The Perfect Road Trip

The Perfect Road Trip
Runners Up Award- Ambipur Contest

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Rainbow of Colors


We are a country with many colors namely of festivals, different attires, cultural plurality, terrain and innumerable more. We have read about most of these from our childhood times and also in the growing up years. As we grew older we noticed many more colors due to our peculiar habits, upbringing, set of friends and attitude towards environment around us!
When we step out of our house the first color we see are the stains of betel nut /gutka or paan which many Indians are in a habit of eating and then spitting out the saliva with scant concern for the walls/ streets / bathrooms or public or private places! So the deep maroon, brick red , and other tinge of colors may be visible where one would least like to see them!

Mercilessly chopped trees in the cities and in country side are the grim reminders of the environmental hazards that follow as a consequence. The lack of ‘green’ shield and sight of chopped trees are sometimes very unsettling especially when done with nefarious intentions.

One color which I would not like to go in detail to elaborate, which is offensive is ‘Yellow’! It reminds me of the rhyme learnt in the nursery, ‘Yellow Yellow Dirty Fellow’! The multitudes in city and villages beeline in wee hours to openly deface due lack of toilets! Wish one can find a quick solution to this scourge!

The blue rivers, lakes and seas are shamelessly dumped with garbage and effluents thus adding grime to the color. Even the blue skies are not spared as constant pollution of the air and toxic fumes often make the color of the sky disappear behind the smog and soot due suspended impurities! Even the ‘Taj Mahal’ has not been spared as the sparkling white marble has tinged into slight yellow due to constant onslaught of pollutants!

We love silver but to find silver colored foils and wrappers besides all color plastics in heaps in the garbage is constantly challenging to handle. Despite various laws against their use and  ban on the plastics these indiscriminately dumped in the garbage. We love to flout every rule in the book and even authorities turn a blind eye to these acts.

‘Black is black and Grey is Grey what can I do’ the famous hit song of 1970s by Los Bravos   comes to mind every time I see the walls splattered in black paint, with slogans disfiguring the walls ! Shameful for any civil society but who cares! It is a free country and one need not worry and do things that one likes with scant concern for breaking laws , if ever prosecuted!

The list keeps growing! We litter bugs could easily put anyone to shame in matching our record ! Thankfully these have not yet entered the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ or else we would have won hands down! Hope some day we would be able to see the true colors of a sparkling nation!

 PS: This is my post for the Indiblogger/The  Times of India Group sponsored ‘The Great Indan Litterbug’  promotion campaign (http://greatindian.timesofindia.com/.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Never Ending Dream

 


A local tending the flower bed at Hoan Kiem Lake
After having braved the traffic and the crazy roads in Gurgaon, Bangalore, Mumbai and a few more metros besides the small towns where the traffic woes never seem to end, I was in for a surprise to see even more crazy traffic though less hazardous! Any guesses… Bangkok,.... Shanghai… no! It was Hanoi!! It may sound  an exaggeration but it is seen to be believed. My road crossing skills developed over time in India helped me greatly and even some of the travel guides suggest that crossing the road in Hanoi is an art! Do not look at either side of the road once you have taken the first step to cross the road, except be cautious not to head into an incoming bus or a car and keep looking straight till you cross the road! All the incoming swarm of motorbikes, scooters and mopeds will veer around you till you have made it to the other side!

My recent trip to Vietnam for a short vacation was a bonanza that I could never have imagined before I landed on this once war torn land that had seen incessant war with United States till 1974. Now the ravages of the war have been forgotten and in its place stand a modern country surging ahead by keeping its unique culture and identity intact. There was a nip in the air with constant shield of clouds and cold breeze that kept blowing to keep the day temperatures in the range of 14-19deg C!
Mosaic Ceramic Wall at Hanoi

 
Old Quarters in Hanoi which is almost 30 km away from the newly constructed Noi Bai International Airport is a perfect place to start. The taxis are available in plenty and the visas are available on arrival but an E visa has to be secured beforehand. An hour long ride through the city traffic gives a feel of what lies ahead in the vibrant city. The most unusual sights not to be missed while driving through the crazy traffic is the Long Bien bridge which is more than a hundred years old and at one time was the longest cantilever bridge in Asia( 2.4 km long) across the Red river! It has withstood the ravages of the war despite several attempts to bomb it during the war with US.  Another unusual sight on the drive to the city is a 4km long wall of Ceramic murals that was completed in 2010 portraying the various aspects of life like the culture, paintings by children, and modern art. This finds a place in the Guinness Book of world records as the longest Ceramic Mosaic wall in the world!
Tai Chi Session in morning
Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the midst of the Old Quarter and has an Old Pagoda and the entire market place surrounds it! A walk around the lake makes an impression on the tourists of the love of locals to maintain the gardens and cleanliness. There are abundant eats and touch of the local culture that can be flavored here. During my entire stay I did not miss a walk around the lake in the wee hours of the morning, where literally hundreds of young men, women and children can be seen engaged in Tai Chi, yoga, brisk walks and a few joggers! They sway to the music in the morning when most lazy bones are still dreaming in the beds and in the evenings the pairs can be seen dancing / salsa and tapping their feet to the lilting music! It gives a feeling of never ending carnival as the multi -hued neon lights reflect the beauty of the city from the shimmering water of the lake.
Flower Clock at Hoan Kiem Lake

The markets around the lake are the nerve center of the city with each market stuffed to the capacity with wares like silk, china, porcelain, embroidery, shoes, clothes and every possible thing one can imagine. The lingering aroma of local food, skewers with exotic meats, on every street cannot be missed!

I managed to eat some of the finest noodles, and rice –spring rolls having a crust thinner than paper with stuffing of vegetables! The Highlands and coffee made from egg have made this place immortal and Vietnamese coffee can leave you asking for more!

Most of the locals especially the younger generation understand English but it is a challenge when dealing with middle aged people to break the ice!
Halong Bay

We made a day trip to Halong Bay which is 170 km away from Hanoi well connected by road and it is no surprise that unsurpassed beauty of 1200 odd small islets in the midst of Indo China Sea make this place in the enviable list of UNESCO Heritage sites. According to a legend when invaders long ago wanted to attack Vietnam, the gods sent dragons to defend them. The dragons started spitting out jewels and jade. Under a spell of magic the jewels turned into rocky islets obstructing the passage of invading ships. After winning the battle the dragons decided to stay back for peaceful life on earth. One can go Kayaking around and also visit the fishing villages on bamboo raft! The Dong Thien Cung stalagmite caves lit with multi colored lights leaves one spell bound! The nature has crafted wonders beyond imagination besides the alluring landscape all around.
Dong Thien Cung Cave at Halong Bay
Onward and return journey to Halong Bay is punctuated by a brief stopover at Hai Duong where one can see beautifully crafted pottery and statues besides a lot of local products on sale.
Ceramic Pottery at Hai Duong village


Besides these there are several attractions like Water Puppet Show, Tran Quoc Pagoda, Opera House, Pottery and Silk villages, St Joseph Cathedral and small alleyways in Hanoi worth exploring! With loads of memories of this lovely destination we boarded the flight for return.

PS- All pictures were clicked during the visit

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bangalore- The City of Dreams


Bangalore the city of gardens is captivating and has grown from an erstwhile military cantonment city with a few government and PSU organizations into a major IT hub of the world where all the biggies of the IT/ Telecom and research and development  have set up their development , and production units.

As a telecom professional it was no surprise, to receive an appointment letter one day from one of these companies to locate in the city. I had a small window of time to work out my relocation to the new place. After having gone through sites , I homed on Quickr (bangalore.quikr.com) and found it to be the most reasonable one in terms of convenience of moving the bags and delivering at the doorstep in Bangalore. The number of agencies that were available to offer the services was 1794 as could be seen from the drop down window option of the site
 

The site also offers a number of services that could be used by just clicking the relevant option, including booking air/ rail tickets on the site, hiring the lawyer services for working out the contract deals for possession of the new house in Bangalore.





So one has the flexibility to choose anything one is looking for by choosing the available option starting from Movers and Packers to get all household stuff delivered at the new abode, choosing a carpenter to get the fixtures done. Interior Design services along with Vaastu, options could be used to arrange the layout  of the house to ensure ideal Yin and Yang energies. One can also get the sofa sets, dining tables and other household furniture ordered on the set of carpenter available, house hold repairs and renovation services to carry out any changes or modifications.  Also, it is possible to choose to hire services of the plumber, electricians from the site that would help making the necessary repairs or up gradation of existing facilities. The kitchen can be organized by using the Electrical/ Electronic repair services. The best features of the site are it even helps in choosing the Domestic Help and Maids from the agencies, the baby sitters to take care of the toddlers when parents are way for work. Till the kitchen is set operational, the site also offers Catering and Tiffin services to order the home cooked meals at the door step.  After a day’s hard work in setting the new house if one is in no mood to cook at home a list of restaurants and Coffee shops is available to hop across for a quick bite!

So virtually there is everything one can ask for when moving to Bangalore one can get on the site and much more as one settles in the cozy confines of the new home!
PS 1. This is my entry for the Indibogger/Quickr (bangalore.quikr.com)    sponsored promotion .

2. Screen shots kind courtesy Quickr (bangalore.quikr.com)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Amazing Melbourne


I hail from a small town Amritsar, famous for Golden Temple and adjacent to Indo Pak border at Wagah. I completed my examination when the news of a sponsored trip to Melbourne created a flutter in my house! I cannot stop dreaming about the most wonderful city and what I plan to see and do there!  I am building castles in the air and plan see them unfold as per itinerary envisioned !
DAY 1- Arrive in Melbourne in early morning

After arriving in Melbourne on the first day morning, I checked into the hotel and after a quick shower and breakfast headed for Flinders Street which has a huge railway station, in the heart of the city.



Flinder's Street Station , and a Brown Tram
This station has an identical design with the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminal (CST) in Mumbai. According to a story both Flinder’s Street station and CST , Mumbai were designed by an architect in England. Due to some mix up the designs got exchanged! Melbourne wanted the station facing Elizabeth Street rather than the Swanston Street as it is now! Both these structures have a great resemblance. This place is a bubbling with activity and the sparkling Yarra River flows nearby. The whole area is known as the CBD( Central Business District) where many banks, hotels and other business centers are located. From here I walked along the Flinder’s Street to see the iconic Young &  Jackson hotel where the famous nude painting ‘Chole’ adorns the walls for more than a century.


Chloe's painting
This hotel has been beautifully restored and has boutique bars and classical pubs.  St Paul’s Cathedral is located next to the hotel. This church with tall spires is the seat of Anglicans in Melbourne and Victoria.


New Year Celebration at Federation Square
At a stone’s throw is the famous Federation Square which has one of the biggest areas for exhibitions, cultural events and has been show casing the history of the city since 1901! In the evening the place becomes even livelier with giant screens exhibiting movies and also cultural programs in the huge arena! The place is provided with complimentary Wi Fi so the visitors can browse or send pictures back home! Next, I walked along to see the Royal Botanical Garden in the vicinity. It has the freshest air, stunning vistas, tranquil Ornamental Lake and the finest flora ! The garden is  also a natural habitat of kookaburras, cockatoos, swans and eels adding color to the place. Melbourne is a very tourist friendly city that offers  free ride on Chocolate Brown Tram and  shuttle bus service is available for sight- seeing the CBD area by ‘hopping on and hopping off’ as often. I then boarded the tram to see the City Museum, Treasury Gardens, and Parliament House building which are treasure troves. The City museum or the Old Treasury Building showcases the gold vaults where the gold was stowed during the era of Gold Rush! The Parliament House is a regal structure constructed in the 19th century and if lucky, one can witness the house in session. I continued the tram ride and stopped over  at  State Library, Flagstaff gardens, Digital harbor appreciating their architecture and reached Eureka Skydeck 88.


Eureka Skydeck 88
It is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, and offers a fairyland view of the city as the sun goes down and the lights come on, from the 88th floor viewing gallery. It is the only observatory in the world that gives ‘The EDGE’ experience of watching the city from a glass cubical projecting 3m out of the building at a height of 300m! I have butterflies fluttering in my stomach at the very thought of it!



Hosier Street- Artwork

Melbourne has one of the finest dining restaurants like ‘Attica’ where one has to do booking months in advance to relish the creations of Ben Shwery’s creative dishes at an astronomical price of $125 per head! After a sumptuous dinner there, a short walk around the lanes and arcades of Hosier and Flinder street would be in order to have a peep into the street art. This place competes with the Berlin Wall in showcasing art and wins!

As I was about to retire the telephone rang and I heard the voice of Nisha, my cousin who lives in Melbourne with her husband.  She conveyed her unhappiness for not telling her that I would be in her city. Nisha told me that she would come and meet me in the morning and show me the places around!

Day 2 in Melbourne

After waking up, Nisha came and joined me for breakfast. She promised me a picnic that I will not forget easily. At 8 AM sharp we hopped into their car and took off in the direction of St Kilda that is a beach expanse with pristine white sand. Many people were jogging along the beach and some children were building sand dunes, even though it was fairly early in the morning. We spent about an hour on this popular beach enjoying the whiff of fresh sea breeze and also saw the Luna Park which is one of the biggest amusement park. ‘Lentil as Anything ‘ is an interesting restaurant located here where one can pay as he deems fit for what he eats!
 
Puffing Billy on Trestle bridge

We turned   in the direction of Dandenong  and passed through Brighton . The road was narrow and we could see some cute Koalas on the trees in the thick growth. Suddenly I heard the sound of a train and turned to see ‘Puffing Billy’. This steam engine train is more than a century old and was nearing the Monbulk Creek Trestle bridge! It was an amazing view to see the vintage train going over the quaint old bridge! We then stopped over for lunch and then continued our journey to Philip Island that is almost 75 km away. It was a very pleasant ride through the lush green verdant woods! The views of the ocean and the Koala Animal park at the destination was memorable.

 
Koala


The grand finale was at the sunset when we saw scores of Little Penguins waddling up the beach to return home on the sand dunes. It is perhaps one of the best processions I had ever seen in my life.

Little Penguin parade
We then returned back to Melbourne as the streets were lit with neon lights casting a magic spell. Nisha asked if I would like to try a hand at ‘Black Jack’. I did not understand and then she took me to Crowne Level 1 Casino, which was located near the hotel! I had never seen  so many gambling enthusiasts, fun filled atmosphere and live music before!

It was getting late so Nisha bid goodbye she told me to be ready for yet another surprise the next day!

Day 3 in Melbourne

I jumped out of the bed at 6 AM as the alarm rang! I had slept like a log after the long day. At 7.30 AM Nisha was there yet again in a yellow top and a flowing skirt looking fresh as ever! She told me that we would visit the Great Ocean Road and it would be another long day. My eyes popped out in disbelief as I never imagined that I would get an opportunity to undertake the most magnificent road journey! Before we left the city we all had a quick bite at Queen Victoria Market which has more than 600 shops  but in morning only a few were open.

 
Queen Victoria Market
The hot brew of coffee and a donut at ‘Coffea’ was very refreshing before taking a long road trip. We took the route of Hopper’s Crossing- Avalon-Geelong-Bellbrae –Angelsea-Apollo Bay – Great Otway National Park- Princetown and finally the Twelve Apostles. The entire route was an experience which can just be summarized as ‘AMAZING’. The car kept going along the coastline with shimmering blue sea waves beating down the white sand beaches and boulders. We stopped over a couple of times as fingers itched to take photographs of the scenic beauty all around! Various kinds of fungi grow in the Otway National park that maintain the ecological balance of this region and at night ‘fire flies’ descend in hordes to light up the forest area like a ‘carnival of nature’. The final stop was the Twelve Apostles that jut out of the blue sea skywards providing a very spectacular view.

Twelve Apostles

The trip took the entire day and the return journey was equally fun filled, with stopover at a cheese factory and vineyard where I tasted the most awesome cheese and sparkling wine!  We returned back to Melbourne but not before seeing a kangaroo family crossing the road .The  city was getting ready for yet another glorious night!

Goodbye Melbourne
Next morning I was to return to India by an afternoon flight so for the last time Nisha came over  took me to Fitzroy Garden where hundreds of hot air balloons were getting ready for a morning flight! The Orange Color balloon was inflated when I ,Nisha and her husband climbed the Gondola attached to the balloon! The sky was turning red as the sun was breaking and the balloon ascended upwards giving a lovely view of the beautiful city as it was waking up. I could see the Melbourne Cricket Ground  and Olympic stadium from the height which were a treat to watch . Later, I boarded my flight back to Delhi with a heavy heart of leaving behind the sweet memories of ‘Amazing Melbourne’!


PS: 1. This is the story of a fantsy trip to Melbourne of a 21 year old lad from a small town in India
       for 'What's your reason for falling in love with Melbourne, the most livable city in the world? '
      (http://www.visitmelbourne.com/India.aspx) and Indiblogger sponsored contest

     2. Which of these places would you like to visit and why in Melbourne ( See the link https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2r0ptqQ1wBCimcqdfsBCks1YVaFDczLh.)  Please Respond by 04 Jan 15. The best answer will win an exciting gift voucher!!

 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A path of truth

 The game of Cricket had a magical charm at that age! I was studying in 4th standard in school and every opportunity I got was used to indulge in the sport with neighbourhood boys and siblings.  The schools had closed for the summer vacation and Mr Sampat who was an uncle had come home. We were very fond of him as he whole heartedly participated in all activities, going out for walks, playing carrom, cricket, and game of cards! 

The only problem was I had a cricket bat and tennis ball and we played  the game on make shift wickets, sometimes the staircase, other times a pile of stones!

My birthday was around the corner so Sampat uncle asked what I would like as a gift?

I had been taught never to ask for anything from anyone by my parents. So I told him that I did not need anything! Next evening he took us out and coaxed me again! This time my resolve was shaken as lavishly I procured a gleaming bat new ball wickets and bales. 

After reaching home I knew trouble awaited me as father saw me with the worldly possessions which had materialised  from thin air like  ' Nirmal baba's wish list'

'Did you ask uncle for the Cricket set' my father asked, looking sternly.

' I did not have the courage to admit' as I continued to look at the ground.

'Did you do it ' one more time he asked.

' Yes, I admitted ' this time ready for the consequences that were likely to follow!

Very seldom I had got a beating in my younger days but that day was special. No further shouting or admonishing just a few words that had a telling effect for the rest of my life  as that one moment of truth saved me for the rest of my life to ever ask for anything from anyone! This formed a rock foundation for my working career , even though sounding naive! While working many a temptations came my way,even a lucrative offer from a supplier to work for him but I steadfastly steered away and thank god for the internal happiness achieved in long run without having missed out much on good things in life!
This is my entry for Indiblogger/Kinsey sponsored promotion for kit a chain nota hai Sachai mein

Thursday, December 25, 2014

An Officer and a Gentleman


The two night journey by the train was perhaps the longest one I had undertaken in my life. This was way back in the late 1970s, and after having completed my graduation, I was headed to Kochi to report to the Naval Academy for my initial training. The journey was thrilling but a lot of mixed emotions of having left the house to start a new career on the high seas, in my pursuit to do something different and not to tread the beaten path!

After taking a train from Delhi to Chennai which took 48 hours, I changed to head for Kochi. I don’t recollect when I dozed off, and at the break of morning, I suddenly woke up on hearing a rumbling sound. I looked out of the window to see the huge channel on either side of the Thevra  bridge, with twinkling lights of ships and the city of Kochi. In a few minutes the train arrived at the Willingdon Island, station at Kochi. I tried to adjust my vision to the new surroundings of swaying coconut trees , the smell of hot brewing coffee and piping hot fluffy idlis. I disembarked the train, had a quick bite and found that a 3 ton blue painted military vehicle was waiting for me besides a few more that were headed to the Naval Academy!

‘Pick up your bags, and get into the truck’ the Petty Officer told us curtly.

This was the first taste of what was more to come. In few minutes we landed at the Academy which had a sprawling campus, with more coconut groves, and several small buildings in barrack like structures. Most of us had disheveled looks after the long journey and many had not shaved!

‘Welcome to the Naval Academy, I am your divisional officer Lt Dhawan’ a voice boomed as we turned to find an immaculately dressed officer in sparkling white with golden epaulettes on the shoulders!

He asked us to fall-in three columns and inspected each one closely. He pointed his fingers at a few who had a long mane or had not shaved and asked them to ‘fall out’.

‘You are a bunch of hippies and not the officers of the Indian Navy. We will soon make gentlemen out of you,’ he thundered.

All those who had been singled out were asked to raise their hands up in the air and asked to go for a run around the parade ground and later marched up to the barber! After an hour when the defaulters returned they were not recognizable any more as they all looked alike, with clean shaven faces and crop cut hair!


PS: ‘This post is a part of #WillYouShave activity at BlogAdda in association with Gillette

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shades of Grey


In the land of Khajuraho  and Sun Temple at Konark the question on ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Premarital sex  looks a little preposterous ?  Vatsayana  the author of ‘Kamasutra ‘ known world over for the profound text and graphics  would have surely  have turned in his grave especially seeing the reality today! Strange as though it may seem, we have gone through the full cycle and are now once again looking at merits or otherwise of virginity! Our ancient sites, temples and texts are a testimony of what India gave to the rest of the world in terms of the ‘teachings of love’ from times immemorial.

One hears voices of protest against celebrating Valentine’s Day, ‘Kiss of Love’ and ‘Love Jihad’ that keep rattling the peace of our nation. We seem to get carried away on the slightest provocation that our culture is in danger though it has withstood the test of time for more than 5000 years! What anyone does unfortunately becomes concern of a few, self appointed guardians for, moral policing!

The recent  HT-MarS Youth Survey  reveals some very strange statistics like the 63% of the youth still prefer a virgin wife at the time of marriage, and 61% believe that pre- marital sex is not taboo anymore! This shows the current contradiction in our ‘patriarchal society’. In other words, double standards are maintained, ’to say one thing and practice something altogether different’ . Strangely, another fact that was revealed in the survey was the fact that 21% of males and 4% of females of the rural population have engaged in pre- marital sex compared to the city counterparts where 11% males and 2% females have gone through similar experiences! If this was true then it implies that libido of rural folk is much stronger compared to their urban counterparts which may not be true! The bigger worry is that a majority of those that were surveyed were ignorant of the sexually transmitted infections or disease (STI/STD) and the pregnancies that could result as an aftermath.  Thus, without knowing the consequences a majority indulge in this recklessly and have to not only face a social stigma but also severe medical consequences especially if it involves STD, pregnancy or abortion.

In India any discussion on the subject is considered taboo and even the education is not considered necessary as no formal forum exists for the same. Most of the youngsters learn from their friends who have half- baked information, which is dangerous! An informed choice is always better than taking a plunge unknowingly. 

Some trendsetters in this direction that need to be mentioned are  books like 'Lolita' by Vladimar Nabokov  published in 1955 involving a 38 year old professor Humbert who gets involved with young 12  year old girl Dolores( Lolita)! A series of movies directed by Vilgot Sjomon a Swedish national titled 'I am Curious'( Yellow) in 1967 and 'I am Curious'( Blue) in 1968, set off a wave of display of nudity and sex in mainstream cinema. The Blue and Yellow being colors of the Swedish flag! ' No Sex Please, We are British' was one of the longest running play in UK during 1971. This was a story of a bank manager Peter who lives with his newly wedded wife Frances. One day Frances orders Scandinaivan glassware but gets a lot of pornographic material that threatens to destroy their happily married life. Globally this started a wave of new level of permissiveness!

The new trend of 'on line dating' sites has opened another opportunity for experimenting by both the sexes and exploring new vistas!Hence the premarital and even post marital relationships are seeing radical changes which were not defined in the realms of fidelity more than a decade back!

How could we have been left behind? With the changes that are sweeping the country and boom of technology, so much information is available just by a click of mouse! All of it is not knowledge based but more to set the imagination on fire thus making the issue even more complex. All humans are not same and a lot of conditioning from the childhood goes a long way in developing our sexual attitudes later in our life, though this is not a must! There could be more than ‘fifty shades of grey’ when it comes to individuals sexual preferences. Thus to brand something as right or wrong or a choice of yes or no on this subject is not a fair treatise! Hence being judgmental on this subject without weighing the all-pros and cons would be unfair, though most of the institutions, the church and almost every religion do not approve of the Pre -Marital sex !

PS: 1. This post is my entry to the "Yes or No to PreMarital Sex' sponsored by  Being Social/Poonam Uppal and Indiblogger(Poonaam Uppal's True Love - A Mystical True Love Story on Flipkart.)
     2. Image Kind courtesy Google