Friday, May 27, 2011

Balancing nature with city lights

This is about places I love to live in. I must confess I feel suffocated in cities that are just concrete jungles. Strong old trees and grass always make a heart sing.
Some body of water (clean) such as the ocean or at least a great river nearby would be a must on my list of places to live, too.

Not everyone has the luxury of living in a city surrounded by snow-capped mountains or lovely beaches though if you live in the Pacific Northwest in the United States, you can literally have it all - mountains, rivers and beaches (albeit they are cold most of the year), vineyards and even the high desert. I suspect a lot of it is true for California, too, as that state has a wide range of scenery.

However, each place has its distinct charm and advantages and there are always the little places that are still unspoiled. Maybe it is a river near your house surrounded by meadows, maybe it is a small forest that you love to take hikes in, it need not be a famous tourist destination but something that gives you pleasure each time you visit. I would cherish them because in the rapid flow of urbanization, they may be changed forever or even lost. That is where national parks have an advantage - they will be preserved.

When I was a child, I visited villages with my parents and grandmother where soaking in the warm river water was such a pleasure while taking in the view of the countryside with hills and fields across the banks.

I think of Mumbai, India where I grew up. I was very fortunate to have a national park with wild animals naturally living in it close to my house. I simply loved going there for morning walks and runs (note: the wild animals are further inside the park lest you wonder whether I walked among lions:)). During monsoon and early winter, the place burst in greenery and flowers. I did not have great mountains or lots of such forests but even that one park was a great blessing. What's more, this one had tribals living in it and some ancient caves further inside so there was the historical/cultural factor, too. There are lots of cities like this in India that have natural beauty surrounding them but are developing like monsters with concrete skyscrapers, malls and what not eclipsing all the natural surroundings. Later on, the builders add in 'green space' in the form of spacious lawns, tennis courts and sometimes even golf courts. Tavleen Singh of the Indian Express had written an article long back about the lack of urban planning in India.
However, I would like to see those old banyan, ashoka and jamun trees preserved, acknowledged and cherished. The builders have done that in old housing societies but the municipal corporation has done little to maintain tree-lined streets.
When I think of Mumbai now after having visited and lived in at least a few US cities, I am somewhat dejected. While there are flats being constructed with all the modern amenities, there are very few open green spaces or walkable streets left in the suburbs. Mumbai has a lot of advantages just like many of the West Coast cities. It is not as hot as the interior of India during summers or as cold in the winters as it is warmed and cooled by the breeze from the Arabian Sea. It falls under a high rainfall region so there is lush greenery that naturally sprouts here.
Although the city's beaches are now overcrowded and efforts to clean them up probably fall short, residents can drive a couple of hours or take the ferry south to more pristine beaches on the Maharashtra coast such as Alibaug.
The Sahyadri mountains to the east offer opportunities to hike and scenic locales high up in the clouds such as Matheran. Nasik to the Northeast offers vineyards and the countryside full of fresh fruit and vegetables.
If only we recognized all this bounty better and made efforts to encourage tourism, it would help everyone immensely. I would not say that we should always expect the government to do everything in this regard. Maybe if more Indians followed their heart, we would have more vineyards like the one producing Sula Wines and more bed and breakfasts, little dhabas with clean restrooms, etc. Perhaps there could be more hiking groups formed by yuppies seeking an escape from the corporate rat race and the pollution and crowds of the city or maybe there could be an outdoors company that encourages such exploration. I do think there has been an upswing in such resorts/businesses being opened by private entrepreneurs in India.
Having lived abroad for a few years now, I do not know how much India has changed at the micro level. Young India seems vibrant and ready to explore new things in every area of life. They are also seem like a fun, 'can do' lot. There are probably more river-rafting, rock climbing, beach tanning Indians than I know but I certainly feel we still fall short in this regard. Other well known bloggers such as Rashmi Bansal would have a better idea than me.
The point is that the more there are people ready to explore nature, the more the avenues and amenities that will open up. After all, supply does rise to meet demand.

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