Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Conserving the Endangered Nag Chhatri

Conserving the Endangered Nag Chhatri                                                                                                                                             Pic by : Vishwanath

                  It was while descending and walking through the pine forest after kopru during my visit to high altitude lake Kanasar in Harkidhun Valley ; Uttarakhand.  I heard about this and fortunate to see this a rare medicinal plant with the help of  Mr. Aravind Bihst our porter.Having seen other medicinal plants and heard about their medicinal value I was eager to see it and know more about it..
                 Nag – Serpent  and Chatri – Medicinal plant .In sankrit  Botonical name  Trillium govanianum is popularly known as Nag chhatri, is an endangered plant species from Himalayan region. It is a robust, trifoliate herbaceous plant species with deep red and green coloured flower on the axis and is found in the vicinities of Himalayas especially in India, Nepal, China and Bhutan at an altitude of 2700m-4000m.
                  This herbal species is unusual in that the sepals and petals resemble each other, giving a six-petalled appearance with a central inconspicuous purplish brown flower borne at the apex of the stem and surrounded by leaves. The leaves are broadly ovate, acute, three in number with a conspicuous petiole). The underground part, tuber, of the plant is the key material of trade It is reported to contain trillarin and is used in preparation of steroidal and sex hormones Grows to height of 3 -4 Inches approximately. Roots contain Trillarin, which on hydrolysis yields 2.5% diosgenin - a cortico-steroid hormone.
                 The cortico-steroid hormone isolated from the plant is used in various preparations like sex hormones, cortisone and allied preparation used in rheumatism, regulation of menstrual flow and the like. In spite of this it is also used in stomach related problems.
ound in the altitude of 2500 to 3800 meter in the Himalayan region, nag chhatri's root is used to cure dysentery and stomach ailments especially in China where it has huge demand. With demand for rare and endangered medicinal herbal plant increasing in China and Nepal, the rare plant has caught the fancy of smugglers resulting into its large scale illegal extraction despite state government imposing a complete ban on it.
Due to its effective medicinal properties, the demand of this drug is high in the international markets.

Reports say that  the continuous smuggling of Nag chhatri is reported from various parts of hilly regions.
They sell it @ 1500 to 2000 a kilo. But are not aware of its medicinal use. They collect the bulbs & roots , then they dry it and sell it to Agents. There is a risk of extinction as the plant is uprooted from the base. I think Government should legalese the sale to help conserve the plant. It's urgent before its too late.

Continuous exploitation by poaching of this important drug from its local habitat of Himalaya is a bigger concerned globally in nearby future. More appropriate techniques towards its conservation and unabated despite ban of exploitation from the Himalaya can conserve this rare herb Nag chhatri.  Uprooting of the entire plant before seed setting is sure to hamper its regeneration. Though the  forest department in Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh, has imposed complete ban on the extraction of rare plant villagers bribe and smuggle these to eke out a living Finally, it is time for us to strategies our efforts to fulfil the obligation of Chang mai declaration of 1988 “Saving plants that save lives”.
Though nature has bestowed on us so many divine herbs it is we should make use it properly.Failing which the whole species may disappear forever.

Vishwanath R Dugganahalli

Monday, 8 April 2013

Unveiling the Secrets of Mystery lake - Roopkund

                     “In the hundred ages of gods, I could not tell thee the glories of Himalayas “ it says in the is to revel in their grandeur that the maounatins beckon me again and again.Restlessness begins to envelop my being if I donot glimpse them for a while.And so I return to tread the trailseach year.
                                       This year it’s Roopkund. The mystery lake which lies in the cradle of Mount Trishul at an altitude of 5029m in the Chamaoli district ofGharwal region of Uttaranchal.Known to be scenic and quite accessible, it is nontheless a daunting trek!.It is however worth every step taken, for the reward lies not just in sighting the lake, but the journey to its as is the month of September we are told it’s not quite the month to attempt walking in the Himalayas.We are warned of inclement weather, the biting cold  and shoeter day light hours that would demand a faster pace so as to reach each destination well before dusk.But we are ready to take on all the nays and pack our bags.
                                       It is the pale sun that greets us as we get off the train at haridwar station the gateway to the hills of Gharwal.Passing through Devprayag ( The confluence of Alakananda and Bhagirathi rivers ) , Rudraprayag ( the confluence of Alkananda and mandakini rivers ) ,         Karnaprayag ( The confluence of Alakananda and Pindari ) winding our way through serpentine mountain roads parallel to the swift flowing pindari river our sumo leaves us at a small hamlet of Lohajhung after two days of  of arduous journey.
                                        We decide to spend the night at Lohajhung and begin the trek next day morning, ready for whatever, the day would offer.It is monsoon, and everything around seems prettier.The alpine meadows have been covered with a blanket of variety of flowers, creating a riot of colours, Cumulus, Nimbus, Stratus ..clouds form a cover just a few feet above the ground.After a duration of 5 hours we reach the first campsite Didana which is at ana latitude of 8,000ft.We pitch our tents and spend the night overlooking the mountains.
                                        Next day We walk with heavy steps as we cross over from Ali Bugyal ( Alpine Meadow ) to Bedni Bugyal.After a couple of minutes I find myself in a better mood as the walk becomes easier with gentle gradients and a clear path.I catch a quick glimpse of snow clad Mrigthuni peak, Nandagunti and Trishul peak rsing above the meadows.
                                        I see  a gijjar grazing his flock of sheep in the meadows where every blade of grass is green. Then I walk to the front of the pack,throw down my heavy sack right in the middle of the meadow and decide to call it a day early.We pich our tents and set up a temporary kitchen in the green patch while the porters prepare soup and a decent meal.The clearness of air helps to see the starry night sky and we are soon asleep.
Reflections at Bedni Kund
                                       The next morning , we packup the tents and are off by 6:00 am.The windy weather doesnot make the tough climb easkier.Trudging up slowly we reach a place called Baguabasa (14,000ft ) in the vening after passing through places called Ghodalutani, Patharnachuni and Temple at kalyuvinayak (14,200ft ) ( A stop over where puja is performed to lord Ganesh by every trekker for good fortune ).There is no habitation for miles around.We realised that there could be nobetterplace which could offer peace and tranquility than where we were.
                                  Bagua basa is a place full of rocksbounded by towering peaks on all the sides.We crane our necks to the limitto get a glimpse of snowclad peaks.We slip into sleeping bags after dinner and every one is fast asleep.The next day  we leave the camp before the sunrise with the intension of reaching Roopkund well before the weather could play a amajor spoilsport.
                                   The first rays of sunlight illuminate the majestic Mount Trishul ( 23,360ft ), Nandagunti ( 20,699 ft) peaks in all itsradiant beauty.As the we cross towards Roopkund, about a kilometre, several more peaks  Chalukambha Massif , Nilkanth ( 21,641 ft ), mandani ( 20,319 ft ) are visible with each step scattred in a semi circle.We stop now and then feasting on the sigh of the various glorious peaks. The weather holds, but the trek is trek is treacherous as in places moss growing over the stones  makes the it slippery.There are few more surprises in store for us in this rugged and inhospitable region like sight of the Bhrahmakamal, Delphiniums, Erigerons, Bharals and strange looking flower called Fen kamal.
                                   After a strenous climb of 5 hours, we reach Ropkund, a vast lake shimmering in the sunlight, decked in fresh knee deep snow.Avast U shaped  valley totally covered  with the huge rocks and snow lies before us.Hidden in the lap of Trishul peak under a ridge that runs before the southern face at an altitude of 5039m is a shallow glcial lake called Roopkund.
                                  It was discovered in 1942 when a forest guard came across a heap of corpses well preserved in the glacial tarnwhich lies frozen for most of the year.Those were World War II days and it was thought that the japanease had probably forayed into the hilly region through the Himalayan passes.However a small contigent of forces sent scretly by RV verneed revealed that the corpeses were not recent but very old.British explorers feel  that it goes back to an expenditionary force,probably of the Dogra general Zorawar Singh who perished in a vain attempt to conquer Tibet in 1841.
                                  Explorations carried out later by individual adventurers revealed firther interesting facts and details.The entire expanse is referred to as Munisiddini Kshetra in the Skandapurana.Human and equine skeletal remains are found littered all over the region, said to be dated to around 14 th century AD. Inspite of their innumerable theories attempting to explain the presence of corpses, skeletal remains,slippers,banglesdiscoved from the morainic deposits all around the region, in a deserted place like this whichis neither easy to reach nor pleasant to stay in the mystery of the lake to large extent still remains unresolved!   
                                 We offer prayers to the goddess nanda Devi and decide to call it a day.The valley is covered with mist and visibility becomes zero.Instead of retracing our route we are been told to walk uphill to cross Junargali col 16,500 ft and reach Shilasamudra Glacier snout before the darkness sets in.After  two days of trek through villages we reach Ghat and then Nanda prayag finally.
                                 Though the lake is and of no significance as a waterbody,the mystery has surelylent its charm to the spot.The sights and experiences shall forever be etched in our memories.

View from Bedni Bugyal

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Voice Of Earth - Didgeridoo.


                                           Voice of Earth -  Didgeridoo

                           It was while strolling in the lanes of renowned pilgrimage centre Rishikesh  I came across a unique drone tune of a  wind Instrument. I curiously banked upon the shopkeeper nearby to know about the unique music being played. He replied it was Didgeridoo..!.The name was indeed a tongue twister and instrument sounded different.!
                 Didgeridoo is a natural trumpet, with a straight shape, without mouthpiece, used by the north Australian aboriginals. Its name is said to be probably of European origin and  is said to                           be the oldest wind instrument in the world having a history of 1500 years.There  are 40 different aboriginals names for this instrument through Australia. Some are bambu, bombo, kambu, pampuu, garnbak, Illpirra, martba, Jiragi, Yiraki and Yidaki.It is made with an eucalyptus branch dug by termites, bare of its bark and where the interiors face are sometimes thinner at each extremity.It can produce a huge variety of different timbres,despite it usually playing on the single note. The Didgeridoo is the sound of Australia.If the earth had a voice it would be the sound of the Didgeridoo
.            Made of hollowed out branches from eucalyptus & bamboo trees with Beeswax  smeared around at one end to create a mouthpiece, and when the didgeridoo is blown it will soften to form a seal around the player's mouth. Sound levels inside the players mouth can reach 100 decibels, which is as loud as a chain saw.
             Many Native Australian cultures used the didgeridoo during their religious ceremonies. The music from the didgeridoo was used to accompany singing and dancing during these rituals and, the instrument could only be played by men. The style of play was passed down from the generations and, this style is still difficult for the western player to replicate. Although women were not encouraged to play the didgeridoo they were able to do so in informal situations.
             It wasn't until the 1920's that the term 'didgeridoo' came into widespread use. Its origins stem from Herbert Basedow who was an Australian anthropologist. He  spent much time living with various Native Australians. He is believed to have named the instrument after the sound that is produced whilst the instrument is being played.
             According to the research done by British Medical Journal playing the didgeridoo for 25 minutes a day over a 4 month period can improve breathing during the night and can cure Sleep Apnea, or Obstructive Sleep Apnea, ( Snoring ) is a common sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing momentarily lapses during sleep. The reason behind the didgeridoo’s success as an alternative treatment lies in its promotion of a process known as “circular breathing.” Circular breathing occurs when you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth at the same time.
            “He who has control of his breath also has control over his mind,”
                                                                                             says the Chandogya Upanishad.
                  It is proven that it is powerful tool that can help lift an individual's vibration back to a less chaotic and natural rhythm. The broad range of harmonics produced by the didgeridoo vibrate in an ancient and universal tone and can be used as a sound therapy or sound healing tool that effects a person on three basic levels. Ultra Sound frequencies , Clearing of Emotional and Energetic Stagnation and Meditation and Mind Body Healing
                Certain sound frequencies affect the brain waves in the bodies to the extent that they naturally produce endorphins that stimulate the body to move, such as dancing, creating a happy euphoric state. According to brain research studies other sound frequencies emitted by certain musical instruments produce a state of mental and physical relaxation in the body. The importance of this “relaxation response” as it has been termed by the medical community is that in this “theta” state that is where the deepest healing of the mind and body occurs.
              Sound therapy, therefore, is now being used for its healing properties by health care professionals under the category of complementary therapies or integrative medicine. It is said that the didgeridoo is one of the most primordial sounds on the planet. Thus, it has the ability to open memories of the past. The droning sound of the didge is most similar to that of the Hindu and Buddhist chants. Phil Jones, one of Brian's didgeridoo teachers, said that the didge takes him in 10 minutes what used to take two hours with meditation.
               Music is a universal language that transcends cultural differences and barriers.Didgeridoo is found popular in  India also.It is popular in Pushkar, Goa, Varanasi and Rishikesh also.Manufacturing unit has been set up at Rishikesh ; Uttarakhand recently and is available for the needy to suit the wallet.
              Internationally renowed musical band  Shoonya’ had performed a musical evening in June 2010 in Bangalore.Renowed Percussionist and  founder of  Shoonya   Mr.Mohan Gopi resident of  garden city says that after the show  few Bangaloreans were also fascinated by  this unique Instrument and are learning at ease.
               This reminds of a popular erstwhile quote of  Yehudi Menhin “ Music is a therapy. It is a communication far more powerful than words, far more immediate,far more efficient.”

Click Link to hear the droning sound :

In Search of the Sage

                                                          In Search of  the Sage

                   Although the yatra season had begun and the train was packed to the core, I somehow managed to reach Trivandrum in the wee hours of  that chilly morning. After munching a few appams for breakfast I headed straight away to a place called Kottur and after a bumpy jeep ride reached a small sleepy hamlet of Kanni tribe settlement called Podium  in the afternoon.  It is cozily tucked away inside  the Peppara wildlife sanctuary about 70 kms from the capital city.
                 Refreshing under a perennial waterfall nearby I reclined over a rock overlooking the hill. The  monolithic giant  rock  face of Agasthya Mala rising above 6300ft  was looming in the distance dominating the landscape. I was on an adventurous trek to that sacred hill situated in the heart of the sanctuary.
                 My friend and guide Surendranan, for the next few days, narrated a few of the mythological stories related to the sacred hill and the sage Agasthya.  Having read many mythological stories in the Chandamama monthly in the childhood days about sage Agasthya, I  tried recalling them.
                 Pleased upon Parvathy's penance to achieve the consort hood of Lord Siva, the Lord himself appears before her and agrees to marry Her. The spiritual wedding was solemnized on Mount Kailasa. All the Devas, Bhootas, Asuras, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, etc, and other eminent gods including Brahma and Vishnu, came down from their respective extra-terrestrial realms to the earth, to Mount Kailasa to witness the wedding.  Due to the weight of the population in the north the earth started to tilt. Lord Shiva then requested Agasthya Muni to rush to the southern part of India and balance the earth from further tilting.  Sage Agasthya came down to a place which later on came be known as Chengannoor (old name not known) in Kerala and sat in mediation and then negated the further tilt of the planet. However, Agasthya muni had laid down a condition before leaving Kailasah that Siva and Parvathy would come down to the place where he would sit, and the marriage will be solemnized again there for his benefit to which all agreed. Finally the Bride and Bridegroom came to Chengannoor to be married again before Agasthya muni. But Parvarthy had her periods and the marriage was postponed. The red blood from Parvathy Devi's menstrual discharge fell on the ground and the mud there turned red. Thus the place got the name Chemmanoor - chem(red)-mann(mud)-ooru(place). Later the name got distorted over ages and now it is more known as Chengannoor, though there are people who call the place as Chemmannoor.
An important legacy worth mentioning here is a of a temple there; considered to be first built by Agasthya muni, where he sat in meditation and the marriage was subsequently re-solemnized; it is here that Siva-Parvathy’s idols are worshiped in that temple. One half of the temple is dedicated to Lord Siva and the other half behind Siva is dedicated for Goddess Parvathy. It is believed that They are available to Their devotees for worship, as husband and wife here. Interestingly it is believed that even today the idol of Parvathy has menstrual flow, though not regular. But if the priest observes blood (claimed to be tested true menstrual blood) in the 'odayaada' during 'nirmalya pooja', Parvathy's idol is removed and kept in a sanctum opposite to the temple within the premises and after a festival 'tripoottaraatu' (7 days) Her idol is placed back into the temple. The festival is celebrated only if Her menses occurs.
Another interesting legend goes like this – there were two demon brothers, Ilvala and Vathapi, who used to kill people who were passing by the forest in a special manner. Vathapi was good at changing to other life forms and the other, Ilvala knew the supernatural slogan Sanjivini Herb  which, when invoked can bring back a dead person to life. They hatched a plan against Agastya that Vathapi would turn into a goat and be killed and fed to Agastya. After Agastya had eaten the meat, Ilvala would invoke the Sanjivani mantra to bring back his brother Vathapi to life, who in turn would rend Agastya's stomach and come out thereby killing him. By the plan, one changed into a goat and the other disguised himself as a Brahmachari who invited Agastya to a meal. Agastya knew beforehand about the plan due to his immense vedic  powers, but he resolved to teach both a lesson. After the meal, Agastya simply rubbed his stomach saying Vathapi JeerNo bhava; literally may Vathapi be digested, while the other demon tried to bring his brother to life in vain. Agastya plainly informed the demon that his brother has been digested and could no longer be brought back to life.
The other facet of the great sage is that he is considered as the first and foremost Siddha. He is considered the guru of many other Siddhas. He is also called Kurumuni, meaning short (kuru) saint (muni). He made contributions to the field of Medicine and Astrology- especially Nadi Astrology which is immensely popular. He is said  to have lived for over 5000 years, and that one of his medicinal preparations, Boopathi Kuligai, is so powerful that it can even bring the dead back to life.

Lady Slipper Orchid

Phapillaodeum Druyi Orchid
           Spread over 23 sq km Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve straddles the borders of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts in Kerala, and Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts in Tamil Nadu, at the southern end of the Western ghats.  The Agasthyamalai Hills, also called the Ashambu Hills or Agasthyagoodum , lie at the extreme southern end of the Western Ghats  mountain range along the western side of South India. The hills are notable as the habitat for over 2,000 species of medicinal plants among which 50 plants are very rare and declared endangered -  those on the verge of extinction. It is also called as the abode of the Vedic sage Agasthya.  Hence it is popularly known as Agasthyamala.  The hills are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Rare species of orchids  such as Paphiopedilum druryi, Terrestrial Orchid namely Dendrobium herbaceum  and Lady Slipper orchid too are found in the dense forests here. The Agasthya mountain region is known to show exceptionally high levels of abundance among plants, many of which are restricted in their distribution. The mountain region receives intense rains for more than six months.  A few evergreen trees like Cullenia Exarillata, Palaquium Elliptioum and Aglaia Elacagnoidea dominate the vegetation here. Studies have been conducted to document the flora in and around the jungle. The report reveals that there are over 170 species of plants in undisturbed forests, which includes over 75 species of canopy trees, 50 species of shrubs and nearly 25 species of lianas and herbs. Clinging on the branches of Cullenia and Elaecarpus tuberculatus one may see exotic orchids of which there are 25 and more species.
              We spotted a few butterflies such as Red Admiral , Blue Tiger and Great Egg Fly butterflies. Agasthyamala has also the origins of many rivers like Kallada , Achankoil , Vamanapuram , Karamana and Neyyar River in the Kerala side and the Thamirabarani , Ramanadhi , and Manimuthar in Tamil Nadu side.  Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve, is under consideration by the UNESCO  World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.
        These hills contain areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. The hills contain outstanding examples of ecosystems and communities of plants and animals representing significant ecological and biological processes. The hill is blessed with rare species of herbs and medicinal plants.  A very rare and special herbal plant named  Aroggya pacha (Trichopus zeylanicus)   famously known as  Plant of Eternal Health , is a speciality of Agasthyamala, and it attracts many researchers to this area. The sides and slopes of Agasthyakoodam is natuarally gardened with  a special type of green herbs. Neelakurinji ( Strubhilanthus Kundiyanthus )                                         which usually blooms once in a 12 years is also found here. When it blooms, the entire area will be carpetted with the violet colored flower and it is an eye catching sight for the nature lovers.
                        Also, this place is home to many endangered species of wild animals too, like Lion-Tailed Macaques, Bengal Tiger, Nilgiri Marten, Nilgiri Tahr, Malabar Spiny Dormouse, Great Pied Hornbills, Gaur, and Sloth Bear.  Reptiles found here include the Green Calottes, Skinks (The Common Blue-tailed skink is found only in the Western Ghats), and snakes like the Bamboo Pit Viper, Shield-Tailed Ocellate, Vine Snake, Rat Snake and the Cobra
         Agastyamala is home to the Kanikkaran people, one of the oldest surviving hunter-gatherer  tribes in the world. Agasthyar was a Dravidian sage, and is considered to be one of the seven Rishis (Saptarishi) of Hindu mythology. The Tamil language is considered to be a boon from Agasthyar.
        Europeans, particularly those from England,  are said to be the first to establish tea gardens around the base stations of Agasthyarkoodam at Brimore, Bonacaud and Ponmudi.
      Next morning with the guidance of  Surendranan I started the trek a bit early with some Avial  (a dish made from vegetables ) and bananas for packed lunch . The initial walk was through jeep track crossing settlements of Kanni Tribes in the hills. After crossing numerous streams and quenching our thirst we reached the base of the hill by noon.  The view of  hills surrounding the Agasthyamala including hills of Ponmudi, Banccaud and the bird’s view of Peppara dam back waters  was awesome!.Making our way through the thick elephant grass we  reached a clearing. We found mounds of elephant dung here. Kannan told that elephants come to munch grass and bamboo here, and sometimes trespass villages and create havoc.
     After  having lunch by the stream we climbed the hillock and walked under the canopy. We had to shed blood as the trail was infested with blood sucking leeches!.After climbing for more than 3  hours we were on a trail which forked after walking for an hour and finally reached the place called Athirumala which served as base camp for the trek. There is a forest  rest house here amidst the forest overlooking the Agasthyamala hill and other hills. The forest department  has ensured the safety of the inmates by digging deep trenches around the rest house. The caretaker and wireless operator cautioned us not to venture into the bushes and go beyond the trenches during night. We were totally exhausted  after walking the whole day. There is also a facility for cooking if the inmates want to conjure up their own delicacies. A quick hot dinner was served by the caretaker. The night was windy and very cold. We slipped into the cozy sleeping bags and retired early. 
       Next morning after having a cup of Black tea and Tapioca for breakfast we left to Agasthyamala. The initial path was through beaten path crossing numerous streams. The mist had enveloped the peak and seemed as though we were walking in an air conditioned  forest. After  more than an hour of brisk walk we reached a place called  Pongalapara, an open place where the North ridge to Agasthyamala starts. The growth of moss makes the rock face  slippery with water flowing by from the open crevasses. In was really an arduous climb indeed!.The wind blowing at a speed of 20 -30 kms per hour made walking exhausting. The palm trees on the  west  face of the hillock were swaying continuously. We took some risks and  managed to reach the tip of hillock with difficulty just holding the tiny pinch holds of the rock face. A small mistake seemed to be fatal.!. The whole hillock was covered with dense fog revealing the black hillocks in the vicinity which seemed as if competing to grow. The bird’s eye view of Neyyar dam and the forest was beyond words. There is an idol of Sage Agasthya here in an open place. Devotees  come here to offer puja and  to seek blessings of the divine seer. Young girls below age 14 and old women above 50 years are  allowed to visit the place strictly!
     We  spent some time on the hillock and offered puja to the seer. Our guide  Surendran cautioned about the  deteriorating weather condition and the risky descent on the ridge. Though we had an intention of  staying for a long time, reluctantly we  retraced the path and cautiously reached the base camp by evening. It is strictly not advisable to visit the place during monsoons or in bad weather conditions. It is better to go with a guide as there is no clear path.
     After spending the night in the  forest rest house, next day we hit the trail and retraced the path and reached  Podium by afternoon. The forest guards and the Ranger of Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary were patrolling in search of a herd of Pachyderms who had created havoc in the nearby fields the previous night. They cautioned us not to step out of the settlements and to be watchful!.After requesting a local  jeep driver and paying him some extra money we somehow managed to reach Kottur  by evening. Finally we were  out of danger!