Saturday, December 18, 2010

Visiting the "Fairy Land"-Bali

Visiting Bali was an exceptionally happy experience for me and my wife.We had a three day holiday package with the Ramada Inn Hotel in the weekend of the first week of August. From the time we entered the hotel we felt "at home". Different people have expressed their pleasure after visiting Bali in different ways. For some it is the "fairy land", for others the "happy island" and for some the "last paradise" and for others "the isle of beauty and romance". For us it was the 'eat,pray and love' island.

A lot also has already been written on this beautiful island. Yet I must also record what impressed me most.When we landed at Den Pasar,intuition told me that we were going to have a good time visiting the numerous temples,countryside,forests and beaches in this small island which nourishes a population of several million,80% of whom are Hindus and where life is harmonious and happy. Bali is situated a few degrees south of the Equator and is blessed with a tropical climate.While there is lot of forest area, there are many rice fields in the lowlands and on the sides of mountains. The Balinese are a race who have preserved their original culture and at the same time happily blended it with modernism. They have a very positive attitude towarsds life. They are hardworking and charming. The women are exceptionally beautiful. It is a feast for the eyes to see them carrying baskets of bananas on their heads and flowers in their hands to be offered to their Gods.There is no life without religion for the Balinese.Their temples are dedicated to the spirits of Hindu Gods and to the mountains,lakes and springs.The temples have a distinct architectural style. Their open gates lead to several courtyards. Here one finds pagoda type towers called meru. The Balinese are god-fearing,respectful and celebrate life like happy youngsters hoping for the next day to be still better than the current day.

Our three days were packed with activities.We visited numerous temples.We saw the small village of Batur,which was destroyed in 1926 by a volcano.The stream of lava is supposed to have stopped just in front of the temple doors. We went to a home where the family specialises in wood engravings,then a metal shop and later several shops selling bathik paintings. We watched a lovely cultural programme. It was a short version of the Ramayana. On our last day we went for the traditional Indonesian body massage and face scrub. Ramada Inn had arranged a programme of dance and drama that evening. The dances were classic pieces from Bali's rich dance repertoire. Bali has a wonderful dance heritage. Dance is an integral part of Indonesian culture.Indonesians are literally born, raised and die with art.

We met people of different nationalities and even made some friends. On the last day of our stay,we took an early morning walk on the clean beach. We picked up some seashells for our grandchildren. Sunrise and beauty go hand in hand. As the morning sun's rays embraces the earth, people see the darkness coming to an end. And with that, the beginning of new hope. Once small fishing villages, many of them have been transformed into modern, upscale resort villages. They have boutique hotels,luxurious eateries and avantgarde galleries. Many of these people worship the Sun every morning; what they call Surya Sewana. There are Brahmin priests who conduct the Puja.These mantras wish the well-being of all people and creatures and pray for happiness in the whole universe.

From Benoa to Jimbaran,Tuban,Kuta,Batubulan,Ubud,Waterspring temple in Tampaksiring,volcano,mother temple in Besaki,and then on our return keckak and firedance-it was an exciting holiday. Kecak is a very unique Balinese dance.There is no orchestra but only a choir of hundred men. Then there is the horse(jaran) ritual dance and the dancer is the medium through which the deities and ancestors convey their wishes.There is another dance called Sanghyang Jaran where a boy dances like a horse around a bonfire made from coconut husks. He then enters the fire and dances on the fire.

There are countless Hindu temples in Bali. As per customary law, each village is required to construct and maintain at least three temples.Then there are the nine directional temples located at strategic points across Bali.They are designed in a manner to protect the people from dark and invisible forces.The mother temple of Basakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all. Balinese temples dedicated to Hindu Gods and Goddesses have shrines and have a padmasana -the throne of the Supreme Deity.There is a large pavilion which is always left empty to allow the Gods to visit during the ceremonies.You have to be dressed in a sarong and sash to enter the temples.

Three days is a very short period to see and marvel at this wonderful eat pray and love island. Tourism in Ubud revolves around scenic rice-fields, small villages, art and craft communities, ancient temples, palaces and rivers. You see a cornucopia of colours. We will have to come again to Bali to soak in the Balinese warmth while seeing many beautiful spots which we missed during this short holiday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Who is this Sparrow man?

Have you heard of Mohammed Dilawar? I had not.Till I read about him recently. He is a young birdwatcher from Nashik. He is a friend of the sparrows. One of Time's Hero of Environment 2008 awardees, he is critical about the way urbanisation is taking place in our country leaving hardly any room for trees and birds. According to Dilawar, sparrows are the best bio-indicators of urban life and environment. If we can't take care of these humble creatures, we are doomed says Dilawar.

In his opinion, sparrows are disappearing fast. There are a host of reasons. Cities are becoming concrete jungles.Tress are being felled. Cellphone towers are emitting radiation. All these and many more reasons have contributed to the steep fall in the sparrow population. Our conservation policy pays too much attention to the "fat cats" in the jungles and ignores the humble birds and other species, says Dilawar. Sparrows have been put on the Red List category by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Is it possible to reverse the trend? Dilawar feels that it can be done. Plant hedges, protect trees, ban catapults and ensure availability of grains. They will be back. He has launched an NGO called Nature Forever Society. He is creating awareness among bird lovers through his website.He is also distributing nest boxes for the sparrows. Environment must become central to our lives, says Dilawar. Then we can save our cities and our country.

Good to know that someone is taking cudgels on behalf of the poor,silent and hapless sparrows. They are charming,cheerful and gregarious.While surfing the internet yesterday about house sparrows, I came across a beautiful poem by the famous American poet, William Carlos Williams which I quote below:

"At that, his small size, keen eyes, serviceable beak and general truculence assure his survival –

to say nothing of his innumerable brood. Even the Japanese know him and have painted him

sympathetically, with profound insight into his minor characteristics.

Practical to the end it is the poem of his existence that triumphed finally; a wisp of feathers

flattened to the pavement, wings spread symetrically as if in flight, the head gone,

the black escutcheon of the breast undecipherable,

the effigy of sparrow, a dried wafer only, left to say and it says it without offense, beautifully;

This was I, a sparrow. I did my best; farewell."

Couldn't have been a better epitaph to the humble house sparrow.

May there be more Dilawars to save and bring back more sparrows to our cities. After all don't they like to live around human habitations?