Saturday, July 30, 2016

Border disputes at home

Recently at a family gathering the topic of conversation turned to border disputes. Being the only military person present in the gathering, I was asked to give my considered opinion and educate the rest. I took a deep breath before attempting to answer this most complex subject. I thought to myself, how I can ever pontificate on a country’s border disputes when I have not been able to resolve one at home.

The border dispute at home started some 40 years ago when I started sharing my bed with my newly married wife. At the very beginning, bereft of any experience and being totally new to the game, I made a number of concessions. The border treaty tilting heavily in favor of the better half was signed. An accommodative spirit, the overwhelming love and affection and large-heartedness that floods the early years of marriage ensured peace on the border. 

Decades later, much like the Indo – China or Indo – Pak border – fissures started to appear. One night I was very rudely woken up and tersely told that I had forcibly occupied her territory and she had no space and was unable to sleep properly. I was ordered to vacate the occupied territory and withdraw deep into my own. Adding to my woes, there was no scope for arbitration or seeking the intervention of UN. Her decision was final. In the middle of the night I was forcibly pushed into a cramped corner while the privileged partner slept without a worry in the newly acquired area. WAR had been declared. 

Mention of the previous night’s border incursion popped up on the breakfast table. Lady of the House (LOH) was not prepared to concede an inch of her territory, stating I was the aggressor and known for my land grabbing tendencies.

Since then, I have tried many subtle tactics to regain my part of terra firma such as occupying a favorable place well before LOH retires to bed. I have also tried employing the ‘Salami Tactics’ of the ‘Cold War’ era; wherein an aggressor takes in a landscape, piece by piece and  the opposition is eliminated "slice by slice" until one realizes too late that it is gone in its entirety. Unlike other border disputes this battle is fought every night. New strategies have to be put in place or one is likely to get ousted from the disputed area altogether.

There are a number of other collateral issues connected with this border dispute.
The sharing of a blanket is akin to the sharing of river waters. Invariably the blanket gets pulled off and I am left with next to nothing. Any talk of separate blankets is frowned upon. Ladies are known to ruthlessly employ all kinds of emotional blackmail with utmost skill to force their will.  

Keeping the reading light ‘on’ well beyond ‘pipe down’ timings is yet another ingenious way to make the man mellow and submissive. Any request made to switch off the light is met with a stern statement – turn the other way.

My preference for sleeping on the right side of the bed is also an issue. Fortunately for us this has been resolved once and for all. I have been ordered to sleep on whichever side is nearest to the bedroom door. The reason being – in case a robber comes into the room, I will be the first one to be attacked.

The ignominious alarm is yet another contentious issue. I am yet to come to terms with the LOH’s alarm which started blaring the song ‘Bum Bum Bole’ from the movie –‘ Taare Zameen Par’. The song is so loud and jarring, it is impossible to sleep for the next three days and you quiver like a guitar string. To help you understand what I mean, here is the song- 

If the alarm goes off just once, it’s ok, but the final alarm at 6.15 AM is preceded by two other equally annoying ones at 6.00 AM and 6.05 AM.I don’t even want to talk about the generous use of the snooze button!

Snoring, elbowing, possession of pillows etc further complicate the dispute.
To this day, this border dispute remains unresolved. 

Unlike other border disputes the warring partners continue to share the bed in whichever fashion it is divided each night in love and harmony.

Cheers and good night! And if you are anything like us, have a good border dispute tonight!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The last leg of New Zealand – Milford Sound and Glenorchy, 03 – 05 May

We took a package deal from Queenstown to Milford Sound via Lake Te Anau, an overnight cruise in the Sound on a luxury yacht and return.  The drive and the stay was the highlight of our trip to New Zealand. A 300 Km – 4 hr drive in an extremely well appointed tourist bus with very large windows and an extremely knowledgeable driver cum guide made the trip even very interesting and memorable. The drive to Milford Sound itself passes through unspoiled mountain landscapes before entering the 1.2 km Homer tunnel which emerges into rain-forest-carpeted canyons that descend to the sound.
Heaven on Earth lake Te Anau
The drive to the Sound is via the famous Lake Te Anau. The lake covers an area of344 Kmsq, making it the second largest by surface area in New Zealand after lake Taupo. Unlike our understanding of lakes, these are created from volcanic processes. The main body of the lake runs North-South, and is 65 km in length. The surface of the lake is at an altitude of 210 m. It has a maximum depth of 417 m, so much of its bed lies below sea level, with the deepest part of the lake being 226 meters below sea level.
Never ending Te Anau meaning Cave of swirling waters

The vastness is unbelievable

Houses with the mountain backdrop

Residential area of Te Anau

Stop for lunch

In our 23 days trip to NZ we were able to visit 7 of the top10 lakes of NZ. A good record indeed.
On the way we stopped to see a ‘Mirror Lake’, where the water was so still and clear that it mirrored the hills around and one could also see the weeds all the way through to its fairly shallow bottom. It was as a ’World Heritage Area’.
The iconic Remarkables mountain range, one of only two mountain ranges in the world that run directly North to South

An amazing valley

Mirror lake

See the notice board - Mirror lake

Great images

A number of rivulets on the way

We got to know a lot of tidbits from our guide along the way.

Tidbits. Rugby is a way of life and religion in NZ. 

The Maoris when they arrived in NZ had no script and their communication was all spoken using songs and stories. Tattoos too, play a large part in the identity of each Maori. Lake Wakatipu means a ‘Giant Hollow’ which comes with a long story of a beautiful girl, a jilted lover and a giant who falls, thus making the hollow in which the lake lies.

Possums were introduced to New Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade; the possum has become one of the greatest threats to their natural environment. The possum has a thick, bushy tail, a pointed snout and long, fox-like tapering ears. Adult possums are typically between 65 and 95 cm in length, and can weigh anywhere between 1.4 and 6.4 kg. In its native land, the possum is up against dingoes, bush fires and less palatable vegetation. In New Zealand there are no predators and lots of very palatable vegetation. As a result, possums have a huge impact on New Zealand ecosystems. It is estimated that there are 30 million Possums in NZ.18 Possums yield 1Kg of fur and 105 kg yields 5000 NZD. Today, many consider possums Public Enemy #1.In addition large populations of rabbits, rats, weasels, cats, stoats, goats, deer and hedgehogs also pose serious problems.

Oh deer! Between 1861 and 1919, more than 250 red deer were released in New Zealand for sport.  They spread rapidly because they had no predators, there was plenty of food, and at first they were protected from hunting. By the start of the 20th century, deer had spread throughout the forests. Herds of wild deer damaged pasture, young exotic trees in plantations, and native forests, by eating the plants. As this did not help contain their population, hunting deer was encouraged, starting 1920; deer farming started in the late 60’s.Today, New Zealand has 1.1 million hinds and 500,000 stags – about 50% of the world’s estimated farmed deer. Today the farming generates 255 million NZD.

Pounamu refers to several types of hard, durable and highly valued Nephrite Jade stone found in southern NZ. Pounamu is the Maori name. These rocks are also generically known as "Greenstone". As it is extremely hard, Maoris used this stone extensively as weapons and for cutting wood, rope etc 

Milford Sound or Fjord? What’s the difference between a Sound and a Fjord? Technically Milford Sound isn’t a Sound at all, it’s a Fjord. A Sound is created by a river; a Fjord is created by a Glacier. When Milford Sound was discovered it was mistakenly named a Sound because it was thought it had been created by a river. Also the word ‘Fjord’ was yet to be coined. However it was really created by huge Glaciers, which carved through the rocks to create the dramatic rock formations of the mountains there. As our guide explained, at Milford there is a huge bathtub – glacier at one end and the ocean at the other end with a narrow opening. Milford Sound runs 15 kilometers inland from the Tasman Sea. Sea water rests at the bottom and lighter glacier fresh water covers the entire sound up to depth of 80 meters. Lush rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs on either side of the sound, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters. Milford attracts up to 1 million visitors per year.
The stay on the boat was very relaxing and interesting. At one point, we went really close to a waterfall and everyone rushed inside the boat to escape being completely drenched. On the way back from Milford Sound, it rained heavily and we saw hundreds of tiny waterfalls along the way.
Prior to embarkation

Sutherland fall. When it rains the number of waterfalls reaches 100

Closer view

A view of the sound

Our guide on the boat

Late in the evening

Our abode for the night

Back to Lake Te Anau

A beauty

Photo Op

Glenorchy and Lord of the Rings. On the last day - 05 May in Queenstown we headed to Glenorchy prior to embarking a local flight to Auckland and thereafter to India on 06 May. The 45 minute journey from QT to Glenorchy is one of the most scenic drives you'll ever experience. The road follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu, providing spectacular views of the surrounding mountains which rise abruptly from the lake's shores. Glenorchy is a very small sleepy and wet town where we had a sumptuous breakfast.
Smallest of towns have a War Memorial

An extraordinarily artistic cup of chocolate coffee

Town of Glenorchy

Just up the road from Glenorchy is Paradise. Some say this place was named for its stunning scenery; others argue that it's all to do with the paradise ducks that live in the area. Either way, Paradise deserves your attention - especially if you're an avid Lord of the Rings or Narnia fan. Mount Aspiring National Park is also located in this area. At its heart is a massive area of wilderness - glaciers, snowfields, mountains, valleys and wildlife habitats that require days of hiking to reach. To the west of the divide, where rainfall is plentiful, the beech forest comes with a sound track of birdsong and waterfalls. This place is very popular for extreme adventure sports.
Simply captivating

Drier face of the range

Short of Paradise

Crystal clear skies

Glacier water flow

Never ending valleys

The only exception a cattle farm

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The entire landscape is so prehistoric, one tends to get carried back by 35 million years  when the main land mass ‘Gondwana’ split and NZ was formed. The land is lush with thick vegetation covering entire stretches of mountains and valleys. The entire area is bereft of humans and mammals and at times eerie and almost alien. 
Last look at the lakes

A drive to remember

We thereafter flew to Auckland and India – ending our 24 days of union with nature and its wonders. In the overall context New Zealand provided us with an excellent opportunity to bond with some of the few untouched and unspoiled areas left on mother earth.