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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.



Thursday, September 28, 2006

It's Festival Time

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It's autumn time. And it is the time for festivals and celebration.

For us, the denizens of the East India, celebrations starts today with the Durga Puja. It is one of the widely celebrated festival across many states in East India. Today is the first day of Durga Puja and is called sasthi. The 10 handed lion riding idol of Devi Durga brandishing 10 different weapons killing the demon Mahisasura will be placed with all respect at the alters of puja pandals. The puja will peak on the day of Asthami and will finally end on the day of Vijaya Dashami on 2nd October with the immersion of devi idol in some water body. The modern day form of Durga puja had probably originated in Bengal but the tradition had spilled over to neighboring states. In my native Assam, it is celebrated with equal pomp and glandour as is done in Kolkata. Want to send e-cards to your friends --- use this free site Happy Durga Puja.

The festival season in India had started last Saturday with the celebration of Navaratri in North and West India, though it is celebrated in entirely different ways in these regions. There may be different ways to celebrate this 10 days of worshiping, but it all had probably same mythological origin. It symbolises the power of female form and victory of good over evil.

If you are not from India, what may interest you is the Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata (28 to 2nd Oct) and the Dusserah celebrations in North (2nd Oct). If you happen to be here, then you should grab some opportunities to witness at least one of this. However, the problem you may face in the east is that the lay back attitude during festivals keeps almost all markets closed in next 2 /3 days. If you are in Delhi, you can witness both.

I will be off to Dehradun to spend some time with old friends this extended weekend. The extended weekend means rush for hotel accomodation. If you do not have prior accomodatoion then you face face problem in popular holiday spots between 30th Sept -- 2nd Oct.

posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:47 AM | 1 comments

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Multilingual India : Problem of too many

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I had tried making few STD calls this morning to book a hotel at Fort Kochi at Cochin. I gave up after some botched effort trying to explain that I want to book a hotel through their agency. The problem was that the people on the other side do not speak the dialects I used. Neither they speak Hindi nor English.
I missed the opportunity to stay at Fort Kochi the last time I went to Cochin. Becuse most of the hotels were full as foreign tourists prefer to stay here. I called up several numbers from the net and also from my own directory from last visit. It was a pity that the people on the other side could neither speak Hindi nor English properly. Despite this, they are part of the tourism industry. And Kerala thrives on tourism. Fortunately, Ms Lalitha Mohan, the lady executive of Agatti Island Resort speaks English.
I had some experience of this problem the last time I went to Cochin. Specially with drivers and autos. Once I had to pull my hair trying to explain to the autowallh that I had left my key in the hotel and so we need to go back to the hotel. One of the driver we hired there could communicate in Hindi and I missed him a lot in the later part of the tour.
Now I will have to try to learn some Malayalam. Then may be Tamil, Telegu, etc., etc. We have so many languages across India. I think 15 of them are recognised by Govt. The denomination in currency notes are written in all these 15 languages. Unrecognised dialects are probably uncountable. Fortunately, if you know Hindi, you can manage across entire North, Central and West India. And also in some places down South like Banglore and Hyderabad. In rest of the places you need intervention God almighty.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A landmark achieved : 10000 visitors

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My blog has crossed a milestone today. It has crossed the 10,000 visitors figure this morning. This has been achieved in 16 months. Thanks to all those who has repeatedly visited my blog and spared tome to read my thoughts in one of those 100 odd posts. When I look back, I still remember searching meaning of a blog. My blog has become one of my favorite indulgences. On this occasion, I had decided to go for a makeover. In fact I had been waiting for the last few days with my customised Andrea's template. I wanted something new to mark the occasion. A new outlook, but inhibiting the same passion. I will seek your continuous patronage for the journey ahead.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lakshadweep: Holidaying in the sea

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My trip to Lakshadweep is on. I almost postponed it to next year for financial reasons. But things can really change fast in life. I had booked tickets yesterday for the trip between Delhi and Cochin. To keep the cost down, we would be traveling by train. This will help us spare at least Rs.20,000/-. When there is a will there is a way. Therefore we would be celebrating 10 years of being together in a secluded island resort in the sea. Our little daughter, the only addition in these 10 years, will give us company for what I am looking forward is an unforgettable holiday.

It was in May this year when the idea of Holidaying in Lakshadweep dawn on me. The prohibitive cost of traveling to Maldives made me explore the possibility of traveling to these island group which is a geographical extension of the Maldives group of islands. Once the destination was found, I got into direct contact with the Agatti Island Beach Resort. Ms. Lalitha Mohan, the lady executive at their Cochin office had been very informative on her e-mails. The cost of a 3N/4D holiday at this secluded resort worked out to be Rs.25,000/-. Traveling from Delhi with an overnight stay at Cochin will cost me another Rs.15,000/-. Thus the entire trip is expected to cost me about Rs.40,000/-. The same trip to a Maldivian island would have cost me at least thrice this amount.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Keep Delhi out of your itinerary for next 10 days

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Delhi is on the boil. The sealing drive by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has taken an ugly turn yesterday. 3 people had reportedly died in police firing on unruly mob protesting these sealing. It was a different matter that rioters and hooligans had taken over from the genuinely affected traders. There is so much unemployment and spare time to indulge in such banal things. The cumulative destructive energies built in their devil’s workshops erupt causing lots of pains to fellow human beings. It was clearly seen from television clippings that hooligans were on rampage damaging any public property came on their way. They went on to pelt stone and damage those state of the art Metro coaches as well. Roads were blocked all across Delhi and vehicles were damaged, including private ones. The pelted stones do not know whether the vehicle it is landing is a private or public one. It is one of the serious problems I have observed in Delhi. If you see a mob, it is better steer away. This is specially true in low cost and juggi jhupri areas. These people vent their frustration on anyone passing by. You can not simply do anything rather than be a mute spectator while your vehicle is hit by some lumpen elements in the mob. Such rampant damage of public and private property is highly deplorable and no amount of clarification can justify them. The problem is that these lumpen elements of society do not pay any taxes and so the public properties are not erected out of their hard earned money.

It is a different matter the sealing of shops has turned life difficult for both the traders and customers. In India, we are used to shops on ground floors. In fact a property by a main road had its value for the opportunity it provides to indulge in commercial activity. However in many cases such shops had grown into full fledged markets and being unplanned construction without any associated parking, etc. they become necessary evils. They were the root of most traffic jams. We had a full fledged market at Madhu Vihar in the area we live. It was a good market for the residents of Patparganj as most of the things were available at reasonable rates obviating the need to go to bigger markets. But this entire market has been closed down last week as it was one of those ground and first floor markets in residential buildings. It was the cause of traffic jams every evening at the Madhu Vihar chowk. But now there is neither the jam nor the market. And we are forced to look for far away markets. For many traders, it will be a black Diwali as lakhs and lakhs of rupees invested in their shops has gone down the drain.

Hopefully a solution will be arrived and we will have better Delhi.

(It is advisable to avoid Delhi for next few days, specially going to the markets like Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar, etc. Situations may turn violent any time and you may get stuck in unnecessary traffic jams)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

World War-III in 2007

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This is what caught my eye while browsing the other day. One Dr. Michael Rathford has written a book and claimed to have deciphered hitherto unearthed codes of he famed prophet Michel de Notradame, or Nostradamus (1503-1566). Truth or just another thriller! Are the event in Middle East are actually giving shape to a World War that will be faught not between nations but between religions with Muslim fanatics on one side and others on opposite. May like to check it out at nostradamusonline.com

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Club Mahindra Holidays: Free Holiday baits

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Heard of Club Mahindra Holidays and Resorts? It is one of the better-known brand and entity in India. It is the best- known (and also the only one known to me in India) resorts chain in India that promises hassle free holidays for its members. Many of us might have seen those front-page ads in leading national dailies offering you a handycam free if you enroll for membership. Ever bothered to find out what it is? And more importantly how costly it is?

It is very common in the malls of Delhi like EDM or pacific to find some soft spoken rep approaching you to fill up a questionnaire and get a chance to win free 2N / 3D holidays. In the last six months we had filled up such forms 4 times and has supposedly won 3 times. On the earlier two occasions we had declined. But after the claimed to be pleasant experience of my colleague Vaskar, who enjoyed a 2N/3D holiday at the Club Mahindra resort at Manali last month, we also thought of giving it a try. The problem is that people often do not share the embarrassing or irritating part of their experience. Had he shared the fact the he had to go through an unforgettable experience to get the voucher, I might not have gone there.

We reached the Club Mahindra office at the Centre Stage Mall in NOIDA on our appointed time. The office looked more like a cafeteria with small round tables all around. Only difference is that each of the table had a PC. Most of the tables were occupied by a couple on one side and a Mahindra rep on the other. We were welcomed by Sashi, one of the rep. He started in his routine by trying to get friendly with us. A questionnaire handed out to us reminded that the process may take upto 90 min. We were also told that irrespective of the outcome of the session we are guaranteed a voucher for 2N/3D holiday in a select resort of limited choice. As I was in no mood to sit for 90 min after sitting out 8 hours in the office, I told Sashi that I know a little about the concept of Club Mahindra as I visited their stall in some fair in Dehradun. But the poor fellow has a job to defend. So continued with his routine and showed us very bad resolution videos of some of the resorts. My objective was to get the free gift voucher, but his objective was to entice me to become a member. As time passed by, this gap of conflicting interests continued to widen and reached a point where Sashi had to tell me that I am probably getting bored. Without being diplomatic, I replied in the affirmative and told him to give the voucher. By that time he had eat up more than 90 min and had spoilt my entire evening or at least some part of it which I could have spent in the mall. I saw an elderly couple left midway telling they do not so much time to waste. But I was of the opinion that I had already wasted so much of time that it would be foolish to leave without the voucher. Finally after another wait of 15 min. or so we were handed over the voucher. Now we can go on a 3D/2N holiday with free stay only to one of the following places – Munnar, Manali, Binsar and Coorg. It is to be availed on selected days upto march, 2007. Not much of choice for me as I have been to Munnar 2 years back and to Kausani (very close to Binsar) last year. Coorg is too far down south. So only option left is Manali. It is almost 6 years since I had visited Manali. So may be I will head for Manali. According to my friend Vaskar, the Ckub mahindra resort at Manali is about 4 km from the Mall though the Mahindra rep will tell you it is only 2 km. He had to pay for food only which was not that costlier. However commuting to the town was a problem as it was bit off the track and autos charge about 50 bucks for each trip.

Here is what you need to know so that next time you get an offer, you remained informed. In the entire 90 min of discussion / presentation, Sashi remained tight lipped about the cost of membership. I kept prodding him, as I knew it is very costly, much beyond reach of average Indians. Finally he told me when the discussion was over and I made it clear that I am not interested. Believe me, it is a whopping Rs.1,87,000/-. Yes that is what the cost of membership. In addition to that you will have to pay almost Rs.7000/- every year as maintenance charges. This means the total cost for the 25 years membership is more than Rs.3.5 lakh. Now you understand why they were doling out handycams for free. This membership promises 7 days holidays every year for the next 25 years in the 13 existing Club Mahindra resorts across India and 2 abroad. Besides Club Mahindra being a member of RCI, you can also go for vacation in other places where Mahindra do not have a resort. But for that you will have to pay almost Rs.4,000/- if that resort is in India and Rs.10,000/- if it is outside India. This is lot of money. How many in India can afford such luxury?

I told Sashi point blank that the concept is not for India. We do not holiday to sit out 7 days at a secluded resort. We visit places to explore what is around. In most cases we come back to the room only at night. So in a 7 day holiday we would be covering at least 2 locations and would involve a maximum of 4 nights of stay. You can get good hotels paying 750 to 1000 rupees. This means you would be spending only 4000, say a maximum of 5000 rupees as staying charges. Compare this to Rs.7000/- per year for Club Mahindra. Add the additional 4000 if you are going to a place where Club Mahindra do not have a resort, say Darjeeling. All these information I provided are here are not available on Club Mahindra’s website. Earlier these were available in their brochure. But fearing the fact that seeing the price scares most people away, they have removed this information from brochure as well. Now they try to talk prospective client into membership.

The concept of Club Mahindra claims that that they gave 5 star class accommodation for this price. I said the concept holds good only for those who can afford 5 star hotels not for average tourist. I told Sashi that Lodging charges comes third in the total expenses for a trip. My experience says the major expenses in holidaying consist of traveling followed by food. I told him of my holiday in Kerala where we traveled during the day and arrive at a town only in the evening for overnight stay. It would be absolute foolishness for someone to sit out 7 days at Munnar alone. Sashi understood that I am an experienced traveler and there is no point arguing with me. He gradually started to agree with me and was happy to see me off as soon as possible. I asked him how many clients he had attended that day. He told me that I am the only one for him that day as they normally invites couples who can come only in the evening. I wish him better luck next time.

So, guys this was an evening to remember. Club Mahindra will call only couples, not singles. If you are a bachelor, you need not worry. But if you get a chance for a free stay, grab it. All you need to do is to decide beforehand whether you can afford to be a member or not. If not you can cut short the pain for both the parties.

A Follow up (Added on 18/02/2007):

I had observed that this post had attracted several observation. So I thought of adding something to it. In fact someone had even posted two yahoo groups to ndicate there are good experiences as well. I had willingly let that comment appear on this post. I had visited the links and found nothing to cheer about. I still held that Club Mahindra is a highly impractical holiday options for 90% Indians. It is meant for those filthy rich with lot of money to spare. This is my personal opinion. May be some other have different views! I had let the Free Holiday Voucher lapsed as (i) it was not possible to avail them on weekends (ii) the places offered were not attractive as I have visited 2 of the four offered under the scheme. Anyway, most of us are mature enough to whether to fell for the bite!

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:31 PM | 12 comments

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Updating template to Andreas style

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A change of template is a lot of pain, specially when you have customized it a lot. However at times you really felt tempted to go for a better looking one. While browsing through blogs last week, one particular template design caught my eye. I decided to get that design for my blog immediately. It is one of the template popularly known as the Andreas style, designed by Andreas Viklund.

After downloading the template code, I found that it would be very tough to change over from my current template to the new one. I am not an html expert, but have mastered few necessary things. But once I decided it, it became a challenge for me. For the last few days I am busier customizing the new template than devoting time to the blog. My efforts are coming close to a result and hopefully be next week or so my blog should be sporting its brand new look. However I am unable to give a preview as Blogger is experiencing a new kind of problem in photo upload.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Living through an earthquake prediction

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3000 kms of flying, 500 kms of driving and facing an earthquake prediction – that summed up my last week. I was off to a distant place from Delhi, but very close to my hometown. Sometimes you get opportunities to mix with official work with personal chores.

After flying 1500 km east to Guwahati, I was received by my mother at the airport. On our way home, she told me that a big earthquake has been predicted to occur the day after in Assam. An exact prediction of an earthquake seems esoteric. The prediction went a bit far giving time of the quake as 8:21 am on 8th Sept, 2006 with epicentre being some 16km of Dibrugarh city. The fact that there have been four tremors in last one month or so has made people take this warning seriously. It was taken so seriously that mock safety drills have conducted by local agencies and NGOs across the state. My mother has also kept a packet ready of handy things like torchlight, water bottle, a shawl, etc. that may be required in case of quake. Even most schools decided to remain closed on the day, the 8th of September. The prediction has been made on the basis of cosmic positions of some planets by a geologist named N Venkatanathan, sitting far away in Chennai. Some rebutted the claim as an earthquake can never be predicted so accurately. The ones who had abundant time to spend in leisure waited for the clock stuck 8:21, then 22, 23….finally 9, 10... But there was no sign of quake. Next day, people started crying for the head of the scientist and asked for his arrest for creating a panic situation. During all these I was somewhere on the highway as I had no such time to spare.

I drove to Jorhat next day, some 300km to the east of Guwahati. The night before I departed from Delhi, I had watched a programme in National Geographic channel on the 1991 cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in Philippines. It was a stark realization of the horror the Mother Nature can unleash for all the pain we have given her. On my way I thought about the possible earthquake. Assam sits on an active seismic belt, but fortunately we are not sitting on a volcano. We are used to small tremors from time to time. But in the last 35 years I have been on this earth, there has been only one major quake in Assam. It was probably in 1987. The quake came in the morning at around 7am. We all ran out as the house started shaking. But outside the whole world was shaking, the trees, and the light poles. The shaking becomes more vigorous as time passed. I remember holding on to a tube well to prevent from falling down. It tremors lasted for about 20 secs. Later we came to know that the intensity was about 7 in the Richter scale. Fortunately, there was no major damage, though a few cracks here and there were reported. The traditional construction in Assam makes houses earthquake resistant. Some of the subsequent devastating earthquakes in other places of India were of lesser magnitude. The rest of the day was fun for us, as many aftershocks hit us and we kept running shouting the traditional Hari Bol, Hari Bol ( a way to call God to spare him).

The last major earthquake occurred in Assam in 1950. In fact according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) info page, this was the biggest earthquake in the world since the introduction of seismological monitoring stations. Forgive them for the spelling mistakes in names of places. The details of this quake is recorded as : 1950 Aug. 15, India, Assam, 1,530 deaths, magnitude 8.7. It had a devastating effect on the entire North East which changed many landscapes. The scientist who made the prediction this time claimed that on 8th Sept, 2006 the planetary positions would be same as that of the day in 1950. But mother nature proved that her actions can not be entirely predicted. But the fall out of the prediction is that, many people are now aware of the measures to be undertaken during a quake. The preparedness is good as if not today, some day a quake will hit us. The region is lying dormant for last 20 years. Mt. Pinatubo had no history of eruption in the previous 500 years before it erupted like a sleeping demon in 1991.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Oil industry strike in India from 05.09.2007

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The officers of Oil and Gas Industry of India is going on an indefinite strike from 0600 Hrs of 5th Sept, 2006. The strike call has been given by OSOA, an umbrella organisation of all Oil Sector PSU Officers Associations The strike call is given for revision of wages. The last pay revision in oil sector has been almost 10 years ago. Given the fact that officers constitutes almost 80% of employee strength in oil sectors, the strike is likely to cripple the industry.
The Oil sector in India is still largely Government controlled. While the upstream is lead by ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation), the downstream is led by IOC (Indian Oil Corporation), both being Government of India undertakings. Low pay packages as compared to those offered by new private players like British Gas and Shell in this field in India, has seen large exodus of talent from these Government companies. The pay packages offered by these private companies are in the range of 15 lakh onwards for a junior level executives as against about 7 lakh in these Government companies.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Car central locking failure kills a family near Delhi

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Technology are god. But they may be bad as well. Ever wondered what wil you do, if you are stuck inside the car as the power system has failed throwing your central locking and power window inoperable. Exactly this has happened to the family of Dhanesh Jindal and family last night. The bodies of Mr. Jindal, his wife and two children were found this morning in the car they were travelling at Faridabad, near Delhi. Stuck inside their Santro car with system failure, they all died asphyxicated. To make the matter worse for them it was really raining hard last evening in Delhi and its adjoining areas.
When I was deciding to purchase my car few years back, I really appreciated one piece of advice from some expert on these high tech features. Ask yourself -- if no what. Power window is one such feature. If it is not their, the car will still run and give you a nice ride. But if for some reason, you foregt to wind up glasses before leaving, you need to get in and start the engine to wind up the glases. If it fails for some reason, you cann't even leave your car. And if it fails with you inside the car, ou imagine what can happen. Issues like mileage, suspension, brakes, etc. should be more important than power windows, defogger, rpm meter, etc.
Last night's rain had given me a scare as well. I had to travrse a heavily waterlogged area at the entrance of the EDM mall in East Delhi. Once out on the main road, I was driving slowly, may be around 30-40 kmph. Because of heavy rain, visibility was very poor and also there was a thick flim of rain water on the road. On arriving at a traffic junction, I had applied brake. But to my horror, the barake did not took effect immediately, and the car came to a halt with jerk after 10 feet or so. Fortunately, the car ahead was some distance away.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

No more Pluto: Scorpions beware!

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So Pluto has been striped off its planet status. In the western astrology Pluto is the ruling planet of the zodiac sign Scorpio. So, scorpions beware! You have lost your ruling planet.

However, this downgrading has not changed much for followers of Indian Astrology. As per the Indian astrology, Pluto has been never been a planet. Even though the ancient Indian Vedic astrology has propounded the theme of Nava-graha, nava meaning nine and graha meaning planet, it has its own set of planets which is different from the solar system. The Indian astrology is Geocentric, not Heliocentric, i.e., Earth is at the centre of the system and everything moves around earth, not the sun. This means that even the Sun and Moon are part of the Nava Graha. The nine planets as per Vedic Astrology are the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu. The first seven are celestial bodies and the last two are mathematical points on the zodiac. Besides these nine planets, Indian Astrology also has a defined set of 27 Nakshatras, i.e., stars.

Astrology is different from Astronomy. It is argued that astrology picks up where astronomy ends. Whether astrology is a science or superstition is still a matter of debate. But sometimes astrology helps. I have experienced it. I am not of the type who would blindly believe in everything or run to gurus, etc. But I had to accept some of the reasoning provided in my astrological analysis. It may be coincidence, but some advices had changed my life.

Before ending, have a looked at this picture I had picked up somewhere. It will make you feel dwarfed.


Follow up (Dtd 6th Nov, 2007)

Pluto is now just a number. This Dwarf Planet has been assigned the asteroid no. 134340 by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) on 7th Nov, 2006. This is a result of the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision to strip Pluto of its planet status.


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