Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Around the World in 80 days

How fast can one circumnavigate the Earth in this age? Air France’s Concorde once clocked 31 hours 27 minutes 49 seconds travelling east bound. I think as of 20121120, this is a Guinness Record for the least time to travel around the globe. This is incredibly fast! If one takes air travel out of the equation, one would still assume that, in the current age, it would not take too long a time. I can’t really make a guess on the amount of time one would take if one could use dedicated private transport without any border crossing concerns. If even private transport is excluded out, then it seems to be a considerably difficult talk syncing all travel legs around the globe. How much time it would take is anybody’s guess.

Phileas Fogg, the main protagonist in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 days, succeeded in traveling around the world in 80 days along with his valet Passepartout. In 1988, BBC hired Michael Palin to circumnavigate the world along approximately the same route that Phileas Fogg took with a caveat of completing the trip in less than 80 days. Instead of Passerpartout, Palin was accompanied by a dedicated crew of 5 people who would film the entire journey. What resulted out of this association is a delightful 7 episode travel series.

Palin’s journey started at Reforms Club on 25th September, at the same place and on the same date when Fogg commenced his adventure. Next 80 days contain humorous encounters, splendid anecdotes intermingled with a traveler’s curiosity for new places. One vicariously travel along with Palin and absorb new cultures, see beautiful cities and meet incredible people. There is plenty of sea travel throughcontainer ships and freighters details of which have been largely skipped. Distance between Dubai and Mumbai was covered on a dhow and remains the high point of the entire series. BBC accumulated so much material on that leg of the trip that they extended the original 6 episode series to 7.

Michael Palin is a remarkable presenter with an incredible sense of humor. He is genuinely interested in knowing more about the place and instantly makes other person comfortable with this witty humor. In this documentary, he traveled leisurely including staying at places like Taj in Mumbai and Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, yet one could see that through his interactions with people, he wanted to know the complete story about a particular city or country. Palin went on to present many BBC sponsored themed travelogues in future, all of which enjoy high ratings among travel enthusiasts. 

As Sunday Telegraph remarked about Paul Theoreux’s Ghost train to the Eastern Star “the world is slightly less unknown by virtue of reading the book”, this series will help you know a little more about our kaleidoscopic world.


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Last Shangri La

The contrast and the diversity on Srinagar to Leh highway is absolutely mind boggling. One slowly moves away from the heavily guarded crossroads of Srinagar, with picturesque Dal lake on one side of the road, to lush green Kashmir Valley full of apple plantations. Red cheeked and well built Kashmiris coupled with fair complexion are among the most beautiful people on this planet.  Spirits soar high in anticipation of similar ambiance through out the journey, only to be greeted by the dusty and parched roads of the region. Instead of tarmac, one drives on a dust bowl in a vision paralyzed by the dust from the vehicle ahead. The perennial construction work, coupled with heavy moment of Army reduces one to speeds no more than a saunter along this path. The route passes through the cities of Drass and Kargil, where the lives of people revolve around military help on tourism that has flourished in Leh over the last few years. Kargil, a sleepy town, is the preferred stop for spending night in the two day journey from Srinagar to Leh, and one can go around and see the war inflicted regions nearby. Complete silence at night ensures a good night sleep for the high passes and beautiful Ladakh Valley the next day.

Next day, one passes through multiple passes along the route like Namika la and Fotu la. The latter is the highest pass on the road situated at a height of 13, 480 feet above sea level, and offers spectacular views of unending mountain ranges. From here onwards, the road is completely tarmac and one can cover decent distances in quick time. Why one would want to do that is completely irrational. As you move towards the destination, you start feeling the vibe of Ladakh from some distance. Air becomes clear devoid of any dust, a distant monastery in the horizon, Tibetian flags on the shops greet you throughout the road. The experience of driving on a perfectly laid road with mountains on both sides, Om Mani Padme Hum inscribed in colorful letters on the stones, sound of a distant river flowing beyond them welcomes you to the last Shangri la.

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Stranger, so long.

Different people travel with different travel philosophies. Some travel because they want to take a break from their planned, daily lives, some to satiate their adventure gene. Some, because they are still not sure of what they want in their life, and are hoping that travel would provide them with that one unique experience which will guide them for the rest of the lives. And some, as I have recently read, want to collect flag from every country.

Some want to maximize the number of countries they have visited as a boost to their already inflated egos. For some, it is the best way to form life long friendships, forged on the hardships of the road and mutual mischief in a foreign land. This post is aimed at someone who associates with the latter.

I will be your perfect friend for today, but don’t expect me to call/mail after we have departed from our common ground. I will laugh with you, I will hold your words dearly, we will do the stupid dance together till we make fools of ourselves in front of everyone out here. We might exchange addresses before leaving, depending on how this ends, so that whenever we are in each other cities, we can give each other a call for a coffee.  But I will appreciate if you leave any of our future interactions on chance. It will be much more meaningful to both of us. On this pint of beer, let’s try to make it as one memorable night of our lives. Tell me about yourself, tell me about your plans and tell me about your insecurities and in return, expect a frank third person opinion from someone who holds no grudges against you. Oh me, well we have the entire night to ourselves, don’t we?

And I will be true to my promise. I will give my complete attention to someone, try to sort out his problems, will profusely tell him about my life, value his opinions, try to act on his suggestions in my life to come. But I would like to limit the entire experience to that raw, nascent form without dragging it to something ordinary.

And the night ends. Stranger, so long.


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Travel Prep

The whole process of traveling can be divided into many phases, the most important of which are listed below:

1. Initial Planning: This involves arranging for all the physical travel, arranging for accommodation and plenty of other logistics. Probably the most important component since your entire trip depends on it. This requires browsing through tons of sites out there to look for the best deals, and actively inquiring with other people where they stayed, whether they would suggest something different.

2. Knowing the place: What are all the places to see over there, what interesting events happened over there in history, digging the place on wikitravel and reading other travel logs. This is a much more solitary activity as compared to the first one, you go through the time line and visit that place while sitting in front of your computer screen. You do ask people which places to go, and value their feedback but it is something that is very subjective. Someone who is interested in historical monuments will not tell you about myriad of other adventurous things to do, and someone who is a night animal will completely forget about various day activities.

3. Navigation: Once you are at that place, you can save yourself a lot of time if there is someone with you with a good sense of direction. This problem, I think, has now been mitigated by the arrival of Smartphones and GPS based apps but if you do not have them, it can become pretty difficult to navigate in a new area. Saurabh once told me how there are cultural differences in terms of asking someone for directions, while in India, almost all the navigation relies on human GPS, people in US are much more reluctant on asking and being asked.

I am ridiculous in points 1 and 3. The reason for 1 being there is always someone better to do that part for me i.e Rahul in Europe, Priyank/Saloni in Bangalore, Malik in Singapore. So I have never really tried it. And I just cannot remember directions! I am, somehow, always able to lose my way. I need to get an Iphone/Galaxy II soon.

I consider myself good in 2. Not great, but I can be your interactive, informative guide who loves to explain stuff and hear ‘ooohh’ from you. 🙂

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We made a plan to roam Chinatown after office hours today to feel the vibe of everything Chinese over there. Chinatown has a unique architecture in the sense there is a certain geometry associated with the way buildings are structured over there. I felt that my 3 dimensional vision was much more able to appreciate the normal depth effect. Below is an account of the places we visited today, and one complete tea experience along with the pictures.

1. Pearl’s Centre: Wiki travel entry of this place read something like this “Labyrinthine old shopping mall with a bizarre assortment of stores, ranging from Buddhist paraphernalia (most of the 2nd/3rd floors) to sexy underwear for men (two shops in the basement) and everything in between. The Yangtze cineplex, infamous for showing only notionally arty soft-porn movies, is located on the fourth floor”. We went there and found that the place is too confusing to navigate, and with the lack of proper instructions in English, we quickly gave up both on 4th floor and in basement. 😀

2. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple: Unfortunately when we reached there, it was already closed. It looked exactly the way you will imagine a Chinese historic building with imposing grandeur as evident in this pic

3. Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice: It was written on wiki that NY times had raved about the ‘chicken rice’ of this place, but when we reached there it, too,  was closed. (infi bad luck!) Apparently, it runs out of all its contents very soon due to high demand. We had chicken rice at an adjacent shop and they were not particularly great. Despite that, there are plenty of other Chinese cuisine to try at that place. (Maxwell center)

4. Tea Chapter: For a complete procedure on how to serve authentic Chinese tea, start moving forward from this pic.

Nice short evening trip.

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