Sri Lanka’s Worst Economic Crisis

Sri Lanka, being a not-so-small island nation, has to depend on imports from various other countries for various essential commodities. But despite heavy imports, and some occasional instances of financial crisis, Sri Lanka managed to hold out its economy amid civil wars, natural disasters, and Government collapse. However, without a signal, the country has now plunged into a severe economic crisis, the worst till date, bringing the country’s economy on the verge of collapse.

Sri Lanka, the land of cinnamon and tea, is known for the export of tea and spices, and is also a major hub of tourism in Asia. The geography of Sri Lanka promotes fertile, flat lands towards the north, hilly interior, supports a great fishing industry, and has major ports between the west and the east. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka lacked big industrial regions like other developed nations, and that is why foreign debt is always a mounting pressure in the Sri Lankan economy. It’s 100% dependence on fuel oil from other countries has marked a severe fuel shortage in the country.

Covid-19 has a major role to play in crippling the Sri Lankan economy. Though the island never experienced huge surges of Covid-19 victims, its mainstay, the tourism industry suffered a huge setback, when the whole world went into lockdown. Though many African and South American countries opened up their doors to foreigners as the pandemic subsided, Sri Lanka remained virtually cut off from the tourism sector till date. Repeated lockdowns in the country, followed by economic crisis put both foreign and domestic tourists out of reach of famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.

Adding fuel to the fire were some Government policies that were taken hastily with little planning for the future. Some of them, like reduced taxation, and organic farming backfired as they were implemented overnight, without any backup plans. While the measures were really good, sudden change in taxation drained the Government Treasury, and replacing conventional farming with organic farming resulted in less productivity of crops. Sri Lanka’s reliance on China on port building has also backfired as its Hambantota port has been a commercial failure, prompting Chinese companies to take up the port business.

Till date, India has given almost 2 billion financial aid to Sri Lanka. India has donated essential items like rice and fuel to Sri Lanka so that common people may get themselves out of the crisis. More countries, including China, have come forward, and helped Sri Lanka regain their lost ground. However, the future of Sri Lanka is not looking bright with the whole Parliamentary cabinet except the President and the Prime Minister resigned.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Fall Colours in Asia

Fall colours have been associated mostly with the Americas and Europe. Almost all countries celebrate a spring festival or blossom festival when flowers bloom all at once at the advent of spring or autumn. However, some countries in Asia do exhibit fall colours as magnificently as the fall colours of the USA, Canada, UK or Germany. Local cultures have their own festival regarding the advent of winter. So, do check them out if you plan a visit this autumn.

Autumn Colours in Lahaul, India

1)India :
The fall colours of India are absent in most parts of the country except the northern Himalayas. But during autumn, the vast gardens of the Kashmir valley, filled with fallen brown leaves from the chinar trees, present an enchanting view for travellers. Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti area gets dotted with golden yellow blossoms of Himalayan poplars, marking the advent of a 6-month-long harsh winter. Elsewhere, India’s biggest festival Diwali, the festival of lights, marks the time when fallen leaves are burnt to light bonfires.

Autumn Colours in Hunza, Pakistan

2)Pakistan :
Pakistan exhibits a wide range of sudden bursts of colours during autumn in its northern areas. Skardu, Khaplu, Shigar, Ghizer, Gilgit are all covered in a mix of golden, red, yellow, brown, with a little number of green colours. Hunza and Nagar valleys in the lap of the Karakoram are some of the most spectacular places on earth in the fall season.

Autumn Colours in Kyoto, Japan

3)Japan :
Like its cherry flower viewing festival, sakura, Japan also has a maple hunting festival, called momijigari. After the US, Japan is one of the most sought-after countries in the world for fall colours. Temples, lakes, parks, and valleys are adorned with a variety of red, orange, yellow colours from falling leaves from maple, beech and ginkgo trees. The temple town of Kyoto adorns a bright red hue attracting tourists from all over the world.

Autumn Colours in Seoul, South Korea

4)South Korea :
Most parts of South Korea exhibit fall colours at the peak of autumn. The most famous places are in Seoraksan mountains and Odaesan mountains in the north-west corner of the country, though fall colours from ginkgo and maple trees. Seoul and Nami Island also exhibit parks where fall foliage can be seen. North Korea too has its own share of autumn colours, though it is forbidden for visitors.

Autumn Colours in Great Wall of China, China

5)China :
China, being a very large country, has a wide variety of landscapes. Viewing fall colours is most common in and around Beijing, especially around the Great Wall of China. Other places where nature is at its best during autumn are Jiuzhaigou nature reserve in northern Sichuan, around Kanas Lake in Xinjiang, and the red leaves valley in Shandong provinces. This is also the time for the Mid-Autumn festival in Chinese traditions.

Have you visited any of these places in autumn? Do let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

75 Years of Freedom

The 75th Independence Day of India is going to be celebrated today, 15th August 2021. 75 years ago, India was one of the first countries in Asia to become independent. A lot has been talked about India’s freedom struggle against British rule. Now, let us focus on the history of independent India, which stood up from the burnt ashes of conflict and fostered a sense of peace and unity.

After World War II, two world’s superpowers, the USA and USSR, started dominating the politics of smaller countries under their influence. The former centred around the idea of democracy and capitalism, while the latter was keener to protect Communism and Communist influence across the globe. Indirect civil wars started in China, Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Afghanistan, and many more nations around the globe. However, India chose to side with neither of the two superpowers and promote ideas of peace and co-operation through Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement.

India emerged as the leader of the third world, a cluster of small, backward countries mostly across Asia and Africa. Non-Aligned Movement policy gained ground in Indonesia, Ghana, Yugoslavia, and Egypt. The NAM policy guaranteed the countries full independence and helped them develop and co-exist peacefully with other sovereign states. The NAM policy today has been ratified by 120 countries around the world after having its first summit at Belgrade, Yugoslavia on 1st September 1961.

However, the dreams of India coexisting peacefully was mired with disturbances from its neighbours. India and Pakistan bitterly fought 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971, while China attacked India in 1962. Despite emerging victorious both as a military power and through diplomacy, these wars, together with problems of partition, slowed down the development of India as a superpower. The Indo-Pak wars centred more on the western border of India, with the main hostility around the fate of Jammu and Kashmir, an independent princely state joining India. The conflicts with China are mainly in the eastern and northern sectors, where unclear border demarcations between British India and China resulted in a strained relationship between India and China.

India was instrumental in helping Bangladesh gain independence in 1971 from Pakistan. India also fought the Siachen and Kargil war with Pakistan. India gave refuge to thousands of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama when Tibet was annexed by the expanding China. Bloody insurgencies in Punjab up to the 1980s, and in Kashmir since then did not help in India’s economic growth. The biggest fight of India throughout its history, and even after independence was poverty. A mass influx of refugees from Pakistan and emigration to Pakistan continued along the Indian border. Also, the pre-partition train and bus communications were severed between the two countries owing to decorating diplomatic ties.

However, India has stood strong with time. It has an active foreign policy, good diplomatic ties with most other countries, and it has also conceived to address its internal problems. Perhaps the biggest achievement of India was the introduction of democracy by Jawaharlal Nehru, which ensured multi-parties, other than the Indian National Congress, can participate to take India forward. India has undergone many ups and downs since its independence. But as long as India remains a democratic country, a secular country for all religions, and maintains close ties with countries around the world, India will rise as the world’s next leading superpower.

Exactly 75 years ago, the father of the nation, Jawaharlal Nehru said on the midnight of 14th August 1947

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

At 75, India is ready to take on challenges and be the developed country our nation’s founders dreamt to see. Come, let us take it forward to our future generations.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Twitter Shows the Wrong Map of India

There has been a lot of debate on whether Twitter should be banned as it had failed to fully comply with the Central Government rules. To date, it has not been banned and it has been asked to make certain changes to comply with the current IT rules. However, Twitter’s uploading of wrong maps of India is triggering a massive backlash not only from the Government but also from the users.

This is not the first time that Twitter has shown the wrong map of India. In October 2020, Twitter had uploaded a map showing Leh as part of China, which is quite ridiculous. Leh has always been a part of India even before the British rule. It is also argued that despite similarities in religion and customs with Tibet, Ladakh was neither a part of Tibet nor have Chinese claimed Leh, though it claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Ajay Sawhney, Ministry of Electronics and IT secretary, said,

“Any attempt by Twitter to disrespect the sovereignty and integrity of India, which is also reflected by the maps, is totally unacceptable. The same is also unlawful.”

After a stern letter was given to the CEO of Twitter, Twitter removed the wrong map from their site.

Twitter has erupted once again due to the uploading of another inappropriate map of India as late as June 2021. This time it showed Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as separate countries, not a part of India. This is very disturbing since almost the entire world, except Pakistan, considers Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as a part of India. It is true that there are parts of Jammu and Kashmir, occupied by Pakistan, and parts of Ladakh, occupied by China. However, those parts are shown to be part of the respective countries, Pok part of Pakistan and Aksai Chin part of China. The rest of the state, which is no doubt a part of India, has been demarcated as a separate country. This has irked the Indian politicians and locals living in those areas, many of whom have raised their voices.

Under public pressure, Twitter was again forced to remove the wrong map and upload a correct map showing Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as part of India. However, this has drawn ire from netizens not only from India but also outside. Many users have lost trust in Twitter and have stopped using it. Twitter will lose a major chunk of users if it continues to post inappropriate maps like this. It is high time, Twitter should respect India’s sovereignty, and verify the contents it is circulating among the users.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Is Tea Indigenous to India?

There are not many Indians who do not like tea. Tea is the most common beverage in India. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to Assam, tea is widely available and heavily consumed. Most households can not even function properly without one or two cups of brewed tea a day. This is why India is the world’s largest tea-drinking nation. This International Tea Day, let us look back at whether this was the case some 500 years back.

Researchers still debate whether tea originated within the present borders of India. However, tea was neither consumed widely nor was it drunk like how we are drinking it today. The earliest reference to tea drinking comes from the Dutch controlled Surat in Gujarat. Tea was consumed by indigenous Indians living in Surat as a medicine for its strong medicinal values. In those days, tea was expensive as it was imported from China. Hence small quantities of tea were consumed only on feeling unwell or having health issues. Back then, tea was only brewed in water, with no added sweetener or milk. However, lemon juice and some spices were added to it for additional health benefits.

Spiced tea with lemon and spices

The British started the first plantations in Darjeeling with Chinese tea saplings. Though the first attempt was a failure, more attempts proved successful and commercially viable. Thus was produced the world-famous Darjeeling tea, which has great flavour and taste. More plantations were made in south India in the hill-towns of Ooty, Munnar, and Sri Lanka. However, these were Chinese varieties, and such tea can not be said indigenous to India.

In the early 1820s, when the British were looking for an alternative to the Chinese monopoly of the tea trade, they found that tea was grown and consumed by Assam tribes. After a detailed study, it was concluded that the Assam tea was of a different variety and that local people consumed it as medicine. Geographically, Assam is located near Yunnan plateau in China, where tea was believed to have originated. Hence, some also thought that the Assam variety of tea was a variation of tea that originated from the Yunnan region of China. As per consumption, various tribes, most notably the Singpho tribe, used to consume tea since time unknown. However, the production and consumption technique was different from modern tea, which the Europeans disliked. Assam tea, being indigenous to Assam, thrived well throughout Assam and parts of north Bengal, and this is today the most prominent tea producing region in India.

Tree Plantation in Assam

Kashmir has another story of tea consumption. Though tea did not originate in Kashmir, its proximity to China and lying in the old silk route between Iran (Persia) and China made it a vital tea trade centre. Kahwa chai, or Kashmiri green tea, has been widely consumed in Kashmir, Pakistan and Central Asia since the Kushan empire in the 1st and 2nd century AD. The word kahwa means sweetened. Kahwa tea involved the addition of a sweetener, either sugar or honey. Spices like saffron, cardamom and cinnamon and sometimes nuts like walnut, almond were added to it. The Mughal empire later patronized it in the 16th century. So tea consumption in India is very old, at least in some parts, goes back way before the British popularized it in the rest of the country.

Kashmiri Kahwa Green Tea

Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti, parts of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh consumed tea much before the British arrived in India. Here, tea was consumed with yak butter, yak milk and salt, and is today called butter tea. Yak butter tea provided the much-needed warmth and energy that is required in such a cold climate. Today, however, yak butter is often substituted with butter made from cow’s milk due to its availability and low price. Consumption of butter tea started in the 7th century in Tibet and was popularized in the 13th century indicating how old the tradition of drinking butter tea is.

Ladakhi Yak Butter Tea

Lastly comes modern tea, which is popularized across every part of the country by the British. However, the Indians were reluctant to drink a product that was foreign to them. The railways played a crucial role in spreading tea consumption. Tea brewed in water, with milk and sugar added to it, was introduced in the railway stations. The locals took up the initiative as being cheap. It attracted the middle-class Indians and thus became an excellent revenue-earner. Tea became a staple of the Indian diet as it became a typical drink to have in long-distance railway journeys. Even today, lemon tea and milk tea available on the train and the stations are most travellers’ choice of beverage during journeys.

Tea Vendor also called Chaiwala in north India

There is a wide variety of “chai” consumed in India. Some of the most notable types are – 1)masala chai, where powdered spices were added to the tea to increase its flavour, 2)lemon tea, where lemon juice is added to liquor tea, 3)jasmine tea, where jasmine flowers are boiled with green tea, 4)milk tea, where the base liquid is fully or partially milk. Based on the amount of processing, tea can be 1)white tea, 2)green tea, and 3)black tea, in increasing order of processing. White tea is the healthiest of all, obtained from leaves of young saplings; green tea is a bit more processed though retaining most of the healthy ingredients; black tea undergoes many processes that make it lose most of its antioxidants. The most popular version in India is black tea for its strong flavour and rich caffeine content and also for being publicised widely by the British. Though newer versions are increasingly made available in cafes and restaurants, a street chaiwala is still preferred by most common Indians. At homes, despite the promotions of the health benefits of green tea, black tea with the home-customized version is the favourite among most Indians.

Masala Chai

Which tea do you prefer at home? Will you opt for a cafe or a chaiwala to drink tea outside? Do mention your preferences in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul