Save The Elephant

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An elephant we saw on way through Masanigudi and Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

I have yet to meet someone who says that they hate elephants. I love them – they represent all the best in humans – love, affection, a sense of community. Besides they do so much for our forests. Watch Elephant Grows The Forest here:

Sadly, we have forgotten just how precious these creatures are. It is estimated that there are  about 450-750k African elephants and only about 35-40k Asian elephants in the world today. Poaching, climatic change and habitat loss are causes the elephant population to reduce drastically.

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A baby elephant in Masanigudi/Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

China with its endless appetite for ivory is driving poaching across Africa and Asia.

Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their dead—and across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China’s “suddenly wealthy” has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. With tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their tusks, raising the specter of an “extinction vortex,” Alex Shoumatoff…read more here.

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The same elephant in picture 1

Apart from torturing and killing elephants for their ivory, there are several cruel practices used to train elephants to perform as tourist attractions.  One example is the phajaan – a violent, ritualized separation and breaking ceremony, used in Thailand.  View this National Geographic presentation for more information.  Remember those ‘cute’ elephants painting? The fact is that elephants don’t paint.  Someone came up with the idea to ‘train’ them to do so. I don’t want to begin to imagine what they went through to learn painting.

Closer home, there have been reports from South India of ‘elephant taunting’ – a bizarre and incredibly dangerous activity in which onlookers harass elephants to the point of retaliation.

Let’s not even start with the cruelty to circus elephants… 🙁

The cruelty seems unending.

Thankfully, there are several individuals and organizations who are working to conserve and protect elephants. I invite you to read these articles/pages today or bookmark them to read later:
What can tourism do about wildlife poaching – silence is not an option.

Elephant Partners on Facebook

Elephant Voices on Facebook

Each of us too can make decisions and take steps to make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Sign The Elephant Charter today. Go here to do this.
  • Avoid buying anything made from ivory.
  • Don’t patronize shows that are geared to tourists, including elephant safaris. Visit elephant sanctuaries instead.
  • Make your next travel experience one in which you spend time as a volunteer for a wildlife project.
  • Increase awareness by writing and sharing about cruel practices and how we can help in wildlife conservation.
  • Find a baby elephant adoption program – read more here.

Save the elephant!

PS: I would like to acknowledge that I was inspired by this particular post from Holes in My Sole written by Jim McIntosh. Jim does a lot to spread awareness.

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Today we’re on S of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Kalaripayattu

I first visited Kerala (a State in South India) in the early nineties, much before the Keralites discovered that they lived in God’s Own Country. And having discovered God’s Own Country, on my own, I have kept returning. Again and again.

But my enchantment with the natural beauty of Kerala blinkered me and I gave the cultural aspects of the place and its people a miss. As a result, I missed out on Kalaripayattu, a martial art form indigenous to Kerala. In Malayalam, the word ‘kalari‘ means a practice ring or a training centre and ‘payattu‘ means duel.

Although I had come across some pictures and references to Kalaripayattu in travelogues and magazines, for some unfathomable reason, the thought of attending a performance never entered my mind.

In fact, when I was invited to attend a demonstration at the Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, Niligiris, South India,  last May, my initial reaction was to decline. But the fact that my father-in-law was the chief guest for this program ensured that no was not an option. Still I kept hoping that inclement weather would ensure the cancellation of the show. But the skies cleared and off we drove to the parade ground at the Centre.

However, once the program started, we sat enraptured. I tried to take some pictures, but the shutter speed of my camera was not fast enough, as the members of the team flew across space in a blur; swords striking swords or shields blocking swords or spears or staffs knocking away swords.

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Then I realised why all the pictures in the travelogues had left me cold. None of these pictures can ever capture the sheer speed, agility and the courage of the kalaripayattu artistes.

A few months later, in October, we got another opportunity when we visited Kumily. Courtesy the events manager at the Tuskers Trails resort where we stayed, we got a real ringside view of a kalaripayattu performance at the  Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.

This time, I did not even carry my camera knowing that it was quite inadequate to capture any action. Instead, I decided to sit back, watch and relish the ‘warriors’ in action. However, the ubiquitous cell phone ensured that I got some pics of the arena.

 

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But I was quite unprepared for what followed. Without taking away anything from the army team at Wellington, who put up a performance at short notice, I realised that this was the real thing.

I will not try to describe the performance, as mere words are quite unequal to the task. Instead, I will share with the readers a short video of the another performance by a team from the same centre. Watch below or here.

The artistes wielded the various weapons, viz swords, spears and staffs, without holding anything back. Only the superb reflexes of the warriors prevented serious injury. And the climax of the show was two warriors jumping together, through a double ring of fire.

At one point during the program, some of the artistes climbed up to where the audience were sitting and like consummate showmen, went around shaking hands. After the performance, many in the audience rushed into the arena and insisted on taking pictures with the artistes. These guys have evolved into ‘stars’ and why not?

You can watch a more detailed video here.

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Today we’re on K of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Captivating Coonoor!

Last summer we had a family reunion cum holiday in Wellington, a quaint Cantonment town in the Nilgiris (South India) straight out of the British Raj, which hosts The Madras Regimental Centre and The Defence Staff College.

And just outside Wellington is Coonoor, a lovely hill station that does not get the attention it deserves because nearby Ooty tends to attract the tourist traffic. If I were asked to chose between the two towns, Coonoor would win, without a shred of doubt.

But even a day spent in Coonoor will make you want to come back, again and again, to rest and relax. And discover more. Like Sim’s Park. This beautiful park cum botanical garden is situated in a ravine, and was developed in 1874, using the natural contours of the land. It tends to get a bit overcrowded, but to the credit of the staff of the park, the place is very well maintained.

Beautiful Sim's Park
Beautiful Sim’s Park
The flowers in full bloom in May
The flowers in full bloom in May

We had to cut short our stay at the Park because we had to two other important things to do. First, locate Baker’s Junction and second, have lunch at 180 McIver. Actually, we had come across McIver’s on our way into Coonoor from Wellington and Baker’s Junction had been highly recommended for the cheese it stocked.

After driving around a bit, we located Baker’s Junction, which was well stocked with dry goods, provisions and of course, cheese. And we were once again reminded that we live in a small world. Turned out that owner, Cedric Joseph was the brother of an old friend of Corinne.

Having ticked off the items in the shopping lists, we headed to 180 McIver. The 180 in the name comes from the unique location on a cliff that offers a fantastic 180 degree view of Coonoor.

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180McIver

180McIver is an old colonial era resort with a multi-cuisine restaurant, La Belle Vie.We had some delicious pastas and pizzas made  from scratch after the order is placed. And the desserts were delectable. Though the food is a bit expensive, the location is so unique, that overall it is a value for money proposition.

180McIver – The Resort

 

The Wellington Gymkhana Club
The Wellington Gymkhana Club

By the time we finished a leisurely lunch and went round the beautifully appointed rooms in the resort, it was almost tea time. We headed to  The Wellington Gymkhana Club for tea.

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My first taste of NonSuch BOP

There  I was introduced to NonSuch tea. And after tasting the NonSuch Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) tea, I was hooked. I now order it directly from the tea garden to drink in Mumbai. So now we have memories of Coonoor at least four times, everyday! 😉

PS: Thanks to my brother-in-law, John Campos, for the fantastic pictures.  Until he gets his website up and running, we’ll continue to showcase his talent! 🙂
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Today we’re on C of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Travel and Food

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” ~ James Michener

Travel and food – they go together for me.

Last October we had the pleasure of visiting a quiet little town called Kumily in Kerala, South India. While we stayed there because of its proximity to the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve, we enjoyed our walks through the little town too.  Whenever we visit a new place, José and I make it a point to sample the local food.  So the first evening there we went to look for tea and snacks and here’s what we found.

These were kind of familiar and can be found in different parts of India  – a bun with a sweet filling – called Dilkush (which in Hindi means ‘to make your heart happy’. However, what made these different was the filling – a lot more coconut – which I love!

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 These are Thennai kozhakattai a sweet dumpling dish made of rice, coconut, jaggery/ sugar. We also tasted a sweet rice cake called vattayappam. Both of these were steamed – so they were easy on the stomach and made a good evening snack.

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Food is our common ground, a universal experience. ~James Beard (1903-1985) – an American chef and food writer

In this case it’s the tea that makes it a universal experience! 😉  José relished a good strong cup of it, unlike the lighter variety we have at home.

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Here’s the  shop in all its glory – Irfana Coffee House and Cool Bar –  at Kulathumpalam in Kumily, with its proud owner Zakir Hussain. He was most gracious in letting us take these pictures.  Notice all the banana wafers and tapioca chips in the packets on the counter in front. Fried in coconut oil, these too are a specialty of Kerala.

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The next day we were lucky to go to a biryani  festival in the town. Now there are various kinds of biryanis that unique to different parts of India and we got a chance to try quite a few of them.  Thalaserri biryani, particular to a region in Kerala, was one we hadn’t sampled before. It was rich with the spices that grown in Kerala – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bay leaves. I was certain I got the distinct flavor of rose water too.

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By venturing out of our hotel as we usually do, and sampling the local food, we get to interact with the local people and find out more about the place and culture.

Are you adventurous with food when you travel?

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I’m so glad to be the host of The Writer’s Post Thursday Blog Hop # 73. My prompt is rather long – but it’s open to interpretation.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” ~ James Michener

Do join in and add the link to your post here:



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