Saturday, May 02, 2009

A recent PJ

What do you call a japanese teacher who impresses you with her "girl-next-door" attitude?

Ans : Pado-San :)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kerala - God's own country: Part 3

We set out for Aleppey (Alappuzha for the Mallu purists) at dawn the very next day (Sunday, 14th March 2009). This time round, Adrian, a friend from the client side came with us as well. We used the same taxi we went to Athirappilly in, thanks to the marvel of technology that is the mobile phone. The mobile phone has done to commerce what Twenty20 has done to cricket - instant gratification guaranteed!

By the way, the taxi driver had a rather memorable name - Romeo, but as far as Mallu names went, one felt it was significantly lacking in imagination and that sense of debonair abandon that mallu parents have while inflicting some unsuspecting kid with a name worth regretting! Romeo can count himself lucky not to be saddled with something like "Lijeemon Samuel", "Bobbilikumar Thettachan" or "Pearlymol Vadakkeparambil". People who know me are apt to say, "You are one for commenting on others names, Rangarajan Vijayaraghavan", but believe me, I mention these names out of a purely kindred spirit :) . For a much better description of South Indian names, readers are directed to a much more famous blog post!

All said and done, Romeo was a good driver, though more of the "What the racetracks of Monza lost Kochi has gained" school of driving than the "Slow and steady wins the race" school. Effectively, he ensured that we reached Aleppey in about an hour. We saw some interesting sights on the way, including a brokerage firm with a name designed to combat the worst of recessions:

Morgan Sachs International Brokerage House Limited

(now that's original!)

We also saw a juvenile elephant, looking rather contemplative, being transported by a tempo and about a million bridges over backwaters along the way. We reached Aleppey at about 7.15 AM and read a sign-board that said "To the beach", much to our surprise. While our research had thrown up plenty of results on the backwater cruises, no one ever seemed to have mentioned the beach. Still, we headed to the beach, with minimal expectations. We were in for a surprise - not only was the beach quite large, but clean, picturesque and empty as well! Here's a little sample

Btw, all the above pictures and any other ones I may post about the Aleppey trip were taken by Abhay from his Nokia E70 camera (thanks to my camera resting safely with the Canon Care Center by then) - now that's a truly versatile phone! Of course, due credit to Abhay's photography skills as well :)

Adrian, Abhay and I had a good time walking along the beach, watching crabs, clams and other forms of marine life as well as a really funny bird family running around at the edges of the beach looking for a tasty snack. It was hilarious to watch them running spiritedly after a receding wave, with alert eyes on the lookout for the next meal, and running back hurriedly as the next wave came in. Better seen than described though!

We then had our breakfast at a nearby restaurant and soon left for the backwater cruise. We reached the backwaters by around 10.30 and spent some time looking around the area for some houseboats.

More about the houseboats in the next post :-)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Kerala : God's Own Country - Part 2

Abhay and I looked around for a suitable place for a skinny dip and a couple of deliciously cool dips in the water and some pictures later, we  soon made our way from near the top of the waterfall through a paved pathway leading donwards to the base. We made our way through a clump of bamboo to reach a bunch of rocks at the base (towards the northern edge) of the falls. There was a rope barrier towards the end of these rocks to prevent people from getting into the water but we had good fun, hopping towards the edge nimbly and soaking in the scene close-up.

The view from the base was MAGNIFICENT! The spray was so strong that  we could feel ourselves enveloped in a wet, white curtain some 50 feet away from the actual falls. And to boot, it sounded like we were inside an aircraft engine. We headed a bit further away from the falls to get a more central view (instead of the side-on view that we had been getting so far). We found a nice big rock that promised a fantastic front-on view and quickly clambered up - we were not disappointed. When you get a view like this, there ain't much more you can ask for!

But the joy was short lived. A septuagenarian dressed in khaki gestured frantically at us from the river bank and ordered us to climb down. We were apparently beyond the borders of the limits set by the rope barrier. We took a couple of hasty pictures from the top and made our way down. But it was going to take more than an old watchman to drag us away from such vantage points. We soon found another rock to perch on (this time within the rope boundary) and enjoyed the cool spray that was on offer for quite a while. Then, we called it a day rather reluctantly and headed back up, enthralled by what we had experienced

We soon headed further upstream, to a place called Vazhachal (again on the same Chalakudy river), known for its waterfalls again. However, these were not as much of a spectacle as the Athirappilly falls and we started walking further upstream in search of better sights and sounds. And it was in the course of this search that I had the misfortune of losing balance and falling into the water - camera, mobile phone, watch and all! The camera promptly coughed and died, whereas my trusty Nokia got all fogged up but worked feebly. Thankfully, the watch was still fine. A rather damp end to a fantastic morning I thought. Gloomily, Abhay and I headed back to Kochi after letting these gadgets dry out in the sun for a while. We reached back at around 3 pm 

After having some lunch and going to give my camera to be fixed at the nearest Canon service center, we decided to head out to the harbour and try our luck with a sunset cruise. Turned out, we weren't that lucky! It became overcast in the evening and tourists cancelled any cruise plans they might have had and occupied themselves with the simple joys of sipping tea by the harbour. Reluctantly, we were forced to head back that evening, disappointed. 

Things took a turn for the better that evening as we made plans to head out to Aleppey the next day. After doing some research and consulting with Adrian (our resident client-side tourist in Kerala :)) , we hit the sack, preparing ourselves mentally for another early morning start and looking forward to the backwater experience. As we were to find out, a truly unforgettable experience was in store. 

Rest in next

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kerala : God's Own Country - Part 1

Had the good fortune of being sent to Kochi on a project recently. While I have been to "God's own country" twice before (once to Shoranur to catch a train back to IIMA - you can find details about the trip here; and once to Kovalam on a company Offsite) , this is the first time I stayed there for an extended period. And now I am in a position to say that the epithet is richly deserved :)

For starters, the client office was right next to the harbour and I got to see some fantastic sunsets day after day from the window. Here's a little sample

Naturally , could not just stop at just soaking in the sights and sounds of Kochi alone. So, called over another colleague, Abhay [due thanks to Abhay for taking the above pic!]and we went gallivanting through Kochi and some neighbouring places over a wonderful weekend.

First came Athirappilly Estate, a sleepy estate around 70 kilometers from Kochi full of lush bamboo forests, rubber plantations and palm/coconut trees but perhaps better known for its waterfalls. Mani Ratnam has an ongoing love affair with these waterfalls, by the way, having used them in two rather memorable scenes in "Dil Se" [Jiya Jale] and Guru [Barso Re]. And if I may say so, Mani Ratnam seems to ba a man of good taste :D.

Our enchantment started with the approach road to Athirappilly itself - winding, serene and rather oddly, lined with newly built bungalows [thanks no doubt to the booming Middle Eastern economy and the sizeable remittances from "mellus" in the "Gelf"]. Soon afterwards, the houses faded out, to be replaced by more lush plantations (including the quintessential banana plantations) and the odd toddy shop along the way.

Shortly, we reached a 'check post' - our entrance into Athirappilly estate. It had rained there and the smell of earth that had recently slaked its thirst was palpable. The road started climbing again and the twists, turns and mini-bridges that are the hallmarks of Ghat Roads began to manifest themselves eagerly.

We soon reached the entrance to the falls, got ourselves entry tickets and hurriedly made our way downhill towards the falls. The distant roar of the cascading waters and the coordinated chirping of the birds in the forest fed us a primal feast of natural music that left us asking for more. [We were quite early to get up and push off to Athirappilly as well, so not too many people were there at that time, making the atmosphere even more serene]

We reached the falls and were greeted with a sight for sore eyes. There was a surprisingly large quantum of water flowing for this time of the year (March), augmented no doubt, by the recent rain. The entrance to the falls from the ticket counter actually opens out close to the top of the falls, where you can see the Chalakkudi river eagerly heading downhill, only to find a little wall of rock about forty feet tall to be navigated. And navigate it does, with great glee. The river breaks into two main sections and empties itself into a couple of dents in the rock face barely more than 10 feet wide and thunders down the wall of rock in a grand cavalcade of furious water droplets fighting for space in a race to reach the bottom first.

More pictures and details to follow :-)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

I caught some amazing pics on my way back from Addy's wedding in Kolkata (for those who don't know, he is my batchmate from IIMA, a fellow CA, one of my best friends and most importantly, a PJ-maker par excellence :D) - The route back from Kolkata to Mumbai took me through Nagpur and Nasik. These pics were taken somewhere after Nasik and near a place called Igatpuri, famous for things other than stunning sunsets! Nevertheless, some of the scenes I saw could have been taken directly from a picture postcard.
Now the silhouette here, with the sun blazing a fiery streak through the trees and lighting the entire horizon in a blaze of yellow, orange and red is my favourite of the entire set of pics I took. Notice how the clouds add an ethereal daub to the brilliantly lit sky.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Iron Fort - Part IV

[continued from the previous post]

Lohagad is an imposing fort when you approach it. The ramparts are in excellent condition for a structure over 300 years old and the only signs of real erosion are on the steps leading through the fort, where water has created its own pathways over the years.

The arches enclosing the doorways still look remarkably sturdy and one can still see the holes in the walls that must have housed the barrels of many a cannon in the days gone by. Pretty impressive, we thought. We were left licking our lips in anticipation as to what would be found on top of the fort.

There we were mistaken. There was NOTHING of note on top of the fort, except a decrepit, dome-shaped mausoleum
and a bunch of rather aggressive monkeys which used to chase people carrying bags! The first time (with Vix), the monkeys snarled at us and made a move towards our bag but we beat a hasty retreat. The second time we were not so lucky. Some of us had moved away on our respective journeys of exploration, leaving behind D and E with the bags. The monkeys had a suitable target and laid their theiving hands on our luggage in the hope of snatching a tasty snack. Fortunately D and E along with a few others managed to scare them off.

Soon afterwards we beat a retreat, a lot tireder than when we started climbing. The sun and humidity had taken their toll. A hasty lunch at a wayside restaurant had us rejuvenated for a bit and we made our way back to Malavli station pretty quickly, helped along the way by welcome bars of chocolate.

Our adventure drew close to an end as we neared the station. However, a small twist in the road to come. There was no train due for the next 1.5 hours, so we had to take a couple of rickety autos and drive all the way to Lonavla :-)) - the route to Lonavla from Malavli was scenic as well so we did not really mind the bone-rattling drive. Along came Lonavla and a couple of chikki packets and half an hour later, we were on our way back home, tired but satisfied with a day well spent.

And oh, by the way, this post has been such a long time in the making that yours truly decided it was better to have a terse post and finish off the series than have no post at all :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Iron Fort - Part III

By the time I am completing this write up, the trek that we went on already ought to be a bit of a distant memory. The negligent kid in me feels like flinging down the pen and paper and walking off in a huff, miffed at his own inability to string together a write-up in time. The long forgotten trait of discipline! Hmph!

But then, the more I think about it, the more I realize that this was a trek not easily forgotten. The memories stay with me as green as a freshly watered leaf. So here goes.

The Fork in the Road:
We set off pretty briskly from Malavli station, stocking ourselves up with water, chocolates and chewing gum at a quaint provisions store on the way. The group soon split into two: 'the front-runners' and 'the back-markers' - Political propriety prevents me from saying who formed part of which group :). So let me make an ABC case out of it.

A,B and C were the frontrunners whereas D and E brought up the rear. It was quite hot that day, unlike the first trek which had a nice spray-like rain cooling me and Vix on the way. The fact did not go un-noticed and E told me, "Ranga! It is so hot! You should have asked us to bring sun-tan lotion!". Ah well, given that it had been raining the last two times I came here, forgive me for my oversight.

I thought, the weather has the uncanny ability to change the fortunes of many a man, more renowned than me. Take Hitler for instance. It was like the leader of his Russian front troops coming up to him on one fine winter morning and telling him "My dear man, You said Siberia would be nice and breezy at this time of the year and it is 40 degrees below zero - you should have told us to get our fur coats along!"

Hitler would have done two things - shrug his shoulders expansively and then shoot the Russian Commander. Given my placid nature, I thought of doing just the former :D

And shortly, after a rather sweaty climb with many breaks in between, we reached a fork in the road. Well to be more accurate, it was more like a "T-junction" on top of a mound connecting two hills. There were forts on either hill, the one on the right being Lohagad, and the one on the left, Visapur. Since Vix and I had gone right and reached Lohagad easily last time round, we took the left turn hoping to conquer Visapur this time. The fort was clearly visible - the end was nigh, or so I thought.

Our turn to Visapur did not start on the right note, with the track taking a downward turn as soon as we started off... but the hope was that it would rise again. And rise it did, though not as sharply as we'd have liked. It kept winding on and on and on and soon we realized that we might be taking an entire chakkar around the hill without going any higher at all. Serious self doubt began to creep in and the entire team was beginning to blame me for taking them on such a tortuous path. Of course, a 35 degree sun beating on our backs did not help the state of mind either. "Turn back" was the common refrain, but we plugged on for a short while afterward.

Thankfully, our decision was made relatively easy by an almost-impassable stretch of slush and mud replacing the road we were walking on. There we took a halt and decided to beat a retreat. The amount of flak that I had to take for 'guiding' people onto this route was unbelievable! When Vix and I went to Lohagad, we consulted this local stripling, who told us at the T-junction that the right path led to Lohagad and left to Visapur. And those directions I followed, in full faith. Never knew that my faith in the local would turn around and bite me in the shin like that.

I could imagine the gang's state of mind though. The Israelites would have felt the same of Moses, who if, after a long, tedious crossing of the sea had turned around and told them, "Look folks! Here is a desert. Now I would dearly love to take all you guys to the promised land, but you have to make do without water or food for the next twenty years" - not the most charitable of feelings I s'pose.

But then, all the grumbling aside, I was with a team of great sports and they decided to follow me up to Lohagad - we were back to the T-junction in just over 20-25 minutes though it had taken us nearly 45 minutes to traverse the same distance towards Visapur. Good progress made! Now we headed towards Lohagad, again taking a few breaks along the way.

Thanks to our diversion, a gang of trekkers, clearly led by some Team building/Event management kinda company had joined us (we had overtaken them right at the base of Malavli). Now this would have been fine, had the over-enthusiastic trekkers not had an inclination for shouting out "Har Har... Mahadev", every five minutes. We felt like pushing them off a cliff for their chants.

We kept plugging on and many muttered curses, tired steps and determined stair-climbs later, we reached the summit of Lohagad fort.

(rest in next)