East Himalaya

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lost Days

Finding Nemo is a wonderful animation film that has always thrilled me. It is always the mind that wants the eyes to see what’s beyond, and then you travel to explore. Not far away from Siliguri are the forests of Lohagarh. As a boy, I had the opportunity to visit the Bamonpokhari Forest Bungalow with my grandfather, who often came to meet the Elephant man, Lalji (the Raja of Gouripur). The place was so famous for his elephant camp ‘DHURA’ that the name of the forest was lost and came to be named as Garidhura. It is at his camp that I heard the stories of the elephant residences at Lohagarh, legend says that this was the fort of ‘LOHA-ASURA’. Kharibari, Naxalbari etc were much bigger names then, and then through Lohagarh, the traders would take their loaded horses to Antu and beyond.
The members of ‘ACT Salamander Circuit’ from Mirik have explored the entire area and during the Asian Rural Tourism Festival (ARTF) 2013 at Bahundangi, Jhapa, Nepal, the Mechi Headwater Trek Route for Indo-Nepal Friendship was inaugurated by none other than Subhas Niraula of Nepal Tourism Board, a man who has worked for more than 12 years for Sustainable Tourism in Nepal. He expressed “here when the world was thinking tourism in Nepal has been fully explored, I had no idea of this hidden treasure in the Eastern part of Nepal. I am sure the light of meaningful tourism will spread from the rising dedication of the NCS members in Nepal’s East”. It was during the first year of the festival in 2012, we had announced our friend’s wish. He was looking for his lost mother, Sharda ji. The only information he could provide was that she had returned to her house at ‘Okhaldhunga’ in the mid eighties.
Sharda ji was in Kunal’s house since 1961, when Kunal was still a child and since then Kunal was loved, cared and attached to her. When Kunal heard that Help Tourism was working in Eastern Nepal, his emotions gave way and he wanted to find his caring mother. Wonders happen, one of the policemen posted at Bahundangi during the festival in 2012 was from Okhaldhunga, and when the details of Sharda ji and Kunal was announced, he started relating his memories of his village. Gradually, it was found out that Sharda ji, who was once a while visited by her much younger brothers at Kunal’s house, they returned home and for a few months talked about their experience in Delhi or Dehradun to the village friends, who inturn told their families.

Shardaji with her brothers and their families had shifted to Jhumka. The areas of Solagumba, where the Sherpas treated the Rais and Chettri Bahuns as Rongbu. With the political equations changing, the pressure of growing families and lack of employment forced them to shift their generation of settlement to the present area at Dumraha Gabi, with much better opportunities of agriculture, the area being fed by the Koshi canal. The members of NCS (Nepal Conservation Society), the organizers of the ARTF were instrumental in finding out the family. Koshi Tappu and this area was divided by the mythological Ramdhuni Forests, the last of the surviving ‘sacred groves’ of Nepal.
Old Sharda ji was sitting at the corner of the house, not at all well physically, hardly with any company of the younger generation, whose presence calms down the mental and physical anxieties of old age. Her nephews and nieces come to the village once in a while, between their studies, work and families. People today are moving far away from their peaceful, sustainable and simple village lives. Her brothers, Khagan and Magan were overwhelmed to see Kunal. They could not believe, that two people who do not have any blood relations, and a small child who was brought up by their eldest sister as her son, could come back looking for the lost mother, that too after so many years. It probably happens in movies. Neither Kunal, nor Sharda ji could stop their tears, the local Nepali expression was wonderful, ‘duhi janako akha rasaiyo’, all of us who witnessed could not hold our tears too. We miss our old days.
Kunal, today in his fifties is a proud father of two daughters and lives in Gurgaon (Delhi for me). His wife Dipti and he have produced many wildlife films and have authored 09 interesting books, mainly on Indian Defence Forces. His mother and father lives in Kullu. He is happy with everything, but happier now after meeting Sharda ji. Kunal can be contacted at email address shivkunalverma@gmail.com.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mach Pora, Chilika Lake, Orissa

An extraordinary recipe, reach Puri, take an excursion to Chilika Lake, reach any of the fishermen villages and take retreat under the tree for the day at any of the local fishing camps. Request 02 very experienced fishermen for fulfilling your wish to taste the best fish recipe of the world. Fresh fishes will be brought to you and you can choose your fish. A small fire is made with dry twigs and grasses collected from the area. The fishes are thrown in the fire and maneuvered with a stick till the fishes are burnt uniformly. Banana leaves collected locally and you are served this fishes directly with a paste (chutney/sauce) made of green chilly, ginger and salt. All you need for a wholesome and healthy lunch. There is only one man who can organize this for you and he is Bubu Babu. Ask any rickshaw puller in Puri with the 'Green Rider' sign and he will take you to him. The leader of the 'barefoot' service providers, who recently won a 'Responsible Tourism' award from India Tourism.
Fishes are found in abundance in the lakes and rivers of Asia. The water has been a source for life in the rice fields to be joined with fishes for meals, all complete, the starch, the protein, the minerals etc, enough to sustain human life. this was the biggest discovery of mankind to move towards greater civilizations. Day after day man became more and more greedy and today they try to rule the waters which gave then food, clothing, shelter one day. It is time who will decided the winner. No guesses permitted, but any one who wishes to enjoy the fish and rice in the most diverse form, must visit the Dihing River Camp. Discover life in a modest and simple way.

I just got access to 02 write-ups which I think was appropriate on this World Water Day
MAR 21 - It is a common knowledge that water is the basis of life—a vital resource for human wellbeing and healthy ecosystems. But water is also limited while being needed for many purposes. This can be a source of conflict but also offers endless opportunities for cooperation. Climate change is affecting patterns of water availability while water consumption patterns are also changing with urbanisation, industrialisation and rising living standards—all leading to increased requirements. In the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, cooperation is essential to ensure that sufficient water is available to support social, economic and environmental development. 
Cooperation can take place at different levels, between different stakeholder groups and across sectors. Good management of water resources will only be possible if there is active participation at all levels of government, civil society, the private sector and academia. There have been many efforts at the global level to bring water issues to centre stage. Since the 1800s, more than 450 international water cooperation agreements have been made to support the management of water across borders. The 1992 Rio Earth Summit on sustainable development brought global attention to the growing water scarcity and the need for proper management. The Summit’s Agenda 21 Chapter 13 drew attention to mountains as fragile ecosystems and providers of essential services such as water and energy, while Chapter 18 emphasised the need for integrated approaches in the development, management and use of water resources. Twenty years later, in 2012, the Rio+20 meeting took stock of the progress made and the outcome document recognised that ‘mountain ecosystems play a crucial role in providing water resources to a large portion of the world’s population and fragile mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of  climate change’. It called for specific actions and renewed commitment to protect our fragile mountain ecosystems and the services they provide, highlighting water as a core requirement for sustainable development. The meeting called upon states to strengthen cooperative action and ensure effective involvement and sharing of experience by all relevant stakeholders. 
The United Nations declared 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action-’Water for Life’—and 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation. This Year aims to raise awareness of the need for water cooperation at all levels and encourage countries to work together to ensure that water is well-managed, fairly distributed and available to 
all. Today we are celebrating World Water Day with the theme ‘Water Cooperation’ to raise awareness of the potential and benefits of cooperation in the sustainable management of our freshwater resources.
The Hindu Kush Himalayan region has 10 major rivers that provide freshwater and other environmental services to more than 1.3 billion people living in the mountains and downstream plains—the Amu Darya, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween, Tarim, Yangtze, and Yellow. Across the mountains, more than 60,000 square kilometres of glaciers act as storehouses for water, regulating runoff for downstream use. But these glaciers are now at risk due to climate change while various socioeconomic factors are exacerbating problems of lack of water, particularly during the dry season when the rivers have low flow. Our understanding of climate change and its impacts on water resources is still poor and much uncertainty remains about water availability in the future. 
Water is not limited by national boundaries; most of the rivers of the Himalayan region flow through more than one country. Water originating in one country may be essential for hydropower and irrigation in another. Floods in the plains result from rainfall in the mountains. The upstream mountains offer opportunities to store monsoon water to use in the dry season downstream. Transboundary cooperation in water management is essential if we are to maximise the benefits and reduce the risks. 
There are many examples in the region of treaties and agreements between countries on water resources management. The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan is an example of successful cooperation at the basin level on shared water resources. It shows that cooperation can promote efficient techniques for water storage and distribution and expand irrigation schemes in each country. The Koshi and Gandak treaty between Nepal and India for flood management and irrigation has also been in place for more than 50 years. Such successful examples of bilateral cooperation highlight the need for a regional mechanism to share data, information and knowledge related to water management for the benefit of the region.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is working with regional partners in a programme on river basin management that is helping to generate knowledge and understanding of changes in water dynamics due to climate change—and what this means for people’s livelihoods and adaptation strategies. The activities help foster regional cooperation on the sustainable management of water. A comprehensive monitoring programme on the cryosphere has been started in partnership with regional and global institutions and a regional initiative is working towards developing an information system to help reduce flood risk. 
The shared dependence on water resources, vulnerability to floods and drought and benefits from water development all suggest cooperation in water resources management as a win-win scenario for countries in the region. Harnessing these opportunities will help build trust and confidence, support peace and security, ensure provision of water for food and energy, help disaster prevention and protect our ecosystems as a basis for sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

Shrestha is Senior Water Resources Specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)


Posted on: 2013-03-22 09:03

A treasured region showcases the importance of water
Dean R. Thompson
“Here, life depends on the changing of the tides…”  I heard that refrain echoed several times during a recent excursion to the magnificent Sunderbans, my first visit to this region, which invoked a sense of wonder and appreciation for the power of nature.  Looking out from a boat traveling through one of the many waterways, I gained a deep respect for the populations that inhabit the area—both human and wildlife—who adapt their lives to the rise and fall of the tide, and who are faced with significant environmental challenges that affect their homes and livelihoods.  
I cannot think of a more apt place to recognize the importance of water, and to celebrate protection and conservations efforts.  On this occasion of World Water Day 2013, I think we can all reflect on the role water plays in our lives and consider what might happen if we, as humans around the globe, do not act to conserve our environment.  Water is fundamental to maintaining peace, security, and prosperity.  Water sustains life, and when managed well, it allows our economies to thrive, our children to grow up healthy, and can build peace and cooperation among neighbors.  Climate change will have a profound impact on the availability, distribution, and quality of water.  It will tax infrastructure and natural systems for managing water resources.  Floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events are projected to become more frequent and severe—in other words, wet areas will become wetter and dry areas will become dryer.  
The Sunderbans has already witnessed these effects.  The devastation Cyclone Alia brought to the region in 2009 is still being felt today, particularly in the most vulnerable of areas along the thousands of kilometers of embankments that line the area’s waterways.  I had the opportunity to speak with an inspiring community of women in Moukhali Village, Amtoli Island, who told me that agriculture production in the region is just now resuming; it has been poor or impossible since the storm surge pushed salt water into the fields and crops could not grow in the salinated soil.  Most of the women’s husbands had become “climate refugees,” forced to leave the village to seek work either in Kolkata or other large cities, and the women were left to take care of their home and family, while finding alternative livelihoods.  It is here that we can champion the work of local groups creating solutions for communities such as the Moukhali Village that help to both mitigate the effects of climate change and provide economic opportunities.  Groups such as the Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), which has trained over 280 women to raise and plant mangrove saplings along the embankments, essential to hold mud in place and prevent flooding and erosion.  300,000 saplings have been planted just in the past several months, an impressive feat and one that will go a long way to protecting the most vulnerable land in the project’s area.  I know there are many organizations conducting noteworthy ventures throughout the region.  
Rebuilding and protecting the region’s natural ecosystem through projects like this is critical.  Healthy ecosystems provide a variety of services and benefits that would cost far more to provide through man-made infrastructure.  Degradation of natural ecosystems reduces the ability of the environment to provide natural filtration, aquifer replenishment, and flood and drought mitigation.  
The impact of conservation efforts can be seen in the famous Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, home to some of the world’s most beautiful and mysterious creatures.  The forest there, preserved as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, acts as the areas “lungs” and “kidneys,” by absorbing carbon from the air and providing natural filtration and cleansing of the surrounding water.  I was equally impressed with wildlife conservation efforts there, and commend the efforts against tiger poaching in the Reserve over the last decade, a reflection of cooperation between the government and NGOs with the local community to promote awareness.   
It is easy to feel small when traveling through the vast expanse of the Sunderbans.  I was only able to see a tiny portion of the region, but gained an immense understanding of the way of life here, including the challenges and benefits of living in a serene, but vulnerable environment.  Heading back to shore, the sunset reflecting in the water and the breeze cooling off the heat of the day, I thought of ways we can all be active in ensuring water security in the coming years—raising awareness being perhaps the most accessible and productive across all communities.  It is not just about coastal areas like the Sunderbans, but also places to closer to home.  For example, I have seen firsthand the ongoing work to protect the East Kolkata Wetlands, vital to sustaining the city and its surrounding area.  The United States is committed to promoting water security around the world, to ensure the development and sustainability of treasured regions like the Sunderbans, and our cities alike, for generations to come.   (The writer is U.S. Consul General Kolkata. Readers may  follow him on twitter: @deanthompson)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hornbill Headgears

One country 02 states, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. One river 02 names, Kameng and Jia Bhareli. One continuous habitat 02 Tiger Reserves, Pakke and Nameri. One language spoken by 16 different communities. This is the language of ‘conservation’ spoken by 16 different communities living around Pakke and Nameri Tiger Reserves at the recently completed ‘Pakke-Nameri Conservation and Peace Carnival’, from Pakke Jungle Camp at Seijosa in East Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh to Ban Theatre in Tezpur in Assam.

Imagine who took the initiative, the Nyishi community Gaon Burras. The Nyishis and conservation, the ones who wear Hornbill beak headgears, everyone laughed at us as if we were joking. Community conservation at Pakke Tiger Reserve, initiated by the DFO, Tana Tapi, ADCF, now Field Director, along with some National Wildlife NGOs by getting together the Nyishi Gao Burhas (Village Heads) into an organization called Ghora Abhe Society, who in turn organized locally led conservation by their community to save this extraordinary Tiger Habitat. Help Tourism was invited here to boost the process and they added community based ecotourism infrastructure to the initiative, ‘the Pakke Jungle Camp’.

The dynamics were perfect, but in isolation. The work of Ghora Abhe Society was being appreciated nationally and internationally, but there was hardly any news or awareness or initiative locally in the neighbourhood. The 02 partners in ecotourism, Ghora Abhe and Help Tourism sat with the Field Director of Pakke Tiger Reserve and discussed that it will be impossible to sustain conservation if the similar dynamics is not set in continuing Nameri Tiger Reserve. The several community leaders of different communities around Nameri Tiger Reserve were invited for a preliminary meeting to Pakke and convinced to participate in community based conservation. To do the first awareness program, a carnival for peace and conservation was planned. 
The once isolated community, Nyishis, fierce hunting community referred to as ‘Dafla’ by the neighbours in Assam, now took the responsibility to lead habitat conservation and wildlife protection in the region, infact they took the ownership on conservation. This is not strange, conservation was always in their gene, only that we cannot interpret this with our modern sense of conservation. They always lived as a part of nature, ate out nature, built shelter out of nature, got their clothing out of nature and lived the most sustainable lifestyle in isolation. We wanted to make them global, they appeared before the world in their hornbill headgears and we shouted that they were killing hornbills to make headgears. We often consider Hornbills to Tigers, as the king representative in their respective categories, birds and mammals. The Nyishis wear this as their headgear to show the world that they belong to an extremely diverse habitat, which they have lived with for time unknown and where hornbills are abundant. We have, through our greed destroyed these entire habitats and act as pro-conservation people from our un-natural homes and offices. The English could not make them a part of their industrial revolution and termed them TRIBALS. 

The time for us has come to be TRIBALS, to be a part of the natural system beyond borders, and not trying to exploit nature, each for our own selfish interest. If we have created some infrastructure, let us all blend it with the biodiversity forces locally and convert ourselves to the religion of BIODIVINITY. Come and train with the TRIBALS in their traditions. 

The support for the rally was provided in a big way at Tezpur by Nature’s Beckon, an Assam based NGO, pioneers in the field of community based conservation and presently extends hands to some Northeast states and West Bengal.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Taj Mahal closed for two and a half years

Imagine if Taj Mahal would be closed to visitors for the next two and a half years...the world, the nation and the local people, all would get together to question the situation. The Toy Train or DHR, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the oldest heritage railway in the country, the model for the world is not running her stretch from NJP (the main Railway terminal for Siliguri) or Siliguri Junction (the Railway Terminal of great importance from the metre gauge days) to Darjeeling for the last two and a haif years. Yesterday at the DHR annual meet, held at The Cindrella Hotel in Siliguri, in presence of the International members of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (DHRS) and Darjeeling Railway Community Support (DHRC), the officials from DHR, NF Railway and the local members of the DHR-India Support Group, David Barrie, the Chairman of DHRS commented that, “across the world, most of the narrow gauge railways have a journey distance of 5 to 15 miles, we are proud to have a narrow gauge railway here, the DHR which runs a stretch of 55 mile”. He also said “it is the great grandfather steam engines, which are so strong and simple that they can still pull 04 coaches uphill if maintained and run in an ideal manner”.

We have several shortfalls here for not being able to address the issue of immediate repair of the DHR track, both nationally and locally. The history of track and road damage at Pagla Jhora is more than 100 years old, but we do not know of any period when the running of the train or cars on the parallel road (Hillcart Road, now NH 55) have been out of function for such a long time. There seems to be hardly any understanding for the HERITAGE, for the traditions and cultures which we have inherited. In a press release yesterday by DHRS says that the society has been awarded the most prestigious award sponsored by the Steam Railway Magazine, which recognizes the Society’s work in improving the reliability and performance of the world famous ‘B’ class steam locomotives on the DHR. Engineering Director, David Mead and steam engineer, Mike Weedon were the men behind this project. We in India need to do our part, atleast restore the railway track damaged by landslide, or atleast do the NH 55, which connects thousands of villagers and Railway people to Siliguri for their basic needs.
The DHR is like the Taj Mahal for us who live in North Bengal and Sikkim in India and are proud that several places and their people are an integral part of this heritage. 
All pictures used here is between 1865 to 1930, undergiven are the DHR Annual Meet pictures from yesterday.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Elephant vs Railways/Forests/Development...

Jumbo died at a railway classification yard in Canada at St. Thomas, Ontario, where he was hit and fatally wounded by a locomotive. Barnum afterwards told the story that Jumbo died saving a young circus elephant, Tom Thumb, from being hit by the locomotive... the Wikipedia.org describes ‘Jumbo (1861 – September 15, 1885), also known as Jumbo the Elephant and Jumbo the Circus Elephant, was a 19th-century male African Bush Elephant born in the French Sudan (present-day Mali). Jumbo was eventually exported to a zoo in Paris, France; and then transferred in 1865 to London Zoo in England. In November 1881, Jumbo was sold for $10,000 USD to P. T. Barnum, who took him to America for exhibition in March 1882. The giant elephant's name has spawned the common word, "jumbo", meaning large in size. Jumbo's height, estimated to be 3.25 metres (10.7 ft) in the London Zoo, was claimed to be approximately 4 metres (13.1 ft) by the time of his death’.
Railways and Elephant deaths in railway tracks is a long history. I was reading a very interesting article in the link related to IPS (Inter Press Service) on Tribal Rights (dated 22.02.2013), where I came across an interesting comment:
My attention was piqued when I saw this in the sidebar. Ashish Kothari quoted: “Roads, railway lines and transmission lines through forests cause fragmentation and risk killing animals (dozens of elephants have been killed attempting to cross railways),” he told IPS.
My work on ricksha arts in Bangladesh turned up a wonderful handpainted backboard panel of an elephant attacking a RR train. I thought of it as emblematic, but heard from one of the authors of *India's Railway History : A Research Handbook*, that when trains got going in India early 19th c., "Almost immediately environmental costs of railway development were noted from deforestation to increasing malaria (blocking of waterways created breeding areas)--and yes, confrontations between elephants and trains." This colorful panel attained the cover of that book.
So sad for the animals and the forests.

Many of us saw the news footage on television yesterday and in the newspapers today about an adult tusker being dragged to death by a train at Buxa Tiger Reserve. The Field Director posted some photos on social network. It is not a pleasant to see such photos, but I am adding one to help to understand the impact. Some news claimed that the train driver said that the elephant came charging to the engine and hence died. Most of the time we have observed that the elephants like humans usually do not cross the railway track straight but often walk on the track for time till a better place to get to the other side is found. Also with some experiences on road I have seen that if a car or truck honks at a crossing elephant, specially loner, the elephant chases the honking vehicle.
This particular tusker was seen by us quite many times during travelling by the intercity express towards Alipurduar. Also locally, the tusker was always seen in this area, and has never been heard to cause any damage to people or property. The place where the accident took place, to my knowledge is about a kilometre from the Damanpur Range office. Are we missing the basic duties as Forest Department, protection and monitoring of wildlife? This is the basic question from well meaning, responsible and conscious tax payers, whose hard earned returns support this department, especially when logging has been banned in India. It is the questions from the well meaning villagers living around the protected areas, who through generations have protected this open treasury called forests and wildlife. Other than the elephant deaths by train, recently there had been a few elephant deaths in the forests, which were detected only when they smelt rotten.
In North Bengal, where elephants are International and covers a landscape which includes Nepal, Bhutan and India, and has also been reported to visit the Bangladesh border, the problems in conservation is multi-dimensional. The human-elephant conflict is in its extreme level, with elephant habitats fast converting into human needs, which includes villages, increasing urbanization, increasing tea gardens, increasing land demand by the defence forces and increase in unplanned developments. Under such circumstance, it has never been planned to provide local people with a livelihood of protection and monitoring of the elephants in the wild. Other than affinity through religion, that has till date helped to keep the local elephant population steady, livelihood can play a major role in creating a sense of ownership in conservation of elephants and their habitat.
There has been 02 PILs (Public Interest Litigation) at the Calcutta High Court:
In 2000, a PIL was filed in Kolkata High Court 
W.P. No. 13220(w) of 2000   in the matter of laying a broad gauge railway track from Siliguri to Guwahati passing through certain Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserved Forests in North Bengal.

This matter came up time and again before the court. Finally on 10.5.2002 the Court received a joint inspection report (prepared by some high officials who were supposedly well conversant with the subject) filed on behalf of the Union of India.  They detailed in the report the manner as to how best the animal sanctuaries can be saved from the alleged threat likely to be caused from the conversion of gauge.  
The committee, that was formed with three persons taken from the Wildlife Institute of India, Forest Dept. under the Ministry of Forest & Environment and the Ministry of Railways, made some recommendations. According to the committee, those recommendations, if implemented and followed, would protect the wildlife of the area to a great extent, even after the proposed conversion.  
On August 20, 2002, in view of those recommendations, Kolkata HC directed the railway authorities to see that those recommendations are  adhered to and implemented. Then with hope and trust that railway administration will implement the recommendations in real spirit and see that the peace of the wildlife is least disturbed, HC disposed of the PIL. 
Next what happened would make the entire elephant expert community villains to the natural world in general and as per the figures available:
From 1974 to 2002, during 29 years, the number of elephants those died due to collision with train on meter gauge track was 27. 
From 2004 till date (to  February  06, 2013), during  last 9 years, the number of elephants those died due to collision with train on converted broad gauge track has been  40.
Now there is a second PIL with the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court, which has been done only because of the fact that neither the Railways, nor the Forest Department or the Experts or anyone else are ready to take responsibility of the elephant deaths, and the entire pro-elephant conservation fraternity, both local and global has to watch this Jumbo death circus.