BY SHAILENDRA JAYAL
( FORMER CHIEF GENERAL MANAGER)
STEEL AUTHORITY OF INDIA LIMITED (SAIL)
DURGAPUR, 24 JANUARY 2023
I recently visited Europe on a package tour through one of the renowned Tourism Package Managers. It was an eleven day trip touching some of the major tourism attractions in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. It was a whirlwind tour and we crisscrossed the aforesaid nations in a luxury bus right from touching down at Paris to taking off from Rome eleven days later. Though one would get to know all about the places we visited on YouTube but still I would mention a couple
of highlights that made our tour memorable.
Switzerland, as we all know, is a picture postcard country with it’s breathtaking views as you traverse through it, but riding the train and the cable car to the summit at Mt. Titlis was an out of the world experience. They have taken a lot of effort to make it a tourist attraction par excellence with beautifully designed tunnels and laminated and lighted life size pictures of the lovely surroundings. I also did the snow walk and sat on Snow Flyer, having open seat (with front lock) which takes you
about a 200 metres deep inside the snow covered mountains and brings you back giving you enough time to get on the seat and get down when it brings you back, otherwise it keeps on moving and interested people keep on getting up to have a lovely view of the Alps. Off course, it’s not for the weak hearted as we saw very few people taking it mainly because you feel as if you are moving suspended with the snow clad mountains below and on the sides.
The river cruise in Paris on the River Seine in the evening was also amazing as one could see the beautifully lighted up Eiffel Tower and all the famous and historic buildings on the sides. Having tea and snacks at one of the open air restaurants at Venice in the evening with music and people dancing around was a treat to watch besides the usual Gondola ride. The Mini Europe in Brussels was also great as they have created beautifully crafted miniature structures of the major attractions with waterways and mini ships moving about.
Since our package included all the meals, we had that much less botheration as all the lunches and dinners were pre booked in good Indian restaurants serving quality Indian food except for one lunch that was booked in a good Italian restaurant, where we had some of the choicest Italian dishes. Besides food, we also did not have to bother about lodging, boarding and transport as the details about the hotels had been circulated amongst the travelers beforehand. Then, travelling with 30 people was really fun as it was nice to know about different people and some or the other thing was constantly happening inside bus including singing, telling jokes, narrating interesting incidents etc. The biggest advantage was that in a short duration of eleven days you can see plenty of locations as the tour is totally packed.
When we talk about the cons, then in a package tour you spend a lot of time travelling by bus which sometimes is boring. Then we stayed at eight different hotels in different cities and countries and often we used to reach hotel late after having dinner and then next morning we used to again pack our bags and leave after breakfast to a different location. We were literally living out of suitcases and there were times when we reached our hotel at 11 pm and left next day after breakfast at 8.00
am. Then one must remember the fact that while going for a sightseeing tour of Europe one needs to walk a lot and it used to be invariably around 12,000 steps daily for us. The tour package was too packed but then the Tour Managers would like to offer you the best of sight-seeing options at a very reasonable cost. The cost came to upwards of about Rs. 3 lakhs per head including the individual expenses on mementoes, water bottles, minor snacks etc.
Saw Indians everywhere:
With a burgeoning middle class and rising disposable incomes, Indians like to visit different places as we saw Indian tourists everywhere and in all the countries. Even earlier, during my visits to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, almost every third tourist I found was an
Indian. It was good to see our countrymen enjoying the experience of visiting different countries as during the 1970’s to around the year 2000, mostly Indians ‘visited’ countries through Bollywood films. An evening in Paris, Des Pardes, Love in Tokyo and many such films were big hits as people flocked to see the foreign locales on celluloid.
Off course, the flip side to this is the precious foreign exchange we spend in those countries boosting their tourism further, while we have not yet learnt fully how to ‘sell’ our tourist attractions, which are many more in numbers, but not publicized and managed professionally. Off-course, Europe, Australia, US, New Zealand and even China and Russia have some natural advantages like weather, which is either moderate or cold. They have also spent heavily on infrastructure and transport, making it extremely tourist friendly like big hoardings and signage boards on all the roads, which clearly indicate where the road is leading you to, and at the intersections you have clear cut indicators where each road is going. The best thing I noticed was during long travel by road as people wanted to visit the restroom after every two/three hours and invariably as we requested the driver for a break, he used to take us to a highway motel within 10 to fifteen minutes mainly because the signage for a highway motel used to appear at least 3 kms beforehand. The highway motels were neat, clean and aesthetically designed as besides the restrooms they used to be packed with all kinds of stuff neatly. Off course, one had to shell out around seventy cents for using the restrooms though if you buy something from the motel, they used to reduce the price of purchases by seventy cents on production of the ticket, which you get as you put in seventy cents to enter the restroom arena.
Their population is less (except China) which puts that much less stress on their infrastructure unlike India. The crowd regulation, ticketing, information counters, neat and clean restrooms, garbage bins (at regular intervals), regular cleaning of the area and roads are some of the advantages they have over us. Garbage collection and proper disposal is a very big problem in our country and the second big problem is cleaning of the rivers. Recently, on a Ganga cruise in Kolkata I saw all kinds of garbage in water besides piles of debris on both sides of the banks. And this is not only in Kolkata but everywhere in our country. Here, I fully agree that it’s every individual responsibility and one should try to use bins or proper locations for disposing garbage and debris.
But, in the end I must say that gradually people are becoming aware and helping the government in their efforts to clean up the cities and rivers. Well, I am waiting for the day Kolkata reclaims it’s past glory and splendor, as it’s already the premier cultural, historic, heritage yet modern city, bestowed with temperate weather and docile and friendly people.
Let’s hope for the BEST.