badge

The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Joy of Cycling


I was mounted on the cycle and was being pushed by my siblings and soon it gathered speed and despite efforts to slow down it did not help and the cycle crashed into the hedge, throwing me off with a few cuts and bruises on the elbow and knee. The memory is still vivid despite many decades that have elapsed since. It was my first effort to ride a bike and I am certain anyone who has learnt to ride a bike has gone through a similar experience. I was not deterred and was determined to enjoy the pleasures of biking for many years to come. The life tends to get adventurous when one is astride on a cycle. The sheer joy of the wind that blows in the face while whizzing along and maneuvering through the busy roads is unparalleled.

I remember that there was a public library about two kilometers from the place where I stayed. One day, with my brothers one perched on the front handlebar and other on the rear carrier I was merrily cycling along, till I heard a huge crashing sound and for a moment everything around me blacked out. Next I could hear the shrieks of my brothers. As I got up and tried to assess the damage my heart sank. The bicycle lay in a mangled heap in three pieces and it was impossible to believe that I was riding this till a moment ago! We carried the heap of wreckage to a mechanic, as fortunately all of us had received only minor cuts and abrasions. The mechanic assessed the damage and agreed to repair it.

The traffic on the roads was not very heavy and chaotic as it is now, but the number of adventures I had on road far out -number   ones on my scooter and car in the years that followed. I could never claim any fame like the fallen hero Louis Armstrong who won the Tour de France seven times till he was stripped of the title for doping scandal. How I wish that we in India, who cry hoarse for pollution problems and traffic congestion, seldom pay any attention to building cycle tracks in cities like Delhi and Mumbai and other metros to encourage cycling. Not only is it healthy, but extremely eco- friendly.

We have one of the most beautiful scenic spots starting from snow clad Himalayas in the north to Kanyakumari in the south with a terrain unmatched, but have never explored the potential of cycling and encouraged it as a sport. It is a pity that even small nations like Vietnam have a cycle track from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh  along the NH1 covering a distance of 496 kilometers as one traverses along the lovely coastline of South China Sea.


Be that as it may, I have once again got addicted to cycling as the life goes in a full circle starting from being pushed in a stroller as a baby to a tricycle in growing years and graduating to a bicycle. It is easy to relate to the icon Amitabh Bachchan who decides to explore Kolkata in the sunset years in the award winning movie, “Piku”. Even the doctors recommend cycling as the best exercise for the keeping fit and toning the aching joints. Though discouraged from time to time, my love for cycling has only got stronger.

PS- Images kind courtesy Google

Friday, January 29, 2016

Istanbul-Where Asia Meets Europe

The Blue Mosque

The last day in Malta was an eventful one having visited the fresh produce market at Marsaxllok and visit to the famous Café Cordina, before we boarded the flight to Istanbul. The hangover of the lovely stay at Malta and Italy would remain etched for a long time to come.  When the flight descended at Kamal Ataturk Airport at 9.30 PM in Istanbul the city was wrapped in thick fluffy white snow and huge mounds of piled snow on either side of the runway. The sub- zero temperature and the icy wind was something which we had not anticipated. The driver of the taxi informed us that since the Christmas the city was in the grip of a severe cold weather. We sailed past the embankment of Bosphorus.  Traffic to the city center, Sultanahmet was sparse and that enabled us to cover a distance of more than 30 km in just about 35 minutes. The courteous staff at the hotel offered us hot coffee and as it was getting late, we hit the bed and soon went to sleep.
Hagia Sophia

As the day broke, we got ready and climbed to the terrace to enjoy the view of the city enveloped in fresh snow. It was reminiscent of the motor bike chase scene enacted on the roof tops for the James Bond movie” Skyfall”, but only this time there was no chase. The sumptuous breakfast comprising of various Turkish delicacies, different types of cheese set the mood for a long day ahead.
After wading through puddles of water and treading on glassy iced surface we were soon at the Sultanahmet square, from where the majestic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia came in view. It was a picture perfect with mounds of snow everywhere, a lovely fountain sending out the spray of cold water and delighted crowd of visitors flocking in. Hagia Sofia has an intriguing history of being once a Christian church, getting converted into a mosque where Muslims invoked Allah for a thousand years. The place was converted into a Museum in 1935 and draws thousands of visitors each year admiring the scriptures, the huge dome, an epitome of Byzantine architecture, relics from Bible and Holy Koran.

Adjacent to Hagia Sofia is the iconic Blue Mosque, a place worship where prayers are held five times a day. Six sky kissing minarets, more than 20000 handmade ceramic tiles, 200 plus stained glass windows with intricate designs, huge chandeliers and verses from Koran add to the grandeur of the mosque.
The Grand Bazaar

Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar are places that cannot be missed. The former needs more time to visit and enjoy the intrinsic beauty but to get a feel of the culture and creative genius of Turkish, a visit to Grand Bazaar is a must! The curio shops, the artifacts, the carpets, aroma of Turkish coffee and whiff of Bakalwa and Turkish delights will melt even the strong willed misers to loosen their purse strings.
Baklawa and Turkish Delights

The city is very well connected with a network of metro and the next destination was Eminonu which is the heart of the walled city of Constantine. It is also the confluence of the Bosphorus River where it meets the Sea of Marmara. The distant New Mosque, Galata Tower and the adjacent Galata Bridge are sights that cannot be forgotten. There is a galore of Fish n Chips restaurants right on the Galata Bridge. There is a huge Spice bazaar and one of the oldest shops Hafiz Mustafa established in 1864 serves as a magnet for those with a sweet tooth. The variety of Turkish sweets on display is dazzling and enticing at the same time. It has featured in all major travel shows across the world from CNN, BBC and many more.
Turkish Mezze

One must not forget to taste the Turkish breads and Mezze that are available in restaurants in Sultanahmet area. It is a paradise for foodies of all hues no matter what may be one’s choice of food. There could have been a no better grand finale than the last leg culminating at Turkey after hopping across the three nations as diverse as chalk and cheese.


Exactly after one week of return, the news of a human bomb striking the Sultanahmet area and killing a number of German tourists reminded of the grim reality that looms large no matter where we go.

Monday, January 18, 2016

All Roads Lead to Rome

The Colosseum-Rome

It was difficult to bid farewell to the beautiful island nation of Malta as we boarded the Alitalia flight to Rome! The thought of visiting the place that was the cradle of civilization and Christianity was exciting as the aircraft headed in northerly direction. The short flight brought us to Fumicino Airport and with an interchange at the huge Roma Termini our taxi brought us to the comfortable apartment in the heart of the city. En-route we came across several old historic structures. The next day was reserved to visit the Vatican!
Lovely roof painting-The Vatican
St Peter's Square-The Vatican


Vatican is what dreams are made of! The huge serpentine queues and touts promising a quick entry greeted us! The wise decision of prior booking helped in skipping the queue and soon we entered the portals of the Vatican Museum! It is one of the richest museums and surpasses in beauty and grandeur any rival. One can see diversity in form of ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman artifacts, the lovely sculptures and masterpieces of creators like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael and many others. These are the collection of Popes from many centuries to the masterpieces created during the era of Renaissance. These Museums are one of the most visited places and celebrated their  500 years of existence in 2006.The galleries dedicated to sculptures, paintings, frescos, huge tapestries and engravings surpass anything close one may have seen before. The Sistine Chapel which is  the Papal conclave where the new Pope is elected, has majestic paintings on the roof and walls and were created by Michelangelo and took four years to create. We had planned to spend about 3 hours but ended up with spending double the time and still longing to see more. We then headed to the St Peters Square which is a short distance away and was a feast for the eyes! The grandeur of the place and the serpentine queues did not surprise any more. It is like living a dream. By the time we returned it was dark and the city was twinkling in the neon lights.
The National Museum-Rome, designed- Michelangelo

Next morning we rushed and left for Roma Termini as the tickets were booked for Naples, the city where the pizza was born, on the dusty industrial shores! The journey was a treat in itself riding the Frecciarossa train that hurled us to make up the distance of 225 km in less than an hour, while we glued our eyes to see the lush green country side sail past. Outside the Naples station the statue of Garibaldi greets
The Trevi Fountain- Rome
the visitors. The walk down the alley ways in search of Via Tribunali, the Mecca of Eating soon fructified. It was unbelievable to see the number of people flocking the street and the long queues of hungry eaters! We located Il Pizzaiolo Del Presidente, that was graced by Bill Clinton in 1994 when attending G8 summit. The sight of piping hot pizzas emerging from the wood fired oven and the beautiful sitting place was worth coming all the way! Next one hour was one of the most memorable one gorging the pizza’ a once in lifetime opportunity’. There are equally enticing pizzerias which boast of having hosted Julia Roberts while filming,’ Eat, Pray, Love’. The Gelatos, Rum Baba, Sfogliate, Cookies, medieval churches and the street performers stole our heart.


The remaining two more days in Rome passed away so quickly, we never realized. The sights of Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, National Museum, lovely bridges across the River Tiber, kept us spell bound. Even after seeing a bit of the world, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. How I wished that the clock stopped ticking and I remain immersed in the history and sights all around. Many people feel that Italy got more than a fair share of artistic beauty and creators than the entire world in last 2000 years and this one can feel when one is in Rome!
Wood fired oven- Pizza at Del Presidente

Dal Presidente Pizzeria- Naples
Sfogliate- Naples


The New Year came and the impromptu bands struck up near Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and the Colosseum.  The night sky radiated in brilliance with the glitter of fireworks! We did what Romans do on the New Year. The feeling of being a gladiator in the Colosseum facing a fight to finish kept playing in mind for days to come.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Road Less Traveled- The Malta


The Grand Harbor of Valletta
The aircraft banked and took a semi- circle, as the sun cast a magical red spell in the horizon. The specks that were just small dots over the blue expanse, now took the shape of small boats, ships and a barges that were anchored . I caught the glimpse of the small match box shaped runway lit up to guide the aircraft. The eyes which were tired after a long sleepless journey commencing from Delhi in the wee hours of the morning, were suddenly widened in disbelief to see the lush green fields and the silhouette of the cluster of a few dwellings! We arrived in Valletta the capital of Malta which has perhaps one of the smallest airports and is also among the smallest countries in the European Union. It had been a long wait to see this fascinating country, and after the security check and immigration we soon headed to the apartment. There was virtually no traffic and within 20 minutes we arrived on the narrow St Paul Street. The taxi could barely enter the chicken necked street, as the old building appeared to be inviting. It was love at first sight with the place, people and the warmth all around. The festooned Christmas trees, the sparkling neon lights with crowd of merry makers with chatter of voices from the pubs and eateries overflowing with people added to the Christmas spirit. The view of the city was breathtaking from the roof top with the disc of blue Mediterranean, encircling the island and the sight of ships moored in the harbor.
St Paul's Streeet- Notice the Undulating street

Next morning we explored the beauty of the place where we witnessed a display of Maltese Army band playing a concert in the open air theatre with lilting tunes of the Christmas carols. We went around the Upper Barraaka Garden which was just a few minutes’ walk to get an unhindered view of the grand harbor and the old city. The city is divided in a grid structure and it is said that New York which came into being much later replicates the design. As the settlement on the town is along a sloping gradient, one can see the beautiful curve of the road standing on one end of the hump at either of the city’s major streets namely, Triq Republica, Triq Mercanti, Triq St Paul or Triq Ifran.
The Memorial at Birgu(Old City)

The city has beautiful ornate gardens, churches, museums, old forts and most of the houses built in the town are engraved with lovely sculptures. The smell of freshly baked Pastizzi, Pizzas and local fare engulfs the town, which is very passionate about food. One can see small restaurants, pubs and pizzerias crowded with people at any time and overflowing with people as the night descends. 
Christmas Mass at St Paul Cathedral

With a stroke of good luck after meeting some security personnel at the President’s palace we managed to get the passes to attend the midnight Christmas mass at the St Paul’s Cathedral. What more could I have asked for having come this far on the Christmas Eve! The mass was a grand affair with the President of Malta as a special invitee for the occasion. Past midnight, the sky was lit with fire crackers as the Christmas carols were sung.

Next day was spent in exploring the old cities of Vittoriosa( also called Birgu), Senglea and Cospicua which have huge fortresses that provided shelter to the locals from invaders. These cities which are located across the channel have churches, forts and bastions much older than Valletta and are beautifully preserved.


An Orange Orchard at Gozo

The other islands which constitute Malta are Gozo and Comino though much smaller in size but equally charming. A visit to Gozo is a must, to see the vast stretches of fields, the Azure Window, the harbor of Xlendi, the UNESCO world heritage site of megalithic Ggantija temples which date back to 3600 years BC. Gozo is said to the legendary Calypso isle of Homer’s Odyssey. The rugged landscape and spectacular coastline has one of the finest diving spots. The population of Gozo is just 37000 and is miniscule compared to that of the entire country’s population of 450000! Malta was also the location of last movie ’By the Sea’ produced by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Nov 2015

Besides the several other attractions in Malta, Café Cordina a more than 150 year old restaurant in the heart of Valletta, the weekly fresh produce market by the seaside at Marsaxlokk, the stewed Rabbit recipe are immense draw. The list is endless and it would need reams to express the beauty of the place. The next journey to Italy was equally enchanting and would follow in the next post.
The other islands which constitute Malta are Gozo and Comino though much smaller in size but equally charming. A visit to Gozo is a must, to see the vast stretches of fields, the Azure Window, the harbor of Xlendi, the UNESCO world heritage site of megalithic Ggantija temples which date back to 3600 years BC. Gozo is said to the legendary Calypso isle of Homer’s Odyssey. The rugged landscape and spectacular coastline has one of the finest diving spots. The population of Gozo is just 37000 and is miniscule compared to that of the entire country’s population of 450000! Malta was also the location of last movie ’By the Sea’ produced by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Nov 2015


Besides the several other attractions in Malta, Café Cordina a more than 150 year old restaurant in the heart of Valletta, the weekly fresh produce market by the seaside at Marsaxlokk, the stewed Rabbit recipe are an immense draw. The list is endless and it would need reams to express the beauty of the place. The next journey to Italy was equally enchanting and would follow in the next post.

PS: I wish all the readers a very Happy New Year . I thank them for asking me to share more details of the travel prompting me to delve into more detailed post.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Woman Power

The tales of inspiration continue to grab our eyeballs even when there is a deluge of negativity both in print media and television. The narratives of corruption, rapes, murder, scandals do not have an element of shock anymore as these have become a staple media fodder. It makes us feel powerless when perpetrators continue to evade the system and roam loose to continue with their acts as very few get punished.

Notwithstanding the ignominies, there are sparks of good deeds that deserve a mention. The feminine power though celebrated for centuries in our nation, has seldom enjoyed the attention it deserves. Every news of brave women who managed to rise, be it a Durga Shakti Nagpal who took up cudgels to wage a war on sand mafia, or celebrities like Sheryl Sandberg who after losing her husband David Goldberg and after a failed marriage earlier, move from strength to strength and inspires a new generation of women to ‘Lean In’

However, there are many faceless women, who are poor and powerless but live a life less ordinary by walking for miles to fetch water for cooking, fight the system against injustice, want to study and rub shoulders with men. The past year has been a watershed, as the government relented to allow the women to fly the fighter aircrafts for the first time! Arunima Sinha despite having lost one leg in an accident managed to scale the Mount Everest. Puja Thakur led the Inter Services Guard of Honor inspected by President Barack Obama during his visit to India. Dipika Pallikal stunned the nation by entering the Top Ten ranking in World Amateur Squash Association, a game hitherto considered a forte of men. There is a galore of achievers of the fairer sex, who raised the bar and was in limelight.

It is time that as a nation we give the women their due and respect. It is not enough to venerate them for ten days twice in a year during the ‘Navratras’ by treating them as angels. Every girl has an equal right to education, work and not be objectified as a sex symbol alone! It is time to relook at the archaic laws that prevent the growth of women. Let us not forget that even our scriptures in which we take immense pride had portrayed Shiva and Parvati as ‘Ardhnarishvara’( meaning that a human being is half men and half women, split in half)! Every act that goes against the tenets of humanity must be abhorred and spreading positive vibes of encouraging women and girl child must become a norm.


PS: This is my post for http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/ and Indiblogger sponsored ‘Spread the Vibe’contest.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Year That it Was

The year 2015 was one of the most eventful one for me-with the life taking a roller coaster ride from the word ’GO’! January of 2015 saw my family & I on the blue shores of Halong Bay, Vietnam-seeping in the culture of a new country and relishing paper thin rice spring rolls with endless cups of sweetened Vietnamese coffee.

The work life became more exciting on return, as  I was asked by management to step into a project which was in dire straits! The next quarter saw me turning around this garganutuan project before taking a professional bow as I celebrated my 60th birthday.

June rolled in - and my wife & I spent a glorious  month of hibernating with rounds of Ashtang Yoga and Teh C in Singapore. The long walk at Fort Canning Park, visiting a melange of Chinese, Buddhist and South Indian shrines rejuvenated us 

As fall season set in, with trees shedding their golden hues, I lost my aging father-just a few days after he had turned 90.  The next couple of weeks were shrouded in a pall of gloom. 

We decided to take a break to pep ourselves and soak the Yuletide spirit of Christmas.
The cobbled streets of Valetta- Malta

On 23rd Dec we left the shores to discover Malta- a country with a population of just 450,000 and an area of 35 square kilometers. The spectacular landscape, the cobbled streets spread in a grid structure, the Mediterranean Sea sparkling to match the colors of the azure sky, the tall spires of the churches, and some of the Maltese food such as- the melt in the mouth Ricotta cheese & peas pastizzis leave indelible flavors for a life time. 
The cherry on the topping was a lucky invite to attend the Christmas mass graced by the President of Malta on the midnight of 24 Dec at the famous St John’s Cathedral. As the clock struck 12 the sky was lit up with fireworks!
The Azure Window- Gozo, Malta


The Trevi Fountain- Rome

Out next halt was Rome and Vatican, the cradle of Christianity ,whose beauty is unsurpassed and strengthening belief in the old adage, ‘A lifetime is not sufficient to see Rome’. One needs a life time to immerse in the beauty , history, archaeology and creations of Michelangelo, Berninni and many more.
We savored the pizzas, where they were created- in the dusty industrial town of  Naples.

We then left the shores of the Renaissance kissed Italy & Vatican.

 The grand finale awaited us with alluring sight of snow clad Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque. The beautiful paradox of co-exitence of Christian &Islamic beliefs, the endless thrill of eating Turkish Mezze and Baklawa,& the serenity of the white fresh snow were the best way to herald the New Year 2016  with a promise of more fun and even more excitement!

The Turkish Delights and Baklawa

PS: “I’m sharing my #TalesOf2015 with BlogAdda.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Braveheart

The date was 16 Dec 1971, a cold winter day in Delhi, when the news on the All India Radio flashed that Pakistan Army had surrendered to the Indian Army in Dhaka! A first in the recorded history of India when an instrument of surrender was signed by Pakistan when Lt Gen AAK Niaizi led army laid down arms before Lt Gen JS Aurora the joint commander of Bangladesh India Allied Forces. In a brilliant display of strategy and valor Gen Sam Manekshaw, the then Chief of the Indian Army had had carved out Bangladesh , what was erstwhile East Pakistan in just two weeks of battle! My head swelled with pride like that of any other Indian. My resolve to join the armed forces became even stronger!

General Manekshaw left an indelible impression on my young mind, for his courage, strength of character, leadership, honesty of purpose and his towering personality! He was one of the five children born in a Parsi family of a doctor who earned a living in Amritsar. He passed out with honors from Sherwood College , Nainital and once jokingly said that they had produced two distinguished alumnus  one himself, and another Amitabh Bachhan, many years his junior! On completion of school he wanted to study medicine in England but since he was only 15 years old, his father asked him to study in India till he attained the age of 18! He was so upset that he did not speak to his father for next 18 months and with support of his mother wrote the entrance examination for Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He enrolled for the First Course in Oct 1932. The rest was history, as he moved places and held key appointments in the Army during his long career.

As a Major, while fighting in Burma against the Japanese during the Second World War he was hit by Light Machine Gun fire in his belly damaging the kidneys and lungs! The doctor attending him asked what happened, and even in the hour of crisis he quipped, ‘I was kicked by a donkey’!  Major General Cowan, who saw him, pinned his own Military Cross on his chest stating that a dead person cannot be awarded Military Cross! In subsequent years he continued as a trusted soldier to annex Kashmir and quell the riots in Kolkata at the call of the then Home Minister Sardar Patel! Before entrusting the Kolkata to Army , Patel asked Sam , how many casualties he expected , to which he replied, ‘around hundred’. Sardar Patel asked him to go ahead and to his surprise not even one life was lost while the army handled the situation and brought it under control!

The Gurkha battalion was led by the British Officers prior to the Independence and Sam Manekshaw was the first Indian commander post freedom. On his visit to the Gurkha battalion he asked one soldier, if he knew his name? The soldier replied, ‘Sam Bahadur’ and thus that became his identity for all time to come!

In Jan 1973 he was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal for the rest of his life for the invaluable contribution. He served on the Board of Directors of fourteen companies post retirement and was loved and respected for his knowledge, integrity and leadership qualities!

I am happy that I too, could contribute my bit by serving the Indian Navy for twenty years, in the traditions that were ingrained by the distinguished Field Marshal. He lived his life by the credo of Baron Chetwode which is engraved on the entrance in IMA, ‘the safety honor and welfare of your country comes first, always and every time. The honor, welfare and comfort of the men you command comes next. Your own ease , comfort  and safety comes last , always and every time.’


PS: This is my entry for Tata Motors/Indiblogger sponsored #madeofgreat contest (http://madeofgreat.tatamotors.com/)