‘Chitradurga Fort, an architectural delight

Forts and palaces have some mystique kind of silence about them. The aura in a fort appears to be hiding many untold stories and Chitradurga Fort in the North district of Chitradurga in Karnataka is no exception.

Enjoy a date with the Alps at Mt. Pilatus

Arriving in Switzerland is itself romantic. The green pastures, grazing cattle, unending landscapes that blur into horizon and many more such picturesque spots take you by awe.

One-stop street shopping in Brussels

We are in Brussels, the capital city of Belgium in Europe that is also famous for its vibrant shopping markets, besides being the capital city of the European Union.

Cruising on the romantic Rhine in Bonn

You might go cruising on River Rhine, better known for river cruises in Europe; you will find many cruise operators at your service too.

Africa's dwindling lion population: Wildlife expert reveals why big cats are slowly dying in Kenya's Maasai Mara


The article has been written by Sanskrity Sinha for IBTimes.

The Maasai Mara game reserve in Noarok County, Kenya, has been witnessing what experts call an age-old conflict between its indigenous people and predators. Lions have been the worst affected as their population in Mara has declined by a third in the last two decades.

While the Maasai people – ancestral inhabitants of the region after whom the reserve has been named – have claimed their safety as the primary reason for killing animals, experts state that there is more to it than meets the eye. The most recent attempt to kill lions in Mara, located about 300km southwest of Kenya's capital Nairobi, was made in December 2015 when two tribesmen allegedly poisoned and killed eight lions. Among these were seven from the famous Marsh Pride that featured on the BBC wildlife programme Big Cat Diary in 2007.

Two of the lions of the pride died due to poisoning. Another Marsh Pride lioness called Siena, whose two-year-old cub was among those poisoned, has unfortunately not been seen since the incident.

To understand the reason behind the killing of lions and other wild animals in Maasai Mara, IBTimes UK exclusively spoke to travel and wildlife expert Brian Jackman, an award-winning journalist and author. He is a patron of Tusk Trust, of which Prince William is the royal patron.

Jackman talked about solutions, including granting the national park status to the reserve and empowering local people to reap benefits from the presence of lions through eco-tourism such as the conservation safari offered by Tusk Trust's long-standing partner, The Ultimate Travel Company.

Excerpts from Brian Jackman's interview:

What are the wider problems surrounding incidences like the poisoning of lions in Maasai Mara in early December? Why do tribesmen want to kill the endangered species? Is it just for their safety or is there more to it?

Every night, tens of thousands of cattle encroach into the reserve when visitors are safely out of sight – but the likelihood of a conflict between predators such as lions and hyenas is greatest at this hour. Not only is this illegal, but it is inevitable that cattle would be killed by lions when deliberately driven into harm's way.

When two cows were killed in early December, tribesmen retaliated by leaving poison [in food] that killed the world's most famous lions. This makes no sense. The Masai Mara is after all a national reserve, of vital importance not only to the Masai [people], but to Kenya and the world at large. This sorry state of affairs is testimony to the appalling management of the Reserve, run by the Kenyan equivalent of a local council when ideally it should have been made a national park many years ago.

[According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) national parks are state-owned and have stricter regulations for conservation and protection, where as reserves may or may not be owned by the state and the level of protection is determined by local laws.]

On 4 January, as the Kenya-based animal welfare and rescue organisation David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust reported, a lioness with a snare around its neck was found in the Mara. Could it be an attempt to kill or capture?

It is extremely doubtful that this was an attempt to kill or capture a lion. Snares are widely used by poachers employed by the illegal trade in bush-meat. Their targets are other species – mostly antelope, wildebeest and zebra; but lions are sometimes caught by accident and elephants also suffer horrible injuries when caught by the trunk.

Lioness Sienna from the famous Marsh Pride is missing since the poisoning incident. What could have happened to her? If dead, why was her carcass not found?

Sienna, aged 11, was one of the Marsh Pride's best-loved matriarchs and has never been seen since the poisoning incident in which the veteran lioness Bibi was killed. The most likely explanation is that she wandered off before collapsing and her carcass eaten by hyenas [Jackman does not see involvement of poachers].

What Kenya should do to end the conflict between people and predators?

What needs to be done to protect the lions of the Masai Mara sounds simple: Uphold the law and stamp out corruption. As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Mara ought to be a national park, but politics have made this an impossible dream ­– until now. Maybe it is time for President Uhuru Kenyatta to step in and save the Mara and its lions before they are lost forever.

Additionally, it is worth pointing out that schemes are already in place whereby livestock owners are compensated for the loss of animals due to predation. I also believe it would be helpful if more land was set aside exclusively for grazing in the Greater Mara beyond the borders of the National Reserve, in the same way that private conservancies have been established to protect wildlife and promote responsible eco-tourism.

Africa's lion population is dwindling. Could you throw some light on the general plight of lions being harmed across the continent?

Back in the 1960s Africa still had around 200,000 lions. Today there are fewer than 25,000 and the population is likely to fall again by half in the next 20 years. This decline is reflected in the Mara, where the lion population has fallen by a third in the past 20 years, although lions are increasing in the surrounding wildlife conservancies. The main causes are loss of habitat, conflict between lions and livestock herders, and trophy hunting in countries where it is still allowed, such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The only glimmer of good news is the recent discovery of between 100 and 200 lions in a remote part of Ethiopia where they were not known to exist.

Why introducing yoga courses at Indian varsities is not a Hindu nationalist ideology


This article has been written by Sanskrity Sinha for IBTimes

Indian universities may soon be offering courses in yoga studies. The ministry of Human Resource Development has assigned a committee to develop department of Yogic Art and Science for universities across the country, said media reports.

The 12-member committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's yoga teacher H R Nagendra will identify courses as well as the qualification for faculty members and eligibility criteria for students opting for studying yoga in higher education.

The decision to start a separate department devoted to studies of yogic science was taken in early January in a meeting chaired by Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani.

Popularising yoga has been one of the core agendas of the Indian government since Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in May 2014. Proclamation of 21 June as the International Day of Yoga by United Nations General Assembly was the country's first milestone in this regard.

Proposed by Narendra Modi and introduced by India's Ambassador to UN Asoke Mukerji, the resolution on International Day of Yoga received an overwhelming support from over 170 member states. The resolution considered yoga's role in promoting sustainable development as it embodies the unity of mind and action.

Though India has several yoga schools, the inclusion of yoga studies in universities will bring the ancient knowledge into mainstream education. However, the move may fall prey to suspicion of being a political propaganda of the government, which has been blamed for politicising yoga for subtly promoting its Hindu nationalist ideologies as yoga is often perceived as a Hindu religious practice.

But Indian yoga gurus beg to differ. Speaking to IBTimes UK, Raj Kamal, a degree holder in Applied Yogic Science, said yoga is not connected to Hinduism only. He applauded the government's initiative to use yoga as what he called a "soft diplomatic tool".

"It is no politicisation or imposing of religious ideologies. The government is using yoga as a soft diplomatic tool to connect with people," he said, adding that yoga education at university level will "create employment in an industry which is estimated at more than $3bn (£2bn)."

"There is a dearth of certified yoga teachers in the world and the demand for qualified yoga trainers is huge. Yoga studies will help fill this gap," Kamal said. He added that certification from government-recognised universities is a must to curb nexus formed by private institutions who are providing certificates for money, a problem that has gripped the yoga industry.

Kamal, who runs the Yoga Wellness Center in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, argues that yoga studies in higher education will pave India's way to claim to an ancient knowledge that originated in the country.

"India can claim to yoga. We have scriptures and ancient documents dating back to more than 2,500 years ago detailing about yoga. But you have to have the infrastructure – authentic trainers, qualified practitioners, state-of-the-art yoga studios – to claim your ancient knowledge," he said. "Yoga study at university level is a welcome move."

He added that introducing study of yoga as an alternative medicine at an early stage of lifestyle will affect the overall wellness of the young population.

Indian Group Drafts Youth Agenda with Fresh Perspective

A group of young Indian professionals from diverse academic backgrounds has drafted a youth agenda, which they claimed is one its kind in the country. The document, Youth Agenda for India, is the result of months of study by members of Young Leaders Think Tank (YLTT), which is a partner organisation of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German non-governmental and non-profit organisation that works towards promoting social democracy.

"The key distinguishing feature of this document is its fresh approach for prioritizing youth issues in a country of limited resources and diverse youth population," said Sachin Kumar, a study team member and one of the authors of the report.

The study team undertook a unique exercise and methodology to develop the Youth Agenda for India - to be made not only 'for' the youth, but also 'by' the youth.

"The uniqueness of the document is its methodology which takes into cognizance the scientific aspects of research, re-modeled to maximize the outcome," said Mandvi Kulshreshtha, a member of the study team.

"Another distinctive feature of this study is the layers of validation - of issues as well as solutions - enunciated by the key stakeholders, i.e. the youth themselves."

The YLTT Youth Agenda for India (YAFI) identifies 32 issues related to learning or education, work and employment, citizenship and health that concern the youth of India. It presents possible future scenarios of these issues and suggests various curative and preventive measures to address them.

"Some of the recommendations that came out during discussion rounds have never been articulated in any study or policy document. If we are able to put in action even half of those recommendations, we can ensure socio-development changes benefiting all," asserted Mandvi.

Some of the high priority issues across all categories mentioned in the document include access to skills-based training, employment-driven training facilities, local employment opportunities, quality of elected representatives in politics, women's absence from the job market post marriage, rural to urban migration, need for infrastructure, level of school enrollment by gender, and more.

The YAFI document aims at reaping the demographic dividend of the young population of India by sensitizing policies that may help address the aforementioned issues from the perspective of the youth.

"Two-third of the population of India is under the age of 25. According to estimates of experts, by 2025 this demographic dividend is likely to increase manifolds in the age group of 15-59. With growing pool of fresh labour, India has the potential to steer the world in the economic and political arena," said the authors of the document.

The study findings were presented and formally disseminated early May among several stakeholders - UN Solution Exchange, policy makers, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Planning Commission - during a two day national workshop on Building Perspective on Youth Policy at Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development (RGNIYD) in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. The RGNIYD, an autonomous organisation under the Indian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, develops the National Youth Policy for the country.

"Youth Agenda is a good initiative of looking how demographic dividend is going to affect young people in the country," said P Siva Kumar, faculty, School of youth Studies and Extension, RGINYD.

This article has been written by Sanskrity Sinha for IBTimes.

The changing tide: How Saraswathy Ganapathy showed Karnataka village women the way to self-reliance

A doctor by profession, Saraswathy Ganapathy, 69, has changed the lives of women from villages in Karnataka, showing them the way to self-reliance and, most of all, self-belief...discovers Sanskrity Sinha...

Bespectacled, wearing a simple block-printed sari, Dr Saraswathy Ganapathy looks delightfully genial. Her voice reaches out and her eyes make an instant connection. It’s easy to understand what helped her walk the lanes of browbeaten villages in Karnataka’s Kanak¬pura district with her team from The Belaku Trust and make inroads with deprived natives. Ganapathy established the Trust to empower and rebuild the lives of women in the region. At their modest office in J P Nagar in Ben¬galuru, Ganapathy sits with papers and files piled up on her table. “If you want a picture of me at this table, you will have to blur the foreground,” she says, smiling instantly. She claims she is not as good at posing for camera like her celebrity husband Girish Karnad who, she says, can smile all day long. But then, she is innately a cheerful person, with maternal warmth—indeed, she is a mother not just to her two children but to the women of Kanakpura.

By training, Ganapathy is a paediatrician but she never went into practice. “My parents were physicians and I automatically drifted towards the profession; also because in those days one didn’t need to pull strings to get into medical colleges. If you were good, you got in; if not, you were thrown out. Medicine was exciting.” Despite the “excitement”, something kept Ganapathy from practice. “I did intensive care in paediatrics in the US. I had no intention to stay in the US but ended up living there for 15 long years from 1966-81….” she pauses for a moment and continues. “We had to spend a fortune to keep a small premature baby weighing 2 pounds alive, only to discover later that he was blind, deaf and suffered from brain dysfunction.” Such experiences would often make her ask herself: “Have you really done anything?” Back in India, she says, it was crazy to see normal, healthy babies dying just because the mother didn’t have a clean blade to cut the cord. “Gradually, I started feeling that wasn’t the way I wanted to go; finally, my husband proposed to me and I decided I would come home,” she says with a mischievous smile, followed by a quick statement, “That’s all I am going to say about ‘him’, by the way.”

Ganapathy’s playful side is tangible as she speaks—minimally, of course—about her hus¬band. “When I phone some ministers, I go as ‘Dr Ganapathy’ and often can’t get them to talk to me. As soon as I say I am ‘Mrs Karnad’, I’m welcomed with banni, banni, banni [welcome in Kannada],” she says laughing. “That’s fine with me. He is our chief trustee and it helps us.” And although Ganapathy acknowledges her husband is a “terrific playwright”, her identity is evidently her own—a woman in her own right. “I always felt women are superior,” adds the 69 year-old.

Shortly after returning from the US, Ganapathy formed a group and started a small health research project in the villages of Kanakpura. “During our research, we came across a house which was one of the poorest setups I have ever seen,” she recounts. “The husband had tuberculosis, the wife’s eyes were pale as she was severely anaemic and their eight month-old baby was all skin and bones because of malnourishment. At that point, we were very new in the area as we had only been doing research. Helping them monetarily was out of the question because they would have gone broke again in a few days. We asked the woman what she needed to earn a living and she instantly told us she wanted a sheep. We were surprised why she didn’t ask for a chicken or a goat. She replied, ‘A goat has to be taken to the forest…I don’t have the energy. Chick¬ens get sick and need more space. I can tie a sheep outside my home, I can feed it grass and if I can get a pregnant one, I can sell the lamb right away’.”

So they bought a sheep for her; and within a year, she had seven! She also started taking care of other villagers’ sheep and earning substantially to lead a decent life. “That made me believe that these people know what they need, but they don’t have the means,” observes Ganapathy. “That’s why I’m annoyed with our government schemes.” While working on public health in villages, Ganapathy had several other revelations about social issues that had an indirect impact on women’s health. One such issue was child marriage. “We spent some three to four years in Kanakpura; we knew the women and the villagers and they knew us. We felt there was need for interven¬tion.” But challenges lay ahead. “We realised that owing to the cultural and social beliefs of these people, it would be very difficult to bring in a change overnight,” she explains.

With a few other likeminded people, Ganapathy formed The Belaku Trust in 1995. The Trust offers opportunities to village women by engaging them in the making of recycled paper products, block-printed materi¬als such as scarves, and by training them in embroidery skills, to enable them to become self-reliant. The Trust works with various women’s groups, income-generation groups, women from the community they have trained to work with health awareness project teams, and youngsters.

The scope of the Trust’s activities, over the years, has provided its participants valuable life experiences and also translated into much contemporary lore. Ganapathy recalls an incident when one of the women in the group complained about her husband forcing their 16 year-old daughter into marriage. “Though there are reasons for this—the villagers feel the girls are vulnerable to sexual crimes and are safe only if married—we called up the groom’s family and said it was illegal to marry a girl who was below 18 years of age. We told them to call off the wedding or face police action. It was quite dramatic but eventually the wedding was called off. What’s remarkable is that, with the support of Belaku Trust, this woman had the courage to stand up to the elders in her family, her own husband and the village to support her daughter and save her from a forceful marriage.”

Women and villagers fondly call Ganapathy “Saras Madam” and look up to her as a pillar of support. Baneen Karachiwala, who has worked with the Trust for six years, says, “Dr Ganapa¬thy is more like a teacher and mentor. You can go to her with any problem and you won’t find anyone more encouraging and supportive.” The Trust also has volunteers belonging to other nationalities involved in its various projects. Viktoria Baskin from Australia, who has been interning at the Trust since September 2011, says, “It’s inspiring to see Dr Ganapathy at work. She is very sharp and not afraid of anyone.”

With minimal financial support from local government, Belaku Trust is mostly dependent on individual donations. “We are not here to make revolutionaries out of these women,” says Ganapathy. “We intend to create a pool that can recognise its own problems and look within itself for solutions and decisions. Our plan is to ideally make ourselves redundant. We would like to provide these women access to resources through which they can make that change happen.”

The road to empowerment is never an easy one. Over the past 17 years, Ganapathy has fought many battles—caste, ritual, cultural, gender. The Trust came to know of a village where female foeticide and female infanticide were the norm. “In one case, we interfered, took the infant to an orphanage and she was adopted. She is a beautiful little girl today,” shares Ganapathy with a sigh of relief. Women from tribal villages, widows, abandoned women, landless and unlettered women have all benefitted from the Trust. In return, the good doctor has learnt more than she has taught. To bring a change in society, a change in attitude is a must, she believes. She has witnessed this not only in the women but the men too.

“All men are not bad, all of them don’t victim¬ise women, but their upbringing makes them the way they are,” she reasons. “After a certain age, you can’t change that outlook. We have worked with young men from high schools and colleges and tried to talk to them about some of these issues but it’s astonishing how early those attitudes are set. That’s discouraging. We have been thinking of involving men at all levels. A lot of youngsters do respond, but the response is very slow. I think the success will come only when they see real changes around them.”

Despite the many disappointments encoun¬tered on the way, the success stories point to a bright future. “It’s important even if you get one woman who is willing to change and do something differently,” Ganapathy emphasises. ”She may not have the money to do it; the men and elders in her family may not let her do it; but when you show them that small win¬dow of opportunity, they sort their lives out.” The Trust also provides scholarship for girls from poor families and financial aid for families with serious medical problems. “Sometimes young girls come, get married and go away, but through our training programmes they take a skill with them, particularly embroidery, that they can use somewhere else.”

One notable success story is Kodahalli village; an awareness campaign by the Trust about alcoholism and related domestic violence boosted the will power of the women who managed to make the entire village liquor-free. “Today, women have much more self-confidence,” asserts Ganapathy. “They are now willing to travel, take decisions to keep their business going and tell their families what they want. Education has begun to make an impact in some areas to some extent. But I would like to see much more happening.”

—Sanskrity Sinha

Featured in Harmony - Celebrate Age Magazine June 2012

In the saddle: Risaldar Major Hariram on his life as an equestrian sportsman

From building Bangalore Turf Club’s reputation as a centre for equestrian sports to training children, Risaldar Major Hariram has many a colourful feather in his cap, discovers Sanskrity Sinha.

Decked in high riding boots, a helmet and a T-shirt boasting ‘BARI’ (Bangalore Amateur Riding Institute), Risaldar Major Hariram comes across as a tough sportsman. But when this animated silver begins to speak, he reveals a jolly side. “I thought I would live to be 200 but life is uncertain,” laughs the 78 year-old former Army man, who wishes he could never stop riding.

Hariram is a riding instructor at Bangalore Turf Club and he keeps his evergreen spirit alive by surrounding himself with the children he teaches and, of course, horses. On their way to the stables, a bunch of kids greets Chacha and he merrily waves back.

“I have loved these animals ever since I can remember and I cannot start my day without a ride,” says Hariram, whose affair with horses began at the age of 10. “Before Independence, every farmer family who grew chickpeas and owned more than 2-3 acre of land in Rohtak also owned horses. My grandfather was an excellent rider and I used to saddle the horses for a ride in the fields at 5 am. I didn’t know this childhood playfulness would be my destiny and, one day, a source of living.”

That story began to unfold when Hariram joined the Cavalry of the Indian Army in 1951. “We studied Urdu in school but, after Independence, Hindi became compulsory. I literally wanted to escape studying Hindi as I had never studied the subject before. So I enrolled with the Cavalry, where I taught horse riding as an Army instructor for 12 years,” says the mercurial silver with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His career move opened another chapter in his life, for the enthusiastic rider discovered the highly competitive world of equestrian sports. Soon, Hariram was participating in show jumping competitions, and went on to create records. Among these is a national record he set on the Army's Raising Day in Meerut. “On 8 December 1970, I jumped 7 ft and 2.5 inches, a record that still stands!” A few months later, Hariram set an international record when he jumped 6 ft, 7 inches at the Delhi Horse Show at the Red Fort. “One of the judges, who had also judged my national record, sarcastically told me this jump was not as high as my national record. I told him he could record it as 4 ft if he wished. I had still set a record!”

Before these stunning performances, Hariram had already won 65 gold medals at several shows, some of them team events. “Winning at polo in Pakistan gave me a major boost. I became more hard-working as I used to practice for seven to eight hours a day on eight to nine horses.” Hariram is also the only rider to have won gold at show-jumping contests for four consecutive years, from 1959 to 1962.

Risaldar Major Hariram retired from the Army in 1980 but his love for horses lingered. He was acquainted with the then Maharaja of Patiala, Maharaja Captain Amlendra, who was also a minister in the government. Considering Hariram’s reputation with horses, he was invited by the Maharaja to run his stud farm. “For eight years, I supervised every activity on the farm, from deciding on a horse to be bred to taking care of pregnant horses,” says our expert horseman while savouring the memory. 

A cheerful senior with a magnetic charm, Hariram’s career took another turn in 1989, when he landed his present job at Bangalore Turf Club. It was a journey that was full of twists and included recommendations from two royal families and a senior Army man who had participated in competitions along with Hariram! “The Bangalore race course was then known only for racing and betting and the state equestrian federation wanted to introduce equestrian sports to the city. So they needed a riding instructor,” explains our senior. “The club had no infrastructure for riding then and I was asked to train 32 children to prepare them for a show in 21 days.” Not only did Hariram accomplish this feat, he also put on a flawless show-jumping performance along with the kids!

Hariram lives on the premises of the turf club and has been a riding instructor there for 24 years. But not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of his favourite animals who helped him hold his head high. “Leading Boy, an Indian breed, was one of my favourite horses. I left him in Meerut when I moved to Bangalore but I visited him once every year. He died serving the Army in Gaya. My other favourite is Pratap, also an Indian breed. I won three competitions with him. He too died in Gaya,” recalls Hariram with a faraway look.

He adds with obvious fondness, “Chatak and Patak, both Australian breeds, were also magnificent animals, and I met them when I was posted in Kashmir. They were very mischievous and it took me around three years to master and befriend them. My consecutive win for four years was made possible by Patak.”

Hariram’s most precious memory, though, is of his father, whose words he will never forget. “When my father left to take part in the Second World War, he left saying my love for horses should not make me ship school. But I dropped out of school in Std VI. He practically stopped talking to me after that. Almost 30 years later, when I set the international record, my father had just one thing to say: ‘Today, you have finished your studies’.”

The feature was published online on www.harmonyindia.org in 2012

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