Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Deck at Lavasa

 

In architecture, a deck is a flat surface capable of supporting weight, similar to a floor, but typically constructed outdoors, often elevated from the ground, and usually connected to a building. The term is a generalization of decks as found on ships. The Deck at Lavasa is special. It talks to the clouds & is friends with the pristine mountain air and the early morning fragrant mist from the Mose valley! Maybe I have this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder about Lavasa and the deck at Lavasa!  Let me educate you all about Lavasa. Lavasa, free India’s largest Hill Station, embodies the spirit of human nature to Live, Work, Learn and Play.Nature trails that zigzag across the hills, offer a perfect recreational activity for nature lovers. 

Imagine a home nestled in a picturesque valley, where the tranquil old world blends seamlessly with the cosmopolitan way of life. Lavasa offers a vibrant, self-contained world which is part of 25,000 acres of land (almost 1/4th the size of Mumbai) declared as Hill Station with an extensive Master Plan covering half that area. The rest of the region is left untouched to preserve the natural beauty. Cradled in the heart of mystic Sahyadri mountain range, Lavasa is well connected to both Pune and Mumbai.
Envisioned as a complete Hill Station offering a balanced life in harmony with nature, Lavasa is an aspirational destination for lifestyle seekers. 
Lavasa is located at an altitude of 2000-3000 feet above sea level, with state-of-the-art roads, robust infrastructure and a salubrious climate all year round. It is the largest Hill Station to be planned and developed using the Geographical Information System (GIS).An exhaustive GIS architecture has been designed which would integrate into other systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Document Management Systems (DMS) and Customer Relationship Management System (CRM). Through GIS, accurate information will be provided to its facility managers anywhere in the world regarding the status of the Hill Station. Lavasa is located on a hilly terrain, which was one of the basic reasons for the development of a digital elevation model. Nature trails have been mapped with GPS and points of interest are described. A significant contribution has been made towards trail guides highlighting the rich diversity of flora and fauna at Lavasa. I could go on and on about the technology embedded into this Indian hill-station , which will be a show-case to the world. Move over first world, the new India beckons!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming back to the Deck. This is my favorite haunt with an unopposed view of the swelling Warasgaon lake & the Mose Valley. The pristine green valley overlooking the placid lake is a perfect setting to rejuvenate and refresh your mind, body and spirit. Lavasa is home to the Karvi flower also called the blue bloom, which blooms only once in 7 years- 2007 was the year of the bloom. The Malabar Whistling Thrush, the singer bird of Lavasa is popularly called the “Whistling Schoolboy”. This deck with the view, crops out from the multicuisine restarant that serves World cuisine. Sushi, Beer & roasted almonds & the Whistling Schoolboy alongwith with 50 inches of rain last Saturday made the “deck” a semi-permanent home for this writer. The Lavasa deck would beat any “Deck of The Month” hollow! Check them out on http://www.decks.com/DeckOfMonth.aspx

The Deck introduces you to nature & the clouds. Nature is at its best in the monsoons in this part of the world. Standing on the Deck and bathing with the rolling moisture laden clouds that almost caress you is a sublime experience that causes a neural crackling & hyperactivity in the satiety centers in the human brain. You are numbed and be-numbed time and again thinking that just three hours out of Mumbai and you get a fresh lease of life on the Deck! Just look at the photographs and admire the deck changing its appearance with the different hours of the day – almost like the four seasons of mother nature! The Walk in the Clouds just got better!

I doff my hat and salute the people with the vision to make a new India & Lavasa! Jai Hind & Jai Maharashtra!

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Lesbians lose Australian court battle over twins

An Australian couple lost a high-profile medical negligence case against their specialist fertility consultant at the Canberra Fertility Clinic last week. The couple had alleged that Dr Sydney Armellin negligently transferred two embryos rather than one as specifically requested when they received IVF treatment in 2003, thereby causing the birth of an additional baby, and then sought damages in the amount of $400,000 to help compensate for the cost of raising an additional twin daughter. This sum included fees for a private Steiner school, time off work and medical expenses. They testified that their relationship had suffered dramatically from the strain of raising twins. Their claim, launched in September 2007, attracted angry public criticism.
The president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for the Australian Canberra Territory (ACT), Dr Paul Jones, has welcomed the Canberra Supreme Court decision and called for legal clarification to
prevent these so-called ‘wrongful birth’ claims – which classify the birth of a healthy child as ‘damage’ – from reaching courtrooms, similar to prohibitions that already exist in other Australian territories.Former AMA president and obstetrician Dr Andrew Foote told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that ‘it sends a very mixed message [to their children], that we love one but don’t want the other. They should’ve been grateful for healthy babies’. ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher cautioned against the case leading to ”knee-jerk’ legislative change’ but stated that the government is open to consideration. ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell also warned that reacting to the case with legal amendment might cause a dangerous precedent. Chief Minister Jon Stanhope felt Foote confused the situation with emotional ‘nonsense’ about who loves children more and clouding facts that highlight important legal principles such as consent, a doctor’s duty of care and patient trust.
Justice Annabelle Bennett cleared Dr Armellin of liability and rejected the couple’s argument that they knowingly consented to the 0.1 per cent risk of identical twins from single-embryo transfer but not to the reported 20 per cent increased risk of twins resulting from two-embryo implantation. In a written statement during proceedings, the couple wrote that they ‘cherish’ their girls but this is about negligence and their right to consent to the procedure performed. Instead Justice Bennett found that the birth mother –
whose identity has been temporarily suppressed by Court order – was ‘negligent’ for not making her choice of the total number of embryos to be implanted clear and reprimanded the clinic staff who failed to seek
appropriate confirmation of consent.
Other critics of the same-sex couple focused on their homosexuality and questioned whether they should be restricted from assisted reproductive services. The couple retaliated that it is a ‘double-standard’ to expect minorities, including homosexuals, to be ‘grateful’ for reproductive privilege rather than to provide ‘equal’ rights. 
The average cost of an IVF treatment is about $5000 in Australia, however most couples – including homosexual couples – are eligible for a rebate of up to $1700 for each procedure.The couple’s solicitor Thena Kyprianou said her clients did not attend the hearing because it was ‘too expensive’ but are ‘shocked’ and will decide whether to appeal after considering the judgment.

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The Lavabahn, Cloudscapes & Artichokes of LaVaSa

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it.
-Anaïs Nin, entry for February 1954, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin

As little as five years from now, a sprawling township will spread across the Mose valley. Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC) — that has a 60 per cent stake holding in the Lavasa project with the LM Thapar group, Venkateshwara Hatcheries and private investors for company — believes that by then there will be 100,000 primary inhabitants and a floating population of a million. Their vision is of a self-sufficient hill town. The likeness, if all goes to plan, will be to Davos. Nearly 12,500 acres of high valley land, contracted by Lavasa, circling most of the 20-km dammed Varasgaon lake, is in the throes of massive infrastructure building. The approach highway is the first sign, leading up to a network of arterial and trunk roads. For now, all roads lead to three hotels that are under construction, with a total room size of 560. To be managed by the Novotel, Starwood and ITC chains, they will be the first to see completion later this year. An 18-hole golf course is being laid out, a club house planned and, eventually, shopping centres. 

The star attraction at Lavasa is the waterfront; all development springs around it. According to locals, however, Varasgaon lake actually all but dries up in the months leading up to the monsoon. That problem has been addressed. HCC, with their strength in infrastructure, has built a mini dam that has created a reservoir holding of 1.8 million cubic metres of water. Eighteen such dams and check dams will ensure year-round lake views. Dasve’s architectural style is derived from the fashionable resort town of Portofino (Italy) and its pastel-coloured coastal residences, Damanhole in Phase 2 will sport a Western Ghat vernacular style.

A Hill Station encapsulated inside the mystic Sahyadri ranges provides a perfect setting for a getaway for many a travelers and tourists. The maddening pace of city life, the endless traffic jams, and the stifling work cubicle…is all conveniently forgotten at Lavasa wherein different kinds of leisure and recreation activities provide a refreshing escape from the metropolis. Lavasa offers exciting diversions such as star-gazing, boating, treks & relaxing. There are also cinemas, theatres, parks and meditation centers planned over the next decade. Setting new benchmarks in construction, planning and service delivery Lavasa offers its residents a level of town infrastructure hitherto, unknown in India. The high quality roads to Lavasa would provide total connectivity to its residents and visitors. Lavasa is approached by various routes. World-class road from the Chandni Chowk (Pune) to Lavasa makes traveling speedy and comfortable. I have christened the road from Pirangut to Lavasa as the Lavabahn (Autobahn – (German: IPA: [ˈaʊtoːbaːn], plural Autobahnen; English) is the German word for a major high-speed road restricted to motor vehicles capable of driving at least 60 km/h (37 mph) and having full control of access, similar to a motorway or freeway in English-speaking countries.).This road was laid out three years ago & has weathered 4 Western Ghat Monsoons with not a pot-hole along its length. this actually tells you the whole story about corruption and Mumbai Municipal Corporation Road Contractors!). Along the Autobahn, the drivers can stop at rest areas for fuel, food and beverages. In Germany, they are called Raststätte(n), while in Austria they are known as Raststation(en). These rest areas have restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurants may legally serve alcoholic beverages. Many of the rest stops also have motels. In Germany, the rest areas were operated by a government-owned company until 1998, when it was privatised. On our Lavabahn you get excellent Masala Chai with Jaggery (Instead of Sugar) at small village rest areas selling Chaha! Just before you leave urbanization, there are numerous small & medium sized hotels & restaurants selling Bata-Wada & Masala-Chai.

The best Cloudscapes on the Lavabahn are seen between 9am and 11am and then again 5pm and 7pm in the monsoons.The color of a cloud tells much about what is going on inside the cloud. Clouds form when relatively warm air containing water vapor is lighter than its surrounding air and this causes it to rise. As it rises it cools and the vapor condenses out of the air as micro-droplets. These tiny particles of water are relatively densely packed and sunlight cannot penetrate far into the cloud before it is reflected out, giving a cloud its characteristic white color. As a cloud matures, the droplets may combine to produce larger droplets, which may combine to form droplets large enough to fall as rain. In this process of accumulation, the space between droplets becomes larger and larger, permitting light to penetrate much farther into the cloud. If the cloud is sufficiently large and the droplets within are spaced far enough apart, it may be that a percentage of the light which enters the cloud is not reflected back out before it is absorbed (Think of how much farther one can see in a heavy rain as opposed to how far one can see in a heavy fog). This process of reflection/absorption is what leads to the range of cloud color from white through grey through black. For the same reason, the undersides of large clouds and heavy overcasts appear various degrees of grey; little light is being reflected or transmitted back to the observer. Other colours occur naturally in clouds. Bluish-grey is the result of light scattering within the cloud. A greenish tinge to a cloud is produced when sunlight is scattered by ice. A cumulonimbus cloud which shows green is an imminent sign of heavy rain, hail, strong winds and possible tornadoes. Red, orange and pink clouds occur almost entirely at sunrise/sunset and are the result of the scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere. The clouds are not that color; they are reflecting the long (and unscattered) rays of sunlight which are predominant at those hours. The effect is much the same as if one were to shine a red spotlight on a white sheet. In combination with large, mature thunderheads this can produce blood-red clouds.The sky is a veritable canvas at Lavasa. Ekaant is the place for cloud-gazing & the best cloudscapes from Ekaant are visible at Dawn/Dusk.

Saturday morning I was woken up with the whiff of fresh “Bhuttas” wafting into the clouds entering my bedroom at Ekaant. I was wondering at the odd sense of timing of roasting Bhuttas & then heard the pitter-patter of kid’s feet. On looking out of the Balcony, saw over a dozen kids being chased by a Yogi Bear. This was my first introduction to children’s voices & laughter at Ekaant. The kids were having a blast. Yogi Bear was a big hit & now was being chased by the tots into the Ekaant lobby. The parents were getting them to pose with Yogi Bear for their proud vacation snaps. Lavasa had something for all ages.

Had got up late & decided on an early Lunch. I was the first resident to come in for lunch into the multi-cuisine restaurant. I was greeted by the new F & B manager Mr Pant who requested for ten minutes before the buffet would be served. we got talking and incidentally he had set-up one my my favorite watering-holes at the Radisson, Jalandhar in 1999. Since I work 5 days a month at Jalandhar since 1999, someone talking about Jack-Daniel’s got me hooked! Jack Daniel’s is the finest pub one can find in North India at one of the most unlikeliest of towns-Jalandhar. I was amazed at the buffet layout- there was an artichoke salad, a tandoori-chicken salad, deicious prawn-curry at 2500 feet above sea level topped off with hot Kheer-Sevian. As I was finishing my Lunch, the gang of kids accompanied by a large tourist group descended on the Restaurant. I decided to leave behind the fun and frolic & laughter and take a walk around the Lake. The Dasve Lake which is designed to provide sporting and recreational facilities is enhanced by a 2.4 kms promenade which once completed, will form part of the retail and entertainment hub at Lavasa. With arbours, pedestrian bridges, shopping enclaves and dining areas, this will be the heart of Dasve. I was back to where I belonged – the time of the day not-withstanding. This was bliss.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” 
-John Muir (1838-1914)

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No IVF please, we’re British

An overwhelming majority of infertility patients in the UK said they would contemplate travelling abroad for fertility treatment, according to the first comprehensive study on the strength and motivations behind the fertility tourism industry. Among the 339 infertile patients who responded to an online poll conducted by Infertility Network UK, 76 per cent stated they would be willing to seek fertility treatment outside the UK with 70 per cent citing their reasons would be to avoid higher costs and long wait-lists at UK clinics. Infertility Network UK performed the survey for this year’s National Infertility Day on Saturday, 19 July 2008, when it announced its findings at a conference in central London.
Other popular reasons provided by the patients for why they might prefer to receive fertility treatment abroad were high success rates (61 per cent) and the greater availability of donor eggs and sperm (54 per cent). The UK has suffered a decline in the number of egg and sperm donors since removing donor anonymity by law in 2005. The 24 per cent opposed to treatment in overseas clinics were commonly concerned about lower standards, lack of regulation and language-barrier difficulties.
Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK, blames the current ‘appalling’ difficulties – such as ‘postcode lottery’ arbitrary provision – that infertile couples face in Britain in order to access fertility assistance: ‘If the NHS funded three full cycles of treatment as recommended by NICE, many couples would not be forced to consider going abroad for treatment’, she said. She warned that regulations can be totally different for foreign fertility clinics and it is ‘absolutely vital’ for individuals to do ‘thorough research beforehand’.
Yet the study revealed an 88 per cent level of satisfaction from those who received treatment abroad, reportedly not only due to lower costs, shorter waiting-lists and successful pregnancy rates but also due to general staff attitude, atmosphere and state of the facilities. Clare Brown added that she hopes ‘that clinics in the UK take into account the findings of this survey and learn from the good experiences many couples have had at clinics abroad’.
Among those who were dissatisfied, 47 per cent experienced problems due to language and communication difficulties and 37 per cent due to unregulated practice. Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated, ‘The Government is working directly with Infertility Network UK, as well as experts in the NHS to ensure the needs of people with fertility problems are recognised and addressed’.
This Friday, 25 July, marks the birthday of Louise Brown, who was the world’s first IVF-conceived child born in England. Thirty years onward, roughly 3.5 million IVF-assisted babies have been born worldwide, averaging at least 200,000 annually. However, infertile individuals in the UK are among the least likely in the developed world to receive IVF with one of the lowest annual IVF performance rates in Europe – under 700 per million Britons. In 2005 just 1.6 per cent of total births were assisted pregnancies compared with rates of 3-3.5 per cent in Scandinavia.
A special-focus Economist article attributed the low statistics to the lack of public funding available and the low-priority ascribed to infertility as a medical condition in the UK. Only nine out of the 152 local primary-care trusts provide the three recommended IVF cycles. In 2005, two-thirds of the IVF cycles performed in Britain were privately funded.

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ADVANCED MICROSCOPY TO SELECT BEST SPERM FOR IVF

Two independent studies presented at a European fertility meeting this week highlight new techniques for selecting those sperm most likely to result in successful pregnancies following IVF using intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The first, by Italian scientists, uses high-powered microscopy to choose the healthiest-looking sperm for fertilisation, while the second, by US scientists, uses fluorescence microscopy to distinguish which ‘healthy-looking’ sperm are in fact harbouring DNA damage, which can decrease the chances of achieving pregnancy.
The Italian group, lead by Dr Monica Antinori, of RAPRUI clinic in Rome, used a microscope five times more powerful than standard microscopes to select sperm with the best genetic quality on the basis of their size and shape. When these sperm were each injected directly into an egg, they found that the overall pregnancy rate rose from 26.5 per cent in patients treated using standard methods, to 39.2 per cent in those treated with the new approach, known as intra-cytoplasmic morphologically-selected sperm injection (IMSI).
‘By treating this kind of patient with this technique, we offer them an opportunity to solve their fertility problems. As you can see from the results, the group that has had two or more IVF failures can get more than twice the opportunity to have a pregnancy with this new technique’, Dr Antinori  told the Times newspaper. But, being about twice as expensive as ICSI, which costs between £3,000 and £5,000 in the UK, the treatment does come at a price, warned Dr Antinori.
Meanwhile, the US group, led by Mr Conrado Avendano, of the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia, found that 20-66 per cent of the sperm selected using conventional methods – which analyse size and shape using much lower power microscopy than the IMSI method – turned out to be harbouring DNA damage, suggesting that appearances can be deceptive and should therefore not be solely relied on.
‘DNA-damaged sperm has a highly deleterious effect on the ability to achieve a pregnancy. Even if damaged sperm are used and the woman becomes pregnant, the chances of miscarrying are significantly higher’, said Mr Avendano, speaking at the annual meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).
While these studies have the potential to bring dramatic benefits to infertile males, they also highlight the need for further research to evaluate the various methods available for identifying the sperm most likely to result in pregnancy.

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EMBRYO TEST BOOSTS IVF PREGNANCY RATES

A new test which helps IVF doctors pick the healthiest embryos for transfer may boost pregnancy rates by up to 15 per cent, was unveiled at a European fertility conference last week. The test, which takes just one minute to carry out and will be used alongside standard IVF methods for embryo selection, is due to start trials later this year and may be available in clinics early next year.
‘We fail to get patients pregnant about two-thirds of the time we transfer an embryo, and one of the reasons is we are not very good at picking the best ones from those available,’ lead researcher Denny Sakkas, professor at Yale University school of medicine, told delegates at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting.
Conventional IVF relies on choosing embryos for transfer by examining their size and shape under a microscope. But the researchers found that this method was only accurate at identifying viable embryos – those which would result in a pregnancy – 40 per cent of the time. Their technique – known as ‘ViaTest-E ‘ – involves shining a light through the fluid surrounding the embryo in order to measure it’s metabolic activity – rather like the technique used to tell whether milk is full or half-fat.
Testing the ViaTest-E device on 500 embryos showed accuracy rates of 60-70 per cent, potentially boosting the chance of pregnancy for women under 35 in the UK from 30 percent to 45 per cent. It is anticipated that tests which help doctors select the most viable embryos will be vital in order to support the move towards single embryo transfer, a measure being implemented across Europe and the rest of the world to try and limit multiple births.
Dr Daniel Brison, co-director of the North West Embryonic Stem Cell Centre in Manchester, told the BBC that improvements to IVF success rates were urgently needed. ‘If we can get better at choosing the best embryo to implant then we can increase the efficiency of IVF, move towards single embryo transfers and thus reduce the risk to mothers and babies,’ he said.

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World’s oldest mother has twins at age of 70

A 70-year-old woman in India is reportedly the world’s oldest woman to give birth, when she had twins last week. The girl and boy babies were delivered one month early by emergency caesarean section but are reportedly alive and well after being transferred to specialist neonatal care at Jaswant Roy Speciality Hospital.
Omkari Panwar and her 77-year-old husband, Charan Singh Panwar, have two grown daughters and five grandchildren but wanted a male heir and sought IVF assistance, according to newspaper reports. ‘The treatment cost me a fortune but the birth of a son makes it all worthwhile. I can die a happy man and a proud father,’ said Charan, a retired farmer, who told reporters that he mortgaged his land, spent his life savings, sold his buffalos and obtained a credit card loan to afford the IVF treatment costing INR 350,000

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Journalists were unable to verify Omkari Panwar’s age because she does not have a birth certificate and does not know her birth-date. Instead, her recollection that she was nine years old at the time of Indian independence in 1947 has been used to determine her age to be 70. If accurate, then Omkari is four years older than the 66-year-old Romanian woman, Adriana Iliescu, who previously was believed to be the oldest woman to give birth when she had a daughter in 2005. Britain’s oldest mother is Patricia Rashbrook, who gave birth to a son in 2006 aged 62, after paying INR 800,000 for IVF treatment in Russia.
Omkari dismissed any awareness of the record and fails to see its ‘benefit’: ‘If I am the world’s oldest mother it means nothing to me. I just want to see my new babies and care for them while I am still able’. Critics of post-menopausal motherhood say that they should not be allowed to receive fertility treatment because of increased health risks to mother and child. Others question the ability of geriatric parents to cope with young children and the harm of early parental bereavement.

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