Temple of the Emerald Buddha - Amazing Thailand

This series is based over my reflections upon visiting Thailand.

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..

Hill Fort of Kumbhalgarh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Know more about this incredible World Heritage Site here..

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

Guru Dongmar Lake, one of the highest in the world

Few destinations have the ability to change your life; Sikkim being one of them. Check out the series 'Sikim Soujourn' to find out why ?



Friday, October 27, 2017

Tourist Safety and India - A Long Distance Relationship?

On Sunday, October the 22nd, a young Swiss Couple who were visiting Fatehpur Sikri (a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Agra) were brutally attacked by 5-6 boys after they, allegedly, refused to click pictures with them. The Swiss female received fractures and gash wounds while the Swiss male suffered from a fractured skull, hearing loss and a clot in the brain. Reported by the national papers on Thursday, October the 26th, this event impacted the conscience of many citizens of the country.

               Let's try to be Incredible for good reasons!
(Pic Courtesy - Ministry of Tourism)

This incident revealed the pathetic condition of the minds of every Two out of Three Indians involved in the tourism and hospitality industry who look upon tourists (be it foreign or Indian) as means of earning an 'extra' buck or two by either fleecing them, fooling them or by some other unfair means. Such people, neither respect the monuments around which they stand nor do they respect the people who visit them.
Such an attitude displayed by touts, false guides, hooligans etc only serves to spoil the experience of the tourist or traveller who has come down to India to see the monuments or attractions which belong to one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
The notoriety of touts in Agra, for example, has been observed by me (Came across a character who chased me from the door of the train till the time I sat in a shared auto heading to Agra Fort). I have heard worse stories from Fatehpur Sikri, where my friend and Travel Blogger Merwyn was threatened with physical violence when he refused to take the services of a guy masquerading as a guide. Even in this case, it was only when Merwyn dared him to lift a finger did that guy leave him alone.
So, when an Indian can face such a threatening behaviour in his own country what would a foreign backpacker go through is anyone's imagination.
While the police at Fatehpur Sikri have arrested those culprits but it is imperative for them to realise that mass sensitisation programs need to be seriously considered in order to educate people about the value of tourists and how to behave with them. As long as the attitude of people towards the tourists will not change, the country will continue to get bad word of mouth publicity from tourists who visit India.
One should reflect upon this point - What experiences are this couple going to relate to the people and media in Switzerland when they go back?
There was also this other incident (some years ago) of a Swiss Couple (on a cycling tour) being attacked and the female being gang-raped by criminals in feudal-minded Datia (Madhya Pradesh). My point is this, is there any sense in sinking millions of Rupees of taxpayers money in the Incredible India Advertising Campaigns (in the manner in which it is doing currently) while many continue to disrespect tourists with impunity?
A proposal for a Tourism Police has been repeatedly  ignored despite the fact that such an entity is required in a country like India more than anywhere else. In my opinion, the protection of tourists has to be accorded an equally important priority if not the highest priority as compared to the Incredible India campaigns. The sooner the government realises the better it would be for the prestige of the country which keeps taking a hit everytime a tourist is fleeced, robbed or assaulted - physically or sexually.
Another interesting aspect of this entire story was that it was the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj who first took cognizance of this event and not the (usually loud) tourism minister K Alphons.
In the end, it would be better if we pose this question to ourselves, that in 'the manner in which we are treating our guests, would we ourselves like to visit India if we were non-Indians'? In the answer to this question, we would find the answer to another very important question, and that is,

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Road Trip to Sadhaura and Nahan

Some trips are born out of planning, some trips are born out of a desire to see a new place, and some trips are born out of a wish to fulfill promises which had been made. This particular road trip of me and my family was born out of a promise my father made at a humble shrine of a Sufi saint, located at the foothills of the Himalayas, right next to a riverbed on the Himachal Pradesh – Haryana Border. The name of the town was Sadhaura (Haryana) and this humble shrine was located on the outskirts of it. 

Zooming across the tree lined NH 44

We set out in our car post filling our tanks, getting a brand new set of tyres (the trip was a long one, almost 250 kms one way, so it made sense to change our tyres especially seeing the fact that it was close to due date of periodic change of our car tyres), stocking ourselves up with cameras, GPS device and (vis a vis my father) memories of the place he had visited 29 years ago.

Thanks to the servicing our car had got we zoomed across the NH44 and via towns of Panipat, Karnal and Shahbad Markanda we crossed the town of Sadhaura. Now this bit we covered with the help of Google maps. The last bit of the journey was a tricky one because the landscape (as it existed in 1986) had changed drastically, to top it all the mountains which were close by had been shrouded in a cloak of mist by nature so it was really tough to fix the location of the shrine. What made it even tougher was that when we asked the locals for directions they kept on guiding us to local shrines which didn’t fit the description. Eventually father and son (the one for whom he had prayed for in the shrine, which is me), after roaming barefoot on the riverbed (the car after negotiating the sandy riverbed with some difficulty, the tyres of the car came to our aid over here, had been parked at a shrine which looked old) my father had a feeling that we were at the right place.

 The Blessed Dargah, which we finally found..

The remaining doubts which he had in his mind (he recalled that there were mountains visible right behind the shrine, something which we could not ascertain because of the mist in the air) were cleared by the young caretakers in the shrine who informed us that One, the shrine had undertaken some structural modifications since the last time my dad came  (which is why it looked a bit different), Two, this shrine was at least 300 years old and thus the only shrine which stood next to the river bed (at that location) and Three, the mountains ‘were visible’ behind the shrine and that they were shrouded in mist which is why we could not see it then (you could remember that one of the memories which my dad had of the shrine was that it was locate at the foothills of Himalayas).

After these doubts were cleared we proceeded to the shrine with an open heart and offered the beautiful chaddar which my father had obtained from a shop next to the Nizammuddin Dargah in Delhi.

The beautifully decorated inner wall, of the dome under which the Sufi Saint rests..

Once the customary pictures were taken we decided to head off to Nahan, to celebrate the fulfillment of my dad’s promise. Now, our car was a 2 x 4 drive but we were confident to take our city car to Nahan (a town in Himachal Pradesh, at an elevation of 3058 ft above sea level) which was at a distance of 30kms from Sadhaura.

Climbing the winding road upto Nahan

Bare hills beside the road to Nahan, it is hill sides like these which are prone to landslides during the rainy season

The road to Nahan took us through the town of Kala Amb. Post crossing the Himachal Pradesh border we started to negotiate the winding roads leading up to the former capital of the princely state of Sirmour. We drove cautiously whenever we saw a truck approaching and never accelerated beyond 30 kms per hour (and that too on an empty and straight stretch of road, which were few to find to be quite honest). 

 Lytton Memorial

Gurudwara Shri Dashmesh Asthan (Nahan Sahib)

Upon reaching Nahan we had lunch and after exploring the British Era Lytton Memorial, which is quite at the entrance of Nahan, we went to the Gurudwara Shri Dashmesh Asthan (Nahan Sahib) a historical site which was visited by Guru Gobind Singh!

A Panoramic view of the countryside, as seen from Nahan

After spending some time here we headed back. After negotiating the downhill mountain roads with the help of our brakes and tyres we hit the NH 44 and zoomed back to Delhi. The trip to Delhi took us around 5 and a half hour.

As mentioned earlier we were in a Tata Nano but that never made us nervous while driving on the Highways as we simply stuck to the Road Safety rules. While driving on the highways we ensured that we drove on our designated lanes, did not attempt to overtake from the wrong side and always yielded whenever a big truck came up. We used the dipper effectively and that helped. My brother and father took turns at driving as a fatigued driver at the wheel is an invitation to accidents.

I was never able to document this trip for my blog (due to certain events mentioned ahead). This trip was special not only because my dad was able to fulfill his promise which he made to the Sufi Saint in the 80’s but also because 10 days post the trip my dad met a terrible accident which led to a surgery and post operative complications. Today while my dad is hale and hearty but (upon medical advice) he can no longer undertake a 500 kms road trip like this ever again.