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Travelogue

Why Travel


This is why I travel...

Travel makes you humble
Travel introduces you to you
Travel makes you realise that
The planet we live in is truly beautiful!





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My Kolkata Experiences 

The taxi driver who mugged me

View from inside a Kolkata cab

Whenever someone mentions about the "streets of Kolkata", I get reminded of a street full of vehicles and a rhythm-less blasting background music of honking. About 60-70% of those vehicles are the signature black and yellow ambassador taxis of Kolkata (of course it depends on the area and time of the day). I have travelled by many such taxis when I was living in this City of Joy. Travelling by these taxis definitely exposes you to pollution, dust, traffic smoke, innumerable germs that feast and marvel on the seats and interiors of the taxi, beggars at traffic signals, and of course the intolerable omnipresent heat and humidity. These taxis have no air conditioning. You should thank your stars if you get a clean taxi or if the glass of the windows can be rolled down by the lever. 
After travelling by taxi few times I became immune to these things. But what I am going to share here is probably one of the most shocking and shaking experiences of my life. It is definitely on top of the list of worst things happened to me in Kolkata (thankfully the list is not so long).
Somewhere near Boi Bazaar, Kolkata
It was a Monday. I have this uncanny ability to get late for work on Mondays for which I hurriedly take a taxi to make it to work on time. That day was no exception. I boarded the taxi and sat on the left corner of the back seat. When it was time to get down, to pay the cabbie the fare of Rs. 120, I took out a 500 rupee note and gave it to the driver. Even though I told him to stop the taxi at a dropping zone, he drove a little forward and stopped at a bus stand. To avoid any traffic snarl because of my stopping there I was in a hurry to get down. I waited for a while for him to take out the change for the 500 rupee note. I noticed him doing nothing. I asked him for the change. He said, "You are supposed to give me 20 rupees more". I said, "But why? I just gave you 500 rupees and the fare is just 120!". He lifted his left hand (in India we have right hand driving) with which he took my 500 and showed me a 100 rupee note. He adamantly said that I gave him that hundred rupee note only. Though in disbelieve, I thought, may be I made a mistake! I gave him another 20 rupee note and got off the taxi and went to my office. While in the lift, I was still in disbelief regarding the 500 rupee turning into a 100 rupee note. Entering office, I sat on my seat, took out my purse and realised that I actually gave him a 500 rupee note! It was the taxi driver's trick on me that he cleverly showed me a 100 rupee note and made it believable. My ears became red and eyes peeled in disbelieve! I was flabbergasted realising how I got mugged just like that early in the morning! I could not believe that had happened to me! I told my colleagues and they were shocked too! 
About a week later, the same thing happened to a lady colleague of mine. She was in a hurry to get down too! I realised how these thieves loot you in broad daylight by taking advantage of your being in a hurry. They cleverly stop the vehicle at a place where it is not a dropping zone. Vehicles from behind honk at the taxi for stopping at such a busy spot. To avoid further embarrassment, you try to get out of the car to let it go and ease the traffic snarl.
The lesson I learnt here is: 
1. Never give the taxi drivers big denomination of notes
2. Make them stop at a proper dropping zone ONLY
3. Be absolutely alert and present at the moment while paying the taxi drivers
4. Never let the driver know that you are in a hurry.
Personally I still like Kolkata as a city to live in. This is one of the very few incidences that was really unpleasant. If you are alert and attentive, you will be fine.

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Sex and Shopping in Siam (now Bangkok)

Suvarnabhumi Airport - Bangkok

Sex and shopping - this in general defines a trip to Bangkok for most. For male tourists seeking an outlet of their sexual fantasies, Bangkok is like a heaven on earth. Starting from the Booboo bars and pole dance girls of Pattaya to the paradise of many sensual massages in Bangkok, you can find everything you fancy in Thailand. This was about the male fantasies and possibilities for a male sex tourist.


You must be thinking now, why should female tourists go there at all! Well, while your male counterpart enjoys his day out in the sin city, you can fulfill your girlie desires in the form of shopping, styling and pampering in the exotic spas. Bangkok is a shopper’s heaven too! Starting from MBK Center to the massive Terminal 21 to the cute little floating market, you can explore, try out and shop till you literally drop. What more exciting are the amazing foot reflexology outlets inside shopping malls? Once your feet give up and you need to stop the shop hopping, just drop your bags by the side of those lazy boy chairs and put your feet up. They will be attended to so well that you would be completely rejuvenate for round two of shopping.


While enjoying these pleasures of life, your stomach may also seek some attention. Try something new. Cuisines of the entire world are available in Thailand. Just walk around wherever you are in Thailand and you are bound to find a restaurant of your preferred cuisine. Read the five must try food of Thailand.


A few pointers to brace yourself for the Thailand trip.

  • Keep enough time in hand while commuting, especially to and from the airport. Thailand gets bad traffic jams everywhere and every day.
  • Be safe while visiting massage parlours. STDs may easily spread if you are not careful.
  • Bargain, bargain, bargain.
  • Pick up some unique products for home decor. They are cheap and classy.
  • A good place to buy sex toys.
  • Go to the Patpong Night Market for some good stuff. You may start your bargain with half of the price the sellers quote first.
  • Must carry a good sun tan lotion and umbrella.
  • Keep drinking water frequently to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Bargain even while hiring a tuktuk. 



Must visit weekend destinations from Bangkok:

  • Pattaya - While in Pattaya, do take a walk on the Walking Street and you would know why I recommended it. Do not forget to take a boat ride to the Coral Island nearby. It’s a fun place to spend the day.
  • Koh Samui - If you want to get away from it all and take it easy, just hop in on a flight to Koh Samui and laze by the many unspoilt beaches.
  • Phuket - Very touristy but fun.
Now, what if you are not interested in either sex tourism or in shopping? What do you do in Thailand?

There are plenty of things you can do. For the adventure seekers, there are a plethora of adventure sport options in almost all the major tourist spots in and around Thailand.

If you are seeking something different, visit the historical places and breath-taking Buddha temples. Do visit the king's palace in the heart of Bangkok city. Whether you like shopping or not, you must visit the Floating Market situated at a distance of two hours’ drive from Bangkok. Do note the many large salt fields on both sides of the road.

Floating Market - Bangkok

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I could kill to live in Adelaide - Forever.

Yes, the title of this blog exactly expresses my feeling for Adelaide. And I am sure you want to know the “whys” of it. So, here they are:

The view from our hotel room. That's Adelaide Oval Stadium in the Centre of the pic
My very first feeling after landing at the Adelaide Airport was very comforting. Reaching down at the luggage area, I saw a long and wide area with a few conveyer belts and very few people (something I love about Australia). It was a compact airport where people could come to receive their near and dear ones right near the luggage belts. We were to be received by a chauffeur from Stamford Plaza Hotel, Adelaide. Our chauffeur was waiting for us near the conveyer belt where our flight’s luggage was to arrive He greeted us and lets us collect our bags. We took our individual suitcases and headed towards the car. And guess what? I was super thrilled to see the first thing I saw the moment we came out of the airport. It was the huge sign that allures me every time I see it, regardless of where I am and what I am doing. It’s IKEA! (My love for IKEA is well known among my friends now and that love for IKEA l is surely going to make another blog post altogether). Yes, there was a huge IKEA store right in front of the airport and I immediately added it to my “to do” list in Adelaide if time permitted. 
IKEA Adelaide Airport, Australia
The car was a sleek sedan complete with a few glossy magazines in the back pocket of the front seat; two bottles of mineral water and mildly fragrant wet tissues. The comfort level went up several  notches immediately. The driver/chauffeur was a middle aged gentleman dressed in a black suit, white shirt and a maroon bow tie. He started his car with small talk, anecdotes and trivia of the city turning the drive to the hotel to an interesting one. He introduced us to many establishments, shops, houses, roads, gardens etc. on the way to the hotel. He also told us about the who’s who of the Australian Cricket team, on who stayed there and those who have done great things for Adelaide. 

While listening to the chauffeur, I often drifted away in my world of thoughts, seeing the perfect sidewalks, the bungalows with picture perfect gardens, entrance gates with blooming creepers of different colours,  swanky cars parked under fairy tale lookalike garages and so on. Small girls with lacy frocks and pink ribbons walking on the sidewalks holding their mother’s hand, small cosy-looking bakeries with beautiful entrances, manicured and landscaped gardens, all made me feel l I was in a beautiful dream. The “oh so British” houses, castle like bungalows and a few more departmental stores and sports shops later, we reached our hotel. The hotel was beautiful, very welcoming and home-like. My home, if I was English, would have looked like this. Yes, it was a five star hotel but the d├ęcor of the room made us feel at home instantly. I was so excited that I was ready to go out and explore the city immediately after checking in in the hotel! The concierge of the hotel was very helpful and they suggested us to take the free tourist metro tram if we did not have any specific itinerary. We did as suggested and we got down at Rundle Mall area. It came as a surprise to us that everything was closed even though it was just a little past 5 pm. Later we were informed that everything closes at 5 pm in Adelaide. Amazing! So, this became our thumb rule during the rest of our stay. If we wanted to go shopping, we had to make it in the first half of the day itself. Though the shops were closed, the decoration of the area was so much fun! The New Year Eve was just over and they had not taken the decorations out yet. Some of the decorations were from the Christmas celebrations too, making the area exciting and very colourful.

Having our fill in the Randal Mall area, we took the metro tram again and we had no idea where we were headed. A drunk/mad (?) person got into the tram too and nobody was willing to sit with him as he was talking something without stopping even to take breath. When we first took the tram, it was almost empty. So, there was no problem in sitting sparingly. However, the tram started to get crowded after a few more stations. To our surprise, a ticket checker came and asked for tickets from everyone. We were told this tram was free! Trapped! But without getting nervous, we told the ticket checker that we were told by our concierge that this was a free tourist tram service and we didn’t need to buy a ticket. We would, of course, if required, buy tickets now and/or pay the charges. The ticket checker patted our back and asked us not to worry as this tram was free till the end of the town and only after the last town station tickets were required. He also suggested that we could get down at the last station of the town and take a tram back to the hotel. Phew! Were we relieved?! We thanked him and got down at the last town station. 
Crossing the tram line to take the return tram, we waited and waited and waited, reading almost all the signboards available for some information about the return tram. The two of us saw two more trams coming from the city and going to the suburbs. But there was none so far, even after almost 45 minutes, which would go back to the city! To our surprise, we found out from one of the last signs we read that the last tram to the city leaves at 6.20 pm and it was already 7.10 pm! Why didn’t we ask any of the passengers or any person in the station? Because there were none! Yes, people were rare and few! Though it was still sunny with the sun yet to set in, we figured out that we had missed the last tram. So, next stop, to hire a taxi and go back to the hotel. We stood by the side of the road and many tries later, a handsome gentleman with his sparkling white taxi stopped for us.
On our way back to the city, we were taken through a beautiful open garden area filled with colourful birds and children playing in the ground. We were hungry and asked if there is a place to eat. My partner and friend wanted to have Indian (yes, regardless of where we are, my guy wants to have only Indian food) and I was going to be okay with anything non-spicy and non-oily. The cabbie took us to the quintessential area of every big city – the Chinatown. He also guided us to the hotel (yes, a very nice gentleman), which was just a little walk away from the Chinatown area. We found an Indian restaurant in Chinatown but the menu screamed spices and oil. Some people may find it strange/funny/awkward, but yes, I decided to go to the next door Chinese restaurant and we both ate our favourite food in two different restaurants.

A gate to enter the Chinatown Market in Adelaide
Post dinner we walked to our hotel recalling and enjoying every bit of the adventure that we had that day.
Next day, we were headed for the Barosa Valley tour. I am not a morning person but I still do not realise what got over me that day. Don’t know if it was the comfort of the hotel or the beauty of the city but I was all showered, clothed and ready at 6.15 in the morning to catch the bus from the hotel lobby! This makes for another travel story itself. Watch this space.

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Love at first sight - Australia

Sydney Opera House
Yes, I know it’s been a few days already and it’s high time I wrote about my trip to Down Under. Many of my blog readers, who are also some of my great friends, are shouting at me for not writing about my trip to Australia yet.

The road in Kangaroo Island
The reason I wasn't posting anything was just one - my confusion on where to start! When the heart is full words are few and my trip of 20 days in OZ has definitely filled my heart. More so, because we went on a well-researched trip (by my partner) minus any annoying tour agent who treats you like a herd of animals.
There cannot be a better teacher than travel itself. Traveling has enriched my life in many ways. However, this 20 days’ vacation trip to Australia has changed me as a person. In many ways, my priorities have changed. Australia has taught me how to celebrate life and celebrate being alive.

Somewhere with the guiding light
This trip to Down Under will always remain as one of my most cherished trips - also because, I have done some of the things for the first time in my life here. This has helped me tick off a few of the “to dos” from my “must do before I die” list. These include celebrating New Year Eve at Sydney Harbour, seeing Uluru, helicopter ride, taking a cruise in the Pacific Ocean and snorkelling.

Our journey started on December 31, 2011 in Sydney. New Year Eves have always been very important for me. Call me “typical” but I do believe that if you start the year well, it will go well. I was getting tired of the usual good food for dinner, some TV and bursting of crackers at midnight routine for last few years. 2012 had to be different. We wanted to go somewhere. After considering a few options, we decided to welcome the New Year by going to the New Year (read: to welcome it before it actually reaches our country) in Sydney.

The crowd at Sydney Harbour
Australia was always a mystery for me, a country that is so far away from the rest of the world and we knew so little about it, except the unbelievably strong cricket team, Uluru and kangaroos! The moment I landed in Sydney, it was a series of surprises for me. Being a country in the Southern Hemisphere, it was to be hot as hell there in December and we were prepared for the summer in OZ. But to our surprise, it was cooler than the winter in Mumbai. Thankfully we had “just in case” jackets with us and we were saved. Even though we took a thirteen hours halt in Singapore, the eight hours flight to Sydney took a toll on us. We wanted to go to the hotel and take a nap so that the body clock gets confused (or cheated) to adjust to the new time zone we were in. Moreover, we had a ballroom cruise to take on the Sydney Harbour that evening to celebrate the New Year Eve. 

Happy New Year! ;)
We had reservation at Hotel Radisson Blu in Sydney. So from the airport, we headed to the hotel and slept for some time. As the suggested cruise boarding time approached, we got ready for the evening and went to the Kingston Wharf to board the Majestic Cruise Line. The crowd, the atmosphere at the wharf and the enthusiasm of the people, especially those who were reserving seats at the bank since 12 noon were absolutely overwhelming. A little effort later, we found our ship and boarded the cruise of a lifetime!
What a great way to start the 2012! I couldn’t have asked for more!



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A Day in Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG)

Watching a match in a stadium is addictive. No screen, regardless of its size, can give you the satisfaction, thrill and excitement of watching a match in a stadium. It is a sin if you are in the same city where an amazing match is scheduled and you are not a part of the real audience. On January 3, 2012, we were in Sydney, and yes, you got me right. There was no excuse good enough to not witness the cricket match between Australia and India where Sachin Tendulkar was playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground or SCG.
On that day, we went to SCG to watch Sachin play. Immediately after getting down from the cab in front of the Gate A of SCG, we saw Brat Lee and Ricky Ponting. Handsome Lee was inside the gate to our left giving an interview shoot. I immediately wanted to take a pic but by the time I take out the camera, he had left to talk to a group of people standing right behind. Anyway, we walked towards gate E to enter the pavilion. The moment we entered, it was like a trance. I was super thrilled to see the Indian flag all around, Indian people with Indian jerseys and dholak and drums and all kinds of ‘bajaas’ shouting with that typical stadium tone — Indiaaaaa...India! Oh what an overwhelming feeling it was! There were few boys from the Swami Army holding a banner which had Sachin Cricket Ground written on it instead of Sydney Cricket Ground and that immediately got thumbs up from me. I couldn’t help taking a picture of that and with them; I started cheering for India much before reaching Bay 12 where we had our seats. After a few overs and three wickets, the little master entered the ground.
Even though, generally I would sum up Australia as a non-racist country, but I did feel a wee bit of racism in some places during my 20 days trip to this country. What fascinated me here in the Sydney Cricket Ground was that the racism was nowhere to be seen. How sports bind people! So many whites were supporting the Indian team cheering for India with the Indians. There were Indians who were supporting Aussies too.
Here, I saw how Sachin Tendulkar is beyond religion, country and race. The respect and love he commands is unimaginable. The entire cricket ground stood up to welcome him to the ground. My heart was filled with pride. Still Sachin is such a humble person. A true sportsman!
The Indian pavilion (because there were mostly Indians in this pavilion) was an experience in itself. The NRIs, despite living in one of the most liveable cities in the world, Sydney, shouted Indian slogans like Bharat mata ki jai, hum hongey kaamyaab, Indiaaaaaaa India and so on. Songs like “Baar baar haan bolo yaar haan, apni jeet ho, unki haar haan,” “oye oye, oye oho-a”, “jhumma chumma de de” made the entire atmosphere so much fun! I couldn’t stop laughing listening to those oldies and the passion the boys were singing it with. Whenever there was a close escape of an Indian batsman, the audience at our pavilion would sing “all is well”...and that was really reassuring in the game or so did I think. When Virat Kohli was batting, every few minutes, someone was shouting “Kohli ke peeche kya hai, Kohli ke peeche”.... and then, when it was Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s turn to bat, there they go again singing a dedicated song for Dhoni, a.k.a. Mahi. It was predictably the song called “mahi ve”. Lol! It was funny and very very sweet at the same time!

One more thing I have noticed is that people here enjoy the match whole heartedly. They come prepared with food, drinks, clappers, sun screens, sun hats, shades, placards for every situation and everything you can think of. All these are available inside the stadium campus as well. When Sachin got out without making his 100th 100, we were a little disappointed and hence, decided to leave. But the time we spent in the Sydney Cricket Ground will always be a special experience in my life - forever.

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Solo Singapore

On October 18, this year, I had to go to Singapore to attend the ITB Asia travel conference representing our travel magazine. ITB Asia is the biggest travel trade show in Asia and a must visit for everyone in the travel industry. This is an ideal platform to network, make contacts and do business. I was glad to get this opportunity as I had never been to Singapore and really wanted to attend ITB Asia myself.
The concerned colleagues started to speed up the process of ticketing, hotel booking and visa procedures, as I needed to travel in three days. By evening I gathered all the information on ITB and my tickets were sent to my inbox by our official travel agent. The next three days, media and press meet invitations and conference RSVPs from ITB Asia participants kept flooding my inbox. My list of “to dos” was getting longer. 
Indian Passport
My flight was at 11.05 pm on Monday. I cooked, wound up, packed, locked the house and started for Mumbai International Airport. Whisking through all the checks and formalities I sat in the plane. After making myself comfortable, I suddenly started to get a panic attack. I felt a little scared, thinking, in five hours, I will be in a totally unknown place with absolute unknown people and all by myself. God! Butterflies started to flutter inside my stomach. But, yes, I do like this feeling of uncertainty and the thrill of going to an unknown place. Bring it on, I said to myself.
I usually don’t get sleep anywhere other than my bed. An exception is a first class train compartment. Since there was no sign of my getting sleep, I read a bit, watched some TV in the kingfisher in-flight entertainment system and nibbled on the snacks given. When the lights were dimmed, I made another attempt to sleep. But I couldn't. The air hostess gave me an arrival slip which was to be filled in and submitted at the immigration counter on arrival. I filled it up immediately, thinking it would be a good time pass. Well, people around me started to snore. So I switched off my reading light and seriously tried to make myself sleep. 
The islands below while I fly the good times
I must have slept for an hour in total, on and off. It was around 5 am (Singapore time) and I could see clouds outside. I was told that you can expect rain anytime of the day in Singapore. I tried to see beyond the clouds and down below. The view of some islands and ships with lights on made me feel good. I am hydrophobic and really get scared if I see a lot of water around. But I was in a place now where there is water everywhere and I was feeling okay. I thanked God for being kind to me.
Lights in the flight were put on. The hostess announced the descend and everyone woke up. A commotion of getting ready, straightening the chair backs and putting the window shades up filled the craft. I was getting ready with my passport and arrival slip on hand. The airhostess announced that transporting drugs is a punishable offence in Singapore and the punishment is death. Dude! I thought what if the paracetamols I was carrying for migraine headaches are called drugs here! 
Yes, the lovelies
Everybody deplaned and went through the  immigration process. To collect baggage the passengers had to take a sky train to the next level of the airport and I did exactly that. After the baggage collection, I came out of the exit, bought a local SIM card, withdrew some Singapore dollars from an ATM and I was good to go to my hotel at Carpenter Street. There were plenty of candy coloured taxis waiting outside the exit gate. I hired one and I was ready for Singapore!
Now, on my way to the city of Singapore, the first thing I wanted to write home about was — “if you want to know how many colours bougainvillea can have, visit Singapore”. The sinfully neat and perfect to the tee roads; swanky foreign cars, the ships on my left and the possibilities in the horizon; the manicured sidewalks and lush greenery, all these made me feel good instantly. 

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Solo Singapore - Part 2

The three days of the rigorous ITB Asia Convention left me tired and exhausted. The massive exhibitions in the three large halls of the Suntec Convention Center concluded successfully and I came back to my hotel room with considerable feet pain. All thanks to the continuous meetings, visits to each and every booth,   multiple press conferences and the need for a lot of networking. But, at the end of the event I felt satisfied at a job good done. While I enjoyed the opportunity of interacting with  the top notch travel professionals around the world, the high point and undoubtedly the most enriching experience was my meeting  the Secretary General of UNWTO Mr Taleb Rifai. The Editor-in-Chief of the Travel and Leisure magazine Chris Kucway inspired me to aim higher in my profession. His poise, skills in anchoring an event, discussion and his thorough knowledge left me spellbound. I was thankful to my employers for giving me the opportunity to attend one of the major events of the world tourism industry.
Mr Taleb Rifai giving his speech in the press conference
At the end of the event, media delegates were given passes to visit Sentosa (Sentosa is an island nearby). With two days of the weekend to explore the city of Singapore, I booked my pass for Sunday. I wanted to see Singapore first and what better way than to take the Hippo Bus City Tour! The Hippo Bus City Tour is a tour of Singapore on a roofless double decker bus and it has four routes. You can pick the one you are most interested in. The main hub of bus tours was just by the side of the main lobby of Suntec Convention Center. I hopped into one of the many double decker roofless busses that waited there. The lady driver asked me if I needed a day pass or just that single tour. I opted for the single tour, as I had no intention of getting down and wasting time. I wanted to see it first and know the routes. 

The Hippo Bus I was in.
The moment the bus started the in-bus audio system started and a handsome voice welcomed all the boarders in the bus. One by one the audio system, now to be our virtual guide, began to explain the attractions appearing on our right and left, as we made our way. I was amazed by the seamless synchronisation it had with the stops, traffic signals and sites of tourist importance. Starting from Suntec, we went through the city roads, reached the Formula1 racing ground, the Singapore Flyer and the Skypark on Marina Bay Sands. The skypark has always fascinated me ever since I saw the programme on Discovery Channel. Oh what a feat! A man-made marvel!

Singapore Flyer
The bus, continuing its journey and the synchronised iTour, took us through the financial district of Singapore where I could see all the tall buildings and heritage houses restored and re-used as restaurants and market places. Many such tourist spots later, the bus reached the Singapore Botanical Garden. This is a bigger halt for the Hippo Bus and you are given 20 minutes to get down and have a look around and enjoy the freshness. The entire area was alive with the fragrance of flowers and I couldn’t help taking deep breaths. It was very refreshing and I suddenly discovered I didn’t want to leave anymore! But since the time was up, I had to. On our return from the garden, we passed through the ultimate posh area of Singapore and the houses there looked like dreams on earth! The bus then took us to the Orchard Road, one of the many tourist attractions I wanted to see in Singapore. Orchard road was in a simple word – alluring. After enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful sites, the bus returned to its original hub and I got down to go back to my hotel. However, many of my co-passengers hopped off in different locations of their choice. Now, my visit to Orchard Road remained.

The Marina Bay Sands Sky Park

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An evening at Orchard Road, Singapore

Mustafa


“This is the first and last time I am here and that is final,” I told myself. Everyone, whoever learnt that I was going to Singapore, asked me to visit Little India, as it is a must visit place in Singapore. Well, I noted the point and decided to visit Little India before I proceeded to Orchard Road. But, the moment I landed my feet on the streets of Little India, I was disappointed. I got down just in front of Mustafa, the so-called biggest shopping centre in Singapore. I never expected it to be so chaotic. Gawd! Little India is crowded, hot and humid with blaring loudspeakers selling almost everything on earth! To the right of Mustafa Mall, (Mall? Huh!) there was an alley filled with tired people sitting with their shopping bags. At a distance of two feet, garbage bins were overflowing with people walking alongside the garbage bins. I walked through the area a little and thought, since I was there already, I could as well check out the store/mall! I entered and suddenly realised that it was nothing but a few ‘Big Bazaars’ put together. I also realised how big a queue I would have to face to pay if I bought something. The thought was creepy and I came out immediately. 
Bangladeshi campaign
South Indian restaurants, saloons, temples and hardware stores were all in the same lane just opposite the Mustafa centre. The area felt like any other thickly crowded Indian market. Can we seriously do something about this population explosion in India? Why are there so many of us?! Well, the place also had a large number of Bangladeshis doing their business announcing rebates in Bangla on the now omnipresent loud speakers.
To catch a cab and run away from Little India proved to be an effort in itself. There was a huge queue for taxis, quite predictably, as I realised no taxi was willing to stop there. After waiting for about ten odd minutes in the queue, I realised that there was no point wasting further time in the queue. I walked towards the left of the road where there was a junction and waited there for any car with a "Taxi" sign on top. A taxi came towards me and the old driver asked me if I had called for a taxi. I denied, as I didn't call for any. He nodded, as if he said, “Yes, lets go”. I asked him if he would go to Orchard Road. He nodded again. Without uttering a single word I got into the cab and said ok let's go to Orchard Plaza. I saw him pressing some buttons on his monitor and saw the display saying, "Call fulfilled successfully". Well, I did feel a little guilty for not clearing his confusion, but I had to get out of that place then. I also consoled my guilt, thinking, may be these confusions are not uncommon and they would understand. :)
Orchard Road (available parking lots on display)
On both sides of the Orchard Road, there were several shopping malls and swanky branded outlets making it one of the hottest shopping areas in Singapore's map. The taxi dropped me at the dropping zone of Lucky Plaza.
Well, before I forget, let me share with you, one of the most important reasons of my going to Orchard Road. I had to look for a particular sun screen hat that I saw some girls wearing in the Hippo Bus. The hats were so cool, as they not only protected the entire face from the harsh rays of the sun, but also had UV Protector Film on the shades. I enquired those girls who were wearing those hats, regarding those hats and asked them where I could buy those. They told me to go to OG Departmental Store on Orchard Road.
So, I had to look for the OG DS. First I entered Lucky Plaza and enquired the security personnel if they knew where OG DS was! He told me to walk straight leaving Lucky Plaza on my left. I did just that. Suddenly there were more branded stores and no OG in sight. A few boys were withdrawing money from a cash machine.  I went to the ATM and asked the boys if they can guide me the way to OG DS. They told me it was at the end of Centre Point, another multi-storeyed mall. I thanked them and continued my OG DS search. I walk past four malls and finally found OG and said to myself, "There you are!"
(: OG :)

Girls and new shoes have an inexplicable connection. On the ground floor of OG, I saw a variety of shoes apart from cosmetics. “I have already purchased two pairs of shoes at the Peninsula mall and I must not buy more,” I told myself. Focusing on why I was in OG at the first place, I enquired with the cashier about the sunscreen hats. She asked me to go to the second floor. I enquired there again. The second floor sent me to the third floor and I found those hats waiting there for me. I carefully picked-up four. While paying, the cashier asked me if I had membership of their shop! I said, I didn't, as I was a tourist. She suggested, in that case, I must go to the fourth floor to get a slip with which I can get eight per cent refund on my purchases in the airport as a tourist. I ended up visiting all the floors OG had and yes, it was a pleasant experience.
Evening was setting in and the almost deafening commotion of nest bound birds on the Orchard Road was making the atmosphere very appealing. I completed my purchases and wanted to be in the Orchard Road area a little longer. So, I entered a roadside cafeteria called the The Connoisseur Concerto a.k.a. tcc and ordered some iced lemon tea and a chocolate confession. While sitting there enjoying my drink and confection, I observed the happenings around me, on and across the street apart from the cafeteria itself.
tcc

Suddenly there was a big sound. Bang! I looked towards the direction of the sound and saw there was an accident. A biker was hit by a SUV. But, look at the beauty of this chaos. If it was in India, both the men would have shouted at each other trying to blame each other etc. But here, the gentleman in the SUV came out of his vehicle and helped the biker collect his things and helped him settle down by the roadside. Then the gentleman came back to his vehicle, rubbed the dent his car had got and went to the biker again who was taking care of his bike and helmet. The SUV man suggested the biker to squeeze and release his palm just to see if it hurts somewhere. Both waited, talked and cordially said good bye to each other and gone. There were no unnecessary crowd as well. Such civic behaviour!
My fav poison and sin

On the other side of the cafe, I saw people queuing up for taxis. Nobody was showing any restlessness or annoyance. Quietly and decently people were waiting for their turn. No ladies first policy, except a group of five blind old men, who were given the preference to board a taxi out of turn. That was humanity and good citizenship. I asked the waitress a thing about Lucky Plaza. She told me, I will have to take a bus or.... She misunderstood. I clarified to her, “No, I don't need a transport. I know where it is as I came walking from there to the OG behind.” She was surprised and shocked. She asked me, "You walked from lucky plaza to OG?! That's too far". I said, "No it’s not that far. It was an easy walking distance for me." She exclaimed, "That's too far for me!" I realised the reason. I just smiled in reply.
Singapore is a small city. The city can be covered from one end to the other in just 45 minutes by car. For me, it was very small, area-wise. I am used to bigger cities and longer walks. So, for me, walking from Lucky Plaza to OG was no big deal. But for the waitress, it was. Singapore has excellent public transportation facility making every inch easily accessible by the city dwellers. So, they prefer to just hop on and hop off from any of the air-conditioned public transport facility wherever and whenever they want to.
It was getting dark and I had shopping bags in my hand. So, I decided to go back to my hotel and asked for the check. Paid, took my things and headed towards the taxi stand where people were queuing up.

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The Kunming connection

…all the passengers took their respective seats and made themselves comfortable. Since I was asked if I

have any seat preference and I did ask for a window seat, I got 6A. Soon after take off, we (passengers) were served meals. The serving started from the front row and when they reached my row, I was asked my preference of food. Fish rice or chicken fried rice? Lo, what do I pick? I am a vegetarian! I asked if they have anything vegetarian. The Chinese air hostess seemed confused. I reframed my question and asked if they have anything with vegetables. She forwarded a box towards me and asked, “How about these ma’am?” I didn’t want to take more of her time in one single row, so I took the box. I opened it while my next seat passenger started digging his fish rice. In the box, I saw a small bowl of some lettuce leaves with two small tomatoes, another bowl of small yellow berry kind of fruits and a bun. This bowl of yellow tiny fruits caught my attention and I opened that bowl first. By that time, my neighbour has also started to open the fruit bowl. We both looked at each other and smiled. He murmured, “Don’t know what it is!” I said, “It smells like mango and the inside of it looks like orange. But it is too small to be orange.” I bit one and thought not to spoil my stomach by eating something unknown. So, that was my meal. Literally nothing eat-worthy for me. 
Giving the trash away, I tried to catch some sleep before landing at Kunming, where I’ll have to change my flight to go to Shanghai.
"Holy mother of God!" This was my first reaction when I landed in Kunming. It felt as if nobody speaks English! Kunming is the capital and largest city of Yunnan Province in Southwestern China. Anyway, I got myself security and immigration checked after arrival. Then it was time to catch the connecting flight to shanghai. So, I proceeded after enquiring a security officer, who fortunately was talking in English. After collecting my bag, I was told to go to the 1st floor. I took the lift to the first floor and asked the liftman to take me to the 1st floor and he presses the no 2 button! I told him to take me to the 1st floor and wanted to press the button 1 myself as I was not sure he understood what I was trying to say to him. The lift stopped on the 1st floor but the lift was showing the number 2. I got out and was absolutely confused on what’s happening and which floor I was in. I did not see a floor pass by when the lift started and landed in this floor. The Two Chinese gentlemen were also in the lift and they told me that this is 1st floor. I said, “But the lift is showing it’s 2nd floor!” The men said it's Chinese! I had no idea what on earth it meant. Since I had some time to catch my next flight, I decided to explore and check this floor first. To my surprise, I really did see that the check in counter for my next flight is in fact in this floor itself! Oh lord!
Well, the check in counter was absolutely crowded. Every counter had group check in written on it. Hence, I decided to enquire with the ticket girl in the counter. She said I’ll get my boarding pass here. Fair enough, I landed at the right place. After waiting in the line for sometimes, I got my boarding pass and given my cabin bag. When asked she showed me the way to gate no 10. I went towards the direction shown. I saw till 9, then, there was check in counters again. I saw the board 10-27>, I followed. But.....every other counter/shop/chamber/signboard looked like Feng Shui symbols!
After walking for around 10 minutes in one direction, I had to take a complete hairpin curve turn to go to the gate number 10. It was a level down from where I was toiling to find it in.
I was the first one to reach the gate. I had my doubt. Asked the second person who came and sat near the gate. I pointed towards my flight no and the gate no on my boarding card, he nodded and signalled that yes I have reached the right gate. After sometimes, the signage displayed my flight no and time. I was relieved. Settling in a chair, I started looking here and there and saw one guy on a corner chair working on his laptop. I assumed that he must be accessing airport's free wi-fi. To kill my idle time I took out the iPad and started searching for free airport wi-fi. There was none. Played solitaire instead. Then all the passengers came in and we were asked to board the flight.
Things I noticed:
  1. They did not give hand bag tag
  2. It was extremely cold at 7 degree
  3. Though it was 7.30 am when I boarded the flight, it was not as sunny as it usually is in our land around that time in the morning
  4. Chinese people are taller than I thought.
  5. Chinese do not count the ground floor as ground floor, their ground floor is 1st floor.
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Solo Shanghai

Looking through the window - China Eastern Airline

It is mandatory for the editors to attend the international fairs that get covered in our magazine. This time it was my turn to visit one such exhibition to be held in Shanghai, China. I had been abroad many times before. But this was to be my first time alone. So, I was having a mixed feeling – a little fear and more of excitement and thrill. 
The day, as it approached, my  concerned colleagues arranged everything for me. Visa, air tickets and the logistics, everything was ready for me to carry along. The day arrived. It was time for me to leave for Shanghai alone on a midnight flight. I started from home to the airport at around 9.45 pm, taking enough time for me to solve any unforeseen mess-up.
Ummmm....okay.... o_O
Immediately after reaching the Netaji Subhash International Airport in Kolkata, I went through the formalities of departure and immigration check. Everything happened smoothly making me feel good. Before the security check, I had to wait for about 15 minutes as it was yet to start. The moment it started, I completed my check and went to the lobby. I saw many Chinese passengers and as usual, I assumed them to be the local Kolkatan Chinese going to their native place or grandma’s place for the vacations. I also thought of them to be tourists who are on their way back home. I saw many Indians who looked like businessmen on transit. While observing, face-reading and imagining endless things, something irritated my nose. Eew!
The lovely young lady in front of my seat

The male washroom was a few metres away and it smelt really bad! I was once again disgusted, as I was when leaving for Hong Kong late last year. I felt embarrassed too in front of all these people from our neighbouring country. Thought, what they would think of us, the Indians! I wondered why we cannot have as swanky an airport as Hong Kong! What’s lacking in our country?! I found the answer in no time. Resources are not a problem in India, people are. The proof of how ill-mannered majority of the Indians are is available in every government office buildings, on the corners of the staircases and on the corners of the footpaths and pavements. I got disgusted and tried to divert my mind by thinking something pleasant. Thankfully I didn’t have to suffer much here.
Finally the wait was over. The flight MU 556 has announced its boarding. I joined the queue to board…

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5 comments:

  1. I enjoy reading write-up. Hope i can discover a lot more articles like this one. Thanks for posting.

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  2. Great article. Thank you to tell us more useful information. I am looking forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

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  3. Thank you readers! Work is keeping me a little busy, though I have so many stories to tell. Keep an eye on this page for more soon. Thank you! :)

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  4. Totally enjoyed ur articles,,,Hope to see someday you will write about my hometown Kathmandu,,,

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  5. Very well written manashree....I feel to read on and on and on while going through your blogs...

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