Around the world in 20 days

Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.

Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.

The famous Auckland Harbor

Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!

The gaseous volcanic region

 

Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout.  Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.

The gloomy deserted beaches

Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.

Mapping the location

Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.

A view to kill

Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports.  With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.

The Eighth Wonder

 

Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.

I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.

The falls in the Fiord

Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.

San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).

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The Del Coronado beach

Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.

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In the Ghats for a day

When you live in Pune and it rains and you want to get away, there is a beautiful getaway called Lonavala that beckons you. Problem is, it beckons majority of the population around. Net result is chaos.

Last week I got an invite to spend the weekend in a resort at the very top, somewhere in that city and I jumped at the offer. Already dreaming about the rain and clouds and waterfalls and cool breeze, I wondered how to go, since taking the car was not an option. Well, driving on winding broken single lane mountain roads is not something I do very often, but the excuse I have is better- my car was being used by family so…So. I decided to take a train. Not having ridden in a train for quite a few years now, my first thought was, how difficult can it be, it is just about an hour and a few minutes away, with trains almost every hour, all I need to do is reach the station and board the next one.

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A view from the train

But then wiser and saner thoughts prevailed, maybe I should get a reservation. A dialogue with the hubby resolved the situation and he booked a ticket for me. So far so good. Reached the station almost 45 minutes in advance, years of non-practice does that to you. Waited with stamping legs and straining ears at the entrance for about half hour till the platform was announced. Managed to board without any incidents, just observing that the platform was decidedly cleaner than what I was used to in the yesteryears. Provided you don’t look out when the platform ends.

The train was cleaned twice in that small journey- nice. It was decidedly hard to resist the constant chant of “sabudana vada, veg cutlet, sandwich”, but the most interesting was “water pani” which I realised meant plain water and not “chilled pani”. Now, not having travelled this route before, I wondered how I would know my station was arriving and how long would it stop for and will there be enough time to get down. Yeah, I know, I am a totally inexperienced traveler. But outwardly, I was cool, even though I was doing the math in the mind, so many minutes from Pune, shall I ask Siri, what was the last station that went by and so on.., I did manage to get down at the right station quite safely. It is a different matter that after that, I had to climb up and down the bridge multiple times to find the driver. I mean how was I supposed to know “towards the city” didn’t imply towards the platform no 1.

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It is gonna pour

Sitting in the cab, with cool breeze blowing my hair, and rain drops down my cheeks, well, I was smiling away, I had arrived, and the rest was going to be a cool breeze (literally). Till I found traffic jam and jam and crowd and hawkers and no one following traffic rules. Well, this feels just like Pune, I thought with a grimace. Small congested roads, directionless people and honking all around. A little more than an hour, a packet of chips and several bumps and potholes later, I reached the resort.

It was as beautiful and serene as expected. Ah the beauty of a hill top resort when it is raining is beyond compare. Gorging on good food, good company, love and laughter. Even in 45 acres of property, we could find hordes of people coming from the dry state and debating whether to be upgraded to purple from white and other such nonsense. No, this is not a gyan session on Club Mahindra.

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6 am from the balcony
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Ah the colours

A day of relaxation, chai in the balcony, long morning walk, lot of selfies and a huge breakfast spread. We hogged so much, needed to lie down awhile. But then finally it was time to leave. The lime water in the tummy kept bubbling up and down as we encountered the familiar potholes again, somehow kept it from overflowing.

We stopped at the tiger’s point, or was it lion, or jackal, not sure. Some animal, definitely. Any self-respecting hill station in India has to have a Lion or Tiger’s point, and a sunset and sunrise point. Amidst a mass of humanity and cars and a breathtaking view, we too decided to do what the tourists do, walk, eat and click pictures. All around us were couple with the girlfriend perched on the boyfriend’s back, posing away, and few I-am-a-cool-dude guys posing on the cliff edges. Thankfully nobody fell off during our watch. After about an hour of touristy thingy, we followed the bro, the leader, who kept going in weird directions till we realised he was looking for relief and so we hastily retreated and went back to the car, relieved.

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At the animal point

Next stop was Bhushi ghat. Now that is a place, I would absolutely not recommend unless you are drunk and rowdy and enjoy sitting in dirty slimy water and throwing it around on yourself and others. The walk is long and bad, uneven stones does wonders for your back, the place has some broken steps with no railing and a sure chance of falling on the rocks, stairs that lead nowhere and a lot of smelly people sitting in smellier water, on the steps and throwing it around. Just not worth the time. The river on the other side that overflows at times. Not for me.

Came back to downtown, tired and happy and in dire need of ginger chai. Unfortunately, my train mode of transport did not work this time, simply because I did not get a reservation. Too many people, too little time. How will you go back, maybe come to Mumbai with us and then go back Monday. No way, I want to be back tonight. So, a cab, me and a 60 km drive back to home. With memories. And an agreement to go back again, with kids.

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The memory

 

The sarcasm shop

I was feeling sick. For multiple weeks inspiration had eluded me. I had done the world a great disservice by not writing. By not vomiting out my venomous spit of sarcasm. On thorough analysis, I realised the symptoms were not good. I was feeling quite all right with the world, I had not laughed at people for ages, I had not put down anyone for weeks. Something was wrong with me, was I turning over a bad loaf, I questioned myself. And shuddered at the idea. I can’t imagine myself oozing with goodness and other likewise characteristics and unless I did something quickly enough to recover into my usual mean, badass self, the infection might spread to my heart and then it would be all over.

So, I decided to indulge myself to some well-deserved dose of sarcasm, a perk-me-up. Such shops are pretty elusive and exclusive and unless you know the right brands and neighbourhoods, it is very easy to be duped with what has the appearance of sarcasm but is merely an endeavour to save self-esteem, and just plain mean, not the real real thing. This was a shop tucked away in a corner, with exclusive oozing from all corners. What the heck, I said to myself, let me see what brands this quaint witty shop has to offer to a world class cynic like me.

The aroma of well-cooked wit, cynicism and sarcasm was quite obnoxious, and I discovered a lot of interesting brands as I went from aisle to aisle. The first brand was a South Delhi brand, a quite down-market model which had the mis-assumption of being upmarket. As I opened the bottle, various anglicised accents littered out and started falling all over the place. It reeked of imported “maal” (stuff) and fake accents, of polluted minds and too many cars. Farmhouses and clubs and drugs bought out of “baap ka maal” (dad’s money). I think I will use that brand, especially after watching “the south Delhi girls” videos with their “baaaiiyyaa” (bro) intonation.

Further down, I found the Big C brand. This was formed of the smartasses on whose foreheads you can find “C” written in capital if you look closely enough. This is the brand whose only agenda in life is to talk about self and who cannot utter a sentence without “I”, “me” and “myself” and sometimes they use the royal “we”. They are the ones who appear bright till they open their big mouths. By ignoring everyone else in their lives, the narcissistic attitude often leads to headache for others and they live in the well-oiled isolation of self-praise. A lot of this Big C brand value get further accentuated when they travel to “phoren”(foreign) lands.

Now this one was interesting. The NRI model (a subclass of the Big C). This is the fellow who reeks of dollars and whose eyes are bright green with eyeballs the shape of $. The attitude is that of the people who have arrived and now only give “Gyan” to the relatives and friends who have nothing better to do than listen and nod their head at appropriate occasions. They go to all “desi” festivals and religious gatherings, which they avoided in their country, but it is the thing to do in the America, so how could they not follow the mass, literally. This NRI class has trouble breathing the desi air when they come back to God’s own land and tend to fall sick unless they drink bottled water.

Within the NRI, there was this exclusive Middle East Gold-man, dazzling with gold and diamonds. With foul tongue and no skills except that of earning tax free money and bringing jewellery back for their families, this is a self-proclaimed royal label who enjoy having devotes around them hanging on their every word and would follow them everywhere like the Vodafone bulldog and with almost the same expression. The ego is way up and the IQ way down. I mean, why isn’t stupidity a crime yet? Applies equally to the devotee and the deity.

Tucked away towards the fag end, I found the I-know-someone lineage who always knew someone who knew someone and claimed a mesh of connections like a spider’s web. Their solution to every problem and claim to fame is “I will talk to Mr. so and so and he will solve the problem”. They threw names around the way some of the others threw dollars and gold and reserved the rights to reach out to the “Bhai”. I mean, I understand, just because you are not related to Salmaan Khan doesn’t imply you are a nobody, right. When I say stuff like this, people think I don’t care, but I do. If you weren’t yourself, how would I find material to write?

By this time, having browsed through so many, I was feeling quite myself and raring to go but something was still missing. So, I went to the shopkeeper and told him you are missing a big make, the BS brand, which I could supply since I had in abundance. This brand is a pseudo intellectual weirdo who loves putting everyone down through their sharp tongue and ready wit and who does not mince words no matter who minded, (so someone who has a mind, would mind it, but then, never mind!). This brand believes they are the next biggest thing since Khushwant Singh and Shobha De and the only solution to the humankind’s misery. I told him I owned the exclusive rights to this and could license it to him, he could keep the money but had to give me the credits.

He threw his head back and laughed, a loud, full of mirth, crystal clear laughter. And then it struck me. This was Ah-I-don’t-give-a-shit model and actually didn’t give a (u know what I mean) to my BS. He was just doing his job without being impressed by anything in the sarcasm shop and was totally unaffected by the dollars and the gold and the accents and the imported cars. This is probably the most rare and exclusive of us but unfortunately not for sale.

www: wine, wifi and wagina

There is a distinct advantage of using the letter W here. It will not hit the filter for malicious and harmful content and will be definite read because of the atrocious title and will help me poison the mind of the unsuspecting population. I should probably say something about Republic day here (wrote on 26th) but beyond the parade which became boring two years after TV was launched in India, all it reminds me of is re-do-public which is what they do to public every year and it is time public does unto them. I am un-cultured, period. I have it on good authority that I neither understand nor respect culture. That tune, ah, that tune puts me off to sleep at 9 am in the morning. Reminds me of fervently gesticulating aunts with no voice and me trying to turn the volume up only to hear the wailing tone louder.

Whatsapp reminded early morning that it was a dry day, so all my wine loving friends were sober for a change and probably bathed and freshened up, sitting with their wives of 25 years odd, sipping a cup of Tulsi tea and thinking, WTF, I get to watch a parade today and not my painstakingly assembled hard disk worth Gigabytes (quite unpatriotic, so to say). So everyone decided to become nauseously  patriotic and send tricolor messages, gifs and videos, and my mind went back to the tricolor on the slipper that created a big hullaballoo for Amazon. We were discussing about it yesterday and as I defended the concept, wondering aloud as why should it matter, my argument was unilaterally branded as “कुतर्क”. So tri color messages are ok, clothes are fine, but not tricolor chappals, because “हमारी भी भावनाये हैं ”. We are a nation that can riot if a guy doesn’t stand up during National Anthem recitation in a movie theatre, but we can coolly stand and snigger (probably record too) while a girl is being molested by a group in public. So up yours for भावनाये, BTW, Did anyone happen to notice the flag of “Republic day अमर रहे”. Somebody get your facts right, man!

Continuing on the charade of patriotism, I want to implore all of ye, to actively take part in स्वच्छ Bharat. Which is an oxymoron, as clarified by a standup guy, and I agree, we Indians are not clean by culture, our cleanliness is making the maid clean our home and dump the dirt in neighbor’s yard. See we have traditionally never believed in love thy neighbor (loving thy neighbor’s wife, or daughter, now that is a different story). I have had a hard time explaining my BMW (Bartan maanjne wali) to keep dry and wet कचरा separate, and when finally I got through their blocked minds, I realised that the colony cleaner anyway mixes it all up, so, there went my futile attempt down the dustbin literally. But if the littering of the country wasn’t enough, we have also learnt to litter in mailboxes and WA accounts simply by posting messages of utter stupidity, which they could broom away if they could but they can’t so they won’t. They simply dump to another group. Sometimes it feels that they do it deliberately, I saw this shit, let me shove it down your throat too. But what I really felt bad is about people like Fawad being unceremoniously thrown back to the neighbor country. He is cute. Even Karan liked him. Why treat him like dirt? I can think of several other folks we could be much better off without, and could be hurled across the border, but why Fawad!

Our nation is doing so much for females in terms of making men aware of how to behave with them, running scripted short films and advertisements around लड़की बचाओ, लड़की पढ़ाओ   (my autocorrect is working overtime, it was actually writing लड़की भगाओ and my google search on लड़की showed me “पटाने का तरीका ”). I personally think the whole concept works out in men’s favor, Save the girl child, she is the one who will become a woman later. Get it, you dirty mind! But at times these shows are so utterly unreal and I am nostalgic for Nirupa Rai and I distinctly feel the only way to solve this problem is, every woman should aim at looking like Nirupa Rai. (No offence) but men will have a real problem feeling anything but brotherly  or son-ly towards this species. For us in the 40’s (It is better to say forties that specify the exact year, except that I keep my email id as jhilmil_1970), looking motherly and elder sisterly is default, but for the beauties in their 20’s, it may be a good idea to take a crash course in how-to-look-like-an-aunt-and-save-yourself.

It is very difficult to find anything to say these days, every word is twisted and misrepresented. And it is getting tougher day by day to understand the difference between truth and falsehood, or rather alternate truth, as coined by a yellow haired person of current importance. All that is written on Internet is not the whole truth, so help me God. Can someone make an app, or create a marker that tells me whether a statement supposedly attributed to Meryl Streep was actually penned by her, or Obama’s hand on Melanie’s derriere was photo-shopped. Or why the recipe that looks so endearing in your food lab looks unfabulously different when tried at home. And other conspiracy theories around how-raga-is smarter-than-donkey or who-killed-ajay-lolita. But मेरे अच्छे दिन आएंगे ! I like the word अच्छा. Spoken in different tones, it can take on a whole new meaning or de-meaning. It is not a word, it is a sentence. So, repeating myself मेरे अच्छे दिन आएंगे.

How can my patriotism bladder be empty without discussing de-money-tisation. It is an unprece-dent-ed move that put a dent in everyone’s wallet and asked to move to e-wallet. The management philosophy behind this is the ardent belief that we are all morons. You spend Rs 30 once (I am staunch middle class and the last wallet I bought cost me all of Rs 30), when you buy a wallet and then you can put money and take out money and none would be wiser. You use a digital wallet and you are paying (every time to those who are wiser) to spend your money as well. Of course, goes without saying when you are de-monied, digital is the way to go. Better than begging any day. I asked an autowallah as to why he doesn’t use paytm, he said, madam, उसके लिए नेट पैक लेना पड़ेगा .  Valid point. I personally think this whole आंदोलन was a move to teach Indians the culture of standing in queue. Till now, having been only focused on art of living, now we know the art of queuing.

P.S. Please note that the blog title had nothing to do with the blog content, a fact that you must have realised by now, unless you belong to the #StupidIndia club but it sure enticed you to read all the way till the end, hoping to find a glimpse of the wagina. Maybe I should have called it The year that was, or My unpatriotism, but decided not to. Now that is pretty successful marketing.