Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nandi Hills - a Place with Underutilized Tourism Potential

Like one of those places that you don’t visit despite staying close to them, I had never paid much attention to Nandi Hills. My indifference to Nandi Hills is not witout its reason. Nandi Hills is neither far enough from Bangalore to be called a proper outing nor near enough for a quick visit. (It’s roughly two and a half hours’ drive from Bangalore.)

Nor is Nandi Hills a well promoted tourist spot. And this is not because the place doesn’t have any potential but because of government apathy. The place is controlled by Karnataka tourism (govt) which denies entry to private players. So, except a few privately-owned small shops, everything is owned and run by the Government.

The result is restaurants with very limited menu and average food (they don’t accept any card). There are no professional tourist guides despite the place’s history, leaving visitors to the mercy of a sentence or two in Kannada on stone slabs.

Nandi Hills occupies a huge area with the potential for intra-train and bus rides for visitors. There could also be rope ways connecting various hilltops (there are a few). But you get none of them.

As my friend Kram and I left the babble of the city behind us, Nandi Hills came into sight. There are only Panjabi dhabas, coconut water sellers and tea-cigarette shops with make-shift structures on the way to the Hills.

Nandi Hills was a summer retreat of Tipu Sultan, the staunchest southern adversary of the British, and later of British officers. It’s located on a hilltop with several things to see (some dating back to Tipu Sultan and some made by the British in later years) but the most visited are the temples and the suicide spot, a cliff with a stiff drop where offenders sentenced to death were brought and pushed down.

The cliff has been surrounded by a wall with small openings. Beyond the cliff is a stiff fall leading to the bottom of the hill. With a little flight of imagination, you can imagine how the prisoners would have felt before being pushed to death.

A good point about the lack of commercialization is that there is lot of greenery. There are narrow pathways with trees on both sides. Some green assemblages are so thick that hardly any light gets in. There are flights of stairs, unobtrusively located inside grooves of trees, leading two, three floors down. The stairs are generally lonesome and sometimes it could be just you negotiating century-old pathways descending through dense foliage of trees.

For various people, Nandi Hills is various things. For some, it’s a good driving experience. The path that leads to the top of the hills spiraling all the way from the bottom – tests your driving skills when you are on the way up. My friend learnt driving few months back but negotiated the spiraling pathway with the assurance of a professional.

For some, it’s a picnic spot (you could see food cans inside their vehicles). For some, it’s just a casual holiday outing, which is not costly and yet refreshing. For me, it was all of them with a bit of history thrown in.

Wish you a happy new year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What We Missed about Niira Radia

Since the outbreak of the 2G controversy and exposure of the Radia tapes, newspapers and TV channels are busy lambasting the journos, politicians and everybody else found involved in the controversy and heard in the tapes. But amidst this brouhaha, everyone seems to forget what made the scam possible bringing together people from diverse professions - media, politics and industries: Niira Radia's PR skills.

I heard some of the tapes on Youtube where Radia talks to cross sections of society – politicians, journalists and businessmen – and noticed that for each type of person she employs a distinct style of conversation. With media personalities, she is friendly and informal. She mainly speaks in English with occasional Hindi lines and phrases thrown in. She exchanges pleasantries but comes to point very quickly. Generally she is conversational and polite, but she knows when to change gear and be persuasive.

But while talking to Ratan Tata, her client, she follows a totally different style. Her style seems to be attuned to Tata’s personality, which is very reserved. Her tone is not friendly, but strictly formal. She doesn’t lapse into strings of Hindi sentences but sticks to English with polished accent. She explains her points very well and seems to have lot of grasp over the topic.

Any PR guy will tell you that Niira is a dream PR professional. Her networking skills (she seems to have journos at her beck and call), her strong sense of how to deal with whom, her understanding of her clients’ business (evident from her conversation with Tata) are assets for any PR person. No wonder she runs one of the most successful PR agencies in the country whose clientele isn’t just limited to Tata and Mukesh Ambani but includes state governments as well. It’s being said that when Tata was facing stiff resistance at Nandigram over the Nano factory, Radia put him in touch with Narendra Modi and Bengal’s loss became Gujrat’s gain with the factory being moved to the later.

Her network, which spans across multiple professions, would not have come easily and is not easy to maintain either. People with a flair for crudeness will attribute her success to exchange of unsavoury favors (you know what). And some will blame it on absence of integrity among the guys in her network. But painting the whole picture in a broad stroke will only help the essential escape – that there is considerable amount of professional skills involved in her success. Had the 2G scam not come into public glare, someday you would find an article hailing Radia’s success as PR personnel.

I am sure even as whole India heaps derision on Niira Radia, she is being talked about admiringly in the pantries of PR agencies over tea and coffee. No doubt Niira is a fixer but a skilled one. Both the government and media are reeling under her PR impact and I am sure there are many tapes we haven't heard. Sad but true!
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