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Archive for January, 2007

Asking questions

27 January 2007 5 comments

One of my pet signatures reads “No question is stupid if I ask it!”. I am of the opinion that in any marriage, love or arranged, it is very important that the couple ask many many questions and get to know each other before they enter into a lifelong relationship. That’s what I told Anjali very soon after we started talking. Ok, ok, her full name is Geethanjali and I call her Anjali. Last month, NYT had a very interesting article titled “Questions Couples Should Ask Before Marrying”, which I found in its “Most Popular” section. Now, we are discussing all the points mentioned in that. I highly recommend it for all couples ๐Ÿ™‚ A very relevant example – “Does each of us feel fully confident in the otherโ€™s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?” MSNBC reviews this set of questions here very well. Its bottomline is “A strong couple wonโ€™t have trouble discussing important issues about compatibility and handling inevitable differences. But itโ€™s short-sighted to think any answers lie in a list of questions”. There is a Muslim set of questions targeted at the male here, not all of which are good, but still worth a glance. What do you think, people?

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Categories: Family, Me, Society

Committed…

22 January 2007 12 comments

… to a Madipakkam girl Geetha yesterday. Marriage is most likely to be in end April (23 Apr) at Guindy.

Categories: Me

Biking to Ajanta and Ellora – 2

18 January 2007 Leave a comment

Sorry guys for being late, I was away on a mindblowing Khajuraho trip the Pongal weekend. But that has to wait. Having done one stage of my longest bike ride in Ellora, both of us had a simple breakfast near the caves and proceeded to Daulatabad. There is a scenic ghat section on this stretch of the highway. Daulatabad is pretty close to Ellora (15km) and very soon we passed this beautiful lake Daulatabad lake. The landscape is also pleasing to the eyes. We could have had fresh guavas on the very pretty look-out point, but I was a little sick and we took no chances. Our next stop was the famous Daulatabad fort itself. Every history fan knows of Mohammad bin Tughlaq‘s experiments in failure. The shifting of India’s capital from Delhi to Daulatabad is a prime example. The day being a Saturday morning in late December, Daulatabad was full of folks. We parked our bikes and proceeded amidst the heaps of crowds. There were quite a few guides willing to share their knowledge. But we decided that we could not do much in this crowd Daulatabad fortand so did not go all the way to the top in the narrow stairs. Daulatabad reminded me a little of Golconda. This Chand Minar Chand Minaris the big minaret in this charming fort. School kids were playing in the big courtyard.

After spending a little less than a hour in the fort, we left for Aurangabad, our initial destination for the night primarily because it is well-connected. Aurangabad is 15 km away from Daulatabad and we reached it pretty quickly. We hoped to see the duplicate Taj Mahal, otherwise known as Bibi Ka MaqbaraBibi Ka Maqbara, built by Aurangazeb inspired by you-know-what. The Taj in Agra is simply the grandest man-made spectacle my eyes have seen and this Aurangabad imitation pales badly. But the similarities are clear. The Mughal garden and the marble (here unclean) are amazing. But there’s no Yamuna to lend that magical finish here. After this whistle-stop, we went to Panchakki – the water wheel systemPanchakki of those olden days. At this place, we met an Australian STA agent who’s here on a holiday. We chatted with him and wished him a good time. STA is not very useful in India to me. I also spotted the Paithani sarees and Himroo shawls showroom (both Aurangabad specials) here, but this is no shopping trip! We had asked the locals near Bibi Ka Maqbara about good restaurants to have biryani. The Muslim influence hopefully gets very tasty biryani. But the local guys were not very helpful and so we sped off on the Ajanta highway after this 2hour Aurangabad tour.

The Aurangabad-Ajanta road (about 100km) is also very good and we hit our top speeds on this stretch. We had a quick lunch at a dhaba midway and still managed to reach the Ajanta shuttle point at 3.45pm, in roughly 2 hours. This point is 4-5km away from the caves and no private vehicles are allowed beyond here. The MTDC charges a park entry fee, a parking fee, a shopping plaza fee (wasteful) and a shuttle fee, which we paid in 3 different places. Why can’t they make the fee structure simple? The Ajanta caves are located in a beautiful gorge and that explains their charm apart from the fact that they are very very old. We had less time (two hours) to see these cute paintings as some of the caves close by 5.30pm. There are 29 caves in all and the Australian had recommended us to walk to the top on the other side of the stream to have an awesome view. We are forced to drop our shoes at every cave, thus losing some time. The cave guards directed us to the ones worth seeing – which are 3, 5, 10, 16, 17, 29 and we ended up seeing only these caves. These caves are supposedly monasteries and we could see different images of the Buddha in these. Here is an image of the Buddha inside a stupa and here is a mural . The guards did not let us use the tripod and so my companion went livid at them. It is astonishing to note that these murals and sculptures have survived more than 1500 years and some 2000 years and we know what they were meant for! We were tired of our adventure in just about an hour.

We decide that we will go back to Indore riding in the night (just about 330km away) not through the way we came back, but through Bhusawal, Burhanpur and Omkareswar road. The road is fantastic and we ride all the way till Burhanpur in MP, about 140 km from Ajanta and decide to take a break because it has become too cold by 10pm. An early morning start at 7.30am the next day takes us back to our college by 12.30 noon, a distance of 190km, just in time for the new year celebrations. My first long ride has been a great success!

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Backpacking buddies – 2

10 January 2007 1 comment

Continuing from here, in Nelson I caught up with Jess again and exchanged email ids. We exchanged a few emails when she described her trip to the glaciers in Franz Josef and her Queenstown (I should write a separate post about it) adventures. But then, after two mails, none of us bothered to continue the conversation. But yes, she’s the girl I will remember best in the 3 months. The next morning I spoke to Scott a Kiwi sheep marketer from Dunedin. In his free time, he works as an evangelist. He was in Nelson, cheering for his kid who plays hockey. He explained the need for everyone to become a true Christian. He tells me India is suffering because there are so many non-Christians and that he would like to work there to change it all. When I counter that a lot of white folks believe less in religion and more reason, he says that that’s because they don’t know the truth. I firmly believe that if we be nice to people and not do harm as much as possible, there is no need for religion.

After Nelson, my next trip was across the Tasman Sea. The Aussies are not as friendly as the Kiwis. But friendly travellers are welcome everywhere. Madhan has got such a warm face that he can start talking to anyone anywhere. In the Indooroopilly shopping centre where we went on the first evening, he spoke to a couple of Tamils who had hopped over from Auckland just like me. I learn a lot from him about hospitality and camaraderie.

Though I spoke to a few people during the course of my 36hour whistle stop in Sydney, the one person who left a lasting impression on me met me at the Central railway station. I was awaiting my CityRail to the domestic airport. Let me call him John. I had confirmed with him that the platform I stood on was the line to the airport. He looked drunk. His first lines were “So you Indians are getting all the jobs and sending us all out?” I dismissed him as one of those outsourcing critics and told myself to be careful of him. But he continued and told me he had an Indian wife! He had fought for the Aussie military and was generally dismissive of politics, but he was a hard-core Indophile at heart. He repeatedly told me to work for the betterment of the Indian majority and not be swayed by money. We sat next to each other on the train. He described his experience in Afghanistan and wished me heartily.

I had a late flight from Sydney to Brisbane and Madhan and Sudar were busy preparing their stall at the Brisbane Multicultural Festival, which is a fascinating experience by itself. There was no public transport at 9.30pm from the airport and so I had to take my only taxi of the trip. It was all Madhan’s money, but still I would never take a taxi in a foreign country when there is public transport. For no reason, I am apprehensive of taxi drivers. I managed to break ice with the Somalian taxi driver. My little bit of geography about the capital Mogadishu got me talking more nicely with him. He knew about Hyderabad more than any other place in India. He was telling me how Somalia has been ravaged by war and there are a few Indians in his country too. I asked him if he’ll go back there. Not when there’s so much war there, he replied. He also told me Somalia has got a little bit of history being so close to Ethiopia and the drive by the sea is so beautiful. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Somalian coin.

The multicultural festival is where I met an Indonesian student. He was a finance student who planned to do his MBA. He was like a typical Indian graduate student overseas, using his dad’s money and education loans to study abroad, hoping to make enough money in a few years to break even and return to his home country to be respected and make it to the higher society class. He helped me use my camera better. We promised to exchange emails, but never did.

In Fiji, I met an Austrian girl who was out exploring the world on her round trip and a German guy out to get his diving licenses in the most beautiful reefs of the world (it works out to be cheaper too). But the Fijian captain of the SeaSpray (my sailing boat) insisted on converting me and we had a prolonged conversation about faith and the only God. My thin knowledge on Hinduism did not help me much and I hardly could talk anything. I should have had better ammunition to counter these pastors or priests!

One more post on this and I would be done, I hope!

Categories: Friends, Travel

Biking to Ajanta and Ellora – 1

6 January 2007 6 comments

Now that I’m in Indore, my popular Indore getaway posts will get more additions. I’ve been harping too much on geography the time I’ve been in NZ. But India is where all the history is. Though all of us (read my bschool mates) complain about the huge location disadvantage that Indore has in terms of connectivity to all the happening cities (read good jobs), the fact is that Indore is the heart of incredible India (just like the cute MP Tourism ads promote MP)! If we get 5 days at a stretch, we would be able to go in every direction imaginable and visit places like Rajasthan, Himachal, Uttaranchal, Agra, Khajuraho, Gujarat, Goa, Hyderabad, Bihar, … But we had 3 days to spare just before the year ends. So this will be my first multi-day trip around Indore. Also, I’ve been dreaming of a long bike ride for a long time. In NZ, bikes are so expensive compared to cars and they need special licences. After a little research, we chuck destinations inside MP and plan for the World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora. Aurangabad – the base to visit these 2 places – is a little over 400km away. Two of us start on the 29th morning at 8.30am (planned time 7am) on two bikes. My companion Anupam is a veteran of long trips with Indore-Ahmedabad-Indore and Indore-Mumbai trips to his record.

29th is a plain bike ride day. We start on NH3, cross Mhow, the Narmada at Khalghat and reach the MP border. We are alarmed to find that our average speed is just over 40kmph. The NH3 is the worst highway I have found. To our surprise, soon after we cross the border, Maharashtra PWD takes over and NH3 becomes unimaginably good to ride. We hurry past the sugarcane factory at Sirpur and leave NH3 at Dhule (say Dhuliya). Our lunch in a dhaba takes a long time. Of course, we get our direction tips from mapsofindia.com and mapmyindia.com. Here we take NH211, which goes to Aurangabad and beyond. In spite of we hurrying, there is a bye-pass road at Chalisgaon, which is the most horrrible stretch of the highway. And to our horrors, they have a toll post on this stretch, how sad! Bikes don’t have to pay any toll and so we continue our journey unhindered. The road gets worse as we progress. It is evening when we approach Ellora village. We grab a cup of tea and are close to the Ellora cave sites when we see a few hotels advertising availability.

End December is the peak travel season everywhere! More so in India, as the weather is ideal this time. Anupam suggests we stay here itself and proceed tomorrow. It is also getting cold. We check one good hotel, Hotel Kailasa, which is expensive at Rs.1500 and one passable place where we don’t bargain much and settle at Rs.450 for two beds. That definitely is an atrocious price to pay for an ordinary room. I spot quite a few notices in Kannada. Just like Belur and Halebid attract a lot of Tamil tourists, I guess Ajanta and Ellora attract quite a few Kannada ones. Also, this being the half-yearly holidays of the school kids, there was one big gang in 2 buses from Gujarat. Even before we have seen anything, I start getting a cold and a headache. We pick my favourite pill DCold at the in-demand chemist in the Ellora village. We decide that we’ll have decent food at the Kailas restaurant which has a few white faces too. Hotel Kailas has to be the most convenient place to see the caves, which are a few metres away.

We start by 6am early in the morning. The Ellora caves open at 6.30am, which makes it an ideal place to start your day with. Also, they certainly are worth more time to spend than the Ajanta caves, say half a day or more if you don’t want to miss anything. We are the first to check with the gatekeepers, who ask us to come after a tea and 5 minutes as there is little fog yet. But as we have our tea, the school kids party walk in a file and beat us to the entry. The teachers order the kids around and this reminds me of our own school trips. Educational tours are so much fun! There are more kids coming early in the morning from Andhra. We are the first ticket-takers to the biggest temple in the caves, Kailasa temple. As the 34 caves are spread out, we are allowed to take our bikes inside till the very end, i.e., Cave 34.

Ellora caves are distinct for their secular aspect. They have sets of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. The Kailasa temple is Cave 16 and stands right at the entrance to the World Heritage site. We start with caves to the other side of the temple, i.e., 17 and above. We have lots of Nandis just like this one Ellora Cave, Nandi . The kids are curious and keep peeking at our sleek digicams. We wait for the crowd to disperse. These kids stop soon at Cave 23 or 24 and are ordered back by their teachers. We continue further when we see a strip of water fall into a pond. Later, a guide book tells us it is the famed Ellora waterfall Ellora waterfall. Both of us walk by the dangerous cliff up thorough the cute stairs to Cave 29. Cave 29 is definitely worth the walk. It’s got the best pillars and the figurines we have seen so far. We see that we could have taken our bikes to this place, but the road is a little long and so we walk back along the picturesque rocks. Our next stop is the biggest attraction here, Kailasa temple.

As expected, all the structures are preserved very well in this temple, thus deserving the entry fee they charge only for this separately. Also, most of the tourists prefer to stop here and not visit most of the other caves as it involves a walk. Those who have their cars can take them to caves 29 and 34 also. The Kailasa temple needs at least an hour to explore properly. But we have 3 hours for the whole of the caves and so we just rush to the first floor and through the prakaram(walkway?) on the ground floor. We spot this beauty on rock, the story of the Mahabharatha Mahabharatha. That’s our last delight in the temple. We aim at seeing the lesser numbered caves too and the Jain caves which are beyond 29.

We check with the security guard and find out that Caves 10 and 12 are the ones not to be missed out. We start with Cave 10 and explore the big Buddha statue inside a stupa. We glimpse at the Hindu caves 9 and less and decide that we have no time for it. Next we see Cave 12, Teen Taal Teen Taal. It is quite spectacular. The top floor is serene and is good if you want to spend a quiet moment away from the crowds, who don’t seem to spend much time in the Buddhist caves.

Our last stop at Ellora is the Jain set of caves, 33 and 34. We take our bikes out here, which is a little far from 16. These caves are also delightfully carved, the stand-out example being this statue under the peacock , the description of which I overheard it from a guide and then realised the presence of the peacock feather. The gullible Anupam had bought an Ellora picture book, but at a bargain price of 20 though the printed price said 55. We could always refer to it if we needed any info or we should be able to get more info on the net. One more cave later, which is full of the Jain tirthankaras, we conclude our Ellora visit. What an amazing treat for the good year we had!

PS: Some more pictures on flickr.

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Backpacking buddies – 1

4 January 2007 3 comments

I love backpacking. To be honest, I did not know much after backpacking as long as I was in India. My 3day solo Goa trip in May 2004 could be called my first attempt at backpacking. But the world is so different. Travel seems to mean backpacking for most of the guys I met in NZ. Is it the costs or the convenience? India certainly has a long way to offer in terms of backpacking infrastructure. There is no question about the fantastic facilities that other countries have, especially NZ. The huge bags that guys bring in preparation reminds me that backpacking is THE way of travel. Of course, I get to meet several interesting personalities. These passing acquaintances seem perfect illustrations of the temporal nature of life. Here I try and remember some of them.

In my first trip, I was so reserved. I am the only brown guy on the bus and every one seems to have a partner or content being alone. It takes me a day to get used to the new environment. On the second night in Taupo, I met a Dutch man Grenardo (or some such name). He happens to have worked in Vietnam for a long time. The LP guide book is a bible to him, just like to so many people. I had the internet and I never really used any book. That is the advantage of travelling in a developed nation. My numismatic interests come into play and he gives me a Vietnamese coin to kick off the process. That’s all I remember about him. An interesting German I met on my Auckland orientation tour collected signatures from all the guys he met for his sister back home. What a memorable way to start her birthday!

On the second day in Taupo, I met two Americans of Danish origin from California. The girl Daphne had a nice webpage on philosophy and the guy was into IT hardware on his own. They almost dragged me to the local pub and the movie house for the night, but I had to politely decline their invites. They were the 1st guys to talk to me for a longer length of time. That was my first multi-sex dorm too. But I delay to email them, though I visit her webpage which I unfortunately do not remember now.

On my next trip north of Auckland, I meet two amazing people. The first is Jess, a cute English lawyer who also had learnt history. Making people feel nicer comes easily to her, I think. She chats with almost every one in the tour. There is a quiet Austrian doctor, who also happens to be friendly. It takes time to follow her heavy German accent. I book myself on my first barbecue for the night. I neither liked the steak nor the other food. But I stayed late talking with, rather listening to Jess, the Austrian and an English couple. This is where I get to know of gap years and round-the-world trips, which so fascinate me. I should hope to do it at some stage in my life.

The next day we travel to the northern tip of NZ Cape Reinga. Jess is remarkable company for today too. The surprise is I meet a fellow Indian Naveen. He has been in North Carolina for a longer part of his life. He is a Mallu doctor, who’s doing his gap year (he calls it a working holiday) in Wellington. He offers me stay at his home when I will go south the following week, which I accept graciously. Jess takes notes painstakingly. Naveen and I cook up a story in good spirit that Jess is a British spy ๐Ÿ™‚

On my first South Island trip, I meet a Kannada family at Picton just as I board the TranzCoastal to Christchurch. The father happens to be a professor from IIMK on exchange to NZ. How coincidental that across the seas, we happen to travel on the same day and end up meeting each other! The whole train trip, I did not for once sit in my assigned seat and spent talking to his kids (in Class 8 and Class 3). They tell me they have an awesome time studying in NZ as the load is so light. Just like me! So if you’ve the dough, study in NZ. As for jobs, you can always come back to India or go to America. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My next interesting person is an Aussie lady doctor, Sheryl from Adelaide. She is on her way to a conference in Auckland and she has a 3day break in one of the off-beat stops, Punakaiki. Both of us are on the same bus to Nelson. I see her meticulously noting down details of her trip so she can later email it to her friends. I appreciate her. It takes me quite an effort to start the conversation, but any connection with letters and words boosts my attempts greatly. I recommend her blogger and wordpress so that she can save on email. Being a doctor, she questions me on how it means to be in India, with such a large divide between the rich and the poor. This is one major question most Indians will conveniently ignore. She also tells me about her bad experience with an Indian junior, who could not somehow accept the idea of a female boss. I tell her times are changing in India and one visit here could change her perspective.

My post is already getting bigger. So I will continue on another one…

Categories: Friends, Travel