Tag Archives: North east

Writing the Journey: Kolkata’s Neighbouring Gateways

Imagine this, having returned from a long and tiring trip you report to the office and immediately you are asked to put your thoughts into the word processor so that the whole world reads about the places you have seen.

Sounds easy isn’t it? But life is not on a high for a travel writer with IHR. Most of the time on a short trip, you are challenged with how to squeeze more information in the minimum time. You need the best of photographs capturing the slice of a culture in a single snapshot along with the regular attractions, loads of information about the hotels- rates, accommodation et al, distances along with fares and most importantly reproducing the same excitement and movements of a trip that more often than not makes you feel how farcical about the line “be a Travel Writer and get paid to see the world”.

This time the places assigned were as diverse as Mayapur Dham, Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok all within 10 days which meant absolutely no time for any relaxation and traveling leisurely.

My first stop was Kolkata’s Sealdah station. A bustling place, which comes to buzz early in the morning, a scene quite contrary to Delhi’s way.

Road Near Sealdah Station early morning

Road Near Sealdah Station early morning

My first destination was Mayapur Dham the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I took the first local train available for Navadweep the nearest railway station for Mayapur Dham. Navadweep is around 2 and a half hours journey from Sealdah.Navadweepa as I found hold on its own as a tourist attraction for a variety of temples and Vaishnava Mathas.

Sri Devananda Goudiya Math at Sri Dham Navadweep

Sri Devananda Goudiya Math at Sri Dham Navadweep

From Navadweep to get to Mayapurdham the best option is to cross the expansive Ganges on a boat from the jetty. Braving a boat ride along with people, cycles and livestock which was no mean task in itself but listening to the unfamiliar conversation amid bit of trepidation was an altogether new experience.

Boat Ride from Navadweep to Mayapur Dham on the Ganga River

Boat Ride from Navadweep to Mayapur Dham on the Ganga River

From Mayapur a short Rickshaw Ride took me to the famed ISKCON Temple complex. Spread over hundreds of acres, the place is far removed from the stark reality outside the temple precincts.It was a solemn place with large number of foreigners all with big tilak on their foreheads and wearing Dhotis and white Saris chanting prayers throughout the day.

The ISKCON Temple at Mayapur Dham

The ISKCON Temple at Mayapur Dham

Finished with the ISKCON Temple I headed for Krishna Nagar by a local bus to get a convenient train ride back to Kolkata. An ingenuity of a vendor selling Lassi using the railings as racks for keeping his wares caught my attention and I could not resist taking a snap.

Ingenuity of a Lassi vendor at the Krishn Nagar Railway Station

Ingenuity of a Lassi vendor at the Krishn Nagar Railway Station

Back to Kolkata and I was on Kanchenjungha Express ready to venture to my next set of destinations. Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok. For Darjeeling I had to get down at the NJP station. NJP or NEW Jalpaiguri station is the gateway to the North East. As It was not a tourist season ( It was during February) the station gave a secluded look and the railway over bridge was one of the most clean I found on the railway station in india.

The clean Foot over bridge at NJP Station

The clean Foot over bridge at NJP Station

Plenty of taxies are available at the NJP railway station for Darjeeling. The 4 hours drive in a share Taxi through the picturesque sceneries and not so comfortable roads cost me Rs 220. The route bypasses the Siliguri Town and links to national highway 55 for Darjeeling. Darjeeling is really beautiful and with the arrival of the malls and multiplexes does not look that much of an isolated hill station.

A busy Darjeeling morning

A busy Darjeeling morning

IF you are South Indian and love Tea then these two things should excite you. Hotel Lunar in the heart of the city provides sumptuous South Indian specialties and Tawang Tea Stall sells finest quality Darjeeling Tea at Rs 5 per cup.

My next destination was Pelling in Sikkim 120 kilometers from Darjeeeling. Tourists to Pelling should note here one or two vital things that I found out. (i) There are no direct vehicle available for Pelling from Darjeeling during off seasons .(ii) You have to reach a place called Jorethang almost midway (iii) From Jorethang you do not get any vehicle for Pelling after 4 in the evening.

Pelling at around 6800 feet is a beautiful place and relatively peaceful perhaps also as I was not in the height of the tourist season. Again a piece of information for travelers, I was told that after 2 pm you can’t get any vehicle for outside from Pelling. This puts a lot of discomfiture to harried travelers like me.

Finally my last destination was Gangtok the capital of Sikkim at a distance of around 120 km from Pelling. Gangtok is a beautiful place and moves at a leisurely pace with no body in any hurry.

MG Marg of Gangtok invigorates with a relaxed pace

MG Marg of Gangtok invigorates with a relaxed pace

From Gangtok plenty of transportation is available for different places. After spending a night I Traveled back to NJP in a share Taxi for Rs 350 and took North east express for Delhi to end my sojourn in the east and north east India.

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Luxury Tax: Lets not ignore the fine prints

When was the last time you were out for a vacation or business? Strong chances are you are already traveling and reading this post on your laptop. Have you ever taken note of a small but mighty thing printed innocuously on one small corner of your hotel Bill? Perhaps you haven’t. You are not alone as tourist fraternity does not give this a thought and only when you have to loosen the purse string an entity called “Luxury Tax” start biting you. It is this tax that sometimes keeps one of your favourite hotel or destinations out of your budget.

Let’s understand what a luxury tax is. Luxury Tax is a tax that is levied by most of the state governments (not all) to fill their coffers at the expense of you and me. And the funniest part is, you have to pay it actually on the official tariff of the room where you had put up. Take a hypothetical situation consider you are on a holiday, say at Ooty and the Hotelwallahs happily gave you a discount of 20 % on the rack rate. The rack rate is the one that is mentioned on the reception and the usual official rate. Supposing accommodation you chose was for Rs 1500 and the reception lady smilingly gave you the room for 1200, a 20% discount as it was off-season. You felt on top of the world to strike a good bargain in the hard times.

Now when it is the time to say adieu and pay the bills you are up for a rude jolt. You find that on the bill a 14% luxury tax has been levied and that too upon the rack rate which in this example was Rs1500.

Furious with anger at the thought of being cheated, you start haggling. Alas, not much headway could be made and you have to pay the tax of 14 % as applicable for hotels in Karnataka on the rack rate.

Coughing the extra amount you felt helpless and started cursing the agency which booked your hotel or the hotel owners. Little did you realize that the LT not only irks the ordinary travelers but is adding to the woes of hoteliers and the travel agents. Hit by recession and terror the hospitality industry is facing a lull, the luxury tax is not making it any easier. Most of the time we at IHR have to face a not so amused client venting his ire at the exorbitant Luxury Tax after the holiday is over.

Luxury Tax is something which varies in India from 5 to as high as 25%. Let’s see which states of “Incredible India” are the worst offenders. In the South the charge is led by Kerala with a whopping 15 % slap of Luxury Tax and then it is Karnataka and Tamil Nadu with 12.50 %, Andhra fares better with a somehow moderate 5 %.

Gateway to north, the capital Delhi fares worst with a levy of 12.5 % on room rents above 1000. Himachal and Rajasthan the two most oft visited tourist destination taxes @ 10%. UP with the Taj Mahal and Uttarakhand is better not only in terms of attractions but also light on your pocket with 5%.

Coming to the west and Central India Maharashtra and MP leads the brigade with 10 % , while Gujarat it seems is not only a good destination for investors it is tourist friendly too with only 4 % as Luxury Tax. In Matheran, a lovely hill station 80 km east of Mumbai inaddition to 10 % luxury tax charges another 5 percent as service charges.

On the eastern front Orissa, Bihar and Bengal does not make life easier for visitors with a 10% LT. Finally the North Eastern States, one had seriously hoped that the State Governments to be as friendly and simple as the local people. Putting all hopes to water the onslaught is led by Asaam, the gateway to the seven sisters of NE with a luxury tax of 20 %. The situation becomes additionally worse in Guwahati with a levy of another 5 % as service charges.

By this time you might feel suffocated under a “burden of statistics” Hold on! After all our intention is not to hurt you or mar your vacations. There is something to cheer about also. The Union territories are not only scenic and make a nice vacation but they are not heavy on your purse also. So Pondicherry, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands have not yet thought of burdening the tourists. They do not have a LT. One exception among the states is the vivacious Goa where good sense prevails and the tourists breathe easy without luxury tax.

The union Government must do something to cap the LT at an uniform rate at all the states. Till that time ignoring the one in fine print can….

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

Pondicherry a Zero Luxury Tax Destination

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