Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sinking Economy of Pakistan and its likely impact on India

   Pakistan has many internal and external problem. Its citizens are getting killed by terrorists of all hues. Baluchistan is fighting for its freedom for many years. Pak Occupied Kashmir and Sindh are fed up with oppression by the federal government. Fundamentalists dream of Sharia Rule in Pakistan and Final Battle for India, so-called “Gajwa e Hind”. However, that is not being discussed in this article. This article discusses a very vital aspect of a nation that can destroy it without a single shot being fired, that aspect is Economy. The Sinking Economy of Pakistan and its likely impact on India is the main thrust of this article.

   There are some parameters and their present values which are important for every economy. The current figures of these parameters indicate the state of that economy. It is important to understand these values and its implications to understand where is that economy heading. These important parameters are Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Balance of Payment and Current Account Deficit.  Let us examine these parameters of Pakistan Economy.

   It is interesting to note that post-independence, Pakistani Economy was better than the Indian Economy as they had opted for the free market economy while India followed the path of Socialist-Communist kind of state-controlled economy. Things have changed over the years. India has become an important and powerful economy while Pakistan Economy has weakened owing to lack of large Industries, Wrong policies and unnecessary military competition (and 4 wars) with India. The weakening economy should have made Pakistan worried but the non-stop American aid on one or the other pretext (without any need of accounting for it) continued to help Pakistani economy and that resulted into a false sense of economic well being.

   Every nation runs itself (and its government) on the income it earns from the exports, investments abroad and its internal direct and indirect tax collection (just 1 % of Pak citizens pay Income Tax). It is true for most of the nations but not for Pakistan. The collection of Direct and Indirect taxes is meagre in Pakistan and their imports outstrip export by a huge ratio. Due to the inflow of American aid, Pakistan never felt any need to increase internal accruals despite such a dismal collection of taxes.

   With this primer on Pakistan Economy, let me analyse its present position. The growth rate of GDP of Pakistan is 5.7% which is the best in the last five years (it was f5.3 % last year and is forecasted to drop the next year). A good growth rate of GDP indicates that this economy is a  good economy but only and only if other vital indicators (as mentioned above) also corroborate the trends. Analysis of other parameters does indicate that all is not well with Pakistani Economy. It will be further elaborated in the next paragraphs.

   The internal and external income of Pakistan is low. Few efforts have been made in the last few years to improve internal income without much success. The only other source they had of income was American unrestricted aid. That has also stopped due to direct and indirect support that Pakistan gives to the terrorist.

   Another major aspect of any economy apart from the GDP growth figure is Balance of Payment. BOP is the annual account of a country’s trade with other countries. It also indicates the availability of World (trading ) currencies with a nation or lack of it. If a nation is doing more export than import they have surplus Forex and if the imports are more than exports, there is a dearth of Forex with that country. The Balance of Payment, as the name suggests, is supposed to be balanced but it generally does not happen automatically.

  To balance BOP, if a nation has surplus earnings from exports, those earnings are retained as Forex Reserves and if there is a shortage of Forex due to higher imports, that country needs to obtain Forex by other means like Loans, etc. The question is, is the BOP of Pakistan satisfactory? Not really. Their imports outstrip their Exports by a huge margin and thus there BOP is not healthy. They have been surviving using external loans and they are neck deep in the loans. There  Forex Reserve is playing a game of See-Saw. When Asian Development Bank or China gives a loan, Forex Reserves of Pakistan go up and then they use it for Import and the Forex Reserve drops.

   Pakistan’s Balance of Payment is in negative, Forex Reserves are in the doldrums. They must be recalling olden days when” Uncle Sam” used to give unlimited aid with no strings attached and must be thinking, “those were the days”.

   If the world had faith in Pakistan they would have invested into Story of Pakistan and Pakistan’s Forex Reserves would have swollen with inflow from Foreign Direct Investment but that is Pakistan and not India in whom investors have confidence. No one wants to invest there. The remittances by Pakistani Diaspora are also nothing to write home about. In simple words, Pakistan is neither earning Forex by commerce nor by remittances and they have no other way except for taking loans to get any Forex.

   Pakistan’s Current Account Deficit (CAD) is unbelievably high. It has gone up from $ 12 Billion in 2017 to $ 17 Billion in the current year. The dichotomy is, they don’t have money for imports worth 3 weeks of necessities but the import of luxury cars continues unchecked.
Pakistan had recently received a loan of $ 2 billion from China but that amount is inadequate for them. Their only hope is an IMF bailout but America has warned IMF from advancing to Pakistan as America feels that Pakistan would use the IMF advance to pay back China. There are no signs of improvement in Pakistani economy in foreseeable future. This is the biggest challenge facing the new government of Pakistan. The question that begs answer is, what are the implications of worsening economic situation of Pakistan for India?

   Raison d’etre of Pakistan’s existence is opposing and hating India. It is a very difficult task to check the economic slide whereas it is easy to give a dose of Anti India sentiments to their population and fool them. After all the Pak governments and the Pak Army has been doing this for decades. Despite economic difficulties and a shortage of Forex, the anti-India activities by Pakistan are likely to go up and so are the terrorist activities at the border and in the countryside of India. In these trying times that is the only and time-tested method  Pakistan government has to keep their folks together.

   In light of the above, India needs to be extra alert because what will this unpredictable nation do is difficult to predict. As such it is easy to distract its own citizens from worsening economic situation by fanning the Anti- India sentiments rather than taking and implementing tough decisions to improve their sinking economy.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Effect of Imran Khan’s Win on India

The elections for Pakistan National Assembly are over and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Taharik E Insaf (PTA) party is the largest party in PNA. This election was marred in controversy and the role and interference of Pakistan Army were and have been questioned.

It is said that Politics is the “Art of Making Impossible into Possible”, however, such things do not apply to Pakistan. In Pakistan, it is what the Army of Pakistan desires becomes possible. Naila Inayat, a media person from Pakistan had tweeted way back on 27 May 2018 as follows:-

Elections will be held on July 25. Imran Khan will become the next PM of Pakistan and how:

Naila is a media Person and not an Astrologer but she could predict this because there was nothing new to predict. It was well known that come what may, Pakistan Army will make sure that Imran becomes Prime Minister. To say that this is the first time in the history of Pakistan that power transfer between two  Civilian governments will take place is a fallacy because as usual, the civilian government of Pakistan has been the Civilised Mask of the Pakistan Army and this time (In Imran’s victory) that is profoundly known.

Imran Khan is an ex-cricketer and an Oxford-educated person. With this background, as expected, at the start of his political career he appeared to be a balanced and liberal politician. However, with passing time his views have been changing and at present he appears to be a fundamentalist, supporter of the imposition of strict Sharia law in Pakistan and someone who is hardliner towards India. Has he actually become hardliner and fundamentalist or it's just a façade to garner the support of Pakistani Army and Mullas to grab the power can only be told at a later date.

Imran Khan, having smelled the Power has been making all the right noises about India Pakistan Relations. These utterances are positive at this moment but early utterances of him alone are not adequate to gauge the actual response of the new government towards India. It seems a positive start but how much he and his government can do in coalition politics (he does not have a simple majority) that too under the shadow of the actual taskmaster, the Pakistan Army, cannot be predictable.

 Many thinkers in India are of the view that Imran Khan’s rise is a bad omen for India. They believe that his win is going to compound India’s difficulties. Imran Khan’s pre-poll hardline attitude and anti-India rant could be the possible reason for their belief.

It is not possible to predict as to how would new regime be for India and our thinkers may be right that his rise is bad for India, however, there is another angle independent from Imran Khan’s rise that must be considered. That angle is, for last many decades, it’s the Pakistan Army who is ruling the roost. It makes no difference as to who is the Prime Minister or whether that nation is under Marshal Law, it’s the writ of Pakistani Army that alone runs in Pakistan.

The civilian government stays in power as long as it tows the Army’s line and when that does not happen, Pak Army finds ways and means to get rid of that government. In the heart of the matter is the power that Pakistani army wields and the Industry – Economic activities that it controls. There is a whole book written by Aaisha Siddiki titled “ Military Inc, Inside Pakistans Military Economy” devoted to documenting these deeds. If Pak Army lets go the power, it would mean the loss of all those business empires and they can’t afford that. The actual power would be wielded by Pak Army even after Imran becomes Prime Minister.

India was always in a dilemma when Nawaz Sharif was in power. A sovereign government is supposed to talk to another sovereign government and cannot talk to the that nation’s Army. Every time when it was felt that relations between India and Pakistan are making positive progress, the Pak Army and ISI used to engineer an attack or terrorist activity in India and the dialogue used to fizzle out.

The India Pakistan Relations are likely to remain at the same rock-bottom level even after Imran Khan becomes Prime Minister. There is no level lower than rock bottom. A hardliner Imran would make Pakistani population’s life miserable but his becoming Prime Minister is not likely to have any adverse impact on already adverse relations between India and Pakistan. 

If he succeeds in inducing Change of Heart in Pak Army, the relations might just improve for better but any further downfall of relations is unlikely. It may be possible that with he in power and having the same ideas as Pak Army, terrorist activities may see an increase on Indian soil but we have over three decades of experience of sending those terrorists to meet the final arbitrator, the God almighty and India is ready to deal with it.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

One Belt One Road (OBOR) and India, An Analysis

OBOR is a highway and Railway connectivity project envisaged to connect the Chinese mainland to Europe through Central Asian Republics (CAR) region. This is supposedly an economic initiative of China. Proposed in 2013, this route aims to replicate old Silk Route, once used for commerce between China and Europe with primary export from China being Silk. This ancient trading route is proposed to be recreated by building modern highway and railway network. There is a maritime silk route (sea trading route) also proposed as part of this initiative.

China touts OBOR as a sure recipe of growth and progress of the region. OBOR, as per the Chinese declaration is supposed to bring progress to the Central Asian Region and provide improved connectivity to China and CAR to Europe. Infrastructure and connectivity is definitely an issue in the CAR region. If google map is asked for a road route Between Almaty, Major Cultural and commercial city of Kazakhstan and Urumqi in resistive Xinjiang region, Google returns “ Sorry, we could not calculate driving direction from Almaty to Urumqi”. Connectivity from China to Europe exists through Russia but not through CAR, hence there is definitely a need for connectivity through this region.

The underlying reason for promoting OBOR as predicted by the experts is to create newer markets for Chinese Goods. The growth of Chinese goods sales has become stagnant elsewhere and thus China needs newer Markets. China needs avenues to sell its goods, an outlet to its engineering and infrastructure companies and jobs for its population. as the Chinese economic growth rate is down from its days of glory. The Chinese growth rate has fallen consistently and it has come down from 7.8 % per year in 2014 to 6.7 % in 2016 as seen from the graph below:-

OBOR seems to meet all the three needs mentioned in the previous paragraph. The OBOR initiative has been supported by all the nations of the region except India. Many strategic thinkers have been suggesting that India should join the initiative of OBOR else there is a fear of India being left out of the benefits of OBOR.

Before we pass a judgement on India’s stand with respect to OBOR, let us look at the business model of China in various nations where China is doing some development. Chinese development comes with their own money as a loan (that is how aid is provided by many countries including India), that is not unusual.  What is unusual is, the contract for that work goes to Chinese Company, the labour and engineers come from China, Material comes from China, even the insurance is also done by a Chinese company.

There are examples galore of this style of Chinese aid. What does it mean in real terms is, China gives by one hand and takes it away by the other hand, all the jabs, all the benefits of the business, everything goes to China. On top of it, the insurance cost and the interest on the given loan also goes to China.  The nation where the project is run by China gets just the plain infrastructure which that nation has to maintain and the scale of that infrastructure may be such that the poor nation supposedly being helped may either have little or no use of that infrastructure. The Chinese loan also has to be paid without earning anything as the earnings have all gone to China.

Hambantota port of Sri Lanka is the one such example. Sri Lanka borrowed heavily from China. The port was built in the same manner as explained above. The debt burden became so much on Sri Lanka that it had to hand over the port to China on a 99 years lease as repayment of the loan. To quote from CSIS Brief of 02 Apr 2018, In pursuit of that dream (of building Hambantota port), Sri Lanka relied on Chinese financing. But Sri Lanka could not repay those loans, and in 2017, it agreed to give China a controlling equity stake in the port and a 99-year lease for operating it. On the day of the handover, China’s official news Agency tweeted triumphantly, “Another milestone along the path of #BeltandRoad.”

There lies the trap that China has set for the nations of OBOR. Chinese strategy is simple, raise the dreams in the target nation. Make that nation borrow heavily from China, Syphon off all the money and additional profit back to China. Leave the nation with an infrastructure that it either does not need or even if it needs, it can not use and also huge debt burden. Finally, as a way out for settling the debt, takes control over that infrastructure form the host nation.

Coming to India’s reluctance to join OBOR initiative, the official stand is that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, a part of OBOR initiative though not indicated in OBOR maps)  from China to Gwadar (a Chinese built port) in South West Pakistan, travels through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (See the pink area indicating POK in the map below) which is a sovereign part of India. The OBOR initiative, therefore, infringes on the Indian Sovereignty. It’s a rightful stand for India to take.

Is the sovereignty infringement reason good enough to oppose the OBOR? Will India be left out of the benefits of this initiative if India does not join it? While many Indian thinkers are of the view that India stands to lose economic benefits if it does not join OBOR initiative, I do not agree with that view. Nation’s sovereignty is supreme. Apart from that, India's geopolitical interests do not always coincide with China. Also, OBOR initiative, if joined by India, will empower China to have total Hegemony in the region which is definitely against India’s interest.

It is not just India, OBOR does not find much favour from European Governments too. Many Europen governments do not consider OBOR a multilateral project, they consider it as a bilateral project between China and the concerned country.

Many nations of the South China Sea are already suffering the Chinese illegal hegemony and they look up to India as a counterweight to China. In days to come, OBOR nations, particularly CAR nations, when they will realise the debt trap disguised as the development of infrastructure, would turn to the only other similarly capable nation in this area, India. India is very much aware that sooner than later the CAR nations will look up to India. As such, India also maintains a very good relationship with CAR nations. The political ecosystem is fragile in CAR and China is the only major surviving communist government in the world. Chinese communist regime is stable at present but the future of this government cannot be predicted in the years to come.

It is important to note that there are many Indian initiatives in the CAR area for improved connectivity. India is a partner in the Asian Highway Project which is the connectivity Project between Europe and South Asia. Other nations partnering the project are Srilanka, Pakistan, Japan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Iran, South Korea and China with funding coming from India, Japan, China. South Korea and Taiwan. There is also a Trans Asian Railways project underway. Asian Highway project, in fact, covers many areas similar to OBOR. This also explains why India need not support OBOR. There are many roads that are planned to be built but the longest among them is Asian Highway 1 of over 20000 km, whose alignment is given below

“India – Myanmar – Thailand” Road and motor vehicle agreement is another such initiative. India also has a partnership in the “Connect Central Asia” project in which International North-South Corridor is envisaged for moving freight between IndiaIranAfghanistanArmeniaAzerbaijanRussiaCentral Asia and Europe. Chabahar port in Iran is being developed by India to support the INSC initiative. There are other similar projects where India is deeply involved.

The Chinese intentions about objectives and plan for OBOR are secret even after 5 years. However, OBOR seems to be an act of gaining supremacy in CAR and that is where India’s interests clash with China. Since Inda already is either a promotor or partner in many such initiatives, India has no immediate requirement of joining or supporting OBOR. Even without getting involved in OBOR, India is well poised to have its rightful influence in CAR. As and when the CAR nations realise the Chinese game plan of dragging them in debt plan, transparent India would gain even more confidence of these nations.

 With all this, the question is not, “why is India not supporting OBOR”, the question really should be, “Does India need to support OBOR”? Going by the overall perspective of the OBOR initiative and Indian’s own plans which are similar to OBOR but with the more transparent regime, unlike OBOR, India does not stand to lose by not joining or supporting OBOR and should continue to maintain that stand till the factors around this (OBOR) initiatives change in such a manner that joining this initiative becomes beneficial to India’s interest, India may reconsider its decision.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trip to Europe - Summary of the Trip - Part III, Czech Republic and Hungary

Day 17 - 05 May 2018

Taking an EC train we travelled from Dresden to Prague and reached there by 1330. Till our travel to Germany, Euro was the currency of cash Payment, not anymore. We took an Uber to our B & B. Once in Prague, all payments are made in local currency when paid in cash. The first thing we had to do is to stop at first available ATM and draw local currency to pay for the Taxi.

Reaching our B & B we settled down fast. Left the place in about an hour and started off for Charles Bridge. one of the iconic bridge of Prague. Prague as a city is walkers paradise. Taking Kozi and Deluha Streets we reached Old Town Square. There were preparations underway at Old Town Square, a lot of barricading etc was happening but we did not find out why.

Old City Square

From there we walked further and came across a Beautiful Church called St Nicholas Church. Walking down further and seeking our way by asking people, we finally reached Charles Bridge. This 14th century stone Gothic bridge was the only bridge between two sides of Prague across the river Vltava for many centuries. The bridge is flanked by The watch Tower gates at either side.

Watch Tower Gate at Old town side
Charles bridge is a pedestrian bridge and it has a very high number of visitors. The interest of tourist can be seen in the photo above. This bridge also has a large number of sculptures along its length which are mainly the famous saints and warriors of the Czech Nation.

We took a stroll along the walkway of the bridge and enjoyed the energy of the crowd. The sculptures were also good. There are now  18 bridges on the river in the city.

The area around Charles Bridge is full of people. There are two churches in the vicinity. There are many restaurants and pub as also Bars around this area. Boat cruises in the river also start from here.

The Watchtower had favourable light conditions only while returning back on the bridge. I photographed the other side of the tower with full light falling on it. It can be seen that facade on the reverse side (pictured below) lacks ornamentation.

The reverse of Watch Tower viewed from the bridge
The shores of the Vltava river has beautiful buildings around it. One such building that I found interesting is this one

A beautiful Building Across the River Vltava River

Day 18 - 06 May 2018

I have stated earlier that Prague is walkers Paradise. While the city is very big, the historic town is compact and doable by walk. This day we started peacefully at about 0930 and the first thing we did was have a great breakfast. While in Prague, everything revolves around Old Town Square. 

The first place we walked to was thus Old Town Square. When we reached there, the reason for yesterday's preparation became evident. Today was the day of Volkswagen Prague Marathon and Old city Square was the finish point.

There were many roads that were blocked but that did not mean the pedestrians could not go across the street. There were temporary metal bridges created across the road for pedestrians to cross to the other side. Enjoying the energy in the old city square for some time, we just crossed over and moved on a road for some distance. we were actually looking for the entrance to The church of  Our Lady before Tyn. As we continued down that crowded road, we could not find the route to that church but reached a tower similar to the Guard tower of the Charles bridge but in the middle of the road.

As one walks through the Powder Tower, one of the 13 gates of old town, there is this Grand Building adjacent to it called Municipal House, which houses a major concert hall of Prague

After visiting Powder tower we returned to Old Town Center to visit old town hall which has a famous Astrological clock. The clock was under renovation but it looked like this:-

When in operation, Astronomical clock's hourly Chimes and the puppets are the show stoppers. The town hall has a museum which can be visited. After the museum, we did some window shopping for various artefacts like Czech Puppets (particularly the Witches), Bohemian Crystal, etc.

It is almost like a pilgrimage to visit Charles Bridge once a day when in Prague. Having finished the window shopping and there still being some time for the Ballet show that we were to watch, we yet again went to Charles Bridge. This time we had reached earlier than yesterday and the light was brighter there.

At the Charles Bridge, very close to the Entry tower, there is a statue of Charles IV. It is a grand statue. Charles IV was a Bohemia King who became Holy Roman Emperor meaning King of the whole of Roman Empire.

After this yet another trip to Charles Bridge, we returned to Powder Tower Area to Hybernia Theater (which is opposite the Municipal House) to see the Ballet, the famous one called "Swan Lake".

After the Ballet Show, we called it a day.

Day 19 - 07 May 2018

Today was a day of visiting Prague Castle, Letana Park and Vysehrad Castle. We used morning session, post a good breakfast, to visit the Prague Castle, the largest ancient castle in the word. The castle has a Cathedral, two churches, four palaces, few major halls and few famous ers on its bastions. Reaching Malontraska tram station from our place of stay, we had to take a small climb of about 10 min walk to reach the castle. If we had taken a tram to Chotkova Sady instead of Malontraska, this climb would have got eliminated.

This climb took us to the Golden Lane end of the castle but the tourist reception, audio guide counter, etc are all on Matthis Gate side (closure to Chotkova Sady side). Hence we had to walk up to the other end of the castle and take an audio guide and the guide map. We first visited St Vitu's Cathedral, one of the grand building in the castle.

After visiting the Cathedral, we visited the Old Royal Palace. Vladislav Hall, one of the biggest hall which was used for royal functions and sports (the palace has a ramp built to get horses to this hall) is one of the major attraction.

Our combined entry ticket was valid for two more places, St Georges Basilica and Golden Lane. St George's Basilica is the oldest surviving church in Prague castle. It has a Borque facade added in the 17th century. It has the tomb of Saint Ludmila of Bohemia. Its a compact but interesting building.

Our final destination was Golden Lane. Tucked in a sidewalk along the rampart of the Castle, this place was supposed to be the residence of Alchemist working for the king. Later it came to be occupied by servants of the court. Finally, many artists found this place quiet and peaceful and thus stayed here.

After visiting the golden lane, took a tram and went to Vysehrad Castle (Upper Castle in the Czech language) which is also a fortification and once was an area where the king lived. This castle presently has people living there, various parks and St Peter and Paul Basilica. It also has Vysehard Cemetry. Rotunda of St Martin is an 11th-century structure and the two gates are the only symbol left from its history.

Rotunda of St Martin

Finally, we went to Letna Park (very close to Prague castle). A massive park with well laid out trees and roads where people go for recreation. This park also gives a great view of Prague old town from Metronome, a raised platform fitted with a Giant vertical pendulum, replicating Metronome. It is at a place where once Stalin's huge statue stood.

Metronome, its a photo and not a video which was too big to upload

We were tired by the time we finished our trip to Letna Park. We came back to the Town Center, finished our dinner and returned to our B & B. This was our last day at Prague and also in the Czech Republic. We were to catch a bus tomorrow for an 8-hour journey to Budapest, our final destination

Day 20 - 08 May 2018.

Getting up early and getting ready, we set out to catch our bus. SInce journey was long, we picked up some eatables from a shop en route. We reached the Bus Station on time and boarded the bus. The buses in Europe leave on time.

Our bus also left on time and taking us through the countryside and through the Slovak Republic, finally reached Budapest (Hungary) by about 1600 hrs. The first thing we did after catching a taxi was to look for an Automat (ATM) to draw local currency. It took about 45 minutes by taxi from our bus terminal to our B & B.

After settling down in our B & B and having a refreshing cup of tea, we set out to explore some bit of Budapest. We were looking for a very famous Dohany Stree Jewish Synagog.  We were actually taking a stroll and took some time to reach there. Here is a street view.

We reached the Synagog around 6 pm. It has an imposing building and it is photogenic. Synagog can be visited as part of the Conducted tour but we were more interested to see the building (thought of going later for inside view but could not find time later).

As we were clicking photos to our heart's content the rain started. We had to take shelter in the weather shade of some shop till the rain stopped. Having accomplished our objective of the day, we walked back to our B & B after having dinner and slept off.

Day 21 - 09 May 2018

Getting ready in good time we set out for our first objective, Buda Castle. We were planning to take a Funicular (Technically a slant lift) to the castle. Taking suitable Tram we reached the castle foothill and went to Funicular. There was no crowd at all and that was a surprise. We found out, to our disappointment, that the Funicular was out of order for repairs.

We did not know at that time that there was a direct bus into the castle which did go through the point we were at. We looked around and found a road climbing into the Castle. People were taking that road. We followed the suit and reached the castle. It is a vast castle. We reached the castle through a combination of stairs and pathway. Here are the photos of the castle:-

The next place on our tour was Hero's Square. A grand square celebrating the Magyar Heros who established the Hungarian kingdom. Its a grand structure flanked by two big and decorative buildings. this is how Hero's Square looked.

Very next to Hero's Square to the right of it was a very good looking building which looked interesting. Our search indicated that it was the Pavilion of one of the biggest skating Rink. There is a lake which freezes in winter and that becomes the rink.

Across this lake in the city park is Vajdahunyad Castle. A small beautiful castle with a cute chapel in its bastion. It also has a Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. Visiting this place was a sweet surprise as originally it was not part of our plan.

After seeing this castle we took a tram to the Hungarian Parliament, possibly one of the most clicked Building in the world. A grand and beautiful building where one goes reasonably close to the building without any restrictions. See for your self.

It was already late evening and we had walked a lot. After visiting the parliament building we returned to our B & B.

Day 22 - 10 May 2018

This day was virtually a relaxation day. We got up peacefully, had breakfast, did a lot of window shopping in Vaci Street, a major shopping destination in Inner town, the heart of Budapest. We had lunch is one of the most famous cafes called Gerbeaud Cafe. This cafe has over since 1858 and has only one other branch in the world, at Japan.

 The evening was spent at Gellert Thermal Bath. Very neat and clean thermal bath set up with swimming pools and thermal pools. Visiting a Thermal bath when in Budapest is a must and one should not miss visiting one of the may Thermal baths. The trip to Gellert Thermal Bath had a mix of fun, relaxation and enjoyment of spending time in two hot water pools containing natural hot water. having medicinal property.

After this visit, the long trip of Europe had come to an end. After having dinner, we packed and prepared ourself for getting up early to go to Budapest Airport for a 7 am flight.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A pet (dog) at home is a trouble. Or is it?

A child is someone who very naturally fond of companionship. That is why children are very fond of Pets, particularly Dogs, I see many children playing with and feeding the Street dogs in my locality. These dogs also are attached to these children and come running from where ever they are, tail wagging,  the moment they see these children.

Why is this relationship? Most likely because the child has been pestering the Parents to get a dog at home and parents have refused because either one or both of them don't like the pets at home or the fear of increased responsibility and commitment which reduces there mobility.

The Parents are right to some extent. We have had our pet (dog) second time now. Both times it was our son who picked up the Dog (first time he was hardly 8 years old) with a promise to do all the tasks related to the dog, but the promise was extremely shortlived and the Dog lived fairly reasonably long life.

It obviously meant that the care for the dog became our responsibility from the time they arrived at home. When the second time Dog was taken in, our son had become an adult and hence some days when we forced him, he would take the dog out for a walk or give him Bath.

Let it be clear if you do pick up a pet dog because your son/daughter pesters you and you finally agree, the responsibility of the dog is going to rest with you. Worst still, if your pestering child is either about to finish the education or already working, he/she may just leave for another place but the pet would still be with you. It is important to take a pet (including a dog) only when the whole family agrees to get a pet otherwise don't risk that soul's life by getting him/her at home and then making that pet suffer.

Serious responsibility comes onto you when a pet is brought home. But if responsibility is not a burden, the pet at home is a sheer pleasure. They are the best companions that one can have, a dog in particular. Whether there are people at home or you are alone, the dog keeps the home alive and you have the guaranteed company at all time.

They will be with you. They will force you out of the bed. They will make you play with them and they would be so alert that a footstep outside your door would get an instant response by way of loud Bark. Whether an adult or a child or an elderly, with a pet in general and a dog in particular, would never be alone. For a parent whose child is alone at home but the home has a dog, there would be no worry about the safety of the child and the security of the household. As long as the dog is there, no one would dare to look at your house with a not so good intention.

Even when alone, your day will have activities related to your pet. Feeding the pet, tending to the pet, playing with the pet, enjoying moods and the antics of your pet, particularly dogs, are all fun. They provide essential companionship without demanding much from you except for some love and attention and a little bit of food.

Pets also have therapeutic value. They uplift your mood, they help the Spastic children to improve, they help sick recover faster and there are many such documented research indicating various other therapeutic effects of the pets. Not to forget "Seeing Eye Dogs" who assist blind to navigate (I am not sure if Seeing Eye Dogs are available in India) and in many cases, they have saved lives of the Blind by stopping them from falling into Lift Shaft/ditches.

Having a pet, a living being, in the household does impose some limitations but what ones get in return from that pet is more than the trouble we have to take. If the people of the house have to go out, there are Kennels for dogs (not sure if a similar facility exists for other pets like Cats, Parrots, etc). Recently we did a long trip by boarding our dog, a bundle of Energy called Cookie, in a Kennel.

Therefore, in a reluctant household having a pet is a trouble (actually they are the ones not cared for in such a household) but in a willing household, a pet or pets are definitely not a trouble but a gift of God.

Dedicated to our first pet, a lovely Show Stopper German Shephard, Donna.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Virtual Tour of Ghent, Belgium - Day 4 of Our Europe Trip

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Summery of Trip through Paris, Ghent and Amsterdam -

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Virtual Tour of Ghent, Belgium - Day 4 of Europe Trip

Ghent in Belgium is a mid size town. It is said that once upon a time Ghent was the second biggest towns in Europe after Paris. Well, not any more. This may be a mid size town but it is a famous education center with  few very reputed universities.

Ghent was also a very important trading post and therefore was quite rich place (once u on a time). It has historical monuments and the beauty is, they all are located in a very compact area except a few which are away. So lets start our tour.

Since its a small place, we had no requirement to start very early. We started off after finishing a hearty breakfast at our B & B which was located at Rabot strat (more about Rabot Strat later). SInce this city can be seen on foot, we started our walk. The street of the town beyond city center were not very crowed. Walking was a pleasure and the weather was balmy.

As we walked towards city center we consulted the tourist map and found a Church very close to our location. It is Sint Elesabeth Anglican Church )originally a Roman Catholic Church but later handed over to Anglican Church in 2016). An old but almost plain building (from outside, we did not go inside as the service was going on) but it is part of an old site called "beguinage or holy corner which ad convents and four churches.

The neighbourhood through which one reaches church too was colourful with beautiful houses and a public garden. For balance part on this place let the Photos do the talking.

The Sint Elisabeth Anglican Church

Statue on the door of Neighbouring household

Stylish houses
After a quick look at this church we continued our walk towards city center. On Brugastraat (which leads to City Square, we came across yet another old church. Building of this church was typical Belgian in its facade. It also had the only parking lot that we saw in this area.

The Church

Carved Door


Typical Belgian Architecture 
A few minutes of walk took us to Gravensteen Castle. It is  castle which built in Middle Age (Around 1180). Gravensteen means "Castle of Counts" in Dutch language. This castle stands at the same location where there was a wooden castle of 900 AD. This was a seat of counts of Flanders (Dutch speaking Northern Part of Belgium) for few centuries. Once the counts abandoned it, it went through many roles and finally fell into disuse till it was renovated by City Council of Ghent around 1885.

It is not as big as a Indian Fort but it is big as a castle compared to standard castles that we see in Europe with its own fortification and some bit of open ground. Let the photos do balance of the talking about Gravensteen Castle.

Gravensteen Castle in full Glory

Closer View

Inside the Compound

One of the hall inside


The Armour

Cross Bow


Model who is generally behind the camera


Another view
Main Castle Enterance

Just inside, at Reception Area

After Gravensteen visit and a quick tasting of Belgian waffle (it was actually invented in Ghent) we strolled further on Korenmarkt (street) enjoying the market scenes  crossing a beautiful building (which in itself looked as if it is a grand Church, etc) we reached Church of Saint Niklaas (Nicholas). It is yet again a grand building. It is beautiful also. Unfortunately I don't seem to have main facade photo of this church.


Inside Nicholas Church

A Stained Glass Panel

Another One

As we walked down further, we reached the most famous monument of Ghent. Ghent Belfry (or watch tower) with attached Merchant's hall. Completed in 1380, this 91 meter tower served as watch tower and a secure vault to store important documents of the city government. There is a merchants hall attached to it where cloth was traded (Ghent being a major trading post) which was added later in the year 1445.

Ghent Belfry,First Look

Inside, Statues of the Protectors

Belfry with Merchant's hall

Ghent Belfry is one of the few places in Europe where there is a lift to reach the top. This lift is from first floor. There are intermediate floors where one can get down from lift while going up or down. The aerial view from top is grand. The other two towers of the three famous towers of Ghent (St Nicholas Church and St Bavo's Cathedral) and the churches on which they stand can be viewed from here.
Aerial View, Saint Nicholas

Bavo's Cathedral from top of Belfry

Street Scene

View of Ghent

The bells of Belfry originally served only religious purpose but soon acquired a state of controller of daily life as they started tolling daily to indicate the time. There was a famous bell named Roland which was removed by a victor who defeated Ghent. Now the belfry has a Carillon built with combination of bells.

The bells of Belfry

Finishing our trip of belfry we moved on and came across Sintbaafspline (Saint Bavo's square). It has a beautiful fountain where that day some children were enjoying a dip. This place also  has a Theater where performances are held. There are few  food trolleys that are parked in this square. We spent some time there basking in the sun.

Children enjoying in the pond


Saint Bavo's cathedral is what gives the square its name. The Saint Bavo's cathedral is a 14th century church which stands at the place were a church existed from 942 AD. Its grand and worth visit. The most important is the artwork of Jan Van Eyck titled "Adoration of Mystic Lamb", only public work of the artist. Its a panel of paintings which are in Chapel.  I did not photograph it as at that time there were too many people around it.

Saint Bavo's Cathedral
After visiting the cathedral we had a ice cream from one of the food truck at the square and then had our lunch. Post lunch we visited the last place on our list, Saint Michael across a romantic bridge named after Saint Michael (Sint Michielsburg). The bridge is considered romantic as this is here that you can click photograph with Saint Michael Church towers. Also on the city side all major monuments provide a good backdrop.

Saint MichealBurg (Bridge)

Saint Michael church is very grand from out side. We could not visit inside as the Church was closed.

Saint Michael Church
After this visit we returned to our B & B. After getting fresh and a cup of tea, I visited Rabot, a Spanish time fortification with sluice gates to flood certain areas to bog down the invading army. Today it is just a simple building.

Our day ended after this trip. We have a morning 6 am Flixbus to catch fro Amsterdam.