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.