Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Surjivan-Village Tourism

" All the academics in the world may write a much as they want, in as many fancy words as they can about this country and its people, their plight and their struggles but it will always be wanting.  For it cannot and never will hold comparison to what is out there to be seen, to be felt, and to be heard on our own." 
-SBI YFI Fellow Akshay Kumar in the Book "Experiences of SBI Youth for India Fellows in Rural India.

Khus fields in Surjivan

The words of the youngster quoted above rang a bell when I returned from Surjivan, a village approved for "village tourism" by the Haryana Government.  Here is a resort which makes a valiant effort to connect with the 21st century mall city of Gurgaon. 

About 40kms from Gurgaon driving through the Jaipur highway for about 15kms and then through metaled roads, one can reach the village.  For just Rs 950/- per person, you can enjoy the ambiance of the 50 acres, take guided tours and partake in an organic lunch cooked the traditional way.  All the ingredients used for cooking are grown organically in the 40 acre organic farm, which also boasts of a chicken farm and milch cows.

While sipping the welcome drink of masala lassi, we watched a large group of young families walk in.  Children were frolicking all over in no time leaving parents to chat and enjoy their drinks and music. It was a Sunday-a well reserved holiday for these back office employees.  Yet no one seemed to be complaining.  " I am glad to escape the claustrophobia of....." ,  I overheard a young smartly dressed lady remarking.

The manager, offered to show us around.   We have all the facilities for adventure games, he started and insisted that we first take a look at these.   The last part of "Survivor Series" on Television was shot here, he proudly proclaimed. 

Where are the herbal gardens?  In the very next plot, our guide answered.  Also the main ground has many local trees and ancient plants. 

Lemon pansy on lavender plant

Bakul plant

Kalpavriksh or Wish Tree

We were informed that the big "Kalpavriksh tree" the resort had earlier grown, died, suffocated by the red threads tied by believers!

"Reetha" the seeds of which are commonly used by villagers for washing clothes and their hair, is also a rarely seen plant these days.

As we watched village artisans giving the final touches to a motif, drongos and parakeets announced their roosting time and we realized that we need to drive back to Gurgaon before the highway gets choked by office commuters.

The resort has twelve mud huts complete with cow-dung plaster on floor and mud beds and seats- also equipped with fans, air conditioners and attached baths with geysers.  All these come at a price though.   The solar panels support lights and fans but geysers and a.cs are run in winter and summer using Diesel generators.  

Surjivan is a bold attempt to connect Maximum City dwellers with nature- Spend a day there and you realise what it is that we miss in Big Cities-Again I quote our young friend Akshay Kumar of SBI Youth for India
" Gone were all delusions of "uplifting them", wanting to make them more like us and it was replaced by shame, shame about my own superfluous sense of superiority that had led me to believe that my way of life was something better and worth being forced on them."

Friday, October 19, 2012 featured in Hindustan 17th October, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blue Economy Alliance is a new way of designing business

 Buckwheat is one of the most efficient producers of plant protein, unmatched by any other grain (even though it is classified as a fruit due to its pyramidical shape). The human body can digest 74 percent of buckwheat’s protein content which includes 8 essential amino acids, Vitamin E and nearly the entire spectrum of B-complex which helps the body to respond to insulin needs. Honey from buckwheat flowers has up to 20 times more anti-oxidants than any other honey, offering a prime quality by-product. The hulls are used as packaging material, as base material for heating pads, as raw material for mattresses, and as the filler for hypo-allergenic pillows that offer excellent neck support. However, advertising has shifted the image of buckwheat and the local population increasingly prefers imported white rice

Blue Economy Alliance is a new way of designing business

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Giving life in death too......

This picture was taken in the year 2006, when the flaming glory vines climbed all the way and bloomed on our boundary wall.   The beautiful flaming glory bower is a common and popular vine in the NCR region, but is an exotic from Africa. 

Rewind to 2012, the vines are on the decline, a couple of them are just dead woody branches.

Slowly, a bracket fungus appeared on the dead branch.  As it kept growing and looked interesting, I looked up the Internet to see what these growths on dead tree branches meant.  The results opened up a whole new world of fungi, where researchers are unearthing new  uses for them.   Here is what I learnt.

The growth is called  bracket fungus. These fungi are usually found on the sides of trees and on fallen logs.  Fungi were once classed as plants, but they do not photosynthesise, but instead obtain nourishment from preformed organic materials, in much the same way that animals do. Many are saprotrophic - feeding off decomposing organic remains, such as dead wood. The saprotrophic polypore Microporus xanthopus is one of the commonest fungi in tropical areas from Australia through to Africa, but is not found in the American tropics. It can be found on rotting wood of numerous tree species in the wet, forested areas. As a whole the genus Microporus is found in Australia, many parts of Asia and tropical to south-temperate Africa. 

The value of dead wood

Dead wood (coarse woody debris or CWD) is extremely important to the health of the forest, and this is being increasingly recognised by conservationists. Not only is it an aspect of the process of nutrient cycling, providing a steady, slow-release source of nitrogen, but it is also thought to play a significant role in carbon storage. Fallen logs can also increase soil stability within a woodland.  The role of fungi in breaking down dead wood is especially crucial. Lignin is the substance that makes wood stiff, and it is so tough that animals cannot digest it. However, certain fungi are able to biodegrade this substance using particular enzymes, thus allowing the vast amounts of dead wood in a natural forest to be broken down.


Standing dead trees (snags) and fallen debris provide a fantastic array of 'microhabitats'. There is a breathtaking range of saproxylic (deadwood-dependent) organisms including fungi, lichens, invertebrates, mosses and birds, many of them having very specific
requirements, and some specialising exclusively on one particular microhabitat. A remarkable 40% of woodland wildlife is dependent on this aspect of the forest ecosystem.

Here is a link to a website which gives more info

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tiger Tourism

Scene in Ranthambhore when a tiger is sighted
Pic by Susan Sharma (2005)
On 24th July, 2012 The Supreme Court  banned tourism in the core areas of India’s tiger reserves till further orders, fuelling fears among tour operators and some conservationists that people would lose the chance to watch the animals in the wild, local economies would bleed and poaching would increase.

As the first step towards eco-tourism, the top court today said that all states must notify the core and buffer areas of Parks under them.

Conservationists estimate that up to 150,000 tourists visit the Ramthambore park each year, contributing to its business revenue of Rs 60 crore.  How much of this actually trickles down to the local community is the moot issue, though.  Voices of the people living around the Park tell otherwise. ( See our film "Living with the Park").

Tour operators around the Jim Corbett Park estimate that nearly half the 90-odd hotels outside the park would shut down and hundreds of safari operators and nature guides would lose jobs if the interim order becomes the final one.

“The debate on wildllife tourism has less to do with conservation and more and more to do with issues of equity,” said M.D. Madhusudan, a wildlife biologist and director of the Nature Conservation Foundation in Mysore.

The archives of IndianWilldlifeclub contain many articles which are worth reading for those interested in a ringside view of tiger tourism.

Just write "tiger tourism" in our search button on top right hand side of and you will see  blogs, articles and chat transcripts devoted to the tiger. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mangarbani Sacred Grove

5km to the side of Gurgaon -Faridabad four lane road, driving through a thick forest of Vilayati Kekar trees interpersed with construction sites, you enter Mangarbani village (wrongly spelt Manger at the direction board on the main road).

The Art and Craft Hotel raises a few eyebrows just before we enter the village.  Builders are already in possession of Dream plans to convert the ancient village of Mangarbani into a "Tourist Paradise", the Hotel is probably waiting for those Dreams to take wings.

 Entrance to Mangarbani

At this sleepy village of about 300 hamlets we ask our way to the Bani.  As we reach Bani, the three soldiers from Mangarbani village who started the fight to save Mangarbani against seemingly odd barriers,  greet us.  We, a few friends who learnt about Mangarbani through the film "The Lost Forest",  had decided to devote the Sunday Morning to see the forest for ourselves. 

"Heavenly'" " So cool'" "Longest tailed peacock" "Beautiful bird sounds"  remarks kept coming as we walked. The residents pitched in with their knowledge of the Bani.  The first and last rule of the Bani " Do not pluck or cut anything from the Bani.  If you graze your animals inside, you raise the wrath of  Gudanya Baba  whose Samadhi in a cave is worshipped by the villagers.

 Broken Kadamb branch-Remove it at your peril!

 Here is an excerpt from the magazine "Down To Earth"

---What sets the Bani apart from the surrounding vegetation is that 95 per cent of it comprises a slow growing tree called Dhau (Anogeissus pendula). The tree has a unique feature. If it is nibbled by cattle, it spreads out on the ground or over rocks like thick prostrate undergrowth. If left undisturbed, it grows into a middle-sized tree. The 13-meter-tall dhaus in Mangar Bani testify to the forest’s antiquity, points out Pradip Krishen, the author of Trees of Delhi. ......

Sacred grove of Dhau trees seen from temple top

We saw Desi papri trees, Vat  and Dhok trees , Seetaphal trees and Kadamb trees which were fruiting and Dhau, the endemic tree of the area which were sprouting all over after the rains.

 Fruit of Kadamb tree

Sweet fruit of Seeta Phal tree

Dhau sprouting through rocks

Take the Dhau outside Mangarbani and they refuse to grow.  The Dhau is believed to be one large organism in Managrbani which propagates through root grown saplings only.  Untouched by the British ( The British never discovered this village tucked away in the interior, according to locals) and the Forest Department, Vilayati Keekar is absent in the village.  No bougainvillas and no lantana bushes are seen anywhere.      The Forest has remained natural as it was 3000 years ago.  A Natural Museum worth presrving for the next generation!

Under the shade of ancient trees

Mangarbani, a serene forest

Besides the Bani being the Preserve of fauna and flora endemic to the Aravalis (probably the only patch in Rajasthan-Haryana-Delhi, where Aravalis have survived in their original glory), this unspoilt forest is most likely responsible for water recharging and safeguarding water veins underground.  Destroy this vegetation cover, build on it and we could end up blocking/destroying any number of water veins under those impenetrable rock-systems.  
Gurgaon and Faridabad have seen Surajkund, Badkhal and Dumdama lakes disappear within the last 25-30 years, once vegetation in Aravalis was destroyed and hilllsides dug up for minerals/stones for construction and/or levelled for putting up buildings. The ban by the Supreme Court on all mining cant restore those water bodies, they are gone for ever.
Will the Gurgaon-Faridabad-Delhi residents let the unspoilt Aravalis in and around Manger Bani disappear? They could be destroying the most important water-recharge System/Preserve that could have sustained the coming generations by providing much needed elixir of life 'WATER'

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Online Environmental Courses

Online Environmental Courses from India 

The Leadership Course in Biodiversity Conservation is a one year Certificate Program with online and face to face activities interwoven through the course work. The course content is developed by subject matter experts  from Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS).
 The second one year program being offered is the Basic Entomology Course.

Read details of course work and online assignments at

• There are 8 day-trips planned throughout the year. Students are expected to attend 5 trips on compulsorily basis to receive full grades.
 • There are 5 camps organized throughout the year. Out of five camps Students are expected to attend 3 camps on compulsorily basis to receive full grades.
 • Final Project: The outcome of the course experience is to study local biodiversity.

This is a yearlong project and there are deliverables every month.

What is the course fee structure? 

The tuition fee is Rs.10,102/-for the Leadership Course.
 The tuition fee for the entomology course is Rs 7854/-
 IWC members get a discount of 5% and will need to pay Rs 9597/- and rs7461/-only.

Who is managing this course? 

The Conservation Education Center of BNHS is managing this course. Dr. V.Shubhalaxmi, General Manager is the Course Co-ordinator, Ms. Priti Choghale, Senior Education Officer is the Course Executive. The course will be run with help of the SMEs within and outside BNHS.