September 27, 2017

Jungle Lodges and Resorts - Ongoing experiment on Ecotourism

Tourism can aid in supporting livelihood generation for the local community and JLR over the past thirty years has strived to achieve this social goal. At Jungle Lodges and Resorts, community participation has been the norm ever since the first resort was set up. A majority of employees are from neighbouring villages, mostly within the same taluk or district. At Kabini and in the newer resorts of JLR, perhaps the single biggest action of distinction is the employment of local villagers as the custodian of day to day working of the resorts. More than 95 percent of all employees employed at Kabini are from the neighbouring villages, with 37% of from the nearest Karapura village. Following the same trend are the Cauvery Fishing Camps with more than 75% of the staff from the adjoining villages of Shimsa, Bluff, Dallankante and Muttathi.

JLR resorts have been set up in regions that are traditionally backward on social development indices. Each location of JLR has spawned multifaceted benefits and helped that particular region develop socially and economically. Most residents were engaged either on collection of forest produce or rainfed farming. This dependence on farming for income made them highly vulnerable to debts and the resulting poverty cycle. It may well be difficult to imagine that rural woodcutter form the neighbouring village in any other role, besides what they have been practicing over the past centuries. But to see the same villager, cut off from the world, earning a livelihood just a few hundred metres from the house and being proud of the contribution they have made to tourism, especially wildlife is a matter of pride.

Education for children has taken off in a big way. The auxiliary benefits have trickled down not just for employees but also for locals benefitting in the form of the business offered by such an initiative. The diversification and availability of alternate economic options locally has helped shield farmers, who were hitherto prone to the vagaries of nature, while reducing the vulnerability resulting from pure dependence on farming or collections from the forest.

The improvement in the quality of life of our staff is a major contribution of JLR as an institution. Virtually every staff of JLR, more than 600 of them now send their children for higher education in various towns and taluk headquarters. The positive social change on their lives can be now witnessed after several years of operation as the first generation of staff would testify. The young generation has progressed, establishing themselves in economically beneficial opportunities, while several have joined organizations in posts that their fathers could never have hoped to achieve after years of service, on virtue of their education and skill enhancement. Bringing about this miniscule yet significant change in the lives of the people has perhaps been the single largest contribution of JLR in the past 30 years and counting still.

September 17, 2017

ANBE SIVAM - Kamal Haasan R. Madhavan Kiran Rathod

Thank god that I got the chance to see the movie and also to see Satan, the dog who is god.

Reviews must be aplenty but for me, it touched a chord that brought some of the dormant naturism that I thought had died within me. I can only be thankful to Kamal Hasan for creating such a masterpiece. The theater scene, the vulnerability of Madhavan, the death of the child in spite of the viewer convinced that the child will live, the continuous upliftment of the evil human who in most mostly might have been shot or killed but in this movie continued to live life happily, the pain that Kamal's character faced and yet somehow managed to scrape through, the idea that communism is not an ideology but a feeling - thank god that I watched this movie...

September 10, 2017

Lessons from a Magical Land – Kudremukh National Park

Somewhere in the lost lands of the Western Ghats, in the midst of never ending sholas and floating grasslands, there is a wonder land known only to a few. Many may have heard of this paradise, many would have read about the tragedies that befell this land in the form of rampaging mining, but not many know that this paradise has regained its lost glory as one of the crown jewels of the Western Ghats.

The land south of the holy shrine of Sringeri and towering over the tropics of Dakshin Kannada is known to most as Kudremukh. To me, it is simply known as devarkadu – heaven. And it was in this heaven that I was lucky to have arrived at the peak of monsoons, with pouring rains and dense mist all around. I was blessed to be at Kudremukh. It was in the middle of the day that I reached Bhagvathi Herbal Camp and it began raining immediately. The cicadas fell silent with the rains and I could see the clouds roll into the campsite. And just as I began enjoying the rains, the rains stopped and we could step out to take a walk.

I walked upto the Bhadra river and could see the river in spate, the river nowhere as inspiring as its downstream avatar but nevertheless jumping and skipping over the rocks as a butterfly would. The trees were sparkling under the fresh rains and everything looked fresh and green. I was just as happy as a wandering soul would and could think of nothing else, no worry plagued me, no desire throbbed. I walked around like a silly boy while pretending to be a grown up adult, all I wanted to do was to do nothing.

However, there was work to be completed and we were taken to see the nearby areas within this range. My wondrous gaze only grew bigger by the minute. The vehicle which took us had suddenly taken a turn into the adjoining grasslands and we had entered a different world. Wide expanses of grass laden hilltops, patches of shola forests providing a deep contrast to the bright green grasses, stupefied sambar deers who were startled by our sudden arrival and just nature, exuding in her purest form. We drove on and on and reached the highest point in that range where a 360 degree view of the gigantic manifest bloomed all around. Everywhere, as far as our eyes could dare to contrast, there were rolling hills and mighty peaks, there were huge barren rocks and there was wilderness all around. I could have become a poet then but then I remembered to take a few photographs. Even the camera refused to cooperate for it could not focus at the subject, the subject was bigger than the widest lens man could have made and I shivered in cold delight at the failure of another of mans mining ventures at the hands of nature. Kudremukh National Park strikes its claim as one of the gems of the country and at that moment, I could see why Ervaikulam in Kerala, Mukurthi in Tamil Nadu and Kudremukh in Karnataka needs to be preserved for eternity.

There was a stunned silence on the way down and everyone in the jeep was lost in their own personal perceptions of heaven as nothing could possibly compare with the sight we have had. The forest had made believers out of us when all of a sudden, there was an alarm call. We stopped and listened to the cacophony of the macaques and a solitary langur for some time. Surely, a tigress was walking past us, somewhere close by, surely she must have seen us and as her wont, preferred to give us the royal ignore. The excitement at being close to the most majestic of them all made us agree on one aspect, that those who had been mining here for close to 25 years have finally been defeated. Nature has reclaimed her territory and the tigress her own. Kudremukh is safe and sound and what scars remain of the mining are important reminders that it was mistake to ravage this beautiful land and run it to the ground.

The trip ended on a somber mood though there were many treks that followed. Trekking to the Kudremukh peak was an unique experience and so was the walk to Kurinjal Peak through some of the most densest sholas that the subcontinent has. It was ultimately two days of being soaked in nature’s finest, however two sights stand out. The view from the top and the view of the recovery being made after mining stopped. If nature was a person, I could have given nature a big strong hug and said thank you.

The Story of Him - VII

He was on his third drink and having trouble relating the events in a sequence. He remembered his father leaving on the scooter making his way to the office. The land was quiet, no voice came from the surrounding villages, and the huge machines in the mine were deathly quiet... And then came the sounds, a silent, growing hum.... almost like the bees who buzz around his head day after day...The sound grew slowly, almost apologetically, as if the villagers did not really put their heart into what might happen next.... Besides, most were indebted to his father and the giant of a grand-father before him....They would be more worried to harm him than to shout for their demands. But mobs do not behave in the usual manner of a docile human. Mobs derive their strength from a random shriek, a cry or just the presence of huge numbers... And the mob was slowly making its presence felt... The shouts increased until it too merged with the vivid landscape of the mines... The shouts turned into one long monotonous drone... he knew that this was the moment when the mob will start doing something foolish.... And RS was right. At this very moment, his father - a veteran of a hundred mines, blackened with soot that clinged to his face inspite of heavy scrubbing, his father gave up on the hope of an amicable solution.... The crowds were thronging the grounds below the ancient British Administrative block and one of the unknowns had just thrown a stone into the third floor....

The stone crashed through the glass and came unstuck in the protective steel railing. But this was the catalyst. The father rounded up the thirty or so timid office staff, ran across to the corner office in the third floor - the office which held the strong room and locked them in..... He ran next to the other officers and called the police one last time.... The station was nearby and they had been urgently informed atleast ten times, but seemingly the jeeps did not have diesel in them.... The father shouted that they have a few minutes left and then the police can leisurely come to pick up after the bodies... Exasperated, he turned to his superior who was as stubborn as they get. An old school disciplinanrian, the boss refused to budge even as the crowds already entered the complex... It would not end anytime soon.

September 2, 2017

The Story of Him - VI

We stood silent and I walked to the garden. It was slightly overgrown, due to lack of the gardener’s interest in the recent days. The gardener's house had also subsided and he was on leave with the rest of the villagers. But the garden, howsoever unkempt, retained its charm, for it was cared for by the loving hands of many more people, my mother, father and above, by me. It was my secret universe, the huge peepul trees, the slight guavas, the wavy rose petals and the effervescent bougainvilleas. I took care of my garden for my treasure was also there, hidden under the ground, ready to be removed. The garden was big, with a driveway coming up to the house and lawns on both sides of the driveway. But it was a bit strange, this garden. On the right hand side, there was little space for many plants to grow but the left side of the driveway was big enough to be a football field and it was here that my secret games were conducted in great solitude. May be because, the garden patch on the right was unknown to me also - the shrubs were high and there was too much water seeping in from the ground. It seemed to be the other world, of the ghosts and the weird. Besides, on the left, I could always be sure of my mother’s presence wherever I was, she could keep a watch over her adventure seeking son who was prone to accidents.

I stood below the giant peepul which had ancient markings of the lord Shiva at its base. My mother said it was done before their time and was a sign of the gods who lived there. I believed her and believe her today too, though she laughs off these ideas. Maybe, mothers forget the tales they tell their sons when they are young. The tree was looking even bigger today for I was standing right at the base of its huge trunk and looking up. Standing there, I forgot about papa's worries and sat on the swing.

Years have passed since then and I have moved on, away from the land where I was born into landscapes which are different, yet that day remains vivid in my memories, RS surmised philosophically...

Cheap-packing across South East Asia

“Let’s cheap pack”. I was surprised at the suggestion. Backpacking is a commonly used term, but cheap-packing. Taking backpacking to its ext...