Thursday, July 21, 2016

Slum Tourism And What It Means To India

“..An insult to every Indian” was how the then West Bengal Minister of Culture had described the novel “City of Joy” by Dominique Lapierre, when it was released in 1982. The story revolved around the experiences and hardships of a Polish missionary priest, a rickshaw puller from the city slums, and a young American doctor, and explored sensitive issues like poverty, caste divisions in the slums of Kolkata. The book went on to become a huge literary and commercial success internationally, and was later made into a film as well by the same name.

Image courtesy:

Slum tourism or slumming, which basically refers to organised touristic visits to urban areas of relative poverty, has been the topic of similar debates time and again. Critics speak about commodifying poverty and insensitivity towards slum dwellers who may not be keen on exhibiting their economic weaknesses to unknown people, for the profit of the tour operators who may not even be from the community. Tour operators and propounders talk about educating the tourists about the challenges of such informal settlements, about ploughing back part of the profits into local community development, and about taking precautionary measures that ensure the dwellers do not feel uncomfortable. Measuring the pros and cons in the context of sustainable development to put debates to rest, though can be tricky.

Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Reality Tours and Travel, an award winning social business that conducts such tours in Mumbai and Delhi, talks about being sensitive by limiting the tourist groups to five people and following a no photography policy. Its website has the profile of twelve of its guides, most of whom are from Dharavi (the slum in Mumbai where these walks are conducted), illustrating the concept of local employment generation that directly fits into the Sustainable Development Goal 1 that talks about eradicating poverty and generating employment. All of them are male though, but the potential of training and recruiting women to also adhere to the Goal 5 of gender equality cannot be ignored. A chunk of it’s profits are used to support local development projects in the area of health and wellbeing (Goal 3), education (Goal 4) and livelihoods (Goal 1). Another upcoming organization in Kolkata called Let’s Meet Up Tours talks about engaging in local development projects in education (Goal 4), cook stoves for individual dwellings and better access to clean water (Goal 6).

You can read about the Sustainable Development Goals here.

Image courtesy: Happy Passport

Mr. Lapierre has been pumping in half of his royalties from the novel (among others written by him, that converts to millions of dollars) into the City of Joy Foundation, that has set up a network of clinics, schools, rehabilitation centres and hospital boats for the poorest people in and around the city. Most slumming organisations in India also seem to follow the same model of investing a part of their profits into local community as well. Provided these investments help the overall development of the settlements and have the trust of the local communities, slumming may not be so bad after all.

Image courtesy: Atomic Safari

The author is Ritesh Datta, Co-Founder of Alpaviram. He can be reached here.

Here's what Coldplay was inspired to do after a visit to Dharavi: Hymn for a Weekend

Monday, July 18, 2016

Three New Destinations On Our Travel List For The Season, UNESCO Honours For Indian Heritage

Three cheers! Quite literally.

At the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee at Istanbul this weekend, three new sites from India were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The three include Nalanda Mahavira, the Capitol Complex of Chandigarh as well as the Khangchendzonga National Park of Sikkim.

It is a matter of great pride for Indians as this is the first time that three sites from any country have been accepted on the prestigious list in a single session!

Image courtesy: WaziUs

The Nalanda Mahavira is located 50 km from Bihar Sharif in the state of Bihar. It was a very important centre for education - Buddhist and otherwise - and saw the presence of all noted philosophers and teachers between the fifth and the twelfth century CE.

Image courtesy: Chandigarh Metro

The Capitol Complex was set up by Le Corbusier when he designed Chandigarh. It is a marvel when it comes to maximized use of available natural resources. The Open Hand monument has become the symbol of the Chandigarh government and an iconic symbol from the city.

Image courtesy: travelwithneelima

Revered by the people and the playground of numerous legends, the Khangchendzonga National Park of Sikkim is home to several rare species of plants and animal life. The red panda, snow leopard, Tibetan fox and the Tahr are among some of the elusive life forms that have found sanctuary in its fold. The efforts to conserve the way of the life in these parts will mean a greater chance of survival of these rare species.

The bigger source of joy for all of us at Alpaviram is that this is the best season to visit all three new sites! Quick, drop us a line here, to join us as we head for our next adventure!

--- The author is Priya Tripathy. You can connect with her here.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Do You Want To Get The Right Advantage For Sustainable Tourism?

World Youth Skills Day (July 15) has just passed us, #alpaviram brings to you some relevant courses on sustainable and responsible tourism for working professionals. With the roll out of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, responsible and sustainable tourism is fast picking up as the next big thing in the travel and tourism sector; and the courses listed below will enable you to be prepared for the upcoming shift in this space.

Here are some courses that can be done online:

Sustainable Tourism Online Learning Programs: A set of nine courses are being offered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance (GSTA) to train students, practitioners, donor agency representatives, and others working in related fields to understand and develop tourism and its role in international development. The courses are free, but require you to registration to be able to participate in the ciurse related online discussions, and to check for your understanding at the end of each course. The courses are: Global Tourism Achieving Sustainable Goals; Sustainable Tourism Project Development; Tourism Destination Management; Tourism Investment and Finance; Sustainable Tourism Enterprise Development; Tourism Workforce Development; Tourism Conservation Strategies and Models; Scientific, Academic, Volunteer and Educational Travel; and Powering Tourism. The course details are available here.

Post Graduate Diploma in Tourism and Environmental Law: Launched by the Centre for Environmental Law (CEL), WWF-India along with the National Law University, Delhi (NLU, Delhi), the course has been is designed to provide an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the existing issues of tourism and ecotourism, with special focus on socio-cultural, legal and policy issues. The programme includes perspectives on new developments and insights into the relationship between tourism and environment dealt with at both global and regional level. It is a one year programme divided and is offered via distance-learning and online-learning modes, and comprises of five compulsory courses – four theory courses and one project work. Applications are accepted in April, and the programme starts in May. The total cost of the course in INR 15,000. Details here.

Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management: Offered jointly by The International Eco-Tourism Society (TIES) and the George Washington University. It is a self-managed, distance learning, online process consisting of 6 courses and is equivalent to 12 classroom hours of study which can generally be completed in a month. Each course costs $450 (approximately INR 31,500). For more information, click here.

The author is Ritesh Datta, Co-Founder of Alpaviram. He can be reached at

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

An Authentic Thai Experience Is Truly Worth A Visit, Here’s How To Experience It Right!

Maybe because it’s cheap - but I think it’s more because it’s happy, that we keep going back to Thailand. Everyone smilingly welcomes you. Given half-a-chance, Indians will talk about their life’s deepest secrets to strangers but we tend to put on the grimmest expressions when we are travelling. Please try to put on a smile and bow, when in Thailand. This is important to them so let’s do it.
Thailand is getting increasingly conscious of its Buddhist heritage and considers it an insult to use ‘Buddha’ images/statues for decoration. So however gorgeous those Buddha t-shirts and key-chains look, respect the country’s sentiment and do not buy them.

Our holiday was in a small village by the sea, called Khao Lak, which was one of the worst-hit areas during the Tsunami. This is the lesser known neighbour of Phuket and we were happy to contribute to the tourism trade of a place like this. Every alternate day, the town sets up a market where they sell local produce – from fresh vegetables to handicrafts. I recommend that you buy your souvenirs here rather than in large, AC shops where ‘Thailand’ souvenirs, are really factory-produced in a different country. Bamboo, coir and cotton products are indigenous to the place – buy them.

When in Thailand, drink Chang Beer. Or maybe Singha. You do not want to increase your carbon-footprint by drinking imported beer, especially when they have such good local varieties. One of the reasons why we keep going back to this country is their food. While we haven’t yet developed a taste for grasshoppers or silkworms (soon, we hope), we cannot get enough of their curries and soups. The use of coconut milk and spices such as ginger (or galangal), tamarind and turmeric, make their food very similar to Kerala food. Eat local. Be Healthy.

Our resort planned a nature walk and showed us indigenous plants and birds on the property. We found that we shared a very similar ecological heritage – thanks to similar climate and that there was just 90 kms of sea, separating this village from our Andaman Islands. This is a Prinia feeding on fruits of a Tropical Palm. If you have children with you, do take time out to show them these. A child growing up knowing nature, is happy and healthy and grows up to be an eco-conscious citizen.

Finally, switch off the AC and open the doors. There is always a pretty view outside and the non-AC air makes you pretty. Remember, what’s good for the Earth, is good for you.

--- The author, Jayati Talapatra, is a human resource manager by profession who lives and breathes nature. A green crusader, she has been promoting exploring Delhi responsibly through her Facebook page, Dilli Meri Jaan. She can be reached at

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Adopt Responsible Tiger Tourism

On July 9, 1969, India declared the Royal Bengal Tiger as its national animal. The majestic big cat has been the symbol of India since time immemorial. Believed by many to be the guardians of the forest, the Royal Bengal Tiger has been in the news for unhappy reasons. For instance, the first report on the royal bengal tiger today talks about the death of a farmer in Dudhwa National Park's buffer zone at the hands of a tiger.

Image courtesy:

Yet, the Panthera Tigris Tigris, popularly known as the Royal Bengal Tiger, has been revered by Indians since time immemorial. Depicted in the seals discovered from the Indus Valley sites, celebrated as the mother of the divine ride of the Goddess of Power, Durga in Hindu literatures, and is currently the emblem of the Reserve Bank of India (India’s central banking institution which controls the monetary policy of the Indian rupee).

In other news, every week forest officials have been recovering tiger skin among many other illegal collectibles from nabbed poachers. India has not been able to save the face of its mascot.

ALSO READ: The Missing King Of The Jungle

Image by Mumbai Gloss

While wildlife tourism has historically been seen as a threat to wildlife preservation, it may not be true. A WWF report in February 2015 has shown that tiger parks across the world generate over US$600 billion per annum in revenue from visitors.

Responsible tourism can bring in much needed economic benefits to the local population, while dis-incentivizing poaching and demonstrating the importance of protecting the tiger and its habitats. This would directly contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 15, which talks about sustainably managing forests.. and halting biodiversity loss.

Image by Jagdeep Rajput

There are 49 tiger reserves in India where responsible travellers can go to visit these majestic animals. All reserves are presently closed for the monsoon and will re-open in October. Some of the best ones to visit with #Alpaviram are:

Pench, Panna, Bandhavgarh, Satpura and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh
Ranthambore in Rajasthan
Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand
Bandipur in Karnataka
Sundarbans in West Bengal
Kaziranga in Assam

Image by Siliconeer

The author is Ritesh Datta, Co-Founder of Alpaviram. He can be reached at

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Visit To Kolkata's Magen David Synagogue

--- Saurabh Goel is a wanderer at heart. He loves to travel, learn news things along the way and stay inspired on the road. His infectious enthusiasm is a joy to behold. He reflects on his journey to Kolkata - city of Joy - in 2014.

I reached Magen David Synagogue quite late in the day.The noon had withered away and the sky was clocking the golden hour.
As usual my routine wanderings in the streets of Calcutta had consumed all my day, and I had kept just about enough time to reach the synagogue by evening somehow.
I had assumed that it would stay open well past the evening, and so I would see it at my leisure; clueless that it was going to prove to be a blunder, soon.

Let me point out here, as to how reaching the synagogue (supposedly a popular destination), without keeping the address handy or navigation on mobile, may turn into a detour; relying on local’s awareness of our monumental heritage would not really help; nor did asking passersby for direction along the way.

However, bypassing all of this and having taken a bit longer than expected, I finally spotted synagogue’s high tower – a tapering hexagonal structure protruding out of the building into the sky, resembling sort of a windmill’s trunk from distance.

But then, as dumbstruck as it left me, to my shock and disappointment, at the entrance, Gafoor(the resident caretaker of the Synagogue) informed me about the mandatory written permission, required to enter the Synagogue.
Adding further how the visiting hours would soon get over too.

The permission letter was to be issued by a popular Jewish bakery called “Nahoum and Sons”, set up 113 years ago in the city, and lay approx 3.5 kms away, which meant almost 30 minutes of commute up n down; however, as soon as I looked around, I could instantly realise that the evening office hours and the ambient hustle and bustle of crowded streets, would easily prolong my travel.
To avoid the immediate rush of the street crowd, I decided to walk a bit, before boarding a taxi. But then adding further to my woes, the legendary Eden Gardens also happened to fall on my way, with an IPL match lined up for the night, and given its mammoth size, the arrangements were being made outside for the crowd that would soon throng and choke it, putting even more strain on the running traffic.

It took me little over 1 hour to return.
By the time I got back, it was almost dusk and I was bit more exhausted by now. But then, weeks before coming to Calcutta, I had planned to visit the Synagogue.

I handed over the letter, and Gafoor let me in.
“What if I would get late, coming back?”, I remember I had asked him, while I was leaving to get the letter. To which he said, “Just get it ASAP”. As though it was not about the timing, but my intention to see it.
Or perhaps he was just happy at the prospect of receiving a visitor from outside the city after some time – his welcoming intent was as much evident from the reassuring reply he had given me earlier, as much from the warmth with which he sort of became my synagogue guide.

I did make it a point to catch up with Gafoor, after my mesmerizing visit to the Synagogue was over, but was dismally surprised to know that given the situation, the synagogue is now forced to fly down the Jewish community from outside the city for their yearly assemblies. From Bombay to Calcutta.
The numbers are so low that holding such an annual prayer is impossible with the leftover Jewry of Calcutta – once home to a thriving Jewish community, but unlike Chinese, Afgans and Anglos, it seems Jews had collectively decided to leave the city, no matter Indian origin or expats.

Call it my personal prejudice(and please excuse me for it) but one thing that struck me almost instantaneously was Gafoor’s name, which for a moment had veered my excitement in a different direction, and so, towards the end of my visit, as I asked him about his experience working in a synagogue, hiding slyly the underlying sentiment, followed by asking for his opinion on an omnipresent sense of resentment between the 2 communities.
To my surprise also. With a fervent display of hope, as one may not probably expect, he quite remarkably said and I still remember and quote him on this: “It is nothing. This problem in Middle East is nothing but just a property dispute between 2 brothers (read: Abraham’s children), and would end soon”.

Built in 1884, by the Ezras for the Ezras(the real estate tycoons of an erstwhile Calcutta), Magen David synagogue is a pride reminder of Jews’ legacy and magnificent past, and of their lofty stature in Calcutta’s history. More than 130 years old and still standing strongly. And so marvelously, when visited from inside.
A two storied structure with a steeple, it wasn’t just built to last, but to visually marvel as well, as it aged, growing more charming with time.

I have a personal fetish for visiting large abandoned buildings and mills, and the moment I entered the synagogue, I knew I was in for a certain visual and sensory delight.
Its grandness is imposing, which grips and seeps into your senses almost immediately. Like an eagle clutching onto someone from its head. Sitting on top of it. Almost riding and ruling it from there.
So as you step inside from its main doorway, which opens into a small corridor with swiveled stairways on both ends, dimmely lit up by incandescent yellow bulbs on a dilapidated old chandelier hanging in between, a somewhat heavy impersonification of its scale and entity captures your fancy, drawing an equal proportion of awe, endearment and nostalgia of its charm, as you walk up the staircase.

Everything about Magen David was fascinating, be it its altar(bema), arch, balconies or the central hall with windows of different sizes and patterns sporting magnificently large stained Belgian glasses which beautifully colour its walls, each time light hits them from behind and passes through.

I surely wanted more time inside the Synagogue, but then Gafoor was waiting outside for me to come, and to close the Synagogue.. He, for sure, had stretched the visiting hours and was working overtime, just to make sure I had seen around thoroughly.
My visit to Magen David Synagogue was not just over by now, but moreover was complete, in a sense that I had not just seen a glorious heritage building, but had a close brush with another tradition and culture and religion and identity, through a visit and a conversation which was as enriching as some wonderful short journey.

All images and text are by Saurabh Goel. Reuse is strictly prohibited. To read the original write-up and see more images, click here.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hues Of An Indian Summer

India, with its varied topography and climates, sees many forms of plants and life all through the year. In the capital of India, there are flowers that bloom in different seasons and lend their beauty to the otherwise extreme climate. Over the past few years, the climate of New Delhi - like that of the rest of the world - has seen a huge change. On one of our early morning walk with Dilli Meri Jaan, we set out to spot the few beautiful blooms across a section of the city.

Earthern pots resting under a tree are a clear sign of summer. These pots not only help in keeping the water cool but lend a soothing, earthern taste to it. Do try a glass of this water on your visit.

The Amrita Shergill Marg is one of the many lanes in New Delhi that see the bloom of the Amaltas tree in summer. The distinct yellow bloom and occasional shower of yellow flower petals has inspired many poets and writers.

The bright yellow silhouetted against the bright blue sky is a vision!

The blazing red gulmohar had shed much of its sheen in the recent showers. The red, however, still stands out in bits among the green canopy.

The blossom of bougainvillea or the paper flower may not be sweet-smelling but surely makes for a pretty addition our bouquet of memories.

But then again, summer nights in India are defined by the sweet-smelling blooms of jasmine or champa.

The wild flowers are not shy when casting a spell with their scent on tired souls walking down heading home after a long day's work.

The purple tubular flowers seem to glow against the sun! Such fun!

We were a young group of people exploring the bright side of an Indian summer but elders will tell you that what we see is a mere shadow of what remains of the true colours. You are welcome to join us as we explore the sunny side of things across India. We could talk about it or better, let's take a walk in the garden. Who knows what we might find?