tourist guides work for free?

Something really strange happened with me today that made me realize the condition of the tourist guides in India. My brother who is an Italian tour escort called me a few days ago saying that one of his friends from Varanasi wanted to start a travel agency and needed my advise. He had already visited my websites and was impressed with it. Finally I got a call from this gentleman interested in starting a travel agency in Varanasi. He basically needed suggestions tours that could really attract foreign tourists.

I told him about the unique things I knew about Varanasi that I show to my guests like road side dental clinic, bull shop, facebook baba, walking tours. I told him a little bit about the concept of LGBT tourism also. Everything was fine, we had a nice conversation but suddenly he told me that he had a group of foreign tourists traveling to Varanasi and he needed a tourist to show them around. I was going to tell him about Incredible India office in Varanasi but he said something that just shocked me seriously.

He said that he had heard that tourist guides in Varanasi charge a fee for their work and I was what??? I asked where there is a place where they do not charge a fee? And he said that tourist guides in cities like Agra and Delhi do not charge any fee and they work for free. I asked him why somebody would like to work for free and he did not know why such thing could happen but he was so confident as he had already used service of such guides who work for free.

I knew why guides sometimes work for free. It is because they are more interested in bringing their guests to shops rather than showing them around. I told this to him and he asked me if there was no such scene in Varanasi. I told him that I was not aware of such guides for sure. I told him that there is a set rate decided by the government of India and in fact Varanasi is the most expensive place to hire a tourist guide because tourism starts before sunrise and ends after sunset in Varanasi hence guides are paid for 3 half days (4 hours each).

But he really needed a free tourist guide even after knowing that these free guides take the guests to shops and not to the tourist sites. I called my brother asking if such things happen in Delhi and Agra and my brother also said that yes there are such guides who work for free. But once you are with them they start telling you so many crazy stories and bring you to the shop that finally you buy something and they get a commission. I really could not imagine how someone could even think that tourist guides are free?

His guests will be staying at the Radission Hotel in Varanasi and I know that not everyone can stay there. The people who stay at hotels like Radission are rich tourists and I was wondering about them that even after paying so much money and spending so much time they would meet a guide who works for free and brings their guests to the shops instead of touristic sites. My brother and a lot of other tourist guides tell me the same story that they are still treated as a guy who entertain tourists by telling funny them stories.

There is no standard of tourist guides in India and I also notice the same. I feel really proud that I am tourist guide because it is really nice profession. I meet people from all over the world, I teach them and they teach me and finally I make money which is good on India standard. India is known for being delayed all the time and we are only people who are always on time (when working :) We represent our country which is a huge and very important responsibility. Ministry of Tourism calls us tourist guides cultural ambassador of India.

I think government of India should take some steps to make tourist guides respected in India. During my tour guide training I was told that Ministry of Tourism was planning to start an annual award for best tourist guides from different regions to encourage tourists guides to provide best services and people to take interest in it. Whatever was told to us about government planning seemed very nice but today when I see what government has done in favor of tourism then everything seems the same. I recently visited Incredible India website and I was shocked to see when it was updated last time.

Incredible India is the most famous brand of tourism in India. One can see the importance of this word just by googling India, India tourism, tourism in India. I think people google these words way before they buy their flight tickets and the first link that appears on Google is Incredible India website which has all these information that comes from world war II time. They are still saluting the medal winners of commonwealth games which took place last year.

They request tourists to use only authorized tourist guides but do not have any list of them. There are awards mentioned on the website but there is no category for best tourist guide, I don’t know when the government will take tourism seriously. Tourism already contributes 5.90% to our GDP and this percentage can increase a lot only by making small changes but… I don’t know when government will start thinking about such issues but they really need to.

Media, Research, Journalism, Tours, Anthropology, NGOs?

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If you want an escort for a tour of Varanasi or for research or media production, then please check out my tour site – GroovyTours.com.

If you want to stay at my home with my family, then please check out the site for Groovy Ganges Guesthouse – GroovyGanges.com

I work with a lot of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations, social movements, government organizations, and other groups relating to community organization. Check out the About me page or my portfolio on this site if you want to reach any of them.

Email me, Raghvendra “Nandan” Upadhyay at nandan@groovyganges.org if you need help finding something. Thank you.

Environment training at Tarun Bharat Sangh

wall paintings at the TBS office

I got this really special opportunity to visit Tarun Bharat Sanghand get a training about environment, especially rivers, personally from Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Rajendra Singh who is one of the members of Ganga Basin Authority is involved in Coca-Cola issue in Varanasi as well and my colleague Mr. Nandlal Master is the main leader behind Coke movement in Varanasi. Nandlal Master told me that Mr. Singh was not happy with the way government of India was dealing with Ganga. He was demanding for a river policy and community involvement in the program and wanted to encourage people to think about it and ask the government for same. I also believe in the community involvement in non-profit projects.

our whole group at a work site of TBS

He wanted to start this campaign from Varanasi and needed support of local people and organizations. He asked Nandlal Master to organize community in Varanasi and Nanlal Master asked me to organize the boat rower community in the city area. So finally we organized two meetings between the boat rower community and Rajendra Singh. After seeing our interest in Ganga, Mr. Singh offered us a training of five days at his NGO in Alwar, Rajasthan. We made three groups of trainees- 5 from the boat rower community, 5 from my group and 5 from Nandlal Master’s NGO and we all went to Tarun Bharat Sangh to get training.

wall paintings at TBS

Tarun Bharat Sangh provided us fund to buy the train tickets and arranged our lodging and fooding at their NGO. Mr. Singh was not present at the office the day we arrived there but he had given the responsibility of training us to the General Secretary of TBS Mr. Kanhaiya Lal Gurjar. Our training included class room teaching and site visit both. In the first session on the first day we were introduced about the TBS, the local area, the people and some other general things. They especially focused on how they were able to make five dead rivers alive again only by educating community about traditional knowledge of ecology of rivers and right usage of water. It was really interesting to see how they had great belief in the traditional knowledge and the way people used to behave with their enviornment.

small dam calld Johad

Mr. Kanahaiya told us that all the five dead rivers went dead because community had forgotten its own knowledge of ecology and had become completely dependent on the government. He said that one of the biggest reasons behind their success was community’s active involvement in all of their projects. Actually they built several small dams called “Johad” on several rivers so that at least water stays in the river always asked the community to spend 25% of the costing. They always had enough money to fund the entire project but they always wanted the community to feel their responsibility and to make them responsible, using their money seemed best idea to them.

This river has water all year long

They built several small dams one after each other on all of the rivers they worked on. Mr Gurjar said that these small dams are good because they recharge the ground water which means that people who are not living close to the river will also have access to water through their wells. Mr. Singh they got huge community support when people started getting water in their dried wells. A lot of people from far away villages came to TBS asking to built such small dams on the rivers which were close to their villages.

such pools used to be dry but now they are full with water

I also believe the same and have used the same system in Chance India Program as well and it worked very well. Anyways, they built all those small dams but it was a huge challenge for them because they did not have good maps of the area so they had to do the mapping first. They really needed good maps because building dams just anywhere was not going to solve their problems. They had to do huge data collection of almost everything such as ponds, wells, canals and everything. And based on the data they made a plan and implemented it.

community money is always involved in TBS's projects

He said that in the ancient time people were more aware about usage of water and they had a simple but good way of calculating the quantity of water they used. He said that in the ancient time people would take the water out of the wells for irrigation depending on the rain fall they had. If there was less rain fall then they would take less water out of their wells but now there is no such system. Now people have starting growing crops like rice which needs a lot of water and government has no control or any program to educate people.

Mr. Gurjar explaining a site

Anyways, it was really good getting training from Mr. Gurjar. He was really knowledgeable person. He took us on site visits for three days and showed us their work. We were shocked to see their work. It was just awesome. All of the rivers had water and quality of water way better than Ganga or a lot of big rivers I had seen before. Mr. Gurjar took us to places which there was no human living but they still had their projects there. There were several places where there was no access of any road but they still had their Johad built there. It was just awesome work.

Mr. Gurjar explaining a site to us-

Mr. Singh training us

Finally Mr. Singh arrived back to the office and we had two days of training with him. The first session of the first day with him was about eco system of rivers. This class was just like a blessing for me, I felt so informed after finishing the class. Second session was about Ganga and a river policy which Mr. Singh was working on. Mr. Singh was just super knowledgeable. He told us about things which are not easy to find any books or journal. He told us about the complete basin area of Ganga. He had names of all of the subsidiarity rivers of Ganga in his mind and he knew about all of them very well.

Mr. Singh and I

We had several hours of classes with him and it was always an amazing experience of learning. I was really impressed with his knowledge of rivers, his belief in the community involvement and using science and traditional knowledge of Indian society to solve the problem of Ganga. He said that the Government of India won’t be able to clean the river until there is a river policy and the government works honestly on it. He had already made a river policy by taking suggestions by thousands of people from all over India and wanted to share it with us.

Plantation

He wanted our suggestion as well. We read the whole document in front of him and had a discussion about it. The policy was really big but he was really nice answering all of the questions we raised. The policy covered almost anything anyone can ever imagine about Ganga. It was just awesome. During the training we did plantation also at the NGO office campus. The office campus was huge with a lot of trees. We did plantation together with Mr. Singh and Gurjar and planted over 300 plants. It was a really nice experience.

Mr. Singh training us:-

After attending the training at TBS for five days we all felt so informed about the ecology of rivers, especially Ganga and this will help me a lot in future. I definitely would like to work again with Mr. Singh and if possible visit TBS again for more training.

My whole group with Mr. Singh after plantation

Alwar, Rajasthan

My whole group

Alwar is a district in Rajasthanand I got an opportunity to visit it in July. I was kind of scared of the heat during summer time in Rajasthan and was hoping to see desert and dry climate but I was seriously surprised when I arrived there. Alwar was really green, full of hills, wild life (epically peacocks) rivers and had humid and wet climate. July is the summer time in India and Rajasthan is already too hot on Indian standard so I was really worried about the heat but honestly nothing bad happened. I went there with 14 other colleague and we all enjoyed the nature for the entire time we were there.

Having chai in a local market

We took an overnight train from Varanasi to Agra and then took a bus to Dausa.  From Dausa we hired a jeep to drop us at Tarun Bharat Sangh office in Bheekampura. It took us about an hour to get to Bheekampura from Dausa which was already very unique experience. Bheekampura and surrounding was basically hilly area with greenery everywhere. The climate was hot and humid was it was okay. Things looked very much different from the part of India I am. The costume was different, food was different, climate was different… We enjoyed our first day a lot.

Rajasthani woman

We stayed in Bheekampura for three days and every day we had a tour. It was just awesome experience. Tarun Bharat Sangh had arranged two taxis with a guide for us. We were out of the office most of the time. We were taken to so many small villages situated way away from just anywhere. I went to several places where there was no road. Community had made temporary arrangements by themselves. I noticed that more people smoked hukka in Alwar than any other village I had seen in Uttar Pradesh. They said that hukka is good in treating some small health problems like cold and cough, it was strange but this is what people said.

Kids

Something else that I noticed in Rajasthan that idea of covering the face amongst women was stronger than any other place I had ever visited in whole India. I saw more women keeping their face and head covered. Men were also wearing big turbans which looked very interesting. I asked a few people about this tradition and they said that practical idea behind this tradition is that it secures you from affect of heat during the summer time. It makes sense to me because we also do the same thing in Uttar Pradesh but I was not sure if this was the reason behind women keeping their face and head covered all the time.

Covered faces

I think the reason why women were following this tradition is India has a male dominant society and Rajashtan has always been known for being very strict with the women. Anyways, I always enjoyed seeing different kind of people. We visited a Tiger Reserve called Sariska Tiger Reserve which was around 40 Kms from the place we were staying. I have always been so much concerned about decreasing number tigers in India and when I heard that we were going to Sariska, I was so happy and excited.

Typical Rajasthani face with turban

We arrived there, bought the tickets and now we were in. I was hoping to see a tiger and other wild animals but the sad thing was that I did not find any animal which is not usually found just anywhere. There were deers, jackal, chital, sambhar, nilgai and such animals. We were inside the reserve for more than eight hours and visited the Pandupol temple, waterfall and a few small villages. The temple was very nice. The temple is supposed to be the place where Hanuman met Bheem during Mahabharat era. The temple had a really unique style of Hanuman statue. Actually in whole Rajasthan they have a different kind of Hanuman staute which looks completely different than any other Hanuman staute I had seen before.

Lord Hanuman

Returning time we stopped at one other temple and met a Baba which was like eight wonder to us. This temple was situated on the footstep of a hill and was surrounded by thick jungle from every side. It was super quiet, seemed like there was just no one there. Whenever we stopped talking, we only heard sound of wind, trees, monkeys, birds and peacocks. We were so shocked to see the temple and then a baba living there alone. When we arrived there we saw him standing on the rooftop of the temple alone. We became so curious about him and the temple.

Baba on the rooftop of the temple

He was so nice to welcome us. He took us to his room where he offered us Chai and we chatted for an hour or so. He said that he left home when he was only 7 years old and since then he had been just wandering around, staying at ashrams and devoting his complete time for the God. He said that he had lived in Varanasi also for three years in 80s which made the conversation more interesting. We just talked for an hour or so and then he gave us a tour of his temple. Basically this temple was built where there was the samadhi of some famous baba.

Can you believe it is Rajashtan?

I asked the Baba if he had ever seen any tiger and he said that every year during the dry season tigers come down from the hills to drink water and he had seen them several times. I asked if they ever disturb him and he said that animals are smarter than humans in this regard. They can easily recognize who is their friend and who is their enemy. We visited the samadhi, took the taxi and went to a village which was also just no where. I could not believe how someone could live there. There was no electricity or any other modern facility, even my mobile stopped working there. I asked the guide and he said that sometimes people go out to cities like Delhi or Mumbai to work for a few months every year.

Colorful Rajasthan

Finally we came back to the Tarun Bharat Sangh office after tiring but really nice day. I feel really grateful to Tarun Bharat Sangh for organizing the trip because such kind of trip can not be organized by any travel agent and I am sure that I won’t ever get any opportunity to visit those places again until Tarun Bharat Sangh is involved again in organizing the trip. Returning time we had booked our train from a small town called Bandikui which was around 3 hours drive Bheekampura. We had a direct train from Bandikui to Varanasi. Our trip was over and we finally came back to Varanasi but I won’t forget the hospitality of Tarun Bharat Sangh, those small villages, smiling faces, the people, wild life and just anything that I experienced in Rajasthan.

Indian train

I traveled to Ratlam from Varanasi by train a few days ago to attend a wedding which means over 24 hours of journey. I take train all the time but usually I avoid train journey if it is more than 13-14 hours but this time I had to take this 24 hours train because I had no other option as my ticket was booked by the person getting married and we were going to travel in a group which is always fun. There are several classes in Indian trains such as general class ( no reserved seat for any passenger), Non-AC sleeper class, 3 AC, 2 AC and 1 AC and usually I prefer 3 AC as it is the cheapest comfortable class but this time my ticket was booked in Non-AC sleeper class.

The journey from Varanasi to Ratlam was kind of okay, and to be honest I never got bored because I was with my friends. The journey from Ratlam was kind of an experience. When the train arrived at the Ratlam station we saw that our car was locked from inside and there were people sleeping on our seat. We asked them to open the door but all of them were pretending to be not hearing us. Finally we had to enter in our car through another car’s door. When we asked those people sleeping on our seat to leave they just did not want to hear us. All of those people had wait-listed tickets which means their seats were not confirmed yet.

We requested them first, then started shouting and finally we had a fight with them. Finally after 45 minutes of requesting, shouting, fighting and war, we got our seats:) I had already traveled several times in Non-AC sleeper class but this time it was an unique journey as I saw something that I had never seen before. In Non-AC sleeper class, anyone is allowed to come hence all kinds of services are offered by unauthorized people. Someone comes selling chai, someone comes selling books, someone comes begging… but this time I saw snakes in the train.

I saw a group of snake charmers showing snakes to the people and asking for money and people were offering money to them as snakes are related with Lord Shiva and are considered holy in Hindu religion. I was really surprised but was laughing at the same but it seemed really strange to me. Snakes in the train and no one to stop them? Anyways, I was able to film it. Enjoy!

Union Carbide Gas Disaster, Bhopal

union carbide gas disaster

I went to Bhopal a few days ago with my friend to visit the city and the NGOs working on Bhopal gas disaster that took place in 1984. I had no idea about NGOs working on this issue so I called my friend Nandlal Master from Lok Samiti, Varanasi to see if he knew someone and he named me an NGO called Chingari Trust.  Nandlal Master is a social activist from Varanasi and he knew about Chingari Trust because Chingari Trust gives award to the women working against bad corporations and they had chosen 5 women from Nandlal Master’s NGO in Varanasi. I was sure that there would be other NGOs working on this issue but after reaching there I learnt that Chingari was the only NGO in all of Bhopal working continuously on this issue.

wall paintings around factory are

I was really surprised to see that no other NGO was helping the people affected by that disaster. Anyways, I called the NGO and they seemed so helpful and invited me to visit their office and working site. Their office was very close to the affected area. By mistake we reached their rehabilitation center instead of their office and to be honest I was hoping to see an office with a few people working there and was not expecting to see anyone who was personally affected but as I stepped in the office building I was shocked to see the number of affected people.

families with the affected kids

There were so many families who had brought their kids to the office because the Chingari Trust offers physical exercise classes to the affected people. I saw at least 100 kids, all aged starting from a few months to 20 years old. I just could not believe how badly they were affected. I had heard about this issue several times before and knew that the people who were present near to the affected area during the accident time were the only people who got affected and now no more new case is seen but after visiting Chingari Trust and talking with people there I came to know that still new kids are born with the diseases.

really sad

The Chingari Trust was just awesome, doing really honest business. The president of the Chingari Trust, Rashida Bee, was awarded with almost Rs. 50,00,000 in San Francisco, USA for her work with the affected people and she used the same money to form the Chingari trust and donated the rest to the Chingari trust itself. She told me that they were working on another project to open a new hospital for the affected people as the hospital they had was not enough to host all of the affected people. Now I was more shocked to hear that there were more people needing help.

newpaper cuttings

I was talking with the IT guy of the Chingari Trust and he told me that all the ground water near the affected area is completely contaminated due to the chemicals leak after the accident and is causing huge problems to the local community. Many people living around the affected area complain about it. He gave me a tour of the affected area which was hardly 10 minutes walk from the Chingari Trust. There was another surprise waiting for me near to the affected area. Now I was surprised to see that the government has allowed people to live just across the road from the Dow Chemical factory.

he was trying to say something to me

It just seemed like any other neighborhood in India. I was talking with Lane about it and he told me that in the United States usually such factories are setup away from the city so that in case of any problem the community doesn’t get affected which made sense to me and I was wondering if our government never thought about it while giving the license to Dow Chemicals. Don’t they think that they should at least moved people away after that accident took place? So many questions. We all know that there is huge politics involved in this issue also but government should never play with the lives of thousands of innocent people. After talking with Rashida Bee and other people at the NGO my idea about the issue completely changed. Now I also believe that not only Dow Chemicals but Indian government people working with Dow Chemicals in India are also responsible for the condition and they must be punished.

Please click here to see more photos of Chingari Trust office

Bhopal

the city

I visited Bhopal for first time with a friend and I really loved that place, especially the way Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department has organized tourism in the state. There was problem with the hotel but it was okay. We stayed at the Ranjeet Hotel near the railway station. The hotel was nice for the amount I paid but when I tried to book it over phone from Varanasi, they said that there was no room available. We arrived in Bhopal around 10.30 PM and we did not have any hotel booked but we knew the name of Ranjeet Hotel so we just decided to show up there and check our luck. Although they had already told me over phone that there was no room available, when we arrived there they gave us a room. It was strange but good.

bara lake

We had one important work in Bhopal which was to visit Chingari Trust to learn about their work which we were able to do the very next day after we arrived in Bhopal. Now we had plenty of time to see the city. We took some suggestions from the people working at Chingari Trust and went to visit the two lakes of Bhopal named Bada Talab and Chota Talab. Both of the lakes were just awesome. They looked clean and there were several options of water sports. The Chota Lake is separated from the Bada lake by an over-bridge. We did not play any sports but we just walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere.

beautiful kids at the mosque

After visiting the lake we took an auto rickshaw back to the hotel. But on the way to the hotel I asked the driver if he knew any good place to visit nearby and he told me about a mosque called Darul Uloom Tajul Masjid. I had already read about this mosque and wanted to visit it for sure so we decided to visit the mosque before going to the hotel. The visit to the mosques was one of the best things I did in Bhopal. The mosque itself was beautiful and really huge. This mosque is one of the biggest mosques of Asia. This mosque was one of very few mosques of India where they allow women, non-Islamic people and foreigners to enter in the mosque.

hyena in the naitonal park

Darul Uloom Taju Masid has an Islamic school inside the mosque and I met a really nice student studying there. He showed me his school, told me about his life, took me to his room… He said that he had already studied up to class 12th in a regular school but after completing class 12th, he decided to study Islam hence he joined the mosque. He showed me his books but when I wanted to touch his Quran, he immediately asked not to do so. He told me that since Quran is the most holy book for Muslim there is a certain procedure of cleaning the body before even touching the Quran. I was really impressed to see his respect for holy Quran.

lion was also there

I talked with him for about two hours and to be honest it was one of the best conversations I have ever had. We talked about politics and HinduMuslim tension also. He said that the reason behind tension between Hindus and Muslims are completely prohibited in Islam hence the people who create tension are not real Muslims for sure and if they say they are real Muslims they are telling a lie. I had also heard about this thing before and I was really happy to meet a young Muslim believing in this idea. I see these kind of people as the real development of India. We shared our contact information and I would love to meet him again whenever I go to Bhopal again in future.

awesome place

The next day we went to visit a small national park called Van Vihar. Van Vihar was also awesome. It was situated near to the Bara lake. They had bicycles for rent, battery-run vehicles or walking was also an option. It was really quiet and nice place. There were so many animals such as lion, tiger, leopard, deer, bear, hyena, crocodile, monkeys… All the animals seemed to kept in a good condition. It was a 7 KMs ride from one end to the other end of the park. Plastic bags were not allowed and it was a no-horn zone which means you just don’t feel like in India. At the other end of the park there was a cafeteria serving snacks. We rented a bicycle and watched the animals and enjoyed the quiet place a lot. It was a really nice experience.

look at the right side ones

There was something very interesting at the park. They had arrange different kind of urinal for Muslims. Actually Muslims have to sit when urinating hence a different kind of urinal system was arranged for them just next to usual urinals that we see elsewhere. This urinal system was setup closer to the ground level so that they squat and pee. I have traveled to so many places in India, have a lot of Muslim friends and have been to their homes also but had never ever seen anything like that before. Awesome. Actually Bhopal has a huge Muslim population and this might be the reason why they arranged such thing.

wetland for birds and crocodiles

The next day we went to Bhimbetka and on the way back to our hotel we visited an ancient Shiva Temple called Bhojpur Shiva temple. The next day we went to Sanchi. All of these places were really nice and I loved being in Madhya Pradesh. The weather was nice, it was really green and a lot quieter than where I live. The sites were clean, I never met any tout and everything looked cool for the tourists. My state has thousand times better tourism opportunities than Madhya Pradesh but only because of politics and government ignoring tourism all the time, very soon Madhya Pradesh will lead Uttar Pradesh. It was a very nice place to visit.

Please click here to see more pics of Bhopal:

Osho ashram Pune

I visited Pune with friends for a few hours but these few hours seemed enough to get a taste of the city. It was just like any other metropolitan Indian city but there was definitely something special about Pune. We visited an area where all the IT companies were situated and this visit was just awesome. I saw offices of all the big IT names I had ever heard of. Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Infosys, Wipro, TCS… all these huge IT companies had their offices there. The architecture also seemed completely unusual but very impressive. The buildings had strange shape but they were looking very nice. I am sure the best IT techniques were used to design those buildings.

There was construction going on everywhere in the city. Big glass window buildings were everywhere with a lot of traffic on the road which was just like any other big Indian city. After visiting the IT park we decided to visit Osho Ashram in Pune. This ashram was just hilarious. When I think about an Ashram, I think about a very simple place where a lot of religious practices are going on but this ashram was just like a five star hotel with all the rich people from all over the world living in it. There was a reception counter at the entrance where I saw one Indian and one foreigner talking in English, first shock.

When we went to him asking what was going on there and how could we go in he gave us a pamphlet explain the rules of entering in the ashram. There was an entry fee of Rs. 850 just to visit the ashram for a day. They needed everyone to have HIV test done before they come and if visitors don’t have HIV test done they get tested at the ashram before entering in. I just could not imagine why somebody would need HIV test in order to get in an ashram but then I learnt that Osho was really serious about HIV and AIDS and his approach to sex was also different.

But still I did not understand what kind of approach makes you get HIV testing done before meeting someone and then a few locals told me that it is very easy to find people to have sex with inside the ashram hence it is necessary to have HIV testing done. If this is the case then it was very smart decision to have people HIV testing done before getting in the ashram but it was really unusual. Anyways, this five start ashram offers rooms for Rs. 5000 per day. I am 100% sure that anyone can find a really luxury nice hotel room for this much of money in India but again five star ashram deserves five star money. I enjoyed talking and learning about the ashram. Hope to have enough money to stay at the ashram someday and experience a five star ashram:)

 

 

Trip to Nepal for Kathmandu Gay Pride 2010

beautiful nature

beautiful nature

I traveled to Nepal with my friend Babu to attend Kathmandu gay pride and it was a really unforgettable experience. I took a bus from Varanasi to Sonauli. There are several buses from Varanasi bus station and we took the last one at 8.30 pm. It was an overnight journey from Varanasi to Sonauli and the bus ride was really uncomfortable. The road was terribly bad and I just could not sleep for the whole night. Finally we arrived Sonauli border at 7 am and took a paddle rickshaw to cross the border. I was carrying a few electronics like video camera, photo camera and voice recorder etc.  and wanted to declare them at the Indian custom office.

Babu

Babu at Pashupati nath temple

When I told Babu to about declaring the electronics at Indian custom office, he laughed at me and said that there was no need to do such thing but I had already experienced the problem before when I went to Nepal first time in 1996. Actually I was traveling to Nepal with my family those days. We had a camera and we informed the custom office at Sonauli border about this camera and got a receipt but we lost it somewhere in Nepal and returning time they checked our baggage and found that camera and said that it was not allowed to bring any electronics from Nepal to India.

very colorful country

very colorful country

We were shocked and we told them that it was our camera which we had brought from India and we had a receipt but we lost it but those crazy custom officers said that it was not allowed. Actually they wanted a bribe so finally we gave them some money and only then we could move. I still had that story in my mind hence I did not want to take any risk. So I went to the custom office at Sounali border and told them that I had a few electronic goods and I wanted to declare them but as I told this, all those officers laughed and said: you are very smart.

carving on Nepali houses

carving on Nepali houses

Anyways, I declared my stuffs and got a receipt for it but they again asked for a bribe only for giving me this receipt. I was like why bribe now? He said that this is system and I have to give them some money otherwise they would not give me my receipt. I gave him Rs. 20 but he said that he wanted at least Rs. 50. Finally I gave him Rs. 40 and took my receipt. I wast thinking that I declared my electronics in advance to avoid any kind of problem and corruption but there was actually no way to avoid it. After taking the receipt, we crossed the border and arrived Nepal.

carvings on temples

carvings on temples

Although Nepal also used to be a Hindu country only until a few years a go and I was hoping for Nepal culture to be close to Indian culture but Nepal was different starting from right at the border. Different looking people, different clothing, more working woman, different vehicles… there was a huge difference between India and Nepal. I really felt like being in another country. But there was something very similar to India- touts fucking tourists all the time. It was really overwhelming. Several people approached us right at the border to sell bus tickets to Kathmandu. They all wanted to sell bus tickets to Kathmandu and hotel rooms.

forest

forest

Babu said that they were all touts and tell  lies all the time. All of the touts were saying there was a bus going to leave within one hour but Babu said that these buses never leave before 4 pm. I did not believe Babu but my rickshaw driver also told me the same thing. Actually there are direct buses from Sonauli border to Kathmandu but only in early morning and late afternoon time like around 6-7 am or 4-5 pm. I was lucky that Babu was with me and I did not go with them. We took a bus from Sonauli border to a place called Bhairava which was hardly 30 minutes bus ride.

green and wet

green and wet

Bhairava is the biggest bus station near Sonauli border and they have regular buses to Kathmandu. We arrived there by 9 o’clock and came to know that there was a bus a 9.30. I realized something really strange that Nepal has no government bus service; all the buses are private hence there is no fix fare or anything. I did not know that I was supposed to bargain even for bus fare but Babu managed it. There was a counter at the bus station and they asked us for Rs. 450 NR but ended up paying Rs. 350 NR.

pashupati nath temple

pashupati nath temple

The bus started at 9.30 but was stopped again right after 15 minutes by The army. I thought that he would check everyone but he just came in, looked around and started checking the bags of a few people. The strange thing about this check up was that they were not looking for arms only but they were looking for potatoes and sugar also. I started laughing when Babu told me that he was looking for potatoes and sugar but it was true. Actually the rate of sugar and potatoes and and other vegetables are different between India and Nepal hence they do not want people to smuggle cheap stuffs from India and sell them in Nepal. It was interesting.

family voilence

family voilence

Nepali buses were really crap. They were too small and had no space for my legs. It was raining continuously all the way from Sonauli border until Kathmandu and believe me the water was coming through the window even after closing it. I was wet all the time continuously for more than 12 hours in the bus. The nature was just awesome; clean river, fresh air, greenery… I noticed something really different in Nepal. I saw that there were more working women in Nepal than India. I notice that most of the shops were run by women and Nepali women seemed to be in better condition than Indian women.

Nepali girl

Nepali girl

Nepal seemed to be more progressive in terms of women rights when compered with India. The women were traveling alone, going to office, running shops, women auto rickshaw drivers and the women seemed more friendly with men… it looked really cool to me. I was happy to see it. I saw so many alcohol shops run by alone women. I had never ever seen anything like that anywhere in whole India. Once I saw an alcohol shop with a woman owner and I decided to talk with her. I went there and started asking about alcohol first and when we became friendly I asked her about her life.

liberal Nepali girl

liberal Nepali girl

I asked her if she feels safe sitting alone at alcohol shops and dealing with male customers who are drunk sometimes and she told me that she managing the business is just like any other male member of her family managing the business; no difference so problem to her. I asked her if people in the society mind women working at the alcohol shops and again she said that Nepali society is very progressive when it comes to equal rights for women. I asked her if she had ever been to India and she said that she had never been to India before but had seen India on TV. In reality she did not seem excited about visiting India.

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

I told her that it is just not possible to see any women selling alcohol in India and that there are less percentage of working women in India and she said that she was very well aware of the situation of women in India. She said that there are so many Indian families living in Nepal and they also do not allow their women to go out and work. I asked her what Nepali people think of this situation and she said that to be honest, we think that Indians are crazy and backward people. I was surprised to hear this but in reality yes, we are much backward than Nepal in terms of women rights and equal rights for women.

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

The nature was just awesome all over Nepal. One could easily see that their nature is still untouched. Beautiful thick jungle, beautiful rivers, less industries, less people, less traffic and lots of mountains… it was just awesome. I really enjoyed nature a lot in Nepal. I also noticed that I saw only five big factories in my whole bus ride all the way from Sonauli till Kathmandu. In fact, two of them were Indian factories which sounds nice because there is less pollution because of less factories but there is another truth that there are less jobs because of less industries which means more poverty.

beautiful windows

beautiful windows

Poverty in Nepal really hurt me. There were so many family houses right along the Sonauli-Kathmandu highways so I got to see so many people doing things. But the really interesting thing for me was that nobody was doing anything, just sitting or talking with people, that’s all. It seemed like they just don’t have any work. I had never seen that many young people just sitting here and there and passing time. There were so many kids selling water bottles and snacks on the road. Nepal has been suffering a lot from its political instability for the past few years which seems to be the biggest reason of poverty of Nepal. I dont know, maybe some other reason but Nepalis were just not happy at all from their political system.

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

Finally we arrived Kathmandu by 8 PM and it was still raining. I had read about a neighborhood called Thamel which was full of hotel. I wanted to stay there. I asked Babu to ask some locals about where was this neighborhood and he told me that Nepali people are crazy and never tell you the right direction. He suggested me to go to any shop run by any Indian and ask them about the direction of Thamel. We went to a paan shop, bought a few things and asked him the direction to Thamel and fortunately he was a nice guy who told us the right direction to Thamel. It took us about 10 minutes of walk and we had to ask a few other people also the direction to Thamel but we arrived there.

life and death at same place

life and death at same place

We arrived Thamel which was full of hotels, in fact it was the most popular neighborhood in Nepal for backpackers. We went to several hotels but their price seemed too steep to us. Babu was telling me that we could easily find a hotel room worth 500 NR but none of them wanted to charge us less than 1000 NR. Finally we reached a hotel Annpurna hotel. They wanted to charge us 800 NR per night. I told him that I was a government approved tour guide in India and all the hotels give me discount in India then he agreed to give me a room for 500 NR.

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

The hotel seemed nice at first but later we realized that pillow covers and bed sheets were used, cable connection was not working properly, telephone was there but dead. We complained about it and were promised to get everything on work by next morning but in fact this next morning never came before we left. In any case, I was not there to enjoy luxury, watch TV or make phone calls from my room hence I also did not mind it. We went out to take our dinner at some restaurant but most of the shops were closed by 8.30 PM. We found a restaurant opened and had our dinner there.

Nepali highways

Nepali highways

I had read several articles about nightlife in Nepal including dance bars and massage centers. A lot of the articles said that Nepal nightlife was safe but most of them said that it was really crazy and dangerous. I had several articles talking about how people went to a night club, spent a few hours, had a few beers and dinner and paid Rs. 40-50,000 and were misbehaved. Several articles talked about how 14-15 years old kids are involved in sex industry and work as pimps. I was curious about what was going on and we had decided to visit at least one night club while being in Kathmandu.

I was just walking here and there in Thamel and saw so many massage parlors. Once we were just passing by a shop which had a sign board saying massage parlor and I was showing this to Babu. Suddenly a hardly 15 years old guy came to me and asked what I was looking at. I told him that I was just watching the advertisements and he said that no, I was looking for something else, something special. I was like no I was just looking here and there. He again asked me if I needed some special service and I told him that I did not need any special service.

We walked away from there but this guy was keep following us and was asking if we needed a girl. He offered us young beautiful girls for really cheap price. He was not alone, there were so many pimps here and there watching tourists. Anyways, I was able to get back to my hotel safely. The next day we worked for a while, walked around, did some shopping… and it was a nice experience. I really missed veg Indian food as it was meat everywhere. But I liked something that they had drinks very easily available so I was enjoying all different kinds of alcohol.

I wanted to use an ATM in Kathmandu but was concerned about paying international transaction fee but Babu told me that a few Indian banks also have their own ATMs in Kathmandu like State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank. There was one State Bank of India ATM near Darbar Square. I used this bank and did not pay any transaction fee. So I would suggest anyone holding Indian bank card should just look for Indian bank ATMs in Kathmandu. Telephones were also so cheap in Nepal. I paid only Rs. 1 per minute for a phone call to India.

Since we were so interested in visiting a night club in Kathmandu. we were gathering information about it through online sources. But fortunately I met a guy at the NGO, where I was supposed to work, who was a male prostitute. I thought who could provide better information than him about night life in Kathmandu. I asked him about it and he suggested me not to visit any night clubs in Kathmandu as they are not safe at all, especially for tourists. He also told me the same thing what I had read online so finally we decided that we would not visit any night club in Kathmandu.

We visited a few temples, markets and participated in Kathmandu Gay Pride. Finally my time was over in Kathmandu and now we needed to head back to home. Babu told me that they had overnight buses from Kathmandu to Sonauli until 10 PM. We arrived at the bus station around 8 PM but all the buses were already gone by then. They said that the last bus was at 7 PM. So we took our dinner, stayed at a hotel near bus station and took an early morning bus to Sounauli and then another bus from Sonauli to Varanasi. It was a successful journey full of learning. I really plan to go back again to Kathmandu sometime for longer period of time.

Please click here to see more pictures:

Tour package of Varanasi

I recently worked with a travel agency as a mute guide with an Italian group. Actually the group already had an escort who knew Benares very well but he did not have a tourist guide license so I was hired just to be with the group as their mute guide. I had already worked with so many tourists as a tour guide in Varanasi and all of them were my direct clients but had no experience of working with a group which was traveling through a travel agency so I was so excited for working with a travel agency for the first time.

I was asked to meet the group at Sarnath where they were going to arrive directly from the airport. I met them at Sarnath and the escort asked me just to be with him at all the entrance points of the monuments. The group went first to the Sarnath ruins and I saw the escort explaining something in Italian for like 10-15 minutes  and then he gave free time to the clients and came to me. Now the clients were alone wandering here and there in the ruins which seemed like a nice idea to me.

After the ruins we headed to the museum where the escort explained only four statues and then again gave free time to the clients and came to me and clients were alone again. I asked him if he had asked his clients about whether they want his company or they want to be free and he said that he never asks, he just tells them in a very professional way to go explore the place on their own. This sounded a little weird to me. I also give free time to my clients but I ask them first about it. Anyways, I don’t know if my style is better or his style. It seemed like the clients never complained about it so it was fine.

After the visit to the museum we headed straight to the hotel which was really surprising to me because the clients did not get to the visit the Buddha temple and the Bodhi tree which is really an important place for all the Buddhists and Hindus. In fact these are the only places where you see something alive going on and where people do rituals which seems more interesting than visiting a museum or a ruins. Anyways, clients did not complain about it and I think the reason behind it was that they did not know about these places.

After checking in the hotel, the clients were given an hour to be ready to visit the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Finally I met them again at the Dashashwamedh Ghat where there was a boat already waiting for us. We took the boat and headed to Manikarnika Ghat to see the cremation ground. We hardly spent ten minutes at the cremation ground and headed back again to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to see the evening time ceremony.  After the ceremony the clients went back to the hotel and I went back home.

I met them again next morning for a boat ride at 5 o’clock and we did a boat ride for about an hour and then just walked inside the narrow BCE time alleys and went to Vishwanath Temple (The Golden Temple). The clients went inside the temple with the escort and I was just waiting for them outside. After the visit to the temple their tour finished. It was a really different experience for me but I was always thinking about those poor clients who spent only 20 hours in Varanasi, wherein they spent at least 12 hours in the hotel, 3 hours in the bus and hardly 5 hours exploring the city where one can easily spend three to four days and even this much will not be enough.

After completing the tour, one of the clients asked the escort to take him to the old city because he wanted to photograph the people and their daily lives and the escort asked me to take him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat area. The escort had asked me not to take the client further away than the Dashashwamedh Ghat area and just give him some free time. We took an autorickshaw and went to this place but as soon as I got off the vehicle and asked the client if he would like to go alone or wanted me also to come with him, I could easily see how confused he was.

He asked me to come with him and I took him to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the vegetable market and then walked again inside the alleys where there was real life of Varanasi. And the client was just surprised, shocked and happy also.  He told me that they never get to see a such place as where I took him. He took a lot of pics and was asking so many innocent questions and by hearing his questions one could easily say that he did not know anything about India. I took him to a vegetable market and he asked me if it was a vegetable market for people living in the slums. But when I told him that this is how our vegetable markets are everywhere he told me that he did not get to see anything like this before in his entire trip.

Once I asked the escort about how much the travel agency charged them and I was shocked to hear that the clients had paid about Rs. 20,000 ($500) per day/ per person. There were six people in this group so that means Rs. 1,20,000 ($3000)  for those 5 hours of travel and accommodation in Taj hotel and they did not even see that Buddha temple, Bodhi tree and people doing their business on the road and along the river which I have noticed as being the most interesting thing for a foreign visitor to Varanasi. I feel sorry for such kind of tourists but maybe they want this, who knows? Anyways, it was a good experience for me to work with them.