Bengaluru 572 km

Once in a while, a place leaves its imagery deeply rooted in the memory not because of the scenic beauty but for the company you had while visiting that place! The recent year-end weekend visit to Bangalore can be classified as one; there’s not much touristy place within the city to visit so if you do not have the right company, you can be bored to death.

It was a spur of the moment decision to drive down to Bengaluru taking along Rolf and our housekeeper. Rolf’s walker (in my absence), Priyanka was on vacation so it was evident that we need to take him wherever we decide to go and the Halcyon Condominium in Koramangala, Bengaluru  its pet friendly policies was the obvious choice. And the place was close to 100 ft. Road, Indira Nagar where Ayush stays. I booked a 2-bedroom apartment for our stay through Trivago.com for 2 nights but eventually stayed on for the third night as well.

We had planned to start early around 6 am but managed to start half hour late at 6:30 am. Google Map suggested the road to be (almost) straight down from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. My friend Swathi just a few days before told me that the roads are good and one can do the 550km stretch in 6 hours but once you enter the city of Bengaluru, you are at the mercy of the snail-paced traffic. I have the experience of driving on the other part of NH44 which is one the fine highways, particularly the southern sector. The road to Bengaluru was no different and with light early morning traffic, we could cruise at the max allowed speed and had covered 150+ km by 8:30 am when stopped at the food plaza for a cup of coffee and some snacks. The drive was eventless with another stop to let Rolf as well as me to stretch our legs and by 12:30 we were within 100km of Bengaluru. At exactly 2pm we hit the toll gate just after the Kempegowda Airport on the left. Being year-end and Saturday, the traffic was thinner compared to other days and with the guidance of Google Map we first went to Indira Nagar 100ft Road to meet Ayush and also feed Rolf who hadn’t had anything to eat but just water to keep him hydrated. Ayush arranged some Adrak-Chai which tasted very nice and the tiredness of drive drained out immediately.

100ft road
100 ft Road at night

Ayush had planned a treat for us in the evening to celebrate his promotion to the next level and we decided to meet up at his place again after checking in at Halcyon Condominium in Koramangala. Ayush warned me not to follow Google Map completely as it would take a very narrow but shorter route and instead go further and take the left turn at “Sony Crossing” and again a left turn on 5th Main Road.

As we were standing at the signal of 5th Main Road for left turn, Deepika suggested that the left turn is free as 2 motorcyclists took the turn; following her advice I took the turn just to land in the net of Bengaluru Traffic Police!! Deepika (feeling guilty) pleaded with the Inspector that we were new to the city having just entered and did not realize that left turn wasn’t free. Initially, the inspector was adamant on issuing the challan but I guess the presence of Rolf in the car convinced him that we are telling the truth and he allowed us to go with the advice to be careful next time.

Halcyon Condominium is more like a Serviced Apartment but has 24 hours room service and a restaurant besides conference hall and gymnasium. There are 130 dwelling units spreading through five floors. We were given a 2 bedroom apartment on the third floor (#317 & 318) with a living room, kitchen and balcony. It was ideal for Rolf as it was for us.  I would recommend Halcyon Condominiums for its clean rooms, excellent service and courteous staff; the only grey spot was the bed in our room which had a spring mattress and perhaps being aged would invariably plunge deep which was a bit uncomfortable. They need to change the mattress forthwith.

We had decided to gift something of value to Ayush for his first career promotion and after much prodding as to what he would like to have, he reluctantly asked for a wireless headphones for his gym sessions. The Bose outlet was in Forum Mall in Koramangala, so we asked him to come over to Halcyon and then we can go there to check the options and buy it for him. It is really amazing that Bose has so many state of the art product which one would like to acquire and based on the quality, the prices seems justified. Ayush decided on a in-ear pods and delightfully it was on discount so we promptly bought it. The Mall was packed with people, it being a Saturday and on top of it year-end; everyone was in a celebratory mood. We left for Ayush’s home for a drink before going out for dinner.

In the evening at Ayush’s apartment, the father-son had Jameson Irish whiskey and then went to Toast & Tonic at Richmond Road, Bengaluru where Ayush had booked a table for 3 of us for the treat for his promotion. Toast & Tonic is a casual bar serving international gastropub cuisine and mixing classic cocktails with their own special twist. The place was small with about less than 50 covers but full house. Since Ayush had been there earlier on few occasion, we let him decide on the food and drinks. Deepika had slight cold n cough so she settled for hot brandy concoction and I had a Gin-Tonic in which the tonic water was in-house creation with orange-lime infusion. The food was delicious and the service above par. The evening was memorable and paved way for the delightful days ahead. Ayush had insisted that I do not drive in the city as the cops are always on the prowl to catch the drivers with alcohol (even the minimal). And if you don’t speak the local language, then the harassment is even more. The Uber-Ola services on non-rainy days are good and one could get a cab even at mid-night. I was not in a mood to drive through the heavy city traffic, so we took an Uber till Koramangala and then Ayush took the same cab to his home in Indira Nagar.

We had asked Ayush to join us for breakfast but he declined as he had his gym session in the morning which he did not want to miss. He has been on a mission to lose weight and flab for over a year now and the results are quite visible. We had a leisurely breakfast at the dining room; the buffet spread was not extravagant but decent and included both North Indian and South Indian options besides Continental.

Post breakfast we had a power nap and were ready by the time Ayush came over around noon. My nephew (brother’s son) Aditya is also in Bengaluru and we decided to have lunch together. But before that Ayush wanted to get a suit stitched for the upcoming wedding of his cousin (my niece) in February, so we went back to Indira Nagar 100ft Road which has all the stores lined up right from clothings to eatery, a very happening street!! We decided to go to the Raymond store as it is well known for quality material and also has tailoring service.

By the time we were done at Raymond shop, Aditya called up to say that he will pick us up. We went to Toit – it is a Bangalore based brewpub that promises quality brews, fabulous food and a supreme brew-pub experience. It is huge place with more than 150 covers spread over 2-3 floors.  We tried out 2 different brews of beer and I had Toit Beef burger, Ayush & Aditya shared a Pepperoni Pizza and Deepika had veg Moussaka. The food was good with large enough portion/ size but the beer was really superb.

Deepika had to meet a friend of hers so we came back to Halcyon and Ayush said he’ll join us later in the evening for our dinner date with another friend of Deepika. I thought of taking a power nap to get myself ready for the evening but it was past 5 pm when reached and thereafter taking Rolf for his evening walk through the busy street was a task in itself. Rolf had his fair share of admirers and he enjoyed all the attention and petting by complete strangers and also let them take his pictures!!

Moushumi, Deepika’s friend had called us over to her home for drinks n dinner; initially she had planned to cook herself but as she was getting the apartment painted and blokes painting it had extended their target date, she decided to make only the appetizers to go with the drinks and took us to Broadway The Gourmet Theatre in HSR Layout. The restaurant is located on the fourth floor of a building and offers comfortable seating. There’s also an al fresco section in the form of a big balcony. Plus a separate section for teppanyaki. Steps will lead you to the rooftop, which has also been set up with long picnic tables and a wall full of green potted plants for larger groups and parties. The ideal place to seat is in the balcony especially if you are heading here for dinner, because the night view of the cityscape is pretty nice with twinkling lights. However, the ladies were not up to the nice chilly breeze, so we settled for a table inside but close to the balcony so that whenever the door was opened, we could get the whiff of the chilly air. Though, I was feeling quite full with plateful of garlic prawns at her home, I ordered for a pork dish which I found a bit tough (read well done) but tasted good. Moushumi had ordered for a lamb dish but changed her mind for Shushi. So I ended up tasting the lamb with tanduri roti; the lamb was nice, soft and succulent. Ayush had a version of risotto and Deepika had a mixed vegetable curry with roti. Overall, the evening was a relaxing and we thoroughly enjoyed the great company of Moushumi who narrated many interesting anecdotes about people whom she and Deepika knew from their Amex days.

Our plan was to check out on 31st after breakfast to reach Hyderabad by evening but we decided to stay on for a family time on the last day of the year.

Ayush suggested we go to UB City Mall where there are many options for lunch on the terraces; we asked Moushumi to join us as well and she said that she will pick us up from Halcyon which is close to her home. The UB City is perhaps one of the oldest Mall and boasted of having the high-end brands from across the globe. The escalator takes you to the terrace at the level-2 which had multiple restaurants and cafes. We decided on Farzi Café, having tried their unique take on the Indian and Mediterranean dishes at their Cyber Hub, Gurugram outlet earlier. We had Edamame Hummus with Kori Roti Crisp, Bombay Bhel, Tanduri Bacon Prawns and of course their house beer. The food was at best very average, nothing compared to their NCR outlets (Connaught Place or Gurugram).

Deepika and Moushumi went for shopping and we came back to Halcyon to take Rolf out for his evening walk. Thereafter, Ayush & I went to Indira Nagar to pick up a decent Single Malt to celebrate the NYE and also buy him a pair of jeans from Levi’s as most of his jeans had become a tad too large post his weight loss. The 100ft Road was in a celebratory mood and most shops were closing down to let their employees enjoy the evening. Aditya had offered us two couple passes at a restaurant in Koramangala but none of wanted to spend the evening among strangers with loud music running where one can’t even listen to one’s own voice; instead we decided to have quite family time. We decided to order food in the room although there was a NYE party happening at Halcyon and the organizers requested us to join them but we politely declined.

After many years we really had a family time on NYE as most of the previous years we were either at some friends place or have friends come over to our place in Delhi. It used to be fun filled games and gastronomic evenings. But this time we just kept talking about how was the year gone by and what are the aspirations for the coming year. The time flew by and we suddenly realized it is midnight and the New Year 2019 rolled in with a hope of prosperity, both intellectual and materialistic.

We asked Ayush to stay over and that I will drop him in the morning on our way back to Hyderabad but he said it would be out of the way and took Uber to go home.

We left for Hyderabad around 7 am and reached home at 2:45 pm with one halt for breakfast and another one at Café Coffee Day as I was feeling very sleepy and needed some caffeine to stay alert on the highway.

I do not know and neither wants to know what’s in store for us in 2019 but instead would like to go with the flow and let whatever happens, happen. Cheers!!!

8700 Hours & Counting

It is now almost a year that we moved to Hyderabad and I guess I can now reflect back to the circa 2018. The year has been euphoric, eventful and exhausting, all at the same time.

The first three months flew by in a jiffy or it seemed so as we were getting used to staying outside Delhi for the first time since our birth. We were getting to know the neighborhood, tasting the famed Hydrabadi Biriyanis and other delicacies, getting lost in the maze of Hydrabadi streets while exploring only to be rescued by Google Map.

First we had a three-way birthday celebrations of mine, my wife’s and bro-in-law and we turned into tourist to explore the city, visiting the Charminar, Hussain Sagar and Golkonda Fort. We had Biriyani at the famed Sadaab Hotel near the Charminar. We celebrated the triple birthdays at the Fisherman’s Wharf, a seafood fine dining restaurant situated in the Financial District.

The second event was a mini reunion of friends in Puri, Odissa. My childhood friend Soni had opened his hotel and invited all the classmates over but only few of us could make it. #Please see PuriJatra at aranyascope.com.  After having a fabulous weekend with friends it was back to the routine.

By the end of third month in Hyderabad, I had tried all the famed Biriyani’s viz. Shah Ghouse, Pista House, Paradise, Behrouz, Bawarchi and Four Seasons. Also tried their kebabs and curries; the only lingering taste that remains is the hot spices. Among all these, Shah Ghouse stands out as the most aromatic and less spicy which is what I prefer in my Biriyani.

In mid April I had a short visit to Delhi to attend a wedding and after I came back things took a different turn. Deepika’s office got relocated to Hafeezpet from DLF Gachibowli and we came to know the real Hydrabadi traffic, a mere 7.5 km stretch takes 35-40 minutes between 9am to 11pm slot. I have come to realize that the kings of Hyderabad Roads are the two wheelers followed by the three wheelers. The two wheelers outnumber the cars in the ratio of 5:1 at least if not more and irrespective of who is driving – male or female; their dare devilry is jaw dropping. The 2-wheelers on Hyderabad roads are like cockroaches coming out from the drain, moving haphazardly without caring for the others or even themselves. Many a times, waiting at the traffic signal, I had wondered, if the citizens of the country are so undisciplined in following the traffic rules how will the country be disciplined in more complex things like honesty in financial dealings, inter-personal relations and even in politics!!! 

On the positive side, this maddening traffic has made me patient while driving. Initially, I had thrown few expletives at the erring and scurrying drivers but perhaps they neither understood the Delhiwala language nor cared. After driving scratch-free for full five months, on 1st June while listening to Rabindrasangeet to sooth my nerves and waiting for the signal to turn green I was nudged to reality when a brand new Swift Dezire tried to squeeze through a non-existing passage between my car and the motorcycles on the right, to make its mark on the rear door of my car. I was expecting a “sorry” from the occupant of Dezire but no such luck; it simply sped away as soon as it could maneuver its way through the traffic. And I realized, it is the norm in Hyderabad roads, the traffic neither cares for your expletives nor the sorry, they simply move on… perhaps considering the roads as their ancestral property.

When the summer came, it was very different from what I am used to in Delhi. The heat wasn’t intense like Delhi but very sultry during the day but the late evenings were enjoyable with cool breeze flowing in from the lakes around the surrounding area. The summer in Hyderabad is not a prolonged affair like Delhi; it quickly gives away to the monsoon. I found the Hyderabad weather pretty funny because on some days, the sky would be filled with dark black clouds ominous of imminent rains but within the hour it would clear up and on other occasion, it would start raining without a warning. The rainy days were particularly very trying for Rolf who hates wet surfaces and it became a real task to take him out for a walk. In Hyderabad, the peripheral roads running through the colony doesn’t have a raised footpath, instead it has a red sand patch on the sides that works both for pedestrian movement as well as parking of the vehicle. And during monsoon, these sidewalks become so messy that there is no alternative but walk on the concrete road dodging the traffic.  

Deepika had been complaining about health issues and from mid-May onwards, every weekend or the alternate weekend, our days would start with a visit to the doctor. She would complain of stomach ache every other day and the GP whom we were consulting suggested we consult a specialist. We went to Apollo Spectra Hospital for a thorough check-up as it was well known for having highly qualified doctors. She was diagnosed with gastroenteritis by the doctor from the ultrasound report. Accordingly, he prescribed the medication but emphasized on the diet and regularity of taking ones food. He also suggested her to relax and not take unnecessary stress at the work place but it was easier said than done in this modern day corporate culture.

She would be fine while the medication was on but would again complain of stomach ache when the doses got over. The ultrasound at the hospital had shown up minor ulcers on the stomach lining which is normal but I had my reservations about their radiology, as waiting outside the room I could see the turnaround of the patients in quick succession (10-15 minutes each) and to the best of my knowledge it takes about 20-25 minutes normally and even more if the radiologist suspect abnormality. It would be another two months in another city, another hospital where the correct diagnosis and treatment would alleviate her pains.

The spicy food and stress is a lethal combination for aggravating the hemorrhoids and its consequences. My hemorrhoids started troubling me and I decided to consult the doctor before it turned nightmarish like a few years ago. The doctor suggested immediate surgery and unlike few earlier occasion, this time I agreed to go under the knife to get rid of this recurring issue. The good doctor said that I shall be up and ready for a marathon in just three days. That is nothing but a White Lie to sooth my nerve; it took exactly four weeks to get back to my normal self. We, unlike in Delhi, do not have any support system in Hyderabad but managed to pass through the surgery and post operative weeks in flying colors. My biggest concern was daily walking of Rolf because neither Deepika nor Savita the housekeeper can manage, Rolf needs a firm handler. Priyanka, a sweet girl and a canine behaviorist came in as an angel and took care of Rolf while I recuperated.  

We do Laxmi Puja on the full moon day immediately after the Dusshera with Pandit ji coming and doing the rituals. This has been going on for generations and Deepika was certain that we will go back to Delhi on time to continue with the tradition. After much deliberation, it was decided to go a week before the Durga Puja. Since, Rolf was also going; it was decided to drive the 1600 km distance to Delhi. However, just two weeks before our departure, we had an accident that put a question mark on our plans.

It had rained through the night and continued to drizzle through the morning. The traffic was unusually heavy on the road that I normally take to drop Deepika to her Hafeezpet office. So, she suggested I take the alternate route that the Uber drivers take on many occasion and use the Google Map for convenience. I switched on the Google Map and started following its advice. The route had a very narrow railway underpass and even in normal days it’s always chalk-a-block. That day was no exception; rather the jam extended even more and I kept up with the Pajero in front of me, rolling the car with the flow of traffic. As we reached the mouth of the short underpass, the Pajero went ahead smoothly but my left front wheel hit some obstacle and the engine stopped. There was no time to check then and there, I started the car and reversed a bit to clear the obstacle and as I eased out I realized that the alignment of the car has gone bonkers. Luckily, the Toyota Service centre was on the way back home and I went there after dropping Deepika.

After a thorough check, it was diagnosed that the left arm of the steering assembly has got bent which is non-repairable and needs to be replaced. I got the car serviced the next day as servicing was also due in any case. Thereafter, it was one agonizing week of waiting for the desired auto part to arrive from either Bengaluru (Toyota warehouse) or Chennai (Toyota factory). All’s well that ends well, Kiran Kumar, the service executive at Harsha Toyota, true to his words, arranged the required item within the week and had the car ready for the long drive to Delhi.

While driving down to Hyderabad from Delhi, my car was more of a goods carrier than passenger car, so I put my foot down on the stuff we can carry to Delhi for our 5-week sojourn. Overall, the drive to Delhi was uneventful with few exceptions; Rolf, somehow managed to get hold of his tail in the confined area of the back seat that he had to share with our housekeeper and bitten it bloody. I noticed it when we stopped at GoFlamingo Resort, Pench for lunch. I couldn’t do anything at the spot but fed him Pedigree Chicken chunks and egg along with cold water.

I had booked Pathway Retreat, Sagar (MP) for the night halt, however, when we reached there after getting stuck on the highway NH44 for over an hour due to blockage by the villagers to protest the  death of a motorcyclist in an accident some 5-6 km ahead from our spot, the hotel had the audacity to tell us that they have given away their ONLY ROOM to someone else as we have been late in reaching. This after confirming just day before!! Anyways, I checked on the net and found an area not too far from the highway that has a number of hotels. The first hotel that Deepika checked was not suitable with dirty dingy rooms. Few good ones on the street to our liking was not pet friendly. Finally, we got one that after much prodding by Deepika agreed to accommodate Rolf in the room with a condition that he won’t bark at night. I was relieved as I knew Rolf doesn’t bark unnecessarily like other dogs. So, I told them that the room service guys should gently tap the door in order not to agitate him. We ordered plain rice for Rolf and roti-sabji for us. I mixed the rice with the packed chicken chunks for Rolf which he finished quickly and found a place to rest. Driving over 900km was tiring so immediately after dinner, we retired to bed, for the next day was another 600 plus km drive to final destination.

I must mention here that when we were approaching Sagar, a nuisance in the form of squatting cows slowed us down considerably and this obstruction continued the following day as we traversed through MP-UP-MP-UP till we hit the Yamuna Expressway. Also, a nudge from one of the bovine while passing it damaged the side view mirror as we entered the state of Uttar Pradesh for the first time. I had to fold back the side mirrors and it caused discomfort in driving as I am used to frequently referring to either of them, especially if I have to change the lanes.

In the morning after breakfast I got the med kit from the car and using the bandage and antiseptic cream that the Toyota provides with each car, bandaged Rolf’s tail.

As I started the engine I realized the fuel tank was nearing the ‘empty’ mark. Deepika assured me that we will find the gas station on the highway when I told her that I have seen one which was little ahead of the hotel and a slight detour from our path. However, she insisted we move on and fill up on the highway. I kept an eye on the fuel gauge and started panicking when after driving almost 20-25 km we could not locate any gas station on either side of the road. I thought of turning back to Sagar but Deepika prodded me carry on and she looked up the internet to locate one. It said there’s one just 5 km ahead and we kept a careful watch on either side. Soon we could we see the sign of an Indian Oil Petrol Pump but couldn’t find the way to reach the spot as the highway was elevated road and the station was way below without any clear exit to reach it. Then I saw a tyre repair shop and stopped to check with them. One of the guy suggested that I go on the wrong side for 100 meters and I will find the exit patch to reach the gas station. Much against my sensibilities, I had to take the suggested path and reached the gas station rolling down a muddy path used by all shapes and size of automobiles and bullock carts as well. I got the tank filled to the brim which is actually not recommended specially in the summer months. The fuel lasted us till we reached Greater Noida and could have gone till Delhi but I was did not take that chance.

The drive till Jhansi was smooth barring occasional road blocks by the bovine army that squatted on the roads at will and brought the cruising vehicles to mere rolling in those patches. We saw few martyred bovines that probably stood up to the larger and heavier trucks at night and laid down their lives. Once we crossed Jhansi and on way to Gwalior, the road became bad; this stretch of the highway has been in Work-in-Progress since my first journey last December and hasn’t made much progress as some of it belongs to UP while the other belongs to MP and neither would act. Hopefully, when I make my next road trip to Delhi, this will be completed, fingers crossed!!

The distance to cover from Jhansi to Gwalior was approx 136 km which I would have done in 2.5 hours if the roads were good but it took us almost 4 hours to cross this part and we started feeling hungry once we crossed Gwalior. We were looking for a mid-way retreat kind of place where I can feed Rolf as well but except few Dhabas nothing came up on the horizon and we reached the outskirts of Agra. We had the option at that point to bypass Agra and take NH19 to Mathura-Vrindavan-Faridabad-Delhi or go through the city of Agra and take the Taj Expressway-Yamuna Expressway-Greater Noida-Noida-Delhi. We took the latter option for 2 reasons – (1) although it marginally longer route, once you hit the expressway, it was much faster commute than the other; (2) we were hungry and the Toll Plaza at the Yamuna Expressway had Food Court and ample space to walk n feed Rolf.

Before leaving for Delhi, having fed Rolf as well as ourselves, I called up Rolf’s doctor in Delhi and told him about the problem and that we would reach his clinic latest by 8:30pm; the good doctor promised to keep open his clinic for Rolf. On reaching Greater Noida, I took a small detour towards Pari Chowk to fill up the fuel tank as I knew there won’t be any gas station till I reach South Extension, Delhi. Although, it was Sunday but traffic on the Greater Noida-Noida Expressway was still heavy and I managed to reach the veterinary clinic at East Kidwai Nagar around 8:30 pm as I estimated. The doctor treated his badly bruised tail and found that he has been running high temperature. Rolf was administered injections of antibiotics for his wound and one for the fever. I was advised to take him to the clinic for next 3 days for medication. Following day after his CBC, it was found that he has been suffering from Tick Fever which could have been fatal if we had not taken him to the clinic on time. I was shocked and felt helpless by the mere thought that if hadn’t come to Delhi and Rolf hadn’t bitten his tail and we hadn’t taken him to the vet, we would have lost Rolf as he had not shown any symptom of fever or being unwell. Normally, if he (or any dog) is unwell, the first symptoms are complete refusal of food intake however this time he was having food normally and doing his daily chores as well. Later, I got to know that one dog had died and another one severely affected by Tick Fever in our housing complex in Hyderabad.

Rolf’s doctor informed that a new preventive medicine for Ticks is now available in India but quite expensive @Rs.2000/- per tablet. I immediately asked him to get one for Rolf and he said to give it him once he is completely cured. It is chewable tablet in the size of a chocolate cube and I was apprehensive about him having it voluntarily. I really had to fight with him to make him have oral medicines but this one he simply sniffed and chewed up to a great relief to all of us.

Deepika & I had planned to go Pandal hopping on Durga Ashtami evening but she started complaining severe stomach ache which continued till late into the night despite having medicines. Next day morning, we went to the doctor, a specialist in gastro enteritis’s who after examination said it could be for some other reason and advised us to get a fresh ultra-sound done which we got done at the recommended lab. The result clearly indicated deposition of multiple stones in the gall bladder and it made us wonder at the efficiency of the Radiology Department of Apollo Spectra Hospital, Hyderabad.

The doctor suggested immediate surgery and she got admitted to PSRI Hospital on Saturday and was operated in the afternoon through laparoscopy. After spending the night for post-operative care was released on Sunday evening with advice to take it easy for couple of weeks. However, the workaholic Deepika was back in business on the third day and a week later she traveled back to Hyderabad to attend few meetings.

The renewal of my driving license was one of the task that I had earmarked while in Delhi. I knew my driver’s license was due for renewal in 2018 but was in the impression that the month was November. So, in the first week itself (in October) I took out my driving license and was shocked to see that the “due date” was in March 2018. I have been carrying just a piece of paper all this while and driving not just in Hyderabad but actually drove 1600 km across the country, virtually without a driver’s license. Once you know this fact, it becomes impossible to drive (for a law abiding citizen). Our driver and handyman Guddu Kumar provided the solution with his contact at the Sheikh Sarai RTO. I wanted my DL immediately, so paid a premium and got the renewed one in 3 days flat.

Ayush came over on 31 October and we planned a Diwali Party on Sunday, 4 November calling our friends for a friendly card party. This year for the first time, I did not lose any money in the game of teen patti. And Ayush was the big winner of the season!!

Following the Diwali which we celebrated with the Basu’s at their Gurugram residence, the big event was Bhaiduj when all the siblings gather at our place for a gastronomic pleasure. This year too was no different with Biriyani and Korma from Babu Khan Bawarchi, Matka Pir, New Delhi and other homemade delicacies.

Deepika and Savita, our housekeeper left for Hyderabad on Saturday and Ayush on Sunday. I packed up the house after dropping off Ayush at the airport and was ready for the return journey with Guddu at the wheels, this time.

The drive back to Hyderabad was uneventful but slower than my first trip; I felt, Guddu was not in his element and drove at a sedate pace instead of his hurried nature. We reached our night halt, GoFlamingo Resort, Pench at 10pm, a good 2 hours later than our first trip. Had our dinner and slept early. The following morning, after breakfast, left for the final leg of the journey to Hyderabad. This time I had Reliance Jiofi with me and did not, even for once had any connectivity issue and Google Map guided us to home, NCC Urban, Hyderabad around 4 pm, 2 hours earlier than Google Map forecast!!

A week later, Deepika & I went back to Delhi to attend a family wedding and do some unfinished work. Being a born Delhiite, it is always difficult to say goodbye to the city, despite its shortcomings.

Deepika’s cousin with his wife came over to stay with us in mid-December and once again, we visited the usual tourist points – Charminar, Salarjung and Golconda Fort. We went to Golconda Fort in the evening for the Sound-n-Light show. The first experience was tackling the never ending army of mosquitoes. The organizers unable to eradicate the problem have come out with novel measure of providing the guests with mosquito repellant cream and it worked. There were few glitches in the conduct of the show, viz. sudden loss of sound but overall, it was a good effort. I felt, the content was a bit incomplete with very less information about the early years of the Fort when erstwhile Hindu Rulers had the control of the fort. In a effort to cover up, the content has added few unverifiable stories which are good to hear though.

Thereafter, life has got into the routine and now I look forward to our impending visit to Ayush at Bengaluru for the year ending weekend.

The Thai Diary – Two

Phuket

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We landed at Phuket International Airport around 5:00 PM local time. The flight was without incident and smooth. One thing I realized, the Thai people whether they speak in their mother tongue or English, it sounds same to us!!

As we were coming out of the airport, we noticed kiosks selling tour packages. Deepika & Sangeeta approached one such kiosk and after 15-20 minutes of animated discussions came to us to announce that Phi Phi Island along with 2 more has been finalized. What clinched the deal for the kiosk owner is his offer of free drop to the hotel from the airport (costing approx 1000-1200 Thai Baht).

The cab was one of the models of Toyota vans like HiAce, quite spacious and comfortable. The road from the airport to the hotel – Novotel Kamala Beach reminded us of Goa but much cleaner sidewalks. We were feeling thirsty but had resisted buying water from the airport counter for 100 Thai Baht per bottle, so requested the driver to stop by any of the roadside kiosk selling tender coconut. Actually, it was Ayush who could explain it to him otherwise our words were Greek to him and vice-versa. He stopped at one such shop and I must say I have never had such fantastic tender coconut ever in my life. It was not only sweet but the content of each of them was over a litre and the best part was it being chilled to perfection.

We reached Novotel Kamala Beach Resort around 6:00PM and was immediately attended to by the ever smiling staff of the hotel. I must compliment Sangeeta for choosing this property over dozen others in Phuket. It’s not big but well organized with two restaurants, swimming pool, spa and gym. Also it has a private beach. Since, ours was triple occupancy with extra-bed, we had opted for ocean view rooms which is supposed to be larger as per their website. Initially we were allotted room on the first floor but later moved to the fourth floor which had a clear unencumbered view of the Andaman Seas. Basu’s were in a different wing and requested for transfer to ours which took a day to come through.

We decided to take it easy for the evening and walked down to the beach for a stroll after unpacking and freshening up (read changing into beach gear). Later around 8:00 PM we congregated at Basu’s room for the Glenmorangie and soft drinks that we carried from Bangkok.

We went to Kamala Beach market to find a restaurant for dinner. It was past past 9:45 PM and most shops had downed their shutter on a rain soaked evening. The only ones open were the food joints and some selling beach wear and other tidbits. I needed to buy a boxer short as I had forgotten to take mine from home. Deepika & I decided to look for one in the beach wear stores while Basu’s and Ayush went searching for an appropriate eating joint. After much searching, (most were selling shorts that were synthetic material and I wanted a soft cotton one), and haggling I liked one fake UNDER ARMOUR shorts and bought it along with a fake US Polo T-Shirt. Meanwhile, Basu’s had found the place for dinner – Ma Ma Aew Restaurant & Bar and had already ordered their food and beer. We joined them and ordered our food with a chilled Shingha bear for me and a hot veggie soup for Deepika. I & Sangeeta stayed with shrimp not venturing to beef or pork which seemed to have caught the fancy of Santanu & Ayush!! The food was decent not extra-ordinary and we were so hungry that we devoured it double quick time.

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After dinner, we wanted to walk back but it started to drizzle, so we persuaded a cabby to drop us at the hotel, about 4 km away for 200 Thai Baht!!

Although, the sound of the sea at night and intermittently lighted beach of Novotel was quite inviting, we had no strength to venture, so called it a day and retired for a well deserved sleep.

It was Sunday, so as usual we took it easy and had a leisurely sumptuous breakfast at the hotel. The array of platters was amazing and spoilt you for choice. I started with fruits followed by cold cuts n cheese moving on to fried eggs with toast and orange juice, finished with a cup of refreshing coffee.

Later, after freshening up, we took the hotel drop facility and went to Patong. The cab dropped us at the Jungceylon Mall and would pick us up from the same spot at 9 PM. We wanted to take tour of the interesting places of Phuket and looked for a cab. As usual, Sangeeta & Deepika were at the forefront to negotiate with the cab driver and managed a price which neither of the males in the group could have achieved.

Our first stop was at Kata Beach and the Phuket view point. If you love the sea all beaches are beautiful. Whenever I see the waves hitting the shore and going back only to come again, I have this strong urge to let myself float with the wave and eventually reach the high seas!! The Phuket view point is at an altitude from where you can see the Kata beach below and the views are indeed outstanding. Thereafter we did beach hopping of Paradise beach, Karon beach before heading for Big Buddha. It was a long winding road that take you to the top of a hillock where rests the biggest Buddha idol, I have ever seen.

The Big Buddha is one of the most important and revered landmarks of Phuket. The huge statue sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and rises 45 meters which can be seen from as far away as Phuket Town and Karon Beach. The lofty terrace offers a 360 degree view of the island right from Phuket Town to Kata, Karon, Chalong Bay and beyond. It is easily reachable from the Phuket Town through the 6 km long winding road and a must visit site while you are in Phuket. The atmosphere atop is very peaceful with only sounds of tinkling bells, fluttering flags and soft Dharma music that floats in the air. The local people call it Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha, the main idol was built in 2004 and the whole body is constructed with reinforced concrete and layered with beautiful Burmese white jade marble that shines in the Sun making it a glorious sight.

By the time we came back to Patong via the Old Phuket Town, the Sun was setting on the horizon. We stopped at the Patong Beach which reminded us of Goa’s Baga beach with water scooters, parasailing and water-ski besides the street food stalls. The cab dropped us back at the Jungceylon Mall, we ventured on the streets to check the night bazaar just across the road on a open space. The stalls were getting ready for the long evening. However, the prices of everything was double of what you can get at a normal regular shop, a 330 ml beer can of Shingha was selling at 100 Baht whereas you can get inside the mall for just 34 Baht. Though, the fried prawns and fish were looking tempting we resisted looking at the general hygiene or lack of it at most of the stalls. Deepika & Sangeeta went looking for tidbits for gifting purposes while Santanu, Ayush and I sauntered back to the mall to pick up some beer and croissant which devoured merrily sitting on the road before catching up with Deepika and Sangeeta for a quick dinner.

The following day was to start early as we were going for island hopping. The pick-up vehicle was scheduled to come around 8 AM. So we called it a day and decided to meet at the breakfast sharp at 7 AM as soon as the service starts.

After a light breakfast (didn’t want to throw up while at the sea), we were ready for the cab to pick us up from the hotel entrance. It was quite a distance to the boat pier from our hotel (Novotel Kamala Beach) and took little over an hour to reach. The captain of the boat gave us his usual talk on the safety precaution and what to expect through the ride including the itinerary.

Our first stop was at Khai Nai Island, a small piece of land in the middle of nowhere. Most of the land was occupied by food kiosks selling primarily Thai street food. The boat, Sea Angel #208 and many such boats had their own tables spread on the beach from where they supplied the life jackets and snorkeling gear to the ones interested as also fruits (pineapple and watermelon) and soft beverages. Santanu, Sangeeta and Ayush went for the snorkeling while Deepika and I explored the mini island enjoying the cacophony of different languages. There were few Indians besides us but majority of the crowd were Chinese.

Koh Khai Nai is a small island, enhancing its asset by the clear sandy beach along the northern and western sides of the island. The clear water is convenient for swimming. The coral line surrounding the island and colorful fish keep those skin divers floating on the water surface. The east side of the island also presents masterpieces created by the wind as stones are carved into an elephant head and 3 tortoises.

Around noon, the captain announced we should get into the speed boat for onward journey to Phi Phi Island. He said the Coral point has been closed to the tourist by the Thai govt to save guard from destruction but promised to take us as close as permitted. To reach Phi Phi, the boat has to get on to high seas but because it was middle of the day, the sea was quite calm and we enjoyed the hour long journey. I was sitting at the rear of the boat and initially got little scared with minor bumps but it was fun and once in a life time experience.

Once we disembarked at the island, we were taken straight to the food hall (capacity to sit 350+ at one go) for lunch. The food was simple Thai cuisine, fried rice, noodles (more like spaghetti) and two kinds of chicken curry. There was a separate counter for vegetarians. And of course fruits (watermelon), tea and coffee.  While I was taking some fruits, the captain came to me and started talking to me. He asked me where from we have come and was totally aback when I said India. He was quite adamant that we cannot be from India as he had very different experience with Indians in previous occasion. I cannot blame him for his adverse perceptions as I have seen my countrymen (and women) behave quite rowdily in places where they should actually be setting example of our beautiful country.

The Phi Phi Islands are an island group in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the west Strait of Malacca coast of the mainland. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, and is the most populated island of the group, although the beaches of the second largest island, Ko Phi Phi Lee (or “Ko Phi Phi Leh”), are visited by many people as well. The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Nai, and Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai), are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea. The Islands are reachable by speedboats or Long-tail boats most often from Krabi Town or from various piers in Phuket Province.

Phi Phi Don was initially populated by Muslim fishermen during the late-1940s, and later became a coconut plantation. The Thai population of Phi Phi Don remains more than 80% Muslim. The actual population however, if counting laborers, especially from the north-east, is much more Buddhist these days. The population is between 2,000 and 3,000 people (2013).

The islands came to worldwide prominence when Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 British-American film The Beach. This attracted criticism, with claims that the film company had damaged the island’s environment, since the producers bulldozed beach areas and planted palm trees to make it resemble description in the book. An increase in tourism was attributed to the film’s release, which resulted in increases in waste on the Islands, and more developments in and around the Phi Phi Don Village. Phi Phi Lee also houses the “Viking Cave”, where there is a thriving industry harvesting edible bird’s nest. Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly the island’s entire infrastructure was destroyed. As of 2010 most, but not all, of this has been restored.

The return journey to Phuket started around 4 PM with captain announcing “Now, please enjoy the Rock-n-Roll”. Frankly, I thought some music is going to be played!!

The boat took us close to the Monkey Island but no one was interested to disembark so we continued towards Phuket and then we understood the hidden meaning of Rock-n-Roll. The sea which was calm while coming has suddenly woken up and the waves started playing with our speed boat. Thinking about it, I am at loss for words to express the experience. We would be on top of the wave at one time only to crash down the next moment. It was the experience and expertness of the pilot that could guide the speed boat to the safely. Normally, Deepika is quite adventurous but the turbulence made her go pale. I too was nervous but realized that if the boat capsizes, all the passengers will be in the same boat i.e. at the mercy of the high seas whether one can swim or not. The dance of the raging waves continued till we neared the shore of Phuket. There was this Middle Eastern macho guy who had gone to sit on the deck as we started and one of the initial waves simply threw him on the floor making him go absolutely bonkers; he crawled inside the cabin and even then refused to get up from the floor. And then there was this Indian lady who kept puking in the bag and I remembered seeing her at the food hall gorging on the food!! I looked at the other co-passengers; one lady was continuously praying to God and eventually fell asleep. Anyway, all nightmares come to an end and this too ended with the boat docking at the pier. The cab was waiting outside to take us back to the hotel.

In the evening, we met at the Basu’s room (#129) to finish off the Glenmorangie and then go for our Anniversary Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel. We ordered the dish of the day – Seafood platter (for 2) for Santanu, Sangeeta, Ayush and me while Deepika ordered for soup and veggie fried rice. If I could find a black spot in the services of Novotel Kamala Beach, this was it. The portion of Seafood platter was not sufficient for 2 people, the food for Deepika came after 2 rounds of query with the hostess and that too after we had finished our food slowly, chewing every bit of it. Overall it took more than an hour for the Veggie fried rice to come. I gave an earful to the Chef (Manager) of the restaurant and he profusely apologized and even offered to make the dinner complimentary from the hotel which I refused. At the end, he presented the invoice for the Seafood Platters only.

The following day was earmarked for shopping and we took the hotel complimentary cab to Patong. Ayush wanted buy a jacket and a flip-flop of a particular brand (SuperDry) while Sangeeta wanted to pick up some Tees for the children back home, so we split up at the mall. Ayush liked a jacket at the Under Armour store but as luck would have it, the size fitting him was not available. Next, we went to Robinsons where Deepika picked up some stuff moving on to the Super Dry store where Ayush was happy to get his desired flip flop sandal. We picked up some giftable items from the outdoor kiosks within the mall as well. It was close to 2 PM and we were to connect with the pick-up cab at 4 PM sharp for return to the hotel. We decided to have burger from McD which serves authentic Cheese Burgers unlike what is available at Indian outlets. However, there were no vegetarian options for Deepika so she went to another food outlet to pick up veggie sandwich. Before that Ayush and I had gone to the A1 hypermarket in search of beer but was rudely shocked to know that as per Thai Govt rule, no alcohol is sold during the period 2 PM to 5:30 PM in that particular shop. However, later we picked up beer from a 24×7 shop just across the road with much ease.

We saw Basu’s coming with handful of bags in different shape and sizes and realized we haven’t done any shopping at all!! They also informed that they had a Thai Massage at one of the parlor as well and feeling rejuvenated.

We reached the hotel around 5 PM and Deepika immediately fixed up Spa time for herself as well as mine. I have strong aversion to body massage and opted for a foot massage only. Must say it was simply good as my tired legs suddenly became all fresh ready to dance!! The evening was made even more beautiful by Novotel Kamala Beach when they offered us complimentary drinks that too unlimited!!

I had bought a small bottle of Black Label whiskey for the evening as the last drop of Glenmorangie was consumed yesterday but Santanu said he already had too much beer in the afternoon and was not feeling up to it. Ayush also was not in the mood for whiskey so we settled for the beer before going out to Kamala Beach Market for dinner. We had our dinner at Number One Seafood Restaurant (yes, that’s the name of the restaurant and there was another called Number Two as well). The restaurant was more like an upscale Dhaba run by a family whose ancestors had migrated to Thailand (Phuket) a century ago from India. The lady serving us could speak broken Hindi but understood well. The food was average but fresh and we enjoyed every bit of the roasted lobster and crab curry.

Our flight to Bangkok was around 4 PM while Basu’s had booked theirs later in the evening. The morning was spent having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel followed by spending time at the beach for the last time till we come again. Santanu managed to pull me inside the swimming pool although neither could swim but the water was at right temperature and it felt good.

Basu’s came to our room around 10:30 AM to bid goodbye as they had planned to go to Patong once again for another massage and generally spend the last few hours on Phuket soil enjoying. We decided to take the cab around 1 PM for the airport and stopping at Laguna Market for lunch.

Laguna Market resembled any European suburban market with paved walkways and ample parking bays. We roamed the entire market and picked up chocolates and other tidbits and then went to a café for lunch. I have forgotten the name but it had a 5-Star rating from TripAdvisor. The food was excellent living up to its reputation and was not very expensive. While eating, we realized we are the only Indians in the whole place, all other customers were either European (could recognize German dialect) or Americans.

Ayush was getting edgy since morning fearing he might miss his connecting flight to Bengaluru if the Phuket-Bangkok flight gets delayed as there was exactly 2 hours gap in-between. We rushed to the airport without further delay and reached around 3:15 PM.

The Vietjet flight was on time and we flew out around 5:25 PM and reached Bangkok little before 7 PM. The departure was thankfully from the same terminal but from a different floor and after collecting our luggage we rushed to check-in. Albeit the security check was stringent (had to remove shoes, belts, watch in addition to mobile phone and wallet) but it was smooth and professional.

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After the security check, Ayush became relaxed and we window shopped the duty free stores, since the prices were not much different from the Indian airport, we decided to pick-up our stuff at the respective Indian airports on arrival and save us the extra load, instead we sat down at a pub to have a sandwich and beer.

Ayush went off as his flight was announced and we roamed the airport a bit more before catching our flight to Hyderabad. On landing in RGI, Hyderabad, we realized a new system wherein the incoming passengers had to put their hand baggage through an x-ray machine after the immigration process and one can see the contrast of efficiency between these guys and their counterpart at Bangkok!! It took us more than 45 minutes to go through the process and thereafter another half hour at the duty free to pick up my scotch and single malt. We reached home well past 2 AM but after having a really good and well deserved vacation.

Some of my observation about Thailand are given below and are absolutely my own take, because both culturally and economically it is closer to India.

  1. Thai people are generally happy people; always have a smile on their face.
  2. Thai people are eager to help you out if you are in distress.
  3. Bangkok is a busy city with almost similar traffic demography as most Indian cities but I have not seen a single Traffic Violation by any of them.
  4. The TUKTUK of Bangkok is a customized version of Indian autos with similar maneuverability but they seldom cut across the traffic lanes.
  5. Similarly, the two-wheeler population is disciplined too and maintains lane driving (a far cry in Hyderabad).
  6. In Phuket too, with much less traffic volume, it moves in lane and doesn’t have the tendency to grab the open vacant space on the other side of the road. The traffic would stay put in their lane waiting it clear up.
  7. In the shops, the store assistant will try to understand your language even though it may sound complete Greek to her/him and assist you in her/his best abilities.
  8. I saw ATM Machines in Bangkok in the open attached on the walls of building or just outside the stores without any kind of shelter or guard, something unthinkable in India.
  9. The street food hawkers carry a waste basket with their trolley to collect the waste. Did not see any littering around any of them.
  10. The young Thai women generally wear (in Indian perspective) skimpy attire but they roam free and without fear as nobody ogles at them or pass lewd remark.

The Thai Diary – One

Bangkok

At the Thai Airways Lounge RGI, Hyderabad
Relaxing at Plaza Premium Lounge RGI, Hyderabad before take off to Bangkok.

We, for years now take two short vacations – one in summer and the other in winters to coincide with our son, Ayush’s holidays. Last year (2017), we missed the winter outings as Deepika & I along with our housekeeper and Rolf relocated ourselves to Hyderabad in end-December. So, it was decided to go somewhere outside India for the summer vacation. Our partners (for last one decade, at least) in holidaying, Basu’s were more than ready because we were missing each other since the time we moved from NCR. Among the places of interest were Srilanka (but it was heavy monsoon in the region), Bali-Indonesia (the flight tickets were just too expensive), Europe (same + time crunch), Hongkong (just another expensive cramped city) and Phuket (via Bangkok to save few bucks). After much deliberation over two weeks of April, it was decided to take the last one – Bangkok-Phuket.

Once the destination was decided, it was time for the bookings, flight as well as hotel. Basu’s were to fly from IGIA-T3 but we were in a dilemma whether to fly together from T3 or Bengaluru (with Ayush) or Hyderabad (with Ayush coming over and flying with us). At the end because of demands of corporate world, it was decided that Ayush will fly from B’lore and we will take the flight from Hyderabad, all meeting at Subarnabhumi, Bangkok. We decided to fly VietJet from Bangkok to Phuket as it was way cheaper than Thai Airways for just an hour’s flight.

Next was the hotel booking, onus of which was taken by Sangeeta to check and finalize the hotels both at Bangkok and Phuket. She did a thorough and wonderful job by checking all the options and zeroing on the Novotel Kamala Beach, Phuket property. They were able to book through MMT but when I tried, it showed the property was sold out completely on the days of my choice. I tried other apps and the property showed up in Bookings.com which guided me to the hotel site Accor group. An email to the hotel with our requirements ensured a good package (below the rack rate) and the same was booked instantly. I must say, the response from the hotel was fast and professional and the booking was completed within few hours from the first mail. The next was booking of the hotel in Bangkok for one night; initially we were looking at the popular area like Sukhumvit, Pratunam but finally settled for Holiday Inn, Silom. The area was less congested with good amenities like transport and food joints.

Initially, we had thought of opting for “Visa on Arrival” at Subarnabhumi but considering the long queues with many flights landing simultaneously at that hour, decided to get our visa in India only. Basu’s got theirs well on time but because of hectic schedules and assignments to complete we were lagging far behind. Deepika & I submitted our application in Hyderabad while Ayush did it in Bengaluru just within 6 working days and hoped it would come before our departure as the guys at the Visa Centre informed that it takes about 5-6 days for the visa. Surprisingly, we got our visas on the 4th day after submission and our next job was to get the Thai Baht, I remember, few years back it was almost equal to INR but now it is just double. Anyways, with everything done for the vacation, we were relaxed and awaited for the D-day.

The only job left was to get the confirmation of the walker for Rolf and she came a day before our departure taking away my last bit stress for a relaxing holiday ahead.

DAY ONE (22/06/18)

Meeting at Subarnabhumi
Confluence at Subarnabhumi from three different points.

The Basu’s were the first to reach Subarnabhumi followed by Ayush and lastly Deepika & I around 6:30 am local time. However, our immigration and baggage arrival was the fastest, so, not much time was wasted at the airport. We took two cabs to the hotel, Holiday Inn, Silom. The road from Airport to the hotel was superb, wide and pothole free but with heavy traffic. It took more than an hour to reach Holiday Inn, Silom. We dropped our baggage with the concierge and completed the checking-in formalities. We were assured of the rooms being ready by 11/11:30 am which was still about 2 hours later. We freshened up using the lobby washroom and went out to have breakfast and see around the place. The concierge suggested a Hindu Temple down the road which was accepted by the ladies in the group and we walked down to the temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple. It is also known as Maha Uma Devi Temple and dedicated to Parvati, consort of Shiva. This temple was built by one of the early Indian settlers from Tamil Nadu, Vaithi Padayatchi in 1879 CE. In fact the road on which the temple is built has been named after him, Soi Vaiti or Vithy Lane in Silom, Bangkok.

After the temple visit, we went to Veranda Café & Restaurant for our breakfast. The place had a high rating on Trip Advisor and lived up to its reputation. The café was small with 3 tables (12 pax) inside and another 2 tables (8 pax) on the verandah and managed by 2 women who seemed to be mother-daughter. The daughter was managing the counter and taking orders while the mother prepared the dishes. The food quality and quantity was good and we enjoyed our first meal on the soil of Thailand. Meanwhile, before this, Sangeeta wanted to try out Thai Street Food and bought some sausages on stick. Though it looked quite inviting but the taste did not appeal to me, there was too much garlic in it which spoiled the taste of the meat.

We strolled back to Holiday Inn and it was still some time before they will provide the rooms, so we went to the 7Eleven shop next to the hotel to pick up some water and beer. The shop also had a eatery section serving breakfast and coffee. We decided to try it out next day before leaving for Phuket.

We finally got our allotted rooms around 11:30 am local time, Basu’s on the 8th floor (#819) and ours on the 11th floor (#1125). We decided to meet after freshening up in about 90 minutes to go out for Bangkok sightseeing. Deepika had already booked a cab (Toyota Innova) for the purpose and between her and Sangeeta shortlisted the places of interest that we should visit.

We met at the hotel lobby around 1 pm and proceeded for our self customized tour of Bangkok. Our first stop was the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) is a complex of buildings at the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. The palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), resided at the Chitralada Royal Villa and his successor King Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall, both in the Dusit Palace, but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year. The palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.

In shape, the palace complex is roughly rectangular and has a combined area of 218,400 square metres (2,351,000 sq ft), surrounded by four walls. It is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the heart of the Rattanakosin Island, today in the Phra Nakhon District. The Grand Palace is bordered by Sanam Luang and Na Phra Lan Road to the north, Maharaj Road to the west, Sanamchai Road to the east and Thai Wang Road to the south.

Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. It is divided into several quarters: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; the Outer Court, with many public buildings; the Middle Court, including the Phra Maha Monthien Buildings, the Phra Maha Prasat Buildings and the Chakri Maha Prasat Buildings; the Inner Court and the Siwalai Gardens quarter. The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside.

Santanu, Sangeeta and I roamed around the grounds of the palace while Deepika & Ayush decide to explore the inner spaces of the Palace and the temple thereon. The funny part is, Sangeeta warned us that some the places we were to visit are very strict with ‘dress code’ and do not allow ‘shorts’ or ‘sleeveless uppers’ so we all had dressed accordingly but she herself was wearing a sleeveless top and had to buy a ‘I love Thailand’ kind of T-Shirt to cover up herself!!!

Our next stop was Wat Pho where the main attraction was the largest (150 ft) reclining Buddha statue.

Wat Pho, is a Buddhist temple complex in the Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok, Thailand. It is on Rattanakosin Island, directly south of the Grand Palace. Known also as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn. The more commonly known name, Wat Pho, is a contraction of its older name Wat Photaram.

The temple is first on the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples. It is associated with King Rama I who rebuilt the temple complex on an earlier temple site, and became his main temple where some of his ashes are enshrined. The temple was later expanded and extensively renovated by Rama III. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46 m long reclining Buddha. The temple is considered the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and the marble illustrations and inscriptions placed in the temple for public instructions has been recognised by UNESCO in its Memory of the World Programme. It houses a school of Thai medicine, and is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.

From here on we crossed the river (or canal) to visit Wat Arun. The road to the temple was like long winding staircase and reminded us of the roads to the hills of north India.

Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan (Wat Arun, “Temple of Dawn”) is a Buddhist temple (wat) in Bangkok Yai district of Bangkok, Thailand, on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The temple derives its name from the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Wat Arun is among the best known of Thailand’s landmarks and the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence. Although the temple had existed since at least the seventeenth century, its distinctive prang (spires) were built in the early nineteenth century during the reign of King Rama II.

A Buddhist temple had existed at the site of Wat Arun since the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It was then known as Wat Makok, after the village of Bang Makok in which it was situated. According to the historian Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, the temple was shown in French maps during the reign of King Narai (1656–1688). The temple was renamed Wat Chaeng by King Takshin when he established his new capital of Thonburi near the temple, following the fall of Ayutthaya. It is believed that Taksin vowed to restore the temple after passing it at dawn. The temple enshrined the Emerald Buddha image before it was transferred to Wat Phra Kaew on the river’s eastern bank in 1785. The temple was located in grounds of the royal palace during Taksin’s reign, before his successor, Rama I, moved the palace to the other side of the river. It was abandoned for a long period of time, until the reign of King Rama II (1809–1824), who had the temple restored and the main pagoda raised to 70 m. The work was finished during the reign of King Rama III (1824–1851).

 By the time we were done at Wat Arun, it was well past 5pm and were hungry and tired having slept uncomfortably on the flight for less than 2 hours in the past 36 hours.

The call was to have an early dinner now or have some snacks/ fast food. The cabby suggested that we go to the Platinum Mall at Pratunam which had a large food court that surely will be to our liking. And indeed, it was massive with an array of cuisines that would lure every foodie on this earth. But unfortunately for Deepika and veggies like her, the place doesn’t have much to offer. Having explored all the options we settled on sandwiches for now and preserve some appetite for a nice Bangkok dinner. As I am writing this, I realized that we were so overwhelmed by the variety of dishes that I forgot to click even a single frame!!

Having satiated our hunger for the time being, we went to MBK Mall, the most recommended place by all those who have been to Bangkok. The MBK Mall is a gigantic version of our Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place, New Delhi. If you are not aware of the finer details of the brands, you can easily get fooled by the fake ones that abounds every shop in the mall. There wasn’t much that was irresistible so we picked up few tees and a cap (for Ayush).

We came back to the hotel around 7pm and decided to join at the Basu’s room for a drink before going out for dinner. Santanu bought a Glenmorangie, especially for this trip, all the way from IGIA-T3, and it was our moral obligation to devour it at the earliest opportunity. The advantage of having single malt is that all you need is couple of cubes of ice or just a little water!!

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Deepika, Sangeeta and Ayush left early to search for a restaurant as Santanu and I decided to do justice to the glass of Glenmoragie. Ayush called to confirm the place – Café Ice Silom and gave a near perfect direction to the place from our hotel. The restaurant was nice cozy with outside seating options and a rating of high 4 on TripAdvisor. The best part was, they have nice selection of vegetarian dishes for the veggies like Deepika. Frankly, I was a bit high with Glenmorangie running in my blood to remember who ordered what except for me (glass noodle with shrimp) and Santanu (pumpkin soup). But knowing Sangeeta, she too must have had shrimps and Ayush had beef or pork. Deepika ordered Thai Green Curry with rice which looked quite inviting.

It was 11pm when we got back to the hotel and all we wanted was to crash on the bed. Next day, we had less than half day in Bangkok before we fly to Phuket. Basu’s wanted to do some shopping in the morning and said they will check with us if we are ready to go as we were too tired to make any commitment for the morning.

In the morning around 7:30 am, Sangeeta called to say that they were going out to Chatuchak Weekend Market to buy some stuff. We were in no shape to give company to them and asked them to go ahead. We took it easy and had our shower, packed our bags and went out to have breakfast at the Segafredo Zaneti Espresso, right next to our hotel. The food and the drinks, orange juice/ coffee were excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed breakfast. Afterwards, we took a cab to the Sampeng Market which is quite like Sadar Bazaar Market of Delhi but much cleaner and far better organized. Deepika wanted to buy some small gifts for use later and an umbrella. I had forgotten my boxer shorts and wanted to pick up one. I ended up buying 2 dozen plus pens and other stationery items instead. The market was so spread out that one needed the whole day to just explore without buying anything. But we were constrained by time, so hurried back to the hotel to check-out and leave for the airport to catch our Vietjet flight to Phuket.     

Kurukshetra

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3152 BCE – Hastinapur (Kaurav) Rajsabha

Duhsashan, the second son of Dhritarashtra, holding the flowing hair of Draupadi, dragged her to the Kaurav Rajsabha where a game of dice has just concluded with Duryadhan-Shakuni combine having won her as wager. The Kauravs laughed out madly at the hapless woman, reverberating throughout the kingdom. The blind king Dhritarashtra was covertly happy at the winning of his eldest son but overtly showed his concern at the commotion in his Rajsabha. Duryadhan ordered Duhsashan to disrobe Draupadi as she has now become his slave. The lecherous eyes of Duhsashan never blinked as he moved towards her menacingly. The daughter of King Drupad ran from pillar to the post of the Rajsabha to save her honor.

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Draupadi pleaded to mighty Debabrata or the Pitamah Bhishma who was mightier than the Gods. Then she went to Guru Dronacharya who was capable of eliminating any army all by himself. She went to Kripacharya, the Rajguru followed by the most learned and wise Vidur, the Prime Minister of the Kauravs. She cried out loud for justice but none responded. It seemed that all these great souls had turned deaf to the wailing of a hapless woman. Duhsashan, reached for her saree and pulled it to disrobe her….

3138 BCE – Kurukshetra

After many years and failed peace initiative, the war happened at the vast expanse of Kurukshtra, the holy land. On the seventeenth day, all most all the warriors of Kauravs have been vanquished by the arrows of Arjun and his brothers. The great Pitamah Bhishma was lying on a bed of arrows. Shri Krishna Vasudev has come to visit him and pay respect. After initial pleasantries, Bhishma spoke….

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Bhishma: What did you do Vasudev? Why did you allow this bloody war?

Shri Krishna: Me? What did I do Gangaputra Bhishma? I did not even pick any weapon!

Bhishma: You could have avoided this unnecessary blood loss. You could have stopped the destruction of humanity. Couldn’t you, Vasudev?

Shri Krishna: You could have stopped this war too, Pitamah.

Bhishma: Me?

Shri Krishna: Yes, you Bhishma. You are responsible for all this destruction and deaths of the million souls.

Bhishma: This is not true.

Shri Krishna: No Pitamah, it is the truth. Recall the Kaurav Rajsabha, where some beasts tore apart the honor of Draupadi and by inference of whole womanhood, but you kept quite. Why?

Bhishma: But that was Duryadhan and Duhsashan. I was, by oath attached to the throne of Hastinapur and as such bound to obey the King’s command. And the fact is Duryadhan never listened to my advice. He was very powerful.

Shri Krishna: Ha ha ha… what are you saying Pitamah? Durayadhan was powerful? He was solely dependent on the combined strength of you, Guru Dronacharya, Kripacharya and Karna. Without your tacit support he would not have dared to do such misdeeds. Pitamah Bhishma, I am not responsible for all this bloodshed and destructions but you all, who became deaf, dumb and blind at the Kaurav Rajsabha, all those years ago, are responsible for this mayhem.

The mighty Debabrat, the Pitamah of Kaurav and Pandavas just sighed, resigned to the fate of humanity.

2002 CE – Gujarat

On 27th February 2002, the Sabarmati Express was torched at Godhra station, Gujarat. The culprit identified was an organization by the name of Harkat-ul-Jihaad, a Muslim outfit. The target of the arson was pilgrims returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The goons did not differentiate between men, women and children and attacked everyone with utmost venom. Those who tried to save themselves from the inferno were dragged back into it by the goons of Haji Bilal. The intelligentsia became deaf, dumb and blind to this ghastly act. Some quarters did raise a feeble voice but was promptly gagged by the so-called secularists. However, the patience of a section of Hindu’s ran out and the revenge was sought throughout the state of Gujarat. Aftermath of this few Leftists were heard asking why such a high price for mere 57 Hindus killed in Godhra. Perhaps, they were not accustomed to pay back or do not know the value of human lives.

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Anyways, years on Gujarat 2002 had remained the hot topic among the left-oriented intelligentsia and they leave no stone unturned shouting “Gujarat Riots” every now and then. However, none of them have the guts to introspect why it happened! Just like Pitamah Bhishma, they have conveniently forgotten the Godhra massacre…

2016 CE – Iraq

39 Indians, mainly Sikhs had gone to Iraq to earn money, hard earned money for their family back home. The ISIS – an organization of the most peaceful religion abducted them and later on killed every one of them. Their only fault was their names were not Rahim Ali or Mansur Khan but Harjeet Singh and Malkiyat Singh!

However, the Indian media and secular intelligentsia that were so perturbed and agitated for the Syrian refugees and had taken out candle light march, refused to even utter a single sentence of condolences for these hapless victims. It is baffling to understand which death is saddest for the Indian media and intelligentsia. Who and what decides the agitation and candle light vigil for what and which massacre?

In Mahabharata, the trio of Bhishma, Dronacharya and Karna had provided the much needed valor and power to Duryadhan and Duhsashan for all their misdeeds. Ironically, today, the so-called secularists (and always left leaning), intelligentsia and political parties are giving tacit support to the Islamic and other terror outfits by either keeping mum or extending support in the garb of humanity. They are building the Frankenstein that will destroy them only. It is time to rise and shake up the lethargy, raise your voice against the pacifiers.

Jai Hind. Vande Mataram.   

 

Puri Jatra

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The day was 16th November, birthday of my buddy Soni. I wanted to wish him, hear his voice, listen to his crackling jokes but he has been absconding, on a self imposed exile from me and other friends. I have tried to locate him on my two visits to Kolkata, cajoled, threatened and begged his bro to reveal his whereabouts but the answer had always been a stoic “He doesn’t want to meet you”. I have tried to figure out the reasons for him not wanting to keep any relations to me with whom he had grown up since class sixth right through our working life, but couldn’t figure out.

I was contemplating between calling up a friend whose family is quite influential in Kolkata and my cousin with similar influences to fix up a possible meeting with the police commissioner or some senior officials to trace him out when my phone rang. The number was unknown but I picked up the call and said “Hello”. The voice on the other side said, “Kire kemon achhish? (Hey how are you)” The person need not introduce himself for I could recognize the voice of Soni even after almost 14 years.

After a bout of pleasantries (read abuses) for not keeping in touch for so many years, we started talking as if there have no gap in between. Soni informed that he has set up a hotel business in Puri, Odisha. There is nothing fancy about the hotel, but clean comfortable and affordable place, primarily catering to the middle class tourists from Bengal and other parts of the country. I asked him if I could add him to our WhatsApp group of school friends and he agreed.

A few days into the group, Soni invited us to join him at his hotel for a reunion which was cheered by all and most promised to look at the possibility. I told him over our phone conversation that only a handful will finally make it happen as I knew my friends inside out! Anyways, as the proposed day of 8th February 2018 neared, many walked out of the plan sighting various reasons which I will not delve into but the ones that bought their tickets were the lucky ones to experience real buddy bonding.  I had a concern area about Rolf, my 8.5 year old baby Chowchow, as to his twice a day walking. Having moved to Hyderabad just a month back I had no back up support but as luck would have it, a chance discussion at a community (NCC Urban) meet, a lady said she knew someone who could help me out. Thereafter, a series of messaging and phone conversation with the girl named Priyanka solved my dilemma and I was ready for the reunion.

Gora bought the flight tickets for himself and Ronju from Delhi while Jallu booked himself a train ticket to Kolkata from Malda to join Soni for onward journey to Puri together. For whatever reasons, the ticket bought by Gora was via Hyderabad and I decided to join them in the same flight so that we reach together. However, due to some confusion, my flight was scheduled one before theirs and we met at the airport lounge briefly. Soni had confirmed that he will pick us up from Bhubaneshwar Airport and was aware of the two different pick up time and made arrangements accordingly.

8th February 2018

To my great relief Priyanka came in the morning to walk Rolf and I followed them at distance but Rolf was at his best behavior throughout the 30-40 minute walk. While cleaning him up, I told him that I will be away for 3 days and that he should be a good boy. I don’t know if he understood but became very sad and sat at corner keeping an eye on my movements.

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Around 10 am Ronju posted their arrival at Hyderabad but the message was confusing. It said the plane had landed and is now on its way to Kochi. I called him up and he picked up the phone from the airport to clarify that the connecting flight to Bhubaneshwar is different and is scheduled at 2 pm. I told him to meet me at the lounge hoping to grab a beer with the buddies before boarding my flight. I left for the airport immediately and reached around 10:45 am and proceeded for the security check.

I was carrying only a cabin bag wherein I had packed Biriyani & mutton curry from Shah Ghouse, the famous eatery of Hyderabad, frozen rock solid. As I came out after the security check to retrieve my bag, I saw it was kept on the side. When I asked the reason, the lady at the counter said there is canister and food items which needs checking. I explained, opening the bag that the canister is my shaving gel and food item is the biriyani and mutton curry. She was adamant and demanded that I open the packs which I refused point blank and told her that she can keep the stuff herself but I cannot open them and spoil it in the process. I told her to call up her supervisor which she did reluctantly. The officer was more understanding and after recording my boarding card details allowed the package to carry forward.

It took some time to trace Ronju & Gora and went to the lounge but to our misfortune, the bar did not have chilled beer. We just sat there and chatted for some time then I proceeded to board my flight. The journey was uneventful, I put on my earphones as soon as I sat down listening to my favorite singer, Shreya Guhathakurata singing soulful Rabindrasangeet.

I messaged Soni as soon as the plane landed and he came along with Jallu as I came out of the terminal building. We proceeded to grab some grub before coming back in an hour time to pick up Gora and Ronju. We finished our lunch and were paying the bill when Ronju called up to inform that they have landed. We returned to the airport to pick them up at 4:45pm and straight away proceeded to Puri.

We picked up our stock of “Elixir of Life” before checking in at Dreamboat Hotel. After freshening up and changing into more comfortable clothes, we sat down for the first evening of reunion. There were lots to talk with Soni.

All of us have been through ups and downs in life but have managed to stand up tall once again. Soni narrated his side of the story briefly and my only regret is that he did not confide in me earlier about his hardship, I may have been able to help him in some way. We clicked our reunion pictures and immediately posted in the group to let the others know what they have missed out in life. The Biriyani was liked by all and we retired to bed well past the midnight. The following day was for sightseeing the Konarak Sun Temple.

9th February 2018

Ronju & Jallu had decided to go for a walk in the morning. Gora & I had politely declined as we wanted to sleep and relax as much as we can. However, my body clock woke me up at around 5:30 am and I could hear them sneaking out which tempted me to join but I suppressed the desire and turned on my tummy and slept blissfully for next one hour.

The breakfast was traditional Bong cuisine – Luchi and Aloo Kalojire Chocchori (Potato Bhaji with Onion Seed). Additionally there were boiled eggs for the likes of me whose breakfast is incomplete without eggs. I tasted this potato preparation after ages and relished it very much. It would have been great to have a traditional Sandesh with Luchi but Soni informed that sweets are not too good in Puri. The only sweets that people buy here are Gaja (a kind of sweet matthi) and Chhana Pora (fried paneer soaked in sugar syrup). We tried both later in the evening.

We had called the cab around 10:30 which as per eastern India norms landed only around 11 and we left for Konarak about 35km (one hour) from Puri. As is customary when you want to live the bachelor days once more, we picked up chilled beer and soon realized we do not have a bottle opener!! Soni had some work at the court so we stopped by and Jallu took the opportunity to hunt and buy the bottle opener from a roadside stall. We were all set for the road, I realized I have not lost the touch as I finished the beer much before Jallu and Gora had consumed half their bottles!!

Once we left the city limits, roads became quite decent in terms of traffic and surface smoothness. We passed through the wildlife sanctuary driving on the Puri-Konarak Marine Drive and reached Balukhand which we decided to check out while returning.

The Konarak Sun Temple is under restoration and one could get the glimpse of the magnificent structure through the scaffolding. One of the revelations was that people only point out Khajuraho Temple for its explicit sculpting but such carvings can be found in other temples of that period. Even here we saw some very explicit carvings on the temple wall all around. Ronju informed that since this is a Sun temple, it denotes energy and therefore such sculptures have been carved on the temple walls. There are no deities inside the temple; in fact, the entrance to the temple has been blocked years ago.  A brief note on the Konarak Sun Temple gathered from the internet is given at the end for those who are interested in it.

We had noticed the roadside stalls that lined up the lane leading to the Konarak temple and decided to check them out for souvenirs for back home. While going to the temple we had seen a few shop selling cashews and had decided to pick up some stock for our evening snacking as well as for home. However, on our return path, all the cashew shops had downed their shutter for afternoon siesta. We found a shop selling pickles and decided to check it out. It had over 25 different kinds of pickle ranging from sweet to sour to hot chili. Jallu, Gora & I packed few of them for back home before leaving for Balukhand on way to Dreamboat, Puri.

We spent some time at the beach called Balukhand and enjoyed the sea breeze. A small fish had soared up at the beach and was gasping; I picked it up and threw back to the sea hoping it would live for another day.

The menu for the lunch was simple Bengali cuisine of fried bitter gourd with kasundi, dal-chawal with fried fish and fish curry. It was a satisfying meal especially with the remaining beer, chilled and refreshing. After the late lunch, we were chatting about old times in school trying to figure out where our friends have ended up now when the Panda of Puri Jagannath Temple showed up at the behest of Soni. He agreed to come in the morning the following day to take us to the temple for the darshan of the deities – Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra. I am not religious at all but was inquisitive of the place, so had decided to join the other three.

In the evening, we decided to go for a walk in the Swargadar area and try some street food. I am a foodie and wherever I go, I try to taste the local street foods which are generally much tastier than what you get in a restaurant. Jallu & I were keen to try the fried crab but a closer look at the stuff was not too inviting at the first stall that we checked. We tried the fried prawns instead which was just okay nothing great. Soni had declined to even touch it citing hygiene issues and Ronju reluctantly had one piece so it was up to Jallu, Gora and I to polish off the rest. We moved on to another stall that was selling different kinds of pakodas – chili, potato and urad dal besides samosa. We picked up few pieces of each variety for chakhna with drinks later in the evening.

I have heard that Swargadar is a Hindu crematorium and it is believed that getting cremated here guarantees Moksha for the soul. I had imagined it to be if not grand but at least a memorable place in terms of some good architecture but it turned out to be a normal cremation ground. Soni informed that attempts to convert the place to eco-friendly electric crematoria have failed for last so many years in the face of blind superstitions that block all modernization. Soni jokingly said that the opposition to turning electric is that they fear the dead body might be jolted to life because of electric shock!!

Before returning to the hotel we tried the famed Gaja & picked up Chhanapora for post-dinner dessert. Jallu’s room was the biggest and we used it for our evening Adda as well as storing the liquor and other dry snacks. By some unwritten instructions, Mukherjee, the cook-cum-man Friday would serve boiled eggs to go with our drinks along with other chatpata snacks. Since I have stopped eating dinner, this was most welcome for me. We decided to keep the Adda short as we have get up early for the Shri Jagannath darshan but still ended up well past the midnight.

Jallu, loves to take photographs including videos and many a times it is unknown to the subject and often results in candid moment. He took a video of Soni explaining some issues at the dining table and posted it on our whatsapp forum. When Soni saw it, he was infuriated beyond control and it took some time to calm him down. Thanks to the poor audio quality, it had gone practically unnoticed and there were no comments on it.

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10th February 2018

Ronju is a (very) early riser, he usually gets up around 4:30 am (midnight for most of us) and he took it upon himself to wake us up all by 6 am to be ready for Jagannath Ji Darshan. The Panda had confirmed that he will come and take us around 7:30 am. I normally get up between 5:30 – 6 am so, when Ronju rang the room bell at 6 am sharp, I was already up and shaving. We were ready and sipping on our morning tea when the Panda showed up and we left with him. He was riding a bike so we hired an autorikshaw and followed him to the temple.

All leather items, camera and phone are prohibited inside the temple. We knew it and therefore did not carry any of these with us. After depositing our sandals at the designated spot, we entered the temple. The premises gets washed everyday in the early morning so the surface was still wet and some of the stones were a bit slippery as well. Being city dweller we were not accustomed to bare feet walking so the initially it hurt the feet but we got adjusted. As is the norm with most Hindu Temples, there are many smaller temples dedicated to different deities which has to be seen (you’re supposed to donate as well) before one can go to the main temple. We first went to the admin office to ‘buy prasad’ or pay for the puja. There were different price groups for the puja right from Rs.111/- to Rs.25 Lacs. We settled for Rs.211/- as this was dry Prasad, easy to carry back home. There was a Rs.10/- admin charge over this amount!!

The Panda did his best to wriggle out donations at various smaller temples but we are seasoned traveler and know how to get out of the situation. He finally took us inside the main temple which was crowded with people but he managed to find the way through and took us straight to the front. The temple is under renovation and therefore the viewing spot has been moved back resulting in a glimpse of the deities for a few seconds only before the crowd pushes you out. It reminded me of the similar situation at Vaishno Devi temple!

We came out and explored the temple premises for its architectural beauty. Not getting into the details of the history of the temple but providing the link to Wikipedia for those who are interested – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagannath_Temple,_Puri.

However, Ronju shared a very interesting story that the idol of the trio – Jagannath, Balarama & Subhadra are made from the Neem wood every 9/ 12/ 15/ 18/ 21/ 25 years depending on the command from the Lord himself through dream to the Head Priest of the temple. The Head Priest is told of the specific region within the state to get the Neem-wood for each idol and they are from different part of the state. The wood is sourced from the tree on which no bird has ever sat let alone made its nest. The idols are made in exactly 14 days. The navel of the Lord Jagannath is taken from the old idol and inserted in the new one called Pranpratistha. The Priest who does that invariably dies on the 30th day after the act and is believed to achieve Moksha.

There are some interesting stories – the flag atop the temple flies in the opposite direction of the wind; the Bhog-Prasad is cooked using earthen pots which are placed on top of another right up to the ceiling but the food gets cooked first on the pot that is at the top. The ingredients used to make this bhog are indigenous that is items that are naturally grown in the region and not imported from other countries (potato, tomato, chili etc. are not used as these came from foreign land). No bird flies over the temple (but I saw a tom cat roaming inside the temple premises fearlessly).

Before we left, the Panda said that he bring in the Prasad to the hotel in the evening.

We had decided to take the rest of the day easy and just relax, so after breakfast Ronju and Gora decided to take a power nap while Jallu & I along with Soni went for shopping. I picked up a Saree for Deepika while Jallu picked up Salwar-Suit for Roopa. We also picked up chilled bottles of beer for the afternoon and whiskey for the evening.

The lunch consisted of dal-aloo bhaja and mutton curry with rice. The mutton curry was delicious and I ended up over eating. The only thing on my mind was to take a nap and be ready for the evening as this was the last evening together after so many years.

We were all set for the evening session to begin but Jallu had vanished with his room key. He had suddenly realized that he had forgotten to buy the Chhanapora for back home. His train to Kolkata was early in the morning around 5:45 am so he had to pick it up today only.

Our session started quite late after Jallu came in having lost his way from Swargadar area. Initially he was reluctant to join in as he would have to get up very early but Ronju convinced him that he will wake him up at 4 am and then there was no holding back the 18 year olds in their mid-fifties.

Soni left Delhi in March 2004 and my last conversation with him over phone was sometime in late May of same year. His daughter was born on 15th November 2003 but I had not seen her till today save few photographs he shared recently of a beautiful smart young teenager. Soni narrated his untold story of past 14 years and we all became quite emotional at his struggle and eventual success. And I felt proud for my buddy.

11th February 2018

The morning started really early, Ronju, as promised, woke up Jallu around 4 am and us around 4:30 am. Jallu left for the station in the pre-booked autorikshaw around 4:50 am. He was going to Kolkata first before taking another overnight train ride later for Malda where he works with a bank.

I had booked a taxi for Bhubneshwar Airport drop at 9 am which showed up 15 minutes late. I was supposed to go alone but Soni decided that he along with Gora and Ronju will come along as they have nothing else to do and a long drive is always welcome.

At the airport, we hugged and promised to meet up again for a re-reunion perhaps with a larger group at a more suitable time later this year. I took off exactly at 12:07 pm carrying with me loads of memories of a fantastic weekend.


 

THE KONARAK SUN TEMPLE

The Konark Sun Temple was built from stone in the form of a giant ornamented chariot dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. In Hindu Vedic iconography Surya is represented as rising in the east and traveling rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses. He is described typically as a resplendent standing person holding a lotus flower in both his hands, riding the chariot marshaled by the charioteer Aruna. The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti. Typically seen flanking Surya are two females who represent the dawn goddesses, Usha and Pratyusha. The goddesses are shown to be shooting arrows, a symbol of their initiative in challenging darkness. The architecture is also symbolic, with the chariot’s twelve pairs of wheels corresponding to the 12 months of the Hindu calendar, each month paired into two cycles (Shukla and Krishna).

The Konark temple presents this iconography on a grand scale. It has 24 elaborately carved stone wheels which are nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and are pulled by a set of seven horses. When viewed from inland during the dawn and sunrise, the chariot-shaped temple appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun.

The temple plan includes all the traditional elements of a Hindu temple set on a square plan. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, the ground plan, as well the layout of sculptures and reliefs, follow the square and circle geometry, forms found in Odisha temple design texts such as the Silpasarini. This mandala structure informs the plans of other Hindu temples in Odisha and elsewhere.

The main temple at Konark, locally called the deul, no longer exists. It was surrounded by subsidiary shrines containing niches depicting Hindu deities, particularly Surya in many of his aspects. The deulwas built on a high terrace. The temple was originally a complex consisting of the main sanctuary, called the rekha deul, or bada deul (lit. big sanctum). In front of it was the bhadra deul (lit. small sanctum), or jagamohana (lit. assembly hall of the people) (called a mandapa in other parts of India. The attached platform was called the pida deul, which consisted of a square mandapa with a pyramidal roof. All of these structures were square at their core, and each was overlain with the pancharatha plan containing a variegated exterior. The central projection, called the raha, is more pronounced than the side projections, called kanika-paga, a style that aims for an interplay of sunlight and shade and adds to the visual appeal of the structure throughout the day. The design manual for this style is found in the Silpa Sastra of ancient Odisha.

Twice as wide as they were high, the walls of the jagamohana are 100 feet (30 m) tall. The surviving structure has three tiers of six pidas each. These diminish incrementally and repeat the lower patterns. The pidas are divided into terraces. On each of these terraces stand statues of musician figures. The main temple and the jagamohana porch consist of four main zones: the platform, the wall, the trunk, and the crowning head called a mastaka. The first three are square while the mastaka is circular. The main temple and the jagamohana differed in size, decorative themes, and design. It was the main temple’s trunk, called the gandhi in medieval Hindu architecture texts, that was ruined long ago. The sanctum of the main temple is now without a roof and most of the original parts.

On the east side of the main temple is the Nata mandira (lit. dance temple). It stands on a high, intricately carved platform. The relief on the platform is similar in style to that found on the surviving walls of the temple. According to historical texts, there was an Aruna stambha (lit. Aruna’s pillar) between the main temple and the Nata mandira, but it is no longer there because it was moved to the Jagannatha at Puri sometime during the troubled history of this temple. According to Harle, the texts suggest that originally the complex was enclosed within a wall 865 feet (264 m) by 540 feet (160 m), with gateways on three sides.

The stone temple was made from three types of stone. Chlorite was used for the door lintel and frames as well as some sculptures. Laterite was used for the core of the platform and staircases near the foundation. Khondalite was used for other parts of the temple. The Khondalite stone weathers faster over time and this may have contributed to erosion and accelerated the damage when parts of the temples were destroyed. None of these stones occur naturally nearby, and the architects and artisans must have procured and moved the stones from distant sources, probably using the rivers and water channels near the site. The masons then created ashlar, wherein the stones were polished and finished so as to make joints hardly visible.

The original temple had a main sanctum sanctorum (vimana), which is estimated to have been 229 feet (70 m) tall. The main vimana fell in 1837. The main mandapa audience hall (jagamohana), which is about 128 feet (39 m) tall, still stands and is the principal structure in the surviving ruins. Among the structures that have survived to the current day are the dance hall (Nata mandira) and the dining hall (Bhoga mandapa).

The Relocation

Two weeks before the Durga Puja (2017), on a Friday evening, Deepika announced that her company is closing down the training vertical, that she has been managing as senior leader. She has to choose a different role within the organization or look outside. We decided to take it in stride and take a call based on options within the organization. On the following Monday she called up from office and said that there exist two options, one is in Jaipur and the other in Hyderabad in Business Operations vertical. It was paradigm shift for her from training to operation and a difficult call. The Hyderabad option was more suited to her profile, so she took up the offer without any delay.

Once decided, we started the process of getting mentally ready for the move. It was not easy being born, brought up and work life spent in Delhi. The next step was to hunt for a place in Hyderabad. I had never been to the city and had absolutely no idea about the demography/ geography except some names like Banjara Hills, Jubillee Hills etc. So, I started my research on the internet and came up with names like Kondapur, Madhapur and Gachibowli. Having theoretically acquainted myself with Hyderabad landscape, we decided to go to the ground zero and look for a house. Deepika being there already, I booked myself on a Vistara flight for 28th morning for two day house hunting mission.

I landed around 9:35 am and after collecting my bag reached the Lemontree Hotel at Nanakramguda, Financial District within 45 minutes, courtesy the beautiful ORR (Nehru Outer Ring Road). After breakfast, accompanied by Mr. Jain, the property consultant, we went for the hunt. We started with an apartment block in Madhapur; it was right on the main road but very quiet and peaceful once you are inside the complex. This was followed by few houses in the neighborhood of Banjara Hills. After having seen a dozen places in the surroundings of Hitex, we moved towards Gachibowli. The Ramkey Towers – apartment block, right next to the Deloitte building. The apartment was on the 6th floor overlooking the swimming pool and clubhouse. The security arrangements and the sincerity of the staff were impressionable. We liked the apartment which was kind of semi-furnished ensuring we have to move very minimal household items from Delhi. The owners were Punjabis staying in another apartment in the same complex and were keen to lease it out to us.

In the evening, we met my friends Swathi & Sanjay Reddy at their house in Financial District, just a kilometer away from the Lemontree Hotel. It was a beautiful abode for the beautiful couple. We had couple of drinks before coming back to our hotel.

Next day again after breakfast, we started our house hunt, this time with another property agent that a friend had recommended. He showed us some really decent and nice apartments but all unfurnished and needed either shifting complete household things from Delhi or purchasing new at Hyderabad.

In the morning, Deepika had messaged three of her local colleagues about the Ramkey apartment. All of them warned us of water shortages in the peak summer months which can double our maintenance charges. One of her colleague suggested that we look at NCC Urban where he too is located, just behind Ramkey, a few blocks away. We asked the property agent as well as Mr. Jain (of the previous day), if they have any property in NCC Urban listed with them. Both said they will look in their data base and revert. Meanwhile, Deepika got a call from a lady from NCC who was interested in leasing out her apartment. This call was courtesy Deepika’s colleague who had posted a query for availability of apartments for leasing in the NCC Urban Society App called ADDA, and we fixed up an appointment with lady for that evening.

The first look of the apartment was so pleasing that we almost unanimously decided to take it up immediately. The lady, Ms. Jayasree Gujja had got transferred to Philadelphia, USA and was leaving in a fortnight’s time. She offered us the fully furnished house where we needed just to get our clothes from Delhi. The rental cost was slightly above our limit but since it was a ready to move in place, we decided it was worth it. The following day I came back to Delhi having accomplished the mission. Deepika signed up the Lease Agreement the following Thursday before leaving for Delhi.

The final relocation date was dependent on my sister’s impending visit to Delhi (India) after almost 10 years. So, once she confirmed her schedule, we too finalized the dates – Deepika along with our housekeeper, Savita will leave on 28th Dec and I will start my road journey on 29th Dec with my 4-legged son, Rolf and Guddu, the trusted driver.

Deepika carried 7 suitcases and 3 handbags on the flight (paying for extra baggage) and left a lot more for me to carry in Toyota Altis. Our driver, Guddu was itching for this long drive of almost 1600km. Google Maps showed the fastest route through Taj Expressway but my friend Robin insisted that we take the Mathura Road even if it means an extra hour. I am glad that I heeded to his advice as it was practically fog-free at a time when there was news everyday of mishaps due to fog on Taj Expressway.

Guddu & I loaded up the car in the evening itself and realized, there were too many stuff to take along, but these were all essential items that has to go. Rolf, used to having the entire back seat to him whenever he travelled in the car got really squeezed to less than half the space. We planned for 4am departure to avoid traffic as much as possible. My niece and her fiancé dropped in for a drink and to bid me goodbye and by the time they left, it was almost 11pm. It was time to shut down all systems and lock-up all entry points barring the main exit and cover up the sofas and other stuff that would remain in Delhi. All these activities took up considerable time and I could finally hit the bed around 1 am after confirmation of Deepika’s safe landing in Hyderabad. I got up with the alarm at 3 am and got ready within the hour but there was no sign of Guddu till 4:30 am!! When I called him, the usual reply came that he is reaching in 10 minutes which actually worked out to 30 minutes. We finally started around 5:15 am for our 1600 km journey to Hyderabad after getting the petrol filled to full tank capacity.

The route was NH2/ NH19 (Mathura Road) – NH33(Agra By-pass) – NH43/44, pretty straight forward and simple route which Google said would take 26 hours non-stop, crossing 7 states – Delhi-Haryana-Uttar Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh(again)-Madhya Pradesh- Maharashtra-Telengana State. We decided to take the night halt at a resort in Pench which was right on the highway and begin fresh the next day for rest of the journey.

del-hyd route

The Mathura Road is currently being upgraded and there were sections which were closed and diversions marked, so the smooth cruising kept interrupting periodically. In a way it was good as I realized, Guddu Kumar was getting over enthusiastic about driving and in the process was applying some real hard breaking which was neither good the vehicle nor for Rolf, sitting at the back. By the time we hit the Agra By-pass (NH33), dawn started breaking on the horizon. It was good two hours of driving and Rolf as well as we needed to stretch our legs. I walked Rolf for 500 meters up the highway hoping he would do his job but the chap is so selective that he refused to do anything other than leaking his tank.

We started again moving towards Dholpur (Rajasthan) and then to Morena – Gwalior (MP) and then getting into UP again at Jhansi. We were actually bypassing all these cities as the highway was mostly away or on the outskirts of these cities. This also meant that unlike the other NH that pass through the city this was always skirting away from the city and therefore very few eating options existed on the entire stretch. There were no mid-way food courts like in NH8 or NH24/NH9, only few Dhabas where the trucks would lay by during the afternoon. We stopped at one such Highway Dhaba for breakfast. It was 100% vegetarian outlet and served different kinds of stuffed Paranthas. We ordered for Aloo-Parantha and tea. The food quality was nothing to talk about except it being very hot & spicy.

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As you approach each city, there were signs to take the bypass or go to the city. We diligently took the bypasses but just before Jhansi, we stopped at Petrol Pump to tank-up again. After filling up and getting Rolf to stretch his legs a little, we started again but missed out the Jhansi by-pass and entered the city. Luckily for us it was still early winter morning so the town was yet to come alive fully. We hastened our departure from the city using the Google Map and soon rejoined the NH44. Guddu has been driving since morning and I felt he needed some rest, so I took over the steering from him and asked him to take a nap. The road ahead was absolutely straight and very little traffic, I let the speedometer touch 140kmph and we soon crossed over to Madhya Pradesh once again. Guddu had taken a 15 minute nap and had been very restless. I asked him if would like to stop for toilet or tea but his response was “Sir, let me drive, I am feeling sleepy sitting on the passenger side”.  The effect of air-conditioning inside the car and the sunny warmth from outside was making me sleepy too, so once more I let Guddu take the wheel but told him to stop at the Pathway Retreat for lunch. Google showed it was some 2 hours away from our location.

I had dozed off for good an hour and half as we sped through the NH44. I enquired of Guddu if we had crossed Sagar and the Pathway Retreat and he said “Yes, about 30 minutes back.” I said, “Why didn’t you stop there?” He replied, “Sir, you were sleeping and so was Rolf, so didn’t want to disturb either of you. And moreover after the morning Aloo Parantha, I am not hungry at all, will stop for tea after some time.” I agreed with him and moreover, we were at least 3 hours ahead of Google’s predictions and stood a good chance of reaching our night halt station at Pench well before 9pm. We drove for next 2 hours without any incident except that there were huge line-up of trucks and tractor-trailers with sugarcane, practically closing one side of the highway. We negotiated the default single carriageway for about 3-5km and then moved back to the main carriageway. We stopped at Mowgli Street Food, just before Seoni for tea and let out Rolf for much needed break. He drank almost one litre of water but refused to eat anything. After a 15 minute stoppage, we rolled on towards our first destination – Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park. As we started, Google showed the destination to be 4:30 hour’s away meaning we will reach around 9:30pm. I had been to Pench National Park around 4 years back and knew the roads to be bad and narrow, typical forest roads. As we moved closer to our destination, the Google started re-estimating our arrival and confirmed that we will reach by 8:30pm, saving a clear one hour. The sun was setting over the horizon when we were still on the 4-lane highway and as the dusk gave way to darkness we encountered our first bad road, courtesy the frenzied expansion and construction of highways happening, which continued for about 6-8 km but seemed much more, eventually opening up to 2-lane jungle road. This was the hilly track or Ghat section that takes you to Pench. After a grueling one hour drive through the under-construction highway, which seemed like more than 2 hours, we finally made it to Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park.

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Go Flamingo Resort is the regular kind of Jungle Retreat, nothing fancy or luxury around this place. The rooms were extremely spacious and well-lit; the hotel staff extremely courteous and efficient. The room allocated to us had one double-bed, large enough for two people to sleep comfortably but Guddu refused to share it so I requested the hotel guys to provide an extra bed for him. I ordered food for us and laid out Rolf’s (dog) food and water. He ate half of it and the full bowl of water. I had forgotten that I was carrying boiled eggs from Delhi; there were 4 of them, so I gave 2 to Rolf and rest shared with Guddu along with the Elixir of Life which Guddu simply gulped down. The dinner was simple – dal, egg curry, salad and chapatti, which we devoured in double quick time, we were starving!! After dinner, Guddu went out, probably to have a cigarette because when he came in, I could smell the tobacco. We, including Rolf had a sound sleep and I woke up around 5:30 am (my body clock has got tuned to this hour of wake-up). After the morning rituals, I took Rolf for a walk and to my relief and his satisfaction Rolf pooped on the jungle path of Pench Tiger Reserve and marked his territory at various spots!!

We had a quick breakfast – Rolf: 2 boiled eggs & plain lassi, Guddu: 2 aloo parantha & tea and I had bread-omelet & coffee. I settled the hotel outstanding and started for the last leg of approx. 550km to Hyderabad. We got the car tank refilled at a petrol pump on the highway about 20km from the resort. I opened the Google Map and fed the destination and kept waiting for it to respond but what can GM do if it can’t get the fodder (network) from Vodafone!! Meanwhile, Guddu Kumar had stepped on the accelerator to reach Hyderabad on time for lunch. There were road signage’s directing us to our destination so I was not worried about the map. We crossed Gurmeet Dhaba but it was too early for tea-break and came to a fork where the right side road looked more lucrative and before I could respond, Guddu had taken the elevated newly constructed road and I could fleetingly see a signage on the left abandoned road saying “Towards Hyderabad”. This wrong turn not only cost us almost 170km but we lost crucial 3/3.5 hours.

fiasco-at-nagpur

Anyways, the lucrative good road lasted only about 10-12km and soon became completely potholed pathetic road. We were doing 100-120kmph earlier but the road ensured we keep it down to less than 30kmph. In the absence of the map navigation, we were completely unaware where we were heading towards. We kept going and reached a T-junction where it said Amravati on the left and Kolkata on the right. The obvious choice was Amravati but I was having a nagging doubt, in my numerous checks about the route map, I have never come across Amravati anywhere near my route. I rebooted my phone in the hope for getting the connectivity but it wasn’t to be and the most frustrating was that all other apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc were working with regularity. Using MyVodafone App, I upgraded my plan to the latest one but still no luck. Then I realized Guddu was carrying a smartphone, I asked him if it was Airtel connection but it was Vodaphone too. Guddu unlocked the phone and tried the Google Map and Wallah Habibi, it was working. The Google Map commanded us to take the U-turn in next 2.5km and proceed straight for next 67km before turning right. We have lost the early morning advantage as the road became crowded with vehicular traffic. It took us almost 2 hours to cover the estimated 70km and we turned right as directed by the map. As we kept moving, we realized we are going back to the point from where we took the wrong road and frankly did not want to go through that terrible patch of almost 20-25km again. We reached a crossing where few trucks were parked and I decided to check with their drivers for alternate road to reach NH44. One of the drivers speaking Maharashtrian Hindi directed us to a road and said we should take the right turn under the flyover at Buti-Bori. The road wasn’t showing up in the Google Map and it kept commanding us to take its suggested road which we finally took and reached the Nagpur Outer Ring Road and travelled another 34km before we could meet NH44. We had lost over 3 precious hours. I called up Deepika and told her that we are terribly behind schedule and would now reach only around 8/8:30pm as per Google Map.

The NH44 that lies in Maharashtra needs urgent relaying, most of the surface having gone from bad to worse. Our average speed came down to a mere 40-45kmph as every 5km of good double carriageway was complimented with 10km of potholed single carriageway. This continued till we crossed over to Telengana around 3pm. The car had consumed lot of gas and we were again down to 25% limit. We haven’t come across any gas station in the last 50 odd km which was really odd.

As agreed, once we hit the Telengana State, Guddu handed over the steering to me and we cruised on at a sedate speed, keeping an eye for a gas station. It would have been a nightmare to get stranded on the highway without petrol. We were cruising around 90-100kmph when Guddu shouted that a Gas Station is just ahead of us in less than 250mtr. I immediately slowed down and the car behind us narrowly missed hitting us, this was my first and only blemish in the entire journey. We tanked up at Sri Ambica Filling Station (HP) between Dollara (behind us) and Sekapur (ahead of us) and clock said 3:45pm, the Google Map still estimating 8:30 as ETA Hyderabad. I had decided to hand over steering to Guddu once it gets dark as he is more tuned to negotiating the traffic through the dark as seen the previous evening. But before that I wanted to enjoy the drive through the beautiful highway and reach my new home as early as possible not only for us but Rolf too as he was getting restless in the cramped rear seat.

We zoomed past Adilabad on our left and Nirmal on the right and the signage said Kamareddy some 92km ahead. I gunned the engine and the speedometer touched 140kmph and stayed there till we crossed the exit to Kamareddy and headed towards Ramyapet, 27km ahead.  The sun was setting in the distant horizon, I decided to look for a dhaba or tea stall and found one about 5km before Ramyapet exit. The tea was nothing but sugar and milk syrup but it provided much needed energy. Rolf also was able to stretch his legs, peed and drank a liter of water.

Guddu took over from me for the last stretch of our journey as I recalibrated the destination to NCC Urban, Gachibowli, Hyderabad.  The clock said 5:35pm and Google estimated ETA at 8:09pm. Being a Saturday, the traffic was low on the highway and soon we were cruising at 120kmph and reached the outskirts of Hyderabad around 6:15pm. There were some traffic as we approached Nehru Outer Ring Road (ORR) but once we were on it, the traffic became smooth and Guddu stepped on to take the needle to touch 140kmph and I had to restrain him and slowed down to 100-110kmph. Guided by the Google Map we finally reached NCC, Urban precisely at 7:13pm, beating Google ETA by almost one hour.

Deepika was at the gate to receive us and guide us to the underground parking bay. I let out Rolf to relieving himself before getting into our new home for some years to come.