Lakhtey Jigar by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal

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DARLING

Turn around and call out to me sometime

Don’t you ignore me darling another time

 

Why do you watch the lustre of the setting Sun?

Come sometime to me, and face the rising one

 

Don’t take the paths those take you far from me

Run sometimes to me and embrace me of your own

 

Lakhtey Jigar by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal, 2012

Translated Book in English available on Amazon Kindle:

https://www.amazon.in/BEAUTIFUL-THOUGHTS-Sandeep-Silas-ebook/dp/B0080RNI7C

BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS by [Silas, Sandeep]

For original Hindi version Ranai-e-Khayal please contact me.

 

 

 

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#REFORMING AND #REVITALIZING #INDIAN RAILWAYS’ by Sandeep Silas; strategy paper presented in 2014 to High Level Committee on Railway Restructuring chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy

REFORMING AND REVITALIZING INDIAN RAILWAYS’

Sandeep Silas

Dated: June 9, 2014

Presented before the High Level Committee on Railway Restructuring chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy

Executive Summary

Nowadays we do not need a framework, which acts as a fortification against the public aspirations, but on the contrary one that is responsive, sensitive and attached to the public needs. What we have today is a traditional and control oriented organization. What we need is a learning and efficiency oriented organization. We have to get Railways out of its captivity of “skilled incompetence”. We should be brave to try out a new world order—“The fact is that every company, has a business diamond. Re-engineering can be thought of as replacing a diamond that has lost its luster and brilliance with a new one”. (D Aprix, Roger; Communicating for Change).

In this short paper I bring some new ideas, which are required to be implemented to have the Railway’ back on rail! I shall give the bullet points here briefly as an overview and at-a-glance!

  • Reframing the Organization— Star Model approach rather than the top-down management we have today
  • Amalgamation of the 10 different services we have today to form one single senior management level service, to prevent the silo growth pattern and heavy departmentalisation, which is suffocating the organization and preventing it from getting the best
  • Strategy Planning, HR Management and Independent Director-Generals for Safety, Public Relations, and Commercial Publicity
  • One Nation, One Budget
  • E-Governance initiatives and Accounting Reforms— today we do not know what is the cost of running “a” particular train service!
  • Set-up a Tariff Regulation Authority and a professional Disaster Management team (stop sending relief by Accident Relief Trains which take hours to reach, instead fly relief team by choppers)
  • Mapping of assets by GPS
  • Develop International Class Railway Stations with lease of space to commercial/business organizations
  • Business orientation in decision making
  • Project Management to be done professionally
  • Double Decker Shatabdi’s to be introduced to bridge demand supply gap and increase revenue

Bold decision making is required to govern effectively. I submit a short paper on the reforms Railway’ require to pull itself out of the quagmire it has slipped into. What I will place below are reforms— short-term and long-term (which need to be set into a process now to get the desired results).

1.0 REFRAMING THE ORGANIZATION

The Railway administrative structure is governed by the Act of 1905 through which the Railway Board was set up as the decision making body for the Railways. This suffers from a self-limiting factor of the full Board, being on board, for a proposal to become a decision. Very British! And may be correct for the past times, but now become a major obstacle for progress and development as Railway works with a heavy departmental bias. Each Department has a Member, those who do not, have their Department vested into a Member. Each Member guards his Department like his kingdom, and contests every proposal, unless it is supportive of departmental interest.

To understand an organization very simply let us see what an expert writes: “The structure is the total of the ways in which labor is divided and coordination achieved among those tasks”. (Mintzberg)

How we coordinate these tasks is our expertise!

The most limiting factor of the present system is the boundaries it places on the political executive to give a direction and move the system. You just cannot go past the Railway Board, should it decide to be unanimous and engage the Minister in a confrontation. Even if it doesn’t, it adopts the go-slow approach to make a mess. Now, this can be a safety mechanism in times like we have seen in the past with different Parties being in seat, but the safety mechanism went into the waste paper basket as individual Member’s were willing to oblige in return for a position above or, from ranks below, to be elevated as Member.

I am suggesting a legislative reform to bring the Railway’s in sync with the rest of the Union Government. The reform is, “Break The Board”! Replace it with the system like that in any other Ministry, a Principal Secretary, and individual Secretaries, reporting to the Minister.

Advantages, those flow, would be quick decision making, sense of urgency in follow-up, clean-up of departmental bias in decision making, more emphasis on implementation, and easier monitoring and evaluation by the Minister. Of course, the thrust towards decision making based on the ideology of the ruling Party and manifesto guidelines would improve Railway’ tremendously. The amalgamation of the Railway’ into the rest of the Government of India will be a big achievement as today it functions as a separate Government within Government, insulated from outside, unmindful of the demands of the time and concerns of the Prime Minister. We have had instances in the recent past when an ally of the ruling coalition did not follow the tradition of Parliamentary democracy but assumed to itself the role of an independent satrap.

The Railway Budget is a relic of the British times, when it was found necessary to adopt an approach of a separate Railway Budget. Now, the times have changed and in order to make Railway a buoyant part of the Indian economy, we have to adopt One India, One Budget policy!

Nowadays we do not need a framework, which acts as a fortification against the public aspirations, but on the contrary one that is responsive, sensitive and attached to the public needs. What we have today is a traditional and control oriented organization. What we need is a learning and efficiency oriented organization. We have to get Railways out of its captivity of “skilled incompetence”. We should be brave to try out a new world order,—“The fact is that every company, has a business diamond. Re-engineering can be thought of as replacing a diamond that has lost its luster and brilliance with a new one”. (D Aprix, Roger; Communicating for Change).That is what I propose as a new order world with my “Break the Board” scheme!

The Star Model, which follows, could be adopted rather than the top-down model approach of governance we have today:

star-model-picture1As a beginning a short Consultancy can be given to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (#1 ranked in the US) to suggest ‘reframing of the organization’.

1.1 CHANGING HOW WE GOVERN RAILWAY’

At present the Railways is organized into 10 services of the Government of India! IRTS, IRAS, IRPS, RPF from the Civil Services Examination and IRSE, IRSS, IRSME, IRSSTE, IRSEE, from the Indian Engineering Services Examination, and the Railway Board is staffed by the RBSS, a secretariat service.

Each reports to its Member, who virtually is their King. The 60 positions of DRMs, 16 of Zonal GMs, 9 GMs of Production Units are distributed as per a quota system distributed amongst the many services. This has imposed rigidity upon the system and a mind-set of being in a department, belonging to a department and fighting for the survival of a department. Where is the organization and the organizational interest? Of course, that is a casualty of this present structure of the organization.

I suggest amalgamation of all services into one Indian Railway Service, after every civil servant has rendered minimum 12 years service in his/her parental department. This amalgamation should come about as a result of a qualifying performance review held by the UPSC and those who do not qualify should continue within the technical streams. Those who qualify should be placed on positions of DRMs and GMs and Members / Secretaries.

Some amount of merit based selection is necessary in the emerging times as India is passing through a very important phase in its development. If we do not recognize the currents, which are flowing towards us from all across the world we shall end up as the story of the frog that got baked in a glass, the one who was baked to death, because it did not pay heed to the rising temperature of the external environment. It missed to see the hot air currents coming from all around! It thought the rise in temperature was gradual and started rather enjoying the hot water, till the water boiled and baked the frog.

I place before you the web of inclusion, designed by Helgesen. In a system where inclusiveness is the guiding approach in policy, planning and implementation, this model deserves to be adopted in governance.

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The biggest advantage of this above approach is that we shall convert the Railway into an organization that thinks and acts as one and harness all resources for development according to the needs expressed by the public not as governed by respective departments for survival and expansion of self-interest.

2.0 IMMEDIATE REFORMS AGENDA

The Railway Minister’s priorities could be:

2.1 Status Papers

  • A Status Paper from each Member on the functioning of his department.
  • A White Paper to be brought out in Parliament on Railway finances, which shall set the ball rolling for reframing the organization as suggested above.
  • A Status Paper on the Projects in hand (Railway is one of the worst Ministries with large time and cost over-runs of projects). It often keeps projects alive on marginal funds to maintain establishment and is adept at shifting timelines five times over!
  • Ask for a Business Plan from each Member of the Board indicating the results his/her department is going to produce in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year!

2.2 Member Strategy Planning

Create a Member, Strategy Planning in the Railway Board who shall oversee all development of strategy. This should become the pre-cursor to having national activity thrust at the heart of Members, not departmental Members. “Strategic Planning is the heart of strategic change”. It is a “process by which the guiding members of an organization envision its future and develop the necessary procedures and operations to achieve that vision.” Pfeiffer, Goodstein, Nolan. So how can we have such a big Railway, without strategic planning?
2.3 HR Management

HR Management is a big question mark in the Railways. Again we see an ad hoc approach visible in handling the vast human resource. As a result officers (11,000) do not give their best to the system, and the staff (14 lakhs) have an unending list of grievances.
To begin with all service record, Discipline & Appeal cases, Pay Sheets, Career Profile should be fully computerized. Officers to be posted as careful thought of a well-rounded career rather than pure pick and choose approach that we see today. Actually, the ones who can gratify by other means are posted to lucrative positions ignoring merit and standing in the system. Professional acumen and specialization does not matter in the system today. We need to manage HR professionally.
Merit based selection should be introduced for Board Members, till the new system as proposed in my first point comes into effect by way of legislative reform.
Culture of subordination to be replaced by respect for work and expertise of an officer, not just hierarchy based behaviour. Actually, corporate culture should become the management culture.
2.4 E-Governance Initiatives

Set in pace E-Governance interventions immediately for transparency and reducing corruption. An E-Governance Team can be formed to suggest applications matching the requirements of the people of India, which the Railway transports. For example, Freight Booking by internet interface, D-Mat RRs, RRs to be made negotiable instruments, E-payment of parcel traffic, free sms alerts for those who book on-line with train running position updates.

Form an IT Solutions Team to report directly to the Chairman.

2.5 Accounting Reforms

Accounting Reforms- costing of all services should be done and all decision making to be business like. Today, if you ask the Railway Board Chairman what is the cost of introducing a new train service and the recurring cost to run the service daily, you will draw a blank!

2.6 Developing International Class Railway Stations

The Station Development Authority has been formed, which is a welcome step. It should be asked immediately to identify and go in a big way to make plans and develop major stations, T-3 Terminal style, to generate more revenue from commercial activities and providing to the public better stations of international standards.

2.7 Standardization

Standardization of every identifiable service and product.

2.8 Tariff Regulatory Authority

Set up a Tariff Regulatory Authority rather than having a totally non-professional “Rates” department. Why can’t we have dynamic pricing of tickets as per the season?

2.9 Disaster Management

Creation of Disaster Management Units at different points in the country equipped with expertise, technology and air rescue support in times of major train accidents. We have the system of Accident Relief Trains in every Division, which means effectively handling a train disaster by the relief team coming in a train. This is often many hours away as every ART has a defined beat. Where in the world do we handle railway accidents like this? People cannot be left to die on the tracks just because we have a rudimentary way of handling emergencies, which require speed and attention within the golden hour.

3.0 GPS Mapping of Assets

Introduce GPS mapping of assets. This will produce a paper showing how unproductive many assets are! Whys should the system carry burdens unnecessarily?

3.1 Open Lateral Entry

Allow lateral entry at different levels from the other civil services especially finance, land amenities, and Rates, as encadrement of posts promotes mediocrity and denies the organization its right to benefit from specialization. Vice versa encourage Railway officers to move more in other Ministries to gain from the experience of serving in other Ministries. At present Railway’ is very insulated and continues in its drift of a slow stream.

3.2 Formation of independent Director-General office for Safety, and similarly for Information & Publicity, and Commercial Publicity

Safety of trains should become one of the priority factors in governance. Of late major accidents have happened killing innocent people even in slumber. Formation of a system of a Directorate under Director-General, Safety reporting only to the CEO is a must. Accordingly, the Safety officers down the line should take directions from this Directorate rather than the local General Managers. Place Addl. DGs in Zones.
Director-General, Information & Publicity to be created like above to deal with the subject of publicity professionally rather than the present ad hoc approach adopted by Chairman in Board and General Managers in Zones, who are only interested in their photograph appearing in the media rather than placing the organization ahead of themselves.
Director-General, Commercial Publicity to be created to find out more opportunities and generate additional revenue. It cannot continue to be an activity of the established routine red tape, but has to be a function, sensitively and imaginatively handled. Railways own prime land at prime locations and this is lying waste or encroached. Should there be a Directorate to oversee and enter into Public Private Partnership models with full authority Railway’ can generate revenue equal to what it generates from sale of tickets.
3.3 Business Orientation in Decision Making

Business orientation in decision making to be adopted. Today all decision making is technology based. History is witness that organizations who follow this route take decisions for the sake of technology and not the people. The people’s interest should govern the technology to be adopted. It shall also have the added advantage of making the organization lean, and not fat with the burden of unwanted technology or technology desired for it brings benefits in purchase to pay its master.

3.4 Project Management

Separate classification of projects justified on social and strategic grounds for which the financing pattern should see flow of budgetary support from the Union Budget.
Project Teams should be in place for each and every project. At present the General Manager distributes the big projects to the CAO (Construction) under him and passes on the petty projects to the Divisions. It is not a professional approach and the Government loses a lot in cost over-runs, the people lose in time over-runs.
Development Radar concept should be adopted for better monitoring and evaluation of projects with financial and physical progress indicators.
Projects should have a fair regional distribution rather than be on the mercy of the chance of having a Minister from your State to hope for some railway project. In any case the development of the North-east deserves special mention by giving those states railway projects, which would help them come faster into the mainstream.
3.5 Outsource Peripheral Activities

Peripheral activities should be outsourced rather than the do-it-yourself approach. Today an activity like linen supply management is in-house with the Government spending tax payers money in building mechanised laundries! Why can’t it be given to the private sector to manage rather than involve huge expense of this management upon the finances and the much essential “time”? Officers who should rather concentrate on core activities of train operations are busy in linen management, that’s why safety activities become a casualty! Railway’ has to identify core activities, which it must do itself and peripheral activities, which should be passed on to the private sector.

3.6 Use of I-Pads for Ticket Checking

Introduce ticket checking with I-Pads linked to the charting base. All tickets to have a bar code and the I-Pads to have bar code readers. This shall be a people friendly decision and reduce heavy corruption on trains. Today, on TTE of a Rajdhani train takes home almost Rs. 20-25,000 per trip by way of selling berths illegally and surreptitiously!

3.7 Think Tank

Set up a Think Tank with advisory panel drawn from Universities and IITs. This can be a body for the Railways to advise and direct policy formation. The Railway’ is in the grip of a mind-set that policy is what we think the people want, not what the people actually want. In my paper above I have earlier brought out the fact that technology is dictating policy, not the public demand. Where are the stakeholders, those who are so vital to policy formation?

3.8 Annual Conferences

Annual Conference with State Governments, Ministries like Transport, and one technical international Conference to appreciate new useful technologies emerging internationally which can be adopted or customized.

3.9 Wagon Leasing

Introduce Wagon Leasing. Today Railway’ manufacture and own wagons. This activity can be passed on to the private sector, which has the capacity and financial prowess to do this.

4.0 Cash Less Transactions & Service Improvements

Promotion of cash-less transactions on physical sale points, which shall drastically reduce corruption. It is the petty everyday life corruption that bothers the general public as it affects a person directly. If we can evolve systems to reduce corruption faced by the common man in everyday life we would give the people immediate personal relief.

  • Set up a Billing Department for Sundry earnings.
  • Booking of Public Retiring Rooms on the internet.
  • Escalators for the public at major railway stations.
  • To stop the Rs. 30/- charged on every credit card transaction to the passenger by Railways.

4.1 Art of Analysing and Thinking
The whole problem of Railway’ is that today much of the the top executive have not developed the art of analysis and thought. They keep themselves immersed in taking “train running” position 24 X 7, the job they first learned as probationary officers attached to the Chief Controller in a Control Room. This is true of all departments as hierarchy subdues talent. Is this the CEO should be doing and expecting others to do? True, it is important, but cannot be allowed to occupy the total management time available. There has to be a system and process approach encouraged in the organization rather than the ‘dog under the engine’ approach (the dog started moving when it saw the engine move and then started thinking that he is making the engine move).

“What is the vision of Indian Railways?“No one has ever done the visioning exercise for IR till today. And so no one down the line is aware of any shared vision. How do we expect the 14 lakh employees to give their best to the organization? This is the fate of a huge and public need organization today.

4.2 Introduce new Double Decker Shatabdi trains

Last, but most important and visible decision should be to introduce a new genre of Double Decker Shatabdi trains. Proposal about increase of more trains would be met with a line capacity constraint, so I feel, if you cannot go horizontal, go vertical! These could be viewed as a gift to the people from Hon’ble Prime Minister who has shown the courage and determination to give good governance to the people. In our country one has to keep doing, keep doing, and keep doing, for the challenges are so immense and public demand insatiable. I think if the challenges are many, so are the opportunities!

In our country the most unfortunate thing is not to recognize talent till the west has appreciated it. A friend of mine with less experience, less skills, less maturity, much less contribution, who studied with me in Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, NY, was placed on return as member in the National Security Council in Afghanistan, but here we are captive of imposed situations unless something dramatic happens to us for our skills to be used for much more advantage for the people than in the present circumstance.

I submit this Paper on Reforms required by the Railway’ for kind consideration, with humility and my personal respect for this great country.

© Sandeep Silas, Delhi, India

www.garlandofpeace.com

www.sandeepsilas.com

JAI HIND!

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Today is #International #Day of #Peace…make a #Garland of #Peace!

On September 21, 2009 my original and innovative idea “GARLAND OF PEACE-  Declare War Ruins As Peace Heritage Sites“, was launched and dedicated to the world by Hon’ble Minister of Labour & Employment, India, Shri Oscar Fernandes.

A video of the Launch Ceremony follows:

News and Views:

https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/SandeepSilas.aspx

http://www.garlandofpeace.com/photographs_launch_ceremony.php

http://www.garlandofpeace.com/genesis_idea.php

http://www.garlandofpeace.com/expert_says.php

http://www.garlandofpeace.com/related_news.php

I recall my Professor Mr. Steve Lux, Director, Executive Education Program at Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York, USA telling me, “Sandeep, this is an idea worth living a lifetime!”

Professor Catherine M. Gerard who serves as Associate Director of Executive Education Programs and Director of the Program For the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, my favorite Professor, encouraged me on this path and supports the idea with full enthusiasm. She says,”The Vietnam generation is out, the second world war generation is almost out. The time for this idea has now come.”

I would also like to acknowledge ‎Louis Kriesberg, ‎Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Associate Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration who started me on the work of building peace bridges between nations and communities.

Professor Dr. Michael Tomlan, Graduate Chair of Historic Preservation, Cornell University had invited me to deliver a talk on Garland of Peace at Cornell.

Dr. Kapila Vatsayayana, a renowned international expert on culture and Member UNESCO Committee on Heritage, told me in a conversation after watching the presentation: “You are attempting to change the memory of war, the human cognition. I am with you. Run to the Prime Minister and request him to take it to the UN. The moral prestige of India will reach the heights of Swami Vivekananda days.”

Ms. Bhaswati Mukherjee, former Permanent Representative of India to the UNESCO writes: “The proposal is interesting and innovative and closely linked to conflict resolution, peace education and peace building. These issues would need to be discussed among interested delegations in the UN General Assembly in New York.”

I remember in Syracuse I was fondly called the Garland of Peace Man!

My website www.garlandofpeace.com stands for global peace and requests all citizens of the world who crave for world peace to participate and transform it into an international peace movement.

I invite all lovers of peace to kindly participate in this peace movement, visit the site and write comments on the Peace Wall.

Please nominate such sites from your countries on the Nomination page as you think are deserving to enlarge the garland of peace!

Together we can make a difference!

How long do we wait for peace…?

Please visit www.garlandofpeace.com

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Ittefaaq (Coincidence) by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal

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Coincidence by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’

Be grateful for your coming or treat it like a coincidence

Life is taking a sweet turn, this much I realize

 

Two days I don’t meet you and then it seems to me

That my life is ebbing out, with each breath I take

 

The heart’s yearning is now being revealed by the eyes

Your thoughts bring those of the angel Gabriel to me

 

Before your coming several questions surround me

Ti’s strange, only beautiful thoughts fill me, once you come

 

How do I tell you to stop for me during your own journey

Before you too, many others could not become my custodian

 

I roam restless with a measure in hand, from door to door

Never know when the beloved may appear as a doctor to soul

 

My days have started shrinking betwixt a few words

My musings narrate my story without you, to everyone

 

One ‘love’, brought ‘deep’, one ghazal, another time two

How will she ever understand, such intimate conversations

 

Ittefaaq by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal, 2012

Translated Book in English available on Amazon Kindle:

https://www.amazon.in/BEAUTIFUL-THOUGHTS-Sandeep-Silas-ebook/dp/B0080RNI7C

BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS by [Silas, Sandeep]

 

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Who Can Tell… by #Sandeep Silas

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Who Can Tell…by Sandeep Silas in Rainbows Don’t Last Forever (2012)

Book available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.in/RAINBOWS-DONT-FOREVER-Sandeep-Silas-ebook/dp/B007VDJEX8

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God is in His Heaven… by Sandeep Silas

God is in His Heaven… by Sandeep Silas

View from the top is always satisfying despite the chaos, inequality, poverty, terrorism, prejudices and violence unfolding below!

So true today…

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(The Sunday Observer Nov 14-20, 2000)

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Ummeed by #Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in #Ranai-e-Khayal

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Hope

Intoxicated with the wealth of your beauty am I

Mirthful is the dawn, dew is spread all around

 

I remember you sweetheart every day and night

You are the utmost of grace, my playful light

 

That the lamp of hope, be not extinguished my lady

Therefore ‘deep’ dwells in poetry and is on the rise

 

Ummeed by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal (2012)

Translated Book in English available on Amazon Kindle:

https://www.amazon.in/BEAUTIFUL-THOUGHTS-Sandeep-Silas-ebook/dp/B0080RNI7C

BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS by [Silas, Sandeep]

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#Fall by #Sandeep Silas

Fall by Sandeep Silas

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Fall by Sandeep Silas in Borough in the Mist (2007)

 

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Wandering in wonderland, published in The Hindu

At Vallorbe, Sandeep Silas digs deep into his imagination to make sense of the city of caves

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NATURE’S ART WORK The limestone caves constitute a grotto complex where stones take amazing shapes. Here are two examples: The left one looks like the mount of wisdom and the right one comes close to a symbol of pilgrimage.Photos: Sandeep Silas

Sometimes, Nature leaves you in complete wonderment. We as humans have been blessed by creative intelligence, and we like giving shape and form to thoughts and ideas. Face to face with the creations of Nature, we find only one answer to the questions that arise in the mind about the identity of their creator. It is the Creator, Himself, whose identity is known from His awesome works seen all over.

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Such was the feeling that gripped my mind at Vallorbe, a city of caves with unusual rock formations, columns and edges. Call them simply – they are stalactites and stalagmites, but look closely, they are humans in stone.

Vallorbe has existed for thousands of years. It nestles along the banks of the Rive Orbe. The region is called the Lake Geneva Region. In the heart of the Swiss Jura near the cliffs of Mont d’Or and Dent de Vaulion mountains, exists this wonderful world of waterfalls, valleys, coloured stones and an underground river. The Limestone Caves constitute a grotto complex that is fascinating and has created a colourful exhibition of 250 minerals, popularly called “The Fairie’s Treasure Trove”. It is said that ten million years ago Switzerland was an ocean. Lime got deposited at Vallorbe. The River Orbe found for itself a subterranean bed in these limestone deposits.

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A mixture of intrigue and Nature’s heritage was discovered in 1961 and opened to the public in 1974. Vallorbe is located on the Swiss French border and just one hour’s drive from Geneva. Vallorbe is not a destination like we are used to – with roads, markets, museums, forts and places and confectionary marts. It is a museum of Nature instead.

Rest in peace

Hidden inside a deep forest, a stream misleads you to believe that there can be nothing more to life than the peace of a jungle. A huge mountain with a tunnel opening also doesn’t let you expect much. Till you reach inside and run like ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It is cold inside and a jacket seemed comfortable. On entrance is a pool of water, far down amidst the rocks, which appeared like a pan of shining mercury. A long tunnel leads to a room from where begins this journey into mystic imagination. The best part about this visit is to see and find shapes in stones and give them an identity from your own cultural bank in the mind. Every person looks at them differently and understands uniquely. For the Christian, some formations may appear like a Cross or the Disciples at Supper; for the Hindu, the Pandavas at one place and hundreds of Shivlingams all over.

The Kailash Mansarovar here and Vishnu Kund over there. For the poet, it is the ‘Wasteland’ here and ‘the chimes’ yonder. For the painter, it is a battle formation here, the placid lakeside beyond the rock, and the ‘Triad’ in the distance. Everyone is at ease. Each one is at peace at Les Grottes de Vallorbe.

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I climbed up to find and discover interesting cold shapes exuding warmth from the character they had assumed. I was conscious that what I saw was here only this moment, not the next. Some snow would melt altering the shape, some vapour would condense giving birth to another form and so this natural cycle goes on and on. Timelessness, I thought.

The caves and walls are lit by sensor operated lights, so that it is not dark all the time. You stand before a cave and the lights are turned on, enough for an image to get imprinted upon the minds’ eye. One sharp edged ice shape looked like the Sword of Damocles to me. Another, a wave of the wind, yet another the swift glide of a serpent. Then one was definitely a beehive. It had hundreds of perfect bee dwellings at the bottom surface and then it rose up like a temple bell, securely fastened to the roof.

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The walls were moist and drips of water had left small pools on the ground. It was 10 degree Celsius inside the cave world. This was a perfect peaceful miniature world of mountains, valleys, lakes and peopled by snowmen and snowwomen. No blood can be spilt in this world as all movement has been frozen by time – the snow people those live here, grow and fade away by temperature variations, with much life gone by at the same fixed location.

I climb down a few steps into another area. There the cave is like a bedroom cave, a cosy and safe sleeping room. Some stalagmites are curiously shaped like the male organ and are a boast of life. Now, another looks like the ‘bell of heaven’ with thousands of thread like strings. Moving out of this maze of shapes and forms was not a pleasant thought, but all life drama has to come to an end on a note of climax. This was reserved for the end. I hear the gushing sound of water. Deep down from an opening, a stream emerges at great speed, creating foam balls in its movement. The elongated pear shaped pool it merges with, never ceases to amaze. This is actually the underground River Orbe.

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The exit opening pushed me back into the world of definite shapes. Back inside Vallorbe it was imagination at its best. Here it is imagination coloured by learning, a definite perspective, more ruled by what is commonly understood.

Curiosity, once quenched, gives over to memory, to let the seen and felt, be retained in vaults and summoned to image at the drop of a thought! Vallorbe is a wonderland and you will find it more amusing when you visit as by then some more vapour would have taken a form!

Vallorbe is located on the Swiss-French border and just one hour’s drive from Geneva

(Published on December 26, 2011)

Link:

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/wandering-in-wonderland/article2748081.ece

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