Durga Puja at Ulsoor


We have 2 main holidays in Saudi Arabia – one for Ramadan and the other for Bak-rid. This year the Bak-rid holiday, which also coincides with Hajj, was scheduled between 23rd and 27th of Oct12. However, this year our HR announced a poll to obtain opinion regarding when the staff would like to avail the Hajj vacation. Majority polled in favour of holiday between 27Oct12 to 02Nov12 and the HR obliged. This was a great gesture by the HR and the first of its kind in our company.

I was planning on going to Turkey during the week long Hajj vacation. This was because Deepshree had an assignment in Kolkata and Ranoo was scheduled to go to Hyderabad for a Basketball Tournament during the period of my holidays. Then I decided to stay put in Riyadh as I realised I needed time to complete my assignments for the online program that I am attending with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I told Deepshree about the change of our holiday schedule, she demanded that I come to Bangalore as she would postpone her Kolkata visit by one week. So, at the last moment, I started looking for a ticket to travel to Bangalore. I finally managed a Business class ticket by Emirates on 23Oct12 and return ticket on 04Nov12. I wrote to my boss for 4 days vacation with 2 days on either side of the Hajj vacation and next morning he agreed.

22Oct12 was a very busy day in the office. In the evening, I worked on completing my assignment for the week. I was through with 7 questions at 11PM when my house owner called to announce that he had returned from London and was waiting for me to pay the house rent. I still had 2 questions to complete and 1 hour for the same. However, I abandoned the mission and packed up to join my house owner in his car to reach home and pay the house rent. So, I could not complete my assignment for the first time during this program. I had dinner at my favourite Kerela Restaurant and returned home. The taxi reported exactly at 1AM and I was flying at 0410AM as scheduled. I had around 4 hours in Dubai Airport and thus booked a message for 90 minutes from 0830AM. During the message, I had a sound sleep and was all refreshed. I went to the Business Class Lounge and had coffee and some fruits and boarded the flight to Bangalore. On board the flight, I saw a wonderful movie – Ferrari Ki Sawari.

I reached Bangalore at 0530PM as scheduled. A Mercedes car took me home as was arranged by Emirates. So, I had managed to reach home on Navami – the ninth day of the 10 day long celebration of Durga Puja. Durga Puja is our main festival and it was the will of the goddess that I could take part this year. At 0930PM, Deepshree, Ranoo and I started from our home to reach Bengali Association Durga Puja Pandal at RBANMS college grounds by 10PM. It was a huge challenge to find a spot for parking our car as the Pandal was packed with Bengalis and non-Bengalis. After 30 minutes, I found a spot and proceeded to the Pandal. The idol of the Devi was awesome. I prayed asking for all sorts of comforts from The Lord. I went to the Association office and paid Rs. 1001 as Chanda (donation). Having done this, I spotted the huge area where there were many food stalls. This is the favourite part of the Puja.

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On entering, I found a stall selling Rolls. So, we ordered Egg Rolls for Deepshree and I and Vegetable Roll for Ranoo. Having devoured this, we moved forward to find a stall selling Galda Chingri (King Prawns) cooked in typical Bengali style. I ordered one and then thought it would not be sufficient and ordered another one. Deepshree and Ranoo do not eat prawns and so they ordered Mutton and Palao. I also saw that the stall was selling Fish Chutlet and ordered 1 for each of us. The bill was Rs. 950 and the shopkeeper said that he did not have Rs. 50 change to return. So, I told him to give a fried Ilish Maach (Hilsa Fish) piece. We found 3 chairs next to the stall and sat down to enjoy the dinner. By the time, we reached home, it was 1230AM and so we slept.

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Next day was Dasami, the last day of the Puja. We decided to go to the Pandal at 4PM. On reaching the Pandal, we found it absolutely deserted and decorators breaking the samiyanas. We were late as the organisers had finished the Puja and taken the Idol for immersion. We took off in our car towards Ulsoor Lake where all Idols are immersed in Bangalore. We reached Ulsoor lake in 10 minutes. However, we were more than 2 KMs from the immersion spot as there was a huge traffic jam. The police had cordoned off the area and were only allowing vehicles carrying the Goddess from different parts of Bangalore. We caught glimpse of some Idols from different Pujas and paid our last homage for this year to the Goddess. Then, we called home in Kolkata and conveyed our Pranaam to our parents and best wishes to Riya and went home.

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Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand


I have been to quite a few palaces around the world. The Grand Palace in Bangkok is among the very best. What dazzled me every time I visited it was the amount of colours that I could see there.

I have been there quite a few times as I took  members of my family including my relatives who visited us in Bangkok to see the Grand Palace. Besides, as a part of the induction program for new members of our team, I used to take them to the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace can be reached by road or by waterways on the Chao Phraya river. An ideal tour is to reach the Grand Palace in the morning. Go around and view the spectacle till lunch time. Then take a speed boat ride on Chao Phraya to visit the floating part of Bangkok – a part of the city with no roads and only waterways for communication. Remember, Bangkok is also referred to as the Venice of the East.

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Grand Palace Grand Palace
Grand Palace Grand Palace

 

Categories: South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Safari World, Bangkok, Thailand


We went to the Safari World twice during our stay in Bangkok. The first time we hired a Taxi. The second time, we drove in our own car. It is pretty far from the Bangkok City center.

The Safari World has primarily 2 parts. One part is the Open Safari where all animals are roaming around as if in the jungle. The second part is where shows are organised in which the animals show various tricks.

The Open Safari has 2 parts. When you enter the Open Safari, you would find herbivorous animals. In this part, you could drive with your windows open. After this, there is the “Lion Country”. Here all carnivorous animals are present. One needs driving with all windows closed here.

It takes one full day to enjoy everything in the Safari World.

OPEN SAFARI

Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
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Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok

LION COUNTRY

Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok

GAME SHOW AREA

Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok
Safari World Bangkok Safari World Bangkok

 

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Weekend in Jordan


I found out that Indians could get a visa on arrival to enter Jordan. So, I thought to partly fulfill my promise to Deepshree to take her to Italy to celebrate our 20th anniversary by visiting Jordan. Anyway, I was desperate to visit Petra from all that I had read and from what I saw in Indiana Jones and Last Crusades as I am a huge Indiana Jones fan.

So, Deepshree started from Bangalore via Delhi to travel to Amman at around 7PM on 11Sep12. Adventure started from that moment. At the New Delhi Airport, the Royal Jordanian staff told her that the ticket was suspended as it was booked using a credit card. Anyway, they got it activated. Then the Immigration Officer was not sure whether he could let her go as Jordan was not in his list of countries which permitted for visa on arrival. Anyway, he went around inquiring and finally let her through. She reach Jordan at around 9AM on 12Sep12 and without any further complication reached Petra from Amman as we had booked a pick up for her through the Movenpick Hotel.

I started from Riyadh in the evening after finishing office on Wednesday on 12Sep12 and again the Royal Jordanian found my tickets suspended as it was purchased using credit card. It was now double tension as Deepshree was already in Jordan. After some work for 30 minutes, they got my ticket activated and let me through as well.

My flight was 1 hour late and I reached Amman at around 10:30 PM. When I went to Immigration Officer, he sent me to some of his superiors. They inspected my return tickets and my work-permit in Saudi Arabia and decided to grant me 1 week stay in Jordan. So, I got into Amman and went to the Hertz office to collect the car I had booked for renting. I finished the documentation and was ready. However, I did not know how to reach Petra. The problematic part to reach the highway from the city limits. I got some guidance from the Hertz counter manager. Then I discovered that my Mobily connection was not on roaming. This surprised me as many of our top officers in Mobily are from Jordan. Anyway, it was late and thus I bought a Zain SIM from the next shop and activated the Data Service. Now, I opened the map application and pinned Petra and the current location and I was ready. I started out driving on Right Hand Drive for the first time (we drive on Left Hand in India and I do not have a car in Saudi Arabia). I soon got adjusted. However, I could sense that I am driving into the Amman city instead of proceeding on the Aqaba highway. With the help of the map, I got back and thought I was on the right track. To confirm, I stopped at a Coffee Shop and inquired  They confirmed that road to Petra was a straight road from that point in the direction I was pointing. So, I had a coffee and chatted with the owner for some time and then started out.

The road to Petra from Amman is good and driving was very enjoyable. However, it was already around 1:30 AM by the time I had covered about 80 KMs out the 200 odd KMs. As the road was absolutely empty, I stepped up the accelerator and was soon driving at 160 KMPH. When, suddenly, I found a Police man waving to me to stop. I stopped and he asked me for the license and papers. When I gave him everything, he told me to join him with the other 2 officers. They spoke little English and mostly spoke in Arabic. They told me to give 30 Dinar as fine. I gave them 50 Dinar as that was the least denomination I had. They searched about them to give me the change. When they were struggling, I said it is okay for them to keep the 50 Dinar as I was further getting late. I think they did not understand and suddenly decided to give me back the 50 Dinar and wished me a pleasant stay and with a round of handshakes let me go.

Driving for another 60KM, I saw the diversion to Petra marked on the highway. I took the diversion and found myself on a narrow road. The map said that Petra was still 50 KMs away. So, I kept driving and was assured as the road sign kept indicating to Petra being on this direction. After a while I got confused as I could not find indicators to Petra for some time and so gave a call to Deepshree to ask the hotel staff to give me a call and guide me. They called me and told me to keep driving straight. So, I did so and soon reached Petra. Then, with the help of the hotel staff, soon found the hotel. So, we were together in Petra at around 3:30 AM on 13Sep12.

Next morning, we had breakfast at around 10:45 AM with the breakfast service being open till 11:00 AM. We then checked out of the hotel and requested them let us park our car there and they agreed. We set off for Petra whose entrance was right opposite the hotel gate. We bought the entrance tickets at 50 Dinar per person and set off. As a part of the entrance ticket, one is entitled to free ride on a horse till the entry point and we took that instead of walking though Deepshree was reluctant as she had never ridden a horse. For whatever reason, she bit the bullet. At the entrance, we met a guide, who told us that we could go through the conventional path which was a smooth road or we could try the mountain road and reach the Petra City from the back. This way we get a full view of the Petra instead of just the built up area. After a thought, I thought we should ride through the mountain as it would be exciting. So, again we mounted 2 horses and started.

This was the beginning of a great adventure as the mountain path was really treacherous and we were just clinging on the saddle. We forgot all about taking photos as it was just not possible for the effort you need giving to the ride. Deepshree was extremely nervous, but kept on. We came to a point where one had to walk as the path was not conducive for riding. It was very difficult to walk as well. However, we managed to cross the same. Then, we were riding once again up the hill. Then, the decent started and Deepshree could not take it any longer. She got down from the horse and started to walk and needed help from the guide at all the tricky points. The path did not seem to end as we were crossing hill after hill. Ultimately, we came to plain land when all of a sudden, my horse just collapsed to the ground with me on it. I was lucky that I suffered no injury and the camera was not damaged. The guide told me that the horse was too tired. So, I continued on foot from that point. Anyway, we were close to the path from where one had to go on foot as there were stair built-in the mountain. We had reached the highest point in Petra from where the complete city was visible.

We started the descent through the stairs. All around us was very scenic and I was enjoying myself. Deepshree was struggling as her legs would take her no more. However, she kept at it and after walking down the stair for nearly 1 hour, we saw the built up area. We could see the houses built-in the mountains, the amphitheatre and other exquisite structures, all that I had seen in the photos and books. The ground here is plain. However, Deepshree could walk no more and so we took a Donkey for her. With Deepshree riding a Donkey and me and the guide on foot we set out into the city. It was out of the world. Soon, we reached the Treasury which was what I had dreamt of seeing after watching Indiana Jones. So, the dream was fulfilled. We spent some time here and then decided to take a carriage back to the entrance. The carriage ride was also very exciting as we travelled on cobble road and as the driver promised, we had a free massage during the 30 minutes drive. At the entrance, we again took the free horse ride back to the main gate. It was 5:45 PM when we started off from Petra heading to Dead Sea.

Again, we set the map and could see the path. However, the problem was getting on the track from within the city limits. We were struggling and decided to ask a taxi driver. He was extremely kind and told us he would drive ahead of us till the starting point of the road to Dead Sea. We followed him and reached the point and thanked him and started out again. It was a great drive as the road was hilly as all around was very scenic. The road was narrow, however, we drove at a decent speed. On the way, we stopped at Dana.

At around 7:00 PM reached a city called Al Tafila. This is a reasonably populated city and we filled petrol here. Now, the same old problem, how to get out of the city on the track. We asked people and got directions and kept proceeding. We came to a roundabout where there were 5 road leading out of it. We thought we should go ahead to Al Karak as the map suggested and headed in that direction when we realised that we are heading into the city. So, we turned back and came back to the roundabout. We took another road and came back to the roundabout as the map suggested we were moving away from our path. We took each of the roads and the same result. We had asked many people in the process. However, we found to our surprise that people did not understand Dead Sea. When we would say “Dead Sea”, they asked back whether we needed a Taxi. After lot of struggle, we set on our way back into the Al Tafila town and saw a bunch of Policemen and decided to ask them. It was again difficult to communicate as they did not understand English. Ultimately, I gave up and thought of sitting down somewhere to think further. Also, the charge in the iPhone was running out and there would be no map after that. So, at 8:45 PM we stopped at a restaurant and ordered food and put our iPhone for charging. I decided to call the Marriott Hotel and ask them for help. The guy who received the call diverted the call to the Travel Desk. I am extremely disappointed with this as he was being irrelevant. Seeing my irritation, one local person came to me and asked what was the problem. I requested him if he could explain to the Marriott person as to where I was so that he could help me. He talked to the Marriott staff in Arabic and then told me not to worry as he spoke perfect English and he would help me. He sat me at a table and took out a paper and drew precise directions for finding the road to the Dead Sea. I thanked him, the restaurant staff and collected the iPhone and set off as per the map given by the person. After driving for about 12 KM, we found that we were on track as per the map. We were driving through the Jordan Valley and road is quite tricky here with lots of twists and turns. I was enjoying myself while Deepshree was extremely worried as it was pitch dark outside with no one else in any vicinity. We soon reached the Amman highway and were relaxed.

We reached Marriott at around 11:00 PM and checked in and ordered food from room service (as all restaurants had closed) and ate and slept. Marriott is a very lovely hotel which we discovered next morning and went around and had an elaborate breakfast. Then, I went towards my next fascination – the Dead Sea. The Marriott has a private beach which is extremely rocky. However, Marriott has kept shoes which can be used in the beach so that your feet are not hurt. We slipped on the shoes and went to the sea. I changed and was soon in the sea. There were another 2 couples there at that time – one young couple and one elderly couple. The elderly couple advised me to be careful not to let any sea water enter the eye and to avoid taking any of the sea water in the mouth. The younger couple told me not to worry as I could not drown. I headed inside and was soon floating in the Dead Sea.

Now, the water of the Dead Sea is extremely oily. I was confused whether it was water or oil. And as promised, you do not need swimming as you float naturally. I enjoyed myself. However, in excitement, some water hit my eyes and it was extremely painful. Anyway I recovered. Then I went to the mud pit and applied the Dead Sea mud on whole of my body and went back to the sea. Deepshree decided to stay out of water. She really missed something. After some time, I came out and washed myself in the shower provided by Marriott and got ready and headed back to the hotel. Soon, we checked out at 12:00 noon and were on our way to Amman.

Amman is just about 50 KMs from Dead Sea and the highway is extremely good though it has a few twists and turns as the road is through the hills. I called up Mugeeth who had promised to meet me in Amman. We decided upon the meeting point and were on our way. Soon, we were in Amman and were driving through the city to reach our rendezvous i.e. Royal Jordanian office. After trying for some time using the map, we did not manage the Royal Jordanian office, though we knew that we were within 1 KM of the same. So, I parked the car in front of a general stores and called Mugeeth and with the help of the shopkeeper explained our exact location. Mugeeth came to where we were waiting with his wife. So, we had met. He then took us to the Roman Amphitheatre. There he helped Deepshree to buy some souvenirs and we went around the Amphitheatre which was wonderful. Then, he treated us to Jordanian sweets and then took us to Ward Restaurant for lunch. It was nearly 5:00 PM now. Deepshree’s return flight was at 8:20 PM and so we had to be in Airport by 6:00 PM. So, Mugeeth order food accordingly and ordered for the Shisha which he had committed in Riyadh. The food was delicious as was the ambiance of the restaurant. The 4 of us had a great time. It was 5:45 PM when we decided to head to the Airport. Mugeeth told us that he would put us on the Aqaba highway and from it would be 40 minutes to the Airport. We reached the Aqaba highway and took leave from Mugeeth and his wife.

We started to drive to the Airport with the map on in the iPhone. Soon, I saw a sign saying that we need turning right to go to the Airport. By the time I realized it, I had already crossed it. So, I started to hunt for the nearest U-turn. We found a U-Turn nearly 10 KM later and on driving back drove for another 17 KM before find our way back on the Aqaba highway. This time we took the diversion properly. However, to our surprise, we found that we were headed away from the Airport. This made me nervous as it was already 6:30 PM. So, I decided to stop and asked Deepshree to get out of the car with her luggage. We waited and got the first taxi which came our way. I put Deepshree in the taxi and told the Taxi Driver to take her to the Airport and I would follow him as fast as I could. The Taxi Driver took the same route we had taken before taking the U-turn. This surprised me as I realised that the diversion marked was wrong and that is what had misled us. However, there is no sign post in this road to show to the Airport. We kept driving and ultimately reached the Airport at about 7:10 PM. I told Deepshree head straight to the check-in counter and I would take care of the taxi. Deepshree, by mistake, went to the Premium check-in counter. There the officer was extremely kind as he realised that she was late and the economy gates had actually closed. So, he made premium express check-in for her and within 10 minutes she was at the boarding gate for her flight. It was an extreme stroke of luck that she had made it to her flight.

I called up Hertz and they came and collected the car and I paid up and went to check-in for my flight to Riyadh. There was no further adventure as the check in was smooth and I had enough time in hand for a few smokes. I called up Mr. Swamidas, who drives me around in Riyadh, to collect me from the Riyadh Airport. I reached Riyadh on time and then was home by around 1:30 AM. I sat on Facebook to upload the photographs and then called Deepshree at around 3:30 AM to understand that she had reached Mumbai. So, I slept to be ready for office the next day.

 

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Shanmuga Beach


On the first day of our visit to Trivandrum (now Tiruvananthapurum), we visited Shanmuga Beach. We checked into Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam at around 11 AM. Taj had provided to pick us up from the Airport for our flight from Bangalore to Trivandrum. After having lunch, we took a car from the hotel to first go to Puttina Malaga Palace. From there, we went to Shanmuga Beach.

Shanmuga Beach is very close to the Trivandrum Airport. In fact, one of the Airport walls is adjacent to the beach. There is a huge building right on the beach with all shops and facilities.

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The beach has red sand. The sea is Arabian Sea. The water is slightly greenish. The sea is crystal clear.

We spend about 2 hours on the beach. It was very enjoyable.

There are some activities on the beach as well.

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Deepshree was the one who enjoyed the most.

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