O! Calcutta

A city with warm memories. Supe food. Warmer people. Mishti language Bengali! New roads. Old traffic jams. Cops being bribed. Near accidents. Misti doi. Yum yum yum. Graceful old ladies. Rich Marwaris. Old world. Yellow Ambassadors. Spewing black bursts from the exhaust pipe. Glorious monuments.Delayed flights. Delayed further. And further. No sight of take off.



A quick word for those who are reading this, do pls read my second blog when you find it convenient, and tell me what you think of it

Since I have time on my hand for another few days before I go back to the "working" life, I decided to have more fun with blogging:-)

I hope, I will be able to blog frequently!


Bhutan- The last Shangri-la

The king is revered here. The GNP takes a rear seat.
National happiness is of prime importance. India possibly can take a few lessons from its neighboring country.

This country is a delight for people - who love walking.
Paro - the beautiful city of colour and joy. This city’s numerous legends coaxed me to take on yet another flight of steps. Peace envelops regardless of the altitude sickness that hit me, 18000ft above sea level! There is an energy that gave me the oxygen burst to trek uphill at my own pace even puffing and panting. The purity of the mountains edges one closer to the top, above the valley. To Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tigers Nest, from where the view felt sacred!

The clouds at times played spoilsport and hid the majestic view from the eyes. And on other days the clouds honoured me, by showing off the gigantic snow capped Himalayas, Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga which rose above beautiful Paro. We went to Paro to witness the colourful festival that started at dawn. Pitch dark, cold - brrr, priests in orange robes busily chanting. The sunrise in Paro, most spectacular - molten gold bursting in the sky. Lighting life. The sun was very welcome as the morning mountain cold had me shivering despite the many layers of clothing. By 9am the sun had risen high, and the heat had started pinching my skin! When you are high up in the mountains the sun is closer hence, and can get very hot! One by one I shed the layers on me; where did the cold disappear, I wondered a bit wistfully?!

At tea break, I lean against the car and look around this deep valley, forestation everywhere. I hear a growl. I froze. My first thoughts – will this beast kill this beauty!?! The driver came to my rescue and shushed the animal a distance away. This animal was a cross between a goat and a cow. Wearing socks! So I thought then! I think while he was grazing he was equally stunned to come across me, and I froze seeing him appear from nowhere so close to me! Later I was told this was the national animal for Bhutan- the takin, a gentle beast.

I came across an interesting folklore around this animal, once in the 15th century the Lama Drupka was visiting Bhutan, when his devotees gathered around him, urged him to show a miracle. He demanded that he first be served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. After eating he was satisfied, he took the goat’s head and stuck it onto the bones of the cow. And then he snapped his fingers and commanded the strange mix up beast to rise up and graze on the mountain side, thus was born the Takin.

Bhutan is a hidden treasure waiting to unfold to the world; Indians don’t need a passport to visit this country. A definite ‘must visit’ for those who are bit by the wander lust!


Varanasi – a reality check

Varanasi (Benares) gets its name from Varuna (Var) river and 80 (assi) ghats – hence Varanasi. Why is Benares such a venerated immortal city I wondered on my journey there, very keen to discover more. It’s the combination of Kashi the holy city, Ganga the celestial river and Shiva the supreme God that makes Benares such an attractive sought after destination.

The ghats are beautiful and the most striking of them 80 ghats is the Dasarwamedh ghat. By early evening the ghats come alive and are buzzing with people from all walks of life. Shopping. Conversing. Praying. Donating. Singing. Meditating.

Approaching 7.30pm, thousands of devotees gather on the steps of the ghats, offering flowers and prayers and singing in devotion to the river Ganges. The priests in their orange robes set against a glowing sunset, add reverence and anticipation, as the Aarti is about to begin.

The priests (5of them) start by praying to the river Ganges and then is followed by thousands of lit lamps floated on the river. The priests begin the hymns and the aarti takes on a reverential hue. With the sun having gone down, it’s the flames of the aarti that are most mystical yet real, that light up the ghat steps and the river waters, announcing to all that the one source of life is being revered and given the highest status man can give.
This image is going to my grave with me; it was so beautiful, so true.

The long sweep of the ghats by dawn was equally fascinating, there aren’t too many people around at dawn and for the second time in Benares I felt the calm n quite which was pure. I saw many devotees performing rituals, worshipping the river Ganges and praying to it. Benares before sunrise is another world altogether! Charming. Peaceful. Devotional.

Another day, by a rowing boat, we saw all the 80 ghats. Idyllic. The calm balmy waters, made me feel like I was at peace with myself. On one Ghat they burn dead bodies and I was warned about this before I reached Benares. We saw it from our boat and strangely for the first time I did not feel any fear and calmly accepted what I saw. The significance of people wanting to die in Varanasi is that they reach heaven and attain moksh soon after. Hence it is seen as many Hindus’ last wish.

We crossed the river onto the other side and saw a village on the other side,
We were free floating in the middle of the river, soaking in the quietude, the peace, the stillness, the calm of a river which is felt to be pure and of a city which is holy.

Another day. And we made our way to temple of God Shiv, Vishwanath.
Our friend from the hotel who accompanied us, had prepared us for the tour ahead, so we stayed focused on our prayers and ignored all other elements such as the pundits and their askance for more.

He narrated how the Muslims had plundered and razed this Vishwanath temple to the ground zillion of years ago, and how they had left a small little portion of the wall intact for the Hindus to realize how potently powerful they were.
The story has it that they constructed a mosque on top of the destroyed temple.
Someone had said to me that religion is the biggest vote bank for politicians in our country – sadly for us, this narration was the biggest live example:- (

It is said that Shiv’s first original “ling” was discovered here in Benares and the temple was built for this reason alone. The Vishwanth Temple.

This trip to Benares taught me some patience and tolerance, a higher need for calm and quiet. Did I feel transformed, did I come back to feel more spiritual? Am not sure cause as humans we don’t change overnight, we allow experiences and images to soak into us and if they have made a deep impact on us, we slowly adapt to them. Definitely a reality check.


Holy madness that is...Benares

Call it Kashi, Varanasi or Benares all these names are the key to after life. This is believed to be the greatest ‘tirth’ or the crossing over from earth to heaven, for a Hindu. Benares is the oldest living city in the world and one has to leave behind one’s city attitude to take in this holy madness

No frowning or irritation allowed- get rid of your city attitude, I had to constantly remind myself so as to not ‘lose it’

The (a)incessant honking, every nano second by scooters, rickshaws, bikes, cars, jeeps, buses makes one feel Bombay is a veritable haven on not just the road transport mechanism but also on noise pollution it is probably the most silent city in India. (b)The splash of ‘paan’ on the streets and walls because they don’t chew their paans there, they keep it in the mouth for 2 hours or more, and relish the juices that collect and then, splash it outward when the mouth is full. (c) The manner in which every outsider is seen to be a total ignoramus and ‘educated’ about the Ganges is masha-allah too endearing. (d) The filth, the beggars, the touts, the greedy pundits, and the general madness many times had me see sawing between being amazed and wanting to run home (e) the humungous population in this tiny area of the ghats was difficult to deal with despite having lived in this country for years!!

Nothing prepares you for Benares honestly, I had read up a lot, asked friends more, and more, but the live experience is so very different from hearsay and second hand impressions, I almost feel Varanasi is a ‘concentrated’ India with all its colour and chaos. I think am still reeling with the onslaught on my senses, and in order to make some sense of all the jumbled up thoughts about Benares in my head, I need to step back a bit.


Concluding on Russia

Olga and Illina accompanied me to the Bolshoi theatre because I threw a fit one evening as it occured to me that I had yet to see Moscow by day! So in crumpled day clothes I very sheepishly stepped out of the car towards the Bolshoi theatre as if anticipating drumbeats and music to welcome me :-)

Bolshoi means ‘large’, ‘grand’, it was intended for opera and ballet originally, as these were considered nobler than drama. With excitement bubbling in me, I looked around me in awe:-)

The exterior of this building was magnificent resplendent with grandeur, a great example of fabulous Russian architecture. The interiors were breath taking and bold too. This building now, is state owned and I found out by reading some granite slabs in there, that it had a turbulent history to it. Apparently the first owner of this Imperial building not only became bankrupt & penniless, the entire building was gutted by a fire forcing the State govt to take over the reins, and reinstate its lost glory

Happily I entered this magnificient theatre looking for a stupendous experience… and The Swan Lake delivered it! I was lucky to have 2 local friends with me, who gave me a thorough understanding of what was to unfold which is why I enjoyed it much. It is worth doing some research before a show to enjoy the details and to have a memorable evening out. I still have the tab of the ticket to Bolshoi, kept with me, as if to remind myself that I saw a bit of history too:-)sitting up there in the dress circle with those binocs to get a closer glimpse of each and every move of the dancers- O twas magical!

At interval break I got speaking to some local theatre personnel and felt that, with its reconstruction and past glory set in place, the Russians are now hopeful that the Bolshoi will be back at the centre of world stage. I certainly wish them well!

...more on Russia

St Petersburg, one of the most fantastic cities I have seen, cool, picturesque, impressive architecture, I dont know anybody who doesnt like this city:-)

We walked into our hotel, one of the finest the city had to boast of, and surprise - as one enters the doorway- I was surrounded by a hundred (atleast) gambling machines in combination with those blinking lights. Everyday this casino beckons the gamblers from all around the world as it works round the clock, and as you'd expect pretty women and smart looking men hang out in such places as they were hanging out here this afternoon

For a minute thr I sincerely thought the driver had got us to a wrong place, I kept turning at him looking askance - are you sure we are at the right place?! And at the end of this very large casino area we come to a very small inconspicuous reception area, as if trying to almost, not exist! There were few people standing thr with their passports for check in, and within minutes I was shown to my room, efficiency personified

A lovely room, with a view of the Neva river with trees lining the both sides of the river, getting sprayed gently by white fluffy snow, and, despite the snow I could see joggers in full track pants running by the side of the river.

The first day passed in a haze with meetings and more mtgs. The second day early morning I came down for breakfast to the cafe restaurant to find not too many people there. So I guess I was happy sitting in one of those brightly lit windows with sun streaming in and making the cafe look warm golden yellow- the sun was most welcome after a hard day of snow! I found a table that had a wonderful view :-)

A couple tables away was another guest waiting for his breakfast.

After looking at the menu which I couldn’t read a word of, I asked the steward there to help me understand what was for breakfast. And he couldn’t speak a word of English so I asked for a cup of coffee and walked to the buffet area to check what was on offer

You got to believe this- about 40 odd platters with not a single vegetarian offering, not even cheese! :-( You got to believe this honest! I came back very despondent to my table and sat there heavily, wondering where will I get food here for the next week

Soon the Unilever client was at my table and with glee serving himself breakfast!:-) While I waited patiently hoping someone will ask me what I would like - "maybe a hot crisp aloo parantha with a tall glass of mango milkshake?!" - there is no harm in dreaming, right?

And now my eyes fell upon the table where the other guest was sitting, and by now he had a large, very large portion of a leg? Horse rib? or smthg? In front of him digging into it, like he had not seen food in years. Hungrily!

That did it for me, I asked for another cup of coffee and my breakfast was done, I had absolutely no desire for breakfast no more :-), not even mums aloo parantha!

It was time to get away from this hotel towards some english speaking folks and maybe some cookies during the meeting. O yes, the meeting was sounding promising and I was looking forward to the meeting now:-) On the way to the office I was overwhelmed by the dimensions of the buildings I saw, absolutely fabulous!


Russia, with love

So, this trip, it was to be Moscow, Ekaterinberg and St Petersburg

Ekat is a small town with not too many top notch hotels to stay in, largely populated with middle class or lower class
(Economically speaking), with very warm hearted people, and not too many choices to spoil one!

If you are looking to be spoilt, then you need to get to Moscow, and see how the rich and famous and the infamous live:-) I had heard about the mafia there and in this trip I saw and interacted with one too

I felt that while the Russians liked me cos I was from the land of Mithun Chakraborty and Raj Kapoor, there is this undeniable distrust of foreigners. They don’t open up easily, they need to spend a good amount of time tracking you, to know you are trustworthy

Luckily for me given the folks I had to deal with had seen me around a couple of trips, twas a wee bit easier to bond with them.
My faithful driver Sergey could not utter more than a "yes", "no", 'sorry' & "thank you" in English, could still communicate with me and reach me the right places uncannily!
He was a thorough gentleman, who during work trips, would point out things of historic value to me and that’s how I saw the Red Aquare and the Kremlin:-)and discovered Moscow by day

One evening the boys decided they had to go clubbing and no amount of me pleading out, got me off the hook, so I had to tag along with this male group to the clubs

We started by getting to some posh club the second night there in Moscow. While the locals had to grin and were waved in, I was whisked through a dimly lit corridor where I had to submit my passport through a dark slit window, and then suddenly the thick doors closed behind me, then through some mic/speakers I was told to walk through the next set of automated steel doors with bullet proof glass, and wait. And then suddenly some air whooshed and my passport landed with a thud at another dark window - not a single person right thru this process interacted with me, was a bit scary and in my head I was thinking all weird thoughts, that Jodie Foster movie, where somebody puts some dope into her bag and how she is caught and put behind bars in Bangkok (Bangkok Hilton?) and how no matter how she pleaded not guilty nobody gave a rats ass for
her! While I was standing there looking blindly around me, wondering where is my passport, where the hell have I landed myself in when the steel doors opened and 2 leather clad drop dead gorgeous looking blondes came my way with my passport! I was bemused, and stoopidly relieved

They now escort me through another set of doors into this fabulous bar area where the pole dancers are doing their number and the guys are busy looking! As I reached towards them, they got busy telling me about this club, the owner and the guests at the club that night. Apparently this was a club owned by one top notch mafia man
in Moscow, backed by some politician. And here comes this leather clad 6'5" tall man to greet us and is introduced to us as Tony!
Tony waves amd guides us to a table which has a full view of the podium where the dancers are teasing the men, and I look around bemused

Now the guys are busy with their drinks and the women and I am wondering what I am doing in this place, when my phn rings and I dart to the quietest corner of this room and away from all that tease! Call over and when I get back to join the group, to see some of the women who have perched atop few of these guys. ha-ha

I decide to amble around -Tony gracefully has one of the hostesses accompany me to 'show me around', so I move away from this central bar room and into a area that can be best described as a vast courtyard but beautifully lit and very gracefully done up

We walk into one room and my guided tour has begun, the hostess opens the lace curtains and signals me through - wo! A threesome!

Flushed in the cheeks I walk out , she walks ahead of me into another room, gay men had their act going on here in this room and there was a crowd gathered in that room watching them. And the next room had slave girls and slave boys, and the next room had a full fledged orgy! And soon I couldn’t stomach this anymore, I excused myself, I have no idea how I got outside the club at 2am! It was snowing hard and I called Sergey who promptly brought the car around and dropped me back to the hotel! Merci gnite and the safe haven of my room finally!

I wasn’t afraid of where I was, I was repulsed to see this cold display of sex and flesh. I was hugely embarrassed to be with male clients; maybe it would have been different if I had gone to this club with friends. I don' know ( still wondering!):-)

That night was put down to "another experience". A
4 wheel drive bullet proof Mercedes had picked us up, only to realize early in the evening that it was sent by Tony the mafia dude, everything that looks sexy is far far from being sexy up