Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nainital

The third day was devoted to a quick trip to Nainital. It is a two-hour drive from Ramnagar. For the first hour the road runs parallel to the inviting mountains. And then starts steep climb up the hill, one after the other. The elevation on the altitude scale leads to greater elation.

The drive was wonderful. The pine tree stood tall on the landscape. The dried leaves spread on the slopes like a crimson-brown carpet, while sun sieved in beams of light through the vegetation. I drove under the canopy of seraphic forest. Road was good.

Nainital reminded me of my childhood and great time I spent here with my family. We stayed for long holidays here on many occasions. But the most memorable one is the month long stay in Brookhill lodge, (if I remember the name correctly..i did not find a reference of this building on the net) about fifteen minutes walk from the Flat. My elder brothers and cousins would go hiking, climbing and I was too young to accompany them. But I was grown up enough to realise that they were having fun while I had to stay back to stare at the snow peaks. But boating was the great fun. We also went skating.

Most of the colonial buildings on the Mall road look in good shape, and the lake was green and clean. But the Flat was a picture of apathy. The old building next to the lake that housed a wooden skating ring now looks like a barn. The Mosque overlooking the flat is now covered with white tiles with bold black motifs on it, looked magnificent.
There is more to come.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Four days of great outing to Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Corbett National Park and Nainital (part 2)

Corbett National Park

We stayed in a resort called Corbett Motel, (Telipura Road, +09756680246, +09719095769) in Ramnagar. It is nestled in a mango orchard; provide basic comforts with good food. So is highly recommended.

I met two interesting people: Negi Sahib and Karan. Both are in their early twenties; serve the guest with gusto that cannot be described as just professional obligatio


n. They are basically very nice people of the breed that is despised by fast life of metropolis: here perhaps due to acute shortages of opportunities and resources amongst certain sections to which the duo belong, grabbing or me-first kind of traits become existential requirements. In fact me-first kind of attitude is not shown only by people who are haggling with acute paucity of resources, it is now a general trait also with the affluent. They snatch things from others in need that they may not need. They were happy with what they had; aspiring for a better life, but were not desperate or paranoid about it. They would work hard, but still enjoy life fulltime.

Gypsy safari to Corbett was just about disappointing. Entering Corbett is an hour-long drill with the red tape. My American friend was very unhappy at being charged more than the Indians. This kind of discrimination happens only in India. He dismissed it as bakvas (Hindi colloquial word for nonsense) with backward swing of his arm when asked by a forest guard to show his passport. “I feel insulted,” he summed up the whole experience.

The forest greets you with perilous silence. Not a call. No fresh pugmark. No scratching marks on the trunk of a tree. Forest is rest assured that comes with the long absence of a predator. Kenneth Anderson described the situation beautifully in his book Man-Eaters and Jungle Killers: “anyone who has never come to know and love the jungle, its solitude and all that its denizen signify, could never appreciate such sentiments, nor the sense of irreparable loss and sorrow felt by those who look for once familiar forms that are no longer there, or listen vainly for those once familiar sounds that were music to ears, only to be greeted by devastating silence.”

The muddy roads had fair bit of traffic, some 20 Maruti Gypsies crisscrossing each other on a same stretch of the forest in anticipation that a tiger will show up and mesmerize the crowd by its majestic look.

After two hours of roaming around, and sighting antelopes and monkeys, finally a shrill and persistent cry of barking deer announced the presence of a tiger in close proximity. We stopped the car and waited for the tiger to emerge in the open. After few anxious minutes we gave up and rushed to another spot some five kilometers away. We were told here in a large clearing, between thick forests, a male tiger is sitting under a tree and was in no hurry to leave. We rushed there leaving behind a huge cloud of dust, our driver negotiated forest roads with facility that very few like Michael Schumacher are blessed with. When we reached there sun was about to set. The sky was brown with fading sun, so was the dusty landscape. The tiger was supposed to be sitting some 100 meters away with some ten vehicles lined up on the road to have a fleeting glimpse. Nobody could see the tiger as black strives on his fur merged him perfectly with the surroundings. Only when he moved could one see something there, but it was more a perception rather than a sight.

I was disheartened. The fate of wildlife in India is as grim as the silent forest. The energy and the pace of the forest with a healthy predator population was subdued in Corbett. I just wish all is fine and the forest department here and elsewhere are not lying to the nation by painting a rosy pictures based on faulty figures like they did in the case of Sariska and Panna national parks. The number of tigers has gone up by 20% to reach a figure of 1,706 as per the latest estimate, but the same report maintains that area occupied by tigers has considerably gone down. Tiger being a territorial animal, more tigers under normal circumstance should translate into more area occupied by them. Experts have raised concern and I have my doubts. Actually, I have no trust in forest administration’s ability and seriousness to save tigers in India. I want to be proved wrong. But this controversial report does not do that, I am afraid.

Four days of great outing to Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Corbett National Park and Nainital

Four days of great outing to Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Corbett National Park and Nainital

Ghaziabad:

The first day was the day of celebration. It was my nephew’s birthday. I was with my family and we had some real good food and fun. I had good chat with my teenaged nephews and niece. And they were as usual dismissive of me in most loving way. Blessed I am.



Muzaffarnagar:

Visiting family friend Pankaj Kumar, who is now the district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, was pleasurable. He explained the complexities of running a district. We visited his ‘English’ office in the collectorate. There was no method in the madness in the way records were kept. They were covered with thick, almost impregnable, multiple layers of dust that perhaps prevented corrosive effects of the climate.

This office was designed as a focal point of colonial administration at the local level to control the denizens of the Raj by extracting land revenue from them to fund a sizable part of romanticised industrial revolution. lot of blood and sweat of a huge population of exploited people supported the industrial revolution in England that is famed to be carried out by the classical forces of growth; it is in fact comparative to ‘Annals of Soviet exploitation.’

This same office is now the most powerful facilitator of development and growth at the local level under a liberal constitution that is committed to the welfare of the masses. A district magistrate or collector or deputy commissioner in charge to carry out all the initiatives, schemes and projects of both the state and the central governments at the local level.

Over the years, the local self-government under Panchayati Raj has gained the political space at the district and lower levels of governance. In the three-tier democracy, that office of district magistrate now is like an agent of the state government. The state government is paranoid to lose its influence and therefore this office has remained powerful.

Despite the inherent contradictions, this office has not done so badly. The alarming development is that this office has not remained apolitical. Over the years people who get to man these positions have generally been identified with a certain political outfit. A helpful district magistrate can be very handy for political masters at the state capital, because despite plethora of laws, rules and regulation, the element of discretion in the hands of a district magistrate has actually gone up. I will leave at that.

More soon.