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Exoticecho Neel's Travel Diary

Thursday, December 14, 2017 

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I have travelled nearly 18 lakh kilometers in the last 35 years that I can recount and yet every new journey is a harbinger of a new experience, a new exhilaration, a new discovery, a whiff of freshness which takes away all the tiredness and fills me with added zest to walk the next mile.

This time I travel from Shillong to Guwahati, then onto Kolkata, Bangalore, Goa, North Coastal Karnataka, Pune and finally back to Shillong via Mumbai. Another 5000 plus kilometers of travel and excitement, I reckon and with a few more small stories and observations. Being in the North East over the last two and a half years has only deepened my love for the people of this region and I try and look for the lovely lively North Easterners where ever I travel.


Oh Kolkata

Oh Kolkata! The first impression which comes across is the ancientness of the airport which was great if we were in the India of 1980s and then the old dilapidated ambassador taxis charging more than Rs 15/- per km doesn’t help to change the impression. However, I have great regard for the people of this great metropolis as I grew up in this city and so move on. My destination is the Ambuja Housing Society on the EM bypass. We go past the airport road which is now full of housing complexes, malls and hotels. As I turned past the Ultadanga crossing and moved on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, I couldn’t help ruminating. Even in the late 80’s the Jal Vayu Vihar and the Yuva Bharati Kriya Angaan were the only two UNMISTAKABLE landmarks on the Eastern Metropolitan bypass and today; you have to look for them. This is the face of CHANGING INDIA. It is a reflection and manifestation of the growth of the considerable middle class. The consumption pattern is discernable and the relative prosperity is there to see. Malls, hotels, restaurants, housing complexes and hospitals have filled up all the vacant spaces. I only wonder why the old vintage ambassadors of the 80s and the airport haven’t changed. They both need to be voted out. I go to meet Anjishnu Biswas, who teaches English to boys of class XI and XII but is a journalist at heart. He started his career as a journalist in Arunachal and later thought teaching was a better profession .He continues to write as a hobby. We talk about many things about the North East and he reflectively confesses that he wanted to contribute in whatever way possible to bridge the gap between the North East and the rest of the country and suggested launching an Informative Magazine exclusively about the North East. I was excited and said we would consider the proposal if he volunteered to spearhead it. On my return to the airport I take another route to avoid the traffic and go past the Nicco Park and Rajarhat with the IT parks and the modern architecture. This is the first time I am seeing this part of Kolkata. I am impressed to say the least and feel really happy. This is the fortitude of the competitive world class Indian that I see all over the country in pockets and patches. We can create our own islands of excellence when we want but we want it only once in a while.

Bangalore, the IT Capital

From Kolkata I travel to Bangalore and the Indian Airlines flight is full with at least 25 passengers from the North East. The proof that the people of the North East are reaching out to the Metros in much greater numbers than it did earlier. I remember on my last visit on this route in Feb 1995 from Kolkata, I could count not more than two passengers from the North East. After that I visited Bangalore thrice in 98, 2001 and finally again in Mar 2004 on my way to and from Ooty. I had heard that the city had a new airport now and was eager to see it. The airport is new but not grand enough. I felt the city which has exalted the country as IT leader of the world deserved something bigger. In the next five years this will be incapable of handling emerging India’s rush to the airports. The parking area fortunately seemed big enough and here I saw India’s Singapore. Nice sign posted bus stands with low floor AC buses with running electronic sign boards showing the destination which even Singapore did not have at least till mid Oct of 2008.Yes, I told you we can do it really well when we want. I go to the Richmond Town after a long but comfortable journey. Get up early and want to catch up with a cup of fresh grounded coffee and take a walk to see the waking up city. 300 metres from where I am staying I see a nice little park with a walking track, benches, a fountain and trees and manicured bushes. It makes a good sight seeing the young and the old puffing and heaving past each other. Thank God at least some of us wake early. The most noticeable feature for me here was an elderly Metei Lady (the pattern of her Lungi, a sure giveaway) with a young girl, presumably her daughter and a Tibetan married lady again identifiable by the branded apron atop her traditional dress doing Baba Ramdev's Yoga. I remember immediately a movie I had seen at a Tibetan Film Festival at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi in the summers of 2008, where they had shown how the young Tibetans whose parents were settled in Karnataka by the Government of India came looking for jobs in Bangalore. Yes, another young Tibetan has definitely found a job in the IT CAPITAL. During the day, I visit an advanced simulator Firm; the UB City Mall have Italian dinner at Toscana with Col ( retd ) Arvind Saksena who has made a name for himself as an IT administrator and then have coffee at a great Café Coffee Day counter called double take to be served coffee by Sakeeb from Hojai. Hey, a boy from Hojai in Assam in Bangalore. The night I spend at Koramangla with a young couple both working in the IT industry ,30 something’s, double income ,no kids with a house that working people in the last millennium could have hoped to have only after retirement. They have a huge St Bernard named Spark whom I choose to call Chotu Singh because he is just a year old but really looks grand and majestic. The most interesting part of my Bangalore stay was a South Indian Thali lunch with Paul Chowdhury at the Bangalore Club. Paul is an interesting guy, he is an engineer by profession, stayed in the States for many years and is now back in India and brewing beer that he promises will be different. They are Indian recipes but being brewed in Germany, this is a global Indian. The beer interestingly is called “GEIST” which in German means the spirit. I immediately invite him to Shillong which I say is the Scotland of the East for the North Eastern Launch. Bangalore is perhaps the only city in India where design as an element in commercial spaces equals that of what is seen in Singapore.

GOAN DELIGHT

I am finally again in Goa. It’s my thirty third visit and this time, I head to the Bogmallo Beach which is just below the plateau on which we have the Dabolim Airport. Experience tells me that this is the beach where one would find the highest density of British tourist per square km in Goa considering that it is a very small beach. This time I choose to stay at Sarita’s Guest house on the beach. I met a very lively bunch of tourists from Poland. The first set I have ever met infact. There were two couples and their friend Rikard whose name they pronounced as Raychard and on being told that there was a Goan Masala pronounced the same way he was amused. I told them whatever little I knew about India and showed them photographs of the latest Hornbill Festival of Nagaland with a video of a Rengma Dance. They promised to visit the North East the next time they came to India. Also met two very angry middle aged Indians, Vishrant who works for a MNC and Tiwariji who lampooned the country and its politicians while gulping down chilled beer by the blue azure Arabian Sea. Had dinner at Joets, the beef steak was fine but the place seemed a little busy and the service was not as good as used to be

The next day took a leisurely walk to the Hollant beach and went to the Sancoale railway station just above the Hollant beach which I have often described as the only railway station in the world which is almost on the sea. A train journey through this station gives one the feel as if the waves of the sea are touching the base of the railway platform. Took a local bus and went to the Vasco Town and the railway station to book the train tickets to the North Karnataka coast. The railway station and all beaches in Goa now have pickets of the CRPF which must be instilling a sense of confidence amongst the tourists. The railway reservation system and the information display system seemed quite good. I couldn’t help but appreciate Lalu who after the infamous fodder scam, has given some food for thought of how to turnaround Public sector utility providers. Hope he becomes the next aviation Minister and turns around the Air India. Had Goan fish meal Thali with Kishmur (the Goan Dried scrimp preparation with coconut) at Anantashram to taste Hindu Goan cooking. Came back to the Bogmallo beach after lunch, had an orange juice and wrote about the journey and then went for an ayurvedic full body massage at the Bogmallo Beach Resort. Though the place charges a little more but the huge ayurvedic massage hut made out of woven coconut leaves gives a grand feeling and the massage is as good as it gets. Had a long long bath and finally just came down for dinner at the John Seagull Restaurant on the beach.

IT'S 1945 H AT JOHN’S SEAGULL IN THE BOGMALLO BEACH

This is now perhaps the best restaurant on the Bogmallo Beach. It’s well spread out, does not seem too crowed, not too loud, and has a very nice personal touch about it. I have ordered my favourite Pork Chops again. It is run by John and definitely has his touch all over.

Here comes the Chop, it seems drier than I remember and a bite tells me its cooked rarer than before. Ok on second thoughts, I think Swish in Shillong makes it pretty well except that is has some fat which is not so good. Theirs is tenderer and therefore easier to bite into. Any way, rare or no rare, I have had the whole plate and I am hungry for more.

Will ask John. John was here and I told him what I wanted to and he said I WOULD GET BACK MY GOOD OLD WELL DONE chop and what is interesting he said that he had a Thai Chef and from Thailand and I said lets have Tom Kha. Will comment on this in a while and then it will be the chops again. Its 2020 h now.

Here comes the Tom Kha, the flavour is nice and good but there is too much chicken which has a shredded feel and spoils the watery texture of the soup. Now the second plate of chops comes again.

This time its browner and tendered. The best thing is that they are long and with all the fat taken off. This is really nice and with a small Budweiser it is going down rather well. For the average carbohydrate compulsive Indian the Goan bread pao would do really well and for the khasi a little rice may be. There is .also a pool table in the place and some customers are playing. Really cool I say. The guys are enjoying it and this is a nice way to chill out and hats off to John who has sacrificed at least 16 covers for the table. The players are Mr Mike from London who is a carpenter who came on a two week holiday and has decided to extend it by another three weeks. The other gentleman is Mr Mat and he is with his girlfriend Samantha and they decided to get married on this trip to Goa. So it would be apt to say BLAME IT ALL ON GOA. It is 2107 hours now.

THE KARWAR COAST

Sat on seat number 73 of D1 reserved compartment and co passengers were Canadians from the French part. My immediate co passenger was Isabelle. An employee of the GE Capital and her work related to leasing of equipment. She joined her friend in Mumbai and after a couple of days in Panjim they were on their way to the Om Beach Gokarna. Since I had been to the Om beach more than a couple of times, I explained the layout of the Gokarna town and the beach and where to possibly stay. From Gokarna they would go to Allepey and then onto Trivandrum. From Trivandrum they would travel to Kolkata via Chennai. Before they returned to Canada via Delhi they would touch Varanasi, then Khajuraho. Probably they will manage to see what even 10 percent of Indians wont. My Karwar sojourn takes me to Honavar, a small coastal town which had a very thriving Port during the time of Tipu Sultan. Honavar in the local language literally means “The pot of Gold” I have been visiting Honavar off and on since the 1990s. The change has taught on even in Honavar and it is there for everyone to see. Had some great steamed rice breakfast dish called Khotoy which is steamed rice wrapped in Jackfruit leaves. Took a long walk on the ridge above Prabhat Nagar and saw the mesmerizing valley below. We have developed a very nice travel circuit in this place which I call “Sea to the Sky” a borrowed adage which I picked up from Edmund Hillary’s expedition many years ago from the mouth of the Ganges right upto its source. In this case we travel from the mouth of the Sharawati River to the highest waterfall of India, namely the Jog Falls. I have taken my French, Spanish, Irish, Indian and New Zealander friends on this journey and without an exception people have sweared by the circuit. In one day one gets to go on the river and see the life on its banks from very close quarters, they go to a coconut de husking centre, see the highest Water Fall in India, then go on a Tiger and Lion Safari and finally cap it up with architecture appreciation of a 16 CENTURY temple. After a couple of days in Honavar, I am off to Pune.


AAMCHI PUNE AND BENGALI CUISINE

Hats off to Pune. This is one city I know well. I stayed in this city for more than six years in my two tenures there. This time I stay with the Biswas Ali family at the Graficon Paradise on the NIBM road. My tryst with dogs on this trip doesn’t end as there are 07 Chi hua hua’s in the Bungalow. While the new generation has named the dogs BUZO, CHOCOLATE, GYPSY, ALIEN and so on, the grandfather in the house has renamed BUZO as BHOJA, CHOCOLATE as GURGURI, ALIEN as KALI and so on. Buzo is the spoilt brat of the pack and responds to both calls of Buzo and Bhoja with equal alertness. So much for Bengali’s in Pune and there nostalgia for pet names for their dogs. One of the most interesting things about the Graficon Paradise was that the complex had each building in the complex named after the KARGIL MARTYRS. What was very heartening to note that 02 out of the 08 blocks were named after MARTYRS from the North East, namely LT KENGRUSE from Nagaland and Capt Clifford Nongrum. The builders of the project definitely deserve credit for this noble gesture which the bureaucrats don’t seem to appreciate and understand beyond lip service. We topped the trip with a visit to OH CALCUTTA restaurant owned by the Mainland China Chain and I daresay the food, the ambience and the service were exemplary. The only chink in the armour was a piece of information which angered me no ends. For a simple Gall Bladder operation and stay of four nights at the Ruby Hospital, one family had to pay a bill of 77,000/-. How can the not so privileged in this country afford good health care at these rates. This has only strengthened my resolve to try and see that we develop models where basic healthcare is made very affordable for the masses.

MUMBAI THE UNSTOPPABLE CITY

From Pune it is way back to Shillong via Mumbai. There are no visible signs of the 26 /11 attack apart from the additional barricades before one drives into the departure terminal. I am traveling through the airport after about a year and the departure lounge seems much better than the last time. I pick up Nandan Nilekani’s book “Imagining India” at least 06 magazines to make a comparative study of the advertisements in each of the six magazines. Outlook wins hands down as the magazine with most advertisements amongst the six I compare. Mumbai as a city seems hurt but unstoppable. Salaam to the brave hearts of Mumbai, I on my part promise to do what is in my capacity to root out the monster of hate and terrorism.

CLOSER HOME THE BEAUTY OF LAITLUM, BULL FIGHT AT UMTHLI,THE WATER FALL AT THANG SHNING AND THE BORDER VILLAGE OF NONGJRI

Closer home on my return to Shillong I am mystified by the beauty of Laitlum and made a promise to make a trip down to the village of Rasong with my diabetes testing team of Deshalson and Longkhraw. The trip down to the Rasong village will take two hours and the climb back another three. Come on, many residents of the village do it every week. We will perhaps do it once in our lifetime. Saw the preparations for the bull fight at Umthli and ran out of patience to wait for it. Patience is a great virtue and by the measure of patience shown by the potential spectator’s one has no hesitation to proclaim that one was blessed to be among a very exalted and virtuous audience for more than an hour and a half and was so intoxicated by the wait that one could take it no more and retreated. The village of Thang Shning has literally got its name from an activity of burning the slaughtered pigs there before taking them to the Haat at Smit. Just 3.2 kms from the junction is a beautiful waterfall. Climb down 250 steps and get to almost the bottom of the fall. The fall will be just awesome during the rains. My last leg of the journey takes me to the village of Nongjri near the Bangladesh border. The village is a relatively clean one and extremely picturesque. The special feature of this village is a very ancient Banyan Tree, revered by the Seng Khasis. I learnt about the nuances of bee keeping and honey extraction in the hamlet of Rana there. I also learnt that the bee keepers speak to the bees before they take out the honey and how they go to the jungles trying to capture a queen to make another hive. Drive from Lad Nongkrem to Nongjri takes about two and a half hours via PYNURSLA. A visit to this village is an absolute must I feel.

 
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