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Red Fort


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Heritage lighthouses to be developed as tourist spots. (NEWS)

The Union ministry of Tourism has agreed to provide Central Financial Assistance (CFA) for the development of heritage lighthouses as tourist destinations. The decision was made after a meeting between Dr K Chiranjeevi, Minister of State with independent charge for tourism, G K Vasan, Minister for Shipping and Milind Deora, Minister of State for shipping, communication & IT. The two Ministries will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the subject.
Of 15 heritage lighthouses having historical importance, in the first phase, Kanhoji Angre lighthouse in Maharashtra will be taken up for development. Mot Plants to support construction of a boat jetty and passenger terminal at Kanhoji Angre lighthouse.
The Kanhoji Angre island is located at about 9 nautical miles off Gateway of India. Once the jetty is built, locals, and domestic and international tourists will have a new option for a day-trip.
The three ministers were of the opinion that the idea of development of heritage lighthouses will not only protect national heritage but also help develop new tourist destinations. The development of lighthouses will evince interest among the youth in maritime history and development. The effort of developing heritage lighthouses into tourist destinations will also give an impetus to development of cruise tourism in India.
Courtesy : PTI

Monday, July 1, 2013


As we stepped out of the small lmphal Airport. we were reminded of the diversity of India. Coming from Nagpur where the temperature was at that time (May 29) around  47 degree, the cool breeze in lmphal was a pleasant  change. Airport was bustling with activity. yet no one was rushing about helter skelter; there was a sense of calm. 
The white complexioned people looked very different and  they were a very friendly lot. We were reminded of  India's diversity which is actually her strength. We are different, yet we all are one nation. It is very  important that we respect the identity of each Indian. People at the airport guided us in broken Hindi and tried to make us comfortable. Prof Ibohal Singh of Manipur University and Dr Narasingh of IPTA welcomed us with a warmth that brought cheer to all the visitors who were otherwise tired after a long flight. It must be mentioned here that the best way to visit Manipur is to reach lmphal by air either from New Delhi or Kolkata The adventurous can reach lmphal by a 14 hour road journey via Guwahati. Kohima or Dimapur. 

We were stationed in the Manipur University Guest House located in Conchipur on the southern flank of lmphal  city. On our first day we drove on the India-Myanmar highway to reach a small village named Khongjam where the statue of Shaheed Pouna Brajbhashi stands tall reminding us of the sacrifice our brethren have made to liberate our country from the yoke of the British Empire. A peace park is located just near the memorial.

On the way we passed through Thoubal, the constituency of the Chief Minister. We were surprised to find a huge market almost 500 mt long constructed by the State Government. We were told that even lmphal doesn't have such a long market!

At about 6 pm we reached the small village near Thoubal  to witness a Lai haroba Dance festival. All along we were able to see the nine hills that surround almost all of Manipur. As the international highway wound its way we could see beautiful Manipur villages with houses made of bamboo and mud. Almost every village had its pond as we find in the state of West Bengal.

One thing that attracts the attention of any visitor in Manipur is the total cleanliness. It is difficult to find filth strewn here  and there. Except the garbage heaps kept at the designated places we don't find litter. In one of his letters Jawaharlal Nehru has mentioned that he could not find a single Manipuri citizen in dirty clothes. Although the Manipuri men have adopted the western clothings. women (not teenagers) wear beautiful traditional ‘Half Sarees'.

As we entered the village. we were delighted by what we saw. About three hundred women. girls and about hundred boys, all attired in traditional Manipuri dresses were dancing in a large circle. Two singers. a male and a female were standing at the centre. The dance was led by six middle aged women whose dexterous hand movements were almost poetic. As we were the guests of the day, we were presented different types of fruits and flowers after an offering was made to the deity, College girls in Manfpuri sarees were a delightful sight. 

lnspite of the insurgency, common man in Manipur feels proud of being an Indian and connects well with Indians coming from other states. ln the evening an enchanting ballet was produced by the ’Manipuri Jagoi Marup' on the story of Kabuliwaia. There are a  number of ballet groups in Manipur who present mrmerous shows in and  around lmphal round the year. Historically Manipuris were warriors who did not bow even to the British Empire easily. Today the Manipuri ballets depict their courage and strengths of war. on the stage.

One very important destination in Manipur is Moirong. it is called the cradle of Manipuri culture. Situated 43 km to the south of lmphal, Moirong borders with the famous Loktak Lake. It was in Moirong where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's confidant Col. Shaukat Ali Malik hoisted the Indian Tricolour for the first time. A befitting INA memorial has been built by the Govemment of lndia at that site that was inaugurated by our late Prime Minister Mrs hidira Gandhi in the year 1969. The museum showcases the whole life and struggle of Netaji and the INA during their fight against the British Empire. It is a national pilgrimage  site which every true lndia must visit atleast once in his life time!

On our retum we visited the famous Loktak Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in the North East.ltis 10 miles long and 5 miles wide.It is called a miniature Sea. A tourist home has been made on a small island called Sendra from where one can see the vast lake. There are three islands in the lake. There is a floating Keibul Lamjo National Park in the Loktak Lake which is home to the rare brow antler Sangai of which only 250 are in existence today. This is the only floating park in the world. You must have atleast two days in hand to see the beauty of this  beautiful lake. Sendra Tourist Home at Moirong situated just near the Loktak  Lake takes care of the lodging facility. Do not forget to enjoy the typical fish dishes of  Manipur eaten with rice and their own version of salad. The staple food of Manipur is rice but roti is provided on demand. While in lmphal a visit to Ima market is a must. lma means ‘Mother in Manipuri. This market is entirely run by senior women. in tact every town in Manipur has an lma Market. Traditionally the job of selling in Manipur was done by women only.  Surprisingly the Ima market was very peaceful. There was no solicitation, the mantra of marketing today elsewhere. Even bargaining is in a very friendly manner.

Another landmark in lmphal is the Kangla Fort. it was the Ancient Capital of Manipur till 1891 when the Manipur resistance was defeated by the British army after a bitterly fought battle. The British army was so troubled that it razed the entire Kangla fort to dust. Only some fragments of old fort remain. Today the entire area is developed restoring some of the old structures as a monument to the freedom fighters. A museum located in the fort takes us down the memory lane.

On our way back to the Airport Shri Sahu and myself agreed that in spite of being a tribal state Manipur society is a highly  cultured and a developed society, where women are respected and enjoy equal  status with men. No wonder one of the leading journals has recently reported that Manipur is the best place in India for a girl to take birth!

Maybe the nine hills that surround Manipur provide that heavenly grace and protection to the daughters there!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inside Silent Valley

If you have been nurturing a dream for decades of seeing Silent Valley, when it actually unfolds before you in reality. it just might be a bit hard to believe! Its beauty could just leave you quiet...in the depths of silence. Silent Valley, spanning along the districts of Malapuram and Palakkad of Kerala, is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas on the planet and the Silent Valley National Park (SVNP) is one of the few remaining tropical, evergreen, rainforests of the country supporting an amazing variety of life forms, of which many are endemic to the western ghats. About and 75- 80 % oi the land is covered with thick, woody vegetation and about 20 % by grasslands. It has thick undergrowth and huge trees vying with each other in their competition to catch the sun. It has heavy rains during the monsoons and is closed for tourism. The fauna comprises the endemic lion-tailed macaque, elephant, leopard,. tiger, Nilgiri tahr, Malabar giant squirrel, monitor lizards, deer, gaur etc. and a large population of birds like the hornbills, Malabar whistling thrush etc. The place is teeming with the more common birds like the drongos, tailorbirds, spotted dove, marble pigeon, koels etc. The lion-tailed macaque is a rare primate endemic to the south-westem ghats found only in the intact rainforests and Silent Valley is one of its last strongholds.

Your hired vehicle or bus from the Forest Office will usually have the driver double as your official guide, though, Lord help you. if he knows only the local language and therefore can't communicate with you...that can actually amount to murder of your trip...seriously! You start at 8 am for your trip to Sairandhri, 23 km from the Mukkali gate, on a stony. mugh path. On the way, shafts of sunlight seep through the trees in patches making vivid and weird, shadow patterns. There's the famous landmark which is a 250 year old Jackfruit tree on the way which the guide will show you with pride! You pass the tribal settlements in the valley and wonder how they live so far away in the back of beyond. Mind you, all the way you are actually travelling in the rain forests.

At Sairandhri there's a watch tower for tourists. If you can climb the 124 steps of this 30 mtr structure at an altitude of 1018 mtr, you will be greeted by heaven on earth! From here you get an awesome bird's eye view of the exquisite, verdant hills around and the Kunthi river and its hanging bridge down in the valley.

From Sairandhri you embark on your one km trek downhill on a rough pathway through the evergreen rainforest down to River Kunthi which you saw from the top of the tower. On the way you will see the richness as well as the fragility of the rainforests the latter because there are hardly any rainforests left in the world. You might just chance to see the lion-tailed macaquee(Macaca silenus) or atleast you'll get to see the trees of the fruit - locally called the mullan chakka fruit - its staple food which it loves. On the way, of course, you are very likely to pick up a leech or two on your exposed limbs without which an experience inside the rainforest is just not complete! A good way to ward them off is to tie salt into a large hanky and shake the creatures off your limbs. Kunthi river is one of the pristine, fresh water rivers in Kerala within the SV with an intact catchment forest. The river is the last point of the trek from where you get back.

Permission is required from the Kerala Forest Department for tourism inside SVNP. For the short one day trip usually taken by tourists, permission can be obtained on the spot at the Forest Department office at Mukkali. This trip includes a short trek of about 2 km to the hanging bridge at the Kunti River and back. Tourists are not allowed to stay in the valley and must return to Mukkali by evening. Unlike the central Indian parks where tourists take a morning and afternoon trip inside the forest, entry into the valley is allowed only from 8 am-2pm. You can stay at Mukkali at the Inspection Bungalow or other resorts or even at Mannarkad.

Silent valley is easily accessible from the major towns of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Coimbatore,  the nearest railway and airport in TN is 90 kms from Mukkali and Palakkad (Palghat), 60 km away, is the nearest railway station in Kerala. The route from Mannarkad to Mukkali is a one-hour memorable drive on an enchanting ghat section through dense forests. For a stay at Mukkali, reserve rooms in advance through the Forest dept. Or you can stay at Mannarkkad and hire a jeep to reach Mukkali by 8 am. The visit to the Valley and Kunthi river will take only a day, and you can return to Palakkad the same evening.

The ‘Silent’ in Silent Valley has several connotations. The area is locally known as Sairandhrivanam', literally meaning in Malayalam Sairandhri's Forest. When the Pandavas, deprived of their kingdom, were sent on a 14-year exile, they halted beside a river here. Sairandhri was the name Draupadi adopted while she remained in disguise as queen Sudeshna's assistant, when in exile. A story attributes the name to the anglicisation of Sairandhri.

The British named the area Silent Valley because of a perceived absence of noisy cicadas; however, the cicada, as in other forests, has become ubiquitous here too, brought in, they say, by biotic pressures and climate change. Yet another story refers to the Latin name of the presence here of many lion-tailed macaques - Macaca 'silenus'.

In 1914 the forest of the Silent Valley area was declared a Reserve Forest. In 1973, India's fiercest environmental debate was raised by environmentalists, when the Kerala State Electricity Board decided to implement the Silent Valley Hydro-Electric Project (SVHEP) centered on a dam across the Kunthipuzha River. The reservoir would flood 8.3 sq. km of virgin rainforest and threaten the endemic and endangered lion-tailed macaque. In 1983, Indira Gandhi, decided to abandon the Project and on November 15 the Silent Valley forests were declared as a National Park. On September 7, 1985 the Silent Valley National Park was formally inaugurated and a memorial at Sairandhri to Indira Gandhi was unveiled by Sri. Rajiv Gandhi. On September 1, 1986 Silent Valley National Park was designated as the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Since then, a long-term conservation effort has been undertaken to preserve the Silent Valley ecosystem.

‘Silence’ could have other shades of meaning as well. Silent Valley, exquisite in all its manifestations, could just leave you speechless! On the other hand, that this heaven on earth is sometimes threatened by the dams that spell imminent doom, could leave you speechless too. Go take a look while this rich storehouse of biodiversity still belongs to nature.