They are going to plant trees and shrubs on a golf course on a mountain, and turn it into a forest. For an opinion I was chatting with my friend Satish, an avid golfer.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Satish.
“But why?” I asked “It’s not like a lot of people were playing there. It wasn’t a great course, and hardly anyone ever went there. This was in some remote district of Uttarakhand. And their study found that the slope was too steep.”
“We are a country where we are already short on sports infrastructure. And we are taking a golf course, and making it into a forest? We shouldn’t be talking about medals tally in sports then. Did you know that in Scotland there is one golf hole for every 500 people, while in India it is one for every 2.75 lakh people?” He showed me this website to prove his point.
“But what would you rather have them do?”
“Well, if the slope was too steep, why build in the first place? But now that they have built it, they should encourage the people around to start playing the sport. They should try and improve usage of the course instead of destroying it. This is a real golf course and not some sales gimmick by a builder to sell apartments around.”
Hmm. Valid argument.
After doing an evaluation, the authorities decided to convert the golf course into a
forest. The folks at Alaap, a social enterprise, are working to make this area wild again. The goal of Alaap is to bring back the native forests of the Himalayas. They will plant a wide variety of trees and grow a natural, mixed forest on the former golf course. They will plant two acres at a time until the entire nine acres is forest. (more on alaap here).
This will change many things on the mountain. The higher supply of moisture will mean more water in the aquifers deep underground. Like more blood in the veins of the mountain. This will mean more water in the natural springs in the area. Bees may build hives. The plants will attract leaf-eating wild animals to the area. Those in turn will attract predators. All this could lead to unforeseen outcomes like when they released the 14 wolves in Yellowstone. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSzQ9w5TCqc )
This will benefit the ecology, and that makes animals happy. The humans will be largely indifferent except for a few nearby villagers. Heck, the President of the USA doesn’t believe climate change is real.
So clearly, I am sitting on a fence here. The big question strikes me. Is it man’s job to serve nature (as Salman Khan believes)? Or is it nature’s job to serve man (as Salman Khan believes)?
Since it is a tough call, I think we should ask the mountain. After all the golf course sits on its chest.
“Sure. And the next time you meet your padlock, please say hello for me.” You say.
I know that the rational left-brainer in you thinks it’s ridiculous to talk to a mountain. But humour me for a bit. Switch on your sensitive, emotional right brain. Imagine for a moment that a mountain has feelings. That it reacts to what happens on it. That it hurts when it is mined. It wilts in dry heat and thrives in the rain.
I am sure the mountain knows the answer. If you ask the mountain, what do you think it will say?
Poopkund. That’s what Roopkund is called when three of your fellow trekkers are between 9 and 10 years in age. The hordes of trekkers heaving their way to vast campsites which have taken over every level spot make that name more real.
We did this trek in early October and the weather was perfect. Ashish, a close friend, does such treks professionally and arranged everything. We had our own food, provisions, and staff. We hired six mules. Five to carry our material & packs. One mule was dedicated for my daughter R who loves animals. R had come on the condition that she would ride a mule.
This was the most ambitious trek we had attempted with kids – it’s highest point was 15750 feet. We had three kids in our group – R and AS, both 9, and AM who is 10. Every day of our trek was different and interesting.
Day 1: Drive to Wan village
We drove to Wan and stayed at the Paras hotel, about the only place in town. It was basic
and clean, but the kids named it the Kabristan (Cemetery) hotel.
Day 2: Hike from Wan to Bedni Bugyal
The trek starts with a gentle ascent, and a short downhill to a lovely stream. After that it is a steep climb. The total ascent that day was some 3500 feet. After 10 km we reached Ghairoli Patal. It was a pretty place and not too busy. In hindsight, we should’ve camped there even though it had less of a view. But we were on a schedule, and so we headed on to Bedni Bugyal. Bedni Bugyal was overrun with fixed campsites operated by outfits like Trek the Himalayas & Indiahikes. We liked the Indiahikes people and they also helped us in a tight spot. But we didn’t like what these companies were doing to the place with this volume of trekkers.
At the end of the day R & AS were fine but AM complained about aching feet. At one point that night tossing and turning in his sleeping bag he asked me “Why did we come on this stupid trek?”
Day 3: Bedni Bugyal to Pather Nachani
We started walking after a leisurely breakfast. This day was a short (5 km) uphill walk and the gradient was gentle. We reached Pather Nachani by lunchtime. We had planned less walking on day 3 & 4 because we were reaching higher campsites in short distances – Pather Nachani was over 13000 ft. We didn’t want to push for longer distances to ensure everyone acclimatizes well.
The shorter walk also helped AM recover. On reaching camp, after a brief rest all three kids were busy playing their games and running around.
We met Anuja at a chai shop in Pather Nachani. She was an Indiahikes staff member
and she was very curious about how the kids were doing. When she learnt that this was their first trek at this height, she handed me a whole strip of Diamox. We were blown away by her generosity and concern.
The main campsite at Pather Nachani was small and crowded. Our guide knew of another site further up the hill and it was a better place to stay for the night. Our campsite offered an amazing view of Chaukhamba.
The next morning we woke up to frost and below freezing temperatures.
Day 4 : Pather Nachani to Bhagwabasa
The alleged 5 k hike felt like less. The GPS said 3k, but with frequent patches without satellite signal. Not too reliable. This day’s walk started with a steep ascent. Once we reached the Shiv temple and two tea shops, the trail leveled off to a pretty & easy walk. The view from the temple was amazing – provided you have clear skies. Trishul and Nanda Ghunti loomed over us, austere and aloof in their snow capped glory. It was a great reminder of my own pathetic ego and mortality.
Bhagwabasa was yet another busy campsite, and water was hard to find. We had sent an advance party to grab a good campsite, while the rest of the group followed later. The advance party – two ultra fit women and our guide – were the luckiest because they got a clear open view of the big mountains.
As camp was being set up, we came again to the pit loos. The art of digging a pit loo was something Ashish’s crew learnt on the job. The first campsite had the pit so wide it felt like the morning dump and morning yoga were combined. The crew kept getting better with each new campsite. When the pit loo was dug in Bhagwabasa, we all saw Ashish do a tryout squat at the trench even before the tent was put up. Fortunately, he kept his pants on. That’s when we realized just how anal he is about customer service.
Bhagwabasa was freezing. Kids being kids insisted on running around without gloves and a hat. Earlier in the trek, the kids (and some adults) had complained of the occasional headaches and painful limbs, but they had all recovered on their own. But that evening, R threw up three times in a row. We panicked – our biggest fear in this trip was Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). (Learn more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_sickness). Headaches and vomiting are both symptoms of AMS. One of the best ways to tackle AMS is to lose height. I immediately decided to put R on a mule and head down to Pather Nachani. But the mules and Mule-walas had all gone down to the valley so that the mules could graze and be warmer. They would only return the next morning.
I then headed to the India Hikes campsite to seek out their trek leader – a young man named Dushyant. He had stopped by our campsite at Pather Nachani that morning. An exceedingly nice person, he had asked about how the kids were doing, and had offered to help in any way required. At Bhagwabasa – after I told him R’s symptoms – Dushyant immediately walked back to our camp with me.
He had an oximeter – a tiny device which clamps on a finger. He told me that the Oximeter indicates the blood saturation level and is a good indicator of AMS. When we reached the campsite he chatted with R for a bit, and then took her saturation level. It was well above the minimum of 85. Then everyone in the camp had their saturation levels checked. Safe in the knowledge that nobody had AMS, we all slept.
R had a decent dinner, kept it down, and insisted that she would walk upto Roopkund the next day (mules don’t do the last 3k).
That night – or early next morning – we heard many groups pass by chanting stuff like “Ganpati Bappa Moriya” and “Har Har Mahadev”. My spiritual Himalayas had turned religious.
Day 5 : Bhagwabasa – Roopkund & Junar Gali – Bhagwabasa – Pather Nachani
We started off for Roopkund around 7 AM. Most groups had left at 4. The alleged reason was that you got a clear view of the big mountains from up there. I think it was also because it gave the camping companies enough time to get everyone down to Pather Nachani the same day.
But even at seven the temperature was 00C. The kids were cold, and R (who almost changed her mind about walking up) kept whining about how hard it was and how cold her fingers and toes were. I put her in an extra layer, had her tuck one hand into her underarm, and held her other hand in both of mine. Even then, she was cold. After a while the sun came out and she was warmer, but the whining continued about how difficult the climb was.
Vandita (R’s mother) turned around and told her “R, the constant whining doesn’t help you climb. You have to make up your mind and then act on it. You have to decide what you want to do, and do it for yourself. Just like when you decided you wanted to learn to swim. You inhaled water, you coughed and choked, and finally you learned how to swim. You had decided. This climb is the same way. You have to decide that you want climb the mountain, and then do it. The constant whining doesn’t help – it only makes it harder for you.”
It worked. R was energized after that, and went the rest of the way without a peep. A few places she stopped and took breaks, and said she was tired. But it was factual, and not whining.
The thin air made the climb to Roopkund harder. The last half km was the most gruelling. AM also had a slow climb. All the hikers coming down from the lake would say complimentary things to the kids. At one point AM saw a large group of trekkers descending towards us and said “Ab phir thank you bolna pade ga.” (Another round of thank you’s to be said.)
The rock star was Ashish’s son, AS. He’s only 9 but walked effortlessly without any signs of fatigue. Only on the final lake ascent did he display the smallest weakness – probably because of the altitude.
Roopkund itself was anticlimactic – more a puddle than a lake. AM gave it one glance and said “This is what we walked 4 days for?”. Junar Gali is a path going further up to the ridge beyond the lake. AM & I stopped at the lake itself, but Vandita and R went up to Junar Gali. They said the view from there was magnificent.
The walk down was as treacherous as the uphill was hard because of loose rock and scree. We made it down to Pather Nachani and decided to call it a day.
Day 6: Pather Nachani to Wan & drive home
Wan was a walk of 17 k – all downhill. It played hell on the knees and toenails to do it in one shot, but we were keen to get back in a hurry.
We reached Wan by lunchtime and drove out. Although we would reach home late in the night, it was much more inviting than another night at the Kabristan hotel.
Our Roopkund experience was great and terrible. The nature was great, the crowds were terrible. In future, before planning any trek I will check the websites of Trek the Himalayas, Youth Hostels Association and India Hikes. I will skip all treks that have fixed date departures on these sites and look for something less mainstream.
*Please note that the kids who went on this trek all live at an altitude above 6000 feet where they run up and down slopes all the time. They’ve all done easier treks like Pindari before.
Imagine a cafe that actively reduces its profit to save the environment. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. It’s real. But before we go on, a little background.
I love the mountains, and I hate the plastic that litters them. We’ve all read about how plastic chokes the environment. I no longer take the free bottle of water they offer on the Shatabdi train. I avoid bottled water in hotels and airports. I bring my own waterbottle from home, and refill it from safe water sources as I travel.
Why does this matter?
What travelers need is safe drinking water. There are many ways to find it without using up extensive amounts of plastic. Bottled water is the most convenient and irresponsible way to get clean drinking water. In a world where all airports come with water fountains and any home and restaurant you visit has a decent water filter, avoiding bottled water is about just a tiny bit of planning, and being just a little contrarian. A simple thing like carrying a waterbottle from home. It can be helped by buying a good waterbottle (so you dont lose it and refill it often) that fits perfectly into your bag or hand. If it’s expensive you’re less likely to lose it. Decathlon has a full range.
So, of course, it pisses me off when I walk into the average city restaurant and find sealed plastic bottles of water on every table. It’s a default sale for the restaurant. I always call the waiter and ask if they have a water filter. Eyes roll. But restaurants invariably do have potable filtered water. Of course, giving away anything free reduces profit. Even water. And restaurants are about profit maximization at any cost, it seems. So you can imagine my delight when I walked into Chandi Mati cafe in Mukteshwar the other day, and found this on the menu.
Wow! No bottled water sitting on each table. By default they serve filtered water. Here was a business actively reducing its profits by telling you not to buy something. Just because it is the right thing to do. And Chandi Mati is not some huge, successful enterprise. It is a young business working hard for its own success. Yet, it is clear on its principles.
So the next time you visit Mukteshwar, go to the Chandi Mati cafe. Click a selfie with their menu and post it on Instagram & Twitter & Facebook and myriad other online places.
This will boost Chandi Mati’s business and make it wildly successful, maybe some other restaurants will follow suit. The use of plastic bottles will reduce, and you would have made the world a better place because of your responsible social media behaviour.
I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing their ripeness! The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures – a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.
He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”. He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.
I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses, the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.
We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!
No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and
restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.
We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.
About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.
This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.
Spring. It is here. Time for buds to unfurl themselves, for bees to emerge hungrily from their homes, and for the farmer to dust off the household can of ‘Meta’. There’s something very wrong with this picture here.
All around the Chatola-Sitla area (and beyond), farmers are getting ready to spray their peach trees with what is called ‘Meta’. This is done to prevent leaf curl, which all the peach trees in the area are plagued by. Sadly, spraying is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. The spring spraying is also possibly the worst thing we can do for our orchards.
Know thy enemy: The first thing to know about the infestation of leaf curl is that it’s not. An infestation, that is. It is a fungal disease. We first see it when the leaves turn red and
unsightly. That is when it is too late to do anything about it. Germination of the spores happens in autumn, which is when we need to act. These spores are released when the cell walls of the infected leaves rupture and they then settle on the surfaces of the tree.
Managing curl: This is a two-step process. First, we need to stop the spores from spreading, and then we need to control any that have already spread.
To stop them from spreading, ideally we would pluck off diseased leaves and burn them. This is the best option because we destroy the spores while they are still contained within the leaves. Given the scale of the problem, though, it is near-impossible to do it at the orchard level. At the least we need to rake up and burn (not compost!) any fallen peach leaves. This is an important step for controlling the spread.
Secondly, we need to spray. A copper-based fungicide is the only effective measure against peach curl. Spraying is done as soon as the leaves fall, before the new leaf buds set. Several copper-based fungicides are available on the market (for us, the closest I’ve found is Kaladhungi Chauraha, Haldwani). While not entirely safe for wildlife (especially earthworms), copper fungicides are less toxic than insecticides. Even better, since it’s toxicity levels are low enough for the treatment to qualify as ‘organic’, is Bordeaux mixture.
Incidentally, for those of you who are frustrated by black spot on your Old Roses, that too is a fungus, and these measures work well for that too.
Know thy other enemy: This comes disguised as our old friend ‘Meta’. Officially known as ‘Metasystox’, the preparation is an insecticide and a miticide. In other words, it is absolutely ineffective against peach curl. It is effective against aphids, but it inflicts so much collateral damage that I would not use it at all.
Further, Metasystox is harmful to pollinators. The ‘quick knockdown effects’ that they have mentioned in the article? We see it every year in the form of dead bees. While this is terrible from a biodiversity point of view, it is also bad orchard management. Pollinators, as we all know, are indispensable allies to enable fruit-set. A mass-scale killing of bees and other pollinators, while poisoning ourselves, during flowering seasons, is so misguided that it is tragic. Please don’t.
About Chicu Lokgariwar
Chicu has been working on sustainable resource management, especially water, since 2000. Uncity Chicu presently lives in Chatola with her husband, dog and ever-increasing flock of chickens. Chicu writes about water for the India Water Portal and blogs about the gardening life.