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New Kashmir tunnel: Commuters complain of high pollution, poor visibility



Chenani and Nashri

Udhampur, April 16 : The state-of-the-art transverse ventilation system in the newly-opened 9.2 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar highway may not be working effectively as commuters are complaining of high pollution levels, eye irritation and suffocation inside what has been labelled as one of India’s infrastructural wonders.

Some of the commuters using the strategically-important tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir on a regular basis told IANS that they were also battling poor visibility caused by high pollution levels inside what is India’s first and the world’s sixth road tunnel that uses a hi-tech ventilation system to extract polluted air and maintain a constant flow of fresh air.

Balvinder Singh, a Delhi-based orthopaedic surgeon from Jammu, said he suffered breathing problems when he was inside the tunnel, built with Austrian technology at a cost of Rs 2,900 crore ($450 million) and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 2.

“The ventilation system inside the tunnel probably doesn’t work effectively. As soon as we enter the tunnel during peak hours, the visibility starts plummeting. If we travel with the windows down, the pollution level rises. It causes breathing issues as well,” the surgeon with Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital told IANS.

“It feels as if we are passing through a gas chamber,” the surgeon said.

Anil Manhas, who works with the Jammu and Kashmir Education Department, uses the tunnel that has reduced the 41-km distance between Chenani in Udhampur to Nashri in Rambhan to just 11 km, slashing his travel time from two-and-a-half hours to a mere 10 minutes.

“I took it lightly when I used the tunnel for the first time. I had irritation in my eyes. It was also smoke-filled. This is happening regularly now and I think the ventilation system is not working. If this prevails for long… there are chances of vehicles meeting with accidents due to poor visibility,” Manhas said.

Asked about the problem, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) spokesperson Vishnu Darbari said since Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) had constructed the tunnel, only they would be able to answer queries about it.

But Ashutosh Chandwar, Vice President, IL&FS, contended that the problem has to do with claustrophobia caused by travel though such a long and confined space.

“I do not know why the passengers are feeling such problems… There is absolutely no possibility of it. Whenever there is pollution inside the tunnel, its ventilation system will automatically start and exhaust out the pollution. What people are suffering is phobia of travelling through a long tunnel,” Chandwar told IANS.

He said the ventilation system of the tunnel was “well tested and can tackle every kind of pollution inside the tunnel”.

Environmentalist Vivek Chattopadhyay said pollution levels inside such a long tunnel were bound to increase but could be controlled if the ventilation functions properly.

The Programme Manager at the Centre for Science and Environment said such problems occur in hilly terrain and assimilation of pollutants often occur as these do not disperse easily.

“The problem of poor visibility due to pollution levels inside the tunnel is genuine and it is commonly seen. The problem can be solved only if the ventilation system works effectively,” Chattopadhyay told IANS.

Another problem commuters face on a routine basis is traffic congestion inside the tunnel.

“The traffic congestion due to the continuous flow of all kinds of vehicles is another major problem,” said Bhushan, a Jammu resident who works with the state government.

The NHAI had earlier said vehicles below BS-III engines won’t be allowed in.

However, the directive couldn’t be executed considering the volume of trucks that ply daily carrying essentials between Jammu and Kashmir, Chandwar of IL&FS said.

By : Rupesh Dutta

(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at [email protected])


Delhi Ring Railway to soon see steam-hauled service to attract tourists

Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket.



Steam locomotives will be chugging along on all hill railways across the country — besides charting out a new course on the Delhi Ring Railway — as the Railways pushes the idea of reviving the glory of its steam heritage.

With the successful operation of a steam-hauled train on the Palanpur-Jogindernagar section of Kangra Valley Railway, all five hill railways now have steam loco services to attract tourists.

Kangra Valley Railway, which is on the tentative list of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites, witnessed the revived steam loco operation recently after more than 20 years. The regular steam loco operation is expected to boost tourism in Himachal Pradesh.

While Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway have regular steam locos services, the Kalka-Shimla Railway and Matheran Hill Railway are equipped to conduct chartered services on tourist demand.

But the big thrust will be seen in the capital’s long-neglected — and once-popular — Ring Railway, that has fallen by the wayside as the city expanded rapidly.

“It is a big revival of steam locomotives in Indian Railways, and our aim is to have regular steam loco operations in all hill railways — and also in the long-awaited Delhi Ring Railway route,” said a senior Railway Ministry official involved with rail heritage.

With the advent of diesel and electric locomotives, steam engines were phased out in 1995 by the Railways.

Ring Rail Delhi

Though there was a move to run a steam locomotive on the Delhi Ring Railway during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, this did not materialise for various reasons.

However, the state-run transporter is now actively working on reviving the service to showcase its heritage, bring back the romance of steam engines and promote tourism. The task has been assigned to Northern Railway.

The existing 34 km-long ring railway, which runs parallel to the Ring Road, passes through several prominent places of Delhi like Chanakyapuri, Safdarjung and Sarojini Nagar and is expected to attract large numbers of tourists and rail enthusiasts interested in steam locos.

As per the plan, the train, comprising four heritage coaches with a steam locomotive, would start from Safdarjung station and travel to Anand Vihar, Old Yamuna Bridge, Old Delhi, New Delhi and Nizamuddin station before returning to Safdarjung.

Delhi Ring Rail

Tourists will be able to visit the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, National Rail Museum, the historic Old Yamuna Bridge, Humayun’s tomb and rail buildings such as Old Delhi station, Kashmere Gate and Baroda House by using the service.

“The landscape along the proposed route will be beautified, besides other necessary arrangements to make it operational. The fare structure and timings are yet to be decided,” the official said.

“Two options are being considered: A round trip or a hop-on-hop-off ticket,” the official added.

At present, there are very few steam locos across the world that are still in working condition.

By : Arun Kumar Das

(Arun Kumar Das is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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62% prefer self planned trips over travel packages: Survey



travel packages

New Delhi, Feb 6: As many as 62 per cent people prefer self-planned trips over the packages provided by travel agencies, according to a survey carried out in six metro cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune and Bengaluru.

The survey, conducted by Chrome Data Analytics and Media, was conducted on 2,468 people in the age group of 35-54 years constituting 52 per cent males and 48 per cent females.

It said that 59 per cent of the respondents would prefer a nature-related destination for holidays. It also said that 48 per cent would prefer travelling with their friends.

According to the survey, US is the dream destination for 35 per cent of the respondents.

At least 60 per cent of the respondents “usually” holiday for less than seven days, it said

Around 33 per cent said that their travel plans got affected by the number of official leaves they got.


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Why a visit to the world’s largest river island is a must



Bamboo house of Mishing tribe

By Natalia Ningthoujam

Kamalabari (Majuli), Feb 5: Assam’s Majuli faces flood fury — and the threat of erosion — whenever the mighty Brahmaputra river swells. So take a break from your high-tech lifestyle and hop on that double decker boat to live the simple life in the world’s largest river island before it loses the title.

Cruises on luxury vessels can take you to your destination, but to understand the locals’ lives, it is best to travel like them on a rickety motor boat, which can also carry cars, bikes and anything that can’t swim, from Neemati ghat to Kamalabari ghat.

First timers might fear for their lives but for the frequent travellers, it’s like any other public transport. Some are so carefree that they even play cards.

After the half-hour ferry ride, you will reach the shrinking island, which is located over 300 km from Guwahati, Assam’s main city, and is home to approximately two lakh people consisting of Brahmins, Kalitas, Mishings, Deori and more.

Visitors can stay in various resorts, which might remind you of your hostel days due to availability of only basic amenities, or limited homestays.

While driving to your accommodation, you will see paddy and mustard fields, and bamboo plantations along the roads.

Out of the various house forms, the bamboo stilt houses — with an open fireplace in the middle — of the Mishing tribe, are quite unique, and you will see women working on looms made with bamboos and a cycle’s wheel.

Unlike the people of Sualkuchi, a silk-weaving village in Assam, Mishings here make “mekhela chador” and other traditional outfits only for their own use. And men use their physical strength to make beds out of bamboos or other furnitures, when they are not farming.

Majuli, a hub of the Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, has many satras (religious and cultural institutions).

“Earlier, there were over 60 satras in Majuli but due to erosion, there are currently just 32 satras here. Auniati Satra is the biggest one in Assam. The land measures up to 500 bigha,” Anant Kalita, the satra’s museum guide, told this visiting IANS correspondent.

“We don’t call ourselves monks or pandits. The ones who stay in satras are called Vaishnavs. We worship lord Krishna. We dance, pray and do dramas, which were created by (saint-scholar) Sankardev,” he added.

The satra is open to all — Brahmins, Kalitas and people from other communities of Assam.

“Even Muslims can come. Ladies can come but can’t stay in the satra. After marriage, people need to stay out of the satra.

“There are 350 people in the satra. Vaishnavs and bhakhts stay in satras, the ones who are outside are called disciples,” said Kalita, who has been here for the past 18 years.

The Samaguri Satra, on the other hand, has kept alive the tradition of mask-making.

Its studio houses numerous masks, like those of Narasimha, Ram and Laxman that are used during festivals and Bhaona, which is a traditional form of entertainment through which religious messages are shared.

Explaining the process of mask-making, popular mask artiste Hem Chandra Goswami’s brother Tilak Goswami said: “The masks are made of mud, cotton cloth, cow dung and vegetable colours. One mask takes about 15 to 20 days to make.”

“Our entire family knows how to make masks. We have been making masks for the last six generations,” added the 65-year-old.

After learning the craft here, some even go to Dibrugarh or Guwahati.

It’s not just the people at satras who are warm and welcoming. Once the local children spot new faces, especially with DSLR cameras, they will happily follow you and strike a pose.

You might have to use a lot of hand gestures while communicating with the locals as they aren’t fluent in English or Hindi, but they will leave you overwhelmed — irrespective of their financial condition, they will not let you leave empty handed.

A cup of tea or a plate full of home-made sweets (rice flour pitha) is the least they can offer, and a request: “Please visit again.”


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