As I promised on the Musandam camping post, here’s a complete checklist for your next camping adventure. If you have any favorites that I missed, please note them under comments, and I’ll merge them back.
Plastic plate or metal containers
Clamp grill (for smaller items like prawns & veggies)
Long weekends are hard to find in the UAE. And with the weather getting better for a change, it was just the right time for camping. As amateurs, Balan & I picked up the entire kit from Lulu and packed it in the trunk. Yes, the camping list is planned for another post.
After a lazy start, we set on the road to Khasab via Ras Al Khaimah. We got a bit lost and instead landed on the road to Jabal Jais – the highest mountain in the UAE. It’s a 30 min detour that goes uphill through rocky mountains and serves a view from the not-so-high summit.
We headed back to RAK to join the coastal road and stopped by at a local bakery for a quick bite. The freshly baked pizza & assorted fatayer were just delectable – only to release that the delivery boy had baked them in absence of the chef 😉
Next stop was the border. On the UAE side, we had to park to get exit stamps. This is where they verify that the visa is eligible for visa-on-arrival in Oman. There’s an exit fee of 35Dh per head, only accepted via the e-Dirham card. So if you have one, carry it along. We were given a slip mentioning the number of people & vehicle number which we had to give at the UAE border exit.
We stopped again in about 100m at the Omani border to get our visas. Lucky for us, there were no queues. The visa fee of OMR 5 (~50Dh) is not accepted in Riyals, so we paid by card. A 30 day permit was stamped in exchange for the fee and a small form. Back in the car, Omani customs took a quick peep in the boot and let us go. 5 minutes in to Oman and the views were heavenly. We were just in time for sunset.
Business travel is very boring. But along the way, you need to find ways to keep it exciting. Haynes introduced me to FlightDiary which has helped me keep track of travel and analyze it. Day before, I took my 100th flight via Mumbai from a total of 170. Here is how my flight-diary looks now:
I’ve been to small towns before. Quite a lot of European cities, and Melbourne, can be explored on foot (maybe, some tram). But last week, I visited the smallest of them all – a town named Sønderborg in East Denmark.
Sonderborg, like many other towns in Europe, is the home of a manufacturing giant, for which it is best known. Corporate presence helps create employment opportunities and develop local infrastructure of these smaller towns that would otherwise be neglected. A local airline, Alsie Express, operates a few flights to Copenhagen everyday with their ATR aircraft in jet-black livery.
Shortly after takeoff the hostess came out of the front door to serve coffee, chocolate or nachos. We initially thought it was the pilot making good use of the auto-pilot, but later realized it was the ATRs cargo hold. The aircraft is an all business class configuration with the kind of leg-space that my friend Hriday needs, but hardly gets. Each seat stretching two window panes speaks for itself.
The approach served us a beautiful view of the area – lush green islands in the sea. The airport was a tiny little building – the size of a petrol pump (or smaller actually). The bags were loaded on a cart and then pushed into a gutter in the building. The 4 table cafeteria was empty, and there was free coffee and WiFi in the 8 seat waiting area.
There was a single, large common washroom. In the time that my friend took a smoke, people had moved out in their cars and the airport door was locked. The few taxis that were there had gone and we kept waiting. A lady realized we were new here Continue reading A Night in Sønderborg→
After posting the itinerary for Bali and our experience, I have received a lot of emails with questions – primarily – around the budget, airlines, hotels, car rentals and general tips. I’ve put them as a FAQ below; hope this helps fellow travelers.
What was your budget?
Honestly, we were traveling on budget. We had planned about Rs.70,000 per head and wanted to make the most out of it. We did.
Is there a split?
This is naturally going to differ, but here is an idea.
This week I read about Brazil wanting to amend its constitution to make happiness a right for its citizens. Having worked its way up to achieve a GDP of over $2 trillion, Brazil is now working towards having happiness on the nation’s to-do. However, it is currently struck with threatening issues such as health, education, poverty & an alarming crime rate. To ensure happiness of citizens means to work around these issues, deliver world class education & wipe out crime on their streets. In-house resources and independence in science & technology that is already existant, accompanied by a loyal travail from the government can pretty much add up to the happiness they seek.
Whenever a discussion around happiness comes up, Bhutan is what comes to my mind first. Ever since I’ve been there, I haven’t been able to neglect its focus on ‘Gross National Happiness‘ that they made part of the national propaganda in the ’70s. And the rest on GNH here is purely my opinion, based on what I heard & understood from locals. The government, backed by the monarchy, is extremely responsible when it comes to delivering quality education, health care services & dealing with crime. Almost everything they need is transported from India and we are in a way responsible for their defense. Despite of the transport costs involved in every commodity, the government subsidizes everything from fuel to cars. Perhaps, that’s the reason why everyone from commoners to monks have SUVs. Bhutan is extremely beautiful and rich in culture. Tourism is already a top 5 contributor to its $2 billion economy, but Continue reading The pursuit of happiness in developing nations→
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→
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→
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.
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→