Saturday, August 27, 2011

In search of ...

I like to travel. But when people ask me why I prefer travelling. I ask them whether one needs to have reasons for everything they do. They don't reply. I like to travel because I am in search of a place which can keep my mind away from the myriads of memories that haunts me. Yes, It is a recluse that I am searching for.

The moment I reach my travel destination, I try to weave a new world for me there. Laboriously, bit by bit, I make my new world. A place where nobody knows me and place where I know nobody. A place where I am content because for a miniscule of time I am free from myself, my old self.

It doesn't take much time for my new world to coalesce into the old one. Suddenly, I am not a stranger for the people around. And strangers around me are no more strangers. Then a uncanny resemblance of my newly built world start to form. The very same resemblance that I wish to shed off.

I pack my bags in search of the next destination, in search of my recluse.

So yes, I like to travel because it gives me hope.

Picture courtesy: Me :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Firing from someone else's shoulder

Over the years AJ have heard many pickup lines and conversation fountain heads - some good, some really good and some that makes you laugh your guts out. And quite recently he saw one that could make everyone roll over floor laughing.

Normally, not many come to the lab because most of them work home. There are some regulars apart from that, its all machines stacked on the top of each other. And the regulars had one time configured a server machine in the form of a android and call him sid just to kill the boredom. Personified server was a majestic sight to all visitors who came there. Last summer, four undergrads joined AJ's lab for internship. The group consisted of 3 girls and 1 guy. In the male infested campus of AJ's, rarely does some female interns come and very very rarely does some eye stunner come.

Soon after this, there was a noticeable change in the environment. People started coming to lab. People started to sit late. People started to be more focused on work rather than on Facebook or Twitter. And suddenly, AJ's lab was on the world map creating wonders. That when AJ learned astonishing results could be produced by just introducing XXs instead of XYs to a testosterone charged environment.

So the story goes like this. One guy wished to get an intern's phone number. He approached her quite a number of times but he was way too unfortunate. Then like those bulb-thoughts that you see in animations, he was smitten with this perfect idea. Simple plan: Since he was not successful in getting the phone number he thought of getting her a phone; not just any phone but his phone.

It was raining that day. After having a small chit chat, the guy says he need to go to his room. And then he asked her for an umbrella. Since nobody with an insane mind would give an umbrella on a rainy day, the guy was quite sure of her answer. The next move was the one that nailed the act.

Guy: "It raining heavily outside and I am not sure of going to room now. But I need to go, you know"
Guy: "Can you keep my phone with you, its a new blackberry and I don't want it to get wet."
Girl:"But I will be gone in another 2 hours."
Guy:"oh..I will be back in half an hour."

He didn't wait for another second. Off he went. He never mean't to come back to lab that day. He wanted her to take the phone home so that he could make a " oh sorry, I got hold onto something and completely forgot about the phone until now" ice-breaking call at 10 in the night. The plan would have worked. Just a minor glitch in that plan - The "AJ".

Since he didn't come till 5:00PM, instead of taking the phone with her, she thought of passing the phone to
somebody else in the lab. Unfortunately for the poor guy, who was expecting a lot to happen that night, it was AJ who was the only soul left in that lab at that time.

AJ kept the phone and assured her that he would hand it to the guy once he is back.

After the girl left, AJ's sinister brain started pondering about the fun he could have with the phone while it rings expecting somebody else to answer it. And he was sure that the call from that guy would come, no matter what happened to him.

AJ already rehearsed his reply in his head.

And around 10:00 PM, the phone rang. AJ picked up.
Guy: Hello.
AJ: Hello..
Guy: who is this?
AJ: who is this???
Guy: I am Mr. X. And you are having my phone.
AJ: I am Y's Fiancee. Sorry she already slept. She will give it to you tomorrow.
Guy: Thats ok. And sorry for disturbing you this late.
AJ: Oh..Its fine.

They hung up almost together.

Next day, AJ gave the phone to intern saying the guy didn't come back. And she might have returned back the phone to the guy when he came later.

Over the time, AJ noticed a change in the crowd's behavior towards this particular girl. Nobody was hitting on her. Everybody were interested in her friends. She must be pondering what happened? Now as the ground was wide open, AJ made his move.

This is what I call firing from someone else's shoulder.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ranting at 3:00A.M.

As we live on, there comes a stage when you feel lonely. Very lonely. And you know the reason for this loneliness, but you don't want to believe that. Why? because believing that as the reason would go against conviction of your life. The conviction about what you did, a long time ago, was wrong. And this guilt amplifies the aggravation that you already experience. But, you don't want that to happen, because you know there was no other way, then, to tackle it. And so, you stick on. No. Cling by that stupid decision, not because you believe in it but just because you didn't have any other alternative.

Sometimes, I hate this non-linearity of life.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What am I to you

"What am I to you?" She asked.
"I don't know. I cannot explain it." He said in a confused tone.
"Try me." She was not going to let it go that easily.

"Ok, let me try." He then stops to take a breath.

"Imagine a kid who has never seen the rain. Imagine that he is playing in his backyard without regard for anything thats happening around. His mother is calling him but he wouldn't go, because he doesn't listen to anybody. Suddenly the sky is dark and cloudy and chilled breeze starts to sweep across his face. As he has not seen anything like this happen before he is curious. He doesn't go back running to his home. He stays there and wait for that something to happen, which he knows, is going to happen. And then the sweet smell of wet earth after a long dry spell makes him float. He strains his ears to listen to what is comming. A whispering sound like a secret to be told, the first drops of rain wets his face. The drop trickles down his face and then downpour completely wets him. He is in an estacy like never before. He wishes that raining never ceases. He want to cherish this feeling for the rest of his life."

"I feel like that little kid when you are with me." He says with a smile.

She too smiles back and holds him tight.

pic courtesy: Me:P

Monday, August 08, 2011

Tour de Bhutan

The last Shangri La is one place that everybody must visit in their life time. Thats what he said to me. And I decided to go with his word.

So I packed my bags and went to the land of peaceful dragon. Apart from the freaking soul that I am, three other seasoned mavericks also joined me for this great expedition. The reason for this immediate trip was because Bhutan is one of most least visited places in the world (reference - site I forgot). And we didn't want to visit a popular place. Moreover my every-year-Himalayan trek was due for this year.

Day-1 - waiting, waiting and waiting

I had some work to be completed. Even I didn't want to miss this trip, it was important deadline not to be missed. So I worked- day in and day out to complete it. The flight to Calcutta would take off at 6:20AM - with or without me and since I was not very good with alarms, I thought of not sleeping at all! It was raining in Mumbai when I left the campus, fortunately I didn't have any umbrella with me. So reached the airport all drenched. The so called elitist people of the society were giving this weird look which literally translated meant " where did this trash come from?". According to my pea-size brain, the only reasoning that came out was "Hey mate! I am a student". Once inside the flight, I forgot all these woes. My flight was kingfisher and I love Vijay Mallaya, he knows how to keep his customers happy. The cool daddy -parliamentarian-liquor baron provide the best in-flight breakfast and soon I was dozing off.

The Calcutta terminal is all about confusion and its reasons to reconcile with ethnic identity crisis. I don't know why I hated this city. An unknown reason kept me from coming to this city during my undergrad days. The worst of it was going to come.

I ended up waiting 4 hours for my friend inside the terminal. I was almost going to walk off to border town when I heard that sweet sound of flight 702 - Hyd-Kol flight. And after 5 min, he was in the lounge with a strolley - a strolley ! who in the world is going to do backpacking with a strolley. He smiled at me like reading my thoughts. "Dont worry I am going to buy a backpack". Although we had booked a train from Culcutta to New Jalpaiguri , we were not sure whether it would get confirmed. So off we went to esplanade to book our tickets to Silguri, which was our rendevouz point to Bhutan. We got a ticket for a Volvo which would take us from Calcutta to Siliguri from where we had to take the some transport to Jaigon and then cross over to Phuntshoeling, the border town of Bhutan.

Leaving country on foot and entering another one on foot. This was the second time I was doing it.
Apart from cacaphonic snoring by my friend and maniac driving, the bus journey was otherwise beautifully peaceful. And thanks to my friend, all my fellow Bong travellers who were friendly before he slept became foes in the morning.

We reached Siliguri at around 7:00 AM. Two of my friends from Delhi joined us there. Together we began to search for a cab that would take us to Phuntshoeling. After die hard bargaining by my experienced MBA friends we got a car to Jaigon.

We reached Jaigon,India around 6:00 in the evening and Phuntshoeling,Bhutan at 6.01.

Just a minute to cross a country!!

I had few close Bhutanese friends in my college. One of them was posted in Phuntshoeling who had done arrangements for our lodging and the logistics. I was surprised to find that room rent in Bhutan is really cheap. We got a nice cozy twin accommodation for around 600 bucks - which is not at
all possible to get in Mumbai!

My friend is a wonderful guy and we were really grateful to him for creating a itinerary for us. According to the plan, we get a road permit to Thimpu and then permit to Paro from Thimpu. The whole point of this trip is to visit Taktsang, one of the most sacred place in Bhutan and one of the most picturesque place in the world.

Day- 2 - Phuntshoeling

Next day morning, my friend arranged us a cab to get around Bhutan. Later, this was going to be pain. The driver turned out to be a friend of my friend. To make the matter worse, he was his childhood friend. More about this story later.

Bhutan is called last Shangri La or the last heaven on earth. Other name for Bhutan is called land of thunder dragon. But now a days its called land of peaceful dragon because its really a peaceful place. A getaway place where you have lungful of pure air and nothing else except the sweet murmur of mountain's breathing. The road to Thimpu is one of the most scenic. And the best part is you could actually touch
the clouds on the way. One thing that I wished then was to drive the car. And yes, I did drive a car in Bhutan.Perched high up in the mountains you can see white prayer flags. These prayer flags
spread the message of peace and well being to all the beings on this planet. Whispering silently along the mystic mountain music, its so refreshing to see them fluttering.

We reached Thimpu in the night. Another friend of
mine had made all arrangments there. The hotel was awesome. The food was also good. One thing thats cheap and available in plenty is liquour. My friends banged on the local drinks - K5 (released when 5th king was coronated), Coronation , Special Courier. After getting high, all of them wanted to visit a mon
uement inside the city - Memorial Chorten.

Memorial Chorten also known as Thimphu Chorten is monuement made in the memory of 3rd majesty of Bhutan. It is a Tibetian style stupa with a golden spire crowning it. One of the fascinating thing about Bhutanese is their openess and ability to trust each other. At 11 in the night, we entered the chorten and it was desserted but still open. In India, you can never see such site. And even if it was open, the site would have been vandalized beyond recognition.

I along with one of my friend(others were not sober :)) went in the morning to have extensive look at Chorten. The place had transformed. It was buzzing with activity. Many had come to offer their daily prayers. It was a nice feeling to go around the stupa in the morning, reminded me of the pradikshna that we used to do while at home. My friend entered the shrine and I followed him. I was stunned to see what was inside. All the incarnation of Buddha was depicted on a single sculpture. The most fascinating among all of them was that of ardha-pannani. Later, i came to know about the meaning of that representation. It meant the the unification of male and female by overcoming the duality. If seen, one would sit there and think over this unique representation of Buddha.

Day 3 - Around Thimphu

After a heavy breakfast we went to see the view of Thimphu from BTS towers which is like a lover's point. Though I guess the youth in Bhutan has many important things to do other than playing love games on the country side (I miss those days :)). So it was deserted. From there we went to see the national animal of Bhutan - Takin. Its one of the strangest animal. A cross between a mountain goat and Yak (I guess). Watching it was funny as it resembled one of our friend. So we changed the name Takin to Mr. X. If somebody had placed Mr. X and a Takin side by side, he would sure die of laughing at nature's naughtiness.

After having lunch from a chinese restuarant which ended by tasting the horrible Chinese tea, we were on our way to Tango and Cheri Monastery. Tango monastery belongs to Drukpa Kagyu School of Buddhism in Bhutan. It perched high up on a hill and the name Tango in Dzongkha (Bhutanese language ) means horse head. Though, I don't know why it is called like that . After walking for 1 hr, we finally reached there. A slight drizzle accompanied us all the way to top. One of the immediate thing that you notice is the a
stounding scenic beauty coupled with the silence. Far across, you can see a snow capped mountain. As it was almost sunset time, the rays of sun were making sparkle effect on the mountain top. It was a breath taking sight. It reminded me of my trip to Pokra, Nepal and the morning sight of Mt. Annapoorna when sun was coming up. The same sparkle but only difference was that sun was now setting.

Tango monastery was made in the 13th century. Around the central stupa, there are many prayer wheels. Prayer wheels hold an important place in Buddhism. It is the result of manifestation of supreme realization that each individual has limited time in this world, Buddhist monks conjectured the concept of parallel universe by reciting pray
ers more than what they actually could recite. Each revolution chants "O
m Mani Padme Hum" prayer 108 times. Six syllables represents purification(pride, jealousy, passion, ignorance, poverty, aggression) of the six realms(Devas, Asuras, Humans ,Animals, Pretas, Naraks) of existence. After spending around 2 hours on the top we came down. It was still raining. From there we decided to go to Punaka. Since my friend was tired, I to
ok the car. And as it was raining and since it was a high altitude drive, it was a bit scary to drive. And truth to be told, between me and you, it was pitch dark and one of the most deserted roads I have ever driven. We checked into the hotel sometimes after the midnight.

Day 4 - The valley of Van Gogh!

A day is always going to be good if it starts with
a surprise - a good surprise. Our hotel was on the banks of river Pho Chu and on other side of the river there was some himalayan peaks. The sight was breathtaking. I could have stayed there all day long! My friend had to literally push us out of the room.

Our today's itinerary included only one destination - Phobjika. It was a 2 hours drive from Punaka. Vincent Van Gogh is one my favourite painter. He uses the brush with vivid colors that captures emotio
ns in the most exquiste way. He doesn't use a smooth brush but a spiked one. And in Phobjika, you feel as if Van Gogh just finished his painting and left. It was a visual treat. Spades of brown shrubs covering an entire valley with wild horses in between. It is a scenic splendour and what makes it more beautiful is the Gangteng Monastery in the middle of it. It was dream come true for my camera. My shutter never stopped clicking.

Our driver told if we liked Phobjika then we would like another place - Bumthang. It is a kind of cultural capital of Bhutan. We wished to go there but except for me everybody valued time more than LIVING the life. On the way back, we started talking about yesteryears. That was when we realized how astoundingly crazy one of our friend. In his school days,for a science exhibition, he made a exterminator device for rats. And they way it worked - by injecting carbonoxide to the rat!. The most funny part of this incidence was when he smoked out all the people out of the auditorium when his experiment went disarray. We named him Dr. Evil afterwards :)

Day 5 - Beautiful valley of Paro

From Phobjika we went to our last destination - The valley of Paro. Paro got the only the airport in Bhutan and it is an wonderful sight when an aircraft descends for landing through the mountains. The hotel we stayed was in front of paro river. Here too there was the sweet lullaby of paro river. And to those who haven't slept under the stars on river side should do so. Nothing in the world can compensate that experience.

We roamed around streets of Paro to shop some exquiste Bhutanese antiques. But I must say they give very less importance to Indian tourists. And the reason being the lofty bargaining nature of our bloodline. So my MBA friends from the elite college of India conjectured this theorem - Charm the lonely shop lady. We scouted the entire area for shops which is not crowded, which is not dimly lighted, and shop owner being a lady. The tricky part is there will be a lot of shops where ladies handle the things but you need to catch one where lady trading is the owner! As an added icing to our cake, it was closing time for shops. We found our prey. The next process is charming and luckily one of my friend specialized in it. The first thing he picked up in that shop was a phallus! We didn't know what he was thinking. We started laughing and to get it worse, the lady got offended. Before she could react, he started scolding us. As per Buddhist tradition of Bhutan, a phallus is often regarded as divine symbol for fertility. Women who have issues to conceive are blessed with a phallus. Often you can see phallus dangling at door steps of Bhutanese homes. When my friend explained with supreme confidence, we were awed and our lady shopkeeper was smiling. She was trapped. Now he asked us to shop at our will. While we were doing this, he was talking to her, charming all the way in and how glibly he did it. And then he put nail on the coffin. Instead of discounting on the total, he started putting discount on individual pieces. Now what he did was putting extra discount on each pieces so as to reduce marginal profit. To make things more easier he put more discount so as to prolong the bargaining process. It was fun to see my friend asking articles for price and the lady refusing with smile. This went on for around 20-25 minutes and since it was closing time, he just increased his asking price by a small percent and she was ready to sell the whole stuff. We came out of that shop really happy!

Day 6 - Taktsang aka Tiger nest
The next day we went to the most beautiful and sacred place in Bhutan - Taktsang Monastery or Tiger nest monastery. According the local myth, whosever visit tatsang attains moksha. The pecularity of this monastery is that its perched high on a hill. From the valley below its a majestic sight to watch. And my entire trip was to take one photograph- just one photograph. So that I can strike one line of from Bucket list. Yes, I am crazy!
To reach Taktsang, one need to trek for 3 hrs. Its a winding but lesurable path to the monastery. In fact for a seasoned trekker it would hardly take 2 hours. Instead we took almost 3.5 hrs to reach there. Thanks to 4 DSLRs we were having. It was a competetion to get the perfect photo on the way to Taktsang. The last stretch of path is breathtaking, one needs to go along the cliff side to reach the monastry. At around 2300 ft above between two cliffs there is small bridge that connects them. Prayer flags of different colors decorated this bridge and all the way upto monastery. When you are here, its a different feeling and truth to be told, I don't have enough vocabularyto describe them.

Taktsang monastery contains a series of shrines. We went to each one of them to get the blessings. And then we were on our way back.

Day 7 - the way back
The next day, we went back to Phintshoeling. The day started with a fight over taxi fare for the last 6 days. Bhutan was supposed to be a cheap destination but we ended up paying around 17k as the taxi fare. But our exciting journey didn't stop there. We had to catch a train to Kolkatta and then a connecting flight to Hyderabad and Mumbai. After putting special use of our geography skills instead of going to NJP, went to a station which was around 50 Kms away from Jaigon so that we can catch the same train but few stations before. When we reached there, we came to know that Indian railways was true to its word - The train was late and late by around 8 hours. The minimal odd suggested if take the train, we are going to miss the flight from Kolkatta. So we scouted for a taxi and driver who could cover 730 Kms in 13 hours. Finally we found one - a true descendent of Michael Schumacher.

True to his words, we were flying across rural areas of West Bengal. Thrice I saw death in front of me. Even though we put up a descent 80 km/hr on average, we thought we might not make it. In the last 1 hour we had to cover almost 90 kms and cover we did. When I saw the airport's departure lounge, it was like having a second life.

To visit Bhutan was one of the best decision I have made. And I would cherish it for the rest of my life. Once I reached back campus, another surprise was waiting for me there - a tour de Scotland :)