Category Archives: Travel

There isn’t one great trip planner for my vacation!

A few months back I was planning my vacation and things weren’t as easy as I thought. I had figured out the destination, booked air tickets, short-listed places to see and hired a car. The challenge however was to set up a local itinerary. I had X places to cover in Y days with optimized routes so we weren’t spending all our time travelling.  This required finding exact locations & distances between them so as to figure how much could be covered in available time. I had nothing at my disposal but Google Maps & notepad.

Based on my own needs, and the way I go about planning my vacation, here are some high-level ‘market needs’:

  • Itinerary Planer: Create, visualize & execute itineraries on interactive maps & calendar
  • Vacation Content: Genuine holiday suggestions, based on demographics, with verified itineraries[
  • Marketplace: Get quotes from interested agents on my itinerary
  • Integration: Link with booking, review, customer engagement & social media platforms
Google map for my Singapore trip
Settled with a Google map

Am I working on this project? Continue reading There isn’t one great trip planner for my vacation!

Singapore: 5 years later

I traveled international from Mumbai airport after a couple of years, and the change was more than pleasing. While work is still on, the infrastructure plan is magnanimous and state-of-the-art, and air traffic is comparable to any major hub. I could see a long trail of blinking lights in the moon light and there no longer seems to be a hold position at the end of the run-way. It was a good flight on Singapore Airlines, although the much-hyped Singapore Sling was a bit disappointing. Dixit Jasani, Vaibhav Pani and I were on a business trip. Dixit had been to Singapore just a month back. Vaibhav’s epic moment was to set foot in a foreign country. Mine was to catch a glimpse of the A380.

Crab fritters & more

Without family, I had an option of trying some local food. Vaibhav and I tried some Indonesian-Chinese noodles, Chinese crab fritter and Indonesian fish cake. Honestly, it wasn’t until a glass of Milo that I started feeling better again. My mom would never agree to $1 chocolate drink when she could add 7 spoons of Milo to half a liter milk and make enough drink for the entire family. But honestly, that is how we all think. Fortunately on this trip, I did less of multiplication & more of subtraction when spending – if you know what I mean. I’m sure I’ll forget the math altogether when I start earning in a stronger currency.

At Marina Bay

Singapore is more like what it was in 2006; Mustafa got bigger & better and Marina Bay looks better with the Singapore Flyer and Marina Sands hotel in the background. It was good to meet a couple of old friends: Pritish Purohit & Ashish Singh. After a good breakfast at the hotel with samosas, what was supposed to be a 1.5 hour part on my side at the meeting, went on close to 5 hours, and I was involved right until the end. It was great to receive a very different kind of compliment from an attendee: “thank you, you enlightened me about P2P”. That’s precious!

On the way back, moments into the air, I had the epic moment of my life: I caught a glimpse of a Qantas A380. Krisworld, SQ’s inflight entertainment system, introduced me to ‘Come fly with me’, one of the most hilarious parodies I’ve ever seen; unfortunately, this mocked one of old favorites – Airport on  BBC. I would still say that the food is better on Air India. As usual, I couldn’t sleep on board – there’s nothing like getting back home!

Little sisters and the chief

11 Feb, 2011

16:30hrs: Its 28’c – not really pleasant – and we’re headed to one of India oldest & busiest railway stations: Howrah. Oh, by the way, I’m in Kolkata and Pranab Mukherjee & Rahul Gandhi are all over the place. While my colleagues enjoyed their tea with some local biscuits (which in total cost Rs.5 for 2 persons), I had my eyes elsewhere: on gol gappe (pani puri) & momos selling on the local thelas. Sometimes I appreciate the clarity I possess: I denied tea because I doubted its quality, but I was willing to risk my life for pani puri – as if it was prepared using Aquafina. As we listen to our taxi driver share his political views, we’ve passed Rajarhat (where real estate is booming) & Salt Lake City (where my friends Panda & Sanjay work). Our driver just mentioned that his ‘fabharit leadar‘ (favorite leader) is Narendra Modi and he’s impressed with his work and the ‘Golden Gujarat’ campaign. His take on the nation: ‘Yeh bahut difficult India hai‘.

19:03 hrs: Just realized the importance of 3 minutes and how far I can run when I have been slowed down. The story starts with some useless waiting at Park Street for a cab,  after which we took a local bus over Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge) which actually moved faster than other cars. Then we just ran the entire width of Howrah station from platform 1 to 23 (which happens to be on the other half of the station), only to find the guard, ironically, waving the green flag at us and the train showing its @$$.

21:30 hrs: After hours of driving (& waiting in hope) we finally reached Sher-e-Punjab, a notable dhaba on the road to Mumbai (which is still 1900 kms away). The menu card was exemplar for creativity; receipe groups were named like: Bakre Ke Nakhre (Mutton), Sleeping in the night/Morning is the tight (curd/raitas), Continue reading Little sisters and the chief

Bhutan Diaries – Day 5: The Tiger’s Nest

Day 05:

As instructed by Kinley, we were ready to leave the hotel for Taktsang – The Tiger’s Nest – by 8am. Breakfast again was typical; only bread, butter, jam, omlette, porridge for Indians. From the point we began trekking, we could see the Tiger’s nest right in front. But to get up there, we had to take a long & winding road up the mountains. You can rent a horse for Rs.500 for a return trip, and also buy a stick for support. At some points the path really gets narrow and with the horse’s tendency to walk at the edges, you’d be convinced to not take a horse ride. We were instructed to move towards the inner-side as soon as we saw a horse.No one is allowed to a take a ride on the way down; the horses come down empty, charging like bulls – almost without any control.

At half-way, there is a government built cafeteria that offers a clean view of the monastery. You will be served tea/coffee with amazing cream-cracker-like biscuits, and on the way back can also choose to have lunch here (not recommended for Indians). The journey from this point gets a little difficult: first you have to walk up a steep path, then walk down 500 steps and finally climb another 200 to get to the temple. With some motivation from Chibu & Kinley, I agreed to go. Some of the photos taken on the way are perhaps the best ones from the trek. Most of the steps have no railings, so you really need to be careful. Before you descend the 500 steps, you are at a point that is right opposite the monastery; they could have a bridge. In fact, several people have suggested, volunteered and even contributed to building a rope-way to get up there. But the Bhutanese love Bollywood, and totally believe in ‘kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’. They believe that nothing comes easy, and that the pleasure of visiting such a holy & refreshing place and getting close to God, should only come after some effort. Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 5: The Tiger’s Nest

Bhutan Diaries – Day 4: Heading for Paro

Day 04:

We started our day with a brief trek to the temple of the divine mad man. The one thing you will see everywhere close to the temple is phalluses drawn on walls. The ‘divine madman’ was believed to have a huge phallus and made love to the most beautiful girl in every village he went. He’s called mad because he had sex with his own mother, but only to purify her – and divine for his wisdom. He is known to scare-off daemonesses with his phallus. That is the reason we saw wooden phalluses at the handicrafts museum in Thimpu. Besides paintings, tiny wooden replicas are hand-crafted and worn in the necks of new-born children. Stories like these come from the near past in Bhutan – the 16th century – the same time Shivaji maharaj was building a navy to ward-off the English.

At the temple, Kinley picked a name for his new born daughter by pulling a string-tied page from a book of names; all names come either with Kinley (name of temple) or Chimi (meaning no-dog based on a mythical story). Ma prepared herself for tomorrow’s trek to the Tiger’s nest by grabbing a wooden stick from one of the trees. The struggle for chicken continued even at an Indian restaurant called Chula whose menu featured a dozen chicken preparations common to a Bombay restaurant. We had no option but to head to Hotel Pedling for our protein dose. In the mean while, Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 4: Heading for Paro

Bhutan Diaries – Day 3: Punakha

Day 03 15:00, Punakha:

We had mentioned to our guide Kinley, that although we weren’t atheists, we were fonder of nature than monasteries. I’ve seen quite a few in the North East, and my parents even more in Sikkim & Northern Kashmir. With this in mind, he drove us out of Thimpu along a road following the river where at one point, me & Chibu even got into the river climbing over some huge stones. To my misfortune, I slipped over a wet stone and the next minute, I was drenched in water close to ice-point right up to my knees. I was lucky to not get hurt or carried away by the river.

We also learnt some Dzongkha on our way; e.g. Phab means pig, chhee means dogs, tta means horse, etc. Surprisingly, the Bhutanese script has no way of joining letters, which results in extremely verbose spellings (not sure if that makes sense). So tta (horse) is spelled as ra-ta-ta-ta: and Prasad as p:-a:-r:-a:-saad-a-saad. Here’s some audio. I wouldn’t be able to spell my own name till 5th standard. The education system of Bhutan is similar to India: after several levels of school, students head to junior college Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 3: Punakha

Bhutan Diaries – Day 2: Around Thimpu

Day 2 18:30, Thimpu

Cleanest market ever
Cleanest market ever

After breakfast, we checked out the Centenary Farmer’s market in Thimpu that sells cereals, vegetables, meat & fresh farm items on Sundays. BAFRA, or Bhutan Agriculture & Food Regulatory Authority ensures hygiene in the market; I remember seeing their agents vigilant at the airport for any unwanted living plant/animal brought into Bhutan. We also checked out the black-market on the other side of the river which sells antiques – few of them sealed which can be officially carried out of the country.

View from a Thimpu peak
View from a Thimpu peak

On our way to Thimpu-top, the 4th king’s modest motorcade passed by; our car waited for him to pass. Bhutan has had democratic monarchy backed by a constitution since 1907; the 1st king was the son of an eastern king who emerged strong & defeated the other two in the south & centre. The Royal family owns several businesses & the king is salaried; most luxury hotels, spas, trading businesses Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 2: Around Thimpu

Bhutan Diaries – Day 1: Thimpu

15:30hrs, Thimpu

Night stay at Kolkata was decent; we ordered chicken noodles in the middle of the night. The city is still as unclean as it was 10 years back, accompanied by very high entropy. The airport is medieval (note: aviation history starts much after Christ) & even Emirates does not get an aero-bridge. Took an early morning Druk Air flight to Paro; the airline operates a fleet of 2 A319s. I was sitting next to Pema Tshering, a unique scholar who teaches History to MA students & Geography to BA students. He was kind enough to offer me his window seat & introduce me to the Himalayas. The approach to Paro requires a 90 degree turn between the Paro valley to show way to a really small runway; surprisingly there are no taxiways either.

Paro Airport
Paro Airport

At the airport, everyone from ground-staff to policemen were wearing something very close to knee-length bathing robes; little later we realized this was Gho, the national dress. My parents were telling us the story of a man before them who was about to be sent back for some reason. I think, unless you’re travelling on business, you can’t enter Bhutan without a package tour. Out of immigration & customs, we were welcomed by our tour guide Kinley Tensin (right! Same as the mineral water brand Continue reading Bhutan Diaries – Day 1: Thimpu

Bhutan Diaries- Day 0: Kolkata

Day 0 21:45 ,Jharkhand air-space

Just finished watching ‘Wake Up Sid’. Aru was right, maybe I should dedicate time for movies in order to better understand them and feel the kick. I’m in a window seat & I can see nothing but the bright fool moon & some dew on the wings. Some aunties (pun intended) served great food on the ‘new Air India’, however, a minified (got this word jQuery) version of the airline’s glorious past. There was no welcome drink, toffee or even cotton wool.

Take-off was delayed by almost an hour and half & we waited the first 45 minutes without any intimation; the next 45 minutes we were locked up in the aircraft. Unlike my horrible SpiceJet experience recently, the cabin was oxygenated. OR guys have a lot to do in aviation –at least operations in India are far from efficient.

Some excited 1st-timers bring to my notice that ambient outside is -49c; that was constantly being updated on the head-rest mounted LCDs of the A319. All that’s left for today is to get into a ambassador cab, drive to the hotel & hopefully pay by the meter. Kolkata here I come…

PS: Offline mode in the E71 really helps.

Our Bhutan trip from Kolkata & back was (well-)managed by Mystic Bliss Tours & Travel