Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bhopal 4

With Mahesh Buch...

View from the Winds 'n' Waves Restaurant

Series of Courtyards: Bharat Bhavan

Mahesh Buch at his creation
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Bhopal 3

Bharat Bhavan

The Upper Lake drive

Handicrafts exhibition at Gouhar Mahal

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Bhopal 2

Kerwa River

Waterfowl at Van Vihar

Sunbathing crocodile at Van Vihar

Eagles at Upper Lake
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Upper Lake

Former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, Mahesh Buch at Bharat Bhavan

Open-air theatre at Bharat Bhavan

Sofia Masjid
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Breathe Easy in Bhopal

Eisha Sarkar
An adapted version of this post was published on Mumbai Mirror on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 06:05:31 PM

"What do you think?" Mahesh Buch asks us. We look at the majestic Upper Lake of Bhopal. "Wow! This could be  Zurich." "Wow, is the right word," he says and goes onto describe the best freshwater fish found here. Buch isn't just the former Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh. He is the man who made Bhopal one of the greenest cities in India and he takes great pride in showing us around.

As we drive around the wooded areas of the 348 sq km city, Buch mentions, "There was a time when I was wearing 14 different hats as the head of various government departments and bodies at the same time. In the 1970s the government was looking to give away nearly 850 acres of land to builders. I refused to sign the orders and asked the forest department to declare all that land as reserved forest and plant trees there."

We make our way through Sultanabad past former Prime Minister Arjun Singh's sprawling 14-bedroom mansion and the curiously titled Bull Mother Farm towards the Kerwa Dam. We stop at a board that declares "Eco Tourism Site", one of the many that Bhopal has in store for us. Just 15 km from the city, the site is a popular picnic spot for its scenic view of the River Kerwa flowing through the woods. 

Our next halt is the 4.45 sq km Van Vihar National Park in the middle of the city. Managed like a zoological park, we find animals kept in their near natural habitat. Most of the animals are either orphaned brought from various parts of the state or those, which are exchanged from other zoos. No animal is deliberately captured from the forest. We find sunbathing crocodiles, pochards and ducks, egrets,' painted storks, a solitary chinkara and a sleeping leopard. Near the Van Vihar is also Roopankar or the Museum of Arts that houses tribal artefacts and crafts.

Hungry, we wind our way up one of Bhopal's seven hills to the Madhya Pradesh Tourism's Winds 'n' Waves restaurant that overlooks the Upper Lake or bada talav, the largest aritificial lake in Asia. Built by Raja Bhoj during his tenure as a king of Malwa (1005–1055) in his capital city, Bhojpal, by constructing an earthen dam across the River Kolans, the bada talav serves around 40 per cent of the residents with nearly 30 million gallons of drinking water per day and has in abundance the delicious samal fish, which is the local delicacy. From the restaurant's rooftop, Buch points out to the landmarks that fringe the lake -  Taj-ul-Masajid, one of the largest mosques in Asia, Shaukat Mahal, Moti Masjid and Gouhar Mahal built during the rule of four successive begums (from 1819 till 1926) and the infamous Union Carbide pesticide plant that was responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the world's worst industrial catastrophe.

Post-lunch, we head to the Bharat Bhavan, the world-renowned multi-disciplinary centre for arts that comprises a series of courtyards. "I told architect Charles Correa that I wanted a building that did not look like a building," says Buch whose brainchild this centre is. The complex houses a museum of the arts, an art gallery with some of the largest exhibition halls in India, a workshop for fine arts, a repertory theater, indoor and outdoor auditoria, rehearsal room, and libraries of Indian poetry, classical and folk music.

After browsing through artworks by 20 different artists and sculptures including Tyeb Mehta, S H Raza, M F Husain, Manjit Bawa, Akbar Padamsee, among others, we drive to the single-minaret Turkish mosque Sofia Masjid Koh-eiFiza and then towards the Fatehgarh area where the former Nawab's residences are located. Fatehgarh also houses some of Muslim aristocracy that remained in the city even after the last Nawab's daughter Abida Sultan, left for Pakistan in 1950. Her son, Shaharyar Khan, was to become the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and then the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. "There was a time when eight members of the Pakistani hockey team were from Bhopal," says Buch as he points to Indian hockey player Aslam Sher Khan's house.

We stop over at the Gauhar Mahal built by Qudsia Begum in 1820, which is now an Urban Haat where handicraft and handloom works of the artisans are put on display and sale - Tanjore paintings, Maheshwari and Chanderi sarees, dancing dolls from Andhra Pradesh, beaded jewellery from Gujarat and so on. 

Blending tradition with modernity, balancing ecology and development, welfare and conservation, Bhopal could be a model city for India's development. If only the government would take care of the people in such a way that would not force them to put up message signs such as, "Indian government protects corporates and culprits and not gas tragedy victims," outside the railway station. More than 25 years later, and death of over 20,000 of its citizens a city still awaits justice!

Mahesh Buch was honoured with the Padma Bhushan for his work with the Civil Services in Madhya Pradesh on January 26,2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jabalpur Rocks!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Monday, December 27, 2010 at 01:36:45 PM

 "Upar hai resthouse, neeche hai boathouse aur vahaan dekhein monkey ka guest house." “Vah! Vah!” The audience claps. Boatman Deepak Burman beams like the marble rock face he shows us next. Pink, white and gold. Yes, golden-coloured marble! The cantonment town of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh may not be a regular feature on tourists' itinery but it does have in store some of the most spectacular of nature's creations.

Heaven on earth
Located just 23 km from the city, the marble rocks at Bhedaghat village near Jabalpur rise to a hundred feet on either side of the River Narmada. On a full moon night, the water seems transformed into a sheet of liquid silver and the limestone rocks, pillars in heaven. On other days, Bhedaghat closes at 5.30 pm but give you a chance to see the many hues of marble – white, cream, yellow, pink, gold and black. Unless you’re in a tearing hurry, opt for the rowing boats to make your way around the rocks. The river varies in depth from 80ft at one point to 600ft at another. The guides point out to the various rock-faces, describing the shapes of sadhus, Shivalings, automobiles, parrots and deities and also the bullet holes formed during the filming of the Sunil Dutt-Rekha starrer Pran Jaye Aur Vachan Na Jaye. The ride culminates at Bundar Kudni (for monkeys were able to leap from rocks on one side to the other side of the channel), the spot where Kareena Kapoor shot for seven days for the song “Raat Ka Nasha” in Asoka.

The waters are infested with crocodiles and snakes so think twice before dipping your hand into it. However, during the winter months (and much of the boating season), the crocodiles move to warmer waters in Gujarat.

The 150-odd steps leading to the river from the main road are lined with shops selling beautiful soapstone and marble artefacts such as statues of Hindu Gods, coasters, vases, ashtrays, trinket boxes, lamps, agarbatti stands and even jewellery. Bargain hard, though.

Travellers’ tip: Boating facilities are available between November and May. Both motorboats and row-boats are available. Bhedaghat is closed during the monsoon. Avoid plastics and food.

Cascade of smoke
Just five minutes away from the Bhedaghat are the Dhuandar Falls. The Narmada, making its way through the marble rocks, narrows down and plunges into a waterfall that can be heard a kilometer away. Often compared in part with the Niagara Falls, the Dhuandar Falls makes for a great picnic spot and is one of the biggest attractions in the state and features in both the Madhya Pradesh Tourism and Incredible India campaigns.

Travellers’ tip: The Rs 60 cable-car (ropeway) ride offers a spectacular view of the waterfall. 

Historical delights
The capital of the Kalchuri dynasty since 875 AD, Jabalpur was later ruled by the Gond kings till the Marathas took over in the 17th century. In 1817, the British wrested it from the Marathas and left their impression on the spacious cantonment with its colonial residences and barracks, much like Pune was before the IT boom. The Madan Mahal Fort built by Raja Madan Shah in 1116, the Rani Durgavati Memorial and Museum named after the Gond queen who fell during a war with Mughal Emperor Akbar, the Tilwara Ghat from where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes were immersed in the Narmada and the Pisan Hari Jain Temples are important tourist attractions.

Travellers’ tip: Private taxis, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws are available to take you round the city. Autos do not have meters so do bargain for the rides. Most monuments and museums are open from 10 am to 5 pm.

What you should know
  • Jabalpur is the most convenient base for visits to the famous Kanha (175 km) and Bandhavgarh (190 km) tiger reserves.
  • The best season for visit is from October to March (April and May can get very hot)
  • Street food is not much of a culture in Madhya Pradesh so if you have to eat out try dhabas and restaurants. Most restaurants and dining halls in the city take their last orders at 10.30 pm. Try the vintage India Coffee House in the Sadar area of Jabalpur for south Indian, Mughlai, Chinese and Continental vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.

Getting there:
Jabalpur is an important railhead on the Mumbai-Howrah via Allahabad main line. All mail, express and passenger trains halt here.

Kill the pain, naturally

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Dec 27 2010 1:08PM

Pain is a bulletin from the body that something is wrong. Ignore it and you’re risking disaster. Get stressed about it you make it worse. Pop a strong anti-inflammatory drug and you feel nauseous. But then there are other ways to make the pain go away like these easy-to-use natural products:

Hot remedy!

An active component of chillis, capsaicin temporarily desensitises pain-prone skin nerve receptors reducing the soreness for three to five weeks. In a study conducted by the University of Oxford, nearly 40 per cent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for a month, and 60 per cent of neuropathy patients achieved the same after two months. Pain relief from arthritis typically is evident one to two weeks after starting capsaicin. To prevent pain from recurring, capsaicin must be continued. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor.

Curry spice makes you feel nice

The curcumin in turmeric inhibits the activity and creation of two enzymes that cause inflammation - cocylooxygenase (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX) - and brings about relief from pain. A study conducted by the American Botanical Council found that incorporating curcumin-based turmeric extract into pain-relief regimen may benefit osteoarthritis sufferers as it reduces joint pain and stiffness and makes them less dependent on anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers.

An apple a day...

Apples are regarded as an excellent food medicine for gout, arthritis and rheumatism particularly when uric acid poisoning causes these diseases. Apples contain malic acid, which neutralises uric acid and lessens the pain suffered on account of these disorders. Boiled as a jelly, they make a very good liniment for rheumatic pains. They should be rubbed freely on the affected part.

Water's your best choice

Abundant, easily available and free, water is one of nature's best pain-relievers. Swish a little warm water in your mouth to get relief from a toothache or apply a hot water bottle to reduce stiffness and muscle soreness. The ice packs come handy for all kinds of sprains, aches and pains while drinking lots of water (at least eight glasses a day) may help ease muscle, menstrual cramps and gout. And if your whole body aches, soak yourself in a tub of warm water with a little epsom salt added to it.

While most natural remedies do not have side-effects, do consult with your doctor before using them, especially if you are on medication.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Of crouching tourists and sleeping tigers

(An adapted version of this piece was posted on Mumbai Mirror site on Monday, January 03, 2011 at 06:18:04 PM and in the print edition on March 16, 2011)

"People come here for 10-15 days and still don't see the tiger," forest guide Son Singh Ayam tells us as we climb on to the open-aired gypsy. It's 6.30 am and four degrees. Having hunted in the early hours of dawn, 940 sq km-Kanha Tiger Reserve's most spectacular resident must now be at rest and like most tourists we too wait eagerly to see him.

As the car winds through the green dense deciduous forests of sal trees, Ayam points out to the spotted deer, the tiger's main prey. They number around 21,000 - enough for the 110-odd tigers that are there in the park. The gypsy comes to a halt. We stand in anticipation. Ayam points out to the hard ground barasingha in the distance. As the mist clears with the rising sun, we see better - first the beautiful, velvetty horns and then the body. Kanha holds the only remaining population of the majestic deer in the Indian subcontinent. In 1970 these were down to only 66, but now after careful management i.e. by fencing off the reserve and keeping poachers at bay, the population numbers about 400.

We dodge peacocks, stalk jungle cats and spot wild boars, sambar (India's largest deer), a solitary bison, black-headed orioles and black-shouldered kites before the gypsy halts at a forest post in Umarjhola in Mukki of the forest. Ayam walks towards a man in the thatched-roof cottage. He come back with a smile on his face. "We've found a tiger." The driver presses on the accelerator and the gypsy swishes past scampering deer, squirrels and Baiga tribals as we follow the trail of fresh paw and claw marks. The gypsy stops at a clearing, behind five other vehicles. More tourists, more anticipation.

An elephant suddenly comes out of the woods. At Mukki, the forest department has three elephants that are used to stalk tigers to facilitate spottings and "tiger shows" for tourists. Each new elephant has to get accustomed to the forest and its inhabitants. As for the tigers, they don't like the animals that are not natural residents of the forests, but like the gypsies, get accustomed to their presence gradually. Once the forest officials track a tiger, they wait for it to sit or rest before they call in more elephants and tourists.

We mount an elephant called Himalaya that winds its way into dense overgrowth and then abruptly comes to a halt. The mahout points to his right. We see the stripes. A sleeping tigress. The elephant shuffles and tries to tear down a shoot with its trunk. The tigress instantly opens her eyes. Just 12-feet away and on higher ground, she is at advantage. She cranes her neck to look around and then flips her body and lies on the back with paws up. She needs her rest and we let her be.

The forest department tries to minimise its interference in the core area of the reserve but it does step in to curtail fires when the forest dries out completely in summer or to care for tiger cubs when they are abandoned by their mothers, Ayam tells us. He points to Bahmni Dadar, the highest point of the park and known popularly as the sunset point, on our ride back to the park's exit. It's 11.30 am and guides are fined even if the tours extend for not more than five minutes after noon, when the park closes.

Ayam tells us, "It's very difficult to spot a in winter when the forest is so dense. But you've been lucky." And we feel that way.

Tourism: Boon or Bane
With 35 gypsys carrying about 180 tourists twice daily, the animals have a busy time dodging, hiding, scampering instead of resting during the daylight hours. Some deer have got so used to the sound of engines that they simply don't budge. Ghanshyam Singh Ayam, a ranger at Kanha says, "The animals here have got so used to the noise that when they stray out of the forest, they become sitting ducks for hunters and predators because they lose their natural instincts for judgment and defence." Naturalists and forest Officials are now debating on whether the core areas of the park should be closed to the public to retain their "wildness". However, pressure from the hotels that have mushroomed around the park has made it difficult for the government to do so. 

Where to stay:
Kanha Safari Lodge
Distt Baihar
Madhya Pradesh
Manager: M L Sharnagat
Tel: 07636-290715
Mob: 9424796793

The Kanha Tiger Reserve is divided into three ranges - Kanha-Kisli, Mukki and Sewai. You need to pay extra if you want to ride to another range.

Gypsy tours: Cost Rs 1500 per vehicle for each entry into the tiger reserve. Bookings need to be done in advance

  • The nearest airports are at Nagpur (275 km) and Jabalpur (175 km). Both are connected by rail. There are three gates for entrance into the forest. The Kisli gate is best accessed from Jabalpur and stops at the village Khatia, inside the buffer area. The second gate is Mukki and the last, and most recently opened gate, is Serai.

Tips for tourists
  • Be absolutely quiet. Sound travels fast in a forest so if you really want to see, hear and know wildlife, make little of it yourself
  • Wear clothes that blend with the surroundings - olive green, grey, brown, beige. Avoid bright colours altogether
  • Do not touch anything in the forest. You will not be allowed to step out of the gypsy till you reach a forest camp.
  • Temperatures in winters drop to negative so carry extra wollens
  • Park is closed during monsoon  1 July to 15 October
  • Best season is February to June. But if you go in cooler months, you'll enjoy the forest too. March is the best time
  • Best Season: February to June
  • Morning Visiting Hours: 6:30 am to 12:00 noon
  • Evening Visiting Hours: 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm
  • Eating is prohibited on rides

Power your mind-body connection

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on December 22, 2010

Do you have a cold or back pain when you're really stressed? Does the talk of your ex give you a headache? And does your stomach churn when the person sitting next to you in a bus throws up? Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. Often called the mind-body connection, when you are stressed, anxious, upset or disgusted, your body tries to tell you that something isn’t right.

Every cell is intelligent

Deepak Chopra, author and practitioner of mind-body medicine, once said, "Your body is a 3-D projection of your current state of mind. Your slightest shift of mood is picked up by every cell, which means that you do not think with your brain alone — all 50 trillion cells in your body actively share your thoughts. At the level of the quantum mechanical body, you are a constantly flowing river of intelligence. Correctly channelled, it has enormous power – the power to make us sick or well, depressed or joyful, sluggish or dynamic. The mind-body connection is the gateway to unlimited creativity and happiness.”

How does it really work?

While Chopra says it’s the collective “intelligence” of cells in the body that manifests into physical symptoms of health or disease, a study conducted in 2008 by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles found a molecular mechanism behind the mind-body connection.

Every cell contains a tiny clock called a telomere, which shortens each time the cell divides. Short telomeres are linked to many human diseases, including HIV, osteoporosis, heart disease and ageing. Telomerase, an enzyme within the cell, keeps immune cells young by preserving their telomere length and ability to continue dividing.

The scientists found that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells' ability to activate their telomerase. This may explain why the cells of persons under chronic stress such as caregivers to chronically ill family members, astronauts, soldiers, air traffic controllers and people who have long daily commutes have shorter telomeres and makes them more susceptible to illness.

Improve your emotional health

Aches and pains, change in appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, dry mouth, fatigue, high blood pressure, insomnia, sexual problems, shortness of breath and weight gain or less are some symptoms that tell you that your emotional health is out of balance. Here’s how you can regain it:

  • Express your feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness to people around you
  • Don’t obsess about the problems at work, school or home that lead to negative feelings
  • Be positive, accept change and keep things in perspective
  • Meditate to bring your emotions into balance
  • Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and exercise to relieve the pent-up tension

Chopra says, “Relaxation is the prerequisite for that inner expansion that allows a person to express the source of inspiration and joy within." Don't just break down the walls, fly over them!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jabalpur - Dhuandar Falls on River Narmada

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Jabalpur- Bhedaghat (Marble Rocks)

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Baiga Dance

The Baiga tribals are found in the Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh and are known for their unique culture. They do not interact even with other tribals like the Gonds, believe in a hand-to-mouth existence, and do not try to access education, eat outside their community, or associate with others. After a death in the family, the Baigas just leave the house and build another. They are totally dependent on the jungle.

The Baiga tribes practice shifting cultivation in forest areas. They say they never ploughed the Earth, because it would be like scratching the breast of their Mother, and how could they possibly ask Mother to produce food from the same patch of earth time and time again – she would have become weakened. That’s why

Baigas used to lived a semi-nomadic life, and practised Bewar cultivation (slash-and-burn) – out of respect, not aggression. Thousands of squire miles of sal forests have been clean destroyed by them in the progress of their dahiya cultivation, the ground being afterwards occupied by dense scrub of low sal species springing from the stumps. Over the past 40 years, nearly 27 Baiga villages have been cleared out of the core area of the Kanha National Park, to protect the natural life forms there.

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Kanha Pics 5

Sunset at Bahmnidadar, the highest point in the national park

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Kanha Pics 4

Out in the cold: Barasingha (top and above)

Pochards in flight

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