Tuesday, 25 December 2012

On Christmas say Happy Birthday with a song

On the occasion of Christmas may I wish all fellow bloggers and the readers of my blog a Merry Christmas. Watch & listen to a small Christmas Carol song that I recorded singing Happy Birthday on Christmas at the Grouse Mountains in the British Columbia.

Christmas Carol - Grouse Mountain, British Columbia, Canada 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve Wishes

On the eve of Christmas I wish all the bloggers and readers a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Jet Airways or Air India?

As soon as one will look at the topic one would say Jet Airways any day! But let me recount my experiences with both. I often travel full fare airlines only when I travel for work. I have traveled with Jet Airways, Jet Lite, Air India and Air India Express as well.

Which Airlines would you choose?

And contrary to what everyone thinks I have had decent experiences with Air India and Air India Express as well. If I can I would avoid them for longer flights. Now you may ask me why would I do that if I have had reasonable experiences with Air India in the past?

The answer is that one can never be sure with Air India. It is the burden of their reputation, too many horror stories floating around, for me to be able to risk taking a long flight with them. Then there are so many news paper reports with a regular frequency about the state of affairs at their offices. It simply does not inspire confidence. But from personal experience I have to say I had reasonable time with them whenever I took flights with Air India or Air India Express except the to and fro flights to London that I took few years back both of which got delayed by several hours.

On the other hand with Jet Airways there is no such burden of reputation. They have been in news largely for the right reasons and my personal experiences too have been quite comfortable.

When I force myself to think hard I realize that food has been similar on both. In fact by now I have come to the conclusion that all airline food tastes the same! The on time arrival has been largely similar, and the crew has been well trained and professional on both!

Yet when I write about Jet I say my experiences were ‘quite comfortable’ and when I say Air India I say it was ‘reasonable.’ The burden of reputation in the end I guess? And anyway I have to remember that my choice of airline is largely determined by where the air tickets are coming from!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Question of Access on Domestic Airlines in India

In my experiences airports are one of the best places for a person with disability and who needs wheelchair access or other assistance. I also admit access to me is what I can see, people in wheel chairs, people needing assistance etc. But I have not really given a thought what happens if a person is blind? Is there enough assistance for them on the airports? I also do not check my flight status these days I have become completely reliant on the airline SMS about delays. But I guess flight status would become very important for people who need assistance to get out of the airport safely.

Ramp is a necessity for persons with disabilities

The full fare airlines that fly from T3 in New Delhi have air bridges to the aircraft so wheel chair access is there. But at the domestic terminal 1D many planes have stairs for boarding and I wonder how do people on wheelchair manage?

In that sense I am a big fan of Indigo (I wonder why their website is called Goindigo though, causes some confusion for the first time user) as they use ramps for boarding on all their aircrafts. I know people who need wheelchair assistance and of course they choose to fly with Indigo. I wonder if other airlines like Goair, Spicejet etc would also follow with ramps?

In fact the question of access in general is such a low priority in India that it took a Stephen Hawking to get a ramp even at the Taj Mahal. When I compare this to my visits abroad I see so many people moving around in wheel chairs independently but then given the scope of issues we face as a nation, it is difficult to see things changing in a short while. And as I said before I admire Indigo therefore that they brought about ramps for all their planes.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I visited Vanakkam in DLF Phase 1 in Gurgaon. It claims to have an authentic South Indian cuisine. Vanakkam means 'Namaste' or Good Day or a Hello in Tamil as a form of welcome greeting.

CAP Dosa

It is a small restaurant which can cater to about 25 PAX and has good air conditioning.  We ordered the Vanakkam special CAP Dosa (a Dosa shaped like a cap as in the photo above), Butter Masala Dosa and Mini Idlis followed by South Indian Filter Coffee.

Mini Idlis

All the three items of Dosa and Idlis were good and the accompaniments of sambhar daal (lentil) and three kinds of chutneys were also good. All food items were served in steel plates covered with banana leafs.

Butter Masala Dosa

The prices of all items are very reasonable. The filter coffee also was served piping hot though a bit over-sweet.

Vanakkam can do a very good business as it has good authentic South Indian food at very reasonable price but they need to dramatically improve their service as it left a lot to be desired.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Chilling in Chennai: Amazing Hotel Race

I have to admit it has been a while since I went to Chennai. But I am sure the experience of booking hotels in Chennai would still remain the same! I still consider the best recommendation to be the one that comes from a friend. If a friend is not available to recommend I would go with my online connections but I would like that to be a direct recommendation either on Facebook or Twitter.

Hotels could be home away from home!

If that is also not available I do check online. But for one there are so many websites that it has become confusing. I still read user reviews but I concentrate on the number of reviews for a particular property. For example if a particular Chennai hotel had just two reviews and both of them were excellent, I would not really be sure of it. However if there were 50 reviews of a property and it had a 3.5/5.0 rating I would trust it more! There have been just too many stories about hotel review sites where reviews were planted or an attempt was made to pull down the ratings of a competitor. Hence these days I trust online reviews only if I see a large number of reviews!

However there have been times (long ago) when I could just turn up at a place and decide which hotel to stay with! This looks the most inelegant but there are things that work out well if you go down this route! I agree not pre-booking can lead to anxiety but if it is not the peak season I can always find a hotel after actually looking at the rooms and the facilities! And as far as budget hotels in India are concerned sometimes you just can’t be sure till you actually saw it! What do you think?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Diwali - Changes that I Observed This Year

Diwali is normally the time that I try and escape from the City as it becomes very polluting and on the Diwali day itself it feels more like a war zone!

A house lighted up for Diwali

However, this year due to certain reasons I was not able to travel and surprisingly I observed that this year the the emphasis was more on lighting and decorating the houses than on the firecrackers. Several houses had 'rangoli' - a kind of decoration on the floor with color powder - and the gates and entrances were bedecked with flowers.

Diwali Bride

The overall decibel levels as well as the smoke generated from the firecrackers was definitely less than what I have observed in the previous years. People now are decorating the houses like they do during marriages in the family.

Diwali this year has truly become a festival of lights  - even if it is a festival of Chinese lights  - as the market is now flooded with Chinese lights which are available in the market at a much cheaper rate and are more attractive than what is produced by Indian manufacturer.

Diwali Fireworks

Friday, 9 November 2012

Low Cost Air Carriers of India

I remember the days when there was only one airline in India- Air India! Prices were sky high and air travel market was a really small one.

Around 2002-2003 we saw more airlines being allowed to operate schedule flights and as they say, the rest is history.

I am a big fan of low cost airlines. For a two hour flight within India, I want to get there by the cheapest fare possible and I really do not care about a meal. After all if you have taken a flight a few times, all the airline meals start tasting the same after a while. If there is one thing that I do care about, it is on time arrival of a flight and that is where I think IndiGo scores.  There flights are usually on time and they have a professional outlook. At least that is how they come across to me. I only remember one IndiGo flight I took that was terribly late!

Want to fly low cost?

My next most preferred airline is SpiceJet, I think they have decent food on board and mostly get there on time. I feel their branding is quite ambiguous but they do an adequate job of getting me there. I have not compared the on time performance of IndiGo and SpiceJet but my opinion is that IndiGo is better. But I should go and check it out for a fact; this could be in the end just an impression!

I have very little personal experience of flying with GoAir hence I can’t say much about them. I have taken a few Air India flights and some of them have been surprisingly good.

In the end if I am getting similar fares, I will go with IndiGo but at all the times the lowest fare wins!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sufi Dervish Dance

I saw an amazing Sufi Dervish dance performance yesterday by Ziya Azazi. A Dervish dance is a whirling dance where a performer or a set of performers whirl round and round and can do so for hours!

Ziya Azazi is an Austrian though he has Syrian and Turkish origins where the dervish dances have been a tradition. Ziya Azazi made this performance contemporary experimental in nature and what a feast it was to the eyes and ears.

See this small video of his fantastic performance -

Sufi Dervish Whirling Dance bu Ziya Azazi

The performance was part of the Delhi International Arts Festival 2012 and we should be thankful to the Austrian Embassy to present such a talented artiste.

A Dervish follows Sufi Muslim path known for their extreme poverty and austerity. A Dervish Dance by the whirling dervishes originated in Turkey but is now practiced in other countries as well. The most famous dervish is Rumi the famous Persian Poet.

Friday, 2 November 2012

How to Grab Cheap Air Tickets?

I wish there was a secret formula for grabbing cheap air tickets and only I knew about it! But unfortunately there is no such thing and I too have to rely on common sense to get cheap flight tickets.

One obvious way to get cheap tickets is to fly with low cost carries like SpiceJet, Indigo, GoAir, etc. But sometimes if you look on a comparison site you will be surprised to see that that even full service airlines like Indian Airlines (or should it be Air India only now?) also offer lower prices for their early morning and late night flights. So if you are flexible about timings and if service is important to you, you can try this out as well.

Arrivals Lounge at an International Airport

Another tested route is to book early, if we book closer to the date we are obviously going to pay more! Sometimes airlines offer promotional fares to certain destinations and they are really a good bargain! But the trouble is in keeping up with such offers!

Internationally sometimes it can be beneficial if we buy late as airlines offer discounts if they have been unable to sell their tickets but I am not sure how true this is of India!

If you could be flexible about your flight dates this can also result in cheaper price as weekend flights are more expensive than weekday flights! I remember flying back to T3 once on a Wednesday and not only had I paid less, the airport was also much less crowded.

And we all do compare the fares using search engines like Makemytrip.com. This one is so obvious that I left it for the last. But it is a bit conflicting because sometimes I see airlines claiming that the cheapest fares are available only from their websites! What do you think?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Best Travel Deals in India

If I am given a choice I like road trips, I like driving to the hills. But many a times I am not given a choice and then I have to search for flights like everyone else! These days there are so many options to compare and see where we can get the lowest air fare.

For those who are based out of Delhi I have seen some people have a preference in terms of flights taking off from Terminal 1D (the domestic terminal) and T3 (the international airport). Jet Lite and Air India both fly out of T3 and some find the T3 location and the airport to be much better. I personally have no such preferences.

Soaring above the clouds!

Coming back to best travel deals in India, I think the concept is very subjective. What could be the best deal for me could be a very average deal for someone else. For example I have noticed that flights that start at an inconvenient time are usually cheaper than flights that leave at a reasonable hour. For me it is perfectly fine to catch up an early morning or late night flight on a holiday as I can plan around it. However for someone else a convenient time would matter a lot and that is why the airlines are able to charge a premium for those flights! 

I have also seen these combo offers that let you book air tickets, transport and a hotel together. I have yet to try any of those but sometimes they do look tempting. I also firmly believe in checking customer reviews about any hotel. They can be very confusing sometimes but still it gives me a basic idea.

These are some of the ways in which I try to find the best travel deals. If you have a tip or two, do share.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Tiuni, Uttrakhand

Tiuni is a small settlement on State Highway 1 in Uttrakhand and is about 34 kms from Jubbal (in Himachal). Pabbar river flows next to it.

Devladi Temple, Tiuni

On the way I stopped after seeing the beautiful architecture of this temple in Tiuni known as the Devladi temple. 

Huna Style of Architecture

It has the similar architecture as that of the Mahasu Temple close by which is more famous and built in the Huna architectural style. If you notice in the photo above you will notice that there are five levels of the ceiling on the extreme left then four and then three closer to the entrance of the temple.

River Pabbar

Pabbar is a distributory of Tons River which goes on to merge in Yamuna. The Pabbar river's water, except during monsoons, are greenish in colour and have its source in the glaciers. The drive along the river is on a narrow road dotted with pine trees and is very beautiful.

Another temple in the same style

There are several temples spread across the area similar in style. The Panadavas, mythologically speaking, escaped from Lakhamandal and came to this region. Lakhamandal  is in itself an architectural delight. 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Hyacinth Macaws or Blue Parrots

Hyacinth Macaws

Hyacinth Macaws or Blue Parrots are the largest of the Macaw species are are about 40 inches in length from beak to tail. They are entirely of blue shade except for patches of bright yellow around the eyes and beak.

Because of their size the blue parrots are also known as 'gentle giants' as despite their intimidating beaks they are by nature friendly.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Keep Walking

Headless Man Walking

So what if I am headless  - I will still keep walking. That is the spirit shown in the picture above. Maybe one needs to incorporate that in the corporate life as well.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunset in China

While waiting to board my flight at the Beijing T3 terminal in China I was able to see and capture some amazing sun set photos.

Sunset & Takeoff

In the photo above a flight was taking off while a United Airline boarding was taking place with the beautiful sunset as a backdrop.

A Ball of Fire

 It seemed as if the whole sky is on fire. If you see carefully in the above photo then you would be able to see an airplane in the sky in front of the ball of fire.

Peking Sunset

As the climate of Peking or Beijing is dry and crisp in winters the sunsets I was able to see were very beautiful.

Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport is the second largest terminal in the world.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Parliament House of Victoria

The construction of the BC Parliament House started in 1893 and was considered complete in 1897 during the Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by architect Francis Rattenbury.

Parliament House - Victoria

The building is in Victoria, capital of British Columbia in Canada and houses the Legislative Assembly of the state of British Columbia.

Grand Entrance to the Parliament House

The Parliament House is located on the banks of Inner Harbour. Close to this building is also the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Undersea Gardens.
The Rotunda of BC Parliament Building

The murals depict the British Columbia history. Some of the murals have now been hidden from the public view as they are offensive to the aboriginals of the land.

A Reflection of the inside of Parliament House in the Ball Ornament

The first floor of the building provides a grand view of the harbour as well as the city.

The Legislative Chamber

I was amazed by the lack of security personnel and nightmare of security checks and rechecks that happen when you go to an Indian Parliament House or even a legislative assembly. 

Glass Painting

The  lone policeman outside the building was very courteous and there was also no fee to visit the building. Inside there is a small souvenir shop as well.

A Royal Guard!

The architectural style of the Parliament House of British Columbia is Neo-Baroque.

View of the Parliament House from the RBC Musuem

The Parliament House complex also has few totem poles on its grounds.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Totem Pole

Totem Poles are carved by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast in the North America. I was able to see several of them in British Columbia.

Knowledge Totem

Carved by the Master Carver Cicero August and his sons Darrel and Doug August of the Cowichan Tribes the Knowledge Totem stands on the premises of the British Columbia Parliament. The loon, fisherman, bone game player and frog represents lessons of the past and hope for the future.

A Gitxsan Totem Pole (left) & Kwakwa'wakw Pole In Thunderbird park in Victoria

The word totem means  - his kinship group. The totems are made of cedar wood. The totem poles may recount legends or are mortuary structures.

Eagle is a common motive in several Totems

Among the common motives of the totem stories are eagles, ravens, human beings and their children, bears, frogs, sharks and fish. Among birds that appear on totem poles, besides the eagles and ravens, are woodpeckers, hawks and several mythological birds. The highest in the rank is the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird Park in Victoria containing several totems is named after this bird. 

A Haida Totem Pole in Thunderbird Park, Victoria

A totem pole is normally made of a single piece of wood and could be higher than 40 feet. The highest ones are even above 40 meters high!

Totem with reflection

The traditional tribal styles of the totems are the Haida, Coast Salish, Nuxalk, Kwakiutl and the Tsimshian style. The Kwakiutl are very brightly painted whereas the Tsimshian are very simple. Haida style is mainly commemorative.

Totem Poles outside the Vancouver Airport

Each totem pole depicts a story but the totem poles are not objects of worship. As the totems are made of wood they decay with time so one would not find really old totems.

The Yosef Wosk Reflecting Pool

The Yosef Wosk Reflecting Pool gives the feeling of a much longer totem due to its reflection in the pool. The pool and the totem are located on the premises of Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Mortuary Pole

In the Pole above the eagle is at the top then it is human mother with child/cub, then a grizzly bear with child/cub. Again these are very common motives on a totem pole. The ordering on the poles is significant (in all the totems and not only this one) from the fact that higher the figures on the pole more is the prestige. However, this is contentious as some say that the opposite is true i.e.the figures at the bottom are more important and that is why greater detail and care is given while carving them compared to the figures at the top.

Mortuary House Frontal Pole

In the photo above on the pole at the top are the watchmen, then raven/human with human/bird face on tail, then a bear with raven between its legs, then a frog like creature and finally the bear with frog in mouth, wolf between legs and cub between ears. Yes some of the totems could be very abstract!

Double Mortuary Pole

The Double Mortuary Pole in the above photo shows shark or a dogfish. Transformation of animals and birds into humans and sometimes from humans to animals or birds is a very common theme of the totem poles.

Several Totem Poles & Two Haida Houses

In earlier times a typical native village consisted of about 50 houses like the ones in the photo above each housing a dozen or so families. The house front poles normally depict the success of  families and therefore the bigger and better the poles higher was the status of the families.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Male & Female Mallards

I spotted several Mallards in Victoria which is the capital of the British Columbia in Canada. Of course, the Pacific coast is their habitat. They have gray body and chestnut brown breast. The males are more colorful and beautiful than the females. The females are brown all over.

Mallards Taking a Stroll

A Male Mallard taking a Nap

The males have green head with a white ring on the neck. Their legs and feet are orange in color (see the top photo).

Bunch of Mallards

They survive best in temperate and sub tropical climates. They are omnivorous and eat water plants and small animals like worms, beetles, flies etc.

More Mallards

Also known as Wild Ducks, Mallards are known to be ancestors of all the domestic ducks. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Pit Houses of the Aboriginal Canadians

The aboriginal people of Canada specifically in the plateau region were semi-nomadic due to climatic conditions. Therefore their shelters were easy to construct and dismantle. They either lived in a pit house in winters or a Tipi or a Tule-mat lodge in summers.

Interior of a Pit House 

A Pit house could be 15 meters wide and is built below the ground in a 1-2 meter deep pit and could accommodate as many as 30 people. Well insulated by the sod and earth roof a pit house required only a small fire to warm its interiors. Most pit houses were built so that people could enter and exit through the smoke hole via the notched pole ladder (see the pole ladder in the photo above). Some groups used a side tunnel as a women's entrance and as an emergency exit.

The summer shelter was either in a Tipi or a Tule-mat lodge both of which were made above ground.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pacific Spirit Regional Park

The Pacific Spirit Regional Park has over 54 kms of walking or hiking trails. The Park is located in the west of city of Vancouver, British Columbia on the shores of the Georgia Strait in the Pacific Ocean.


The Park is on the University of British Columbia (also known as UBC locally) endowment land. The huge 763 hectare park is the largest in Vancouver.

Georgia Strait

If one does not have time to hit the mountains then it is a nice piece of wilderness within the city.

Park in Winters

One can decide to make ones own trail picking up one and leaving it in between and joining another.

One of the Trails

The Park is a heaven for bird and plant species.

Rejuvenation Cycle in Progress

The Park had several birch trees (photo below) the bark of which in the earlier Indian system was used as a paper for writing before the advent of the modern day paper.

Birch Tree or a Snake?

Inside the forested parts it does not feel cold whereas on the seaside the wind chill factor makes it very cold in winters. But then that is the best weather for jogging!

Wild Mushrooms on Rock

Some of the trees were deciduous while the other were evergreen. Within the Park there were several water channels.

Evergreen Forest

Wild flowers were in bloom even in winters. One could hear and see several birds as well.

Wild Flowers

There are choices of trails whether you want one with steep inclines or whether one prefers trails along the Pacific Ocean front.

Tall Trees

There are sections of the trails that are open to the dogs as well as for horse riding while there are others where only hiking or jogging is allowed.

The Pacific Spirit Regional Park Map

There is no entry fee to the park and one can enter from several points. One can spend either half a day or a full day exploring the various trails depending upon the time available and the energy left.