Saturday, September 30, 2006

Stay at home in Kerala

Keralites are literally throwing open their doors to tourists, converting portions of their houses into 'homestays', to give visitors an authentic experience of life in this lovely state.

'Homestays' are expected to be the next big 'tourism product' coming out of Kerala, which has been ranked by national geographic as among the 50 'must see' destinations in the world.

'Hotels are the same all over the world. But, when you come and stay with a family under the same roof, maybe eat with them and share stories, the experience is totally different,' says Rani John Tharakan of Ayanat House.

Rani and husband John Tharakan began hosting people in their seven room, 70-year-old house in Alappuzha district last year. Three rooms are let out to tourists at a tariff of Rs 4,500 per day for a couple, including three meals and activities like boating and fishing.

Home-cooked meals are a big draw for tourists, who sometimes come into the kitchen to see how a particular dish is made, says Anuja Kurian, a catering institute graduate. She ends up giving informal cooking demonstrations to those staying at their home in the 154 acre Kalaketty rubber estate in Kanjirapally of Kottayam district.

Asked why they decided to open their home to outsiders, Rani says they were not using the entire house, in which a joint family once lived. They thought it would be nice to let it out to tourists. 'It keeps the place alive and of course brings in additional income.'

Anuja says privacy is ensured for both hosts and guests at their plantation as visitors are accommodated in an outhouse.

According to Thomas, whose parents run a homestay 'Nazarani Tharavad', some portions of which are more than 200 years old, hosting visitors is a good way for them to have company.

With Kerala beginning to face a shortage of rooms during peak tourist season, homestays could well be the answer. According to Jose Dominic, President, Kerala Travel Mart Society, the state needs to add at least 1,000 rooms every year to meet the demand-supply gap.

Homestays not only provide a solution to the accommodation problem but are also a tourism product by themselves. 'A lot of tourists, specially from the West, come to India looking for an authentic experience of the land and its people. They are not seeking five star luxury, only a clean and nice ambience, and homestays provide both.'

While people from other Indian states sometimes prefer a homestay, it is mostly foreigners who make a beeline for them.

According to Dominic, there are at present about 650 homestays in Kerala and their number is growing at about 20 per cent per year.

At the ongoing Kerala Travel Mart 2006 here, a large number of first time participants are homestay owners, he says.

While some homestay owners turn to travel agents, others have set up websites or are recommended by people who have stayed with them.

Coke gets fresh fizz of life in Kerala

In what came as a breather of sorts for Coca Cola plant at Plachimada in Kerala's Palakkad district, the Perumatty Panchayat on Friday renewed the plant’s temporary license for three months.

But the relief comes with many stringent conditions attached.

“Thirteen conditions have been raised before them before giving the license. They have to fulfill that,” said Panchayat Secretary Hridayaraj.

The Panchayat, under which Plachimada falls, wants the Coca Cola Company to produce a certificate from a Central Government laboratory, proving its products contain no residues of pesticides or harmful elements like cadmium and lead.

The certificate is to be produced within 15 days.

“The cola company itself has admitted that the coals contain pesticide residue. We have asked them to bring the certificate from a central government lab,” said Panchayat President, Risha Prem Kumar.

The temporary license also says the plant cannot draw water from within the Panchayat limits, as water from here can only be used for home and agricultural purposes.

The plant has been virtually dysfunctional for the last few years following protests by the villagers and anti-cola groups, who allege it is contaminating the ground water in the area.

“They make our water poisonous. We won't allow it,” says a resident Kanniamma.

The Panchayat had imposed similar conditions when it originally issued the temporary license in January this year.

The decision to renew the license comes just a week after the Kerala High Court ordered the lifting of a state-wide ban on the sale and manufacture of colas.

Kerala police inspect Christian retreat centre

The Muringur Divine Retreat Centre, billed as Asia's biggest Christian retreat centre, was Saturday subjected to a surprise inspection by the Kerala police and state health department officials here.

The inspection team detected irregularities in the centre's treatment of patients suffering from depression and alcoholism.

'The medical team will now submit a report and nothing more can be revealed because it would affect the probe,' said a state police official.

The raid comes after the Kerala High Court asked senior police official Vincent Paul in March to submit a report on allegations of criminal activities, three alleged murders and foreign funding at the retreat.

The high court decided to conduct the inquiry after complaints from a former women employee at the centre who claimed she was harassed.

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Church, told IANS that he was 'not aware' of the happenings at the centre because he has been there just once.

'I am hearing about this raid only through you, so I am unable to comment,' he added.

The centre comes under the Ernakulam Archdiocese of the Syro Malabar Church.

People of all religions from across the country participate in the prayer sessions conducted here.

Kerala dissatisfied by agricultural allocation

Kerala Saturday said the funds sanctioned by the central government to overcome the state's agricultural crisis were 'insufficient'.

State Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan told reporters that his government had submitted a Rs.56.65-billion agriculture revival proposal to visiting Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar earlier this month, but was promised Friday a mere Rs.7.65 billion.

'This is a pittance,' he said, adding: 'But we are happy we at least got this much.'

'In the past, the centre always ignored the demands of the state. What has been sanctioned now has happened because of my government's perseverance,' Achuthanandan said.

The state's proposal included a Rs.34.12 billion revival package for five drought-affected districts - Palakkad, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Idukki and Alappuzha - and Rs.22.53 billion for the agriculture sector.

Over 500 suicides have been recorded in the state, especially Wayanad and Idukki districts, since 2001.

Kerala had also demanded Rs.3.5 billion for takeover of nearly 22 tea factories in the private sector where more than 25,000 employees are without jobs.

'The centre has, however, said that we could look for more - especially for Idukki and Alappuzha districts for which nothing has been allocated now. They have also said that we could get funds for the revival of the now closed down tea factories,' said Achuthanandan.

He added that such aid was a temporary relief and 'the need of the hour is to correct the wrong import policies of the country that have been drawn up on the basis of the World Trade Organisation's compulsions'.

'The state is losing Rs.70 billion every year on account of the drop in prices of cash crops of the state due to such wrong policies. Our party wants the federal policies with regards to imports corrected and that is the only permanent solution,' the chief minister said.

Old houses get new life in Kerala

Blending the modern and traditional, dilapidated 'manas' and 'tharavads' (traditional homes) in Kerala are being renovated to suit the tastes of tourists and packaged with Ayurvedic treatments.

The 500-year-old Poomully Mana at Peringode in Kerala's Palakaad district has been renovated and is being used as a heritage Ayurvedic treatment centre with all facilities to suit modern lifestyles without losing sight of traditional values.

All the traditional Ayurvedic treatments are administered in the special 'Poomully way' which follows the texts and documents of the ancient sages, says Sajeev Kurup, president and CEO of the 'Ayurveda Mana', which has been showcased at the Kerala Travel Mart (KTM).

A variety of treatments for panchkarma, beauty care, weight loss, arthritis, spondylitis, slipped disc, backache, sports injuries and various other skin diseases and diabetes are all available here, Kurup said.

Treatments for cancer, infertility, arthritis and rheumatism are also available.

Among the facilities are 12 heritage rooms with antique furniture, expert Ayurvedic physicians and an Ayurveda diet menu prepared at the mana and Yoga rooms.

Kurup, who had signed a JV with the Aram Thampuran family, said he had renovated the ancient mana at an estimated cost of Rs 50 lakh. They were also looking at other such heritage properties.

The herbal plants used for various treatments are grown at the mana farm itself. The three-storeyed mana has eight rooms and 12 treatment rooms. It has a restaurant with dining facilities for 16 persons.

Kurup said they were also looking at the 160-year-old Kurungad mana for developing it as an Ayurvedic heritage centre.

Poomully Neelakandan Namboodiripad, renowned as Aram Thampuran, was a legend in his lifetime. He was an authority in the diverse disciplines of Ayurveda, Kalarippayat (martial art), Yoga and other performing arts.

Aram Thampuran of Poomully mana became the last word in Ayurveda treatment. (Agencies)

Minister confirms chikungunya deaths in Kerala

Kerala Health Minister P K Sreemathy yesterday confirmed that all the 48 fever-related deaths reported in Alappuzha recently were of chikungunya, a day after she was corrected by Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan in the State Assembly.

"What the chief minister said was correct. All the deaths were due to chikungunya," she told a news conference here yesterday.

At least 300 people have died of chikungunya in the past three months in several Indian states but doctors and health officials in Kerala have been saying that they could not confirm any death in the state due to the disease, which is a rare form of viral fever caused by an alphavirus.

Achuthanandan corrected the minister in the Assembly on Thursday after she reported the officials’ findings of the doctors to the House.

A latest report from the federal health ministry said that nearly 1mn people had been affected by the disease across the country and it had killed 300 of them.

Health officials in Kerala said nearly 40,000 people were suffering from acute forms of viral fevers in Alappuzha district, home to the chief minister.

But the health minister informed the house on Thursday that the government was yet to reach a conclusion whether the deaths were caused by the chikungunya.

Health officials have collected blood samples of people hit with the viral fever to determine whether it is chikungunya while the government has decided to give financial aid of Rs25,000 each to the families of those who have died due to suspected chikungunya disease.

Chikungunya is a relatively rare form of viral fever caused by an alphavirus that is spread by mosquito bites and it is generally not fatal. Symptoms include fever which can reach 390C, a petechial or maculopapular rash usually involving the limbs and trunk, and arthralgia or arthritis affecting multiple joints which can be debilitating. They could also include headache, conjunctival infection and slight photophobia.

According to Achuthanandan, health department officials had misled the minister and, following contradictory reports, he had decided to garner firsthand information and visited the hospitals in Alappuzha district to be convinced.

"The symptoms described by the patients and their helpers prove they are affected by chikungunya and not suffering from water-borne diseases as has been reported," he said.

This was in contradiction to Sreemathy’s statement that most of the deaths were actually due to leptospirosis, heart diseases or underlying diseases of the liver or kidney.

"As per the medical investigations into the reported deaths due to chikungunya in Cherthala, most of those who died were suffering from chronic diseases, which were further complicated by the onset of viral fever," she had said, adding that reports saying people were dying due to chikungunya would only serve to create panic among the public.

She, however, said yesterday that all measures, including redeployment of extra medical and paramedical staff, provision of medicines and mosquito control measures had been adopted in all areas from where the disease has been reported.

"Teams of medical experts, including entomologists and epidemiologists, have already been deployed at the affected areas in Cherthala for detailed investigations into the outbreak," she said.

"Sustained vector control programme is the only way in which the disease can be contained and this has to be achieved with community participation. Steps are being taken to intensify fogging and source reduction measures in affected districts," she said.

Meanwhile, four more deaths were reported from Cherthala yesterday afternoon and 1,752 new cases of the fever were reported. The health minister also visited the affected areas, her third visit in a week.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kerala eyes mineral water biz

Kerala’s Left Democratic Front government has plans to take on the cola giants on another turf—bottled mineral water—and is sure that it can give Pepsi and Coke stiff competition in this business. Coke owns the Kinley mineral water brand, and Pepsi Aquafina.

The LDF government is eyeing the lush river-springs in hilly districts for setting up the mineral water plants for Kerala Water Authority (KWA). “We can give private mineral water brands a run for their money,” says Kerala Water Resources Minister NK Premachandran.

“KWA will be able to produce and sell mineral water at highly competitive prices,” he said. Kerala’s per capita rainfall at 300 mm is among the highest in the country, but 85% of the water is lost in six months through poor management.

The state government is still awaiting a detailed project report. But that has not deterred MLAs from vying with one another to convince Premachandran that their constituencies are the right pick for the proposed water plants.

For KWA, reeling under Rs 1160 crore of accumulated losses, this proposal is seen as a desperate move. For every kilo-litre produced at a cost of Rs 8, it can sell water at only Rs 3.

Vested lobby behind Jaimala conspiracy

Kerala's Devasom Minister G Sudhakaran on Thursday alleged certain vested interests at the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) in Thiruvananthapuram are behind actress Jaimala's revelation that she touched the idol at the famed Sabarimala temple.

"Her revelation that she touched the idol of Lord Ayyappa years ago is unwarranted, untrue and unwanted and one that tarnishes the prestige of the temple," Sudhakaran said.

The temple, situated in the Western Ghats in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, is out of bounds for women aged between 10 and 50.

Sudhakaran said the truth would be known soon when he discusses the report of a police probe with Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

The probe by the crime branch reportedly indicates the episode was a conspiracy.

"If she (Jaimala) is a true devotee of Lord Ayyappa she would not have dragged the temple into the present controversy. Sabarimala, of late, has been drawing a huge number of devotees and the South Indian lobby is worried because of this," said Sudhakaran.

He said vested interests have exploited the difference of opinion between the TDB (custodian of the temple) and the thantri (priest).

"The forest mafia is also conspiring to defame the temple as a drop in the number of devotees will allow them to go on freely with their illegal trade," the minister said.

Regarding entry of women in the temple, he said the constitutional obligation following a high court judgement that women in the age group 10-50 only should be allowed inside is being honoured.

Capturing the beauty of Kerala

Numerous destination books on Gods Own Country have hit the stalls over the years, but this comprehensive volume on Kerala is unique as it is a coffee-table book blended with a destination book.

Superstar Mohanlal recently released "Stark World-Kerala", the 816-page volume that includes 1,300 pictures that capture extraordinary beauty of Kerala — the land, the people, culture, dances and festivals.

"This is a book that makes me proud of being a Keralite. This is a book that I can proudly gift to my friends across the world as the finest portrayal of Kerala," Mohanlal said in his remarks.Divided into 11 sections, the book has 27 maps that follow international cartography norms.with five types of maps covering State, District, Destination and Circuit along with a detailed backwater map.

As many as 48 impressions of Kerala from renowned personalities such as Sashi Tharoor, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Mohanlal, Mammootty, Anita Nair

Anita Pratap, Louba Schilde, Jug Suraiya, Jose Dominic, Yusuf Arakkal, T. Balakrishnan and E.K. Bharat Bhushan figure in the book.

India Tourism, Kerala Tourism, Cgh earth and Geojit are the sponsors of the book. Partnering the book are Adobe and The Blue Yonder.

Part of the proceeds from the book will go towards four non-profit organisations — Lullaby@Varkala, Thanal that spearheaded Zero Waste programme in Kovalam, Nila Foundation and World Environment Protection Programme.

Kerala inspires Nepal’s health tourism

Nepal plans to step up health tourism investment along the lines of Kerala, a hot tourist destination for ayurvedic treatments and health packages.

‘Being a source of rare Himalayan herbs and oils, we are looking keenly at wellness tourism,’ Nandini Lahe-Thapa, the Nepal Tourism Board’s director of marketing and promotion, told IANS.

‘Inspired by the success of Kerala (in southern India), Thailand and Malaysia, we will be looking at more investment in the wellness sector,’ she said.

Though similar to ayurvedic treatment in the use of herbs and oils, the traditional system practised in Nepal has its origin in the Tibetan healing system. It also combines components of Buddhist religion with influences from Indian ayurveda and Chinese medical traditions.

‘As an offshoot of our rich herbal heritage, we are planning to promote the wellness theme. We already have the Kunfen organisation with branches all over Nepal and even overseas where healing is done through mantras, chants and medicines prepared with a blend of herbs and metals, including precious metals and stones,’ she said.

‘Once the wellness concept spins off, it will span a whole lot of activities related to health,’ Lahe-Thapa said.

Indian health products major Dabur is one of the major enterprises that is engaged in cultivation of rare herbs and manufacture of herbal products in Nepal targeting the growing interest in ayurvedic products.

Besides healing centres and spas, the Nepal Tourism Board, which is largely supported by the private sector, is looking at the seven golf courses in the country to woo tourists, Indians in particular, for golf holidays in Pokhara, Kathmandu and Dharan.

After a successful car rally from Kolkata, Nepal is keenly looking forward to hosting more such events to attract holidaymakers keen on weekend getaways.

‘We have lined up an array of weekend packages that caters to the body, mind and soul. On offer are adventure, parties, shopping, spiritual (events), wildlife, energizing, romantic and family weekends with plenty of activities to choose from for the middle class and the young with lots of disposable income,’ Lahe-Thapa said.

With packages ranging from Rs.10,000 to Rs.12,000 per head inclusive of airfare and hospitality, the official foresees a good response.

Together with India, Bhutan and Bangladesh, Nepal is trying to develop its Buddhist pilgrim centres like Lumbini Gardens, the birthplace of the Buddha, under an Asian Development Bank-funded project.

Eco-tourism is another area of major focus as Nepal seeks to offer a wider choice to tourists seeking holistic rejuvenation.

At the centre of all these proposals are Indians who form the major bulk of tourist flow to Nepal, which is striving to raise the inflow from the current level of 375,000.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kerala makes vast investment in tourism sector

Kerala is targeting an investment of about Rs 1,500 crore in the tourism sector this year, as against Rs 1,000 crore last year, State Tourism Department officials said.

Talking to UNI here, they said that the internationally renowned hi-end resort and spa group 'Banayan Tree' had recently announced a Rs 100 crore venture on the Vembanad lake. The work on the project was expected to start soon.

Another international chain Radisson had completed itsresort in Kumarakom and this would be open from this season, they added.

While most foreign investors preferred to enter India with a local partner, 'Banayan Tree' was coming here on its own, they said.

While there was an increase of almost 13 per cent in foreign tourist arrivals, the number of rooms were increasing at about 15 per cent every year. Even then, there was 100 per cent occupancy in all major hotels during the season.

With a surge in domestic tourists, particularly honeymooners, there was no off-season this year, with hotels reporting more than 80 per cent occupancy even during the normally lean April-September period, they said.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pepsi godown attacked in Kerala

A godown of a Pepsi distributor was attacked by 100 activists of CPI (M) youth organisation in Thiruvananthapuram.

The incident happened a day after the High Court in Kerala allowed the sale and manufacture of soft drinks in the state.

The activists walked in with 20 cases of soft drinks and smashed them.

According to godown distributor Giri Menon, Pepsi authorities, the DYFI activists raised slogans against the multi national company and ransacked the godown damaging the products.

"A mob came and entered the premises they carried the crates of soft drink like Mirinda, Seven up and smashed them on the floor. All this while they were raising slogans against the company and its products, said Mohanan Nair, president All Kerala Distributors Association.

A formal complaint is being registered with the city police in this connection.

The Pepsi authorities have registered a complaint with the police in this connection.

Prevalence rate of heart attack very high in Kerala

The prevalence rate of heart attack in Kerala was very high, renowned Cardiologist and President of Cardiological Society of India, Kerala Chapter, Dr Geevar Zachariya said today.

He told reporters here today that the prevalence rate in Kerala was between 10 and 12 persons among 100 adults in the cities and 6 and 7 in rural areas as against the national average of six and eight.

Dr Zachariya attributed the high prevalence rate to the 'highly competitive' nature of life of the people of Kerala.

He said that the expenses for treatment of heart diseases in Kerala have not gone up for the last 10 years.

Zachariya said that the 'World Heart Day' would be celebrated on September 24 here under the auspices of the Society.

He also said that exercise, balanced food and avoiding of smoking was necessary to prevent heart attack.

Kerala welcomes the Holy Month

Imam of Palayam mosque in Thiruvananthapuram, has said that the Ramzan fast would begin from Sunday.

Recitation of the Holy Quran has started in all Muslim households in the state and various religious organisations are preparing to conduct month-long religious discourses.
The Quranic verses (Surah Al- Baqarah 183- 185) underline the importance of Ramzan and the spiritual aspects of fasting.

The faithful should abstain from food and drink for a limited period for the stress is on self-discipline. Fasting is mandatory in the month of Ramzan.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

'Letter bombs' detected in Kerala

Four "letter bombs" were detected by postal officials here, of which two exploded Thursday.

The first bomb exploded at the Manacaud post office in the heart of the capital city when the postal officials were sorting letters for delivery.

Jacob Punnoose, additional director general of police said the explosives contained potassium chlorate and aluminium powder.

"This is not a letter bomb in its true sense but something like a cracker," he said.

Sorter A. Ravikumar said: "I was busy sorting the morning mail and I found three letters which were heavy and did not have the required postage stamps. So I kept them aside. Suddenly there was a noise and lot of smoke came out from one of the letters."

A bomb disposal squad arrived the scene and the area was cordoned off.

Then at noon another letter bomb exploded at Kesvadasapuram in a hardware shop while the owner was opening a letter.

The incidents forced the top brass of Kerala Police go into a huddle.

"We discussed about the incidents and there was no need for panic. We have already sounded an alert in all post offices," Raman Srivastava, director general of police told reporters here.

"This has got nothing to do with the visit of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam," he said.

Kalam, who arrives here Thursday evening, will attend three functions and stay in the state for over 15 hours.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Security beefed up in Kerala for Kalam visit

Security has been beefed up in the Kerala capital as President APJ Abdul Kalam arrives in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday on a two-day visit.

Kalam is scheduled to arrive at the airport in Thiruvananthapuram at 5.30 pm and to then head straight to the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology to inaugurate a seminar there.

The President will visit the Santhigiri Ashram at Pothencode on the city suburbs at 8:30 pm and interact with the inmates and students of the ashram.

He is to leave for Kanyakumari on Friday after spending the night at Raj Bhavan in the capital.

The state's police personnel are leaving no stone unturned for the president's security. They have set up safe houses—buildings where VIPs can be shifted to in case of an emergency.

A vehicle carrying a mobile jammer would accompany Kalam's motorcade wherein all electronic signals in a radius of two sq km would be jammed.

Apart from the nearly 1,300 policemen who are posted in and around the places Kalam is scheduled to visit, there are 40 trained commandos who would move along with the dignitary.

The police have been on a high alert since Tuesday night and were seen conducting regular checks on vehicles.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Another feather in Kerala Tourism's cap

The "Honorouble Mention" award that the renovated Arakkal Palace here has won from the UNESCO in its announcement of its Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for 2006 is seen as a recognition of the efforts by the Department of Archaeology and the Department of Tourism to restore the 400-year-old palace complex (`kettu') from its dilapidated state and to develop it into a museum.

The Arakkal Kettu, a palace complex of the erstwhile Muslim royal Arakkal house, has been turned into a museum after its renovation at an estimated cost of Rs. 90 lakh. The renovation included preservation of the durbar hall building of the `kettu'. The restored palace complex is among the three heritage sites that has bagged the UNESCO's Honourable Mention award, the others being the Liu Ying Lung Study Hall, Hong Kong, and Leh Old Town in Ladakh.

"This honour is a tribute to sustainable tourism, which Kerala has adopted in a big way," said Minister for Tourism and Home, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

"The outstanding achievement would not have been possible if not for the Kerala Tourism (Conservation and Preservation of Areas) Act 2005 that provides guidelines for preserving the heritage and environment," said Principal Secretary, Tourism, E.K. Bharat Bhushan.

`Arakkal Kettu,' about 3 km from Kannur town, conveys the history of the lone Muslim prinicipality in the State. The Arakkal palace was the seat of the Arakkal royal family, which played an influential role in the history of Kannur and its nearby areas. The restoration has involved efforts to retain the original character of the structure through the use of local materials and display of restored period furniture.

It is the stress on quality and responsible tourism as well as adoption of sustainable methods of development that won Kerala Tourism the UNESCO award, said Director of Tourism B. Suman.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kerala to name crocodile park after Steve Irwin

What’s common between Steve Irwin, the conservationist who died while documenting stingray, and the South Indian State of Kerala? Loads of concern for nature and its preservation.

To mark this perpetual bond, Kerala has decided to name a crocodile park in the Capital city of Thiruvananthapuram after Steve.

“The Australian Steve, a great entertainer, environmentalist and conservationist, had won our hearts in this part of the globe. The distance should not stand in the way of commemorating his legacy”, said State Forest Minister Benoy Viswom, addressing the valedictory of the fourth world congress on mountain ungulates here yesterday. Ungulates are hoofed mammals and several subspecies have branched off in the course of evolution. Mountain ungulates, the focus of the congress, are typically herbivorous, quadrupeds such as Nilgiri tahr, camel, hippopotamus or horse.

The ungulate conference has also come at a time when the people on the hills here celebrate the once-in-12-year flowering of the neelakurinji (strobilanthes kunthianum), a grassland shrub endemic to the Western Ghats. The minister declared the flower would be honored with a two-day Kurinji festival on October 7 and 8. He had already announced the plan to set up a kurinji sanctuary so that when it blooms 12 years later, in 2018, it would cast its azure spell on a much larger tract.

The flowers are found at an altitude of between 1,600 and 2,400 metres. Earlier,vast areas of this region were being converted into eucalyptus plantations by the government. But timely action was taken to protect the area and it was officially thrown open to visitors for the first time in 1994. More than 3 lakh visitors have since witnessed the phenomenon.

The four-day congress, sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and the High Range Wildlife and Environment Preservation Association (HRWEPA), presented five recommendations to protect the mascot ungulate of the Western Ghats, the Nilgiri tahr.

Eravikulam National Park, covering 97 sq km, in Munnar, is home to the once-endangered ungulate, the Nilgiri tahr.

Extending the national park limits to the ecological boundary of Nilgiri tahr population— by another 30 sq km — and establishing protected and functional corridors between isolated tahr populations in the Western Ghats are two major recommendations.The other recommendations are “explore possibilities for the re-induction of tahr into parts of its historical range from where it has been extirpated, develop a protocol for monitoring tahr populations and habitats and evaluate the ecological impact of tourism and fire in the national park and ensure forestry, tourism and other activities in the tahr landscape respect conservation measures to protect the goat and its habitats”.

George Schaller, Clifford G Rice, Marco Festa-Blanchet and Lovari Sandro were among experts who attended the conference.

Several papers on issues related to conservation, management, ecology and biology of mountain ungulates were presented at the congress by experts from 20 countries, including UAE, Oman and Iran.

Kerala assembly session from Monday

The second session of the 12th Kerala assembly is scheduled to begin here Monday.

The highlight of the session would be a two-day orientation course to be conducted by the union parliamentary affairs ministry for the 141 members of the assembly.

"Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee would inaugurate the workshop on Oct 3. Moreover, all members would be given a computer orientation course for 20 hours," assembly Speaker K. Radhakrishnan told reporters here Saturday.

The revised budget for the current fiscal will be presented during the session that will end Oct 26 after 26 working days.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Threatened ungulates in focus

They are sometimes horned, always hooved and herbivorous. They graze the slippery slopes of the world's hilly, and occasionally snow-covered, grasslands. They form a global family of mammals known as ungulates that is under increasing threat from war, encroachment or human greed.

For three days from September 13, over 100 naturalists from a dozen nations will meet at Munnar, Kerala, home to arguably the best conserved of the Indian ungulates — the Nilgiri tahr.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is holding the World Congress on Mountain Ungulates (WCMU), the fourth since 1989 and the first in Asia, near the Eravikulam National Park. The park, with its tropical grassland ecosystem, is today home to over 700 of the 2,000-odd tahr that are in the Anamalai region of the Western Ghats.

"Conservation efforts are afoot in over 20 countries — and they target such diverse ungulates like the Tibetan gazelle and the yak in Ladakh; the Iberian Ibex in Portugal; and its Nubian cousin in Yemen; the Alpine chamois in Italy and Switzerland; the Rocky Mountain goat of Canada and the U.S. and the Korean goral," explains Mohan Alembath, president of the Nilgiri Tahr Trust.

He is a conservationist who served the Kerala Forest Department until 2001. During a nine-year tenure as Wild Life Warden, he helped make Eravikulam one of the rare success stories in conservation this country has seen.

The event is hosted by the Munnar-based High Range Wildlife and Environment Preservation Association, largely staffed by nature-loving members of the Tata Tea plantations that dominate the Kannan Devan Hills.


The partnership between the Association and the State Forest Department has been a model of public-private cooperation in conservation.

The delegates will be able to assess the results first-hand: the tahr's calving season is just over and the fresh count is just in. Their visit also coincides with the 12-yearly flowering of the neela kurinji, which is turning the Munnar hills into a blue blaze of colour.


The discussions will include the need to create a Pamir Peace Park where China, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet, to help conserve the Marco Polo sheep now less than 6,000 in number.

It will discuss why the Swedish moose is under threat from its most formidable predator, the European brown bear.

It will consider what the disturbed environment in Kashmir is doing to the lifestyle and very existence of the Kashmir stag or hangul.

Hopefully, the exchange of experience and results will help the world's hooved grazers cling on a mite more firmly to their precarious and increasingly threatened grazing lands.

Kerala college stands on WTC girders

Those looking for Twin Tower souvenirs will discover in distant Kerala a private college that stands on steel girders re-forged from steel scrap at Ground Zero.

But neither the staff nor students at the Marxist-controlled Nilambur Co-operative College in Malappuram district took special note of the WTC connection on 9/11 anniversary on Monday.Co-operative college society president Devanand said he could neither confirm nor deny reports that the college had benefited by the imported WTC scrap. Local agent Ralco Industries offered the high quality steel at Rs11 a kilo when the market price was nearly Rs25 a kilo.

“We’d no idea it was forged from the WTC material. We’re looking for materials to build the college and this came in handy”, he reasoned.However, he said the local welders had noticed the markings “USA” and “WTC” on the steel. “Therefore, one might guess there was some WTC connection”, said Devanand. He vouchsafes for the quality of the imported “scrap”, saying local machines could not shred the girders.

The new college building was completed in 2003. Strong anti-US sentiments have perhaps prevented the college authorities from acknowledging the embarrassing fact about the American steel.

Ralco Industries could not be contacted on the phone. It was reported in 2002 that several vessels had sailed from New York with consignments of scrap and among them were extremely dense steel girders from Ground Zero, which could finally total between 250,000 to 400,000 tons.

One shipload onboard a vessel named Brozna landed at Chennai port in early January 2002. Two other ships, the Shen Quan Hai and Pindos, carrying World Trade Center scrap, berthed and offloaded their cargo in Chennai.

Selling and disposing of the scrap, despite tones of sentiments caught in mangled steel, was the brainchild of the New York City’s Design and Construction Department. It calculated that sale of steel to recyclers would fetch $75 to $100 a ton. Once cut and re-forged, it could then be resold for $220 to $600 a ton. However, relatives of victims were dismayed by crass commercialism as the yellow tape of a crime scene was quickly replaced by a “for sale” sign.

“It is true that steel is the most recyclable product in the world and that today’s twin towers could become tomorrow’s kitchen sink — as crass as that might sound. It is also true that steel has no memory.“However, we do. And as conscientious citizens of a global marketplace, we need to weigh the price tag of our memories on equal footing with potential international commerce,” wrote Ron Callari a freelance writer who lived in Jersey City, 100 yards from Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, one of the largest scrap recyclers in the US.

The Nilmabur college authorities may not reckon the building a WTC memorial but eventually the fact would sink in that they had put the scarp to best use — to set up a centre of learning.

Kerala temple insured for Rs 30 mn

The famous Kumaranalloor Devi Temple near here that was damaged by a blaze last year has been insured for Rs 30 million.

"Last year a major fire damaged a portion of the temple and we had to spend Rs 2.5 million to get it back into shape. So we decided to insure it against fire," said C.N. Shankaran Nampoothiri, the temple's manager.

The temple is considered one of the most important of the 108 durgalayas (temples of goddesses) in Kerala.

It is said to be more than 2,400 years old.

It is owned by nine different families and run by a temple trust of which Nampoothiri is the manager.

M.P. Ramesh Kumar of Oriental Insurance Company said the yearly premium is a little over Rs 16,000.

"The deal was finalised after nearly five months of discussions," said Kumar.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Kerala Vision logo released

Kerala Vision, the Malayalam TV channel promoted as a joint venture by regional cable operators in the State, is set to begin test transmission by September 15.

Minister for Education M.A. Baby released the logo of the channel at a function here on Sunday.

He stressed the need for a system to verify the veracity of the information dished out by various media.

Congress leader M.M. Hassan delivered the keynote address. He called on newspapers and TV channels to create a healthy media culture.

Kerala Union of Working Journalists State president C. Gouridasan Nair presided.

Asianet vice-president Sreekantan Nair, Surya TV general manager P. Praveen, Cable TV Operators' Association State president E. Jayadevan and secretary K. Vijayakrishnan, Cable Communications Ltd. president N.H. Anwar and Kerala Vision managing director K. Govindan participated.

Kerala Vision will use the optical fibre cable network of the Railways to link all the 14 districts and deliver content to the masses.

Nearly 70 per cent of households with cable TV connection will be covered by the network. The channel will have its studio at Ernakulam.

It uses digital compression and Ethernet technology for transmission of programmes.

A pressnote issued by the channel said the programmes to be aired on Kerala Vision would be distinct from the fare offered by other TV channels.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Kerala cheers to fete on the river

Kerala marked the end of Onam with the popular vallam kalli or boat race at Aranmula.

The Aranmula -vallam kalli race, one of the oldest boat races in Kerala, celebrates the occasion with oarsmen rowing energetically to the chant of the singers and a cheering crowd on the banks of the Pampa.

Vallam kalli celebrates the role of lord Krishna as Parthasarathy watching over every snake boat in the fray.

"It’s a very unique boat race. It’s 600 years old," MLA Aranmula, Sivadasan Nair says.

As many as 30 snake boats or chundan vallams fight it out at the race. Each 100-foot long vallam has four helmsmen, 100 oarsmen and the 25 singers who play great cheerleaders in their traditional dhoti or mundu. Even the crowd, many of them tourists, cheer the participants.

"This is the second time that I have come here. I love the boat race," a tourist, Will says.

Eventhough it's time to say goodbye to the festive season with the Aranmula race, the race leaves the people of Kerala with unforgettable memories to welcome yet another festive season.

Jharkhand MLAs herded to Kerala resort

Ahead of the trial strength by Arjun Munda government in the Assembly, a group of MLAs from Jharkhand were today put up at a private resort in Alappuzha in Kerala.

According to sources, the MLAs included some of the dissidents who had withdrawn support to the NDA Government.

The resort authorities, however, refused to disclose the number and the names of the MLAs. They were kept out of bounds for the media and the public.

The group, which included some of the supporters of the MLAs, arrived via Kochi yesterday, the sources added.

Two of them had, however, left the place last evening.

The special Assembly session in Ranchi would begin on September 14 to take up the trust vote. The BJP-led government had plunged into a crisis after four ministers resigned from the cabinet and withdrew their support on September 5

Friday, September 08, 2006

Heli tourism clicks in Kerala

Deccan Aviation, India's first helicopter charter company that began its operations in Kerala about two months ago, is getting a good response.

Base manager of Deccan Aviation S.B. Nair told IANS: 'The average breakeven flying hours for helicopter tourism operations to be viable in the first few months is around 15 hours a month. We have done a total of 52 hours in two months. It is a great beginning.'

Deccan Aviation has five helicopters, of which one is based here.

The helicopter can seat up to six passengers. The per hour flying charge has been fixed at Rs.70,000 and an additional Rs.15,000 is charged if there is an overnight halt.

The helicopters fly to Thekkady, Munnar, Kochi, Alappuzha, Kumarakom and Kovalam.

Air Deccan is the sister company of Deccan Aviation, which recently opened its new aircraft base here.

'We see a lot of potential for our helicopter service in the tourism market in Kerala. With the peak tourist season about to commence we feel we would be able to do good business in the coming months.

God’s own children are literate, unemployed

Fifteen years after Kerala was declared a “totally literate state”, its literacy mission has turned into a bureaucratic exercise revolving around a government agency.

Many of the neo-literates have been left to their daily chores after the euphoric years. Fresh strides in continuing education intend to take literacy beyond familiarisation to alphabets.

But has the state failed to transform its enviable achievements in social sectors to economic development? How do academics explain the irony of a state that leads others in education and healthcare and lags behind in economic growth and employment generation?

“Kerala’s excellence in education is reflected in other sectors too. Look at our healthcare. Our socially organised pattern that’s responsible for the present quality of life. Even the economic betterment brought about by massive migration was made possible by education,” said KK Krishnakumar, who had worked with the team that spearheaded the literacy movement in Kerala in the early 1990s.

“It’s true that Kerala has not fared well as far as economic development is concerned though we have made great strides in literacy. There are several reasons for it like worsened Centre-state relations, regional imbalances and lack of entrepreneurial initiatives. There have been enterprising communities in Kerala, but the society as a whole looked for salaried jobs preferably with the government,” he added.

The sentiment is echoed in government circles. “We are lagging behind in agricultural productivity and industrial performance mainly due to the strain and stress of globalisation. Then we are unable to find land for industries in this densely populated state. Still, we could overcome all these with the investment we made in our education sector,” education minister MA Baby said.

“Kerala is often called a money order economy since a major chunk of its revenue came from expatriates within and outside the country. They were able to go out seeking work because they had good education. We managed to overcome our deficiencies in other sectors with our literate population,” he added.

The state’s Continuing Education Project, run by the National Literacy Mission, had found that the movement failed to maintain the people’s participation in the later stages. Krishnakumar, who doesn’t see a direct correlation between achievements in literacy
and economic performance, concurs.

Vietnam keen on fostering business ties with Kerala

Vietnam has invited Kerala’s entrepreneurs to invest in that country and set up joint ventures in tourism, IT, food processing, plantation and other areas.

Vietnam is looking forward to step up the multifaceted cooperation with Kerala, especially in industry and commerce, Ton Sinh Thanh, minister counsellor of the Vietnamese embassy in India, said here Friday.

He was addressing a workshop on ‘Opportunities for Doing Business with Vietnam’, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in association with the Vietnamese embassy.

‘Kerala companies can do business in Vietnam and set up joint ventures in areas such as tourism, IT, food processing, plantation and furniture,’ he said.

Economic relations between India and Vietnam have been expanding over the years, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The bilateral trade went up from $50 million in 1991 to $817 million in fiscal 2005-06.

The diplomat described his first visit to Kerala as an affirmation of the strong bilateral relations and said it would provide new momentum for the traditional ties and cooperation to grow further.

‘India is now like an emerging giant elephant and Vietnam - a new tiger leaping forward,’ added Thanh.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Travel expo begins in Kerala

A three-day international travel exhibition that opened here Thursday kick-started the new tourist season in Kerala, a little earlier than usual.

'This is the first time such an event has been organised in the state capital and this is certainly going to be the launch pad for the forthcoming tourist season,' said Peter Paul, director of Estuary Island, a premier resort near Kovalam.

Hitherto all tourism exhibitions were held at Kochi. Around 60 stalls of various players in the tourism industry of the state are on display this time. The event was inaugurated by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation chairman Cherian Phillip.

The tourist season in Kerala normally begins by the end of October and extends till end of March.

'But this year we had an excellent monsoon and then the Onam season also has been good. From the bookings we have got for the new season, we feel this spell could well be the best Kerala tourism have ever had,' said Jojy Mathew, director of Rainbow Cruises that owns 15 houseboats.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kerala team to visit Dubai Internet City by mid-Sept

The Smart City proposal has moved one notch up with Kerala accepting an invitation from Technology and Media Free Zone Authority (TECOM) to send a team of officials to Dubai Internet City for further talks on the project.

Sources said the Chief Minister’s office has accepted the invitation and a team, led by Information Technology Secretary Tensing, will visit Dubai around mid-September.
The Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary Sheela Thomas, who received the communication from the DIC (property and partnership relations) Senior Manager Baju George, is likely to be on the team.

Both Sheela Thomas and Tensing had led the talks with DIC officials when they visited Thiruvananthapuram after the new Left ministry assumed office on May 18. Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan is yet to finalise the rest of the team, which might include his additional secretary K Suresh Kumar and an IT expert.

The invite says September 12 to 14 is convenient for the TECOM but the festive mood in Kerala has perhaps delayed a quick visit. The invitation is in direct response to Kerala government’s revised draft agreement which was sent to TECOM a fortnight ago. The previous government, led by chief minister Oommen Chandy, had approved the final agreement but state assembly elections forced him to leave it to the new ministry.

Smart City has been conceived as a self-contained township for knowledge-based industries such as IT, ITES and biotechnology, forming a network of such cities TECOM is setting up as part of it going global strategy. Achuthanandan, while in the Opposition, had opposed the handing over the Infopark at the cost of Rs1.09bn ($22.83m), 136 acres at Rs2.64m ($602,189) an acre and another 100 acre on a 99-year lease as job-creation incentive under the IT policy.
While Chandy was for a joint venture with DIC, leasing Infopark and another 100 acres for creating 33,000 IT jobs, the latest draft incorporates fresh provisions that treat the Dubai company as any other infrastructure developer in the IT sector and requiring it to take land on lease at market rates.

The government would hand over on a 30-year lease 377 acres at market rates and would have the option to evict the lessee if it fails to create 90,000 jobs over a 10-year period, according to the new draft.

Deepak Padmanabhan, DIC business development officer, had said after talks with Achuthanandan last month that the new Kerala proposal was altogether a new business model, which he would present before the TECOM board for approval.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Onam festivities: Kerala ropes in tourists

Onam celebrations were officially launched on Sunday by Chief Minsiter VS Achuthanandan amidst a colourful display of the various dance forms of Kerala and spectacular fireworks.

The idea was to attract tourists, who have converged on the city, with a stunning and extravagant display of the diversity and uniqueness of Kerala's culture.

Contribution from tourism amounts to 7 per cent of the state's GDP and brings in a revenue of Rs 8,000 crore annually. It also employs over 10 lakh people.

Dazzling tourists

Against the majestic backdrop of 21 elephants, a thousand artistes performed traditional dances like Kathakali and Theyyam to the beat of the Panchavadyam.

The show was jointly organised by the tourism department and the film fraternity. It was a spectacle that truly dazzled tourists.

"Absolutely fabulous. This is our first visit to India, our first opportunity to see something as spectacular as this," said Claire Tierney, a tourist.

"It is wonderful. I have never seen anything like this before. A big spectacle. Wonderful," added Lucas Hauser, another tourist.

God's own country

Cultural festivals like these have tried to revive dying art forms like the Theyyam.

But this year, the Kerala government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore for Onam celebrations, mainly with an eye on tourist inflows.

"The World Tourism and Trade Council projects Turkey as the fastest growing tourist destination in the world, growing at 10.6 per cent," informed B Suman, Director, Kerala Tourism.

"But Kerala is doing 11.4 per cent, which is clearly higher by 0.8 per cent. But obviously, we do not fall in the same bracket since we are not a nation. The underpinning is that Kerala is the fastest growing tourist destination in the world," he added.

Onam has truly and finally arrived in Kerala!

The inauguration of the Onam Week celebrations by the chief minister amidst all the pomp and splendour is intended to showcase Kerala to the world.

Onam celebrated with traditional fervour

Kerala today celebrated Onam, the traditional harvest festival commemorating a 'glorious past' when people of the state lived in peace, plenty and equality under the mythical king Mahabali.

Bringing in the traditional fervour, houses were decorated with flowers to welcome Mahabali, who, according to legend, visits his subjects on the 'Thiruvonam' day of the month of Chingam of the Malayalam calendar.

In temples, including Guruvayur and Sabarimala, there was heavy rush of devotees since morning where special poojas were held.

The state government has been holding a tourism week to mark the occasion.

Kerala Governor R L Bhatia, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and Opposition leader Oommen Chandy greeted the people on the occasion.

Off-peak rates on calls to India today

Etisalat has announced that all telephone calls made to India effective 9pm Monday until 7am Wednesday will be charged at off-peak rates.

The special offer marks today's festival of Onam, celebrated by Malayalees.

"Etisalat extends warmest Onam greetings to the people of Kerala, and we are happy to enable all Indians to reach their friends and families back home during this celebration. The off-peak rate will apply to all calls made to any destination in India," said Khalifa Al Forah, Etisalat acting chief marketing officer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Elephants' day out! Kerala fair criticised

The elephant fair in Thrissur is an inseparable part of Kerala's culture and tradition and attracts thousands of people as well as protests.

Animal lovers feel the fair violates the rules for elephants in captivity.

They are moving the Kerala High Court against the organisers, which include ministers, the district administration and forest officials.

More than 100 elephants from different temples participated in the fair, which was witnessed by thousands of people.

"It's an amazing sight only Thrissur can boast of. It's amazing and it is well organised," said a spectator.

"The tradition of keeping the culture is in Thrissur and I like Thrissur for this," added a foreign visitor.

The spectacular sight is possible only in Thrissur and that's perhaps why it is known as the E capital of Kerala. Over the past few years, the number of elephant lovers has grown manifold.

Animals ill-treated

For animal lovers, however, it was an unbearable sight. It was too hot for man or beast and even mahouts were sheltering in the elephants' shade.

"Elephants cannot be kept standing in scorching heat from 2:30 pm onwards to 6 pm. They are getting neither shelter nor water. They were also tethered in very sharp and short chains," said Animal Welfare Officer AG Babu of the Animal Welfare Board.

"We are going to complaint to the district collector and chief wildlife warden."

Animal lovers point out that the Forest Department had given an assurance in court that it would protect the animals against cruelty at such festivals, but it has failed to do so.

"We are going to proceed for contempt of court in the Kerala High Court within one week," said Venkatachalam, Elephant Lovers Society.

"The district collector, SP and conservators are people said to be protectors of elephants. But these officials are misusing their official status," he added.

While the opinion on holding such events is divided, what is undeniable is that authorities could be more sensitive and make sure the animals are not ill-treated.

Kerala PWD Minister PJ Joseph puts in papers

Kerala PWD Minister P J Joseph, who was charged with cupping a co-passenger’s breast while travelling in a Kingfisher Airlines plane from Chennai to Kochi on August 3, put in his papers on Monday.

Joseph, accompanied by his wife, Santha, called on Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan at the latter’s house and submitted the resignation letter on Monday evening.

Later, he said the charges levelled against him were baseless. He wanted a detailed inquiry to be ordered into the affair to ‘ferret out the truth’.

Being in public life, he did not want even a needle of suspicion on him, he said, adding that he was confident of emerging innocent in the final report.

Although there were initial reports that he would resign from the MLA post, too, the party executive committee, which met earlier in the day, decided against that.

Achuthanandan will now decide as to who will hold the PWD portfolio.

However, there is no immediate chance of anybody from Joseph’s party, which has four MLAs, joining the ministry.

The resignation follows the report submitted by investigative officer I G Sandhya on Saturday, which said the charges against the minister were not baseless. Sandhya had received a written complaint from the victim, a former newsreader of a leading Malayalam channel.

Manmohan, Kalam extend Onam greetings

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have greeted the nation, especially the people of Kerala, on the eve of Onam, saying the festival is an opportunity to celebrate the spirit of unity and brotherhood that "underpins our national fabric."

In his message, Mr. Kalam said festivals are occasions for celebrations and for sharing joy and happiness with neighbours and those who are in need.

"May this year's Onam, the festival of harvest, bring peace, happiness and prosperity among our people and inspire all of us to work for further development of the country," he said.

The President said whenever happiness prevails it "radiates through kind acts towards the needy."

Dr. Singh said, "Onam heralds the beginning of the harvest season and reaffirms the secular traditions of the people of Kerala."

Appealing to the people to celebrate it in the spirit of unity and brotherhood, he said, "May the festival bring joy, peace and prosperity to all."

Kerala Governor, CM greet Malayalees

Kerala Governor R L Bhatia, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and his cabinet colleagues today greeted the people on the occasion of Onam (harvest festival of Kerala).

In a message, Bhatia said Onam flourished in an ideal ambiance of plenty, unity and equality.

"It combines the fond memories of a bygone period and sweet dreams of a better tomorrow in a spirit of camaraderie and celebration," he said.

Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan wished the people of Kerala a happy and prosperous Onam. Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy also greeted the people on the occasion.

In separate messages, Ministers in the LDF cabinet also wished the people of Kerala a festival of plenty.