Bhutan – A memorable holiday we had

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This is what happens when you decide to write a long post like a travelogue. I started this post on November 18, 2013 and never got to finishing it. Just releasing it today, May 11, 2014 to let it off.

Just returned last Thursday from a memorable 9 day holiday in Bhutan. And believe me it was worth every minute spent there. Unpolluted air, pristine nature…. Floored me completely. The population of Bhutan is less than 0.7 million which would probably be the population of Matunga, the locality where I live!!! Small wonder that there is no noise there, the people are happy and they LIVE life unlike us in the city who are always running from one place to another like the world is coming to an end.

We traveled from Mumbai to Baghdogra via Delhi by Air India and it was a smooth ride. From the airport we got into the Tavera which would be our vehicle for the rest of the journey driven by our Bengali driver Navin (Nobin as he called himself). He drove like any Formula 1 driver and reached the border town of Jaigaon. The border crossing was no big deal and he just drove across. You are allowed to cross the border at will just that you need to get your travel permits done once inside to travel further. We stayed in Hotel Druk which was about 500 metres from the border. Infact it was so close that we got the Indian mobile network and used it to call home:-)

The next day we first got the travel permits done. Navin had it all organised and all we needed to do was to get ourselves photographed and he collected the permit after an hour. In the mean time we went to the mobile shop nearby and got a prepaid SIM card (for which you need to submit a copy of your Travel permit). Costs Rs. 5 a minute to make a call to India which wasn’t as bad.

We started for Thimphu, our first destination. The roads are winding and treacherous. People with motion sickness beware. My nephew, Dhruvit threw up big time on the way. The stop over at a small Bhutanese joint was avoidable honestly as the food was completely different from what we are used to. The weather en route was COLD so make sure you are adequately covered.

Childhood memories of Delhi

Am in Delhi as I write this post. Yesterday I passed by the Red Fort in Old Delhi and saw that people still sell water in this age of bottled Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina and the ilk. Not my point for this post.

I took this picture using the phone and was taken back in time some 37 years back in 1976 when I had come to Delhi as part of the school trip to Kashmir. It was a 21 day trip for a princely 500 Rs. or so!!! Covered Mathura, Agra, Delhi, Srinagar, Pathankot, Delhi again and back. All by train and by second class. I wonder how but then in those days ACs were a luxury and this was a school trip. Remember having met the then Prime Minister Mr. Morarji Desai and a group picture with him is something I still have. Had met Mr. Atal Bihari Vyajpayee who was then the Railway Minister. This water dispensing unit was there even then and it still exists. Water then was sold for 5 paise or maybe 10 paise and now it is a Rupee as mentioned. Remember Delhi was sweltering even then (maybe lesser than now) and at night we had gone to watch a movie, Chacha Bhatija starring Randhir Kapoor & Dharmendra at some Air Conditioned theatre in CP area.

Delhi hasn’t changed much should I say?

Indigo truly wows customers and how…..

Yesterday was a chaotic evening for sure. I was scheduled by the 8 pm flight from Mumbai to Namma Bengaluru…. Had called for the cab at 1715 just in case so could leave by 1730 max and avoid the Dharavi traffic. I breezed through Dharavi and thought wow I will have a good 2 hours at the airport to work. But I was wrong and how. Kalanagar onwards there was bumper to bumper traffic and not even 2 wheelers could squeeze by. Traffic crawled like that for some time and on inquiring with others by rolling down the window got to know that some tanker had overturned in Jogeshwari so the traffic had backed up all the way to Worli Bandra Sealink!!! Wow that was some back up! I was forced to remain calm as the minutes kept ticking away. Phone calls made, status updates on Facebook done, tweeted, searched for tweets, what does one do? Spoke to the Indigo call centre and the agent rattled off what the screen probably said “The flight has closed so even if you make it to the airport, you won’t be allowed” The next flight was 2115 and there were seats available thankfully even if the price was double. Reached the airport at 1950 and rushed to the counter outside. The counter agent said the same thing. Went inside. Spoke to a lady who immediately diverted me to another counter for Bangalore passengers and found 2 more ahead of me in the same situation. The lady at the counter just put us on to the next flight without even asking us to pay a dime. I was surprised when she asked me if I wanted a window or an aisle seat. Ma’am I would have travelled by the toilet seat too a la Pakistan International Airlines. (For the uninitiated, please read) I sure was relieved but am sure other airlines would have raked in the moolah at this God sent opportunity. Indigo you completely enamoured me and a others too. Small wonder I am a regular on this airline. Indigo you rock!!

Take aways from the trip to Sri Lanka

Last week I was in Colombo from Monday June 18, 2012 to Friday June 22, 2012. This was my second trip to Colombo but learnt a lot about the country and it’s people this time.

  • The Sri Lankan population is about 21 million which is less than that of Mumbai city alone!!
  • Literacy is very high and all cab drivers could read and converse in English.
  • The cab drivers did not take me for a ride even once and they plied by the meter most of the times (except for short distances)
  • The drivers there respect pedestrians and wait for them to cross at the zebra crossing even without the traffic lights. This is something sorely lacking in India.
  • The business people I met literally wowed me. Punctuality is a given there! And meetings are to the point. Extremely professional people. I actually did more meetings in 5 days than I have done in any Indian city to date! And the people there had no airs about meetings. Not the typical Indian excuses atleast like “Oh I have a meeting / I have a training / I am busy” Blah Blah Blah…. Google could probably give tons of such excuses so typical in India.
  • Food is a problem especially for vegetarians and people like me who dislike coconut! I had chicken there also went to Indian restaurants just to get a flavour of the desi food.
  • Indian influences – Tons of that. Could see Tata Nanos plying as Taxis, Bajaj Auto & TVS Rickshaws, Maruti 800s and Altos. Saw Ultratech Cement painted on the outside of shops and even saw an advertisement for Nirali non stick cookware (I guess from the name this is an Indian brand:-))
  • All in all had a great time there and the weather was awesome too. The rains did not bother me even once which was very nice indeed this time of the year. A lot we can learn from them honestly.

A Memorable Journey back home from San Francisco

This has been some memorable trip for sure. I am still not back in Mumbai but must blog about the memories of this return leg of my journey. The entire trip to the US was uneventful (leave aside the spider bite) and could meet so many people out there. Started off on Monday morning (July 18, 2011) when Yogesh dropped me off at SFO Airport at 1040. The flight was an Air India code share with Singapore Airlines from SFO to Singapore departing at 1410 and then after a 10 hour layover I was to reach home on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 1330. Yogesh wanted to wait till I checked in but I said don’t bother and finally he relented and I went in. At the check in counter, I got a shocker. They said they do not have any such booking and then they went in and it seems Air India said that someone had cancelled the booking. How ridiculous!!!! I called up Yogesh who conferenced me with Arzoo.com. Zarin was extremely courteous and first thing he told me “Don’t panic, we will work this out” Had it not been for him and Abbas there at Arzoo, my blood pressure would have gone through the roof honestly. They got the team involved and numerous calls went back and forth. Finally at about 1 pm, all of us gave up on Air India and they booked me by Emirates to India. Thank heavens!!! Meetabhabhi had packed some food for me even though I was against it as the flight was at 1410 but ladies have some 6th sense and they can foresee things we can’t, so I had that for lunch. The Emirates flight was at 1645 from SFO and the fun now started as I was in the boarding queue. They announced that the incoming aircraft had a snag and had to land in Toronto so we would now board only at 2240. Wow. I went through the security and got past by 1610. Thank God for free Wi fi, and I could watch live news on Indian TV, even had a video chat with Hiten and called and spoke to so many people at length. Made the most of the AT&T prepaid whose connection was thanks to Parin. We boarded around mid night and took off at just around 1 am. After 15 hours landed in Dubai at 0300 local time and here I am sitting at Dubai Airport. While we were scheduled to leave by the 0355 flight from Dubai, when I reached the gate here, they said that there was no time for the luggage to be transferred so the whole lot of people were put on the next flight at 0935. So 6.5 hours to kill of which 4.5 have passed. The new terminal 3 is swanky and impressive no doubt but honestly having spent 14+6.5 hours at SFO and then DXB airports for a 15+2.5 hour flights I am now dog tired and seriously want to get home and rest.

What I learnt from this trip:

a) Use Arzoo.com to book your tickets. They really pulled me out of the mess created by Air India.

b) Never ever fly Air India. Had it with them. Small wonder that they are bleeding profusely……

c) Select a decent airline for such long haul flights. You never know what can go wrong.

As I wait at the gate for the Mumbai flight (0800 here) I am hoping that there are absolutely no surprises in store now for me on the last leg of the journey.  I am not at all prepared for anything more now.