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Friday, December 17, 2010

Wild Life Week

Once upon a time, no its not that long, I was a boy of 15 years and studying in the 9th standard in my small town. Wild life week was at the doorstep. The Forest Department was organising many competitions for the school children. Essay writing, Poetry, Painting as also Photography. Every thing centred around wild life. Since I had my box camera, I thought of getting into the competitions. The problem, however, was where to get the wild animals. Then I remembered that there were some deers (antelopes) kept in a small enclosure within the local Palace compound. I went there with my box camera, only to be disappointed, as there was a tall wire mesh around the enclosure which prevented a clear view. Nevertheless I took some snaps but it was disgusting.

Two days later some one informed me that the tribals have caught a leopard and the same has been presented to the Maharaja and it is kept in a cage inside the palace. Once again I was on my way to the Palace. Immediately when we enter the main gate, to the left there is the famous Danteshwari temple. By its side there is one more enclosure with a gate. It leads to the living quarters of the staff and the garage where the limousines of the prince were kept. There it was, the leopard in a cage. A young tribal was also stationed nearby as its care taker. It was not  fully grown, rather it was a cub. Again the problem was how to get a clear photograph. The iron bars in the cage were creating problem. I was not all alone. A friend of mine was also accompanying me. He looked around and found that to the left there was a compound wall with a small grilled entrance. Corn was grown inside and it almost looked like jungle. We thought if we could make the care taker bring out the leopard cub (which was chained) and take  to the corn field, we may have a nice capture. I offered 2 Annas (1/8th of a Rupee) to the young tribal and sought his cooperation. With the money in his palm, he relented. He took out the cub from the cage and brought it inside the compound where corn was growing. With the chain in his hands, I was doubtful if I could get a photograph which could seem natural. I requested him to leave the chain but then he was not prepared. Alternatively I asked him to sit there with the chain touching the ground. He did that and I took two or three snaps. Two of them were out of focus but fortunately one snap came out reasonably well. This paved the way for my entry into the competitions. There was a little  bit of disappointment, when I was awarded a third prize in the district level. Obviously the judges were looking at the picture quality and they had no inklings of the efforts put in. The prize consisted of a bundle of publications of the Forest Department.

Here is one more snap for which a flash bulb was used. For each flash a new bulb was required to be used which was a little prohibitive, cost-wise. The animal captured here, though belongs to the same family, but man has domesticated them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My first Camera

While loafing around the Internet, recently I came across a picture of an Agfa Box Camera, which used to be one of the prized possessions with me for quite some time, some 55 years ago. The picture seemed to be peeping into my eyes as if asking me if I recollect any thing associated with that box. I was then a boy of 13 years and after persistent requests my dad yielded and bought me one. He also reminded me not to ask for funding for the film rolls every now and then. The camera was a basic one with a lens, a filter, very few aperture settings and with the provision for a flash unit which could be mounted on the shoes provided on its body. There were other similar cameras without any lens and they were known as pin hole cameras.

Discovery of the picture prompted me to go through my old B/W  photo albums so as to enable me to refresh my memories associated with that Camera. Particularly I was interested to locate the photographs I had taken at the Air Strip when the Home Minister, Mr. Govind Vallabh Pant,  landed in my small town. Since I was the only one holding a camera, I could find my way to the IAF aircraft and very close to the minister. There were, however, limitations in taking snaps. The camera would permit only 8 snaps for a roll of film and therefore there was no freedom of taking any number of snaps as the modern day digital cameras could afford. I did take few photographs and exhausted the capacity. The town had a small photographic studio run by one K. Narsingh Rao. Necessarily we were required to go to him for processing. Incidentally I had caught on my film a wealthy businessman garlanding the minister. It seems that the studio owner  informed him about his photo showing him with the minister.  The businessman came to me personally and wanted me to part with the photograph as well as the negative. In return he offered me 10 rolls of the 120 film (Ilford) and thus I could replenish my stock of raw material. I very much needed. I was too happy as I was not required to beg my dad for funding for this purpose.

My searching the old albums though brought back many old memories, I could not find the photograph, I was looking for. However, there were many others and had different stories behind them. Incidentally I got this one below, a tribal fishing under the famous Chitrakot water falls and I could relate it to my own obsession these days, blogging and waiting for some one to come by and drop a comment.   

 The color effect credits to Picasa

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home Making - Weaver Birds

Recently I came across a video of the Weaver Birds 
building their nests. It is really enjoyable

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obamas visit Humayun’s Tomb

The visit to Humayun's Tomb, which is quite deserted on normal days near the Nizamuddin railway station, was a crash course in Persian, Indian and Central Asian architecture and history for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

In an exclusive interview, director K K Mohammad said, "President Obama asked many questions. He was very, very inquisitive about Dara Shikoh."
The President and the First Lady's history lesson went something like this. They arrived at the 30-acre architectural wonder with an army of security personnel and US media. They were shown photographs and a model of the tomb.

Mohammad, who is a historian and an architect who works for the Archaeological Survey of India, was the couple's lone guide.

The couple strolled along the manicured lawns. Since 2000, the Aga Khan Foundation has made huge efforts to save this grand monument, spending more than Rs 7 crore (Rs 70 million).

The AGF has won an international award for its restoration work on the monument. This world heritage site is so grand that many architects love it more than the Taj Mahal in Agra
'It would be kind of tough to build this in the US'

At the entry point, it is inscribed that the tomb is a precursor to the Taj Mahal.
The design carved in red stone and lime mortar is an architectural marvel because it depicts 'an ornamental cosmic symbol'.

Spread over 30 acres, it has three kilometres of water channels and 2,500 plants in the complex
Its 25,000 square metre pathways give a majestic touch to the 16-metre tall main structure.

The Obamas were given some facts about the Mughal Emperor Humayun, the son of Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire in India.
Mohammad told the couple that Humayun's Tomb was built over nearly a decade beginning around 1565. The main work was completed in 1572. The tomb contains over 100 Mughal graves.

Obama found it interesting that some 500 years ago that such a giant structure was built in just seven years in India. He later told journalists "I heard it was built in seven years? I give credit to the contractor. This kind of thing if we build in the US, it would be kind of tough."

'Delhi is a modern city, rooted in history'

"Delhi is such a modern city," Obama said, before pointing to the mausoleum and adding, "but rooted in such a civilisation."
Mohammad says on listening to the history behind the monument, "President Obama told me India has withstood the rise and fall of empires. I am sure India will lead the world."

"I told the President, India has 28 world heritage sites. New Delhi has three of them," Mohammad added. "The Red Fort, the Qutub Minar and Humanyun's Tomb. I explained to him that all other sites in New Delhi are due to its historical importance, but this site portrays both Indian history and architecture. At other places, gardens were added later, but in this monument, the garden is an integral part. I told him with pride that India had technology to conceive such monuments and execute it."

"I also explained that this structure has Persian, Central Asian and Indian architecture. That's so unique. It's an amalgamation of three streams of ideas," Mohammad said.

'Dara Shikoh has a US connection'

Mohammad says the President asked several questions about Dara Shikoh and that made the conversation very interesting.
Dara Shikoh was the elder brother of the last major Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal.
"Mr President," Mohammad told Obama, "there is a Dara Shikoh, US connection too."

"Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb in a power struggle. He was a great man with a vision. He wanted all school of thoughts and religion to live in harmony. Akbar succeeded in spreading that philosophy, but it was Dara Shikoh who conceived it, beautifully," Mohammad added.
"President Obama was very impressed by Dara Shikoh's philosophy and asked me questions."

"Dara Shikoh," Mohammad said, "translated the greatest Indian text, the Upanishads, into Persian. It was later translated into Latin and French. That copy reached the US. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher, was introduced to Indian culture through Dara Shikoh's translation of the Upanishads."

"I told the President that Dara Shikoh rests here."
When President Obama went to Humayun and Dara Shikoh's tombs, Mohammad says he folded his hands, as if to pray.
"As far as I can remember, there were no photographers there."

Courtesy rediff.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vishnois of Rajasthan (India)

There is a small group of elders here and we meet regularly. Once in a month we also arrange for an outing to some worthwhile secluded place. I used to consider myself an Environmentalist and used to pick up all the garbage left behind by picnickers. Truly speaking this act of mine is probably driven by an instinct  for recognition and not out of any real concern. This awakening came to me very recently.

There is a  conservative community referred to as Vishnois living in an otherwise arid state of Rajasthan in India. Their dedication to nature is well known and I wanted to delve  upon them in one of my posts. It was a mere coincidence that I was going through a Hindi blog, a travelogue on  the City of Patna  (in Hindi) which was devoid of any pictures. The kind of language used was itself  picturesque and in fact the words explained everything. Then there was a comment by one Mr. Gourav Ghosh who although appreciated the presentation but was underlining the need for supplementing with photographs. In my own comments, I lent my support to him in a veiled manner. Thereafter I tried to locate him  and landed up at his own site  which had a picture of a Vishnoi women breast feeding a Chinkara   fawn. The photograph was taken by Mr. Vijay Bedi at great pains. Here it dawned upon me that I need not write anything about the Vishnois. No words need to be used. The photograph could speak volumes.

It stirred me up and in my curiosity I searched the web and found yet another photograph taken by Mr. Himanshu Ghosh, a photo journalist working with Hindusthan Times.

Continuing with Nisha's argument that the mother and the child and chinkara being the same in the two photos, thereby making us wonder if they were two different poses,  a third one above  "Ashes"  could google up.

A blogger friend Mr. Ratan Singh Shekhawat, who hails from Rajasthan, sent in a link to the Youtube video. This animation video depicts the sacrifices made by the community. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wayanad (Kerala), worth visiting

Guest Post by my brother
P.N. Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi.

Our family outing is normally during our son’s vacations for Onam, Christmas and summer holidays. We had originally scheduled a trip to Colombo and Kandy but could not make it as we had only 4 days available, which we thought will not be sufficient for a proper trip through Sri Lanka.

Wayanad came to our mind as it is a mixture of nature and history. Biodiversity is the richest.  From Ernakulam (Kochi), we had two options to travel, either via Nilambur by own car or via Kozhikode (Calicut) by a combination of Train and Bus. We chose the Calicut route and decided against driving own car considering difficult weather and unknown terrains. We booked a room in a budget Resort called Haritagiri, located at Kalpetta as we had a  reasonably good feedback.

The Tali temple
We took an afternoon train to reach Calicut by evening. We had only one night to spend and hence decided to limit our visit to the beach (not the one Vasco-da-gama once landed, which is called Kappad Beach) and the Tali Temple. Calicut has a good beach, plenty of mosques and a very famous temple called “Tali”. Tali probably means a place where the kings used to take decisions on issues. Moreover Tali temple used to be the venue for scholarly debates in the olden  days. “Uddanda Shastrigal” from Tanjavur has once won the title by defeating others in Tarka Shastra (Logics) which used to be the test of knowledge those days. This Temple was built by Swami Thirumulpad (Zamorin) within his palace complex in the 14th century.  

There are only few choices for hard core veggies in Calicut; one such restaurant is “Dakshin” where we tried some Dosas.

There are plenty of buses operating between Calicut and Wayanad. The journey took 2.30 hrs through the mountains called Tamarassery Pass to reach Kalpetta. The Tamarassery pass has nine hairpin bends (our son counted all of them) and most of the time it will be foggy. It was really an enjoyable experience traveling through the wild.

Wayanad borders both Karnataka and Tamilnadu. There are three major towns in Wayanad which are are Kalpetta, Mananthavady and Sultan Battery. Majority of land is in the form of forest and the rest are either plantations or paddy fields. Coffee is abundantly cultivated. Wayanad ginger, Turmeric, lemongrass and honey are very famous in Kerala for their quality and flavour. Weather is cool round the year. Majority population are migrated farmers from elsewhere in search of fortune. It is said that the local tribals with their archery skills and guerilla warfare techniques supported Pazhassi Raja who fought the British in the 17th century. Pazhassi Raja’s tomb is situated at Mananthavady.
Haritagiri Resort
 Haritagiri is a good resort having a small swimming pool, bar, restaurant and an ayurvedic spa. Veggies will find it difficult to have a lunch in that restaurant as most of the cuisines are non vegetarian. There are resorts catering to the needs of different food habits. But we tried to explore small time eateries who serve proper vegetarian food. There are a couple of vegetarian messes run at Kalpetta. We tried one Swami’s mess in Kalpetta town run by an old Tamil Brahmin couple where we had a very good lunch with traditional north Kerala Brahimn recipes. One of the curries was made of dried jackfruit nut.

It is better to hire a tourist taxi to visit the spots in and around Wayanad. We hired a Tata Indica for 1½ days and they charged Rs.2700/-. For trips covering 4-5 KMs, etc.,It’s  better to hire an autorikshaw which we found to be very cheap here. I have never paid more than Rs.10/- for a trip here. People are very friendly and so are the drivers.

The must visit places in Wayanad (according to tourist operators there) are Kuruva Dweep (which was closed then due to heavy rain), Chembra peak, Pookode lake, Muthanga Wild life sanctuary, Thirunelli, Pakshi pathalam, soochipara water falls, etc. But in consultation with our driver cum guide, we chalked out our own plan. He took us to take half way through the Chembra peak (6900 feet above sea level) up to where it is navigable by road. There is a watch tower up to which we went. The sight of the valleys of tea and coffee estates as also the  view of Kalpetta from a distance was enchanting. Our son was happy for having been kissed by the clouds and was busy collecting pieces of clouds and put them in his shirt pocket.

The Chembra Peak

Towards Chembra Peak
Half way through Chembra Peak
It takes at least half a day to finish this if you want to trek to the top. Ideally you need to have a small like minded group of 7-8 people, equipped with safety gadgets, water, food, etc. Half way further to the top, they say there is a heart shaped lake on the bank of which people take rest, drink water and have food before they climb further upto the peak.All these reminded me of the great Mana Sarovar and Kailash. We have consigned  it for  the next time
Our next destination was Edakkal caves, they are two natural caves located 1000 metres high on Ambukutty Mala (Hill) 25 km from Kalpetta  on the way to  Sultan Battery. They lie on an ancient trade route connecting the high mountains of Mysore to the Malabar coast ports. These  caves were discovered by  Fred- Fawcett, the then superintendent of police of the Malabar District, who was on  a hunting trip to Wayanad in 1890. Our travel was through village roads and took an hour to reach the spot.

Way to the caves
A beautiful Petroglyph
The cave is on top of a hill and one has to trek about 200 -250 meters steep to the top which requires a bit of mountaineering skill. We saw plenty of tourists visiting this place without much taste or understanding of history. There are carvings considered to be of BC 2000-6000 period (Neolithic i.e.stone age). The Kerala Archeological department maintains it and charges a little fee. Photography is allowed inside the cave. There are few pictures and some scripts engraved on the walls (Petroglyphs) of the cave. The pictures that we could make out were of a deer like creature and a human face with ornaments of possibly a tribal chief.  It took us about 2 hours to finish. Short Tamil Brahmi inscriptions datable to around 3rd Century CE have also been discovered in these caves, the fifth one reading "Sri Vazhumi" is the latest discovery by M.R. Raghava Varier, retired Professor of Epigraphy, Calicut University (February 2012 update).
Photo by: Mohammed A
The nearest town to Edakkal Caves site is Sultan Battery. Further from the town towards the Boarder of Karnataka situates the Muttanga wild life sanctuary. Like all sanctuaries the best time to visit the park is early morning. There are four wheel jeeps available on hire with a guide inside the sanctuary. We reached the place in the evening and could sight few deers and peacocks. In the morning elephants and bisons are sighted more often and if you are very lucky, even tigers could be encountered. The sanctuary borders both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The pookode lake is the most beautiful lake that we have ever seen in Kerala; resembles Nainital. This is located near a place called Vythiri. It is a natural lake in the midst of hills. Boating in the lake or walking around the lake is the major activity here.
Kanthanpara falls, the safe one.
Kanthanpara fall
We avoided Suchipara falls because of the  distance and chose a nearby fall called Kanthan para (lesser known to outside world) as suggested by our guide. It is a small fall in two stages. The first one is safer as it forms a pond where even children can safely play. Wayanad has a number of such un-spoilt spots.
At Kanthanpara
Next day, we took a bus to travel to Tirunelli and Papanasam fall. One need to take a bus to Mananthavadi first and then to Tirunelli. Overall it takes 2 ½ hours to reach the temple. The route was exciting with views of the wild and occasional housing colonies of the tribal community beside the paddy fields. The road is through the proposed Elephant corridor. Not to mention, elephants are often sighted here on the road / road side. We found few deers.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu is surrounded by mountains and looks like Sabarimala temple. The temple looks very old. They say that there are mentions about this temple in the 10th century literatures. Tirunelli used to be an important town till 16th Century, along with Kodungallur and Mangalapuram. The temple is not architecturally very beautiful. When we visited, the inner side of the temple was getting renovated with teak wood roofs.The only interesting part I could notice is the plumbing arrangement made of granite stones to provide water to the temple from a distant mountain.
Tirunelli temple and the aquaduct
People visit Tirunelli for two reasons; one to take a dip in the nereby stream called Papanasam and two, to consult tribal physicians practicing tribal medicine. In Papanasam pond (which is called brahma theertham), we found a carved stone in the middle depicting Sankhu, Chakra and Gada of the Loard Vishnu, where some poojas are offered. This also looked to be very old.
Papanasam (Where sins are washed away)
Symbolic representation of Lord Vishnu
We returned to Ernakulam the third day via Calicut. Wayanad has a lot to offer for someone who is ready to walk and trek a lot. Good people blessed with good weather and nature.

Monday, September 6, 2010

There was a strange visitor at home

This happened on the 21st August. I was preparing a post for my Hindi Blog and it was already half past ten at night. Suddenly I heard my son calling me and there was a kind of emergency in his tone. I ran down and found him pointing towards the main entrance. There was a curled snake lying between the door and the wall. It so happened that he was about to close the main door when he spotted the reptile. I pacified him and suggested not to panic. I asked him to bring the camera, to which he retorted, what dad, there is a snake in the house and you want to have a photo session. He did bring the camera and I took few snaps randomly.

Because of the noise from my house, my immediate neighbor dropped in and got scared. Then there was an influx of young and old with sticks and all that. I requested people not to hurt the creature which has factually strayed in seeking shelter. The same snake was spotted  a day earlier at night in front of the main gate of a house adjacent to mine, remaining closed.  Up to midnight people were hunting for the poor thing but it could escape un hurt.

I had some basic  ideas about the Indian Snakes but the common view emerging from the small gathering of people from my campus was that it was a Python. In that case I would have ventured to catch it by its head and put it in a sack. When I had a closer look and particularly when it moved its head, it occurred to me that this is the deadliest variety, a Viper, referred to as Russels Viper. It is also sluggish but when threatened  could become extremely agile and attack. Among all the Indian Poisonous snakes, Viper’s venom is deadliest as the venom required to kill a person is the least when compared to Cobra and Krait. However, normally, they  do not attack humans and it also does not inject the fatal dose required for a human to die of the bite. As compared to this the Cobra injects a much larger quantity of venom per bite.

At my request, the snake catchers were summoned. They came in their van. Pretended to be scared of catching it telling people around that they can catch cobras by hand but not this one. This spits venom, very very dangerous and so on. Then they asked for a large container with a lid, which was provided. The Viper was not willing to get into the trap. It moved forward but obstacles were created and finally it was in the container with lid tightened with a rope. We heard its angry hissings. It was thus taken away providing the relief we needed but at a price.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From my Court Yard

While through out the country, there is heavy rainfall causing widespread destruction to life and property, we had been waiting for the clouds to turn to us. At last we were favored in some small measure. The various plants in my court yard are in bloom expressing their happiness. You may provide their names as I feel I am botanically challenged!

Adenium (Desert Rose)
Rose (Rishi)

Violet Trumpet vine

Hibiscus Miniature (1.5 centemeters)

Button Rose (Miniature)

Parijat - Harsingar, Tree of Sorrow (Nyctanthes arbortristis)


 Ixora Yellow

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fascinating Millipedes

Recently A Wandering Mind carried some pictures of the insects mushrooming after the onset of monsoon in Mumbai. Among them there was the scary hoard of centipedes whose one sting would make you weep for hours together. Then I recollected the mild and sober Millipedes, I had photographed while we were at our native place, that is Kerala, during May this year.
See how inquisitive Siddharth  is
On being dropped on the ground
When it was finally released and relieved
One day I found my nephews engaged in some serious exploration in the garden surrounding our ancestral home. They were playing with something, they discovered. Since they were either from Mumbai or Chennai, they were deprived of being closer to nature. While at our home, they had the opportunity of seeing things, their text books talked about. I had a notion that children brought up in cities are devoid of any inquisitiveness but I was proved wrong. Children are  children and they have it ab-initio.

Millipedes, literally means "thousand-legged," although most millipedes do not have  more than 300 legs,are found in all temperate and tropical regions of the world. They rest and hide among leaf fall, soil, or anything rotting for they survive on dead and decaying plant matter. Most species of millipedes are said to be  nocturnally active but in Kerala I found them moving around even during day time. Apart from the ones shown above, I have encountered Millipedes which are pink and dark brown in appearance. Looking them when they are on a move is a real pleasure. They are so majestic.The rhythmic movement of hundreds of legs is worth a watch.

As a means of protection, millipedes have developed unique defense mechanisms for survival. One strategy is to curl up into a spiral. This coil protects the millipede's head and soft underside. Some species of millipedes can also secrete a foul-smelling/terrible tasting fluid through glands located alongside their body, near the legs on each segment. The toxicity of this fluid varies from species to species. For example, the excretions of some species can discolor human skin or irritate the eyes, others are corrosive, and some species even produce cyanide that can repel or kill insect predators.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pit Elephants (കുഴി ആന)

This summer we were in Kerala  to participate in a family function. It was extremely humid and hot and there seemed to be no end to sweating and that too quite profusely, despite all the greenery. Kerala summers were never that harsh, thanks to Global Warming. 

Before dropping the Ant

After dropping an ant
One afternoon, I was just loitering around my  ancestral home. I came across some familiar soil formations on the sides of the pathway. Instantly my childhood memories came alive. They were the Sand Pit Traps laboriously created by “Ant Lions”, a term I have borrowed from wikipedia, but we knew that they are the abodes of “Kuzhi Ana” (കുഴി ആന) or literally “Pit Elephants” as they had  long noses. They are a bit different from the one wikipedia describes. The tiny, elephant like insect, used to position itself under the sand awaiting its prey which were usually the ants and other tiny insects. Myself and my sisters used to dig up the pits to catch the insects (Elephants!). Thereafter we used to amuse ourselves by organizing a race for those tiny creatures. Every one of us  used to shout to cheer up one’s own Elephant! as if we are in a horse race.   

Upon spotting the Sand Pit ant Traps, I could not resist the temptation of showing a live demonstration to children at home. They were summoned and a camera was brought in, an ant was caught and put in the hole. Lo! the ant just disappeared. The Antlion or our Pit Elephant living under the sand just dragged its prey in, in   a fraction of a second. There was only a depression in the cavity left behind. We could not, however, photograph that particular action. We should have applied the video mode instead.