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Russia, China, Pakistan forms strong alliance

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Russia under Vladimir Putin is expanding military assertiveness and political influence to challenge US led NATO world order.On the other hand Russia even though cautiously expanding ties with China,keeps an eye on China’s past record.

Aware of the fact that both the countries desire to attain second super power status  and are thus found competing with each other in so many regions and policies .But they both also present a joint challenge to the US super power status.For their international expansion, China  and Russia are now linked with Highway  bridge across the Heilongjiang river . After 28 years of talks , construction has finally started to construct 1,283 meters bridge that links Heihe to the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk which is a part of China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor to provide boost to economic activities both in cargo and passenger traffic.

Moscow and Beijing have their own strategies and policies for the expansion of their international interests.China is economically stronger with surplus trade with US while Russia is somewhat isolated and is under US and EU sanctions after the Crimean annexation. Russia is one of the 5 highest recipients of Chinese investment  with regional and Chinese belt and Road initiative  connecting Asia  and Europe.

China has acquired dominating position with its maritime military bases  in Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, Balochistan , Burma (known as string of pearls) further with connecting Middle East and Europe. Under string of pearls ,China has accomplished  maritime superiority thus challenging the US :China has established airstrip on Woody island in the Paracel archipelago located 300 nautical miles west of Vietnam, shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh,Port in Sittwe ,Myanmar, Gwadar in Pakistan, Pipeline through Islamabad  to Kashgar in Xinjiang and facilities on islands in the Bay of Bengal near the Malacca Strait  and the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka .

Besides this China has already embarked on creating its suzerainty over South China Sea and even expanding its influence to Pacific region that also includes Australia.

It has also aggressively started  pursuing One-China policy that includes Taiwan and Hongkong to counter Trump’s changed postures  over these China’s claimed parts of erstwhile One China.

Internationally, Russia has won a major victory against US and the European Union in Syria by liberating Aleppo .After the failed coup attempt in Turkey, Russia is trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and the NATO countries of Europe and is desirous of reviving its old region of countries in the erstwhile Soviet Union and to counter balance American influence in this region. The importance of Central Asia  and the Caucasian region in the foreign policy of Moscow has been increasingly tremendously since 2004.

Inspite of close economic ties with China, Russia is also  working on having friendly relations with US but China fears that Putin-Donald Trump equation  can harm Beijing’s global interests.

While US President Barack Obama has signed into law the $618 billion defence budget 2017 and also the National Defence Authorization Act  which asks Defence Secretary and Secretary of State  to take necessary steps  to recognise India  as “America’s major defence partner.”Pakistan, China and Russia are set to hold talks in Moscow on December 27,2016 to discuss regional peace and stability ,including situation in Afghanistan

It will be interesting  to watch Donald Trump’s policy for Pakistan and China .

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By : Arti Bali Senior Journalist

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Culture and Heritage sites major attraction among Tourists

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Culture and Heritage has always been a major object of travel for several years. Even today most traveler look at exploring the Cultural and heritage of aspect of the place they visit. The Traveler’s like to understand a country or regions’ culture, lifestyle of people, history of the country, art & architecture and any other elements that are important part of day to day life.
Cultural tourism as defined by the World Tourism -“trips, whose main or concomitant goal is visiting the sites and events whose cultural and historical value has turn them being a part of the cultural heritage of a community”.
In recent years, ‘culture’ has been rediscovered as an important marketing tool to attract travellers who have special interests in heritage and arts. As we see the growth pattern in the travel industry, Culture and Heritage tourism has always played a major role and is one of the most important segments of the tourism industry. Cultural tourism forms a base for most travel planners.
Cultural tourism has a positive economic and social impact. This segment also helps in preservation of cultural heritage and monuments. Also facilitates tourism in rural areas and helps in boosting their economic and social growth.
Culture can be split into two circles:
Inner Circle – represents the more traditional or basic elements of Cultural tourism and can be split into Tourism of art heritage – which relates to cultural assets and products of the past and tourism of art which relates to Presentation of visual arts, modern architecture, literature etc.
Outer Circle – Is the way of life or style of living of the population in a particular place and can be split into life style – elements such as cuisines, traditions, folklore etc and creativity – fashion, graphic design, cinema, entertainment etc.
In some places both these aspects form an offering which are mutually complementing each of the them.
Based on above, following are some subcategories of cultural tourism which are able to contribute to and motivate visitors:
– Heritage Tourism
– Art Tourism
– Urban Culture Tourism
– Rural Culture Tourism
– Contemporary Tourism
Jay Kantawala from WIYO Travel feels that Indians should also explore the Cultural tourism aspect of India apart from the International trips. Indian states of Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh also have a lot to offer to clients with interest in Cultural tourism.
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Trump should avoid bringing chaos in Middle East

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US President Donald Trump has formed an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel to counter Iran’s rise in the Middle East by a series of developments  initiated by their foreign policy decisions i.e.sudden announcement of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and assassination of  Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.But the most significant aspect is that Trump’s decision has undermined US hegemony in the region  and ended up in unifying the entire Muslim world on the issue of Jerusalem.

The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine “under occupation” and  remained committed to a “just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution” thus rejecting the US stance as “dangerous” and called on the international community to follow in its footsteps.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clarified that the US had “disqualified” itself from future Israel-Palestine peace talks after proving its “bias in favour of Israel”.

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital. Jerusalem, located between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Jerusalem has been the core issue of the  conflict between Israel and Palestine as both of them have been fighting for decades to get the control of the ancient city as their capital,however, neither claim has been recognized in the international arena. Though Israel’s parliament and the prime minister’s home are in  West Jerusalem, the side of the city Israel has controlled since 1949.  During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem was divided into East and West  and during the six day Arab Israel war in 1967 Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordian forces and declared as  annexed. The international community views that land as occupied territory.

With the announcement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Donald Trump  has reversed US policy in the Middle East by alienating the decades old relations with the Arab world, inviting condemnation from the countries, grave threat from the terror world and the unrest in the region. Trump has argued that he acted under a 1995 law passed by the then Congress during former President Bill Clinton  to move the US embassy  to Jerusalem.

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians has been considered as the world’s “most intractable conflict” that began in the mid-20th century and Trump’s decision has revived the Gaza  and West Bank violence. With this reckless and drastic move , Trump has permanently closed even the remote possibility of  finding the peaceful resolution to the two-state solution .Palestinians and other world leaders say the move would spark violence and unhinge prospects for a Middle East peace accord.

Since 1988 the peace process had envisioned a two-state solution to the conflict — an independent Palestinian state and an independent Israeli state side by side .

Concerned that the  December 6 announcement by Trump would further fuel instability in the region,Russia, China, the United Kingdom and the EU said the Jerusalem move is a roadblock for the two-state solution.

Hoping to reverse former President Barack Obama’s decisions, Trump revived US relations with Saudi and Israel by going an extra mile to enhance strategic influence  and power of Netanyahu  and supporting Mohammed bin Salman for recovering Saudi’s economy.US President went ahead by taking aggressive moves in Yemen, Lebanon, Qatar to  reduce the  strategic influence of Tehran in the region.

The 2014-2015 collapse in oil prices had dried up the Kingdom’s main source of revenue and was forced to draw on its foreign reserves. Realising that Iran’s economy was on the upswing after the 2015 nuclear deal signed with six nations, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made his intentions clear to Trump,Netanyahu and  Jared Kushner ,who is the Middle East peace envoy to put Iran in straits.

The rapid depletion of Saudi’s foreign exchange funds is rather alarming. According to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance, the 2016 budget deficit was due to unprecedented international and regional economic turmoil coupled with oil Prices that have been  suppressed by the return of Iranian oil production. Sharp decline in oil prices, cost of subsidies and military spending, including the war in Yemen and supporting rebels in Syria, growing budget deficit, rising unemployment are all factors that have adversely affected the Kingdom’s financial position.

Saudi has been compelled to condemn  the Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but the fact is Kingdom is secretly supporting  Trump’s decision and by its latest gambit that intends to exacerbate Sunni-Shiite sectarianism in the region by pressuring the Sunni Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign in an effort to claim that an Iranian- Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon stands exposed.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and designated Middle East peace envoy, Jared Kushner at the  Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum  has stated that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is key to solving larger goals, such as stopping Iranian aggression and Islamic extremism .

The assassination of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on December 4 by Houthi rebels is significant development in the region  as sectarian divisions are centuries old in Yemen but protests followed the 2011 Arab Spring .Saleh was forced to hand over power to Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi after massive protests for failing to deal effectively against rampant corruption, rising unemployment and drastic economic conditions.

Saudi Arabia claimed that the Houthis were funded, armed and supported by Iran.Then regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched Operation Decisive Storm aimed to re-capture Houthi-held areas and restore Hadi’s government.

It therefore may be prudent that President Trump opens two embassies in Jerusalem one for Israel and the other for Palestine  and should not be swayed by Saudis claim that they hold the keys to war, peace, and transformation of the Middle East.

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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Super Destinations to bring in 2018!

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7 LUXURY TRAVEL TRENDS FOR 2017
New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, and this is the time of the year when all we care about is bidding farewell to the year with a bang. Well then, why not opt for some amazingly beautiful, yet largely undiscovered, locations that are just a short travel from Mumbai!
Starting off with a charming hill station, Kanatal, situated in the picturesque Garhwal Himalayas, is the perfect place to spend a couple of days in unimaginable peace and solitude. Surrounded by lush forests and beautiful views of mist-shrouded mountains and steeped in warmth, this is your one chance of experiencing true Pahadi hospitality.
While in Kanatal, you can choose to explore the tiny hamlet, set off on a hike, trek or nature walk across any of the surrounding hills and valleys, set up camp in any one of the numerous camping locations or add some thrill to your vacation by going rappelling or rock climbing. Amongst the sights that this charming hill station has to offer, some of the more unique ones are the Surkhanda Devi Temple, with Kanatal’s own little legend and Tehri Dam, the highest dam in the country.
But ifa simple, peaceful vacation doesn’t seem like the best way of bringing in 2018, then Manali is great for some exciting adventure activities and peaceful exploration at the same time. Set on the Beas River, you can spend your time skiing across the Solang Valley or trekking up to the famed Tibetan monasteries. You can also opt for paragliding, rafting and mountaineering in the Pir Panjal Mountains. Once you’ve had your fill of adventures, you can relax those tired muscles in the famous hot-water springs of Vashist village, and then start exploring the villages nearby, including Manikaran, Kasol and Kothi. While this destination is perfect around the year, it’s especially popular in the winter months, making it a perfect place to bring in the New Year.
If hill stations aren’t your cup of tea though, then Jaisalmer should be the ideal destination for you. Also known as the ‘Golden City’, Jaisalmer promises an extremely unique experience, with the massive Fort, rising up from the unending desert sands, the magnificent havelis, colourful bazaars and deep-rooted cultural history.
In Jaisalmer, you can choose to explore the city’s historical heritage, starting with havelis like Patwon-Ki-Haveli, Nathmal-Ki-Haveli or Salim Singh Ki Haveli, each with its own unique story and regal architecture, and going on to explore the thrilling Kuldhara Ghost Town, the Vyas Chhatri, dedicated to Ved Vyasa, and the Thar Heritage Museum. After the dose of history, you can stop by the stunning Bada Bagh or the breathtaking Gadisar Lake and roam the deserts with a camel safari.
“All these destinations are absolutely perfect for this time of the year”, says Viren Batra, co-founder of Nirvana Travel. “Some of the most popularvacation places; they are all unique in terms of what they have to offer, making it easy for travelers to choose the perfect place to bring in the New Year!”
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