Skip to content

What, no elephants?

Updated Thursday 6th March 2008

Bob Spicer in Lucknow reflects on a violent past, a promising academic future and prohibitions on elephantine access.

The winter high-pressure cell over the cold, high, Tibetan Plateau continues to work its magic. Dry air cascades down over the Himalayas and out across the plains of India, warming as it does so. The result is that here in Lucknow we have day after day of sunshine and, as spring develops, the temperature rises day by day until, sometime in late May or June, the summer low develops over Tibet, the air-flow reverses, and the monsoon rains arrive. Our daily high is already approaching the mid 30s Celcius and Lucknow is bathed in a lethargic yellow haze.

I spent Saturday morning walking around the ruined British Residency where, in 1857, part of the First War of Indian Independence took place. This was the site of the famous “Siege of Lucknow”. Over a period of 140 days around 2000 people died within the boundaries of the Residency, victims of cannon and small arms fire, disease and the heat. The remains of the buildings still bear testament to the violence; the cannon shot and bullet holes still evident, but today the scars are softened by time and the carefully tended gardens of magnificent Bougainvillea flowers and roses. Somehow this gentler present seems appropriate following such a violent history.

The ruined main residency building, Lucknow Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Bob Spicer The ruined main residency building, Lucknow

Within the grounds of the Residency there still exists a crumbling, but still functional, mosque. This is in contrast to the remnants of the pseudo-gothic Christian church built from local red tile bricks, where only the bases of the buttressed walls a few feet high are discernible. In the churchyard itself most of the victims of the siege were buried, but today the only visible monuments record the lives of the officer class, their young brides (most in their twenties), and young children. Missing is any reference to the ordinary soldiers or indeed the many Indians who also died in the siege.

On leaving the Residency I noticed a sign that I had missed as I entered. There, very politely, visitors were informed that it was not appropriate to bring their elephants on to the site.

That evening I was invited, by printed card, to attend the Palaeontological Society of India Professor M.R. Sahni memorial lecture in the adjacent Department for Geology, Lucknow University. The lecture was presented by Prof. P.K.Saraswati of the . There are several IITs around India and they represent the pinnacle of science and technology education and research in the country.

The lecture was on the way that foraminifera are capable of fractionating oxygen isotopes differently depending on the season and the stage they are at in their life cycle. This research clearly showed that, when looking at ancient isotopic signatures that can be used for determining ancient sea temperatures, great care should be taken. Simply analysing bulk rock samples or a single whole foram is likely to give potentially erroneous results. The trends may well be preserved but absolute temperatures might be in error. A sobering thought for those of us who research past climates and how they might inform our knowledge of future climate change.

The Indian Government has just announced the creation of three more IITs and sixteen more ordinary universities. Clearly it is a country willing to take on the world as far as science and technology is concerned and, with over a billion people to choose from and where education is still valued by society, can be assured that it will have large numbers of people capable of taking advantage of the highest level of training possible. I am struck by the similarities between India and China in this respect, and feel rising concern for the future of the UK as a knowledge-based society when the competition has so much potential and is investing so heavily.

Shopping mall

The Lucknow retail temples are clearly not elephant friendly.
[Image © copyright Bob Spicer]

On Sunday, across town and after weaving to and fro across monkey-bedecked bridges that criss-cross the Gompti River, I visited one of several new temples to consumerism: shopping malls, that are springing up in Lucknow. All the British and international high street names are there. There too elephants are forbidden.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

article icon

Nature & Environment 

My beautiful Earth

Bob Spicer is impressed by Indian railways and by children who know about Earth system science.

Article
Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Kathy Sykes' Diary: Gold Rush Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Kathy Sykes' Diary: Gold Rush

Kathy Sykes's diary about travelling to New Zealand and the challenge for the Gold Rush programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 3

Article
Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Ellen McCallie's diary: Gold rush Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Ellen McCallie's diary: Gold rush

Ellen McCallie's diary about travelling to New Zealand and the challenge for the Gold Rush programme, from the BBC/OU series Rough Science 3

Article
Nature on the balance sheet Creative commons image Icon NASA Goddard under CC-BY under Creative-Commons license audio icon

Nature & Environment 

Nature on the balance sheet

Are we losing nature by not putting enough value on it? Monty Don asks Tony Juniper and Bill Adams in this extended interview from Shared Planet.

Audio
15 mins
Oil and water: What's happened in the Gulf? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Dreamstime video icon

Nature & Environment 

Oil and water: What's happened in the Gulf?

The massive oil spill off the coast of the US is dominating headlines. Patricia Ash looks at what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

Video
5 mins
Nuclear power - yes please? Creative commons image Icon JohnGreyTurner under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Nature & Environment 

Nuclear power - yes please?

Are we coming to terms with nuclear power - or is a push for reactors masking a need to reduce consumption?

Article
What factors affect population change? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC audio icon

Nature & Environment 

What factors affect population change?

Wolfgang Lutz talks to Monty Don about changing birth and death rates over time.

Audio
10 mins
Make a bird house Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC activity icon

Nature & Environment 

Make a bird house

The total area of garden space in the UK is probably greater than that of all the nation's nature reserves. Converting just a small section of your garden into a breeding place for birds can make a small but significant contribution to the survival of bird species.

Activity
Is your wash day polluting the oceans? Creative commons image Icon Mirko Tobias Schafer under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license article icon

Nature & Environment 

Is your wash day polluting the oceans?

Every time you wash your clothes, microfibres escape into the environment. And that, explains Dr Natalie Welden, is a huge threat to our oceans.

Article