Teesta River


Teesta River

-John Eickert

A good friend of ours named Trish called last night. She is traveling to Siliguri in February on pilgrimage and wanted to know if I knew the area and had any suggestions for her free time. This morning we woke to a foot of snow and more falling, an event, which stretched through the day. Odd, but falling snow made me think of rafting and my suggestions to a friend made me long for India.

North of Siliguri, beyond Kalimpong, there is a small village named Rongpo and there you can send yourself into the current of the Tista. This river, also sometimes called the Teesta, is the main river flowing south out of Sikkim. In fact, in Sikkim they call the Tista the ‘lifeline’ because of its consistent ability to bring water. The river rises at Cho Llamo Lake, a place I have never been, and flows to the Brahmaputra and then to the Bay of Bengal. Down from Rongpo, the river runs quick and very cold; the turquoise waters rushing through emerald forest past round house-sized boulders. This is a half-day trip taking perhaps three hours and the rapids are an invigorating non-lethal class III. Did I mention the water is very cold? There are white water rafting companies in Darjeeling, Kalimpong or Gangtok, arrangements are straightforward and the river makes for a thrilling experience. The white water ride ends at another little village named Malli and if you are a good planner, further arrangements can see you bicycling back to Kalimpong. The bike tour at the end of the day is a fine way to warm up after the cold fast flowing river. Of course, not everyone finds the water too cold, our rafting guide jumped in repeatedly, always inviting us to join him, though no one took him up on his kind offer. I hope Trish finds the time for this adventure.

Also in this area of West Bengal is the train ride from Siliguri to Darjeeling on the narrow gauge rail. It is a magnificent trip offering a unique experience and memorable views, especially coming over the hill to Darjeeling. Once in Darjeeling, it is well worth the time to rise so very early and make the trek south from Ghoom to Tiger Hill. To stand at Tiger Hill in the before dawn with so many others, with the air chill and prayer flags flapping, is to feel a closeness with all humanity then the sun bursts from the jungles of Assam sending a rosy streak against the frozen bulk of Kanchenjunga. Pipes, horns and drums begin to play and many begin to chant, the sun has found the Himalayas, the worlds greatest mountains. To be at that place in the spring when the rhododendrons and magnolias bloom adds further joy to the senses. Will you go?

There is always much to see and do, now is the time to plan, life is too short to wait too long. Cheers.



Click on the picture below to organize a river rafting tour!


Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Evolution slide show

Evolution slide show

 Time-line buried in slime


Sediments at the bottom of the Oude Meren pond in Belgium have provided a snapshot of evolution in action, says S.Ananthanarayanan.


Many generations of the miniscule organisms, Daphnia, and their predator, pasteuria ramosa, preserved in the slime, have documented the evolution of the parasite to keep pace with the Daphnia as it changes form to become resistive. Ellen Decaestecker and colleagues in Belgium, Switzerland and France report in this week’s Nature that the Red Queen Hypothesis, a pattern of co-evolution of species, is borne out by the mud encased time-line.


The Red Queen


In Lewis Carol’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen says, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place", to express the irony that efforts are naught because the context changes before the effort is over. The Red Queen Effect in the dynamics of co-evolving biological systems is that species need to keep developing, not to get ahead and dominate, but just to maintain ‘fitness’ relative to the environment.


The race between hosts and parasites, the former to develop resistance and the latter to change track and catch up, is a key force that structures the populations of such pairs of species. But direct evidence of the process is rare and data that has been available does not reveal the dynamics of the mechanism. 


Daphnia and Pasteuria



Daphnia are tiny, crustaceans, or animals with an outer shell, commonly called water fleas, because they swim in leaps, like fleas. The interesting thing about Daphnia is that the shell is translucent and allows many vital body functions to be viewed using a microscope. Apart from their use in the laboratory, Daphia are an important source of  food for many species and can also be used to clear fish tanks of algae, so long as they are not eaten by the fish .




Pasteuria Ramosa is a bacterium that infects the Daphnia with the effect of making the crustacean incapable of reproducing, before it kills the host. But Pastueria shows great selection of which subset of hosts it will infect and this effect is a direct result of some strains of the host being resistant to the parasite. This kind of specificity and the shift of the genetic structure of Daphnia populations during epidemics are indicators of clear co-evolutionary dynamics. But it has not been able to identify and trace development of Daphnia/Pasteuria species in a natural setting over time.


Records of development


A fortunate circumstance is that both the species produce parts of themselves that are useful for propagation and these lie dormant for long periods in pond beds. As layers of mud form at the bed, these remains are entrapped and become records of the genetic varieties that existed over time.


The scientists therefore studied the sediment cores from a shallow pond in Belgium, where the Daphnia co-exist with the Paseuria Ramosa, the parasite. From different sediment layers, they hatched Daphnia clones from dormant eggs and picked up fragments of Pasteuria. Each depth represents a snapshot of the continuing dog fight of the host and parasite in evasion and pursuit.


The results showed that the parasites caught up with evolving hosts in a time-scale of 2-4 years, which was the closest intervals the mud layers could reveal.  In cross-infection experiments, it was found that Daphnia were most prone to contemporary parasites, could resist parasites from earlier layers and were also less vulnerable to parasites from future layers. This last indicates that the parasite lost its present effectiveness when it changed on the trail of the evolving host 


This historical reconstruction of the interaction of the host and parasite, in the ‘wild’, has demonstrated co-evolution of the 2 species – each responding to the ‘moves’ of the other. ‘Red Queen’ dynamics may then be the reason for development of many biological phenomena, like sexual reproduction, where 2 individuals contribute different genetic raw material, as opposed to asexual reproduction. The study shows in frozen frames the game of tag that has led to biodiversity itself.

[The writer can be contacted at]


Butterfly Conservation

Conservation of butterflies-Part II



-Dr.S.P. Surya Prakash

Butterflies play an important role in pollination after honeybees by pollinating a major portion of economically important crop, 3/4 part of  staple crop in world, and more than 75% of flowering plants etc. The 1000 years old silk industry is also dependent on these Lepidoptera. Butterflies are also an indicator of environmental health and the ecosystem service providers from the starting level. Around hundred species of butterflies are at the verge of extinction in India. If the butterfly population decline    then it will directly affect the agriculture industry. India must take lesson from USA where most of the butterflies have extinct or are endangered that is not all the host plants also have dwindled or have vanished due to depletion in forest cover along with butterflies and now USA is importing live butterflies and rehabilitating them in the country for pollination.


These indispensable pollinators   play vital role in agriculture are heading towards extinction unnoticed from our country. Delhi alone has around 80 species of butterflies, which is much more than 56 species of whole of United Kingdom.


Once there was a purple Butterfly’ a film made by Sonya V. Kapoor on butterflies ,not only tells the story of butterfly diversity in India but also shows the crime against butterflies, depletion of forest covers, and how these lepidopterons are smuggled in international market live or dead in matchboxes and how the livelihood of many native local  people is dependent on this trade.



The life cycle of butterfly completes in four stages from laying eggs in a host plant from the eggs emerges larvae called caterpillars which vigorously   feeds upon host plant and transforms into pupa and now development takes place inside and than comes adult butterfly the development from pupa to adult butterfly is called metamorphosis. Life of an adult butterfly is very short like two weeks and during this period it has to find a mate and host plant for propagation of species.


Butterflies, apart from nectar of flowers feed upon decaying fruits, dead animals and can be seen basking on rocks and on mud puddles near any water body; some times they can be seen sucking minerals from bird dropping or any other source of decaying plant.  Butterflies rarely go to rose flowers and some butterflies  never even go to feed on any flower.


It is not necessary that all beautiful gardens with all sort of greenery with flowering plants should have butterflies; host plants are important in a park for butterfly diversity that is why natural jungles are important for these lepidopterons.


‘ButterflyIndia’ is the only major group actively involved in sharing, discussing, studying,conservation and organizing annual butterfly meet   on butterflies in India. Butterfly conservation is little technical and scientific which needs knowledge of biological sciences, especially for those who come from non-scientific background in butterfly conservation. The knowledge of habitat and species –specific host plant in every region play an important role. It is not at all possible to create same ecological conditions in all different regions for example Himalayan butterflies can not be conserved in Thar desert of Rajasthan and vise versa. Therefore, the conservation values of any region depend on the extent of endemic and protected species of that area.


Presently Dr. H.S.Rose from Zoology dept, Patiala ,Punjab, Jatin Tamuly and Maan Barua,  both from Assam, Gaonkar, etc are doing very good work on butterflies and  the moths in the country, apart from all those who are actively engaged in butterfly conservation specially in the South and North East where good number of people are involved in butterfly study and conservation as compared to northern part of the country.  Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi has given financial assistance to propagate butterflies in a captive breeding programme  for conservation in Peechi (Kerala), union minister for science and technology Kapil Sibal has inaugurated a butterfly park by jointly funding it with Karnataka govt. at Bannerghatta in Bangalore. Such initiatives from government are encouraging but need consistency and more such projects need to be funded for every region in the country.

( To be continued)


Story Of The Month

Solar Energy-God's Unique Gift to Mankind

Solar Energy - God’s Unique Gift to Mankind


-Govind Singh


Ever since the Earth was first formed billions of years ago, the sun has been the ultimate source of all energy on this planet. If it weren’t for the sun, the earth would be a frozen, dark rock. More recently, in the earth’s geological time scale, the sun has also been responsible for photosynthesis and life. All the food that we eat is because of sun’s light energy that gets converted into chemical energy by green plants.



Coal, oil and all other forms of fossil fuel have played a critical role in shaping the present society. These fossil fuels are essentially ancient sunlight that has been captured by plants since the dawn of time. After billions of years of decomposing in the earth, this fossilized sunlight became the fuel that has been modern civilization’s battery pack. But, only until now.


The world today is facing an energy crisis of a different kind. We have large reservoirs of fossil fuels lying unused in the earth’s crust. These can be economically extracted and used to power the needs of modern civilization. However, depending on fossil fuels is no longer a good option as their indiscriminate use has already disturbed the delicate balance of earth’s natural process, leading to global warming. This and some more factors are now causing an even greater problem – the problem of global climate change.





Energy, however, is a driving force not just for the economy but also for all our daily activities. With the existing energy resources no longer being a viable option, it is time we shift to God’s most unique gift to mankind – Solar Energy! We now need to harness the potential of direct sunlight to meet our energy demand in a clean and sustainable manner.


We have always used direct solar energy as far back as humans have existed on this planet. When we hang laundry outside to dry in the sun, we are using the solar heat to do the work of drying our clothes. At the same time, solar cookers and solar water heaters that work using the thermal energy of the sun, have been popular for a very long time. With the advent of technology, we can now transform sun’s light energy into electricity using solar or photovoltaic cells. Energy so produced is clean, non-polluting and environment friendly. Indeed, even solar powered calculators that use light as a source of electricity; have also been popular for a very long time.


Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is a free, widely available and renewable resource that does not release any polluting by-products. It has no negative effect on the environment and no harmful gases or other emissions are released from the production or use of solar energy. Solar energy is also the most important of all renewable energy sources because it is the only non-polluting source that can provide us enough energy required to fulfill our demand. Thus, when put to full use, solar energy can help us in attaining energy independence, minimizing both dangerous pollution levels and our dependence on fossil fuels.


The use of nuclear energy has led to accidental disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the past. Not so long ago, the extraction and transportation of oil led to the Exxon Valdez Oil spill catastrophe in Alaska. Using thermal or Hydro means to meet our energy requirement comes with its own problems such as air pollution, health impacts and ecological imbalance, further accelerating global warming.


Solar energy is thus our only energy solution for the future and a pure gain to humanity. It subtracts nothing from the Earth’s crust and the world will not be in the last impoverished tomorrow by its fullest use. Contrary to popular belief, solar energy is also a highly cost effective technology that offers long-term savings, making it an ideal option for sustainable development. 



Apart from leading to a cleaner environment, shifting to solar energy also means reducing our electricity bills. Besides, solar energy is a decentralized means of energy. Nobody owns the sun and its energy falls in everybody’s backyard. Thus, solar energy is even more unique than we can imagine and an energy policy based on it will also ensure rural development. It is therefore time that we unpackage God’s most unique gift to mankind completely and explore and adopt it to its maximum potential.



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