Saturday, November 28, 2009

October Rain

The plains were draped with prosperous paddy fields. Coy hills peeped out from behind veils of mist. The sun was cozily tucked into a heavy blanket of cloud. Neatly lined areca palms and healthy stems of sugarcane interspersed the seemingly unending stretch of paddy. Frequent cloud bursts ushered trails of new life. Heavy downpour and swirls of wind created a mystic aura in Malnad, a land no stranger to the Rain God. Painted green, even the bus I boarded at Shimoga seemed to be sporting the colour of the season.

Surrounded by the Sahyadris (Western Ghats) and fed by Tunga, Bhadra, Varada and Sharavati rivers, the Shimoga district is resplendent with plush hills, picturesque valleys and splendid waterfalls. My lungs had to quickly adapt to the unpolluted air of the countryside and my eyes to the unspoilt shades of green.

Rain Drenched

Following a good spell of rain, the Bhadra Reservoir was filled to capacity. Unprecedented showers meant that the water level was constantly on the rise. The fear of my holiday being washed away in the October rain, an anomaly for this time of the year, was lurking in my mind. I soon realised that this land looks beautiful when the sky is clear and even more beautiful when the rain is near. River Bhadra begins its journey in the Western Ghats and flows eastward across the Deccan Plateau. It joins Tunga and proceeds as Tungabhadra, which then meets Krishna on its way into the Bay of Bengal. The Bhadra Dam is built across the river at Lakkavalli, a hamlet on the border of Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts. Lakkavalli is abuzz with activity owing to its proximity to Jnana Sahyadri, the main campus of Kuvempu University and the Bhadra River Project (BRP). The BRP has a hatchery where fish like common carp and major carp (catla, rohu, mrigal, silver carp and grass carp) are bred through bund breeding. The green ponds in which eggs are hatched add to the diversity and splendour of the picturesque scenery.

There is a steady inflow of people into Lakkavalli and I was surprised to know that the locals even offer paying guest accommodation in their homes. Making my way through a sea of students flaunting colourful umbrellas, I reached the River Tern Lodge after rides on a train, a bus and a rickshaw.

Green Paradise
The fatigue from my overnight journey evaporated as I settled into the comfort of the idyllic environs of the resort. Rustic cottages and log huts spread across the sprawling property offer splendid views of the looming hills, the vast Bhadra reservoir and sunsets over the water. Time seemed to freeze as I stood in the balcony of my cottage watching the waves gently caress the land.

Thousands of river terns that flock sand banks near the resort during the warm summer months are just one of the many attractions on offer. Those who like a splash in the water can try their hand at kayaking, surfing and canoeing here. Nature lovers can go on boat rides into the reservoir. In good weather, mountain biking, star gazing and island camping are also viable options. A jungle safari in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, which is about four kms from the resort is also included in the standard package. While the adventurous can choose to have an action packed day, others can unwind amidst nature’s breathtaking beauty.

A day with tuskers
Shimoga is about 38 kms and an hour’s drive away from the River Tern Lodge. Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp, Mandegadde Bird Sanctuary, Gajanur Dam and Tavarekoppa Lion and Tiger Safari are some places of interest near Shimoga Town. My personal favourite is the Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp on the banks of River Tunga. At present, there are about sixteen elephants in the camp. The elephants make their way into the camp at about eight in the morning. They are bathed, fed and taken back into the forest by noon. Visitors can watch the elephants being tended to and trained by their respective mahouts. Those who don’t mind getting down and dirty can follow the elephants as they wade into the water and join the mahouts in scrubbing the pachyderms. The elephants even oblige you for joy rides. The Shivappa Nayaka Palace in the heart of Shimoga is also worth a visit. Beautiful sculptures that are reminiscent of the glory of empires of yesteryear are displayed on the lawns of the palace.

The fabric of Malnad’s verdant landscape is a treat to the eye. From ancient temples and museums for those who like to walk down memory lane to well kept secrets of the wild for nature lovers, this green belt has a lot to offer. It is a place to explore, experience and enjoy the enigma of this state of many worlds.

Malnad Magic

Bhadra Tiger Reserve Fact File
An area of 77.45 was declared as the “Jagara Valley Game Reserve” in 1951 by the Government of Mysore.
This area was extended to 492.46 sq. km and was reconstituted as “Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary” by the Government of Karnataka in 1974.
The sanctuary is the 25th Tiger Reserve of India and was brought under “Project Tiger” in 1998.
The sanctuary spreads across the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka and is surrounded by the hill ranges of Mullainagiri, Hebbagiri, Gangegiri and Bababudangiri. Kallathigiri is the highest peak in the sanctuary.
The Bhadra River and its tributaries Somavahini, Tadabehalla and Odirayanahalla flow through these forests.
The santuary is open to visitors from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.


The River Tern Lodge is a venture of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts and is set amidst bamboo shoots and tall trees on the slopes of a hillock leaning into the Bhadra Reservoir. It has twin-bed accommodation in cottages and log huts. The resort offers boat rides, and jungle safari and you can also indulge in water sports.
For more information log on to

Getting There
By road - From Bangalore, drive on NH4 towards Tumkur. Take the Shimoga bypass road at Tumkur and reach Tarikere via Arasikere, Kadur and Birur. Lakkavalli is about 275 Kms from Bangalore and 18 Kms from Tarikere.
By train - Reach Shimoga or Birur by train and take a bus from there to Lakkavalli. Lakkavalli is at a distance of 38 Kms from Shimoga and 45 Kms from Birur.

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 29th of November 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.§id=81&contentid=20091128200911282015191433e0a9fd9

Saturday, October 31, 2009

River Rendezvous

The sky was steely grey, the earth startling green. Strong gusts of wind swept the verdant slopes. Clouds hurried past, kissing the top of one hill and moving on to another. I savoured the misty taste of sunshine as I clambered up the slope of a hill to reach the River Tern Lodge. Lying in nature’s lap and listening to her endless monologues I spent the next two days soaking in the bliss of serenity. Perched on hillocks overlooking the Bhadra Reservoir, this resort is an ode to nature’s ethereal beauty.
Established in 2005, the River Tern Lodge is among the newer ventures of Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a Government of Karnataka undertaking. This resort promotes eco-tourism and gets its name from the colonies of river terns that congregate on islands in its vicinity. The Indian River Tern (sterna aurantia) is a slender grey and white bird with a deeply forked tail. Thousands of river terns make these safe sand banks their home during the breeding season which lasts from March through May. The River Bhadra swells during the monsoons and the reservoir is filled to the brim. Many islands are submerged by the copious inflow of water. As the water recedes, the islands peep out and are ready to play host to the birds and their emerging chicks. This is also the breeding season for pratincoles (glareola lactea) which arrive in sizeable numbers.
While the rendezvous with the river terns is an attraction during the summer months, the monsoon is a time to enjoy the rains. Frequent cloud bursts are showers of blessings for the rich flora and fauna of this region. Green is the colour of the season. Blossoms flaunt a sprightly exuberance and butterflies flutter with joy. The rain sweeps the dust away and cools the forest floor. There are striking signs of freshness and prosperous abundance everywhere.
Aesthetic cottages with cozy interiors offer picture perfect vistas of the reservoir, the blanket of hills around it and sunsets over the water. Winding paths lined by a canopy of bamboos lead to the rustic cottages and log huts positioned at different levels. As I walked up the stone laden pathway, I wondered if green could ever be greener. The older cottages are on a peninsula the newer ones on an island. Christened as India and Sri Lanka respectively, these fragments of land are not oceans apart. Separated by a channel of the reservoir’s water, a wooden bridge connects the two. The gentle waves that dance to the melody of the swaying bamboos fill the air with rhythms of romance.
Delicious food is served in the “gol-ghar”, the open-to-sides gazebo. Guests can take their pick at the enticing spread that simmers over the red hot charcoal at “Salt Lick”, the dining area. The steward does a good job in tailoring the menu to suit the season and the climate. Alcohol is served at “Water-Hole”, the bar. Fresh fish from the reservoir transformed into mouth-watering delicacies by the local chef are among the culinary delights on the lunch menu.
The River Tern Lodge offers several activities for the visitors. Kayaks, canoes, wind surfs, water trampoline and pedal boats are available for those who enjoy aquatic adventures. The in-house naturalist accompanies visitors on nature walks in the sprawling 4.5 hectare property. Butterflies are a plenty. The great egg-fly, peacock pansy, chocolate pansy, plain tiger and bird wing butterfly are some that meet the eye frequently. When the water of the reservoir is placid, visitors can go on boat safaris to explore its vastness. Mountain bikes and coracle rides are available on request.
For those who like to venture out of the resort, the Bhadra Dam is just a couple of kilometers away. The panoramic view of the plains from the hills is a sight to behold. The velvety carpet of the paddy fields interspersed with lakes and the flowing Bhadra is a snapshot of the countryside at its very best. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which is in close proximity to the River Tern Lodge is home to the big cats. Spanning over an area of 492 sq. kms, the sanctuary is the 25th tiger reserve in India and was brought under the “Project Tiger” programme in 1998. Peacocks, spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer and Indian gaur are regular sightings on jungle safaris. The lucky ones would get to spot tigers, leopards, elephants and sloth bears. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which boasts of over 300 species of birds including the endemic Malabar Trogon and Southern Treepie is a bird watcher’s paradise.
The River Tern Lodge is a far cry from the clutter of urbanization. Nestled in Western Ghats amidst stately hills and a landscape that changes with seasons, it is in harmony with nature. Chikmagalur is known for its coffee plantations and Shimoga for its luxuriant greenery. Located in Lakkavali, bordering the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka, the River Tern Lodge is a window to the best of both worlds and is an enticing getaway for city dwellers.

Quick Facts:

Location: The River Tern Lodge is located in Lakkavalli in the Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. Shimoga is the closest town to Lakkavalli.

Getting There:
By road: From Bangalore, drive on NH4 towards Tumkur. Take the Shimoga bypass road at Tumkur and reach Tarikere via Arasikere, Kadur and Birur. Lakkavalli is about 275 Kms from Bangalore and 18 Kms from Tarikere.

By train: Reach Shimoga or Birur by train and take a bus from there to Lakkavalli. Lakkavalli is at a distance of 38 Kms from Shimoga and 45 Kms from Birur. The resort offers pick up facilities on request.

The weather is pleasant all through the year. March to mid May is the best time to see river terns. There is a good chance of sighting animals in the wild during summer. This region receives heavy rainfall between July and September after which the reservoir is full and the surroundings are lush.

Rs 3250/- per person per day. The package includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a boat ride and a safari in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve. Water sports come at an additional cost.

Other Attractions:
The Jog Falls, Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp and Amrutapura famed for its Narasimha Temple with Hoysala architecture are other tourist attractions in close proximity.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 01st of November 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Bridge Across Times

Gokarna lies at the confluence of the Aghanashini and Gangavalli rivers and is cradled between the Sahyadris and the Arabian Sea. Its timeless temples and beguiling beaches draw a steady stream of devout pilgrims and tourists. While Gokarna's temples transcend eras its beaches are throbbing with life. With rugged trekking trails and great outdoors, the adventurous can embark on exciting paths of discovery in and around Gokarna.
Gokarna’s narrow lanes are dotted with many ancient temples. Pilgrims constantly pour into the Mahabaleshwara Temple and the Maha Ganapathi Temple which are considered supremely sacred. Most temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and hence the festival of Shiv Ratri is celebrated with great fervour. Religious ceremonies and cultural events are organized as a part of the festivities which span nine days.
To the south of Gokarna town are four beaches wedged between rocky cliffs. The sun and the clouds that pepper the sky paint the water with shades of blue varying from turquoise to azure during the day and startling strains of orange at dusk. Om Beach is popular, Kudle Beach is pristine, Half Moon Beach is secluded and Paradise Beach is indeed a paradise. In good weather one can trek all the way from Kudle to Paradise.
Numerous cultures, customs and cuisines strike chords of harmony in this quaint town visited by people from the world over. With exotic resorts and spas for those who wish to be pampered in the lap of luxury to beachside shacks for travelers on a shoe-string budget, Gokarna offers a great fare to suit all pockets.

Famous Four
Being the only beach approachable by a motorable road Om is the epicenter of beach activities and water sports. With unique contours, its shoreline traces the sacred Hindu symbol and hence the name “Om”. The lush flora that thrives between the folds of the hills renders a scenic backdrop to this bewitching beach. It can get crowded on holidays when tourists and locals turn out in sizable numbers to have a splash and dash in the sea. As foreigners frequent Om Beach, the seafront shacks are well equipped to suit their tastes. From internet palours and pool tables to a painted platter with an enticing array of cuisines, these shacks have it all.
A short trek down the hill along a rugged path takes you to Kudle Beach which is often overshadowed by Om. Kudle which is located adjacent to the Gokarna Town Beach is relatively less hampered by human activity. It is an ideal retreat for people looking to getaway into the beauty and bliss of nature. Boats that drift along the shore occasionally, offer thrilling rides for those who like to hop across beaches.
Half Moon and Paradise Beaches can only be reached by foot or boat. These beaches which are not yet swept by the wave of commercialization are clean and cozy. Their splendid natural settings serve as great outdoor camping sites.

Mahabaleshwara Temple
A large number of pilgrims are headed to Gokarna for the "Koti Rudra" programme held at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. ‘Rudra’ is a set of verses in praise of Lord Shiva and it will be recited one crore times during the course of this year. The programme was launched on the 27th of April 2009 on the auspicious day of Akshaya Trithiya and is expected to complete on the day of Akshaya Trithiya in the year 2010.
Standing on a pedestal of history dating back to the era of the Ramayana, Gokarna is abuzz with legendary tales. There is an interesting story behind linga at the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The legend has it that Ravana performed severe penance at Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva to obtain the “atma linga” from the Lord. Ravana believed that he could attain the power of the Lord by worshipping the sacred linga. Lord Shiva who was impressed by Ravana's dedication gave him the atma linga stating that it should not be placed on the ground, failing which it would be rooted in the place where it is kept. Sage Narada feared that Ravana the asura (demon) would become invincible if he was empowered with the prowess of Lord Shiva.
The story goes that Narada approached Lord Vishnu to devise a plan to ensure that Ravana does not retain the atma linga. Knowing that Ravana would not fail to perform his evening prayers, Lord Vishnu is said to have positioned his Sudharshana Chakra between the sun and the Earth to create an illusion that it was sunset. It is said that Ravana stopped at Gokarna to perform his daily rituals and Lord Ganesha was sent there in the guise of a young boy. Ravana entrusted the linga with the boy and began his prayers. The boy agreed to hold the linga on the condition that he would leave it on the ground if Ravana failed to appear after he called out thrice if it became too heavy. It is believed that the Gods placed the weight of the three worlds on the linga which became unbearably heavy and the young boy called out to Ravana who was engrossed in his prayers. Since Ravana did not appear even after the repeated calls the boy placed the linga on the ground. It was firmly entrenched and could not be uprooted by Ravana. This is believed to be the origin of the linga at the temple and the story is often narrated with great enthusiasm.

Tadadi Fishing Port
The Tadadi village near Gokarna has a fishing harbour and a fish processing plant which was set up by a team of experts from Denmark. Many fishing communities thrive on the marine life that abounds in the region. While the men bring home the catch, the women slice the fish and marinate it with salt. The hills, the river, the colourful boats and the fish processing activities make a visit to Tadadi interesting if you can tolerate the strong odour.
The Danish team that worked at Tadadi resided in Konkan style cottages built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the valley in Gokarna. These rustic cottages are now converted into a resort. The Om Beach Resort that overlooks the intimidating horizon is a joint venture by Jungle Lodges and Resorts and Kairali Group of resorts.

Quick Facts

Getting There:
Gokarna is at a distance of about 470ms from Bangalore and is well connected by road to Bangalore, Mangalore and Goa. From Gokarna town auto rickshaws can be hired to reach the beaches.
Trains of the Konkan Railway stop at Gokarna Road. Gokarna can be reached by train from Mangalore and Goa.
Dabolim in Goa is the nearest airport.

Season: The best time to visit Gokarna is between October and March.

Namaste Café is the most popular setup on Om Beach. Hotel Gokarna International on Kudle Beach has sea-facing rooms. A hotel with the same name in Gokarna Town is in the vicinity of the Mahabaleshwara Temple. The Om Beach Resort has beautiful cottages and an Ayurvedic spa. Beach shacks provide accommodation at rates as low as Rs100/- per.

According to the locals there are many wild peacocks in the hills of Gokarna. If you are on a trek in Gokarna look out for peacocks and peahens.
Sunscreen lotion, caps, torches and umbrellas will be useful.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 11th of October 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Stamps, An Ocean of Knowledge

India Post is celebrating the "National Postal Week" from the 9th of October 2009 to the 15th of October 2009.

The postal department delivers messages bundled in paper across social, physical and geographical barriers. Postage stamps are an integral part of this titanic network that connects people who are miles apart. Philately, the collecting and study of stamps, is a hobby that transcends time. It has evolved as an enjoyable, educative and engaging hobby. Dr R. Sango Ram, a retired professor of Chemistry and an avid philatelist says, “Stamps are mini-ambassadors of a country in a foreign land. They depict different facets of the country like its leaders, language, geography, history, scientific advancements, art, culture and heritage”.
The most common type of stamp collection is general collection which is an assorted collection of postage stamps. A specialized collection could be country collection or a topical or thematic collection which is typically inspired by a field of interest that could be related to sports, a favourite subject or an area of work. “Nobel laureates”, “the solar system”, “man on the moon” and “Comet Halley” are some of Dr Sango Ram’s thematic collections and he believes that, “Thematic collections are the best way for beginners to acquire knowledge and inculcate interest in philately”.
Definitive stamps and commemorative stamps are the two types of postage stamps. Definitive stamps which are printed in large numbers are used for postal mailing and are available to the public for prolonged periods. Definitive stamps of various denominations usually depict iconic leaders of the country. Commemorative stamps are less common and are released to commemorate an event, mark an anniversary, honour a famous person, recognize the importance of a place or showcase rare flora and fauna. Each commemorative stamp is printed only once in a limited quantity and can be procured at designated post offices until stocks last.
Apart from stamps first day issues like first day covers, information brochures, miniature sheets and sheetlets compliment one’s stamp collection. A first-day cover is a special envelope released when a new postage stamp is issued. Miniature sheets, sheetlets and souvenir sheets are small sheets containing one or more stamps along with special designs. Information brochures carry details of newly released stamps and the reasons for their issue. Occasional releases like maxim cards and special covers which are available for a limited period after the release are a collector’s delight. Maxim cards are special postcards which portray images that were printed on commemorative stamps. Special covers are released to mark occasions or events of local importance.
While some collectors prefer to collect mint stamps others prefer used stamps. Mint stamps are fresh stamps that have not been used for postage. Used stamps are those which have either been used for postage or have been cancelled on request by the collector. Cancellation is the process of postmarking postal stationary like mint stamps, first day covers and postcards.
The India Post is constantly enhancing its portfolio of postage stamps by adding new stamps with novel designs, unique shapes and vibrant shades. By subscribing to the philatelic services offered by India Post, these exquisite releases can be a philatelist’s prized possession. In 2006, India Post released its first fragrant stamp. In an elaborate three step process, the stamps were printed, rolled into cylinders with a special imported sandalwood based ink and dried. During the process of drying microcapsules which hold the fragrance of sandalwood were embedded in the stamp. The romantic scents of roses were impregnated in a special Valentine’s Day release in 2007. The year 2008 saw the release of the first set of calendar stamps by India Post with a collection titled “Festivals of India”. Calendar stamps are theme based stamps which will be released every month till the end of 2009 according to the current schedule. India Post is working with Hallmark India to bring out a collection of 25 all-time best Indian stamps in silver and gold.
Stamps are miniature art collectibles which can be instrumental in expanding frontiers of knowledge. Philately is often described as “the king of hobbies and hobby of kings” and is pursued by people at different strata of society. Through philately one can take a deep dive to explore many hidden secrets in the ocean of knowledge.

Philatelic Deposit Accounts
India Post provides a service by which newly released postage stamps are delivered to subscribers by Registered Post at no extra cost. Stamp collectors can subscribe to the latest philatelic releases by opening a Philatelic Deposit Account (PDA) with an initial deposit of at least Rs 200/-. Until recently, the Philatelic Bureau of the General Post Office (GPO) was handling all the Philatelic Deposit Accounts. Now, this function has been de-centralized and subscribers can open Philatelic Deposit Accounts at head post offices that cater to customers from localities in their respective jurisdictions.

Quick Facts:

Philatelic Deposit Accounts:
Residents of Bangalore can open Philatelic Deposit Accounts at the GPO and post offices at Basavanagudi, Jalahalli, Jayanagar, Rajajinagar, RT Nagar and HAL II Stage.

Philatelic Museum:

The Bangalore GPO has a philatelic museum which showcases stamps released from 1947 to 2008. The museum will be opened on request on all working days between 10am and 5pm.

Phila Post:
Priced at a nominal rate of Rs 10/- per issue and Rs 40/- for an annual subscription, this quarterly philatelic magazine is available at designated post offices.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Unity in Adversity

“Don’t go the way life takes you… Take life the way you want to go. Remember, you are born to live and not living because you are born”. This quote on the bulletin board of Support, a center for AIDS victims’ in Summanhalli sums up the spirit infused in its inmates. Summanahalli has transformed itself into a social hub in Bangalore where different socially committed groups work for marginalized people under the umbrella of Sumanahalli Society. The 50 acre campus has an orphanage for girls (predominantly those with a leprosy background), a center for people suffering from HIV, a home for juvenile delinquents, a home for street children and a leprosy home. Set in a serene and soothing environment amidst lush greenery, the campus is equipped with infrastructure for rehabilitation of the affected.
In 1944, the Maharaja of Mysore is said to have gathered about 365 acres of land from farmers to set up a colony for beggars. This land was then utilized by the Central Relief Committee (CRC) operating under the aegis of the Department of Social Welfare to establish a shelter for rehabilitation of beggars. In 1977, Devaraj Urs, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka requested Dr. P. Arokiaswamy, the then archbishop of Bangalore to set up a leprosarium at Summanahalli. For about twenty years, the work of Summanahalli Society revolved around leprosy. Over the last decade, the services have been expanded to reach out to the homeless, the differently-abled, the ailing and the destitute.
People inflicted with diseases like leprosy and AIDS are often abandoned by their families due to the social stigma associated with their ailments. With nowhere to go and no one to look up to, their life and death matters to none. Heartrending stories of undying hope amidst pain and suffering pour out from all quarters. Among the many success stories that have emerged from the philanthropic work at Summahalli is that of a couple united by adversity. Vijay is visually impaired and Revathi has suffered severe burns. She was a social outcast and was forced to wear a burqa to conceal her distorted appearance. Both of them are employed at the garments factory where Vijay works on thread sucking machine and Revathi is in housekeeping. Together they are striving to make ends meet and have even moved out of their respective shelters to set up their family. Another inspiring story is that of Ranga who came to Summanahalli as a homeless child suffering from leprosy. Cured by the dreadful disease, he is now pursuing his studies in law and is also a budding artist and a talented dancer. About 500 people have managed to land government jobs. Community weddings are conducted at Summanahalli where some are between induviduals who are HIV positive.
Medical treatment combined with sessions in counseling, occupational therapy and vocational training has given a ray of hope to the downtrodden. The government recognized St Joseph’s School at Summanahalli educates about 200 under-privileged children, 60 of whom are directly or indirectly affected by leprosy.
Training in printing, book binding, carpentry, welding and tailoring have enabled school drop-outs to earn a living. Ahalli, the garments manufacturing unit at Summanahalli has provided employment for several people who are physically challenged. At the candle making unit, it was heartening to see colourful candles made by people suffering from AIDS and leprosy.The work begins with identifying the needy and continues as long as they require a support system. The infected are not only given treatment but also encouraged to grow in their own right. Their families are also looked after. Children of leprosy patients are highly susceptible to the infection and are kept away to prevent infection. The young ones go to school, the grown up are given vocational training, the elderly are looked after. Counseling and tips for prevention of contagious diseases are part of the awareness initiatives. Some people are placed in jobs outside while the others work at the campus.
Over the years the Summanahalli Society has developed its campus which includes a school, shelters and training centers in the fifty acres of land leased by the Government of Karnataka. However, dark clouds have been hovering over Summanahalli for the past few months. Bangalore City is constantly expanding and the government is now eyeing the land at Summanahalli which is estimated to be valued at 500 crores. The foundation of the social set up at Summahalli where the homeless and hopeless thrive has been shaken by the decision taken by the State Cabinet on July 7th 2009 in which they propose to reclaim the land. There has been stiff resistance from the Summanahalli Society supported by leading NGOs in Bangalore to prevent this land grab. “We have not gone to the city, the city has come to us”, says Fr. George Kananthanam, the Director of Summanahalli Society. Why should the sick and needy always be thrown outside the city? Aren’t they the ones who need to be within the city so that immediate medical assistance is accessible to them?

Quick Facts:
Summanahalli Society has won 11 National Awards and 7 State Awards including the prestigious Rajyotsava Award.

The Government of Karnataka leased 63 acres of land to Summanahalli Society for a period of 30 years starting from the 30th of December 1977. The campus of Summanahalli Society occupies 50 acres and 13 acres have been used for the construction of roads.

Over 700 people are making use of the campus and about 360 are residing in the campus.

Summanahalli Society is a non-profit organization and the land has never been used for commercial purposes over the past 30 years. The recent decision of the government to reclaim control for the land and use it for commercial activities violates the original purpose and intention of use of this property.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 29th of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Bus on the Railroad...

The old often makes way for the new. Vintage modes of transport are losing out to newer and faster means of conveyance. As the years roll on, it is inevitable that these timeless treasures make their way into museums and become chapters in history. Since the experience is elusive, some innovative inventions come to life only through stories of the past.
Railcars and railbuses feature among the unique carriers in the ranks of the Indian Railways. During a joyride that lasted for thirty-five minutes, I savoured sights and sounds aboard the only operational railbus in Karnataka. The railbus was on its routine daily round trip between Bangarpet and Kolar. Kids were quick to seize the seats on the first row which offer a good view of the track ahead. Youngsters were hanging by the poles at the door, sticking their heads out. I sat right behind the loco pilot to watch him effortlessly manouver the railbus. While some sneaked a short nap, it was time to read the newspaper for others. For me, it was an opportunity to watch the operation of the railbus from close quarters and to interact with the crew.

Chugging Along
The railbus offers a rare personal touch to its passengers. It has driving cabins at either end with two seats on one side and one seat on the other. During the journey from Bangarpet to Kolar, the assistant loco pilot Shashi found a place amidst the passengers in a coach that was packed to capacity. The wave of a hand made the loco pilot, Madhi halt for someone to get on as the railbus made its way out of the Kolar station. “It is a service in public interest and the railbus is a boon for around 65 government employees who travel from Bangalore to Kolar every day,” said a frequent commuter.
Bangarpet is a junction along the Bangalore-Chennai rail line. Passengers can board Chennai bound trains to reach Bangarpet and proceed to Kolar on the railbus. The departure of the railbus is linked to the arrival of the connecting train from Bangalore which makes it convenient for passengers. While a bus ride from Bangarpet to Kolar would cost Rs 10, the railbus fare is just Rs 3.
As the railbus pulled into the Kolar railway station, the rumble of the carriage ruffled the serenity of the quaint, colonial station. The loco pilot and assistant loco pilot, who were the last to disembark, obliged to be captured on my camera. After the riveting journey, I soaked in the rustic charm of the station, the operations of which are managed by just one person, the station master.

Stop and Go

A single rail line connects the Kolar and Bangarpet stations. In this section the “one train only token system” is used for controlling inbound and outbound rail traffic. The possession of a baton with the names of the two stations etched on it authorises a train to pass between them. One also gets to see the antiquated semaphore arm signal. When the semaphore arm is at a 180 degree angle, it indicates that the train should stop. When the arm is at a 90 degree angle, it implies that the signal is green and the train can pass through. A 45 degree inclination is a signal of caution.

Innovation Meets Simplicity
Innovative engineering, ease of maintenance and simple operation are some of the features of the Bangarpet-Kolar broad gauge (BG) railbus which was designed and developed indigenously by Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML). The four-wheeled single unit self-propelled diesel locomotive combines the simplicity of bus engineering with the comfort of a rail coach. Older models of railcars and railbuses had only one driving cabin and the locomotive was manually rotated on a turntable. This BG railbus manufactured in 1997 has a driving cabin at either end eliminating the need for a turntable.
Railbuses were in vogue a few decades ago but are now on the verge of being wiped out. Although railbuses are not profitable, they continue to function on certain routes for the benefit of the people. The number of round trips of the railbus between Bangarpet and Kolar has been reduced from three to two. How long will it be before Karnataka’s only operational railbus becomes an artifact in a museum?

Quick Facts:

The railbus operates on all days except Sundays.
It departs from Bangarpet at 9:40 am and 4:30 pm.
It departs from Kolar at 11:10 am and 5:15 pm.
The distance between Bangarpet and Kolar is 18 Kms.
The estimated journey time is 35 minutes.
The seating capacity is 72.

Connecting Trains

The Bangalore-Chennai, Chennai Express (2610) is the link to the railbus departing from Bangarpet at 9:40 am.
The Chennai-Bangalore Brindavan Express (2639) is the link for the railbus departing from Kolar at 11:10 am.
The Bangalore-Marikuppam Passenger (514) is the link for the railbus departing from Bangarpet at 4:30pm.
The Chennai-Bangalore, Bangalore Express (2609) is the link for the railbus departing from Kolar at 5:15 pm.

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 6th of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Contours by the Sea

The quaint town of Gokarna is situated at the confluence of the Aghanashini and Gangavalli rivers in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. With a prolific history, Gokarna abounds with mythical tales. Also known as the “Kashi of South India” it is also a premier holiday destination. The famed Om Beach, the lesser-known Kudle Beach, the quiet Half Moon Beach and the pristine Paradise Beach are four scenic, popular strips of sand sandwiched between the hills. There are many temples in the town and Lord Shiva is the main deity in most of them.
Gokarna is a town of stark contrasts. At one end of the spectrum are local tribals and at the other end are numerous foreign tourists. While some tourists visit Gokarna to seek divine blessings, others are there to have fun on the beach.

The crescent-shaped Kudle Beach is adjacent to the Gokarna Beach. Apart from a few shacks along the beach there is not much commercialisation. Tourists can stay at the sea-facing rooms or the beach-front shacks. The sun can be a bit harsh during the day but the heat is offset by the cool water and strong ocean breeze. As the sun ebbs into oblivion, its golden hues cast a spell over the shoreline. Sunset at the Kudle Beach is magical. After nightfall, one can enjoy gazing at the star-studded sky with the cadence of the waves in the backdrop. Kudle is a good choice for tourists who are looking to get away from the crowd. The beach is cut-off from the world outside with no mobile phone connectivity.

Tourist hub
Om Beach gets its name because of its shoreline which traces the sacred Hindu symbol. It is the largest of the four beaches and is the hub of tourist activities. Shacks and cafes line the beach. The colours, contours and contrasts are sure to strike the visitor to Om. The turquoise blue of the water stands out against the lush green flora. One can see vendors trying to sell a variety of paraphernalia to the tourists soaking in the sun. The commodities on sale range from freshly-cut fruits and colourful beads to musical instruments like drums and flutes. The beach gets crowded on holidays when people from neighbouring towns and villages come over to take a dip in the water. Restaurants on the beach offer a wide range of culinary delicacies of different cuisines. For the adventurous, Om Beach offers activities like banana boat rides, kayaking and wave rafting during the season when the sea is relatively calm.

Remote paradises
Half Moon and Paradise beaches are much smaller than Om and Kudle Beach. Although trekking is an option to reach these remote beaches, most people prefer to be ferried by a boat from Om Beach. For outdoor enthusiasts, these clean beaches are good camping sites. Food and accommodation options are limited to a couple of beach-side shacks. Tourists who want to hop from one beach to another can rent boats from Om Beach. Hiking to the beaches is a viable option in good weather.

The topography of Gokarna is unique. The shimmering water of the Arabian Sea, the lanky trees and the rocky cliffs seem to be in perfect harmony. The air brews a fragrance of freshness. The aerial views of the diverse landscape from the vista points in the hills are a sight to behold. From temple trails to the sun, sand and sea, Gokarna has something in it for people of all ages. With a unique blend of the ancient and the modern, Gokarna is a destination with a difference.

Quick facts

Getting There
Gokarna is about 470 km from Bangalore and is well connected by road to Bangalore, Mangalore and Goa.
Gokarna can be reached by train from Mangalore and Goa.
Dabolim in Goa is the nearest airport.

Season : The best time to visit Gokarna is between October and March.

Namaste Café is the most popular establishment on Om Beach. This resort has cottages, Internet connectivity and a beach-front restaurant.
Hotel Gokarna International on Kudle Beach has sea-facing rooms. Beach shacks provide accommodation at rates as low as Rs. 100/- per day for tourists on a shoe string budget. There are many restaurants on Om Beach and Kudle Beach.
Konkan style cottages were built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the valley. These cottages have now been converted into a resort. The Om Beach Resort is a joint venture by the government-owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts and the privately-run Kairali Group and provides comfortable accommodation and good facilities. Special tours to visit places in and around Gokarna are arranged on request.
For more information log on to

According to the locals there are many wild peacocks in the hills of Gokarna. If you are on a trek in Gokarna look out for peacocks and peahens.
Sunscreen lotion, caps and umbrellas will be useful on a hot day. Carry a torch if you want to venture out at night.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 6th of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hills Are Alive.....

To the west of Kolar town is a barrier of rocks called “Shatha Shrunga Parvatha” or the mountain of hundred peaks. An interesting legend dating back to the Mahabharatha traces its origin. It is believed that the Pandavas lived in these hills and that Kunti was once chased by a lion while she was carrying her son Bhima. A panic stricken Kunti is said to have fled leaving Bhima on the hill which crumbled under his weight smearing the landscape with countless rocks.
Towering mosaics of precariously balancing boulders stand out against the backdrop of the blue sky. A well asphalted road snakes up the steep slopes. A flight of stairs etched in stone and small mantapas by the wayside are the first indications that these rocky hills are home to a hidden heritage. The terrain appears hostile but there are seven villages behind this façade of stone. It doesn’t take too long for one to realize that these hills are blossoming with life. Kuppahalli, Terahalli, Shivagange, Paparajanahalli, Kenchegowdanahalli and Hosahalli are some hamlets nestled in the hills. I was pleasantly surprised to know that beans, toor, ragi, avarekayi (a pod), maize, greens and tomato are grown in the arable stretches of the rocky terrain.
Biking through bends and curves of the hills I reached Terahalli. Accompanied by the kids of the village I headed to the 13th century Dravidian style Gangadhareshwara temple. The temple which was built during the reign of the Gangas has an impressive gateway and is resplendent with many stone structures and intricate sculptures. One can see the carvings of saptamatrikas (a group of seven Hindu goddesses depicted together) at the entrance of the temple complex. While the pillared mukha mantapa is still intact, the kalyana mantapa is in ruins. I was told by the locals that the age old custom of an annual jathre (fair) at the temple still continues.
My next destination was a cultural organization called Adima in Shivagange. Adima promotes art and culture, specially focusing on revival of traditional forms of art. The concept was envisioned in the 1980’s when a group of about twenty five likeminded people decided to save one rupee each day for the cause. They did so for several years, meeting regularly to discuss their plans for setting up a cultural hub that would reach out to people from modest social and economic backgrounds.
Their dreams and ideas were moulded into reality when Adima was established on a small stretch of land purchased with the money that had accumulated over the years. Under the aegis of writer and lyricist Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, Adima is taking giant strides into the world of art and culture. In less than four years since its inception the premises of Adima has a library, a rehersal room, two dormitories and an office room. Locally available materials like creepers, bamboo, mud and used tiles have been extensively utilized in the constructions architected by Padmalaya Nagaraj, one of the pioneers of Adima who is a teacher by profession. Adima is ornate with beautiful murals and sculptures by John Devaraj, Gopala Kammar, Padmalaya Nagaraj and Venkatesh.
Hunnime Haadu, Chukki Mela and Gaddige Gaurava are some initiatives undertaken at Adima. In Kannada, “Hunnime” means full moon day and “Haadu” means song. On every full moon night, an ensemble of music, dance and drama unfolds in a natural setting under the star studded sky. Chukki Mela is an annual summer camp that aims to tap the creativity of young minds. Children are engaged in activities like clay modeling, painting, acting, dance and music. The activity camp which spans for over twenty days concludes with an exhibition on Buddha Poornima. Gaddige Gaurava is an initiative to recognize people who have excelled in various spheres of life. The reward is not a monetary benefit but a token of appreciation to boost the confidence of people whose accomplishments may otherwise go without being noticed.
There is concerted effort to revive traditions in all forms at Adima. They aspire to rekindle folk arts like dollu kunita, yakshagana, kamsale kunita, kolata and somana kunita. The food served is also traditional. The simple but healthy menu includes rice, sambar, chutney and ragi balls.
Ramaiah, the president of Adima has the support of locals, well wishers and volunteers who are standing hand in hand to reclaim space for tradition in this era of rapid globalization. The rocks and boulders of these hills resonate with the sound of music.

Quick Facts:

Getting there:
Kolar is connected by road and rail to Bangalore. There is a motorable road to reach the village of Shivagange. Shata Shrunga Parvata is on the outskirts of Kolar. Buses ply between Kolar and Shivagange. KSRTC has a special bus service from the Kolar Bus Stand to Shivagange and back for the people visiting Adima for Hunnime Haadu.

Other attractions:
Antharagange which has a beautiful temple and perennial water source is a popular tourist attraction.

This article was published in The Deccan Herald on the 1st of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On a Jumbo Trail

The waters of the Tunga gleam as the sun rises to greater heights with every passing minute. Birds stoop trying to snatch an early morning catch from the gurgling river. The ringing of a bell breaks the silence of the surroundings. It heralds the arrival of the first elephant. Accompanied by their mahouts, 15 more elephants follow soon.
I was at the Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp which is home to sixteen elephants. Visitors to the camp can get a close look at the elephants and the enduring work of their dedicated mahouts. While some elephants born and bred at the camp, the others were sent there to curb their erratic behavior.
For most of the mahouts, the profession has been a family tradition. They have taken up this risky and challenging job after learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ from their ancestors.
A typical work day begins before the break of dawn and ends long after the sun sets. The routine does not change despite the scorching summer heat or the incessant monsoons. Each elephant is looked after by two mahouts who are on the job round the clock. The elephants are housed at the camp until midday after which they are left free in the forest. In the wee hours of the morning, the mahouts head out to the forest in search of their elephants. The dung, the trails of the elephants footprints, and the knowledge of their favourite spots in the forest provides clues for the mahouts to locate their elephants.
The entire operation involves walking for several kilometers in the rugged terrain each day, every day of the year. Among other things, the job demands physical fitness. Jalil, an experienced mahout narrated some of his experiences with the pachyderms. “Although we are Muslims, we don’t wear slippers because the elephant is a God of the Hindus”, he remarked, emphasizing the fact the mahouts walk bare foot in the forest. “We respect the elephant as our God too and pray to it every day”, he said referring to the custom where the elephant is taken to the house of the mahout and fed with freshly steamed rice every morning.

Between 8am and 9am every morning, the elephants are brought to the river for a wash. Once their thirst is satiated, the elephants lie down in the river ready for to be scrubbed and bathed by their respective mahouts. 11am is the time to treat the elephants with some goodies. They are initially fed with twigs and leaves, followed by hay bundled with a mixture of rice, chunks of coconut, jaggery and salt. A prescribed dose of vitamins and tonics are given for wellness. This is followed by a head massage with castor oil to keep their body cool in the hot summer months. It’s then time for another dip in the river to quench their thirst before they are taken back to their natural habitat. According to the mahouts, the elephants feast on the bamboo shoots growing abundantly in the neighbouring forest. The mahouts return home for lunch and then head back into the forest to oversee the activities of the elephants. The mahouts keep a stringent vigil on the elephants until nightfall to ensure that they do not wreck havoc in the neighbouring villages.
Each elephant has a specific schedule and is given an extensive training at the camp. In a unique language which is a concoction of Bengali and Urdu, the mahouts can make the elephants do a lot of things including greeting visitors, blessing them and walking with a bucket of water. The stunts like standing on two feet and hopping on three feet are astounding.
Elephants’ Day which is an initiative by the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department, is a unique annual event held in October. The elephants of the Sakrebayalu Camp are adorned with colourful embellishments and perform various feats. They vie with each other in races and play games of volleyball and football.
The verdant landscape of the Shimoga District makes it a popular tourist destination in Karnataka. It is resplendent with plush hills, picturesque valleys and splendid waterfalls. The Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp is one of the many attractions on offer to the visitors to Shimoga.
Set in a quaint village which is bereft of any commercialization, the camp is a refreshing change from usual tourist hotspots. The charming elephants, their friendly mahouts and the serene surroundings will make a visit to Sakrebayalu a memorable one.

Getting there:
If you are driving to Shimoga from Bangalore, drive along NH4 to towards Tumkur. Take the Tumkur bypass and follow SH 206 (Gubbi Road) to reach Shimoga via Tiptur and Arasikere.
Buses and trains ply between Shimoga and Bangalore. Sakrebayalu is about 12Kms from Shivamogga on the way to Tirthahalli. Auto rickshaws can be hired for a round trip from Shivamogga town.

Shimoga town has accommodation to suit all pockets. There are many hotels near the bus stand. Hotel Jewel Rock is one of the better known hotels. With clean rooms, a good vegetarian restaurant and ample parking space it is a good choice for simple accommodation. The room tariff ranges from Rs 600/- to Rs 1000/-.

Other attractions:
At the Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp visitors can get an elephant ride at Rs 75/- per person. A boat ride in the Tunga River can be a good way to spot the many winged visitors.
The Gajanur Dam which is at a distance of about 2Kms from the camp is another tourist attraction. The Tavarekoppa Lion and Tiger Safari and the Shivappa Nayaka Palace are places of interest in Shimoga. The Mandegadde Bird Sanctuary is at a distance of 15Kms from the camp. Jog Falls is the most popular tourist spot in the Shimoga District.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 9th of August 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.