SAN BLAS ARCHIPELAGO


On palm-fringed islands off the southern Caribbean cost of Panama live the Kuna Indians who are fiercely traditional but also in touch with the modern age.

kuna woman “The flight to Achutupu is now boarding,” comes the announcement over the loudspeaker and, within moments, the boarding lounge of Panama city’s Albrook airport is transformed into a swirling mass of outrageous colour. With their nose rings of gold, legs and arms covered in beads and wearing traditional clothing of a zillion different colours, a group of Kuna women are heading back to their island homes on the San Blas Archipelago after doing business in the city.

A 226 km strip of jungle-clad coastline and an entire Archipelago of white sand, palm-sprinkled islands off the southern Caribbean cost of Panama, make up the semi-autonomous territory of the San Blas Archipelago. The self-governing Kunas are fiercely independent and they have long maintained and defended their traditions; 40,000 of them live on the islands, fishing, farming and trading coconuts with the Colombian schooners that ply the waters.

hammockThe modern age arrived in the San Blas in the 70s when cruise ships first began visiting, the Kuna women soon learned that the colourful ‘molas’ that they so dexterously created by hand to adorn their blouses were a valuable commodity, they quickly developed a keen mind for business, and today, it is the women that bring home the money in many Kuna families.

The small aircraft climbs up over the rugged Continental Divide, a mountain range swathed in rainforest and now and then, I spy a primitive village hugging the bend of a snaking river. After repeated touchdowns on tiny coastal landing strips where Kina passengers disembark and others board, the plan arrives at Achutupu. One short hour is all it takes to cross the isthmus of the Americas, from one world to another.

While there is very little of an infrastructure for tourism, a few resourceful Kuna have developed low-key family-run resorts on some of the islands.

By staying with a family, you are naturally involved in the happenings of daily life and are accepted as guests in the village.

mola.jpegMy new island home is Isla Uaguinega; barely a grassy knoll covered in palm trees just a stone’s throw from the island of Achutupu and the mainland. It is so small there are only a handful of families living here.

Their palm-thatched homes crowd one end, while Dolphin Lodge, an eco-resort consisting of a dozen comfortably appointed bungalows, and the huts of my host family fill the other.

With deft needlework, the hands of my hostess Adele dance over her latest mola as she bends low in the dim light of a kerosene lantern to sew. Greens, blues and bright yellows combine in a complicated series of overlaid reverse appliqué, depicting aspects of Kuna life. They are mostly geometrical designs in the molas, but the design often includes animals, flowers, plants, sea, sky, mythological scenes and seated by her side, i give a yelp as yet again my needle pricks a finger and Adele glances up t further instruct me.

beach babeWhile there is little to do on Isla Uaguinega, apart from swinging lazily in a hammock and learning to sew molas, nearby Isla Achutupu is where the action is. The following day Adele paddles me across in her dugout canoe. She explains how the Kuna still adhere to many traditions. “Like all girls, I was not given a name until I reached puberty and when that time came a party was held, my hair was cut short and my parents chose a name for me with the help of the medicine man.”

Achutupu is your typical Kuna island, where palm-thatched huts sit cheek-to-cheek taking up every bit of available land right down to the water’s edge. News spreads like wildfire in these tight confines and the village has already heard of my arrival. Women appear from every nook and cranny bearing molas, which are spread out, on the ground before me, as i walk, the path ahead is transformed into steppingstones of psychedelic colour.

Adele’s grandmother greets me, standing in the low front door of her home. The Kuna are a short race of people and it is believed that they are the smallest humans after the Pygemies. She is no taller than 5 feet and resplendent in traditional dress, wearing a blouse made with two mola panels seamed together at the sides and seamed to a yoke.

living colourIn addition to her gold nose ring, large earrings and several gold rings on her fingers, her arms and legs are adorned with winis, which are strung beads that form an elaborate pattern.

I am ushered into the dark smoky confines of her cooking hut, which is very clean, its sandy floor recently swept. A few utensils hung from low beams and a large pot filled with corn bubbles over a simple hearth fire on the ground. Next door in the main family hut, Adele’s brother is enjoying an afternoon siesta in his hammock.

It is thanks to the indigenous people of this part of the world that we have ht hammock. The Kuna will not sleep in anything else, and from beams in every hut swing numerous sleeping hammocks of all sizes.

The Kuna people are outrageously photogenic but there is a strict payment policy in force in the San Blas Archipelago. Whatever your feelings about this, be sure to ask permission first, and prepared to pay a small fee per subject. Children make great use of this law and present themselves in the most beguiling manner. My favourite is a little girl with a cheeky grin that has brought along her pet lorikeet. The two are irresistible and wrinkling her nose at her friends, she proudly pockets her green US 1$ bill.

market runThe San Blas islands are the stuff that dreams are made of – white sandy beaches, swaying palms, coral gardens, rustic bungalows by turquoise waters with the added bonus of the colourful culture of the Kuna Indians, that is more than worth the effort to get there.

Where to stay and further information:  http://www.dolphinelodgepanama.com

LAIDBACK IN LAOS


Gorgeous French – colonial architecture intermixed with the heady smell of incense and the gentle chime of temple bells – the sleepy town of Luang Prabang in Laos is a traveller’s delight.

pak ou cavesThere aren’t many things that persuade me to vacate my bed at Sam, in fact — aside from a poorly-timed flight — I can think of none. So, it’s with  some surprise that I find myself leaping  sprightly out of said bed when my alarm sounds, splashing cold water on my face and jumping into an awaiting Tuk Tuk, camera in tow. But there’s a good reason for my zealous early moming behaviour.  I’m about to witness something very special, an ancient tradition that is unique to Laos: daily alms giving.

A few minutes later, I’m standing on the corner of one of the main streets in the centre of the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang. Soon, just before sunrise, a procession of saffron-clad monks silently collect offerings of alms (ubiquitous sticky rice) from the assembled faithful and crowds of tourists laden with cameras.

After the monks disperse, we make our way to the nearby Moming food market where the locals get their daily provisions. Amidst the bowls of eye-wateringly hot chillies, dried buffalo meat and fish caught fresh from the Mekong, there’s also produce that errs on the exotic side, with live moles, snakes and frogs next to dead bats, buffalo toes and steamed wasp larvae all for sale.

EAT : Speaking of Laotian cuisine, to get a true understanding — and taste — for it, your first port of call should be the chic intimate eatery, Tamarind. This modern restaurant combines yummy Lao specialities with a comprehensive menu that also provides a detailed explanation of the ingredients and how they’re eaten. Start with the tasting platter of specialities (accompanied by the ubiquitous sticky rice), which includes Luang Prabang sausage, dips, relishes (jeow) and other local favourites — a selection of Tamarind’s most popular menu items. Other standouts include the herbed fish steamed in banana leaf and fragrant lemongrass stuffed with chicken.

For dinner with a view, head to Utopia. While this tourist haunt does have prices that err on the inflated side, all is forgiven when you are soaking in the view of the river at sunset on comfy lounge beds.

luang prabang

STAY: Luang Prabang may offer one of the most authentic and unspoilt experiences in IndoChina, but that does not mean that travellers need to slum it out when it comes to accomodation. No, the popularity of Laos and subsequently, Luang Prabang as a tourist destination – particularly within the luxury traveller market – has seen a glut of 5-star properties open their doors.

La Residence Phou Vao is one of the most well-established. set in lush gardens on the small hill of Phou Vao with beautiful views overlooking Mount Phou Si and the golden dome of the town’s most famous temple Vat Chamsi Stupa, the hotel offers 32 spacious rooms and two laves suites. Wide verandahs, elegant interiors and panoramic views over the surrounding lush countryside intermingle to create the perfect retreat. And for those that have had their fill of Laotian cuisine, the hotel’s Phou Savanh restaurant offers a tempting European menu in addition to standard local favourites.

For an even more unique experience, take advantage of the ‘Baci blessing’ offered by the property. Arranged by appointment, this traditional act is totally unique to the area. During the ceremony, a group of 10 local villagers, led by the village elder, gather around me and each tie multiple thick white cotton threads around my wrists, all the while murmuring a blessing.

amantakaFor hard-core luxury seekers, the grande dame is undoubtedly Amantaka. Situated on a large garden estate, Amantaka is housed in one of the best examples of the French colonial architecture that the town is famous for. Airy and elegant, the resort is within strolling distance of the boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and night market, lining the town’s main street. Out of its two roomy suites, eight have large private pools and the resort’s central garden pool is spectacular to say the least — particularly at dusk when it’s surrounded by candles.

For weary travellers, the Aman Spa is a must-try. Blending a fusion of the best Southeast Asian techniques with Aman’s own range of organic products, treatments include massages, facials, scrubs and wraps. There are four self-contained treatment rooms as well as steam and sauna facilities with hot and cold plunge pools. Opt for the traditional Lao massage, which combines gentle yoga stretches and pressure point massage to relieve tension and relax muscles.

AROUND TOWN: Getting around the town is easily done by bicycle, which most hotels — including La Residence Phou Vao — have available for guests. As Southeast Asia’s best preserved ancient city (UNESCO put Luang Prabang on its World Heritage list in 1995), aside from a smattering of  ATMs and internet cafés, the sleepy town  offers a snapshot at what Asia looked like mid-20th century.

Heady and hypnotic, the streets are   permeated with smells of jasmine, frangipani and temple incense. There are 3O or more temples, or wats, located around Luang Prabang. The most popular is Wat  Mai. But undoubtedly the most famous — and visible — landmark is Mount Phousi. This easy-to-climb hill offers panoramic views and is the ideal place to come for a sunset, pre-dinner stroll.

mekongFURTHER AFIELD: Transport is cheap, so out-of-town expeditions are a must and one of the most popular is Kuang Si waterfall. Located 29 km south of the town, here 50 mtr falls collect downstream into picturesque turquoise blue pools. Day-trippers bathe in the water and walk along the nearby forest trails; there’s also an adjacent bear sanctuary. En route, you can stop at local villages of Lao ethnic minority groups where silk hand-weaving and traditional paper-making make ideal souvenirs.

At the heart of local life is the powerful Mekong — indeed, the town is situated on a peninsula formed by the river. The first French explorers arrived here by boat and present day travellers can shadow their adventures. Hop on board a wooden longboat and cruise upstream to the Pak Ou Caves; two linked caves crammed with thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues.

If you want to continue your adventure on the Mekong, head another hour upstream to the Kamu Lodge. Nestled in the heart of the countryside, this private eco-lodge is situated on the banks of the Mekong River, in a remote valley of rice fields and forested mountains adjacent to a small village.

While the tent accommodation and food is definitely on the basic side, the experience is unique. During the day, visitors are welcomed to participate in daily traditional activities of Kamu people, such as rice planting, harvesting and net fishing.

Courtesy by K.T.

Ahmedabad has 160 bird species


The ornithologists as a part of the animal Bird Race event organized jointly by Natural Heritage Conservation Society ( NHCS ) – Gandhinagar and international bank identified only 160 bird species in and around Ahmedabad city.

species-Otus-brucei-4

Last year the same even had identified over 260 bird species. This was the seventh time such an event was held in Ahmedabad in which around 140 participated in group of 40 teams. More than 160 species of bird were recorded during around the city.

Each team spent its entire day watching birds in and around Ahmedabad with their own tally of species. Earlier bird races in Ahmedabad have recorded more than 260 species of birds. These teams moved around at a critical point on the avifaunal migration route, and flanked by a vast landscape of open habitats, from agricultural tracts to semi –arid landscapes, inland wetlands and secondary growth, and area with human population.

There were no pre – determined routes to the Bird Race – participants observed the birds at multiple locations all within 30 – 40 km radius of the city. According to Virag Vya, a research coordinator NHCS, Ecologists Irshad Theba and Bharat Jethva during the race the team identified rare species which included White Stork, Short – eared Owl, Red Avadavat ( Red Munia ), Booted eagle were sighted by different teams.

storks

The coordinators said that the programme helped to create awareness and conservation ethos among the citizens. The participants were also sensitized towards the bird injuries during Uttarayan.

Courtesy:- Times Of India

Dholera ( Gujarat, India ) SIR ( Special Investment Region ): Campaign to save Bhal ( Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India ) ecology launched


Wildlife activities from Saurashtra opposing the proposed Dholera Special Investment Region ( DSIR ) project have undertaken a letter writing campaign, raising concerns about the threat propsed to the ecology and biodiversity of Bhal region.

Chill out for Bird Watchers

They are posting letters to top shots in Union environment ministry, Ahmedabad collector, officials of environment and forest department in Gujarat and prominent wildlife conservationists across Indian raising their concerns.

Last week, Gujarat Pollution Control Board ( GPCB ) and Ahmedabad district collectorate held a public hearing on environmental impact assessment on the proposed DSIR. The site for the proposed DSIR is a rural area of approximately 920 square kilometers, comprising 19 villages of Dhandhuka taluka and three villages of Barwala taluka in Ahmedabad District.

“the areas where DSIR is proposed is unique grassland having rich bio diversity. The proposed DSIR is just 600 meters away from the Blackbuck National Park, which is a habitat of endangered species like lesser floricans, harriers, wolves and hyenas among others. The highest density of wolves in the country is in Bhal area. Moreover, the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar is world’s largest roosting site for harriers. Out of 16 harrier species in the worl, at least four species of Montagu, Pallid, Eurasian Marsk and Hen are found here. All these aspects need to be takes care of. Hence, we are writing to the concerned authorities,” president of Dharamkumarsinhji Nature Conservation society in Bhavnagar Dr IR Gadhvi said.

He added that Bhal is of the 17 important bird areas in the state indentified by Indian Bird Conservation Network besides being the largest breeding ground for lesser floricans.

Activists claim that the ecological zones of Blackbuck National Park and proposed DSIR over lap at places which is very worrying.

“All wildlife conservationists and environment activists from the state are concerned over the adverse impact the DSIR will have on Bhal region, which is the wheat bowl of Gujarat. We want that this project should not be cleared without addressing these concerns. We will also write to National Wildlife Board for its intervention,” a wildlife activist from Bhavnagar Shrenik Shah said.

Courtesy:- Times of India

3 bird species in state still under threat


Are on IUCN’s ( International Union for Conservation of Nature ) latest red list of 15 most Endangered Indian Avian s

The latest ‘red list’ of endangered bird species released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ) includes 15 Indian bird species, three of which are found mainly in Gujarat. These include the Great Indian Bustard, the Indian Vulture and Siberian Cranes. All three are in the ‘critically endangered’ ( CR ) category.

GIB

Several migratory birds that come to Thol and Nalsarovar ( Gujarat ) have also been listed in the ‘vulnerable’ and ‘nearly threatened’ bird species.

Officials said the IUCN red list is the list on the basis of which several countries and states form their strategies for conversation of birds.

Officials said that the ‘International Union for Conversation of Nature Red List of Birds – 2013’ shows that 15 birds species in India continue to be in the ‘critically endangered’ category. Of these, three bird species are now in greater danger than before.

The decline in the population of these species is because of the growing human interference in areas where bird nesting and colonies exist, said the officials.

Studies by the Bombay Natural History Society ( BNHS ) and other organizations, including Wildlife Institute of India, of factors most responsible for the failing numbers of several bird species reveal that like wetlands, most other habitats such as grasslands and forests, also face severe threat due to development pressures.

florican1

The drastic loss of grassland habitat over the past decades has severely threatened species such as the Great Indian Bustard, Siberian Crane, Bengal Florican and Jerdon’s courser.

While the extensive use of diclofenac by farmers for treatment of their cattle, had led to the fall in the number of Indian Vultures, the destruction of deciduous forest had lead to the decline in the numbers of Forest owlets. The presence of chemicals in the carcass of animals on which scavenging birds feed has affected their population adversely.

BNHS – India Director, Dr. Asad Rahmani, said that on the basis of insightful scientific field research, there is an urgent need to conserve the remaining habitats and the species dependent on them.

“Policies that ensure this through sustainable development should be framed and implemented at the earliest,” Rahmani said.

 

Flying Away

Critically endangered species: This category in India includes migratory birds.

Wetlands species: Baer’s Pochard, Siberian crane and Spoon – billed sandpiper

Grassland Species: Bengal Florican, Great Indian Bustard, Jerdon’s courser and Sociable lapwing.

Scavengers: Indian Vulture, Red – headed vulture, White – backed vulture, Slender – billed vulture, Himaliyan quail & Pink – headed duck

Non – migratory wetland species : White – bellied heron

Forest Species: Forest owlet

Courtesy:- Times of India 

 

Lion territory doubles in three years


Big cats now rule 20,000 sq Km area

The king of the jungle has conquered new territories. About one – third of the Saurashtra region has been marked as Asiatic Lion inhabited areas by the state forest department. A recent study based on frequent ion kills and compensation given to farmers says the big cats rule over a huge 20,000 sq km of area – almost double the 10,500 sq km recorded in the May 2010 census.

A detailed analysis reveals that there are about 1,500 villages in Saurashtra where lions regularly venture out to kill domestic as well as herbivorous animals. Most of these villages are located in Junagadh ( Gujarat, India ), Amreli ( Rajkot, Gujarat, India )and some even in Bhavnagar ( Gujarat, India ).

Experts say this is a result of good conservation efforts put in by the state government. The Gir National Park ( Sasan Gir, Gujarat, India ) and sanctuary is unable to contain the growing population of the lions – the numbers have constantly grown from 284 in 1990 to 304 ( 1995 ), 327 ( 2000 ), 359 ( 2005 ) and 411 according to the last census held in 2010. The first census of independent Gujarat state conducted in 1968 had put the lion population at 177.

The next census, due in 2015, will be carried out over an area of 20,000 sq km.

Forest department officials believe that out of 411 lions recorded in the last census, 114 have started into newer areas. Since the big cat can live close to friendly human habitations, It has moved out of forest corridors where is feeds on domestic cattle.

Sandeep Kumar, deputy conservator of forests, who conducted the study says, “The study does not take into account stray kills. We have identified areas where the lion presence has been continuous over longer periods”.

Courtesy:- Times of India 

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