Sunday, May 31, 2015

India travelogue 2 - In Varanasi

When the Indigo flight landed in Varanasi there was no connecting passage between the flight and airport and there wasn't a bus to take us to the airport either. You go down the steps from the flight and walk across the tarmac into the terminal! It wasn't bad but it was odd; it reminded me of Malaysia where we had to do the same for boarding the flight! The airport was small but clean, neat and silent. It didn't seem like they had to handle too many simultaneous flights. I took my time, got my phone up and running, connected to gps and the internet. I headed to the airport authorized taxi counter - one of my worries was whether I would have to haggle over taxi fare. And haggling over prices is no good if you don't have a reference point of your own. 

I announced 'Beniya Bagh park'. The guy at the counter said it was around 27km though Google claimed it was only 23 or so; anyway I didn't argue. 
'AC or non AC?’ he asked. AC was priced Rs.100 higher and I opted for non-AC. 
I had to pay Rs.50 at the counter and he said the remaining Rs.650 I should give the driver. "No other charges?"
"No. Nothing. No parking or anything."
First surprise I had was when driver asked me to pay the parking charge at airport’s exit. He also pointed to the receipt I had where it said, "Parking and toll charges have to be borne by the passenger!" I wasn't in a mood to get out from the car, walk to the airport and check with the counter guy. It was Rs.40.
"Beniya Bagh park? Do you know where it is?”
That was the second surprise; I assumed he would know the park; aren’t parks prominent?
"It is in Beniya Bagh,” I replied hesitantly.
"I don't know. Have you seen it before?"
"No. My friend will come there." That was a partial lie. I just wanted to take a walk to my real destination to get a feel of the surroundings. “You can go to Beniya Bagh.”
I followed the blue dot on Google Maps to see if we were on the right track. Most of the main roads had only 2 lanes; the side roads were in bad shape and the driver used them to bypass traffic. The time was 2:30pm and I could feel the heat; definitely hotter than Chennai. There was a difference but I didn't realize what it exactly was till later.
The driver suddenly pulled over. According to Google, this is where the park was but all I saw was a road filled with small shops on either side.

After walking a few meters I discovered the park; it was on a side road on the left side. Seeing the state of the park I knew why the driver didn’t know about it; it was a dilapidated park with some greenery but hardly any maintenance. There were people sleeping on the grass. It looked a bit shady as well!
My first impression of Varanasi was that it appeared like a small town than a large city. There were so many small shops stacked one beside the other on both sides of the road; there were many shops on trolleys; not one large store I spotted in my 10 minutes of walking. There were a lot of two-wheelers on the road and there were so many rickshaws - not motor driven rickshaws but manually driven ones (tricycle with a seat that can accommodate 3 passengers with a sun shade on top).

Each side of the road was hardly 2 lanes wide. As I walked closer to my destination the crowd increased. There were many school kids travelling on rickshaws. Most girls had wrapped their faces and hands in cloth; there was only a small opening for their eyes. The reason was heat - even the breeze would feel like burning your skin. This was the opposite of what I felt in Boston during their peak winter - the breeze there would be so cold that you had to cover all your skin. The heat was literally scorching; to add to the problem there were no trees on the road - just small buildings with shops and so no shade. Men had small towels on their head to protect themselves from the heat. And this was not even peak summer - it was just 40 degree centigrade. Wow - and people say Chennai is hot! Humid yes but hot, no way!

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Varanasi travelogue 1 - Landing in New Delhi

Age and makeup

Unfortunately I hadn't done an online check-in and had to wait in a long queue at the check-in counter. Indigo had an interesting add-on; one of their staff walks by the queue, gets passenger details and prints the boarding pass - he had a wireless device with a wireless printer around his neck (a small handy one). There was a huge family of around 12 people travelling on the same route as me - Chennai to Delhi to Varanasi. From that group, two male adults and one little boy were at the counter to collect all their boarding passes; the boy was repeating excitedly, "I want the window seat." The middle aged man casually assured the boy that he would get it. At that age we have worries about wanting a window seat; small worries that at that age seem really big. To the adult it was a petty issue in the grand scheme of things - he was worried about whether all 24 passes were right. And the guy at the counter probably had his own set of worries about the job. How silly our worries when we look back on them!

As usual I was among the last people to board the flight. Though I had an aisle seat, a small boy and his dad asked me to switch with a seat in front; uh... I ended up in a window seat; the seat I hate the most because you are boxed inside and can't get out at will. An old lady on my right was worried about not being able to make her connecting flight to Lucknow; she was worried if she would know how to get to the connecting flight and she took assurance from me twice or thrice on whether I would guide her to her next flight. We made some small conversation about her family, son, grandson etc. as I spoke in broken Hindi and some English. It's easy to make conversation while traveling with most people. The 2nd lady further away from me was middle aged but had a thick layer of makeup that kind of lifted her cheeks and covered any signs of wrinkles or scars. They say makeup hides age but I guess it actually gives away age! There was another young lady I saw who had shades of yellow and brown hair - artificial of course; must have taken a while to dye like that. Though it was a 2.5 hour flight, there was no meal included in the price; not even a sandwich. The sight of instant upma and noodle boxes in which the air hostess poured hot water didn't tempt me to buy anything in the flight even though I was hungry.


We arrived in Delhi on time; the bus from the flight to the terminal took a fair bit of time; it went winding down a long route similar to how I felt in Frankfurt. But Delhi airport didn't seem impressive. We got down in terminal 1C and our departure was from 1D; there were no signs to 1D. You have to step outside the building, walk across a small street and then take a lift in the next building to reach 1D. As we walked, the aunty was constantly worried, “Is this the right way?” It’s strange that our fears grow as we age; more on that later. 

There were no signs to the boarding gates either. All of them were on a lower level; continuous one after the other. There were very few seats in this level and naturally there was plenty of crowding. The sign on top read 'Please proceed to your boarding gate after checking your flight status.' But people don't really do that; they are worried of missing the flight and they all immediately go down leading to a pile up.

There are a few food outlets like Pizza Hut, KFC on the upper level; again it's a small area that gets crowded easily. You'd get the feeling that they didn't plan for volumes when designing this terminal; the idea of gates being grouped together also didn't work out well. And to add to the problem, even though boarding had started the display boards on top didn’t show the status and some announcements could barely be heard.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poem: How cool is a flight attendant's job?

The whole crew looks classy,
none of them sport a pot belly.
We think surely their perks are jazzy,
on a job that can't be on them cruelly.

We think they have a lot of fun,
flying frequently under the sun.
Staying often in 5 star abode,
where unlimited food galore.

Patiently they take order like a waiter,
and collect money like a cashier,
keep the flight neat as wud a cleaner,
with elderly and kids act as caretaker.

Customers discard their pleasant greet,
some demand them for change of seat,
some argue over water and meat,
some stare rudely from head to feet.

Some whose actions forever haunt,
some whose words in their mind taunt,
some with them in anger misbehave,
amidst all this our air host stays brave.

No matter how bad their day,
they put up a face that is gay.
Inside they may be sad, hurt and fear,
but the mask they wear sports a cheer.

They stay many times away from family,
every job has its own perks and difficulty.
Let us treat them as friends respectably,
and make them smile as they serve selflessly.

And now they have to bear with a terrible writer,
who thinks his poetry will make them brighter!

(I wrote this during a flight)

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Canada travelogue 9 - Nature welcomes me in Vancouver

When I saw the big dome of Telus Spark (a science museum) I felt happy since I was in the heart of the city. There were a couple of joggers in this early morning hour. Whenever I saw 2 or 3 guys grouped together I would just walk fast by them. There was a pretty sight of a crane that had different lighting colours on it - red, green and blue. I noticed that the main roads had a separate lane for bicycles. Helmets were compulsory. After 10 minutes I felt this was surely a walking city like Boston. The initial fear factor of an unknown place had disappeared even though it was still dark.

I followed Google faithfully and it led me to a dead end! Except for this path the rest of the map seemed to be fine; I plotted my own route to the hotel along a longer path; my only difficulty was in carrying my backpack which was stuffed with clothes needed for 3 days - it felt really heavy the longer I walked; and I had a extra lunch bag in hand since I couldn't fit that into the backpack. The drizzling got heavier as I neared my hotel. There was plenty of construction on either side of the hotel. Based on experience I knew that I wouldn't have much luck in early check-in and I didn't; this was too early - their check-in time was 3pm but it was just 6am now (pic to the right is the early morning scene)

The receptionist took a copy of my id proof for their records. I left my bag in the luggage room, used their common washroom and browsed through a few pamphlets. I slowed down my actions because I wanted to kill time. This hotel didn't have a gym but it had a sauna. When I asked the receptionist if there was any good spot to spend the morning hours he replied, "You could take the ferry to Granville island. But in this weather I really don't know."

The rain was beating hard but I was fine as long as there are no puddles to walk in; even getting drenched is fun! I did have a water resistant jacket and so stepped out. Many trees on the road had lights on them - like what you see during Christmas.

No better way to explore a city than walking - and downtown Vancouver (the city centre) was similar to Boston or New York. Short stretches of road with plenty of traffic signals (good for pedestrians). I walked aimlessly but in the direction of the largest urban park in Canada. The rain slowed. There were information boards (pic on left) along the way that guided me along with Google. 

I saw a large lake and from the signs realised that it was the starting of Stanley park; the colours of the foliage were very pretty - shades of orange, shades of red, shades of green. If you've observed nature, just after a rain the colours look bright. I spent a few minutes simply absorbing the sight; shades of colours on trees, the blue water in front and a few ducks on the lake. There was a forest type trail going around the lake where I crossed a couple of joggers. I walked into the park; it is a huge park, like Central Park in New York. It is surrounded by water on almost all sides; there is a bicycling path and a walking path that goes all the way on the circumference of the park - it's called Seawall; great to cycle here. It was touching to see a middle aged couple; the man was self driving an electric wheelchair on the pedestrian walkway while the lady cycled beside him on the cycling track. 

With so many trees you could see a pretty array of natural colours around you; there was so much greenery. You would definitely be tempted to jog here. A huge beautiful park in the centre of the city; something we miss back home - we do have parks but lot smaller ones. Very rarely do you get to enjoy nature in a bustling city.

(above two pics are in Stanley Park - both are walking trails)

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