Tag Archives: India souvenirs

A souvenir from Rajahmundry- Ratnam pen

This was a part of our family’s five state road trip covering Chhattisgarh – Odisha – Andhra – Telangana – Karnataka in Dec’20.

They say a pen is mightier than a sword. A good writer can win a great battle. I guess it has been all the more true in the Gen-Z era. Although the pen has been replaced with keypads, the social media warriors have continuously upped the war of words 😛 But for a few old-school goers like me, nothing can replace the joy of holding a pen between the fingers and scribbling on paper. The thought instantly takes me back to the earliest days of life when I graduated from a chalk and slate to a pencil and paper. When we reached middle-school, I was a proud owner of my first pen. Writing with a pen was a symbol of growing up; we flaunted it around with those younger than us in school. “Don’t use a ball-point pen, it will spoil your handwriting“, was an instruction given by a teacher to all of us. Filling ink into the fountain pens was a mandatory part of our daily chores. On days that we either wrote more or forgot to fill inks, we would barter drops of ink with our classmates. Although ball-point pens made their way and stayed in the comp-boxes of my pals by the time we reached high-school, I somehow carried the instructions of my teacher with myself for a little longer. I switched over to a ball-point pen only after I graduated from college. But my love for fountain pens and writing on paper still lives on. This is the long story in short, about my connection with fountain pens.

Rajahmundry is a big city in Andhra Pradesh. It is one of the largest exporters of textiles, rice and horticultural products in India. But ignoring all that, my need for exploring the congested bustling streets of the city was to find a fountain pen. With the help of Google maps, I walked through the narrow lanes of the busy shopping area to locate an old graceful house dating back to pre-independence era and surrounded by tall modern buildings. The house was an elegant traditional structure built and maintained in its original form with clay tiled roof and a large open central courtyard. That morning, I had come there to buy an art piece – ‘The Ratnam Pen’.

Ratnam Pens- Manufacturing and Sales Outlet

‘Ratnam pen works’ is a heritage fountain pen maker who has been one of the earliest in this business when Mahatma Gandhi largely promoted ‘Make in India’ concept through his ‘Swadeshi’ movement. These pens have been used by some of the famous personalities from across the country and the world. Ratnam pens are a delight for every pen collector. A framed paper on the wall is a prized possession of this craftsman. It is the original copy of a handwritten letter by Gandhiji to the owner of this place in appreciation of his contribution towards the swadeshi movement.

A copy of Gandhiji’s letter, a fountain pen case and the lathe machine at Ratnam pens workshop

Apart from being the shelter to the owner’s family, this house of ‘Ratnam pens’ is a workshop where the mightier pens take form. These famous fountain pens are made and sold only here to which people come down from across the globe. Although these pens are unavailable for online purchases, “Anyone interested to buy them or want spares and service for existing products can do so by calling me directly on my phone”, the owner says. I was more than excited to lay my hands on this new addition to my collection of pens. A happy me was then set on continuing my travel towards another noteworthy village nearby- Details on my next post 

This is my humble attempt at promoting domestic tourism and local artisans. I urge my readers to support small businesses by buying locally produced substitutes for imported goods.

What is that one favourite souvenir you have bought from your travels? What are your memories from school? Please do share your thoughts on this post with me. I would love to hear them.

Offbeat Things to do in Vishakhapatnam

My interest in pursuing a career related to the oceans goes a long way back into history. I intended to study oceanography while in school. Then, in spite of studying at an elite college in Bengaluru that offered the army wing of NCC (National Cadet Corps), I wanted to move out to get a ‘B & C’ certification in the Naval wing. After completing my graduation in mechanical engineering, I thought I could do well with a career in a refinery or a shipping harbor or something. A career in ‘Merchant navy’ never had an approval from my family! I did try to get into the ‘Indian Navy’ through the SSB as well. Anyways, all have been futile attempts as life always had other plans for me. But all the above interests have a deep connection with the port city of Visakhapatnam.

Apart from its strategically important port, Vizag had intrigued me as this city is geographically located between a sprawling beachfront and the eastern Ghats. I have been wanting to tick off Vizag, also called as Vishakhapatnam from my ‘to visit list’ from a really long time. Finally, my stint with Vizag materialized in January’2021. This visit is a part of my family’s road trip through Bengaluru– Telangana – Chhattisgarh – Odisha – Andhra Pradesh – Bengaluru.

I had heard a lot of my acquaintances tell me how beautiful this city is. Also, blame it on me for being spoilt by what my home state has offered me in my upbringing. The beaches of karavali, the hills of western Ghats, the coffee plantations of my native district and the sumptuous spread of regional cuisines, similar things were spoken about at Vizag as well. But all the people who had suggested Vizag on my bucket list were the urban tourists who visited this place to either chill by the beachside or relax and rejuvenate at a resort. For those who know me well, I have always enjoyed the exploratory kind of travel. So, I did manage to find such places and things at Vizag to satiate the explorer in me. Here are my favorites:

The INS Kursura submarine museum: This is like “THE” thing that brought me to Vizag at the first place. The experience of the guided tour inside of this de-commissioned submarine is something that is priceless and cannot be quantified with a price of an entry ticket.

INS Kursura- Submarine museum

The TupoLev142M aircraft museum: This is one of its kind of what I have been before. The experience of walking through a real aircraft that once served in the ‘Indian Navy’ is a million-dollar worth if you are someone who has deep interest in the uniforms, technology, and scientific history.

Tupolev 142m at the aircraft museum at Vizag

The cable car ride: Kailasagiri hill is a favorite hangout among the locals. They choose to drive up there, walk around the park and hangout at the eateries there. But for me, this was an interesting place because I reached the top of this hill through a cable-car. For all the people drooling over the Singapore tourism’s photos, Vizag is your nearest bet. Once you reach the peak, another recommendation from me is to take a ride on the toy train that goes around the hill. The 360deg view of the city and its enchanting coastline is indeed worth a visit, while you are in Vizag.

View of the coastline from the Cable car in Kailasagiri

Borra caves: Situated amidst lush greenery, these caves are known to be the widest cave complex in the Indian sub-continent. If possible, time your visit into the caves when a train passes over the land above, you can experience the tremors inside. It is located on the outskirts of Vizag and can be combined as a day trip to Araku valley.

Glimpses of Borra caves

Araku valley: For someone hailing from a place that is called as the ‘Coffee land’ of India (Kodagu district in Karnataka), I found the small patches of the famed ‘Araku valley’ coffee estates overhyped. But still, a meal of ‘bamboo-chicken’ with the valley in the backdrop, a hundred small dotting waterfalls and the beautiful scenery all along the way that made me want to stop for a photo at every turn of the road, all score a definite recommendation from me for a day trip to this valley.

At Araku entrance (From Koraput side)

Sip some kallu by the beach: With its buzzing coastline and palm trees growing in abundance, it is highly likely that you will spot some toddy or Kallu tappers (palm sap collectors) walking past you near the beaches. You can buy the fresh Kallu and enjoy while you are chilling by the beach.

A toddy/ Kallu tapper selling Kallu at one of the shacks

Beach hopping & Ship spotting: Being a major port city on the east coast, it is very likely that you can see some mad-ass big ships that dock at the Tennessee park Beach from across the world. However, there’s ‘MV Maa’, a Bangladeshi cargo ship that’s abandoned after it got beached during the covid-19 lockdown. If you’ve never been so close to a ship before, this is your opportunity to literally walk over, touch and feel a ship. Bonus: News is that if everything goes well, the ship will be converted to a floating restaurant soon 😍

MV Maa- the beached cargo ship of Bangladesh

Have you been to Vishakhapatnam before? What did you like the most?

Two Premier Institutes of India- A shared history

HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), Asia’s largest and India’s first aerospace establishment was founded and is headquartered in Bangalore. If you want to walk down this journey of how aviation industry has evolved in India, a visit to the HAL Aerospace Museum, India’s first aviation museum located at the HAL premises is highly recommended. From the first aircraft, Harlow PC to be assembled at its stables to manufacturing the most modern helicopters, planes and equipment for present day requirements of the Indian airfare, navy, railways and space research, HAL’s journey has been a long one. One is bound to get amused in another world by taking a walk between vintage planes, flight simulators, mock ATC and all things associated in this subject of fantasy at the museum hall. Now, this place leads me to my next destination: The IISc (Indian Institute of Science).

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An exhibit of the Pushpak aircraft at HAL

That morning, I had ordered a plate of idlis at this little restaurant on the IISc campus. Just like any other day at that restaurant, the environment was abuzz with the chitter chatter of the people I was surrounded by. A typical scene on any given day includes the best scientists of India and abroad discussing new experiments over a plate of food in what is one of the premier research institutes in the country! Irony has it that similar discussions happened under the same roof, sometime in history. But back then, the discussions were about something more strategic and destructive. It was right here that a bunch of people discussed a war plot. What is now the top-of-the-notch science and technology institution in India, served as a hub for maintenance and repairs of the aircrafts during World-War II.

In the late 1930s, a factory meant for automobile maintenance was setup by an industrialist named Walchand Hirachand in the present day IISc campus. History has it that on his way to China, Hirachand chanced upon a meeting with William D. Pawley who was attached to the Intercontinental Aircraft Corporation of New York, an American aircraft exporter. This connection lead to the procurement of the necessary tools and equipment from the US to setup an aircraft production line in India. It was in December 1940, with funds from the Mysore state, the Hindustan Aircraft Private Limited came into being. The plan was to manufacture the Harlow trainer, Hawk fighter and the Vultee attack bombers at this factory. However, this required huge manpower that was trained in Aeronautics which lead to the establishment of the department of Aeronautical engineering.

A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate
A 1942 file photo of the HAL main gate. Photo courtesy: HAL museum gallery

The structure that housed the aeronautical engineering department was designed by German architect Otto Koenigsberger. Otto Koenigsberger was a young Jew who had fled his country during the Nazi regime and was later in time, employed as the government architect of the erstwhile Mysore state. His architectural design is an amalgamation of European and traditional Indian styles and can also be seen in the present-day metallurgical department and the hostel office on the IISc campus along with many structures across India. Talking about the aeronautical engineering building- it is an oblong structure with high ceilings and narrow corridors that integrated natural climate control. He has also designed the closed-circuit wind Tunnel, the first of its kind in India and hydrogen plant among other things that are associated with aircrafts. With all the technical back up from IISc, it was in 1941 that Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) assembled the first aircraft in India: A Harlow PC-5.

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Meanwhile, the threat posed by Imperial Japan loomed large in the on-going World War II because of which there was a need by the British Royal Air Force to boost its military hardware supplies in Asia. With all likelihood, HAL was most suitable as a base for the South East Asia Command of the allied forces for servicing their aircrafts. Hence, all the aircraft manufacturing plans in India were abandoned to support the repair and overhaul services of the American aircrafts and the factory was eventually taken over by the US Army Air Forces in 1943. This led to rapid expansion in the facilities and became the 84th Air depot for overhaul and repair of American aircrafts during WWII. The very same hydrogen plant on the IISc premises was used as a loading dock to supply hydrogen for the American aircrafts. Later in 1964, the factory was taken over by the Government of India and has morphed into the modern-day Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in its present-day location. However, the original Aeronautical engineering department continues to contribute enormously towards research and has its own little airstrip on the present day IISc campus.

As I finished my plate of idlis, I wondered how unassuming I was. This deceptively functional place had just served my meal that had just been cooked inside a hydrogen plant that powered the military aircrafts during WWII.

This article featured in the ‘Spectrum’ supplement of Deccan Herald National daily, on February 01, 2020 edition.

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?

 

A timeless souvenir from Bangalore

Travelling to a new place? What do you carry back as souvenirs to friends and family? This is a common scenario that all of us are put into almost everytime. While there are regional specific things that you can pick up, there are common dilemmas associated with each of them.

  • Traditional clothes- might not fit well or the design and the colour might not be liked by the receiver.
  • Local delicacies and sweets- It may not be a good idea if the receiver is dealing with some health conditions or certain diet restrictions. And then, food items also have a shelf life that would not stay fresh until you reach back.
  • Local handicrafts- Again, needs to suit the choice and budget of the giver and the receiver.

Check out these offbeat things to do in Bengaluru

Well.. The reasons and dilemmas may be several but it is easy to find options when travelling anywhere regional. But, the metro cities have usually evolved as an amalgamation of several influences. Be it culture, traditions, craft, food, lifestyle etc., they represent variety. Hence, what you might pick up as a souvenir may actually be something that represents a larger region or something very generic.

If you are someone travelling to Bangalore, it is very likely that you will pickup a souvenir that is a part of a larger region (Karnataka). If you are someone looking to take back something that is an authentic piece of Old Bengaluru, then here is my pick. This souvenir is exclusive to Bangalore and does not have influence from any other regions of Karnataka. While several local products can be bought even at a crafts fair at your very own city/town of stay, this is something that can be bought ONLY in Bangalore. These are something which are sold only at authorized showrooms located in this city alone. Gift these souvenirs and you will be loved!

HMT watches: In 1969, it was a subsidiary started by the Government run ‘Hindustan Machine Tools’ with technical collaboration with ‘the Citizen watches co. Japan’. Soon, these watches created some kind of a time revolution (literally) with the HMT watches being mostly recognised as a possession of pride. HMT clocks adorned all major clock towers and railway stations across the country and can be seen ticking in good health even till date. HMT’s seven signature clocks like the tower clock, solar clock, population clock, master slave clock, display clock, the International clock and the floral clock that are symbols of innovation, are placed at different places across the nation. Although HMT watches’ connection with Bangalore is strong because its factory was located here, these timepieces are a representation of a bygone era of not just Bangalore but of an India of the yore. These are masterpieces of Indian craftsmanship and something that was fondly called as the ‘Timekeeper of India’. This iconic factory was shutdown in 2016 due to severe financial and political reasons.

Although the manufacture of the clocks has become obsolete, the last few pieces of their wrist watches are being assembled in a small room above their showroom in Jalahalli. These are valued as prized possesions by several watch collectors and can be bought from a range of handwound mechanical watches, quartz jeweled watches, skeletal watches, automatic and chronographs ranging in the price bracket of Rs.500 to Rs.15000. While these watches are on their way to go out of production (they will be produced only until the stocks of childparts last), they can be a truly meaningful souvenir to take back that could be handed over to the next generation who might never have an opportunity to live through the real era of HMT watches.

Do you agree this is a nice gifting idea? What other things do you think represent Bangalore aptly?

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Above: The seven signature clocks of HMT placed across different cities in India Below: Floral clock at Lal Bagh, Bangalore