Friday, 20 November, 2009

26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks - One year has passed !

As we near 26/11 Anniversary, there are a lot of thoughts coming to mind…ofcourse not at all on the “Spirit of Mumbai” – That is a farce word to camouflage the looser in us. The so-called “Spirit of Mumbai” was back on track just after a few hours of attack in Mumbai last year. This “Spirit” evaporates when Raj Thackeray tries to divide Mumbai…this “Spirit” evaporates when its time for the citizen to setp up, vote and create their own future – only 40% people turn out to vote, rest 60% sleeping (I should call them traitors if I could). I guess those 60% don’t have rights to complain or cry foul when something happens to them. Actually, the so-called “Spirit of Mumbai” exists in the person or the family which is not a victim….ask the victims family or near and dear ones, where is their “Spirit of Mumbai’? A city like Mumbai which provides such great opportunities to people can not have a Ganpat absent at work for a day – He will not be able to pay the school fees of his child, if Rameshbhai bunks office, he will loose the trading deal and will be unable to fund his daughters wedding, if Pankaj does not attend an important meeting at 9, his counterpart Vijay would bag all the attention and will get the promotion, not just that – even being 30 mins late, Vilas will loose his half day Salary – will not this keep up the “so-called Spirit of Mumbai “? It’s a no brainer… And well, the citizen are practical – of something is destined t happen it will not happen – even if you are at home…so run..

Well, a year has passed and if you look at the impact on the Civil Liberties, there is much- even in the US post 9/11- the civil liberties were impacted – so even in India- the society is going through a lot of pains of being scanned, harassed but for good, the state is spending huge monies on security devices and the Metal detector companies multiplying their profits – all is fine…we all can take this pain, but what is the result - The result is Zero !

(*) Today, anyone can again attack Mumbai from the coast or the land as we are yet not adequate. The terrorist does not come through the metal detectors or the malls, they are masterminds, much smarter than our Intelligence agencies and they will find better and safer ways to come and attack…who knows in Mumbai, if your own neighbor is a terrorist?
(*) Judicial system forms a part of Civil liberties and here we are offering more liberties to the culprits than the civilians – Afzal Guru is still enjoying after attacking the parliament and Kasab dares to ask for a favourite dish and our system cries hue and cry if Manu Sharma is pubbing in parole…. Please for God sake get serious !
(*) We have freedom of speech, religion but still a representative of public gets slapped for using the National language in the parliament much against his civil liberties and we talk of Civil liberties for the citizen.

Net-net, as we near the Anniversary of the 26/11 Attacks

  1. Why was RR Patil asked to leave (erstwhile Home Minister for his remark of Terror attacks as in such big cities, such small things keep happening) and what has he done or what confidence has be build that he is again made the Home Minister ? It is a complete joke and ridiculing of the Civil liberties, but I don’t blame the politicians for this – it’s the 60% sleepers (non-voters) who have chosen this minster again – Congratulations and bear the heat now.
  2. Why are only Motor bikers and Tourist Taxis checked in Search operations by police (Naka bandis) ? I have never been stopped in my private car except just once immediately post the attacks. Does it mean that Terrorist will not come in normal cars or bus ? Or the police is smart to know who is an easy target to harras ?
  3. Why have the police and their search operations (naka bandis) totally disappeared post the recent elections in October ? Guess, Police have information that the Terrorists would not come post the elections or the farce visibility drive that the state is hard on security is over now post the elections and its time to mint money by catching drunken drivers – that’s where the money is.
  4. Why are people still avoiding Metal detectors at Railway stations and police seeing silently and waiting for another attack ?
  5. I just traveled a few days back and the security at the Airport is as strong as it should have been – why is the difference between the security seriousness of CSF and Mumbai Police. When I asked a police man – he ignored the fact and said, they are yet not equipped or trained for the same and when a Neta comes – they all become equipped and trained. He has a point – its frustrating to check each passerby knowing that you are not going to find anything.
  6. Supposedly Security boats were bought for patrolling on the coast and understand that the same is not having any fuel – where is mine and your tax money going ?
  7. Someone very rightly asked the MNS guys – where was Raj Thackeray during the attacks ? The same remains unanswered !
  8. Some famous politician (forgetting the name, was it Narayan Rane ? – see how short sighted a Mumbaikar is) made public claims that the Politicians of Mumbai

NDTV 24X7 triggered the thought of sharing my views on the Subject by asking the avid bloggers on the Social Issues share their Views and Questions with Barkha Dutt, who would represent us on a Talk show, but there are many more questions and Mumbaikars will keep on asking, that’s the best we do – but finding answers ? I guess not many are really interested !!

Thursday, 19 November, 2009

TADOBA NATIONAL PARK - The Historic Battle !

Tigers chasing Sambar – The Baap of Kruger Scene - LIVE !
2 Tigers on Land and 2 Crocodiles in water await to kill the Sambar
Met the Chief Forest Officer, Thane Zone, Shree Bhagwan, IFS (Indian Forest Service Officer, equivalent to an IAS) – a few months back with connection to business. Myself being a wild life enthusiast got into some long drawn conversations which resulted in live experiences and future of the Wild Life in India shared quite passionately by Shree Bhagwan. I shared my poor perception of wild-life in Maharashtra purely on my experiences at Melghat Tiger Reserve, Chikaldhara and on the under developed Sanjay Gandhi National Park which has immense potential but no-one doing much about it, and the way Madhya Pradesh has projected its sanctuaries like Bandahvgarh, Kanha and Pench.

Shree Bhagwan differed with me saying that one should go to Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (625 Sq. km), which is just 150 kms from Nagpur. Shree Bhagwan had headed Tadoba around 2003-2006 and he was passionate enough to show me some brilliant pictures of tigers and other animals there and I parked his views in my mind. We had discussions on my experiences of Wild life across India and South Africa and what can turn around the same in Maharashtra and the same was taken in positive spirit by Bhagwan ji and each point was given a logical reasoning and view which a layman can not have. The discussion with such a wild life lover and a passionate IFS official was very enriching and remained in my mind and months passed by.

One fine day, had plans to visit Nagpur and the thought lying in the corner of my mind lighted up. I communicated with Shree Bhagwan and he was kind enough to meet me and spend some time guiding and mentoring me on Tadoba-Andhari.

And then, the History followed..... We saw a breath taking scene, though post a long patient wait of 4 hours and the scene can be termed as a Baap of Kruger (No.1 National Park of the world). Usually, the scene of Tiger chasing a prey and killing is quite common – all would have seen on Discovery, but a situation, where 2 Tigers chasing a Sambar and the Sambar survives by jumping into the water, but unfortunately 2 Crocodiles await their prey and the battle goes on for 24 hours and finally makes the Headlines of The Times of India – Front page on 16th November 2009. I witnessed the same and was able to capture a 35 minutes live video of the battle and Star News and Star Maza took my Interview and the same along with my video which was broadcasted on the National television at Prime time 9:30 PM on 16th November (Attached the News video)

The World class battle of Kruger
The famous Battle of Kruger, which took place in South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the most widely-watched vidoes, after being posted on YouTube in 2007, it depicts how a buffalo calf, which is separated from its herd, survives a tug-of-war between a pride of lions and a few crocodiles. Soon after, the buffalo herd, in a stunning display of courage, regroups to rescue their young one, with full-grown members chasing away the lions.

The Rare Battle of Tadoba-Andhari
It was Telia Lake of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve where the battle went on for 24 hours on 13-14 Nov 2009
13 Nov : 6:30 AM : The poor Sambar (The Bigger deer species with long horns) was there grazing on the banks and suddenly 2 tigers attacked, but the sambar was lucky enough to run down the water and save its life, but it never knew that 2 crocodiles were awaiting their dinner ! The tigers went back, but were hiding in the bushes for the Sambar to come out. The Sambar struggled from the crocodiles who finally gave up and the Sambar came on the banks and the injured Sambar, unable to walk came out.
13 Nov : 5:30 PM : We sat in our jeeps (only 4-5 in the whole park, unlike 50 in Kanha) from 2 PM and at 5:30 PM saw the female tiger slowly coming out of the bushes and strategizing her secret moves to attack. She took the way from water and then the bushes and finally attached but was unlucky again. I was able to capture the whole live incident on my Sony Handicam with 2000X Zoom. 14 Nov : 6:30 AM : When we entered the park, the brave Sambar had already lost its battle in the night and the Tiger was enjoying its breakfast and the 24 hours long battle thus ended.

A Background on TADOBA :
Tadoba is Dry Deciduous Forest of Central India with lots of leafy bushes, meadows and Bamboo trees. There are 3 ranges – Moharali, Tadoba and Kolasa. Main area is Moharali which is close to Chandrapur – just 25 kms and there are other gates like Kolara gates and Navegaon gates which are much closer to Nagpur, if one is coming from Nagpur – saves an hour. The Park is a Tiger Project and claims that there are 40 Tigers in the park. Other animals include panther, bison, sloth bear, hyaena, jackal, wild dog, blue bull, sambhar, cheetal, barking deer, four-horned antelope, chinkara, hare, porcupine, langur etc. There is a variety of Birds – around 140 and reptiles and insects. One should not miss the huge Cob webs and Spiders in the jungles of Kolasa.

How to reach : This National Park is in the Nagpur-Chandrapur district, easily accessible with good roads – takes 2-2.5 hrs from Nagpur (directly to Kolara or Navegaon gate) or through Chandrapur to Mohrali gate.
Jeep Safari : The only developed area is Mohrali (25 kms from Chandrapur) or one can say commercial – around 6-20 jeeps enter this gate while other gates hardly get 2-3. This gives you a place with less tourists like BG and Kanha and once can also have a little leniency in terms of timings. The park opens to Jeep Safaris (from 6AM to 11AM and 2PM to 6PM). We were there for just 3 safaris (1 Morning and 2 evenings). There are not much jeeps and hence no unions which has its own merits and demerits.
Places to stay : There were foreigners but not as much as in MP and may be this is what is lacking for the development – lack of awareness, hence lesser footfalls, hence lesser business opportunities, hence lesser commercialization (eg. Not many good hotels to stay except MTDC, Saras and moderate rates -1200-1400 for AC rooms and Tiger Trails – around 5000. There are not much private hotels and resorts either. Eating restaurants are also limited to 2-3. Chandrapur is also a decent option to stay (Hotels Sidhartha, Hotel Kundan Plaza)
The People, Guides, Forest Officials : The place gives you a real upcountry feel as not much developed or commercialized like Kanha and Bandhavgarh. There are still some villages in the park area and yet to rehabilitated, so you may find some adivasi – tribals cycling or walking around which is not so common in BG and Kanha. The Guides and Forest systems are good and well trained, they have exchange programmes and trainings at BG and Kanha. Overall, the people are war, co-operative and simple. The Animal tracking is a bit different here - No calls of Cheetal or Monkeys over movements of the Tiger or No common tracking of the Tigers movement like pug marks by guides or jeep guys who would identify an area where tigers are frequenting and all would try the luck there, which in most probability helps see the tigers.
Coverage of entire ranges – There are 3 ranges. Drivers of Mohrali Range prefer staying around Mohrali only and usually avoid going too far to other ranges like Tadoba or Kolasa giving fake excuses that there are not much sighting etc and the first timers get fooled. The reason of this is to save fuel and efforts driving (they charge Rs. 1300 for each safari and if they make you sit at one place waiting for the animal they save the whole cost). Believe me, the best forest so far I have seen is the Kolasa, which beats even Kanha in terms of the feel of forest. It was just one jeep and the roads are much less travelled with absolutely bushy roads with just two tyre lanes and huge long bushes even on the middle of the road and lot of greenery. It gives you that irky feeling of what if the jeep breaks down here as there are no other jeeps or connectivity – Kolasa drive is a must and there are some points where one can sight animals, though we didn’t like – Kakadghat, Ambewadi, Shravani Zari etc.
Some Useful Numbers : Jeep Owners : Sameer Maji – 9325770530, Anil Tewade – 9579010493, (They can organize the stay etc without any charges) –Jeep Fees – Rs 1300 per safari; Guide Fee – Rs 100, Entry – Per Jeep – Rs 50, per Person – Rs 20. Forest Office – TADOBA – 07172 251414; Forest Officer Chandrapur – 0712 2528953/2552518/2765

My Views on TADOBA and Wild Life Tourism in Maharashtra :

Most of us think of beaches or hills or pilgrimage when we think of holidaying near our home – Mumbai, somewhere close for 2-4 days or a weekend trips. Wild Life which is a very exotic and upcoming tourism (Africa’s leading revenue making industry) – the problem is

(a) Indians have not really taken this sort of a tourism so seriously, though there is a niche segment. –(My mother says, why do you have to go to such deep forests and for so many days just to see tigers – you can go to the zoo – The mentality of Indian tourism is primarily Beaches, Hills and Pilgrimage no matter however crowded they are !) In this age when space tourism or Horror tourism (you are taken to real haunted places where you “may” encounter ghosts or spirits) are evolving, India should look beyond the typical holidaying and wild life is such an area where more foreigners come as compared to Goa ! Many Young Indians are getting into Adventure Tourism and that’s a good sign. And believe me - seeing a Tiger in its wilderness is a great feeling ! The Animal is a majestic one and the feeling of finding one your self is the most exciting part of the whole thing !
(b) The experience or value for time and money - of Wild Life tourism has to be better than what one gets in the routine holidaying and that is what South Africa and many National Parks like Kanha or Bandhavgarh have achieved. Maharashtra is way behind.
eg. Melghat (Chikaldhara, near Badnera Rly Station) was the saddest experience in wild life in Maharashtra, where could not see a small mouse in the forest, no regrets, but regrets over the poor attitude of the forest officials – the babu culture where they ridiculed the far claimed tiger project names by just a 30 minute safari on some jungle roads, where you literally don’t find any single insect, bird or animal and the guide had to be forcefully picked from home as no one in the village was willing to come unlike other places where the forest department has evolved the lives of local adivasis (tribals) bu uplifting them rehabilitating them and creating multiple job opportunities for them (guides, trekers, helpers, drives, jeep safari owners, restauranters and even employees of forest departments etc) despite of their illiteracy and lack of communication skills. If I could, would want the park to be delisted from being a Sanctuary but am told maybe the landscape of Chikaldhara is such hilly and terraineous unlike Kanha, BG. But in that case the place should not be promoted for tourism but should be maintained as a Core Area only.

Tadoba was great experience but luck factor was also strong. But Tadoba speaks of the future of Wild Life in Maharashtra and the scene sighted above is a challenge to all the national parks where tourists could see such a scene at all !

Bandhav Garh, Kanha, Pench in Madhya Pradesh or Ranthambhore in Rajasthan or even Jim Corbett have created a brand of theirs that attract tourists. Not that they have assured or 100% probability of sighting (Have know many who have spend days in the park with futile efforts to sight a tiger), but the awareness is so strong (through media, word of mouth etc) and the commercialization is strong (Good lodging, boarding, infrastructure, roads, security etc), that people visit these parks. Besides being Commercial, they provide great hospitality and service as they know that their house runs on the same – Right from Hotels, government officials to locals and that is one more reason. The distance or reachability is also discounted. BG or Kanha are the most difficult to reach parks in terms of airport and rail connectivity (eg. To go to BG from Mumbai, one has to go by train to Katni or by flight to Jabalpur and travel by bad roads for 3-4 hours, but still lots of people come – lots of foreigners come as these places are becoming brands and the government plays a major role. The same happens if this Industry is taken seriously or the Department of Forest has some strong weight in the respective State. Or the last way is, if the Minister is a strong person with a vision and passion and a will to change things. The New Forest Minister, Maharshtra, Shri. Patangrao Kadam is known for his administrative skills and the way he has mould the education industry and I sincerely hope and appeal to the Hon. Minister to help evolve the Wild Life Industry in Maharashtra. And hope to have more IFS officers like Shree Bhagwan who have given their lives for forests and wildlife and on whose names there are villages (In Tadoba, people have renamed their village as Bhagwanpur as the IFS Officer had rehabilitated the tribals and had helped them evolve in lives and had helped the Forest evolve as a valuable park.

Maharashtra is usually known for Beaches, Hills and Pilgrimage, but Wild Life is also abundant here. Tadoba, Melghat and Pench (One portion is in MP and other in Maharashtra) and even Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai – these can be developed and promoted very well and can attract good tourists as well as revenue to the state. Hope the state looks beyond Electricity, Sugarcane and Commerce !