Category Archive 'India'
23 Aug 2019

What Killed These People?

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Atlas Obscura:

No one knows exactly how they got there—the skeletal remains of 500-some-odd people spread around Lake Roopkund, in the Indian Himalayas. Since the bones were rediscovered by a forest ranger in 1942, a number of haunting—if unsubstantiated—theories have circled the skeletons like vultures: Had these been Japanese soldiers who succumbed to the elements? Victims of a landslide or forgotten epidemic or attack?

Now an international team of more than two dozen researchers has thrown more than one wrench into this enduring and alarming mystery. As it turns out, the remains do not all date to the same historical period—and they don’t even share a common geographic origin. This means that, many centuries apart, different groups of different peoples from different parts of the world somehow all met their demise at this same spot, which has since earned the popular moniker Skeleton Lake. The researchers published their puzzling findings yesterday, in the journal Nature Communications.

Éadaoin Harney and Nick Patterson, biologists at Harvard University and two of the study’s 28 authors, say they were very surprised by what they found in their DNA analyses. With their colleagues they looked at 76 distinct skeletal elements, 38 of which provided full genomic information, and all of which combined to present an impressive diversity: Of the 38 individuals, the remains of 23 date approximately to the year 800, while the remains of the other 15 date approximately to 1800. Though the 23 older individuals all appear to have come from South Asia, Harney and Patterson say there is evidence indicating that they came from different places within the subcontinent, and the evidence indicates that their remains were “deposited in more than one event.” All but one of the other 15 individuals, meanwhile, came from as far away as the eastern Mediterranean—perhaps, says Patterson, from somewhere in the Greek-speaking world. The remaining individual had Southeast Asian ancestry, and so constitutes a third distinct group.

Ayushi Nayak, another author of the study and a PhD candidate in archaeology at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, emphasizes that those three groups were represented in the remains of just 38 individuals. How many more historical periods and geographical regions, she wonders, might lie within the site’s hundreds of bones? Looking at all of them was not feasible for just one study, but the remaining samples have been well preserved by the chilly Himalayan air, so more research is possible.

RTWT

05 Mar 2019

All Colonialism’s Fault!

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Jim Corbett with the Champawat tiger.

Leave it to the current generation of pseudo-intelligentsia. They can screw up anything. Dane Huckelbridge, for instance, takes one chapter of the great Jim Corbett’s Big Game Hunting classic Maneaters of Kumaon (1944), and makes his own book out of it, No Beast So Fierce: The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History (2019).

The difference between Jim Corbett writing a first-hand account in the 1940s and Dane Huckelbridge recycling that account today is the ideology. Jim Corbett’s story is a modest, downright self-effacing account of how a local sportsman went to the assistance of terrified Indian villagers and tracked down and killed an extraordinarily bold and aggressive man-eating tigress who’d killed and eaten a record 436 people. Corbett does attribute the tiger’s human predation to a jaw injury from an old bullet-wound, but Corbett tells a stoic and under-stated modern version of the classic man versus monster story.

For Huckelbridge though, the man versus monster saga is just a secondary problem arising from a more basic, more important conflict: British Colonialism versus Pristine Native India.

Then there is Jim Corbett, the now-legendary hunter who was finally commissioned by the British government to end the Champawat Tiger’s reign. To many, even in present-day India, he is nothing short of a secular saint, a brave and selfless figure who risked life and limb to defend poor villagers when no one else would. To others, particularly academics engaged with post-colonial ecologies, he is just another perpetrator of the Eurocentric paternalism that defined the colonial experience. Each is a fair judgment. …

Which brings us, inevitably, to colonialism itself—a topic far too broad and multifaceted for any single book, let alone one that’s concerned primarily with man-eating tigers. Yet it is colonialism, undeniably, and the onslaught of environmental destruction that it almost universally heralds, that served as the primary catalyst in the creation of our man-eater. It may have been a poacher’s bullet in Nepal that first turned the Champawat Tiger upon our kind, but it was a full century of disastrous ecological mismanagement in the Indian subcontinent that drove it out of the wild forests and grasslands it should have called home, and allowed it to become the prodigious killer that it was.

What becomes clear upon closer historical examination is that the Champawat was not an incident of nature gone awry—it was in fact a man-made disaster. From Valmik Thapar to Jim Corbett himself, any tiger wallah could tell you the various factors that can turn a normal tiger into a man-eater: a disabling wound or infirmity, a loss of prey species, or a degradation of natural habitat. In the case of the Champawat, however, we find not just one but all three of these factors to be irrefutably present. Essentially, by the late nineteenth century, the British in the United Provinces of northern India and their Rana dynasty counterparts in western Nepal had created, through a combination of irresponsible forestry tactics, agricultural policies, and hunting practices, the ideal conditions for an ecological catastrophe.

And it was the sort of catastrophe we can still find whiffs of today, be it in the recent spate of shark attacks in Réunion Island, the rise of human–wolf conflict on the outskirts of Yellowstone, or even the man-eating tigers that continue to appear in places like the Sundarbans forest of India or Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. In the modern day, we have at last, thankfully, come to realize the importance of apex predators in maintaining the health of our ecosystems—but we’re still negotiating, somewhat painfully, how best to live alongside them. And that’s to say nothing of the far more sweeping problems posed by global warming and mass extinction, exigencies that have arisen from very much the same amalgamation of economic mismanagement and environmental destruction. Apex predators are generally considered bellwethers of the overall health of the environment, and at present, with carbon emissions on the rise and natural habitats diminishing, the outlook for both feels disarmingly uncertain.

Which is why this particular story of environmental conflict is not only relevant, but urgent and necessary. At its core, Jim Corbett’s quest to rid the valleys of Kumaon of the Champawat Tiger is dramatic and straightforward, but the tensions that underscore it contain the resonance of much larger and more grievous issues. Yes, it is a timeless tale of cunning and courage, but also a lesson, still very much pertinent today, about how deforestation, industrialization, and colonization can upset the fragile balance of cultures and ecosystems alike, creating unseen pressures that, at a certain point, must find their release.

What a spectacular mélange of politically correct, fashionable think nonsense!

All of Mr. Huckelbridge’s pious notions about “ecosystems” healthy or otherwise, “apex predators,” proper forestry, suitable hunting practices, game conservation,and Environmentalism are entirely Western ideas. When he applies them to Kumaon, he himself is being colonialist.

The Champawat maneater was undoubtedly injured by an unskilled native poacher armed with a primitive musket, shooting at a tiger in defiance of hunting laws and game permits invented and imposed by the British Raj. How Huckelbridge can claim that this occurred because the poor tiger was driven out of some unidentified “forests and grasslands” by “a century of ecological mismanagement and environmental destruction” to arrive at the forests and grasslands of Kumaon is unexplained. Where exactly was it that all this alleged mismanagement and destruction occurred? Were there no native tigers in Kumaon previous to all this nearby mismanagement and destruction? What exactly does Huckelbridge think the British (and their Rana dynasty of Western Nepal counterparts) mismanaged and destroyed? Why are the British supposedly to blame for (politically independent) Nepalese actions and policies anyway?

It’s all just a farrago of Enviro-sanctimony and cant lavishly seasoned with the usual “British Colonialism was simply awful” left-wing fantasy.

In reality, the difference between Pre-Raj India and the India of Jim Corbett was that, in the former, tigers undoubtedly had more commonly the upper hand, most humans were unarmed or poorly armed, maneaters munched their way through the Indian peasantry unrebuked without records or scores of the numbers eaten ever being known or kept.

Huckelbridge’s book is nothing more than a breathless re-telling of one chapter of Maneaters of Kumaon accompanied by a truckload of PC nonsense and a lot sanctimonious self-righteousness. Consign this one to Kali!

16 Dec 2018

Skeleton Lake

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The Human Remains of Skeleton Lake – Visible Only when the Ice Melts.

From Quora, a pretty interesting story.

In 1942, H K. Madhawl, a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery (despite the fact that there had been reports of bones on the lake shore since the mid 19th century). At an elevation of 15,750 feet, near the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. Roopkund Lake, in the state of Uttarakhand, India, was a six-foot-deep glacial lake that typically remained frozen year round.

What he saw up there confused everyone. At first, it was one bone. But as the temperatures rose, the number of exposed remains grew exponentially. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. People wondered what happened, and what were these people doing up here?

The immediate assumption (it being war time) was that these were the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died of exposure while sneaking through India. The British government, terrified of a Japanese land invasion, sent a team of investigators to determine if this was true. However upon examination they realized these bones were not from Japanese soldiers—they weren’t new enough.

With the immediate concerns of war eased, the urgency of identifying the remains became less of a priority and efforts to further analyze the remains were sidelined. It was evident that the bones were quite old indeed. Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 300 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.

But what caused their death? Was there a massive landslide? Did some disease strike suddenly? Were the individuals conducting a ritualistic suicide? Did they die of starvation? Were they killed in an enemy attack? One theory even suggests that the individuals did not die at the scene of the lake, but their bodies were deposited there as a result of glacial movement.

A 2004 expedition to the site seems to have finally revealed the mystery of what caused those people’s deaths. The answer was stranger than anyone had guessed.

The 2004 expedition took samples of the bones as well as bits of preserved human tissues. As it turns out, all the bodies date to around 850 AD.

DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller, shorter group of locals, likely hired as porters and guides. A number of these victims of the mountain were so well preserved that they still had remnants of flesh, hair, fingernails, and clothes. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals.

The plausible scenario of what exactly happened? The two groups perhaps met at the foot of the mountain. The first of the two, taller and who which outnumbered the others, probably wanted to make a pilgrimage pass through the mountain and are thought to have been of Iranian origin. The second group, with thinner and smaller bones, showed up as their local Indian guides. The travelers were related to each other (a large family or tribe), and could have come from Iran. The locals that guided the way were unrelated.

Another suggestion is that they braved the elements to collect “Keeda Jadi,” which are larvae of the ghost moth that have become the home to a fungus (that actually wraps around the larvae and slowly devours it).

These “Magical Mushrooms” are believed to have incredible medicinal properties and locals head out in search of them in the springtime.

The journey should have progressed well until the point everyone was trapped, with no place to run and hide as a disaster struck. A violent torrent of baseball-sized hailstones falling from the skies battered the whole group. All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?

Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics state that “these are the holy lands of the Goddess Nanda, her sanctuary in the mountains. King Jasdal of Kanauj and his wife were undertaking the “Nanda Jat” pilgrimage; along the way, the queen gave birth. Instead of pleasing their goddess with their tributes, the deity was angered for this defielment of her pure mountain. To punish the group, she sent a great snowstorm, flinging iron-like hailstones that took the life of each and every person”.

After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion. All 300 people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm. Trapped in the valley with nowhere to hide or seek shelter, the “hard as iron” cricket ball-sized [about 23 centimeter/9 inches circumference] hailstones came by the thousands, resulting in the travelers’ bizarre sudden death. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery.

25 May 2017

This is India — The Place You Call When You Have Technical Problems

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04 Oct 2016

India’s Urumi Whip Sword

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urumi

Atlas Obscura profiles another really strange non-European weapon.

The urumi hasn’t regularly been used as an actual weapon for generations, but even as a demonstration weapon, it is still incredibly dangerous. Especially to the user.

The urumi (which can be translated as “curving sword,” and is also known as a “chuttuval”), hails from southern India. The historic weapon was saved from the erasure of time when it was incorporated into Kalaripayattu martial arts, an Indian fighting style that is considered one of the oldest in the world. Incorporating elements of yoga and performative dance, Kalaripayattu movements look like violent but graceful choreography. Urumi fighting is no different, it is just far more dangerous to those who would attempt to learn the skill.

Like any sword, the urumi comes in a number of varieties, with a variable length, and even a variable number of blades, but they all follow the same basic construction. Usually simpler than more elaborately decorated sword weapons, at its simplest, the urumi consists of a hilt connected to a thin, flexible steel blade. The handle is usually protected by a crossguard and knuckle-guard. The long blades extend somewhere between four and six feet in length (or even longer in some cases), and around an inch in width, but the aspect that makes the weapon unique is that the steel is always thin enough to flop around. Almost like a cartoon-version of a rubber sword.

Given the urumi’s unique construction, wielding it is also an art unto itself. Since the flexible blade is no good for stabbing, it is slung around similarly to a traditional leather whip. In order to make continuous strikes with the weapon, it must stay continually in motion so that the momentum which gives the blade its slashing power is not lost. This usually requires the user to swing it over and around their head and shoulders in furious arcs.

While this makes the urumi incredibly hard and dangerous to use, it also provides it with one of its major benefits as a weapon. When the blade curves around the sword wielder in quick arcing slashes, it creates a defensive bubble of flying metal that an opponent would be reckless to get close to. In addition, it makes a terrific weapon for defending against multiple opponents, both by providing a good barrier at a number of angles at once, and for the long, wild attacking arcs the steel whip provides.

Urumi sparring incorporates small buckler shields that are used to deflect direct swings of the weapon, but when the urumi was used in actual combat, it was said to have had the added benefit of curving around the edges of enemy shields, landing cuts even when blocked.

As an added bonus of having a wildly flexible blade, the urumi could be tightly rolled up for easy travel and concealment. In fact, it has often been worn as a belt.

Of course all of this versatility comes at a price. As you can imagine, winging metal whips around your delicate face flesh at high speeds can easily result in a missing nose, or other mishap. Wielding the urumi correctly and safely takes years of training, learning techniques for everything from bringing the blade to safe stop, to altering the rotation of your swings without slicing your arm off.

24 Sep 2016

The Nearly Extinct Gharial

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gharial

Ark in Space:

This strange looking creature, with its immensely long and delicate snout is the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus). Until very recently it thrived throughout the Indian sub-continent but now it numbers less than a few hundred in the wild. …

Once it flourished and could be found in all of the major rivers of India and Pakistan. The Indus, which has its source in Tibet and flows through Pakistan and Northern India had gharials along almost its entire length. Now, in this vast river not a single one may be found.

It is the same in many other major river systems. The list is depressingly long. The Irrawaddy in Myanmar holds none, neither does the Brahmaputra of Bhutan and Bangladesh – and this is not counting the many tributaries of these vast waterways. In fact the gharial can now be found in only 2% of its former territory.

These survivors from the age of the dinosaur need our help to survive – or it will be goodbye to them forever within a few decades. There are nine protected areas in India for the gharial. Eggs are often collected in the wild and raised in captivity. …

Over 3,000 young gharial have been released under these operations. Even so, it is thought that at most there are only around 400 breeding pairs in the wild. …

There are about ten places in Asia where the gharial is bred in captivity with the young released in to the wild at around the age of three. Another 8 centers in the US and 3 in Europe also offer some hope to the gharial.

gharial2

09 Aug 2016

Leopard Rescue

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Young female leopard rescued from 60′ well in Pimpalgaon Sinddhanath village, Junnar, Maharashtra, India.

23 Jun 2016

Bahubali (2015)

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One of those Facebook friends I don’t really know yesterday posted a video of some amazing battle scenes from a South Indian epic film called Bahubali (released last year in two parts), made in Telugu and Tamil. (When’s the last time you saw a Tamil-language film?) Bahubali became the highest grossing Indian film of all-time, understandably since the fight scenes are pretty spectacular.

I discovered quickly that the DVD of Part 1 with English subtitles can be ordered from Amazon. (Part 2: The Conclusion does not seem to be out yet.)

Bahubali: the Beginning

Bahubali: the Conclusion

23 Feb 2016

Somebody Should Have Fixed That Roof

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LeopardRoof

09 Feb 2016

Leopard Mauls Six in Indian School

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LeopardBangalore

Telegraph:

A young male leopard injured six people as it eluded capture for 12 hours after it ventured into the grounds of an elite school in the Indian city of Bangalore. …

The leopard was first spotted strolling around the thankfully empty corridors of the Vibgyor International School on surveillance video by security guards. The CCTV footage later showed it had entered the grounds at about 4am.

As crowds gathered to watch the animal prowling around the school premises, forest department personnel arrived on the scene equipped with dart guns and tranquillisers.

But the animal then went into hiding and remained out of sight for several hours before it was spotted outside the school in nearby bush.

As locals descended on the scene, the animal darted back inside the school where the near fatal case of hide-and-seek intensified.

With officials closing in on its hiding place in a classroom, the big cat made a run for it and raced towards the swimming pool, sending people dashing for cover.

It lunged at one man who managed to ward it off. But it then took Sanjay Gubbi, a wildlife expert, by surprise as it raced towards him.

Mr Gubbi tried to scale a compound wall, but the animal caught him and dragged him to the ground, mauling him next to the pool as he fought it off.

It was after this encounter that one of the forestry team finally managed to shoot it with a tranquilliser.The animal retreated towards a bathroom where it finally collapsed.

“It was a long struggle to capture the leopard,” senior police official S Boralingaiah told reporters. “Although it was injected with tranquilisers it could be captured only around 8.15pm local time when the medication took full effect.”

The leopard, which is thought to have ventured from a nearby forest, has now been moved to a national park. The six injured people were treated for minor injuries.

01 Dec 2015

A Junior Magistrate’s Education

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deadwolves

Philip Mason (1906-1999) attended Sedbergh School and Balliol College, Oxford before going to India to serve in the Indian Civil Service in 1928. He found himself stationed at Saharanpur in Northern India working as a magistrate with third-class powers, meaning he could send someone to prison for three months or fine someone 50 rupees (the equivalent of £4 or $16 at the time).

He recalls in his memoir, A Shaft of Sunlight, 1978, that as junior magistrate, he was in charge of the smelly jobs.

There was a reward of five rupees for a dead wolf. A party of very low caste, nomadic gypsy folk called Kanjars (pronounced as in conjuror) [Wikipedia: “listed under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, as being a tribe ‘addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.’] came in with thirteen dead wolves, which they had collected in the course of a trip into the jungles of the Siwalik foothills, away to the north. There was a strong stink, and so of course it was I who was sent to certify that they were genuine wolves, not jackals. They were covered with dried mud and blood and not very easy to see but they seemed too big for jackals so I certified that they were wolves and ordered the Nazir [the Quartermaster] to pay the rewards. The Kanjars were told to cut off their ears and tails and burn them; I waited till I had seen these grisly relics thrown on the fire. It was a strange task for a student of philosophy.

The Kanjars were back again next month with more wolves. It was on their third visit that I discovered that they had kept the sun-dried carcasses of the original wolves, inserted a fresh-killed jackal inside the rib-cage — as the chef of a Victorian duke might stuff a quail inside an ortolan — and sewn on new ears and taild manufactured from hessian and smeared with fresh blood. My formal education being over, my true education had begun.

24 Nov 2015

Good Rhetoric

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RemnantsofanArmy
Assistant Surgeon William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jalalabad as the only survivor of a 16,500 strong evacuation from Kabul in January 1842 in Lady Butler’s Remnants of an Army, 1879, Tate Gallery.

Philip Mason (writing as “Philip Woodruff”) in his The Men Who Ruled India: Volume One, The Founders praised generally quite fulsomely the courage, intelligence, and disinterested statesmanship of most Governors-General of British India, but George Eden, Lord Auckland, Governor-General 1836-1842, initiator of the First Afghan War, failed to come off, in Mason’s history, quite so well.

[Lord Auckland] had a reputation in England for ability. he had a mild preference for justice, a mild and amiable good nature. In India, however, he was bored. Invested with the empire of Tamerlane and Akbar, made suddenly heir-at-law to Kubla Khan and Prester John, he was bored. Charged with the destiny of millions, moving in magnificence at which he mildly chafed through a country-sidestriken by famine, among children dying of starvation, he was bored. ‘G. detests his tent, and his march and the whole business so activelythat he will not perceive how well he is’, wrote his sister. She took him one evening to see an interesting ruin, but poor G. was more wretchedly bored than ever. …

Lord Auckland was a humane man. It may be that he was appalled by the horrors of the famine and dismayed at hos ignorance, his impotence to take any effective steps. It may bethat he concealed his wretchedness behind an emotion that seemed more appropriate to his birth. That is an interpretation more charitable to the man and more in keeping with his character than to take his boredom at face value; it does not, however, raise his reputation as Governor-General. …

The famine was at least the result of the weather and cannot be attributed directly to Lord Auckland. Not so the Afghan War. Miss Eden has a pleasantry of a flying squirrel that sat on G.’s shoulder, apparently whispering to him, ‘and though G. said the squirrel was only pulling his ear I am convinced he had more to do with public affairs than people generally supposed.’ Some explanation of public affairs was certainly needed.”

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