Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Well i really don't feel like writing rite now so this time i decided to share some of the pics that i have taken of our beautiful city, Mumbai in its various hues and moods..

Do let me know what u think of them.....

Marine drive on a rainy day..

The magnificent bandra worli sealink

This one's been taken from the Carter Road Promenade

Symbols of mumbai.VT station and the ubiquitous black and yellow fiat.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ah.. Monsoon

Well, it’s that time of the year again, when the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds and sometimes hides in such a place that it cannot be found for days together, and the wind blows with a manic zeal, refreshing everyone in its path and the rain … the rain gushes down in such torrents that it washes away all the heat and dust of the summer.

The monsoon is my favourite season. No matter where I am, it never ceases to thrill, amaze and take my breath away. Although Mumbai’s monsoon can be quite chaotic with its dirt and water logging and slush.( Who can forget the horror of 26th July, 2005, where thousands of people, including me became refugees in their own city), it’s still a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the summer. It’s like taking a breath of fresh air after spending several months in an underground, sweaty furnace.

Some of the sights and sounds of the monsoon that enthrall me…

The pitter patter of the rain falling on the roof

The sweet smell of wet mud,

The bolt of lightning that suddenly and brilliantly lights up an eerily dark night,

The gusts of cool wind that hit you in the face while on the move,

The (very rare occurrence in Mumbai) rainbow that brightens up the overcast sky,

The transparent droplets of rain on the leaves,


Umbrellas In all hues and colours,

Tiny droplets of water clouding my spectacles when I walk in the rain,

Clouds streaking across the sky in their myriad shapes and textures,

The veil of mist that shrouds the sea and the hills,

Vehicles speeding down the Highway, leaving behind a plume of water and mist in their wake,

A sudden downpour that typically occurs after a sunny patch and catches everyone unawares and umbrella less..

There must be many more, these are the only ones i can think of right now.

Do tell me what you guys think about the rainy season, do u love it as much as i do or completely detest it??

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review : The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga

After Slumdog Millionaire, here’s another story on the life of the marginalized sections of society, Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Like Slumdog which traces the life of a young kid from the slums of Mumbai, this one tracks the life of a migrant from a small town to the big city. That’s where the similarities end though; The White Tiger is much darker and intense. Unlike Slumdog which has a happy ending and is interwoven with an interesting tale of romance, this one is based on betrayal, corruption, murder and lies.

I wouldn’t say that I liked the book much, but as they say REALITY BITES, it’s truly an eye opener!! A stinging critique of all aspects of our country, including religion, written in a blunt and mocking manner that does make you smile sometimes, but at other occasions slaps you across the face. The author has to be given credit for his free flowing writing and treatment of issues that are generally considered taboo in Indian society, which we knew always existed, but were swept under the carpet.

The beginning is quite innovative and different. It is in the form of an open letter to the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. The author seems to mock the Chinese, saying that entrepreneurs are the only thing China lacks, and offers Jiabao tips to churn out an entrepreneur in seven days.

The White tiger is a story of Balram Halwai, a villager from Laxmangarh, Bihar and narrates his life from a chaiwalla in Dhanbad to a driver in Delhi who robs and murders his employer and finally as a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. The author seems to suggest that the only way for a villager to succeed in India is through corruption and manipulating the system. Through interesting anecdotes, he lays bare our country’s corruption, bureaucracy, inefficient police force, utter absence of law, caste system etc.

He also trashes our supposed trump card “DEMOCRACY” showing how votes are bought and people forced to vote for a particular party.

And to think that India will become a superpower after all this,


Jokes apart, I think this will really make a fabulous Hindi movie because it has all the masala for success. Though, like Vikas Swarup’s Q&A on which Slumdog Millionaire was based, the rights for The White Tiger have been bought by a Hollywood production house so it looks like we’ll have to endure foreign stars again. I often wonder why our filmmakers don’t purchase rights to books. Doesn’t any of them read, for God’s sake???

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

End of an era??

I haven’t touched upon sports since I have begun, so this post is dedicated to all sports lovers.

Well, unlike the LS elections where an incumbent government romped to victory, it is exactly the reverse in sports where champions from the past era are slowly but surely biting the dust. I will quantify this statement using examples from three sports close to my heart, cricket, tennis and Formula one.
All these sports have seen the same trend, champion players and teams losing their way to more fleet footed and smart competitors. In some cases like F1, the decline is sharp and very evident whereas in others like cricket, it is a slow and winding downward march.

Let’s look at my favourite sport first, cricket. The once invincible Aussies have seen their grip slowly slacken. It all began from the time India beat them 2-0 in the Commonwealth ODI series in 2008. Since then, the Aussies have lost to New Zealand and South Africa in the ODI’s and to India and South Africa in tests. True, they have won a number of matches too, but the aura of invincibility that surrounded them is gone. No longer are teams scared of the never say die Australian cricket team. The most prominent reason for their decline is the exit of ageing players.

Their batting has been hit the hardest. Sure they do have a great domestic structure but even then you can’t replace men like Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist in a hurry, a fact that has been reinforced by the IPL, with Hayden and Gilchrist being the top scorers. One wonders why they left international cricket, being in such sublime touch, but then they must have had their reasons. Their bowling has not suffered so much with Lee and Johnson taking over the baton from McGrath and Warne.

A similar fate has fallen on Roger Federer, who, it seemed (and he still can be) would be the greatest player of all time. Federer’s dominance over world tennis was unprecedented, a record consecutive 237 weeks as no. 1 and winning almost all titles in 2006, 07 and 08, excluding the French open. He somehow lost the plot from the 2008 season onwards, losing to Novak Djojovic in the Australian open and to his long time nemesis, Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. After that his career has gone on a downward trajectory, winning only one title, the US open last year, a far cry from his heyday in 2004 when he had a 74-6 win loss record.

The reasons why this has happened? Well, I’m not really an expert in tennis but it seems that being diagnosed with mononucleosis in 2008 definitely had an effect on his morale. And continuous losses to Nadal, not just in the French open last year but also on Federer’s turf, at Wimbledon and the US open this year also had a bearing on his performance.

Let’s move on to the scenario in Formula One now. F1 since the late nineties has seen Ferrari completely dominate it,(Renault in 2007 was the exception with Alonso winning the title). But look at the results this year, McLaren and Ferrari are not even in the top 3 constructors and as for their drivers, it seems as if they have developed cold feet.

Kimi Raikkonen at Monaco has been the only top 3 finish for a Ferrari this year. I mean, it’s been a total turnaround, from being the hunters to being hunted. Brawn F1 has really swept the season this year, winning five out of six races. Well I don’t think the big guns are sitting still, but they have to make a turnaround fast if they are to mount a challenge this season.

I’m sure there are some other sports as well where such a story is being played out, but my limited knowledge in sports restricts me to these three. Nothing dramatic in all these happenings though, because it is very difficult to sustain competitive advantage for a long time in today’s world and all credit to these individuals or teams who have managed to stay at the pinnacle of sport for such a long time.

Well, don't write off these champions yet, they could still reclaim their past glory and get back to where they belong.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Poll"it(r)ics II : UPA all the way

Well, it’s really been a long time since my last post. All thanks to our wretched exams and last minute preparations!!! . Well the exams are behind me now and I’ve got 6 exam free months so hopefully I’ll keep posting regularly.

Continuing from where I left off in my last post, the Lok Sabha results are out today and I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that my predictions were way off the mark. The 3rd front threat has been neutralized to a great extent, with the grouping winning just 70 odd seats, much lesser than my expectations. The NDA is somewhere close to what I predicted, at 159 seats. The UPA numbers are really a pleasant surprise because it will finally ensure some stability for our country.

The Indian voter seems to have voted decisively in favour of the UPA, in fact the Congress has really come into its own in this elections, notching up 200+ seats, a whopping 55 more than the 2004 tally. Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats has been one of the success stories for the Congress as it has taken 21 seats, putting it at par with Mulayam Singh and Mayawati in a state which was considered to be its nemesis.

The best thing about such a decisive verdict is that the Congress does not have to go with a begging bowl to any party. A strong majority at the centre ensures that the UPA can now pursue its agenda, unhindered by millstones like the Left Front which created a lot of trouble in the 2004 elections. Talking about the left, it seems to have lost the plot completely, winning just 24 seats. In fact now a lot of parties (the SP and RJD for instance) could come to Congress to include them in the alliance. So the Congress is actually in a position to pick and choose the best allies according to its convenience. It may even dump Lalu and go with Nitish Kumar in Bihar, rubbing salt into the NDA's wounds and also shutting out the SP since Nitish’s JD(U) has won 21 seats, equivalent to SP’s 22.

So that’s it, lets hope that the UPA gives cabinet ministries to competent people and pursues a pro- reform agenda in the next 5 years.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Poll"iT(r)icks : Election mania

Well, these general elections are a first of sorts for me since it is the first time that I am eligible to vote. Though I would have loved to vote in Mumbai, given the fact that I spend most of my time here, that doesn’t seem to be possible since my permanent address is in Delhi. My constituency is Delhi south; too bad I can’t go to Delhi and exercise my franchise since my exams are ending at 4p.m. right on the polling day in Delhi, 7th May.

Another first for these elections are that there won’t be any exit polls this time around. Exit polls were banned by the government in October, 2008 as they were found to demoralize parties and influence voters voting in the next phase of the elections. In fact, exit polls were notoriously inaccurate; they predicted an NDA victory in the 2004 elections. It seemed that people were deliberately giving a wrong answer after they exited the poll booth because exit polls always seemed to predict an opposite result to the actual result.

Well, that doesn’t prevent me from picking a winner though. I know that it’s an extremely dangerous business given the fact that politicians change sides at the drop of a hat, but I’m going to hazard a guess anyway.

My predictions for the polls are as follows:

State Seats UPA NDA 3rd front
1 UP 80 27 12 41
2 Maharashtra 48 26 22 0
3 Andhra Pradesh 42 24 0 17
4 West Bengal 42 12 0 28
5 Bihar 40 20 21 0
6 Tamil Nadu 39 17 0 22
7 Madhya Pradesh 29 11 18 0
8 Karnataka 28 7 14 6
9 Gujarat 26 8 18 0
10 Rajasthan 25 13 11 0
11 Kerela 20 10 0 10
12 Orissa 21 3 5 14
13 Jharkhand 14 6 8 0
14 Assam 14 9 5 0
15 Punjab 13 5 8 0
16 Chattisgarh 11 5 6 0
17 Haryana 10 4 6 0
18 Delhi 7 5 2 0
19 Others 34 13 10 5
TOTAL 543 225 166 143

So according to my calculations it will be a hung house with the UPA unable to clinch a simple majority capturing just 225 out of the 543 seats. This means that they will have to beg the 3rd front to support them or lose power. So there can be 3 possibilities:

1. UPA gets 3rd front support and form the govt.
2. Congress supports 3rd front from outside and the 3rd front forms the government.
3. BJP supports 3rd front from outside and the 3rd front forms the government.

The stage seems to be set for the 3rd front with its motley mix of parties to form the next government with support from either the BJP or the Congress. History says that this will be disastrous for the country as no 3rd front govt. has survived for more than 2 years. Our last experience with the 3rd front was with the Deve Gowda led United Front in1996 which lasted just 1.5 years.

So be prepared for a hung house and pray that the left agrees to support the UPA. And also be prepared for Mayawati becoming the Prime Minister if the 3rd front comes to power. I know that its not a comforting thought but thats the way politics in India is. That’s what happens when the people who really count, don’t vote. Consider our own Mumbai for instance. 50% of the registered voters are slumdwellers and atleast 80% of them are going to vote . With the city having an average turnout of 50% in 2004, it seems that only 10% of the rest, the educated people, have voted.
And this is the situation in the financial capital of India, imagine the rest of the country then. Is there any surprise then that we get the kind of leaders we have? Education is the only solution to all our problems. Once people start getting educated, they will be able to elect sincere, accountable and efficient leaders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Car Crazy

Mumbai pune expressway

Pacific coast highway new zealand

As is evident from the title, this time I want to talk about another of my interests, cars. I have been fascinated by cars since I was a kid. I had a huge collection of those tiny hot wheels cars, which I had preserved till a long time but finally had to be thrown away afterwards since my brother didn’t show any interest in them. Even in my school days, I had the power and engine capacity figures of all cars on my fingertips since we used to have fewer models at that time, something which is impossible now because of the sheer number of manufacturers and models we have today, from Maruti to Mercedes and Audi to Skoda. '

One of my most cherished memories is the car journeys that we use to undertake when my dad got transferred. In those days (I’m talking about the mid and late 90’s) our highway network was not as good as it is today and the roads used to be double lane without a divider separating the two lanes. Driving and overtaking especially really required a lot of skill, especially at night when your vision was obstructed by the headlights of the vehicles on the opposite side. Travelling 1000 + kms in those conditions used to take 2-3 days with 3-4 stopovers in the middle. I remember the Jodhpur- Pune journey distinctly. We had a Maruti 800 at that time and it took us 3 days to traverse 1100 kilometers, stopping at Mount Abu, Gandhinagar and Nasik on the way.

Of course, now since my parents have settled in Delhi, long distance jaunts have reduced to a great extent. The only outstation journeys these days are to Agra and Jaipur, 200kms and 300 kms away respectively, with those modern 8 lane highways. Somehow I get bored driving on these state of the art highways since it gets monotonous munching up mile after mile at 100 km/hr. I love driving on challenging, snaky, mountainous roads, where each curve brings upon a surprise and those stunning views when you reach the summit.
I must say that driving in Delhi’s a pleasure, though. Those wide, tree lined roads are like heaven and speeds up to 100km/ hr can easily be achieved. In fact, I learnt driving at the heart of New Delhi, at India Gate and Rajpath, where the Republic year is held every year. Another great road is the Noida Toll Bridge road, which is truly an architectural marvel, it seems like you are in a foreign land, cruising on the DND (Delhi Noida) Flyway.

Talking about cars, among the ones I have driven, the Honda city is by far the best. Its smoothness is really legendary. In fact even after logging 15000 km +, it still feels like new whenever I take it out for a spin. Though the one we have, the older model (City ZX) is a bit down on power (it just has 77 Bhp), this is not noticeable in city driving. The only time the power differential comes into play is when you are overtaking a faster car at 120 km/h and it then races past you. The new Honda City’s a scream though; it’s got 107 Bhp, so no issues with high speed driving. The Honda Accord is another stunning car, beautiful, big and blindingly fast.
My favourite car? There are many I would love to drive, like the McLaren F1, which can reach 350 km/hr. Another one of my fantasies is to get behind the wheel of an F1 car, and experience that rush of adrenalin.

I would also love to drive on the brilliant Mumbai-Pune expressway, which is one of the best roads in India and also on the scenic East coast road, along the Bay of Bengal, which connects Chennai and Pondicherry. I have travelled on both these roads 3-4 times but haven’t got the opportunity to drive on them. Among foreign roads, the renowned autobahns in Germany, the picturesque Pacific coast highway and the highways in the Alps in Europe are definitely on my list.

Chk out these pics on the Delhi Jaipur NH8 with me at the wheel in the middle of a thinderstorm

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Kashmir issue

The Himalayas

Dal Lake, Srinagar

I have often been captivated by the beauty of Jammu and Kashmir, those stunning valleys, mountains covered with snow and pristine rivers and lakes. Though I haven’t been to Kashmir, this impression has been formed by friends’ accounts and films, especially Mission Kashmir and Shaurya, which featured a lot of the place. Isn’t it a tragedy then that such a wonderful place is besieged by violence, and we hear more about suicide attacks and bombings than its picturesque beauty and tourism? I often wonder that what it is about beautiful places and violence. It’s as if beauty attracts conflict and violence. So many scenic places in the world are in the throes of civil war and conflict, be it war torn Afghanistan, Lebanon or Chechnya.

As in other regions, it is always the people, the residents of that region, who have to bear the brunt of violence. On one hand they are forced by the terrorists to give them shelter and information, with severe consequences if they don’t, and on the other hand they are accused by the security forces of harbouring terrorists and supporting their cause and often falsely booked under draconian laws, which ironically were made to fight terrorists. There have been umpteen cases where men have been dragged out of their houses and shot dead either by the terrorists for divulging their whereabouts to the army, or by the army for refusing to reveal information. In other words they are caught between the devil and the deep sea, with no escape route. This is the true tragedy of Kashmir, that the rights and liberties of the people of Kashmir are being suppressed, both by the army and the terrorists.

Imagine how wonderful would it have been if Kashmir was undisputed. It would have been a tourist haven, India’s very own Switzerland, earning a lot of foreign exchange and allowing the people of Kashmir to enjoy the benefits of development as the rest of India has. Instead Kashmir has been caught in a time warp since violence began in the valley after 1989. It has seen 5 wars and thousands of minor skirmishes and terrorist attacks.

The Kashmir conflict began in 1947, right after our independence. At that time Kashmir was independent with Maharaja Hari Singh as its ruler. Pakistan attacked Kashmir with the intention of seizing it but India intervened after the maharaja signed a pact with India with made Kashmir a part of India. The next uprising came with the Sino-India war in 1962 with China seizing the Aksai-chin region from India. Then we had the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan and the Kargil conflict in 1999.

As far as a solution to the problem is concerned, there has been a deadlock since a long time and no concrete solution seems to be emerging. A solution will only be feasible once both sides trust each other. But, it is extremely dangerous to trust Pakistan as was shown by the Kargil war where the Pakistani troops attacked Kashmir in May 1999. In doing so, Pakistan reneged on the assurance of peace which was made when the Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had visited Pakistan for the Lahore summit in February 1999. So, currently demilitarization is not an option as Pakistan may again try to usurp our territory as soon as we turn our backs. Another option that has been considered is a plebiscite (vote by the citizens of J&K). This would indeed be a true expression of the voice of the Kashmiris given that it is held in a peaceful and fair manner. Other options include recognition of the LoC as the international border and division along communal lines.

Finally, the governments of both countries owe it to the residents of Kashmir to solve the issue as quickly as possible. They have suffered for far too long and deserve a peaceful existence in their heavenly abode that is J&K.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Tale of two cities

Ok, I’d like to clear out a few things first. This is not one of those clich├ęd Delhi vs Mumbai comparisons. I think that each city has its own distinct character and to compare one great city with another is unfair since it will never be on an even keel. Through this post I just want to give my perspective on living in these two wonderful cities, each with its own peculiarities, cultures and diversity.

To set the record straight, I’m not much of a Delhiite. I’ve just stayed here for 2 yrs, 2003- 2005 completing my 11th and 12th from DPS. True, my parents have been here since 2003 and my holidays have always been spent in Delhi giving me a chance to explore the city but not enough to call myself a pukka Delhiite. On the other hand, this is my fourth year in Mumbai and it’s enough to make me fall in love with it.

The first thing that strikes you when you come to Mumbai for the first time is not its filth, not even the sea, but PEOPLE, lakhs and lakhs of them, rushing at you from every possible direction, making you feel lost in a sea of humanity. Mumbai is perpetually crowded, be it the trains, the roads, the buses, be it 8 a.m. in the morning or midnight, it’s truly the city that never sleeps. But this is also Mumbai’s strength, its cosmopolitan nature, attracting people from all over the country; a land of opportunities where people come with dreams in their hearts and often achieve them.
Delhi attracts people mostly from North India and the East. The majority of the population is Punjabi hence the Punjabi twang in the accent of most Delhiites. On the other hand, Mumbai especially the Andheri- Vile Parle area, where my college is located is majorly populated with Gujaratis. In fact, in spite of being in Maharashtra, it seems that Gujarati is spoken more than Marathi in Mumbai though Hindi is the universal language in both these cities.

I’ve always loved cities by the sea and Mumbai’s no exception. There’s something special about these cities, like the cool, soothing sea breeze that hits you, invigorating and refreshing your mind and body. Going to South Bombay and spending time at Marine drive is something special, something that never be experienced in a land locked city like Delhi.

Another feature of Delhi are its smooth, wide, tree lined roads which make driving a pleasure and now we’ve also got the World class Delhi Metro which promises a comfortable safe and fast ride through the city. But nothing can beat Mumbai’s lifeline, the local trains which despite being dirty and overcrowded, have a legendary reputation of timeliness and reliability. A system working flawlessly without any major accidents since 50 years never ceases to amaze me.
No mention of Delhi can be complete without its food. From Delicious Punjabi fare to mouth watering chats and paranthas, Delhi’s got it all. The heart of the culinary experience is old Delhi with its old bazaars and congested lanes, a complete contrast to the rest of the city and of course Chandni Chowk with its famous paranthe wali gali.

Staying in Mumbai, I do miss Delhi’s winter a lot, those chilly days when the sun didn’t emerge for days together and that white envelope of fog, so thick that sometimes you couldn’t even see the person in front of you!!.
And Mumbai’s unending monsoons. Though I love the rains, the water logging and traffic jams that have become a regular feature since the deluge of 2005 do play spoilsport and dampen the beauty of the rainy season.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Review : A Thousand Splendid Suns

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs.
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”

A story of families being wrecked by bombs, lovers torn apart by fighting and of the gross injustice being meted out to women, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a touching, eye opening account of life in war torn Afghanistan.

The story narrates the tale of two Women, Mariam and Laila born in contrasting backgrounds and brought up in divergent circumstances, who are brought together by fate in the cruelest of ways, being forced to marry the same man who is 30 years elder to them, Mariam by her illegitimate father and some 15 years later, Laila who loses both her parents to the Mujahideen.

It depicts the sorry state of women in Afghanistan, forced to wear the burqa, abused, brutalized, prevented from working and fully at the mercy of their husbands and the law. As Afghanistan slides deeper and deeper into anarchy, from King Zahir Shah’s rule to the Soviet War to the infighting within the mujahideen to the rule of the Taliban, it traces the lives of these women from one setback to the next.

The narration is brilliant with Khaled Hosseini conjuring up some stunning sentences like -
“But Laila knew that her future was no match for her brothers’ past. They had overshadowed her in life. They would obliterate her in death. Mammy was the curator of their lives’ museum and she, Laila was a mere visitor. A receptacle for their myths. A parchment on which Mammy meant to ink their legends on”.

It’s not all grim though, the ending shows that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel, however deep the tunnel might be and that love is eternal and triumphs over all else, whatever the circumstances. Laila finally unites with her childhood sweetheart and settles down in Afghanistan, which is limping back to normalcy after the US invasion.

Travelogue - Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Andaman Islands as a holiday Destination? I was a bit shocked when my dad suggested that we go to the Andaman Islands for a vacation. I mean come on, which are the destinations that come to your mind when you visualize a holiday by the sea? Probably Goa, God’s own Country Kerala and the Maldives. But certainly not an obscure and faraway place likes the Andamans which few people know and fewer people have actually been to. Well, after spending an unforgettable week in those stunning locales, I must say that I’m glad that I’ve been proven wrong!! , the Andamans may not be a very popular holiday destination, but therein lies their beauty; they are exotic, un-spoilt and just the right place to go if you want to take a break from the humdrum of daily life.

But the Andamans have not always been the Paradise that they now are. History’s been unkind to the Andamans, and they’ve always had negative connotations attached to them. During the freedom struggle, they gained notoriety as the “ Kaala Paani “ where freedom fighters were imprisoned in the unforgiving confines of the cellular jail. The British discovered the islands in the 1830’s and soon realized that they could be used for a sinister purpose due to their inaccessibility and distance from India. After the mutiny in 1857, scores of prisoners were transported to cellular jail and held there in inhuman conditions. Also, during World War 2, the islands came briefly under Japanese rule until India attained independence on August 15, 1947.

We set base at Hotel Sentinel at Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar islands and located in the South Andaman Island. Our first day schedule is to visit the North Bay Island and Ross Island. I set my alarm at 6 in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of sunrise but viola! The sun’s already halfway across the sky and shining in all its glory. Welcome to the Andamans!!
Port Blair itself has a lot of places of tourist interest. You have the cellular jail that epitomizes the misery and the trials and tribulations of the prisoners who were held here. The jail originally had seven wings radiating out of a central point but today only 3 remain, the rest having been destroyed by an Earthquake in 1942.A light and sound show is held every day for tourists to explain the history of the jail.

There’s also an aquarium where you can view the wide variety of marine life found in the waters around the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The Andamans are the only place in India where corals can be found. These Corals are rare because they require some peculiar environmental conditions to thrive, like a particular temperature and depth of water. It’s a unique experience, getting up, close and personal with the coral formations, viewing them through a glass bottomed boat specially designed for that particular purpose. Our next stop is Ross Island, which is located at a 20 minute boat ride from Port Blair. Ross Island was the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar islands during the British Raj and today is maintained by the Navy due to its strategic importance. This place Is teeming with wildlife, especially deer and peacocks, which surprisingly do not show any fear for humans. In fact, one can actually feed them and take pictures with them. Ross Island has a beautiful, untouched virgin beach, Ferar beach where you can sit down on the rocks and enjoy the white sand, with the waves lapping at your feet.
Located around 50 km away from Port Blair is Havelock Island which can be reached by a 4 hr ocean cruise. The cruise offers a panoramic view of the sea and the South Andamans. Observing the enchanting cloud patterns and the sunset and sunrise with the backdrop of the ocean is really a memorable experience and is a must watch for nature lovers. Havelock island has a lovely beach with clear turquoise water and golden sand called Radhanagar beach. Well, coming from Bombay with its dirty and crowded beaches, the beaches in the Andamans were really a sight for sore eyes, with miles and miles of transparent water.

So came to an end our sojourn to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and we left them with a heavy heart and a promise, we will surely visit this mystical, exotic paradise on Earth once more. I’m sure that the Andaman and Nicobar islands can pose a stiff competition to exotic foreign locales like Maldives and Hawaii if developed and marketed properly.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”- Mark Twain.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Train hopping

There is something romantic about train journeys. No, I’m not talking about those claustrophobic Mumbai local trains but those long distance 1000 km+ train journeys, which thanks to the leisurely pace of our trains take anywhere between 16 hrs to a day and sometimes even more.

Train travel, unlike air travel is unhurried, relaxed, even refreshing. As one of my recent co- passengers aptly puts it, trains allow you to take a break from work and unwind which is not true of air travel since it’s just a 2 hr flight and then you have to get back to the grind of daily life.

One of my favourite pastimes is to just observe by the window as the world whizzes by, nature in its myriad forms and shapes, shiny ribbons of water as the train passes over a bridge, pitch dark tunnels and lush green forests, not to forget the dense white blanket of fog which completely envelops the countryside if you visit north India in the winter months.

Mumbai-Pune route

One of the journeys that I recollect most is the Mumbai-Pune one which cuts through the Western Ghats connecting Mumbai on the windward side of the ghats to Pune, on the leeward side. The route passes through one of the most beautiful landscapes in India, weaving its way through innumerable tunnels, some of them more than a kilometer in length, flanked by mountains on both sides and deep valleys covered with trees. In fact, on many occasions, the train track is barely a meter away from the edge of the mountain, beyond which lies a sheer drop, giving panoramic views of the valleys. It is an added treat to take the journey in the monsoons, when you can see waterfalls gushing down the face of the mountains into the forests below. Standing by the door, the rush of air which brushes past me is truly invigorating.

Another journey which I recall is the Mumbai-Delhi one through the central route passing through Ratlam (of Jab We Met fame, remember Hotel Decent), Agra and Mathura. This one is not for the scenery but the culinary delights on the way. This route passes through 7 states and each of them has something different to offer. Ratlam and Bhopal have their poha and kachoris, Agra has its petha and Mathura has its pedas. Its really a treat, getting down at the station and savouring all these delicacies.

Of course there are some unremarkable, boring routes as well. One of them is Jodhpur to Jaipur. Jodhpur is on the fringes of the Thar desert and Jaipur is of course the capital of Rajasthan. The route passes through the endless expanse of the arid desert and a lake called the Sambar lake which is a saltpan and has no water throughout the year (wonder why it’s still called a lake).

Today trains like the Rajdhani express and Shatabdi are redefining the travelling experience, offering fast, comfortable and convenient point to point travel. The Mumbai- Delhi Rajdhani for instance offers wonderful hospitality and service, something not associated with the Indian Railways.

Things are surely changing for the better !!