Thursday, March 28, 2013

High Five

This space completed 5 long years yesterday. Well, a long way to have come. Thinking about it, I am still amazed as to what all I have written. Certainly didn't have a clue about it when I started.

Also, thinking about what all I could have written. I am still not comfortable to share my views on certain topics - got to mature in that way. But one thing is for sure. I now write for myself. I don't wait for comments, nor do I seek approval. I write when I want to, the way I want to.

I write to express myself, I write to extend myself. No sweat. I like this phase. No pressures to write, no anticipation of comments. I hope it stays that way. I almost abandoned the blog last year for a while; but yeah I am glad I was able to rebound.

At times, I feel I've narrowed my scope of writing. Has my interest waned? Not really, its just that few things are not worth whining about. What can you do about it? And the kind of issues are limited isn't it? :-) And why write only about issues.

However, its better than not writing at all. It keeps me at peace, jotting down what I want to. Sharing good things once in a while. So be it. Above all, I can't end without talking about bloggers who have been reading me. I feel so motivated by the encouragements I receive. The ones who continue to read me are genuine folks who truly appreciate my views and what better to ask for.

So the sojourn continues....

Friday, March 22, 2013

Trip to Mumbai

I feel like writing a lot these days. Things that seemed as usual is giving me spirits to write about. Well, such are days. I almost abandoned my blog few months ago; the phase might visit again, who knows! But yeah as long as it goes.

We have two shutdowns each year at work; its an unwind mode - both for man and machines. Usually, the second shutdown is during Christmas until New Year - get about 10 days off. For Dec 2012, I decided to visit Mumbai.

It was for sometime that I was talking about visiting Mumbai to Neha. I have a connection with that city; I was born there. That's that; soon transported to Bangalore and been living since then here. I have not visited Mumbai earlier and no nothing or anybody there except for Neha. So, finally decided to visit Mumbai and from there on, we made plans.

Neha didn't surprise one bit; having known her for more than 3 years now; she was the same as she is on chat. Oh! by the way she is one of the two females I am ever friends with. Somehow I can't gel with females :-/ No offense ladies.

I must confess that Mumbai was different certainly than the other cities I've visited in India. The people especially; they are so bindaas to quote in a typical Mumbaiya style. I loved the vada pavs and the chais; so very cheap!!!!!

I loved the freedom women get there; I thought Mumbai and Bangalore are two cities where women can be free spirited. Oh! and the roaming around yeah. Had to visit the famous hotspots; obviously! So yeah the Gateway of India, the Taj like a typical tourist. What I loved was the tour of the Elephanta caves; going on the Arabian sea for 2 hours to reach the Elephanta island; seeing lot of oil rigs over Bombay High was good.

Another thing that pleasantly surprised me was the ease of availability of public transport - be it rickshaw or taxi. In Bangalore; the auto rickshaw guy is the king, you go where he goes and you always pay "meter-mela extra". I remember we had to take a rick to a place less than 1 km at 6 AM in the morning. The first auto we stopped agreed to take us. What more! I gave the guy 20 Rs and didn't expect the Rs 5/- back. But he made sure he gave it back to me.

Its not only easy to get an auto at that unearthly hour in Bangalore; its impossible to hire them for less than 10 mms and they would quote double. I want to relocate a percentage of auto folks between Mumbai and Bangalore :)

Neha showed me her famous Sydenham and the ever more famous Tea Center; we had tea and lemon tarts. And she was very patient with me while I was clicking numerous unwanted pictures. Here are some photos. Akhil, Neha's friend was very accommodative and made me comfortable through the stay. I didn't even email him after getting back :-( I should do that right away!

Tan..tadaaa.....Opening scene of any movie :-P . Captured this on the way to Elephanta

Huge cargo ship offshore

The Trimurti at Elephanta. I visited lotta caves in Maharashtra. There will be a separate post dedicated to caves.

On the way back while discussing guys and their stupidity, I noticed this chubby guy taking a nap. Loved the way he was sleeping.

It was a sunny day, the photos are not clear due to the sun rays

Mount Mary church

Loved the colorful candles

Neha and her friend Akhil took me to Walkeshwar Ban Ganga temple. We sat for a long time at the pond watching the swans and pigeons and ducks. I clicked lot of pictures; these two are my favorite.

11th century Ban Ganga tank amidst concrete high raises

While walking back from the tank, noticed this old temple; seemed out of place. Later I realized, its the skyscrapers that have popped up around it

At peace

A bylane at Walkeshwar

Hard at work. I wanted to taste the black nut and he readily cracked one and offered me.

The chariots near Marine Drive

The Taj at night

Boats waiting to ferry passengers

VT - It was not light since they were mourning the death of the Delhi gang-rape victim.

Neha mentioned that this building was a hospital. Reminded me of Satya Sai hospital in Bangalore; but yeah this one is on the seashore.

Night photography is impossible without a tripod!

A happy family

I am not saying where I clicked these since the guy who took us at this close range may be under fire. Isn't he cute? words; majestic and royal

Bliss...Pure Bliss. She was happily playing in her very own jacuzzi without a care for the world.

Lemon tart and Chai at Tea Center

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Antics of Gay Swans

Read this tidbit on a newspaper yesterday and I am too very tempted to share it here :)

Seems the gay swan couple try to lure a female swan to a temporary threesome. They court for a while; after obtaining her eggs drive her away!

How is that?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Some more activities at Chiang Mai :-)

It didn't end at zip lining, massage, cycling and mineral bath at Hot Springs. Don't know what kind of a devil had possessed me, I wanted to indulge and get involved at Chiang Mai. Was it the place, was it the nature, the place? I don't know.

Here is a confession; for myself. I m not good at anything - no cooking, no baking, nor gardening, no sewing. I can't groom myself, I am so lazy that its tough to carry my ass off anywhere. I am hopeless but I like traveling, smelling the earth of a new place, fascination for new experience. I love to feel the trees at those places, to play with the water from the streams and lakes. I can sit forever facing the sea watching the sun set and wonder what it must have taken to build architectural marvels hundreds of years ago with no technology. I think what I am good at is some bit at office and maybe my photography which I think is average.

So this place fed my appetite. I missed a famous temple up the hill since it was touristy and oversold, and decided against visiting the Zoo though got free tickets. I've heard the pathetic state the animals are kept, so couldn't get myself go. But there were other beautiful things. Here are other things

Bo Sang Umbrella village : On the way back from the hot spring is the village of Bo Sang, known for traditional hand made umbrellas and parasols. These are made from paper, richly colored and hand painted with floral motifs, thai women and other characters. It was nice to see the umbrella makers and artists at work in their workshop. Its handwork and determination. Patient in drawing intricate deisngs on paper cured to withstand the temperature. The artists also offer to paint on anything that you get - caps, T shirts for a nominal fee. Beautiful parasols all hand made and eco friendly. I got a miniature one for home :)

Bo Sang Umbrella Village Workshop

Work in progress - the cream colored paper parasols are dried, painted and designs drawn

An artist at work

Paper fans displayed at the workshop's souvenir shop

Miniature ones being dried - I got one of them

A completed piece

Kayaking : Finally! Kayaking. Another wish list from my bucket. Was in a dual mood whether to go or not and then just decided to go for it. I was already feeling that I was going overboard and after much thought the second last night, made up my mind. I had a pamphlet at the guest house and yet it was difficult to get the contact for kayaking tours. The guest house where we stayed was partly owned by an American who called himself as "Om". Vastly traveled in India by bullet, and being influenced by the spirit of Hinduism, he dressed everyday in black Vesti and black shirt and had the Ayyappan mala around his neck. Did his surya namaskars and yoga everyday and was ruing about the Santhi he gets to his mind :) He was a mystery, I wanted to photograph him, but decided otherwise so that the mystery remains forever. :) He was excited to have Indians as his guest and he probably thought he have frequented India a lot; but my trip within India is not laudable. He had been to Bhopal, Ranchi, Varanasi, Jaipur, Delhi, Udaipur, Kutch, Kochi, Bangalore, blah..blah..blah....

One of the uniqueness of the trips I do is no prior hotel booking. How do you just go to an unknown place and find a stay? Most times the flights landed late night. But its not tough you know! You just keep walking and be friendly. You will sure find something. And the first thing I have found has always been to my satisfaction. I don't want to keep that an option while I search for others. My choice of stay is simple - a bed to lie down and a toilet with water; if not running at least at regular intervals. That will do! I would be stingy here and rather spend my money in quenching my thirst for newer places and more activities.

We got off the road, walked along and entered the first guest house of Om's - the giant guest house. Just a dorms popular with backpackers. There was a make-yourself-coffee/tea options and free drinking water at 300 baht per day. What else, and to see Om in a familiar costume was inviting as it was inviting for him to see Indians :) This is how I fish for stays anywhere I go. 

So Om helped in finding a agent to help us with Kayaking. We set off the next day, got some class room instructions on how to kayak. The owner was an American; he was an expat. He lent us his waterproof camera; borrowed gloves, safety jacket and hat from the store. Loaded our kayaks with 3 other guides and 1 expat from Wales to the mountains and valleys north of Chiang Mai. The kayaking was to happen on Ping river. Again, this guy Paul Sulivan, the Welsh was a big shot in advertising, now in his 60s retired as an expat at Chiang Mai, been kayaking since age 6 and kayaks often. He was talking about the cricket games he used to play with Sunil Gavaskar and other famous folks during his tenure in Kenya, Zimbabwe. Been in Bangalore a couple of times to nature's spa at Jindal. He was raving about how they transformed him through naturopathy and at the end of the course, even a small piece of papaya that he had for his meal was heavy to the stomach! hmmmm

The 3 hours drive through picturesque hills and valleys as the clouds rolled were feast. Finally we set to kayak. The guides were friendly, indulging and interested to know about India and Buddhism. One of them wanted to visit Sri Lanka, since Buddhism came to Thialnd from Sri Lanka, most consider it as a pilgrimage. One was mentioning how he had to hurry up since he had a beer party last night, he slept very little and had to come for this session at short notice. Overall a nice group.

We unloaded the kayaks, started with practice lessons and eventually set off. I have not kayaked before and my swimming is pathetic; I can't swim! But those guys were so helpful; teaching how to row, the direction to keep, to lead the nose of the boat along the stream and to paddle backward and forward. Mr Sullivan was on his own since he was seasoned. Rowed over 2 hours along a dam as it started to pour; wow! it was fun. The water was less and one guide was feeling sad that a project had come up to change the direction of river. Environmental destruction happens everywhere. Rowed along thick jungles, along the highest mountain in Thailand. The weather was a hit, it was an awesome day to be out.

We shared lot of interesting conversations, the guys all young in their 20s wanted to know where I and Velu met and the story of our wedding and all that. One was complaining how a tourist guide can't marry a doctor here at Thailand; I don't know if he had any crush, but he kept saying that. They wanted to visit India, heard a lot about India. Similar kind of conversations. I didn't fall of the kayak even once and I did really well and was ahead until my shoulder blades started paining. After a short break over juice and peanuts, dragged the kayak again to river for the second session and I skid and fell, mucking up my shorts for good.

The second session was mostly uneventful until I got stuck at the edge of the river amidst thorny bushes. Paddling any side wouldn't help; I would fall off if I did that and the river was deep. Stayed that way until one of the guide had to come over from nearly 500 meters away; pull off my kayak and help me all over again. Post that, I let myself be towed by him. The guide tied a rope to the nose of my kayak and I was towed.

To end, lunch along the banks of the river - simple Thai food and we shared sticky rice later which was only offered to guides. Maybe they think tourists wouldn't appreciate local flavors. I just caught one of the guide eating something out of a banana leaf and snatched it away from him; they can eat it many times; what about me!

I had no clothes to change(I took an extra pair the previous day to Zip lining and i did not need it). So I didn't bother to carry an extra pair but needed it. I just let it be; the kayaks and paddles were washed; loaded on the truck and off we turned back to town. Memorable experience. We kayaked 22 km, enjoying the scenery around, women washing clothes, men fishing, people working on paddy, the river was entirely to us. It was only on 3 occasions we saw 3 people throughout. Otherwise the place was entirely to us; its never enough! never ever enough!!!

Om was glad we had a good kayaking session. We did nothing else pretty much that evening; a couple of beers and early to bed. Our flight to Bangkok was next morning at 6 AM; and we had to be in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at 5 PM that evening :)

Relaxing at Giant Gust house bar - its Bob Marley themed

All set to Kayak

The lavender one's mine!

Row, row, row...

Hard at work

Behind me!

A short break; before we begin again

Row, row, row again...

Dark clouds rolling by...


Done and packed!

Lunch on the banks of the river.

Simple but yummy

The crew

Some information on tour itinerary  

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai is 800 odd km, taking a train is an excellent option - cheaper and scenic route only if you have lots of time in your hand. Flight is an hour and half; Air Asia is a wonderful option; reliable and value for money. Cost about 4500 Rs per person to and fro. 
  • I am not for luxury stay; but there are lot of options for budget traveller and luxury traveller. Stay inside the old city within the walls since most of the temples are there and lot of options for tourists - tourist agents for activities, hotels, restaurants, bicycle hire, laundry, internet cafe..
  • The kayaking and zip lining cost 8000 baht for 2 of us; including pickup, drop and lunch. Bargain and bargain hard. I think its generally 3500 for zip lining and 2000 for kayaking per person. Again, I wouldn't mind splurging money for doing such things than a luxury spa hotel. Massage was 200 per person, worth it
  • To travel to Bo Sang and Hot springs, one can take a tuk-tuk. Speak upfront; the driver start with 1000 baht and settled for 600. Its 80 km up and down and he waited for us for 2 hrs at the hot spring and half hour at Bo Sang; so worth it.
  • Visit the old town by a rented bicycle, you can go to the night market 3 km away by cycle again or if you tired, hire a songthaew; 20 baht per head. 
  • Eat street food, hygienic and value for money. A plate of sea food noodle filling one would cost 40 baht. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Letting hair down at Chiang Mai

I want to wrap up my travelogue of Thailand so that  I can start talking about Cambodia. But yeah, though I couldn't get that mystic feeling in Thailand compared to Cambodia, Chiang Mai was definitely beautiful and offered me solace.

I did skip the usual zoo, the temple on the cliff top and those kinds. To me, I saw how I can take advantage of the place and the coziness it has to offer. Chiang Mai had lots to offer and I did go berserk. Here are few things that we indulged in and have no regrets of any kind in choosing Chiang Mai.

Zip lining: I have this bucket list kind of thing where I want to try all the adventurous stuff available. My ultimate aim is to do tandem sky diving and sea diving. I had zip lining in the list, sure I wouldn't be happy with the miniature ones where its done if you zip line 10-50 mts a couple of times. I wanted an adrenaline rush for at least a couple of hours. So whcren I found out about the zip line adventure that takes you deep through the jungles of 1500 years old Thai rainforest, I would not forgive myself if I missed it. As usual, had to pursue Velu a lot since he is scared of adventures of any sort. I put my foot down that if he is not going, I want to do it alone. So we plunged. The experience was AMAZING!

Over 5 km of zipline gliding through the luminous green treetops and canopies for 3 hours. Not only do you experience the fun of it, but also get to enjoy the stunning vistas of the forest. Since it was a rain forest, it rains every noon and wow! when it rained, it was just wow! And so I zip-lined, abseiled, rappelled, climbed rope ladders, crossed suspended and monkey bridges and flew from one platform to another like a monkey up above from the height of 1-2 km. There were a couple of ones which were scary and others didn't want to do, but who cares! I went ahead and was thrilled, the sky rangers were friendly and funny and kept the enthusiasm throughout. The trail among the vegetation  and trekking at Mae Kampong falls and its 7 wondrous cascade was enchanting.

A wild but beautiful mushroom on the way up to the waterfall

One of the many cascades of the waterfall. Walking alongside the waterfall was beautiful, the sprays of water making it electric.

Trailer; trying my hands on free climbing

Walking on a suspended bridge

Abe-sailing from a tall rain forest tree

Taking a break on a tree top

Waiting for my turn

Another of the bridge. I don't have snaps when we were zip lining. You need to be more than a monkey to be zip lining and clicking photographs! :)

Thai massage : The very first moment we stepped into Khao San road in Bangkok, I so wanted to experience Thai massage. But it seemed sleazy in that place, its more of attracting tourists than offering a traditional Thai massage. Since there was a discount for Thai massage from the store we booked for zip-lining, didn't want to miss this too. The massage at Chiang Mai is worth and must not be missed than at Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. They are all touristy, the practice is more religious, spiritual and traditional. 1 hour of massage was soothing, all joints and muscles in the body welcomed the unique experience. I wanted to try once again but somehow missed it since the last night was spent at walking through the night markets.

No, no photos of Thai massage :)

San Kamphaeng Hot springs and Mineral Bath : Remember my post on the Calistoga hot spring at California? There are numerous hot springs in Northern Thailand. Its mostly frequented by locals and San Kamphaeng was one such hidden gem. I think I could count the number of foreigners there - hardly 10 including us. The locals come here for a picnic, spend some good family time and take a hot mineral bath and wind up. The hot spring is located around 35 km from the town and is surrounded by trees and verdant hills. The water has a high sulphur content and is rich in restorative and curative properties. Since its not touristy, the entry fee and the fee to take a bath is nominal. Another amusing thing is at the entrance, you can find a shop selling chicken and quail eggs. We saw Thais buying them and I didn't really understand why. Then I recalled reading about the practice. Buy some eggs, let them boil in in a well near the hot spring, eat it and go bath! The hot spring was continuous unlike what the one at Calistoga where it go calm and resurge after every 20 minutes. I will have to mention the mineral bath. For 100 or so baht, you can sink into a tub of steaming hot mineral water and relax your senses. It was rejuvenating and refreshing, and you get your minerals baby!

On the way to hot spring

See if you can read this

The hot spring. It was tall and zzzzzz non stop spewing out sulfuric water.

A well near by. You will know its purpose soon.

To boil eggs!

Cooking instructions

20 metres beyond are picnic area and the channel of water where people can dip their foot in and enjoy their eggs.

It doesn't end here. I have more adventures at Chiang Mai to share! More later.