Monday, January 30, 2012

Planting Trees

This past Sunday we took Evan's Cub Scout Pack to the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurgaon, Haryana. Gurgaon is a sprawling satellite city outside of Delhi, not unlike Noida. The city set-aside 562 acres of undeveloped land as a green space and natural destination for residents to enjoy. It is a huge, barren chunk of land, but the green space is sorely needed in what has rapidly become the urban chaos and hyper-construction zone of Gurgaon.
As part of earning their forestry badge, the cub scouts were invited to visit the park to learn about native species of plants, why they are important and who the trees benefit. The trees, including Neem, Peepal, Banyan, and Tamarind are all native to northern India. This re-forestation is important to help protect the arid land here from wind and water erosion and to help control the spread of non-native species. Oddly enough, one of the biggest culprita is, Mesquite. It's a thorny, shrub native to the Americas (believed to have been brought here 300 years ago by the Portuguese) and has spread like wildfire across much of northern and central India.
During a brief educational presentation, park professionals explained the many uses of the trees the boys were to plant. Extracts produced from the Neem tree, as an example, are apparently beneficial for intestine and respiratory disorders, as well as for the treatment of arthritis and many surface-skin conditions.
After a brief list of safety instructions, we were separated into small groups and hiked out on a nearby ridge to plant trees. The holes were pre-dug, and staff was present to provide help us access water, dirt and even first aid and some refreshments. The park even provided extra security for us in the form of mounted police.
As a group, the Cub Scouts and their parents managed to plant over 200 saplings during the course of about ninety minutes.
The weather was perfect for planting. The trip was a well organized, positive experienced for parents and scouts alike! The on-going project seems to be a great model for a country sorely in need of more environmental awareness, conservation and protection.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cambodia's Angkor Wat

It was good to get away from India for a few weeks. Christmas is a bleak time in Delhi. We spent our first India-Christmas in Noida, and vowed to never suffer through the damp chill and fog again. The tropics are a good bandage to wrap around our distance from family and friends back home.
 A traditional meal cooked under the supervision of a British National, meters from the Gulf of Thailand doesn't hurt either...
Angkor Wat was the reason for our choice to travel to Cambodia. In many ways it proved similar to our experiences in Vietnam.. having suffered a series of wars and many, many deaths from aerial bombings and literally millions of scattered land mines. But the country is beautiful, and its people are wonderful and welcoming. And Angkor Wat was worth the wait.
The National Park, and UNESCO World Heritage Site is the heart and soul of Cambodia. It is easy to get there, well managed and enormous. Angkor Wat itself is the centerpiece of the park, but it is actually surrounded by scores of other temple complexes which stretch for many kilometers in all directions. Many are walled enclosures that have the look of fortresses. There are broad, elevated avenues to approach their many gates. And there are many small temples - monuments or tombs to lesser gods and men. All of these places range from the 10th-13th centuries.
The land is very flat here, and good signs and maps make it easy to peddle a bicycle from site to site. Or if you chose, hire a Tuk Tuk for the day (about $10) to do a grander tour and cover more distance. We managed to do both and enjoyed the unique experience of each.
A little bit of India managed to wander its way into our Cambodia travels despite our distance. The preservation and partial restoration of Ta Prohm - actually my favorite temple complex at Angkor - is being managed and funded by the Archaeological Survey of India.
We met the director and got a chance to chat with him about the ongoing work their. He laughed when he found out where we lived, because he knew Nizamuddin well. His previous position was to managed the Archaeological Survey's restoration work at Humayan's Tomb - right in our back yard! Ta Prohm is famous and frequently photographed for its Indian Jones-like appearance.
It has been intentionally left much in they way it was discovered, with huge trees and vines covering its 1,000 year-old walls and buildings.
The other famous temple here is Bayon. It's smaller in scale, but also a pleasure to photograph because of its many carved, stone faces. Audrey and Evan loved exploring its many narrow, maze-like corridors and stairways.
 Lesa and I gave up trying to keep track of them in these places. We just set a place and time to meet, reminded them about safety, respect and staying together, then unleashed them out into the confines of each walled complex. They had a blast discovering the wonders of each place. And they'd occasionally spy and giggle at us through ancient windows and between tumbled stones as we each explored at our own pace.