Feb 18th
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The Race of My Life

Milkha Singh, Sonia Sanwalka

Milkha Singh has led a life dominated by running, running, running? From a boy who narrowly escaped death during Partition (most of his family was not so lucky), to a juvenile delinquent who stole and outran the police, to a young Army recruit who ran his very first race to win special privileges for himself (a daily glass of milk). After that first race, Milkha Singh became an athlete by default. And what followed was the stuff legends are made of. In this remarkably candid autobiography, Milkha Singh shares the amazing highs of winning India’s first ever gold in athletics at the Commonwealth Games, the unbridled joy of being hailed as the Flying Sikh in Pakistan, as well as the shattering low of failure at the Olympics. Powerful and gripping, The Race of My Life documents the journey of an impoverished refugee who rose to become one of the most towering sport figures.

Month: January 2014.



Manohar Malgonkar

Harry Winton, the British manager of a tea estate in Assam leads a blessed life, a job which gives him power over scores of men; a rambling bungalow perched on the edge of a cliff; and an unencumbered, solitary existence in the verdant reaches of the Assam highlands until the Anglo-Indian beauty, Ruby Miranda, enters his life. Beneath her charming demeanor, Ruby conceals a throbbing desire: to become a pucca memsahib to an Englishman.

But when Harry goes on leave to England and returns with an English wife, his relationship with Ruby takes an ominous turn. An irreversible web of deceit, adultery and revenge begins, which culminates in a chilling denouement.

One of Malgonkar’s most complex and layered novels, Combat of Shadows is a finely etched portrait of a society in flux.

Month: January 2014.

Come summer and the holiday season sets in. Whether it is a hard-core traveller or a family heading out for a relaxing time, most people like to holiday in summer or otherwise. It is now time to plan another vacation for the much-needed post-holiday cheer. But with so many options, where can one go?

What’s hot, what’s not?! With so many options it can be a daunting task to choose one perfect holiday. But where can one go this year? Is it experiential, relaxing, adventure sports oriented or just a plain lazy holiday?!

Where does the compass point to? Well, it depends on what each individual really wants. Because personalisation of holidays is a key factor in all forms of travel, be it business, leisure or any activity oriented.

So what have you? Well, it sounds more like a exhaustive list of some hi-end hi-flying executive’s daring things to do! Ranging from wellness tourism, adventure travel, river cruising, eco-tourism to an ice- explorer ride on the Athabasca Glacier in Canada, kite surfing in the Philippines, indulgent spa therapies at the Karkloof spa in South Africa, Master Chef classes in Australia, music fests like Sunburn, Supersonic & NH7 in India, husky rides in Switzerland, the captivating Aurora Borealis in Canada, Christmas winter wonderland in Vienna and fissure snorkelling in Iceland; these experiential travels and back-packing trips also include trips to offbeat places like Darang, Gavi, Mirik and many other such quaint lil spots.

New niches, customised offerings, packaged tours are what it is all about for people who are turning experimental, looking to customise trips, opting for offbeat destinations and newer experiences.

What people nowadays are looking for is ‘different’. Something that was different from the last time they went out on a holiday. While being rich in culture and combining a wide range of experiences, from vibrant cities to beautiful beaches to natural wonders, they want something that appease and pleases the mind, body, soul and of course the pocket too! This is why many foreign tourist boards are gearing up to meet the growing number of Indians who are travelling abroad and splurging like never before.

India has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing outbound market and in absolute numbers it is second only to China. The number of Indians travelling overseas is set to rise from around 15 million today to 50 million by 2020. India has become one of the key tourism generating nations for their country, according to Tourism Australia. And people from our state are amongst the top spenders in this lot, especially from Hyderabad.

According to a report in Economic Times last year; there are four important trends that are emerging in the world of outbound tourism from India. Firstly it is the travel to meet family; where the trend to visit friends and families within India is playing out well. A Amadeus-Frost & Sullivan report says that a high 43% of leisure travellers from India say visiting friends and relatives was the main reason behind their overseas travel.

With more disposable income and life on credit cards, extended weekends are now more abroad bound; and the good ol’ weekend holidays in nearby hill stations are passé. With direct flights to a number of foreign tourist destinations for an affordable price, people would rather spend their extended weekends overseas.

And places like Maldives, Thailand, Hong Kong, the UAE and Dubai are some of the important emerging destinations for most of the travellers. And why not!

The truth is that it is actually cheaper to travel and holiday in Thailand than in Kerala. You not only enjoy a foreign location but also stay in better hotels abroad. This itself is working as a big enticement for many which is why more and more people are taking more frequent holidays. As incomes rise, travellers are growing both at the top end and the bottom end.

Travellers’ Trends

With cheaper airfare and easy cash available via credit cards, people are now travelling abroad more than within India. You have more friends going out together now, than with their families or corporates using travel options as team building activities. Gone are the days of predictable holidays and staying at hotels and resorts, people are now open to opting for home stay options. Why even the mode of travel for a holiday is no more the same. With more and more people buying cars, they are opting to drive instead to taking the tried and tested train and air travel options. It all sums up to different, cheaper and affordable options on the whole.

A new trend that’s slowly catching on in Hyderabad also is called ‘Professional Aunts, No Kids’ or PANKs. It is the travel craze this year. The way it works is, that unmarried aunts (mostly) go on a holiday with their nieces and nephews. Both sides of the party get to enjoy the holiday without any strings attached.

There are many who just want to literally ‘shout’ and let the whole world know that they will be going, are in and just went on a holiday. They are the royal Holiday Selfies! Now that the word ‘selfie’ has found its way into the Oxford Dictionary, looks like selfies are here to stay for a long time. They are people who post a selfie within just 10 minutes of arriving at their holiday destination.

Then there are the other set of people who just want a plain, simple and lazy holiday; where all they do is nothing. They just want to sit back, laze around, enjoy and unwind. They believe in slow travel, a part of the so-called global ‘Slow Movement’.

It is all about changing the pace of your leisure to savour each and every experience and take it as it comes rather than rush into it. It has become popular especially for those who somehow are not able to relax even while on a holiday. The intention behind this trend is to know more and be a part of the place you are visiting in a more intimate way, rather than a superficial ‘holiday’ way.

It could translate into something as simple as spending time with your local home-stay hosts, walking around rather than using a car or just sitting by the lake and idling! The list is endless and the choices unlimited!

A lot more holidaymakers are looking for more ‘different experience holidays’ as opposed to the classic fly-and-flop by the pool vacation. Ballooning over the Egyptian pyramids, African safari breaks, game lodges and vineyard escapes in South Africa, luxurious tailor-made experiences to suit each one’s need.

The social media holiday group. These are the people who plan and head to their holiday based on the reviews and specials suggested by friends or strangers alike. In the days of social media and smart phones, disappointing and bad reviews spread like wildfire compared to the good reviews and many travel sites are as influential as ever here. With the use of social media globally escalating, good recommendations still carry a lot of weightage. This is yet another reason many holiday destinations, resorts, hotels etc. are using social media to enhance their brand image and announce special offers in ‘real time’. With cut-throat competition rampant in the online world, websites that get it right dominate, while websites with a limited offering find it hard to survive.  In this new hi-tech and fast age, customers want good visuals, complete information and fast and easy ways of booking ahead.

There are yet another set of travellers who are all about sustainable tourism. They practice a certain lifestyle and want to continue the same even on a holiday. They are environmentally-savvy and want to see genuine sustainability and socio-environmental integration. And resorts investing in solar power, rain collection and local community involvement are a safe bet for such people.

Another growing trend of late is the ‘farm-to-table’ approach where resorts turn to farming right on site, sectioning off part of a property for sustainable growing and the fun lies in the fact that, in many cases guests take part in it. This niche segment of wanting to-do-it-all-by-themselves is slowly increasing.

Industry experts say that the biggest trend is women travelling not just within India but abroad, in a big way.

Current Situation

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicts the number of Indian outbound travellers to touch 50 million by 2020. That is a considerable increase over the last decade and those optimistic about the growth in the segment believe that a significant contribution will come from business travellers, adventure travellers and mostly the youth. There is also a growing consensus that emerging destinations will be on the must-visit list of holidaymakers while short-haul destinations will also continue to see a good demand.

With recession and budget cuts everywhere, many travellers are opting for domestic holidays and short weekend getaways. And niche products like rural tourism and voluntourism are picking up pace with traditional destinations topping the list.

According to Euromonitor International’s World Travel Market Global Trends Report, presented nine key emerging travel and tourism trends in the world, looking at how the industry is developing in a rapidly changing global economic and social environment. It identifies key tourism trends set to shape the travel and tourism industry in seven regions and two core strategies. And in the Indian region it is the Travel Social Shake-Up. Only 12% of the Indian population is online yet Facebook claims to have 82 million users in the country, making India its third largest global market after the US and Brazil. India’s online travel agencies are prioritising social media to woo young urban consumers. The Indian Ministry of Tourism too has recently started using social media to promote tourism sites throughout the country, and 70% of all four- and five-star hotels in the main cities have established their social media presence.

Domestic travel is quite dominant and for those who are planning to holiday abroad, intra-regional travel is popular with Asia being the ultimate destination for most. Nearly 55% of our travellers who have plans to travel abroad by the end of this year are planning trips within the Asia region.

Destinations range from national spots like Goa, Hampi, Coorg to international ones like South East Asia, Turkey and Australia to off-beat locales like the North East, Kashmir, Gujarat and Punjab.

This year also is the age of branded products wherein purchase of branded travel products ranging from all inclusive packages, luxury cruise, and adventure travel, all produced and marketed by reputed tour organizations are set to increase. The reason for this is simple. The mid-age segment ranging from 35-55 has limited time at their disposal and they would rather choose a holiday package from well-known companies rather than trying to firm up arrangements on their own. Domestic tourism too is on the rise, be it a river rafting in Zanskar or paragliding in Arambol.

With India standing at 44 on the list of arrivals and likely to go up to 40th by the end of this year, the world realizes the tremendous potential India has to offer. Far from being a luxury which was the case earlier until a decade or so ago, vacation, splurging, incentives travel to and from India has evolved and is now more of a necessity.

Industry Speak

Local, national or international; holidays are holidays no matter what. While the type of holidays and the mode of holidays might have changed, one thing that has not changed is the travel industry’s role in it, which otherwise has only grown bigger in certain sectors. Trying to get the pulse of what the travel industry feels, we spoke to some key operators to know about the holiday trends this season.

Sumitra Senapaty of the Women on Wanderlust (WOW) Club feels that all women travel/holiday is the new trend and Indian women are fast hopping on this bandwagon. “I strongly believe that women travelling in groups would be safer and of course it’s a lot of fun, since women bond well with each other. So my idea for starting The WOW Club is to introduce Indian women to globetrotting, without the hassle of managing the family on the holidays. Women are more willing to take time away from family for their holiday and me-time, and in turn spend time exploring new places to eat, shop and have fun. Primarily I want to give them the opportunity for ‘me time’”, says she. The woman traveller phenomenon is the inspiration behind WOW, a travel club that organizes all-women trips the world over.

Are Hyderabadis travelling more now, than five years ago? “There have been quite a few trends when it comes to Hyderabadi women. Five years ago there were very few women travelling with us from Hyderabad, but now we have a lot more women stepping out to explore new places from Hyderabad and they have wandered to places like Ireland, China, Alaska, Japan, South America, Europe and even participated in trekking and rafting. Hyderabadi women are now taking up travel and exploring adventure travel such as Rishikesh rafting or trekking in the valley of flowers; luxury holidays in South America, Japan, Switzerland & Paris, etc; and even quick weekend getaways such as Gokarna or Kabini. So there is no stopping them now!,” she adds.

“One of the trends that has always stayed upbeat is the group of friends travelling together. On our WOW trips we commonly find friends travelling together in groups or 2, 3 or 4 which is actually quite endearing as they take time out together to spend some quality time holidaying. The newer trend such as Solo Women Travel is slowing kicking off, but in Indian scenario it may take longer to set in,” she says and adds that “Undoubtedly the biggest trend is the fact that Indian women are traveling the world over and loving it! They are exploring new territories and discovering themselves. Totally independent and indulging themselves, I believe that more Indian women travel by themselves sans families than any other nationality, WOW Club has created this niche platform for women.”

Mohit Gupta, Chief Business Officer, Holidays, MakeMyTrip feels that the Indian traveller has evolved over the years and become more confident and experimental. “In 2013 we witnessed a heightened interest in exploring off-beat destinations not just within India but also internationally. Earlier, holidaying was restricted to usual favourite destinations, however, increase in disposable income, higher awareness of these destinations, better/direct connectivity and some great deals have encouraged travellers to explore newer exotic destinations. We received queries for a variety of experiences across new genres such as adventure and sports, from self-drive holidays in new Zealand, safaris in Tanzania to F1 racing in Singapore, says he. Speaking about people from the city, he says “Travellers from Hyderabad are also venturing beyond the usual and looking for richer experiences. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are some of the most popular destinations booked from Hyderabad.”

Speaking about the in-trend, he says “Mobile search and booking is another trend that has become popular with the Indian travellers. In 2013, 15% of hotel bookings and 10% of flight bookings on MakeMyTrip were made via mobile devices. We anticipate the figures to surely rise this year. We are also seeing an emergence of women travelling on their own, be it young girls or professionals all are signing up to explore the world. Be it a trip to seek adventure or just spa vacations, women travellers are ready to spend big bucks and the travel industry sure has taken notice of this and are ready to customize trips as per the demand. MakeMyTrip offers a wide range of options for women who are interested in travelling.”

Shibani Phadkar, Senior Vice President, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. speaking about the local travellers says, “At Thomas Cook India, our sales teams have indicated a 35% y-o-y growth in holiday bookings from Hyderabad. We expect that short haul and value holidays will see strong uptake this upcoming holiday season. Our trend analysis for Hyderabad indicates that besides the perennial favourites of Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand, Dubai and Sri Lanka, new destinations have emerged on the Hyderbadi holiday maker’s radar - South Africa, New Zealand. Island Holidays hold strong allure for the Hyderabadi and not surprising then that we are seeing impactful increase to Fiji, Bali, Tahiti, Maldives, Mauritius, etc. Cruise vacations too have taken off in a big way across all consumer segments in Hyderabad, including MICE. Our travellers from Hyderabad are hungry for travel. For today’s Hyderabadi, holidays are no longer a once-a-year event, but rather multiple trips are now the order of the day: short breaks, weekend getaways, self-drive explorer trips etc.” Short haul holidays include Dubai, Thailand, Malayasia, Singapore, Hong Kong; also newer opportunities like Philippines and closer home, domestic vacations include Goa, Kashmir, Andamans, Kerala, Karnataka, she stated.

“Interestingly, in addition to our strong family market, our Thomas Cook Hyderabad outlets are seeing uptake from two extremes of the spectrum too; Youth of Gen Y, also Seniors of Gen S. Ad-hoc groups of like-minded friends and colleagues have also shown an increased momentum from the Hyderabad market,” she noted.

“At Thomas Cook India, our consumer research has revealed that for India’s rapidly evolving holiday maker, travel is clearly not about traversing the distance between point A and B, but rather a voyage of discovery, of new places, and importantly,  different, exciting non-traditional experiences. The new-age discerning Indian traveller’s ‘Bucket List’ now comprises of an eclectic blend of engaging experiences and experimental off-beat journeys. 2014 is going to be all about exploring the unexplored. Our ‘Personalised Holidays’ creates such magical dream itineraries, including stays in castles in Britain, a tree hotel in Malaysia or even a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff in California! The youthful Hyderabadi loves the adrenalin rush of our adventure options like diving holidays in Oman, Ferrari drives in Italy or super cars in Singapore, ski vacations or alpine hikes and mountain biking in Swizerland,” Shibani noted.

“A key aspect of Hyderabad, is our HNI-UHNI customer, the powerhouse of our luxury brand, “Indulgence”, which is witnessing not merely resilience but impressive growth, upward of 26%. And for the sophisticated palate of Hyderabad’s discerning traveller, Thomas Cook’s luxury brand “Indulgence” has created uber chic experiences from sightseeing with a twist in New Zealand-on a Harley Davidson or truffle and beer trails in Belgium; decadent spa and wellness programs at South Africa’s award winning Karkloof spa set amidst a private game reserve; Chiang Mai Thailand’s 45m abseil down a 350-year old banyan tree, or Canada’s spectacular chasing the aurora borealis escapades!,” she concluded.

Sai Kiran Varanasi, Sales Manager, Cox & Kings speaking about the trends noticed in the holiday sector in the city says, “Now people are travelling more to exotic locations like Turkey, Greece, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia and islands like Bora Bora, Fiji, Lizard Island, Reunion Island & The Bahamas,” and adds that “domestic and international, both get equal contribution from Hyderabad.”

Heading Out?!

In the bygone days they were called backpackers and in today’s jargon they can definitely be termed as well-informed individual travellers relying on information from social networking sites to travel books read on their hi-tech gadgets and phones. Whatever they may be called, the freedom to make and live by their own travel plans with little or no assistance from external sources is the trend this season. And this mode of travel is bound to dominate the way travel is defined over the next few years, be it in bundling of holiday experiences or creating a new range of adventure sporting activities.

Month: March 2014.

The tomb of the reverend saint, St. Francis Xavier, lies in the Basilica of Bom Jesus Church in Old Goa, which is declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO. It attracts tourists from around the world as the church contains the holy relics of St. Francis Xavier who was a disciple of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Saint Francis was a revolutionary Christian missionary and one of the founders of the Society of Jesus. Under his initiative, Catholicism spread rapidly and many people adopted the faith. He died during the voyage on 2nd December 1552.

St. Francis Xavier was known to be a magical healer, as he was said to have a gift of God, to cure not only physical but also mental sufferings of man. Another popular encounter was that after about a year when his body was shipped back to Goa, it was found that the saint's body was as fresh as the day it was buried. This miraculous phenomenon attracts huge number of devotees from all over the world.

The Tomb of St. Francis Xavier, Goa, was the gift from Medici, Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The tomb that we now see was carved by a Florentine architect Giovanni Batista Foggini and it took 10 years to be completed. His body was kept in a glass container encased in a silver casket on 2nd December 1637. The casket is a rare blend of Italian and Indian arts made of 32 silver plates. The specialty of the casket is that the 32 silver plates on the four sides of the casket depict different episodes from the life of the Saint like he resuscitates a boy who died in a well, he sweetens the sea water to name a few. On the top of this casket there is a cross with two angels. One is holding a burning heart and the other a legend which says 'Satis est - Domine, Satis est' (It's enough Lord, it's enough).

The tomb of St. Francis Xavier has three parts, namely, the altar, the Florentine mausoleum offered by Cosimo III, and the silver casket made by the Goan silversmiths. The church is one of the richest churches in Goa and is carpeted with marble flooring and inlaid with precious stones.

Month: March 2014.

M. Riaz Hasan

It is a great pleasure for me to review this book and comment on the topical essays included in it. l knew the author as a young student at Nizam College when I taught him chemistry more than half a century ago. Chemistry has a large scope and it can lead to many paths. His essays on varied topics bear the stamp of his broad vision and deep insight and also confirm his sense of inquiry and critical evaluation of the problems that stare in our face today. The book and the essays contained in it also corroborate that whatever path he chose in life he did full justification to it. At the stage of life that both the teacher and the taught have reached and when people usually rest and relax the author has undertaken the arduous task of producing a book based on his writing in the past. I am sure the readers would enjoy it as much as i did.

Dr. Taqi Khan, Professor Emeritus, Chemistry, Osmania University and former principal, Nizam College, Hyderabad.

Month: March 2014

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