Monday, October 17, 2011

Amazing Nainital

This was my second trip to Nainital, and I was expecting a respite from Delhi's heat for 3 days, and not much more. However, this trip turned out to be much better than my expectations. Naini lake is now better maintained now than it was earlier. Also, I got a chance to do lot of pedal boating, and playing air hockey.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Our 2010 Travel destinations

It already is 2011, and I'm posting about 2010 destinations. Seems a bit odd, till I declare that the destinations referred to are the places I visited in 2010 with my wife. It's 2+ years, and we are maintaining the momentum to go to new places with surprising frequency. So here are the destinations:

A) Kotdwar: My mother belongs to this lovely town in Himalayan foothills, and I attended a cousin's wedding in January 2010.
B) Nainital: A beautiful hill town in Uttarakhand. Spent 4 days in April 2010.
C) Ladakh: Week long vacation in beautiful Ladakh in June 2010. Visited highest and second highest motorable roads in world (Khardungla Pass and Changla Pass). Saw the mesmerizing Pangong Lake. Had a tent stay in Nubra valley. visited sand dunes of Hunder. Did biking in vast open roads and rafting in Zanskar and Indus River.
D) Weeklong official trip to USA: Made memorable by numerous walks I took in evenings. This was in September.
E) Hong Kong: Stayed there for a day while returning back to India. Peak Tram, bird park and amazing skyline. Did a lot of shopping. Hong Kong is a shopping paradise.
F) Udaipur: City of lakes and palaces. Liked the Crystal palace. This was in early November.
G) Nepal: Went to celebrate our second anniversary. Visited Kathmandu, Bhaktpur and Nagarkot. Amazing temples and really liked the tastefully decorated Narayanhiti Palace.
H) Munnar and Alleppey (Kerala): Rounded up the year with a weeklong Kerala holiday. Loved both Munnar and alleppey. We were fortunate in choice of hotels in both places. In Munnar, my hotel was on a hillside slope, and had cottages at various heights. In Alleppey, I stayed in a homestay at the intersection of Pamba River and Kollam Canal.

Whew... 2010 was hectic. Goal for 2011 will be to match it in number of places we visit.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Pune in December

December 2009 destination of travel was Pune, not for tourism, but for PhD thesis defense of my wife at Pune University.

The trip turned out to be fruitful, with my wife earning her PhD degree, and us enjoying memorable time in excellent hotel Bhairavee, and a government guest house. We also watched many episodes of 'Jeeves and Wooster' (with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as lead actors), an excellent adaptation of PG Wodehouse Novels by BBC. BBC and Granada Television have an excellent track record of producing faithful TV versions popular novels. I recommend 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Sense and Sensibility'and 'Sherlock Holmes' to anyone who likes the respective novels.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thoughts on learning/improving skills

When I'm learning a new skill, I need a motivation to keep improving myself. Otherwise, I slip into my comfort zone after some time, and the skill improvement stops. I decided to give a thought to why this happens, and what can be done to remain motivated. More importantly, I thought about what I did to keep myself motivated in the past. Following is the output of the thought process:

  • Improving skills I'm already quite good at: Find a worthy competitor, whom you would be proud to defeat.

I'm an ardent fan of "Age of Empires" series of games, but had played only against computers for long. I considered myself an expert, and comfortably beat computers against heavy odds. Computer players only had hope against me in first 15 minutes, and not after that.

6 years back, when I started playing against online opponents, I started losing many games. Human players showed much more ingenuity, and many times broke into my defenses in pretty advance stages of game. But playing with better competitors took my game to another level, and within weeks, I was sort of reigning champion again :-). In our group of 10, only 1 was my match, and we always had to be in opposite teams (Usually, we played 3 vs 3 or 4 vs 4 games). The games went one sided whenever one of us wasn't playing. We usually started playing at 9-10 pm, and played till well after midnight, and sometimes even till morning.

This continued for few months and then 4 friends intimated that they won't be playing for 2-3 weeks. We didn't know what they were up to, but heard that they were 'training'. After 3 weeks, they said they wanted to play, and this time with both me, and the other strong player in same team. The game started, and our team knew something was different when all players of the other team chose archer civilizations. Our first attack was repelled too easily, and we were forced to go on defense. Maybe we were too surprised, or they were on a vengeance, but after 2 hours of struggle, we surrendered.

The next game saw us evenly pitted. We started on right side of map, and they on left side. We marched from right to upper left, and then from upper left to lower left, but were unable to halt their attacks from left to lower right corner of map. Within 2 hours, we were completely on left side of map, and they on right side. Finally, after another 2 hours or so, our perseverance paid off and we managed to win, but with our pride shattered. I too went on training, my game reached next higher level, and things were back to usual within weeks.

Moral: You need a benchmark to improve against.

  • Improving skills I'm bad at: Haarkar jeetna seekho
There's no pride to defend. So you need some other motivator.

When I want to improve a competitive skill, on which I'm bad, setting myself up against small material losses has proved to be big motivator. I was an acknowledged bad player at TT, and nothing could coax me to improve my game. Then one day, someone had the bright idea of making the losing team pay for evening snacks. Needless to say, this caused any good players to refuse to team up with me. So I had to team up with other bad players, and paid for snacks for few days. I'm not really sure how it happened, but suddenly I found the idea to my advantage. Every snack paid for after losing improved my game one little notch, and I was no longer considered a bad player only after 2-3 weeks. I'm only average now, but at least now people don't shy away from being my partners, and things like, "if you reach 10 points, you win", are the things of the past.

  • Improving non competitive skills:
Set tough, but achievable goals, and measure your success by how much you beat your target. Link the improvement in skill to achievement of some big goal. For example, when wanting to improve my 'Perl' language skills few years back, I decided to do next few small programs in Perl. Some weeks later, I embarked on the task of downloading, extracting and formatting data from a website for use in a project for my wife. After initial frustration of few hours, I found that perl was much more suited for such task than the traditional C++ or Java based programs.

The result: I did the task in less time than I had expected and also learned the Perl programming language.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shimla in November

Continuing the momentum of an outstation trip every month, I went to Shimla for the weekend of 14-15 November. The trip turned out to be fabulous to say the least.

This was a group trip, and there were fifteen of us, including two lovely one year old kids. We went by Kalka mail on night of 'Friday the thirteenth' of November. On reaching the platform, we found out about new McDonald's outlet inside the railway station itself, and had a snacks party even before boarding the train.

Everyone was excited, and we started playing cards in two groups. One game followed another with people refusing to give up and go to sleep. Eventually, we found the train at Kalka at 5 am, with most of us still playing cards (for over 6 hours now). Next, we boarded the Kalka-Shimla toy train (Shivalik Express), which started at 5:30 am.

Weather was very nice. Train engine was having problems and had to stop many times during the journey. But no one was in a hurry. Whenever train stopped, most of the travelers got down, and busied themselves photographing the surroundings.

Breakfast was served at about 10 am, and we finally reached Shimla at about 2 pm, 4 hours behind schedule.

We did not book a hotel in advance, and some of us started the hunt for one, while others settled in the Cafe Coffee Day at Mall Road. I took a quick round of mall road, and found the surroundings extremely beautiful. It seemed as if we were in a European city. We found a cozy hotel, and went to respective rooms, with a promise to go out again in two hours. However, everybody was tired and when I tried calling people at 7 pm, everyone was asleep. So we (me and my wife) decided to go out alone. It was cold and misty, with slight drizzle. Fortunately, we were carrying an umbrella. It was perfectly romantic setting with two of us under a single umbrella sauntering on the Mall Road.

We dined at Himachal Tourism's Ashiana restaurant which has excellent ambiance and location. We returned at about 10 pm, told others about Ashiana, and called it a day.

Next morning, we went again to the Mall road and enjoyed bakery cakes/muffins and brownies at Mall road. 'City Point' has excellent variety of all of these.

Later at about noon, we set out for Kufri and Jakhu Temple. We took some memorable photographs all along the day.

We returned at about 4 pm, had lunch at Ashiana again, and did a photography session at Mall road, before heading for the Toy Train for our return journey. Some memorable pics of the Mall road are below.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Helping hands are better than praying lips...

I read the above quotation today in a forwarded mail, and an incident comes to mind...

Few years back, when online train reservation was still not functional in India, I used to go to New Delhi Railway Station reservation office. Even though the office has about 25 counters, the sheer number of customers ensured that it took over an hour to buy any ticket.

Once, when I was in a queue, I heard some commotion at the ticket window. Normally, I do not interfere in any such commotion, but this sounded different. So I requested the gentlemen behind me to remember me so that I can join the queue back, and went to the reservation counter to know what was happening. Turned out that a poor fellow was trying to buy 2 tickets for long distance travel, for which, he was short of about 20 rupees in the total ticket price of about Rs. 1000. He was at the window, confused about what to do next, since people behind were shouting at him to go away from the counter. I asked him for his story, and turned out that his concern was that he was already losing half day wage by spending hours in coming for reservation, and waiting in line. If he needed to go back, get money and wait in queue again, he'll lose his full day wage. He was proposing that the clerk makes the ticket, but keeps it with him, and gives it only on receipt of Rs. 20 the next day. The clerk was refusing, and the fellow was feeling helpless.

Many people were sympathizing with the fellow, but no-one had any real suggestions even though the solution was staring in the face. The poor chap needed 20 bucks. I immediately added Rs. 50 to his small wad of notes, and asked him to buy the ticket. He proceeded, and afterwards came back to me in the queue, trying to return Rs. 30, even though his home was pretty far from the reservation counter. I asked him to use the money to get back home, and rush for his work. Now he wanted my address to send the money back. I just asked him to help some needy person, and I'd consider my money returned.

I'm not a very benevolent person. But when I see someone in trouble, which can be solved by a very small effort from me, I do not hesitate. I am fortunate to have seen more good done than bad in my life, and intend to keep my overall contribution positive to this world.

Just reiterating:

Helping hands are better than praying lips...

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Goa Trips

Goa has always attracted me, and during each visit, I plan to relive the experiences of previous trips. However, in each trip, Goa has something new in store for me, and each visit adds new unforgettable experiences. In summary, I've been to Goa 4 times: 1994, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and each trip has been with a different set of people, each having an important place in my life.

December 1994: My first trip to Goa was with parents and siblings. My father loves to travel, and I've toured much of South India and Himalayas with him. He always prepares the itinerary himself, doesn't books hotel rooms in advance, and plans things on run time. I've inherited many of the traits, enabling me to plan long trips with confidence.

December 2005: This was with my brother and cousin, where we tried to relive many old memories, and went to most Goa beaches, especially the ones on extreme north (Querim/Arambol) and extreme South (Palolem/Betul) etc. We rented bikes, scanned the length and breadth of Goa, visiting places disregarding distances. We started a bit early in morning, and were usually back by 10 pm to our staying place, and hence left with a desire to come back and explore Goan night life.

December 2007: Recreated the magic of 2005 trip with friends. Smarting from the experience of riding bikes for 4 days in 2005, we rented a Maruti Zen this time. This also helped us explore Goa in night. Under strict instructions not to smell, touch or consume alcohol (by yours truly's about to be formed SARKAR), I spent hours watching my friends getting high on spirits, and listening to the excellent live music being played in beach side restaurants that spring up in everywhere in Goa. We also enjoyed many water sports being organized on Colva beach.

September-October 2009: This is the latest, and most adventurous trip I undertook with my SARKAR (also goes by the name of अर्धांगिनी or wife). It was not supposed be so adventurous, but the incessant rains made it so. It did not stop raining for the 5 days we were in Goa. Contrary to my earlier trips, these days, I usually book a Hotel for first one or two days now whenever going on lesiure trips, to avoid initial fuss of finding a SST (sasta/sunder/tikaoo or cheap/lovely/reliable) Hotel. We booked Nizmar Resorts near Calangute beach for two days. This turned out to be an excellent choice, with nice room, good breakfast and well maintained swimming pool. A brief summay of how we enjoyed goa in September/October amidst continuous rains.

1st day: We reached Goa late afternoon, and took a taxi to the resort from the airport. My Sarkar was ready for the beach with her new Crocs shoes. Immediately, we rushed to Calangute beach, played at the beach and made sand castles till sunset. Later, we found an excellent Maruti Zen to rent, and it served us very nicely during the whole trip. It was raining intermittently since the flight touched down, but we were anyways ready to play on beach, and it did not bother us much. Later, we had a nice punjabi dinner and then went to the famous Mambo's disco.

2nd day: We visited Arambol and Mandrem beach on 2nd day. Both of these are amazing beaches, though Arambol has now become polluted to some extent. It was raining, and we played on the beach in rain. Very few people were around. Mandrem beach seemed like it was reserved exclusively for us. Had dinner at a restaurant in Calangute itself. I was getting jealous of my Sarkar's crocs shoes, and she got me a pair at Arambol beach.

3rd Day: It was raining heavily, and the resort pool looked inviting. So spent time there. Sea sometimes gets too rough when it's raining. Checked out of resort, put everything in the rented zen, and went straight to Palolem beach, about 100 km from Calangute. We enjoyed a lot there, and while returning, went to Agonda beach, which again seemed like it had been reserved for us. It became too cloudy to remain at beach as the clouds practically came to the ground level hampering visibility and we found a nice cafeteria full of foreigners on a road near the beach. When the visibility improved again, we went to the beach again, and stayed till late afternoon. Then we started our return to Panjim. We drove through beautiful roads (avoiding highway) though were worried for some time since there was almost no-one in sight for quite a distance. We put the car back on highway at madgaon, and had evening snacks at Monjini's. We'd recommend Monjini's to everyone for snacks, and they are present everywhere in Goa. We went to the Old Goa church (at about 9 pm), and had to contend ourselves with a view from outside, since it had closed for the day. then we wne to another church nearby where an all night vigil was being held. There were about 1500 people present for the service which surprised me because it was already more than 9 pm. After some time, we started for Panjim, bought some famous Goan Cashews and asking directions, found Ginger Hotel in Panjim to spend the night. It was still raining, and hence we had dinner at the Hotel itself, which turned out to be quite good.

4th day: Checked out of Ginger, and went to see Augada fort and Jail. Had brunch at a nice hotel on the way. Roaming through the fort in torrential rains is an experience not to be forgotten soon. The fort is amazingly beautiful, and we walked along the perimeter, taking in the breathtaking views. We decided to visit the Chapora fort as well, and though the car stopped and gave us a scare, it restarted soon, and did not give any further trouble. Chapora fort is at some height and again offers excellent views all around. We enjoyed thoroughly, and returned back to Calangute and took a room in 'Popeye's Lodge'. Spent the evening walking at Calangute beach, and had dinner at Domino's.

5th Day: Reluctantly started packing in morning, and gave back our rented car. Then hired taxi to Madgaon, and caught Rajdhani Express back for home. I was surprised to see the number of families boarding the train. During the trip, we saw very few families at beaches, forts or churches. Most of them must have spent the vacation in their hotel rooms.

PS: Went to Bangalore on an urgent trip for Official work on 10th October for a day. Adding it here since it gave me opportunity to see Bangalore's new Airport.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm still Around

I'm writing a new post after really long time. What happened to me?
I fell... in love :-)

In last 3 years, I spent most of my free time with my girlfriend (who now is my wife). She's Bengali, and is presently busy celebrating Durga Puja with her parents. This leaves me with some free time after years. I'll be joining in the celebrations from today evening for next 4 days, but thought about restarting this blog, while I still have some time.

I flattered myself to be a travel loving person, but I realized my potential only during last 1 year or so. This is a direct result of marrying someone who:
a) Understands me better than myself
b) Is a travel freak herself

As a result, we have been to following places in last one year:
A) Munich (She went alone because this was 2 weeks before our marriage, and it was an official trip). I've been to Munich earlier, and she refreshed my memories with her vivid description of the city.
B) Spain - Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Malaga, Torremolinos, Barcelona
This was a two week trip, the most enterprising travel effort from my side, considering that every single detail of trip was planned by me.
C) Kolkata
D) Digha (West Bengal)
E) Rishikesh, Haridwar, Tehri Dam
F) Mussourie, Dhanaulti
G) Dharamshala, Mcleodgunj - Besides the usual charms of Dharamshala, we trekked upto Nadi and Triund, a total of 36 km trek/walk. If I had any doubts about my wife's being a travel freak, they were removed in this trek.
H) Pune, Mumbai
I) Kotdwar, Lansdowne
J) Singapore : I forgot this in my original post!!! How can I forget the Bird Park, the Night Safari, Merlion, Sentosa Island and Orchard Road?
K) Goa

All this happened despite the busy(?) schedules for both of us. Me, someone who did not take any single leave on some years, utilized all of my vacation balance in 1 year.

The hunt is on for the next place to travel to :-)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Loan in 30 seconds...

One of my weakness is that though I have limited desires, but when I want something, I just want it, as fast as possible. I happened to set my eyes on my present bike in Bangalore just 45 days after joining job there. We had deposited 10 months rent as advance for renting a house (Bangalore is like that), and my share in it was already more than my first month's salary, and though I brought some money from parents, I barely had 15K remaining. I hate taking loan from banks, especially when it can be repaid in months, as the overall paperwork to take the loan, and afterwards, when u have repaid the loan is too much for me to handle. So I deliberated for 2-3 days, and then approached a close friend (who was working for a year there) on a Saturday morning. The conversation below is almost exactly as it took place:

Me: I need a favour....
Him: Yup...
Me: I need to borrow money... from you...
Him: How much?
Me: About 35K
Him: Are you joking?
Me: Nope
Him: Ok, chal bank tak.

And that was it... We went to his bank's branch on M G Road, and I got the money. I went to get bike from there, and paid in full for the bike. Next day, I was the proud owner of my bike, and that evening:

Me: Thanks yaar...
Him: Abe gaali mat diya kar... acchi baat nahi hoti...
Me: Thanks really yaar, I hate to go into troubles of taking loan from bank... EMI ka jhanjhat... Isiliye tumse borrow kiya.
Him: No issues... Wapas karne waala hai na?
Me: Hmm... karna hai kya?
Him: Some unprintable words......
Me: Abe gaali mat diya kar... acchi baat nahi hoti...

It's friendships like these which make me realize that I've achieved something in life.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How to use earned leaves?

A colleague (let's say A) joined back after taking 2 week long leave. On his first day, at lunch table, we shared general updates, and after making sure that everything was fine, the conversation drifted to movies. There were 4 of us, A, B, Me and our Manager.

It turned out that he had seen 3-4 movies during those 2 weeks on his laptop. We software engineers always have few movies on our laptops, and having seen 4 movies in 2 weeks cannot be taken as a negative thing against any software engineer :).

B : "Okay... So that's why you really took those leaves. To watch movies..."
A (bewildered): "Why would I waste my earned leaves to watch movies?"
Me: "Especially when he can see them more comfortably at office, in comfort of AC environment, without wasting a leave"
Manager: "???"
A: "We can watch movies in evenings and nights even on workdays... Why would we waste earned leaves just to watch movies?"
Me: "And if we want not to cash our earned leaves, then they would be used on much better things... like... hmm... travel... and..."
A: "Persuing girls..."
Manager: "I'm not listening..."