Surajkund Mela: A Colorful Celebration of Culture, Crafts, and Culinary Delights

Surajkund, translating to the “Lake of the Sun,” bears significant historical importance, deriving its name from the ancient reservoir constructed by King Suraj Pal of the Tomar dynasty in the 10th century.

Originating in 1987, the Surajkund Mela occurs annually in February, aiming to bolster tourism in Haryana by showcasing its rich handicrafts, handlooms, and cultural heritage.

The Surajkund Mela is a collaborative effort between the Surajkund Mela Authority, Haryana Tourism, and various Union Ministries including Tourism, Textiles, Culture, and External Affairs.

Since its inception, all states of India have actively participated in the fair, with one state typically designated as the Theme State.

Elevated to an international level in 2013 and renamed the “28th Surajkund International Crafts Mela,” the event attracted participation from over 15 countries, including those from Europe, Africa, and SAARC nations in 2014.

In 2015, a record-breaking 20 countries took part, with Lebanon as the Partner Nation and Chhattisgarh as the Theme State.

In the latest iteration in 2024, nearly 40 countries, including Tanzania, participated, providing attendees with glimpses into African culture alongside the cultural partnerships of all eight northeastern states.

Kicking off on February 1st, the Surajkund International Crafts Mela transforms Faridabad, Haryana, into a vibrant hub of colors, drum beats, and jubilation, celebrating Indian folk traditions and cultural heritage.

Drawing over a million visitors, including hundreds of thousands of foreigners, the Mela serves as a testament to global diversity, showcasing a plethora of arts, handicrafts, cuisines, and cultural tapestries.

As the world’s largest crafts fair, the Surajkund Mela celebrates India’s rich cultural fabric, offering designated areas for amusement, adventure sports, and joy rides, catering to visitors of all ages.

The event showcases some of India’s most exquisite handlooms and handicrafts, featuring handmade fabrics adorned in ethnic hues that captivate visitors’ attention.

Amidst cultural performances and exhibitions, the Mela serves as a custodian of heritage crafts, preserving traditional skills endangered by mass-produced imitations.

Visitors can engage in immersive experiences like getting their photos taken after donning the traditional ‘Haryanvi Pagdi’ at the Virasat Cultural Exhibition stall.

The exhibition also features displays of iron, brass, and wooden bells used for various animals, alongside wooden printing blocks and measurement scales from pre-Independence rural India.

The Surajkund Mela fosters cultural exchange and understanding through art and crafts, building bridges across borders.

Culinary delights from around the world await visitors at the multi-cuisine Food Court, offering an array of ethnic cuisines beloved by attendees.

India Showcases Wedding Destination Diversity: Consulate General in New York Hosts Webinar

The Indian Consulate General in New York recently organized a webinar titled ‘Wedding Destinations in India’ on February 17. The purpose of the session was to introduce various locations across India that offer a rich blend of music, local customs, culture, and a diverse range of settings including desert, forest, mountain, beach, palace, and spiritual locales, along with options for meditational retreats.

The event was graced by the presence of Consul General of India in New York, Binaya Srikanta Pradhan, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, Dr. Varun Jeph, and Parthip Thyagarajan, the CEO of WeddingSutra, a company specializing in providing comprehensive wedding information and inspiration to couples.

Dr. Jeph referred to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, “Wed in India,” which encourages affluent families, both within the country and abroad, to choose India as the venue for their family weddings.

CGI Pradhan emphasized India’s status as an ideal wedding tourism destination, stating, “When it comes to wedding tourism, I would say, India probably is the ideal destination.” He highlighted India’s diverse offerings suitable for weddings of all religions and budgets, ranging from the Himalayas and Kerala’s backwaters to Rajasthan’s forts and Orissa’s lakes, as well as the emerging tourism sector in the North East.

Thyagarajan outlined several popular wedding destinations and properties across India. He particularly emphasized the appeal of spiritual sites among Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram. Thyagarajan also discussed the popularity of temple towns like Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and Guruvayur in Kerala for weddings on auspicious days, noting that while they offer budget-friendly options, they come with challenges like limited room availability and dining choices.

Additionally, Thyagarajan highlighted Bengaluru’s growing popularity as an ideal wedding destination due to its favorable weather year-round and the availability of quality properties within a short distance from the airport, making it convenient for guests who prefer shorter travel times.

According to a report by WedMeGood, the wedding tourism industry surpassed the $75 billion mark during the 2023-2024 period. In 2023, the Ministry of Tourism launched a wedding tourism campaign aimed at promoting India as a preferred wedding destination and boosting tourism in the country.

The Historical Daulatabad Fort In Maharashtra

Daultabad Fort is also known as Deogiri Fort. “Hill of the Gods,” originally known as Devagiri, is situated atop a conical hill in the state of Maharashtra in the Daulatabad village near Aurangabad. This medieval Indian architecture is known for the steep slopes of history woven into its mighty walls.

History and architecture

The fort reached its glory during the Tughlaq dynasty, when Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq shifted his capital reign from Delhi to Devagiri.The Historical Daulatabad Fort In Maharashtra

Daulatabad is marked with a series of gates. The Maha Darwaza, or Grand Entrance, is a creation of military construction with a convoluted, maze-like layout to avert invaders. The clever use of defensive features like hidden traps and spiked gates demonstrates the fort’s designers’ strategic intelligence.

Tales

The fort was the seat of the Yadava dynasty for over a century, until Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, conquered it. Ramachandradeva, the Yadava king, was permitted to rule as a vassal from this Fort. However, the consequences of Ramachandradeva’s action orders given by the Delhi sultanate at the time led to the assault by Ala-ud-din Khilji’s army. 

Harpaladeva, battling for the sultanate, gained control after the Yadavas lost all of their authority. Daulatabad was renamed Deogiri by Muhammad bin Tuqhlaq. He forcibly moved all of Delhi’s residents from Delhi to Daulatabad because he believed Daulatabad was in a superior location to Delhi. However, due to a severe water shortage, the residents had to travel back to Delhi once more. This incident is well-known in Indian history as a quintessential act of stupidity.

Things to do:

  • Chini Mahal and Royal Residences

Within the Fort’s remains is Chini Mahal, a building with appealing Persian tiles that used to be the royal family’s pleasure palace. An exciting look into the lifestyles of the monarchs who once called Daulatabad home could be observed by seeing the ruins of the royal apartments inside the fort.

  • Explore the entrance.
  • Sarawati Bawdi

Step-well, a set of stone steps descends to the water’s surface built inside a well.

  • Chand Minar

Persian blue tiles adorn the four-storey exterior of the Chand Minar. The Minar is closed to outside visitors.

  • Sunset Panorama

When the sun sets, it offers a breathtaking spectacle. The views from the Fort’s panoramic position create a captivating scene as the sun sets. It is observed that the fort’s shape contrasts with the evening sky’s golden tones, creating a scenic moment in the viewer’s life.

Lotus Temple In Delhi Proclaims Universality of Humanity

The incredible architectural marvel of Lotus Temple located in New Delhi, is a Baha’I House of Worship. In the early 21st century it was one of only nine mashriqs in the world.The Lotus Temple derives its name from its design. Like every other Bahāʾī mashriq, it is characterized by a nine-sided construction, in keeping with the Bahāʾī belief in the mystical properties of the number nine. Set on an elevated plinth in a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) expanse of landscaped gardens and surrounded by nine pools bordered by red sandstone walkways, the white marble edifice rises to a height of more than 130 feet (40 metres). 

The Lotus Temple complex comprises 27 independent marble “petals,” which are clustered into groups of three to form nine sides (through which open nine entrances into a central space) and into groups of nine to form three concentric rings. Petals in the first ring face outward, forming canopies over the nine entrances. The second ring covers the outer hall. In the innermost ring, the petals curve inward to partially enclose the central prayer hall, which accommodates about 2,500 people. The top of the structure appears open but actually contains a glass-and-steel roof that admits natural daylight. The overall effect is that of a floating lotus flower on the verge of blooming and surrounded by its leaves.

Lotus Temple In Delhi Proclaims Universality of Humanity

The teachings of the Baha’i faith hold that there is only one God, one religion, and one human race. The prominent lotus-like structure transcends all religious boundaries and welcomes humanity without any significant qualifications. The lotus temple is manifestation of Baha’iFaith’s principles, emphasizing unity, peace, and spiritual harmony. 

History and Architecture

The Lotus Temple was designed by the Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba. The architecture is a merged design inspired from both Eastern and Western styles. The structure consisted of 27 free-standing marble-clad petals. The petals were arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. The aesthetic appeal of the temple serves as a metaphor to the interconnectedness of all religions. The foundation for the temple was laid by Ruhiyyih Khanum and dedicated the temple on 24t December 1986. The Lotus Temple was built with marble that came in over 10,000 distinct sizes.

Things to do

  • Tourist Attraction

The Lotus Temple is now a popular tourist destination in Delhi, drawing millions of people every year. Part of what makes it so popular is its unique architecture and calm atmosphere.

  • Spiritual Retreat

The Lotus Temple provides a striking contrast to the chaotic urban environment outside its gates with its surrounding verdant gardens and reflecting pools. The serene atmosphere encourages introspection and contemplation, making it a haven for anyone looking for comfort in the middle of a busy metropolis. With its serene surroundings, the Lotus Temple turns into a haven for people looking for spiritual renewal and inner serenity.

  • Architectural Excellence

The Lotus Temple is renowned for its brilliant architecture and has received many honours and awards. The creative combination of artistic imagination and technical perfection is demonstrated by the inventive design and material selection.

Maldives Struggles with Financial Crisis Amidst Escalating Tensions with India

Maldives is facing unexpected turmoil due to recent actions that strained its relations with India, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy by the island nation. The dispute, worsened by President Mohammed Muizzu’s ‘India Out’ campaign, has led to a critical financial situation prompting Maldives to seek a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), exacerbating its economic woes.

President Muizzu’s ‘India Out’ campaign, aiming to remove Indian soldiers from Maldives and replace them with qualified technical staff from India by May 10, marked a significant escalation in tensions between the two countries. The situation worsened when three Maldivian ministers made controversial remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Lakshadweep.

Despite the subsequent expulsion of the three ministers, President Muizzu refrained from condemning their remarks, further straining India-Maldives relations. This deliberate provocation led to reports of Maldives declaring bankruptcy, prompting the government to turn to the IMF for financial assistance.

Under President Muizzu’s leadership, the once-positive relations between India and Maldives have dramatically shifted. His anti-India stance, evident in efforts to expel the Indian army and controversial ministerial comments, has severely strained diplomatic ties.

The fallout from these actions has caused widespread dissent among Indians, resulting in many canceling trips to Maldives, significantly impacting the nation’s tourism industry. India, previously a major source of tourists for Maldives, has seen a sharp decline in visitor numbers, slipping from the top spot to fifth place last year.

The combination of financial implications and strained diplomatic relations presents multifaceted challenges for Maldives, affecting both its economic stability and diplomatic standing.

Georgia’s Commissioner CB Yadav Announces Plans for Ramayana Museum and Lord Ram Temple; Extends Invitation to UP CM Yogi Adityanath

CB Yadav, the Commissioner of Georgia state in the United States, has announced plans to construct a Ramayana Museum and a temple dedicated to Lord Ram in Georgia. Currently on a tour in India, CB Yadav extended an invitation to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh for the groundbreaking ceremony of these projects in Georgia next year, which CM Yogi graciously accepted. During his visit to Lucknow, CB Yadav also met with Samajwadi Party national president and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav along with his wife Dimple Yadav at their residence, where CM Yogi was welcomed with mementos.

Chandrabhushan Yadav, also known as CB Yadav, hails from Badlapur in Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh, and currently serves as the first commissioner of Georgia state in the US. He arrived in India on January 28, visiting various places including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi before heading to his ancestral village of Nevada Mukhlispur in Badlapur area to meet with family members, followed by his visit to Lucknow.

CB Yadav expressed his intention to build the Ramayana Museum and the grand temple of Lord Ram in Georgia following the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. He mentioned that construction work on these projects will commence soon and extended an official invitation to CM Yogi Adityanath for the Bhoomi Pujan scheduled for 2025.

Furthermore, CB Yadav emphasized the need to revitalize old temples and religious sites in India, mentioning plans to develop a guest house and basic amenities at the renowned Mata Shitala Chowkia Dham in Jaunpur.

Regarding his journey from Jaunpur to America, CB Yadav completed his education in Badlapur and Allahabad before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an engineering college in Maharashtra. He then migrated to Georgia in 2003, where he established a business with his wife and two sons. Over the years, CB Yadav has achieved success in business, notably with the support of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who helped him secure the position of the first commissioner of Georgia state. Recognized as a significant supporter of India in America, Governor Brian Kemp established the Georgian First Commission, on which CB Yadav serves, to facilitate small business growth by streamlining government regulations.

CB Yadav is not only active in politics but also manages several hotels and motels in Kingsland, Camden County, South Georgia. His journey from starting a small business in Camden city to owning multiple grocery stores and a motor business reflects his determination and entrepreneurial spirit.

Enhancements Planned for Batu Caves Accessibility: Escalator and Multipurpose Hall in the Works

The stewards of a historic Hindu religious enclave in Malaysia are gearing up to introduce an escalator as an alternative for visitors who may find it challenging to ascend the 272 steps leading to the temple and cave shrines at the Batu Caves. Nestled a short distance north of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, this site, believed to be around 400 million years old, stands out with its iconic rainbow-colored staircase, a favorite backdrop for Instagram enthusiasts.

The Batu Caves are not only a prominent tourist hotspot but also serve as a sacred space for Hindu devotees, hosting the annual Thaipusam festival. Currently, reaching the temple nestled within a limestone cave at the summit requires climbing the aforementioned 272 steps. Recognizing the potential challenges this poses, the site’s management committee has expressed their intention to enhance accessibility by installing an escalator.

A spokesperson for the committee highlighted the motivation behind this initiative, stating, “Adding an escalator would make the site more accessible. We hope the government will assist us since this (escalator) will allow the disabled and elderly who are unable to climb the steps to reach the main temple.” These sentiments were echoed by temple committee chairman R. Nadarajah during a recent press conference. He further disclosed plans for the construction of the escalator and a new multipurpose hall, scheduled to commence post the upcoming Thaipusam festival on January 25.

Addressing concerns over the cost of these improvements, Nadarajah shared that the estimated expense for the multipurpose hall stands at approximately 35 million Malaysian Ringgit ($7.5 million), although he did not provide specific details regarding the cost of the escalator.

The Batu Caves, renowned for their captivating rainbow stairs, have become a must-visit destination for tourists in Malaysia. These stairs were meticulously painted as part of an initiative by the temple’s organizing committee to attract a larger audience to the site. This strategic move has indeed proven successful, with the colorful stairs gaining popularity, particularly among Instagram users.

While the rejuvenation of the Batu Caves has undoubtedly increased its allure, it has not been without controversy. The Malaysian heritage board has raised objections, contending that the stairs were painted before receiving official approval for the makeover. This adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing efforts to enhance the site’s accessibility, as the managing committee navigates both the demands of modern tourism and the preservation of historical and cultural integrity.

The custodians of the Batu Caves are embarking on a transformative journey to make this ancient religious site more inclusive. The planned escalator, alongside the multipurpose hall, aims to address the accessibility challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and the elderly. As the project unfolds after the Thaipusam festival, it will be interesting to observe how these enhancements contribute to the continued popularity of the Batu Caves while respecting the historical and cultural significance embedded in this iconic Malaysian landmark.

Lotus Temple  

The incredible architectural marvel of Lotus Temple located in New Delhi, is a Baha’I House of Worship. The teachings of the Baha’i faith hold that there is only one God, one religion, and one human race. The prominent lotus-like structure transcends all religious boundaries and welcomes humanity without any significant qualifications. The lotus temple is manifestation of Baha’iFaith’s principles, emphasizing unity, peace, and spiritual harmony.

History and Architecture

The lotus temple was designed by the Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba. The architecture is a merged design inspired from both Eastern and Western styles. The structure consisted of 27 free-standing marble-clad petals. The petals were arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. The aesthetic appeal of the temple serves as a metaphor to the interconnectedness of all religions. The foundation for the temple was laid by Ruhiyyih Khanum and dedicated the temple on 24t December 1986. The Lotus Temple was built with marble that came in over 10,000 distinct sizes.

Things to do

  • Tourist Attraction

The Lotus Temple is now a popular tourist destination in Delhi, drawing millions of people each year. Part of what makes it so popular is its unique architecture and calm atmosphere.

  • Spiritual Retreat

The Lotus Temple provides a striking contrast to the chaotic urban environment outside its gates with its surrounding verdant gardens and reflecting pools. The serene atmosphere encourages introspection and contemplation, making it a haven for anyone looking for comfort in the middle of a busy metropolis. With its serene surroundings, the Lotus Temple turns into a haven for people looking for spiritual renewal and inner serenity.

  • Architectural Excellence

The Lotus Temple is renowned for its brilliant architecture and has received many honours and awards. The creative combination of artistic imagination and technical perfection is demonstrated by the inventive design and material selection.

Maldives Faces Tourism Boycott Amidst Controversial Remarks on Indian PM Modi

Maldives is grappling with a potential tourism crisis as one of its primary sources of income, Indian tourists, contemplates a boycott following derogatory comments made by three Maldives officials about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The controversy unfolded after Modi shared images on social media showcasing his time snorkeling and walking along the beaches of Lakshadweep, a southern Indian island chain. Although Modi did not explicitly mention the Maldives in his post, the effusive praise for Lakshadweep’s scenic beauty raised eyebrows, potentially diverting attention away from the popular Maldivian destination.

In response to Modi’s post, three Maldives officials, identified as deputy ministers with the Ministry of Youth Employment, Information, and Arts, described him as a “clown,” “terrorist,” and a “puppet of Israel,” according to Reuters. The Maldives government swiftly distanced itself from these comments, suspending the officials and emphasizing that their opinions were personal and did not reflect the government’s stance on the matter.

The incident comes at a delicate time, coinciding with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s five-day visit to China, his first as president since winning the election in October. President Muizzu, known for his pro-China stance, aims to strengthen ties with Beijing and sign key agreements for trade, professional, and socioeconomic development during his visit. However, maintaining positive relations with India, Maldives’ closest neighbor and a crucial contributor to its tourism sector, remains essential.

Maldives heavily depends on tourism, with India being the largest source of tourists in recent years. In 2023, Indian tourists accounted for 11% of the country’s tourism market, making more than 209,000 trips to the Maldives. The officials’ disparaging remarks have triggered a backlash from Indian tourists, who have taken to social media to announce cancellations under the hashtag #BoycottMaldives. Prominent figures, including Bollywood actors and cricket players, have also encouraged travelers to explore local destinations, with the hashtag #ChaloLakshadweep gaining traction.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, known for his patriotic roles, condemned the Maldivian officials’ remarks as “hateful and racist” and urged people to support domestic tourism. He said, “We are good to our neighbors, but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate? Let us decide to #ExploreIndianIslands and support our own tourism.”

In a significant move, Indian travel site EaseMyTrip announced the suspension of flight bookings to the Maldives, expressing solidarity with the nation. Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip, stated, “In solidarity with our nation, @EaseMyTrip has suspended all Maldives flight bookings.” The Confederation of All India Traders, a prominent trade body, also called on its members to suspend business with the Maldives until an apology is issued or remedial measures are taken.

Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer denounced the officials’ remarks as “unacceptable” and emphasized the archipelago’s commitment to fostering positive and constructive dialogues with its partners. The Indian High Commission in the Maldives has reportedly raised concerns with the Maldivian Foreign Office over the issue.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, noted that the swift action taken by the Maldives government to suspend the officials and disavow their comments underscores the importance it places on maintaining strong relations with India. Kugelman suggested that while challenges may arise, the new leadership in the Maldives aims to balance its relationships with both India and China, emphasizing the significance of preserving ties with its immediate neighbor.

Vettuvan Koil – Temple of the Slayer

Vettuvan Koil is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The Dravidian-style temple is located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, precisely in the district of Thoothukudi, Kalugumalai. The monolithic temple is known for its rock-cut Pandyan architecture. The temple is claimed to have been an unfinished work in the early 8th century by the Pandya rulers.

The temple is currently maintained and administered by the Department of Archaeology of the government of Tamil Nadu.

History

It is believed that the temple was built in the 8th century, which was the early Pandyan era, under the leadership of Parandhagan Netunjadaiyan. It was built along the Kalugumalai Jain Beds. It’s a monument dedicated to Lord Shiva, and from the rectangular rock in Vettuvan Koil, a Dravida vimana is emerging. Not much history about Koil is available about the temple other than the myths and tales associated with it.

Vettuvan KoilGeography

The temple is perched atop a stone hillock towards the eastern side. It opens up a view to the east. The entry path lines the western hillside, the Kalugumalai Jain Beds (Highway 187). The upper section of the Vettuvan Koil was carved from a single granite rock. The carvings depicted various engravings of “Parsavadevatas,” or the attendant deities of Shiva. These included Goddess Uma, known for fertility, love, beauty, marriage, and children; Goddess Nandi, also known as the gate-guardian deity of Kailsa, the house of Lord Shiva; and artwork of various animals such as monkeys and lions. This architectural beauty creates the illusion of a lotus blossom in bloom.

Tales on Vettuvan Koil

The legend says that the temple was built over a rivalry between a father and son over superior architecture. It is believed that the son built the Murugan shrine, while the father built the Vettuvan Koil. When the son made fun of the koil, the father, out of anger, killed his son. The abandoned temple remains unfinished, followed by the grief of the father.

A different version of the story recites that the father attempted to impart trade knowledge to his son. The son, disregarding his father’s instructions, began carving the inner chambers of the koil. Enraged by his son’s disobedience and hearing the sound, the father killed him.

And with the legends came the names “Temple of the Slayer and “Heaven of Sculptors” for Vettuvan Koil.

Things to do at Vettuvan Koil

On reaching the temple, the viewers are treated to magnificent sculptures of Uma Maheswarar, Dakshinamoorthy, Vishnu, Brahma, and other lords that can be found atop the temple.

Other places nearby to visit during your time at Tirunelveli are:

  • Kanthimathi, or Nelaiyapper Temple, is known for its big size and intricate workmanship on stone. It gives a peaceful place for dharshan and prayers.
  • New Jerusalem Church
  • Ram’s Funn City is a soft play area mainly focused on kids.

Lord Thirukuttralanthar, a historic temple shaped like a conch with hal of paintings or Chitra Sabai of the 5 Sabais

GOLCONDA FORT

Golconda is a fortified citadel and ruined city located in the western outskirts of HyderabadTelangana, India. The fort was originally built by Kakatiya ruler Pratāparudra in the 11th century out of mud walls. It was ceded to the Bahmani Kings by Deo Rai, Rajah of Warangal during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shah (1358–1375 A.D.) of the Bahmani Sultanate. The name Golconda is thought to originate from Telugu for “Cowherd’s Hill.”

The abandoned Golconda Fort, currently in ruins was added to UNESCO’s “tentative list” in 2014 along with other sites in the area. Golconda Fort is listed as an archaeological treasure on the official “List of Monuments” prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India under The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act.[14] Golconda consists of four distinct forts with a 10 km (6.2 mi) long outer wall with 87 semicircular bastions (some still mounted with cannons), eight gateways, and four drawbridges, with a number of royal apartments and halls, temples, mosques, magazines, stables,

Old ruins surrounded by grass and small trees
Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, India.

Golconda used to be known as the ‘Diamond Capital of India,’ given the abundance of diamond mines. Out of the 38 diamond mines in the country, it is estimated that 23 are around Golconda Fort. It was believed that there was a hidden underground tunnel to the diamond mines. The mighty Koh-I-Noor diamond was stored in Golconda. Some of the most sought-after and well-known gems in the world, including Idol’s Eye, the Hope Diamond, Darya-i-noor, and the well-known Koo-i-noor, are known to have come from these mines.

History of Golconda Fort

The Golconda fort was known as ‘Mankal’. According to the data, the Golconda fort was initially a mud fort built by Pratāparudra of the Kakatiya Empire in the 11th century over the belief that a shephard boy who met an idol over the hilltop Golconda means “Cowherd’s Hill” in Telugu. The fort, built on a stone hilltop, was believed to defend the western region of the kingdom. Golconda was fortified and ruled by the Bahmani Sultans and then the ruling Qutub Shahi dynasty between the 14th and 17th centuries.

During the Bahamani Sultanate, Golconda slowly rose to prominence, and later in the early 17th century, Golconda established a prominent cotton-weaving industry. Cotton was manufactured in large quantities for both home and international use. Made from muslin and calico, a fine plain or patterned textile was created. There were two colours of plain cloth: white and brown, both bleached and dyed. These fabrics were exported to Europe and Persia. The prints used to create patterned textiles were created using natural dyes: indigo for blue, chay-root for red, and vegetable yellow. Exports of patterned textiles were mostly to Indonesia, Malaysia, and other eastern nations.

It was the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who captured the final Golconda king, Abul Hassan Tana Shah, and forced the fort to collapse after an eight-month siege. The fort finally collapsed in 1687.

Geography at Golconda Fort

Golconda is made up of four separate forts with an outer wall that is 10 km (6.2 mi) long and has 87 semicircular bastions (some of which are still equipped with cannons), eight entrances, four drawbridges, and several royal chambers and apartments, as well as temples, mosques, depots, stables, and other structures inside.

The lowest wall is by “Fateh Darwaza” (known as the Victory Gate after Aurangzeb’s triumphant troop that entered the pathway). The walls are studded with enormous iron spikes to keep elephants from smashing them down.

Tales of Golconda

The story of the Koh-i-Noor travels from the Rajahs of Malwa, which subsequently went through the hands of several Indian kings, including the Mughal emperors, before being acquired by the British. The diamond was supposed to be so strong that owning it brought misfortune to its possessor and that it could topple entire kingdoms. There were rumours that the diamond was cursed and had the following inscription:

“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but he will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”

Rumour has it that the fort is haunted by the king’s paramour. On the stage that was once hers, her ghost has been dancing. Even though there is no historical evidence to back up the stories of these curses, it is significant to remember that many of the owners of these diamonds were also prominent figures.

Things to do at Golconda

The visiting times at Golconda are from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Fateh Darwazaan (acoustic property): The ‘Bala Hisar’ pavilion, which is the highest point over a kilometre distant, is the place where one can clearly hear the reverberating handclap that occurs at a certain location beneath the dome at the entrance of ‘Fateh Darwazaan’’. This served as a warning in the event of an assault.

Water and ventilation systems: The fort’s water supply system has been cleverly constructed. Above-ground tanks hold varying volumes of water that are elevated by Persian wheels. The collected water is then employed by gravity to transport it throughout the citadel’s structure of stone aqueducts and earthen pipes to other mahals, other apartments, roof gardens, and fountains.

City view: The eight entrances lead to a fortress complex exquisitely designed with lush, green gardens set against the striking brown of the citadel walls. Witness the symmetry of the temples, troop barracks, royal apartments, stables, and courts. The twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad, the Kala Mandir arbores of Premamathi Nritya Mandir and Taramathi Gana Mandir, and the thousand-step stairway up to the durbar hall are also visible from above.

Light and sound show: Every evening, a captivating light and sound display that portrays this magnificent fort’s illustrious past is presented to help you understand more about its history.

Nearby attractions include:

Walk through the famous ‘Charminar’

Tour at ‘Chowmahalla Palace’

Birla Mandir

5 Wedding Destinations In India

Undoubtedly, one of the most wonderful days in anyone’s life is getting married; it’s the moment when you and your spouse can celebrate your new beginning as a couple. And what better way to capture this unique moment in time than choose a beautiful location for the wedding?

Udaipur, Rajasthan

Because of the lakes and palaces scattered across the vast metropolis, this lovely location is appreciated by both Indians and visitors from other countries. Few cities can match the charm that Udaipur exudes thanks to its magnificent royal structures. Weddings in Udaipur are said to resemble magnificent fairy tales. Offering a hint of splendour, opulence, and monarchy, the Oberoi-Udai Vilas or the Jag Mandir palace are among the best venues for a marriage celebration. It easily becomes one of the most sought-after locations for Indian weddings.

The Backwaters of Kerala – Go A Little Offbeat

5 Wedding Destinations In India 2This kind and pleasant location Kerala is the destination for people who would rather have a small, intimate ceremony than a large, busy one. The tranquil, picturesque backwaters offer a view that will likely stay in your mind for a very long time. The ideal vacation for an Indian destination wedding. Imagine the backwaters, the gorgeous houseboats, and the beaches blanketed in coconut palm palms. Verdant!

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Want to exchange vows under the sky blue skies, crystal clear lakes, and golden dunes, distant from the mainland? Consider the Nicobar and Andaman Islands. There are plenty of beachside resorts on Havelock Island where you can get married, even if the majority of the island is off-limits to visitors. It’s true that you may reserve an entire island resort and say your vows with the Indian Ocean as your backdrop. You should get married in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands all the more because of their pleasant climate.

Neemrana Fort – Just A Stone Throw Away From Delhi

This historic fort outside of Delhi is ideal for a photo session because of its striking architecture and the “shock and awe” factor that not many locations can match. Over the years, the Neemrana Fort Palace has gained a lot of popularity as a weekend retreat from Delhi to host a magnificent wedding ceremony and provide the bride and groom some priceless moments (and pictures). This location in India offers all you need for a destination wedding that will be remembered.

Goa – Wedding and Partying Hand In Hand

It’s impossible to consider being married by the sea without considering marrying your special someone in Goa. You can have a wide range of photos for your pre-wedding shoot because there are so many different locations to choose from, including immaculate beaches, spectacular sunsets, old churches, gorgeous resorts, and lush forests. Organizing haldi and mehndi celebrations by the pool, rain dances in the middle of the sea, or an endless night of cocktails on the beach are other ways to take advantage of Goa’s party atmosphere.

The Great Wall Of India

Towards the westerly range of Aravalli Hills in the Rajsamand district of the Western State of India, Rajasthan is located the Great Wall of India, known as Kumbhalgarh (or Kumbhal Fort). Built in the 15th century by Rana Kumbha, it is now a World Heritage Site.

The history of this Mewar fortress

It is thought that in the sixth century, King Samprati, the great-grandson of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, constructed the first fort. It was not extensively documented until the invasion of Kumbhalgarh by Allauddin Khliji in 1303 AD.

The Kumbhalgarh Fort was built by Rana Kumbha, the Rajput clan of Sisodia. After conquering the entire Godwar plain from the Chauhan Rajputs of Nadols in the late 14th century, Rana Khumba built the new fort on top of the local small fort. The new fort, Kumbhalgarh, was built by the king of Mewar, Rana Khumba, and mainly separated the two clans of Mewar and Marwar. The fort was mainly used as a refuge for the rulers of Mewar.

The Great Wall Of India (FB)
Picture: FB

The famous architect of the time, “Mandan,” was called in by the Rana of Mewar for this special task. Mewar, the kingdom of Rana Kumbha, covered vast swathes of both Rajasthan and the former Madhya Pradesh, extending from Ranthambore in Rajasthan to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. Rana Kumbha is credited with building 32 of the province’s 84 forts, the greatest of which is Kumbhalgarh. Direct assaults were still impossible against the fort.

According to the documents, in 1576 Shahbaz Khan, between 1458 and 1467 Mahmud Khalji, in 1457 Ahmed Shah 1 of Gujarat, and in 1303 Allauddin Khalji, all attempted to invade the fort. All the attempts at invasion failed, and the fort also came to be known as the impregnable fort.

The inside of the palace is a perfect depiction of Rajputs in history. It is said that the two-story building features an amazing blue durbar hall. The men-only “Mardan” palace and the women-only “Sanana” palace are divided by a hallway. The “Sanana Palace is home to several stunning murals of crocodiles, camels, and elephants.

Geography of the Kumbhal Fort

The fort is built 3,600 feet above sea level on a hilltop over the Aravallli range. The fort is counted as the world’s second-longest wall, with a length of 36 km and a width of 15 m.The rampart is considered broad enough to walk eight horses side by side.

Tales of Kumbhal Fort

During the initial stage of the fort, Rana Khumba faced many obstacles, for which a sage named ‘Baid Baba’ advised the difficulty would be removed if a pure-hearted man came forward and sacrificed his life. Seeing that no one was willing to save the king, the sage himself came forward and gave his life with one request for a gateway to the fort for religious rituals. According to the sources, King Kumbha built a grand entrance named ‘HanumanPol’, which is believed to be built on the spot where the sage’s head fell after he was beheaded.

During 1457, when Gujarat’s Ahmed Shah 1 launched a vain attempt to capture the fort, there was local belief that the Banmata deity protected the Mewars from invasion. The temple was destroyed because of this.

Another story is that the enemy bought off a young florist. She had left flower petals to indicate the way along the hidden pathway. The girl was bricked alive into the exterior wall after the plot was thwarted. A fitting penalty that would have discouraged other betrayers! The wall appears to be the location of the woman’s execution because there is a little, white-painted outline of the woman there.

Things to see in Kumbhal Fort

Kumbhalgarh Fort

It is said that the Kumbhalgarh fort existed for centuries. The fort is spread over an area of 36 km with extending walls. Approximately, there are about 360 Jain and Hindu temples within the fort. A few of them are Neelkanth Mahadeo Temple, Bada Mahal, Parshuram Temple, Mammadev Temple, Muchchal Mahavir Temple, and Vedi Temple. The gates around the fort are locally called “pol”. Entry to the inner bastions is possible through Arret Pol, Halla Pol, and Hanuman Pol from the southern directions. The purpose of the walls’ varying colours is to display light. The inside walls are whiter and more glossy. You will see Bhairav Pol, Chaugan Pol, Nimboo Pol, and Phagra Pol farther up; each has a distinct significance. Observe that as you ascend, they get smaller, and beyond a certain point, neither horses nor elephants can get through.

There is a light and sound show for 45 minutes every evening at 6.45 p.m.The ticket charge for the show is Rs 75.

Neelkanth Mahadeo Temple

This temple, which honours Lord Shiva, is home to a six-foot-tall stone Shivlinga. Legend has it that Rana Kumbha used to often worship the goddess in this temple. The king used to sit on the temple floor to say prayers since he was so tall.

The pious king was slain by his own son while praying to the Lord in the same temple.

Badal Mahal (Palace of Clouds)

This two-story structure, known as the Mardana Mahal (for men) and the Zanana Mahal (for women), is perched atop Kumbhalgarh Fort. Pastel-coloured murals from the 19th century adorn the chambers.

The queens could witness court proceedings and other events in private because of Zanana Mahal’s stone mesh. The purpose of the rooms’ network of ducts and mesh was to draw in cold air and ventilate the interiors. The traditional method of creating “air conditioning”

The road trip, Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary, and Sand Dunes

The road from Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh takes you across the ‘Kathaar River’ and ‘Bageri Ka Naka’ dams, both renowned for their scenery. And the other one is ‘Hameri Pal,’ a lake known for its calm nature with fewer crowds. It is also known for the ‘Giant African Catfish.’

The Kumbhalgarh sanctuary is home to various wild animals like chinkara, leopard, sloth bear, antelope, jackal, sambhar, nilgai, and hyena. You can also spot various species of birds.

When you reach the summit of Kumbhalgarh Fort, you can see the stunning Aravali Hills for miles in all directions. In fine weather, you can even see the Marwar and the Thar desert dunes.

The giant lamp is used for light

According to legend, Maharana Kumbha would burn enormous lamps with 50 kg of “ghee” and 100 kg of cotton to keep farmers working in their fields at night. The lamps used to shine for miles because of how brilliant they were.

AAPI’s Historic 2019 Expedition to Antarctica

Several years of meticulous planning, discussions, and organization, came to fruition as 190 delegates of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) Families and Friends from across the United States and India embarked on the Ocean Atlantic Ship operated by Albatros Expeditions on November 30th, 2019 from Ushuaia, the southernmost town on Earth in Argentina on a voyage to Antarctica, the seventh Continent, known as the Last Horizon on Earth.

The voyagers were welcomed on board by AAPI’s young and dynamic President, Dr. Suresh Reddy, who has been working very hard, coordinating the efforts with Vinod Gupta from the Travel Agency, ATG Tours, the crew and leadership of the Cruise and the AAPI leaders and members with varied interests and ages ranging from 10 to 90, who had flown in from around the world for this once in a lifetime memorable and historic voyage to the White Continent.

Earlier, the AAPI delegates had toured the beautiful and serene National Park in Ushuaia, on the world famous Route 3 that runs from Alaska to the southern tip of the world in Argentina. At the Park, Dr. Reddy led the AAPI delegates carrying the AAPI banner, spreading the message of Obesity Awareness, which is a major objective of Dr. Reddy’s Presidency, taking the message of Obesity Awareness Around the World.

On the Ship, immediately after settling down in each one’s cabin, the voyagers were invited to learn about safety on the ship and participated in a safety drill. Shelli Ogilvy, the Veteran Expedition Leader introduced the 22 Expedition Members with extensive maritime experiences from around the world, and over 60 other crew members to the voyagers.

The Ship carrying the sailors began its journey on November 30th, 2019 from the Ushuaia Sea Port with a prayer song to Lord Ganesh, chanted by Dr. Aarti Pandya from Atlanta, GA.

Later in the evening, the voyagers sat down for a sit down dinner at the elegantly laid tables at the Restaurant with delicious Indian Cuisine, prepared by Herbert Baretto, a Chef from Goa, India, specially flown in to meet the diverse needs of the Indians who are now the exclusive Voyagers on Ocean Atlantic.

The evenings are fun filled with members spending time together with their select friends and families, singing, playing cards games, discussing politics to medicine to healthcare and sharing jokes and snippets with one another in smaller groups. The cultural events included live music sung by Dr. Radhika from Chicago, Dr. Aarti Pandya and Dr. Badlani, in addition to several local talents of AA{I’s own, leading and vying to win the Anthakshri contest.

The finale on December 8th was a colorful Indian Dress Segment, where the adorable AAPI women and men walked the aile in elegantly dressed in Indian ethnic wear depicting different states of India. On December 7th evening, the voyagers had Black Tie Nite with many of them learning and playing Pokers until the early hours of the morning.

As the sun was still shining beyond midnight, members of the voyage were seen posing and taking pictures on board the ship with the background of the mighty ocean and the scenic mountains of Argentina at the background.

On December 1st morning, AAPI members were alerted to be mindful of the most turbulent Drake Passage, where the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean merge, through which our ship was now sailing with winds gusting through over 50 kms an hour from the south west. The rough with fast moving sea currents contributing to a turbulent weather, several voyagers took shelter in anti-nausea meds.

Throughout the day, there were special safety classes periodically throughout the day, helping the voyagers on ways to navigate the zodiacs, the kayaks, the walks on the ice and snow once we reach our final destination. They were also educated on the many aspects of wildlife on Antarctica, the species, especially the varieties of penguins, the mammals and the birds that inhabit the Continent and the ways for the voyagers to deal with them. The participants were educated on the Antarctic Treaty, Climate Change and Impact, Whale Hunting, and many more relevant topics with scientific data by the Expedition Crew.

The evening was special for the voyagers as the Captain of the ship welcomed the delegates to the Ship and to the Expedition to Antarctica. He introduced his crew leaders to the loud applause from the delegates, as he toasted champagne for a safe and enjoyable journey to Antarctica.

On December 2nd morning, we woke up to milder weather and calmer ocean with the winds subsiding to about 20 kms an hour and ship sailing smoother with the temperatures below 7 degree Celsius. The crew on the ship described the sail to be the smoothest and the weather and wind conditions to be one of the calmest they have ever witnessed. However, the entire day was cloudy with the sun hiding behind the thick clouds upon the ocean.

AAPI in Antarctica

After sailing across the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans and through the turbulent Drake Passage, and the South Ocean, finally, the day arrived for the Voyagers. The one they had been eagerly waiting for. On December 3rd, our ship, the Ocean Atlantic anchored on Danco Island, off the coast of the 7th Continent, Antarctica, officially discovered in 1820, although there is some controversy as to who sighted it first
The excitement of the voyagers had no bounds as they dressed up in their waterproof trousers, navy blue jackets, with hats and glouce and mufflers. They set out in groups marching off the Ship into the Zodiacs in tens in each Zodiac.

The wind and the ocean were calmer. The sun continued to hide behind thick clouds. The Expedition Crew from the ship drove the AAPI delegates to the shore on the island for the first time. The glaciers, mighty mountains covered with pristine and shiny snow, the icebergs on the ocean floating on the Bay, made the Zodiac ride to the shore a memorable experience for each.

As the voyagers walked to the shore on a narrow path on the soft snow surface, leading up the snowcapped mountains, it was a dream come true for all. The fresh water melting from the glaciers and the ice on the one side and on the other little rocks and mountains filled with snow, the Danco Island was picture perfect.

Head off in a Zodiac to view icebergs, or land on a beach studded with penguins. Kayak in the greatest silence on Earth. Take a long hike or a short walk on a shore lined with ghostly remnants of the whaling industry.

Penguins in small colonies of their own seemed unaffected by the voyagers landing onto the Penguin land. Hearing their unique and enchanting voices for the first time, as most of them sat steady, while a few walked from one end to the other, it was a scene everyone long dreamt to be part of, as it was another memorable experience in the life of everyone.

In the afternoon, after lunch and a lecture on the history of Antarctica, the Ocean Atlantic ship, travelling about 25 nautical miles, for the first time ever, landed on the Antarctic Continent as she reached the shores of Paradise Bay, a beautiful island, where the famous Brown Center, the Argentinian Research Station was located.

Trekking up the Hill on the snow and ice filled terrains, even as the serene and picturesque glaciers in vivid shapes and texture, it was mesmerizing and the Bay on either side, was breathtaking.
On December 4th morning, the voyagers got onto the Zodiacs and sailed to Port Lockroy, a sheltered harbor with a secure anchorage on the Antarctic Peninsula since its discovery in 1904. The Port also is home to a Museum and a British Post Office, where the early visitors to the Continent lived and explored the wildlife of the last Horizon. The Museum has preserved the antiques used by the early voyagers, who are an important part in the history of Antarctica.
Bright sun light flashing on the Lamoy Point on our way south towards the northern peninsula of the white Coneinent greeted us all this morning on December 5th. The greetings over the microphone at 6.15 woke us all up letting us know of the .mild weather conditions with 7 degrees celcius and 27 km s wind speed with bright sunny day was a welcome change from yesterday.

Immediately after breakfast we set out in small groups of ten on each Zodiac to cruise on the pristine blue waters of the Lamoy Bay.

Bright sun light flashing on the Lamoy Point on our way south towards the northern peninsula of the white Coneinent greeted us all this morning on December 5th. The greetings over the microphone at 6.15 woke us all up letting us know of the .mild weather conditions with 7 degrees celcius and 27 km s wind speed with bright sunny day was a welcome change from yesterday.

Immediately after breakfast we set out in small groups of ten on each Zodiac to cruise on the pristine blue waters of the Lamoy Bay.

The wind of 25 kms an hour made the waters of the Bay mildly rough as we set out from the ship. For the first time during the voyage, to the much delight of the AAPI delegates, the sun chose to come out from behind the clouds and shone brightly on the voyagers, making the snow shining and glowing with the rays of the sun filling the surface of the earth. It was delightful to see the Penguins close to the AAPI delegates, some of them walking beside them crossing their pathway.
After a lunch Barbeque on Deck Seven of the Ship, the Ocean Atlantic took us through the beautiful Lemaire Channel on the Continent. Braving the cold and gusty winds, the voyagers got together for a group picture of the entire voyager group on Deck Eight of the ship, as they were awed by the beautiful glaciers, the mighty snow-caped mountains, and the floating ice bergs.

It was an amazing experience as the Ship sailed through the Bay filled with Ice Sheet Rocks that are over a meter thick, slowly but steadily marching forward towards the Plenau Bay, where the 38 brave AAPI members had the unique experience of taking “Polar Plunge” in the Sea Water, which was 0.78 degree calcium while the rest of the AA{I delegates watched the brave men and women taking a memorable dip and swim back to the ship in the freezing cold waters of the Antarctic Continent.
This afternoon we were invited to climb up to the Decks 8 and 9 of the ship to view the entrance/passage to the famous Deception Island. Ad the ship sailed through this narrow path into the Island with majestic dark mountains on our right side while on the left snowcapped mountains overlooking the Bay. As the gusty winds made us shiver the voyagers standing on the top deck of the Atlantic Ocean posed for pictures while many others were lost in the stunning beauty created by Mother Nature for all of us to enjoy and cherish for ever.

The tallest mountain Mount Franceswithe height of 2300 meters high behind the backdrop, our zodiacs elegantly cruised fhrough the calmer waters to the mountain range called the Princes and the seven dwarfs.

The stunning views of the glaciers and the mountains and the soft and shiny snow spread across the shore led us all to the top of the snowy hills as we trekked to the top.

Colonies of penguins in smaller groups greeted us with their enchanting voices. We watched in awe as tiny penguins walking up flapping their feathers occasionally from the bottom of the hill to the top.
Many if us waited patiently to have an opportunity to view the eggs upon which the Penguins were sitting to hatch their eggs. Some were lucky to photograph a few couples mating while we were trying to figure out the male from female.

Leaving the breath taking landscapes was not an easy choice as we were soon called to embark on the zodiacs and return to Ocean Atlantic our ship as she was patiently waiting to take us to the next destination of our expedition to the Last Horizon.

We woke up this morni g on Friday December 6th to a bright and sunny day, calmer ocean with 9 kms of wind speed….a picture perfect day for expedition.
We went on zodiacs cruising through the blue waters of the Half Moon Island, a cluster of snowy mountains shaped as a half moon. Searching for wild life in the ocean with the voyagers looking out eagerly for any seals or whales did not seem to result in success as the sea animals and those on the shore seemed to hide in their resting places.
Finally the zodiac captains took us to the shore where for the first time we landed on dark stony surface full of rocks stones and pebbles. Our expedition crew leader reported that the shore was completely covered with ice and snow in the beginning of the season barely a month ago.

The glaciers and the imposing mighty mountains around us we hiked up the hill intruding sometimes into the Penguin Hoghways where we saw colonies of penguins resting under the bright sun. It was delightful to watch a few hopping on tiny rocks from one to another unnerved by the visitors from the Other Continents on earth.
A relaxing and rejuvenating morning walks across the island with breath taking views in abundance of Mother Nature will last a life time for everyone who has been part of the historic expedition to the 7th Continent.

After journeying about five hours we reached this evening at the Melchiors Island as the bright sun shining on us. On our way during lunch and later on the voyagers were thrilled to spot whales showing up their heads periodically.

The journey through the Bay was another memorable experience with the stunning landscape all along the route especially as the sun continued shine brightly on the snow peaked mountains turning the waters closer the glaciers turning from blue to green.

We had over an hour of zodiac cruise exploring the sea life on the Antarctic’s South Ocean.

For the first time we were delighted to watch different kinds of Penguins sitting on a single rock glazing at the ocean waters.
We spotted a few huge Cedder Seals resting on the rocks unmoved by the voyagers in several zodiacs watching them in awe.

The bright sun and the gentle breeze embracing the cheeks of the voyagers it was a perfect day to cruise and explore the White Continent.

190 Members of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin AAPI under the leadership of Dr. Suresh Reddy and a over 50 strong crew and 22 member expedition team set on sail from Urshuaia the southernmost township on earth located in the beautiful country Argentina on Saturday November 30th 2019

The AAPI delegates came from across the United States with some members of the extended family of AAPI delegates coming from india on this once in a lifetime experience to the sea enth continent Antarctica.

Earlier the AAPI delegates spent a day in Urshuia touring the National Park and lake wearing yellow hats and shirts carrying a banner spreading the message of the need for obesity awareness.

On the ship the voyage to the White continent began with a Prayer song by Dr.Aarti Pandya from Atlanta to Lord Ganesha seeking his blessings and prayers to remove all obstacles out of the way.

The sit down dinner on the first night as the ship sailed through the passage towards the south ocean was an amazing experience even as the sun shone on the west until 11 pm.

The 2nd day the Voyagers were woken up by announcement from crew of heavy winds of 50 km an hour and rough sea as the majestic ship moved ahead with braving the tumultuous weather and mighty ocean.

The 2nd night on the ship was special with the captain hosting the dinner and the delegates interacting with the crew and the delegates.

AAPI’s Historic Expedition

Today, on December 4th, the voyagers got onto the Zodiacs and sailed to Port Lockroy, a sheltered harbor with a secure anchorage and the Antarctic Peninsula since its discovery in 1904. The Port also is home to a Museum and a British Post Office, where the early visitors to the Continent lived and explored the wildlife of the last Horizon. The Museum has preserved the antiques used by the early voyagers, which is an important role in the history of Antarctica.

The wind of 25 kms an hour made the waters of the Bay mildly rough as we set out from the ship. For the first time during the voyage, to the much delight of the AAPI delegates, the sun chose to come out from behind the clouds and shone brightly on the voyagers, making the snow shining and glowing with the rays of the sun filling the surface of the earth. It was delightful to see the Penguins close to the AAPI delegates, some of them walking beside them crossing their pathway.

After a lunch Barbeque on Deck Seven of the Ship, the Ocean Atlantic took us through the beautiful Lemaire Channel on the Continent. Braving the cold and gusty winds, the voyagers got together for a group picture of the entire voyager group on Deck Eight of the ship, as they were awed by the beautiful glaciers, the mighty snow-caped mountains, and the floating ice bergs.

It was an amazing experience as the Ship sailed through the Bay filled with Ice Sheet Rocks that are over a meter thick, slowly but steadily marching forward towards the Plenau Bay, where the 38 brave AAPI members had the unique experience of taking “Polar Plunge” in the Sea Water, which was 0.78 degree calcium while the rest of the AA{I delegates watched the brave men and women taking a memorable dip and swim back to the ship in the freezing cold waters of the Antarctic Continent.

Bright sun light flashing on the Lamiy Bay on our way up north towards the northern peninsula of the white Coneinent greeted us all this morning on December 5th. The greetings over the microphone at 6.15 woke us all up letting us know of the .mild weather conditions with 7 degrees celcius and 27 km s wind speed with bright sunny day was a welcome change from yesterday.

Immediately after breakfast we set out in small groups of ten on each Zodiac to cruise on the pristine blue waters of the Lamoy Bay.
The tallest mountain Mount Franceswithe height of 2300 meters high behind the backdrop, our zodiacs elegantly cruised fhrough the calmer waters to the mountain range called the Princes and the seven dwarfs.

The stunning views of the glaciers and the mountains and the soft and shiny snow spread across the shore led us all to the top of the snowy hills as we trekked to the top.

Colonies of penguins in smaller groups greeted us with their enchanting voices. We watched in awe as tiny penguins walking up flapping their feathers occasionally from the bottom of the hill to the top.
Many if us waited patiently to have an opportunity to view the eggs upon which the Penguins were sitting to hatch their eggs. Some were lucky to photograph a few couples mating while we were trying to figure out the male from female.

Leaving the breath taking landscapes was not an easy choice as we were soon called to embark on the zodiacs and return to Ocean Atlantic our ship as she was patiently waiting to take us to the next destination of our expedition to the Last Horizon.
After journeying about five hours we reached this evening at the Melchiors Island as the bright sun shining on us. On our way during lunch and later on the voyagers were thrilled to spot whales showing up their heads periodically.

The journey through the Bay was another memorable experience with the stunning landscape all along the route especially as the sun continued shine brightly on the snow peaked mountains turning the waters closer the glaciers turning from blue to green.

We had over an hour of zodiac cruise exploring the sea life on the Antarctic’s South Ocean.

For the first time we were delighted to watch different kinds of Penguins sitting on a single rock glazing at the ocean waters.
We spotted Seals resting on the rocks unmoved and unaffected by the voyagers in several zodiacs watching them in awe.

The bright sun and the gentle breeze embracing the voyagers it was a perfect day to cruise and explore the White Continent.
Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

Bright sun light flashing on the Lamiy Bay on our way up north towards the northern peninsula of the white Coneinent greeted us all this morning on December 5th. The greetings over the microphone at 6.15 woke us all up letting us know of the .mild weather conditions with 7 degrees celcius and 27 km s wind speed with bright sunny day was a welcome change from yesterday.
Immediately after breakfast we set out in small groups of ten on each Zodiac to cruise on the pristine blue waters of the Lamoy Bay.
The tallest mountain Mount Franceswithe height of 2300 meters high behind the backdrop, our zodiacs elegantly cruised fhrough the calmer waters to the mountain range called the Princes and the seven dwarfs.

The stunning views of the glaciers and the mountains and the soft and shiny snow spread across the shore led us all to the top of the snowy hills as we trekked to the top.

Colonies of penguins in smaller groups greeted us with their enchanting voices. We watched in awe as tiny penguins walking up flapping their feathers occasionally from the bottom of the hill to the top.
Many if us waited patiently to have an opportunity to view the eggs upon which the Penguins were sitting to hatch their eggs. Some were lucky to photograph a few couples mating while we were trying to figure out the male from female.

Leaving the breath taking landscapes was not an easy choice as we were soon called to embark on the zodiacs and return to Ocean Atlantic our ship as she was patiently waiting to take us to the next destination of our expedition to the Last Horizon.

After journeying about five hours we reached this evening at the Melchiors Island as the bright sun shining on us. On our way during lunch and later on the voyagers were thrilled to spot whales showing up their heads periodically.

The journey through the Bay was another memorable experience with the stunning landscape all along the route especially as the sun continued shine brightly on the snow peaked mountains turning the waters closer the glaciers turning from blue to green.

We had over an hour of zodiac cruise exploring the sea life on the Antarctic’s South Ocean.

For the first time we were delighted to watch different kinds of Penguins sitting on a single rock glazing at the ocean waters.
We spotted a few huge Cedder Seals resting on the rocks unmoved by the voyagers in several zodiacs watching them in awe.

The bright sun and the gentle breeze embracing the cheeks of the voyagers it was a perfect day to cruise and explore the White Continent.
After journeying about five hours we reached this evening at the Melchiors Island as the bright sun shining on us. On our way during lunch and later on the voyagers were thrilled to spot whales showing up their heads periodically.

The journey through the Bay was another memorable experience with the stunning landscape all along the route especially as the sun continued shine brightly on the snow peaked mountains turning the waters closer the glaciers turning from blue to green.

We had over an hour of zodiac cruise exploring the sea life on the Antarctic’s South Ocean.

For the first time we were delighted to watch different kinds of Penguins sitting on a single rock glazing at the ocean waters.
We spotted a few huge Cedder Seals resting on the rocks unmoved by the voyagers in several zodiacs watching them in awe.

The bright sun and the gentle breeze embracing the cheeks of the voyagers it was a perfect day to cruise and explore the White Continent.
We woke up this morni g on Friday December 6th to a bright and sunny day, calmer ocean with 9 kms of wind speed….a picture perfect day for expedition.
We went on zodiacs cruising through the blue waters of the Half Moon Island, a cluster of snowy mountains shaped as a half moon. Searching for wild life in the ocean with the voyagers looking out eagerly for any seals or whales did not seem to result in success as the sea animals and those on the shore seemed to hide in their resting places.
Finally the zodiac captains took us to the shore where for the first time we landed on dark stony surface full of rocks stones and pebbles. Our expedition crew leader reported that the shore was completely covered with ice and snow in the beginning of the season barely a month ago.

The glaciers and the imposing mighty mountains around us we hiked up the hill intruding sometimes into the Penguin Hoghways where we saw colonies of penguins resting under the bright sun. It was delightful to watch a few hopping on tiny rocks from one to another unnerved by the visitors from the Other Continents on earth.
A relaxing and rejuvenating morning walks across the island with breath taking views in abundance of Mother Nature will last a life time for everyone who has been part of the historic expedition to the 7th Continent.

This afternoon we were invited to climb up to the Decks 8 and 9 to view the entrance/passage to the famous Deception Island. Ad the ship sailed through this narrow path into the Island with majestic dark mountains on our right side while on the left snowcapped mountains overlooking the Bay. As the guest winds made us shiver the voyagers standing on the top deck of the Atlantic Ocean posed for pictures while many others lost in the stunning beauty created by Mother Nature for all of us to enjoy and cherish for ever.

The final landing on the Last Horizon on Friday December 6th afternoon wa sdcc at the Deception Island for the AAPI Votagers.
An unusually bright shi ing sky with gentle winds welcomed us to the shore of the black sandy with little stones spread all along the 36 kms wide island.
The volcanic eruption here over 50 years ago has turne DC the island the mountains into dark colored. Saw a huge deal on the shore resting with birds and few penguins of the Contindnt enjoying the mild weather, the voyagers trekked up.the hill on the dark sand while the panoramic and breath taking views on the snowy mountains beyond the Bay hovering over blue waters of the Last Horizon.

Each evening at cocktail hour the entire expedition community gathers in the lounge for a ritual we call Recap. As you enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, various naturalists give talks, the undersea specialist may show video, and your expedition leader will outline the following day’s schedule.

penguins. Gentoo, Adelie, chinstraps in the thousands; rockhopper, macaroni and king penguins in the Falklands; and king penguins at a staggering scale in South Georgia.
We were all excited about the sightings of a rare black and a rare white penguin, as well as a lone Emperor colony at our farthest south.
Penguin behavior is endlessly fascinating. In the Antarctic spring, hundreds of gentoo penguins parade before us, reestablishing their bonds, mating, staking their claims, and thievishly stealing stones from one another for their nests.

The photo ops are simply incredible. And while penguins are delightful in films and nature documentaries, watching the often-madcap business of penguin life being lived around you is simultaneously uplifting and humbling: the animal kingdom indeed.
We’ll find it resting on ice floes, and often will have the opportunity to approach closely in Zodiacs for excellent photo ops. We’ll also likely be able to observe Weddell and crabeater seals, as well as Antarctic fur seals, whose populations have rebounded since the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
Antarctic birds
See Arctic terns and other pelagic birds, including fulmars and petrels. The opportunity of a lifetime for bird lovers, however, lies in venturing further—into the lands of the albatross,
The beautiful black-browed albatross crowd the ledges
The wandering albatross, with the largest wingspan of any bird, is one of the many wildlife spectacles South Georgia affords.

We woke up sailing on choppy seas with northerly winds of 45 knots.
When we reached the western side of the island, we found ourselves at the top of the spectacular colony of rockhopper penguins, and black-browed albatross. Brown skuas flew over the colony while penguins, albatross, and shags took care of their eggs.
We spend a good bit of time photographing the birds and generally taking in such wonderful experience and close views of the wildlife.

Settling into the calm waters of Cierva Cove, we headed out for a morning of Zodiac cruising. As the ship disappeared behind us in the mist, we hugged the shoreline to enjoy views of the Argentine research station Base Primavera, rolling swell around dramatic icebergs, and an undisturbed colony of gentoo penguins going about their usual Sunday morning business.

Highlights of the morning included great sightings of Weddell seals snoozing on ice and swimming curiously in the turquoise waters. As the fog began to lift, dramatic mountain peaks showed through the clouds and we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding glaciers and impressive icebergs throughout the cove.
Dramatic sculpture-like structures made for fantastic photo opportunities, and it was tough to return in time for lunch from such a beautiful morning out on the water.
Before long, we lost count of the number of emperor penguins we laid our eyes on. Cut loose upon the sea ice, our guests took to skiing and snowshoeing to explore the icy landscape and spend time with a gaggle of the largest penguin species on our unique planet.

Today, Antarctica is certainly one of the ultimate tour destinations of the world. However, for more than 150 years after its discovery, Antarctica was too far, too remote, too extreme, too dangerous, and too expensive for all but the most stout-hearted explorers and adventurers.

Those people willing to risk everything for the tasks at hand and fortunate enough to have the financial backing of governments or wealthy organizations. Few simple travelers could dare venture into this domain. To go there meant outfitting an expedition, and necessitated making preparations for all kinds of contingencies.
The human history of Antarctica contains some of the most exciting stories of endeavor and persistence imaginable, and includes many survival tales of people overcoming almost unimaginable odds. It is also wrought with many heart-wrenching tragedies.
But, whatever their reasons for going to Antarctica, these people were first and foremost adventurers at heart. It has taken the efforts of these many expeditions and fearless explorers to reduce much of the Antarctic mystery and danger.

The ship could carry 92 passengers along with about 60 crew members, naturalists, and lecturers.
inflatable boats called Zodiacs provided the means for his passengers to get ashore almost anywhere, under a multitude of conditions.

There are two major types of ice in the polar regions, sea ice and glacial ice, and they form through different methods. Sea ice forms in oceanic water when the ambient temperature is lowered to the freezing point of salt water. Glacial ice (including ice caps) forms through the simple accumulation of snow which becomes compressed by its own weight into solid ice. Sea ice formation is a seasonal phenomenon (although individual pieces of sea ice may last for several years), while glacial ice is generally a long-term structure lasting decades, centuries, or even millennia.

If conditions are calm, the crystals join together, thicken, and form a fibrous structure called young ice.
Sea ice prevents the ocean waters from warming the coasts significantly. It is important to note that islands within the limits of Winter pack ice (such as the South Shetlands, South Orkneys, etc.) compare closely with the continent in seasonal temperatures, soils types, flora, and fauna.
Glaciation, however, is much more complicated. When snow accumulates over a period of many years (that is, it doesn’t melt away after one season), the buildup creates a thick deposit in which the overlying mass tends to compress the lower snow layers into solid ice. During this, the individual snowflakes change into granules, which fuse into crystals of ice. Often, the air between the flakes becomes trapped, thereby creating air bubbles within the ice crystals. In polar areas, this produces huge and massive ice caps that can overwhelm and cover the entire landscape, including even mountains. Eventually, the ice mass thickens to the point where it begins to move due to a combination of gravity and the shape and slope of the ground surface. On steeper slopes this can occur when the thickness of the combined snow and ice reaches 15 m (50 feet) in depth. This is often referred to as glacial ice. If the flowing ice is constrained by mountains, valley walls, or other land surface formations, it is known as a glacier.
Glacial ice is the world’s largest reservoir of fresh water, albeit in solid form. Nearly 99% of all glacial ice on Earth is contained within the huge ice sheets in the polar regions. In fact, this volume of ice is so large that if the ice sheets of both Greenland and Antarctica were to melt, it would cause sea levels to rise about 70 meters (230 ft). In addition to Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, Iceland, and Svalbard, there are also significant glaciers scattered around the world outside of polar regions, including Alaska and Chilean Patagonia.
Permanent ice probably began forming in Antarctica as early as Miocene times, perhaps 20 million years ago.

There are 17 species of penguins in the world and they have various qualities in common. They are all found in the southern hemisphere, although one species, the Galapagos penguin, actually ranges a few miles north of the equator. Penguins are the most aquatic of the sea birds, and they generally spend most of their lives at sea (except when molting or rearing young). All penguins are flightless and adapted for life in cold water, so even those found in the low latitudes are dependent upon cold water currents for their livelihood.

Except for the feet and perhaps bare patches on the face, the entire body is covered with small, dense, overlapping, scale-like feathers, and there is a downy tuft at the base of each feather which increases the heat retention abilities even more. Feathers account for about 80% of the penguins’ insulative properties, while fat provides the other 20%. Penguins have very high internal body temperatures (about 38° C, or 101° F), as well as high metabolic rates. With all this taken into account it is easy to understand how the Antarctic species in particular can survive, and even thrive, in a cold, harsh climate.

Around the Antarctic Peninsula, we commonly see gentoo (Pygoscelis papua), Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae), chinstrap (Pygoscelis Antarctica), emperor (Aptenodytes forsteri), and rarely Macaroni (Eudyptes chrysolophus) penguins.

On South Georgia, we can see king (A. patagonica), gentoo (P. papua), chinstrap (P. Antarctica), and Macaroni (Eudyptes chrysolophus) penguins.

Whales (this term applies to all whales, dolphins, porpoises, etc.) are air breathing mammals, but have perfected the ability to live entirely in water over the past 50 to 60 million years.

European Travel Authorization System (ETIAS) Launch Delayed to Spring 2025 Due to IT Infrastructure Challenges

In 2016, the European Commission introduced a concept resembling a tourist visa, called the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). This program was initially set to launch in early 2024 but has faced multiple delays. The EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council announced on October 19th that the timeline had been adjusted again, pushing the launch to Spring 2025, citing the need for new technology. Initially, ETIAS was planned to be active in 2021 and was then rescheduled for November 2023.

The primary reason for these delays is the construction of another significant IT infrastructure in Europe, the Entry/Exit System (EES), intended to replace manual passport stamping with electronic registration. According to European Commission Spokesperson Anitta Hipper, ETIAS cannot launch until EES is fully operational, as it relies on EES data to identify potential risks. The contractor responsible for these IT systems, eu-LISA, estimates EES will launch in autumn 2024, with ETIAS following approximately six months later.

The delay is attributed to various factors, including delays in system development by the contractor and EU Member States’ preparations for the necessary equipment at border crossing points. The Commission is working closely with Member States and eu-LISA to minimize the impact of these delays and ensure interoperability.

When ETIAS is eventually implemented, travelers from visa-exempt countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, will need to apply online before traveling to Europe. The application process for ETIAS is relatively quick and straightforward, costing only €7 (about $8) for a three-year approval. Travelers will complete an online form with their biographical information, travel history, and answer security questions. Most travelers will receive approval within an hour, although some may undergo additional security checks, which could take up to 96 hours.

Sojourner White, a remote social worker and travel content creator, who has lived in Europe and plans to return, sees ETIAS as a minor inconvenience, particularly for US citizens who enjoy passport privileges. However, she acknowledges that the constant rescheduling of the program’s launch may confuse travelers. She recommends that travelers stay informed through the US Department of State website and enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive notifications of travel-related changes while abroad.

15 October, 2023: A Bullet Could Have Killed Her

Mother sees her ever so precious niece in the hospital bed struggling to open her eyes and she wants to scream she sees the IV tubes she sees the wound in her niece’s shoulder ever so close to her neck but at least her niece is alive at least her niece did not have her leg blown off she did not have her head blown off she did not get decapitated at the neck all it is really is a bullet lodged in her shoulder it’s just that the bullet wound is giving Ariel so much pain that she cannot stay awake at least she is alive thankfully the gunman was shot down by the IDF after he had probably killed hundreds of others at the Yakhini enclave

Ariel is lucky she is alive she was not killed she was visiting a friend in Yakhini from her college she was sleeping over with her and then heading to a music festival nearby Ariel is lucky she did not go to that music festival because that was the first place Hamas went when they were attacking the other side of the border if she were there she would have been captured she would have been kidnapped she would have been raped over and over again Yakhini is a hamlet Yakhini is a settlement Yakhini was guarded by fences and officers like any other moshav Yakhini was meant to be safe but somehow the gunmen got in and killed a lot of people almost everyone but not Ariel and her friend whose father worked for the IDF

It has been over a week and Mother did not see Ariel in the hospital because Mother did not know she was even there Mother was afraid for her own life Mother wanted to stay put given that Hamas had breached all of southern Israel and was attacking and killing everyone and Mother really did not know what happened to Ariel Mother was calling her over and over again but Mother had so many other relatives to worry about all across the country and her mind was like a ping pong ball hitting back and forth wall against wall she could not concentrate she could not rest she was afraid she was going to die and she was afraid for her other loved ones as well

So when finally she was called by Mother’s cousin Rachel she came to know that Ariel was in the hospital for all these days of course she came to the hospital which was in Askelon the same city Mother lived in and Ariel was studying in and she asked to get permission to visit but she was not a close relative so it took a lot of calls from Rachel to the hospital to get them to let her in

Now she is seeing Ariel and she could scream so loud that it would cause her lungs to give out and she would faint she is used to seeing Ariel singing in the musicals making videos for her Instagram taking selfies with Mother for no reason always being full of gossip about celebrities Mother has never heard of always full of sass always full of things to say always full of live always full

She is not used to seeing Ariel in so much pain that she isn’t willing to greet her aunt

Ariel will recover says the doctor Ariel will soon be able to talk to her but Ariel is not used to having visitors and Ariel is still unable to manage the pain

Mother starts shouting at Ariel and the nurses have to chide her not to do such things

But Mother is livid Mother is so angry Mother wants to find that gunman and beat him with a brick on the side of the head it has been too long since the Jews have suffered and not just Mother and Father but the entire Jewish population it’s like Jews are born to be killed everyone wants to kill us everyone wants to exterminate us everyone wants to see us gassed to death and it was this way not for Mother but for her parents and her grandparents and everyone so many people did not make it so many people did not survive yes Mother and her family they survived they lived on but so many people were gassed to death were bombed to death were shot to death it’s always been a struggle it’s as if it’s meant to be this way for Jews to find it hard to survive and now it is beginning again now they have come and they are ready to shoot us all once more the whole world wants us dead and all because we choose to practice a religion that is different from theirs

Mother is tired of it all Mother is a human being Mother does not deserve to spend every day afraid Mother knows time and time again a day like this will repeat what has happened to Ariel will come to be her situation as well she will someday see gunman at her door she will probably be shot at as well because it happens every month every year all the time and different people die but people die nonetheless it is destiny it is fate it is like the only thing that will come to her because she was born a Jew and is in Israel

It is just that she does not want this fate for the younger generation she wants everyone to get along if the Palestinians want their land let them have their land but the land they are standing on now this is her land this is where her son was born and brought up this is what she has known as home her entire life she is not responsible for the decisions made nearly a century ago by countries so far far away countries that hated the Jews and wanted them shipped off thousands of kilometres to their promised land rather than having to give them equal rights in their own place Mother has nothing to do with this just because she was born a Jew and an Israeli doesn’t mean she should have to fear death each and every day

A bullet could have killed her and that would have been the end of Ariel this vivacious charming girl that was doing well in her studies that was probably going to be heading off to Tel Aviv after her studies in Askelon that had a bright future and was going to have one yet a future that could have ended nonetheless had that bullet hit her right in the middle of her forehead

Israel is bombing Gaza Israel is razing that land to the ground Mother is not an idiot she knows thousands there are dying thousands there too are in hospitals on the brink of life and death they are humans too they are just like Ariel they do not deserve what the army is doing to them

At the same time Ariel is Mother’s flesh and blood not these Palestinians and this is not about Palestine or Israel this is about Hamas a terrorist organisation that doesn’t care about any one life they just want what they want and they will kill anyone to get it in the name of Palestinian independence they would happily kill all the Jews of Israel they don’t care about the people who now inhabit this land they want to raze it so that the people who descend from those who lost their land a century ago could have it back

It doesn’t matter that there were other people who were born and brought up on it and call it home too

These people are the enemies because they see them the Israelis as enemies rather than people who would be willing to talk if the discourse was civil but the discourse is not civil the discourse is to kill them all and hang their decapitated heads on walls this is how Hamas thinks and they are all over Gaza no matter how many good Palestinians there are there is Hamas and they will keep crossing the border and killing hundreds here or there because that is what they want to do

This is not about Gaza this is about Hamas and they must be ended

The news blares on the other side of them on the TV hanging on the wall and Mother sees the buildings of Gaza smoking

Mother knows that they must get what they deserve and the war will not end until it ends this is not just a war this is not about human beings this is a battle between angels and devils Mother closes her eyes and she prays first for the safety of her family members and then for the recovery of Ariel and then for fire to burn all of Gaza off of the map because Mother wills it Mother wants them to feel the exact same physical anguish Ariel is in just as she wants them to feel the fear and anxiety Mother lives in every day she wants to transfer the feelings to them she no longer wants her family to have it she is feeling like a malakh she is feeling like a celestial being full of rage she wants to snap her fingers and cause them all to perish

Because Mother is suffering she wants them too to feel immeasurable pain

Air India Gets New Look

Air India, the-country’s second-biggest airline in terms of fleet size revealed its new brand logo and revamped identity on August 10, 2023. The rebranding comes as part of the airline’s five-year transformation roadmap, Vihaan.AI, which aims to position Air India as a world class airline.

“Our new livery and design features a palette of deep red, aubergine, gold highlights and a chakra-inspired pattern. Travellers will begin to see the new logo and design starting December 2023,” the airline said in a tweet. The aircraft windows have also changed, and reimagined into a gold window frame symbolizing a “window of possibilities.”

The new logo called, ‘The Vista’, is inspired by the peak of the gold window frame “signifying limitless possibilities,”

As per the release issued by the airline, the new logo called, ‘The Vista’, is inspired by the peak of the gold window frame “signifying limitless possibilities, progressiveness, and the airline’s bold, confident outlook for the future.” It replaces the old logo of a swan with orange spokes. All Air India airlines will be updated with the new branding by 2025.

Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran said the new logo represents progressiveness and confidence. “Today is an important milestone, because the new Air India, the vision we have for the airline is also in the backdrop of a new resurgent India, where the aspirations of everyone are limitless,”

Revealing the bold new look of Air India.

Our new livery and design features a palette of deep red, aubergine, gold highlights and a chakra-inspired pattern. Travellers will begin to see the new logo and design starting December 2023.#FlyAI #NewAirIndia

Chandrasekaran said plans to revamp other aspects of the airline are in the works and the best of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be deployed at Air India.

Speaking on the revamped brand identity, Air India CEO & MD Campbell Wilson said, “Our transformative new brand reflects an ambition to make Air India a world-class airline serving guests from around the globe, and that represents a new India proudly on the global stage. The new Air India is bold, confident, and vibrant, but also warm and deeply rooted to its rich history and traditions that make Indian hospitality a global benchmark for standards in service.”

G20 Tourism Meeting Held in Kashmir Amid High Security

The G20 tourism conference is taking place in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir under heavy security measures, drawing criticism from both China and Pakistan for hosting the event in the contentious area. The ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir has lasted 75 years since their independence, with both nuclear powers claiming the entire region but only governing parts of it. Two out of the three full-scale wars fought between these nations have been over this territory.

The Indian-administered part of Kashmir, which is the nation’s sole Muslim-majority region, has experienced an armed uprising for decades as rebels demand either independence or unification with Pakistan. This conflict has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers, and Kashmiri insurgents. Authorities mentioned that security was heightened last week “to avoid any chance of terrorist attack during the G20” meeting, marking the first diplomatic event in the disputed area since New Delhi abolished its limited autonomy and assumed direct control in 2019.

Taking place on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar, the main city of the region, the three-day event commences Monday at a highly secured and expansive venue. Officials have prepared the area to demonstrate what they describe as “normalcy and peace returning” to the region by resurfacing roads leading to the site and illuminating electricity poles with the colors of India’s national flag.

On Monday, Srinagar seemed peaceful, with most security checkpoints either removed or disguised using G20 signage to create cubicle-like stations for security personnel. Authorities have also trained hundreds of officers in what they refer to as “invisible policing” for the event.

‘Graveyard calm’

However, officials closed the primary road leading to the convention center for civilian traffic and shut down numerous schools in the city. The security measures on Monday were in stark contrast to those implemented in the days preceding the event. A large security perimeter was established around the venue by the Dal Lake, with elite naval commandos patrolling the water in rubber boats.

Picture : TheUNN

India has been advocating for tourism within its part of Kashmir, attracting over a million visitors last year. Indian authorities hope that the G20 meeting will demonstrate how the 2019 alterations brought “peace and prosperity” to the region. Delegates will explore topics such as sustainable tourism and destination management. Additionally, side events focusing on ecotourism and the role of films in promoting tourist destinations are planned.

Harshvardhan Shringla, India’s chief coordinator for the G20, told reporters on Sunday, “We have the making of a unique meeting.” He highlighted that the event would feature the highest number of foreign delegates compared to previous tourism meetings held in West Bengal and Gujarat earlier this year.

However, Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst based in the region, told Al Jazeera that the G20 meeting would only hold significance for the people of Kashmir if there were a sense of normalcy. He stated, “Now, normalcy does not mean normalcy of a graveyard where you have restrictions on media, restrictions on people and people languishing in jails.” He added, “And at the same time you want to project to the world that everything is normal.”

China opts out No Chinese representatives will be present at the event. India and China are currently engaged in a military standoff along their mostly undefined border in the Ladakh region. Beijing lays claim to the entirety of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its Tibet province and regards Kashmir as a disputed territory. “China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed territory and will not attend such meetings,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin informed reporters on Friday.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia are also reportedly unlikely to participate, according to an AFP news agency report. India, which holds the G20 presidency for 2023, has scheduled over 100 meetings across the nation. China has already abstained from attending events in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

Pakistan, a non-G20 member that governs a smaller portion of Kashmir, argued that hosting the tourism meeting in the territory contravenes international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and bilateral agreements. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stated last week that India was showcasing its “arrogance to the world” and that “it shows their pettiness,” eliciting a strong response from New Delhi. India accuses Pakistan of training and supporting armed insurgents in Kashmir, which Islamabad refutes.

Since India’s 2019 constitutional amendments, the rebellion in Kashmir has been largely suppressed, although young men continue to join the cause. However, dissent has been criminalized, media freedoms restricted, and public protests limited, leading critics to argue that India has severely curtailed civil liberties. Last week, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, said that New Delhi was attempting to use the G20 meeting to “portray an international seal of approval” on a situation that “should be decried and condemned.” India dismissed those remarks.

The increased security measures have caused frustration among residents, with hundreds detained in police stations and thousands, including shopkeepers, receiving calls from officials warning them against any “signs of protest or trouble.”

India Hosts G20 Tourism Meeting in Kashmir

India has defended its decision to host a Group of 20 (G20) meeting in Jammu and Kashmir, despite criticism from human rights groups and expected boycotts from some countries. Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is scheduled to host a tourism meeting for G20 members, which the Indian government has marketed as an opportunity to showcase the region’s culture. It is the first international event of this scale to be held in the disputed, Muslim-majority region since India revoked its special status and split the former state into two federal territories in 2019.

China has said that it will not attend the meeting, citing its opposition to “holding any kind of G20 meetings in disputed territory “, according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. Ladakh, which was previously part of the state, was separated and turned into another standalone territory. Ladakh is a disputed region along the Line of Actual Control, a de-facto border between India and China. Both countries claim parts of it.

Tensions along the de factor border have been simmering for more than 60 years and have spilled over into war before. In 1962 a month-long conflict ended in a Chinese victory and India losing thousands of square miles of territory. Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, were also expected to boycott the event.

Kashmir is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, the mountainous region has been the epicenter of more than 70 years of an often-violent territorial struggle between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. A de facto border called the Line of Control divides it between New Delhi and Islamabad.

In April, Pakistan criticized India’s decision to hold the tourism meeting in Kashmir, calling it an “irresponsible” move. Last week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, said the Indian government was “seeking to normalize what some have described as a military operation by instrumentalizing a G20 meeting” in a region where fears of human rights violations and violence are rife.

India has been keen to position itself as a leader of emerging and developing nations since it assumed the G20 presidency. India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of more than 1.4 billion, has been pushing its international credentials, portraying Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a key player in the global order.

India’s tourism secretary, Arvind Singh, said the G20 meeting will not only “showcase (Kashmir’s) potential for tourism” but also “signal globally the restoration of stability and normalcy in the region.” India said the move to revoke Kashmir’s semi-autonomy was to ensure that the nation’s laws were equal for all citizens and to increase economic development in the region. India also alleged that separatist and terrorist groups were aided and abetted by Pakistan, and the move was to put an end to that.

However, rights groups and Pakistan claim that the Indian government’s unilateral move has resulted in human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The region has been under a military lockdown since August 2019, with mobile internet services shut down for most of that period.

In a statement on Twitter, India’s permanent mission to Geneva rejected de Varennes’s criticism, calling the allegations “baseless and unwarranted.” Earlier this month, India said the G20 meeting in Srinagar “aims to strengthen economic growth, preserve cultural heritage, and promote sustainable development of the region.”

The Indian government’s decision to hold a major international event in Kashmir has raised concerns, especially as the region remains under military lockdown, with a significant military presence. Some countries are boycotting the event, citing the disputed nature of the region. Despite criticism, India maintains that the move is aimed at promoting tourism and economic growth in the region while also signalling the restoration of stability and normalcy. The world will be watching, waiting to see if India can successfully promote tourism and economic development while dealing with the challenges presented by the conflict in the region.

Expedia Launches AI Chat Tool for Hotel Recommendations

Expedia has launched a plug-in in its app using the latest version of AI chat technology to recommend prospective hotels. Travelers can use the ChatGPT function to converse on the best destinations and hotels for their trip. The plug-in saves hotel recommendations to profiles on the Expedia app, adding them to users’ Trip Planning Boards.

The chat function offers a conversational way of shopping and searching for trips and aims to streamline the process. Hotel options are offered through small modules within the chat, and users can save recommended hotels to their profile. The tool is designed to help consumers do basic language discovery. Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia Group, describes the tool as a way to help travelers store options into their Trip Boards before decisions are made.

The ChatGPT plug-in of Expedia’s existing hotel search function both pull from Expedia’s proprietary hotel data, the main difference being a more conversational experience for users. The plug-in uses booking site’s smart-shopping algorithms and various data points like hotel availability, pricing, and machine-learning sorting. Expedia also used algorithms and AI functions to limit conversations to only travel booking.

In the current beta version of the plug-in, ChatGPT recommends and saves three to five different hotel options per search. In the future, the aim is to consistently offer five recommendations for every search as the technology becomes more accurate. “Our platform generates over 600 billion AI predictions a year,” says Rathi Murthy, Expedia Group’s Chief Technology Officer. The new tool utilizes the conversational aspects of the ChatGPT, taking advantage of the technology.

Accuracy has been an issue with early iterations of travel booking with ChatGPT, as have the recommendations being too broad. “ChatGPT’s lack of specificity is exhausting,” wrote Traveler contributor Ashlea Halperin, describing her use of the public version of the chatbot for planning her upcoming honeymoon in the Faroe Islands. The tool provided her with some useful information but nothing she could take as gospel.

Although the chatbot has created a buzz in the travel industry over how it might shift booking methods, the actual impact on travelers’ habits remains to be seen. Kern admits that “we don’t know if travelers will embrace it,” but believes the tool will solve for as many customers’ shopping preferences as possible.

The beta version of the plug-in uses the latest GPT-4 technology. It is now available for all iOS users of the latest version of the Expedia app. “Whether it enhances the discovery process or gets you there faster depends a lot on the person,” Kern says. “Really, we’re trying to solve for as many customers and as many ways they want to shop as we can, and we think there will be interest, and it will help people.”

In conclusion, the ChatGPT plug-in by Expedia is the newest addition to AI chat technology that helps recommend prospective hotels for travelers’ trips. The tool uses smart-shopping algorithms, machine-learning sorting, and various data points to suggest hotels to users on its conversational search function. The tool utilizes the conversational aspect of the ChatGPT technology, and although accuracy has been an issue in its early stages, Expedia is constantly improving it to be more specific and offering more recommendations based on user search. The tool is now available for all iOS users on the latest version of the Expedia app and aims to solve for as many customers and their preferred shopping methods as possible.

Hyderabad Airport Is World’s Most Punctual Airport

Aviation analytical firm, Cirium in a report has stated that the GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL) is the only airport to achieve 90.43 percent on-time-performance (OTP) in March this year, making it the world’s most punctual airport.

Cirium said it reviewed more than 5 million flights globally during March, and the Hyderabad airport came on top both in the ‘Global Airports’ and ‘Large Airports’ categories being the only airport to cross the 90 percent mark.

The Hyderabad airport served 29 airlines and 77 routes and had 14,658 scheduled single-segment flights in March. Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International airport  came second at 86.14 percent OTP followed by Bogota’s El Dorado International airport in Colombia.

Over the years, GHIAL has brought in several first-of-its-kind technological innovations for the airport sector in the country, including the first-ever integrated and centralized Airport Operations Control Center (AOCC) and modern passenger information systems and technological initiatives.

In the medium and small airports category no Indian airports made it to the top 20. The country is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, with passenger traffic reaching an all time high in 2022. Additionally, India has constructed more airports in the last decade than most of the countries globally, including both domestic and international facilities.

TSA Introduces Self-Service ID Scanners With Facial Recognition At Airports

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing an updated ID scanner equipped with a biometric camera that uses facial recognition technology to confirm passengers’ identities. The new machines compare the facial scans of travelers to the photos on their driver’s license or passport and verify that they are a ticketed airline passenger. The machines are self-service, and travellers simply insert their ID into the machine and look at the camera. After their identity is validated, they are allowed to proceed to the security checkpoint. While the final approval is still with the security officer, this new technology is expected to make airport security checkpoints more seamless and quicker.

The new technology is already rolling out to airports, with a pilot version being trialed last fall at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. During the trial, which was open to TSA PreCheck travelers, the facial recognition scanners were tested as a potential solution to reduce touchpoints during the pandemic. However, the new scanners are now voluntary but accessible to everyone. Travelers are allowed to opt-out and request manual identity verification from the officer at the podium.

The TSA has invested $128 million in an initial batch of 1,500 of the new facial recognition scanners at 16 airports around the country. The TSA predicts that the number of travellers this summer season will be “comfortably above” pre-pandemic figures, making the technology’s implementation vital. The new facial recognition scanners are called credential authentication technology (CAT) machines. “This technology is valuable because it enhances detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent IDs such as driver’s licenses and passports at a checkpoint and it increases efficiency by automatically verifying a passenger’s identification,” Christopher Murgia, TSA’s federal security director for Maryland, said in a release.

The photos from the facial scans are only used to compare travelers’ picture IDs and are not saved or used for any other purposes, according to the TSA. In addition to driver’s licenses and passports, the machines can read thousands of different types of IDs, including permanent resident cards, U.S. visas, military common access cards, and Global Entry cards.

Travelers should still carry their boarding passes to the airport to show airline representatives at their departure gate to board the plane, even though the first-generation CAT machines eliminated the need for passengers to scan boarding passes at the podium pre-security.

Earlier this week, Baltimore-Washington International Airport was among the first facilities in the country to install the new scanners. However, the number of facilities with the new machines is likely to expand rapidly. Travelers are allowed to opt-out of using the new facial recognition scanners and request manual identity verification, making the process less intrusive. As the TSA implements more of the new CAT machines across the country, they are expected to make airport security checkpoints more efficient and less time-consuming for passengers.

Taj Mahal Night Viewing Tickets Now Available For Online Booking

Tourists visiting the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra can now book tickets for night viewing online. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has announced that tickets for night viewing of the monument will now be available online.

Previously, tourists could only purchase tickets for the night viewing of the Taj Mahal in person at the booking office. But with the introduction of online booking, visitors will now have the convenience of purchasing tickets from the comfort of their homes.

According to the ASI, the online booking facility has been launched to provide a hassle-free experience for visitors. The move is also expected to reduce overcrowding at the booking office and help manage the flow of visitors.

“The online ticket booking system has been introduced to provide convenience to tourists and reduce the rush at the booking counters,” said an ASI official.

The night viewing of the Taj Mahal is a popular activity among tourists visiting Agra. The monument is open for night viewing for five nights every month, including the full moon night and two nights before and after it.

Tourists are reminded that the night viewing of the Taj Mahal is subject to certain rules and regulations. Visitors are advised to read the guidelines carefully before booking their tickets.

“The night viewing of the Taj Mahal is subject to certain rules and regulations. Visitors are advised to read the guidelines carefully before booking their tickets,” said the ASI official.

This move by the ASI to introduce online ticket booking for the night viewing of the Taj Mahal is expected to improve the overall tourist experience and help promote tourism in the region.

Visitors can purchase tickets for the night viewing of the Taj Mahal online at https://asi.payumoney.com/.

AAHOA Announces Largest Trade Show in 34-Year History

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), the largest hotel owners association in the world with nearly 20,000 members, has announced that it plans to organize the largest ever Trade Show in history at AAHOACON23, April 11-14, 2023.

The 2019 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show, AAHOA’s previous biggest show to date, which celebrated the association’s 30-year anniversary, totaled 77,500 square feet of exhibit space. This year, with many weeks remaining for industry partners to secure space, AAHOACON23 already sits at 81,900 square feet of sold exhibit space, as it has already secured a record level of booth sales for the Tradeshow.

In addition, as of February 8, AAHOA has nearly doubled the registration total of Lifetime Members compared to AAHOACON22, and the organization is still on pace to exceed 2019 registration totals of more than 8,000 attendees, with 60+ days still to go until AAHOACON23.

This is an exciting time for AAHOA, as its annual flagship event, AAHOACON, has historically been the most highly anticipated “Super Bowl” event of the industry – an event created exclusively for hotel owners, with thousands of attendees, world-class entertainment, and hundreds of vendors ready to make deals with hoteliers.

Picture : Hospitality Net

“I’ve been in the exhibition business for a long time, and I’m so impressed to see the enthusiasm, excitement, and response from vendors who are looking to do business with AAHOA Members,” said AAHOA Vice President of Business Development Dennis Smith. “Our team is thrilled to reach this historical milestone, with the ultimate goal of connecting as many AAHOA Members as possible with the product and service providers who can help them make money, save money, protect their investments, and better serve their guests.”

Over the past several decades, AAHOACON has risen to be one of the marquee events in our industry, and is known for bringing hoteliers together for networking, learning, and deal-making on the trade show floor. Each year, million-dollar buying decisions are made at AAHOACON, and with AAHOA Members spending $50 billion with suppliers each year, it’s no surprise.

“I always look forward to the industry’s Super Bowl event, and this year, as I conclude my term as AAHOA Chairman, I’m proud of the work our association has done to prepare for the event and connect even more vendors directly with decision makers,” said AAHOA Chairman Nishant (Neal) Patel. “AAHOA Members spend billions of dollars each year with suppliers, and AAHOA plays an important role in connecting hoteliers directly with those who can help them run a better, more profitable, and more efficient business – AAHOACON is where deals are made.”

In addition to a trade show of historic proportions and projected high levels of attendance, AAHOACON23 will also feature 14 must-see educational sessions, three General Sessions with world class keynote speakers (soon to be announced), and three nights filled with incredible entertainment and top-level networking. As per tradition, on the second day, AAHOACON23 will also feature speeches and debates from the candidates running for the AAHOA Board of Directors.

“Our team has been working around the clock to ensure AAHOACON23 is one of our most successful conventions to date, and I applaud the entire AAHOA Team for helping our organization reach this historical milestone,” said AAHOA President & CEO Laura Lee Blake. “We have a passionate group of team members, board members, and volunteer leaders who bring this event to life each year. As the first AAHOACON in my role as President & CEO, I have directed the team to ensure it is spectacular. I am so looking forward to meeting all of our members and industry partners, and making AAHOACON23 one for the record books.”

The Convention will also feature 14 educational sessions, three General Sessions, and three nights of entertainment and networking. As per tradition, on the second day, AAHOACON23 will also feature speeches and debates from the candidates running for the AAHOA Board of Directors.

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the nation, with Member-owned properties representing a significant part of the U.S. economy. AAHOA’s 20,000 members own 60% of the hotels in the United States and are responsible for 1.7% of the nation’s GDP. More than one million employees work at AAHOA member-owned hotels, earning $47 billion annually, and member-owned hotels support 4.2 million U.S. jobs across all sectors of the hospitality industry. YouthAAHOA’s mission is to advance and protect the business interests of hotel owners through advocacy, industry leadership, professional development, member benefits, and community engagement.

Saudi Arabia To Invest $500 Billion To Build A Futuristic City In The Desert

A mega-city featuring flying cars, high-speed rail instead of roads, robot maids, a giant artificial moon, and a resort with multimillion-dollar palaces is the vision of the Saudi Arabian crown prince and prime minister, Muhammed Bin Salman (MBS).

Saudi Arabia is building a futuristic city in the middle of a vast desert— from scratch. A vital element of the country’s Vision 2030 plan, the project is the brainchild of Saudi’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS. The site covers an area of more than 10,000 square miles, about the same size as Massachusetts. And it could cost $500 billion to complete.

“So Mohammed bin Salman wants to project himself as a liberal leader within the conservative royal family in Saudi Arabia,” Ali Dogan, research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient institute, told CNBC in an interview. “Neom is a mega project seen in Saudi Arabia and the young Saudi population as part of this liberalization process.”

The Neom project is far from without controversy, though. Critics say it’s another attempt by the crown prince to improve his image after U.S. intelligence officials concluded he was behind the 2018 killing of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. It also is being seen by some as a way to distract attention from Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The Saudi government has run into several challenges which keep pushing the project completion date further into the future, leading some to question the feasibility of Neom. One of the issues stalling construction is financing and cost. In 2020, foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia increased to $5.4 billion, despite the pandemic; however, this figure is down from 2010 when foreign investment inflows totaled nearly $16 billion. Attracting potential investors is crucial to financing such a large project. There are also concerns about the cost of Neom being much greater than the original budgeted cost. The Saudi government planned to acquire two uninhabited islands from Egypt to create an island resort, and the estimated cost for this bridge alone was nearly $125 billion.

Naturally, many people are critical of MBS’s plans to build a new mega-city in the desert. One of the biggest issues critics have had is that this investment would be better spent on existing cities and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The former Saudi Arabian monarch, King Abdullah, planned on building a megaproject on the Red Sea to be a new financial and trading center called the King Abdullah Economic Center. In 2005, this city was intended to have a population of millions. This project is also a decade behind schedule and only has a population of thousands as opposed to the anticipated millions of people. Many critics have cited this failed project as why Saudi Arabia should instead invest in improving its infrastructure in existing cities.

The biggest criticism of Neom is the forced relocation of the Howeitat tribespeople. The proposed site for Neom is on land that 20,000 tribespeople have lived on for centuries. In recent years, the government has evicted people from the area, usually with the help of the Saudi armed forces. Often, these evictions are met with resistance by the Howeitat tribespeople. In 2020, three tribespeople were arrested and sentenced to death for resisting their relocation. Additionally, another man, Abdul Rahim al-Howeiti, was fatally shot for protesting the government’s eviction orders. These events highlight another concern that potential investors have with the project, that being the Saudi Arabian justice system. Planning documents reveal that in Neom, all judges will be selected and appointed by the king himself.

Additionally, Neom plans to utilize AI and facial recognition technologies to monitor its inhabitants. While Neom is claiming that laws will be based on best practices in business and economic law, incidents like these, as well as those such as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, make potential international investors hesitant to support this ongoing project. These plans still have a long way to go, and perhaps attitudes will change as the project continues to develop.

14 January, 2023: The Life Behind a Story

set in Desaguadero, Peru, from Son’s perspective

If I am going to try to tell this story, I am going to have to be brave. He is gone now. I have nothing to fear. But Desaguadero is a very small town, and he can find me easily. I am sure he is already combing the streets, looking for any excuse to go out of his way to kill me.

The location of this story is Desaguadero. The town is on a little bit of land connecting Peru to Bolivia right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It is not a particularly scenic location. All of the houses look like hovels eternally being expanded on, and whatever viewpoints thrust out into the lake are blocked by these architectural obstructions. It doesn’t help that the protests have completely stalled the city. The protestors have dug up the road into the city, making it impossible to go anywhere or do anything. As for the people who have to live here, they are no longer going to work. They are just standing about, looking to get into a fight with anyone who looks disagreeable to them.

Crime is the result of a lack of opportunities. Crime is the result of a lack of options.

That is how the life of Francisco, or Paco, was born.Paco, a short man with spiky straight hair. Paco, a man of brown jeans and dusty shirts. Paco, born and raised in the suburbs of Puno… the suburbs of Cusco, in the centre of Desaguadero. He knew nothing about life except that life was a game and he was dealt the losing hand. There was a lot of abuse from his mother and father, there was a lot of anger directed towards him for no other reason other that his parents didn’t know any better. There was no one to help him remember the positivities of life. And so the only feeling that came to slit into his eyes was a constant sort of anger, that made him feel that anything he did was justified, and he deserved to hurt others. And so hurt others he did…

What am I writing?  I hope he never reads this… it sounds like I am out to slander him.

Though with what he did to me I should be filing a police report instead of sitting in my hotel room typing like this.

I said what I said, and I must commit to what I said I will do. I was not trying to lie when I told him I was a writer. I have been working these days as an English teacher, but I have also worked in many different fields over the course of my life, all to hide from my one true desire: to create something, a piece of art that could only come from myself. I tried acting and it didn’t get me anywhere. I tried directing but all I got was jealousy from seeing average talents work hard and become big stars. Writing has been the thing I’ve been trying to do since I was a teen. Scribbling little thoughts,  jotting in a notebook when I get bored, imagining stories for the thrill of it. None of it led to anything significant because I was just writing for the sake of trying.

Now I have something I must write, and yet none of it is coming out of me organically.

How can I begin to even consider what life is like for a Peruvian in one of these small towns, when I’ve only been here for a week?

The cold metal against my sideburn on an otherwise balmy day. The sound of the anxious waves crashing against the land. Thick sunlight.

That is what my experience was like. That is how I know Desaguadero. There have been some protests

against some political leader that have completely stalled the country. I don’t know the politician’s name. I don’t know why people are so angry. I’m just a traveller who has had my entire itinerary upended due to political events outside of my control. Of course being stuck in a small town with no way of getting out, it makes sense I would get bored. To make myself feel like I was doing something with my life I started taking walks in random directions, thinking that nothing bad had happened to me so far, so nothing bad was going to happen at all.

What is the reason why people want to kill or rob others?

I suppose I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never lived a life in which I was taught that to do such things is a necessity.

If I had stayed in Bolivia, I would have been revelling in the beauty of Lake Titicaca right now. Copacabana is like a version of Crete made by the Incas. Amantani feels like pure old country, untouched my modern life except for all the tourists who are camping out there. The weather is a little chilly so one needs one of those wool sweaters to feel comfortable. But all around are the expanses of a lake big enough to rival an ocean. There are stout wrinkled women walking about with their grandchildren, goats chewing under the most clay-shaped looking of hills, sun-kissed earth waiting to be savoured.

I chose to travel to Peru thinking I’d soon be seeing Arequipa, and Cusco, and instead I’ve gotten stranded here, in a town with nothing to offer. I should have been listening to the travel advisories. I should have stayed in La Paz until the political situation improved.

I felt a gust outside my window, and when I went to close it, I felt like there were eyes leering at me.

Could he really be waiting for me to finish my story, so that he can come take a look at it?

Desaguadero is only a few streets big. He must know where I’m staying. Not to mention given how long the protests have been going on for, I’m not going to be able to leave in the near future. I could be stuck here for many more weeks.

He could kill me, and with all the ruckus that is happening, people would think I just went missing.

I have to breathe. Or I have to go out and tell the police.

I should tell this damn story.

Paco Julio de la Santacruz was an angry lonely man. He grew up with a lot of poverty and abuse and that caused him to hate people abnormally. He saw foreigners as all the same no matter if they were white or brown, British or Filipino. They were rich people coming to his poor part of the world, and he had no regard for their life. He had a desperate and pathetic life that caused him to act out in violence. This is why he spotted out this particular fag, saw him as a weak and easy target, and threatened his life so that he could get him to empty his wallet.

I’m going to cry. This is not because my story is any good. This is because there’s a real story I have to tell before I can go anywhere with this.

I will write the truth for myself and leave it on the page. I can always delete it after I finish writing the actual story I’m trying to tell.

I was walking on the highway promenading towards what I thought was going to lead to one of an untouched viewpoint of the lake. It did ultimately lead to something like that. There were settlements here or there, but there were also people fishing, cleaning their clothes, and bathing. The pearly milky colour of the water shimmered as the weeds caught in the still shivered in the breeze. It was a stunning sight to behold. If I had been able to explore it without any further interruption I would have told myself I had found myself a proper treasure off the beaten path, one that required much more proper uncovering later on.

Except on the way back to my hotel I heard some footsteps. And when I finally got the sense to turn around the scuffles became fast paced. Soon there was a gun to my head and a hand covering my mouth.

He said something to me, but I don’t know how to speak Spanish. When I realised that he started shouting to me in English.

Money! Money!

I knew what that meant. I gave him all that I had. But he kept shouting it.

Money! Money!

I really had nothing left. I had to take out my wallet and show it. He didn’t like something about that. He slapped me with the gun.

Tonto…

I knew enough Spanish to know he was calling me an idiot. But then he was talking so quickly, he was slurring the words around like a drunk, and more importantly he had that venomous angry look of a murderer in his eyes.

He was going to kill me.

Immediately I started crying. He didn’t know a lick of English but I had to say what I was on my mind.

Please don’t kill me. I have so much more in my life to give. You can take my money, you can take my belongings, but don’t take my life. I haven’t done any of the things that I have aspired for myself. You see sir I’m a writer. There’s a story inside of me. Deep down I know it. But I haven’t taken the time to write it yet. So if you kill me there goes my story. I’m not the only one who is gone. Everything I wanted to create is gone as well. So don’t kill me please. Por favor.

Whatever I said was probably completely muffled by his hand. Nonetheless saying something with so much anxiety anguished something inside of him. He uncovered my mouth, only to wrap his arm around my chest, and to put his gun against my chin.  I had the feeling that at any moment he was going to pull the trigger.

So suddenly I said the following.

Sir, if you don’t kill me, I will tell your story. I will write about you. I will tell the entire world about all of the things you have gone through. I will make sure that the person you are becomes recorded in history. That’s the least I can do for you. Please let me live sir. Please let me live so I can tell the world your story.

Again, I was talking to a person who knew nothing of English. Again I was talking to a man who was most likely insane and ready to kill.

And yet something about it worked. I don’t know if it were divine intervention or a change in my chances, but the feeling in the air pacified. He pushed me off away from him and started taking a long look at me.  When I looked like I was about to speak he pointed that gun again and shouted at me. Of course I ran. I ran and I ran and I got back into my hotel and I shot up to the third floor and I locked the door to my room twice and I shut every window and I hid in the bathroom, and he wasn’t there. He had left me in peace so that I could go write.

Of course now I have no money in my wallet, and the people at reception keep knocking as if they are wondering when I’ll finally tell them what disturbed me to this extent. At some point I’ll tell them.

But for now I have to write this story. My life depends on it.

1st Tourism Track Meeting Of G20 Planned In Gujarat

The inaugural G20 Sherpa meeting will take place in Rajasthan’s Udaipur area during the first week of December.

The maiden meeting under the tourism track of the G20 conference is scheduled to be held in late January or early February 2023 at Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh announced on Friday. As India takes over G20 leadership on December 1, the bloc has scheduled more than 200 meetings across various Indian cities.

Picture : Indian Express

As India hosts the G20 summit, sustainability will be one of the main priorities, according to Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh. The senior was speaking with reporters on the sidelines of an event at the UN House.

Udaipur district of Rajasthan will host the first meeting of G20 in the first week of December. The meeting of the G20 Sherpa will be the first of the meetings of G20 in India, an official said. The city has started the preparations with paintings on the walls depicting Indian culture and lighting up the heritage sites of the city.

The first meeting under the tourism track will be held in late January or early February in Rann of Kutch. “The second meeting (in this category) will be held in Siliguri, the third one in Srinagar, and the fourth one in Goa,” Singh added.

The tourism secretary told reporters that the preparations for the G20 meetings are “absolutely on track”.

He took part in a roundtable conference on Sustainable Tourism which was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism at the UN House. The roundtable conference brought together industry leaders, important stakeholders, participants from the environmental conservation sector, and NGOs to discuss a way forward.

The event was held in partnership with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Responsible Tourism Society of India (RTSOI) and was in alignment with the National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism and aims to increase engagement and participation of industry stakeholders in developing the sustainability of the tourism sector. Arvind Singh further added that it’s high time that India takes the leadership position in responsible tourism.

Neeraj Chopra is Switzerland Tourism’s Friendship Ambassador

Switzerland Tourism appoints Olympic Gold medalist Neeraj Chopra as its Friendship Ambassador. Chopra has often travelled to Switzerland for tournaments and training but this time, after his season ended, the Indian sports icon spent his days relaxing in the country while doing what he loves best – getting the adrenaline pumping! Among the top destinations that Chopra visited were Interlaken, Zermatt and Geneva.

As Switzerland Tourism’s ‘Friendship Ambassador’, Chopra will share his experiences in the country to showcase it as the ideal destination for outdoors and the best destination for hiking, biking, soft and extreme adventure and of course snow sports, for everyone be it beginners or seasoned pros.

“Switzerland is my favorite international holiday destination! It’s so beautiful everywhere you look! It was great spending time exploring the country after the season. I also wanted to show this country to my friends and family. It was the best place to relax after a hectic season for me. You feel refreshed anywhere in the country whether you are out in the mountains or even just strolling in the city! I But what got me excited was chance to experience the adventurous side of the country with my closest friends.

“I was thrilled to show them Interlaken and Zermatt which are well known for their adventure activities but also that it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors in Geneva which is Switzerland’s second-largest city. We tried everything from canyon swing to river rafting to paragliding and skydiving amongst other activities. And of course, it helps to know that Switzerland is the safest place for all sorts of adventure sports!” expressed Chopra.

Misha Gambetta, Director-India of Switzerland Tourism said, “India is a very important long-haul market for us! And it’s great to have a friendship ambassador from India representing Switzerland. Neeraj is an Indian icon and a very outdoorsy person, and he will be the perfect person to showcase the sporty and outdoor side of Switzerland as well as allow us to promote lesser-known sides of the country. We look forward to working towards a successful campaign with him.”

The athlete also donated his gold-winning javelin to The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland in September this year. The museum founded by the International Olympic Committee in 1993 showcases the richness and diversity of Olympism through history, culture, design, technology, and sociology with sports as the main element. Mary Kom’s gloves as well as Dhyan Chand’s hockey was already a part of the exhibits at the Museum. (IANS)

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