Friday, December 30, 2016

A Taste Of Hong Kong island

I continue From Here 

Walk & Talk…

I intentionally picked a route to Auckland via Hong Kong. Six and half hours of lay over, I thought, would give me enough time to get a glimpse of one my most favorite cities in the world. Moreover, I was meeting my friend Stefan after a long time and so, it was moment of double joy to be there.
My flight to Hong Kong was uneventful. Immigration process in HK is the fastest I have experienced so far. Once out of the airport, I took the return pass on Airport express for HK$ 100 and loaded some money on my octopus card. I took the airport express back to Central and reached there in just 30 minutes where I met Stefan.
Stefan and I enjoy talking as we walk. We have done that before during my previous visit to HK and also during our walk around Kudligi town. It is extremely enjoyable, especially in a city like HK. You are walking, talking, listening and also absorbing the spectacular views.
We caught up on our latest updates as we walked around the HK Island. Stefan and his wife Yulia had just returned after their yearlong stay in Mexico and he had some interesting stories to share. He also informed me that the junk boat (Ancient Chinese boats with red main sail) that, I remember sailing in the harbor, had some interesting adventures.
Apparently, the boat sank during the 2014 typhoon and the company who owned it failed to retrieve it back. So, as it remained sunk, they sold it to another company who then funded its recovery and restoration.  Now the boat is back, sailing as a piece of history, adorning the harbor view, back dropped by HK’s modern architecture. Stefan always has such interesting information about the cities he lives in. These small facts after all, make up a city.
I desired a walk on the promenade and so, we took a ferry to cross the harbor and reach Tsim Sha Tsui. Unfortunately, the promenade (Avenue of stars) was closed and statues were removed for some improvement work that will continue till 2018. Nevertheless, this side of the harbor provides one of the best views of HK skyline.

We headed back to the main island to grab some quick lunch at a western vegetarian café called Mana! I had some healthy flats with egg and roasted vegetables. It was excellent. The narrow and dense streets of HK Island were populated by the office goers stepping out for a lunch. This locality also has some really cool karaoke bars and pubs.

Due to lack of time, we packed our food and ate it as we walked back to the metro station. I bid farewell to Stefan before taking the airport express back to the airport, only to find out that my flight was delayed by an hour. However, despite the limited time I spent, I was more than happy to visit HK again and meet my good old friend.
Continued Here 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Zealand Visa & Preparation


When does a travel actually begin? Does it commence when you arrive at the destination or did it all begin when you boarded the flight, or while you were planning the nitty-gritties or should one go back to the moment when this idea was first perceived? Untraceable thus is the origin of a travel – Journey of a tiny spark that grew into a flame and spread like a wild fire, burning tirelessly within oneself, to keep the passion alive is a fascinating one by itself. Mesmerizing indeed is a story of passion. But all one sees is the execution of this passion that actually began several years ago, perhaps in a living room while watching a television show or while on a walk under the starry night sky during a power shutdown.

I am not exactly sure when the idea of traveling to NZ in particular, occurred to me first. Perhaps, it was while making a list of countries based on area or may be, after one of my French class friends traveled there. I sure did buy a DK publication guide to the country, about four years ago. I originally planned a trip to NZ during fall, to view the spectacular display of colours. I even printed out a map and marked the towns I wished to visit. However, that plan did not work for several reasons including definitely the expense involved and the dearth of vacations.

The beginning of my Solo backpacking last year to Sri Lanka boosted in me the confidence to fly further, explore more and take additional risks. I always had NZ on the back of my mind. However, this year, I did explore other options. Nothing was concrete until October though. That was when I was sure that I was traveling to NZ. By mid-October I had booked my flight and had begun to investigate on the Visa formalities. I ordered my “Lonely planet” guide book which arrived later that month and remained on my shelf, untouched, unattended for several days.

The Suspicious Agent...

A travel agent mainly handled my Singapore visa that I got earlier this year, as that seems to be the only way. Though applying for an NZ visa on your own did not seem very complicated, I failed to generate that enthusiasm to go through their long descriptions on the procedure. So, I attempted an easier way known to me from the previous experience. First, I approached VFS global. Unfortunately they only offer Visa support to Australia and not NZ. I began to Google for some other agents in Bangalore and came across – Global Gateways.

The interiors of the Global gateways office had a very dull and worn out appearance with dirty glass separations and dusty furniture. Though the office space had a few cabins separated by grimy glasses, the entire space was visible from where one stood. A girl welcomed me and handed me a form to be filled. They needed my qualification, experience, land I owned, my salary, my marital status etc. Before filling it, I checked with her if this was required for a tourist visa. She asked me to fill it anyways as a protocol they abided to. The filled form was then handed to another girl who asked me to step into another cabin. She went through the form and needlessly verified the things that were declared by me only a few seconds ago. Then came in, her manager; short and stout little man with a grim look on his face, as if, he was going to do me a big favour.

He glanced through my form and informed me almost immediately that in general, they do not do tourist visas. They mainly cater to people requiring a study or work visa and specially those whose visa has been previously rejected. Apparently, they prepare a case so valid that the consulate “has” to issue a visa to the applicant.

He also informed me that for my experience, I could get a good job in Australia with an attractive salary. I denied that offer and requested only for a tourist visa, that too, to NZ. He requested me to share this with other friends of mine anyways. That, I easily agreed to. He then enquired if I was traveling with my family. I shook my head and told him that I was traveling alone. He gave me that typical Indian look which I often witness – A sudden and random blend of surprise and suspicion, enveloped with extreme curiosity. He asked me why was I traveling alone, to which I replied saying that I was backpacking in the country. That answer was not convincing at all for him and probably did not even understand what it meant. He still looked suspicious about my intentions and that made me a little uncomfortable. He said that it was easy to get a visa if I traveled with family but in my case, the consulate could get suspicious. I wonder who was doubtful - the consulate or him.

By now, I was very annoyed and wanted to walk out but not without giving him a fitting reply. I made him aware of the fact that NZ visa can be applied for online and I was there just because I did not have the time to do so. He disagreed with me and said that there was no online application for NZ. For his offers, apart from the visa fee, he told me that he would be charging Rs.11000 processing fee. I quickly got up and told them that I would get back. As I hurriedly walked out of the office without a glance back, I trashed their visiting card.

That experience made me laugh but most importantly, it arose in me, an excitement to begin my expedition. After all, I should have done that in the first place. So, I went back home and read through the NZ visa website and realized that NZ is a backpacker friendly country. Online application is valid for solo travelers and the process is extremely simple.

So, the Process…

Here is a guideline to the visa process -

2. Fill an online application.
3. Upload following documents - Copy of passport, flight ticket, a covering letter, Passport size pictures (NZ visa), Document showing some family ties, Bank statements.
4. Submit the form and pay the fee.
5. Take a print of the confirmation page.
6. Approach TT services office in your city along with a print of the confirmation page, original passport and a DD of the amount mentioned in their website as a processing fee (Rs 630 for me).
7. Drop the documents at TT services with the address you wish to receive it back at.
8. They will send it to Mumbai or Delhi office, depending on where you are situated.
9. Within two weeks, if not earlier, you shall have your passport back with a visa stamp (Mine took 1.5 weeks due to Diwali holidays).

I was all excited to see my visa stamp printed on the Passport. Hong Kong, Macau, Sri Lanka or Singapore does not provide stamped visa. The only stamped visa I have is that of the US and it is good to see another one. This visitor visa allows you a one-year multiple entry permit with a maximum of 30 days of stay during a visit. Extension can be applied for with valid reasoning. Pretty easy, isn't it?

The preparation…

So, with my visa in hand, I glanced through the lonely planet book to see what places I must visit and what I could skip. I learnt about the Routeburn track and other tramping and hiking in NZ and found a need to do some serious shopping to prepare myself. Most important of all was to buy a good backpack. I went to Decathlon and a very knowledgeable and friendly sales guy helped me choose a bag.

Quechua Symbium Access 70+10L bag is perfect. This was the biggest they had. It has been my companion for three weeks and I can tell you for certain that it has been one of the best. It has a separate compartment at the base that you can use to store shoes or dirty clothes. An extra 10 L top pouch can hold stuff as well. The main bag has top and front opening. The front zipper is extremely useful as it provides easy access to the items that has sunk deep into the bag. Of course it also has some padding for support, which I am sure, reduced all my pains along the way.

My sleeping bag was too big in size and consumed excessive room in the bag. So, I decided to buy a compact one. That was one of the best decisions I had made.

Waterproof jacket, pants, thermal wear and a hiking pole seemed like a must have for trekking in a country with four seasons in a day. Truly, these gears saved my life as I trekked in extreme weather conditions.

Though its summer time in the southern hemisphere, do not expect a warm hot day. The days can be windy and cold and temperatures can drop much lower in the night, especially in the South Island. Enough warm clothes are also an essential. You will definitely need to carry some sunscreen cream to prevent yourself from getting terribly sun burnt.

With all these items, my bag was full and heavy. I wondered if I could carry this around for three weeks. The heaviest item was my Quechua trekking shoes; one of the best companions during my several treks in the country.

After some confusion about what bus to choose for traveling within NZ (Backpacker buses or local buses), I finally decided to figure it out when I get there. I wanted to explore the south island first as it seemed like a trekkers paradise and I am always driven towards the mountains. With my limited time, I choose to fly directly from Auckland to Christchurch and booked a flight and a hostel.

With all that, I was ready to go. There was a lot of excitement and a little bit of anxiety. I was taking some risks but what is a good travel without them after all? Without them, I don’t think I shall ever find out what lies on the other side of my world, beyond my comfort zone.

Continued Here 

Sunday, November 20, 2016


They say that a cat hides its pain very well. If it is injured or suffering from pain, it is very hard to recognise it in its early stages. Our 8 months old kitten Gundu, behaved no different. After his fall from a neighbouring building, he seemed to behave unaffected. It was only after a few weeks from the incident that we noticed his rapid breathing. He hated to be lifted or cuddled and avoided lying down sideways. This alarmed us of some abnormality. On his first visit to the Vet, Gundu was frantic. We were totally unable to control him during the drive. Out of fear and perhaps due to his unknown condition, he began to breath even more rapidly through his mouth. Doctor could not clearly tell if his breathing was an effect of anxiety or a disease so, she requested us to observe him for another week. 

We got him back home and kept him on observation. He seemed to eat as normal but his breathing still remained rapid. When I returned from Mumbai, Gundu had lost his appetite severely and had turned skinny. While describing his symptoms to another Vet over phone, he suspected that Gundu might have hurt his ribs during the fall. However, he could not say that for sure without a X-ray or proper diagnosis. 

Many of the Veterinary clinics  in Bangalore do not have X-ray facility and that makes it harder for us to shuttle the cat from one location to another. Searching for a good clinic that has all the facility, we landed at Jeeva, in J P Nagar. Dr Nagesh Reddy seemed to be sensitive and gentle towards the animals. Doctor Vishal who observed the X-ray of Gundu suspected that this was something strange that they had not seen before. In the X-ray, the heart and lungs were not clearly visible. The doctors suspected that there was fluid accumulation around them. To verify if the fluid had passed from the intestine to the region around the heart, due to a ruptured diaphragm, they gave us some bromide powder that had to be fed to Gundu. The routing could be then traced in an X-ray. 

That night, we had to sadly force Gundu to have those powder mixed in water. However, the next day, X-ray seemed normal. At least the diaphragm was not damaged. His blood test seemed normal as well. Antibiotic injected to him the previous day seemed to have improved his condition a little in terms of eating but he had severe constipation. A drop or two of Olive oil in water seemed to ease his excretion a bit. 

At Jeeva, we were directed to CUPA in R T Nagar. They suspected this was a heart condition and could be genetic. CUPA seems to be the best facility you can expect in Bangalore with some modern equipments. Most doctors seem to suggest going there if they do not have the necessary service. 

On a Saturday morning, I took Gundu to CUPA. He cried all the way, requesting me to open his basket and take him back home. He seemed very curious to explore the clinic but he had no strength to do so. So he kept looking around with great interest. Occasionally he looked at me and communicated with me. CUPA can get really crowded. After several minutes of wait a few doctors came in and performed an ultrasound. 

That which masked the heart and Lungs of Gundu, did not seem like fluid anymore. The doctors suspected it to be some kind of a tissue. They still tried to rupture and try to pull out the fluid. They warned me that this could be dangerous and there is a possibility that he might collapse. We had no other go. No fluid came out confirming that it was a case of Lymphoma (Cancer). The doctor said that this is very rare in kittens. Generally, common in older cats. Unfortunately, they could not do anything more but manage it. One of the doctors told me that if the growth had been in the stomach, they do remove it but around the heart can be challenging and they did not have that expertise here. They wrote me some antibiotics and immunity syrups. With a heavy heart, I carried Gundu back. Sadly, that was all we could do. I felt miserable but to know what Gundu was suffering from was an important. 

Gundu survived one week after that last visit to the hospital. In that one week, he craved for wet food, tried to eat as much as he could, drank milk when we fed him with our hands and responded when he was called. On Sunday, the 6th of November, when I returned from Jogging, Gundu was unable to move from his place. As we petted him with love, his soul departed releasing him from his pain once and for all.  

I called Gundu a dog and not a cat. Because, he never behaved like a cat. Every morning when my alarm went off, he would come sit in front of our bedroom door, ready to greet me. He ate food and drank milk only when we sat next to him and sometimes when we held the bowl of milk in our hands. He hardly went out and whenever he did, he wanted us to accompany him. Which was unusual because, the other cat, very much like a cat, cared nothing but of her timely feeding. 

Gundu had a short life, but in that short life, he brought joy to our house through his playfulness and his sensitivity. I hope, we made some difference in his life as well!

After all, animals are no different from humans. They hide their pain, we hide our pain too; if not physical, our mental dilemmas that we have still not successfully learnt to express.

To my dearest Gundu, You will be always remembered!

Gundu from AJEYA on Vimeo.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Mahuli Sangam & Baramotichi Vihir

Next morning, we got ready by 8 AM, ate some tasty poha for breakfast and left Kaas. Our first stop was Mahuli Sangam (Or Sangam Mahuli as could be found on Google maps). It is a beautiful place where river Krishna meets Venna river. There are a lot of temples around the bank of river Krishna but the most popular one is the Sangameswar temple. If you cross the river, you could reach the other temples.

After spending some peaceful time around there, we headed towards the Baramotichi Vihir, near Limb village known for a well with a palace built within it. It is something unique. There are some intricate work around the well. 

Apart from the well, there is nothing much in the village. The villagers were selling fresh vegetables and spices grown in their fields. 

On our way back to Panvel, we stopped at a Balaji temple a little before Pune. It is a typical South Indian temple. Free food was served for lunch. After having that, we continued our journey back to Panvel. On the way, we stopped at Datta snacks to have some tasty Kothambri vada, Vada Pav and  a sweet called Kharvas.

I had less than an hour to get ready and leave to the airport so I packed and left almost immediately after reaching home. A conversation with the taxi driver, observing an impatient man guiding his family to board the flight and hurrying even before the flight time was an hour away, browsing through the stores, Dealing with a very talkative Uber cab driver back in Bangalore, made up my travel back. 

This trip to Mumbai was so eventful that five days just flew by. Wheter it was the hike up Hatrishchandragad or Walk to different pendals around Panvel, or our kas and Satara exploration, all of it was very relaxed and at ease. There seemed no ru I always enjoy going to Mumbai and now with so many new friends, I think I should visit Mumbai more often. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Kaas Plateau

On the 11th of October, Ganesh Bhai, Akki, Deeku, Varun and I left Panvel at around 6 AM. My brother in law could not join us on this trip as he was traveling to China on work the same night. We stopped at Pune to have some delicious Misal Pav. I loved it. We also made another stop at Joshiwala to have delicious vada pav.

We directly drove to hotel Kas Pathar  (Contact Nilesh Mane - 9545149482, 9768223720. Website -  that is situated on the way to Kaas plateau from Satara. Its a beautiful bungalow with three rooms for tourists. The bungalow is situated at a cliff overlooking beautiful mountains. The place is neat and tidy and Mr Nilesh who owns this place is a kind host. He lives in Pune with his wife and kid while his mother and uncle look after the bungalow. On this day though, they were all here. We were allotted two rooms and we took off immediately to the plateau after looking around the beautiful place.

Kas plateau charges Rs100 per person and Rs100 for camera as an entry fee. Vehicle parking is planned poorly though. You have to park about 2 kms away and walk back to the main gate. Hitch-hiking with others who are on their way to park their vehicles would be a good alternative to walking the distance. 

The flowers in the plateau was not in abundance though. Having seen more flowers in Harishchandragad, this place seemed rather unimpressive with tourist pouring in. However, there were a few flowers unique to this location that I had not seen during the trek. 

We then headed towards Bamnoli boat club. We had rice Bakri and Pitla for lunch in a local restaurant and took a boat ride to an island. The ride was very peaceful and I truly felt like I was floating. At least my thoughts were.

At the island, while we sipped some tea with fresh lemon grass flavour, Deeku and Varun took a speed boat ride. 

Returning back, we stopped at a small temple that was a little off track from tourist attraction and thus deserted and peaceful. 

Just before reaching the bungalow, we found this beautiful location where a local was selling maggie, sandwiches and tea. We ordered all of them and sat there embracing the magnificent sight. It was a magical moment, as we sat there watching the sun go down. 

Back at the Bungalow, we had some really tasty dinner prepared by Nilesh’s mother. Chapati, Paneer dish, sabji, Dhal and home made sweet srikand was totally yummy. That just made my day. We chatted for a while and then went to bed. It was a relaxed evening, well spent in a beautiful place.