Oct. 10: The Kanchenjungha is glittering in the first rays of the sun and the whole world seems to be holding its breath in the soft, still dawn. You are watching enchanted from Tiger Hill when ' a shrill rendition of “Kaanta laga” shatters the silence.
“Gordhanbhai'” someone screams into his mobile, “what’s the quotation from Dubai' Haan, haan, Tulapatti me sab theek-thak '.”
Cell phones annoy people at restaurants and theatres. And when you are enjoying the charm of Ranikhet or the romance of Khajuraho, they can be an insufferable nuisance.
Is there a chance that Indian travel operators will ban customers from carrying mobiles to tourist spots' A British agent has already done so.
The Hampshire-based Adventure Company acted after receiving complaints from travellers that “intrusive” ring tones and the “endless chatter” that followed were ruining once-in-a-lifetime trips.
Obviously, this can work only if other tour operators follow suit. But Indian agents are not ready. “We don’t believe in doing anything so draconian,” Ashwini Kakkar, managing director of Thomas Cook, said from Mumbai.
“All we might do is request customers to exercise some restraint ' they can be asked to keep their phones in the silent mode, or to use SMS as far as possible.”
Moonlit nights at the Taj are safe from the intrusion, though. Mobiles are banned at the monument ' not to ensure the magic remains unspoilt but as a security measure. But what about other places'
“A mobile can be a lifeline in an emergency; banning phones is simply not the answer,” said Kumar Mitra, manager of RJ Tradewings, a Rs 250-crore company with over 55 branches in the country.
But that problem is easily taken care of, explained Mark Wright, the managing director of Adventure. From next year, tour guides will collect mobiles from travellers at the start of the trip and return them at the end, but will themselves carry the phones for use in emergencies.
“People travel with us to get away from it all but mobile phones can be reached almost all over the world now,” he said. “These are expensive and often once-in-a-lifetime trips; so we decided the best solution was to ban mobile phones altogether.”
The ban will begin with trips to Nepal and will be extended to Peru, Morocco, Iceland, India and Spain followed by Kilimanjaro, Namibia, Jordan and the Galapagos Islands.
But most Indian travel agents say they have never come across complaints from tourists. Do Indian travellers treat trips to pristine spots as a boisterous picnic, like a fun outing at the beach' Perhaps they are more into Las Vegas than Machu Pichhu'
One of the tourists who complained to Adventure is Graham Bishop, 29, a consultant from Chichester, West Sussex. He was 10,000 feet up Kilimanjaro when a co-traveller decided to call his secretary in England and dictate changes to a speech or document.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bishop said. “We were just putting up our tent at a campsite on the Machame route up Kilimanjaro when this guy -- I think he was a businessmen or a politician -- suddenly started talking on his mobile in a loud voice.
“There I was in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, looking out over the savannah... and all I could hear was ‘in the second paragraph, line four can we take out the word...’
“It was totally bizarre and it spoiled what should have been a perfect moment. I think a phone ban is an excellent idea.”
In India, managers of cinemas, too, are against a cell phone ban, but they do take precautions and act if someone disturbs the peace.
“Before the movie begins, we show a slide asking the audience to switch off their phones or keep them in the silent mode,” said Prashant Srivastava, general manager, 89 Cinemas.
“If a customer still speaks loudly on the phone and another complains about it, our guest relations personnel (ushers) approach the (first) person and politely ask him to carry on the conversation outside the auditorium.”
Vikas Syal, general manager, Inox Forum, said his theatre follows exactly the same rule.
A spokesperson for the Association of British Travel agents welcomed Adventure’s move. “I’m sure that other travel firms will follow suit,” she said.
“A ban would help to keep a special trip special. And the more companies that do it the smaller the chance of someone from another tour group ruining it.”
From the look of things, Adventure’s customers will have to risk it in India.
Written with a Daily Telegraph report