By now, my readers and friends know that I like to take very long walks (exceeding 14 KMs on the average every day of the week) and trek around the national parks of Singapore. I do not like the hot sun on my skin (which is the usual pattern of weather in Singapore), so I tend to go for my trek early in the morning. However, that does not always work as it is pretty dark in the parks and I am usually forced to stick to the roads in the park/reservoir areas, till the daylight streams in. Usually, I try to finish my walk or trek by 8:30 AM at the latest (during the weekends and public holidays). When my wife joins me for the trek, we start slightly later at around 6:30 AM or even later sometimes, and we return home by 9:30 AM or so. Every weekend day is different, and I enjoy the walking experience more than anything else. Of course, I am interested in the “Fitbit” metrics, and have written about it in my previous blog posts.
While MacRitchie Reservoir and Labrador Park remain my favourites, I also tend to explore anything new which crops up in Singapore. Recently, the National Parks Board of Singapore opened the Windsor Nature Park in Upper Thomson area, which is the sixth nature park in Singapore. I am always amazed how much of greenery exists in Singapore, one of the most urbanized cities of the world. It is the result of conscious decisions made to retain trees and greenery which provide oxygen for the concrete jungle in which we all live.
Further details of the Windsor Nature Park can be found in the official announcement linked below with due acknowledgement to National Parks Board of Singapore, so that the readers of my blog can benefit: NParks opens Windsor Nature Park, Singapore’s sixth nature park, and announces plans for a new Rifle Range Nature Park
My wife and I wanted to go to the Tree-top Walk and it took us more than 2.5 KMs of intense walking through Windsor Park to get there. The other way to get to the Tree-top Walk is via the MacRitchie Reservoir Park with which we are intimately familiar. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, though when we reached the Tree-top Walk it was just 8:00 AM, and we found out that the Walk opens only at 8:30 AM on weekends and public holidays. Thankfully, the operator of the Walk arrived 15 minutes early, and our wait did not go beyond 20 minutes or so. While the Walk as usual is a great one at a height of more than 25 metres, with lots of things to see on either side of the Walkway, it is not conducive to enjoyment when there are many people pushing you to move ahead. I do not understand the point of rushing through the Walk which offers a lot to be enjoyed by visitors. But then, this is Singapore where people are always in a hurry. We had to move fast forward without so much as getting time to take selfies. For folks who have not visited, this is one of the best experiences in Singapore with an excellent connection to nature. Go at less crowded times like late mornings or early afternoons and enjoy the walk, relishing it slowly.
Overall, we walked close to 7 KMs through Windor Park (to and fro), and enjoyed every bit of it. I realized the value of trekking shoes – my Merrel shoes worked hard during the trek! While ordinary sports shoes might be adequate, it does serve you well to have anti-slip, ankle-protecting trekking shoes with strong grip on the gravel.
I am strongly recommending that you take a trek through the new Windsor Nature Park with its multiple trails, new boardwalks, water streams all over the place, and interesting flora and fauna. Focus on the pleasure of walking through it all, and you will realize how much we have missed all through our lives! Yes, in the past, I never did all this kind of stuff, and my senses were not up to the mark of hearing sounds or smelling fragrances in almost a forest kind of environment. This Park is almost like a forest in a city area with condominiums and houses all around, with a golf club (Singapore Island Country Club) adjoining it, and yet you will get a feel of nature with no intervention capable of disrupting the experience.
Enjoy it while you can. Have a great weekend!
13th May 2017
Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.
Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.
Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.
However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.
Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.
It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?
Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.
22nd April 2017
I debated about how I should name this blog post. Should it have been “Toilets, Hygiene and Health”? Or, should it just be “The Indian Toilet Situation”?
There was a recent case in South India (Tamil Nadu State) when a girl child aged 9 years died due to kidney troubles caused by holding off nature’s call for whole days at school. The school spared only 10 minutes for recess between classes and they had just 10 toilets for some 400 students. Girls are disadvantaged when there is not enough time to cater to nature’s call (as do boys but at least they have urinals though no one knows their situation). When the concerned girl complained of pains, doctors diagnosed problems with her kidneys.
Such situations are not uncommon in India where public toilets are in very short supply. The most disheartening thing is that young boys and girls in schools who are the future generation, suffer in a most humiliating manner when they cannot even get access or time to fulfil their most pressing need from a physiological point of view. Government and school administrations should be embarrassed.
Despite the call of the current Indian Prime Minister to build more toilets, there has been no perceptible improvement on the ground. India operates on a federal structure which means that it is not necessary that a State Government should heed the call of the Central Government. The only way is persuasion or defeating the ruling party at the next hustings.
It is time for the people who pay taxes to demand proper hygiene and toilet infrastructure services from the government and public schools and public office buildings. It is the government which has to serve the needs of the people, rather than the other way around. The argument that there are not enough receipts against needed expenses won’t fly as the budgeting process is flawed if it cannot cater to the fundamental needs of the citizens.
According to Centre for Water Resources & Management, India, only 47% of India’s population have access to toilet facilities. And only 36% of these toilets have septic tanks. Given that there are a number of toilet innovations from a variety of private companies in India, it is imperative for the government to buy and install these toilet facilities according to a set formula for population access in both rural and urban areas. While the government now collects a cess related to this program, it is difficult to see the results.
Enter the private corporations of India. Even if the top 50 listed companies of India direct 50% of their CSR budgets towards toilet building (which the government can match Rupee for Rupee), India’s toilet problem can be solved in flat 12 months. Eco and Bio toilets are available today at prices ranging from INR 18,000 to INR 30,000 and the prices will come down if demand is established.
I do not know what we are waiting for. But I do know that children, their personal hygiene and health are getting affected every day in schools, and we have to do something very urgently on a war-footing to solve this problem. Many of us have some discretionary monies available for charity, why don’t we contribute to this magnanimous purpose instead of other kinds of donations? It is proven that if the donor can see and feel the result of his/her donation, he or she will contribute more and continuously.
Time to change the toilet situation in India. Let us follow Prime Minister Modi’s vision but not the slow-moving government machinery. Let us leverage India’s phenomenal private enterprise to solve this problem.
28th August 2016
The air quality in Singapore has been worsening over the past few days, and today entered the unhealthy range, with a PSI index of 122 – 145 as reported by the National Environment Agency.
The hazy conditions are the result of the forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia. This has been an annual phenomenon and both Malaysia and Singapore have been at the receiving end of the fires sending plumes of particles across the sea, aided by the wind. While the Indonesian Government has been mounting big efforts to put out the fires this time, the result is yet to be seen.
The haze puts off lot of usual activities like taking a walk in the morning (it was not possible today due to the very bad air quality levels), or even going out to shop. My family decided to stay completely indoors today, and I am sure most people would have done the same. This is not good for business to be sure. Of course, one can argue that once you get into a mall it would be fine, but nevertheless the exposure to haze is unwelcome. All the more critical to avoid haze if one has some medical conditions, or breathing problems. Surely the haze is no good for very young kids and old people.
This phenomenon of haze demonstrates that when it comes to certain matters (like air in this case), the receiving countries have no influence whatsoever over the country pushing the air towards them. It is the weather pattern which helps the particles move towards us. And, it is a bad thing. But, what control can one have, despite being more prosperous as a nation ? Such things are inherently uncontrollable, unless there is a total ban on causes which lead to these forest fires.
Three major economies are involved – Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – and even then, the cooperation which needs to be demonstrated as ASEAN members is not seen in full force. What are the specific set of actions that the countries affected will need to take to avoid this problem recurring every year ? What is the consensus ? Are there technological solutions ? What are the political solutions ? Why are businesses in Indonesia which are involved in these fires not in a position to stop the fires ? How can countries help each other ?
We have some answers to the above questions, but not all. It is time to find a permanent solution to the haze problem, sooner than later.
Such atmospheric weather conditions are no good for the people, and no good for the business environment. Immediate tangible actions are required by the concerned governments.
Who would have thought that haze is a yearly recurring thing in Singapore ?
13th September 2015
I did not anticipate this problem.
Haze shrouded Singapore as a result of forest fires in Sumatra island of Indonesia. Indiscriminate fires caused by deliberate burning of trees in the Sumatra forests resulted in a heavy shroud of mist like clouds attacking Singapore vigorously over the past few days.
Yesterday the PSI Index of pollution crossed 400, indicating a worse than hazardous situation, and the Government of Singapore was probably contemplating a general shutdown. But the haze situation improved over the past 24 hours, and at 3 PM Singapore time on 22nd June Saturday, the average 3-hour PSI reading was 122, which was a huge improvement from where we were yesterday. In fact, when I look out from my apartment, I can see clearly far into the open. Yesterday I could not even see the MRT station which is located just 200 metres away !
The Indonesian Government has to act aggressively to contain the fires as economic activities will grind to a halt and the price will be too high for a small country like Singapore. Malaysia has not raised any vocal objection even though the southern part of Malaysia (closer to Singapore) has also been affected seriously by the haze.
This goes to show that what one country does or does not do within its borders can impact its neighbours adversely, and such a situation should come under the purview of International Law. The ASEAN situation and partnerships are such that it would be almost impossible to take a neighbouring country to international court or arbitration. That kind of approach will just not work given the pre-existing ties.
The alternative which has been tried in the past is economic contribution and specialized support to contain the fires. While that approach worked in the past, now Indonesia is slightly richer and growing faster, so it would not take kindly to a “donation” mindset.
So, at the end of the day it is all about dialogue and negotiation to settle the matter.
In the meanwhile, we are all looking for N95 masks to avoid getting into breathing troubles ! And, the pity is that no pharmacy is having stock to supply !! I have personally checked at four different places and they don’t have any stock.
Welcome to the haze and be at the mercy of the forests !
22nd June 2013
My wife and me were travelling for attending some wine-related event along a western suburb route in Mumbai recently.
It was 6:30 PM on a Saturday and the traffic was horrendous. We were chatting and talking about everything under the sun. As usual, the talk veered around to the traffic, lack of governance in law enforcement, and the terrible state of Mumbai roads, especially in the suburbs.
On a particularly rough stretch of the road, my wife turned around and asked me a pointed question – why should we pay taxes, when the government seems to be taking care of high-profile people only, even ensuring that the road stretches in front of the famous peoples’ homes are maintained well and smooth, while the proletariat are left to suffer………
I thought about that observation for a moment, and realized that the protests for various things in India have not reached the stage of non-payment of taxes for getting what the citizens want in return. Yes, taxes are paid for ensuring country’s development, not just for keeping some important people happy and paying the wages of millions of government workers who are yet to learn to respect the citizens and their normal needs.
We talked further about the taxes and their impact on a poor country like India – is the money really flowing to develop the infrastructure and the environment and make India a better place for its citizens ? all its citizens ? not just for the rich and famous ??
For a globalized city like Mumbai, which pays over 40% of India’s income and corporate taxes, the situation on the roads leads one to believe we are firmly rooted in the third world. I am not just referring to the broken roads, lack of pavements, enforcement of traffic signal rules, et al. I am also talking about the thousands of people who have made Mumbai roads as their homes – the slum-dwellers who sleep on the pavement (or whatever is left of it).
It behooves all of us to think seriously and purposefully to advise the government on the right steps it has to take in resolving some of these intractable issues. If we are not able to do so, what is the use of all our educational qualifications, experience and money ?
Let us think !
13th January 2013
Today is Diwali Festival in India – the “festival of lights”, when “good wins over evil”. It is the main festival when almost the entire country is bedecked with lights and one can hear the sound of fire crackers right through the day (thankfully not late in the night as crackers have been banned after 10 PM). People go to temples for worship and eat sweets and savouries.
I am writing this post because this is the first Diwali when the family decided against the use of crackers and I thought it was hugely important, especially in a conservative setting. We have not been big fans of the noise, fire and pollution caused by crackers, but we have always chosen to join other families in the common ground area to burst at least some crackers and light up flower pots, et al.
But not any more. The reason for this decision landed on us from none other than our son who is 12 years old. He said that he wanted a green planet and hated pollution – no surprise given that Mumbai is one of the most polluted cities in India even otherwise (without the additional benefit of crackers !). I thought it was rather unique he should say such things, may be thanks to his school teaching him about the impact of pollution on our planet.
So, we actually decided not to purchase any crackers and not even to burst any even if our neighbours called us to join.
It is probably going to be fun watching others bursting fire crackers from a distance, and it is going to be a first for all of us in the family !
Of course, this ban did not extend to the purchase of some sweets to celebrate Diwali – we bought quite a bit yesterday for distribution to our car driver, maids, security guards at our place, etc.,
The key point that we noted today is that the sound of crackers has been on a muted note around the place where we live, indicating that people are realizing the impact of pollution and are also affected seriously by inflation. Economic indicators in India do not look good despite all attempts by the government to revive the economy. Retail inflation in October hit 9.75% firmly revealing that interest rates won’t come down anytime soon. Whatever additional money people make this year is going to be eaten away by inflation.
Well, a lesson to seniors – avoid crackers and help reduce pollution. I dare not even walk on the road for the next day or so till the fumes and air clear up.
Wish you all A Happy Diwali and Festive Season !
13th November 2012