I have been using Tripadvisor to promote my tour business since 2014 which gives me most of my business. Based on the ratings and reviews given by the customers Tripadvisor choses certain companies every year and gives them an yearly award. All the way starting from 2014 I started receiving Certificate of Excellence award, then they gave me Hall of Fame award in the year 2018 (Hall of Fame is given to the service providers who get Certificate of Excellence continuously five years in a row) and now this year I have been given Traveller’s Choice Award for the year 2020. It is always a great feeling to see that your guests appreciate your services and it becomes more special when it happens again and again every year 🙂 Thanks for all your support, Jai Hind!
My tourist guide license was issued in January 2010 and it was valid up to 29th of January, 2013. My license said that I needed to surrender my license 45 days before the date of expiry in order to get it renewed. I started contacting Ministry of Tourism office in New Delhi and it seemed like they did not have any information. Every time I contacted them they said that I should contact my local tourist guide association. It was a very big problem for me because I never took any membership of any guide association in Varanasi. Finally I got some information from one of my friends in Delhi. He had the proforma of the form I need to fill up.
He also told me that I needed to go to Delhi personally to deposit my license with tourism office. My friend suggested me to talk with the Delhi office before leaving for Delhi. I contacted the Delhi office and they told me a really strange rule that they would accept renewal application only on Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays in the second and third week of January. I was already booked for the second week hence I had to cancel a couple of bookings from the first week and flew to Delhi. I reached at the tourism office in Delhi around 11 AM and they asked me come after 4 PM. I thought that they asked me to come later because maybe the concerned office was not present there.
I was just wandering around here and there for 5 hours and finally when I reached there again by 4, the same officer whom I met in the morning took my application, made me sign on a few papers and issued me a temporary license which said that my license was under renewal process hence I am allowed to work as a regional level tourist guide till 31st of April. I have no idea why they called me to Delhi if they only wanted me to sign a few papers or made me wait for 5 hours if the same person from the morning was responsible for issuing my license. If it was all about signing a few papers then they should have better organized it by post or online. I don’t know when we will start using our IT knowledge for ourselves. Anyways, everything went well but I didn’t like going to Delhi.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :))
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-