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Ladakh Diaries - Day # 4

Since we had saw most of the things on the Leh - Uleytopko route the day before, I faced the prospect of being in my Leh hotel room by as early as noon. This was a problem, as I had just spent all that time acclitimising and I didn't want to be indoors so soon in the day. So over breakfast, I came up with this whacko idea: why don't I go river rafting?????

Even before I could finish my breakfast, I could feel the rush of adrenaline. But first, Alchi Monastery. This is- if I remember correctly- the oldest monastery in Ladakh and arguably one of the prettiest. It is the only monastery that is not situated on a hill top. The village is pretty and full of al-fresco restaurants. The main temple is a very run down building with paintings going back a thousand years. It's very delicately preserved. Alchi monastery is a must- see place in Ladakh and if you don't wish to stay in Uleytopko, you could also try and find a motel here in this village. Do spend a few hours, atleast a…

Ladakh diaries - Day #3

We hit the road on our third day. On the way to Uleytopko- a popular camping site on the banks of Indus river- we head past Magnetic Hill, Basgo Fort and Likir Monastery. Our first stop, though, is at Gurdwara Shri Patthar Sahib. This is a Sikh place of worship but a popular spot for all travellers passing by. The place is maintained by the Indian Army. The story goes that once upon a time Guru Nanak meditated here. One of his enemies threw a huge rock at him, but when the rock hit him, it made an impression of his posture on the rock. Nothing, of course, happened to Guru Nanak; he escaped un-hurt and the enemy got convinced by Guru Nanak's powers and became his disciple, thereafter. That rock- with Guru Nanak's impression- is still here at this Gurudwara.

The place of worship is very popular among tourists and army people alike. It is a revered and respected place; you could see the devotion. You could see rows and rows of plaques being engraved in the walls by various army …

Ladakh diaries - Day #1 and 2

A very interesting and memorable trip starts off on a very boring note. The one thing we have to do after reaching Leh is to acclitimise to the high altitude. Since Leh town is situated at about 11,000 ft above sea level, the air is thin. And since most of us fly there directly from low levels, it's absolute;y necessary to spend day- preferably two like I did- by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

So my Day #1 went by just watching television and doing practically nothing else. I had forgotten my iPad, Kindle and headphones, so at the Mumbai airport I had to buy a new pair of headphones. That was my companion as well for the better part of the first two days at Leh.

On day#2, I went to Sanchi Stupa, a Buddhist monument perched high up on a hill that gives magnificent views of the Leh valley. That's the place to go if you want good sunset views at Leh. Photographers start lining up their cameras and tripods here, from 5:30 onwards. I found a good spot for my tripod and waited patiently. …

Kabaddi, Kabaddi, Kabaddi

This was a surprise. A phone call from an aunt with free tickets to the premier of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) in Mumbai was not an opportunity I'd have missed. Although I don't completely understand Kabaddi (though I get the gist of it), it's a good way to spend a weekend evening.

The first match was played between Mumbai and Jaipur. Entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvalla owns the Mumbai team and Abhishek Bacchan owns the Jaipur team. NSCI is a huge complex. Once you step in, you get a feel of the Indira Gandhi Sports Stadium in New Delhi where I had gone last year to cover the Indian Premier Tennis League for my newspaper. We were fortunate to reach there as even though we had the VIP seats, the crowd began to swell as time went by. The place was teaming with celebrities; from chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to Amitabh Bacchan (AB), Aishwarya Rai, Aamir Khan. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sunil Shetty and many m
ore. Fadnavis was interviewed on the court about why likes and supports Ka…

Chai in the Dining Car

Train journeys fascinate me. But none quite like the Deccan Queen (DQ). Especially the Mumbai to Pune leg. Years ago, I shifted my loyalties from the Indrayani Express (which leaves for Pune in the morning) to the DQ (which leaves in the evening). And even though Pragati Express leaves a good 50 minutes before- and reaches few minutes sooner than- the DQ, the Queen has her own charm. And I like the C4 coach particularly because it's right next to the Dining Pantry car. By the way, the Queen just got a refurbished dining car, with new lights, new seating, curtains and very swanky. The Dining car has been the DQ's highlight for years. It's half kitchen and half restaurant. The new dining car has two new wash basins as well. They had just introduced it days before my last visit, so the decorations were still on. That's also another reason why I love the DQ. Unlike other Mumbai - Pune trains, this one has a pantry car, so food is freshly prepared. Leaving home in the afte…

My interview of Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka is in danger: from his hideous, chequered pink shorts.
If there’s something that can bring him down, despite beating the World No.1 Novak Djokovic to win the French Open earlier this month, it’s his choice of shorts. Last week, he put up a message on Twitter saying he will give away one pair of his “lucky shorts” to “a lucky follower” when he reaches 500,000 followers. We asked him if he was serious. “Of course, I’m serious! There has been so much talking about the shorts, so many people wanted to get one. There were also some funny cartoons in Switzerland. All of a sudden it was all about the shorts,” he said in an email interview.
I interviewed Stan Wawrinka, the French Open champion 2015 for Live Mint.
Here's the link to the story: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/vUthczokWpMdF9UsJLZ35O/Stans-the-man.html

End of the road for the Big Four?

"We’ve got teenagers and young guys coming now; I see change is coming,” says American coach Brad Gilbert over the phone. Gilbert has trained the likes of Murray, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Nishikori. “I don’t know when it’s coming but there is change coming. This is an exciting time for men’s tennis where we’ve got the older, established players, the challengers, and a good mix of new young players,” said Brad Gilbert.  Men's tennis is changing. How long will the Big 4 continue to remain the Big 4? You have the challengers to the crown and then you have the young turks, under 21, who are potential leaders. My story in today's Mint on how the men's tennis landscape is changing.
I have also attached the graphics that wasn't carried in the story. But I am attaching the same here for my reader's reference. 
http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/L2pyk3ElzCsP6PAt8tWVgP/End-of-the-road-for-the-Big-Four.html

Flipkart Wish Chain advertisement

Arguably, the best advertisement in recent memory. And my favourite ad- I think- of the decade. The story is beautiful and told like a story. You may or may not like Flipkart, but the product positioning is brought out beautifully through the advertisement. Background music is lyrical and haunting, but in a good way, of course.

A Visit to the Rashtrapati Bhawan

There's something about Delhi that gets me. My love affair started in 2000 when I camped here for three and half months when I started my first job. I had got home sick by the end of that tenure, but not before I had some of the best time of my life while staying there. A day trip to Agra (my first visit to the Taj Mahal), new friends, countless movies, lunches and dinners; I had a great time back then. It's a place where I cannot stay for months, but an occasional visit- even once or twice or thrice a year- is always looked forward to. The affair continues. Safdarjung Enclave, ITO, Delhi Gate, Connaught Place, Janpath, Khan Market, Patel Nagar, Karol Baug, Tughlak Road, Lodi Estate....these are just some of the Delhi corners tattooed in my brain. All my life I have worked for publications headquartered in Delhi, so I've been fortunate enough to keep going there. Plus if you have friends there, all the more reason.

So after a massive delay of 10 hours and embarking to 45 d…

Business class on Vistara

It's not even been a year since Vistara was launched, but it has already got me excited. This brand new airline, a joint venture between the Tata group and Singapore Airlines, has managed to shake up the industry after a long time. It may not have cornered many passengers yet from competitors, but it has shaken up things, especially the full serviced carriers.

This particular Delhi - Mumbai flight was my third by Vistara and the airline has already upgraded me twice. This time, they bumped me up to Business Class, up from Premium Economy class. Coincidentally, this was also the first time ever that I had been upgraded to Business class.

To begin with, cold towels were given to us, followed by lime juice. Newspapers were already there in our front seat pockets, but magazines were also offered. But in a two-hour flight, there's precious little we can do, especially in full-service carriers when 3/4th of your time go in just eating food. Anyways, there was a bloke in one row ahe…

My first ever Rajdhani experiance

As a kid, the Mumbai-New Delhi Rajdhani Express used to be this legend that I dreamt often. Although train travel was an integral part of my childhood, Rajdhani remained a distant dream. A dream that only zipped past me at 120 km/hr overtime I saw it. A dream that announced it arrival from a great, great distance by the sounds of twin diesel locomotives and its generator cars at either sides of the rake. A sound that was as intimidating to rail enthusiasts like me as a Bullet motorcycle is to a biker. In those days, it used to be hauled by two diesel locomotives so that it wouldn't need to spend much time at Vadodra station changing its locomotives. One of the two diesel locos would detach itself from the train and the other one who simply haul it al the way to Delhi. When I used to go to Valsad during some of my summer holidays at my cousin's house, it was a ritual. Take a picnic basket, leave the house at sharp 6, go to the yard just before the station, position ourselves on…

Red Ink Awards

Yesterday I attended the Mumbai Press Club's Red Ink Awards for journalism. In its fifty year running, I attended it for the first time. Railways minister Suresh Prabhu was the chief guest and gave away the awards. NDTV's Prannoy Roy for the Lifetime Achievement award. Caravan magazine swept away the awards winning in multiple categories across many of its writers. Scroll.com won the start-up media awards. Menace Doshi of the CNBC-tv18 was the host of the evening.

For me, the highlight of the evening was Prannoy Roy's acceptance speech. He said what I have been worried about for a long time. The tabloidation of media. He especially pointed out TV channels that appear to be tilting away towards that path; an example of which he said that he once saw a crime show where the lady anchor said, tripling her hair, "break ke baad ek rape dikhayange". Dr. Roy was  candid to point out the ugly crime shows on some of these channels. This is exactly what had me worried for …

A walk on Pune's MG road

Taking a walk down the MG road in Pune camp area in the morning can be quite invigorating. Especially if you don't have any agenda.
I start from Golibar maidan end. First stop is the newspaper vendor. The elderly Muslim gentleman is such a friendly man; he recognises all his regular customers, even someone like me who go to Pune once in a month, two or even three. All newspapers and magazines are usually available with him; a very well stocked stall. There's something about a neatly organised newspaper stall. It just pulls you in, even if you know you are not that avid reader or may not have the time to read as much as you'd like. You want to read all the newspapers and magazines on display. Of course I can't. Plus, I carry my iPad these days so I prefer reading all newspapers on it. And if I like something that I can't read at that moment, I can always save the link. Most of my weekend reading these days are stories that I come across throughout the week. Or those …

Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) requires a monorail

Everytime I go to the Bandra - Kurla Complex (BKC), a business district in the middle of Mumbai, I feel blessed. I am thankful to my employers for now having chosen a place like BKC for our office. I think for those of us who use public transport, it's a curse to have an office at BKC. During peak hours, it is near impossible to find a rickshaw or a bus, in minutes. The buses that come from Kurla (and going towards Bandra station) are so crowded that they don't stop. Demand for rickshaws far outstrip their supply. And to make matters worse, the traffic snarls at Kalanagar make it worse. Only people with cars are better off working at BKC.  
Unfortunately, our state planning authorities have never really invested in public infrastructure. Nor do they understand the basics. Take for instance, the monorail and metro, what's the difference between the two and where we need them. At present, monorail at Mumbai goes from Chembur to Wadala. If you see its route, you'll reali…

Flamingo watch at Sewri

Early Saturday morning, I set off to see the Flamingos that come visiting Mumbai. These majestic migratory birds visit Mumbai every year between December and stay on here till about April. It was a long-time wish that finally got fulfilled. Birdy (appropriately called for the occasion)- an expert trekker and outdoor guide- had organised the morning watch. A colleague who is a regular with Birdy  pulled me in and off we went. We took the harbour line train- one of my favourite train rides in the whole of India- and landed at Sewri station at about 7:30 am; the appointed time. We joined the group there and began our 1 km walk to the Sewri jetty where Flamingos were waiting for us. Sewri- and the first half of harbour line up until Wadala- looks like a Mumbai caught up in time warp. Development has thankfully (and also partly woefully) escaped this part of Mumbai. Large swaths of godowns dot the dockland area of Eastern Mumbai. The only visible sign of development here is the new Easter…

Air-Cool is back

Thank heavens that Air-Cool- my hair saloon- has reopened. Arguably the best hair saloon this side of the town (Churchgate, Mumbai), it reopened after a hiatus of more than two months. In December 2014, it abruptly shut down its shop as I was told their lease ran out. Now they're back and have relocated at the Asiatic store, opposite Churchgate station. 
To me, Air-Cool is not just any barber. It's like a factory in there. Barbers in clean white and black uniforms, neatly attired go about doing their jobs professionally. They have speed yet most of them are quite good at what they do. Waiting time is usually minimal. Interiors are very simple, yet they look classy. There's the instrumental music being played in the background; always instrumental and not at al loud. All the barbers are assigned numbers. The one who I go to is No.4. 
Simple guy who always welcomes you with a smile, he cuts hair like he's been doing for centuries. I like my cut to be simple. I am a bit …