Friday, December 21, 2007

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.

Jodhpur was a great stop in the trip, staying in the old city gave a wonderful twist to our stay there that we would have missed out on if we had stayed in the resorts - its definitely on our "go-back" lists for the annual music festival. But the road beckons...

KM Marker: 17465 km, 7.10 AM Oct 30th 2007

Early morning just as Jodhpur rises, we fired up the old trusty Swift and crept out of the old city's narrow lanes hoping and praying that some other "tourist" hadn't had the same idea to come the other way - thankfully we wound our way out. It was the dawn of Day 4 and we were heading to Jaisalmer - we had heard so much about Jaisalmer so the excitement was mounting!

The road to Jaisalmer was very good as we're coming to expect from Rajasthan - good job Govt. - how often can you say that aloud?! This drive also had its share of people / livestock sauntering across the road oblivious to oncoming traffic - but we're now used to it. We're told in Jodhpur that the Indian army maintains the roads in these parts - Jaisalmer is about 150 km from the Pakistan border.

Jaisalmer : 11 AM - yes, we were driving crazy fast! Its about 280 KM. Do the math..

We had signed up to stay at Mandir Palace, again picked out of our LP lineup, incidentally, Jaisalmer was the only place where we had trouble finding a room at first go - everything was booked out - Jaisalmer is a smallish town that thrives ONLY on tourism - so if you're headed there it would be wise to confirm your bookings in advance.

Mandir Palace, Jaisalmer, RajasthanMandir Palace was the last car accessible point before the old city started - intelligently the local authorities had blocked 4 wheeler traffic into the old city. We were expecting a old palace / haveli kind of setup and entered from the secondary entrance of the hotel - going past horses / cattle - wondering what we'd picked. We round a corner and couldn't believe our eyes - the most beautiful lattice work confronted us - this became a recurring theme and we kept expecting the lattice work to become even more audacious and intricate - which it kept getting - yes, Jaisalmer is very pretty!

So, it turns out that Mandir Palace is actually a palace - the king of Jaisalmer lives in one wing and the other has been leased out to become a hotel - the palace does have a mandir on the premises - hence the name - all this time we cant believe our luck that we found this place - its too pretty to describe in words - our room is a bit cramped as LP had noted - but hey we're living in the King's palace without burning a major hole in the pocket - I'm alright with that! :)

I have to note a place we went for lunch - Nachana Haveli - seemed like a great place to stay (we couldn't get a reservation) - and great food as well - we also bumped into one of the "royals" which was kind of a funny story. Recommended though - we'd probably seek that place out the next time we head out to Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer, RajasthanThe primary Jaisalmer attraction is its fort - which is a residential fort, meaning that this is the only fort in the world where real people live. The spiel is that people always lived in the fort since it was built - after independence when the kings couldn't maintain the forts anymore, they either converted them into hotels or gave it up to the government - the King of Jaisalmer had other ideas - he picked the third option which was to hand it over to the residents of the fort! The only condition was that they couldn't sell their homes.

Lonely PlanetI thought this was a cool thing for a King to do - but cut to 2007 and modern living has taken its toll on the fort - its supposedly on the list of endangered monuments of the world. Since Jaisalmer has no industry apart from tourism, residents have converted their homes into hotels, home stays and run sundry shops selling curios to tourists. LP advises tourists to stay away from hotels in the fort because its contributing to the problem (retrofitting such an old fort for modern amenities no doubt takes its toll) - but what will the people do? They can't just pickup and start off somewhere else - its a stalemate - go see the fort while its still around.

The fort construction itself is unique, no water / mortar was used in making this fort - the whole fort was built with stones that have an interlocking mechanism that doesn't require any mortar to keep it together - ingenious - and appropriate in a place where water is scarce.

Child BeerSo, we head to the fort, at the entrance we're met with a classic gem of mis-spelling by a alcohol shop selling "Child Beer"!!! We take on a guide and begin our trip of the fort - the fort has its set of defenses, winding road so that elephants cant mount battering ram attacks, progressive viewing vantage points for the defense, spiked doors - by now this is all too familiar, hell I could build a fort we've seen so many! :))

As we enter the fort we're just taken back by the amazing lattice work we start seeing, its everywhere like a plague, but in a good way! :) We take in the poor attempt at a museum by the local King - after Mehrangarh this is a joke! However the fort is so pretty with its lattice work, its just amazing. The fort itself is a maze, maps of the fort are readily available - but a guide is easier / convenient.

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan
As we make our way through throngs of locals selling something or the other we come upon a series of Jain temples which abound in Rajasthan - the work is different from the rest of the fort - the temples were made inside the fort by Jains so that they would survive ransacking from invaders - its definitely pretty, the work is different from the rest of the fort - its done by artisans who worked on the Somnath temple.

Jaisalmer Old City, Jaisalmer, RajasthanSo we're OD'ed on the lattice work, we reach a vantage point from where the entire city is visible, nice - we can see the other big attractions of Jaisalmer, the Haveli's (Patwa etc) - we're of course living in one attraction - Mandir Palace!

Wedding Invitation, Jaisalmer, RajasthanOne fun thing we came across was the system of inviting people for marriages - so, what people do is - they paint a big Ganesh picture - write the name / date-time of the marriage and thats the invite - no distribution and everyone is welcome. The invite stays up till the NEXT wedding in the same house - so all over Jaisalmer, predominantly in the fort you see these invites - so cool.

All the guidebooks and advice we got on Jaisalmer talked about how painful it was to deal with the camel safari people. OK - so Camel Safari - Jaisalmer is in the desert (surprise!) - the locals have fashioned various levels of "Camel Safaris" - and there is cut-throat competition to get your business for these safari's - ofcourse there are some recommended vendors - but by and large its pretty crazy - needless to say our guide had "recommendations"! :) We were too tired to deal with the safari people and both of us are not particularly fond of camels - so we deferred that for the next day.

Patwa Ki Haveli, Jaisalmer, RajasthanWe had a sorta pushy kind of guide, he gave us a lot of information, but it was a little hard to get rid of him - anyhow - he ended up taking us through some internal roads to Patwa Ki Haveli, which is again a wonderful demonstration of lattice work - by now we had grown de-sensitized to the lattice work - how much beauty can you see / absorb!

Deciding that we had our fill for the day - we stalled the sight-seeing and set off in pursuit of bedsheets - Rajasthan is famous for its bedsheets etc - the rule of the game is of course bargaining - then its up to you how much patience you have - you can easily pay only 40% of the initially quoted values - lower if you are really good at it - the wife is semi-good at it, I suck - we got a big discount - but still left feeling "had" - oh well!

We headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest, the rest of the day we spent wandering a little bit in the streets of old Jaisalmer and wound up with a nice dinner on the roof of a hotel just behind Mandir Palace with local music playing in the background and a beautiful view of the sand castle fort in the foreground. This was as far as we had planned to drive - Jaisalmer was definitely worth extending all the way from Mumbai.

Jaisalmer. Half Full...

Rajasthan road trip pictures.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mumbai's Big Turn Off - Post Mortem

The day came and went and we all felt like we did *something* and got off our collective armchairs. We collected some stats for our building and found that during the period when the lights were off, we were able to save about 29 units on the average overall for the building (just one wing, since we were tracking only one, we have 4 wing in all) - this is roughly equal to the load of about two full households. Thats pretty good savings.

We had about a 70/80% participation, a lot of our residents showed up for a power-free hour and did what we used to do as kids when the power went out - people mingled, the older folks knew exactly what to do - the kids were somewhat at a loss - since in Bombay power cuts are rare! :) It was a good experiment and fun at the same time.

We got press coverage as well
Times Of India - Batti Bandh

and a flip side article
DNA Coverage for Batti Bandh - Why it was bad idea

in which an IIT professor points out how this well meaning exercise could well have tripped the main power grids! Yikes! The knee jerk is to say - cmon, say it ain't so - but it makes sense when you read it - primary power grids are most likely programmed to generate the average expected load - so they'll do it no matter what - unless we can gradually drive down the average by driving down consumption on a daily basis!

If nothing else - Batti Bandh served to raise awareness amongst people and importantly kids - atleast you end up hearing kids telling their parents to switch off - thats probably the biggest outcome of this exercise! The organisers estimate that there was a 10/20% savings in electricity during the period - in my opinion the event was not publicised enough and the major electricity providers (Tata / Reliance / BSES) were not roped into the exercise - thats too bad. Well - atleast *someone* did *something*, WE all did something and thats one better than talking global warming while sipping our whiskeys in our air conditioned rooms!

Thanks for the support.
I Read Ok : I am Guilty of Global Warming
5 foot 5 : Mumbai Unplug
Mind Fucked : Freedom at 7.30

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mumbai's Big Turn Off

4 Days to GO. Mumbai Unplug is happening on Dec 15 2007 between 7.30 PM and 8.30 PM - its a simple idea and the sceptical argue that it wont make much of a difference - but as your mom would say - Its the thought that counts - perhaps it will make people stop and think and take the fight for Global Warming beyond the comfortable A/C cooled whiskey fueled arm-chair activism!

My stance - lets join and create a buzz online - hopefully more people will join. Its a small dent in global warming - and a big noise for awareness! If you're doing something for Batti Bandh or for conservation please share with us on this post.

Here's a badge if you want to decorate your blog to show support!

We're coordinating lights out in our community where we live - worthwhile to try to do the same in yours - if not all the lights - atleast most of them. Next post on how our Batti Bandh went.

Turn it off! Turn it off!

batti bandh

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.

Driving from Udaipur to Jodhpur is quite a surprise. It takes you through green mountains and valleys that you don't really associate with Rajasthan. Saw a lot of charming water wheels in the villages. Be prepared for the villagers to hound you if you stop anywhere to take pictures though. Go over the water wheel and see for yourself :).

A couple of wrong turns and flunky checks later, we reached Jodhpur. Jodhpur was by god the best experience in our tri-city tour.
The business minded Marwari families of Jodhpur do not rely on tourism for their livelihood. This leaves you to explore the city peacefully without aggressive peddlers. Old city Jodhpur did not disappoint us either. Narrow galli's (impossible to take the car through them, no matter how much you try; we did try, we really don't learn do we!). Churan shops, old men playing cards in the neighborhood prayer hall. It's amusing to walk through the lanes just watching them.

Singhvi Haveli, Jodhpur, RajasthanWe stayed in an old-fashioned Singhvi Ki Haveli in the old city. I really like the old houses, they seem to add a room on top of others like lego blocks, and to get there, just put up a few stone blocks. Ours was the Maharani Suite, 4 flights of stairs up and you are on top of the city! I will highly recommend Singhvi Ki Haveli, it has an amazing view of the Blue City and of the Mehrangarh fort! The lucky few are also graced by a performance of monkey's indulging in procreation activities... haa, quite a sight. No, I didn't click pictures!

Blue City, Jodhpur, RajasthanMehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

The towering Mehrangarh fort is the most tourist friendly fort I've seen so far in India. No need of stretching your imagination here. Traditionally dressed men greet you with drum rolls as you pass through the gate! We hired a guide for the tour, but our friends swear by the audio tour which features sound bites by the royal family too.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, RajasthanMehrangarh fort has the most exquisite rooms. The Marwar royals must have been a flamboyant lot! The richness they enjoyed is evident in the exquisite rooms of the fort. Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal, Sheesh Mahal and Takhat Vilas have fantastic gold painted walls and ceilings, stained glass on the jali windows! Not to forget the quirky christmas balls hanging from ceilings! Every few minutes of the tour you run into a mustachioed Rajasthani man sitting by his hookah and opium paraphernalia or a musician playing Rajasthani songs on his wooden flute... it was beautiful! I can't stop gushing about the fort's amazing arrangement.

Jali Windows, RajasthanAnd just like Disneyland or Vegas, it all ends in a museum shop :). But the souvenirs on offer are quite unique...miniature paintings on old stamp papers.

Ghanta Ghar, Clock Tower, Jodhpur, RajasthanThe Ghanta Ghar (clock tower) Market is an interesting place to just wander around. Didn't particularly enjoy the much touted Makhaniya Lassi (it was like having a glass of shrikhand!) or the Mawa Kachori. I would really like to see the statistic on diabetes in Jodhpur, they seem to have a fondness for really really really sweet eatables :).

Bishnoi Woman, Jodhpur, RajasthanOne thing we fell for and didn't really enjoy was the Bishnoi Village tour. We thought it would be a good opportunity to see the villages of India, specially seeing that the Bishnoi's had become so known since the Salman Khan case (just between us, it was the mention of an opium ceremony that hooked us in!). Instead of getting a dekko into the natural settings of village life, it seemed staged, with the villagers knowing just the right camera angles that tourists would like to capture. The saving grace were the peacocks, black bucks and deer you get to see wandering near the villages.

One thing that we missed by a day was the Rajasthan International Folk Festival that is held every year during Sharad Poornima (full moon) in the fort. Wouldn't it be great to listen to music sitting in the fort, all lit up at night! A great reason for us to revisit Jodhpur next year :).

Jodhpur. Check.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1

Rule No 1: When traveling in India, listen to your intuition or your wife!

Well, someone did neither, but did listen to the “hukum Swift bilkul nikal jayegi” of our hotel concierge. Happy that his “Made in India” car will take him through anywhere.. and confident that once you’ve driven through Bombay, you can drive everywhere, he started driving towards the City Palace through the Old City.

Streets of Old City, Udaipur
Being part of a video game is also an experience I guess. Maneuvering through, cows, thelas, bikes, other cars, add an SUV too, cows, school kids! Hey, this is too easy, why not add open drains on both the sides and make it more fun! Feeling like fools, with both our heads popping out the windows to check on where we are heading, we crawled ahead. Bombay, there would have been 10 self appointed traffic cops, guiding you through, here.. none of that. I guess they were so fed up of tourists trying to brave through, they thought let them have a taste.
We’ve reached! Would have been 5 mins walking, was 20 mins driving, felt like an hour.

I will not go through the history of the places we visited, since I don't remember it all :). But just a few things that made an impression.

First stop, Jagdish Temple. The rajasthani style aarti singing made me want to sit down and clap to the beat.

Rule No 2. Hire a tour guide.
(Caveat: Do not necessarily expect a lot of rajput history from him.. Bollywood history, oh sure!)

Next stop City Palace, hired a guide.

City Palace is the biggest palace in India, if not elsewhere. But for the biggest palace, it has the smallest rooms I’ve ever seen.. Hey, maybe I can think of my house as a palace now. You don't see a lot of the royal opulence that you associate with palaces here. The closest is the Sheesh Mahal. Rather there seems to be this fascination for porcelain tiles from phoren (Netherlands), which was quite amusing.

Now move on to the real meat. Down the drain went my thoughts of a history lesson a la William Dalrymple. Our guide was quite insistent we take a picture where Juhi Chawla did a few thumkas for a song. No comments whether we fell in for it or not.

From the balconies of the palace you can look onto Lake Pichola with Jag Mandir, Lake Palace and Udai Vilas.

Raveena Tandon got married in Jag Mandir. That it was the inspiration for THE Taj Mahal is just a fluke (Shah Jahan stayed here after revolting against his father Jehangir and was inspired by the intricate chatris in the courtyard).

Hollywood left a huge mark too. Lake Palace the most expensive hotel till Udai Vilas came around. James bond, Octopussy was filmed here! You'll find a lot of hotels which show Octopussy non-stop!

Weddings and parties in the beautiful courtyards of the Palace will cost you Rs. 15 lakh per night.

Saheliyon Ki Bari. You really need to think hard to see how beautiful the place must have been in its true avataar. I think there is nothing existing now that parallels the ingenuity and beauty of these fountains in that period.

Rule No 3. Just walk or take a rickshaw through the old city.

Having learned our lesson, we walked through the old city for our next destinations. Narrow lanes give you the opportunity to peek through the lives of the people living there. Stairs leading up to old style gates... Paintings on walls.. It's difficult to avoid the shops with their pretty embroidered skirts and peasant tops, souvenir's and miniature paintings.

Sajjan Gadh. You can see the hunting grounds of the kings from here. The same hunting grounds that you see in the murals in City Palace. Birds eye view of the city.

Bagore-Ki-Haveli: They showcase different dances of Rajasthan in a beautiful and intimate courtyard setting, under a tree.
Bagore Ki Haveli, Udaipur, Rajasthan

It is next to a less frequented, yet pretty location to watch the city by the Lake Pichola, ChandPol.
ChandPol, Udaipur, Rajasthan

Dinner at Ambrai (the king's brother's palace) is highly recommended. Great location to see both City Palace and Lake Palace all lit up at night.

Udaipur. Check.

Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1

Oct 26th 2007

All our research in place, the wife and I were raring to go. The previous night we had stopped at Crossword (a book shop) to pickup a mapbook, during that trip, I also picked up Lonely Planet - India. I thought for a while whether I should really be picking up a book that I usually see foreign tourists clutching on their trips here. I must stop and give props before I proceed.

Without Lonely Planet, we probably would have had an average Rajasthan experience. I cannot emphasize enough how much LP helped us to enjoy our own country, proving that an outsiders perspective on your own country is so much more fun to look at the same thing from!

Ok, back to the morning of the 26th..
8.20 AM : Bags packed and goodbyes in order, we roll out of Powai in our trusty red Maruti Swift.
Mileage Marker: 16336

Bombay TrafficWe had wanted to leave earlier so that we could beat the traffic, but oh, well - fortunately we're against the traffic at this time so we hit pretty much no traffic all the way till we cross Borivali. There are a series of Octroi posts where the traffic invariably will back up and slow people down.

We finally weave our way out of the end of city mayhem and are now making some progress, getting out of the city, the road conditions get a bit bumpy - the entire Rajasthan trip is on NH-8, the patch out of Mumbai is average with sections that are potholed and need fixing, but pretty soon the road conditions improve and we're able to zip out and make good time.

Vegas In BombayOur plan is to make it to Ahmedabad where we have decided to halt for the night and then make an early morning run for it to Udaipur - but we're not solid on this front - anyhow, we plow on. We get out of town, toll booth, hmm, ok - pay our money and move on. Now enter Dadra, Nagar Haveli - the most painful drivers I've ever encountered, not one single person is willing to give step out of the way - what is wrong with these people - I think they hate Mumbaikars!

More toll booths, the wife and I are getting programmed now - the wife has just gotten her hands on a new digital camera that we bought, so she's being trigger happy and clicking away, while I'm putting pedal to metal. Soon we're into Gujarat (yay!) and are making our way through Navsari,I must say that the road is now 3 lanes in both directions and its pretty amazing - since we're crossing townships, people end up crossing the road on front of us - so ultra alert.

We hit a MAJOR road block near Kadodra - NH8 is being widened to be 4 lanes all over - the good people of Kadodra decided they would learn traffic management on the job - this means that there is such a massive backup of trucks - if we stayed where we were we would never make it to our destination in time - so after being the "law abiders" we join in with the scores of cars that are simply driving in the oncoming lane, which has sparse traffic, only trucks are now waiting in the right lane. This turns out to be the right thing to do - as I cross about 600/800 trucks waiting to get their chance as the humans control traffic, I realize I've saved about 2 hours atleast - anyhow, we get back onto the right side of the road eventually and again start chunking through - we reach Surat, bypass and head into Bharuch, land of the Khari Singh (salted peanuts) - cross the Narmada - and break for lunch.

Ruchi (my wife) takes over the driving duties at this point as we head into Baroda. The Bharuch / Baroda road is also being constructed, so we end up in a Kadodra type soup again - feeling guilty for breaking the law, I forbid the wife to do the same - result - we're stuck and going nowhere - finally we start using the shoulder like other cars ahead of us and somehow manage to get out of the jam - but we've lost a good 1.5 hours, 2 hours total including the previous mess!

We reach Baroda and take the inner city roads to reach the Baroda Ahmedabad expressway - its now about 4/5 PM - and we're questioning our ambitious plan of making it to Udaipur tonight! :(( Anyhow, we hit the expressway and its pure joy after the travails of NH8 - 120 kmph anybody? Ruchi is making the car work and we reach our designated exit, just before Ahmedabad - taking the HimmatNagar exit on the expressway. We consult with someone we know who has driven this route before and he assures us that we might as well make a dash for Udaipur if we can hit Himmatnagar - we are buoyed by this and after the quick dash to Ahmedabad - we're hopeful again.

However, the exterior Ahmedabad ring road is all under construction, its night time and due to the construction we're having to share the same road (sans dividers) with the oncoming traffic. This is new to Ruchi as she's never driven in the night before - we tread carefully but we're still making progress. Fantastically, even the shabby ring road people are taking toll from us - we feel gypped since the roads are terrible - oh well.

In the confusion, we miss our turnoff towards HimmatNagar, but the helpful toll guys at the next circle indicate that we've come ahead. We're quickly learning that its easier to ask random people on the road for directions, our map book is good, but its got one level of zoom to little - our friends on the roads who will give us directions are now referred to as "flunkies" and the act as "flunkie check"!

We are back on track, this road is narrow and the drivers are insane - we're both focused on the road and are being super cautious - we finally make it out of that section with *some* scares - some people just dont care about living - it feels like that seeing some of the moves people are making in the darkness! Anyhow, we're now zooming towards Himmatnagar, the road has gotten nicer, but people keep running across the roads making it risky to speed too much. The drive is taking its toll on Ruchi - she's been driving for a long time now - we decide to switch at Himmatnagar.

We break at Himmatnagar for dinner and some much needed rest, load up on the tea and caffeine - food feels good - we eat at Hotel Landmark - decent food and just off the highway. I take over driving duties - we've decided now that we WILL reach Udaipur tonight. We had called a hotel from Bharuch in the afternoon and made our reservations in Udaipur so we had a place to crash at night.

After Himmatnagar, the road was fantastic - the traffic became regulated and roads were smooth and nice - we made good time - we were still paying tolls every now and then!! The road moves into a incline and there is a ghat (hilly) section that we're navigating - we keep climbing for quite some time. Finally, we hit the toll booth about 30 minutes outside Udaipur - finally, the goal is in sight!

We enter the outskirts of Udaipur, ceremonial gates and a full moon welcome us! :) Udaipur at night is deserted as it should be - we have some rough directions thanks to LP and turn into an inner city lane from the main roads. As we drive inwards, we know that we're lost - time for flunkie check - its 11.30 PM and we've made it to Udaipur! Mumbai - Udaipur 11 hours.

Flunkies guide us to the right place - we call the hotel guys for directions - the hotel guy tells us that he's released our booking because he assumed we were coming by air!! @!#!@$ Post this - we made it a point to tell ALL our bookings that we were driving and we might come late - but we'd come. Anyhow, middle of the night - Ruchi went ballistic on hotel guy - rightly so - we tell him - nothing doing - we're coming - he should figure out a room for us.

We reach Rang Niwas Palace finally, our hotel. The place is beautiful! Its an old haveli, but we dont know if we have a room yet - we park the car and are greeted by a smiling character - he apologizes and says he has a room for us - all's well that ends well - Ruchi and I stare around and are in awe of the place we've booked - chalk the first one up for LP - yep, its a LP recommendation. Anyhow, we're dead tired from the driving - we toss our stuff into the room and just crash - we've made it to Udaipur - the adventure has begun and day 1 has set the tone! Udaipur sightseeing tomorrow!!!

Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Rajasthan RoadTrip - Initial Planning

At long last, initial post on the road trip we just did thru Rajasthan, our first in India! We had 10, at best 15 days in which we wanted to do a road trip and we had decided to travel in Rajasthan. The biggest deterrents were

a. Road Quality
b. Facilities on the road
c. The Unknown, we had never done this before!

Initial research threw up the following links, somewhat useful, the RTDC website I must say is fairly informational as an initial starting point.

Our initial pass at an itinerary yielded, this is the order in which we would have driven

1. udaipur
2. bundi
3. ajmer
4. jodhpur
5. jaisalmer
6. bikaner
7. shekhawati
8. jaipur
9. agra

Ofcourse, this proved to be impossible, Jaisalmer is the fly in the pickle, we found out that things are organized in "Triangles" - you could do
1. Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jaisalmer
2. Agra - Jaipur - Bikaner - Ajmer (maybe)

from a distance perspective, Jaisalmer is waaaaay out there and throws off travel planning by road alltogether.

So,we decided finally on the following itinerary, not wanting to overkill and touch/go everywhere -

Oct 26th, Friday (Mumbai) - day 1 (300 km)
- Mum -> Ahmedabad (night halt)

Oct 27th, Sat (Udaipur) - day 2 (300 km)
- Leave early morning ahmedabad, reach Udaipur (afternoon)
- Check into hotel, goto pichola, check out evening entertainment

Oct 28th, Sun - day 3 (300 km)
- Leave Udaipur for Jodhpur via shilpgram
- Stay overnight at Jodhpur, if we get time, we'll sightsee jodhpur as soon as we reach

Oct 29th, Mon - day 4 (278 km)
- Sightsee Jodhpur, scoot early and leave for Jaisalmer
- Jaisalmer Sightseeing, sleep in jaisalmer

Oct 30th, Tue (Deogarh) - day 5
- Jaisalmer to Deogarh, stay in deogarh

Oct 31st, Wed - day 6
- Deogarh, kumbalgarh, stay in deogarh

Nov 1st, Thu - day 7
- Deogarh, rohet

Nov 2nd, Fri - day 8
- early morning leave for bombay
- deogarh to ahmedabad

Nov 3rd, Sat
- ahmedabad to mumbai

Nov 4th, Sunday (Mumbai)
- Relax

Armed with this information, we were ready for our road trip. Next post on how we did it!

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Rajasthan RoadTrip Pix!

Finally uploaded our pictures

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Raghu Dixit

Am getting hooked onto the sound, cant wait to buy the CD. Meanwhile, thanks to Youtube I found a great rendition of "Mysore Se Aayi" - RDP sounds very good live - check it out. Gets crazy in the end with everyone joining in but gives a good feel for his sound IMO.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Filler Post

Just got back from a super road trip in Rajasthan with the wife. Am so buried in work - havent got time to write a propah blog entry about it - but I will. Currently just catching up on some great music. Bollywood soundtracks -

Aaja Nachle - pretty fun soundtrack, title track is killer. Above average soundtrack. I would buy the whole CD.

Khoya Khoya Chand - some notable tracks, again title track is the jewel alongwith Swanand Kirkire's lyrics, amazing. Watch out Javed Akhtar! One or two tracks standout at best, wont buy CD.

No Smoking - killer track by Rekha Bharadwaj and Sukhwinder as always stellar. One / two tracks at best, wont buy CD. A lot of mood pieces.

Jab We Met - AMAZING soundtrack, all the songs are good. Pritam knocked me over with this one, definitely CD purchase.

Indipop listening to Agnee, decent outing by them - though they still suspicously sound like a college band sometimes!
...and major recommendation for Raghu Dixit (Raghu Dixit Project (RDP)) - I only recently discovered RDP, he's supposedly quite a phenom in Bangalore or atleast his band used to be - Antaragni. If you like folk/rock/fusion check it out. Definitely a CD purchase! Support!

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Move 1-2-3 (Part 3)

...the story continues...

10. Green Cards
By the time we decided to come back we had just received our green cards - not wanting to give up something that we had spent so much time waiting for (ofcourse we were considerably lucky than our peers, one of my co-workers had an approved labour cert which he vacated to jump onto wife's GC app, thus allowing me to leap frog the most long and painful part of the whole GC process that stalled so many people - dumb luck if you can call it that. So THANK YOU Avina / Karan!). So, anyhow, we had our GC's did not want to give it up. Here is the short of it - after talking to a battery of lawyers and doing a lot of research on the internet..

- If you stay outside the US for more than 6mths, its upto the discretion of the immigration officer to let you in.
- If you stay outside the US for more than 1 year, you are deemed to have abandoned your resident status. Its still upto the immigration officer, but at this point you're essentially done.
- The bypass is to get a "Re-Entry Permit", these are valid for 2 years at a time, you must be in the country when you APPLY for it, you need stick around for approval. The re-entry permit is pretty easy to get once you apply for it - the form is pretty easy to fill - I filled it out - but had a lawyer file it for me - lawyers can receive your approval and then fedex it to your India location - more reliable. The lawyer was also reasonable and charged me less since I had done all the research on my own! :)
- You can renew your re-entry permit ONCE. This means you can stay outside the US without losing your resident status for upto 4 years. After that if you still stay out, you're done.
- If you travel frequently, there is no need to take a re-entry permit, I did and in hindsight I shouldn't have. The immigration officers dont give you any issues.
- An important part of maintaining residency is to file federal / state taxes regularly.
- Thats about it, I also maintain a residential address in the US, its my friend's house (THANKS Rudra / Tanya), this is useful for my mail, credit cards etc. Just easier when I'm travelling to the US, which I do often.

11. Dual Taxes
This bring me to the dual taxation - yes, you pay taxes in India as well as in the US. In the US you file to keep your GC alive, in India, if you stay longer than 180 days then you become eligible to pay taxes in India. Interestingly the India / US taxation atleast for me works out pretty much 1:1. I file for a Foreign Tax Credit and get back my taxes from the US government and I have to pay ALL that money back to the Indian IT folks. In my situation I still end up getting my salary in the US so I still have income and hence need refunds etc. Note that CA doesnt recognize foreign tax credit and makes you pay state taxes - bummer!

I was unable to find any CA that would take on my case, so had to do the research myself - beaware of US CA's that claim to know how to file returns for you - most people cant handle returns beyond the basic 1040 - after that its all guesswork for them. I used to use a guy called Viren Lalka, terrible, un-recommended. Two years in a row I had to do the research myself and tell the guy how to file my return. Anyhow, hopefully google indexes this post and people looking for references to Viren Lalka and Lalka Tax Services can read about my plight!

...Thats it for the move-back posts, I think I've covered everything that I encountered during my move back. The dual taxation is a pain really, because when one tax year ends, the other begins - so I feel like I'm paying taxes all year long! :))

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Friday, August 31, 2007


I'm currently enamored by a composer called Mithoon - he's given music to some random movies - but I find some of his tracks quite interesting - havent seen any of the movies - just heard the songs - check out soundtracks to

- The Train (Mahesh Bhatt nice Hollywood knockoffs)
- Anwar (some spelendid tracks)
a. Maula Mera Maula
b. Anwars Dream
c. Javeda Jindagi

The soundtrack to Cash (Vishal / Shekhar) is pretty catchy - flava of the month. My Punjabi fix for the month is O Yaara Dhol Bajake (Movie:Dhol) - Labh Janjua, once again after his blazing track of Pyaar Ke Side Effects (O Pape Pyaar Karke Pachtaya) - Its my belief that there is a computer somewhere that churns out generic Punjabi songs complete with lyrics - I have to post on this funda sometime!

Nothing too notable in English music - my last good purchase was "The Travelling Wilbury's" - if you're into that music - its a recommended buy - Wilbury's is a coming together of Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. I love Roy Orbison/Tom Petty and Bob Dylan , 3/5 aint so bad - and I must say its an amazing album - musicians in synch at the top of their game. Its mellow stuff - but I like it.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Move 1-2-3 (Part 2)

..So my stuff got to India, I was in India. We were staying with family in the interim, time to ..

5. Rent / Buy
We moved to Bombay, so buying is a hard proposition right out of the gates, in our situation we had some uncertainities so we decided to rent. However, if you can afford it, buying is always the better option IMO. Renting was funky - there are a lot of random "so-called" real estate agents, very few dependable and who know what they're doing. Essentially, figure out where you want to live, you can go building to building and ask the watchmen / managers and they will give you information about open houses - its a bottom up approach - but quite effective. You also get a buzz for who the better agents are. Get an agent, it makes it easier. Typically landlords are gunning for long term company leases so you're already down in the order, typically people will give you 1 year leases, depending on paranoia - your landlord will either ask you to register the document (registrar office) OR just sign it and be done with it - registering it is in your interest as well as the landlords because your agreement becomes an address proof for items you want to do later (bank, cc etc). You have to put up a deposit equal to 2/4 mths rent, varies. Insist on wardrobes, paint job - standard stuff in Bombay. You pay for parking,electricity, gas - your landlord picks up the society maintenance, any non-occupancy charges.

6. Bank Accounts
We previewed 3 banks, ICICI/HDFC/HSBC - ICICI had hordes of people at the bank, not a pleasant banking experience, here I can be perceived as a snob with my dollars coming back home! :) Truth is that we were looking for some 1:1 banking system - which abounds in India - you will get it by default since you will come in with all your USD's - and heck you've earned it. I found out later that ICICI has a separate cell for high net-worth individuals (HNI), yes, thats you now - atleast till you make giant purchases like a home! :) Anyhow, so checked out HDFC, seemed very sarkari but was able to get into the bank and see faces - very sarkari - bored. HSBC met our requirements, small crowds (they have a min balance requirement) - instant 1:1 attention and smiling non-sarkari faces - I've been with them for 2 years now - very good experience so far - recommended. I opened an account in HDFC as well, thats useful cause
1. you can pay your taxes there
2. HDFC interfaces with almost ALL online outlets in India (websites, bill payment, ticket vendors) HSBC does not.
3. They supposedly have better loan products.

Its a good secondary account so far, best of both worlds as it were.

6. Move your money
You can only move it in smaller chunks if you transfer online - RBI has some norms. A good point to note is that you are NOT liable to pay taxes for any monies earned before you returned home, but bring it back in good time.

7. Find a good CA / PAN Card / Enter into the tax structure
I actually did this as #2 (after I decided to move!), found an amazing CA - Kamdar Desai & Patel - - I've not met these guys since I moved here - all my interaction has been over email / phone - they've filed my returns - gotten all my tax related items done thru them. Very highly recommended! Young team of people - they get the concept of service and provide it without having to travel to all corners of the city! Convenient! Apply for a PAN card ASAP, this is India's answer to SS # - everyone will ask you for this - so get it. There is a loophole - some Form 60 - but I hear that they are discontinuing that practice now.

8. Get a cellphone
Need I say more. Get tons of passport size photos and figure out what your address proof will be. Hold on to your old voter ID card or ration card if you had one. If your passport has the same address that you are living at - excellent - use that. Essentially to give you a cellphone line - you got to give photographs, address proof - if you aint got it, ask a relative to help you out - get an add on SIM card or a pre-paid card. You can always get your own later. Note that India does NOT have number portability yet.

9. Vehicle
Buy a car, a small car / hatchback preferably - why small - when you can afford much more. Couple of reasons - parking/parking/parking/small streets/fuel efficiency - my wife talked me out of buying an expensive giant ass car - good move on her part! :) A set of people might think less of you (seeing how your foren returned and all) - seeing that you've bought a small cheap car - I had a driver in my buiding (observant) - asking me why I didnt buy a Honda City - his exact words were "Saab, aapke gaadi mein sooo (show) nahi hain!". Ha! Incidentally we bought a Maruti Swift - love it - recommend it - peppy and fun to drive, seats 5 people - gets into small roads and takes little parking space - is also a looker (think Mini Cooper) - but these things are subjective. I've owned that car for 2 years - no issues, they came out with a Diesel version - supposedly rocks and has great reviews as well. Maruti really have re-invented themselves since I was last in India - I think they are a very smart company.

...more to card, dual part 3

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Move 1-2-3 (Part1)

Revived my blog and am hoping to blog semi-frequently based on how much time I get. I had originally created a blog because my friends wanted to know about life back home in India. 10K view - I lived in the US for 8 years and moved back about 2 years back now - so this is how I moved back...

1. Decide : The hardest part! :)

2. Pick what you want to move
- Disposable Furniture
Got rid of a lot of disposable IKEA type furniture, there is a good chance it wont survive the long trip home on a ship. Sold all of it on Craigslist to local buyers.

- Electronics
Preferably sell everything off, I had a speaker / amp system that I had assimilated over time with a lot of pain, so I HAD to get that, but I sold off every other item - again on Craigslist. The TV was the hardest to sell! Buy a transformer from the US if possible, its hard to buy an off the shelf transformer from here that works reliably and has a reliable voltage output. I bought a 300W / 500W transformer from Fry's , works like a CHARM. Houses in Bombay are smaller and I have a major issue regarding speaker placement and furniture placement at home - thats a topic for another blog! :) We were also unable to get rid of our food processor, we dont use it as much and an Indian make processor is preferable for Indian maids to handle and destroy over time - as opposed to your pricey Cusinart food processor!

- Propah Furniture
Here again we decided to sell off most of our furniture. We only brought back our bed and mattress, again only because we loved our mattress.

3. Picking a mover
This was very hard. I spent a lot of time asking and researching the right movers, almost everyone had a bad experience with movers that someone else was praising - so very hard to pick a winner as such. I used UTS Worldwide. I know the website doesnt look like much, but I had an AMAZING experience with these guys, while in the US and even once my stuff showed up in Bombay - the people in Bombay (their liaisons) were super professional and got my stuff out in record time and with the least pain. They even have some rudimentary online tracking of where your stuff is. Also, any good mover will give you an in-home estimate of how much it will cost roughly. Prepare atleast a month in advance to get this going.

4. The Stuff Move
We had about 30 odd boxes, the movers came in and boxed everything, make sure your cutlery is nicely packed and padded to avoid heartache on the other side - be prepared for *some* breakage though. We were fairly lucky here, we lost a couple of wine glasses in our move. So 30 boxes, one giant mattress (Queen) , bed and my music system. All this cost about $5K in 2006 to move from SF to Mumbai. The move itself cost close to $4.4K, the once it got here there were assorted bribes and such that had to be paid - I forget the exact numbers but I can safely say that we blew through my $5K move allowance. In moving parlance, we had a half container I think or a small container. People always try to hook up and try to share a full container, its supposedly cheaper. That might complicate the customs clearance later maybe?

- Transfer Of Residence (TR)
Check the Indian Consulate website for the latest rules, but this facility can be availed by NRI's moving back one time only. So you get favourable duty rates on items you bring back, I know of several people who go on a buying spree thinking that items are cheaper (sometimes they are) in the US than in India and do a TR to bring those back. Anyhow, my stand is that if I'm living in India I'd rather buy items here, support is easier and you avoid all the voltage conversion stuff, again there people buy EU spec items to work around the voltage imcompatibilities - to each his own! :)

- The Process
So we got back, my stuff took about 2/3 months to come via ship, yes it sails across the world, thats the cheapest option. Once my stuff showed up, the mover guy came, took my passport and other docs, did the paperwork - I had to goto the docks in Mumbai to do the customs part - which is just a elaborate dance to get a bribe - you pay your bribe and get done with it. Your stuff is now free to go wherever you want. Be-aware of extra local octroi (atleast in Maharashtra) - eg. I was moving some stuff back to Pune, the Octroi people charged me 1K odd to let my stuff pass, again bribes. Sigh..

More in part 2...sustaining the green card, getting bank accounts, pan cards, moving money, investments,cars, loans....

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