Saturday, November 19, 2011

20 Questions With TGC Prasad


Today I bring you thoughts from author, management consultant and international speaker Mr. TGC Prasad, who has already authored books like Unusual People Do Things Differently and talks to us about writing in general and his new book 'Along The Way' as we ask him 20 questions.

When do you write?
I usually write either early in the mornings or late in the night. I need uninterrupted and quiet time to focus and write. I don’t take calls, I don’t prefer doing any chores, I don’t like getting up from my seat when I start writing.

Where do you usually write? What is your favourite setting to write in?
I usually write in my study room on my desk. That is my favourite setting. 

Do you have any rituals/superstitions as a writer? Something you like to do before you start writing? A favourite pen?
No, I don’t have a superstition as a writer. I pray for couple of minutes before I start work. It helps focus.

Typing or writing on paper? What do you prefer and why?
I prefer typing on my Mac. It is easier, and I’m faster on the Mac than on paper.

What was your first piece of work ever? Do you still have it?
I don’t quite remember, may be some report. I don’t have it. Actually, I haven’t written before that fine day when I started to write ‘Unusual People Do Things Differently’…

Who are your inspirations as far as writing is concerned? Any writers you would highly recommend to readers?
The simplicity in the writings of R K Narayan and the detailing of C Rajagopalachari are fantastic. I recommend these two Indian writers. On the business side, books of Peter Drucker, CK Prahalad, Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, James Champy are fantastic.

What inspired ‘Along The Way’?
I wanted to affirm that I could write fiction. Secondly I wanted to write something hilarious which people could read and laugh, especially software engineers who lead quite a stressful life with all their deadlines and late nights…

We all know that while the author is solely responsible for an idea, the execution of the idea is impossible without the support of people who believe in the idea and the author. So who are the people behind ‘Along The Way’, other than yourself?
I must thank Rupa Publications for agreeing to publish the book.

Did the story of ‘Along The Way’ come to you easily or did you find yourself stuck with a writer’s block sometimes?
The story of ‘Along the Way’, came very easily. I didn’t have any author’s block. 

What is your personal most effective way of getting over a writer’s block, if it ever strikes you?
Sometimes, if I do get stuck, I start working on flow-charting of the story and then it gets going again. But I don’t stress myself hard over it. I take it easy and relax for a while and let the mind heal. I probably read, watch movies, go on drives, eat good food, enjoy my walks and all that. Why push yourself when you are stuck? The mind is a reservoir, you need to know how to tap it and at times give it enough rest so that it can connect the dots perfectly.

Do you agree that there are always autobiographical portions in any writing? Are there any in ‘Along The Way’?
I don’t agree with that. Fiction is about imagining something and writing about it. Many times authors take inspiration from certain events, places, people, scenes and what have you. ‘Along the Way’ is inspired by my long innings as a management expert in software and consulting domains.

Can you describe the journey of ‘Along The Way’ in short? How do you feel now when you look back on the entire creative process?
It has been immensely rewarding to write fiction. In retrospect, I know the improvements I could make in the book. There is always a next time.

How easy or difficult was it to get the book published?
I wrote a hundred pages of the manuscript, sent it to Rupa and they sent a contract. It was as simple as that…

Do you agree that any author also has to be a good marketer? Or are there mechanisms that can take care of the marketing bit, allowing the author to concentrate solely on content?
An author has to be a great marketer too; otherwise people will not know the existence of the book. I believe it is a joint effort between authors and publishers, and they have to work hand in glove. But only marketing without content doesn’t help. With great content and smart marketing, the book is bound to take off. So, it is a combination.

What is your advice to writers out there who might be looking at getting published? Any helpful pointers?
  • Choose a topic, which interests publishers.
  • Keep your book short, not too long.
  • Write in simple language that everybody can understand.
  • Go to book launches and meet potential publishers and take cues from them.
  • Be networked. It is important to do that, as much as writing good content.

What is your message to anyone who is considering picking up the book for a read? What can he/she expect?
If anybody picks up ‘Along the Way’, they can expect a breezy romance told in the most hilarious way in the software industry setting.

Who is ‘Along The Way’ dedicated to?
To my son and wife.

Do you have more stories to tell us already that we can expect in the form of books soon? Are you working on something?
I am working on ‘the case of the missing wedding ring’, a wonderful story in the first person narrative of a 19 year old autistic girl.

Apart from writing, what else keeps you busy? What are your passions/interests?
I do management consulting and I am an inspirational speaker. In the last quarter, I must have spoken to employees and senior management of atleast 25 companies like TCS, Goldman Sachs, SAP, Aricent, Macmillan, TESCO…

What is the one thought you would like to leave people with when they think of TGC Prasad, the writer?
The books which I write will be on various topics…business, entrepreneurship, hilarious fiction, romance, autism…I don’t stick to a genre, I write from the heart on subjects which interest me.

-----------------------

I hope you enjoyed the interview and are looking forward to reading the book. Copies of 'Along The Way' can be ordered here. Keep reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happiness Is...


I may be getting addicted to writing silly poems...here's one more :)

Happiness is…

A cane chair under a tree,
A copy of Tuesdays With Morrie,
A cup of piping hot tea
And good company.

A walk in the drizzle in June
Or in the light of the full moon
Or on a lukewarm winter afternoon,
With the radio playing my favourite tune!

A letter in the letterbox,
Writing a reply until the small hours of the clock,
Late night heart-to-heart girl talks,
A cup of warm milk, a blue sweater and my favourite socks.

Breakfast in town on Sunday,
Homemade food cooked my favourite way,
A little banter, a little play
With friends and family makes my day.

Happiness is when the heart sings
And finds the biggest joys in the smallest things,
In the lovely gifts that life brings.
That’s when happiness takes wings : )

Monday, September 19, 2011

What The Water Gave Me


It’s 2 AM and the world around me would have been absolutely quiet on another day save for the sound of an occasional water tanker coming by or leaving…or maybe the dogs howling. Today, it’s the sound of steadily falling rain. The dogs must be curled up in the cold somewhere so all I can hear is that one sound with some pitter-patter once in a while. 

It’s magical, hearing this sound at this hour. Opens up your soul and stirs emotions deep inside. And that is true of the sound of water in most forms, it has the power to connect with you at a deeper level than you can imagine.

I am immediately reminded of my many trips where the rain faithfully accompanied me. I remember Pondicherry, conversations about nothing in particular, seeing the ocean through the falling rain. I remember conversations with myself while I walked around Hampi in 3 days of rains… lunch at the Mango Tree as my umbrella dripped water at the door and I sat by the river listening to the swollen river rushing by. And then there was staring at winding road leading up to Ooty from somewhere in the mountains…six travellers sitting quietly and listening to water drip from the mountain trees. More recently there was staring at another view of the same mountains through the rain while sitting around an old British house in the middle of nowhere. 

River sounds are a different feeling altogether from rains. I am thinking the calm, almost still waters of the Cauvery in Doddamakali one April; you had to strain your ears to listen to the river’s murmur but it was there. Cauvery talked better in Dubbare, gurgled and laughed with my family, while I quietly sat and listened. And there were the boisterous waterfalls…Iruppu, Abbey, Hogenakkal, Bhedaghat…the very sound, that rush exhilarates and makes me break into a stupid happy smile. 

The strongest emotion, though, is always elicited by that all encompassing water body – the sea or the ocean. The whole that holds parts, the whole where we float. On a calm day, nothing calms me down better than watching a lazy wave roll over the sea to reach a shore only to playfully lap at it. It is medicine…on the beaches of Mt. Lavinia or Galle, Hungarkatte. On a windy rough evening, nothing intimidates me more than watching a rough sea spew water angrily at the shore and to hear the waves break upon hitting land. It is raw power that hits deep inside and can shake you up. I never saw it but that’s what the night sea at Kaup beach sounded like…agitated.

Maybe it’s our primal instinct, from thousands of years ago as we evolved from creatures that came from the waters to Homo Sapiens. But there is certainly something about water that evokes emotions like no other entity on earth…deep fear,  immense attraction or just a mild liking. I think it’s best left unexplained and only experienced.

Closing while the rain continues to fall steadily tonight with this beautiful beautiful song about water.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vinyl Dreams

My birth was marked with the purchase of a Gramophone record. Of the 1963 film Dil Ek Mandir. The record had the song Juhi Ki Kali Meri Ladli on it, my father’s song for me. My father bought that record the day I was born and put the date and his signature on it. And he told me that story forvere after. That is how my association with Vinyl records began. And that is how early my association with music began.


Image courtesy: vinylmelody.com

We used to own an HMV gramophone record player earlier. It used to play at three speeds – 33 and ½ rpm, 45 rpm and 75 rpm. But by the time I was 6 or 7, it had been used well enough to go into repairs…and never return to play. We still have the speakers I think, charming wood finish ones with the well-loved HMV logo on them.

So my father went and bought a Videocon 3-in-1 deck in the late 80s. It had a cassette-player, radio and a gramophone record player. It also came with the facility to record straight off the radio and my parents could then record many sessions of Bela Ke Phool, Binaca Geetmala and the likes from the radio.

And that’s how memories of music started to get woven into the fabric of my memories. The earliest memory was that of Boney M’s Brown Girl In The Ring playing from a small 45 rpm record while I danced to the tune. There were also Sunday afternoons every few weeks spent cleaning the Vinyls. Anything could be playing – an old Hindi film soundtrack, ABBA or some ghazals. All the Vinyls would be restacked, the big ones and small. Stories about how some of them were acquired would be retold. There was the story of my record. There was also the story of how my father once took my mother out to dinner in the early days of their marriage and Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan’s Hungama Hai Kyun Barpa was playing in the restaurant. My mother liked the song so much that she requested my father to buy the record. That is how that record landed up in our collection. Some of the records in the collection had scratches on them from being played too many times. Some of them would make the needle jump. Some were even bent a little. And yet, we were and are immensely proud of this assortment of Vinyls that we had…pure unadulterated sound wafting through the house with every rotation of the record.

There was something magical about holding each of those records, there was something precious about pulling them out of their jackets, there was something elevating about the art on those jackets…it was old world but there was something eternal about the feeling.

And that is why it is extremely heartening to see renewed interest (rather renewed coverage of interest that never died) in Vinyls, most recently covered in The Economist and Forbes. I really hope they outlast CDs and digital media and vindicate all that is old world and pure. That’s my Vinyl dream.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

No Name Face

He didn’t even have to look today evening. Or maybe I didn’t see him see me. But my glass of tea was ready when I reached the counter. It always is. Because the guys at the counter know that’s what I always order…at least they believe so. So on an odd day when I feel like coffee I don’t bother; I can’t bear to tell them they went wrong with their assumption or took me for granted. I quietly pick up my glass and pay. Sometimes they make conversation…small talk really. Have I had lunch, it’s raining very badly, they finished lunch long back, have I finished work. They seem to mean it. What else can we, with half a minute on our hands and with a constant stream of parched employees flocking the counter for their preferred beverage, talk about? Lots if you ask me but we just keep it this way. I don’t even know their names and they don’t know mine. We are no name faces.

There are the security guards. They seem to change every day and a new guard seems to check my bag as I wait to enter the facility. But they catch me unaware sometimes with questions like why am I so late today? I mumble something and move on, mostly pleasantly surprised that they seem to care enough to remember who comes in when in a building with 10 floors and more than 2000 employees. 

The guys at the snack counter always, always remember that I need my salads/chats without onion in them. Or that 90% of the time I eat Chopsuey Salad. The lady clearing the salt and pepper shakers off the lunch table during the late lunch hour smiles as she picks them off my table and watches me eat with my book for company. 

There are so many such faces – the lady at the grocery store, the guy who runs the bakery (and asks before I utter anything – ‘Maggi?’), the breakfast counter folks at college (who have, in 4 weeks, already started to ask me if I don’t need Frooti that one odd time when I don’t buy it and also know that tea goes with both my breakfast and lunch orders), the guy at Snoways laundry in JP Nagar (who knows we almost always pick up our orders late and even lets us enter the store to look for clothes we gave in a few weeks earlier).

No name faces. They populate that space in our lives that is truly no man’s land. No names to call anyone by. No relations. But they know something about us that the closest of our folks miss sometimes. Even if it’s just a habit. They seem to care when they are least required to. What does one call that space and residents of those spaces in our memories? It is an understatement to say that they don’t matter to us. Recall that time when the laundry guy or the guy at your neighbourhood store changed and you were left looking around even if for a few seconds for that familiar face. What does one call those people, those relations that make a difference in inexplicable ways?

Lifehouse did me a service by calling their album No Name Face. Because that’s the only term that fits. Unpolluted by a term to call each other, I will always remember these folks by their smiling faces, for what they did and how they showed their care in small ways down this difficult road called existence.

Dedicated to them all, Somewhere In Between by Lifehouse from…No Name Face.

Somewhere In Between by Lifehouse on Grooveshark

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Lustrum In Life

Somewhere…

In taking my first flight
And reaching the city of my dreams
Running behind jam-packed buses
And then owning a set of wheels,

In moving away from the comfort of family
And being a paying guest,
In all the madness of that first year
And then moving in to my own nest,

In the middle of all that travel,
In a coracle, on a raft, or the Getoff Bus,
In the jungles, under the water or on mountaintops
With views and stories that inspired us,

In capturing life through the lens,
In learning a new art,
In getting onto the stage for the first time
And playing my part

In the perfect notes of music,
In a good walk on the street,
On days of perfect weather
And having dear friends to meet,

In conversations with strangers,
In adventures, big and small,
In fulfilled dreams, in hopes for the future,
In knowing there’s more to life, that this is not all,

Somewhere, in the middle of all that,
A lustrum went by in building home,
Existence became living,
This New City became my own.

The day came and went and I completed five years of being in this beautiful city on the 1st of July 2011. In the business of living I couldn’t take out time to celebrate the milestone enough but this silly poem is my tribute to life in this place, to home. Here’s to many more years in this wonderful place living a wonderful life…cheers!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Diana Cut

“Diana Cut.”

My mom was quite amused with the name. She almost flushed red in her cheeks. This whole business is still very new to her. The business of getting a hair cut. To have your hair cut so short that the nape of the neck is visible.

She thinks we know this business well. After all it was we, her two daughters, who wore their hair short for a good eighteen or nineteen years of their lives. She forgets that we never really had to choose. It was always our parents – initially dad and later on, mom – who would accompany us and finish the business with one quick decisive utterance: ‘Boy Cut’. Anyway, we feign expertise while panicking inside to find a way to get this right. Mom has asked that we choose how her hair should be cut.

The salon where we usually go has a 45-minute wait after which they will close. But this can’t wait. Mom is travelling in two days. So we start walking around and spot this swanky new salon that’s opened up down the road. The brightly lit lavender-coloured board is certainly a bit tacky but we decide to at least peruse the place once. 

It looks ok. So we tell them our mom needs a haircut. They seem perfectly fine with it and ask her to come inside. A lot of women in Bangalore get this done regularly. For them this is daily business. For mom it’s not. After having to bear with a bad haircut at places of her choice twice or thrice she has entrusted this responsibility to us. She insists that I accompany them and tell the girl how exactly to cut mom’s hair. I hate to tell her that I usually just leave it to them to give me a cut that’ll suit my face. More often than not they do wonders with it. With mom, it’s different. I fight the strong urge to say ‘Boy Cut’. I just end up saying the same thing meekly – just give her a cut that’ll suit her face. And the girl puts an apron around mom.

My mom always had long hair. In her younger days she used to have a thick plait follow her everywhere and used to care for her mane with Reetha, Shikakai and all the traditional recipes. Then her hair thinned down a little. Change of water when she moved after marriage, she used to say. But she still had long black hair for as long as I can remember.

And then they fell out. In clumps. Found on her pillow every morning. As if it weren’t enough for her body to be physically strained battling Breast Cancer. As if the pain inflicted by chemotherapy weren’t sign enough of suffering. There had to be more emotional trauma than what she was already undergoing. She went completely bald in less than a week’s time after chemotherapy began.

Two days before her Mastectomy she had asked me to take a picture of her with her long and healthy hair. Before she lost them all. And then I saw her only after all her chemo sessions were over. She was wearing a scarf on her head when I met her. Only when I had settled down in the house and freshened up, she removed the scarf. Still a little hesitant. Like I was an outsider. Like she didn’t want to see me react to her having gone completely bald. Frankly, even though I knew it in my head that she would be bald when I would meet her, I don’t think I was prepared to really see her bald…the image of 24 years somehow intact in my head.

Strangely, when she removed her scarf is when I realized that the image of 24 years that I was so scared would get shattered was still the same. When I looked at her that evening, all that I could see was her face. Not her hair (or the lack of it), not her body. Just her face. And her hesitant smile. As if searching for acceptance of this new image…which for me had never changed. 

Beauty is made out to be many things – soft and supple skin, smooth and healthy long hair, luscious red lips, perfect noses. And it is very easy to lose this beauty…by roaming about in the Indian sun without sunscreen, by growing old, by having acid thrown on the face by miscreants, by falling prey to cancer and then undergoing chemotherapy. It takes from a few minutes to a few years to lose it all.

Real beauty is that which remains when one is stripped down to the bare minimum in terms of appearances due to various reasons. When there is no pretence left of any kind.  Like my mother that evening when I saw her bald. Her skin was lifeless and her eyes looked tired. She looked battered and there wasn’t a single strand of hair on her head. The fight with cancer seemed to have somehow left her with enough energy to just sit straight. But there was dignity in her smile that seemed to say that it was all over now and she would be well soon. Even through her tired eyes I could see her triumph. She had fought valiantly, silently bearing all the pain and come out victorious. And there was grace in having accepted God’s will to give her that pain and then to go through it with His help. It seems like an odd thing to say about my mother and her fight with cancer but it gave me the opportunity to witness real beauty and be inspired to fight on in the gravest circumstances in life…with a smile.

Mom’s decided to wear her hair short post her recovery. I have never asked why. So there she is sitting in the newly opened salon with her hair freshly cut in ‘Diana Cut’ as I watch from the corner, half-guilty of cramping up the space, somewhere embarrassed that my mom even asked me to accompany her inside. She looks at herself for a few seconds before turning around to face me. That searching look from two years ago has returned to her face…as if she were looking for acceptance all over again, approval. I try to see her whole head but I can only see her face again and nod in approval. She will always be more beautiful than good skin and long hair can make her seem. I think somewhere in the moment, she knows that too.

--------------x--------------

This post was written for the Indiblogger Dove Real Beauty Contest and I personally found some of the blogs on Yahoo Real Beauty (the Dove Real Beauty page) to be quite interesting. If your idea of beauty is more than what meets the eye, you should definitely visit the site and also consider participating in the contest. Let the world know what beauty should really be about!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sri Lanka On A Shoe String

This is a detailed trip report for a budget traveller interested in Sri Lanka and is a long post. For a quick summary, skip to the end. For stories and details, read on.

I believe in impulse. I don’t mean to undermine the importance of prudence but I have always found the best life experiences to lie on the other side of an impulse. An impulse coupled with instinct that is.

Sri Lanka was no different. It was on a rainy evening at dinner trying to pacify my mildly upset best friend that we came up with the idea of going to Colombo. It was quickly followed with a disclaimer that Colombo wasn’t really abroad but at least we would cross the Pak Strait. Boy were we wrong!

As impulsively as we had chosen the location, we chose the date too. It was to be around the 26th of January. So we chose the block of 26-30 January for our visit.

Sri Lanka is a land where people only remotely look like Indians. If you ask me, you can clearly tell the difference from the facial structure. The jaw line and the eyes will almost always tell you which side of the Pak Strait someone comes from. But the difference is not just jugular. The Sri Lanka I saw is a land of gentle people who are ever ready to help with smiling faces. It’s a land with clean roads and calm people. Not once did I see anyone angry or screaming at anyone. The traffic is extremely disciplined and pedestrians are given right of way. The roads are filled with cars we don’t see in India but Maruti-Suzuki seems to be quite a favourite there too. The whole time one gets a feeling of being in India but a better India, an ideal one, a utopic one. And that’s how Sri Lanka is different from India. Oh but yes, it is a cricket-crazy nation too. And maybe that’s where the similarity starts.

In this trip report I hope you will discover how to enjoy a small part of the lovely country without feeling the pinch on your pocket.

REACH

The Spice Jet Chennai-Colombo connection booked a little in advance cost us INR 4008 per head with return tickets (yes, believe it). We chose the Shatabdi express to reach Chennai from Bangalore (INR 508 per head) and the AC III Tier of Sanghamitra Express for our return (INR 485 per head). 

Travel Cost: INR 5073

After a collective discussion on which towns to hit to optimize our 4-day sojourn, we froze on Colombo-Bentota-Galle. Basically the Western Coast. Eventually Bentota was replaced by Hikkaduwa, which sounded more interesting from what I was sampling in the Lonely Planet. The rest of the itinerary was broadly left to me and I followed my religious scripture – The Lonely Planet – with blind faith.

REST

From my past experience in India, I know that even the budget listings of the Lonely Planet can be blindly bet on to be out of the ordinary in some way or another while remaining reasonable. Not to mention safe since the whole content is written with the Western travellers as the target audience. So I stuck to the same listing for Sri Lanka as well. After sending emails to a few places I got confirmations from two places and they were gracious enough to just block the room based on my email; no advance payment required. One of the places even offered an airport pickup which we were glad to take given that our flight would land at 2 AM in Colombo.

We chose to stay in Mt. Lavinia instead of Colombo. Mt. Lavinia is a suburb of Colombo with quieter beaches and more reasonable stay options. 

Mt. Lavinia Stay: Tropic Inn

Cost: USD 42 per night for a triple room with AC (approx. INR 700 per head per night)
Airport Pickup: USD 31 one way for 1-4 persons (for us it came to approx INR 500 per head)

This place calls itself a hostel for God knows what reason. With its lovely wooden floors and banisters, the almost 3-star rooms and an Esteem-like car for airport pickups (with a Tropic Inn logo on the outside and stuff!) this place is anything but a hostel. And yet, they have maintained hostel-like prices. It was a steal for the price it came at and the beach was half-a-minute’s walk away. The neighbourhood quaint and the hotel staff extremely warm and friendly (a characteristic of Sri Lankans in general, I noticed). 

I would strongly recommend this place for staying if you are not keen on staying in Colombo. 

Hikkaduwa Stay: Poseidon Diving Station

Cost: EUR 18 per room (approx INR 600 per head)

There are many places lining the Galle road in Hikkaduwa and most of them are reasonable. Hikkaduwa by itself is a much more interesting, fun and reasonable option compared to the next door neighbour Bentota, which is lined only with 5-star resorts and targets the tourist. In Hikkaduwa I was looking at Why Not, a guesthouse, for our stay but Poseidon responded first. 

Poseidon is a good place to stay in especially if you are in Hikkaduwa for the marine sanctuary or scuba diving. It is filled with people who are passionate about only one thing – diving – and want to make sure everyone sees why. They will make sure you have the best experience ever not just while diving but throughout your stay. The rooms are basic but comfortable. There is no AC and no hot water but somehow when you get there, that’s perfectly fine. The open restaurant, the bookshelf, all the diving gear around, the various boards telling about the marine life you might spot while diving and of course the travellers from all around the world make this a wonderful place to stay in. This is the one place that I couldn’t bear to leave and I am sure my friends will agree. Our hearts broke somewhere while leaving.

Stay Cost: INR 3000

ROAM

The public transport system in Sri Lanka is very well established. Buses are the best way to travel as autos (tuk-tuks) cost almost the same as taxis (LKR 40 per km) and can drain your commute budget. The buses are clean and well connected within the city as well as inter-city. And they are very easily available from the main road (Galle Road).

REPORT

Day 1:

A lazy day spent around the Mt. Lavinia beach. The place is seriously addictive. We directly jumped to lunch after getting over sleep-deprivation and walked into this place with beach chairs sprawled all over. We wanted to sample Sri Lankan food which we couldn’t exactly spot on the menu. So we asked the waiter if we could get some Sri Lankan food and he said he could bring us plain rice with one non-veg curry and one veg-curry. We were only too happy with that and ordered a pot of tea while we waited. 

Sri Lankan tea is amazing. I now know why Ceylon tea was all the rage at some point. Such a joy of flavour. We ended up having two pots within 2 hours. All the while lounging in a drizzle or standing on the shore with waves lapping at your feet. Remember to order small pots if you want just one cup even if the waiters push for a big one. A small pot serves 3-4 cups of tea.

Evening Big Pot of Tea: INR 35 per head

Lunch was incredibly delicious. I had never had such good Beetroot gravy with no trace of sweet in it. I am told the non-veg gravy was a killer too. So I recommend that you custom order food instead of ordering it from the menu. You’re likely to get it cheaper and authentic Sri Lankan.

Lunch + Beer + Tea: INR 200 per head

Tip: Avoid eating in the restaurants attached to hotels since they tend to me expensive. And vegetarian food is available aplenty in Sri Lanka, you just have to ask for it.

Darkness fell soon and we decided to stay back in Mt. Lavinia instead of checking out clubs in Colombo (so party deprived Bangaloreans are with the 11 PM curfew!). We had dinner at the Lion Pub on the Galle road and some Lion Lager to go with it. We had asked for rice and curry again (ate the same combination pretty much throughout the trip but never got bored of it.)

Dinner + Beer: INR 640 per head

At Lion’s Pub, we were entertained by the members of the group Ranamonaru (Sinhalese for Peacock) who came and sang 3 songs at our table. The foot-tapping music made the wait for food shorter and the evening nicer. We soon retired to our extremely comfortable room at the Tropic Inn.

Day 2:

We had decided to explore Colombo and since we were going to be out all day and moving to Hikkaduwa in the evening, we decided to check out and keep our luggage at the hotel to save money. The hotel staff had no problems with it and we were also able to freshen up before leaving for Hikkaduwa this way.


While in Colombo we visited the Gangaramaya Temple – a beautiful Buddhist temple, the Pettah Market – the local market that is a local-atmosphere junkie’s delight and Galle Face Green – the lovely seaface in a rather upmarket area of Colombo. All these are not very far from each other by buses. In case of any confusion regarding which bus to take for where, just ask the locals. Most of them speak good English and would even be glad to lead you to the right bus.

Bus Cost Mt. Lavinia-Gangaramaya-Pettah-Galle Face-Mt. Lavinia: INR 25 per head

Gangaramaya Temple Entry: INR 40 per head

Do not forget to drink some King Coconut Water wherever you find it. You can easily spot the golden yellow coconuts and vendors all over town, especially in the Pettah Market. And you have to buy one to know just how much water a coconut that size can hold.

Miscellaneous Food Expenses (King Coconut Water + Mangoes + Flavoured Milk etc): INR 30 per head

Make sure you find a good place to eat before hitting Galle Face since this area has only 5-star hotels. We had to eat at this small bakery and make do before we ate some Maggi back at a small shop in Mt. Lavinia.

Lunch At Delights Snack: INR 40 per head
Maggi: INR 20 per head

Before leaving Mt. Lavinia we wanted to have tea on the beach one more time so we headed straight there and ordered ourselves a small pot this time.

Evening Small Pot of Tea: INR 22 per head

That’s when the trouble started. It was past 5:30 when we hit Galle Road to catch a bus to Hikkaduwa, something we had presumed would be easy. We completely looked through the fingers at the approaching dark clouds and were struck by rain that evening just as we left the hotel. It rained every evening while we were in Sri Lanka but it poured that day. Rush made it worse with all the buses being filled to capacity. And our moods started to dip.

Eventually a middle-aged man decided to wait with us and help us out. He had a very paternal look about him and he was very sweet to us. He waited in the rain until he got us onto a bus and we couldn’t even thank him properly. And that is where Sri Lanka is different from India. This wasn’t the only incident of people going out of their way to help us.

This bus journey was hellish though. The conductor kept loading more people onto a full bus and more than once we considered getting down. We all had become one mass of people and even air couldn’t have got in I am sure. It was extremely uncomfortable. But we were the only ones remotely cribbing. Each and every other person was sitting/standing/getting squeezed to death with a calm expression, even a smile on his face. I felt stupid at the end of it all really. We were just travelling at the wrong time and we just couldn’t take it. So used to luxury we had become. The locals were being gracious as ever. They took our bags into their laps and even offered us seats whenever possible. Their simple helpful nature touched me no end. 

Bus Cost: Mt. Lavinia-Hikkaduwa: INR 33 per head

Tip: Take a taxi out of town of plan for non-peak hours to travel. Check on local weather as well.

Anyway, 2.5 hours later, the ordeal ended as the bus dropped us right outside Poseidon Diving Station in Hikkaduwa. We were only to glad to be shown to our rooms and settled down quickly before ordering dinner. A guest was celebrating her birthday and we were invited to join in as well. It felt so welcome, the casual way in which the Poseidon guys treated us. No airs. We retired peacefully that night, happy to be in a place like that.

Day 3:

We were to go Scuba diving after our complimentary breakfast and we were quite excited. Immediately after breakfast we were shown a training video on scuba diving and then shown how to get into our gear. We got ready and strapped our oxygen cylinders to our backs (it felt like a tonne of metal on the back but they said you won’t feel it in the water) and felt very professional-diver-like. 

We had our own challenges in the trial dive since we had never even snorkelled before and took quite a while to get used to breathing through the mouth as required. Our trainer was determined to at least take us to the first set of coral reefs and he did. It was fascinating to see discovery channel right in front of my eyes! Unfortunately he declared that we weren’t ready for the deep dive yet and would have to make do with snorkelling. My friends did go snorkelling in the afternoon and saw more beautiful fish and even a table-sized turtle! Totally recommended.

Scuba Diving Trial Dive: EUR 35 per head (approx INR 2200)

Tip: Try snorkelling before even thinking of scuba diving. It is quite intimidating to directly go to scuba and snorkelling is much more fun.


In Hikkaduwa, I would recommend walking along the Galle Road and checking out the various quirky stores and cafes along the way. The souvenir shops here have good variety and you can easily find something nice for yourself no matter what your budget – starting with refrigerator magnets to marble Buddha statues. All that is if you get time from the beach and the sea. Our day ended with some souvenir shopping and good dinner.

Day 4:

We were to leave for Colombo that night to catch the 4 AM flight and wanted to pack in the maximum things in this day.

After breakfast we headed to Galle in a bus from Hikkaduwa. Galle is a perfectly preserved Dutch fort-town and it is the next level of the Pondicherry French Quarter experience! We had a lovely time walking in the town and mailed ourselves some postcards from the post office there. We wanted to be back in Hikkaduwa for lunch and our friends at Poseidon had arranged a tuk-tuk ride to take us around a few more places in the afternoon.

Bus Cost Hikkaduwa-Galle-Hikkaduwa: INR 20 per head


We realized that we might not have enough time to come back to Poseidon so we switched the tuk-tuk for a taxi that would show us a few more spots and then take us straight to the Colombo airport. What they called a taxi was a vehicle bigger than an Innova and super-comfortable with its AC and its space. We felt like the royalty. After getting some pictures with the Poseidon folks we left Hikkaduwa.

Poseidon Expenses for 2 days (stay + food ): INR 2000 per head

First stop was a Turtle Conservatory. We were told about various species (5 in all) and how all 5 come to nest on the Sri Lankan shores. We were also told about the reasons why they are facing extinction. The man running the conservatory lost all his family in the Tsunami and now runs the place in his sister’s memory. In addition to the entry, we could make a donation and release a newly hatched turtle into the sea, he said. So we gave him INR 200 (LKR 500) and released a baby. Hope it found its rightful place in the sea.

Turtle Conservatory Entry: INR 100 per head

The next stop was a Moonstone Mine and we saw how Moonstones (including the Blue Moonstone found only in Sri Lanka) are mined and made into jewellery, the whole process. The path strategically led into a swanky showroom and the dealers did a good job of hard selling the moonstones to us. My best friend and I ended up picking up stuff for ourselves and not even feeling like we had been pushed to buy it. And I have to say, at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful pendant that I got!

Tip: Do not buy cinnamon products from the Moonstone Mine areas. You are likely to be shown a better cinnamon making process on the river safari and will get stuff for cheaper from genuine people.

The last thing we did before getting onto the road to Colombo was to go on a river safari where we were on the vast river Maduwa and meandering around its 62 islands. We saw how cinnamon bark is prepared for being used as a spice and visited a 300-year old Buddhist temple too. It was quite an experience, the 1.5 hour safari!

River Safari: INR 500 per head

Taxi Cost Hikkaduwa-Colombo with 3 spots: INR 1200 per head

Tip: The 3 spots mentioned above are worth visiting and a tuk-tuk or a taxu makes most sense since they are scattered around. I would not recommend a bus in this case although the transfer to airport can be by bus.

The taxi dropped us off at the Colombo airport post this and it was a long 3-hour journey. The vacation seemed to have ended too soon and we were already going to be checking in to leave for home country. It had been a great vacation nevertheless and hadn’t burned a big hole in our pockets. What else can one ask for from a vacation across the Pak Strait?

SUMMARY

Destination: West Coast, Sri Lanka
Itinerary: Colombo-Hikkaduwa-Galle
Best Time to visit: November to April (West Coast), April to November (East Coast)
Travel Expense: Approx INR 5,000
Trip Expense for 4 days: Approx INR 10,000

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Weekend In The Blue Mountains

I have been travelling with Get Off Ur Ass for 4 years now. And I have never regretted signing up for any of the Get Off experiences…not one. Starting with the Barapole Rafting Trip, where I travelled with 25 strangers, to the Tusker Trail Trek, the Jenukal New Year Getaway, the Getoff Bus Roadhawk Adventure or the phenomenal Getoff Traveller’s Meet 2010. There have been smaller review trips as well but I haven’t travelled with them as much as I would have liked to. So it’s not a surprise that a Get Off trip was my first choice when it came to deciding how to spend the extended Easter weekend. My only choice really.

It was the Nilgiris again this time. A remote campsite tucked away in the Blue Mountains near Sholur. A place I had seen before but hadn’t been able to spend enough time in. A quaint British house on a small plateau on the slopes of the Nilgiris and the prospect of camping in paradise. It was an invitation that was hard to turn down.

So we headed out early on Friday from Koshy’s, the meeting point for the travellers…some old, some new. After initial introductions and paperwork, we all settled down in one of the two Tempo Travellers that were waiting to whisk us away from the city and headed out in the light Friday morning drizzle on Mysore Road. 

The first stop was Kamat Upachar on Mysore Road. After a round of filling South Indian breakfast and good old filter coffee, we resumed the journey towards Sholur. The Sun and the rain played hide and seek but the weather largely remained agreeable. Conversations flowed and ebbed in our vehicle but I was in dreamland with the cool breeze fanning me to sleep. I only woke up at the next stop – the Dreamcatcher Café.

The Dreamcatcher Café is a new travel café that has opened up a little before Gundlupet right on the highway. The place has a very different feel and character among a string of retail coffee shops that have sprung up along the way. Dreamcatcher is an experience. It’s a well-deserved break for the traveller. Do stop by the next time you are on the way to Bandipur or beyond. You won’t regret it.


After taking in the ambiance of the café well and treating ourselves to some beverages, we moved on through Bandipur and Mudumalai national parks. The RTO check post stop in Thorapalli took about an hour with all the weekend traffic and set us back in our schedule a fair bit. Negotiating the tricky turns of the ghats from that point on slowed us down even further. It helped that the landscape was either the blue-green slopes of the mountains or sheets of stark green tea leaves. My glazed out eyes from all the urban architecture (read glass and steel) welcomed the change and took it all in…when I wasn't sleeping because of the gentle swaying of the vehicle and the cold breeze of course! We reached our destination only around 4 PM, feeling slightly famished.

The view of the property, the campsite and the simple hot meals served in the cottage refreshed everyone enough to be able to pitch their own tents on the plateau. We all chose to have our tents open towards the valley and the breathtaking views of the mountains. And we spent the next two days watching these views change dramatically – sometimes by the minute, walking in and out of clouds, sleeping to the sound of raindrops falling on our tent vestibules, playing with the resident dogs and cats of the estate, trekking and walking in the mountains, exploring new trek routes, watching the many varieties of birds around, and talking/playing rummy/playing dumb charades around the fireplace or in the verandah of the erstwhile office. A regular supply of tea kept us happy even when the sky turned grey. A treat of pakoras or fruit salad now and then was the icing on the cake.


The return from Sholur was draining. It was the same road and the same distance we had covered two days earlier but the physical strain of the two days combined with the feeling of leaving pristine nature behind and returning to the daily grind weighed at least me down a little. A late lunch at the Dreamcatcher café helped a little but then the rush of the crowds returning home via Mysore Road and the 10 hours of travel got to me. I had started missing the place already as the twists of the mountain roads got replaced by the straight line that was the road to Bangalore. 

Nevertheless, I was glad to have been part of another Getoff experience and with the mountain air clearing my head. Until the next Getoff trip, I will have to make do with memories of this one.