Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dogs and the Truffles!

(The champion of the animal lovers in an article emphasised the potential of truffle cultivation in Kashmir. She forgot to mention that the Dogs plaguing the population are the ideal sneakers of the Truffles in the wild!) Maneka Gandhi, the proclaimed champion of the animal welfare, especially, the Dogs of all kinds and types, recently visited the Kashmir Valley. She had come to see personally the implementation of the Dog sterilisation project. Even though she declared that she had not come for Dog welfare but for humans, yet she spent appreciable time visiting the Dog pounds set up by the Srinagar Municipality and discussed the project in detail with the local officials. In an exclusive article to a local English daily, she blasted the state bureaucrats looking after tourism development. According to her, the Tourism Department had wasted crores of rupees given by the Central Government by constructing some stone houses in the villages. She observed that the tourism policies followed were all wrong and no high end tourists were visiting the valley. Well, she may be right to some extent as the Tourism Department is yet to frame a policy and a vision document. Most of the development is taking place on ad hoc basis on the demands of politicians regardless of the fact whether the areas being developed or proposed to be developed fulfil the basic criteria for such a development. Politics plays a larger role in taking up these areas for development forgetting the existing resorts which are now turning into some sort of urban population centres instead of the tourist resorts! She is also right in regard to the quality of tourism being developed which has been publicly admitted by the former Director Tourism. The high end tourism is yet to take off in Kashmir notwithstanding the fact that we claim millions visiting the valley! Most of the tourists are from the middle class enjoying the extended LTC (leave travel concession). The major portion of the article was devoted to truffles and the possibility of growing these in Kashmir on a commercial scale. According to Wikipedia, “Truffles are the fungus growing at the base of some trees in the forests. It is supposed to be a culinary delicacy. A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean mushroom. The spores of truffles are usually dispersed through animals that eat fungi. Almost all truffles are mostly found in close association with trees. There are hundreds of species of truffles, but the fruiting body of some (mostly in the genus Tuber) is highly prized as a food: Brillat-Savarin called them "the diamond of the kitchen". Edible truffles are held in high esteem in French, Spanish, northern Italian and Greek cooking, as well as in international haute cuisine. In the last 30 years, new attempts for mass production of truffles have been started. Eighty percent of the truffles now produced in France come from specially planted truffle groves. Nonetheless, production has yet to recover its 1900s peaks. Local farmers are opposed to a return of mass production, which would decrease the price of truffles. There are now truffle-growing areas in the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and Chile.” Maneka after describing in detail the commercial value of these edible fungi has outlined the extensive possibility of cultivating these on commercial scale in Kashmir. She feels that truffle growing may be more lucrative than the budgeted tourism Kashmiris have been so much obsessed with in recent times. Incidentally, she had omitted any reference to truffle smelling dogs even though she is supposed to be champion of their welfare! Dogs are supposed to be very sensitive in smelling truffles growing underground. In some countries there are many schools training dogs for truffle smelling. Most of the truffle seekers use specially trained truffle dogs. Kashmir has a large population of stray dogs which has become a menace. Maneka, instead of promoting setting up of dog pounds for their sterilization, could suggest setting up of dog training schools for truffle seeking. One could invite some dog trainers from abroad. These trained dogs could be exported to truffle growing European countries and would fetch a good price. A friend recently emailed me from US a suggestion regarding Dogs. He had been posted at Leh some years back. According to him, when the Naga Regiment was posted there, most of the Dogs disappeared mysteriously! He proposes hiring of some IL-76 aircraft from IAF by the state government to send Dogs to Nagaland. According to him it would fetch large revenue to the state government. However, I would not go by this cruel and sarcastic suggestion but would prefer that Maneka goes for truffle seeking training of Kashmiri Dogs for their export to some foreign countries! Comments at: ashrafmjk@gmail.com

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