A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Month: April 2013


During WW II London was bombed , almost all of Europe was demolished, Japan was nuked – yet in  a short span they rebuilt their cities and went to on to become great countries. All this thanks to the leadership of some great people and the hard work of  the common man. Europe has a history that can be traced back 2000+ years to the time of the Romans, Greek’s , Spartans , Vikings , Gauls…. the US has literally no history and is a country of immigrants. The point that needs to be made is whether its a company or a country good capable people  make all the difference. Lets keep this point in mind as we move on.

London Bombed

Whats the history of our country in a few lines. A great civilization , probably the oldest , home to some of the oldest scriptures and holy writings which supposedly have a wealth of information written in such a cryptic manner that only a blessed few can understand them ,  a Religion which is more a way of life , great stories like the Ramayana & The Mahabharata which every kid knows from his childhood. A clear demarcation of what is good (Gods & Deva’s) and what is bad (Asura’s) , Millions of God’s, a strong caste system that is accepted and rarely contested – and then the external invasions and how all the greatness was stomped out and we were relegated to poverty and strife.

I dont know if the above is true or if its a holy brainwash – like every kid in India I have heard the same stories , read the same Amar Chitra Katha’s and as a parent propagated the same information to my children. But I now have a few questions. Every story has two sides to it – the version of the winner that projects him to be the greatest and everything else as evil. Have we tried to find out the other side of the story ? There are hardly any facts and historic data to prove the veracity of the stories we have heard – but there are many questions in my mind.  In the last few months I have visited the Louvre & the British Museum – right when you enter both is the entrance to the Egyptian Section – you will see hall after hall , row after row of artifacts that date back 2000 – 3000 years old.

Egyptian Section

Surprisingly none of the worlds greatest museums have any section of ancient India. What you will get to see of India is mainly the Chola Bronzes that date around 800 – 1200 AD and then the Mughal Miniature paintings. The oldest structure we see in India are probably 500 BC and they represent some ancient Buddhist Temples , Fresco Cave paintings , Stone Edicts . From Egypt we have proof that stone statues can survive over 3000 years , so what happened – did we lose all the ancient palaces, building , structures of the great old days ? Many of them would have got submerged – but excavations could have revealed them like they revealed the Indus Valley Civilization.

Lets step back and look at the story of Ramayana. Yes Rama vanquished Ravana – and since then poor Ravana has been the symbol of a perfect Villain. But was Ravana indeed a villain as he is portrayed. Is there a second perspective to this. Were the Asuras really demons and the “Bad people” and the devas the greatest. The word Asura has a close resemblance to ” Ahura” which comes from the Persian Language and means great warriors. Ravana , Bahubali were all Asura kings who were known for being great administrators and valiant warriors. Ravana is portayed as an egoist with 10 heads  – but maybe he had the valor & the intelligence of 10 people , you just need to step into Sri Lanka and the stores of Ravana there are very different from what you hear this side of the border.


Was Indra a great king of the Deva’s ?  or was he in charge of a brigand that used to attack the existing rulers (Asura Kings) and the innocent citizens – If he was indeed a great king of the Deva’s how come there are no temples or hymns in his praise that we chant every day.


Was Kubera the king of wealth or just a shrewd Shylock ? who made money out of others not always with principles.

Was Kumbakarna addicted to drugs which caused him to be drowsy all the time ?  and maybe the poppy plant  grew for only 6 months – hence he was awake the rest of the 6 months

Was Varuna the king of the Seas or just a pirate who controlled the seas thru his power ?

Were the great Asuras slowly but surely pushed back by the terrorists and their women & children slaughtered & raped ?

The Samnudra Manthan could well have been a period when mankind learnt to domesticate cows , horses, elephants – learnt the usage of medicines to prolong life (Nectar of life) and all this could have happened when the three races that existed Asura , Deva’s and Nagas lived peacefully for a few hundred years without any in fighting .

Is there Heaven , Earth & Patala or were they three regions on adjacent to the other starting from deep S to the North towards the Himalayas. And if the Deva’s ruled the Norther most area did that automatically qualify as Heaven and Naga’s of extreme S become “patala”. Was there a land mass where the current Indian Ocean exists that extended almost all the way to the Antarctica ?

Geologists say that the Anadaman & Nicobar islands are actually peaks of mountain ranges which was submerged in the ocean thousands of years back. Was there a land mass there that existed – which sometimes finds mention in old Tamil Sangam Literature ? If Tamil is indeed a language as old as Sanskrit how come the history books at school don’t even talk about it ?  Is the history we know the real History or is the history that was crafted by the British along with the Aryan Invasion Theory


Nobody knows the answers but we believe what we have been told over the years, they make great stories and there is no need to question them – so we continue to be brainwashed.

If we were a great civilization and world beaters 5000 years back then a short period of domination by invaders would not have changed our DNA – if Europe and Japan could rise from the ashes so could we  – but we haven’t and we still cling to the past as the present is mired in scams & controversies resulting in abysmal poverty and lack of infrastructure.

Last few years there have been many books and discussions on this topic and its good to see questions being asked. Lets hope we see more research on these topics and hopefully get to see light at the end of the tunnel , which will eventually ensure that we are not brainwashed.

Kashmir Holiday

 “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” If there is ever a heaven on earth, its here, its here, its here. 

Anyone who has seen Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) would have dreamt of visiting Kashmir . We finally translated our dreams to reality and spent 9 days in Kashmir on a family holiday. Yes we were a little concerned about safety especially with the recent Afzal Guru incident  – but it turned out to be a wonderful and memorable holiday and we all agree with what Firdaus & Jehangir say about Kashmir. here is a quick planner with tips on how you could go about planning your holiday.

Day 0Fri – Evening we departed Bangalore at  1845 to Delhi and  spent the night at a small rustic place close to the airport at Anand Niketan called “ Inn at Delhi”  – its basically a B&B with the owners staying on the 1st floor and about 5 rooms in the G Floor. Its basic and functional, close to the airport, good for a one night transit stop.

Day 1 & 2 , Sat / Sun –  Delhi to Srinagar is a 1 hr 25 min  flight and as you land you can see the lovely valley surrounded by snow capped mountains. We reached at 12.35 and the cars were ready to take us to Gulmarg. Known as the Skiing capital of India its about 60 Km from Srinagar and you save 30 min if you drive straight from the airport rather than the City. We covered this journey in about 2 hrs . The 1st hr was regular road (You can stop at Mirch Masala for lunch , its about 45 min drive from Srinagar airport) the last 60 min was a climb up the mountain – not too many hairpin bends , easy climb to 8830 feet (Ooty  is about 7000 feet). On the way you cross Tanmarg (The drivers may stop here and ask you to rent Snow Shoes & Jackets – but please refrain, there are better shops in Gulmarg). Gulmarg is a small town and is famous for its Cable Car (Gondola) rides. The cable car rises in two stretches  and the final height is about 12,200 feet. Tickets for each section is to be bought separately  and they cost Rs 400 for 1st stage and 600 for the 2nd stage. The cable cars are small and can accommodate 6 people – takes about 8 Min to reach level 1. The level 1 landing point has many shops / activities ( Skiing , Snow Biking etc) and can keep you busy for 60 – 90 minutes.  Level 2 is the peak – windy & cold ( It is closed at times if the wind speeds are very high). Gulmarg has a lot of snow even in April ( we had over 4 feet) and temp is cold – 0 to 10 Degrees, so be armed with thick jackets, Thermals , gloves and socks. Helps if you have a nice shoe with thick rubber soles (Woodlands Type)  – that way you can avoid renting the rubber shoes. Avoid walking on snow in normal shoes.

Holiday at Kashmir

The Q for tickets for the Gondola ride can get very long – we were lucky as our Travel agent had organized for the same. Most people do a day trip to Gulmarg so it gets very crowded from 10 AM to 5 PM. We stayed for 2 nights and the kids spent a lot of time in the snow near the hotel. We stayed at a lovely place called The Vintage – nice comfortable hotel with about 40 rooms. We had selected a suite so it was very comfortable, excellent heating and the food was great (Don’t miss the Kashmiri Pulao packed with dry fruits) . The only challenge was the walk from the hotel to the Gondola ride – its a 3 km walk , you can take a sledge or walk. The sledge is a wooden cart manually pulled and did not look very comfortable. There are good hotels near the cable car (Khyber  & Highland Park) – staying there can save you the walk.

The Vintage

There are limited places to see  – and being an army camp most places are out of bounds for travelers. We had a relaxing easy 2 nights , 1 1/2 days – but I guess a night stay was probably enough to cover the place.

Day 3, 4, 5 , Mon / Tue / Wed 

Post Breakfast we left Gulmarg on Mon morning and headed to Srinagar , reaching the Dar – E – Salam hotel by lunch time. Its a lovely hotel on the banks of the Nageen Lake (A part of the Dal lake) – 14 lovely rooms , a lovely garden , and Shikara rides right from the hotel, it actually looks like a colonial mansion. We consciously decided against big brand hotels and the service and comfort of small boutique hotels was excellent all through our travel.

Nageen Lake

Srinagar is famous for  3 Things  1. Lovely Mughal Gardens 2. Shikara Rides 3. Boat House . We had planned our trip in April so that we could see the famous Tulip gardens. The garden is open for a month every year around end March to end April. Its a very pleasant sight to see row after row of colorful Tulips. They say Amsterdam is Tulip city but in April you can get the same experience in Srinagar.

Lovely Mughal Gardens

Right next to the Tulip garden is the Botanical Garden. Close to this is the Chashme Shahi and Pari Mahal ( Palace built by Jehangir for his daughters) . If you plan well you can cover all these spots in the morning and head for lunch to the newly opened Taj Vivanta that is close by on the top of a hill. Food is good but the view of Srinagar and the Tulip garden from the top of the hotel is better. So yes the lunch may be  a tad expensive but reason with yourself that some of the cost is apportioned for the view. The Botanical Gardens is very well maintained ( would probably rate it at par with the one at Ooty) and during the sunset you can get some brilliant photos.

Taj Vivanta

The other famous gardens are the Shalimar Gardens & the Mughal Gardens. You may get bored visiting so many gardens but do ensure that you visit the Badaam Vari (Almond Garden) – as the name suggests its a garden full of lovely almond trees. Of all the parks we visited I liked this the best , we were there at 930 AM and the park was empty. vast expanse of well maintained gardens and lovely trees and you just felt like lying down on the grass and spending the full day. With such lovely gardens in Srinagar I wonder why they call Bangalore the city of gardens ? Srinagar is a lovely city – broad roads , nice pavements , limited population , fresh air , and a lovely view with mountains all around.

Almond Garden

Talking of Almonds – Kashmir is the best place to buy Almonds, Walnuts , Saffron & Pashmina . They are cheaper here by 50%. 1 KG of Walnut that costs Rs 1600 in INA Market Delhi is just Rs 600/- in Srinagar. And  so is the Mamra Badam . Pure Saffron costs about Rs 200 / gm . So remember to keep some space in your bags to get back a lot of these for you & your friends. The pashmina stoles start from Rs 1000 ( 30% Pashmina) but the pure ones can be as high as Rs 3500. Yet they are a fraction of the price that you will pay in Bangalore – so all the Gujju’s & Sindhi’s reading this blog – here is a great business opportunity for you.

After you have walked around the parks do try out the Shikara. The Dal Lake extends all over Srinagar across nearly 45 Sq Kms. All along the lake you have Shikara – costs only Rs 300 / Hr. It  can accommodate 2 Adults & 2 Kids, but try and stay 2 to a boat gives you that much more space to stretch & relax. The Shikara will winds its way through the lake talking you to floating markets , lotus ponds and many more interesting places. You will also see many houseboats. Most people do spend a day at the houseboats – we decided against it. It does look cramped and damp, its stationery and one worries about how they handle their sanitation – and the only way to reach the boat house is by the Shikara. The boat houses come in different varieties – and rates vary from Rs 1000  to Rs 6000 / night.

House Boats in Srinagar

What else to do in Srinagar – you can visit the Hazratbal Mosque, the Temple of Shankaracharya (Hilltop Temple, that requires a 30 min walk up some 300 steps) , take a balloon ride, and visit the Dargah of  Sheikh Abdullah . Also do visit the Lalit Ashok hotel. This is a royal palace of the Dogra King converted to a 5 Star Hotel. It has lovely lawns and a beautiful garden overlooking the rooms. Its a lovely hotel and we spent some time here over lunch. The weather is lovely – a pleasant 10 – 20 Degrees. Bright & Sunny.

Shankarachariya Temple

Distances in Srinagar are small and you can cover the city easily in two days. The river Jhelum flows close by so you can always venture out for some treks. Shops are open from 7 AM to 10.30 PM – so there is enough time to shop late in the evening. There is a central market area which has a lot of lovely shops. No malls / No Pubs / No bars – so nightlife is non existent. Some people take a day off and head to Sonmarg – but if you have been to Gulmarg , it may not make sense going to Sonmarg.

Day 6, 7, 8 , Thu / Fri / Sat

After 3 lovely days at Srinagar we headed to Pahlgam on Thu morning. Pahalgam is 92 Km from Srinagar and takes about 3 1/2 hrs. Half the ride is thru dusty roads and small villages on the way you will see many farms growing Saffron . After the midpoint (Anantnag) the scenery gets beautiful . The Lidder river flows with joy and purpose and both sides of the roads are full of yellow dancing mustard fields. On the way you will cross two famous points – Avantika which was the capital of the Hindu king in 800 AD , you can see the ruins of a large Shiva & Vishnu temple on the main road. A little ahead a small detour can take you to the Markand temple – one of the rare Sun temples in India. Not a very impressive structure but its unique that the same complex has a Gurudwara and the Sun temple. It also has a natural rapid .

Lidder River Pahalgam

Pahalgam has the best scenic beauty of the 3 places. Lofty snow capped mountains , Lidder river and some amazing spots – its been the scene of many a film shoot. One of the valleys is named Betaab Valley and even the recent Shah Rukh Khan movie ” Jab Tak He Jaan” was shot in Pahalgam. We stayed at the lovely Pahalgam Hotel – a 90 year old hotel that has been the venue of many a film shoot including Khamoosh. The rooms are very spacious (we again had a lovely Suite) and the service / Food is excellent. The Hotel is located on the main street close to the Taxi Stand.

Pahalgam Hotel

Around Pehelgam there are three main areas to visit

1. Betaab Valley & Chandan Wadi – this is the route taken by the pilgrims who trek to Amarnath ( Pahelgam is the base camp for Amarnath Yatra , you can get a helicopter ride from here also). Betaab Valley is 12 Km and Chandan Wadi is 16 Km from Pehelgam – a lot of snow in Chandan Wadi so Kids can have round 2 after Gulmarg. The scenery is enchanting as you see the snow melting and flowing into the river gushing by.  Budget 2 – 3 hrs for this visit. Cab rates are cheap and an Innova costs Rs 1300/-

Betaab Valley & Chandan Wadi

2. Aru Valley – 11 Km from Pehelgam takes about 45 min. Nothing much to see here . the drive  is scenic . One you reach the destination you can take horse rides to see some scenic spots. Innova rents for Rs 800/- for this trip.

3. Horse Ride trek to Baisaran , Dabian & Kashmir valley.  This is a must do. The horse climbs up & down steep slopes riddled with boulders and its scary as it walks on the edge of deep ravines. To cover all the 3 places will take about 3 hrs. This area is called Mini Switzerland and is a must visit. Yes the Horse ride can leave you sore the next day – but its worth it. Priced at Rs 700/- but you will give a very generous tip at the end of the trip.

Kashmir Valley

The Pahalgam hotel overlooks the Lidder river and sitting in the garden  drinking Chai & pakora is itself a moment to cherish. The hotel provides Buffet Breakfast , Lunch & Dinner – but I would strongly recommend the Restaurant right in front of the hotel for Lunch – Called Dana Pani , its a nice restaurant run by a Sardar and serves excellent N Indian & S India dishes. After many days we were thrilled to eat Idly, Dosa & Curd Rice here. Overall food all across Kashmir  was superb – most places were pure veg , the challenge if any was that the food was too rich and towards the end we started requesting for simple dry non gravy Sabji.

Imp to note that in both Gulmarg & Pahalgam you can use only local cars – the cars you get from Srinagar need to be parked in the hotel.

On Sat we left Pahalgam after lunch and headed back to Srinagar, reaching the Dar E Salam hotel by  4.30 PM.

Day 9,  Sun 

After an early breakfast , we headed back to the Airport and reached Bangalore Via delhi by evening. Security at the Srinagar airport is very strict so plan to reach 2 hrs in advance. Security is visible all across – gun toting CRPF is seen every 1 km in the roads , most of the large buildings the forts , cricket stadium etc have been taken over by the army / CRPF / BSF – local residents are clearly upset with ASFSPA.

That concluded a wonderful trip to Kashmir , and we all will savour the sweet memories of this lovely land and its soft spoken beautiful people for many years. Its indeed a  beautiful state and as I read the book on my return flight ” Tragic Hero of Kashmir – Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah” by Ajit Bhattacharjea I could not but help feel sad at the broken promises made to them. What added to the fun in the trip was the company of Jayshree & Family – its always good to have like minded company when on an extended holiday.

wonderful trip to Kashmir

The trip cost us a fraction of what we would have spent if we had travelled to Switzerland ( 9 Nights 10 days for about $ 2700 – Excluding airfare). This included suite rooms for 4 ( always helps to have a suite when you are a family of 4 with lots of luggage), an Innova at your disposal all through the day , breakfast and even dinner in some places. Entry fees for most attractions were a pittance – 5 to 10 Rs / person.

We owe our thanks to Ketki Kapoor from Hopp Worldwide for helping us with all the bookings. We had planned our trip nearly 6 months back – so we got excellent rates. The itinerary was smooth and not rushed – its always good to have some extra time to budget for kids falling sick or a rainy ( snowy) day so any of you planning a similar trip do feel free to reach out to Ketki – contact details are below.

Ketaki Kapur Pantle (ketaki@hoppworldwide.com)

Hopp Worldwide Excursions Ltd

F44 Bhagat Singh Market
New Delhi 110001
Ph- 91 11 43780000

The agony of being 2nd !

Wed March 28th  – 1984. A day I find difficult to forget. It was the finals of the school TT competition. We were in the fifth set –  the first 4 matches were close, very close , all the matches had run into deuce  : 29 – 27 , 26 – 28, 25 – 23 , 23 – 25 , and now we were locked in the 5th game at 28 – 27. For the 1st time our PT Teacher had convinced the headmaster to extend the tiffin break – the whole school was watching , even the teachers had taken sides. The supporters were lined up on each side of the hall. And then the inevitable happened –  after a long rally the ball nicked the net and my desperate attempt to get to the ball was not good enough – I lost the fifth set 29 – 27 and the championship. As everyone rushed to congratulate the winner  and carry him – I was left alone. Thats always the fate of being 2nd – in sports or in life. The winner gets it all.

Since then my heart has always gone out to the loser – who is so so close but yet so far. Think of PT Usha who missed her medal by 1/100th of a second. I at times even empathize with Ravan & Karna –  the stories are always the version of  the winners , who knows the truth of the loser.


One would think that the best products need to be winners – but truth is different. There are many cases where the better product gets a raw deal . Lets look at some examples.

Hindu Vs TOI

I have been reading The Hindu for the last 3 months – in comparison to the TOI its a class apart. Excellent english , thoughtful editorials , unbiased and fair , its a pleasure to read The Hindu. Look at the TOI – it feels like 90% of the paper is commercial trash , yet TOI rules on the numbers front. When I looked at recent circulation figures I was happy to see The Hindu slowly but steadily gaining market – and I hope I live to see the day when Quality trounces Crap.


LML Vespa Vs Bajaj Chetak 

The first scooter that I bought was a LML Vespa . It served me well , strong & sturdy it was indeed a reliable ride. On Quality & stability it  beat the Bajaj Chetak hollow – yet Bajaj survived and LML Vespa had to close shop. I am so happy to see that Vespa has come back with its range of scooters – I hope they do well.


Windows Vs Mac

No Virus, never crashes, better GUI, faster, integrated hardware & S/W – yet Windows rules and Mac is a distant second – wonder why, it just doesn’t sound fair .



On a blind test P&G always scores higher. Take Dove or H&S or Tide – product Quality of P&G is always superior. But when it comes to units sold HLL rules – just not fair.


Android Vs iOS 

Thats another Mac Vs Windows example. iOS is any day a superior platform but Android continues to dominate the market globally


These are just a few examples – all of us could think of many more. And I keep asking myself  the question – how come the best products don’t end up as winners ? Doesn’t sound logical or fair ! Justice Katju says 90% of Indians are dumb – can we extend that as a global paradigm ? Or is the age old marketing rationale ” Perception is Reality ” indeed true . Does massive ad spends result in “familiarity creating favourability” ?

Ever since that fateful day in March 1984 I have stuck to the No 2 guys – they try harder and are definitely the better products, so think before you act next time.

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