Lost feather in Himachal’s cap

The traditional topi is losing its popularity as the younger generation is going for golf caps and even straw hats. Saurabh Malik does a style check

Himachal’s crowning glory is plunging down the popularity charts. As so many up-to-the-minute youngsters are flipping head over heels for golf caps and even straw hats, the concept of wearing traditional topis is just not making any headway among the chic crowd.

Right fellows! Politicians may still be adorning their image by putting on the customary topis. And, foreign tourists may still be picking them up from art and craft stores across the state for taking home more than just souvenirs of snaps and good memories. But the youngsters are just not going in for the stuff.

No wonder, you see oldies heading for the Ridge in topis teamed with suits and walking sticks as you move away from tradition so vehemently pronounced in the conventional environs of the lower and the Middle Bazaar to reach The Mall. But you hardly come across youngsters sticking on to the customs by wearing the topis.

“Exposed to global style and manners, not just through fashion television, but also through street wear of the foreigners, the teenyboppers today prefer to dress themselves up from head to heel in branded stuff, caps included,” says local businessman Kaka Ram. “That’s, perhaps, the reason why traditional topis do not figure in their scheme of things.”

Hailing from Kangra, but settled in Shimla since 1960 with a kiosk on The Mall, Kaka Ram says: “As for the older generation, even today they just cannot think of holding their head high without a topi adding a dash of prestige to their personality.”

He himself feels honoured wearing the familiar round cap with a colourful band on the front fold. “Himachali topi is a symbol of our rich cultural heritage and I do not believe in moving out of the house without putting it on. You may find it incredible, but for me it’s never too hot in the hills to wear the cap,” he asserts.

Just like Kaka Ram, 53-year-old Ajit Singh of Munda Ghat too is proud of his immaculate Himachali topi. Leading a pony through a trail of cobbled stones in Kufri, Ajit Singh says he has been wearing topis day in and out since childhood.

“In those days people were not so prosperous. In fact, so many of them could not even afford to buy uniforms for their school-going children. And just to accommodate them, uniform of khaki pants and blue shirts was mandatory for the students only on Saturdays and Mondays. Rest of the days, they would march down the winding pathways, all the way to knowledge and education, in pajamas combined with loose shirts and topis.”

Leaning against a pine tree, he says: “Things are different now. My own kids are more interested in wearing fookra or Yankee caps instead of time-honoured topis. Needless to say, I feel bad about it. You see, Himachal was always known for snowcapped peaks, and topis. And now, both are diminishing in size.”   

The effect is there for all to see. Young entrepreneur Roop Singh Thakur says: “Though the caps were primarily stitched in Kullu, you had at least 15 to 20 tailors in the topi business operating from the Lower Bazaar until recently. But now their number has come down to just three or four.

Folks, Thakur is not the only one feeling bad about the declining popularity of the topis. In Shimla on a short vacation, a young couple from Germany says: “We came here looking for simplicity in ethnic stuff. But out here, we find Himachal is fast moving away from conventions to provide foreigners with things they are escaping from. It’s just not fair”!

Well, it’s time to put on the thinking cap and save the modernity from capping the tradition.

— Photos by S. Chandan

Politically correct

The Himachali topi has its political significance as well. Over the years, the green cap has come to be identified with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh of the ruling Congress.  Only recently, the topi’s supremacy was challenged after a new cap, taringini, was introduced by a political rival. The intention was to derive political gain by sharpening the regional divide between the new and old Himachal areas. Aware of the cap’s significance in the lives of the locals, Sonia Gandhi also addressed an election rally in Shimla in 2003 wearing a Himachali topi with a matching Himachali shawl.

Present perfect

The topi has always been a hot favourite gift. Even cine star Prem Chopra, during his visit to Shimla for the shooting of a flick, presented the cast and the crew with a Himachali topi each. In Chopra’s own words, “they were thrilled”.

You can pick up the topi from the bazaars of Himachal, along with gloves, mufflers and caps. The price varies anywhere between Rs 90 and Rs 150, depending upon the design, quality and the place where you buy it from. A band of colourful woven fabric brightens the front and the topi looks rather neat set at a rakish angle.


Donning a topi has always been a tradition in the upper areas of the hill state. At the face of it, the caps worn by residents of Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur and other areas look similar. But it’s the colour of the band that makes all the difference. Just in case you do not know, a cap with the green or maroon band — traditionally worn by the residents of the erstwhile Rampur Bushair state — is popularly known as Himachali topi. A typical Kullu topi is in shades of grey, or brown, and is rather striking.



Flowers everywhere
by Shriniwas Joshi

There is an adage in Hindi — shakkarkhore ko shakkar — he who aspires for sweet things in life, gets those.

Shimla for the British in 1830s was a rendezvous for fun and merrymaking. God, too, was liberal towards them and had gifted them a flat semi-circular open space about 250 metres circumferentially at that time surrounded by tall graceful Deodars — Annandale. It was extended by cutting into the hillside mainly through the efforts of Lord William Beresford, military secretary to Lord Dufferin (1884-88). This ground was the favourite place for the British to oraganise functions — from fetes and funfairs to dog and flower shows.

Lieutenant G. E. White describes the first funfair held here in September 1833 in Views of India chiefly among the Himalayan Mountains. It reads inter alia, “The most interesting, however, of the numerous objects was a profusion of garlands, wreathed of the flowers of the Himalayas, and brought to the fair by the boys of the first class of Subathoo School.” These garlands were for the ladies who had arranged the funfair for raising donation for a girls’ school there. The fetes, at regular intervals, continued at Annandale without a mention of flowers anywhere. An exclusive flower fete at Annandale was arranged in May 1851 but the organisers forgot to make tuck-in arrangements that day. All who had come to see the beauty of flowers returned early because bhookhe pet bhajan na hoye — when in hunger, even prayers are not possible. A ditty from Stiggins is interesting,

The gardens were deck’d in gorgeous array,
The ladies, like flowers, were blooming and gay;
The Malees and Dalees were waiting to be
Beprais’d and bepriz’d by the great committee.
But alas! That sage council, so careless and free,
Had forgotten refreshment for the companie,
Oh! The Annandale Fete! Oh! The Annandale Fete!

An eighteen-year silence after that was broken by one W. H. Carey who indulged in poetics to describe the well-attended flower show held at Annandale in 1869,

The tent is filled with flowers from roof to floor,
Creepers its very pillars are enwreathing,
And through the shrubs about the open door,
A soft low breeze is blowing.

Not much is known about the floriculture activities during the Raj except that A. Parsons, one of the Kew gardeners, was brought to Shimla in 1881 and placed in-charge of the gardens and orchards by the municipality. He did much to improve flower cultivation and roadside arboriculture in the station. His services were ‘unwisely’ dispensed with in 1896. Kew garden in Richmond, Surrey, is England’s national garden presented to the people by Queen Victoria in the year 1840. Its herbarium used to be the largest in the world.

We jump to 1950s and 60s and find that the flower shows were held in the premises of the present fruit research station at Mashobra under the supervision of the garden superintendent in the agriculture department. But organising flower shows regularly since 1970 fell into the lap of the horticulture department on its formation. The Raj Bhawan — either Peterhoff or Barnes Court — was the venue for the shows, which was shifted to central and approachable Rani Jhnasi Park in 1990 where it was held up to 1996. There was no flower show in the town the next two years as the horticulture department washed its hands off the responsibility.

SAGES (Shimla Amateur Garden and Environment Society), a voluntary organisation, has since 1999 been organising the shows. But for the two years in 2001 and 2002 when the venue was the Sports Complex, it has been arranging the shows, coinciding with Shimla Festival, in the premises of the Christ Church at the Ridge. This year’s show has just concluded successfully with 97 participants and about 800 exhibits.

A visit to the Flower Show makes one learn to be sprightly as the daffodil, colourful as the rose, resolute as the zinnia, aggressive as the petunia, delicate as the begonia, ubiquitous as the violet, stately as the snapdragon and dignified as the marigold, so look out for one in your town or come to Shimla next year.


An acquaintance once told me, “ We have a zinc plant in our city.”

I asked, “Oh really, when does it bloom?”



Leech blues
Ambika Sharma

It was a nightmare for Ram Lal when a 10-cm parasite was extracted from his nose

Ram Lal, 35, from Dharampur, was shocked when a living leech was extracted from his nose. In a rare case of medical expertise and adroitness a Solan based ENT specialist Dr Rakesh Verma successfully managed to extract the living leech at his Shiva hospital.

This seven centimeter long parasite, which survived on Ramlal’s blood had grown into a thick and fat creature inside Ram Lal’s nose. Distressed Ram Lal had been suffering since past three months, since this leech penetrated his nasal cavity.  Drops of blood had been oozing from his nose every day. He found no relief despite taking treatment from several doctors. Finally distressed Ram Lal came to Dr Rakesh Verma for treatment. “He was after drinking water from a small waterfall near his village that minuscule leech entered his naval cavity. It’s a parasite that lives on the body of another living animal and thrives by sucking blood from host’s body. It punctures the skin to suck blood and that causes wound,” explained Dr Verma.

Ramlal was unable by drops of blood oozed from his nose every now and then. His visits to various doctors at Dharampur and Kumar Hatti brought no relief. While the doctors dismissed it as epitasis (nasal bleeding occurring due to some internal injury or heat. All they did was packing of the area to prevent further bleeding. Ailing Ramlal continued to suffer and there wad no let up in the drops of blood. Finally he came to Dr Verma for treatment.

Dr Verma initially thought it was a naval injury. He said that he conducted an investigation but could only see two small injury marks inside the nasal cavity but nothing else was visible. Then took help of the endoscope to carefully examine the interior of the nose. It was through endoscope that he found a 2 cm long brownish spot in the upper part of his nose. This spot showed movement within no time. Dr Verma suspected it to be some living creature and so he took help of long forceps to reach out to it. A careful use of the forceps after establishing the position though the endoscope helped him remove this leech that had penetrated nearly nine to 10 cm inside the nostril.

As he reached out for the brown spot with utmost care and dexterity a ten cms long healthy leech hung out at the end of the forceps. The 15 min operation finally brought relief to Ramlal but it scared him after he saw what was thriving inside the nose.

“The emergence of a living blood-sucking leech from his nose surprised Ram Lal as well as the entire hospital staff. Its further stay in the nose could have caused more damage to the patient.  Since it had already made an entry into the throat its further growth would have choked him. Its prolonged stay would have also complicated its extractions and worsens the patients condition,” explained Dr Verma.

However, Dr Verma managed to remove this living creature before it could assume a more dangerous position inside the nasal cavity. How this leech had penetrated Ramlal’s nose is still a mystery. Had it not been for this timely surgery Ram Lal’s condition would have deteriorated with each passing day, pointed out Dr Verma.



Riding the Rapids

The Beas in Kullu is becoming second home to adventure sport buffs from across the globe, finds Kuldeep Chauhan

The irresistible lure of the rapids in the Himalayan rivers has become something of a passion not only among rafting aficionados, but also for a growing crop of professionals and even walk-in tourists thronging the Kullu valley.

Come summer and the Beas river stretch between Kullu town and Pirdi and Jhiri is abuzz with rafting activity. Over 19 private companies are operating 48 rafts promising thrill-seekers new highs down q 10 km portion of the gushing river. And age, sex and physical fitness are no bar.

Says Minakshi Gupta, chief chef at a seven star hotel in New Delhi: “We come here every summer. It’s the thrill of a lifetime. The more, the merrier. I developed a passion for rafting about four years ago. Now, I come with my children and go rafting in the Beas for days during my annual holiday in Manali. There is no better way to romance a river than riding its rapids.”

Evoking similar sentiments are Piyush and Nandini, software professionals from Andhra Pradesh: “We tried rafting for the first time here. It is fun and adventurous. We hope to come back here riding the rapids,” they exclaim.

But Priyanka is not that daring.

“I can’t get myself to trust an air-filed rubber tube in the middle of a river as I fear water. My friends are trying it and I am getting tempted, too. Maybe next time,” she says.

The thrill that makes rafting an experience of a lifetime can also make it dangerous if security and safety standards and rules are ignored. “Riding the rapids can be dangerous if the river guide and raft operator don’t know how to negotiate the rapids safely before you hit the destination, about 10km downstream,” says Thapa, a river guide and operator from Nepal.

“Rafting is popular among tourists visiting Nepal but because of the violence back home, we came here,” he says.

Most raft operators are local boys. They have floated rafting companies and are registered with the department of tourism and civil aviation. “Rafting in the Beas is a seasonal activity. The best time is summer and after the monsoon.  Each raft company, on an average, earns Rs 50,000-80,000 a year,” say operators.  

In fact, tourism department has floated a technical committee to ensure the safety standards and rules for the raft operators.  

Each raft operator has to ensure crash helmets, life belts, and river guide and the standby raft to take care of emergency, say tourism officials.

Are you game?

There are four rivers in the state that offer opportunities to enjoy white water rafting – Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Satluj. Rafting in Beas has gained tremendous popularity. The river has its genesis in the Rohtang Pass and flows through the Kullu valley. The Beas has Class III and IV rapids and is suitable for everyone from beginners to extreme kayakers.

  • Carry with you a sunscreen lotion, sunglasses, shorts, T-shirts, suitable shoes, a windproof jacket, a light sweater, towels, a flashlight and not to forget, a camera and first aid kit. Those who are under medication must carry their required medicine along. You can carry your personal items in a small dry box or a bag.
  • Certain items that definitely need to be left behind are your car keys, wallets and cell phones.
  • A rafting trip could cost anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 800 per person. Do ask for a group discount if you are with family or friends.
  • Courses in river rafting are offered by both HPTDC and private operators. You could learn rafting with the help of expert trainers in a matter of just a few hours.



Reaching out to scavengers
Jagmeet Y. Ghuman

The government seems to have finally woken up to the sad plight of the state’s scavengers. Various corporations have been constituted to add some sparkle to the lives of these scavengers

For the socio-economic welfare of scavengers, the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Development Corporation has initiated various welfare schemes. The efforts include their rehabilitation, training and assisting them in starting their own enterprises by providing financial aid.

According to a corporation survey, Solan district has 585 scavenger families that comprise a total population of 2,490. Of these, 896 persons are engaged in government services. Under the corporation’s scheme, 59 boys and girls are already being trained in stitching, embroidery, make-up and driving. These trainers are getting Rs 750 per month as scholarship and after their training completes, they’ll be provided with Rs 50,000 as the loan capital to start their work.

Under the corporation’s rehabilitation scheme, 45 persons have been given Rs 4.35lakh as a donation besides the total loan of Rs 16.35lakh in the last fiscal. The corporation has benefited 257 persons under this scheme. Besides, the corporation has given Rs 25,000 as direct loans to scavengers under its small loan scheme. Under this scheme, in the past three years, Rs 19.95lakh has been given as loan to 92 youths, which included the capital donation of Rs 8 lakh.

Through National Safari Karamchari Vit and Vikas Nigam, various schemes have also been launched for scavengers. Under these, the eligible persons can get a loan up to Rs 10lakh on an interest rate of 3 to 6 per cent. For the small loan scheme, however, Rs 5lakh loan is given to a group of 20 persons on the interest rate of 2 to 5 per cent. To make women scavengers self-independent, a loan of Rs 25, 000 on the interest rate of 4 per cent is given under the Woman Development Scheme. Moreover for scavengers’ families, a maximum of Rs 3lakh loan is given for commercial and technical education.

In Solan district, the corporation has given auto loans to 21 scavengers. As most of the scavengers are engaged with local bodies, most of these welfare schemes are realised though the Nagar Parishad or Nagar Panchayat. Going by the figures of those who’ve benefited by these schemes, such initiatives have definitely brought about a sea change in the socio-economic life of many scavengers.



shimla Diary
Musical Bonanza
Pratibha Chauhan

With weather playing a spoilsport at the Shimla Summer Festival, it was the mellifluous voice of Alka Yagnik on the inaugural night that raised the spirits of the audience.

One of the best female playback singers in Bollywood today, she regaled audiences both locals as well as tourists. She sang her popular numbers like dekha hai pehli baar sajan ki ankhon mein pyar, mohabbat ho gai hai tumse, kya karun hai kuch kuch hota ha and kisi raat unse mulakat hogi.

On her first ever trip to Shimla she was enchanted with the beautiful locale and natural beauty of the place. Earlier stars like Hema Malini, Muhammad Rafi and ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh have performed at the summer festival here.

The poor sound system was another turn off at the festival. In fact the system was so bad that Alka Yagnik during her performance had to time and again make requests for improving the poor sound system.

Kataria steps in as mayor

The defeat of senior Congress leaders in the municipal corporation polls paved way for the elevation of Narinder Kataria to the post of the mayor. The sole criteria for Kataria being chosen was his seniority. A three-term councillor, Kataria won from Benmore ward, from where his wife was the councillor in the last MC.

It was defeat of senior councillors like Ashok Sood, seeking a fourth consecutive term, Shashi Shekhar, deputy mayor and Manoj Kumar, a former mayor which made it possible for Kataria to become the mayor. With Congress retaining its hold over the MC since its inception in 1986, all the mayors from the party have had at least two terms. While Adarsh Sood had three tenures, Jaini Prem, Manoj Kumar and Sohan Lal had two tenures each. It remains to be seen whether Kataria can keep up the tradition and get two tenures.

On the road to industrialisation

Somnath Chatterjee, the Lok Sabha speaker, released a book last week on industrialisation in the region with special reference to Himachal. The book authored by Prof Kulwant Singh Rana, Dr Rakesh Singh Thakur, Chaman Premi Singh and Shivani Thakur is the result of a study undertaken to evaluate and investigate the role of industrialisation in the hill state. The purpose behind the book is to let researchers, policy formulators and government benefit from the suggestions made for effective industrial planning.

The resource base of the state’s economy, existing level of industrialisation along with inter and intra-state comparison have been studied in detail. A comprehensive plan has been presented for industrialisation of the state based on three categories of industries. The most significant aim of planning is to prevent further concentration and to spread giants to the most backward parts of the state.

The author Prof Rana, has been teaching in the department of commerce in the Himachal Pradesh university since 1981. He has supervised 10 Ph.D students and has 50 research papers and three books to his credit.



Women take the lead
Dharam Prakash Gupta

Men no longer dominate election campaigns. Women are actively campaigning in the present elections for Hamirpur constituency at many places. The fairer sex, who used to be shy of being a part of campaigns few years back are now days not only an important part of election campaigning but are also leading the campaigns independently.

While women are present in larger number in the public meetings of the political parties they are also taking part in election campaign. Both major political players BJP and Congress have deployed women leaders in large number to woo women voters.

Hamirpur MLA Anita Verma and former MLA Urmila Thakur are moving from village to village to seek votes for Ram Lal Thakur and Prem Kumar Dhumal respectively. Similarly the block Congress president of Nanduanta Vidya Jar and wife of former Congress MLA from the area Rani Avninder are also working for the success of their candidate. The state president of Congress committee Viplov Thakur has campaigned actively in almost the entire constituency via public meetings. The state president of All India Mahila Congress, Kamla Prarthi is camping for almost two weeks in Hamirpur and vice president of Mahila Congress is also involved in the campaigns. At grass root level too women party activists are doing intense campaign to convince the voters.



The wait is on…
Kulwinder Sandhu

The Integrated Child Development Programme that was launched by the government 30 years back is yet to achieve its target

It may come as a rude surprise to policy makers and common people of the region, but the truth is that the Integrated Child Development Programme of the Union government has almost failed to improve the health status of children, particularly girls in Kangra district of Himachal.

Critics point out the reasons for failure to inefficiency of implementing agencies and lack of interest by the district administration in the past 30 years. The scheme was launched in 1975-76 to improve the health status of pregnant/lactating women and children by providing immunizations, supplementary food and medical check-ups. However, though the scheme has reached the rural areas of the district, it has not been able to achieve the set targets.

The poor state of the health of the girls in Kangra could well be judged from the fact that only nine per cent of them have haemoglobin level above 12 gm, which is considered as a healthy sign in medical terms. The remaining suffers from anaemia. More than 48 per cent of the girls i.e. 24,800 have haemoglobin level between 9 gm and 12 gm, while 20,174 girls comprising 40 per cent of the total girls on whom the study was carried out have haemoglobin level of less than 9 gm. In view of the study, the social justice and empowerment department, under the kishori shakti yojana has now decided to stress upon creating awareness among adolescent girls about personal hygiene, health and nutrition; to organise counselling sessions for expecting mothers; to streamline the distribution of nutritional diet among the pregnant/lactating women and children and distribute folic acid tablets among them.

The district programme officer of the integrated child development programme K.S. Dhiman admitted that anaemia is a major problem in the region, particularly in children and women. He said, “ We are providing sprouted grams, khichri, halva and dalia to children and adolescent girls.”

Unmet supply of grains

Food grain items comprising rice, sooji, sugar, pulses, dalia, chana and ghee have yet not been supplied by the state government owned food and civil supplies corporation. This is happening despite instructions issued by the union government to all the state governments to ensure that there is no delay in supply of nutritional diet. But, the state government seems to be taking the sensitive issue too lightly.



Caste discrimination still prevalent
Dharam Prakash Gupta

People who belong to lower caste are still treated as untouchables by the upper caste. Though the one’s belonging to low-castes have been through every field of life but are still exploited in many parts of the state.

For example, they are still not allowed in the houses’ of upper castes, are offered food in earthen utensils or separately kept utensils and are treated as inferior at community feasts and social gatherings.

In many parts of rural Himachal a separate place is created for serving the food to lower caste people in social functions and they are made to sit separately from the main congregation.

While the food is served to upper caste by a team of cooks, clad in spotless white clothes generally belonging to Brahmin community the lower caste people are served by a single co- worker in the kitchen.

A social activist Desh Raj Sharma tells, “Though caste discrimination at social functions and community feasts in urban area has almost vanished but it still continues in rural areas.”

Till where eradication of cast discrimination at social functions is concerned he says, “While the educated are and aware people among the upper caste should come forward to stop such practices, social organisations should also launch a reform movement..”



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