Mr. Fernando Ras has been the Consul General of Argentina in Mumbai since the past two and a half years. Earlier this year, on 25 May, Argentina celebrated the Bi-Centennial of the May Revolution. The celebration continues in India with a series of exciting events in November and December and Mr. Ras shares with us his views of why Argentina is such an exciting destination to visit.
How has the role of your office in areas of trade promotion, tourism and cultural exchanges evolved since the time the Consulate General in Mumbai opened to the public on 1st April 2009?
Before the opening of the Consulate General in Mumbai, Argentina’s official presence in India had been centered in our Embassy in New Delhi reflecting the close partnership in multiple international fora which our two countries have enjoyed since the time of India’s Independence. By opening a second office in Mumbai, the Argentine Government is signalling its wish to contribute to the broadening of existing non-official relations between private agents in both countries. In this regard the organization of trade, tourism and cultural activities are all valuable instruments that lay the groundwork for a better understanding of a distant country of which there is little knowledge of in India.
How do you plan to create awareness of Argentina in India beyond Tango and Football?
There is much more to Argentina than Tango and Football. But those are nevertheless good places to begin to get acquainted with the country. From there, you may want to learn more about the cinema, the wines and the varied tourism destinations. And that is just the beginning.
Argentina has great authors, Nobel Prizes, a beef-centred cuisine, a Nuclear Programme for the peaceful use of atomic energy, one of the world’s most efficient agricultural sectors and vast mineral resources. And that is just a short overview.
Its history is strewn with interesting and charismatic personalities. The geography is a patchwork of every conceivable climate from severe cold to warm subtropical. There are many things to get to know about Argentina.
How well known is India in Argentina and what is the perception of Indians and India in Argentina?
India is well known in Argentina, and a warm feeling of sympathy is generally bestowed on anything “Indian”. It is perhaps Mahatma Gandhi’s towering moral stature and the Independence Movement that is the focus of attention, but also its long and rich history, exquisite cuisine, spirituality, the country where Polo was born, its search for a balance between body and soul, and so very many other things that contribute to this positive vision. It is a land looked upon with interest and respect.
Argentina will be hosting a Bollywood Film Festival. Are there similar film festivals planned to showcase films from Argentina in India?
The Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires is organizing a Bollywood Film Festival that will showcase many of the Indian film industry’s achievements. Likewise, the Consulate General in Mumbai is organizing a film festival (Whistling Woods, 3-4 December 2010.) where we will be projecting 5 Argentine films that have been nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures for the Best Foreign Film. Two of those films have won the award, the most recent one, El Secreto de sus Ojos (The Secret of Their Eyes), only this year.
PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY
What is the ideal length of stay for the first time traveller and what experiences would you recommend for various traveller profiles such as honeymooners, families and lovers of culture, art, wine and cuisine?
If Argentina is your only destination and you are coming from India, spend at least two weeks to recover from the trip, jet lag and get used to the rhythm and cultural attitudes.
Different groups of travellers might find different points of interest in Argentina. Honeymooners may find Bariloche to be a little bit of Switzerland far from Europe. Families may find the many options in and around Buenos Aires more suited to their needs. Lovers of culture will certainly go for Buenos Aires with its world-renowned opera house, Colon Theatre, which was recently restored to full glory, dozens upon dozens of theatres for musicals, drama, comedy and more. Of course, Tango is everywhere for those who want to learn, hear or watch.
In regards to cuisine, beef is king. But there are innumerable regional cuisines that offer a wide variety of alternatives, as well as the occasional Indian restaurant, and innumerable Italian restaurants where vegetarians will find the pasta of their choice.
The wine route is followed every year by thousands of tourists, but also by many local lovers of wine. Golf tours, football training, polo training and playing, bird and whale watching and big game hunting are all major attractions for enthusiasts. Skiing brings to Argentina the beginners to the top trainers and professionals looking for snow during the northern hemisphere’s summer months. And these are just a few of many options.
What is your opinion on Namaste Argentina (www.namasteargentina.com) – a dedicated website generating awareness and sales for the Indian outbound traveller to Argentina?
I think it is a great idea, particularly because Argentina is still an exotic destination for many Indian travellers and little is known about the country. In this way, they can find useful information in one short stop and updated information and hints are made available to the visitor.
ONLY IN ARGENTINA
Which are the local experiences for one to experience to understand the lifestyle of Argentines such as coffee and estancias (large rural estates, ranches)?
This depends on different people’s interests and preferences. For myself, I like to sit at a sidewalk café, taking the breeze in the summer shade or receiving the sun’s rays on chilly days in winter, reading the morning paper, catching up with friends, chatting with the people at the table next to mine or just generally watching the world go by.
If one were to travel to Argentina extensively, what would be the key locations you would suggest in and around Buenos Aires, Cuyo, Norte, Litoral, Cordoba and Patagonia if one were to stay 3 nights in each of these regions?
This would probably depend on the time of year you visit. If it is springtime, go to Peninsula de Valdez to watch the whales mating rituals. During summer, head south to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and take a cruise liner to Antarctica. Autumn is harvest time in Cuyo’s wineries and a bountiful harvest is celebrated year after year with Passion Plays and mass processions. During winter visit the many coloured mountain ranges, arid deserts and salt flats of northwest Argentina.
Buenos Aires is a year-round destination, and from torrid summer to mild winter there is always something to do. November is the month when Jacaranda trees bloom and the city parks and many streets turn violet blue. It is also the time of film festivals and the great annual International Tango Contest with participants from all over the world vying for a prize in the tough competition. In late March and early April, the autumn light is a delight to the photographer and the Palo Borracho trees bloom turning much of the city white or pink.
Bariloche and the Lake District is paradise year-round; skiing in winter, trekking and fishing in summer and eating mouthwatering chocolates throughout the year.
And of course there are Argentina’s two main attractions: the thundering Iguazú Falls on the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and Perito Moreno Glacier, down south near the border with Chile – a wonder to behold and one of the world’s few glaciers that continue to grow in spite of warmer weather.
How accessible is Argentina to the Indian traveller in terms of obtaining visas, flight connectivity and travel within Argentina and neighbouring countries of South America?
Tourist visas are issued by the Argentine Consulate General in Mumbai without much hassle and within 24 to 48 hours for the average tourist (general requirements may be checked at http://www.cgmum.co.in).
As far as how to get to Argentina from India, the quickest and most direct route is the one-stop flight through South Africa with a minimal Johannesburg layover when going to or coming back from Argentina. Alternatively, through U.A.E. and Qatar it is a two-stop process and in one direction or another, may imply a night’s layover. There are also a myriad of alternative routes through Europe, North America, Asia and Australia, but these generally take considerably more flight time and sometimes connections to get to Argentina can imply long layovers.
Within Argentina there is a well-developed air network, with the only nuisance being that most flights are to and from Buenos Aires, making round trips somewhat difficult. Connecting with neighboring destinations is easy and as fast as the long distances separating the continent’s major cities permit.
What is the significance of the Bi-Centennial of the May Revolution for the people of Argentina and what are the events lined up for its commemoration?
Throughout its 200 year history as an independent nation, Argentina has had its ups and downs, gone through times of enormous prosperity and times of conflict and strife. There were times when the whole country came together and times when dissent was rife.
The events organized around 25th May and throughout the year on the occasion of the Bi-Centennial have been a time when dissent and differences have been put aside and the whole country has come out as one to celebrate the idea of being Argentine with a better, more mature understanding of what that notion means.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
You recently released a book showcasing “Architecture in Times of Progress.” How long did it take to put together this amazing book of architectural photography?
I am an amateur photographer and I have a particular interest in Architectural photography. It took me over 5 years to assemble the photographs showcased in this book. These photographs portray buildings that went up between 1880 and 1930, a period of great economic prosperity which produced much magnificent architecture.
Argentina is something of a new frontier for the Indian tourist; a place still considered exotic and remote. But a more thoughtful consideration of the matter may reveal that there are at least mitigating factors to this perception.
Flight times to Argentina from Mumbai are no longer than flight times from Mumbai to the West Coast of the United States or to New Zealand. Language may be a barrier, but English is spoken in tourism-oriented activities, and many Argentines have at least a basic knowledge of the language. The staple food is beef, but Italian and Continental restaurants are found all over, and pasta or salads can be ordered in any corner restaurant.
Argentines are a warm and welcoming people. In the not-too-distant past, our grandparents and great grandparents were new arrivals in a strange and distant land, so present generations put their best foot forward to help newly arrived foreigners feel a little bit more at home.