Grey Bellied Cuckoo

The grey-bellied cuckoo (Cacomantis passerinus) is a cuckoo with widespread occurrence throughout Asia.

It comes here in the Northern India at the time of outset of the summers. It is a small sized cuckoo. During this time of year another cuckoo known as the Jacobin Cuckoo also arrives.

Grey Bellied Cuckoo pic by Ranjit

Unlike Jacobin Cuckoo which migrates here in summers from Africa, Grey Bellied Cuckoo is short distance migrant.

It comes here for breeding. It is a brood parasite. It lays its eggs by replacing the eggs in the nests of babblers who then raise its brood. This strategy is just akin to the Koel using Crows to raise its chicks.

Panvel Railway Station

Panvel has a very important strategic location. It is a crucial link between Mumbai and South India. All the trains running on Konkan railways between Kerala and Mumbai and North India pass through Panvel railway station. Trains as important as Rajdhani and Shatabdi are passing through Panvel. It is also the last station of Harbor Railways link between Mumbai and Panvel catering to thousands of travelers everyday.

There was a time few years back when only a few services operated on the local line. The train was almost empty till it entered the main Mumbai. Many passengers came sleeping on the seats. The situation was such that security  guards were posted on the ladies compartments.

The situation is now completely opposite. Both Mumbai bound and Panvel bound local trains are full to brim. If you don’t board them at the starting station, chances are that you will have to keep standing during entire journey.

This reason this has happened is the migration of thousands of families of working class living in the crammed shanties in Mumbai to New Mumbai.  Mumbai city is ever hungry for land. It gobbles whatever land comes its way. Skyscrapers are sprouting from the bosom of earth like the vegetation in the rainy season.  The rates in Mumbai are sky high and after selling even a small house one has enough money to purchase a reasonably good house in New Mumbai and purchase cars to ply as taxis or open some mart. But the biggest factor is some good space to breath after getting suffocated in Mumbai for years.   People are ready to undergo suffering due to traveling to far off Mumbai in return for the good living space for their families. So the introduction of  trains is the prime mover of all this change. The rates of property have begun rising in New Mumbai and Mumbai is extending its tentacles like an octopus.

But, the amenities at the railway platforms are pathetic. Take for example Panvel station. There are lots of passengers coming and going to the station. There is no temporary parking for the people waiting with their vehicles to fetch their relatives which get down at the station. There is a long line of auto rickshaws occupying the one side of narrow approach road to the station. On the other side, local buses come and go and stand there waiting for passengers creating a total mess. The scene in the night is even more strange. In the pucca place between the road and station, so many people sleep in the open. There are dogs foraging inside the dustbins. They shit everywhere. Donkeys squat amongst the sleeping people. In short, the station is bursting at the seams.

Talking about the approach roads to the station from local bus stand, from Hanuman temple near the city rest house, the road passing in front of Sai Baba temple, the less said the better. Take for example the road passing through Sai Baba temple, from main road to just short of the temple, the path looks like a hell. It is not a road at all. It is full of potholes. The inhabitants living on both sides in the shanties live almost on the path. They wash outside. They are almost sitting on the path. Children run here and there and before any warning dart in front of vehicles. It is irony that such conditions prevail near the Baba’s temple. So many affluent people visit this temple everyday but nobody seems to care because they come in the air conditioned cars with the windows rolled up. Baba who was the emancipator of the poorest of the poor seems helpless in this matter. Since he used to stay among the poor and downtrodden people, it may that the same ambiance has been created by not doing anything to alleviate the lot of these poor people.

Similarly the road coming from the highway near Hanuman temple cannot even pass for a road. It is in very bad condition. There are big sections which are totally the potholes. Businessmen are using the  roadside for parking the loaded trucks. These vehicles are battering the already threadbare road. Builders who are building the houses on the sides use the road to stock the building materials. After the job is over, nobody bothers to clear the mess they created. Big mounds of sand and pulverized stones lie on the road. These mercilessly damage the tyres of the vehicles. There are so many bumps and potholes that the vehicles as well as the owners groan with pain.

This is not the end of the story. Just at the confluence of all the roads leading to the station, there is big circular place between them. It has been totally occupied by the caravan people. They have pitched their tents there. Around the area emanates the smell of shit as these people have turned the whole area around into a big open lavatory. Administration seems to has turned a blind eye towards all this. Nobody seems to inspect the roads. The users of the road are paying taxes in turn of such badly conditioned roads. There is no sanitation around the station. It is all running by itself on a fluke or on a chance.

Gautam Buddha

Gautam Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, the religion practiced by millions in this world. Hindu religion considers him as an avatar of Vishnu. He was born to Mahamaya the chief wife of King Suddhodhana of Sakyas.

His mother had a dream in which she was carried by demigods to divine lake called Anavatapa in Himalayas. She was bathed by heavenly guardians. A great white elephant holding a lotus in his trunk came and entered her side.

The dream was interpreted by king’s astrologers that a child would be born to her who shall either become a great emperor or a great teacher. Other interpreted the dream that the boy will see four sad events and decide to renunciate the world’s wealth and luxuries and riches.

Gautam Buddha

He was born as Siddhartha and Gautam was his Gotra. When he was born he immediately stood up and walked 5 steps and declared that this is his last birth. King was worried and tried every means to keep the boy away from all the events that can pain the boy and make him take up the path of renunciation. He was to married his cousin Yashodhara in a contest showing great skills and strength.

As the destiny would have it, he happened to see the four events predicted by the astrologer. First was when he saw an aged man in last stages of infirmity and decrepitude- actually the God himself in the disguise.

Siddhartha asked his charioteer Channa who this repulsive man was. Channa explained that everyone who is born has to pass to this state. Then he saw very sick man, then a dead man which was the last straw to break his resolve and last one was a ascetic in red robes with peaceful face.

He returned to his palace and was in great pains. Even the news of the birth of his son Rahul did not bring any peace to his mind. That night he left his home with Channa and his dear horse Kanthaka and on reaching the forest cut off his flowing hair and removed his jewelery and robes and gave it to Channa to give it all to his father. The horse died instantly on parting with his master.

Then for years he wandered here and there. He practiced great penances and tortured his body and was reduced to a skeleton. He realized that this is not leading him anywhere. He began begging for food and regained some strength.

He sat under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya and a village girl Sujata gave him rice boiled in the milk. He partook them and bathed and for next 49 days sat in meditation and at the end truth was revealed to him and he became Buddha.

After initial reluctance he started spreading his peace message and made so many people his disciples and many Kings who could not appease the Brahmins as they did not belong to warrior caste patronized Buddha. He toured all the North India from one end to another. He also converted his father, son Rahul to Buddhism and allowed his mother and other women to become Buddhist nuns.

Buddha in Bodh Gaya, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When his end was near, he knew it and told his followers not to continue with the process of new successor. As was his nature, he would beg one house and whatever they gave him never refused. He was given contaminated pork meat by Chunda the smith. He ate it and was attacked by dysentery. He moved to Kusinagara and left this world there.

Train Journey from Delhi to Dehradun

It is the beginning of the month of April and Delhi has already become hot. The weather in India changes every 3 months. It is the spring season and soon sweltering heat will envelope North India. Dehradun which is situated in a valley between Lower Himalaya and Shivalik hills named after Lord Shiva.

We boarded the train from New Delhi Railway station at 06 hrs and 50 minutes and it is all sitting on chair cars. Due to being an AC train, it is closed with glass panes.

Soon we were hurtling through the vast plains of North India. The area is situated between two great rivers namely Ganges and Yamuna. It is called Doab meaning the land between two rivers. Naturally it is very fertile and featureless and totally flat.

There were never ending fields of wheat which looked like golden because the time of harvesting is nearing. Then there were sugarcane fields and carts yoked by bullocks and loaded with sugar canes could be seen on the beaten paths.

On the periphery of every field were poplar trees with translucent green leaves on the tops. If you have lived in this area only then you can realize the beauty of this area and sturdiness of the people.

My mind flashed back and I thought how once Mughal kings and their generals must had roamed in this area. Before their coming here, petty Hindoo fuedatories were there and they were always fighting between themselves. This lack of unity undone them.

Then came the British. The East India company established the army cantonments in Meerut and Ambala which employed these hardy people as the soldiers. These people belong to Aryan race and are the fairest and strongest in India.

Aryans first established themselves in Punjab between Sind river and 5 rivers. The increasing pressure of population and cattle drove them towards Ganges valley which was even more fertile than Punjab.

First city to arrive at was Meerut which still is the big cantonment of Indian army. Then Muzzafarnagar, Saharanpur, Roorkee and Haridwar followed. There was no change in the scenery of wheat fields till we crossed into Saharanpur and you could see for miles the mango gardens in the bloom. Soon they will bear delicious mangoes like Dushehri which is so sweet.

After crossing the Haridwar, we entered into woods. The trees were sprouting new leaves which were coppery colored and soon shall become greener. At 1240 hrs we arrived in Dehradun.

Bottlebrushes in Bloom

In March spring season heralds here. The nature awakens from its hibernation of freezing cold and there is a thaw in the season. The plants and trees after shedding the old leaves adorn themselves with fresh light green leaves. Within days the skeleton branches are covered with leaves. The days are becoming longer and hot. Soon it will become very hot and unbearable.

The weather in India are not uniform and almost every 3 months weather changes. This is why the natives here are in continuous struggle with the weather. There are extremes of weather in North India. This gives India a vast variety of vegetation.

The bottlebrush trees also called Callistemon so called because their shape resembles the brush used to clean the bottles. These days the trees are laden with these flowers of red color. There is a strong contrast between the rich green leaves and these flowers which hang like garlands on the tree.

All day long different animals and birds visit these trees to lick the pollen from the flowers. First in the morning are monkeys especially their kids which can easily reach the ends of the branches where the flowers are located. They eat the nutritious pollen and then snap the flowers from the branch. After this parrots come in big groups. They chatter, make noise and lick the pollen. They are the worst and break most of the flowers and the ground beneath is littered with fresh broken flowers.

Nightingales also come. If you look closer you will find the honey bees hovering around the flowers. There is a continuous buzz. They are the gentlest and use the flowers to make honey-one of the nature’s best gift to us.

Red Wattled Lapwing

I think I wrote a post on this beautiful bird long back. Its name is Red Wattled Lapwing. It gets this name from the blobs of red colored mass near its beak. In fact, this bird is very common here and if you happen to live near fields, barren lands and water bodies, you are most likely to encounter them.

They are always on alert. Any preying bird or animal, is bravely and aggressively taken upon. They can be heard making alarming calls even during the night. They are said to be foraging even during moonlit nights.

They lay eggs on the ground. Nest is nothing but a collection of few pebbles, grass pieces. The selection of pebbles is done very intelligently so as to camouflage the eggs. While one partner sits on the eggs to hatch, the other stays nearby to alert about any danger.

People in north India believed that if it makes nest on the elevated places, there are chances of rain ahead. If the best is at lower level, the weather is going to be dry weather.

Here are some of its pictures.

Devi Saraswati

She is the wife of Brahma and considered as the patron of arts, music and letters. As often in Indian mythology, She is also associated with the river of the same name which once flowed through modern Haryana of North India and is mentioned repeatedly in Vedic literature.

The river is now non-existent of thought of as flowing invisibly. It is said to meets the two other great rivers Ganges and Yamuna at Prayag or Allahabad also called Sangam.

But scientific evidence so far indicates that its path was from Shivalik hills through modern day Haryana and from here instead of flowing towards East like Yamuna, it flowed West into Rajasthan, Gujarat and emptied into Arabian sea. The five mighty rivers were said to be its tributaries.

Devi Saraswati

According to PTI news of May 9, 2006, ONGC the largest of Petroleum Exploration and Production Company of India decided to launch the digging of wells for producing water from the underground source of river Saraswati in Rajasthan and help solve the water scarcity problems and also to discover the route of the river.

Course of Sarasvati river through Thar desert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Under the project, ONGC in collaboration with government agency Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) would dig many wells in Jaisalmar, Barmer and Bikaner districts that will aid its search for water of the river, believed to have originated in the Thar desert and disappeared into present day Pakistan.

The Goddess is depicted as a beautiful fair young woman, often with a Veena or Indian lute and book in her hand and attended by a Swan.Traditionally considered as the inventor of Sanskrit language. She is much revered by students, musicians and writers.

Forest Research Institute, India

Dehradun is the capital of Uttrakhand State in North India. It is situated in valley surrounded by Himalayas in the North and Shiwalik Hills to its south. Due to its salubrious climate and greenery and moderate weather, British officers used to retire to cold climes of Mussoorie which is hill station beyond Dehradun and established many institutions in Dehradun. One of them is Forest Research Institute.

Established as Imperial Forest Research Institute in 1906, Forest Research Institute (FRI) Dehradun, is a premier institution under the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE).

Styled in Greeko Roman Architecture by C.G. Blomfield, the main building is a National Heritage which was inaugurated in 1929.

The Institute’s history is virtually synonymous with the evolution and development of scientific forestry, not only in India, but over the entire Indian sub-continent.

Set in a lush green estate spread over 450 hectares, with the outer Himalaya forming its back drop, the Institute’s main building is an impressive edifice, marrying Greco-Roman and Colonial styles of architecture, with a plinth area of 2.5 hectares equipped laboratories, library, herbarium, arboreta, printing press and experimental field areas for conducting forestry research, quite in keeping with the best of its kind anywhere in the world. Its museums, in addition to being a valuable source of scientific information, are a major attraction for tourists.

I used to stay very near to this institution. Many a times, I visited this institute in the morning for morning walks like so many others. You will find many people in the morning coming for walks. Over the years, the trees have become very mature and some of them are so huge that you cannot snap a photo of them.

Trees of every variety can be found here. There is also a Botanical Garden. It is very beautiful but over the years casual attitude has caused decay in the maintenance.

So many tourists who visit Dehradun make it a point to visit the place. Here are some pictures.

Flowers in front
Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden
Side Entrance to main building
Side Entrance
Pink Flowers Tree
A Palm Variety
Rill
Officers guest house

Poplar cultivation

We traveled by Shatabadi Express from Delhi to Dehradun. First it was in winters and second only in June of this year. As soon as the train crosses the industries outside Delhi, the dead river called Yamuna, the green fields begin to span both sides of the train line.

Yamuna river, one of the three rivers-Ganges, Yamuna & Saraswati- forming the holiest trinity of Indian rivers is a cesspool of industrial waste, floating dead animals. Its color is almost black and it seems like a corpse. Its chemical oxygen demand (COD), a parameter to indicate the industrial waste pollution must be very high.

So with Saraswati which existed once upon a time in the North India and went underground and is which is said to be flowing underneath, becoming imaginary, Yamuna has joined it. First of these was catapulted underground by Nature and Yamuna has been killed by the humans.

Anyway let us continue with journey. So we see amidst this greenery crops like wheat in winter, sugarcane, mustard, green fodder, maize and rice according to the season. The soil of region is enriched by Ganges and Yamuna rivers. But in addition to these crops, there is a tree which is straight in shape cultivated on the peripheries of fields. There sheer number is mind boggling and some of them have become full fledged while others are in various stages of growth.

This is called agro-forestry. The trees along with crops. These trees are very fast growing and are used to make timber and cardboards. The trees are cash crops making many farmers rich.

At the time of journey, I relished and admired the results of hard work put in by the farmers and landowners. This vista continues unabated up to Haridwar. I was becoming curious where all the wood from these trees goes for processing.

We learned this in a hard way. We were returning from Chandigarh to Dehradun after a weekend by our car. We always follow the route which runs from Panchkula to Naraingarh to Kalaamb to Nahan bypass to Paonta to Dehradun. It has been raining for last two days in the region. We have some inkling of land slides after Nahan and as we reached about 10 kilometers from Nahan bypass, there was mud all over the road and road was blocked ahead due to blockage.

We returned back and from Kalaamb took the road to Yamuna Nagar to follow the old traditional route to Dehradun from Yamuna Nagar to Saharanpur and Dehradun. As soon as we crossed the timber processing units in Yamuna Nagar, we thought we taken a wrong road. But no.

There was almost no road. It was shreds of road in the craters and pools of water. There was worst kind of jam. And the car, it would completely left to God’s mercy. Its underbelly grinded against the edges of craters. The reason for all this was before us.

Coming from the opposite side were countless tractor trolleys over loaded with the poplar logs. These were so heavy that tractor’s front wheels went skywards whenever it lunged forward from the rest. What was more threatening was the precarious way these trolleys dipped to one side or the other whenever one of its tyres fell into the craters. It seemed that they will fall on us and crush us alongwith car to death.

All these were coming to Yamuna Nagar where a number of processing mills have been established. Many trolleys have turned turtle and blocked the road. Situation was such that we crossed ten kilometer hell of the road in more than 2 hours. It was not until we crossed the bridge over Yamuna that road become worthy of travel.

Incidentally, the agro-forestry was started during 1980’s by an enterprising person called Surinder Singh Hara. He owns about 180 hectares land called Hara Farms near Yamuna Nagar which he made suitable for agriculture by clearing the jungle. He produces crops which belong to this region along with turmeric, many fruits and poplar and specially cloned variety of Eucalyptus.

I think it is the duty of the Government and those who are adding extra burden on the road to contribute and make the road good. This will ease the life of persons who are driving these vehicles and labors. It will also save the fuel and maintenance of the vehicles which will ultimately go for the good of people.

Is Collective Wisdom always Correct?

At the starting point of human evolution timeline, the progress was very slow and full of dangers. Learning was at the cost of many human lives. In the beginning, man was a hunter and did not have a stable life. He was always on the move because animals which he hunted were also capable of running. Life of hunting was not easy.
They were on lookout for more stable life. To be able to stay put at one place. For this, humans had to enable themselves replace their diet with grains and cereals which could be grown near their abodes. As we know there must had been plenty of vegetation all around. But today we know that all of it is not suitable for animal consumption. Plants have been here from the beginning and since they could not move from one place to another to defend themselves, their defense mechanism was already in place for survival. As a result only a few of the plants are useful.
Humans did not know what was good for eating and what was not good. It was all a hit and trial process with some of them scarifying their lives. But with the passage of time, information begun to build up and thus the present generation was better equipped than the previous one. Now we have reached a stage where a huge treasure of knowledge is at our disposal.
So have we become so wise and knowledgeable that we cannot commit mistakes? The answer is sadly no. we are committing mistakes. One reason is that we work in groups with members having all shades of knowledge. Thus the resultant knowledge is averaging out.
Take for example the green revolution in the North India particularly Punjab. It saved the masses of the country from starvation. There was a great scarcity of the food grains. India was dependent on the mercy of the countries like USA and USSR. Green Revolution introduced the modified varieties of wheat and rice which have high yields. The state increased the production so much that it was able to feed all the country with food grains.
But the real results of that exercise are now becoming evident. The land was drained of all the nutrients. It was not kept any time fallow to regain the natural strength. The result was the increased use of fertilizers and insecticides. The water footprint was very high for the production of these crops. Since the river water was not sufficient, the underground was exploited up indiscriminately. Since the quality control during manufacturing was poor, many heavy metals which are very toxic slowly made their way to underground drinking water. The water table went deeper. The disastrous effects are now visible in the form of many fatal diseases affecting the children in the Punjab.
On the other hand, there were negative effects elsewhere which disturbed the equilibrium. The states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal which were naturally suited for rice production stopped or tried to change the crop patterns with negative results. So it seems that for short term Green Revolution was a blessing but in the long run it was a collective failure.

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