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Amritsar to Ahmedabad… 3 days,1400 kilometers April 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — kepron @ 7:30 pm

After the first year of MBA, I got through to the second year. Thank god for that, for a multitude of reasons. First, obviously it is quite satisfying to complete the first year in the first year itself. Second, once the first year is done, the second year is a cakewalk. [ And the number of birthdays that one can attend on campus, does give it a literal meaning as well]. Given that there is infinite free time in the second year, I figured it would be a good idea to have conveyance to be able to visit places around Ahmedabad. My car was in Amritsar, which is not an optimal base location to visit areas around Ahmedabad, so I figured I should get it to Ahd. So I drove from Asr to Ahd in Dec end 2011.


Initially there were supposed to be five of us, Karanvir, Mayur, Neeraj, Sangeetesh and me. As it turned out, three of them dropped the plans at (almost) the last moment, but Neeraj had already committed himself to it. His lives in Guwahati, he had already reached Delhi, so it was the two of us. Good for us, cause as we realized later, luggage might have been an issue with more people.


We charted out the plan, and then conveniently forgot it. We could have taken Asr-Delhi-Ahd route or taken the route through Ganganagar, Bikaner etc. The latter is relatively closer to the western border, and passes through many non descript places.  So we took decided to the latter route, it fitted the idea of a road trip much better than going along major cities.


The plan for day 1 was to cover the Asr-Bikaner stretch [ 500 km], it looked reasonable for a day; start at 6 or 7 am from Asr, reach Bikaner in the evening. Look for a place to stay using expert guidance of a friend who hails from Bikaner, and then start off the next day from Bikaner.

We forgot to factor in the paratha and lassi breakfast and last minute preparations at home. We got up late, and then figured it might be a good idea to have a GPS enabled phone or a data card to be able to check directions. So we searched for a suitable phone online. Then we went out to look for the phone in the market. While at it, we were told that it would take a day or two to activate a new SIM and get data connectivity on it. So we bought some oranges.


So we had lunch at home and started off at 1pm.


There are a couple of things that happen when one starts off late. One, there is obviously lesser time to travel Two, there is way more traffic on the roads and the average speed comes out to ~40 kmph.

Driving through the night was not on the cards, it did not make sense. One , with oncoming vehicles and bright headlights, one needs to be a lot more careful. Two, it is tougher to ask for direction cause there are not many people around. Three, night driving would translate into sleeping through the day, so what was the point of it ?


Net net, it got dark, and we were nowhere close to Bikaner. We stopped at a petrol pump, to get a full fuel tank. Also because there was a dhaba opposite to it, and we were hungry.


Neeraj to the petrol pump guy: “ bhaiya yeh saamne waal dhaba kaisa hai? Khana accha hai ?”
Pump guy: sirjee sahi batao to yeh achha to nahin hai
Neeraj: phir?
Pump guy: phir aap aage chale jao, Char rasta paar kar ke do dhabe hain, aamne saamne, who acche hein
Neeraj: theek hai. thank you.


So we went up ahead, and stopped at the suggested dhaba. We asked the guy of we would get dinner there, on getting an affirmation, we sat down. And then we asked him where could we get a place to stay, the motive also being to slyly get to know where exactly we were. It turned out that 40 km ahead, there was Sri Ganganagar[200km from short of Bikaner], and we could get a place to stay there.


Cool, so I called up home, and asked them to check on the net if there were places to stay in SriGanganagar. As it turned out, Ganganagar is quite a religious place with many gurudwaras, and they seemed to be the recommended places to stay.

So we reached Ganganagar, stopped at random shop, and asked him if we could find a place somewhere to stay. There were three people at the shop, the shopkeeper, a customer and an onlooker. The customer turned out to be the good Samaritan.


Me:  yahan koi rehne ki jagah hai kya?

Guy: Aapko hotel mein rehna hai ya dharmshala mein ?

Me: Night stay hi karna hai, to kuchh bhi theek thaak chalega

Guy: Aap dono gents hi ho, to dharmshala chale jao. Aage sanatan dharmshala hai. Badhiya jagah milegi. Attachd bathroom, geyser, sab. 800-900 kharch karne hai ho hotel bhi mil jaaega , per faayda koi nahin.

Me: parking hogi vahan?

Guy: hanji hanji, badhiya parking hai, dharmshaale ke andar hi.

Me: Theek hai, rasta kya hai?

Guy :(explain the directions, and then) mmm..aap mere peechhe aa jao,main dikha deta hoon. ( and he actually led us on his bike to the dharmshala)


And the guy was right !!!

It was a very apt place for us to stay, the value proposition was amazing. Neeraj was wonder eyed, and later resolved to stay only in dharmshalas while travelling. Though I am not sure how relevant was the samaritan’s comment ‘you are all guys, so dharmshala is good’, as there were quite a few families staying there as well.

The place had central quadrangle, and rooms all around it, a four storey building. The car got parked in the quadrangle, which could have accommodated 50 cars I think. The reception if this dharmshala was behind grilled window. It reminded me of the cashier window at banks when I was a kid, and the liquor shops when I grew up.


So we had options of the kind of accommodation we wanted.. Dorms for Rs 50 per person, a two bedded Delux room for Rs 150, and a super deluxe room for Rs 230. After much deliberation :D, we took the super deluxe room. The room was huge, the floor area would have been around 400 sq feet I guess. The fact that the room had nothing by the way of furniture apart from the beds is a different matter. Two single beds were positioned along one edge of the room, and at the other end, stood a lonesome cot. So we ate some oranges.


So having learnt the lesson of the day i.e. we should start early, we had an early night and got up early next morning.  We checked out around 7am I guess, got into the car and asked for directions from a bystander to get on the highway for Bikaner.

We were informed to go straight, then as soon as we see a main road, turn left and it would lead us to the highway. Simple enough, so straight we went for a while, and it seemed a lot more than what we had been led to believe, so we asked for directions again. It turned out that we had missed the main road, but there was another main road which could take if we went straight. We went straight, and seemed to have missed the main road again. So we checked with the next bystander, and indeed, we had missed two main roads, but the next turn (which we could see from where were) was another main road which would lead us to the highway. As it turns out, the ‘main road’ idea was a cemented road, 30 feet wide, with houses on either side. But well, we went on our way to Bikaner.


The highways (state/national/district) in Rajasthan are amazing. They are very well maintained, and have very little traffic, and fewer turns. In fact, on the map,, the road from Ganganagar to Suratgarh looks as if it has been drawn using a ruler. So I reached speeds which I could not have reached in other states, and were beyond even the imagination of Neeraj. And we cruised at 140kmph .


So we reached Bikaner around 11am I guess. And then we called up Manpreet to check if it was worth going into Bikaner. There was temple famous for rats, but that is about it. So we bypassed Bikaner, and took a turn towards Pokhran. It sounded much more interesting.

So we reached Pokhran. Obviously we were not allowed into the military area to check out the nuclear blast site, so we ate some oranges. Now we have is a happy pic of us at the gates of the army camp.  Next possibility was Jaisalmer, but neither was too keen to go there as we thought it would be too touristy, but we really wanted to see the desert, so we called up Manpreet again. He suggested we go to Barmer. “Main kabhi gaya to nahin  hoon, per log jaate hain, to achha hoga”


Pokhran is a village; so somewhat populated. There was an auto-rickshaw full of people which stopped on the road close to us. So we asked for directions. All of the guys in the autorickshaw decided to answer our call, simultaneously. Then one by one, their voices faded, and in the end the lone survivor was the guy who was giving directions in angrezi.


Guy: (explains directions)

I: (nod), theek hai, so ..( I repeat the directions.)

Guy: Haan. Chalo. Thank you very much.

Me: (amused) Thank you


And with smiles all around, the auto went away.

So we skipped Jaisalmer and passed through many rural roads (which were brilliant as well), and saw many many camels, and many many army tanks being ferried on trucks, and we reached Barmer some time before dusk.

Barmer is, let’s say, an upcoming city. It is the district headquarters and has a court as well. We had homed in on dharmshalas as a generic place to stay. So as soon as we got into Barmer, asked an autorickshaw guy for information.

Me: bhaiya yahan koi rehne ke liye dharmshala hai

Rickshaw guy: yahan to nahin, aage hai ( I guess his frame of reference defined for “here” was much narrower than mine)

Me : kaunsi, kahan hai?

Rickshaw guy: Ek seva sadan, aur ek ranchhod. Dono aage hain, paas paas hi hain

Me: Acchi kaunsi hai?

Rickshaw guy (punchline): Jahan jagah mil jaaye wohi achhi hai.


So we went ahead, asked the directions a couple of time more, reached Ranchhod dharmshala, did not like it as it did not have parking space and we were supposed to park in car park of a nearby national handloom shopping centre. So we went to Seva Sadan dharmshala and got us the ‘deluxe suite’ there.


Interesting fact: And while taking noting down our details in his old registers, the guy at the counter of the dharmshala asked us Naam, Pita ka naam, kahan se aaye ho , address phone no etc and jati. That was a shocker. I am not even sure what my jati is, so replied “garg, baniya, hindu”, assuming that he would pick up whatever was relevant; and then asked him if it they allowed only certain castes or something of the sort. I think he did say that they allow all, but “formality hai, poori to karni parti hai”.


Later, we ventured out to eat.  We had to check out places to see, where to find the desert, and eat dinner. Non-veg was the food we wanted, so we checked eateries around, and all were vegetarian. So we asked a traffic policeman there on if there was place there that served non veg. He thought for a while and then he expanded his area under consideration and came with a place that was about 2km away. He detailed to us the directions as well.


While we were talking to him, we figured we might as well ask him about where to find sand.

Me: Amritsar se ahmedabad jaa rahe hain, to rajasthan mein registan dekh lete. Gaadi hai, kal jaayenge, so registan kahan hoga ?

Traffic guy: Bauji yahaan registan to nahin hai. Yahaan to tille-tulle hi hain. Tille dekh kar kya karoge?

(note: tille= hillocks)

Me: Haan, per aaye hain to dekh lete hain. Hamein bataya tha ke log barmer bhi aate hain

Traffic guy: Haan aate to hain, oer daftari kaam se aate hain. Yeh disctrict headquarters hai. asal registan to jaisalmer mein hi hai

Me: Oh,to yahaan kuchh nahin hai?

Traffic guy: Nahin, kuchh hai to nahin, Jaana hi hai to Chauhattan chale jao. Vahaan dikh jaayega.

Me : Theek hai. Shukriya


But immediate food matter at hand, we took an autorickshaw through closed markets to get to another highway which was dotted with vegetarian restaurants. We found the one we had been directed towards, and went in, sat down asked for the menu, and realized that it was a pure –veg place. Lesson learnt after a wasted hour. Do not try to find non veg in Rajasthan.


So we came back after having some dinner, got up early in the morning and went out to the reception to check out. We also asked for directions to Chauhattan, and other places to visit. We were told of a couple of temples that could be visited. A bunch  of devi temples. It seems they have a fascination for goddesses. The gods must be feeling left out.

And we asked for a place to have breakfast, and we were told of the ‘Viratra Mata’ temple near Chauhattan as well. There should be good food available there.


Seva sadan dharmshala is on a major road, and we asked for direction to Chauhattan from the guy at the counter. He gave us directions, and then pointed towards the road where a bus was happened to pass by at that very moment. “yeh bus dekh rahe ho?” “hanji”. “bas issi ke peechhe peechhe chale jao. Yeh chauhattan ja rahi hai”. I guess he expected us to pay him, get into the car and get the car from the parking to the road in the split second that we had while the bus crossed us. Maybe they are used to, or believe strongly in miracles.


Anyhow, we drove towards Chauhattan. As usual, amazing roads, and it was cool morning. It used to get really hot by afternoon. We reached Chauhattan, asked for directions towards the temple, and moved towards it, reached there.

We were expecting it to be on a hillock, but no it was not. It was on level ground. So no good views from there. But we visited the temple and then looked around for the place temple kitchen and the promised good food. It turned out that they did not serve breakfast. Lunch was served in the afternoon, and one had to purchase a coupon in the morning for that. Obviously out.

But the signboard also said that there was milk and tea available through the day. So we waited for someone to come to the relevant counter and give us tea/milk. A little while later, one guy came, conveniently reached out to the glasses and teapot inside the counter and poured a cup for himself; and advised us to do the same. Unfortunately, he had taken the last cup that was within reach through the small counter window. So we longed as we saw the pile of cups that were out of reach. Anyhow, a while later, another person appeared, unlocked the door of the kitchen, and poured for us some tea and milk. And off we went, back towards Chauhattan.


So now that the possibility of having a good view from the temple had been dashed, we thought of alternative courses of action. There was a road that we had crossed near Chauhattan that said had a signboard “hilltop 10km”. It seemed promising. So we went up that hill. It turned out that the hill had an army camp and a helipad at the top, and we were forbidden to go there. But that was ok, we did not miss a lot of elevation due to that. We stopped where we were stopped, and the view there was good. So we ate oranges there. A vast expanse of arid land with nothing but shrubs and bushes, hillocks far far away; the town of Chauhattan at some distance, and yes.. the desert ! Should be around 4kms square, but sand. Sand and sand dunes ! And we chilled out there for a while, for we had seen the sand now.


And then we were hungry. So we went into Chauhattan looked  for a place to eat and were directed to “ma bhawani hotel”, which was supposed to have (quote) “Chauhattan’s best first class a1 restaurant” So we went there. It was a shack, but good dhaba food. We had daal roti subji and asked then asked for shikanji, which he said they do not serve, or nimboo paani which they did not serve. But he was happy getting for us nimboo and sugar and water. And so we made the nimboo paani for ourselves. Lost revenue for the owner.


And then towards Ahmedabad we started. The original plan had included that we make a stop at Kumbhalgarh. There is a fort there, and many leopards, but then, in the spirit of bypassing places, we decided against Kumbhalgarh as well, and reached Ahd at night.

The roads are too good in Gujarat as well, but not the oranges.


Yellow Brick Road Part 6 November 27, 2011

Filed under: exchange,humour — kepron @ 7:24 pm

Once upon a time, we also decided that given that we would be going to Australia, it would be a good idea to go to the Great Barrier Reef, and so we went to a place called Cairns. It is on the north west coast of Australia, and is generally considered to be the gateway to the great barrier reef. It was during and after this trip, that I got to know a couple of facts about the reef, the bottomline of which is that the Great Barrier Reef is a well marketed place. One, barrier reef is not a continuous coral reef. It is patches of coral reef which range in their diameter, separated by kilometers of distance. The one which we went to would have been ~50m*25 m I think. Two, it is just a coral reef, there are also coral reefs in India, especially around Lakshadweeps, and it looks like they are much more beautiful than the barrier reef. Three, even in Australia, it seems the experience of accessing the reef through the Whitsundays would be much better. Whitsundays are a cluster of islands, and there is a Whitehaven beach there, which has sand that is as white as salt due to the high silica content in it. The water also makes patterns into the beach , which look amazing.

But then again, the experience of the reef was brilliant, it is almost divine. We went scuba diving and snorkeling into the water, and that is how one experiences divinity. For the reef, it is ~2 hours ferry ride into the sea. The sea around the reef would be ~20 metres deep I think. The sea bed has some bald patches too, so the sun rays reflect back up from those patches. You can see the rays coming up from the sea bed. Couple that with the silence around you (cause your ears are underwater, and so you can’t hear anything), it makes for a divine experience. Second, when you go diving , and are ~10 metres underwater, you look up to the sky, and you see the surface of the sea lit up by the sunrays, and couple that with the fact that you are suspended in water, it makes a divine experience. The third is if you do not know swimming and are drowning, it can lead o divinity (provided you have been good in your life). I experienced all three.

I do not know swimming, but that does not stop me from trying to swim. Anyhow, the way it works is that the ferry guys will take you to the reef. They provide everyone with snorkeling gear and flippers, and you can go around the reef to explore it. Those who want to dive, can go diving too, they have the gear for that as well. The boat is anchored for ~2 hours, and diving is ~30 minutes, we had signed up for both.

Anyhow, I have been in water before, and I can flap around, but I cannot breathe. But, I figured that the human body floats in water anyhow, so as long as I can breathe with my head underwater, I do not really need to swim. And the snorkeling gear is meant just for that ! so I wore the flippers, wore the mask and jumped into the sea. The mask covers the eyes and the nose. While it helps a lot in visibility, there is no way one can breathe through the nose with the mask on, cause there is not air around it. The only way to breathe is through the mouth. Anyhow, I jumped into the sea and moved ~10 metres away from the boat. I figured that if I get to drowning, I should be able to wade my way back. So there I was, in the sea, judging my comfort level, flipping the flippers, when I felt someone was tugging at my feet. So I looked towards my feet, and this got the top of the snorkel underwater as well, and it filled up with water. I tried to breathe, but all I got was water in my mouth. Generally it is easy to clear the snorkel, you just need to blow it hard , but with my inexperience, I had not taken a mouthful of air when I decided to look towards my feet, so there was no way for me to clear the snorkel. That was semi panic. Being used to land, and having been dutifully taught to breathe through my nose, that was my next instinctive step. So I tried to breathe through my nose, and I could not get any air. Now I panicked, it looked like a perfect setting to drown. So I decided to shout for help. I flapped the flippers hard, got my head out of water, took the mouthpiece out of my mouth and with all my might shouted “help !!!”. So I got air into my mouth, calmed down, cleared the snorkel, and swam back comfortably to the boat, a little shaken. Clear lesson in the advantages of getting comfortable. Breathing through the mouth is new, not instinctive, the idea of a gulpful of air before a dive was purely habit, and no one was tugging at my feet, the flippers created resistance much more than what I was used to getting with my feet.

So I calmed myself, and 10 minutes on, I was back into the sea. This time with trained divers. Good thing about the introductory scuba dive is that one does not need to know swimming at all, and there is a trained diver always with you to take you around. But it really helped that I had gotten comfortable with breathing through the mouth by then, made the dive experience much more than a ‘survive through this’ exercise.

Post the dive, me (and a couple of other non swimmers) tied a floating belt around the waist ( more like a boxing championship belt, but made of foam), help on to a floating tube ( similar to a tyre tube) and were tugged around the reef by a ferry guy. But given that I had figured out the logic in my head, I did not hold on to the tube but tried going around the reef by myself, got the snorkel underwater and all those other things, but always remained within one breath distance of the floating tube. Well, as it turns out, logic works, but does need some experience to get used to the logic. It was fun.

Next day up, and we were on our way to the other things to do there. We hired a car, and drove up to the Daintree river, we had to see crocodiles in the river. Got onto a river tour there. Crocodile fact: saltwater crocodiles do not really live in the sea, they are mostly along the beaches, and in the rivers just as they merge into the sea. .. so much for nomenclature. Crocodile fact: they can live up to 80 years, but they never stop growing ! Crocodile fact: they get their pray by feeling the water waves than through smell or visual methods…so no point in wearing perfumes or dressing up if you are to be eaten by a croc. We got multiple croc facts, and got to see one croc only in the half an hour. We had gone out in the expectation of a river bank full of crocs. Turned out that it was the mating season, and all the non alpha male crocs had hidden themselves to avoid being killed by the alpha male croc. Croc fact: they spend 99% of their time regulating their body temperature, so that they can do with minimum energy. .. talk about the heights of laziness.

And we went further upto Port Douglas and cape tribulation. The drive was amazing, and the beach was really good too, cause these were he beached where you have a rainforest right next to the beach. So if you want, you can tie up a hammock and chillout on the beach. We forgot to take our hammock. The highlight of the trip for me was the drive, for those who did not, it would have to be the icecreams. There are two ice cream shops around Cape Tribulation. Home made icecreams, with ~30 flavours, and most of them were quite unique. W reached one shop at 5 pm, unfortunately, the closing time was 5, and they had emptied out the stock. So we drove to the other shop, which was open till 5:30 luckily, and had a good assortment of icecreams. Ginger and passionfruit (good), sweet potato (not so good), honeysuckle, blueberry, jackfruit, and other like that. A good last stop before the drive back to Cairns.

That was the day after the dive. The day before the dive we went quadbiking. A 250 cc bike on four deep tread wheels, running through the Kuranda rainforest track. I would have expected all offroad vehicles to be four wheel drives, but quad biked are two wheel drives… but good fun. And we met a guy who lived there, was a butcher by profession, but god .. what an interesting discussion we had with him on international finance. On the dependence of Australia to Chinese growth, the employment imbalance in favour of mining and the rise of the exchange rate. He was very well informed, I would not expect that from a person in his profession. A surprise.. a huge surprise.

You get to meet people you would never expect to meet, sit down and talk, Sydney is interesting.


Yellow Brick Road Part 5

Filed under: exchange,not humour ? — kepron @ 7:10 pm

And then there was Diwali. It’s a fun festival in India, and in the past few years I think I have come to figure out that I would prefer to spend the Diwali in India, with friends, if I cannot make it to the family in Amritsar. But here I was, in Sydney, celebrating Diwali in a piecemeal basis, cause here the weekday takes precedence over Diwali. Diwali was on a Wednesday, I attended one Diwali function the previous Saturday, on the day of Diwali I prepared for an exam, and after the exam on Thursday, I went for a ’Diwali ‘with the others from the university. The funny thing is it does not hit you till it gets to the evening. So it was all fine till the afternoon, studying and all, but towards the evening it starts to get get on to you. The houses are not lit, and neither is the sky. There are no sweets in the house, and the like.

But I did manage to view some fireworks in Sydney. I was told that in the months preceding Christmas (and no, not all 12 months before Christmas), there are fireworks in at Darling harbor. So I checked out the website (that’s a good thing, all info is available online), and figured out a day to go. That day arrived, and went, I missed it. So I checked the website again, and noted down another date. That day arrived, and passed too. This led me to go to the website and note down the next few potential dates, and then I watched them go by, one by one, till finally one day, I landed at Darling Harbour, in time to watch the fireworks. The fireworks were supposed to start at 9 pm, and I know that the firangs are a punctual lot, so I reached there at 8:00pm (also because the alternate was to reach there at 9:30 pm). I looked around to figure out where would the fireworks be, and then I placed myself at the centre of the bridge. Advantage1 : I could see both sides of the bay, so I would catch the fireworks whichever side it took place. Advantage 2: there was a good breeze there :D, Advantage 3: I could get a good view of not only the sky, but of the entire harbor, so seemed appropriate. 8:30 pm: I tried to figure out a good side of the bridge, I could not. So I waited at a side that offered a view of the sea. 8:45 pm : I see that folks are congregating on the other side, so I changed my position to the other side. 9:00 pm: nothing. 9:05 pm: I see people are looking at their wrists now, instead of the sky. So I look at mine, I find my wristwatch there, and figure out that people are getting impatient. 9:10 pm: I figure out that the firangs are not such a punctual lot after all. 9:15 pm, I hear a whistle, I look up and see a rocket going up .. yay !! the fireworks have stared !! In the very limited area of the sky that it occupied, it was a good show. There fireworks were being launched from three different rafts in the bay, and were nicely coordinated. But I think I like the Diwali sky better cause that lights up the entire sky, and because it lasts a lot longer. This one lasted 10 minutes. And then everyone went home. So did I.

Now let me rewind a little to the story of how did I land up at the harbor that evening. I first got up at 6 am that morning. We were supposed to go to Hunter valley that day. Hunter valley is ~3 hours drive from Sydney (and 3 and a half hours if the drive is an 80 year old veteran). It’s a wine growing region, the plan was to go to a few vineyards and taste wine, and I had to reach the university at 7:30 am for that. Anyhow, so I got up at 6 am, then I got up at 6:15 am, and then I got up at 6:30 am, and then I got ready and reached the university at 7:40 am. I turned out that I was the second last to arrive there (the last on e was my housemate who arrived there at 7:50 am. The others were not very happy, and I reminded myself that firangs are a punctual lot, and the Asians in firang land become unpredictable, they are not punctually late.

So we got on to the bus and got to the first vineyard. It was long and slow ride between the ‘got on’ and the ‘got to’ part. The first wine tasting session, 8 types of wine, 4 white ones followed by 4 red ones but the last one was amazing. It was a red wine with brandy in it, and it tasted really good and smooth. The first was a light fruity sparkling wine. Quick lesson on how to taste a wine: swirl the glass (to let the wine breathe), take a sip (you cannot do without it), and then swirl it in your mouth (to let it touch all parts of your ‘palate’), and then spit it out. Well, apart from the few people in our group who were the local maxima in wine tasting, the rest of decided to skip step 4. We were supposed to go to four vineyards, and by the third vineyard, all wines tasted the same. And no, it was not because we got drunk, but in general. I tasted 34 wines that day, 15-30 ml each, over the course of five hours. I used to like white wine, and now that desire has been killed (damn the abundance). I’d like to drink Tawny though (the one with wine + brandy), which bring up the point.. do I like wine or the brandy :D ?

While coming back to the university from the vineyard, I had to take a call, either go back home and then come back, or get off at Darling harbor itself. I chose the latter; the former would have been cutting it too close. So I also explored the central business district a bit, and it is quite a good place.

It is debatable if we are known for efficiency or not, but there is a good story on efficiency that I have, not necessarily the most recommended one. I have a cousin sister in city that is ~1.5 hours by train from Sydney, and I have gone there on some weekends, and take the Monday morning 7 am train. The first weekend, I got to the station at 6:58 and the train arrived as soon as I got into the long queue. The queue disappeared as people must have rushed onto the train with/without tickets, so I was able to get a ticket and rush into the train. The next weekend, I got there around 6:55, and the train arrives just as I got my train ticket. I got the ticket and rushed. The weekend after that, I went to the station early morning, got a ticket and came back home to have a comfortable breakfast. Thus, from efficient ways of getting onto a train I moved to using the systemic efficiencies available. The house was 2 minutes walk from the station.


Yellow Brick Road Part 4 October 28, 2011

Filed under: exchange,not humour ? — kepron @ 7:23 pm

And today I shall talk about memories. Not memories per say in the sense of dissection in ‘inception’, but of the memory of a good week long break that we took. But, in simpler words, I shall talk. So we took a long break and based ourselves in Brisbane. There are a couple of reasons why Brisbane was a good choice, and free food and a place to stay is definitely the basis of the hierarchy of needs, but the story starts in Sydney itself.

I had been aware for a period of time, that we would base ourselves in Brisbane in near future, and so had been the others; and as goes with all things that one is aware for a period of time, nothing is done till the near future becomes dangerously close to present. In this case, it was the flight tickets from Sydney to Brisbane, which started shooting up like crazy the day I decided to book my tickets. They were going up in the air by the hour, so I grounded myself, I booked a train.

As it is will most natural landscapes in Australia, the landscape was amazing. For ‘you cannot miss it even if you sleep off’ part of the journey, the railtrack goes by the side of the ocean. (No it does not go through the beach, yes, you can see the ocean); and the ocean views are generally flanked by islands of greenery, it would not have been surprising had I heard Jurassic sounds in there. So I had my lunch at 2:30 PM, I took a train at 4:30 pm, it was dark by 6:30 PM, and the served dinner at 7PM. Dinner @7pm !, I was still burping from my lunch and it was time to have dinner. But I figured that it would not be a wise decision to ignore food and spend a sleepless hungry night, I had dinner and slept, happy and content with the thought that I am wise.

After spending a day in Brisbane making plans, we went to the Stradbroke Island, which is some distance away from Brisbane. We took a bus, then we took a train, then we took a bus, then we took a ferry, and then we took a bus, just to get there. As we approached reached the beach, I thought to myself “it is absolutely worth getting here, the ferry ride was amazing. Let’s see if the island is worth going to.” And it was. Apart from the turquoise blue ocean and the sand coloured beach and the multicoloured rocks, there were also dark brown coloured kangaroos and dark green coloured turtles. And if you see photographs of a couple of us in a surya namaskar pose, you should know that it was for those five seconds of our lives when we wholly embraced yoga. And then after spending the day at the island, we returned to the base.

Next up was a road trip to a couple of other place. We took a self drive car on and headed towards Noosa. As had happened the last time we rented a car, this time too we got an automatic transmission even though we had booked a manual transmission. I do not think automatic transmission is as much fun to drive as is a manual gearbox. But maybe the car rental agencies have their own business models.

Noosa is a small city, with a couple of beaches and a number of backpackers. My highlight of the place being our experience of (not)surfing and (but)bodyboarding. Since I did not know how to surf, body boarding seemed to be a good option at the beach. Since I do not know how to swim, it seemed to be a good option to venture only so far as I could have my feet on land underwater. So I took the body board and ventured into the sea. I stood in chest deep water for some time, saw a good wave coming turned my back around to the wave, climbed onto the board , and waited as the wave passed under me, without taking me with it. Oh well, I stood upright again and waited for another good wave. All in all, in a span of an hour, I think it was thrice that I managed to have the wave carry me all the way to the beach. Having watched innumerable surfers surfing on all other beaches, I would have thought that I would do a decent enough job of bodyboarding. But as elders say, not till you do it, will you know what most important observation that you made was. In simple terms, experience is good even in simple things. What I now know is that I should have always been on the body board, and should have paddled with my hands when a wave came and that’s how one catches a wave. One does not catch a wave by standing in the sea and jumping on the wave as if it was a wild horse.

Next up was Byron bay. It’s a bay, like any other, just a little less touristy and lot better. And this time, we ventured into the sea. Of course, we were on a kayak, and for a couple of times, the kayak was on us, but it was a very good experience. We saw turtles and dolphins and whale tales, and a lot of sea water, and we drank a lot of sea water too. It’s a good thing we had life jackets. For a start, the kayak needs to be pulled into the ocean against the waves. I think that is the toughest part of the entire excursion. One needs to hit the wave head-on, and then as soon as the wave crosses from under you, the front portion of the kayak falls one meter through air till it touches water. It’s a very bumpy ride. So the chain of events sounds like whoosh, right, thwack, thud; whoosh, right, thwack, thud; whoosh, right, thwack, thud. The whoosh when we hear the wave, the right (or left) is the frantic shout of the people in the boat to signal which side of the kayak to oar so as to hit the wave head on, the thwack as the wave hits your body, and the thud when the kayak falls back into the sea. In case the ‘right’ sound goes missing, it is substituted by ‘glug glug’ after ‘thud’, because the kayak capsizes and the occupants are drinking sea water.

Then you go deep into the ocean, where the sea is much calmer, and there are no waves. The ocean surface of course rises and falls about a metre and half, so much so that there are times when you cannot see a of the other kayaks as your view is obstructed by the ocean. It is there, that you hear a whisss and  a whale creates a blowhole, and then you see a tail disappearing into the ocean. apparently the whales that loud a sound to signal to the other waves, the other more interesting phenomenon is whats called  a body mark. The ocean surface generally has ripples, but when a whale splashes into the ocean, the surface become absolutely plane, and this mark travels for some distance. It is as if there is a pond within the ocean.

After feeling refreshed with the experience, and tired with the paddling, we set out back towards Brisbane, via a town called Nimbin. It’s a small village of about five hundred people, it was not so much about the town, as the journey was fascinating through the countryside. The roads are deserted so one can attain high speeds. The terrain is over hills, it is like a giant roller coaster some, 200 metres of rise and then 150 metres of fall. Through the hills, with green all around, and the cows and the horses absorbing their fair share of the greenery. Side note- we travelled a long distance to get to  a petrol pump in Nimbin, and it turned out that it had shut down for the last two weeks, and will reopen in another 3 weeks. Good old GPS, we were out of fuel ! but thankfully, after a great number of phone calls and talking, we got some in jerry cans from road assistance.

So we reached the base Brisbane back, and followed the neon lights to Gold Coast the next day, before heading back to Sydney.


Yellow Brick Road Part 3

Filed under: exchange,humour — kepron @ 7:07 pm

The first weekend in Sydney, we were off to pay our respects to the Sydney Harbour bridge and to the Opera House, they are about 500 metres away from each other, and are in viewing distance. Friday we went there because there was a AGSM get together there, Saturday we went there because we took a guided tour of the opera house, Sunday we went there because the enthusiasts wanted more pics. Had it been a temple my mom would have been so happy. We have shots of these places from every angle. Mathematically speaking, x1=taken from opera house or taken from the harbor x2 = taken of the opera house or taken of the harbor x3= taken in the day or taken at night x4= with no one in pic or with one person in the pic or with two people in shot or with three people in the shot x5= from the front or the back or the sides. So photographs of all permutations of x1…x5 are there with us, and some of them are really nice.  We took a photograph of us with the Opera house in the background, and captioned it “the opera house’. We took a pic of the three of us with Harbour Bridge in the background, and called it “the Sydney harbor bridge.”

The next weekend, or a few weekends after that, we rushed to the Blue Mountains, as they were slowly turning normal brown with green trees. Apparently they have a particular variety of trees whose leaves secrete a particular variety of oil which in particular weather conditions make the mountains look blue. But if they named them ‘particularly blue mountains’, I guess that sounds even more misleading, so to the normal mountains called blue we went. Good road, cows and horses, sheep and kangaroos, and this was our first experience of aboriginal names. They’re in a town called Katoomba. Side note : there is also a town called Wollongong. I misspelled it as Woollywong, and I was told it sounded like a Chinese sheep. Anyhow, in Katoomfba, there are three large rocks jutting out of land, and they named them the three sisters, so the three of us took pics together with the rocks in the background, and captioned the pic ‘The Three Sisters’.

We heard that there were bushfires reported in that area, looked like some teenagers thought it would be fun to warm themselves, but they were charged with the crime. So they closed down the forest and other waterfall and creeks for the public, which limited our ability to explore. Of course, what actually limited our ability to explore was our stamina, but it is good to have a back up reason as well.

Since we had been troubled by the forest fires the previous day, the next day we decided to go and find out the forest fires for ourselves. But the gods did not want that, they had made the weather misty and rainy, and it was in such weather that we took the tourist attraction of a cable car with a glass floor that goes above the valley. It was not what we expected, we were supposed to see far and wide and deep into the valley, but all we could see was the white mist through the windows, through the roof, and through the glass floor. I now know what heaven must feel like with clouds and walking on clouds. On second thoughts, it would also be a traffic hazard, with the angels bumping into each other.

On the way back, many cars overtook us, many bikes overtook us too, and a few of them sounded as if more than overtaking the other vehicles, they were more interesting in letting other vehicles know that they would be overtaken, and in no way am I referring here to police cars and ambulances. The point is that these bikes and a few of the cars looked new, were definitely not vintage, but sounded like the ancient roar of a drone. Maybe it is just the owners way of expressing themselves.

On another occasion, we took a walk from Bondi Beach in Sydney to Coogee beach in well, Sydney again. In terms on infrastructure, the Sydney council has created a path by the side of the ocean, over the rocks at  some places, close to the beach at other places, which goes by the side of the ocean. It is used a lot by some Australians for their daily jogs. For that matter, lots of places are used by Australians for other daily jogs, the harbor bridge, the beach, the parks, the gym… the Australians just jog a lot. Anyhow, the two of us were walking on the beach walk, and passing by some bushes. It was twilight, an in flew a small bird, flying straight into our faces. I realized the bird was flying straight into us, Harsha realized the bird was flying straight into us, the bird realized it was flying straight into us, and what followed was a symmetrical delight. The bird retreated exactly to the path it can come from, I restreated at 120 degrees from the birds line, and Harsha retreated at another   minus 120 degree from the birds line of flight. It was an interesting second of that day.

And now I shall turn my attention to another topic food, and narrate a story. Once upon a time in Prussia, there was a king Fredrick His people used to grow wheat as a staple crop, but wheat was not a sturdy crop. It was afflicted by weather conditions, and the people went hungry sometimes. So Fredrick figured that people should grow potatoes as staple than wheat. He issued a decree to instruct farmers to grow potatoes, and decreed that those who did not grow potatoes would be fined. But people did not grow potatoes. They were happy with wheat. So Freddy was unhappy. But he was a smart man too, and started protecting them. He instructed his gardeners to grow potatoes in the royal vegetable patch, and stationed armed guards around it, and figuratively, also grew gourds around the potato patch. Our dear Freddie figured that what is good to be protected is good to be stolen and used and cherished. So in a couple of months, farmers had stolen potatoes from his patch and taken to growing it, and that is how Fred succeeded in his plan and people lived happily. Even to this day, on the grave of king Fredrick the great, people offer potatoes along with flowers.  [What all I have written above is not strictly factual]

Talking of food, kangaroo and duck and crocodile and quail and emu.


Yellow Brick Road – Part 2 October 17, 2011

Filed under: exchange,not humour ? — kepron @ 3:28 pm

So there I am, at the airport, waiting at the immigration counter, waiting for the line to move, reading through a tourist guide book. The book tells me two things about Sydney. One, pick up the Sydney guide book at the airport, it has discount coupons that you may use. I look around, I find it, I pick it up. A job well done.

Two, it says, do not get into a taxi cab on a sharing basis. The taxi drivers will charge full fare to all passengers, and that’s the scam. Aha ! I think, conjuring up an image of a sly conniving taxi driver Point noted, and I make a mental note.

So I get out of the airport, and follow the signs for a taxi, and then I get into a long winded queue rails, the kind of which they have at roller coaster rides, the shape of which resembles the only way to play Snake when it gets really really long. Would have taken me around 2 minutes to get through all the turns (there was nobody else in the ‘queue’) before I realized that there was a side path that had been opened and I could have zipped right through it.

There was a notice at the taxi stand, mentioned the rights and duties of the customers. Must wear a seatbelt, can refuse to share a cab. The taxi driver did not fit the image which I had though turned out to be a smiling Korean who had jumped the taxi queue to get a passenger before anyone else did.

He dropped me home, and on the way we did pass through a bay/creek or some water body. It was night, so its fine that I could not figure out what that was, but it looked beautiful. There were three series of lights, one the lights on the bridge, second the lights of the boats and three the skyline beyond the other side of the banks, but the point being, it was beautiful.

So I got off at the exact address that I knew of (thank you GPS, and city maps) and I climbed up the stairs to the door, and I looked for an address plate to confirm the house no. There was none. So I decided to announce my arrival and looked for the doorbell. There was none. So I knocked. Then I waited. Then I knocked. Then I waited. The other two were supposed to have reached in the morning. Then I waited. Then I panicked. Note 1: it was night, and the streets were not really bustling where I could go ask for help Note 2: my Indian cell was not working Note3: I was not sure if I had given the driver the correct address (self doubt) Note4: I was not sure if I was knocking at the correct door. Note5: It had started to rain, though very lightly. Then I waited, I assumed that the both of the then would have gone for dinner or something of the sort, so I waited some more (while cursing them of course) by the clock, I would pay homage to the door every 5 minutes and knock. Finally, one guy opened the door, and it was the correct guy. My happiness exceeded the self congratulations I had afforded myself by picking up the Sydney guidebook at the airport. .

Admin information… then I took a bath after a very long time and distance, and readied the ready to eat and ate the ready to eat, and slept.

This was the Sunday night, and Monday morning I had a class, 930 AM  (sharp ? ). So I put up the alarm for 8 o clock, got up and 815, got late by 900 and walked briskly in the general direction of the university, while praying that hopefully the mba school is somewhere close by. The general direction was governed by the fact that I had seen the university signboard the previous night, and assumed that forty five minutes would give me sufficient time to refine the directions the next morning. Of course, given that I had lost 30% of the time, brisk walk would be my only salvage. So I see a board of the university, see a reception signboard, and march right in to get directions. I wait there for 5 minutes, ask for AGSM (the name of the mba school) and draw a blank. I do draw out a page from their map book though, and give her other details I knew. She looks at the map, and draws a circle when she figures out where the school is, then she draws a smaller circle where I was, and I mentally draw the perimeter of the university campus, where me and the school form opposite end of a diagonal. And then instead of drawing a straight line between the two end, she draws a thick road at the perimeter of the rectangle, and that is tha path I need to take. I thank her, take the map and run !

Thankfully when I reached the school at 930, I had very little trouble figuring out the classroom, and the class had not yet started, I take stock of the situation, and smile. Then I take stock again, and frown. In a class of ~20, I was the only one in jeans and t shirt. Everyone else was in a suit ! Now I know that I had missed the orientation class a week ago (Visa issues), but even so… suits !!!

So the class goes on, and it is a fun class, I think marketing mostly is. But the first class was particularly fun. There were examples from all over the globe, and getting to one consensus was really difficult. I actively shared my thoughts from the Indian scene, and I did not share my passive thoughts on the suit and the tie and the name tags.

After the class, it hit me [because someone told me  (because I asked him) ], that the suits were because those guys had a recruitment presentation to attend. Had that not been the case, I would have looked formally dressed in my jeans and the t shirt.  Ah! I thought, students are always students, be it the 20 year old undergrads, or the 30 year old MBA grads. On that note, I am one of the younger ones here at AGSM, where the average work ex is 7 years. It’s is a reversal from IIMA, where I am one of the older ones.

So there is another thread in here, one different stages of life and the affect it has on people. How one moves from planning for future to thinking what did I do in the past, without a jump in the between. But I’ll humour about it later.



Yellow brick road – Part 1 September 21, 2011

Filed under: exchange,not humour ? — kepron @ 5:50 pm

So I took the yellow brick road to the Oz, a couple of them actually, and as options go, especially the ones without data, I took the one based on perceptions. So much for marketing.

So why did I take the yellow brick road? In food terms, I had the option of either going off to eat kangaroo meat, or the option of going off eating grasshopper candy.  In area terms, I could go to a larger than India, or I could go to a country with an area smaller than India. In terms of language, I could either go to a country which speaks 28 roman characters, or to a country that speaks 40 hangul characters. Summarily ,  I could have either chosen to go to Sydney or to Seoul. I chose Sydney.

And I had the choice because of the brilliant system of student exchange. When in the second year at IIMA, you get to chose if you want to stay in IIMA to welcome the exchange the students who shall be coming in, or you can be an exchange student and go to another university and see if they welcome you or not. I chose to move out, I wanted to try it out again, do I or do I not like not being home.  Clearly I have an answer, the answer is not clear enough.

So an update on the background contextual facts – I am here at the Australian graduate school of management, Sydney for a 3 month exchange program form sep to dec 2011. I know that Sep to Dec is four months if you start at Sep start and end at Dec end, but that is not when I start, or when I end. So figure!

I’ll start from the beginning, and cut off the parts that are either boring for me to write, or might be boring for me to read later on; though I very strongly doubt that. I shall do either of them. The randomness in my universe still exists, and thank the word spell check for that.

I took a China southern flight from Delhi to Sydney with a place change at Guangzhou. I’ll devote some part to the Chinese ingenuity and communication skills. Delhi to Baiyun (Guangzhou airport)  is a 6 hour flight. Further to Sydney is a 9 hour flight. The Delhi to Baiyun was almost like an indigo flight. [the approximation is necessary] .  The plane had a sitting arrangement similar to all domestic flights. Single central aisle with three seats on either side. Two differences. One, the seats were non reclining. I was not on the emergency window row, so that does not count. Second, the earphones were ingenuine.  [pic:]. Of course, the plane did not have a video system and my stethoscope stopped working after 2 hours is a different story. But I had never ever thought of the possibility [ of stethoscopes, of no video system, and dysfunctions stethoscopes]. But to be highly fair, the flight was the lowest fare. On the day I booked, return flight cost me Rs43K , the next closest was 25% higher at Rs54K.

So as long as there is a seat in the plane and the seat goes along with the plane from city a to city b, I think I can live with that. Is it decides not to while in transit, and the life jackets work perfectly,  I might even live without that. Another item necessary for living is food, and the air hostesses might have been very good at eating the food, but they were definitely not the best ones when it came to communicating the food. All attempts to differentiate between veg and non veg were met with smiles, and quizzical looks. The paneer snacks were not good, I have never had crunchy paneer in my life, and I hope to not have it again. And there was alcohol. They were serving white wine and red wine, and after a lot of prodding, they also had beer. The division of labour was amazing. The food trolley has two attendants with it, each serving one side of the aisle. One of them served white wine when asked for wine, and the other served red wine when asked for wine. I guess colour difference was either lost on them, or lost in translation. I narrate an observation

Flight attendant: Do you want something to drink. (and I am not even going into accents)
Passeneger: white wine please
FA: there you go ( and pours him a glass of water)
Passenger: mmm..Wine. can you give me wine
FA pours him a glass of  red wine .that was closest to her. She owned it.
Passenger: I want white wine
FA: this is wine, this is all we have
Passenger: This is red wine, I want white wine.
FA: this is wine, this is all we have
Passengers sighs and drinks up the red wine while longing for the white wine that the other attendant was pouring to her dismayed ‘I want red wine’ passengers.

But it worked out. I landed happily at the Baiyun airport ( the flight was boring). It is quite a simple transition between terminals. Took me just half a n hour I think, as opposed to the ‘there are huge queues’ at Baiyun that I was expecting. I also managed to scout a few duty fre shops and had a first hand experience in what reading in Chinese would be like. The packaged food manufactures do not seem to have a liking for putting anything useful in English on their covers. The Chinese wine labels were in English, but lacked details (though I do not profess to be a connoisseur, I do profess to be able to read english).Then I hopped onto the second flight  i.e from Baiyun to Sydney. This was an upgrade, like a full service jet airways domestic flight. Video with 10 channels ( and five with oriental programs with chinese subtitles. The subtitles were of first class , i.e a kid who is in class 1)  audio with 10 channels ( and 5 of them in oriental music), but  I repeat, I reached Sydney safe and sounds, and on top of it, my baggage reached safe and sound too !