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The Austrian capital with 1.7 million residents came top of the survey for the fourth year in a row, boasting of a vibrant cultural scene alongside comprehensive health care and moderate but rising housing costs.Its opulent architecture from the time of the Habsburg empire makes it a tourist magnet.
The reliable public transport system costs just 1 euro ($1.30) a day for an annual pass in a city governed by left-leaning Social Democrats and environmentalist Greens.
“The city is so international… I have been waiting for buses and heard over 10 languages being spoken at one stop,” said American Dawn Gartlehner, 42, a law firm manager who has lived in Vienna for more than 15 years.
“The city caters to all kinds of people, all ages and all walks of life. You can have a wonderful day here spending all the money in your bank account but have an equally great time spending nothing at all.”
Mercer conducts its annual survey to help companies and organisations set compensation for staff on international assignments. It uses 39 factors such as political stability, health care, education, crime, recreation and transport.
Anna Staribacher, a 24-year-old student, praised her home town’s safe streets and abundance of parks and woodlands.
“Austria is a wealthy country, we have low unemployment and free university access. Living is affordable and prices are still moderate by international standards. But I wonder why people are still so grumpy all the time?”
Despite its sovereign debt crisis, Europe has 15 of the world’s top 25 cities in the 2012 survey. Germany and Switzerland each have three in the top 10. The lowest- ranking city in western Europe was Athens, gripped by deep economic woes.
“Overall, European cities continue to have high quality of living as a result of a combination of increased stability, rising living standards and advanced city infrastructures,” said Slagin Parakatil, senior researcher at Mercer.
“But economic turmoil, political tension and high unemployment in some European countries and high levels of unemployment have continued to be problematic in the region.”
Canadian cities dominated rankings in the Americas region, with Vancouver at number five retaining the top spot and Honolulu at 28 the most pleasant U.S. urban centre.
“The ongoing turmoil in many countries across North Africa and the Middle East has led to serious security issues for locals and expatriates,” Parakatil said.
“Many countries continue to experience violence through political demonstrations that have sometimes developed into massive uprisings and led to serious instability within the region.”
This is a far cry from Vienna, which has held the top spot in the Mercer rankings since 2009.Yet the city is not without complaints.
Jennifer Stepper, an American designer who has lived in Vienna for 18 years, noted that visiting friends often comment about how unfriendly waiters and shopkeepers are. But it no longer bothers her
“Now I realise it is just the way of the Viennese. Like the rest of us, they have their quirks.” 🙂
However, citizens of Pakistan, China, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan and people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin and “stateless persons” will continue to come under the 60-day gap rule.
The restriction was imposed in 2009 after the Mumbai terror attack when it was found that Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist David Headley had “grossly misused” his multiple-entry visa with which he made nine trips to India and prepared footage of 26/11 targets for the Pakistan-based terror group.
The Home Ministry, however, made it clear that any applicant for an Indian visa who has any sort of Pakistan lineage, even if it is two generations back, must be referred to Delhi by the Indian missions for prior clearance.
In its November 23 order, the Home Ministry said, “The provision relating to the two-month gap between two visits of a foreign national to India on a tourist visa has been reviewed by the government. It has now been decided to lift the restriction of two-month gap on re-entry of foreign nationals coming to India”.
The move to review the visa restriction was initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in January 2012 after concerns were raised by the Tourism Ministry that the negative perception following the move had affected flow of tourists.
The PMO had asked the ministries of Home and External Affairs to review the restrictions, including the possibility of bringing in more countries under the visa-on-arrival scheme and improving conditions at major airports.
Earlier, the US Embassy and the British High Commission too had approached the MEA and Home Ministry asking them to work out a more flexible system based on “best visa practices”.
The government had been maintaining that in case there is a need for a visa holder to return within two months of departure from India, then the person can approach the nearest Indian embassy or consulate.
Apart from the Headley episode, the security agencies had also found that many foreign nationals – quite a few of them of Indian origin – had been staying in India for years together.
A large number of them, sources claimed, were running shops, conducting business and related activities which could not be termed as tourism.
So, the government had argued that it had no choice but to introduce a two-month cooling off period, which would bar these visa holders from returning to India for at least two months after they have left the country.
latest move is likely to breathe fresh life into the tourism industry and comes just ahead of the peak tourist season. India’s share of international tourist arrivals in 2011 was a mere 0.64 per cent.
According to latest data, foreign tourist arrivals this year till October showed a marginal increase of 6.2 per cent compared to last year. Tourist arrivals till October were 52.19 lakh.
With the lifting of the 60-day restriction, foreign tourists will be encouraged to visit India and use it as a hub while visiting southeast Asian and neighbouring countries.
Hill stations, snow-clad mountains or beaches – these are places on every vacationer’s bucket list. But ever thought of adding a safari trip to your travel wish list? Take a look at wildlife sanctuaries in India!
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
India’s first and oldest national park, the Corbett National Park is like heaven for adventure seekers and wildlife junkies. Though the chances of actually spotting a tiger inside this park are rare, you may see one that is not baited or tracked! It is one of the few parks in northern India with wild elephants. The jeep safari inside the park is worth a try.
If you want to do some ‘tiger spotting,’ a trip to the Kanha, situated in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh is your best bet. These forests are vast, but you can go deep into them, thanks to the park’s huge core area, surrounded by a large buffer zone. It has a significant population of the royal Bengal tiger,leopard,Barasingha and the Indian wild dog. Spreadover 940 sq kms in a horse-shoe shaped valley, you can view the safaris in this park on elephants.
Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal
Since the Sunderbans are a part of the world’s largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, it is densely covered with mangrove forests. It has one of the largest reserves of the Bengal tiger in the country, and also an abundant variety of birds, reptiles and invertebrate species like the salt-water crocodile! What’s more, you’ll be signing up for their safaris not in jeeps but in canoes.
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
The highlight of this park is that it has the highest density of tiger population in the country, so spotting a tiger is not difficult. Another tourist attraction is the Tala village nearby, which has a great choice of accommodation, suiting all budgets. You have the option of enjoying your safari on an elephant.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Located in Assam, this park lies northeast of the narrow neck of land between Nepal andBangladesh,and has a landscape of sheer forest, tall elephant grass, marshes and shallow pools. A world heritage site, you can see two-third of the world’s Great Indian one-horned rhinoceros population here. It’s also rich in elephants, wild buffalos, monitor lizards, and water birds. A private jeep tour or elephant ride are your options.
Gir Forest National Park, Gujarat
The Gir wildlife sanctuary is home to the last remaining wild Asian lions on earth. But chances of seeing a tiger here are zero, because it has no tigers. Apart from lions, the second most common predator found in these forests is the leopard. The park offers many excellent drives through scenic areas, in jeeps.
Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
If you want to see the tiger in its most majestic avatar, visit this 1,334 sq km park in Rajasthan. Here, you can spot the tigers even during the day time, while they are busy preying. It is also counted as a famous heritage site because of the pictorial ruins that dot the wildlife park.