Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Angel in Cairns...

This post is dedicated to Australia - Amazing country and amazing fun loving people...

During my trip to Great barrier reefQueensland I experienced true spirit of humanity. As we all know  that Great barrier reef is home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I was so excited about my adventure tour planned to explore this amazing place in Month of April 2012.

The most cherished experience of the trip was - Snorkeling on the Beautiful Coral Reef. Thanks to various guided tours available for beginner swimmers like me, memories of the day will remain fresh forever in my mind. Indeed a mesmerizing experience to watch beautiful corals, which I had never seen earlier in my life. I am not able to describe in words how wonderful it was to swim with lots and lots of colorful fishes around me.

According to my pre-booked travel plan, I was supposed to go for snorkeling only once. My itinerary was full of adventure activities like snorkeling, scuba dive, sky dive, sea kayaking etc.. But indeed it was not enough to cherish beauty of the coral reef in just one day. I was compelled to juggle my travel schedule by adjusting the sea kayaking tour timing to accommodate one more snorkeling tour on the same day. 

Here is how my second attempt at Snorkeling unfolded.

Our sea kayak tour guide announced that whoever wanted to snorkel, could jump off from kayak to snorkel for an hour. I was stunned by his announcement and could not believe that he was asking us to go on our own for snorkeling!!  

My brief conversation with tour guide- Mike:

Me: Hello Mr.Mike, Is snorkeling tour not accompanied by a guide?

Mike: No dear, I am afraid it is not.  Have you not checked with the booking office. Snorkeling is not offered as guided tour by our company! 

Me: Whattttttttttttttt? How can I be so idiot and stupid?  I did not check the details of tour before booking. I am not a confident swimmer. I can not go on my own for Snorkeling :(..

Mike: [ Looking at my almost crying face] I am sorry ... may be beauty of corals hypnotized you!! Why don't you try once yourself. Be confident. You are wearing life jacket. You will not drown. If any thing happens just give me signal I will come for rescue. I am going to sit on that platform to keep watch on all of you. Go for it, its not that difficult and scary.

Mike ended the conversation and hurried towards the far away platform located on shore to keep watch on snorkelers. I was totally annoyed on myself. In hurry of making run time booking; I didn't pay much attention on details of Snorkeling tour. It was unguided tour and meant for confident swimmers/ experienced snorkelers :(. How can I be so careless specially when I was travelling alone!!

We were total 6 sea kayaking tourists who opted to go for snorkeling. In our team I was the only person who was not from Australia and was not confident swimmer. One by one everyone jumped into ocean and started snorkeling. Somehow my phobia of water was holding me back. I could not gather courage to jump in ocean alone. So much of water around me made me more nervous. With very heavy heart I decided not to go for Snorkeling and sat on the shore alone.

After 10-15 minutes I heard a voice from one lady. She was an Aussie lady from Melbourne aged around 50. I do not recall her name now but Lets address her as Angel. 

Angel: "What are you doing sitting their alone? Come on dear, join us..It's so beautiful out here. So many fishes and amazing corals. Don't you want to see them?

Me: I am afraid of water, I can not snorkel alone without guide .... I am not confident.. I will be here only ..

Angel: Why can't you swim?

Me: I can swim, but only in swimming pool. Looking at so much water and currents of Ocean, I am so much scared. I can't swim in ocean...sorry Ma'm...

Angel: All the way from India you have come to my country to see Great Barrier reef and now you are telling you will not snorkel!!! This is not fair...

Me: It's ok.. I am fine here... I don't want to take risk...

Suddenly after 10 minutes, Angel came out of water and sat besides me. Like a Mother she ordered me to get up and go with her. I still remember her each and every word what she spoke that time. 

Angel: Come with me, I will take you in water. I will hold your hand, don't be afraid of water ..nothing will happen...Looking at amazing corals here you will forget your phobia... come join me.

Me: Hey, seriously I am fine here. I am too much scared of currents, look at the water here, for me it's too much to handle. I can not come. I will spoil your fun too. You please go ahead and enjoy.. thank you very much!!!

Angel: But I am not fine watching you sitting here alone. I can not see that one person who has come to my country from such a far away land, just can not enjoy beauty of my place only because they are not confident swimmers. See... I have grown up with waves, so snorkeling/ diving and surfing is nothing for me... but I truly understand your limitation... you have not been brought up in such surroundings so you are scared of waves. You might be good at so many other things which I will not know how to do it...So come on don't be afraid of anything or feel shy of anything... I am there to take care of you ... I will make sure you carry good image of my country when you go back from here...

Me: But....

Angel: Come with me...I have taken my son also for snorkeling like this when he was small.. I will take good care of you and will not let you drown. I could not resist and jumped in water with Angel. 

For about 15 minutes we snorkeled around the place. She   kept on showing me beautiful fishes, corals around. She kept on checking whether I am feeling ok... She made sure that my attention is diverted from 'lots of water' phrase to 'wowww so beautiful' reaction....

After first 15 minutes, First line I spoke to her..

Me: Angel, I can't thank you enough for this gesture of yours....

Angel: Oh dear, looking at your happy face... I am also very much thrilled...I am glad that I could  show you around .... only one thing    can you hold my hand little bit lightly? You are holding it so tight..its paining me :)

Me:       Oh I am so sorry.. Why you didn't tell me before...

Angel: Oh don't feel sorry dear... it happens, I can sense from the way you held my hand that how much scared you are!! It's nothing.. come we will go towards left side.. my husband is telling that  on the left side lots of colorful fishes and amazing corals are there. They are much more beautiful then here...

She kept on holding my hand for another 15 minutes, and kept on snorkeling with me around the reef. She was amalgamation of a mother and a true friend to me ... Who can turn you on and fill sparkling moments of joy in your life in a selfless way.  I had never experienced such an amazing act of hospitality outside India. She was truly an angel for me that day!!

We have a saying in Sanskrit- वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम [Entire world is one family.]  My experience in Cairns indeed depicted what this Sanskrit line actually means.....

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fairy Penguins....

I lucky enough to grab a chance to visit one of the largest colonies of Little penguins recently. What a wonderful trip it was....! I still can not forget charm of little fairy penguins I saw at Phillip Island of Australia.

I took a ticket of day tour bus of Gray Line from Melbourne to visit Phillip Island. In too much of excitement of starting my first weekend trip in Australia I avoided wasting time in eating breakfast or lunch at home, decided to pack and have it in bus instead! I reached bus stop 30 minutes before time even though the pick up point is only at 2 minutes walking distance from my home in Melbourne! 

Before starting the journey, driver smartly announced that any kind of eatables are prohibited inside the bus :(. This ended up me waiting to eat food till the bus driver stopping bus somewhere and giving us chance to have food outside the bus! My Ghanchakkar experience always follow me wherever go!!
Driver stopped first at Churchill Island , its a pictorial small heritage island. I fell in love with the place the moment I stepped down from the bus! Again I forgot to eat till the time I boarded the bus again to continue our journey towards Phillip Island! It was around 4 pm and still I was deprived of food :(!! Its not at all good for my hard earned Fat :)

Our next stoppage was at Koala conservation center in Phillip Island. I determined that before I start journey again from there I will have my food! But same thing happened. I again got lost in the world of Koalas and Wallabies and missed the chance of taking my lunch ended up having only an apple before bus starts!

 I found one interesting information about Koalas there. Koalas sleep almost 20 hours a day! Now I feel I have some competition in this area :( :(!

Ultimately we reached penguin parade visitor center in Phillip island around 6.30 pm. At last I finally got chance to have some food intake so that I can be alive to witness penguin coming out of the sea!! The scene of cute penguins emerging out of sea every sunset and marching ahead towards their burrows was absolutely delight.

The cameras are prohibited inside the visitor gallery of Penguin Parade. They gave reason to us that camera flashes make penguins go blind. A blind penguin can not survive and dies soon! I am sharing few photos which I downloaded from net though. Hope they have taken these photos using night vision cameras without hampering cute penguin's life!

The Little Penguin is the world’s smallest penguin and found only in southern hemisphere of the world. One interesting fact I found related to these penguins which I unnoticed until I read about it. We all are aware popular operating system LINUX!! Have you noticed it's logo? Yes,it's little penguin!

It is said that Linus Torvalds, the original creator of Linux was once bitten by a Little Penguin while on holiday in Australia! This encouraged him to keep this little penguin as official logo of operating system he created!!

I would recommend this place for every tourist coming to visit Melbourne. Its worth to spend a day on Phillip Island and pack life long memories of these little fairies! If you are looking out for an economical but still comfortable trip then day tours operated from many tourist companies from Melbourne City are most convenient and good value for money. All in all it was a good start to my exploring mission in Australia!! Hope I get more such cherishing memories to share here!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Glimpse of Dravidian Politics...[God's Own Country-3]

State Assembly elections fever was in full swing when we were passing by tiny roads of Kerala. We could see big campaign posters of various political parties at almost each and every corner of roads. I could observe crowd hailing their local political super heroes during election rallies.

Above scene described was becoming very common once we left Munnar and Thekkady and were proceeding towards Alleppy, Kovalam and last but not the least Kanyakumari. All these 3 cities are located in plain areas and with moderate or dense population. Henceforth the luxury of soothing climate of Munnar and Thekkady was out of question here. Awkwardness of Extreme heat and humid climate was taking tall on all of us.

Frankly speaking I literally didn’t found any special thing in Alleppy for which so much hype is created in media. As we all know Alleppy is projected as one of prime tourist spot where one can relish back water in houseboats and get lost in god’s own country. But in reality I found Alleppy a stinky place where one has to spend entire day in stinking house boat and back water.

No matter how much ever luxurious house boat you book , the hell like stinking smell of stagnant back waters remain in your nostril throughout the day in Alleppy. This is not only my observation but all who had visited this place would agree to this experience to some extent. Even few local friends of mine who hail from Kerala they agreed to this reality of Alleppy.

If one really wants to cherish pleasure of backwater I would suggest using motor boat or shikara boat and spending entire day at Poovar rather than in Alleppy. Poovar is a small coastal town near Trivandrum district of Kerala and indeed far better place to relinquish beauty of Back waters here.
Somehow good experience at Kovalam and Kanyakumari compensated my grief of Alleppy though later. The peaceful Triveni sangam and Meditation hall at Vivekananda rock memorial of KanyaKumari took away all agony and anxiety. Colourful and amazing sunset and sunrise at Kovalam brought sunshine back in life and that was how I forgot one exceptional place Alleppy which I didn’t enjoy much in Kerala.

I had very interesting conversation with my driver on last day of our trip.

Driver: Madam what super Kerala or Tamilnadu?

Me: I liked Kerala much..And apart from Kanyakumari I have not seen Tamilnadu much so can’t decide though!

Driver: Me Tamilnadu super Madam...In Kerala rice 20 rupees, in Tamilnadu rice 2 rupees Kg!!

I was stunned by his observation. In only one sentence he clearly gave picture of political gamut and difference in two states. Mr.Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha definitely rock amongst common men with their election freebie bandwagon tactics!!!!

I found one uncanny similiarity between him and me. I was also lured by media hype about Alleppy, took special care that I do not miss out this place from my itinerary. Clearly media hype can sometime mislead and misguide your likings, two live examples...I did like Alleppy before visiting it and my driver liked Tamilnadu over Kerala!

Obviously our poor driver was unaware of how this freebie tactics is killing Tamilnadu’s economy. Who will make him understand that this is nothing but corrupt electoral malpractice? Need of one more Anna Hazare revolution may be required to open up eyes of common men in South India. Concluding with the interesting write-up on Dravidian Politics found it on Thought provoking indeed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Munnar Anytime.....Every time! [God's Own Country-2]

Munnar Anytime.....Every time! This line I found somewhere on net when I was trying to collect as much as information on tourist places in Kerala before my planned visit in January 2011. What a place it is! After visiting Munnar really I found this line truest to its meaning.

Munnar, a small hill station located at altitude of 6000 ft in Idukki district of Kerala; merely 4-5 hours drive from Cochin Airport. Once you have visited this place you simply cannot forget its breathtaking ever expanding tea estates, various hydra projects’ tourism spots and sanctuaries. A fresh air filled with aroma of Spice to add up in to the list. In short a gateway to relaxing and rejuvenating destination.

This is the place where first time I saw a cardamom plant ever in my life! As we all know Cardamom is termed as Queen of Spices! Our driver took special interest and tried to explain us entire process of how cardamom is dried up and sold in market once it is harvested from plant. But to our irony of understanding his kind of Malayalam English we hardly understood a bit of it.

So after coming back from the trip I had to Google about the same. I must say it is quite long a process this queen of spices undertakes before getting into shape! Whoever is interested can find initial information from links as follows:

Following is few bits and pieces of information of the places or facts which I liked the most here.

Eravikulam National Park

The Western Ghats, Anamalai Sub-Cluster, including all of Eravikulam National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.

26 species of mammals have been recorded in the park including the largest surviving population of Nilgiri Tahr (mountain goat), estimated at about 750 in number. IF you are lucky enough then you will be able to see one of them. I must confess luck was not in favor of mine so I couldn’t see any of them! You can also view Anamudi mountain peak which is the highest point in India outside the Himalaya-Karakoram mountain range from this national park.

Six mini-buses are operated by park staff as part of the visitor-management program as well as a pollution-control measure. Private vehicles are not allowed within the park. INR 35 is charged per head as an entry fee for Indian nationals. Foreign nationals are charged INR 200 per head.

Tea Plantations:

‘Taza Ho le.....’ yes you guessed it right, this is the tag line of TATA Tea advertisements on TV now a days! How apt it is...your inner self will be full of renewed and refreshing energy when you are passing by these breathtaking tea plantations in Munnar. I would suggest it is better to hire a two wheeler bike from local vendors in Munnar town to visit these plantations. Generally at rent of Rs. 300 per day bikes are available. The feel will be entirely different and more enjoyable if you roam around in Munnar in a two wheeler rather than a Car.

Neelakurinji Flowers

Neelakurinji a flower which paints the hills in blue colour once in twelve years in month of August to December. The Neelakurinji, was blossomed last in 2006. Yes I missed it that time but again next year i.e. 2012 I have a chance to see them blooming. I am not fool enough to miss that one so Kerala this Ghanchakkar will come again in 2012 be prepared!!!!

Apart from above there are places like Mattupetty dam, Top station, Echo point which you can visit and get lost in serenity of Munnar! Hope I can visit this place anytime and everytime I visit Kerala!!!
Friday, February 25, 2011

God's Own Country-1

Recently I got chance to visit Kerala. What a trip it was...! A break much needed for all of us. I have so many things to share from my Kerala trip. I will narrate in parts this time and try to bring some unique flavours of Kerala god’s own country!

Glimpse of beautiful Kerala started as soon as we arrived at Cochin Airport. Airport is having traditional Kerala architecture outlook. Most prominent feature in Kerala’s architecture is its gabled roofs. The moment I arrived in parking area south Indian scene was totally set. Men wearing Mundus [White dhoti...Traditional Kerala attire for men]..... Ladies with lots of flowers in their hair.....ahhhh south Indian flavour everywhere setting mood of the trip!

I had hired cab from which was going to be with us for our entire Kerala trip. One of the biggest worry which was occupying my mind while I was planning for the trip was concern to have cab driver who can speak either Hindi or English to avoid any communication hassles. Still my Chile trip and my adventure with Spanish language during those trips were totally fresh in my mind! I never wanted to go through same situation again. I had given call and reminded the tour operator minimum 10 times for arranging a Hindi / English speaking driver for our trip; still I was not confident that I would get the driver perfect!

As they say what we think same we get! Same thing happened to me also. My doubt came into reality and our cab driver named Saiju hardly knew any English words :). Hindi language was totally out of scope for him!!That was the First puncture in my so called over excited wagon wheel of the Kerala trip. In my own country also I was in same situation which I faced in Chile! Why Why Why me always! :(. Again I would have to depend on sign language more rather than spoken language in order to communicate with this fellow. I never wanted to experiment on sign language again due to backlog of my horrifying experiences in Chile for the same.

Here comes my mother’s first instruction for me before entering the car: “Hetal order driver, not to play any south Indian songs!” I couldn’t stop laughing as our Madurai trip resurfaced in my memory lane! Hmmm...Mothers can never forget you know! Somehow I managed driver to agree my mother’s terms and condition. Finally our journey started from Cochin to Munnar.

Munnar is a hill station located around 135 kms from Cochin. It takes 4-5 hours drive by road to reach Munnar from Cochin. After almost 2 hours drive my mother triggered a funny conversation.

My Mother:”How big this Cochin City is Hetal? See we have started from airport for last 2 hours and still continuously on both sides of road we are seeing residential buildings. Ask driver when we will reach highway and when this city will end? “

I tried my level best to make Saiju the driver understand query of my mother! And you know this time I succeeded in that. Yuppie....I also do learn and improve upon my weakness!

Here is Saiju’s answer: “Madam, this no Cochin, 4 cities over. This national highway. Kerala chota road, chota city, near city!

In short he wanted to tell that Cochin city got over long back. After Cochin City we had crossed another 3 cities and now we are going through 4th city! We never realised it! In Kerala all cities or towns are very much connected to each other, hardly we could find out that now one city is over and another city/town has started. We are used to seeing a huge empty plain land and farms between two cities which clearly demarks the boundaries. But here we found almost all towns or villages in Kerala are totally inter connected with hardly any demarcation between them! Wish our international borders also become like this one day!

The road which my mother was naming as city’s internal small road actually turned out to be a National Highway! We couldn’t believe that for a while and thought that this driver is joking! But after some time I saw a sign board of national highway which proved that Saiju was correct. We were indeed on National Highway which was hardly 8-9 feet wide! In spite of such narrow highways or roads, we never observed any traffic chaos or accidents anywhere in our 9 days road trip. Simply Smooth and silky journey! One of the reasons to make me fall in eternal love with this god’s own country!
Friday, December 10, 2010

Masti @ Matheran

One of the lazy week end…decided to spend in Matheran along with my friends. Turned out to be a nice refreshing weekend thanks to calm and peaceful Matheran. Matheran is the smallest hill station of India, located around 90 kms from Mumbai, on the Western Ghats range at an elevation of around 800 m (2,625 feet) above sea level. Matheran is connected by toy train to the mainline rail route at Neral Junction. Neral Junction is well connected by local trains from Mumbai and Pune.

From Neral Railway Junction even sharing taxis are available which charge Rs.60 per person and drop till Dasturi Car Park. Dasturi Car Park is the point beyond which no vehicles are allowed to reach Matheran town.We preferred to walk  for 3 km from Dasturi park till Matheran Town.

Our walk through red dusty pathways was although tiresome [due to layers of fat on our bodies!!:) Indeed it was just amazing. Matheran is popular amongst trekkers. All trails in Matheran are well marked. So if you decide to explore the place by walk also getting around is not so difficult in Matheran.

 Matheran is an eco-sensitive region, declared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. It is one of the few places in the world where vehicles are not allowed. This is the uniqueness of the place, makes you feel like you are again part of historic era where you have no vehicles around. If you want to roam around the place you either walk or hire a pony/ hand pulled rickshaws.

There are so many Parsi heritage bungalows which are converted into Heritage hotels or resorts in Matheran.  Most of them have head office in Mumbai from where booking can be made in advance. Even so many tourist agencies are there just outside Neral Railway station for people like us who do not do advance booking of hotelsJ.

No noise pollution of honking horns or no air pollution – in short divinely peaceful place where you just get lost in serenity of natural surroundings.  You listen sweet songs of birds when you get up from bed; wherever you see around you find dense green forest and soothing smell. All in all a paradise to be in. An ideal place to spend a lazy week end.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Atithi Devo Bhavah...

Recently I had a chance to visit Adalaj ni Vav near Ahmedabad during holidays of Janmashtami. To give brief about this place, the term ‘Adalaj ni Vav’ is gujarati word  which means ‘A step well of Adalaj’. It is a master piece of magnanimous Indian architecture of Ancient Indian era. Adalaj is small town located near by city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat –India. One can easily reach through Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway route by road within 30 minutes from Ahmedabad. This step well was built in 1499 A.D. by Queen Rudabai. It is said that following its construction (which took 15 years) the entire workforce was killed-off to prevent any rival ruler or realm from replicating its work. 

When I entered premises of this step well in 2010 I was astonished by its cleanliness!! My eyes could not believe that this is the same rotten place which I visited along with my friends during my College days way back in 2004-05.

This was the scene at same Adalaj ni Vav in 2004-05. Although stone carvings of the well impressed us but pile of garbage kept here and there inside and outside Step Well’s premises depressed us at the same time. Most of the tourists whoever had visited this place earlier had put their name with charcoal here and there on walls of the Well. Also so many wrappers of empty food packets and beverages were lying inside the premises. Ugly act of few idiotic people’s urge to make their name remembered forever by writing their names on walls was spoiling the marvellous beauty of the Well.

Why people do think that by writing their names on wall of historic monument they will become eternal? Or rather I believe that’s the only way those stupid people know to make count on their names. They lack any other skill to get noticed in people’s eye otherwise!! Whatever it may be but as a tourist to that magnificent historic place of India we were not at all happy to look all this ugliness.

But what a paradigm shift in 2010!!! Here I go again to the same place; to my surprise the premise out side the well was neatly cleaned and maintained. There was a decent garden made outside the well for people to rest and enjoy with family. Inside the well all those idiotic names and funny jokes were wiped out from each corner and wall.

There was only sheer beauty of stone carvings and architecture of the Well in front of my eyes. Being a Janmashtami holiday there were few tourists also inside the premises around 100 of them. But at no place I found single peace of waste garbage. People were calmly roaming around the place and enjoying the scenic beauty of the well. What a drastic and positive change in 5 years!! I was very happy to see at least one historic tourist place in India getting back to its glorious well deserved respect amongst tourist.

I know still there is much more left to be done like proper parking arrangements are not there or decent hotel/ restaurant facilities also absent. But still The step well premises and its internal beauty is well preserved now.. and I was so proud to look it in this shape…

While coming back I was thinking about this facelift of the Adalaj ni vav. How and who would have made this to happen. So many probable reasons came in my mind which may be driving force behind this paradigm shift.
  1. May be it was due to recent visit of Amitabh Bachhan and his shoot for Gujarat tourism Advertisement. All employees of tourism department of Gujarat would have gone there and put their force in full fledge to clean this premises out and put it back to its previous glory. But I visited this place many days after that shooting happened and the gap of few days is enough to make that place dirty again with kind of inflow of local tourists it gets everyday…
  1. May be it was due to Aamir khan’s Advertisement ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ for Tourism department of India. He has inspired common people in real sense and which has lead to generate awareness, respect and sensitivity towards our very own historic places amongst common man. 
  2. Or may be Generation Next of India our very own Youngistan has matured enough to exhibit self discipline to preserve such historic tourist places by them selves.
Whatever may be the reason but an avid tourist I would like to see such kind of paradigm shift at every place in all over India so that together we can make and vouch for ‘ATULYA BHARAT’. At the end I would like to share one link with you all which is created by Ministry of tourism I really don’t know how effective it is but such a thought itself is driving us towards new beginning of the partnership of common people and government towards positive and Impressive India if we can really make it work and implement in true sense….