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Life Life experiences

We will survive…

Hello friends. It’s good to write once again, although this post comes a bit later – but like they always say – better late than never. The heading is aptly titled. We (humans) as a race are quite resilient. We have survived a lot – and we still move on undaunted. A few noteworthy mentions are earthquakes, famines, impact events, limnic eruptions, wildfires/bushfires, avalanches/landslides, blizzards, floods, heatwaves, tornadoes, tropical cyclones, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions etc.

I saved the best for last – epidemics and pandemics. We hear these terms being used interchangeably and thrown around a lot, these days. One that everybody’s talking about these days is coronavirus and COVID19. YES – these two, although related – are different terms. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was discovered only in December 2019 while coronaviruses were discovered way back in the 1930s (almost 90 years ago).

I will not beat around the bush or even bother describing the two terms mentioned above. I’m sure you (readers) know a lot about them already. How correct your information is – is a matter of debate though. Now let’s look at the title once again. The reason this post is titled that way is that we have ‘been there, done that’ several times before.

To begin with I’d like to focus on the part where an epidemic is different from a pandemic. An epidemic is a disease that spreads faster than expected and affects more individuals over a widespread area. A pandemic is more like the big brother of ‘epidemic’ in the sense that the reach of a pandemic spans several countries simultaneously. But, as I said before – COVID19 isn’t the first or the deadliest of epidemics/pandemics. We have seen worse. Here’s a lowdown on some pandemic/epidemic humans have survived.

Ref.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics

In the late 19th to early 20th century, there was smallpox. It raged for almost 100 years across several countries and killed as many as 500 million (50 crores). The 15th century gave us another dreaded killer – plague a.k.a. Black Death that raged across most of Europe, Asia and North Africa. It wiped clean as much as 60% of the European population in 22 long years. Its death toll was almost 200 million (20 crores). The 20th century threw another pandemic on us – Spanish flu or H1N1 or what’s technically called Influenza A virus sub-type H1N1. It killed almost 100 million people in just two years. 1855 to 1860 saw the demonic rage of the Bubonic plague that last for five years. In that time, 12 million perished in just India and China alone. The global numbers would definitely have been way more than that. This brings us to the recent scenario of COVID19 – it has claimed 60,000 (as on 3rd April 2020) or even more, globally.


The point I’m trying to make is that COVID19 is just a baby compared to the monstrosities the whole world has seen since we started recording medical history. The pandemic or epidemic should teach us a valuable lesson – we are vulnerable. We’re not the strongest beings on earth – but we are the most resilient. The dinosaurs perished, so did several other species (where human greed was not involved) – but we kept evolving. We won’t go down in history so easily. But to do that we need to understand our limitations as human beings. There are several diseases – we have no cure for. Our immunity and value for life are our strongest weapons in this perennial fight for survival. So, to see another day, in such critical times, let’s follow simple rules of hygiene, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, eat, sleep and wake on time, read a lot, try to learn new skills, list to music, meditate, cleanse our mind and body – in short – let’s stay home – and SAFE.

Live today to fight tomorrow.

Till we meet again, may the better sense prevail!!!

Categories
Life experiences Travel

Magnificent Jaipur

Hola mi amigos. Recently I’d been to Jaipur on an official trip. At first, I was not sure if I wanted to go. I’m a family man and I prefer visiting such places with my family. Well – when duty calls, the employed have to go – and so I went. The date: 12th July 2019. The weather was a far cry from Mumbai’s rainy weather. I went prepared – with a raincoat and an umbrella – things I never removed from my bag. It was hot and dry in Jaipur – so I was relieved (an ex-Nagpurkar that I am).

We had 93 hours to spend in Jaipur and I wanted to make the most out of it. Now, let me remind you that we were on an official trip and had ‘work’ to be done. So, these escapades that I’m going to describe later were managed in the ‘in-between’ times. We made two trips whilst in Jaipur.

  • Day 1: Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal and Rajasthali

How to get there: Take a metro train to Chand Pol and then an e-Rickshaw to your Badi Chaupad (big market)

The metro ride was nothing to write home about – just run-of-the-mill. Once we alighted and got off the station, we were accosted by rick drivers. We had to manage to steer clear of them and walk ahead to an e-rick driver who readily agreed to take us to Hawa Mahal (he added the other two destinations by himself – for a price though).

Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal:

For the uninitiated, Jaipur was founded in 1727 by Jai Singh II (a.k.a. Sawai Jai Singh, who became a ruler at the tender age of 11 (I was learning to ride a bicycle and fly kites then). His grandson, Sawai Pratap Singh built the Hawa Mahal in 1799, at the age of 35 (I just got married at that age was learning the ropes of accepting dominion by a queen). A dominating feature of Hawa Mahal (Palace of Wind/Breeze) is the façade that includes 900+ jharokhas (protruding balcony). These jharokhas are neatly stacked in a 5-storey near-pyramidal structure about 50 ft high. It’s said that the design of Hawa Mahal was inspired from Khetri Mahal in Jhunjhunu).

The unique architecture of Hawa Mahal is what makes it so beautiful. This reddish-pink sandstone monument is located close to City Palace and Jantar Mantar. All these 3 (Hawa Mahal, Jantar and City Palace) are within a stone’s throw from each other – if you could throw a stone 900m away, that is.

Note: the trio is located in what’s called the pink city.

Jal Mahal
Jal Mahal

Jal Mahal:

Made somewhere in the 18th century, this is a quaint palace located right in the middle of Man Sagar Lake off Amer Road. This palace was also the handiwork of Jai Singh II. A striking peculiarity of this place is that this palace is a 5-storeyed structure of which four remain submerged during monsoons when the lake is full. Only one storey is visible in that case.

Rajasthali Textile Development Corporation:

Another attraction (maybe not for everyone) along the same road is this fantastic place where one can shop for genuine Rajasthani garments and handicrafts. Some of the popular shopper’s items sold here are the ultra-lightweight Jaipuri Razai (quilt). It’s so light that if packed nice and tight, it could fit a lady’s handbag. The fillings in these quilts include angora wool, mohair, cashmere/pashmina etc. I bought one filled with Angora wool. Another peculiarity of these quilts is that they keep you warm in winter and cosy in summer. In addition to this, they have usual inclusions like dress material, saris, wood carvings, lac bangles etc. Now that’s something I’m no expert of – hence I had to leave it alone.

Note: I completed my target of 10,000 steps for the first time.

Amber fort
Amber fort
  • Day 2: Amer Fort

How to get there: Take bus 3B (from Badi Chaupad), AC1, AC5 (from Man Sarovar metro station). I’d say getting to Chand Pol is your best bet.

This was the most spectacular of sights that I saw in Jaipur (not that I’ve seen it all). All one needs to do to get here is get to Chand Pol metro station, disembark and take a bus to Amer fort. Now, this fort is a part of another trio: Nahar Garh, Jai Garh and Amer and all three are close (just a cannonball’s throw away). Unfortunately, we had time only to see Amer fort.

Maota lake
Maota lake

While the place is spelt Amber – it’s pronounced with the ‘b’ silent. So, don’t correct when google maps suggest Amber when you typed Amer. Constructed in 967 AD, this fort is a little over a millennium old. It started with the settlement of the Amer town (actually a hamlet) in 967 AD. The palace and the fortifications were built later. The bastions (perimeter wall) enclose an impressive 12sq. km area. Jodha Bai (of Jodha-Akbar fame) a.k.a. Mariam-uz-Zamani a.k.a. Harkha Bai was born in Amber in 1542. Her ancestral home is in ruins today – but who cares. At least the concerned authorities don’t.

Jodhabai's home
Jodhabai’s home

The moment our bus neared Amber bus stop, we were greeted by this magnificent marble and sandstone monument that has stood the test of time and braved the apathy of the governing bodies. In 2013, UNESCO labelled it a World Heritage Site. Every square inch of this place reeks of history and it’s past glory. One just needs to see it from a perspective different from that of tourists. I did – and I could FEEL history unfold itself unto me as I paced slowly and steadily along the winding passages that finally led to the giant castle gates. At a distance, one can see the lofty Jaigarh fort too with a Pachrang flag fluttering atop an imposing tower.

Jaipur Flag (Pachrang)
Jaipur Flag (Pachrang)

Another sight that welcomes you even before you reach Amer palace is the (now dry) मावठा झील (Maota lake). I’m sure this lake doubled as a moat back in the days. Attached to the lake is Kesar Kyari. The garden gets its name from the Kesar plant (saffron) which the king tried to cultivate – but failed. Geography and botany bow to no kings/queens, you see?

Haveli
Haveli

Before we entered the castle – we took a small detour along a cobblestone-lined road that leads to the village downstairs. The village was not our goal – an old Haveli was. This haveli is said to be built the same time as the fort itself – meaning it was also a millennium old. Unlike the palace, this haveli was completely derelict. What a pity. One monument deserves all the care and another gets nothing. I guess the authorities do not fully understand their job. With just a home guard on duty, the place reeked of human and animal excrement. One could also see some empty beer bottles lying around – speaking volumes about its upkeep.

Path to the palace
Path to the palace

After we’ve had enough of the haveli, we walked back into the fort, towards the palace. The palace we entered (also the main entrance) is called Suraj Pol or the Sun Gate (called so because it faced east – the rising sun). we could walk freely across a sprawling courtyard after which we had to buy tickets (@ Rs. 50 per adult) to enter the private sections of the palace. Our tickets were checked twice along the way. The first time – at Ganesh Pol (Ganesha gate) where we could see a Ganesh temple – still owned by the royals. The statue of Lord Ganesha is made of coral and hence, is red.

There are a few distinct sections of the Amer palace – the Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khaas, Sheesh Mahal, Zenana (ladies’ section), 27 Kachehri (27 courts), Hot and Cold-water Turkish baths, latticed garden etc.

It is said that Raja Man Singh I had 12 wives (ranis/queens) and he had made 12 (deodhi) apartments for them. He could freely visit any queen of his choice without letting the other 11 know who the king is with. He had individual stairs/passages to each such apartment from his ‘Man Singh Palace’ (now closed to tourists). The deodhis were cleverly designed to get proper ventilation but poor visibility. It is alleged that Raja Man Singh I had 12 wives since he was a strong believer in astronomy and believed in the 12 nakshatras.

27 Kachehri
27 Kachehri

27 Kachehri was a place where Diwans from 27 villages managed their day-to-day administrative duties.

Darbar-i-Aam
Darbar-i-Aam

Diwan-i-Aam or the house of the commons is a place where the king held court where he listened to public grievances.

Diwan-i-Khas is akin to the house of the lords where the king held high-level ministerial meetings, entertained royal/political guests.

Sheesh-mahal is an intricately carved section of the palace that houses thousands of convex pieces of Belgian glass mirrors. These pieces formed a beautiful and elaborate mosaic of mirrors which would glitter when as much as a small candle was lit below it.

Amongst other attractions is Sukh Mahal, the entrance to which is managed by Sandalwood doors with carvings that are a copy of the garden on the opposite side. Most of the door carvings were plundered – and now there’s a glass case that seals this door. The water for this garden was fed to overhead tanks and this water flowed down a carved marble ramp – cooling it as it flowed down and back to the garden. The result – an air-conditioned chamber appropriately called Sukh Mahal.

With a heavy heart and tired feet, we crawled our way to the Amer town, down the hillock and boarded the next bus to Jaipur station. No, we were not leaving yet – that’s where our hotel was. I wanted more – to see more, to feel more, to dig deeper into those magical times when kings ruled, to feel in unison with every story I heard about this breathtaking monument… the wanderlust and the archaeology-lover in me were still not satisfied.

I could go on and on and never tire – that’s how much my mind holds in terms of memories from that visit. Alas! My hands hurt from all the typing and backspacing. So, I’ll let you enjoy the imagery I have attempted to create for you. I strongly recommend visiting this castle trio – Amber, Jaigarh and Nahargarh

Till we meet again – hasta luego!!!

Categories
Life experiences

YouTube in a Rickshaw

Beware of the driver!!! He may be watching YouTube while you think he’s driving carefully.

Hello friends, while this title may sound weird or even surprising – for me it’s scary. I clearly remember the day and the horror that ensued because of YouTube. It started off with me hiring an OLA Auto from home.

Not safe while driving

Destination: Nerul (my workplace)

Fare: doesn’t matter now

Driver: Faishalam Khan

Charge(s): Watching YouTube while driving

I guess this is rampant across most auto drivers, these days. The process is simple. Once the ride starts (especially if it’s a long one) the driver drives carefully for a few kilometers. Once you’ve escaped from the traffic and narrow roads, you hit the highway (depending on your route). That is when they switch over to YouTube. Now, this goes undetected most of the time since we (gullible passengers) believe the driver is using the Google Navigation app.

YouTube usage becomes obvious under the following situations:

  • The driver speeds, clearly oblivious of potholes, speed-breakers and other road-based obstructions
  • He appears to drive with undivided attention (actually to the phone screen and not the road)
  • He misses important turns and blames it on the app (commonsense tip: how can your navigation be different from mine?) (Explained ahead – read on)
  • His head barely moves to the left or right
  • He does not speak at all
  • He has earphone plugged into one or both ears – but isn’t talking (another concern that pisses me off)
  • The last indication – you’re hit by another vehicle (obviously!!!)
Do not watch YouTube while driving

I missed most of these signs at the beginning of the ride. However, after hitting the highway and him missing two important turns – I smelled a rat. Then I started paying attention to his facial expressions (Man! I have hawk-eyes for such situations).

Here’s how I figured the flaw: How can my navigation be different from yours? If I start from point A and have to reach point B – Google Maps will show me different options. Once I choose the shortest distance and press start navigation I try to match the auto driver’s navigation. If it is the same for the first few kilometers – it will be the same until the end. If you miss a turn – you were probably not looking at the screen. Now, if you miss one important turn after another – you were definitely not looking at your screen. That’s exactly what I figured.

It doesn’t stop here. I thereby activated my James Bond mode. Then I fixed my stare at his face. While most auto drivers have their mirrors adjusted to see the passenger – this one did not do that. Now, he can’t see my face, I can’t see his face either (simple physics).

Then I leaned forward and looked at his phone screen and there he was – watching YouTube with the phone in portrait mode. I didn’t want to yell at him. So I waited for him to miss another turn or at least speed over a speed-breaker. But what happened – shook me up. Shortly after I caught him watching YouTube, another auto coming from the left (at an intersection) – almost rammed into us. He was speeding too – but he had the right-of-way. This is when I finally had to yell at my driver. Startled, he jammed the brakes and brought the ride to a screeching halt. The other auto driver sped away hurling abuses (which my driver rightfully deserved). I had to give my driver a piece of my mind – and I did just that.

Then I did what the radio cab app suggests – press the EMERGENCY button. Within five minutes, I got a call from OLA asking me to describe the emergency. After I did that – they asked me if I was safe – to which I replied in the affirmative. They asked me if the driver is still doing what I had complained about (watching YouTube while riding) – negative. He wasn’t (if he did – I’d slap the shit out of him). Finally, they asked me if I wanted a different ride or was okay to continue the same ride – I chose option B since I was almost near my office.

This incident opened proved to be an eye-opener to me. I can never ride a radio auto again the way I did earlier – oblivious of surroundings. My senses will now always be on high alert till I disembark the ride. This is not the case when one takes a cab – because then – the driver’s phone is in plain sight and you can see the screen easily. No sleuthing skills required. The problem is only with autos. The lousy lot they already are – I refuse to let their carelessness jeopardize my life.

Your safety is your concern – do not depend on others!!!

So, the next time you are in an auto – watch out for the aforesaid signs and save your life. Unless you are careful, the driver will ‘take you for a ride’.

Bye. Take care!

Categories
Life experiences Travel

A trip to Matheran a.k.a. निसर्गरम्य माथेरान

I’m back after a short break and a wonderful trip to Matheran. The first time I heard about this place is when I was in the 3rd or the 4th grade – through a lesson in Marathi निसर्गरम्य माथेरान. As the name board below clearly indicates, the town is 803 m (2635 ft) above sea level. For the uninitiated, this information is displayed on all station name boards (I’m sure you’ve never noticed). MSL = Mean Sea Level.

Matheran
Matheran

Being a Nagpurkar, I could only dream of visiting the place. Little did I know that one fine day, I’ll move to Mumbai, get married, start a family and eventually plan a trip to the now local tourist attraction Matheran. Let’s just say one thing led to another and here I am describing the trip. It started with the Missus suggesting we make the trip. I looked up the internet and asked a few friends too – for travel info from Mira Road to Matheran. What I understood from my research is that the best way to reach Neral (from Mira Road) is to take a bus via Ghodbunder Road to Thane Station (25 km or 1 hour) and then hop on to a Karjat bound train from Thane (60 km or 1 hour) and alight at Neral.

Matheran - Temperature
Matheran – Temperature

The above graph (Source: Wikipedia) shows that December and January are the best months to visit. Now, a few words about how to get there. One needs to reach Neral, a quaint town in Raigad district. For those familiar with the Mumbai suburban map – Neral is a station on the Thane-Kalyan/Khopoli/Kasara line. One can take any Karjat bound train on this line and reach Neral in about an hour. This train will drop you on Platform 1 from where you need to reach platform 2 which is attached to the Toy Train station.

Time Table
Time Table: Neral to Matheran

The ticketing system is completely offline/manual. The ticketing experience reminded me of the ‘80s when you got ‘card’ tickets. Please be warned – the ticket counter opens just 45 minutes before the departure time. So, if you train departs at 8 am, the booking starts only at 7:15 am. In the summertime, things can get a bit difficult with kids having their summer vacation and their parents wanting to take them to Matheran.

NDM1
NDM1

The ride is a beautiful six-coach train hauled by the legendary NDM1 diesel loco powered by a Cummins diesel powerhouse. The 6-coach Neral Matheran toy train accommodates only 75 in total. For those who need a marginally better travel experience, go for the 1st class or the Deluxe coach. Others can still avail the 2nd class ticket. The journey takes about 3 hours and offers some breathtaking scenery for you to feast your eyes upon. While the distance between Neral and Matheran is just about 20 km – the journey takes almost 3 hours since the rail gauge is maintained at 2 ft. Now, add meandering rails running through a treacherously precipitous hillside and you get a train that can do a just 8-12 kmph. This should give you the reason for the protracted journey.

After a while of travel, you reach the first stop – Jumma Patti (I’ve no clue why it’s called that). The train halts here for 5 minutes. This is where you can have a cup of tea, maybe grab a snack or just relieve your UT. The next stop is called Water Pipe – a place which supplies water to the neighbouring hamlets. The third stop ‘Aman Lodge’ is the last point till which you can drive your automobiles. The final destination for all types of vehicles is ‘Dasturi Point’. After 10 minutes of leaving Aman Lodge, the train finally rolls into the last stop – Matheran.

Once you disembark, you need to buy a capitation ticket @ Rs 50 per adult (no clue why). This is the tax/fee you pay to set foot in Matheran town limits. Once in, you have several options. You can either:

  • Walk
  • Ride a horse
  • Be carried in a hand-pulled rickshaw

Be sure to feed yourself well since you’ll need the energy to roam around, regardless of your mode of transport. I am not going to detail the points one can see here – it’s all over the internet. I can definitely say that my wife and I enjoyed every moment in Matheran.

Matheran-map
Matheran-map

Once we alighted the train and ‘entered’ the city limits – we turned down every ‘horsing’ offer made by the local horsemen. We had planned to rough it out – on foot. And so we did. We wandered off to the northern side and saw just 2 points (what an effing waste) – Monkey point and Heart Point. Although what matters is not the number of points – it’s the number of times you got to inhale the unpolluted air of this quaint yet majestic hill station. Every breath was refreshing. Despite the relative humidity and the beads of sweat rolling down our foreheads and backs – we still enjoyed every moment we spent there.

Our first stop (after grabbing a snack) was monkey point. Needless to say – beware of monkeys – the entire hill station is full of our simian friends. With all these years of interacting with Homo sapiens – they have learnt to survive in our presence. They aren’t scared of us anymore. Instead, they attack us if they find us carrying foodstuff in our hands.


After walking for a few minutes (amidst the lush greenery) from the town centre, we reached ‘Monkey Point’. As the name suggests – it’s ‘ruled’ by monkeys. They coolly walk up to you, check your baggage for anything they find palatable and leave you if your bag doesn’t have anything for them. Just try not to fight them off – don’t even look them in the eye – they can get pretty aggressive. After all, they aren’t encroaching our space – we are encroaching theirs.

After spending a while at Monkey Point (and clicking several pictures) we proceeded to our next (and last for the day) point – Heart Point. There was a ‘monocular man’ who charged everyone Rs. 20 for peeping into his monocular. He claimed that the viewers can see ‘कड्यावरचा गणपती’ through his lens. Although, I used my 55-250mm lens and zoomed in as much as the camera could – I could still not see it. Also, another tourist (who paid him for the view) couldn’t see it either. I don’t know if the guy was pranking them. I didn’t bother to investigate.

कड्यावरचा गणपती
कड्यावरचा गणपती

Both points (actually very close to each other) offer an excellent view of the valley below and the striated rocks that make up the pristine beauty of Matheran. The landscape was not the greenest – I’m guessing that only since it was summertime and the monsoon is still at least a month away. I’m sure after a few wet spells – the forest should regain its green sheen. I can’t wait to find that out… post-monsoon trip coming up.

Time Table: Matheran to Neral
Time Table: Matheran to Neral

After spending another few minutes at the Heart point and panting all the way back to the station – we had lunch. That meal tasted like the manna that day. Once we were done with the meal – we checked out the local market where we found some really good bargains. Finally, we decided to call it a day – we walked to the station and stood in the line (for tickets) for almost an hour and a half. We sat for another three hours while our train meandered downhill.

Reaching Neral station was not the end though. We had to wait for another 30 minutes before we could get a commuter train to Thane. We had just enough time to have dinner and proceed to our final destination – Mira Road. By the time we reached home, it was already 11 pm and we crashed. The day, thus, ended on a beautiful note. The journey – more than exhausting – was magical. I slept like a log – with pleasant memories of the day’s trip slowly making way to sweet dreams.

This journey not only created memories – but it also bolstered my bond with nature – something I missed for a long time (especially after my Karnala trip). That’s all for now, friends.

Ciao!!!