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Are Indians less patriotic?

On a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, I had come across people of several nationalities, all living in harmony and brotherhood in the country. I noticed that the people from the larger Indian sub-continent are greatly respected by the locals irrespective of their nationality. By the Indian subcontinent I mean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and to somewhat an extent, Sri Lanka. Everybody shares a common language, ethnicity, and identity of being an “Indian”. During my stay there, I witnessed National festival celebrations of three countries including Pakistan’s Independence Day, Indian Independence Day, and Saudi National day (Independence Day).

Celebrating Pakistan’s National festival:

I arrived in Saudi on 13th August’22. It was the first day of my presence in a new country, I was all excited to get acquainted with my neighborhood. But, I was suffering from a headache due to lack of sleep. Hence, I just identified a mall, some Indian restaurants, and a few grocery stores nearby for availing emergency items and called it a day.

On the 14th morning, I noticed that a big Pakistani flag was hung in a shop located right in front of the hotel where I was staying. It indicated that the store was owned/run by a Pakistani citizen, and they were celebrating Pakistan’s 75th Independence Day. For me, it came as a surprise that another country’s flag was allowed to be displayed publicly. But what piqued my interest more was meeting a Pakistani national for the first time. It needs no explanation that any form of free communication between the people of India and Pakistan isn’t accepted in both nations when we are residing in our respective countries. I decided to buy a small flag as a souvenir to mark my first meeting with any Pakistani person in my lifetime. Hence, I crossed the road and entered the large textile store.

Ranging from bangles, frocks, cufflinks, brooches, keychains, and flags, there were several Pakistani National day themed knickknacks available for purchase. The shopkeeper asked me what I was looking for. I asked him to give me the smallest available replica of the Pakistani national flag in the thought that I could paste it in my personal journal/ scrapbook. But, there was none in the size that could fit into my book. He showed me some of the other accessories available, and I informed him that none could be used in my country. A little surprised, he asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from India. Learning of my interest in buying a Pakistani flag as a souvenir excited him. He happily handed over a small stack of miniature flag stickers into my hands and asked me to keep them all, for which he refused to accept any money. He wished me in advance for India’s Independence Day and I returned the greetings for his country’s special day before leaving his shop.

Celebrating India’s National festival:

It was 15th August on the following morning, a day that India was celebrating as ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ back home on her 75th Independence Day. That day, there was no sight of any Indian flag hanging anywhere outside on the streets. I decided to seize the opportunity to explore the neighborhood a little more in the name of adding an Indian national flag to my journal in memory of my first Indian national festival celebration, outside of India. I walked into a few Indian textiles stores asking them if they had any Indian flags to which they responded with a negative. I walked into a few Indian restaurants to check if they had anything on display or if they could give me any leads to where I could find one. A few of them asked me the purpose of why I was searching for an Indian flag. When I told them that I wanted to use it as a souvenir, they either smiled or had a smirk on their faces. They must have wondered that I was some crazy woman walking freely on the streets of Saudi in search of my country’s independence.

None of them had any clue where I could find one. In the pursuit of an Indian National flag in Saudi Arabia, I wandered across a few streets walking over 9800 steps as indicated in the activity tracker on my smartphone. After concluding it to be a futile attempt to find an Indian tricolor, I decided to head back to my hotel. During my return, my eyes fell on a stationary shop and I decided to give it a last try. There was an Indian storekeeper who smiled upon hearing my inquiry. He took me to the section where a bundle of small plastic flags was kept. I asked for one flag for which he charged me 2 SAR without a bill. I came out of the shop all happy after a successful hunt at exactly the 10,000th step in the activity tracker, only to realize that I was standing just a few yards away from my hotel and that I had searched all over to find a little flag.

Indian National flag
Indian National flags at the stationary store

Celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National festival:

It was a long weekend due to the Saudi National day celebration on the 23rd of September. I was in Riyadh, the country’s administrative capital where several ceremonies were scheduled for the observance of the National day. The entire city was lit up and decorated with the theme of the Saudi national flag, which I was told was the case throughout the country. The level of public involvement and the fervor with which a national day is celebrated in Saudi was something that I felt missing back in my country on a national festival.

At the end of the National day celebrations, I and a few others who had accompanied me for the weekend were at the airport terminal in Riyadh, waiting for our return flight. We noticed that all staff working at the airport and the shops were wearing representative brooches or sashes. By then, I had realized that I had the national flags of two countries as souvenirs with a backstory of how I got them. I didn’t want to miss out on adding one from Saudi to the collection because that’s where I was to celebrate the national days of all three countries in 2022. I asked one of the staff about where I could get one for myself and that’s it. She got a sash not just for me, but one for each person who had accompanied me. Her colleagues and she were extremely excited to give us the sashes and click selfies with us wearing them. And any money offered in exchange was refused to be taken, as they called it a gift for us from them.

Conclusion remarks:

Sitting back on my flight, I was trying to recollect my experience of how a national festival was perceived by three different countries. As a foreigner, I was given a gift (free of cost) by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with excessive excitement. Whereas, being an Indian, I expected myself to be warmly greeted by a fellow Indian on foreign soil and share the same enthusiasm to wish each other on India’s national festival. Instead, I bought an Indian flag from an Indian (it was a small cost by any reference, that could be waived off). It was not the free item I was seeking, but at least an Indian to be able to guide me to a place where I could get Indian products. The expectation was to meet another Indian who shared the same excitement to celebrate India’s festival as that of a Saudi or a Pakistani.

Are we Indians less patriotic? What are your thoughts?

Riding in the land of miniature paintings- Basohli

If you thought Jammu was all about shrines and temples, wait a minute. You are not alone. Even I did not know about all the beautiful places that exist within a driveable distance from the city. This trip to Basohli was a part of our ‘Peace ride’, sponsored by Jammu tourism as a part of the Himalayan expedition to promote tourism in the lesser explored places of Jammu. The route we covered over the week was Jammu-Mansar-Basholi–Sarthal–Baderwah-Kishtwar-Gulabgarh-Sansari-Gulabgarh-Patnitop-Udhampur-Jammu.This trip was an opportunity for us to see so many beautiful places that are off the tourist map, totally untouched and waiting to be explored.

Places to visit in Basohli:

• Surinsar-Mansar wildlife sanctuary
• Surinsar lake
• Mansar lake
• Atal bridge
• Sunset at Ranjit Sagar Dam & RSD backwaters
• Sunrise from Chanchala mata mandir

The Details:

On a warm Saturday morning, we started from Jammu on a well asphalted highway cutting through the Surinsar-Mansar wildlife sanctuary towards Basohli. Needless to say, the route is blessed with natural bounty with the road flanked by wooded hills all the way. We did a quick stopover at the twin lakes from where the sanctuary gets it same. The Surinsar lake and Mansar lake are serene patches of nature which play an important role among the Hindu pilgrims as it is associated with mythology. It is believed that the arrow shot by Arjuna pierced the earth at Surinsar and came out at Mansar spouting water, what are now the two bunyanesque lakes. If you have nothing to do, then you can forget your watches by just sitting on the banks and feeding the squillion fishes there. These lakes are also known for the Indian flapshell turtles that are found in abundance.

At Mansar lake

After freshening up at the TRC guest house, we headed to the Atal bridge built across river Ravi. This happens to be the first cable suspension bridge in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. We got an eyefull of the setting sun from there and got some good silhoute photos of the fishermen busy with their last catch on their vessels drifting past us from under the bridge. The view of the surrounding lush green hills and several islets in the backwaters of the Ranjit Sagar Dam was a feast for the eyes with a golden backdrop. On a summer evening, it is highly recommended that you spend some time at the dam backwaters, what is fondly refered as the RSD beach by the localites. With swaying palm trees along the sandbars of the river bed, it is a very picturesque place surrounded by the lashing waves of the dam’s backwaters.

Our bike at the Atal bridge

Although we had plans of reaching the Chanchala mata mandir to catch the sunrise next morning, we were woken up rather early by the roaring thunder and the rattle of our window glasses. It was pouring cats and dogs and we watched the dawn break into a bright day while sitting by the window side. There seemed no signs of the rain gods taking a break and hence, we decided to head out in the rains…

While we sought directions from the public, we realised that this town was home to over a dozen temples dedicated to Durga Mata. With a wild guess, we hit the accelerator towards one that was located atop a hillock. Oh Man! The view from up there was stunning… The temple had a 360degree view of the dam water and the hills. We could see the bridge along with several ruins of the old town dotting the view here and there. With the rocky valley at a distance, the entire Basohli town was visible from up there treating our eyes on a perfect morning!! With such a view around, the silver lightning in the dark grey sky, we couldn’t ask for a better start for the day…We were drenched to the bone but coudn’t get enough of the view. We somehow dragged ourselves back to our bikes, lest be a reason for the delay of all other fellow travellers back in the guest house.

view of Ranjit Sagar dam from Chanchala mata mandir

Basohli is known for the traditional miniature paintings that carry a heritage tag with it. Basohli is believed to be a cradle of a new school of mythological paintings. But sadly, only a handful of practicing artists exist today in this hill town. How much ever I intended to meet these artists and buy a couple of paintings as souvenirs from this land, I couldn’t. A countable number of shops selling these artworks would open only later during the day, a few kilometers away from the place where we were staying at. We decided to return to the guest house.

We were already running late and had nothing left for breakfast, we satiated our stomachs with fruit juices and coffee. When the rain gods seemed to calm down a bit, we called it a wrap for the wonderful time spent in this historical town of Basohli. The journey continued, to yet another beautiful place waiting to be explored, waiting to be talked about to the world outside. A place that I call as my “FAVOURITE” destination in India- Sarthal.

Fact file:

  • Getting there: Jammu is well connected by airport, rail and road. You can hire a self-drive car or a taxi from the city to visit the other sightseeing places. Basohli is 147kms(about 3hrs) by road from Jammu city.
  • Stay: TRC (Tourist Reception Centre) guesthouse is run by the J&K tourism dept. on the banks of Ranjit Sagar dam and offers great views.
  • Must buy: Basohli miniature paintings.