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Food for Thought if You’re Deciding Where to Go on Holiday
A corporate show took me to Prague last week. I had a wonderful event and was grateful for the experience. However my show aside, 5 days in Europe made me reflect and question why so many of us in India, have what in my opinion is an illogically large fascination, sometimes bordering on an obsession, with travelling to the continent.
First, getting a visa to come to Europe is a pain. Visa officers ask for a plethora of documents. The list is so ridiculous I’m surprised it doesn’t include a birth certificate signed by the doctor who delivered us, in his or her own blood.
I wonder how many Europeans would fancy a trip to India if we charged them the same fee for a visa they they charge us, and asked them for six months of bank statements with proof of liquid funds, and attested copies of two years of filed income tax returns. For a continent that boasts about caring about the climate, the fact that they require hard copies of all documents, with visa applications sometimes running into over fifty pages, is a joke.
Add to that, for Schengen visas, they want copies of hotel bookings, return flights and internal flights for your entire trip. The fact that it costs you cancellation fees for all those things in the event that the visa is not granted, shows their strong disregard for your hard earned resources.
Second, when you compare tourism in many places in Europe to places in Asia, it pales in comparison. Services standards in Asia are far higher, as are the quality of hotels - particularly in the luxury segment*. Rooms in Asia tend to be larger and unlike Europe, bathrooms are equipped with THE most critical requirement of Asian travellers - a jet spray!
Restaurants stay open later this side of the world and have a much larger variety of cuisines on offer that suit our palette. Flight connectivity is more convenient in Asia, getting a visa doesn’t take months of waiting, there is tons of culture and activity on offer, and the trip is almost always lighter on the pocket.
While we’re on the subject, I’d like to go a step closer than Asia - our own country, India. 'Incredible India' truly is an appropriate phrase chosen by our Ministry of Tourism because what we have to offer is nothing short of incredible.
Our hospitality industry, particularly in the luxury segment, compares with the best in the world. The rich diversity of what is to be enjoyed in India, whether it be food, nature, history, art, culture or more, is magnificent. Within a 45 minute drive of my own home, I can see, taste and experience so much more than I was able to in 5 days in Prague.
This is not a post that is aimed at snubbing other countries or continents. But a thought I’d like to put in your head as much as my own. Sometimes we are so focused on things far away that we fail to see that what we’re looking for is right at our own doorstep. It’s probably been a couple of decades since I read Paulo Coelho’s seminal book, The Alchemist, but if I remember correctly, that was the essence of the global bestseller.
I recently visited the Ellora Caves in Aurangabad and they blew me away. I haven’t seen anything as fantastic as the Kailasa Temple anywhere in the world. It is an entire temple, carved out of a SINGLE rock. It is said to be the largest monolithic structure in the world, was vertically excavated, and it is estimated that over 3 million cubic feet of stone weighing over 200,000 tons were removed to build this temple. It is unfathomable how this 100 ft deep temple was built over 1500 years ago using just hammers and chisels. Each panel as you walk around the perimeter of the temple tells an an entire story. The Ramayana is carved on one side of the temple and the Mahabharata on the other. It is truly a wonder of the world and you must hire a guide when you go visit.
The reason for my post is this: I urge you, my fellow Indians, to explore, learn about and experience our own country before you go beyond our borders. Don’t take home for granted. Domestic travel also fuels our economy and puts food on the table of many. While I’m addressing my countrymen here, I’m confident this thinking is relevant to whichever country you’re from i.e. home first.
I personally am embarrassed and sometimes feel ashamed of myself when I visit a tourist site in a foreign country, hear a guide talk about it’s history, and realise there is something far more interesting and of greater historical significance 20 minutes from my own home, and I haven’t visited it. I will try and change this going forward and I hope you will too. Not out of guilt or even pride for that matter (although there may be a bit of that), but because it really is the better option.
* Note: I'm aware of the fact that my point of view is also a function of my relative privilege, in that when I travel, I have the resources that allow me to stay in hotels and have experiences that not everyone may have access to.
If you know someone who works in the hospitality industry in India, do share this with them to show your appreciation for what a wonderful industry they have built, and the fabulous work they do.