Saturday, 28 March 2015

4 Lesser Known Destinations, I Wish To Travel In My Lifetime – Part I

Words fall short when it comes to defining my passion for travelling. Maybe it’s in my genes – My Father loves travelling and venturing into unexplored destinations it’s his love too; even my Maa loved travelling. In fact, she did see quite many places in her lifetime (barring North-East). So, the same love is in both of us (me and my sisi). I have so many places in my mind when I think of travelling – If permitted, I can be a good solo traveler and I seriously don’t need any company to explore unventured destinations. But, the problem is that I am an over-pampered ‘kid’ and travelling alone doesn’t go well with my personality (as per the elders in my family). People love travelling to known places like the Pyramids in Giza, Eiffel Tower in Paris, Taj Mahal in India etc., but my taste is a bit different. So far as I am concerned, my list to explore destinations is endless, but to start with, I would surely love to see the following 4 destinations –  

1.       Cappadocia, Turkey – Being in the Anatolian Plains is like a dream come true in itself. Cappadocia, is a place that seems to be plucked out straight from a whimsical fairytale. The cave-like tenements are a sheer delight to the visual eye. This fairy-tale like world will leave you breathless as you scroll down the narrow by-lanes. The hot-air balloon ride will be just worth your money. The fantastic topography with fresco-adorned Churches is a mesmerizing sight. You just cannot stop wooing the lunaristic panorama created in the place. (I may seem like saying as if I have already visited. But, when I first read about it, I was in a different world – and that’s what Turkey has in its kitty). If I would ever get a chance to visit the place, it would by just like my all-time dream coming true…. Waiting for that day to come SOON!! J J

Cave-Like Tenements
A Sneek-Peak in the Past 

2.       Choquequirao, Peru – I am never a loner! In fact, this sounds true to everyone – it’s just that how you take things in. I find solace when I am in the company of nature (and I have said that ample time). This lost city of Incas, the nomadic South American tribe is a famous sister estate - Machu Picchu. The ancient houses, temples, walls and canals all lay covered under the dense forest. The best way to explore this destination is to go on an adventurous trek and unravel the mysteries and matchless beauty of the hills. Visiting Choquequirao will certainly be a treat for me as I love to travel off the beaten path.

Into The Heart of Choquequirao

3.       Dura Europas, Syria – A not-so-famous border city for people who doesn’t wish to travel Middle East. They must be aware of Palmyra or Damascus, but I am sure of seeing a mesmerizing view here in the place called Dura Europas. With the ongoing civil war in Syria, this border city for Parthians, Hellenistics and Romans is in shambles. But, once it used to be a famous tourist spot for housing the oldest preserved Jewish Synagogue. There was a time when the remarkable preservation activities led it to be known as the ‘Pompeii of the Syrian Desert’.

The Ruins of Dura Europas
Dura Europas Oversee River Euphrates

4.       Dakhla Oasis, Egypt – To the lovers of ancient civilizations, this destination is the place to be. The human habitation can be traced back to almost 150,000 years. It is site that once consisted vast lake, rock paintings showing zebras, elephants and ostriches going hither thither on the shores. I wish to experience the life in an oasis once and this place can make that wish come true. The lush palm orchards and groves against the ancient mud-brick forts still stand high and telltale the story of a tranquil past.

Does This Remind You Of Harappa & Mohenjodaro?
The Rock Paintings That Has Survived the Attacks and Crude Force of Nature

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Nasheed's Arrest & Impact on South Asia + China

Beginning from where I left earlier with the Maldivian Crisis - The Second Part goes as - 

Traditionally, India had been dominating over the Indian Ocean with a considerable influence over small island nations in the region particularly Mauritius and Maldives. (Mauritius has about 70% Indian Expatriates)

As soon as Nasheed was toppled in 2012, the bilateral relations between the two countries took a nosedive. The cancellation of the GMR contract and Nasheed taking refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male were two main incidents that somewhat vitiated the goodwill of India.

Back in 2013, when Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission, Indian negotiators were successful in brokering a deal with the current Maldivian government which prevented Nasheed’s arrest and allowed him to participate in 2018 elections. But, now with his arrest, the government has already asked Indian authorities ‘to respect the Panchsheel doctrine and not to interfere in their internal matters’. In such a situation, the best India could do was to express concern over the arrest and manhandling of Nasheed. It asked the stakeholders to resolve differences within the constitutional framework.  

As mentioned earlier, Maldives play a vital cog in the Indian Ocean. It's strategic significance to both India and China has led to a silent truce between the two. 

The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are seen as Asia's economic arteries that love to trade with Middle East and Europe. The hunger for oil by both these countries is fed only by traversing through the Indian Ocean's Exclusive Economic Zone. 

To counter the China-effectIndia forged a trilateral maritime agreement with Sri Lanka and Maldives. The underlying objectives of this cooperation is to assert its presence in the eyes of Pakistan and China. (China holds control on two ports in Pakistan (Gwadar) and Sri Lanka (Humbantota). But, Modi-led government's diplomacy is par excellence. They have managed to extend their maritime security agreement to Seychelles and Mauritius which is famously known as IO-5. 

In case, there is a Sino-Indian war in the future, India could block Chinese ships in the ocean without much of a difficulty. But this is possible only if these nations remain friendly towards us and doesn’t turn hostile due to the economic pressure posed by this ‘hard’ power. It’s been there in news for some time now that China has maximized its Navy Defense budget in vast proportions with about 35% increment.

West especially US is favouring India because it sees India as a counter to China in the long run and will be a balancing power in Asia. (Remember US’ Asian Pivot). Seeing this as threat, China has developed a strategy – String of Pearls wherein it’ll develop military and economic ties with the littoral countries of Indian Ocean. Though it is not being vocal about it but the development of naval ports surrounding the Indian coast is a testimony to this fact. Also, asking Maldives to be a part of its Maritime Silk Route Project is much bigger cause of concern to India.

Threat to India from both China and Pakistan

·    India needs strong allies in the neighbourhood so that it doesn’t succumb to ‘any external pressures’ and doesn’t become a victim of ‘Chinese’ Ocean in the long run.

·    Pakistan, on the other hand could use Maldives as a launch pad for terrorists targeting India. Post 26/11, Indian Navy and Coast Guard have strengthened their security in and around the coastal regions of Mumbai and Gulf of Cambay. So, Lashkar-e-Toiba and other similar outfits might set up a base in Maldives and transport men and material from there to Kerela and to other parts of India.

Probable Steps India Could Take

·    Overly indulging in the internal affairs of any nation may lead to Indian desposition in the long run and such countries might take support of ‘foreign’ (read enemy) powers to rescue them in any untoward situation in the future. But, this certainly doesn’t mean not to help at all. Because not doing anything will also alienate Nasheed’s MDP party which has pro-Indian leanings.

·      India should not also not impose democracy and democratic institutions on its neighbouring countries (Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives) because the result of imposition are well-known to all. What happened in the Middle East under the aegis of Jasmine Revolution should not be repeated elsewhere in the world; else it’ll create ripples across. Democracy is a natural process and countries should come in line with their unique cultural and historical realities. 

·   To keep an eye on the growing influence of China and radical Islam (supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) is where lies the real threat and to avert such a situation, it needs to step up its intelligence gathering efforts. As the leading British daily – Guardian quoted, Maldives could end up becoming a paradise for Jihadis from where Jihad could be exported to other countries like India to which they can travel easily.

The world knows that Yameen is not pro-India as we would like it to be but the red lines need to be clearly defined and properly conveyed to the government which could affect India’s strategic interests. Thus, India shouldn’t hesitate to take any kind of action to circumvent it. 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Maldivian Political Crisis

Background –

Maldives, an island nation located in the heart of Indian Ocean consists of about 1200 coral islands (and divided into inhabited and uninhabited islands). Due to its geographical location, it forms a vital cog in the Indian Ocean’s geopolitics.

Demography & Economy –

It is an Islamic republic (mostly Sunni Muslims) and its economic mainstay is Tourism. But post the Asian Tsunami in December 2004 and global recession in 2008, the tourism activity suffered a severe setback. Also, for protecting the Islamic traditions from getting ‘polluted’, tourism activity is mainly conducted on uninhabited islands. Tourists are not allowed to mingle with the ‘local’ population in inhabited regions. Therefore, majority of the Maldivians are impoverished. Their strongest developed sector is fisheries apart from tourism.

Political Scenario during Pre-Independence Era –

Just like any Indian princely state during British era, Maldives was run by local Muslim Kings who were given military protection and ‘non-interference’ in local administration rights by the British government. These amenities were given in lieu of tributes (cash).

In 1965: Maldives became a republic.
In 1968: After plebiscite, Ibrahim Nasir became country’s first President and from here the roots of an ‘authoritarian’ reign started.
In 1978: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was ‘elected’ and with him three decades of autocratic rule followed. He used military and police to crush down opposition parties and gave Government jobs to his loyal supporters.
In 1988: A group of Maldivian businessmen along with Tamil separatists tried to seize power but Indian government intervened and sent about 1600 Indian parachutists to restore order. This operation was coined as ‘Operation Cactus’ and Maumoon Gayoom continued to remain in power until 2008.
In 2008: Maldives held its first multiparty elections and Mohamed Nasheed became the first democratically-elected President.

Brief Bio of Mohamed Nasheed - 

To add titles to his profile, he was Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience, UN’s Champion of the Earth and Newsweek’s World’s 10 Best Leaders. He was apparently seen as a moderate Islamist and a leader with modern outlook in this small coral atoll nation.

2012 Coup Against Nasheed - 

After becoming President, he ordered judicial inquiries against the wrongdoings, scandals, corruption done by Ex-President Gayoom. In January 2012, he ordered the arrest of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in pretext of blocking cases against the ex-President. This resulted in an upsurge amongst lawyers and all court officers. They joined in a movement against Nasheed as he announced the arrest of this Judge. Since Police are fewer in number in the nation, Army intervened and took control of the gruesome situation.

The uproar caused by the opposition forced Nasheed to step down in February 2012 and this was termed as Coup by Maldivian Democratic Party – Nasheed’s Party. However, the coup was denied by the then instituted government.

Coming Back to Present – 2015 - 

Maldives Presidential Elections are just three years away (2018), and the present government under Maumoon Gayoom’s half-brother Abdullah Yameen faces alienation from key former colleagues and coalition partners. In pursuance of his political ambitions, he virtually eliminated all political opposition.

Yameen first ordered the arrest of his Defence Minister accusing him of plotting a coup. This was followed by sacking of chief justice and another judge. The political situation in Maldives was threatened when one of his coalition partners – the Jumhoory Party decided to quit the government and announced aligning with Mr. Nasheed’s MDP. He also called President Yameen’s resignation which culminated into a series of street protests beginning February 27.

In a short span of time, Maldives has seen much upheaval. Following this announcement, Nasheed was charged under Anti-Terrorism Act that classifies, “an act of terrorism to include kidnapping, holding as hostage or apprehending someone against their will or attempts to kidnap, hold hostage or apprehend someone without their will, for the extrajudicial enforced disappearance of the sitting Chief Judge of Criminal Court”. 

The arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed way back in January 2012 has now termed as basis of his terrorist act and he is sentenced to go to jail for 13 (long) years. Therefore, this ‘politically motivated’ jail term will prevent him running for President in the 2018 elections. 

When Nasheed Tried to Speak to the Media
Image Source: The Hindu
Is this how a political prisoner of a literate society should be treated? Well, in politics everything is fair..... I condemn arrest of Nasheed!

        I will share my thoughts on Impact on India of Nasheed’s arrest in my next blog.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Rise & Fall of Joko Widodo

The Rise

In a hotly contested vote, Joko Widodo (or Jokowi) was elected as Indonesia’s seventh President last July. He was the leader of the masses, by the masses and for the masses. What made him so popular amongst Indonesians were his humble and apolitical beginnings. His winning of election promised a new era of clean politics and an end to cronyism which the country was seeing since decades. This is in part true because Indonesia became a stronghold for country’s elites since Suharto’s era. His victory was truly between the battle of Indonesian’s old guard and wave of fresh air. In a country where elitist politics reign, Jokowi’s victory certainly gave boost to Indonesian democracy. During his ‘banal’ election campaigns, he set very high standards amongst masses for uplifting poor and doing good for them just as he did in his mayorly role in Jakarta.

If we look at this South-East Asian region, certainly Jokowi is not the first populist politician. But, he is certainly different in the aspect that he had almost negligible political baggage (Prior to taking over on Presidential and Mayor roles, he was a furniture merchant). Also, he is neither a scion of powerful dynasty nor a wealthy businessman but an ordinary citizen who imbued a sense of confidence amongst his fellow beings of good times.

The Fall

Judging his success (or failure) in a short span of time of his tenure of about six months would be ideally very wrong thing to do. But, this became inevitable especially after the events that are taking shape in the capital region. Once a man of hope has now become a man facing widespread disillusionment both at home and abroad.

Although he successfully managed to push through some of the notable programmes he promised during his campaign trails like giving health care cards and providing public education. The long pending decision of cutting down on fuel subsidies was overdue by the past government. Though Indonesia was facing a large current account deficit but the erstwhile president Yudhoyono, deferred it owing to facing a backlash from the public. Thankfully, the falling global crude prices made things easier for Jokowi and he did take steps to bring back the economy on centre stage.

Aside from the aforementioned, his nil or negligible diplomatic experience made him very unpopular with earlier ‘friendly’ nations. He has been signing death penalties for punishing drug dealers of Brazil and Netherlands. In pursuance of this stance, he may also undermine Australian-Indonesian bilateral relationship as two Australian convicts face the death penalty imminently.

This was regarding his relations with the world; he is disliked by many in his home and is receiving flak from all sides particularly for the following reasons –
  •   Poor selection in his cabinet
  •  Controversial appointment of former general Ryamizard Ryacudu as defence minister
  •  Inability to break free from his political masters’ style of governance
  •  His promises of reform seems bleak
  • Ongoing turf between Indonesia’s corruption commission and National Police (Polri)
  • His nomination of ‘tainted’ police commissioner Budi Gunawan has also attracted criticism.This move has severely blown his image as that of a clean politician.

Thus, the new era of politics which evolved under him is fading fast. But this is to be seen that how soon will all this ‘mess’ come to an end and wouldn’t culminate into a stronger turbulence.

Lastly, did you find something common with Jakarta & Delhi? Don’t you see similarity between Arvind Kejriwal and Joko Widodo with just one difference – One is a national leader while the other is state (& soon-becoming-popular-to-involve-in-national-politics). But, seeing what Delhi is going through these days, his plans may remain a fantasy. Same reasons can be attributed to his unpopularity – differences of opinions, lack of experience in handling political affairs, impulsive attitude......

                                                             Rest to be continued………….. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A Peep Into the Obama Versus Netanyahu Conundrum

These days Israel is into the news for all the wrong reasons!

The recent visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the US was quite controversial and has been making headlines for the speech delivered by his Majesty at the Congress.

His primary agenda of the talks was to oppose the deal chequered between Iran and US (P5+1) as according to him it would - 
  • Leave Iran with Nuclear Infrastructure
  • Allow Iran to violate terms of negotiations because inspectors can only document violations but are unable to stop them.

When come to think of it, US and its allies particularly Israel suspected Iran of using civil nuclear programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons capability in the long run. 

If we look at Iran, the problem pervades past several years and owing to long-term economic sanctions, the Iranians suffered penury. To survive and save people and its economy, negotiations were initiated when the Iran saw a regime change. In contrast to Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, Hasan Rouhani is quite liberal and understood the intricacies of working with superpowers. (Since, he had worked for UN for several years).

In my opinion, the talks were initiated just to save Iranian economy see a similar fate which was once faced by Germany during the Nazi era. During the Second World War, Germany saw insurmountable state of deflation where paper currency became redundant and there came a time when it was used as fuel to cook food. 


MARCH 17: A very crucial day in Israeli politics. That day, the world will see a closely contested election in Israel (for the Prime Ministerial Post). 

If I see his Congressional speech in that light, I certainly disapprove this fact that his speech was apolitical. What I am really wondering is that does he really wanted to put Israeli security in the forefront and his political ambitions in the backseat? 

Obviously, his speech must have gone down well with the Israeli electorate seeing Israeli PM standing before 'US' lawmakers and speaking upfront about Israel security. But, history (or time) will tell whether this brought a significant change (read rift) in the bilateral Israel-US relationship.


Back in 2002, Netanyahu encouraged US & UK to invade Iraq precisely for the same fear mongering reason that Saddam Hussein was about to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. But, then since both countries (US & UK) had a silent pact and hidden interests for oil, they meddled in the political affairs of the Middle East in the name of instituting DEMOCRACY in the region.

That was then! Coming back in 2015 - Since US has found massive wealth of Shale Gas it doesn't even bother to procure oil from the Middle Eastern countries. It now has just one agenda on its mind - TO CALL BACK ITS ARMED FORCES FROM TROUBLED NATIONS AND LOOK AFTER ITS ECONOMY - Because soon Russia and China will be a threat to its SUPERPOWER position.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Hill Sojourn - Part II - Day 01

I am writing this after ages... But, was very much pre-occupied with some other important stuff...
So, let's begin with my journey to the hills on Day 01

After exiting the Railway Station, our destination was awaiting us.... We decided to use public transportation as it is fun travelling in a local bus rather than a private taxi/traveller (at least I find it thrilling)... There were localites who spoke in a different dialect (completely different from ours) and for the first time since Wednesday night, we were scattered. I sat near a guy who wasn't a tourist but a frequent visitor to that particular destination (I too wasn't a first time traveller though).... He was originally from the southern end of India - Kanyakumari. (The place where one can have the best sunset view in the world... At least I find it that way... I went to that place when I was just 10 years old.. So had barely faint memory of that particular trip)
Travelling in Local Bus is Experience - One Of A Kind

Throughout the bus journey, my WOW factor was in full swing and I was loving it.... we screamed in ecstasy when we first saw the snow-capped mountains... (especially Dahiya and Me) from a distance.... As our bus was snaking through the local bazaar, some fresh orange sellers boarded in who sold 12 oranges for merely Rupees 12/. (Unbelievable it is, I know... But true!) Those sumptuous oranges had that 'goodness of NATURE'. At another halt, Prasoon brought Samosas for us... We were damn hungry... 

The Bus Stand

We got down at Guggal to board another bus for Dharamshala... I waved bye to that 'stranger' who was sitting besides me.... Only to see an exotic view that was awaiting us in the backdrop... Those snow-peaked mountains seemed soo close to us... 
The Scene @ Guggal - See the Backdrop (The Mountains)

After much fun, frolic and gaiety, finally we got down at Mcleod Chauraha.. As soon as I stepped down, memories came back in a flash of second... 5 years ago, I was standing at the same spot.... It was already 5PM, so we decided to have our lunch in the market itself.,. We dined at the not-Delhi-wala Shangri-La but yes, the food and ambience was super @Shangri-La. At this point, we were dead tired.. We had no energy left... but yes, I do wanted to mention an incident which is recalled by Sonia, even today... :P :P

Though, we all were tired, but as soon as I read that the restaurant had Wi-Fi facility, I gathered my energy and went upto the manager, just to ask the Wi-Fi password... (Oh! Sociabee Me! - I soo wanted to share an update then :P :P)
Tired, Yet Ready to Pose - @Shangri-La

Once our lunch was over, some in the group was pro-for hiring a taxi to the hotel as it was 2-km away from the Main Chowk.. But Me, Mona, Dhirendra and Arpit were willing to walk (although we were dead tired... But hills and walk is something I couldn't afford to miss)... It is here only where you can get a 'feel of nature'. Conclusively, we decided to board in a taxi for that time... (as we had ample time with us to walk in those snaky-lanes). 

As soon as we reached the hotel, we decided to retire in our rooms early and take a sound sleep so that we wake up fresh for the next day... But, before that, Me & Sonia went to Arpit's room only to borrow a pillow... But what we saw in there made us awe-struck.....

The calm in the midst of which we stood was simply breathtaking! The moon appeared to be too close to us... and it seemed WOW.... Prasoon, Me, Sonia & Arpit chatted there for a while... We had discussions regarding the time we were about to spend in that splendid, quaint calm.... 
Universe' Most Romantic Thing Called MOON

Though we retired to our rooms early, but our chats didn't pause before 0030 hours.

Hill Sojourn - Part III - Day 02 

                                                                                           To Be Continued!!!