The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flora for Atal, fauna for Sonia

April 13: The heat is up and the people are heading out. Reflecting the holiday mood, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi, too, have taken off from Delhi — the Prime Minister retreating to the eastern Himalayas and the Congress president to the forests of central India.

Setting foot on Sikkim for the first time on Friday, Vajpayee had gushed that “its a dream come true” for him.

The tiny Himalayan state returned the compliment today, unveiling the Dendrobium Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a hybrid of Sikkim’s national flower named after the Prime Minister at the suggestion of chief minister Pawan Chamling.

The Dendrobium Nobile orchid hybrid was part of an impressive display of exotic orchids, amaryllis lilies and other seasonal flowers at the annual flower exhibition Vajpayee visited in Gangtok today.

Sikkim wasn’t through with pampering the Prime Minister on the third day of his four-day visit — he was asked to name an orchid hybrid. Prompt came the answer: from Vajpayee: Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman in space who had died recently in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy.

In contrast to Vajpayee’s restful holiday stretching over an extended weekend, Sonia opted for the thrill and adventure of tiger tracking packed into one-and-half days at Kanha National Park, India’s premier wildlife sanctuary.

The Congress chief was returning after 15 years — then she had a splendid time with husband Rajiv.

Digvijay Singh and Ambika Soni were her companions this time, and the wildlife did not disappoint. A tigress and two cubs crossed her path when she hit the jungle trails in an earthy tiger-print sari early last evening.

Eyewitnesses said the tigress made a split-second eye contact with the Congress chief before bounding out of sight. But not before the photography enthusiast in Digvijay had clicked the frame of his life.

As soon as the excitement subsided, Sonia wished Baba, as she fondly calls her two-and-half-year-old grandson Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra, was there.

After spending the night at the Kanha resort, she made another foray into the forest early this morning, spotting barasinghas, chitals and black bucks.

Sonia kept to the wildlife, contrary to speculation that she may give final touches to the long-awaited revamp of the AICC secretariat.

However, the Prime Minister has been mixing pleasure with business. Vajpayee has been visiting hydel power projects, attending felicitation functions and most important, announcing a Rs 500-crore development package for Sikkim.

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