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Saturday, December 28, 2013

ulu ulu

Into the heart of Borneo

The word Borneo makes one think of  the colour green ,a world of lush tropical forests meandering streams and the sun peeping through tall trees in falling rain .
This turns out to be true as we realised on  travelling into its heart to the Temburong national park in Brunei .
The national park itself  a part of the Borneo conservation efforts is only a small portion  of the 575 sq km of forests hills and waterways
 Unscathed by mankind there were exotic and rare varieties of plant and small animal life
The dwarf squirrel ,the black butterfly also named as the White rajah after the ruler of erstwhile Sarawalk the Englishman James Brooke ( read the white Rajahs of Borneo ).
The Brunei government   preserves the  rich  flora and fauna the country is blessed with .
adventure and ecotourism are  encouraged but with great care not to disturb nature in any form .
Even the capital city is richly endowed with greenery trekking hills are available within the city limits itself which is rare anywhere .
To reach the Ulu resort in temburong national park one had to go by motor  boat bus  to Bangar in Temburong and from there by bus to .Batang











one has to go in a longboat canoe fitted with an engine then to reach the resort .
The day trip arranged by sunshine tours was around 150 Brunei Dollars per head of which entry charges to national park was around 80 dollars
 We were picked up from the Empire hotel the exotic five star hotel befitting its name by the beach very near our house at 7 am sharp by the tour people and dropped off at Bandar seri Begawan jetty
We got into the steam boat which was more of a small bus with rows of seats ,the steam boat left Bandar and the Kampong Ayer ( Kampong means village and Ayer is water )
 The water village was  called the Venice of the east by traveller Antonio Pigafetta when he visited Brunei in the 16th century
Its  is a small city of houses built on stilts on the Brunei river in Bandar Seri Begawan the capital ,one could reach it by motor boat taxis called Perahu Tambang .
 There are wooden houses some made of concrete and some are fitted with all luxuries like AC ,internet connection etc .
The motor boat bus sped along the blue waters quite fast ,the city receded fast ,we went through mangrove banks thickly green uninhabited with the occasional bird fluttering out ,there were crocodiles too there it seems but usually they kept away when  boats plied in daytime .if one was very lucky one could spot a rare proboscis monkey too !
 the plump driver continued his work unaffected by my presence on  his side as I had migrated from my seat  to get a front view of the action and take some photos ,the driver was used to tourists doing just that , slowly I even found a small perch to place my haunches on and focus more better in the speeding boat and suddenly was amused to find a small crowd around me imitating what I started .
 we reached Bangar in about 45 minutes and eased into a jetty stop with all facilities ,we got into a local bus which drove along narrow streets to reach another jetty on the other side of the island ,on the way we saw some longhouses .
 Incidentally the long houses are seen in  countries like Malaysia ,Brunei ,Indonesia etc .
 I had read about them in the travel book by BBC correspondent Palin called Full Circle .
Longhouses are exactly what it it means ,it contains a long array of rooms or apartments with a central common area where all residents could gather ,even though the families lived in separate apartments there was a communal feel to the house ,such living began  in the days when people needed to live together for safety from enemies or wild animals ,today longhouses are   dwindling with  people living more in individual houses some  longhouses still existed in the interiors .
 
on reaching the steep jetty we quickly adorned our life jackets and got into the canoes which were motor powered ,
5 passengers excluding the driver in each canoe was permitted .
we could sit on a small seat and lean back ,the boat skimmed on the green waters speeding along placid and at times turbulent waters ,whenever we reached rough waters driver would off the engine to prevent us being sloshed ,we did get wet a bit and was careful with our cameras but the ride itself was exhilarating ,both sides the embankments were mountainous full of thick forests wild flowers b and rare plants  tall thick trees .
  A real garden of Eden .
Brunei's first national park, the Ulu Temburong National Park, is located south of the Temburong district, covering 550 square kilometres of the Temburong forest. The national park has a scientific research centre facility, the Kuala Belalong Rainforest Field Studies Centre, which is only accessible by boat.The Temburong District is rich in unspoiled natural heritage, including the Ulu Temburong National Park (formerly the Batu Apoi Forest Reserve).
 The  resort  was perched on a steep bank and we had to gingerly step out of the rocking boat and climb wooden steps to  a hall with souvenuirs and a small restaurant there were also around 19 cottages to stay overnight but we were there only for the day .
 there were no TV ,internet connection or mobile phone range there and one was cut off from all these modern day distractions to be in the lap of nature .
We then started our trek to the hill nearby .
the park was famous for its canopy which was a 50 foot steel bridge built on tall towers with steps this was on top of a hill which one had to climb first.
 the canopy was built for scientists who needed to study the flora and fauna above the tall treeline on top of the hills ,today it has become a tourist attraction .
the climb was also hardy some over wooden steps then over rocks gnarled giant roots some mud and slush ,
 I was gasping and sitting  on every rest stops  and finally after an hour of climb reached the canopy
looking at it from below and its steep curving ladder  I decided to call it a day and refused to join my family who were brave enough to plod on those vertical limits .
 So I only have a second hand version of their joy in reaching the top its cool winds and wonderful sights of unremitting green hills the tree tops and the azure skies .
We then clobbered back down and on  the boat to a small waterfall ,we had to walk a bit this time  barefoot over sharp stones which was a torture
 I stood for long in the cool shallow waters with tiny fish nibbling our soles
we  returned  to the resort for a lunch which I could gulp down well because of some handy  yoghurt conjured by the attentive chef on my request !
 later after a dozy rest on easing chairs facing the flowing river we got back into the canoes and then got back to and later to Bangar and Bandar
It was a trip into the virgin Borneo forests ,a treat for our senses and a balm to our soles

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mustaches for the Prostate

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 










Oncology or cancer speciality in medicine has made great strides though the common perception of the C word has not only not changed but the cancer phobia has only increased with time.
In 1960 the five year survival rate ( in oncology and hematology the percentage of patients who survive for five years is taken as a measure ) was around 10 % which today is more than 60 % which means 60 out of 100 patients would live after five years .

Many of them could get cured too depending on the stage ,type ,associated problems and condition of patient ( performance status in medical lingo )and also the centre and skill where the treatment is given as oncology today has become a very specialised field .
A lot of money goes into research into new molecules to combat types of cancer and behind it are hard work ,and hard funding to achieve results ,approval of drugs by bodies like the Federal drug authority USA which could be called as the gold standard of approval today requires years of meticulous research and fool proof trials in several phases and approval by peer bodies before reaching the market hence drug companies who spend the money have a pay back period where they own the patency and the drugs are exorbitantly costly .

  Cancer research is also funded by the society at large and private organisations .

Foundations one example is the Max foundation which has been doing yeoman service by distributing life saving drug imatinib maselate for millions of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients.specially in third world nations .
( one keeps finding FB statuses of imatinib being given free of cost in such places this is mostly Max foundation .)
  Breast cancer too has a lot of backing and is well known to the public who participate in breast cancer runs badge drives and dinners and balls.
 Celebrities like Angelina jolie have put in their charisma behind such drives .


The prostate gland unfortunately had been a back bencher ,a cancer usually affecting older males the tumour had a low profile and treatment too was static over the years if it was localised depending on the patient one could have a radical prostatectomy or radical radiotherapy which could be called as curative but the side effects too were not very gentle and if spread out ( metastatic ) hormone therapy where the effect of androgens were reduced by several means ( androgens are male hormones which can stimulate prostate cancer cells to grow and multiply ) was usually the start with bone protecting agents like zoledronic acid ,with time when the patient turned resistant to hormones and the cancer grew chemotherapeutic agents like taxotere and prednisolone or mitoxantrone were used it stopped with that .
Even screening for prostate cancer with Prostate specific antigens a tumour marker seen in  blood was controversial as it produced a lot of false negatives and wasteful treatment where it was not needed but all of a sudden treatment for prostate cancer has had an upturn with discovery of more than twelve new exiting molecules like taxol derivative cabazitaxel ,Hormonal agent Arberiterone ,Immune agent siplucel T and Injected Radium 221 an alpha particle which is injected into the vein .
The rush of such molecules sure had reasons for it it was mainly good funding behind the research  how did this happen ?
 it all started when one  Michael milken developed prostate cancer and  was cured by radical surgery he knew when breast cancer was getting more than 500 million dollars as funding poor prostate cancer was getting only 50 million dollars
  he felt he should give back and he started a foundation which worked relentlessly in trying to raise funds of prostate cancer research the national prostate cancer coalition came about just like the breast cancer coalition .
Clay Hamlin was a wealthy real estate developer
he was a go getter and his principle in life was lets do it no not today but yesterday

He too was a prostate cancer survivor and joined the  board of national prostate cancer coalition as he was from philadephia he developed an annual funding event called philly for prostate which initially was a golf event to attract all corporate chiefs  to empty their pockets for the cause but later metamorphed into a huge funding event with dinners conferences runs and races with many celebrities thrown in and brought in much needed funds .

  It seems once during a fund raising dinner a bit too much of good wine made Clay swoon and fall to the floor flat .
Amongst the many doctors attending the dinner one was an emergency room specialist who quickly started artificial respiration to poor Clay  who on waking up according to his own words found the ugliest guy in the world on top of him !

The month of November was movember for moustache or grow mustache in November for prostate cancer awareness .
 there is an FB page on this and they encourage men to grow mustaches in this month

  to quote
"If you're going to make such a bold statement, you have to believe you look awesome. If you appear unsure of your moustache, you'll just look like a chump. It's like hitting on a chick or wearing plaid pants. Men who sport moustaches are bold. It takes balls to go against the grain and grow a mustache. It says, "I don't give a rat's ass what you think, society. I like my facial hair." "
unquote

Even girls could grow one but are not advised to do so they could just support with mustaches drawn !

To make the story end the spate of drugs for prostate cancer grew giving life and hope for its victims due to these two individuals and their funding's and several moustaches too !!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dead soldier going on leave

India is an exotic land ,at same time of the year one could go to a desert burning like a furnace or climb a mountain in the himalayas which would be subzero in temperature or trek in a green forest , lap in the turqouise waters of a wbp.blogspot.com/-1VCpjib6UXA/UqaoC9gEOzI/AAAAAAAAMgo/OaX6j_QkhgM/s1600/Sikkim_Gangtok_Nathula_Baba%2520Mandir.jpg" imageanchor="1" >rm sea or speed along a three laned highway dwarfed by highrises in a city . theres so much to see and experience in India ,my children often say they remember best the places they have gone in India over the years .the passes and hill stations we visited are ever memorable . Way back in the nineties we went To Darjeeling a qauint hill station with a toy train chugging its way up ,we stayed put in Ghoom which had the honour of having one of the highest railway station in the world ,it was bitterly cold and the small Gurkha home ucm restaurant we went for dinner had a plumpy matronly lady owner cum waitress who selt rum on the sly for weary nationals to cobat the cold . After doign the sights and munching pastries in the famous deli in darjeeling we sped to Gangtok alongside the bewitching Teesta river white water rafting and canoeing were watersports coming up in a big way in these places ,Sikkim is one of the most beutful states of India with its pristine forests and rare fauna and flora ,Gangtok was like any other hill station foggy and cold with lighten warm rooms inside frosted windows as we alighted from our four wheel drive and caught a maruti van to go to our hotel . We liked Gautam the teen driver of the van immediately he was asuch a pleasant unassuminfg boy he was full of exitement when he talked of th3e places we had to see in Gangtok and informed us that he was ready to take us to lake Psongo 10500 feet above if we so wished ,we said we will think about it . We walked around in the cold dusk visitng a famous Buddhist monastery in the market we returned to an ethnic Sikkim dinner in the restaurant ,with christmas coming the place was all spruced up . Next day Gautam came early as we had agreed to go with him ,we had to elave early as one needed army permission to reach psongo lake ,Gautam first went to a police station to meet his cousin a cop for some much needed recommendation the cop came with us to the army camp and talked for us as the limit fr that day was already over we also added that we have come a long way from Kerala and finally got the pass . the road up was dizzyingly steep and for many hours through virgin forests and snow covered slopes ,we could feel some shortness of breath with the altitude and piled orselves up with all sort of wollens we had taken with us after hours we reached the Psongmo lake 40 km from Gangtok ,the icy blue waters was etherally calm reflecting the azure skies and the tall snowy peaks ,everwehere there was snow on it sbacnks and yaks wandered arond with tourists having a ride ,a few tea shops clutttered aroudn to give feeble warmth ,we were surprised when a rotund paunchy swamiji walked around with just a dhoti and no shirt in the freeze and even posed for some photographs sportively smiling away ! Gautam aksed us to hurry along our way as we still had to cover another steep 14 km to reach the Nathula pass ,we were a bit hesitant on its safety as most tourists stopped at the lake but Gautam assured us he would bring us back safe and sound and it was something not to be missed hew as right of course . the road turned trifle tricky from then with no trees but only snow everywhere on the hard rock like mountain slopes which were threatening and huge our lone maruti van chugged it way up lost in the white wilderness as we huddled in collective togetherness . i almost dozed off and woke with a splitting headache and mild shortness of breath asGautam stopped we were at the Nathula pass itself . the china border was just across and we could see the Chinese soldier standing there he waved too at us !! Gautam took us straight to a mandir called Babajis Mandir this was actually a small memorial temple for a Punjabi jawan who plummeted to his death from a mule during the 1962 war with China ,strangley he is said to have appeared in the dreams of his friends that night and aksed them to build a memorial for himself so that he protects the place forever ,the army took it up as a morale building exercise and it is still maintained by the army ,we entered in with our socks prayed and offered our respects we sat down to be served hot kheer and chapatis by our own jawans themselves as langar or prasad . It seems Babaji the jawan who died is still considered as living ,the army even pays his salary to descendants and every year the youngest soldier in the regiment goes to thier house in Punjab ona months leave and stays with them as if the Babaji himself is on leave and as promised till date no incursion has ever happened in that area . i published this in the Indian express as an article Dead Baba goes on leave !!


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