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Whose Taj is it, Emperor Shahjahan?
by Vrishti Beniwal

     New Delhi: When Urdu poet Majrooh Sultanpuri said, "Ek Shehenshah ne banwa ke hasin Taj Mahal, saari duniya ko mohabbat ki nishani di hai", Bollywood lyricist Sahir Ludhiyanvi countered him by saying, "Ek Shehenshah....Taj Mahal, hum garibon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaaq." But, if today, someone wants to describe the 'wonder in marble', he would say, "Ek Shehenshan..., iski milkiyat pe lagaya hai sawaliya nishan." Indeed, both Majrooh and Sahir were viewing the Taj as an eternal monument of love, but today with UP Central Sunni Wakf Board staking its claim on the monument, built by fifth Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, it is more in news because of its ownership rights. Whose Taj is it, anyway?

      Prince Yakub Habeebuddin Tucy, the self-proclaimed great grand son of last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, today said that Shahjahan had dedicated the monument to be Wakf, which means dedicated to Allah; but, the present Wakf board, which was constituted in 1960, is misleading the people by claiming that the Taj belongs to it. The control and management of the protected monument is with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1904, and Habeebuddin wants it to stay with the Government body, as his ancestors had willed it to the 'Hakim-E-Waqt', i.e. the rule of empire, which in today's age translates to the Government of India. Zafar's sixth descendent alleged that the Wakf Board is basically interested in the revenue that the ASI collects from the 'symbol of love'. He also said that the ASI is doing a great job, and that the Wakf board is not fully equipped for the maintenance of the Taj. "This is a monument that belongs to the people of India and not to any particular community. I want the monument to stay with the ASI," said Habeebuddin, adding that he wants the Government to allow him perform 'Urs' (Prayer) on the graves of his ancestors, once in an year. The Wakf board, however, claims that the Taj Mahal houses a number of graves of Muslims, and therefore, it is a graveyard. A Muslim graveyard is a Waqf property, claims the Sunni board. The owner of the Taj gets a substantial share of the collection from the tourists. The annual collection from the entry fees of the Taj, visited by lakhs of domestic and foreign tourists, is around Rs 15 crore annually. Now, who gets the custody of Taj Mahal, only time will tell, but the Government can take a sigh of relief that at least Shahjahan's decedents don't stake their claim on monument.
-July 29, 2005

Kerala's latest to entice tourists: Astro Forests  (Go to Top)
by KS Ashik

     Kochi: Plant a tree associated with the star under which you were born, and attain happiness and prosperity! Yet another stunt by the government to attract tourists after recent allurements of tree huts and coconut climbing. To make this a reality, the Government of Kerala has established the first Astro Forest of the World called "Nakshtra Vanam" under the Thenmala Eco Tourism project. In Indian Astrology, the forecast for a person is based on the Nakshtra or the constellation on which the moon was placed at the time of one's birth. The zodiac system is divided by 27 Nakshatras. Each Nakshatra is associated with a tree. These trees are of medicinal, social or aesthetic value. It is believed that if one plants the tree associated with his nakshatra in his home or whereever he wishes to, it would bring him prosperity and happiness. "All of us know in India of the 27 stars, starting from Ashwini and ending with Revati. Everybody takes birth in a period associated with a particular star,and it is recorded in our horoscopes. But how many of us know that each star is associated with a tree? It's a fact every star is connected with a tree. In Kerala, it is a belief that if you plant a tree associated with the star under which you were born in your house, it will bring you health, wealth and prosperity. " We are transforming this belief into an environmental programme. These trees have medicinal, social or aesthetic or economic value and when all put together it becomes a self-sustainable Eco-system," said K G Mohanlal, Indian Forest Services(IFS), Chief Executive. The visitors coming to Thenmala, located about 72kms from Thiruvananthapuram, are quite enthusiastic about the new concept and visit the place to plant trees for good luck. " I was told that I could plant a tree associated with my star and it will bring good luck to me. So I came here to plant a tree ." said Shaji Vettooran, a tourist. The Eco tourism authorities also have an answer to those tourists who have no space in their houses. They can now plant a tree in the Thenmala Eco tourism area and keep in touch with the forest authorities and know how well it is growing. The authorities will take care of that tree and they will update the concerned person on the growth of the tree. Thenmala, which means honey hills, consists of small villages at the foothills of Western Ghats rich with lush forests. The honey collected from Thenmala forest region is of rare quality and of high medicinal value because of the unique floristic composition of the forests. If you are taking a holiday in the area, you can visit the famous Shenduruney Wildlife Sanctuary, which is about 100 sq. km.in area and harbours large varieties of flora and fauna. It is the most important resource of Thenmala Ecotourism and for relaxation it has a reservoir, boardwalk, sculpture garden, amphitheatre and Musical Dancing Fountain. Next time you have a holiday in Kerala, visit Shendurney, plant a tree at Thenmala, and be happy and healthy and prosperous.
-July 21, 2005

Nilgiri Mountain Railways becomes a World Heritage site (Go to Top)

     Coimbatore: The Nilgiris Mountain Railways (NMR) has been given the status of a World Heritage site, being an extension of the Darjeeling Himalaya Railway (DHR), during the 29th session of the World Heritage committee meeting at Durban on Friday. The name "Mountain Railways of India" has been given jointly to the Nilgiris Mountain Railways and Darjeeling Himalaya Railways by the committee. With the status, the Railway will get funds from UNESCO annually. According to an official release, the application for the inscription of NMR was submitted by the Palghat Division of Southern Railway. The criteria under which the NMR and DHR have got the status has been described by the committee as impact of development of the Mountain Railways in India on the social and economical values and developments in technology in the multicultural regions, which served as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway runs between Mettupalayam and Udhagamandalam, the famous hill station commonly known as 'Ooty'. Work on the Madras-Coimbatore Railway line had been commenced in June 1853.The Podanur-Mettupalayam branch line had been opened in 1873. The proposal for the extension of the Mettupalayam Branch to Nilgiri was mooted in 1875. The Mettupalayam-Coonoor section was opened to in June 1899. The Indian Government purchased the line and took the construction of the extended railway line from Coonoor to Ooty in January 1903. Work on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (N.M.R) was carried out by the former Madras Railway Company upto December 1907. It was then handed over to South Indian Railway in January 1908.
-July 16, 2005

Uttaranchal's Valley of Flowers becomes world heritage site (Go to Top)

     Chamoli (Uttaranchal): Uttaranchals's 'Valley of Flowers' has made it to the World Heritage Sites list. The other new sites on the list are Japan's Shiretoko Peninsula, Thailand's Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest and Egypt's Whale Valley, West Norwegian Fjords, South Africa's Vredefort Dome, the Gulf of California in Mexico and Coiba National Park in Panama. Situated in the upper reaches of Bhyundar Ganga in the state's Chamoli district, 'Valley of Flowers' is spread over 87.5 square kilometers. A glacial corridor located at an altitude of between 3,250 mt and 6,750 mt, above sea level, the valley is a carpet of wild flowers during the monsoons. Established as one of the country's smallest national parks in 1982 with the aim of protecting the catchment area of the Pushpavati River, steep valley which leads to Hemkunt Sahib. The Park starts from Ghangharia passes the snowclad peak of Ratban Parvat and heads towards kunt Khal and Nar Parvat. The flower blooming period lasts mid July to mid August. Almost 300 species of wild flowers bloom here. The valley's most popular flowers are the Himalayan blue poppy, uncommon varieties of primula and orchids which bloom during June, impatiens, potentillas, and campanulas which paint the valley pink, red, and purple during July and August. Most of these flowers have medicinal values too. There is an abundance of Asmanda as well. From Octuber onward, the valley is snow bound for about five months. Traditionally, the Valley of Flowers is used by shepherds to allow their flock to graze. References of this colouful and eye catching valley, are found in ancient Indian History and literatures. Legend has it that this vally had valueable 'Sanjeevani' herb which Hanuman picked up and brought to Lanka to revive an injured Lakshman. But due to its near inaccessible approach, the valley disappeared from the tourist map until in 1931 when Franksmith, a British mountaineer, having lost his way while returning from successful expendition to Mt. Kamat, discovered valley.
-July 15, 2005

Puri - ultimate destination for tourists and devotees (Go to Top)

     Puri (Orissa): India, which is known for its rich heritage and religious diversity, is being adapted by several people across the world as their home after witnessing its traditions. One of such inspiring places is the country's temple town--Puri in Orissa. The ongoing Jagannath Puri Chariot festival, which attracts millions of domestic and foreign devotees, has influenced many such visitors over the years. The temple, about 60 kilometres from Bhubaneswar, is one of the holiest places for the Hindus. It is also considered the eternal abode of Lord Jagannath. This was an enough reason for the 52-year-old Mandali Bhadra Das, a native of Italy, who came to Puri more than 15 years ago, and felt highly overwhelmed to stay here forever thereafter. "I chose to live in India, in "Bharat Varsha", to perform Bhakti Yoga (a stage in an ascetic's path to salvation). Jagannath Puri is a very special place because in the accounts of Chaitanya Bhagawata (Hindu scripture), Lord Jagannath is Lord Krishna who never leaves this place. He lives here eternally and I am happy to be a little part of his family," said Das, who was called Tom before he re-christened himself. Das, later on, married a Hindu and now has three children in his family. His wife, Brunda Bati, does not feel any cultural differences with her husband. The couple is happy to live as per Indian values and traditions. "I am very happy to be with him because he follows our Hindu faith and respects it. His behaviour is more religious than some people in Hindu society. I like being with him," Brunda Bati said. Another Italian couple, living in Puri since the late 1980s, has adjusted to the Indian lifestyle because of their deep affection for Lord Jagannath. "I didn't know very well the story of Lord Jagannath. But when I saw His idol, I liked the beautiful form of the Lord and slowly, I read books and met with Krishna's devotees," said Krishna Priya Das, who lives with her husband, Gokul Ranjan Das. There are more than 50 foreigners in Puri who have stayed back for the sheer love of Lord Jagannath. Most of them came as members of the ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). Puri's annual Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival, is a round trip from the main temple to another nearby temple where the idols of the deities rest for seven days before their return to the main temple.The main temple building is 65 metres high mounted on the mystic "Chakras" or wheels. Puri, the abode of Sri Jagannath or the Lord of the Universe, is famous all over the world. The golden triangle of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar is too popular both with the domestic and foreign tourists. One of the four holiest places (Dhams) of the country, Puri has been a great centre of pilgrimage for centuries. Once on thickly wooded hills and inhabited by the Sabaras, pre Aryan and pre-Dravidian tribes of the Austric linguistic family, Puri located right on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, is today one of the finest sea resorts as well. Its salubrious environs and sunny beach attract tourists from near and distant places. Watching the sunrise here is an elevating and unforgettable experience. The place can be visited any time throughout the year. Puri offers a number of colourful fairs and festivals such as Chandan Yatra, Snan Yatra (Bath festival), Ganesh Puja, etc., but it is the Car Festival, an annual sojourn of the three deities riding their lofty chariots to their respective huge cars--14 metres high, 10 metres square and supported on 16 giant wheels, each over two metres in diametre that marks the climax. Puri is always thronged with pilgrims and tourists but it is nothing compared to the motley and seething humanity which sojourn here during Rath Yatra or the Car Festival.
-July 10, 2005

Himachal's Kasol --a hub for Israeli tourists (Go to Top)

     Kasol (Kullu): The beautiful village of Kasol in Kullu district has recently transformed into a hub for Israeli tourists for it's greenery and mountains. The forests of Pines border this beautiful village of Kasol. "The mountains, the green, the rivers and the second thing is that it's only day time in Israel and so now many people can go to travel," said Dacel, an Israeli tourist. The population here is balanced equally between Himachalis (local residents of Himachal) and foreign-settlers, especially the Israelis. Kasol, a paradise, is an open space by the banks of the Parbati river. The clean white sands and green grass makes it a beautiful place. Cooking in the wild is always enjoyable and pancakes and apple- pies are easily available from the German Bakery in the village.The restaurants at Kasol cater to the taste of these tourists. Israeli cuisine and other varieties are enjoyed by the tourists. "Israelis come in large numbers and that is why the restaurants cater to their taste and prepare Israeli food since this kind of food is in demand," said Hira, local restaurant owner. Most of the young Israelis come here to enjoy the nature. They feel that since the situation in their country is tense and this small village provides some respite to them. "This is a beautiful valley. We come here to see the view, to travel here, and to rest... They have everything here. It's comfortable here and we have food from all over the world and Israeli food.Yes, it's very tense in Israel and we come here to forget about it," said Amitaien, an Israeli tourist. Even the boards and banners in the restaurants are written in Israeli language for the convenience of the tourists. The shops in the small village of Kasol have western clothes and the demand for them is high. But most of these tourists are addicted to drugs which has its influence on the local youth . They are being drawn towards the Israeli culture. Regardless of these factors, Kasol is a pleasant place for a vacation and the memory of traveling through the orchards lingers long in the hearts of the tourists. Kullu is located amidst the Himalayas at an altitude of 1,200 meter above sea level at the confluence of Beas and Sarvari rivers. It is 240 km north of Shimla. Summers are mild and winters are cold. It experiences southwestern monsoon rains in July-September. Kasol, located on the banks of river Parvati, is amongst the many splendid spots that dot the Kullu valley. It is an angler's paradise, as it offers excellent opportunities for fishing trout.
-July 8, 2005

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References: Lucknow, the City of Nawabs, beckons tourists Wood carving industry dying a slow death in Uttaranchal Agra takes to pigeon flights after 20 years, Auli beckons tourists, India, India News, Newspaper, Indian, News, Travel News, India Travel Times, Travel,Tourism, Tour, Tourist, India, Times, News, Hotels, Airlines, Ayurveda, Yoga, Hindu, Taj Mahal, Cuisine, Festival, Temple, Trekking, Hindu, Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Odissi, Dance, Shimla,Varanasi, Kullu, Manali, Dehra Dun, Mussourie, Mussoorie, Haridwar, Hardwar, Rishikesh, Nainital, Delhi, Goa, Kovalam, Darjeeling, Bodh Gaya, Kancheepuram, Kanchipuram, Thekkady, Badrinath, Amar Nath,Vaishno Devi, Tirupati, Sabarimala, Guruvayoor, Kanyakumari, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Chennai,

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