Sunday, May 23, 2010

Travel India

Travelling through India can be both fearfully tiresome and incredibly rewarding at the same time. However, very few countries present such diverse topography for the willing traveler. Add to that the cultural angle, with
so many religions, languages, traditions and ethnic groups all existing side by side, and one wonders how the nation has survived more than the sixty years it has. Which is why its a pity that more isn't done to showcase the country as one of the world's premier travel destinations. With the proper infrastructure, maintenance and marketing, India's potential as a travel destination of choice is sure to be realized.
While surfing, I recently came across assorted lists of some must-see places in India. I reproduce an amalgam of a couple of such lists in alphabetical order. Hope this helps. Maybe, the next time you draw up your travel plans, you can look within the country for a perfectly wonderful, memorable and fulfilling trip...

1. Abbey and Iruppu falls
2. Agumbe
3. Ajanta and Ellora caves
4. Alappuzha - Nehru Trophy boat race, Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala
5. Amritsar - Early morning at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
6. Andaman

7. Araku Valley - Borra caves near Araku valley of Vizag
8. Auli, Uttaranchal
9. Auroville - Enjoying the tranquil, French cuisine at Auroville
10. Backwaters of Kerala
11. Badami, Pattadkal, Aihole - Chalukya style temples
12. Bandhavgarh tiger reserve
13. Belur Halebidu circuit
14. Bhalukpong - Enjoying a lunch with the Meshing tribe right in the midst of the river Jia Bhareli on the Assam Arunachal border.
15. Bhimbetka - Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
16. Bird watching at Ranganathittu, Bharatpur
17. Bodh Gaya - Mahabodhi Temple Complex
18. Brindavan - Playing holi in Brindavan
19. Cherrapunji.
20.Barapani near Shillong.
21. Chilka Lake - Trying to see the horizon during a boat ride in Lake Chilka, Orissa
22. Chopta - Tungnath - Chandrashila trek
23. Coorg - The buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe;
24. Darjeeling to Gangtok - hairpin bends with the river Teesta below
25. Delhi
26. Qutub Minar and its monuments, Delhi
27. Devkund - 30 kms from Chandipur Beach, Orissa, forest with 7 waterfalls
28. Digboi
29. Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
30. Diu
31. Dodital - Trek to Dodital in Uttarkashi. Dodital is also considered the birth place of Lord Ganesha.
32. Dubare, The Elephant Camp
33. Dudhsagar waterfalls - Goa
34. Fatehpur Sikri
35. Goa on bike
36. Hampi - Ruins of Hampi, requires multiple trips
37. Homestay at a coffee plantation;
38. Hyderabad - Salar Jung Museum, Golconda Fort
39. Hyderabad - The breaking of fast during the Holy month of Ramzan in Hyderabad
40. Jaipur - Elephant ride at Amber Fort, Jaipur
41. Jog Falls in Shimoga (during / after the monsoons)
42. Kaziranga National Park - One horn rhino grazing in the secured environment of KNP
43. Khajuraho
44. Kolkata in the pujas - The Indian Museum, Kalighat temple, Eden Gardens and the Howrah Bridge
45. Kumbakonam -

46. Kumbh - Joining the millions to take a dip in Haridwar during the Kumbh
47. Ladakh - Changing colors of water at Lake Pangong Tso in Ladakh
48. Ladakh - Clouds chasing you on the banks of Lake Tso Morori in Ladakh during the monsoon season
49. Lalabgh, Bangalore
50. Lahaul and Spiti valley
51. Lakshwadeep
52. Lansdowne (Near Pauri, Uttaranchal)
53. Leh

54. Lonawala in Monsoon, esp Bushi Dam and drive to Amby Valley
55. Mahabalipuram - Vishnu's penance at Mahabalipuram
56. Manali
57. McLeodgunj - Watch the monks do the Buddhist rituals in the monasteries of Mcleodgunj
58. Mountain passes - Spending some solitary time with nature at any of the high passes. Khardung La, Taglang La, Lachulung La
59. Mumbai
60. Mukhteshwar
61. Mysore - Dushera Festival, Tipu Sultan Palace
62. Nagarhole national park;
63. Peling near Gangtok, Sikkim
64. Pink City - Walking through the old city section (Pink City) of Jaipur
65. Pondicherry - Sunrise in Pondicherry (while sipping coffee), Paradise Island
66. Ranakpur - 1444 unique marble pillars of Ranakpur Jain temple complex near Udaipur
67. Rann of Kutch
68. Renukaji in Himachal Pradesh
69. Rishikesh - White water rafting
70. Road Trip - Manali to Leh and Leh to Srinagar
71. Roopkund, Bedini Bugyal
72. Sand dunes of Jaisalmer
73. Shillong
74. Shravanabelagola - Climbing 500 steps up a hill to get a glimpse of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola
75. Shungaster Lake, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
76. Sikkim - another must see
77. Sun Temple, Konark
78. Sunderbans - Boat cruise in the Sunderban delta
79. Taj Mahal - Sun rise in Taj Mahal at Agra

80. Thanjavur - Great living Chola Temples at Thanjavur, Gangikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram, Tamil Nadu
81. Tiger Watch - Corbett, Bandipur, Kanha, Ranthambore, KNP, Sunderban
82. Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh
83. Tranquebar - tiny seaside place... the only Danish settlement in the country...
84. Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal - go there while the plants are still there
85. Varanasi - Watching the Thursday evening Maha-aarati on the banks of Ganga at Varanasi from a boat

86. Wayanad



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vanity Fair

Come May this year and China will get ready to play host to the World's largest International
fair / exposition in terms of number of visitors. The event, themed ‘Better City, Better Life’, aims to explore different aspects of urban development, sustainability and harmonious growth. Five separately themed pavilions will aim to explore the various facets of this modern phenomenon and attempt to address issues like urban income inequality, resource limitations, urban migration and sustainable growth. Some 70 million people, 240 delegations, 100 heads of state and more than 50 international organisations are expected to visit the fair this year and China has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event is mounted on a grand scale. When you consider that only around 5 million visitors turned up for the Expo's pervious edition, held in Zaragoza in Spain, you realize the magnitude of the event on hand. And the Chinese are well acquainted with the adage, ‘bigger is better’. The government has till date, spent upwards of 40 billion dollars on upgrading Shanghai’s infrastructure, in addition to the Expo’s budget of 4 billion dollars (which in total makes it more expensive than the Beijing Olympics). Shanghai now has 2 spanking new airport terminals, a competent subway system and a new 700 million dollar riverfront promenade - all aimed at sprucing up the city, which many locals believe is at the cusp of its ‘moment in history’, the Expo being just the trigger needed for the city to announce it’s pre-eminence at the world stage.

Interestingly, the Expo will also be as much about international politics as it will be about urban harmony. The US, unable to use government money to participate in fairs, had initially indicated non participation, but China’s growing clout forced Hillary Clinton to confirm a US pavilion on her last visit. The US government then went on a fund raising spree with the 60 million dollars required coming mainly from donations. Another case in point is American car maker General Motors, which sells more cars in China than it does in its home market. They were one of the first corporates to commit a pavilion at the fair (to showcase their clean technologies). With China’s recent dominance in the world economy, the Expo is as much a show of its current power as it is about making the world’s cities better places to live in. And many countries are happy to play along and cozy upto the Chinese. Japan, eager to mend its historically troubled ties with China, is spending 140 million dollars , a mere 6 million shy of what the Saudis are planning to cough up for their ‘crescent moon’ pavilion. Australia, a country that exports most of its natural resources to China and has generally had amicable relations with the Chinese, is keen to keep things that way and have undertaken to spend 76 million dollars for its participation. India, despite sharing a troubled relationship with the hosts, will spend 50 million dollars and will also fly top film stars and artistes to showcase its soft power. China, once a huge market for the socialist fare churned out by the likes of Raj Kapoor, will get a refresher course in Bollywood (‘Chini Kum’, hopefully not being part of the cinematic offerings) and India will hope for a less rocky road ahead with the Chinese as both powers remain competitors for natural resources to fuel their growing economies.

But there remain concerns though, more for the government than for the participants. China might have to pay a heavy social price for the Expo. In preparation for the games, thousands of city dwellers and business establishments have been shunted out of the city and relocated in remote areas at the peripheries. Many claim little or no compensation for the land lost, which has led to a fair bit of popular discontent among Shanghai’s residents. The Communist Party has paid an even higher price two years ago when it had to suspend its then secretary, Chen Liangyu, on charges of corruption. Chen, who was initially tasked with readying the city for the Expo, went about treating the city as his personal fiefdom, building what many believe to be unnecessary structures like a 290 million dollar tennis complex, an F1 race track and a proposed expensive magnetic levitation rail-line running straight from the Expo to the airport (and eventually linking Shanghai with Hangzhou), which turned out to be the final straw. Public outrage followed as citizens along the intended route were displaced and concerns were raised about magnetic radiation and noise levels. The government eventually had to give into the repeated protests by the activist middle class and investigations were launched into Chen’s dealings, leading to his eventual suspension on charges of fraud. The rail-line was eventually abandoned. Whatever Hu Jintao’s vision of ‘harmonious society’ (which refers to efforts to reduce income inequalities within the country) may be, the arbitrary and sometimes adhoc cosmetic facelift that the city has received may eventually create more discord than harmony, given that very few of the poor will actually benefit from the Expo. Questions still remain about the gainful use of the some of the structures after the fair has run its course. While the country pavilions will be torn down in six months time, the permanent structures may end up being money down the drain.

It is interesting to note that these are similar dilemmas that the Indian government faces as it readies the capital city for the Commonwealth Games, which is supposed to do for New Delhi what the Expo is doing for Shanghai. Urban regeneration, economic growth and the re-imaging of cities are now central themes for countries bidding for world sports events and world fairs alike, and one hopes that both leaderships will exercise foresight and caution in addressing the many real and human challenges which arise as a consequence, else all the billions of dollars spent will ultimately stand out in sharp contrast against the real requirements of the people and dreams of a ‘Better City, Better Life’ will eventually remain...just those.