Protecting Travel and Tourism Industry

A Commentary on the challenges faced and possible solutions for the Travel Industry.

Remembering Professor Sunil Kumar

He was one of the greatest historians who worked on the history of medieval delhi, which served as capital of the Delhi Sultanate (1192-1526 CE) for 300 years.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Amazing Thailand

This series is based over my reflections upon visiting Thailand.

The Immortal Kumbh Mela - Mahakumbha of 2013

Believed to be the largest congregation of mankind in the world, read my series of posts to know how it feels like to be amongst a magnitude of people

Shahjahanabad (Const 1648 CE)- The Legacy of Delhi Series (Vol 8)

'Shahjahanabad' is the eighth post in a series of 9 articles on the former capital cities which were built in the historical region of Delhi. Read on to know more..

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Sketch of a Teacher (Professor Rizwan Qaiser): II

On 6th May 2021 this blogger, along with 2 former batchmates (Mr. Jitendra Singh and Ms. Sabira Fatimi), organized a condolence meet on Zoom in honor of Professor Rizwan Qaiser, for the benefit of MA Batch (2015-17). These are the excerpts of what he spoke in the meet -


This image of Sir was clicked by one of my batchmates at the Stupa of Sanchi.

‘Sketch of a Teacher’

M S Dhoni once said that he preferred cricketers coming from small towns as they understand the concept of struggle and because they understand the concept of a struggle, they can fight the odds better.

Now while he was saying that for cricketers, I would like to add and say because that individual has seen the struggle, he would not want his children to face the same.

And, that was what Rizwan Sir’s students were, his children.

In an era when some teachers are in the education world to either earn money or have tunnel vision vis a vis their research, Rizwan Sir was one of those teachers who cared for his students while they were in college and cared for them when they were out of it.

In ancient times, the teacher (or the guru) was a father figure. Professor Rizwan Qaiser was one such father figure, a fast reducing class in the contemporary era where some educationists are fast forgetting that concept.

How he would combine his theoretical lectures with real-life examples was incredible. It made sure that we would associate Modern Indian History with our daily lives.

I got my knowledge about Mahatma Gandhi from Rizwan Sir. The Gandhian Concepts of Satyagraha, Ahimsa, Antyodaya were explained and discussed threadbare in the class.

We keep saying that the lamp of Gandhian values has to be kept lit so that the future generations do not forget the philosophy of the Mahatma. That can only be possible if the teachers have a deep understanding of the subject so that they can explain it to future generations in an ‘interesting’ manner. It is essential for the teachers to ‘impress upon the students' that Gandhiji’s vision of Ahimsa, non-violence, and Antyodaya can ‘never’ get outdated.

With the passing of Professor Rizwan, such efforts have been dealt a blow. Yet, we can take solace from the hope that his students will take up the responsibility of explaining Gandhian Principles to future generations and also stand by them. That would ensure that the Gandhian ideology lives on, especially in trying times like now, and in trying times that could come in the future.

May his Soul Rest in Peace.

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(This is the second article in a two part series. You can click this link to go to the first article.)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sketch of a Teacher (Professor Rizwan Qaiser) : I

Professor Rizwan Qaiser passed away recently. He was a scholar of Modern Indian History. The Pandemic claimed him. He is survived by his wife and son. He will be missed.

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With Sir, and my batchmates, at Bhimbetaka Caves
So, why is this blogger of heritage travel writing about a professor of Modern Indian history? Why is this inquirer of Medieval (Pre-Modern) Indian history writing about a professor whose teachings revolved around Indian Nationalism and Modern Indian figures? The answer to these questions lies in the journey this writer has taken ever since he started blogging on this platform.

This blog (and its writers' tryst with blogging) is over 11 years and counting. This period can be divided into 3 stages. The first stage, when I traveled across India for 4 years and blogged. The second stage, when I decided to take my love for history to the next level and go pro with it (read enter the world of academics). The third (and the current) stage, when I found a balance between my academic life and my blogging life.

Professor Rizwan Qaiser (or Rizwan Sir, as we called him) was an important figure in the second stage of this writer's life (in the world of travel, heritage, and history). I completed my Master's of Arts in History from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2017. During my time over there, he was the Head of the Department. I was lucky and also trussed up, by the fact that many luminary minds were teaching in the department of history (like Professor Azizuddin Husain, Professor R Gopinath, Professor Nishat Manzar, Professor A P Sen, Professor R P Bahuguna, and many more) at that point of time. Many of them were not easy on the kids. But, we knew that Rizwan Sir always had our backs. 

I remember one incident clearly. As part of my training in History, I had to learn about European History too. So, in one of the assignments, which I had submitted, my entire batch (apart from one or two kids) was blamed for plagiarism (without checking) by a strict professor (due to the folly of a few). I remember losing my cool over it because as a blogger, I understand the evil of plagiarism and would never partake in it (I empathize with those who stood in front of me that day, as I was in a complaining mode). 

We went to Professor Rizwan with our troubles and he intervened in that moment. In the end, the blanket charge of plagiarism was taken back. All this ended on a bittersweet note for me as the strict Professor gave me very good marks, both in the assignment and in the final exam. 

My memories of taking a course under Rizwan Sir are quite fond. The course was on Mahatma Gandhi. Rizwan Sir, through his lectures and my discussions with him on the subject, made me understand the Gandhian Concepts of Satyagraha, Antyodaya, etc. I would say it was Rizwan Sir, who explained to me what Mahatma Gandhi stood for.

As a teacher, he was articulate, had a firm grip on the subject, and most importantly, he was adept in breaking down concepts, incidents, and theories to make things understandable for the students.

As our time in Jamia came to an end he, at his own risk, as the Head of the Department (because the university was not forthcoming), lead a trip of us history students, to an excursion and exploration trip to Bhopal, Sanchi, Bhimbetka, Bhojpur, and Udayagiri Caves. It was an incredible learning experience. No amount of lectures can substitute an actual visit to a monument.

With Sir, and my batchmates, in Bhopal

Rizwan Sir's care and concern for students extended even after our batch had passed out. He arranged for one of his former students (an academic luminary) to help those who were preparing for the National Eligibility Test. I credit my clearing this test directly to this intervention.

In an era when some teachers are in it just to earn a living, in an era when some teachers have zero connection with history, in an era when some teachers view students as products on a production line (once they leave that line, they are forgotten) Rizwan Sir was one of those teachers who would always have time to sit and give his opinion, to students, or ex-students, whenever they were in a tough situation.

Across the country, he was well known for participating in television and radio debates across multiple forums. In such debates, he was always the voice of reason and logic. Being an ace debater himself, I once recalled him saying, 'these days it's almost as if people have taken steroids before coming to a tv debate!'. For the country, he was a television personality but for his students, he was their teacher.

His teachings on Mahatma Gandhi, Secularism, Maulana Azad, etc will live on through his students.

He will be missed.

May his Soul Rest in Peace. 

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(This is the first article in a two part series. You can click this link to read the second article.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Remembering Professor Sunil Kumar

 

Professor Sunil Kumar passed away recently. He was 64. He was a specialist in the History of the Delhi Sultanate (Medieval Delhi). He had developed health complications. He is survived by his family. The blog and its author extend their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.

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So, why is a heritage and off-beat travel blogger writing this piece? It is because along with this blog, which is 11 years old now, even its author has grown. From being a blogger about history I attempted to take my passion to the next level, the academic level. And today, I am a historian who is a blogger. 

During my full-time blogging days, I would be in awe of the research work Professor Sunil Kumar did over Medieval Delhi. He was one of the rare historians of the Delhi Region, 'My Home'. 

Professor Sunil Kumar's landmark book about the Delhi Sultanate.
(The author does not own the copyright to this picture)

In this journey, I have had the privilege of learning from some big professors. He is one of them. So, once I completed my Master's in History, I attempted to do research and for that, I gave interviews at Delhi University twice. 

Being the Head of the Department of History, he led the interview panels and sat right next to me. Also, apart from these two interactions, we briefly exchanged emails because I requested some help from him regarding my research proposal and he was kind enough to respond. It left me touched. My communications with him were formal and brief. 

The tyranny of the academic system in India is that, a prospective researcher has got 10 minutes to prove to the panel that he or she has the historical aptitude, confidence in the topic he/she is proposing, they have read books and research papers related to that proposal and defend that proposal in front of the panel. After the 10 minutes are over it’s the time for the next candidate to come in. 

In my opinion, these three things cannot be displayed by a candidate, to an interview panel, in less than 35-40 minutes unless they are highly intelligent and bordering on genius. In my opinion applications along with research proposals (and academic resumes) should be invited by Universities well in advance, and then interviews should be slated. Anyways, we live in India. The priority of the education system here is to churn out doctors, engineers, and MBAs. So we need to take that into our stride.

The academics who are sitting in the interview panel also have the harrowing task of judging a candidate's abilities in 10 minutes. I am sure they do so with the regret that they would be missing out on students who require time to express themselves and their ideas comfortably. I do not envy their job.

My two interactions with him (concerning the interviews, especially the second one) were 'intense' experiences, and my failure to clear those interviews left me with an aching heart and dealing with severe bouts of depression and self-doubt. Yet, once I overcame those debilitating emotions, through my reflections of those interactions, I 'scrutinized' every word exchanged between him and me so that I could identify and correct my flaws and also my approach to such interviews.

So, while being heartbroken because of my lack of success, I always felt that even in those moments of failure I was taught something. How can I say that? Because I failed in front of Professor Sunil Kumar! 

As I mentioned earlier, he was a historian par excellence of medieval Delhi. His research work has helped people gain a better perspective about those who constructed such beautiful monuments (of the sultanate period) all around Delhi like the Qutub Minar, Alai Darwaza, Begumpuri Masjid, etc. He 'always' had my unconditional respect.

Clockwise from above right - Begumpuri Masjid, Qutub Minar, Alai Darwaza

This blog 'is' run by someone who has passionately covered the monuments of the same period of history which Professor Sunil Kumar was a master of. He was my teacher by proxy. The lessons he taught me through his emails, rejections, etc, and the lessons he continues to teach me via his research papers on Sufism are invaluable.

There was a great chasm between his abilities and mine but, there were a few similarities that united us in our outlook also. We were both liberal, we both have studied at St Stephen's and, most importantly, we both 'loved' the Delhi Sultanate period.

Even in my days as a full-time blogger, while I read more of Professor Satish Chandra and Professor Irfan Habib still, I knew how significant Professor Sunil Kumar's book 'The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate' was. The book helped me understand the Mamluk Dynasty (the constructors of the monuments in the Qutub Complex) so well. 

He even wrote a research paper on the Qutub Minar namely 'Qutb and Modern Memory'. In his research paper, 'The Tyranny of Metanarratives' he talked about the areas of Delhi and the local non-Persian speaking population of Delhi which thrived in their own right and yet, were not covered much by Persian historians of that period. He also explained how medieval Delhi appeared geographically (with mountains, ravines, forests, and riverine plains), in the paper. In his research paper The Pirs Barakat and Servitors Ardour he talked about the mosque behind DLF Saket which has been built over a dargah and a 700 years old baoli (step-well). He also talked about the Dargah of Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki in Mehrauli and the Dargah of Jalal ud din Chishti Aulia in Jahanpanah City Forest.

I will regret forever that I was never able to sit down with him, in a relaxed atmosphere and discuss Delhi's monuments (especially those in the Qutub Complex like Quwwat ul Islam Masjid, Alai Minar, etc.) with him. That would have been a conversation which would have delighted me.

It is my opinion that a historian's life begins after he retires as that is the time he is free to do his research work. It is a tragedy for Delhi that Professor Sunil Kumar left before giving such works to shape.

Appearance-wise, I observed that he was stylish, with his mobile case by his side. He was tall and had a deep voice.

Professor Sunil Kumar, please accept this traveler's humble and respectful bow. You are in my prayers, Sir. 

May your Soul, Rest in Peace.

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Friday, June 4, 2021

The Qutub Minar - An Emotional Perspective!

Some unemotional facts first. Qutub Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world. It is more than 800 years old. It is located in Delhi, the capital of India. It's architectural concept is Central Asian in origin, something unique to India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the second most visited monument in India, next only to the Taj Mahal.

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So, what makes the Qutub Minar so special? Because it is 800 years old? Because of it's unique architecture? Because it is the highest brick minaret in the world? Because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site? Or, because the minaret has become a symbol of sorts for contemporary New Delhi. It could be one of the above reasons or it could be all of them. 

Qutub Minar, under the deep blue sky!

Numerous personalities across ages have been left spellbound by this monument. There is something about the monument that enchants the viewer. The dynasty which built this monument lost power in 1290 C.E. (Qutub Minar was built by the Mamluks). Yet, in the medieval era, rulers of other dynasties took a special interest in conserving the monument, especially Ferozeshah Tughlaq (r. 1351-1388 C.E.) and Sikandar Lodi (r. 1489-1519 C.E.). In the modern era, even the British Imperialists (under no obligation to maintain the monuments of India at that time) deployed engineers to repair the monument (it was struck by lightning in the early 1800's C.E.). 

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (while researching for Asar us Sanadid, a famous book on monuments), without paying attention to his safety, made his manservants suspend him from a basket, while he sat in it, and swung him around from the great heights of the monument, so that he could make notes of the Quranic inscriptions engraved on it. So, when such towering and astute personalities have been left enchanted by this monument then perhaps the reader would excuse this humble writer for being ‘deeply’ enamored by this monument too. 

Qutub Minar is a monument which because of its height (Qutub Minar height - 72 meters), and the fact that it is surrounded by a protected forest from 3 sides, is one of the most visible monuments of South Delhi. It is easily visible from all the high rises in the neighboring colonies (Katwaria Sarai, Munirka, Mehrauli, etc)  provided they have a clear line of sight. Qutb View Apartments, the Govt Quarters of Katwaria Sarai and high rises of Munirka provide good views of this monument in my opinion. Some of the best views of this monument can also be seen from Mehrauli Archaeological Park and the Centre for History of JNU. These are places I have seen the minar from. In geographical terms, the monument is easily visible across a radius of 6-7 kilometers, provided there is a clear line of sight!

Qutub Minar, as seen from Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Qutub Minar, as seen from Metcalfe's Folly (opposite Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park)
Until my teenage days, I lived in South Delhi, in one of such colonies where, from the terrace, one could see the Qutub Minar anytime they wanted. I remember that my father was the one who showed me the monument and told me about it, from the roof of our apartment. Even at that time, I could not help but notice how the monument looked so intriguing. It looked like a bundle of reeds.

So, my point being that when you see a monument from your house and you grow up along with it, it is bound to have a profound impression on you. Moreover, the Qutub Minar does have the power to gravitate people to itself even if they are seeing it for the first time. I have been witness to this phenomenon. It's architecture, part Mamluk part Tughluq, the honey comb like designs under the balcony of the first floor of the minar, the calligraphic style of its inscriptions etc. all play a role in attracting a person to itself. The monument leaves the onlooker awestruck.

The Minar, as seen from the main road (outside the boundary wall of the Qutub Complex)

During the lockdown when I was stuck in my home, and could not visit any monument, I thought that all the residential colonies (with a line of view to the Qutub) are special. Reason being that these places offer a view of this marvelous monument 365 days a week. So, even if the residents of these places (especially those who love history), felt lockdown fatigue and missed visiting monuments as I did,  they could simply sit by their window, a glass of juice (or whatever drink they might want to have) in hand and enjoy the view of the Qutub. 

The benefit of being able to see Qutub Minar out of your window is that (apart from the daylight viewing) in the evening, the ASI lights up the monument beautifully. It is a delight to see the monument under lights. Depending on the occasion, the monument is lighted under different hues and colors. 

Seeing such a splendid light show, from across the forests of Sanjay Van (Qutub Minar is surrounded by forests from 3 sides, remember!) is a sight for sore eyes and would certainly wipe away lockdown blues of all kinds. 

Qutub Minar (the bright spot) as seen across the Neela Hauz (Lake), a part of Sanjay Van (forests). Off camera, it looks much larger of course!

When the lockdown ended, I would often take my bike out for evening drives to beat the lockdown blues. I would often ride to Qutub Minar to not only click pictures from outside but also to gaze at it and its distinctive architectural features. I would observe the additions made by Firoz Shah Tughluq (floors 4 and 5 of Qutub Minar was built by him) which are so different from the original architecture of the monument which was finalized by Mohammad Ghori and Mamluk rulers Qutb ud din Aibak and Iltutmish (floors 1 to 3). I would also observe the special lighting in the evening if any. The Qutub Minar height ensures that it is viewed even from Aruna Asaf Ali Road, across the Sanjay Van Forests. So, while riding my bike, I would often spot it from there too!. All this served as a catalyst to renew my inspiration to keep working towards my goal, to carve out a career in the world of history. An inspiration that has taken a lot of beating in the past four years due to my lack of success in cracking Ph.D. interviews. 

The Minar, at night.

Anyways, gazing at the Qutub Minar always cheers me up and serves to remind me of my love of history (medieval Indian history, to be precise). I just hope that I can stay in the world of history and don't have to leave it. The Qutub Minar stands for me to remind me as to why I am making the sacrifices I am making. The reason being that being a Delhiite,  I am enamored by the Medieval Indian era,  an era when the entire country was ruled from Delhi.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Protecting Workers of Travel and Tourism Industry - A Commentary


The Lockdown has been re-imposed across various parts of India yet again due to an increase in Coronavirus cases. One of the industries which has been severely affected by this is the travel and tourism industry. Travel agencies are laying off employees and the hotels and airlines are considering doing so if they have not done so already. One does not even want to think of the owners who can no longer find running a hotel or a restaurant economically sustainable. The pandemic, unequaled in the shock it has given to economies, has arrived as a bane for the industry.

Structure of Coronavirus. A virus which has wrecked the peace of mankind!

Pic Courtesy - WikiImages

Being a trained Hotel Management professional and having been a part of the Hotel Industry at a point in time, I am aware of how important footfall is, of how important free movement of people is, for the health of the industry. Yet, when a virus makes the free movement of people impossible, the people who earn a living from this industry are left with no option but to look on, helplessly. They have to wait until the majority of the world's population is inoculated with a vaccine.

When I travel, I usually visit hotels that are budget properties. I usually go to economical restaurants. But it is these properties that are the worst affected due to the Coronavirus-induced pandemic. Oyo, one of the biggest names in budget properties, has suffered economically due to the Coronavirus-induced pandemic.

Whatever be the situation, the governments (state and central) need to ensure that the owners of businesses in the travel and tourism industry are insulated to a certain degree by the Covid 19 induced pandemic. 

Equally important, the governments need to make sure that the people working in the travel and tourism industry are protected financially. They need to do so because the travel and tourism industry is a great earner of foreign exchange (and also boosts local economies) and so the people who make all this happen need to be protected, keeping the future in mind when we would be needing them.

No tourist would want to check-in and find an inexperienced staff taking care of a hotel because the 'experienced' staff had to leave for greener pastures during the Covid 19 induced pandemic! After all, even they have families to take care of!

The Indian Government has announced that they have plans to help the tourism industry, plans which they will unveil once the unlocking process starts. That is a welcome start. Yet, my point is that my travel experiences were made awesome not just by owners of hotels but also by the drivers of canters (safari vehicles), forest guides, monument guides, the cooks, the cleaning staff, the servers, the cab drivers and the auto drivers. So, the governments (both state and center) should consider giving these people some form of stipend, for their sustenance, until a semblance of normalcy returns. 

All this should be done to ensure that when we go back to our favorite destinations or explore new ones, our travel experiences are just as enjoyable as it was earlier, if not much better.

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Friday, January 8, 2021

Qutub Minar Complex, under lights! - A Photo Essay

 

The Qutub Minar, under lights!
Qutub Minar, an icon of contemporary New Delhi is at least 800 years old. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In India, after the Taj Mahal, it is this monument that attracts the highest number of visitors from across the world. Recently, it even surpassed the Taj Mahal in the number of Ticket Sales.
The allure of this monument is its height and its unique architecture. It stands tilted due to the wear and tear time has imposed on it. No words though, can define the rustic beauty of this monument which no one exactly knows why it was built and how it came to be named Qutub Minar.

So, call it ignorance on my part or lack of regular promotion on part of the Archaeological Survey of India, I never had an opportunity to visit the Qutub Minar late in the evening when the lights were on because somehow, I was not aware that I could do that (can you believe it?). 

So when the 1st nationwide lockdown was lifted from India in 2020, I made it a point to visit this place late in the evening and see the Qutub Minar and all the nearby monuments like alai darwaza, etc., collectively called the Qutub Minar Complex, under lights. 

I think that visiting this place after sunset is one of the best ways to explore this monument. There are no crowds. So you can spend more time observing the intricacies of the Qutub Minar and the other monuments in the complex like quwwat ul islam mosque, alai darwaza etc. Security guards are everywhere so you are safe. Most importantly, the illuminated monuments cast a completely different impression on you in comparison to daytime.

This article had to be done in a Photo Essay form so that you would have understood, via pictures, a fraction of what I felt when I visited the Qutub Minar Complex (and the Qutub Minar) when it was dark.

The Inscriptions on the Minar, under lights!
The Minar, from a different angle, under lights!

The Quwwat ul Islam mosque is one of the oldest mosques in India. A walk through the mosque premises in the evening, while secure security-wise, felt quite eerie nonetheless. That reflected in the quality of my photographs as I found myself short of patience when I tried to click pictures, while standing in the courtyard area of the mosque. 

Pictures of the Quwwat ul Islam Mosque, under lights - 

The front fa├žade of the mosque under a dark blue sky and a crescent moon, under lights!
The entrance to the mosque, under lights!
The aisles of the mosque and the engravings on the pillars, highlighted under lights!
The Mihrab of the mosque, under lights!
The mosque, from another angle, under lights!

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Friday, December 4, 2020

A Trip to Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan, India - A Photo Essay #3

While travelling, one observes things of myriad hues. One sees people, culture, sights, environs and one also feels the aura of a place. Everything cannot be presented to a reader through words without losing the advantage of brevity. So, this is why I am preparing this Photo Essay so that you can have a deeper insight to all that I saw when I was in the Ranthambhore National Park. 

The first set of pictures includes images of the deer population of Ranthambhore. Ranthambhore National Park is blessed with numerous variety of deer namely Spotted Deer, Sambhar Deer, Barking Deer, Nilgai etc.









Ranthambhore National Park possesses a rich variety of birds. I was able to capture only two though. The Peacock and the Magpie!



I was lucky enough to capture a reptile on camera. It was basking in the sun near the Kacheda Reservoir, Zone 5.


I love the hilly landscape of Ranthambhore National Park. Combined with it's flora, it makes for great viewing. This is a sideshow people often forget to enjoy, in their quest to see the elusive Tiger!










Often, man made interventions have had to be done in order to sustain the fauna population in Ranthambhore. This water tank in Zone 6 is one such intervention.


Jungle paths have to be carved for safaris but also have to be blocked if mothers give birth to animals very close to the paths!


( This is the third in the series of articles I am writing about my visit to Ranthambhore National Park in Feb - Mar 2018. Due to a hectic schedule I was unable to complete it. Now due to the pandemic, with zero travel opportunities, I am revisiting my former trips which I had documented and photographed with the intention of blogging but never did. So, I will be naming this series of retrospective posts as 'From the Vault' posts. I hope you like them :-) )