Sunday, April 30, 2006

Impressions of Mumbai

From Mani Rathnam’s blockbuster movie to the city’s famous dubba-walas, I had heard and read so much about the city, but was never able to visit and evaluate the city myself. Until now.

Mumbai, to me, seems like a huge maze that you just can’t stop to admire - admire about the contrast that life here is for different types of people; admire how India’s largest city thrives amidst all the chaos, with mornings starting at 5am and a never-ending nightlife; admire how a city with a population that’s about the 4th largest in the world runs with paltry infrastructure; admire how there could be a city that provides everything – literally – round the clock; admire how everyone is immersed in one’s own life and have no time to think about anything else.

In short, I’m spell bounded. Not because Mumbai is huge and rich and I’m seeing stuff that I can’t probably find anywhere else in India, but because life here is so different from what I was used to and what I’ve seen and heard till now. Once you land your feet here, you just can’t be surprised to see people wielding Raybans and Ferragamo accessories ruffle past you in a BMX X5 into a jazzy mall at the same time as three shabby looking kids pester you for a couple of least-denomination coins. You might think it sounds like a line from a guy who’s never been in Indian cities, but the contrast here is so striking that you can’t shy away from it. As one of my friends put it, with all the nightlife and multitude of avenues available, the only thing you’ll regret is not earning more. I guess these regrets never tone down any point of time in life. You always want more.

And what’s even more surprising is how nobody ever complains about how difficult life could be unless you are blessed with a fat paycheck. I mean, you might be earning a couple of 4 lacs per year and lead a king’s life in most Indian cities but you would find yourself to be a no-one in Mumbai. Money here doesn’t have half the value it has 50 Kms further away. And don’t even talk about sub-urban trains. I still can’t figure how on earth people travel in these trains in the peak morning rush without complains. Millions of people spend about 20% of their life traveling. Or inside one of the vehicles in some traffic jam. The clock here seems to start a couple of hours early and runs 3 late by the end of everyday. I guess you get used to things beyond a point. We can probably call it institutionalization, as told by Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption.

Personally, I suddenly find myself amidst concrete jungles. To me, a view of a perfect home was always a single house set amidst lawns full of flowers where kids and puppies frolic around. That was how I was brought up but it now seems to be a distant, unimaginable luxury. And what’s striking is how an entry as a tenant into one of these hemmed-in apartments could be terribly difficult, almost a test of patience. You need to produce everything from your passport to appointment letter to your ration card to your PAN card to quality as a tenant. And neighbors don’t have an iota of second-thought to knock the door at 11.30 in the night to enquire who you are and how you secured admission in the ‘society’ despite being a bachelor, as our broker insists not to call ourselves bachelors but just ‘employed professionals’. Whatever!

Lastly, for the sake of record, I don’t especially like blogging from a browsing center, but there seems to be no solution for the time being.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Dilbert goes to office

After gaining a lot of corporate wisdom at the B-school, and some more through great consultancy related books like Dilbert, it's time to take real life head on.

It's gonna take a while (some days/weeks) to find a nice cozy little house in a new place in a new city to settle down and get a spotless internet connection. So I'm going to take a (rather forced) break from blogging.

All the best for everything in the mean time!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Munnar: the place less traveled by

I’m so glad my trip to Munnar, one of the most underrated places in God’s own country, has finally materialized. Munnar has been in my radar for two things: the breathtaking tea and spices plantations and the fact that it is much less commercialized.

A very decent amount of information can be garnered from this site: But I’ll also squeeze in as much as tips and other hard-to-find information as possible.

We took the Coimbatore-Pollachi-Udumalpet-Chinnar-Marayoor-Munnar route (5 hours in car) for onward journey and Munnar-Thekkady-Theni-Sempatti-Oddanchatram-Coimbatore (8 hours in car) route for return since we figured we could cover a good amount of places this way, and it turned out to be right.


Chinnar, on the Kerala-TN border, is a restricted sanctuary for wild animals. Despite all the hype about wild animals crossing the road et al, we couldn’t spot anything while traveling through Chinnar. I have no idea why everyone’s expected to pay Rs. 10 while crossing all the (innumerable) check posts, but we paid them all knowing well that we could get into needless trouble by resisting.

Marayoor (pic below) is a small place where you pass through Sandalwood forests. Shattered as I was for not spotting any animal throughout Chinnar, I was taken by utter surprise here when a deer decided to try its luck crossing our car. I braked on impulse and before any of us could even think about photography, it made a leap across the fence on the road and sprinted into the dense bushes. I wonder what I would’ve gotten myself into had I hit the forest deer. Guess lady luck was on my side.


The scene slowly changes as one approaches Munnar. With about 30 kms to Munnar, one could start seeing miles and miles of breathtakingly beautiful picture-perfect tea plantations all over. The following pic was taken 15 kms before Munnar. I wonder if it is really the Neelakurinji flower (English: Blue Kurunji) that blooms once in 12 years. It’s scheduled to bloom in July 2006, but I’m not sure if I was lucky to see this early. [Can anyone confirm?]

Munnar itself is very small, sleepy and un-commercialized. While it is technically in Kerala, 90% of the people are Tamils and just 10% are Malayalis. Everything in the town happens two hours early. High sun comes at 7 o’clock, lunch gets over at 1.30 pm in the restaurants, and dinner gets over by 7.30 pm. You typically don’t get anything more than the South Indian Parotta, dosa and idli in the restaurants, despite all the long list of items in the menu. Additionally, you could get various flavors of tea, and spices like cardomom, cashew etc at much cheaper rates - at less than half the price you pay in cities.

Mettupatty dam: Everything about this reservoir (pic below) is normal, but for the fast jets. It was my first high-speed boating experience. ‘Stunt’ is the word to describe what those guys do. The fast bends when one side of the boat is 10 cm from water level while the other is 75 cm high are the high points. Tip: Take a boat of 3 to enjoy the James-Bond type stunts in water.

And unlike what’s mentioned in the websites, you can’t just get into any of those Swiss cattle projects without permission.

The next stop, Kundala dam (pic below), was ordinary except for the view and the wind-chill, but you might just take a breather en route to Top Station.

Top Station: This is one place for good trekking. There are three points in the trekking route. The first point where 80% of the crowd turns back, and the second point (the tent in the following pic) which is 500m further below in the hills where literally all the tourists turn back. What’s beyond is the best part for someone who’s serious into trekking. There were a couple of broken paths which vanish into thick woods, and that’s where the fun begins. We went 250m meters downhill through bushes and woods, but we had to return since the slope became maddening and it was impossible to continue without any trekking gear.

Echo Point: Nothing much here, except that you could get awesome snaps if the water is still. If you want to see all the reflections in the water (pic below), go at a time when there’s absolutely no wind – just after a rain or early mornings or late evenings.

Eravikulam National Park: This is supposedly the only place where you’ll get to see extinct animals like the Nilgiri Tahr and some birds. After all the climb and walk for 2 hours, all you get to see is only the Tahr (pic below), which is a goat version that’s adapted itself to mountains. Frankly, I wouldn’t go here next time unless I have excess of free time.

Devikulam: This is one place where you get good panoramic views of properly contoured tea ranges all over. (pic below)

Thekkady: About 2-3 hours from Munnar on the TN-Kerala border, this is THE wildlife sanctuary in South India. It’s set near the Periyar reservoir which in itself is at the center of a 90 square km forest full of animals. Following is the pic of different esoteric tourist packages on offer – one of them is the tiger trail wherein you get to camp 36 hours in the forest to spot real forest tigers.

For the lack of time, we just could the 2 hour boat ride in the reservoir. Despite the ride being in afternoon, we managed to spot several birds, a herd of wild pigs and bison, a deer, a turtle and a couple of elephants by the water side. Tip: Take the evening ride since that’s when most animals come to quench their thirst.

In all, it was a long awaited, beautiful break from the routine. I have no idea why Munnar is so less popular when compared to the likes of Ooty et al, but I love it this way. And I guess it’s good for Munnar too.

Friday, April 07, 2006

No-hassles package deals from ITDC

Indian tourism is on a roll. I read about the latest foreign tourist inflow figures and was astounded. There has been a similar increase in number of Indians traveling inside India. While the good thing about all this is that a lot more revenue is coming in and it helps millions of people who depend on tourism for survival, the inevitable fallout is that most of the commercial tourist spots are cramped and becoming nasty.

One thing that you can’t refuse is that some of the Indian tourists are crude and far less cultured than people from other countries. I recently saw a news clip about the animals in zoos in the North-East of the country being tortured by tourists. Similarly, I had a hard time negotiating all the spit inside world famous monuments in Agra (including Taj Mahal) where shoes were not allowed. I wonder why we can’t enforce no-spitting policies inside all these heritage monuments, if not whole of cities, particularly in North India. I mean, how difficult really can it be to respect such places of historic importance?

That aside, it’s great to see Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) taking serious efforts to develop tourism of India. After reading this news clip, I recently took a package trip offered by ITDC/Andhra Pradesh TDC to Tirumala, Tirupathi and was mighty impressed by the whole thing. Not only was the package structured economically, the planning was professional.

Visiting Tirumala, the second richest religious place in the world, used to be a whole big costly deal earlier. The last time when I visited was six years back and I remember booking rooms days in advance, with a whole lot of people and so-called guides confusing you by pouring all sorts of unwanted information regarding accomodation, waiting for hours in jam packed queues that were half a mile long, and traveling in shabby and creaky buses that sounded ominous.

The whole thing has been simplified to a great extent. This time around, a ‘darshan’ package cost us about Rs. 950, and we were taken from Chennai (I heard the same package is available in other big cities in South India) early in the morning in a neat brand-new Volvo bus. We were provided breakfast and lunch in neat air conditioned hotels, and all the entrance, ‘laddu’ and other special tickets were a part of the package. The planning was perfect. It was as easy as paying the ticket and letting everything aside to those organizers. In all, it was a hassle-free ‘darshan’ and there was absolutely no head-ache anywhere. Great work ITDC!

Verdict: Highly recommended.