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Travel News - February 2009

Greenest city of India to promote 'bike tourism'


The road up to Rohtang Pass will be cleared for traffic by April 10

Chandigarh: With a wide canopy of greenery, wide roads, specially built cycle-tracks adjacent to every road and a clear sun on a wintry afternoon these days, the union territory of Chandigarh is undoubtedly a suitable place for a joyful cycle ride. It is not only professional cyclists that can be seen on the roads but also tourists visiting the city, foreigners clearly outnumbering the domestic ones.

The Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation (CITCO) has done its best to promote 'bike-tourism' in a big way in the city this winter, and is planning to launch a widespread campaign to popularise cycling among the denizens of Chandigarh. "I can bet that Chandigarh with its wide roads and specially earmarked cycle tracks is one of the most suitable places for cycling in the world. Many tourists, especially foreigners, who come here, prefer cycling as it is the most cost-effective and easier medium for travelling in this green city," A.K. Malhotra, general manager of CITCO, said.

"Our own city dwellers are somewhat shy about cycling as they are more concerned about maintaining their status. However, very soon we are going to start some campaigns to motivate people here to adopt the culture of cycling," he said. CITCO has put around 10 ultra-modern bicycles, fitted with gearboxes, at the Sukhna Lake, one of the major tourist destinations here. Anyone interested in cycling can take these bicycles on rent.

"Anyone who comes to Chandigarh rarely misses a trip to Sukhna Lake; that is why we have displayed our bicycles on a big stage there so that people can easily come to know about this option available here," Malhotra said. "Chandigarh is the paradise for cyclists as the entire cycle tracks here have shady trees. One can enjoy the real beauty of the city only through cycling on its roads. In fact, whenever I get time I also go for cycling," Ishwar Singh, conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden of Chandigarh, said.

"Chandigarh is the greenest city of India and cycling in such city is itself a luxury. Very soon, it will become the greenest city in entire Asia and our department is ready to impart any kind of help to the administration in popularizing the activity of cycling here," he added. Sigh said that the green cover of Chandigarh extends up to 50 square km out of its total geographical area of 140 square km, accounting for 35.7 percent. The second greenest city in India is New Delhi with a green cover of 19.78 per cent out of its total geographical area.

"I love Chandigarh roads, this masterpiece of great architect Le Corbusier can serve as a paradigm of one of the most well planned and well connected city for the outer world. I come here frequently and every time take a cycle on rent from CITCO," said Jacques Kasprowitch, a French national, who is on his seventh visit to the city. "Cycling is an eco-friendly option that also lessens the congestion on the city roads. In France, one can easily find leading businessmen and many Hollywood stars cycling their way to their destinations," he added.

"Cycling is an economical option and it also maintains our health. Here we can take the cycles on rent by just paying Rs.50 for half day and Rs.100 for the full day. This is an innovative idea that I have not seen anywhere in the world," Mark Botham, a British tourist who has taken two bicycles on rent from CITCO, said Saturday.

Snowfall eludes tourists in Himachal

Shimla: Balmy days and relatively high night temperatures in the hills of Himachal Pradesh have once again dashed hopes of thousands of tourists visiting the state to see snowfall. According to the meteorological office here, the "warm" weather would continue till Jan 26.

"The minimum temperature is almost seven to eight degrees above average these days. After Jan 26, the night temperature will start dipping," Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office in Shimla, said. "This morning (Saturday) the minimum temperature in this town was 12.7 degrees Celsius, which is the highest record in this month," Singh said.

While the minimum temperature of Shimla was 12.1 degrees Celsius, the maximum was 20.4 degrees Friday. The weatherman attributed the rise in minimum temperature to cloudy conditions. "This time again, the tourists have to return disappointed as chances of snowfall in this high temperature are remote," he said. Similarly, in Bhuntar near Kullu and Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the minimum temperature Saturday was 8 degrees Celsius and 10.1 degrees respectively.

This season, Shimla, Manali and Dalhousie had received the season's first snowfall in the first week of this month, but it was scanty and melted within hours. Meanwhile, thousands of tourists, mainly from northern states, thronged popular tourist spots Saturday to celebrate the extended weekend holiday bonanza. Apart from the weekend, Monday is a Republic Day holiday.

"For the next two days, the occupancy in most of the hotels in Shimla is 100 percent," said Harnam Kukreja, president of Shimla Hoteliers and Restaurants Association. "We are advising our guests to visit nearby snow-bound places like Narkanda if they are really keen to enjoy 'white holidays'," said Raj Kumar Uday Singh of Woodville Palace Resorts, a heritage hotel in Shimla.

Popular tourist spots like Manali, Chamba and Dalhousie also recorded high minimum temperatures. "If the weather obliged us (the tourism industry) with a good spell of snow, then there are chances that tourists extend their weekend by two to three days," Mehar Chand Thakur, a prominent travel agent in Manali, said.

'Pretty Woman' Julia Roberts enchanted with Taj Mahal

Agra: Hollywood actress Julia Roberts spent over an hour at the Taj Mahal along with her husband Thursday, and was "enchanted" with the marbled monument to love. The "Pretty Woman" actress refused to speak to the media at the Taj. Her guide Sumit Arora said "She was enchanted and said 'awesome, beautiful'."

The actress flew in here from Jaipur, where she spent two days sightseeing. Roberts, who arrived in Jaipur Tuesday afternoon, was staying at the luxury resort of Oberoi Rajvilas.

A source at the Jaipur hotel said, "She stayed at our hotel with her husband and kids. On Wednesday she went sightseeing saw the City Palace and Amber Fort after which she went to a private farmhouse in Kukas place near Amber Fort where she enjoyed elephant riding for over an hour." He said the Hollywood actress spent over three hours at the farmhouse. "First she took an elephant ride, then she went on a camel cart ride around the area. She also had her lunch there," the source said.

"She checked out this morning (Thursday) at around 9 a.m.," he added. The 41-year-old actress reportedly loved sightseeing around the Amber Fort, situated 11 km away from the city centre. The tourism industry of Rajasthan is happy with the visit of the celebrity that comes after the Mumbai terror attacks.

"After the Mumbai terror attack and the economic woes in the West, we were not getting very many tourists to the city. With a famous personality like Julia Roberts visiting the city, we are hoping that more foreign tourists would visit the state soon," said Navendu Goswami, a Jaipur-based travel agent. Roberts had starred opposite Richard Gere in the romantic comedy "Pretty Woman" in the early 1990s.

Tourism minister condemns vandalisation of Mumbai hotel

New Delhi: Tourism minister Ambika Soni Thursday said that people who Wednesday vandalized a five star hotel in Mumbai should not be allowed to take the law into their hands as it deterred tourists coming to India. "No one should be allowed to take law into their hand as it deters visitors from coming to India as already the tourism industry is reeling under the impact of global meltdown and Mumbai terror attack aftermath," said Soni after inaugurating the illumination of historical monuments like Purana Qila (old fort), Sher Shah Gate and Subz Burj.

Over 300 workers of the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (BKS), the Shiv Sena's labour wing, had Wednesday vandalised the Hotel Intercontinental Grand to protest the sacking of at least 21 employees. "We are extra alert and the state governments should also be alert so that such incident do not happen again as it prevents tourist from coming to India. Tourism generates resources which means jobs for hundreds of people," she added.

"It's a great regret and I condemn such incidents. I have personally taken up the issue with the Maharashtra government and I will monitor it till the culprits are punished," Soni said.

The minister said that they are taking 'comprehensive steps' to attract more tourists to the India in 2009 starting 'Visit India year' in partnership with hotel industry, airlines and travel and tours operators. Soni also announced an incentive scheme for the tourists.

"A 'Visit India 2009' scheme is being launched, whereby attractive incentives, by way of value additions would be offered to foreign tourists visiting the country during the period April to December 2009," she said. The scheme would work on the concept of providing one additional or complimentary service to the tourist, for every service paid for. The incentives would be offered in collaboration with Airlines, Hotels and Tour Operators.

In 2008, 5.37 million tourists came to India, an increase of six percent from 2007 when 5.08 million travellers came to India.

Boat ride on Sabarmati river from next year

Ahmedabad: People of Ahmedabad as well as tourists would be able to enjoy a boat ride on the Sabarmati river from next year, as a firm plans to invest Rs.7.5 million (Rs.75 lakh) to start the service. Akshar Travels Pvt Ltd, an Ahmedabad-based travel firm, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government to introduce river cruises and to develop tourism infrastructure along the river.

In the first phase of the project, the company would launch five cruises with a capacity to carry 300 tourists each. "Subsequently, we intend to deploy two more cruises each in the second and third phases during 2011 and 2012. We will develop a waiting area, parking and two ethnic restaurants on the riverfront along with cruises that will have restaurants on board," a company official said here Thursday.

Chinese tourists visiting Khajuraho robbed by guide

Bhopal: Six Chinese women visiting Khajuraho and Panna National Park were robbed by their guide during their stay at a hotel in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, police said Thursday. "These women tourists had reached Panna on January 19 and were staying in a hotel near the national park from where their guide Rajkumar, hired from Varanasi, escaped with their bag containing Rs1.5 lakh (Rs.150,000) cash and other valuables including jewellery," Chhattarpur Superintendent of Police D. Sriniwas Verma said.

According to a complaint lodged at Bamita police station by one of the tourists, 30-year-old Zeing Siu Ling, the bag had $2,000 and 1,600 yuan besides some jewellery. The tourists found the bag missing while checking out of the hotel. Later, when they found that the guide was also untraceable, they went to the police station and lodged a complaint.

Khajuraho, one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, has a large group of temples famous for their erotic sculpture. In 2008, 89,174 foreign tourists visited the town, 340 km from state capital Bhopal.

Though it is not yet known whether the guide, Rajkumar, was licensed, locals say a number of unlicensed and rogue tourist guides are reported to be active in the area. "Known as Lapkas in local parlance, such rogues are basically local tribals who have become a big nuisance," said an Archaeological Survey of India official posted at Khajuraho.

Over 18 complaints of thefts and forgery were reported by foreign tourists in police stations of Chhatarpur district last year alone.

That dream Swiss holiday is now within your reach

New Delhi: Planning a holiday? Try Switzerland. For, romancing in the Swiss Alps and going on a roller coaster ride across those pristine mountain lines which you so often see in the movies is now within your budget. The land of endless beauty, Switzerland has aroused fascination among many, especially in the Hindi film industry which never tires of choosing one of the country's breathtaking locales for a movie or song sequence.

Now, in an initiative to attract more Indian tourists, Swiss Tourism has an offer which is bound to bring smiles to many a five-day vacation in Switzerland for less than Rs.50,000.

"And mind you, this includes the return airfare between Delhi and Zurich by Swiss International Airline, and will take you to all the major attractions in Switzerland. With accomodation, sightseeing and breakfast, it's a complete holiday package," Mirjam Jost of the Switzerland Tourism said at a press meet in the capital Monday. "One can, thereafter, stay at one of the apartments which have a kitchen for Rs.2,000 per night. The Rs.50,000 package, however, does not include the visa charges," she added.

For more information on the package, one can visit the website www.swisstoursonline.com. According to Jost, the most convenient way to explore Switzerland is by using the Swiss travel system. "In the Swiss travel system, by getting a Swiss pass you can use all public modes of travel in the country and use the train to explore every part of this scenic land. Not just that, the pass also lets you visit museums for free and in some places like Mount Pilatus, you get 25 percent discount," she said.

In the Swiss tourism market, India is among the top 12. While the Swiss themselves count for the maximum number of tourists in the country, Germany follows closely behind. "Until October 2008 the number of Indians visiting Switzerland was 350,000 overnight which includes only those living in hotels and not in apartments. We now want to push it up to 600,000 overnight in both hotels and apartments by 2011," Jost said.

The global meltdown, according to the Swiss Tourism officials, has not affected their market much since November-December is not time when many tourists travel to Switzerland.

"This month we have started getting a lot of enquiries from India, especially from honeymooners, and hope things to get better by May-June, when it's the best time to visit Switzerland. The meltdown, therefore, has not affected us much," Jost said. With Switzerland becoming a part of the Schengen Agreement Dec 12, 2008, the officials expect that it will be a lot more convenient to travel to the country.

So whether it's the Glacier 3000 the world's highest Alpine coaster where a song from the recent Hindi movie "Bachna Ae Haseeno" was shot, or Matterhorn which has the highest cable car in Europe giving one the view of Italy, France and Switzerland, a Swiss holiday is now within your reach.

Kashmir government plans to boost sports tourism

Jammu: The Jammu and Kashmir government is planning to boost sports tourism and involve private business enterprises in reviving the hospitality industry in the state but is worried about international advisories against visiting the troubled region. Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora said that government was trying to put the state back as a hot spot on the tourism global map by "providing world class facilities" to visitors.

"We will give incentives in terms of loans and subsidies to local tourist traders to provide facilities like good accommodation, food etc," Jora said. The minister said local traders could go in for collaboration with experts from outside the state so as to improve the standards of facilities.

"But I do not favour the outsiders controlling the whole (industry) nor does state's special (constitutional) status allow that. The revenue must go to private sector and hence to the locals," Jora said. "The government had no business to be in business of making money where it hardly succeeds," he said, adding public sector units have not provided facilities up to the standards that private enterprises have done.

The tourism industry, he said, had great potential of employment opportunities for locals. He said the government was planning to come out of conventional tourism beats and lay emphasis on golf and skiing. "The state has world class avenues for golf and skiing, which can attract both domestic and foreign tourists. But in this connection my worry is the international advisories against visiting the area. I am planning to take it up at appropriate levels," he said.

The minister was, however, hopeful of good tourist season this year. "The peaceful conduct of elections have already sent a message from the people of Jammu and Kashmir that they are warmly waiting for tourists," he said.

Jora said he would try to develop the unexplored picnic spots in the state and wanted visitors not to restrict themselves to conventional places like Pahalgam and Gulmarg resorts. "Every inch of Jammu and Kashmir can be explored. I want people to see new places."

Jora said that the Jammu region receives over seven million pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. "Even if we are able to tap 10 percent of them to visit tourist places around it would be a big achievement."

Sri Lanka seeks India's expertise in strengthening tourism

New Delhi: Sri Lanka Wednesday sought India's help in strengthening tourism to meet the challenges posed by the global meltdown. The issue was discussed in a meeting between Tourism Minister Ambika Soni and her Sri Lankan counterpart Milinda Moragoda, who also expressed keenness to participate in the travel marts organised by India, including the Great Indian Travel Bazar to be held in April.

Praising India's efforts against terrorism in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Moragoda said his country would like to exchange ideas with India on security aspects relating to the tourism sector. During their 40-minute meeting, he also urged Soni to provide expert help to Sri Lanka in strengthening the tourism sector and said the island nation wants to learn from India how tourism related issues are dealt at both the state and the community level.

"Sri Lanka is involving the private sector in tourism related activities and wants to develop new tourism related products to attract more tourists," a statement issued by the Indian tourism ministry quoted him as saying. He said India is a magnet and has established a benchmark in promotion of tourism in the world with its Incredible India campaign.

"Any effort to take the lead in promoting tourism related cooperation by India will be supported by Sri Lanka," the visiting minister said.

Soni said the Indian government as well as her ministry were taking several steps to meet the challenges posed by the global meltdown and the Nov 26 terror attacks. "Hotel associations have come out with their own security guidelines in India after the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the government is providing them whatever assistance is necessary," she said.

The two ministers also discussed matters of cooperation in tourism between the two sides.

Sri Lanka woos Indian tourists

Ahmedabad: Sri Lanka is an ideal tourist destination for people from India as it offers an experience "Indians want", senior officials from the nation said here Tuesday.

"I see India as our biggest source of market as our product offering is very close to what the Indians want," Bernard Goonetilleke, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, told reporters here. Sri Lanka has some of the best beaches in the region, cuisines that Indians relish, religious sites including 52 Ramayana sites of tremendous spiritual and cultural interest, and hills and valleys, Goonetilleke said.

Indians are merely 2.5 hours away from Sri Lanka from 11 Indian cities making it the most accessible destination by far, he added. Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Milinda Moragoda was here to address the two-day annual Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, which concluded Tuesday, and to kick-start the 2009 marketing plans for Sri Lanka in India.

The Ramayana Trail only recently identified by the tourism board and the authority has over 52 sites that can be traced back to the Hindu epic and are of religious importance to a majority of Indians, said Seenivasagam Kalaiselvam, director general of the tourism authority, and one of the key researchers who identified these sites.

Rs.27.3 mn central aid to beautify Sukhna Lake

Chandigarh: To improve tourism infrastructure at Sukhna Lake, the government has sanctioned Rs.27.3 million for setting up fountains, a tourism information centre and for landscaping, an official said here Tuesday. "The ministry of tourism has given its nod to the proposal sent by the home secretary of Chandigarh, Ram Niwas, for sanctioning the funds. They have approved the central financial assistance of Rs.27.3 million (Rs.273.31 lakh) for improvement and up-gradation of the facilities at Sukhna Lake," said a spokesperson of the administration.

"The amount will be utilized for installing bubble fountains, making a parking lot, development of lawns and landscapes, a tourism information centre, better illumination, arrangements at the lake, internal water supply and for other purposes," the spokesperson said.

Sukhna Lake, one of the prominent tourist destinations of the city beautiful, is an artificial rain-fed lake situated in the foothills of the Shivalik hills in Chandigarh. It was built in 1958 and is currently sprawled over 340 acres of land.

Tourist arrivals up despite global meltdown, terror attacks

New Delhi: The global meltdown and the terror attacks, especially the 26/11 Mumbai strike, has had no impact on foreign tourists' arrival in India as an estimated 5.37 million travellers came to the country in 2008, a statement issued by the tourism ministry said Monday.

According to the latest tourism ministry figures, an estimated 5.37 million tourists came to India as compared to 5.08 million in 2007. "Inspite of global financial meltdown and terrorist activities, the number of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) has increased in 2008 as compared to 2007," the statement said.

In fact, the ministry said the impact of the Mumbai terror attack Nov 26 that left killed 173 people, including police officials and foreign nationals, was not felt as it was feared, as the number of tourist arrivals in December 2008 went up slightly as compared to November.

"The number of foreign tourist arrivals in December 2008 has risen to 522,000 as compared to 521,000 in November 2008," the statement added. The ministry compiled the figures on the basis of data received from major airports.

The officials said the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has predicted a growth rate of two to three percent for international tourist arrivals in the world during 2008. They, however, said that India has seen a growth rate of 5.6 percent, which is much better than the world scenario.

UNWTO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and is the leading international organisation in the field of tourism. It serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and practical source of tourism knowhow. The ministry said that the foreign exchange earnings (FEE) from tourism also went up from Rs.440 billion in 2007 to over Rs.500 billion in 2008. The foreign exchange earnings in December were higher than in November 2008.

"Foreign exchange earnings in December 2008 were Rs.50.83 billion as compared to Rs.49.35 billion in November 2008. In December 2007, the foreign exchange earnings was Rs.50.79 billion," the statement said.

Goa sees 13 percent drop in foreign tourists flying in

Panaji: The number of foreign tourists flying into Goa fell by nearly 13 percent this holiday season, say the police. Russians have now become the second largest group of foreign tourists flying into the coastal state, after the British. "Ealier, we would have chartered tourists coming to India from Moscow alone, but this year we have Russians coming from places like Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg," Superintendent of Police (Airport Security) Tony Fernandes told reporters Friday evening.

Fernandes said the central government had relaxed visa norms to attract tourists from these regions. "They were allowed entry into India on Temporary Landing Permits (TLP) for 14 days. We did not insist on a visa, since the Indian embassy is located in Moscow and it would have been difficult for these tourists to approach it for a visa," he said. Out of the 82,515 foreign tourists who reached Goa by air between September and December, a sizeable 17,632 hailed from Russia, making it the second largest contingent of tourists after the British, who were 27,542 in number.

Figures released by the police show nearly a 13 percent drop this season in the number of tourists landing in Goa by chartered and scheduled flights. "While in the year 2007, 82,515 foreigners visited Goa by chartered and scheduled flights, during the peak tourism period between September and December, this year the number dropped to 71,918, nearly 13 percent," Fernandes said.

There were also tourists from countries like Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden coming on chartered and scheduled flights.

However, battling the twin blows of global recession and the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, Goa saw a lacklustre tourist season in 2008.

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