Jun 29, 2009

the journey...

My contribution to Cafe Writing - May/June project - Option #4

A regular Monday morning
I muddle along
the crowd walks past
I wander around

faithful to my instincts
I board the train
dare to travel
wherever it takes

not much to ponder
I take the plunge,
brain seems to wonder
is this who I am?

spontaneous decision perhaps
I am hit by the buzz word
the "bear run" ends
not in the capital markets sadly

the wheels start to move
going direction uncharted,
leaving behind its trails,
the journey is the destination

Jun 24, 2009

A memorable trip to the Northeast

"This is not right. How come she is awake so early? It's still dark outside. Has something catastrophic happened? Or is it one of those rarest possible occasions?"
"You bet it is! Now run away and hide inside the crevices. I don't want to start off my vacation by hitting you"

This is the conversation that happened between me and the confused fat cockroach at 5 AM on Saturday, June 6th. Only a vacation can motivate me to wake up before the sun rises. A month long planning to identify new places, arrange logistics and pack stuff needed for a week has finally culminated in a perfect vacation to the North East region of India. Our taxi arrived on time and my husband and I left for the Bangalore International Airport. This was our first flight from the new airport and we were thrilled to see the beautiful roads and a nice airport of international standards. After the usual checkin procedures, it was time for breakfast. We were horrified to see a dosa priced at 90 rupees and a cup of tea (prepared with a tea bag, mind you!) for 60 rupees. Though the airport has many restaurants, the pricing seems to be standardized at this range.

The flight was on time and we reached Kolkata airport around noon. My dad and my brother had reached Kolkata directly from Chennai and were awaiting our arrival. We had two options - either to book a hotel for the day or roam around Kolkata the whole afternoon since our train to New Jalpaiguri was scheduled to depart at midnight. We went for the second option and hired a taxi. The driver took us to a perfect place for lunch - Haldirams. This place was just like a supermarket, the only difference being that sweets and savories are displayed on many different aisles. The restaurant inside Haldirams served a sumptuous thaali and we helped ourselves to yummy rasgullas. Our ride around Kolkata began with a trip to the Science City. With humidity at its prime, we prefered to lock ourselves in an air conditioned room. What better way than to watch a show about oceans inside the auditorium! It was an hour long interesting show on oceans and fishes. After Science City, we went to Kali temple but had to skip going inside since it was too crowded. Having roamed around the city, taking a glimpse of the Eden Gardens and the Howrah bridge, the taxi driver dropped us off at the railway station at 7 PM. With 5 hours to kill, we took refuge in a AC restaurant, ordering milkshakes one by one and sipping it slowly. There was another guy sitting next to us, sipping a can of Mountain Dew for nearly an hour. We were wondering how accustomed we have become with Bangalore's cool and pleasant weather.

"Once we board the train, we can just doze off", that was our plan. But it was not intended to be so. I would like to meet the famous guy who came up with this brilliant idea of having a side middle berth in train compartments. People were arguing and fighting for their seats for 2 hours. The seat numbers were assigned for a 81 berth compartment whereas the bookings were only done for 72 berths. Sometimes, people get more agitated owing to their egos that simple math and common sense no longer makes sense to them. It was a long and tiring day and finally the confusion over berth numbers ended at 2:15 AM.

The train was delayed by 90 minutes and we reached New Jalpaiguri around noon the next day. The Yatra representative (travel agency through whom we had booked the holiday package) had been waiting for us and he gave us all the details we need for the trip. After the first glimpse of the Himalayan hills, we felt refreshed, watching the flowing Teesta river and the greenery all around. Having skipped breakfast, we found a nice little place for lunch on our way to Kalimpong. We had been traveling for almost 2 days now and as soon as we reached the resort, we took a shower and slept like logs until evening. After taking a walk around for a while, we had dinner and declared the end of the day.

The next morning, we left the resort for a sight seeing trip around Kalimpong and planned to travel directly to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim. Kalimpong is a little town with spectacular view points around the mountains. The half a day sight seeing trip took us to places such as the Deolo botanical gardens, Hanuman Mandir, nursery and a monastery. The numerous hairpin bends leading to uphill and downhill maneuvers finally took us to the border of West Bengal and Sikkim. After a light lunch, we set off on the beautiful roads of Sikkim with Teesta river accompanying us. We reached Gangtok in the evening and decided to stay at the hotel for the rest of the day. Little did we realize that was a mistake. The next day (Tuesday) was an official holiday in Gangtok and all the shops were to remain closed. We were unaware of this fact as we decided to roam around the market on Tuesday.

Our jeep arrived on time the next morning which would take us to Tsomgo lake that is considered sacred by the local people. The misty mountains, the clear streams and waterfalls created a pleasant feel to the 2 hour drive. After stopping for tea (BTW, we had loads of tea during this entire trip), it was another 30 minute drive on really bad roads. The Tsomgo lake was clear and beautiful. The blue sky created a magical reflection on the lake. There were yaks nearby the lake on which we sat down and took photographs, wearing a cowboy hat. There are some shops around where one could buy souvenirs of Sikkim. We bought a few paintings and also ate some spicy noodles. The Wai wai noodles is the most famous brand in Sikkim that you get them wherever you go. After returning to the hotel, we had lunch and played cards for a while. Having set a well laid out plan that we would go for shopping, we were disappointed because of the public holiday. This is one main glitch we found in the Yatra itinerary. If they had informed us about this fact, we could have planned accordingly. With sudden heavy downpour, the cold weather literally pushed me to dance on the streets of an empty MG Marg.

It was a short stay in Sikkim and I wish we could have stayed a few more days. Sikkim has been added to my visit-again list. I have heard some good feedback on other places of Sikkim. Anyway, we left for Darjeeling the next day. With summer season all around the country, both Kalimpong and Gangtok were not that cold as I expected them to be. Probably the best time to visit these places would be winter, I guess. As soon as we reached Darjeeling, we set out for a half a day sight seeing trip to a Japanese Temple, Buddhist Peace Pagoda, the Zoological park and Himalayan mountaineering institute. With a thick mist engulfing the town, we wanted to return back but the driver insisted that we visit the tea gardens. For the first few minutes, the visibility was close to zero but once the mist started moving, the tea gardens were a visual treat. We bought some tea packets and then roamed around the market area. The woolen sweaters and shawls are good stuff to buy in Darjeeling.

According to the itinerary, we were supposed to leave for Tiger Hills at 4 AM to view the sunrise over Mt.Kanchenjunga. I was excited about this trip but the mist played spoilsport that we could hardly see the sunrise. The driver suggested that the best time to visit this place would be between Sept-Nov. Yeah, point noted! Nevertheless, I bought a postcard which had the spectacular view of Mt.Kanchenjunga. On our way back, we caught a glimpse of the Batashia war memorial and Ghoom monastery. The logistics didn't work out well for the heritage rail ride and so we satisfied ourselves with pictures next to the train in the railway station. The Lloyd botanical gardens was a long walk through narrow lanes and in contrast to many botanical gardens I have visited so far, this was just empty with no tourists. It was a pleasant walk inside the gardens but the route leading upto it was bad.

After a short walk through the local market, we left for New Jalpaiguri and after a similar route of NJP->KOL->BLR for 2 days, we returned home. What a nice trip it was! With no access to laptop or Internet for a week, this vacation was just great. As a person who likes to plan trips and also loves to travel, I enjoyed this trip to Northeast. There are many such new places I want to explore.

Jun 3, 2009

Recent reads

It's a long pending book review, drafted in my mind but has taken a while to pen it down. A few weeks back, I managed to read "The tales of Beedle the Bard" by JK Rowling. Having been a huge fan of Harry Potter, I've been wanting to read this book of short stories ever since it was released. At a price of 600 rupees, I have almost been to the verge of purchasing it whenever I'm in a bookstore but dropped the idea at the last minute. Luckily I got hold of this book in my office library and finished reading on a lazy Sunday evening.

There are 5 short bedtime stories that are popular among the non Muggle kids. Every story is followed by Dumbledore's commentary who gives a background on the story and how it was perceived by the young witches and wizards. You could call it the Cinderella or Snow White of the wizarding world. Out of the 5 stories, I liked two of them - fountain of fair fortune and tale of three brothers.

In the past month, I also happened to read 'The Nordstrom way' as part of my book review assignment. Although it's not really an engrossing book, it paints a good picture of what customer service actually means and how Nordstrom was able to successfully deliver excellent customer service. The book brings together the elements that tie together the strategy and human resource functions of Nordstrom.

After a long time, I read Sudha Murthy's 'Gently falls the bakula' and finished it in 3 hours at a stretch. At the end of it, I felt like I'm returning from watching a Tamil movie. It's a typical story of boy-meets-girl, childhood friends, love and wedding. I admire Sudha's simplistic writing as a story teller and her great admiration for India. She has described many historical places and monuments and interwoven them into the storyplot nicely.

I have started reading RK Narayan's collection of essays that he had written for the Hindu in the 1940s and 50s. I can never get bored of his writings and am glad I have my own copy of his collection. I'm planning to finish this book in the next couple of weeks before my third year of PGSEM officially begins.

Jun 1, 2009

Nice weekend

Although two was the target for May, I was able to plan out one weekend trip at last. Two trips would still have been made possible, if only my neck didn't get sprained from my third swimming class. For more than a week, I could hardly move my neck and as a result, I had to pause my swimming lessons. Hopefully I can get back to the pool soon and learn to float in water.

When I was looking out for short weekend trips from Bangalore, there are many places that popped out on the web. Out of the many, Yelagiri grabbed my attention. I love the hills and mountains and one of my life time goals is to visit all the hill stations in India. I'm almost done with most of them in the South and hopefully can cover a few in the East pretty soon ;-)

Hubby and I left for Yelagiri around 2 PM after packing some munchies for the road trip. Although not really a hill station, Yelagiri is on top of a hillock with 14 hairpin bends leading the way. The roads were just superb after one crosses Hosur. We stopped for a late lunch at Adyar Ananda Bhavan near Krishnagiri. As planned, we reached our resort (Taj Gardens) at 6 PM. It's a nice place with lots of trees, especially mangoes, guavas and jackfruits. We decided to take a walk immediately after we checked in. One of the employees of the resort suggested we could go to Nature Park and watch the musical fountain. The weather was pleasant and the chirping birds were a music to the ears. By the time we reached Nature Park, it became dark and we headed straight to the fountains. It was a 30 minute fountain show and if you had already seen the one in Brindavan Gardens at Mysore, then there is nothing new to see. It was a spooky walk back since it was pitch dark and there wasn't a single soul on the road at 8:00 PM. It's amazing that this place is so quiet with very few commercial establishments. The flip side is that one needs to rely on the resort for all meals. Thankfully, the food provided at Taj Gardens was palatable. The staff was courteous and it was good to see many families in the resort.

After a good night's sleep, we had a quick breakfast and walked towards the lake. We went for boating and took a long walk to a nearby Murugan temple. The sight of a small temple amidst forests and hills is so beautiful. After lunch, it was time to pack our bags and return home. It was a good and relaxing trip with music giving us great company. The irony is that the last song my iPod decided to play before we reached home was "Yunhi chala" from Swades. Kitni aseen hain yeh duniya!!!

Once again, I enjoyed being the travel planner, reading reviews from travel sites, looking at maps for the routes and calling up hotels for enquiries. I hope to plan more such weekend trips in the near future.

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