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.

Scam in ticketing at Sarnath exposed

Sarnath

CNN IBN contacted me a few weeks ago asking about corruption related stories from Varanasi. They said that they have a show called citizen journalist in which the people themselves become the journalist and expose the crime. I already knew about this program as it is very popular in India and decided to give them some stories. Actually they had contacted me after reading my blog so they had already read a few corruption stories that I had written on my blog. I had also been noticing corruption on ever level just like another Indian citizen and now I had a platform to talk about it.

excavation site

Anyways, I gave them total of four stories- one about corruption in MNREGA, corruption in drinking water supply system in Varanasi, corruption in sewage treatment plants, encroachment over old and sacred ponds of Varanasi and scam in ticketing at Sarnath. They asked me to find someone who was personally affected by these corruptions and would like to come on camera and talk about it. I contacted Lok Samiti to find someone who had faced any kind of corruption in MNREGA. I knew about a social worker named Shanti Lal Jain who has worked a lot on Ganga and contacted him to talk about corruption in sewage treatment plants.

Stupa at Sarnath

I had recently read a magazine which talked about a retired engineer who used his right to information act to ask government about the present condition of ponds in Varanasi and High Court of Uttar Pradesh asking Varanasi city administration to restore all the ponds that were illegally captured after 1957. I contacted this gentleman and he also agreed on telling the story to CNN IBN. Now it was turn of scam in ticketing at Sarnath which I had personally noticed several times, actually every time I went to Sarnath ever since I got my tourist guide license.

entrance gate of the site

The scam in Sarnath was that the ticket collectors at the entrance of the excavation site would keep the whole ticket with themselves and resell it. Whereas by law they are supposed to tear off the ticket into two parts, keep one part with themselves and give one part back to the tourists. This scam was going on in Sarnath with the support of government employees and tourist guides as well. If tourist guides support them then they also get a cut. I was also offered the same service several times but I never supported them as I always believe in this Hindi saying- खाना है तो हांथी का लीद खाओ, गधे का नहीं (if you want to eat the shit then eat the shit of an elephant better than the shit of a donkey :))

filming of the show

The area of my work is full of such opportunities where I can get commission all the time when I feel better asking for money rather than bringing my guests to shop so that I get some money. Anyways, I had always thought to do something about stopping this corruption and now I had a chance. But I was a little bit worried about about my safety. I called my brother who is also an Italian interpreter and works in tourism industry to have his advice and he was like go and fuck those people.

explaning the corruption

So I agreed to work on this story with CNN IBN. In order to prepare for the story CNN IBN asked me collect some evidence of the corruption. I went to Sarnath with my friend Babu and we filmed the ticket collector taking the tickets and keeping them direct in a sack. Finally the crew arrived in Varanasi and at first they worked on other stories. All of the stories were successful and affective. The woman who had faced corruption in the MNREGA got her salary and Varanasi administration started working on the ponds.

volunteer Erica

I needed a few foreign volunteers to act like my guests. I advertised on couchsurfing and a few people wrote me also but finally I ended up choosing a British couple staying at my guesthouse. We went together to Sarnath on the filming day and first they filmed me working, talking with people, doing things… Finally they went close to the entrance and sat about 30-40 miters away and filmed people coming inside, handing over the ticket to the ticket collector and ticket collector keeping the whole ticket in the sack.

the ticket collector at the gate

After they had enough evidence we went for lunch. I was not enjoying lunch at all as I was really tense about what was going to happen next. I was mostly worried about ASI taking some action against me. They could easily cancel my license by saying that I was found scratching the monument or something. I knew that the local officers would not be happy with myself after exposing the crime. Finally lunch was finished and I was asked to come on camera and explain the crime by standing right next to the entrance gate.

very tense moment

As the big camera appeared and I was holding the mic, so many people came to us. I was surrounded by at least 50 people who were trying to understand what I was talking about. Luckily the show was in English hence not many people understood what I talking about. At first they asked me to explain the corruption and then we bought a ticket and gave it to one of the volunteers and asked her to go inside, give the ticket to the ticket collector and see what happens.

filming

Obviously the ticket collector took the ticket and kept it right away in the sack and this was the moment when we entered in with the camera. As the ticket collector saw us he immediately teared off the ticket, went to our volunteer to return half portion of the ticket. We asked him why did not he tear off the ticket right away and then ran away from there. Now there was no government employee at the entrance so we checked the sack and found more than 500 fresh tickets which were all going to resold.

Babu, Erica, Chitra and I

We were filming all this and suddenly one government employee who was posted at the ticket counter came. We asked him how come all these tickets were not teared off and he had this really funny excuse that all the Sri Lankan tourists who come to Sarnath just throw the tickets on the street so they collect it and finally tear them off in the evening time after the monument is closed which was completely false because I had personally seen them taking the tickets out of sack and bringing them back to the ticket counter so that they could resell it.

the officer in charge's office

After he could not answer us, he asked us to come inside his office where he had this another funny excuse that the young couples who come to Sarnath everyday throw the tickets on the street because they do not want to be caught at home that they went to Sarnath. I was kind of laughing after hearing all these funny excuses. We came back to the entrance gate to talk with a few visitors and suddenly this lady showed up asking what was going on. She asked us to ask her questions as she was also an employee of ASI who was posted at the museum.

We asked her if she was aware of the scam and she was like yes, I have seen it hundreds of times. We were shocked but it was really good that she admitted it. She also said that tickets are resold and each and every government employee working at the excavation site is involved. Finally we went to the officer in-charge of Sarnath but he also ran away as he saw us. Story was completed and I was feeling so proud to have done it. I was really happy with the public support.

When we were filming at the entrance gate, we were surrounded by 100s of people who shouting fuck these corrupt people, don’t leave them…I think this support gave me real power and energy that I was able to expose the crime. The next morning all of the news papers reported this news but none of them talked about me or CNN IBN. Although they said that the officer in-charge of Sarnath, who had ran away after seeing us, said that he was not aware of such corruption and would take action against the people involved in it.

I know it very well that he was also part of the corruption and had intentionally given this news to media so that people think that he did not know about this corruption. I asked CNN IBN to contact the regional office of ASI in Patna and head office in New Delhi and ask them to take some action. I hope that ASI will take some action and now I also feel much secured because of that lady officer of ASI who had admitted that this corruption of reselling of tickets was going on in Sarnath. Here is the link of the show on CNN IBN website-

http://cj.ibnlive.in.com/fullvideo/cnnibn/193435

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.