Last Train

Last Train

-John Eickert


Life is about change, something we can do today we may not be able to do tomorrow. These are a few examples; a child can contort into positions, impossible for an adult, an old person has powers of wisdom unavailable to youth, a middle-aged adult has stamina. I went to South America for adventure. I met a friend in Paraguay, a wonderful expatriate schoolteacher ready for anything. She was my neighbor, for a time, here in Montana. My plane touched down in Asunción, the capitol, and we went straight away to a café and planned the next three weeks.

Our adventure took us across central South America. We walked in rain forest, rode horses with gauchos, and paddled broad rivers. We talked, laughed, and worked hard at keeping the mood light and the pace quick. We arrived in Salta, Argentina and I was determined to go up on the Chilean frontier for some mountaineering. We booked tickets aboard the ‘Tren de las Nubes,’ train to the clouds. We waited at the station three days for this infrequent train before it departed, more or less right on time depending on your point of view. Trains worldwide seem to run on their own schedules, not just in India.

It took three days for the train to chug up to the remote pass named Socompa. The railroad workers treated us with local music and cuisine on the ride up. We were delighted to have made it after helping shovel the tracks during a heavy snowstorm. The border town involved a few goat and sheepherder families and the Chilean and Argentine armies, once a week there was hot water. The weather was cold and windy, but the sky was blue.

The results of the mountaineering are for another story. We stayed in the mountains near the pass as long as we could, catching the last train of the season back to Salta with most of the attending Argentine army riding the downhill coach with us. Many of these men spent months at the remote frontier and the sight of a blonde haired blue-eyed woman caused trouble. The friends we made on the ride to the pass hid us from the Army and we returned to Salta without further incident. It is impossible to say what might have happened if those desperate men had found my friend.

Time passed and soon I was at the airport in Paraguay waiting for a flight home. The entire trip amounted to one of the most amazing adventures. I did not know at the time how my life would change in the next weeks. No one foretold an accident would leave me unable to walk for two years and never able to go up into the high mountains again. I think back and consider myself so fortunate to have had such an incredible experience. Catch the train when you can, there may never be another. I can still feel the wind on my face at Socompa. 



Burning Issues

Hurry and submit your comments on the tribal Bill!

Most Urgent

As you might be  aware, the Government is all set to make the Tribal Bill ( 2006 ) an Act in the monsoon

session of Parliament.  The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has in the meantime asked for comments and

objections from the Public ( to be sent by August 3 2007).  The draft rules can be read at

However, most of us "Public" are so skeptical about the Government that we do not even consider taking

such opportunities to make way for a healthy debate and a better law.
Also,  most of us do not have the time or inclination to go through pages and pages of rules/regulations.
But there is hope still. We have put together a number of expert opinions and well thought out comments by people who have understood and analyzed the draft rules,at the BLOG page

Please select the ideas which appeal to you and send them along with your comments to

Dr.Bachittar Singh
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs
7th Floor, A-Wing, Shastri Bhavan
New Delhi-110001

Please also send a copy of the letter to

Mr. Bharat Lal, I.F.S
Director, Ministry of Tribal Affairs
2nd Floor, A-Wing, Shastri Bhavan
New Delhi-110001

The subject reference can be given as Gazette Notification dated 19th June 2007
Draft Rules Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights ) Act,

2006(2 of 2007).  Though the comments can be sent by email, we suggest that you send an email and follow it up with a print copy on your letterhead / with your signatures.  Remember it is IMPORTANT that as many people as possible send in the objections -for them to count. So each one of us need to act, individually.  Time is short-comments received after
3rd August will not be read.

Burning Issues

CiviC Disobedience

                                         CiviC Disobedience


--Shivani Thakur 


 Mahatma Gandhi, in 1915 while visiting banks of river Ganga, was agonized to see people performing natural functions on the thoroughfares and riverbanks. But much hasn’t changed since.  Every year the monsoons bring with them diseases like gastroenteritis, cholera, dengue, typhoid, dengue, and influenza. The recent deaths of about 20 people in Mumbai was due to outbreak of such diseases. Open garbage dumps; untreated sewage, clogged drains and no clean drinking water are the root causes.


       The cities and metros with sprawling malls and rising skyscrapers are incapable of handling basic sanitation requirements. Only 30% of wastewater is treated before disposal. Most sewage water empties into open drains or rivers. The sewage system works on obsolete methods putting pressure on the already clogged drains resulting in spillage of sewerage in the open.  In the slums the problems are worsened.  A 2005 World Bank report pointed out that a “chronic lack of urban sanitation policy and planning activity has made a major contribution to lack of progress.”  Also, this untreated or partially treated wastewater seeps into the rivers, lakes and groundwater leading to increasing incidence of diseases.


    Not only water, the food available in shops like cakes, pastries, sweets, milk etc can be tracked down to slums where most basic ingredients are made for these.  The dairy farms run the risk of contamination because of no proper drainage of waste and manure disposal system .The atta chakkis are infested with rodents and are in pathetic condition.  Small poultry farmers let hens feed near open drains.  Bigger farms with closed enclosures have stale food, excreta or dead birds making them filthy and unhygienic.


     In rural areas open defecation is still the norm with only 22%households having access to basic sanitation facilities. This is largely due to old mindset of the people. Inspite of launch of Central Rural Sanitation Programme(CRSP) in 1986,with 100% subsidy to people for constuction of toilets, it was a complete failure.  In 1999 CRSP was scraped to be replaced by a new drive called Total Sanitary Campaign to bring sanitation through information, education and communication. Though about 2.8 million households are added annually yet they are far from adequate.  According to the World Bank report it will be by 2024 that India will achieve full household toilet coverage in rural India.


                     But India has some feathers in its cap like in          Nandigram-II in West Bengal where 100% sanitation has been achieved. This improved both the community surroundings and health.  In 2003 the Thandavampatti hamlet in Tamil Nadu became the first rural habitation to be declared open defecation free.  In Mumbai’s Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum, caste based scavengers have found a better vocation by managing public toilets for a monthly salary.  The “sulabh shauchalaya” scheme allows petty traders, laborers, domestic workers to use public facilities for a miniscule amount of one rupee.


       There is a growing need to create awareness on the proper usage of sanitation facilities as well as to educate people not only in rural areas but cities too so as to transform their lives and help control outbreak of diseases.





A group of Greater Adjutant storks look for food in a polluted wetland area in Guwahati.  Lack of proper garbage dumping facilities in the city is endangering the environment as well as wildlife.

This photo by Ritu Raj Konwar appeared in The Hindu of June 6, 2004



Inside the Woodlands of Wodeyars -Part II

Inside the Woodlands of Wodeyars 
 Part II
-Saraswati Kavula
  The night began with the screening of a film about a leopard cub brought up by
a conservationist. The story was fascinating, for after having left the farm as
an adult, the leopard came to her ‘foster fathers’ home, to deliver her babies;
the way women would go to their paternal home in India. This brought to mind the
recent controversy about Tiger Farms, while what the man in the film did was out
of compassion for a cub orphaned by poachers; who ultimately trained the leopard
to live in the wild, can the Tiger farms create the same quality of wildlife the
way we see in nature? Asides to all the other connotations, I would really not
like to see a Tiger in captivity, they look sad and unhealthy, the way the
animals in the Zoo look like.  Why tigers, even poultry animals grown in the
farms look miserable and are more diseased as compared to the “free living 
native  chicken’. 
  On the safari we met other residents of the lodge – most of them were from
Bangalore, and none of them looked like they could take some rough treatment.
One gentleman, Purshottam, who worked for Hewlett Packard, asked us, if we drove
down from Bangalore, “No, we came in the bus”, I replied. “Tough Cookies, ah!”
was his remark. I wonder what would happen if they had to go camping the way we
did in Kawal Wild Life sanctuary, staying in a tribal village, hiring out cots
from the adivasis for Rs.20, eating food from the village, using the public
buses to reach the sanctuary, walking at least a dozen kilometers a day. “We
spent just Rs. 600 for the whole trip”, I described the trip to another lady in
the group, who was an ex-journalist in the Gujarati media. “Perhaps that is the
best way to do it, in harmony with nature”, she remarked. As far the others,
they would think I was crazy. 
 The campfire extended into a bar with a choice of drinks and liquor available
for the lodgers. “This is what I hate in this place, it doesn’t seem like a
campfire at all”, said Meera, a scientist from Bangalore. “And I am really not
too glad about the new cottages that they are building with the swimming pool
and massage centre”.  “Are you going to have air-conditioning also?”, I asked
Gangaswamy the next day morning. “No, no, we are using the insulation mechanisms
to keep the rooms cool, the way we did with the present construction.”  “What is
the need for a swimming pool or a massage centre, when people come here to spend
time in the wild?”  “Can’t help it madam, a lot of tourists are asking for such
things.  Even the other resorts like Tusker Trails and Country Club are offering
these facilities, so, we must keep up with the competition. That is why the
management has decided to go ahead with the additional facilities”. I began to
wonder what will be the place like  after such an expansion. And what will happen if 
in the name of promoting wildlife tourism, there are many more such expansions and
 newer resorts coming up in the area? A lot more construction was already on, in the 
area opposite to the road. ‘This must be another resort coming up”, I remarked as
 we went past the place the next day morning on our trek to the nearby mountain. 
“Well that is
sad. Soon this place will change!” remarked Purshottam.  I suppose we all want
our luxury even when we wish to go away from the city life, and also want it to
be exclusive. 
In our post dinner conversation the day before he was mentioning, about their
trip near Rishikesh, “It is a fabulous place, twenty kilometers above Rishikesh,
the Ganga is so fresh and white.  The moment the river comes down to Rishikesh
and Haridwar it gets muddy.  The place where we stayed was superb; it was just
on the edge of the mountain, overlooking the Ganga, called, “Glass House on the
Ganges”, first class facilities. Just lovely, we went rafting there”.  It is a
different story that mushrooming hotels in the area have dirtied Rishikesh and
On the second day there were eight of us, who opted for the early morning
trek. Most others went on the Safari. The view was fantastic and we even got to
see a herd of eleven elephants with their babies. And as bonus, close to the
lodge, we saw a herd of nearly 60-70 spotted deer. As we climbed down, Nataraj
our guide stopped to check out the lone Tree in that area. “I saw a leopard just
yesterday in this tree. Just checking to see, if he is still there,” of course,

he had already left his perch.



Worms turn muck to money

Worms turn muck to money


Plastics and polythene bags are not the only waste to take care of says S.Ananthanarayanan.


Ms Veena Nagpal  recently led a chat discussion on disposal of biodegradable wastes, in a program run by, a community portal on environment. With much public awareness (although without matching action) of non-biodegradable waste, like plastics and polythene bags, a feeling has grown that waste which can be easily broken down by natural processes is not harmful.


Dealing with organic waste


Ms Nagpal explained that even organic waste leads to disease spreading litter on roads, and the menace of flies, rats, foul smells and infection. Bio-degradable domestic waste thus causes serious health problems. The difficulty is naturally the most serious in cities, where populations are growing and municipal capabilities cannot keep pace.


Ms Nagpal then described a method using worms and bacteria, to convert domestic waste into valuable manure, which sells at a good price and also keep the environment hygienic and pleasing.


World experience


Municipalities the world over have worked at waste collection and disposal. But the facilities have been inadequate and waste accumulates in the streets and at transfer

stations. Some cities installed large scale recycling projects but the installations proved too complicated, expensive to maintain and unsuited for local conditions. Alternate approaches to make use of domestic refuse as a resource have been more promising.



As cities grow, the distance between the point where waste is generated and the place where it can be dumped keeps increasing. Waste disposal requires manpower and equipment for waste collection and then for its transport and finally, areas for dumping.  The load of waste disposal, which would affect roads, power and fuel consumption, manpower, then increases and can well put a practical limit on how large a city can ever grow.


The obvious answer has been informal methods of waste recycling, very near the place where the waste is generated.


Domestic composting


The method of composting is to break down biodegradable organic matter with the help of bacteria and micro-organisms that work in the presence of oxygen. This is unlike bacteria that can work in confined spaces, like vegetables rotting inside a plastic bag or even the effect on our teeth and oral cavity during the night, when we sleep. Aerobic decomposition is odor-free.


When composting is done at the industrial scale, the plant would monitor the sources of carbon, nitrogen oxygen and water and control the temperature for the most efficient action. At the domestic level, the compost heap is just a pile of organic waste, turned over with a rake every few weeks, at best, but it works and small towns and villages manage their waste quite well.


It is within cities and in apartments that a fast and compact method of composting is needed. Ms Nagpal explained that such a method is available, with the help of worms, in vermicomposting. The garbage is put into a composting bed along with a can of composting worms, which are now sold at several outlets. The worms rapidly eat all the organic matter and excrete a soil-nutrient material called worm castings. It is for this action of worms that farmers encourage healthy worm populations in their land.


In domestic composting, a container is prepared with a moistened base and a charge of worms. Domestic waste is added for a few weeks and the worms and micro-organisms convert the entire contents into rich compost – rich, dark, earth smelling soil conditioner.


“It sells at a price of Rs 17 a kg”, says Veena Nagpal. A program of encouraging each home or even each housing society to have a vermicompost bed could relieve the municipality of its most onerous burden and also generate ready cash resources!

 [the writer can be contacted at]



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