Thursday, July 21, 2016
“..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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
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.
Dilli Meri Jaan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
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.
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
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.
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
Thursday, June 30, 2016
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
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?
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Global Goals for Sustainable Development says that no one across the world should be living on less than $1.25 a day by the year 2030 – be it children, women or men. It also talks about ensuring that the national policies and programs are designed and implemented to reduce poverty and vulnerability of every individual.
In India, however, approximately 32.5 per cent the total population of India are living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.
Pro-poor tourism (PPT), or tourism that generates tangible benefits for the poor, is an attempt to do just that by putting poor people and poverty at the centre of the debate on sustainable tourism. Tourism can be called pro-poor if it provides:
i. Economic gain through employment or business opportunities with tourism businesses and/or tourists;
ii. Other livelihood benefits such as access to potable water, roads which bring benefits to poor producers through, for example, improved access to markets, improved health or education etc; and
iii. Participation in decision-making processes to build tourism economies, so that the poor are able to secure better access to tourists and tourism enterprises.
Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme. A small hamlet of 111 families by the Kaziranga National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the home to the one-horned rhinoceros) has been spruced up to offer an authentic Assamese experience. An outlet has been set-up to offer tourists Assamese and regional tribal delicacies. Village members have been professionally trained in hospitality, local art forms and tourist guide services; and travel agencies have been contacted with readymade travel packages to this unique village.
Devil on Wheels, a Himalayan travel community started by a software professional, which helps fellow travellers and trekkers visiting the mountains in planning travel, and uses the opportunity to connect them directly to the local community members, who provide services of “local guides, porters, drivers, home stays, small but clean guest houses etc. so that a family or lives belonging to remote/tribal parts of Himalayas gets the actual benefit rather a middle-men who do not even care for the effort put in by the porter and reaps all the butter out of bread from him”.
SDG 1: End poverty and all its forms everywhere
• By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day
• By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
• Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
• By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
• By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
• Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
• Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
The Dhauladhar Mountains Watch Over The Journey Of Self-Discovery Amid Tea Gardens, Gurgling Brooks And Nature At Palampur
--- Neelima Singh is our guest writer this week. When not restricted by office, she spends her time identifying trees and birds and sharing her knowledge with family and friends. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
पठानकोट जंक्शन से शुरू होकर जब हमारी नैरो गेज ट्रेन हिमाचल के पुलों और सुरंगों से गुज़रने लगी तो एक एक करके बेहद खूबसूरत नज़ारे हमारे सामने आने लगे । जितनी बार हमारी ट्रेन अँधेरी सुरंगों से गुज़रती, छोटे बच्चे कौतूहलवश ताली बजाते और बड़े बूढ़े जोर-जोर से सीटियां बजाते। वैसे देखा जाए तो दिल तो सबका ही बच्चों सा होता है - बस कुछ के दिलों के बच्चे बड़े हो जाते हैं और कुछ के नहीं । पठानकोट से पालमपुर तक की यात्रा नैरो गेज से ही करनी चाहिए, तभी आप मैदान से पहाड़ के बीचे की बदलती हवाओं को महसूस कर सकते हैं । रास्ते भर छोटी छोटी नदियां, धान के सीढ़ीनुमा खेत और चीड़ देवदार के पेड़ नज़ारों को बेहद रोमांचक बनाते हैं ।
पालम - मतलब बहुत सारा पानी, जो इसका मतलब न भी जानता हो, वो पालमपुर पहुँच कर खुद ही इस बात का अंदाज़ा लगा सकता है कि कांगड़ा घाटी की इस छोटी सी खूबसूरत जगह को पालमपुर क्यों कहते हैं। छोटी-छोटी चंचल सी अल्हड़ जलधाराएं - इठलाती, बलखाती, गिरती-संभलती, जाने किससे मिलने की जल्दी में एक दूसरे से होड़ लगाए रहती हैं ।
धौलाधार पहाड़ियों की छत्रछाया में बसा यह खूबसूरत-सा शहर जो कि उत्तर भारत के चाय बागानों के लिए मशहूर है, अपने-आप में बेशुमार सौंदर्य और रोमांच समेटे हुए है । लगभग पूरे साल भर धौलाधार की चोटियां बर्फ से सफ़ेद रहती हैं, लगता है मानो यह शहर एक बड़ी-सी पेंटिंग का हिस्सा हो ।
हर जगह के चाय बागान की खूबसूरती अलग प्रकार की होती है - दार्जिलिंग के चाय बागानों की तुलना मुन्नार के चाय बागानों से नहीं की जा सकती | बिलकुल वैसे ही पालमपुर के चाय बागानों की खूबसूरती अपने आप में अनूठी है । यहां के चाय बागान में रुक कर, काँगड़ा स्पेशल चाय की चुस्कियां लेने में एक अगल ही मजा है जो कि शब्दों में बयां नहीं किया जा सकता ।
अपनी मनपसंद किताबें, इंडोर गेम्स, बैडमिंटन, अपनी इच्छानुसार कोई सा भी गेम खेल सकते हैं । लेकिन एक अनुभव जो आपके मष्तिष्क पर संतुष्टि और शान्ति की छाप छोड़ जाता है वो है बालकनी में बैठ कर चिड़ियों की चहचहाट और झींगुरों के कीर्तन के बीच धौलाधार की हिमाच्छादित चोटियों को देखते हुए चाय पीना । ऐसा माहौल बन जाता है कि दार्शनिक भाव आपने आप जागृत हो जाते हैं - इस विशाल अपार संसार में हमारा अस्तित्व कितना क्षणभंगुर है ।
हर एक पेड़, फूल पत्ती में जान होती है, भावनाएं होती हैं । यह सब हम अक्सर बड़े शहरों की चकाचौंध में भूल जाते हैं, या जानकार भी नज़रअंदाज़ कर देते हैं । ये पहाड़, नदियां, पेड़, वन, जीव-जंतु हमारे ही अभिन्न अंग हैं, यह बातें बताने के लिए काश परमपिता ने पेड़ों के भी आँख, नाक और मुंह बनाये होते - तो शायद प्रकृति हमें यह सब बातें हमारी भाषा में ही समझा पाती ।
आत्मावलोकन के अलावा भी पालमपुर में करने के लिए बहुत कुछ है । अगर आप ज्यादा साहसिक प्रवृत्ति वाले हैं तो आपके लिए हर साल यहां पर पैराग्लाइडिंग और ट्रैकिंग जैसे बहुत से कार्यक्रम आयोजित किये जाते हैं, जिसका आप जी-भर आनंद उठा सकते हैं । इसके अलावा जिनको धर्म के गूढ़ रहस्यों को समझने की ललक हो, उनके लिए पालमपुर और आसपास के इलाकों में (धर्मशाला) बहुत सारे मंदिर और बौद्ध मठ भी हैं, जहां आप मन की शान्ति की खोज के लिए जा सकते हैं । वैसे तो महात्मा बुद्ध की सबसे बड़ी शिक्षा यह थी की - इच्छाएं और अपेक्षाएं मत रखो, फिर भी पालमपुर बार-बार जाने और जाकर वहाँ के चाय बागानों में रुकने की इक्षा को मैं कभी भी दफ़न नहीं कर पाउंगी, जब भी मौका मिला धौलाधार और पालमपुर की सरिताओं से मिलने जरूर जाउंगी ।