Saturday 4 December 2010

Hand-made pens as gift

These pens are made by patients at the Insitute of Palliative Medicine in Calicut, Kerala

Foot prints initiative supported by the Pain and Palliative Care Society and Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM), a W.H.O Collaborating Centre - in Calicut has come out with these fabulous hand-made products. These pens from bamboo are made by patients as part of a socio-economic rehabilitation initiative.

Some times we spend so much money trying to buy gifts for our special ones. We source products and gifts from huge manufacturers, and branded shops with out any warmth and love attached to it. Here is an opportunity to buy corporates gifts from people who will benefit a lot out of that purchase. These gifts are meaningful. Even the process of making these small products have several stories behind them. It has given hopes to our people, it has touched lives in a positive way. If any one reading this note would want to share this note, it might help us spread this initiative and may even inspire someone else to start something like this!

Patients and volunteers at the institute of palliative medicine

If you are interested in purchasing these products please get in touch with us. As you can imagine, it make sense to buy these pens in bulk. If are planning a gift with a special meaning to your colleagues, employees, students, team-mates, we believe you are looking at the right gifts. Please contact us if you are interested.

Footprints is a social rehabilitation project by IPM for the physically and mentally incapacitated people. Patients bedridden with spinal injuries are the main beneficiaries of the project. People with advanced kidney diseases and chronic psychiatric illness are also enrolled in the program. Patients are trained to make various items like umbrellas. environmental friendly pens, paper bags etc through interactive training camps organized at IPM. Raw materials are supplied to the patient after the training, the products that they make are collected, sold and the profit returned to them. The project depends heavily on the involvement of the students from various campuses in Calicut city who are linked to the patients. Students support the patients through camps and sell their products through sales organized in various campuses.

Friday 5 November 2010

Responsible tourism networking in London

from last years networking session

World Travel Market is round the corner. For last three years , responsible tourism networking during the WTM has been the talk of the town. A initiative started in a small pub in London by Your Safe Planet (now and The Blue Yonder to bring together travellers, small companies and organisations working in responsible / sustainable tourism has surprised us in the way it has grown. Now there are similar events happening around the world where like-minded souls working in "sustainable business" are networking and sharing their experiences and knowledge.

Past years have seen the networking sessions happening in Berlin ( as part of ITB Berlin), Singapore ( as part of ITB Asia), New Delhi ( SATTE), Kathmandu (coinciding with PATA responsible and adventure conference), Oslo and London to name a few. Both Singapore and Berlin events are endorsed by ITB Berlin, world's largest travel trade show.

This year the event is organised on Monday, the 8th of Nov at 7 Dials Club in London. Details of the event can be found here on facebook. The event will also attempt to give a live stream of 'pitches' on new initiatives on sustainable tourism. This gives an opportunity for organisations to pitch their products or services to buyers. It is also a wonderful opportunity for buyers to scout for unique tourism products from across the world. The live streaming helps people from any part of the world to connect to the network and listen to the pitches. We normally do end up with some technical glitches and hope that won't be the story this time.

Watch this place for the URL to watch the webstream live. We look forward to connecting with all the amazing people online and offline! If you have any questions write to or We will be happy to help you.

Friday 8 October 2010

Tracks we leave...

Today is the World Hospice and Palliative Care day. 9th October 2010 is a unified day of action to celebrate and support hospice and palliative care around the world. The theme for World Day 2010, is "Sharing the care".

This Day is for people to engage in events and activities to raise awareness and funds to support the development of hospice and palliative care. All around the world, there are people who need palliative care who cannot access it.

So what is a tour operator talking all palliative care?

The Blue Yonder has seen from close circle the impacts of community oriented, locally owned health care creating magic in the state of Kerala. Most of us are still actively working as volunteers in various capacities. We have seen a small 'pain clinic' growing into a movement. In last fifteen years, the four volunteers have grown into a massive 30,000 volunteers who are part of the 'neighbourhood network. Their ambitious work has created such a positive impact that they are presently catering to two-thirds of palliative care in India!

Pain and Palliative Care Society that triggered all this fifteen years ago is now focusing on strengthening its grassroots base and nurture the younger generation to be responsible to take up more challenges. As of now the movement has volunteers from campus, police stations, medical schools, tuk-tuk drivers. Especially the student-wing of volunteers have been coming up with unique ideas for campaigns and caring.

One of the most successful element of palliative care movement was its unique fund raising. Even in the initial stages, PPCS, wasn't focusing on large grants or external funding, but on raising funds locally. From friends and well-wishers it has grown to a mass movement of giving. Now you see volunteers like Gopalakrishnan who go out once in a week to raise funds for the volunteers in his free time. DNA India on 27 Dec 2009 carried a featured about a village in Koilandy where the micro-philanthropy kept afloat around six hundred families. Donations were given by even people going to local bars and toddy shops.

To continue the momentum of building up networks for palliative care and continue giving care for those individuals and families who need a quality of life, Pain and Palliative Care Society has designed an initiative called 'Tracks We Leave...' The famous North American proverb says that we are known forever by the tracks we leave.

Those who enroll to support 'Tracks We Leave...', commit to contribute 1000 rupee an year and enrol others who are willing to join. First contribution happens on the 9th October 2010, as part of the World hospice and Palliative care day celebrations. The Blue Yonder is partnering in the initiative in Kozhikode today by contributing a matching donation of Rs1,000 by all its employees. We are small team of seven, so we will be raising 14,000 Rs annually for the Pain and Palliative Care Society. A small gesture, but we are sure such small donations can one day grow into bigger funds with which we can provide quality of life to the needy.

We urge our friends, colleagues and partners in business to join us and support this cause. For more details on contribution, please write to our colleagues at Concern Without Borders.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Musical trail:inspiring stories from destination

First batch of students getting their training in 'Idakka'

Njeralathu Rampoduval was a very pious man. He had devoted his life in the service of the Goddess in 'Tirumathaam Kunnu', and touched many lives through his melodious music. The depth in his singing, his mastery over the unique percussion instrument“Idakka” and the spirituality he evoked had hundreds of thousands of people in Kerala who listened to him, connect with their souls. It was no surprise then that when he passed away in 1996, Kerala wept as if it's soul was taken away.

His style of singing, a mellifluous blend of tribal, folk and classical styles, called 'Sopana Sangeetham' was traditionally restricted to being rendered within the temple sanctum sanctorum. Njeralathu made it his mission to bring this form of music to the common man and towards the end of his life, 'Sopana Sangeetham' was commonly heard outside the temple sanctum.

Hari Govindan was 17 years old when his father, Njeralathu died. Hari used to accompany his father occasionally during his travels and performances at various temples and public arenas in Kerala. Troubled that the “Idakka” that was his father’s life, lying unused after his death, Hari taught himself how to play the instrument to keep the memory of his father alive. Soon his mastery over the instrument and his renditions of the “Sopana Sangeetham” won him several fans. Six years ago, a group of Nila admirers who had gathered by the banks of the river, urged Hari to recite a few of his father's legendary compositions. I still remember Hari singing for the River Nila, with tears in his eyes into the night. He had composed one particular song about the river on his way while sitting in a bus!

MP Virendra Kumar (MD of Mathrubhumi) paying a visit at the temple with the Idakka. Kalyanikutti Amma is seen 4th from L, in the background is the house she stays and the land she donated

Two years ago, Hari started campaigning with the Government requesting them to provide funds or build a memorial for musicians like his father. It wasn’t uncommon to see talented exponents of traditional music dying in penury for want of patronage. Hari's idea was to record audio clips of these musicians while they were alive so that the new generation could also experience these rare voices and melodies, while giving them an opportunity to perform. He dreamt of a school where students from all segments of the society could come and learn traditional folk music and especially learn to play the Idakka, experience and spread this unique music and folk culture.

Frustrated with empty promises made by politicians and Government officials, a dejected Hari decided to auction the musical instrument of his father to raise funds to keep his memory and art form alive. The reaction from people across Kerala was extreme. Cultural stalwarts were shocked at his decision and accused him of selling art for money without really understanding his objective. But there were others who shared his anguish and deep desire of building a memorial for his musician father and providing an opportunity for similar musicians to have a place in society to be recognized. Many friends and admirers donated liberally and a wonderful campus was born where students from nearby villages come to learn traditional forms of music for free. Hari also built an impressive digital and non-digital archive of traditional music forms and musical instruments and an open-air theatre. The campus also boasts of a beautiful temple where the idol isn't just another stone sculpture, but the Idakka that his father used to play!

Crowd that gathered for the inauguration of the Kalashramam

This campus also has a small house in an obscure corner facing the hillock. This house belongs to Kalyanikutti Amma, a woman in her late 60s who helped Hari achieve his dream when the Government or the rich landlords in the region failed to do so. It was her generous donation of all her land to this cause that helped Hari build this unique memorial of art that is inspiring hundreds of youngsters today to keep traditional art forms alive. Hari didn't forget to renovate her old house within the campus for her comfortable stay.

In its own small way, The Blue Yonder worked in parallel to support Hari through bringing the attention of national and International media to his laudable initiative. David Stott, travel writer, photographer and editor of Foot Prints handbook for India inaugurated the campus, which got it a lot of well-deserved publicity. When James Newton of String Films, well known UK-based filmmaker visited the campus and saw public reaction to this initiative, he had only two words to describe it. "Mind boggling!"

'Njaralathu Kalasramam' (Kala = Art, Asramam = A learning campus), as the campus is called, is where The Blue Yonder organizes the musical trail for our travellers. In addition to experiencing musical styles of central Kerala, our travelers enjoy living in the beautiful campus as well. It gives us immense pleasure that we were part of the journey Hari started, a journey that proves that ordinary people can be the change makers, and accomplish extraordinary feats!

More on how Njaralathu Hari Govindan became part of The Blue Yonder in the upcoming blogs. Watch this space.

Posted By GP to One Tight Slap on 9/29/2010 06:20:00 PM

Monday 30 August 2010

Destination stories : unique fund raising

N GopalaKrishnan with PM Narayanan Image courtesy The Hindu

This Saturday, Malayala Manorama newspaper featured a story about a gentleman called N. Gopalakrishnan who is involved in fund-raising for Institute for Palliative Medicine.

We had met Gopiettan, as we call him, about 5 years ago when The Blue Yonder had just started taking travellers to remote areas along the River Nila. He spent about a week every month in his traditionally-styled cottage called 'Vaappikudi', facing the river, mostly sitting in the portico reading and writing. His house was named after the slave his forefathers had as part of old-age feudal system in Kerala. For the occasional traveller who came visiting this region, Gopiettan makes for an ideal company. A man of letters, a close friend of writer M.T Vasudevan Nair, he entertains them with his wit and intellect while sharing anecdotes about his life in the IRAS (Indian Railways Accounts Service) and in Kolkata. His love for the railways is so great that even the gate to his cottage is designed like a level crossing! The name board written in Malayalam, Hindi and English reminds one instantly of the yellow-black railway sign boards!

A Kendra Sahitya Academy Award winner for his translation of 'Oriya classic 'Sri Radha'', Gopiettan has also translated 'The Insider', a political novel authored by earlier Prime Minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao. Malayalees though remember him for his beautiful translation of K P Ramanunni's 'Sufi Paranja Katha' (Story told by the Sufi) to English.

Sufi Paranja Katha has been made into a feature film

We met him recently again at the Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM)). Like many citizens of Kozhikode, Gopiettan spends a few hours every week at the in-patient section at IPM. Seeing the impact the palliative care movement was having on thousands of people with terminal illness needing end of life care and the community of volunteers alike, he decided to do his bit to raise funds for the movement. He was then discussing how he planned to go about the fund-raising. When we met him after a week, he had actually traded a place with a beggar in the city as the 'spot' looked promising to 'beg'!

Rather than ask his friends for donations (which would have been far simpler and easier for him!), Gopiettan in his unique way decided to get the local community participate in this process. Elegantly dressed as always, resplendent in his royal - waxed moustache and the gold-trimmed walking stick, he cut a majestic figure as he walked about non-descript streets with a small white card requesting the public to donate Re 1 in support of the palliative care movement! Curious and amused, passers-by not just gave him the money he asked for, but impressed with his commitment and humility, many gave a lot more. In the last few months with just a few rounds of his “begging” tour, Gopiettan has collected more than a hundred thousand Rupees, in addition to raising awareness among locals in the city about the movement. With the steady inflow of small amount of cash that Gopiettan brings, IPM has now set up a separate bank account that goes by the name of 'thendu fund' (thendu means “to beg” in Malayalam).

Kozhikode Palliatve care movement: 'a beacon of hope' according to EIU report

In a world that seems bankrupt when it comes to compassion, people like Gopiettan fill us with hope. While India ranks amongst the lowest in the list of 45 countries surveyed in the recent Economist Intelligence Report on end of life palliative care, the same report highlights the palliative care initiative in Kozhikode as a beacon of hope.The report says "With only 3% of India’s population, the tiny state provides two-thirds of India’s palliative care services"

It is volunteers like Gopiettan and a movement like this that can perhaps help us dream of a 'compassionate city'.

Posted By GP to One Tight Slap on 8/30/2010 09:25:00 AM

Friday 27 August 2010

Toddy tappers of Kerala - God's own

a toddy-tapper along Tirur river. in the background is our country boat

For those who prefer sweet alcoholic beverages, the toddy sap obtained soon after it is tapped can be a real treat. Its mildly intoxicating and very different from the stale-cider tasting fermented toddy one gets from roadside “toddy shops” in Kerala! Toddy is usually drunk soon after fermentation by the end of day, as it becomes more sour and acidic day by day.

In most of parts of Kerala, toddy is collected from the toddy palm by a community of people called 'Ezhava'. In the northern part of the state, they are popularly known as 'Thiya'. How the Thiyas came to be the traditional toddy tappers is an interesting tale. This story was shared by one of our interpreters called Anwar, the mangrove man!

fresh toddy served in a toddy shop

Parvati, the daughter of Himalaya and the consort of Lord Shiva (one of the gods of the Hindu Trinity) was getting restless in their abode in 'Mount Kailash'. She noticed that people on earth where extremely happy and suggested Shiva that they visit and find out the reason for their happiness. After some initial hesitation, Shiva agreed to take on the human form and grant her wish and visit the earth and landed in Kerala.

Compared to the snowy Mount Kailash, Kerala was green, covered by rain forests, wild rivers and animals. People were content and enjoyed life. Shiva and Parvati wandered about the whole day in the lush green meadows and forests and soon got tired and fell asleep by a tree. Woken up rudely by the buzzing of bees, Shiva got up feeling very thirsty. He noticed the bees buzzing around a sweet-smelling liquid flowing out of the roots of the tall tree they was resting under. He took a sip of the liquid to quench his thirst and felt refreshed. He had a few more sips and became increasingly tipsy. By the time Parvati woke up, he was rather intoxicated and was at his flirtacious best! He troubled her enough that she had to run for cover.

our guests enjoying a sip along the backtwares of Kumarakom

Exhaustion once again made Shiva sleepy and Parvati wondered the reason for her husband’s sudden amorous behaviour. She soon found the liquid flowing out of the tall tree and to ensure that Shiva doesn’t reach out for the liquid again when he wakes up, she caressed and rubbed the trunk and made the sap reach up to the top of the tree. As expected, Shiva reached out for the drink the moment he woke up. Finding the root dry and hearing his wife giggle, Shiva realized what had happened. Legend has it that Shiva created a man out of his left thigh who he trained to climb the palm and tap the sap. The tree was the coconut palm and the drink the sweet toddy that we know today. The man who was created out of the body of a God (known as 'Deva' in Sanskrit, 'Daivom' in Malayalam and 'thaivam' in local parlance) came to be known as "Thiya" and to date, men from this community are expert toddy tappers!

Every time a tapper climbs the toddy palm or a coconut tree, we are reminded of the man who originated from the God Himself. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons why some communities in Kerala still prefer toddy as a divine offering to the Gods when compared to the customary and more traditional milk in most other places in India.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Perumthachan's chisel: legend trail of Nila

Panniyoor Varahamoorthy Temple

The village of Panniyoor on the banks of River Nila (Bharatapuzha) once decided to build a temple complex that would be better than the ones even in Heaven! The onus of building this marvel fell on their master carpenter, Perumthachan.

With a team of fine carpenters in the region, Perumthachan started the work and soon the news spread to the Heavens that the architecture of the temple complex in Panniyoor village had the potential to overshadow the splendour of the Gods. As insecure as only he could get, Lord Indra, the King of Gods himself, set out on a journey to the village to find for himself if there was any truth in these rumours. Once he saw the brilliance of the work in progress, he was overcome with envy and started plotting against the carpenters’ team.

Perunthachan's chisel stuck in the wall of Panniyoor Varahamoorthy Temple

Every day, once the carpenters went out of the temple complex after the day’s work, Lord Indra would come to the workshop and make wrong markings on the wood, so as to confuse the carpenters the next day. With wrong measurements, they failed to finish the work in time, but were not aware that it was the handiwork of Lord Indra. Every single day, they ended up having to redo their work the previous day, and this delayed the project.

Perumtachan however realized that it was the handiwork of the jealous Indra who wanted to scuttle the initiative. He understood that his fellow carpenters would lose their reputation and therefore their livelihood if they did not complete the project on time. He decided that since he couldn't find a way to appease the Gods, he would rather quit than jeopardize his colleagues’ careers. He jabbed his chisel and measuring scale into the temple wall and left the temple courtyard in anger pronouncing that he has decided to stop working and was going to be a nomad. Since Perumthachan was no longer in the picture, Lord Indra too expectedly, returned to his abode. Through his sacrifice, Perumthachan ensured that the carpenters in his village were never out of work!

view of a portion of the temple through the stone wall

This 4,000 year old temple to this day stays as an incomplete work of art and looks like a work in progress. A chisel and measurement scale are visibly inserted into the wall. Attempts to restore some part of the building without much expertise is visible in the way the temple authorities are now building the new compound wall. The lime coated paint has destroyed some of the temples’ old world charm, perhaps ensuring that Lord Indra would never have to feel jealous again!!

Another version of the temple legend has that Perumthachan, the carpenter was on a pilgrimage repenting the accidental death of his son. He came to Panniyoor one afternoon when the carpenters were having their lunch. They failed to recognize him and continued with their lunch ignoring him. Upset and angry with the snub, he went in and placed wrong measurements on the wood. When the carpenters returned, they went about their work, but couldn’t complete the work the way they had designed and planned. They were worried about the fact that their reputation would be sullied if the work couldn't be completed on time. Taking pity on their situation, the nomad carpenter climbed up the towers and completed some of the work for them. Before leaving, he said that he has decided not to work anymore and inserted his chisel and measurement scales into the temple wall and walked away. He also prophesized that the carpenters in the village will never have trouble finding jobs and their reputation will reach far and wide.

temple courtyard is full of such incomplete structures...

Irrespective of different versions of story one want to listen to , River Nila from eons continue to bring out such fantastic stories. Join one of our legend trails to listen to such stories and experience the destination in a different way.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Compassionate City : Gandhigiri by Kerala Police

Police in the City of Kozhikode in Kerala were flooded by complaints of people who lost their motor bikes over the last few months. Many had also lost gold, computers and mobile phones. The Police department was in for surprise, when they arrested more than fifty nine teenagers who were from lower middle class families and some of whom who were as young as 13! What was even more interesting was that many of them were selling it for silly amounts of Rs 3,000.

Kozhikode City Police says, “
Police recovered 15 bikes and seven personal computers stolen by the juvenile group from different locations. Besides, spare parts worth ` Re 1 lakh was also recovered by the police. The teenagers used to steal new motorbikes with prices ranging Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 and put them up for sale at cheap rates ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 to their friends. Many of the juveniles belonged to low-income groups and broken families, but the buyers were from middle-class families. The culprits were utilizing the money received through theft for enjoining costly food, dress and mobile phones. Police will carry out further investigation and are expecting to recover more material evidences”

If the police were to follow regular procedures, they would be taken through routine course of questioning, lock-ups and year-long trials. In a typical loop of social branding as criminals, there is a hardly a way for any of them to be part of the main stream social life. Instead, Police Commissioner P.Vijayan who is credited for starting many new innovative initiatives in social policing including Student Police Cadet Project has turned a new leaf in the history of Kerala Police.

Today saw the most unique intervention of police to explore the possibilities of bringing these arrested youngsters to the mainstream and hence avoiding the near sure destiny of bring criminals of the future. Engaging the likes of palliative care movement (Institute of Palliative Medicine), few City Rotary Clubs and IMHANS (Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) along with a group of socially active citizens, the City Police is attempting to bring the youngsters back into main-stream with social acceptability.

Dr.Jairam Ramakrishnan, consultant Psychiatrist from UK also has been pitched in to provide expert service to the youngsters. Dr. Suresh Kumar, founder director of Institute of Palliative Medicine, popularly known as “poor men’s Doctor” considers such initiatives with public private participation is a beginning to build up a “compassionate city”.

A one-room initiative that was started as a ‘pain clinic’ fifteen years ago in an anesthetist's dressing room in Kozhikode Medical College for bringing in relief to terminally ill patients has now grown into a movement comprising more than 25000 trained volunteers. Self-sustainable 300 palliative centres in Kerala is now spear-heading a social movement, not just restricted to palliative care. No wonder that such a movement is approached by various stake holders to take larger roles in the society.

Marriage proposal at 4200 MSL

'Make no mistake' leader of the group seems to be convincing our driver

We were on our way after a volley ball game with young lamas of the monastery in the picturesque village of Komic, when we came across some women who came and blocked our way. Women in Spiti Valley are quite social, looks confident and since we have heard several stories about their empowerment we were more than curious to know why they would want to block our way.

These women refused to let our driver go. They even sat on the bonnet for a while!

We were driving from Kaza to Komic and back en-route to Langza. The Komic at an altitude above 4000 MSL is amongst one of the high altitude villages in the Himalayas.

Initially we couldn't figure out what was happening. All we could notice was that the women, especially the older ones were quite happy about blocking the road and talking to our young driver. There was also a young girl who was shying away when we looked at her, but 'making strong' statements to the driver.

volley ball with lamas in one of the highest villages in the world.

Even after ten minutes, when we realised that they had no intention to let us pass by, we got curious and asked our driver if every thing was okay! He blushed! Once again we weren't sure if we read the expression on his face correctly. By this time two women were already sitting on the bonnet while other engaged in conversation with the boy. It looked more like a cajoling towards the end, but we were totally lost on what exactly was going around.

After half an hour, our driver tried to move the vehicle slightly which was vehemently opposed by the group. They refused to let us go! Later in the afternoon when we managed to pass them, our driver told us that the women were trying to convince him to get married to a girl in their village! No wonder he was blushing. Apparently a proposal had come to him couple of months ago and he was not ready to get married at 23, and the women refuse to accept that. So every time his vehicle passes through the village with travellers, he is under siege! Poor thing.