Tensing Carlos Rodrigues

Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Does not sound like Goa, right ?

In Goa at Crossroads on March 31, 2013 at 4:16 am

Goa at Crossroads

#06

Hardly a three metre strip of sand, choc-a-bloc with chairs, arm chairs, beds, stools; a broad road running along it, giant Merc buses and Isuzu pick-ups zipping up and down; rows after rows of stalls selling all types of knick knacks, cold drinks, snacks, undergarments, curios; speed boats anchored right as you get off the sand into the water, picking tourists for rides to the islands and parasailing platforms in the sea; the sky punctured by towering Hiltons, Marriotts, Hyatts, InterContinentals, Accors and BestWesterns; that is a beach.

 Drive inwards, food joints jostle for space and attention – local, Chinese, Continental, fusion, all types of cuisine; very prominent are the eateries run by the whites (should I say expats ?) – they have high sounding names, difficult to understand and offer “back home” menus.

 No less prominent are the massage parlours – almost every third establishment that is not an eating place or a chemist’s is a massage parlour. Behind glass windows, you can see beds with impeccable white linen, towels neatly rolled up and silhouettes of women in waiting. But not all have the glass windows; all that you see are sign boards and pretty women sitting or standing at the door. Sometimes it is just a small board with an arrow pointing to the upper floor. Most of them have a sign upstairs that says “Rooms Available”.

 PattayaHowever much that may arouse your imagination, the days are rather dull here. Let the sun set and lights come on, the city sparkles in sensuous colours. The eating places get crowded and the side alleys almost spring out of nowhere, like bright enticing  tentacles of an octopus that have pool parlours for their suckers; so many of them. After a few of those I simply lost count of the alleys and the pool parlours; almost got lost; tired and scared, I returned to the base at Golden Beach Hotel. For the pool parlours was something that I had not seen before – so large, so many tables, with young girls loitering around, waiting for “players”.

 All over, the roads are full of whites, walking hand in hand with local girls – well, so many of them that one finds it rather weird. What are all these whites doing here ? What do they come here for ? They understand no local language; their female consorts interpret it for them and help them choose the dishes on the menu.

 Does not sound like Goa, right ? Well, it is not; it is Pattaya. But could be Goa, say circa 2061 !

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Flying to the Millionnaires’ Row

In Travels on March 24, 2013 at 6:47 am

Heeren Street or Millionnaires’ Row (now Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) runs parallel to its better known counterpart Jalan Hang Jebat or Jonker Street, as you cross the small bridge across the River Melaka from the Dutch Square. Both have their own claim to fame. The Jonker Street is a gastronomical delight; but let’s keep that for some other time.

Heeren StHeeren Street is where the wealthy Peranakan Chinese built their ornate houses in Malacca in 15th and 16th centuries. Peranakan are the descendants of Chinese males (baba) who married the local Malay females (nyonia). They prospered mainly in trade and tin mining. Hotel Puri Melaka is a beautiful example of how this unique cultural heritage has been preserved and is presented to the present day visitor to Melaka.

Though you cannot fly to Millionnaires’ Row, as Melaka does not have an international airport, you need not despair; you can as good as fly. Just take a flight to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport – KLIA.

1280px-KLIA_Aerotrain2Unlike many other airports, Kuala Lumpur International Airport is not named after any person; just call it KLIA; but keep that abbreviation in mind, for it is very handy. Spanning around 1002 km, it is one of the largest airports in the world, and one of the friendliest. You land at what is called the Satellite Terminal A. A dedicated passenger train called the Aerotrain takes you to the Main Terminal or Terminal 1, where you complete your immigration and other tasks like buying local currency or SIM card. These three-car driverless trains run every five minutes on elevated rail and under the taxiways. Each 250-person capacity train can transport 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction at up to 56 km/h; the journey takes under two minutes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZxOmFCiyAs

KLIAekspres_SalakSelatanOnce you are done and are ready to quit the airport, do not worry as to how you are going to travel the next 57 km to Kuala Lumpur city – that is where you need to go for your onward journey to Melaka; do not even hail a cab. From within the Main Terminal a high speed non-stop train named KLIA Express takes you into another marvelous transport hub, KL Sentral in the heart of Kuala Lumpur – in just 28 minutes, with trains departing at 15 minute intervals during peak hours and 20 minute intervals during off-peak hours.

KL Sentral is the largest railway station in Southeast Asia. Besides KLIA Ekspres, the station provides access to other rail lines  : KTM Komuter, KTM Intercity, RapidKL and KL Monorail. Spread over more than 9 acres, KL Sentral offers under one roof shopping, food, entertainment, train and bus services and even check in for your flights. You can relax here, refuel yourself and begin the next leg of your ‘flight’ – to Tampin. Take a KTM Intercity train going to Singapore, and get down at Tampin. If you arrive on an early morning flight, you can comfortably take a train leaving around noon from KL Sentral; you have two or three of these trains in a day, going towards Singapore.

IMG_2076By the time the bus pulls into Melaka Sentral – Melaka’s equivalent of KL Sentral – it is dark. Do not get panicky. You may relax and try out some refreshments; or head straight to the Bus Bay no. 17 and take the Panorama Bus.  Depending on the traffic congestion in the city, it may take you between 15 minutes to 1 hour – avoid Saturdays – to reach the Dutch Square, stop #5 from Melaka Sentral. But you cannot miss it; the bright pink of the Stadthuys, the Christ Church and the Clock Tower overwhelms you. Get down and take a fresh breath; the Millionnaires’ Row is just across the river. Do not cross the bridge in a hurry. Take in the scene; you will most likely love it at first sight.

IMG_2242Once across the bridge, and below the dragon spouting water, do not proceed straight; that is the Jonker’s Street. At that time of evening, it will be too crowded for you to pull your suitcase along. Take the left road – that is the Heeren Street; that is narrower, and you will have to constantly watch out for the cars buzzing by. Do not get distracted by the dazzling beauty of the mansions on either side; keep it for the next day. Well, you can spend days together admiring the Millionnaires’ Row. For the moment, just walk straight till you see the sign board of Hotel Puri Melaka on your right. Good night.

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An airport too far – 1

In Politically wrong on March 17, 2013 at 9:52 am

At the end of the article MOPA v/s DABOLIM by Rahul Basu that appeared in the Herald Review of Sunday, 10th February, 2013, based on a blog post of the same name dated 9th February (http://moreseriously.blogspot.in), the author seems to very convincingly conclude that the idea of an airport at Mopa is ‘stupid’ : “Our politicians are not stupid, why are they still pushing for Mopa ?”  

Well, the idea is made to look stupid by putting blinkers on the readers’ eyes.  What I wish to do here is to let the reader look beyond the blinkers. 

AirportsFirst and foremost, let me accept that Mopa is not perhaps the best location for a new airport. But I suppose now we are beyond the stage of looking out for an optimum location for the airport; so, accepting fait accompli, I am restricting myself to just Mopa and Dabolim. Further, I fully agree with Mr. Basu that two airports in such close vicinity is a ‘stupid’ idea.

Now let me come to the two restrictive premises that make an airport at Mopa look stupid : one – that the international airport in Goa is for Goa alone; two – that an airport is merely a place where planes land.

An international airport in Goa cannot be for Goa alone; it cannot be sustained by the traffic generated by a small place like Goa. Goa may be a state, but it is smaller in area and population than many districts in India. We may be under an illusion that Goa’s tourist flow will sustain an international airport. We need to rethink that assumption.

HighwaysTherefore we have to necessarily look at a larger catchment area. What could be the catchment area of an airport in Goa ? Goa’s geographical positioning, I feel, restricts the catchment area of the airport to the coastal belt – south of the hinterland of Mumbai and north of the hinterland of Mangalore. We may have to replace the existing Mumbai airport in the north by the airport in or around Navi Mumbai, whilst doing this calculation. That gives us about 250 km to the north and 200 km to the south, which encompasses the districts of Ratnagiri (South) and Sindhudurga in Maharashtra and Uttar Kannad in Karnataka.

Why not the area beyond the Ghats like the districts of Kolhapur and Sangli in Maharashtra and Belgaum, Dharwad and Haveri in Karnataka ? Passengers or freight from beyond Ghats cannot be easily captured by an airport in Goa because of tenuous links across the Ghats. The only robust road link between the coast and the up-Ghat region along the entire stretch between Mumbai and Ernakulam is NH 48 (old NH 4) connecting Mumbai to Pune; nowhere below that there exists such a link. There are numerous roads crossing the Ghats to the south of Mumbai : Ratnagiri-Kolhapur, Panaji-Belgaum, Kumta-Sirsi, Honnavar–Shimoga, Managalore-Madikeri, etc.; but none of these are capable of providing robust and rapid links. As for the rail links, Madgaon-Londa is the only broad gauge line crossing the Ghats between Mumbai and Mangalore; seven trains run on the route of which only two are daily.

RailwaysThe broad gauge line connecting Mangalore to Hassan is an even weaker link, with only two daily trains running on it. Both these are single lines and not electrified; the Railway Vision 2020 document too does not propose any improvement in the situation. The next link below that – the Shorannur-Erode line – is however a robust link. The Ghats, therefore, have remained ‘insurmountable’ at least as far as the hinterland of Goa is concerned. Thus, it makes sense to restrict the catchment area of an airport in Goa to the coastal belt – south of the hinterland of Mumbai and north of the hinterland of Mangalore.

The Belgaum and Hubli airports, therefore, move out of reckoning; they cannot be competitors to an airport in Goa. That leaves us with two contenders – Sindhudurga and Karwar. Of these Karwar should be dropped out. It is going to be a Naval Airport, just like Dabolim; and, therefore, like Dabolim, can never aspire to be a ‘real’ International Airport.  A Naval Airport is basically a Defence Establishment, with all its necessary constraints. A civilian airport needs to be free of all constraints, save those related to environment; only then can it aspire to attain global standards. Sindhudurga airport is the only and the real contender; and I have no argument to wish it away; at least at this point. 

For the full story log on to : epaperoheraldo.in and check the March 10, 2013 edition.

My encounter with tourist Goa.

In Goa at Crossroads on March 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

Goa at Crossroads

#05

In late eighties I was working on a project on Impact of Tourism in Goa (Ave Cleto Afonso, TOURISM IN GOA – SOCIO ECONOMIC IMPACT, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, 1989). During the interactions with the stake holders, and those who had applied their mind to the matter, I got the “costa del mierda” view of tourism in Goa. I still cannot forget those prophetic words of Dr. Meenakshi Martins “Upto 200 metres from the high tide line, it is not Goa.” Some years later I found myself once again in a close encounter with tourism while doing market research for a company that contemplated to start a superfast luxury train between Mumbai and Goa. British charter operators predicted the end of charters in a few years. Well that has not happened. Or has it not really ? Bizarre descriptions of male prostitution involving German widows and local fishermen haunt my mind when I think of the charters. For me the trail of tourism ended there; I changed my track after that, and my only view of tourism was what I got from my daily newspaper. By the way, that superfast luxury train never started; do not blame me for that; I reported what I gathered from the horses’ mouths !

Old anchorBut the beginning of my encounter with tourism was much earlier. As a young undergraduate student at Dhempe College in mid seventies, it was not rare to have a couple of guys in trance on the backbenches in the amphitheatre lecture rooms. But, perhaps for me tourist Goa phenomenon was even more personal. Most of my childhood summer evenings were spent on the then virgin Fatrade beach. Occasionally we would walk along to Mobor and be awed by the sheer beauty of the dazzling white line of sand drawn over a shimmering blue sea. My father told me it was the most beautiful place in the world. A few years later when we began to work, and have loose change in the wallet (some of us a little more as they went on board the ship), we dreamed of buying up that “most beautiful place on earth” ! But when Old Anchor set its anchor in the sands of Mobor, it was the end of our age of innocence. We knew we had lost the damsel we had loved all along.

But, can we just blow away this empire built over last fifty years in a fit of kolaveri ? It shall go nevertheless, whether we like it or not, in a fit of kolaveri. Tourist destinations are prone for self destruction. As S C Plog points out in his Why Destination Areas Rise And Fall In Popularity (Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 1974) : “We can visualize a destination moving across a spectrum, however gradually or slowly, but far too often inexorably, toward the potential of its own demise. Destination areas carry with them the potential seeds of their own destruction, and lose their qualities which originally attracted tourists.” The same is reinforced by R W Butler (The Concept Of A Tourism Area Cycle Of Evolution : Implications For Management Of Resources, Canadian Geographer, 1980). According to Butler, there are six stages through which tourist areas pass : exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation, and decline.

This happens basically because of two strong forces : one, the congestion and the ensuing discomfort – falling service standards, rising prices, dirt and stink – chase away the tourists; two, as tourism empire grows, the conflict between the interests of the host population and the tourists increases, causing frequent clashes and an eventual backlash.

Giedre Steikunaite, the former editorial intern at the New Internationalist, recounts the story of Cancún, Mexico :

“Cancún is trapped in the vicious circle of tourism development, which both feeds it and kills it. Just 40 years ago, Kankun (‘nest of snakes’ in Maya) was a sleepy fishing village with marshes, mangroves, virgin jungle and untouched beaches. The paradise lasted until 1970, when the government decided it was time for a new Acapulco, as the original one had been degraded and couldn’t serve as a reliable money pot any longer.”

Marine biologist Everto Herrera Batista, researcher for Alerta Cambio Climático, explains that rains have decreased in recent years and the state is suffering droughts and desertification. The number of cyclones has almost doubled in the last 30 years, from 10 in 1980 to 19 this year. As if that wasn’t enough, the rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of the white sandy beaches which attract tourists in the first place.