Saturday, 3 November 2018

Chilka Lake

Odisha has a number of places worth visiting for their natural beauty. The Chilka Lake is one such; spread over nearly 1100 sq. kms of brackish waters, it is possibly the largest of India's wetlands. Located in the southeastern corner of Odisha, it stretches from close to the temple town of Puri right down to Rambha and beyond, with the hills of the Eastern Ghats  guarding its northern borders.

Chilka is a bird-watchers' paradise. In the summer and monsoons, it is the home to breeding groups of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, crakes, bitterns and the like. With the onset of winter, it becomes the haven for the migrating birds from north of India.
I first went there in 1987, for purposes of the annual Mid-winter Asian Wildfowl Count, and what I saw left me breathless. Kilometre after kilometre as one travels by motorized country-boats, there are birds, and just more birds: Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon: you name it. On the mud-flats were hundreds of Common Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, and thousands of waders like Sandpipers, Plovers and the like, while in the distance were thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingos. In the reed-beds and shingles were the Purple Moor-hen, Grey heron, Purple heron, Whimbrel and Curlew. Overhead one could sight the Brahminy kite with its silver-white head and breast and rufous shoulders and the huge White-bellied Sea-eagle quartering the waters for possibly prey, while terns and gulls were dime a dozen.
Of course with time, things change. But one still longs for the winter mornings at the Chilka waters marveling at the sheer numbers of birds. 

Monday, 20 August 2018

Ranthambhor in June

Summer heat does get one down; but an open-ended offer by a friend to accompany him to Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve was too good to miss. Yes, the temperatures were around 42-43 deg.C but the tigers - also somewhat less active in the searing heat - were very much around.

One wonders at the very cheek of the little Magpie Robin in facing up to that big tiger! And yes, the birds were very much around. The Indian Pitta, which is usually to be seen only at certain times and at certain places, were there at Ranthambhor in plenty, as were Paradise Flycatchers. That certainly made the trip far more enjoyable overall.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Meteor hit

Hits by meteors from outer space are not an everyday occurrence. India was hit by a huge meteor about 50,000 years ago that has gouged out a huge crater about 2 kilometres in diametre and about 0.75 kms. in depth. This is at Lonar, quite far away from the usual tourist circuit, about 160 kms. to the south of Akola in Maharashtra.

Asked about the symmetrical hemispherical shape of the crater, most scientists commented that when hurtling through outer space a meteor tends lose any projections or angularities, especially when it approaches the inner space of the earth. Lonar is fairly easily accessible from Akola and should be of interest to any student of science, especially those studying geology.  

Sunday, 21 January 2018

"Artful" cities

India has so many beautiful cities, some boasting great antiquity, such as Benaras or Ujjain, or cultural institutions as at Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai, or fine architecture as at Bhubaneshwar, Hyderabad, and  Jaipur and in quite a few others. Almost lost among these numbers are two from Rajasthan that are "artful" in the true sense of the term. As one walks down almost any street in the towns of Bundi and Shekhawati, there are the beautiful paintings on the wall, finely executed and bright in colours that leave one lost in wonder.
Bundi, often overlooked by visitors thronging to Jaipur and Udaipur, lies to the south-east of Rajasthan, close to the industrial centre of Kota..It is a lovely city to go walking about in, with painted walls greeting one almost at every turn of a winding street.

Shekhawati, which lies to the north of Jaipur, is somewhat better known for the lovely paintings in the "havelis" of the some well-known business families, but is not commonly visited, except by the aficionados of the Rajasthani style of miniature paintings.

Some of the examples of the art to be seen at Bundi ( the 3 pictures above) and at Shekhawati (  the 2 below) should perhaps interest more visitors to see these two "artful" towns.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Kenya 2016

There was a very enjoyable trip to Kenya in October 2016. In a short trip of about 7 days we managed to see some of Kenya's finest wildlife areas, the Amboseli naional park, the Nakuru national park (once famous for its flamingo flocks) and of course, Masai Mara national park.
Though Amboseli is some distance from Nairobi, a four hour drive over rather bad roads, the views of Mount Kilimanjaro every morning and evening were exhilarating. Climate change seems to have considerably reduced the crown of snows that Kilimanjaro was once famous for; but it is still there. Wildlife was just great, especially the herds of elephants.
Nakuru was northwards, across the great Rift Valley (that is said to run from north of Ethiopia down practically to Tanzania). Due possibly to some geological changes over the last 8-10 years, the waters of Nakuru lake have deepened and that has put off the great flocks of flamingos that had once garlanded the lake. But the bird life is still quite good there besides sighting of the white rhino, wild buffalo and leopards.
Masai Mara is always exciting - one never knows what one would come across a jeep safari: perhaps a lion pride, or a huge herd of buffalo, or a large number of eland antelopes (quite rare), or a glimpse of a leopard creeping along a gully.

So try and go there some time and enjoy!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Partition of India, 1947 - another look

For most persons in India over the age of 70 or 75, the Partition of India in 1947 was a traumatic experience. So many people in Bengal and Punjab lost a hearth and home or loss of livelihood or worst, a loved one. There have been many books, highlighting one aspect or the other of that tragic event. The "blame game" has been on now for the past 50 to 60 years; but "finger-pointing" has not helped the people of the sub-continent really to come to terms with the unfortunate developments. For that, perhaps a look inwards into ourselves, as we are with our respective identities, would help.
I have attempted this in my book , "A Partition in the Mind" (published by CinnamonTeal Design and Publishing). But identities do not develop overnight and I had to go back quite a good bit into time and into history of the sub-continent for this purpose. There were many strands of events and experiences to be followed up, some hardly ever thought to be even remotely associated with the Partition. There was, of course, a large "dramatis personae", ranging from social, political and religious reformers, British governors-general and vice-roys and officials, as well as politicians like Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah who played major roles at one point of time or the other.
An interesting aspect  of this work has been the repeated confrontation with "historiography": not only "who" said "what", but also "why".
I am particularly beholden to the many scholars whose prior work - over a 100 books are mentioned in the Bibliography - helped me to get closer to the subject matter in its many dimensions.  Hopefully, this book will interest others also to delve into their pioneering work.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Iran II - Yazd, a different feeling

Many people are familiar with the names of Shiraz and Esfahan in Iran - and they are really beautiful cities, and worth visiting anytime. But a visit to Yazd in central Iran ( it is situated between Shiraz and Esfahan) is a different experience. First, its antiquity - Yazd is said to be one of the oldest lived -in cities of the world, which was visited by Marco Polo in the 13th century. Second, Yazd is the centre of Zoroastrianism, with its Fire Temple that boasts of an ancestry going back to the 5th century CE. Third in significance is the architecture: it is one of the few remaining lived-in cities of the world that have houses made largely with mud-baked bricks and chopped-straw and mud daubing. It is the home of the "badgir" or the "wind-catcher" towers that dot the city. Yazd is close to the Dast-e-Kavir desert and temperatures in summer can hit 50-51 deg. C. Hence the need to "catch" the slightest breeze.

These pictures show, respectively, a typical street in Yazd, the "wind catcher" towers next to a square, and the Yazd fire-temple

There are still "qanats" or stone channels that bring water down in some areas from as far as 30-40 kilometres.  There is also the Jame Mosque with its fabulous tile-work ornamentation. But most interesting of all is the appeal of the narrow, winding lanes that lead in all directions, to squares with their carpet shops (Yazd carpets are notable for their weaving in the neighbouring desert areas and the distinctive Zoroastrian style carpets) and souvenir shops, and old homes with their strange, different door knockers for men and women - for the men, the heavier knocker and for the women a much lighter ring, so that the householder may know whom to expect.  These are civilisational aspects that one often loses sight of.