Thursday, October 6, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XXVI (Going West in America-V)

The flight from LA to New York is quite long. In fact, there is a time difference of about three hours between the east and the west coast! USA is not a country but a continent. Because of three hour time difference, I reached New York almost in the evening. Muzaffar Chisti had come in his car to pick me up. My main engagement in New York this time was giving a presentation on Ladakh to the members of the Pacific Asia Travel Agents Association (PATA), New York chapter.
This had been set up by Balakrishnan, the Director of Government of India, Tourist Office in New York. Balakrishnan is from Kerala and he finally became the Secretary Tourism there. I happened to know him and had called him earlier. He had informed me that Dr.Babu, the Secretary Tourism was visiting New York, and he was giving a presentation on Kerala. According to him it would be very useful if I could present Ladakh in the said meeting being hosted by their office, making it a presentation on India from Kashmir to Kerala. I immediately agreed as I was keen to promote Ladakh as a destination for the American tourists. The presentation was very well received and generated a lot of interest in Ladakh among the audience. That evening I had an opportunity to meet a cross section of the top American travel agents. They were thrilled when I gave description of Ladakh as the Grand Canyon turned upside down! Balakrishnan also arranged a luncheon meeting with the Indian Travel Agents who were mainly handling the tourists of Indian origin.
While staying with Muzaffar I had an interesting experience. He would go to office early but I used to wake up late. Around 10.30 am I would go out to have breakfast in the nearest McDonald's restaurant. At that time the only clients were old retired men and women. All the young ones were busy with their jobs. The old people like me must be getting up late and going to these food shops to have breakfast. It was quite an experience to see old people eating breakfast leisurely and reading newspapers and also gossiping. The young would return around noon to have their snack lunch! I also took this opportunity to visit some art galleries on the other side of the Central Park. I spent some time in the Central Park. It is a joy to roam through the lush green areas of the Park after seeing the rush of cars and people in Manhattan. The visit to the western part of America with a brief stopover in the east was quite fruitful and rewarding. I had varied experiences. I returned home after stopping for few days in Gibraltar.
The reception back home from the visit was anything but pleasant. The moment I joined back my office I was attached with the General administration Department. The attachment order came in a dramatic manner. I was sitting in my office giving an interview about tourism to a foreign journalist when a fax came on the machine next to me stating that I had been attached with the General Administration Department with immediate effect. No reasons were given for this action. It seemed a strange way of rewarding me for my efforts to promote Tourism to Kashmir and Ladakh! Subsequently I came to know the real story behind this action of the then Chief Secretary. He had been irked by the intervention of the Chief Election Commissioner in facilitating my departure to USA to represent India in an International Conference. He had sent a note to the then Governor that I had manipulated my departure to avoid participation in the ensuing Parliament Election and had sought approval for my suspension.
A colleague who had been with the Governor at that time had written on the note, "I can swear by the integrity of the officer and we should wait till his return". So the attachment order came after my return. There were protests from all sections of the travel trade. In fact, Dr Farooq Abdullah called on the Governor and told him that a wrong had been done. In fact, a delegation of prominent citizens from Ladakh led by Thupsten Chewang also called on the Governor. However, the Chief Secretary did not budge and wanted me to apologise to him which I refused to do as I had done no wrong. Ultimately, on persuasion of various advisors and people, the Administrative Council posted me as the Deputy Commissioner Leh. In the normal circumstances I would have loved the posting as Ladakh as always been my first love. However, this being a punishment posting I refused to go. Dr. Abdullah asked me if I could get the orders stayed, he would restore me to my posting in the Tourism Department. I did file a writ petition and the State High Court stayed my transfer.
In the meantime, the Government created a separate Director Tourism for Jammu. J&K thus became the only state in the country having two Directors of Tourism! This was probably done to prevent my return as Director Tourism, J&K. Just before the popular government led by Dr. Farooq was to take the office, I was approached by a number of advisors to say sorry to the Chief Secretary so that I could be reinstated. I refused to do that and remained probably the only officer being penalised during the Governor's Rule. However, Dr. Farooq Abdullah kept his word and in the very first meeting of the new Cabinet, I was ordered to be appointed as the first Director General Tourism of the entire J & K State. It was truly an apt vindication for me. My visit to western America had been fruitful and enjoyable and I had gone in good faith. However, it had been marred by the events on my return. But the timely action by Dr. Farooq Abdullah had redeemed my gains! Unfortunately, the uncertain events after my return prevented me from working for the UIIA Council meeting in Ladakh and we lost a beautiful opportunity to promote Ladakh among the mountaineering fraternity of the world! Nevertheless, I had several other opportunities subsequently to promote tourism to J & K.

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