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.

work with DePauw university

I worked with DePauw University from Indiana, USA. Mr. Rajai Bimbo who is Assistant Director of Civic, Global and Professional Opportunities department at DePauw contacted me to assist him and his students during their one week trip to Varanasi. He basically contacted me because of my work with LGBT community in India. He was also interested in NGOs of Varanasi. BHU was already there host university but they were not happy with the way BHU professors and someone named Mr. Ramuji were not replying them on time. There was a time came when they asked what could I offer to their students for one week.

It clearly meant that once they thought about giving me the whole program but of course BHU and Ramuji are big names so I could not get the whole business. Mr. Bimbo told me once that he had contacted BHU professors and Ramuji asking them to collaborate with me so that we could work together but they did not want me to get involved in the program hence they said that I was good but not good enough to work with them. Finally Mr. Bimbo told me that I could not work together with them but he still wanted me to spend some time with their students to talk about LGBT rights in India and activism going on in Varanasi.

I was given a few hours to organize something for them and I thought a visit to Lok Samiti, interview with Mr. Nandlal Master, a visit to an real Indian village and Coca-Cola affected site would be great visit for the students so I took them to Mehdiganj. I organized a meeting with Mr. Nandlal Master where students asked questions about work of Lok Samiti and its struggle against Coca-Cola. After the interview I gave a tour of the village and then took the students to a site where a canal was being dug under MNREGA scheme. Students talked with the farmers and people working at the site which was really interesting to them. I have always given priority to work with students and it is my dream project to organize such university programs in my city but unfortunately BHU professors and Mr. Ramuji did want me get involved with DePauw.

The things that I was offering to DePauw was a lot better than what was offered by BHU and Mr. Ramuji but only because of politics and monopoly in the industry I could not get this business and students could not get most out of their money and time. Mr. Bimbo’s asking to BHU and Mr. Ramuji to collaborate with me was clear indication of they liking my work and offer. Anyways, I was happy to work with them and have done my best. Students and Mr. Bimbo both seemed happy with me which was the biggest achievement for me.

 

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.

Shimla

Kalka-Shimla railway track

Kalka-Shimla railway track

It was the first time when I visited Shimla and I was so excited for this visit as I was going for vacations after a really long time and heat was just killing me in Varanasi and the weather was really nice in Himanchal Pradesh. We took an overnight train from Varanasi to Delhi first and then took another train from Delhi to Kalka in the evening and stayed overnight in Kalka because we wanted to go to Shimla by a toy train and the next train was only in the early morning time. We had tried to book the tickets online for this toy train but all the seats were already booked.

The world heritage train

The world heritage train

There were other options also but we wanted to take this train only because Kalka-Shimla train route is world heritage site and we wanted to experience it. We showed up at the Kalka railway station in the morning time and they told us that there were seats vacant in the train which would be leaving after only ten minutes.  Our hotel was at least five minutes walk from the railway station but we decided to take a risk by buying the tickets. We ran to the hotel, packed all of our luggage and showed up at the railway station within ten minutes.

Open compartment of the train

Open compartment of the train

We had to do everything very fast because the railway officers told us that the train was going to leave within ten minutes but the train left  after an hour. Anyways, we were able to catch the train. We were told that it would take about six hours from Kalka to Shimla but it took about ten hours, but still we enjoyed it actually. I was amazed to see how the British had built this railway line on the mountains. There were 102 tunnels and 988 bridges only during the small railway track of 96 kilometers. Some of the bridges just shocked me. I have heard that many photographers come from all over the world just to photograph those bridges and engineers come from all over the world to see those bridges to learn about the construction.

Vire from the train

View from the train

The nature was just awesome all the way starting from Kalka till Shimla. The train was running all the time on the mountains. It was green everywhere. There were several stations in between Kalka and Shimla where the train would stop. I tasted a lot of different kinds of fruits which are available only on the mountains. Finally we arrived in Shimla after eleven hours of tiring but nice journey. We decided to leave all of our luggage at the railway station and go looking for hotels. As we started walking out of the railway station, one porter asked us if we need a hotel.

Beautiful bridge

Beautiful bridge

We told him that we would find the hotel on our own but this creepy man did not want to leave us alone. He was following us continuously. We went to a few hotels but could not get any room. This porter was still following us so finally we decided to give him a chance and asked us to take us to some hotel. He took us to a few hotels and all of those hotels were expensive and did not want to sell the room alone and they said that they would give us a room only if we take the taxi from them. It was crazy. Then we decided to go to any travel agent to book the hotel and taxi both because we wanted to hire a taxi next for the couple of days.

Such writings were everywehre on the train stations

Such writings were everywhere on the train stations

Then we went to a travel agent and this guy was asking just too much money. Actually before leaving Varanasi once we had contacted a car rental service in Chandigarah and they wanted to charge Rs. 14,000 for the taxi and these guys in Shimla were asking for Rs. 24,000. This porter was continuously following us and we started feeling uncomfortable with it. I told him several times very politely to leave us alone but he was just too much. Once I got angry and started shouting at him but he still wanted to chase us. It was getting late and finally we decided to get cheated and buy the hotel and taxi from a travel agent.

Another writing

Another writing

The major problem in Shimla with us was that neither the hotels nor the travel agents wanted to sell the room alone; they all wanted to sell the room, the taxi, sight seeing and guide all together. You ask them for a hotel room and they tell you rates for all those services. It was a very well organized crime by the hotels and travel agents. Finally we paid Rs. 22,000 for the taxi for five days and two rooms for one night in Shimla. The travel agent showed us a video of the hotel room but once we arrived there, we realized that the room we were shown was different than the room we got.

Shimla

Shimla

After all these problems we decided to get out of Shimla as soon as possible.  We slept in the same hotel and when I woke up I found that my glasses were gone somewhere. I searched for my glasses everywhere in the room but could not find them. Then I called the hotel reception and asked them if they knew something about it and their answer was really shocking. They asked me if the room’s window was open and I said yes and then they said: monkey took your glasses. I was like how is this possible? I asked him why did he not inform  me if there was such problem in that area or why did they not screen all the windows but those crazy people had no answer.

Look at this word

Look at this word

I bought some new glasses in Shimla, took the taxi and left Shimla immediately. We just did not feel like staying there even for a few minutes. I just hate Shimla because of the people working in the tourism sector there. They are criminals. But there were a few good things also. There is a place called Mall Road in Shimla which had the cleanest street I had ever seen in all of India. Even vehicles are also prohibited in Mall Road. The architecture was completely British. Attila and his wife Dora told me that Shimla looked exactly like European cities. Especially the architecture of the buildings and the English word they were using in Shimla were complete British.

People also looked different

People also looked different

This always strikes me that although British updated themselves but we still follow all the British things. The buildings were nice but what about their crazy rules that were never updated? We had to come back to Shimla after visiting Manali and Tirthan valley. I left for Chennai to work and Bunti, Babu, Attila and Dora stayed in Shimla for two more nights because they wanted to see nearby places. Attila looked for some hotels in lonely planet and we found a really nice and honest hotel in Shimla called Hotel White. The location was just awesome, it being hardly 2 minutes from the Mall Road. We asked our driver to take us to the Hotel White but he did not know about this hotel. We asked a few locals and somehow reached the hotel.

View of Shimla from the Hotel White

View of Shimla from the Hotel White

This was the first hotel we had been in whole Shimla that had mentioned all of their rates clearly on a board near the reception. I always try to get a discount in hotels by showing my tour guide ID card and did the same with this hotel also but they did not give me any discount but I was happy that at least I was not over charged. I asked them why not many people knew about their hotel and they said that since they do not give any commission to the drivers or travel agents, nobody knows them. I felt like staying for some time in Shimla after finding this hotel but unfortunately I had to leave because of my work in Chennai. I would like to go to Shimla again and stay at Hotel White in Lakkad Bazaar and explore the town.

Guide training program – week 1 and week 2

The first two weeks of guide training program is over and I am really surprised to see the quality of education here. The institute is very nice, the professors are very helpful and friendly. On the first day of the training they just introduced the institute and the professors to the participants. They talked about the swine flu as well. They told us about the symptoms of swine flu and asked us to take care of our health. They said that if anybody had any symptoms of swine flu, they may contact a particular department at the institute which would take the students to the government hospital and would take care of the student.

All of the professors here are just amazing. They go to foreign universities every year to teach. The teachers at the schools and the university I went to were crazy; they were very strict teachers but here all the professors are very friendly. They use a lot of technology. All of them have laptops which they bring in the classroom and show the powerpoint presentations through a projector. The training was supposed to talk place at the institute but they changed the place because they did not have any AC room available in the institute. The AC rooms were busy with other programs.

They have hired a hotel conference room for our training which has AC. The participants are divided into four batches- A,B,C and D. The batch A and B take training in the morning session which starts from 10 and ends at 2 and the batch C and D get training in the second session which starts from 2.15 and ends at 6.15. I am in the second batch. Over 95% of the participants of the program are experienced unauthorized guides. I am the only one in my batch who has never worked with any travel agency. A few participants are over 55 years old.

Every time before the training starts, the professors say that the participants might have better knowledge than them so if there is anything that participants don’t agree with, they may tell it to the professors. Our professors are not only from IITTM but they come from different universities and institutions of India. Everyday we have a different professor to give lecture on a different subject. The institute tells that a tour guide is a living encyclopedia so he must have knowledge of everything and that is why they are inviting experts of different fields from different places in India to give lecture.

Our training is for North India but there were professors who gave us lecture about west, south and other regions of India. I liked all the classes but there were two classes that were just crazy. One of them was about Indian astrology and other one was about menu planning in hotels. The astrology class could have been interesting if the professor had given a lecture about basics of the Indian astrology but he teaching us the things that are taught after one or two years of attending the astrology classes. He was more concerned about his marketing. He was telling about what color favors a person, what color is bad, what stone one should wear, when to wear… and then finally he gave us his business card and said that if anybody wanted to contact him for their personal problem, they could meet him in Rajasthan at his office.

I just really did not understand the need to give classes about menu planning in the hotel. It could have been an interesting class if he would have taught us about the hotel culture but he was teaching about how hotels plan their menu, what do they think while planning the menu, how hotels make money from their restaurant… I don’t know but I did not like that class and not only me none of the participants in the class understood why we were taught about menu planning. They are teaching us about everything- different segments of tourism, different religions, cultures, cuisine, IT in tourism, tourism industry in India and abroad…

Something that was very interesting to me was a segment of tourism which is gay and LGBT tourism. I did not know about this tourism but it seemed very interesting to me. All the participants will be given six weeks of classroom teaching, one week of orientation tour and then the participants will have to do field work for nine weeks in their area on a particular subject. I have thought to do my field work on gay and LGBT tourism because no other student is going to do it and it is a very good opportunity for me to relate my research with guide training program.

The professors here know about a lot of social issues and they are educating us about it. They talk about Coca-Cola issue, environmental issues, water issues, women rights… One of our classes was about how to use IT in tourism and they taught us about blogging. Before starting the class, the professor asked us about our expectation from the class and different people asked for different things like emailing, blogging, web-designing but I already knew about these things so I asked about search engine optimization and of course he did not tell me about it.

I think the reason behind him not telling me about search engine optimization was that all the participants hardly know about emailing and he did not want to talk about search engine optimization in front of the people who did not know much about Internet. But the class was fun, I was enjoying it. The coordinator of the program was telling that we should be proud that we are provided such training because in the past training programs they could not even organize 20 classes but this year they have to planned to organize at least 75 classes on different subjects. I am enjoying the training and really looking forward for my research about LGBT tourism in Benares.

Guide training program – introduction

I arrived in Gwalior today to attend the tour guide training program. Since the institute had informed me about the training only 10 days ago, I could not organize my stay in Gwalior. I just arrived here, went to a dharamshala and hired a room for today. I had contacted my one friend in Delhi who is also in the same program about renting an apartment in Gwalior for our whole stay. He also arrived today with his one friend who is doing his PhD in Urdu at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Prem, my friend from Delhi, knew someone in Gwalior and he had asked his friend to find an apartment for us.

Prem met with his friend right after arriving here and his friend took him to show few apartments near the training place. Finally we have chosen a 2 BHK apartment near the institute. We have few mats and few other household stuffs but there is a huge problem of water here. The tap water is not safe to drink and there is no shopkeeper selling branded bottled water. I don’t know how to deal with this, but definitely some solution would come up. I have bought a Internet data card which is working fine so I will have 24 hours Internet access even in Gwalior:) My training is starting from tomorrow and I am so excited for it

My bed for next two months

My bed for next two months

Terrorist attack on Mumbai

Taj Hotel before attack

Taj hotel before attack

Mumbai was attacked by terrorists on 26th of November. Almost one hundred and seventy five people werekilled and over three hundred and fifty people were injured. Terrorism has been effecting India continuously for the past few decades but still the government is just making the same kind of boring statements and not doing anything to stop it. I think in this kind of crucial situation all the political parties should have come together but again this time both of the biggest political parties- Congress and BJP were against each other.

Everybody is abusing to the government and the police. Media, Indian intelligence department and FBI tells that these terrorists were trained in Pakistan. Police have found a lot of evidences that proves Pakistan’s involvement in this attack but Pakistan government doesn’t want to hear anything. Indian government gave a list of twenty terrorists to Pakistan government and told them to give these terrorists to India but Pakistan government refused it. They say first of all you prove that there was Pakistan’s involvement in this attack and then we will think about it.

Smoke coming out of Taj hotel

Smoke coming out of Taj hotel

All the terrorists that India demanded are known for being terrorists in the whole world but still Pakistan needs evidence. Dawood Ebrahim, the guy who helped terrorists to get them to Mumbai via sea route, has already been declared as a most wanted terrorist by the US government but Pakistan government still wants evidences against him. The whole India wants Indian government to take some action against these terrorists this time but I am sure nothing will happen.

We have very good support of international community after Mumbai attack. The US and Israel government have promised to provide all kind of help to fight against terrorists. But the sad thing is that our government seems super smart taking help of international community to built nuclear power plants which will produce the waste that we can never get rid off and could bring disaster in the future, if not taken care properly, but they don’t seem like taking help to finish terrorism.

One of the terrorists

One of the terrorists

I was watching a interview of a politician from Israel who said that India should do something for themselves first and then hope for international community to help them. I loved his idea. How can we hope for others to come and help us until we start helping us ourselves. After all the terrorist attacks our politicians say something boring and that’s all. Neither they start helping India nor the international community comes forward to help us.

Media is also fed up by reporting about terrorist attacks. They were also saying that enough is enough. They just don’t want to see blood on the road and report about it again and again. Media was appreciated for the way they had captured this whole news. They had reached at attack spots before the police and stayed there until the whole operation was finished. The very interesting thing was that media had pictures and videos of terrorists but the police was keeping telling that terrorists are hiding and they could not see them.

One injured person at hospital

One injured person at hospital

I heard a terrorist calling to a news channel and putting their demands. He was asking Indian government to release all the terrorists who are in the jail and to declare Hyderabad as a Muslim state. When he was asked where was he from, he said that he was from Hyderabad, India. He said that he belongs to a organization called Deccan Muzahidin. Everybody knew that he had very very Kashmir accent, I am sure he was not from Hyderabad. Later the reality came that all these terrorists had come from Karachi, Pakistan.

Once TV host asked a terrorist about what did they have to eat and he said that why do they need to eat. They said that they were going to Allah, and Allah would welcome them with lots of good food. TV host told him- Do you know that NSG commandos and other forces have covered you and they will kill you within few hours and he said that- The world is watching who is being killed. He said even if he dies, he will go to heaven, and will get blessings of Allah.

CST Railway station after attack

CST Railway station after attack

When they were asked for reason behind this attack they said that Hindus kill Muslims, rape their motherand sisters and demolish all the mosques. I don’t know of any place in India where these kinds of activities take place but the sad thing is that this is what they were taught. Babri Mosque was demolished by Hindus and this is the only mosque I know that was destroyed in my whole life. If they mind Hindus destroying mosques then they should also mind Muslims demolishing Hindu temples as well. Thousands of temples have been demolished in Pakistan itself.

Once the terrorist said that people of Kashmir want to live in Pakistan but Indian government is putting them in India forcibly. I asked the same question to a lot of people when I was in Kashmir and each and every person told me that they wanted to be in Kashmir controlled by India. Kashmir is still a very poor state just because of terrorism and all the Kashmiri people know it. If these of terrorists care about people living in Kashmir, then they should immediately stop thinking about them because the world knows that we can provide Kashimiri people a better life because Indians have more opportunity than Pakistanis.

Fire coming out of a window of hotel Oberoi

Fire coming out of a window of hotel Oberoi

I was talking to my friends and they said if this whole terrorists activities are only because of Kashmir, then fuck it and give it Pakistan. It is a big change I have noticed. I also support this idea because people of Kashmir would never ever have good life until this problem is solved. And people of all the states of India have been targeted, they are killed. And what do we get, a tour of Kashmir? If Indian government ever puts this option of giving Kashmir to Pakistan, I would support them because I know it very well that Indian government can never ever solve this problem.

If terrorists or the group of people who care about Muslims of Kashmir are concerned about Muslims in Kashmir, they should be concerned about the Muslims living in other states as well. If they are demanding for Kashmir to provide better life to Muslims, then maybe someday they will demand for the whole India because we have Muslims in all the states of India. I think we give them Kashmir but on one condition that they will have to accept all the Muslims of India and take them back to Pakistan or wherever they want to take them.

Will they accept all the Muslims? No, impossible because they are not concerned about the Muslims, they are concerned about our progress and wealth. They just want to disturb our economy and Mumbai attacks are the perfect example of it. Why did they choose Taj and Oberoi? Only because they want to effect our economy and tourism which is a big source of income of India. I know that all the Muslims are not bad but these terrorists are putting their ideas forcibly on Muslims and making them disrespected in the society.

Candle light procession

Candle light procession

This time people response is amazing. People protested all over India against this terrorist attack. Mumbai people did a candlelight march where more than one hundred thousand people were present. Everybody was claiming the government first and then terrorists, and I completely agree with them. How is it possible to bring all the bombs and other weapons through sea route all the way from Karachi to Pakistan if our police was not involved in it. I am sure our police and navy also helped terrorists.

The Mumbai want to see change in political system. They want each and every political leader to be educated but I don’t completely agree with it. I am sure education will change a lot of things but there are thousands of examples where educated people have done worst and a lot of uneducated people have changed the world by their efforts. I think honesty is the most important thing and it could bring only and only from bringing honesty in the government services.

Whenever anybody asks to a young Indian about if he would also take bribe after getting job and there is only one answer- No. But when somebody sees a lot of corruption and bribes a government officer to get a job then obviously he would also be involved in accepting bribes when he works. People bribe police officers to get a job in police so they also take bribe when they have a job. How can we hope for a honest family if the head of the family is completely corrupt?

Taj Hotel was also appreciated by its clients. I was watching a interview of a Taj guest who was staying there on the day Taj was attacked. He went out of hotel around 5 o;clock to join some party at other hotel. By the time he was getting back to Taj around 9 o’clock, he got a SMS from Taj saying that there was some security problem and they advised him to not come back to the hotel. He went immediately to an another hotel and saw the news that Taj was attacked.

A lot of other guests who were inside their rooms for the whole time until the operation was finished also appreciated Taj administration. They said that Taj employees were continuously informing them about what was going on and were helping as much as they could. All the government departments were completely failed and each and every individual was related to private sector did his job perfectly. I think we should not blame Pakistan or any other terrorist organization, we better improve our system first. In my view there are only two things that made this attack happened:- The Indian Government, The police and Navy.

First Kiwi guest at home

A 55 years old guy from Auckland wrote me through couchsurfing about 3 months ago. He wanted to know about Varanasi. He said that he wanted someone to travel with him. Once he asked me if I would like to be his tour guide for all of India. I was so excited about this, and I immediately agreed with this offer. But later he said that he had lots of hosts in India, so he canceled his plan to hire me as his tour guide. We had been in touch online for the last 3 months, and finally he came to Benares on 6th.

I went to meet him at his hotel. He had brought me a ipod and a coat. He wanted to live at my place because he was interested in general Indian life. But he had already booked the hotel for two nights, so he said that he would come to my place after spending two nights in the hotel. It was Navratri time, so I took him to a tour of Varanasi. My friends and I go to see the pandals every year during night time. I took Chris also with me. We wandered the whole night, and came back home about 3 o’clock in the morning.

After spending two nights in a hotel, Chris came to my place. He wanted to go to the local church to buy old vestments, and other old stuff that have been used by churches in Varanasi. We went to the cantonment church which is only 15 years old. Chris wanted to meet the bishop, but the bishop was not in Varanasi. So we met his assistant, and his assistant said that they did not have any old stuff. He gave address of a few churches in Mumbai, Goa and south India and told Chris to go there.

Chris stayed at my place for 15 days. Actually he was planning to stay only for 10 days, but he had to stay more because he got sick. He said that he had eaten samosa somewhere on the street, and got really sick. He had diarrhea, vomiting and headache. I took him to the doctor, but it didn’t work for him. He needed extra care, so he told me to took him to a hospital. I take him to the heritage hospital. Doctors said that it was not an emergency case, and they did not want to admit him but Chris wanted to be in hospital for a few days.

Hospital charged Rs. 15000 (US $400) for their services. I had never heard of any hospital charging 15000 for diarrhea. Chris was admitted in special ward for two days. They were charging Rs. 3500 per day for the room, 600 for doctor’s visit, and a lot of other charges that even they did not know about. I have heard of the $100 hand shake in US hospital, but I did not know that there is a similar kind of system in my home town also. I was surprised at the money they charged. I asked Lane about it, and he said that it was still cheaper than western hospitals.

One thing was very interesting for me that everyone in the hospital wanted to know if Chris had health insurance or not. I asked the doctor why they wanted to know this, and he said that usually foreigners have health insurance, and if they have insurance the hospital charges them extra money. I am sure it must be an illegal activity, but it was going on openly as lots of other illegal works in India. They were not even shamed to tell me that they were doing an illegal work.

After spending two days at the hospital, Chris just wanted to come out. He said that nurses didn’t care for him, would not change the drip, don’t give him medicine and don’t give food. I talked to the doctor, but they wanted Chris to stay in hospital for at least two more days. But Chris did not want to stay there even for an hour. Chris told doctor to let him go, so finally they gave a few medicines and discharged him from the hospital. Chris was so happy to come back home. Chris went to Mumbai on the 24 th.

Financial Times article on Untouchables

I worked with Mr. Joseph Johnson who is South Asia Bureau Chief of Financial Times as local assistant and translator. He came with a photographer named Tom Pietrasik. They were looking for 24 years old character, specially Mushahars. The age 24 is because the average age of Indian people when they enter in professional life is 24 and Mushahars because Mushars are still considered as untouchables in rural part of India. They survive by picking up the long pepper’s (Pipal) leaves, make bowl of it and sell it to market. Since the Mushahar community we wanted to interview was near Coke plant, they were effected by problems caused by Coke also, which made them idle people to interview.

Mr. Joseph and Tom were supposed to reach Taj Hotel, Varanasi at 11’o clock but their flight was late so I had to wait there for more than 2 hours. Finally I met Joseph and Tom at 1’o clock and we decided to go to Mehndiganj since we were already late. Mr. Nandlal Master, who runs movement against Coca-Cola in Varanasi was supposed to meet us but he had to go to Ballia for some urgent work, So, we couldn’t meet him. We called him and said to send someone local with us at the Mushahar’s village. And he send Urmila Didi with us to show us around and help interviewing people.

First of all we went to a village near Mehndiganj and interviewed a 24 years old male character. We met him at his farm but decided to go to his home so that we could get better idea about his livelihood. After interview was done Tom wanted to take his pics. He took few pictures of interviewee at his home but later he wanted to take pics at the place where he works. So we went to his farm again and took few pics. Tom would make him sit, look at his face for a while, change the angle, see the background………. He was a perfect photographer. But interviewee was not happy with all this kind of work. He told me that these foreigners are treating him like a cartoon. But somehow I was able to make him do what Tom and Joseph wanted.

Then we went to a Mushahar community. We were asking for the people who are 24 years old but nobody knew their date of birth. Finally a family said that they have a 24 years old girl so we interviewed her. After interview was done Tom wanted to take pics and did the same thing as he did with last interviewee and again it made her and the community a little bit angry because Tom was looking at her face and telling her to change the pose. Finally first day was over and we came back to home.

Next day I met Tom at Assi Ghat and did a boat ride from Assi ghat to Manikarnika and back. He took a lot of pics and asked me about funeral. After boat ride Tom went to hotel and I came back to home. I met them again at Taj Hotel but they didn’t want to interview anyone today because they were so happy with the last day’s work and decided to stop interviewing people in Varanasi. So they just decided to hang up around the city. Tom still wanted to stay in Varanasi for one more day and do some photography at the Ghats. Mr. Joseph wanted to see the Ghats so I came with him to the Ghats but he wanted to go alone so I left him at Assi ghat and came back to home and started looking for a hotel for Tom. Since it was touristic season all the hotels were packed so I couldn’t get a hotel near the Ghats. After going to more than 15 hotels I found a hotel near Shivala where they had a AC room so finally I booked one room for Tom there.

Next day I went to Dashashwamedh ghat with Tom early morning. I met him at his hotel at 4’o clock. We spent about more than 7 hours there and Tom took a lot of pics along the Dashashwamedh ghat. Today Tom also left to Delhi and my work with Financial Times was over.

Tour guide Varanasi

An American contacted me to book his train ticket from Varanasi to Agra. I told him to buy ticket online but he could not do it as it was so complicated for him. He had told me to meet for dinner in Benares. We met in Benares in his hotel near Assi ghat. He was staying in very nice hotel. When I entered in his hotel, I found one 50 years old man talking to two western girls that he was unable to find a train ticket so he mailed a guy in Varanasi and offered dinner in exchange of booking his ticket.

I knew he was talking about me so I asked him if he was Christopher and obviously his answer was Yes. I am sure he had thought that I helped him in greed of a dinner at a nice restaurant in Varanasi. He was happy to get his ticket and then he asked me what restaurant I wanted to eat at. I had never thought about his offer, I thought he just wanted to talk me but his thinking was quiet strange. Usually I don’t want to eat in restaurants so I said that I didn’t want to eat with him.

Then he said that he had told his hotel that he will eat out somewhere in any restaurant therefore hotel will not prepare food for him. So I took him to a restaurant where he had his dinner. We talked a lot about Coke issue and again he was not agree that Coke was doing wrong. He thought that it was people’s and Indian government fault.

Next day he called me again asking if I would be his tour guide and I excepted his offer. We went to a lot of temples, wandered around in city. He was very much interested in meeting people so I got him meet to Lali Baba. I am sure he was quiet happy with my work but he paid me very little salary. I think he was the richest person I had ever worked with but the least salary I had every got in my whole life. A person who was a piano player and had housing in upper east side of Manhattan, where the average per head salary is $3,20,000 per year, paid me only $10 for one day of work.

I could not ask for more money because I didn’t see the money he paid me. Later when I saw that green note, I found that it was only and only $ 10. It made me remember about what Lane told me- You don’t need to be rich to spend and poor to save money. hahaha, It was so funny.