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Knowledge Update

London 'cheaper' after pound's Brexit plunge

​London, March 21 (IANS) London has become the cheapest of the worlds major global centres, with the cost of living falling behind that of New York, Paris and Tokyo to its lowest level for two decades, figures revealed on Tuesday.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) world rankings, the fall is almost entirely due to the Brexit-inspired 15 per cent fall in the pound's fall since last June's referendum to leave the European Union (EU), the Guardian reported. 

The pound's fall has made prices in London much cheaper for foreign visitors, although not for local residents who earn their incomes in sterling.

The EIU said London is cheaper than New York for the first time in 15 years, and that relative prices in Manchester have fallen so far that the cost of living in the city is now on a par with Bangkok.

Meanwhile, the world's most expensive city is Singapore, where average prices are 20 per cent higher than in New York and one-third more than in London. The city-state has long been the most expensive place in the world to buy and run a car, but the EIU said it is also the second-priciest destination in which to buy clothes.

Australia and New Zealand are also pricing themselves out of the price bracket of budget-conscious travellers, the Guardian quoted the EIU as saying. 

Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington all now feature in the world's top 20 most expensive cities and each of them are pricier than London.

Almaty in Kazakhstan ranked as the cheapest city in the world.

London's new-found bargain-basement status has encouraged a flood of international shoppers to the city. Even low-cost clothing store Primark has reported strong sales to foreign tourists, joining luxury brands such as Burberry in enjoying a boost in sales from visitors drawn by the cheap pound.

Sri Lanka to increase international air connectivity

​Colombo, March 21 (IANS) Sri Lanka is looking to increase international air connectivity in an effort to boost tourism, a statement said here on Tuesday.

With the tourism industry recording a positive growth since 2009, officials said they now hope to have more direct flights, open skies policy, competitive landing and parking fees, incentivising low-cost airlines and smoother immigration and check-in procedures, Xinhua news agency reported.

Sri Lanka is also hoping, with public and private stakeholders, to create a "Colombo Calendar" of events which tourists can access across multiple channels.

"The main goal is to ensure Sri Lanka doubles its tourism sector earnings from the present $3.5 billion in 2016 to $7 billion by 2020," the Tourism Ministry statement said.

Last year, 2.05 million tourists arrived in Sri Lanka, taking the island's tourism earnings to a record of $346.98 million in July 2016.

India and China have been the leading markets with the most number of tourist arrivals.

Over 270,000 Chinese tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2016, with China recording the strongest growth of 26.4 per cent compared to the previous year.

This year, Sri Lanka has set a target of 2.5 million tourists. 

Budget shopping a rewarding, memorable experience in HK

​Hong Kong, March 15 (IANS) It is easy to remember Hong Kong for its enormous variety of food and leisure, and the way these can be relished in quick time. But for me, Hong Kong is also about neatness, planning, seamless transport and the no-fuss attitude of its street vendors who make budget shopping a memorable experience.

Hong Kong delighted me in several ways. The manner in which people of the city have overcome challenges posed by nature, created opportunities for themselves and made the city one of the top business hubs of the world seemed worth emulating.

Hong Kong, which became a special administrative region (SAR) of China in 1997 after 150 years of British administration, has few natural resources. Given that it's tiny (its land area is only 1,073 sq km), most commercial and residential buildings shoot skyward. Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world for any city.

The city's small area has its own advantages for a tourist. For instance, the city's historic tram, it's mass transit railway (MTR) system, colourful taxis, double-decker buses and the famous star ferry can all be experienced one after the other within a few hours while hopping from one place to the other.

Hong Kong has shops to cater to every pocket and taste and there is enough for a budget tourist to explore. I, too, searched for options that were not hard on the pocket.

The Ladies' Market near Mong Kok MTR station had vendors selling an array of products including bags, purses, shoes, track suits, T-shirts and accessories. A large number of products were for ladies and they were also the ones managing most of the stalls.

I bargained to bring down prices, but it was not always easy. A survey of the market helped identify vendors who seemed inclined to bring down prices. Trials were not allowed on garments and one had to go by one's estimation. Several vendors seemed to have difficulty with English but, nevertheless, managed to communicate in a business-like manner.

The evening market near Sham Shui Po MTR station was also quite an experience and I found a few people from India and Pakistan surreptitiously selling their wares, mostly garments and shoes, on the pavement. They told me that they did not have valid documents to engage in jobs or businesses and were planning to return home in due course. The present tensions between India and Pakistan did not matter to them as they stayed and dined together. They kept track of domestic developments in their countries through WhatsApp messages and the Internet.

The market had an array of products including watches, clocks, toys, phones, accessories and electronic goods. But one had to be careful about prices. A wireless microphone Hifi speaker, being sold by a street vendor at HK$150 (Rs 1,260), was priced at a nearby shop for HK$280.

I also realised the enormous spread of China-made goods and the variation in their prices at different places. An alarm clock I had seen in a gift shop in east Delhi for Rs 500 was available at a local shop in the market for HK$35 (Rs 315) and I could purchase it for HK$32 (Rs 288) after a little bargaining. Quite a steal!

But while Sham Shui Po is a working class neighbourhood, I also spotted a street market in upmarket Wan Chai. Here, the quality of products was better though a little higher priced. There were also no-frills shops along some the main roads in Wan Chai which offered good quality garments, purses and bags at very decent prices.

Hong Kong offers a rich variety of cuisine and has thousands of restaurants to cater to various tastes. Apart from venues for fine dining, the city has several road-side eateries which offer a mind-boggling variety of non-vegetarian stuff.

There are options for vegetarians too, but one has to look at the menu and the medium of cooking carefully. Indian food is also becoming increasingly popular and vegetarianism is gaining ground with the "Green Monday" campaign.

Hong Kong's cleanliness is remarkable and demonstrated to me the vast distance we have to cover to make our cities clean despite programmes like Swachh Bharat (Clean India).

Tourists have their hands full in Hong Kong and are spoilt for choice. Apart from its well-known attractions like Disneyland and Ocean Park, Hong Kong offers a lot to explore including beaches, city parks, museums, harbour views, cycling, modern architecture and visits to outlying islands.

The city also takes continuous care of its infrastructure to keep it world class. The traffic flows smoothly on well-planned roads and magnificent bridges. An express rail link is being built to provide speedy connectivity with mainland China. The transport system in Hong Kong is neatly integrated and provides multiple options to reach a destination depending on time and money a traveller is willing to spend.

Hong Kong, it was clear, innovates constantly to create opportunities for its people and new avenues of recreation for tourists.

Shanghai restaurants install see-through kitchens

Shanghai, March 14 (IANS) More than 2,000 restaurants in Shanghai have installed see-through kitchens in a bid to improve food safety, a media report said.

In these restaurants, a piece of glass separates the kitchen from the dining area so that both diners and regulators have a clear idea of what is going on behind the scenes, the People's Daily said in the report on Monday.

Currently, the number of see-through kitchens in the Pudong, where the idea was first implemented last September, has grown from 200 to 730. 

More than 70 per cent of those kitchens are also under real-time monitoring through a closed-circuit TV system, which is played on screens mounted for anyone to see. 

Wu Haiqin, an employee of the Pudong District Market Supervision Administration (PDMSA), told the People's Daily that see-through kitchens are only suitable for restaurants that do not require complicated processing. 

In order to better guarantee food safety, the closed-circuit TV systems have been gradually installed as an alternative, Wu added.

Food safety has become a hot topic once again during the ongoing fifth meeting of the 12th National People's Congress. As a result, more stringent food security regulations will be implemented in Shanghai starting from March 20. 

In the next several years, all restaurants exceeding a certain size in Shanghai will made to install see-through kitchens. 

In addition, closed-circuit TV systems will be gradually adopted by the cafeterias of schools and other institutions around the city. 

Mount Everest base camp received 113,000 tourists in 2016

​Lhasa, March 4 (IANS) The Mount Everest base camp received more than 113,000 tourists last year, with a year-on-year increase of 91 per cent, the local tourist administration said on Saturday.

Among them were more than 5,100 foreign visitors, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Tingri county government has been making efforts to offer a better travel experience to visitors in recent years. 

The government has repaired roads from the county to the base camp and ensured the power supply for the camp.

The base camp, which sits at an altitude of 5,200 metres, is suitable for year-round travel.

A surreal melting pot of culture at Dubai's Global Village

Dubai, March 3 (IANS) If Delhi Haat in India's capital fascinates you with its offerings from all parts of the country, this iconic family destination and entertainment adda for adults brings together snapshots of cultural extravaganzas from across the world in one massive open sky emporium here.

Global Village is the largest seasonal cultural extravaganza in the region that offers visitors an amazing array of festivals, shopping and entertainment in an open-air theme park.

This entertainment and shopping destination is open from November through to April and hosts over 70 participating countries presented in over 36 pavilions, with more than 50 fun rides and 26 restaurants offering food from around the world.

And still it is but a big surprise as it does not exist for half of the year. Every year, it is constructed from scratch around November and dismantled the following April. The makeover is different every year, new themes are introduced and thus, even those who visit regularly find it stunningly amazing.

Just like this city, Global Village comes from humble beginnings, starting out with just a number of kiosks in 1996 located on the Creek Side opposite the Dubai Municipality. It moved to another location before finally settling at its present location in Dubailand.

For some strange reason, the Indian pavilion catches your attention almost instantly. Not only because it is the largest pavilion at Global village but just as you enter the destination, a massive replica of the Taj Mahal sort of enchants you and prepares the mood for a visit.

While songs like "Kajra Re" and "Kal Ho Na Ho" are attracting Bollywood fans, it is the ethereal elements like the shenai and the traditional Indian bioscope, taking you on an all-India ride in just two minutes, that makes it memorable even for Indian visitors.

With more than 300 stalls, the Indian pavilion exhibits and sells some authentic Indian products varying from cotton, silk, chiffon fabrics to traditional leather made sandals, handbags, wallets and accessories. Indian carpet exhibitors are also present to express Indian forms and shapes of hand-woven natural silk and fleece, jewellry, cloths and home accessories.

Some 300 metres ahead is the Pakistani pavilion, no lesser attractive or magnificent than the Indian one.

It hosts a large number of exhibitors showcasing leather goods, cotton fabrics and various traditional items and home accessories. Its narrow lanes, dotted with tiny shops selling leather jackets, samosas or even jhaalmuri, seem straight out of some Lahori gali. 

This is not all. Adding to the many stories of friendships of Indians and Pakistanis abroad are a large number of sellers and shopkeepers from the two countries here. Many sellers shared their touching stories of friendships and said that Indians and Pakistanis are "too friendly to even argue, except for cricket".

The US and Russia relations may be anticipated to improve under the Trump administration but at the Global Village, the pavillions of Russia and the Americas co-eistand right next to each other.

The Americas' pavilion brings a wide range of interesting products that represent North, Central and South America. The facade is inspired by the Capitol building in Washington D.C. and the Cathedral in Mexico City.

The pavilion's rear facade depicts the Washington monument. The products and services offered within allow for a sampling of the lifestyles and tastes of the 48 countries in North and South America. The pavilion welcomes visitors to discover the culture and tradition of this culture rich region and experience live performances of various dance styles that originated in this part of the world.

Step out and enter the Russian pavilion. From the famous Onion Domes of Red Square to the Matryoshka dolls, Ladel spoons, Samovars and traditional Russian costumes, the whole package is too much to sum in a few words. Indulge in the rich culture of the former Soviet Union with all your senses.

Another interesting pavilion is from Africa, perhaps the most suitable if you are looking for some authentic stuff at a bargain.

The pavilion represents more than 15 countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Angola, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Rwanda, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa and Nigeria. Most of these countries showcase their authentic products as well as their art, wealth and traditions. The pavilion's prevalent offering is hand-carved artifacts. The intricate designs are made from the best type of wood in the world such as ebony, mahogany and rosewood, as well as soapstone.

What actually makes the Global Village appealing is its Bazar like design. From bargains to haunted houses, all things here seem a bigger and better replica of what the Indian circus melas once used to be.

SpaceX to fly 2 private tourists around moon in 2018

Washington, Feb 28 (IANS) US aerospace major SpaceX has announced plans to fly two private citizens on a week-long trip around the moon next year.

The two individuals approached SpaceX for the trip and they have "already paid a significant deposit" to do a moon mission, the company said in a statement on Monday.

"Fly me to the moon ... Ok," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the announcement was made. 

Lift-off will be from the Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral in Florida -- the same launch pad used by the Apollo programme for its lunar missions.

"Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind," SpaceX said.

Following the announcement about the private space mission around the moon, NASA said it "commends its industry partners for reaching higher".

"For more than a decade, NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity's future in space," the US space agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

The two tourists would be sent on a SpaceX's Dragon 2 capsule, launched on the company's Falcon Heavy rocket.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission," SpaceX said while thanking the US space agency "without whom this would not be possible".

"Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket," the company said.

SpaceX said the space shuttle Dragon was designed from the beginning to carry humans and already has "a long flight heritage".

For the Hawthorne, California-headquartered company, the private trip around the moon is one step on the way to their goal of transporting humans to Mars.

Later this year, as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX will launch its Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. 

A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. 

SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. 

"By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions," SpaceX said.

SpaceX said it will conduct health and fitness tests of the two individuals who have expressed interest in a trip around moon. Initial training for the two will begin later this year. 

"This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the solar system than any before them," SpaceX said in the statement.

"Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow," SpaceX said.

Cambodia earns over $3 bn from tourism

​Phnom Penh, Feb 27 (IANS) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday announced that the country's tourism sector earned $3.4 billion in 2016.

The Southeast Asian nation attracted 5 million international visitors last year, a 5 per cent rise year-on-year, according to a tourism data, Xinhua news agency reported. 

"We predict that Cambodia will welcome 5.4 million foreigners in 2017 and up to 7 million in 2020 with estimated revenue of $5 billion," Hun Sen said. 

He said that tourism industry currently provides some 620,000 direct jobs and the number of jobs will reach 1 million in 2020.

According to the Prime Minister, the country's peace and political stability were the prerequisites for the attraction of tourists.

"Tourists will not risk their lives to visit dangerous or war maintaining peace and political stability and preventing terrorism from happening in Cambodia are very important," he said, vowing to maintain the country's peace "at any cost".

Cambodia is famous for the 12th century Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap province. 

Besides, it has a 450-km pristine coastline stretching across four provinces in the country's southwestern part.

China to construct 74 airports by 2020

Beijing, Feb 20 (IANS) China is planning to construct 74 more civil transport airports by 2020, an official report said.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) report provides the blueprint and sets the goals for the development of China's civil aviation industry during the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) period, which outlines the government plans for economic and social development over a period of five years, the People's Daily reported on Monday.

The report said the country will continue to construct 30, and build 44 new, civil transport airports between 2016 and 2020, and the number of civil transport airports will reach about 260 by 2020.

"These projects would make trips to China's third tier cities (generally the medium-sized cities of each province) much easier," it said.

China is also aiming at a 28 per cent increase in air passenger turnover volume by 2020.

As for China's general aviation airports, during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, the number has already reached 310, with the hope that number would reach 500 before 2020, according to the report.

It is also hoped there will be over 5,000 general aviation aircraft and 7,000 general aviation pilots by 2020.

India to link Kathmandu with Delhi, Kolkata by rail

Kathmandu, Feb 20 (IANS) India's Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu announced here that it would soon link Kathmandu to New Delhi and Kolkata using direct railway lines, in a bid to strengthen cross-border connectivity and facilitate movement of people between the two countries.

Prabhu, who is here to address the Nepal Infrastructure Summit, said that this could happen as soon as Nepal signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for engineering surveys. 

He added that India was ready to share its drone technology and experience with Nepal for monitoring the project. 

According to experts, this move a counter to China's bid to expand its rail network towards Lumbini via Kathmandu.

Prabhu held separate meetings with Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari,Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Ramesh Lekhak, Civil Aviation, Culture and Tourism Minister Jiwan Bahadur Shahi and Energy Minister Janardan Sharma.

He also met Nepalese business leaders, political leaders, industry heads, with whom discussed a wide range of infrastructure development issues.