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Madonna swings to desert beat

Jodhpur (TNN - 02 January 2008): No blaring music or hip-twisting moves at a swish club in Beverly Hills. Pop icon Madonna aka 'Material Girl' celebrated New Year's eve with husband Guy Ritchie, two-year-old son David Banda and family friends at a remote village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan.

The group celebrated the night of December 31 at Wilderness Camp, about 55 km from Jodhpur, listening to the folk songs sung by Langa and Manganiar musicians. They also watched a snake dance performed by Ka-lbelia dancers. The celebrity couple and their friends stayed at the camp in luxury tents run by Rohetgarh Fort, a heritage hotel owned by former noble of Rohet Manvendra Singh.

The visit, organized by former ruler of Jodhpur Gaj Singh and his son, polo player - Shivraj Singh, was kept a secret and the singer's security guards ensured nobody got near the group. Manvendra Singh said the guests were taken to Khandi, a village about 15 km from Rohetgarh, for a village safari. Madonna and her son rode horseback around small hamlets and met villagers dressed in their traditional colourful clothes. On Tuesday, a picnic was organized at Wilderness Camp and the guests were treated to traditional Rajasthani cuisine. Madonna and her family plan to go to Sardarsamand on Wednesday, about 50 km from Jodhpur, and have lunch with Gaj Singh and his family members.

File Photo of Madonna With Adopted Son David Banga

Singh has organized Madonna's stay at Sardarsamand resort hotel, a century-old palace built by the late ruler of Jodhpur, Sardar Singh. After spending a night at the resort, they will return to Jodhpur on Thursday to stay at Ummed Bhawan Palace as the former ruler's guests.

Rajasthan has grown to be a popular holiday destination for Hollywood celebrities. Last year, Britney Spears and Justin Tim-" berlake celebrated New Year's eve in the desert state. Hollywood star Liz Hurley married Indian businessman Arun Nayar at the majestic Ummed Bhawan Palace here and actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt visited Jodhpur in October 2007.

Heritage Site Entry Fees To Be Paid In Rupee

New Delhi (TNN - 16 November 2007): The forget-dollar syndrome in face of a rising rupee seems to have gripped the tourism and culture ministry as well. The government has issued orders on Thursday that foreigners visiting monuments and heritage sites in India will have to pay only in the Indian currency.

In an even smarter move, the new notified rates take into account the good old US days when a dollar was exchanged for Rs 50, whereas the going rate now is just about Rs 39.25. And Indian visitors, who pay a much nominal rate, are not hit.

Entry fee to World Heritage Sites for foreigners was pegged at $5 per person while they had to pay $2 for entering a protected monument. These sites are maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). After the new orders, the rates have been fixed at Rs 250 and Rs 100 per head, respectively "These have been fixed in line with international practices. It will avoid anomaly on account of falling USD-INR exchange rate. The fall in ASI's revenue will also be checked," a ministry official said.

Qutub Minar

India has 27 World Heritage properties, including 22 cultural and five natural properties. Of these, 18 are protected and ticketed by the ASI. Delhi's Red Fort is the latest addition to the list, which includes Taj Mahal, Ajanta-Ellora caves, Old Goa churches, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mahabodhi Temple and Qutub Minar. Although India has 3,667 historical monuments, there are 116 sites protected and ticketed by the ASI. "The ministry decided to act fast so that revenue receipts are not hit," the official said.

The speed was evident because ASI officials had no clue of the decision on Thursday evening. "We have not received any such communication so far," an ASI official said.

If Ralf Schumacher has his way, India will get an F1 circuit around India Gate

New Delhi (TNN  - 29 April 2007): Delhi's all set to have its date with speed, with the world's best speedsters and mean machines providing live thrills that F1 lovers had hitherto only dreamed of. The idea was mooted a few weeks ago by F1 champ Ralf Schumacher in his meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, industrialist Dr. Vijay Mallya and Suhel Seth, managing partner, Counselage India. Even the F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has gone on record saying the Indian capital city offers an exciting racing track. In fact, he'd prefer the race in the heart of Delhi than in the suburbs.

Hermann Tilke, German architect and designer of F1 motor racing circuits and auto racer, has already visited Delhi six times to inspect Rajpath — the track F1 bigwigs are interested in. "We'd like to position Delhi as a street circuit, with the track moving around India Gate down to Rajendra Prasad Road. We think it's a perfect track for F1 racing. We've already met the Delhi CM once and will be meeting her again to further discuss the matter," he said.

Although the existing infrastructure meets with his approval, some additional factors will have to be included on the track. "We will prepare concrete structures that can be easily installed and removed. And India Gate being the backdrop will offer tourists and spectators a perfect and alluring combination of history," added Seth.

Dr. Vijay Mallya and F1 champ Ralf Schumacher

Other track options too are being considered, including a 200-acre plot in Noida. Talking about it, Dr. Mallya said this may perhaps be "integrated with the commonwealth games infrastructure. As per our plan, we want to have a show race in 2008 and then have the actual Grand Prix race in early 2009". But before that, on May 15, the team will have a detailed meeting with Dikshit, the Delhi police chief, officials of the land and development, and fire departments, the home ministry besides the representatives of NDMC and CPWD, informed Seth, adding that F1 will be a major money churner for the capital. "At this moment, we're looking at investments ranging around US$ 100-120 million (around Rs 400 crore). But we are hopeful that with the first race we will be able to generate around US$ 180-200 million." Now that's what we call a real winner in hand!

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