Category Archives: Personal space

Just a thought that popped up in a flash.. A few based on my personal experiences and a few others by watching the others.. My views and rules on how a society has to be built…….

Five ways to experience travel during lockdown

Continuing my posts on managing anxiety and keeping up self-morale during the lockdown, here’s some more on self help..

Binge-watching on Netflix, Hotstar or other OTT platforms, reading books, Cooking, meditation are so cliched. Doing these things daily too can get monotonous. Doing something for 21 days can lead to a habit. So, by the end of this lockdown period, we all don’t want to become couch potatoes..

Yes, every Sunday evening of our lockdown period has been made interesting by our Honorable Prime Minister. His tasks have made sure that we all came out to our balconies to get some fresh air and break the monotony. The clapping, clanging of plates, bells and blowing the conches from the confines of our balconies with an aim to Thank the frontline warriors of the Covid-19 Pandemic on 22-Mar-20 was a nice exercise to come out of our couches. Similarly, I’m sure the nation showed its unity and solidarity in hard times by switching off lights and lighting up lamps, candles, torches and flashlights on the evening of 05-Apr-20.

But, what about the other days of being locked down at home? Do your itchy feet rare to travel? And oh, those with little kids must be having the hardest time to keep them indoors. So, if you are looking for an offbeat travel experience to break your routine, while being locked up inside your house, here are five handpicked DIY ideas for you 😊

  1. Have your own bedroom rave party: An endless playlist is available either in your collection or on the OTT platform. Use the apps that also provide disco flashlights. Place your mobile screen between two mirrors that are placed at a distance away, facing each other. Switch off all the lights at home and let your playlist take the center table. Voila, you have your own dance floor! Make some drink or look online for some cocktail ideas with whatever ingredients are available in your kitchen and your party is good to go!
  2. Pitch your own tent or pillow fortress: For those of you who are frequent hikers, chances are that you have your own tent. You can pitch it in your own balcony or terrace and experience the outdoors in your own little campsite. For the others who don’t have a tent, fret not. Remember the ‘Pillow fortresses’ we made as kids? Why not let that kid out of yourselves now? Fold up your beds and stack up you pillows. You can even tie a string across your room and hang down a bedsheet from it. You have your very own DIY tent.
  3. Set-up your travel corner: Re-living old memories by digging up the old photo albums itself can be a great way to time-travel. You can pick up some of your favorite photos and hang-it up with lights in a DIY corner of your house. All you need is some strings and clips to hold your photos in place. You can also draw a huge map and mark the places you have been to and have it in your travel corner. Arranging your collection of souvenirs from your travels around this place too is a great idea.
  4. Star gazing from your balcony or terrace: Now that the skies have cleared, it’s a good activity to hone up your skills of star gazing. There are several apps and websites that can help you in identifying the stars and constellations. It’s a great idea to go out to your balcony and admire the vast expanse of the night’s sky. Who knows, you might even get a glimpse of the ISS (International Space Station) which is believed to be going around the earth- 16 times a day! There is usually one major meteor shower every month. Look up on the dates and catch the shooting stars 🙂
  5. Celebrate a festival: Light up your house as if you would do it for Diwali or for Christmas. Make up a mock festival at home. Festivals have always been a great way to bring in fresh energy and pep up the mood. I’m a sucker for diyas and candle lights and totally in love with the positive vibes it brings with it. No mood for festival décor? Why not cook up a nice meal and have a candle lit dinner?

Sounds fair? Let me know how you are dealing with the lockdown…. What ideas do you have to experience travel without leaving your doorstep?

Five ways to manage anxiety during a lockdown

I know the entire world is going through a deep crisis with the outburst of the CoViD-19. But that does not mean that the world is going to end, right? Anxiety can hit anyone, any time… that too when someone is locked up inside the house for so many days and weeks. While ‘How many days more?’ has a very uncertain answer, until may be a proven vaccine or cure is invented, nobody is certain- is all one can say. It is human to get hit by anxiety about what’s going to happen next. But let us see the positive side: nearly 50% are recovering. Let’s not panic and do self-care by staying indoors.

I’m someone who has always found company amid nature. Any problem, I believe ‘NATURE HEALS’. For all the abuse and exploitation that man has done to the planet, it is wonderful to see how nature is healing herself (Click here to see the video). That’s said, I am a “Cliched” travel freak who grows restless when I stay confined to a place for over a few hours. I’m sure I’m not alone in battling anxiety. The whole idea is to keep myself away from social media, from where I’m getting all forwards causing more anxiety. Here are a few things that I’m doing to keep myself calm as I continue to stay indoors.

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The honey bee-box in my balcony

5. Watch the honeybees toil in my balcony: I have set-up a box for them in my balcony and It is therapeutic to watch them work. It is spring season now and no better way to spend a day than sit and watch nature in her calmest ever. The only noise I can hear is the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of my honeybees.

4. Watch the birds flock to the feed and water bowls: The temperature outside has started to rise slowly. As we continue to stay indoors, the birds and squirrels have started to come outside. They will now start frequenting your balconies, only if you’re kind enough to give them a place to sit and take a dip in a water bowl. You will soon become good friends and begin to enjoy each other’s company. I have a good number of sparrows, red-whiskered bulbuls and squirrels occupying spaces in my balcony.

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The sparrows in my portico

3. Learn birding: As I continue to sit in my balcony and watch the flowers bloom outside, I have started to realize that I live in a place that is no less than a bird sanctuary. At least 40 varieties of birds have been spotted from here and I’m continuing to learn their names, habitat, bird calls and behavioral patterns. Some of them have been photographed and the photo-story is made (Click here to view the photo story)

2. Do up a vertical kitchen garden: While going out should be reduced to as minimum as possible, we can grow our own greengroceries in our balconies. I have converted an old ladder / stand, hung old mugs and tied used plastic cups where I’m growing green-groceries and small flowering plants. Some wet waste from the kitchen too is going into these DIY pots for decomposing. Mustard, tomatoes, brinjal, kothimir, beans etc. are some of the seeds you can easily find in your kitchen without having to worry about buying the seeds separately.My DIY vertical garden

1. Re-kindle a dead hobby: Found stacks of water paint that’s been shelved since school days 😛 most of them have dried up in the bottles. I’m finding new ways to make them useful and kill-my time by doing abstract paintings using abstract techniques. Running out of poster colors? Try organic colors. vermillion, turmeric, indigo, leaf extracts… Don’t’ you think its time to explore something new?

Tell me how are you helping yourself to beat anxiety?

How are you killing boredom at home? Share your ideas…

Who am I?

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We are who we are because of the type of experiences we have had in life. The experiences mould us into the personality that we grow into, with age. Some of these experiences (small and big) come once in a lifetime and yet a few- reoccur. When they reoccur, the first time always sets the bar. If it was bad, we accept anything that is a little better the next time. If it was good, we wouldn’t settle for anything lesser.

I often find it difficult to break the ice with the urban souls. I’m not really sure why, but travel is perhaps the way I connect with the others. I don’t mean I need to travel with them to connect; that’s an expensive strategy. But rake up a topic that is remotely related to travel- You have me there! I will be able to navigate our conversation into a diverse range of topics and things that exist under the sun.

I am an outbound person. Even if that means just stepping onto my portico or the front yard of my house; Or feeding a few squirrels or finding a bird nest in my granny’s attic, it is travel for me! For me travel is seeing things, both same and new with a new perspective each time. It gives me an opportunity to learn and gain a different experience. If not physical travel, I time travel to the glorious days of my childhood by doing little things that are outside a couch. I believe growing old in age shouldn’t stop one from doing what made them happy as kids. The purpose of life is to do whatever makes you happy.

So, Cinema and TV have had the largest influence on me while growing up. They were shot in exotic places and the people danced amidst crazy ass landscapes and that made me want to go there. And then, the cable TV gave me access to jaw-dropping documentaries on everything that is in space, land and underwater. Adventure, wildlife, machines, technology, aeroplanes, rockets, history, art…. Nat-geo and Discovery channel: You sure now know where I have picked my diverse flavors of interests from. Having said that, today as an adult- TV is the last thing that I would ever get myself into, if I were ever bored. That is because I see movies as just a way of slouching on the couch with inactivity. Also, the media of today is a whole lot of digitization and sells what they’re paid for. With so much editing and hyper-exploitative hunger for TRP, the audience don’t know how much of what they see are real. Hence, I prefer to go out, see, learn and understand for myself.

If life was kind, you’d probably see me reporting as a journalist from ground zero or heading an archeological or underwater exploration or maybe chasing a path down the Amazonian rainforests. I don’t know what I’d be doing, but for sure- having a ball of a time living life. (But well, that doesn’t mean I’m less happy where I am today. I guess, life has decided the path that is suitable to me).

Physical inactivity grows me restless. And so is with a game of cricket for me. As a child, I wondered that the cricketers always travelled to the Eden gardens or the Lords or the Caribbean for tournaments and after parties. As an audience/spectator, I can now only see it as one to five days full of inactivity in front of the “Idiot Box” based on whatever format the game is played in.

My political views too are largely based on my personal experiences from my travel and interactions with people across boundaries. I have grown with a pedigree feed of Toyota concepts of Genchi-Gembutsu. So, it isn’t easy for someone to sell me their opinions about places and people they have not seen.

It is a difficult connection to make with me… In short: I’m not the regular make-up-mascara girl you have seen elsewhere. You will really have to figure your way out to connect with me…!!

My First as a Trek lead- Gokarna

When you feel things are not going right, life has its own ways to heal its kids, you see? While I was feeling morally weak, an unexpected trip to Gokarna was awaiting my way. This time, I was going to lead a group of people, or at least assist a leader with ‘Plan The Unplanned’. With many firsts of experiences in its kitty, I was looking forward for this weekend trip.

So, after braving the outbound traffic on a Friday evening, the group of 25 of us left Bangalore and alighted at Gokarna the next morning. Blame it on the bus driver or the roads, 11.30.a.m. was late by all standards to reach Gokarna for the team that left GGpalya at 11.00.p.m. on the previous night. Anyway, that’s where the leadership aspects began to be tested. Considering that we were 3+hrs behind schedule and all 25 in the group were first time hikers, controlling the overall time to cover all that was mentioned in the itinerary was crucial.

That said, we checked-in to the campsite where our tents were pitched by the seashore. Without wasting much time, the team freshened up and started the hike quickly after a filling breakfast. A minibus took us to the start point of our hike- the Belekan beach. From there, the actual weekend started to unfold. Since the internet is filled with itineraries for a Gokarna trip, I will not add another one to them. Unlike my usual style of writing long detailed posts, I’d like to keep this short and to the point.

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The beachfront campsite at Gokarna

For the experienced trekkers, this was merely a walk along the coastline. But even for them, the small stretches of forests opening to amazing views of the blue sea now and then made the walk worthwhile.

Despite being late, we caught up with the schedule and spent ample time to take a swim in each of the beaches along the trail. Paradise beach for a snack break (fresh tender-coconut water and cut-pineapple with masala are a mandate on any Indian beach), Half-moon beach for a filling lunch (The beachside shacks serve an array of cuisines catering to its large visitors’ base from across the globe), Om beach for chasing the most mesmerizing sunset of the year, Kudle beach for a sumptuous dinner and finally walking along the Gokarna main beach to reach our campsite on a moonlit night… We spotted dolphins from the rock of peace, something that I had been wanting to see for the longest time. And then, I got that long pending hair braid done by a beachside vendor (Click here to read about it in detail). These were the highlights of my beach walk. Until then, I thought my day was GREAT!

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The hiking trail between paradise and Om beach

But wait, my co-leads took it up a notch higher. It was late into the night by the time the team had settled down in their tents. And I too was settling down to call it a day. By that time, my co-leads asked me to ditch my tent for the night and join them with my sleeping bag on the beach. The beaches of Gokarna are infamously known only next to Goa for having some badass drunken hippies strolling around. I did not want any misadventures on my first assignment as a lead. Although I was a little hesitant to do something wacky, I soon hit the sands with my co-leads and a fellow traveler.

Just in a bit and even before I realized it, I was sleeping under a clear sky, watching the stars. Well… watching a meteor shower! It was that night when the Geminids meteor shower was at its peak. We laid on the beach counting the number of shooting stars. When only one of us saw the meteor, the others would pull her leg telling that she was hallucinating. When all of us saw it together, we would shout in unison scaring away a few drunken people loitering around the beach. They would wonder who was drunk 😀

Eight… Nine… Ten… We counted the number of stars until we fell asleep to the lullaby sound of the waves. When I opened my eyes again, I was lying on the beach and seeing the white lights from the distant ships disappear into the light of the breaking dawn. This beach experience is something that killed it for the mountain girl in me!!! Only because I could strike a similar chord of interests with an awesome pair of co-leads and I can’t thank them enough for the night!

Yeah, managing a large group comes with its own set of challenges. Managing medical emergencies in the middle of the trail, accommodating quick changes in the itineraries and finding alternate destinations when abnormality struck were the unexpected things which I believe we handled with diligence. All said and done, the trip has been a memorable one in more than one way and a thumbs up to my new journey with Plan The Unplanned 😊

Join me in my future expeditions with Plan The Unplanned. Click here to sign up!

Summarizing my calendar year- 2019

Looking back at the past is nice sometimes… It gives a sense of where you have reached despite the several things that occurred on your way. Last year I had made a photo story of my travels comprising of 1 important photo from each of my trip during the Year. By the time I compiled it, I came to realize that I had travelled on ALL 12 months of the year! I don’t want to repeat the same format for 2019 and would rather do it differently.

Although I don’t like to associate myself to being called a materialist, I’m a sucker for collecting souvenirs. And most of the time, the souvenirs that I look for are inexpensive and something that have strong stories to tell. Despite travelling abundantly this year, I couldn’t really find such significant things to bring back home from my travels. However, there are other things that well-wishers bought for me or some things that I gifted myself as a reminder of something important. Here is the list, in no specific order 😊

Gifts from friends to me: Only people who understand me know my love for travel and what things get me excited. I appreciate their efforts in getting me these things which make me happy and treasure each of them. A few such things from 2019 are:

  • Rakija, the national drink of the Balks was brought from Belgrade in a set of 4 Cokanj (the narrow necked traditional shot glass of Serbia) placed inside an Oak container: If you understand the effort in getting this potion all the way from another continent and take effort to read up a little on google about the importance of this drink and oak in the Balkan culture, you will know why I treasure this souvenir so much.
  • The commemorative arm patch from 51 Squadron of IAF depicting the downing of Pakistan’s F16 by Major. Abhinandan Varthaman: It was an event that unified the entire country and getting my hands on an original piece was a dream come true.
  • A sharpener that is also a miniature globe was not something that was planned and bought. It was something that a friend instantly associated with me when her eyes fell on it on a random grocery shopping day at a supermarket. The spontaneity is what makes it special.
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Clockwise from top: 1.Rakija, 2.The arm patch, 3.The miniature globe sharpener

Gifts from me to myself: I am not someone who loves shopping. I don’t usually buy things unless it is an absolute necessity. But occasionally I like to invest on small collectibles that have certain significance associated with them. A few such things that I bought for myself in 2019 are:

  • The HMT quartz watch. Yes, I had one which I lost on a tour in Jammu. Ever since then, I had been fearing when will the last piece go off the shelf from the stores and had been longing to have its replacement. Finally I managed to get one this year. Not just one, I ended up buying HMT watches for each member of my family 😀
  • A Casio F91 digital watch. This is the last gift I bought myself for this year but one that was long due. I had NEVER worn a watch that had digital display ever in my life and as a growing up kid, I was always fascinated by the lights that were in certain watches worn by my older brothers. A light watch was something that I fancied wearing and somehow never got one. So this year, I let myself own this piece of luxury- The famous ‘Terrorist watch’ that also looks cool for my outdoor expeditions 😉
  • The hair braid done up by the beach. Well, this is something that will remain with me for a while, to mark many important events that occurred in 2019. Firstly, I got this braid in Gokarna thus marking my first as a trek guide. Secondly, this reminds me of a failed date of mine which followed a solo trip to Varkala where I had conceptualized the original plan of getting the braid from 😛 Thirdly, I am nearing the end of my 3rd decade of existence. So, I needed something wacky to mark all those years of toil and faith gone into chasing the unfruitful life so far! What better way that a woven braid, right? 😀
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From left to right: 1. HMT watch, 2.Casio F91 watch, 3.My hair braid from Gokarna

Travel for me, is beyond going to a place. Even if it means going somewhere familiar, I seek new experiences. I treasure it more if my presence brings joy to someone else around me. Here are my top 3 travel moments that I cherished through this long year of hectic business and personal trips.

  • Catching the moment when the Mysore Palace is lit: It is that One moment my friend and I sat up, to watch from Chamundi hills where a golden patch would go ON with a wink. What added to the fun was, two days later the newspaper read that the same parapet wall we had sat on, to watch the palace had given way down the valley due to a landslide 😀
  • Getting a surprise favour returned by a stranger who paid my restaurant bill at Varkala: I met a random lady on the beach and struck a conversation albeit we both not knowing each other’s language. She could speak only French and we conversed with google translate. I helped her to strike a good bargain on buying a musical instrument called Hapi drum, something she had been eyeing since days of her stay there. The following day, I was surprised when the waiter refused to take the bill amount after I had lunched alone. It was pre-paid by a lady, I was told.
  • Having goosebumps as I watched Chandrayaan-2 take off into space: It was living a childhood dream of watching a rocket launch and it couldn’t  have been more special than watching my country reach a new milestone in space technology. (Click here to read the entire struggle of watching the launch). The Coincidence was that the Lander (Vikram) in the spacecraft eventually lost communication with earth. Since then, Vikram also became TheLostLander :p

And finally, I’m someone who does not believe in chasing big dreams but in living many small things that bring immense joy that moment. Here are my joyful accomplishments for 2019:

How has 2019 been for you? What nice things do you want to continue to do in the new year? What would you have changed if given a chance?

Five travel essentials nobody tells you about

These are my top 5 tips I want to talk about which probably you wouldn’t have given a thought about. You don’t have to be a “Traveller” to use these tips and these are applicable to pretty much anyone who leaves home for a short time or on a vacation.

  1. NEVER flash your boarding passes on social media: I know it seems cool to flash your boarding pass and tell your followers/friends that you are heading to your next destination. But what most of us are unaware is that the QR code printed on our boarding passes contained very confidential information about that individual encrypted to it. It contains details of the transaction you have carried out in the process of buying that ticket. This in turn will be linked to your bank accounts, Aadhar, number of times you have travelled, places etc. It is an easy way to get to all your personal data which is otherwise supposed to remain confidential. So next time remember not to post it on social media and ensure you shred it or store it securely once your trip is completed.
  2. ALWAYS carry a candy or a sachet of sugar with you: Low sugar levels can happen to anyone anytime. I have experienced this twice during my travel. Once, I screamed out of panic when a bus conductor fell unconscious holding my hand while he was issuing my tickets. Some passengers travelling in the same bus came to his first aid by feeding him some chocolates. That’s the day I started to keep a sugar sachet in my wallet. It is probably the FIRST aid that should run through your head if someone is fallen unconscious. So, I make sure it is kept in the most easily accessible spot of my luggage or my wallet.
  3. ALWAYS sanitise your washroom faucets before use: I have always been haunted by the fear of getting a urinary tract infection by using washrooms outside my home. While on the road, there are times when I haven’t consumed a drop of liquid for many days just to avoid going to a washroom. These days, there are several toilet seat sanitizing products in the market to help me in this area. I keep a ‘Toilet Seat Sanitizer’ handy, that I comfortably spray on doorknobs, faucets and toilet seats before using them and relieve myself of my fears… quite literally!
  4. ALWAYS carry your own cutlery set: There is enough said and done about reducing one-time usage plastic cutlery everywhere. Carrying my own set of re-usable cutlery set is my way of doing my bit. Carrying a Swiss knife set or a kit with individual metal spoon, fork and knife would be ideal, but these are not allowed in check-in luggage if you’re taking a flight. So, you can use wooden substitutes for these which can be carried in your handbag/ backpack irrespective of the type of travel you are choosing.
  5. NEVER compromise on comfortable footwear: Shoes, shoes, shoes… is something I swear by! Since I’m a slow traveller who does a LOT of walking and running around, I always wear a comfortable pair of SHOES- trainers, joggers, sneakers whatever you call it, I mean SHOES that are flat, light and breathable. This is one thing I don’t compromise for low cost because the effects of poor shoes are long lasting. Along with this, I carry a waterproof sandals or floaters to let my feet breathe if I’m staying somewhere. Also, I have major issues of getting cramps if I walk with wet shoes, so that’s why these waterproof chappals come in handy!

Were these hacks useful?

 

How travel can help your country’s economy?

Indian economy is in a downturn. Everyone is complaining..

The automobile sector is seeing its worst crisis in 2 decades. If automobiles don’t sell, it not only puts my job at a car manufacturing OEM at risk, but has a cascading effect to hundreds of related industries. The steel, the large chain of vendors and sub-suppliers, sales, marketing, advertising agents, dealers to local garages, accessories, insurances, the indirectly dependant canteen, cleaners, gardeners, drivers, IT, so much so that even fuel station workers will lose their jobs. Why am I telling you this? I am no economist, I am no business man, I am no social activist…. I am a Travel blogger and influencer. So why this rant???, one may ask! It is because I want all of you to travel! Explore! Contribute your tiny bit to help our country’s economy.. by TRAVELLING!

It was a casual conversation with a colleague when we discussed about a meeting of his, with one of the top management members of a vendor company, a septuagenerian with over 40 years of experience in the automobile industry.. 4 decades..!! From the day of tariff commissioning to, date where it is more about survival than competition in the industry, he’s probably seen the entire cycle of the “Auto revolution” in India.. His experience and insights were commendable! Most of his qualms with the strategies to boost the sector was to do with the Indian mindset in general. Here is a brief of his insights into what can be done and further elaboration with my own thoughts based on my experience of Thai culture during my maiden trip outside of India!

We Indians have been raised with a mindset to save money. Stash up either in cash or in gold. By doing so, we are pausing the currency from circulation. A country needs monetary circulation for the economy to sustain. There should be buying and selling, both. One way to do that is, to travel.

Ofcourse, there is an endless list of intangible benefits of travelling. From strengthening existing relationships to creating newer contacts, from exposing newer cultures and landscapes to trying new food and meeting new people, travel teaches newer lessons everytime you step out. But the tangible benefit it reflects is that by helping the economy.

Let us start from planning your trip. You browse! So many people out there make up the content on the internet, develop softwares, manage them.. Agents for all your booking needs.. There is a whole lot of people working behind the scenes.

Okay, now you have a plan sorted and are stepping outside your house. You either drive your own car or use public transport. You are in the process, using your automobile.
1. This automobile would need to run. So, you go to a fuel station.
2. Either before, during or after the travel, this mode of transport would need a checkup- you visit a service station.
3. You get some funky accessories for your car/bike if you are using your own mode of transport, or the owner/driver does this incase of a public transport.

Now, you decide to take a pitstop on your journey. You have a cup of chai and some biscuits or let us say hot pakoras by the roadside. You just helped a small business flourish! Oh wait, not one business. He in turn buys the biscuits, milk and the ingredients for the pakoras from several other vendors!

Then, assume you have reached destination ‘X’. You dine at a local restaurant. You stay in a hotel or a homestay. You buy souvenirs. You pay entry fees to so many places of visits. Voila! You helped so businesses  survive during your trip. Do you see how many others depend on him for indirect employment?

Now, you tell me, you are not in a mood to travel to a different place. It’s okay! Take your family out for a dinner. Or even better, go shopping. Go to a spa. Go for a walk and eat Pani-puri. Sign up for a course, buy a book, watch a movie. Don’t stash up the money by staying indoors. Go out and do something! Your contribution to the economy is pretty much explained already.

The Thai people are probably the only ones in the world, who spend so much time with family or friends outside their houses. For most of the household don’t even have a functional kitchen. They mostly have food outside,  because not only does that allow them to explore newer restaurants, it also saves them the time spent on cooking and money on setting up and managing a kitchen. Their personal life is healthier than we Indians. Even a country as small as Bhutan, measures not the GDP(Gross Domestic Product) but the GNH (Gross National Happiness) index for the country’s progress.

When there is consumption, there is demand and supply! With that, the currency flows, in and out. Businesses start, grow, flourish and sustain. This empowers them with money. Money allows them to buy an automobile of their own. They start travelling. And one fine day, the poor vehicle grows old. What do you do? You buy a new one. The cycle continues… In the process helping the sustenance of hundreds of jobs and stabilizing the country’s economy at large.

By stepping outside your four walls, you only grow, you learn, you evolve. I make it a point to spend atleast 30% of my earnings on my travel needs. I feel rejuvenated, more confident and mentally sound every time I get NEW air away from home.

What is your take on this view point?

 

Story of making my wish come true- Watching a Rocket launch

You know, I know, we all know… That what we know is NO rocket science 😛

I don’t know about the millennials.. But as a 90’s kid, I sure know how everyone who grew up in the Doordarshan era have lived through the excitement of watching a rocket launch on TV. It would be far from anything but a dream come true to watch one in real! That’s why I decided to explore the journey of the evolution of rocket science in India… and thus score off one item on my bucket list- to witness a rocket launch! (Click here to see my wish list)

India’s space history had a humble beginning in a coastal village called Thumba in the 1960s. India’s first rocket, the Nike Apache was assembled exactly where once stood an active church of Lady Magdalene. Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is now called as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) where a sounding rocket is launched on the third Wednesday of every month to date. As India’s space research requirements expanded, the need for a larger area laid foundation to the present day Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR at Sriharikota. This is where the present day larger SLVs are launched.

This year 2019 is particularly of my interest for 2 reasons. One- we commemorate the Golden jubilee year of the formation of ISRO; Two- It’s the centenary year of the father of Indian space science, Dr.Vikram Sarabhai. (Click here to read the complete story). How does the country celebrate it? By launching a rocket… India’s largest rocket, taking the payload to the moon!

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On a random thought, I was reminded of someone distantly telling me about visitors being allowed to watch rocket launches at VSSC. I browsed through their website and immediately registered myself to witness the next launch.17-Apr-19 it was. My visit was confirmed by an e-mail on the following day. I was as excited as an electron. The next task was reaching there. Trivandrum seemed to be quite far as per google maps. It required a minimum of 4days for a return trip and working out any mode of transport to reach there was both expensive and time consuming. Trains tickets were sold out and flight charges were already sky high. I decided to wait for a tatkal train ticket or book a last minute ticket to travel by bus. I had planned to fall sick to office.

<28-Mar-19>
After many failed attempts at registering themselves for watching the rocket launch along with me, my friends got a rejection mail. Reason: ‘17-Apr-19 was a government holiday, VSSC will remain closed’, I was informed of what the mail read. Now, we were all in a fix. I had an acceptance and they were rejected with a reason. I called up the VSSC office immediately to get a clarification. I was told that the festival date was frozen after my registration and hence the April’s launch would be re-scheduled to a later date. So now, considering that 15-May-19 was the 3rd wednesday of the next month, the officer talking on the other end of the phone obliged to reschedule my visit to that day. My mother, brother and friends decided to join me on that day by registering themselves separately. All registrations were accepted and we were sorted. The next step was getting approval for my week long’s absence from office. It was fairly easy since it was still a month away and I wasn’t throwing a sudden surprise to my boss. Train tickets were available in abundance and we were all happy with confirmed AC berths for a return trip.

<11-May-19>
My cellphone had been blinking after an SMS was received. I reached out to read it, a SMS from VSSC it was. “The rocket launch scheduled on 15-May-19 has been cancelled due to technical reasons”, it read. We were supposed to travel to Thumba the next day. All our hearts sunk in for a bit. But then, yeah.. We were quick to accept the fact that “Launching a real rocket isn’t something like burning Diwali fireworks. There are a lot of scientific calculations that goes into it based on the fitness of the machine itself and geo-spatial positioning. These launches are scheduled monthly events and we can definitely plan to make it some other time. I’d rather surprise my boss by turning up for work even on a planned holiday”, I thought.

<15-May-19>
It was the day when I was supposed to be witnessing a rocket launch, in real. This day, I was pleasantly informed by a friend that ISRO had opened its gates for public viewing of satellite launches at Sriharikota. “Oh WOW!” was my first exclamation. As the World celebrates 50 years of man’s first steps on the moon this year, India was gearing up for one of its ambitious mission to the moon. The Chandrayaan2 was scheduled for a 2019 launch. “I shall wait for this one!” I had decided. I kept close watch on the launch date. As days passed by, the launch was declared to be on 15-July-19. The next task was to keep close watch on the registration link on the ISRO website. Eventually, newspaper headlines read that the registration lines for would go live on 04-July-19. Only 5000 people were going to be let in, on a first-come-first-serve basis. It being a milestone project, we had to be real quick to apply and lucky to get the entry passes.

<04-July-19>
I was up and waiting for the stroke of the clock at 12.00.a.m. But for my disappointment, the website had hung. Waiting until the server got better didn’t seem to be a good idea but I had my apprehensions about losing a chance. But the sleep gods had started to take over me. I set the alarm at 05.00.a.m. hoping to try my luck anyway. Surprisingly, when I woke up at 5.00.a.m., the website still gave the same regret message. I decided to try again after reaching my workplace. It was around 09.30.a.m. when the lines got better and I had navigated into the 2nd page of registration. With a surprisingly slow server of the ISRO, it was 10.00.a.m. by the time I had a confirmed entry pass for 3 people including my mother, brother and myself. My friends on the other end had failed to get the passes. As expected, the tickets were SOLD OUT in less than half an hour of opening the registration lines. I was LUCKY!

<14-July-19>
The trio comprising mom, bro and myself set out on this epic road-trip to see our wish come true.. We were driving to Sriharikota, to witness the launch of India’s largest rocket till date- GSLV MkIII, carrying onboard, the Chandrayaan2. The satellite was scheduled to launch at 2.51.a.m. that midnight / early morning of the following day. The last town before Sriharikota was Sullurpeta, 25kms away. All hotel rooms were sold out and we had decided to stay inside our car and make do with the available fuel station or restaurants when we had to answer a nature’s call. Although the entry to the launch view gallery was scheduled to be open at 10.00.p.m., we ensured that we reached there by 08.00.p.m. to avoid the traffic and the rush. When we reached there, the rocket garden at the entrance already seemed to be flooded with media-persons and the visitors alike. When this Bahubali rocket blasts off, the entire island lights up like day, the window glasses rattle in Sullurpeta, a visitor told us adding to our excitement. When the gates opened, we were among the earliest visitors who occupied the seats of our choice. We watched the crowd slowly pour in to the gallery and the excitement was only getting higher with passing time. We were still over 4 hours away from having our wish come true.

The Rocket Garden with the scale models of the SLVs

While the entire country was glued to their TV screens to watch a nail biting finale of cricket world cup in which India was out of the tournament long ago, I was part of a relatively smaller crowd that had gathered to cheer for India on one of its greatest mission to date.

At a distant sight of view, the red lights were blinking on the cranes and the umbilical tower at the launch pad. The emcee was building up the momentum for the final showdown. The cheer for India and ISRO reverberated in the gallery as the countdown and live videos of the satellite were displayed on the large LED screens.

At around 57 minutes ahead of the launch, the emcee’s voice dropped. With a pause she said, “The launch has been temporarily withheld due to some reasons. Anyway, we shall continue to do whatever we are doing right now, to cheer for this project.” Even before she could complete, another voice echoed in at the 56th minute. “This is the director talking from the control room. Due to a technical snag identified, this project remains called off for today”, he said. There was a sudden silence as the crowd sat in disbelief. The emcee too hadn’t seen that announcement coming and wasn’t really prepared to take that. She repeated the exact words of the director to the crowd. The audience continued to sit in silence. Clearly, disbelief loomed large. Every soul in the gallery hoped that it was a prank and Chandrayaan 2.0 was still going to take off in a few minutes. The emcee told them to disperse.I felt like my head was going blank and it felt like the emcee’s voice was fading out. I waited for the launch hoping it would take off after the crowd cleared out. “This project remains called off for TODAY”, I tried to understand what had just been said. “The mission was not CANCELLED, it was only POSTPONED to a later day..” I reassured myself. “I shall be back… to cheer for my country’s greatest scientists.. for propelling India’s ambitious mission..” I decided.

<18-July-19>

Amidst lot of speculations, the new launch date was set to be 22-July-19. ‘You can reconfirm your visit to the launch view gallery by clicking on the link provided.’ an email from ISRO read. I wasted no time in updating my entry pass as a constant smile of re-assurance prevailed over my face on getting to go again. Unlike my previous visit to Sriharikota, I decided to contain my enthusiasm this time. I didn’t care the delay, all I wanted was a successful mission.

<22-July-19>

Today, we are here at the gallery already at 10.00.a.m., we are the early birds who have come here to occupy the prime view seats, the drizzle of rain since morning hasn’t dampened our spirits. People are slowly trickling in, but they all seem to keep it a low key affair this time. The momentum was given a boost by Mr.K.Sivan, the Chairman, ISRO by coming down to the launch view gallery to meet and greet the enthusiastic crowd. We were all briefed about the unknown facts about #chandrayaan2 by Mr.Ranganathan, the project director for the stage 1 of GSLV mk III.

Top: Launch pad on 15-July-19; Below: launch pad on 22-July-19

The first visuals of the Bahubali rocket all set for its trip to the moon from the launch pad finally appeared on the LED screens and crowd had started to get eclectic as the countdown started. And well, Finally the emphatic countdown has begun and we see everyone more confident than ever… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1……

The flight off moment
The flight off moment

It was SHEER sight of a lifetime… an impendingly roaring bright yellow mass of flame blasted off from amid the forest cover, separating itself from the umbilical tower.. A sonic boom travelled afar and within a few seconds, it disappeared into thick clouds. Although the launch vehicle lifted off at 2.43.p.m., the cheers from the control room came in 16 minutes later when the 3,850-kg spacecraft was successfully placed into the earth’s orbit and the first signal of separation was received from the satellite. CHANDRAYAAN2 on its trip to the moon, with a successful launch!

I’ve got Goosebumps all over me!

Happy Chandrayaan to ya’ll!

Here’s a quick summary of India’s mission of landing on other celestial bodies outside earth:

  • Circa 2008: Chandrayaan1, India’s first ever mission to the moon, put India on the world map for being the 4th country to land on the moon. Although it was functional for 312 days against the intended life of 2yrs, it was still able to achieve 95% of its expected tasks. That was HUGE for a first Indian- home made launch vehicle.
  • Circa 2013: Mangalyaan1 was a first for any country to have a successful landing on the Mars on a maiden attempt. What’s bonus? The orbitor that was designed with an intended life of 6 months is still orbiting around the Mars, well into its 5th year as on date.
  • Circa 2019: Chandrayaan2, India’s 2nd mission to the moon made it the first country to land on the southern pole of the moon. Why is this mission so important? This satellite will be launched in a GSLV MkIII, the largest launch vehicle ever built by India. The success of this mission will pave way with more thrust to India’s first manned mission to space- The Gaganyaan, which will also happen with the same launch vehicle.

Through these successful launches, India has created a niche for itself for producing successful space projects at lowest prices. These entirely indigenous projects which cost way lesser than several hollywood movies speak volumes of the capabilities of the scientists of my country.

As someone rightly said, so many countries have the moon on their flags, India is one of the only 4 countries to have their flag on the moon. There can’t be more reasons to applaud ISRO and be proud of India, my INCREDIBLE country!

From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch
From top right clockwise: 1: ISRO Chairman Mr.K.Sivan addressing the crowd, 2.Mr.Ranganathan, project director for Chandrayaan stage 1; 3: My brother and mom in the crowd; 4: Mom and myself after the launch

Taking travel inspiration from busy bees

Aren’t honeybees good inspirers to travel? In a lifespan that’s as short as just a few days, they find a new place every day, explore a new flower every minute and taste new nectars on every flight! All this while still performing their assigned duties without having any complaints. Living a sweet life while being as busy as a bee!

It was curiosity that led me to learning about bee-keeping. This curiosity was a summation of multiple experiences accumulated through the years of childhood. I have been raised by my grandparents where honey has been an essential part of my life. We used it as a dip for breakfast and as a rice-mix for lunch, as an energy drink with hot water or even as a medicine with brandy or pepper corn. And yeah, stashes of several bottles went packed as souvenirs to guests who visited home and to friends who lived far away. You can call this honey with adjectives like pure, organic, handpicked, homemade, etc. ‘Coorg honey’ it was, after all!

Grandpa was personally enthusiastic about this particular hobby of his. I was often smitten with curiosity when he returned home with either a swollen face or with swollen hands. When I went nearer to him to check for his condition, he would only greet me with a warm smile and a piece of honeycomb dripping with fresh nectar. While at home, he would be busy with his bees in 75+ boxes that were kept around the house. It used to be a festival day for the family when drums of honey used to be extracted from his boxes all by himself. While at his favourite place- the Abbi estate, it was customary for him to have a daily look at this massive ‘Honey Tree’ as we called it, the single large tree where bee hives were formed annually. It was the family night out, an annual event that we all looked forward for. Honey tappers from a specific tribe called ‘Jenu Kurubas’ used to be called in, to climb the tree in pitch darkness on a no-moon night. The family camped in the darkness at midnight on the damp ground of the coffee estate with the rustling sound of the waterfalls in the background. While as a kid, I was amused with the spectacle of blue lights falling down from that tree, only as a grown up adult I realize the lights were indeed bees that were falling down after being smoked up in the process of honey tapping. And not to forget some odd days when he would pick out snakes from mud crevices that he had put his hands to collect honey from. And then there were days, when we made friends over a bottle of honey. These were customers who came to grandpa’s makeshift shop at Abbi falls with their unique ways of testing the quality of the honey sold there! Each customer, a unique character and every conversation, a story in itself.

For me, adding this new dimension to my travel stories was more of an emotional journey.. With the passing away of Granpa, the charm and life that his favourite place held too passed. The ‘Honey Tree’ eventually saw the ground leaving our family to buy honey from the market. Having relished the finest nectars from high tree trunks, deep mud crevices and those handpicked from the several bee boxes kept around the house, our family like all others are really not sure of the quality of those available in the market. That’s when this thought of setting up my own bee box struck me along with traveling in pursuit of knowledge sharing. These things led to me developing an interest about learning about honey bees and eventually respecting these tiny creatures more and more. I think being born in a community of nature worshippers gives me an instant connect with things that are natural and essential for our existence. Home is where primary and the most essential education starts and for me, Grandpa has been the main reason for one of the finest childhood lessons and home education I have picked up.

Albert Einstein said, “The Earth will come to an end in just 4 days if there be NO honeybees on this planet.” Honeybees are such an important part of our very own existence on this planet, Save them! Get in touch with an expert before you get that beehive removed from your concrete dwelling. Alternatively, get in touch with me for I would be more than willing to give a talk for awareness in your community. I signed up for a workshop to learn this art of bee-farming, and a certification came as a bonus. I did my course with ‘HoneyDay Bee farms’ who are thorough professionals and extremely knowledgeable in the field. They work with farmers right from the installation to extraction to marketing thus assuring you a 100% purity in their products. Go try them out!

I’m supposed to tell you this

While I write this post today, it’s obvious for one to think that I’m venting it out because of all the drama happening between India and it’s neighbour. But, why I choose to do it now is the video of an Indian warrior has kept my heart pounding with anxiety over the last 2days. The video released by the Pakistan army shows that the enemy captors interrogate a severely wounded Indian soldier, his hands tied, blindfolded and there.. with all poise, dignity and calmness in his voice and posture, the captive soldier replies, “Sorry Sir, I’m not supposed to tell you that!”

So here is what I want to tell you all..

My earliest connections with the uniform are mainly two. First is being born in a community which has given some of India’s most decorated defence officers and that had its own regiment in the Indian army. Seconly, being raised in a family of strong women with one of them going on to becoming the first women cop in the state. Yeah! I had quite a lot of stories to listen to while growing up, of both men and women in uniform… Can I say uniform runs in my blood? Stories of heroics of the officers from my hometown and the adventures of my aunt in her pursuit of a job in a male-dominated area has fuelled my curiosity, inspiration and motivation to pursue a life of adventure. Admiration for the #MenInUniform (and the women) had come naturally to me. But these instances take me back in time on how I have always been inspired as a growing up kid to pursue a career in the Indian Military Services.

Growing up in a small town meant limited access to things. So the only ‘Air Force’ thing we could see were occasional choppers that flew in with VVIPs visiting the hilltown (These could have never been the IAF choppers if I guess). Like all kids of the 90s did, we waived at the choppers hoping someone waived back at us.

I now travel to some other faint memories from childhood. It was my week long stay with a relative at Hyderabad. They were an army family living in their army bungalow somewhere in the viscinity of the Golconda fort. That was my closest meeting with defence personnel and the army way of life until then. The discipline, etiquette, mannerisms and all those were something that really caught my fascination. Until then, I had only heard stories and now, I was seeing them all.

But the most fanciest days of my life were my summer vacations spent at our house in Pune. The Sukhoi 30s were newly inducted in the Indian pride back then. And our house being in the proximity of the airbase, ‘The Hunting Hawks’ as they were called, flew past during their sorties all day long. The various formations and the thunder that rattled almost everything in the house were an eye candy and feast for the ears. It is something that really caught my fancy for fighter planes and more so for the adventure that the defence forces had to offer if I happened to join them ever! I am FOREVER grateful to my folks for having a home there… cuz that’s where a spark for the forces was ignited and a fancy for fighters struck me. And then were my share of stories I got to hear from my uncle (a veteran officer from the British Army during the world war) and his many colleagues at their army society at Salunke Vihar in Pune. I used to be a curious cat listening to them all. Year on year, the travels during my summer vacations were eagerly awaited!

Growing up, I got some insights into the way of life through my participation in the NCC (National Cadet Corps) while in high school. With a continuous pursuit of adventure and curiosity to understand how things worked, I think signing up for a course in Mechanical Engineering was inevitable. Sometimes, it is really okay if you don’t get the best. You get what is best for you. With that, I mean the real deal of life that came to me in the form of an admission at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore. This is where I really got the whole Indian airforce thing into me. It’s beyond just an explanation of how fascinated and excited I used to be on just seeing a fighter plane. With almost all the planes from India’s might being there, it really opened up another world to me to learn about the airforce and its strength. I started to get back and google more to learn about each plane, the technology, its background, its history with India, what it takes to be a pilot in IAF and all those associated stories you find hyperlinked online. The more I read, the more I got thrilled. Ok, so a long story short- I too tried my hands at getting into the forces and failed a couple of times, if you asked me that question. So, yeah! Corporate world has me here by chance and not by choice. So if not here, you know where I would rather be!

Why am I telling you all these things today? Cuz, I’m hooked to the news channels along with a million other Indians praying for the safe return of our brave pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan’s release from the captivity of Pakistan Army. It’s an expression of anxiety I’m not able to get out of myself over the last couple of days. With extreme courage and poise, this brave son of my nation has stood by the motto of the MIG-21 squadron: “Siddhirvasti Sahase” which in Sanskrit translates to: “Success lies in courage”. Like literally! What more defines courage than his encounter with the Pakistan fleet? Can you imagine a Bison (that’s the nickname of MIG21) hunting down a Cheetah? (A F16 Falcon in this case) It rarely happens, and this brave warrior has done it! Chased death by the enemy back into its territory! Isn’t this what makes a true warrior? And our country divides its people based on caste and age-old professions…

Be it the Army, Navy, Airforce, BSF, CRPF, coast guards or anybody out there… with the kind of passion, selflessness, skill, precision our brave hearts at the forces keep vigil of our nation… A million million THANK YOU to each one of you guarding us all and enabling us live this happy life in our so called ‘Safe Havens’. As one of my friends rightly points out, with Wg. Cmdr.Abhi, what all of us have seen is just a tiny glimpse of what our forces holds. There are a thousand other equally skilled warriors in our forces who are all waiting for a chance to strike back. They are collectively an epitome of what India Truly is!

Image credits & patch designed by: Saurav Chordia

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