Wednesday 28 December 2016

In the Land of Mist Showers and Flowers – A Trek to the Valley of Flowers

Parivesh Kumar Pandey, Award Leader, Birla Vidyamandir, Nainital sharing an adventurous cum fun-packed outing, which was designed to acquaint the Bronze participants with the concept of Biosphere Reserves and to have an intimate feel of life as it has been in the Higher and Greater Himalayan region.

A group consisting of 15 Bronze aspirants from senior school with two mentors and a professional mountaineer as guide left for a trek to the Valley of Flower on Sept 11, 2016. The Valley of Flowers constitutes the second Core Zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve (NDBR).

Along with additional morning and evening workout, which was indispensable to keep the boys fit to take up the trek of 60 km (to and fro from the road head) at Himalayan heights (up to 13,500 ft.) and acquainting them with the vagaries of weather therein, they were made conversant with all that was knowable so that the trip may ultimately culminate into a memorable learning experience. The participants were familiarised with the background information of the area before taking up the trek.

The International coordination council of UNESCO in its first meeting in 1971 had first floated the idea of the creation of Biosphere Reserves throughout the world and so far, more than 400 Biospheres Reserves in 90 countries have been created. Out of the 18 Biosphere Reserves created in India, the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve, named after the famous Nanda Devi Peak, enjoys a distinct place. It is the second oldest Biosphere Reserve of India, created in 1988 (after Nilgiri, created in 1986) and the first one of the Himalayas. This reserve, spread over an area of 2236.74 sq. km, occupies a special place in the Biosphere Reserve systems of high altitude Himalayan region of India. Its territory comprises the unique combination of meadows, several high peaks and glaciers. On February 7, 2000, Govt. of India extended the total area of NDBR from the then existing 2236.74 sq. km. to 5860.69 sq. km. by including the Valley of Flowers National Park as the second core zone and adjoining habitation zones as the buffer zone. Before 2000, there were only 17 villages in the buffer zone of NDBR. 30 more villages including the famous Badrinath shrine and Hemkund Sahib have been incorporated in the buffer zone area during the expansion of the protected area. Thus a total of 47 villages are now situated in the buffer zone of NDBR in the districts of Pithoragarh, Bageshwar, Chamoli etc of Uttarakhand Himalayas. Four of these villages are presently uninhabited.

A 17 km trek connects the Joshimath-Badrinath road, some 250 km away from Nainital with this second core zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve. Ice rarely melts here, save in the rainy season. The region where this second core zone is located is called the Bhyundar Valley. It was Frank S Smythe, an English mountaineer, who first discovered it in 1931. He spontaneously named it as ‘The Valley of Flowers’. In 1939 the Botanical Garden of Edinburgh sent Miss Joan Margrett Legge here for collecting the seeds of some rare varieties. She lost her life in this valley in a fatal fall from a rock on 4 July 1939 and is buried at the spot of her fall in the valley. Well before her death Frank S Smythe in his book had described this landscape as "a valley of perfect beauty where the human spirit may find repose”. The words engraved on the grave of Joan Margrett --I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from where cometh my help -- speak of the ultimate solace the human heart has always found in such towering heights melting into the endless blue.

Situated in the upper expansions of Bhyundar Ganga, a tributary of Alaknanda, the valley of flowers has seen some important changes in the past few years. Grazing of cattle is completely banned here now. One cannot take away plants or their bulbs from here. In an active liaison with the department of forests the local youth here have been a grand success in keeping the region ever so clean despite the mounting pressure of tourists and pilgrims who pass touching the base of this valley while on way to Hemkund Sahib, six km ahead.

On Sept 11, the group left Nainital in the wee hours of the morning in two vehicles. It had been drizzling since the night and the entire landscape was enveloped in mist. The group was flagged off by the Principal at 6.30 am. The destination as per the itinerary was Joshimath, a border town, over 250 km away from the point of departure. Situated in Chamoli district of Garhwal Hills it is known as the base camp for those on the way to Badrinath.

Passing through the deep gorges crisscrossed by gurgling seasonal streams due to continual drizzling and gaining height while climbing the successive expanse of central Himalayan summits, the group having crossed the historical settlement of Dwarahat by early noon struck the most fertile tabled expanse of Givan valley. A meandering climb from this valley finally terminates at a vantage point known as Dewalikhal. Driving past the holy town of Karnprayag, known for the confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar rivers, the next stoppage was at Pipalkoti. By nightfall, the group arrived at Joshimath.

The next morning while the Nandadevi summit with all its feminine grace was shining in the rising sun and the faint glimmer of the distant 'Sleeping Beauty', yet another peak, could be seen through the window panes of the cozy dining hall -- the group, following an early breakfasting, drove towards Govindghat on Badrinath road.

A lively settlement once on the banks of turbulent Alaknanda, past Vishnughad - Govindghat is around 25 km away from Joshimath. It is from here that the 17 km long trek to Ghangharia, the base camp for the twin destinations, while traversing the rugged terrain along the Bhyundar Ganga- a tributary of Alaknanda- was to gain the height of 4500 ft within next five or six hours. This distance of 17 km was to be negotiated well before sundown. Here the group was divided into two halves and munching the tuck and later the packed lunch, the journey begun by 10 am after a briefing by the guide at the take-off point.

The entire expanse between Gobindghat and Ghangharia along the Bhyundar Ganga is thickly wooded with Spruce, Birch and Blue Fir. Foamy cascades nestling on towering rocky heights  guarding the entire valley like sentinels, add on to the picturesque charms as one walks the cobbled pathway that stretches right up to Ghangharia.

The advance party reached Ghangharia early in the evening followed by the arrival of the rest by sundown. Ghangharia at an altitude of 11500 ft. indeed is like a sudden outburst of visual urbanity after traversing 17 km of thickly wooded trek. Beyond it is the unending wilderness of the Valley of Flowers enlivened by the splash of colours, rustle of wind stealing its way through the age old conifers and the reverberation of hill streams.

Next morning the group set off for a seven km march to the Valley negotiating a steep climb through a meandering goat's trail overlooking deep gorges. The Valley of Flowers actually is an alpine meadow at the foot of Mt Kamet. At the Himalayan heights, the weather generally remains unpredictable and one often encounters routine showers in the afternoon. The group went deep right up to the moraine in the valley that has an expansion of around 9 sq. km. Besides the Azalea bushes, Primulas, Fritillaria and so many other flowering and medicinal plants the landscape itself was found to be quite enchanting. Intermittent rains, for which the group was already prepared, could not deter either the curiosity or the enthusiasm of the members of the group and by the evening they arrived at the base camp.

On Sept 14, as the group was preparing for the return journey it snowed in the valley and the Twin Mountains marking the entrance to the valley became flaky white. On the way, the far off Hathi Parvat was also clad in snow. At 2 am on Sept 15, the group was back home at Nainital.

For all the group members it was indeed an opportunity not only to communicate with nature but also with the people who have been inhabiting it over the generations as its true custodians. It will not be out of place to mention here that as a product of people-policy conflict the Chipko movement in the seventies originated from this region only. It was also an opportunity to realise, and that too for the first time, that despite the apparent and alleged 'madness' with which the forces of nature are often dubbed, there is a 'method' in it; designed of course to protect and nurture those who love and care for it.  Click here for more pictures...

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Blanket Donation Programme

Sidhartha Sen Gupta, Award Leader from Miles Bronson Residential School, Guwahati, Assam shares a report on the blanket donation programme by the Award participants of the school.

“Service to man is service to God!” With the advent of winter when early mist and cold slow our daily activities, there are many under-priveleged people who are at the mercy of all under the open sky! Nature responds to the cold and even the birds look for warmth and shelter.

Amidst this cold, when we prioritise our responsibilities towards the people around us, we also fulfill our life’s mission. This is the opportunity that IAYP participants get by their involvement in different activities. As IAYP is a life-enriching programme, we feel fortunate that on 11th December 2016 Sunday, we organised a ‘Blanket Donation Programme’ for the roadside dwellers of our city. It’s heartening to mention the response was hundred percent, with the presence of non-IAYP students and teachers too. And our next venture is to ensure the distribution of the collection in coming days.

This act of kindness will not only bring smiles to their faces but will also spread awareness about our responsibilities. “We may not eradicate the poverty of the whole nation, but if we take pledge to help at least one in our community; that’s great and thus we spread Humanity.”

The Duchess of Cambridge shares her DofE experience

Did you know that HRH The Duchess of Cambridge is a Gold Award holder? Read about what her DofE experience.

"I started my Duke of Edinburgh's Award while I was at Marlborough College, completing my Bronze before getting my Gold Award while I was in the sixth form. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is such a great way for young people to grow in confidence, learn new skills, work as part of a team and have great fun along the way. While getting my Gold Award was challenging at times, it is one of my most memorable experiences from growing up, and I could not recommend it more highly."

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Award Leader Training (YES) Workshop

The International Award for Young People, India organized an Award Leader training workshop at Pawar Public School, Pune on 07 - 08 December 2016.

The two-day workshop was attended by 12 participants from different institutions including Pawar Public School, Pune; Sanjay Ghodawat International School, Kolhapur; Pawar Public School, Kandivali; Sanjeevan Public Shool, Kolhapur and Symbiosis International School, Pune.

The workshop began with an ice-breaking session where the participants introduced themselves and shared their expectations from the workshop. This was followed by an introduction to the Award, and sessions on its philosophy, framework and benefits. The participants were given in-depth knowledge regarding the four Sections of the Programme, i.e. Skills, Service, Physical Recreation and Adventurous Journey along with the Residential Project for the Gold Level. The training team also made them familiar with other important aspects related to the Programme, which included Risk Management, Online Record Book, Benefits of Award and Brand Pack.

The workshop was led by Kapil Bhalla (National Director) and Bivujit Mukhoty (Programme Manager). The workshop included interactive and fun sessions to engage with the Award Leaders.

Adventure Trip to Prashar Lake

Trilok Singh, Award Leader from Harvest International School, Ludhiana is sharing his report on the Bronze Level Adventurous Journey.

The nine-hour-long haul to Himachal started on 15th October 2016 at around 9.30 pm. Nine hours later journeying in two tempo travellers we reached our destination and base camp, Baggi, which is roughly 10 km from Prashar Lake. This group comprised two Award Leaders, two mentors and eighteen Bronze level aspirants.

The trekking adventure started immediately after breakfast, when the participants climbed the challenging track into a beautiful new world. The arduous climb presented many difficulties but operating as a team they made light work of it. The group took a well-earned break at the half-way point, stopping at a couple of houses where they were allowed to use the facilities. The participants made food for everyone with the limited available resources.

At 7.00 pm, as we dragged our weary limbs onto the shores of Prashar, its stunning beauty erased all our aches and pains. The participants set about pitching the tents immediately, before the sun could go down. The participants worked in three groups with one leader. With the help of the mentors and Award Leaders, the participants built fires and set about preparing the evening meal. This self cooked meal by the participants was enjoyed together, sitting on the ground around the campfire. After dinner the participants spent some time together discussing and planning the next day's activities.

The early morning sun heralded a fabulous day and spurred the participants to accomplish all the necessary camp tasks with alacrity. Soon the fire was lit for a breakfast, prepared as a group. The day was passed in many adventurous activities like practicing the tent pitching, rope activities, and understanding of camp craft and equipment. The mentors explained the navigation techniques to the participants.

In the evening the participants packed their tents and returned to base camp ’Baggi’. After reaching the base camp site, the participants pitched camp, lit a fire and enjoyed a small dance party; food was then prepared and eaten by firelight and then straight to sleep as an early start was required the next morning.

Next morning everyone was up at 6.00 am, ready to pack tents and load equipment into the tempo travellers again. It was challenging work for us since nobody wanted to break the spell the beautiful location cast upon us. It was a wonderful experience that gave us a new way to look and explore mother nature.

Inviting Articles for Award India December 2016 Issue

National Award Authority seeks pleasure in inviting articles in 300 words for the upcoming issue of Award India, December 2016 on the theme of Gender Diversity and Women Empowerment from Award Aspirants and Award Leaders. Two best articles will be given special recognition by NAA. Don't miss this opportunity and send your write-ups before 27th December 2016 at

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Beauty Away from the Metropolis

Aakashi Kotoky, Gold Award holder from Maria’s Public School, Guwahati is sharing her Residential Project experience.

For my Residential Project I went to Sakunabari, a village that is located near Sonapur on the way to Nagaon, Assam, for 5 days and 6 nights. During this period I stayed in a small household consisting of four family members who welcomed me with open arms.

During the period of my stay, I visited different households and asked various questions relating to the daily lives of the family members. The daily life in a village is very tough; it starts very early in the morning as the full advantage has to be taken of daylight before darkness descends. While I was there, the heads of the families were preoccupied with different agricultural activities for the next agricultural year and hence they could not give me the time to the extent I desired. Nevertheless, I managed to collect valuable information on the pros and cons of life in a village.

Their current problems include lack of medical facilities, a school quite far away, irregular supply of electricity, and the absence of clean drinking water, besides the lack of suitable transport facilities. While living with the family I learnt many new things and tried to adapt myself to the village life. It was my first time to visit an unknown place and live with unknown people for a few days. The experience that I got can never be completed while living in the cities. At first, I thought that it would be quite difficult to live among strangers, but it proved to be wrong. The experience that I gathered and the knowledge that I could receive from the members of the family will help me go a long way throughout my life.

While interacting with the village folk I was pleasantly surprised to observe that even in the absence of basic amenities the residents appeared to be quite happy compared to their urban counterparts. To my mind, this may be attributed to the absence of any form of pollution, a constant touch with nature, a uniform standard of living and a spontaneous desire to be involved in community welfare.

During my visit to this village, the female members of the house gave me valuable tips on the art of making pithas, laroos and other traditional Assamese delicacies. Being farmers predominantly, they had access to vast areas of land on which they raised various crops as well as domestic animals such as cows, goats, pigs and birds. The most interesting aspect of my visit was the greenhouse, where various ornamental plants and flowers were grown, most of which was sold in the nearby market at nominal prices. I gave them some advice on marketing methods such as growing hybrid plants, the use of manure for healthier growth and the arrangement of flowers to make attractive bouquets with a view to obtaining a higher price for their labour. I must confess that my brief visit was an eye opener to the horizons of rural life and my interactions with these simple people and my experiences will remain etched forever in my memory.

I sincerely thank IAYP for giving me this opportunity to explore myself better, as through this Residential Project I have learned to adapt to unknown conditions and find out new ways of survival while being away from the comforts of my regular life .This programme also opened new horizons for me to polish my skills with confidence.