Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Uttarakhand Tourism Welcomes you to Dhanaulti...

My travel has led me to many popular tourist locations – this time it was a quaint little place – not the typical tourist destination – further up from Mussourie – to a forestland in Dhanaulti. It was a very short trip, nevertheless a most cherished one.

We started on the 25th of March – the time of the year when the weather in Mussourie is comfortable – slightly chilly evenings and sunny days with clear skies. We started around 4:30. The drive from Mussourie does become slightly colder as you start climbing altitudes. After about an hour of drive through the narrow winding roads, we reached Buranskhanda. Few adventure operators organise short treks and mountain biking expeditions from this place. It is windy and gives you the first view of the snow-capped hills of the majestic Himalayas (Winter sees this place being covered in snow). After a short tea break, we proceeded towards Dhanaulti. You know you are approaching Dhanaulti when the vegetation starts growing thicker. You can spot deodar and pine trees along the roads. The red rhododendron flowers are an absolute treat.

There are many small hotels in Dhanaulti. We had a look at one and then decided that it would indeed be a shame to stay in a concrete room even after coming all the way from Mussourie to go closer to nature. Our driver took us to the “Eco Hut” maintained by the Dhanolti Eco Tourism and Eco Development Committee. The Garhwali guy at the entrance initially refused to give a room citing no vacancy. After applying a few selling (in this case, buying) skills that I’ve been trained on for the last 10 months, we landed the four of us a room. And we were glad to have got this room. Set right amidst the deodar trees, this place is indeed a nature lover’s (or for that matter, any lovers’) paradise. Made of bamboo, this place is as close to nature as you can get. The water is solar heated and the “street lighting” is solar powered. It was 6:00 in the evening and we decided to have a look at the Eco Park – the only tourist destination. The place is a good spot to start birding though we didn’t have the time to go birding.

When the attendant at the gate insisted that the park was closed and that he couldn’t keep it open any longer, we finally came out and spotted the favourite snack of the hills – Maggi – being made right outside. The guy, Kishore Rana, a Garhwali who ran this shop as a side business in the tourist season, was a potato and peas farmer. After gorging on two plates of Maggi each, we decided to retire for the night. After having a simple dinner of parathas and a lot of gossip, none of us knew when we slept off.

The morning was bright and sunny. The early morning sunlight on teh snow-capped hills in the distance was an absolute beauty. We decided the forest merited a walk. After around an hour of strolling through the rhododendron and the extremely tall deodar trees, we came back to Mr. Rana (oh yes, yet again) for a cup of masala ginger tea. The hot water in the cottage was indeed a pleasant surprise and after quick bath, we proceeded to Tehri. More on Tehri later...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trial By Media

It was a chilly morning of February 22nd in the year 2006. However, the chill that went through the ToI reader’s body had almost nothing to do with the cold. It was the headline – the hard hitting – “No One Killed Jessica”. When no one killed Jessica, why was she not alive - because police coudn't catch 'No One' and the prosecution couldn't prosecute 'No One'. Time for some media action… And 5 years later – as we now relive the story of the power of the media through the much acclaimed, “No One Killed Jessica” (henceforth, NOKJ), I was left thinking – who will monitor the monitors of democracy?

No, I’m not against the verdict sentencing Manu Sharma to rigorous life imprisonment – perhaps the media did get it right this time and the heinous crime deserved punishment. But, what if the media did not? As Warren Buffett put it very succinctly, “The rear-view mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” Looking back, I might say the media did a right thing by adopting an activist’s role and “bringing the guilty to justice”. But can the same be said about every future campaign that a media house takes up? I’d hate to even think of the ‘proof’s that India TV can get if they set out to brand me as the incarnation of Satan… Given their propensity to videograph ‘news’, they just might succeed!!!

Jokes apart, the movie poses some serious concerns. It is good to have the Indian democracy, long plagued by corruption, monitored by the Fourth Estate. But then, where do we draw the line. What if the media itself is corrupt? It is a no-brainer that the television is not philanthropy – it is serious business – business aimed at making profits. And nothing corrupts like money. Can the evidence presented by media be considered accurate? What if the context has been deleted/edited? As Will Smith said so in the “Enemy of The State”, “We've also come to realise that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them...” But how?

NOKJ did one thing smart – they got the ball rolling. Ram Jethmalani might not be right in his judgement (or in many cases he has taken in recent past), but he is not too wrong when he says that this case was a trial by the media – the same media that created the ‘Prince’ out of just another child from hundreds who keep falling in manholes (many not so lucky) everyday, the same media that hailed the billionth child, Astha, while well ignoring so many others born at the same time across so many other hospitals in India. No malice against the media – I’m just concerned about the “selective news” that media chooses to telecast over prime-time.

At the end, well NOKJ did a great job in its portrayal of the positive (hopefully) role played by media in the entire Jessica Lal Murder Case – but just like TZP or 3-Idiots, it can tend to mislead the gullible Indian population into believing everything that media does is picture perfect. Judiciary might be slow – even cumbersome – even corrupt – but does have some good brains (if not the best) to help it chart its own course.

Just remember, for every Jessica Lal Murder Case that media helps to solve, there is a Barkha Dutt (and others) reporting live.


@Barkha – Just in case you are reading this, I’ve full respect for you but just feel there might have been a few lapses in Mumbai – but as you said so, “Praise and criticism are twins that travel together”.