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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  TRAVEL  
     
 
   
 
  Limber Sanctuary: Man vs Animal
  By Afsana Bhat  
  THE Limber Wildlife Sanctuary in Uri and adjacent villages finds itself in a fix. It is caught between wildlife protection and developmental work.

Wildlife officials want the human population in villages adjacent to the sanctuary to be shifted elsewhere. This, they believe, would lead to lesser interference by humans and smooth functioning of the sanctuary. This argument, however, doesn't go well with the local residents, especially the older generation, as they are dependent on the land and livestock for their livelihood.

"We have been living here for ages. If we shift, we will be rendered homeless and jobless. Shifting is not a solution," declared Mohammad Akram, a senior resident of Babagale village.

Wildlife officials added that forest guards needed additional facilities in the sanctuary, including accommodation, torches (for night patrol), weapons (for safety), maps, ropes and sticks, to name a few.

"We can't protect wildlife without these basic requirements. The shifting of people will solve our problems, to a large extent," said a forest official, on condition of anonymity.

The wildlife sanctuary is spread over an area of 147.75 sq km and is home to several wild animals, including the makhoor, musk deer and brown bear.

The Forest Department, in 1992, handed over the wildlife sanctuary to the Wildlife Department. This move was met with stiff opposition from the locals. "The locals believed that the Wildlife Department would let the animals roam freely in the area. Many believe that it happens today," said Ghulam Qadir Lone, a resident of Raithar village.

Encroachments in Babagale are aplenty. There are dhokas (mud houses) inside the sanctuary. The Wildlife Department blames the Forest Department for this, saying the shelters were constructed before they took over.

In the absence of firewood depot, kerosene and cooking gas, the forest is the only source of fuel for the locals. "What other option do we have? We are forced to collect firewood from the forest," said Noora Bano, a middle-aged woman at Babagale.

Most houses in Babagale are threatened by landslides."The snowfall causes the mountains to slide, damaging our houses," rued Mohammad Akbar, a resident.

The journey to these villages is tough and steep, especially as one leaves Chula for Babagale. Darambela, Sarianwale and Raithar villages fall in between. Children, expecting mothers, the sick and the aged find shuttling to and fro extremely tough.

"The sick have to be carried on shoulders to hospital. It is a tedious job. The district hospital at Baramulla is 20 kilometres away. Although there is a dispensary five kilometers away, doctors seldom visit it," said Fayaz Ahmad, a Sarianwale resident.

Every day, the youth of the area register themselves twice at Raither camp -- Babagale, once while leaving for their daily chores and then on return. Mostly people are poor here and work as daily wagers. Maize and walnut are mostly grown here. "The locals' economic condition improved after the commissioning of projects like Lower Jehlum and HCC," explained Atta Mohammad, a senior Babagale resident.

Education is also gaining popularity among the youth. "We just returned from tuition. Both my sister and I attend school," stated teenager Aadil Ahmad.
 
   
   
 
  God's own lake
  By Elizebath Philip  
  I WAS always proud to be a Keralite. The more I live out of Kerala, the more I love the state. The striking greenery as soon as one enters Kerala is embedded deep in my memory. Living there has always been a dream for the Non-Resident Keralites (NRK) like me.

Though we always try to visit a new place in Kerala during our annual visits, this time we did not plan anything except to spend three days with our family at Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district.

Yet, any journey is incomplete without a refreshing picnic. So, we visited some nearby places like the Krishnapuram palace, now converted into a museum with artifacts dating back to several centuries, and the famous Parabrahma temple at Ochira. Then came the idea of a boat ride in Sastamkota kayal (lake), an hour's drive from Kayamkulam.

We called Balan Chettan, our regular taxi driver, whose services we have been engaging for over 31 years. As usual, he came on time and we started soon after lunch.

Kerala is a land of rivers, backwaters, lakes and streams. We can find such water bodies at any place and they are a feast to the eyes. The Punnamada Kayal in Alappuzha is famous for the Nehru Trophy snake boat race that takes place during the Onam festival days. Then there are the famous Vembanattu Kayal and the Ashtamaudi Kayal which are salt water lakes!

However, Sastamkota Kayal is known as the 'Queen of Lakes' because of its uniqueness. It is spectacularly beautiful and it is the largest fresh water lake in Kerala, spread over 25 sq. kms. The lake provides drinking water to the surrounding areas, particularly the district town of Kollam.

Sastamkota is around 30 kms from Kayamkulam and Kollam and 90 kms from Thiruvanantapuram. It is a small, calm village with enchanting natural landscapes. The lake is the centre of the tourist attraction. The locals aptly call it the 'God's own lake'.

We were a little skeptical whether there would be boating facility against the backdrop of the Thekkady boat tragedy, a few weeks ago in which many tourists were killed. Yes, our apprehensions were true. There were no tourists around and all the boats were tied to poles.

The lone boatman we met was unhappy that his business has been affected by the tragedy. However, he was excited to see us. We instantly fell in love with the sprawling lake with its calm water, surrounded by wooded hills. We went around the lake in the four-seat boat, rowed by a single person. Motorboats are not allowed on the lake as the spillages can spoil the water.

Boatman Krishnan Achary happily took us around, telling us all about the lake and the water, i.e., when he was free from his mobile phone that rang every now and then. The source of the water is underground springs, he said. Achary showed us a huge water purification plant. Fishing is allowed only during a particular season.

The water is pure and potable, maybe due to the presence of some larva which absorbs all bacteria. The lake is one of the international wetlands included in the Ramsar Convention of 2002. The boatman can go non-stop talking about the lake. He was happy that he got a captive audience in us.

A captivating spectacle was that of the flying water bird known as teal. It plummets into the water, literally from the sky, and stays there for a few minutes. And finally when it emerges from the water, it would have in its beak a fish or two. Our daughter-in-law, who was visiting a Kerala village for the first time seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the ride.

A ferry service connects Sastamkota with Kallada. Left to myself, I would have gone to Kallada and come back. Unfortunately, there is no fixed timing for the ferry service. It would return only when there are enough passengers. I did not want to get stranded.

Sastamkota is also a place of pilgrimage. The lake is near the Dharma Sasta Temple, whose deity is Lord Ayyappa. The area swarms with monkeys, who are said to be dear to the Lord. In fact, the name Sastamkota is derived from this temple, which means a "Fort of Sasta". Sastamkota is also close to Amrithapuri, the headquarters of Mata Amritanandamayi.

During my college days, Sastamkota was in the news for a different reason -- religious leaders of the world sat together on a hill in this tiny village to deliberate on world religions and unity. Sastamkota is thus historical, having hosted the 2nd World Parliament of Religions in 1971, which was attended by delegates from Asia, Africa, America and Europe.

On the way back, we stopped at Bharanikavu to visit the Mount Horeb Ashram of the Orthodox Church and the chapel adjoining the tomb of the "89th successor to the Holy Apostolic Throne of St.Thomas and the Malankara Meropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Church" H.H. Moran Mr Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews II.

The Metropolitan had passed away in 2006 at the age of 91. He was a great religious leader, an ardent ecumenist and had established many social, humanitarian, theological and educational establishments and institutions.

On the whole, it was a lovely experience and I was wondering why we had not visited Sasthamkota earlier when we had gone all the way to Thiruvananthapuram to enjoy boating in the Veli Kayal! We long to have a ride in the lakes of Venice, when we can have a ride through the backwaters and lakes of Alappuzha, the Venice of the East. We wait for an opportunity to visit Switzerland but we take for granted our own and 'God's own country', no less beautiful and greener, though not as white as the Alps.
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Elizebath Philip is Chief Manager, Oriental Insurance Company, New Delhi
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Photo by A.J. Philip
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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