Thursday, 28 February 2013

The peacock sanctuary of Bangalore

This is perhaps the last grassland in the Silicon City of Bangalore. Once known for its abundance greenery, Bangalore has steadily been losing its green cover and the once pristine forests that surrounded the city have now been reduced to small pockets such as in Bannerghatta.
But what many people do not know is that Bannerghatta is not the only wildlife sanctuary in Bangalore There is another but little known pocket of  green on the other side of Bangalore and this is almost opposite in distance and direction to Bannerghatta. But unlike Bannerghatta, this is not all that well-known.
This patch of forest is the last surviving grasslands of Bangalore. It is near Hesarghatta and what is more it is a sanctuary for peacocks. This sanctuary is perhaps the only one in the world to have a haven for peacocks right next to one of the biggest cities of the world.
It is called the Byalkere Peacock Reserve and it adjoins the huge Hesaraghatta lake. This reserve forest is on the road to Hesaraghatta from MS Palya.
The Hesarghatta lake, Hesarghatta village and the peacock reserve are home to some endemic species of wildlife such as the Slender Loris which in Kannada is called “Kadu Papa”.  Zoologists claims that there are more than 20 sub-species of these animals living here but spotting them is hard as the animals are elusive creatures and rarely make their presence felt.
The Slender Loris is on the list of endangered species. They are native to India and Sri Lanka and there are tow district species-the Red and the Grey. It is a small nocturnal primate and about the size of a Chipmunk.  
The grasslands and the adjoining dry lake bed are home to endangered birds like short tailed snake eagle which comes under schedule -iv of endangered species, all species of harriers slender loris and lesser Florian. Orinthologists have counted no less than 133 types of birds, five species of reptiles, mammals and several types of plant species in the grasslands of Byalkere and Hesarghatta.
It is really a rare and unforgettable sight to watch so many peacocks so close to human habitation. The only pother known peacock reserve is in Adichunchangiri which is a fair distance away.
This could perhaps be the only known peacock reserve so near a city.  The peacocks seem oblivious of the visitors and their sweet melodious calls carry for long distances.
Apart from peacocks, you can spot Indian Robin, Egrets, Brahmini Kite, Doves, Kingfishers, Purple Rumped Sunbird, common Mynas, Bulbul and even Black Kites.
You can also see Marsh harriers, Indian roller, barn swallow, kestrel and Siberian stone chats.
Since it is a reserve forest, permission is restricted. You have to approach the Forest Department for permission. Check out with the Forest Department at Aranya Bhavan , Malleswaram, for more details and also permission.
Byalkere and Hesaraghatta are in the north western part of Bangalore. Byalkere is just 13 kms from Yeshwantpur. The easiest approach to the peacock reserve is from Yeshwanthpur.
Join the Yeshwanthpur circle and take the road to Mathikere. Go past the flyover to BEL circle and from Jalahalli East join the road to Vinayak Nagar. Travel on the same road to Dodda Byalkere and Hesarghatta.
Another approach is from Tumkur road. Travel along the road till you see a sign pointing to Hesarghatta.
The Nritya Grama or dance village of Protima Bedi and the horticultural research station is nearby. Enjoy some time off before heading back to Bangalore.   

The brain museum

This should be one of the most unusual museums in India and it is certainly the first in the country.
Though India has museums on history, geography, wildlife, geology and other sciences, it rarely has a museum dedicated solely to medical science. Bangalore has been lucky in having this one in a kind museum and it is worth a visit.
This is the brain museum and it is located in the premises of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), at its sprawling campus just off Hosur Road.
The museum displays over 600 samples of human brain and these samples are increasing year by year.
The museum was the brainchild of Dr S K Shankar, professor and head of department of neuropathology. It was set up after a long and painstaking effort involving close to 30 years of brain donations.
NIMHAS had to seek permission of the next of kin of the dead during autopsy to take parts of their brain for research. The research team later stumbled upon some fascinating revelations that are otherwise generally not revealed through MRI scans.
These brain samples were initially  for teaching students of neuropathology. Later, the idea of educating the public and making them aware of the fascinating aspects of the brain began germinatng and the result was the museum.
The first thing when you step into the vast hall is the many samples displayed in bottles and jars of formalin. Just imagine, these were the very brains that controlled human beings just a few years ago and now they are objects of research and display.
The brains here come in all sizes and shapes. There are brains of people who died a natural death and those who suffered head or brain injury. There are brains which were diagnosed with certain diseases.
The brain that suffered an injury in an accident is perhaps one of the most evocative. The person had suffered a memory loss and this can be verified by the fact that the fibres going to the frontal cortex or frontal lobe was disconnected.
The frontal lobes helps us to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress socially unacceptable responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.
They also help in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain's limbic functions. It modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms.
A few brains here show traces of intracerebral haemorrage (ICH) and by the way this is the second most common cause for a stroke. In these cases, the haemorrage occurs within the brain tissue rather than outside, making treatment and even recovery that much more difficult.
The risk factors for ICH include: hypertension, diabetes, menopause, current cigarette smoking and alcoholic drinks (≥2/day)
Brains which have faced the problem of cerebral venous thrombosis (blood clot) are also displayed. This is a peculiar phenomenon in north Karnataka where pregnant women are not given enough fluids after delivery. The blood of such women thickens. The clot occurs in the dural venous sinuses, which drain blood from the brain.
Another reason for such clots is consanguineous marriages which are very common in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. They lead to developmental anomalies of the brain.
There are also samples of brains which were the study for Schizophrenia. Though there is no external manifestation or malfunction, the size of the brain has shrunk, indicating a severe abnormality.
The brains of  people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease too have shrunk. The nerves had withered and it is really a scary sight.
Interestingly, there are brains which have suffered injuries and infections when ears of people were being cleaned with a sharp object such as a pin, pen, pencil or any long object. The infection from the ear quickly spread to the brain and in some cases, the damage was irreversible.
What makes this brain museum interesting is that it has brains of animals too. There are on display the brain of a rat and a duck. It details facts about the brain like anatomy, physiology, psychology, psychiatry, neurology and even neurosurgery.
A single brain can be preserved for twenty years and thus we see more brains coming in to the museum every year.   
The museum is operated by the Department of Neuropathology.
It is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. If you would like to donate your brain, sign a pledge as donor.
The complete address is NIMHANS, Hosur Road, SR Krishnappa Garden, Hombegowda Nagar, Bengalore, Karnataka 560029. You cal also call 080 26995035 for more details.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A story of the Congress Radio

Today, radio is almost a forgotten media and it had to reinvent itself in the last few years to compete with television and internet. It has been a hard decade for the radio which once was the monarch of the air waves.
India has one of the largest radio networks in the world and commercial broadcast in India began in 1923 in Bombay. Slowly the radio network took off and till the 1990s it played a vital role in fashioning news, features, songs and entertainment for the nation.
However, till 1947, the radio in India was under the control of the British. This was to ensure that no adverse publicity would accrue on the British and their actions.
However, not many people know that part from newspapers in India, radio too played its bit in the freedom movement. Indians quickly realised the reach of the radio and the effect it could have. They quickly set up clandestine radio stations across many places in the country.
One such radio station was set up near a village in Kengeri near Bangalore in 1926. The radio station broadcast freedom songs, speeches and gave c all to Bangaloreans to take to the streets to protest British occupation of India.
The British managed to locate the radio and turned it off. Another such experiment was during the Quit India movement. When Gandhi gave the call for the British to quit India in 1942, many newspapers and magazines were barred from carrying the news. Radios too was asked to censor the call.
However, the underground radio network gave Indians information about the movement and Gandhi’s speech and his message. Apart from his message, the killing of 306 soldiers in Meerut and atrocities on Indian women by Britishers was broadcast to the world only by means of a radio which then came to be known as “Congress Radio”.
This radio took up the task of  disseminating information to leaders and masses so that the many “leaderless movement” could go on. The British, as a tactic, had arrested all leaders of all parties in an effort to thwart  the call for freedom. Unfortunately, this ploy failed to work as the Congress radio and underground newspapers kept up the fire of freedom.
The Congress radio, in particular, broadcast live the first few incidents during the freedom movement. This radio troubled the British a great deal during the Quit India movement and it was finally detected on August 27, 1943. By then, the damage had been done and people came out in large numbers to face arrest.
The Congress Radio was started soon after almost its entire leadership was put behind bars on August 9, 1942. Many people joined to make the radio a success and it was ready by August 26, 1942.
Usha Mehta (1920-2000), a Congress leader from Mumbai, and her associates began earnestly working on the Congress radio from August 14, 1942.
The first words broadcast on this radio by her was: “This is the Congress radio calling on  42.34 meters from somewhere in India.” Her other associates included Vithalbhai Jhaveri, Chandrakant Jhaveri, Babubhai Thakkar and Nanka Motwani, owner of Chicago Radio, who supplied equipments and provided technicians.
Although the Secret Congress Radio functioned only for three months, it assisted the freedom movement by disseminating uncensored news and other information banned by the British-controlled government of India. It  also kept the leaders of the freedom movement in touch with the public.
The radio station was first set up in Bombay on the top floor of a building called Sea View in Chowpatty. It went on air on August 27 on 41.78 metres band and subsequently shifted to Ratan Mahal on Walkeshwar road.
The first broadcast shook the British  and they launched a comprehensive hunt to zero in on the radio. The Congress radio then shifted its base from Walkeshwar Road to Ajit Vila, Laburnum Road and again from there to Laxmi Bhuvan, Sandhurst Road, Parekh Wadi Building at Girgaum Back Road.
By the time it started broadcasting from Paradise Bungalow near Mahalaxmi Temple, the British managed to detect it and they closed it down.
The news by the Congress Radio was organized by Congress leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Vithaldas Madhavji Khakar. Later, Vitthal Rao Patvardhan bought the equipment of the Congress Radio and set up the station at Nashik.
The radio started broadcasting from the Shankaracharya matha at Nashik but when news came in that the police were searching nearby, the equipment was dumped in the Godavari river.
Taking a cue from the success of the Congress radio, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had set up Radio Azad Hind 70 years ago on March 25, 1942. The broadcast by the radio stirred the nation and gave the British sleepless nights.
The words by Netaji saying, “This is Subhas Chandra Bose speaking to you over the Azad Hind Radio. For about a year I have waited in silence and patience for the march of events and now that the hour has struck, I come forward to speak……’sent the entire nation into a frenzy and the British into a tizzy.
The Madhya Pradesh Government last year launched Radio Azad Hind in Bhopal to commemorate this event.
It is the first radio of its kind in the country, which is fully dedicated to the values of freedom struggle and self-rule. It can be heard on 90.8 megahertz daily from 7 am to 12 noon and 5 pm to 10 pm.
When India gained Independence, the Government kept radio under its ambit and this continues even today, so much so that AIR and Doordarshan are often labeled as stooges of the Government.  

The lake where Kanaka was initiated

There has been lengthy and scholastic debates on whether or not Kanaka Dasa did accept Deekshe from Vyara Raja and if he did or did not accept Hari or Vishnu as the sole God.
There is also a question on whether Kanaka accepted Vyasa Raja as his dharmic guru in the sense that Purandara and other Haridasas were.     
Though a majority of  Kanaka Dasa’s compositions centre around faith and devotion to the Vaishnava parampare of God and he was a leading Hari Dasa of the times, some scholars have argued that Kanaka did not embrace Vaishnavism and that he never converted from his faith as a Beda or shepherd community to which he belonged.
They also claim that Kanaka never accepted Vyasa Raja as his guru and that though he moved closely with the saint, he was never a part of their ideology and faith. This mystery still continues and unfortunately even  Kanaka’s compositions do not tell us much about his faith.
Contemporary accounts too are not very clear on the issue and the Vyâsayogicharita, by Somanatha, a Smartha court poet in the reign of Krishna Deva Raya and Achuta Deva Raya does not shed much light on Kanaka. An authentic biography of Vyasa Raja by his immediate disciple Srinivasa Theertha and a work by Krishna Deva Raya himself  does not solve the issue.
However, there is some clinching proof about the close bond that Kanaka shared with Vyasa Raja and his initiation into the Dasa Koota or school of thought. Interestingly, this initiation is linked to the construction of a large tank by Vyasa Raja. The tank is now in  Andhra Pradesh.
Thus, we have proof of almost the exact location where Vyasa Raja initiated Kanaka into the Dasa fold.  
It was the reign of Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1530) and Vijayanagar Empire had reached its zenith. The Raya had just been saved from certain death by Vyasa Raja who had sat on the throne for a day to rid the Emperor of Kuhu Dosha.
The astonished Emperor had bathed Vyasa Raja in gold and jewels in a ceremony called Ratnabhisheka in 1526. The seer, instead of  making personal use of the wealth, had donated all of it. Some went to scholars and pandits and the rest to construction of tanks and Agraharas in the Vijayanagar Kingdom.
One such tank was being constructed in Kandakur near Madanpalli village which is now in Chitoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Today the place is known as Bettikonda and the lake as Vyasa Samudra.
The tank was so built that water from the surrounding hills collected on the tank. Bettikonda is surrounded by hills and water from these hills would collect in the tank.
Work on the tank was completed quickly but there was a problem. 
The path that would allow water to flow out of the tank once I filled was blocked by a massive boulder and no amount of engineering skill could displace it.
Vyasa Raja then came here and even as he was being apprised about the problem, he received news of Kanaka’s arrival at Kandakur.  
Kanaka who was then called Kanaka Nayaka, sought out  Vyasa Raja and wanted his guidance in the manner of serving Keshava as a Dasa. Kanaka also wanted vyasa to be his guru in this endeavour and requested for mantropadesha.
Vyasa Raja then suggested to Kanaka to recite the Kona (buffalo – vahana of Yamadharmaraya) manthra. Kanaka accepted the advice and he sat under a tree near the tank and began reciting the
Very soon, Yama Kona appeared before Kanaka,  who then took it to Vyasa Raja. The seer appreciated the devotion of Kanaka and directed him to take the massive bull to the place where the huge boulder was blocking the path of water.
The bull splintered the rock with ease and the overflow path for the tank was ready. By then, the new Agrahara around the tank was ready too.
Vyasaraja then consecrated an idol of  Anjaneya near the Agrahara. The temple exists even today and it is managed by one of the farmers living here. Daily pujas are conducted by a priest who lives in Kandakur.
Vyasa Raja also consecrated a temple to Venugopalaswamy in the Agrahara.  Though the presiding deity was Venugopala, he installed two other deities-Narasimha and Anjaneya. When the roof and the main gopura of this temple collapsed, villagers of  Agrahara shifted the idols to the nearby temple of Rama.
There is another shrine dedicated to Hanuman on the bund of the tank. This too is believed to have been consecrated by Vyasa Raja.
Is it not ironical that while Bada, the birthplace of Kanaka is revered and it has become a place of pilgrimage, the place where he was initiated into the Dasa Parampare is still in the realms of obscurity.  

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The legend of the temple whitewash

This is one of the lesser known places in Karnataka. Set amidst huge hills and  rocks, this is the place where the Krishna merges with the Ghataprabha. This place is also associated with the famous social reformer, saint and poet, Basavanna.
Apart from these two things, this place has attained fame for a quaint and unique temple built in the Chalukya style. The temple is as famous as its legend.
The fort here is a mammoth structure and looks imposing and the  temple is that of Sangameshwara.
The Sangameshwara is worshiped here in the form of a Shiva Linga and the surrounding hills have given it a name-Kalakeshwara. This is the famous rock town of Gajendragad.
The Kalakeshwara temple in Gajendragad is famous here and it is referred to as  Kashi of the South or Dakshina Kashi.
Gajendragad, in Ron taluk of Gadag district, is a picturesque town in the midst of hills and rocky mountains. The temple is famous for its Udhbhava linga and you have to climb a fleet of steps to enter the sanctum.
The nearby pond is called Athara Gange and it is a custom to bathe here before going into the temple for performing pooje. The water from the Athara Gange falls on a Peepal tree nearby and this phenomenon has been going on for years without a break. Till date, nobody has been able to identify the root of the Peepal tree and it continues to remain a mystery
However, what sets the Kalakeshwara Temple aside from other temples of its kind is the miracle of whitewash. This miracle occurs during every Ugadi and it has to be seen to be believed.
A day before Ugadi, the temple priest  makes a limestone mixture and places a brush close by in the temple. When the temple doors are opened the next morning, the inside of temple premises are painted. This has been happening every year.
The paint brush appears wet and a hookah that is also kept nearby appears to be used.
Another legend is about the temple bells.
Locals will also tell you that in 1970, the bells of the temple suddenly disappeared. They say that the bells vanished into the  skies even as they were ringing.
The bell was equivalent to size of soaked kidney beans that fit into 22 gunny bags. The disappearance of the bells was taken as a bad omen and days later, plague struck Gajendragad.
The priest will show you the place where the original bell was tied.
It is not just the legend that make Kalakeshwara Temple a must see. Check put the exquisite architecture and the beautiful paintings and carvings within the temple premises. The gopuras are a sight for sore eyes.
The temple has a deity of Veerabhadra and this is another unique aspect of the temple. Generally, you do not have Shiva and Veerabhadra together. The Kalakeshwara temple is the sole exception, at least in this region.
The Gajendragad Fort was built by the Rashtrakutas. It was later renovated by Shivaji. There are several wind mills installed o the hills around the temple.
Tourists can make their way to Kalakeshwara Temple by road, rail and air. Bangalore and Hubli are the nearest airports to Gajendragad. LSRTC buses ply from Bangalore to Gajendragad and there are plenty of transport options from Gadag and Ron.
Gajendragad is about 54 km from Gadag. It is surrounded by a number of historical sites such as Badami (40 kms), Aihole (39 kms), Pattadakal (42 kms), Mahakuta, Banashankari, Itagi (13 kms) and Kudalasangama (72 kms).
On the way back to Gadag, check out the temple of Devi known as Itagi Bheemavva, about 13 Kms away from Kalkaleshwara. The place is very famous and thousands of believers come here to get their vow fulfilled. They tie coconuts and wish for their desires to be fulfilled. The devotees come back here and untie the same coconut after their wishes are fulfilled.

The wildlife sanctuary of Melkote

Many readers of the blog and friends of mine have asked me whether they have to go nearly 600 kilometres to Gulbarga to see the Indian wolves. They were referring to the previous post where I had mentioned about the Chilcholi wildlife sanctuary where wolves and hyenas are found in sufficient numbers.
Well, in case you do not want to go so far to Gulbarga, you can see both the se animals-wolves and  hyenas a little away from the Bangalore Mysore highway.
What is more this sanctuary off the highway is also a well-known pilgrim centre and a trekker’s delight. Moreover, it is so well connected by busses that connectivity is never a problem from Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya, Maddur, Ramanagar and several other places in Karnataka and even Taml Nadu.
This is so as the pilgrim place is one of the holiest of Srivaishnava shrines and it provided shelter to the great Srivaishnava scholar Ramanujacharya.
Yes, this is Melkote in Mandy district, an important place for Srivaishnavas. The Cheluvanarayamaswamy temple of Melkote is famous  all over India and it is one of the most magnificent temples of its kind.
However, not many know that just a few kilometers from the temple is a wildlife sanctuary, the first of its kind in India, for the endangered wolves.
Called the Melkote Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, it is a protective area for wolves and it comprises of  two hills or blocks called Mudibetta and the Narayandurga. Unlike the forest at Chincholi, the Melkote forest cover is dense and it is home to several several animals like leopard, jungle cat, Indian fox, spotted deer, black-buck, leopard, bonnet macaque, langur, pangolin and wild pig.
Of course, you can spot the elusive wolf. The ideal time to visit the sanctuary is between October and April.
The sanctuary was created in June 1974 and its is one of the earliest of such covers for the wolf. It is stretched over an area of 49.82 square kms. The hill range of Mudibetta is smaller and the sanctuary covers 4.48 sq kma here, while the Narayanadurga Betta covers 45.34 sq kms. There are a few villages between these two hills and the land too is cultivated.
The highest point here is Gavikallu Betta or Karikallu gudda which rises to a height of 1127 metres in the south. Mudi Betta is 1065 metres high and Narayana Durga, 1094 metres in height. There are several other peaks in the sanctuary and also around Melkote.
There are also more than two dozen water bodies in and around the Sanctuary.
By the way, one of the rare species of flora fond here is Cycas Circinalis. It has been given a new name as C Swami after the famous botanist  Prof. B.G.L. Swamy, son of  Kannada laureate D. V. Gundappa.
This is an endangered gymnosperm that is being threatened with extinction, thanks to flower decorators and local village doctors. Other important botanical species are Shorea roxburghii  that exists  around Narayana Durga hillock. Terminalia chebula, Chloroxylon swietenia, Anogeissus latifolia, Santalum album and Memecylon spp have also been recorded in the sanctuary.’
The sanctuary is quite rich in bio-diversity supporting rare species like Memecylon spp (plant), Southern Rustic (butterfly), Bamboo Pit Viper (snake), Brown Rock Pipit (resident bird), and Ultramarine Flycatcher (migratory bird).
There are more than 110 different species of  butterflies found here and it was surprising to see that the Southern rustic was seen here. This butterfly is native only to Western Ghats and it is not known to move so far away from its natural habitat. Another butterfly that is very common here is Monkey Puzzzle. Even this species being found here in large numbers is a bit of a puzzle.
Orinthologists have recorded 190 species of birds in the sanctuary.     
Other than this location, Brown Rock Pipit is found in Ramanagar hills, Ramanagar District and Ultramarine Flycatcher in Nandi hills, Chikkaballapur District. 
If you are lucky, you can spot the rare Changeable Hawk Eagle. Others birds to be seen here are Sirkeer Cuckoo Phaenicophaeus leschenaultia  and Brown Rock Pipit Anthus similis. Migratory birds such as Indian Blue Robin Luscinia brunnea , Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula, Ultramarine Flycatcher Ficedula superciliaris are also seen here.
Orinthologists will be thrilled to note that the small Pratincole Glareola which bred at Talkad near T. Narasipura in neighbouring Mysore district , can be found here in secluded locations.
The Little-ringed Plover also breeds in the many water holes here. 
The sanctuary is about five kms from Melkote town  
Mandya is just 35 kms away, Bangalore 140 km and Mysore 55 kms away. There are frequent bus services from all these cities to Melkote. The nearest train stop would be Mandya.   

The first dryland forest of south India

It is south India’s first dry land forest and though it is in Karnataka, it is nearer from Hyderabad than Bangalore. Located in an extremely hot and dry climate, it is the only area in this vast and arid region to share many features of the Western Ghats.
Though the area in the Karnataka side have already been a forest, a little piece of land bordering  the forests between the two states pf Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have become the bone of contention with each state claiming right over it.
The dry land forests are not only home to some native species of wildlife but also to Lambani or Lamani tribes who live in small settlements called Thandas.
This is Chincholi in Gulbarga district and it was only last year that 134.88 sq km area of Chincholi forest on the Karnataka side was declared as South India’s first dry land wildlife sanctuary.
The area was formally notified as a forest on November 28, 2012 to protect the prime wolf and hyena habitat here which is spread over the two districts of Gulbarga and Yadgir.
Named as the Chincholi wildlife sanctuary, the Forest Department considers the areas to be ecologically sensitive. Though it has a canopy cover of just about 0.40 per cent, it is the only area in the entire Hyderabad-Karnataka region comprising Gulbarga, Yadgir, Bidar and Bellary to share certain similar features with the forests of  the Western Ghats.
The forests cover 13,488.31 hectare area (ha) or (134.88 sq km area) over five blocks, the Chincholi forest block comprising of 11,985.62 ha, Sangapura forest block comprising of 688.39 ha, Bhonsapur forest block comprising of 317.59 ha, Magdumpur forest block comprising of 327.67 ha and Shadipur forest block comprising of 169.04 ha.
There are 30 Lambani Thandas in the region and they mainly depend on forest produce for their livelihood. Medicinal herbs and sandalwood trees, red sanders and floral species like Anogessus Latifolia, Chloroxylon, Bosweellia Serrat and Madhuca Indica are widely scattered.  
Apart from the wolf and the hyena, the forest is known to house wildlife like panther, boar, antelope, black buck, common fox, fruit bat, snakes and mongoose. Orinthologists have recorded over 35 species of birds, including Rollers, Wagtails, Bee eaters, Jacanas kite, oriole, black drongo, blossom-headed parakeet, pigeon and grey patridge.
The wolves are classified as a major carnivore in north Karnataka and they are known as Canis lupus pallipes. They generally prey on black bucks. Since wolves are   
The forest is unique as it has the large Chandrampalli dam along with four smaller dams. The man made island of  the large dam is worth a visit. The forest area covers 28 villages. The large dam and the island are ideal for trekking and picnic.   
The wildlife sanctuary covers the forest areas of 28 villages of Chincholi taluk.
If you like to trek to the forests, the easiest and the best route is from Chandrampalli village. There is small Hanuman temple with a Nandi located on an adjoining hill. You can trek from here to the highest point in the forest.
The forest does not include 150 to 200 hectares in Sangapur village, over which both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are locked in a dispute.
Chandrampalli is 140 km from Hyderabad. Gulbarga is 578 kms from Bangalore. Chandrampalli is five kms from Chincholi, a taluk headquarters.
You can also visit several nearby places such as Harkud Channabasaveshwara Temple in Chincholi, Mulla Mari river  which is also called Dodda Phul bridge, the Chandrampalli Dam itself, Nagaral dam near Chimmanchode, Yettipota falls near Vantichinta and Bhoga Devara Ghat near Chincholi.
The forests that continue across the border and in Andhra Pradesh are called as Konchavaram. The Ettipothe or Yettipota falls is a small one but very beautiful. During rainy season, water falls from a height of 25 feet. Many small streams in the forest flow to the Mulla Maari river.  
The dam across the river Mulla Maari is another picnic spot. One side of the dam offers a fantastic view of the water, while the other side is bordered by a forest. Boating is popular here.
The Lamanis are a nomadic tribes of north Karnataka and they are as famous in India as the Maghyars or gypsies of Roma in Hungary, Europe. These Lambanis have their own customs and traditions and they live a simple life. Interact with them if you are interested in social sciences or anthropology.
Wolves attacking people particularly children are very common in Gulbarga district. Take care not to stray deep into the forest. Trek in groups  or keep to the trail marked out by the forest department officials.      
There are direct trains and buses from Bangalore and almost all other places in Karnataka to Gulbarga. From Gulbarga, take a bus or hire a private transport vehicle to Chincholi.
Summers are pretty hot and it is advisable to wear a hot and carry plenty of sun cream and bottles of water and juice.   

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A soldier who died for refusing rum

He could perhaps be the only British solider in India to have been court-martialed and shot dead for refusing to drink rum. He was then stationed in Bangalore as part of the British forces and he was not even in his thirtees when he met such a bizarre end.
His mode of death has made it to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not and his grave is in the Protestant cemetery at Agaram which is located between the ASC officers Mess and the KSRP Parade Grounds.
It was November 1815 and the British troops were already billeted in Cantonment which had come up a few years before in Bangalore. The British had turned to Bangalore after they defeated Tipu Sultan in 1799 as they found Bangalore to be a little of  England. The weather suited them and they could build their bungalows on sprawling estates.
The British Army too preferred Bangalore to Mysore and Srirangapatna. The 84th Regiment of the British Army was stationed in Bangalore and its regulars were being given their daily ration of  “grog”.
The word grog actually refers to a variety of  alcoholic beverages. Originally grog meant a drink made with water or small (weak) beer and rum, which British Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, introduced into the Royal Navy on August 21, 1740. Vernon then had worn a coat of grogram cloth and was nicknamed Old Grogram or Old Grog.
The grog then became standard supply for the British Army too. The grog came to India with the British troops and stayed with them till they left India.
Coming back to the story, a private called John Williams was with the rest of his colleagues in Bangalore. He had been recently drafted into the 84th Regiment that had been asked to do duty in Bangalore.
All the officers of the regiment received their daily ration of “grog”. When Private Wilson’s turn came, he declined the offer and said he was a teetotaler. The Regiment stood astonished by this act of indiscipline. Since decades, the grog was part of the drilled discipline and none refused it.
But here was a private who dared to defy tradition. The angry Regiment charged Wilson with perhaps pone the strangest acts of mutiny.  His “act of rebellion” was considered serious enough to merit a court martial.
The court ruled that Wilson’s refusal to accept his daily ration of rum, customary in the British army as each soldier is allowed a "grog ration" daily, was nothing short of mutiny. The court martial took place ion November 1815 and it declined his plea that he had been a lifelong teetotaler. You see, tradition came first and all the rest next. Wilson was declared guilty and then shot.
He was later buried in the Agaram cemetery but there is no record to say whether he was or not given military honours. There is only a plaque to mark his grave. The unfortunate private, his grave and the manner of his death have made it to Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

The tea museums of India

There are a variety of museums relating to a wide spectrum of  topics right from history, geography, folk art, folk dolls, dance, drama, music, literature, automobiles and what not.
But this museum should surely take the cake for it is one of its kind in India and certainly a rarity even in this age. This is the Tea Museum in Kerala and it is located in a tea estate in Munnar, which is one of the most beautiful spots in God’s own country as Kerala is called.
The museum was started by Tata Tea, which is one of the most recognized brands in India. Since the Tata group was one of the pioneers of tea cultivation in Munnar, it thought it fit to start a museum in its estate in Munnar.       
It is called the Tata Tea Museum and it is a connoisseur’s delight as it can give you a history of tea and the phases of development that it underwent over the last few decades.
The museum is in the Nallathanni Estate and it chronociles the beginning of tea plantation, the equipments used then and the brands of tea that have emerged from the estate.
The highlight of the museum should be a rare sundial which is placed on a granite bock. This beautiful device was crafted in 1913 by the Art Industrial School at Nazareth, Tamil Nadu.
Another exhibit which attracts attention is a original tea roller called the Rotorvane. The device was manufactured in 1905 and was used for CTC type tea processing.
CTC means “Crush, Tear, and Curl” and also “Cut, Twist and  Curl”  and it is a method of processing black tea. In this process, the tea leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers with hundreds of small sharp “teeth” that crush, tear, and curl the tea.
Apart from this CTC, there is a “Pelton Wheel” widely used in  power generation plant that existed in Kanniamallay estate in the 1920s. The Kanniamallay estate was part of a series of estates in Munnar that Tatas named as Kannan Devan tea estates
Another exhibit that will captivate visitors is the rail engine of the Kundale Valley Light Railway, which carried men and material between Munnar and Top Station during 1900s.
There are a few exhibits that do not relate to tea but were found in the Tea estates such as a burial urn dating back from the second century BC. The urn was discovered near Periakanal estate.
The museum also has a section exhibiting classic bungalow furniture, typewriters, wooden bathtub, magneto phone, iron oven, manual calculators and even an EPABX or telephone exchange of the 1909 telephone system.
The best place in the museum is the demonstration room for tea tasting.  It is here that we come across varieties of tea. Visitors are also made aware of  various stages of processing tea and even preparing black tea.
The museum is open on all days of the week and there is a en entrance fee.
Munnar is a hill station in Idukki district in Kerala. It is situated at the confluence of three rivers-Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala.
Munnar is part of the Annamalai Ranges, with south India's highest peak Anamudi. Munnar easily accessible by road. The nearest airports are Nedumbassery in Kochi, Kovai in Coimbatore and Madurai. It is hardly four hours by road from these places. The nearest railway stations are Alwaye,  Ernakulam, Madurai and Coimbatore.
Another  tea museum is at Dodabetta in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. It was opened in 2005 and covers an area of once acre.
The museum has three sections:Origin of World tea, Tea history in India and finally Evolution of Tea in the Nilgiris. You can also check out facts on how tea as a beverage is made and how it is traded.
However, the credit for the tea museum at the highest point in India is at Darjeeling, West Bengal. This is described as India’s first  working tea museum and it is located at a height of  6,800 feet at the foothills of Himalayas.
The museum is at the Happy Valley Tea Estate in the fringes of Darjeeling town on Wednesday. Assam is also planning on a tea museum at its capital of Gawhati.
India has a long history of tea cultivation. It began in the 1820 when the East India Company commenced tea cultivation in Assam. Today, India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, though over seventy per cent of the tea is consumed within India itself.
India is listed as the world’s leading producer, its 715,000 tons well ahead of China’s 540,000 tons. However, because Indians average half a cup daily on per capita basis,  70 per cent of India's immense crop is consumed locally.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The soldier who prospected for gold

He was one of the many British officers who fought in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in May 1799 in which Tipu Sultan was killed and Srirangapatna stormed.
The death of Tipu led the British to hand back the Mysore Kingdom to the Wodeyars. The British placed a small army of theirs in Mysore, the capital of Wodeyars and headed back to Bangalore where they began constructing a Cantonment.
One such officer who came back to Bangalore from Srirangapatna was Michael F. Lavelle, an Irishman. He had learnt about Tipu mining gold from Kolar and in he set about discovering the area.
There were no trains then and no other public means of transport, save carriages, horses and elephants. He decided to use the most efficient native system of transport known then-the humble bullock cart.
Lavelle then set out to Kolar on a bullock cart and it took him almost two weeks to cover the distance from his house in Cantonment to Kolar. He came and saw the old machinery by which gold was being extracted. He then put in an application for mining, mentioning the availability of coal and gold. The then Mysore Government permitted him to mine for coal.
A trifle disappointed overt the failure to wrest the rights to mine for gold, he submitted yet another application and this time he cleared mentioned the possibility of mining gold. The application was approved and Lavelle once again headed back to Kolar.
He set about prospecting for gold but his recourses were limited and far too fragile to drill for gold. The lack of continuous power too was a major hindrance. However, the licence he was given in  1873 was valid for 20 years.
He had began mining operations by sinking a shaft near Urigaum (Oorgaum). This shaft exists even today.
However, even though Lavelle extracted gold, it was not enough to cover his costs. He also did not have enough finance to mine deeper and engage more men and machinery.
He then decided to sell his mining rights. The news spread like wildlife and as the Mysore Government had okayed the sale, several people flocked to him, seeking the rights.
A group of British Armymen who had constituted a company called Kolar Concessionaires Soft Corporation and Arbuthnot Company of Madras sought Lavelle out in 1877 and made him an offer that he could not refuse.
The new company soon bought the mining rights and its chairman and founder was Major General G. de la Poer Beresford. On his part, Lavelle returned to his house in Cantonment. His exploits soon became the talk of Bangalore and he was a popular man.
The Commandant of Cantonment honoured Lavelle by naming a road after him. This is the Lavelle Road of today. Lavelle renamed his house in Cantonment as Oorgaum House.
The British syndicate then sold the mining rights to John Taylor which mined gold in what is today known as Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) till 1956. That year, the then Mysore Government took over the mine and the centre took it over in 1962.
The gold mines were closed in 2001 and even today sporadic efforts are being made to revive it.
Gold has been mined from KGF since ancient ages and even from the period of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. The Champion reef here was operated during the Gupta period. The KGF operated with modern machinery for over 120 years and produced approximately 25 million ounces of gold at an average grade of 15.9 g/t.             

Praying and playing with scorpions

This is one festival that is sure to send shivers down your spine. It is also sure to sting your senses as it has a lot to do with belief and tradition rather than science and rationality.
The festival is unique as people from all communities, irrespective of their class, creed, religion and even age participate enthusiastically.  Children join their parents and men and women who have gone away from the village on work or job return on that day to specially take part in the festival.
The festival is held once an year and the entire village empties out onto to a nearby hillock with scores of other devotes to climb a hill. It is here that the festival acquires its “stinging” character.
The villagers and devotes, including children, sing songs, pray to the deity and then begin searching for scorpions beneath boulders and rocks on the hill.
On this particular day, a scorpion is found under every boulder and the devotes take it put and place it on their hands, legs, stomach and even their face and tongue. The scorpions come in all sizes and shapes and all of them are poisonous and they have their tails up ready to sting.
However, on this day they neither sting nor shy away from human contact. Scorpions generally are shy creatures and they scurry away to the safety of a nook or corner. They rarely sting unless they are touched. But  in this case, they neither flee from human touch nor do they sting. Rather, they remain in touch with the human beings with no discomfort.
This is how the villagers of Kandakoor in Yadgir district celebrate Naga Panchami, the festival of snakes every year.
Naga Panchamani falls on the fifth day of the bright half of Shravan month of Hindu calendar and devout Hindus worship Nagao s snake on this day. But the people of Kandakoor, which is about 20 kilometres from Yadgir, worship the idol of a scorpion and play with scorpions too. Of course, they worship snakes too.
The villagers worship scorpions as Chelina jatre  or fair of Scorpions. What really makes this festival truly secular is that all people in the village, irrespective of  their religion and social standing, celebrate Naga Panchami  by preparing sweets in their houses and then trekking up to a nearby hill called Cholina or Chelina Betta or hill of scorpions.
Even women, born in the village but married to men living in other villages, come back for this festival to worship the Scorpion Goddess who is locally called Kondammai.
The villagers go to Chelina Betta between 3 p. m., to 6p.m., on Naga Panchami. They trek up the hill, singing folk songs. They then gather and worship Kondammai and a statue of a snake. After this begins the bizarre ritual of hunting for scorpions.
The villagers are absolutely certain that there will be a scorpion under each big boulder or rock. The children too seem to enjoy playing with scorpions. They place the scorpions on different parts of their bodies, including tongue and face.
So far, there has not been a single case of scorpion bite on this day. After playing with the scorpions, the villagers bring them to the temple and place them before the deity. They then offer saree, oil and coconut to the deity, pray to it and then start their descent.
A strange fact, which I can personally vouch for is that no scorpion will be found from the day following Naga Panchami.
 The temple belongs to the Boyin community.
Kandkoor is an isolated village and borders Andhra Pradesh. The bizzare ritual, the inactivity of the scorpions on Naga Panchami, their disappearance the next day and the fearlessness of even children have all confounded the district administration and even scientists.
Yadagir is approachable by both road and rail from Bangalore. It is 492 kms from Bangalore.

A temple for the Dashavatara

The Dashavatara or the ten avatars of Vishnu are perhaps among the most well-known facts of  Hinduism. There are hundreds of temples and other structures in India and even abroad where the ten avatars of Vishnu are pictured, painted or carved.
However, not all the ten avatars of Vishnu are worshipped. The last avatar of Kalki is yet to take shape. Among the avatars, the most worshipped are Rama, Krishna and Narasimha. The other six avatars-Matysa, Kurma, Balarama, Vamana. Parashurama and Varaha are worshipped but they are not all that popular and the temples to them are far and few.
Though there are plenty of temples for Krishna, Rama and Narasimha, there have been only a handful for all the avatars put together. One such temple, which goes back to great antiquity, is in Deogarh in Madhya Pradesh.
The temple in Deogarh is called the Dashavatara temple and it was built by the Gupta Kings who practically ruled over the whole of India more nearly two thousand years ago.  
The Dasavatara temple was built in the early 6th century. It is perhaps one of the earliest temples ever built in India and also one of the earliest known Panchayatan temple in north India.
What sets this temple apart from other similar structures is that it has shrines dedicated to all the ten avatars of Vishnu. This is rare as during the Gupta age, temples were built for a single shrine.
Though much of the temple is in ruins, the wall panels which depict many of Krishna's pastimes in his Vishnu avatar are still well preserved.
The panels are called Rathika. One of the most outstanding carving is that of Gajendra moksha.
On the three sides of the tri-ratha sanctum, the walls are carved with sculptures depicting Visnu and the penance of Nara and Narayana. Statues of  Vishnu were sculpted into both the interior and exterior walls of the temple, and numerous panels depict the many pastimes of the Vishnu incarnations
The Deogarh temple is the first known Indian temple with a shikara or spire. Unfortunately, only the lower portion of the shikara remains intact. The ruins indicate that the shikara was similar to those found on the northern style temples of the early Chalukyas in Badami.
The temple is built on a platform that is ornamented with scenes from Ramayana and Krishna Lila. The temple has a beautifully carved doorway flanked by guardian figures with attendants beneath. The carvings of Ganga Devi and Yamuna Devi adorn the upper corners and a beautiful image of Vishnu reclines on the lintel.
There is a carved pillar near the temple and it lies on the ground. It is decorated with a pot and foliage motif, with medallions containing figures and bands of floral ornaments.
Apart from the Vishnu temple, Deogarh is famous for its hill fort, Jain temples and palace. The Deogarh Mahal, the erstwhile palace pf the Gonds who ruled the region, has 200 rooms and it is now a hotel. The Jain temples are adjacent to the fort and they were built between the eighth and seventeenth centuries. There are 31 Jain temples. The fort is called the fort of Gods. It was built in 1671.  
The rock cut caves-Siddha-ki-Gufa, Rajghati and the Naharghati-are nearby. There is a protected forest.
Deogarh is located on the Betwa river at the western end of the Lalitpur hills. It is in Chhindwara district and is near to Gwalior.
The nearest railway station is Jakhlaun 13 km, on the Jhansi-Babina passenger train route. Lalitpur is another railhead, 23 km from Deogarh.
Chanderi is another town nearby with several temples and an ancient history.  

Hunting for a husband

This is perhaps one of the most famous fairs in the world. Tourists and pilgrims from all over the world gather at this place to witness this fair, which has its roots in antiquity.
Mostly celebrated by the local tribals, the fair is steeped in legends and dates back to the times of the Mahabharata. Unlike other fairs which celebrate a religious function, this one is unique and the tribal youth come down here in all their finery to look for a suitable bride.  
This fair thus is more of a match making exercise and it is held at the exact spot where the Swayamwara of Draupadi was held and where Arjuna won her. It is this connection of the Mahabharata that make this fair a unique one with a distinct “epic” flavour.
The fair is called Tarnetar after the name of the pace in which it is held. It is available as part of the Rajkot-Tarnetar tourist circuit. This area was earlier part of the Panchal Desh.  
Tarnetar fair is celebrated every year  between  the fourth and sixth days of Shukla Paksha, near Thangadi in  Saurashtra, Gujarat.
The fair is a three day event that is held at the Shiva Temple and the deity here is better known as Trinetreshwar.
The fair is closely associated with the swamayar of  Draupadi. It is near the Shiva temple here that Arjuna defeated all other kings who had participated in the Swamyavara.
This ritual has cone down for centuries and today the tribal youths of Gujarat come here to look out for a life long companion. Folk dances, folk music and folk art is part of the fair to give it a Gujarati touch.
Youths of the Koli, Rabari, Khant, Bharwad, Charan, Kanbi come here and sit back under some of the most eye catching tents you can ever come across. The women, dressed in all their finery, walk across and then select their companion.
The women go around these umbrellas.  If a woman stops to talk to a man in the tent, it is a sign of her willingness to marry him. The marriages are solemnised after the fair.
There small pond near the Shiva temple is also the stuff of legends. It is near this pond that Arjuna stood, looked at the water and shot his arrow at the revolving fish hung above. This was the contest arranged during the Swayamvara.
The pond is considered sacred and the devotees believe it has miraculous and curative power. Pilgrims, visitors and of course the would be brides and brides groom  do not leave the fair without sprinkling its water on their bodies.
Tarnetar  is situated near Rajkot and it is part of  Surendranagar District. Surendranagar is the nearest railway station on the Ahmedabad-Hapa broadgauge line. The nearest town with road transportation is Chotila, which is about 25 km away. There are regular buses from Rajkot (75 km), Jamnagar (162 km), Ahmedabad (196 km) or Porbandar (252 km) to Tarnetar.
The nearest airport is Rajkot.
The Tourism Department of Gujarat arranges for tented accommodation at the site of the fair. A few well-decorated mud huts with modern amenities are also available.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

How Delhi came to be India's capital

By the beginning of the twentieth century, almost the entire India was under British rule. Calcutta had emerged as their military and trading hub and it remained as the capital of undivided India.
However, the British had never been comfortable with Calcutta. The hot and sultry weather did not suit them. Nor did the rising  fervor of the nationalists in Calcutta and Bengal endear the city to the British.
The proverbial last straw to shift the capital from Calcutta came when Lord Curzon came up with an idea in 1905 to partition Bengal.
The partition hived away Assam and the Muslim-dominated East Bengal from the Bengal Province and merged them into a new state. The act lead to severe political unrest in Calcutta which kept on boiling year after year. The protests forced then to reverse the partition. An angry British were looking for revenge.
The British by then had decided that Calcutta had served their initial purpose of  mastering India. They decided to abandon the city and go for a new capital. The rising pollution in Calcutta was another worry for them.
The British first decided to shift the capital to a place central to India. This idea was soon abandoned as they realized that the new city would have to be built from they scratch and it had to have road and rail links, sufficient space to house 43 departments and also to build a new residential township. Several cities, including Nagpur, were considered but discarded.
Soon, the British decided to make Delhi the capital and showcase their Indian dream from the capital of the Mughals. They then held a Delhi Durbar attended by the English Royals and Indian Maharajas where King George V in 1911 announced the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi.
The foundation stone of the new capital was laid at Kingsway Camp and the British sate up a working camp in north Delhi, beyond Kashmere Gate. It was here that the British lived and worked on the new capital.
The new city was expected to come up beyond Kashmere Gate but an expert committee comprising architects like Edwin Lutyens, however, decided the site was not all that favorable. They found the site unsuitable, swampy and low lying, making it vulnerable to flooding from the Yamuna. Lutyens  described it to be too “flat and boring”.
The committee hen chose the area near Raisina hills for the city which they called New Delhi. The undulating terrain meant that buildings like the Government house, the earlier name of Rashtrapati Bhavan,  and the Secretariat would be situated at a height, making them look imposing.
The area was also ideal as it was largely uninhabited except for the village of Malcha. Thus began the journey of Delhi as India’s capital.
When the construction began, the Imperial Delhi Committee was constituted to monitor the progress. This committee had an absolute say over the construction and administration of the area.
When complaints began pouring in about the lavish manner in which money was being spent on building the new capital, the British stepped back from the grandiose plans of making Delhi one of the finest cities in the world.
The Viceroy himself stayed in a modest circuit house and this was to show to the world that the money was not being wasted unnecessarily.
In the two decades that it took the new Delhi to come up, the  Imperial Government of India functioned from buildings in areas known as Temporary Delhi.
The old Secretariat, constructed in 1912, is from where the government machinery functioned. The adjacent Council Chamber (now Delhi Vidhan Sabha) is where the Legislative Council was held, before construction of Council House (now Parliament House) in 1927.
Over the next few years, Imperial Delhi or the Delhi Enclave expanded to 1,290 sq miles, comprising the present day national capital territory.
The land east of Yamuna was acquired from United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) to be developed as a garden city and become the lungs of New Delhi. There were plans to house government employees on the site of what is now Shahdara.
The British also planned to dam Yamuna and create lakes on either side, lined by wide boulevards. Alas, this plan failed to take off. But the rest of the plan went off well and within years a new Delhi had sprung up.
Henry Vaughan Lanchester, an architect, wanted the Yamuna to be an integral part of New Delhi. His report said the river should be linked to New Delhi through a ceremonial avenue.
He also wanted Shahjehanabad to be integrated with the new capital. This too did not fruitfy.