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Showing posts from 2011

Postcards from Abu Dhabi and Dubai

There's pretty little touristy stuff to do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Hardly any historical monuments or places of history are there, but there's a sampling of culture to be had, apart from loads of shopping and good dining. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are your typically splurge, fun and chill out holidays. 


Both the Emirates have Souks; exquisite bazaars or markets in a multi-storied building with long lanes, bylines and even courtyards and several shops lined up one after another. You get all things Arabia, arts and crafts, boutiques, clothes, jewelry and plenty of dining options, at prices somewhat higher than normal, but you can bargain at many shops. At the Madinat Jumeirah Souk in Dubai, be sure to visit the sand art stall and the hand painting stall. 


The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi is one of the most beautiful structures in the world. It is the largest mosque of its kind in the UAE. This is what money can buy; the most beautiful carpets of the world with designs so intri…

Abu Dhabi desert safari

A trip to the UAE is incomplete without savoring the desert experience. And the best way to do this is the Desert Safari. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer desert safaris through numerous tour companies. Since I was based at Abu Dhabi, I stuck to an Abu Dhabi tour operator, called Abu Dhabi Desert Safari. Since I did not do advance booking, I called them up from Abu Dhabi and emailed them a request. They sent me my confirmation over email itself, after just a few minutes, and I was set. The desert safari is a four to six hour desert adventure and they take us far outside the city limits, deep into the desert. The pick-up was arranged at about 3 pm and the car was right on time. Another pick up and a detour from the main Abu Dhabi - Dubai expressway a few minutes later, we were zipping at 130 miles per hour in the middle of nowhere to get to our destination nestled far away in some God-forsaken place deep inside the desert. I was driven in a four-wheel (4W) drive, Toyota Land Cruiser.

On…

Abu Dhabi and Dubai: First impressions

That a desert is barren and offers vast landscapes of nothingness is ironic. Because what the Sheikhs of the Middle East have made out of the United Arab Emirates is nothing short of a marvel. And it still appears work in progress; there's still a lot more coming, global economy health permitting. Ofcourse, the jewel in their crown still remains Dubai- the most advanced, modern and inviting of all the seven Emirates that together constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE)- but signs of development, progress and modern society can be seen beyond the borders of Dubai. Early in December 2011, I had the good fortune of paying a visit to Abu Dhabi, at my cousin Huffrish's home. Lovely destinations, they turned out to be.

We went via Dubai because getting an Abu Dhabi visa is painful. We were asked to fly only by Etihad- Abu Dhabi's national airline- to qualify for a visa, else we have to tell our hosts there to procure a Visa (after answering a dozen questions I am told) or I b…

Review - Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin

During the French Open 2010, former world No.1 Rafael Nadal was walking down the streets of Paris flanked by Carlos Costa- his agent and former tennis player- on one side and Toni Nadal- his coach (and uncle)- on the other. Nadal was walking in the middle of the two. Suddenly, Toni stops and says “we can’t have this”. He thought it might seem that Rafa is a special person and the others his escorts, so he changed the order and made Nadal walk at the end.
From singling out Rafael during his growing years whilst coaching young kids at the local tennis club at Manacor, a small town on the Spanish island of Mallorca- using rough language, shouting and yelling more at Rafa than all the other kids, making him stay behind after practice sessions to pick up all the balls and sweep the courts- to being the ‘toughest coach in the world’, this was all part of Toni’s devious strategy over the years to toughen up Rafael to play through all sort of pain, under all sorts of conditions, to throw the …

Love2HateU is rock on

We love to hate celebrities, berate them, calling them names, criticize them sitting on our couch munching away popcorn as they keep mouthing away some of the lousiest dialogues we've ever heard...or so we think. But what if they pop out of your TV screen, magically appear before you, put a gun on your head and say "Huh! so you were saying...?" That's pretty much the premise of Star World's latest television show called 'Love2HateU'. The show is presented by model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal and it makes celebrities come face to face with their haters.


I just watched the first show and came away pretty impressed. Each one-hour episode will have two celebrities facing their haters. The hater is a common man that the producers of the show seem to scout for, bring them to a place on the pretext of taking some interview on why s/he hates the celebrity so much. Basically, to make him or her get comfortable with the criticism. The celebrity is nearby and watchin…

Le Pain Quotidien

Yesterday was my second visit to Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ), a bakery-cum-patisserie at Coloba, near the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is a French style cafe with a good seating arrangement and leisurely ambiance that kind of reminds you of the various sidewalk cafes in Europe. Only that this is not a sidewalk cafe, it's a proper indoor cafe. As soon as you enter the place, you cannot miss the display of desserts on your left. I think it's a nice ploy by the management to suck you in as soon as enter the place; you don't feel like going out again till you've had something.

I am told the breakfast spread is the best at LPQ and that's the one must-have meal here. But the first time I went there, it was evening and I had purposely timed it in such a way that I could have something substantial. Though on a Sunday evening that it was, having an empty stomach is not easy because Sunday is Dhansakh day and my mum's dhansakh- or anyone's for that matter…

Churches

The serenity of a church is unmistakable and one of the foremost reasons why I'd like to visit a church. Last weekend I was at Mount Mary's at Bandra, one of the few churches I visit regularly, but one of my favourites. I like being in or around Bandra; I've spent two of the most important years of my life here when I did my management as my college was in Bandra (E). Every now and then, we used to hop in a rickshaw, cross the Bandra creek flyover, over to Mehboob studios and then climb the hills of Mount Mary to reach our destination. First the church, then the round circuitous Mother Mary steps on the opposite where you can get a fantastic view of the Arabian sea and Bandra sea face, home of the rich and famous. Afterwards, we used to go to the sea face and sit and have long chats, gossip, bitch and all of that.

And sometimes, on the way up to Mount Mary's, we used to hit the Hearsch Bakery at Bandra (W). I haven't been there in over 10 years now, but when we use…

How to get UID

I got my UID (Unique Identification number) earlier today. Though we have many banks in our locality, presently only Central Bank of India is offering this facility. But I hear other banks in other localities are also acting up as enrollment centres. Check please.

For those of you who don't know what UID is, this is a unique identification number being given out by the Government of India to each Indian citizen. It sort of legalises your existence and gives you a bonafide certificate because it not only accounts for your permanent residence, but also takes in your fingerprints, picture and your eye image. Here's a simple guide on how to get your UID:

Check with your local bank branch whether UID is being offered or not. To the best of my knowledge, only public sector banks have been allowed to set up UID registration desks (enrollment centres) inside their branches; i do not know about the status of private sector banksIf the enrollment centre happens to be a bank, you may or …

Things I wish are banned from Indian TV

Before Indian Television goes deep down in the dog's ass and comes out as poop (since it has already gone to dogs, in a matter of speaking), here's my list of five things I wish are banned from TV.

Fewer and shorter ad breaks
yeah yeah we need ads to sustain television and the print media and all that jazz, but must we have a 10-minute ad break in between movies, every 12 minutes? There have been times when I have surfed up to 10 channels and each of those channels had advertisements played, no kidding. A 3-hr movie takes four and half hours to wrap up. There's a reason why we see international film awards like Oscars and Golden Globe Live on TV (they're big prime time shows abroad) but till date I do not remember seeing an Indian movie television award show Live. Why? It's all those ad breaks, stupid. Whilst ad breaks make commercial sense, too many- and longer- ad breaks break our rhythm and make tv less enjoyable.

Slow motions
A few years back during the Bombay P…

Do Radio taxis turn down short distances?

Mumbai Mirror newspaper did a good story recently about how radio taxis in Mumbai turn down short-distance passengers and usually mostly entertain long distance ones. I had a similar experience myself last week. On 5 August, I had to travel out of Mumbai and I had to catch a 7 am train from CST station. My house is about 4-5 kms away. On 4 August, about 9 am (only a little less than 24 hrs away) I called Meru cabs. They put me on hold for about 2 minutes, came back and refused the cab saying "there are no cabs available for that time slot in your area".

So I hung up and decided to call them again, this time pretending that I have to go to the airport (very long distance). They again put me on hold, came back and told me that the cab is available. I asked then "are you sure that the cab is available?" They said (not in exactly the same words) "Yes sir the cab is available, we wouldn't tell you otherwise if it's not available". So once they confirme…

Harry Potter finale is the grandest ever

Ten years, seven books, eight movies and a mindbogglingly finale close to the Harry Potter franchise. And what better way to close the chapter in 3-D. To ensure we get confirmed seats, we booked the 9.30 am show at Imax, Wadala. I don't remember going to a cinema hall that early in the day, ever. The action starts soon enough; first a recap of the last scene of the first part, Voldemort's access to the Elder Wand, followed by a grim look at Hogwarts patrolled by the Dementors who seem to be standing right next to your seat if seen through those 3-D goggles. It's surreal; you know in less than three hours it's all going to come to an end, no more anticipating the release of J.K.Rowling's books, no more reading the morning papers with pictures of children with the happiest faces as if they've won the treasure hunt after braving 5-mile long serpentine (thankfully not the Nagini types) queues in cold weather of foreign shores, with their latest Harry Potter books- …

Visiting Lake District

Apart from the must-sees and must-dos in England, Lake District is right up there. This is a mountainous region in North West England. We decided to spend two nights here in a small town called Windermere. We caught the early morning Virgin train from London Euston station at about 9.30 (prior reservations were done online) and after a three and half journey that includes one to two change-overs (depending on your train timings), we reached Windermere. Virgin trains are fast but that apart,  British railway is a lot like Indian Railways. Unreserved passengers occupy reserved seats, though they are polite and vacate them when the rightful occupants arrive. Yet the trains have many standees and people squat at the entry / exit points. The good part though was that some compartments have a cafe; you pick up food items from the shelves, tea/coffee/ available, pay for them at the counter and have them at your seat. Whilst going we were fortunate to have such cafe in our compartment. But wh…

London - First impressions

For some weird reason I can't quite comprehend, I believe that your introduction to Europe should happen through England, specifically London. In other words, if you want to tour Europe, then start with London. Then, other cities or countries may follow. Maybe because London and England has so much history and culture and the place is so old.

Heathrow Airport sucks! Terminal 4's (Jet Airways) arrival lounge is unimpressive and belies the fact that England is a developed country. Hopefully, they'll renovate soon. And since my last visit to Singapore my expectations from international airports (what a vast difference) had reached the moon, they were just as quickly brought back to the ground. Few counters at the immigration to cater to one of the world's busiest airports meant that after a 10-hour journey, we had to spend more about 20 (or perhaps a bit more) minutes in the queue, waiting. The baggage claim area looks like a seedy large, never-ending godown. I was just …

Is Personal Finance stale?

This is a rant; as a blogger for over three years now, I think I have a right to rant occasionally. There is not shortage of myths; this much I can tell you for sure. As a journalist covering personal finance, especially mutual funds, for the past 10 years, I should know. Ofcourse, new developments do not take place in the PF space everyday, especially in any one given beat, say, MFs that I cover. Often, people- especially fellow journalists (and this is where it kills me that the myth exists in ur own community rather than outside)- misunderstand or rather blatantly assume that things get repeated in the PF space. The same-old tale of asset allocation, invest in equities for long run, why you should invest in MFs and so on are repeated like 10 times in a year, they feel. Hence, a PF journalist leads a cushy life at work; if you don't have an idea, just pick an old story and recyle and voila, there's a 'new' story, they say.

Without going into a length tirade, here'…

The Best Way to go to Poona

Trips to Poona are always looked forward to. And ever since the Mumbai-Poona expressway was thrown open to public, an endless supply of seats on the buses and taxis are hawked 24/7 at Dadar. But my favourite way to go to Poona has always been- and will always be- by train. Nothing compares to the excitement of the age-old (but still looks fresh) drill: to reach the station in time, locating your train standing pretty on one of the numerous platform, then locating your compartment, checking your name on the reservation chart (even though you know you're dead sure it's there because naturally you have reserved tickets and that too in your hand), and then finally  entering it amidst countless stares from co-passengers who are already smugly seated inside as if to say "hah, we beat you to it!".   
Earlier I used to take the Indrayani Express that leaves Mumbai VT at 5.45 am. That was a time when waking up at 4.30 am at home was acceptable. Today, with my work life taking …

Appetizing Koh (By Kittichai)

Mumbai's latest Thai cuisine restaurant, Koh by Kittichai (the signature restaurant by world-famous Thai chef Ian Kittichai) is bound to offer serious competition to the city's best Thai restaurant, Thai Pavilion of the Taj President. Situated on the ground level of the Inter-continental hotel at Marine Drive, Koh is pricey and is considered a modern Thai cuisine restaurant with dishes whose names I haven't ever heard and couldn't possibly remember. Menu is served on an iPod, much like most chic restaurants in town these days. There is a home page and then different pages for appetizers, drinks, main course, desserts; you go to each of them with a finger touch and then scroll up and down using your fingers.

The food is awesome and good quality. Between the three of us, we ordered Kittichai hand-pressed fish cakes, speared chicken, cashew chicken, Thai green curry and rice and the sinfully wonderful chocolate lava cake; we had a sumptuous lunch. It's pricey, but the…

'The King's Speech' is good, not great

Caught up with 'The King's Speech' recently, about a couple of weeks back, at the multiplex is Vashi, a quaint but very distant suburb of Mumbai. South Mumbai may be a great place to live, but I think if you want to go to best of malls or the cheapest of multiplex to enjoy as many movies as possible with a tidy budget, suburbs are the place to be. A ticket of Black Swan in Inox, Nariman Point  set me back by Rs350, but 'The King's Speech' in Big Cinemas, Palm Beach Galleria Road, Vashi, cost me just Rs100. Five of us watched it for a cumulative sum of Rs500. For years, townies ruled the roost, now I think the suburbanites are having the last laugh for affordable entertainment, while we townies pay through our nose! And Big Cimenas, Vashi, was very decent. Seats were comfortable, the cafeteria was decent and we had attendants coming in and taking food orders. Come to think, Palm Beach road didn't remind me that I was in Mumbai; it sort of reminded me of the …

The President Is Coming

Caught a very funny play yesterday. It's called 'The President is Coming'. Apparently, it was adopted into a movie too- that got critical acclaim- but I did not catch the movie. Though I am glad I watched the play. It was conducted in the experimental theater at the National Centre for Performing Arts (Ncpa). This is one of the five theatres in the NCPA complex; the others that I have gone to are the Tata Theatre (where many large-scale production houses showcase their plays; entrance from the main Nariman Point road) and the grand Jamshed Bhabha theatre (entrance from the sea-touching promenade side of the complex) where usually the Orchestras are conducted.

The Experimental theatre has a very distinct setting to it. Instead of a usual theatre setting where the sitting is in the front of the stage, the experimental theatre has sitting in the front, at the sides and there is a balcony (you enter the main hall through the entrance much like everybody and then climb the step…

Tie the Perfect Knot

Last Sunday, I wore a tie after a gap of about five years. The last when I wore a tie was I took a break from my journalism career and tried my hand in a bank. Amongst all the discomforts that I endured whilst there (though I admit I gained a lot from working there too, so no regrets, really!), having to wear a tie everyday was almost up there on the list. Having to shave everyday was not far behind. From the freedom to wear jeans and T-shirt to getting away without shaving for more than two days (I usually shave on alternate days), imagine the culture shock I must have endured when I was asked to wear a tie, daily. My uncle that time had taught me to tie- what we Indians call- the samosa knot. I quickly bought some six to seven ties from Westside to go; all different colours and patterns to go with my various trousers and shirts. Reluctantly, though, but over a period I think I adjusted well to ties and did not mind. But come evening- and even during lunch- I longed to take it off, I…

Order books on Flipkart.com

This one deserves a mention, so here it goes. If you are in India and wish to order books and DVDs online, I can recommend you a fantastic online store. It's called Flipkart and it's website is www.flipkart.com. This is India's answer to the popular US-based online store Amazon. About two months back, I ordered a book that wasn't available at popular book shops in Mumbai, including my favourite Strand. Amazon had it, but as usual their shipping charges are a killer for shipments outside USA. Then, one of my office colleagues recommended me Flipkart and I placed the order. I made my payment through internet banking (really fast and one of the most convenient ways to pay bills of a large variety) and within minutes- or seconds perhaps I don't exactly remember- I got a confirmation. The book was at a very reasonable price.

Two things that I love about Flipkart:

Shipping of orders worth more than Rs100 is free. This works out much better than Amazon where in many cases,…

'Weak' security

There is something not quite right in the way the Amby Valley resort, Lonavala, seems to have reacted in the recent arrest of one of their own security guards for allegedly raping one of the hotel guests. The unfortunate incident took place in December 2010. The story published in Sunday Mid-Day ends on the following note:


When contacted, Gulam Zeeshan, spokesperson for Aamby Valley, said, "I am aware of the arrest of Chaudhary. He is a poor and weak man. He cannot overpower a woman. The police is victimizing him."


Weak man who cannot overpower a woman? Really? That's who a so-called luxurious and expensive resort appoints as their security? From the looks of it, the police seems to have nailed the culprit, but even if, for a minute, we assume that the police is wrong, who employs such a "weak" security guard who "cannot overpower a woman"? Ofcourse, that is hardly a qualification for strength, but surely hotels are expected to have capable security wh…