Saturday, June 27, 2015

My article in Mid-Day today: How to make Mumbai the top tourist city in India

- By Deepa Krishnan
As part of their 25th year celebrations, Mumbai's popular newspaper Mid-day asked me to write about how to make Mumbai the top tourist city in India. Here's my article. 

Recently I read a report by MasterCard, listing the top 20 cities which received international tourists in 2014. London topped the list, with 18.9 million visitors. Mumbai had only 4.9 million and did not make the top 20 list. Neither did any other Indian city.

Common sense suggests that a large chunk of the arrivals into Mumbai are business visitors. Although many meetings and conferences are held in Mumbai, we are not among the world’s most popular conference venues. Why? I think it’s because conferences are not just about business - they’re also about entertainment. And Mumbai, despite being the entertainment capital of India, has no entertainment for tourists. 

In other countries, people queue up to fork out significant amounts of money to see professionally run movie-studio tours. A VIP experience of Universal Studios costs $300; and a regular-Joe tour costs $80. The studios actively promote these tours. They make money, not just from entry ticket sales, but also merchandise sales, restaurants, bars, performance show tickets, etc. But Mumbai has nothing comparable to offer.

I think it will completely change the Mumbai tourism industry if Mehboob Studio or Film City makes a great studio tour, with movie history, dance, music, dining and other entertainment options. Just think about the possibilities! What if the entire Kapoor clan promoted an R K Studios tour? I’m told they still preserve all the costumes from their sets! What if the Bollywood Khans became ambassadors for Film City tours? 
Hall of fame in Mehboob Studio
I think Bollywood can make Mumbai not just a prized conference venue, but the number one leisure tourist destination in India for both international and domestic tourists. But none of the studios in Mumbai seem to share this vision. Forget studio tours, there is not even a daily song and dance show on offer based on the movies. What a waste of Mumbai’s potential as an entertainment hub!

Apart from entertainment, we also need to revitalize and improve other aspects of the city. We have a great art district in Kala Ghoda, which could be made into a pedestrian plaza with cafes, boutiques and art galleries, much like central Amsterdam or Brussels. It could become an attractive place to showcase Maharashtra’s unique crafts and cuisine.
Kala Ghoda Art District
Kala Ghoda Festival
The nearby Ballard Estate, with its old-world charm, can also become an extended part of this tourism zone. It would inject life into this heritage zone, which otherwise goes creepily quiet after 6:00 p.m.
Ballard Estate
I’ve always said that Mumbai’s heart lies in its bazaars and neighbourhoods like Bhuleshwar, Bhendi Bazaar, Lalbaug, Dadar, Matunga, Bandra etc. Each locality has its own charm. These neighbourhoods are tourism assets and part of our living heritage. Walking tours conducted by locals to highlight the architecture, culture and cuisine of these neighbourhoods, will not only attract tourists, but also result in a sense of civic pride and provide impetus to local heritage conservation efforts.
My article in Mid-Day
Spice Market at Lalbaug
A major part of our effort has to be towards cleanliness. Mumbai’s street food is legendary. But does it have to be so unhygienic? Why should international tourists coming to Mumbai have to constantly worry about falling ill? In Kuala Lumpur you can eat authentic food from small street carts and not get sick. The municipal authorities provide space for stalls, ensure hygienic water supply, and conduct regular inspections. We can learn from this.

Public toilets and good public transport – these are two major areas where we need to focus if we want to become a tourist destination. It’s a miracle if you can find a clean public toilet in Mumbai! The shameful reality is that tour guides in the city are constantly scrambling to solve toilet emergencies of tourists.

Elephanta Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but the clunky ferries that take tourists to the island have rickety motors, untrained staff, unsafe boarding practices and no life-jackets. I have personally been stranded aboard a ferry, drifting out to sea with 20 panicky international tourists. We had to be towed ashore by a second boat. The entire infrastructure around the Elephanta experience needs a major overhaul.

Lastly – I don’t think we can talk about promoting tourism in Mumbai without talking about how to develop the potential of nearby areas. Only if Maharashtra becomes an attractive destination, will more and more people consider coming to Mumbai. Maharashtra is blessed with a long coastline, great trekking potential, world heritage sites, sacred pilgrimage towns, unique craft traditions, and great cuisine. We need to raise awareness of everything this state can offer.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Delicious chhole-puri in Mumbai's Punjabi enclave

by Aishwarya Pramod

It's often said that Delhi beats Mumbai hands down in terms of Punjabi food. I tended to agree with that statement, but recently I began to change my mind. That's after I visited Manjeet Puri-Chhole Wala for a delicious breakfast of puri-chhole. For the rest of the day, I kept thinking back to that meal and smiling to myself - it was so good! The shop is in Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar, Sion

Sea of chhole next to gulab jamuns
The have a very simple menu. Chole is of course, the star of the show. You can have chhole-puri, or chhole-bhatura. They have a tandoor where they make varieties of stuffed parathas, kulchas etc. There's dal, gulab jamun, lassi and chhaas. All simple but delicious dishes.
Two bhature served with chhole, onion, pickles, dahi (yoghurt)
and fried green chillies
It's a no-frills, non-descript place. Unless one pays attention, one may not even realize there is an eatery there!
Some customers waiting outside the shop for their parcels
Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar (GTB Nagar) is a Punjabi enclave of Mumbai. The area was settled by refugees from Punjab right after the Partition in 1947, and again in the 1960s with the threat of war at the Pakistani border areas. Hence the Punjabi food here is authentic, mouth-watering and not too expensive.

If you ever crave puri-chhole, this is the right place to visit! Note that Manjeet Puri-Chhole Wala opens in the early morning and closes around 2:00 PM.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nachni and Food Security - a village meal in the Palghar district

- by Deepa Krishnan

A few days ago, I had lunch in a small village home in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. The people who live in this village are tribal agriculturalists, practising subsistence farming.
One of the families cooked lunch for us. We ate sitting on mats on the floor. I was super-hungry and wolfed down my meal in minutes. Our hostess brought endless servings of everything, until I was fit to burst. Here's a photo of what I ate:
Everything on my plate was grown locally. There was rice, which is grown during the monsoon season on the nearby hill slopes in small terraces. There was bhendi (okra / ladies finger), chowli (black-eyed beans), tuar (pigeon-pea) dal, two types of home-made papad and a home-made mango pickle. All of it came from nearby farms and fields. 

But the thing that delighted me most was the dark brown roti, called nachni bhakri.  

Nachni (finger millet) is one of the healthiest things you can eat. Loads of calcium and iron. Lots of fibre. Slow to release sugar into the system, great if you're fighting a battle against weight gain. It's gluten-free too. I ate it with the spicy black-eyed beans, and it was delicious.

Nachni is a critical nutritional element for this kind of village. That's because nachni is a tough and flexible plant. It can grow in diverse soils, with varying rainfall regimes, and in areas widely differing in heat and length of daylight availability. It is hugely pest resistant. It doesn't even need chemical pesticides. So while a rice crop may fail for many reasons, a nachni crop is far more dependable, and can literally ward off starvation. 

In addition, nachni is easy to store. Once harvested, it is seldom attacked by insects or moulds. The long storage capacity makes it an important crop in risk-avoidance strategies for poorer farming communities.

In fact, not just nachni, all traditional millets are important for rural India. In the nearby Vikramgad weekly rural market, I photographed one of the stalls selling different types of millets and pulses. The dark coloured one on the right is nachni.
This area of Maharashtra has lots of rain in the monsoons, but goes very dry later. There is no irrigation. Here is how the land looks in the monsoons.
And here is how the area looks in summer:
There is no cultivation in summer, probably because the existing water management systems don't husband groundwater resources adequately for irrigation. For drinking and bathing, the government provides well water. Since there is only one main monsoon crop (rice), the dependence on that crop is very high. If that crop fails, the entire economic backbone of area will collapse. It is therefore sensible to divert some land - even 'warkas' land (low productivity land) is ok - to grow nachni and other millets for food security.

When I was researching this article, I read this very interesting and informative article on why millets are so invaluable. I highly recommend you read it too. After I read it, I've decided to start eating more millets. I'm going to reduce my intake of rice and wheat, because really, from all points of view, it looks like the smart thing to do.