Tag Archives: Tourism

Russia takes further steps toward easing its visa restrictions for tourists

Visa-free entry will be allowed via 11 Russian airports.

The Russian government may soon waive the visa requirement for foreign tourists arriving in Russia by train who intend to stay in the country 72 hours or less. A bill proposing such an initiative has been submitted to the Russian State Duma. The initiative is backed by several Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Transportation, the Economic Development Ministry, the Regional Development Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Federal Migration Service and the Federal Tourism Agency.

Read more » rbth.ru

Cuba – A Regime’s Tight Grip on AIDS


HAVANA — Yudelsy García O’Connor, the first baby known to have been born with H.I.V. in Cuba, is not merely still alive. She is vibrant, funny and, at age 25, recently divorced but hoping to remarry and have children.

Her father died of AIDS when she was 10, her mother when she was 23. She was near death herself in her youth.

“I’m not afraid of death,” she said. “I know it could knock on my door. It comes for everyone. But I take my medicine.”

Ms. García is alive thanks partly to lucky genes, and partly to the intensity with which Cuba has attacked its AIDS epidemic. Whatever debate may linger about the government’s harsh early tactics — until 1993, everyone who tested positive for H.I.V. was forced into quarantine — there is no question that they succeeded.

Cuba now has one of the world’s smallest epidemics, a mere 14,038 cases. Its infection rate is 0.1 percent, on par with Finland, Singapore and Kazakhstan. That is one-sixth the rate of the United States, one-twentieth of nearby Haiti.

Continue reading Cuba – A Regime’s Tight Grip on AIDS

Kashmir: A troubled paradise

– As a child growing up after India’s partition, Kashmir to me was always a part of India. Only in middle school did I begin to realize that it was considered “disputed territory” by much of the world, the sentiment being especially fierce in neighboring Pakistan. The map of India that we studied in school showed Indian Kashmir as a larger territory than what was actually under Indian control. Parts of it in the north and the west were in reality, within China and Pakistan. The scenic northernmost state, a popular destination for summer tourism and the backdrop of many a puerile romantic song & dance number of made-in-Bombay movies, was not a very urgent topic of discussion for the general Indian public. Kashmir for most Indians, evoked benign, pretty images of apple, apricot and walnut orchards, chinar trees, shimmering lakes, snow capped mountains, houseboats, fine pashmina shawls, lacquered papier mache ornaments and the valley’s light skinned aloof inhabitants.

Later in my teen years I began to understand that Kashmir was not the placid paradise we had imagined as children. Its politics were complicated and its population sharply divided on the state’s rightful status – part of India, part of Pakistan or a wholly independent/ autonomous entity. The difference of opinion fell across religious lines. Kashmiri Hindus wished to remain with India and the majority Muslim population of the state did not. Even then, things were mostly quiet and free of turmoil. There were quite a few Kashmiri students in my school. Many had ancestral homes and relatives in Kashmir and they visited there regularly during summer breaks. Those friends were all Hindus. Come to think of it, I did not know a single Kashmiri Muslim on a personal level until I was in college. There were Muslim traders and merchants who came down to major Indian cities bearing expensive and much coveted Kashmiri merchandise such as saffron, dried fruit, nuts and embroidered woollens, but they did not reside in the plains permanently and their children did not attend our schools. The first Kashmiri Muslim I came to know well was Agha Shahid Ali, a graduate student a few years ahead of me in Delhi University who later became a lecturer of English at my college as also a poet of some renown. It was Ali who first revealed to me that most Kashmiri Muslims did not identify themselves as Indians and many felt a greater emotional and cultural allegiance with Pakistan. An equal number wanted an autonomous state with a very loose federation with India for economic reasons. The Indian government spent large sums of money to subsidize the state’s economy and prohibited non-Kashmiris from buying land there while also meddling in local politics. Kashmiris became increasingly suspicious of the central government’s motives and the rift with India widened both politically and culturally.

Despite tensions and uncertainties, Kashmir never experienced the sectarian violence that had racked the eastern and western wings of India around partition time. Even when India and Pakistan fought several wars over their disagreement surrounding the region, Kashmir itself remained relatively free of communal strife for many decades after India’s independence. The uneasy calm ended in the late 1980s and early ’90s when the Kashmir valley became a battle ground for armed insurgents trained in Pakistan and the Indian military forces. The conflict caused a communal rift among long time residents and resulted in a mass exodus (some say expulsion) of Kashmiri Hindus from their homes. Those tensions remain to this day laced with bitterness on both sides.

I had never visited Kashmir when I lived in India. By the time the political upheaval unfolded in the 1990s, I had already left and had been living abroad for a decade. Kashmir’s troubles and deteriorating political situation were not something I paid close attention to until the Kargil War erupted in 1999. It became clear then that Kashmir had become an intractable problem for India. I am still not sure how I feel about the situation. What can India gain by holding on to a territory whose residents do not want to be a part of India? Can India protect regions like Ladakh and Jammu in the vicinity which identify firmly with the rest of India? What would happen if India does decide to vacate the valley and stops spending money to placate the population and maintain the large presence of its armed forces? Would Kashmir valley remain “independent” or will some other country like China or Pakistan march in and establish control even closer to other Indian states? How does one balance the interests of Kashmiris and the rest of India? Is peace ever possible when the citizenry perceives the government as an “occupying force?” Most confusing of all, will Kashmiri Hindus be permitted go back to the homes they abandoned out of fear and panic? And even if it was possible, would they ever want to return to a place that had cut all ties to India? ….

Read more → Accidental Blogger

Pakistan can no longer be ruled from Islamabad

National Integration – Masood Sharif Khan Khattak

Communication infrastructure, domestic tourism, undiluted provincial autonomy and bonding through the workplace play a vital role in the integration of a nation. Pakistan’s national integration has suffered immensely because these factors have never been crucially important to our leadership. Pakistan’s communication infrastructure is primitive, domestic tourism is non-existent, provincial autonomy only receives lip-service and bonding through the workplace is totally missing except in the armed forces. Uniform development across the country over the past sixty years would have solidly integrated the Pakistani nation but that did not happen due to absolute incompetence, poor leadership and corruption at all levels. The price Pakistan is paying for its neglect is in the shape of an internally disjointed nation forced to suffer the present-day indignities in the shape of terrorism and insurgency.

The political and military establishment must now understand that the military potential of any country is multiplied manifolds when it is backed by a nation that is well-integrated. An integrated nation can cover up for military shortfalls but military strength cannot cover up for the shortfalls of a nation that lacks integration and cohesion. The Soviet Union’s break-up in 1991 is an example that amply illustrates this aspect. Pakistan must, therefore, accord top priority to uniform development throughout the country in order to have a nation that can back its enviable military potential in a solid manner; if not, then all will be lost.

Nawaz Sharif deserves the credit for initiating the modern communication infrastructure of Pakistan that is so essential for the integration of a nation that lives in a country as big as Pakistan. The launching of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway by Nawaz Sharif in the early 90s was a huge step in the right direction. If the process had been initiated decades ago Pakistan today would have been a very cohesively integrated nation. …

Read more : PKcoluminist.com

Pakistan : The gravity of the problem

by Dr. Manzur Ejaz

WASHINGTON DIARY: The gravity of the problem

Courtesy: WICHAAR

Investors were avoiding Pakistan even before the Taliban threat and they will remain so even after the Taliban are gone. Pakistan has multiple problems that repulse the foreigners, whether they are investors or tourists

I ran into Mr Eric Lawson, an investor, in a conference organised by a Pakistani group. My unusual take on Pakistan’s troubles intrigued him quite a bit and he asked me to get together sometime. After six months, out of the blue he called me and invited me over for dinner in a downtown Spanish restaurant.

I have passed from that street hundreds of times but I never noticed the Restaurant Hispania where a bottle of wine can cost up to $ 500 or above. Mr Lawson, noticing my shocked state of mind, laughed and told me that most of the people around us were from the World Bank and IMF being dined-wined and wowed by developing world governments. This restaurant runs on the loan/aid money given to developing countries or people like me who make money in those countries in other ways, he added.

After we were settled, he asked me as to what was going on in Pakistan and if the military could eliminate the Taliban insurgency. I told him that I was reasonably optimistic that the military will prevail because it was their creation. In the past, the military was not confronting them sincerely because of their misplaced fairytale policy of getting strategic depth in Afghanistan. Now, the military has learnt the lesson as suicide bombings kill people near the capital of Islamabad. I further added that I hope investors like you can return to Pakistan, and ended my explanation with a smile.

“No, you are wrong here. I hope your optimism is realistic as far as the Taliban are concerned. But the Western investors are not going to return to Pakistan even then. Investors were avoiding Pakistan even before the Taliban threat and they will remain so even after the Taliban are gone. Pakistan has multiple problems that repulse the foreigners, whether they are investors or tourists,” he told me.

“I know there is immense corruption in Pakistan and foreigners do not know how to deal with it. But so are most of the developing countries where the US and European investors and tourists readily go. What is special about Pakistan other than this?” I asked.

He became a little frustrated and impatient and promptly busted out “No, this is where Pakistanis do not get it. We all know about corruption in the developing world and we know how to deal with it and make money. But Pakistan’s problem is Islamisation and restrictions on personal liberties and most aspects of entertainment that we consider a necessary part of life. Why would we go to a prison-like country to make money when we have better choices all around? Why not to go to India or China where we can make money and enjoy life as we like to.”

I could not fully appreciate his highly negative characterisation of Pakistan and could not resist rebutting in pointing out: “If you are talking about unavailability of alcohol, you as foreigners can buy it from any five-star hotel. Oh, and if you are talking about other entertainment, that is also arranged easily.” To keep the atmosphere pleasant, I joked, “By creating some hurdles in your way, we provide you the chance to save some money.”

He was more upset now and almost yelling “You guys will never understand us. We make money to spend it not like you guys who earn to horde. This is why we progressed and you did not.” He went on, “To answer your take on alcohol and so-called other entertainment by which you probably meant prostitutes, I will say we are neither addicted to alcohol or prostitutes. We enjoy these things as you enjoy tea and company. The difference may be that we have female friends along with males, which is rare in your societies. Buying alcohol from five-star hotels feels just like stealing and drinking like thieves. We want to go out to bars of different kinds where we can see and meet different types of people and enjoy their company for a while.”

I was more perplexed than ever and did not know how to respond to him. After having lived three decades in the West I knew what he was talking about. But for face saving I threw my last argument, “Pakistan is not the only ideological state. Israel, Saudi Arabia and some others are ideological too and you do business in those countries.”

He laughed whole-heartedly and said, “Thank you. I was expecting this excuse much earlier. This is a favourite excuse Pakistanis use. But let me tell you that Israel may be too cruel for Palestinians, but it is an open society like any European nation. Saudi Arabia can afford any ideology because of its oil wealth and tribal society. Furthermore, not many investors go there except oil companies and the Saudis have created free zones for foreigners that Pakistan cannot. Your society is very poor but relatively open-minded. You can neither feed them like Saudi Arabia nor create islands for foreigners because society is very vocal. You are stuck by imposing an ideology that you cannot afford. Therefore, you will remain stuck even after the Taliban are gone. And, the worst part is that even intelligent people like you do not appreciate the gravity of the problem.”

Continue reading Pakistan : The gravity of the problem

WASHINGTON DIARY: Tourism and the extremist threat

by Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Courtesy: Wichaar, November 18th, 2009

Despite finishing the Taliban, the core conservative ideology may survive and keep suffocating the country. Such an ideology will not allow the economy to grow in many new areas in which Pakistan has a lot of potential. Tourism is one such sector, but it needs an open society where everyone is welcome

Sitting at Frankfurt airport, waiting for my flight to Delhi, I indulged in conversation with an American couple, both in their 70s, who were on their way to see the Taj Mahal. The retired executive of a big corporation was treating his wife to see this world marvel. Similarly, standing at a small bazaar in Jodhpur, a city in Rajasthan, India, I saw hordes of Western tourists, all there to see a city that is no different than Sahiwal or Sargodha other than an old palace, a common sight in Rajasthan.

The road infrastructure is better in Rajasthan than most parts of Utter Pradesh, with new highways and roads connecting even remote parts. Most of the major cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner are just old beaten down towns with some new life in the largest city Jaipur. Some of the tourist destinations are tiny cities like Chichawatni — the neighbouring town to Harappa — with nothing much to see except a castle in need of serious repair. And yet, Rajasthan and many other parts of India have become the preferred destination for tourists. It will not be surprising if the statistics show that revenue from tourism has become the bread and butter of many states like Rajasthan.

Most parts of Pakistan have equally good or better road infrastructure than Rajasthan but lack in every other facility that tourists seek. Pakistan has an abundance of important historical sites, including Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Taxila, prime locations of the Sikh faith and many castles and palaces to attract tourists from all around the world. After all, the remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation and structures built by Hindu rajas and Muslim rulers are all over Pakistan. Hilly states, the Cholistan and Thar Deserts add to the stunning beauty of Pakistani territory. Yet, touring Pakistan is horrifying for its own expatriates.

Everyone knows that proliferation of religious extremism and jihadists have scared away foreign capital and potential tourists who can bring billions of dollars to Pakistani coffers. Leaving aside the old story, the problem is that Pakistan’s permanent establishment is trying its best to protect its core faith-centric ideology, which is the reason for all the trouble Pakistan now faces.

A recent issue of the fake “The Dawn”, not the Karachi-based respected daily, by a group of fifth columnists and ‘patriotic’ journalists was circulated on the internet. The fifth columnists included some enlightened opinion-makers. The short list of ‘patriots’ included the ones who are still sticking to the ideology and foreign policy that has brought the country to the brink of collapse. Most observers believe that circulation of such a list, through a fake newspaper, was the work of the intelligence agencies, notorious for triggering such malicious propaganda stunts.

Of course the Pakistani military is fighting the Taliban with full force. Despite the cynical view in some circles about its sincerity, it is easy to see why the military has to finish such a force. The military, as a group along with its industrial complex — the largest in the country — is at the top of the beneficiaries of the Pakistani state. Therefore the military’s interests are directly threatened if the Pakistani state is endangered. Using jihadists for proxy wars was another matter but when its own interests are at stake, the military is not going to be a bystander. Therefore the military action against the Taliban is very real and most probably will succeed, though it may take some time.

Despite the crusade against the Taliban and some other extremist groups, it seems that the military is trying to hold on to its own core ideology that has evolved during the last 60 years. The key components of this core ideology comprise an anti-India obsession and the use of religion as the state ideology. Both are linked: Muslim identity is deemed essential to fight Hindu India and vice versa. An anti-India religious identity has been made so pivotal that to fight the Taliban, the military has to dub them as Indian agents. This may be partially true, but everyone knows who created and trained the Taliban.

In this backdrop, the danger is that despite finishing the Taliban, the core conservative ideology may survive and keep suffocating the country. Such an ideology will not allow the economy to grow in many new areas in which Pakistan has a lot of potential. Tourism is one such sector, but it needs an open society where everyone is welcome.

Continue reading WASHINGTON DIARY: Tourism and the extremist threat

The destruction of Manchar & Haleji Lakes- It is a standard tragedy of Sindh

by Azhar Ali Shah

It seems that main reason behind the destruction of Manchar, Haleji and other lakes of Sindh is just negligence and improper planning of government coupled with selfish interests of local zamindars/feudals who want their land and fish farms to be irrigated at the cost of the supply of drinking water to the local people and preserving public tourist points!. Its all shame for the related ministries, departments, offices and peoples as well.

Sindh: Gorakh Hill Station

Sindh’s cold mountain resort in cold storage

Gorakh Hill Station: The one place Karachi can escape to in the summers has been ignored despite its fantastic tourism potential

By Razzak Abro

JOHI: As Karachi sweltered in the summer’s heat, it was a cool night at Gorakh Hill in district Dadu, which is otherwise known for its cooking 40-degree plus temperatures.

It was the weekend and a group of people, including journalists, had gathered at the hill station for a festival organized by ActionAid and local NGO Village Shadabad Welfare Organization. Those who knew about Gorakh had brought warm clothes, especially the people from the surrounding areas, who even brought blankets for the night’s stay at the proposed summer resort located at the Khirthar mountains at a height of 5,866 feet.

But some of the guests from Karachi, Hyderabad and other parts of the province were caught by surprise. “I did not expect such cold weather here during the hot summer,” exclaimed Asghar Azad, a journalist from Karachi. He was one of the 100-strong group a majority of which were visiting the site for the first time. Over two hundred local people turned up as well. The hosts had arranged 4-wheel jeeps to the hilltop but the old ones spluttered out and it was only the locals who managed to complete the trek on motorcycle. An elderly gentleman in his 60s made it before us city folks. According to guests Muhammad Nawaz and Nabi Bux they had to drag the bikes up at some points, much to their misery.

PPI reported that hardly 15 km of a narrow strip, with sharp and steep turnings, has so far been built contrary to the claims of the previous government that 53km of road had been completed.

PPI reported that WAPDA has completed its work of erecting poles, installing cables from the foothills to the top where a transformer could also be seen but it needs to be activated. Moreover, the Gorakh Hill Development Authority (GHDA) has laid a water supply line and the boosting stations are under-construction in addition to a single-room police check post at Khawal pass, 15km below Gorakh peak.

A two-room rest house, built during late Abdullah Shah’s government, was in a dilapidated condition, and the only addition made by previous coalition government was a two-room rest house made from fiber at another peak.

According to the revised PC-I, approved on February 24, 2003, the cost of Gorakh Hill Station project was Rs 198.269 million including the construction of roads, bridges and a water supply scheme. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) had approved the project and the Sindh Government had started the work on the 53km road strip from Wahi Pandhi, a small town at the foothills to Gorakh peak. Later, the federal government agreed to share 30 percent of the cost of the entire project.

The strip would have 10 viewpoints and would have a 10-bed emergency hospital, waterfalls, a filter plant, security posts, horse and camel riding tracks, cable cars and chair lifts.

The then prime minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali had also visited Wahi Pandhi road and had directed the Sindh government to initiate an inquiry into the matter, which still was pending.

The topography of Gorakh peak is 1,340 acres in Sindh and 1,000 acres in Balochistan. The weather in summer is very pleasant, with moderate temperatures during the day, dropping to slightly chilly at night. In winter, however, the temperature goes down to almost -8 to -12 degrees centigrade. Being the highest peak in a region, the hill offers a beautiful view of a valley from the top. The area is surrounded by arid mountains with small green pastures at certain points. During the rainy season, one can see various streams of water flowing throughout the area.

Due to bad road conditions, the 53km distance takes about 5 hours. The track is not dangerous but since it has a few sharp turns at some places, visitors get trapped at certain turns where work has not been carried.

There is no communication system in case any tourist is trapped there. No landline or mobile phone works beyond Wahi Pandhi. But somebody told PPI that the V-PTCL Wireless Phone works there.

Courtesy – Daily Times – Site Edition, Thursday, May 29, 2008