Lonavala died a long time ago.

A couple of weeks ago, me and my entire family decided to go to Lonavala for the long weekend. Anyone living in Mumbai has gone to Lonavala atleast once in their lifetime because of its location. Easily accessible by road, colder weather compared to Mumbai, scenic views, general greenery and next to another hill station Khandala. Lonavala – Khandala were places where you could catch a break from city life, breathe in fresh mountain air and go back home relaxed. However in the last one and a half decades these two places, especially Lonavala have undergone massive changes which have ruined everything that made Lonavala famous in the first place. There are several reasons why this place which was blessed with lush green spaces and lakes has become just another city like Mumbai and Pune.

Ease of access – One can reach Lonavala in under 3 hours thanks to freeways. This is why this place is very popular among tourists on weekends. Lonavala is so popular during weekends and long weekends that it causes massive jams. Such is the traffic that it makes it to the local papers almost every month. Ease of access is a good thing. It keeps the economy of Lonavala – Khandala alive and flourishing. But it has lead to a huge number of tourists coming in, trashing and leaving the place. Too much of anything is bad and this is true for tourists as well. This phenomena is not new and unique. Dubrovnik in Croatia, National Parks in the US, Amsterdam and many more cities around the world, all suffering from “too many tourists”. This affects not just local residents but also impacts local economy too.

Trash and Garbage everywhere – This is a problem almost everywhere in India. But Lonavala is a prime contender for one of the most unclean tourist destinations in India. The city itself is clean though, but the trash I saw at the tourist points was unbelievable. Especially at Karla Caves, Tiger Point. It was filthy and these places have made it to my blacklist of never visit again. There is tourst trash everywhere on the roads – Disposed packets of water, food and plastic cutlery and tableware thrown out all around.

Unregulated attractions – Lonavala’s attractions were mostly natural. Places like Tiger Point, Lion Point, Duke’s Nose, Rajmachi, etc. Tiger Point was extremely saddening because it is infested with food stalls which serve you instant noodles, pakodas and what not and each stall makes their own sitting arrangements within the point itself. The moment you get out of your car you will be hounded by tens of waiters hounding you to with their menus which are all the same. If you agree to any one of them, they immediately shout to their chair and table guy to set up a table right next to the view point! The things you order are then served in disposable tableware which are dumped, you guessed it, over the cliff. On one hand, you have a breathtaking view of the ghats and the moment you look down, all you see is piles of trash. Did i mention there are free roaming cows too? This has to be one of the most abused tourist attractions i have ever seen in my life. This is true for pretty much all the other places too.

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Tiger Point – A natural view point destroyed by tourists and unregulated vendors.
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Trash discarded on the cliff. Bonus – Tourists jumping protective fences and risking their life for a selfie. Now you know why India leads in Selfie deaths.

The same was true for Kalra Caves. The caves themselves are fantastic. But years of neglect and abusive tourism has eroded much of the history and turned it into a picnic spot. There is a temple there right in front of the caves now built in the last few years which was never there and blocks the entire view of the main caves. I asked a few locals and they said it was sanctioned by the local government. Applause for that.

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Graffiti and trash (not visible in the picture)
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The temple built in the last few years blocks the entire view and entrance to the main caves. (lower right)

The climb to the Kalra Caves deserves another mention. The entire climb is extremely unsafe. The steps are dangerous, railings have been removed either by the hundreds of shops that have come up on the stairs to fit their shops or have been destroyed by neglect. There are so many shops on both sides that you cannot get a view of the vista surrounding these caves at all for major parts of the climb. You get a few glimpses here and there when for some reason there is no shop! These shops sell food packets, bottled water and cooked food. All of which is fine except there is no place to dump these once done so its either dumped by tourists right there or over the cliff. Or right near the caves. Caves carved out between 2nd and 5th Century BC are being abused by tourists who don’t give a fuck about anything beyond ticking off places on their list, taking pictures and going back home and unregulated shops who don’t give a fuck about anything other than wanting to sell their wares.

Catering to demanding tourists – The typical Indian tourist wants food they eat everyday with a little bit of variety here and there (because they’re out on holiday), wants to shop for whatever is famous locally (even though its not made locally and its on their list of things to buy because someone told them its good) and doesn’t want to get out of their bubble and explore the place for what it is, understand the culture. Rather they want to make it a home for the time they are there. This is how demanding tourists force local hotels, restaurants and shops to stock things they normally would not or make things they never did. Hotels and Restaurants bend over backwards to cater to these tourists just because its their bread and butter. Fast food joints are everywhere. There is a sea of sameness everywhere. The only difference that exists now is that the typical tourist is in Lonavala and not Mumbai or Pune. That’s it. They’re eating the same things, they’re paying for the same things. They just paid for these things in a different city.

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Yep.
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Typical street in Lonavala. Traffic jams, honking, trash and restaurants everywhere.

I could go on and on about all this but there are many articles on this already. This was a personal experience i decided to share. Never go to Lonavala during public holidays. Take some time out on a working weekday if you need to go there for a short vacation. Or better yet, find somewhere else to go because there is nothing to see here.

Harbor Line Banter 2: An Open Letter

Dear Self-Righteous Dude in the train,

I don’t know if i was fortunate or unfortunate to have been standing besides you in the 11.30 CST local on the day when the trains were running extremely late because of a derailment at Cotton Green station. As people crammed inside the already half an hour late train, i somehow found myself besides you. As we settled in the painfully slow and cramped train, i heard you talk complain about the “very crowded train” and how this was “very bad” and how the “authorities did not care about the passengers”. I heard you talk to your friend/partner whoever he was about how you had lived a “very settled life” and how you would “prefer the road instead of such a crowded train”. You even mentioned at one point of time how the “first class usually has more gujaratis but today they are nowhere to be seen”

All the time you spoke about your wealthy and high standard of living, you looked at me atleast 3 times and said to your buddy that many “unwanted people who dont belong here, have taken advantage of the situation and got into the first class compartment”. You must have probably thought, ‘hey whats a guy in jeans and tshirt doing inside this compartment? He doesnt even look Gujju!’. Yes sir, i dont look Gujju. I fail to understand how it matters in Mumbai whether you are gujju or not? Does it enable you to racially profile each person standing besides you in a crowded local train and pass judgements about how everyone in the world apart from gujjus are the most unwanted people in the first class compartment?

You boast about living a well settled life and then when you spoke, you immediately became the most idiotic and most laughable person in the whole compartment. I could hardly control my laughter. There was a moment when a Sardarji entered the train and stood besides you, you said that ‘God knows how many people will get in now’. You gave a disgusting look to anyone who did not fit your ‘Only gujju’ standard. As we got down i was happy that you got pushed around by some fellow passengers at Masjid Bunder Station while alighting.

It is because of people like you, that the Gujarati community gets a bad name. It is because of you that Gujaratis like me, always get judged before people even get to know me. You may have lived a life of a fat, rich gujju, but you have absolutely the lowest morals anyone can ever have. Please, go take the road as you mentioned. Dont ever take the train again, as it is better without people like you. And it is so ‘low class’ isnt it? Get a car. burn petrol. I bet you’d love that.

The authorities whom you mentioned were able to get the Harbor Line up and running again within 3 hours inspite of the heavy rain. What did you do sir? Whine and Complain about how you deserved much better. No, you dont deserve the comfort. All you deserve is crowded trains, heavy rainfall and delayed slow locals when you travel. And i sincerely hope that you get that every fucking time you travel in Mumbai. For insulting me and many others for no reason, you deserve this. Hope you get pushed around in the train. Hope you get pick-pocketed. Hope someone sneezes on you while in a crowded train. Finally, i hope that i never meet you in the train again.

Thanks.

Harbor Line Banter 1

I recently started work and have been taking the Harbor line train to Masjid Bunder daily. Even though i go via the first class compartment, there is enough banter to keep me entertained throughout my 20 minute journey on the way to work and back. Sometimes its thoroughly entertaining and worth sharing with everyone. Hence, i thought why not blog about it. So starting today, whenever i hear some really good discussion I will post it under the title ‘Harbor Line Banter’.

As i entered the first class compartment from Koliwada station, a group of roughly 4-5 gujarati businessmen who seemed to know each other, entered the compartment. They were not more than 38-40 years old. Of all those who entered, one had a freshly bought copy of Mid-Day with the front page report on Osama Bin Laden and how he was put to death. That was enough to get the banter started. The person who had the newspaper was reading it, while the other people started the discussion about what must have happened over the past one day.

“The Pakistani’s must’ve known he (Osama) was there, otherwise how can he live so lavishly?!”

“No, I think Obama just went in with the correct intelligence reports, shot him down and left, It all happened within 40 minutes!”

“All that is fine, Just see the guts of these Americans. Captured and killed one person who was not in their hands, here we are sitting and can’t even kill those who are already in our hands. Shyaa”

“I was watching the news and they were showing a report about this guy who tweeted the whole thing live unknowingly. He described that one big blast took place and all was silent and then a helicopter crashed”

“Yes i saw that too. He was from Rawalpindi and had come for a vacation to Abbotabad”

“God knows when will these Pakistanis learn. What do they get out of all this? Americans got what they wanted, when will India get Dawood and others. Our government can’t even attack them for fear of a Nuclear attack. What a mad country! (Pakistan)”

Here is my favorite part of the whole conversation.

“I think its all a conspiracy, Obama’s ratings were at an all time low till now. Look at what has happened. His re-election is confirmed in 2012! No one can stop him now!

“These Congress people must be planning the same thing. At the very end of the term, they will pass the lokpal bill, hang Kasab and Afzal Guru and pitch in Rahul Gandhi. Sure shot winning campaign”

“If they are not planning this then at least we should suggest them this idea. At least there won’t be an Advani in contention for Prime Minister. But if (Narendra) Modi comes in, then it will be best”

Gujarat (read Narendra Modi) has suddenly become a role model for all states (read wherever there are gujjus) to emulate. I myself have seen the development going on over there with my own eyes. My native Jamnagar city has transformed into a bustling megapolis with bustling industries and HUGE projects which can put Bombay to shame. Majority of the Gujarati community wants Narendra Modi to continue as Chief Minister of Gujarat. They even want him to be Prime Minister. And just to mention I know of his past and hence won’t discuss that since this is a blogpost about what i heard today in the Bombay local.

By this time, Masjid Bunder station had arrived and it was time to get down. They all alighted with me and i suddenly realised that 20 minutes had passed by so quickly! Osama’s capture and death was such a huge topic that people in office were also talking about it and discussing it in great detail. Everyone had their own conspiracy theory to tell and share. My dad went on to complain that these idiots (News Channels) kept showing the same thing all day and did not update on the Lokpal bill discussions which were taking place!