Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pretentious world

Pretension is one of the less talked about gift of development. As people prosper or as they get polished, they inevitably get pretentious. Or do they? This does look like a norm at least to us city dwellers. But you only have to look so far as our small towns and villages to see genuineness  still preserved in thoughts, talks and actions.

I spent 5 years of my childhood in Jodhpur (also happens to be the best part of my childhood). We used to live in a rented house. It was a double storeyed house. We used to live on the ground floor and our landlord used to live on the first floor. Our landlord was a police officer originating from one of the nearby villages. Our landlady was basically a village woman. She had very recently moved to Jodhpur when her husband got transferred.

Few months ago, I went to Jodhpur with my family. While we were there, we visited our old house. And fortunately we met almost all its residents. We met the two girls of the family who are now married with a child and  were visiting their home for few days. We met the youngest son of the family whom I could barely recognize. His elder brother, who also got married was however in the village with his wife.

As we sat in the drawing room, the son brought us some water in a steel pitcher. No glasses and tray. It looked a bit 'unsophisticated'. Next we knew, the daughters were showing us their marriage albums. All the while, our landlady was talking about her family. She talked about his elder son, how he got involved in untoward things and is now living in a village doing farming. All this in a very matter-of-fact tone. No hiding facts or justifying things. No shame in acknowledgment either.  As we were leaving, the landlady gave my mother a hug. Since when do we greet goodbyes in this fashion? My mother later told me that this how they do it in villages.

It all looked so plain and simple. I actually believed them when they said they felt happy to see us after this long. And after that brief interlude, I was back in my world.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Expectations !

How we always hear things about life not being so easy for the fairer sex. But sometimes, things can get difficult for boys too(I use boys and not men for the simple reason that I don't feel like a grown up yet). Not that I have much to complain about with all the freedom and so little scrutiny accorded to us for most of our lives. But still, there are times when I feel burdened by the expectations - expectations from the son of the family, from a to-be husband of a household.

Many of these expectations are borne by myself only without anyone imposing them. My family and father in particular have always given me all the freedom to do what I like and pursue what I dream. The expectations are more of a result of the learnings from the society, toeing the line set by the culture and tradition. The expectations are what I have from myself. It is the society which expects a man to earn for his family and I expect the same from myself. I guess this is why I had sought for a partner who could support herself - it would relieve me from an expectation.

I have had this wish since a long time to leave everything behind, to just go to some remote scenic corner of this country and stay there till I get bored of it. But I don't think that this wish will ever materialize. It will possibly remain that regret that people have about the things that they haven't done and that which they so desperately wanted in their life.

PS: I am getting married next year in February. Any one caring to read this post is by default invited :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pessimism over optimism ?

Is everyone more pessimistic than optimistic or is it just me? In other words, which is a stronger trait - optimism or pessimism?

I can see the pull of pessimism. It is difficult to bear when the expectations are not met. So as a safe strategy, one might set low expectations to begin with while still hoping for the best.

I can also see a charm in feeling like a victim without actually being a victim, giving a vent to all the frustration within, in the guise of retaliation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A trip to Black Forest

Finally, my wish to see the European country side was fulfilled during last visit to Germany when I visited Black Forest.  I first read about this region in South Germany in the biography of Indira Gandhi. I then heard about it from few friends living in Europe. It was a fabulous 2 day trip over the weekend during which I was accompanied by two colleagues, one of whom also happens to be my junior from the college.

 Black forest is spread over a large area and covering some cities, towns and many hamlets. It is around 3 hours away from Frankfurt via the fast speed long distance trains (ICE). For these trains, if one books the tickets 3 days or earlier in advance, then it is possible to obtain the tickets at Savings Fare on a very reasonable prices. In fact I noticed that standard tickets were priced almost 50% higher than the savings fare. Thus, we had to buy our to and fro long distance tickets in advance.

After doing an extensive research on the internet, we planned our trip via Freiburg im breisgau. Frieburg is a small university town and is a gateway to Black Forest. We chose Titisee as our first destination of Black Forest. It is a spa town in Titisee-Neustadt municipality located next to a lake by the same name. Titisee has direct connectivity from Frieburg via the regional trains (RB). Tickets of RB can be booked in advance or can be purchased from ticket vending machines on the station.
City center - Titisee

After reaching the railway station, we walked towards the city center and reached the tourist information center. In most of the tourist towns in Black Forest, these tourist centers are present which can guide you through the region and can also provide you with the maps. If you are planning to go for hiking like we did, then these maps can come very handy.

Lake Titisee

Coming out of the tourist center, we decided to do boating in the lake. There are different options available for boating. One can take rowing boats or paddle boats or can also take ferries. The prices are very reasonable at EUR 5 for half hour and EUR 8 for one hour for one boat (which can accomodate around 4 people). After boating for an hour we decided to visit some shops and have our lunch.

Black forest and Titisee in particular is famous for its clock makers. Especially, cuckoo clocks from this region are very famous. There are few shops near the lake. If one is planning to buy these clocks or some other souvenirs, then Titisee is a very good place. Looking for a bargain, I didn't purchase any thing from Titisee only to buy some of them from Frieburg a day later at somewhat higher price.

A camping region next to lake Titisee

After lunch, we started our hiking - something that we are looking forward to in this trip. We walked around the lake, coming across picturesque grasslands, black and green forest and the lake glittering with sunlight. We also came across two regions dedicated to camping. There were many Travelers and Caravans parked with people sitting outside bathing in the May sunlight. Some of them had brought their bicycles for cycling whereas some others had even brought their own rowing boats. If I have to describe a leisure holiday then this would come as close as anything else.

Titisee to Hinterzarten

While walking around the lake, we came across a road sign directing towards Hinterzarten. This was one trek which was recommended to us. I should mention here that there are many long distance hiking treks in Black Forest but we were looking for a 7-8 km trek from one town to the other. Hinterzarten is one station earlier on the train line from Frieburg to Titisee. There is one trek which follows the railway line but we took another one using the map.

 Titisee to Hinterzarten

The distance from Titisee to Hinterzarten via this route was around 4-5 kms. The elevation could be steep at some places but is never difficult to walk. After walking for an hour we reached Hinterzarten, a resort town popular for skiing. The best time to visit Black Forest is in summers from May to September. Hinterzarten, though a small town is packed with hotels of all kinds. There are luxury hotels like Adler and Reppert, budget accommodations like Imbery as well as some apartments available for rent. But being a tourist season, these hotels were all fully booked. We then got to know about the tourist information center from a native lady. Since it was late in the evening on Saturday, the tourist center was closed but we were told about an information board outside the center which lists most of the hotels and their reservations status!

Hotel information board

This board lists the types of accommodation available in different places (single bed, double bed, apartment, suite). The green light means there are vacant rooms and the red light means all the rooms are booked. The phone number of all the hotels was also provided and you can call them using a free phone to inquire and confirm the status. There is also an interactive screen using which you can locate the place on the map of the city. Can a place be any more tourist friendly!

We finally stayed in Hotel Silberdistel. This beautiful hotel is few minutes walk away from the town center and is managed by an elderly couple. In small towns, one can sometimes face difficulty in communicating as there are not many English speakers. We somehow managed to get two rooms booked for ourselves using signs and broken German that my colleague knows.

Morning in Hinterzarten - view from the hotel

After taking some rest in the hotel, we walked around the town, saw the church and had a very German dinner. Next morning during breakfast, we were greeted by the wife from whom we came to know about the places to visit in and near Hinterzarten. We finally decided to visit Ravennaschlucht. It is a gorge 3kms away from Hinterzarten.

Train bridge at Ravenna gorge

We walked to Ravenna gorge and after reaching there took a small trek uphill along the course of the water. After coming back from the trek, we went atop a small hillock which offered us an exquisite view of the surroundings.

 View from the hillock
Near Ravenna Gorge - Church in the background

We ate our lunch there at Best Western Hotel, walked to a nearby church (which was closed) and then walked our way back to Hinterzarten. From Hinterzarten, we took a train back to Frieburg from where we had our tickets to Frankfurt. As mentioned earlier, Frieburg is a small university town with a large proportion of student population which keeps the city vibrant. There are many clubs and bars there to cater to the youth
 but few other places of interest.

A street in Frieburg

Frieburg Church

Frieburg has a very extensive network of trams. The city has an old town feel to it. One landmark that stands out is the Frieburg Church or Minister as it is called there. After spending some time in the church, we walked around the city for some time, reached the railway station and caught our train for Frankfurt.

After spending 2 days there, I would strongly recommend Black Forest to any traveler interested in visiting European country side. There are many other towns there which could be of interest so search for them on internet. And just ensure that you are traveling there in the right season. In case, any one wants more information about anything, leave me a comment.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Impressed by Germany

I cam back from Frankfurt this week from my third business trip to that city in last one and a half year. And in all 3 trips, I have been mightily impressed by Germany.

The best part of course is all the cars that you get to see there. I was once told that Germans love their cars. They might compromise on a home but would not compromise on their cars. And then there is that superb road network on which you can enjoy the maximum performance of these machines. I have been told many people from across Europe come to Germany only to drive on 'Autobahns' as they are called there.

Second best thing about Germany is the people. One thing common in most big cities of the world is their nonchalant people. But in Germany, I have found people to be mostly friendly.

One big difference that I see in the India and other countries is the working hours. While in India, 10 am is universally a time when office starts, in Germany (and probably in many other countries) the norm is 8-8:30 am. One reason for that could be to maximally utilize sun light during their work hours especially during the winters. This is also the reason for having day light savings time in many countries in West.

Another difference that I saw there is in the portion size of the food served. While that has lot to do with the genetic difference between our race and European race because of which their average build is greater than ours, I have also been told that Germans eat little between their meals unlike in India where we have afternoon tea and evening snacks.

Europe can be difficult for English speakers sometimes. However in Germany, many people, especially in urban centers are very much proficient in English. In Frankfurt where a large percentage of population is those of immigrants I have never faced any language problem. The signs of course are mostly in German but you would always find someone who will translate that for you in English.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Valuing the happiness

Some of the parameters for evaluating a commodity are the importance that it holds for us and the ease or rather difficulty in obtaining it. If that is indeed the case, then does it not make the happiness of a poor more valuable than the happiness of a rich.

The other day, I watched a kid playing on the road side while walking past by a 'Kacchi basti'. I can't recall how he looked like. But I do remember an image of a little boy wearing nothing but shorts, his chest white with mud and many other things. I also remember his laugh while he was running.

And I also remember thinking how similar and different his happiness is with mine. Similarity lies in the state of mind at that moment- carefree, devoid of any other thoughts, living in the moment. And the difference lies in the reason that makes him happy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How people pass their time on internet ?

Its been a long time since I last blogged. The desire of writing has mellowed down in the past few months. It is probably a reflection of the fact that I am comfortably settled in this 'job' life. Everything seems to be going smoothly. Too smoothly in fact to bother me to think about other things - which is not necessarily a good thing.

Anyways, the reason I wrote after this long was I was tired of sitting on the internet not knowing what to do. My browser always has some specific 2-3 tabs open. Some of them are either of the 3 news website that I follow: BBC News, The Hindu and CNN-IBN. But the left most is always Gmail. It seems like a kind of OCD - the left most tab always HAS to be gmail. If it isn't, life looks incomplete - seriously !

So, I had almost exhausted most of the news articles. I had checked all the 'updates' on my Facebook account, read few cricket articles on Cricinfo. What else can I do ? Its not a rhetorical question by the way. I would actually like to know how people spend their time on internet. I might be missing on some of the good things out there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A big dustbin

Do we have any garbage management plans in this country? I am wondering whether the effort that I put up in locating a dustbin for my trash is worth it. Does the garbage thrown in the  dustbin and thrown on a railway track end up at the same place. In this case that place is railway track of course. I have seen so many  instances when the sweeper on the railway station empties the bin on the tracks itself.

We Indians have a very poor sense of cleanliness. For us, it means keeping our immediate surrounding clean. Few minutes ago a woman sitting on the berth above me cleaned her seat, put all that garbage in a polythene and just dropped it below. It seems as if other person's right to neat and clean surroundings is oblivious to them.

To certain extent all of us are party to these crimes. There is always a  place in the neighbourhood where all the garbage is thrown. That way our homes are clean but what about our surroundings.

In the foreign countries that I have visited, garbage is separated by each individual into the disposable and non-disposable groups. Some other countries have very high rate of recycling of non-disposable waste. I would love to see something like this in India as well. I feel such a guilt in throwing a paper and a broken bulb in the same bin. With the population that we have, we may soon turn this country into a big waste land.


Few days ago when I was in Tagore Garden in Delhi, I saw a group of  young children playing gilli-danda. I watched them for sometime and was able to deduce some of the rules of the game after watching them
play for sometime.

It was such a pleasant surprise watching them  play the game. It definitely reminded me of some of the games I played during my childhood like 'sitoliya' and few others whose name I can't even recall now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A dinner at fort

Not many things can beat the charm of a fort at night. I was in Jodhpur this weekend. The two of us went to the Mehrangarh fort at night and had dinner at the roof of one of the Mahals with nothing but candles and yellow light at distance to alight the surroundings.

The restaurant – Chokelao - serves only Rajasthani thali in the main course. For starters there are few other options. The service is not the best in the world. In fact for the first 10 minutes, the 2 of us were left waiting at the roof. A vegetarian thali costs around Rs 600, a bit on the higher side for a place like Jodhpur but still reasonable in comparison to the expensive restaurants in Delhi and Gurgaon.
But if you consider the view that the place has to offer, I would consider it a very good bargain. From the elevation of the fort which is itself built on a hill, you can see the lights of Jodhpur in one direction only to be matched by the majestic walls and the roof top of the fort on the other. When visiting just remember to take a good camera to capture the pics of the fort at night. I am sure you would not be disappointed by what the place has to offer.