Tag Archive for 'Tourism'

Burma – 2011′s hippest holiday destination

Phoebe Kennedy in The Independent:

Despite the lure of its gleaming pagodas, fabled cities and pristine beaches, military-ruled Burma has been off the tourist map for years, shunned by conscientious travellers who feared that visiting the country would help only to prop up one of the world’s most oppressive dictatorships. But with the release late last year of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose calls for a tourism boycott have long kept holidaymakers away, travel industry experts are cautiously hopeful that foreign visitors might once again beat a path to one of south-east Asia’s unspoilt gems.

Accolades such as being named Wanderlust magazine’s “top emerging travel destination of 2011″ should help to propel Burma from a tourism backwater to an exciting new destination – although activists warn that the nation needs to make a lot of progress before becoming a guilt-free holiday paradise. “Burma needs to be visited with care. But those who do visit carefully… inevitably return with exceptional memories,” said Wanderlust in its award citation. “There are the sights, natural and man-made – the stupa-studded plains of Bagan, Yangon’s giant golden pagoda, the floating gardens of Inle Lake – but it’s the resilient and welcoming Burmese people who create the lasting impression.” More:

Maldives island resort to be staffed exclusively by blondes

Image: The Olialia Group, promoter of the project. Olialia is pronounced “ooh-la-la"

A travel company has announced plans to open a holiday resort in the Maldives staffed exclusively by young blonde women in an attempt to break the stereotype that “blonde women are less intelligent”. In The Telegraph:

As well as providing male and female holidaymakers with all the standard holiday resort services, female guests will be able to make use of a blonde-staffed ‘education centre’ which will teach them “how to always be perfect and look great”.

The Olialia development – which reportedly has British, Russian and German financial backing – is due to open on a private island in the tropical Indian Ocean archipelago in 2015. More:

And here and here

Last Hippie Standing

Via Shunya:

Last Hippie Standing is a documentary on Goa, “the hippie paradise of the 60s”, with interesting footage from that period, including their wild parties and the Anjuna flea market. It tracks down and interviews some who never went back. It also looks at the more recent crop of ravers, hipsters, and vacation hippies who now visit Goa. [(45 mins; see video in larger format at Culture Unplugged]

Citizens’ protests stall Goa’s real estate bonanza

Madhurima Nandy in Mint:

A 19-acre expanse of mostly dense foliage on a sloped terrain, about 1.5km from Dabolim airport, is where India’s largest developer DLF Ltd has planned its first project in Goa, called River Valley.

It would build a gated community with nearly 700 homes and a giant clubhouse overlooking undulating hills and the river Zuari. DLF launched the project last October after procuring all necessary approvals from the state government and has sold 350 homes.

But the project’s on hold after Dabolim resident Edwin Masceranhas and Goa Foundation, a non-profit organization, moved a petition in the Goa high court earlier this year questioning the approvals. They claimed DLF’s project threatens the environment and that it has already cut about 200 trees at the site.

DLF has to wait for a second confirmation on the approvals from the same set of authorities before it can begin constructing its project.

Goa, a laid-back tourist state popular for its beaches, is witnessing a silent revolution by its citizens who are challenging large developments in a bid to protect their environment. More:

Kerala — Your moment is waiting

Incredible India

Sex and the Games

Come October, Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games. There is an entire sex industry readying itself for business. Akshay Sawai and Pallavi Polanki in Open:

The man who answers the phone at the escort services office calls himself ‘Sam’. He wants a face-to-face meeting at Mahipalpur, a suburb close to the airport, before he can seal the deal. Hopefully, he is not holding his breath.

In contrast, the lady at Delhi 69 Escorts, which describes itself as an ‘Exclusive Delhi Escorts Agency’, seems a lot more at ease with phone conversations. Perhaps because this time it is a man with a European accent calling. In a recorded conversation available with Open, this is what the lady on the other side of the line has to say: “For Commonwealth Games, you will have to make advance bookings. We already have so many bookings for Commonwealth, so many bookings. We definitely recommend prior bookings, we cannot guarantee the availability of girls for Commonwealth. Rates will depend on the profile [of the girl], we don’t have fixed rates, the charges may vary according to profile… We have Russian girls, but I would suggest you go for Indian girls. They are more high profile, they speak well, they are educated, and they are fluent in English.” Currently, Delhi 69’s minimum charge is Rs 20,000. She claims it could even go up to Rs 50,000 during the Games.

All this, you’d think, is hush hush. Evidently not. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, in whom the CWG has found its sharpest critic yet, wondered aloud about the sexual aspect of the Games on a televised debate recently. “The media have reported that there are going to be 150 condom vending machines installed in the Games Village alone,” Aiyar said. “The report says that 3,000 to 3,300 packets of condoms will be sold every day from these machines, and that each packet contains two condoms, which means over a 15-day period, there will be one lakh condoms sold. What is the game that is going to be played at the Commonwealth Games? Is this sex tourism or sports tourism?” More:

Two years after terrorist attack, Taj restores its heritage

Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai in the New York Times:

When terrorists stormed this city nearly two years ago, killing at least 163 people, they also dealt a blow to the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, an architectural landmark that has played a critical role in nurturing and housing Indian art.

During a three-day siege the hotel, a Moorish-Florentine palace that opened in 1903, was ravaged by fires, gunshots and grenade explosions. The roof collapsed, and intricate woodwork was burned away. Paintings by modern Indian masters like Vasudeo S. Gaitonde and Jehangir Sabavala were covered in soot and fungus, which thrived in the humid air after air-conditioners gave out, and sprinklers and fire trucks doused the building with water.

Over the last 21 months a team that has at times swelled to more than 2,000 has gutted and renovated the hotel. A smaller group of five specialists spent 10 months restoring nearly 300 pieces of art, working in the Crystal Ballroom, where guests and staff sought refuge during the attack. More:

Also in the Times of India:

All that I didn’t know about the Andamans

Hostile tribes, human safaris, earthquakes by the month, seaplanes, micro volcanoes, jobless elephants and really stupid tourists. Shubhangi Swarup in Open:

Jarawas are a lonely people and they have been this way for some time. Their group of Andamanese Negritos is believed to be the most isolated in human history. Ever since migrating from Africa an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 years ago, they have lived in the Andaman forests without any contact with the outside world, protecting their privacy by being relentlessly hostile to outsiders. The Indian Government has demarcated a tribal reserve for them to lead undisturbed lives. This is a jungle spread over South and Middle Andamans. Despite the Centre’s best intentions, a big fat highway called the Andaman Trunk Road runs through it. Although the Supreme Court ordered the road closed in 2002, it is clearly still in use. And thus we have the oddity of hundreds travelling to and fro daily through a place designed for seclusion—listening to loud music and littering the reserve while they do so. Curious Jarawas stand along the road, and some tourists treat them like foreigners treat beggars in Mumbai. They take their snaps and give them knick-knacks. In this circus was I a silent observer, travelling in a state transport bus from Port Blair to Diglipur, in the last week of May.

It was my first time on the islands, but I felt connected to the place. After Independence, my grandfather, a forest officer, was posted here. My mother was born in Port Blair’s Cellular Jail, part of which had then been converted into a hospital. She told me bedtime stories about the islands. About Lilliput volcanoes that could be destroyed with a twig, sharks flapping noisily in the sea and lapping up humans, hostile tribals attacking outsiders with arrows. Once there, the tales became vivid.

I did come across miniature volcanoes, little mud piles bubbling over in Baratang. I didn’t see any sharks, but I did see a crocodile accused of eating an American tourist. The tribals my mother feared were also there. They were Jarawas, whom she had never seen but I did on my bus journey. There was a woman standing on a hillock, dressed in nothing but a red girdle of sorts, holding a cherubic baby at her waist while older children stood by the road. The bow and arrows of my mother’s childhood nightmares were missing, though. More:

Tracking lost stories of personal history

Passion for genealogy brings Britons on a quest to retrace the lives of their forefathers in India. Priyanka P. Narain in Mint:

Last November, Caroline Seville, grandmother of three, watched green meadows, brown farms and barefooted children come up on her window and fall rapidly away as the Konark Express hurtled noisily through the heartland of Karnataka and Orissa.

“I was on the same train that he took almost 120 years ago! I couldn’t believe it and kept thinking…this is how it must have been when he used to take the train…the countryside would not be that different, right? It was so much like the descriptions of the scenery from his letters,” she said in a telephone conversation from her London home.

Seville was retracing the journey of her great-grandfather, Leslie Lavie, a British soldier in the Vizianagaram (Andhra Pradesh) cantonment, who often took the Konark Express from Vizianagaram to Secunderabad where his fiancee, Florence Ross, Caroline’s great-grandmother, used to live in mid-1890s.

A year after they married at St John’s Church in Secunderabad in September 1896, the 28-year-old Lavie died, leaving behind a pregnant wife. A few months later, in her sister’s house in Coonoor, Florence delivered a baby girl, Leslie Mary Maud Lavie—Caroline’s grandmother.

“I visited all those places…the train he took to woo her, the church where they married, the place he was buried, and the house where my grandma was born… I saw where I came from…it was a trip of a lifetime,” said Seville. More:

In Dubai, sex is for sale in every bar

From The Guardian:

The bosomy blonde in a tight, low-cut evening dress slid on to a barstool next to me and began the chat: Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you staying? I asked her what she did for a living. “You know what I do,” she replied. “I’m a whore.”

As I looked around the designer bar on the second floor of the glitzy five-star hotel, it was obvious that every woman in the place was a prostitute. And the men were all potential punters, or at least window-shoppers.

While we talked, Jenny, from Minsk in Belarus, offered me “everything, what you like, all night” for the equivalent of about £500. It was better if I was staying in the luxurious hotel where we were drinking, she said, but if not she knew another one, cheaper but “friendly”. I turned down the offer.

This was not Amsterdam’s red-light district or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg or a bar on Shanghai’s Bund. This was in the city centre of Dubai… More:

Goa: property frenzy and crime poison the hippy dream

Gethin Chamberlain in Anjuna, Goa. In The Observer:

Yet something poisonous has entered Eden. Beneath the surface lies a seething mass of tensions and hatreds. A spate of high-profile attacks on western tourists, including the murder of British teenager Scarlett Keeling, is the most obvious symptom of the malaise. A state-sponsored land grab of expatriates’ properties, the influx of Russian and Indian property developers, and even a threat to ban the wearing of bikinis has convinced many long-term stayers that the time to leave has come.

Many are alarmed by the failure to get to grips with the crime problem. It was on Anjuna beach that 15-year-old Scarlett’s body was found two years ago. She had been battered and raped after an evening drinking and taking drugs while her mother, Fiona MacKeown, was travelling elsewhere in India. Yet it was MacKeown’s vehement protests that led the police to revise their initial conclusion that the teenager had drowned accidentally.

In a week’s time, a court in the state capital, Panaji, will start to hear evidence against two men accused of her killing. Not her murder, though, a point that rankles with some European residents who think that the authorities disapproved of her family’s unconventional lifestyle. They point to the murder charges brought against a Russian last month after a local man died in a late-night brawl in Morjim and ask whether there is one law for Indians and another for those from abroad. More:

Kashmir — the ultimate skiing destination

Tom Robbins in The Observer:

Then suddenly we pop out, back into the sunlight on an open slope which Nick calls Snow Leopard Couloir because of the animal’s tracks he’s seen in the snow there. (We never manage to spot one, but we do encounter its more common relative, the Himalayan Leopard – two of them skinned on the walls of the Highlands Park, one alive, seen by some of our group in the lights of a taxi at night.)

The snow in the couloir is a delight, turned sugary because it has sat untouched on the hill for so long, and we whoop as we ski down it, stopping occasionally to take photos, before we eventually reach a snow-covered road in a forgotten side valley. It’s a military track off-limits to the public, used by soldiers heading for their border look-out posts. As we take off our skis to begin the hour-long walk back to town, there’s a distant rumbling and a khaki truck lumbers around the corner, the three soldiers in the cab looking bemused at the skiers standing in the road before them. It’s as if a wormhole has opened up between the frivolous slopes of Courchevel and this troubled corner of Asia, which Bill Clinton once dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world”. More:

Nepal’s rhinos and tigers and bears

From the Wall Street Journal:

Nepal is known for its Himalayan mountain trekking and India for its historic sites and teeming cities. But both countries offer inexpensive safaris in several national parks that, considering how chaotic life in Nepal and India can be in other respects, are surprisingly professional and well organized, though their ideas of protecting visitors may not be yours.

I didn’t think I was in Africa, where vast herds of many species surround you. But from the back of a Nepalese elephant I saw two crocodiles, a peacock, lots of deer and, most importantly, two rhinos. In the world of safaris, viewing a one-horned Indian rhinoceros is a real accomplishment. There are only about 2,500 left in the world, almost all of them in Chitwan and Kaziranga National Park in northeast India.

The rhinos seemingly had no fear of elephants; they let us get right next to them. The tourists climb a special mounting platform and sit on the elephant’s back, protected by wooden rails. The ride took us through beautiful forests, lakes and, appropriately, plains of 10-foot-high elephant grass. All-inclusive, the South African safari I took two years ago cost more than $500 a night, but in Nepal, there was no way I could have spent $500 in a week. More:

In the hills of Sri Lanka, Kandy is ready for tourists

Robert Schroeder in the Wall Street Journal:

The temple, the city’s star architectural attraction, takes its name from the relic it houses: a tooth of the Buddha, kept in a stupa-shaped gold casket. Crowds of Sri Lankan devotees jostle past, carrying offerings of jasmine, lilies or lotus flowers. The tooth is also the focus of Kandy’s famed perahera, or procession, held for 10 days in the month of Esala (which runs from July into August). The perahera features Kandyan dancing and drumming, and this year drew about 500,000 people on its final day — more than in previous years.

The dates of next year’s Esala Perahera haven’t been set. But there is ample opportunity to hear Kandyan drumming and watch local dance — Kandyan dancers and drummers are some of Sri Lanka’s emblematic symbols — at any time. At the Kandyan Art Association and Cultural Center, a quick walk from the tooth temple on the lake’s northeast shore, the sound of a conch shell welcomes visitors to a show. Bare-chested men emerge in blue- and red-fringed white sarongs, with diamond-shaped headgear, beating geta bera with their hands. Women dancers pay graceful tribute to guardian deities and to their gurus. Before the evening is over, the dancers will enact the taming of a cobra and move like peacocks. More:

20 fabulous boutique hotels in India

The publisher of the Special Places to Stay guidebooks selects 20 extraordinary hideaways in India. From the Observor:

The Manor, New Delhi

The Manor, New Delhi

Casa Susegad, Goa

Casa Susegad, Goa

The Manor, Friends Colony West, Delhi
Shanti Home, Janakpuri, Delhi
Tikli Bottom, Gairatpur Bas, Haryana
Panchavatti, Corjuem Island, Goa
Casa Susegad, Loutolim, Goa

Click here for the full list:

Maldives’ dilemma

It cannot be carbon neutral without killing tourism. From the Times:

In the 1960s a United Nations report warned the Maldives that, sadly, it was unlikely to attract tourists.

Not much grows on lumps of coral in the Indian Ocean apart from coconuts and fish, the report pointed out: the Maldives is largely dependent on imports and the nearest ports are hundreds of miles away. Few of its 1,000-odd scattered islands even had electricity. Yet within ten years, the Maldives had established the reputation it has now, as a holiday paradise for honeymooners, scuba divers and the super-rich.

On Tuesday, the tiny country of 350,000 people once again showed it can punch above its weight. The Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed, shared a billing with Barack Obama and Hu Jintao at the United Nations General Assembly, where he pleaded the cause of small island states at risk from climate change. In many news outlets, it was Nasheed who made the headlines.

In many respects the Maldives has always been the little nation that could. Despite its minuscule population and strategic location, it has never been colonised (it peacefully dismissed the British, who had made it a protectorate, in 1965). It has retained its unique language and script, and hung on to its cultural identity while incorporating Islam, elements from African religions, black magic, Indian cooking and the occasional British naval tradition. In 2008 it made a peaceful transition to democracy and was hailed as an example to other, more troubled Muslim nations. More:

And they didn’t return

India’s Kullu valley, also known as the valley of the gods, is a favourite with backpackers and trekkers. But over the last few years several foreign tourists have mysteriously disappeared or have been found dead. From the Indian Express:


On July 21 this year, Amichai Steinmetz checked out of the guesthouse in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, where he had been staying. Amichai, who holds both US and Israeli passports, and his Israeli friend were to go trekking from Khirganga, a hamlet in Parvati valley of Kullu, to the forests of Bunbuni. According to Amichai’s friend, they separated soon after they began, agreeing to reach Bunbuni from different routes, and planned to meet again in Khirganga the same evening. Amichai never returned. His friend says he didn’t meet him at Bunbuni either.

On Monday, August 17, a US Embassy team arrived from New Delhi to meet K.K. Indoria, Superintendent of Police, Kullu. The team, which included an officer of the diplomatic security service of the US Department of State, had come to inquire about the Amichai case.

Twenty-four-year-old Amichai is the 19th foreign tourist to have gone missing in Kullu (mostly from Parvati valley) since 1992. That’s an unsettling statistic for a tourist haven that is called the ‘Valley of Gods’, whose valleys and ridges offer a favourite setting for trekkers and tourists. Apart from the list of missing foreigners, official government records say 57 foreigners have died in the region between 1998 and 2009. Most of these deaths are attributed to accidents or drug overdose. But there have been murders too. Like that of Martin Young, a British national who died in a murderous assault in 2000. Similarly, Alessandra Verdi’s death in 2001 was described as murder. The Italian tourist’s body was recovered from the Parvati river bank. More:

[Image: Fabrice/Travellerspoint]

Kashmir: Paradise once again?

Dal Lake, Srinagar. Photo: shahbasharat / cc

Dal Lake, Srinagar. Photo: shahbasharat / cc

The beauty of Kashmir has been shunned by tourists in fear of terrorism, and kidnapping. But that may be about to change. Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

At Kashmir’s Royal Springs golf course, Javed Ahmed looked through the large glass windows of the clubhouse on to the manicured fairways.

The official was understandably proud; the course has been voted the best in India and one of the finest in the region. The fifth hole, which looks out across lakes to the mosques of the Srinagar’s old quarter, is especially famed. Part of his job is to promote the course to the world, to show there’s another side to the Kashmir of newspaper headlines. “We are trying to get the tourists to come,” said Mr Ahmed. “This is one of the top 10 golf courses in the world. We want them to come and enjoy themselves.”

Barely an hour earlier, in a graveyard shaded by walnut trees, the body of Firdous Ali Dar was laid to rest. According to the police, Mr Dar had been making a bomb when it exploded, fatally injuring him. His body was wrapped in a white winding sheet before being covered in a red blanket. Blood seeped from his head.

Kashmir, long fought over by India, Pakistan, and Kashmiri “nationalists”, may be at a cross-roads. Twenty years after the start of a separatist insurgency and a subsequent military operation that has killed at least 70,000 people and turned this once-peaceful valley of fruit trees and farmland into one of the most militarised regions in the world, Kashmir may be poised to turn a corner in its battle between the Kashmir of old and the Kashmir of limitless potential. More:

Water and Sand in Rajasthan

In the Great Indian Desert - the most inhabited in the world - development efforts to bring in clean water and spur tourism are resulting in the erosion of historic sandstone Jaisalmer Fort. From Seed:

Photo: Peter Davis / Flickr

Photo: Peter Davis / Flickr

Before sunset, we reach the extraordinary Jaisalmer Fort, a sand castle finer than anything Disney could conceive, perched high atop Trikuta Hill. The golden sandstone fort was built in 1156 on the lucrative camel-train spice route linking India to Central Asia, and it’s still home to 5,000 people, making it one of only two living forts in India. Jaisalmer is also believed to be the oldest continuously lived-in fort in the world. And yet the structure is sodden and crumbling. Three of its 99 bastions have collapsed since the 1990s, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the 100 most endangered sites on the World Monuments Watch list.

While the relatively new water infrastructure has allowed both crops and tourism to flourish, more than 120 liters of water per person pass through the fort’s decrepit sewer system on a weekly basis, 12 times its intended capacity. The result? Sewage courses down the honey-colored walls, creating huge cracks in the sandstone.


Goa’s tourism subdued as police move in

From Financial Times:

Under the palms near the Fort Aguada Beach Resort, a luxury hotel built inside the crumbling ramparts of what was once Goa’s most formidable Portuguese castle, police have set up a sand-bagged observation post.

The post is one of a series of “bunkers” being built along the Goan coast to help fortify it against seaborne terrorist attacks of the kind that brought Mumbai to a halt last month.

“Soon this fortress will be a bastion of armed guards,” says an official at the Fort Aguada resort, a sister property of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower that was attacked in Mumbai.


Malaise de Goa?

Beneath the idyll of a paradise called Goa, a grim, gritty picture of a state scorched by corruption and apathy. Sudeep Chakravarti with photographer Satish Bate in Hindustan Times:

On a cool evening in mid-October, a hundred or so people, mostly Goan – teachers, writers, painters, journalists, businesspersons, fashion designers and lawyers – stood near one of Atanassio Monserrate’s two large villas near Panjim.

They held candles; an emphatic circle of light. I was there too, wax from a temperamental candle blistering my fingers.

It seemed a small price to pay. After all, I didn’t join in the singing of we-shall-overcome, or impassioned speech-making.

My fingers had not been severed with a chopper, as happened to a Goan lawyer the previous night. Nor had I been severely beaten about the head, as had a young Goan professor of history, as he dined on chicken xacuti with this lawyer friend at a modest Panjim restaurant. It’s why we had all gathered in civil outrage.


Paradise almost lost: Maldives seek to buy a new homeland

Randeep Ramesh from Male, the Maldives, in the Guardian:

The highest land point on the Maldives is only 2.4 metres above sea level.

The highest land point on the Maldives is only 2.4 metres above sea level.

The Maldives will begin to divert a portion of the country’s billion-dollar annual tourist revenue into buying a new homeland – as an insurance policy against climate change that threatens to turn the 300,000 islanders into environmental refugees, the country’s first democratically elected president has told the Guardian.

Mohamed Nasheed, who takes power officially tomorrow in the island’s capital, Male, said the chain of 1,200 island and coral atolls dotted 500 miles from the tip of India is likely to disappear under the waves if the current pace of climate change continues to raise sea levels.


But where on earth can they go?

Also in the Guardian, Jon Henley explores the Maldives’ options:

It is an intriguing, if deeply depressing idea: the first nation on earth to be forced to abandon its homeland because of the impact of global warming and steadily rising sea levels. Nasheed is basically talking about relocating the Maldives’ 300,000-strong population to nearby India, or Sri Lanka or, possibly, Australia. But even if you accept the neccessity of such a grim scenario, is it actually feasible? Could an entire people simply move to a new country, set up home there and pick up their lives again as if nothing bar the unfortunate disappearance of their old base had actually happened?

The current consensus seems to be that it is not. “It would be very difficult for a state, as such, to move,” says Dr Graham Price, head of the Asia programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “There can be ad-hoc migration, of course, even of quite large numbers. But there are big jurisdictional issues here, issues of sovereignty. That said, it is a real problem, and one we’re going to have to get used to. Nasheed is saying to the rest of the world, we really have to think about this. We want to stay together, we don’t want to lose our culture, and this isn’t our fault.”


Democracy for Maldives

For many Westerners, the Maldives represents the peak of aspirational tourism but lurking behind the paradisiacal façade is a grim story of poverty and exploitation. From New Statesman:

The statistics do jar. A number of tiny, uninhabited islands are auctioned every year, fetching around £30m each. A survey conducted by the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) showed that basic workers’ pay was between $80-$120 per month, although even the very lowest end resorts had an annual income of $3-4million. Fishing stocks are hugely depleted and fresh fruit and vegetables bypass local residents, going directly to tourist islands. The UN recently found that over 30 per cent of Maldivian children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

Barnett notes the lack of international awareness. “Gayoom’s regime was so repressive that it is very hard to get information out…”


Previously in AW: Ex-prisoner defeats ‘dictator’ president of Maldives

Cashing in on old world charm

There is a flood of investors in Rajasthan, looking for royal homes that can now be turned into boutique hotels. From The Indian Express:

Artisans restoring an old haveli in Rajasthan

Artisans restoring an old haveli in Rajasthan

A six hour drive from Delhi, on a picturesque winding road off the Jaipur highway lies the Shekawati belt dotted with old, forgotten havelis and crumbling forts. Right alongside, in glaring contrast are several new buildings and the occasional Pepsi hoarding. Though most of the colourful frescoes and arches on the old houses are peeling off, a closer look shows the attention to detail in the painted mythological themes on the walls. One such haveli in the main bazaar of Nawalgarh was in wretched disrepair when it was bought by Kamal Morarka, a Mumbai-based industrialist. “I grew up in Mumbai but my roots are here,” says Morarka, 60, who then hired an archeologist from Archeological Survey of India, ASI to restore it. He also runs a non-profit foundation in organic farming to help farmers in this region.

Like Morarka, there are a surprising number of outsiders, Indians and foreigners, who are investing in Rajasthan, captivated by its arid beauty and magnificent architecture. And of course, the romantic notion of living in a 200 year-old structure that’s witnessed history and once belonged to Indian nobility.


The march of tourism (and a threat to the Maldives)

Beset by rising sea levels and a £90m budget shortfall, the Maldives government has set its sights on leasing 31 uninhabited islands for new resorts. Now the Tourism Minister has quit over the threat to the islands’ fragile ecology. Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

They have become the short-hand for a tropical paradise. A nation of islands off the southern tip of India, the Maldives are the home of cobalt-blue seas and white-sand beaches. Every year the country attracts up to half-a-million tourists in search of a picture-perfect getaway.

But how much is too much? For a country that depends so heavily on tourists lured by the prospect of pristine beauty, at what point does that flood of tourists start to threaten the very environment that attracted them in the first place?


Tourism subsidy roils India’s upscale waters

Bruce Stanley from Port Blair, The Andamans Islands, in The Wall Street Journal [From Mint]:

A cultural collision between working-class visitors and the local stewards of high-end tourism at this idyllic archipelago has raised temperatures here, laying bare prejudices and at times exciting a measure of greed on both sides.

The Asian tsunami in 2004 swamped this Indian territory in the Bay of Bengal and took some 20,000 lives. It also left hoteliers and tour operators grappling with the economic aftershocks, as spooked tourists stayed away. So, several months after the disaster, the Indian government began offering free plane tickets to civil servants and employees of big state companies to treat their families to an Andamans vacation.


Holiday in India — without the Taj

By Daniel Sorid, Associated Press:

Many tourists report being treated like gobs of tourist putty in the hands of Agra’s masterful touts, cajoled into unwanted side trips to trinket shops or pressed to hire an unauthorized tour guide.

In a survey published in 2006, the government of India found that 63 percent of foreign tourists complained of being cheated or harassed “in many tourist destinations like Agra,” as well as Delhi, India’s capital.

But there are endless alternatives for a holiday in India without the Taj, and even first-time visitors to the country might choose one of these circuits – provided they can stand up to friends back home boggled by the idea of visiting India without seeing the fabled monument.


Kashmir seeks tourism revival on the putting green

Amelia Gentleman from Srinagar in International Herald Tribune:


Naeem Akhtar has an improbable role in the Indian government’s drive to revitalize Kashmir after 18 years of militant violence. His task: rebrand this heavily militarized Himalayan region as a global golfing destination.

Akhtar, who is permanent secretary to the government tourist department, the most senior bureaucrat in charge of tourism in Kashmir, readily admits that the challenge is “very difficult.”

“We face a lot of uncomfortable questions,” he said, overlooking the empty fairways of Srinagar’s Royal Spring Golf Course. “Tourists travel to relax. A tourist doesn’t want to come to a place that creates apprehension in his mind.”


As Tibet erupted, China wavered

Witnesses say Chinese security forces melted away as unrest boiled over in the Tibetan capital on March 14. Jim Yardley from Beijing in The New York Times:

In the chaotic hours after Lhasa erupted March 14, Tibetans rampaged through the city’s old quarter, waving steel scabbards and burning or looting Chinese shops. Clothes, souvenirs and other tourist trinkets were dumped outside and set afire as thick gray smoke darkened the midday sky. Tibetan fury, uncorked, boiled over.

Foreigners and Lhasa residents who witnessed the violence were stunned by what they saw, and by what they did not see: the police. Riot police officers fled after an initial skirmish and then were often nowhere to be found. Some Chinese shopkeepers begged for protection.

“The whole day I didn’t see a single police officer or soldier,” said an American woman who spent hours navigating the riot scene. “The Tibetans were just running free.”


And in Nepal…

From Nepali Times:

monk.jpgIn scenes not witnessed since April 2006, police brutally put down rallies and candlelit vigils by monks in Kathmandu. This young monk (above) was hit on his head with a bamboo stick wielded by riot police outside the United Nations office in Pulchok on Monday.

The UN’s human rights office in Kathmandu condemned what it said was the “excessive use of force” by Nepal’s police to disperse the demonstrations.

The protests have been part of an international campaign by Tibetans in exile and their supporters to highlight Chinese crackdowns in Lhasa and elsewhere. The rallies came in the run-up to the Olympics in Beijing in August. The unrest in Tibet has already hurt Nepal’s tourism industry since Kathmandu is the jump off point for Lhasa. Hundreds of Sherpas are also employed by expeditions climbing the Himalaya from the north.