Monday, December 09, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 10 (As tourists in New Delhi)

I lived in Delhi for most of my life, first attending high school, and then going to college at Delhi College of Engineering, or DCE as it used to be called. Jannavi has always been to Delhi with me to visit my parents and in here eyes it was a hot and dirty city from which one flees to the cooler comfort of Bangalore. There was no concerted effort on my part to showcase Delhi as a beautiful place, as a place to visit, even though it is part of the most popular tourist tour of India, The Golden Triangle. Even I had never seen Delhi through the eyes of a tourist. I decided to rectify it this time.
Chor Bizarre
When we expressed this desire to our host at Thikana, he recommended a site called Delhi Magic. I browsed through the various options and was amazed at some of the more novel ways of seeing New Delhi. We chose the "see all of Delhi in one day option" and I walked over the agenda made up of 4 parts. Our guide, a personable man named Rajesh Chawla, arrived promptly at 9 in the morning and we started at 9:30AM with a trip to Qutub Minar complex and followed it by a tour of the Old Delhi area consisting of Jama Masjid, Sheesh Ganj, Red Fort. During the drive, Rajesh explained the oral history and later written history of Delhi. Delhi is known to be home to anywhere from 7 to 11 cities with the latest city called New Delhi (and also known as Lutyens Delhi) and the current Old Delhi being the second oldest city. There is just so much to see in Delhi.

We took a break for lunch at Chor Bizarre, a famous Kashmiri eatery in Old Delhi. Rajesh recommended a delicious lamb dish that is a specialty of this restaurant. The 3rd part of the trip was a quick drive through the New Delhi area with stopovers at Central Secretariat, Parliament, Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Vijay Chowk, Raj Path, and India Gate. The day ended with a visit to the Humayun's Tomb. Rajesh informed us that this tomb was the template for the more famous Taj Mahal. We hardly did justice to the city and we knew we needed several days to take in the sites. Our guide was very knowledgeable and assisted us in hitting all the important spots and imparting to us several arcane but interesting details that we were never aware of before. It was perfect.

We came back to the B&B and freshened up for dinner in Gurgoan, at the house of Suresh, my classmate from college. During college years, we were a gang of five. Two others classmates, Sandeep and Sanjay, who also lived in Delhi were there for the dinner. We connected with the fifth member, who lived Fort Wayne, Indiana, via a video skype call.The dinner was very nice and our hostess Archana had made so much food, I yearned for those days when I could eat 20 rotis. Yes, I ate 20 rotis and lost a eating competition, but that is another story.The party broke up just before midnight and we all went our ways.

The next day started slowly as it was the last day of our vacation. We got a head start on our packing for the return trip and let Maa sleep late to get a good rest. After a late breakfast, we went to Delhi Haat, located on the other side of Ring Road, near AIIMS. After dropping off our purchases back in our room, we took the Delhi Metro to get lunch near Chandni Chowk in a narrow street called Parathewali Gali. The stations and trains were clean and ride was smooth although it was very crowded., so crowded that we were concerned we would not be able to get out at our destination. Sandeep and his wife joined us much to our pleasant surprise. The small restaurant served more than 40 varieties of Parantha, a form of flat bread from the Indian sub-continent. We tried an assortment of 5-6 of the most popular ones with the highlight being Rabri Parantha, bread stuffed with rabri, a sweet dish popular in North India. Maa in particular did justice to the meal.

With a heavy heart that we could not eat anything more, we said our farewells to my friend and went back. Food seems to be a central theme during our trip and although it was the last day we still were not done. One would also think that after such a heavy lunch we would not have much space for another meal. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 3AM which meant that we could eat an early dinner with plenty of time left. For the last meal of the trip, we went to an pizza place, called Pizzeria Rosa, in Hauz Khas Village. The spicy Guava cocktail was a great way to round up the India trip.

What more is left to say that I have not already said in the 10 pages that comprise this travelogue. A great trip comprising some of the most popular places in Northern India, great weather, family, old friends, new friends, and great food.

We made it safely home although we left our hearts behind. We know will come back.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 9 (back to New Delhi via Jaipur)

Raji, Navin, Inchara, and Harsha left at 4AM for Jodhpur and made good headway. Navin, as a result decided to add a trip to Mehrangarh Fort to their agenda. He wanted to zip line, but the group proved too timid without its backbone, me! After seeing the fort, they caught their flight and arrived in Bombay to find that their flight to Bangalore was delayed by several hours. The team decided to extend their vacation by going to Juhu Beach. When they finally arrived home, it was nearly midnight.

With Mohan back in New Delhi
The three of us left at 5AM, on time, and made good time. Our driver, named Mohan, was friendly and we felt comfortable conversing with him and we learned a lot about him and his family during the long drive. Since we were in an Innova we made up so much time that we were in Jodhpur around the same time Naveen and the rest were heading to the fort. For a few minutes, we thought of joining them at the fort, but we knew how far we still had to travel and we continued further to Jaipur. The roads were smooth and we made it to Devi Niketan at 3PM as expected. We picked up our passports from the Admiral and said our goodbyes again and made one detour before heading back to New Delhi. Jannavi purchased some saris and suits from a local store. With me pressing her to make purchases really fast, she is confident that the seller over-over-over charged us! She says she will never go shopping with me. Wish I were that lucky! We left Jaipur around 5PM and found that most of the road was dug up and being rebuilt. As a result the 3 hour road trip ended up being 6 hour road trip. When we reached the B&B, it was past 11PM.

Good night, we have a packed agenda for the next day.

India Trip 2013 - Part 8 (Still in Jaisalmer)

The next day started a little somber for me as it was the last day of our Rajasthan trip and we were all going our separate ways early next day. I did not let this mood linger too long and we got ready to go to a nearby, ancient, abandoned village named Kuldhara. There are many reasons given for it being vacant but the most popular story is; rather than succumb to the lascivious demands of a local leader, the villagers abandoned the entire village overnight. They also put a curse on the village and no has settled there henceforth. After Kuldhara, the ladies dropped the menfolk and children back at Suryagarh and went back to Jaisalmer to shop for clothes. On their return we had lunch and headed out to the desert.
Wherefore art thou Juliet
Top of a dune
Here is common misconception about Rajasthan that I was guilty of as well; most of Rajasthan is made up of sand dunes outside of the few cities and oasis. On the contrary, there is water, if not plenty, enough to even cultivate at least one crop every year. Just as in the rest of India, it rains during monsoons, maybe not as much as in other parts of India and the onset of rains sets the stage for the cultivation to begin here as well. In fact, the real dune like desert is limited to very few places in Rajasthan most of them closer to the border with Pakistan. The most famous one is the Sam desert 40 Kms west of Jaisalmer. We had made a reservation for a short safari on a jeep like vehicle in the desert, followed by an hour or so long camel ride.

Camel Safari
The jeep ride was hair raising; one minute we were at the bottom of a dune, the wheels churning to climb at a steep incline and the next moment we are on top of a dune, with the vehicle at an incline of 45 degrees both down and sideways. At times, the ride was rough enough to loosen the teeth! We felt we were riding a roller coaster, with no safety device! It was a blast. After 45 minutes of up and down and sideways, we stopped to take some pictures and found our camels along with their three guides had arrived.

Slow trot
Only one adult and an optional child was allowed on top of a camel, which meant we had 6 camels.Although Maalini was a little scared, she trusted me enough to sit in front of me which was more than what she would do with her mom. The camel ride was a revelation in terms of how simple it looks when one is on the ground to how hard it really is when one is on top. The hardest parts of the ride was when the camel gets up and sits down. At those moments, one could take a toss over the neck of the camel if one is not holding tight to dear life! When the camel goes even a little faster than a walk the jolting is enough to knock ones breath out. Besides these camels were not equipped with stirrups and hence we found ourselves constantly straightening ourselves. After an hour of riding the camel, most of the team got off the camel. I then tried my hand at riding the camel at a brisker pace. It was a lot of fun although I found myself constantly falling just as the camel was rising with the resulting impact quite painful. The guide suggested holding on to the sides of the camel with my knees. I guess it is something one learns like riding a bike without falling off. I would highly recommend both these experiences to anyone coming this far west. The guides then brought us close to where our jeep would pick us for the return trip and left to enjoy the sun set over the dunes and on our trip. It was the most peaceful time with no man made sounds.

All except Navin, who went back to Jaisalmer to see a particular haveli, headed back to the hotel to get rid of the desert, to have an early dinner, and go to bed. We settled our accounts before calling it a night. The team that had been together was breaking up, with the three of us were going back to Jaipur in a hired taxi to pick up our passport and then go from there to Delhi. The rest were leaving for Jodhpur to catch a flight back to Bangalore. We all had an early morning start; we three wanted to reach New Delhi, nearly a 800 Kms drive, by the end of the day and the others wanted to reach Jodbpur in time to catch an early afternoon flight.

Good night; all good things come to an end.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 7 (Jaisalmer)

Navin, Harsha and Jaisalmer fort
The road from Bikaner to Jaisalmer is really well maintained. Most of the members were tired from a full day of activity and caught up on their sleep. There was not much else to do. An hour or so from Jaisalmer, we saw the town of Pokhran, made famous by the India's peaceful nuclear tests. Was there ever a bigger oxymoron than "peaceful nuclear test"? The quality of roads only improved the closer we got to Jaisalmer. We observed many military vehicles when we realized that we were quite close to the border with Pakistan. Anyway, we reached Jaisalmer a little past 8PM and found out that the hotel we were going to stay was another 20 minutes further away. Suryagarh is an ultra modern 5 Star hotel built to look like an ancient fort. It achieves what it has set out to do; provide an ambience of earlier ages with the excellence of modern amenities.When we arrived it was already quite late and by the time dinner was complete and kids put to bed, it was past 11PM!

Our agenda next day was to go to the Jaisalmer fort, the only living fort. I mean, it is the only fort that still has people living in it. The town is entirely supported by tourism with little or no other industry. It was beautiful. We could exhaust our entire memory card taking pictures of the  workmanship on some of the buildings. I have been to Belur and Halebid in Karnataka and I thought I had seen some exquisitely carved structures. This place seemed to built with similar detailed work but on a far grander scale. We walked along the narrow pathways and went in and out of many buildings and stores inside the fort.

The guide we had with us talked about the strong association of Jainism to this town and took us to the most exquisite Jain temple.From there he took us to one of the vantage points atop the fort. We left the fort to walk over to some of the famous havelis or private mansions of the former rich folks of Jaisalmer. Near the Patwa Haveli, we had the opportunity to meet a person who allegedly is in the Guinness Book of record for the longest mustache.
Kids were tired of walking and so were we. As usual Navin knew of the perfect restaurant here as well. We were taken to the top of 1st Gate. The food was delicious and we were hungry and full justice was done to the fare set in front of us. Navin then directed the driver to Gadisagar. We spent over an hour on the boat with the boatman telling us the history of the place as the sun set slowly. As darkness fell over the lake, we drifted back towards our vehicle to take us back to the hotel. That was the day of the 10th anniversary of Raji and Navin. Inchara and I had secretly ordered a small cake for the occasion. Cake was delicious and it was a fitting end to a beautiful day.
Many Happy Returns

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 6 (Gajner)

Our stay in Gajner was a short one. The agenda here started with an early morning bird watching, followed by boating on the lake, topped with a short hike in the adjoining 6000 acre national forest. So we made a resolution to be up early. One of the key features of the trip was the ease with which we got up early in the morning for various activities. We were ready at the time we expected to be as was our 8 year old sleepy head. 

Gajner palace is rich with trees and consequently is the residence for a lot of local birds. Moreover the lake behind the palace is a stopover for migratory birds from Siberia on their way south. So by 6:30AM we walked up to the lake. The weather was cold and we needed an extra layer. Surprisingly, Navin had not brought his binoculars so the basic one we had brought for the trip was put to good use. Navin has an eye for nature. He would always be the first to find an animal or a bird. He showed many interesting creatures such as a shy fox that had come for a drink, Nilghai, small deer, wild boars, and several varieties of birds. We spent a couple of hours walking from one vantage point to another. Most of us were by now hungry. We had a rather sumptuous breakfast. I was told that the restaurant was a ballroom in earlier times.

View from the lake
The previous night Raji had made reservations for two boats. We all piled on them and Maalini gave us a Carnatic concern on the lake at Raji's request. Some of us tried our hand at pulling on the oars. It was much harder than we all thought it would be with the boat mostly going in circles. The sun had come out and we enjoyed the
calm surroundings. Since there is only one reason to come to Gajner, and that is to stay at Gajner palace, this ensured that the crowds, noise, and dirt, de rigueur in other places, were completely absent.

We then took out some bicycles and went around the hotel and its surrounding areas. Here is my one grouse, bikes were really badly
Maybe a cobra
maintained. Most of them had little or no air and some of them did not even steer straight! During the ride we saw several peacocks, Nilghais, wild boars, and finally (we think) a cobra! As usual, drama queen, Maa, was nearly hysterical and we moved away. We rode till we were tired and came back to the rooms to shower and pack for the next leg. After having a late lunch we bid adieu to Gajner around 3PM with a promise of coming back again for a longer stay.

Next stop, Jaisalmer.

Monday, December 02, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 5 (To Bikaner)

The consensus the previous night was that the Monday morning, 6:30AM start time, was unrealistic and we would be lucky if we started before 8:00AM. The kids totally surprised us. Almost all of us were downstairs with all our bags at 6:30. The hotel staff had packed us an assortment of sandwiches; butter, jam, and omelet to go with Diet Coke. We were all ready and on the road sharp at 6:45AM! We bid farewell to Devi Niketan and the Admiral, wanting to come back for more.

There were four goals for the day; eat at Gallops, visit the Junagarh Palace, spend time at a Camel Breeding Farm, and end our day at the Gajner Palace. Again note that the number 1 item on our agenda. "Eat"; not just anywhere, but at a specific place researched ahead of time. Some people just live to eat!

The sky was clear and blue; the crowd fun loving, and the driver safe and steady. After a while we ate the breakfast and heard some Bollywood music from my IPod. After several hours, we took a break to stretch our legs at a small road side hotel and also to purchase water. The adults insisted that the children use the bathrooms. I asked Jan how clean the bathrooms were. She responded by wrinkling her nose and shrugging her shoulders. Harsha says, I was on my way to the bathroom and on seeing her response, I recoiling like a man shot and turned back!

The roads were good for most parts but there were parts that where still under construction and the vehicle ate up the miles at a steady rather than speedy pace. With nothing much to do but stare at the rather featureless desert vista the group was getting bored. So we then played a round of Antakshari. With the diverse linguistic background, this was music of the most eclectic variety; Bollywood songs, Kannada movie songs, Tamil movie songs, and Carnatic music competed with each other to be heard. When Vee was stumped for a song, she composed one on the fly!

Trouble always rears its head when the sky is blue and everyone is happy. I was reminded of the Carpenters song "... not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes, and I won't be surprised if it 's a dream  ..."

Jannavi suddenly realized that we did not have our passports with us! If you were tracking you would remember we deposited it in a safe in Devi Niketan. In our desire to be on time, we forgot to clean out the safe. I tried to point out the silver lining; if the passports are misplaced, how much more secure can they be than at a Admiral's place or residence. I failed; I have only two tasks on this trip, breathe and hold on the passports! The choices were; drive back immediately to Jaipur and get the passports; request the Admiral to send it to our next stop, Jaisalmer, request the Admiral to send it to New Delhi, and lastly, drive back at the end of the trip to Jaipur, pick up the passport, and continue to New Delhi. We decided on the last; it was a small change to our itinerary but the cost was steep; well one must pay for ones mistakes! With that decision behind us, we overcame our heart burns and enjoyed the rest of the trip really well.

At one of the gates of Junagarh fort
Our lunch was not a lot of fun; we were worried about our passports and our friends were worried about our passports. Under different circumstance we would have enjoyed it a lot more. After late lunch we walked to Junagarh fort. I explained to Sam what a moat is and this fort has a wide moat, though I wonder where they would have found the water in a desert to fill it. The fort contains many palaces and we all wished we had allocated more than the 45 minutes we had set aside. Although the consensus was that we could have spent more time in each city we visited, I felt we treated Bikaner more cavalierly than it deserved. Do not worry, Bikaner, we will come back.

We then drove to the National Research Center on Camel or NRCC.We had our first experience getting
on a Camel. Siri insisted that she would not get on a camel. Before she could run away, I picked her up and put her in front of her mom. For the next two days, she kept negotiating with Raji not to allow athimber (me) to put her on a camel the next time! But two days later when I caught her again and put her on top of one for the second time, she was so proud of herself, she reassured her athai (Jan) not to be afraid.

Maa joins the Kalbelia
Most of us were very tired by the time we got on the bus for our final destination, Gajner Palace. Situated 30 miles from Bikaner, this was once upon a time, the hunting resort for the Raja of Bikaner and the palace was decorated with hundreds of pictures of hunted tigers. An artificial lake behind the palace made a natural watering hole for the wild animals and bird.  A few decades ago this palace had been converted into a hotel. As we got out of our vehicle we were welcomed royally by several members of the hotel staff and garlanded. We could see a Kalbelia performance going in the courtyard behind the main entrance. We really liked this particular show, in particular an 8 year old child belonging to this troupe was absolutely stunning dancer. Maa tried to join them for a song but could not get in tune with them. We were all tired and wanted to get up very early to be by the lake in time for the sunrise. So after a quick dinner, we called it a night.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 4 (Still in Jaipur)

Inchara and Raji had to go back to the conference for the first half of Sunday the 17th. The agenda for the rest of us was start leisurely, get the kids ready, and go back to the old city and see some of the sights. Then Raji and Inchara would meet us all for lunch after completing the meetings finally and starting their vacation in earnest. After lunch we would then head out to see an interesting handicraft museum called Anokhi, see the Amer fort while we still had daylight, and end the day with a light show near the fort.

We executed on our plan really well. The Admiral's staff provided us with a wonderful breakfast comprising of toast, butter, eggs, omelets, paranthas, with a variety of pickles, topping it off with a choice of coffee and masala chai. Delicious and a great way to start the day.

Samrat Yantra - World's Largest Sundial
We rode on the hired tempo traveler back again to the Pink City and parked near the Jantar Mantar, a nearly three century old astronomical observatory. During my trip I observed a several groups of students on field trips. I learned that the months of October through February are ideal for field trips in India due to limited rain and temperate weather. When I was a kid, our school went on a field trip to the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. I did not learn much then, but this time we had a learned guide and I think I gleaned more knowledge than before. This particular Sundial to the right is supposedly accurate to 2 seconds!

A digression; one other overarching theme during the trip was the improved cleanliness of the various tourist spots. It is not that all of India is clean, but that these sites now are maintained much better than before. We did not see dirt or trash on the premises.
Traditional Rajasthani Meal

Back to the story; we went to a local temple which was overflowing with pious people that had come to pray on the full moon day, an auspicious day for Hindus. So we did not go into the sanctum but ended observing the people around us. From there we went to a famous local restaurant called LMB in Johari Bazar.

Therein lies yet another digression. Raji and Navin did the bulk of the planning for this trip. Raji spent a lot of time thinking about the places and shops to visit. Navin on the other hand spent his time researching on the various places one could eat during this trip. We were steered well by both of them.

A souvenir plus sample blocks
From LMB we went to Anokhi museum. I learned more about
Intensely observing the master at work
textiles, traditional handicrafts, block printing, and bandini in one day than all the previous 47 years put together. The children, under an artisan's guidance, worked using various blocks and colors in creating nice prints. The kids had a field day but the adults were no less eager to print! At the end he cut up the cloth and gave each child a handkerchief as souvenir. We had spent close to an hour at the museum.

Sheesh Mahal
The jeep we had hired took us from the museum to the entrance of the Amer fort. This imposing fort sitting on top of the surrounding hills, is built on a grand scale and casts a long shadow on the city below. It was the original city of Jaipur before the Pink City and later the modern Jaipur. We wandered around the fort and as expected, Navin found a restaurant at the top of the fort. The ambiance was soothing but we only ordered tea as we wanted to go next to the light show. It was the most expensive tea we all had consumed in our lives!

The light show was set with the fort at the center of the story of the royal family of Jaipur. It was a well told story with the sound and light accentuating the majesty of the fort. The one part that I did not like was (in my opinion) the put down of Rana Pratap. In this version of the story, Raja Man Singh was wise and far sighted (which he probably was) but Rana Pratap the sanctimonious (sic) king of Chittor.

From Wikimedia
After having dinner at a fast food restaurant, Kanha, nearby, we made our plans for the next day which was the first day of our travels. The goal was to leave as early as possible. With that in mind, we requested the Admiral if he could pack us some food for the road, so we could save time and eat while on the road. We also requested the driver to be ready at 6:30AM.

Bon Voyage!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 3 (Jaipur)

On the morning of the 16th we got up around 4:15AM to get ready for the early morning train to Jaipur, on the famous Shatabdi Express. The drive to the station was smooth almost all the way and our taxi-wallah brought us to the station via Chelmsford Road Entrance with time to spare. Due to the traffic jam around the station entrance, we all got off in the middle of the road and walked into the station dragging our luggage! The journey of 4 hours started auspiciously on time from Platform 2, with the train stopping at Patel Nagar, Delhi Cantt, and Gurgoan stations, to pick up passengers on the way. We victualed on  two rounds of breakfast comprised cereal with milk, cookies, idlis, upma, sambar and rounding it off with tea. Food was clean and the service very professional. The overall journey, although very comfortable, was not otherwise noteworthy.

L-R : Admiral, Jan, Maa, I
We arrived in Jaipur with time to spare and were taken by taxi to the place to stay during our stay in Jaipur; the beautiful Devi Niketan. Our host is the former Head of Indian Navy, Admiral Madhavendra Singh. Devi Nikatan is his ancestral home with the Admiral tracing his Rajput ancestry to one of the Navratna of Emperor Akbar, Raja Mansingh! It should come as no surprise to anyone that several positive adjectives apply to the Admiral including handsome, educated, well-informed, friendly, sophisticated, and articulate! We had a great time here and we recommend it to everyone.

L-R : I, Amar Singh, Maa, and Sarika
After check-in, we secured our passports in the safe conveniently placed in the room (an important point we will come to later), we cleaned ourselves of our travel grime and went to meet a friend of mine from my days in Lucknow during the late 80s. Mani Mama, whom I introduced in my previous post used to live in a large Bungalow in the heart of Lucknow along with several other family including Amar Singh and Sarika. At that time Bhai Sahib and Bhabhi (I address Amar Singh and Sarika by the honorific "Bhai Sahib" and "Bhabhi" respectively as is customary in North India) were newly married and were starting their family. I was particularly friendly with bhai sahib's younger brother who was an exercise fanatic. I was meeting them again after a gap of nearly 25 years! They were as affectionate as I remember them. It should also come as no surprise to all if I say that bhabhi  is a great cook. I know I put on at least 1 pound just because of the lunch I ate that afternoon at their place.
Johari Bazaar

From there the driver took us to the Johari Bazar in the heart of Pink City, India's oldest planned city. Ostensibly Raji and Inchara were at a conference, but it seemed more like they were Whatsapp-ing with Jan images of various jewellery they were buying or recommending for Jan. I call Raji a vicarious spend-thrift! Maa was bored but I enjoyed the teeming humanity. It was colorful, loud, crowded, lively, and I could not get enough of it. After a couple of hours of shopping we went back to the hotel.

We arrived in time to see Naveen and his daughter Siri along with Harsha and his children, Sam and Vee arrive from the airport. A few minutes later Raji and Inchara also came back from their meeting. We were all finally together, the entire group would travel together for the next 6 days. The picture on the right shows the whole group, as eclectic a group as one could get; doctors, scientist, software professionals, and a lawyer. At the bidding of the kids, we had dinner at a nearby Italian place called Little Italy, where we made our plans for the following day which was Sunday the 17th.

India Trip 2013 - Part 2 (Arrival in New Delhi)

Jan left for India on the 8th. After spending time with her family and meeting various friends, she flew to New Delhi on the 14th evening and checked into Thikana, a boutique Bed and Breakfast. B&Bs are a relatively new concept in India. A few years ago India hosted the Commonwealth Games and when it was clear there were not enough quality hotels, the New Delhi government, gave generous breaks for folks to convert their homes into B&Bs in time for the influx of visitors and tourists. Our host was one of the early adopters.

Maa, our younger daughter, and I caught a flight out of Dulles on the 13th. The 3-4 days prior to our departure was packed with action items for me. It turns out I was more vital for the successful operations of the company than I believed I was. Go figure! I helped the team with enough knowledge transfer to tide over the days I would not be in the town.

Our onward flight was uneventful with the first leg half empty. Maa and I stretched out in the 4 middle seats and had a restful flight. At Frankfurt, we had an early experience of India. At the gate, there was almost no semblance of order. This is normal in India but very strange for the folks that coined the phrase "Ordnung muss sein". Passengers were milling around the gate as if they would be left behind unless they were the first to board the plane. I watched this with amusement and waited for the traffic jam to clear. The plane left with us after all! The entertainment on Lufthansa flights leave a lot of to be desired.

In New Delhi, my friends Sandeep and Sanjay came to receive me. Considering it was past midnight, it was really very nice of them. By the time we got our bags and left the airport, it was past 2AM in the morning! I too checked in to Thikana. The rooms were spacious, the bed very comfortable, the bathrooms clean, and our hosts Atul and Sheetal very friendly and hospitable. The B&B itself is located close to a metro station and is within 30 minutes of Connaught Place, New Delhi Railway Station, and the International Airport.

After texting a few people about our safe arrival, we popped 1/2 a tablet of Melatonin and slept soundly for 6 hours and woke up at 9AM fully refreshed. Melatonin was a savior, during this trip as well as on my return back. I did not suffer a single day of jet-lag although I used it no more than 3 nights. At least for me, it reset the biological clock was nicely.

Mani Mama and Jannavi
I had two items on my agenda for that day. First item was to meet my father's friends who are in some sense an adopted uncle and aunt of mine, in fact far more closer to me than anyone in my family. Mani Mama, as he is addressed by me, is a very handsome octogenarian, with a strong resemblance to Kishore Kumar. I could write an entire post about mama but not today. Lalitha Mami is a beautiful woman, young at heart and looks, a great grandmother, and a wonderful cook. They were staying with their son Raju and his wife Latha.
L-R : Maa, Jan, Mami, Mama, Raag

We made a late start and reached their house a little past noon. Latha had cooked a delicious and wonderful lunch, the details of which sadly elude recollection.We spent several hours reminiscing about the days I lived in Lucknow with them. Things were going great when Maalini accidentally dropped my phone and shattered the glass cover. I am proud to say, I did not even flinch much less lose my temper.

For the second item on my agenda, we left at around 4PM to go to Janakpuri to meet the parents of my best friend from high school. Although we were very dissimilar in temperament, we were quite close during the senior years at high school. My friend's father was away from home, but his mother and his niece were at home. She made tea for us and served us savories and sweets, enough to feed an army. Oh how I wish I were 15 years of age and tuck into food with verve! It was obvious aunty was very happy to see us. After meeting them, we went back to the B&B to rest and get ready for the journey next day to Rajasthan.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

India Trip 2013 - Part 1 (Planning)

A sad freshman in college
A few months back, my brother-in-law Naveen, and his wife Raji asked us, Jan and I, if we would like to vacation with them in Rajasthan, India. Raji, it seems was to attend a conference in Jaipur along with her colleague, Inchara. At the end of the conference, we, along with Raji's and Inchara's family would join them in Jaipur. Thereafter we would rent a Tempo Traveler that could seat a dozen persons along with their bags and travel and sight-see three of the famous locations, namely, Jaipur, Bikaner, and Jaisalmer. We got on-board once we found we could get cheap airline tickets. The only black cloud in all this was, Devi our older daughter, would not be with us for this trip as she was still adjusting to her freshman year in college.

After many back and forth and few more detours, we finally came up with this plan.
  1. Leave USA for New Delhi on 13th of November.
  2. Spend 15th in New Delhi meeting some friends and family.
  3. Travel by train to Jaipur on 16th and meet our fellow travelers, meet an old friend from my Lucknow days in 1980s, and finally sight-see the Pink City.
  4. Spend 17th seeing more of Jaipur.
  5. Travel to Bikaner on the 18th; see the Junagarh fort; visit the Camel farm; and stay overnight in Gajner Palace near Bikaner.
  6. Travel on 19th to Jaisalmer and check-in at Suryagarh.
  7. Spend 20th and 21st in Jaisalmer. See the fort, abandoned village, and ride on a camel.
  8. Drive on 22nd to Jaisalmer and fly back to New Delhi the same day.
  9. Meet friends from DCE and sight see New Delhi on 23rd and 24th
  10. Fly back home on 25th.
After these dates were decided, Jan felt that she would like to spend a few days with her parents in Bangalore. So we decided to travel to India separately. Maa and I went as planned and Jan went a few days earlier to Bangalore and met me in New Delhi on the 15th. I decided not visit my parents in Chennai as they had been with us for 3 months from early August to early November. In fact their departure to India was timed to be just a few days earlier than our own.

We were excited!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I was held up ...

The year was 1994. The locale was inner city Detroit. The specific address, Deroy Apartments at the Wayne State University Campus.

My friend Subbu and I came back late from the sports building called MATTHAEI to have dinner with my wife and a couple of friends. I had been taking swimming lessons and Subbu was my teacher. The friends were already at my home and were deep in some conversation with Jannavi but obviously waiting for us to come back.

Subbu and I apologized for being late saying, "we were held up".

They said they understood.

And we again said, "we were held up"

And they wisely nodded their head and assured us it was OK.

"You do not understand, we were really held up"

My friends assured us that they did no mind waiting for a nice dinner; my wife was known as a good cook.

We were clearly not communicating - so we acted it out. I made a gun with my hand and put it next to our head and pulled the trigger and said - we were held up! Get it?

Yawn. No one believed us. We were just making a excuse. So we pull out the business card of the police office. Then we told them the complete story

After the completion of the lessons and the showers, we walked out of the sports complete. And as we reached the parking lot, someone wearing a hoodie walked up to us, pointed something at me and asked us for our money. After nearly 20 years, I am unable to recollect the actual words he spoke or gestures he made. I distinctly remember a small, shining, probably golden color, gun. The gunman pointed it at me first and asked me for my money. I did not have a penny on me. Frustrated, he turned to Subbu and asked him for his money. He also did not have any. He asked us empty our pockets. I had only my student ID, but Subbu unfortunately had a copy of ATM receipt. The guy put the gun next to Subbu chest and ordered us to take him to an ATM, but with difficulty we assured him that we did not have the ATM card on us. Much frustrated, the gunman was a little unsure. It was a dangerous moment; he decided to walk away.

We were lucky. It could have ended tragically. From that day onwards, I always carry at least $20 always in my pocket.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Going Mainstream in USA

I came to this country in the late 80s. Except in the major metros, being Indian implied that one stuck out like a sore thumb. It meant answering the same question again and again; Are you a Hindi? Do you speak Hindu? Are there really 300 dialects? How come you eat meat? Is it not a taboo? What part of your name refers to your village?

Then came Y2K and with that a sudden influx of varieties of Indians. The tide slowly turned. The number of questions dwindled and the few inquiries you received were intelligent. Around the middle of last decade, I felt that being Indian was no longer unusual when I saw the Inside Man, starring some main stream Hollywood stars. As the opening credits rolled, I was surprised to hear this super hit song Chaiyya Chaiyya by the peerless AR Rahman.

Fast forward to today and I was completely shocked. I had some time to kill and I was watching Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Fast forward to around 11 minute mark.

Here is the challenge. Identify the three Hindi songs you hear in the back ground and tell me the name of the songs and singers.

Do not look in the Wikipedia.

I still have not yet seen the movie. I was just so thrilled to hear those songs that I dropped everything to write this post.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Two cats and a Monkey

I am sure you all have heard of the moral tale of the two cats and a monkey, but please indulge me in reviewing this story with you.

Once upon a time there lived two cats that came up a nice big cookie. They immediately claimed it for each other and quarreled bitterly over it. This was seen my a cunning monkey up on a tree who immediately offered to lend a helping hand in arbitrating the dispute. He started by breaking the cookie into two parts with one being small and the other little larger. Since it was not fair to one of the cats, he took a bite which subsequently made the smaller piece larger which he now claimed was not fair to the other cat. This went on till there were two very small piece which the monkey put in his mouth. When the cats asked him why he ate the last two pieces the monkey answered that those two pieces were his price of arbitration. The two cats, now wiser, realized their folly a little too late.

Now comes the geopolitical analogy to this moral tale. Substitute India and Pakistan for the two feuding cats, China for the cunning monkey that is above all fray and only wishes to bring harmony to the region, and finally the cookie could be any number of discords between India and Pakistan. We could for simplicity call Kashmir the cookie, although the folks that live there may not like to think of themselves. This is only an analogy and should not be taken too literally.

Basically it is a tale of India and Pakistan fighting constantly that has opened the door for opportunistic China in its drive for dominion status over all of Asia. China knows clearly that there is only one potential power that can derail its plans and that is India. So long as China keeps India engaged in Indo-Pak conflicts that do not ever end, the less chance India has in playing a role in the larger stage. The less the other countries recognize India as a global power, the more they see China in that role.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saving the Planet - baby step

The area where I live is called Brookeville, adjoining Olney. The housing communities are planned and well maintained with lot of walk paths. From spring all the way till late fall, it is not unusual to see a lot of residents running or walking. When I was not jogging, I walk a lot in my neighborhood, generally to stay fit. Despite being a well maintained neighborhood, it is not uncommon to see a little bit trash especially around common area that belong to no particular neighborhood and also in the wooded parts. It may seem rather a generalization, but I attribute most of this to a few thoughtless teenagers and some folks from other parts that commute on Georgia Avenue and Olney Laytonsville Road. I personally do not understand this, but I presume it is more of  "I do not live here, so it is acceptable to throw trash here" would seem to be the mentality. They probably subscribe to a form of NIMBY!

In the past, I would simply bemoan the fact, shake my head, and continue walking. More recently, I have felt the need to take some concrete action such as getting a group together to perform cleanups. Now I find it hard to convince anyone, if I tell them to zig, they tend to zag. In fact, I always say that if you want to convince someone to your point of view, send me to that person to argue to the opposing point of view! Maybe if I performed the task, my actions would be more convincing than my words. More over I felt I was not doing my share. So last week, I went to Home Depot and purchased a Trash Grabber. 

The weather earlier today was too nice and I carried the trash grabber along with a trash bag. I filled by bag with plastic and aluminum cans within a mile of my house and there is still a lot of trash to be picked up. As I walked and picked trash, I observed myself puffed with self-righteousness. I had to talk myself down a bit and put it in perspective; it was only one walk and one bag. At the other end, it was hard to stop myself from getting frustrated by the amount of trash, I could easily have packed ten bags. I felt my instincts to overdo needed to be curbed. I could not clean my neighborhood of trash in one walk. If there is still trash around it is not a failure. There is one bag less today than there was yesterday! It is continual process, more of a marathon than a sprint as most things in life are. This is only the beginning. 

I want to make this now part of my walks which now serve dual purposes; improve my health and the health of my neighborhood. Clean the neighborhood one walk, one bag at a time.