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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.



Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My unforgettable journeys-II: When rocket failed to zoom (Part-II)

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(second part of journey from Kolkata to Guwahati by road where misfortune refused to part with us. A journey that should have been completed in 36 hours with about 24 hours of actual traveling, took us 48 hours to complete.)

We got out of the ‘Rocket’ and headed straight to a nearby hotel for a late lunch. Everything has been late in the last 24 hours. But we were told that buses to Guwahati would leave early that day as the militant ULFA had called for a 12 hour Assam Bandh next day. The objective was to cross the sensitive areas like Nalbari before it is dawn.

We headed to the counter of Network travels as the name is familiar to us. After buying tickets we went around having a look of the area. We were back before the scheduled departure. We waited and waited, but the bus there was no sign of the bus. The bad experiences of the earlier night appeared to have raised their head again. We were told that the bus we are to travel had a broken glass and had gone for replacing it. They told us a glass is broken, but did not tell which one. We understood that it will be tough for travelers without a glass in winter. All other buses to Guwahati had left barring ours. Finally the bus had arrived at around 5 pm. When the bus turned toward us, we had another shock. The front windshield was missing! O God! It was the windshield that was broken, not a side window glass. They were planning to drive this bus 400 km without the windshield on a peak winter night! We did not scratch our heads to think about it. We got into the bus like obedient school kids getting into a school bus. We have to reach home somehow. Honestly speaking I was too tired to think. I feel asleep almost as soon as the bus left Siliguri. My friend however was a worried man. He was worried and scared about the stories of dacoits active in the Hashimara jungles that fall in the border area. To be honest, we were almost brook and hardly had anything left with us to be looted. I woke up once to have dinner at a hotel at around 9 pm. I probably fell asleep even before the bus had left.

Hashimara is a notorious jungle on the AssamBengal border. Vehicles moves in convoys only and no body gives you pass inside the jungle. There is a system of proving escort by police for crossing the Hashimara jungle. But as we were very late in arriving the border gate at Hashimara, the convoy for the night had already left. One more late running bus was waiting there. I was in deep sleep all thorough this. But my worried friend was awake and he told me all these next day. He also told me that the bus driver was wearing a helmet. There used to be some checking at the border. I forgot to mention that most of our co-passengers were Nepali, many of them might be illegal migrants. So police were picking soft targets for money. All the bad things that are happening in this country are because of corrupt police departments. They are not bothered how many illegal Nepalese enters India every night as long as their palms are greased. I was not bothered to be awaken while my friend was watching all these for some unforgettable memories. After some consultation, the two bus drivers decided to drive through the jungle without police escort. Even though my friend did not tell, he probably was praying all through the night. Without the windshield, anything could have happen. May be his prayer took us safely through the jungle.

It was almost 5:30 when the bus stopped for a tea break at Barpeta Road, some 1 ½ hours drive from Guwahati. The road has fallen silent by then. The bandh was to start at 5am. The driver, who had courage to drive through Hashimara jungle in bitter cold without a windshield, had developed cold feet to drive these 100 odd kilometers to Guwahati. This area was once the stronghold of militant outfit ULFA. We fought and argued, but both the drivers did not budge. So we were left stranded just 100 kms from Guwahati. The ordeal seemed was in no mood to leave us.

We started playing cricket on the empty National Highway with some local kids. One of the players was incidentally a supposed to be ULFA cadre or sympathizer. He was earlier seen asking shopkeepers to drown shutters. Even though the shutter was down, the hotel supplied us lunch. My friend told the bus conductor that he had no money and so he was offered free lunch with bus staff. The cricket match continued post lunch.

The bandh was to be over by 5 pm. Some trucks went past us along the National Highway. The drivers of the two buses swung into action. But a final twist awaited us. Due to some problem with wiring, the rear side indicators of our bus remained switched on all through the day and that had drained the battery. So the bus was not starting up. Fortunately, there was the second bus who had accompanied us from Hashimara. The drivers found an ingenuous way of starting the bus. The second bus was brought close to ours and parked in the reverse direction. Then both sets of battery were connected via cables. Volia! The bus engine started roaring and we were off. Soon darkness of night engulfed us. We were relaxing in the bus enjoying these final moments. I told my friend jokingly that only thing that did not happen in this journey is tyre blast and given the circumstances we still had enough distance to cover for that to happen. Fortunately God has spared us any more trouble. We already had enough in the last 48 hours.

My ordeal was over when we entered the Network Travel’s complex at Paltan Bazar. But my friend has to travel another 400 km to Dibrugrah. I bade him good bye and that was the last time I have ever heard of him. May be he had further experiences to share. Since then I had traveled once more between Kolkata and Guwahati by road, this time by my car. I sat, relaxed and enjoyed the journey as the driver droved. The same route but different circumstances. Then I had no money to sustain one extra day in Kolkata and now I could afford to buy petrol to travel by car!

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Watery tragedy of a desert

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In a tragic accident 48 people had died in a remote village named Kama in Rajasthan, India yesterday. The place is in Bharatpur district, about 225 km from Jaipur. People had gathered to watch a wrestling competition as part of the Bhojan Thali Mela, a village fair. Spectators trying to find a vantage point, climbed up an old water tank near the venue. It was suspected that about 200 people climbed up the tank when it gave in killing many on top and few on the ground. Several people have been injured as well. After the incident locals were found complaining about administration's negligence. They said there were no policemen to stop people from climbing the tank. While the administration is being blamed for the tragedy no one has pointed finger at the organizers? Do we need policemen everywhere to tell us what not to do? Are we not grown up enough what is wrong or dangerous? If so, policemen should be posted at everyone’s house so that whenever he tries to rectify an electrical fault, the policemen posted will stop him.

Try visualizing Rajasthan and the image of desert and sand dunes comes to mind. It is a different matter that Rajasthan is reeling under unprecedented floods these days. While the normally wet areas in the North East of India are undergoing a draught like situation, Western part of India has received unexpected deluge this season. Obviously very few were prepared for these vagaries of nature. But the administration and government is incurring the wrath of people. We all know there is lot of deficiency in government in managing this country. The country is lacking behind for the mismanagement and misgovernance. But is it good to blame administration for everything? I have never heard of a flood in Barmer or Jaisalmer in 20 years. Should we expect the government to be ready with contingency plans for such unthought of events. The tendency is such that even if a meteor hits some town in India, the blame will be put on administration for not being prepared. It is high time we should channelise our collective frustration at the shortcomings of the government in helping each other out. Victims should be more concerned now that the compensation amount reaches them rather than the pockets of politicians and their middlemen. Our politicians are monsters created by us. So we will have to find a collective way to humble them.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

My unforgettable journeys-II: When rocket failed to zoom

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When rocket failed to zoom (Part-I)

Prologue :
Rocket Service is the name given to state run bus service that operates between Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, and Siliguri, which is the commercial hub in the north Bengal and the Gateway to Darjeeling. The distance is about 600 kms. Siliguri is also connected to Guwahati, the capital of Assam by regular bus service. This distance is approximately 450 kms. One can choose to travel by bus between Kolkata and Guwahati by bus. The normal journey would involve traversing about 1100 kms over 36 hours, with a long break and change of bus in between at Siliguri. But all journeys do not occur the way it is planned…….corollary #9999 to Murphy’s Law.

A train accident in 1998:
It was in the January of 1998. I alongwith couple of my batchmates went to Kolkata for taking the written test of a company named Bharat Bhari Udyog Limited, a PSU. We had planned to overstay a couple of days to scout the job market in Kolkata. I managed accommodation at the Assam House located on the Park Street. There I met two guys, few years younger to me. Unfortunately I forgot their names. One of the guys was from Jorhat and the other from Dibrugarh. Though we all landed at the Assam House separately, we became good friends. We also had a different departure schedule.

One day before my scheduled departure, my batchmates were to leave for Guwahati by the Kamrup Express. We came to the Howrah station to see them off. On arrival at the station we have learnt that there has been an accident on the Guwahati – Howrah route and hence all the trains have been delayed. But the good news for the guys leaving that day was that Kamrup Express departed though late by at least 5 hours.

The next day, I was to leave by the Kamrup Express. I checked out of the Assam House. My two new friends came to see me off. However on arrival we found that the Kamrup Express had been cancelled for that day as the train from Guwahati did not arrive. The guy from Dibrugarh encouraged me by saying that we will be traveling together the next day. He had his confirmed reservation by the Kamrup Express next day. So, I had no other option but to collect refund of fare and went back to the Assam House with them. We entered the house by avoiding the reception counter. Thus there was no check in and I stayed free for that night in the dormitory. It was possible those days, but I am not sure now. Anyway, I was low on my finance as I had carried just enough cash to survive 4 days. There were no mobiles or ATMs those days.

We repeated the drill of going to station the next day. But the trains to Guwahati have been cancelled for that day as well. We were told that a bridge has been badly damaged and there is no certainty as to when the rail link would be restored. I had no money to survive this period of uncertainty. So I had decided to start for Guwahati by road. I have heard about the way to travel by road -- Catch a rocket service to Siliguri and then if possible catch Guwahati bound fro train from New Jalpaiguri. It is going to a 1000 plus km bus journey. Reluctantly the guy from Dibrugarh also agreed to accompany me as he also had ran out of cash. It was almost five when we left Howrah station. By the time we reach Dharamatala bus stand from where rocket service starts, it was very late. We could mange ticket by only by the last bus to be operated by North Bangal State Transport. In our childhood we heard so much about the rocket service that I had high expectations. But when the rockets arrived one by one, there was nothing spectacular about them other than the words ‘Rocket Service’ written in bold on their front windscreens. They all looked like old deluxe buses, all in want of a fresh coat of paint.

The rockets left one by one as they came. However we just waited and waited. Finally an ordinary looking bus had arrived around 9 pm. All the remaining passengers were asked to get into that. It was informed that the rocket we were suppose to board is undergoing some repair at a garage and so we will be ferried to that garage by this bus. Smelling something fishy, some of the passengers started arguing. Bengalis ask too many questions! Both of us were hoping that the bus will leave and we will be step closer to Guwahati. Finally, even the skeptics agreed to board the bus. The bus criss- crossed though Kolkata road and took us to a workshop, probably located at Ultadanga. The situation there was that the bus was not ready. Half of the crowd erupted in protest. We were silent spectators. Foreseeing trouble, they transport agency produced a rocket. We all boarded that and the bus zoomed off. But about an hour or so into the journey, the conductor of the bus came and informed that condition of the bus is not good and it will not be able to travel to Siliguri. Heated arguments started again. But that would not improve the condition of the bus. So the driver took it to another transport garage. The arguments continued after disembarkment. Then they produced a semi deluxe bus (without push back chairs) and reluctantly everyone finally got into this one. We have changed bus thrice in a span of 2 /3 hours. I and my friend occupied a seat meant for three so that we can have some sleep. To the chagrin of the passengers, even this bus needed some repair before departure and few mechanics went under the bus to do the job. Fortunately, it did not take long. It was almost 12 in the night and all passengers were starving. So the driver was directed to take stop the bus at the next available roadside hotel. Being the peak of January, it was cold outside a thick blanket of fog engulfed everything. So the bus could not peak very high speed. When the bus stopped at a dhaba, all hungry fellows latched onto anything they could get. I remember even getting into the kitchen to get two plates for us. The ordeal had taken its toll on us. I do not remember anything else as I might have slept like dead.

We had finally arrived at Silguri around 2 in the noon next day. The rocket had landed several hours late. That excluded the possibility of getting any train to Guwahati. Now we had no other option but to catch another bus to Guwahati. We decided to have lunch before deciding on future course of action. The remaining part of the journey was equally eventful.

(to be continued)

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Are you still drinking Coke and Pepsi!

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The issue of pesticides in Coke and Pepsi is still raging on in India. The report of Center for Science and Environment (CSE) was really alarming. Some took it as an opportunity for MNC bashings. But there are other repurcussions as well. Even Pepsi had come out with a statement that they do not say the drinks are safe for children and they never advertise their products for children. However, the Health Minister, who recently had acquired an image of monster with striking medicos, had gone on air saying there are no pesticides. I wonder how many actually believed him. We all know that politicians are no philanthropists. And our health minister, Mr. Ambumoni Ramadoss is certainly not.

I personally do not know whether the drinks have pesticides or not. But I certainly know that it is ACIDIC enough to dissolve many things. I saw it with my eye. Now my good friend Divyesh had sent me an article which says that Coke contains Phosphoric Acid and its pH value is 3.4. This is acidic enough to dissolve our bones and teeth. No wonder why Swami Ramdev keeps telling that Coke and Pepsi is the culprit for Osteoporosis, a disease of brittleness of bones. Before I tell you what else the report says, I share my own incidence.

One fine summer day last year, few of us decided to have cold drinks instead of our regular tea in the Office Canteen at Dehradun. Suddenly someone noticed some black suspended particles in his bottle. When he checked further, there were more than one such thing and some appeared as large as 2mm size. By that time few of us had finished their bottles. But those who were yet to finish were also surprised to find such black floating particles, though smaller in size. They normally go unnoticed because of dirty bottles and water condensation on them. We called the canteen operator who was also caught by surprise. He promptly told us who supplies him and even brought few more bottles from his stock. Most of them had such floating things. We planned to call some TV fellow. The canteen operator willingly gave us a bottle which had quite a lot of suspended particles. We kept it in our office. The next morning a big surprise awaited us. All those suspended things are gone -- dissolved into the drink. Since then we had stopped drinking cold drinks. God knows what goes into it.

That was my experience. Now read what my friend Divyesh has sent:

Have a look at the wrapper on a Coca-Cola 1.5 litre bottle and in the ingredients label you will find phosphoric acid in it. Minute quantities of ethylene glycol is also used (which is acknowledged in the soft drink world for making it really chill").This is popularly known as anti-freeze which prevents water from freezing at 0 degree C and instead drops it by 4-5 degrees with minute quantities. This chemical is a known slow poison in the caliber of arsenic. So, if you manage to drink about 4 liters of Coke within an hour or so, you can die. Read along and give up these dangerous things. Be natural; have flavored milks, butter milk and plain water instead of these "soft" drinks.

Guess what's the pH for soft drinks, e.g. Coke? pH 3.4! This acidity is strong enough to dissolve teeth and bones! Our human body stops building bones at the age of about 30. Soft drinks do not have any nutrition value (in terms of vitamins &minerals). It is high in sugar content, carbonic acid, chemicals i.e. colorings etc.

Some like to take cold soft drinks after each meal. Guess what's the impact? Our body needs an optimum temperature of 37degrees Celsius for digestive enzyme functioning. The temperature of cold soft drinks is very much below 37 degrees or even close to 0 degrees Celsius. This will dilute the enzymes & stress the digestive system. The food taken will not be digested. In fact it will be fermented! The fermented food produces gases, decays and becomes toxin, and gets absorbed by the intestine, circulates in the blood stream and is carried to the whole body. Hence, toxin is cumulated in other parts of the body, developing into various diseases. Think before you drink any soft drink / colas again.

Have you ever thought what you drink when you drink an aerated drink? You gulp down carbon dioxide, when nobody in the world would advise you to drink CO2. Two months back, there was a competition at Delhi University. "Who could drink the most Coke?" The winner drank 8 bottles and fainted on the spot-too much CO2 in the blood. Thereafter, the principal banned all soft drinks from the college canteen!

Imagine what these drink must be doing to your soft intestines and stomach lining!

That’s all! It has really provided some food for thought. I would request others to share your experiences.

Meanwhile if you are interested to know what the CSE report told, read it here … Pesticides in Colas

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday to Blogger

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Blogger made its debute on 23rd Aug, 1999. Thanks to Pyra Labs. It has completed 7 years of immortal existance. On this occasion a new icon has been released for the Beta Blogger. See the Dog that represents 7 years. Goldtoe has rightly said "From those humble roots, a bloggerish forest has grown'. A forest where we all creep and seek solace by expressing ourselves. Indeed it is something we can not live without now. May god bless it with immortality.

I had recently upgraded to Blogger Beta. It was easy and has given a cool new look to the dashboard. But I decided against upgrading my template as this will mean losing all my customization. However, I had upgraded the template of my second blog Me'lange. It looks good with new features. Blogger is working towards on this and making improvements. May be in future upgradation will be more seamless. Want to try out the Beta version....read about it on Blogger Buzz.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Indian Autoricksaw Challange

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A rally of autoricksaw! What! When I heard of this unique event this morning, it really sound funny to me. It is usual to travel 30 /40 km a day in autoricksaw in India. But what about travelling nearly a thousand kilometers over 7 days. It is really challange. But it will also be fun.

Non-Indians may wonder as to what is an autoricksaw. Look at the photo above. A common mode of in town travel in India, this three wheel thing can reach a max speed of 55km. No wonder as to why 13 out of the 14 teams are foreign tourists who probably have felt in love with this small machine.

The chennai based Indian Arc (international youth group), has organised this rally with the main aim to raise money and help New Hope Society for Education and Social Welfare, which is fighting consistently to eradicate child labour from India. The steep entry fee of 1000 EUROS (Approx Rs.55,000/-) kept Indian participants at bay. The only exception bening the team of 5 member Lodha family.

The 937 km rally from Chennai to Kanyakumari via Mahabalipuram -- Pondichery -- Thanjavur -- Madurai --Tuticorin -- Courtallam, which is said to one of the scenic routes in South India. The rally started on 21st August and will conclude on 28th Aug.

Want to know more... read on the website of Indian Arc.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Spell of Miracles : Yeh Hai Indiya!

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Believe it or not, miracles do happen in India, and may be in India only. The superstitious minds of majority of Indians defy any scientific logic offered. We have so many deities (33 crores in all for Hindus), and saints and babas that graced this great land in the subsequent era. Some Indians still believe and follows living Godmen that performs live miracles. No one can beat the Indians on spiritualism.

It started a couple of days back with the seawater getting desalinated at Mahim beach in Mumbai. A mass hysteria that followed to collect and drink sweet seawater (though dirty and muddy) lasted for nearly 24 hours. People attributed it to be a miracle of Maqdoom Baba, whose shrine (dargah) is located nearby (in fact in the sea). People flocked to the Mahim beach in Mumbai and happily devoured the muddy sea water. However unhygenic it may be, it had the blessings of baba! All of them will go to the heaven, if there is any.

This news had hardly died down, when another one popped up today as some television channels showed idols of god, appeared to be Lord Krishna, swallowing milk. Similar things happened nearly ten years ago when idols of Lord Ganesha sucked milk. The incident started near Delhi, and ironically, this time too the incident has been reported to be started from places near Delhi. Being the capital of India, God has probably decided to start off at Delhi!

The misery and sufferings has found a refuge in spiritualism and many fellow Indians has so much of spare time to indulge in such banal things. Unfortunately certain section of Indians are exploiting this blind faith in religion, be it Hindus or Muslims. So much so that a temple trust has recently declared its plan to construct a throne made of gold. The Saibaba Sansthan Trust has decided to buy a gold throne weighing 325 kg for the Shirdi saint at a cost of Rs 22 crore . What a monumental waste of money offered by devotees. The idol of Sai Baba in Shirdi temple already sits on a throne made of silver. This has generated so much response against it that even the savior of Hindutva, Sri Balasahab Thackery has also voiced his concern and has questioned the wisdom. Shiv Sena, who often has been in the news for indulging in vandalism on parochial issues, has for the first time since I have ever heard about Bal Thackery or Shiv Sena, taken up a genuine case. The money could have well spent on some charity and can bring smiles many deprived. The Sai Baba, who was a simple men during his lifetime, would have been more pleased this way then sitting on a gold throne.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Trouble in uploading photos to blogger post

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I have been experiencing this problem for last week or so. Without photos some of the posts looked really dull. Changing PC or ISP did not help. I suspected some issue with blogger. While going thorugh the blogger help group, I came up with this idea of changing your browser. If you are using IE then change to Firefox or vice-verse. I changed to Firefox and the solution really worked. You may read more on this from fellow blogger Peter's post Blogger: What to do when you can't publish, upload photos, etc..

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Independence Day, Kites and Power Outages

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Celebrating 60th year of independence:
The nation celebrated 60th year of independence yesterday amid the cloud of possible terror strike. The tightest security ever helped preventing occurrence of any untoward incident. But the unprecedented security also kept most of Delhites home. We were made victims of Islamic Terrorism, a term I had used in earlier posts as well, without being actually stuck. For security reasons, most major roads were out of bound for traffic till 10am. People were advised to avoid the Ring Road, the spinal chord of Delhi and parking were banned at the New Delhi railway station and all metro stations for the day. The heavy vehicles left stranded at borders for last two days were also expected to hit the Delhi roads by afternoon. Given all these impediments, many like me felt it comfortable to remain indoors. I got to witness a new way of celebrating Independence Day in Delhi – by flying kites in the afternoon. People were seen carrying large bunches of kites in their hands. Most people were found parched atop their rooftops in the afternoon trying their hands in kite flying competitions. Colourful skies made the evening cheerful and made up for most of borenss of the day. I did not fly any, but managed to catch three fallen kites to the delight of my little daughter.

In the backdrop of this I recall scenes from 1998, my first year in Delhi. The year also witnessed the closing ceremonies of celebrating 50 years of Independence. I remember visiting the India Gate lawns on the eve of 15th Aug., primarily to see the lighting of the North Block and the South Block and other government buildings of the area. Once the night fell, all the crowd flocked to the India Gate structure. Many more had poured in by then. The atmosphere was charged with emotions and patriotism. I had never seen a seen like that in my life. It was 1998. Time has really changed now.

Of power outages and kites:
The TOI proudly ran a report that the 1500 MW Nathpa – Jakhri power plant in Himachal has been made functional after a breakdown and the city has started receiving additional power. It termed it is an Independence Day gift for the Delhites who had been living in near blackout conditions for last few days. The day started with promise. But soon the power cuts started. By afternoon, for every 10 minutes of power restore, there were at least an hour of power cuts. The scene continued till about 10pm. For the entire evening we hardly had 30 minutes of power. We braced ourselves for another long powerless night. But then fortunately power was restored and the cycle of power cut and restoration was reversed.

This morning the same news paper ran a report that the power outages were because of tripping of lines caused by metallic manjhas of fallen kites. People use manjha, a mixture of abrasive coating mainly made of glass particles, coated onto the threads used for flying kites. This helps in cutting the threads of competitors. I fondly remember the days in childhood when we stealthily crushed glass bottles to make manjhas, away from the scrutiny of parents. Metallic manjha may be cheaper or more potent, but unfortunately it also had made the threads conductive. In the afternoon, there were kites everywhere in the sky jostling for space to fly. Soon the competition heated up and kites started to fall like pins. As these conductive threads fell on overhead electricity lines, they resulted in short circuits and tripped the lines. The electricity department had hard time locating the places where short circuits had occurred. This has been the reason for yesterday’s massive power outage. I am forced to buy this version, as there has been almost nil power cut by Delhi’s standard.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Unforgettable journeys-I : The day I got lost

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(This is the first of series on my unforgettable tarvels)
It was a day I will never forget for two reasons. Reason 1: I was traveling out of my state alone for the first time in my life. Reason 2: I got lost my way in the final leg of the journey and left stranded in a secluded remote train station named Maliya Miyana (near Kutch, a near desert) in Gujarat.

To begin with I must inform you that I studied engineering at the L.E. College at Morbi, Gujarat state in India. The four year degree course done during the period 1990-1994 made me travel nearly a quarter thousand kilometers across the vast land of India. Guwahati, my hometown, is in the Eastern corner of India while Morbi was almost at the Western corner of India. The Guwahati – New Delhi – Ahmedabad – Wankaner – Morbi was the shortest route for traveling to my college (and hostel) in Morbi from my hometown. Even then it was more than 3000 km traversing across eight states of India, and involved changing train thrice over three days. Barely a few months after I had joined my engineering course, we got break and so, an opportunity to go home. Being one of those first year guys severely stuck by the virus of homesickness, we left Morbi by the first available train. It was Navratri time, i.e., the time was around October, 1990. While coming home there were traveling partners as other students from NE states traveled together. But at the time of going back to college, I had to travel alone. This was the first time I would be traveling alone outside the state.

Everything went fine till I arrived at the Ahmedabad railway station around eight in the evening by the Delhi-Ahmedabad mail. I had no idea then as to how to travel by bus from Ahmedabad. May be I was a bit nervous to explore new mode of traveling, that too at night. The two big suitcases I was carrying, one full of books and other cloths, also went against traveling by bus. So, I decided to catch the next available train to Wankaner. The train, 9017 Surashtra – Janata Express from Mumbai arrived around mid night. I boarded into a compartment which had lesser no. of passengers. As I had been traveling for the last two days, I soon fell asleep. The train was expected to reach Wankaner station around 6 in the morning. I woke up once in the night and felt that the train is moving erratically like being in a shunting yard. I looked at other passengers who were all in deep sleep. So, I fell asleep again.

I woke up in the morning and waited for the train to reach Wankaner. Minutes became hours and still there were no signs of Wankaner. I was so confident that the train is going to Wankaner, I did not bother asking anyone. In fact there were only few ordinary looking passengers in the entire compartment. The train halted once at a small station. I looked out and saw that the train was carrying a water tanker attached next to the engine. People from nearby places were waiting for the train to collect water. This aurprised me a little as I did not recollect seeing any such scene in my earlier journey. This gave me an insight into the water scarcity in the remote areas of Saurashtra. The train may be the only source of drinking water for them. The train moved on. It was almost 9 am and still no sign of Wankaner. Now I was certain that something is seriously wrong. After asking 2 / 3 persons, one was able to tell me that this train was in fact going to a palce called Gandhidham, not to Wankaner or Rajkot. Fortunately, the guy was informed enough and he also suggested to me get down at Maliya Miyana station. Initially he suggested that I travel to the highway and then try to catch a bus or truck to Wankaner or Morbi. But then he suggested me against traveling through the Maliya village as villagers may snatch my belongings. I was in a bit of shock and suspense. What went wrong? I boarded the right, but in the wrong coach! The coach I boarded was detached at a station named Viramgam Junction in the dead of the night and was attached to this train. That explained the shunting like movement I felt last night. So instead of going to Wankaner, I was heading to Gandhidham. A horrible experience and lesson which I never forgot in my life. If I am getting into a coach at the begining or at the end of a train, I make it a point to get it confirmed that it will not be detached en-route.

Finally, the train had come to a halt at the little known station by name Maliya Miyana around noon time. I was relieved to see a sign saying ‘Change here for Morbi and Wankaner’. I promptly got down. The train soon disappeared into distance. It was a barren and empty station. I walked down to the station masters cabin and asked him about how to reach Morbi from here. I also told him what I was told about traveling through the village. The station master, a middle aged man, told me that there is nothing like what I was told in the train, but he suggested that I can catch the meter gauge train that will go to Wankaner via Morbi. The train was to start at 3:30 pm. I decided to wait and travel only by the train. I was empty stomach as there was nothing to eat with me and the station did not even have a tea stall. The clock stuck 3 after a miserable wait. I walked upto the train and bought the ticket to Morbi from the guard. It must have been a surprise for him to see a passenger like me. I told him my story. He suggested that there nothing to fear, but suggested me to get into the compartment immediately next to his guard trolley. I got into the coach and pull down all the window shutters. The meter gauge train with a steam engine started moving slowly through mostly barren landscape. On the way it stopped on few road side stations which had no platforms. People who were to travel had to buy ticket from the guard as probably the stations had no ticket counter. My reckoning was that barley 10 people boarded the train in its 20 odd km of travel over nearly two hours. By evening the train had reached a station named Navlakhi. I was asked to get down here and change train for Morbi. After waiting for another half an hour or so, the train to Morbi was ready for boarding. By about 8:30 pm I had finally arrived at the Morbi station. Then I had realized that this is the same train which we catch for going to Wankaner on our onward journey to home. The difference here is that I have traveled to Morbi instead of traveling out of Morbi by this train. I must be the only student in the entire history of L.E. College who has reached Morbi from the reversed direction by traveled in this train from its originating station. I was late by more than 16 hours. But was relieved to have reached Morbi.

Later I found out that the place Maliya Miyana is a salt producing area and the station is used mainly for loading of salt wagons. Many labourers migrated to this area from states like Bihar and MP. This also brought lampoon elements to the area. Some of them took to the easy money making process of dacoity and looting. In fact I was told that these looters operate in the sambal style like in films, i.e., they are horse riding looters with local made guns and bullet belts. So, the place Maliya had a bad reputation and is dreaded by local people of that area. I was thankful to the guy who had the knowledge and wisdom to advise me against traveling through the village. God must have sent him that day.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Unprecedented security

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As an after effect of the alert on terror strike, armed police was seen checking and frisking in Delhi. Such frisking is very common in my hometown, but it is the first time I have seen assult rifle wielding policemen carrying out checks in Delhi. Unfortunately, all such frisking is done only on two wheeler riders, almost same as in Assam, as if terrorists travel only by two wheelers. We all remember that the terrorists who attacked the parliament last year travelled in car with red light. Even though VIPs who can carry cars with red lights (beacon lights) are well defined, but in Delhi any tom, dick and harry seems to have a red light on their cars which is considered as a symbol of power. I really feels it funny to find some old maruti cars with red beacon lights. If you are really powerful, you will be wealthy and will be showing that off by roaming in one of those luxury cars, not in an old maruti car. The old maruti car is telling what his status is among the rich and powerfuls rather than the red light on it. I have read that it has become a hedache for Delhi police. Hopefully, they will find a solution to it soon.
Further, Delhi has been experiencing several hours of powercuts in the last three days. My area in East Delhi is experiencing at least 4 hours of powercut daily. Fortunately, they are not in one go and is well spread out, giving just enough time for the inverters to charge. If the situations do not improve many Delhites all will be having a sweating and thrusty independence day.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Recalling a few unforgettable journeys

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As I have not been travelling of recent, I thought about chronicling some past journeys. I had traveled at least 70000 kms by the great Indian railway service over the last 20 years and few of the journeys have left indeliable impresions in my mind. Looking back, I remember three eventful journeys which I will never forget. I would be revisitng those memorable journeys in a series of posts over next few days. Till now they had only address --some grey cells in my brain. Now they will have an alternate address in the blogspot.com.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

This day 16 years ago

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On this day 16 years ago a young soul decided to distance him from the comforts of home and set out on a journey to explore the world outside his home. I used to think about a life when I will be completely on my own. No one to question what I do or why I did or more importantly, where am I going. I really hated if someone throws me the question ‘where are you going’. I am often tempted to say, where I go is my not anybody’s business. But the words that very often came out were like going to X’s or Y’s home though in actuality I might be heading to Z’s place..

The premature loss of my father at a very crucial juncture of life had made me more independent as I had to control the helm of my future. So when it came to the time of engineering admission, I had to decide myself where I get admitted. My position in the merit list of state engineering entrance was around 110. This excluded the possibility of getting a Computer Science or Electronics seat. Other than that, it was largely unto me to decide. My mother has been a source of encouragement, but she could offer very little guidance on this. I had always wanted to do something different. I thus decided against getting an engineering degree which thousands other might be getting. Thus I opted to get myself admit for BE (Production) in Lukhdhirji Engineering College in Morbi. At the time of admission, I had very little idea of where the place Morbi is located or what the course content will be. Only later I found out that Morbi is a remote town in Gujarat and the Degree of BE in Production Engg. was considered equivalent to Mechanical Engg.. It represented a tiny dot on the railway map of India. And four years further, I found that I would have been better off doing a Degree in Mechanical Engg. as I had to carry the equivalency certificate issued by the university to interviews because even the industry was not much aware of this relatively new stream of engineering. New and something different is not always better. A big learning curve. Gujarat had only four engineering colleges then one of which was in Morbi. There also was a private engineering college, the first of its kind in Gujarat, probably at Vallabh Vidyanagar near Anand.

About a month after admission, the day had finally arrived when I had to set out on my new voyage. One of my cousin brothers, who had some textile business had offered to accompany me. One of his business associate had also joined later. I had a sudden bout of fever the evening before scheduled departure. But that could not dampen my spirit. There is something in me that had egged me on and made me forget all worries that might be lurking in a new environment where I would be alone to defend myself.

We were to start from Guwahati by the Kamrup Express and were to catch the Howrah-Ahmedabad Express from Kolkata. My mother had teary eyes and had even cried. She might have felt as if a chunk of her being detached. My young brother was probably at loss of words. He was just 1 ½ years younger to me. We grew up like friends. I was his friend, mentor, enemy and everything else. It was really sad to get separated from them. I had decided to go myself. So, I had to go. My best pal Shankar had also come to see me off.

Changing trains at Kolkata, and traveling more than 3000 kms over 3 days, we had arrived at a station named Wankaner, located some 200 km from Ahmedabad and 27 km from Morbi. One has to travel by road from here to reach Morbi. For your information Morbi is the town made famous by its Ajanta Clocks made by the ORPAT Industries Limited. In fact, watch making is a cottage industry in this small town that was the capital of erstwhile Morbi state. There also is a mention of the ‘Queen of Morbi’ in the Sidney Sheldon novel ‘If Tomorrow Comes’. There was a meter gauge train that runs between Morbi and Wankaner twice a day. After getting down at Wankaner, we got shoved into a cramped taxi that normally caries 7 passengers. While I was accommodated in the hostel by seniors from Assam, my cousin brother and his friend checked into a hotel. By the time we sat for our first dinner (my first hostel meal), it was almost 8 pm and yet it was not even dark. It took all 3 of us by surprise. For my cousin brother the surprises were over soon as they had left after 3 days. But for me, more and more surprises were waiting to unfold!

Sixteen years ago it started just because I wanted to see and feel the world outside my home. But sixteen years hence I have to live 350 days a year away from my hometown and now I could go home hardly for about 15 days a year. It was destined to happen that day. That is life.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Delhi lamp posts are getting a new look

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I had to coommute between my office at trans Yamuna and ONGC's corporate office at Cannaught Place for the last days. I had observed that everything around the ITO area was getting a fresh coat of paints. That reminded one that some big government event is around. This time it is the 15th August, the independence day. This part of the road leads to the Raj Ghat and the Red Fort, where the Prime Minister will unfurl the national flag on 15th August. Though the need of the hour is to find a solution to the water logging and traffic congestion problem at ITO. I have seen some 'Work in Progress' sign put up by a company, probably named 'Kaveri Constructions', for storm water drainage. But that may continue till the next independence day.
We have been told my numerous news channels security has been beefed up in the city for the forthcoming independence day. Not surprisingly, there were policemen everywhere yesterday. All around there was a big rush to buy sweets and gifts for today's Raksha Bnndhan festival, the festival celebrating the poignant relation between a brother and a sister. More than frsiking people, policemen were appeared to have been making hey (and money) by booking traffic violators. They were hiding in the most unexpected of spots yesterday. Without helmets and without seat belts were their targets. It often happens when some festival is around. I have seen it happen in Assam and the same happens in Delhi as well.
The other encumberance one may face till the independence day celebrations are over that the Barakahmaba road in Cp has been closed for entry from the ITO side. This his created heavy traffic on the KG Marg as all traffic to CP has to take this route. Anyway, till the independence day is over, it is better to stay put at home. Or, move out to exotic places as it is a really extended weekend. All hotels are booked to capacity, in locations around Delhi, specially Uttaranchal, for the next week. There is only one working day (14th) next week. For many it is holiday from 12th to 16th. So, guys, if you are lucky to have a holiday booked for next week, enjoy!

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dilli darshan

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Couple of weeks back, I had a mini Dilli darshan, a local sightseeing tour of the city of Delhi. I had to take out my mother who was visiting Delhi after 20 years. Our parents brought us to Delhi on a LTC tour in 1986 and presented a whole new world to us. It was our first visit outside the state. It is payback time now. Being in Delhi has helped this cause. It was a Sunday and traffic was expected to be low. Remember, most of the tourist places and even most markets remains closed in Delhi on Monday. (This includes Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Old Fort, Zoo, etc., etc.)

I had opted to hire a taxi from the friendly neighborhood taxi operator. There are many of them with offices under a big tree, located conveniently among various societies in the locality I live, i.e., I.P Extension in Patparganj. Hiring a taxi on a full day basis is the cost and time effective way of seeing Delhi. The normal charges are Rs.500/- for 80 km within 12 hours (8 am to 8 pm). Extra kilometers will be charged at Rs.5/- per km. If you hire a taxi from the Paharganj, it may cost you 100 bucks more.

As I am familiar with locations of the tourist spots in Delhi, we headed straight to Lotus temple or the Bahai temple. I was surprised to be greeted by a fairly strong crowd even in the heat of a north Indian summer. Most of the tourist appears to be from Southern part of India. So they might not be feeling the heat at all even though it was in high 30s with sapping humidity. But we felt the heat quite a bit, as we had to stand in a long queue to enter the monument. For my mother it was the only new thing, as it did not exist 20 years back. Honestly speaking, I find nothing spectacular about the structure. The Akshardham temple is much better piece of engineering, architecture and craftsmanship. Though there is no entry fee, the parking charges for car is a fat Rs.25/-, even if you park on the road. The contractor is probably talking advantage of the zone system of parking and is charging rates of the adjoining Nehru Place areas.. The parking fees for all other tourist places are Rs.15/- at the most. If you have time constraint, better visit the Akshardham temple rather than this.

We then headed to the Qutub Minar. It was a photo opportunity for me. I tried with certain things and came up with some good shots. Even in ruins, the place has a charm. I have now graduated from the point and shoot photography to some more serious one taking care of composition and exposure.

My aim was to show my mother the places, which are not covered, in a typical Delhi darshan. So I told the driver to take us to the Chanakyapuri area for a nice view of the embassies lining the Shanti path. We then had a detour of the Willingdon Crescent and saw the Salt March Monument, picture of which is on the Rs.500/- currency notes. The taxi moved ahead to the Gole Dakkhana that proudly displays the first PIN no of the nation, i.e., 110001. Then we reached the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which probably is the largest Gurudwara in Delhi. All these were seen while traveling. We could have gone to the Birla temple, which is located nearby, but avoided it as we had seen it earlier. Instead we moved on to the Red Fort.

A heavy dose of security awaited visitors to the Red Fort. I felt pity for the policemen who were frisking people. Imagine checking bodies of people all day – hands up and down. Their hands and arms must be in terrible pains by evening. It must be really tough. All the policemen might like to stand in the street than doing this exercise, which do not yield anything. Out on the street every time they raise their hands on a truck and tempos, money rains.

The extra security has made even buying tickets a tough job. There were long queues. The large crowd may be because of the day being a Sunday. Nowadays one has a buy a full ticket paying Rs.11/-. This price actually includes several entry tickets. There are 3 tickets for entering 3 different museums. These were optional earlier. Nowadays, whether you visit them or not, you will have to pay. I remember the days, when I use to buy a Rs.2/- ticket to get into the Red Fort. I had studied my engineering in Gujarat. While traveling from Guwahati to Ahmedabad, I had to travel through Delhi and used to get a lot of time to kill. The train track to Ahmedabad being a meter gauge line during that time, most of the trains started from Old Delhi station. So, Red Fort was the best spot to kill time. Find a nice place under a tree in the lawns and then sleep. Believe me, I have been to the Red Fort so many times only to sleep in the lawns. However, this time I had visited it probably after 8 years or so. The place has changed a lot. There are security men everywhere, which in one way is good as many Indians enjoys defacing our precious history by writing their names on the walls. No one can do this now in Red Fort. The authorities have also closed many areas for visitors by putting up rope barriers.

We were out of the Red Fort after about an hour or so. Next stop to be was Raj Ghat that is located just next to the Red Fort. However there were some protestors who were heading to the Raj Ghat and so police had cordoned off the entry route. So we had to skip it and head home. A Delhi darshan after 20 years had come to an end. Fortunately, the trip did not cover even 80km and so I had to pay only Rs.500/- plus tip to the driver.

There are many museums located in Delhi. I have visited only one, the Gandhi memorial a long time back. I think once the summer is over, I will try to explore these museums.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 11:22 PM | 2 comments

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