Flaunting the Assets

If you have lived in Mumbai for a long time and then come to visit Chandigarh and adjoining Panchkula, you would be shocked to see how people in the Northern cities flaunt their wealth. When they drive they think that they are the only ones who are on the road.

They talk on their cellphones, honk incessantly without any patient even if they can see clearly why the traffic ahead is halted. It seems that they have utmost urgent jobs to attend to.

At night, many drive with the high beam lights on making the vehicle drivers coming from opposite side almost blind.

I don’t mean that the people in Mumbai don’t have big cars and other assets. I have seen high end cars lying along the roads in the most neglected style. Mumbai being the economic capital of India, many residents in Mumbai may be having more resources and wealth.

But they don’t display it like they do it in the North. It may be that metropolis is used to heavy traffic since so many years and thus people have become quite disciplined barring some aberrations. In the North, the number of vehicles have exploded exponentially while the distances to be covered are shorter. For example, when we were studying in Chandigarh in during early seventies, there were only few cars to be seen. People used mostly bicycles and at the most well off ones had scooters.

Nowadays there are traffic snarls to be seen at many places. One cannot plan for the future changes many many years early when the city was planned. It should have been a continual change which requires future vision. The problems are increasing by every passing day.

Travels along Morni Hills Road

Morni is a hill station about 55 kilometers away from Chandigarh. Morni in local language is referred to peahen. The name is derived from the name of girl of a local ruler. There were many small princely states all over Shavlik hills. The rulers were mostly Rajput many of whom owed allegiance to Mughals.  Morni hills were ruled by Rajput from Sirmaur which is near Nahan in Himachal Pradesh. The place is situated in Shavlik hills and can be reached through a road from Panchkula. The map of the road is given below:

The road is serpentine because hilly area begins just after crossing the Panchkula and after a continuous climb for about 20 kilometers from Panchkula, the path begins to descend. I have gone up to point where this descent begins.

There are hills covered with wild shrubs and trees including teak. When you begin the journey towards Morni from Panchkula there are hills covered with thorny acacia trees. Hordes of monkeys roam along the road. All day they are there squatting on edges of road and climbing on the adjacent trees. People who came to visit Shiva temple near Berwala, gave them banana and other eatables. This causes the menace to normal visitor who is afraid to get down.

On the way, is Gauri Shankar temple which is seldom open. It seems more of a private property of some Guru who enjoy immense clout over politicians rather than a public place as the temples are generally opened to public. After about 8 kilometers there is small bridge on a seasonal branch of Ghaggar river which is dry in the summers. There is a place with dense trees and foliage along the river which is marked as a bird sanctuary. But you have to be very patience for sighting the birds.

There are few fields where farmers can be seen working. The area beyond Panchkula suddenly takes on an idyllic character. Hills along gorges seem like walls of brown mud completely devoid of greenery except the exposed roots of some trees at the top. In these walls, one can see parrots clinging  on to the holes which they must have dug for raising their nests.

One can also come across, the men and women sitting in the cars stopped at different spots engaged in cavorting activities from the city giving slip to their legal partners. Groups of young boys and girls can be seen drinking and making merry. Due to the drunken driving in the hills many a times fatal accidents have been reported.

There are Gray langurs, also called Hanuman langurs or Hanuman monkeys hiding in the bushes and occasionally coming into open on the road or to cross the road. They seem to be shy of humans and avoid humans unlike the monkeys. There are many birds and trees which bear flowers and adorn the landscape.

Birds


Trees


Animals

Black Drongo

The onslaught of building activity is devouring the agricultural lands everywhere. Fortunately there is still greenery around the place I live. There are wild shrubs, fields where crops like wheat, rice, maize and cattle fodder grows and the woods in the reserved areas.

There are a number of birds which dwell here. One of them is black Drongo, jet black bird. It is an expert insect catcher. It is very aggressive towards crows and other marauders like eagles and falcons.

Many other gentle birds try to be close to this bird for protection. Here are some pictures. These pictures have been taken by me while on walks and sitting in the balcony of my home from where the open land is visible.

Return to the land of my youth

It is the beginning of October. In a few days, the winter season will begin. Presently it is quite hot in the day. Here in Panchkula which is very near to Chandigarh, rains have almost vanished. Once upon a time not so long ago, it was an agricultural area irrigated by five streams or Kul as they are called in the local parlance. The name of the place is the combination of two words namely Panch (five) and Kula (streams).

The land was very fertile. The system of the irrigation was an ingenious community exercise. These streams issued from the Ghaggar River which flowed through the place and passed along the edges of the lands of the landowners. The river originates in the Shivalik hills. It dries down in the Rajasthan.

Ghaggar River is mentioned in Vedic literature and it was an important river along with Saraswati River which is now believed to be flowing underground. The days and duration were fixed for each piece of land depending upon the quantity of the water available and area of the land holdings.

It was a very peaceful and mutually benefiting exercise. It was a win-win situation for everyone. It is an open fact that division of the irrigation water is a very sensitive issue and leads to unending conflicts.

Everyone in India is aware of Tamilnadu and Kerala spat over the distribution of Kaveri waters. It is going on for the years.

The Panchkula is now a big city and a satellite town to Chandigarh. The land is scarce for frenzied building activity. Almost all the agricultural land has been bought by builders at exorbitant cost resulting in very high cost of flats.

Even the Ghaggar River is now bearing the brunt of this expansion. At many places its natural flow has been modified or blocked. Quarrying of sand, pebbles is taking place. The day is not far when the river will be lost. The five streams are already dead.

My childhood and youth was spent in a village called Manimajra adjacent to Panchkula. In those days Panchkula was a small village like many other villages. We had agricultural land at two places falling within Panchkula. It was routine for us to walk to our fields after the school was over. We went on foot and fields were quite far. On the way, the path meandered through the fields and streams. In the summers, we enjoyed bathing in those streams splashing water over one another and bathed the buffaloes.

It was all green with crops like wheat, barley, millet, sugarcane, cotton, chilies and paddy in the respective seasons.  There were mustard and gram crops which imparted yellow color to the flat interminable stretches of the flat land. There were many gardens with mango, guava and other. Many a times we stayed in the night in the shelters built on the land itself. In the winter seasons, Gur (jaggery) was prepared from the juice of sugarcane and we used to enjoy the fresh product.

Land was acquired by Haryana Government at a very low price and a housing board was built. It was the beginning of the breakneck building activity.

I have left the place after I got a Government transferable job and after 35 years have returned to this place. Fields are almost gone. Yet there are some stretches of the agricultural land still resisting and looking at the rich crops standing in them takes me back to my childhood days. At that time we never gave a thought of what is coming in future. Now it is all over. Wherever you look, you will find high-rise building. Lots of labors from East UP and Bihar have come here for work.

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

I first spotted this bird perched on a electric transmission wire. The area underneath was all shrubs. It was in the hot monsoon season. The bird has a very strange plumage pattern of brown and cream stripes.

It’s name is Eurasian Wryneck and here it comes on migration. It belongs to the woodpecker family although it’s beak is not as large and dagger like as the other woodpeckers. It subsists on ants and insects which are found in the dead wood.

It can rotate it’s neck by almost 180 degrees. When it senses danger, it makes a hissing sound. The word Jinx has its origins in the bird.

After that, I spotted it few times. The latest encounter being in the month of December although it has become very cold here. I took some beautiful pictures of this bird.

Where to Tricity???

Tricity-meaning three cities combined. One such tricity consists of 3 cities namely: Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula. Chandigarh was planned a new city as the capital of Punjab when Lahore was lost to Pakistan.

It was matter of prestige for Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India who wanted to assuage the sufferings of the Punjab which befell it due to partition. Everyone is aware of the beautifully planned city.

As the years went by, States of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana were separated from the Punjab. There was a demand by Punjab to hand over the Chandigarh city to it. Haryana also claimed the city. So the city became a object of strife between these states.

Chandigarh

Areas which consisted Haryana were not developed like Punjab, the area being dry and hotter in weather and ignored by Governments of Punjab which were dominated by people from western parts. In a sense, Haryana was to begin from the beginning and task seemed to be daunting but has been surmounted successfully. There were disputes regarding sharing of river waters.

Moreover, they did not have any city for being selected as the capital. Capital city actually should be in the centre of the state equally approachable. After division even Chandigarh became on the border of two states away from majority areas of the Punjab.

Official Logo of the city

It was then decided to make Chandigarh a Union territory administered by Central government in addition to being the capital for Punjab as well as Haryana. The fact was nobody in the political and administrative circles wanted to be away from the city beautiful.

Cricket Stadium in Mohali

To establish more offices both Punjab and Haryana developed Mohali and Panchkula respectively which are just the extensions of Chandigarh in design and pattern.

With the development of these cities, population exploded because in the beginning the rates of properties were low as compared to Chandigarh. The Chandigarh design prohibits the city to grow vertically. So Mohali and Panchkula became the new places for building activity. The villages in the periphery of these cities also becomes crowded due to lower rentals as compared to tricity.

Rose Garden

For workforce people migrated from Eastern UP and Bihar. They slowly settled here and engaged in any type of work be it agriculture or building or vegetable vendors or security guards and rickshaws drivers and what not. Shanties came up like Mumbai.

The area is now populated with people all over from Haryana , Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh. Vehicles have exploded in numbers. Everyone seems to becomes rich overnight. There is floating population.

So everyday, the newspapers are full of stories of crime, rapes, theft, killings, accidents due to rash driving under the influence of alcohol. The original people who had the land become super rich overnight by selling portions of the land. They indulge in spending a on boozing, expensive cars and other activities.

Famous Sukhna Lake

Prices of the property have skyrocketed and cases of malpractices in acquiring the properties by government agencies abound.

The tricity is in highly dynamical state and it seems that it shall not stabilise easily. Time does not seem to near when residents shall begin to consider the city their own and care for it. We who belong to those place by birth and times when there was just Chandigarh and had agriculture land find it hard to believe the change.

Savanna nightjar

Savanna Nightjar (Caprimulgus affinis) is a bird which is found in South East India. I was moving about in Ghaggar River in Panchkula. It was in the June month, scorching heat and dry. Bed of the river is almost dry- full of sand and pebbles.

As I was descending a raised bank through the pebbles, three of them flew just from my feet. They are master of camouflage. It is very difficult to spot them. They just merge with the background. They caught you unawares and suddenly fly away. You have to keep watching them where they land.

It is a rarity in my area and I was the first to spot them. I regularly visit the area to check they are staying here and found them there.

Photo by Ranjit Singh
Photo: Ranjit Singh

Indian White Eye 

It is a very small sized bird. It is immediately noticed by its greenish yellow colour plumage with its whitish breast. But most prominent feature is the white rim around its eyes. The bird is widespread in Asia. Both sexes are alike in appearance.

It is very timid and restless bird. It mostly resides in the thick branches where it hides itself. It eats insects which are deposited on the leaves. It also eat the nectar of some flowers.

It is either hiding in the shade of branches or is so restless that it takes great patience to take good photographs. Only when it comes in open  momentarily for few seconds is the your chance to take good pics.

There is a bush in the herbal park in Panchkula, which has its leaves covered with insects larvae and deposits. These birds gorge themselves on these insects and it was here, I could manage to take some good pictures.

Herbal Garden Panchkula

The garden is very near to my home. If I take the pedestrian route which winds through fields and tall reed grass river bed, the garden is hardly 2 kilometers away. But you have to cross the Ghaggar river on the way and wade into the water and climb steep sloping boundary.  The path winds through the fields and poplar trees which in itself is very sylvan. In winters there is wheat crop in the fields. Small rivulets used to channel the river water for irrigating these fields run through the fields.

After crossing these fields, the river bed starts. The river is called Ghaggar and it originates in the Shivalik hills. Although in the monsoon, it is flooded and becomes very dangerous, during winter and dry season most of the bed is dry and a small ribbon like water channel flows through it. Reed and other tall grasses grow on the bed.

There are kingfisher, lapwings and other birds which can be found perched and flying in the bed. In the water one can find regular water fowls dipping the beaks in the water to catch the insects.

The regular route is by road and is about 7 kilometers from our home. But it is worth visiting even by long road route from my home. The garden is laid along the river and is spread across long distance but width is very small. Lawns are lovely and well maintained.

There are all kinds of herbal plants and trees. Many other regular trees add to its beauty. People who live nearby come regularly to walk and sit and relax. There are view posts with canopies and sitting benches along the river, where you can sit and watch the reflection of sun in the simmering river water.

Indeed it is very well maintained. Only the parking for vehicles is very limited. I can sit there for hours watching the sunset. Must visit.

Land Stories 

Land used to be like one’s mother in India as more than 70% people are still dependent on the land for their livelihood. Before the introduction of modern agricultural equipment like tractors, bullocks were used virtually for all agricultural tasks like tilling the land, pulling the cart which the farmer used for bringing the produce and fodder home for cattle. Agriculture was completely manual and commerce was not a factor. A farmer produced only enough for his family needs. Agriculture was dependent on the surface water available through rivers and rains. Thus it was wholly dependent on the natural factors.

Now the story is different. Even small farmers own the tractors which is economically not viable for small pieces of land. But it is a rat race. Many of them take the loans which become difficult to repay. A tractor can do many days work in a few hours. Need for manual labor arises only during the sowing of the crops. Bullocks have been phased out and are facing the same fate as the girls face: they have become unwelcome.

Land is so much precious to the owner that hawks are on the outlook to grab any piece of it by hook or crook. Wars had been fought over the land. Most prominent example is the epic story of Mahabharata in which cause of the biggest battle between cousins was about the possession of land, cattle and women.

But as the cities are expanding at a furious rate, the value of the land is increasing. What the land can do to its owners will be illustrated by three scenarios.

Scenario No.1

State of Haryana was carved out from Punjab. It is a fact that people of Haryana were neglected by Punjab and considered backward, Haryana was separated from Punjab. But city of Chandigarh, which was the capital of Punjab was not given to any one of these states and made a union territory. It was also made the capital of both the states. The reality now is that the capital of both these sites is located nor in the middle but in one corner of both the states.

As Chandigarh could not be expanded more, both Haryana and Punjab decided to construct the extensions of it on their own sides. Haryana thus acquired the agricultural land adjacent to Chandigarh. There were many villages in the area with farmers having small land holdings. All were given a meagre compensation. Overnight they lost what they were dependent on. Being conversant with agriculture only, they faced difficulty to carry on their lives. They migrated here and there and on their lands mushroomed the concrete buildings with their owners being outsiders who could afford to buy them. Panchkula city was thus born.

Scenario No.2

This one is a really interesting and shows how in same country but at different time points, the fortunes can turn for some. District of Mohali in Punjab was carved in such a way that it’s one side touched Panchkula district of Haryana. So some villages which though abutting Panchkula became part of Punjab and their lands were not acquired by government.

These villages are situated near the ghaggar river and land is very poor for manual farming. The reason is that where the land is situated, the river flowed once and thus has left huge amounts of pebbles and sand covered with alluvial. Thus it is full of pebbles and bullocks were unable to till it.  Additionally there were uneven land surfaces which again posed challenges for farming.

Thus the land owners eked out a pathetic life. They lived hand to mouth. But somehow, barring a few they didn’t part off with their land which in any case no other farmer will buy due to poor quality.

But the demon of city expansion and opening of information technology parks and some pharmaceutical companies resulted in the large influx of people from interiors of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and so on resulted in the construction frenzy. There was no scope for expansion of Panchkula. So these adjoining areas became the focal points of building activity. Overnight, the land which was useless became the gold mine for the owners. They sold portions for a windfall. The farmers who have not seen money were dazed and it took them days to come back to reality from dream.

They constructed palaces for living. They became educated suddenly. As the money came, so we’re associations with powerful people like politicians. Some of them even began to grab the unoccupied or reserved lands. With a part of money bought tractors and modern equipment for remainder of land and procured cheaper land in the nearby districts. The elderly still can be identified to have done back breaking work but new generation is all like managers and leaders.

Scenario No.3

This story is similar to previous one but with small difference. It is from Sanand district in Gujarat. As the Tata nano car factory relocated here from Bengal, the villagers nearby had windfall. They used to be working as labors, peons and other lower rung jobs in the future Factories and manufacturing units for monthly wages like rupees 6000 to 15000 as their land was not fertile or due to lack of resources was not providing them with enough. Suddenly the arrival of entrepreneurs they became millionaires overnight by selling their land. After the initial excitement, Many of them have decilded to carry on with those peanut wages jobs to keep themselves busy. More than hundreds of millionaires are working as helping hands in the factories there!!!!. The interest on their fixed deposits is enough for their requirements.

Thus as the Mark Twain once advised someone who came to him for investing the money to “invest in the land because they don’t make it anymore”. Land can catapult your future.