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In Uzbekistan, feels like being at home in Kashmir – with exceptions

Photo Credit: Diplomacyindia.com

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Fergana (Uzbekistan), May 2 (IANS) Uzbekistan and Kashmir appear like separated siblings living thousands of miles apart and still bearing striking similarities in more ways than one — cultural, linguistic, architectural, culinary, music. And, yes, there is a chance that a security man may stop you and scan your phone for any pictures of sensitive places!

In fact, the commonalities are not completely surprising because Kashmir owes much of its cultural legacy to the Central Asian region, including the ancient Persian-speaking Transoxiana what now largely forms Uzbekistan — a land of magnificent mosques, abounding non-vegetarian food and smiling faces of hospitable people with gold-capped teeth. And, despite being an Islamic country, liquor is freely available and there are plenty of beer gardens.

For a Kashmiri like me, the seemingly surreal sameness appeared something more than romantic nostalgia for hundreds of Syed families whose ancestors brought Islam, arts and crafts, architecture and language to Jammu and Kashmir and settled in different parts of the state in early 14th century.

It was a nine-day experiential tourist trip covering nearly 60 per cent of the double landlocked nation, surrounded by five landlocked countries in the heart of a mineral-rich region so coveted by China.

The journey connected up-close a group of 11 avid Indian travellers to Uzbek history, people and culture — way beyond the textual look-up in history books or common folklore — an experience of seeing is believing.

The commonalities between Uzbekistan and Kashmir seemed writ large almost everywhere.

Even in capital Tashkent, a metropolitan and an emerging world class city, similarities pop out in common conversations with locals. Everyday art, food and sign boards on shop fronts and streets appear talking to you in Kashmiri.

For example, kocha-si in Uzbek means street and in Kashmiri it is also kocha. Moyxona (xona pronounced as kha na) is a liquor bar. Hojatxona is public lavatory.

The suzani art of embroidery — design motifs including the sun and moon disks, flowers, leaves and vines — is prevalent at both places. Suzan is Persian for needle and suzandozi or needle work is one of the most famous handicrafts of Kashmir that traces its origin to Central Asia.

A round-shaped bread with thick curvature is girda both in Uzbekistan and Kashmir. Tilokari in Uzbek and tilakari in Kashmiri refer to gilding — the art of applying fine gold leaf or powder to surfaces of wood, stone or metal for a thin coating of gold.

Most of the buildings — old and modern — in Uzbekistan predominantly use blue geometric patterns on glazed clay tiles to decorate walls and exterior. Though no longer used in Kashmir, such tiles were once famously made in the north Kashmir town of Sopore.

In Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and located on the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean, glittering minarets, voluptuous domes and hypnotic mosaics remind one of the old shrines in Kashmir.

While having a lunch — deep fried chicken legs after gulping down lagman, a hearty lamb soup with thick local noodles, flavoured with chives and black cumin — a group of women in glittering velvet dresses, one of them celebrating her birthday, broke into dance to loud Uzbek music.

There was a magical drum-beating identical to the Kashmiri tumbaknaer, which is generally used by women during marriage celebrations.

Our guide Khursheed, an Uzbek, said the drumbeats may be from tumbak — a Central Asian musical instrument — struck by fingertips to produce harmonious rhythms.

Another Uzbek song was dominated by the rhythms of chang, identical to the Kashmiri santoor as the women kept moving in circles, shaking a leg or two.

Devotional worship at shrines and mosques also has a deep Uzbek-Kashmiri resemblance. Just outside Bukhara, the city of sufis, a group of a dozen men huddled around the grave of Bahauddin Naqshband — a 14th Century Sufi saint and founder of Naqshbandi order, one of the most followed in Kashmir.

The men prayed and recited verses from the Quran. Outside the graveyard, a young priest read a prayer and many men and women sat around a mighty chinor — the local name for the maple or chinar tree found abundantly in Kashmir ‘s gardens and roadsides.

As the overwhelming affinity between the two far off places seemed all rooted in history and the Silk Road, any modern similarity appeared missing.

Then came a fascinating, six-hour car-drive from Tashkent to Fergana — on the only road link that connects the eastern fertile region with the rest of the country. The landscape, snow-capped mountain peaks, pine forests on either side of the over 400-km-long stretch seemed like a journey on the Srinagar-Jammu highway — the only surface link that connects the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.

But there was no military presence on the Tashkent-Fergana road until we came across a heavily-guarded bridge followed by a tunnel and many more bridges and tunnels on the strategic link.

Photography is prohibited near and inside these tunnels. We were travelling in five cars. A soldier signalled our driver to pull over and began saying something in Uzbek, angrily. The driver kept saying “no”, “no”.

The soldier asked about our cellphones. I had tucked it deep inside my backpack. He couldn’t find it. Cellphones of two of my co-travellers and the driver were scanned and pictures they had clicked on the highway — not of the tunnels and bridges though — and some monuments in Samarkand were deleted.

There was the modern resemblance of otherwise culturally linked Kashmir and Uzbekistan.

There are some dissimilarities too. Many of the Uzbek cities, including Tashkent and Bukhara, resonate with a European influence, which Kashmir doesn’t. There are lakeside beer gardens, liquor flows cheap in cafés next to most of the main tourist attractions. Conservative Kashmir does not offer that.

IANS

India

CAG picks holes in Railway’s elaborate plans for Kumbh Mela

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Prayagraj, Kumbh 2019

New Delhi, Sep 23 : The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on Wednesday pointed out various shortcomings in Railways’ elaborate plans to control rail traffic during the Kumbh Mela in 2019.

In the report tabled in both Parliament, the government auditor slammed the railways for failing to address issues such as running of special trains, works related to passenger amenities and safety, medical facilities to passengers, and waste management at station premises during the massive religious gathering.

It said that this led to inconvenience to passengers, who were not adequately addressed by the railways.

“Temporary fencing at vulnerable locations (track and station entry point) were not completed. This led to cases of free movement of cattle on tracks and passengers trespassing. Audit noted that the Railway estimated (September 2018) an evacuation of 33 lakh passengers, which was subsequently revised (December 2018) to 45.48 lakh. Railways initiated a figure of 73.66 lakh evacuation of passengers during Mela period,” it said.

It also noted that the Railways planned 821 special trains, but ran only 565.

“A significantly higher number of passengers, with fewer special trains resulted in large overcrowding of trains and caused much inconvenience to passengers,” it said.

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India

Railway Board failed to assess electric locos’ requirement: CAG

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Piyush Goyal

New Delhi, Sep 23 : The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on Wednesday said that despite the target of achieving 100 per cent electrification by 2022, the Railway Board failed to assess the requirement of electric locos properly, resulting in a 20 percent increase in diesel locos during 2012-2018, which adversely affected quality of maintenance.

The findings were mentioned in a CAG report tabled in the Parliament on Wednesday.

In its performance audit on “Assessment and Utilisation of Locomotives and Production and Maintenance of LHB Coaches in Indian Railways”, the government auditor said that the increase in the requirement of electric locos and the simultaneous reduction in utilisation of diesel locos was not adequately considered while assessing loco requirements.

“In the Mission Electrification and De-carbonization, the Minister of Railways issued directives (September 2017) for 100 per cent electrification in Indian Railways by 2022. The Railway Board, while assessing the loco requirements for the period 2012-19, did not properly review the increasing rate of electrification in the Railways. Increase in the requirement of electric locos and the simultaneous reduction in utilisation of diesel locos was not adequately considered while assessing loco requirements,” it said.

The CAG highlighted that the main criteria adopted by Railway Board for the assessment of requirement of locos were based on “previous year’s actual production”.

“Requirement of locos was not decided on the basis of actual need and there was no structured methodology for assessing the requirement of locos based on specifically laid down parameters. This led to more number of diesel locos in the system than required. In fact, the diesel loco holdings in Indian Railways increased by 20 per cent (947) during 2012-18,” it said.

Pulling up the national transporter, the CAG said that the Railways was holding and maintaining locos much more than the homing capacity available and this excess holding adversely impacted the quality of loco maintenance.

“Lack of quality control, use of inferior material, poor supervision and inadequate internal control occurred during scheduled maintenance of locos in loco sheds. Audit noticed unscheduled repairs of 17,530 diesel and 22,078 electric locos during 2012-17.

“On account of defective material in manufacturing etc, 46 per cent new locos failed within 100 days of their commissioning. Audit also noticed that almost half of diesel and electric locos failed after their scheduled maintenance by loco sheds,” it said.

The performance audit on production and maintenance of LHB coaches pointed out that data of accidents and fatalities showed that there is an urgent need to switch over to LHB rakes to ensure safety of the railway passengers, especially in trains with higher speeds.

“During 2013-14 to 2017-18, only 30 per cent of the total 19,327 coaches produced were of LHB type. Modern Coach Factory, Rae Bareli (MCF) was set up only for production of LHB coaches. However, against a combined installed capacity of 5,000 LHB coaches for 2013-18, only 1,842 LHB coaches (shortfall of 63 per cent) were actually produced,” it said.

“During 2015-16 to 2017-18, only 108 ICF conventional rakes out of 195 planned (55 per cent) could be converted into LHB rakes. Meanwhile, out of 49,033 ICF design coaches, 609 coaches have already attained their codal life of 25 years as on 31 March 2018. This has implication on passenger safety. About 13 per cent (6,259 coaches) were between the age of 20 and 25 years and would need to be replaced in the next five years,” it said.

The CAG also said that the Indian Railways need to replace at least 6,868 coaches (14 per cent) over a period of next five years. “However, the present production programme was not able to meet the requirement of coach production,” it said.

It also highlighted that the Indian Railways did not have adequate facilities in their workshops for Periodical Overhauling (POH)/Intermediate Overhauling (IOH) of LHB coaches.

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Business

Airlines on verge of collapse, may shut if situation doesn’t improve: GoAir to SC

SC deferred the hearing of the case for refund of air tickets booked during lockdown period till September 25

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GoAir

New Delhi: A day after aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) informed the Supreme Court (SC) that passengers who booked tickets during lockdown are eligible for refunds, the government recommended that airlines pay 0.5% interest for delayed refunds.

While both Vistara and AirAsia opposed the levy of interest stating that many of their customers prefer credit shell, country’s largest airline IndiGo said it refunded the tickets for the lockdown period in full.

The government also said it is open to considering the interest of any particular segment of passengers if adversely affected.

New Delhi: A day after aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) informed the Supreme Court (SC) that passengers who booked tickets during lockdown are eligible for refunds, the government recommended that airlines pay 0.5% interest for delayed refunds.

While both Vistara and AirAsia opposed the levy of interest stating that many of their customers prefer credit shell, country’s largest airline IndiGo said it refunded the tickets for the lockdown period in full.

The government also said it is open to considering the interest of any particular segment of passengers if adversely affected.

Meanwhile, GoAir pleaded with the apex court that many airlines were on the brink of collapse and might shut down if If the situation doesn’t improve.

SC has deferred the hearing on airlines’ fare refund case for September 25.

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