SODELPA Should Act Mature, Responsible

This is a crucial time for Fiji to shape the future of the nation, especially after the elections.

SODELPA, including all political parties, should act like mature and responsible forces. They should not look at the Indo-Fijian population and India through same prism, India is a neutral country and addressing joint parliament session is a common practice. Country heads address joint parliament sessions of other countries. Mr Modi as well as other Prime Minsters did this several times in the past. In fact Fiji should take maximum benefit from India and China which are the biggest emerging economies. These countries can play a major role in overall development of Fiji.

Political parties should keep their local ethnic issues aside because if something constructive comes out of co-operation between the two countries (India and Fiji) it will be beneficial for every Fijian.

The Asia-Pacific region is another area where the two Asians economies are sitting with tele-lenses. Fiji is focal point for 12-13 island countries in this part of the world

So far Indians have high regards for every Fijian. This may be because of presence of ethnic Indian population, no one in India knows about ethnic differences here. For example I can relate more with my iTaukei Fijian friends compared to anyone else in Suva.

Tourist destination

Fiji is a good tourist destination for Asians. In fact both India and China are biggest emerging economies and both are short of energy resources locally, both countries import over 70-80 per cent of oil from other countries. The prime requirement of both the countries is to secure oil routes and explore new oil fields.

This is where Fiji comes into the picture. China’s disputes with neighbours in East and South China Sea are known in this regard, India is helping Vietnam to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region and India’s ONGC Overseas Ltd. is exploring new oil blocks with Vietnam despite Chinese warnings. The presence of Indian and Chinese navy ships in the region is a known fact.

Asian Giants

China’s 80 per cent oil comes through Indian Ocean where Indian Navy has an upper hand with two aircraft carriers but China is fast making its presence in the region with the development of Gwadar Port in Pakistan, Habantota in Sri Lanka and installing radar facilities in Coco Island of Myanmar. India is also trying to counter China by developing a crucial port in Iran, by making strong presence in Afghanistan, improving strategic relations with Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam. Both Asian giants are in competition with each other in Africa for oil and mineral resources. China is building metro line and working on various infrastructure projects under “Oil for Infrastructure” scheme in Nigeria. India setting up number of industries and hospitals in Nigeria and imports eight per cent of oil of its total requirement from Nigeria. Both India and China are proactive in other countries of West and East Africa as well.

The Asia-Pacific region is another area where the two Asians economies are sitting with tele-lenses. Fiji is focal point for 12-13 island countries in this part of the world.

Now it becomes the duty of Fijian leaders to calculate maths in favour or their country. They shouldn’t show extra proximity or distance from either of the two. Both India and China can offer great opportunities for Fijians. China with a fatter wallet can invest in various infrastructure projects in Fiji. Tourists from China can increase revenue manifold till they start exploring other parts of the world. It will be great for the country if China transfers affordable technology for local manufacturing. Although it’s a great challenge for Fijians to settle in China for better education and skill development, China prefers export of its low- cost products rather than setting up industries locally or capacity building of locals.

India on the other hand prefers to set-up industries in other countries and is comparatively less hesitant in technology transfers. Skill development is one area where India can play a bigger role for Fijians. Fiji can have a great yield if India can help in development of software industry in the country with the help of close to a million English- speaking population of Fiji. Road building in the interior parts of the country and setting up technology institutions could be other expectations from India.

There are cultural and ethnic issues in almost every country but these should not come in the way of overall development. It’s time for Fijians to push aside internal issues. They should realise heads of India and China are not here for their love for any ethnic group; their goal is bigger and in the interest of their own country.

Fijian leaders should also understand this and try to gain maximum for the country by inviting more and more investment and benefits for Fijians. Showing distance or proximity to either of these is not in the interest of Fiji. With wise diplomacy, Fiji should become the regional leader and emerge as the most flourishing economy in the Pacific Islands.

Article appeared in Fiji Sun

Newspapers Here To Stay

Newspaper circulations in developing economies and in number of developed countries are increasing daily, putting an end to the myth that with focus on web media, newspaper futures look bleak.

Renowned New Delhi-based Asia Media Design director, Jai Kumar Sharma, says instead of having a gloomy outlook about the future of newspapers, they are in fact blooming in many parts of the developing world.

Mr Sharma has been working on the redesign of Fiji Sun Online and the overall Fiji Sun newspaper look. He has been running training at the Fiji Sun with a colleague, Manav Mishra. Mr Sharma has worked throughout Asia and Africa and has successfully given new looks to papers in India which are now world leaders.

“The speculations that newspapers would be shutting down tomorrow or in the near future is wrong,” he said.

“With innovative ideas, newspapers have a long way to go. This is the time when the best will sell. However, the old practices of newspapers will not work anymore.” Mr Sharma said other mediums such as television, radio, web and newspapers would not compete with each other, rather they would be complementing each other. “As economies grow, people are having more and more buying power and they can afford to look at different mediums,” he said.

Mr Sharma said newspapers’ credibility and the ability of print journalists to get analytical articles ready for publication in time works in favour of newspapers.

With innovative ideas, newspapers have a long way to go. This is the time when the best will sell. However, the old practices of newspapers will not work anymore

“Gadgets are getting smaller but people are always going to miss the big canvas, which is the newspaper. The readers and advertisers want a bigger canvas. With print, people feel ownership,” he said.

“When they buy a newspaper, they feel its theirs, it is in their hands and no one can change even a letter.

“With web, the ownership can never be with you. You subscribe to a website, read news there but the webmaster can always change the content. The ownership is not with the readers.”

Article appeared in Fiji Sun


Anyone can be perky about driving through the clouds on the roads through the Himalayas but fear is a factor. One may still adore and admire the feeling of water vapours creeping through the windows of the car caressing your face. But those careening H20 kisses are soon forgotten because of what follows after the adventurous drive.

The misty mornings of a tiny hamlet in the not so distant Kumaon fascinate like mysteries of life. The slow pace of life in those quaint Himalayan villages still holds on to their charm: the evenings are pretty with sights of flocks returning home from the high-land pastures; the tinkling sound of sheep-bells reminds you of the poetic twilight scenes from anthologies; smoke rising from the chimneys of small village houses that are not ashamed of merging with the milky white background of the snowy peaks.

Can we ask for anything more? It’s hard to find, but there are some hidden treasures of Himalayan beauty that still offers a more than awesome hiding place for those seeking some serene sanity. The Misty Mountains resort in “Jhaltola Estate” is one such destination which may bring a ripple of joy to travellers who went to embrace the snowy Himalayas without risking their lives. And that risk discounts seeing leopards, deer, wild boars and Himalayan birds.

Jhaltola Estate, which is 492 km north from Delhi in the Gangolihat sub-division of Pithoragarh district in Eastern Kumaon, quenches your thrust for being in the lap of nature and pampers you with good food and a sterile stay supported by modern amenities.

Before reaching there people prefer to stay overnight at Nainital or Almora, but we decided to drive non-stop for 13 hours, which in hindsight turned out to be wise decision. After a night’s drive on NH 24 we were in Bhovali in the morning. Things are very simple, though the drive may not be. Hit the pedal on a normal hill drive on wide road till Almora via Khairna and take a right turn before entering Almora town for Pithoragarh. The road is comparatively smooth till Badechina which is 16 km from Almora, turn left on the uphill road to hit upon the beginning of a journey to the mystique Kumaon.

Nain Singh was presented with an inscribed gold chronometer by the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) in 1868. This was followed by the award of the Victoria or Patron’s Medal of the RGS in 1877

It’s a newly laid hotmix road passing through thick pine forest and negligible human population, endless green slopes, mountains of paddy step-farms, small streams coming down from the higher reaches that add transcendence to the drive.

Sneaking through a narrow but charming valley 16 kilometres from Badechina we reached Dhaulchina, an oasis that emerges without warning on an otherwise lonely drive. The ubiquitous name Hill View is a stopover restaurant that surprises everyone with its delicious Punjabi, Chinese and Kumaoni cuisine that is least expected in such a remote location.

Well, food is never a priority during such a trip. Dhaulchina to Rai Agar is again a dream drive via Sheraghat passing through small Kumaoni villages and paddy fields. The endless row of pears and mango trees hanging down on road from both sides is delight on the wayside.
After reaching Rai Agar one need to climb up to Ram Mandir for 6 km on an uneven road but this is where you may first get the first glimpse of the snowy peaks of higher Himalayas. A two km drive from Ram Mandir to the Misty Mountain Resort is no less than a challenging jeep Safari. It’s a vertical drive on an unpaved road with sharp bends and narrow stretches. Therefore, all the vehicles coming in are escorted by a pilot vehicle to a well-spread resort over five acres in the middle of hundreds of acres of thick oak forest in Jhaltola Estate.

All cottages have a breath-taking Himalayan (if you can call it that) view through large glass windows. A huge multiactivity hall can accommodate over 200 people for a theatre show or can give way to endless indoor activities like badminton, painting, board games etc.

But those could be the last of your interests at such a place because your thoughts would stealthily skim across to the breath-taking views of Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Panchachuli and other peaks standing tall in front of you.

It was fascinating to know there are leopards around and they make an occasional visit to the resort, barking deer and wild boars were easy to spot on a walk into thick forest all around. An endless number of Himalayan birds nestle on nearby slopes and they could be your favourite companion as you focus your attention on your lenses.

We were lucky enough to be invited for a gentle evening hike with the owner of the resort to another side of the hill. The hill is where his gracefully aging 200-year-old house stands. That trek opened one’s eyes to the hitherto unknown legacy of the Jhaltola Estate. These hundreds of acres estate belong to the family of Pandit Nain Singh Rawat who was a legendary spy explorer of India. One was not a spy but one still could not resist the temptation of exploring further. Nain Singh was a Tibetan-speaking headmaster of a school in Milam, in the upper Himalayas.

In the last half of the 19th century, the British Survey of India made several abortive efforts to map the land that lay beyond Tibet but the emperor of China had closed the Tibetan border to foreigners. Several men of the Survey died in this attempt, until Thomas G. Montgomerie hit upon a brilliant plan. He thought of sending Indians disguised as itinerant lamas to literally “spy out the land”. Nain Singh walked 1200 miles in the employment of the British Secret Service.
Dressed as a pilgrim, he was dispatched to survey the road to Lhasa in 1865. Singh was specially trained to walk every pace at exactly 33 inches. His pilgrim’s rosary, on which he counted several million of those paces, was used to click off the distances. The rosary had only one hundred beads on it instead of the sacred 108. Had any of the innumerable guards, police, and customs officials bothered to count he would have been instantly killed.

Singh’s pilgrim outfit had a few other special modifications. His tea bowl was used to hold mercury to find the horizon. His walking stick held a thermometer, which he would dip into the tea water just as it came to a boil and thus determine the altitude. By measuring the boiling temperature of water, he calculated the altitude of Lhasa to be 3240 m above sea level — an astonishing precision achieved when one considers that today we believe it to be 3540 m above sea level! From the angular altitude of stars, he then calculated the latitude of Lhasa. But Nain Singh’s extraordinary coup was his prayer wheel. Inside it was ingrained his route survey — careful notes that showed the altitudes, the landmarks, and the distances that he walked. The route survey was brought back to Dehra Dun. His maps provided the only definitive information on these parts for almost half a century.

Nain Singh was presented with an inscribed gold chronometer by the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) in 1868. This was followed by the award of the Victoria or Patron’s Medal of the RGS in 1877. The Society of Geographers of Paris also awarded Nain Singh an inscribed watch. The Government of India bestowed two villages as a land-grant to him of which the Jhaltola Estate is a part.

The hills have a history. Often it is lost because of the scenic splendour that it offers. The story of Nain Singh turned out to be an overwhelming climb into the peaks of history, Himalayas. Seldom can you pretend to be a sky explorer.

Article appeared in The Economic Times  


Eccentric and unheard of cloudburst in Choglamsar, Ladakh, on August 6, claimed hundreds of lives while several hundred are still missing. Buildings were razed, communication lines snapped and highways leading to Srinagar and Manali washed away. Massive destruction, caused by over 250 cm rainfall in an hour, resulted in unprecedented floods and mudslides in the centre of Ladakh. Rescue work is still on, and one should not be surprised if the toll figure goes over 500, as far flung areas in Nubra, villages on the eastern and western slops of ChangLa and densely populated villages between Upshi and Rumtek are still waiting for help to reach.

A few questions are required to be answered before nature is blamed for the tragic loss of lives and property. First, in the absence of monsoon winds, how did heavy rainfall occur? Did global warming play a role in the calamity? Can the transformation of Ladakhi Nomadic lifestyle into agrarian society be partly blamed for the torrential rains? Most importantly, why Choglamsar? Any geographer can answer the first question. Ladakh is a highland desert, strongly guarded by Peer Panjal, the Himalayas and the Stok and Zanskar ranges, which do not allow any moist air to reach the Indus valley.

Widespread green fields, open water surface of Indus and rising temperature provided favourable conditions for cloud formation

Areas miles away from moist sea winds usually receive precipitation by “convectional rainfall”. Warm, moist air starts rising from local water bodies and vegetation due to solar heat. With the increase in height this warm, moist air starts cooling and forms clouds after condensation. As clouds continue to grow, the weight of the water droplets can eventually lead to precipitation, and at times, torrential rains if come in contact with cold air currents at high altitudes— normally called cloudburst. However, normally this occurs over tropical river basins in the hills (Malpa and Kinnaure in Himachal are the recent examples), where vegetations and river channels provide much needed water content and increase relative humidity. Ladakh is an exception for such climatic conditions because of unavailability of widespread water bodies, thick vegetation and cold climate.

Then what went wrong? Did climate change or global warming played a role here? Yes, it did something what was never experienced in Ladakh’s history. The average temperature has gone up by almost three degrees in the last two decades and one can see group of tourists walking in T-shirts in crowded Leh Bazaar. Mercury jumps over 30 degrees and provides prefect conditions for “Convectional rainfall”. But rivers like Indus, Zanskar, Suru, Shyok were always there — can small variation in temperature create such a catastrophe? No, there is something else which slowly and steadily invited the trouble. it’s the transformation of nomadic Ladakhi society into agrarian society. Widespread irrigated green fields and plantation along major river valleys across Ladakh provided much needed moister to rising warm air responsible for cumulonimbus clouds. Ladakh was a nomadic society, mainly dependent on livestock products and locally available natural resources. Leh, Khlasar, Kargil and Padum were small hamlets of kuccha houses and few shops; Thiksey, Shey, Phutkul, Lamayuru, Hemis and Alchi monastries preserved Buddhist art and culture within their structures built with mud walls and thatched roofs, wall paintings (Thousand Buddhas) of Alchi monasteries were intact for hundreds of years before it first experienced rains in the nineties. Ladakh used to receive below 20 cm of precipitation annually which made this highland desert fall in the category of Gobi, Atakama and Tibet plateau, with snow-fed rivers sneaking through rugged mountains and deep gorges; exposing very little to sun resulting in negligible evaporation and almost no rainfall. Things changed rapidly over the sparsely populated desert after 1962 Chinese invasion and deployment of Army over Siachen in mid-eighties. Border Road Organization (BRO) built roads till the fag-ends of the borders.

The world’s three highest passes—Khardung La, Tanglang La, Chang La —all at over 17,000 feet height got allweather, motorable roads. Civil administration opened new schools and hospitals in far-flung areas, laid communication lines and provided employment to locals. Money was poured into agricultural and irrigation schemes. Rapid overall development resulted in population boom, multi-fold increase in arable land and expansion of permanent human settlements. Rugged brown mountains along the rivers got converted into green zones. The Indus valley from Upshi to Khalsar is no way inferior to the Kashmir valley in terms of marvellous landscape, greenery, fertility and prosperity. The Sham region turned into apricot basket of India with thriving villages like Thimisgam or Hemisukpachan and Likir. The Nubra valley, known for double-humped camel and sand dunes at 3500 meters above sea, started extensively growing Leh-berry (Chhester Lulu), barley, vegetable and other unconventional crops across Shyok and Siachin rivers. Villages by Saltoro range such as Bukthang, Turtuk and Tyakshi turned the entire landscape into green. Once dominated by thorny bushes, Dishkit, Hunder and Panamik turned into tourist hubs. Zanskar and Markha valleys also followed the trend.

Thousands of hectares of new irrigated green fields and acres of new tree plantations, spread the water from narrow rivers over a large surface exposed to evaporation, ultimately resulting in unprecedented torrential rains. Rapid growth of human population and green fields for food tempered the eco-system of a high-land arid region, leading to the catastrophe of August 6. Why Choglamsar, everyone seems to ask today. Ladakh is the biggest district of the country with an area of over 95,000 sq km, but why calamity struck Choglamsar, a tiny settlement 6 km away from Leh town, known for scrap market of discarded army goods on the Manali highway. Ironically, it’s in the bull’s eye of tempered-eco system. The Indus becomes wider near Choglamsar and Shey areas. If we look at the geography of the region, Choglamsar is in the centre of the green belt. Villages (Latho, Gaya, Miru) across slopes from Tanglang La to Upshi turned into major farming areas, nearby Hemis and Stok villages expanding its green belt every year. The Indus valley down Choglamsar completely turned green till Khalsar.

High Stok range in south and Ladakh range in the north converts the area into bottom of a bowl. Widespread green fields with moisten, open water surface of the Indus and rising day temperature provides favourable and deadly conditions for cloud formation, which created havoc on the area settled on loose soil mountains. Increasing rainfall first raised eyebrows of some local environmental groups in 1992-93 and they warned about the consequences of changing a high-land desert into a green belt. But nobody paid heed to this. Ladakh was never ready for rains, mud houses and monasteries with thatched roofs are still standing on mountains of loose soil without deep foundations. Infrastructure developed for arid zone were shattered with the first stroke of nature’s retaliation. The Indus Valley may experience increase in rainfall in the coming years. Should we go for sustainable growth honouring local eco-system or just choose rapid growth for economy? We have to think seriously standing on the rabbles of Choglamsar.

Article appeared in The Economic Times