New York

New York was not as tempting as say a ‘Niagara Falls’ or ‘Great Wall of
China’ but the Statue of Liberty symbolizes USA and hence it was sort of an item somewhere in the list that needs to be ticked, whether it is worth newyork5the effort or not. So on a Friday night at 11.30 PM I decided to go ahead with the plan. Another colleague was to join me and we were to start next morning. I slept that day at 01:00 AM and woke up again at 5.15 AM. We left at around 6.20 AM. I drove for about 3.5 hrs and we reached White Plains at 10: 15 AM with a breakfast stop. We took the Train there to New York Grand Central Station. It was 15$ for a round trip. The train arrived at 11.11 AM and we reached Grand Central in about 20-25 minutes.

The we got the subway tickets for 8$. The subway network and its functioning was very good. There were 3 layers of trains routes and between them they connected the city well. On the sides of major roads there will be steps down leading to subway train station. Amazing public transport connectivity. We had to go downtown and the trains 4, 5 and 6 went there.

newyork4We reached Battery station and took the tickets for Liberty Statue Ferry for 12$. The wait for the Ferry was about an hour and 15 minutes. The Ferry took us to the Statue. It was nice seeing the symbol of hope and freedom but nothing much to do in the island. In fact the view was much better from the ferry.

newyork3By the time we were done with it and returned back after another wait for the Ferry, it was already 3.30 PM. We were both exhausted and hungry too. But I wanted to see Wall Street and so we checked it out along with Trinity Church and the ‘Bull’ of New York Stock Exchange. We then took the subway to reach 14th Street Union Avenue and walked till 27th Street in Lexington avenue for an amazing food at ‘Saravana Bhavan’. I had South Indian Thali and it was the best Chennai food in US so far. The ‘Kaara Kozhambu’ was exotic. We then walked back to 14th Street and took the subway to Grand Central (Later we realized that 23rd and 28th street had subways – probably on the sides).

From Grand central we took Train 7 to get to Times Square. It is like our newyork1‘Pondy Bazar’ market in Chennai or ‘Sunday Market’ back in Pondicherry but more hi-tech. After walking there for some time we realized that US could be crowded too and messy and polluted and chaotic and ‘not follow rules’ and on and on… We bought T-Shirts there and were back to subway by 7.15. We reached Grand central in time to catch the 7.48 train to White plains. I took the car out at 8.30 and we reached hotel back at 11.50.

It was a nice trip but more of a must do thing when we are this close to ‘New York’. I would remember having been and walked in Wall Street more vividly than seeing Liberty. More so I will remember the chaotic city, buzzing with Car horns and madness which most other cities of US don’t seem to recognize in their hypocritical behavior. From now on if someone comments about our Bangalore Traffic being chaotic they should first go and have a look at New York and then come and speak about India and Bangalore.

The Niagara Falls


When there were talks of me going on an official trip to Canada, the first thought that sprang was – will I get time to go to Niagara falls. Along with niagaraGrand Canyon, Niagara falls was there on my list of ‘must-see’ in US. The scheduled date of travel was somewhere in January and there was a consensus that Niagara might be frozen during that time. Eventually a lot of things happened and my travel got pushed to June. Not only that, the travel destination changed from Canada to Andover. Still the falls was not out of plan as there was a US side of it – 7 hrs drive from where I was put up.

Two more colleagues (Bhanu and Parthiban) expressed their wish to go and the plan was made. We started at 5.15 in the morning and reached by 1.30 P.M after stopping for mini breakfast and lunch. On the way GPS niagara4cranked and we had to do some debugging on it to get going.

The first falls was rather a small affair but the horse shoe falls was amight one and was more like the photos and videos we have come to see of the Niagara. There were a couple of rides – Cave of the Woods and Maid of the mist. The first one takes you to below the falls and you can even stand right under the falls and get some water splashed on you. The water hits you after falling on a rock and the speed and pressure considerably reduced. Even so, the force is unimaginable. It was great fun. The maid of the mist is a boat ride which takes you quite close to the horse shoe falls and you are drenched in the mist of the falls. That is another amazing experience.

The only sour point was that we niagara3paid 10$ on a ‘Niagara Falls’ parking which turned out to be a ‘False’ parking set up by some local guys to lure the newbies (mostly desis fall trap to this) to pay 10$ rather than a free or subsidized parking elsewhere. We saw a few more of these ‘Falls Parking’ on the way.

We had dinner at ‘Kohinoor Indian Restaurant’ where the food was very good. We started at 6.15 P.M and reached at 2.00 A.M. We had driven close to 1500 Kms on that trip and if I look back at it, it surprises me a lot. Back in India I take 7 hours to go from niagara5Bangalore to Pondicherry which is just 300- kilometers. All in all it is a trip that we will remember for a long time to come…

Trips & Tours – The Golden Triangle

Taj was always on my list like the Great wall of china and the Pyramids. With the Great wall of China ticked off (courtesy – an official trip), Taj was
beconing to be the next. My colleague and car pool mate Nayak informed me that he is planning a trip since there is an offer in GoAir in which round trip air fare would be 5k inclusive of tax and airport fee. I called my wife and booked the tickets the same day. I knew a few who would be interested and checked with them as well. The cost was coming close to 10k per person and people agreed immediately since it would be the first time that everyone was boarding a flight (expect me).
There were a few grumbles as well from those who could not make it. The touring party cosisted of 6 adults and my kid and the entire trip was for exactly 7 days. I went ahead and did all the booking on my own (no packages, no travel agencies). I searched and found ‘Car Rental Delhi’ run by one Bobby Takur. He gave us an new Innova A/C for all the 7 days for a very good price. Similarly I booked hotels in Agra (Tourist Rest House) and Jaipur (Pearl Palace) all by searching over the net. In Delhi my relative was supposed to get the stay arrangements done.

21st February 2010 (Sunday)

Everyone was up around 3.30 A.M as one of the heaters in our bathroom had stopped working a few days back. By 5.00 everyone was ready and we left home by 5.40 A.M. The checkin was smooth and GoAir surprised us with a complimentary tea/coffee. We had breakfast in the Airport itself and boarded the flight. There was a crazy fight for the window seat and in the case of my brother-in-law I was worried if it would end in a divorse. Even my wife and kid had a tussle. I had paid 50 Rs per seat extra to make sure we sit near each other and get one window seat per family.IMG_0586
The entire experience with GoAir was nothing short of amazing, be it the checkin, the aircraft, cleanliness and the service. It was top notch and I had to remind myself that I am in a budget aircraft. Hats off to them for this and hope they continue it. Both the landings were also extremely smooth even in slightly bad weather.

We landed and were out of Delhi Airport by 11 A.M. My relatives were there to receive us and so was our Cab driver with our name and the company logo on it (spot on). We wished our relatives bye and headed off to Agra. The driver was a senior person and drove sedately at 80 K.M per hour. The NH was a bit congested and the roads were not very smooth (compared to say the Bangalore-Krishnagiri route). On the way we stopped at Mathura IMG_4446to have a glimse at the birthplace of Krishna (we did not get inside the temple). We saw the SA-India match (first ODI) in the nearby tea (sorry) Chai shop. We got some beautiful pictures on glass frame for a measly 10 rupees per piece (I did not even think about bargaining). It was nicely done and had the frame been a bit better could have easily been sold for 200+ rupees in Bangalore. Then we saw Sikandra on the way (did not get down as it was getting late). It was beautiful. I called up the hotel guy and told him that we are getting a bit late.

We reached Tourist Rest House by 7.00 P.M. The road and the outside of the hotel must have alarmed my wife and she said that she had assumed it to be some sort of hostel. Once you are past the main entrance it is a bliss. The hotet is simple but clean and quite good. We had 3 rooms and they had T.V (our room did not have one but anyway we were watching the IMG_4474match together in one room) hot running water (the flow was not very fast though) and a great candle light restaurant (the food was good but not great). We had dinner in candle light. The match was sensational and we won by 1 run in the last ball (thanks Praveen Kumar).

22nd February 2010 (Monday)

I wanted to be the first person in the ticket counter when Taj opens (at 6.00 A.M) but owing to the fact that not share the same enthusiam ended img_4479 (Small)by at 7.00 A.M (only good thing is that ticket price is 110 at 6.00 and only 20 at 7.00). You will NEVER be able to spend a 20 rupees in a better way in your life. Taj is amazing. I could not take my eyes off her or stop my camera from clicking on. We filled up 4+2+1 = 7GB at Taj alone. I will not explain anything about it as one must see it to experiene it.

I got a mini Taj made of proper marble with work nicely done for 2k in the Govt Handicrafts within the complex. It was not only nicely done but you can even take it out in parts and later assemble it. They had it nicely IMG_4518packed and put the parts in a jewelery box so that it could be checked in. (I still carried it in my cabin baggage).
Agra is easily the worst among the 3 cities we visited. The amount of tout problems is just too much to bear (I shudder imagining the state of foreigners who have to deal with them). Our next stop was the Agra Fort. We had breakfast in a nearby roadside hotel (running short of time to find a good place), but the aloo parata was still quite good that I had 2. Those who tried ordering the Dosa were shocked at what was being called as dosa. Lesson learned – When in Rome be a roman. Agra fort was nicely done and we saw the place where Shah Jahan IMG_4554spent his last days looking at Taj.

We came back to the hotel, had lunch and went out for shopping. There was some misunderstanding with the driver and finally we went to Sardar Bazar. We had an amazing food at some fast food shop. It was extremely well maintained for  a fast food and the quality was top notch as well. That was the first good food for others in a long time (2 days)

23rd February 2010 (Tuesday)
We started off a bit late and ended in Fatehpur Sikri by 10. AM. We took an auto for 80 rupees (2 way) and saw the city that Akbar built and later gave IMG_4809up due to scarcity of water. It was a nice experience. We then ate breakfast at Sher Punjab restaurant and the parathas there were the best so far.
Then we left for Jaipur. This NH was amazing and the drive was very pleasant. We reached Jaipur by 3.00 P.M and then checked into Hotel Pearl Palace.

Hotel Pearl Palace was indeed a palace, may be not in its architecture but IMG_4684in its service. The family room we booked was nicely done and whereever you turn in this hotel you will see attention to detail. We had what was supposedly lunch at 4.30 P.M on their rooftop peacock restaurant and the
food was quite good. We then went ahead to Jaipur Bazar in the old city. Jaipur is one huge shopping mall and the entire old city is bustling with activity in the small 6 feet x 6 feet shops, which are in hundreds (may be in thousands) in that area. We came back exhausted and had our dinner which was also good.

24th February 2010 (Wednesday)

We woke up a bit late and ended up at City Palace by 10.00 A.M (it opens at 9.30 A.M). We first visited Jantar Mantar and were awed by the scientific IMG_4773 (2)acumen that the rulers possessed. Then City Palace which was also unique and we knew that we won World Polo championship led by the then King of Jaipur. We next headed to Hawa Mahal and found that it was really worth it. By then we were hearing the scores through SMS from Pondicherry and knew that it was going well for India. Still we wanted to see the action and after doing a bit more IMG_4916shopping ended up at the hotel by 3.30 P.M. I had a feeling that Sachin would score a hundred that day and said so to Thiagu. What I did not know was that he was going to hit a 200. It was a magical innings from the God of cricket and when he reached 180 I knew he would make sure he hit a 200. The way he played after that confirmed by belief and in the last over it was the master who became the first person to hit a 200 in ODI. We also had to go back to the bazar to get Kayar’s saries. We slept happily that day.

25th February 2010 (Thursday)
The next morning we went to Amer Fort on top of the hill. We did not take the elephant ride (it felt costly at 600 for 2 would have cost 2k just for a mere 100 meters of elephant ride). We then visited the fort. We took a guide who did very well that we paid him 200 rupees instead of the 150 that he had asked us earlier. He explained everything in detail and we IMG_4871were awe-stuck at how the kings had lived their live. We now fully understand what is meant by the term  – a king’s life.

We then went to the Govt handicrafts which was beautifully maintained and had lots of items to buy at a very reasonable rate. I got gifts for my office staff as well from them. They also have a Taj made to scale (not for sale) which is a must see. The carpets were beautiful and quite reasonably priced here.
IMG_4969Actually the stay arrangement made by my relative had some issue and hence I had to make my own arrangements just yesterday. We tried all the hotels in ‘Lonely Planet’ book but found them to be all full. Finally after much searching in the net (thanks to Pearl Palace’s Net facility) I found the hotel that I had tried to book earlier (even before my relative’s accommodation suggestion) and got  a family room for 3000 per night. So I called them up to inform that I would be late since our plan included a visit to my relative’s place too. He said even if you come at 1.00 A.M your room will be there for you and we ended by exactly at 1.00 A.M. We visited Ambience Mall in Gurgaon also. At my relative’s place everyone had a well prepared home food after many days. Hotel Pearl Plaza was really good.

26th February 2010 (Friday)
We just had 2 days for delhi because of our relaxed mode and we did notIMG_5353 worry about that. We saw the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliment house (where the budget was being presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukerji on the same day, India Gate from inside the car (there were extra security measures that day). We then went to Indira Gandhi Memorial and Mahatma Gandhi’s house. The Indira Gandhi’s house was very well maintained.

IMG_4950Then we went to see Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple and Humayun’s Tomb (my wife was very particular about this as there is a Tamil song with lyrics that suggested that no lady has ever built anything for her husband). The write probably failed in history since Humayun’s tomb was built earlier to Taj and was in fact an inspiration for Taj.
We went to Sarojini Market and had a great time testing our bargaining IMG_5047 (2)skills. One example – a sunglass was quoted for 1200 and we still didn’t buy it at 100. The price came down to 50 before we left the place. Dress materials were good and can be had at a bargain here.

27th February 2010 (Saturday)

The last day – and we did not have any plans to go for sight seeing. So half a day at the market (more shopping and some more shopping) and have a day at the fun city and back to the airport. We had masala dosa at the Delhi Airport (nothing else was available) for 80 rupees the costliest masala dosa ever along with GoAir’s complimentary Tea/Coffee. We boarded the flight which was again on time. Another similar fight ensued for window seat and we were back at Bangalore Airport at 12.30 in the night. We hopped into 2 easycabs and came home.I have to sort out the 14 GB of photos and videos.

Trips & Tours – Kodaikanal Trip

It started with my uncle arranging his daughter’s marriage at dindigul. My brother in law was also invited for the marriage and he masterminded the tour plan. He also had to convince Kayar and finally the tour plan was on. I took upon myself the duty of finding a good place to stay and make an itinerary that would keep everyone sane. Had I left this part to him he would have made sure everyone was on their toes for the full tour. I always think tours should be a relaxed experience rather than rushing to see the most of a place and ending up in stress.

The marriage was on 2nd July and hence our plan was to visit kodaikanal on 3rd and 4th. We started from Bangalore about 8 P.M on 1st of July. The route had the amazing Hosur-Krishnagiri stretch and then goes to IMG_4346Darmaburi -> Salem -> Karur -> Namakkal -> Dindigul. The route was good throughout though work was happening in some places and we had to take diversions in a lot of places. Finally we reached Dindigul bus stand and with the help of locales found the lodge that was booked for us. It was pretty good and even had a T.V with a remote. We attended the grand marriage and then went back to rest for the day.

IMG_4377I had booked the rooms at Villa Retreat which had check-in at 10.30 A.M. We left the lodge at around IMG_44027.30 AM and after having breakfast in a rather very good hotel (cheap, good food and no tips policy) we reached Vathalagundu and from there to Kodaikanal. It was past 11.00 when we reached Villa retreat and we were in for a treat. I had seen the photos of this stay in various websites but you have to see to believe it. Amazing hotel for the price.
IMG_4415IMG_4419 IMG_4466 IMG_4476
We visited the Kodaikanal Lake, Pillar Rocks, Suicide Point the first day. Next day we went to Coaker’s walk and Berijam.
IMG_4621 IMG_4658 IMG_4501 IMG_4502 IMG_4518 IMG_4552
 We had a temporary halt at a relative’s house in Palladam before returning to Bangalore on Sunday.

Trips & Tours – Ooty Trip

We were all bogged down by different things and needed a break. Ooty was planned and we called Kanni and he confirmed his presence with his wife aka Susi. The plan was that we both contribute equal amounts to the trip. I took  off from Dec 24th to Jan 2nd (6 days PL). Kayar was also off and Smitha was in her holidays too.
We started on 24th morning, at 6.00 AM and off through Mysore road. We again missed the Kamat and deliberately went past Cafe Coffee day. But it was a good thing as we ate in a KSRTC hotel and it was not only good but economic as well. I was driving and told that I would give it only at the IMG_4869start of hair-pin bends in Masinagudi. The route we took was Bangalore –> Ramanagaram –> Channapatna –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Srirangapatnam -> Mysore -> Nanjangud -> Gundulpet -> Bandipur -> Thepakkadu -> Masinagudi -(36hairpin) -> Ooty. My brother-in-law took over at Masinagudi and drove till Ooty. It was a very steep climb and quite dangerous if you not a good driver. Kanni is a pro and so we did not worry. We stayed at IMG_4924TTDC which was in a good location calm and near the market as well. But the rooms were not the best and there was no view too. But we planned this tour late and so did not get many options. On the first day we did not do anything other than eat at a hotel and talk with Raja-Panimozhi who also happened to be there. At night we went to the market place, bought
some choco at King’s cross and some woolen head-wear.
Next day morning we went to doddabetta and then to Conoor. The drive IMG_4942was excellent. In conoor we saw Sims Park and then drove to Lamb’s rock and Dolphin’s Nose (saw Canning Lady mountain on way). We also stopped at a Chai shop and bought some spices and tea as well. We finally found a decent hotel and ate there almost on all occasions till we left Ooty. Next day we went to Ooty Lake for boating. We got 2 deluxe self pedalling boats (4 capacity and 2 capacity
exclusive for newly wed). But our boat was fine while their’s was not so and they had to toil hard to move it. We then left to Botanical Garden and IMG_5006by that time the Sun was quite hot and we were not feeling good. By the time we left we were exhausted and started towards Brindha’s home near Tiruppur. We reached her home around 6.30 PM and she was excited. We stayed there next day full. The following day the Plan was to go to Bangalore but we changed and went to Pondicherry instead. Spend some time with people there and returned to Bangalore.

All in all it was an enjoyable trip, but the sun on the last day in Ooty is still remembered by us and so was not in the same league as Coorg.

Another San Diego Trip

So when was my last public post, let me see – hmm when I was in San Diego. Do I get more time when I am not in India and actually amidst all the pressure.

Btw, the trips don’t mean much to me except that I have lost the following, My daugter’s birthday, My wife’s birthday, My own birthday, Diwali (festival of lights), My best friend’s sister’s marriage and now another good old friend’s marriage. Things that I can’t think of replacing ever in future. Sigh..

Lamenting aside, I am sort of used to these trips now, more practical in my approach and well prepared if you can call that. I have got three books with me to finish. I will be in Korea in another couple of weeks. Will write about it too..

Trips & Tours – Coorg Trip

It has been 4 years since I came to Bangalore but I have never been out touring even with so many options around bangalore. We were never comfortable with bus travels and hiring a taxi too was not an interesting option either. All these changed when we got our ‘Estilo’ and I have been impatiently waiting for a blast as soon as I got my hands on it. In less than 6 months of our ownership of Estilo ‘Coorg’ was planned on the Easter weekend. We initially started with Ooty, but a good suggestion from our neighbour changed the destination to Coorg and we were all set.
I studied the various travellogues in mouthshut, team-bhp and blogposts and concluded on ‘Capitol Village’ Resort near Madikeri. I booked a room on first floor (the view is good from there) for four of us. I would have booked a couple of rooms had the pairings been right !!

Route
1. Take the Bangalore-Mysore highway. It is absolutely great to drive on it.
2. Reach Sri Rangapattnam (Bangalore –> Ramanagaram –> Channapatna –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Srirangapatnam)
3. Take the diversion to right after about 10 or 12 kms from Srirangapattnam (Note: The way is known as Rangathittu bird santuary route)
4. Reach Madikeri via kushalnagar (Hunsur –> Piriyapatna -> Kushalnagar –> Suntikoppa –> Madikeri)
5. Left road from madikeri goes to Siddapur
6. Capitol Resort is about 5km on this road

Day 1
We started on Friday morning about 6.45 AM. We had two drivers in our team, my brother-in-law who is a professional driver and myself.
I started and promised to hand over to him after Srirangapattnam. It was a great day with wonderful weather and the mood was excellent. With the stereo blasting we set off on a roll. We reached Maddur (80 kms from Bangalore) and I had noted down Madur’s Tiffany or Coffee day for the breakfast. We missed out madur’s tiffany and so stopped in Cafe Coffee Day. It was quite good. We then set off. I drove till the turn before Mysore to Hunsur and then my brother-in-law took over. As adviced by many we took the Kushalnagar route to Madikeri. We went straight to East End Hotel and it was quite some time before we got a place (it is usually packed with people). After that we retreated and went in the Siddapur road to our Resort ‘Capitol Village’ (5km from Madikeri). As soon as we reached we took a short nap and went to Rajah’s seat (Right in Madikeri town). Everyone enjoyed it though it was raining a bit. Then we came back and had dinner in resort and slept well.

Day 2
I woke up early to the sound of rain and birds chirping and even while others were sleeping I stepped out to enjoy the great valley view. It wasn’t a deep valley but quite enchanting.
Then eventually everyone got ready and we had the breakfast at hotel east end. We then headed to the Omkareshwara temple (Right in Madikeri town). The temple is not a great tourist place but it did have its odd architecture, sort of a mix between hinduism and Islam. Then we went to see the Fort (Right in Madikeri town), which was pathetic for a fort. Then we went to Abbey falls (8km from Madikeri) and it made the start of a great day. Due to recent rains the falls were pouring heavily and it was a beautiful site, can have it as a must see along with Rajah’s seat. The walk to Falls from the car parking is about a km, but if you travel in tourist bus you might have to walk atleast 3 km (since the buses can’t come quite near the falls due to restriction, I think the road is too curved/bent for a bus).. We went to resort for some rest and came back to dine at East end hotel. Then we set off for Tala-Cauvery. It was quite a ride (45km from Madikeri) but the roads were good and hence not much of a trouble. As went went up, the sight caught our breath. Amazing and beautiful views. Finally we reached it and my brother-in-law and I wanted to climb the 100+ steps to reach the peak. Seeing our enthusiasm my wife finally gave in. I almost ran the entire steps to the top (was surprised at my own interest and fitness). It was worth it. We were in the wide open on a peak, the breadth of which was about the size of the top of a house. The winds were too furious and with some rain it was something I will remember for a long time to come. I had to catch hold of a pole to stop the winds from tossing me downhill. My brother-in-law later commented that if someone had tied a thread to one of us he could be flying a human-kite. Such was the winds. Then we came back and this time we had a non-Veg dinner which was quite good.

Day 3
We set off to vist Rajah’s tomb which was another unattended tourist spot (around 5km from Madikeri).
Nothing special except the same dual architecture (Nandi bull on a mosque style dome). Then we went to visit the Rajah’s seat again, did a bit of shopping and headed for kushalnagar. In kushalnagar we visited the golden temple (in bylakuppe, 5 km from Kushalnagar). It was a grand place and the largest Tibetian settlement in India. The plaec was artistic and mysterious. Many tibetians were roaming around the entire area. Then we had lunch in a rather good restaurant which served very good Non-Veg and finally we set off back to Mysore. Again as the car reached the mysore-Bangalore highway I took over and drove till home, not as good as when I drove to coorg due to traffic but neverthless enjoyable.

About Capitol Village Resort
The resort was pretty good, the view was fantastic but the resort has to improve miles in customer care.
It was just not there. We got a room for 4 (1750 per day). I felt the charges reasonable. Overall the stay and food (breakfast and dinner) came to 5000. The food was not excellent but good enough. Though I was happy with the resort (good for the money), but next time around I want to be in a resort which will be entertaining to my kid as well. Still she enjoyed Coorg.

Windup
We were never in tourist mode and so we saw Coorg in a rather relaxed manner. So we did miss a few of the places like Dubhare Elephant camp and Nisarghadamma. But then Coorg needs more than a couple of visits.

More photos here

To Beijing and Back

A few things intrigue us from our childhood and ‘The Great Wall’ was one such thing for me. It has always been my wish to lay my foot on it one day and so when I got an official travel offer I made up my mind to visit it IMG_2230somehow. But it turned out that my travel had to be for just a few days and so I just had one Sunday (the day of my arrival in China) to make it to the wall. Undeterred I made a plan to visit it as soon as I landed. My flight landed at 8.30 AM in the morning and by the time I reached hotel it was 9.30. The entire journey from Bangalore to Beijing lasted a day as there was a long wait at Singapore. My colleague accepted to accompany me to the Great Wall and we left off at 11.00.

The temperature outside was -4 degrees Centigrade and this was my firstIMG_2233 in a sub zero temperature. And it was further low near the mountain containing the wall. Couple that with huge chilly winds on the top and I
was almost shaking. Lucky that my colleague advised me to get some warm clothes for rent at the base and I was saved.

I liked everything about it, the history, the present state and the 2 hours IMG_2235walk uphill and downhill on the wall. It is not a single wall as what people usually think it is, even after Shankar’s Jeans. It is sort of a solid structure with walls on either side, one of them being higher than the other and facing the enemy territory. There were also place for the soldiers to be grouped and hidden, watch towers too. Another point that is usually missed is that there is enough space for 10 people to stand side by side on top of the wall structure with the walls protruding on the 2 ends.

Yet anther fact that I came to know was that a male is considered ‘Man’ if he is able to walk the entire stretch of the Govt renovated wall up and IMG_2244down and believe me it was not an easy task. What carried me on was the enthusiasm I had for it. The wall is steep with steps in many places and in some cases no steps even and to walk stable on it in a freezing temperature is worse enough. I couldn’t get how someone could fight after all this and why would someone else try to climb over it to capture the other side.

It was 70 kms one way and so the task was much simpler. I might have visited it even if it were far away than that. I got a granite with ‘Kayarvizhy’s’ name engraved on it (in Chinese too with the help of my colleague)

Otherwise I didn’t move around Beijing much. I felt it more like India and liked the place very much than the deserted Irvine (US). It looks like 6-8 years ahead of Bangalore in everything. The apartments were like 40-50 floors high and dense. Land is a scarcity there and there was no new apartments to be had anywhere close to the city. They had ring roads (5-8 levels atleast) running around the city. Too many taxis take care of your transport needs and most of them were Hyundai Elantra. The Bus connectivity also looks good.

Food was my favorite. I ate almost everything that was put forward and since my colleagues weren’t the extreme types they did not go for snakes or scorpions but resisted themselves with Chicken, Mutton, Beaf, Goose, Duck, Octopus, Dog and a few similar items. Everything that I ate was good and far far better than the Chinese restaurants in India and Irvine.

Olympic city was coming up for the 2008 session in Beijing and I still do not understand how they could lay their hands upon such a big area at the heart of the city for constructing such big stadiums.

People were looking good and mostly similar.

US and us

This is my second visit to Andover, Massachusetts, US, but much longer than the earlier one and thus enabling me to look more closely at the people and their customs.

The first thing that strikes anyone from India will have to be the quality of roads and the driving pleasure here that is almost non-existant back in their city. The single most astonishing fact was the adherence to the traffic rules and regulations. I was amazed and it was not just staying behind the line when a RED is flashed in traffic signals, but respecting the STOP signs put everwhere and following a simple but effective protocol on who should move next. Even in the middle of the night and with no one around people still follow these rules almost regularly and as a habit. The roads are damn good and what more, even roads already in excellent condition are being maintained regularly.

The other striking thing that I noticed was the weather report. Not only was it surprising to see so many people interested in the day’s weather, but more so to note that the weather predictions are BANG right on target. When they say, it rains, and winds come and go as predicted with utmost accuracy in their speeds and timing. What more the channel predicts weather for the week ahead. I cannot smile when I think of our weather predictions for the next 24 hours that miserably go wrong.

The way unknown people greet you with ‘Hi, how are you doing today?’ is another unique thing. The first time around, I had a doubt that the person might be familiar to my colleague, but then I learnt to do the same. It felt good.

Work wise, I was in for another surprise as people rarely stay late and by late I mean 8.00 PM. People usually leave around 5.30-6.00 PM and when we go to the car parking at around 10.00 PM (average time that we leave) we find that there are just enough to be counted with our fingers,and the place usually holds close to 250 cars easily in the mornings.

Food was a weak point for me but that is highly subjective. I am not complaining because for the type of food that I expect I will have to bring my wife with me! Every type of Non-Veg was available albeit in a different flavour from Chicken to Lamb, Fish to Shrimp, Turkey to Beef, Pork to what not. I did have a great time in a restaurant called ‘Bollywood Grill’, ‘Mysore Veggie’, the later especially as it was run by a tamilian from Karaikal and had some original ‘Sada Dosai’ and ‘Pongal’ varieties. The surprise in American restaurants was that we have to wait in the entrance while a server/waiter will guide us to the table.

From what I have seen, the americans look a lot more planned, but monotonouly so. We even joked that if we were to upset their planning they might not know exactly what to do then.

Of course, don’t take this post as some measure of my patriotism, it has nothing to do with it. This is a view of an Indian who happened to visit the US and sharing the same.