No wood for the dead
The state boasts of forest wealth worth over Rs 1.5 lakh crore, yet enough firewood is not available even to burn the dead.
Rakesh Lohumi

Indeed the shortage of firewood has become a crisis over the past one year, particularly after the high court imposed a ban on felling of trees on private land under the 10-year cycle.

The forest corporation is in no position to meet the demand for firewood as a result of which most of the crematoriums in towns have been left without any stock or firewood. The people have to run from pillar to post to arrange wood whenever a death takes place. Whatever little firewood is available with the corporation is barely enough to meet the demand of tribal areas, which varies from 50,000 quintal to 60,000 quintal. The villagers have also been facing problems due to the ban on allotment of trees under the timber distribution rules.

The state has been facing shortage of firewood ever since a complete ban was imposed on felling of green trees by the apex court.

The corporation has been finding it difficult to meet the demand. However, the situation has worsened after the high court banned felling of trees even on private land.

The state seems to be paying for its past indiscretions when trees were felled indiscriminately, without bothering about regeneration or raising new plantations, and the forest mafias reined supreme. As a result the effective forest cover shrunk rapidly down to 18 per cent of the state’s geographical area. Felling was carried out on a large-scale without bothering about the forest working plans.

In fact, the Forest Department started revising the forest working plans only after the apex court made it clear that no felling would be allowed without working plans.

Principal chief conservator of forests Pankaj Khullar said the department was pursuing the case in the court and hoped to get some relief. Simultaneously, it was preparing a scheme to raise wood plantations near villages with the involvement of local people to find a long-term solution to the problem.

Regeneration had to keep pace with the exploitation of forests for a long-term sustainability. As far as towns were concerned there was no option but to set up electric or gas-fired crematoriums.

All this will take quite sometime but for the immediate need, firewood should be imported from neighbouring states. Private timber dealers will be able to supply firewood across the state without incurring any additional burden on the government.

The forest corporation has just 40 sparsely located retail depots, which are not enough to maintain supply over the vast hill state.

Non-availability of firewood for cremation of the dead is a serious problem which needs immediate action on the part of the government.

Even otherwise, the plantations of broad-leaved species, which yield firewood are confined to foothill areas of Sirmaur, Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur and Kangra districts. The forests in the mid and high hill ranges only have conifers, which do not yield any firewood.

Reasons behind crisis

n The forest corporation has just 40 retail depots, which are not enough to meet the demand for firewood.
n Firewood is in short supply due to depleting green cover.
n Ban on allotment of trees under the timber distribution rules.
n SC’s ban on felling of trees on government as well as private land

What can be done

n Set up electric or gas-fired crematoriums.
n Wood can be imported from neighbouring states.
n Engage private timber dealers to supply firewood across the state without putting any additional burden on the government.

The non-availability of firewood from private dealers following a high court order has made crematoriums totally dependent on depots of the forest corporation. The supply is erratic, which quite often leads to shortage, causing inconvenience to the people.

— Ajay Sood
President, Sanatan Dharma Sabha, Sanjauli, which looks after the main crematorium



Lavenders, roses to spread fragrance in fields
Pratibha Chauhan

It is the fragrance of roses and lavender, which could bring prosperity to the growers in the lower and middle regions of the state if the plans of the government to popularise cultivation of armoatic and medicinal plants takes off.

The state Horticulture Department has undertaken an extensive survey to divide the state into four agro-climatic zones suited for growing aromatic and medicinal plants. The state government is keen to launch a project and has sought funding from the centre for this purpose.

Since the agro-climatic conditions are ideal for cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants, the government is keen that this area is given a boost. Interestingly, the climatic conditions are ideally suited for growing roses and lavender, which are in great demand for their oil use in the perfume industry.

Despite earlier efforts, the cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants has not taken off as there is a lot of problem as far as marketing is concerned. “Unless and until cooperatives are formed and that too with a buy back arrangement with the companies who are keen to buy the produce grown here, it cannot be a profitable venture,” admitted a senior official.

This time the government is keen to rope in big companies who enter into a buy-back arrangement with the growers. So far, the area under cultivation of medicinal plants is merely 170 hectares, while the area under aromatic plants is 116 hectares. This includes the cultivation area by the government as well as private agencies.

As per the survey undertaken by the Horticulture Department, the sub-tropical mountains and low hills are suited for growing safed musli, aloevera and roses, the sub-tropical and sub-humid middle hills are ideally suited for growing tulsi, aloevera and stevia.

The wet temperate high hills have been found to be suitable for cultivation of roses, texsus bacatta, auth and lavender. The dry temperate high hills are suited for growing hops, used in making beer, sea buckthorn and kaala zeera.

The cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants has not become popular so far as there are marketing problems. Some of the farmers who have been cultivating medicinal plants say that with very limited produce they face marketing problem along with very poor prices given by companies.

It is for this very reason that the cultivation of sea buckthorn, which is used for many making many items, including juice, has not gained popularity.

The government is keen that the farmers be given incentives so that they take up cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants.



Bhuri Singh Museum turns 100
Balkrishan Prashar

Since the famous Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba is completing a century of its foundation, the management of the museum has decided to hold a two-day seminar on “History and culture of Himalayas with special reference to Western Himalayan” on March 26 and 27.

According to Hari Chauhan, the Curator of the museum, 15 eminent researchers, archeologists and historians have been invited for the seminar to give their presentations in their specialised spheres.

K. P. Notiyal, ex-vice chancellor, Awadh University Lucknow and Garhwal, Devinder Handa, retired professor, Punjab University, Chandigarh, M. P. Joshi, retired professor, Kumaon University and B. M. Khanduri, professor, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna (HNB) University Garhwal and other distinguished experts in their fields. It is for the first time that such a seminar is being organised.

Raja Bhuri Singh (1904-1919), the ruler of erstwhile Chamba State, took keen interest in this epigraphic collection and other relics of the past and transferred them in one of the public buildings suitably located by the side of Chaugan.

Raja Bhuri Singh also gifted his inherited art collection to this museum and J. Ph. Vogel imparted his invaluable services for setting up this museum. The dream came true on the September 14 1908, when the museum was opened to the visitors and named after Raja Bhuri Singh.

The objects displayed in the museum are related to art, craft and culture of the Chamba state. These relics stand as an eloquent testimony to the life of the past and have their value for the appreciation of art and culture of this region.

At present, the museum possesses more than 5,350 objects related to art, archaeology, craft and cultural anthropology. The museum-complex also has a reference library, a seminar hall and an exhibition hall.

Stone sculpture, bronzes, memorial stones, pahari miniature paintings and Chamba rumals, etc., reflects on the workmanship, art and tradition of the region. The art style of this area was greatly influenced by the adjoining Kashmir region, which was apparently discernible in the artefacts displayed in the galleries. 



Manali-Leh highway reopens
M.C. Thakur

Tourists at the Snow Point at Gulaba about 22 km from Manali on the Manali-Leh highway.
Tourists at the Snow Point at Gulaba about 22 km from Manali on the Manali-Leh highway.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is now engaged in clearing snow and reopening the 474-km-long Manali-Leh highway— one of the highest roads in the world.

The highway, which runs north of Manali has now been opened to vehicular traffic up to Gulaba about 23 km from here.

Tourists have started moving to Gulaba to get visual feast of the snow -capped mountains. The heavy snow in the vicinity attracts the visitors. The place up to which road is open is popularly known as “Snow Point”.

Slowly and steadily as the road is cleared of snow, the snow point also keeps on moving higher till Beas nullah, Marhi (11,500 ft), Rani nullah and the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft).

Beas Rishi, the origion of the river Beas is situated to the right of the Rohtang Pass.

According to Lt-Colonel Jaswant Sinha, OC, 70 RCC, Border Roads Organisation, efforts are being made to open the Rohtang pass, gateway to tribal district of Lahaul-Spiti by the last week of April this year.

He said the snow-clearance operation on the Manali-Leh highway this year began on February 18. At present the snow clearing equipment has reached the Beas nullah, the 32-km point of the Manali-Leh highway.

He stated that snow clearance was fast this year as three independent teams were deployed for opening the 222- km Manali- Sarchu section of the Manali-Leh road with the help of snow cutter, as well as other modern machines.

The team from Manali is just short of Marhi, while the second team is clearing snow near Khoksar. The third team is moving towards the 4,883-meter high Baralacha Pass.

The opening of the 13,050-ft high Rohtang pass for vehicular traffic will bring relief to the population of Lahaul-Spiti.

The Manali-Leh highway also played a key role during the Kargil conflict and was crucial in carrying arms ammunition for the Indian troops in the border district of Leh and Ladhak.

The 474-km Manali-Leh highway was included in the BRDB programme during 1964. The road portion from Manali-Sarchu (222 km) is under the area of responsibility of Project Deepak and beyond Sarchu – Leh (222.390) to Leh (474.00) is with Project Himank.

The Punjab PWD was maintaining the class-5 road. The Punjab PWD constructed a motorable track between Manali and Keylong (115 km). Subsequently, the responsibility was transferred to border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the road opened to traffic in 1973.

In 1989, the Government of India threw open the Manali-Leh highway to foreign tourists, whereas the tribal belt of Spiti and Kinnaur were opened to overseas visitors in 1992. 



Of chutney and achaar
by Shriniwas Joshi

All things chickeney and mutton’y, taste better far when served with chutney”, was a Brit-saying during the Raj. Vijay Kumar and Rajendra Kumar, the Sood brothers, selling mouth-watering pickles and chutney today at Thakur Bhrata completing 83 years of its existence, support the saying and confirm that favourites with the British was sweet and sour chutney, less-soured brinjal pickle and mango kasaundi (a grated pickle).

Thakur Das (9), a primary class pass small boy, left his Paragpur village in Kangra in 1911 to work at Dagshai, but greener pastures in Shimla attracted him here in 1917 to serve in a general merchandise shop at the central Lower Bazaar on Rs 5 per month.

He gathered courage to hire a shop on the east end of Lower Bazaar from owner Mangat Ram on May 3, 1925, where he started selling Lahore-made pickles.

When his brother Prithvi Chand, working for a clothier, joined him in 1927, they became Thakur Bhrata and started making pickling at home. They made pickles and chutneys in the old-fashioned way, following ancient traditions, being respected even today.

The vegetables or raw mangoes for pickling are washed and left to dry in the sun completely as slight water develops moulds in the pickle. Smothering with salt, another bout of sunning, spicing, stuffing in crocks, giving the required mustard oil-dip and finally the pickle is left to mature.

The preparation is given a swish with a wooden ladle repeatedly. When ready, the pickle is kept for sale on shelves in the shop in attractive looking, big rectangular jars made of thick glass.

These jars have a historical value as these are the outer covers of Leclanche cells used in Shimla for electrification prior to and even after the functioning of Chaba hydroelectric station in 1913. Lala Thakur Das purchased 22 of these jars from a kabari for a rupee and-a-half each in 1925.

The USP (unique selling point) for Thakur Bhrata since then has been the use of the finest quality of spices, the purest oil and the fresh vegetables and this home-made mouth-watering achaar and chutney sells like ‘hot cakes’. Thakur Bhrata has established itself as an institution of quality products in Shimla attracting many a customer from the hills and plains alike. The, Wife of the first Indian Governor of Punjab, Sir Chandu Lal Madhav Lal Trivedi, used to personally visit the shop for purchasing pickles of her choice, also Bhim Sen Sachhar, the Chief Minister of Punjab (1952-56).

The ever-young Dev Anand, on his visit to Shimla and stay at Clarke’s Hotel, used to get the pickle and honey picked from Thakur Bhrata.

They had started selling ayurvedic products of Gurukul, Haridwar, since 1935. This is the only addition that the Soods have made in their old shop. They had acquired it in 1985. Vijay, an educated gentleman and Rajendra, a metallurgical engineer from BHU, had left their lucrative jobs to join the family business in 1972. Spiritual India, GAP Adventures writes ‘Shimla’s like a graceful old lady...she may have put on a bit of weight recently and got a few gimmicky clothes, but underneath she’s still elegant, still got class...’ and to taste its class recommends varieties of pickles and chutneys — from the common mango, lemon, garlic, red chilli to the unusual mushroom pickled by ‘a minor institution in Shimla’ — Thakur Bhrata.


Both Lala Thakur Dass and Prithvi Chand, on the call of Lala Lajpat Rai, wore khadi apparel only. They did it lifelong. On the death of Thakur Dass in 1994, his sons brought the usual long-cloth to drape the dead body. Their uncle arriving from the village said, “How could my brother, who wore Khadi the whole life, perform his last journey in long-cloth?” The proceedings were stopped and all waited till Khadi Bhandar opened and the body was draped in khadi for performing the last rites.



shimla diary
Another first for Instablogs
Rakesh Lohumi

The home page of global online newspaper launched by Instablog.
The home page of global online newspaper launched by Instablog. — A Tribune photograph

After establishing its supremacy in the blogosphere, the Instablogs Networks, Asia’s largest blog network, has achieved another first by launching the country’s maiden global online newspaper.

Combining together blogging, citizen journalism, traditional media and other channels of information, the company has developed into a global news portal in the true sense of the word.

Adopting a collaborative news model structured on interactive mode, it offers a rich and varied content with inspired citizen opinions from all over the world. Instablogs has created an environment in which passive readers and viewers spread across 60 major countries of the world have become active participants. With over 15,000 contributors across the world and 30 lakh page views, it is challenging and confronting the normal media channels.

Chief executive of Instablogs Networks Ankit Maheshwari says the strength of the portal lies in the remarkable degree of automation in operations achieved by the organisation. He said using sophisticated technology, provides an edge over the competitors.

It has also emerged as a source of earning for the regular contributors, who are making reasonable money. But more importantly, it has come to be seen as a powerful platform for putting across their viewpoints through to the global community. A live newswire service from the Associated Press keeps the site updated.

Wilson’s stint brief, but a good one

It is not unusual to see vice-chancellors being forced to quit after a change of government in the state. A hostile atmosphere is created on the campus as various teachers, students and employees’ bodies start gunning for the man in office. More often than not he has to quit without completing his term.

However, it has been a different story this time. Dr Anil Wilson has resigned but for personal reasons. Unlike most of his predecessors there is sympathy for him on the campus. His 14-month tenure has been free from student unrest and agitations. More importantly, even after the change of government there was no demand of his removal, which was quite unusual.

During his short stint in office, Wilson took some important initiatives and policy decisions with long-term implications for the university. For instance, the recruitment policy framed by him will ensure that merit was not ignored in making appointments in future. Similarly, the electoral reforms he managed to carry out will enable holding of polls to the students central association in a peaceful manner.

He had plans to build a parallel campus to reduce congestion in the existing one, but his sudden exit from office will affect such plans.

Introduce cab service from Chungi Khana

Resentment prevails among the residents of the Lower Kaithu area over the failure of the state road transport corporation to regularly ply the bus service from Chungi Khana introduced last year.

To make things worse, the corporation has decided to introduce cab service from Annandale instead of Chungi Khana. Annandale is already well connected with bus services plying throughout the day, whereas there is no bus service form Chungi Khana.



SJVN project bane for residents

The SJVN started work on the H.E. project at Bail village across River Sutlej opposite Datt Nagar Panchayat of Rampur Tehsil. The project work is in progress and the site is now prone to soil erosion due to removal of vegetation cover at the project site. The wind blowing over this site causes air pollution, which has affected the production of almond, plums and vegetables in the area. I apprehend that the production has been reduced due to the project activities. The SJVN authorities have earmarked well-defined dumping sites at Averi, but muck is being thrown in nullahs and open space below Bail-Averi road opposite Nirsu village. The SJVN authorities have resorted to heavy and uncontrolled blasting, which have developed cracks and fissures in some of the houses in the area. I hope the government looks into the issue and takes necessary action.

R.R. Bhalaik, Nirsu-Rampur Bsr

Apple-packaging units in poor shape

HPMC has opened many packaging and cold store complexes with the aid of the World Bank in the state. Surprisingly, since their inception, not a single packaging house has been updated. I happened to be their customer in 2007 and used their services for packaging purposes at their Jarol complex Near Thandedhar (Kotgarh).

The conveyer belt has not been updated for the past 30 years, nor have the cleaning brushes been installed afresh. Infact the entire machinery relating to the apple-packaging is totally in a state of disrepair. On requesting the authorities in this regard, they pleaded their inability on this front. How will the apple economy progress? No government has ever thought about the condition of these complexes in the state. A little care by the government can earn them revenue beyond their imagination, if these assets are taken care off.

Vipinder Roach, Shimla

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