Dec 31, 2009

Whither Brand Hyderabad?

The ongoing political crisis in Andhra Pradesh has many wondering what will happen to Brand Hyderabad and all the glitter it has gathered over the last decade. There is concern that if AP is partitioned, then investments will move away. Unrest is already affecting the business mood and the fear is that in future, Maoist violence may increase and weaken the city, or that a partitioned state that still controls it will divert resources to other lesser developed parts.

Telangana has had genuine problems about resource allocation, an exploitative political leadership and self-respect. The jury is out on whether this warrants a partition of India's first state formed on linguistic basis - read this Hindu editorial for one view. As far as Brand Hyderabad goes, I believe the damage is not irreparable. Urbanization is a mega trend and location wise, Hyderabad taps a massive hinterland. The divisive Telugus may go and serve other metros Madras and Bangalore, like they always did (it was more so before Unification in 1956). But this is clearly not a zero sum game.

If a new state capital for Andhra-Rayalseema is created, other metros may benefit, but this will also mean more construction on the new capital, more work leading to an economic boom. The Andhra-Seema folks may work with a vengeance and leverage the huge seacoast they have for the first time. And if the Telangana issue is sorted out without partition, then the Brand will only bounce back stronger. Brand Mumbai has been resilient despite several major terrorist attacks. Brand Delhi remains strong despite turmoil in nearby Af-Pak. Didn't Japan witness a huge ascendance right after the World War II mayhem? So fellas, stay optimistic and hope that the uncertainity soon subsides, giving people like us work to do. The sun shines brighter, once the clouds clear up.

Dec 29, 2009

Pench Trip - Croquet, Riverbed Running (4 of 4)

Sunday was our final day at Junglethlon, and that morning after breakfast we played a game of croquet. I had never played this Victorian game before but found it very interesting. Pradeep planted some hoops and sticks on the ground at various places and gave us a wooden mallet and four balls. Each player had to strike the ball through the hoops, hitting others’ balls to get ahead. It felt like a combination of golf (the putting) and billiards (hitting others’ balls).

After croquet, the final event of Junglethlon was river bed running. We trekked a bit to get to the river and then ran some 6 to 8 kms. Parts of the river were very scenic. I found a few trees in the dry riverbed that had massive bulbous roots, trunks and even branches making them look like they were made of potatoes!

Finally the time to disperse had come, and after the last meal together, the team left for Nagpur. On the way Pradeep showed us one of the schools that he supports and explained about the Pench Rakshak program. The work they do at the grassroots level in community support and education is amazing! We reached Nagpur railway station just in time, and said our goodbyes capping off a wonderful trip.

Pench Trip - Safari & Fire Making (3 of 4)

We rose early, not to miss our appointment with Mr Sher Khan in the Pench forest. Rudyard Kipling spent his time in this forest and this is where he wrote the famous Jungle Book. Having read this story to my daughter several times I was all familiar with Bagheera, Baloo, Mowgli, Kaa and others – the area is full of their pictures on various signboards.

Once the red tape at the forest office was done with by Pradeep, we set forth in our gypsy into the forest. We were assigned a guide, despite his efforts the tiger was not traceable. We saw the tiger’s pugmarks though, and several game like Cheetal (a deer), Sambar (another Deer), Nilgai (an antelope), Warthog, Peacock etc. At Alikatta, we enquired about the ‘Tiger Show’ in which tigers are arranged to be ‘sighted’ on elephant back parties. The wait was long and the group was not keen on the ‘arrangement’ though I was not so sure. We moved on, and more of the same sightings followed till we exited the sanctuary, and got back to another sumptuous breakfast of puri-bhaji, poha and omelettes.

Major Pradeep wouldn’t have us rest, and the next task given to us was to light a fire. It again may sound simple, but the effort proved humongous (if you have seen Tom Hanks do it in the movie Castaway). Getting the tinder to light up in itself is tough and takes a long time rubbing wood against wood. We tried using a magnifying lens and a paper (a shortcut actually) but even that failed! The lens would burn a hole into the paper but it wouldn’t light up! Meanwhile our eyes were so strained that they almost popped out of the sockets. Though we finally used a match, a major lesson was learnt in putting together tinder, twigs, air (yes, Oxygen), sticks and logs into a fire-friendly arrangement.

Post lunch we went back to the night shelter task, cleared the floor of the large tent, erected the central pole that anchored the parachute, secured the parachute ropes to nearby trees. Srikanth and I deployed our fire skills in creating a fire place, a hole in the ground where the fire would burn through the night keeping us warm and the stories coming.

The next venture was to get into the jungle, walk around a bit, and then figure out how to get back. Before that we climbed a 25 feet tall water tank that gave a view of the jungle nearby. After walking around the jungle a bit, we used the sun’s position in the sky to determine which direction to return. We also learnt that at night, the crest of the moon always points west and on a full moon night, the ears of the bunny on the moon always point south.

Towards the evening, Srikanth, Manu and self took the cycles and headed to the check dam passing a few villages. It was a 6km each way ride, and was uneventful except for the spectacular fall I had. On the way back, I had gotten off road and was maneuvering my roadster back onto the road. While negotiating the sharp left, the handlebar reversed itself, abruptly stopping the cycle and sending me flying into the air. I fell on my bums, and then rolled over with barely a scratch. Had I resisted the fall injury would have been certain, I was happy that the fall was gracefully done.

The night was spent in the shelter we created, eating good food and listening to all kinds of stories. We also split into three shifts of two hours each for tending the fire. Pradeep later called up to say that the resort manager liked the shelter so much, that he planned to retain it.

Pench Trip - Building Machan (2 of 4)

The next day morning we visited Ramdham, a religious theme park on the Nagpur – Jabalpur highway. We had some time before the Junglethlon party picked us up at 11am. Major Pradeep Rao, Manu, Avni and Shrey welcomed us to the gypsy. It was a bit disappointing to see only four registrants though the Facebook page showed upto 33 people. The ‘extreme’ edition was scrapped as well – not that I was up for it (had a right calf muscle cramp and a left ankle-tendon pain). Nevertheless the drive to Pench was good – nice road and even nicer weather.

We stopped at Khawasa on the highway – Pradeep, Srikanth and I picked up roadster bicycles from Jaleel’s cycle shop. We cycled the 12kms to the Tiger-N-Woods camp located on the edge of the Pench Tiger Reserve. We were in the forest buffer zone and the ride was good. It helped ease up my calf muscle – cramps need massage and what better than a nice cycle ride? We passed Turia village and some Gond habitats before reaching the venue. En route, Pradeep pointed to a bad patch on the road saying he almost jackknifed into the ditch there – I rode carefully. My bicycle fall would happen later, on another ride.

At the venue, we had a quick ‘breakfast’ past noon – once again puri bhaji, and quickly got down to work. Our first task was to build a machaan on which six of us would spend the night. Pradeep showed us one with stilts in a nearby field, and another one on a tree without stilts. It all looked simple, but as we got down to finalizing the spot and identifying raw material, the complexity dawned on us. Should we leverage a clump of trees as stilts? Or do we build ground up? Can we strengthen the tree machaan if there is space for six? As we resolved these questions precious time sped by. We finally decided to use a parachute as canopy and built six stretcher type beds on stilts.

I had never wielded an axe before, but quickly learnt how to - find a foot rest for the left leg, bend at the waist but keep the rest of the back straight, swing fully and carefully hitting the wood into a V pattern. After some serious log cutting, I was a happy camper. Soon it was dark and we realized the stilts were not happening on time. The night-shelter task was abandoned only to be taken up the next day.

We sat around a bon fire having good food and even better banter. We spent the night in machaan style double bedrooms that were elegant to say the least – wide balcony looking out into thick jungle, well appointed bathrooms, large bed etc. Now Srikanth was serious about the challenge and spent the night in his sleeping bag, going to the real machaan near our camp site. Sincerity is his forte!

Pench Trip - Ramtek (1 of 4)

Srikanth, my colleague at work and i headed out of Hyderabad on the night before Christmas eve. Luckily we missed the Telangana trouble brewing in the city just as the Home Minister made an announcement that triggered protests. We took the Dakshin express train to Nagpur and reached the next morning.

From Nagpur we headed to Pench on a red bus. Only that the Pench we first reached (via Parsheoni, where we took a jeep) was in Maharashtra, and the other end of the Pench tiger reserve. Animated discussions with locals helped us convert this failure into a success – we were very close to Ramtek and decided to spend the night there (at a far lesser cost than Pench!).

Ramtek has a lovely temple dedicated to Lord Ram situated on top of a steep hill. After checking into the Ramagiri lodge at the foothill, we climbed up the steep steps. It was only Srikanth, me and several langurs (monkeys) which seemed to have a free run there. There are three temples in a sequence located within a fort on the hill top. The architecture appeared to be a mix of North Indian style temple domes built on Hoysala style platforms. The serene atmosphere and the spiritual bearing of the langurs enhanced the winter breeze we were enjoying. No wonder, Lord Rama rested here before heading south to vanquish Ravana. And no wonder, Kalidasa sat on these very hills, composing the wonderful Meghadūta.

The Pench Trip

It was a trip that was made in the usual year end tradition that I am developing now. Go out into the wilderness, commune with nature and challenge oneself with a trek in the second half of a December. The trigger this year is a reflection of how the internet is impacting us - I found the event and the organisers on Facebook! The destination was Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and the event Junglethlon.

In the following travelog posts, i will provide more details on what transpired each day.