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

Silk Route Market Cities Today

The ancient silk route has been one of the greatest trade routes connecting east and west Eurasia. The ancient cities in the ancient world have still retained their prominence in defining world trade across the land. The surrounding desert and large swathes of inhospitable lands make the Silk Road and its cities an ideal location for resting and trade with locals. Also, most of these cities are crossroads and junctions to travel to various locations. From the strategic and commercial point of view, we have listed here some cities that ruled the trade for thousands of years since the advent of civilization.

Now let us travel from east to west along the silk route and visit the important towns along the Silk Route, which has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

1)Xi’an, China

Xi’an, at the far eastern end of the Silk Route, is one of the four ancient capitals of China. Xi’an is located strategically right at the centre of China and forms a junction of different religious and ethnic cultures of ancient China. Not to forget, Xi’an is still a major Chinese tourist hotspot and serves as a stop for tourists visiting anywhere in central and west China.

2)Delhi, India

Delhi, the capital of India is right at the junction of crossroads in India. Delhi is also the crossroads of cultures in India where Mughal influence mixes beautifully with Rajput, Punjabi, Marwari, UP as well as pahari influence. It is also a major hub of tourism and is the administrative centre of India. Delhi is also one of the oldest cities of India, and the seat for various major kingdoms and empires in India. The nearby city of Mathura is also an important Silk Route city.

3)Lahore, Pakistan

Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, is also a major trading hub connecting the Silk route between China and the Arabian Sea. The ancient university of Takshashila lies near the city and was an important stop for pilgrims from Central Asia. Today, Lahore is an important market city and a tourist destination visited by almost every tourist coming to Pakistan.

4)Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Osh is another city in the fertile Fergana Valley which served as a centre of trade since ancient times. Proximity to the border with Uzbekistan makes it a major centre of trade even today. Osh market is still one of the biggest in Central Asia, where a mixed population of Central Asians live.

5)Khujand, Tajikistan

Fertile lands of the Fergana Valley served as a major stop for Silk Route traders, and Khujand is one of the best-preserved sites among them. Khujand is not only a centre of travel but also is a centre of trade between Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries owing to proximity.

6)Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Turkistan lies in south Kazakhstan and was once an important trade outpost on the Silk Route. It still is a major tourist hub of tourists visiting Kazakhstan due to its historic monuments, including Khoja Ahmed Yassavi Mausoleum. Turkestan has grown as an important trading hub and a crossroad marketplace in the modern world.

7)Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The city of Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously lived cities in Central Asia. It gained importance for its strategic location and served as a crossroads of various cultures and ethnic groups for centuries.
The Registan, the squares, the markets, the mosques, the gardens, and most importantly, its hospitality and friendly people make it one of the most significant tourist destinations in the world.

8)Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city centre of Bukhara served as the resting station along the silk route. Bukhara is known for its carpet industry as well as the spice trade. The great minaret, the ark, the pond, and the main bazaar, all served as a centre of tourist attraction along the silk route.

9)Khiva, Uzbekistan

The border town of Khiva is also the hotspot of tourist activity owing to its inner town or Itchan Kala, a World Heritage Site. Khiva is also an important stop along the silk route near the border with Turkmenistan which handles a significant land trade along the ancient Silk Route. Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva form the trio of jewels of Central Asia.

10)Merv, Turkmenistan

The ruins of Merv, one of the ancient capital cities and a major hub of trade, are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the city has been abandoned and currently lies in ruins, it is still one of the best-preserved in the Silk Route. The nearby city of Mary serves as the main marketplace and commercial hub of trade in modern-day Turkmenistan today.

11)Tehran, Iran

The capital of Iran, Tehran also lies along the ancient Silk Route. Ray, a suburb of Tehran has been found to contain ruins of an ancient city flourishing as a stopover of tourists. Tehran largely grew around the old city and is now the seat of the throne of the Iran kingdom. Tehran lies at crossroads to various historic and cultural places of Iran. It also acts as a bridge between the maritime routes in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

12)Erbil, Iraq

Erbil is inhabited since antiquity, since ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. The modern city of Erbil lies in the north-east part of Iraq, and is the main city of Kurdish people. Erbil continues to prosper owing to its importance in trade and tourism and its strategic location as a crossroad city. With time, Erbil has matched up with the modern society and is today on of the most modern towns of Iraq.

13)Damascus, Syria

Damascus is possibly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, inhabited at least 9000 BC. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, Damascus has never lost its importance as the cultural capital of the world. The large markets of Damascus, ancient architecture and its religious importance attracts millions of tourists each year. Being the capital of Syria, it is the seat of administration of modern-day Syria, though to many people Damascus is still the capital of the world.

14)Istanbul, Turkey

Founded by Roman Emperor Constantine, Istanbul is strategically the most important city in the world. It lies on the Bosphorus Strait, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. The city lies in both Europe and Asia continents and serves as a bridge of trade activities. The Hagia Sophia and other mosques, the central market, and the historic city centre all are major tourist attractions in the world. Istanbul is still the biggest centre of cultural and trade activities not only for Turkey but also for major parts of the world.

15)Rome, Italy

Usually considered at the western end of the Silk Road, Rome was the capital of the ancient Roman Empire, and has seen growth during the medieval and modern era as an important centre of civilization. Even today, its importance as sharing cultural, economic and religious aspects has continued to grow, and is still one of the most popular tourist destination around the world. Rome and Italy are still an icon to the rest of the world in terms of cultural activities, architecture and paintings, and most importantly cuisine.

Which of these have you visited or you want to visit? Let us know in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Double Decker Bus in India

Double-decker buses seem to be a bit off-topic when it comes to the mass rapid transit system in big cities. While regular single-decker buses are a common medium of transport for most people, double-decker buses are viewed as a luxury tourist bus, or a festival, or even a movie shooting. Little did most people know that double-decker buses go back to the days of British rule in India when it was cheap transport for the middle-class people across different cities in India.

Kolkata was possibly one of the first cities in India to get double-decker buses. The first double-decker bus ran in 1926 from Kalighat in South Kolkata to Shyambajar in North Kolkata. The next city to get double-decker buses is Mumbai, which has been running these iconic red-painted double-decker buses since at least 1937. The third on the timeline is Thiruvananthapuram since 1938. Hyderabad also got its fleet of double-decker buses when the last Nizam ruler introduced them in the city in the 1940s.

Double-decker Bus in Mumbai

Chennai and Delhi started double-decker bus service quite late in 1975 and 1969 respectively. Both were short-lived and have been replaced by regular buses. Kolkata and Hyderabad both were doing well with the popularity of double-decker buses till the 1990s when they were gradually phased out. The last double-decker buses in Kolkata and Hyderabad were in 2005 and 2004 respectively. Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram on the other hand did well to continue the double-decker bus services albeit in a much lesser number than before.

Road under bridges, flyovers, bridges, rail under bridges, high tension wires, level crossings, as well as narrow, congested sections with sharp turns cause severe limitations to the operational routes of these buses in large cities. Hence these buses have scope to operate in only limited routes, which most of the time are unplanned and unpopular, competing with other means of transport or regular buses. Though a double-decker bus can accommodate a greater number of passengers, in most routes they operate almost empty, incurring heavy operational losses. These limitations, along with age and unavailability of spare parts and low speed, forced state governments to switch over to single-decker buses.

Thiruvananthapuram Double-Decker Bus

As the cityscape changes, double-decker buses also need to get modernised. Most double-decker buses in Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram are old and rusty, creating more pollution and making more noise. Modernising double-decker buses is considered the first step in both Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram. Mumbai’s bus operator, BEST has launched a new initiative to not only replace the existing buses with modern double-decker buses but also make sure they are a sustainable mode of transport for the citizens. These new buses will emit less pollution as they run on BS-6 diesel engines. Thiruvananthapuram has operated double-decker buses mainly in tourist circuits such as Shangumugham beach.

The double-decker buses have a wide potential in satellite towns and suburbs as they have wide roads, hardly any bridges or sharp turns, and are devoid of any height barrier. Kolkata and Hyderabad are looking forward to calling back double-decker buses in streets, especially the satellite town areas. Kolkata has already launched a new open-top double-decker bus for tourism purposes. However, as a mass transport system, it is yet to set the benchmark as it had done previously during British times.

Modern Double-Decker Bus in Kolkata

Cities across the world have called for come back of double-decker buses that may boost tourism, as well as be a mode of local transportation. London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dublin are witnessing a rise in double-decker buses as a mass transportation system. Full AC, open-top, electric, hybrid, trolley are some features of new modern double-decker buses. Soon, with the mix of old and new features, we are looking forward to seeing double-decker buses across Indian streets also.

Written by – Himadri Paul

All-Weather Connectivity to Remote Parts of India

All-weather connectivity applies to remote villages all over India. Many small villages and isolated houses in India become inaccessible during the monsoon. Due to the scope of limitation of this article, we will discuss large regions that are cut off from the rest of the country at least for a month. This mainly includes regions around the northern border of India. As India moves towards a developed nation, developing road and rail connectivity to these parts becomes necessary. Also, the defense sector will be immensely benefited to position troops precisely at target locations quickly.

1)Kashmir :

Dal Lake in Kashmir

One of the most hostile regions in the country, Kashmir, is a remote, picturesque valley tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas. Pakistan has also claimed Kashmir since 1947, for which India and Pakistan have fought at least 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971. The Kashmir valley is not as easily accessible to India as it is to Pakistan. At present, only two roads connect Kashmir with the rest of India. One is through the Banihal pass, covering Patnitop, Banihal, and Qazigund. Two big tunnels, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel at Chenani below the Patnitop hill station and the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel below the Banihal pass, have made the road an all-weather one. The former was inaugurated in April 2016, while the latter was completed in August 2021. The Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel now awaits a formal inauguration, after which we can say that all-weather connectivity with Kashmir has been established. The other road is the old Mughal road via Akhnoor, Poonch, Shopian, which is inaccessible for 6 months in winter. The Udhampur-Baramulla railway line is partially complete between Udhampur and Katra stations and Banihal to Baramulla stations. The missing gap of around 111 Km between Katra and Banihal is expected to be completed by 2022.

2)Ladakh :

Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the most remote places in entire India, which is cut off for 6 months in winter from the rest of India. At present, Ladakh is connected to India through only two roads, one via Zojila pass and another via Baralacha La pass. Both the passes are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter up to mid-summer. This makes Ladakh totally inaccessible except for emergency supplies via Leh airport. Currently, two tunnels, Z-Morh tunnel and Zojila tunnel are under construction in the Zojila pass route. These two tunnels will provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil, though the same cannot be said for Leh as more passes are needed to be covered. The other route through Himachal Pradesh requires tunnels at Baralacha La, Lachulung La, and Taglang La passes to make it an all-weather route. There is no rail route at present between Ladakh and the rest of India. A third road is under construction via Shingo La pass, which will connect the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh with the Zanskar region of Ladakh.

3)Lahaul and Spiti :

Key Monastery in Lahaul and Spiti

Lahaul and Spiti forms the northern tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul and Spiti forms two different valleys, each connected to the rest of India via two separate roads. The Rohtang pass connects Lahaul while Spiti is connected through a narrow road via Reckong Peo, Nako. Both the roads are prone to heavy snowfall in winter. Lahaul and Spiti forms the gateway to Ladakh via Himachal Pradesh. After the inauguration of the Rohtang tunnel in September 2020, Lahaul is finally connected to the rest of India through an all weather road. Spiti is still too remote to be connected even in the near future. The road between these two valleys is through the high altitude Kunzum Pass, which is closed most of the year due to snow. There is no train connection to either of these two valleys.

4)Tawang :

Sela Pass in Tawang

The Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh is connected to the rest of India through a single road through the Sela pass. The Sela pass is a high altitude pass, which is often blocked by snowfall in winter. To make an all-weather road to the Tawang district, two tunnels will be dug, one below the Sela pass and another at Nechiphu. These two tunnels will provide winter connectivity to Tawang. The construction of Sela tunnel has been started, while the work on the shorter Nechiphu tunnel will be taken up shortly. No rail connections to Tawang exists though a line via the nearest railhead at Bhalukpong is at the planning stage. Though legally a part of India, China claims the Tawang region for which it fought the 1962 Sino-India War. Defense of Tawang is a must at this hour. Hence an all-weather road and rail connectivity to Tawang is a priority to the Government of India.

5)Sikkim :

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

Sikkim is the smallest state of India in terms of population. Parts of Sikkim get road blockages due to heavy snowfall in winter or heavy rainfall followed by landslides during monsoon. Lachen and Lachung villages of the North Sikkim district face blockade during most of the winter period. Yuksom, Tsomgo Lake, and Nathu La pass region of West and East Sikkim, respectively, get blocked due to snow. The state is connected to the rest of India through only one major national highway, which often gets blocked in the monsoon. An all-weather train line is being laid from Sevoke railway station in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, which will provide transportation of heavy machinery to the fragile roads of the mountainous state. The Theng tunnel between Mangan and Chungthang of North Sikkim also reduced damage to the only road connecting Lachen and Lachung. The road conditions are being improved by the BRO.

Which of these is your favourite destination? Do mention in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Tourism Sector on Decline after Strict Rules

The tourism sector in India has declined by more than 50% in the last 2 weeks following strict Covid-19 curbs and restrictions all across the country. Tourist hotspots in the hills and the beaches have been flocked by tourists as soon as the curbs were eased after the second wave in the country. However, in view of an inevitable third wave, restrictions have been again put into place. Expensive Covid-19 tests and unavailability of transportation lead to a fall in tourism, leaving the hoteliers staring at a loss.

Tourist hotspots like Manali, Shimla, Nainital, Gangtok, Goa, Kerala, Digha, and Darjeeling witnessed a sudden rush of tourists as lockdown eased. People with one or no doses of vaccines ventured out in view that as long as 1st dose vaccination certificate and Covid-19 reports are present, no one will get Covid-19. However, it is not the first time the tourists have spread the virus to the locals despite taking all precautions. Excessive tourism was one of the main reasons for the spreading of the delta variant of Covid-19 in India. Also, after the second wave, sporadic outbreaks are seen in some tourist hotspots in the country, spreading quickly among the locals.

The tourism sector has been hit hard by the pandemic throughout the first and second waves. Now, a third wave may sweep through the country if measures are not taken. Scientists have urged people not to venture out unless it is absolutely necessary. The Government is also taking the same path, allowing little transportation, banning large gatherings, and restrictions on hoteliers. Parks have been restricted to only those who are fully vaccinated, and hotels can allow only those guests who carry an RT-PCR Covid-19 negative test report. However, some restricted places like Lakshadweep have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases as the Government did away with mandatory 14-day quarantine. The rising number of Covid-19 cases in Kerala can be attributed to the tourism sector as well.

Trains are running throughout the country, though the local trains have been put off the track. Heritage trains have been non-operational since the first wave. However, numerous tourist facilities like boating, cruise, ropeway, and opening of shrines and religious places have opened, prompting tourists to rush in. Opening the tourism sector is also important as it will generate a huge chunk of the population that depends entirely on it. With the third wave knocking on the door, the Governments must unite and try to minimize its effect as much as possible. Most importantly, the tourists must take precautions as much as possible and must be fined in case of any violation. Also, it is urged to everyone to follow Government advice and Covid-19 protocols as much as possible to avoid any further outbreak of pandemic in the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul