Against all odds

How many things do you think can go wrong in a single trip? And how desperate do you think the guys would be to still carry on?
It was Friday night and we 3 vacation deprived colleagues decided to go on a road trip
1. The plan was finalized at 1pm, but was followed by the usual dance of Yes and No… People agree to the trip, then start cooking excuses for why they are terribly busy and cannot make it. (sometimes I believe girls are less fickle minded than my friends) However by 10pm all were in sync.
2. First vehicle breakdown: Friday 10:30pm: My vehicle battery got drained due to insulation issue. (please note that all the 3 persons were in 3 different centers)
3. The never ending rains that evening making even the slightest logistic movement impossible due to never-ending traffic
4. 11:00pm finally we started, however within 200m the second vehicle was driven into a crater (3 feet wide pot hole without a bottom) It took us 30 min amidst heavy downpour to lift one of the tires of the car and slide it back to the road (getting a tow truck was impossible and the crater was too big and deep for a jack to operate
5. My shoe was a casualty of the entire exercise dooming me for the rest of the journey as I was not carrying an alternative.
6. The music system leads also got disconnected creating a lot of awkward silence
7. There was endless traffic at the toll gate followed by a second queue at the Tamil Naidu state entry resulted in us travelling a distance of ~40km in 5 hours on a 6 lane national highway.
8. At 3am when the road cleared up, I am getting frustrated as the car is travelling at 40km/hr. The driver is complaining that due to heavy rains, and possibly a headlight problem he is not able to have a clear vision to speed up.
9. BTW I forgot to mention, the 3rd friend was so delighted to find the back seat to lie down, that he started snoring (no stereo to drown the irritating noises)
10. So I forced him to park the car, with the clear intention of snatching the keys and commandeer the vehicle. However I discovered the tire that landed in that ditch is busted. It is wrong to call it a puncture when I can stick my finger in the hole.
11. We discovered that although there is a spare tire, the car does not have the right tools to switch it. So we traveled to the nearest mechanic, banged the door enough times to be greeted by the cursing of the guy who has just been woken from a deep slumber. (He changed our tire for less $2/- and yet we felt he was over paying him… God I love India)
One thing I must admire about my friends, they had been awake for the past 22 hours, worked hard the entire day and it’s almost dawn and we have another 6 hours of journey ahead of us. Yet in spite of all this mishaps (I would like to call adventures), nobody cursed the trip/planner/driver/car/weather/ location. I guess even the God yielded to our determination and it stopped raining and we could see the first rays of the sun.
We were back on the road, reached Kodaikanal by 12:30pm, slept till evening, partied at night, and drove back by 7am.
The remaining trip was also not boring. We had to literally drag our tired ass to 7 hotels before we could find one that had a vacancy. On the way back one friend had a minor case of motion sickness, while the other was so thrilled that the stereo was miraculously restored that he entered into an endless loop of breakup songs.
In short, I have been vacation deprived for the past 6 months and this trip was a real stress buster

life Travel

Visiting Maldives – Diving a.k.a. Evolution was a Waste

I had the opportunity to go to my first pleasure-trip abroad recently. Since I had never done anything which is considered exciting or cool, so to say, and basically wanted to brag about something (like I am doing now), I decided to go for diving in Male, Maldives. Now, as most things I do in my life, I do not have a convincing answer to the question why a portly fellow like myself wanted to dive, except that I really wanted to. Also, after four days of thorough enjoyment and merry making, I am now an international, lifetime licensed scuba-diver, verified by P.A.D.I.!

Diving is a costly affair – no second thoughts on that, but the experience is totally worth it, especially if you get a license like I did. In the words of a cheap person (yours truly) – it is worth every single paisa. The instructors and diving buddies at Male are amazing. They are very friendly and adjusting so that you overcome every fear and boldly dive down, safe and amazed.

To earn my license, I completed a series of tests, a bit theoretical and a lot underwater. It included taking out my breathing regulator deep down and after a short while, retrieving and reusing it. At one point I had to stay still for a minute at a given depth without bobbing up or down. During this exercise, I was cross-legged, holding my fins (still on) with my hands, looking like an underwater ascetic of sorts. I took a total of six dives, including instructional and those for pure pleasure. Anyone who has dived in Male will know these areas – Maagiri, Bandos Reef, Coral Garden, Manta Point and Fish Tank.

And now, on to what I experienced. Although all the amazing witnessing I did was at very close distance, I obeyed the instruction of “looking, no touching”. We always started our dives near coral reefs, which are complex and delicate ecosystems, and they contain schools of fishes and a few mean-tempered Murray Eels. Schools of different fishes roamed around us like I had seen in the videos of divers on TV. I saw three Black-tip Reef Shark in different dives; the last sighting was at a distance of three feet. As my instructor had pointed out, they were harmless. I was fortunate enough to witness 8-10 Sting Rays up close. In one of the instructional dives, I saw four Napoleon Wrasse together. I wasn’t aware of their existence and their size startled me so much I nearly soiled myself. I saw a Sturgeon fish and at one point, four Maldives Anemone fish (NEMO!!). I could even take a video of a school of 30-40 dolphins who crossed paths with our boat one day. Even HD versions of Discovery, NGC and the rest can’t compare to the four days I lived there.

I had a ball of a time. I spend over three hours and twenty seven minutes being forty feet underwater. Here is what I have concluded about life after this euphoric experience – Coming out of water to evolve into land dwellers was a waste. It is so amazing underwater and I was so comfortable that I never wanted to end any of my dives.



How to stay safe while traveling

This week’s Economist has 2 very useful tips:
1. Try not to venture out too early in the morning. The bombers spend all night psyching themselves up, then say their prayers at dawn, and go off to murder. A second helping of Corn Flakes could save your life.
2. Always try to get a hotel room between 2nd and the 6th floor. This way you are far away from the shootouts, car bombs, robbery etc. and yet not too far away that the fire brigade’s ladders cannot reach you.


Train Innovation: Boarding a moving train

I don’t know if it is true, whether it is technically and economically feasible. However I like the idea.
AMAZING : Chinese Concept – The train that never stops at a station:
A brilliant new Chinese train innovation – get on & off the bullet train without the train stopping. VERY COOL CONCEPT !
No time is wasted. The bullet train is moving all the time. If there are 30 stations between Beijing and Guangzhou, just stopping and accelerating again at each station will waste both energy and time.
A mere 5 min stop per station (elderly passengers cannot be hurried) will result in a total loss of 5 min x 30 stations or 2.5 hours of train journey time!
How it works (view the movie – in mandarin though!):
1. For those who are boarding the train : The passengers at a station embarks onto to a connector cabin way before the train even arrives at the station. When the train arrives, it will not stop at all. It just slows down to pick up the connector cabin which will move with the train on the roof of the train.
While the train is still moving away from the station, those passengers will board the train from the connector cabin mounted on the train’s roof. After fully unloading all its passengers, the cabin connector cabin will be moved to the back of the train so that the next batch of outgoing passengers who want to alight at the next station will board the connector cabin at the rear of the train roof.
2. For those who are getting off: As stated after fully unloading all its passengers, the cabin connector cabin will be moved to the back of the train so that the next batch of outgoing passengers who want to alight at the next station will board the connector cabin at the rear of the train roof. When the train arrives at the next station, it will simply drop the whole connector cabin at the station itself and leave it behind at the station. The outgoing passengers can take their own time to disembark at the station while the train had already left. At the same time, the train will pick up the incoming embarking passengers on another connector cabin in the front part of the train’s roof. So the train will always drop one connector cabin at the rear of its roof and pick up a new connector cabin in the front part of the train’s roof at each station.
Courtesy: Email forward by Neeraj


Cross Cultural Etiquettes

As Big Bang theory humorously depict, a lot of my Indian friends (including myself) are awkward in the presence of girls. A friend of mine who is unfamiliar with this phenomenon once remarked… You guys are so cold when I first met you. How can you call yourself close friends when you greet me with a distant hi or a formal handshake?

On the other hand an Indian friend of mine was recently offended when someone tried to greet her in the European way.

However these extremes examples apart, what I have observed are that people are much more accommodating while interacting with other cultures. For example parents of one of my friend demand that, at least in the first meeting, their daughter’s friends greet them formally. However a Columbian friend of mine greeted the same parents in a very casual and informal manner and they were cool about it.

This is probably because while interacting with people from other cultures, most people are very accommodating. Unless the person has a predetermined bias, they tend to take time in knowing the person before even forming the first opinion about him/her. Even after that the person is judged not on the basis of his actions but on the basis of their intention. This is a luxury that often people don’t give to someone from their own culture.

However it does not mean that one should not spend time in understanding and learning different cultures. In many high context societies there could be a stark difference between the verbatim and the literal meaning of any word or action. Hence often unknowingly one tends interpret the gestures, facial expressions and actions of others in accordance to the unwritten but widely accepted standards of their own culture. This is very true during courtship and dating where often things go so fast that the poor guy does not even realize what he did before it’s all over.

Sometimes even if you spend a lot of time in understanding and conforming to the etiquettes, your preparation is wasted when you meet someone whose parents are from 2 different cultures or someone who is not well integrated into the culture of region where you first met.


Round the world ticket

Warning: This is a personal post, not the regular stuff of E-Nagar.

I am finishing my MBA on 13th March 2010. Like a bird that has spent his last 2 years inside a gilded prison I want to travel and explore the world. These are the places I want to go:

1. Melbourne
2. Johannesburg
3. Cairo
4. Istanbul
5. Mexico City
6. Hong Kong
7. Shanghai
8. Kerela
9. And lot more

I know for sure that if I don’t take this trip now, the next time I will be able to would be after 35 years maybe more. Star alliance, along with its partner airline, is able to give me a good deal on the flights and I am tempted to buy their tickets. However there are a lot of serious concerns that I have.

In the past, I applied for visas from USA, Singapore, Thailand, S Korea, Taiwan but it took me more time, trouble and money to obtain one from France. And this makes me think will it be a good idea to apply for a VISA from 15 countries. How much time will I have to spend at the embassy?

About the finances, I think I should be able to obtain a bank loan at 11-12% interest rate. This along with some of the money I had saved from my previous stint in gambling, stock market and betting should suffice for another 3 month long vacation.

Next and most important concern is a partner. No one in their right mind can take this 3 month long wild goose chase alone and I am finding it real hard to find one. The most optimistic reply I have received is that “there is an 80% chance that I won’t be able to make it to this trip”.

Probably it’s because of this I will either not take this trip or take a short trip to 1-2 country as a consolidation prize. I have been planning this trip (with different itinerary every time) for 4 years now, but every time had to put it off because of one reason or the other. Maybe it’s like the Hajj, there are 100 reasons why one should postpone, but when one is mentally ready he finds a way out of all the troubles.
Anyways the reason why I posted it here is because much like in the movie ‘Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain’ I would feel happy if someone else would live my dream or even better inspire me to take the journey.



Mile sur Mera Tumhara

I was listening to this 20 year old Indian song. In this song a single line “By mixing your tune with mine, it becomes our tune” in 14 different Indian Languages.
Lyrics: Souce
[hi] मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा तो सुर बने हमारा

सुर की नदियाँ हर दिशा से बहते सागर में मिलें बादलों का रूप ले कर बरसे हल्के हल्के मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा तो सुर बने हमारा मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा … मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा …

[ks-dev] चॉन्य् तरज़ तय म्यॉन्य् तरज़ इक-वट बनि यि सॉन्य् तरज़

[ks-nast]چأنِۂ ترز تدذ تَے میأنِۂ تدذ اِکوَٹہٕ بَنِہ یِہ سأنِۂ تدذ

[pa] तेरा सुर मिले मेरे सुर दे नाल मिलके बने एक नवा सुर ताल

[hi] मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा तो सुर बने हमारा

[sn-dev] मुंहिंजो सुर तोहि देसा पियारा मिले जडें गीत असांजो मधुर तरानो बने तडें .

[sn-nast] مُنهِنجو سُر توهِ ديسا پِيارا مِلي جَڊي گِيت اَسانجو مڍُر تَرانو بَني تَڊي

[ur] سر کی دریا بہتے ساگر میں ملے

[pa] बदलाँ दा रूप लैके बरसन हौले हौले

[ta] இசைந்தால் நம் இருவரின் சுரமும் நமதாகும். திசை வேறானாலும் ஆழிசேர் ஆறுகள், முகிலாய், மழையாய், பொழிவது போல் இசை, நம் இசை.

[kn] ನನ್ನ ಧ್ವನಿಗೆ ನಿನ್ನ ಧ್ವನಿಯ, ಸೇರಿದಂತೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಧ್ವನಿಯ .

[te] నా స్వరము నీ స్వరము సంగమమై, మన స్వరంగా అవతరించే

[ml] എന്റെ സ്വരവും നിങ്ങളുടെ സ്വരവും ഒന്നുചേര്‍ന്നു നമ്മുടെ സ്വരമായ് .

[bn] তোমার সুর মোদের সুর, সৃষ্টি করুক ঐক্য সুর.

[as] সৃষ্টি হো ঐক্যতান.

[or] ତୋମା ମୋରା ସ୍ବରେର ମିଲନ ସୃଷ୍ଟି କରେ ଚାଲଦୋଚତନ .

[gu] મળે સૂર જો તારો મારો, બને આપણો સૂર નિરાળો .

[mr] माझ्या तुमच्या जुळता तारा मधुर स्वरांच्या बरसती धारा .

[हिन्दी] सुर की नदियाँ हर दिशा से बहते सागर में मिलें बादलों का रूप ले कर बरसे हल्के हल्के मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा तो सुर बने हमारा मिले सुर मेरा तुम्हारा … तो सुर बने हमारा


Brugge or Bruges trip

Walking in the streets of Belgium and rowing in the canals of Bruges make me realize how important history is for Europeans. Even the cities bombed during the World War have rebuilt their cities in the way it had been for centuries before the wars. Even in cities where there are new constructions, residents have tried hard to give it the same look and feel as the historical buildings. Not only has this reinforced the visual delight of living in history rather than making the entire city look like a concrete jungle.
India also has several historical structures that are older and more majestic than what is seen abroad. However I still don’t know of any city where walking on the old city gives the same pleasure. Most of the old city have so crowded and have narrow streets that navigating there without the threat of being stuck in the traffic jam or your pocket being picked. The sanitation level of the older sections of Indian cities are low and often the streets don’t have sufficient sunlight, fresh air or even clean. The smell alone can drive people away.
The solution Indian government has adopted is to evacuate people from the ancient structures in the same of preserving these structures or public safety. In several areas government has even torn down the sections of our heritage in the name of modernization and infrastructure. However why can’t our antique buildings and their inhabitants co-exist the same way they do elsewhere?

Thoughts Travel

I don’t like Asian people

On my second day in France, one of my European friend with whom I was doing a group work declared that “I don’t like Asian people!”
I calmly asked him “Why do you feel so?” while mentally I was clenching my fist and saying “WTF! How dare you say bad things about my people?”
Later from his 5 min long explanation I could realize two things:
Firstly for him only Orientals were Asians.
Secondly, he knew I was from India and even though he knew that India was a part of Asia, he did not consider me an Asian.
This reminds of an episode by Peter Russels who was also making fun of this definition of Indians. Every second in France is like a whole new experience, where I am either breaking one of my myths or learning something new.


Travelogue: Paris

Throughout history, I have seen French as a country proud of its culture and heritage. During the first 8-9 decades of the 100 year war, it was clearly evident that French knights are not an equal match against the English Longbow. Yet they fought hard and long enough to turn the tide of the war. In the First World War, they were able to force the Prussians into a long expensive stalemate. However against Hitler the French surrendered, faster than the German tanks could march. Paris was declared as an open city and Hitler simply marched in.

This event always puzzled me. Because although some brave citizens did put up a strong resistance, it was not formidable enough. It was only during the weekend, when I visited Paris could I understand. Each and every road in Paris has so much history around it. The buildings are both beautiful and antique. In 3 days, I could barely touch few of the important monuments and it will take me atleast 2 more weekends before I am somewhat satisfied.
I am not convinced that:

It is easy to terrorize the civilized world into submission because they have too much to lose.

This was the statement made by Atilla the hun, when he tried to summarize the reason for his unprecedented success against the Roman and forcing them to pay a hefty tribute. Even today this explains the terror tactics of Jehadis and why USA is unable to curtain them.

If you haven’t visited Paris, then you have really missed a lot