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!!!

Categories
Learning

Commonly Confused Words

Hi friends.

While the title sounds quite prosaic at worst or repetitive at best – the content and the intended effect is still relevant. With numerous students graduating and waiting for their forthcoming interviews – this piece should be helpful to one and all. Not just students (sadly but truly) many grown-ups can use it too (read: need it too).
Let’s get straight to the point. The point is that just like any other language – English has different words for different situations – let’s just keep it that way. But do we? While the list is seemingly interminable – here are some words that are relevant in the Indian context.

Affect vs Effect:
‘Affect’ is a verb that stands for ‘have an effect on; make a difference to’
‘Effect’ is a noun that stands for ‘a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.’

Bare vs Bear:
Bear is both – an adjective, verb, determiner and an adverb.
In the adjective form it stands for the following:

  • (Of a person or part of the body) not clothed or covered
  • Without the appropriate, usual, or natural covering
  • Without the appropriate or usual contents
  • Devoid of; without
  • Unconcealed; without disguise
  • Without addition; basic and simple
  • Only just sufficient
  • Surprisingly small in number or amount

In the verb form, it stands for ‘uncover (a part of the body or other things) and exposes it to view’
It is also a determiner meaning ‘a large amount or number of’
In the adverb form, it stands for ‘very; really (used as an intensifier)’

Bear on the other hand is a noun and a verb.
It the verb form, it stands for the following:

  • (Of a person) carry
  • Support; carry the weight of
  • Endure (an ordeal or difficulty)
  • Give birth to (a child)
  • Turn and proceed in a specified direction

In the noun form, it stands for the following:

  • A large, heavy mammal that walks on the soles of its feet, having thick fur and a very short tail.
  • A large, heavy, cumbersome man
  • A person who sells shares hoping to buy them back later at a lower price

Its vs It’s:

This is a pet peeve – almost everyone I know or have met (and where I have read their writing) has made this mistake every once in a while. Here’s how to kill the confusion.

‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun. It indicates belonging or association. E.g. the dog tried to catch its own tail. He bought the vintage car since he knew its value. The baby bit its own finger.

‘It’s’ on the other hand is a contraction. The apostrophe shows the omission of a letter/letters. In this case, it refers to a reduction from IT IS to IT’S. Other examples of reductions being don’t, won’t, can’t, wouldn’t etc.

In short – if you are referring to something that belongs to someone – the correct usage is ITS (no apostrophe). If you are shortening the words IT and IS – then the correct usage is IT’S).

I know why everyone’s so confused with this … the reason is that with other words, we always use an apostrophe to denote belonging e.g. Jack’s car, Megan’s phone, Baby’s diaper.

Just consider it’s/its to be an exception – if that helps.

Principal vs Principle:

Here’s another commonly confused term – although I don’t see a reason for any kind of confusion. Let’s get this straight.

A principal is both – a noun and an adjective

In the noun form, it stands for:

  • The most important or senior person in an organization or group
  • A sum of money lent or invested, on which interest is paid
  • A person for whom another acts as an agent or representative
  • The person directly responsible for a crime
  • A main rafter supporting purlins
  • An organ stop sounding a main register of open flue pipes typically an octave above the diapason

In the adjective form, it stands for:

  • First in order of importance; main
  • Denoting an original sum invested or lent

‘Principle’, on the other hand, is a just noun that stands for:

  • A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning
  • A general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field
  • A fundamental source or basis of something

In short – for admissions and leave applications – you approach a PRINCIPAL. For discussing values/qualities – you write PRINCIPLE.

Than vs Then:

This is another one that gets my goat. Once again, I don’t see why anyone should be confused with these terms – but since there are people who need help – let’s simplify this.

‘Than’ is conjunction & preposition that stands for:

  • Introducing the second element in a comparison (he was much smaller than his son)
  • Used in expressions introducing an exception or contrast (he claims not to own anything other than his home)
  • Used in expressions indicating one thing happening immediately after another (scarcely was the work completed than it was abandoned)

Then is an adverb that stands for the following:

  • At that time; at the time in question (I lived in Cairo then)
  • After that; next; afterwards (she won the first and then the second game)
  • In that case; therefore (if you do what I tell you, then there’s nothing to worry about)

In short – use THAN for comparing and THEN to denote anything related to time.

To vs Too:

I’m sure by now many of you also agree with me on the futility of this entry – but I chose to include it after reading some really atrocious text. Let’s get this one straight too…

Too is an adverb that stands for:

  • To a higher degree than is desirable, permissible, or possible; excessively (he was driving too fast)
  • In addition; also (is he coming too?)

I’d be damned if had to explain the meaning of ‘To’ – hence I’ll leave it your imagination.

As is clear from the above content, these confusions can lead to miscommunication and thereby losing face at social meetings. The key to a better understanding of these terms is reading and more reading. The more you read, the more you understand, in addition to this, employ internet-based resources like www.grammarly.com. Websites like these are a great help while writing emails, messages, notices, social media posts, articles, blogs etc.

Till we meet again,

Goodbye to confusions and Welcome to great writing!!!

Categories
Technology

An ACCIDENTAL trek to Karnala Fort

After a long time (and yearning for several years) I accomplished what I call ‘the challenging’. While I’m sure some of you (who are avid trekkers) may dismiss this is as not-so-challenging; I maintain my stance. At the other side of 40, with my level of fitness (read sluggishness/lethargy) – it was indeed a challenge to me. Well… so it was, for the other two too, who I accompanied. It was a cool Sunday morning (just like today) on the 27th of January – just one day after my Home Minister’s birthday. She wanted to do this for quite a while – just that domestic chores kept us tethered to Mira Road. We finally managed to break that tether. While our goal was to see birds in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, we missed the bus by a few minutes. We ended up scaling the Karnala fort instead.

Magnificent view of the fort
Magnificent view of the fort

For anyone interested in the trek – here’s how you can get there. Karnala bird sanctuary is located in Panvel. It is 75 km from my place, as the crow flies. Anyone who drives a car can take the Western Express Highway (and then the Mumbai-Bangalore highway) if you can manage a 2-hour drive to Panvel. A suburban commuter can take a Harbour Line train to Panvel.

Once you disembark at Panvel, you need to take a bus to Karnala which is just a 5-10 minute ride from there. For this you have 2 options from the station:

  • Get fleeced by the trike (rickshaw) drivers
  • Walk for just 6-7 minutes and reach the municipal bus stand

I chose option b much to the chagrin of my wife. We boarded the omnipresent RED BUS (not from redbus.in) a.k.a. ESHTEE that promptly dropped us at our destination in 10 minutes. For the first timers (like me) it was shocking to alight at an apparently desolate place. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was not all that desolate. There was an eatery just a few feet away from the highway where one can refuel one’s tummy before even reaching the sanctuary. While the eatery is on the right, the Sanctuary was to our left. We couldn’t see clearly due to the road maintenance works.

At the entrance, you will be greeted (not so politely) my men in jungle fatigues (presumably forest officers/guards). You need to declare any plastic bottles that you may have in your bags. In the wake of ‘Zero-plastic-tolerance’ move, they mark your bottles and you need to pay Rs. 100 as a deposit – needless to say, which you can collect on your way back. If you lose that bottle during your trek – you lose the deposit too. Just a few paces after the check post, you have a few eateries to satiate your appetite. After packing a few carbs, proteins, and calories, we marched ahead.

WARNING: The birds in the sanctuary do an early morning shift. So, if you wanna see them, be there before 8 am. They presumably take the 8 am flight to their destinations (Damn!!!).

Thanks to my ignorance about ‘bird timings’ – I had to face some cold-shoulder from you-know-who. Man! It did take a while for all that ‘ice’ to melt. Those who don’t get my drift – get married. Once we knew for a fact that the birds are gone – we chose to look around. We had a few options left. One of them was a walk along a nature trail. The other was to see the caged birds (that hurt). The third and the most spectacular one was the TREK to KARNALA FORT.

Resting at 1440 ft ASL, the fort offered a magnificent feast unto the eyes. The pinnacle protruded high into the skies, a-la the thumbs-up sign. Here’s another word of caution: Please avoid going there with kids under the age of 10 (personal suggestion). My 6-year old was exhausted beyond recall after the trek. It took her an entire day to recover from the exhaustion. If your kid has a medical condition, then this trip is not for him/her – at least till they grow up.

Now for the nitty-gritty. The trek – I must admit – is not the easiest. There are 2 approach routes – we started with the ‘road-less-travelled’ but after walking a few paces – we had to cancel the idea. We had no clue where we were headed and there was nobody there to ask for directions. Plus… no signals on our phones too. We retraced our steps to the start of that trail. From there we took the beaten track. This time though, we had company. Some of them were locals who were frequent visitors too. All they did was mislead us about the duration – while they said ‘a little over 1 hour’ we needed 2 hours to reach the highest point.

A road less traveled
A road less traveled

A road less travelled

The trek reminded us of how precious WATER is. Although Wikipedia claims there is potable water atop the fort – we couldn’t find any that I could even wash my ass with. So, if you’re there – carry as many gallons of water as you can. Do not forget to pack some ready-to-eat stuff too e.g. biscuits, chips, cookies, or anything else that not too heavy to carry. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible. Carry a stick if possible. That will help you to prod around, if in doubt. Given that it’s also a reserve forest – you can expect some unwelcome critters and reptiles too. I cannot completely rule out the presence of apex predators – just that I didn’t encounter any.

Sneak-peek at the peak

Sneak-peek at the peak

The trek becomes more and more treacherous as once climbs higher and higher. There wasn’t a single well-paved/constructed/cemented step. We had to climb large rocks and boulders. Be sure to wear closed shoes that have an excellent grip. You won’t necessarily die if you slip and fall – just that you will be immobilized (incapacitated, at worst) for a good period of time. I cannot rule out the possibility of a fatal fall. CAUTION needs to be exercised at each point of the climb – especially if you’re new to the terrain.

Overhanging trees
Overhanging trees

All the skill I had at my disposal was my sense of (not-so) keen judgement. The rest just fell in place and before we knew, we stood face-off with the lofty fort – too bad, it’s in ruins now. Just so you know, the pinnacle is practically un-scalable. One needs to be a trained rock climber/mountaineer to do that. The highest point that the less agile ones can reach is the fort. The pinnacle juts out of the fort like a gigantic thumb and rises up to another 300-500 ft. there’s a flag atop the pinnacle – which is a proof that humans have been there – just that we were neither trained nor were quipped to scale that last bit.

The plateau

The plateau

We somehow managed to reach the fort. Now reaching the fort was nothing less of a challenge. From the miniature plateau atop the hill, one needs to climb the steps that lead to the fort. Sounds easy – NO. those steps can scare the daylights out of first-timers. If it were not for the steel railings – I would never reach the fort. At some instances, we had to climb like babies – on all fours. Just one look down could make an acrophobic dizzy. I must admit – I’m borderline acrophobic. But that did not daunt me in any way. I not only reached the fort – but also managed to capture the pristine beauty the landscape had to offer.

This is not all, the downward trek is all the more difficult. While climbing, you know how much strength one needs to use to climb. Also, you’re going against gravity. On the way, gravity keeps pulling you down. Each boulder you climb down weighs you down heavily. Knees start to ache. We were already exhausted with the climb. The harsh sun did not let us rest in the fort. We had to trek down – and now we were trying our best not to slip – thanks to the monstrous gravitational pull. All the time, we trekked down – we just had the base camp (the eatery) in mind. The trek seemed interminable. The path seemed unending. It was as good as free-falling for a plane – just that we wouldn’t crack our skulls open at the end of it all.

While it took me a good night’s sleep to shake off the hangover (of the trek) – it wasn’t so easy for the girls. While the 6-year old recovered in 24 hours – the bigger, meaner one (who always taunted me about my lethargy and lack of fitness) took all of 4 days to completely recover from the ACCIDENTAL trek. For a good measure – she’s open to more such treks in future. I’m waiting for the next long weekend. While I do that – let me sign off for now.