August Break

The last one year has seen a series of things happening in our lives and the question of a vacation or break seemed sometimes impossible and sometimes untimely. We set our new home and yes it did take up a lot of our energies and efforts and the saga continues. Ask any home owner and they would concur. But all said and done, we did plan out a week’s break away from home. My husband and I love travelling and with areas around Hyderabad being so deprived of proper weekend getaways, we were dying to be out of Hyd.

We decided to plan our own trip itinerary with the primary push of finding of (mind you) cheap air-tickets; took a flight from Hyd to Bangalore and then immediately a train to Mysore. Our first stop was in Mysore, for two days and we were staying in the Infosys – Mysore campus.

Mysore Infosys Campus
Mysore Infosys Campus

Infy employees can avail a weekend’s accommodation in the campus, subject to prior booking and availability. I have visited a number of Infosys’ campuses around the country but this facility takes the cake. I am pretty sure that it must be one of the best training facilities in the world. The accommodation is 4 star with stylish, modern and comfortable designing. Our guest house was styled as per Spanish villas and the facility has – four screen multiplex, bowling alley, umpteen number of tennis courts, pool tables, shuttle courts, basket-ball courts, volley ball court  and squash courts. Added to all this a spa-like swimming pool, football ground with running track and a complete cricket ground with a pavilion. May be the only thing missing was the night playing facility for the cricket ground ;). We spent the better part of our first day touring the campus.

Our acco on the Mysore campus
Our acco on the Mysore campus

Each of the training and development building is in itself a lovely piece of architecture and added to all this, some of Infy’s trademark landscaping. I suppose for the trainees, once they are done with the initial phase the saying of “picture abhi baaki hai yaar” would start when they are moved to others development centers ;).

In spite of all this, we had to get out of the campus to see the city and Mysore was a delight in itself. The public transport facility is pretty good, but we went by a cab, as we had a single day to cover all the places. We visited the Chamundi temple, atop a hill and then the Mysore Maharaja Palace, via the Maha Nandi statue. It could

Maha Nandi
Maha Nandi

be one of the younger Indian palaces, re-built in early 1900s after a fire that burnt down the original palace. It has influences from Hindu, Muslim and English architecture. The marriage hall/ceremonies hall is a spectacular stained glass arena, with beautiful Indian motives. I especially liked the main hall where the King entertained his chosen guests or the Diwan-e-khas and didn’t quite feel like coming out of it (unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the palace).

Mysore Palace
Mysore Palace

We then proceeded to Srirangapatnam and saw Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. His fort in Srirangapatnamhas been in ruins for long and it was a little depressing and heart wrenching to see the place where Tipu’s body was found after the final battle.

It was now time to move on from history to nature and we went to the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary. This lovely sanctuary is located on the banks of the Cauvery River and tourists are taken on a boat ride in the river. Due to the higher water levels that day, boating was not permitted, but I must still say, the place was

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

divine. Beautiful tall trees, sounds of various birds chirping away and the quiet and peace of it all rejuvenated us completely. After a well spent time, we proceeded to the famous Brindavan gardens. To its credit the gardens are pretty well maintained, but I felt they could do much better. Probably having seen so many other places around the world which are of much larger size and magnitude has spoiled me ;). This is surely no place for any kind of peace and tranquility as the gardens were swarming with people. We chose to see the lighting at the Mysore Maharaja palace and without much ado, bid a goodbye to Brindavan gardens. I must admit, the palace lighting is worth the sight. Do not ever miss it. The moment one sees the whole palace lit up in one go, the sense of energy and happiness that one enjoys is beyond words. Even after a long day’s sight-seeing, this last sight made me feel suddenly very alive.

Mysore Palace - All Lit Up
Mysore Palace - All Lit Up

The next day we proceeded to Ooty via Bandipur Wildlife Reserve. This forest is called Mudumalai Forest Reserve by the Tamil Nadu Government. One can take up cottages here and stay in wilderness for a few days or just stop by on your way to Ooty to take a 45 minute jungle safari.

We managed to spot some animals – deer, langoor, elephants, mongoose, etc, but were not so fortunate to see a tiger. The Safari timings are from early morning 6 to 9 and then start from 4 in the evening to 6 P.M. It is said that one should take the safari either at dawn or dusk to see maximum number of animals. We had to take the 4 ‘o’ clock safari as we had to reach Ooty by nightfall. We had our own adventure here, because we opted for public transport instead of a cab and finally managed to reach Ooty,

A view from Hotel Sherlock, Ooty
A view from Hotel Sherlock, Ooty

negotiating the 36 hairpins on our way by night fall. We had booked Hotel Sherlock in Ooty. A nice, quaint, small cottage like hotel with just nine rooms and each room being named either after Sherlock Holmes’ characters or places. It is a very nice hotel, with a brilliant view and a very well maintained garden. The breakfast buffet served with the room reservation was pretty good, as per the hotel standards.

We checked out of Sherlock before 11:00 AM and took a cab out to check out Ooty. The Botanical gardens and the Rose gardens were very well maintained. They stand a testimony to imperial Ooty and it was nice to see the tall trees and lovely gardens all around. The rainy season and the cloud cover made the whole experience worthwhile. We also went to Doddabetta peak which is supposed to be the second highest peak in south India and then did the typical filmy – Dil Diwana kind of thing – went boating in the Ooty lake. It was fun and yes, please don’t miss it.

Our final destination was Coonoor where we spent the better part of our vacation – 4 days, doing nothing much, but taking in the beautiful weather and the amazing hospitality of Taj hotels. We were staying at the Gateway Hotel – Coonoor or the erstwhile Taj Garden Retreat.It being an off-season, we got an upgrade in our room too.  I have been to

The Gateway Hotel - Coonor
The Gateway Hotel - Coonor

numerous buffets at various Taj hotels, but I must a say, we came to know why the Taj hotels reign supreme and are raved for their service. One can never ask for more as you are always so well taken care of. The a-la-carte meals prepared were excellent and the hotel premises and the setting was simply divine. You can’t help but unwind completely. It was one of our very first Taj holidays and we are pretty sure it won’t be the last :).

Coonor in itself is a lovely place and one can see Tea Gardens all around. We visited the customary tourist places and liked them pretty well. The highlight was the Sims Park and then the toy train ride from Coonoor to Ooty and then back to Coonoor. Took a first class on our way up and then came by the general. This toy train is

Toy train
Toy train

another lovely experience and once more a must do in the Nilgiris.

We flew back from Coimbatore and I must thank the weather for it being so absolutely perfect – cloudy, pleasant and hardly any rain all through. At the end of the week, I was completely recharged, dying to get back to home 😉 and ready to start my work.

Summers and Train

My earliest memories of travelling by our Indian Railways has been that of the unending journeys between Dehradun and Hyderabad, mostly during my vacations. I have loved the journeys in Second A/C and Gandhi class or Second class has also had its own charm. It is very interesting to note the change in topography as one traverses from the North to the South Central regions of this vast and varied land. 

With the prevailing heat and current conditions I find it impossible to travel in some regions by sleeper class. Thankfully, back in the late 80s and 90s, global warming didn’t cause temperatures to soar to these unseen levels and we could travel in sleeper class with some discomfort. It was a high treat then to be allowed the passing cutlet or samosa and my favourite breakfast in the A.P Express has been Bread Omellete. Don’t ask me why, it was just that then. Trips to the pantry were another interesting timepass during the long journey between Delhi and Hyderabad. 

I can’t remember how many friends I made in the train, but one thing was for sure, somehow never contacted anyone later. It is strange how the train associations seem to end with the end of the journey. Lack of internet could be said to be a cause, but not really a good one. I somehow can’t imagine travelling by sleeper class in the current summers.

The Garib Rath concept of the Railways is pretty good; affordable A/C travel. Though the train is pretty comfortable and nothing really Garib about it, I find the name irksome. More such trains would help the common man. The side middle berth which was introduced to increase capacity, isn’t too bad as it seems. Change is not palatable to any of us and I found this concept tough to digest till I actually got to see it myself. 

For all the travellers heading out for a summer vacation, take care of the heat and have fun!

Live Free or Die

The Maple

In the past nine months, I have been living in a small, partly quaint and quiet place in the northeastern part of USA. To end the suspense, I live in Nashua, New Hampshire. Many people, Americans themselves have never heard of this place and I am not surprised why. The reason is because it has no specific point of interest or attraction here and is a beautiful place to live in; just a stone’s throw away from a number of weekend gateways and attractions. Nashua is just a 50 minute drive from the bustling city of Boston and universities like Harvard and MIT. For a south Indian, the weather here is particularly harsh during the winters but very pleasant for the rest of the year. Most times, this place gives me a feeling of living in one of the hill-stations in India. The landscapes around this town can give a dreamy feel to anyone.

The state of New Hampshire is well known for its Fall colours and to be honest, the words or any number of pictures to describe this beautiful natural phenomena can never do any justice. The first time I saw the pictures, I was impressed but when I actually got the opportunity to see the Fall colours with my own two eyes, I simply overwhelmed. The blazing reds and bright yellows are adorable, to say the very least. People come from all around the world to see the various shades of Maple leaf and why not, its worth every penny. Upper New Hampshire or the area of New England as a whole has a lot to offer in the form of attractions and activities. Skiing in winter and the various festivals like the Hot air balloon festival near Quechee gorge or the Bike festival in summer are ways to keep people entertained. But added to all this, the pristine natural beauty of this place is very refreshing. In many ways Nashua and locales in New Hampshire remind me of my days spent in the Doon valley in Uttaranchal, India.

There is another aspect of New Hampshire that I have come to love, the official motto – Live Free or Die. The first time I saw this, it struck a chord with the inherent rebel that I am. The fact that one can live the way they want to and adhere to what one thinks is right is a supremely independent feeling. Each state in the US has its official motto that it inherently believes. Also, there is always one aspect about that state with which it identifies, like New Jersey is called the Garden State and its motto is Liberty and Prosperity and Florida is called the Orange County with its motto being In God We Trust. Many states are popular with the secondary identifying name that has been given to it, like New York is the Empire State, but in some the motto is more popular. Live Free or Die is amongst the most popular ones. It is immensely popular with me too. 🙂

So, for as long as I spend my time in this beautiful place, I intend to enjoy it to the hilt and live every moment. After all, the motto is Live Free or Die.

Frisco

I have been traveling considerably in the last two months and contrary to my expectations my posts on this blog have dwindled. I assumed that my writing would but flourish and I would get much food for thought, but I have either been giving myself up to many pangs of stupor or filled with considerable excitement to be able to write much of coherence. Both these have been at the opposite ends of the spectrum and hence I assume have been the cause of my neglect and upon perusal the sad status of some of my posts. Most inconsequential is how I would want to say they were.

San Francisco

You could ask as to what inspired me all of a sudden to come back to write this post. The answer is simple- passion; Passion and excitement that I want to capture of my visit to San Francisco. I can vouch for myself that it has never ever happened to me that I singularly and completely have fallen in love with a place, without a single qualm, at first sight. I enjoyed my stay there completely and loved exploring the place on my own.

Initially, I couldn’t quite fathom as to why I seem to like this place so much and then when I was drawn to it the second day, it struck me as so obvious. San Francisco is endowed with Mother Nature’s best and also has the lively and gay fervour of any big city. The beautiful bay, the calm waters of the Pacific, the lovely roads that go up and down like a roller-coaster and a stone’s throw away to the wonderful beauty of the Giant Redwoods or the long winding roads through the hills running right along the sea shore make it perfectly awesome. With temperate climes than most places around, what else can one ask for more. The city is a melting pot of various cultures and numerous people of various origins. Tourism forms a major source of income with an average of $6 billion annually coming from this industry and providing employment to around 60 thousand people.

The city also has some modern marvels to boast about. The famous Golden Gate Bridge and the lovely cable cars that go comfortably up and down the treacherous slopes of this place, make it unique. I did wonder as to how a bridge caused so much of excitement, but realized that the setting and the mere size of the civil engineering feat make one come in complete awe of this place. Cable car is yet another vehicle very unique to the roads of Frisco. I happened to take my ride on it pretty accidentally and enjoyed every minute of it.

Cable Car

Mumbai and New York made me eclectic with life but seemed tiresome to live and did bring in a hint of apprehension and some kind of lurking fear with them. Contrary to these big cities I have visited, with its numerous gardens and places to rejuvenate from the tiresome bustle of a big town, San Francisco was one place that I was not afraid of.

I loved San Francisco and never have I been more in love with a place ever in my life prior to this. Definitely recommend that one should visit this place among many others in the world and experience it.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Four Continents – One year!

Well that has how it has been so far. ASIA -> AUSTRALASIA -> EUROPE -> NORTH AMERICA are all the continents I managed to cover in this year. Fine, it hasn’t been like covering the length and breadth of it, but then I did touch all of them in the same way Phileas Fogg went Around the world in 80 days.

Having stayed in India (Asia) all my life, I suddenly got the opportunity to go to Perth (Australia). I always wanted to go to Oz land so the offer was tempting. The time of travel was something that put me in a fix that I never quite expected. Two weeks of staying away from all did depress me but then now when I look back I liked what happened (past always is 20-20 perfect!). Then, I got married and we were off to Switzerland and Greece. All my life I had a set fascination for Greece. Just don’t ask why, but I just wanted to go there, someday. Switzerland was an added bonus. Must say, Europe is picture perfect!

Now, in the United States and I suddenly realized that the fourth continent beckons me. After having seen all these places before coming to US, I didn’t find it all too overwhelming. Back home there is this strong Gult feeling about how every other person should be either in Software or be a medico and eventually all of them end up in the United States of Ameerica! Exasperating is the single word that I can think of this. But then it has its little positives too, even my maid and dhobi wali knows that I was going to Ameerica. Well the last three times I went out of India it was always America for them. One thing that stood out about this place is that everything in this country is BIG and Size does matter here.

There were some things that I noticed in stark contrast to home. People here seem to follow the weather report quite religiously and it somehow comes true for better part. Somehow, I don’t remember ever checking out the weather with such zealous fervour ever when I was home. Could it be because of the sheer fact that the comfort of home didn’t really bother how the weather would be? Rain or shine we still go about the way we want to, or may be weather conditions or rather the cold is way too harsh to handle without prior preparations. I guess that would be a more pragmatic approach.

Whether it is a small place with hardly any history or history that dates back to before Christ era and now in practical ruins the countries I visited pride in what they have. They preserve it and showcase it so much and blow every little thing out of proportions that in one way it vexes you and on the other you come to appreciate their patriotism. It seriously makes me ponder that what I can do to make a country with 5000 year old history to take pride in itself and preserve its culture. I hope to do it in every little way I can and will continue to. It would be nice if many of our people learn to appreciate their own country and be proud of it. It is a pity that whenever I meet many of those people who live far away from India support their decision with saying that they cannot stay in a country of their birth and better part of their formative years because it has now become so over crowded and dirty and that things are difficult to be done here and just simply impossible living there with all the dust. Positives and negatives make the balance and if I as a responsible citizen do not have the courage to face it and put in my bit to improve and preserve it, then the dream to see India as a super power at sometime would simply remain a dream.

Am glad I was able to see so many places, thanks to a job that originated in my land. Hope to be back home soon.

Parthipura – Part 2

I start the second part of the story with due apologies to my readers. The absolute joblessness that I enjoyed in Perth totally vanished from the moment I decided to board the flight back to Hyd, via Singapore. Parthipura – Part 1, did seem a tad depressing, I would fancy it is merely the state of mind that was reflected. By the end of first week, I had devised plans to keep myself terribly busy over the three day long weekend. Well, it was the chance of a life-time to go around an Australian city, being absolutely anonymous, no one to call home and report to and more over do exactly what I would like to. Well, this does include starving myself for a simple vegetarian meal. Yes, continuous effect of wraps/rolls/burgers does take a toll on ones psychic and the yearning simply multiplies by N (where N tends to infinity).

Coming back to the plans of the weekend, I will limit myself to the Perth and its surrounding in this part, which essentially covers my Saturday’s itinerary.

After having woken up at a comfortable hour on the Saturday morning, I decided to furnish myself with the stocks from the Indian store. I did this en-route via a trip to the Western Australian Cricket Association or the famously known cricket ground – WACA. The timings for the ground trips and museum tours are so weird that no individual who is working 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM during weekdays can hope to visit. Added to that it is closed on public holidays and on days when there are matches. I wonder why is it even open to public (tourist perspective)!!! Anyways, I contented myself with the trip to the Race-course (just opposite WACA) and a peek of the stadium from the outside.

My exploit at the Indian store, included that of the life-saving Maggi noodles and some other stuff, which I hardly used. My next stop was the Swan bells. This is a tower constructed on the banks of the picturesque Swan River. As per the description kept outside – Swan bells is one of the world’s largest music instruments and includes the twelve bells of St. Martin-in-the-fields which have been ringing since well before the 15th century. I was lucky enough to witness the last time the bells rang for that day. No, I wasn’t really late; it was merely past one ‘o’ clock in the afternoon and just like everything there, the bells also close down early. The idea of going to Swan bells was driven by the ulterior motive of having a good Indian meal at Annalakshmi, the Indian restaurant that runs on charity where the guest is expected to pay as much he/she thinks fit for the food. They did start this restaurant in India and not very surprisingly the concept hasn’t been as much of a success as in abroad. Coming back to me, as luck should have it, the place is closed on Saturday afternoons and Mondays. So, once again I ended up having some firangi junk for lunch. But did go back to have a happy dinner there in the evening. Come on, I was starved for a proper vegetarian, Indian meal, couldn’t have left the chance for a million ;).

The best part of being alone is that you can sit anywhere for any long and then do whatever the self pleases at that point of time, without any botheration. The stroll from the Swan Bells to my hotel is a nice one, along the Swan River. Perth is a quiet place and families go around cycling along the river. There are cycles equipped to take children around. One also sees a lot of families enjoying a nice picnic lunch or playing in the parks. Yes, all this can be attributed to the low population levels and a lot more, but all said and done it does feel good.

Lazed around for the rest of day and had a great meal at Annalakshmi to wind up early. Well one thing I really enjoyed there was extended sleeping hours. Reason being pretty simple, my office was 15 minutes by walk and a small bus ride. I loved that!

Parthipura – Part 1

I have been getting numerous mails asking me as to how am I doing “Down Under”. “What have you seen so far?”, “Post all the pictures.” Hmmm.. I wouldn’t want to start the blog on a sad note, but then the most FREAKING thing about this place, or so I have heard about most places in OZ is, shops close down by 5 or max 6 in the evening. Praise the lord there are some shops that are kept open till 7 or 8 in the evening. Apparently, Thursdays and Fridays are the designated shopping days for the folks here. Logon, aasha ki kiran ab bhi kahin jeevit hai!!!

I am dying to talk to someone and talk more than just a “how you doing?”- I am supposedly doing good. I have all the time in the world to do absolutely anything. Unfortunately everything closes by 6 and it is dark by 5:30. A woman going around alone is not safe. So, will the kind souls tell me what other options do I have? Well, apart from updating my blog (every other day), I think I can hear folks back home yelling and sayinh, cook, cook. Yes, I agree. Even without them yelling. The last few days have been spent eating “ghaas-phoos”, in ordinary English, I am living on salads, burgers, wraps and weird stuff that folks here call food. Mercifully, I will be going to an Indian store this weekend. Why mercifully? Well, I did try getting something for today to cook, and came to know that chilli powder is out of stock. Not my fault, and left to eat one of the funniest dinners ever possible. Soup, apple, orange juice and left the Greek salad. He just put all possible crotons that one sees in the pots back home, into it. I couldn’t eat it. Just chucked it into the bin without least of remorse.

But the thing to still look forward is the lovely weather, pretty scenic views and some interesting shopping left to be done. I hope these things will not be disappointing. I’ll have to go about with a pinch of salt, am all alone, so wherever I go it will be “Main aur meri tanhayee, aksar yeh batein karte hai….” Oops, forgot my Ipod Nano and the rebel, chalo kuch to hai.

 

PS: The title is inspired by my dear friend, recent Ex-Infoscion.
PS 2: It is that undying habit to comment and express my critical views upon everything, something and nothing that is driving me to end up writing such posts. Earlier it was just few people who were subjected to this torture, now thru this blog I have the humanity. (The sadist in me – Chuckles!! )