Last leg of our Uttarakhand trip – Rishikesh & Haridwar, twin holy towns

Day 4: March 17th, 2017

Earlier, while drawing up our Uttarakhand tour programme, Rishikesh and Haridwar were proposed to be covered on our return trip from Dehradun for Gurgaon.

We had 3 days of truly relaxed, wonderful time at Dehradun, visiting Mussoorie and spending a full day amidst hills was an experience that’s simply unforgettable and right in Dehradun amidst iconic FRI and IMA imbibing the freshness of greenery and the surrounding fresh air, was the kind of get away we were looking forward to for a long time.

As planned for the final leg of our tour, we intended to check out from FRI guest house early morning after breakfast. However, by the time we were actually able to complete the formality and settle our bills, it was well past 9.00 am.

Returning from Dehradun, we needed to take a different route for Rishikesh and Haridwar.  Leaving behind this city, driving on the state highway for miles together with thickly populated areas confronting us almost all along the way, made the driving less pleasurable; more often Anurag needed to slow down and drive with caution. This stretch, we realised, was quite in contrast to the one we had travelled earlier while on way to Dehradun; national highway linking the ascending ghat road offered a beautiful and enjoyable drive all the way which we found altogether missing while driving on this route.

After nearly an hour’s drive, however, we came across a place where a road sign pointing to the road on the left side read, the way to Dehradun airport. This domestic airport Jolly Grant Airport, is about 22 km from Dehradun, 20 km from Rishikesh and 30 km from Haridwar. It, in a way, meant that the traffic congestion all along we came across since we had left Dehradun had resulted in covering this sector in nearly double the time than under the normal circumstance. It also implicitly seemed suggesting the government to take immediate steps for widening and upgrading of this road from airport to state capital to have much faster and better link.

Talking of Dehradun airport, one is reminded of a critical role it had played as center of operations for rescue efforts in evacuating pilgrims from Kedarnath and surrounding pilgrimage sites during 2013 Uttarakhand floods. This airport otherwise handling just over a dozen flights a day was pressed into service to handle over 100 flights daily and aircraft movement on some days, most comprising Indian Air Force aircraft, chartered flights and private jets ferrying VIPs. This may go down in the record book of this airport as the most significant achievement ever in rescue operations following a massive natural disaster.

From this place, in the final stretch to reach Rishikesh we passed through a few kilometers of forest areas that served to provide us with a welcome relief after the grind we had driving through the crowded roads. Reaching Rishikesh around 11.00 am, we noticed, the small hilly place that used to be sparsely populated some 30 years ago during our earlier visit, this time round seemed somewhat bursting at its seam having developed into something like a small compact township. The roads, however, continue to be narrow as before, and at many places police constables were seen deputed to regulate traffic movement while at other for diversion of vehicular traffic to ensure one-way movement to avoid traffic jam.

Holy Ganges flowing gently at Rishikesh

Rishikesh is the starting point for yatra to four Chhota Char Dham – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The sacred Ganga River flows through this place and in fact, here the river leaves the Shiwalik Hills in the Himalayas and flows into the plains of northern India.

Rishikesh sometimes nicknamed ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ has numerous yoga centres for tourists. The tourists from all over the world are attracted to this place for yoga, river- rafting and travelling beyond to other locations in Himalayas.

View of the ghats at Rishikesh

 

Our aim was to reach ‘Lakshman Jhula’, a land mark iron-rope suspension bridge of this place in existence for a very long time now. Passing through the narrow crowded roads, we often needed the assistance from local residents for the route to follow till we reached the road running parallel along the banks of river Ganga. Driving further on this road towards river’s upstream wasn’t smooth either, it was too crowded, the road being single just wide enough for allowing vehicles in a row to move along. Finding a car parking space on this road posed hell of a problem. However, on reaching the site of ‘Ram Jhula’ (a replica of Lakshman Jhula lying further upstream) relatively recently built, we found a paid car parking site here to our great relief.

On getting off the car, we realised that for reaching the ‘Ram Jhula’ meant one needed to negotiate several steps downhill leading up to it as the road level is approx at a height of 30-40 feet from this bridge. Two of us decided to stay back and consoled ourselves for having been to Lakshman Jhula during our earlier visit. Joining a small stream of other tourists Shweta, Anurag and Shubhika ventured to visit it, they had the feel of this new suspension bridge, had some photos taken before returning and rejoining us after about half an hour.

Ram Jhula at Rishikesh

Several temples – ancient and new – were seen along the banks of river Ganga here.

Ram Jhula

We decided to skip visiting Lakshman Jhula as it was getting more crowded on this road with both domestic and foreign tourists thronging this area every passing minute. A few mid- sized vehicles were seen carrying over their roofs the modern small plastic fibre boats and related appendages, thereby suggesting that the river- rafting season was very much on.

For us, going further ahead up to Lakshman Jhula would have meant spending here an hour more in the least and consequently getting delayed for our next stop.

We headed for Haridwar around 12.15 pm. The distance of approx 25 km, all along in the midst of busy traffic on a narrow road and through the crowded localities, could be covered after nearly 45 minutes drive. Later, someone pointed it out that we should have taken NH 58 while driving out from Rishikesh for Haridwar to save on time and to avoid traffic of the old route.

Rishikesh – Haridwar, as it is, located adjoining side-by-side may simply appear to be wearing a tag of twin holy places and the visiting tourists often prefer to visit both.

Holy Ganges at Haridwar

Haridwar is the place where river Ganga enters in plain areas of northern India after flowing through some 250 km from its origin in Gaumukh (Gangotri Glacier). It’s an ancient city and is one of the most sacred cities in India. This place, the Shaivaites (devotees of Lord Shiva) prefer to call it as ‘Hardwar’; the Vaishnavaites (devotees of Lord Vishnu), as ‘Haridwar’ while a general perception is that it derives its name as ‘Har ka Dwar’ (gateway to Lord’s place) meaning thereby a ‘belief’ that after one takes a holy dip in river Ganga here and thus washing off all his sins, goes straight to heaven on one’s death.

Haridwar is one of the four sites of Kumbh mela every 12 years (the others being Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain). History of Haridwar Kumbh mela dates to early 1600s and the last Kumbh mela here happened in 2010.

On entering Haridwar and on our way to ‘Har ki Paudi’ – the traditional venue for taking a holy dip in river Ganga and for offering puja – we noticed the work of widening of the existing road to make the same 4 lane, in progress in a big way in this sector. Apparently, over the years, it may seem, this small holy city that has continued to attract the visitors in large numbers – both domestic and foreigners – thus compelling the administration for developing and upgrading infrastructure facilities to keep pace. Many new hotels and Dharmshalas have since come up apart from the roads linking to river banks also getting spruced up.

For reaching Har ki Paudi, unlike in the past, we needed to take a route leading to the newly constructed road flyover running parallel to far end of the river bank; at the end of this flyover is a huge newly built covered vehicles parking site. It seemed to have a capacity to park approx 1000 cars at a time. This, in a way, also seemed suggesting about the ever rising volume of tourist traffic and the number of devotees visiting this place almost round the year. This, we felt, quite in contrast to a situation decades ago when we could walk leisurely on city roads;  spend hours, sitting on the steps along the river bank and gazing at the fast flowing crystal clear river water and later joining the evening ‘Aarti’ in a small temple located here.

Har ki Paudi – Haridwar

From this vehicle- parking- site walking across under the flyover we reached Har ki Paudi; climbing over the steps of the bridge connecting the river banks, we reached the other side that’s in the closer proximity of the township. This river bank is where visitors and pilgrims largely prefer to take holy dip and offer puja.

Preparations being done for the famous evening Aarti

Around mid day we were on this venue, with sun shining bright the number of visitors and those taking holy dip in river were seen to be relatively less. We took a stroll here, spent some time and reverentially felt the holy Ganga water before collecting it in a few bottles to be taken back home.

Looking at the nearby Mansa Devi hill we could notice that the facility of electrically-operated cable cars ferrying pilgrims to this temple and back that we had availed of during our earlier visit, was no longer there, perhaps withdrawn altogether. A void was, therefore,  felt for not being able to visit this temple.

After having spent some time at Har ki Paudi, taking a look at the nearby hotels and restaurant for lunch we found many of them in a row quite close to and facing the river bank. The one, however, that easily caught our attention was ‘Chotiwala Hotel’, a small budget hotel that had got into prominence and popularity by making its presence felt first at Rishikesh decades ago. This time round finding its presence in Haridwar was a pleasant surprise. It has a seating capacity for approx 100 and around the time we reached it was nearly one-fourth full. Its decor is too simple and furniture the most modest one but what counted more for us was the very prompt service and reasonably good preparations of the veg food items served on the table.

The famous Chotiwala is right at Har ki Paudi

While leaving this hotel after settling the bill noticing an old lady managing the cash counter left everyone of us immensely impressed; presumably she appeared the owner (or perhaps part of the owners’ family) who seemed to believe in taking up responsibility and in taking up a leadership role at that – this perhaps also seemed suggesting as an instance of women- empowerment in modern day parlance.

Chotiwala – serving for over 150 years now

At the time of conclusion of our 4-day- long tour of Uttarakhand, while at Haridwar it was getting 3.00 pm, it was time for us to get on with our return journey to Delhi.  Driving on a national highway out of this holy city, in its outskirt on either side of the road for miles, one could see almost continuous row of buildings – both commercial and residential – in different stages of development. Driving further ahead, we could see a chain of yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s various establishments – farmlands, factory, medical college & hospital et al– all bearing a brand name of ‘Patanjali’. Ancient small Haridwar city lying at one end seemed all set for its other end to develop into a modern township in a foreseeable future.

The road all along was in a good shape that made the driving relatively relaxed and   comfortable. Passing through Roorkee, unlike none- too happy experience earlier on our way to Dehradun, this time was an easy comfortable drive as it seemed bypassing the main city area.

On way back to Delhi. Highways are quite smooth

By the time we reached Ghaziabad it had started getting dark and that made the driving a little slower through the busy traffic. On entering Delhi, we needed to further slow down as vehicular traffic during evening hours here is otherwise known to pick up. Our target to reach Gurgaon by dinner time apparently went for a toss while struggling to drive through the Delhi roads. Therefore, on reaching south Delhi area we had some quick bite at McDonald’s and we could reach our home in Gurgaon around 10.00 pm, say, after over 12 hours ( including nearly 4 hours of stopover at Rishikesh and Haridwar ) since having left Dehradun in the morning around 9.00 am.

At the close of our short trip of a newly carved out hilly state, Uttarakhand, a day later, sitting quite at ease at home we were obviously keen to reflect on and to have our own appraisal of the days spent;  we exchanged notes of our individual experiences. We all agreed that this hilly state has on offer to suit the varied interests of tourists visiting the four places that we had covered.

Close to Dehradun, Mussoorie in particular provide an ideal family get away almost round the year; to escape from heat during summer; to continue enjoying the walk on Mall road during snowfall in winter; to have a feel of having a great time during spring season; to have a distinctive feeling during rains; and above all, soaking in an eco-friendly environment all the while any time of the year – all combine to make Mussoorie truly justifying a tag of ‘Queen of Hills’ given to it.

Rishikesh for its numerous yoga centres takes care of the tourists keen on having healthy exercise regime and an ideal escape away from the strains and stress of the day-to-day life. The pilgrims visiting this place have their hands full while aiming to cover all the temples over here.

The younger lot of tourists keen on adventure sports have an elaborate facility available here for river rafting during months of March – May till the monsoon arrives.

Haridwar is a holy city having its history dating back to centuries and draws a regular flow of pilgrims round the year. During the 12 yearly ‘Purna Kumbh’ and 6 yearly ‘Ardh Kumbh’ periods, it wears a festive look for weeks together.

All in all, therefore, closing our travelogue we are inclined to part with our strong recommendations for tourists of varied age groups and/or of diverse interests to go for the quartet of: Dehradun – Mussoorie – Rishikesh – Haridwar to include in their itinerary when thinking of a family or a group get away.

Neeraj, our youngest son who is an Architect, having been unable to join us on this trip owning to his prior commitments, joining our conversation was keen to know as to how was Anurag behind steering wheel throughout. Getting to know that it was largely hassle-free and smooth, he was seen nodding in appreciation.

Sun set as we entered the crowded Delhi NCR region

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IMA & FRI – India’s jewels in Dehradun

First two days of our trip had turned out to be a rather hectic one, from early morning till evening, and hence a consensus was to have the following day – 16 March – a more relaxed, leisurely and laid back one. It was decided to spend the day largely in FRI (now IGNFA – Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy) campus that otherwise also has many interesting venues on offer to visit.

A couple of days earlier, however, I had called up my friend Lt Col (Retd.) Bajrang B Singh, a fellow Netarhat School alumnus, in NCR Delhi, for working out a possibility, if any, of our visiting the neighbouring Indian Military Academy (IMA) campus, otherwise strictly a no entry zone for commoners and tourists. It, therefore, came to us as big news when Bajrang B Singh called me back, to inform that our proposed visit to IMA was well lined up and all that we needed to do was to contact one of the officers in IMA over the phone for the same. My personal familiarity otherwise with IMA campus dated back to early 1970s when undergoing training in Mussoorie’s LBSNAA Academy I had often spent many week- ends with Capt RNP Singh (later Retd. as Brig), my classmate in Netarhat School,  and his family in this sprawling beautiful campus when he was posted here.

The Officer, when contacted over the phone, seemed kind of waiting for my call. We were slotted for visiting IMA campus in the pre-lunch period at 11.30 am; were told that an army man on duty, had instructions to meet us right outside the main entrance gate to accompany and to guide us.

Mrs. Bhagat preferred to have some more rest and hence opted out of IMA visit. Only four of us headed for it. It was a few minutes’ drive as the IMA campus is just next to FRI. Reaching right at the appointed time, the man in uniform deputed to escort us met us at the main entrance gate, got for himself a front seat in our car, assisted in completion of our registration formality at the reception desk, on one side of the entrance gate. He was the key person for our guided tour of IMA campus. For security reasons, any photography inside campus was strictly prohibited, we were cautioned.

IMA is an institution imparting training to the officer trainees of the Indian Army; it is in the service of our nation since pre-Independence days and boasts of some excellent facilities for an all round top quality modern military training to its gentlemen cadets, the officer trainees are generally referred to as. Apart from those mainly from India, the guide tells us that there are also cadets from 25-30 other countries too currently undergoing training alongside, one of the largest contingent being from Afghanistan.

IMA has a very huge campus that extends up to approx 15 kilometers from end to end and the large chunk of the foot of the Mussoorie hills is also part of it. Viewed at a glance, the entire campus seemed full of greenery all around and immaculately maintained.

The main building (otherwise also visible from the main entrance gate) we were taken to first, is truly majestic, awe-inspiring and imposing one. Chetwode Hall as it is called is named after IMA’s first commandant; the legendary hall houses the portraits of army generals, PVC winners, IMA commandants. The main building is hub of the academic training that also houses offices, library, computer labs, lecture halls and conference halls etc. A huge paved open surface area in front, incidentally, is witness to this Academy having thrown up many gallant officers in the past and the tradition continues to this day; annual passing out parade of gentlemen cadets is held on this venue only.

IMA Main Bulidng that includes Chetwode Hall Pic – Govt. website

Driving further deep inside we were taken to firing range practice area located in what they call the Tons valley with foot of the Mussoorie hills not very far off from here – truly a majestic setting indeed! From this place a little far away in an open firing range the officer trainees were seen undergoing rifle shooting target practice. We were asked to wait for a while in front of a hall having facility for 10 meter Air Rifle and Air Pistol shooting practice venue inside its closed arena. Soon our ‘guide’ returned with an instructor and we could step inside it. We weren’t quite aware initially if apart from explaining the existing facility for training on this venue the instructor would also extend offer to us to have a hands-on session of this event. We were, therefore, pleasantly surprised and somewhat excited when after having presented a demo the instructor offered all four of us to try our hands, one by one, at the 10 m Air Pistol shooting. This being an Olympic Games shooting event our familiarity with it was restricted to watching it only in pictures otherwise.

Anurag was given the first opportunity for shooting; proper posture to stand, to hold the pistol, to take an aim and to finally shoot the small target- board 10 m away were all duly explained to him while we keenly watched and listened to the instructions. We all took our turns and each fired a few shots at the target. At the end of this session when the instructor patted the back of Shubhika, our granddaughter, for hitting the target well her joys knew no bounds and this extraordinary feeling may perhaps stick with her when she is grown up. I must, however, hasten to say that rest of us also weren’t otherwise wide off the target.

Moving on from shooting arena to other venues we could see at places in the open ground the gentlemen cadets in groups attending training classes. We were taken to the Auditorium that’s relatively recently built and is named as Khetrapal Auditorium (Named after Late Arun Khetrapal, youngest PVC awardee); it’s built on modern lines and built very nicely with a seating capacity of approx 2000; it seemed to fulfil the long felt need of this campus as on earlier occasions in 1970s while visiting Capt RNP Singh I had noticed there used to be temporary make-shift arrangements for film shows and other small functions during weekends.

We were also taken to the well equipped gymnasium and an indoor stadium- a big hall with its ceiling at quite a height; it caters to the needs of the indoor games including boxing. Many of the outdoor playgrounds were seen while going round the campus.

After having a tour of the main campus we exited from its main gate and entered into a campus right in front on the other side of the road. We were taken to the inside of the swimming pool arena enclosure, where the gentlemen cadets under the watchful eyes and constant guidance of the instructors were seen learning the basics of swimming and some who were perhaps well over learners’ level, were seen doing the advance level.

Our next stop was the officers’ mess. It’s a big dining hall for the gentlemen cadets and at the time of our visit the same was seen getting readied for the lunch.

It was nearing lunch time. And so after seeing the bakery section in a big hall that seemed to be all well equipped on modern lines and quite neatly maintained as well, we needed to close our visit and return. But before leaving this venue an option for us to buy from its sale counter was only too tempting; we purchased some cookies and chocolate pastries and later, on return to our guest house, tasting the same gave distinctly an extraordinary feeling, perhaps an unforgettable one.

Exiting from this campus around 1.00 pm, while crossing over the section of public road (Dehradun- Chakrata road) to reach IMA main entrance gate on the other side, we could see in the meanwhile, from the opposite side the gentlemen cadets in hundreds, each cycling down and crossing over at the same time presumably for lunch in a dining hall we had visited a short while ago. We stopped for a while till the last gentleman cadet had crossed over; the road traffic during this period was regulated by the army men in uniform; in fact, traffic on either side was signalled to be stopped some 100 meters away for a few minutes to facilitate the movement of gentlemen cadets on cycles.

Anurag was required to complete the formality at the reception desk and extend thanks to our ‘guide’ before we drove back to our guest house. At the end of this visit we felt honoured to be granted access to a campus where entry is very restricted and felt particularly grateful to IMA for our guided tour inside that was quite educative and informative.

In the post-lunch period I was more inclined to have some rest for a while. Anurag, Shweta and Shubhika who had earlier missed visiting IGNFA museums reached its main building; like other visitors they collected entry tickets priced at Rs. 30/- each; spent nearly an hour and a half before returning to guest house.

Forest Research Institute or FRI Dehradun is a national heritage site of India. One of the largest pure brick structures, it houses offices, libraries, museums and laboratories.

Evening hours were spent while taking long walk around the main building till it started getting dark.

At dinner time, pondering over the day spent in the two majestic campuses, we felt that while Dehradun, the capital city of Uttarakhand seemed all geared up and progressing along for its development and expansion on a fast track, huge campuses of FRI (IGNFA) (approx. 1200 acres) and IMA (approx 15 km from end to end) both adjoining Mussoorie hills, as per our perception, apparently seemed to be something like big green islands in themselves in the midst of burgeoning city. They are located approx 7- 8 km away and thus not really far off from city.

In a way, therefore, we also observed  that the two campuses are also destined to and likely to continue playing their role of maintaining the ecological balance and environment while the city planners and developers seemed moving at a break-neck speed to convert it into a sort of concrete jungles replacing the old green areas in the process.

However, notwithstanding this city’s future development we are inclined to believe that both FRI (IGNFA) and IMA for their dedicated service and continued contributions to the nation in their own humble way and for having provided huge green belts on a sustainable basis for the city dwellers, the two iconic institutions should be held as jewels of Dehradun in particular and that of nation in general.

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MUSSOORIE: ‘The Queen of hills’

Majestic Himalayas as seen from Mussoorie

Day 2: Mar. 15th, 2017 

Way back in early 1970s, I had spent several months in Mussoorie’s Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) undergoing training first as Indian Revenue Service (IRS) probationer and later as Indian Administrative Service (IAS) probationer and therefore had the familiarity with the important places to be visited in and around Mussoorie. This proved handy while working out our movement- plan ahead of visiting the places of tourist interest at this hill station. This was otherwise also absolutely essential as we had proposed to spend only the whole of day hours amidst hills and return to our base in Dehradun by the same evening.

On Mar. 15th, after having an early breakfast we set out for Mussoorie around 9.30 am. Passing through the city streets that had started picking up vehicular traffic, it took some time for us to reach the Rajpur road from where the climb to Mussoorie begins. Driving through the winding ascending ghat roads all along served to refresh my memories of many of my past travels on this route decades ago. An exception, however, this time round that seemed was the roads now more widened and getting into a much better shape and the tourist- traffic getting much busier than it used to be then. On way, the view of adjoining hill- slopes at a distance that on earlier occasion were seen getting exploited for the extraction of lime stones resulting in an ugly whitish appearances, this time appeared somewhat restored to greener look; loud protests by environmentalists seems to have done the trick and saved these hills – better late than never, as they say.

A view of the Doon valley

Along the way, very often the sight of black-faced monkeys sitting in groups or jumping from one tree to other otherwise served to break the monotony of the sight of the green forest cover all over with their fallen leaves signalling spring season. Travelling the distance of 31 km up to Library Point, that is, entry point from Dehradun to Mussoorie was smooth and thoroughly enjoyable except at one point where the construction of multi-level- vehicles- parking, closer this hill station’s bus stop, in progress, seemingly caused inconveniences to vehicular traffic both ways.

Around 11.00 am we were at Mussoorie at a height of approx 6000 feet. With sun shining bright, the day’s temperature was comfortable and ideal enough for us as we were all otherwise had only light woollen garments on.

As planned earlier, we headed straight for Kempty falls that’s 13 km away; it took another half an hour to reach there. The place instantly provided us plenty of surprises since many small shops, hotels and restaurants on either side of the road had seemingly developed over the years; this was unlike what we had seen 30 years ago when there used to be just a handful of them. What’s noted more significantly here is that some hotels for night stay have also come up; in peak tourist season, those not getting hotel rooms in Mussoorie have now an option of spending night/s in these small budget hotels located not very far off.

Kempty Falls -one of the popular spots

From road level down to foot of Kempty fall is rather steep both ways – downhill / uphill- and concrete steps made aren’t quite properly done, and the same being least senior citizen friendly. For this reason, therefore, two of us opted not to go to the foot of the waterfall; instead, we preferred to savour memory of our earlier visit and passed time in walking along the row of shops and stopping over for tea in one of them. Shweta, Anurag and Shubhika went downhill near the waterfall, spent some time and clicked some photos before rejoining us after about 30-40 minutes. We had some snacks and tea before heading for our next destination, the Company Garden.

On our way to Company Garden while passing by the famous Academy –LBSNAA – its main gate seemed to be manned by a posse of security personnel and in the old campus many new structures seemed to have come up. Visiting Academy campus wasn’t in our itinerary on account of time constraints. So, moving ahead further just about a kilometre, we reached Company Garden. From its entrance gate while having an overview of the terraced garden beyond, the scenes appeared somewhat drastically changed from the ones that we had witnessed some 30 years ago when only grass lawns, some flower beds and a few park benches used to be there to just sit back and relax for a while with more often only a handful of visitors around; and more particularly, comparing the scenario that obtained during my Academy days in early 1970s when there weren’t any fencing and only grassy terraced spaces with few flower beds, often mainly officer trainees from the Academy visiting it for a change, it all appeared this garden having undergone massive transformation.

More than a dozen vehicles were seen parked in the paid car parking area and a ticket counter for entry in the garden (contrary to free car parking and free entry on earlier occasions) was in operation charging Rs. 18/- per visitor.

Now on entering the garden, the tourists often find themselves surrounded by some professional photographers chasing them down for their instant photos in front of a small artificial water – fountain permanently installed in the closer vicinity, the terraced gardens further beyond providing otherwise a beautiful backdrop for photo shoot. Some tourists were seen availing of this opportunity; we weren’t, however, keen for this and hence walked ahead.

Artificial fall at Company Bagh

Going all around the terraced garden – flower beds alive with varied multi-colored dazzling seasonal flowers often left visitors spellbound; grass lawns at different levels beautifully maintained were all fenced with kind of low lying thick metallic chains all around them, with strict instructions for the visitors not to step inside and sit on the lawns. This was a clear departure from the past when one freely used these lawns and often enjoyed lunch / snacks while sitting over here only.

Passing through the terraces – one after the other – we reached the upper most one on top of which an artificial small waterfall has been created to lend a variety to this garden; it has otherwise been nicely done and, in fact, at first glance gives an impression of small natural waterfall. This space is, however, distinguished for hosting a beautifully maintained plant nursery – two of them under the canopies of polythene sheets, others under open sky, lying side by side. The total area that this nursery commands seemed a small one, yet the same was otherwise nicely laid out in a manner to accommodate the varied plant species in the flower beds and also those under the polythene roof covers.

It was a heavenly experience for flower and plant lovers like us

In one of the flower beds in the open we could see the small broad leaved plants well in the midst of a thin layer of snow – we were told Mussoorie had the mild snowfall the previous night. On learning this Shubhika, our granddaughter kept rueing about missing witnessing this rare experience.

We missed the last snow of the season by just couple of days!

Pictures of a variety of colourful flowers of this nursery that we had taken from our cameras, are shared here – many of them exotic ones, could be seen specific to Himalayan region. Plants or flowers from this nursery, however, were not for sale; that was a sort of some disappointment for us since we intended to take some chosen ones back home.

Flowers were in full bloom

I’m tempted to mention specifically about the presence in this garden of a few mid-sized trees of Magnolia champaka with full bloom pink flowers all over its branches; they were all too enchanting and lively and most of the tourists that included us, seemed keen on getting photographed with this beautiful tree as backdrop.

What, however, got me surprised a bit in this nursery was an altogether absence of any collection of Orchids, small aerial plant species – growing wildly over tree trunks as also now grown in nurseries – bearing truly unique, majestic multi-colored flowers in bunches when in full bloom. Orchid flowers command very high prices in the market for their sheer beauty and longer self-life. To my understanding, the environment and the climate all round the year for growing orchids is most favourable and ideal here and the required cover shades already in place in this nursery can easily support its cultivation. On checking about it from a handful of men and women at work, they seemed to be having no clue about it.

Magnolia Champaka with its light pink flowers

Overall, beautifully laid out plan of this redeveloped garden, accompanied with flower beds laden with colourful seasonal flowers, and, more importantly, the surroundings of the hills it appeared blessed with,  incidentally, held us back in this arena long enough till we realised we were getting late for lunch and consequently for other tourist venues of this hill station.

Right inside on one side of a terraced garden, a couple of small restaurants serving lunch, snacks etc were spotted. On our orders for ‘aalu parathas’ for five of us , the mini restaurant managed by just 2-3 persons, swung into action straightaway. What we were served say, after 10-15 minutes were simply superbly tasteful; initially, 2 parathas for each of us were ordered but at the end of it we ended with 3. The bill at the end that also included soft drink and tea, was amazingly low at Rs. 420/- only.

This garden now also boasts of having varied items for entertainment – pre – existing manually operated ‘giant wheel’ for small kids is in place; a small wax museum and a small covered arena for ‘horror show’ have now got added on – all these were seen attracting largely the children who, in turn, were often seen pestering their parents for the ride and for the shows respectively.

By the time we left this garden, it was 3.00 pm. We drove back some 4-5 km to library point where our car needed to be parked before taking stroll on Mussoorie’s famous Mall road. Fortunately, a few more options for parking of vehicles have now come up in the closer vicinity that saved us from any inconveniences one is often confronted with while visiting a hill station’s central areas. A little further down, the work in progress for construction of multilevel parking of vehicles, speaks of the volume of visitors each day this hill station may require to handle in the coming days and particularly during peak tourist seasons.

At the famous Mall Road

The afternoon hours on Mall road were humming with life with tourists in significantly large number taking leisurely walk and often stopping for some purchases from small shops lying in a row selling woollen garments, caps, shawls etc and a variety of other small items. We simply merged ourselves in this crowd, walked along and purchased a couple of woollen caps. Shops were all lined up with slopes of the hill behind them; other side of the road was facing the valley providing beautiful view of the Doon valley at a distance.

Walking less than a kilometer ahead on Mall road we reached the base of the famous Gun hill point from where an electrically operated rope way with a couple of sturdy transparent cabin cars that take tourists to its top and back operates. The ticket per head is priced at Rs. 100/-. We promptly got the tickets and waited for the cabin car to return back from top; on its getting emptied we just hopped in; it has seating capacity for 10-12 persons; the climb is short- distanced but is rather steep that often scares those experiencing it for first time here; it takes just about 5-7 minutes each way.

On way to Gun Hill

On reaching the top of Gun Hill point, we found the flat surface roughly of the size of a football ground or perhaps a little less in dimension. It was humming with presence of tourists in good number; its peripheral areas had all types of shops including a few eateries also lined up. From premises of one of the eateries that also had with it binoculars for a view of the distant mountains, we had an opportunity of having a majestic view of snow- capped Himalayan range lying quite at a distance.

Snow capped mountains at a distance

By the time the cable car brought us back to the base it was around 5.00 pm; it was time for us to leave Mussoorie. A few other sites ahead of this point and those on other side of Library point / Mall road – camel’s back road, Lal Tibba, Dhanolti et al – also otherwise hold attraction but the same were deemed not feasible to fit in in our daylong itinerary.

We all were a little tired, no longer keen on walking back and hence hired cycle rickshaws on return that took a fixed charge of Rs. 25/- per head, to reach and drop us at Library point. This was a welcome change since on earlier occasions rickshaws were designed to be pulled by hands by the rickshaw pullers. Our return trip on cycle rickshaws turned out to be a little interesting and provided an amusing interlude; around the same time a BJP victory parade of around 100 supporters- men and women – dancing all the way, led by its newly crowned local MLA in an open jeep, was also headed in the same direction as we were; caught in between sloganeering jubilant supporters our rickshaws were often blocked for movement; the rickshaw puller then ingeniously pulled a BJP party flag from one of them, kept waving it to make it appear as though we were also part of the celebrations; and it eventually this did the trick, did facilitate our short haul unhindered or else we would have unavoidably spent some more time on the crowded Mall road.

Driving downhill on return journey to Dehradun was much more comfortable with much less traffic to negotiate. However, at one place – at multilevel vehicles parking construction site where a speeding luxury tourist bus from opposite direction on a curve suddenly appeared before our car, gave a little scare; both had to suddenly apply brakes and it took quite some time to get out of the traffic jam it had resulted in on either side. One felt for the regular deputation of a couple of traffic constable at this place till such time the project of massive multi level vehicles parking construction work gets completed and made operational.

By the time we reached Dehradun, sun had already gone behind hills and the crowded city- traffic of evening hours made driving for Anurag no longer a pleasant one. Negotiating the busy traffic snarl we could reach our guest house in FRI campus only around 7.30 pm, say, after nearly 2 hours since having left Mussoorie; this was unlike about an hour’s time in the morning in reaching the hill station.

The orders for our dinner had been placed with the guest house kitchen earlier. The same was ready on time and so were we to have it early. We all felt quite tired at the end of a daylong trip and went to sleep early.

But before retiring for the day, however, Shubhika, our granddaughter posed a common question to each of us – seeking to allot marks in the scale of 10 for our daylong trip to Mussoorie based on the pleasure and level of satisfaction it had provided. Needless to say, each one of us ended with giving a near perfect 10.

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A family getaway to Uttarakhand, 30 years apart

 

For quite some time we’ve been cherishing an idea to revisit and relive the sweet memories of our visit to Dehradun and its neighbouring places, some 30 years ago. It was then in the memorable company of my friends – now late Satyadeo Prasad and late Santosh Kumar Chhawchharia – all three of us Netarhat School alumni. In a week long trip that we had then, we had thoroughly enjoyed being in the midst of nature and in absolute calmness of the environment we were surrounded with.

For this reason, therefore, this travelogue is in the memory of and is dedicated to the duo and their better halves who have since left for heavenly abode years ago.

Day 1: Mar. 14th, 2017

As planned, we – me, wife and our granddaughter, Shubhika – after spending a week in Mumbai with our daughter and granddaughter, Pragya reached Delhi and Gurgaon on Mar. 11th, a couple of days ahead of Holi. Staying with Shweta and Anurag, the two days were marked by celebrations of, first, wife’s birthday followed by Holi. The day after Holi on Mar 14th, five of us started early from Gurgaon at 6.30 am by road. Starting early was aimed at avoiding the Delhi traffic snarl and we largely succeeded in doing so.

On reaching Ghaziabad around 8.00 am, we stopped over for breakfast at Bikanerwala that served us well and, more importantly, service was reasonably prompt considering that the restaurant had just opened for the day’s business.

After breakfast, by the time we resumed our travel, the NH 24 we were driving on, had started springing to life and traffic had gradually begun picking up. Passing through crowded cities of Ghaziabad, and Modinagar it was thereafter a sort of some relief while taking a bypass route on reaching Meerut. Bypassing this historic city, and a little later also bypassing another city, Muzaffarnagar, we found ourselves driving through some breathtaking scenes of rural India’s heartland. On either side of the road, all along, for miles together, in thousands of acres of fields, the bumper mature crop of sugarcane interspersed with wheat crop at its advanced stage, were all too fascinating and were easily getting etched in our memory. Passing all along through this sector was as much soothing to our eyes as it was enriching our first hand information and fairly a good idea about the agricultural activities in this part around this time of the year.

Lush green sugarcane fields dominate the Western UP agri fields

Responding to a signal of hand waving boys standing by the roadside we stopped for a while near one of the roadside sugarcane fields where a farmer-cum-seller with a hand- operated cane- crusher- machine was selling fresh juice. Getting off the car we imbibed the environment and the greenery all around more fully for several minutes while our order for cane juice was getting readied; fresh and pure sugarcane juice mixed with some spices and lemon drops that was served to us tasted like the one we had never had before; we were sort of recharged for our onward journey.

Travelling further, on reaching Roorkee where the road led us right through the old city area, turned out to be a rather difficult stretch to drive on, for, apart from the same being quite  crowded around the mid- day time, roads were also in a rather narrow and  poor shape. Patiently negotiating the same and driving out of this city area took nearly an hour’s time instead of just about say, half an hour’s time under the normal circumstance.

Once outside the city limits of Roorkee, we were back again on the track for beautiful enjoyable drive. Soon we touched the ghat road leading to Dehradun; its winding gradually ascending road had greenery all around; fallen leaves from the trees apparently signalling about the spring season; the forest cover along the roads seemed intact and beautifully maintained; the river beds en-route were, however, found totally dry; white shining rounded stone pebbles – big and mid- sized – dominating the river-bed space seemed awaiting arrival of the next monsoon rains to make it lively again. Along this road at frequent intervals red- faced monkeys moving with gay abandon was a very common sight.

Red faced monkey en route to Dehradun

D E H R A D U N:

We touched Dehradun city around 1.30 pm; it meant the distance of approx 300 km from Gurgaon had been covered by us in about 7 hours.

This being the capital city of Uttarakhand, relatively a new state just over a decade and a half old, what instantly caught our attention was the way this city had moved on altogether to a different level than what we had found it on our earlier visit 30 years ago. Back then, city dwellers seemed enjoying a laid back living style with just about reasonable and manageable traffic on the roads. Now it seemed it was pushing for acquiring a mega city status. In  all directions starting with city’s old landmark- clock tower, township seemed getting expanded in a big way; the city has become absolutely congested; works in progress relating to roads and new flyover roads often meant long diversions; we found ourselves literally in a bumper- to- bumper driving situation. Driving through the crowded city roads, not quite sure of the route to follow  to reach our place of stay – Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA) guest house in the Forest Research Institute (FRI) campus – only added to our discomfiture;  seeking assistance more often to reach our destination –  all contributed to eventually taking nearly half an hour’s time more before we were able to check in, finally.

Once inside the sprawling campus of FRI and in its guest house, located quite close to the impressive main building, with Mussoorie hills providing a majestic backdrop, left all of us with a feeling of great relief after the continuous long drive; we instantly switched over to a very relaxed frame of mind.

Forest Research Institute or FRI Dehradun is a national heritage site of India. One of the largest pure brick structures, it houses offices, libraries, museums and laboratories.

The first thing, after checking into my room, that I did was to call up Pradeep Kumar, recently retired IFS, PCCF (Principal Chief Conservation of Forests), Jharkhand, Ranchi to thank him profusely for having arranged for such a nice stay for us. This was proposed to be our base camp for three nights beginning 14th March and nothing could be more gratifying than the fact that we found ourselves in this campus in absolute comfort and in totally relaxed frame of mind.

Post lunch, I was keen to make use of the afternoon session by visiting FRI museums known to be somewhat unique and quite educative that also boasted of some wonderful collections.

Our request for it was readily agreed, courtesy Mr AS Rawat, IFS in FRI. A staff car picked up two of us – me and my wife – around 4.00 pm from guest house and we were taken to office chamber of a senior faculty member assigned to also take care of the protocol and public relations work. After initial briefing by him, another functionary was deputed to take us round the museums. We were first shown the convocation hall made exclusively of teak wood, truly exquisitely done all over; next was a big hall where variety of woods and wood items stood displayed; what easily caught our notice in this hall was the transverse section of stem of giant Oak tree, aged 704 years old – a fact that was otherwise verifiable by counting the number of annual rings it had, each ring signifying growth of one year. The next hall that we were taken to displayed the non-wood items, various minor forest produce, fruits, gums and resins etc. The last one to be shown to us was the Entomology section where in a big hall a wide variety of insects and the manner in which they were causing damage to a wide array of woods and timber stood displayed and their control measures duly explained.

FRI – truly a magnificent building

Back from the museums the evening hours were spent in having long walk in the campus and in the process, also stopping over for a while near playgrounds to watch the proceedings in volleyball and basketball courts. All the bigger playgrounds for football and hockey seemed immaculately maintained as their grass pitches seemed regularly mowed.

Guest house reception had earlier alerted us to place orders for every meal well in advance to kitchen staff and to take particular care to have them during the time period fixed for each and to have it in the dining hall only. We had placed orders for non-vegetarian dinner for us and to our pleasant surprised the items that were served on the table bore the stamp of the typical home made food. This gave us assurance enough of maintaining our stomachs stable during our stay here – a fact that’s otherwise quite critical to be able to stick to the itinerary drawn up. We took care to hit the beds early to be able to be totally fresh for our daylong trip of Mussoorie the following day.

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 Wenger’s Shami Kebab – Favourite forever

It was a chance visit to Wenger’s decades ago, memory of which refuses to fade away to this day.

New Delhi’s Wenger’s Bakery & Confectionary has a somewhat nondescript location. Lying in a row largely dominated by big and attractive showrooms and shops in the inner circle of Connaught Place (CP), it is likely to easily escape the attention of most of passersby except perhaps of those instinctively looking for some quick bites at reasonable prices.

My familiarity with now legendary Wenger’s dates back to the summer of 1972, when, on a visit to Delhi, I just happened to pass by it. Looking for some quality snacks I stepped inside. Once inside, finding only a handful of customers, what easily caught my attention in the midst of bakery and confectionery items nicely displayed under the glass covers placed on two sides of this small shop, was the Shami Kebabthe meatballs – an item that’s been my favourite since childhood. Ordering for a piece for Rs. 5/- and having it right away, I instantly fell for it for its exquisite taste and for its remarkable smoothness as it simply melted in my mouth. I then promptly got the second helping to savour its taste more fully.

Wenger’s Bakery & Confectionery

Wenger’s Shami Kebab, at the very first instance, had bowled me over.

During my subsequent visits to Delhi that weren’t otherwise frequent, I often used to find excuses to visit CP, just to have my favourite snack item.

During 1980s, however, getting a posting in New Delhi meant many more frequent visits to the store that had now started selling it at Rs. 15/- a piece with its taste authentically maintained.

Ever favorite Shami Kebab

Moving back again to Delhi in early 1990s with a posting in one of the Ministries, the lure for visiting on and off to Wenger’s continued. By then, however, the price had shot up to Rs. 30/- a piece and what contributed to my continued love for it was the memory of its distinctively inviting taste that continued getting revived every time.

However, along with the time, it seemed more and more people had discovered it and thereby pushing its demand up steadily. Many a times, I had to return disappointed from the store finding entire stock having been sold or taken away.

The turn of the new decade and new century saw yet another price revision and it moved up to Rs. 50/- this time. Around this time, notably, some well known MNCs fast food selling chains – McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut et all – had sprung up in CP inner circle, not far off from Wenger’s. Yet it continued to sustain itself and grow amidst stiff competition perhaps largely on account of managing well quality control of its all products; by expanding its menu; and more importantly, presumably, because of the huge support coming its way by its ‘loyal customers’ that apparently seems to have grown over the years.

My observation is based on my visits, infrequently though, during this period, often finding the swarm of customers thronging this small- sized- shop, be it during mid day or the evening.

In my post-retirement years, permanently settled at Ranchi, my visits to New Delhi have been few and far between, thereby a date with Wenger’s, becoming a rarity.

Recently, on our scheduled visit to Gurgaon for Holi and as a part of my wife’s birthday celebrations, Shweta and Anurag, had ensured that Wenger’s Shami Kebabs, among others, were very much a part of our special menu on our arrival, therefore, finding it on the table was as much a pleasant surprise as its ever enduring taste.

Anurag tells me that this now sells at Rs. 70/- a piece; but what’s more important is that it continues to serve the same taste that’s been known to me for many years now.

All in all, it’s my go to place whenever in CP. If it’s one’s first time, make sure to try Shami Kebab at Wenger’s.

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Aus Open 2017: Federer edges out Nadal, wins 18th Major title; Serena wins 23rd Major and a piece of history

 

This year’s first Grand Slam tennis event – Asia-Pacific Australian Open 2017 – at Melbourne Park got under way with its usual fanfare. The Australian Open team, earlier, relying on ATP players’ data, had worked out the participating players’ seeds and the draw. What perhaps this ‘team’ had not reckoned was the way the top seeds would start tumbling in the early rounds and the events that followed in the very first week and later, left avid followers of the game rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

In men’s singles, Novak Djokovic #2 seed went down unceremoniously in the second round to un-seeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, a wild- card entrant. By the end of week one, Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber – both seeded #1 in their respective sections – had exited.

Six of the top eight seeds (including Murray and Novak) – Kei Nishikori (#5), Gael Monfils (#6), Maran Cilic (#7) and Dominic Thiem (#8) – all left before final eight stage.

In the midst of such mayhem, carving their own path through the draw, thereby showing sort of thumbs down to their respective seeds, Roger Federer (#17 seed), Rafael Nadal (# 9) and Grigor Dimitrov (#15) forced their way in into the semi finals. It was only Stan Wawrinka (#4 seed), however, in this line-up who otherwise avoided the blushes – for himself and, more importantly, for Aus Open 2017 team.

This was the most open Open ever’, had thus observed a commentator covering Aus Open 2017, a very apt comment indeed!

That said, however, towards the business end of the tournament, men’s two semi finals – SF 1 : Roger Federer (#17) v Stan Wawrinka(#4) and SF 2: Rafael Nadal (#9) v Grigor Dimitrov (#15) – both provided the exciting, skilful and  top quality nail biting finishes;  each lasting the full distance – 5 sets of exhilarating tennis. Spectators present in full house in Rod Laver Arena and millions watching live telecast the world over couldn’t perhaps have asked for more. The stage was set for the dream final: Roger v Rafael.

The final this Sunday between the two great exponents of the baseline power game in modern tennis, started and progressed on a predictably highly competitive note. The first four sets were traded alternately between the two. The fifth and the final set saw long baseline rallies from corner to corner with none apparently willing to yield. It was simply a question of who blinked first. Roger at the end of it managed to edge past Rafael; when serving for championship point at 5-3 in final set , the ball having been declared ‘in’ on a referral, it was Roger’s turn to jump in joy to celebrate his famous win.

Yes, Roger had all the reasons to feel elated for this extraordinary win. It was his 100th match at Australian Open, 5th win at Melbourne Park and 18th Grand Slam title overall. Coming as it did after later part of 2016 had kept him out of action due to injuries, in  Aus Open 2017 aiming to reach up to quarter finals stage ( he had shared this thought in a court side interview by Jim Courier), Roger, at the end of day, had exceeded his own expectations.

In the women’s singles, it was final between the two sisters where younger one, Serena Williams prevailed over Venus. In the process, Serena bagged her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, surpassing Steffi Graf’s record of 22 and thereby rewriting the record book.

Pic courtesy Reuters

Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – 28/1/17 Serena Williams of the U.S. holds her trophy after winning her Women’s singles final match against Venus Williams of the U.S. .REUTERS/Issei Kato

For their winning efforts at Melbourne Park, Roger Federer and Serena Williams walked away with the top prize of $ 3.7 million each.

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Jharkhand Land Laws Amendment (CNT/SPT) – An exercise in undue haste

Jumping into the fray at this stage on an issue that’s simply refusing to die down or to leave the centre stage as the stakeholders (read: political executives, political class and state’s tribal populace in general) continue to be drawn at loggerheads, is aimed at basically to dissecting it to be able to reveal as to where do the truths realistically lie.

Admittedly, this is not for the first time that the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act, 1908 and Santhal Parganas Tenancy (SPT) Act, 1886 read with Santhal Parganas Tenancy (Supplementary Provision) Act, 1949 are being subjected to amendments, and yet why is there so much hue and cry in a manner it’s being witnessed like perhaps never before, is a question that needs to be handled with care and caution.

Lush green paddy field that fills the landscape of Jharkhand

So, let’s get on with the dissection of this issue straightaway.

Both CNT and SPT Acts are now more than 100 years old. From time to time in the past, amendments have been inserted therein to make them relevant and workable but significantly the basic structures of these Acts were left intact and undisturbed. The two Acts were / are otherwise deemed as protective in so far as providing cover and security to interests of tribal tenants as against their alienation from their holdings were / are concerned. Be that as it may, however, the fact remains that large scale displacement of tribal tenants from their land in and around cities like Ranchi and elsewhere have happened over a period of time since India’s Independence; the same has continued somewhat unabated; and, in fact, it has picked up momentum ever since Jharkhand state was carved out of erstwhile Bihar in November, 2000.

The state government right since early this year has indulged in an exercise aimed at pushing through its all important agenda of amendments in the CNT and SPT Acts. In its eagerness to keep this issue on a fast track, it first took recourse to an Ordinance route. When loud voices of protest stalled the enactment thereof, the state government then switched over its stance and tabled the CNT and SPT Amendment Bills, 2016 in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly.

CNT and SPT Acts were recently subjected to amendments purportedly in order to be able to step up the pace of developmental efforts on the part of the state administration. The state government continues to maintain that regardless of such amendments the rights of the tribal tenants over their land holdings may remain largely unaffected – a claim that’s being fiercely contested and protested by tribal political leaders of opposition parties (including a few political heavyweights from ruling establishment – Arjun Munda from BJP and Sudesh Mahto from AJSU) and with them have joined the larger chunks of tribal population scattered all over the rural areas in particular. This has inevitably led to a spate of ‘bands’ in recent months in Ranchi and elsewhere; the same was also projected as the sole reason for the near total disruption and wash out of the nearly weeklong winter session of the State legislative Assembly in November, 2016 except that the CNT and SPT Amendment Bills, 2016 were managed to be squeezed through by voice vote in the midst of the din and pandemonium that prevailed in the House.

After the passage of the CNT and SPT Amendment Bills, 2016 the agricultural land can be used for non-agricultural purposes. The state government can acquire land for infrastructure, power plants, roads, canals, Panchayat buildings and for other purposes.

Provision for conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes is the main issue that’s being protested vehemently for reasons, like, one, it’s altering the basic structure of the CNT and SPT Acts which is deemed unnecessary; two, it is inconsistent with the provisions of PESA (Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996; and three, it is fraught with grave danger of tribal tenants getting uprooted from their homes and hearths once it starts getting implemented.

The way state government has gone about it a tearing hurry – first via an Ordinance and later through Amendment Bills – may give one an impression that but for such measures the state administration is finding itself somewhat stuck up in its plans to launch and speed up the various developmental projects that it may be having in mind.

Protests in Khunti

That the state government is persisting with an awfully wrong notion and is pursuing a rather ill conceived idea may perhaps be evident from the following facts and illustrations:

As it is, both at the central and state levels the governments have committed themselves and are planning and targeting in terms of increasing agriculture production to be able to feed millions of its own citizens; thereby, also proposing for more thrust and increase in budgets for agriculture sector; and more importantly, also talking in terms of raising the incomes of the farmers to a level that’s doubled by 2022 from its present level. Given this scenario, rather interestingly, on one hand, venturing to open up a possibility hitherto unavailable in the CNT and SPT Acts for an easy convertibility option of agricultural land, and yet on the other, sort of boasting of bettering the lot of the farm sector, can easily be termed as inherent contradiction on the part of the government establishment. Nothing can be more farcical than this – earmarking of a provision to allow shrinking of the farm land and talking in the same breath, the boosting of the farm produce and helping the farmers in increasing their incomes exponentially. A very unrealistic and an impractical scenario indeed!

Take another view that’s specific to agricultural land in Chotanagpur and Santhal Parganas of Jharkhand state to be able to have a better appreciation of the issue at hand. The state being largely a plateau, a tableland, the undulated land areas, traditionally, in land record terms, are broadly categorised and described as ‘Tanr’ land (up-land) and ‘Don’ land (low-land) depending on their suitability or otherwise for cultivation of kharif crops under rain-fed conditions. Devoid of irrigation facilities to a very large extent (despite State Water Resources Development Department having pumped in huge sums of money in thousands of crores of Rupees since Jharkhand state came into being) such land mass produces only one major kharif crop (that is, paddy) every year relying solely on monsoon rains. Tanr land is further categorised as Tanr-I, Tanr-II and Tanr-III depending on their ability to support cultivation of crops during the kharif season; Tanr –I being held as better of this lot. Likewise, Don land is categorised as Don-I, Don-II and Don-III depending on their potential to support the cultivation of paddy crop during monsoon – Don-I being held as best of the lot.

The soil profile here, in general, is characterised by its porosity and its low and poor water holding ability that makes the job of the Jharkhand farmers toiling hard and truly struggling while carrying out farm operations on their land.

That being the position, years ago I had attempted to compile a data base of the state’s arable land areas – that of Tanr and Don land separately – during closing years of my active service career in the IAS as Relief Commissioner, Jharkhand in 2002-03. This was primarily aimed at working out a strategy for drought-management and for preparedness for relief-measures should the monsoon rains, largely or partly, fail to adequately support the cultivation of kharif paddy crop in different parts of the state. The Deputy Commissioners of all the districts were requested to extract such data from Land Revenue Anchal (Circle) offices under their jurisdiction. It took nearly a couple of months to get the required data from all the districts. On having a look at that it was interesting to note that nearly 40% of the agricultural land areas of this state fell in the category of Tanr land which meant that this lot of land mass was otherwise unsuitable for kharif paddy cultivation even under rain-fed condition. Given the favourable monsoon rains, however, this land mass could otherwise support cultivation of pulses, millets, maize, oilseeds and coarse variety of paddy.

The reason why I have preferred to lean on description of the diverse nature of the available arable land in the state and the specific character of the soil profile, is merely to draw the attention of the powers that be towards having a rather holistic and flexible approach while intending to acquire the agricultural land for the sake of launching the developmental projects. If at all, therefore, the need of the hour is to go for acquisition of land in the state in a big way, the first charge should be restricted to the Tanr land, leaving aside from acquisition the Don land, to the extent possible. This may, at least, lessen the misery of the land losers while swapping their Tanr land for the attractive compensation money in return, the government has been promising for, lately.

The way the state administration has, however, approached to handle this issue may seem to be suggestive of the kind of its inherent fear it suffers from that its plans for developing infrastructure, power plants, roads and buildings etc were / are perhaps being thwarted on account of restrictive provisions in the CNT and SPT Acts. Frankly speaking, this line of thinking when viewed in the backdrop of government- run projects is sadly misplaced. Had this been the case, in the post- Independence era in 1950s and in the decades that followed, the engineering giant, Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC), a GoI project, wouldn’t have been able to set up its Plants and establishment at Ranchi and also, in the process, getting under its fold thousands of acres of land of tribal tenants, among others. Likewise, the state-run thermal power plants – Bokaro Thermal Power Station (BTPS), Tenughat Thermal Power Station (TTPS) etc – and huge dams like, Maithan, Tilaiya, Patratu, Konar, and Tenughat etc never encountered problems regarding land acquisition despite CNT and SPT Acts very much in place.  Coalfields in Dhanbad, Bokaro, Giridih, Hazaribagh and elsewhere – all requiring huge tract of land inhabited, among others, by tribal tenants never ever posed much problem when it came to commissioning of mining projects in coal bearing areas and in acquisition of land lying in the closer vicinity of such mines. Developing rail network in the state by the Indian Railways never encountered any problem relating to land acquisition that apparently included large tracts of agricultural land, among others. The recent examples being the Railways firming up the rail links between Koderma- Hazaribagh, Barkakana- Hazaribagh and Lohardaga- Tori (Chandwa).

Patratu Dam

All these state- run projects have come up notwithstanding the restrictive provisions of the CNT and SPT Acts.

So, why is the need felt now to go in for altering the basic structure of the two Acts? The only plausible answer to this may seem to be the one where state government proposes to enlarge the existing provision of land acquisition for government-run projects to take into its fold the interests and requirements of the private players as well. This is primarily on account of in its anxiety and strong bid to attract the investors – domestic and foreign – to this state for setting up industries and businesses. If that be so, it’s time the state government should shake off this approach altogether and let the private players handle this issue on their own, the state administration may consider limiting its role as catalytic and facilitator in such instances, if need be.

Yet another significant point to ponder over this issue is: ahead of insertion of amendments in CNT and SPT Acts, in a manner the state government seems to have rather wittingly avoided enlisting the support / consent / willingness of the Panchayats / ‘Gram Sabhas’, may only serve to indicate its arrogance towards and disregard for the stakeholders linked with this matter. On a more serious note, it may be stated that the state government, in fact, seems to have violated the provisions of the PESA (Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, currently in operation in this state and in accordance whereof it was / is sort of mandatory for the state administration to seek prior concurrence of the Panchayats / Gram Sabhas on an issue as important as the instant one having direct bearing on the interests of tribal tenants.

Section 4 of the PESA Act, 1996 reads as follows:

“Notwithstanding anything contained under Part IX of the Constitution, the Legislature of a State shall not make any law under that Part which is inconsistent with any of the following features, namely:

(i) The Gram Sabhas or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in Scheduled Areas for development projects and before re-settling and rehabilitating persons affected by such projects in Scheduled Areas, the actual planning and implementation of the projects in the Scheduled Areas shall be coordinated at the State level.”

Notably, on earlier occasions in the recent past, the state government had taken abundant precaution and had shown keen desire and initiatives in reaching out to the Panchayats / Gram Sabhas while working out and firming up various schemes, projects etc for rural development work in the state. This was, in a way, apart from conforming to the provisions of PESA Act, 1996, was also typical of ‘bottom-up’ approach (contrary to ‘top-down’ approach hitherto followed) adopted ahead of launching of the projects in rural areas. Likewise, the state government is reportedly following a similar approach while undertaking an exercise relating to preparation of State Budget, 2017-18 and for this it is reaching out, to the extent possible, to all the stakeholders both in the urban centres and in far flung villages.

Apparently, therefore, before this issue gets murkier and further complicated, the state administration may be well advised to retrace its steps; to go back to the drawing board; to involve all stakeholders following its own methodology as adopted in the recent past while handling issues of larger public interest; to conform to the provisions of the PESA Act,1996; and, finally, to make some determined efforts to find a win-win situation for both sides.

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Netarhat Vidyalaya gets First Prize on World Environment Day – June 5, 2016

imageIn the run up to this year’s World Environment Day the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) had organised an open competition inviting applications from Industrial units, Educational Institutions, NGOs, Individuals etc to make presentations of their contributions in the arena of environmental awareness, environmental protection, tree plantation, pollution control and energy saving.

Netarhat School family, ably guided and supported by the Netarhat Vidyalaya Samiti during the past couple of years, had made determined and sustained efforts while going in for tree plantation in a big way ( read: my blog dated 18 Aug, 2014: www.narendrabhagat.in : titled:” Green Netarhat: 1000+ New Plants to Adorn School Campus (Part of Netarhat Vidyalaya Diamond Jubilee celeb event ). In the process, 2 plant nurseries on modern lines have now been developed in its campus, thanks largely owing to the financial and technical support extended by Jharkhand State National Horticulture Mission.

Members of the school family – students, teachers and their families, former students and rest of the school staff members – were all involved in these activities as also in taking up the pollution control measures inside its sprawling campus and beyond in neighboring villages.

The whole school campus – blessed with lying in the lap of mother Nature – now wears a truly majestic and enchanting look like never before. Our efforts have been duly recognized and rewarded with JSPCB First Prize this rear. The school family is now much more determined than ever before to keep this momentum going this year and in the years to follow.

The school family is delighted to share this news with one and all, and in particular, with its alumni groups all over the places – in India and abroad.

Hail ! Hail !! Netarhat

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Skill Development: A concept Netarhat School began with; It’s time to revisit it

 

Netarhat School – a brainchild of Bihar’s first Chief Minister, SK Sinha, Education Minister, Acharya Badri Nath Verma, Chief Secretary, LP Singh, ICS and Education Secretary, JP Mathur – got off to a humble and quiet beginning some 60 years ago on 15th November, 1954. It was, in fact, an experiment that, among other visions and philosophy intertwined in it, had the ‘skill development’ aspect as well deeply ingrained in the concept. In a way, therefore, while paying glowing tributes for this to its founding fathers, it may as well be stated that what India thinks today Bihar envisioned it decades ago.

From the beginning Netarhat School – a senior secondary residential school for boys in a sprawling campus of 150+ acres land on beautiful Netarhat plateau –  boasted of, among other features, facilities like, Woodwork and Metalwork workshops and teaching of vocational subjects – Music, Fine Art and Agriculture. In addition, a number of playgrounds for football, hockey, cricket, basketball, volleyball, lawn tennis; and, not to forget oval ground for track and field events, ensured that boys (10-12 years to 16-18 years) had well laid out facilities and opportunities for early exposure, learning and grooming in these disciplines.

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Catch ‘em young, a phrase more often used in terms of developing the children’s talents for further attainments, fitted in then, fits in now, more appropriately for the boys of this school in a kind of environment they were / are placed in rather early on.

It is, however, felt that the main focus of this school remained / remains on the academic excellence in the first place; enabling the boys to learn to appreciate the value of manual labour and the craft too continue to remain on the agenda, on a less significant note though. For this reason, therefore, a number of boys in every batch whether or not excelling to the desired level in academics, otherwise endowed with skill set and natural gift in non-academic pursuits like, Music and Fine Art, various games and sports etc., couldn’t make any headway in the areas they were particularly skillful and comfortable. For want of opportunities for such skillful boys to be rewarded with promising career options those days they often landed up either in careers far removed from their preferred choice or ended up getting hold of the jobs that came their way solely for the sake of sustenance of self and family. Passion and skill sets of these boys, post- Netarhat, have thus far remained largely under wrap and untapped.

All these need to change now. With the 21st century India and the world at large opening up avenues for promotion of excellence in various skill sets and rewarding career options linked therewith, it’s time our mindset is given a shakeup to address this concern in so far as it relates to our alma mater.

Much talked of skill development, a concept Netarhat School is familiar with, now with the passage of time, needs to be revisited to be able to work out the methodology to take it forward. How to get along is an issue that’s been engaging the mind of the school family lately. This issue, therefore, is being thrown open to Hatians in particular and others in general to discuss, debate and firm up suggestions, modality etc. that may further propel this thought process.

Skill India Mission is already on and is likely to pick up momentum in the years to follow. What is being suggested here is to also look a little beyond the scope of this GoI (Govt. of India) initiative in the backdrop of the opportunities in this sphere that Netarhat School presents. Our experience has been that in every batch, now comprising 100 boys, it’s not that everyone, notwithstanding getting selected on merit at school’s entrance test, at the close of education at Netarhat and later in institutions of higher learning, gets into the groove of one’s choice; many falter and struggle and it’s basically for this category of individuals endowed otherwise with skill sets that enlarging the scope for skill development at Netarhat is envisaged.

This topic is proposed to be taken up for discussion in a ‘Workshop’ scheduled for 15th or 16th November, 2015 at school premises coinciding with school’s ‘Foundation Day’ functions.

All are cordially invited to join.

Hail! Hail!! Netarhat……..

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Final call for Diamond Jubilee Celebrations: November 13-15, 2014 at Netarhat

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As the earlier deadline of 20th Oct’14 set for receiving responses from Netarhat Old Boys (NOBs) from all over regarding ‘Expression of Interest’ (EoI) for participation in the DJ function was drawing to a close, yet another NVS – Ranchi and Netarhat NOBA coordination meeting was held at Ranchi that afternoon.

After due deliberations, it was decided to have the gist of the main decisions taken, duly communicated fast to all concerned, online. So, here I go.

1.     An earlier deadline for registration and remittance of Delegates’ Fee (Rs. 7500/ per head) in favour of ‘Netarhat Vidyalaya Vikas Kosh’ SB a/c No. 11873383941; IFC code – SBIN0002985; SBI, Netarhat branch, is extended till 30 Oct’14. It was felt that going by experiences of the past that more often suggested rather late pouring in of EoI from this group on such occasions, decisions to have it extended for the last time, was unanimous one.

2.     This is to make it abundantly clear that the Delegates, in the backdrop of the arrangements being organised, may, for the sake of convenience, be described to fall in different Groups like:

Group A: the ex-students (NOBs) with EOI and remittance of Rs. 7500/- per head in ‘Netarhat Vidyalaya Vikas Kosh’ by 30th Oct’14 deadline. School admin in this regard is now following a system of duly acknowledging each such receipt online and is maintaining a record therefor.

Group B: The ex-Principals, ex-teachers and all retired grade 3 & 4 employees of this school need not follow the Delegates’ registration route meant for ex-students, as noted in just preceding paragraph. In other words, they need not make any payments to participate in the DJ celeb at Netarhat. Shri Raushan Prakash, an ex-student (1982 batch) in his desire to pay gratitude to his alma mater has offered to meet all expenses on travel, transport, stay, meals etc. of all such Delegates falling in this Group and willing to be at Netarhat to join the celeb events. All that, therefore, everyone from this Group is requested to do is to pass on one’s EoI to respective NOBA chapter at the place of one’s permanent residence. For this, however, respective NOBA chapters at Patna, Ranchi, Delhi and other places in India have been earlier requested vide  Principal’s invitation letter of 15 Oct’14, posted online, to extend assistance and helping hand in this regard; the same is reiterated here. The deadline for your EoI to reach Principal Netarhat, as also to Ranchi and Netarhat NOBA, is again 30th Oct’14 to enable them to make all necessary arrangements at their end.

Group C: The ex-students (NOBs) having passed out from this school in 2004 and thereafter and who continue to be studying and / or unemployed may be placed in this Group. For them, it may not be needed to follow the Delegates’ registration route meant for ex-students falling in Group A, as above. Their travel: Ranchi- Netarhat- Ranchi ; stay, meals etc. at Netarhat (12th  Nov’14 afternoon – 16th Nov’14 forenoon) are all getting organised through sponsorship and, therefore, they need not be concerned about payments from their own pockets on this account. All that they need to do is to inform Principal Netarhat (principal.netarhat@gmail.com) and Ranchi NOBA (President, Shri Girish Nath Singh: Mob no. 9431104010; Gen Secy, Dr Amar Verma: Mob no. 9835527473) Netarhat NOBA, about their date and time of arrival at Ranchi.

NOTE:

1)    Buses for travel between Ranchi – Netarhat – Ranchi for all Delegates of Group A, B and C (as above) are getting organised and Ranchi NOBA is coordinating this arrangement. Kindly note that in order to be in time for the 3 day events (13-15 Nov’14), the first Bus would leave Ranchi on 12 Nov’14 at 11.00 am; however, for those from outside reaching Ranchi later in the day, the other Bus may leave at 2.00 pm that day. The idea is that all Delegates should reach Netarhat by dinner time that day. The location from where one is required to board the Bus can be ascertained from Ranchi NOBA.

2)    Arrangements for stay, meals etc. while at Netarhat are getting organised in the campus of state police ‘Jungle Warfare Training Centre’, located nearly 2 km from school campus on the north-western side facing the dam site.

3)    Details of 3 day DJ events can be had and noted from Principal Netarhat Invitation letter of 8th /15th Oct’14: Annexure-1 uploaded on school’s / NVS website.

4)    For any other details, clarifications etc. one should feel free to contact representatives of Ranchi and Netarhat NOBA assigned to function as coordinators for DJ celeb.

5)    Also feel free to post any query on this issue on my blog post on: www.narendrabhagat.in

And before signing off for now, it is reiterated that your alma mater is eagerly awaiting to have you all in its midst on this historic occasion. It’s once in lifetime event for everyone of us and so let’s join our hands to make this occasion a grand success and truly memorable.

‘Vande hey sunder mum sakha Netarhat sada …..’ 

Hail! Hail!! Netarhat.

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