A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection

Ayurveda has always had a fascinating view of food & well being; one of its tenets (for example) being that food made ‘happily’ was better than otherwise. As western science starts to apply its methods to questions such as this one – the gut/brain connection – one sees it converging with the wisdom developed over my centuries by Indic methods. The next 50 years are likely to be some of the most interesting in human understanding of ourselves

Another ‘Indo-Chinese’

(pic : jasongarner.com)

No, its not only Gobi Manchurian which mixes Indian & Chinese influences to produce a wonderfully crazy new thing. The hallowed Shaolin Temple in China is another one of these experiments that went well.

The Shaolin temple, arguably the greatest of China’s martial arts legacies, was built by an Indian buddhist monk, Buddhabhadra. The specialised martial arts of Shaolin (Shaolin Kung Fu) was developed there by another Indian buddhist monk called Bodhidharma.

This is another interesting piece of history that helps trace the development of asian martial arts to its primary source : Kalaripayattu of Kerala.

To know more of the Indian origins of the Shaolin Temple, go to the official website


The tribes that created the West..

What strikes me about the sheer mediocrity of opinion being expressed about Donald Trump by the ‘mainstream’ is the singular focus on the man Trump & almost a total lack of observation on the distinctly larger theme at play.

Amidst all of the junk written on the subject, here is a thoughtful piece that attempts to understand the big picture.

A ‘powerful’ day

Interesting statistic for the day. The earth will need 30 terawatts of power by the year 2050. Which is actually nothing much since the sun gives us 120,000 terawatts of power. So, if we use just 1% of our land area to generate solar power at reasonable efficiency, we can get all out power needs from the sun.

My bet is this will happen to a reasonable extent, with India’s current massive thrust on Solar energy being a significant trigger. And if we do, the world will move to a long term trend of practically zero incremental cost for energy. (And Solar is not the only energy game where this seems to be happening).

Imagine a future in which practically all activities we do – from taking a flight to washing clothes to growing food – will have very little cost. It will be a different world.

A Bangladesh story

A very small child at the time in a faraway little town in India, I have had only a faint awareness of the Bangladesh war of independance of 1971 & its incredible human cost. Recently trawling through Youtube, I stumbled upon this compelling documentary of that event. In particular go to 10:51 of the video to watch the poignant story of one man, who as a young boy lived through the massacre of his family. Now I understand the burning desire in Bangladesh to bring war criminals of that time to justice.

Singapore Airlines in India

The Singapore Airlines group now has 5 brands in play in India, 4 of them for international travel & 1 (Vistara) for domestic travel. Here is a table that summarises my sense of their brand / offerings strategy for international flights:

Traveller From Metro city From Smaller city
Well heeled traveller Singapore Airlines Silk Air
Budget Traveller Scoot Tiger Air


HolidayIQ Awards

Sharing photos of an event I have wanted to do for a long time. Last month, HolidayIQ gave away the first truly Indian tourism awards. The best of Indian tourism chosen by millions of Indian travellers on the basis of their Ratings & Reviews on HolidayIQ. Union Minister, Dr Jitendra Singh was the Guest of Honour of the event held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi & the awards were given away by some of India’s top travellers – people who have contributed the most number of reviews on HolidayIQ.


Benaras Hindu University

Spent a day with students at the wonderful campus of Benaras Hindu University yesterday – including eating the ultimate masala patty at one of the canteens & walking around a small part of the enormous 14km, green, wooded campus. Would certainly have loved to be a student here sometime in my life, what with so many extraordinary departments (the dept of fine arts being particularly interesting). In fact, BHU should be as much a tourism location as any other in Varanasi. I am convinced that the dream of people like Madan Mohan Malviya to create major centres of higher education excellence can indeed be achieved in India if we set our mind to clear priorities. Maybe this is a step in that direction.

Beyond the ‘scientific method’

Very interesting TED talk by a modern physicist, with the speculation that Physics might have reached its end and that we will not be able to understand Nature any more than we do now. To a non-science person, there is an obvious omission in that  statement which should actually read ‘we will not be able to understand Nature any more than we do now, through the scientifc method’. And in that small, semantic difference lies the reason to explore Hinduism’s extraordinary canvas of knowledge; it is most likely to be the best pointer of future alternatives to the ‘scientific method’
Have we reached the end of physics?

‘Foreign junkets’ by Indian politicians

Very little gets India’s media – and indeed our middle class – as vexed as the notion of ‘junkets’ abroad by our politicos. Television anchors froth at the mouth & op-ed pages take on moralistic tones every time this kind of thing is discovered in any part of India.

I think this is all totally misplaced. I do agree that many of these trips are simply ‘opportunities’ to go abroad and are, in many instances, not at all for the purposes they claim to be for. But the lesson to be learnt from this reality, should be the exact opposite of what we seem to be learning.

The point to ask ourselves is why does everybody want to run abroad at the drop of a hat. Obviously because of our deeply ingrained view that most places outside are better than our own country. If, for a moment we accept that assumption to be true, the case to ensure our politicians go abroad, see the reality for themselves, and come back with a even a vague desire to improve conditions in India, is very strong. Nothing can so fire up ambition to bring change as the exposure of travel. And so I say let them go; in fact I would say, actively encourage them (especially the younger ones at the grassroots levels) to go, without necessarily having to get devious about it. Even if most of the money is ‘a waste’, and just a handful come back with the desire to create change, India would have gained immensely.


On a recent flight back from Delhi, there was a small mix up in getting my web checkin done on time, which led me to be seated in one of the rear rows of the plane. And to my surprise, found a different and interesting world there.

The rear of Indigo flights seem to have people who dont do web checkin. They have kids, large family groups, old couples, first time air travellers and all those people who dont seem to have a blase air of the ‘been-there-done-that’ traveller. I actually found it really refreshing, especially the slightly awestruck wonder that air travel can induce before you get jaded by too much of it.

Took me back in time to my very first flight. I was a gawky youngster on a long hopping old Indian Airlines flight going from one of India’s southernmost small towns to the bright lights of Delhi – the family was moving there and I was a jumble of excitement and trepidation. And I still remember the sense of wonder of that flight.

Although I do remember sitting on one of the forward seats for that journey, I can fully understand what the rest of my fellow passengers felt sitting at the rear of the Indigo flight last week. It was that exact same mix of excitement and trepidation that mark all true wonder.

I love the world of travel!

Leveraging events in tourism marketing

Incredible India should start to look beyond old & tired events like Pushkar Festival & the Alleppey Boat race towards the new-age events of a new-age India.


The world does this well..using contemporary local events to showcase tourism. Watch this great culinary plug from Tourism Australia using The Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

Here are some of the more interesting recent events that Incredible India ought to be using in all their promotions:

GoMAD festival in Ooty

Run the Rann in Kutch

World Sufi Spirit Festival in Jodhpur

Escape Festival in Naukuchiatal



An opening line to my dream of Africa

Love this opener from ‘The miracle at speedy motors’, one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

“The correct address of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s foremost solver of problems – in the sense that this is where she could be found between 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon, except when she was not there – was the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, C/o Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Gaborone, Botswana’

That little phrase ‘except when she was not there’ is bursting with the smile-inducing innocence that I find alluring about all of McCall Smith’s characters and through them about Botswana and indeed the whole of Africa (especially given that I have never been to Africa – been to Mauritius, although in my mind that does not really count).

While the romance of Places can arise from the strangest corners, novels have been – for me – a consistent source of imagination of the Far Away.

I have often wondered why tourism marketing has never really tapped well into this phenomenon. In fact, on the same note I have always felt that Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ and its Booker prize was really what put Kerala firmly on the world tourism map, although a few enterprising government babus mangaged to hijack all of the credit on the back of bombast.

Domestic tourists are from Mars, Inbound tourists are from Venus – Part I

Just saw a post on Quartz titled ‘Foreign tourists are seeing a different India than locals‘. Arguably having been the keenest watcher of Indian tourism & particularly Indian domestic tourism over the last 10 years, I can say this with confidence – the article gets its basic premise right but does not go anywhere near enough in exploring the fundamental differences between the two. So let me give it a whirl & explore one big difference in this post.

Indians take vacations to get way from crowded & dirty cities as often as possible. This quest more often that not compels us to take short weekend breaks to nearby destinations. Data of traveller behaviour on HolidayIQ.com (every month almost 5 million Indian travellers plan breaks using travellers reviews shared on HolidayIQ.com) suggests that weekend getaways number more than 10x of long vacations in India. Such weekend getaways, are therefore by definition,  not to the great big tourist attractions of the nation but to the small peaceful enclaves near cities with some greenery left. This includes places like Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh where hordes of people from Hyderabad, Vizag and Bhubaneshwar run to on weekends, Tarkarli in the south konkan coast of Maharashra, a favourite of people from Mumbai & Pune, Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh which offers respite to travellers from Nagpur, Bhopal & Indore and Mandarmani, the beach to which people from Kolkata flee regularly. Contrast this with the behavior of foreign (inbound) tourists. There are two dominant categories of foreign tourists to India – (1) the backpackers and (2) the geriatrics. The backpackers are youngsters mostly from Israel & the west who come looking for instant spirituality, undiscovered beaches and great weed, although not necessarily in that order. Most of them end up in Goa, Gokarna, Manali, & Rishikesh. The geriatircs are retired folk, mostly from Europe  who come to India as a once-in-a lifetime experience to either do the golden triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) or over the last decade, Kerala.

So the biggest difference lies in the fact that the core motivation of domestic & inbound tourists are quite different which leads them to drastically different destinations in India. But there is one place in India that both domestic & inbound tourists go to in large numbers – click here to find out 🙂

Tweeting badger & cool tourism advertising

tweeting_badgerTourism advertising is usually pretty ho-hum. Videos with beautiful pictures of scenic spots, the odd ‘local’ with a wide grin (if you can believe that the pearly set of 32 teeth are not that of a professional model!) and ‘inspiring’ music is pretty much where most reach.

The Tweeting badger breaks this mould in two important ways; but before I get into that, let me tell what the tweeting badger is all about. The smart folks at Johannesburgh zoo have hooked up a light activated gizmo that triggers a pre-written tweet every time the badger moves about in its cave. Which results in a steady stream of sassy (and sometimes surprisingly informative) tweets that I for one absolutely want to Follow.

Now how does this break the mould in tourism advertising? For one, this moves away from video as the standard format of tourism advertising to the emerging area of ‘ambient advertising’. Secondly, it recognises that ‘attractions’ of a destination can go well beyond natural beauty and the odd local and, if led by a sure & adventurous hand, can go into really varied territory.

Now, how about a stream of tweets from ol’ Shah Jahan triggered by the movement of birds above the Taj Mahal?

Top pilgrimages of India

Here is a list of top pilgrimage spots of India, gleaned from a worldwide list produced by Alliance of Religions & Conservation, an organisation in the UK launched by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The absolute numbers given here can of course be endlessly debated, given India has very poor statistics for such things (eg. Wikipedia says Sabarimala gets 100mn pilgrims every year against the number here of 30mn). However, the larger picture is likely to be correct.

Name Location No of annual pilgrims
Sree Dharma Sasta Temple Sabarimala, Kerala 30mn
Golden Temple Amritsar, Punjab 13 mn
Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh 10 mn
Sri Krishna Temple Dwarka, Gujarat 5 mn
Sri Kashi Viswanath temple Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 1 mn

For the full international list: http://www.arcworld.org/downloads/ARC%20pilgrimage%20statistics%20155m%2011-12-19.pdf

Tourism Unites

Our new PM has often mentioned in his speeches the idea that Tourism unites while Terrorism divides. All intrepid travellers can easily identify with the notion of tourism uniting people.

How does tourism (and travel in general) really do this? Simple – by exposing us to people different from ourselves.

Enimity is often simply a consequence of prejudice. And prejudice arises from lack of familiarly. Travel, by exposing us to people with different mores from ourselves, sets us up to question our own assumptions & certainties. And, in that questioning lies understanding.

My most vivid experience of this was the 6 month stay I had in Saudi Arabia. On the face, Saudi Arabia is not a country easy to like. In addition to being brutally hot & bereft of any real greenery, it is also infamous for its strictly puritanical approach to women and in fact, to life in general. True to form, I had a bunch of bizarre encounters from the ‘religious police’ to rabid taxi drivers.

But I also did come face to face many other worlds there. On a flight from Dammam to Jeddah, I happened to sit next to a bunch of young Saudi boys, part of a large family, and had one of the most interesting conversations about teenage angst. There was nothing in that conversation that was in any fundamental way different from the preoccupations of my own teenage days – mostly girls, clothes & cars.

I also met people from many parts of the world. An Indian-origin young man from Madagascar who cooked a killer chicken curry with the best of India & Africa blended in. A Somali chartered accountant – I hadn’t ever thought of Somalia as a place which had chartered accountants!

Yes, all real travellers know that Tourism does indeed unite.





Aam Aadmi Party

The online battle for 2014 has been joined by another active participant. Got this email from Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi party, presumably part of a big outreach to the business community.  I like his dedication to the cause of cleansing up what is obviously a creaky system and I certainly admire his personal integrity. What I am troubled by is the sense one gets of a backward-looking socialism in his economic thinking; I believe that is absolutely not the right choice for India.

Dear Hari Nair:

Today, I am writing to a select set of business leaders to seek your support for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

We are living in a time when corruption is uncontrolled, the rupee is in a free fall, and our natural resources are being plundered. Our political system has deteriorated to such a point that we have criminals routinely contesting and winning elections. This all round slide should deeply concerns every citizen of this country especially those in business. After all, public corruption not only undermines the rule of law, it erodes social trust and the integrity of institutions so necessary for a thriving business culture.

I am sure you agree that unless we put an end to it immediately our country’s future could be jeopardized forever. Surely, we can’t let this happen. But we need to act and act NOW!

AAP is committed to ensuring greater transparency, delivering good governance, implementing strong laws to root out corruption and restoring trust in the political system. We will end the practice of crony capitalism and create an environment that encourages and facilitates businesses to start and thrive. We will strive to create a level playing field and unleash the spirit of entrepreneurship that is naturally ingrained in our people. In short, we will provide the political leadership that envisions and creates an India that does justice to the hopes and aspirations of young Indians.

Hari Nair, I firmly believe that we can resurrect the India story on the global stage. To do this and much more, AAP needs your support. Your support could be decisive for the country.

You can support AAP by donating for our cause, voting for our candidates and passing our message to your friends and co-workers.