12 Days in India – Visit to 7 States

12 Days in India – Visit to 7 States

The following is an interesting account of a visit to India by Shaykh Yusuf Shabbir.

Day 1 – Saturday 4 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

We arrive into Mumbai in the early hours of the morning and take the onward flight to Calcutta. Calcutta is the capital of West Bengal and was the capital of India during the British Raj. Its proximity to the Bay of Bengal made it accessible for travellers by sea. Queen Victoria also visited Calcutta during her reign.

Today, however, it is home to some of the most impoverished and poor communities of India. The poverty is compounded with the natural disasters and lack of water systems that affect the agricultural output.

West Bengal is our first stop because we have several projects in the region. We are aiming to distribute Qurbānī meat to thousands of families throughout the region. We also support some educational projects and sponsor orphans in the region.

We arrive into Calcutta at 10am and after a short rest leave for Kalikapur. Kalikapur is a village in the outskirts of the city at an hour’s drive. The distance is short but the roads are broken and the ride is bumpy. The beauty of the surroundings deserves a mention. Poverty is visible and people rely on agriculture and farming.

We visit the Millat Girls School which is a privately run Muslim School serving 35 orphans and 200 other local girls. The boarding facilities are very basic but the classrooms are in a very poor condition. Nevertheless, the standard of education is good. We learn that the average wage of a teacher is £60 a month, £2 a day. The school’s emphasis on spirituality and education is clearly visible.

We also visit the Tahiria Hospital in the Kalikapur area. The hospital’s foundation was laid by Mawlānā Gulām Muḥammad Wastānwi Sahib in 2003. Most patients are unable to afford the fees; they benefit from subsidies.

Later in the afternoon, we head towards the village of Faqirpara Joula, Santoshpur that is located 30km south of Calcutta city. The journey is a three hour drive. The village we are trying to access is not accessible by road. We have to walk for one kilometre. This is typical in this part of the world. Access to such remote villages is not possible by car. We meet with the local people of the village who express their gratitude for our support. Our Qurbānī project will be delivered in such remote areas.

We return to Calcutta city and rest for the night. We are saddened to learn that many girls from the region are trafficked to Mumbai and other cities and used as prostitutes. It is clear that a much stronger emphasis is required on education and spirituality to alleviate the root causes of poverty. Allah al-Mustaʿān.

Yusuf Shabbir, Calcutta

Day 2 – Sunday 5 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

We start early in the morning at 6am as we head towards the famous island of Gangasagar. The island is located 100km south of Calcutta neighbouring the Bay of Bengal. The island has historical religious significance for the Hindu community and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. The island is small; 270 square kilometres. The total population is 300,000 with one third Muslims. There are 60 mosques on the island.

After travelling for three hours, we reach river Gangasagar. Access to the island is only possible by boat. Our car is unable to accompany us to the island so we cross over via a forty minute boat journey. The scenery and beauty of the island is second to none. We are received on the island by some local field workers and our representatives who had travelled from Gujarat to overlook the Qurbānī programme.

Whilst on the island we made a number of observations. Most people stay in mud houses. The people live in extreme poverty. People are unable to realise the potential and benefits of the fertile land because of flooding and the absence of water management systems. Thus, agricultural output is low. For the Paan lovers, the island exports Paan leaves to the rest of India and is famous for this.

On the island, we visited a local area known as Bamankhali. Our Qurbānī project on the island is coordinated from here. We are providing 150 animals to the inhabitants of the island and thereby providing meat to some of the poorest communities of the region. We travelled on a motorbike to several local areas and saw the dire state of the local communities and children. It was not possible to access local villages by car. Roads just do not exist.

Some people question the price of Qurbānī in India. We decided to ask lay people on the island who informed us the average price in the Qurbānī season is 6000 INR (£60) whereas in the non Qurbānī season, the price is 5000 INR (£50) to 5500 INR (£55).

We saw a school on the island that was made exclusively from bamboo and straw. There is no flooring, no chairs or tables. Children sit on the soil and acquire a basic level of education. Yet, those who come to school are regarded as the fortunate minority who have some access to education.

We return to the mainland by boat and head back to Calcutta. The visit to the island was an eye opener. I do not think we could stay there for a night. On the way back to Calcutta, we pass several Christian schools and can see the remaining legacy of Mother Teresa in this region.

Back in Calcutta, we visit the Tipu Sultan Shahīd mosque. Originally from Maysoor Bangalore, he resided in Calcutta. His progeny continue to reside in the city but hold no status or position whatsoever.

Tomorrow is Eid in India and our journey continues.

Yusuf Shabbir, Calcutta

Day 3 – Monday 6 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

It is an early start this morning. We offer Eid Ṣalāh in Kalikapur, an hour drive from Calcutta. Three thousand people perform Eid Ṣalāh in an open compound and we are asked to lead the prayers. After Eid Ṣalāh, we overlook the Qurbānī project and the distribution of the meat to some of the poorest families. Somewhat to our astonishment, we come across three blind students who are given education through Braille in the local village and who are able to render recitation from the Qurʾān.

We leave Kalikapur and head towards the India-Bangladesh border to an area known as Sundarban. Sundarban is a natural region, home to the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world. Sundarban is approximately 10,000 square kilometres of which 60% is located in Bangladesh with the remainder in India. In India, the area begins 100km South East from Calcutta. The region is one of the poorest areas of India.

We arrive at River Isa Mati just before midday and cross over to Rameshwatpur village via a five minute boat journey. Like the island of Gangasagar, most people reside in mud or straw houses. There are no toilet or sanitation facilities in the houses. People live in extreme poverty. We see many people using cow dung instead of wood for sourcing energy and heat for cooking. The roads are broken and we travel by rickshaw to access remote villages. We travel several kilometres in the area and distribute Qurbānī to the children of the local villages.

Whilst travelling in Sundarban, we felt we were in a different world altogether; a world full of poverty, malnutrition and deprivation, a world without basic amenities and facilities, a world where clean water is a rare commodity, a world full of ‘third class’ human beings. It felt as though we travelled back in time. The international community has failed these people.

So what has contributed to this disparity? There are no simple answers. We identify part of the answer as we head towards the border with Bangladesh which is separated by a river. From here we can see houses in Bangladesh. In 1947, Bengal was artificially divided into East and West Bengal without any cultural, religious, or economic rationale. In fact both Bangladesh and West Bengal continue to bear the brunt of the divide. Families were divided and the economic consequences on both sides of the border are visible. The initial proposal was to separate Bengal using River Ganga as the separator. This would have made Calcutta the capital of Bangladesh and aligned the regional economy and development opportunities. People to this day get married on both sides of the border secretly and smuggling is common. Local poor people smuggle cows via the river as the price of a cow is at least threefold higher in Bangladesh. Whilst people from both sides make informal and often secret visits, officially, there are border controls and access is subject to visa. The artificial border has aggravated the crisis in the region.

Another reason for the disparity is the failure of successive governments to develop the infrastructure of the region. The land is fertile and fruits include mango, guava, custard apple, pineapple, jackfruit, lychee, coconut, apples and other fruits. The region also produces the famous Darjeeling tea. However, the salty water combined with weak water systems does not allow the local communities to realise the potential of the land. Accordingly, most people rely on fishing for their daily survival.

After distributing Qurbānī, we return to the River Isa Mati, cross the river by boat and return to Calcutta. The journey takes two hours.

Our trip to West Bengal comes to an end. The region requires national and international support. We pray to Almighty Allah to shower his mercy on the inhabitants of this region.

In the evening we take a two hour flight to Delhi, visit some historical places and rest for the evening.

Yusuf Shabbir, New Delhi

Day 4 – Tuesday 7 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

It is another early start this morning. We leave from Delhi in the morning and head towards Uttar Pradesh (UP) which is home to the fountains of knowledge and spirituality that continue to quench the thirst of Muslims worldwide; the humble origins of which lie under a pomegranate tree, but the fruits of which have reached the four corners of the world and brought about a political and spiritual revolution in India and beyond.

After travelling for three hours, we arrive at Darul Uloom Deoband. Darul Uloom Deoband’s achievements and impact in all spheres of life are significant. It played a pivotal role in the anti-colonial struggle and the fight for freedom whilst championing a balanced interpretation of Islam; one that is underpinned by the Qurʾān and Sunnah and the way of the pious predecessors, one that is pure and free of deviance and innovation, one that strikes the right balance between the struggle for the inner and the outer and between religion and politics, and one that champions spirituality, piety, modesty, moderation, unity, and a return to the Prophetic way of life. Darul Uloom Deoband started under a pomegranate tree with one student and one teacher whose sincerity and simplicity has made the institution a hallmark of Islam and a reference point for millions of Muslims worldwide. Although the number of students now exceeds several thousand, the modesty and simplicity remain visible today.

As we enter the gates of Darul Uloom, we think of the great giants of knowledge and luminaries of the past who spent time here and whose legacy lives on. As we walk the corridors they must have used, we feel humbled yet honoured. We visit the blessed cloth of our Prophet (peace be upon him) that was donated by the Ottoman Leadership in 1913. We also visit the recently built mosque in the compound which is awe inspiring with its intricate architectural design and towering minarets.

During our visit to Deoband, we meet the Grand Mufti Ḥabīb Allah who was welcoming and allowed us to sit in his company. He requested us to convey his greetings to Mufti Shabbīr Aḥmad and described him a self-less person (bey nafs). We also had the honour to meet Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Sālim Qāsmī, the son of Ḥakīm al-Islām Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyab. We concluded the visit by meeting Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Arshad Madnī who invited us to join him for lunch.

We leave Deoband just after midday and head to Saharanpur which is home to the sister organisation of Darul Uloom Deoband. Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur by contrast is small in size but has produced a similar calibre of scholars with particular expertise in the science of Ḥadīth. We visit the institute and also visit the house of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyā which is another perfect example of simplicity and modesty.

We planned to visit Jalalabad, Thanabawn, Gangoh and Nanauta but due to limited time we return to Delhi. It is clear that the simplicity and sincerity of the founders and students of both institutions has played a major role in their influence worldwide.

Yusuf Shabbir, New Delhi

BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL

Day 5 – Wednesday 8 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

It is another early start this morning as we head to the airport looking forward to travel to the paradise of this world as described by ʿAllāmah Iqbāl, the land of natural beauty and scenery, the land of lush greenery and mountainous terrain, the land of honey and saffron. We leave Delhi on the 90 minute flight to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Although the Indian held Kashmir has been disputed by Pakistan since the 1947 partition, there has been relative peace in recent years. Kashmir is home to 11 million people 95% of whom are Muslims. As we start to descend into Srinagar, we are overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and the snowy mountains. We arrive at the heavily guarded airport just before 9am.

Our initial purpose of visiting Kashmir was to undertake a review of several schools. However, a few weeks ago on 5 September, Kashmir was flooded by rainfall that has had a catastrophic impact. 80% of Srinagar city was flooded.

Within minutes of leaving the airport we see some shocking scenes despite several weeks having passed; broken roads, flooded streets, damaged homes and collapsed buildings. The business districts are destroyed. The economy is crippled. People have become homeless and many are staying in tents on roads. Wealthy people became poor overnight. Several hundred people passed away. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected and it feels like a disaster zone.

We proceed from the airport to the affected areas. In the Chunarbag area, we see 64 houses destroyed or damaged. In Jogilankar-Rainawari, we meet a woman who is in tears. She and her family are residing in a local mosque as her home has been destroyed. Her husband late ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Bakhārū suffered a heart attack after the floods. We meet Gulām Qadīr Dād whose grief was compounded because his house is in ruins and he worked all his life as a labourer and lost all his savings. Another sad story we heard from Gulām Rasūl Butt who like many others is staying in rented accommodation. The water level reached a staggering 8ft in his house and damaged the foundation and internal structure. There were 12 people residing with him. His business is destroyed and machinery damaged. Perhaps the most emotional account was shared by two widows who lost their husbands two days ago and are taking shelter in a nearby mosque with their four young children.

We spend the day visiting different areas in Srinagar and meet over thirty affected families. Widows and elderly people share their grief and heart breaking stories and complain of not receiving aid. Out of desperation, they plead with us to inspect their affected homes and provide a sympathetic ear.

We also visit Naidkha-Sumbol later in the day which is situated 40km to the west of Srinagar. The village is badly affected. Orchards and fruit trees are uprooted. Flooding remains visible on the roadside. Here, we meet ʿAbd al-Khāliq who has four young children. His house is badly damaged and risks collapse. They are living in a small makeshift in cold conditions which is barely 7ft by 7ft.

The destruction and devastation we witness is beyond comprehension. Everyone we meet has a painful story to share. In 2005, Kashmir was affected by an earthquake. The floods have however affected a greater geographical area than that affected by the earthquake. Unfortunately, the media has not given proportionate coverage to the crisis. This is perhaps why we did not observe any international NGOs working in the affected areas. Neither is the government providing much assistance.

It has been a busy day visiting the affected areas. We learn that a mosque in one of the affected areas was not damaged because the floods split in two directions leaving the mosque intact; a miracle indeed.

Looking ahead, the winter season is to begin soon that will see temperatures plummeting to minus five and minus ten. The crisis in Kashmir requires a coordinated effort to rehabilitate the people and revive the economy. The people of Kashmir desperately require the support and Duʿās of the international community.

We return to Srinagar and rest for the evening.

Yusuf Shabbir, Srinagar, Kashmir

Day 6 – Thursday 9 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

In the aftermath of the 2012 communal violence in Burma, some 1500 families fled to Jammu which is 300km from Srinagar. They live in extremely poor and inhumane conditions. Fortunately, they are now being transferred to Srinagar to live in better conditions. We visit some of these houses early in the morning.

At 9am, we visit the Bilaliya Educational Institute that runs a nursery and primary school. The school was established in 2006 for the earthquake victims and currently serves 411 pupils. There are plans to develop a Secondary School. The school is self-sufficient although some families are now struggling to afford the fees due to the floods. We attend the assembly of the lower and upper schools and are impressed by the presentations and speeches of pupils in different languages and the ethos of the school. The school has made phenomenal progress in a short period of time.

We continue our tour of the flood affected areas of Srinagar and see some devastating scenes; demolished houses, flooded land, and families living in tents on the roadside. In Parimpora, we were told water levels reached 12ft and children and mothers could be heard screaming for assistance. We did not see this ourselves but a well respected scholar Mawlānā Raḥmat Allah described the village of Chamgoon outside Srinagar that has turned into a large lake with no sign of any of the 38 houses that existed in the village.

Before bidding farewell to Kashmir, we visit several famous attraction sites including Pari Mahal, Dal Lake, Cheshmashahi and Nishat Gardens. Srinagar has been blessed with lush green forests, scenic meadows and fresh springs gushing through the beautiful mountain valleys. We appreciate why this region has been described as the paradise of this world and why perhaps it is a disputed region.

Later in the afternoon, we head to the airport and depart for Delhi after going through seven or eight security checks at the heavily guarded airport. We arrive into Delhi at 7pm, visit some family friends and rest for the evening.

Yusuf Shabbir, New Delhi

Day 7 – Friday 10 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

It is another early start this morning. We board the flight from Delhi to Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Assam is a north Eastern state of India that lies on the border of Bangladesh, China, and Bhutan and is home to 32 million people of which one third are Muslims. The region has suffered from a series of conflicts and violence over the past few decades. In 2012, the communal violence forced 400,000 people to leave their homes. There has been a repeated attempt to force Muslims of Assam to move to Bangladesh under various pretexts. Regular flooding has also impacted on the agricultural output which constitutes 70% of the economy. The region is famous for rice, tea and oud perfume. In addition to this, the erosion of River Brahmaputra has affected many communities and increased poverty levels.

We leave Guwahati airport and head to Goalpara which is a two hour journey. We have delivered various projects in Assam since the 2012 conflict and are taking care of 200 orphan girls at the House of Orphans Institute in Goalpara. During our visit to the school, we distribute cycles to the school children many of whom live 4km from the school. Our Cycle to School programme is designed to ensure children from rural villages are not disadvantaged and have access to education.

After spending a few hours at the orphanage, we head towards Shakomari on the outskirts of Goalpara. The village was affected by the floods of 28 September that has affected 4.2 million people in Assam. According to official estimates, 4,446 villages are affected and 54,088 houses are completely destroyed. We are shocked at the living conditions of the villagers. The extreme poverty brings tears to our eyes; children are walking barefoot, most people only have one piece of cloth to cover themselves, the effects of malnutrition are visible on the bodies. We distribute some clothes here bringing joy to the local people.

We leave Goalpara and undertake a six hour journey to Hojai which is located to the east of Guwahati. Hojai is the hub for Agar Oud and Agar Oil and is famous for fish and coconuts. As we approach Hojai, there are some rumours of violence erupting in the city. Later, we learn that these rumours are unfounded.

Yusuf Shabbir, Hojai, Assam

Day 8 – Saturday 11 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

We begin the morning by meeting with the managers of Ajmal Foundation who run a network of highly successful schools and colleges across Assam. Collaboration opportunities are discussed and we agree to work closely together on training Headteachers across the region. During our meeting, we receive the news of the demise of the wife of our colleague Mawlānā Saʿīd of Preston. Both he and his deceased wife were proactively involved in various charitable endeavours and particularly in championing the Palestinian cause. We pray to Almighty Allah to elevate her status in paradise and grant patience to Māwlānā Saʿīd and the family.

Throughout the morning, we visit several projects of the Ajmal Foundation in Hojai. These include the Maryam College for Girls that serves 450 girls and provides A Level equivalent qualifications. We also visit the Maryam Women’s College of Science and Technology that delivers undergraduate degree programmes. We move onto visiting the Markaz Academy for Boys and Markaz Academy for Girls. We also visit a local oud processing plant and the Haji Abdul Majid hospital.

There is no doubt that education is the most powerful weapon through which the gap between the poor and rich can be bridged. For this reason we are sponsoring fifty poor graduates in Assam to train and become qualified teachers. Through this, they will not only empower themselves against poverty but also educate others to empower themselves. We visit the Ajmal BEd College in Hojai where the teacher training course is delivered. The students are hugely appreciative of our support. There is a compelling need to extend this project to other talented students who cannot afford the course.

We leave Hojai and head to Moulana Azad Markaz Academy in Guwahati, a journey that takes three hours. We meet with the pupils some of whom come from extremely poor backgrounds. We distribute some cycles to pupils who live far from the school.

It is now time to bid farewell to Assam. We have been unable to visit many places we would have liked to visit. We take the four hour journey from Guwahati to Ahmedabad via Calcutta and arrive at 8.30pm.

Yusuf Shabbir, Ahmedabad, India

Day 9 – Sunday 12 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

It is another early start this morning as we travel from Ahmedabad on a six hour journey by road to Akkalkuwa. The journey is a bumpy ride and the poor transport infrastructure does not match the rhetoric of politicians.

Akkalkuwa is a small village in the state of Maharashtra that has gained prominence over the past two decades. Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Gulām Muḥammad Wastānwī founded Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom in Akkalkuwa in 1980, the beginnings of which were modest. Today, the institute has become one of India’s most prestigious and influential organisations. It is a symbol of educational excellence and spiritual guidance for people of India and beyond. It serves 200,000 pupils throughout the country through a range of religious, vocational and academic programmes.

We arrive in Akkalkuwa after midday and meet with Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Gulām Muḥammad Wastānwī who gives us a tour of the campus. It is clear that Mawlānā has transformed the small village into a national centre of education and a beacon of hope for the poor and underprivileged minorities who come here from all over India. The campus has also enhanced the local economy. We visit the faculties of: memorisation of Qurʾān, Ḥadīth, Tafsīr, and Iftāʾ coupled with various institutions of modern education in the areas of engineering, industrial training, pharmacy, medicine, technology, business and management, commerce and arts, education and teacher training. The campus is a world class facility comprising of different buildings on 70 acre land. There are 20,000 students at the Akkalkuwa campus with over 2,000 staff. The daily budget for just catering exceeds £20,000.

The achievements and impact of Akkalkuwa should be understood in the context of the social and political context of India where the Muslims are a minority community that is significantly under-represented in education. Akkalkuwa is reducing this inequality by empowering poor people and providing them access to higher education at a subsidised cost. We meet an alumnus of the institute from Nawalpur who is now a successful doctor earning £50,000 per annum. He enrolled on the institute’s medicine programme but could only afford £100. His remaining fees and accommodation costs were subsidised by the institute. This is a live example of the power and impact of education.

After spending a few hours in Akkalkuwa, we return to Ahmedabad just before midnight. A tiring but worthwhile visit.

Yusuf Shabbir, Ahmedabad, India

Day 10 – Monday 13 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

Ahmedabad is the business capital of Gujarat and home to millions of Muslims. A large proportion of the population live in slums and ghettos. We visit the Shama Primary School in the Fatehwadi area that serves 800 pupils from poor backgrounds. The area has no roads and there is no water or lighting system. Education is a distant dream in this area. There are no government schools and it is as though this community is non-existent. If this is the situation in Ahmedabad city, one can imagine the situation in rural areas. The discrimination is apparent. We can sense the emergence of an apartheid system. The school children deliver a lively assembly and we are requested to say a few words.

Another area we visit in the city is Shahpur where the English medium Shama School is located. The school serves 700 girls. Due to lack of space, the school’s classrooms are located throughout six floors. We are impressed by the quality of education and resources prepared by the staff. We meet with the staff and pupils of the school and exchange some ideas. We leave the school and head to Shifa hospital which is one of the best hospitals of Ahmedabad providing excellent service to the local communities.

Later in the afternoon, we travel to Dasara 100km to the west of Ahmedabad. This is a remote village home to 100 families. Amenities are basic and primitive. For the last 20 years, the villagers prayed in a block made of tin sheets. Here, we inaugurate Masjid Salīm that was built for £6000 and financed by a family from the UK for the reward of his late father. The village people are hugely appreciative of our support. We request them to work hard to maximise the use of the facility.

We return to Ahmedabad and rest for the evening.

Yusuf Shabbir, Ahmedabad, India

EMERGING APARTHEID?

Day 11 – Tuesday 14 October 2014

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

Ahmedabad is home to millions of Muslims many of whom live in slums and ghettos. Many have settled here from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to earn a livelihood. Their living conditions are very poor. Simultaneously, we visit several affluent areas of the city and sense the emergence of an apartheid system. It is practically impossible for Muslims to live in some of these affluent areas or purchase any properties.

We visit a deprived area of Ahmedabad known as Bapunagar where we visit a school that serves pupils from diverse and poor backgrounds. We also visit a school in Danilimda where the students deliver a well prepared assembly. Later in the afternoon, we deliver a session to 150 teachers of several local schools focusing on the five Cs: Continuous Improvement (CI), Continuous Professional Development (CPD), Continuous Spiritual Development (CSD), Charity and Consciousness.

The day’s highlight however is a coincidental meeting with an innocent ex-prisoner of ten years whose account bears all the marks of the emergence of an apartheid state. Just released a few months ago, the ex-prisoner was arrested in 2003 and tortured through electrocution, beating, encounter firing and death threats. He was forced to confess to have taken part in a terrorist incident. In 2006, he was handed the death penalty. Earlier this year after several appeals, the Supreme Court acquitted him of all charges and rebuked the lower courts for not identifying the clearly visible lies and contradictions that formed the basis of the case. This innocent victim of the corrupt criminal justice system spent 10 years in custody and was unable to meet his family or attend his father’s funeral during this period.

It is now time to bid farewell to Ahmedabad. Due to the limited luggage allowance on domestic flights, we take the non-stop six hour overnight sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.

Yusuf Shabbir, Baroda, India

Day 12 – Wednesday 15 October

In the name of Allah, the beneficent the merciful

We arrive at Mumbai Central Station at 6am. Hundreds of people are sleeping on the station platforms and lounges. This is typical of train stations in India. After resting for several hours, we visit some of the landmarks of the city. Today is Election Day across Maharashtra which is why we do not encounter much traffic. The election results are not due until 19 October but Congress is expected to suffer significant losses.

Mumbai is the business capital of India and has thriving real estate, film, export, tourism and financial industries. The monuments and buildings constructed during the British Raj form a key part of the heritage sites. The Victoria Station, the Gateway to India, the Taj Hotel and the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link are amongst the attractions of the city.

During the day, we meet with the opposition leader of Assam and some business leaders and discuss the challenges of poverty, education and discrimination. India is currently at a crucial turning point heading to become one of the superpowers of the world. Prosperity however at an individual level remains a distant dream for the majority of people, which can only be realised if the political class gets its act together.

The journey to the seven states of India comes to an end. A hectic journey indeed; 11 flights in 12 days. All in all, the total distance travelled is 13,200 km, excluding the 15598 km from the UK to India and return.

Yusuf Shabbir, Istanbul, Turkey