of reptilian species is very impressive and a treat to watch.The largest population of marsh crocodiles in the state survive in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected areas are best for wildlife safaris in the state. The travelers should gather prior information before visiting the forests of the Southern state. 

Periyar or Thekkady is the most popular destination in the state. It is a large tiger reserve with many interesting animals species and birds. 

Kerala is India's top tourist destination famous for backwater tours and beach resorts as well. The are many package tours available to discover the state and its wildlife. There are many tourism destinations for safaris, beach holidays and backwater houseboat stays.  

The best season for visiting the state is from August to March. The state offers unique experience to the visitors hence other timing may also be preferred. The timing would depend upon what you wish to see and experience.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pune: Larger than life

I first visited Pune many years back on business trip. The city had characteristics of a peaceful serene rustic human habitation enveloped by greenery of Shayadhari Hills. Unspoilt by rabid urbanization the old time shopping areas, the green patches augured a characteristic aura of  romance of  India of Old. The impressive structures, relics of British Raj stood out authoritatively as they did during the rule challenging the very concept of free India.  The large shops built during the Raj selling medicine and liquor are still etched in my memory lane. They stood out from the modern contraptions that the city has so eagerly embraced.  

Pune of old can be envisaged as a quaint town with green hills and a redolent population of endemic dwellers. No more it is a bustling metropolitan with ever increasing population. The transmigration of populations from all over the country has taken the city by surprise. The individual identities have drowned in the sea of humanity.

One visit to this bustling town assures you that Poona has transformed to Pune. It is Maharashtra's second largest metropolitan after Mumbai. The city is an IT Hub and large scale  industrialization has taken place. The city has presence of large number of automobile industry - vehicle manufacturers and ancillaries. The Sahyadhari surrounds are still green clean and neat with well defined road network - the highways. The city is a mad cacophony of hotels, shops, garages, pan shops, roadside vendors and skyscrapers.  Even amidst chaos and consternation the city exhibits semblance of sanity and decency. You always manage to get past the traffic.    

The local populace of old and migrants have inculcated the essence of old city and the developed one. Nevertheless Pune is bursting at its seams as more and more people come and settle here. The education infrastructure invites a large number of students every year which constitutes the floating population. 

There are many green areas in the metro that enchant the visitors. The modern upcoming infrastructure constitutes of malls, restaurants and shops. The roadside food is delicious with typical Marathi cuisine steaming hot vada paws, spicy pav bhaji and misal paw. The posh restaurants offer culinary delights from all over the state and foreign countries. One has to pay through the nose at upscale restaurant and the bars in this city but it is worth the food.   

It is no more a holiday destination but a business and education center. If you have taken care of your travel and accommodation than you will love your stay here.     

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Responsible Travel & Tourism

Travel is going to grow, grow and grow. With quantum growth responsibility has to creep in. Certain tourism destinations are sensitive and fragile. As the day dawns upon us we have realized the importance of responsible tourism. Sustainable use of natural resources, profit sharing with locals by the way of employment, recycling substances are all in the package.

The tourism industry has to play a major role, be it hospitality or travel services. The onus is greater in ecotourism zones - one fine example is Kanha National Park.  The demand for super luxurious accommodation and amenities may augur practices contrary to responsible tourism principles. The ingress of urbanity is also one of the damaging factors. All things modern puts lot of stress on the ecosystem, invites rush of people that puts stress on the habitat and natural resources. .

Controlled tourism is a must...Kanha cannot become like the Hill Retreats in India most of which have been ravaged by rampant construction. The construction without purpose or service for personal accommodation and pleasure should not be encouraged else damage to forests and natural lands will take place.  Resorts that are based on RT and  implement recycling activities, alternative energy usage that are eco friendly are most welcome.

Be Good

The tourist behavior in sensitive zones is controlled by rules and regulation. Kanha is a fine example of how tourism has been maintained to optimum level without damage to the habitat and its denizens.

The visitors should themselves comply with rules and regulations set in. These are not "free for all" holiday destinations. A wildlife safari is to experience the complex web of life on Earth and its equally complex but important processes. A safari is a learning process wherein we come to understand the importance of environment and its conservation.

Eco Resorts

The eco resorts make maximum use of naturally available raw materials, install bio gas, use solar panels etc. These are some of the indicator of responsible behavior. Local tribes and communities are the sentinels of tiger reserves in India many have been displaced to make way for other life forms.

Empowerment of Local Communities

Employing and engaging local tribal in all productive activities is encouraging. It is compensation for displacement, movement restriction and limitation on use of minor forest produce, and in some circumstances loss of land etc.

Empowerment of locals is a must it can be done by the way of training and employment. Assistance to local institutions especially medical centers and school from the money earned should be encouraged by the leaders of the industry.

Inculcating sound principles of responsible tourism will augur growth and development the green way. We have seen the ravages of uncontrolled mining, responsible behavior would prevent excessive dependence on fossil fuels and mining products.

Alternative employment and skill development will wean away locals from poverty and destructive activities. The hospitality businesses should partake and assist in creating innovative alternatives which are ecofriendly.  

It is a win, win, situation for nature and human society along with all life forms. Let us change our ways.        

Friday, August 5, 2011

Naini Tal a vanishing Garden of Delight

Uttarakhand a la Uttaranchal.

The plains give into the rising mountains. From a distance the mountains look indomitable, inaccessible and over powering. As you climb up from Kath Gudaam in between the folds of the mountain the paradise unfolds. The steep rising curves can be frightening for those not used to hills in India. The cool refreshing aroma of the hills overtakes fear and a holiday mood sets in. We did see an elusive leopard on the way uphill somewhere before Bhim Tal. The tigers are rare but for some seasonal migrants from Corbett and surrounding region.      

I have visited Sat Tal and Bhim Tal many times on birding tours. These are must visit places since the urbanity is creeping much slowly. Sadly the whole of Naini Tal is a dying ecosystem thanks to uncontrolled construction. People are displacing natural lands, not only here but all over the country. The investor and builder lobby is unstoppable and benefit from inherent corruption in the system. 

But thankfully there are some places left preserved, even now. Birding does not take place only on forested regions of this district. Birding spots line Kainchi are littered with polythene waste and degraded. Destruction of natural lands is evident near all human settlements in India. The avian species are forced to inhabit these places because the habitat suits them. But for how long?      

Pangot though not colonized extensively  has been under the scourge of villages and much of the areas has been denuded. Sat Tal and Pangot are excellent for birding and the former is better holiday destination than Nainital township which is a bazaar bursting at its seam. I would  never suggest a holiday in the over crowded township. 

The amazing spectacle of Snow White Himalayan Ranges are visible from Sat Tal and Pangot the best. Nainital Valley can be best seen from the heights of Pangot which is over 2000 MSL. 

The road to Corbett passes through the Bajun Valley another good birding spot. You drive down hill  through the Corbett country via Choti Haldwani  & Kaladhungi all these places have retained the forest canopy to some extant. Jim Corbett has popularized these places in his memoirs & stories of man eating tigers which he hunted skill fully. Besides the core zone places like Lal Dhang, Sita Vani near Rampur, Mohaan and Koshi River Beach are excellent for birding outside the preserve. Sadly human ingress is quite noticeable in many areas - one of the reason for elephant attacks and man eating by tigers.  

Corbett National Park is a true tiger country and a picturesque wildlife conservancy. The preserve is an excellent bird destination as well. More than 500 hundred avian species inhabit this enchanting tiger reserve seasonally. Hence the park attracts birders as late as April when the heat begins to rise. These Himalayan Foothills referred as Terai contain Bhabar tracts, Sal forests along with mixed canopy and large stretches of grasslands now seen only inside the park. At greater height the tree line changes to Oak, Birch, Rhododendron and Pine. Moss laden barks of trees attract many birds especially woodpeckers. 

The stretch of grassland at Dhikala Meadow inside core zone of the park, quaint glens and high rise mountains are enchanting and so are the Ramganga River sides.

Lot of natural places in the foothills are loosing ground to industrialization, agriculture, rampant construction and increasing humanity. How long this wonder land remains is anybody's guess. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Romantic Indian Summer & Monsoon

The vagaries of weather & climate can never be experienced like you would do in India. With every change of season the country transforms itself - an effort to be in harmony with things. It is very difficult to describe playful Indian Summer as romantic because it is a feel. And romance is in the eye of the beholder. The vivid display of diminishing colors and drastically changing landscape are no less appealing as spring time fecundity.

The cool salubrious mornings followed by the scorching noons and dissenting nights offer admixture of relief and discomfort sometimes at extremes. The effect of the fall and erstwhile spring form cryptic display of the living and the dead. Even in the dry hot summer, the country functions ceaselessly, a mass of humanity well acclimatized with extremes of ever changing seasons. Bronze bodies in glistening summer. Paradoxically the people travel more in the heat of the summer. The torturous travel  is absorbed by high expectation of visiting friends and relatives. For the fortunate it is the cool confines of Hill Retreats & Himalayan Ranges. 

The dry hot summers are followed by pre-monsoon showers, a hide and seek game of rising and falling humidity.  The blast of showers after much expectations augur new life everywhere. The monsoon blasts are an orgasmic relief from constant bouts of  heat. The monsoon nurtures India. Even after remarkable technical progress, the country still depends upon the heavenly rains. A deficient monsoon spells disastrous for the Nation that depends upon every drop of precious flood.