THE DANDELION PUFFBALL

These gorgeous flowers are actually quite small and but for their attractive golden colour would have missed my eye.

Dandelion ( English), Dudhi ( Hindi) , Taraxacum officinale ( scientific)

Known down the centuries by both Indian and Western Herbal Medical practitioners, all parts of the plant are used for curing various ailments.

The Dandelion is particularly useful to cure ailments of the Liver and Kidneys.

The flower and leaves are also used to make wine and salads respectively. The leaves are a rich source for various vitamins and minerals .

Dandelion
             Dandelion growing as a weed in the gardens of JW Marriot,  Mussoorie

It was by chance that I photographed the Puffball in quite another location in the Himalayas. ( in the garden of the Brentwood sanctuary near Prateeks lovely home)

It was only upon writing this article that I realized the Puffball is none other than the ripe fruit of the gorgeous golden yellow dandelion flower.

The seeds are dispersed by the wind and have inspired famous poets like William Wordsworth.

It is however an invasive weed and infests the crops of farmers around the world.

Puffball
                                                             Puffball

Do keep reading for more interesting anecdotes about  Himalayan wildflowers.

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ENCHANTED BY THE RAIKA

The ship of the desert or Camels are naturally adapted to the way of life in a desert.

North Western Rajasthan is  the natural home to these enchanting creatures of God.

Numerous folk tales recite the tales of how the camels came to inhabit Earth.

Goddess Parvati ( the consort of Lord Shiva) is fabled to have sculpted the Camels from clay and the Lord is supposed to have infused the breath of Life in them.

The story goes on to say they initially had 5 legs, but were then unable to walk, so Lord Shiva folds the fifth leg and pushes it into the chest, this then forms the hump  and leaves a mark as well.

A couple of camels
                                                                     A couple ( pun intended) of camels

The story continues as the Camels create mayhem by going about their merry ways and eat up all the foliage. The Lord Shiva then creates the RAIKA (also called Chaamad) from his body( chamdi or skin )  to tend to camels and thus  restore order.

The Raika are a unique community of camel herders and breeders who survive to this day in the colourful state of Rajasthan in India.

The following picture shows three Raika men in traditional attire with their musical instruments at the extravagant annual musical festival  RIFF held at Jodhpur.

The backdrop is that of a hand painted Phad which tells the epic story of a local deity  Pabuji.

( more on this in a separate post)

raika in thought
                                           Three Raika men in traditional attire 

The Raika firmly believe they were born for only one purpose, that is to take care of Camels.

Their lifestyles and future are thus delicately bound to Camels.

With modernization and mechanization, the demand for Camels as a means of transport has sharply declined.

Spinning yarn from Camels hair and making Carpets and other textile products is one of several ways for the Raika to survive.

Do notice the leaves at the back of the gorgeous  turban of the elderly Raika.

the spinners
                                                                  the spinners

The extremely intricate relation between nature,  animals and man is highlighted by the lifestyles of this amazing and  enchanting community called THE RAIKA.

A closer look at the Bobbins shows how the Raika  use the twigs of the desert  trees and camel’s hair.

bobbins and textile
                                                               bobbins and  lovely textiles 

The gorgeous but large turban is made from 10 yards ( 9 metres) of cloth.
This large cloth acts as a protection against the scorching heat of the desert , as a tether for camels and also as protection against angry camels.

The elderly Raika has Camel’s milk in his hand in a practical and environment friendly container, the leaf of the Aak Shrub.

raika with camels milk
                                   Elderly Raika with camel’s milk in hand

The desert is an unusual forest and the preservation of water is a compulsory adaption for all forms of life.

The Aak   ( Hindi and Sanskrit ) bush  , Apple of Sodom  ( English) ,  Calotropis procera ( scientific name) ) is used extensively by the Raika .

The leaves of the Aak have been  used extensively by the Ayurvedic school of medicine  for centuries and are supposed to be a great antidote to snake bites and a cure for jaundice as well.

The Raika thus always keep the leaves  tucked away in their extensive headgear.

the leaves
                                                       The leaves of Aak

The leaves of the Aak  make ideal containers to drink Camel’s milk.  They are large , leathery and do not permit liquids to seep through them.

The flowers of the Aak are revered  and garlands are made from them and offered to Lord Shiva.

Lord Shiva is also supposed to have absorbed the poison from the churning of the Ocean and saved all living beings from its effects.

The milky sap of the  Aak bush also contains some of the most vicious poisons  like Calotropin.

Much like Lord Shiva, the Raika have learnt how to transform the naturally occurring poison into a cure for numerous ailments.

the leaf container
                                         The beautiful container made from the Aak leaf 

The Raika are a living enigma and a wonderful  example of Mythology coming to life.

Their beliefs and way of life are a wonderful example of maintaining harmony with nature even under adverse and harsh circumstances.

raika with camel milk container
                                         Raika with an earthern camel milk container

The Raika are a truly amazing community but struggling to survive and preserve their ancient customs and way of life.

Have experienced only a small glimpse of the Raika at the RIFF at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

I believe there is a CAMEL FESTIVAL which celebrates this community in  early November in Pali district of Rajasthan.

Keep reading as more posts will follow.

TEAR DROPS OF JOY

Fuschia (fyus-chia) is an attractive  colour which is similar to Magenta.

These lovely pendulous flowers in the driveway of JW MARRIOTT, Mussoorie bear the name  Fuchsia  ( mark the correct spelling) and adorn  the colour Fuschia  as well.

Growing profusely in the shade I call these magnificent flowers TEAR DROPS OF JOY.

chandelier of fucshia
                                           Drooping  flowers  of Fuchsia look like little bells

The flower is called Fuchsia ( fook-sia) in honour of the 16th Century German Botanist Fuchs.  ( sorry, but  that was the name of the scientist) It is rare for the scientific and common name to be same, this lovely flower shares this honour. Scientific name is Fuchsia hybridia.( there are however over a hundred species and the last name could change).

Do observe the colour of the stems as they turn Fuschia as well.

fucshia deep purple JW
                                       Fuchsia  with deep purple petals

This is obviously another species of this wonderful flower within the lovely garden of Prateek’s home and part of the Brentwood Sanctuary, Mussoorie.

Please do read my previous posts ( THE WALNUT TRAIL, THE SECRET TRAP, THE CORN VILLAGE( http://www.travelwithmukul.wordpress.com) and THE MUSHROOM TRAIL ) to connect the dots.

The buds look like a Lady’s Ear Drop, which is also another common  name for these stunning flowers.

The petals and  sepals seem to be in conflict as one gazes downwards and the other reaches out to the Sun.

fucshia white centre
                                              Fuchsia with white petals

These gorgeous flowers are native to Central America and cannot bear the harsh summer heat of the plains of India. Hence they are relatively rare to see in this country.

They however love the Himalayan mountain air and were adorning the gardens of the Hotel  like little chandeliers.

They also bear an edible berry ( the fruit of the Fuchsia) .  Do try it and let me know how it tastes.

fuschia purple centre
                                           Fuchsia with fuchsia  coloured  petals

Bearing testimony to the phrase  ” LOOKS ARE DECEPTIVE”, a species of this gorgeous looking flower is an invasive weed in many parts of Australia, New Zealand and many Islands of the INDIAN OCEAN.

Fortunately they brought me only  TEARS OF JOY.

THE WALNUT TRAIL

The prospect of seeing a Walnut Tree In Mussoorie was extremely exciting.  Have seen carved  Walnut furniture from Kashmir but do not ever recall  having seen a Walnut Tree in Srinagar.

The JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, Mussoorie  gave me the chance to go on a fascinating trip called THE WALNUT TRAIL.

The  Walnut  Trail was straight from my heart and I could wish for no better, it was a dream come true experience. It was a tryst with Nature. ( trust you have  read the posts titled  THE MUSHROOM TRAIL, THE SECRET TRAP and THE CORN VILLAGE )

From the lifetime first experience of seeing a walnut tree , to climbing it, picking walnuts  and even planting a sapling we did it all.

The Himalayas form the background to this Majestic tree in the gardens of The JW Marriott.

Walnut tree in JW garden
Walnut tree in JW garden

The Walnut ( English), Akhrot ( Hindi) , Juglans regia ( scientific name)  is a popular dry fruit and is packed with  a pandora of nutrients.

What is probably not  as well known is that each part of the tree has a medical use.

The following illustration I located on the internet gives a beautiful introduction to the leaves, flowers and fruit.

Would you not like similar  paintings in your rooms in the Hotel ?

a botanical illustration of the Walnut .
a botanical illustration of the Walnut .

Freshly picked from the tree, this is how the unripe  fruit looks.

The green unripe fruit has numerous medical uses and has properties to destroy worms.

When cut it  has a distinctive odour and stains the hands as well due to the release of   natural phenols ( napthaquinones) .

The Walnut tree is supposed to be  a rich source of numerous  naturally occurring organic volatile compounds.

The pulp is used as a yellow dye for textiles..

the fruit
the fruit

The Walnut tree has its origins in Persia ( or modern Iran) but today is cultivated across the world.

They say the Walnut tree has a very long life of upto 300 years. I will surely check on the fate of the saplings we planted in the years to come.

While planting a Walnut sapling in the grounds of the  Hotel we were given a round yellow metallic disc ( see picture below)  on which we could write our names.

This was a wonderful ecofriendly idea by the team at JW Marriott. Hope it will be emulated by Hotels across the country, nay across the World.

There is an ancient saying in Sanskrit, which says that planting a tree is equivalent to having Ten sons.

tree planting
tree planting

The trees had shed most of their leaves by the end of September and those that remained had turned Brown .

The leaves  have multiple uses and are used to cure skin diseases like eczema and herpes.

As Iodine is naturally found in the leaves , it finds an application as a natural gargle for the throat.

green walnuts strewn on the grass
green walnuts strewn on the grass

The Walnut tree is a handsome upright tree growing to a height of  60 feet ( 20m) . The timber is used to make furniture.

Can you spot any walnuts on the tree?

I am still perplexed why I failed to notice these  marvelous trees in Mussoorie  when I was a school going kid .

the handsome walnut tree
the handsome walnut tree

The now recognizable and familiar looking walnuts  (alongwith nut crackers)  were thoughtfully placed in lovely buckets in the rooms .

Walnuts were in former times also called Jupiter’s Nuts. Jupiter being the male Greek God.

Nuts of the Gods.

Walnuts and JW Marrriot
Walnuts and JW Marrriot

Every part of the tree including the bark is used by Man . Even the shells of the Kernels are used to extract oil. The roots release chemicals to ward off pests too.

Due to the plethora of volatile compounds ( over 45)  inhabiting the tree insects do not attack it.

Can you spot the gentleman on the tree picking the Walnuts?

Walnuts are supposed to be a cure for Alzheimer’s as well.

A cloud crowns the Miraculous Walnut tree. It is indeed a gift by THE GODS.

The Cloud crowns the walnut tree
                               The Cloud crowns the Walnut tree

None of my posts are sponsored by anyone and are simply a honest sharing of my experiences.

Keep reading THE WALNUT TRAIL is still not over.

BABY’S DAY OUT

I could hardly resist taking pictures of these lovely lavender coloured flowers within the Dhanraj Mansion at Mumbai.

The Dhanraj Mansion is a lovely heritage building located diagonally opposite the historical YACHT CLUB and THE TAJ MAHAL HOTEL  ( do check out my blog THE GATEWAY TO INDIA at http://www.travelwithmukul.wordpress.com) .

The Laurel Clock Vine is a  vigorous climber and  had covered the Gulmohar tree and formed the hedge in the mansion as well.

A Vigorous climber in Dhanraj Mansion
                                                A Vigorous climber in Dhanraj Mansion

The heart ( or paan ) shaped leaves with their pointed tips adorn this creeper unique to South Asia. Unknown to me these attractive  leaves serve  as baby cradles as well.

the hedge
                                                                       The hedge of the Laurel Clock Vine

As I went closer to photograph the flowers of the Laurel Clock Vine ( Scientific name: Thunbergia laurifolia)  I was surprised as two eyes inquisitively looked back at me .

Nature springs a lovely surprise gift.

the flower and baby
                                                            the flower and baby

A baby  chameleon ( I guess a few days old only)  was  probably on his first day out and had stretched out on a heart-shaped leaf. Have a look at  the baby  sunbathing on his cradle.

Reminds me of the fairy tale of Thumbelina.

the chameleon baby
                                                                    the chameleon baby

How can I not share  a close up of the gorgeous flowers which had beckoned me into this lovely mansion. Do observe the vine winds up clockwise giving the creeper its name .

The guard of the mansion  was extremely unhappy with my photographic acrobatics.

Beating a hasty retreat I wonder if the inmates of the mansion  ever saw the baby ?

the laurel clock vine flower
                                                    The Laurel Clock vine flower

I had been enchanted in an Urban Forest in the midst of bustling Mumbai . Hope you discover the JOY OF NATURE in the cities you dwell in as well.

THE MUSHROOM TRAIL

Very often Nature casts a spell and leaves a message or a sign.

The featured image is of toadstool mushrooms in the  lush gardens of the JW Marriott Walnut Grove & Spa, Mussoorie.

It was probably the first picture I  took in this beautiful Resort  overlooking a stunning Himalayan Range.

It was also a sign by Mother Nature for what was to follow.

The following  picture is of  a signboard in the enchanting  Jabarkhet Nature Reserve, Mussoorie.

( though I took this picture I realized the significance only after I began writing this article)

mushroom trail
                                                             The Mushroom Trail

The J. Nature Reserve is part  of a privately owned  gorgeous enchanting forest .

The Nature trek  around FLAG HILL ( Jaburkhet Reserve is located on the Flag Hill)   was one of several  memorable trips organized by JW MARRIOTT under the umbrella WALNUT TRAIL .

( do check my previous post titled  THE SECRET TRAP)

This mushroom resembling a Garden Umbrella was discretely camouflaged under some dried leaves . Am positive that even our cheerful group leader  Aditya  ( hope you read this post)  missed this specimen of the Fungi family.

frilled mushroom
                                                             Frilled mushroom

As the J.Nature Reserve conscientiously guards the forests from intrusion the undergrowth in the forest has flourished.

 Deadwood is neither collected or  tampered with and therein lies the secret of the abundance of Fungi ( mushrooms) .

The lifeless  stump of a tree had given birth  to an unusual and attractive colony of mushrooms.

tree of mushrooms
                                                           Tree of  Mushrooms

The shaded mountainside preserves moisture which provides a perfect home for Moss.

Moss in turn holds the topsoil of the mountain and is a reservoir for water as well.

This unique and magnificent species of Fungi thrives in this delicately balanced ecosystem.

mushroom forest
                                            A Mushroom Forest

Such glorious  rare sights can be witnessed only in forests which are untouched by domesticated animals like cows and goats.

Bracket mushrooms adorn the mountainside . Homes for elves and  fairies?

two together
                                                 Two together

The largest and definitely  the God Father of mushrooms photographed by me in this enchanting forest of the Himalayas.

bracket mushroom
                                                             Bracket Mushroom

The tiny toadstools under the Walnut tree in the gardens of the JW Marriott Resort was my sign that I would shortly be on a Mushroom trail.

Is it not ironical  that I noticed the signboard read “Mushroom Trail”  only whilst writing this article.

I guess Nature has its ways? ( hope the nature loving and wonderful staff of  JW Marriot  would discover the toadstools in their garden after reading this post  )

THE PERFECT TRAP

The luxurious  JW Marriot Hotel  at Mussoorie has studied nature beautifully.

They organized an enchanting  trip called Walnut trail.

Pictures that follow are part of this splendid trail.

What a delightful sight as the mountain spring gurgles down the mountainside.

Waterfall below the walnut tree
                                             Waterfall under the walnut tree

The gorgeous  violet and yellow wildflowers  sway with  the gentle cool breeze and the sunlight filters through the undergrowth around the mountain stream.

A gentle movement and a glimmer in the sunlight reveals another  marvel of nature.

wildflowers sway
                                            wildflowers sway in the breeze

Strategically placed between two species of wildflowers  is  a perfectly made spider’s web.

The rays of the sun reflect off each strand, revealing a marvelous trap setup for insects that would approach the flowers.

the spider
the spider

A spider  patiently awaits it’s prey and sits  right in the centre of this circular web.

the beautiful trap
                                                               Perfection in nature 

The Spider has chosen a perfect location to weave a geometrically perfect web.

What can we learn from the Spider? Do comment.