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INS Veteran is Bestowed with the ‘Best Tourist Guide’ Award

03-10-2017 11:30 AM | Lathika Saju | My Indian Dream

INS Veteran is Bestowed with the ‘Best Tourist Guide’ Award | My Indian Dream

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At 91, the best tourist guide of the country is still raring to go

Rama Khandwala is a storehouse of stamina. At the age of 91, she has been bestowed with the ‘Best Tourist Guide’ award. The national tourism award was conferred on her by President Ram Nath Kovind to honour her almost 50-year stint as a Mumbai tour guide.

Her daunting stamina stems from her early training as a recruit in Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA). A Second Lieutenant belonging to the Rani Jhansi regiment in Rangoon, Burma, Khandwala spent her days marching, hoisting flags, learning how to wield a rifle, a bayonet and the Bren machine gun.

Khandwala was born in 1926 when Burma (now Myanmar) was still part of British India. During the Second World War, Rangoon was constantly being raided and Khandwala spent every moonlit night - the time when enemy planes frequently bombed the city - in the trenches. Khandwala in her book 'Jai Hind' wrote that they used to curse the moonlight.

As a Rani, Khandwala worked in an INA hospital in the hill station Maymyo (now Pyin Oo Lwin) nursing wounded soldiers. She almost died in an air raid when bomber planes targeted their shelter.

On May 3, 1945, the INA and the Japanese surrendered to the British. After six months of house arrest, Khandwala left with her family for Bombay where she got married, had a daughter and worked as a secretary before finding her calling as a tour guide.

According to Khandwala, "Guides are unofficial ambassadors of our country.” She asserts that they must be equipped to answer questions on a range of subjects from arranged marriage to poverty

Currently, she is unhappy with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation for having introduced a 12-day training programme for city guides, which she considers inadequate compared to the three-month course involving in-depth study of Indian archaeology, iconography, religions, transportation systems and cuisines that older guides like herself had taken.

Khandwala is fluent in Japanese which helped her bond with tourists from Japan. She's visited Japan six times and has stayed with former guests. Her language skills and interest in Buddhism even led her to meet the Dalai Lama and the King of Bhutan. She met the former while working as an interpreter for a Japanese documentary and she accompanied the latter to Elephanta's Buddhist caves as a guide.

Khandwala still conducts car tours 2-3 times a week and is the most sought-after guide for Japanese tourists. She describes her profession thus: "It has been most interesting, rewarding, very exciting and a continuous education -- meeting so many tourists from different countries."

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