ISRO’s MOM enters orbit around Mars!

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India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is closing in on the Red Planet and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is closing in on the Red Planet and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey.

“Aaj MOM ka Mangal se milan ho gaya, aur Mangal ko MOM mil gayi (Today MOM met Mars and Mars found MOM),” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said congratulating scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bangalore today for putting India on the world map of space exploration and becoming the first to have a successful mars mission on debut.

A USD 74 million Indian spacecraft entered orbit around Mars today after an almost yearlong voyage, and for 11 percent the cost of the U.S.’s Maven probe. Mangalyaan, or “Mars craft” in Hindi, made orbit after a trip of about 661 million kilometers (411 million miles), ISRO said. The satellite is India’s first Mars mission and reached the red planet two days after the USD 671 million Maven craft. Mangalyaan, also known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is expected to orbit Mars for six months and send data back to Earth until its fuel supplies are exhausted, according to ISRO. India’s USD 74 million mission seeks to map the Martian surface, study the atmosphere and search for methane gas, a sign that the planet can support life. India’s space program is the first to enter the Mars orbit in its first attempt, President Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the scientists after news of success of the Mission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the scientists after news of success of the Mission

It was a historical achievement as India became the first country to successfully get a spacecraft into the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt. ISRO’s MOM spacecraft started orbiting the red planet at 7.47 am, but it was only 12 minutes later — because of a time delay in radio signals travelling the 680 million km — that scientists at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore, could erupt in joy as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood a happy witness. For most of the time the main engine was firing — 20 of the 24 crucial minutes — MOM was hiding behind Mars, adding to the suspense.

The scientists had waited for more than 300 days as MOM journeyed on through space, but the last 54 minutes were virtually unbearable. For, it was during this period that the orbiter first reoriented itself and then fired its engine and thrusters for about 24 minutes to get into the Mars orbit. For all the action at the ground station, there was not much the scientists had to do. More than 10 days ago, they had uplinked all the commands for the maneuvers to the spacecraft. MOM, like an obedient child, carried them out perfectly. MOM will remain a satellite of Mars, clicking pictures and sniffing out details on the atmosphere and morphology of the red planet for several months.

Through its journey since November 5, 2013 when PSLV-C25 lifted off from Sriharikota with the spacecraft in its nosecone, MOM has had a perfect voyage. The first litmus test came on Monday when it was to carry out time-tagged commands to reignite its main engine which had been idling for about 300 days since it left the Earth orbit on December 1, 2013. MOM did this in style, burning for the designated four seconds to show that the engine is in fine shape. On Wednesday, it proved its resilience.

As it goes around Mars on an elliptical orbit with the closest point around 420 km and the farthest around 80,000 km, MOM will employ five equipment that collectively weight 15kg to do scientific studies. The Lyman alpha photometer would measure the relative abundance of deuterium and hydrogen in the upper Martian atmosphere to understand previous presence of water on the red planet. A methane sensor will look for sources of the gas. While the Mars colour camera clicks away, a thermal infrared spectrometer will study heat emission, minerals and soil on Mars.

Before India, various countries have launched Mars missions, but out of the 51 attempts, only 21 were successful. India now joins the Martian club that comprises the US, Russia and the European Space Agency. Only the European Space Agency has got its orbiter right in the first attempt (Mars Express in 2003), but India can claim a first since the agency is a conglomeration of several countries.

Indian classical music and dance festival in Vrindavan

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Truly Indian culture that percolates to the grassroots and holds the heritage together like its soil! The holy city of Lord Krishna – Vrindavan, once again witnessed the best of Indian Classical Music and Dance on the occasion of Radha Ashtami (birth anniversary of Radha, the consort of Lord Krishna). Organised by Sangeet Shiromani Swami Haridas Sangeet Samiti, the 153rd edition of two day Sangeet Shiromani Swami Haridas Sangeet evam Nritya Samaroh concluded recently in Fogla Ashram in Vrindavan.

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The festival presented doyens of Indian Classical Music and Dance including Kathak recital by Pt Rajendra and Nirupama; Dhrupad Gayan by Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar; Taalchakra – Ensemble of percussion instruments, Bansuri and Vocals – by Pt Vijay Ghate on Tabla , Pt Shounak Abhisheki – Vocals, Pt Rakesh Chaurasia on Bansuri, Vidwan Shreedhar Parthasarathy on Mridangam, Mukul Dongre on Drums, Atul Raninga on Keyboards; Kathak recital – Guru Shishya Parampara – by Pt Arjun Mishra and his disciples; solo presentation of  Prashna Panchali – a Kavya Natika authored by Sunita Budhiraja and Directed by Dinesh Thakur with Preeta Mathur as the sole actor; Sitar and Chello Jugalbandi by Pt Shubhendra Rao and Smt Saskia Rao De Haas; Sufi Vocals by Ustad Ahmed Hussain and Ustad Mohammed Hussain.

Al Qaeda in India : a desperate move ?

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al qaeda calls for jihad against India

Al qaeda calls for jihad against India

On the face of it, the announcement by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri to set up an al Qaeda unit in South Asia may sound alarming for a region that is already in turmoil due to extreme instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well the regularly occurring tensions between various religious communities in other countries, including India.

If all the terror groups were to come together and act in a concerted fashion, they could indeed pose a problem for the governments in South Asia and especially India, which is by far the largest nation and has the biggest population of Muslims in the world, with the exception of Indonesia.

With the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, heading the government, it may be easier for Islamic terror groups like the al Qaeda to raise the spectre of Muslims in India being targeted, persecuted and excluded. They would simply hark back to the Gujarat riots of 2002, the rather hawkish posture of the party, if not the government on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, and the recent upsurge in Hindu-Muslim riots in Uttar Pradesh as well as the violence against the mainly Muslim migrants in the north-eastern state of Assam.

These, combined with a generous flow of funds, may be enough to sway a few Muslims from India, who do not really share the philosophies and thinking which attracts far larger number of Muslims from the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan or even the European nations as only a handful of Indian Muslims have been associated with al Qaeda.

A bigger challenge for al Qaeda, though, lies in competing with new star of Islamic terror groups, the Islamic State. Within a year, the former splinter group of al Qaeda has occupied a significant territory in the Middle East and has acquired all the trappings of a new country – frontiers, armed forces, a ‘government’ which collects taxes, dispenses justice and undertakes all other activities expected from any other government. In sharp contrast, the al Qaeda remains amorphous and does not have any physical assets or presence to show for itself after nearly two decades of existence.

The IS has definitely shown a magnetic pull on young Muslims from practically all over the world and it has also pulled in a few Indian Muslims. Hence, al Qaeda’s move to South Asia may be more of a desperate move to survive and remain relevant in the scheme of things of global Islamic terror groups rather than a strategic expansion or acquisition.

But still things could, however, work out more in favour of al-Qaeda if the new Indian government reacts very harshly or alarmingly to the announcement by al Zawahiri. The government would have to be very careful about making a distinction between reacting to this news in a strategic and selective manner rather than making a broad brushed clampdown on all sorts of Islamic groups in the country, which inevitably leads to harsher treatments of Muslims by the security organisations, notably the police, which has in the past three decades shown a great deal of over-enthusiasm in tackling the ‘Islamic terror’ in India.

The Indian courts have dismissed several dozens of cases of innocent Muslims being implicated under false charges. However, unfortunately, most of these detainees were released several years, often a decade, after their arrest and these cases do not help the cause of the government to show that it is acting in a fair manner and not targeting the Muslims. If the BJP government does not play its cards right, then it could send some more Muslims into the embrace of al Qaeda or IS than these organisations would muster on their own.

Peru: ‘A country of opportunities’ for India

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In an endeavour to strengthen its relationship with India in terms of trade and investment, International Affairs Committee – Americas of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry has organised an interactive session with Egdar Vasquez Vela, Vice Minister of Foreign Trade of Peru at PHD House, New Delhi on August 21, 2014.

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Javier Paulinich Velarde, Ambassador of Peru in India and Luis M Cabello, Economic and Commercial Counsellor of Peru in India also presided the session. The interactive session highlighted the investment and trade opportunities in Peru. In addition, the session emphasised on the tourism destinations in Peru.

Talking about opportunities in Peru for trade and investment, Egdar Vasquez Vela said, “The trade between India and Peru has grown between five per cent and 10 per cent in the last 10 years. Exports have witnessed growth of about 29.52 per cent in the period of 2009-2013; while imports saw 36.17 per cent during the same period. Seeing the potential, we are looking forward to sustained growth. We are here to strengthen the relation with India and for this; negotiations for free trade agreement (FTA) will soon be discussed.”

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Highlighting the benefits of FTA, he said, “Once the FTA in place, this would benefit in terms of better cooperation, better investment, more movement of people and operations, and, increase of trade and employment. We (Peru and India) have many similarities and we together can explore opportunities in the sectors like mining, food, apparel, energy, etc.” The session discussed and deliberated on the emerging opportunities in the various sectors like agriculture and agribusiness, tourism, hospitality, fabrics and yarns, garments and fashion, pharmaceutical products, information technology, and, mining.

Luis M Cabello presented the facts and figures of Peru for trade and investment opportunities. “Peru is stable economically and has been growing rapidly in the last decade. Economic growth has been driven by rising private investment. Peru is a leader in GDP growth in the Latin American and Caribbean region. The country is an attractive market for foreign investment, which registers $12 billion in 2012. Moreover, Peru offers a favourable legal framework for foreign investment. Tax regime is steady.”

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He added, “Peru is not only a destination for business, but also a tourist destination. Explore the new wonders of the world – Machu Picchu and Amazon – here. It is a culture and culinary destination. Even, many Indian movies have been shot here. So, visit the country, and explore trade opportunities and hidden travel treasures.”

In addition, the Ambassador Javier Paulinich Velarde announced the visit of the President Ollanta Humala next year and he informed that the agenda of his visit is the launch of FTA. With this initiative, looking forward to a strong relationship between India and Peru in terms of trade, investment and tourism!

Gulzar: The wizard of words turns 78

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b5ed51d5-b769-47c2-ad32-f0d2535d2bf6wallpaper1Lyricist-filmmaker Gulzar, best known for penning memorable hits like Tujhse Naaraaz Nahi and Tere Bina Zindagi Se besides directing critically acclaimed films like Aandhi and Mausam, turns 78-year-old today.

Gulzar’s words are magical. Ethreal poetry and Gulzar are synonyms. Be it his writing or direction, Gulzar presented a different side to every emotion, and brought new meaning to every situation. He can say very convoluted things in simple words and can make simple inscrutable. It is up to you, what you like!

Gulzar with RD Burman

Gulzar with RD Burman

Gulzar started his career in 1956 and as a lyricist and got his first break in Bimal Roy’s Bandini. He has worked with leading music directors like Sachin Dev Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Shankar Jaikishan, Hemant Kumar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Madan Mohan, Rajesh Roshan, Anu Malik, and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Gulzar developed outstanding creative partnerships with R D Burman, A R Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj. His songs ‘Kajrare‘ and ‘Beedi jalai le’ changed the way Bollywood looked at the item songs. Apart from lyrics, he has contributed to several films as script, story and dialogue writer.

Gulzar's Mirza Ghalib series

Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib series

Owner of one of the most vivid pens in the Hindi film industry, Gulzar was always an acclaimed poet even outside the industry. He is widely known for his outstanding work on the small screen where he directed TV series like Mirza Ghalib and Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki. He wrote lyrics for several Doordarshan serials, including Hello Zindagi, Potli Baba Ki and Jungle Book which became very popular.

Gulzar has been honoured time and again for his work. Gulzar was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2002, the Padma Bhushan in 2004. He has won a number of National Film Awards and 20 Filmfare Awards. Recently he also received Dadasaheb Phalke Award. He won the Academy Award for best original song for ‘Jai Ho‘ with AR Rahman for ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ in 2009. In 2010, Gulzar also won the Grammy award for ‘Jai Ho‘. His extraordinary ability to touch a chord with people across generations and cultures makes the award particularly deserving.

AR Rehman and GUlzar bagged Grammy Award for Jai Ho

AR Rehman and Gulzar bagged Grammy Award for Jai Ho

His poetry has been published in three compilations: ‘Chand Pukhraaj Ka’, ‘Raat Pashminey Ki’ and ‘Pandrah Paanch Pachattar’ (15-05-75). His short stories are published in ‘Raavi-Paar’ (also known as ‘Dustkhat’ in Pakistan) and ‘Dhuan’ (smoke). He is also credited with having created a new type of stanza in Urdu poetry named ‘Triveni’ (stanza of three lines).

In his trademark kurta pajama, the poet remains an enduring and beloved figure—whether on a Bandra tennis court or a smoke-filled recording studio.

Kishore Kumar: The great yodeller

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Kishore Kumar, with his unique style yodelling, has won hearts of millions of music lovers. In his long career, he worked in almost every capacity in the film industry; not only as a singer and actor but as a screenwriter, producer, director, and script writer. A tribute to the great yodeller on his birthday.

Kishore Kumar

Kishore Kumar

The first thoughts that come to our mind when someone mentions singing-actor Kishore Kumar are yodeller, comic actor, or the voice of Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna. He has many personalities.

Born on August 4, 1929, Kishore Kumar was born to Abhas Kumar Ganguly in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. He was famous for singing upbeat light songs and light comical acting roles. His entry to the film industry was very different from most people.  Most of the famous playback singers struggled hard to find a position and struggled equally hard, often unsuccessfully to retain that position. However, Kumar easily made his entry into the film industry without any real effort. The reason for this was through the influence of his elder brother Ashok Kumar. He never had any formal musical training but this did not stop him. In his career, he showed proficiency in a variety of musical styles. Furthermore, he was able to pick up the piano and played it well.

At the age of 17, Kishore got his first role in Shikari (1946.  He was also hired by Khemchand Prakash to sing a song for the film Ziddi (1948).  These were just odd assignments; Kishore was still with his family then and not in Bombay where the Hindi film industry was centered. In 1949, Kishore moved to Bombay. He acted in several movies and got the leading role in films like Andolan (1951), Naukari (1954) and Musafir (1957). However Kishore Kumar’s real interest was in playback singing.  It was SD Burman who first tapped Kishore’s inner talents as a playback singer. Burman persuaded Kishore to develop his own style.  In this period, he sang for a number of films.  Some of the major ones were Munjim (1954) and Nau Do Gyarah (1957).

For what he is famous today is yodelling. He used to hear it on his brother’s phonograph records, got inspired and adapted this technique with great public appreciation, even today. He used this in number of films like New Delhi (1957) and Pyar Ka Mausam (1969).

Kishore Kumar with his wife and veteran actress Madhubala

Kishore Kumar with his wife and veteran actress Madhubala

During this period there were also developments in Kishore Kumar’s personal life.  In 1960 he married the actress Madhubala with whom he had worked in films like Chalti ka Naam Gaadi (1958). This marriage created considerable ill will in the family because he was Hindu and she was Muslim. After only a month of marriage, she leaves the Kumar’s household and returns to her own residence.

He married four times; his wives were Bengali singer and actress Ruma Guha Thakurta, second wife being legendary actress Madhubala, third wife was yet another actress Yogeeta Bali and the fourth wife was Leena Chandavarkar until his death. Some called him a loner while for others he remained the Guru of Sunil Dutt’s character from Padosan movie.

The mid 1970’s saw Kishore Kumar being pulled into national politics.  He was an outspoken critic of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Once Sanjay Gandhi asked Kishore to sing for a congress rally in Bombay, Kishore refused.  His refusal to perform resulted in his songs being banned by All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Kishore Kumar's hits list

Kishore Kumar’s hits list

Kumar’s reputation remains unabated even after his death in 1987. Today, there are endless streams of commemorative works, remixes and repackaging of earlier recordings.

He may have had several personalities but Kishore Kumar remains to be the biggest name ever been to grace the celluloid world.

Food Talk India

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With close to 200,000 likes, and 130,000 Instagram followers and 90,000+ Twitter followers, Food Talk India has become a rage among the food lovers on facebook. It’s a secret community that has turned out to be the place to look for opinions when it comes to food. It all began in an attempt to impress a girl by showing he knew about food, confesses Shuchir Suri, the founder of Food Talk India. Being a foodie himself and having travelled a lot, he has had the opportunity of relishing most of the authentic cuisines. The group was founded in 2013 by ShuchirSuri and is one of the first social food community at the time. In 2014 Suri joined hands with Anjali Batra and together they strive to make Food Talk India the one stop shop for all Foodies across the country.

The community acts as a platform for people to give reviews, ask for opinions, share recipes, private caterers or anything related to food, in real-time. Any queries related to what to eat or where to eat could be found here. As members are from all parts of the world, you could be stuck in Italy or streets of Varanasi, you would know what you must eat.It has worked so well because the reviews and suggestions come straight out of heart from people like you and me. Being an invite only group, only members can add/invite friends allowing a filtered community of food lovers restricting any kind of nonsense.

Food Talk India

Additionally, it also organises curated events such as ‘The Blind Tasting’ and‘Dinner with Strangers’ to get all the food lovers together to enjoy an evening with food. Only members can register for such events and they usually have limited seats. A good way to meet likeminded people! So the next time you are unsure about where to eat, what to eat or have a craving for burgers or paranthas at 2 a.m. at night, remember Food Talk India is there for your rescue. Ask your friends to add you soon or drop them a message on their facebook page to request approval www.facebook.com/foodtalkindia

The young start up run by the two 26 and 24 year oldsis launching a mobile app, FOOD TALK PLUS, next month that will be available on IPhone and android phones.

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ETEC@TCE opens in Madurai today – a first of its’ kind Centre in Tamil Nadu

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An initiative of the EBTC and TCE, ETEC@TCE is a virtual and physical space to demonstrate European technologies, innovate and co-create, supported by world class training to develop a workforce within an empowered ecosystem

The European Technology Experience Centre (ETEC) – an initiative of the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) – took its’ activities to the next level today when EBTC and the Thiagarajar College of Engineering (TCE) joined hands to launch ‘ETEC@TCE’ in Madurai.

A first of its’ kind in the State of Tamil Nadu, this institutional collaboration will support and facilitate enterprising and innovative European and Indian collaborations in business and research. With this, there is now a connection between two ecosystems at the macro and micro levels to enable seamless cooperation across borders.

Three highlights of ETEC@TCE include the technology showcase and piloting, the innovation zone, and vocational training / capacity building:

  • ETEC@TCE will be situated in the Thiagarajar Advance Research Centre, and will be demonstrating European technologies, showcasing them on a physical and virtual platform.
  • The innovation zone will foster new models of learning and collaborative activities in an entrepreneurial environment. In this unique space, students, researchers, and entrepreneurs alike will be able to explore new technologies and learn about developments and research carried out by their counterparts.
  • ETEC@TCE will also enable EU experts to engage in and provide vocational training and capacity building (both virtual and classroom courses / programs) based on the demand and needs of Indian students, researchers and entrepreneurs.

Mrs. Leena Pishe Thomas (Regional Director, EBTC Bengaluru) stated that “We have recognised the requirement for Indian adopters of foreign technologies to see products working on the ground and explore options for adapting solutions to their needs. As a result, the implications and impact of ETEC@TCE will resonate positively with European tech companies, researchers and students as they will now have more opportunities and locations to pilot and demonstrate their technologies on Indian soil in collaboration with Indian customers, industry and a university of the stature and depth of TCE.   ETEC@TCE will be common ground for Europeans and Indians to collaborate and innovate, and we hope this live and real time environment will produce positive results for both regions.”

Today also saw EBTC facilitate an MoU between TCE (Madurai) and Prospects College of Advanced Technology from the UK. Together they will build synergies and aim to explore possible collaboration opportunities particularly in offering vocational training. TCE (Madurai) is a high level engineering and technology institution in India, and Prospects College (Basildon), has over 40 years experience of working in partnership with businesses, and offering outstanding technical vocational education, having delivered a range of innovative training courses to meet the skills requirements of its communities.

About the EBTC

The European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC) is an initiative co-funded by the European Union (EU), and coordinated by EUROCHAMBRES. Focusing on the 4 key sectors of Biotech, Energy, Environment and Transport, EBTC assists the business, science and research community – in Europe and India – to work together towards generating new business opportunities in clean technology transfer. As a first entry point to India, EBTC supports EU cleantech companies and researchers on their market entry to India and offers hands-on support in the early stages of expansion. The centre aims to further stimulate the ‘brain circulation’ between the EU and India through promoting joint industry-oriented research and enhancing outward mobility of researchers from the EU Member States towards India.

 About the TCE

TCE is one of the most reputed engineering and technology institutions in India, established in the year 1957. With more than 250 faculty members, 4100 students, this autonomous institution is aided by State and Central Government, approved and accredited by All India Council for Technical Education and affiliated to Anna University, Chennai. The motto of the institution is “Where quality and ethics matter”. The College has been awarded the Performance Excellence Trophy as part of IMC RBNQ National quality award. The College is also accredited with AAAA+ grade and is ranked 42nd among the engineering research institutions including IITs and NITs based on the annual rating published by Career 360˚ Magazine.

#ed Forces

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18 years of age for compulsory (Jews/Druzes) military service, 17 years of age for voluntary (Christians, Muslims, Circassians) military service, both sexes are obligated. Conscript service obligation – 36 months for enlisted men, 21 months for enlisted women, 48 months for officers, pilots commit to 9 years service, reserve obligation to age 41-51(men), 24 (women). Tracing it’s roots to the Jewish paramilitary organisations, the Israel Defence Forces or the IDF differ from most armed forces in the world in many ways. Differences include the mandatory conscription of women and its structure, which emphasizes close relations between the army, navy, and air force. Since its founding, the IDF has been specifically designed to match Israel’s unique security situation. It is one of Israeli society’s most prominent institutions, influencing the country’s economy, culture and political scene and with the number of wars and border conflicts it has been involved in its short history, the Israel defence Forces is one of the most battle-frequented armed forces in the world.

 Through the haze of smoke rising out of hashish-laden chillums, Barak a young backpacker dressed in a bright shirt and shorts, looks up ‘need some full power. Of course he needs some. His friends, sprawled casually elsewhere around the room are already in the throes of  ‘full power’ (a deep drag from a chillum) and ‘boom shiva’  the new- age mantras that are bringing peace and nirvana to the army of Israeli backpackers trooping into Kasol in Himachal pradesh -India looking for some quiet and some hashish. Bustling with hidden reggae bars the dense pinewood covered with little hamlets tucked in cozy corners, the fierce flowing Parvati river cutting through – this half hour’s diversion from Bhuntar make ‘haeven’ for the unending flocks of Israeli youth on longhalt freedom trips after their mandatory military stints. It’s easy to spot the typical Israeli backpacker in the crowd. Around 21 to 23 most are here on an extended holiday after completing their compulsory three-year stint in the army. They have heard of the Shangrila in India from their seniors who also travelled East and are merely following that tradition. Subjected to a regimented life in the barracks, the young men and women are waiting to cut loose and have a good time. A few come here for spiritual fulfilment but others go overboard in their pursuit of pleasure and end up as wrecks.

 Their influence is beginning to tell on the placid environs of the region.The brash, young Israeli backpackers have literally taken over villages like Kasol. Their overwhelming presence has made tourists from other parts of the world wary of including Manali in their itinerary. Says Mansukh who runs a small guest house in Kasol ‘There was a time when we had tourists from Italy, England, Japan, Germany and sometimes US. Ever since the Israelis have come, many of the others avoid coming here. So much so that the word ‘firangi’ here is coming to mean exclusively Israeli’. Sharmaji still calls his restaurant ‘Little Italy’. But the food he serves in it is now Israeli. His pizzas have made way for the traditional pita bread and the tehina, labane, hatzilim and falafal, all borrowed from Israeli kitchens. ‘I had to learn how to make Italian food, but once the Israelis came in, they wanted only ‘home food so my chef quickly learnt new recipes.’ So particular are the backpackers about home food that one sees Israelis troop in and out of Sharma’s kitchen armed with ladles and a pressure-cooker. They obviously like to supervise the cooking.

No wonder local eatery owners are beginning to feel insecure. They feel those among the tourists with culinary skills will soon set up shop and run them out of business. Some of them have even signed up with locals and set up their restaurants in the process pushing local entrepreneurs towards a slow death. ‘We know this is illegal but what can we do?’ says Sharma ‘Once Little Italy was the dominant restaurant in Kasol. Now, the 500-metre stretch on the Kasol-Manikaran road boasts of seven restaurants and several smaller eating joints and cafes.’ The economics of the region has indeed undergone a sea change in the mid 90s when the first Israeli backpackers took to riding up the hills on those Enfield 350cc bikes. The old Manali village quickly turned into a favourite haunt only to be replaced soon enough by Kasol, Chalal, Malana and Manikaran. Hotels and restaurants have come up everywhere. Villagers who till the other day grew crops on terrace farms quickly set up shops selling souvenirs. Others like Sumit Mukherjee, who ran an agency that organised treks out of Manali, moved to Kasol and built a hotel that stays packed throughout the season.

In short, today everything in Kullu is now targeted at the Israeli tourist – the food, the clothes, the trance and the techno music. A shack adjacent to Sharmaji’s promises boom shiva (hash) and good music. Peep in and a blast – repetitive and cyclic- hits you. Breathe, and you can inhale Shiva all around. All across Kasol there are posters advertising the latest couple of rave parties on the coming full moon night. All of Kasol would head for the party. Resort-owner Mukherjee has seen the several changes tourists have brought over the years. With a note of regret, he says ‘The European tourist would come dressed in salwar-kameez and try to respect local customs. But the Israelis come and live as they please. As a result, you will see many among the youth here trying to ape them. I am not sure whether this is good for us in the long run.’ Outside, as the light of day fades into the dull hue of dusk, bright hoardings in Hebrew light up, offering a variety of Israeli eats. It’s party time in Kasol. It’s been a headache however, for the local administration and the Israeli government which has had to send several delegations to India to find out why their young countrymen are going astray and how to rescue them.

 A member of one such delegation states ‘Marijuana’ is available everywhere. They grow under your guesthouse and come incredibly cheap.’ This man was asked to set up a commune at Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast to detox and rehabilitate countrymen returning home from overseas with addiction-related problems. And most of those who have been through the commune have partied and over-indulged in India around this belt. It’s easy given that accommodation, food, smoke and a good time come cheap in our country. The Israeli government estimates that of the 70,000 young Israelis who travel abroad every year, nearly 45,000 head towards India, wander the hills of Kullu-Manali in the summer and head towards the beaches of Goa in winter. In Kullu, district officials anxiously monitor the influx of Israeli tourists each summer. Their number has been growing steadily by nearly 60 per cent annually in the last three years. Not just that , they are also the largest group among foreign tourists who seek visa extensions and are aggressive about it. ‘They usually come in and ask for visa extensions as a matter of right ’ says a senior police official. ‘One group even offered to fight it out when I refused them . The Israelis undoubtedly form the largest group of foreign tourists coming here and are a fairly aggressive lot.’  The problem can be compounded by the fact that nearly 4,000 acres of the land in the district is under hashish cultivation. The situation has gone so out of hand that district administration officials, unable to cope with the problem on their own, have written to the state and central governments to intervene with requests of demanding at least $5,000 from all Israelis before they are granted Indian visas.

A couple of years back, the DG of the Israeli Authority Against Drugs, took up the matter with the Israeli ambassador in India and decided to set up a Bayit Cham (Israeli home) in Old Manali run by a middle-aged Israeli couple who would advise and counsel those coming to the region. The authorities felt Israeli youth like to visit special places, and India being beautiful and very cheap is a great favourite. In Goa, Kasol, Manali and Mcleodganj (Dharamsala), they find themselves in an environment where drugs are cheap and readily available. With an Israeli couple stationed here councelling would be easy and available at the source so a couple came to Old Manali a little over a year ago to take charge of the home. ‘We ensure that when the kids come and spend time with us, they don’t do drugs. We also tell them to be polite to the locals and respect local customs. We see to it that the Israeli backpackers who come into the region make use of our library which has books in Hebrew on India to sensitise them to local mores. It’s usually the first-timers who have just come out of the army and are keen to experience new cultures who need us the most, stated the couple. While most of their efforts are centred in and around Manali, Kasol and Chalal, she also spends time at Bhagsu village near Mcleodganj (Dharamsala) where Israeli backpackers go in search of spiritual solace. Now though Jewish rabbis armed with the holy Torah too have set up camp in Old Manali and Kasol to bring the astray back into the fold. One rabbi has based himself in Kasol and functions out of a local restaurant that serves as a makeshift synagogue. While he goes about his task with great commitment, his flock is yet to grow, given that most Israeli backpackers still go for smokes rather than spirituality.

Good or bad the Israelis look like they are here to stay,  by force, if necessary. The locals find them more demanding than the Europeans and Americans. They bargain for everything and usually get their price, they demand their food as a matter of right and even be ready to fight for what they want. Life isn’t the same anymore for the people of the Kullu Valley as the villages have been jolted out of their idyllic slumber witness to the hustle and bustle all summer and rave parties every full moon. The 35,000-strong Israeli backpackers mean good business. But the elation comes tinged with apprehension. The party may not last too long, with drugs becoming so rampant and the Israeli government getting worked up about it. If the police are forced to crack down severely on the trade, a heathen paradise would then be lost .

E-rickshaws regularisation: A political drive?

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Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari was greeted with loud cheers at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan yesterday when he assured that now e-rickshaws will ply on Delhi’s streets without the need of a license.

Announcing Deen Dayal E Rickshaw Scheme aimed at giving jobs to 200 million people across India, Gadkari spoke of eight measures the government had decided on to end the harassment faced by e-rickshaw drivers at the hands of traffic and transport officials. As he elaborated each measure, cheers in the makeshift tent packed with people grew louder and louder. “Police used to harass us. Now, we can earn our livelihood without any fear,” said Sunil, an e-rickshaw owner. While another driver, Sonu said, “If their promises on the loan come through, it will be a huge boost to us. Otherwise, contractors can really exploit people like us.”

Nitish Gadkari addressing the e rickshaw drivers' rally

Nitish Gadkari addressing the e rickshaw drivers’ rally

Critics argue that e rickshaws are not registered and ply without any license number plate, thereby, marring their accountability. Lack of legally binding documents makes it difficult to prosecute these vehicles in case of an accident or traffic violation. It is virtually impossible to fine these vehicles as they are not registered. E Rickshaws are not suitable for plying on major roads due to their limited speed. The highly fragile and unstable e-rickshaws are vulnerable to accidents.

Another drawback posed by these battery powered vehicles is that the battery used in these vehicles cannot be recycled. An e-rickshaw battery has a lifespan of 6-7 months. This means that harmful chemical and metals end up in the garbage that in India can be discarded anywhere- from parks, landfills, streets etc. Also, it was observed that many drivers used illegal means to charge the battery of these vehicles, which usually takes up to 10 hours.

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Urban development experts argue that e-rickshaws are in an urgent need of regularisation or else they would end up being a menace on Delhi roads. These rickshaws were first introduced on city roads in 2010 ahead of the Commonwealth Games, but have been accorded legal status by the government it almost after four years.

Amid this debate on the issue of legal or illegal, BJP has played its game very smartly. With this decision, the BJP-led NDA government has not just put an end to the protests by e-rickshaw drives but also managed to steal the spotlight from the Aam Aadmi Party, a day after its leaders met Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to plead the case of the e-rickshaw drivers. In the case of a re-election in the capital, BJP leaders admit, a slight shift in this vote bank will help the party in a big way.

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