Friday, December 28, 2012

Growing Old

The mind is set
The body has grown
I think I am getting old

The tummy comes out
The hair starts to thin
The memory lets you down
You think I am getting old?

My life of 30 odd years
Backed up on the hard disk of my brain
Flashes those growing up years
Making me forget i am growing old

As the years go by
And December leads to January
We both cannot deny
We both are getting old!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

UK Special - Boxing Day Sale!

Festivals are a time to open up your purses and splurge on food, clothes or other accessories.  Irrespective of the economic cycle a nation or the world is in, this is a time when you as a spender will not mind spending your hard earned money. During these times of festivals, especially the brands whose products you buy cannot choose to ignore you. 

These brands and the larger organisations behind them try to make the most of this sentiment to “spend money“ by offering huge discounts and door buster “hard-to-ignore” deals. It is a time for them to improve their top line (revenue) and take a marginal hit on their bottom line (profits) – as the discounts drive down the profit margins; however it is still impressive for them to repeat this practise of giving discounts many times a year. For you as a buyer, it is – a hit on your savings (equivalent to profit margins), depletion of top line (income/savings) but a huge satisfaction of our consumerism and the feeling of “getting a good deal”.

In the UK, one of the best times to get a discount is during the Boxing Day sale. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. Traditionally from the olden ages, it was a day when the rich & luxurious used to give presents to their servants, workers or close ones and give them a day off. Maybe this symbolizes the efforts put in by the people throughout the year and an act of Thanksgiving. Boxing day is also a public holiday in the UK.  Today, Boxing Day is the day when the English loosen their purse strings and the High Street Retailers and all organisations across Clothes, Fashion and Electronic Goods give their best bargains to increase their wallets of the shoppers in England. 

A Boxing Day sale is exactly similar to the sales which go on in the US – a day after Thanksgiving (which typically comes in November). Shops are open from early in the morning till late in the evening with their cash registers clocking sales by the minute and their websites loaded with internet users buying items virtually. The early morning door buster sales are for the determined shopper, who can wake up early in the morning, brave the cold and stand in line before the store opens for the day, ready to get best of the deals. However even if you miss door buster, there is still enough meat during the entire day, for you to splurge your money on!

Debenhams, Harrow Mall, London, UK - 2010
A visit to the shops later in the evening, just before they close for the day gives you a sneak peak of the highlights of the day. One of such pictures was captured by me during the Boxing Day sale of 2010, when i was in London – visiting a Debenhams outlet in Harrow. I am sure there would have been a few “cat fights” between ladies – trying to snatch the first best outfit that hits the eye!

This Boxing Day of 2012 , Meenakshi & I had been to a factory outlet – Junction 32, which is about 20 minutes from our place. A very nice mall – horizontally spread – just like the huge malls in Connecticut, US that i used to frequent with my friends. Over 90 multi brand outlets don Junction 32  and keeps one busy with the discounts and offers all over the year. In a span of 5-6 hours that we spent at Junction 32, we gave footfalls to Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Collectibles, Marks & Spencer, Gap and allowed Nike, Next and Gap to have a share of our wallet!  Next is typically known for better quality and styled clothes than Primark, Marks & Spencer and is a suggested “must visit” during Boxing Day sales in UK.

Junction 32 Mall, Castleford, UK - 2012
Thanks to Subway for ensuring we were able to relax and recharge our batteries before finishing off abusing our credit cards this Boxing Day Sale! Hope we stay off this temptation for sometime now and avoid buying this we did not plan to buy in the first instance! 

On a lighter note - let me assure that if you miss shopping this day when in England, with the lady in your house - be prepared to get "boxed" on your jaws or tummy for sure! No wonder -someone named it right as - "Boxing Day" when men ought to loose the match!

Happy Boxing Day folks!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

UK: Nottingham: Visit to Pub - ye olde trip to Jerusalem

The Pub’s have a fundamental importance to the British social life since ages. Pubs are short form for “Public House” – which are public drinking establishments for people from different backgrounds to socially interact with each other and share a drink. Just like tea rooms as indicated in my early blog on Betty’s Team room (click here for the same), Pubs have also been promoting social networking for centuries!

The pub is one of the most significant landmarks in any village, suburb, town or city in England and is the focal point for the communities around it. The pubs serve a variety of spirits like beers, wine, scotch and other hard drinks. It is always worthwhile and recommended to check the local beer that is available and famously served in the pub. This gives you a distinct experience of acquiring a taste beyond the typical branded international beer brands. I have visited a variety of Pubs in England in the last few years. The first visit was in London; where by brother in law had taken us all for an evening. I had tried Guiness beer for the first time then and it tasted unlike other international beers I had tried till then. In Leeds, over the last year – in 2012, thanks to our local expert Guy Bradshaw – Meenakshi & I have had a chance to visit a host of pubs and I was able to taste different beers, experience history of various pubs in and around Leeds. The Leeds pubs deserve a different blog of their own soon!

However, one of the pubs I was recommended by Guy and had read online was the “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem” in Nottingham. My friend Mridul who stays in Nottingham also happened to be a forced bachelor in December of 2012 just like I was (since my spouse Meenakshi was also in India). I was bubbling with enthusiasm that week anyways – having cleared my UK driving test and was itching to go for a long drive on the UK motorways. We decided to catch-up over the weekend – a last minute plan which always works! Over the 2 days – we had a blast, having had sumptuous lunch at Chennai Dosa in Leicester,  followed by a visit to this famous pub on a Saturday night and some movies and loads conversation!

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem claims to be the oldest drinking establishment in England. It indicates it was established in 1189 AD.It is on the foothills of one of the Nottingham castle - about 6 minutes walk from Nottingham station. Legend has it that knights who answered the calls of Richard I to join the crusades stopped off at this watering hole for a pint on their way to Jerusalem.

Mridul & I stepped inside the pub to have a beer and queued up behind a long queue in a very narrow and small entrance. Thought it was hardly 4.30 pm in the evening, we instantly got to know that his pub was famous and needs persistence, if you want to enjoy the drink and enjoy the ambience. 
The ambience inside will take you centuries back in time and you will feel you are in one of the low ceiling caves - as you jostle and queue up to get your beer from the bar. A lot of folks were already in high spirits and were cheerful and welcoming.

I had a pint of “Olde Trip” and Mridul stuck with a pint of “Abbott”. We walked around the pub to the other side – where there was a huge seating in the form of wooden benches in long rows in the available area. All the people were enjoying the wet and cold Saturday evening, with a beer in hand – busy in their own private conversations in a public place. The smoke from different cigarettes was forming a virtual partition or smokescreen giving one an impression of privacy between the groups in a public place.

Over conversations and catching up on old times during our MBA days, we couldn’t help observing some casks around and a small picture showing the beer making process. The picture was symbolic to those chemical process diagrams I remember drawing during my school and college! Some good knowledge for a beer connoisseur like me! Hope a day comes when I am able to expertly talk about the hops, spicy ness, ales and barley on the beer and the right mix!

Post that one pint, we decided it was a good homage to the “ye olde trip to Jerusalem” and decided to head home to enjoy drinks at home! Pubs are somewhat a dying phenomenon in England now as your Supermarket stores and off license convenience stores sell beer & alcohol at rates – lower than pubs. It is essential that pubs are preserved as they house so much of history (some of the pubs in Leeds I visited are almost 120 years old!) and culture of this country! I encourage you to visit a pub to at least have a pint to support its existence, if not party the entire night! After all if you are supporting social networking by reading this blog, accessing twitter or facebook – isn’t it fair to support pubs who have promoted social networking for years?

The last capture of olde trip - circa 2012!

Comic Strip: Lucy and the TV person by Ms. Sanjana Iyer

As a kid, i was slowly discovering the penchant for writing. The vent was through 2-3 page short stories scribbled on the calendar diaries gifted by my dad. The frequency was periodic and not regular and unfortunately it wasn't as clean as writing it on computer - thanks to my illegible handwriting (which still has stayed loyal to me to this date!) and correction/ spelling mistakes!

I had never attempted a comic strip ever - probably because of bad drawing skills and also lack of an imaginative mind. My niece Sanju the poetess has now donned the hat of a comic strip creator in this one. Found this lying somewhere at my sis's place while they were shifting houses this November. Got a chance to sneak this one into our bags and post approval from the budding writer - i have decided to put this one the blog. Putting this in an image format for ease of read for all!

All the best Sanju! Carry on writing and creating these comic strips! When you grow up - do follow "Calvin & Hobbes", "Dilbert", "Garfield" and "Chintoo" (if you learn marathi) - which will be good inspiration!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

UK: Leedsify: German Christmas markets

Millennium Square towering over Leeds Christmas markets
Christmas is to the Western World what Diwali is to Indians. A time to exchange gifts, buy new clothes or items, meet friends and family, enjoy good food  and lot of laughter, lights and joy all around to light up the spirits from the mundane profanities of everyday life.

Around Christmas time, people are willing to open up their wallets and ready to indulge in purchasing and shopping.  This not only ensures good business to High Street retailers, but also is a good source of income for temporary markets and traders who travel far and wide from other countries to make their monies during the festive season.

Every year during Christmas, there is a German market put up at Millennium Square – the heart of Leeds city centre. This Christmas market is called “Christkindelmarkt”, and is indeed- a little piece of Germany in the heart of Leeds City Centre. This market attracts more than hundred thousand visitors for about a month before Christmas.

The market consists of over 40 wooden stalls – which look like Wooden cabins from the outside. Each of these stalls are put up by authentic German traders providing a wide range of seasonal gift ideas for everyone including; handcrafted toys, jewellery, Christmas cards and festive decorations. 

This also includes speciality foods and traditional German delicacies such as gluhwein, sausages, goulash, soups, gingerbread and candied fruits, crepe` and other delicacies. Not to forget the German beers, giving you feeling of your own “Novemberfest” or “Decemberfest”!

Gluhwein in traditional cup!
The temptation of German beer!

Apart from the wooden stalls the other attractions are the games in and around the German markets – which keep families, friends and kids glued enough. The shiny flashbulbs lighten up the nights – underlining the feeling of joy & enjoyment for all folks enjoying the market!

A must visit for anyone who would like to experience a little bit of “continental Europe” in UK and hear Germans speaking measured English with a cute European accent. I would advise one to not miss gluhwein (warm wine), beer & crepe’!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

UK: Worcester: "Poppins" local restaurant

Over the last 10-15 years multinational corporations have subconsciously controlled our choice of deodorants or perfumes, phone, jeans or other accessories and of course the choice of our taste buds as well. “Organized crime” is a term used widely for crime that is a result of pre-determined motives from a group of people. “Organized robbery” or “Organized looting” is what multinational corporations do to the society making us individuals devoid of local choices. The chains of McDonalds, Subways, Pizza Express, Burger King and others rule the palates of at least a quarter if not half of the world’s population at this time. We identify city landmarks with reference to the Subway or McDonald nearby. In light of this “organized disillusionment” to select a local restaurant of your choice, you are at times caught fumbling to think of names you can recommend to your friends, family or colleagues. The dwindling numbers of such local restaurants are a result of the buying power of multinational corporations with their food chains.

One of the places where i have had a very sumptuous meal in England is a local restaurant called “Poppins”.  Poppins claims to be a coffee house and restaurant and it is exactly opposite the Worcester Foregate train station in Worcestershire. From the outside and also from the inside, the restaurant decor gives you a feeling of being a very old restaurant which was just about making money to pay the bills and making a wafer thin profit margin on top. Though it has been maintained well, it has still grown old over the years and definitely has the old style seating arrangements, chairs and furniture. The people who serve you also make you feel you are in the 1980’s or 1990’s. I don’t know if its by design or by accident.

I happened to be in Worcester with a colleague for an official meeting in that city. We had taken a train from London down to Worcester early in the morning. Since it was too early a start, we hadn’t had breakfast and Poppins is where we had our first meal of the day – around 10 – 11`ish on a Thursday morning. Poppins was still full of customers settling down and enjoying their cuppa tea and late breakfasts. The feeling i got seeing a lot of old people was that this was a joint for them for years together now. Many of them would probably be friends who would have met in the same restaurant for the first time in the 80’s and continued their daily visit to Poppins over the years – growing older with their lives, but not bored of “Poppins”. Kudos to the owners of Poppins as well to keep it as it was and give good quality food. I had an egg omlette with bread and chips. Also had some tea and freshly made orange juice. Quality of food for the price was very very good.

Poppins definitely reminded me of “Chandraprabha” Chinese center around Mulund (a suburb in Mumbai) or any of the Udupi hotels  / Iranian cafe’s in Mumbai which are old from outside and inside – with chipped tables and chairs – but still serve good food. These establishments have stood the “test of time” against multi brand food chains and our continued patronage to these will help us to get nice change to taste good quality local food across the world!

If you want to try a slice of life from an era gone by, please stop by at Poppins and enjoy your no frills meal!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The significance of 12 -12-12

1.    Well, the world did not come to an end on 12-12-12!
2.    It was Indian Superstar Rajinikanth’s birthday on 12-12-12! Some joke to say  that perhaps that explains why the world did not end!
3.    I cleared my UK Practical Driving test on 12-12-12 at 12.43 pm! On a second attempt (much to my dislike), its finally a sigh of relief. My first attempt was in November and i should have cleared it – had it not been for some silly mistakes which cost me my license then! Anyways better late than taking “forever”! They say getting your UK Driving License is the toughest in the world. Perhaps right - i got my US Drivers License on the first attempt, which itself was considered highly unusual by my American colleagues in 2004!. 
4.    The win was well celebrated in the loneliness of my apartment with a Staffordshire IPA (local beer from Stafforshire) that a colleague and dear friend Guy Bradshaw had gifted me. I had ordered take-away food  from Michelin starred “Bird” Indian restaurant in Leeds. Playing in the background was the movie “Kes” – an old British movie recommended by Guy. Good one!

For Point # 3,
Thanks to my driving instructor Parminder Lyall – who has been a good coach for my driving. I took 2-3 lessons from Parminder way back in Jan’12 to get used to the road rules and driving temperament in UK. Starting October – took at least 20-22 classes from him before my driving test – once my Indian driving license was about to be invalid to drive in UK (you can drive on an  Indian license for a year after you land in UK). I flunked it once in November and appeared again in December to clear it. Parminder has been instrumental in helping me sort out my driving in UK and help me not carry forward the baggage of "driving rules" i carry from my three years of road experience in the US and baggage of  "following no rule" in India for over 15 years!

I am now getting tempted to start a series of “Global Driving Experience” on lines of “Global Haircut Experience”,that will help me share car driving experience across countries! Anyways, let me wait for some more time before i run out of topics!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Global Haircutting Experience – Part 4

United Kingdom - England
Price: £4-£6 (INR 320 - INR 560) excluding a tip (2006-2012 prices)

Probably the last of the series under this topic on my blog – unless I visit another country! Having donated my locks of hair for years in India and then having cut it in US and Norway I have had a chance to have this experience in England as well.

I have been visiting England as a tourist since 2006. However, since 2011, I have been deputed for work on an official assignment.  Over these trips, I have had my haircut in London on numerous occasions and also in Leeds. The price I have paid for these haircuts is somewhere between £ 4 and £ 6 per hair cut session (excluding any tip which is around £ 0.50 to £ 1.00).  Because Britain has been open to immigration for years (prior to 2010), the influx of Asians, Iranians and African’s makes it a very price competitive market.

In London, my first few experiences have been at the salon on the High Street just before the junction of Ealing Road and High Street in Wembley. The hairdressing salon with a signboard of Irfan is quiet prominent amongst other signboards that may well make you feel you are in India. Signboards like “Chennai Dosa”, “Bank of Baroda” donning the entrance of these Indian bastions may make a local Englishman feel like an outsider! Irfan typically has hairdressers from Pakistan/ border of Afghanistan and Pakistan or from Afghanistan who have sought asylum in England. With typical Bollywood music playing in the background and conversation in broken Hindi with Urdu influence,  you doesn’t feel you are in a foreign country when you close your eyes as the scissors go – click, click!

In Leeds, I have been able to find another cheap hair dressing salon – right next to a Persian restaurant in the city centre.  An African man does a good service of cutting your tresses for not more than £6. With conversations spanning London Olympics and other sports and travel around the world – I have fond memories of having visited him for 2-3 times.

Early this month, I was literally forced onto having a haircut in London (though I knew long before I needed one, but was just plain lazy!) by my sister. Since my wife is in India and my work was taking me more often to London, I had crashed into my sisters & brother-in-laws for over a week. Early December, I spotted a hairdressing salon on Wembley Plaza, right outside Wembley Central station which proudly proclaimed to cut your tresses for £3.99/- under the name of “Satish Haircut”. I was a tad circumspect if the low price had something more suspicious about it. After running it past my brother – in-law to get his local expertise, I decided to take a risk. Satish hairdressers welcomed me and thankfully – there was no waiting time at 5.00 pm on a cold Tuesday evening. Satish’s cell phone was playing Kumar Sanu songs from the Bollywood movies of the 1990’s in the background. I explained to him in plain Hindi (like we do in India) on what needs to be done, closed my eyes and went into a trance feeling i was in India – thanks to the music and an Indian guy around. In about 20-25 mins I was down a few white and black hairs off my head and got closer to the haircut I always wanted so badly while abroad, but never got. My tip justified my satisfaction for sure! Thanks Satish – if I happen to come next time – all my tresses are to be cut by yours truly! Thanks for the Gujarati conversation in the background you were having with your other colleague; I could well have been in Ghatkopar, Mumbai in India that in Wembley, England that chill December evening! Home away from home!

Having a hair cut is the cheapest in England, outside of India – if you know where to look for – especially Asian/ African dominated areas. Even while I was in Norway, whenever I used to visit England, I planned my haircuts to ensure those £7-£ 10 were saved - eventually to be splurged in something else which was much more trivial! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bro Bonding - Happy,but not Gay!

It seems a while since i wrote a full blog post which is not another travelogue or pic motivate. There is no waiting time for an idea that has arrived as they say! It’s been a while now that I have wanted to blog on one of my old friends – Vishal or aptly nick named Sandy by me and Rana (another common ex-colleague cum friend cum roomie of ours).

Sandy and I studied in the same engineering college – specialized in Electronics engineering, but we were in different class rooms throughout the course. Our paths hardly crossed in the first three years of our four year engineering course. In the fourth year – thanks to the extra-curricular activities we were involved in – Vishal leading the IEEE activities and yours truly dabbling in both IEEE as well as Placement Committee, we started to know each other and understand our existence. Our relationship was that of acknowledgement of our roles in these extracurricular activities and there was nothing like a “friendship” or common bonding between us. Neither were we friends nor were we trying to avoid each other. Both were however destiny’s chosen projects – when it came to the next 10 years of our life post final year of engineering – 2002.

Thanks to my participation in the students placement committee of our college and the impending recessionary clouds left by the Internet Dot Com Bubble of 2000`s, not many of us got campus jobs after completing a torturous 4 year engineering course! Vishal & I were sailing on the same boat and were going about our own ways of hunting jobs – not crossing our paths between May and July of 2002. In August’ 2002 we both were invited by Infosys – along with other batch mates and the larger strata of Mumbai's engineers for one of those “entrance tests" in one of the colleges in Mumbai. Such examinations are conducted by the dozens in India by Public Services, Banking Industry, but was probably being conducted for the first time - out of campus by a reputed Private company. We cleared the written test, sailed through the interviews and got our offer letters on Sept 5th 2002 (I am thankful to god that i used to check SPAM mails then and not DELETE any emails! The appointment letter landed on my SPAM folder!) After a 4 month long ordeal of being jobless and watching other batch mates start going to their first job and getting monthly salaries, we felt life wasn’t too bad. (Interesting point to note that post 2002 - the flood gates opened in Indian IT organizations and they started ramping up from being a 15,000 strong organization to 150,000 - 200,000 strong organizations now in 2012).

We both connected with each other then and thanks to the fact that we had a common alma mater in our engineering college, our residence in close by suburbs ( Thane & Mulund) – we geared up with other likewise friends to prepare for being in Infosys Bangalore from end September – the first job of our lives! The Infosys job was destiny's play to probably bring us closer over the years. Be it the shared frustrations of being jobless before we started, or discussing pressures of day to day work life – that we did quiet often since we were sharing our accommodation with other room mates. We spent a total of 3 years – sharing common accommodation across cities like Bangalore, Pune which deepened our understanding of each other and our resultant friendship.

Over the years, the mutual interests that have connected us well include (not an exhaustive list):

a) video games – we totally exploited Sandy’s X-Box in 2003/ 2004 / 2006. I always wanted to buy a video game console for myself, but guess never was able to buy one. Maybe loosing to Sandy on a “Dead or Alive” game fighting down was better than solo single player escapades from reality?

b) Toastmasters Club – we both joined this amazing movement in Bangalore – through the local Infosys Toastmasters Club. We donned various roles during meetings, gave various projects from the CTM Manual and also were office bearers. That spark from Infosys Bangalore was also further implanted in Infosys Pune, when we started the “Lets Talk” public speaking club, which was then certified as a fully functional Toastmasters club. In fact i had posted about “Lets Talk” on this link in 2004. Pls click here

c) Hanging Out & Movies: We painted “Bangalore” red by hanging out in Brigade Road – MG Road – Commercial Street and by watching most of the movies in single screen (multiplexes were just gaining an entry then) theatres over weekends with other room mates or by renting DVD’s and watching it indoors. Some of the good times we have had as room mates is also captured on "Tribute to Bangalore Roomies" at this link.

d) Blogging: This has been an “acquired” taste for us over the years. Sandy’s blogs have stayed true to the internet and have been descriptive, detailed – articulating his travel and travails as a global nomad across India, China & Americas. He is now dabbling very well by blogging on areas out of his comfort zone. You can access his blogs here. One of the blogs on this site - Dogs take on corruption was an inspiration i derived when we were together at the Registrar office in Thane, India in April 2012.

e) Humour:  Over 10 years – there have been so many shared memories now that we have a pulse on each others sense of humour and those incidences from 2002- 2006 that still makes our face break into a smile if not a passing laugh. Be it “SaSa” and his pink tubelights or the innocence of “Tatya Vinchoo” – our dear roomie, “Sasuma” or “Boss”– we chose to exploit humour in the most unusual circumstances!

f) Being Spontaneous: Doing as crazy a thing like putting up a tent in the living room of your apartment and enjoying a beer inside, playing “Holi” inside the walls of our 3 BHK late at night – back from office or diligently weaving a story on the fly and selling ourselves as poor students from Sangli to bargain a piece of kitchen and bathroom ware from a “Marathi centric” seller in Kothrud, Pune - we guys have done it all!

g) Enjoying Outdoors: We have jointly done the “Bababudanagiri / Mullaianagari” Trek with other roomies and also the 40km cycling trip to Manchenbelle dam. Blog for these trips are also available online - Manchenbelle Trip Blog or Mullaianagari Blog ! Look forward to another outdoors in the coming years!

g) many more – but will reserve it for some other blog!

Sandy has been “God’s Saviour” on many occasions – the most important ones during my home moves. When i moved in from Bangalore to Pune - following Sandy (he moved a month earlier to me), i had pushed some luggage through him to Pune. When i landed in Pune – a city where i knew no one – Sandy had come to pick me up at the station – ready to embrace the tonnes of baggage i had carted out from Bangalore. Even when i was moving back from Pune to US or while i was moving houses in the US, i had Sandy with me in Connecticut, helping me shift through boxes! He was in Connecticut for a group re-union and didn’t mind lending a helping hand for the shifting! I should ideally feel guilty for taking advantage of his helpfulness so much. However i know i can depend on very few people and he is in that short list of mine!

We no longer work for Infosys. We are still very much upto date on our lives. We do speak often  – almost once/ twice a month and keep connected through GTalk, Facebook and our Blogs. Sandy is currently in a very interesting part of his professional journey, a journey not many undertake. I am sure all the positive elements of nature will conspire to help him achieve the pinnacle and realize his potential.

As i said - there is no waiting time for an idea that has arrived! This blog idea has been niggling my mind for some time now. I chose to reserve it till Sandy’s Bday in December, but can’t help – the time of this idea has come!

And by the way if your mind just went a tad mischievous – we are “Happy, but not Gay” !
DC & Sandy rocking @ Thane, India

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Road to Success

The road to success will never be smooth. It will be full of obstacles (stones). In your road to success, you are the lone traveller along the path. Through the enablers you have (like family support, education, support from work/ school) you can decide the obstacles you want to physically/ mentally remove or avoid. It`s your journey and your own personal accountability to make this journey a success.

About this pic:

1. This picture was taken in Feb 2009. With the TCS Toastmasters Club members, we had gone for a day outing to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP)  in Mumbai, India. SGNP is one of the largest protected forest covers in Mumbai. It encompasses an area of 104 square kilometres and is rich in wildlife, flora fauna and bio-diversity

2. TCS Toastmasters Club had organized trip in conjunction with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) – which has been promoting the cause of a natural India for over 100 years. Objective of our trip was to not only do team building activities, but also enjoy nature and get educated on it. We went on a long nature trail as a group of 20, and during that trip, this snap was taken.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

UK: Leedsify! Walk along Trans Pennine Trail

The English countryside is one of the most beautiful and picturesque sceneries your eyes can ever capture and store in the hard drive of your memory. The countryside can be enjoyed by a combination of road trips, cycling or by walk. A lot of the walking paths are made in such a way that they criss cross through small towns, cities and villages. They give you a sneak peek into the myriad of beautiful landscapes, houses, Pubs, churches, small ponds, waterways, waterfalls and lush greenery.

Most famous of such trails are  the Trans Pennine Trails (TPT). TPT is an exciting route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders linking the North and Irish seas, passing through the Pennines, alongside rivers and canals and through some of the most historic towns and cities in the North of England.The Trail from coast-to-coast between Southport and Hornsea is 215 miles (346Km) long. A north-south route connects Leeds and Chesterfield and a spur to York means there are approximately 350 miles (560 km) of Trans Pennine Trail available to explore. You can walk, jog or cycle along this entire route!

The Trans Pennine Trail is mapped and signed all the way, mainly traffic free and is surprisingly level considering the dramatic scenery along the way. Easy gradients and surfaced paths make many sections suitable for families, gentle exercise and people using wheelchairs and pushchairs. So whether on foot, horse or cycle; for a day or longer; alone with friends and family - the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) can offer something for everyone.

One evening while walking along my apartment complex near the Royal Armouries I accidentally discovered the TPT criss-crossing Leeds – right outside our doorstep!  My inquisitiveness and subsequent research on the internet revealed that this was the Trans Pennine Trail  - TPT Central part connecting Leeds and Chesterfield. The Central section starts by the royal armouries in the centre of Leeds and travels alongside the Aire & Calder Navigation before skirting Wakefield and continuing south to cross the east-west route at Barnsley. There are a number of route choices through Sheffield and Rotherham before the Trail heads to its southern-most point at Chesterfield.
River Aire by Royal Armouries
I wasn’t dressed in a gear suitable for a long walk/ jog – but decided to give the adventurer in me a little more push as I started packing my walk. I started the walk from the rear of the Royal Armouries, following the course of the River Aire and inched my may forward with a feeling of adventure and enjoying the beauty of nature. Luckily it was summer and the weather was kind – in the mid 20’s.

Two ducks on the path seemed to be trying to impress each other and get into a relationship, unfazed by the public gaze of my eyes and camera. TPT is a special place for even wild species!

As I walked further, with no hint of a sweat on my brow or any hint of discomfort (since I was into active outdoors in a small way after a long time), my eyes tried to capture as much as they could. Be it churches, apartments or even trees lining the walls of the river Aire flowing through the canals, I captured it all – thirsty for more of natural beauty and serenity.

 I decided to look back after walking non-stop for about 20 minutes, waving past other fellow walkers and cyclists and couldn’t be better rewarded than a tinge of blue skies, run down mills dotting the skyline with their brick red colour, the greenery of the bushes and the water trying to pull all colours onto it.

Some nice wooden bridges over the River Aire make it more memorable. Especially the sight of seeing this narrow boat slip quietly under the bridge piercing through the stillness of the water like "a preacher on a mission with his mesmerising sermons" was breath taking.  I exchanged smiles and waves with the folks enjoying their narrow boat trip.

As I got down the bridge and started walking further down, slightly panting and gasping for breath, couldn’t be more delighted to see the river, greenery blending in harmony and underlined by the wild yellow flowers underlining this magical moment.

If the above wasn’t enough – waiting further ahead was this nice and compact waterfall – looking ferocious, but still calm. The sound of water flowing down filled the air around and could easily set any avid nature lover into a trance.

If you walk five minutes from this point, further on you will hit the “Thwaite Mills Museum” – one of the famous working water powered mills (powered by River Aire) in Leeds. It was 40 minutes since I had started this adventure and I thought I should resist visiting the Mills and keep it for some other day!

I walked back – enjoying the same experience – almost like a cassette tape on “rewind” mode and headed back to Royal Armouries in under 40 minutes. What a discovery it was! I managed to excitedly go back and share all this with my wife and enough enthusiasm was built up for atleast 3-4 four such walks together this summer.

With the river Aire on one side and houses and scenic greenery, old mills, churches on the other side, walking through the calf path laced with stones, mud and grass was indeed a dream come true and an adventurist’s delight!

A must see for anyone who likes to go “off the beaten path” to enjoy the simple joy’s of nature around you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

UK: Leedsify! Leeds Minster /Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds

North face view of Leeds Minster

The Leeds Minster is an imposing structure of cultural and structural importance that underlines this city. There are two imposing buildings in Leeds that you will always stay etched in your mind – Leeds Minster and Bridgewater Place ( a modern commercial cum residential complex in an odd shape). The Leeds Minster, (formerly Leeds Parish Church) has however been the more senior, having witnessed this city transform from a sleepy industrial town of mills to a modern epicentre of business in England outside of London.

A church has been onsite of this area since 7th century. This modern building visible in this picture has been a result of the re-building done over the last few centuries. This year the Parish Church got its due credit by being declared as “Leeds Minster” in September 2012.A Minster is the evolution of the church to perform higher duties to the local communities. Not many churches get promoted to become Minsters!
Side view - Maude Street car park
If you happen to be around the Leeds city center area – near the Leeds Coach Station, Leeds City Market or the Corn Exchange or the area around, you can always spot the Minster giving a beacon of permanence to locate yourself in the city center!

Seen from the swamps at Brewery Wharf
A remarkable testimony to changing times in Leeds!

As seen from beginning of Trans Pennine Trail


Having spent a year in this lovely city in England, its high time i gave the city its due credit by blogging on it.

In a nutshell, Leeds is 
  1.  The fourth largest metropolitan area outside of London in England
  2. UK's largest centre for business, legal, and financial services outside London, and its office market is the best in Europe for value
  3. Very renowned for education (thanks to the University), shopping (some of the biggest shopping districts outside of London are housed here), clubbing (variety of clubs, pubs) and outdoors and entertainment (Royal Armouries, Leeds City Museum, Canal Walks along Trans Pennine Trail etc)
In the last one year, i have discovered quite a few facets of this beautiful city with my wife and family members. Sharing this with all folks through some pictures and the descriptions!  In this series of Leedsify! i cover some of those lovely places which one shouldn’t miss visiting/ walking around while in this city.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It all started this day last year!

Leeds City seen from Etap hotel
Exactly a year back – this day i landed in the UK – thanks to a new deputation posting to Leeds, West Yorkshire. Time flies so fast! It was as if only yesterday i was looking down the 7th floor room of my Etap Hotel in Leeds City Centre, trying to place myself in yet another country in the last 3 years.

The view itself was a strong statement and made me feel lost between two extremes – letting go of my baggage of memories of first day in the US and Norway and the other extreme of soaking in charm of England through the eyes of this wonderful city called Leeds!

Time flies as they say. Can’t believe that i have already seen a full cycle of life, seasons, festivals, work in this country! It has definitely been a different and rich experience being here in England. I have started liking my jacket potatoes, wanting crisps or chips with my British meal, enjoying the rich countryside, pubs, tea rooms and the BBC news in the mornings. However, i do know that a virtual India exists in this country just 5 minutes away from you- where i can walk into the Tesco express convenience store below my apartment and get a Garlic and Corriander Naan bread – 10.30 pm at night! Indeed - home – yet away from home!

As the travails of this wanderer continues – aimlessly drifting like a dry leaf on a summer breeze, it will be good to know how the next few years unfold in this magnificent land or some other land?

Another view of Leeds city from Etap hotel

Thursday, November 08, 2012

"The beautiful butterflies" by poet Sanjana Iyer

My niece Sanjana is young, but has a way with words. Glad to share that her poem and picture were chosen amongst many other entries in her school and other schools in London to be featured in the “Wild World” Magazine issued by National History Museum, UK. I got a scanned copy of the printed edition from my sister and here is the Poem from Sanju titled “The beautiful butterflies”. Pls note that the bright and bubbly butterflies in the pic below are also drawn by our adorable and enthusiastic poet.

Sanju got a book on “Bugs” as a present from Wild World. Here’s wishing all the best to our dear Sanju aka Ubbu to develop her writing career!

About Wild World:
Wild World is packed with 32 colour pages of features, fun facts, competitions, puzzles, posters and much more. You can enjoy a special feature on the top 10 lethal weapons of the natural world, hear from TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham, and there's an opportunity to help name a wasp.More on it at

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Think Ahead, do not brood over the Past!

The car windscreen in the front is always bigger than the rear view mirror or the rear windscreen. This is to ensure that you look ahead more clearly than behind. Don’t brood over the past. Pick up the learning`s from your disappointments and failures and look ahead with new rigor, energy and enthusiasm!

About this pic:
1. This pic was taken inside a Taxi while i was in Kolkata, India in August 2012.
2. My work takes me to this magnificent city in the eastern coast of India quiet often. Kolkata is a a blend of modern world with the old world. The city never amazes to give you a feeling of being in the 21st century and simultaneously being in the British era or even before that (which was centuries before).
3. Most of the taxi drivers in Kolkata are people from neighbouring state of Bihar. Bihar's political climate and job opportunities have forced people to look outside of their home state for their daily livelihood since years. However the scenario is now changing with a stable government and pro development mindset from the current Chief Minister of Bihar - Mr. Nitish Kumar. Years down the line it would be interesting to see who takes up this vacant seat of a taxi driver - the intellectual Bengali or the hardworking Bihari!

Dog's take on corruption!

The government offices serving the public in India are notorious for two things – freedom of entry to anyone and machinery that works only when the palms of the key officers are greased. Behind my ass is the Registrar office in Thane, Maharashtra, India. Day in and day out me and my friends enjoy our morning and afternoon siesta’s on the cool flooring of this office. Sometimes we are rudely awakened and driven away by visitors who are not “dog friendly”, but at other times, we mutually co-exist with the officials. I have seen numerous apartments and properties being registered in and around Thane area right under my nose and behind my ass (especially when my ass is facing the entrance to the offices). Touts, agents and house buyers intermingle and jostle for space in the limited seating and standing area, before being ushered in to sign in front of the Registrar on their house deed. Though money changes hands quiet often between these entities – the amount you would see on the stamp duty and registration receipts would always be lower than the one that changed hands. All this has been happening for years together, right in front of the portraits of erstwhile national leaders of India – of Mahatma Gandhi, Balasaheb Ambedkar or Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Though all three would have cringed in their grave to see this current state of affairs in India, even the latest addition to bring in transparency to public services – the computer in the background – feels disgruntled and lost like a veteran losing the battle against transparency and corruption.

Well – to hell with you humans...i continue to enjoy my siesta and see umpteen houses change hands and hence feed into the families of those numerous middlemen, touts and government officials.  At times i get lucky to be rewarded with some snacky titbits thrown at me or a small pat on my body from an odd street dog lover.  They say, one can never straighten a dog’s tail – no matter what. I would say – corruption is so ingrained in you humans that my tail can be straightened perhaps – but not your habitual offence on corruption!

Bow Bow!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

March up, keep the tempo on

Each step of the corporate ladder will be full of fun, frustrations and difficulties. As you climb each step (symbolic to spending 1 year in your professional life), you will keep having fun, challenges and difficulties. A lot of times the difficulties and challenges may make you want to climb down the stairs. This is the moment when you hold onto your nerves and continue climbing upwards. You can take a deep breath momentarily, but keep marching up, keep the tempo on! Once you reach the pinnacle of your professional success or career, and as you look back it will all be memorable!

About this pic:
1. This pic was taken during our walk around the City Walls of York in Yorkshire, England, during a cold summer evening in 2012.
2.  York is one of the most famous Roman cities in the UK.
3. There is a blog written on the City of York. To read it, pls click here

Sunday, October 21, 2012

UK: Harrogate :Betty's Tea Room – promoting social networking for centuries!

A typical English Tea Room

Tea is a drink closely cherished by millions across the world! Tea drinking is one of those simple experiences in life that we so often take for granted.  You enjoy the tea with your morning news paper or by the vending machine in your office – chatting with colleagues – enjoying the small well deserved break from work. However even before the intrusion of internet and social networking platforms like Orkut and Facebook, Tea rooms have been change agents in the society for years – facilitating social networking since time immemorial! Be it China, Japan, India or UK, rest of Europe and Middle East/ Africa – it has been a national pastime for many – for generations!

In India, the concept of preparing tea is a tad different than maybe rest of the world. We love to boil the tea till it can no longer colour the water brown! Add to it a some milk, a generous dose of sugar and any or all of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves or even a tad of green chilli – the tea becomes a magic potion to be devoured as a “cutting chai” (a cup of tea which is just big enough for 3 whole gulps and is a tad cheaper than a full cup of tea) across those millions of tea stalls across India. The experience of drinking tea is enriched further by having it from a cup made of mud and brick – which gives it a different, kick altogether! The tea cooked on coal or burnt wood tastes definitely different than the one cooked on gas stoves and electric cooking ranges! However the British tea is prepared differently and has been experienced differently!

The preparation of British styled tea or “English Tea” which my father so often calls it is not as complicated as the Indian chai. You have a tea pot – typically made of porcelain or silver/ stainless steel – which has the hot water and tea leaf/ tea bag romancing each other like a couple on their first honeymoon. A small pot of milk around it adds some color to the ambience in addition to the sugar cubes which promise to bring in sweetness to the experience.  Tea drinking has been a national past time in the UK for ages.

However the invention of having a tea in the afternoon was by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford. Since then, numerous tea rooms have been opened in the UK since the early 1700’s which serve of tea, coffee, cakes, scones and other snacks typically had in tea. It has been a social networking platform surviving for more than 300 years in England – way before the invention of computers the internet or facebook! Of course this social networking platform has typically been exploited by women more than men as the atmosphere is sedated and subdued in a tea room. The men have been exploiting the other social networking platform – predominantly operating in the evenings – Pubs! Of course that would be the topic of another blog some other day! The tea rooms also have been frequented by men – of course. If you think back at history – the breadwinner in the family were predominantly men. The women took care of the household chores, kids and other areas. A visit to the local tea room in the afternoon and enjoying a sip of tea and loads of gossip before the men got back from work seems a very logical experience for the continued evolution and sustenance of tea rooms for years. The UK is home to one of the classic tea rooms – some which survived the test of times and others which dissolved into oblivion with the advent of Starbucks, Costa Coffee or other trendy coffee joints!

Betty's Tea Room - Parliament St, Harrogate
Our local expert and friend who gives these unique insights to experience UK in a British way – Guy Bradshaw had advised us to visit Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate. Betty’s tea room was opened in the early 1900’s and is one of the oldest and successful running tea room chain’s in the UK. It is predominantly based in Yorkshire – with branches across Harrogate, York, Northallerton, Ilkley in Yorkshire – though some of the outlets are also outside of Yorkshire. Today, more than a million customers visit Betty’s every year – that is almost 20% of the population of Norway! So on a lazy Sunday afternoon in mid September after a late lunch which got over at 4pm, we went down to Harrogate to tick off yet another things in our “to do list of things” in England before we hop back to India or yet another country! The to do item - to enjoy the weekend afternoon tea at Betty’s in Harrogate. 

There were two tea rooms of Betty’s in the spa town of Harrogate and we decided to go the one on Parliament Street – the nerve centre of Harrogate city centre. Betty’s Tea room looked pretty upmarket and chick from the exterior. We were waited to be seated by our hostess and finally we walked down one or two floors below the ground floor to our part of the tea room. As we walked down – it was amusing to see so many people enjoying their lazy Sunday evening tea’s – dressed almost like they would be on their wedding day. 

There was a piano on the ground floor and the pianist was playing tunes which could make you feel for a moment that you were not in this era – but in the Victorian era! With the music in the background and tea aroma and steam sizzling from the tea cups, the audience seemed to be in a magical trance in their own private conversations in a very public environment! After we were seated, we were treated to the menu card – rich in the varieties of tea and light snacks and refreshments like cakes, scones and others. We decided to go for the Yorkshire cream tea – to have a truly Yorkshire experience!

We spent time soaking in the ambience – the dim lightings and the surrounding walls with pictures of places in and around Yorkshire – famous and not so famous. There was a couple – an Asian lady and her British boyfriend next to ours who were looking very much like the couple who started dating a week back. The table behind us was again with a British Asian – maybe a Pakistani or Punjabi gentleman with his mom. The rest of the room was full of local Englishmen and their families enjoying the tea. The pianist did make his presence felt even two floors down to this basement – and unique it was! In between our conversations and comparing it to the experience of having tea in the tea stalls in India, my wife and I saw our table filled with a gleaming silver cake stand laden with freshly baked miniature scones, fresh cream and homemade strawberry jam. Not to miss the gleaming silver tea pot puffing magical steam in the air! 

We had ordered for two tea pots – and through those 90 minutes we were there at Betty’s – we ended up sipping at least half a litre of tea each – while enjoying the peace and quietness.  It was very relaxing to enjoy this experience!

Betty's Tea Room - from the outside

Tea Room in the village of Dent, Yorkshire Dales
The tea drinking experience at Betty’s was a tad different to the one we had in the village of Dent – in Yorkshire Dales National Park. The one at Dent was less commercial and in the rural settings and served at the ground floor of a farmer’s house which was probably multi-tasking as a farm house, tea room and Break & Breakfast all at the same time. The ambience there and the company of my sister and her family and the conversations was a different experience than the one at Betty’s.

Hopefully the tea rooms in England will definitely be there for years to come! Its traditional, historical, cultural significance and role as a social networking platform for centuries will never be undermined!