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Saving the golden mahaseer in Bhutan

As hydroelectric dams impact the migratory routes of the golden mahaseer, Bhutan looks to protect the iconic fish.

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The golden mahaseer (Tor Putitora) is one of the best known fish found in South Asian waters. It can grow to a length of nine feet and weigh up to a massive 40 kg, making it one of the most sought after gaming fish in the world.

At one point the range of the fish used to stretch along the whole Himalayan belt, from northern Pakistan to present day Myanmar. It was also found in the waters of Iran and Thailand. Unfortunately, a combination of environmental degradation and unrestricted fishing have had a catastrophic impact on the fish population. Today it is listed on the International Union of Conservation’s Red List of threatened species. In India, the private company, Tata Power has spearheaded a campaign to breed and release fishlings into the rivers. In Nepal, it continues to face severe challenges as laws go unenforced.

According to WWF, “The rivers of southern Bhutan are its greatest hope for survival, as long as action is taken soon to keep the threats to mahaseer at bay.” The health of the big fish is also a measure of the health of the river ecosystems of Bhutan, which impact all the flora and fauna living in and around the water bodies. For Bhutan, a Buddhist country, the golden mahaseer has religious significance as well, as the fish is one of the eight auspicious signs associated with Buddhism as practised in the Himalayan region.

The challenge of dams

The Punatsangchhu river, which runs for 320 km from its source in Bhutan to the confluence point with the Brahmaputra in India is one of the rivers where the iconic fish is found. Two major hydroelectric dam projects – Punatsangchhu I and Punatsangchhu II – are being built on the river. The electricity generated by these dams – and sold to India – is one of the main drivers of the Bhutanese economy, but it is unclear what impact they will have on the fish.

According to Singye Tshering, programme director at the National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries (NCRLF), the golden mahaseer migrates all the way from rivers in India to upstream rivers in Bhutan for breeding and feeding. Tshering told thethirdpole.net that since no proper scientific study had been conducted, there is no way of knowing how the dams will affect the fish. Nevertheless, since the fish have been sighted upstream in Punatsangchhu earlier, the dams may prevent the mahaseer from migrating for spawning and feeding.

There is no official record kept of the fish in the area, but according to Kinley, who was posted by the Bhutanese government 15 years ago to keep track of the iconic fish, the number has declined ever since the commencement of the hydroelectric projects.

Mitigation measures

The government of Bhutan has started developing measures to conserve the fish. Officials from NCRLF and environment officials at the Punatsangchhu project identified a location to construct a hatchery at Harrachu, a few kilometres away from Punatsangchhu-II in November 2015. The golden mahaseer hatchery project is being built at an estimated cost of Nu 188.6 million (USD 2.8 million).

Singye Tshering told thethirdpole.net that while this may not be an ideal mitigation measure, it is recommended especially for conditions found in Bhutan, where gorges, rugged terrain and swiftly flowing rivers mean that fish passages and fish ladders will not work to offset the blockages created by dam construction. He said fish migrating upstream for breeding are collected and bred artificially in the hatchery near the dam and later released back into the river. “That way we can ensure that the fish migrating upstream for breeding are able to breed and sustain their population.”

A comprehensive management plan

The management plan includes the identification of spawning and feeding grounds and declaring them as sanctuaries, promoting and developing fish based tourism to promote a sense of ownership among the people to protect fishery resources. With WWF funding, the ministry of forest and agriculture has started a scientific remote radio telemetry study on golden mahaseer to understand its habitat. The project also hopes to establish baseline data for the mahaseer population and identify migration patterns. The study is underway in the Manas river basin covering the Mangdechhu and Dangmechhu rivers.

With these scientific findings Bhutan hopes to fight to keep the mahaseer alive and free in the Himalayan rivers, even as it continues to build hydroelectric dams that are the mainstay of its economy.

 

Amir Khan visit to Wild mahseer, Assam

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Timeless appeal

Exotic resorts in the Northeast are transporting guests to a bygone era of luxury, says Hoihnu Hauzel

  

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Elgin Nor-Khill in Gangtok is a picture-perfect resort that was built in 1932 by Sikkim's last king; (above) feast like a king on regional, Indian and Continental fare in the royal dining room

 

Which one sounds the most tempting of all? Escaping to an idyllic, grand old mansion in Gangtok that was built by the king of Sikkim in the '30s? Or a king's castle in Shillong that's set amidst thick pine groves and boasts of the writing desk at which Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once penned his thoughts. Or would you rather vacation in a century-old bungalow in one of the rolling tea estates of Assam?

Off the tourist radar, a handful of timeless resorts in the Northeast are offering to transport guests to another era. They all have one thing in common: they spell luxury in exotic locales.

"These properties are redefining tourism in the Northeast. Relying primarily on word-of-mouth publicity, they are drawing tourists from different parts of the world," says Rakesh Mathur, former president of WelcomHeritage and a hospitality industry expert.

From Elgin Nor-Khill Gangtok, Sikkim, to The Royal Heritage-Tripura Castle in the heart of Meghalaya, the Northeast is alive with picture-perfect resorts and tea estates turned into resorts that are steeped in a rich history.

Take the 25-room Nor-Khill, built in 1932 by Tashi Namgyal, the 12th and last king of Sikkim. Run and maintained by Elgin Hotels & Resorts, a chain that owns hotels in Darjeeling and Sikkim, the resort is 5,000ft high in the Himalayas and offers spectacular mountain views.

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Latest Local & International Travel News, Guides, Information & Planning Tips

Dec 17, 9:58 PM EST

India's tea tourism: Gracious living, great brews, echoes of bygone days

By DENIS D. GRAY 
Associated Press

JORHAT, India (AP) -- "This is your own home now," announces our host, welcoming us to Thengal Manor. And we wish it was, this gracious residence of one of India's great tea dynasties, which has opened the family villa, with its idyllic gardens and an impeccable staff of 15, to overnight visitors.

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Thengal Manor marked the start of a two-week journey through the world's finest tea growing areas - India's Assam and Darjeeling. We mingled with nimble-fingered women as they plucked a green sea of bushes with astounding speed, we drank pink gins by the fireplace in colonial-era parlors and we were very easily seduced by the pampered lifestyle of tea planters.

And of course, we drank many a cup of Assamese - "bold, sultry, malty" - and Darjeeling - "the champagne of teas, the color of Himalayan sunlight" - enough to send aficionados into ecstasy.

Let me confess that I am not particularly tea-addicted. Too much tannin does funny things to my tummy. But my wife, a Scot, more than makes up for it. So that, plus our love for northeast India, sparked our interest in a travel niche that is very much a growing trend: tea tourism.


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The Telegraph Laureate for govt land role

The Telegraph 

Laureate for govt land role

 

Calcutta, Jan. 11: Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz today said he was aware of the problems industry was facing in acquiring land in Bengal and suggested that government role in facilitating acquisition could help reduce the difficulty.
"I talked to some people and they said it's (land acquisition) a problem here," said Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University, during an interaction with journalists.
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Ranjit interviewed by NDTV

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