Passport office in Varanasi

Government has been trying to make the passport application process easier and they opened a passport office in Varanasi hoping that it will solve a lot of problems. I got my passport two years ago and I still remember that I had to wait for 11 months after applying for it. When I heard that we have got a passport office in Varanasi, I was so happy because earlier there was only one passport office for whole Poorvanchal region of UP state which was in Lucknow. I got to visit this office with my friend who wanted to apply for a fresh passport. The building looked new and organized and definitely it had all the unnecessary formalities which we usually find at Indian offices.

They did not even allow carrying any bags inside, no camera, helmet..The office looked hi-tech and full with young employees. Later I learnt that first step document verification and other inquiries are done by Tata Consultancy which was very good because private companies always work better than government. We did some inquiry about the process of applying the passport and asked for the form. They told us that there is no system of filling up the forms manually exists anymore and now everything is done online. You apply for the passport online by filling up the form and booking an appointment on their new website.

You the just supposed to bring all the documents on the appointment date and go for the interview. They have a website with the name Passport Seva Porta with all the information available on it. This new system sounded beautiful but I don’t really think that this is a good system for whole India, especially my region of Poorvanchal where thousands of villages still don’t have electricity, just forget about having computers or Internet. There are so many places where they have got computers but there is no Internet or if there is Internet then people just don’t know how to use.

And in any case the website is in English which is a huge problem for a lot of people. I was discussing about this issue with a few people and they told me that the people who don’t even have electricity or the ones who do not speak English or don’t know how to use Internet won’t ever need passport. But the fact is that there are thousands of uneducated but skilled laborers from Poorvanchal who go to Arab countries to work every year. If fact when I think about the people I saw at the passport office, it seems like most of them wanted to go to Arab countries to work and they were having huge problems with applying for passport online.

All of them were having some kind of problem. The website says that you need to bring certain kinds of residential proofs, identity proofs and other documents but the website doesn’t say that they don’t only need the original documents but they need a print out of the same document from the concerned government office website. When I had applied for the passport only my PAN Card was enough but now they want the original PAN card, a xerox of it with the print out of information available on Income Tax Department ‘s website about my PAN card. The same thing was there with all other documents.

Now they don’t entertain any document which has no record available online. For example driving license is not accepted anymore. All these formalities sounded like a huge problem even for a person like me who uses Internet all the time. I was thinking about all those people who had never used computers before. At the same time I met a gentleman who needed an urgent passport for his wife. He was working abroad and wanted to bring his wife also with him. He had his ticket booked after 15 days or something. Government promises to provide urgent passport within a week by charging some extra money.

He booked the appointment online and his appointment was issued for Varanasi office. He showed up at Varanasi office and they told him that Varanasi office is not authorized to take applications for urgent passport and he needed to go to Lucknow only which is like 10 hours by train from Varanasi. He went to Lucknow the same evening where he was told that since his appointment was issued for Varanasi office he needed to go there. He again came back to Varanasi office when I met with him. And again the same story. The people at the Varanasi office were saying that they were not authorized to take applications for urgent passport.

Now this guy was so angry, he was asking if they are not authorized to take the application for urgent passport then why do they issue the appointment and no one had any answer. They were kept saying that they could not help him and he needed to go to Lucknow only. Now this guy wanted to talk with some big officer and they were kept asking him to wait. He passed more than an hour waiting for some response and finally they said that no one would meet with him and he can do whatever he wanted. I was kind of scared after looking at all these conditions and was not sure whether one should apply the passport at the office or go to some agent.

I started asking to my friends if they knew some reliable passport agent and they told me about a person named Rehan Bhai who has got his office in front Diamond Hotel, Bhelupur. I went to him and he seemed thousand time more helping than anyone working at the passport office. He charged me only Rs. 1000 as his service fee but he offered me a lot in exchange of it. At first my friend did not have to fill up the form or anything. He informed us about the documents which were accepted nowadays by the passport office. We just provided him all the documents and he took care of the rest. He booked the appointment as well. He went online and printed the online records of his documents, booked the appointment, prepared all the documents in order, kept them in a file and handed it over to us. Now we just needed to go to the office on appointment date.

It hardly took us 2 hours to complete everything and yes, he promised that he will us the passport within two months because he had some connections with the officers working at the passport office. My friend reached to the office on the appointment date then everything was very professional. All the problems that we had to face were in the beginning stage. At the office he was sent to a desk where people were sitting with their computers. All the computers had two screen- one facing to the computer operator and other one facing to the applicant so that applicant could also see what information was filled in.

They asked my friend after filling each page to confirm if all the spellings and other information was right which was a very good system because in the past so many people had problems with the name or address printed wrongly on the passport  and with such system I don’t really think that it will happen any more. After this he had to meet with three different government officers who verified the original documents. It was really funny that one of the recognized that we were taking help of Rehan Bhai only by looking at the file. I asked Rehan Bhai about it and he told me that he writes some secret code somewhere and that is why the officer was able to recognize it.

Anyways, all the formalities were done. My friend hardly spent 30 minutes inside the office which was very impressive for me because I still remember the time when I had applied for my passport. But the most important thing is that we saved all the time and everything was so smooth for us only because we were taking help of Rehan Bhai. It would have not been possible to get the work done that easily without his help. Finally my friend received his passport also only within 2 months But I still feel sorry for all the those people who were at the office facing all the problems. Government of India has always been crazy and I definitely have no hope from them but I was not hoping for them to be this stupid of ending the entire system of filling up the forms manually. I think they should keep the both systems alive and have a help desk to fill up the forms for uneducated people.

I would like to share mobile no. of Mr. Rehan Bhai so that if someone looking for an agent or information regarding passport office in Varanasi, reads my post may contact him directly. His mobile no. is- 9415291050. He has an assistant also named Deepu whose mobile no is- 9336633322. Feel free to contact them as I already have their permission. I hope this post will help people wanting information about getting their passport without any hassle. Please don’t think that I am advertising for Rehan Bhai, his services were really awesome.

work with OHM, The Netherlands

OHM is a TV channel from The Netherlands. They actually make radio and TV shows about Hinduism targeting the Hindus living in Netherlands. They wanted to make a documentary TV show about a young Dutch Hindu boy who was born and raised in The Netherlands in a Hindu family experiencing Hinduism in India. The character they had chosen was named Bramha and they wanted Bramha to live with a traditional Hindu family in India for a few days, experience their daily life, religion, culture and then make a presentation about it. Bramha was a 26 years old young energetic boy who did not have much interest in any religion.

To put a contrast in the story they wanted Bramha to stay with a Hindu family which is follower of Aghor. They had contacted several people across India to organize their work but none of them were able to do it. And I understand it very well because India and Indians have changed a lot after terrorist attack in Mumbai and now they do not want to take any risk by hosting any stranger. Finally they contacted me through my blog. At first I thought it would be easy but later I also felt the same issue. People did not want to host any stranger.

They wanted to film inside the Kina Ram Ashram which I knew wont be possible as I had already tried it several times but every time I got same response that they do not allow media inside the Ashram premises. They have done it because a few years ago some TV channel from India did some filming inside the Ashram and later played with the footage and story and presented Aghor and Aghoris as the people who eat human body flesh, use alcohol in the rituals and do other strange things. Anyways, I still went there but they did not allow me.

But they suggested me about a family who was devotee of Aghor. I knew the family personally but I did not know that they were devotee of Aghor. Another condition put by the TV channel was that the family needed to be a joint family and luckily this family had seven brothers living in the same house and sharing the same kitchen. It was perfect for the show but they were also not comfortable with hosting a stranger in the home. In any case this was the best option I could find. I was talking about an option of TV people meeting the family in person and asking about the option of hosting Bramha for a few days and luckily it also worked when Bramha arrived.

They permitted Bramha to stay with them. So Bramha stayed with the family for four nights and the other crew members stayed at hotel and did the filming. Other than filming with the family they also filmed some regular footage of Varanasi like the evening ceremony, sun rise, rituals, temples, river… They liked Lali Baba a lot and filmed with him also. I have no idea what was the impression of Bramha and what he will talk about the family or Hindus in India but I have a feeling that they were happy with my work and went back with a positive impression about the family they worked with.

Nirvana Travels lead character

Nirvana Travels is travel show done by NDTV Good Times TV channel in India.The show looks at the spiritual face of different cities in India. The idea behind the show is to meet people in different cities and see the city through their eyes. They contacted me regarding their upcoming show about Varanasi. Actually in this show they have one lead character and a few other regular but interesting people as well. They wanted to choose me as the lead character for this show because of my tour guiding work, research and social activism. I was kind of surprised when I heard about it first, actually I had no idea why they wanted to choose me only if there are so many other tourist guides, researchers and social activists.

Anyways, I asked them about why me only and they said that there are definitely other tourist guides in the city but no one is as popular as me online because of good references. There are other researchers but they usually study only one topic and never share it whereas I have been studying many different subjects and I write about it online. And finally they said that they did not want to work with any social worker who was a very big name, they wanted to work with new people in the industry. And overall I was doing all these things alone. I had never heard anyone talking all these things about me:)

Anyways, they came to Varanasi with the host of the show named Kaisha Hastu. She had already done other episodes of this show and some other show for NDTV Good Times. We agreed on filming and places and other details. Basically they wanted to film me in my environment, where I usually meet with my friends, the shop where I usually have my tea and such things. The first day they asked me to take them to my favorite chai shop. I was feeling kind of nervous being surrounded by cameras in my own neighborhood but it was fun.

They introduced me as a very popular tourist guide and researcher from Varanasi. At first they asked me general questions about Varanasi, its culture, people, tourism… They already knew that I was very much interested in cultural and religious diversity of Varanasi so they asked me a few questions about it also. Other than this there were questions about my personal life, research, activism… To be honest I don’t really remember how many questions they asked but they asked me questions about almost everything. Other than me they need some help with interviewing other people as well.

They were very much interested in the idea of Nirvana hence wanted to interview someone who had some real knowledge about the subject. I suggested them to meet with the manager of Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan. Mr. Shukla, the manager, is a very knowledgeable person about the subject of Moskha or Nirvana. I had already interviewed him several times. After interviewing him they showed interest in interviewing some young artist from Varanasi, preferably a tabla player because Varanasi is very famous for its Tabla players as well. I organized this with a very famous and young tabla player from Varanasi named Prashant Mishra. Finally the show was completed with a big interview with me and four-five smaller interviews with other people. I look forward for the show on air.

work with e3 Foundation, Texas

I got to work with a non profit organization called e3 Foundation from Texas. Their project was very interesting. They were making a documentary about religion and what it means to people. It was a series of documentaries which was based in three different countries. They wanted to make one episode about Hindu religion and this episode was based only in Varanasi. I was was responsible to do research, find different people who were interested in talking about what religion and God mean to them, schedule appointment for interview and do interpretation. But they did not want just anyone, they wanted each person to be different from other so that there is diversity in the show.

It didn’t really take me much time to organize it as I already knew many interesting people. I think my interest in people helped me a lot here. There is a public call booth at Assi crossing which is owned by my friend’s uncle. I always found him different from others because whenever we were sitting next to his shop, he would usually come and stay close to us so he could hear what we were talking. Sometimes he also became part of our discussion. Only a few days before e3 contacted me, the show owner, friend’s uncle, had shown me his diary. His diary was full of poetries written by him.

These poetries were basically about his life, his religious practices, the way regular people practice religion, the world and questions about religion and God. It was really impressive. He had told me once that people who are not curious and do not question things are just like animals. Because the God has given us mind and we need to use it. His another writing which impressed was – Are we really worth getting blessings of God? I was really impressed with his writings. And when I was thinking about right people for the show, he immediately clicked in my mind.

And when I asked him if he would like to be interviewed, he was so happy and agreed on getting interviewed. I took e3 to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan also where we interviewed the manager about the idea of death in Hinduism. We also filmed a family who had brought their mother to die a Varanasi. We filmed evening and morning rituals as well at Mukti Bhawan. It was again very intense experience translating the manager, because he loves talking and talks too much and the atmosphere at Mukti Bhawan. Anyways, it went very well.

I introduced the director to a boat rower also who is known for his singing skills. He writes his own songs and most of them are religious. He loves singing his songs when he is rowing the boat and his voice is really beautiful. This interview was also very good and interesting. Other than this we interviewed a lady professor of Hindu religion and definitely her interview was very nice. Overall we did 10 interviews with different kind of people and did some regular touristic things like evening ceremony, morning boat, temples, rituals etc. It was nice working on this project because it was mostly about interviewing people and I got to listen a lot which is always a nice experience for me.

Another project with VPRO

VPRO hired me again for their documentary project called From Bihar to Bangalore. This documentary project was bigger than the last one I worked with them in 2011. The host of the show Mr. Jelle Brandt Corstius wanted to show how India changes from one city to other. I was responsible for organizing their work in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle spent 4 months studying Hindi and exploring India to prepare for the documentary. I met him about 3 months before the crew arrived in Varanasi. Mr. Jelle told me that the whole world knows Varanasi but they only one classical picture of Varanasi but he wanted to show something different.

We went to a few places which is shown in all of the documentaries about Varanasi. Apart from those regular places we went to Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan where they allow only 15 days of stay for the people to die, we met with Mr. G. D. Agarwal and the king of Doam society. They wanted to interview one of the members of National River Ganga Basin Authority also. I suggested them to interview Mr. Rajendra Singh because I was very well aware of his honest activism for environment, especially Ganga but we could not schedule an appointment with him as he was going to be busy somewhere else during the filming time.

We decided to work with Mr. B. D. Tripathi, professor at BHU, instead of Mr. Rajendra Singh. Mr. Jelle was very much interested in the king of Doam society, the people who work at the cremation ghat. Arranging an appointment with him was kind of a pain because this person was seriously commercial. The only thing he cared about was money. VPRO wanted to film Shivratri festival in Varanasi and I arranged the filming at a temple called Tilbhandeshwar with consent of the temple management committee and Shivratri organizing committee.

Everything seemed very well organized. I knew what we were going to do and when. Everything went smoothly except filming at the Tilbhandeshwar temple and interview the king of Doam society. When we arrived at the temple to start filming, it was too crowded. We got in the temple and by the time we were going to go on the rooftop to film the preparation, a policeman stopped us. He said that filming inside the temple was not allowed. I told him that I had permission but this guy just did not want to hear anything.  One of the persons from the management committee also said that it was not problem for them but he still did not allow us.

VPRO understood that it was not my fault but it was crazy to see how this policeman behaved us. The king of the Doam society was also a crazy guy. He did not want to speak anything, his answers were too short and finally we decided not to work with him. We filmed a Sadhu also at the biggest Ashram in Varanasi which was very nice. The Sadhu was very cooperative and he invited us to join him at his personal Ganga ritual. VPRO just loved this footage. Everything went very well and finally we completed the filming in Varanasi and VPRO told me that it was one of the best episodes they had ever produced.

Won Citizen Journalist award

I had exposed a scam in ticking at Sarnath in Varanasi with help of CNN IBN in September 2011. There was a huge scam of reselling of entry tickets was going at Sarnath and I exposed it and as an impact of my report the corrupt government officers were suspended and a reliable system of ticketing was introduced. For this work I was nominated as Citizen Journalist of the year and finally won the award. The selection process of journalists was divided into two parts- First Phase – when the IBN18 Editorial Board generates a list of nominees in the category of Citizens against corruption and Second Phase – which was based on an online voting on www.ibncj.com.

The award event was organized at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi. CNN IBN arranged my flight tickets, hotel and other facilities in New Delhi. The Taj Palace Hotel was just awesome, I was really surprised to see the luxury. Anyways, the event was nicely organized and chief guest of the program was Vidya Balan. When I looked at her first, I just thought that I had seen this girl somewhere because there was a huge difference between the face I see on TV and face sitting in front of me. It again proved that there is a huge difference between real and reel life:)

The event was a delayed by an hour and half but I was not surprised at all as I experience such thing all the time. There were other people also who were nominated and I got to talk with a few of them. It was nice talking and listening to the people who were fighting against corruption. There was a guy from Sonbhadra who was shot, but luckily survived, only because of his fight against corruption in government schemes. I met one other guy who from India-Pakistan border area in Rajasthan who was attacked and beaten so hard that he could not walk properly anymore.

It was a shock to see what could happen if you start fighting against corruption. Anyways, finally my turn came. They showed my story on a big screen, called me on the stage and gave me an award for my fight against corruption in tourism industry. The award was presented by Vidya Balan herself. It was really a nice feeling to get such honor. I had never thought that such thing would ever happen with me. The award motivates me to keep my fight on. Here is the video of the show:

Work with Gilles Delmas

Gilles Delmas is a documentary maker and an artist from France. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine from Varanasi. Actually Gilles was looking for an assistant to help him photographing in Varanasi. The theme of the photography was relationship between chair and death. He approached to my friend first but my friend had to no idea what Mr. Gilles was talking about so he brought him to me. Mr. Gilles explained me his project and since I had already worked with so many photographers and documentary makers, I just thought that this project would also be like any other project I had worked on.

I immediately agreed on working with Mr. Gilles but I had no idea how different this project was going to be:) A few really interesting things happened only in the first meeting. Actually Mr. Gilles was staying at Hotel Haifa and it is prohibited for me to enter in this hotel. Mr. Gilles asked me to meet him the next day in the hotel lobby and I told him that I cold not enter in the hotel. He asked me the reason behind it and I told him that hotel owner had told me once that it was their policy that they do not allow locals to enter in the hotel. Mr. Gilles did not tell me anything at that moment but later I got a call that he had already changed his hotel.

Mr. Gilles told me that he doesn’t like racism hence changed the hotel. I had never thought that somebody would even care about my personal problems this much. Anyways, it was really nice of him that he cared a lot about me and I really appreciate it. We met the next day and Mr. Gilles asked me to take him to the places where Sadhus or regular people live to die. I took him to several places and he chose one of them to work. Now he needed chairs which I did not understand. I asked him the reason behind this theme of relationship between chair and death.

He told me that he had always wanted to come to Varanasi to photograph death and once he was laying down with his closed eyes in Haridwar along the Ganga thinking about his project in Varanasi. When he opened his eyes, he saw a big chair in the sky with yellow and orange color and it gave him this idea that there was some kind of relationship between chair and death. He thought a lot about it and realized that it was true. He was trying to tell me things that I did not understand at all. He told me that even the people who come to die in Varanasi have to use a chair in their journey, maybe just by sitting on it waiting for a train.

I did not understand anything but at the same time things were becoming more and more interesting. I took him to several shops where they sell chairs but Mr. Gilles did not like them. At some places he did not like the way they were making the chair, at one place he did not like the children of the carpenter and at the same time he was asking me to take him to a right place. I did not know what was going on, it was kind of upsetting for me. I had no idea what was the right place for him. I kind of gave up at this moment and called the friend who had introduced him to me.

I asked him to take care of him as I felt like leaving the project. This friend came and we went to his place along the river side. I introduced my friends father to Mr. Gilles and told him that father also works as a carpenter but he usually makes boats. Mr. Gilles finally said that the father was the best person to make his chairs, big relief. We went to buy the wood and day was over today. I thought a lot of about working with Mr. Gilles and started talking about him with my western friends. They all told me that Mr. Gilles was not different at all, all the artists are same. They do things differently, they are very creative people and we should respect them.

When I met with Mr. Gilles the next day, I saw him with hair shaved. I asked him why he shaved his hair and he said that it was because he was going to start his project. He was wearing orange color jacket and it was also intentional. Actually most of the holy men and other people who come to die in Varanasi wear orange color dresses and since he was going to work with them, he also wanted to wear the same color dress. His devotion for the project made me feel like really artists are different. I realized that it was first time in my whole life when I was working with an artist. His devotion made me respect him and his project more than ever before.

Mr. Gilles had drawn pictures of several different kinds of chairs with different sizes. He needed a chair with really long legs, as long as four feet. Another chair with regular size, one chair one and half feet tall, one broken chair and three chairs as small as a match box. I was thrilled to see the idea of the chairs. The most interesting thing about the chairs were how they were going to look like. They needed to be in two colors- orange in front and yellow in the back. The space of the seat and back needed to be empty, wow. I was thinking that if someone sits on such kind of chair and get photographed then those empty spaces won’t be even visible but it was still very important for Mr. Gilles.

I told about this strange structure of the chair to my friends and they told me that the things which was not visible but still exist means a lot to artists. I was like, wow. I had never thought about such thing. Anyways, finally the chairs were prepared. They looked beautiful and different than any chair I had ever seen, even in my dreams. The chair with the long leg was so big that it would not fit in any taxi or auto so we had to hire a boat to carry them and then lift them to the photography place. Mr. Gilles had chosen one particular ashram called Machli Bandar Math which was situated near to the river and he wanted to photograph one particular Baba.

We arrived at the Ashram the next day with all of our chairs and started photographing. The tall chair was so big that the person could not even sit on it. We had to lift him up and help him getting on the chair, it was so funny. Mr. Gilles sometimes wanted the Baba to sit on the chair, some times just stand next to the chair, sometimes just look at the chair, sometimes walk towards the chair… many different poses. Mr. Gilles was super devoted for his work. Once he started photographing, it felt like he had lost connection from the world. Sometimes he would talk with himself and with the camera. His camera was also very different.

He had three cameras and all of them were roll cameras. One of them was very big in size. I asked him why he was not using a digital camera and he said that since his pictures are poster size, he could not print digital photographs in that big size. I did not know this before. We worked with the wooden chairs for three days and the fourth day something new arrived. Mr. Gilles brought chairs made of cloth. He had two chairs- one regular size and other one as big as a house. He wanted to stick the regular size one on the wall the spread the bigger one on the ground and just have the character look at it.

The big chair was so big that we had to go in a ground. He spread the chair and went on a roof top next to the ground and photographed it. The project was completed successfully but the last day was not happy day. Actually Mr. Gilles wanted to compensate the Baba for his time and we had agreed on a price but on the last day he started asking for ten times more money. I somehow handled the situation by paying the Baba from my own pocket. I did not pay him ten times more but a little bit more than we had agreed.

I think a lot about Mr. Gilles and his project and feel like I really learnt a lot. He was a gentleman and super professional person and I really look forward to work with him in future. Mr. Gilles want to come to Varanasi again for the documentary filming project and again I would love working with him.

Shiva Ganges View Guesthouse, Varanasi

Shiva Ganges View guesthouse is located near Manmndir ghat in Varanasi and is also well known as red bungalow as the whole building is painted red. The location is very nice as it is situated right along the river side and is walking distance from Harishchandra Ghat, the cremation ground. I had a French guest staying there and told me something about the guesthouse which made me write this post. In fact he was staying at Hotel Haifa before meeting me but changed the hotel only because of my report about corruption at Hotel Haifa and I really appreciated it.

Anyways, it was my first time when I got to enter the hotel and my first impression was very good. The hotel is run by an old man named Mr. Tondon whom I saw greeting his guests and doing all the formal things. After a while he asked me about what I do and when I told him that I am a tourist guide, he asked me to meet with him later personally. He said that he has a lot of work for tourist guides and would like to work for him. I knew that I would not be able to work for him as they do not even pay the real wage of tourist guides decided by government of India but I just agreed on meeting with him later.

I knew that if a tourist guide ever gets an assignment through any guest house or budget class hotels then they have to give a cut from their wage to the hotel and I just don’t do this. And in any case, since I charge more than the government rate he would have not been able to afford me. I went to the hotel several times while my guest was staying there and every time I had a positive impression until the day before my guest left. He asked for the final bill and bill indicated the amount different than what they had agreed before the guest checked-in the hotel.

When the guest moved there the first day, Mr. Tondon, the owner, asked for Rs. 3500 per night but on the last day he gave the bill of Rs. 4000 per night. When the guest asked about the difference of Rs. 500, he said that he was not sure about the room he was going to rent. It was crazy, how come a hotel could the tariffs? And in any case if they agreed on Rs. 3500 then it means Rs. 3500. It could not be Rs. 4000 without informing the guest. The guest was very upset and tried to convince Mr. Tondon that it was his fault and he needed to charge Rs. 3500 but Mr. Tondon was very profession in saying that it was not a fault of anyone but it was just a mistake that happened unintentionally.

The guest decided to give up as he just wanted to relax and did not care about Rs. 500 extra but it was really disturbing for me. This behavior of Mr. Tondon made me curious to see the room. I went to see the room of my guest and it just did not look worth Rs. 3500 or 4000 per night. The architecture was old and unique but walls were dirty. It had a strange golden color on ceilings. The washroom was also dirty and I just did not get any feeling of staying there. I would never ever give Rs. 4000 per night for such a room. I often have to book the hotels for my guests and if their budget is over 3000 per night then I prefer Hotel Ganges View, Palace on Ganges or Rashmi Guesthouse.

Palace on Ganges or Ganges View rooms are expensive but they are worth it but Shiva Ganges View rooms were not worth Rs. 4000 per night for sure. Another complaint about Shiva Ganges View was noted by a Hindi teacher named Mr. Binit Mishra who had a student staying there. On the very first day Mr. Tondon asked him for 50% as commission but Mr. Mishra immediately denied to give him anything. Mr. Tondon said that if he doesn’t get any commission then he won’t allow Mr. Mishra to enter in his hotel. Finally Mr. Mishra informed about it to his guest and the guest checked out the hotel.

It is really strange behavior from hotel owners in Varanasi and I often have to encounter through such situation but I never understand how a business owner can do it. What do they think of the business? Do they know anything about how the world is changing and it is becoming easier to find information online? Anyways, it was such a stupid behavior of Mr. Tondon and I hope someone gets to read this post before staying there. I have already made a few reports about other crazy services in Varanasi. But it doesn’t mean that I am trying to target certain people. I believe that it is better to take action than being quiet or keep complaining. And I will be keep writing about anything weird like Shiva Ganges View guesthouse. Peace. Thanks.

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.

Impact of my CJ report

Sack is replaced with a metal box

I am very happy and proud today that government took my citizen report seriously and took some action against the corrupt government employees. Today I visited Sarnath to make a followup report and I was really shocked to see the change. A lot of my colleagues had already told me about the change in system at Sarnath but I was really not expecting for that huge change. The first change that I noticed is that staffs at the ticket counter were different. Actually the main guy who was involved in the scam was transferred first and later suspended (maybe, not sure yet).

new tickets with bar code and unique number

I bought the ticket as I entered in the monument I saw second change. The ticket looked different. This new ticket had a bar code and a unique number. The third change was that the ticket checker was different. He took my ticket, teared off into two parts, kept one part with himself and returned one part back to me. Fourth change was that my camera was checked whether it was a still photography camera or a video camera. Actually there is a charge of Rs. 25 for filming and they just wanted to make sure that I was not going to film anything without paying the fee.

tickets were teard off

Fifth change was that now there was a metal box instead of a sack to collect the ticket and this metal box was locked which means once the tickets go inside no one can take them and resell them. I went inside for a walk and again noticed changes. Now there were more security guards really working. They were walking continuously, stopping people from walking over the ruins, helping people and they all looked very active. After walking for an hour and making the report I just went near to the entrance gate and sat there for a while to see the affect of my report.

new ticket checker

I saw that each and every ticket was checked, teared off and was kept in the box. I saw another change of stopping people from bringing any eatable items inside so that people do not throw the waste and monument stays clean. I had also noticed monument was a lot cleaner than it used to be. Finally I wanted to photograph the new employee and I did not know how to ask him for it. I made a plan that I asked my friend to stop me once I reach near the exit and get photographed. This way we wanted to pretend that I was getting photographed but in reality we wanted to photograph the new employee.

shaked hand happily cause he did not know that I was the who exposed the curroption

We did the same, as I reached near to the entrance gate, Babu called me and said that I should get photographed in front of the entrance also. I stopped there and was pretending to be photographed and suddenly the ticket checker called me and did exactly what I wanted. He asked me to come close to him and get photographed together. He did not know that I was responsible for all the change. He did not know that he was transferred to Varanasi only because of me. He did not know that he could not make any illegal money by reselling the tickets because of me. hahahaha.

I was a little bit nervous about they identifying me but nobody could identify me as all of the staffs were new. I had really great time today and I was so so happy and proud to see the change. CNN IBN again showed my report.