70,000-year history of Indian sub-continent


Unraveling the mystery of our roots to understand the present and predict the future.


Do we have it in us to give the fairer sex the place they deserve?.


Change of world order. Religious Terrorism. Where are we heading?.


Wanderlust Hodophiles.

Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Body? Soul? What about a third alternative?

Before going any further into this article please close your eyes for a moment and remember the happiest memory of your life. May be your first kiss… the first day you hold your child… the gift you gave your parents from your first salary … just remember.

What if I tell you that all those memories are fake. What if I tell you that they have been implanted in your brain and have never taken place? What if I tell you that those memories belong to someone else? What will happen to you, to your identity? What if all your memories are wiped out. Will there still be a ‘you’? Ever since human beings gained consciousness they have asked a basic but profound question, ‘Who am I?’. After thousands of years of progress, are we any closer to answering that primitive question?

There is a big debate between the religious and scientific community about weather we are the soul or the body? Some say we are the soul that is eternal and it changes the body like we change cloths. Others say that the body is all that there is. We are born with the body and die with it. What about a third alternative? We are neither as permanent as the soul, nor as temporary as the body. What if I tell you that we are just memories.

Emotions creates impacts, impacts creates memories, and memories creates consciousness. Events that trigger emotions, like love, passion, fear, anger etc., leaves behind an impact that the brain thinks as important and stores as memories. It is those memories that makes us who we are.

Some say, ‘You are what you think’. The truth is, ‘You are what you remember’. Your idea of yourself, the ego that you have about yourself, your identity, all exists in memories. If I erase those, they do not exist anymore. Your religion would mean nothing to you. Your nation would mean nothing to you. You will understand no language. Even your family would mean nothing to you. In fact there would be no ‘you’. You must be thinking that playing with memories is science fiction. What if I tell you they are more real that you think.

We are lucky to be living in an era where science is breaking new grounds. Experiments have brought out unbelievable facts. Unfortunately, they do not make news. We are fed with the news of poverty in Africa, with the killings by ISIS, or with court’s judgement of whether Homo sapiens living inside an artificial boundary that matter to just one of the 9 million species, should stand when some acquistic vibrations happen in one of the infinite possible patterns created by one of over 100 billion members that ever existed of that particular species! They do not tell you about scientists like Ramirez and Liu who are removing fiction from science fiction.

The white rat in the picture is the hero of the experiment. A tragic hero if I may call it so. The wire that goes down its head is a switch to trigger a memory on or off. The white little hero had memories of the blue box. Then it was put into the red box and given mild shocks while the memory of the blue box was triggered. A trick was played with its memory. The poor guy now believes that it got the shocks when it was in the blue box. So, whenever it was put in the blue box it froze with fear. Bingo! Inception!

Scientists have managed to store rat memory in artificial memory chips that mimics brains own memory signal. They have used memories of trained rats and implanted them into untrained rats, who then became trained without any training. Scientists have even transformed shocking memories into cheerful ones. Think about the implications that it can have. One must not forget that the brain of a mouse and that of human beings are totally different. Human mind is much more complex. But, limitations are now just technological. Possibilities are endless!

We have blood banks, sperm banks, gene banks…what about memory banks? A place where you can periodically back-up your memories. Incase you suffer from Alzheimer’s when you are old, you can get all your memory back. What about erasing traumas? What about education? Just like training untrained rats by replacing memories, what if we can turn unskilled labours into skilled labour? But storing and implanting memories have much bigger implications. It shatters the very idea about our existence.

What if my memory is stored and preserved even after I die. Then it is implanted into someone who have lost all his memories. Think about it for a bit. Let the idea sink. That person whom I have never met has my memories. He ‘remembers’ just what I remembered and thus becomes me. The body changes, but I continue to exist.  I start again from the day I last backed up my memory! What if my memory is copied into more than one person? Remember Agent Smith of Matrix. There will be more than one me, with a shared past but different futures. 'Should we store memories?' then becomes an ethical question.

There would be a time when our planet will die. If not by nuclear weapons then by asteroids, if not by explosion of Yellowstone then by the sun burning all it’s fuel. If we want to outlive our planet, we need to find a new one. The nearest known liveable planet will take us over thousands of years to reach. Only way to survive the journey is to store the memory and put it back into the body after reaching there. That is one reason scientists are trying to find ways to store memory. The question of storing memories is not about ethics, it is about survival. 

Machines are slowly replacing parts of human body. They are better and efficient. Artificial limbs implanted in people who have lost them in an accident are stronger and faster. We are even creating artificial organs that lasts longer. How far is it before we create the entire robotic body and implant the memory of a living person into it? Where is the next stage of our evolution taking us? This post is not meant to answer the questions. It is to trigger the questions that makes us think we we really are.

If we are, but our memories, how solid is that memories? What are memories after all? They are just electrochemical signals that are QC’ed by our hippocampus and stored in a very complex way in our brain. The picture you see above is a cross-section of a positive memory. Only bits and pieces of your life that had created an impact are stored as memories, while most of it is rejected by the hippocampus. Rest are just brain’s interpolation. In fact, brain plays a trick with you. Your brain manipulates and recreates your memories. Many of them are actually false. But to you it is truth because thats what you ‘remember’. I am afraid, our consciousness, our idea about ourselves, is not standing on a strong ground.

Memories are fragile… memories are manipulated. As R. Lanza says, the feeling of ‘I’ is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain. So much for our big inflated ego!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Short answer: Because “whiskey’s for drinking, but water’s for fighting over”.

Water crisis is not unique to India. Human population is growing while the supply of drinking water is decreasing. Water crisis is inevitable all around the world at some point of time, if this trend continues. In fact, it is a reality at many places at this very moment. The problem is there in every corner of the world. ~2.8 billion people are affected by water shortage for at least one month in a year. 

Let us first understand why is there a crisis in the first place. With growing population and urbanisation the demand of water is exceeding the rate at which the aquifers are recharged. The waste generation is also increasing with time. It is polluting the already stressed drinking waters. This is very obvious in cities like Delhi. We desperately need to clean our rivers. Climate change is accelerating the crisis further. As the icecaps are melting, the glaciers are receding. This reduces the flow of waters in rivers and streams. Climate change also affects the weather pattern. Droughts are becoming common and monsoons are becoming unpredictable.

Water conflicts are nothing new. Where ever a river basin is divided between strong states, there has been rivalry. In fact, the English word “rival” is derived from the Latin word "rivalis," meaning persons who live on opposite banks of a river used for irrigation. Conflicts related to usage of river waters is common in Middle East and North Africa over the waters of Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and Jordan river. Turkey and Israel had made a “water for arms” deal in 2004. Turkey exported gallons of water in oil tanks to Israel in return for tanks and airforce technology. Stress is building up over the water usage of Colorado River in US. Water wars have been common in California. When I went to Mono Lake I was amazed to see the towering Tufa towers. I was surprised when I heard that they formed under water. The dramatic fall in the water level has not only exposed them, but also affected the eco-system. 

Tufa tower of Mono Lake

Water scarcity is also affecting Mediterranean basin. Spain had to import water from France in 2008 due to severe drought in Catalonia. South-eastern Brazil, including cities like Rio de Janeiro, are struggling with the worst droughts in over 80 years. China has always been a society that is heavily depended on its river water. Hydrologists have warned that the economic boom is fast drying up the water resource, and with it China’s future.

Nowhere on earth the decline of groundwater is faster than it is in northern India. It became evident when twin satellites from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) detected the ground water storage based on gravity. India had it’s share of disputes over the sharing of river waters with Bangladesh and Pakistan. But the main war for water in India is happening in the south.

In India water is not just a necessity … water is god. Control of river has always been the key to agriculture and economy of empires. Wherever there was a dispute, war followed. Fight for the waters of Krishna River dates way back in history. There have been battles between the Chola and Chalukya Empires between 10th to 12th century, then again between the Vijayanagara Empire and Bhamani Kingdom in 14th century.

The dispute of Kaveri River started in the 19th century between the kings of Mysore and British controlled Madras Presidency. A pact was signed in 1892 that allowed “on the one hand allow to Mysore in dealing with irrigation works, and on the other, give to Madras practical security against injury to interests”. The pact resulted in peace that lasted for 18 years. In 1910 the issue resurfaced when Mysore king wanted to construct a dam with a capacity of over 40TMC. It clashed with the interest of Madras which had it’s own plan of a dam almost double in size. After lots of negotiations final agreement was reached in 1924 which allowed Mysore to construct the dam, but of only 11 TMC capacity. Because of higher population and need TN got more share of the water. The agreement was to lapse after 50 years. The seeds of today’s conflict was planted.

Post Independence Indian states were reorganised on linguistic basis. The Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 (ISRWD Act) was passed on the eve of reorganisation under Article 262 of Constitution of India to resolve the water disputes that would “arise in the use, control and distribution of an interstate river or river valley”. The reorganisation brought new players into the game. The new state of Kerala and the Union Territory of Pondicherry now had a share too. However, Madras, now Tamil Naidu (TN), and Mysore, now Karnataka, remained the major players.

The Government of India archive website reports 7 Inter-State water disputes under ISRWD, 1956:

The control for Kaveri remained a volatile mix of unpredictable monsoons and dirty politics. The dispute was referred to a Tribunal in 1990. Every failed monsoon inflamed the tensions. Violence broke out in 1991-92, especially in Tamil populated parts of Bangalore. Monsoons failed again in 1995. Quick intervention by the then prime-minister P.V. Rao resulted in a negotiation and helped prevent widespread violence. Tensions flared up again in 2002 when monsoons failed once more. It was followed by four years of relative calm.

The final judgement by the Tribunal was delivered in 2007 as per ISRWD. It allocated 419 TCM ft. of water annually to Tamil Nadu, 270 TCM ft. to Karnataka, 30 TCM ft. to Kerala and 7 TCM ft. to Puducherry. None of the states were happy with the decision and review petitions were filed by them for re-negotiation. With no side willing to back off, the dispute still remains nine years since the judgement.

To understand the dispute let us first try to understand the number game. The following analysis is based on the data in the following website :

Experts did some complicated maths (which has lot’s of assumption) to come up with the magic number of 740 TCM ft of total water available from Kaveri Basin (if monsoon does not fail). Of that the major chunk of 462 TCM ft is the yield of the river in Karnataka. Karnataka can keep only 270 TCM ft and give the rest (192 TCM ft) to TN. TN also generates 227 TCM ft from it’s own catchment area increasing the total share of the state to 419 TCM ft (227+192). Kerala, which generates 51 TCM ft, can keep only 30 TCM ft. The rest 21 is divided between Pondicherry (7 TCM ft) and environmental purposes (14 TCM ft).

The obvious question is why Karnataka gets less water though it has the highest water yield?

This is a very common problem around the globe. As per this ( website:

The upper-riparian nations (riparian nations—nations across which, or along which, a river flows) initially base their claims on absolute territorial sovereignty, typically claiming the right to do whatever they choose with the water regardless of its effect on other riparian nations. Downstream nations, on the other hand, generally begin with a claim to the absolute integrity of the river, claiming that upper-riparian nations can do nothing that affects the quantity or quality of water that flows in the watercourse. The utter incompatibility of such claims guarantees that neither claim will prevail in the end, although the process of negotiating or otherwise arriving at a solution might require decades.

Karnataka, being an upper-riparian state, has more responsibility. It has to provide water for down-stream states, which in this case is TN. That still does not justify TN getting a total of 419 TCM ft and Karnataka only 270 TCM ft. The justification to the biased proportion lies way back in history. The Chola Dynasty has been building dams for irrigation since 10th century. This led to growth of agriculture in TN. Comparatively, Karnataka had been lagging behind. The people of TN became more dependent on the waters of Kaveri River than Karnataka. Under British Rule TN naturally got more share of water. Even till 1974 80% of the annual yield of Kaveri River was used by TN. Now that TN is more dependent on the waters, there is no way of reducing their share drastically without adversely affecting the farmers. TN has more population and thus more need. Karnataka, on the other hand, needs more share for the growth of their agriculture. With rapid increase in the population (more than 10% in last decade) in Southern Karnataka (having cities like Bangalore) the demand of water is also rapidly growing. Without increase in share of water Karnataka's growth will become unstable.

Another issue that Karnataka has with the tribunal is the monthly allocation of water that it has to provide to TN. During the four monsoon months it has to provide 10 TCM ft in June, 34 TMC ft in July, 50 TMC ft in August and 40 TMC ft in September. This is based on the average figures provided by the state itself. There is no problem when monsoon is sufficient. However, during the distress years, like this year (2016), it becomes a major issue.

The 2016 water crisis started when Supreme Court (SC) directed Karnataka to release 15,000 causecs of water to TN for 10 days on 5th September. This order was passed to satisfy the demands of TN's farmers for growing summer crops. This led to violent protests in Karnataka, as the water flow was already less. As the law and order went out of control SC revised the orders this Monday (12th Sep). Now Karnataka has to provide 12,000 causecs instead of 15,000. The duration, however, was increased till 20th September instead of 15,000 causecs for five days as Karnataka wished, and the protest continues.

According to recent estimates Karnataka has suffered a loss of around Rs 22,000-25,000 crore because of the wide-spread agitation hitting transport services and businesses. Two deaths has already been reported because of the clashes. Most of the violence is instigated by miscreants. Involvement of politicians cannot be ruled out. The scary fact is that, there is no easy solution to the problem.

Is Kaveri dispute a warning for rest of India? As water demand grows and rivers dry up, are we going to see more of such wars? What is the solution?

Only way to solve the issue is dialogue and negotiations. The states has to be more mature and understand that the problem will only increase if it is not solved now. Instead of short term thinking guided by local politics, politicians should think about the long term implications. The states also need to manage the water efficiently. There is a lot of scope of improvement for better water management. One way is to avoid water intensive paddy crops and the use of techniques that do not facilitate conservation of water. If we don’t act now, the water wars is soon to become reality all over India. We desperately need to find a peaceful alternative.

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Is Mother Teresa a saint?

REF# © 1986 Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 1986 / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 de 

This simple question has been a topic of heated discussions in our office cafeteria since she received her sainthood. I am sure other offices in India would be no different. The simple answer to that question would be ‘no’.

The long answer to the debate is probably more complicated than a simple ‘no’.

Let us first take a look at how she became what she is today.

Teresa was born in an ordinary family of Skopje, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia, on 26th August 1910. Her real name was Agnes (Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu). From her childhood, she had been a religious person. The idea of serving the poor of Bengal for Christ was implanted in her mind very early. In her teens, she got fascinated by the stories of missionaries serving in Bengal. Once she was 18 years old, there was nothing that could stop her from achieving her dream. Teresa left her home and went to Ireland not only to learn English, the language of missionaries in India, but also to start her journey of serving Christ by joining Sisters of Loreto. She arrived in India in 1929 and began her training in the foothills of Himalayas of Bengal in the sleepy city of Darjeeling. In India, she took the name of Teresa - the patron saint of missionaries.

It was only in mid 20th century when Teresa became Mother Teresa. The World War II had deadly repercussion in Bengal. The famine of 1943 left over 3 million dead and those left behind barely survived. Few years later, before the wounds of famine could heal, Bengal suffered the second deadly blow - the Hindu-Muslim riots. Kolkata was lucky to have both Mother and Mahatma (Gandhi) with them during such trying times. Teresa was saddened by the desperate condition of the poor in Bengal and she experienced "the call within the call" to help the poor. She decided to leave the comfort of her missionary and serve the poor while living among them. Since then she has served the poor and took care of "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

With permission from Vatican, she opened the missionaries of charity in 1950. Since then she had opened numerous orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centres worldwide. In 1952 she opened the home for dying in Kalighat and named in ‘Nirmal Hriday’ (Pure Heart). It was meant for those who lived their life like “animals”  but could now “die like angels—loved and wanted.” Her efforts made an adherent atheist like Mr Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, say “She makes me a bad Marxist since she makes me believe in godliness”.

Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work. As humble as always she said, “I am not worth it”. Her humbleness could also be found in her card that did not bear her name or number, but just had the words “Happiness is the natural fruit of duty” typed in it. While she tried to make others happy, it took a toll on her mind. Behind her smiling face, she suffered the “tortures of hell”. She wrote a letter in 1959 to the then archbishop of Kolkata, “There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God, so deep that it is painful, a suffering continual, and yet not wanted by God, repulsed, empty, no faith, no love no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place. The thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at him in spite of everything.” 

She died on 5th September 1997. I was 16 years old when she died. You could see sad faces everywhere in Kolkata, irrespective of which religion people belonged to. She lay in repose for one week in St Thomas church, Kolkata. Being a student of St. Thomas School (Kidderpore), her death had affected me too. I still remember writing a poem for her when she died:

I will remember your blessings mother,
Till my last days sun shall set.
With which you have blessed the poor,
Gave them shelter and bread.

I will remember your smile mother,
With which you won million hearts,
With which you revived people in misery,
Made them one amongst the world.

I will remember your words mother,
Which you taught and prayed.
With which you showed path to salvation,
To the millions, sinful and afraid.

Your frail silhouette in blue and white sari
Is a symbol of hope and peace.
In a mind full of distress and pain
It feels like eternal bliss.

I am not a poet…..nor was she a saint.

To understand why we have to answer two questions:

1] Sainthood requires two miracles. Are the miracles real?
2] Was her humanitarian work selfless?

The first miracle she performed was recognised in 2002 when an Indian woman named Monica Besra claimed that she was cured of a cancerous tumour in her abdomen after a beam of light emanated from a locket she had containing Mother Teresa’s picture. Her doctor and her husband rejected the miracle as a hoax. According to them the tumour was non-cancerous and was cured by conventional medical treatment. The second miracle was recognised by Pope Francis in 2015 who claimed that Mother Teresa was involved in healing a Brazilian man with multiple tumours. Another lie. Thus, the two boxes were ticked and Mother became a saint. Sainthood would have been the last thing she wanted. The only thing she craved for was God. After her canonisation on 4 September 2016, she would probably have said, “I am not worth it”. Sainthood on the basis of lies would have made her feel even more so. To me, it is an insult to her soul. Faith heals. Placebo medicines are proof of that. Science has proven that yoga and happy, positive attitude boosts health. But there is so much placebo and stress relieve can achieve, and curing tumour is not one of them. I wonder why her supporters are celebrating such an insult!

The answer to the second question is more complex. Teresa was a believer and whatever she did, she did for Jesus. She believed in Christianity as the only saving grace. Teresa was against abortion, contraception, divorce and remarriage. She has also been responsible for many secret conversions. According to a video recording from 1992, she has boasted of converting over 29,000 people to Christianity on their deathbed in Nirmal Hriday. But she converted those who got only suffering from their own religion. Though not selfless, it does not make her a Satan. She did it only because she cared. How many people would be happy to attend a person on the roadside dying of leprosy? One may doubt her reason, but not her commitment.

There were many charity organisations and individuals who has been serving the poor in Kolkata and other places in India. She was not the only one and her organisation was not even the largest charity organisation in Kolkata. She, however, received more media coverage than anyone else. One of the reason for her popularity was her right political alliance. Being close to Congress she even supported the Emergence declared by the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. She said "people are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes."

The question most of her critics ask is whether she did enough to eradicate poverty from Kolkata. Is the City of Joy (and poverty) any different because of her. Though debatable, the answer to that is probably no. She cared for the poor but did nothing to stop poverty. Some of her critics compared it to caring for rape victims rather than trying to stop the horrendous crime of rape. Her treatments were also not up to the mark. The sisters were not skilled enough to treat the diseased. The motto was not to cure but provide a ‘beautiful’ death. In a way, the ‘Saint of the Gutters’ was very much like the ‘Half-naked Fakir’ Gandhi. They glorified poverty and suffering which, they believed, were the path to god. 

Her most vociferous critic has been Christopher Hitchens and Aroup Chatterjee. According to Hitchens, “many more people are poor and sick because of the life of Mother Teresa: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.” They have questioned her dubious political contacts, how she managed the huge amount of money she received, and her main mission of conversion through which she wanted to come closer to god. Are they right? Are they wrong? Truth, like always, follow the middle path.

Neither did Teresa perform miracles, nor was her act of kindness selfless. Whatever she did, had only one purpose - getting closer to god. Thus, she in not a saint. But, she is not a satan either. Coming from an ordinary family, fatherless at just nine, growing up in a religious environment, one cannot blame her for her blind faith. She lived a life she believed in. She did save many lives that others ignored, whatever may be her reason to do so. Despite all her flaws she was a human being, and a good one. Let us remember her for what she was…nothing less, nothing more. The world needs more mothers and less saints.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

CONSILIENCE: Geology, History, Cultures and Evolution


Some people have asked me that, being a geologist, how did I end up writing a book on history? To me, geology is an extension of history and the two subjects are more inter-related than we think. 

Geology deals with two different aspects: the living and the non-living. The rocks, mountains, minerals, plate-tectonics, etc, are the non-living part of geology that closely relate to geography. The living aspect, ironically, deals with the dead. Fossils and evolution to be precise. It is closely related to biology.

It is history that connects the two extreme aspects of geology. How? The short answer is: Geology influence history, history influence culture, and culture influence evolution. Let me explain.

Rifting in Africa is considered by many as the reason for the evolution of Homo sapiens. Plate tectonics created mountains that acted as barriers and thus natural boundaries of human civilisations. The rivers that came down from the mountains created fertile plains that became the nucleus for the growth of civilisations.  Indian civilisation would not have been born without the fertile plain created by the rivers that exist because of the Himalayas. The melting of glaciers had a profound effect in starting the agricultural revolution. The long east-west axis of Eurasian plate, a result of plate tectonics, was the reason for the rapid growth of civilisation in the fertile crescent (read J. Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel). The mineral deposits, coals and petroleum has influenced the geopolitics of the world. The mountains and passes have influenced the outcome of many battles. Geology, thus, played a big role in guiding the path human history took.

History’s influence on culture is more easily understood. Arts, languages, religions, nationalism and politics are outcomes of history that define cultures. Culture is unique to human beings if you define it, in a less minimalist way, as a complex social organisation where people learn shared way of life transmitted through symbolic forms of communication, like language. Unlike animals, culture binds a large group of people together through an idea that does not exist in reality.  Languages are random vibrations whose pattern we associate with a certain meaning. The sounds are abstract as it does not have any real universal meaning. It’s meaning only exist in our mind once we are trained to do so. Language, however, creates bonds between a large group of people that defines a culture. Same is true for religion. It is an abstract concept that binds people together. It is a myth that exists only in our mind (read Sapiens by Y.N. Harari). It helps create an identity, a sense of unity, which has historically helped tribes to survive. Nationalism is also same as religion. Instead of an imaginary faith we now have imaginary borders that only exists in the human mind. Politics is no different. The leaders who create history, most often than not, are people who were able to incept any such mythical ideas in the minds of a large group of individuals. Individuals who were ready to fight and die for that idea. Ideas that resulted in numerous battles and bloodshed, ideas that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ideas that now breed terrorism. We can say with some confidence that history and culture are intricately interlinked.

The link between culture and evolution is a bit more complex. Human beings accumulate ideas and technologies over generations and the culture evolves. Inventions like fire, or stone tools gave few groups of individuals advantage of survival. The groups that did not learn the new inventions perished, while the genes of those that survived dominated. Control of fire gave us the ability to cook food that became easier to digest. As a consequence our stomach, teeth and mouth became smaller and the intestine shortened. That might have helped us focus more energy towards the brain. There was a time when humans could not digest cow milk. Once we started domesticating cows our digestive system evolved in a way that it became easier to digest milk, or milk products. Cow milk became an easy source of protein and fat that gave the animal herders better chance of survival compared to hunters and gatherers. Thus, culture guides our evolution and decides which genes will spread.

Genes, in turn, control our behaviour, and thus culture. When I started having thyroid problems I noticed that I lost my temper very easily. I became a different person. It made me realise that a lot of what we are depends on the hormones that flow in our body. Those hormones, in turn, depend on our brain and thus our genes. How brains affect behaviour is well documented by the case of Phineas P. Gage (read Consilience by Edward O. Wilson). In 1848, Gage suffered a major accident in which he lost a part of his brain. The loss of that particular part of the brain, prefrontal lobe to be exact, turned a cheerful well-mannered gentleman into a self-destructive habitual liar. Similar cases have been observed with other people who lost that part of the brain. Prefrontal lobe, we now know, controls our emotions. When we judge people we often forget that most of the time they cannot help. Our culture, guided by our behaviour, is the result of our biochemistry.

That would mean something very interesting.  The type of behaviour that would dominate the human race in the future would be guided by the genes that would spread. The genes that would spread would be the ones that control particular physical or behavioural traits in individuals that are preferred by the dominant culture at a particular time. These traits could be entirely imaginary bias/prejudice, like skin colour. Development of such prejudice is governed by historical events. An example would make things clear.

History of colonial rule can create a racist mindset that makes individuals prefer white skin. If the people in power, who had a better chance of survival, had white skin then a society like India can develop a preference towards that skin colour. In such a biassed society people having darker complexion would have less chance of getting married and thus spreading their genes. If the biassed culture continues long enough, soon that society would start getting fairer. For natural selection to be effective a cultural preference should persist for a long time. Thus, a historical event can create a biassed culture that, by the process of natural selection, directs the line of evolution. Lest we forget, the British colonised India because it had enough wealth that could make them rich. That wealth was a product of India's fertility and natural resource governed by the geology of India.

We tend to think of geology, history, biology, sociology, anthropology, genetics etc as entirely different subjects. When we think about it, these subjects are very much related. Being a geologist, it was only natural for me to get attracted to history. My current interest is in Dual inheritance theory (DIT), also known as gene–culture coevolution. And geology has a role to play there too.

Monday, July 11, 2016

LADAKH TRIP: All you need to know

Day1: LEH - Do Nothing
Day2: LEH-Around
Day8: LEH

If Kerala is god’s own country then Ladakh is the god of all countries. 

Either you go their by flight or road you will enjoy all the same. Just make sure you have enough time. 10 days is good.

Ladakh is not just about the mountains, but also about the rich history, culture and the fusion of religions. One can still hear the echoes of the hymns of ancient buddhist saints, the footsteps of traders along the silk route, and the screams of the battles between the great kings. This place is so high up in the mountains and still it was not shielded from the influence of Indian culture and Tantric Buddhism. At the same time the difficult geography acted, not as a barrier, but a filter to the influence of Turks, Mughals, British and modernisation. Only recently has tourism began to loosen the filter. 

Julley! It is the magic word of Ladakh which is used to greet people. That would be the first, and probably the only native word you will learn, apart from ‘tso' that means ‘lake’ and ‘la’ meaning ‘pass’.



There are 4 different routes from Leh:

1 night 2 days in Lamayuru: Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, Magnetic Hill, Indus-Zanskar Confluence, Alchi, Nurla, Lamayuru Monastery, Dah, meet the ‘Aryans’, Pre-historic rock art.

1 night 2 days in Nubra Valley: Khardung La, Diskit Monastery, Hunder Dunes, Bactrian Camel ride

1 night 2 days in Pangong: Pangong Tso,  Chang la, Horse/Yak ride, can reach directly from Nubra (preferred). Some so it in a day (5 hrs one way drive) from Leh (only if you do not have time).

1 night 2 days in Tso Moriri: Chumathang Hot-spring, Kyagar Tso, Tso Moriri, Tso Kar, Taglang La, Nomads.

2+ nights in Leh: This is your base for all travels. It is here that you will spend most nights, plus one full day rest. It is a good thing because this is where you get the best food. Places to see: Hemis Monastery, Thicksey Monastery, Shey Palace, Stok Palace, Spituk Monastery, Leh Palace, Shanti Stupa, Leh Market, Jama Masjid

‘Don’t be Gama in the land of Lama’ - A signboard in Leh
  1. Rest in the hotel for at least 24 hours, if not 36hrs. Make sure you carry something to keep yourself entertained (Don’t depend on internet), because it is going to be a boring start to your exciting trip. Sleeping is not an option. You are not supposed to sleep in the afternoons! 
  2. No smoking of drinking alcohol.
  3. Do not do a lot of physical activities on the first couple of days, which I was told includes sex. If you are travelling with kids, make sure they do not jump around a lot during the first day.
  4. Drink 2-3 litres of water a day. Not less, not more.
  5. Eat lots of carbohydrates. Forget KETO diet.
  6. If you are traveling with heart patients, old persons or small kids it is advisable to consult the family physician before hand.
  7. DIAMOX tablet helps fool the body to take more oxygen. Two tablets a day for 7-days starting one day before the date of travel. Again, consult a doctor.


Unless you are driving your own car, you have to hire taxi from locals only. It is a monopoly of local taxi union, which makes it expensive too. However, it is a short 4-5 months season. That is the only time these guys earn money, that helps them survive the rest of the harsh winters. When you think about it, it is not that unfair.

We were lucky to have a polite driver named Rigzin. He has more than 12 years experience, and knows every road in Ladakh by heart. He is also a very skilful driver. His number: +91 95-96-604991. 10 days cost us ~40,000 INR


LEH: The Auspicious Hotel
contact: Mr Robin +91 94-19-177864
review: Comfortable hotel with very friendly staff.
Rooms are nice clean and big.
While away from the noise and pollution of the main market, it is just 2-3 minute walk to the market.
Food is good. Non-veg is limited. They serve buffet. Breakfast is complimentary.
Free Wifi (slow connectivity).
Book in advance. They are mostly full in peak seasons.

NURLA: Faryork Resort (2500INR/night including food)
Cottages right beside Indus river. The resort had good food and friendly staff. Actually one super active staff, while the rest just relaxed. THERE ARE HOME STAYS IN DAH AND ALSO PLENTY OF HOTELS IN LAMAYURU.

HUNDER: The Snow Leopard
It is a nice hotel. It is big, clean and has spacious rooms. The bathroom is also neat and big. Do not expect to find any mobile towers in this place. We spent our night in the comfortable rooms overlooking the hills.
Contact Dawa Norbu
phone;01980-221097/200289, 09469176759
Bank details,
Hotel snowleopard 0152010100000666
IFSC code Jaka0diskit
Branch J&K bank Diskit
Nubra Ladakh J&k.

PANGONG TSO: New Wonderland Tents
For booking contact Norbu at 9469085995. This is amongst the few accommodations that is right beside the lake. On the back of the tents are the snow capped mountains. The price was 4000 including food. We got some discount. Electricity comes only between 7:30 to 11 pm through the generators. No room heater is available for safety reasons. Not that we required it. The tent was pretty warm. Use the toilet waters economically. Water is scanty, and water bottles are trucked from Leh. Per bottle here costs 50INR. The dinner was good. Tawa fry with dal was very good.

TSO MORIRI: Hotel Lake View
There aren’t many hotels in this place. It would be a good idea to book before hand. Reach early to get view rooms. Water is available from 7:30 to 9 pm and 7 to 8:30am, and electricity from 7:30 to 11pm. That’s the time for you to charge your camera, mobiles or any other necessary gadgets you have.
Contact Skarma: 9419299673
A/C holder name : SKARMA TUNDUP
A/C Number  :31747390557
Branch     :Mc Loed Ganj
IFSC :   SBIN0004250

Leh is where the good foods are. 
Top Choices: Budshah Inn, Chopsticks, Summer Harvest. All in the market.


Ladakh is sandwiched between the Himalayas and Karakoram Range. It is a part of two fore-arc complex. In the north is the Shyok Suture Zone. Shyok Formation (Nubra Valley) is not continuous, but occurs as thrust slices and lenses. It is described as an ophiolitic melange and it consists of serpentinises and ultrabasic rocks intercalated with volcanoclastics and sedimentary rocks.  In the south lies the Indus Suture zone (on the way to Lamayuru). Both Indus and Shyok suture zones represents two northward dipping subduction zones of Cretaceous age. Ladakh Batholith is situated north of Indus Suture Zone, while north of the Shyok suture zone is the Karakoram Batholith. Khardung volcanics lies just south of the Shyok Suture zone. Shyok ocean closed when Ladakh arc and Karakoram block collided forming Shyok forearc ophiolite (between 74 Ma and 97 Ma). Later the Indian plate collided with Ladakh arc (50-60 Ma) forming the Indus suture.

Phone connection will be an issue. Only BSNL and Airtel post paid connections work, that also mostly in Leh. Plan accordingly. Forget 4G, even 2G is very very slow. You are here to enjoy nature, forget internet for few days. 

Though the outside temperature was around 15C, out in the sun it felt like 40C. Once the sun was down it became cold again very fast. So, pack for both winter and summer. Good idea to take Shades, hats and or umbrellas, sunscreen, few summer clothes.

Carry cash (Lack of ATMS) and water (very expensive) from Leh to Nubra, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. 

For any questions or suggestions you can email me at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How I got Leh'ed: Day 8-9 Leh - Tso Moriri - Tso Kar

God took rest on the 7th day, and we on the 8th. At least it was rest day for my father and daughter. We stayed in Leh for that day. Woke up late, had late breakfast, and relaxed the entire morning. Few of us went on a half day sight-seeing after lunch. 

After staying in Ladakh for so many days I realised one thing. This place is so high up in the mountains and still it was not shielded from the influence of Indian culture and Tantric Buddhism. At the same time the difficult geography acted, not as a barrier, but a filter to the influence of Turks, Mughals, British and modernisation. Only recently has tourism began to put some holes in the filter.

The first spot in our short list was Stok palace. This palace is known for antique Thankas - handmade painting of gods and religious bodies on cloth using natural rock colour, including gold. Some of them are the oldest paintings in the region. Apart from that there is a royal palanquin, kings armoury (which was very primitive, like wooden bow and arrow), king and queen’s crown, wooden royal throne and jewelries.  Some of the jewelries are studded with turquoises- a precious stone from Tibet. Turquoises are more expensive than gold, and as per Ladakhi custom it is given by bride's family to the bride during marriage. There is a Chorten or stupa, made in the memory of someone from the royal family. The museum also has 500 year old measuring instruments, locks etc. Apart from the museum there is a temple containing lots of idols - Hayagriva, White Tara, Green Tara and Amitavus. Hiyagriva literally means 'having neck of a horse'. He is the yaksha attendant of Avalokiteshvara . His special ability is to cure skin diseases. Tara is born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara as he saw the sufferings of the universe . Green Tara protects devotees from danger while White Tara gives longevity, merit and wisdom. There are other small sections as well, like the royal kitchen, etc. The Royal family still stays here. In case you wonder, they are in no mood to meet you.

Stok Palace

View from Stok Palace

One can see the fusion of Buddhism with the local sacrificial cult. Bonism was the religion that predated Buddhism in Ladakh and Tibet. It originated from ancient shamanastic rituals and beliefs. Buddhism and Bonism fused into this exciting culture of Tibet and Ladakh. An amazing filtered blend.

Outside Stok Palace

After Stok we went to the Spituk monastery, a 11th century monastery that overlooks the Spituk village. It is the first Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, Monastery (as opposed to the more traditional red hats from the red cap that the Buddhists of Nalanda used to wear). There is a chapel devoted to Tara and has 21 images of her in different manifestations. The upper temple is the older one. It has big idols of Vajra Bhairava, Begtse, Vaishravana, White Chintamani, Upasika, Chamundi and Shri-devi. This gompa specifically mentions that alcohol cannot be offered. If I was the god I would be offended by such restrictions!

The next stop was Leh Palace. An eager dog greeted us at the doors. It is a nine-storeyed, 17th century palace, built by King Sengge Namgyal. This imposing palace, inspired by the Poatala palace of Tibet, was destroyed by the invading Dogra forces in 1936. The royal family took shelter in nearby Stok village. There are idols of Guru lhatin deh-gyed, Sitata Patra Bodhisartva-one who protects from harm, Shakyamani Buddha and Guru Padma Sambawa. The palace is a bhool bhulayia having small dark corridors. You will get a good view of Leh from the top. There is also a museum. Next to the Leh Palace is the Tsemo castle and gompa. It was built in 1430. The monastery has statues of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushree. We had some snacks at Castle Cuisine. Good thing is that they serve non-veg dishes, fresh juices, shakes and even mutton biryani. We had chilli chicken dry and tea.

In the evening we went to Shanti Stupa. This recent construction is a good place to sit and mediate. It was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985.

In the main market of Leh there is a Jama Masjid built in 1666-67. It was built by Raja Deldan Namgail after an agreement of protection with Emperor Aurangzeb.

We had our dinner at Budshah Inn restaurant. Because of puja it was dry day everywhere. No meat was available in Leh. But after some desparate requests we got boneless chicken butter masala and mutton kebab. After the good meal we went back to our rooms and slept early.

It was an early start the next morning. Our long drive started at 8:30 am. We picked up a crate of water at less than 20 per bottle. It is going to be expensive in Tso Moriri. At Upshi we submitted the ILP form. Road conditions are poor. At places Indus river have taken over the roads. You could see the electric lines drowned in the river bed. New temporary road was constructed by the army. Despite the road conditions the drive is less hilly and the roads are straight. Most of the road is along the northern bank of Indus river. There are green trees on the banks that is contrasting with the naked rugged mountains that surrounds it. The river cut section exposes the conglomerate beds. 

Green Patches

Indus Taking over the roads


We were south of the Indus Suture Zone when we hit a purple patch - literally. Never thought in my wildest dream that there are purple mountains. Yes you heard me right. Mountains made of purple slates are not uncommon. They can be found in North Wales. But I have never seen those. Another different rock that you might see near Tso Moriri are the eclogites (once part of mantle).
Purple patch

At 12:30 we reached Chumathang hot spring. We had our lunch - Maggie with separate egg fry - in the only restaurant there. Then we went to see the sulphur rich hot-springs bubbling out near the river bed. 
Chumathang Hot Spring

The next stop was at Tso chu or Kyagar Tso. You could see a lot of Changpa nomads have camped on the shores of the small lake. They moved here way back in 8th century BC from Tibet in search of income. Income came from the flourishing trade along the famous route that is now known as the Silk Route. The Changpa nomads once traded salt along the silk route. some of them have settled down permanently in Hanley Valley and are called Fangpa. They move their herds from the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato. Those who still follow the nomadic lifestyle are called Phalpa. They have a very hard life, and move around 8-10 times a year with their sheep, yak, goats and sometimes horses. Most of them have jeeps now. We also saw a ‘Residential School for Nomads’. They move to the lower plains during the harsh winters. Their present source of income comes from the livestocks. In exchange of food and other necessary materials they provide pashmina (expensive very fine quality under wool) and meat, and sometimes milk and butter.

By 3:30 pm we reached Tso Moriri. This beautiful glittering blue lake is at 4,522 m/14,836 ft altitude. It is also a closed  (endorheic basin) salty lake like Pangong. Your driver will take you to a few spots from you can get amazing view. Just relax and enjoy.



Our stay was in hotel Lake View. There aren’t many hotels in this place. It would be a good idea to book before hand. Reach early to get view rooms. Water is available from 7:30 to 9 pm and 7 to 8:30am, and electricity from 7:30 to 11pm. That’s the time for you to charge your camera, mobiles or any other necessary gadgets you have.

Following maps explains the geology around the lake."

Fig. 1. Geographical setting of Tso Moriri Lake. (a) Geological map of the Tso Moriri Lake (modified after Fuchs & Linner 1996, Steck et al. 1998, de Sigyor et al. 2004) and the sampling locations; (b) bathymetric map of the northern part of the Tso Moriri Lake basin; (c) alluvial fan from the lake catchment showing two levels of alluvial terraces.

There is a small monastery just uphill from our hotel. This 300-year old monastery is known as the Korzok Monastery and it belongs to the Drukpa lineage. It has many statues, including one of Buddha. It was built by the nomad kings of the region.

It was an amazing 9 days in this mythical land, but the best view of the trip was yet to come. Tso Moriri was the coldest place we have stayed so far. Only after my wife reminded us that we realised that it was a full moon night. We went out and I recorder one of the best memories of my life. Tso Moriri shining under the bright glowing moon. We felt like we were under a spell. It was the icing on our travel. 

Next day we drove back to Leh.

On the way back we stopped at Tso Kar - The white lake (Kar means White). The road to Tso Kar is a bit tricky. Stick to the main road and do not try to drive on the sands, even if you see faint tire tracks. We saw a car whose tires got stuck in the sand.
The salt deposits around the lake give it the appearance of white colour. It is at a height of 4530m/14860ft. This lake is popular with bird watchers as the marshland that surrounds the lake attracts lots of different species of birds. Tented accommodations are available around the lake.

Marshland around Tso kar
Salts of Tso Kar

Coming from Tso Kar to Leh we have to cross Taglang La, which is at 5328m/17480ft. The board wrongly claims it to be the second highest pass in the world at 5328m.

After Tanlang La the road met the beautiful, curvy, ribbon-like Manali-Leh highway that brought us back to Leh. Leh now felt like our new home. But only for the night. Our flight to real home was next morning.