Victoria – Capital City of British Columbia

Vict100

Our trip to British Columbia in August 2016 concluded with a visit to Victoria Island, the capital of British Columbia (BC).  Victoria is an island that  offers heritage architecture, colourful gardens and traditions like afternoon tea, mixed with outdoor adventure, culinary experiences, especially fish and chips.  Victoria Island is located about 100 km from Vancouver and can be reached by ferry, sea plane, tourist boats or by air.

Vict120
We set sail by the 9AM from Vancouver on the ferry operated by BC Ferries and it took about 90 minutes.  There were about 200 vehicles and 400 passengers (and a few dogs) on board.  The ferry ride offered a deck-side view of the breathtaking scenery through the Strait of Georgia.  The ferry had three restaurants with various food options and viewing platforms, both inside and outside.

Vict140
Our first halt was at the Parliament building.  Overlooking the harbour stood the statue of Captain James Cook, the first non-aboriginal man to set foot on Vancouver Island in 1778.  Many aboriginal families lived on Victoria Island, each referring to themselves by distinct family group names.  In 1843, James Douglas chose Victoria (then known as Camosack), as a Hudson Bay Company trading post.  The post was eventually renamed Fort Victoria, in honour of Queen Victoria.

Vict160
On July 21, 1871, BC became the sixth province of the Dominion of Canada and Victoria was proclaimed the Capital City.  The Parliament building to house Legislative Assembly of BC opened in 1898.  In the twentieth century, Victoria evolved as a city of government, retirement and tourism.

Vict180
We were thrilled to see the three statues located in front of the Parliament building.  They would enthrall any military history enthusiast and veteran.  The first was a statue of a soldier to commemorate BC’s fallen in World War I, World War II and the Korean war; then a statue of a Veteran Sailor and a statue of homecoming of a sailor to commemorate 100 years of Canadian Navy unveiled on 04 May 2010.

Vict190
Our next destination was Butchart Garden, surely a place for a nature lover and a gardening enthusiast.  Robert Pim Butchart, a pioneer in the North American cement industry, came to Victoria Island lured by its rich limestone deposits.  In 1904 he developed a quarry and built a cement plant.  His wife Jennie Butchart became the company’s chemist. Close to the quarry, the Butcharts established their family home with a small garden.  As Mr Butchart exhausted limestone deposits, his enterprising wife Jennie, converted the gigantic quarry into a beautiful garden.

Vict200
The renown of Mrs Butchart’s garden quickly spread. By the 1920s more than fifty thousand people visited her garden each year. The hospitable Butcharts christened their estate ‘Benvenuto’, the Italian word for ‘Welcome’.  Their grandson Ian Ross was given the Gardens on his return from World War II.  He made the garden self-sustaining, transforming the mostly neglected home and gardens into an internationally famous tourist destination.   Each year over a million bedding plants in some 900 varieties give uninterrupted bloom from March through October. Almost a million people visit annually for spring’s colourful flowering bulbs; summer’s riot of colour and fall’s russets and golds.

Vict210
The most impressive sight was of the Sunken Garden from the lookout.   The old quarry had been transformed by Jennie into a beautiful sunken garden of massive dimensions and dramatic aesthetic qualities representing exceptional creative achievement in gardening. Deep expansive walls, beds of annuals, flowering trees, unique shrubs, central rock mound and  a fountain, all added variety to the uniqueness of this marvellous garden.

Vict214
We were welcomed by the luscious scents of roses to the Rose Garden.  The flowerbeds bordered by magnificent delphiniums had roses of many varieties and bright colours.  The garden has an extensive collection of floribundas, ramblers, climbers and Hybrid Tea Roses.  Each rose variety has been marked by name, origin and year registered with the American Rose Society.

Vict220
A Torii gate welcomed us into the serene Japanese Garden.  Walkways by the side of streams and ponds guided us through many bridges. Japanese maples and birch trees spread abundant shade on to the well manicured lawns.  Jennie, with assistant Isaburo Kishida, an expert Japanese landscaper, completed this garden in 1906.

Vict240
The next stop was the Italian Garden bounded by two arched entrances. This garden was originally Butchart’s tennis court.  A splendid Star Pond adorned the centre of this garden.  It was originally designed to house Mr Butchart’s collection of ornamental ducks as he was an enthusiastic hobbyist who collected ornamental birds from all over the world.  He kept ducks in the Star Pond, peacocks on the front lawn and had many birdhouses throughout the gardens. 

Vict260
Past the Italian Garden, we entered the Mediterranean Garden.  This area had an enchanting arrangement of lush, exotic plants from around the world.  We were all surprised to see that even a banana grove could enhance the beauty of an enchanting world renowned garden.

From the Butchart Garden, we headed straight to the Red Fish Blue Fish.  It is  an outdoor waterfront eatery in a modified cargo container, standing on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.  It is one of Victoria’s most cherished eateries.  There was a long queue and after about half an hour in the queue, we ordered fish and chips.  We relished the battered and steaming pieces of halibut, sitting on the dock overlooking the bay.  Indeed it was worth the wait standing in a long queue.

vICT265
Our next destination was ‘Mile 0’ which marks the start of the over 8,000 km Trans-Canada Highway that spans the entire length of Canada – from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic.  Mile 0 is also home to a statue of Terry Fox. Fox lost his right leg to cancer when he was 18 years old. He started a trans-Canada run to raise money for cancer research, beginning in Newfoundland on the East coast of Canada and was to end at the Mile 0 marker in Victoria. Unfortunately, Fox’s journey ended tragically near the halfway mark when he fell ill and passed away. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars has been raised in his name by the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research.

With the visit to Mile 0, we culminated our exploration of Alberta and BC this time.

Vict270
Now it was time for us to catch the return ferry to Vancouver and say goodbye to the beautiful Victoria Island.  As we cruised through the Pacific Ocean, the sun was about to set and its rays painted the islands with different shades of gold. 

Dreams, Aims & Goals

dreams

Interacting with our teenaged nephews and nieces, I asked them “What is your Dream?” “To become an engineer.” “What is your Aim?” “To become an engineer.” “What is your Goal?” “To become an engineer”. In some cases the ‘engineer’ was replaced by a ‘doctor’. That was when I realised that in our childhood we never even thought about our future aspirations, and planning them was a far cry;   today’s generation has something to think about, even if the thought is limited in many cases to doctors and engineers, mostly dictated by parental pressure.

“Dream, Dream Dream; Dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action. You have to dream before your dreams can come true. Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended.” These are a few quotes from a great dreamer of all times Dr Adbul Kalam.

Figuratively, dreams can be defined as an idea or hope that is apparently impractical or unlikely to be ever realised in the current state of the world. That does not mean in any way that the dreams have not been realised ever. Dreams are boundless, limitless, and timeless and are dictated by the power of imagination of the dreamer. Let your dreams float into infinity and they will germinate new ideas and visions. I do not wish to quantify your dreams, but let us take the case of a student dreaming about finding a cure for cancer. Many of us would have had such a dream while reading about the sufferings cancer patients have had or seeing someone close battling it out.

In order to find a cure for a cancer, one must possibly pursue a medical career, though some inventions/discoveries have been made by people who were not even remotely connected with the concerned subject. Hence from Dreams evolve an Aim that is achievable and real-time. In this case the aim would be to become a successful medical graduate.  The goals for achieving this aim for a high school student would be to graduate high school with the requisite marks and also pass the requisite entrance examination. To succeed in your aim, you must have a single-minded devotion to your goal.  It is like a football match where you aim to win a match and to succeed in your aim you have to score goal(s).

One needs to revisit the aims and goals, may be weekly, monthly, quarterly or half-yearly with a view  to redefine them, raise the bars, change them if needed,  and at times even discard them to find new aims and goals. One may lose interest in the aims and goals as they may not be ‘challenging’ enough to motivate you or interest you. Sometimes you may have thought of an aim, but the goals may not be what you really want to achieve. In this case you are trying to force yourself to settle for what you think you can get rather than achieve what your passions are. This is mostly due to parental and environmental pressures where everyone wants you to be either a doctor or an engineer, no more and no less.

To make your aims more challenging and a bit more interesting, set an aim that is a bit big and impressive that just thinking about it scares you a little bit and seems almost impossible, but has the potential to dramatically change your life if you were able to achieve it. Keeping this in mind you raise the bar for your goals a little by little and try and achieve them and keep raising your bar until you reach that aim which you never thought would be possible. By tapping into your creativity and resourcefulness you can amaze yourself with the results you achieve.

Once you have set your goals, break them down into smaller time-bound goals and evaluate the progress on a daily/weekly basis. You got to avoid distractions and also need to prioritise these small goals. This in no way means that you should not indulge in other activities. All work and no play will always make Jack a dull boy.

You must believe in yourself and reassure yourself that you can achieve the goals you have set for yourself, especially when the going gets tougher. While undergoing the training in the Military Academies, I often reassured myself with the thought that about fifteen thousand officers have successfully gone through the tough training before me and I am in no way any less than them.

Kevin, our nephew who lives in US took up the pre-medical course in high school. Most children at that stage do not even have the faintest idea about their passions or their abilities. Anu and Johnson, the parents were in for a bit of a surprise when Kevin in his Grade 12 gave out his mind that he did not want to pursue a career in the medical field, but wanted to take up animation and graphic designing as a career. The parents being very supportive accepted Kevin’s aims and advised him to begin the procedure for admission as there was only one university offering the particular course Kevin wanted and obviously it was really competitive. At the high school graduation ceremony, Anu and Johnson were in for another surprise – Kevin was adjudged the best student in animation and graphic designing. Kevin is currently undergoing the course on computer animation at The Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta.

Dream unlimited, define your aim, set your goal(s) and achieve them and success will surely be at your footsteps.

Temperate Rain Forests of British Columbia

Temp100
We visited the Stanley Park and Capilano Park during our visit to British Columbia (BC), mainly to see the temperate rain forests. 

How is the temperate rain forests different from its tropical cousin?

The term ‘rainforest’ implies forests in high rainfall area, making them very dense and green.  Tropical rainforests lie closer to the equator while temperate rainforests are found at latitudes between the two Tropics and Polar Circles.  This causes temperate rainforests to be cooler, have less precipitation, contain less biodiversity and slower decomposition than their tropical counterparts.  Canada’s rainforest falls between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer, forming a narrow band along the coast of the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Northern California. Other countries that have temperate rainforests are Chile, New Zealand and Norway.

Temp200
In the morning we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.  The park offers visitors a unique mix of adventure, history and culture.  The park showcases a totem pole park, North America’s largest private collection of First Nations totem poles, period decor and costumes.

Temp220
Totem pole is a monument created by Northwest Coast Aboriginal people to serve as a signboard, genealogical record and memorial.  Carved of large red cedar and painted in vibrant colours, they are usually erected to reflect the history of that lineage.  Theses poles are also erected as memorial poles, grave figures, house posts, house front poles, welcoming poles and mortuary poles.

Temp240
The entrance to the park as the name suggests is by way of a suspension bridge.  The bridge was originally built in 1889 of hemp ropes with cedar plank deck.  It was replaced with a wire cable bridge in 1903.  The bridge was completely rebuilt in 1956.  We enjoyed the thrill of crossing the 450-foot long swaying bridge, suspended 230 feet above Capilano River. The bridge offered a splendid view of the river and the forest below.

Temp260
An eco-guided tour is conducted by the Park every hour, which was very informative, covering various ecological aspects of the forest in the Park.  The guide educated us about the rainforest, trees. trout ponds and the undergrowth.

Temp280
The first stop was at a banana slug.  The guide explained that there are no earthworms in these forests and these slugs contribute to the decomposition of organic matter into humus. These slugs are covered with a special slimy coating that numbs the mouth of any predator.  Racoons roll the slugs in mud to coat them and then eat them.

Temp300
We stopped next at a nurse log.  Fallen logs are called nurse logs as they help new seedling growth by creating an elevated and moist habitat.  Decomposition being comparatively slower when compared to tropical forests, results in a deep layer of decaying organic matter that forms the top layer of the forest floor.  This gives a cushioning effect while walking on it. 

Canada’s temperate rainforest is dominated by a relatively small number of tree species because the seeds need to regenerate in the low light levels on the forest floor caused the thick canopy.  Most of the trees found in this forest are coniferous trees like the Western Hemlock, Yellow Cedar, Western Red Cedar, Douglas-fir, and Spruce.  The coniferous trees are well adapted to the temperatures and shorter daylight hours of the winter as they remain green and keep their foliage in winter which helps then to photosynthesise throughout the year.

Temp302
The thick and uneven tree canopies that cover the coastal rainforest allow little sunlight to reach the forest floor, so undergrowth must adapt accordingly.  Indeed, the ground is mostly covered by plants that do not need much sunlight, like ferns. Small trees also grow under the shade of the taller ones. In order to get sunlight, some plants grow on bark and branches of trees, where there is more sunlight than on the forest floor.

Temp304
Along lakes and rivers and gaps left by fallen trees, which lets in more sunlight in, few deciduous tree species like Bigleaf Maple, Red Alder and Black Cottonwood thrive.  

Temp320
The guide escorted us to the ‘Grandma of Capilano’ – the tallest tree in the forest.  It is a Douglas Fir, aged over 1300 years, standing tall at 76 M. 

Temp340
After the guided tour, we ascended a foot bridge for Treetops Adventure Tour – a self guided tour.  This leg consisted of seven footbridges suspended between magnificent 250-year-old Douglas Fir trees, forming a walkway up to 30 M above the forest floor.  The elevated walkway offered a woodpecker’s eye view of the forest.

Temp360
The walkway has been created without harming the trees, with no nails or bolts drilled into them.  Metallic collars hold the ends of the walkway on to trees and are moved every eight years to facilitate the tree to grow. 

 Temp380
On our way back to the parking lot was the Cliffwalk.  This heart-pounding cliff-side journey took us  through rainforest vegetation on a series of suspended walkways jutting out from the granite cliff face above Capilano River.  The Cliffwalk is high and narrow and in some sections, very strong glass is all that separated us from the canyon below. The narrow walkway has fixed handrails supported by steel beams cantilevered from 16 anchor points in the granite rock face of the canyon.  Various information boards along the walkway explained the interaction between water, granite, salmon, flora and fauna.

Temp400
We then drove to Stanley Park on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, a green oasis in the midst of the heavily built urban landscape of Vancouver.  The 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest offered us rare scenic views of the ocean with ships anchored, mountains, sky, and majestic trees along Stanley Park’s famous Seawall.  We walked around the park on the walking track which ran all along the beach, adjacent to a separate cycling track.

Our visit to the temperate rain forest parks were both educative and recreational.  Hermann Hesse, a German-born Swiss poet once said “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”

 

Why I Hate Conferences and Meetings

meeting-monkeys

Colonel Mahaveer Singh was the Commanding Officer (CO) under whose guidance I spent my five years as a young officer. He was a real father figure who believed that the Regiment was his family and insisted on all officers getting together for tea at 10:30 AM. All officers, especially the young officers, really enjoyed these meetings as the first five to ten minutes was official stuff where in the CO gave out a few directions and it was for us to act on them and execute them. The next 20 to 30 minutes used to be ‘story telling‘ time and we all could narrate anything and everything and all officers would listen and participate in the discussion. This instilled a lot of confidence in all the young officers and they all are doing well today. Colonel Rajan Anand (now a retired Brigadier) and Colonel PK Ramachandran (now a retired Major General) were two COs who never ever held a conference or meeting. They gave their directions on the run and everybody executed them and for sure executed them really well.

All three of the above mentioned COs never ever seemed to supervise our work and believed in all of us and in delegation. They had trust in us and hence we always went an extra mile to ensure that the results were the best. The performance of the unit in all spheres spoke for itself and each and everyone, to the last soldier, took pride in being from a great Regiment and put in that extra effort to keep the Regimental flag flying high.

I have had my share of pathetic experiences also which led me to ensure that I never held a conference or meeting during the command of the Regiment, mainly because I hated them. Based on the lessons I had learnt from the above three COs, I put into practice the ethos of trust in all my subordinates and also provide them enough elbow space to execute the task with minimum directions. The performance of the Regiment at that time was there for everyone to see and the men were confident of what they did.

Why do I hate conferences / meetings?

During a short stint with our Regiment, I was called in for a conference regarding a task. Normally every soldier would get into their drills and procedures, while the officers get their briefings and directions from the CO. This meeting was attended by nearly all up to the Havildars (Sergeants) and the CO’s office was overflowing and also nauseating. The meeting went on for two hours, with nothing new other than a few finger pointing by the CO and on returning to where the men were, I found no activity at all.

On inquiry I found that all the soldiers generally have their lunch and sleep off the moment this CO called for a conference as they knew how to make full use of this valuable ‘dead-time.’ The soldiers would never do anything much even after the conference as they were pretty sure that this CO would make them re-do or change what they did. So they felt ‘why waste effort and time.‘ A well oiled Regiment was now waiting for the CO for everything and the soldiers felt most miserable about it as they were not used to such ridiculing and lack of trust ever before. When I returned to the unit after two years, luckily the new CO had turned the clock back and I found the soldiers happier and proud of being part of a great Regiment.

What Makes these Conferences/Meetings so Resentful?

The conferences are held to show that the boss has done his job of briefing anybody and everybody, many not even remotely connected with the task in hand, thus making him ‘safe’. The boss is mostly unsure about the task in hand and who will execute it and has normally not done enough homework. Most of these conferences tend to be confrontational instead of collaboration, especially in a hierarchical organisation like the army.

The bosses tend not to get to the point quickly enough and often are with the bad attitude that the people sitting in front ‘just will not understand it.’

The listeners are mostly not the right people in the right meeting. Some do not even know as to why they were called for the conference, wondering what the meeting is all about. Even if they know what it is about, they are not prepared to contribute to the discussion or their inputs are never asked for

The boss holding the conference tends to lose focus and gets off track. These monologues do not to add value, but the boss feels that there have been value additions, but mostly are time wasters. These bosses do not realise that most of the attendees already know that most of what is discussed and what their jobs are and the part they got to play.

Exhaustion spreads like wild-fire. All it takes is a couple people to start squirming and a few yawns and it spreads. This is compounded by the feeling as to why they were attending the meeting – to get ready for the next meeting.

Suggestions for a Good Conference/Meeting

Never Hold One.   It is very apparent that many meetings serve no purpose. The best methodology is to consider two to three days in advance whether there is any way at all of avoiding the meeting.

Keep Attendees the Least.   Fewer the people who attend the meeting the more effective it will be. Many bosses love to hear their own voices and the bigger the audience the greater the need to pontificate.

Direct the Meeting.    It is much easier to control a meeting that is about specific topics rather than merely held for the sake of the meeting itself. Allow all participants to give their opinions while at the same time stopping them from talking unnecessarily.

Know the Job in Hand. If you knew exactly what the job was, you would have never called for the conference; instead you would have given out clear cut instructions to your subordinates.  If you know what you are trying to achieve, then it is far easier to do so.

Start on Time and End on Time.    One of the most frustrating things about meetings is the long wait for a few stragglers who cannot be bothered to turn up on time. Avoid demonstrating Parkinson’s Law that work will always fill the time available to it.

Wishing you all the very best for your next conference/meeting.

Whistler : Abode of the Gods

Whi100
(Image Courtesy Whistler Blackcomb)

We halted at Whistler on our way to Vancouver in August09, 2016.  Located in the spectacular Coast Mountains of British Columbia (BC), Whistler is Canada’s favourite year-round destination.  Whistler is undoubtedly the most-visited ski resort in Canada, with over 2 million visitors a year.  There are two majestic mountains with a vibrant base Village.  The facilities in the area include skiing and snowboarding, gondolas connecting various peaks, mountain biking trails, hiking trails, golf courses, restaurants, bars and accommodation to suit every budget.  It is undoubtedly the best mountain adventure site in the world.

We headed straight to the Whistler Village Centre to buy our tickets for the Peak2Peak Gondola Ride.  The area was jostling with activity, mainly by hikers and mountain bike riders.  There were many stalls offering mountain bike rentals and training for novice mountain bikers.  The mountain bike trainees ranged in age from five to over 50 years.
Whistler Blackcomb boasts of the largest mountain bike park in North America, officially opening in May each year. With over 4,900 vertical feet and over 60 descending trails spread over three riding zones, there is something to pump up the adrenaline for each level of riders.

The gondolas of Whistler Blackcomb are inspired by the ski lifts in Switzerland.  They connect the two ridge-lines running roughly Northwest to Southeast, separated by a deep valley as shown in the diagram above.

Whistler was originally conceived as part of a Canadian bid for the 1968 Winter Olympics.  Although they lost the bid, construction started and the resort opened for the first time in January 1966.  Blackcomb mountain, originally a separate entity, opened for business in December 1980.  The two resorts underwent a period of intense rivalry through the 1980s and 90s.  Intrawest, the BC real estate firm that developed Blackcomb, purchased Whistler and fully merged their operations in 2003.

Whi110
Whistler Blackcomb offered a renewed bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which they won in July 2003. They hosted the men’s and women’s Olympic and Paralympic alpine skiing events.  Over the next decade, Intrawest expanded by purchasing additional ski resorts across North America, before expanding into golf and other resorts as well.

Whi200
We lined up at the Whistler Village Centre for our journey up Whistler Mountain.  The air was a bit chilly and misty.  The gondolas were enclosed, separate for persons and equipment.  Many mountain bike enthusiasts and tourists were already in queue awaiting their turns.  We boarded our gondola for the first leg and the journey up the Whistler Mountain to the Roundhouse Lodge located at about 6,000 feet.

Whi125
Enroute we had a fascinating view of the coniferous tree tops with their young cones blooming with a bluish tinge.  It was thrilling to watch mountain bikers below, negotiating the mountain trail at a very high speed, with precision and grace.  We could also see young kids being trained on mountain biking skills by their instructors.

We alighted at the Roundhouse Lodge after a thrilling 15 minutes.  From there we had a 10 minute hike through a trail to the starting point of Peak Express for our journey to Top of the World Summit.

Whi220
The trail had an explosion of colours offered by the wildflowers growing at that altitude.  They are seen for only two to three weeks in mid-summer and we were indeed blessed to catch a glimpse of these wild beauties.  Most of these flowers are poisonous to ingest, hence are not foraged on by the deer in the forest.

Whi230
The flowers we saw were the Alpine Fireweed, a bright to deep pink flower that grows from 5cm to 3 metres.  The yellow Mountain Buttercup is primarily found in deeper soils and among bunch grasses of undisturbed grasslands. The flower has a waxy sheen to it. The Sitka Valerian grows in moist alpine meadows with flowers that are pale pink to white and form a dense, sweet scented cluster.  Partridge Foot grows in wetland areas. This shrub-like perennial has cream-coloured flowers in the summer and golden seed pods in the fall.

Whi260
The Peak Express  journey was on an open gondola and the cold winds blew hard on to our faces.  As the elevation kept increasing, the landscape kept changing.  It was a fantastic experience to view the rugged beauty of the Canadian Coast Mountains.  The wildflower meadows, boulder  filled slopes and towering peaks offered a picturesque view.

Whi280
After about five minutes we landed at the summit at about 7200 feet.  From there we could catch the glimpses of lakes under distant peaks and massive glaciers, even though there was bit of mist.  We picked up cups of hot chocolate from the coffee shop and walked to giant Inukshuk.  An Inukshuk is a piled-stone marker that looks like a man. Historically it was used in the Arctic as a directional marker but has now become an icon of Canada overtaking the Mountie.

Whi300
After spending about 15 minutes at the summit, we returned to Roundhouse Lodge on the Whistler Mountain for our ride to the Rendezvous Lodge on the Blackcomb Mountain by the Peak2Peak Gondola.  This ride was for 11 minutes and the system holds the record for the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world of 3.024 km. It is indeed an engineering marvel – a long steel ropeway hanging between two peaks – unsupported by any pylons.

Whi320
The Peak2Peak Gondola was completed on December 12, 2008 and can transport 4,100 people per hour between the resort’s mountains.  The cars for this leg of the ride are enclosed and can seat 12 persons.  There are some glass bottom gondola cars, but their frequency is once every 15 minutes.  The ride offers spectacular views of the village, valley and surrounding mountains – a 360 degree 3D view in fact.

Whi340
From the Rendezvous Lodge we took the Solar Coaster Express and then the Wizard Express to reach the Blackcomb Base.  The open-air chairlifts on these rides offer a unique experience than what a gondola provides as you get an aerial perspective of the ground directly below.

The Whistler Olympics project took nearly four decades, but the effort taken by the Canadian government in collaboration with business partners is clearly visible.  It has helped to place Whistler as an excellent year-round adventure destination in the world and has generated employment for the local population and businesses.   The Whistler visit showed us as to how the facilities created for a major sporting event could be exploited for the betterment of the community post event.

Army Marches on Knees

Indian-army556
Army marches on its stomach‘ is an age old military adage attributed to both Napoleon and Frederick the Great. This saying gives out the importance of the army being well-provisioned, well –administered and well-fed. With my service of over two decades with the Indian Army, I felt that the Army marched more on its ‘knees’ more than its ‘stomach’.

During a military tactical exercise we underwent while at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in October 1981, we were lead by Captain Raj Mehta, now a retired General. We were about 12 cadets, all at their zenith of physical fitness and with real razor-sharp minds, least bothered about the scratches rendered on our skins by the wild thorny bushes and who could least be worried about many falls and rolls one had to endure during such training. The sharp mind coupled with agility would ensure that all the cadets stood up and continued with the task at hand as if nothing had happened, even after a ten feet fall.

Captain Raj Mehta was 33 years old, but still young at mind and physique, was training us in jungle warfare on a pitch-dark new moon night in the hilly terrains of Pune, India. He would ensure participation of each and every cadet, whether it was a discussion or a tactical exercise and had a knack of extracting points of view from every cadet. This instilled a lot of confidence in us and along with learning the operational concepts, he succeeded in turning us into leaders of men. Honour, trust in the subordinates, accepting wrong doings with humility, taking on failures with a lion’s heart, being true to one-self were a few traits I imbibed from him as cadet at the age of nineteen and I am sure it was the foundation stone for my army career ahead for the next twenty-two years.

Captain Mehta stood out among all our instructors in that he had a lot of trust in the cadets and many a times accepted all our fake stories and excuses with an uncanny smile. We all thought we succeeded in ‘fooling’ him, but later in life realised his magnanimity, especially after bringing up our children through their teens. I carried this aspect of trust and it really helped me to command my unit, where in I delegated a lot of the tasks to the junior leaders and Havildars (Sergeants) as I had to look after our children being a single parent then.

On that night, Captain Mehta was with the Cadet Ajay Sharma (now a retired Colonel), appointed as the section commander with two other cadets leading the section as the points-men. We were moving downhill through the jungle in a single-file section formation.   Suddenly the section commander and Captain Mehta disappeared to be found in a ditch about 10 feet deep. They both came out and we continued with the exercise. At the end of the exercise at about 10 PM, Captain Mehta debriefed us and one could see a bit of discomfort on Captain Mehta’s face. The next morning we found Captain Mehta with a bandaged knee and a plastered right hand. He had suffered a fracture of the wrist joint and was put in plaster for six weeks. He did not take a day off and he adapted to driving his Vespa with one hand. The very same knee troubled him later on too. Despite the troublesome knee, General Mehta as a Divisional Commander was known for visiting all the posts in his Division, mostly located above 10,000 feet above Mean Sea Level.

As a young Lieutenant I served under Colonel Mahaveer Singh, our Commanding Officer. Colonel Mahaveer, a Rajput and a humble man with a large heart. He would look after all the young officers as his children and many a times accepted all our pranks and (mis)adventures with a great spirit. He let the young officers take on responsibilities and would encourage and motivate us to put in our best and accomplish the impossible. No wonder that our unit was the best in the formation and young officers from other units of the formation always looked forward to getting attached to our unit and spend a few days with us. All of them were surprised to see the relationship all the young officers had with Colonel Mahaveer, how we used to play basketball with him, share a joke, narrate an incident and above all the movie stories he narrated without losing any of the expressions, especially ‘Sharabi’. Colonel Atul Mishra, Colonel Anupam Gaur, Brigadier Mike Iyer were a few I recollect enjoying these stories as young Lieutenants.

While climbing with Colonel Mahaveer to a post in the Northern Sector, located at about 12,000 feet, he found my pace a bit straining. Colonel Mahaveer was fifty years old and I was twenty-five, half his age. Colonel Mahaveer had suffered a ligament tear on his knee as a result of playing soccer. After about half an hour of climb, we sat down to rest and then Colonel Mahaveer advised me “Look after your knees, else you will suffer my plight at this age. Without a fit knee, you would be a useless soldier”. I accepted the advice and it ensured that I kept my knee always safe and sound.

After penning down this article I decided to obtain the approval of General Raj Mehta, prior to placing it in the public domain. “While the name makes the anecdote more real you could drop the name as the message it conveys remains unaffected” was the General’s stand. I debated in my mind the General’s request of dropping his name – and at last I ruled to go ahead with the name to give the article the real “Punch” rather than talking in a general term about a real General.

Silviculture : An Aerial View

Silvi100
During our trip to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia (BC), in August 2016, we undertook a helicopter ride lasting 30 minutes over the mountain ranges and the Boreal Forests of Revelstoke, BC.  The town is located 641 km East of Vancouver, on the banks of the Columbia River.

Canada is home to 10 per cent of the world’s forest cover and 30 per cent of the world’s Boreal Forests.  About 38 per cent of Canada’s land area is forested, or about 3.4 million out of 9.1 million square  km.  92% of these forests are owned by the government and is highly regulated and monitored.  Slightly more than half of this area is classified as commercial forest capable of producing merchantable trees and has not been reserved for other uses such as parks.  

Silvi120
Various government agencies  identify intended methods of cutting, reforesting, and managing timber resources within the defined area of responsibility. The forest management planning time frame considered is 200 years, representing two full life cycles, or ‘rotations’.

Silvi200
Despite being the lead exporter of softwood lumber, newsprint and wood pulp, Canada harvests less than 0.2 per cent of its forest annually. On average, a tree must be about 80 to 100 years old before it is ready for harvesting.  In case 1% of trees are harvested each year, forests have 100 years to grow back before they are re-harvested. Every year is different, depending on several factors, including wildfire and mountain pine beetle activity, but the number of trees harvested each year is always much less than 1%.

While trees can now be chopped down with the help of machines, replanting must be done by hand, one sapling at a time.  Certain species, like aspen, regenerate naturally after harvesting. The number of trees in Canada works out to 16 trees for every person.  Canada also plants at  an average of more than 2 trees for every tree the industry harvested.

A silviculture system covers all management activities related to growing forests – from early planning through harvesting, replanting and tending the new forest.  Silviculture is the art and science of controlling the establishment, growth, composition, and quality of forest vegetation for the full range of forest resource objectives.  The policy guideline for silviculture in Canada is sustaining environmental and economic values for the future.  Canada’s forest management policies and practices are among the most stringent in the world.

Silvi300
A common method of logging in in Canada is clearcutting – harvesting and removal of an entire stand of trees. Although efficient, clearcutting poses a variety of environmental problems.  It can increase the harmful impact of wind and rain on local ecosystems; destroy valuable wildlife habitat used by pine martins, caribou, and other animals; and cause soil to become dry and overheated, which may in turn increase the risk of fire or interfere with seedling growth. Logging operations can also alter the chemical and physical makeup of nearby bodies of water and affect the health of fish and other aquatic species.

Since 1949, forest companies have been legally mandated to reforest harvested areas. Reforestation must occur within two years of harvesting. Tree planting operations typically occur between May and August, when conditions are right to plant trees and promote their survival through the winter months. Forest companies monitor trees for up to 14 years after planting, and conduct all work needed to help ensure survival to full maturity and successful forest renewal.  In most cases, the logging companies are required to regrow at least two trees for every one they harvest. Sometimes companies plant five or six trees for every harvested tree. The reason for this is that many of the seedlings may not survive their first few years, so planting extra trees ensures that enough will survive to replace what is harvested.

Harvesting too many trees can be harmful to the forest, but with careful planning, harvesting trees can actually make the forests healthier. Clearing out old trees makes space for new trees to grow, continuing the life cycle.  Many animals like deer, moose, and elk prefer younger forests with  new vegetative growth to feed on.  The younger trees are less prone to diseases and invasive insects like the mountain pine beetle.

Silvi400
If we only had old trees in our forest, it wouldn’t be very healthy or diverse. In the picture above, you can see patches of forest that are at very different stages of growth. There are older trees which provide habitat for the wild animals and there are young trees too.

Forest harvesting involves cutting trees and delivering them to sawmills, pulp mills and other wood-processing plants. The operations include road construction, logging and log transportation. Years of planning go into deciding when and which parts of the forest will be harvested and how this will occur, all to ensure that these activities are carried out in a manner consistent with protecting social and environmental values. The specifics of forest harvesting would depend on the region and type of forest. 

Silvi500

The forest industry builds thousands of kilometers of logging roads each year.  All these roads require planning and surveying. They must be constructed to minimize erosion, protect water quality and cause the least impact on the forest growing site.

Silvi600
The lumber harvested and the timber products of the industry’s mills are transported mostly by rail or road.  Waterways are also used to move lumber by floating them downstream, tied in a raft formation or by powered barges. The trans-Canadian railway line connecting the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast runs through this area.

Silvi700
Forest fire is the nature’s way of deforestation.  These fires help return valuable nutrients to the soil that helps a natural rebirth.  Some pine cones need high temperatures to help burst open to facilitate their seeds to disperse.  Fires help the undergrowth exposure to sunlight, making them grow better.  Such fires naturally occur in forests every 150 to 250 years. 

Regulated and dedicated efforts by various Canadian government agencies and the timber industry can only sustain the forest wealth of the country.  The efforts are in the right direction to ensure ecological balance  and also to ensure that these forests would thrive through for future generations.

Psalm 23 and Dreams

psalm23
It was a ritual in our home that everyone recited the Twenty-third Psalm at the end of the evening prayer and the same was recited at our church at the end of the Holy Mass. This Psalm is applicable to one and all, irrespective of one’s religion and it reaffirms one’s faith in their God. The Twenty-third Psalm begins with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. In the Malayalam version which we recited as children, the “I shall not want” part was translated as “എനിക്കു മുട്ടുണ്ടാകുകയില്ല” (enikku muttundakukayilla), and I always looked at my knees after reciting it, as it literarily translated in any child’s mind as “I will not have my knees”.

God will open the door only if one knocks and hence the aspect of “I shall not want” in Psalm 23 is debatable. Without the ‘wants’ humanity would have never progressed and developed to its current stature. The modern version of the Psalm has put it more aptly as “The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing”. These ‘wants’ always tempted me to dream, about anything and everything I came across as a child, mostly to be rebuked by elders saying that I was wasting my time dreaming – even the act of dreaming was rationed in our childhood—‘Who can dream what and how much’ was somewhat a pre-decided issue!

As I grew up and came under the stewardship of Late Mr PT Cherian, our House Master at Sainik School, Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu, who always encouraged us to dream –to dream big – that too King Size. As I grew older I read the Wings of Fire by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam wherein he says that “Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.” This was the predicament I always faced while dreaming that it delayed my falling asleep and the same continues to date.

Veteran Commander D Reginald was my companion to operate the public address system in the school under the guidance of Mr PT Cherian while studying in Grade 9 (1974). All the amplifiers, speakers, cables, etc were kept in Mr Cherian’s Physics Lab and on Sundays after lunch we both would go there to carry out regular maintenance. Once we were accompanied by our friend S Harikrishnan (currently Manager, State Bank of India), who was an accomplished singer. The idea was to fulfill Hari’s dream of listening to his voice duly recorded on the audio cassette recorder. Being Sunday afternoon, we knew that Mr Cherian will never be around as he always enjoyed his afternoon siesta and never ever wanted to be disturbed at that time and there would be no one to stop us from (mis)using the precious cassette recorder. We recorded Hari’s song and played back the recording. That was the first time he ever heard his own singing. Hari had the brightest and the biggest eyes amongst us and he was so excited that his eyes bulged out like search lights.

After accomplishing the mission Hari left and we were on to our maintenance tasks. Reginald was always a better dreamer than I was and continues to be so till date. Our discussion was about the possibility that one day we would be able to record what we see with the same ease like we recorded Hari’s voice. That dream has come true today and we have even gone much ahead that we are able to transmit the same across the globe in real-time. Remember that ‘What you dream today will in all likelihood become a reality tomorrow.’

We have encouraged our children to dream and the effect of it is mostly heard from the washroom. I always hear their monologues, dialogues, role-playing, singing, etc while they spend their time in the washroom – the most private time one ever gets. I was really scared of doing this while growing up on the fear of what others will think about me (mad?) and so I could never give expression to my dreams.

One must dream, that too dream unlimited. That is when one gets into a creative mood and comes out with ‘out of the box’ ideas. Imagine if Newton or Shakespeare or Ved Vyasa did not dream; the world would have been surely poorer. Some of our dreams may fructify in our life time like the video recording dream we had as children; some we would be able to implement ourselves as we grow up.

One such dream I always carried was that of the ‘Bara Khana’ (Party for the soldiers) in the regiment. One always saw the chefs overworked in the kitchen, many soldiers toiling it out for erecting the tents, making seating arrangements, organizing entertainment, serving food and drinks, etc. Many soldiers took it as a ‘punishment’ and not as a time to make merry. My dream was that all soldiers in the regiment should be free from all chores and commitments and be free to enjoy the party with their families and friends.

On return to our permanent location in Devlali after an year long operational deployment, Late Col Suresh Babu approached me with the idea of party for the entire unit with the families. That was when I gave my directions based on my dreams – everything should be contracted out – from tent pitching, decorations, entertainment, food preparation and service – each and everything and no soldier would toil for it. The only hitch which Col Babu projected was that the waiters of the contractors will not be familiar with the military protocols and hence may not serve the Commanding Officer first and so on. I was fine with it as I never had any ‘doubt’ that I was commanding the unit.

On the day of the party, there were round tables laid out with chairs for all officers, soldiers and their families to sit and the contracted entertainment troupe started off with their performances. Snacks and drinks were being served by the contractor’s waiters and each and everyone enjoyed the proceedings. At this time our chef came to me and said that it was the first party he attended. that too wearing his best clothes and thanked me immensely for arranging this. All the soldiers were unanimous that it was the first time they wholeheartedly enjoyed an evening, otherwise they would be running around and also closing down everything after the party. After the success of the first outsourced party, we decided that we would hold only two parties a year and would always be outsourced.

As one grows up, it would be feasible to implement one’s dreams, but many find it convenient to forget them then.

Banff Gondola, Takakkaw Falls and Duffey Lake

Banf100
After visiting the Columbia Icefields, we travelled to the town of Banff and stayed there overnight.  The town of Banff was intended to be a tourist destination from its very inception.  The town is situated in a valley in the Banff National Park, enclosed by the beautiful and rugged Rocky mountains.  The city streets are lively with tourists and is lined with top class restaurants, bars and shops.

The town boasts of the Banff Sightseeing Gondola, located just five minutes from the Town of Banff, on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain.  The gondola ride offers a marvellous view of the town of Banff as well as the mountains around.

On the morning of August 08, 2016, we boarded a four-seater, glass enclosed gondola at the base.  The glass bottom of the gondola provided us with a 360 degree panoramic view of six scenic mountain ranges around Banff.  Below us, as we were moving up was the walking trail leading to the summit and there were many hikers enjoying the same view.

Banf120
After about 10 minutes in the gondola, we reached Sulphur Mountain at an elevation of about 7,500 ft.  It felt like being on top of the world as we stood on the spacious main level observation deck.

Banf130
We got on to the Skywalk, a kilometer long walkway, created out of cedar wood platforms and steps, leading up to the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.  As we ascended to the top, it offered us with some incredible views into the valley.  There were information boards placed at all the viewing decks explaining what we were seeing in front.

Banf136
The Sundance Ranges was the most prominent of the mountains around the Sulphur Mountain, standing up majestically tall.  Sundance is a sacred ceremony for the Aboriginal people who lived and travelled through these mountains  for many centuries.  The ranges got its name from the many Sundance sites at the base of these mountains.

Banf140
On top of the summit was the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.  In the early 1900’s, Norman Sanson climbed a trail up the mountain every week.  For nearly 30 years he recorded the weather data at the historic stone building that is still standing.

Banf160
From the summit we had a mesmerising view of the Moraine Lake, cupped high among the lofty mountains and the Bow River which originates from this lake, flowing through the Banff town.

Banf180
On our walk back, we were greeted by a flock of Big Horn Mountain Sheep.  They were grazing on the lichens that had grown on the piers of the wooden walkway.  There were many squirrels or marmots running all over the walkway as we descended.

After enjoying the scenic beauty the Sulphur Mountain offered, we returned to the base on the gondola for our onward journey to the Takakkaw Falls, the second highest falls in Canada.

Banf400
Takakkaw Falls, fed by the Daly Glacier, is a waterfall located in Yoho National Park, near Field, British Columbia.  Its highest point is 302 m from its base, but the water’s true ‘free-fall’ is only 260 m.  It is a major tourist attraction in the summer as the melting glacier keeps the volume of the falls up during the warm summer months.  In the fall, the water flow slows down and the raging falls narrows down to a ribbon of ice awaiting summer to set it free.

As we drove off the highway through many hairpin bends to the falls, we were greeted by the tremendous thunder of Takakkaw Falls.  The Yoho Valley access road to the falls is closed during winter due to high-frequency of avalanches.  The road is only open from June through October for the summer season.

Banf420
We left our car in the parking lot and made our way through a forest track, walking for about 10 minutes, we reached the base of the falls.  As we got closer to the falls, we were blasted by the deafening sound of the water pounding against the rocks.  The walk was enjoyable as it offered a clear view of the falls throughout and the light spray from the falls really refreshing.

Banf440
As we inched closer to the falls, we were drenched from head to toe.  The falls appeared to be in slow motion as the wind in the area literally carried the water away from the rocky face.  The falls being high, a large amount of water never reaches the base as it is carried away into a mist that creates many interesting shapes and swirls.

From the breathtaking falls, on our drive to Whistler, we entered the Lil’wat Territory.  Lil’wat is an aboriginal group of people and also one of the largest Indian reserves by population in Canada.  Líl̓wat artifacts dating back to 3,500 BC have been found in this area.  Lil’wat’s connection with the land has been both economic and spiritual, with a harmonious relationship with nature — a value that remains strong today. They harvest wild fruits, hunt deer and fish.  They have passed on their traditional arts, ceremonies and beliefs over the generation and teach their children St̓át̓imc language even today.

Banf600
We halted at Duffey Lake.  The lake is called by the Lil’wat as ‘Teq’, meaning ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck to be in the way’.  This name comes from the log jam at the Eastern end of the lake.

Banf620
The Western end of  the lake is  called Sd’akw and beyond that is the Cayoosh Mountain.

We Canadians are blessed with an abundance of natural wonders with enough lakes, mountains, waterfalls and rivers to keep us exploring for our lifetime.