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!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year 2014!
Wish you all a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! Hope this year helps you to move closer to your goals and achieve them on a personal, professional, emotional and spiritual front!