Sunday, June 14, 2020

Kaushik Banerjee - I will miss you

I happened to work with you in not as many deals as I would have liked to. I remember the time we worked in 2017, where you supported the entire deal from Sydney for a huge transformation program  while I was in Manila for our APAC Sales Conference for 3-4 days. You held the fort together for a very complex transformation deal we were working on, during a very critical juncture. You had just moved from a sales role to consulting, but the value you added was phenomenal and one of a pro. We didn’t work on other deals post this. Maybe because you were working with your banking customers and I was working with Utilities customers? However the bonds we formed in spite of this were so strong, so personal. I am deeply pained to see this untimely demise of you my dear friend - Kaushik. Why did you have to leave us so soon? 

It was such a pleasure meeting you at work, that unmissable smile on your face, your speech often laced intellect with humour.  Our coffee catchups exploring every cafe shop in and around 76 Berry Street in the mornings or noons were so rich with conversations. Despite our hectic schedules we used to try our best to get those 20 minutes for a brekkie and coffee in the morning or just an afternoon coffee to break a hectic work hour. We had just started exploring cafeterias for good breakfast in North Sydney and planned to do more of it. Do you remember the brekkie down the plush restaurant on Walker Street? The conversations spanning across work, personal lives, about the world of consulting, how we could position ourselves better as individuals and organisations. We also discussed books, consulting reports that you were so well averse with. You used to read a lot digitally as well. Your love for wooden furniture with stressed wood and everything that had character. Our long conversation exchanging how we chose bookshelves - especially wooden are still so fresh in my mind. Your wit, sarcasm were so well woven. Your strength of character as you battled the day to day challenges on professional and personal front completely shone though. The unmissable smile on your face always underscored that strength with a subtle message, which now I interpret as ‘The show must go on’. You used to love to travel and I had keenly followed your photos posted from your trip to UK a few years back. You had recently travelled to Vanuatu last year over a long weekend and had told how you and family planned to take break every year. You were in India as well in December break this year, so was i. Our discussion on Andheri and Mumbai is still fresh in my mind.

We both had been a part of Toastmasters in our early years of the professional life. We discussed so many times in the last few years to get back to being an active part of it again and join one of the clubs. The last I spoke to you was during the lockdown when I was in self isolation. I was just seeing my WhatsApp messages and see I had shared my blog with you post that conversation. I had urged you to write one, which you did by end of April. You had sent me a link to your blog as well on 28th April, which I read, re-read so many times. Your command over language, the smooth narrative and ability to make the reader picturise what you communicated on your blog was awesome. I loved the personal touch that you brought in with mentions about Pebbles, your cat and cherished possession in the blog. You have so nicely also mentioned about the life around your cats even on Facebook in the last few years, which have been so warm to read. My life changed from 02nd May due to a personal struggle I had to go through and in parallel to that a contractual negotiation that took a huge toll on me. I know you were busy as well. Calling you crossed my mind so many times in the last few weeks, but I thought I will speak to you soon. In fact on Friday, 12th June at 5.45 pm I was having a casual chat with another colleague who sits around us. I spoke about how fun it was to have my office desk next to yours, his and of the people around and the humour, fun we shared in between our hectic work meetings. You were our jest, conscience keeper and friend in need. Your penchant to collect  different water bottles, classic stationary and especially expensive pens was well known. You had a class, style, sales accumen and a big heart. 

On Saturday, June 13th when I got this news in the morning, I was shocked and couldn’t believe it was true. I had to pinch myself to ensure it wasn’t a bad dream. It took sometime for me to digest it. Once I got your address and knew it was safe to be outside your house considering current lockdown rules,  I tried driving to your place as fast I could, directly taking the M7 and then M5 to reduce the 50 kms of distance between our houses, in less than 40 minutes.  I couldn’t meet you but could feel your presence, the furniture choice and shades had class written all over it as I entered the reception, numb and hardly able to say any words I could to Natasha except that ‘ I used to sit behind you at work and have coffee with you often’. Natasha, going through so much, admirably put up a strong front and told me ‘ one soy flat white, that was his favourite’.

Maybe God himself has been going through these unprecedented times with lot of courage and needed someone witty, with a sense of intellect, power of words, warmth and humour to keep him strong. Om Shaanti Kaushik! Pray for strength for Natasha, your family and friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Global Haircutting Experience – Part 5

Price: $ 15 - $ 30 excluding a tip. Prices depend on how closer or farther you are from the city

It’s a while since I blogged about getting a hair cut outside of India.  I got an opportunity to work in the Southern Hemisphere and in a new continent, as I was finishing my engagement in UK in 2013. My wife and I jumped into the opportunity to re-locate to Australia. Sydney has now been home for close to seven years (come May) and during this period of time, I have constantly shifted residence. With this shift in housing from the Western to North Western parts of Sydney, we also had to choose different shopping areas to get groceries, vegetables and all sundries or for self-grooming such as getting a haircut.
In Strathfield, I found a place right next to the square in front of the train station. It was perched on level one of a big building that house various shops from grocery stores, laundries, Korean fast food joints, florists to dollar stores. As you climb up the stairs, a bell chimed thereby alerting the shop owners upstairs that they had a visitor. The men’s saloon was straight up and the women’s was just to your left hand side as soon as you took the last step up the flight of stairs. The gentleman in the men’s saloon was a person of Indian origin, who comes from Gujarat, a state in the western part of  India. Over the three years that I stayed in Strathfield, I would have visited him atleast 25 times. Every visit was full of conversations ranging from Bollywood, cricket to Indian politics. We discussed at length about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected to be the Prime Minister for his first tenure around that time. The respect, adulation and following the person had for Mr. Modi was unmissable and he had all the facts of how well Modi had done as the Chief Minister of his home state – Gujarat. Whenever there were cricket matches where Indian team played, be it IPL or International matches, he used to have it telecast live on the television set that found a permanent place in the corner of the modest work space. The waiting times indeed kept everyone creatively occupied if not with cricket matches, with Bollywood movie songs. Songs, that take you down memory lane to your growing up years and allowing you to visit parts of your own personal memory that you were surprised to re-discover.
Once we moved farther from the city, towards the ‘Wild West’, Girraween became our new abode. The closest train station from Girraween is Pendle Hill or Toongabie, depending on which end of the suburb you reside. Pendle Hill had shops occupying both sides of the narrow street called ‘Pendle Way’. Pendle Way connects the Pendle Hill Station on one side before merging into another lane. On another end, it takes you upto Great Western Highway, one of the major roads connecting various suburbs between Parramatta and Blacktown and an alternate to the M4 motorways. Pendle Hill is the ‘South India’ or ‘Tamil Nadu’ of Australia. The suburb has a rich history of European and local Aussie inhabiting it for a long time. Over the last 20 -30 years the social fabric of Pendle Hill has changed and it has been dominated by people from the Indian subcontinent, especially from Tamil Nadu (a state in the South of India) and the Tamil inhabited parts of Sri Lanka. The Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, have always made a home away from their original home in Sri Lanka, in countries such as Norway, UK, Australia. I have found them to be one of the most hard-working people and easy to get along with in my limited social interactions. There are big hoardings on both sides of Pendle Way advertising various shops that sell everything from Indian, Sri Lankan groceries, flowers for various religious ceremonies, gold jewellery, Indian ethnic clothing to items for Puja / worship. Most of the hoardings have signage both in English and Tamil. This strip is also the gastronomic bowl of authentic South Indian food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The prices are reasonable, ambience is modest but food is great. If you happen to walk down this street and have a look around, you may well feel you are in a village in Tamil Nadu in India than in Sydney. There is a barber shop right in between various shops, called ‘Ceylon Cut’.  I have at least had 22 haircuts across both of their branches – one in Pendle Hill and the other right outside Toongabbie road for the couple of years I stayed at Girraween. It has been an interesting experience getting the hair cut here, as the television in the corner is constantly switched onto Tamil TV programs aired by SunTV. Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, it’s a totally refreshing experience to listen to Tamil Songs, movies in the background as you wait for your haircut or have it. I got new friends here, not only with the person in charge but also the various hair stylists who gave me a hair-cut. Some of the interesting stories of how they got to Australia and this shop, from Sri Lanka or even from within Australia are waiting to be told some other day. However cannot resist indicating that once we had a lady of Asian origin who was interning in an otherwise male dominated work space. I didn’t see many takers who volunteered and when I was asked if would be OK, I decided to try it out. Though the lady had a language barrier (she could understand some amount of English), the person in charge communicated between me and the lady to pass on the requirements on how I would like my hair cut.  While I was a tad nervous on how the final outcome would look like, my fears were put to rest as she did a good job. It is indeed inspiring to see the diversity and inclusiveness built even by these small businesses. When I accompanied my father here for a haircut, while they were in Sydney, I managed to get a special rate for Seniors (knocking off $ 3 from the usual rate)!  Once the hair cut is finished, as I settled the bills, the gesture with which the person in-charge communicated showed a lot of gratitude and keenness to serve again. This aspect was always certain for every visit I would have made to the Ceylon Cut in Pendle Hill. There are few customer experiences that touch your heart and stay etched in for a long time, and this one is just one of those rare occasions.
Last year, we shifted from the Inner West to the North West and in the last few months, I have been visiting the barber at Parklea Markets, a flea market selling anything from vegetables and fruits to groceries, bargain items, clothes, memorabilia and dry fruits. It also has a huge garden, collection of pots, antiques, kids play areas and of course a barbers shop. Adams barber shop now has two spots, right in front of Entry 1 of Parklea Markets and the other, far behind, near the CBA ATM. I have had a hair cut at both places and been served by young kids, who seem to be some Middle Eastern country (maybe Iran, Iraq or Lebanon). While few are able to communicate in English, the ones who can’t can quickly understand what you want post a translation from the owner. They do a fab job, but operate only on a cash (which wasn’t the case with the other two mentioned above) basis. Recently when I had gone shopping to Parklea over the weekend with my father and father in law, I decided to have an unplanned activity and had a haircut, while I asked them to explore the shops around, as there was hardly any waiting.
On a lighter note, dad asked me to check if they had a Senior’s discount or a bulk discount for three heads and it was politely declined by the team. Maybe few months or years away? Is it the right time to now be self sufficient and buy a men’s grooming kit and do all the hair-cuts at home? Time will tell, or probably the growth of hair as I age will determine 😊

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Strange things happen at night, even when you self-isolate

Writing is an addiction, just like marijuana, you can’t stop it once you get used to it. As indicated in the previous blog, I have re-started writing random stuff only recently. Few weeks ago, I came home around 1 am from work after finishing a critical customer deadline and post that it took me at least 80 more minutes to sleep. Not only did I recap the happenings of the day and have a sense of relief, but also quickly checked if I missed anything critical for our customer submission other than checking the latest updates on my IPAD.
Once I finished the Day 1 blog at 2 am Friday morning, It took sometime for me to sleep. This is very common as the brain works actively with so much of stimuli and takes time to slow down and eventually shut down the roller blinds of our eyes. Everyone at home had gone back to their rooms to sleep and my daughter as well had stopped giggling or talking, thereby putting both herself and her mom to sleep. I could start concentrating on my blog in this backdrop of pin drop silence. Since this was the first blog I had directly punched on my IPAD, there was no clattering of the keys, which comes from physical keyboards. However, in a few minutes, my ear picked up specific sounds from the night that was growing darker as the moon was also probably staying away from COVID-19 virus.
The fencing on both sides of our house, especially on the front yard is virtual than physical. Dotting the boundaries on the left hand side, we have various small plants and trees, which are under the shade of huge palm trees. The palm trees have been on our neighbours front yard for years, and their height signals the length of time our neighbours have spent in this suburb. One of the birds sleeping on the palm tree, was probably interrupted and was fluttering its wings occasionally. On a slightly warm night, not sure if it was using its wings as fan to stir up some air circulation for its younger ones or just trying to re-position itself in the tree.
Just as this ended, in sometime the dogs from the neighbours on the other side of our backyard decided to let a bark out. I had just read that evening that few garden snakes had attacked people in nearby suburbs in separate incidents, and they were recovering in the nearby hospital. The mind has a strange tendency to connect the dots at the most unwanted of times. I was wondering if it was a snake or a long blue tongue garden lizard, slithering across the fence, unsettling the dogs for invading their territory. Just the previous weekend, while trimming the corner tree in the backyard, which had grown a tad wild recently, I did see something long and heavy slither across. It was a blue tongue lizard, as I found later after looking up online. Mr. Blue tongue keeps your garden clean and eats away all unwanted pests that affect your garden with no impact to human. I guess he had chosen his spot just like Sheldon (from Big Bang Theory) right at the base of our corner tree. While I had my heart in my mouth watching something this big slither by, I put up a brave front and with a swagger like an action movie hero, put the big Pruner on the side and walked indoors, closing the access door to the garden behind me. I tried looking at the base of the tree from the mesh door, and kind of nodded to ensure we both have our own personal space ‘un-intruded’ for sometime. Mr. Blue Tongue may well have been back from a party in the nearby bushes, back to his ‘Sheldon’ spot and thereby upsetting the dogs.
Off late, there have been an increase in incidents where thieves have operated at night and robbed houses in and around the suburb. I could also hear a few irregular sounds from the backyard, with no specific pattern, but sounding like someone treading softly while walking. I wasn’t sure if someone was in the backyard in the pitch dark light, trying to make noises to the minimal and break in. Till I could confirm, no point in raising an alarm and waking up anyone. I decided to keep a vigil on both the front yard and back yard peering through the windows in pitch darkness and intermittently switching on the light. As a final check, decided to go down the stairs to check if all the access doors to the house are secure downstairs. As I was about to get down the final sequence of stairs, I grabbed the railing and stopped to listen, crouch a little bit and spot if I could see something. It also hit me hard that I cannot get off the stairs as I need to restrict freedom of movement and be in ‘my zone’ due to self-isolation. I spent a few minutes watching my living room and kitchen, in pitch darkness with only silhouettes and shadows of the dining table, couch and coffee table. The dishwasher had just completed its cycle and the LED lights seemed to create some amount of light in the kitchen, in a very focused way.
Suddenly, one of the bedroom doors opened, making the hair stand on the back of my neck. I didn’t have anything to protect myself in case it was an intruder. My fears were put to rest, as I saw my father in law walking out to probably visit the restroom. He looked long way across the hall and saw me as I was getting up from my crouch and was startled, “Is all well? Do you need something?”  I quickly explained and had him check all the access points to the house and once we concurred it was all safe, I went back upstairs satisfied and snuggled my way into the bed. My eyes wouldn’t shut as my ears were active and were soaking in the pin drop silence. In addition to this, the mind was running mental re-runs of what unfolded in the last few minutes (what seemed like hours). It struck me that, traditionally we are usually scared of the darkness and silence of the night, slippery creatures, supernatural powers or of human beings themselves. In 2020, the pandemic through virus has forcefully made its way into the list of things we will start getting scared of. I turned my head on the right, looking at the space where we have our temple at home and just had a visual one second prayer asking God to keep a watch over and closed my eyes. The faith in a Supreme Being has always helped, to ward off any fear or worries since ages.
I heard a flutter of feathers again. I opened my eyes. It was morning and a beautiful one with sunlight piercing in right through the blinds and breaking all the horror that previous night had to offer!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID-19: Self Isolation Day 1 from a Sydney sider

It’s been sometime that I have blogged or written anything beyond official emails, official documents, business cases or even sweet nothings to my wife. WhatsApp has changed our world and made a fast food of our writing skills than enjoying the main course such as Blogging, writing a diary!

The ongoing pandemic with COVID-19 has caught the world by storm. What started in Wuhan has now spread to Wyoming, Waikato, Windsor and every place inhabited on earth. I got the call on a Wednesday night mid night and was told that I have been identified as someone who was in touch with a person positively identified with COVID-19. The reality hit me hard in a few seconds once I got off the phone, taking in instructions that seemed hard to believe. Self isolation immediately meant, stay in the same house but have no physical proximity with family members (social distancing) and also keep a conscious watch over your health and report any symptoms to the local General Practitioner. I would need to identify that I was in touch with someone who was tested postitive for COVID-19, if I do feel un well. And yes, for a period of time, work remotely, no commute, no coffee catchups, no missing buses and no working while you are taking the metro. You are in prison in your own house, for your own betterment, your family’s health , your community and world. For someone, who loves giving unconditional cuddles to his 3 year old daughter till he is dismissed off , or who shows affection by a hug, pat in the back with other adult family members, this is a big punishment for no offence. Neither it is the fault of the person who contracted COVID-19 or the person who asked me to take safety precautions. It’s just nature’s wrath unleashed upon us humans for being selfish, cruel through their virus. Can I stop it ? Can the Presidents of one of the most powerful or populated countries stop it? The answer is No. But, with individual actions such as Self Isolation, social distancing and avoiding crowds and staying at home, we can break the chasm and flatten the curve.

So I woke up this Thursday morning, to my new reality. The reality of being constrained in a physical
space of 10*15 feet for at least a week. The reality of being in jail with no criminal background and also when you know if you want you can break the rules. But as they say, with great freedom comes great responsibility. It also reminds of the house arrests that freedom fighters, political prisoners have historically had in more testing conditions, that used to be described in history books. I never realised that I  will create similar history in the modern world. The day was overall well spent as work, telephone calls. webex, conference calls occupied Most of my thinking capacity. In such a pandemic as well the collective strength of my colleagues, seniors, peers and management to keep our associates safe, comply to on the fly regulations and enable business continuity  with minimal service disruptions is very inspiring. My wife and I have our parents visiting us this summer. Three senior citizens who have braved the long commute from Mumbai to Sydney to spend time with us and spoil their grand daughter (who recently turned three in front of their eyes) with love, cuddles and smiles. My fate is such that I am still consuming their services than be in a position to take care of them and be a helping hand to my wife and them with household chores, shopping, putting the bin out or even turning on the dishwasher. Feel guilty with this parasitic existence and further burdening my wife who has now lost a partner in crime (atleast for few days) as we balance (or try to) the growing demands and request for attention of our three year old, making the house clean, operational and functional for all of us and balance our work life. But hey, when the going gets tough , we get going. This too shall pass and while it will test our nerves and best of our patience, we all will emerge stronger and closer.

As my daughter came back from day care today ,I overheard her talking to her mom indicating she  wanted to pick me up from the metro station (like most of the days when I reach home late), stating “Daddy’s office”. As i stepped out of my cave upstairs and appeared to the top  of my stairs, she gave a delightful scream and frantically gestured with her hands stating  “come daddy, come”! It made me feel so weak  on my knees, I quickly ducked away and back into my cave, not letting my emotions get the better of me. I have been served all my meals and refreshments by family members, leaving them  mid way between the flight of stairs or right on top, with a hope to catch a glimpse of me. While we all know, this is precautionary and I  am fine otherwise , it takes our eyes to convince our hearts than the minds that ‘All is Well’!

My mom stole moments balancing her walker to watch me and make an appearance up the stairs, recharging her sufficiently for the next few hours as she cooks yummy lunch, exercises or helps around the house to the best of her abilities. My wife put fresh clothes, towels, dinner, and anything random up for me with utmost composure and patience, which isn’teasy with the demands of a three year old that drains out her energy. Dads special tea, ‘helping around the house’ qualities which haven’t got down with age and passion to replant,remake our garden is definitely seeing more flowers smiling in the front yard.  My father in law continues to chop vegetables with added frevor, ensure our laundry gets the best of sunny side to dry quickly and free lances around the house.I miss our moments of opening up different wines in the last few days, with karaoke or friendly banter around the dinner table, being entertained by my daughter, completely unaware that life will be completely opposite in 24 hours. I had been to our neighbours house on Tuesday and from a safe distance exchanged pleasantries and checked if they were ok and needed toilet tissues or if I could run an errand for them. Both of them, very senior citizens,  were worried, but were managing the show and had enough humour interlaced in conversations that lifted my own spirits up. I asked them to reach out to me at anytime for anything that they need. Wish I could now tell them,  I want to so badly help them if needed, but may end up needing all the help myself.

As my daughter went up to the bed with her mom, I missed the good night hug that she gives so lovingly no matter how tired she is. She saw me laying by the corner of the upstairs living areas and realising I am pretending to be sick to isolate myself , She pretended to call the doctor and said ‘ Can  you help daddy ? He isn’t ok.’, making me very emotional, for the second time in less than five hours. 

Phew but wait, every cloud has a Silver lining ! My wife managed to get Toilet Tissues (in our eight attempt in as  many Days ) this day at Woolies and we were happy just as newly weds or having a new born! That’s it for today, more updates tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy Bday Sanju!

Wish you a very Happy Birthday Sanju! The smile on your face, the radiance and giggle of your soul has been one of the best gifts God had unwrapped for all of us in the family 11 years back! God bless you my dear, you will scale new heights and do very well in all your pursuits! Happy birthday to our dearest once again.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Every Taxi driver has a tale

A professional’s corporate life has its fair share of travel due to business meetings. You tend to take flights, trains, taxi’s, tube trains, trams, bicycle rickshaws at a short notice seamlessly to get to your office or customer office for that important meeting. Taxi’s are more commonly used form of road transportation especially within a new city or big city as they get you from point a to point b in the least amount of time. Last week was a crazy week for me. Balancing the act between three escalations and a bid deal submission, I was more immersed in work than anything else. Since my wife was in India on an unplanned trip, the conference calls, emails and other work which started at 10am in the morning never ended until 1.00 am. On Tuesday, I decided to work from the city in the first half and then head down to the customer location in one of the remotest sections of outer Sydney for the second half. I walked past our building to the nearest Taxi rank and got inside the first available one.

The gentleman driving the car was Asian looking – probably Chinese/ Indonesian and instantly welcomed me in with a warm and friendly smile. Once we agreed on the destination and the route to get there – using two of the Motorways, I switched on my laptop and immersed myself in preparation for the customer meetings which would begin the next hour. I couldn’t help but notice the glances from the Taxi driver onto the rear view mirror searching for the right time to strike a conversation. The first 45 minutes of the journey, I couldn’t help but complete my work ignoring the curious glances and silent eye requests for the conversation. He then broke the ice by offering to switch on the air conditioner on a warm Sydney afternoon and asked me to roll up the windows. I politely declined the same once I realized that the seat belt restrained me from rolling up the car windows manually on the other side of the rear seat.

He was inquisitive to know how long I was in Sydney, what I was working on and whether I needed a taxi on my way back. I slowly warmed up to his politeness and polished demeanor and also fired questions on similar topics from my end. After all, this is one of those moments when you can safely immerse in conversations outside of your known circle of customers and colleagues to understand the cultural fabric of a city and country.

John as he liked to call himself was born in an island of Indonesia and was well traveled. He was nearing the sixties, but his forehead had almost all strands black than the salt and pepper donning my forehead. He was in the IT industry earlier – spent over five years in the US completing his education and working on the hardware installment/ procurement for Mainframe computers. He used to install, repair and maintain the big tape drives which used to be at the heart of Mainframe computers before the smaller and smarter devices made them redundant. After US, his Asean roots took him to Singapore on a job with Citibank for over 15+ years across various roles. He was finally made redundant with a wave of change in the economy and got his redundancy package – a handsome amount.

He got his PR processed and migrated to Australia about ten years back. After doing odd jobs for the initial years, he decided to be his own Boss by having a Taxi and ferrying people across Sydney day in and day out. He had a warmth and sense of humor throughout the conversation and had a bonding to Indians. Having been brought up in Indonesia, his father was from Bali – a predominantly Hindu bastion. His father was a Christian and mother a Muslim and he considered himself to be a moderate Muslim. He found Hindu’s of Bali’s good friends and helpful. He said you can leave a bag in a market place in Bali and someone will find you to hand it over to you. But outside Bali, the bag will disappear and you may never find it again. He knew the clear demarcation between Hindus , Tamils and has grown up amongst Indians and enjoys the cuisine.

One of his regrets was not getting into the software side of IT industry, which could have gotten him more money, satisfaction and job security. While I tried to counsel and argue that no job was safe in today’s world – in retrospect I wondered what will be our future a few years down the line? I arrived at my destination and handed him my Corporate Card to pay the fare and while we waited for the authorization to go through we both were in conversations but in our own worlds. John was probably looking back at thirty years of his life and summarizing his professionally journey and sharing regrets of what he couldn’t work on. I was staring at a future of next thirty years of my professional life and wondering which way the winds of global uncertainties, career opportunities and future knowledge industries will steer the boat of my professional life.

His parting line which woke me up from my train of thoughts was “Have a good day sir! I call myself “India + One”. Seeing my puzzled expression he said “Break up Indonesia – it is India (plus) one in Asia”! I quickly smiled and rushed in past the rolling doors to get immersed in another half day of meetings, escalations, negotiations and more business!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Australia: Sydney: Trip to The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains

The beauty of the state of New South Wales in Australia is the easy access to numerous beaches, theme parks, wild life, rain forest reserves, national parks, mountains, the iconic landmarks like Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House that define Australia. You can easily reach most of these places of natural history as they are within a radius of 45 minutes to a little over two hour drive from the state capital Sydney.

One of the most visited tourist attractions, located a little under two hours from Sydney are the Blue Mountains range. The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia. It borders on Sydney's metropolitan area, its foothills starting about 50 kilometres (31 mi) west of the state capital.

On a bright and sunny Saturday morning this summer, Meenakshi & I decided to visit the Blue Mountains and explore parts of it. As there are a lot of activities to do in and around the Blue Mountains, which demands a stay of two to three days, we decided to do a day trip to explore only specific parts of Blue Mountains this time and leave the rest for future trips. It was one of those trips that was planned at the last moment on Saturday morning at 10.00 am. In a short notice, it was sportive of Meenakshi’s colleague Prasad and his spouse Usha to join us on the trip.

The Three Sisters with the Blue Mountains
We were car bound on the M4 Motorway towards Katoomba at 11.45pm from Strathfield. The traffic eased past Paramatta and I went easy on the gas pedal, keeping pace with the speed limits which were already increasing at the rate of 10kmph ever 20 miles. Finally on 110 kmph, with an eye on the Satellite Navitagor or GPS, we drove smoothly to the beginning of the Blue Mountains in 40 kms from Sydney, listening to a mix of old Hindi, Tamil & English numbers playing on the car stereo. Meenakshi’s donkeys hours selecting favorite songs on the internet and tuning them onto her iPhone 5c were really handy in making the drive enjoyable. After the initial 40 kms, we entered the Blue Mountains area and drove through numerous towns and villages for the next 50kms, with varying speeds between 60 kmph and 80 kmph.  We reached our destination at Echo Point – which is the gateway to the “Three Sisters” – one of the iconic landmarks of the Blue Mountains by 1.40 pm.  The parking lot was flooded with holiday makers, tourists and luckily got a 2 hour parking for the car.

Armed with our backpacks, sandwiches, light snacks, fruits, water bottles and fizzy drinks we bid adieu to Kishore Kumar songs and car air conditioner to take the blistering afternoon sun head on and walked towards Echo Point. After a visit to the restrooms and collecting the free booklets from Tourist Information Centre, we decided to follow directions towards the Three Sisters Walk and the Giant Stairway.

Giant Stairway and Three Sisters Walk
The Giant Stairway is an exciting experience to have just minutes after you reach Echo Point. Enter the arch to go towards the Giant Stairway and start walking towards the well defined path where all tourists and fellow travelers head to. Once you reach the start of the stairways, you will feel the steep incline that the stairway so beautifully tries to tame for us lame humans. As you decide to climb down these stairs of around 1000 steps, one step at a time, you will be treated to some amazing views of the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters from the side (you can’t see all Three Sisters from this view). 
Giant Stairway
Once you climb down the initial 100 odd steps, you reach a spot from where you take a small walking bridge to sit at the heart of one of the “Three Sisters”. 

It is banned to climb the “Three Sisters” partly due to Aboriginal significance and partly due to the wear and tear, erosion and over-use after effects that accelerate the erosion process. If you walk down further along the Giant Stairway, it will lead to the Federal Pass. Since we had started our trip late, we decided to give this a miss this time and head back from the Giant Stairway.

We decided to walk back and explore other areas further. Before our next expedition, we had a picnic amongst the shade and opened up sandwiches and fizzy drinks for a much needed lunch in the midst of greenery and the sound of birds and fly’s trying their best to irritate us.

After this, we decided to go to the place which was the most crowded and just opposite the main tourist information centre at Echo Point Road. Once we reached there, we knew why all tourists crowded that narrow viewing deck, as this is the spot for the best view of “The Three Sisters” and the surround mountain ranges of the Blue Mountains.

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters are a rock formation in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. They are close to the town of Katoomba and are one of the Blue Mountains' best known sites, towering above the Jamison Valley. Their names are Meehni (922 m), Wimlah (918 m), and Gunnedoo (906 m). The Sisters were formed by land erosion. The soft sandstone of the Blue Mountains is easily eroded over time by wind, rain and rivers, causing the cliffs surrounding the Jamison Valley to be slowly broken up.

The commonly told legend of the Three Sisters is that three sisters (Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo') lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. They fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe (the Nepean tribe), but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters. A major tribal battle ensued, and the sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them, but he was killed in the fighting and no one else could turn them back. This legend is claimed to be an Indigenous Australian Dreamtime legend.
This is one of New South Wales iconic landmarks other than the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. There are two viewing platforms to view the Three Sisters from the point opposite the echo point. Good pictures of the Three Sisters can be taken from both the upper and lower platforms.

The Three Sisters
Katoomba Falls:
From the lower platform, there is a trail that leads to the Katoomba Falls, which is about an hour (without picture stops). There are numerous lookout points along this trail, which give a very good view of the continuous mountain ranges of the Blue Mountains.  

Blue hue of the Blue Mountains

The charred remains of some of the huge eucalyptus and other trees from the recent New South Wales bushfire gives a glaring reminder of Mother Nature’s fury unleaded on the greenery in late 2012.

The afternoon sun was hot enough for us to finish all the bottles of water that we had carried with us. It was instantaneously converted to sweat. Sun tan cream and caps to protect from the sunrays were out amongst other fellow tourists and visitors as well. Thank God that we had collected the free information booklet from the Visitor Centre, which became a good makeshift cap for me for the rest of the trip!

Shade from the canopy of trees
Once you reach near the start of Katoomba falls, you can hear the water and explore different streams, which finally lead to the waterfalls. 

Different streams around Katoomba Falls

Katoomba Falls with the Three Sisters
There is also a Katoomba cascade, which gets you closer to the water without the risk of scaling down treacherous depths to reach the waterfall. A splash of cold water from the cold water is enough to recharge you for the afternoon! 
Katoomba Cascades
In addition to this, since we were already armed with homemade Indian tea/ chai (with ginger and other spices), it rejuvenated our soul further more. We had the tea in one of the best spots I have had tea in such trips – inside a cave. Trust me, the quietness, calmness and shade of the cave was a contrast to the hot sun and background sun around!

Hot tea in cave

Once we had our tea, we took a few snaps of the deep valley against the cable cars that were a part of the Scenic World trip. 

We then walked back to where we began from. The return leg of the trip was much quicker as there were fewer picture stops. The clock was turning around 5.30 pm and the sun decided to be less intense, which also helped us to take larger strides without stop as we walked back. Thankfully, there were no steep gradients, due to which even the ladies walked almost in one breath with very few pit stops.

A shy butterfly from Blue Mountains
It was a day well spent within the laps of one of the most beautiful mountains I have visited in the recent past. The Blue Mountains offer much more interesting spots to picnic and explore including Jenolan Caves, numerous walking trails. It would probably take at least four to five more trip to atleast scratch the surface of this beautiful mountain!