Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Traveller’s logbook

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Traveling has been one of my passions I have kept alive. I made sure never to miss a chance to see new places whenever an opportunity arises. I have not been a globe trekker (as those opportunities are hard to come by :-) but have seen quite a few places in India. India is a world in itself, a country so big with cultural contrast so sharp that I sometimes wonder it is magical that this country is still so beautifully bonded together. It reminds me of those words I have studied in school – “Unity in Diversity”, so true for this country.

I was born in Assam, a state in the north-eastern part of my country India. It is one of the seven sisters (as they are sometimes called) of the north-east. North-east is a place which most people do not visit, or do not get a chance. Being born there, I had the advantage to grow in a culture so unique and different. I traveled to Arunachal Pradesh (Nirjuli, Itanagar) for my education and studied in a college situated in a valley between mountains and with a beautiful river at my backdrop. The college had students from all the seven sisters and also from all over India. This unique mixed cultural experience was enriching!

Moving to Uttar Pradesh (Kanpur) for my higher studies was a cultural shift. The Hindi heartland in the northern part of India is surrounded by 9 states (in today’s count). Being the guy with scholarships now, exploring places was much more affordable :-). I finally moved to southern state of India, Karnataka, for my job. Bangalore has been my “Den” since then. It has given me a chance to explore most of south India.

Here is a chart of the places I have visited.

It will be easier to list down the states I have not formally stepped in (as I have passed them during travel to some other states).

In the north-east – Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland
In other regions – Haryana, Gujarat, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa

Working in a global conglomerate comes with its own advantages, some amount of global travel. My globetrotting have been limited to only few countries including United States and 6 European Countries (Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and France). Austria was on official trip when I explored its neighbors.

I actually wanted to list down my top 10 picks among the places I have visited. Every place I have visited is special and I have returned back with some special memories. I would like to exclude places I have lived in, as they will weigh down the others with emotions. I cherish the travel which has some of the strongest sweet memories, more than just the beauty of the place. My list might be a reflection of the same.

Here is the list in no particular order:

1. Coorg ( This place is special for two reasons. I had a memorable bike trip there with my college friends (Sujeet, Jyodi Deka and Pankaj). This was also the first place I visited with my wife after marriage…

2. Goa ( I have been there four times, once from college days, twice with office friends and once with my wife during my anniversary. Every time I wanted to go back for more. Goa has something that attracts…

3. Taj Mahal, Agra ( I visited it with my parents. No wonder it is one of the wonders of the world. Can’t explain its beauty, you have to see it for yourself…

4. Kaziranga ( Famous for its one horned rhino, I have visited it once during school days on a picnic. Lots of adventurous memories. For your information, I haven’t yet seen the rhino in Kaziranga, gosh; I have been planning to visit there again for ages…

5. Rajasthan ( I have clubbed whole of Rajasthan trip into one. Rajasthan is unique and a weeklong trip with Anil during Diwali was memorable. His house in Udaipur and the desert city of Jaisalmer was the pinnacle of this trip…

6. Manali (,_Himachal_Pradesh): A visit planned with my wife before our marriage. We haven’t seen snow before and this was it. Missed the snowfall though…

7. New York ( My first visit to anywhere outside India, and what a place to be. With a gang of young office colleagues, it was fun…

8. Europe ( This was the awesomest place visited by me. Pick of the trip was Achensee, Switzerland and Paris. I have written about it in my previous blogs…

9. Kumara Parvata Trek ( This was one of the most physically exhaustive things I did. But after it was done, it felt awesome…

10. Shillong ( This was during my college days. The whole travel experience from Nirjuli to Guwahati and then to Shillong still comes in my dreams…

I know I have missed many, but unfortunately ten was what I wanted the limit to be. Hopefully many more great travel experiences are coming my way.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday market @ Rum, Austria

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping." - Bo Derek

Shopping, everybody loves it…. Most of the joy comes from the fact that something new is added to our list of possessions. But, during my visit to Austria I came across a joy of experiencing something else.

About Rum

Rum is a market town (since 1987) located in Tyrol, Austria, on the eastern border of Innsbruck in the administrative district of Innsbruck-Land. Since World War II, because of proximity to Innsbruck and development of an industrial area in Neu-Rum (New Rum), which abuts the Olympic Village district of the city, its population has greatly increased and it has become one of the richest municipalities in the state. (,_Tyrol)

When I landed in Rum, I wanted to explore the places around where I was staying. One of the good way (or the relevant way) to explore a town and meet people is to check out its eateries. So I went to the hotel reception desk for enquiring about the good restaurants close-by. She informed that the closest is a McDonald’s that is a few block’s walk down the street, the other options are a few kms away. McD is something I can live with for a few snack, time-to-time when I am hungry, and thus decided to check it out.

Checking around

McD was just few walk down the street. It was quite crowded when compared to the number of people in the streets. Checked out the menu and ordered something. My vegetarian friends had some tough time ordering as there were very few vegie options (unlike India) and also there was this BIG language problem (Austrians speak German). They finally managed to grab something and when the stomach stopped screaming, we decided to check the place around.

Rum is really a small town (I guess a village for the localsJ) and there was nothing much around there nearby. Beside the McD was a gasoline filling station, and farther down was a big Metro Cash & Carry shop (You can see one in Kanakpura road, Bangalore ). A big parking area for the Metro shop overlooked it. Metro is a wholesale shop which required membership for any purchase. We crossed the parking and walked down to the store. We obviously did not have membership but still wanted in to explore the shop. Upon enquiry we realized that our company had special permission to shop there and we just need to carry our company ID badge for an employment proof. We decided to come back there the coming Sunday…

Come Sunday and we were outside the Metro shop just after finishing our breakfast. Surprise was awaiting us there when we saw – “The Metro store was closed”. We soon realized that all (well should I say most) shops remains closed on Sunday in Austria. But more surprises were awaiting us – we turned around to look at the Metro parking space and it has transformed completely.

Sunday market

The whole parking was filled with what looked like “Hawker” stalls. It was something that was not present the other day we visited here. Pleasantly surprised we decided to explore.

Just after exploring few stalls, I was quite amazed by the variety of things that was up for sale. Clothes, fruits, meat, electronics, paintings, old coins, antiques, shoes, fishing net…. u name it. We soon realized they were all used items and were sold by common people who loaded their van with stuffs and spread them out in the parking area. One antique beer mug with 3D carvings took my attention. I picked it up and checked the price – “Its goanna cost you 15 euros” – The old lady said. That was something too expensive, I kept it back. “If you want to buy it, I can give it for 10 euros” – The old lady told. There comes another revelation, they do bargaining here, hmmm…. Welcome India J

Over the next weekend when we visited Innsbruck and roamed around the popular tourist shops we figured out that the prices of items in the Sunday market at Rum is much less then what has been sold in other markets. But they are used items too though.

Henceforth, the market place became a favorite hangout place for us every Sunday, not just it was priced right, but the variety of items there was mind boggling. We typically spend a lot of time looking around, spending more time exploring things that we have never seen before. The whole experience was culturally enriching, meeting common people (old and young), and knowing their culture/dress/art form. Some sellers there would convert to shoppers as the day pass by. Quite fun to hang out and watch.

Some of the unique items on sale that I remember: Old worn out door knobs, deer horns beautifully decorated on a wooden plaque, one big garden statue, guitars and bike models, African wooden arts, Arabic artwork with gold colored carvings, skating and surfing boots, fishing rod and nets, a bike model made of cane, dried meat, old Olympic medals, badges, old swords, silverwares, antique brass utensils, and many more….

Some shopping

The things that attracted me most there was the antiques as well as the things that are very traditional to Austria. I zeroed in on an Austrian beer mug with lovely Tyrolian artwork of some famous historical monuments. The colors were beautiful, bright and traditional. I was able to get a good bargain (well that’s what I believed) and grabbed it.

To be doubly sure that I am collecting the right stuff I checked with my colleague in office about the things that can be collected as a memento from Austria. The inputs I received was, “Pick some beer/wine, they are famous here”. I wanted something else, they said – “Wooden items are good here, you can grab some”.

With their inputs in mind I started exploring the market again. A wooden plaque took my attention. It consisted of beautiful 3D carvings (looked like metal) at the center with the image of a Tyrolian soldier in three different moods. I checked for the price and the person agreed to give me a good deal if I buy all of them, three pieces in total. I was apprehensive to get all of them, so I decided to move on. But as I started exploring the other stalls, the plaque stuck to my mind. As one typical shopper I went back many time to the same stall, hesitated, avoided buying it, and finally decided – let’s buy it. I paid him the money and put the prized possession in my bag.

My wife Prantika visited me in Austria during my last week stay. I made it a point to take her too to visit the market, to give her a feel of it. She liked some artwork from Africa and we purchased that too.

When I finally left Austria, I came back with some great memories to cherish back home.

“Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the coarse or centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved” – André Malraux.

I just got another flavor of it……

Monday, June 13, 2011

Visit to Paris


Paris - City of Love, Light's and Dreams. Dream destination of many, the name itself sounds excitement. Paris is also the most widely visited place in the world. So when I got a change to visit Austria on an official trip, I made it a point that I do visit Paris.

Since budget was also a constraint, a to-and-fro journey did not make sense. Visit to Paris was hence planned to happen on our return trip, as a stopover before we fly back to India.


Once I reached Austria, the sheer beauty of the country bowled me over. The view of the Alp’s and its snow clad peaks were heavenly. The beauty of Austria though did not divert attention out of the planned trip to Paris. I had to book the train tickets as well as the accommodation well in advance to get a good deal.

The return dates were already finalized (same as to India) and the train ticket has to be booked for the fixed dates only. Over the first weekend went to the tickets booking counter of OBB ( and booked the tickets to Paris (~87 euro per person). Österreichische Bundesbahnen or ÖBB is the national railways system of Austria run by the federal government. Once the tickets were booked the responsibility of accommodation was delegated to one of my colleague, who took care of it.

Enjoyed my days of stay in Austria, and finally Prantika joined me in May. Took some time off from office and showed her around. To our luck the weather was with us (bright sunny days as opposed to intermediate showerwhich was common during that time of the year in Austria). It was finally time to say good bye to Austria, and head towards Paris; and back to India.

The journey… 13th May 2011

There is no direct train to Paris from Innsbruck and a connecting train via Munich was the only choice. The train leaves Munich @ 10:45 pm night and we had to plan out things accordingly. My experience with European trains was that it hardly gets delayed or cancelled, so I suggested a train to Munich that reaches 15 minutes before the connecting train leaves to Paris. But my colleagues were not ready to take that chances and we left Innsbruck at 6:30 pm, well ahead of time.

The train reached Munich @ 8:30 pm giving us more than 2 hours of free time at hand. There was nothing much to do and we decide to finish our dinner. I wasn’t feeling much hungry and neither was Prantika. So we went to “Burger King” to grab some snacks. Bought some water and headed back to the platform. The train arrived 15 minutes before its departure and we quickly settled down at our seats. They were 6 of them, 3 facing each other, no fall back arrangement and wasn’t very cozy for a night journey. The arrangements also did not allow sufficient space to accommodate the large luggage we were carrying on our way back home J. Somehow managed to get everything in and when it was time the train started on its journey to Paris.

I usually can sleep almost anywhere and had no issues in the train too. It seemed not the case for everyone else. I woke up in the morning when others were discussing how I was having a nice sleep and everyone else struggled. The train was scheduled to reach Paris @ 9:30 am and we got a chance to see France on the way. There are of course no mountains to be seen now. It was nice journey through farmlands, greenery and small towns. The train reached Paris on time. We rented a cab a headed straight to the hostel where we have booked a room for our night stay.

First reaction

Paris was just planned for an overnight stay, and we have to catch the early morning flight the next day. With such a less time in hand, we decided to make it a focused one. Like everyone who visits Paris, we decided to head straight to Eiffel tower. With few hours in hand we quickly got freshened up and headed out to explore the city.

Eiffel tower was at a walking distance from where we stayed. As soon as we hit the street, I saw history staring at me from everywhere. The beautiful city architecture amazed me. Almost all of the buildings, in every street I walked had loads of beautiful architecture built in it. Everything seemed to have been built just yesterday, just to welcome us. The Eiffel tower was nowhere to be seen (surprising for such a tall structure) and we kept following the map. We reached an open street and there was the Eiffel tower staring at us from top of the trees. It looked beautiful.

The Eiffel Tower

The tower was completely visible after walking for some more distance. The sun was shining bright with a blue sky and few clouds which was a perfect setting for clicking pictures. Everyone started taking pictures from different angles, me included. I took some time, just standing for amoment and enjoying the beauty. There were tourists all around, many Indians. Hawkers were all around selling mementos of Eiffel Tower, big and small. What surprised me was many of the hawkers were Indian, trying to sell stuffs to us speaking Hindi. May be you can find Indians everywhere doing business…. J

We wanted to go to the top of the tower, but looking at the length of the queue, we decided otherwise. With little time in hand, we decided to move on. Crossed the street and then took the bridge over river Seine. It is a major river and commercial waterway. Saw many boats ferrying tourists.

On the other side of the river were the museum and an Esplanade (open space). It had a great view of the Eiffel tower, as seen besides the river. The Paris skyline and its beautiful buildings beside the tower looked beautiful.

The aquarium

The next plan was to see the Paris aquarium (, as recommended by one of my colleague. The aquarium is just besides the esplanade, situated underground. The person in the counter informed that it will take ~ 2 hours to see it completely. As it was almost lunchtime, we took the tickets and started hunting for a restaurant. Settled into a Chinese restaurant and had a good lunch, trying out some new dishes. After the food, we were ready to explore the world of fishes.

The aquarium had different sections for Pacific and Atlantic species. The things I loved most were the beautifully colored fishes besides the coral reef (the ones I typically see in discovery channels only). Another star attraction was the shark tank. The huge tank was filled with many sharks swimming besides other species, including stingrays. Some kids were having some great time, getting extremely excited when the shark swims by. There was supposed to be a movie show later on the day, which we skipped.

Walk to Ark De Triomphe

Arc De Triomphe is another famous monument in Paris. It stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaull (large road junctions). The Arc de Triomphe honors’ those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.

The Triumphal Arch is approximately 30-45 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower. The walk is through the streets with the architecturally rich buildings. The walk was long and tiring after the busy day. But the excitement of the beauty let me forget everything. When we reached there the sun was touching the horizon.

The Arch reminded me of India Gate, which also symbolizes bravery and victory. Many of the big streets meet the Arch at the centre (reminding me of Connaught place – Delhi). The streets were huge and there is a underpass leading to the Arch. The most amazing part was the traffic – it was quite chaotic with cars crossing each other at amazing precision (same as we do in BangaloreJ ). There were large pathways for pedestrians and lots of places to sit. I sat there waiting for the sun to set, and to have one special snap captured. The sun started to sink below the horizon and the sky felt warm. I captured one last snap of the Arch.

Eiffel Tower at night

We walked back towards the tower. Darkness started to cover Paris and we saw the tower getting lightened up. We decided to finish our dinner at an Indian restaurant we saw on the way and walk back to see the tower when its fully enlightened. The dinner was good, some Indian food at Paris. After the dinner we started our leisurely walk back to the tower. The tower was fully glowing by then. Bright yellow lights magnified the beauty of the tower. A bright flashlight at the top of the tower directed the focused light everywhere around Paris. After we spent some time there it was time to head back to the hotel. As soon as we lay on the bed, deep sleep took over us.

Bye Bye Paris

We woke up early in the morning next day & quickly freshened up. The cab came to pick us up at 5:30 am for the airport. Had a last look at the city. Paris with more than few hundred places to see we just got a flavor of this amazing place. Reached the airport on time and walked towards the check-in counter. Just halfway stopped for a moment, looked back and said bye to Paris.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trek of a lifetime @ Achensee:

Thursday, 17th March 2011: Its lunch time in office and Marc (my colleague working in GE Jenbacher Austria) and I was talking about the beautiful weather. He suddenly proposed we should go for a hiking trip on the mountains near his home; and I readily agreed. We decided to do it this coming Sunday. I informed my India colleagues about this plan and they also jumped in. So we were ready for some real action for Sunday.

Sunday, 20th March 2011: It was a bright Sunday morning and I got quickly freshened up, finished my morning duties, and headed for the breakfast. To stay afresh until afternoon, I filled up my stomach completely. I filled my backpack with some eatables and fluid for the trek. All of us got together and moved towards the railway station. Informed Marc when we boarded the train to Jenbach.

Jenbach is ~ 25 minutes of train ride from Rum. Train ride from Rum to Jenbach is really scenic with great view of the Alps. You can see the Schloss Tratzberg castle just before reaching Jenbach. When we reached the station, Marc was already waiting for us. We jumped into Marc’s car and started our journey to Achensee Lake. It was around 15 minutes ride through a curving road. The Achensee is a lake north of Jenbach in Tyrol, Austria. Marc parked his car at his home and we took a walk down to the lake. It was breathtaking view of the lake between the mountains. We also saw the railway station for Achenseebahn ( Achenseebahn is operational during summer (starting in May) which carries passengers from Jenbach railway station until the lake by a steam engine driven coach. After walking few distance on the tar road, we moved towards the hiking trail.

It was just beginning of our trek uphill and the trail was already covered with snow. This gave an indication of what awaited us ahead. The snow was hard and walking on it was not very difficult, but fun. As we started moving upwards, the views started getting better. We started getting full view of the lake, which looked much bigger and much blue from this height. We kept walking with some brisk breaks, regaining our energy, and also capturing the moments in our camera. It was clear blue sky and the lake looked beautiful between the snow clad mountains. After some time, we were completely surrounded by snow. The route had marks of deer foot on the snow, suggesting their presence in those mountains.

We reached a place which had a sharp vertical slope full of ice. On inquiring Marc informed that we are actually crossing a skiing route. There were few skiing marks suggesting somebody must have already passed by it. It was snow all around now, and the worse part, it was getting softer. We left the hiking trail and now had to walk straight up the hill beside the skiing route. It was steep, and really scary, as the soft snow started slipping below my feet. We walked for a small distance after which we left this sharp hike. Now it was walk through the trail left by some earlier hikers. The snow now got really deep and soft. We started falling on the knee depth snow quite frequently. It was my first experience walking on so much snow. It felt like walking on very soft sand which kept slipping away as soon as I keep my foot on it, and the energy required for each step amplified. It was fun to see everyone falling down on their knees quite frequently. I just had my normal sneakers on (big mistake) where snow has already sipped in wetting my socks. The shoes were also wet and my legs froze. Marc kept telling that the peak was nearing but it felt really far. After some distance the snow became harder. It became much easier to walk, and we knew that the peak was near and the worst part of walking on soft snow was over. The peaked seemed nearer now, and after few more minutes of walk, we were there. It was almost 3 hours of trek with fun all the way (though the feet’s were really cold by now). Picture time…

Marc took us to a place where we got the most awesome view of the lake. There were many people now at the peak, most of who came there for skiing. There was a ropeway which also carried tourist to the peak, passing by the awesome views of the Alps. Everything was beautiful everywhere, and took some time out to enjoy the view.

We were feeling really hungry now. There was a restaurant at the top and we quickly settled in. it was quite sunny now and we took one table out in the open, with great view of the snow clad mountains in front of us. Time to grab some food, and we started gulping in. Marc informed that we will be taking a different route on our way back. The hike has already been a hit for us and we were hoping for some even better scenery on our way back.

After an hour of break and a nice lunch we started on our descent. The route was surrounded by nice view of pine trees covered with a sweet layer of snow. Descent took away less of our energy and we could keep up with the speed, and enjoy everything around. This route had a nice closer view of the mountains. After some time the trail became small passing beside the mountain, reminding me of my exciting bus journey to my college in Arunachal. The route passed through couple of tunnels cut through the mountain. There was ice formation on the tunnel from drooping water, which solidified to form the beautiful structures. We finally reached a place where Marc said he would come down frequently to read his novels. It had a small bench to relax with great view of the mountains. I just felt jealous :-)

We took a short break and then continued on our descent journey. The lake started to show up, reminding us of its beautiful presence. The snow started reducing and walking became much easier. The descent was quick and we were soon walking beside Acehnese Lake. Few of us ran towards the lake to get a feel of its icy cold water. Took a last view of the beautiful lake and joined Marc to the return journey to Jenbach railway station in his car. We all thanked Marc for the great hiking experience.

It was almost dark by the time we reached out hotel. My feet felt numb and a hot shower was what I was craving for. After the nice shower jumped into my hotel bed to browse through the memories captured in my camera. What a day, something to remember forever.