Tuesday 23 December 2008

TBY Musical Trail featured in 'Concerto'

Since I can't read German, I can only presume that they have written good things about our Musical trail in Concerto. Feature is not available online. Click on the image to read in German. This is the 4 th article on TBY in the media in less than two weeks. The Week's 'Healthy things to do in 2009', a mention on TBY and Foundation in the Sunday Indian Express, a detailed reference to TBY in Travel Trends Today (T3). None of this available online. So shall try to upload one by one.

TBY turns challenge into oppurtunity

Travel Trends Today (T3) features TBY . Click on the above image to read the full article. Not available online.
Bangalore © The Blue Yonder 2008

Musical trail featured in 'Concerto'

Musical Trail offered by The Blue Yonder is featured by Concerto.at. Feature is not available online, but can be read by clicking the above picture.
Bangalore © The Blue Yonder 2008

15 Healthy things to do in 2009

The Blue Yonder Holidays mentioned in the supplementary feature of The Week 21, Dec, 2008 issue . Click on the above image to read the complete text.
Bangalore & copy GP 2008

Thursday 30 October 2008

"Near the River' series to launch "The Artist's Haven' with Rob Pepper

near the river logo:
"The Artist’s Haven - 23rd February - 8 March 2008"
- Rob Pepper and Aimie Littler join hands with TBY to draw River Nila:

The Bharatapuzha, also known as the River Nila, is the lifeline of Kerala. In many ways, it nurturued Kerala's culture, literature, science and ethos. Malayalam language itself was born on its banks. Many famous writers, singers, folk and classical artists still live in villages that the river embraces right from Kalpathy in Palakkad to Ponnani in Malappuram district.

Says Jnanpeeth award-winning writer MT Vasudevan Nair: "For me, Nila's significance is greater than that of the greatest ocean in the world. Much of my inner and external life is associated with the river Nila and Koodallur village located on its bank. The Nila and and Koodallur together form the backdrop for many of his novels, short stories and screenplays. In a sense, the Nila has inspired and brightened Kerala's mindscape. Today, the river appears to be choked by the needs and greed of modern civilization and is reduced to a mere trickle. Its tributaries are dammed to oblivion, channels sucked out by commercial interests, cool forests on its catchments butchered to satisfy consumer needs.

Death of the river Nila would mean an insult to a long line of writers, performing artists thinkers and sages who live on its banks and nurture Kerala's spirit, thoughts and dreams - in short, the very identity of Kerala.

Pic: Artist Rob Pepper
'Near the river' is an effort to direct the spot light onto a unique river valley civilization. Into its third year, ’Near the river’ provides an opportunity for art and culture inclined travellers to sketch a river that is often the thread that weaves lives and traditions in an ageless manner.

The Blue Yonder is partnering with London based Artists Rob Pepper & Aimie Littler for a two week art retreat along the river in Kerala. While working with Rob and Aimie, the travellers will get an opportunity to work with local artists as well. The travel with local interpreters will give insights into the uniqueness of the region and the group will be capturing this through drawing. The tour will conclude with a two-day exhibition of the images captured by the travellers in one of the leading art galleries in Cochin and / or Bangalore.

As a traveller this will be a great opportunity to explore the river and its associated culture whilst becoming an integral part of the local culture. Only a group of ten artistically inclined travellers can be taken on this group. The trip starts on the 23rd Feb for two weeks. Part of the proceedings from this trip will go towards supporting Nila Foundation. Contact us for the prices and more details on this amazing opportunity.

About Rob Pepper & Aimie Littler

Rob Pepper & Aimie Littler work out of their art studio in Islington, London. They’ve been working together for thirteen years on many artistic projects from international exhibitions, public art commissions, human rights campaigns to workshops with disadvantaged teenagers.

Rob Pepper is the artist maker and is a member of the Academic Board and a Senior Tutor at London's Art Academy. He creates large scale paintings, intimate drawings and his work has adorned album & book covers. Aimie Littler is the director of the Not For Profit Organisation "The Truth Isn’t Sexy" which works on the prevention of human trafficking. When not running this she conceptually develops the artwork, edits their publications and curates the many international exhibitions they have had over the years.

Together Rob & Aimie co-facilitate the Drawing Room which has a growing following in London. These art workshops focus upon an enjoyment of the artistic process and the nurturing of a happy group. They believe the creative impulse needs to be acknowledged as an important part of ones well being and it is this philosophy that they will be bringing to the new relationship with
The Blue Yonder.

© The Blue Yonder 2008

11 Nov Responsible Tourism Networking at WTM London

To celebrate the first Responsible Tourism day at the WTM 2007, Your Safe Planet and The Blue Yonder got together to bring individuals and organisations who were pursuing Responsible Tourism. This gave opportunities for many grass-root level operators to meet up with the market and vice-versa. Last year saw more than 100 people from countries ranging from Australia,Belgium,Canada,Hong Kong,India, Kenya,Malaysia,New Zeeland,Norway,South Africa,Sri Lanka,Sweden,Thailand,UAE,UK and USA amongst others coming together to celebrate Responsible Tourism.

It is a pleasure for us to know that many of them are working together now and have become a part of the growing network on Responsible Tourism across the world.Considering the success of last year, we are getting together once again on the 11th November 2008 in London to celebrate responsible tourism initiatives from all over the world.

We invite you to join us in London to network with the Tour Operators, Grass Root organisations, Media, Policy makers and all the flag-bearers of Responsible Tourism. We look forward to seeing you at the cocktail bar for networking.

Venue Abacus Bar,
Time 1900

Block the evening of 11th Nov 2008 if you are in London!If you have a new initiative to be launched in-front of crowd that understand Responsibility in Tourism, then this is the space!
Please RSVP on our facebook group.

Event coverage on Travel Mole UK. Read more here.
© The Blue Yonder 2008

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Travel Scholarship to River Nila

Kick start your travel writing career by going on assignment to Kerala, India. You will enjoy a 10 day tour with The Blue Yonder, offering unique insight into the River Nila civilization. Then, after touching base with your travel writing mentor - David Stott, you will hit the road for 10 days reviewing and writing for the Footprint India Handbohok!

For more details check the worldnomads.com announcement:

World Nomads launches Travel Scholarship to Kerala!

Go on an assignment to Kerala with Footprint Travel Guides! Kick start your travel writing career by going on assignment to Kerala, India. You will enjoy a 10 day tour with The Blue Yonder, offering unique insight into the River Nila civilization. Then, after touching base with your travel writing mentor - David Stott, you will hit the road for 10 days reviewing and writing for the Footprint India Handbook!

The River Nila offers countless opportunities to witness thrilling folk performances, far beyond the tourist trail. Photo © David Stott

Assignment brief from worldnomads.com :

* We'll fly you to India from your country of residence. You need to be available between February 16th and March 7, 2009 to participate on the Blue Yonder Tour and Footprint travel writing assignment.
*Your Kerala journey with The Blue Yonder will give you unique insight into the River Nila region. With a focus on sustainable tourism, the tour is specifically tailored for the lucky scholarship recipient to inspire your travel writing , and you will be personally escorted by a TBY interpreter.
*The ten day tour will include interactions with musicians, folk artists, bell metal workers, potters, sand miners, fire worshippers and ritualistic healers. You will also be planting saplings at the 'Traveller's Forest' a community driven eco-restoration project.The tour will be based on the age-old tradition of story telling that reveals the uniqueness of the region and the importance of rivers for a sustainable life.
*After touching base with your mentor - David Stott, you will research, review and update essential travel info including accommodation, bars & restaurants, entertainment, shopping, tours, activities and transport, as well as searching out those local secrets that travellers want to read about.
* Your mentor will be at hand to offer guidance, but essentially this is your assignment; you will travel on your own for this part of the journey so you must be comfortable travelling solo. David will assign you a specific local area based on your travelling experience.
* The fruits of your labour will feature in the new edition of the Footprint Inida Handbook, placing your foot firmly in the door of the elusive travel writing industry!

Assignment location:

While Kerala is ranked as a top ten destination in the world, some parts of Kerala still remain unknown and unvisited. The river Nila, the longest river in Kerala (209kms) offers one of the most unique cultural experiences as it has an ancient and steeped in tradition river civilization. Be it the classical Kathakali or ritualistic folk art forms or temple festivals or literary traditions, you can trace a definite and indelible impact of the river Nila in each and every aspect.

The recipient of the Scholarship, along with the best entries will be published on the WorldNomads.com website on January 23, 2009. Applications close midnight January 9, 2009.(AEST): Apply now here:

For any further information, please read this section:
© The Blue Yonder 2008

Monday 8 September 2008

“Tourism industry is a vital partner to implement climate protection measures.” – interview with Dr Dietrich Brockhagen – CEO of Atmosfair

The Blue Yonder is the first Indian company to have partnered with Atmosfair to support its initiatives in carbon-offsetting. Following are excerpts from a conversation between Dr. Dietrich Brockhagen, the CEO of Atmosfair and Gopinath Parayil of The Blue Yonder.

GP: Atmosfair is known to be one of the most transparent carbon offset system available to fight against the green-gas emissions caused by air travel. How is the donation from travellers used for achieving this purpose?

DB: Donations from travellers are used to fund climate protection projects in developing countries and emerging economies. Atmosfair supports renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Honduras, India, China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Thailand. As we are a non-profit organisation with very low administrative expenses, 90% of the donations in 2007 directly went to the projects.

GP: On your website it is mentioned that ‘The environmental damage caused by the flight cannot be undone’, so in what way does the carbon-offset initiatives help the environment?

DB: The best solution for the climate is certainly not to fly at all. However, if you have to travel over great distances, there are no other alternatives. Furthermore there is no possibility in asking the pilot to fly slower or in lower altitudes in order to reduce the climate impact. Therefore, your individual opportunities to act are fairly limited. For this reason we believe “If you have to fly, fly atmosfair”. If you cannot avoid producing greenhouse gas emissions, the second best option is, offsetting them by financing renewable energy projects.

GP: Atmosfair has been campaigning for carbon-offsets for the last 5 years. In many developed countries, there are visible changes in the individual attitudes towards sustainable living. From car-pooling to increase in train journeys, there are small self-conscious decisions that individuals are taking. Are there any statistics available to show a definite trend amongst individual travellers in Europe who are choosing to offset their green gas emissions? If so, could you please share this with our readers?

DB: Study conducted by ‘Forschungsgemeinschaft Urlaub und Reisen e.V.’ (F.U.R) and Ipsos found out that 5% of travellers already offset their flights and another 23% are planning to offset their next flight. The potential group is estimated to be about 60%.

GP: Other than for tourism purpose, people also fly for business needs. We understand that in Germany, initiatives like ‘Forum Anders Reisen’ are bringing together the travel industry to be part of the carbon-offset programs. But how are non-tourism related visits going to be accountable for? Are there any initiatives happening say e.g., from the Software industry in the world? Because of the off-shore facilities run by out-sourcing companies, there are thousands of business travellers criss-crossing continents. Do you foresee a trend amongst like-minded industries to be part of carbon-offset programs?

DB: Yes, companies are increasingly aware of the problem of business travel. But it is still a long way to go. If a company is approaching us, we first advise them to look for potentials how they can avoid business travel, e.g. through web or video conferences. We offer them reporting software which analyses their business travel, including flight, car, rail and hotel, and the related emissions. Those emissions which cannot be avoided can be offseted with us.

GP: In the recent past, cost of fuel has increased the prices of flight tickets. Do you think this will reduce the flight journeys to destinations like India? There are thoughts about airplanes like A380 could reduce the damage by increasing the carrying capacity of flights for intercontinental journeys. What do you think is the effect on green-house gas emissions?

DB: Modern airplanes are emitting less than older ones, but the increase in air travel is much bigger than the savings by modern airplanes. Therefore air travel related greenhouse gas emissions are contributing more and more to climate change. Increasing prices might keep some travellers from long-distance flights. Still we believe this won’t affect a large number of travellers. As India is not yet a destination for mass tourism, those who want to experience far away countries and such as India will continue to travel there.

Dr. Dietrich Brockhagen, the CEO of Atmosfair

GP: Carefully managed tourism can bring in positive changes to destinations. Tourism can be a positive contributor to the economy; sometimes it can also bring in badly needed attention to local issues. (For e.g, The Blue Yonder was set up to bring in attention of the world to a sadly depleted river in India, but rich in its cultural heritage. For more than 100 individuals in less than 30 square kms along the river, Tourism is now a supplementary source of income). These benefits mostly came from international travelling (London-Kochi) that involved emitting "5240 kg CO2" per person. Would you over-look the benefits of tourism in destinations compared to the damage the flight is causing?

DB: Limiting climate warming to an extent of 2°C is our goal. Dividing the total amount of sustainable emissions by the earth’ population (i.e. equal emission rights), every person could produce about three tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Flying from London to Kochi and back would then theoretically ban one from producing any more climate-related emissions for more than two years: The flight has namely already generated over six tonnes of CO2. However, who flies less frequently can afford such a long flight at least every 5 years and can furthermore support sustainable tourism as well as the local population.

GP: What do you think is the biggest achievement of Atmosfair since its inception?

DB: First of all, our high quality climate projects, saving emissions and bringing benefits such as jobs and improved life qualities to local communities. Also, atmosfair is now being offered in more than 11.000 travel agencies in Germany. An estimated 2 third of the population is now familiar with atmosfair.

GP: Last but not least, how often do you travel and how often by flight?

Privately I never board a plane. For business trips I try to minimise the amount of air travel as much as possible. Within Germany and Europe I only travel by train and long-distance journeys rarely take place.

Dr Dietrich Brockhagen holds a master degree in physics from the University of Cologne and a doctorate in environmental economics on the European Emissions Trading scheme from the University of Paris. Starting 1997, for two years he was working in Brussels with the European Commission, DG Transport, as a national expert on the internalisation of external costs. From 1999 to 2002 he held a position as a secretary in the German Federal Environmental Ministry and was member of the German delegation and negotiator to the United Nation post Kyoto climate process.

From 2002 to 2003 he was also member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change. Between 2003 - 2004 he initiated and carried out the joint project "flying climate consciously" with the German Tour Operator Association "forum anders reisen" and the German Federal Environmental Ministry. Since 2005, Dr. Brockhagen is the executive director of atmosfair GmbH, a non-profit business offering reporting, carbon offsetting and environmental consulting for the tourism and business travel industry. Ever since, he regards the tourism industry as a vital partner to implement climate protection measures.

© The Blue Yonder 2008

Saturday 2 August 2008

Traveller's Forest

One of the main reasons for many of the rivers in Kerala to be in a bad state is deforestation in catchment areas. More and more green cover is being lost in even places like Kerala which even until recently had 30% of forest coverage. In today’s value frame work, which promotes/accepts exploitation of natural resources for private material gains, it’s becoming more and more difficult to motivate local communities with the arguments of global eco-restoration.

The value of land (in the context of Kerala) is shooting up exponentially, community lands and even the Government / Panchayat lands are considered too precious to be “wasted” by planting trees. It is in this context that we started looking at bringing in private partnerships to be flag-bearers of greening movement. Any greening project as part of the eco-restoration will not be successful if the local communities are not the main stake holders. We realize the fact that eco-restoration is much easily said than done. So Nila Foundation in association with Kodeeri Natural Camp and The Blue Yonder decided to come up with Traveller’s Forest in the village of Naduvattom along River Nila.

Our small initiative of setting up Travellers forest in association with travelling communities and local communities is only a small step to bring back the lost green cover that could influence the global weather restoration process, which in turn will also restore the natural hydrological cycle of the local area.

** To regenerate green cover by planting appropriate species of flora, with an aim of bringing back the climatic and hydrological conditions
** To involve travelers and tourism industry in greening the globe
** To demonstrate the tangible benefits of afforestation and create awareness amongst various stake holders.
** To create a model of developing and maintaining forests on public/private vacant lands.

First project:

A vacant plot of about 1.75 acres is situated in a small village called Naduvattom under Kuttippuram Panchayath, Malappuram District, Kerala, India. The land belongs to a private family trust of Payoor Mana. As per the partition deed of the family, land is to be protected, nurtured and maintained and the earnings from the land should be used for the maintenance of four temples belonging to the family. Over the past many years, the land is disused for quarrying, posing threat to the environment.

Local implementing partner, Kodeeri Natural Camp convinced the family trust to protect the land in order to help regeneration of natural harmony in the region that will help restoration of water sources and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna.The Blue Yonder will be planting one sapling each on behalf of our travellers visiting the region.

We are glad to announce the participation of River Retreat in Cheruthuruthy and Kairali Group who have come on-board to support this initiative. All their guests will be taking part in growth of travellers forest. Funds required for maintenance of the land for forest including recharging of dried out wells, maintaining a nursery, training of local communities and workshops will be taken care of by supporting partners and voluntary donations from the travellers. The funds will be managed by Nila Foundation and any transaction on behalf of the Travellers Forest will be available on public domain and there will be a half yearly audit by a Chartered Accountant which will be shared with all the stake-holders. Financial contribution from all our supporters and guests will be uploaded on to the new website of Travellers Forest that we are designing. Any dealings will be transparent and accountable and open for social audit as we want this to be a role model in social initiatives by private sector.

The first planting of saplings were done on the 1st of August 2008 by a group of Dutch travellers who were visiting River Nila through The Blue Yonder.

© The Blue Yonder 2008

Monday 21 July 2008

Longlisted for RT award

A message from WTM responsible tourism awards:
"We are delighted to inform you that The Blue Yonder has been long listed for the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2008, founded and organised by online travel directory responsibletravel.com, in association with The Daily Telegraph, World Travel Market and Geographical Magazine.

The Responsible Tourism Awards are the largest of their kind in the world and this year attracted over 1900 nominations from members of the public for over 500 tourism organisations and individuals. From these nominations, we have now compiled a long list of organisations for each of the 13 Award categories.

You are one of 19 organisations to be long listed in the Best for Conservation of Cultural Heritage category. "

Munich ©GP 2008

Sunday 22 June 2008

River Nila covered by Mint - Lounge

Interview with Sumana Mukherjee. Words like "breathing new life into Kerala's Ganga" makes one think that the River is all live and kicking now. Earlier Travelmole also carried a story with a title "Responsible Tourism averts threat to Kerala's dying river!" Irrespective of the global attention that is now falling on our small river, as a colleague once mentioned, the truth could be that when we started working it was a dying river and now probably its a dead river! But I can certainly agree to the fact that we have managed to bring together like-minded people to think and respond to the status of our river.

M√ľnchen ©GP 2008

Monday 5 May 2008

Underneath the skin

TBY launch in Jaipur. Pic courtesy John Dean
We have been interacting with an American Travel operator to explore the option of working with The Blue Yonder in Rajasthan. On a visit to see our work with the communities in Jaipur, they were keen on knowing how much money was going to the communities, to the local organisations we work with, to The Blue Yonder and how we maintain the transparency in financial dealings etc. Positioning their company as a Responsible Travel company means that they were also accountable for the 'claims' of potential partners like us. Their clients will be keen on knowing how their contribution would make a difference.

Providing dignity is key while working with communities. Pic courtesey John Dean
Since most of our destination management experiences came from what we learnt from River Nila in Kerala, we take our activity partners in other destinations to understand where we come from. It's amazing to see how people from different culture ( within India) look at these initiatives in different way. Local dynamics are so different with the communities we work with in different parts of India. In some places, people continue to work with art and crafts, because they have the passion and drive to do it, but in some other places, they do it because that's all they know as a livelihood and without art they are in utter poverty.

In our journey through Rajasthan, this was something that stood up most of the time. Any tourist hotel in Rajasthan would have an evening performance. There will be artists dancing and singing and there will be tourists sitting and sipping their beers without knowing anything about the background of the artists or why they are there! For most international tourists, this is in any case something quite exotic.

Most of these artists are hired by contractors who 'outsource' them to different hotels in the cities and are paid pittance once in a month. There is absolutely no element of dignity in their work and they perform for the sake of bread-winning. They mostly just dance around, sans any energy, any passion and I don't think any one can blame them if you don't even see a sincere smile on their face. How do you smile when you are not happy? When your constant worry is about next days meal, where will that genuine smile come from?
One of our artist friend from Rajasthan after his tour of Kerala mentioned the other day, "You guys can talk about reviving art forms and tradition. That's nice. But many of the guys you work with in Kerala are grounded properly and have their livelihood. They have a basic comfort zone to explore further. In our case, we are struggling to earn our living and still want to pursue our traditional arts. We wonder how we can strike a balance between these two worlds".

Pic courtesey John Dean
When I shared our Rajasthani friends observation on Kerala artists being well off to one of our artists in Kerala, he said, "Yeah, we are good in faking. Good that our friend didnt see what is really happening behind the fancy clothes we wear and the decent looking houses we have"! There is not single day that I go to bed wondering how we will get through this month with mounting expenses in my day to day life!"
Bangalore © GP 2008

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Kerala declaration on Responsible Tourism

As a follow up to the Cape Town get together, International Centre for Responsible Tourism in India (ICRT – India) took the initiative to bring together Responsible Tourism practitioners across the world to Kerala last week to review the progress that has been made since Cape Town. The Kerala Declaration noted that “Five and a half years on from Cape Town we recognize that there has not been as much progress as we would have hoped, nor as much progress as is needed if the travel and tourism industry is to contribute its share of the action required to achieve sustainable development”.

Monday 18 February 2008

Remembering Sanjoy

While in Nagaur district, our artist friend was taking me through many photo albums which was basically his bio-data over last thirty years. There was but one image that struck me instantly in one of the group photos. There was Sanjoy Gosh sitting in the middle of a field engaged in discussions with the villages of Rajasthan. Our otherwise eloquent artist friend became quiet and later said, If God comes in front of me an gives an option to have him back, I wouldn’t hesitate to give up my parivar (family) including the three kids I love the most in exchange of him. If Sanjoyji had lived, he would have touched more and more lives, he would have given confidence and courage to people, he would have changed the ‘mindscape’ of people so positively that our land would be synonym to sustainable development.

For those who don't know Sanjoy, he was kidnaped by ULFA while he was working amongst the local communties. Years after, he still lives through many thousands of peoples in many parts of North India.

No wonder ULFA didnt want him alive!
New Delhi GP ©2008

Friday 15 February 2008


There were two stark things that struck my mind during the last four days in Rajasthan. The dispassionate artists who were performing in front of ‘rich tourists’ and the passionate artists who were talking non-stop about how far they would go to protect their art forms and traditions.
In the first part of my travel here, I was invited to visit an imposing structure standing in the middle of an impoverished village that was visible even from a distance. Literally a fortress, there were many people hanging around in side the fort as if they were waiting to take orders. Another stark contrast were the vehicles outside the fort and those vehicles parked stylishly inside the fort. Flashy Ford Endeavours to Mitsubishi Pajeros to Toyotas were all inside and rustic but efficient bullock carts used by the villages outside.

The central courtyard was all decked up with colours and there was a beautiful, large fountain in the middle. If I had just woken up in that place not knowing where I was, the place would have occurred to me as some Mediterranean Bungalows that’s normally show cased in most Hollywood Mafia movies.

A group of eight performers had already gathered on the terrace. They sang, they danced, they performed Kalbeliya, and showed many tricks that needs years of practise. They stood on top of three glass tumblers carrying 6 litres of water in it and danced without spilling a drop out of it. Rolled out currency notes were thrust into their pockets, into their arms. They gave out such artificial smiles and bent their back even more to the front, now making sure that they made eye contacts to the beer sipping tourists. With the rhythm and tempo increasing, currency value went on from a mere hundred to finally a crisp note of thousand! The girls invited the tourist to dance with them, which some hesitatingly and some readily accepted. In an hour or so, the ‘performances’ were over and we were guided into our waiting vehicles.

I didn't know who these performers were. I didnt interact with them, they were showcased infront of us. It started there, it ended there!

Power went off many times during the performance but they were equipped with alternative spot lights probably sourced from an alternative generator. While stepping down from the terrace, I had a look at the beautiful horizon. The nearby village looked sleepy, calm and quiet. I couldn’t help notice that out of all those forty-fifty houses that were surrounding the fort , there were just couple of houses that had electricity.

One of the friends of the family, who bought the Kila, mentioned that they intend to make this fort into a luxury boutique hotel which will also be used by the owner as his home away home for vacations. The master bed room ( there were ten large beautifully done bed rooms), had bathtubs and running taps. That’s not unusual in a luxury fort, but when you look at the villagers walking many kilometres to get few pots of water for their survival, it hurts to be there.
Even for the few hours you spent there.

During the next days I stayed in Makrana with friends, I saw how they were living with their limited resources. Managing their limited resources and maintaining a life style that doesn’t damage their environment and ensuring that their life style was sustainable for the generations to come. Though I normally use very little water for my daily use compared to many people I know (I was born and brought in a region that was always green and never knew what water scarcity was), I realised that where I live in Bangalore, my individual consumption of water in a week was probably more than what a family of five might be using in the desert area in two weeks!
Jaipur GP © 2008

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Freezing in Makrana

Dayalji kept on piling one blanket after the other on me. 4,5,6 and then I was getting worried if his family had enough for them. 'You have no idea how cold it could get here these days". Even the walls were giving away cold and I could hear hissing sound of the wind from the desert slipping through the small holes in the windows. If not for seeing Dayalji worshipping next to the Aluminium trunk I was sleeping on, I would have just slept until noon. It was so difficult to wake up in the morning!

It’s been two days in Makrana (famous for its Marble that were used to build most of Taj Mahal) and once again I have been humbled to see the resilience of people living in remote parts of India. Winter here is so cold that it comes closer to one or two degree Celsius. Heating is not affordable for many and unheard of. All they have are some blankets. Most of them looked older than they really are. As for summer temperature, when I asked what could be the maximum temperature one villager smiled and responded. "There is nothing like minimum or maximum temperature for us during summer. Its just "full temperature' :) Irrespective of the harsh climate and the environment they live in, I couldn't escape observing that almost all of them were genuinely happy.

I came to this part of Rajasthan couple of days back to meet our activity partners, spend some time with them, understand their background and explore the synergy that our work could bring in. I was so tired by the time I reached Makrana as I had been standing for 3 hours in the train from Jaipur. Straight away I was taken to one of our partner’s network office and met a bunch of locals who were curious to figure out what I was doing there. It was amazing to see they could connect to the dying rivers of Kerala and its impacts on lifestyles, especially the culture and heritage that the river influenced for eons. Even my halting Hindi was of no barrier to them as they went on to narrate their stories on how artisans were finding it difficult to make a living out of what they knew.

We arrived at Dayalji's house (after a mini tour of the streets sipping "sugary dooth" ) and checking out local eateries that served mouth watering dishes. I was a bit scared to see the way Ghee was used in every meal we had. People over here literally are drowned in ghee. Whoever said that consumption of Ghee has something to do with obesity; they should come and see thin /lanky figures of Rajasthan. By the time we arrived at Dayalji's house, all I wanted was to crash in ASAP. But Dayalji went on with his stories and entertained me with local legends and folklores. Amongst them was a story of a fight between Amar Singh Rathore from the present Nagore district and a local Badshah. It seems the Badshah made a rule that any girl who marries a local should sleep with him first! On resisting this, Amar Singh was killed in a fight with the Badhsah. These stories until recently used to be part of the oral traditions of the folk musicians. Apparently there is hardly anyone who makes a living out of similar tradition in this region.

That makes sense to the understanding of the people over here when I showed them presentations on the dying river valley culture that we are dying to preserve. Language isn’t a barrier, culture isn't a barrier and it’s the same story all over the world. While Dayalji was passionately narrating the stories of Amar Singh, I was thinking about similar stories I had heard from Scottish friends, where the English brought in a rule in medieval time that any local girl who gets married should first sleep with the English magistrate! Wasn't that also a story sequence in the movie Brave Heart?
Makrana GP © 2008

Wednesday 23 January 2008

My space and yours - Irresponsible tourists

Irresponsible camera crew. They had no respect absolutely, just chasing their 'objects'. There were many moments when his video was literally inside the palaquin! pic © Jayakumar - www.thanal.org

Full moon in Gokarna is simply unbelievable. Pristine sand, silver waves and absolute silence. It looked like everyone was just inhaling the nature at its best. View from the shacks on Om beach, it was picture perfect, Quite breath taking.

In the town though, the local communities were all dressed up in their colour Saris and Dhoti's waiting anxiously with prayers in their lips for the decorated palanquin of the temple to come to their doors. On any other day, Hindus go to the temple to worship the idol of Shiva. Full moon is when the temple palanquin with Lord Shiva's idol is taken in short processions accompanied by percussions.

Though we were walking through the main temple streets, we slowed our pace, maintained our respectful distances from the worshippers. I was especially immersed myself in the 'atmosphere', rituals and the devotion of the community. One of those magical moments one can find only in places like Gokarna.

From that distance I was all happy observing the young and the old, doing all they can to sustain their tradition of more than many thousand years. All of a sudden, there was a camera crew literally recording every single move , every frame as it was physically possible. The lady producer was giving commands to her cameraman in her South American accent, “not to miss a thing”! The camera man with his cowboy hat and a recorder started literally chasing the small group carrying the pallaquin on their shoulders. The camera was so close to their faces, violating all boundaries of personal space and social respect.

I don’t think I will ever forget the expressions I saw running through face of the locals. There was sadness, disdain, helplessness. They just wanted to be left alone; they wanted to go on with their rituals, their lives. The foreign crew was all over them, juggling, moving to get the closest shot as possible.

I just couldn’t take it any more and approached the foreign woman requesting to be a bit more responsible. “Please, show some respect, kindly keep a distance, let them do their prayers in their privacy and ask your colleague to take the video camera away from the face of the priest.”

Though her first response was “Shhh..You are interrupting the voice recorder”, she apologised a bit later probably for the sake of avoiding a verbal confrontation with a “local”. I explained that we were also travellers in Gokarna and its our responsibility to ensure that we don’t ‘encroach’ into their personal, religious or spiritual life as we feel like.

While the women (even after being irritated by my interference) was at her diplomatic best, the cameraman was at his peak of arrogance. “Whats your problem? None of these people have a problem in me shooting their idols or faces. You are the only one who seems to have an issue here!”

A typical OTS (One Tight Slap) moment!

Wish I had found out details of the organisation they represented and wrote to them about their crew behaviour. Too late I guess. In case any one knows the organisation the camera team in the picture represents, please do get in touch.

Gokarna © GP 2008

Saturday 12 January 2008

Steering a tricky course

"As rapid development threatens to dent Kerala's reputation as an eco haven, Kevin Rushby meets the greens fighting to preserve the traditional way of life" The Guardian, Saturday January 12 2008.

Fragrant Nature, Marari Beach Resort, Friday's Place, Ayurveda Mana and The Blue Yonder is mentioned. One or two facts are misplaced, and the there are no direct links to our website anywhere. But when the article is covered in a website that is ranked in the top 700, and is one amongst the most read online news papers in the world, you don't complain much.

Full article is here

Bangalore © GP 2008

Friday 11 January 2008

Missing beats - TBY on Guardian Travel

The Blue Yonder is featured under 'The Best Cultural Breaks in The Guardian Travel'.

Click on the above pictures to listen to the music. Unfortunately the last slide has our website spelt wrong!! its http://www.theblueyonder.com/ and not blueyonder.com :(

Bangalore © GP 2008

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Grandeur of a by-gone era - Poomulli Mana

Many hundreds of years before this was only a granary of the palace!

'Poomulli Mana' and 'Aaraam Thampuran' was always part of the legends we grew up with. It's a shame that I never ventured to the 'Mana' until we started The Blue Yonder even if it was less than 30 minutes from my village in Alathiyoor. The Mana, considered to be a repository of local knowledge have seen many stalwarts, amongst whom the most famous was late 'Aaraam Thampuran', Poomully Neelakantan Nampoodiripad, who was also fondly called as the 'Lord of Knowledge'.

Preserved through Responsible Tourism - the centre now offers Ayurveda treatment and wellness

An authority in Sanskrit literature, Ayurveda, Toxicology, Paediatrics, treatment of elephants, Yoga, Martial arts (Kalari payattu), Astrology, Percussion (Viz. Thayampaka) and Kathakali to name a few, he is revered by thousands of families who have been touched by his knowledge at some point of time in their life time.

Mana still continues the tradition of 'Kalari payattu', traditional martial arts of Kerala.

Once a palatial courtyard, Poomulli Mana has a history dating back to 500 years in a small village called Peringode along Bharatapuzha (River Nila) which literally became a knowledge centre because of its association with the family. The Namboodiri family's origin dates back to 900 years or so and were originally from 'Oorakam' of 'Peruvanam' village (one of the 64 ancient villages of Kerala).

some of the old structures in the courtyard

Like what happened to many other historic properties in Kerala, most part of the Poomulli Mana was also dismantled because of the huge cost involved in maintaining the old structure. In late 80's and early 90's, many Malayalam newspapers like Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi and the English daily The Hindu had carried stories about the 'Grandeur of a by-gone era'.

Old timers say that there were 4 ponds bigger than this inside the palace building itself!

If Responsible Tourism was in place at that time, may be this entire palace compound could have been saved and preserved as its done now with whatever little is remaining now. An entrepreneur Sajeev Kurup from Paithrukam Hospitality Services convinced the family run trust to look at health tourism as a tool to preserve the buildings which were in a state of decay.

The building that accommodates the present 'Ayurveda Mana' is an architectural splendour. For many of us from this generation, it's difficult to believe that this majestic building was used only as a granary (Pathaaya pura) !

I wonder how the old 'Mana' would have looked like!

One of the first members of The Blue Yonder Associates, Ayurveda Mana practices tourism that is environmentally friendly, socially and economically beneficial to the local people and culture. The place is now one of the major attractions for travellers visiting River Nila to understand its culture and heritage.

Bangalore © GP 2007