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South Africa to attract Indian tourists to boost tourism industry

Indians likely to travel African countries more after ease in Visa regulations

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Durban, South Africa Image: Wikimedia Commons

South Africa has identified India as a key focus market for boosting tourism and it will shortly launch an aggressive campaign to attract tourists from there.

South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom announced this at the INDABA tourism fair here. He said that the country had received more than 80,000 Indian tourists last year and his ministry planned to dedicate to India a significant part of its advertising budget of nearly $8 million this year, with the objective of boosting significantly the arrivals from India.

“India has a huge potential and our challenge is to see what is needed in order for this market to grow and for us to get a fair share of the huge pool of Indian travellers,” Hanekom told this correspondent.

Indian in Africa Image : Wikimedia Commons
Indian in Africa
Image : Wikimedia Commons

He said Indian travellers felt at home in South Africa as they had a very large population of people of Indian origin, especially in Durban.

“Mahatma Gandhi had also lived here in Durban. Here, just like in India, we have different cultures and different religions living in harmony with one another,” he added.

INDABA, which means gathering in Zulu, has positioned itself as the largest tourism fair in the African continent and attracts participation from all African countries which come to display their new products and services, as tourism is an essential sector for creating employment as well as economic growth in the least developed continent in the world.

“The safari experience is certainly one of the key selling point of Africa. We don’t have the Taj Mahal or some of the incredible sites that you have in India, but here in South Africa, you can be guaranteed to see the Big 5 (Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Buffaloes and Leopards) in just one, single safari,” Hanekom said.

Tourism to South Africa and other African countries was severely hit by fears arising from the fresh outbreak of Ebola epidemic in West African nations of Liberia, Sierre Leone and Guinea. The market has begun to show signs of recovery, now that the outbreak has subsided.

The minister said that tourists’ fears were misplaced about contracting the virus in South Africa. “In fact, Europeans were much closer to where Ebola was happening than we were in South Africa,” Hanekom said.

Apart from a subsiding Ebola, Hanekom placed his hopes on boosting arrivals from India on the ease of visa regulations for Indians visiting South Africa. Earlier, the visa regulations were strict and it would take up to three weeks for getting permission to travel. In April this year, after Hanekom’s visit to India, the norms have been eased and visas should be easier and quicker to obtain for Indians.

“The problem is that our consulate and embassies were having difficulties in answering and handling the visa demands during the peak travel season in India and it often took up to three weeks for delivering visas. That is simply too long. I am convinced that if we manage to make the visa easier we can double the numbers in a couple of years,” Hanekom explained.

For many Indians, the country is also perceived as an elite and expensive destination just like European countries, but in recent months a weakening Rand has allowed more Indians to visit and spend more.

Another peculiarity of the Indian travellers is that they like to visit several countries on a trip. While in Europe and North America it is simpler due to visa-free travel between nations, it is still a challenge in Africa.

This point was a focus of discussions at the INDABA this year and various African countries have begun looking at how to facilitate such seamless travel in Africa. Hanekom admitted that security and instability issues in some African nations remained an important barrier to visa-free travel within the continent.

The minister also allayed fears of travellers that that some areas in South Africa were unsafe.

Hanneli Slabber, country manager of South Africa Tourism in India, said: “I guess you have to beware of pickpockets anywhere in the world. Indians visiting South Africa enjoy adventure and activities and they buy triple the amount of activities than those from other nations. Indian women are actually leading in terms of numbers and they like the country and feel safe.”

Bukhara Indian Restaurant, Stellenbosch, Africa Image: Wikimedia Commons
Bukhara Indian Restaurant, Stellenbosch, Africa
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Slabber said that now a lot of vegetarian options, including vegan and Jain food, are available in the country and there were several Indian restaurants. “Our cuisine is influenced by Indian curries as well and a lot of South Africans, not necessarily of Indian origin, can cook good Indian cuisine,” he added.

Indian cuisine in South Africa Source: Wikimedia Commons
South Africans selling Samosas and spring rolls
Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, in a blow to tourism from India, the national carrier, South African Airways, facing a shortage of aircraft, has stopped the only direct flights from India (Mumbai) to South Africa, forcing Indian tourists to go for alternatives like Emirates or Qatar with one-stop flights.(IANS)

 

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India: Last Surviving Narrow Gauge Line to Become a Part of World Rail History

Some of the classic numbers people still remember are: "Jiya O, Jiya Kucch Bol Do" ("Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai", 1961, Shimla-Kalka Railway)

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India, Rail, Gauge Line
Probably, Bollywood contributed a lot to popularise the romance of the narrow gauge trains, featuring them in several memorable film songs. Pixabay

The old world magic and excitement of travelling leisurely by trains on narrow gauge railway lines, is fast becoming a thing of the past world over, including India.

Now, the last surviving narrow gauge line, running 106 km between Itwari-Nagbhid near Nagpur on the South East Central Railway (SECR), will also become a part of world rail history, within a year or so.

Probably, Bollywood contributed a lot to popularise the romance of the narrow gauge trains, featuring them in several memorable film songs.

Some of the classic numbers people still remember are: “Jiya O, Jiya Kucch Bol Do” (“Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai”, 1961, Shimla-Kalka Railway), “Mere Sapnon Ki Rani” (“Aradhana”, 1969, Darjeeling Mountain Railway), “Gadi Bula Rahi Hai” (“Dost”, 1974), “Chhaiyya, Chhaiyya” (“Dil Se”, 1998, Nilgiri Mountain Railways), among many others.

India, Rail, Gauge Line
The old world magic and excitement of travelling leisurely by trains on narrow gauge railway lines, is fast becoming a thing of the past world over, including India. Pixabay

Nagpur to Nagbhid, which was the original route of the narrow gauge railway line, essentially served as the lifeline of the people in the erstwhile Central Province of British India.

The line itself was born out of an emergency during the Great Indian Famine of 1876-1878, when the Bengal-Nagpur Railway announced its construction, later known as Satpura Railway network, to save the lives of people dying of hunger in the remote and inaccessible parts of central India.

The 4 hour 45 minute long Itwari-Nagbhid train journey remains thrilling as the trains chug through dense forests, tribal hamlets, mountains with an occasional tunnel, plains and river bridges; in the olden days hauled by steam engines, and later by diesel engines, connecting Nagpur and Chandrapur districts in eastern Maharashtra.

Now, this last remaining section (Itwari-Nagbhid narrow line gauge of 2.5 feet or 76.2 cms) is currently being converted to broad gauge jointly by the Indian Railways and the Maharashtra Rail Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (MRIDC), Mumbai.

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“This project will cost around Rs 1,400 crore with the Indian Railways and MRIDC – the executing authority – sharing the amount equally (50 per cent each),” a SECR spokesperson told IANS.

Presently, there are 15 major stations en route including Itwari, Bhandwadi, Umred, Bhiwapur, Kanatempa, Bamhani, Mangli, and Kuhi.

Local villagers and farmers commuting for employment or trade to Nagpur had to take the road route which was more expensive and time-consuming in the absence of poor rail connectivity.

The conversion proposal was first announced in 2014 at a cost of Rs 350 crore, which has now increased to Rs 1,400 crore owing to various delays and the Centre’s decision to combine it with the electrification project of this route.

India, Rail, Gauge Line
Now, the last surviving narrow gauge line, running 106 km between Itwari-Nagbhid near Nagpur on the South East Central Railway (SECR), will also become a part of world rail history, within a year or so. Pixabay

Other erstwhile narrow gauge lines in the region included Nagpur-Chhindwara, Chhindwara-Nainpur, Nainpur-Mandla Fort and Balaghat-Nainpur-Jabalpur sections which ended between October-November 2015.

A total of 53 trains were operated on the narrow gauge lines which have now been either converted or nearing completion of conversion into broad gauge with high-speed express trains ferrying thousands of passengers daily.

A majority of the narrow gauge lines in Central India are very old and were constructed in the 19th-20th century, mainly to tackle the famine by supplying foodgrains, carry farm and forest produce and provide employment to locals, said a MRIDC official.

At that time, over 1,000 kms of the narrow gauge lines criss-crossed the country’s landscape, but that has now come down to just the final 106 km, the official said.

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Later, they contributed to the national economy by way of carrying products from the different mines located in the region to far away manufacturing or marketing centres.

According to the Indian Railways, in 2017, a little over 2,000 km of narrow gauge railway lines were still operational in the country, providing rail connectivity to some of the remotest regions, but accounting for barely 2 percent of the railway network.

These include four world famous heritage operational lines which are also known as hill/mountain railways, located in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Haryana-Himachal Pradesh.

The Matheran Hill Railway runs between Neral-Matheran (in Raigad, adjacent to Mumbai, Asia’s only “automobile-free” hill station), the Nilgiri Mountain Railway links Coonnoor and Ooty, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, and the Kalka-Shimla Railway joins the two towns in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

While Matheran Hill Railway figures on the UNESCO’s tentative world heritage list, the other three have been designated as “UNESCO World Heritage Sites” over the past few years.(IANS)