February 29, 2012

The State that is Karnataka

A land whose vitality is expressed through its culture, from the ancient dance drama of Yakshagana, to the unknown story of the silent rock of Hampi, from the best expression of Islamic architecture at Bijapur to the marvelous rock temples at Belur and Halebid. Karnataka is truly a microcosm representing the diversity of the entire country into one single unit. It is indeed a blessing that we all are witness to the bounty of this ancient land everyday of our lives.

As a state, traditionally forests have been revered and accorded a high degree of protection. Greenery has been respected and the capital city was famous across the world as a garden city. Very few urban conglomerations in the world would have a sprawling national park in the form of Bannerghatta so close to the city centre and if one goes further down the road beyond Kanakapura, the wilds of Karnataka beckon in the form of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.

It is also a land of a mind boggling variety of food sensibilities. Puliogare, Bisibele Hulianna, Chitarana, Mosaruanna, Vangibath, rice avatars such as Sanna, Noolputtu, Kadabu, Kadubittu, Kadambuttu, Bemble curry, Pandi curry, Yenne Badanekayi, Menthe Soppu, Coorgi version of rice roti, akki roti and above all, Ragi, the simple down to earth millet which is the staple food across millions in the state.

Ragi would perhaps qualify as the epitomisation of the Kannadiga spirit, strong, hard working and soft at heart. A ball of ragi mudde with a puli (tamarind) rich sambar made by forest guards at some anti poaching camp, deep inside the forest with few utensils and a simple assortment of masalas is a treat. When after a day’s walk, you are sprawled out on the bamboo bed and Karia puts the ragi powder onto the utensil, pours water and uses a bamboo karchi to mix the powder and within minutes, the ball is made - it feels like heaven and many forest lovers would testify to it.
Then the exotic fiery food of North Karnataka with Jowar dominating the minds and food tastes just as Ragi does so in South Karnataka. Jowar bhakri follows you as you move around the villages and towns in and around the northern part. Mysore pak is as famous as its namesake town with tourists often thronging popular sweet shops during a visit to the town.

Then there is the geographical diversity in the form of natural regions. Karnataka has one of the richest remaining forests in the country with more than 43,356 thousand square kilometers or twenty two percent of the land under recorded forest area.

These forests are a treasure house of biodiversity and the sheer choice that nature has to offer humbles and reminds man of its bountiful nature. The famed Western Ghats achieves its greatest glory in the state with more than 60 per cent of the Ghats falling in Karnataka. Besides forest rich areas in the central and eastern portions also enrich the forest wealth of the state.

The state has perhaps one of the leading wildlife landscapes in the world. With more than 25 percent of all elephants, 10 percent of all tigers and a dense conglomeration of major herbivores as well as predators, the jungles of Karnataka abound with the attraction of its wildlife.

The forests are diverse. In the southern portion are the famed national parks of Nagarhole and Bandipur bordering contiguous forests in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. As we move eastwards, we touch the forests of Biligiri Rangana Betta and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Karnataka is a wondrous state, one which abounds in natural wealth and grand vistas. Karnataka is indeed the best place to be, when it comes to appreciating forests, hills, beaches, temples and human cultures. JLR strives hard to match the expectations of eco-tourists and showcase the natural wealth of Karnataka.

February 25, 2012

Tourism - An overview

The Growth of Ecotourism Ecotourism as we know it now grew mostly out of a desire to travel without causing harm to the environment. The decades after the Second World War witnessed an explosive growth of travel options for the common man. With ease of travel and means of access available to make this travel possible, we started seeing the world in fresh light. It was the third great era of discovery and virtually the entire planet became one huge tourism destination. The Americas, Europe and Oceania emerged as popular destinations for globetrotting and people took travelling seriously. However, over exposure of these places meant that new places had to be discovered and the process of unearthing sites continued. This mass exposure meant that no place could remain out of bounds. Eco Consciousness While this travel brought large scale benefits to the people, with tourism being the source of one of the largest ever transfer of wealth from rich to the poorer countries, it brought about issues of over exposure and the associated ill effects of mass tourism. A large number of people wanted to break free from this clutch of mass tourism where the packages offered would be one size fit all and you may end up seeing your neighbor sitting next to you, wherever you went, be it the neighbourhood grocery shop at Bristol or the Natural History Museum at Beijing. Man has become more conscious of his environment than what he was a few decades ago. He saw images of degradation around him and began questioning the validity of large dams, deforestation and a multitude of artificial alterations being made to the landscape. The view that the present form of tourism alienates the local by making him merely a service provider rather than a partner in tourism, also took roots. Perhaps, a plethora of these reasons were instrumental in bringing about a gradual but definite change in the minds of the people and travel became more ecologically conscious. From the depths of this emerging consciousness grew a multitude of ways of travel. Hector Ceballos Lascurian coined the term ecotourism in early 1980’s. He defined it as “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promotes conservation, low visitor negative impact and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations”. Being environmentally responsible is essential as it stresses on ecological protection, while the emphasis on promotion of local livelihoods is a key factor for a successful ecological tourism initiative. Setting Standards The growth of ecotourism has not been smooth. The word ecotourism itself has been the focus of diverse interpretations and definitions. Ecotourism being a growing industry, new benchmarks have to be set and growing challenges to be met each passing day. The word ‘eco’ has encountered many problems in the past and continues to do so today as well. Critics have pointed out that in being eco, we tend to damage the very place that we seek to visit and bring about negative influences to the people who live in these areas. Contrasting ideas keep brewing up, thus making the coming few decades even more exciting for ecotourism to begin fulfilling all the promises made and do so in a conscious manner. The dilemma for us is to reconcile the principles of ecotourism while being flexible enough to appreciate the fact that standards on ecotourism continues to develop. Mere adherence to established norms discourages many to take the step from being a tourist to an ecotourist or being a conventional set up to an eco-oriented one. The challenge is to be more innovative in approach. Whatever the pros and cons of the ecotourism movement, the ideologies prevailing in the past three decades have helped bring in an era of environment friendly tourism. Even large scale mass tourism sites are more conscious now than in the past. Examples such as the Nilgiris being declared as a plastic free district and Goa emerging as a favored destination for the environmentally conscious and not just the utopia of the budget happy are such changes that have crept into the mass tourism movement. In future, mainstream tourism and ecotourism should aim to protect the quality of the environment, enhance the cultural ethos of the region, ensure better livelihoods for the community and promote harmony while being ecologically sustainable. Acceptance of tourism as a social contributor and an agent of conservation is a vital step to design future tourism policy. The coming decades will be a test to develop tourism on these principles while ensuring that the ethos set are not diluted.

February 19, 2012

So, in the month of February when visitors are less and the heat is intense, we get to see a lot of wildlife. And we are having a good time with the sightings this year.
A leopard walking silently, apparently unconcerned is a sight to behold and of all the times that I have seen a leopard, they look majestic
The trees are flowering bringing a sense of redness to the forest. A palash here, a ficus there and the forests sing aloud.

February 14, 2012

The Naturalist’s Magical World

Looking around and soaking in the beauty of nature, the naturalist is one amongst all of us. The term naturalist, having been in existence for long has come to represent many things to many people. He has no special degree. He may or may not ramble a long list of Latin names of the flora and fauna. However he has one important role - respect nature, absorb her beauty and spread the message to everyone around. It is wise to remember that wild animals are highly unpredictable in nature. These are aspects on which training is imparted to the naturalist. In fact, carelessness is one quality that speaks lowly and scores least in the naturalist’s daily behaviour. Being alert is necessary as visitors too are often unpredictable in nature. It is their responsibility to monitor each visitor and respond to a situation in an appropiate manner. The naturalist collects a bewildering vareity of experiences along his lifetime. Each incident differs, a good guide can indeed tell a million tales. Catching them wide eyed and peering into crags for spiders can be a lesson in itself, so can be their ability to identify birds from a distance. They are passionate about butterflies and insects while being a treasure trove when the talk is on trees and flowers. And then there are the walkers. Men who trek in the jungles, pointing out insects, birds and plants to accompanying guests. Walking in the jungles brings about a remarkable perspective of experiencing nature in her glory. All good naturalists are walkers and explorers of nature first, taking joy in the flutter of a butterfly or the dew drop on a tender leaf. They bring to life stories that none thought would exist.

February 9, 2012

You know the magic of nature, when...

You know the magic of nature, when you least expect it to be beautiful, it knocks you off your breath and leaves you wondering about the sheer beauty in each and every of it's moods.

On a stony hilly plateau atleast 50-75 metres away from the nearby forests/plains, where due a to a lack of soil depth, just about everything makes an attempt to survive and life is held to tenaciously (and the proof being that relatively huge neem tree, which must have taken several years to reach this height in such a punishing environment, FALLEN, possibly because it could not fight a strong burst of wind or a heavy spell of torrential rains. Sudden death to a majestic life well spent.

Suddenly, I see a dip and see an oasis of greenery. Almost evergreen in nature, it was a paradise in the top of a tough hill. And then I see, that the entire area has subsided inwards, as if a giant JCB has scooped the rock and flung it far away. A soft layer of alluvial soil held out life to several trees and with little scope of exit, most of the water was being utilized by the trees.

Walking on that plateau, I feel that the slope or aspect plays a magical role. On the plateau, the slope was from the left to the right and as a result the vegetation on the right hand side of the cliff was much more green and luxurious. We saw much more during that super walk of a few hours through monsoonal Bidar, saw many facets of nature, got wet several times and finally came back to the resort.

Bidar has been carefully chosen as the Jungle Lodges flagship in North Karnataka. It serves the twin purpose of showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the region while at the same time sensitisies the visitor of the hidden natural gems, usually hidden from public eyes. The nature walk where I was in for example offered in the surroundings of the resort, is an attempt to explore and make visitors understand the nature of dry, scrub forests of this part of Central India. And if the walk is undertaken in the rains, it gets even better as the lush environment adds to the charm. We came back and read books, rested, had a pleasant evening and slept. The next day we finally left, went around Bidar and then to Hyderabad, through the most terrible traffic I have perhaps ever seen in my whole life. In the list of bad traffic scenarios, this counts as the highest, as we crawled through roughly 80 km of traffic. Amazing experience for a forest wallah.

February 5, 2012


What happened to the present past
    was a scare that woke me up
What happened should not have

But now is the present and the power lies beneath

Now the past shall be removed
Remembered yes, but only as a reminder
For the future to be fair and better

The past has no other role
except to teach us lessons

The past teaches us to live in the present

The past is but a bell, keeping us awake

The past is good, for it is our teacher..........

Remember it yes, but fear it not, never.........

February 1, 2012

Days in the Forest

Bikkapathi Mund is a small, almost cut off village in one of the hill regions of Southern India. But that by itself does not make it any special than the hundreds of other villages spread across hills of our nation.

The village is surrounded almost completely by thick shola forests that extend to the plains below in the form of moist deciduous and thereafter dry deciduous forests. Everywhere that the eye can see, one can squint in disbelief. forests all around and of all types and hues. Wild or perhaps slightly domesticated buffaloes roam the grasslands, occasionally becoming cattle-feed for the prowling tigers all around. A few Malabar squirrels have made permanent residence at the nearby department guest house. Old and decrepit now but surely holding tales of wildlife of the bygone era.

When I went there for the first time, I made a great friend. Kuttan who knows the world like only the best naturalists would, he showed the various sources of springs and explained how they sustained the surrounding region. I was taken aback by the sudden silence, but moreso by the sudden chill and suddenly found myself drifting off.

A kilometre away and a beautiful bikkimaram was standing majestically across the empty grassland. I walked on, unmindful of the chill and of the fear of the silence all around. It started getting dark and I could see that the mist coming in from the mountain in front. It was as surreal an experience as I ever felt, anywhere in life and I just kept on walking.
Some flowers bloomed bright, some leaves glistened thick, some moments, I found myself siting, sometimes listening to the rustle of the wild boars, or perhaps it was a leopard. 

Several minutes had passed when the jeep came downhill to where I was and said Lets go. I said yes and looked back. At peace.

Hampi Uninterrupted