The weekend had its moments of highs and lows. First, on the lows as the images from Sunday fail to go away however hard I try. It was Li’l General’s first brush with this country. He was born in India and has lived here ever since for the past 18 months but no experience was good enough to get a feel of this 1.1 + billion strong nation. It’s not without reason that ours is the second most populous nation. And, if one really needs to get a feel of what having so many people means, all that it takes is a trip to some of the most popular religious shrines - Tirupati, Shirdi, Vaishno Devi, Jagannath Temple at Puri and seasonally to the numerous others spread across the country.There are dozens of other occasions to witness an unruly mob such as in a cricket match, release of Rajnikanth’s movie down South, death of a political leader or the day election results are announced to cite a few.
The Lil General family was on a vacation to Amritsar en route Delhi earlier this month. This was to be our last vacation to the Northern part of India for now. This post is inspired by the mind-blowing experience of those 10 days.
My Father-in-Law retired earlier this year and is moving back to his hometown by the end of this year. Before he left Punjab, we wanted to take Lil General there once. Not that he would remember anything, but just for memory sake. I have been there two times before this and I totally love the place - the best vacations I have had are at Amritsar. Since this was going to be the last time I would ever visit Amritsar, I had a lot of plans drawn up for those 10 days - visit to the Wagah border, stuffing myself with aloo-mooli-gobi parathas with dollops of butter, curd and pickle and going to the Golden Temple.
Stuffing too many parathas can’t be good for one’s health, so I realized after two days of incessant eating. Vivek and I took turns to fall sick dashing to the toilet at 4 a.m. It wasn’t a good scene. Two days later LG fell sick and two weeks later, he is still yet to recover fully. So the vacation was a disaster - no sightseeing, no shopping, no eating out..just lying sick at home and flying back ten days later.
But there were some funny incidents that we observed during this travel.
Scene at the Delhi airport : Mother, two babies and two nannies.
I live in the Stone age for sure. It was hard to believe that the impeccably dressed lady in black tights, a silk kurti, D&G glasses, highlighted hair and pedicured feet was the mother of two under-4 kids. I wondered where she had the time for all those parlor trips. Within minutes, my question was answered. Two nannies appeared out of nowhere lugging their baggage and promptly taking one child each while the mom went to get her Rs.86 coffee (yes, can you believe a coffee could cost so much at the Delhi airport? ) at Cafe Coffee Day. Two nannies for two kids. This can happen only in India. This was the first time I saw nannies being flown just so the mother need not be bothered about taking care of the kids.
I dismissed this whole thing as a one-off case. Anyways, the perception in India is that Punjabis prefer to live a lifestyle more than what they can afford and flaunt off way too much.
On our way back, I met another lady who was traveling with her 2 year old son and the nanny. So this is definitely not a unique thing in today’s times.
Scene at the Indian Airlines flight from Delhi to Amritsar :
An elderly Punjabi gentleman was seated with another elderly gentleman friend of his in the row before ours in the flight. The hostess offers a imli (read: tamarind) candy and the gentleman (let’s call him the candy uncle) demands a full packet. The hostess gently refuses saying they are running short and will give him some more if she has any left. The candy uncle takes offense and returns the one he picked up too. She would have stepped a little ahead when he abuses her and the airlines in Punjabi.
Twenty minutes after we took off, the lady comes with a pack of imli candies and the candy uncle gladly accepts it with the a wide grin. Now, just in case you didn’t know, this pack of candies is available in every kirana (grocery) store in Amritsar for Rs.15.
Time to land and LG gets a little restless. Refuses to feed or drink water from his bottle. Instead he shouts for a sec then stops, then starts again. This caused him comfort and I let him do that so long he was opening and closing his mouth. Now this annoys the candy uncle and he reprimands me while Vivek was looking away. I didn’t want to create a scene and let it go and decided to tell him to mind his business if he said that once more. Vivek was pissed obviously but I asked him to forget it this one time.
We have landed and the standard instruction to keep our mobiles switched off is given. Candy uncle switches it on and ignores the hostess request to switch it off - all the time commenting to his friend what these ladies knew about flying.
The flight from Delhi to Amritsar is actually bound to Sharjah with a stopover at Amritsar. So there were some Mallu gentlemen seated in front of the candy uncle. Candy uncle tries to converse with them but the Mallu gentlemen couldn’t talk in English / Hindi. Candy uncle makes fun of this to co-passengers.
Candy uncle had little courtesy for passengers ahead of him that he shoved his way through to get off the plane. Vivek commented loud enough for him to hear that maybe they should tie a rope to such people so that they can just get down instead of going down the stairs. Or still better put them in the luggage compartment down.
We were the last to get off. Vivek was quite annoyed by his behavior during those 50 minutes that he asked the air hostess, “Do you get such jackasses everyday?” she understood who we were referring to and replied assertively, “yes sir we do.”
Candy uncle was again not a one-ff case. Many over 50 gentlemen in that part of the country have such an attitude.
The cool Delhi girls :
Now, I’ve been to Delhi before. But I don’t know if I wasn’t attentive enough or if I was color blind to take notice of those beautiful girls. All the well-dressed girls apparently seem to be in this city. Honestly, the way I was dressed, it was worse than the nannies of kids in Delhi. Nicely done hair, cool glasses, stilettos, capris, silk tops, matching accessories - it looked like a dream to see every girl in Delhi turn out this way. And it wasn’t just at the airport. Even in the city. There’s something in the Delhi air that it does to you. It’s not just about dressing well - the confidence shows and the way they conduct themselves is amazing. They dress and look the part. You gotta see it to believe it. Delhi, its not fair to the other cities.
Of all the places that Vivek and I had been to at Bahrain this year, the one that we liked the most was the Grand Mosque. During our 2 week stay there we did a lot of touristy stuff, thanks to dad and mom, and this was one place that we felt like going back a second time. The thought of going inside a mosque itself was thrilling and the visit exceeded all our expectations. As I was sorting through the numerous pictures taken this year, my memories of our short trip came back and the guilt of not having blogged about it was overwhelming.
Ahmad Al Fateh Mosque, commonly known as the Grand Mosque, is one of the few mosques in the region that is open to women. Dressed in perfect white, it stands magnificently overlooking the city on one side and the seascape on the other. The mosque stands majestically among lush green gardens. It was a bright Saturday morning 2 hours before prayer time when we timed our visit. More than the mosque, what impressed me the most was the hospitality extended to us by the gentleman who showed us around. Very well organised, visitors are seated and taken for a private tour of the mosque in turns. Women are asked to wear black burqa and cover the heads and all of us had to remove our footwear.
Our guide, a very well learned and educated gentleman who was formerly employed with Gulf Air, has been conducting tours for over 5 years now. His command over the language and the vividness with which he explained the meaning of the words of the prayer call, impressed us.
Continue reading to know more about some facts of the mosque…
Categories: bahrain,, grand mosque, ahmad al fateh mosque
Cidade de Goa, the hotel we stayed at Goa, is located at Vainguinim Beach, Dona Paula. Dona Paula, known for its water sports and bargain shops, forms the central part of south Goa. One can see a string of 5-Star and 5-Star Deluxe hotels along the South coast of Goa.
The holiday mood set in as we stepped in the hotel at 7:00 a.m. As can be expected in Goa, all the hotel staff were clad in a floral dresses. We were greeted with sea shell garlands, which my blue teddy - Pilu, now proudly wears:).
Beaches and Ambience
Cidade de Goa, rated 5-star is beautiful, covered on all sides by a Fort-like wall natural structure. The ambience is nice if you are a foreigner or a honeymooner as they form the majority of the hotel’s guests. At one point, I got so tired of seeing the white and red bangles and hands full of mehendi on every other India woman.
Hospitality is not at its best at Cidade de Goa. The decor is nice. The hotel tries hard to sport a Portuguese look. Except the “Caval Heiros and Senhoras” outside the restroom, there was nothing Portuguese about it. The rooms are not designed with taste and not spacious enough like the Taj. You get only the beach for free :), every other facility including half an hour of a Shuttle game is charged. On that account, I wouldn’t recommend this hotel at all, for the price you pay!
All roads in Goa lead to water. The hotel has a private beach which is protected by cliffs on both ends, a natural barrier for trespassers. The beach as such is quite small compared to the other South Goa hotels. Nevertheless, it is clean and very well maintained. The moment that we enjoyed the most was after sunset when all the sunbathers had retired to their rooms. The feeling of lying on the beach under the huts, listening to the waves lashing against the rocks, palm trees swaying to the wind, with music playing at a distance in the background, is beyond description.
I’ve heard the Baga and Palolem beaches are very good but we couldn’t make it there. When you have a private beach that is just a few meters away from your room, you just don’t feel like getting away from it. Close to this one, is the Miramar beach. This is a public beach and its fun to go there in the evenings as the sunset is very beautiful, owing to the vast expanse of the sea that one can see from here. There is also a lot of free entertainment in the offing on this beach, as you see couples posing for pictures like a Bollywood dance sequence and some were quite funny.
Wining and Dining
Before we left on this holiday, friends advised us to try the Pomfret Fry and Feni at the Beach shacks. But we never got a chance to step out of the Hotel’s Restaurants. The food was absolutely delicious at the Hotel’s Restaurants - Laranja & LaGoa Azul that we looked forward to it.
I still can recollect the mouthwatering desserts - Mousse (Strawberry, Lecheee, Chocolate, Mint, Mango), Channa Rabdi, Kalakand, Shahi Tukda, Black Forest to name a few and a range of icecreams.
Vivek enjoyed the Palm and the Cashew Feni at the Taverna Bar as some of his/my favorite numbers “Country Roads take me home”, “Wonderful tonight”, “Something stupid like i Love you” played …
Sights and Sounds
It is an amazing experience waking up in the morning to see the train passing through Goa’s varied terrain and meandering rivers. I was in for a pleasant surprise when the train pulled out of the Madgaon Station ….there lie the Arabian Sea. I don’t know how to describe it…all this while you were seeing nothing but greenery and bang! there is a huge body of blue water bordered by palm trees on one end, long clean beaches as far as the eye can see. It was a treat to the eyes and so very refreshing. You gotta travel by train to see this magnificent view and the Konkan.
As far as the sightseeing goes, we were taken on a half day trip to Old Goa and Mangeeshi Temple. The old styled Portuguese homes in Panjim is worth seeing. The place that I liked the best was were two of Goa’s rivers - Zuari and Mandovi meet the Arabian Sea. The Cathedral and the Basilica where St. Francis Xavier’s body has been kept since the 17th century, drew a lot of crowd. These are the places of historic significance.
The good time was not meant to be forever. Well, what can I say. It was good while it lasted. After 3 days of total indulgence, we returned with our minds full of wonderful sights, a 256 MB card full of our Kodak moments and a bag full of pebbles.
Vasco-Hazrat Nizamuddin Goa Express, the train we took from Vasco Station until Pune, was almost empty that Saturday afternoon. The a/c coaches were all the more empty. Since Vivek and I didn’t get the side berths, we shifted to the adjoining empty coupe’s side berths. At Madgaon station, boarded a huge white gentleman (the WWF type to quote Raj) with an Indian kudi, and took their places in our coupe.
Hours passed by as Vivek and I were mesmerized by the scenic beauty, the green valley beneath and the numerous waterfalls/waterways as the train waded through the Western Ghats. The train passes through more than 10 tunnels dug through the Sahyadri range. Occasionally we glanced to look sideward as the WWF person read aloud sentences that strangely sounded like Hindi/Punjabi, from a hand scribbled notebook. The Indian lady who had been frantically writing in her journal would stop and help him with the difficult words. We discovered later she was teaching him Punjabi.
I broke the silence when a chai wala stopped by. Our introductions revealed Raj (the Indian kudi) and Richard (the WWF gentleman) from England were on a 6 month trip to India. I was in complete awe to learn the lengths and breadths of India they had covered in the past 2 months. From Kanyakumari, Madurai, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu to Bijapur, Badami in Karnataka to Trivandram, Cochin in Kerala and Goa they had seen just about every place in South India. They were on their way to explore the Central, West and North India over the next 4 months. Their trip was to to take them to Mumbai, Gujarat, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Amritsar, Shimla, Ladakh, Himalayas culminating in Delhi.
All set to explore India equipped with 2 backpacks and a Lonely Planet guide, their spirit of adventure is worth talking about. Here were 2 people who had taken a break from their full time jobs to travel to a nation that we as Indians had not explored in the past 2 decades. Reading about it in History books is one thing and experiencing is another.
Here they were, doing this journey by trains, buses and living modestly. It was good to hear about their experiences - some funny, some scary and some adventurous. Having lived a good part of my life in Trichy, it was interesting to know from Richard that you get the best Gobi Manchurian in woodlands, Trichy. Now thats indeed something!
Entering a second class Train compartment at 3:00 a.m. to Kanyakumari and flipping the switch on to disocver tens of cockroaches creeping over your fellow passengers, I don’t think is funny. Which is when they said, they decided to take only a/c coaches for overnight travel. Isn’t it scary to be mobbed by 100 people in Badami? As they narrated their travel by a cab on a no-road 12 Km stretch enroute Palolem in Goa from Londa keeping their fingers crossed in the hope of making it alive, it sounded you need to have nerves of steel to attempt something like that. To quote their own words, “Everything is an adventure”.
10:40 p.m. It was time for them to leave. They got down at Miraj to board a connecting train to Pune at midnight, and we bid goodbye. The journey continues..and it was the end of a happy conversation. On a closing note, it made us reflect on our existence as compared to the “life” R&R were living.
Vivek and I holidayed in Goa for 3 days last week. A much needed break from our run-of-the-mill jobs and a vacation that exceeded all our expectations.Sun, sand, sea, great food, feni and beautiful women on the private beach ? This is the good life. What more can one ask for!
We are back with our minds filled with wonderful sights, a 256 MB card full of our Kodak moments and a bag full of pebbles. I will revisit our 4 days over the next few posts….
Pune Railway Station. 18:00 hrs. Destination : A Pune suburb. Mode of Transportation : Local Train.
At the ticket counter, I request for a first-class ticket. The ticket collector looks at me for a few seconds, states the price and on second thoughts says (in English), “I think you should be with the ladies in the ladies compartment. Take a regular ticket.” I follow his advice and duly march towards the a bench on the platform where a few ladies are sitting.
18:10 hrs. The silent platform suddenly is buzzing with activity. College students discussing the day’s highs and lows, white collar workers whining about their bosses, blue collar workers resigning quietly after the day’s work, low wage workers squatting on the ground and above all this noise hawkers shouting loudly selling chat (read: junk food), biscuits luring prospective customers.
18:15 hrs. The loud speaker announces that the local train is on time and is expected in a few minutes. People get up and move towards the edge of the platform. Boyfriends bid goodbye to girlfriends.
18:20 hrs. As the train pulls in, it sends a shiver down my spine. As a kid, I fell from a moving local train close to the platform and was lucky to come out alive. Since then, I have a train phobia and avoided traveling by one for many years. When a express train zips past at 80 Km ph or one pulls into the station, I shudder looking at the moving monster. Thankfully, this local train pulled into the station very slowly.
If you are seeing one such train for the first time, you could get a heart attack and die in shock. The train was overflowing with people, some were hanging out of the door with a iron handle standing in the way of their life and death. Before the train stopped, people disembarked (well, jumped) out so adeptly that they have done all their lives. It was a shock but then this is INDIA. Anything and everything can happen if you can’t find your way through a country with over 1 Billion people.
Once the train stopped fully, everyone was pushing one another to get into the bogies. The trains stop for 30 seconds at every station. No fancy doors. If your feet slips, you could be on the tracks counting the last minutes of your life. I was behind not pushing anyone. Apparently, the people behind pushed me and with the natural force I got in. Once in, I found a few inches to keep my feet and myself in balance.
Despite warnings from acquaintances refraining me from taking the train during the peak hour which it was, I took the train. Thanks to my driver who called in sick. You might ask what was I thinking? Honestly, I don’t know and wasn’t sure quite what to expect. But I’m glad I did it because —
The scene inside was a representation of the real India. Ladies of multicultural, multilingual background from the middle and the lower segments of the society chatting away with no strings attached. Discussing their festival plans, discussing work, college students talking about guys.
It was a slap in the face. The India IT has made us forget. Bangalore and Hyderabad is not India. That is the India the world knows about. As we gloat in our status having lived for the past few years in the comforts of plush offices/residences and commuting in a chauffeur driven car and shopping in malls and vacationing in foreign destinations and huge disposable incomes, the IT generation is leaving their past behind. But the past hasn’t vanished. It is still a reality for some.
This is the true face of India. According to a recent McKinsey report, an estimated 695,000 people are employed by the Indian IT and business-process -outsourcing industry. Sure, it is a large number. Interestingly, it is a meager 0.0695% of India’s population. These 695,00 odd people are the envy of the rest of the Indians. Our older generation toiled hard but couldn’t make it big. There is a huge economic divide and you can sense it in the railway stations. Be adventurous and go on one yourself!
NY Times : Livable shade of green.
When President Bush travels to the Group of 8 summit meeting this week, he’ll stiff Tony Blair and other leaders who are appealing for firm action on global warming.
Skip to next paragraph”Kyoto would have wrecked our economy,” Mr. Bush told a Danish interviewer recently, referring to the accord to curb carbon emissions. Maybe that was a plausible argument a few years ago, but now the city of Portland is proving it flat wrong.
Newly released data show that Portland, America’s environmental laboratory, has achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions. It has reduced emissions below the levels of 1990, the benchmark for the Kyoto accord, while booming economically.
What’s more, officials in Portland insist that the campaign to cut carbon emissions has entailed no significant economic price, and on the contrary has brought the city huge benefits: less tax money spent on energy, more convenient transportation, a greener city, and expertise in energy efficiency that is helping local businesses win contracts worldwide.
That’s Portland for you. Portland is one of the cities I liked the most in the U.S. Chicago was the other one. But I liked both of them for different reasons. The scenic view from the plane when you ride into Portalnd, Oregon is breathtaking. One gets a good scenic view of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens at a distance. As the plane approaches Portland, you can see Columbia River flowing across the city. This part of the country has a great climate all through the year unlike most northern cities. Though I have heard some people find it very depressing when it rains incessantly during some months. When it is not raining there is a perpetual cast of clouds leading to a gloomy climate that tourists would find romantic.
When I first drove from Portland to Beaverton, I wondered is this for real or am I dreaming. Greeny landscape for miles and miles meticulously covered with all kinds of trees. It was around the same time of the year last year. Summer time. Lots and lots of tourists, the light rail mass transit system was packed with people, musicians playing on the streets. The first impression you get of this city is that it is a very diverse in both culture and landscape. In short, it is very lively that brings in the desire to live for fun!
One distinctive thing that I noticed was a rather high Indian population in the area - probably because of the number of technology companies and the weather. A high concentration of Indian restaurants. Beaverton is home to organisations like Nike, IBM. If you can take a tour of the Nike campus, then nothing like it. Every building is named after a sports player sponsored by Nike like Mia Hamm, Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras.
If you haven’t been to Oregon, then you should. Take care when you book your ticket or board the plane. There is one Portland in Maine as well. V once told me a story of how a woman got on his plane to Portland, OR when her destination was the one in Maine. Poor lady! Oh and yes do visit the Powell’s Book Store. You can spend a full day in the company of books and you won’t get tired. Saying they have a huge collection is an understatement. Another place worth going for fun is the Saturday Market under the bridge.
The journey after our lunch was very refreshing. Ofcourse, as you guessed for the most part because of my delicious food Just kidding. The route from Mysore outskirts until Kushalnagar was literally deserted and we had fun driving at 100 Kmph. The road is comparatively good and either sides of the road are lined with bright red Gulmohar trees which is feast to the eyes. I know its nothing compared to the fall colors but this is the best we have here and I fully appreciated and enjoyed the beauty. After a while we saw acres and acres of plush green paddy fields. Beautiful ..we just stopped, enjoyed the view, took a few pictures and then carried on. We reached Kushalnagar (which is about 30 Kms from Coorg) at 4;00 p.m. Refreshed and we were just in time for the qualifying sessions of Monaco Grand Prix. Saw Ralf Schumacher crash miserably ..we wondered what was he thinking but I guess it is difficult to maneuver especially in Monaco. after that disappointing qualifying time by the Ferrari kids, we decided enough of Formula 1 now. We desperately needed fresh air. So we drove to Bylakuppe.
Bylakuppe is about 7 Kms from Kushalnagar. The entire region is habited by Tibetans. Bylakuppe is also home to the the Namdroling Monastery. A few pictures are here :
The monastery as you can see is adorned with flashy colors such as brilliant red, blue and yellow that blend perfectly. It is set in serene surroundings far away from the traffic and surrounded by coffee estate. about hundreds of monks reside there. To be honest, I was impressed but not as much as Buddhist monastery in Kandy, Sri Lanka. That was beautiful and one had to wear a sarong (no skin show at all) to enter inside. No such restrictions here and you could take pictures too. The centre statue that you see in the picture below is that of Buddha and 60 ft tall. On the right hand side it is that of Buddha Amitayus and on the left of Padmasambhava. All the three statues are made of copper and plated with gold. Inside the statues are relics of great beings, gold scriptures and clay mould stupas. It is also called the Golden Temple and is open from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. So if you are visiting the Coorg neighbourhood do go to this place. After offering prayers, we spoke to a few monks. They were kind enough to lead us to the backyard of the temple where the younger monks (about 8-9 years old) practice blowing the huge wind pipes (it is a muscial instrument). The backyard is nothing but fields for miles and miles away. We strolled through the coffee estate for a while examining the coffee seeds. Finally after a satisfying evening, we returned to the hotel after a good dinner!
I guess I’m overworked - at work and at home! I feel tired all the time and can’t concentrate on anything lately. The traveling has also got on to me. This weekend would be such a great relief.
This last weekend at Niagara Falls was good. V commented that it is like Haridwar ( a pilgrimage center for Hindus in Northern India) for Indians in U.S. We started counting the Indian/Other Nationality Ratio sitting on a porch by the American Falls facing the Goat Island. For every 1 other Nationality person, there were 7 Indians. The only reason I could think of was the promotion of the Falls in the earlier Indian Films. Most of the Hindi/Regional films made in the 60’s/70’s (when shooting outside India captivated audiences), featured the Niagara Falls. Probably the next generation would frequent it as much as this generation does. This was my first visit and V’s second. We took Dad there. He was satisfied to have seen it. Like every Indian, his image of America was the same too. If you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty,N.Y.C., Niagara Falls, White House, Lincoln Memorial, Disneyland - L.A, Mount Rushmore (it actually goes by “the mountain with the faces of the presidents”), you’ve seen it all.