Category Archives: Travel

The Driver

Mr Tripathi was one of the most dignified drivers that we have had the pleasure of employing. He was an integral part of the household, playing a significant role in making our lives comfortable. From the daily running around to just having a nice presence, he was a positive influence in my life while growing up in the historic and culturally vibrant city of Lucknow.

He was always on time which was quite a novelty in Lucknow where the Indian Standard Time became the classical Indian Stretchable Time for most. I could never fathom the whole point of giving a time reference and not sticking to it. But that’s Lucknow and intrinsic to many parts of India. From a VIP at an event to a groom arriving for his own wedding, coming on time was almost a bizarre concept for most. But Mr. Tripathi was different. He used to dress sharp and run our lives with clockwork precision.

But all was not hunky dory. While he was perfect through the day he would demonstrate a surprisingly strong streak of aggression in the evening. Suddenly our Trekker in his hands would turn into a true beast. The Trekker was the Indian equivalent of the Hummer ( in the 1980’s) minus the sex appeal. It was a big bulky fuel guzzling machine that was built like a tank by a designer of questionable talent. It never gained popularity despite the best efforts of the manufacturer for obvious reasons!

Talking about beasts, Lucknow roads like most North Indian towns were co-inhabited by humans and a fascinating variety of four legged creatures. During the day, stray cattle would make the roads their own and the adjusting traffic would find a way through them. In the evenings, the cowherds would use the roads to get their cows home with scant disregard to public convenience. The cows would take their time to navigate the streets as the hapless humans waited in anticipation to get by. There was a strange equanimity demonstrated by both parties in this particularly vexing situation. But as they say no one is ever in a particular hurry in Lucknow!

However with Mr Tripathi thingimgres-1.jpgs were a bit different in the evening. The Trekker would just need to announce its arrival through a sharp series of horns and the bovines would dutifully make way for our car. It was pretty amazing to see this and gave us as a family a bit of an edge. As a boy it got me to believe that my dad was so important that even the bovines on the road make way for us! The truth was that the bovines had realised the hard way that Mr Tripathi and his beast stopped for nothing, not even them!

My father in turn always suspected that Mr. Tripathi had an extra tipple every evening and that caused his aggressive road behaviour. From time to time he would accuse Mr T of having a drink which was passionately denied. Mr T would swear by all the gods known to us proclaiming his innocence. It always ended with my father reluctantly accepting his pleas for innocence and warning him to drive better in the evening. This went on for the three years that we were posted there and then one fine day we embarked on our next journey as my father was transferred to another city. I was sad to leave my friends, my home and my school but at the same time filled with excitement about our next adventure. Kids have an amazing sense of optimism and resilience and I guess I was no different.

I still remember our final day in Lucknow. Mr. Tripathi arrived smartly to drop us all off to the station. Our bags were packed and we were ready to go! The short journey from our home to the railway station was filled with us as a family thanking Mr. T for serving us well. As we arrived at the station we continued with our extended farewells. Suddenly in all my earnestness I popped the question that had bugged my father for the last three years about his aggressive driving post sun down. I asked him if he drank? He sheepishly whispered into my ears – “Baba, I am suffering from night blindness. I could not tell this to your father since I would have lost my job. Please keep this a secret and never let him know about our conversation!” As a nine year old I did not understand what that meant but the words stuck to me. Plus I was a loyal friend and kept this secret to myself.

Two years later my teacher was a bit puzzled to see my horrified cum amused expression as she taught us what night blindness meant!

A One Hour Vacation

It was one of those days. My car was at the workshop getting repaired after an unnecessary crash. It was meant to be delivered in the morning but much to my irritation got delivered in the evening. An obliging colleague had to drop me off at the service station since Uber would have just not been able to make it on time before the workshop closed. Anyway, I picked up my car and headed off to an event that was meant to start at 6.30pm. I normally avoid evening events and prefer to spend time with the family but today was an exception. Typically one encounters heavy office traffic but this evening was unusually smooth and I reached the hotel at 6 pm. I spent the next 30 minutes in the beautiful hotel lobby sipping an indifferent cup of coffee and catching up on my emails. Much to my irritation my iPhone battery soon got drained out. At 6.30pm I reached the event centre only to learn that the event was starting at 7.30pm and my assistant had recorded the timing incorrectly in my calendar. I guess this was just not my day!
I left the event centre in a huff with the intention of going home! As I was walking towards the lobby, I noticed the beautiful beach by which the hotel was built. I found myself mesmerised by the sight of the beautiful blue waters with the setting sun in the backdrop. The sight was a feast to the eyes. At that moment a jetty caught my eye and I decided to walk up to it. The jetty was about 100m into the sea. As I walked on it, I went by hundreds of colourful fish and noticed the beautiful patterns in the sand that the sea drew with the ebb and flow of the tide. The sun had begun to set on the horizon and the colours of the sky continued to host a show extraordinaire. I noticed the world rush by with its sense of purpose and urgency as I sat on the jetty admiring the spectacle.
Time came to a standstill and an hour past in the blink of an eye. A sense of extreme peace filled my being as my one hour vacation concluded. I went back to the event invigorated. I had lived a moment that came by in the most unexpected way. Thank god it did!

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Sometimes, when you reach a place you have to pinch yourself to realise that it actually exists. Doubtful Sound undoubtedly (no pun intended) is one of them.

Doubtful Sound was discovered by Captain Cook in 1770. Thankfully it is still remains amongst the most isolated places in the world.
Sea drowned by fresh water!
It’s probably the only place in the world where the sea is covered by several feet of fresh water. It rains almost 200 days in a year here. As a result the fresh water layer collects on top of the sea giving it a unique colour and sea life. Because the fresh water is darkened by the algae washed off the mountains, the fresh water layer effectively blocks off the sunlight. Hence deep sea plants and fishes grow in shallow waters making it a unique spot for divers!
The mountain slopes have tree-slides!
I had never heard of this phenomenon until I reached this isolated part of the imgres-1world. Underneath the deeply forested mountain side lie a layer of hard rocks formed as the fiords were being carved. On top of this rocky layer due to the high moisture content moss and lichens form a thick base. As their roots intertwine a base is created for other plants to grow. This network of roots forms a base that supports fully grown trees that can reach heights upto 15-20 meters. Until the time comes when the trees grow so heavy that the web of the roots are unable to support their weight causing a tree fall. It looks like a tear of wall paper on the sides of the mountains as you sail along. Never seen anything like this before!
Living under a canopy of jewels
The best way to enjoy this ethereal place is to take an overnight cruise. The deck of the overnight cruise make a fantastic stage for the billions of stars to sequence a dream. I have never seen more stars in my life. Galaxies on display and a local astronomer on board making us see stars like never before. I learnt that most parts of the earth today, the visibility of the night sky is impaired due to the rising pollution levels as well as the lights of our civilisation. It’s a pity. I am glad that places still exist on earth that remind us that we are a spec in the vast expanse of the universe.
The dolphins here enjoy human company and are frequently around regaling the wide eyed tourists with their antics. The fresh mountain air and the beautiful setting add to the permanent state of bliss that envelopes you.
Add this to your bucket list. Doubtful Sound, South Island, New Zealand. A place where Mother Nature meets Father Time under a canopy of stars and paints a picture of beauty that only a few will doubt. Sounds good? Pack your bags…

Notes from the past – sound travels!

In my travels, I have come across acoustic creations which have left me baffled. The ancient world was full of unsung sound engineers who produced absolute marvels without the access to technology that our designers enjoy today. How could they reach such levels of sophistication? How did they process the complex maths as well as materials that are essential for this art to flourish?

I have no answers but here is a list of my favourite acoustic experiences:

Piped music at Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
The Taj Lake Palace Hotel is one of the most exquisite hotels I have stayed in my life. A 200+ year old heritage property set in a beautiful lake is a dream! No two rooms in this intriguing palace hotel are the same. As I closed my eyes lazing in my bathtub overlooking a beautiful part of the lake my attention was drawn to the gentle strains of flute. As I was getting dressed and subsequently heading towards the magnificent dining hall the notes seem to magically surround me wherever I went. I looked out for the music system when I was told that the engineering of the palace is such that the artist plays in the central courtyard and every corner of the hotel gets to enjoy the music! Apparently the sound waves travel through the channels carved out in the walls to every nook and corner of this ancient construction. Sublime!

Having a rock conversation at the Citadel at Amman, Jordan

Our guide took us to the ruins of an ancient roman theatre at the foothills of The Citadel in Amman. I have been to Roman theatres before and was happy to see the fact that this is a reasonably well maintained monument. All was well until the guide made me walk 100m away and asked me to turn away from him and speak into the stony walls of the theatre. To my utter surprise I started hearing my guide as I held my ear close to the walls. The engineering of this ancient construction (1000+ years old) was so intricate that the sound waves would travel through microscopic channels in the stone walls and carry across with complete clarity across a 100 meters distance and allow us to have a perfectly audible conversation. It is beyond my understanding how they could do this a thousand years back!

Clapping at Golconda fort, Hyderabad

images-2The Golconda Fort in Hyderabad is amongst the biggest forts in India. It’s an ancient structure as well which was build almost a thousand years back. The fort runs along a mountain and hence has several levels to it. The sentry posts were at a distance and constructed such that the canopies work like the curvilinear base of our speaker systems and amplify sounds so that the sentries could warn each other incase of any danger. As we entered a sentry post we could hear the tourists in the other posts. While our guide clapped his hands to demonstrate this phenomenon I clapped too in sheer astonishment.

I have also enjoyed the musical pillars of Taj Mahal in Agra. Listened to the sounds of the Hindu Arti at the ghats of Benaras, a mystic experience that has layered chants and cymbals and bells that take you into a different world of trance. Not to mention the experience of a orator in Terragona Roman theatre where I delivered  a grand speech to my family without a mike! I am not sure if they enjoyed my random afternoon sermon but I certainly felt like a Roman scholar!

I feel that sometimes when we have that breathless moment when we see a new technology we should not forget the notes from our past. The hills were always alive to the sound of music. It’s just that the tunes have evolved over time.

The Tanzania Diaries –Poetry in Motion!

It’s hard to leave Tanzania without a song in your heart and a head full of memories. The truth is that this ancient land fills you with an after taste, which clearly leaves you hungry for more. Between getting regaled on the tales of spotting the big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino & leopard), and actually seeing them in the wild, time flies! Every traveller has his big 5 experiences; here are mine:

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The Migration Dance

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The Serengeti is a grassland that sings a tune. It waves it hands as you pass by, welcoming you to its folds. The millions of animals that co-habit this space equally makes us feel at home as soon as we set our foot off the airstrip carved in the thick of action. A beautiful sense of peace envelops you as you drive through the grasslands enjoying the idyllic setting. Millions of wildebeest and zebras participate in the awesome dance of migration every year. As they move in a formation they create a spectacle that few sights in the world can match. Thousands of crocs lie in wait for them to cross the river Grumeti. And as they all gather by the riverside over several weeks, there comes a point of inflection when one of them takes the plunge of certain death and the millions follow through to the other side. Who will that chosen one be and why would it take that step is a mystery that has remained unansweredsince time immemorial. Such is the beauty of the Serengeti.

The Conversations

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In the wild, conversations soon slip into a realm that’s at the cusp of reality. Here’s an interesting snippet from one of our many lunchtime conversations with our safari tour guide over some refreshing locally brewed beer:

“What happens when your 4WD gets stuck in the jungle? Not much really. Another 4WD pulls you out with a rope. Simple! The only difference is that the lions sitting nearby on a rocky cliff stare down at us, wondering as well about how long will it take to get the tires rolling!”

You will notice that every meal here is an experience to be savored and has a story. It’s never ending and you will understand this only once you are here.

Beware of the Lion Sized Expectations Syndrome

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Humans! We can never be satisfied. After seeing over 50 lions in the wild we were stuck by the LION SIZED EXPECTATIONS SYNDROME.

We see cubs that were no more than a few weeks old. We have the honour of seeing a full pride of 20+ lions. We gape at the big fellas and their lionesses as they majestically took their evening stroll.

We see two magnificent kills, not to mention lions in the bush, on the rocks, on the road, stretching, yawning, growling and even had a roaring wake up call. What more could the poor lions do for us? This thought strikes me as I sit on a beautiful armchair in a luxury tent listening to Mick Jagger belting out ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’!

The Unusual Accommodation Choices

Where would you like to stay? A simple question can sometimes have a bewildering variety of choices. We stay in a tent next to a hippo pool; my loud snores participate in a symphony of hippo grunts through the night much to my wife’s amusement!

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We also stay on the tip of the Ngorongoro crater. It’s a world heritage site with an incredible concentration of wild life. As we enter our resort, we are greeted by a welcome party of a dozen humans and a heard of zebras. Then one day, as we are served our meals in a tree house nearby, a couple of Cape Buffaloes found in abundance in the area, have an argument on the doorsteps; finally concluding it by breaking the very steps!

Hakuna Matata!

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It’s a wonderful phrase that is the essence of this beautiful country. It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s a problem free philosophy… Words from the famous movie Lion King immortalise the soul of this natural paradise. Visit it to feel it

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Sky diving- A once in a lifetime experience for me!