Thursday, 24 September 2020

Holidays at a Hill station and in the Forest

We took a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. Stayed in Bangalore for a couple of days, and here we had a few surprises. First tickets were booked for our trip to Tirupati and back. Next we went on a long drive without knowing the destination. We left on an early morning for the long drive. Reached Mysore, looked around and drove on to cross the Karnataka border to Tamil Nadu through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve on to Madumalai Tiger Reserve. Driving on, we slowly realized on seeing the Coonoor road sign board, we were heading towards Ooty. The beautiful sight of the Nilgiris was visible all around. And we did reach Ooty and went on further to Lovedale, where we stayed. Next in the morning after breakfast left to return home. We were on the road, but again a surprise was in store for us. As we were driving back, took a left turn towards Masinagudi in TN and drove further down the road and entered a private road in the forest area. Here we stayed in a colonial forest bunglow amidst the forest……..

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Enjoying the holidays in a hill station in a chilly weather and than driving down and staying in a colonial British bunglow in a warm but pleasant climate, in a short span of  a couple of days was an unique experience. We fully enjoyed the unusual experience – the chill of Ooty in a cool villa type hostel filled with young tourists, many of them foreigners, overlooking the tea estate and panoramic view of the hills and then the warmth of the forest bunglow surrounded by forest with the sounds of growling and howling of animals deep inside the forest.

We both, me and my wife,  as planned took a flight from Mumbai to Bangalore somewhere in February 2017 to visit our daughter and son-in-law who had shifted to Bangalore some months ago. I had been to Bangalore at least three times earlier, but my last visit was almost more than two decades ago. Obviously the city has changed. It’s more cosmopolitan, crowded with people and many more huge buildings and towers. Being an IT hub with many corporate offices there, you find people from all over India and abroad staying and working there. Traffic is a nightmare with traffic jams, with quite a few roads still under construction. Over two decades ago, it was known as the air-conditioned city because of its cool climate and dust free environment. It was a compact city. Now it has expanded on all sides. However, we looked around the city, visited the the supermarkets, malls and had breakfast and meals in a few popular restaurants around. It gave me a feel of the city once again after decades.

On reaching Bangalore, we had quite a few surprises in store for us. First, our tickets were booked for a trip to Tirupati and back. We had a nice trip and a good view of the deity. The next surprise was a long drive to an unknown destination. We were not told the destination. We left one day, on an early morning for the long drive. Passing various towns, reached Mysore, looked around the city, the Mysore Palace and drove on to cross the Karnataka border to Tamil Nadu through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve on the Karnataka side towards Madumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. Here it was getting hot and could tell the heat. On the roads the trees were all bare with branches, without leaves or greenery and no vegetation in sight. Through the windows we could see deers, wild boars and other animals from the highway. We briefly stopped at a couple of  places to see and click the animals. And driving on for some distance, at one spot caught a glance of a passing elephant. It was pretty hot, unbearable and water holes had all dried up.


Ooty & Lovedale

Driving on, we slowly realized, the change in weather from hot to cool gave us a clue as to where we were heading, and later, on seeing the Coonoor road sign board, we were sure, we were heading towards Ooty. The climate changed and it was quite pleasant. 

The beautiful sight of the Nilgiris and hills in the background was visible all around. And we did reach Ooty and we didn’t  stop here and we were heading further down the road, and went on to Lovedale, where we finally stayed close to the Lovedale station. Since we were not aware of the destination, hadn’t carried any warm clothes, a sweater or a jacket.

From morning  and through the day, though it was chill, it was quite pleasant. But slowly towards evening it was very chilly and cold and literally shivered in my Tshirt. The water was almost freezing cold. We stayed in a beautiful villa type hostel, crowded with young male and female tourists from India and other countries. We got comfortable in our room, changed and relaxed after the long drive. Next morning had a hot bath to beat the chill.

The new day, after breakfast, we moved around Lovedale and Ooty. We went to see the Rose garden, but unfortunately it was closed. We moved around the lanes of Ooty peeping into shops. Later on our way back, we visited the Chocolate Museum. Here we could see and understand a lot about chocolates – the various types of chocolates, how its made, cut and packed. And how it was made in the early years. It was quite an interesting visit and a learning experience.

Masinaguddi forest – The Wild at Northern Hay

After our visit and sight-seeing in Ooty, we were on the road, thinking we are returning back home  to Bangalore, but again a surprise was in store for us. As we were driving back, took a left turn towards Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu and drove further down the road and entered a private road in the forest area.

After driving some distance, we reached the entrance of the forest area. We were asked to park the car here as private vehicles aren’t allowed inside the forest area. After waiting for while and confirming our presence on the phone, a jeep came to pick us up. We all sat with our bags and proceeded towards the forest. Here too, the trees and branches were dry without any leaves or vegetation. There was no sign of water anywhere. The jeep driver pointing to the Caracas of an elephant which had died a few days ago due to lack of food and water. He further added, every year around these summer months, it gets hot with unbearable heat and the water holes too dry up and the animals go deep into the jungle in search of food and water.

Driving in the jeep through the forest and rough pathway and uneven terrain was an unique experience, made us anxious, though it was adventurous. Finally reached the forest bunglow in the midst of the forest. It was a colonial British bunglow well maintained and well preserved with old furniture, fixtures, fittings and crockery. I am sure the Britishers must have lived in style. And we got a chance to experience their lifestyle.

We were instructed not to leave the precincts of the bunglow or stray anywhere else as it might be dangerous as it might attract the wild animals, a risky proposition. It is a well laid out bunglow with areas to relax and a gallery to enjoy the sights. A lot of old mementos, antique ware, swords, axes and other weapons are on display, with a typical old fashioned living room, bedrooms, washrooms, basins, bathrooms and a well laid out typical English dinning room with  a large table and chairs, old crockery and cups and mugs. It’s all reminiscent of the good old British days.

Later in the evening went on a safari into the forest in a jeep. We went through the dense forest and got a chance to see a few animals. We came to the open area where we were told by the guide, the animals chase and kill their prey in this area. We were a bit hesitant to stand there any longer lest any animal see us all. Further down the dirt tracks, the guide pointed at the pug marks, which meant a tiger had walked through this area. It was scary. On the way as it was getting dark, with the focus lights on, we caught glimpses of quite a few animals who turned away seeing the lights. By the time we reached the bunglow it was almost dark. We rested in our rooms, refreshed and changed to casual wear.

We were informed of the dinner as per the menu given earlier. Dinner was served in the spacious colonial style dinning room. The food was delicious and tasty. After relaxing for a while, retired to our rooms. We were told to lock all the doors and windows for our own safety. While we slept we could hear growling  and howling, and even running of animals at a distance. Though disturbed by this, we fell asleep. Getting up early morning, on peeping out through the window could see huge monkeys sitting in the bunglow precincts. They were big  as a average human and reminded me of the monkeys of the Vanar sena of Hanuman!

The next day after breakfast and a wonderful stay in the forest bunglow, we left for home. The jeep dropped us near where our car was parked. And finally we drove back to Bangalore. It was an exciting long drive and a chance to experience the chill in the hill station at Ooty and Lovedale and warmth in the Masinagudi forest. A great holiday indeed.

After spending a couple of wonderful days in Bangalore, we were on our way back to Mumbai. Took a flight from Bangalore and back in Mumbai.

Also read: You too can design your home  *  Taste of South India

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Home-stays score over swanky hotels

Holiday IQ report revealed that majority (40%) of the home-stays in India are in Kerala, followed by Karnataka (27%) and Himachal Pradesh (10%). Home-stays are also common in Goa, Konkan and Mangalore on the west coast of India.

People on official visits prefer to stay in swanky hotel rooms with all the modern gadgets. But for vacations people look for something simple and homely. Given a choice between a tastefully done-up hotel room in a good hotel and a decent villa, cottage or a nondescript house with simple rooms, basic amenities, home-cooked cuisine and locals (either elderly couple or a small family) as hosts, a tourist couple, family or even friends would choose the home-stay with a couple of rooms, get the entire house to themselves. And it suits the budget too and don’t have a bellboy standing on their head asking you often for your orders! There are many travellers opting for a quiet homely vacation, a concept popular in the west and now in India too.

Some even visit every few months or every year. Promotion is through word of mouth, social media and numerous websites devoted to home-stay, where one can register and provide details of the home available for home-stay, which get hits from readers in India and abroad. Sometimes they even do the background check of the travelers from overseas.

According to data from HolidayIQ, home-stays in India have grown almost 100-fold in the last decade especially Kerala, Mangalore and Goa. And for home-owners it is a good way to earn money from the vacant house; and who are not keen to take local tenants for long stay. And also gives an opportunity to meet people from different places and cultures in India and abroad. Some of them have become good friends, visit regularly and recommend tourists to visit a particular place and home-stay.

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Dharmastala Temple, Mangalore, India
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Friday, 18 September 2020

Three Holiday Spots for a Vacation!

We have picked three holiday spots from different parts of India – one at Karwar in Karnataka in an island in the Arabian sea,  next at Munnar, a beautiful tourist spot in Kerala and  another one at Lonavala, a holiday hot spot in Maharashtra. All the three holiday spots will individually offer you an unique thrill, a totally different experience, new environment and tasty cuisine, local, South Indian, North Indian and others too prepared by experienced chefs. Plan your holidays in the coming days.

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Cintacor Island Resort, located at Kurumgad island, Karwar 581301, Karnataka

Its close to Goa, this island resort in the Arabian Sea is just the right place for a dreamy vacation. The island with natural splendour and beauty offers the luxury to spend your holidays in a special way.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama on his way to Goa, and as they sailed north along the Konkan coast, discovered a beautiful natural harbour, formed by the islands off Karwar. They christened this Cintacora.

 It’s a remote upscale island hotel with a pool, a spa, a sea front bar and dinning at the restaurant, Nemo’s Deck. With 15 independent cabins, all facing the vast open sea. Its built for a family vacation as well as a romantic getaway for newly married couples. It’s also popular as a great family stays. Accessible by boat, this secluded hotel is surrounded by trees and greenery  lies 5 km from the Karwar jetty. The INS Chapal Warship Museum on the Arabian sea’s beach is also about 5 km.

Amber Dale Luxury Hotel & Spa, located at KSEB Tunnel road, Pallivasal, Munnar 685612, Kerala.

Situated on the green hillside, the hotel has fantastic view of the Western ghats. It’s 2 km from the NH85 National highway and about 6km from the Kolukkumalai tea plantation. At Munnar in Kerala, blessed with nature at its best, Amber Dale Luxury Hotel & Spa extends a luxury class living in harmony with nature. The special activities, adventure and other facilities make your living experience most mesmersing. Well laid out rooms offer free wifi, flat screen TV, minifridge, sitting areas and a whirlpool bath in the suite. Other amenities include a spa, a gym, and a relaxed lobby lounge, plus a terrace with a fire pit.

They offer packages of 2D/1N, 2/2N, Monsoon package of 3D/2N, Honeymoon package of 3D/2N.


The Machan Resorts, located at privat road, Lonavala road, Atvan, Lonavala.

It’s situated close to Mumbai at Lonavala, the lodges are located amongst the abdunant nature. A peaceful getaway offering breathtaking  view. A comfortable place to relax and enjoy your holidays. A stay at The Manchan Resorts is sure to rejuvenate your mind, body and soul, leaving you in high spirits.

Surrounded by forest in a remote rural area, this quiet lodging is powered by sustainable energy is about 10km from Korigad, a hilltop fort and 11km from Bhushi Dam. If you want to live in a tree house, individually decorated. All with living room, loft bedrooms and bathroom.The Manchan has 29 nature centric tree house accommodations. Some quarters include glass walls with great forest views as well as outdoor baths and balconies. Besides some quarters are reached via walkways or wooden and rope bridges. Room service is available. Couples-only cabins on the ground level offer wooded decks.

Breakfast is free, all additional meals are extra. Amenities include spa,  sprawling forest for bird watching.

Also read: Mangalore - a tourist destination    The Velankanni Basilica

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Kambala

A down-to-earth but an organized rural sport held on a paddy field filled with mud and slush. It’s an annual buffalo race that takes place in coastal Karnataka districts of Udupi, Mangalore and South Kanara district or Dakshina Kannada. More the 45-50 races are held annually in the region. It's a major tourist attraction. Due to its harsh nature, this sport now stands banned. The young riders, normally local youth run along and control the buffaloes with a whip, lashing it to run faster through the course. And the winner of the race, the champion is awarded with gold and silver coins or cash. A lot of prestige is attached to the race with wealthy farmers and local entrepreneurs sponsoring the races.

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Immaculate Conception Church, Goa, India
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Monday, 14 September 2020

Have the Chinese forgotten the 1967 defeat?


While we have been celebrating surgical strikes, here are the details about India’s most forgotten war. We take you to Nathu La in Sikkim, where, 53 years ago, India fought a bloody war with China and got more than even with its neighbour. It was also the last time we exchanged fire with China. The Chinese were beaten severely and ran away with a bloodied nose. A couple of days later at Cho La, again the Chinese were beaten again, a big loss of face.  India defeated China in the 1967 war. And after that they never dared to do anything in Nathu La, and for almost twenty years there was peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas. This was a morale booster for India and the Indian army. The Chinese for once realized that messing with India the retaliation is strong and will not allow to be pushed around by the Chinese.

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The Chinese betrayal, with war thrust on  India and the debacle in 1962 affected the Indian psyche and the Indian army, though in some sectors, the Indian army fought valiantly till the last man. Nehru died in 1964 as a broken man. Lal Bahadur Shastri became the next Prime Minister. The Indian defeat to China in 1962, emboldened Pakistan. In 1965, Ayub Khan decided to take advantage and attack India. The Pakistan army attacked India along the LOC in Kashmir, thinking that since the Indian morale was down, it could easily run through and take over Jammu and Kashmir. They miscalculated that India would be bogged down in Kashmir and would not escalate the war. But their plans misfired badly, India defended at the LOC and also opened a new front across the international border in Punjab and attacked Pakistan. They were caught unaware. They were never prepared for this. India pushed in further, ferociously attacked the enemy and almost reached Lahore. Realizing their folly Pakistan agreed to mediation by Russia. And the accord was signed, it was known as the Tashkent Declaration. It was agreed that the troops on both sides should go back to their positions where they were before the war. Unfortunately, Shastri died in Tashkent under mysterious circumstances. But officially it was declared that he died of a massive heart attack. Indira Gandhi became the next Prime Minister.

The 1965 victory over Pakistan was a morale booster for India and the Indian army. They once again believed in themselves and realized they were a powerful and disciplined fighting force with a long history of bravery, and remembering the sacrifices of the many brave soldiers, regained their lost confidence. The Indian army was back in action and was equipped with the latest equipment, clothing for high altitude, guns and ammunition. And they were led by able and experienced men and officers. The morale was high and the forces were ready for any eventuality. However the new Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was inexperienced and was yet show her acumen. But incidents in the coming years, 1967 China war, merger of Sikkim in the Indian Union in 1975 and in 1971 Bangladesh war showed she was made of sterner stuff with a political will and ability to take timely and tough decisions.

The Indian military, overcoming the loss in 1962, got a chance to retaliate, they dealt a severe blow to PLA in 1967 in Nathu La sector that resulted in the death of over 400 Chinese soldiers and a few days later in Cho La, a fact neither debated in Beijing nor Delhi. The Vietnamese Army had dealt a similar blow to PLA in 1979 along the Sino-Vietnam border merely four years after unification of Vietnam.

The Nathu La (September 11–14, 1967) and Cho La clashes (October 1, 1967), were a series of clashes between India and China along the Sikkim border. According to a Sino-Indian expert, the conflict ended with the defeat of China. Indian troops drove back the attacking Chinese forces. Many PLA fortifications at Nathu La were destroyed, and for the first time got the taste of Indian fire power and ferocious retaliation by Indian army with the 1962 loss in the back of their minds. . According to the defence ministry, 88 Indian Army personnel were killed and 163 wounded while China lost over 340 soldiers and 450 were wounded during the two incidents. China, as always however, claimed a lower number of casualties. The Sino-Indian border remained peaceful after these incidents till 2020 China–India skirmishes.


The Nathu La and Cho La clashes were a series of military clashes between India and China alongside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate. The Nathu La clashes started on 11 September 1967, when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) launched an attack on Indian posts at Nathu La, and lasted till 15 September 1967. In October 1967, another military duel took place at Cho La and ended on the same day.

According to independent sources, India achieved decisive tactical advantage and managed to hold its own against Chinese forces. Many PLA fortifications at Nathu La were said to be destroyed, where the Indian troops drove back the attacking Chinese forces. The competition to control the disputed border land in Chumbi valley is seen as a major cause for heightening the tensions in these incidents. Observers have commented that these clashes indicated the decline of claim strength  in China's decision to initiate the use of force against India, and stated that India was greatly pleased with the combat performance of its forces in the Nathu La clashes, seeing it as a sign of striking improvement since its defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

Following the 1962 Sino-Indian War, tensions continued to run high along the Himalayan border shared by India and China. Influenced by its previous defeat, the Indian Army raised a number of new units, nearly doubling their deployed forces along the disputed region. As a part of this military expansion, seven mountain divisions were raised to defend India's northern borders against any Chinese attack. Most of these divisions were not based near the border, save for the Chumbi Valley, where both Indian and Chinese troops are stationed on both sides at close range. Particularly at the Nathu La pass in the valley, alongside the Sikkim-Tibet border, the deployed Chinese and Indian forces are stationed about 20–30 meters apart, which is the closest of anywhere on the 4000 km Sino-Indian border. The border here is said to have remained un-demarcated. Chinese held the northern shoulder of the pass, while the Indian Army held the southern shoulder. Two major parts of the pass, south and north of Nathu La, namely Sebu La and Camel’s back, were held by the Indians. From 1963, small-scale clashes in the region were frequently reported in the press. On 16 September 1965, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, China issued an ultimatum to India to vacate the Nathu La pass. However, GOC 17 mountain division's Major General, Sagat Singh, refused to do so, arguing that Nathu La was on the watershed which comprised the natural boundary.

Starting from 13 August 1967, Chinese troops started digging trenches in Nathu La on the Sikkimese side. Indian troops observed that some of the trenches were clearly to the Sikkimese side of the border, and pointed it out to the local Chinese commander, who was asked to withdraw from there. Yet, in one instance, the Chinese filled the trenches again and left after adding 8 more to the existing 21. Indian troops decided to stretch a barbed wire along the ridges of Nathu La in order to indicate the boundary. Accordingly, from 18 August, wires were stretched along the border, which was resented by the Chinese troops. After two days, armed with weaponry, Chinese troops took positions against the Indian soldiers who were engaged in laying the wire but did not fire.

Again on 7 September, when the Indian troops started stretching another barbed wire along the southern side of Nathu La, the local Chinese commanders along with the troops rushed to the spot and issued a serious warning to an Indian commander to stop the work, after which a scuffle took place in which some soldiers from both sides were injured. Chinese troops were agitated by the injuries to their two soldiers. In order to settle the situation, the Indian military hierarchy decided to lay another wire in the centre of the pass from Nathu La to Sebu La to indicate their perceived border, on 11 September 1967.

Nathu La - Accordingly, in the morning of 11 September 1967, the engineers and soldiers of Indian Army started laying the stretch of fencing from Nathu La to Sebu La along the perceived border. According to an Indian account, immediately a Chinese Political Commissar, with a section of infantry, came to the centre of the pass where an Indian Lieutenant Colonel was standing with his commando platoon. The Chinese Commissar asked the Indian Colonel to stop laying the wire. Indian soldiers refused to halt, saying they were given orders. An argument started which soon turned into a scuffle. After that, the Chinese went back to their bunkers and the Indians resumed laying the wire.

Within a few minutes of this, a whistle was blown from the Chinese side followed by medium machine gun fire against Indian troops from north shoulder. Due to the lack of cover in the pass, the Indian troops initially suffered heavy casualties. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese also opened artillery fire against the Indians. In response, Indian troops opened artillery from their side. The clashes lasted through the day and night, for the next three days, with use of artillery, mortars and machine guns, during which the Indian troops beat back the Chinese forces. Five days after the clashes had started, an uneasy ceasefire was arranged. Due to the advantageous position Indian troops had because of their occupation of high grounds at the pass in Sebu La and Camel's back, they were able to destroy many Chinese bunkers at Nathu La. The bodies of dead soldiers were exchanged on 15 and 16 September. The Indian and Western perspectives attributed the initiation of these clashes to the Chinese side. The Chinese, however, blamed the Indian troops for provoking the clashes, alleging that the firing had started from the Indian side.

Here I would like to narrate an incident which changed the mood and boosted the morale of the Indian army in the years to come. When the Chinese firing took place and with heavy casualties on the Indian side. A message was sent to Major General, Sagat Singh who was at the Brigade headquarters. He rushed to the spot, gathered his men boosted the morale of his troops to respond appropriately. For opening artillery fire, he needed permission from his superior officer, who wasn’t present. He tried contacting the Eastern Command headquarters at Calcutta, headed then by Gen Manekshaw. But he had gone to Delhi and was acting as Chief of Staff, since the then army chief was out. Meanwhile, Major General, Sagat Singh took full responsibility and ordered artillery fire. A message was flashed to Delhi. The message reached the then Prime Minister Indira, she immediately gave a go ahead. This decision by Major General Sagat Singh to open artillery fire changed the course of the war. The Chinese bunkers were pounded. The Chinese soldiers ran for their lives and they were chased by the Indians and many were killed. They will never forget this assault.

Cho La - On 1 October 1967, another clash between India and China took place at Cho La, another pass on the Sikkim–Tibet border, a few kilometres north of Nathu La. The duel was initiated by the Chinese troops after a scuffle between the two, when the Chinese troops infiltrated into the Sikkim-side of the border, claimed the pass and questioned the Indian occupation. China, however, asserted that the provocation had come from the Indian side. According to the Chinese version, Indian troops had infiltrated into the Chinese territory across the pass, made provocations against the stationed Chinese troops, and opened fire on them.The military duel lasted for a day, the Chinese got a taste of the strong Indian response. According to Indian Maj. Gen. Sheru Thapliyal, the Chinese were forced to withdraw nearly three kilometres in Cho La during this clash. . According to an Sino-Indian expert, the conflict ended with the defeat of China. Indian troops drove back the attacking forces.

Then in 1971, the Bangladesh war happened and India came out victorious. Sikkim became an Indian state in 1975, after a referendum which resulted in overwhelming support for the removal of monarchy and a full merger with India. The Indian merger of Sikkim which they called annexation of Sikkim was not recognised by China during the time. In 2003, China indirectly recognised Sikkim as an Indian state, on agreement that India accept that the Tibet Autonomous Region as a part of China, though India had already done so back in 1953. This mutual agreement led to a thaw in Sino-Indian relations. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in 2005 that "Sikkim is no longer the problem between China and India." Hence China always tries to remind India about 1962 and conveniently forgets about the 1967 defeat.

Also read: India China Diplomatic Row in 1967

                Americans in Afghan war

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Are we the same people?

A foreigner friend of mine once asked – ‘Are Indians and Pakistanis the same?

I told him – We may look alike. We may dress similarly. We may eat the same kind of food. We may share the common culture, history and tradition. There may be many commonalities, but we are not the same. If we were the same, then why did we part in 1947. Why did we fight three wars. You ask a Pakistani, he too might tell you the same. Though we share a common border, we are different just like we share a common border with China and are very different from them.

Some of the politicians from north are bent upon convincing that Pakistanis are our brothers, unjustly separated from us, who long for peace and friendship with India. The truth is that Pakistan is a separate nation, distinct, independent country. Just as you see the external similarities between us; look deeper, you will find distinct dissimilarities in us – in politics, the people, their approach to problems, their thinking, their home-grown problems, their government, etc.

However whatever happens in Pakistan will have some consequences for India. India has to be a quiet observer and watch what unfolds or happens there from time to time. It is clear – we are not the same people. And they too feel the same.

Trying to prove we are same, creates more mistrust and suspicion. Sometimes, being different and accepting it with mutual respect for one another, helps to give peace a better chance!

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Tourists at a beach in Goa, India
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