Tagged: Destination Reviews

The Kolkata Experience


I was in Kolkata last week just for 2.5 days.

A city of some 18M (some folks say that the population of Kolkata is over 20M, putting it just next to Mexico City) people, Kolkata had been in the forefront of British India for a long time. It has what I call “cultured” people, who are still steeped in a colonial mindset. The funny thing though is that Kolkata has been a Communist bastion for over 4 decades, till Mamata Banerjee (the current Chief Minister of the West Bengal State, of which Kolkata is the State Capital) came along and usurped the Communist Party from their long-held power and sway over the Bengalis (as the people of West Bengal are called).

So, here you have a gargantuan city of enormous proportions (it is actually a twin city, with the Howrah Bridge connecting Kolkata to Howrah, its twin city), which has the distinction of hosting Mother Theresa till she died. It has many accolades from the past, not the least being the Capital of British India which was later taken over by Delhi.

The Bengalis are a passionate people with rather strong opinions on everything which matters. They are what I call as “the intelligentsia” of modern India. They are also the source of some of the most talented actors and actresses of Bollywood. And, who can forget Shri Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Nobel Laureate of India, and who hails from West Bengal ? And so on and so forth………

Surprisingly, the part of Kolkata that I visited (Southern Avenue adjoining the lake), Tollygunge Road, and areas around these locations were not crowded. The traffic was light for the size of Kolkata and when I checked with one of my hosts, he happened to remark that there are no big crowds due to lack of industrial activity. Which may be true, given that the Communists were always against the industrialization of the State, and drove away Capitalists who wanted to invest in the State, leveraging the strong intellectual capital of the Bengalis. But that was not to be, and today West Bengal is one of the least industrialized states of India. This led to Bengalis migrating en masse to other progressive states of India and overseas, and you see them almost everywhere you go.

Still, Kolkata has its charm, and I loved the New Alipore area which I visited to meet up with some old relatives. A rather charming area, with neat roads and large apartments which was strange amidst the chaos in the rest of the city. I also bought some sweets in a famous old sweet shop in that area – Bengalis are very famous for their sweet tooth. Fantastic sweets which you cannot get elsewhere in India are available from the 100 year old Kolkata brands of sweet shops – I bought from one such brand – Balaram Mullick Radharaman Mullick. Excellent choice, but there are several other brands equally famous.

The strangest part of Kolkata was the Airport. It is a gleaming new international airport. But, there was not much activity in the international side on a late evening/ night time, unlike Chennai or Mumbai or Delhi wherein there are always thousands of passengers and a long list of flights right through the night. When I arrived at 9 PM at the Kolkata International Airport, I could count only 5 or 6 flights, and there were few passengers at the airport. In fact, everything was a breeze – check-in at the Silk Air counter, immigration clearance, security check-up, etc., were surprisingly fast. Of course, this shows the influence of the Communist ideology on the residents of West Bengal and also the lack of tourists.

I took a drive along Howrah Bridge during a rainy day, and it was fabulous. The Victoria Memorial visit was great, with its beautifully maintained gardens and statues, but also reminding one of the British dominance in the 18th and 19th centuries over India. I have always detested their acquisition of India and their politicking with the Kings and Princes of India on a divide-and-rule philosophy. They did leave some good things behind in India when they left in 1947, but overall I think that India would have been better off in a faster manner had it not been for the Briitsh rule. That topic is for another blog post, I guess.

In any case, there are a number of places to be seen in Kolkata (ensure you have a good English-speaking driver), and do not miss these places. And, the traffic is not worse than other metro (large) cities of India.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th July 2016

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Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin


You must be wondering what does that mean ?

It is a famous Japanese restaurant chain present in several countries around the world.

Here I am talking about the one at the ION mall at Orchard Road in Singapore.

First, what is Tonkatsu ?

According to Wikipedia, Tonkatsu (pork cutlet),is a Japanese cuisine invented from cutlet. It consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet one to two centimeters thick and sliced into bite-sized pieces, generally served with shredded cabbage and/or miso soup.

I did not go for the pork, but went for the chicken. The sticky rice with the fried chicken is absolutely delicious and you must try it. First of all, I love the Japanese sticky rice, and the Curry Udon that I have had in the past in Japan always entices me a lot. It felt like almost having a curry dipped rice dish when I tried the Udon in Tokyo. And, it did not have any meat at all !

But the same thing now with chicken is simply outstanding. I am sure that there are actually many Japanese restaurants in Singapore which serve this kind of food. But this one at ION is good and worth trying.

The sticky rice here was not so sticky, it was glutinous all right, but tasted good with the chicken curry. It was served with miso soup and ginger on the rice. Easy to eat, nice when you are slightly hungry and goes well with green tea.

Overall, this restaurant was a new find for me, and I am sure I will visit again during my next trip to Singapore. Remember, one has to queue up in the evenings, but I can tell you it is worth the try. Japanese restaurants take the pain out of ordering by showing colourful pictures of the dishes, so you got to just point and order ! Enjoy the food !!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
7th April 2012
Mumbai

Hot Winter


I live in Mumbai which is a constantly “challenged” city.

It has a number of problems which makes living difficult for its denizens. However, it is also the most creative and professional place in India as a whole. The competing cities only specialize in certain areas or certain industries, none of them have the vastness and the depth of Mumbai.

It is also a fact that the city has a constant flow of immigrants and huge number of slums around the city. There is huge shortage of space and so it has the maximum premium in the country. Traffic is just short of horrendous and the infrastructure is creaking under the heavy weight of a growing population (of people and vehicles).

Over the past couple of years, the city has also been affected by global warming of sorts. We are in December now, and the day temperature has persistently stayed well above 30 deg Celsius. Today the maximum temperature is reported as 34 deg Celsius and the minimum is 24 deg Celsius. Forecast for the next 10 days is the same, and this is far higher than the usual temperatures in December. As I was travelling on the roads today, I could feel the heat which was more penetrating as the body’s expectation was different.

What do you call this phenomenon when the temperatures are at least around 4 to 5 deg Celsius higher in what is supposed to be winter season ? Actually there is no winter, it is just it should be a little less hot than normal !

Delhi is having its real winter, with temperatures at 10 deg Celsius lower than those of Mumbai. As we enter January, the day temperatures in Delhi are likely to be in single digits.

What we are experiencing in Mumbai is nothing but the impact of global warming. The impact of the sea and the winds has changed over the past few years, leading to higher temperatures.

It is not a great thing, and could be harmful in the long run as the sun’s harsh rays are going to have a bad impact on our skin. What can be done ? I haven’t seen much of a commentary on this phenomenon in newspapers and that concerns me.

So, we at Mumbai are having a “hot winter”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
4th December 2011
Mumbai

Delhi’s Lovely Weather


I was in Delhi for couple of days earlier this week.

I knew from long travel experience that Delhi has fog in the early mornings and pretty cold weather at this time of the year, which also happens to be its best season, with lots of international and national conferences driving up hotel rates and airfares !

From mid November till around third week of February is considered as winter in Delhi. Temperatures have fallen to somewhere in the region of 4 degrees Celsius a few weeks ago. When I was in Delhi, the temperature ranged from 8 degrees to 19 degrees.

I love that weather, which we do not get in Mumbai.

Lots of locals in Delhi can be seen wearing woollen clothing and huddling around. But I had always enjoyed it with a simple jacket just to shield from potential winds. Delhi and most parts of North India get cool weather which sometimes resembles that of the colder countries in the Northern Hemisphere. I think Delhiites are lucky, as they get to enjoy truly the four seasons of the weather !

One evening, I left my hotel for the nearby mall to have dinner. It was around 17 degrees at around 7 PM. When I came back at 9:30 PM, it was 6 degrees. Amazingly cool and with a slight wind, it was a fantastic evening !

I understand that cold weather diseases do catch up with people in Delhi. But that happens in Mumbai as well when the temperatures drop towards 20 degrees every night, though Mumbai’s weather cannot be termed as winter season. Variations in temperature during the day, when there are wide variations of more than 15 to 18 degrees from the maximum to the minimum temperature do cause some impact, especially in the children and old folks.

I was lucky not to have been affected by fog during my flight landing and take-off at Delhi Airport. I continue to wonder about the massive Delhi International Airport, about which I have already written earlier – there is no easy and quick way to get out of this airport – takes a very long walk indeed !

On the whole, visiting Delhi at this time of the year is an enjoyable experience. I will be travelling again to Delhi in the next few days and hope to get more of that weather soon.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
22nd January 2011
Mumbai

Delhi Airport T3 Terminal


I have to write about my latest experience of first-time arrival at Delhi’s new Terminal T3, after it opened for domestic flights around mid November 2010.

It is an amazingly huge construction, with many aero bridges, saving time for passengers in the disembarkation and embarkation procedures. It reminds me of Denver Airport in Colorado, U.S., which also is very huge but lacks a character of its own. That is what exactly Delhi’s T3 is – very huge, but no character.

But before I come to that aspect, let me first describe my experience. I arrived from Mumbai, and was at first, really taken aback by the hugeness of the T3 Terminal. It is unbelievably huge, especially in a country which does not believe in building the requisite infrastructure for a billion people in anything, be it cities, transport, roads, buildings, or anything for that matter. Where we should have 6 lanes on each side of the highway, India is still trying and struggling to build 4 lanes on each side of the highway. So, it is a pleasant surprise when you see an airport terminal potentially capable of handling some 40M passengers annually, and is purportedly the sixth (or the eighth ?) largest airport in the world. Oh, I thought that makes me proud.

Well, there is a challenge to every such thing, especially in India. While the infrastructure has been laid out, no body seems to have thought about the difficulties of passengers who have to navigate the length and breadth of the terminal. First of all, the wash rooms are at the middle section of each travellator length, so one has got to either spot the same early (before getting into the travellator) or make a time-consuming U-turn to reach the toilet in case one is in a hurry. Secondly, the travellators are a tad bit faster than usual, making it difficult for slow, older passengers to safely position themselves. Thirdly, it took me more than 20 minutes to reach the exit point, my guess it is not less than 2.5 KMS of fast-walking on the travellator and the carpeted area (which is tougher to drag the baggage). There were no trolleys when you arrive at the gate, so you got to fend for yourself by pulling or pushing your bags.

I just saw one golf-cart vehicle for ferrying passengers in all this 2.5 KMS of walking, so what would the older people do ?

And, unfortunately the wash room I visited was not clean (remember we are talking about a brand new airport terminal). When I reached the exit, I was received by the car driver who told me we have to again walk quite a bit to reach the car in the new, cavernous car park. He was smiling, so I knew he understood the lengths to which passengers are forced to walk. The car park was indeed huge, resembling overseas airport car parks. We located the car, and when we drove out, I was told it is a long drive of some 7 to 8 KMS from the old airport terminal, so I better be prepared to come some 30 minutes earlier when I depart.

Well, one can hardly do anything about a completed terminal, except to ask for better services. When I departed from the same terminal couple of days later, I found the departure area to be better organized, resembling the larger U.S. airports. The Security area followed almost immediately from the check-in counters, and the shopping area was right after Security. But it was kind of jammed in with too many shops in a rather limited area, and the lounge was lousy to say the least.

I was not surprised to find out that one has to walk a rather long distance to reach the departure gate. Long travellators again ! But very few shops in that long section of the airport.

Where was the planning done ? Did they not see Singapore Airport ?

Well, this is at least better than anything we got !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
4th December 2010
Mumbai

The Andaman Islands


Just returned today from a week-long trip to The Andaman Islands.

I will surely find some time in the future to publish some amazing photos, but thought it fit to mention a few things in this first post on the islands.

First, it is surely worth a visit for all beach and island lovers, who also are fond of beaching, snorkeling and scuba diving. There is nothing much beyond the sea – it dominates everyday life in The Andaman Islands.

Second, do not go on a package tour – you will miss out on all the fun, and also on some of the most important places to see and experience.

Third, some of the beaches like the Radhanagar Beach in the Havelock Island, and the Jolly Buoy Island beach, are simply world class – still unspoilt : I was surprised at their cleanliness, and the thorough checking on one’s personal belongings to ensure that we do not carry plastic bags. So clean beaches are a distinct possibility in the crowded Indian sea resorts.

Fourth, credit cards are not widely accepted, better to carry plenty of cash around.

Fifth, safety procedures are not commonly and widely followed, so take care of yourself all the time – please note that this is not Thailand or Indonesia or Malaysia. Amenities are basic, locals are simple people, ATMs are rare to find, few hospitals around, not many good eating places, et al. So go prepared for all eventualities.

Sixth, beware of mosquitoes – they are of the real pinching variety : cover yourself and use repellents – again go prepared.

Well there are other points, but I thought it is important to record some of the key points here before proceeding. Also, take note that the airfares to The Andaman Islands (Port Blair) are expensive during the tourist season, due to the low competition they have – just three airlines competing for all the business with high prices, which are costlier than the flights to Singapore !

However, my conclusion after the trip is that notwithstanding some of the downsides, it is really worth a visit. You will enjoy the trip. The itinerary could be Port Blair – Havelock – Port Blair, with day trips to Jolly Buoy Island off Port Blair ; Barathang/Parrot Islands (which I planned to visit but dropped). I would spend more time on Havelock and may be go to Barathang next time, if I can manage one more trip !

While there are more than 550 islands in the Andaman & Nicobar, only less than 40 islands are inhabited. The government has deliberately maintained the others as mostly jungles. While the tourist flow is not comparable at all to even one resort in Thailand, I guess it is better strategy to maintain the pristine nature of the islands rather than barter it away for tourist dollars. I found mostly Indian tourists, with very few Western tourists. So, it appears that the A & N islands remain as one of the most undiscovered parts of India. Even for Indians, I should say !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
14th November 2010
Mumbai

Delhi BRTS


I was in Delhi this preceding week, and read in the newspapers that violators of the BRTS(Bus Rapid Transit System) lane would be fined INR 1,000 as compared to the previous low figures which people easily paid off.

And, I hit the road that some morning of this news appearing in the media, and what did I see ? Violators are aplenty – may be they don’t read the news. The BRTS was designed to move buses along dedicated lanes at a higher speed without getting caught in the usual vehicular traffic, which is very dense in Delhi which has over 2M vehicles.

I saw many cars and motorbikes on the bus lanes speeding past in between speeding buses. I was not sure whether these violators understand traffic rules. When caught, they will plead their way out stating that they are some powerful person’s kin or they have some very urgent work to do, or they are rushing to hospital, and what not. Enforcement of rules in Delhi (and mostly elsewhere in India) is very problematic as violators defy the policeman who catches them and speed away.

The only way is to monitor the BRTS lanes by video cameras which will catch the number plates of these offenders and deny them renewal of driving licenses, with imposition of heavy fines. E-governance is the way to go, eliminating physical human handling on both sides (enforcers and offenders) as happens in advanced countries. Another way is to link the driving license to the income tax system, where the registered owner of the vehicle will be identified and fined for payment collection via the income tax portal. The Unique Identification ID cards will pave yet another way.

Delhi’s traffic was quite clumsy this time around, with the rains disrupting the traffic all over Delhi. If a rain can cause so much disruption, imagine what can happen if some major disturbance hits the traffic in Delhi. City planning is still not OK even after pouring billions of dollars…….

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
15th August 2010
Mumbai