Category: Places


About 20 or so years ago, I had the privilege of having a guest at our place. Amazingly enough, we would almost always have dinner on the dinner table, unlike how I’m used to with my kids (on the couch, bed, standing and sometimes, on the table meant for this exclusive function).

This guest was from a part of India, now known for its exceedingly high PM2.5 (particulate matter). The air pollution itself is responsible for lung and neural diseases. Add to that the fact that you have sewage seepage into drinking water pipes and we’re talking serious long term damage to the brain and lungs.

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..also known as Benaras, Banaras and Varanasi. The city looks welcoming though it has a capillary capacity to do so. The roads are narrower than they look and the transportation is haphazard – not to mention the jumbled up nature of the modes available. May be it is more of a trend of getting used to the setup that sets in once you are here.

Going to the ghats was a surprising event since all I could see was a train of rickshaws (leg-pulled) carrying a lot of foreigners on them. I looked at the people around in amazement who were unaffected by foreign presence, while I was more than pleasantly surprised. The experiences in other Indian cities (Delhi, Lucknow and Bangalore)  have been very bad – people harass, bother and bug any foreign looking person unnecessarily, but Banaras is a class apart. You may belong to any creed and no one bothers you. In fact, foreigners are treated at par with the locals and given the same rates and bargain offers. So all you visitors to the Taj Mahal, do come to Benaras! :)

The DasAshwamedh ghat is a fabulous site at night. Especially the Aarti there is a treat for both tourists and pilgrims alike. Though it was my first time witnessing an Aarti on a Ganga (Ganges) ghat, I did not feel the novelty – possibly because of my familiarity with the steps performed. The procession following it was quite a sight and a must watch for folks coming here.

Even though my left molar is breaking up due to an irresponsible scaling done by a dentist (do not visit Dr. Sathya’s clinic in Kormangala, Bangalore), I did not stay back from relishing what this city has on offer. Samosas, kachodis, gol-guppe, aloo chat and much more – I tried out everything so far I have come across. All I’ve to do is making sure that my Diclofenac dosage is alive, thanks to my father’s prescription.

The best part about Varanasi are the distances. Any office, bank, institution, apartment – any thing at all, you just spend a ten rupee note and get there. From the farthest corner to the other end, the city is really a sub-urban center with everything close by. Some common-sense for other cities: please keep all your financial institutions in one place, and that’s what Benaras has done. Come to Sigra (a place in Varanasi), and find everything nearby.

I did not arrive into Varanasi for tourism, the purpose could not be any more distant, but as co-incidence would have it, all I have been doing this year around is going to pilgrimage points (earlier in the year to Rameshwaram, though for a solar eclipse viewing). I feel relaxed now for my original goal of coming to Varanasi is nearing fulfillment.

Buying property/house in Varanasi? A word of caution. Please do not engage in any dealing with local brokers. There is a famous broker on the internet: Lalwani properties. These guys are extremely unprofessional, waste a lot of your time and will finally get you to a property that is undervalued and you will have to give out black cash to fill up the gaps. All that money goes black. Do not use Lalwani properties. Also, there’s another dealer: Varanasi propzone – please do not use them either. They are again unprofessional and will take all your time. Do not use Varanasi Propzone either if you want to save time. I don’t know about their service, but can assure you of their unprofessionalism about starting up on the wrong note. The best way is to find out reputed builders and then buy houses and properties directly from them.

Dhanushkodi: Annular Eclipse

Moon's shadow on EarthWas my first time at an annular eclipse (with 100% contact – have been in partial contact once in 2005). Just to be clear, an annular eclipse, contrary to a total eclipse, does not induce darkness due to the increased distance of the moon from the earth. To understand further, you might want to see this image (preview on the right).

Pavan (an active volunteer of BAS) was accompanying me and Raghu on this trip. We drove to Dhanushkodi via Madurai and Rameshwaram (the oncoming two/three wheelers on your side of the lane deserves a separate post). We almost got killed by an oncoming Ambulance. A day’s stop in Madurai on Jan 14 and Jan 15th saw us in Dhanushkodi (DKD). DKD is right across Pamban bridge, some 10 Kms from Rameswaram. It’s a small island, surrounded by the ocean on two sides and extends to the last point of India that just touches Sri Lanka.

Annular Eclipse Phases - (click to view larger: in a new window/tab)

Contrary to expectations, DKD was free of an enormous crowd. The Tamil Nadu Science Society was organizing an event there (and quite a few folks from Assam – the Guwahati Planetarium, Gujarat, Bengal etc. were to be seen). Photos were being clicked as the “Media” approached us and we shyed away. Though we were carrying a telescope, due to lack of a filter we could not set it up and missed  the oppurtunity to use it. Pavan got a filter for his camera right on time (though I carved out something with an X-ray sheet, but the mylar sheet filter was definitely a better bet).

First contact of the eclipse was at 11:15 AM – as we put on our eclipse viewers, the sight was stunning.  The intensity of the sunlight decreased by as much as 75% (approximately) and the temperature certainly decreased by at least a couple of degrees (if not more). The sea wasn’t very rough, but the tide certainly had increased a lot more than what it was in the morning.

At about 1:20pm, we saw the ring – a beautiful sight as I kept gazing at it. There’s still a lot of light around you, just that it is white and not the usual yellow light and the intensity is nothing like a sun in a clear sky. The sky was spotless during the maximum eclipse around the sun, but it felt like there’s a cloud covering. Something very unusual, but a characteristic property of an annular eclipse on the ground. To understand how the eclipse traces the path on the ground, see this image.

We came back to Rameshwaram, stayed on till night and hopped back home the next day.

Interestingly, Raghu pointed out that I ended up following the popular superstitous Hindu activity of:

  1. not eating anything during the eclipse (though I drank some water and ate peanuts – which he discounts as: “even monkeys eat them“),
  2. taking a bath post-eclipse (we found a room at Rameswaram only in the evening, so I took a bath ASAP),
  3. visiting a temple post-eclipse (we went to hog – but couldn’t find anything since Rameswaram halts between 5pm and 6.30pm – so we had to go into the temple to make the most of our time)
  4. eating only after a bath (we were forced to take another 22 baths in the Kunds in the Rameshwaram temple – and then we hogged Dosas).

Heh, I broke (1) though, while Raghu/Pavan somehow broke (1) and (2). So glad I am.

35 to Badami

Badami has single-rock sandstone caves carved into temples (near Hampi – around 160 Km). That was my motivation to get there and after seeing Malegatti Shivalaya (Badami)the Hampi ruins, I thought it best to get some positivity back. It so happened that the road to Badami had much more to say than probably the place itself.

The road from Hampi to Badami is kind of nice until you follow a state highway that leads you all the way until the last 35 Kms to Badami are left. This 35 Km journey was very interesting. The road is broken and slows you down completely. It’s a single lane road, meaning you can either come or go if you have the road for yourself. That doesn’t mean that there’s no oncoming traffic. Mini trucks would still ply there forcing you and themselves to go off the road on one side of the axles.

That ain’t all. It was around 7.30pm in the evening and I saw a bunch of folks walking towards Badami on the same road. The highway was converted into a single lane footpath-cum-road. It wasn’t until I saw the milestone with 35 on it (and the mention of Badami) that I realized that there was quite a bit of travel left. What geared me up was the fact that I was in a car, while these people were walking – in the dark – on a broken road for a journey as long as 35 Kms (around 22 miles).

There was ample time to wash down, since all I could do was a meager 30 Kmph on that road and I knew it would take me another hour or so. Thinking on these lines, it struck me, why was the 130 Km highway suddenly changed into a broken footpath? There’s a well paved out two lane road with cat’s-eye markers, 2 ft shoulders and signs that tell you to keep under 60 and suddenly it goes dud!

The slowdown angered me so much that I felt what the people living out there could do. There are only a couple of transport vehicles plying on the road because of the very condition of the road. Due to the bad condition, you cannot even ride a cycle there, the humps would break your knees. I wondered, what if they became violent one day in protest? Will that make a difference? Well, that’s what turns into naxalite activity. This very frustrating 35 Km stretch could well become a seed for naxalites there – people who fight for simple things and fight so hard that they forget what they were fighting for. Things Chhattisgarh, AP and Bihar are facing for a long time.

It’s not just Badami – the story is same for Karmala to Bijapur  (MH),  Lucknow to Bareilly (UP) and Shirdi to Aurangabad (MH). Bad roads are everywhere – and there are long ways to go.

What? Where?

One day, at Carl’s Jr.:

Me: One Veggie burger.
CounterGuy: What? Veggie burger?
Me: Yeah, the one you have listed there – see there.
CounterGuy: Where? (Comes out from the counter to try and see what I am seeing.)
Me: See, the 6th thing in the last column?
CounterGuy: No. I can’t see it. What is the 6th thing in the last column?
Me: What? Really, you can’t see a Veggie Burger below the Potato Wedges?
CounterGuy: No. I can’t see where you’re seeing Potato Wedges either. Are you sure?
Me: Can you see the last column called “Extras” at all?
CounterGuy: Yes, it has got Apple Pie, Crumbles…
Me: What? Where?
CounterGuy: Let’s drop this. There are no Veggie Burgers here.
Me: Can you just make me a Veggie Burger? Just “no meat”.
CounterGuy: If I could do that, why would I deny seeing that Veggie Burger below the Potato Wedges and above the Mash Dip at all?
Me: (Zapped)

It’s extremely difficult to get a Veggie Burger (of my expectations) at any of the fast food joints in California. The best Mc. Donalds did was, gave me a bun with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes in it. Of course, it was a Veggie Burger – “no meat”.


Spidey AlleyWas at the Warner Bros. studios the other day and this is what I saw there. The famous spidey scene where five guys get beaten up, MJ gets saved and spidey comes upside down to hand over a kiss was shot here (image on the right). Most of the scenes were shot around the same alley (I guess a norm in the film industry). My wife’s excitement levels were quite low as compared to mine – she has been there done that and shrugged away the studio as “not comparable” to the ones in Mumbai. Quite an experience for me.

12-oceansThe famous helicopter scene (Oceans 12)  and the casino scenes were shot in this place on the left. The helicopter scene  is supposed to be on a roof top, and can you believe it that the roof top is actually the alley we see on the left? They hid the buildings with large green screens.

Talking of the buildings, these are real buildings there. They are painted and furnished appropriately every time to match the period and flavor of the movie. Well, not just movies – but even TV serials are shot in the same sets.

friends-placeThen, the place on the right is where the famous Friends’ episode (guys are in college, chubby and look weird and go out and ask the girls for the prom night) was shot. The entire shoot (of Ross’ house) was inside this little house – and outside of it.

Proved again: Little knowledge can be lethal than none at all

Once again, somebody sucked at the Bangalore Int’l Airport and made yet another foolish mistake. As if the single terminal at an International airport did not let us have enough of their stupidity, here’s another one. Click the photo on right to see how they have wrongly used far-sightedness (see definition) when they actually meant to say that he was farsighted (see definition). I am never shy to check the dictionary, even for the word shy.

  • Here’s my tip to the BIAL media fo(o)lks: “Do not waste your insufficient brain strength on trying to promote the city. Bangalore already has a lot of credibility and recognition.”
  • Another one: What is the point of keeping Bangalore maps at the departure points and “NOT” at the arrival gates or baggage claims or the exit gates?
  • Why are the customs personnel there always looking to make a quick buck out of any one and are rude to the tip of their hair? You want money in those white dresses, that is fine with me – but why the hell do you want to poke me to the verge of lunacy?  I am so annoyed with this whole ruckus.
  • Yet another one: Why the hell are you charging a user development fee at the gate of the airport? Why can’t you let the airline counters do it? Why can’t the airline tickets include it? They don’t care about how inconvenient it gets for the passangers. I am not against the fee – BUT TAKE IT IN A DECENT ENOUGH WAY!

Mammoth Justice

This toothed tower is in remembrance of an elephant-judge.

Story is that the Mughals used to let “the accused” into a field with an elephant. It is for the elephant to decide whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Stomping would mean guilty-of-charge and on some days it would let off. That tower with protruding teeth you see marks the grave of that elephant.

Glad to not be ruled by such idiots any more.

Prayers of Gold

There was dust and noise all around as she hoped that this would die down soon. No matter how close she got to the chief destination, the ache at the back of her head never did plummet. Then there was a white majestic structure in sight which put fresh hopes of surprise.

With washed feet and a covered head, she ventured into the world of “Ek Onkar” behind the white gates. The golden domes in sight, the water around them and a safe feeling of being in one of the world’s best managed temples had already killed the dusty images of Amritsar left behind.

Going around the beautiful real-gold-domes on the cool white marble she saw a kid seated on the ground with folded hands towards the temple. Devotion could lead the kid to deliver a cheque of £100,000 from his London residence, when he grows up to realize these prayers, to the temple – as many others have done (evident from the tiles engraved with such generous donations at the Prasad area).

The langar was a simple black dal, roti and rice with a kesari halwa at the end. That wasn’t a deterring factor to have it as there can be no better way to experience community power. A few servants at the langar drove into the temple in a Mercedez as the community would give back what it got – supposedly from God.

Taj Black

Just the way I saw it.

The only white Taj Mahal I have ever seen was a sketch in a 3rd Standard (Class 3) history book. I envy the author who saw “..the most beautiful building in the world set in pure white marble”.

Apart from the verses written all over the Taj, you could find news about Rajesh loving Zubina, Suresh’s love for Puja and that Zakir would be dead without Karishma. Witness an educated NRI howling at the top of his voice “Hello.. My name is Arvind…” inside the Mahal. Bet that his excellency would have been delighted to hear those echoes inside his grave.

The picnic would have been incomplete without a Lay’s packet being smuggled into the building and being spread open – accidentally – on the ground. The chips were further battered into pieces by people walking on them and some even taking pleasure to play a game of “Hah, I footballed those pieces at your legs”.

Why should you, then, go there? Imagine this – there’s a 400+ year old structure, costing more than $100 billion in asset value and it would go down in the very near future. Would you miss a chance to rub your hands all over the inside of it and have a royal picnic hangout with your buddies who would help you in eve-teasing foreigners? Come on, you would surely not miss trying to scratch some marble out of it as a souvenier – or just to prove to your family that it really is Iranian marble (after all, you have a doctorate in geology and Taj Mahal is an excellent experimentation device).