Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lakshadweep - An artist's palette

Never in my life, did I have a clue
that one island could be so blue
Turquoise, Teal, Aquamarine and Azure
tons of other names that I wasn't even sure

There was the sea, blue, so vast, so pristine,
corals were the ornaments for the island to preen
Like the mixing on an artists palette
Only he could have created this on a clean slate

Why go there?
We had taken a 5 day vacation to Lakshadweep and chose to stay in Agatti and Agatti alone. There are no restaurants, no famous resorts in this place. The island was 8 kms long, of which 1 km was dedicated to the airport. You cannot wear your shorts at will given that the people here are relatively conservative. Now that I have scared you enough, here is why you should be going there.

We had seen the cleanest of the water in the beaches of Lakshadweep. Shallow waters on the west end make for excellent swimming and snorkeling opportunities. This island has a sunset to die for. There is a private beach in the south end of the island which makes up for all the conservativeness out there. This is an ideal place if you enjoy sitting by the beach side, sipping coconut water, (yes, alcohol is banned) reading a book and just talk.

There isn't much to do here but laze
There isn't anyone to talk to but your girl
There isn't another sound but that of the waves
There isn't another sight but of the deep blues sea

The quiet of the day was such good change
that chirping of the coconut tree leaves
with the sound of waves in the background
was the Beethoven's tenth symphony in the making

The place
Welcome to Lakshadweep or Lakshwadeep as my girlfriend puts it. A set of tiny island dotted along the Western coast of India. The first site of this island is a thin 500m long airport strip at Agatti adorned by the navy blue ocean to the right and an Azure shallow lagoon, 50m to the left. An atypical tourist destination in the country that needs a permit for Indians and foreigners alike.

The place currently is facing a lot of flux owing to a flurry of permissions and lease expiration. Other islands like Bangaram have a few dysfunctional resorts which have been stopped mainly due to expiry of lease for a casino.

The people
With a 100% Muslim population, the people here are the friendliest lot you will encounter. Conservative in their outlook, they do not shy away for the usual photograph. The best part of Lakshadweep is however the quiet of the place and the nature at its best. There are none of those usual holiday resorts or restaurant in Agatti. There are some private resorts that are run by people on the island. Agatti and Kadmat are the main islands inhabited by people where the dressing and behavior are more conservative is nature.

Towards the evenings, the people of the island get together by the beach side and project videos ranging from sea life documentaries to the latest reality singing show. You will start seeing people migrate to the beach side by 5 in the evening and sitting there chatting along with their dear ones till night fall. Boys playing football on the beach side and girls swinging along the coconut trees on the coast is a common sight.

There is barely any food that is available outside your resort. So one cannot do much but stick to the patta gobi, fish, papad and dal provided by most of your resorts. The resort owners understand English well and hence should not be a huge issue for most. Having a knowledge of either Malayalam or Tamil would make your stay a smooth ride (Thanks to my girlfriend who could manage the talking despite here broken Tamil :P).

Lakshadweep is probably one of the best places to do water sports in India. It has been blessed with an array of colorful corals dotted all along the coast of Agatti and Bangaram islands. It was like watching discovery channel in slow motion.

Boat ride to Bangaram from Agatti - Rs. 4000
Boat trip from Agatti to Kalpitti (Adjoining island) with Snorkeling - Rs. 1200
Snorkeling around Agatti, Bangaram - Rs 300 per hour

Getting there and around
Home stay 1: 9447611160 - They charge around 3500-4000 Rs per day (per couple - Food included). This is one of the cheapest options on Agatti. They homestay is 3 minutes walk from the beach (Either side).

There are other options like Kasim's homestay and Abdul's Homestay along the beach (Charges around 8500 per night per room). The permit can be obtained from the resort with which you will be staying. Only BSNL and Airtel work here while there is not internet connection anywhere on the island.

Only Air India currently flies from Kochi to Agatti. There is also an option of taking a ship to Agatti which is scheduled 3 times a week. This is an overnight options with prices varying from Rs.500 to Rs.4000 depending on the ship and class.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Leh to Lakshadweep & New york to Kolkata

Another year flew by! Thanks to my job and the itch otherwise, I have traveled the world and more importantly, a good part of India.

Month of the marathon & marriages, January: I had started off 2012 on a great note by completing the Mumbai half marathon in January in 2:20! One lesser thing in the list of 52!
A Kolkata trip with Atul Bansal, Sudeep, Abhishek Sahoo, Ayush and Sarvesh to attend not one, not two but three weddings of Ribika Choudhary, Sumantro and Manish Pathak. Bengali weddings rock! Nostalgia with all the good bengali maach that I had.

Tajmahal trip, February: Visit to the Tajmahal, Agra with Richa Thakur. I can finally say that I have seen 3 world wonders.
Lonavala trip in February with Atul Bansal at the end of Pune stint.

US trip, March: My first international 10 day trip to New york, USA in March to meet Arthi Mittal and Shravan Muthe.
Weekend to Goa in March to celebrate Sagar Goel's bachelor party. Palolem rocks!

Sowji's marriage and Sinhagad fort trek, April: Lonavala drive and Sinhagad trek from Mumbai with Deepak Gopal in April. Sowji got married and a hectic last week of April it was!

May marked the beginning of what was to be a long East India association. Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal for the rest of the year to come. IIT KGP revisited.

Hyderabad trip with Sakshi, Manish and Rishabh in June. Farewell party for the baniya and immense fun. Arthi's 6 week India trip which included a Mumbai trip with Atul Bansal

Bidar trip, July: Bidar trip with Arthi, Manish, Rishabh and Sovit Jaiswal. Fun in Hyderabad with Meenakshi and Arthi. Kolkata weekend with Shalini Sasidharan - Dark knight rises and Arsalan biriyani

Leh, Ladakh trip, August: 10 day trip to Leh, Ladakh, Pangong Tso lake, Lamayuru (Along Kargil highway, NH-1), Kardungla with Vinay Vaswani, Abhishek Sahoo, Sudeep Mehrotra, Jan and Richa Thakur

Author in September: Published a book titled "From money to god" along with Subbu, Uday, Gogo, Pinky, Ayan and Sudeshna. What started as a set of leisurely discussion in the 6th term, came out as a 100 page coffee table book. Road trip to Goa with Vinay Vaswani followed by yet another trip to Goa the very next week in September first week. Yes, the place is infectious. This also completes my yearly quota of 3 trips to Goa :)

Leisure in October: 1 week of chilling out at home in Hyderabad without any agenda. Luxury.

Lakshadweep, December: A 10 day Christmas vacation that started in Coimbatore with the heavenly food of Haribhavanam followed by a week long stint in the blue waters of Lakshadweep. Scuba diving and Snorkeling with absolute beach lazing with Arthi Mittal. End with 1 day in Kochi

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


"There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest"
-Robert W. Service

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ladakh - The trek, the road trip and lake

The beautiful blue - Pangong Tso
Leh is probably one of those very few places which would be hot on the list of "must dos" of adventure enthusiasts, nature lovers, bikers, lazy bums and dopers alike. Mountaneous terrain, either river Indus or Zanskar alongside and deserted highways dotted with tiny hamlets is representative of Ladakh region outside Leh. We had flown down from Delhi and Leh and the magic of the place hit us even before we landed. Just as the clouds cleared, we could see the vast expanse of snow capped peaks and the valleys waiting there for us to embrace the beauty, Ladakh.

The acclamatization day was mostly spent loitering the streets of Leh (well technically, we were always in fort road), trying everything from Thukpa to momos to kehwa. A hike to the Leh palace which stands guard from the north end of the city gives you the perfect views of the whole valley. As the last rays of the sun set on the hills, you cant help feel a chill. The next day, we drove for ~6 hrs to get to the Pangong lake while covering the Thiksey monastery enroute. Serene waters ranged from turquoise blue to aquamarine while kissing teal intermittently. I have no clue what I just said. Lets just say that the waters were in shades of blue, and loads of them! Ladakh is just like what you see in post cards, picture perfect. We slept by the lake in the night trying to count stars in the partly clouded sky.

Young monk at Hemis Gompa
The Thiksey monastery
The next three days was the trek to Stok Kangri covering  close to 45 kms. We had stayed in a home stay in Rumbak and camped at the base camp at Mankarmo. Starting at 3500m above sea level, we trekked to around 3900m for about 4 hrs to reach Rumbak. The community farming practices and the home stay model epitomized peaceful coexistance in this village. We then hiked to 4900m to get to the Stok la pass and decended back to 4300m at the Mankarmo base camp. The final day was yet another strenuous climb to the advanced base of the Stok kangri peak where we reached 5200m. There were river crossings, deer sightings, hail storms and needless to mention.. paradise on earth!

A trip to Ladakh would never be complete without biking around. We dared the Khardungla pass (5600m) on a set of 2 pulsars and 2 activas. Even though we made it to the top eventually, no pictures can relate the story of how one of us had to push the activa for 3 kms uphill as it refused to get loaded anymore. The ride down was a race of gravity. For our final tryst with Ladakh, we hired a car and a bullet and drove down to Lamayuru on the Leh Kargil highway. This road was the scenic, barren ladakh I have always seen in pictures. 150km from Leh, this bike trip was just something that had to be done!

Enroute Khardungla
9 days of pure joy. No net or network (apart from the frantic jampots who managed to get signal even at the markarmo base). Prayer flags, lovely landscapes, colorful markets, apricots, Thukpa to momos, long and sumptious breakfasts, yaks, snow capped peaks were just the tip of the iceberg. In the end, we came out Leh'd!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

That little devil

I introduce to you ladies and gentlemen,
my oldest friend, my partner in mischief
not a peaceful nights' sleep, since I was three years old,
thanks to my little sister, the devil

The games we invented;
adventures, we called some
while some were so much fun,
that we even forgot to give them names

Monopoly, we played all day long,
how I always had the reds cards and the blue hotels,
was always beyond her mental faculties
late night horror stories,ruled them all

Hard to forget were those bakery trips and panipuri outings
or those hardy boys and tinkle digests we exchanged
weird were the competitions that we had,
Banana eating beat them all

For 24 years have I toiled so hard,
what do I get in return?
tons of love, greeting cards,
loads of chocolates and a band with "Angry birds"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

India at London, 2012

India's all time olympic medal tally
Since India made its debut in the Olympics in Paris in 1900 it has only ever won a total of 20 medals, nine of them gold of which 8 came from Hockey while Abhinav Bindra won our first gold in Beijing 2008. 2 of the medals in Athletics were actually to a British national in 1900. The age old debate has always been on how we barely manage to get one medal in a country with popluation more than 1.2 billion people. 

Blame it on our budgets or on our mindsets or both in this case. Any kid aiming to become an ace tennis player is frowned upon. A kid considering boxing is a maverick and someone who wants to make swimming as a profession is an outright outcast. We could argue that the tropical climate is a key reason why we dont get medals in Athletics. What climate do the Ugandans and the Kenyans live in? In 2008, China was the first in medals tally with 51 Golds followed by USA at 36 Golds. India was on rank 50 with 1 Gold medal. The Chinese got their first ever medal in Olympics in 1984. That year, their total tally was G:15, S:8, B:9 and were at rank 4 worldwide. This was their 2nd ever appearence. Despite various efforts to increase participation and victory in olympics in India, we have largely been unsuccessful. We need to invest more in sports infrastructure and supporting athletes and look beyond our sacrosanct sport - Cricket! I shall not delve into something that I dont have too much idea of. As an average Indian, I am agonized to see us get so few medals with so many people.

This year, I am rooting for the most medals for India as compared to previous years. I look forward to some of our athletes bringing back honors this time around.
  1. The usual suspects: Abhinav Bindra, Susheel kumar and Vijendra Kumar (Collected a Gold in Asian Games in Guangzhou last year and a bronze in commonwealth, Delhi)
  2. The resurgents:Saina Nehwal (Rank 5 worldwide, Quarter in Beijing 2008 and Gold in Indonesian open earlier this year beating the 3rd ranker)
  3. The rookies: Gagan Narang (Silver in Asian games, 4 golds in commonwealth), Mary Kom (Currently tied at Rank 3 in lightweight category) Shiva Thapa (fly weight category) Deepika Kumari (Current Rank 1 in Women's individual recurve and Gold, common wealth 2010)
This is a only a list of some of them from an 81 member strong contingent. Hoping for a double digit tally!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wonder years.. that purchasing spree of school bags (wide ones weren't cool anymore), Bata shoes, cherry blossom polish, double deck lunch boxes and white uniform every summer? Yes school!

We boys were adorned in shorts (had to wait till class 7 to wear trousers), girls with their ponytails (I mean.. pony? tail?), armed with pencils and compass boxes (had to have a ruler, divider, protractor and a shiny white rubber .. yes.. that's what we called it). By then, our world had changed drastically from the innocent childhood of yesteryears. Priorities.. even more so.

Mom's food became boring and dad being at office was preferred. The neighbourhood kids with whom I played cricket every evening without finishing homework, school bus buddies with whom I shouted and shrieked loudly (confused it for singing for a while too), back bench buddies in school where I perfected the art of rocket making, a la October Sky style and teachers who always kicked me out or made me stand beside dustbins, mattered the most.

We finished lunch in the short break so that lunch break can be for football (with a cricket ball of course), ate Lays for their Tazos, bought Complan instead of Boost for the free tennis ball , loved the unhealthy roadside panipuri and other assorted junk, hated sitting next to girls, and collectively prayed to god every single day at the bus stop for a surprise school holiday! (no wonder some of us ended up being such staunch atheists)

We read Hardy boys, Tinkles and discussed how Yokozuna could easily beat Macho man in WWE (It was WWF until of course the wild ones took over). We were into competitive sport too, challenging each other at Contra, super tanks or a game of monopoly. Then came the glorious days. Summer holidays. Summer holidays meant 2 months back in our villages / towns, meant a long train journey, meant no homework and freedom from mom's shouting. The summers meant the heaven to us. The "fun folk" had to spend their time in the summer camps where they were taught creativity and god knows what jack shit.

Those were the days...