On the Roads… 2

Our Delhi visit was exactly for 4 weeks and how it passed out so quickly is beyond comprehension. We had just one day (Navami) of Durga Puja to celebrate. We went to Durgabari, Kailash Colony for Deepika to offer Pushpanjali and from there to Dakshinayan, GK-2 M-Block Market to have Bhog. Both places are important itinerary on our Durga Puja circuit. The day temperature being hot and humid, we planned to go to New Delhi Kalibari, Minto Road and some other pandals in the evening. However, after walking Rolf in the evening, I simply crashed out and slept till late evening.

Next few days we met few relations and prepared for the big in-house event of Kojagori Laxmi Puja, the tradition being carried on for generations for 100+ years as far as I remember my mother telling me. I am not a ritualistic person but have been facilitating the Laxmi Puja since my father passed away, first for my mother and now for my wife, Deepika.

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Earlier in my childhood, there used to be considerable gathering at our home for the puja with few Delhi based relations and large number of neighbors including non-Bengalis coming for Prasad & Bhog. But now the gathering is limited to my sisters, few friends and next door neighbors. The quantity of Bhog has reduced but the overall cost has gone up manifolds. But as Deepika says with some conviction that the show must go on till either of us are alive. This year the gathering was even smaller as two of my sisters couldn’t make due to ill health. Among the friends, Santanu Basu was the first to arrive and he reconfirmed to give me company on my return journey to Hyderabad. A pleasant visit was by my nephew, Ritam Bhattacharya (my maternal cousin Oli’s son) who is now based in Noida working with a tech company having finished college recently. The day had started very early for us and by the time the last guest left we were exhausted completely. It showed that age is catching up with us.

The other highlight of this visit was the get-together of my school classmates. Some 10 years or so back and after a gap of almost 3 decades we had managed to group together once again courtesy the Facebook. Most of us are based out of Delhi+NCR but still a sizeable number are scattered all over the world. We had tried to include all in the group but few of them after joining our WhatsApp group called Mastans of RBHS80 had quit for personal reasons. We communicate everyday on varied subjects like politics, entertainment and religion etc. We do not have homogenous thoughts but it seems the contradictions have created a strong bond amongst us. Among this group is Indrajit Roychowdhury whose school nickname used to be Pantua after the Bengali sweet version of Gulab Jamun for large eyes and round face. Just like the nickname, he is sweet inside out and is full of humor which prompted us to bond immediately. I call him Indrobodon, the face of Lord Indra. He is based in Baghdad as Advisor at Trade Bank of Iraq, a very senior post but he remains humble to the core. Coincidentally he was visiting home in Ranchi and promised to spend an evening on his return leg. We decided to have our get together (G2G) on Friday 18th October when Indrobodon lands in Delhi on his return journey. There was a bit of confusion on the menu, my friend Gora wanted treat us for his son’s graduation from High School and at the same time I wanted to show my culinary skills to my friends. After some hard negotiation, it was decided that I will make one main course and a salad while Gora would arrange for the rest. He insisted on paying me for the dishes to which I told him “You can pay for the raw material but what price will you put on the love and care that goes into the making of the final dish”!!

We had a grand successful party with 12 out of 16 guys making it possible to attend. I had made Butter Chicken and Salsa Salad… I don’t want to pat my own back but the empty containers at the end was proof enough for deliciousness of the dishes besides the huge compliments that my friends poured on me. I have always maintained that nothing is more satisfactory in life than feeding others and in the process if you are appreciated then that’s extraordinary, save it for lifetime.

One of the tasks I had decided on this visit was to sell of my SUV Duster which we had it parked in Delhi hoping to use it as frequently as we visit but in reality our Delhi visits quite infrequent and the vehicle was lying idle. Moreover, it was a six years old diesel vehicle and recent govt mandate had reduced the life of such vehicles to 10 years from earlier 15 years. I placed an advt. on OLX app and within few hours queries started pouring in, most of which were mere time-pass where they quoted ridiculous counter offer. I politely turned them down. One guy who had recently got transferred to Delhi wanted to buy in a hurry as he had sold his vehicle in Pune before coming but the negotiation failed as I had decided on a benchmark price tag and had decided not to go below that even if the vehicle remained unsold. Then a gentleman from Rohini introduced himself as some sort of lawyer and requested to hold the vehicle till following evening when he would come to buy. This guy was absolutely certain to buy and came next day evening with his full family including his octogenarian mother who kept sitting in their car. After hard negotiation, he finally agreed at my threshold price and paid an advance with the promise to pay up the balance next day and pick up the vehicle. I was honest with him and clearly told him that he will have to change the tyres and get the clutch overhauled. I had not done these jobs done because no one would have paid extra for these. Duster was a good vehicle but I had opted for this after driving Scorpio for good 7 years and frankly Duster was no match to Scorpio.

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Ayush came on 25th and we began our Diwali preparation of gift buying and planning a card party at our home. We had picked up most the give-away gifts from IKEA Hyderabad. Some were decorative while some had very practical use and the recipients loved them. This year Diwali, perhaps was the quietest one because of ban on crackers; however there was no letting down on lightening up the households with both electric as well as candles and earthen lamps. For the first time Rolf had a stress free Diwali and we loved it.

The next was the Bhai Duj Lunch at our home when all my siblings along with their children gather. This has been going on since my father passed away and I separated out from my brother’s dwelling along with my mother. It was one occasion when she could meet all her children in one go and she thoroughly enjoyed the day. Again the tradition continues but for how long, I don’t know!!

Deepika along with our housekeeper left for Hyderabad a day after the Bhai Duj. Ayush was to leave on Sunday and I decided to start for Hyderabad on Monday early morning. In between we had 3 days to do our stuff as father-son. We had a good fun time together along with Rolf whom I got checked up and had his de-worming shot as well. His Vet was happy to see him in good health. I thanked him for giving the most effective medicine BravEcto for tics and flea that had bogged him down for many years. We also picked up few bottles of Single Malts from L1 Lakeforest Wine Warehouse at practically duty free prices. I dropped off Ayush at the airport on Sunday evening; Rolf also went with us to see off his hooman bro and got a bit acclimatized of car ride. As agreed, Santanu came over to our home around 9pm by which time I had packed off most of the house leaving just about space for us to sit and enjoy our drinks and dinner.

Following day, Santanu was ready even before me and had made coffee for himself. I took Rolf out for walk hoping that he would do his job without much fuss which he did and we came back. I fed him boiled eggs and plain lassi knowing that he will only have his next meal when we reach our night-halt at Pench. We had targeted to start by 5:15 am as latest but were 15 minutes delayed. However, I knew if the roads are good, I will make up the time and should reach Go Flamingo Resort, Pench by 9:00pm.

I did not switch on the Google Map immediately knowing well that it will guide me to the Yamuna Expressway and I had decided to take NH19 via Faridabad-Mathura-Agra Bypass to Dholpur. Once we got into the Agra bypass I switched on the Google Map which confirmed that we are on the right direction. We crossed Dholpur on way to Morena around 8:30 am which meant that I had covered up the delayed start. I told Santanu to keep a look out for a Dhaba or eatery where we can have our breakfast and also let Rolf stretch his legs. As we approached Morena, I realized that in one month, the scene had changed a lot; the construction was in full swing resulting in traffic diversion to the service roads which slowed us down. Though there were eateries in Morena, there was no parking space due to the construction activities. We decided to try our luck nearer to Jhansi and meanwhile we had the butter toast and boiled eggs that I made at the last minute and was the cause for delayed start.

We finally found a dhaba nearer to Jhansi, at a place called Dabra. We stopped at Ashirwad Hotel Family Restaurant which was decently spacious and clean. It had opened couple of hours back for business and therefore the food was still fresh. Otherwise also, it is safe to eat at a running dhaba while you are on the road because they keep making fresh items throughout the day. We had Aloo Parantha and tea. Rolf stretched his legs, relieved himself and attracted lot of interest with the strangers around. The Aloo Paranthas were quite filling so we decided to skip lunch and probably stop in the evening for tea if such a place can be found.

We soon reached the district of Jhansi and directed by Google Map skirted the city and again got on to NH 44 heading towards Lalitpur via Babina, Talbeit and some other small hamlets. As the day progressed, we could feel the heat as well as the glow of the sun. The NH 44 at this juncture is very straight with minor curves and it does make one sleepy. I put on the music a bit loud and told Santanu that he can doze off if he felt so but he refused. I used to think that Lalitpur is part of MP but as we were crossing, realized it is very much in UP (the auto-rickshaws on the road had UP registration). But it was the last township of UP before you cross into MP somewhere after Gona, a small hamlet.

As we entered MP, the road became much better but at the same time, the cattle menace started which would continue till we reached Maharashtra. The cattle menace was less infuriating because it was afternoon and most of the cows were sitting or grazing on the side. Since one cannot predict the sudden movement of these beasts, it was prudent to drive at a sedate pace so that the vehicle can be maneuvered at the last moment. However, this meant delayed arrival at Pench. Santanu said, “Slow and steady wins the race. At least we will reach in one piece rather than colliding with the cows”. I agreed with him.

As we were passing through Sagar, I pointed out the Pathways Retreat on the highway itself and told Santanu how that particular place had played dirty by giving away our room to someone else even after confirming a day before the first time we were going to Delhi from Hyderabad.

The road from Sagar to Narsinghpur is curvaceous and keeps the driver on alert specially when there are enough bovines on the road that can suddenly decide to cross. Moreover, there were quite a few villages and these people have a particular liking for the highways to sit around which I had noticed during our road trip to Khajuraho from Bandhavgarh.

The sun was on the western horizon by the time we reached Lakhnadon on way to Seoni, the last township of MP that shares the Pench National Park with Maharashtra. It was dark when we reached the point of NH 44 that signals the start of Wildlife sanctuary. There were no street lights on highways but you do get scattered lights from the roadside dhabas or the scattered hamlets now and then. On this stretch of NH 44 there are jungles on either side therefore no dhabas or villages which made the outside pitch dark. I had put the headlights in full beam just in case we come across any wild creature!!

We were doing good speed even though it was dark because the highway was very well marked with reflector lights at the curves as well as on the sides which were guiding us smoothly. Then, as we reached the limits of Pench Wildlife Park, diversions started and continued for next 15 odd km. Once the hilly tracks ended, we had to take service roads which because of the use by heavy vehicles have turned into muddy patches with potholes every now and then. This continued for next 20-25 km with occasional reliefs in the form of newly laid portions.

Once we crossed the “under construction” patch on NH-44, I knew that our destination was just about 10-15 km away and this was confirmed by the Google Map too. The outside was pitch dark barring the occasional lights from on-coming vehicles. However, we were able to do good speed as the road was really good and practically no traffic on our side of the road. After a while, the Google Map started indicating a left turn ahead but there were no exit to be found. I slowed down and tried to look through the black darkness and found an exit for u-turn but we ended up with a dead end. I remembered last time too we had gone ahead and taken a u-turn to right just before the toll plaza. It had made us drive extra for almost 20 km but in this darkness it was the best option available.

We took the u-turn just before the toll plaza and kept driving towards Delhi once again and about 20 minutes later saw the first sign of Go Flamingo Resort. Thereafter, I knew how to reach the resort taking the service lane. When we finally checked in it was 9:35 pm on the clock and all three of us were famished. I ordered boiled chicken and rice for Rolf and Chapati with Chicken Curry & Egg Curry and salad for us. I had carried “Elixir of Life” in miniature bottles which came handy in rejuvenating ourselves as well as a sound sleep through the night.

I was up at 5 am and completed my morning chores, washed up and was ready to move. Santanu too got up and while he was getting ready, I took Rolf out for a walk. The main gate of the resort was locked and there were no signs of any soul. I knew Rolf being much disciplined, won’t poop inside the complex, so I looked for the security guard and found him at the back of the reception cum dining hall. He opened up the gate and we out for a stroll in the jungle environment. I kept thinking if we encounter any wild cat what will happen; will the hard rubber stick I am carrying be a deterrent? But, fortunately, no such sighting happened, few stray dogs started barking but retreated when Rolf and I walked straight on towards them.

For some reason occupancy at Go Flamingo Resort was low in fact we were the only occupant that morning with the other group having left even before us. As a result, the cook had taken it easy and decided to start the kitchen after 8 am. If we wait for the breakfast, we won’t make it to Hyderabad by 5:00 pm (our target). So we decided to leave early and try our luck on the way.

First thing we needed to do was to tank up the car at the first available gas station. We found one after about 25 km on our side of the road, although there were 2-3 on the other side that we skipped because of long detours. Once again we cruised on and turned on to our way to Nagpur bypass. There are two toll plazas within a span of less than 1 km but if you have paid at the first one, all you have to do is to show the receipt and they pass you through. We passed the second one and sped up to around 80 kmph when we saw a posse of Police with barricades, we slowed down and one them approached and asked for the documents. I showed him the RC, Insurance and my DL. He was almost returning them back to when he seemed to remember something and asked for PUC certificate. Sadly, I didn’t have that and told him I had forgotten it at Delhi but get it done again when I reach Hyderabad. I had to pay 500 bucks to make him happy on an otherwise scant traffic road where their earnings won’t bring smiles.

The next thought was to find a nice eatery to have our breakfast. We had almost missed it but managed to stop and reverse in the nick of time to Doon Punjabi Family Dhaba which is run by a Sikh ex-Army person. The place turned out to be very clean including the kitchen which one can see through the glass panels. The manager-cum-steward was from Haryana and also an ex-soldier of Indian Army and spoke good English. He was from Ambala, Haryana and was delighted to see our Haryana (Gurugram) registered car. We ordered for Aloo Parantha which came with curd and pickles. This Aloo Parantha was far better than what we had yesterday and we decided to pack two more for the road. We had two cups of tea, the first one was the regular masala chai and then black tea without milk and sugar. Both were of very good quality; will surely stop by this place on our next journey from Delhi to Hyderabad.

We continued our journey towards Hyderabad with renewed vigor having fed ourselves and stretched our legs including Rolf. As I had mentioned in my earlier post, the NH 44 in Maharashtra after the limits of Nagpur districts tends to become bad to worse. Because of my knowledge about the potholes right in the middle of the road, I drove cautiously but at a good speed negotiating the mid-road surprises. The good thing was that the cattle menace was way behind us now. Around 1:30 pm, we entered the state of Telengana and soon the road surface became very nice and I pressed on the gas to cover up the lost time. Moreover, I wanted to reach the city of Hyderabad before evening rushes of traffic hits the road.

Once we passed through Hinganghat, I knew that we will be shortly crossing over to Telengana and soon we reached the Penganga Bridge over the river by the same name that effectively separates the two states. On Maharashtra side, Pimpalkhuti is the last township and on Telengana it is Dollara, more of a village than town. I told Santanu that I have seen Mini Malls at most of the toll plazas in the southern states of Telengana, Andhra and Karnataka and we stop there for tea or coffee. The morning breakfast was too filling and I wasn’t hungry at all.

At the Dollara toll plaza, we stopped after paying the toll fee, at the Mini Mall. While Santanu lighted his second cigarette of the day, I walked Rolf for leg stretch as well as peeing. It was quite hot outside, so I fed him water and put him back in the car with the air-conditioner switched on. We finished our coffee which was quite lousy, full of sugar and milk, complete disappointment for a South Indian Filter Coffee, and hit the highway once again. The sugar in the coffee had given some extra energy and kept the speedometer at constant 100 kmph thereafter, slowing down only when we were passing through any township or hamlet.

As we neared the Adilabad, the road became picturesque with greenery on both sides and the hills in the distant horizon. The scenic view is so good that one forgets the time and we soon saw the signboard declaring that the Exit to Nirmal was only 500 metres ahead. I told Santanu that we would soon be crossing the mighty Godavari River after Soanpet. The monsoon had been quite good in the state and therefore the River Godavari too was flowing at full capacity. As we drove on, Nizamabad, Ramayapet, Narsingi besides many smaller township or hamlets could be seen on the signage only because the NH44 at this juncture has steered clear of the populous areas and at each point provided exit option with service road to the respective towns. That’s how the Highways should be built.

When we reached Medchal at the outskirts of Hyderabad, I told Santanu that we are almost home and should reach in next 35-45 minutes. At Medchal, we took the Nehru Outer Ring Road popularly called ORR that rings the city of Hyderabad and perhaps the best thing to have happened to the city. The credit for this must be given to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu who was the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh when the idea was floated by him. The 158 km 8 lane Expressway was built between 2005 & 2012. My classmate Alok, a Civil Engineer with a large construction firm was involved in building the part of ORR that we have used most of time in last two years… Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli to Shamsabad for airport commute.

The best part of the 8 lane ORR is that one can maintain a steady speed of 100 kmph (permissible) constantly which we did and soon reached our exit (19) to Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli. The clock inside the car said 4:10 pm and we finally reached home 20 minutes later. It had been a exhilarating journey for two days and both of us needed a strong cup of tea. I showed Santanu the guest room and took Rolf out for his evening walk. It was good to see that even after a month’s absence from here; he knew exactly where he can walk and do his peeing and pooping!!

Santanu had planned for week stay in Hyderabad, meeting his friends from BHEL days. The following day he went to meet his friend for lunch while I unpacked and settled down to the routine. Santanu came back in the evening visibly happy meeting his friend after long time. They had gone to a place called Autumn Leaf for lunch and had excellent food in nice ambiance. I made it a point to visit the place as soon as possible. He also said that he would go over to his friend’s place next day evening for overnight stay and shall be back on Friday evening. They had to go over to another of their mutual friend’s place for dinner. Since he had told me in the very beginning that the purpose of his taking the road trip was to meet up with his Hyderabadi friends, I couldn’t stop him. Then on Friday morning he called up to say that he would be staying over as they have to visit another friend in the evening and he would surely be at our place by Saturday morning before breakfast. Initially I didn’t think much about it but in the evening when I saw the bottle of Monkey Shoulder still more than half full, I was a bit peeved.

On Saturday morning around 8:30 am he called up to say that he is running a bit late and that we shouldn’t wait for him but have our breakfast. I told him that he should reach by 10/10:30 as we have to go for grocery & veggies shopping and I wanted him to show the Spar’s Hypermarket from where we do our weekly shopping.

I was taking bath when I heard voices from the drawing room and thought that Santanu had come and talking to Deepika. But when I came out of the bathroom, I saw a new suitcase in the room and immediately realized that Sangeeta has made a surprise visit. Actually, we had discussed her visit but she refused saying that she can’t make it owing to her job. They wanted to surprise us but it wasn’t to be; because Deepika had seen them coming from the balcony as they had left the cab at the gate instead of bringing it to the basement parking, not knowing the way through. Secondly, I having seen the suitcase knew of her presence. Anyways, it was a happy reunion and we started planning for the activities ahead. We decided to visit Falaknuma Palace which is a Taj Hotel property and limited number of non-resident guests are allowed during Lunch, Tea & Dinner time at price that can easily be classified as exorbitant. Deepika, using her Epicura membership (of Taj) made the booking for the evening tea along with a guided tour of the palace.

Falaknuma Palace is built on a hillock and covers a 32-acre area, 5 km from Charminar. It was built by Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra, Prime Minister of Hyderabad and the uncle & brother-in-law of the sixth Nizam. Falak-numa means “Mirror of Sky” in Urdu.

An English architect William Ward Marret designed the palace. Sir Vicar’s monogram “VO” is on the furniture, walls and ceiling of the palace. It is made completely with Italian marble with stained-glass windows and covers an area of 1,011,500 square feet. The palace was built in the shape of a scorpion with two stings spread out as wings in the north. The middle part is occupied by the main building and the kitchen, Gol Bangla, Zenana Mehal, and harem quarters stretch to the south. The Nawab was an avid traveller, and his influences show in the architecture, which combines Italian and Tudor influences.

One of the highlights of the palace is the state reception room, where the ceiling is decorated with frescoes. The ballroom contains a two-ton manually operated organ said to be the only one of its kind in the world but is now non-functional. The palace has 60 rooms and 22 halls. It has considerable collections of the Nizam’s artifacts including paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts, books, an extensive jade collection, and Venetian chandeliers.

The library has a carved walnut roof, a replica of the one at Windsor Castle and houses more than five thousand books. It has an extensive collection of English, Urdu and Persian books as well as copies of the Quran, and rare first editions.

The dining hall can seat 101 guests. The chairs are made of carved rosewood with green leather upholstery. Burroughs and Watts from England designed two identical billiards tables, one of which is in Buckingham Palace and the other in the palace’s billiards room. 

[Source: Wikipedia]

In 2000, Taj Hotels started renovating and restoring the palace and opened the renovated hotel in November 2010.

While returning from Falaknuma, I switched on the Google Map and it made us take rounds of the PVN Expressway 4 times before I disobeyed it and took a road that I had taken in an earlier occasion to reach the Nehru ORR and reached home an hour late than the usual.

Following day I had booked 3 tickets to watch BALA in the evening not knowing the program of Sangeeta. I wanted to cancel the tickets but she insisted that we must carry on and that she will take a cab to reach airport.

In the morning, we went to Chutney’s for a south Indian breakfast and from there to the IKEA showroom which incidentally has become a tourist attraction in Hyderabad now. For lunch we ordered MANDI, a pullaw or biriyani dish but the unlike biriyani, the meat and rice are cooked separately. And I had cooked mutton curry on Saturday but had remained untouched. The quantity of one portion MANDI was too much and it got finished only by Monday lunches.

On Tuesday, post lunch, I dropped off Santanu at the airport for his onward journey to Kolkata. The 10 days since starting my journey from Delhi whizzed past like dream.

I got busy in the daily chores of life in Hyderabad and wasn’t sure if I would like to pen down the experience and therefore kept postponing. Now while writing it, realized that few details may have been erased from my memory completely.

On the Roads… 1

This year we had decided to spend the Durga Puja in Hyderabad and go to Delhi around Diwali only. This would mean leaving behind Rolf with our Housekeeper in Hyderabad for those days which was okay as long as there’s someone to walk him twice a day, morning and evening. We had engaged a person earlier named Ishwar for walking Rolf and he had diligently done the job but in the month of June when we went for a very short trip to Vizag, he simply ditched us even after confirming just a day before. Notwithstanding his previous strange behavior I tried to contact him over phone and WhatsApp but he did not respond. His attitude was puzzling as we had paid him whatever price he had quoted and walking Rolf is not such a tedious job as the boy is quite obedient and adjusting dog.

The non-availability of a dog walker made us change our plans and we decided to take the road once again to Delhi. This time, however, we arranged for our housekeeper to travel by train (Duronto Express) and asked my nephew to pick her up from Nizamuddin station and drop at our Delhi home. The idea was that she along with the other maid gets the apartment livable by the time we reach two days apart.

So, on 5th October, Deepika & I along with Rolf left for Delhi. As always we had planned to leave by 5:30 am but the clock in the car said 6:45 am as we hit the road. Last time Google Map had taken us through the city to NH44 and it was quite exhausting going through the narrow and often crowded roads and lanes, so we decided to take the Nehru ORR (Outer Ring Road) albeit it was longer by few kilometers but much cleaner route.

We were carrying Aloo Parantha and boiled eggs so as not to have a extended stoppage for breakfast. We stopped at a Mini Mart, a new concept by the Transport Ministry to have public convenience and eatery at all Toll Plazas, for tea and also allow Rolf to stretch his legs.

The NH44 of Telengana sector is really good, mostly 4 lanes with divider in place. However, the moment we crossed into Maharashtra, the road quality deteriorated with sudden potholes in the middle of the road, some of them big enough to breakdown a vehicle. The speed with which we started came down substantially to negotiate the stretch till Nagpur where the surface improved a bit and we could cruise at 100kmph.

We had planned to take a break at Go Flamingo Resort, Pench (Maharashtra) for lunch and also confirm my bookings for return. Deepika was using the map on her phone to navigate to Go Flamingo while I had kept mine locked for the hotel at Sagar, MP. As luck would have it, she missed the exit and by the time we realized the mistake, we had travelled around 70 km beyond, in fact, we had crossed into Madhya Pradesh. There was no point in turning back, so we looked for another alternative and Google suggested Kiplings Court. It was almost 10-12 km inside the Pench National Park, owned and managed by Madhya Pradesh Tourism. By the time we reached the place, their kitchen was closed and only sandwiches and pakodas were available. We settled for veg sandwiches and assorted pakodas. As Deepika was taking care of food ordering, I took Rolf for a walk and fed him two boiled eggs and Pedigree Gravy Chicken.

It was still another 400 km to our night halt at Sagar MP, so we revved up as soon as we hit the NH44 after negotiating the diversions for under construction highway. I calculated that if there’s no further slowing down, we will reach our destination by 9pm. Deepika had booked a small hotel called R-One Inn situated on Railway Station Road, Sagar. I was in the impression that it will be somewhere close to where we stayed last time, a mere 2km inside from the NH44 but we were taken through the often narrow winding streets of Sagar to the Railway Station and then inside a lane where we found the place. It was just like the mushrooming hotels of Paharganj or Karol Bagh but we were there just to sleepover the night and more importantly, Rolf was welcomed warmly.

Delhi was approx. 700km or 12 hours of drive away, so we decided to start our journey early. We checked on the availability of breakfast and were informed that the earliest it will be ready is 8:00 am. It was too late for us, so we left for Delhi at sharp 7:00 am. Unknown to us for next 200+ km that a great mishap has happened…

In the early morning, the hotel had served us the tea which we consumed with the Karachi Bakery Cookies that we were carrying. I fed Rolf the balance two boiled eggs and a pack of Pedigree Gravy Chicken. Then washed up his bowls and packed them in a polythene bag. Thereafter, I took the two bags that we had brought in the previous evening and loaded them in the car. Lastly, I took Rolf out for a walk hoping that he will do his job in the new environment (he is really very fussy in these matters) and at the same time asked Deepika to carry the packet of bowls with her and also settle the accounts with the hotel.

As expected, Rolf only sprayed at few places to put his mark but refused to do anything more, being distracted by few local strays which kept barking at him from a safe distance. I saw Deepika coming down to the Reception so I helped Rolf get inside the car and started the engine as also the Google Map for the final destination. We tanked up the car at the first gas station before hitting the NH44 and thereafter it was a smooth drive in the sparse traffic of early Sunday morning.

Around 9:45 am we crossed over to the state of UP (Bundelkhand) towards Jhansi. We were feeling hungry so Deepika started looking for a breakfast joint and we followed the Google Map into a town (forgot the name) and hunted for the elusive but famous shop. We couldn’t see any eatery where Google said it was but a few meters down the road was a shop selling Kachauri & Samosa. We checked with them if they have anything more filling which was not but one of the customers gave us the direction to Pathak Ji’s shop that serves lip smacking Puri-Sabzi. We kept the car parked there with the windows slightly down for airflow as Rolf was inside and walked down to the directed shop. But as luck would have it, Pathak Ji said it would take at least 30 minutes as the sabzi has just started cooking. We came back to the first shop and picked up the samosa and kachauri and retreated towards the highway.

The samosa & the kachauri were fresh and excellent in terms of taste. I found a patch where it was safe to let Rolf stretch his legs and have some water to keep him hydrated. Once he was ready to step back into the car, I thought of feeding him some water but to my utter dismay, the bowls were nowhere to be found. We searched every nook and corner of the car but those were not there. Deepika had forgotten them at the hotel reception. I was filled with rage and frustration… the first for her callousness and the second because there are no cities on the route where we can get bowls for the Pet. I kept quiet for some time and took a decision that we will now drive non-stop to Delhi, avoiding lunch or tea breaks and try to reach as early as possible. Deepika was feeling guilty and pleaded to stop at any of the Dhaba’s to check if they have any bowl or like utensil that can be bought. About another 100 km later we saw a Dhaba but had nothing that could be useful. I had taken out Rolf for stretching his legs and as usual he immediately attracted a handful of crowd who started taking his snaps. They, like many others have never seen such a dog breed. One young boy amongst the crowd took piety and rushed to his home and got us a small thermocole bowl. It wasn’t sufficient but worked at that moment and Rolf took few sips of water. It was clear that we have no option but to drive non-stop to Delhi now.

The roads till Jhansi were good and we covered the distance in good time. Last time the road from Jhansi to Gwalior was horrible, not only there were diversions every few 100 meters but the road was broken at most places. This time a major portion of the road was completed but still there were many diversions and narrow single file stretches that slowed us down considerably.

Google Map always recommends or rather insists that we take the Yamuna Expressway from Agra to Greater Noida to reach Delhi but I decided to take the NH19 via Agra Bypass as it was shorter though has more traffic. However, as we were approaching Mathura, suddenly the Google Map voice literally started screaming “Turn right… Turn right”. And I turned only to be taken through the lanes and roads of the Mathura outskirts to the Yamuna Expressway.

On reaching Delhi, my first stop was at the Pet Shop to buy the bowls for Rolf before going home. Rolf climbed the stairs a bit hesitatingly which was expected because of dehydration. And then he drank 2 litre of water before settling down at his favourite spot near the kitchen. Even with the stoppages we made it to home 5 minutes before 7 pm. Less than 12 hours beating Google Map’s initial prediction of 14:15 hours by over 2 hours….

… to be continued with return journey…

A Farm Vacation

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This was second year in a row that we thought we will spend the Christmas holidays in isolation at Hyderabad, especially when Ayush said he won’t be able to take any holidays as he had already planned a trip to Delhi for his roommate and close friend’s (of 4 years of college) sister’s wedding in the first week of January. However, Sangeeta Basu, our very dear and expert in organizing vacations had other ideas. She worked out a program for 3 nights 4 days at a place called Vanvasa Resort near Lansdowne. I checked the place and it happened to be in the midst of Corbett Jungles. We were elated to be in the lap of nature and possibility of meeting some wild friends.

Sadly, we had to cancel that keeping in mind the high voltage dramas enacted by the opposition parties across the country in the name of citizenship amendment bill which actually is simply to accommodate the persecuted minority population from the three neighboring (declared) Islamic Countries and does not affect any existing citizens of this country irrespective of their religious faith. The surprising part of this agitation was that it all happened in the BJP ruled states; the states where Congress is in power were absolutely calm!! Anyways, we decided to explore alternatives in the peaceful areas and Sangeeta came up with Prakriti Farms, an hour drive from Chandigarh in Ropar or Roop Nagar, Punjab.

Deepika and I left for Delhi on 25th morning. As we came out of the Indigo aircraft, the chilly air of Delhi gave us a warm welcome; we have been missing this winter air for last 2 years…

 Our home was quite clean and livable, courtesy Deepika’s friend Sumita, who had graciously agreed to get the place cleaned as often as she can and had it cleaned just a couple of days before we reached. There was a marked difference in the weather from 24 degrees of Hyderabad and around 8-10 degrees in Delhi. I was wearing my jacket after 2 years!!

In my last visit to Delhi in October, I had sold my car, Duster which was a diesel vehicle of 6 years old having only 4 years of life left as per the new motor vehicle laws. Therefore, I had booked a Hyundai Creta from Zoom Cars for our upcoming trip to Prakriti Farms, Roop Nagar and I went to fetch it from the pick-up point. This was the first time that I was using Zoom vehicle and was bit apprehensive about “no human interface pick-up”. But to my delight it was very smooth and took me less than 20 minutes to go through the formalities using their Mobile App and soon I was driving the Creta.

We, (Deepika, I and Sumita) left for Prakriti Farms around 7:30 am on 26th December with trusted Google Maps as our guide and it predicted approx 5:30 hours to the destination. We met up with Basus & Dutts at our favourite meeting point at the Bharat Petroleum Station at Moolchand crossing. In all my previous road trips, notably 5 trips between Delhi-Hyderabad, I had comprehensively beaten Google Map by at least an hour, so I was confident it will be same this time too. What I had not considered are 2 things – (1) I was driving a commercial vehicle & (2) the new system of paying Toll through FasTag and resultant long queues at the “Cash Booths”. The Creta was registered in Punjab and I knew that I will have to pay “Entry Tax” to Haryana RTA. However, we couldn’t make out when and at what point we crossed into Haryana as there was no RTO Toll Collection Booths to be seen.

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We stopped over at Garam Dharam Dhaba at Murthal for breakfast. Apparently the great bollywood actor Dharmendra had inspired the owners so much that they have named it after him. The place was huge hall with counters for different kind of street foods both savory and sweet besides thirst quenchers like tea, coffee, sodas and lassi. The food was decent (at least my Amritsari Kulchas), the Paranthas looked appetizing. However, the tea wasn’t to the standard we are used to.

The first Toll Gate came after about 5 km and we experienced the first of many “toll gate jams”. The private vehicles with FasTags sailed through the gates smoothly while all the commercial vehicles including cars, autos and trucks jostled at the cash only gates numbering just 2 against 8 gates for the tagged vehicles. This I found a bit ridiculous because since the tagged vehicle doesn’t have to stop at the gate, the lesser number would have worked just as well. The commercial vehicles are not going to put the FasTag and shall continue to suffer, going forward.

Hardly a kilometer after the Toll Plaza, I was stopped by a posse of Police. A young constable came and asked for the papers which I promptly showed him. He flipped through the document file and asked for the Haryana Entry Tax receipt. I told him with full honesty that even though I looked for the tax collection booth but couldn’t find it. He said the fine is INR 10000 for illegal entry. I pleaded with him that it was the first time travel for us in a commercial car and we will pay the tax at the next available booth. After lot of haggling and negotiation, I settled it for INR500 for his Chai-Samosa in the December Chill. He was courteous enough to provide the details of the next RTO but it was not very clear. In the hunt for the RTO, a bus brushed passed the rear right door but luckily there was no dent. We found the RTO just before Panipat on a side street and paid the tax for 5 days. We lost an hour in the process while Basus & Dutts in their own vehicle plus FasTag had moved on and was at least 50-60km ahead of us. There was also a speed restriction on all Zoom Cars, my limit was 126kmph but I kept the speed at 100-112kmph and finally caught up with them on the Chandigarh By-pass road. Now, we were in Punjab, so no more state tax issue and all three vehicles cruised along together. We reached Prakriti Farms around 3:30pm, a clear 2 hours later than Google Map prediction.

Prakriti Farms is situated inside the village Rail Majra in the district Shahid Bhagat Singh, 7 km from Ropar city. It does provide a slice of Punjab (village) as you take the narrow patch of earthen road from the NH 205 and cross the village to get to the farm. It is nestled in the foothills of Shivalik and about 15 minutes drive away from the Ropar wetlands. The accommodation is basic but comfortable. We were housed in three cottages, 2 of which had 3 beds and the other double bed. The 3-bedded rooms were really big and needed 2 heaters to warm up with outside temperature plunging to almost 0 degrees at night. However, to our charging the moment we switched on the second heater in our room, the power went off but fortunately the bed lamps worked. There was no intercom phone in the room to call the housekeeping, so I went out with my phone torch to hunt for the MCB switch but couldn’t find one. It was around 10:30 pm but the place looked as if it was midnight. We were very tired and slept wearing the woolens.

I normally get up around 5:30 am in the morning after finishing my morning chores, looked through the window to the outside still in midnight mode, dark and silent. I returned to my bed and slept till I could hear voices outside. It was 7:30 am and both Deepika and Sumita still in deep slumber. I went out to find the bonfire has been lighted and tea is about to be served. Normally, in these kinds of places they serve readymade tea which is prepared in milk and lots of sugar. Since most of us are averse to taking sugar in our tea, we had asked for tea with separate serving of milk and sugar. Sunil, the Man Friday at the Farm was efficiently arranging the cups n saucer and got two thermoses full of tea and milk. Santanu was there with Princess Chewbacca (adorable Shih tzu) as was (Dutt) Uncle and soon the ladies joined us at the bonfire which was lighted up every day of our stay in the early morning and kept alive till we called it a day. Sipping the hot tea (must mention that the tea was excellently brewed with some special herbs as per Sunil), we discussed the course of the day and finalized on visiting Bhakra Dam and Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara which were roughly 2 hours drive from the farm, after breakfast.

The breakfast consisted of 2 kinds of Paranthas – Aloo and Gobi with farm made fresh curd and achaars besides toast and egg. The paranthas were out-of-this-world kind, at least ten notches above what we had at Garam Dharam, Murthal. Till about 15 days prior to our visit, the farm had over 50 chickens and the eggs used to come from there but due to age issue, those were sold off and the new batch was yet to come, so they relied on the commercial supplies when we visited. However, the food preparation was so good that foodies like Santanu and myself couldn’t find anything to crib!!! Santanu even conceded that the Coffee made with normal Nescafe was too good and he could never get the flavor even from the Nescafe Gold (superior version) coffee at home. We concluded that it was because of the unadulterated fresh milk that boosted the taste of the coffee.

 Post breakfast we quickly took our bath got ready for Bhakra via Anandpur Sahib. While on the road, we changed plans and decided to go to Bhakra first which needed permit to visit and that office closes around 3pm for public. Sangeeta went inside to get the permit while Santanu cleverly utilized the break to smoke and I tried the “Pocket Kulcha” from a street vendor. It is the same “Matar-Kulcha” with a different presentation but couldn’t match the taste with the Delhi variety.

Though we associate Bhakra-Nangal as one and with Punjab, the reality is they are 2 different dams; Bhakra is in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh while Nangal is in Punjab. The latter is inaccessible to tourists.

Bhakra Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Sutlej River in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh in northern India and forms the Gobind Sagar reservoir.

The dam, located at a gorge near the (now submerged) upstream Bhakra village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh of height 226 m. The length of the dam (measured from the road above) is 518.25 m and the width is 9.1 m. It’s reservoir known as “Gobind Sagar” stores up to 9.34 billion cubic metres of water. The 90 km long reservoir created by the Bhakra Dam is spread over an area of 168.35 km. In terms of quantity of water, it is the third largest reservoir in India, the first being Indira Sagar dam in Madhya Pradesh with capacity of 12.22 billion cu m and second Nagarjunasagar Dam in Telengana State.

Described as “New Temple of Resurgent India” by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, the dam attracts tourists from all over India. Bhakra dam is 15 km from Nangal city and 20 km from Naina Devi town.

Nangal Dam is another dam in Punjab downstream of Bhakra Dam. However, sometimes both the dams together are called Bhakra-Nangal Dam though they are two separate dams.

As we approached check-post, I asked the policeman where to pay the “entry tax” for Himachal Pradesh. He had a incredible look in his face and laughed at me saying not to bother about it as the permit itself is what is required. I was still apprehensive as the INR 10000 challan still rang on my head but I couldn’t see a single booth for toll collection. There was a checkpoint nearer to Bhakra manned by Indian Army but even they had cursory look inside the 2 vehicles and the permit and let us proceed.

Since our childhood right from the text books to other pictures, Bhakra dam had seemed to be a gigantic structure however, in reality it looked like a “wall of a fort” that spread across two hills. All along the route, signage said “No Photography” so we refrained from taking any but saw many others stopping and taking selfies at will. The Govind Sagar Lake was awesomely huge, one couldn’t see the other side even with Sun shining bright. The water was clear blue and I am sure if we were any closer, we could have seen the fishes swimming. There were steps to go down to the banks and Deepika, Sumita and Sangeeta went down to click some pictures. I calculated the steps to be at least 70-80 if not more; going down is not a problem but climbing up would have been a big challenge especially when one has to drive. We drove up further on the road to capture more panoramic view before making our return journey.

There were kiosks selling Fish Fries, Santanu and Sangeeta being Fish Lovers, decided to pick up some for evening snacks with the drinks. The supplies came from the Govind Sagar itself so the fishes are always fresh catch of the day.

As we approached Anandpur Sahib, it was already 4:30 pm and I told Deepika that she has only 15-20 minutes to complete her “darshan” as it would get dark by the time we are anywhere near to Prakriti Farms and it would be challenging to negotiate the narrow rough village roads in the darkness. We parked our vehicles and followed the sparse evening crowd to the Gurdwara. I and Shenjit stayed out on the courtyard guarding the footwear and purses while Santanu accompanied the ladies inside. I had expected them to come out in 20 minutes or so but they came out within 5 minutes. They were obviously disappointed by the size of the Gurdwara and lamented as to why it is so famous? Even the “kada Prasad” was neither good in quantity nor in taste (having been to many Gurdwaras, I can safely say that the helpings are large and tastes heavenly).

On our way out to the parking, we tried the “Stick Kulfi” from “Verka”, it tasted more of “desi ghee” than “malai”. Once upon a time, Verka used to be what Amul is to Gujarat but because of management failure or even political neglect has remained a local brand while Amul is now an international brand.

Santanu had parked at a place from where he could easily take the first exit from the parkinf lot but our car was parked a little ahead and we had to go some 300 meters ahead to take the u-turn. As I was negotiating the turn, I noticed a large structure on my left and casually asked Deepika to see it. Deepika immediately screamed “Oh shit, we went to the wrong Gurdwara. This is the real Anandpur Sahib”. By that time my turning back was complete and Santanu’s vehicle was at least half a kilometer ahead of us and more importantly, darkness was falling rapidly on the horizon. After a teleconferencing with Basu’s, it was decided to let go of real Anandpur Sahib as all homes of the Almighty are equal!!!

While going to Bhakhra, we observed lots of vendors selling Kinnows also called Tangerine so we stopped by at one such vendor to have Kinnow juice to quench our thirst. We also picked up some “moomphalee” and “gajjak” from the vendor next to it.

As I had expected, it was completely dark when we reached the Prakriti Farms after missing a couple of turns and taking detours through harrowing roads of the villages. But we all agreed that it was overall a great experience that we shall remember for a long time.

In the evening, we devoured the fried fish from Bhakra along with farm fresh pakodas with our scotch and wine. The dinner was simple (as per our wish) consisting of yellow tadka dal, aloo-gobi sabji with chapatti and jeera rice.

Though we had planned for a few rounds of TwentyNine (card game invented by Bongs) but the main players including me were exhausted and we called it a day. The darkness was so deep that you will feel you are in the middle of nowhere, one could see the stars twinkling in between the light cloud and could hear the howls of dogs in the distance. We guessed the temperature to be near zero and quickly entered in the warmth of our room. Deepika & Sumita wanted play cards (Rummy without money) and invited which I politely declined and went inside the heavy razaai.

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Early in the morning, I woke with a feeling that it’s raining heavily probably a thunderstorm. I got up with an effort to look through the window but there was no rain, only a thick layer of fog. It was 5 am and still a long time for others to wake up, I decided to freshen first and then dive back under my razaai once more.

Mr. Kaushal, the owner of the farm, joined us at the morning tea around the bonfire and suggested we take a guided tour of the estate with Sunil which we promptly agreed. The estate included a hill in the distant along with a large spread of jungle. Sunil said that till about couple years ago, leopards were present in the jungle and would visit the farm for food. Now only some deer and wild boars are remaining other than birds. We did see the poop of both on our way to the Kinnow Orchard inside the jungle. We were warned by Sunil to avoid the thick shrubbery as pythons might be waiting there to strike the unsuspecting prey. There has been incidence of python slithering in the bird cage to devour the chicks during the monsoon.

On our way back we saw the guava orchard and the organic farming of vegetables besides the cattle shed from where the freshest milk comes for tea/coffee, desi ghee and curd.

This day, we had decided to visit another resort nearby (approx 50 km away) called Kikar Lodge for our lunch. Post breakfast we lazed around and played with Chewbacca and realized I do not have the stamina to match the one year old Shih tzu. I also missed Rolf who would have loved to roam around in the cool chimes of the farm. There were some 7 dogs of mixed breed, friendly with humans but Mr. Kaushal had put them in the kennel because of Chewbacca.

In the afternoon we left for Kikar Lodge and this time Uncle-Aunty and Chewbacca also joined us. We religiously followed Google Maps through the winding roads of interior Punjab till it took us to a point of nothing-ahead!! Luckily we found a local guy who guided us back to a more drivable road and Google Map too picked up the cue and guided us to the Kikar Lodge which was at the edge of village Kangar, Nurpur Bedi, Punjab spread over 1800 acres of forest and luscious green splendor. It offered activities like swimming, horse-riding, outdoor games and quad-bike rides for the residents. We had booked for lunch and proceeded straight to the poolside where tables were set for guest dining. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon which prompted us to discard the jackets and scarves and order for chilled beer. The food was quite good but restaurant quality unlike the homely food at Prakriti Farms. We took some snaps with the quad bikes as prop before leaving for the farm.

We checked with Kikar Lodge people if there is any better route and they guided us to the highway that would take us to our destination. We switched on the Google Map once we hit the highway and this time it showed us the right directions. Closer to the Prakriti Farms, about 5-6 km away we stopped at the roadside vendor selling Kinnow juice. As we were waiting for the juice, we noticed some commotion next to the piles of kinnow and realized one of the guy was pulling out something with the help of a bamboo stick that had a kind of blunt sickle at one end. When it came out in the open, we remained open mouthed looking at the huge, at least 8-10 ft long python. Fortunately for the poor thing, they did not kill it but pulled and dragged it to the other side of the road which had a marshland and forest where it slithered off. We were happy having met at least of the wild friends during the trip.

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It was our last evening at the farm; we decided to play Dumb Charade, our favorite evening activity whenever we go out in large group. We were joined by Mr. Balvinder Singh with his wife and two children besides their handsome Labrador called Bolt (named after Usain Bolt). Mr. Singh had checked-in during the afternoon when we had gone to the Kikar Lodge. Quite amiable person and soon we became friends and they were more than happy to join us in the game of Dumb Charade. It was a sweet coincidence that his daughter was in the same school that of Shenjit Basu aka Mingo. It turned out to be a memorable evening with lots fun and merriment around the bonfire which was kept alive with regular supply of wood and the expert handling by Sumita.

After dinner, Deepika, Sumita and I played few rounds of Rummy and needless to say I lost hands down.

We had decided to start early for our return journey to Delhi but the weather god had thought otherwise and we woke to a dense fog all around the place. I have driven on NH1 (now NH44) earlier under dense fog and know how nightmarish it can be!! We were having our tea when Mr. Kaushal came over and suggested that we should wait a while and leave around 10:30/11:00 am by which time the weather will clear up. We agreed but decided to get ready and load up the car so we don’t waste any time once the fog lifts.

We left Prakriti Farms around 11:30 am and all three vehicles were cruising in tandem till we reached the first toll plaza from where Basu’s and Dutt’s moved ahead courtesy the FasTag while we had to clear the long line of vehicles at the cash lane. Then came the inevitable twist in our journey, Deepika was navigating when we reached a fork where the right lane was taking curving flyover and the left going straight and she read the Google Map wrong and we took the left lane to enter the very crowded and potholed city road instead of the bypass. There was no option but to go forward and took the road to Mohali city and after lots of left-right turns finally hit the NH205 once again.

While going we had noticed makeshift shops on the highway selling fresh jaggery and had decided to pick up some on our way back. We stopped at one such shop where Sumita picked up 5kg and Deepika 2kg and I bought 500gm of freshly made peanut-jaggery gajjak.

Rest of the journey back was uneventful barring the fact that if Google Map decides to take you through a particular route, howsoever you may try to avoid, it will surely guide you to that route only. Upon entering Delhi, I wanted to take the eastern side of the Ring Road via Alipur-ISBT-Kashmere Gate-Rajghat while Google wanted us to take the western part of the road through Ashok Vihar-Wazirpur-Punjabi Bagh-Dhaulakuan and it smartly managed to do that eventually as in the darkness of wintery night I did not wanted to do any bravado and be lost in the foggy weather.

We reached home around 7:30pm and even after much cajoling Sumita didn’t stay back and left for her home in Gurugram. Deepika & I went to see her ailing uncle residing nearby who was delighted to see us and after spending an hour there we came back totally exhausted but happy holidaying with friends.

It was good that Sumita left for her home in the evening itself because the following morning fog descended with a vengeance!!!

The Summer of ’83

It was summer of 1983, having given the final exams of college, waiting for the graduation day, not too eagerly though. Those days, there was no pressure from anyone to chalk-out one’s career plan. The four of us, Babua, Gora, Chhoton and me more or less knew what we wanted to do, but could wait till the results are declared. Since we all lived close-by, it was a ritual to meet up after breakfast at Babua’s home and then decide the day’s course of action; it usually meant playing some indoor games if the heat was too much, see a cinema (usually English) at Chanakya or Archana, both involving a whole day affair as it was quite far from Karol Bagh. Evenings were usually spent playing cricket in the driveway of Babua’s home (there was no car for parking) and everyone was expert batter and bowler with Babua being the best. And some evenings we would venture out to the lanes of Gaffar Market for Mutton-Tikka-Tandoori Roti dinner!!

In one such day, sometime in May (I guess), we were playing a card game called Twenty-Nine (29), it is a pure Bong version of Bridge, played with 8 cards per player between 2 teams of 2 players each (total 4 persons). The sum total of the 32 cards (not all bears point) comes to 28 with Joker being 3, #9 being 2, Ace being 1 and #10 being 1 as well, the other 4 cards are King, Queen, #8 & #7. The Sixes are used as pointer. One has to call points between 16 & 28 that he/she is confident of achieving based on the first 4 sets of card in hand. It is simply too engrossing and once you start playing, time simply flies away. Once we started playing around noon and continued till about 11pm when my brother came to fetch me!!!

Anyways, that day while playing Chhoton said “Let’s go somewhere outside Delhi before the results are out because after that we won’t be able to show our faces.” We instantly agreed but Babua said, he can’t go as he needs to apply for MSc in as many colleges. Rest of us had no such illusions of doing Masters (honestly speaking, we would not have got admission). So, we decided to go to Benaras because Chhoton said his father can make arrangements for stay through his sources there in the shape of Chaukhamba Publishers. Gora also mentioned that his sister & Jijaji calling him to Patna as well. We decided that if time permit, we will go to Patna for couple of days too.

We booked our train tickets in 3-Tier sleeper (the cheapest) and embarked on our journey to Benaras or Varanasi. We reached in the early morning and courtesy Chhoton’s father, the Ambassador car from Chaukhamba Publishers was there to take us to our destination which turned out to be the office cum residence of the publisher. After we freshened up, we were served breakfast of Puri-Sabji in the office itself. Then, we were told the car will take us to Sarnath to see the Buddhist Stupa and other relics.

Dhamek Stupa (also spelled Dhamekh and Dhamekha, traced to Sanskrit version Dharmarajika Stupa, which can be translated as the Stupa of the reign of Dharma) is a massive stupa located at Sarnath, 13 km away from Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Stupas originated as pre-Buddhist tumuli, in which ascetics were buried in a seated position, called chaitya. After the parinirvana of the Buddha, his remains were cremated and the ashes divided and buried under eight mounds with two further mounds encasing the urn and the embers. Little is known about these early stupas, particularly since it has not been possible to identify the original ten monuments. However, some later stupas such as at Sarnath and Sanchi, seem to be embellishments of earlier mounds. The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan King Ashoka in 249 BCE, along with several other monuments, to commemorate the Buddha’s activities in this location. Stupas originated as circular mounds encircled by large stones. King Ashoka built stupas to enshrine small pieces of calcinated bone and other relics of the Buddha and his disciples. An Ashoka pillar with an edict engraved on it stands near the site.

The Dhamek Stupa is said to mark the spot (Rishipattana which can be translated as (“where the Rishi arrived”) where the Buddha gave the first sermon to his first five brahmin disciples after attaining enlightenment, “revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana”. In several of the ancient sources the site of the first sermon is mentioned to have been at a ″Mriga-dayaa-vanam″ or a sanctuary for animals. (In Sanskrit mriga is used in the sense of game animals, deer being the most common). The last royal endowment at the site is dated to about 12th c. CE, after which the location of the Mrigadayavanam seems to have been lost even to the devout. The stupa was enlarged on six occasions but the upper part is still unfinished. While visiting Sarnath in 640 CE, Xuanzang recorded that the colony had over 1,500 priests and the main stupa was nearly 300 feet (91 m) high.

In its current shape, the stupa is a solid cylinder of bricks and stone reaching a height of 43.6 meters and having a diameter of 28 meters. It is the most massive structure in Sarnath. The basement seems to have survived from Ashoka’s structure: the stone facing is chiseled and displays delicate floral carvings of Gupta origin. The wall is covered with exquisitely carved figures of humans and birds, as well as inscriptions in the Brāhmī script. (Wikipedia)

We had a good time visiting Sarnath (some 10-12 km away from the city) where we saw the Buddhist Stupas and temples, the Buddha idol is said to be gold plated courtesy Japanese grants. We also visited the Jain Tirthankar temple a little distance away from Sarnath. Unfortunately, none of us carried a camera and smart phones were not even dreamt of back then. When we returned, the sun was setting in the distant horizon. We asked the driver to drop us at the Dashashwamedh Ghat to witness the evening prayers.

Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses, during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

As we were walking towards the ghat, someone called out Chhoton’s name from the milling crowd at the back. We stopped to look for the source and was soon greeted by a plumpish dark guy about our age. He promptly hugged Chhoton and they way Chhoton reacted it was clear that two old pals are meeting after a long gap. Chhoton introduced him to us as Bechu, his old school friend. Bechu immediately became our friend, philosopher and guide and remained so till our stay in Benaras. The Sandhya Arati or the Evening Prayer at the Ghat is a magnificent affair with hundreds of Pradeep or Diyas lighting up the space and chanting of the mantras. It’s a surreal feeling.

Later, as we were walking back, Chhoton and Bechu narrated their numerous escapades in Benaras and the distance/ time passed away in a flurry. We were feeling hungry and Bechu suggested we try the famed Kachori of Benaras along with the Rabri. We readily agreed. While devouring the kachoris, we decided to visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple the following day with Bechu being our guide as he knew one of the Pandit who would take us inside bypassing the long queue. Bechu dropped us at the Chaukhmba place promising to meet us in the morning around 9:30 am.

The head of the family at Chaukhamba (I have forgotten his name) was concerned about our welfare and insisted that we have ghar ka khana and not junk food outside. We were tired and wanted to hit the bed, so we listened to him respectfully knowing fully well that such advise will not be adhered. He told us that we can sleep in the Gaddi that we had seen in the morning. This was something that none of us had expected and was not acceptable either. But it was quite late and we needed a relatable story that could help us escape from the Chaukhambas without offending them. Chhoton asked if he could make a call to his childhood friend and was given access to the phone. He spoke to Bechu in confidence and narrated the scenario. Bechu said he would make the necessary arrangements and meet us early in the morning.

Next morning, the Chaukhamba household themselves ensured that we depart asap. At around, 5 am, one of the servants came and woke up us with morning tea. We were completely groggy and would have loved to sleep for at least another hour. The tea was accompanied by dry kachories and a bowl of mango achar. Who on earth ever eats “achar at 5 in the morning”? The tea was basically a mixture of milk and sugar with a hint of tea that too was overpowered by the cardamom flavor!! We decided then and there to leave the place and check in to a hotel. To our relief, Bechu brought the news that he has fixed up the hotel that’s run by his friend Kallu whom incidentally Chhoton also knew from his days in Benaras. Chhoton went to tell the senior Chaukhamba that we will be visiting the Vishwanath Temple and then take the train to Patna to visit Gora’s sister for couple of days. He made feeble attempt to make us stay for few more days but we politely refused.

We checked into Kallu’s hotel which provided basic amenities but was a clean place, moreover we got proper beds to sleep and good tasty food.

After freshening up, we had breakfast of puri-aloo sabji and lassi which would last us till evening. Bechu acting as our guide took us to the Vishwanath temple and as pre-arranged, the panda took us to the inner sanctum through a side entrance. It was noon and time for bathing of the Shiva Linga. I am least religious amongst my friends and does not believe in rituals but at the same time I have no objection to others following and being ritualistic. Therefore, it was quite ironic to witness and experience the age old tradition of milk-bathing of the famed Shiva Linga at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. There in the inner sanctum at that moment, only about 5-6 priests and four of us were present. I know of many who would pay anything to be in my place that day but I believe I was destined to be there, so I was there. Frankly, that point of time it did not struck me but now when I think about it, I feel sorry for the sheer wastage of milk that happens every day. I do not think the Almighty is really interested in such acts but would surely be very happy if such quantity of milk is fed to the hungry humanity just outside the temple and on the ghats of Benaras.

Kashi Vishvanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning Ruler of The Universe. Varanasi city is also called Kashi, and hence the temple is popularly called Kashi Vishvanath Temple. Its name originally was Vishveshvara (broken down Vishwa: Universe, Ish: Lord; Vara: Excellent) or Lord of the Universe.

The temple has been referred to in Hindu scriptures for a very long time as a central part of worship in the Shaiva philosophy. It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.

Since 1983, the temple has been managed by the government of Uttar Pradesh. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) is the chief officiating priest.

Located on the banks of the holy Ganges, Varanasi is regarded among the holiest of the Hindu cities. The Kashi Vishwanath temple is widely recognized as one of the most important places of worship in the Hindu religion. Inside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishveshvara or Vishvanath. The Vishveshvara Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India.

Many leading saints, including Adi Sankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Bamakhyapa, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sathya Sai Baba and Gurunanak have visited the site. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is one of many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). Thus, Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage the temple, and the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the temple at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, where people take water samples of the Ganges to perform prayer at the temple and bring back sand from near that temple. Because of the immense popularity and holiness of Kashi Vishwanath temple, hundreds of temples across India have been built in the same architectural style. Many legends record that the true devotee achieves freedom from death and saṃsāra by the worship of Shiva, Shiva’s devotees on death being directly taken to his abode on Mount Kailash by his messengers and not to Yama. The superiority of Shiva and his victory over his own nature—Shiva is himself identified with death—is also stated. There is a popular belief that Shiva himself blows the mantra of salvation into the ears of people who die naturally at the Vishwanath temple. (Wikipedia)

We stayed in Benaras for two more days exploring the city and its ghats, devouring the street foods and saw Chhoton’s school and the residence where he grew up. Then we took the train to Patna.

Gora had informed Rangadi (his sister) about our impending visit and Dulal-da (his bro-in-law) was there at the station to receive us take us home. Their home was on the main road in Rajendra Nagar, Patna. The ground floor space was shared by the landlord and Dulal-da’s family of two and half members (Dulal-da, Rangadi & the little Bhuchai). The living cum dining room was spacious enough to accommodate us and the landlord provided two folding cots that solved sleeping issues with a divan already in place.

It was Saturday afternoon; we took baths and were ready for early lunch. Meanwhile, Bhuchai became my friend immediately (I have a knack of befriending the young ones) and throughout our stay he was always with me whenever we were at home. We had booked our return for the coming Tuesday on Vikramshila Express and informed our hosts accordingly. Dulal-da & Rangadi immediately protested saying that it was too short a period and we must stay for a week at least.

After a simple lunch we opted for a afternoon nap to recuperate from the train journey. Dulal-da said that he had booked some movie ticket for the evening and thereafter will take us to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Incidentally, we finally stayed there for 7 days and saw 8 movies!!! And today, I can’t recall the name of a single one except that one of them had Kamaal Hassan in double role.

After the movie which was a complete Masala Hindi cinema, we went to a swanky Chinese restaurant on Boring Road. Those days our Chinese cuisine was limited to street side egg chowmein and occasional chili-chicken, beyond that we had no clue of the culinary delight that’s Chinese. I remember having mixed-meat Talumein soup and shredded lamb in hot garlic sauce for the first time in my life. And I fell in love with Talumein soup from that day.

Unlike the North and South India, the Eastern India wakes up pretty early especially the food joints but ironically most of the offices whether govt or private usually opens only by 10 am. On that day, Chhoton woke me and Gora up and asked us to join him at the porch. He was very excited which transpired in us as well and we rushed to see his discovery. He pointed to the other side of the road that separated the two blocks of Rajendra Nagar. Initially we couldn’t make out what’s so interesting but caught on to his finger directing at a sweet shop whose sign board announced Bengali Sweets. We went over to the shop to find out what’s available. The shop keeper was a young Bengali guy but from Patna who’s family had been in the sweetmeat business for three generations. They had a shop elsewhere in Patna and had moved to this location recently. He asked us to wait for half hour for the fresh stuff to arrive from the kitchen. We ordered for six portions of Radha-Ballavi-Aloor-Dom and 12 pieces of Ksheerkadamba. Radha-Ballavi is similar to Bedmi Puri but made from Maida instead of Atta. The Ksheerkadamba is a delicious Bengali sweet made by thickening the milk till it becomes paste or Mawa, rolling it into balls filled with juicy tiny rasgulla and finally covering the mouth sized balls in shredded Mawa. The shopkeeper said he would deliver the stuff to us as soon as it comes from the kitchen and offered us Mishti Doi to sample.

Back home, we announced that we have arranged for the breakfast to which Rangadi showed her mock irritation but was relieved internally. We sat down for morning tea which even today is a ritual in most Bong homes. The tea is usually accompanied by Marie Biscuits which are dipped into the tea before devouring; the satisfaction that one derives is difficult to explain.

After a very satisfying and filling breakfast which Rangadi revealed that they had never tried before even though the shop was just across the road, the three of us accompanied Dulal-da to the market to buy veggies and other items. It was Sunday and a feast day in Bong households and our list included both mutton and fish besides the veggies.

We discussed where all we could visit and zeroed on the Golghar, built in 1786 by the British as a granary is unique styled monument with 150 steps (approx.) and a diameter of 125 meters, located on the banks of river Ganges near the Gandhi Maidan. The Golghar offered a panoramic view of the Ganges and the surrounding area from the top of its staircase landing. We also wanted to see the ruins of Nalanda University and Dulal-da suggested that we check out the travel counters near the Gandhi Maidan which operates guided tours.

We were disappointed when we found that the Nalanda tour happens only on Tuesday and Fridays as we were to leave on Tuesday evening there was no way of going to Nalanda. Dulal-da suggested we reschedule our tickets but we have been away from home for long time and those days communication was not easy, so we declined the suggestion. To lift our mood, Dulal-da took all us to watch a movie again, 2 in 2 days.

In the morning, Chhoton called Dilip (by now we knew the name of the sweetshop owner) and asked him send across KsheerKadamba which incidentally had become our daily mouth freshener post breakfast. Rangadi saw the box of sweet and suggested that we go to the Darbhanga Kali Mandir and offer the sweets for puja and take HER blessings for our upcoming results. We had no options but to agree with her as we hoped the last minute devotion to the goddess might change our fortune.

The Kali Mandir at Darbhanga House is a historic temple dedicated to Hindu Goddess Kali. It is located in Darbhanga House, Patna University. It is very famous old temple. According to ancient folktale the statue of Goddess Kali is not handmade but has come out from the earth. It is also known as Sati. It is believed that this temple was constructed by Darbhanga Maharaj some 150 years ago. The temple is on the banks of river Ganges and at that point the river is at its widest. One could hardly see the other side from the temple. One interesting fact is that Patna has seen many floods, some very devastating but the temple and its immediate surroundings never got inundated.

From there we went to see the Patna Museum situated in Buddha Marg. Patna museum is one of the oldest museums of India. Set up in the center of the city, this splendid museum was created by Sir Edmund Gair, the Lt. Governor of Bihar and Odisha whose bust is exhibited near the entrance gate. It is locally known as Jadughar it is in the style of Mughal and Rajput architecture. The main items displayed here are archaeological objects, coins, arts, paintings, textiles etc. of different periods. A fossil of a tree which is more than 200 million years old is also a must see item here.

We rushed back home in time to pick up Bhuchai from his school bus stop and lunch. Post lunch we went to see a movie (Amitabh Bacchan starer) in the matinee show little knowing that Dulal-da had plans of watching another one at night. The fourth one in 3 days and this was followed by another the following day afternoon before packing up to leave for Delhi.

Rangadi & Dulal-da started nagging us to stay on for few more days’ right from the morning of our departure day but we were quite adamant to carry on with our plans. At the back of our mind there was regret of not visiting Nalanda University about which we have read extensively in our history classes. I could sense that both Gora and Chhoton won’t mind the change of plans and even I was kind of inclined to the idea but kept silent. We reached the station around 7:30 pm and waited for the train to arrive. Dulal-da & Rangadi once again made their point more forcefully almost to the point of emotional blackmail.

Those days, Indian Railways had started to cover the wooden benches of sleeper class with coir mattresses but still many of the coaches continued with wooden surface which were not very comfortable in case you carry your own bed rolls, which were not. As we saw the train approaching the platform, I said to Dulal-da that in case our coach doesn’t have coir covering, we will not go. As the train came to the platform, we could see the sleeper coaches rolling by with coir covering. Then we saw our coach and as would fate have it, our coach was the only one with wooden surface. We simply stood there watching other passengers get into their coaches and the train leaving for New Delhi.

Dulal-da and Chhoton went to the ticket counter to cancel the ticket and book fresh ones for following Saturday on Maghad Express, a better train to travel taking lesser time. At the counter the clerk said that if the tickets were cancelled a bit earlier then few waitlisted passengers could have been accommodated. To that Dulal-da said, “What can I say, I have three mental cases on hand.”

Chhoton went with Dulal-da to drop the luggage at home while Gora, me and Rangadi with Bhuchai went to our dinner packed from Pintu’s Hotel.

My parents and elder siblings have lived in Patna for 10 years from early 40’s to early 50’s before moving to Delhi. I have heard lots of stories from them about Patna and had developed a kind of connect with the city. During the course of their stay, they have had food from Pintu’s Hotel many a times so I wanted to have it too. The owners had prefixed the name with “New” and on enquiry said nothing has really changed except that they renovated the place and while putting the signboard just added NEW to announce reopening after a period of inaction.

We booked our Nalanda tour the following day. It was a day long guided tour of the ruined institution that has given many scholars and invited pundits across the world. We spent the next two days roaming around the city during the day, saw four more movies and in the evening played the Twenty-Nine with Dulal-da as my partner.

The three of us left for Nalanda early on Friday morning. Though the bus carrying us was relatively new, the roads were quite bad with many potholes and narrow. Luckily we had managed to occupy the seats at the front part of the bus so the jerks and bumps were still tolerable. The bus stopped at a midway dhaba for the passengers to freshen up and have their breakfast. We settled for the safe option of buttered toast and boiled eggs with tea.

We reached Nalanda around 10 am and were told to come back to the parking bay by 2pm for Rajgir part of the tour. There was guide and he assembled the 30+ passengers and spoke in broken English but we asked him to speak in Hindi as all the assembled people could well understand the language.

Nalanda was an ancient Mahavihara, a large and revered Buddhist monastery, in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India. The site is located about 80 kilometres southeast of Patna near the city of Bihar Sharif, and was an important centre of learning from the 5th century CE to c. 1200 CE. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The highly formalized methods of Hindu Vedic scholarship and its disciplines such as linguistics and astronomy helped bring about the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramashila, which are often referred as India’s early universities. Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries, and later under Harsha, the emperor of Kannauj. At its peak the school attracted scholars and students from near and far, with some travelling from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia. Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex.

Much of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from Asia, such as Xuanzang and Yijing, who travelled to the Mahavihara in the 7th century CE. Many of the names listed by Xuanzang in his travelogue as alumni of Nalanda are the names of those who developed the overall philosophy of Mahayana. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana, as well as the texts of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included other subjects, such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine, and Samkhya.

Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by the army of Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1200 CE. It was abandoned and forgotten until the 19th century, when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1915 eleven monasteries and six brick temples were discovered. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions were also found in the ruins, many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination, and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit. (Wikipedia)

On 25 November 2010 the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, resurrected the ancient university through the Nalanda University Bill, and subsequently a new Nalanda University was established. It has been designated as an “international university of national importance.”

The ruins of Nalanda university was awe inspiring… the architecture planning and construction that would have still be standing in grandeur had it not been destroyed by the external forces. We believed then and now that it was a good decision to postpone our departure and visit Nalanda.

We had our lunch at a restaurant that served only vegetarian food but looked very clean and hygienic and was at the bus parking bay well before the deadline of 2 pm. However, there are always some co-passenger who thinks he/she is owns the bus and would come back at leisurely pace much after the scheduled time and have no shame for keeping others waiting. We left for Rajgir around 3 pm, a good one hour later than the scheduled departure.

The most prominent memory that I have of Rajgir is the Ropeway ride to the top of the hill to see the Peace Pagoda. The Ropeway was like the one at some ski resorts of Europe, single chair for each person and open with only a token hood at the top. I do not know if it is still like that or the system has changed to full cabin now. To think about it now, it was quite dangerous and am sure I would refrain from using it now but those were the carefree days and we had a devil may care attitude.

Rajgir (originally known as Girivraj) is an ancient city and a notified area in Nalanda district in the Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Mauryan Empire. Its date of origin is unknown, although ceramics dating to about 1000 BC have been found in the city. This area is also notable in Jainism and Buddhism. It was the birthplace of 20th Jain Tirthankar Munisuvrata, and closely associated with the arihant Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. Both Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha taught their beliefs in Rajgir during the 5th and 6th century BC.

Historically, Rajgir has been a very important place in Jainism, as capital to many empires. The main tourist attractions include the ancient city walls from Ajatshatru’s period, the Bimbisar’s Jail, Jarasandh’s Akhara, Gridhra-kuta, (‘Hill of the Vultures’), Son Bhandar Caves and the Jain temples on the five peaks.

Rajgir is famous for its hot water springs, locally known as Brahmakund, a sacred place for Hindus where water from seven different springs (Saptarshi) merge and is notable for its healing effects. Another major attraction is the peace pagoda, Vishwa Shanti Stupa, built in 1969, one of the 80 peace pagodas in the world, to spread the message of peace and non-violence. It is the oldest peace pagoda in India. The rope-way that leads to it is another attraction, which was gifted by Japanese spiritual leader Fuji Guruji in the 1960s. The Japanese temple is beside the Venu Vana. It is an artificial forest, where one can enjoy Eternal peace and was used by Budhha for meditation, and famous Makhdoom Kund. (Wikipedia)

We reached back to Patna in the late evening, exhausted from the bus ride and hungry like a lion. Rangadi had made chicken curry as well as prawn malai curry and the aroma that emanated from the dining table simply increased our appetite by few X’s. Post dinner, though we were feeling tired but played Twenty-Nine till very late and also narrated our day’s experience.

Following day we went to see a movie (our Eighth one) in the Noon Show. All these days, whenever the three of us had traveled in the city we had used a single cycle rickshaw and never faced any objections from the law enforcement guys but that day one of them was over enthusiastic about his job and stopped our rickshaw. Even before we could say anything, he slapped the rickshaw puller and abused him with choicest expletives. The barbaric act of the policeman enraged us and when we confronted him he had no choice but apologize to the poor rickshaw puller. We paid some extra to rickshaw puller and walked rest of the destination.

In the evening, Dulal-da, Rangadi and Bhuchai came to see us off at the station. The moving moment was when Bhuchai started crying. We had to pacify him saying that we will be back the following week after our results are announced. Perhaps, he knew it was mere words… perhaps in his little innocent heart he believed us.

I have been to Patna a few times later on work but each of those visits have been very hectic and short one. Today, I regret not taking out time on such occasions to visit Rangadi-Dulal-da even for a short while. As I was writing this, lots of memories came flooding to me… very joyous… very precious ones that will remain etched till the end.

The Summer of ’83 is dedicated to the memory of Rangadi who left us last year after bravely fighting the treacherous disease called cancer. I am sure that her loving and noble soul is now united with The Paramatma in eternal peace. Om Shanti.

Vizag Vacation…

The shortest night and the longest day (June 21) happen to be our wedding anniversary. It is also the peak summer with temperatures hovering much above 40 degrees Celsius in most parts of the country. In the last 28 years, we have usually escaped to the cooler chimes during this time even for a short duration too. Last year it was Thailand but this year overseas vacation was ruled out as our passports needed renewal and we weren’t sure if it would happen quickly within time for visas, so we settled for Visakhapatnam or Vizag.

Why Vizag –

  1. It’s a new place by the sea
  2. From Hyderabad, it is just an hour’s flight time
  3. The movie Ghazi Attack had created some curiosity about the place
  4. It was the most convenient destination considering time constraints
  5. We would never even dream of going there from Delhi
  6. However, the most compelling reason was Srini, colleague of Deepika; let me elaborate…

Srini is from Vizag; his family is in Vizag while he works in Hyderabad and visits his family once in two months or more frequently based on the holidays he can club together. Since the time I met him for the first time, he had been urging us to visit Vizag. In the run up to our decision, he preempted our call with a detailed itinerary for our visit to Vizag. We had planned to stay at Novotel and had been negotiating with them for a good deal when Srini suggested that he will look into it as he was going there and moreover has friends in the hospitality sector. Sure enough, he checked out the Novotel and also the Taj Gateway and mailed the much negotiated deals of both the properties.

The Taj Gateway offer was way better than the Novotel considering both are beach front properties next to each other. We settled for Taj as suggested by Srini and he promised to pick us from the airport.

All of us were looking for a break from our daily uneventful life but for me the biggest worry was walking Rolf in my absence, even for just two days. The professional walker called Ishwar whom I had engaged earlier called to express his inability due to his sister’s engagement ceremony at their village. Thereafter, I spoke to the guy who washes the cars (including ours) in the housing complex and does walk some of the dogs in the evening. He was reluctant for the morning walks as he said there are over 40 cars that need washing up before they go out but eventually agreed to take out 30 minutes and walk Rolf. Just to be sure of his commitment I asked him to start a day before we are to leave. And as I had premonition, the guy did not turn up and his mobile was switched off!!! This reaffirmed my view that most of these local guys not trustworthy. These guys simply do not live up to their commitments and will invariably ditch you at the last moment. Luckily, our housekeeper stepped in and ended our misery saying that she will take Rolf out in our absence. In the morning of our departure, I took out Rolf for walk reducing her load a little.

Our flight from Hyderabad was at 11 am while Ayush’s flight from Bengaluru was scheduled around 12:30 pm. The flight was uneventful and we landed in Vizag on schedule at 12:30 pm. Srini along with his son was there to pick us up as promised. The drive from airport to the hotel took about 40 minutes not because of the distance but for the traffic congestions.

Taj Gateway and Novotel are adjacent properties separated by a road and owned by the same person but managed by two different hospitality chains. Novotel, comparatively is a newer property but Taj has a old world charm about it. We were checked into the Premier Room for the first night as the Suite was not available that night. There was a big surprise for us as we entered the room; it was all decked up with heart shaped balloons fit for a honeymooning couple. There was a complimentary Cake along with the fruit basket. This was all the handiwork of Srini and we were thankful to him for making our 28th anniversary memorable.

Ayush was expected to land around 2 pm and I had asked him to take Ola or Uber cabs to reach the hotel but again Srini insisted that he will send the car with driver to pick him up. He would simply not listen and said that the car will remain at the hotel and as per the itinerary we will see the Kursura Submarine Museum and the Kali Temple before going to his home to meet up with his family. Later, the car would take us to the Kailasagiri and finally to the Greenpark hotel for dinner.

We were starving but waited for Ayush to come and then went down to the Coffee Shop and had a light lunch. By the time we finished our lunch it was almost 5 pm, so we rushed to finish our tour for the day. The first place was the Kali Mandir, next to Ramkrishna Ashram; since I do not visit any religious place of worship and Ayush too has taken that path, we stayed out while Deepika went inside. We took up the opportunity to pick up a bottle of whiskey from a shop about 100 meters away. The next stop was the Kursura Submarine Museum. It’s a Russian built vintage submarine commissioned in Indian Navy way back in 1969 and had seen actions in 1971 war. It was decommissioned in 2001 and thereafter it was converted into a museum and placed at R K Beach, Visakhapatnam. Looking at the space inside, I wondered, this being Russian make how those guys (being much bulkier than Indians) could move around!! However, it was an amazing experience being in submarine, albeit on the land and not under the water!!

IMG_20190621_173022

INS Kursura (S20) was a Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarine of the Indian Navy. She was India’s fifth submarine. Kursura was commissioned on 18 December 1969 and was decommissioned on 27 February 2001 after 31 years of service. She participated in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, where she played a key role in patrol missions. She later participated in naval exercises with other nations and made many goodwill visits to other countries.

After decommissioning, she was preserved as a museum for public access on RK beach in Visakhapatnam. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality and has been called a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam. Despite being a decommissioned submarine, she still receives the navy’s “Dressing Ship” honour, which is usually awarded only to active ships.

Kursura has a length of 91.3 m (300 ft) overall, a beam of 7.5 m (25 ft) and a draught of 6 m (20 ft). She displaces 1,950 t (1,919 long tons) surfaced, 2,475 t (2,436 long tons) submerged and has a maximum diving depth of 985 ft (300 m). The complement is about 75, including 8 officers and 67 sailors.

The submarine has three shafts, each with a six-blade propeller. She is powered by three Kolomna 2D42M diesel engines, each with 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW). She also has three electric motors, two of them with 1,350 hp (1,010 kW) and one with 2,700 hp (2,000 kW). She can achieve a maximum speed of 16 knots (30 km/h) when on surface, 15 knots (28 km/h) when submerged and 9 knots (17 km/h) while snorkeling. She has a range of 20,000 mi (32,000 km) at 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) when surfaced and 380 mi (610 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) when submerged. There are 10 torpedo tubes to carry 22 Type 53 torpedoes. She could lay 44 mines instead of torpedoes. She also had a snoop tray and I-Band radar for surface search.

After decommissioning, the ship was towed to RK Beach in Visakhapatnam and was established as a museum ship, which is the first submarine museum in South Asia. The idea of the boat’s conversion to a museum is credited to Admiral V Pasricha. Towing the submarine 600 metres to its final location took 18 months and cost ₹ 55 million. It was inaugurated by the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu on 9 August 2002, and it was open to the public from 24 August 2002. Six retired naval personnel serve as guides and another one as the curator. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality. She has become a famous tourist attraction of the city and has become a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam.Daily visitors usually range between 500 and 600 and shoot up to 1,500 during the tourist season.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Our next stop was Srini’s home close to the Kailasagiri Hills. His apartment was on the second floor, a decent sized property, sparsely but elegantly done up. It immediately reminded me of some of the households that I have visited in Kolkata and other places in Bengal, there is no pretence here and atmosphere is always very warm. We had met his son earlier and now met his mother and wife too. His mother was a teacher in school and her subject used to be Hindi. While his wife worked in the administrative section (head) in a big chain school and worked practically 7 days a week. The son had just completed CA Inter while doing his graduation in Commerce alongside. I also got to know that Srini is a certified Cost Accountant and Company Secretary. He had also completed his CA Inter and the father-son duo plans to become Chartered Accountants, together. Bravo and all the very best wishes for them.

We just had our lunch and were quite full but still had some home cooked snacks and coffee before leaving for Kailasagiri. Srini instructed the driver to take us to the Greenpark Hotel afterwards where he would join us for dinner.

Kailasagiri is a hilltop park in the city of Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The park was developed by the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA) and comprises 380 acres of land covered with flora and tropical trees. The hill, at 173 metres (568 ft), overlooks the city of Visakhapatnam.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh awarded Kailasagiri as its “Best Tourist Spot” in 2003. On average, around three hundred thousand Indian and foreign tourists visit the park every year. To protect the environment, VMRDA has declared the hill a plastic-free zone. A cable car connects to the top of the hill, the first of its kind in Andhra Pradesh.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Though there was a rope-way to reach the top of the hill, we went up by road as it was getting dark. There was a huge statue of Shiva-Parvati which is a great tourist attraction even at night and with lights focused on the statue making it surreal. There is a walkway around the park but not well lit for a night walk and there were real possibilities of encountering few slithering varieties in this rainy season. We took some pictures of the city bellow from the viewing gallery which provided panoramic view and looked around the place which had a cafeteria serving snacks and beverages. What surprised me is number of Bong tourist there speaking loudly and creating a ruckus.

When we reached Greenpark hotel there was no sign of Srini and when Deepika called him up, he said that it will take them about half hour to reach and meanwhile we should go to the restaurant and have the starters as he had already made the reservation.

We went to the Indian Speciality Restaurant called R & G and sure enough there was a table reserved for us. R & G serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. The service concept is quite similar to BBQ Nation with the exception that they don’t have live grill on the table for the starters but serve them piping hot from the kitchen that’s separated by a glass enclosure. We ordered our drinks and the snacks started ‘flying’ in to our table literally and we had to tell them to slow down as other members are yet join us. In terms of variety it was standard fare of chicken and lamb kebabs, grilled and steamed fish, tandoori prawns and for vegetarians there were Harabhara kebab, tandoori cauliflower, paneer tikka and chilli-potato. However, the taste was lip smacking and beyond our expectations. We were so full with the starters that there was no space for the main course but just to give company to Srini and his family, we got some of the items from the buffet counter to taste which was decent but not as exceptional as the Starters. The dessert counter had gulab jamun, jalebi with rabri and ice cream besides different flavors of Kulfi.

Later, Srini dropped us at the hotel and reconfirmed the details of the cab and of the driver who would take us to the Borra Caves, the next day.

As usual, I was awake around 5 am well before the alarm would buzz. I freshened up and made tea for Deepika and myself. Later, Deepika & I went for a stroll on the beach. I have seen that all beaches just like the mountains look similar from the distance but changes in look and feel as we get closer. The R K Beach was quite different from the beaches of Puri (Odisha) although both are on the eastern coast kissed by the same sea – Bay of Bengal. In Puri, the waves are strong and high even during low tide but here the Bay of Bengal was quiet very unlike its character.

In India, rarely I have seen a clean beach unless it is maintained by a private property (example being Taj Exotica in South Goa). Looking at the littering makes me sad and angry. Why can’t people be sensitive to their surrounding? No amount of Govt Program like Swatchh Bharat will work unless the citizen become sensitive and stop littering. And to think about it, the Vizag municipality has installed litter bins every 100 meters and still the tourists and even locals have thrown empty packs of chips, beverage bottles here and there.

We walked for about half hour and then came back to get ready for breakfast. Ayush had woken up and to our surprise bathed and ready to move. We quickly bathed and went down to the Coffee Shop for breakfast. We also packed up our bags as the hotel was upgrading us to a suite. The driver of our cab called up to inform that he was waiting at the hotel parking. For a change he spoke in Hindi with clear diction. Yesterday, we had a tough time communicating with Srini’s driver who could hardly speak or understand any other language other than Telugu.

After a sumptuous buffet breakfast (the best part of staying in a starred hotel), we left for Borra Caves and if time and weather permitted, the Araku Valley Coffee Plantation as well. The driver informed that the distance was about 100 km and would take approx 3 hours to reach.

The Borra Caves, also called Borra Guhalu, are located on the East Coast of India, in the Ananthagiri hills of the Araku Valley (with hill ranges’ elevation varying from 800 to 1,300 m (2,600 to 4,300 ft)) of the Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh. The caves, one of the largest in the country, at an elevation of about 705 m (2,313 ft), distinctly exhibit a variety of speleothems ranging in size and irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are basically karstic limestone structures extending to a depth of 80 m (260 ft), and are considered the deepest caves in India. The native name for the caves is Borra Guhalu. Borra means hole in Odia language and guhalu means caves in Telugu language). The caves were discovered in 1807, by William King George of the Geological Survey of India.

On the discovery of the caves, there are several legends, which the tribals (Jatapu, Porja, Kondadora, Nookadora, valmiki etc.) who inhabit the villages around the caves narrate. The popular legend is that a cow, grazing on the top of the caves, dropped 60 m (200 ft) through a hole in the roof. The cowherd while searching for the cow came across the caves. He found a stone inside the cave that resembled a Lingam, which he interpreted as the Lord Shiva who protected the cow. The village folk who heard the story believed it and since then they have built a small temple for Lord Shiva outside the cave. People flock to the temple for worship and the cave to get a glimpse of the Lingam.

Another lyrical legend is that the Shiva Lingam representing the Hindu God Lord Shiva, is found deep in the caves and above which is a stone formation of a cow (Sanskrit: Kamadhenu). It is surmised that the udder of this cow is the source of the Gosthani (Sanskrit: Cow’s udder) River which originates from here, flows through Vizianagram and Visakhapatnam districts before emptying into the Bay of Bengal near Bheemunipatnam.

The Gosthani River, which originates from these caves and flows between the solidified stalactites and stalagmites in the karstic limestones formation, is the cause for the development of the odd shapes of structures. Water percolating from the roof of the caves dissolves limestone and trickle drop by drop to form stalactites at the roof of the cave and then dripping down to the ground form stalagmites. These deposits have developed into interesting forms and structures inside the caves such as Shiva–Parvati, Mother–Child, Rishi’s beard, human brain, mushrooms, crocodile, temple, church, etc. These shapes have captured the imagination of tourists, while some have been given religious interpretations.

The caves are deep and totally aphotic. There is an area in the caves with limited light penetration. The stalactites seen in the caves are about 0.1 to 3.5 m (0.3 to 11.5 ft) in length while the stalagmites are 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long and columns are 6 m (20 ft) in height and 0.75 m (2.5 ft) in width. The height of the cave is 12 m (39 ft) and the length is about 200 m (660 ft). The average temperature of the inner cave wall is reported to be about 16 °C (61 °F). Sulfur springs discharge into the cave passages causing corrosion of limestone. While the caves are basically limestone formations, the area surrounding these are of mica formations which are prospected for precious stones like rubies.

Archeological artifacts (Paleolithic implements) have been found in the caves. The excavations carried out in the caves by the archaeologists of the Andhra University, have unearthed stone tools of middle Paleolithic culture dating back 30,000 to 50,000 years, which confirm human habitation.

The fauna observed in the caves are predominantly bats, as well as the golden gecko. The type of bat reported is the fulvous fruit bat (Rousettus leschenaultii) – a species which roosts in large caves, old buildings, dungeons and dark areas of old forts. This species has short and slender musculature with large, well developed eyes. They feed on flowers and fruits, like jamun, guava, silk, cotton and mango.

[Source: Wikipedia]

The drive from Vizag to Borra Caves is mostly through hilly roads with nature creating the scenic beauty all around. Moreover, it being monsoon season, the greenery was abounded and the rain water created seasonal waterfalls all along the way. We took some photographs only to realize that what we can see through our naked eyes – the 3-D views, the camera lenses can’t see or differentiate and the ethereal beauty of the nature can only be seen and not captured.

We came across the AP Tourism resort called Jungle Bells and stopped to freshen up and stretch our legs. We also decided to have our lunch there on our return. As we started from Jungle Bells a light drizzle started and became our company all through our drive to Borra Caves.

The driver suggested that we should taste the famous Bamboo Chicken of Araku Valley and we readily agreed. We paid Rs.100/- as advance for half kilo of chicken (Rs.300/- for 500 gm is a bit steep). The process of cooking is innovative, there’s no oil involved; the chicken is marinated in spices and inserted in a bamboo tube adding little water before sealing it. The bamboo pipe is then put on an open charcoal fire which cooks the chicken slowly but surely. We had asked for medium spicy knowing the locals prefer fiery stuff. The final product was well cooked, flavorsome and delicious. I never had such succulent melt in-the-mouth chicken.

We engaged the services of a guide who I found to be reeking of alcohol smell and whose diction suggested that he was from the neighboring state of Odisha. I was proved correct. Getting into the cave involved going down a staircase which I estimated must have more than 100 steps and was a bit worried at the prospect of climbing up while returning. But the lure of getting into a cave was just too much so we followed the guide as he kept showing us the stalagmites and stalactites and narrating stories some of which, I am sure is just his imaginations. The guy had limited rote knowledge which he kept repeating. In the darkness of the cave, he showed us some formation using his torch which he claimed are husband-wife, mother-n-child, lion and eagle face. The one which he claimed to be Shiva-Parvati, was a huge attraction of the tourist and some enterprising guy had created a small enclosure near it with a Shiva-Lingam and pictures of gods where people willingly donated money, Deepika included.

The return, as expected was really grueling for middle aged people like us and it took some time to reach the top with couple of resting periods at the landings while Ayush could climb up with ease and waited for us smiling at our predicament. The intensity of the drizzle had increased by the time we finished our Bamboo Chicken making us abandon the idea of going further to Araku Valley of Coffee Plantation and we decided to return to Vizag.

We stopped at the Jungle Bells for lunch. When asked what’s fresh in the menu, the manager cum steward cum cashier said everything is fresh explaining that whatever we order will be cooked then n there accordingly (custom cooking). There was no chapatti/ roti available so we ordered for egg curry (safe option), karahi paneer, dal-tadka and one each of veg & egg fried-rice. The food was not only fresh but aromatic and tasty as well and it was consumed very quickly.

The driver estimated our ETA at the hotel to be 7pm and true to his estimate he dropped us at 6:45 pm but before that he took a detour to show us a coffee plantation near the Borra Caves where we had freshly brewed coffee and picked up some locally grown spices. On the way while we had stopped at the traffic signal in Vizag, we saw a bunch of houses which were painted in bright vibrant colors. The driver informed that the name of the colony is Hanuman Waka and every house in that colony is painted in bright vibrant colors just like some Spanish and Italian villages. I don’t know how it will feel in high summers but under an overcast sky, it was looking fabulous.

IMG_20190622_182323

The hotel had moved us to the suite which had living/ dining room with a balcony that provided 180 degree view of the sea and a spacious bedroom. There was a fruit basket and a platter of chocolates and the latter was consumed immediately.

We sat down in the living area for a couple of drinks before heading for dinner to Ming Garden, the Chinese & Oriental restaurant of Taj Gateway Hotels. The dinner was a treat from Ayush on our anniversary and we loved it. The television was showing India-Afghanistan cricket match (ICC-CWC 2019). India having decided to bat first was expected to score at least 350+ runs against the lowly ranked opponent but the Afghans had other plans and India ended up with a paltry score of 224 runs in 50 over’s. There was a real possibility that Afghans will create an upset when they started off well but the Indian bowlers kept taking wickets at regular interval and the poor Afghans folded up 12 runs short of the target.

On the final day (or rather morning) of our stay in Vizag, Srini came around 6:30 am to take us to explore the beaches of Vizag. The first stop was Yarada Beach which also famously called Sunrise Point as you can get a brilliant view of the sunrise on the distant horizon. We also had coffee from Araku valley and it was one the best south India filter coffee I have ever tasted. Thereafter, we drove down to Rishikonda beach which was perhaps the cleanest beach in Vizag.

We asked Srini to join us for breakfast but he politely declined saying that he had already promised his son to take him to his favorite restaurant for breakfast. He said or rather insisted that he will come around noon to drop us at the airport but as it unfolded later, the hotel had a complimentary drop to the airport and we readily took that option, saving him unnecessary driving and allowing him to spend some quality time with family in his short visit.

Vizag Airport is quite small but clean. We had reached quite early because Ayush’s flight was 30 minutes before ours. He was flying Indigo and got his boarding card immediately but we had to wait for another half hour for Spicejet counter to open. And then I realized that in order to keep our flight times close to each other, I had booked our flight in a smaller aircraft (ATR-Bombardier). I am very apprehensive about flying in small aircrafts having had some turbulent experience earlier. But to my great relief the Captain of the flight superbly maneuvered both the take off and touchdown later.

In many years, this was the first vacation which we took up alone otherwise mostly we have had the company of Basu’s (our dear friends) and we did miss them.

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.