Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XIII (Turin and Rome-I)

Before leaving for Europe, I had received intimation from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India that I had been nominated for an advance course in Tourism at the Institute run by the International Union of Official Tourism Organisations (IUOTO), the precursor of the present World Tourism Organisation, in Turin. The training was to start from August 1, 1975. The duration of the course was about two months. Earlier I had completed an Advance Course of nine months in Tourism Studies through the same organisation by correspondence for which I had obtained excellent proficiency. During my rather longish visit to Europe, I had been mentally prepared to conclude the same by attending the course in Turin. It would have given me practical insight into the working of Tourism Organisations. Accordingly, after returning to London from my second visit to France and other countries, I made preparations for my departure via Rome.
My flight was from Paris to Rome and as such I first took a flight to Paris from London. I spent couple of days there saying good bye to my French friends. The flight to Rome was uneventful and I landed there around noon. July and August are very hot in Rome! I took transport from the airport direct to the main Railway Station in Rome. There was an evening train to Turin which would reach early in the morning. I went to the ticket counter and asked for a reservation on the train. The man sitting there gave me a window seat and charged about 150 lira, the Italian currency which was about ten rupees or so.
I thought the fare was somewhat cheap. I could not make out the details as no body spoke English there! After leaving my suit case in the railway cloak-room, I went out to have a stroll and take a meal. It was very hot and humid in the streets. I saw something similar to Srinagar on the roads. There were carts selling slices of water melon as is usual in Kashmir on hot days! There were also some people selling pieces of fresh coconut soaked in water. There were many shops selling cold drinks. I sat in a roadside café and had some snacks and then a couple of slices of water melon. Most of the people especially the young men were roaming with upper shirt buttons open. Many people took me to be an Italian and were speaking to me in Italian. I too unbuttoned my shirt and took a long walk in the market and the side lanes. Rome is an ancient city and the Romans have tried to maintain its heritage character in many places. I decided to spend a couple of days in Rome after returning from Turin.
The train journey was in a typical Indian style. The train was quite slow and overcrowded. I was lucky to have reserved a seat! Around mid-night the ticket checker came. He examined my reservation and then asked to pay about 1400 lira. That was the actual ticket. I had only reserved my seat and not bought the ticket. Fortunately, I had enough Italian money with me. We reached Turin in the morning and I took a taxi straight to the IUOTO office. Most of the people had already arrived and the course was set to start from the next day. However, it was a great shock and surprise to me when the Secretary General informed me that my nomination had been withdrawn by Government of India and a colleague of mine had been nominated instead. However, even he had not turned up! The Secretary General was quite sympathetic and he asked me to wait for few days and he would inform Delhi that I was already there and my substitute had not turned up and as such I should be allowed to attend the course. He very kindly allowed me to stay in their hostel. I waited almost for a week but there was no answer from Delhi.
The course had already gone ahead and I was unnecessarily spending my own money. Thus, after a week I thanked the Secretary General and decided to return home via Rome. Incidentally, the IUOTO has now become UNWTO, United Nations World Tourism Organisation with headquarters in Madrid, Spain. I had another brush with the organisation during my tenure in the Tourism Department. The Union Ministry of Tourism nominated me for an important position of Tourism Advisor on Planning in UNWTO. I was fulfilling the qualifications prescribed by the organisation and with the backing of the Ministry of Tourism; I could have easily got the position. However, another colleague, this time from Delhi who was already in the Organisation, scuttled the move in spite of the fact that the then Secretary General of the Organisation was keen to have me. Well, that is how things happen in our part of the world!
In Turin, I had the opportunity of meeting the members of the Italian Alpine Club. I was also invited by some members of Irish Tourist Board who were attending the course to a dinner on a hill top restaurant. One can have panoramic views of Turin from this place which is a popular retreat. Turin is most famous throughout the world for the “Shroud of Jesus Christ”. According to Wikipedia, “The Shroud of Turin or Turin Shroud is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin. The image on the shroud is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial. The shroud is rectangular, measuring approximately 4.4 × 1.1 m (14.3 × 3.7 ft). The cloth is woven in three-to-one herringbone twill composed of flax fibrils. Its most distinctive characteristic is the faint, yellowish image of a front and back view of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin. The two views are aligned along the mid-plane of the body and point in opposite directions. The front and back views of the head nearly meet at the middle of the cloth.
Reddish brown stains that have been said to include whole blood are found on the cloth, showing various wounds that, according to proponents, correlate with the yellowish image, the patho-physiology of crucifixion, and the Biblical description of the death of Jesus. The Shroud has been subjected to many tests and lot of research has been conducted on its origin. In 1958 Pope Pius XII approved of the image in association with the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, and declared its feast to be celebrated every year the day before Ash Wednesday. Following the approval by Pope Pius XII, Catholic devotions to the Holy Face of Jesus have been almost exclusively associated with the image on the shroud”.

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