Munsyari gets its own ‘Bird Tourism based Growth Center’

Satyr Tragopan: Courtesy: Brijesh Dharmshaktu, Munsyari

Dateline Pithoragarh: Two months into lockdown, with least human interference, ‘Nature’ seems to be revealing many a secret. On the 25th of May, Brijesh Dharmshaktu, Chairman Munsyari, EDC took a picture of the elusive Satyr Tragopan – a bird that is usually seen at much higher altitudes.

Considered a sign of good luck, just a day later, the State Government has approved a ‘Bird Tourism based Growth Center’ that will come up soon in Munsyari, Pithoragarh.

The idea behind the Center, “to establish a one-stop Facility Center of the State Government to create trained professional guides in the field of bird tourism and allied nature based activities,” said DFO Pithoragarh Vinay Bhargav. Adding to this, Brijesh Dharmshaktu, Chairman Munsyari, EDC tells us: “As Munsyari emerges as one of our favourite destinations, especially for high altitude Himalaya Bird watching, tourists have often felt that there is a need for recognized guides with them to assist in nature based recreational and allied activities.”

Some 550 kms from the State Capital of Dehradun, Munsyari in Kumaon region, has rich flora and fauna including Spotted Laughing Thrush, Fire Tailed Sunbird, Alpine Chough, Hill Partridge, Bearded Vulture, Koklass and the snow partridge if one were to name a few. Seven pre-identified local birding trails, from five hundred meters to five kilometers long will be revived for bird watching under this scheme.

Another unique USP of the area is the fact that within a four-kilometer radius of the proposed center, bird watchers will be able to spot all the ten species of pheasants abounding in these environs.

Armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras, field guides and tool kits, local youth after getting their vocational training and capacity building programs, that will take tourists down trails explaining to them their rich green cover and its avian treasures in the next few months.

With the present pandemic resulting in mass reverse migration, schemes like these have the potential of giving alternative employment to those who need it the most. What could be better if they found work while staying in the comfort and security of their own homes.

Research for identifying antivirals to tackle COVID-19:IIT Roorkee


Dateline Roorkee: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee will conduct research on the identification of antivirals to treat SARS-CoV2. This development comes after a proposal led by Prof. Pravindra Kumar has been given a go-ahead by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB). The study will identify small molecule inhibitors to target key viral replication enzymes- RNA dependent RNA polymerase (nsp12), viral proteases (Mpro and PL2pro, ) and the Methyltransferase or MTase (nsp14). These enzymes are virus specific that are encoded with genetic material (RNA) of the viral pathogens. Virus specific protease catalyzes the cleavage of specific peptide bonds in viral polyproteins. The study will be funded under the intensification of Research in High Priority areas (IRHPA) under the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

The objective of the study is to identify antiviral molecules to combat COVID-19. It will expedite the process of identification of drugs through an in-silico approach that is based on computer-aided simulation of their molecular structures. I would like to thank the Science and Engineering Research Board for reposing faith in us” said Prof. Pravindra Kumar, Department of Biotechnology, IIT Roorkee.

The groundwork of the research has already been prepared by the completion of in silico work based on high throughput virtual screening approach to assess the binding affinity of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs targeting Mpro-a viral protease.

The study will leverage a computer-based high throughput virtual screening approach to identify antiviral molecules from various compound libraries that will be validated for antiviral potential. It will be conducted in collaboration with Prof. Shailly Tomar, Dept of Biotechnology, IIT Roorkee, and Dr. Gaurav Sharma from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), Izatnagar who will aid in assessment of the antiviral efficacy of the identified molecule to treat SARS-CoV2.

This approach can be path breaking in the identification of antiviral molecules to fight COVID-19” said Prof. Ajit K Chaturvedi, Director, IIT Roorkee.

Mussoorie’s first Covid-19 patient returns home


Dateline Mussoorie: Amidst the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Uttarakhand, Mussoorie’s first Covid-19 patient returned home on Tuesday night, after being tested negative for the second time round for the virus, under the ICMR guidelines.

The 36-year-old woman and her young son were tested positive after returning home from Delhi via Saharanpur around the 14th of May.

A team of medical staff dropped the lady and her son off at Landour around 7:30 on Tuesday night. Bringing a big sigh of relief not only for her family, but the hill-station as well. A source from the area, said that the woman and her son got a hero’s welcome as they made their way home, in tears.

Corona first knocked on the hill station’s door on the 14th of May. Taking cognizance, the local administration took quick action post which the woman along with her immediate family were moved to Doon Hospital for hospital quarantine, and the area barricaded, fumigated and sanitized, and those who in contact with the lady were put in institutional quarantine.

Sharing more good news, Ashutosh Sati, EO, Mussoorie Municipal Co-operation said, “Since March 23rd, 437 people have been under home quarantine in Mussoorie out of which, around 150 still remain in home quarantine. Twenty four people who were in institutional quarantine have either been tested negative or completed their mandatory 14 days quarantine and returned home.”

Test, trace, isolate and quarantine mantra has been the leitmotif of Mussoorie administration who is leaving no stones unturned to ensure its ‘Better to be safe than Sorry!’

Most Men Come Home Strangers


Dateline Uttarkashi: At age 78, frail, and incoherent, Surat Singh Chauhan stares out of a window opening up to the hills of home. He is presently cooling his heels in the primary-school-turned-quarantine-centre, at Jestwari.

There was a time when this strapping young lad of eighteen left behind a wife with two children. He has come back in the wake of the Covid-19, sixty years later.

Unkempt, bundled up and lost in thought, he rarely talks or makes eye contact as if guilty of his past, trying to find a cure for the sickness of the soul.

A stranger amidst his own

In the beginning, his family of three searched all over for him: they even lodged a ‘missing’ report as often they would get news of his whereabouts in Himanchal Pradesh. All around they found that all roads leading to him led to a dead-end.

Abandoned, yet determined to move on, his young bride Bugna Devi toiled day and night to make ends meet. Forgotten but not forgiven, the family reconciled to fate. They continued to eke out a living with a semblance of a normal life in the village of Jestwari.

But the virulent virus was to change all that.

As migrants from all over India headed home, Tehsildar, Virendra Singh Rawat at Chinyalisaur got a call from his counter part in Solan, Himanchal Pradesh, of a elderly man mumbling something about Dharshu, village Jestwari.

As luck would have it, Virendra Singh got in touch with Jestwari village headman Ajaypal Chauhan asking for Surat Singh Chauhan. Much to everyone’s surprise Surat Singh Chauhan turned out to be Ajaypal’s long lost grandfather whom they had given up for good.

On the 16th of May, Surat Singh made his journey back home. Since then he has been in the mandatory fourteen-day quarantine. His wife Bugna Devi refuses to have anything to do with him, and for obvious reasons. But the grandchildren are more forgiving and wish to make up for lost times.

End of this week, Surat Singh Chauhan will walk the final four hundred meters to reach the home and hearth, he had so unwittingly abandoned sixty years ago.

Hotel Industry stares at a bleak future, seeks relief from State Government

The famous tibetan market all wrapped up

Dateline Mussoorie: “Due to  COVID19 crisis the Hotel Industry does not see much hope in revival or even survival in the immediate and distant future,” says President of the Uttarakhand Hotel Association, Sandeep Sahni, adding,  “without the Government having to handhold the industry for a period of 6-12 months with various relief measures, revival is quite difficult during this Pandemic.”

Words of concern by people associated with hotel business are making headlines world over. They are all looking for some respite from their respective governments, in the hope that they can stay afloat through the pandemic.

With close to 3500 registered hotels and guest houses in Uttarakhand. The tourism industry contributes 30% to the hill-state’s GDP while generating direct employment for about 1.2- 1.5 lakhs. Virtually 1/4th of the hill-state depends on tourists, a direct hit to this would spell disaster in the form of establishments closing and unemployment figures sky rocketing,” Sandeep Sahni reiterates.

The Uttarakhand Hotel Association is seeking relief measures, hoping that the State Government will come to their rescue, before its too late:

  1. Stimulus by way of Zero/ Interest Free Loans to cover the existing borrowing liabilities of the establishment: The government  needs to provide Zero Interest stimulus with moratorium of 12 months for tenure of 3-5 years to cover existing borrowing liabilities for the establishments. The Government can even look at providing a subsidy by making amends in the current Tourism/ Industrial Policy for Uttarakhand.
  2. Working Capital to cover salary expenses for the establishments: If Hotels survive so will the employees and their employers.
  3. Extension of validity of all State/Municipal Licenses and NOC for Establishments and waiver of charges for a period of 12 months, w.e.f. 1st April 2020 to 31st March 2021, considering that the current Financial Year will be a zero year for business, taking in account the very seasonal nature of business in the hill state.                                      As stated below:
  • Increase validity of FSSAI licence – 12 months
  • Increase Validity of Excise and Bar license for 12 months, without any additional fee for the current Financial Year. In case already renewed and paid the amount to be adjusted in the subsequent year.
  • Increase Validity of existing Hotel Licence by 1 year without any additional fee.
  • Increase in Scheme to register for Consent to Operate by UEPPCB by 6 months, with extension of mandatory requirement for STP and Consent by 12 month. For establishments with Valid Consent To Operate by UEPPCB in the previous Financial Year 2019-20, the validity of the existing consent may be automatically extended by 12 months without any additional charges.
  • House Tax and Sewage tax may not be charged for 6 months – April 2020 to September 2020. Thereafter the deferment of charges for the next 6 months may be allowed.
  • No Minimum charges for water tax and Electricity, the same to be taxed on actual consumption basis.
  1. Relaxed guidelines/ protocols for establishment with ease of opening & running once the govt allows to open. The Govt should not set any pre-condition which cannot be met by the hotelier when he opens his establishment. Protocols and punitive measures for quarantine should be eased and not harsh and detrimental to the industry at large.

5. It is important to note that without any tourism, those associated with it like, transporters, coolies, shop keepers, boatmen, etc are struggling for their livelihood .

6.  FHRAI has said 70 % of the industry will collapse in the next few weeks, we are again pleading to the governments to please help this industry from dying.

On the 13th of May, 2020, in a cabinet meeting chaired by the Chief Minister, tourism activities and hotel restaurant operators were granted concessions in ‘fix demand charge of electricity,‘ but with an uncertain future staring back at them, hoteliers seeks more relief.

There’s no road, like the road home


Dateline Pauri: 35 men. 28 days. What the government couldn’t do, just twenty kilometers from Yamkeshwar block, these valiants have accomplished for all to see.

In the once upon a time days, our area was known for its agricultural produce. But due to plain and simple apathy all around, nothing came together. But these brave folks were bent on changing the status quo, as Block Development Member Sudesh Bhatt of village Boonga put its.

Post lockdown when the youth from this area came home, Sudesh Bhatt an ex -serviceman and an International Mountaineer infused this energy into the youth of these villages.

United for a noble cause

Aged between 18-70, the motley of men put in twelve hours of shramdaan or voluntary contribution come hell or high water, to complete a three-kilometer stretch of dirt road making it useable for two wheelers. And no shoddy job this either! The road has retaining walls on both sides, removing obstacles, clearing shrubs and bushes, the young volunteers carried heavy rocks placing them carefully guided by their elders.

This stretch now benefits half a dozen villages in the block. Tehsil is now almost fifty kilometers shorter. The next phase is to work on a connecting bridge between Boonga and Beerkaatal twin villages. The team also hopes to make the road wide enough for four wheelers to come their doorstep,  within a month or so.

Making the most of the lockdown and the youthful energy that has come home to roost! Here is a story from our home in the hills, that deserves to be told, and retold.

Author Ruskin Bond turns 85 today

The author with the magic touch

Dateline Mussoorie: 19th of May 2019, began for author Ruskin Bond with a bunch of politicians, a media crew in tow and excited fans arriving early morning at Ivy Cottage, Landour to wish the author many happy returns of the day.

One saw how a large bouquet of flowers was followed by selfie-time celebrations for who’s who. Everyone took selfies with the same bunch of flowers, like in pass-the-parcel game. When they left, the last one walked off with the bouquet. Someone climbing up the stairs grabbed it from him and brought it back and gave it to the author with great aplomb. Another selfie! After the last one left, everyone frantically looked around for a vase with water to put the flowers in! Only to realize – they were plastic flowers!’

Covid-19 has changed that this year. Arriving at 85, the Ruskin is content, ‘to have a nice, quiet, peaceful birthday!’ He tells Newspost over the phone.

How has life been under lockdown? I ask. “Sleep a little, eat little, write a little, has been my mantra,” he tells me, adding, “I don’t mind this. I am used to working from home. Why go out?

Surendar and Sunil Arora, owners of Cambridge Book Depot in Kulri sum up their feelings in one word: “Disappointed!

Rest assured that once this lockdown is a thing of the past, there will be a special birthday celebration for the author twice over!

Meanwhile, as always, we, his fans, will have to wait with bated breath.

Corona Crisis – What We Are Losing, What We Are Gaining


Dateline Denmark: ‘I have been praying God for her to find a new job. If she has a job, I have a job,’ is a statement of a Nepali nanny who is taking care of an infant of a professional working with Tripadvisor, who lost her job because of the mass lay-off in the company, as the company operates in travel domain and practically making no revenues during the lockdown. Thus, it is not only the company (employer) and its employees that are the victim of the current lockdown, the chain extends much farther, knocking down the jobs of many more in the chain. Several people around the world have lost their jobs or are on the verge of losing their job. Net result is an economic crisis that has engulfed the whole world.

With the Covid-19 pandemic spreading its tentacles everywhere, lockdowns have been implemented in several countries since March 2020. Schools, colleges, universities, offices, factories, libraries, fitness centers, restaurants, and many other establishments have been shut down temporarily bringing the whole world to a standstill. Strict guidelines for social distancing being circulated through various media and news channels means life is no more normal.

We can explore the Coronavirus outbreak and its impacts from many angles. It has adversely affected mankind economically, socially, physically, and psychologically. There is no aspect of life that is not affected by it. The attack on health is direct. Human beings are feeling helpless and scared. Looking at the rising statistics of death every day is heart-wrenching. Politics has lost direction, societies have lost their identities, employment has reached its lowest, businesses are collapsing, travel and tourism have lost its meaning, restaurants and cafeterias look things of past. Where feasible, some organisations including the education sector, have tried to keep the wheel moving through ‘work-from-home’ remote learning. Everyone has been affected by the Covid-19. Some lost their jobs and livelihood, some even life. Almost everyone lost their freedom to move and socialize, the way they had known it. Travels have been cancelled, mauling vacations, family visits, and official trips in its stride. Marriages have been postponed, social gatherings have become a taboo, childhood is imprisoned within the house the boundaries, and so on. Yet, there is a hope.

We had to find a solution to the problem. It was not necessary to have perfect solution but something that could stop a bad from turning into the worst. In such a situation, many institutions went online. Education world also opted for remote education in many places. For schools, providing meaningful education to the children remotely and keeping them positively engaged was a challenge. Many schools started online classes for their students, and in some cases students found the online classes quite interesting, resulting in more than 80% presence in the online classes. Students were being taught smoothly online to the students, that helped cover their syllabus. How long the interest would be possible to retain is something that time only can tell.

This type of technology and learning is however not new. Exchanging information electronically has been in practice for long but its application to teaching is a new learning for many of us and it helped us to change our traditional methods quickly.

There is no shortage of tools and techniques for teachers for use in their online or distant teaching. There is an extensive list of digital tools, apps, and platforms that teachers can use. Full benefits of these are however possible only in the institutions where required IT infrastructure exists. In my North Zealand  International school or in some schools, online classes on digital  platforms were started for students as soon as the lockdown started, which proved to be a boon for students in the current circumstances. There is an overwhelming list of digital platforms and some popular platforms include Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar etc.

In this era of digitalization, many schools are using digitized study materials, digital platforms and software/apps including PowerPoint, Excel etc. After the lockdown, the use of digital platforms and apps have been increased exponentially. The far-reaching vision of the school leaders, who gave importance to   information technology, and prepared students to work on digital platforms came handy at this crucial time. My school and many schools are using digital platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Firefly etc., using pre-recorded lectures to deliver the education to the students, and marking and assessing their assignments online. The faculty and staff are having online meetings to discuss various issues and modify / develop the curriculum for online learning. Not only teaching is being done online, but counseling of students is also happening online. Another development is that interviews and registration of new students are also being done online.

The school education is being delivered digitally at some level in most of the schools. Many teachers indicated that with online teaching their personal contact with the students has increased. In the classroom they teach everyone collectively, but in distance teaching, students would call them, send emails, and contact them on the digital platform. This has created a greater bond between teachers and students. During the lockdown, some students developed their talent in new areas.   I found some students are thriving during the lockdown, for example, exploring about Coronavirus, developing websites, generating awareness about Corona, writing science fiction etc. On the other hand, some students seems to be feeling depressed, and could not adapt to online learning. They are missing their schools and friends and have become inactive.

However, this digitization is not limited to the education world only. Online interviews, online exercises, online yoga-meditation, online poetry, story writing etc are being organized. Webinars are substitutes for meetings and conferences being organized for sharing new knowledge, literary events, and activities. The online world has reduced the physical distance by bringing together participants virtually from all over the world.

Undoubtedly the Covid-19 pandemic has put us into a period of temporary isolation for sometime. It has given wings to new ideas as well, but for others, it is a depressing situation, while for some it is an opportunity.

Not only school children, grown-ups are developing various skills. Confined to home, they are honing skills in cooking, gardening, painting, knitting, photography etc., for which they never found time in their busy schedule. In an unusual situation like lockdown, the damage is irreparable but it would not be true to say that it is a void of opportunities. These lines of 19th century English poet Robert Browning inspire us – The worst turns the best to the brave.

There is a lot to learn and understand. A learning from all this is a realization that the teachers should include digital learning in the everyday normal teaching also. It can complement the classroom teaching. Many organisations, particularly from IT industry have found that productivity has increased and they do not need fancy offices as a large number of their employees can work from home. The governments have found that they can digitally connect with their citizens.

Another positive side is impact on environment. With reduction in economic activities, pollution levels, local as well as global, have come down. Reduction in local pollution is much more visible everywhere, with clean air and clean water visible, which governments were not able to accomplish in many countries despite spending large amount of money. Water sources – rivers, ponds, lakes etc. have started looking clean. The nature has flourished with animals coming out in open spaces left behind by human beings. Reduced carbon dioxide emissions, that was crucial to prevent global warming, suddenly looks feasible with global community getting breathing time to move further on this.

Generalist, Thomas Loren Friedman wrote, The World is flat,’ in 2005 –  in which he brought out the importance of the internet which has revolutionised the world by making information available to rich and poor in the far corners of the world. Now, the world is much more flatter than in 2005 with access to a variety of tools to everyone for collaboration, marketing, and dissemination through social media (Facebook, Twiter, Instagram), Zoom, GoTOWebinar, etc.

Now that several countries are gradually easing or getting out of the lockdown, there is uncertainty on what can happen next. Will the world slowly recover or will there be a second wave? No one has answer to that. However, it is almost certain that life is not going to be same in the near future. Experts indicate that many things may change forever. So the world after traversing the two phases; BC and AD, may have reached a third phase- AC (After Corona). 

First coronavirus case in Mussoorie


Dateline Mussoorie: After too many scares, Corona knocks on the hill station’s door or so it is believed after a 36-year-old woman has been tested positive. She and her two sons returned home on the 12th of May from Delhi via Saharanpur.

She and her family had been screened at the Uttarakhand-Uttar Pradesh border of Asharodhi. Twenty-four hours later when her report came positive, the local administration swung into action.

Confirming the news, SDM Varun Choudhary said, “The woman along with her immediate family has been moved to Doon Hospital from Butcherkhaana Landour for hospital quarantine. We have barricaded part of the area. Priority is it to isolate people who may have been in contact with them, we are sanitizing the area completely.”

The driver who drove the family to Mussoorie and those the family came in indirect contact with  are being put under institutional quarantine in Mussoorie.

On whether the area will be sealed completely, SHO Mussoorie Vidhyabhushan Negi stated, “As for now, the shops in the vicinity have been shut. The area is being sanitized and fumigated. Four barricading’s have been put in place leading in and out of the area, all movement in the area has been curtailed.”

The administration has followed the test, trace, isolate and quarantine mantra to its very best. As for the residents, its ‘Better to be safe than Sorry!’

Some relief to Uttarakhand Hotel Owners


Dateline Dehradun: During Covid-19 lock down in Uttarakhand, the Trivendra Singh Rawat led government has given immediate relief to those in the tourism business of the hill-state. In a cabinet meeting held here on Wednesday, chaired by the Chief Minister, tourism activities and hotel restaurant operators have been granted concessions in ‘fix demand charge of electricity.’

In a letter of 8 May 2020, the State Hoteliers Association had written to the State Government seeking relief under various heads such as: salary and wages, GST rate payment, Loan repayments and waiver of Interest; water and Sewerage Charges, Bar licence and VAT in wake of the Corona Virus lockdown. It stated  that the lockdown has had a disastrous impact on the hospitality sector, especially the Hotels and Tourism Industry which had taken a major set back and would take a much longer to revive in  comparison to the other industries. They had specifically highlighted exemption of “Fixed charge’ component from Electric bills, which is like a fixed rental, to be exempted for the lockdown. This measure has already been accepted by the Uttar Pradesh government.

Much to the relief of the Hoteliers of the hill-state the cabinet today gave relief in electricity fixed charges. This will go a long way in easing some of the burden of hotel owners.

Thanking the government for this, Sandeep Sahni, President, Uttarakhand Hotel Association said: “We thank the honourable Chief Minister of Uttarakhand  & his Cabinet for this relief. We  hope more such relief will come our way in the near future.”

It is no secret that the Tourism Industry has taken a major battering not only in India but all over the world. This  industry will take a much longer time to revive as people would be apprehensive travelling post the lockdown; with gaps in financial health, most people will have a reduced spending capacity for things like holidays and leisure. Thus these kind of relief measure, both big or small,  for the Tourism sector will go a long way in helping those involved with this sector.