Kipling trail to be developed for tourism
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Shimla, January 27
Venturing into a completely new arena, Himachal will now add another attraction to its list of adventure, cultural, health and pilgrim tourism as it will develop sites along the Hindustan-Tibet road, which formed the backdrop of many literary works of Rudyard Kipling, who spent some moments in these idyllic locations in the Himalayas.

With references of many of these places and rest houses in one of his books, “Kim”, the forest department has embarked on a unique project of developing the “Kipling” trail. It will be a combined venture of the forest and the tourism departments as the trail is expected to attract not only British travellers but also others who hold interest in his writings.

Even though there is no exact information or documented evidence of his presence at these places, writers, historians and local people will be involved in the project to get inputs of his stay.

“We will identify about 10 sites along the Hindustan-Tibet road where there is an evidence of Kipling’s stay, so that these can be developed to attract tourists,” says Avay Shukla, additional chief secretary, forest department.

The newly created eco-tourism wing of the forest department is enthusiastic about the project. “Since the project would be a big one with a scope for further expansion, we are exploring all options, including having jeep safari, camping sites and caravan travel along these sites, which inspired Kipling to pen his famous books,” explained Virender Kumar, conservator, eco-tourism.

In order to ensure the authenticity of the information about Kipling while he frequented these places, Shimla historian Raja Bhasin will be involved in preparing the literature aimed at attracting foreign tourists and those evincing interest in literature. “We will prepare literature about the writer, his life, his interests and his visits to these areas,” said Virender.

There are references about Kipling having frequented Shimla and many other places along the Hindustan-Tibet road in “Shimla Past and Present”. During his forays into these areas, the writer is learnt to have stayed in some of the old forest rest houses, still in existence. In fact, sources said he was learnt to have penned his remarks in the visitor’s book at one of the rest houses. Places along Kipling’s trail, where a forest rest house exist, would be given a facelift. In other places, camping sites would be developed.

The authorities are hopeful that the trail would attract a large number of foreigners, especially from Britain, as many of them come here to trace the places where their parents or grandparents resided during the days of the Raj. The forest authorities are trying to seek external funding for the project, which will involve the tourism, PWD, revenue and a number of other departments. Informal talks have also been held with Asian Development Bank but the detailed project is yet to be prepared. It would take some time before it is posed for funding.

The tourism authorities here have been trying to promote tourism connected with the British era. It is with the objective that a well-documented book, “An introduction to Churches and Christian cemeteries in Himachal Pradesh”, is being brought out by the department. This will provide information about the Britons who have been laid to rest in the cemeteries at various British settlements in the state, including Shimla.



Power co wreaks havoc on Dhauladhar hills
Ravinder Sood

Palampur, January 27
Resentment prevails among residents of Palampur against the reckless cutting of green hills by a private company executing the 15 MW project here.

Villagers belonging to different panchyats adjoining the town and the residents of the Palampur have lodged a protest against the cutting of hills and the dumping of debris in the local water sources.

They have demanded immediate suspension of the construction work as it had disturbed the ecology of the region and had badly damaged irrigation channels and drinking water pipelines of the region. The dumping of debris in the Neugal Khud had resulted in a drinking water crisis in the area.

The villagers told The Tribune that they had informed the local administration and forest officials about the activities of the company and the damage being caused to the environment long ago. Instead of taking action against the company, the government was protecting it, the villagers alleged.

They said it was surprising that till now, no case had been registered against the company. Three labourers were killed on the site because of negligence of the company last year.No compensation was paid to the families of the labourers.

Parveen Sharma, local MLA, said he had already taken up the matter with the Forest and Environment Minister JP Nadda, who had assured him that the company would not be allowed to indulge in reckless cutting of hills and dumping of debris in the local streams. He said the minister had directed the department to initiate action against the company.

Divisional forest officer (DFO) AS Banyal said the forest and environment department had already fined the company Rs 2 crore for damages caused to the forest wealth. He admitted that the company had not deposited a single penny in the state exchequer. He quoted that in the past year his predecessor fined the company Rs 98 lakh and last month he had again levied a fine of Rs 65 lakh. He said both times the company was found indulging in reckless cutting of hills and damaging the green cover on the Dhauladhar hills. He said he had directed the company to stop the construction till the fine was deposited in the state exchequer.

However,The Tribune team visited the spot and found that the execution of the project was going on as usual. No senior official of the company was available on the spot for comments. A supervisor present at the site said the management had never asked the company to suspend the construction.

Ritesh Chauhan, SDM, Palampur, said the department had already initiated action against the company. Therefore, he could not interfere. However, if the company failed to follow the orders of Banyal, he would initiate legal action against the it and a case would also be registered.

Meanwhile, a senior officer of the irrigation and public health department told The Tribune that the department had asked the company to pay damages worth Rs 3 crore for the loss caused to water pipelines of the Palampur division. He said the matter was already in the notice of Irrigation and Public Health Minister Ravinder Singh Thakur, who had called the manager of the company and directed him to pay the damages. Till today, the department had not received any money from the company.



School students risk lives to attend classes
Lalit Mohan
Tribune News Service

Pihri (Dharamsala), January 27
About 57 students of a primary school in Pihri village are risking their lives to attend classes.

The school building, which is located in one of the remotest areas of Kangra district, is in dilapidated condition. There are holes in the slate roofs of the building. Its mud walls have developed cracks and pillars supporting the roof shake by a slight touch. The tin roof of the concrete walled room of the school was blown away by winds long ago and it has not been replaced, rendering a portion of the building useless.

Teachers of the school say initially they used to get the building repaired from local carpenters, but now the its condition has deteriorated to such an extent that even the carpenters have refused to repair it.

The PWD authorities of the district have been informed many times regarding the condition of the school, but instead of taking concrete steps they have responded with advice. “The authorities have advised us not to take classes in the rooms with damaged roof. And the irony is that the entire roof is damaged. The classes cannot be organised in rains as water starts seeping through the roof,” the teachers allege.

The teachers have also submitted an application to Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal who also visited the village recently. Though Dhumal has assured help, the condition of the school speaks volumes about the lack of governance on the part of district administration, education and PWD departments.

Pihri village is part of the arid area of Kangra district that is locally known as the Changar area, which comprises dry hills that receive scanty rainfall and villages are yet to be connected by roads.

Basic amenities such as health and education still elude people. In Pihri panchayat that extends in an area of about 20 km, there is no primary health centre. Residents have to travel at least 30 km to either Palampur or Khundian to get medical service. The ordeal to get medical facilities is further strained by the fact that there are only two buses that ply in the entire region.

Agriculture, which is dependent on rains and is carried out on small patches of available land, is the primary vocation of residents of the area. This year, due to lesser rains, people might not be able to get grains even for their own consumption.

Due to the lack of employment avenues, most of the youngsters are either serving in the Army or in private industries in Punjab or Delhi.

During his visit, the Chief Minister had urged the locals to take benefit of various government schemes of self-employment.

However, in a remote area like this where hardly any government official visits, people have no idea of such schemes.



The lightning-struck castle
by Shriniwas Joshi

When one speaks regularly of a building struck by lightning, one’s needle of thought moves towards Bijli Mahadev in Kullu. The other building about which Lord Auckland’s sister Emily Eden writes in her diary in 1839 as a bleak house that nobody would live in and that in general is struck by lightning once in a year is the Sterling Castle in the Longwood Hill.

Edward Buck in “Simla- Past and Present” calls it inappropriately christened probably because it has no resemblance with the castle at Sterling in Scotland nor has it a fortress like appearance. It is, however, one of the oldest buildings of Shimla and is perched on the summit of the hill opposite Auckland House. Its first reference was found in 1833 when it belonged to one Stirling.

The paradox is that nobody would live in the house that has been the residence of several personalities. Member of Dalhousie’s council Sir Frederick Currie resided here from 1844 to 1850 and then the lightning actually ruined it. It was rebuilt in the 50’s and D.O.B. Clarke started a school here in the early 60’s. Cotton of Cotton and Morris merchants bought it in 1870 from a solicitor Moore, who had purchased it in 1865. Berkeley purchased it from Cotton in 1873 and sold it to W.W. Hunter in 1880, who resided here for several years. Hunter enjoying isolation here wrote a book “History of the Indian People”. Three eminent owners or tenants also stayed here before it was propertied by Major General A.S. Hunter who gave it the present shape in 1895.

Stirling Castle today has an imposing appearance with all heritage features intact and commands magnificent views on all sides because the present owners Sood brothers (of famous Lehnu Mal Ram Kishen firm) have not disturbed the environs. The Himalayan Oaks and stunted Cedars around the building add to its magnificence.

The Shimla MC was strict in controlling the buildings falling within its jurisdiction and when a lawn tennis court was being raised here in 1899, it took exception to excavation more than the required and for willfully injuring a tree. General Hunter’s apology was accepted in 1900 when he made it through a professional architect A. Craddock. A rain-water harvesting tank of 45,000 gallon capacity was constructed here under the guidance of architect Roland Hotz in 1916 that stands dysfunctional today.

It was always a pressing problem to make potable water available at the top so a Worthington Pump driven by electric motor was installed at almost road level to throw 400 gallons of water to the height of 130 feet in 1916. It has been re-located for effective working in 1981.

In 1916, Appaji Rao Sitole made a benami agreement with Hunter and purchased the building for the Maharaja of Gwalior and through another benami transaction in favour of Dr Tehl Singh. It became the property of the Maharaja Nabha in 1921 who got an area of about seven acres fenced by stout iron railings in 1933. The flush latrines were a luxury in Shimla in 1938 but Major L.B. Grant, manager Nabha buildings, decided to have one for Stirling Castle.

On MC’s refusal to accord sanction for the same, Grant wrote a letter to the then Deputy Commissioner, S. Partab, informing him about the uphill- down dale criticism by the public of MC for this apathy. It was immediately sanctioned.

In 1962, under the influence of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Nabha sold the Castle to the Save the Children Fund (STCF) for a paltry sum of 50,000 rupees. STCF, a charitable organisation was started in UK in 1919 by Jebb Eglantyne to help the children in distress. The Shimla STCF made the Stirling Castle a hostel for Tibetan children who had fled from Tibet after the Chinese incursion.

Alexandra Naldehra Metcalfe nee Curzon had also visited the Castle when she was actively engaged in the activities of STCF in the 60s. The present owners purchased it from STCF in May 1970 and have been living here since then.


Nabha had appointed a lady Ida William to look after Stirling Castle. Construction of a Guest House in the estate started in 1923 without getting the plan approved by MC. When MC conveyed its displeasure to the Maharaja, his State Engineer Major Cook apologized. “I am sending the plan which could not be sent earlier because His Highness had placed the property in charge of a woman. The man’s world, eh!”



Mashobra’s unbridled urbanisation pains noted writer
Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, January 27
The state government has decided to amend the Town and Country Planning Act to help legalise unauthorised structures even as unregulated urbanisation is taking a heavy toll of the fragile hill environment. Verdant slopes in and around major tourists destinations are losing the green cover at an alarming rate due to “haphazard and excessive” construction activity. The expanse of fast-spreading concrete jungle has all but completely overwhelmed the “queen of hills” and now it is spreading its tentacles deep into suburban areas like Kufri, Baldiyan, Puabo, and the Airport Road.

The latest victim is Mashobra, which had somehow withstood the onslaught of unbridled urbanisation until recently. Located just 12 km from the state capital, the picturesque village had a vast potential for eco-tourism. However, it has fallen prey to the greed and avarice of builders and it is heading for a pre-mature death as a tourist destination. With it lies shattered the dream of Pankaj Mishra, internationally renowned novelist, critic and essayist, who put Mashobra on the world tourism map with his writings describing the scenic beauty and serenity of the place studded in sylvan surroundings.

Finding the unspoilt bucolic settings of Mashobra ideal for literary and artistic pursuits, Mishra was keen to create a global artistic and literary centre where writers and artists from all over the world could visit, stay, exchange ideas and create new works. “I planned to hold arts festivals, conferences and symposia. But I am now too ashamed and embarrassed to even ask anyone to visit Mashobra and see the ruined village that I live in,” he says with anguish writ large on his face.

“My quest for a quiet place where I could work brought me to Mashobra in 1992. I considered myself blessed for landing up in the small village nestling in pristine settings with a very friendly population. Over the years, I have done some of my best literary works here, four books and many articles for international and national publications, and every time I returned from my travels abroad I felt privileged to live in Himachal Pradesh, especially in Mashobra. I have written very proudly about Mashobra in my books, for Time magazine and many other publications. And people from all over the world visited me and they had all been enchanted by the village”.

The gifted writer, who shot into fame with his first book “Butter Chicken in Ludhiana”, is disturbed over the ongoing degradation of his adopted village. “In the recent years, things have changed dramatically but for the worst. Mashobra has been virtually taken over by real estate developers who have built huge buildings with no regard for aesthetics, environmental sustainability, or even common sense. It would be more understandable if people were actually living in these buildings. Almost 90 per cent of these flats remain unoccupied as they are seen as investment opportunities rather than places to live by people who bought them. Local people have not benefited at all from the over-development, even the small flow of tourists has dried up and the only people to have done well are the real-estate developers, none of whom are from Mashobra,” he laments.

“Entire forests have been cut down to make space for horrible-looking buildings. Almost everyday a tree comes down in my neighbourhood. All this is happening under the eyes and perhaps with the complicity of local officials, which appears rather scandalous. Why the government is content to see the most beautiful state in India to degenerate? What makes it pass laws that allow developers to behave with total impunity? If we can’t save the abode of the gods from turning into a slum, what hope do we have for the rest of India?”

Mashobra is not the only place suffering from environmental and aesthetic degradation due to spurt in construction activity and Mishra is not the only one asking such questions. It is the same story across the state and there are reasons for all environment-caring people to be worried.

It is high time for the government to come out with a deterrent policy to curb unauthorised structures rather than rewarding the offenders by bringing retention policies.



Struggling textile industry faces another blow
Hike in additional goods tax
Ambika Sharma

Solan, January 27
Reeling under losses due to a decline in exports, the textile sector in the state has been forced to bear another blow with the state government enhancing the additional goods tax (AGT) on yarn from the existing Rs 3 per kg to Rs 4.50 per kg. The textile industry has been opposing 50 per cent hike in the tax, as it had to bear the brunt of an entry tax levied by Punjab.

In a bid to safeguard the interests of its own industry, Punjab has imposed a 4 per cent tax on yarn. Punjab has a large textile industry and this was considered a strategic move as the industry in the state had the advantage of a central industrial package. This has further made the industry located in Himachal uncompetitive.

The industry in the state is already in a disadvantageous position due to the lack of markets for finished goods as well as raw materials. The landlocked location forces the industry to buy raw materials from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.

Even the markets of these textile units are located far away in Maharasthra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, etc., forcing the industry to spend a sizeable amount on freight. The investors contend that they end up paying higher freight on raw materials and finished goods hence reducing their margins considerably. With the levy of these two taxes, the trade had become highly unprofitable and the units were on the verge of closure.

Northern India Textile Mills Association (NTMA) senior vice-president Satish Bagrodia in a letter to the Chief Minister has demanded curtailment in the AGT. Pleading that these units employed the highest number of individuals and their closure would adversely hit employment, the NTMA had demanded immediate intervention of the Chief Minister.

The investors also point out that the industry in the state has to pay CST for selling finished goods, which is credited to the customers located in different parts of the country, while their counterparts in other states have local markets where VAT is applicable and their customers are able to take credit for it. Hence, the industry suffered more in the present scenario.



Census of migratory birds in Pong Dam
Dharam Prakash Gupta
Tribune News Service

Hamirpur, January 27
To gather more authentic information and detailed study of migratory birds of famous wetland in Pong Dam, the wildlife department of the state government has decided to carry a census of these birds.

The census would be undertaken from January 29 to January 31. Through the census, the department would gather vital information about the birds visiting the Pong Dam during winter months this year, which would be useful for the future study of the birds.

The study would also benefit bird watchers and ornithologists to get systematic information based on the scientific survey.

The department carrying the survey would involve several NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund, the Bombay Natural History Society, the Wildlife Trust of India, the Kangra Birdwatchers Society, the Pong Birding Society and the Himalayan Nature Preservation Society.

Government agencies like the Zoological Survey of India, the Wildlife Institute of India and forest officers linked with birdwatching would also be associated in the census.

Telling about the information to be collected through the survey, SK Guleria, divisional forest officer, wildlife division, Hamirpur, said “The census would help us counting the number of migratory birds, increase or decrease in their number this year in comparison to last years, new species visiting this year, their behaviour and other features.”



Shimla diary
IGMC to reduce special wards

Much to the surprise of everyone, the authorities at the Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) are bringing down the number of special wards to half. This is not because there is no demand of such wards but its been done to have better lighted and ventilated rooms.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is always a long waiting list for private wards, the number of special wards on the top floor of the casualty wing is being halved from the present 30. To top it all huge amounts are being spent on this task, which would compound the situation rather than easing it out.

Even the doctors at the hospital are surprised at the decision of the authorities to bring down the number of special wards. However, insiders say this has been done to improve the facilities and hike the tariff to almost four times so that the number of patients who could afford special wards limits automatically.

Heaving a sigh of relief

All four ministers in the Dhumal cabinet from Kangra heaved a sigh of relief as the name of a sitting legislator from Jawali, Rajan Sushant, was announced for being fielded in the Lok Sabha elections. The choice finally fell on the firebrand leader Sushant, who has managed to get the blessings of both Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal as well as Rajya Sabha MP Shanta Kumar.

Ministers in the Dhumal cabinet, Kishan Kapoor, Ramesh Dhawala, Ravinder Singh Ravi and Sharveen Chaudhary were greatly relieved as the party was considering their candidature. Main reason for considering their names was due to caste factor, as OBC’s, Gaddis as well as Rajputs constitute a sizeable chunk of the electorate.

How well Sushant fares in the elections is a different matter but it is a well-established fact that he is a fighter who would definitely add much heat to the electioneering with his fiery speeches. Whatever may be the outcome of the elections but the four ministers are happy to continue in their cushy jobs as ministers, avoiding the sweat and heat of the polls.

Col Narender gets Sena Medal

Hailing from village Banjani near Chail, Col Narender Kumar has been honoured with the Sena Medal for the exemplary courage shown during his stint in Jammu and Kashmir.

Narender served in the Rashtriya Rifles in the valley between 2003-06. He has been given the honour for launching a successful anti-terrorist operation. Prior to this, he served as an observer in the United Nations Security Mission in Africa. He has also served in the Indian peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka.

Col was born in 1959 and did his schooling from Government High School, Chail. It was while doing law at the Himachal Pradesh University that he got selected in the army. — Pratibha Chauhan





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