Piplantri

PIPLANTRI is a village located in RAJSAMAND District in Rajasthan State.

The villagers of Piplantri plant 111 trees every time a girl child is born, and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up.  Over the years, people have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons, including neem, sheesham, mango and amla among others.

piplantri-village

To ensure financial security, after the birth of a girl child, the villagers contribute 21,000 rupees collectively and take 10,000 rupees from the parents and put the amount in a FD, which can be broken when she is 20 years old.  To make sure the child receives proper education, the villagers make the parents sign an affidavit which also restricts them from marrying her off before she attains the legal age for marriage.

piplantri-india

 

Shyam Sundar Palwal, the former Sarpanch (village head) started this initiative in memory of his daughter (Kiran) who died a few years ago.  The initiative begun in 2006 has turned Piplantri Village into an oasis.  The planting of the trees have raised the water level.  IT has also helped the village economy.  To keep termites away from the trees, many of which bear fruit, the village has planted more than 2.5million Aloe Vera plants around them.  Gradually, the villagers realised that Aloe Vera could be processed and marketed in a variety of ways.  So, the community now produces and markets Aloe Vera products like juice and gel, pickle and other items.  So, for the last several years, Piplantri is quietly practising its own home-grown eco-feminism and achieving spectacular results.  On an average 60 girls are born every year in Piplantri.

piplantri_friendship_tree

People also plant 11 trees whenever a family member dies.  The Village Panchayat, which has a studio-recorded anthem and a website of its own, has completed banned alcohol, open grazing of animals and cutting of trees.  Villagers claim that there has been no police case since the last seven or eight years.

Piplantri is well-known for its marble mining industry.  In this Gram Panchayat, the famous R. K. Marbles is located whose name is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Record for maximum production of marbles.

piplantri_trees

The village was awarded by the Rajasthan Government and included in Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Adarsh Gram Yojna and it is the only village from Rajsamand to get selected for it.

—————- Mahim Pratap Singh for The Hindu. 

Sand mandala

sand mandala


SAND MANDALA is the Tibetan Art of Intricate Sand Painting.  MANDALAS are spiritual and ritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism that represent the Universe.

It is an ancient Sanskrit word that means CIRCLE, and Mandalas are primarily recognizable by their concentric circles and other geometric figures.  In the most basic form, a Mandala, is a square containing a circle with several concentric circles or smaller squares within.  The Mandala is decorated with traditional iconography, that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols.

Sand mandala


In Tibetan Buddhism, Mandalas are created with coloured sand, a practice known as DUL-TSON-KYIL-KHOR, which literally means MANDALA OF COLOURED POWDERS.  Historically, a Mandala was not created with natural-dyed sand, but granules of crushed coloured stone.  Sometimes this included precious and semi-precious gems.  So, lapis lazuli would be used for the blues, rubies for the reds and so forth.  In modern times, plain white stones are ground down and dyed with opaque inks to achieve the same effect.


rbz Mandala Sand Painting 01


The creation of a Sand Mandala begins with an opening ceremony, where monks chant mantras and play flutes, drums and cymbals.  Then, they get down to business.  First, they carefully measure and draw the outlines of the Mandala on a flat surface with chalk or pencil, assisted by straight-edged rulers and compasses.  Once the floor plan is drawn, millions of grains of coloured sand is painstakingly laid into place.


Sand mandala making


The sand granules are poured onto the Mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a CHAKPUR which is scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end.  Traditionally, four monks work on a single Mandala, with each monk assigned to one quadrant of the Mandala.  With enormous amount of patience, the monks lay out the sand particles, working from the centre outwards.  A Sand Mandala can take several weeks to build, due to the large amount of work involved in laying down the sand in such intricate detail.


Tibetian Sand Mandala


Despite the tremendous amount of hard work and time required to build Sand Mandalas, they have a very short life.  Shortly after their completion, the monks deliberately destroy the Mandala to symbolize that “nothing lasts forever.”  The sand is swept and collected in a jar and then wrapped in silk and transported to a river where it is released back into nature.

————- Kaushik.

Zutphen

Zutphen streets


ZUTPHEN is a town in the province of GELDERLAND in the Netherlands  It lies some 30km northeast of ARNHEM on the eastern bank of the IJSSEL. at the point where it is joined by the BERKEL.

The name ZUTPHEN , 1st mentioned in the 11th century, appears to mean ZUID –VEEN or in English SOUTH –FEN. Zutphen is also twinned with the English town of Shrewsbury, in the Midlands County of SHROPSHIRE.

Zutphen artistic


It is an historic city, and has existed since Roman times, and received its city rights in 1190, making it one of the oldest “medieval cities” in the Netherlands.  The city was voted as having the best city-centre of the Netherlands in the category of small cities in 2006.  It has an untouched historic city-centre that gives you the feeling of travelling 100s of years back in time.  It is also a “car-free” city.


Zutphen


ZUTPHEN is located in a river valley at the River IJSSEL, a side branch of the Rhine known as NEDERRIJN.  The city lies at the border of the hilly forested VELUWE region and the more flat and agriculture ACHTERHOEK.  The language spoken is Dutch and nearly everyone speaks English and German is widely understood.


Zutphen tower


Inside the city everything is within walking distance.  The railway station is located 200m away from the edge of the old city-centre.  Walking from one side of the city-centre to the other side takes about 20 -30 minutes.  In order to see the city, it is best to cycle. ——— The Dutch Tourist Promotion slogan, TORENSTAD, means TOWER – CITY, which refers to the large number of towers.  The largest is the WALBURGKERK located at the square where the city originated.  It is one of the largest Churches in the country.  Guided tours are available organised by the VVV located opposite the railway station.  These tours will also allow you to visit the visit the medieval “chained library” ————-LIBRIJE ——- here books have been kept secure since the 1600s by chaining them to the desks.


Zutphen LIBRIJE


ZUTPHEN is also known as an “alternative city”.  There are multiple “alternative grocery stores”, which offer a variety of “organic food”.  The most important ones are the GIMSEL, located in the LANGEHOFSTRAAT, half away between the WIJNHUISTOREN and the new city hall on the western side of the street, and the COEHOOM, located in the NIEUWSTAD quarter, between the Catholic St. John’s Church (SINT JANSKERK) and the Synagogue.


Zutphen


About 300AD, a Germanic settlement was the 1st permanent town on a complex of low river dunes.  Whereas many such settlements were abandoned in the early Middle Ages, ZUTPHEN on the strategic confluence of IJSSEL & BERKEL stayed, and became a local centre of governance under a Count.  The Normans raided and ravaged it in 882.  Afterwards, a circular fortress was built to protect the “budding” town against Viking attacks.


Chocoladefestival Zutphen


In the 11th century ZUTPHEN was a Royal residence for a number of years :  a PFALZ was built, together with a large CHAPTER CHURCH, the predecessor of the present ST. WALBURGIS.  The Counts of ZUTPHEN acquired a lot of power until the line of Counts became extinct in the 12th century The settlement received town rights between 1191 & 1196.  This allowed it to self-govern and have a judicial court.  Thus, ZUTPHEN became the “mother-town” of several other towns.  It also became part of the HANSEATIC LEAGUE, a group of towns with great wealth and this league was the economic centre in that part of Europe.


De kolensteeg in Zutphen op een zonnige dag.


The largest and oldest Church is ST. WALBURGIS, which originally dates back to the 11th century.  The present Gothic building contains monuments of the former Counts of Zutphen, a 14th century candelabrum, an elaborate copper font (1527) and a monument to the VAN HEECKEREN family (1700).  The Chapter House of the LIBRIJE contains a pre-Reformation library which includes some valuable manuscripts and INCUNABULA.  It is considered one of the only 5 surviving Chained Libraries in Europe. (the other 4 being in England and Italy).


WALBURGKERK Zutphen


Care for the Earth

Let’s reflect on our “common home” —– the Earth and our relationship with Her.  Pope Francis opines: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing  and its human roots concern and affect us all.”  So, let’s ask : What am I doing to make our home –the Earth — a paradise for everyone, everywhere ?
decayed_earth_009Pope Francis laments that “the earth is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth” due to many reasons : pollution, wastage, a throwaway culture, selfish exploitation of the earth’s resources and lack of concern for the poor, who are worst affected and least equipped to cope with ecological crises.
“It’s good for humanity and the world at large when we better recognise the ecological commitments which stem from our faith convictions.  The religions of Mother India can collaboratively inspire us to care for Mother Earth.  The adivasi-tribal religions celebrate mother nature and foster an all-embracing sense of the sacred in their myths, culture, festivals and lifestyles.
The Vedas look at all beings ——- living and non-living ——- as subsisting by the same spiritual power.  The whole universe becomes EKANEEDAM (one home) and one must transcend one’s AHAMKARA (ego) to enter into transcendental consciousness of the “Ground of all beings”.
The Quranic concepts of KHALIFA (trusteeship) and TAWHEED (the unity of all creatures) instruct Muslims to shoulder their vedasresponsibilities as guardians of Khuda’s creation, so as to bequeath a green earth for future generations.
Buddha preached an ethic of DHAMMA (universal harmony, embracing not only human beings but all creatures.  This engenders universal love with KARUNA (compassion), METTA (friendliness), MUDITA (gentleness) and UPEKHA (equanimity) towards all beings.
Ecology and economics have the same root, OIKOS, that in Greek means “home”.  To care for our earthly home, we need creative, committed and collaborative “homework” among entrepreneurs, economists, politicians and policy-makers worldwide.  If what Pope Francis calls “integral ecology” becomes a reality, then all of creation will joyously sing LAUDATO SI (Praise be with you)
———- Francis Gonsalves (professor of Theology) 

From skyscraper to plyscraper

plyscraper_

If the 20th century was the century of the Skyscraper, then the 21st century is shaping up as the century of the PLYSCRAPER —– a tower block made entirely from wood.
A PLYSCRAPER is a skyscraper made out of engineered-lumber such as cross-laminated-timber (CLT), which is composed of dried lumber which is stacked in a 90degree “L” shape, and fully glued over.  It makes for a strong, flexible green building.  By the end of 2015, an estimated 40-48% of new non-residential constructions, by value, will be green.  The Obama Administration, in co-operation with lumber industry groups, is currently offering a  $2million prize for the most innovative PLYSCRAPER design.  With green buildings on the rise and stimulating the economy, the timing of this contest should come as no surprise.

plyscraper in vogue


Despite the historical reputation of wood for great  city fires —— London in 1666, the Great Chicago fire of 1871 and San Francisco in 1960 ——- WOOD is making a comeback as “construction material” and how.  Vancouver-based architects MGA recently completed a 97ft wooden building.  Next year, in Vienna, construction will begin on a 275ft PLYSCRAPER, and Stockholm may build a 34-storey wooden apartment by 2023.  Others in the pipeline are from Canada to Australia to Europe.  Vancouver-based architect Michael Green, says the momentum is gaining as new engineered-woods allow for greater strength and heights in buildings.  Moreover, faster construction times and a softer environmental impact, could the building material of the past be the future of construction ? But, he said, news of taller wooden structures is sprouting up all the time.  “There seems to be a new announcement every 2 or 3 weeks.  We’ve got one in Vancouver for 18 storeys, and in Vienna there’s one for more than 20 storeys.  We’ve done research in high earthquake zones, that show 30 storeys is FEASIBLE.  We certainly think we can go up to 40 and higher.”


Plyscraper


Michael Green said that new developments in engineered-woods —— small wood components that are glued together to make large panels for a building —— are  a “game-changer” for construction.  Mass timber panels, in particular, cross-laminated-timber (CLT) are becoming established as a quicker, greener and, eventually, cheaper alternative to concrete and steel.  One great bonus of the material is the “speed of construction” —— panels can be made to measure, in the factory, with openings, windows and doors. While the main advantage of working in wood are manifold —— it is flexible, robust and easily worked, Green says that wood may be the only material to address the growing problems of urbanization.  Wood has not been looked as “urban material”, so we looked at how it could be the contributor to urban environments.  There are a whole host of advantages.  Steel and Concrete have huge “carbon footprints”.  Concrete accounts for about 6-8% of man’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereas Wood “sequesters” carbon dioxide and gives us a vehicle to create “carbon-neutral buildings.

The energy used to harvest Wood is much less than the enormous amount required to produce Concrete and Steel.  Green says, “There is no other building material that is grown by the Sun.  We’ve calculated that the North American forests grow enough wood for a 20-storey PLYSCRAPER every 8-10mins.  Ultimately, building in wood, creates an economic incentive to plant more forests.  The climate story is really happening at both ends of the argument ——– by using more wood we encourage countries, around the world, to plant more trees.  About 20% of man’s carbon footprint comes from “de-forestation” and this creates an important incentive for “re-forestation”.

plyscraper (1)


In terms of “carbon footprints”, a 20-storey PLYSCRAPER put against its counterpart in Concrete and Steel, is equivalent to taking 900 cars off the road for a year.  But the established nature of concrete and steel means that CLT will not replace urban building materials overnight.  Concerns over fire and inherent problems with its acoustic qualities (apartments need additional acoustic measures to keep noise from travelling) have meant that the construction establishment has been slow to come to the party.  In Vienna, for example, the Austrian Fire Services are working with architects to test their plans. —– “The main factor is that everyone wants to build higher and higher buildings  An 84-metre-high building, in Europe,  is not usual and there are a lot of necessities that have to be realized,” fire service spokesman Christian Wegner told The Guardian newspaper, “a few of us were upset because it was crazy to present an idea like this that has not been discussed with everyone yet.  They have to carry special tests on the correct combination of concrete and wood.  We also want to develop a more “fail-safe” sprinkler system.  I expect they will pass the tests, but if they develop the buildings, as they say they will, it will be a serious project.”

Green counters that CLT is as fire-resistant as other new-builds made by traditional means and likens its ability to burn to trying to set a redwood on fire with a lit match, with any charring creating an “insulation layer” that protects the wood underneath.  Even so, the  industry remains largely sceptical of a process that —- while having obvious advantages in terms of speed —- is still on par with steel and concrete constructions in terms of cost.  Green said, “It will become cheaper, but it’s too new to be significantly less expensive, and the difficulty lies in competing with a “well-honed” and “century-old” system of designing buildings and budgeting for concrete and steel.  The culture of building and the culture of developing buildings is very “conservative”, Green said, “The hardest part of my job, is not the engineering and the design or the innovation, it’s really about changing the public’s perception of what is possible.”
Ultimately, buildings of the future are likely to be a mixture of wooden components and concrete and steel, thus combining the “stability of concrete” with the “flexibility and speed of wood.”  Leading timber specialist at ARUP, Andrew Lawrence, said that, “Clients are missing a trick with wood.  Dollar-for-dollar as a pure construction material, wood can still struggle to be cheaper than concrete.  What you need to do, if you want an economic solution, is to think about all the aspects from the outset.  You will save on the program, because it’s all dry and is quick to erect and potentially, if you are making an office building, you can leave a lot of the wood “exposed” saving on the cost and time of installing finishes.  Moreover   , clients will gain a building that looks good too.  Studies show that people are happier inside wooden structures.”
PLYSCRAPERS could be the future of flat-pack-cities around the world.  In Christchurch —- The Merritt Building welcomed its 1st multi-storeyed timber structure this year, there are plans for Vancouver, and, the talk is China could follow.  Just as the world’s 1st Skyscraper, built by William Le Baron Jenney in Chicago in 1884 (called a spindly steel skeleton) solved the issue of the dense, stunted buildings in the 19th century, architects and engineers are seeking new ways of building faster and taller without having a drastic impact on the environment.  And, that has seen them revisit the most basic building material of them all : WOOD.
Super firm SOM —– the architects behind the One World Trade Centre and the Burj Khalifa —- are considering using wood for high-rise constructions.  Wooden Skyscrapers, or should we say PLYSCRAPERS  are “smoking hot.”  —COULD YOU, WOOD YOU ????????

A clean house the vintage way

According to research, just 49% people give their homes a yearly spring cleaning blitz, and over 60% admit to caring less about it than their parents did. Keeping  clean house nowadays may entail using products that are packed full of harsh chemicals  So, why not get back to basics ?
The National Trust and Good Energy has plenty of “vintage cleaning tips” that will leave your home sparkling at a fraction of the cost., without harming your health or the environment.
naturaL CLEANING PRODUCTS(1) REVAMP YOUR CUTLERY :  To return your knives and fork to their former glory, peel a couple of large onions and plunge a knife or fork in to the onion, 3-4 times.  Any tarnish should disappear by doing this.
(2)  DITCH AIR FRESHENER :  For a zesty and 100% natural way to get your rooms smelling fresh, make your own home fragrance.  Get an empty spray bottle and add one part lemon juice to two parts water and spritz generously around the house.  Not only do lemons smell refreshing, they also have anti-bacterial properties that make them great for banishing germs.  Try dotting a few bunches of fresh or dried lavender around the place too —– they smell lovely and also keeps moths at bay.
(3)  POLISH YOUR WOODWORK :  Ditch the pongy tins of polish and opt for lemon juice and olive oil instead.  Mix one part lemon juice with two parts olive oil, and buff your wood to perfection.  It might seem a bit like you’re cleaning with salad dressing at first, but once you see how shiny your floors and tables are, you’ll be a convert.
lemon natural cleaner(4) SORT OUT THOSE SINKS :  For sinks and bathtubs so shiny that you can see your reflection in them, rub half a grapefruit over the surfaces before sprinkling generously with salt.  Leave for 10 minutes and then scrub off with a sponge and hot water.
(5) GET POTS & PANS SPICK & SPAN :  If your pots or utensils have stubborn stains that won’t come off, take a tip from the original domestic goddess, Mrs. Beeton.  Mix a cup f warm water with a tablespoon of baking soda, then use a stale crust of bread dipped in the solution to scrub the stains away.  Rinse with warm water and your pots will be like new.
(6) FRESHEN UP RUGS :  There are several traditional ways to spring-clean your rugs, but the most effective way is also the easiest —– simply sprinkle your rugs or carpets liberally with bicarbonate of soda and leave for 15 minutes.  Then, sweep or hoover up the powder and watch the dirt and fustiness vanish.
Using natural products to clean the house is more economical.

Living root bridges

Living root bridge Meghalaya

Living Root Bridges are to be found in Cherrapunji, Laitkynsew and Nongriat in the present-day of Meghalaya State of North East India.

living root bridge Meghalaya


Root Bridges are made by an ingenious technique.  The tiny hair-thin hanging roots of a Banyan fig tree are intertwined with boughs and twigs and allowed to grow naturally.  After a few years, the intertwined roots and branches become strong enough for people to use it as a bridge across the stream.  The pliable tree roots are trained to grow through betel tree trunks which are placed across the gap, until the figs’ roots take root on the other side.  Sticks, stones and other inclusions are placed with the growing bridge.  This process can take up to 15yrs to complete.  There are specimens spanning over 100ft.  The useful lifespan, once complete, is thought to be 500-600yrs.  They are “naturally self-renewing” and “self-strengthening” as the component roots grow thicker.

living root bridge tree india Meghalaya 10


The local Khasi people do not know when or how the tradition of “living root bridges” started.  The earliest written record about them is by Lieutenant H. Yule in 1844.  The “living root bridge” at Laitkynsew is 53ft long.  Locally known as JINGKIENG DEINGJRI which means “bridge of the rubber tree”, this bridge is remarkable in that it is more than 100yrs old.  The chief advantage of a “living root bridge” is that it does not get washed away by the strong currents of the rains, but remains permanent and, in fact, grows stronger year by year.

Living root bridge


You can enjoy beautiful travel delights in Meghalaya as it is a unique destination.  Visually a kaleidoscope of energy and vibrancy, Meghalaya brings forth to you the “incredible root bridges”, which are not only “natural structures” but absolutely “lovely living structures”  These ‘root bridges” are one of the best examples of “living architecture” here.  They were initially constructed by people from the nearby villages around the lovely Cherrapunji region which is a “dream place”.

living-root-bridges


These “root bridges” lie at the foot of the Meghalaya Plateau.  The Khasi people have actually trained the branches and the roots of trees to result in “living bridges” across the rivers.  These bridges, today, seem to belong to God and are very close to Mother Nature.  Once these bridges become totally functional, their life span is 500-600yrs.  This period is much longer than that of a conventional bridge.

WAHTHYLLONG living root bridge


The surface of the bridge has bits of wood and rocks added to the mix, so that it is easier to cross.  There is also another reason why wood is added.  The wood decomposes and it gives nutrients to the roots of the tree growing around it.  The area gets about 15mts of rain each year.  So, a normal wooden bridge would completely rot.  But the “growing bridges” are alive and they are still growing, so they gain strength over a period of time.  The “hanging bridges”, made out of roots, is a very special feature of tours to Meghalaya.

living root bridge India


All Khasi villages are connected by a network of stone pathways known as the “King’s Way”.  Throughout this network 100s of “living root bridges” form the bridleways over the myriad of water channels that criss-cross the area.  The bridge at WAHTHYLLONG, is the most beautiful of all the bridges, in the East Khasi Hills and it was featured in Human Planet.

living room bridge_Meghalaya


In the dry season, women come to this place to wash their clothes and a trip here, at sunrise, is an “unforgettable experience”.  This is certainly a “magical place”, augmented by the beautiful nature of the Khasi people.  The view from above reveals the majesty of this masterpiece.  It is “organic engineering at its best”.  The development and upkeep of these bridges is a community affair.  Lesser known than their cousins (living root bridges), but equally fascinating are the Khasi’s “living root ladders”.

double living root bridge


Nongriat is a village containing the somewhat more famous “double-decker” root bridge and it has remained a relatively unaffected by the boom in indigenous travelling, mainly because there is still no road there..  So, getting to Nongriat is more complicated.  Look for the Sohra Sumo and take the first one available for Rp50.  (SOHRA is the Khasi name for Cherrapunji).  from there you need to hire a small taxi to get you to TYRNA, which is the village where the road ends.  It will cost you about Rp200 and it takes about one and a half hours.  From Tyrna, you have to start walking, then descend the 2,004 steps down to NONG THYMMAI and then on to Nongriat over 2 “suspension bridges” and a couple of “root bridges” (about one and a half hours).  The guest house in Nongriat is just on the other side of the “double-decker” bridge and costs about Rp400 a night.  In the rainy season, this is quite a walk and you may be advised to pay a local to carry your largest bag.  The going rate is Rp100 per trip.  Thes “living root bridges” are sustainable and environmentally-friendly architecture.

living root bridge_India


Let the sun shine

solar-energy-gretzky

One of Aesop’s fables describes a contest between the sun and the winds to decide who is stronger by making a passer-by remove his coat.  The winds blew furiously and the passer-by clung tighter to his coat.  But, when the sun shone, the passer-by overcome by the heat, removed his coat.  One moral of the story is the superiority of “persuasion” over “force”.
The Sun is central in religious traditions.  Prominent among Hindu practices is the “Surya Namaskara” –The salutation of the Sun —— with “asanas” and “mantras” venerating the solar deity.  How heart-warming it is to gratefully gaze at the rising Sun, acknowledging its power and the blessings it brings.
Many ancient  cultures regarded the Sun as a “deity”.  In Egypt, the Sun God —— Khepri, Atum, Aton and Amon-Re —— was regarded as Creator, Judge, All-Knowing and All-Seeing.  Its Mesopotamian counterpart, Shamash, was worshipped as a Patron of Justice, the God who uplifted the downtrodden.
Early Biblical books narrate instances of believers practising “sun worship”.  However, the deification of the sun was critiqued in Judaism by asserting that the sun was “the great luminary” created by God to rule the day.  The traits of the deified sun were then transferred to Yahweh : God.  Thus, God “shines forth” and it is “God who with eyes like the all-penetrating rays of the sun, scrutinises everything and brings evil-doers to justice”.

surya-namaskar2

Beyond religions, there is an urgent need to harness “solar energy” and adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.  Can we minimise the use of sir conditioners, because Mother Earth’s resources are scarce ?  More natural means of staying cool could entail waking earlier in the day, completing major work at daybreak, drinking water constantly, wearing light clothes and adopting a healthy diet.
Once a businessman asked his servant, “What kind of weather will we get today ?”  The servant said, “The kind of weather I like.”  The businessman continued, “How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like ?”  The servant explained, “Sir, Realising that I can’t always get what I like, I’ve learnt to always like what I get.  So I’m sure we’ll have the kind of weather I like.”
Staying cool is an inside job and need not necessarily depend on external forces.  So, praise God for the Sun, and put on a “sunshine smile”.
——— Francis Gonsalves.

Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe

A sleepy, isolated island community in Nicaragua, nestled at the foot of one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, faces an uncertain future.  But the danger doesn’t come from the perpetual risk of geological disaster.  The threat is man-made.

Isla-de-Ometepe


Over the past decade, tourism to ISLA OMETEPE, has grown as word of its “Eden-like” natural beauty has spread.  But this dual-volcano island, in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, often dubbed a “MINI AMAZON”, recently found itself at the centre of a controversial mega-engineering project : a Chinese-run, inter-oceanic tunnel that will be deeper and longer than the Panamas ——- ideal for giant cargo ships.

Isla Ometepe large


The proposed 278 km route, connecting the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, will cut through Lake Nicaragua, potentially displacing the surrounding rainforest and threatening indigenous communities.  The route will also bring the super tankers right past OMETEPE’S EDEN.

Nicaragua RI Isla Ometepe


Work on the canal officially began in December 2014, sparking a wave of protests from those who are worried about losing their homes and the damage  the canal might cause to the environment.  Doubts have also been raised over whether there will be enough funding to complete the canal within the allotted five-year-plan.

Isla Ometepe beauty


Isla, home to a population of just under 30,000, receives about 40,000 visitors a year.  But the rough ferry ride over and the bone-shaking roads, it is understandable that visitor numbers are still relatively low, even with the ISLA’S “incredible beauty”.

HACIENDA MERIDA Ometepe


Alvaro Molina, owner of HACIENDA MERIDA ( a lodge) was one of the first to bring tourism to the island, when he opened the lodge in 2001.  A jetty from the lodge offered uninterrupted views of CONCEPTION, the 1,610 tall, very active     volcano that towered over Lake Nicaragua.  OMETEPE’S extinct volcano —–MADERAS, with its jagged rainforest-covered peak, formed the lodge’s backdrop.  Trekking, swimming, kayaking, cycling and horse riding are all popular activities here.

Maderas volcano Ometepe


RIO ISTIAM is a river and swamp that cuts the island through the middle of the “hour-glass-shaped” island. Locals used to stay out of the water, because it was once infested with “bull-sharks”.  By the 1980s, over-fishing and shark fin trade wiped out the population, but some say a few still lurk under the surface.
Lake Nicaragua will need to be dredged in order to build a canal that’s deep enough for giant cargo ships.  The local people, most of who are subsistence farmers and rely on fishing, do not have the skills required for the jobs the canal will create.  Some of them have never been to school, so there is no opportunity for them.
 On the other hand, Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Officials expect the canal will bring in an investment of more than 1 trillion cordoba, which would more than triple the size of the current economy.  ———The wetland is home to an abundance of birdlife ——- egrets, herons, jacanas and blue jays.  CONCEPTION and the cloud surrounding its peak creates a perfect reflection on the lake’s “glass-like” surface.

RIO ISTIAM


Many travellers climb OMETEPE’s volcanoes, but weather conditions often turn the hike into a “walk in the clouds”.  SAN RAMON is the island’s 50m-high waterfall, it’s cold mist is refreshing after the drenching humidity of the jungle.

Ometepe waterfall


The influx of workers who will move to the island for canal jobs, is a matter of concern.  Molina says that the island already struggles with waste disposal from the minimal  tourism it currently gets.  For the time being, Molina has collected disused plastic and turned it into building material, using it to construct a school next to the lodge where guests are able to volunteer.