Archive for the ‘Nature\Adventure’ Category

Mumbai to NewYork – Part2/2

April 18, 2011

Continuing from the Mumbai to New York – Part1…..

The plane was already 20 minutes late now but still no hints of moving, the good part was that I was sitting at the window seat now, I also got the confirmation that the two seats beside me are gonna be empty through out. I thanked those two people and specially the one who had the window seat, for giving me the opportunity to sit at the window seat. Outside everything looked so placid unlike the usual Mumbai! I was watching other planes taking off and few others taxing their way to the other side.
There was something happening to the left side of me, inside the plane too, I turned and was pleasantly surprise to see the beautiful airhostess once again, fourth time this night :). She had actually come there because there was this guy who wanted to shift his place and wanted to sit at my place. (Guy!!!…God..why not Gal :)) I was not going to give my window seat to anyone, but soon realized that the guy actually wanted to sit at my original place, the third seat. It turned out that he was carrying a minor eye infection and the place where he was sitting previously had an infant there, so just in case the kid doesn’t catch the infection he wanted to change his seat (such a nice guy, he thought about the kid and forgot about me :)). Anyway he sat beside me, actually an empty seat separating us; he was wearing his shades so I couldn’t see the infected eyes though I tried to peek in from the side a couple of time. Actually there were hardly 4-5 empty seats in the plane so I was lucky enough to have 2 of them beside me (now 1 though).

After ten minutes of so I again heard a funny voice saying “this is your pilot speaking”, he announced that we would soon be taking off and also apologised for the delay which actually the AAI should be doing. He however assured that he would try to minimize the delay as much as possible. The seatbelt indicators above us were switched on; the no smoking indicators beside them were always on. I was ready with the belt, I fastened it up and sat comfortably. There was a common TV in front of us, at the centre, which was showing us the live footage from the side, front and the back of the plane.

There was some noise and a small jerk, the plane had started, woooooooooooo!
It first took a reverse, and then slowly started moving in the front. I suppose it was on the first gear, coz it was hardly moving. It moved for a distance and then stopped. I found out from the outside view that there were couple of more planes ahead of us and it was like when one plane takes off, there is one from above makes a land and then the other is allowed to take off. Nice coordination hmmm.

Now it was the turn of our plane to take off, the plane aligned itself to the runway, sped up a bit, and in not time vroooooom, zoooooooooom. Was that all, I said!!!!
It hardly took any time to take off, I just managed to get a glimpse of the WE Highway or was it EE, but after that nothing, I mean it was pitch dark. That was simply unbelievable to me, first thing was the speed it acquired in no time, definitely from gear 1 to gear 89. The second thing was the taking off; I just felt a minor jerk, got a glimpse of the highway and then all gone. I was expecting a nice view of Mumbai; don’t know if it was because of the clouds coz I was not able to see anything by now.
Anyway that snapshot of the glimpse of Mumbai is still fresh in my mind and would always be.

Fine, everything was settled by now. The seat belt indicator had gone off. The guy with a shade on was relaxing with his head on the head rest and I was still trying to sneak through the gap between the face and the goggles to see if that eye is indeed infected!
After some time the small TV in front of us came alive, we were able to select our choice from various options like, songs, movies, cartoons, information, gags, games etc. The control for the TV was attached with a wire to the elbow rest on the seat. I never needed it coz the screen was a touch screen.

Most of the people on the plane were off to a quick nap, or may be already deep asleep. I thought of getting a view of my surrounding, to the right was the wing of the plane and the bright lights over it. To the left enigmatic guy still relaxing with head tilted at 45 degrees. Behind me were three people, two of them quite old. I didn’t wanted to go far behind, but then there was a good looking girl reading some magazine. Far towards left was my aunty, now looking much more relaxed and I quickly pulled my self down in case she sees me and ask me to join her! In front of me was a young guy, a young lady and a rare empty seat between them. Three-four rows in front and then we are into the business class where there were lots of gorgeous looking ladies and handsome guys; they must be having fun for sure! By the way they were served drinks on arrival, and we were not asked anything:).
The common TV at top-front showing various angles from the outside cameras was still on but nothing was there in the picture, all blank with random dots as if the cable line had gone off.

It was already 2:15 AM and no signs of dinner yet, I was wondering if they had already started following the US time zone. But after few minutes of so, the good looking airhostess came to our aisle area, dragging a wheeled table with the food. By now I was sure that the airhostess was being assigned our aisle for the entire journey:). She began from the first row, asking each person their choice between veg and non-veg. Suddenly the plane came alive, there was chatting, whispering going around, people finally started moving, showing human traits, coz until five minutes back it seemed as if I am the only one on  the plane. I thought of washing my hand before I start eating, so I went behind only to find the loo engaged. I had no option but to wait, but my eyes were on the food, as soon as the airhostess reached my row, I left and ran to my seat. I feared that if my turn would go and I won’t get the food after that. As I reached there, I just asked “my food”, the pretty lady smiled at me and asked if I would prefer Veg or Non-Veg, I said Non-Veg, with a smile she handed me my food and went ahead.

Finally I was getting to eat. I opened the silver foil; the aroma from the food was quite good. There was rice, chicken masala, salad, cream, sugar, mineral water (in a tiny bottle), kheer, spoon, fork, knife, sugar, salt, tissue paper, an empty cup and few other things that I never used. Thankfully I didn’t had to use my hands as there was no chappati. The food was indeed good, better than I expected or may be my hunger made it taste good. The dessert too was yummy. I was curiously looking at the cream, coz I couldn’t figure out for what purpose was that meant for. As I slowly peeled the cover off and tried tasting I was prompted by my mysterious looking friend, he told me that it was to be put into coffee or the tea which would be served next. As he had prophesied, the coffee and the tea came, I opted for the tea, added the cream and sugar. It was not that good but then I didn’t expect it to be like the masala chai we get at the ‘nukkars’.
I and that guy started out with the conversation, he turned out to be a quite cordial person. He was in the US for last 7 years and working for Microsoft! He told me about his journey since he came in US for the first time for studies. We hit off quite well. I was curious to know about the US and he was more than willing to tell me all the stuffs. After a good chat for about 20 minutes we decided to catch a good sleep, most of the passengers were already asleep. The lights had already gone dim. I tried for few good videos on the TV but none were of my taste! While I was trying to get a nap I heard a kid crying loudly from the front – mid row and that was so annoying. To add to the situation one more kid from behind started crying, may be these kids were secretly talking to each other and making fun of all of us who were trying to sleep. I stood up a little and glanced around, people were unperturbed by the noise, probably they were used to it by now. Anyway the seat was not that comfortable so I was not able to get a sleep in the first place. After every 20 minutes or so I used to get up and peep outside and on the TV I used to track the route which our plane was flying on along with the current speed and outside temperature. For most of the time the temperature was around -60 degrees Celsius and the speed was around 840 kms per hour. The other thing I noticed was that the plane was taking the coastal route for most of the time, rather than flying over the landmass. It went through Arabian Sea, Pakistan, Iran, over Mediterranean countries, Europe, underneath Sweden, UK and to the Atlantic. Over the Atlantic too, it went close to the ice land, Greenland, then to the Canada and finally to the US. (Ya, that was fast forward, let us get back to the current time!)

Trying to sleep but couldn’t I took several short naps, got up every now and then, stared at the people around me….still thinking if this is all real! Morning never came (we were moving from east to west, and so does the relative motion of the Sun) it was just that after 5-6 hours people started showing some signs of life, that too most of them in and around the loo. I too got out of my seat, waited outside the loo, pretending as if waiting for a beer! And when I went inside the loo….guess what, that was a rat-hole, God – O – God. I anyhow adjusted my self on to the commode, lightened my self and then proceeded towards something that would be handy throughout my stay in US, which is using a toilet paper…ughhhh that was really disgusting. But while writing now, I am already used to it :). There was a mouth wash liquid, I tried it, didn’t feel good so tried it again, didn’t feel good again, so tried it again and then never tried it ever. I use my brush always :).

I washed my hands, came out and sat on my birth. It was still dark outside.
The very next moment we were about to have the breakfast. I checked the map and our current location. We were over the land of America, most probably near the Boston. Yes! We were taking route from the north and moved towards the south this made sense since through out the journey I saw the plane taking the coastal roots.

Now it had started to become bright outside. I could see clouds below and intermittently some beautiful landscapes :). I took out my cell phone to click few snaps of the view outside only to be interrupted by the guy sitting in front of me. “Not allowed to take snaps” was what he said, I was bit surprised as my stranger friend had told me that it is fine to take snaps, and it was my cell phone not a camera. Also there were no such instructions on the plane (although they told us to switch off the mobile phones :)). Anyway I obliged to the guy who interrupted. Guess what after few conversation with him, I came to know that he too was from TCS!! Back to view outside, these were the scenes which I hadn’t seen in my life before. I could see the majestic Atlantic sea bracing the long shore of NYC. I was minutes away from landing somewhere I had only dreamt of. The plane was taking a compete 90 degrees turn to the right, I could see the wings clearly tilted downwards, the sun rays from the east which till now were falling on the wings were completely blocked by the tilt. Just before the landing, we were given couple of forms to be filled up, for me it was only the I94 and the custom declaration form. With little help from my stranger friend I filled up the forms. For next few minutes I was just looking outside, it felt as if the morning has come after so many dark nights, really felt like eternity in the plane. Announcements were already made to fasten the seatbelts, the seatbelt indicators were all on. In next few minutes it was it, the MOMENT, we were about to land, I was ready for it, could see the runway getting big at me, closer closer….and finally the tyres rubbed against the land, didn’t feel much of the jerk as I was expecting, credits to the pilot :).

Now the plane was about to taxi down. We heard the announcements of the weather outside (7 Celsius) and couple of other announcements which I ignored coz I was only looking at the view outside. I had reached USA…..finally the dream has become a reality.

PS: I was quick to reach the Immigration check, in fact I was the second person from our batch to reach their. Quickly after that I took my luggage, this experience of searching for my luggage through the conveyer was again first of its kind for me, I was lucky to spot my luggage quickly. Just when I was ready for the customs, I saw that aunty of mine. She was being assisted by an airport staff; I went to her, she was very happy to see me. I helped her get her luggage off the conveyer. We went towards the custom, got all clear, and moved towards the exit. We saw people waiting for their loved ones, few holding the placards. Right in front were my friends Gibin and Shardha. It was great feeling to be with them after such a long time. For the aunty, her son had come there to receive her. They hugged each other and aunty was already in tears. After couple of minutes I went there, said her good bye, she introduced me to her son with all the good words for me :). He thanked me for what I did for her. I bid adieu to them and we were on our way to New Jersey.

Historical Trip to NYC

January 9, 2011

Trip to NYC:

This was going to be my first Christmas in US and guess what it was also my first Christmas eve :). So here was the plan for the Friday the 24th. We were clueless of even going out somewhere coz most of my friends have been to NYC on number of occasions. But then my friend Sardha who also happens to be my sis was very firm that even if no one comes with us, we would still be going. So finally in the morning of this Friday we decided that we would indeed be going for NYC and we had one more friend to accompany, our own Sudhendu. So we were just three, going to NYC as it is in the movie NewYork :). I still believe I am John, no arguments guys 🙂

At around 10:00AM I got a call from Sardha that we would be leaving at around 1:15 in the afternoon. So beginning 12:30 I ate a banana, put eggs to boil, made sure that I have enough battery and space in my camera (my only priced possession). While the eggs were boiling I googled information about the place we would be visiting including the train arrival and departure timings. At sharp 1:10 I again got call from Sardha to be ready and come down, this was the time when one complete egg was inside my mouth, I nodded and said I would be there. I quickly finished the other egg, arranged my stuff the camera, hand gloves, skull cap, train time table and the piece of information gathered through google. The car was already waiting for me, I rushed down and we headed towards the Hamilton station. Luckily couple of other common friends was also going out for the weekend so we got a ride till the station.

In next 20mins we were at the parking lot of the station and we could see 1:37 train heading off from there. The next train was at 2:05 so we went to the waiting area after removing the ticket to NYC (to and fro – 30$). Other than us there were 5-6 other from our company whom we met at the station, they too were headed towards NYC, so kind of TCS gang now, although we decided to go our own way, just three of us. I officially mark my fantastic trip to NYC from this moment on.

Waiting for the train, behind us was a lady, beautifully dressed but hey there was something drastically odd about her behavior. She was wearing a heavy make up and dressed elegantly, sitting crossed legs STILL. I mean she was not moving at all, there wasn’t any motion from her. To be very frank I first thought she was a DOLL, really. I was in fact going to take her picture, I am not kidding, she had a fake look on her, but then my friends told me that she was actually moving but her movement was subtle. I observed minutely and I did see here eyes and lips move. Till date I don’t know the reason behind her behavior. The other interesting thing was that just in front row there was this two ladies chatting and whispering close to each other. Then guess what after few minutes they started kissing each other, mind you both of them were ladies! I told one of my friend to see what was happening, (I know that was private thing, but then it was a public place :)). He saw and then scoffed at by asking “haven’t you seen this in Mumbai, Band stand and all” only to correct himself coz he mistook one of them as a guy :). With just 15 mins left for the train I decided to go to the platform and take few snaps.

As I took off my camera and was adjusting my self for a good shot, here was a guy who came to me and asked about the camera I was carrying. I showed him the camera and soon we were into a conversation. He was originally from Russia and was going to Romania. He too was interested in photography and in fact showed me his camera. He asked me where was I from. Then he started telling me about himself. Apparently he had worked in Marines and had come to US when he was 10. He was a cool dude, only thing was that he was smoking while we were chatting. Anyway, he suggested me few good places to visit in NYC. It seemed he had left marine so that he could go around the world and enjoy life. He was a bachelor and wanted to be the same all his life so that there was nothing stopping him from being a freelancer. He in fact told me that he has a huge map with him and whenever he feels like going somewhere he just throws a dart from a distance and wherever the dart lands is the place he would be visiting next….coooool isn’t it. I always dream of this life, going around the world enjoying each and every place, I really think that the life would be a waste staying at one place for ever, this in one time opportunity that we should be utilizing to its entirety. The only thing about it is the Finance or money, where would that come from…..I wanted to ask him but then deterred.

Finally the train arrived too, I bid the guy goodbye. I really learnt a lot from him in that short span of time. The train was bang on time, the doors opened, we entered and our journey took off even faster. Coincidentally the Russian guy was sitting behind me, it felt bit awkward since I was with my friends this time, I just smiled. One of my friend offered me the window seat (else I would have preferred sitting alone :)). It was a 6 seater, 3 either side specially made for people who love gossiping….like us! Through out the journey of over an hour we were the only group making that much of noise. Any way the trains here are half full most of the time, so nobody cares. We reached the Penn station (NYC) at around 3:15PM. I said final adieu to the Russian, wished him luck for Romania, put on my jacket, and left the train.

The very feeling of seeing so many people around made me happy, coz this is so rare at the place where we stay, in fact you see people only in major cities like this one. We came out of the subway and were greeted with the vibrancy of the city, it felt as if we were in entirely different part of the world (which actually it is :)). Standing just outside the Madison Square we took few snaps and moved towards our first destination the “Empire State” building. We knew that it was close to this place. We were at the 6th avenue and had to go to the 5th avenue, street number 33. This was the first time ever for each one of us to be traveling without a person having knowledge of the place. But it was fun, we crossed streets, asked couple of people the direction, believed our intuition on couple of occasions, crossed the Empire state building, went away from our destination….YES we crossed the Empire state building but didn’t recognize coz it was from the side and the top was not visible due to the height and the angle. But as we moved away, Saradha pointed to the building and asked if that is the one, I was so happy to see that coz I recognized at once that this is it….I had only seen it in the movies, TV or in the pics but this was live. It was gorgeous; we quickly moved towards the building, in fact traced back our way and soon were standing just opposite the mammoth structure. A clean inscription “The Empire State”, the top of the building, the place….everything looked so surreal. We crossed the street, and entered inside the building with the crowd. Yes it was crowded….so much crowded. There was a serpentine queue for the ticket and then the security too was very tight. Weirdly the security here was more than what I saw at the NY Airport when I landed. We had to go through the scanner with our belongings through conveyer belt and then to the scanner. After that was the ticket counter, 21$ for the 85th floor which has the observatory and 15 extra bucks if someone wants to view things from the summit, it was 102nd floor if remember well, which I actually I don’t. I took the tickets and we went ahead for the elevator. Again there was a big queue, but the people around didn’t made it feel bore. Just for the record the couple immediately ahead of me were kissing each other every 23 seconds or so. I mean I observed….i mean not the kiss but their chemistry…this girl used to touch the guy’s thigh and then they used to kiss, and sometimes the guy says something funny and then they used to kiss. There were countless gals who were not only brilliant looking but simple awesome, flawless…I was living the moment only to get sad when the thing strike me that most of them were couples :).

Anyway our turn came and we were let into the elevator. From 2-3-5-10-15-20-30-50-70-77-79, we wondered why only till this, we have to go to 85th floor. But nothing was in our control the lifts were programmed that way. We came out and again saw a serpentine queue. The queue was for another “programmed” elevator that would take us to the 85th floor. But looking at the unexpected flow of visitors the guards there made an announcement saying volunteers are free to take the stairs and climb up 6 floors or wait for their turn for next 15minutes in the queue. Half of the crowd dispersed and took the stairs; we belonged to that half…better half….better people…you know!! The stair space was narrow, we moved ahead chatting and there were many like us….guess what in the elevator everybody were quiet but now there was buzz everywhere, this is the fun with taking the stairs :).

So we reached the observatory point in no time, never felt we climbed 6 floors. There were people all around the circumference (observatory was circular is shape) with their cameras on. It was almost sunset now and too perfect for the view. As we stepped out to the open, we could not stop admiring the beauty of the city. It was too perfect a view, the sky in reddish-orange color just enhanced the glimmer, with all the city lights turned on and we viewing this from such a height was really an experience. The Hudson River looked calm from the top, the cloudless sky made the view even more enticing, the lights from the towers and far away were twinkling with grace. I was lost in the moment; I took my camera and started capturing this lifetime experience moment. There were so many people that it was difficult to get a place to steadily take snaps but I managed anyhow. I took a complete view from all over the point and after about 20mins or so when I could not bear the biting cold anymore and that I had viewed and captured views from all the directions or should I say angles.
Now this was the funny part; in the midst of all these I lost Shardha and Sudhendu, or should I say, they lost me. So here I was searching for my friends and they were searching for me, I went complete 3 circles but couldn’t find them. I am not sure how much circle did they go or how many times did we cross each other coz it was dark and to complement the dark each one of us were completely packed into jackets, caps, and gloves, so that made even for difficult to recognize someone. I then decided to just stand in the middle with my camera on, so that my friends who were searching for me could recognize, as expected Sudhendu came from behind and we were back together.

The epical scenes were behind us now, and we were feeling hungry. So we stopped by a burger king outlet and had some food, fuelled our selves and went ahead with our journey. The best part with the NYC is that there are so many shops, so many people, so much of energy that it make you feel comfortable being there. You can anytime stop by a shop to have food, buy things from the stalls on the roads, walk aimlessly until you drop and above all be the part of the hustle-bustle of the city.

Our next destination was the Brooklyn bridge, the same bridge we have seen in so many movies include Bollywood ones. We knew that it was to the south of NYC and we had the address too but didn’t know how to go about it. So I called up one of my friend who stays in NYC and whom I had never called in decades, to give me the direction :). He generously guided me, we took the subway (for the first time again in my life) near by. This is again a good thing about the planning of this City; you have subway entries and exit on almost every steet\avenues. Soon we were inside the train heading towards Brooklyn. Again for the first time inside the subway train, I could relate this to many of the Hollywood movies that I have seen. In next 15 mins or so we were at the Brooklyn station, we came out, read the direction, followed our instinct and went ahead. Sudhendu was leading us this time, just after couple of minutes of walk we were witness to a beautiful and a grand bridge quaintly illuminating in the darkness of the pleasant night . The pavement was aptly laid between the two busy roads, in next 10 minutes we were right at the center of the bridge. It was again an exhilarating experience to be on the bridge and see the East River underneath it and Atlantic Ocean far away, couple of more bridges were seen at a far distance. We took a lot of snaps there, acted foolishly sometimes, and tried couple of weird pose. Btw one thing striking about this area was that all the people we met on the bridge were like the “Chinese\Japanes\Koreans”. All means all. Still don’t know the reason behind this. Again btw one funny incident happened there when we asked two gorgeous looking girls (most probably Koreans) to take our snaps. Now one of the girl in white jacket, long straight hairs and perfect figure was more that happy to click for us. But hey, the way she posed, I mean posed to take our snap was so weird but definitely hot!! She took the camera, bent towards her right at almost 90 degrees and tried taking snap….i could not comprehend why would she have to bend and take snap, it is we who were posing not her. But anyway she could not get a good pic of us which even she admitted to, so she handed over the camera to her other friend, she looked more practical, stood perfectly and clicked, and bingo it was a nice pic. We thanked them both, they replied with their killing smiles and that white jacket girl…OMG…less said the better…still have that picture of her in my mind…absolute beauty :). But this thing really annoys me, why do beautiful girls have to act idiot, the way she did :).

After about spending 30mins or so we trace back the same lane, with vehicles both the sides and clean walkway at the center. Mind you the sub zero temperature was in no way helping our cause, it made us move all the time, we could not stay at a single place for long, we needed to walk to keep ourselves warn enough, and if we have people like those Koreans then should I say hot enough :). It was around half past 7, we moved towards our next destination that was the Wall Street. Although it was quite a distance from here, we decided to go walking till there. This was the time when Sudhendu felt like relieving himself, and due to contagious effect I too felt like rushing to loo ASAP. Sudhendu spotted a pharmacy we went inside and started the search for the loo but to our disappointment we couldn’t find any, I was anyway not convinced at first place that there would be any loo there, we might get diapers though ;). We came out, and rushed to our next destination that was loo. I regret not using the bridge in better way, nobody would have come to know I am sure :). But to the pleasure of our eyes we saw our own McDonalds outlet few meters ahead, we rushed towards it and directly went into the loo, it was amazing that we could find the location for the loo in that big outlet that quickly, that was intuitive I guess. I tell you with all the jackets, gloves, skull caps, mufflers etc Loo is definitely not a preferred place. So finally we were relieved and then moved ahead for the big bull. In next 5 minutes or so we were at the Wall Street. It really looked dull in the night; there were hardly any people out there. No buy, sell calls or puts. Most of them who were present were actually cops and security since that place was a sensitive one. Disappointingly we could not find the big bull even after going round and round about the street, perhaps that bull was being guarded since there were few streets that were closed for entry due to security reasons. Anyway we saw the surrounding, and without wasting any time took the subway (again found it nearby) and moved towards the famous Rockefeller Center. The subway station was completely deserted and it felt we were the only people out there, in fact there was a moment were we were speaking loudly while removing the tickets and then I saw two pair of legs entering the subway station taking the stairs, but then the legs took a halt. It seemed our voice scared those two ladies (legs are enough to distinguish the gender, isn’t it :)), but after few seconds when they realized that it was an innocuous sound (perhaps listening to Sardha speak) they moved in and I was almost laughing at them :). The train came in next 10minutes, and we hopped in. Each time we took the train, I and Sudhendu used to gasp at the metro map and follow the directions that we take. Believe me; the system is so well organized that you can travel alone without a fear of losing direction. Anyway we did lose direction when we reached the 95th street in search of Rockefeller center which is actually situated at the 47-50th street. With the help of a very generous lady we got the correct address, so we hopped back into the subway and moved down town to the 50th street, it was actually our bad and not the system’s fault btw.

We reached at the 55th street but before going to the Rockerfeller center we had something very important to do….fill our empty belly. My friend from NYC had recommended me to this Halal food center which is more of a “dhaba” kind of shop which was at the 48th street and opposite the Hilton towers. So we directly went to “Halal”, to our amazement there was a huge serpentine queue and most of them were either Indians or from Pakistan not sure. They all looked similar; it felt like home a very similar feeling of eating in night at “Bade miya” in Churchgate – Mumbai. For the first time today we heard people speaking in Hindi although there were few who spoke English in a very annoying accent, Americans have a great accent but these people were totally ruining it. Anyway we had the option of not to stand in the queue and that too when the temperature is 4 degrees below freezing, but since this was a very famous “dhaba” we stood there wasting our time gossiping over gibberish things. After about 40 minutes our turn came and we took the hot served food plate and started filling our tummies. The hot vapors out from the food felt like heaven over our naked hands. We were given two sauces that we were supposed to mix and eat but it was too cold outside to resist that much of time just to mix stuffs. The food was not that great, at least for us, may be the sauces would have increase the taste but anyway we could not finish the food since it was heavy and the quantity was good enough for two meals. After the food we went ahead to the Rockerfeller center, by now more than the tiredness it was the chill that was hindering our progress. Battering the chill wind we reached the Rockerfiller center, it was a sight to be seen to be admired. With three tall towers surrounding a central block, the block with a beautifully arranged Christmas tree and an ice skating pond it all looked perfect. There were a lot of people already there to witness the arrival of Christmas. A feeling of joy was in the ambience with Christmas just an hour away. We took few snaps of this place and moved to our last destination that was the ice skating at the Bryant’s Park. I wanted to experience the Ice-Skating thing for the first time in my life, and what better place than the Rockerfeller center but my friend from NYC suggested me this park which was just couple of street away and was bigger in size and with relatively few people and less costlier. So we moved to this park, it was indeed close by and there were indeed fewer people as compared to the Rockerfeller but good enough. It was 11:30 and I and Sardha decided to buckle up the skating shoes. Sudhendu was totally against it coz he didn’t had that pleasant an experience with the ice skating when he did it last time. Sardha too was bit apprehensive coz it was going to be her first such experience too but I anyhow convinced her that nothing would happen and there is nothing to fear, as I will be always there. Little did she knew that I actually wanted someone to just lift me up if I had needed to :). We went to the main entrance but again to our surprise (we don’t live without surprises) it was closed. On asking about it, we were told by this lady that the park would be closing in next 30mins that is midnight so the entries are closed, we however told them that we just need to go in there; we are good with 30 mins. The cute lady allowed us and then there was nothing stopping us. As I was putting on the skating shoes I was wondering how I would go to the skating arena from this place, I mean we had to walk few steps to reach there and this thing in my feet only had a blade beneath, so how could I walk as if I was sure to skate. While I was pondering on this thought Sardha stood up and started walking, Oooo I said we could actually balance on that blade. I too stood up and with little wobble was able to reach the skating arena. Now was the moment.

I put my left leg into the pond and GOOOOOOOODDDDDDDD it was so slippery, never in my dreams did I thought it would skid that much. Holding the rails on the edges I moved my second foot and GOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDD this too was so slippery. I did nothing but held the rails and stood firmly. Now was Sardha’s turn, she too put her left leg and screamed OOOOOOOO….i thought that was in excitement but actually it was NOOOOOOOOOOO….brave lady she is, she put her second foot and then started screaming, “No I can’t do this”….i was like “you don’t have to do anything, just grasp the railing and stand like I am doing”. She did, but hey now we had to do something at least for the sake of 13 bucks each that we paid for just 30 minutes, so I took my first baby step in the history of my Ice-Skating (please engrave these words with golden “akshar”), still holding the rails I moved little ahead. Then she too followed the baby step. This gave me little bit of confidence and I moved two baby steps ahead still holding the rails. She did too, but but but…..heyyyy what was that…I was watching something in slow motion, still very fresh in my mind….Sardha was screaming, her lower body moving ahead but the law of inertia was acting on the upper half of the body, in fact her upper half was moving backward…and all I could do was “No No NOOOOO” still holding her hand. Meanwhile the law of inertia and momentum were playing well with her lower half of the body and I could only see her falling right in front of me…..I could have gone to save her…but I had no Idea who would have come to save me…..coz my feet were firm, one hand was still clasped to the rails and other hand was quickly slipping away from Sardha’s clutch.

Finally everything was over, she was lying on the ice, half crying and half laughing, even now I was in no position to lift her up, only if my one hand had all the Austin powers, I was very adamant not to move an inch else someone else would have been writing my slow motion fall in his\her blog. There was then a lady who came from behind and just lifted her with one hand…would you believe it, one hand! Within no time Sardha was out of the pond and with all the madness over me in her eyes….I was like “Meri Pyaari Behna” I was HELPLESS….i tried a lot to convince her to be back in the battleground but she simply refused. Now I realized why Shudhenu didn’t join us…hmmmm. Now I was all alone here, in fact I asked one of the skating guards if he can help me learn skating, at least the basics, and he very politely refused. Now I was in front of so many people, from little kids to adorable ladies all were skating as if it is a piece of cake. I was still holding the rails and moving slowly on the edge of the pond disturbing lot of couples having a private moment or others who were just resting. I was carefully watching people around me as in how they were moving so swiftly. Slowly and very importantly steadily! I too was now moving but for most of the time helping my self with the rails but on fewer occasions I did manage to be on my own. I was simply unaware of the surrounding and only concentrating on my skating and my balance. Slowly I moved towards the spot where Sudhenu was ready with the camera, I tried posing (without holding the rails) and succeeded too. He had a cunning smile on him, he asked about Sardha but I was too busy concentrating on my balance, he asked few other thing too which in really don’t remember. Gaining confidence with every baby steps for the first time I noticed the crowd around the place, there were so many strikingly good looking gals, but how helpless was I that I had to concentrate on my balance.
Moving close to the rails, I saw two pretty looking gals looking at me with a smile, the smile similar to what Sudendhu had put on. One of the girl with a smile told me “you can do it” :). I replied “Yes I can, but this is my first time you know”, both smiled back. I took a complete round of the pound and was really happy to do that. Loving adventures, this had to be among the top for me. I still had some time for another round, again with bit more of confidence and most of the time without holding the rails I was moving faster now, crossed Sudhendu with a smile, then met those two pretty gals again, this time they just smiled but didn’t say anything, but I did. “Better that the first round, right:)”…one of them said “yup, this is better”, smile exchanged, wanted to exchange numbers too but thought concentrating on balance is more important. I did had a moment when I wobbled a lot and lost my balance a bit and was down on the ground but then it was definitely nowhere close to what Sardha had experienced or what Sudhendu might have experienced :). As soon as I completed my second round it was midnight, everybody greeted “Merry Christmas”, kissed their loved once….all this time I was too focused on moving out of the pond…and as soon as I did I jumped and thumped the air, this was really a great sense of achievement for me and I plan to perfect my self in this sport and may be I will have time to exchange numbers then :).

That was it, we took the train back to our place, all exhausted, but the memory of this trip will never exhaust. I rate it among my personal top 5 “days to remember” :). Special thanks to Sudhu and Sardha for being such a good company :).

Cheers………

 

Mumbai to New York – Part 1

November 10, 2010

Mumbai to New York – Part 1

18th Oct 2010:

We had a holiday on account of Dussera, TCS could not find any other day to adjust against its mandatory number of holidays so we luckily got a Monday as a free day.

The next day was going to be, one of the most important days in my life. Guess what, my Visa interview was scheduled at 8:30 the next morning. On how I got an opportunity to go to USA and other stuff I would have to write a different blog altogether, it was something surreal.  So rather digging into the past let us proceed.

Although I knew that the visa interview would not be that big a deal and especially when you are from a reputed company (pun not intended) and going on L1 you have even less to worry. But still yaar, it is once in a lifetime kinda thing, so it was all butterflies in my stomach.

Still rubbing my eyes, and still on the bed I thought of utilizing this holiday and get some stuff to begin my packing. But again the fear of the Interview crossed my mind and I decided to buy only those stuffs that I can use in India too, in case I were to be kicked out of the consulate :). No luggage bags, no winter clothes, no food items, so I went to the Inorbit Mall to get few formal wears, trousers, shirts, and a watch (I had a digital watch and wanted a mechanical one and also the digital ones are not allowed in the US consulate :)).

After doing the shopping as soon as I left the mall, there was a huge thunder and lightning in the sky, I said to my self (this could be heaven or this could be hell) I mean this could be the last time I get a chance to get drench for this year’s monsoon. So on my bike and rain water slowly seeping through my body. The gusty wind and the light drizzle soon turned into downfall. It was a real good experience and anyway this year’s monsoon has been very good, raining almost every day.

In the night as I went to bed at around 11, (which is way too early for my standards) I could not stop thinking about the next day. Throughout the night I had nightmares about the interview and I just could not sleep for more that 20mins at a stretch, I didn’t knew what was going on in my head, but it was something that has never happened to me before, not even during the engineering exams! Anyway the three alarms that I had set in three different mobile phones were all useless coz I was always awake. So finally at around 5 in the morning I got out of the bed and switched off all the alarms and started my day. At around 6 AM I was ready; I verified all my docs, cross verified and then verified if I have cross verified them correctly or not then I left home. I was at the Malad station at around 6:20 AM, took the ticket and boarded the train.

Truly the time between 12 in the night till 7 in the morning is bliss if we compare the usual crowd and pollution during the daytime in Mumbai. The calmness of the atmosphere lightened my mood, I was bit more relaxed now. Unlike the last night, it was a clear and cloud less day. On reaching the Mahalaxmi station, I took a cab and for VFS (Visa facility service). At 7:15 I was inside VFS, paid the nominal! Fee of Rs 275. I was told that VFS is an excellent facility, it provides you the snacks, personal locker and free commute to US Consulate and back, and also helps you avoid the long queue.

After paying the fee I was given a receipt having three parts, one for bus, other for snacks and other probably for you (too keep as a memento I suppose). I had my stuff deposited with the locker room, mind you the lockers are not personal as I was told, it is just like one we see when we go to some malls and are told to keep luggage outside. So all my stuffs like cell phone, unwanted docs, keys etc went inside the locker room and we proceeded towards the waiting room. It is a comparatively a small waiting room with a CCD inside for your snacks. You were allowed to take a beverage and any one of the snacks (most of them sandwich). Since there were enough butterflies wandering inside my tummy I didn’t had anything. The only good thing about the VFS is the old songs that they play on the TV, I was trying to concentrate on the song only. In next 5mins a guy came in, (TV becomes mute) and announced that all the 7:30 and 7:45 people (appointment time) should get ready for the bus. After about 15mins or so he again came in (TV goes mute once again) and this time took 8:15 and 8:30 people with him, oooo my turn came.

We were all accommodated inside a mini bus (in pathetic condition). I was at the last seat. In next 5 mins or so we reached the consulate, there we were asked to stand in a queue (8:30 queue). When I saw the US Consulate I was really disappointed, I mean I was thinking that it might be a huge hall with enough space, great entrance and all, but it all turned out into a small office kind of structure, anyway the area seems to be costly enough for the Americans too.

The queue stretched all the way to the footpath even though there weren’t that many people as I though there would be. There were few people jumping here and there, bit of chaos but then everything settles down in the end, we too settled down. In the queue I saw around 4-5 people wearing the TCS I-Card, after sometime I came to know that there were 4-5 more people from TCS who were not wearing the I-Card. OMG kitne public hai TCS me. As far as security is concerned, there was a tank kind of “gaadi” just outside the consulate and a police car beside it. Few policemen and other security guards were just taking stroll opposite the consulate. Meanwhile I pulled out my tie from the bag and knotted it (I was asked by TCS to do that, otherwise hardly anybody else was with the tie, not even the weird looking TCS guys). After a while our group was allowed to move inside the consulate, we had to show them the appointment letter in order to enter. Inside it, we were asked to pull out the watches, belts, wallet and any other metal thing if any. After screening the docs we were given our copy of docs that we had earlier submitted with the consulate to get the appointment along with a pink slip. I was told to join the queue number one for the finger prints. Now something that really amazed me was that, during the fingerprints I was asked nothing, I mean how would they come to know whose fingers are they….really don’t know. While I was in the queue, I saw one of my TCS colleagues whose appointment time was same as mine, and she was in front of the queue. Now I was really cursing the VFS facility coz I paid that much still I was behind in the queue, she just walked in and was ahead. It turned out that the queue is according to the appointment time, so had I been to consulate directly I would have been in the front L.

Anyway, now that my finger scanning thing was done, I had a look at the pink slip with the token number on it, actually there were two of them given to you, one goes to one of the counters and other remains with you so that when they call your number you can verify it with the one you have. They don’t take names while calling so that number is of utmost important.

I was waiting for my number, and regularly there were announcements for the token numbers, all the announcements made by a female voice were audible but the ones made by the male guys were really hard to understand, one because of their accent and other coz of their pitch (low). I really hoped that some lady announces my number.

Just beside me there was a family waiting for their turn, they had this kid perhaps of the age of one or two who was like screaming all the time and it was really annoying not because he was screaming but coz of the announcements which became even harder to interpret. Now after 10mins or so two more similar kids joined the gang and it was mayhem around me, I stood up and went to the other side of the room. There were mamas trying to console their kids, it all looked like as if I were travelling in the train from Kurla to Chhapra.

While waiting I met a guy who was sitting just beside me, he too was from TCS (that I what happens when you are 1.5 lacs in strength). He too was waiting for a long time, we kicked of with our conversation, during which he told me that we should not be getting the counter number 4, coz the male guy sitting there has such a weird accent that no body understands. I calmed him down and said that probability of getting that counter is 1/24, and we should not be worrying. After waiting for about an hour, or so I heard my number or something similar to it, thankfully that was a voice of lady but guess what it was also the most dreaded counter, the counter number 4!!! As soon as I reached the counter, I saw a male guy swapping his place with a lady, yupeeeeeee :). I kept my documents to the right and stood close to the mic. She was quite young and very fair (almost red). After a pause of about 4-5 seconds, I thought I should be starting by greeting with good morning, and as I said she started too with my interview, I missed the first word that she said and what I did hear was “—– you working with TAAAATTTAAA”. I mean she stretched the word TATA so much that the time she took to say “Tata” was equal to times she took to say the other words prior to it. So I replied with, “yes, I work with Tata”. Then comes the fun part, she told me that she had actually asked me “how long” am I working with TATA and I was like, at least the word “long” could have been stretched a bit instead of stretching the word “Tata”.

Anyway, she went on to ask me other general stuffs which I knew might get asked, TCS had trained us for that :). Finally she stamped on my I94 and handed out to me saying ‘have a nice day’….I replied back with ‘same to you’ only realizing seconds after that was it ‘have a nice day OR have a nice stay’, these people and their accent OMG. It took me a minute or two to realize that my visa has been stamped, yahoooooooooo…………fianllyyyyyyyyyy….got itttttt 🙂

Now I was back to my usual self, no tension, a smile on my face and a great satisfaction in heart. The pathetic VFS bus took me back to the VFS centre, I now used my snacks coupon, had a sandwich and a coffee, took my stuff from the common locker room, cursed the VFS for charging so much and left for my office.

23rd October 2010:

3:00 PM,

I was waiting for my passport and the FOREX in the office for the past 2 hour or so. There were tons of formalities to be done. Finally I got my e-ticket through the mail, and by 5:00 PM I got my FOREX, Passport with the VISA stamp, and other documents. I was expecting my flight to be around 2 in the morning of the Saturday, but it turned out to be 12:45 AM. And now I was under real stress, since this was an international flight, I had to be there at the airport at least 3-4 hours before (that is what I was told). My biggest tension for me was first battling the traffic to reach home, then packing my stuff (yes it was only 60% done), then having some food (had skipped lunch), and them battling the traffic to reach airport. So I went around my ODC saying goodbye to all my team members, went to the basement, took my bike and left for home. I knew that this was the last time I would be riding my lovely, high mileage bike before I leave to US. One of my team members was riding the pillion, actually carrying the parcel that I had received from the family members of my friends living in US.

So for the final time this year I was through JVLR, WE Highway, SV Road, Marve Road, crossing Link road, Jankalyan Nagar and then Sweet Home. It was around 6 PM by now. First thing I did was arranged all the docs, packed my stuff with great help from my Mom, took bath, had some food and finally adieu to this place. I got into my car; with me were my Mom, Chacha ji, sister and my cousin. I took the driver seat. Just like the bike, now it was the turn with my car, engine, clutch, gear, and vroom. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic but still we reached only by 9:45 PM exactly three hours before my scheduled flight time. To the terminal 2, I didn’t waste any time and got the trolley, loaded my luggage, said a final bye to all and went inside.

Stressed and the Sad part ends here, now the funny part begins.

So here I was inside the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, waiting in the queue of AI counter. I was lucky to get a direct flight from Mumbai to NewYork. The queue in which I was standing was a big one and I was wondering if I were in the right line. Although I was directed to this queue only, I didn’t see a single ‘phirang’ in the queue so was bit surprised as to how come the flight going to NY doesn’t has a ‘phirang’. Then I asked another person about the queue, he directed me to another counter which was almost empty, just one person standing there. I hesitantly went there but to my surprise that was indeed the right counter and the other one was for other AI flights perhaps Dubai.

So from here my journey begins, let me tell you all that this was the second time ever I was going by air! And the first one was when I was a kid so it was kind of first time I was inside the airport and that too alone. Before coming I had strengthened my theory (knowledge) as in what all things happens during immigration, security, customs etc etc.

So here I was standing second in the queue and no one behind me, I was keenly observing the person ahead of me, just when this guy was done with his check-in, there was one AI staff came with 3 passports and kept on the counter, immediately followed a family of three, husband, wife and a kid. As soon as the guy ahead of me went I showed my ticket and the passport the staff asked me to wait. I was like what the hell, I was here before those people, and he was processing other’s request ahead of mine. I didn’t say anything, it was after all the first time I was in the airport, may be AI has a funda like alternately they process a random request. Anyway you don’t expect much from the government institutions, the family seem to me as frequent fliers and the guy was definitely a TATA employee and knew the staff very well, but then I am a TATA employee too! After five minutes or so my chance came, I showed my ticket, I also asked if I had a preference of choosing a seat and if they have some reserved seat for TATA employees (which they usually keep). Sadly all the reserved seats were full (three got filled in front of my eyes) and my choice of a window seat too could not be accommodated as all the window seats too were full (definitely all three were window seats). There was in fact one remaining but that was in the last row, I politely asked as what is the problem with the last row because of the way he said ‘last row’, he politely answered that the last row seats don’t incline, I politely asked him to give me any of the aisle seat. I got the ticket, L14 was the number. My luggage was checked in (just 42.6 Kgs) and I left for the……‘god knows what’ with my laptop bag on the shoulder. I knew that next was immigration, so I asked one of the airport staff the direction, I was guided correctly. Before that I had to fill an immigration form mentioning basic details. I joined the immigration queue, there were about 10-12 counters don’t know the exact count, so which ever counter gets empty you are directed to that place. My turn came, counter number X, I was asked for my passport, and the immigration form. The guy at the counter was middle aged person, with a cunning smile. I was just assuming that the guy would verify the passport and let me go, but he started my interview, unexpected! He first asked me why I was going to USA. Then he asked me who was my employer, then he asked me was I a developer or a tester, then he asked me on which platform do I work, then he asked me if I use ASP or C#, and then I wanted to answer him that I work for the International Hackers Group and would soon hack into his personal system and destroy all his data and also publish the links that he surfs in the night!

God he asked me more questions than I was asked in the VISA interview. But to be frank I was impressed that they have that kind of questions ready, they perhaps have the data flow and some fixed questions to be asked. He handed me the passport and politely said that spelling of ‘Malad’ (where I stay) is wrong in the immigration form that I had filled, and it was indeed written ‘Malab’, may be in hurry burry.

Then I moved to the security corner, it was a big queue, I was watching all the people there, from different countries, many Indians though. As my turn came, I was told to put all the metal stuff and my laptop in a tray and then pass through the metal detector. That was done, they stamped on my ticket and then I moved to the waiting area for the flight. My boarding time was 12:00 midnight, and it was just 10:50. So more that a hour more hour to go, I called my Mom who was still in the airport to make sure that everything goes well, I assured her that everything is fine and they can leave now.

Now here I was, things looking so unreal, everything happening so fast, was sitting on chair, couple of people beside me actually sleeping. I sent some SMS to my friend, whom I could not call because of the busy day and then began with what I like the most, observing people around.

So as I was just scanning the people and their behaviours, I saw a woman in mid 50’s on a wheel chair and an airport staff helping her move on the chair. The wheel chair stopped exactly a foot ahead of me, the woman asked me if I was travelling by AI-141, I nodded and then she turned to the staff and asked her to go back coz she has found a company!!!! The staff left, and aunty, turned towards me and said that as she was travelling for the first time she needed someone to help her (as if I was a frequent flier and had won 10000 miles point). But she was a nice lady; she used to refer me as ‘beta’ and was speaking in ‘hindi’. I was bit sceptical to start the conversation and that was natural, but gradually we gelled well, she turned out to be typical aunty who appears in the ‘saas bahu’ kind of soap. She started speaking about her husband, her son, her son in law, her daughter, her daughter in law, her other son, her other daughter in law everyone literally. Her husband allegedly was an owner of many mills in ‘Silvassa’, and retired from a reputed company, she was going to US to meet her son and daughter in law as her daughter in law was expecting soon. Coincidentally her daughter too who was in US was expecting, but she would not be able to make there as she was staying at the extreme end of US! By now I was well aware of all her family members, where all they stay, how they got married, where all they work, when would they come back to India, how many factories they own, where all do they have plots etc etc……During the conversation I also got to know that her problem with the leg was just a temporary one, allegedly she had hit a corner of her bed and in turn she hurt her knees.

Now she gets a call from her son, the one who would be receiving her at the NY airport, she assured him that she is fine and she has found a ‘beta’ here at the airport who would accompany her all the way to NY…I was like “what!”. She hung up and then turned towards me, asked my seat number, I replied, and then she told her seat number and asked me how far these two seats are. How on earth would I know yaar!! I just replied not that far 🙂 (mine was L her was I), ‘you don’t worry many of the people here travel alone’. Just then an announcement was made for the AI141 passengers and we were supposed to move towards the second level of security before finally boarding the plane. I helped that aunt to move ahead, but then one of the Airport staff came there and said that it is his responsibility to help her get inside the plane, all the wheelchair persons get this facility. Meanwhile the aunty was murmuring that ‘hum log saath me hain!!!!!’. She was taken ahead of all the passengers, I was not that far behind, for god know if she would have screamed “betaaaaa kahan gaye”. I was the third person in the queue. We then came to the security corner, from this corner I was able to see my plane clearly from the large windows there, the AI 141, and my god was aware that the Boeings are huge but that was a monster man!

There was some delay at the security corner, here we were asked to remove our shoes too. Actually the delay was because the conveyer belt for screening was stuck with moving in just one direction that is the opposite side in which it should be moving. One by one the security staff came to the machine and tried their hand but of no use, finally some one got it right and we moved towards the final milestone before we actually board the plane. There we were told that all the differently abled people should be in the front, my aunt was the first to be there, still with that help staff, and still looking behind asking me to come over, I wasn’t that far behind though. After that the women and the kids were to follow.

As we were just arranging, the pilots and the airhostess of the AI141 passed beside us to board the plane. I was bit disappointed at the looks of airhostesses, not exactly as I thought, only one of them was young and pretty, rest all were like aunties but decent and elegant.

Anyway after five minutes of so, we were allowed to enter the plane through some connector (I don’t know what we call that, one that is attached to the doors of the plane). There was one aunty airhostess at the entrance and greeting everyone with Namaste, I showed my ticket and was told to take the left entrance down the aisle, following the numbers written I reached my seat, it was exactly at the middle of the plane, wow!!! I said, coz the right wing of the plane was just in front of me and it was HUGE but sadly I didn’t had the window seat L. I kept my laptop bag inside the upper cabinet and took my seat. This was an aisle seat and my column was a three seater so two more to right of me. The middle column was a 5 seater and then the last column again a three seater. The business class was ahead of us. It was pretty big but from outside it looked even bigger. That aunty was to the other three seater opposite mine and two rows behind too, she said hi from that end and indicated that she was fine; there was another lady with her. Thank god!

Now here I was for the first time (I don’t remember how it was when I was a kid), inside a plane, I was excited about everything, the pilot, the airhostesses, the runways, the wings, the takeoff, the food, the loo etc. All these things were only heard of till now. On all the seats were a bed sheet kind of thing, a pillow and I small drinking water. Behind each of the seats were a TV set too with a headphone and couple of magazines and an AI passenger’s guide. As I was just observing things here and there the only young and good looking airhostess in that plane came through the aisle, stopped just ahead of my seat and asked me “can I close this cabinet (one above me)”, I was taken aback coz I didn’t expect her to say anything, I thought they only greet people and help us with food and drinks. I replied “ya, sure”. She was puzzled a bit and then asked me something that took me by complete surprise. She said “give a hand please!!”. “Mere haath me tera haath ho, sari jannate mere saath ho”. Btw looking at her expression I realized that she wanted me to help her close the cabinet, and I was thinking, omg…. :). I stood up and helped her close the cabinet, she thanked me and went ahead. She was beautiful 🙂

It was 12:40 by now, just 5 minutes to take off, I was ready with my seat belt, ya I knew that we are supposed to fasten our seat belt before the plane takes off. I was very happy for one more thing, the two seats to my right were still empty and it was already time. At this very moment we heard an announcement from our pilot (who began with ‘this is your pilot speaking’ which was kinda funny :)) that due to some emergency and some problem with the limited runway or something our plane might get delayed my sometime. Nothing new for Mumbai airport I guess. I was just praying that these two seats remain empty through out. After 15 minutes or so, again that airhostess came through the aisle, I was already ready with a question that I wanted to ask her :).

As she came next to my row, I asked her if I could take the window seat if no one comes till the end. She said that there were couple more people expected and if no one comes then I can not only take the window seat but also sleep on the three seats, with a biiiggggg smile on her lovely face :).

TO BE CONTINUED……….

Trip to suppoSADly KOLAD!!!

January 24, 2010

Trip To (Maharashtra – Kolad)

Ok here we go.
Today:
It is Thursday 1st October 2009:
I called one of the Manager Saheb of our group to confirm the plan for the next day (Half of out group consists of Managers; I belong to the other half). Yes!!! Finally after too much of tit-tats most of us had unanimously agreed on a date to leave for the trip…. Trip to KOLAD. Not surprisingly the date was the very next day (our planning is always done one day in advance, engineering has made us perfect at least in this field) that is 2nd October 2009, Gandhi Jayanti (No way Gandhi in this context is related to the Gandhi soon to be revealed). So here was the final plan conveyed to five of us.

Place: Kolad, I mean THE KOLAD (Around 110kms from Mumbai)
Leave from Mumbai at: 5:45 AM from Borivali- West
Means of commuting: From rented vehicle at 10 AM we moved to Volvo bus at 12 afternoon and finally settled in a State Bus at 4PM.
Days of stay: 2-3

So before taking you all to the most adventurous trip which our group ever had, let me have the honor to describe about the vibe that was created a day before the trip. One of the managers (remember we have more that one, will come handy later on) instructed me to get some woolen clothes since THE KOLAD would be bit cold this time of the year. The other manager told me that first thing we will do after reaching there would be River rafting….whooo so exciting!!!! Just to add to it there is a damn…I mean dam nearby which is supposedly one of the best in Maharashtra.

So here we start the day, 5:40 in my watch and getting down from a rickshaw and simultaneously attending to the call which was the fourth one since I left home, no wonders they all were from my friends cursing me for coming late. Late I said!! Its always been that way they should know by now :-). So no time for excuses (I didn’t have any) as the bus was scheduled to leave in next five minutes and we needed to reach the depo which was easily 10mins from the station, so we frantically crossed the bridge to the east and took rickshaw from there to reach depo. Three in one and two in the other. I was in the other one. So where are we heading to, I asked my very adorable friend NEREUS HIXON. He said something which I didn’t get and then I said fine. Our usual gossip followed. Five minutes in the Rickshaw and I asked my adorable friend, haven’t we reached yet, he gave me the most flabbergasted look ever and thundered back, HOW ON EARTH DO I KNOW THAT. God O God, didn’t he replied to my query which I had asked him just 5 mins back, and now I know that he had muttered “I DON’T KNOW” to which I had nodded by saying fine. OH!! What a fine way to begin. Called our other troop, got the exact place and made the rickshaw take a U turn and thank God we are at the bus depo, all five of us, safely. Hold on…what is the time already 5:57 (Yes I wear a digital watch). As luck had it the only bus with the engine heating up was the one we were supposed to take. We grabbed this opportunity with both our hands; as the bus was already in motion 🙂 and thus successfully achieved our first milestone. My Project Manger would really be proud of this.

TIRING BUS EXPERIENCE:

It was still bit dark, light breeze from the west carrying the freshness of the last leg of Monsoon. Inside the bus were five bachelors, meeting after quite a time for a long PLANNED trip. Settled on our seats of this state bus which was happy to carry ten odd people we began with what we do the best, taking cheap shots at each other.
May be this is the right time to formally introduce you to this mirthful group of mine. Will start with Managers first.
The one who always initiates any plan of ours and threatens to give up if we don’t reply to his mails and end up sending mail which refers to the previously sent threatened mail, let me have the honor to present HEMAL VORA. Always with a smile on the face and reminder of the threatening mail at back of his mind is known for his managerial skills in negotiating and organizing. Very much alike him and most enthusiastic of us is our next manager AJESH THOTTUNGAL, just remember him as PANDEY, he is also one of the two photographer in our group. Third in the list of managers is this very cool chap for whom I would like to say “Don’t go by the looks they are deceiving”, this is KUNAL GANDHI. (I should have mentioned, Don’t go by the Name too). Known for his verbal skills which he used as armor for getting our work done during our trip, he was also the only one with good understanding of Marathi without which we might be…..hmmm……don’t worry it will come later on.
Now I can go on with NON-MANAGERS who just loves to see things in place and enjoy. You have already been introduced to my adorable friend NEROUS HIXON, call him NE RE US. He is the Jack in the Pack, a trip without him would be like visiting a museum. And at last I have myself to present, I don’t praise myself, I BOAST 🙂 but I am sure you are not interested 😉 so name is enough for now – NILESH SINGH, call me Nilu, btw I am the other one interested in photography.

So where have we reached, omg still in Mumbai and its already 6:42. After light breakfast which Hemal had got for us and which he always get for the trips we had some gossip. Believe me when guys gossip they do it more that the gals but they don’t admit, rightly so coz there gossip is more sensible. They talk about sensible girls, their sensible looks, their sensible dresses, there sensible quietness (sensibility when they don’t speak :-)), there sensible charm, there sensible……(XXXXXXSENSIBLY CENSOREDXXXXX).

Bored of sensibility I decided to watch the beauty which had just started to greet us, we were already on NH-17 from panvel (outskirts of Mumbai). This time around I had got my new goggles with an inbuilt mp3 player(interesting). The journey throughout from panvel onwards was very pleasant with mountains, hills and lush green planes in between. I always believe that the monsoon is the best bet to plan any trip. Along the way the konkan railway track was following us, hiding for few moments and again joining our caravan.

Finally THE KOLAD:

It was around 9:48AM when we reached our destination THE KOLAD. In between had a short nap when the conductor and driver both were swapped with the new set as per the state bus routine, so was wondering while stepping out of the bus whether I had boarded the same bus. So here we were all standing at the bus stop, and never in my dream, I thought that KOLAD would be like this. I mean the very look of it was DISAPPOINITING. It looked liked just another village, but hold on we still have the fun to begin, the river rafting and all. So anyways our one of the Manager, Mr. Gandhi began his operation. Fluent in Marathi he was asking a vegetable vendor about the place, looking at the weird smile of the vendor (I ignored the missing tooth, or did I :-)) I thought we might have reached the wrong place. It wasn’t the case and the thing was that the place was right but all the images of the place we had in our mind were completely flawed. That vendor said that we have a dam here but its as good as no dam…damn it, we have a river here but river rafting was something alien to him, we have few hotels here but go there without any expectations. After consulting few more people we came to a decision which we actually knew from our heart was that we are USELESS. The place was completely devoid of any place worth visiting. We were in quandary, as to what next. We urgently needed a hotel to get some rest from the long tiring journey.

Somehow we managed to get address of a hotel which was around 4kms from the bus stop and the good thing was that it was close to the river, in fact the river was flowing along the road throughout. The sun was really blazing at us, yup right it was really hot and humid, I was cursing my Manager number 2, Pandey, who had suggested two woolen cloths, thankfully no one had listened to him, I guess he would be the perfect manager in the future for his company :-).
We reached this hotel whose name I forgot, they had four rooms, two of them were with ACs. Rooms were spacious enough for 4-5 people. Behind the hotel was that much touted river flowing from the east(I carry my compass when ever I go on any trip). The charges for a day were very reasonable at around 350 for non AC and 100 more for AC. Rather booking the room we decided to fill our empty tummies. The hotel was small but tidy, with a TV and sofas (Don’t expect more, this was it). We had ordered our food, the rates were reasonable. The TEA was awesome, though it cost us 10bucks each, it had its worth.
The hotel staff it seemed were very happy to see people around and did there best hospitality, we took some rest and couple of our Managers started calling there friends frantically to get the details of places which we could visit near KOLAD, yes!! by this time  we had made our mind not to waste our time at this place any more. Finally we left for the KOLAD bus stop, the same way we came here, leaving behind the disappointing faces of the hotel staffs who were expecting us to stay for a day at least. We took a 10 seater, which actually had space for 6-7, Rs5 per head(standard charge). In the rickshaw we asked if they have any water sports at this place, the driver halted at a place which had a banner reading “Eco-Mantra”. We thought of giving it a try, if any thing interesting is in the store for us. We came out of the rick, it was a small cool place with few stairs leading to the bank of the river (remember the river flows along the road through out). As we approached the bank, we saw a small inflated boat ferrying a couple in their 20s accompanied by a macho looking person to the other side of the bank. A rope which extended from one bank to the other (river was hardly 50m wide) may be for the fishermen to check the depth or so, and few young people at other side of the bank just chilling out more or less like us. Suddenly we saw a waterman (like we have Superman, Spiderman etc) approaching us from the other side of the river, actually he was the same macho looking person on the inflated boat and after seeing us he jumped into the river (God knows why we didn’t call him). As he reached near us, he stood (still in the water, may be trying to tell us, look the water is not that deep, come have a plunge) there in waist deep water flaunting his six packs (five of them were not clearly visible) and in a weird accent asked us if we had done the booking. Booking!!! For what, we asked. He candidly replied that usually people like us (like us means what, dare any one compare this group with other ones) come here for river rafting, rock climbing and other water sports but they have to book in advance. RIVER RAFTING!! Yahoooo…. (all in my mind, nothing came out). We in an equally candid way asked if we can also participate, though we haven’t booked it yet and also enquired about the charges applicable and where all are these events being held. The reply was simpler that the question we asked. The boat we saw was part of the water sport (name of the sport probably “cross the pool”), the fishermen rope which I thought was also involved in the name water sport (name probably “cross the pool – this time sans boat”). It also turned out that the young people at the other side of the river were actually playing the so called water sports, at the max there were five or six ( probably over booking). The rate for these sports was a paltry 500Rs (*^%*#@!). Would have got same thing done for 150Rs in Mumbai (I don’t know where though :-)). Anyways, the Rock Climbing was somewhere around the mountain that he pointed at (thank god he didn’t say that its inside the river!!) and much touted river rafting was 22kms from that place, around Rs2500 extra for these two events. We thanked him for the information and left the place. We took the rick for the KOLAD bus stop and reached there in next 5mins or so. While traveling we came to the conclusion, after the approval of all the managers that the macho guy we met was the same guy who had posted all the misleading information about this place in the web (web is what we trusted and came).

Anyways we are at the KOLAD bus stop at around 12:18 afternoon, full to fish market type, people all around, humming noise all over, blazing sun, narrow roads etc. Saw the same old guy (one with missing tooth, which I had ignored) sitting at one of the corner. We asked few locals, rather I should be saying Kunal one of our manager asked a local about places around Kolad, worth visiting. First of all he flogged us for coming here as there wasn’t anything special to watch, but then suggested us few places which according to him were worth a visit. Raigad, Pratapgad, Harihareshwar were few of them. We first decided that we will go to Harihareshwar via MANGAO then will go the Rai/Pratapgad!!. But after consulting more people, Kunal, Hemal and I decided that we will go to Raigad\Pratapgad(since both were similar and close by) and then will move to Harihareshwar. We all drew some imaginary maps in the air and telling each other where these places are with reference to Mumbai (only when we reached back Mumbai and saw the map, we realized that we would have reached either Latur or plunged into Arabian Sea, had we followed those maps). Since there were no direct buses to Raigad we need to get down at one of the stop and then take a rick or a bus from there. One of the folk whom Kunal asked said that we need to get down at Mangao and then take bus to Mahad and then a rick to Raigad. So the same was conveyed to Pandey and NeReUs. Since there was still some time for the bus our manager Kunal kept on collecting more and more information about the places (told you Marathi helps). Surprising he came with shortcut instead of Mangao-Mahad-Raigad we would go to Mahad-Raigad (indeed a shortcut). As we were discussing about the final change in the plan the bus arrived and as usual we grabbed this opportunity with both our hands (it was in motion too). I and Hemal directly went to the back of the bus and grabbed the seats. Kunal was somewhere in the middle, NeReUs and Pandey were standing as the seats were full. We asked Pandey to remove tickets for Mahad, he in turn asked NeReUs to do that, he obliged and removed five tickets for MAHAD, then asked the conductor to give the tickets for MANGAO not MAHAD. Dude you are in dreams or what, we are going to MAHAD not MANGAO…three of us roared when he finally got ticket for us(By this time Kunal was sitting with us). Pandey and NeReUs were actually aghast that we didn’t convey to them our last moment change in the plan. Anyways Kunal took the responsibility to get this thing sorted out (Marathi works).

Here is the gist that happened between Kunal and Conductor(sitting at the front) [ Not MANGAO, want MAHAD….already tore those tickets…Should have decided before asking…..sorry there was some confusion….can not take the tickets back, (rising tempo) what do you people think about us….DiSh-DaSh-DuSh….No Yes Please… and finally SHAANTI SHAANTIHI]. We saw Kunal coming back but not with five tickets but ten. I thought may be doing some charity around, might have removed tickets for some poor people traveling in the bus. It turned out that we were the poor people. Here was the thing, five tickets KOLAD-MANGAO (which was already with us) and five for MANGAO-MAHAD (By same bus of course, we are not always idiots). Since it was quite a long journey about 2hrs or so, most of us decided to take a small nap (two of the idiots were still standing).

We reached MAHAD at around 2:02PM. Believe me we all were so exhausted that at one point we thought of taking a bus directly to Mumbai (Mahad is a big bus depo with buses plying to all the parts of Maharashtra). Sitting at the bus stand and having Lemonades (5Rs each) we decided not to be upset by the things happened or didn’t happen since morning. We have not wasted that much of time as it seemed to us, at that moment. So the refreshing Lemonade did the trick and we decided to carry on. By now we were aware that we could either go to Raigad or Pratapgad but not both, since they were quite a distance apart. So we went ahead with RAIGAD (while I have been saying Raigad through out, its actually Raigad FORT and Pratapgad FORT for that matter.).

Now our next task was to get a Rick ASAP. We got one but that driver was asking a lot around 350 bucks for 23kms, reason he gave was that he wont get passengers back, we anyhow pacified him by promising that we would be coming back by the same rick and wont take more that an hour, and you know what he trusted us…hohohoho (all of us grinning and giving that cunning smile at each other). Not only that, we also got the price to come down to 275 bucks (V R MEAN :-)).

At this point each of us heaved sigh of relief. Our journey began from here (some background music please).

Khat-Khat-Khat that was the noise our tempo was making through out its way to Raigad, and no wonders that it never needed horn. It was just five minutes or so we were alltogether into completely different world, narrow roads, hills, greenery, pin drop silence, serenity, in short absolute peace. In next 30-35 minutes we were at the Raigad Base point, it was still sunny and bright but not that hot. On reaching the base point we saw a huge hill to our left side, dense jungle ahead, deep gorge towards right (yes when I say base I mean the edge of the mountain). It was amazing view, I wont say breathtaking (I give sincere reviews:-)) as I have seen similar views if not better at many places before. It was unique in a way that it was not at all a crowded place (actually there wasn’t any space to build anything), also you can actually feel the base of the hill above which the Raigad fort was situated. Yup the fort was at top of the hill. Though we were not able to see a single view of the fort from the base, the very thought of fort at that height made us curious as, how could Shivaji Maharaj could built his fort at that height and how on earth could he spot this place. (And also how his horses would have reached there)

Anyways there were few people at the base which actually amazed me as I didn’t see a single vehicle passing through the road which we took from Mahad till here. We also came to know that there is a state bus plying after every 2-3 hrs or so. The very next thing we spotted after reaching the base was the ropeway (yup the ropes connecting the base with the summit of the hill where the fort is built). Goosebumps!!!!, horrific feeling of going by that ropeway which was inclined at about 60 degrees from the base if not more, anyways we went ahead and took tickets for the ropeway, not sure of the rates (we have managers for that :-)) but was about 150 bucks I guess, not more than that. Thing was that the there were just 2 rope buses going one way and another 2 buses coming from the other end and there were about 70-80 odd people ahead of us in the queue for the ropeway (no idea where did they come from). Now the calculations, 2 buses, 8 people at one time (4 each), approx 6 minutes for one round, 80/8=10, so 10X6=60 minutes maximum we had to wait.
For the first time in this trip I got my camera out (nothing till now was worth my clicks ;)). Pandey and I decided to get few snaps of the surrounding (remember two photographers in the group), rest of the team either went for some food or just waited out for our chance to come. Pandey and I went towards the jungle which I had described before, there was a faint trail (by the villagers there) which we followed for some time before realizing that we should not be going that far that my compass fails to show directions. I have only been to such a steep hill once before and the same sense of thrill and excitement was reminiscent of that trip. As I and Pandey were busy taking snaps at different angles as if we were thorough professionals, aren’t we anyways :-), we saw a village kid with a “tokri” on his head stopped near us and was keenly watching what we guys were doing. Just to make him feel easy (or rather make my self easy) I asked him if there is a way ahead, and if it all there is, where does to lead to. He replied with just two words “Hindi nahi”. Now that Kunal was not here I only had to speak some Marathi, at least to an extent that he can understand (and I too). Hmmm, I was really happy that he understood what I said in Marathi although Pandey was staring at me as if I have spoken in Malayalam or something (Malayalam is his mother tongue btw). The kid replied to my query by saying that the narrow path leads to a small pond from where these people get water to drink (“tokri” and water, didn’t get the connection, or may be I heard something else, Marathi after all). He also told us that there is another way other than rope way to reach the top and most of the trekkers do it that way (now I got how the Shivaji built that fort and how his horses went up the hill to fetch a…….). Before leaving back to the ropeway base the kid had asked us to take his snap, to which we obliged.

We were back with the team and our number 248-252 on the ticket was just 7-8 places behind means 5-7 minutes more. But something was changing dramatically in next couple of minutes, what was that??? CLOUDS, THUNDERS and finally DRIZZLE. God O God, that was truly awesome from bright sunny day to dark cloudy evening (it was around 4PM by then). As we were looking at the clouds, we saw something strange, or rather we didn’t see something, what was it. The summit, the peak, the other end of the rope way, yes!!!! One end was near us but the other end at the top was now invisible because of the cloud cover, it was like you can see the rope going from this end but where does it end is a mystery. All of us recalled funny news channels “breaking news” tags, “humne dhoond nikala hai swarg ka raasta”. We did it too :-).

Just the next moment we saw the rope bus (I really don’t know what to call that thing) coming out of cloud, and we were then next batch to go in. Nereous, Hemal and I were in the Red color rope bus and ahead of us were Pandey and Kunal in Green color bus (sort of traffic signal). And it started, we were not actually tense coz we had been to ropeways before in our last trip in Saputara, but we knew that half way across we will be witnessing something that none of us had witnessed before. There came the moment, and believe me (this time at least) this will go into my top ten memorable moments till now. I was not able see anything other than two idiot friends of mine, absolute nothing and the worst thing is that you know you are moving ahead but don’t know what is ahead. Silence for few minutes, from this height you could see the entire Raigad district but was hardly able to see the green rope bus ahead of us. I had never felt so close to God before, that was bliss (can I have the moment again!!!) “Tham ja Zindagi, Tham ja” was in my mind, and sincerely hope that was the case. Finally we were able to see some blur images of the summit, yellow flowers all around just made the view even more elegant. We stepped out of the bus (rope bus I mean) and followed the signboards and other people there. It was really misty and visibility was hardly 20mts. Though it was not drizzling now, still the air around was so misty that we could feel the moistness on our bags and windcheaters. What we had heard from the locals was that the fort is so big that we will need 2 days to actually visit each of its corners, we didn’t care now as only one corner was visible now (one which we were entering from). As we approached towards the main entrance we saw few bungalow type houses supposedly for people who wish to stay there for night (2 days after all). We started with our photo shoot, with each of us posing at different angles and sometimes for different people too. Black, green and white was the color all around. Suddenly we experience a gust of wind rushing across, cold and wet. We knew that the rains are not far and we need to wind up soon, also we had promised our tempo driver that we would be returning back in an hour (it was already hour and half though). The visibility was decreasing at an alarming level, at one time it was hardly 2-3mts. We were told that the fort is spread over a large area but no one dared to go ahead as we were not sure if the path ahead is a valley, pond, ditch or something else for that matter. We made sure that we remember the path we have taken till now, else my compass would have to come into play :-). For a small duration when there was breeze along, the clouds cleared up somewhat and I leave it your imagination when you see something which is actually so beautiful but you could not appreciate it only because you could not see it, although it was next to you (I know those pics will remain with me for ever). Now we could hear the thunders aloud and felt as if it struck somewhere behind us, and thus made our mind to leave for the base, although no one wanted to. In the end we are professionals and had our plans in place for the show ahead (when things go well you can obviously boast of your prudent plans, wasn’t the case till Kolad though :-)). It was around 5PM when we reached the base.

We were thinking of some excuses that we might need to give to the rickshaw driver, the poor fellow must have been waiting for us for a long time. Surprisingly the driver was calm and enjoying the view around. We didn’t waste any time neither did we discuss with him the reason for we being late and sat inside the rickshaw. It had again started drizzling. This time the evening was looking bleaker and gloomier than before and as we started our descend towards Mahad it was already pouring. At first we were enjoying the icy cool water drops by letting them strike our body, soon as the intensity of rain increased, we realized that this water was gushing inside the rickshaw and its was really freezing when a gush drenches our body, we put on the side plastic covers of the rickshaw, it was absolute dark inside. Along the way the view had completely changed by now since afternoon, flowing streams from the near by hills had erupted at many places, the surrounding more quit and serene. The driver was using the wiper from inside the rickshaw, arms extended outside to clear the front view (wiper was broken). In next 10mins or so the rain had subsided a bit and this was the time for some photography of that wonderful landscape. Pandey’s and mine cameras were already out and shutter bugs already bugging. Our next destination according to our plans was to be Harishareshwar by bus from Mahad.

We were at Mahad bus stand in another 15mins, we paid the driver his rent and then ran towards the enquiry to know the timing for the bus to Harihareshwar as we were expecting it to be in next 5-10mins. It was a setback when they told us that the bus we were seeking had already left. Not again, we dint want the good momentum we had acquired to wane out. Anyway we decided to take a bus to Mangaon (the controversial place before) and from there another bus to Harihareshwar which was scheduled at 7:15PM. Without wasting any time we took the bus which was leaving the next moment.

All of us sitting at back of the bus feeling bit tired were waiting for the place where we could just drop and go into deep slumber. It was around 30mins travel from Mahad to Mangaon so we had not much time to relax but also we needed to be alert as no one knew when would Mangaon come, it was pitch dark by now. It had again started to pour outside and this time we could also hear the monstrous thunder accompanied by blinding lightning. To make the matter worse the power in the entire area seemed to have gone off. This was real adventure now, script of a perfect movie :-). Soon the bus became crowded, at one of the stops Hemal and I (sitting together) saw three woman, one of them suffering from some case of XYZ were struggling to keep their balance (ST bus drivers as we all know can be sometimes errant while driving). At one point one of the woman almost fell on a fellow passenger, I and Hemal turned towards each other and got up immediately for the ladies to sit :-). They thanked us, and we were lucky enough to find place at the extreme end of the bus where Nerous and Pandey were sitting, they called us immediately and we obliged. After all what goes will always come back to you and believe me its true. In few minutes we reached Mangaon, the conductor was generous enough to tell us that our destination had come. Luckily the rain had again abated (confirmed that God is with us) and it was just drizzling a bit, but the lightning was still profound and still no power. It was really a breathtaking view to see the entire area around us whenever a lightning occurred, for a moment the entire landscape was visible and gone the other moment. In that single moment you can just hold your breath and forget everything but the mesmerizing view of the beautiful landscape and clouds at the extreme end of the horizon with mountains all around. AAAhhhh….

The bus depo quite big, bigger than the Mahad’s one. There were small shops brightened with lanterns and candles, we bought some snacks to eat. Also ate cucumbers laced with black salt, had a distinct taste. It was just five minutes to 7:15 and we were expecting the bus to come soon. Since this was a major bus depo, any bus going by the NH-17 used to stop here for a minute or so. In the hope finding the bus for Harihareshwar we asked many such buses which used to come there but all in vain. Only after 30 more minutes our bus came with destination written as “Baghban” which was actually few kms ahead of “Harihareshwar”. All of us boarded the bus and most of us took a window seat this time, as the bus was completely empty. Harihareshwar was about 65kms from here and according to our plan we would be there in next 2hrs of so. That comes out to be 9:45 or max 10:00PM. No problem for we Mumbai guys as we are used to sleep after 12 or so.
This particular bus was in a far better condition; actually it was a new model from the State Government (seriously!). More cosy and comfortable. Very soon we were out from the town and into some place where we could just see few shimmering lights at some far distance (power might have come back, or may be lanterns). I was sitting beside Hemal at the back of the bus. He was listening to his mp3 (and I sharing one of the earphones) at the window seat and I was ready for a nap. Nerous, sitting left to me was almost snoring. Kunal and Pandey were sitting somewhere in front and doing something, don’t know what!!!. Almost after an hour and half (don’t know why I can’t sleep while traveling) I asked Hemal to ask the conductor as in how much more time for Harihareshwar. Hemal obliged and came with a shocking answer to my query, “more than 2hrs”. OMG, how was that possible. We came to know that Harihareshwar lies at other side of the western ghats, so the bus would be cutting between the mountains to reach that place and we all know that traveling a km on hills is as good as couple of kms on planes. We could actually feel the bus going up and then coming down several times in the night. Hemal and I were actually wondering how anyone can drive on this dangerous stretch that too in that pitch darkness. After half an hour or so when we reached a place called “Srivardhan” for a break, there was some long discussion going on between the driver, conductors and few other people. The power was still missing; all we could see from the window was damp roads and puddles all around. The driver and the conductor boarded the bus again and then started having discussion with the fellow passengers sitting\sleeping in the front rows of the bus. Pandey and Kunal were also involved in the discussion. After a while it came out that a huge tree had fallen on the highway and thus bus won’t be going by that route. Almost a heart attack for us, what the hell was going wrong? Then the good news :-). The tree had fallen just after Harihareshwar, so the bus will be going till that place and will then take another route, how on heaven can we be so lucky!!!

Around midnight we reached our much awaited destination “Harihareshwar” and believe me we all were taken aback when we saw the place (saw means it was pitch dark we could only sea a small one floor hotel and could hear the splashing sound of waves). Just for the convenience of the people who doesn’t now about Harishareshwar, it’s a beach, details coming soon.

I was actually expecting this place to be a town where we would find good hotels and places to shop. Though it was dark, with the only light from the hotel there (that too was running on generator), we saw that it was a forest like place with a small road cutting between the forest, the road that too, hardly 4-5mts wide (it was surprising that our bus came through it, all credits to the errant driver). We entered that small hotel and asked for accommodation and not surprisingly there wasn’t any left. It had just 6 Rooms and all were booked. Still we dint lose hope and continuously bugged the person at the reception to get a room for us, any type will work as we just wanted to rest for the night a matter of 6-7hrs. The hotel guy hesitantly told us that he does have a room with him but not in the hotel, it was little away from it and that too without electricity. We dint care and said YES. But before finalizing we wanted to see how far it was (the hesitant reply from the hotel guy had actually raised some concerns with us), it should not be in the midst of the jungle. So to check out the room Kunal went with one of the hotel guy on a bike. We were waiting at the reception when we heard some chattering from behind. Girls!!! :-). Two of them :-). One wearing mini skirt and top and other wearing boxer kind of dress and yes top too :-). Hmmmmm, finally some thing to cheer about. Cheer wasn’t for long as these two girls were immediately followed by two guys, most probably there BFs. Anyway we were happy that our next morning would be nice for bird watching (they raised our expectations). It was already 10mins since Kunal had left and we were too hungry and sleepy both at once. The hotel’s kitchen was already shut off so other than water we didn’t get anything else. We decided that we will go out and search for some other accommodations, who knows we might get a good one and also some food. Since this place was the end of the road, so we needed to go backwards and we knew that if kunal happens to come we would be able to see him.

Here was the real thrill, four of us in the pitch dark surrounded by jungle and what other things (would be clear only when the sun rises). We saw couple of houses which were still open and running on generators. We also saw a dhaba which was open too. From one of the house which was converted into small hotel we came to know that the owner has got few rooms which can be rented for the night.

As we were heading towards our to be “one night sleep” room we saw glaring light at our faces, which actually turned out to be of the bike on which Kunal had gone to see the other room. Great we said. He got off the bike as soon as he saw us, we told him that we might not be needing that room anymore as we have found one. He was looking the most relieved of the lot present there. Before we could enquire about the place for which he had gone, he promptly told us about the horrendous time he just had. The place where he had gone was actually way down from the place we were standing right now, and then there was a single room house surrounded by huge bushes and only way to reach that house was through those bushes, that too without lights. When he and that person on bike reached there, that guy realized that he forget to bring the keys for the room (so which keys were he carrying, the bike keys I suppose). The bike guy told Kunal to stay there till he gets the key and that was like lightning striking him, no ways!!! he said and ran directly towards the bike. We couldn’t stop laughing thinking of his state. Just joking around for couple of minutes we reached the guest house. It looked fine, better than what kunal had experienced. There were 5-6 rooms and ours was the one at extreme left, rest all were occupied (may be coz of the proximity of that room to the jungle).

So here we go, our resting place for the night. We opened the door and was quite amazed at the sight. It looked more of a classroom (old types in villages). There was a blackboard, some chalks, absolute no furniture except one plastic chair (most probably for the teacher). Then there was carpet laid at the center of the room (for sure it was for the students), the owner had already sent five beddings and pillows (most of them stinking). We didn’t had any options so no one cribbed about the situation. The room was quite big with two fans (non functional), three tubelights (functional) accompanied by spider webs, three switch points (all functional, yuppie…). There were two bathrooms (good news) but due to power outage (yup power hasn’t arrived yet) we had to make use of mobile’s illumination to properly adjust our bums to the Indian style commode and yes how can I forget about our companions inside. One of the bathrooms had couple of shining and glaring 2-3 cms long cockroaches and other one had colorful glittering frog. The frog was really very disciplined (may be he was one of the student), it never panicked at our sight and only used to adjust its position a bit when each one of us took turns to peep into the bathroom to see this beautiful creature.

12:30 in the night and we were really very tired and hungry. For me and Hemal the sleep took over the desire to eat and for rest of them, they went out to search for some food. I soon went into deep slumber and very vaguely remember something happened when the other lot came back.

It was six in the morning, power was back, one of the non functional fan was running at its full speed, all of us under our blanket. It was 6:30 in the morning, none of the fan functioning, four of us under the blanket, Hemal was walking like zombie with brush in his hand. 7:00 in the morning, still none of the fan functioning, three of us under the blanket, Pandey following Hemal’s zombie steps. 7:15, I was out of my blanket, Nereus and Kunal still snoring. By 7:45 each one of us had regained our complete consciousness.

We made sure that we make maximum use of frogless bath room. Nereus was using his wildlife whistling technique to make the frog come out of the bathroom, but to no use. The frog maintained its silence and discipline. Good news was that the non-disciplined cockroaches had left the fort (may be they were night students, prodh-shiksha remember, ya right they were BFs and GFs, one prodh and other shiksha, laugh please ;)). We had planned that by 8:30 we will leave for the Harishreshwar beach after having the breakfast. So here we are, 8:30 on the clock, me coming out of the bathroom, Nerous and Kunal in the queue to enter. Finally we managed to leave by around 9:00.

We opened the door and felt as if we are witnessing the day after a fortnight of so, it was amazing day outside. Heavy clouds, cool light breeze, and amazing greenery. We went to the hotel were we had landed when we reached this place, ya same place where we saw those gals :-). Sitting around a table waiting for our orders to arrive, none of us could stop thinking of the beauty the place held. We could see the sea waves splashing the rocks with its full might. We could see the western ghats bowing to the mighty Arabian sea, the dense forest of the ghats, the fragrance of the fresh air. It had again started drizzling but it only made the view even more glorious. Never in my life had I seen this combination of mountains and sea, together shaking hands with each other. There was hardly any sand which we normally associate with any beach. Instead there were rocky terrain, hills and tall trees. We quickly finished our breakfast and went directly to the beach. It took us about five minutes to reach the point where we could actually see and feel the chill water splashing our feet while standing on the rocks. This point was actually where one of the many hills of the western ghats meets the mighty sea. You could actually feel the purity of that place. It was far cry from the hustle bustle of the city, absolute serene, a perfect place for a philosopher to come by and ponder on the thoughts pertaining to various aspects of life. We took few silent moments and just sat on the rocks looking at that the hypnotic scene in front of us. Last time when I felt this way was a day before, at Raigad fort :-). At around 10:30 we left for another tourist attraction (we saw many people going that way), it was at some altitude. Actually it was the same hill I have been talking about (mighty sea meeting the hill). We followed those folks, and within 10mins or so we reached at the top of the hill, since there were stairs to reach on top, you won’t feel tired and after all just 10mins of walk. From the top the whole view looked so surreal; it felt like as if I am in NewZealand or Argentina for that matter. Lush green grassland, hills, dense jungle, sea, mountains, cool breeze, overcast weather, drizzle (God, can I go back to that moment please). There was something more in store for us when we saw those folks (whom we were following) take a turn then going down somewhere, we followed, God O God, cancel my previous wish this time just drop me little further. There was two wings of that hill, left and right (what else were you thinking), between those huge wings of the hill was a way down, hardly 5mts width and at the end of the path was the sea once again but this was something special. You could actually see the white foamy water at the base of the hill with narrow passage, and then blue color water ahead. We went down, the waves were really strong at this area, oblivion of the danger I went bit ahead to take a close snap of the view at the base, I saw a pretty huge wave coming my side, it hit me and then retreated. Believe me I was really shaken by that wave and it was only coz of the rock ahead of me, the impact was not that furious. My heart was really beating fast at this moment, I remember my dad always used to tell me that never underestimate the power of three thing is life, Fire, Wind and Water(in any form). Anyways I didn’t share this experience with anyone of my friends (coz they had warned me before hand not to go deep). Anyways that was over, we took few snaps at the place and then after kidding around a bit decided to leave, say adieu to this beautiful place a hidden gem indeed. We went back to the base of the hill, there was an old temple there, had a short visit inside and took our stuff from the hotel, the frog had broken his discipline by this time and was absconding. We handed the keys, thanked the person for arranging for the place in mid of the night and LEFT FOR MUMBAI.