20-Dec-2006

Movie Review - Kabul Express

When Kabir Khan set out to make a movie on the traumatic conditions of the Afghani people post 9 – 11, he was being ambitious. Somewhere down the line, he must have realised it too. So instead of trying to make a great movie and fail, he sticks to making a regular light-hearted movie and does all right. Occasionally you do see glimpses of things that must have had an impact on Kabir Khan– maimed children, Pepsi cans in a country where clearly basic sanitation must be in question, Burkha clad women begging in street corners. However, he skims over them and sticks resolutely to cracking jokes on Pepsi being sweeter than Coke.

Jai (Arshad Warsi) and Sohail (John Abraham) are two Indian journalists in search of a career defining Taliban story. They are inadvertently taken hostage by a Pakistani colonel who was fighting in the Taliban. The Pakistani colonel uses them as protection as he makes his way to the Pakistani border in a country where people are only too glad to kill Talibs. An American journalist and an Afghani driver accompany the trio.

I presume the character of Sohail was meant to be a somewhat Clint Eastwood type – a bit broody, strong and introverted. Unfortunately, thanks to combination of bad characterization and John Abraham’s utterly incompetent acting, the character comes out as feather headed and gormless. Jai, as the provider of comic relief, comes out much better.

Khan does manage to bring in just a tiny bit of emotions towards the end by which time you have lowered your expectations from the movie considerably and have settled to watch what is on offer. Still, all you can largely think as you leave is what a wasted chance it was.

18-Dec-2006

Hyderabad Blues

(Taking a break from my Konkan stories to write about my last weekend in Hyd)


My most overwhelming memory of my Hyderabad trip, unfortunately, will be of looking and feeling like a dog with fleas. The dry skin caught me by complete surprise. Being a coastal person, I had no idea that the Deccan plateau could be this merciless. Within hours I was shriveling up like an orange and by the end of the day itching quite a bit. On the second day, it was all I could do to stop splashing water constantly on my face to bear the agony of puffed up, red skin marked by rashes. Finally, my godsend friend, managed to give me something to put on my face that improved things considerably.

Having gotten that bit out of the way, I can actually put down what I did during my trip. Hyderabad reminded me of Delhi in some ways. It has excellent examples of Muslim architecture (though the Mughals and the Qutub Shahis were not really related. The Delhi based Mughals were Sunnis and came over from Afghanistan. The Qutub Shahis were Shiites and had a good connection to Persia). One can easily spend a week, if not more, exploring some of the structures, which are still standing. I had two and a half days. Since I had located two old friends who insisted that I stay with them, I also had a great knowledge bank I could draw from, not to mention warm, friendly places to park myself in.

My first visit was to the Golconda fort, constructed on a hill about an hour’s drive from Secundarabad. The structure is fairly elaborate (a marvel given that it was built in the 1500s by the first of the Qutub Shahi rulers), and the fort used to serve as a city at some point in time. There are huge ramparts, quarters for the king, queens, the reception place for the common people and nobles et al. December evenings is perhaps the best time to visit the place. The rockiness of the place can give you a sense of how much sun can be radiated in mid-day April. A fact that was confirmed by my foolhardy friend who, midway through her pregnancy, decided to drag her visiting mother to the fort. When her mother suffered mild sunstroke it finally occurred to her that perhaps the move had not been too smart. Luckily, blessed with better weather, I had a pleasant time scrambling up and down and taking some wonderful pictures. When it began to get dark, we joined the crowd getting ready to watch the sound and light show. The show was a pleasant surprise. I had been half expecting Bollywood music being blasted and the fort being lit up in bright colours. Instead a fairly decent background of the fort’s history was given; complete with period music and little snippets of imagined scenes.


The next morning was a race against time. I quickly registered that Birla Mandir was cool and spacious before rushing to Salarjung Museum. After seeing three rooms I realized two things – (a) Salar Jung III, whose collection it was, had excellent taste and (b) it was impossible to do justice to the place in the time I had. Heavy hearted, I gave up after three rooms and then realized everyone was rushing towards some spot. Curious, I joined the throng and arrived at a central courtyard where a heavily accented voice was announcing ‘please look after your children as we approach this great moment’. The moment in question was the chiming of a nearly 400 year old British clock, still in excellent condition. Families lifted little ones over their heads to see the ‘moment’. Children, old enough to stand, but too young to be interested in the clock, were rapped on their heads to focus. All in all, the tension in the air was palpable. Especially since it was almost 12 noon and this would be the maximum number of chimes any visitor could hear during visiting hours. Suddenly all noise ceased and a tiny little figure came out of the clock, banged his hammer twelve times and disappeared. The tension ebbed and people began swarming out. I took shelter in the Ivory room and looked at the intricate carvings for a while before rushing to Charminar to keep up my appointment with my friend.

When the Golconda Fort had become too small to house the growing population, Mohammed Quli, the reigning Sultan of the period, built the new city of Hyderabad. The Charminar was some sort of a centre point around which the new city was planned. Accordingly, it was an exquisitely pretty and a fairly pointless structure. I took photographs from down below, and then realizing that my friend would take a while to get there, decided to go up.

I joined the long queue and finally handed over my ticket to the guard. He looked at me and asked if I was alone. When I said I was, he shrugged and told me to leave since women were not allowed to go upstairs alone. I was dumbfounded. I asked him to repeat this and he did so, quite casually, unperturbed by the grave crime he was committing of restricting a free and honest citizen’s movements. Then I asked him why this was so and he looked slightly confused and embarrassed that someone could question him on what was obviously a well known reason. After some persistence, he finally replied that women going up to the roof alone have a tendency to commit suicide. Now I was enraged. The feminist in me came out and began to ask the guy for a government order that stopped me. Helpless, he turned to his superior officer – a lady sitting in a chair and staring listlessly at the queue of prospective visitors. She merely brushed me away stating that ‘single women commit suicide’ and her officer had given her orders not to let lone women up there. By now in full form, I asked her for the government order which said so, discovered that there was none and then informed her that I would be forced to file a lawsuit against her and her obviously ignorant, discriminatory, mcp superior officer. With that, I stomped off to climb the stairs. The guard, looking worried and obviously highly fazed by this new situation in his career and new world view, ran behind me. Then pleadingly suggested that I at least write a letter stating that I had no intentions to commit suicide so that he could show his superior officer. Suddenly, I could see the guard’s viewpoint. Acknowledging my rights was obviously not worth the risk of losing his job. So I calmly gave him my visiting card and explained that I was a reasonably well educated person working in a responsible position and I really did not have any particular reason to die. I was also carrying a camera – further proof that my intentions were very honourable and restricted to touristy things like photography. Then giving him the card as some sort of a symbolic deposit, I went on.

After all the effort involved, needless to say, I spent every minute wondering if I would slip and fall down the wretchedly narrow, winding staircase and let down the cause of women around the world. Even upstairs, I took extra care to stay away from the edges. After five minutes I realized that I had no clue what distant structures I was looking at and I left. When I went back to collect my card from the guard, he looked a little surprised and asked me ‘you have come back?’ I do not know if he was really convinced that the only way I was coming back was head down in an onrush. My friend was waiting and I had no time or inclination to ask for explanations. (Later on I found out that Charminar sadly does have a history of teenage kids - boys included - throwing themselves down around exam times and fairly recently some woman had indeed committed suicide)


The afternoon was spent in shopping for Hyderabad’s famous lac bangles in Lad Bazaar and pearls in a street nearby. I was exhausted by the time I went back to my friend’s house and gladly settled in for a home made meal and normal conversation. My friend, V, with whom I was staying had transitioned from a B-School corporate climber to a mom who ran her own business from home. V’s kid definitely seemed to have benefited from the time V had given him. Not to mention, both V and her husband read and traveled quite a bit and did not have cable in their house. Consequently, the little kid was under the impression that it was the accepted way of life and did not have any inkling of other kids his age being glued onto cartoon network.

The next day, we walked by the Hussain Sagar Lake. It was a bit hot and some parts where so obviously full of toxic waste that even Hyderabad Corporation had felt obliged to put up boards admitting that sustained exposure to the place could be dangerous for human beings. There were other parts, which we nicer though – food courts, parks and walkways located right on the banks of the lake. After ambling for a while, we decided to briefly stop at a mall so that I could also get a flavour of the city’s younger crowd.

When it was time to leave for my train, I realized I had done quite a few things but enough of practically nothing. This city definitely mandates a second, more leisurely visit.

p.s. I was carrying a book by Ian Austin called ‘City of Legends – The Story of Hyderabad’. It is a fairly informative book and was thin enough to skim through during the time I had. Not a bad travel companion for this trip.

13-Dec-2006

Konkan Trip 7 : Gokarna part C

PR and I did a little reconnaissance trip and chose a lovely looking shack for dinner. You had to access it by way of a small bridge. Their menu promised yummy food. The seating on the first floor was on low tables lit by candlelight. With such an atmosphere, very little could have spoilt dinner. NA and self engaged in a juvenile competition to figure out who could blow tiny bits of wax the furthest distance on our table. When everything was eaten, and I was proven clear winner of the competition, we started for our hotel.

We had seen autorickshaws on the road to the beach the previous night and were not unduly worried about the transport. Sure enough, when we got to the road, the autos were lined up on either side. Unfortunately there was no sign of a single driver. And just like that, we decided to walk up the seven kms to our resort.

My beach floaters were already coming apart. With some ingenious ideas from SA, they were fixed. PR and SA were not in trekking gear either. NA was the only one comfortable in the footwear department and had atleast recovered from his dehydration attack. After ten minutes, I began to get worried. The road was in excellent shape but there was no one on it now. The only light was from SA’s torch and the moon. I had read a sign board on the dirt track between Kudle and Om beaches cautioning people to be careful about thieves and animals after sunset. I was not sure if both parties had spread their areas of operation to include the road we were on. There was thick vegetation on both sides of the roads and insects buzzing intermittently. When I had worked myself up to a frenzy, I figured out it was time for some distraction. And thus began the question round.

We talked and talked and talked for the next hour, asking each other inane questions like ‘what soap do you use’ to interesting ones like ‘if you had to pick out one person of your own sex to date, whose looks would you prefer’ to personal ones like ‘what thing did you most enjoy doing as a child’ (My answers to that – Pears, Angelina Jolie and traveling with cousins). We stopped for a water break but after the general spookiness of the place began to set in, decided mentally to just continue walking non stop.

A little later, we could hear the howl of a dog at a distance. Other dogs woke up and responded. The hillside was suddenly a frenzy of mad barking. We were finally approaching a village and the village dogs had woken up. I froze and walked on auto-pilot based on instructions from SA to act normal, fervently wishing I had not read the Hound of the Baskervilles as a child. Earlier in the trip PR and SA had discussed how scary it was to face dogs in the nights. They tend to gang up and terrorize you and even though you knew at a logical level that they would not bite, it was still an experience one could avoid. I had not commented on this topic, not having experienced it before. It was as though fate had decided to broaden my life’s experiences. We walked at our usual pace; looking nonchalant (I like to think). The dogs continued barking. I eyed the walls of the houses in the village we were passing through, checking out which were the best ones to clamber over. The walk lasted a mere five minutes (and obviously a very long time for me) and we were done with the dogs. I realized except for me, the rest were quite alright.

The only good thing was I stopped worrying too much about the thieves and wild animals. Atleast we were in civilization, such as it was. After sometime, we could hear the next set of dogs barking. Simultaneously, we could also hear an auto put-put in the distance, approaching us. We stopped the auto to ask for a ride. After two minutes, SA thanked them and waved them away and explained that he was fairly certain the occupant of the auto was not particularly sober. Clearly, facing the dogs seemed a better prospect. So we continued through the next round of dogs. By this time, I had given up all pretence of being calm and began to slowly mutter all devotional songs I knew (largely repeating a few words over and over again given my pathetic knowledge of such things)

We were on the last leg. The final set of dogs was awaiting us at the turn up the hill to our road. We were quite exhausted by now. It was 11.45 in the night and being in bed seemed like a fairly good idea. The dogs were standing at shoulder height, thanks to the terrain and I could hear SA promise himself to come and make mince meat of them the next morning. Company finally! PA continued to walk about like she was making her entrance at a ball – graceful, with her wraparound skirt held up. NA looked like he could not have cared about the dogs’ actions one way or the other. Luckily the dogs were happy with just a display of their vocal prowess and did not reach for the jugular.

Beyond the turning, the road disappeared into a wild mesh of stones and mud. We had to pick our way carefully since we could barely see and ran a decent risk of falling over the cliff’s edge. Thinking back, I realized that we had walked practically non stop for seven kms uphill – a feat I had not achieved even on days when I was supposed to be officially trekking. Also, suddenly the beauty of the countryside, bathed in moonlight hit me and I basked in the glorious shared walk.

Later on, when I heard PR narrate her version of the story, I realized she had been less paranoid than me and had thoroughly enjoyed herself from the word go. Being brought up on a hill station, she was used to deserted roads and barking dogs. Still, as memories go, this one will live on for a long time.

Konkan Trip 6 : Gokarna part B

The day dawned bright and shiny. We were in high spirits. We had not been murdered in our beds, the cockroaches had not appeared again and the distant view of the sea from our balconies assured us that all was well with the world. SA came to inform us that the hotel owner had agreed to give us a lift till Gokarna Beach. The plan was to go from one beach to the next and explore all the beaches in the area – Gokarna, Kudle, Om, Half moon and Paradise. Gokarna beach was closest to the temple and attracted all the pilgrims. Om was the most popular among the foreign crowd, followed by Kudle. Half moon and Paradise were supposed to be quite deserted and suited for people who wanted to get away from the crowd.

Breakfasted and ready, we waited for the owner to appear. SA had not told us anything about what the owner was like. A pot bellied man appeared from nowhere, screaming at all the servants in the area. Then acknowledging our existence, he informed us that he would be ready in five minutes. His face looked a lot like someone had either punched him several times or he had an overdose of strong drugs at some point. He also clearly reveled in showing off his superior position among the crowd of kowtowing servants. He was very polite and helpful to us though and faithfully kept his promise. He suggested that using a ferry would be the best option to travel between beaches and dropped us off at Gokarna beach.
We began to search for the ferry and soon realized that our hotel owner had been referring to the tiny fishing boats with a motor attached to them. There was no jetty. The fishermen just shoved the boat into the sea, jumped in and rowed till the water was deep enough to start the motor. Just looking at it was scary. We decided to wander through the town while thinking of other travel options.


Gokarna town proved to be quite interesting. The temple area had narrow, lively streets, filled with cows and trinket-sellers. Foreigners on a spiritual journey had made inroads into these parts too and no one found it strange that the priests could provide shelter in their pristine, vegetarian, high-caste homes. I also realized there were a lot of positives to having a tourist crowd comprising non-Indians. Even if their personal hygiene habits were a bit worrisome, they definitely had a well developed civic sense and did not litter. The bookshops around such areas stored a good selection across various languages. The continental food prepared by restaurants catering to them was cheap and divine.


After a while we decided to move to the next beach. The options were to hire bikes, autorickshaws or cars. Only PR could handle a bike competently and the hilly roads were too dangerous for NA or SA to polish their rudimentary skills. Cars would be too expensive, and we packed ourselves into an autorickshaw.


The view on the way to Kudle beach was wonderful. The auto driver dropped us off on a hill and told we had to take a narrow track down. Several people passed us on the way and we realized this was the only route down. Clearly no infirm or aged person would be able to walk down. The beach was however wonderful, and fully justified the trip. As per plan, we found a reasonably empty looking shack and began to make ourselves comfortable. All of us opened our books/ordered food or juices/went for long walks on the shore/played in the water a bit and generally lazed around. The day could not have been more perfect.


NA disappeared for a long walk and after a couple of hours, we began to get worried. Sure enough, when he came back, he was looking red and very dehydrated. After being forced to drink plenty of water he fell fast asleep. The original agenda of checking out all the beaches was dropped. We decided to just walk across to Om beach in the evening, after a cup of chai (served in very tall glasses). The hillside was not particularly green but even the brown grass was a brilliant foreground for a slowly setting sun. We went back to the scene of our previous night’s heartbreak. With a reasonably crowded beach and some amount of daylight, the beach did not look quite so overpowering. We watched the sun set and talked and walked and made our peace with Om beach.

Konkan Trip 5 : Gokarna part A

The Gokarna part of the trip began on a fairly surreal note. Everyone was fed up with listening to my ancient 1970s Hindi music tapes and gladly agreed to play a collection of rock music PR had made in college. Small villages rushed by us on one side with tiny STD/PCO shops, open air restaurants and plastic shops marking their neon-lit existence. Inside we were trapped in humming our existential angst. Shriraj, our driver, did not blink his eye (or for that matter his accelerator pedal) when various heavy duty lorries hurled themselves on us in the narrow road. It was already night when we weaved our way into the tiny road that terminated on Om Beach.


SA had made bookings for us in a place called Gokarna International – a happy and economical hotel for families, located in the centre of the town to enable quick trips to the famous temple. All of us, in an unspoken agreement, knew that it was Plan B and we would first die trying to stay in a shack close to the beach. So off we went in search of the highly recommended Namaste Café at the entrance to Om Beach. After scrambling down the cement steps and the rocks, we realized we had stepped into Goa of ten years ago. Namaste Café was buzzing with white skinned people, pleasantly high and vocal and the only Indians were clearly the waiters and the owner. It also looked pretty full and when we enquired about rooms it was no surprise to hear that they did not have any. We were directed to Niravana Café at the other end of the long beach.

Om Beach, from afar looks like the Sanskrit script for ‘Om’ and thus earned its name. Ever since Goa began to attract a more up-market class of visitors, Gokarna had begun to take on the task of providing an economical beach option for the down-market First World travelers. Added to that was the presence of a famous temple in Gokarna and anyone in search of the great Indian soul, could easily find nirvana, religion, alcohol and possibly more here. This was not to say the beach was strewn, Bollywood-style, with half naked people in a drunken stupor. Everyone had settled down to a clearly familiar routine of conversations while staring at the sea and eyed us with very little curiosity as we trekked to Niravana Café.

The owner of Om Beach’s second best café was also not too helpful. He had one room which four of us could share and no attached toilet or ceiling fans. It was cheap at 200 rupees a night. We began to check with other Shack owners. Everyone replied in the negative. It was already close to 10 p.m. and somewhere in the corner of my mind I was worried if Gokarna International would also call a no-show and cancel our reservations. All of us were also slowly realizing that brown skin would not get us too far in this place. Deciding to make one last attempt, we changed tactics. NA, who had so far not been given any job more onerous than buying snacks for the trip, was elected as our representative to go and get us rooms. He spoke with a New Zealand accent and was the closest we could produce by way of a foreign connection

We all trooped into a fairly deserted looking shack. The suspicious looking owner barely acknowledged our presence but he was obviously eager to have any customers. The dialogue started;

NA – We would like rooms

Owner – Where are you from?

NA – (pointing at me and PR) – These guys are from Chennai. I am from New Zealand

Owner – (without blinking an eye) – New Zealand? Come. I have rooms


We silently marched into the room on display. It was a small, white hut. There were no windows. There was a queen size mattress on the cement slab, occupying two thirds of the room. The mattress was covered with a dirty bed sheet and we could almost see the bed bugs crawling all over it. If we did not die of suffocation or claustrophobia, we would certainly die of insect bites. Looking at our disappointed expressions, he took us past a small bamboo enclosure, which he told was the common toilet and triumphantly introduced us to his best room. It was painted a vivid blue. Same space, same bed bugs, same dirty sheets. Our minds protested ‘That’s it? The ridiculousness of it all began to hit us. We were being treated like untouchables in our own country, by a bunch of former fisher folk who were so fascinated by white skin that they refused to even look at us. And all for the hole of a room they had managed to build which we would not have even considered looking at under saner conditions.

Angry, amused and with plenty of perspective, we tramped out and decided to head back to the car. SA’s torch light which had been assisting the moon light in guiding us was beginning to dim. We wondered if our driver Shriraj had left with the entire luggage or had sent out for the police to track us. Nearly an hour had elapsed. Just as reached the end, we saw Shriraj coming towards us, waving a welcome torchlight. All of us cheered up immediately at the thought of a friend still left in this strange world. Shriraj modestly blushed when we told him he was a saviour to have come down with his torch. ‘Actually when I was buying the mobile, I was wondering if I should go for a model with a torch light’, he explained, ‘and now it is so useful’. We told Shriraj that we had to check out other options. On the way to the beach, we had spotted a fairly swanky looking place called ‘Swaswara’ and we began to make inquiries there. The receptionist greeted us politely and informed us that the rooms were 360 dollars a night. If the earlier experience had shaken us, this totally took the wind off our sails. SA politely told him that we would be back when we got pay hikes. Later we learnt that the resort catered to chartered tourists from First World countries.

We informed Shriraj about the prices and he burnt in righteous anger asking ‘are they selling the rooms or renting them out?’ and continued to rave for the next ten minutes. Atleast our entertainment value in this episode was increasing with each passing minute.

The next stop was the Om Beach resort, 7 kms uphill. It had been over our budget when we were planning the trip. Now, it seemed like the best option. Unfortunately, there were no rooms here either. We were in a Dickensian tragedy and the night was getting on.

On the road to Om Beach resort was a dilapidated sign board for a resort called ‘Seabird’. We decided to check it out as well. The place was deserted. The prices were reasonable – 800 rs a night for a non a/c double room. Rooms were available. Suspicion began to rear its head – why would such a hotel be practically empty? Were the guests being murdered in their beds and placed as stuff toys in some place somewhere? We told Shriraj that we were not happy with its ready availability. Shriraj, clearly a man of simple living and thoughts, could not understand our logic. Yet, he could not give up his role of a Man Friday now. So he disappeared and returned to furtively inform us that he had checked with the employees and they had confirmed that this place was safe. We were too tired to explain why there was a flaw in his research and were about to leave the place, when blazing brilliantly two vehicles full of tourists arrived. The tension disappeared, relief flooded us and we decided to stay on. We paid Shriraj and plonked on the verandah outside our ground floor rooms. Meanwhile, the tourist vehicles instead of adding to our numbers and being a security cover had decided to go elsewhere. We were too tired to begin worrying about our safety all over again. We were too tired to even walk up to the restaurant and just got the food to the verandah. We lay there for a long time, finally managing to make our way to our respective beds. There was a tiny cockroach somewhere behind my bed. Killing it in one stroke and closing the windows to prevent a further infestation, I slept.

Konkan Trip 4 : Amgol


During the extensive Net search I managed to do before the trip, I had read an article that mentioned Amgol. The writer had not given it great reviews. However, the thought of an island in the middle of a river sounded fascinating. As time passed, I forgot all about the place till my memory got triggered off somehow. Desperately, I searched quite a bit and almost a week passed before I could locate Amgol again. When we got there, I knew the effort had not been wasted.

Vishwas Soans, the proprietor met us in Kundapur and led us to a rudimentary jetty. Our transport was a small boat rowed by the caretaker of the island. Loading our luggage into it, we began the trip, fascinated by the quiet and beauty all around. Once we reached the island, things only seemed to get better. The island was quite tiny and one could walk across the length in about ten minutes. There were only 5 rooms in the island and at that point, we were the only guests staying. We got two rooms facing each other. One room had a lovely balcony outside with a view of the river. Before we could even toss a coin to decide who could get the room, SA suddenly developed signs of life from his quiet reverie and dashed into the room to bag it. The girls had no choice. Luckily the other room had a lovely open-to-the-skies bathroom and a shower made of stone. PR and self must have had good one-hour baths the next day in it. SA pointed out the danger of a passing bird deciding to do its morning ablutions over our heads (a theory constructed by quite a few of my male friends to whom I told this story. Makes one wonder if the male of the species has an extra juvenile gene added somewhere).


Once settled in, we walked to the western end of the island where a small hand-made jetty provided a perfect spot to see the setting sun. The jetty could be used to hail any passing boats in case our personal ferry was not around. We just sat there watching boats pass by slowly and the sun change the colour of the skies from golden to an ever-increasing inky blue. Worried, we would not be able to walk back in the dark, we peeled ourselves away from the mesmerizing scene. Near the dining area, just by the river, were two hammocks. All of us took turns lounging in it. Somehow the still air seemed perfect for general bantering and eating the elaborate dinner provided. There was a distant hum of Ayappa Bhajans somewhere but that faded into the background.


When it was time to go to bed, all of us were pleasantly tired and slept off as soon as our heads hit the bed. The guys later on told us they heard something in the dark. We preferred to think of it as divine justice for having grabbed a room by the river without tossing for it.


The next morning, we persuaded the caretaker to take us on a jolly ride in his boat, after dropping off his children at school. All of us trooped in, armed with video and digital cameras and before long, I requested the boatman to let me try my hand at rowing. The river was not too deep. The boatman had a long stick, which he could push to the bottom of the river. Then using it as a lever would propel the boat forward till it had moved about seven feet. Then he would take the stick of the water and repeat the process. The process looked deceptively simple and I grabbed the stick with élan. That was when I realised that water could be extremely resistant and I had to strain every fibre in my body to even get the stick to hit the bottom. This explained why he and the other boatmen we had seen had a physique that would have made the keenest gym goer jealous. After seven-eight attempts, when the boatman sat in one corner and chuckled to himself, I managed to get closer to the process. The boatman then pointed out that we were going against the direction of the current and this would take all day if I continued. Saying so he grabbed the stick and everyone else began to snigger. Finally we had rounded the island and now everyone was keen to try their hand at boating. PR was the most eager of the lot and the boatman showered special favour on her as she spoke to him in a language that was closest to Kannada. He did not speak any other language and so far all communication had been done in a series of wild gestures and slowly spoken Hindi/Tamil. NA and SA tried for a few brief moments before admitting that they had been way out of range while laughing at PR and me. The boatman gave me one stick and gave PR one and let us row for a while. After five minutes, when PR and self had managed to work up a fine sweat, he told us to stop. The boat continued to move and he explained that our efforts so far had been completely useless since the boat anyway had moved with the current. With that he sank to another round of his chuckles. Pricked, we decided to continue till we began banging into the island and spent more time pushing the boat away from the shrubbery than rowing.


The exercise had got our appetites high (not that otherwise there was ever a lull) and we breakfasted heartily. The rest of the morning was spent in reading books/talking/having long leisurely baths/feeding fishes in the river and generally watch the world go by. Lunch was again an elaborate affair. Food had come from Hotel Sharon in the mainland and tasted too oily. We managed to eat a bit, sitting on a bed sheet by the river and then continued our lazing around. Afternoon turned to evening and our driver for the next leg had already arrived. Piling our luggage into the boat, we bade a farewell to Amgol. It was now time to go from the river to the sea.


The route to Gokarna must have been a pretty one, had we done the entire journey in daylight. We did see some of the good parts though. At Marvanthe, the highway was flanked by the sea on one side and by the river on the other. The beach looked inviting, but Vishwas Soans had told us about another prettier beach at Ottinane. We pressed on and eventually came to a hill. From here we could see one of the most striking views of the entire trip. The sea and the skies seemed to merge together. A golden strip of beach separated the sea and the backwaters. We eagerly walked down the 250 steps to the shore. The sea was calm, gently lapping onto our feet as we walked on the firm sand. The only company we had was a family of picnickers collecting mussels. There was an inherent gentleness in the way the air blew, the sea moved and the tall trees that surrounded the coast. Somehow, mere frolicking was not suited to the calmness of the place and we each stood in the water busy with out thoughts. After a while we explored a nearby temple and then as the tide began to come in and the sky got darker, began to climb the 250 steps to the car. Gokarna was atleast 2.5 hours away.

12-Dec-2006

Review - Dhoom 2

Review of characters in order of signs of personality

1. Locales – is wow. If this movie does not up the sales of Cox and Kings tour packages, very little else will.

2. Hrithik Roshan – From the word ‘go’ our man gets into his super-cool, super-pouty act. He has never been in better shape before and each scene you would like to whistle and throw some money at him. It is a pity though that he really does not suit the role of an international jewel thief. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot but look like mama’s little boy.

3. Abhishek Bachhan – As the police officer in the imaginary world, he does his thing again – ride super cool vehicles, gets posted on assignments in Spain, Fiji et al. Competent but not in the same league as Roshan for the hotness mantle.

4. The motorbikes – Check them out in the climax scene. Think most people in the audience started whistling when the bikes appeared and did not stop till they were out of the scene.

5. Aishwarya Rai – Anyone who saw her in Bride and Prejudice would remember the gentle jiggling of her tummy as she did her gentle dances. No sign of that now. Of course her acting is still worse than ever and in the first five minutes of her opening her mouth in this movie, the terror of her squeaky, high pitched dialogue delivery throws you back almost with a physical force. But, what did you expect? Just keep rewinding ‘Crazy Kiya Re’ song in your head again.

6. Bipasha Basu – Another wash board stomach for most part. In the first half of the movie, she kept her clothes and wits on. In the second half, lost a substantial part of both

7. …

8. ….

9. ….

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100. Uday Chopra – Sooraj Barjatya puts dogs in his movies for the diversity factor. Yash Chopra sneaks in Uday Chopra instead. Atleast dogs are cuter

10-Dec-2006

Konkan Trip 3 : Udipi - Malpe - St Mary's Isle


We were eager to hit the road and after a quick breakfast, began the journey to Udipi. To my disappointment, NH 17, our path for the entire trip did not exactly run along the beach. Infact, to go to any beach, we had to take some quick diversions. Still, it was early enough in the day to just enjoy the scenery we did have and the fairly good road. Udipi was yet another series of temples – Shri Krishna, Chandramoulishwera, Ananteswara and some smaller Mutts. The first temple required men to take off their shirts. NA tried objecting but to no end. Given that fairly pot bellied men seemed to have no issues flaunting their pot bellies, our scrawny friend’s protests over doing a Salman Khan was quite amusing. However, he was sticking to his principles and we lost sight of him for the rest of that round.

The Traveler's Guide (which had been put back into action) mentioned that the nearby Malpe beach was another touristy option. It did however forget to mention how breathtaking the beach was and how it should be on every itinerary involving that area. The sand was golden, the sea a happy blue, reflecting the happy blue of the sky. Our driver grudgingly admitted that there was a ferry to a nearby island, the St Mary’s Isle. He was reluctant to take us there, pointing out that the ferry did not leave unless there were atleast forty people ready to board it. We decided to go anyway and when we reached, found out that a ferry was just about to depart. Happily skipping on board we settled down to admire the calm sea during the twenty-minute ride. The water on the shore was clear enough to let us see the shallow bottom of clear golden sand. The island was pretty small, with a few thatched roofs to provide some shade and could only be visited on a one-day trip. There were a few snack shops and no restaurants and consequently the litter was well under control. Entranced, we began to walk in the cool seawater around the island and came to a secluded spot where we could admire the sea in peace. When we were finally satisfied with the longish ramble, we caught the ferry back. We were famished by then, and happily tucked in another awesome fish meal at Kairali hotel.

After this, it was time to hit the road, full steam, to reach Kundapur, our next destination.

Konkan Trip 2 - Mangalore


NA, PR and I landed up in Mangalore in the afternoon, having gone through a scenic train route involving large bits of Kerela. SA had arrived that morning from Mumbai and had had plenty of time to figure out that our hotel (Pooja International) offered nothing by way of good meals but was located conveniently close to the station and in the heart of the city. Hence, we decided to go out for our first meal to a place recommended by my Outlook Traveler’s Guide. It was economical, no doubt. But fairly rundown and with that the Guide was abandoned. We decided to place our trust on the driver for the day, Harsha, for any meal recommendations.
Harsha took his guide duties rather seriously. Our first stop, against Harsha’s obvious disinclination to take us there, was the Sultan’s Battery. It was a fairly old structure from where Tipu Sultan’s soldiers had once used cannons. It overlooked a river and offered some great views. However, there is only so much you can do with a structure and Harsha was eager to take us to the next spot. The Americans built Vegas to give vent to that one stray vulgar strain that runs in every person. Indians, I think, decided to build garish temples instead. The Gokarna Parsvanath temple was painted a bright gold and red. Occasionally, there were statues of various gods and goddesses in fairly arresting poses and the locals seemed quite happy and proud walking around. To Harsha’s disappointment, we were out pretty early. We decided to do the church circuit next. Mangalore has some old churches built by the Portuguese and a Christian population that obviously believed in spending its Saturday evenings in prayer. Our first church was the Milagres Church (In the picture). The second one was St. Aloysius, which boasted of some really fabulous frescos on the ceilings and walls. It was also part of a college campus and we walked about, taking in the students scurrying around, unmindful of the evening sun streaming through green trees creating dappled patterns on the vast grounds. The next stop was the Rosario Cathedral, the oldest church in Mangalore. The front was apparently modeled on the St. Peter’s Basilica. A sermon was in progress here too and after all that religion; we were not exactly too pleased with the holy start of our holiday. However, the next stop, Kadri Manjunath temple, deserved a visit given that it held one of the oldest bronze sculptures in India. The temple was fairly peaceful and we watched pilgrims take a dip in a pool nearby. After sometime, feeling refreshed and fortified by the prasadam we decided to hit the beach. The action for the day was dying by the time we reached. Inspite of the approaching darkness, we could make out that the waters on this side of the country seemed calmer than the Chennai seas.

Harsha suggested a place for dinner and we trooped off to a pretty nice rooftop restaurant. The entrance had pictures of Bollywood actor Suniel Shetty tucking in a sumptitious meal. We were too tired to figure out if that was just cheesy or whether it clearly marked this place as the most popular in Mangalore. Food turned out to be quite nice though and I began my love affair with fish. After one of my yummiest fish meals ever, we headed back to the hotel and slept off to the dying sounds of traffic outside.

Konkan Trip 1 - Prologue

I think I spent about two months talking about a trip down the Konkan coast and nearly a year before that fantasizing about the trip. When I had finally found 3 people to go with me and announced to the world in general that I was off, most people just gaped and asked ‘you mean you still have not gone?’ My band of co-travelers was a bit skeptical too, after all they had been thrown together with one common link – me. In case of NA, he did not even boast that link since he was a friend’s friend and I had met him once over lunch. Most of the times he just mumbled something. Funnily enough this seemed as good a quality as any other since it meant that even if he was not happy with something, we would be blissfully unaware. SA was an ex colleague and had met PR, my Salsa classmate on a one day trek earlier.

The trip was not really an authentic Konkan coast tour. It started at Mangalore and wound its way to Goa, with a few stops in between. The idea was to explore the beaches on the way and eat good food. At any rate, all of us were quite happy with this agenda.