“Anandam” at Ananda

20 Jul

The word ‘Ānanda’ means ‘bliss’ in Pali, Sanskrit as well as other Indian languages. And BLISS is the best word to describe what I experienced during my 3 day stay at the Ananda Spa & Resort in the Himalayas. I have heard so much of this place that its been in my “To Do”  list for a while. And finally I told myself – “Don’t Think – ACT” and made an impulse decision to come for 3 nights. 9W 824 is a one hop flight from Bangalore to Dehradun Via Delhi (leaves at 07.50AM) and reaches Dehradun at 11.45. From the Jolly Grant airport Via Rishikesh its a 45 min drive to Ananda and I was in the hotel by  1.15 in time for a princely welcome and a stately lunch.

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The majestic hotel is housed in the property that was the Palace of the Garhwal King and is located at Narendra Nagar. Its named after Ma Ananda Mayi a Sadhvi who was the spiritual guru of the Maharaja. Its spread across 100 acres, of which 25 Acres is developed as the Resort and Spa. The main Palace does not have any rooms (Barring 1 regal suite) and the rooms are located 500m away from the reception/palace. Ananda has 78 rooms , 5 Suites and 3 Villas.

While there is a lot to talk about Ananda there are 3 things that stand out

1. Verdant greenery, pristine and manicured

2. Excellent service – very well trained professionals

3. Great Spa – with wide variety of excellent treatments

The fresh verdant greenery is soothing and calming to the eyes. As you enter the hotel and drive to your room you see these well maintained gardens . The gardens even have peacocks and the entire area is filled with a wide variety of chirping birds.

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The rooms are nice and comfortable. They all come with a  balcony, a nice walk in closet and all the latest amenities that you will find any 5 Star Luxury hotel. The Wi Fi is super fast and Phone signals are strong. You can even pack light because they give you sets of Pyjama/Kurta your size and encourage you to wear that in the property. They have 24 by 7 room service and a TV / VCR.  The view from the rooms is lovely – its either a garden view or a Valley View. The valley view in the morning is heavenly. And if you asks  kid to draw heaven this is what she will draw – Green hills with multiple layers of clouds and a blue sky.

The Villas are luxurious – and thats where Oprah stays when she comes to visit Ananda in her private jet. Many a former Prime Minister, dignitary and famous people have visited Ananda. (http://shanti.shawfirecreative.com/oprah-winfrey-returns-to-ananda)

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The Spa and the restaurant are very close to the Hotel rooms. The Spa has about 25 Treatment rooms and a wide variety of Treatments – Ayurveda, International Experiences, Healing With Hot Stone, Tibetan, Hydrotherapy – you name it they have it. The Spa is spacious , spotlessly clean and classy. All that it takes from ambience and experience to make it amongst the best in the world. Costs vary from Rs 4500 for a 55 min session to 8500/- for a 90 min session. But get your appointments at check in – they are almost always packed out. Adjoining the Spa is a large heated swimming pool and a decent Gym.

The restaurant serves a wide range of dishes from indian to international cuisine. You can have “Mung Dal Chila” for breakfast, Pasta and Thai Green curry for lunch and Curd Rice for dinner. You name the dish they have it. But what you must try is the special Garhwali food. This is made to order and comes with its own set of starters, soup, main course and desserts. The kababs are fabulous and the main course consisting of Jakhiya Aloo, Pahadi Kadi, Jakhiya Paneer, Gahat Ki Dal, Jakhiya Rice, Mandwe Ki Roti was a wonderful dinner. (And if you are wondering what is Jakhiya – its a smaller version of Mustard that grows here). The service in the restaurant is outstanding – and thats a common theme across all of Ananda, superlative service at every step.

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One good thing that adds to the peace and tranquility of the place is that they do not allow kids below the Age of 14. This place is perfect for couples or to come solo. There are many activities – they have Yoga classes for beginners and intermediates in the morning, a 9 Hole Golf course, Vedanta classes, Cooking Classes etc. Outside the resort you can go for the Ganga Aarti at Rishikesh or White Water Rafting at Shivpuri (During Non Monsoon Season). Peak season is Oct – Feb when the foreigners come in hordes, many of them staying for weeks and months.

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In July with the Monsoon it was perfect for me. Occupancy was a low 30% , it was raining 50% of the time – that added to the charm. At the pavilion in the midst of nature at 5.30 Am when you sit down to do your meditation listening to the pitter patter of rain and chirping of birds – it indeed feels like waves of peace are blowing over you. The “Kavad” season made Rishikesh so crowded that we were asked to stay away. The Ganga was in spate in Monsoon so white water rafting was closed. It starts again in Sep. But all this was good as it allowed me to spend all my time in the resort and soak in the nature, peace and tranquility.

I did take a few hrs and visit the famous ” Vashisht Caves”. This is located 45 Km from Ananda – 1 hr drive. Located on the banks of the Ganges this is the cave where the Brahma Rishi – Sage Vashisht is supposed to have meditated. Since then from Shankara to Sir M – many spiritually evolved people have come here to meditate. The place is empty and nice and the caves have strong vibrations which you can sense when you sit there for even a few minutes. Fortunately its not crowded.

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As I sat by the Ganges – flowing relentlessly you realise the power of Nature and the thought that this river has been flowing for millions of years leaves you with a sense of awe and humility. The river feels alive and it can teach you so many lessons. The summary of what it says is  - “Keep moving and don’t look back, for men may come and men may go but life goes on for ever

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 So will I come back to Ananda. Most people do – and I definitely want to come back with my wife soon. Maybe in a  different season. I am looking forward to that day. Ananda beckons. 

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Back to College – Surat Transformed

11 Jul

What a transformation in 22 years. Both our college – REC Surat (Now NIT Surat) and the city has transformed beyond expectations.  It feels like yesterday in 1992 when the final results came and we were all overjoyed to have completed our engineering degrees. There was always the fear of what would happen in FM6 – that was one terror of a paper but the good Dr Khajuria had ensured that there was a 100% pass – even if many did not deserve to pass.

The story of our college starts with the Icchanath (Shiva) temple at the main gate. The good lord has heard the fervent prayers of most students and ensured that the elusive 36 always happened and his aura kept the draconian ATKT’s  away . The temple is still there but the “thela wala’s” selling Sugarcane Juice , Bread Pakoda and Pan are all gone. When I think of the Bread Pakoda shop I think of the dimunitive Nara and how he managed 4 years of snacks at that joint without paying a penny during the crowded breaks.

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As you enter the college the admin department looks the same, faced by green lawns and lovely gardens. But you see an imposing building in the left. Thats the new girls hostel – a massive structure that has replaced the small building that could house 20 girls in the midst of the staff quarters. Lucky guys –  the male female ratio’s seem to be getting corrected in college finally.

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Not just the girls hostels – all the other hostels are also revamped.  The old ones are abandoned or demolished. Picture below is of Hostel 2 – now abandoned.

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Hostel 1 is now a fancy building with lifts. Rooms are 2 seaters and it looks like a fancy apartment complex. This massive structure accommodates all of Hostel 1,2 & 3 and more.

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Shanker’s canteen no longer exists and as you walk towards Gajjar Bhavan you see the new Gajjar Bhavan – another large impressive building that stretches all along the road

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Walking down the road the Physical education centre is still the same and so is the medical centre. Gandhi Bhavan is also abandoned and a new hostel with A?C rooms has come in its place. Looks like a lot of MTech / Phd students – many with family in campus.

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The mech department looks the same and the labs still are the same – not many additions on the infrastructure side. I see the list of professors and a few names like Professor H.B.Naik still continue to be there. The college has added new departments in Chemical engineering.

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The canteen was empty but still serving Cutting Chai , Poha , Mitha Toast and Omlette. Inflation has caught on and the 50 Paisa cutting is now Rs 7/-. The library is still the same building. Right behind the Library is a new hostel complex coming up.  It was wonderful seeing how the college has transformed. I even spotted some peacocks in the campus.

Surat as a city has also transformed. The stretch from College to Dumas which was empty with small restaurants dotting both sides of the road has changed. This stretch and the university road stretch is full of apartments  and Malls. Its a broad 4 lane road that is being concretised.

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The city is full of flyovers, Athwa Gates , Textite Market , Adajan – all have their own large ones. Trafiic is busy but organised. You can see the Modi infrastructure charm in effect. The river looks clean and was flowing strong and vibrant along Chowpatty.

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All is vibrant and shining in Surat. The only challenge was the airport. Surat Airport sucks. Our Spice jet flight to Mumbai was delayed by 3 hrs. The airport had no electricity for 3 hrs ( This when I thought Gujarat had no power cuts even in the villages) , toilets were stinking. With just 2 – 3 flights a day and AAI running the show it was a disappointment. The only disappointment from my 1 day trip.

Its always a nostalgic trip to visit your college after many trips. And the 1 hr I spent between 8 – 9 AM in the midst of a rushed 1 day business trip was well worth it.

North of the Narmada!

9 Jul

Some history facts from school days have stuck in my mind. One of them is the 634 AD victory of Pulakesin – II the great Chalukya King over Harshavardhan who ruled almost all of N India. A pitched battle was fought on the banks of the Narmada and Harsha lost. Since then the Narmada river has been a natural border between North &  South and a distinct culture, ethos and value system separates the two regions.

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Rudyard Kipling in The Ballad of East & West says “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet“. I am going to extend this to the North & the South of India, and look at some interesting facts that differentiate the two.

I did a quick search on Google and found that since Independence almost 80% of the tenure of Finance Ministers in India have come from states that are below or along the Narmada (Bengal & Gujarat Included) – Chidambaram , Pranab Da, R.Venkatraman, C.S.Subramaniam, T.T.Krishnamachari, R.K.Shanmugam Shetty, S.B.Chavan, Y.B.Chavan, C.D.Deshmukh, Morarji Desai are some of the famous politicians who have held the post of Finance Misnister of india – all of them are from below the Narmada. ( the remaining 20% of the time we have had the Singh’s and Sinhas and Tiwari’s to name a few)

So is the case with the RBI Governors , here probably 90% of the tenure has been held by people from below the Narmada since independence – From the Current Raghuram Rajan to the formers – Subba Rao, Y.V.Reddy, C.Rangarajan, S.Jagannathan, H.V.R.Iyengar, M.Narasimhan, A.Ghosh, P.C.Bhattacharya , K.G.Amegaonkar and many more.

But the trend changes when you look at the Chief Justice of India, Chief of Army Staff and even Prime Ministers. Here people from North of the Narmada have brutally dominated in these posts since independence.

Lets analyse some more cases.

People of Indian origin or close linkage to India who have won the Nobel prize. 

Rabindranath Tagore, C. V. Raman, Amartya Sen, Hargobind Khorana, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and V.S.Naipul – Barring one again all are S Indians or Bengalis. Ramanujam the mathematical genius was also a S Indian and J.C.Bose the prolific inventor a Bengali.

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Since independence till the 70′s the IAS officer were predominantly Tamil Brahmins or Bengalis or Maharashtrians – and then reservation changed the game. Even today the largest no of CA’s come from the Chennai and Kolkatta centre. It so happens that the Kolkatta centre has started sending a lot of Marwari’s but yes birds of the same feather flock together – so a large number of Gujaratis, Jains and Marwaris have actually migrated to Chennai and Kolkatta.

Large Indian Software Companies and Indian MNC Heads 

CEO’s of almost the top Indian Software Companies were S.Indians (before Mr Sikka) but India Country Managers of most MNC’s are of  N Indian origin. The former needs scale and strategy and the latter is purely quarterly sales driven and the art of diplomacy to manage the masters. Nadella at the helm of MS is a S Indian and so was Krish Prabhu who was heading Alcatel many years back.

Spiritual Saints 

Lets look at some Spiritual Giants – Shankara, Ramanuja, Ramana Maharishi, Shirdi Sai, Ramakarishna, Vivekananada , Sant Dynaneshwar, Sant Tukaram, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Raghavendra Swami…… almost all the names that are renowned in the spiritual world come from below the Naramada. And present day gurus or god men like Sai Baba, Sri Sri, Jaggi Vasudev (Yes we have Baba Ramdev from North and Nithyananda from the South  - but I guess they don’t fall in this league)

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So the big Q – what makes this happen ?

Is it the Power of Rice? Yes Bengal,  T.Nadu and Andhra are predominantly Rice eaters and looking at the high % of Intellectuals and spiritual Gurus from these states one may reckon that this has something to do with the Power of Rice. And is it the  power of Wheat and Chicken that makes the Defence Chiefs  and the thick skinned politicians come largely from North of the Narmada.

Studying in a REC (Now NIT) I had the opportunity to observe three batches before me and after me – so a total of 7 batches of students across 4 years from every state in the country. Thats a large sample size for any survey analysis.

Three key observations I recollect from my College days

  • Diplomacy and aggression became more visible the more Up North you went from the Narmada. Trust Quotient went down.
  • Guys from the South and East tried to commit and deliver and there was a sense of guilt on going back on your commitment. There was no such remorse in students from the North – offence was the best form of defence for them. They were brutally thick skinned.
  • College Secretary post was always won by a N Indian but the Literary Committee secretary was always a Tamilian or Bengali.

In the 23 years I have worked in the Corporate world travelling all across India – I have tried to break the above logic but sadly I see it being true even today. Sure there are exceptions and I have a few N Indian friends who beat the stereotype totally – but thats more an exception than the norm. (And in S India you will find an A.Raja and N.Srinivasan) – but the big picture is clearer. A curd ricing eating S Indian symbolises - hard working, straightforward, not political and a Dilli Wala stands for ” Jugad, Smart Talk – and in a way an empty vessel that makes noise”

What makes North different? Is it the years of facing invaders at the borders and seeing your family, kith and kin slaughtered in front of you. Is  flexibility and adaptability an outcome of having to live under the rule of brutal invaders & Mughals for almost a 100o years ? I don’t know – but clearly there is a difference.

Yes the Idli has invaded the country, and Salwar Kameez is as popular in Tamil Nadu as Punjab but when it comes to genes and DNA the core is very different –  and I have no qualms in saying that  North is North and South is South and the twain shall never meet ideologically.

 

 

 

Soft Skills Training – An investment with ROI or a Robbery ?

27 Jun

I recently read an article by Rajeev Peshwaria in Forbes titled  ” The Great Training Robbery: Why the $60 Billion Investment In Leadership Development Is Not Working” .

The timing was right – we had just completed a bunch of training for our team and while everyone enjoyed the sessions the verdict on what its efficacy would be over the long run was debatable.

Clearly Corporate HR managers see dwindling value from Training investment. When I joined my first job in the early 90′s Induction Training was a 30 day residential affair. Today most companies say learn on the job after a 1/2 day induction. You can’t blame the HR folks – there is a linkage to this with attrition – and the CFO questions the ROI on the investment. In the 90′s of a batch of 30 inductees every year you probably lost 1 at the end of the year, today you may lose the whole batch in 6 months . So why be a Training academy is the question.  If you look at it from this aspect yes investment in Training does feel like a Training Robbery.

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Lets look at the millions spent on Training mid and Sr management. People entrenched in the company in the mid 30′s or early 40′s. Most come with strong mindsets and getting them out of their mould itself is a big job. Many more come thinking this is my 6 monthly off day to get a break that HR has officially planned. There are hundreds of companies  evangelising content around Communication, Creative Thinking, Presentation Skills, Emotional Intelligence, Outbound Workshops on Team Building …….. and many many more. Most of these companies do a  good job. The content is brilliant, the Trainers do a great job and if you see the feedback form at the end of the session it almost always a WOW – but the Q is how long does this effect retain, is it practised, is there a change in habit – you need all this to show that the impact and ROI has happened.

Learning Pyramid

The standard learning pyramid says that training stickiness improves when the participant not just listens , but practises what he learns in real life. But the Q is how do you make that happen ?

In the last 6 months we have conducted two different set of programs by the same company and faculty (BlueChakra Talent - http://www.bluechakratalent.com, Faculty – Papiya Sarkar). The first program was for our team of Trainers – a motley group of  highly stressed out trainers who needed direction , advanced skills and tools to energise themselves.  The second program was for the sales team  on Communication tools to be effective in Negotiation & Objection handling. The content was customised and prepared after months of close discussions with Business and after talking to all the stakeholders. The delivery in both cases were by the same faculty and their facilitation skills were excellent – however one program was a HIT and is now on a journey that has changed the lives of the Trainers. On the second program for the sales team the verdict is still not out – but my feeling is that the halo effect will slowly diminish in a few months and all will be forgotten.

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There are 3 Things that made the 1st program for the Trainers successful

1. There was a NEED. The content was customised to that NEED. The team size was small and the approach was consultative and warm. It felt homely and comfortable to ask Q, clarify, reach out both during the program and after.

2. There was CONTINUITY. The first session had mixed feedback. Participant feedback ranged from this may not work  -  to I know it all. There was a sense of concern – on why this program, are we not good enough. But once we started doing this on a  quarterly basis the rhythm set in and people started seeing the value.

3. The COACH helped a lot and the lead Trainer was always there. The amazing content and tools would have gone down the drain if the coach from the company (Mentor Trainer) had not worked with each individual in the  3 months post the session to inculcate all the learnings. His patience and commitment made all the difference in making the learnings practicable and relevant. Once the participants practised and saw the improvements – it stuck, gave them the confidence to to do it more often till it became a HABIT.

The second program lacked a COACH. the sales managers were busy with their job and just worried about the targets. They could not spend time with the 25 + reportees they had on a  regular basis. HR was not involved – and even if involved could not have made an impact as this is a job of the line mangers to inculcate the learnings.

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In summary – I don’t agree with the article in FORBES which says that Training is a Robbery. But if the organisation and the manager do not invest in making the Training Investment a Habit – then yes it will definitely be a investment down the drain. So to deliver value lets Train our managers to be good Coaches – because there are so many skills to be learnt and improved if we want our teams to succeed and grow and be relevant in the fast changing economy.

 

Orange County – Coorg

27 May

Orange County Coorg , Located at Siddapura about 235 Km from Bangalore ( 6 Hrs Drive) is a lovely resort embedded in the midst of nature. Along the river Cauvery in the midst of dense greenery Orange County is a 300 acre Coffee / Spice Plantation – the resort in the middle of this is spread over 35 acres.

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Coorg is often called the Scotland of India because of the uncanny similiarirty – both were cold , misty mountainous regions. On my last visit 5 years back I was happy to see that Coorg was still not exploited. Club Mahindra and Orange County were the only 2 large resorts. But this time I found many many more – Windflower, Amana, Tamara, Taj and a second Club Mahindra. Some of these are at the beginning opt Coorg while others are deep down. Windflower and Amana come first and Tamara is the farthest away. It took us 6 Hrs to Reach Orange County on a long weekend that included a 30 min breakfast stop and we were in time for the 2 PM lunch Buffet. The good thing is there is no hill drive and Pin bends – so works fine for people with funny stomach. The Bangalore Mysore Road is jammed on long weekends and the road from Mysore to Coorg Via Hunsur is also getting busy. Roads are in great condition

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The Resort is a Villa only property ( 60 of them) and come in different shapes and sizes. We had the Lily Pool which is a Villa with its own small private pool. Large hall , dining space , very large bedroom and bath and a portico facing the pool. Its a 20 year old property but very well maintained and the quality of service is impeccable. The property is well spread across 35 Acres has multiple water bodies , pools and 3 restaurants. Its nestled in the midst of greenery and in the morning it took me 20 minutes to make a relaxed walk in the misty green ambience. It had rained the previous day and you can smell the mud, hear the dew drops falling on the leave , the birds chirping and smell the fresh mountain air packed with spices and medicated leaves.

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The place is meditative and you can sit down below a tree or next to the lake or even climb the tree house. You just need to close your eyes and peace and tranquility creeps in immediately. The 1 hr of peace and solitude in the morning makes up for the expensive luxury ( 25K / night for all inclusive family package – Room , + all meals + activities)

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The resort has many activities that start at 7 in the morning and continue thru the day. You need to make advance reservations. Of the different ones we loved the Plantation Trail – which is a ride in a Tractor all through the plantation and the Mountain bike ride in the morning.

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The place has 3 lovely Restaurants – Granary ( Multi-cuisine) , Pepper Corn ( Continental) and Plantation Leaf ( Veg S indian) – food quality is great and the variety in the buffet for breakfast and lunch is impressive. Pepper Corn is a candle light dinner place. Dinner reservations are needed at both Pepper Corn and Plantation Leaf. There is a kids activity centre and a well stocked reading lounge – a well maintained Ayuverda Spa that offers great rejuvenating massage, and every evening they put up some show with local artistes.

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River Cauvery runs along the Resort – 5 min walk and the Dubare elephant campus close by ( 15 min drive) . Other things to see in Coorg are the Abbey falls , Talacauvery ( Source of Cauvery – good 2 hr drive) and the Tibetan Monastery. A small park called Nisarga Dham is close to the Monastery and has a deer park. The public spaces are not well maintained , crowded in peak season – I would rather you stay away from them.

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The resort is relaxing and peaceful for a 3 night stay and if your objective is to de-stress and relax just stay in the resort and don’t venture out. Long walks , good food, fresh air , sleep in the afternoon , family time – its as good as it can get.

The service is excellent and we had nothing to complaint about at the end of the trip. Mobile phones work , TV connection is good , Bathrooms are well equipped , room service a tad slow but works. They provide accommodation and food for drivers.

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Having visited Orange County we are looking forward to the next trip to Orange County Kabini – and the best time to visit that place is after the rains maybe in Oct.

Directions

Bangalore (235 Kms) – Mysore Highway – Ramnagaram – Maddur – Mandya – Srirangapatna (4 Kms from town turn Right towards Elivala) – Elivala – Hunsur – Piriyapatna (1/2 km after town turn left towards Siddapura) – 3 Kms before Siddapura town, turn right for Orange County, Coorg

 

Turncoat Quotes on May 16th

23 Apr

Look out for these quotes from the famous turncoat politicians of India by May 16th lunch time.

 

Lalu-Prasad-Yadav

 

We are a democratic country. We have to go by what the people of the country  decide. The thumping majority for BJP and Modi Ji makes it clear that the people of the country do not hold him accountable for the  Gujarat Incident. With both the Supreme Court and the people of India giving Modi Ji a clean chit – who am I to question him ? The country has voted for Growth and an end to Corruption – the RJD will support him in his cause. My biggest issue was with JDU, now that they have been wiped out I am open to working with BJP towards making Bihar a prosperous and progressive state like Gujarat.

 

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I have always had high regard for Modi Ji. As the food minister I have seen how Gujarat has always been in the forefront of productivity. The NCP has the same agenda as Modi Ji of progress. To create jobs and ensure that the poor farmers of the country are included in the growth story. Gujarat and Maharasthra are twin states – we were actually one state at independence , I am very happy that finally someone from West India has become the Prime Minister. I did not contest this time. Its for Supriya and Ajit to decide. My daughter and the younger generation are looking forward for change and the country progressing rapidly. My best wishes to Modi Ji and he is always assured of our support for development.

 

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I am happy that finally an OBC has become the prime minister of this country. The grave injustice that has been done over the years will finally get resolved. The SP was always with the Congress , we were always against the policies of the UPA that was against the Dalits. I am confident that a OBC leader will be more considerate towards the needs of the poor and the downtrodden. I am confident that very soon we will throw out the inefficient gonda raj in UP and the BJP & BSP can form a strong government together.

Unknown

 

Our campaign is based on “Ma , Mati , Manush”. From Pranab Da to Chidambaram the UPA govt has not helped Bengal. The Left has messed up the state. Who has ruled the state since independence – its the Congress and the Left. They are responsible for this mess. My only priority is the progress of W Bengal. I have fought hard to become the CM and I want to deliver on my promise to my people. I need the support of the centre for this. If Modi Ji can help us to create jobs , and reduce our deficit – if he can give us a special package I am ready to support him.

 

jayalalitha1

 

TN and Gujarat are two of the most progressive states in the country. Both me and Modi Ji have brought about progress in-spite of the difficulties created by the UPA in the centre. We have shown how good capable administrators can run a state well. I have always been an admirer of the vision and development work of Mr Modi. The AIADMK is happy to support him – we need a friend at the centre to help us grow rapidly and meet the aspirations of the people.

 

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Telengana is a new state. We need to work closely with the Central Government to create a prosperous state and meet the dreams of our people. It has been a long march to creation of Telengana. The Congress party has promised many times and failed – it is finally with the support of the BJP that this state has happened. We owe our thanks to the support of BJP to make Telengana a reality. We now look forward to their support to make Telengana a model state like Gujarat.

And lastly Manish Tiwari and Kapil Sibal were out of country and not available for comment.

Krabi & Bangkok – a Family Holiday

7 Apr

Mid April we were in a  limbo as the holidays planned in Nov last year came undone ( thanks to some friends backing off in the last min) . A one week vacation in Apr 1st week is a ritual – the day the schools end we head off for a family vacation. The brief given to me by my family was like this –  we want a vacation that is “not Ordinary run of the mill ,  direct flight , not a long flight , economical but luxurious ,  lots of activities for kids, food should not be a problem , preferably 2 places if we are going for a week”  - add to this I did not have the time for Visa Processing so had to find a country that had Visa on Arrival.

The shortlist was Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bali & Thailand – finally with all the above considerations Krabi & Bangkok came out as the winner. Our last visit to Bangkok/ Pattaya was in 2006 and it was an eye opener when we visited this time. 10 Years of UPA paralysis and the Baht was 2X the Rupee ( In 2006 it was almost at par) . Thailand has moved from Crowded – Chaotic to Less Crowded – Organised and the infrastructure / facilities is comparable to Singapore / Malaysia. Its also got a lot to see at economical rates and the XXX tag associated with Bangkok is slowly going away. lets dig into some details of the trip.

Stage – 1 : Bangalore to Krabi 

Thai airways leaves Bangalore for Bangkok at 1 AM. Bad timing. Good clean plane , great services , good Indian food, thru check in  - but the leg space is disastrous. It is so cramped that even a 5 footer will struggle. Add to this they have some steel boxes below each seat so you can’t even stretch your legs. But this is the only direct flight option. The plane lands at Bangkok Swarnabhumi airport  at 6 AM. ( which is 4.30 AM India given that there is a 90 Min time lag) We had our connection to Krabi at 8 AM. Right from arrival where you see a massive “Samudra Manthan” depiction you will see Hindu religion effects all over Thailand – but more of that later.

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We rushed to the section from where the Krabi flight takes off ( a good 1 Km walk) and after filling the forms when we reached the Q we were asked to go and collect our Visa on arrival. I thought that Krabi being port of arrival – we would get our Visa there but no it has to be Bangkok. We rushed back 1 Km . Stood in a Q for currency change , Passport photos and finally made it to the Visa Q … a long one. It was 645 AM – and I was panicking. Fortunately there was second shorter line where there was a Tatkal equivalent 1200 Baht for Visa Vs the 1000 Baht in the longer line. We rushed there managed to get the Visa in 10 min and headed back the 1 Km walk again towards the Krabi flight – the immigration folks were helpful and seeing us as a hassled family pushed us ahead in the Q – we finally reached the flight boarding zone at 7.45 AM.

Moral of the story – 1 ) Get your Thai Visa in India 2) If you want Visa on Arrival – first get that and then proceed to your connection to Krabi / Phuket / Koh Samui etc  3) Keep more than 2 hrs for your connection if u need Visa on Arrival 4) Keep USD with you so you can exchange for Thai Baht 

The Bangkok Krabi section on Thai is wonderful. Big plane , very spacious , good snacks , friendly service and the leg space a lot more comfortable than the Indian sector. Its a 1 hr 20 min flight and we landed on the dot at 9.20 AM. No Immigration here and you can collect your luggage and head to the waiting Limo in 10 minutes. We were in the car at 9.30 and at the Sheraton Krabi at 10.20 AM.

Stage – 2:  Sheraton & Krabi  

Krabi is a small tourist town. Was supposedly a offbeat exotic location 10 years back but is now a hot spot. Its just 100 Km from Phuket. We stayed at the Sheraton Krabi – the best property in town. And with the elder one 13 we had to take two rooms – we were lucky to get rooms that were interconnected.  I had booked online using a combination of SPG points and paid and being a Gold member managed to get a room at 10.30 AM. Normal check in time is 2 PM in the afternoon. A few other families who had come from India were not so lucky as their booking were done thru tour operators and the tired families were stuck in the lobby for 3 + hrs.

Imp Point – Remember to check the chef in time and plan your arrival time accordingly. After a late night flight and sleepy tired children you don’t want to start your holiday  waiting in the lobby.

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The Sheraton Krabi reminded us a little of the Park Hyatt at Goa. Its huge – over 300 rooms , spread over a vast expanse, lovely landscaping , beautiful private beach,  great big pools , and some amazing restaurants. (Continental , India, Thai , Italian ) . Lots of activities for Kids – you can actually spend a few days relaxing in the Resort without going anywhere. Service is decent but not comparable to what you get in Business hotels. Room service takes 45 minutes and the waiters in the restaurants struggle to understand english. Check in check out takes about 20 minutes each. The Wi Fi in the room is weak and keeps going on and off intermittently. The food is great and the Thai green curry truly lip smacking.  Food rates are decent – a family of 4 can dine well for 2500 Baht ( ~ Rs 5000). If you want to check out food outside – there is a Indian Nepali restaurant right outside. ( we did not go – not wanting to take a risk with the kids stomach early in the holiday). Right outside is also 3 Massage Spas – again a lot cheaper than the exotic Spa in the Hotel.

Tip – 3 : When in Thailand ensure to have a massage every day . My wife accompanied me every day and the little one also enjoyed her 1st foot massage. A delicious Foot Massage costs 250 Baht / Hr and a Thai Massage about 500 Baht. Thats a fraction of what you pay in India and the Q in Thailand is far far better. 

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The travel desk in the hotel helps plan all your trips and there is a lot you can do in Krabi. Great beaches, rain forests , hot springs , snorkelling, rock climbing, trekking, kayaking – we saw over 15 different half day and full day packages. Prices ranging from 800 Baht/ person to 3000 Baht / person. Tours start at 8 AM and finish by lunch or around 4 PM. We took two day trips – one to the beaches , snorkelling , seeing the old Viking caves and the second one to a rainforest and hot spring.

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We spent 3 nights at Krabi and loved the place. We could have stayed one night more. Our flight to Bangkok was at 1.30 in the afternoon and we left by 10.45 and reached well in time at 11.30 for the flight.

Stage – 3: Bangkok

We reached Bangkok at 3.10 PM and the Hyatt had sent a Merc  to pick us up. Small luxuries which the kids enjoy (My rule is that family holidays should be at par with business trips). The check in was a breeze, being a platinum member we were taken straight to the upgraded rooms ( again two rooms interconnected ) and were informed that breakfast was in the lounge and on the house ! The Hyatt really has the best frequent Stay program.

We were famished and had a lovely lunch – combination of Green Curry , Veg Fried Rice , Noodles  and Curd. ( Try it out Thai Green curry , Veg Fried Rice and Plain Yogurt is a nice combination).

The Grand Hyatt at Erawan is located right in the heart of Bangkok. Opposite some of the largest Malls, Ocean World, Science Centre, Madam Tussauds and the main shopping district. (Paragon Mall , Siam Centre, One Alpha Centre etc). These are the luxury premium Malls – but Platinum Mall and MBK the low cost ones are also a stones throw away.

I am visiting Bangkok after 2006 and the city has really developed. The main road now has a sky walk that is directly below the Metro- thats  smart , uses the same infrastructure and has protection from the sun. It connects all the malls , hotels that are on this road. Service and punctuality in Bangkok was always good. It has the best of Indian & Chinese Traditions. Across Thailand wherever you go you can’t miss the Hindu / Indian connection. You will find temples of Ganesha , Vishnu , Shiva in all major road junctions. At Krabi we even saw a statue of Shiridi Sai Baba in a  Buddha temple with  Lakshmi & Ganesha. They even celebrate their new year Songkran like we do Holi. And its date coincides with the Tamil New Year date / Vishu. Clearly these guys originated from India.

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The food used has a lot of fresh coconut, Tropical fruits like Guava, Durian (Jackfruit), Litchi is available in plenty. They always greet you with a warm Namaskar.

The few hrs we had on Day 1 we spent walking around and visiting some nearby Malls and checking out what to do the next day.

After breakfast we started the next day with a trip to Siam Ocean World (Located at Paragon Mall – 10 min walk from Hyatt Erawan). I have seen underwater theme parks at Vancouver , Singapore , Sydney and Houston and this one compares with the best. Takes about 90 min to do a relaxed trip around the whole zone. They have feeding + other activities and you can time your trip to cover most of them.

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You can also buy a Combo ticket that includes Madam Tussauds. This is located a few malls ways ( 10 min walk) and is again a good place to spend a few hrs. We did Siam Ocean World , Lunch , Madam Tussauds and then some shopping and were back in the room at 4 PM.

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In the evening we visited a friend who moved to Bangkok some months back and got to see the well organised manner in which they have settled down so fast. Quality of life is far better in Bangkok than in Bangalore. And once again I came back with the feeling that India is overpriced, shoddy quality, too much of a hassle to get anything done. After 5 days we devoured the simple tasty meal of Dal, rice , roti , subji and curd and spent a wonderful evening with them.

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Day 3 at Bangkok was safari world. A Zoo / Safari that is located about 1 hr drive from Central Bangkok. We took a car with a guide. The Zoo has a good variety of animals – 100′s of Giraffes, many Tigers , Lions , Bisons – but the highlight were the shows – Orangutan , Elephant , Sea Lion and Dolphin shows were big hits with the kids .

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However the highlight of this trip was the wonderful lunch at the Safari. The lunch hall is a large hall that can accommodate over 1000 people and they have a section dedicated for Indian food. What joy after a long day to sit down to a meal of Kadi, Chawal  Bhindi, Aloo Gobi, Rice & Curd. ( They also had a good variety of Indian Non Veg)

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On the way back from the Safari we stopped by an emporium that sells jewellery , jades , rubies , emeralds ( good stuff but overpriced) and traditional Thai stuff. Picked up a few knick knacks and then headed back to the hotel room.

On the last day our flight was at 9 PM , the hotel had given us a late checkout at 4 PM – so we had the full day to ourselves. The Travel Desk at the Hyatt has a variety of packages to choose from – we settled on the Day trip to the 3 famous Temples ( Golden Buddha , Sleeping Buddha , Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. A drive thru Little India & China Town and a walk through the flower market.  This market again brings back memories of India as you see fresh flowers and garlands piled up in heaps.

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The temple & palace visits are well organised. Not crowded. But its a hot 38 Degrees in April, so you need your caps , hats and lots of water. The temples are grand and i sometimes wonder how Buddha would have felt had he seen his Golden & Emerald temples. You can cover the temples in 30 min but the Grand Palace will take about 2 hrs. It also houses a few museums.

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We were back in the Hotel for lunch and managed a 1 hr snooze. Checked out at 4 PM and took a  last walk down to the mall for some ice cream. And once again could not restrain myself from appreciating the finish , class and  eye for customer service that these small countries have. They have evolved design and service to a totally new level.

Could we have done more – yes we could have. They have night markets , floating markets , Cabarets , Old City , Visit to the famous Bridge on river Kwai and many more things. But we picked things that this kids would like best.

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Fri evening Traffic at Bangkok was bad . We left at 6 PM  & reached the Swarnabhumi airport by 7.30 PM and were all set for our flight that left at 9 PM and reached Bangalore at 11.30 PM.

A good trip of 6 nights. Departure Fri night arrival Fri night. Good entertainment for all in the family. How expensive was it ? Not very – given that we stayed in the best of hotels and dined at the fanciest restaurants.  Air fares are decent – cosy us 92 K ,  Hotels cogs us about 75 K in each place inclusive of our dining ( but then we had many rooms on points and paid for less than 50% of room nights) , add shopping and local sight seeing the daily massages – we probably would have spent $ 5000. If I compare this with the last two holidays we took in India – Kashmir & palace on wheels it is comparable in cost.

That completes this years family holiday project – need to start thinking of the next one as were running out of ideas if we need to meet the family criteria of “not Ordinary run of the mill , direct flight , not a long flight , economical but luxurious , lots of activities for kids, food should not be a problem , preferably 2 places if we are going for a week”

We love Thailand and people say that Koh Samui is an equally wonderful place – so for all you  know we may be back there after a few years

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