Thursday, March 22, 2012

Travelling in India (Part I)

I love travelling a lot. Many people love travelling a lot. Travelling helps people do something different from their routine activities. They see different things, meet different people, eat different food. It is altogether a learning experience. Moreover many times we are on holiday when we travel. So travelling is connected with psyche as a comfort or luxury. However, travelling comes with some risks also. You may lose your money, you may be cheated, may get in altercation with wrong people and so on. Incidences of cheating particularly are common in India. I thought of presenting some of my such experiences here.  

Once we were going to Manali and one of our friends helped us with phone number of a driver. As per her , the driver has been extremely polite throughout the journey and he also helped her to find a good hotel. In fact she was very happy with the kind of hotels she stayed (cheap and comfy) and she believed it was only because of the driver. I did not find any reason to not believe in her. I called the driver and booked Indica for travelling to Manali from Chandigarh and then from Manali to Shimala and back. I observed that his rates were reasonable. However he came to pick us up with Alto instead of Indica. He told that Indica was not available. But I never liked alto. It is very small, legroom is very low and I could not imagine travelling through such a small car for 6 days. I asked him whether we can get another car, he said it is not possible now.  I tried to negotiate with him on the price as alto is cheaper to drive compared to Indica, but he was not ready to agree. We had no choice but to go with him. We started our journey towards Manali, however he has been very slow in his driving. We were expecting to reach Manali by night. But ultimately we had to take halt near Bhuntar. He helped us in a hotel which was reasonably good. However it was at a lonely place with no much activity around. Considering our safety we disagreed to stay at that hotel. We said we will prefer to stay in Bhuntar. The hotel owner and driver tried to convince us a lot. We moved out of hotel and sat in the Car. Apparently our driver was angry. But we forced him to move to Bhuntar town. By the time we reached Bhuntar, it was around 10 PM and we had no choice but to stay in an average hotel. I think the driver should have driven the car at least at speed of 50 Km per hour which could have taken us to Manali on the same day. We lost one important day and were forced to stay in average hotel.  As we moved to Manali next day, the driver tried to bluff us at every possible opportunity. We wanted to do rafting. Hence he introduced us to a rafting kiosk who were charging at least four times more than government approved price. He again tried to arrange an average accommodation for us for Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000 per night. But I had already noted the phone numbers of some good hotels from the hoardings on the road to Manali. I called them and checked their rates, they were pretty cheap. I was advised that I should visit log hut area to see the hotel and rooms. As I told drive to take there, he was really upset and told us that the hotels I referred are pretty far from the City. Well, I again called up those hotels and they told me that they were at walk able distance from the Mall Road in Manali. I told the driver to take us to the log hut area and I was surprised to see that quite an excellent quality of hotels were available at same rate. The driver tried to cheat us as we went for skiing the next day. We were really upset with him and decided to move ahead with a new driver. It was indeed a difficult task as driver belonged the same region and could hold us for ransom. But somehow we could get rid of him. I think our trip would have been much more comfortable had we had a good driver.

Another such incident happened when I visited Jaipur in 2010 along with my parents. We booked an Indica and went for sight seeing in Jaipur. We were very much interested  in visiting Jantar Mantar. But he tried to dissuade us by saying Jantar Mantar does not make much sense visit. But of course we persisited. Later we asked him to find a suitable hotel for us to have lunch. However in a city like Jaipur he took us to a shack like hotel and told that the food tests very good. We did not have much choice as we were already out of the city and were very hungry. When we reached the fort of Amer, he said that he will not go up till the gate of the fort. He asked another 500 Rs. for it. We chose to climb the stairs rather than paying the driver extra and it took only 10 minutes to reach the gate.

Such instances are very common when we travel. They spoil all fun that is associated with travelling. We definitely cannot get rid of such instances completely. But we can definitely reduce them. In next post I will write about getting rid of such instances.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Teach India

Since long back I wanted to do something for society, but I could not do due to some or other obligation. Thus when I saw advertisement of Teach India in December, I was interested in opting for it. But I could not participate as my schedule did not allow it. However by end of February I saw another advertisement for Teach India in Economic Times and I decided to give my best for it.
Within a couple of days after reading the advertisement, I filled up online form. It took approximately 30 minutes to fill the form. I spent most of the time in choosing three most suitable locations. As I stay in Mansarovar and  work at Kanjur Marg, I wanted to choose  a location which falls on my way back to home in evening. So I chose Chembur, Sanpada and Nerul.
Two days after filling up the form, I received a call from Teach India. The person on other side asked me where I work, why I want to join Teach India, whether I will be able to give enough time for training and teaching. By the end of the call I was informed that process of selection involves two interviews and I have finished my first interview. Again in another three-four days I received a call from Teach India. I was again asked whether I will be able to attend all seven days of training. I said yes and then the person on other sided told me that I have been selected for Teach India and wished me all the best.
Training started in a couple of days.  I reached YMCA, Belapur at 8:45 AM on Friday. We were asked to reach there at 9 AM. There were around 22 people of different age group who had chosen to volunteer for Teach India.  However program started pretty late. Very soon I realized that this was an induction and not training. The volunteers from ToI (also called as consultants, they are not on roll of ToI) gave us introduction of program, its goal, organization structure, dos and don’ts , safety issues etc. Thankfully the session could end at 11 AM as mentioned in the schedule. Overall I would say induction was good one but they could have combined it with other full day training schedules.
We were supposed to spend next three weekends attending training, totally seven days. Teach India is joint endeavor of ToI and British Council. The curriculum of program is decided by British Council. Hence British Council trains the volunteers who in turn teach the students. The program is carried out at select NGOs in Mumbai. The targets of this program are youngsters in the age group of 18-32 and who have some basic knowledge of English. Teach India expects that after attending training of three months the youngsters will be able to speak English fluently with strangers. The graduates from this program get to attend a job fair organized by ToI where many retail companies recruit them.
Next two days were full of activities, fun and learning. Many a times we started our session with an activity, which involved using English and some physical work. We played quite a few games which helped us understand how we can use them effectively to teach English. A couple of times we were presented demo classes which helped us how we should teach and how we should not. We also had a micro learning session where we were divided in groups and were asked to teach a lesson to other groups. The method of teaching at Teach India heavily relies on eliciting the information from students, making them speak in English as much as possible. This can be done through methods such as showing a photograph to students and asking students to describe the photograph. Teach India aims to keep STT (student talk time) as high as possible and TTT (Teacher talk time) as low as possible. This is a major difference   when compared to traditional Indian classroom where primarily teachers talk and students just listen. In order to gauge the effectiveness of the course, the volunteers are  also expected to employ ICQ (Instruction Checking Questions) and CCQ (Context Checking Questions). ICQ check whether students have learned instructions and CCQs check whether students have understood the subject.
I have attended only two days of training as of now. But I think I will be able to contribute significantly to society through Teach India. I indeed expect that it will improve English speaking skills of the target group and will help them live their life better.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ekveera Aai Tu Dongaravari Najar Hai Tuji Kolyavari

Chaityagriha at Karla
For last two years we wanted to visit Ekveera devi temple. The famed temple of Koli (fishermen) temple is at Karle near Lonavala . Since childhood we used to hear about the deity through song ‘Ekveera Aai tu Dongaravari Najar hai tuzi kolyavari’. But we did not know where the temple existed. So about two years ago we came to know  that the temple is situated near Lonavala in some nearby mountain. But we could not plan our visit for long time.
With beginning of 2012 we decided to visit Ekveera devi Temple. On first Sunday of the year Jan 8, we decided to visit the temple. We took Manamad Pune Passenger from Panvel. The train was late by about half an hour . We got inside train at around 9:30 AM and we reached Lonavala at 10:50 AM. The journey was comfortable. The train did not have any reserved coach and it was pretty vacant throughout journey.
After getting down at Lonavala we went near bus depot and enquired about buses travelling to Karle. Next bus was after about half an hour, so we decided to travel by our favorite tumtum. The temple is at distance of about 6 Km from Lonavala. We bought some Chikki from shop in front of bus depot and then moved to locate Tumtum stand. Tumtum stand was not far. After getting inside tumtum it took around 15 minutes to reach Karle fata. From Karle fata we took another auto rikshaw to reach bottom of the mountain.
Inside Ekveera Temple
It was a sunny day. There were quite a few restaurants selling cold drinks and snacks in Karle. As we already had our breakfast. We started climbing the stairs right away. There were many street vendors selling tak, fruits and snacks on the way. As we were in picnic mood we drank tak and ate bor and guava, just to remember child hood days. Aai and Baba was also delighted to have sore and sweet fruits from village. It took around half an hour to reach near the temple. As the temple is just beside famous Karle caves, you need to pay entry fees while entering campus of the temple. However if you don’t want to visit the caves, you need not pay the fees. But the caves are quite splendorous. So anyone visiting Ekveera devi temple should make sure that he or she visits the temple. The fees is only INR 5 per person.
The temple is very small. But we had to wait in queue for about 15 minutes due to crowd. After long wait of 15 minutes we had chance to see the deity. The idol of deity was decorated with blue colored saree.  After having darshan we went to see the Chaityagriha, the famous caves of Karle.
The Chaityagriha stands for Conference hall in Sanskrit. The Chaityagriha of Karle was built around 2000 years before . It is one of the very few wooden Indian Chaityagrihas, which are still in good shape. At the entrance a tall pillar stands with four lions on top of it.   Then there are several sculptures of couples dressed in medieval Indian costumes along with elephants. Inside the Chaityagriha there is a small stup. There are several pillars. Each of the pillar has elephant on top of it with a couple sitting on it. It is really a wonder how a wooden Chaityagriha could sustain more than 2000 years!
Chaityagrihas were built for religious discussion of Buddhist Monks. There are several other caves just beside Chaityagriha. But they don’t carry any sculptures. I guess they were being used by monks for residential purpose.
After clicking few snaps at Chaityagriha we started our journey back to Navi Mumbai. We went to Lonavala and took Bus for Kamothe.  Ekveera devi temple along with Chaityagriha is located at very short distance from Mumbai. Considering the historical importance of Chaityagriha every Mumbaikar should visit Chaityagriha sometime in life. After all it is so near from Mumbai !                           

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Alibaug : A perfect weekend Getaway for Mumbaikars

This year we had decided to celebrate the 31st december in Lonavala at Fariyaz Plaza, but somehow it did not work out. So we decided to visit Alibaug instead. Since long time we had been interested in visiting Alibaug. I tried calling few hotels and resorts in Alibaug, but all of them have already been booked. We had only seven days in our hand. Ultimately one of Ashwini’s friends , Aasavari helped us by offering us free stay in her Mama’s flat. We were delighted at the idea of celebrating the 31st in Alibaug. I called up my parents and asked them to come down to Mumbai  as my mother was much interested in visiting Alibaug. They had somewhat different plans for the next whole week. But they decided to come down to Mumbai to celebrate 31st at Alibaug along with us. Prachi also decided to take a break from her office on 31st as we decided to leave for Alibaug on30th.
We decided that we will travel to Alibaug by launch or catamaran. So we decided to assemble at Gateway of India by 6:00 PM on 30th. As I was the one who worked at farthest distance farthest from Gateway, I was last one to reach. I reached Gateway of India by almost 6:15 PM. Passengers had already lined up to catch the Catamaran by that time. Thank god, Ashwini had already secured tickets of PNP catamaran leaving at 6:30 PM. Otherwise, it would have been pretty difficult to get the tickets for all of us. One way travel through AC Catamaran costs INR 110. We left Gateway of India at 6:30 approx and reached Mandava Jetty by around 7:10 PM. As it was dark throughout our journey we could not enjoy our ride much.  We were guided by Ashwini’s friend to catch the buses arranged by PNP Catamaran. The breeze was little strong although it was not as cold as we expected it to be.  After walking for 5-10 minutes, we reached the place where buses were parked. PNP had planned three buses for the passengers and all the passengers could be sufficiently accommodated in those buses.
A journey of another 45 minutes and we were in Alibaug. We got down near bus stand and walked for ten minutes to reach our destination. The building was just next to Balaji Temple and the local people were singing Bhajan in the temple. Asavari’s parents had already opened the flat and they welcomed us. After getting freshened, we chatted with them for half an hour. They requested us to visit their home for dinner. But we respectfully turned down their request as my mother had already brought Chapatis and Prawns from home.
After devouring Chapatis with yummy prawns we decided to take a walk to nearby Alibaug beach. The beach was very near to the flat. After walking only for 10 minutes we could reach the beach. It was around 10 PM of night. When we reached the beach we could not see the sea. It was pretty dark. The sea at Alibaug is shallow and therefore during low tide it moves few kilometers back from the shore.  We walked for few minutes in the direction of sea and tried to see the sea, but it was really dark and we were not able to make any guess. We were neither able to see any- thing nor able to hear any sound. We could see only some fishing boats. Unable to see anything we came back and spent some time at small garden built at seashore and then went back to home.
Next day we got ready by around 10 PM and went to nearby New Asara Hotel have break-fast in. We ordered for Misal Pav, Vada Sambar and Uppit. Misal Pav was really testy. After having break-fast we went to sea shore. It was a low tide again. We could see the sea at distance of around 1 Km from sea shore. On our right side we could see the fort of Kolaba. There were several horse carriages carrying the tourists to the fort. We decided to walk to the fort. After about 20 min of walk we reached entrance of the fort. We had to pay Rs 5 per head for entry in the fort. The fort is small one. 45 minutes should be enough to see the fort. It has several temples inside. The temple of Shri Ganesh is most beautiful. Apart from temples the fort has a lake called Apsara and a couple of cannons. After clicking a few photographs along with cannons and at temple, we left the fort and went to the sea. The sea at Alibaug beach is relatively calm. The waves are really small. There were few dogs who were trying to catch something in water, may be a crab or a fish. After spending 10-15 minutes playing in the sea water we started our journey ahead.

After reaching sea shore we got a tum tum ( also called Sitara or Vikram) and went to Alibaug bus stand. We decided to go to Chaul. The hotel owner of New Asara hotel had told us that Shri  Datta Temple at Chaul is beautiful and something we should visit. Hence we took a tum tum to go to Chaul. After journey of around 30 minutes we reached Chaul. The temple of Shri Datta was  around 2 Km from the spot where we got down. Hence we had to again catch another auto to reach the temple. However after getting down the auto we found that the temple was on a hill and climbing the hill would have certainly taken much of our time and energy which was essential for the day ahead. Hence we decided not to go to the temple. We offered our prayer to Shri Datta from the bottom of the hill and then started our journey ahead.
We decided to have lunch as it was around 2 O’clock. We soon located a hotel called Fafe Bandhu restaurant in Chaul. However the owner told us that we won’t get lunch. So we moved ahead to Revadanda as Chaul did not have any other hotel.  After spending some more time in searching for hotel we reached Kelkars. Kelkars are well known for their vegetarian food in Revdanda. But food was not ready there. Ultimately we decided to wait to get the lunch ready. After about 20 minutes lunch was ready. It was simple but testy affair. After having lunch we wanted to go to Birla Temple. But we were told by Kelkars that Birla Temple opens only after 4 PM. It was only 3 PM, so we decided to spend half an hour at Revdanda beach, which was at distance of 5 minutes from Kelkars’ hotel.
Revdanda beach is very clean and serene. There was no one at beach. We spent about half an hour at beach and then got a Tumtum to go to Birla Temple. We wanted to carry camera inside the temple. But we were not allowed to do so. It is temple of Shri Ganesha built in white marble. After spending about half an hour at temple we left for Nagaon.
We reached Nagaon Beach by 5:30 PM. As it was last day of the year, the beach pretty crowded. Quite a lot of people were enjoying the water rides.  Prachi wanted all of us to enjoy the sea rides. Therefore Baba, Aai and  Prachi went for a Sofa ride. I and Ashwini went for a ride over a Water scooter. It was somewhat adventurous and full of fun. We payed Rs. 1000 in toto for both rides. It was really an enjoyable experience. After enjoying the rides and playing in water for some time we decided to go back to Alibaug.
We reached home and took some rest. We had dinner at nearby Konkan Katta ( Seafood) and then we went to sea shore (Alibaug Beach). It was low tide again. Over all we could not a  sea high tide at Alibaug beach. After spending some time at beach we came back to flat. We waited till 12 AM to welcome new year. But we were too tired to celebrate, dance or sing songs to welcome the new year. At 12 O’clock we wished happy new year to each other and dozed off.
Next day we had a plan to head Mumbai in the morning . But Aasavari’s parents insisted that we visit their home and have lunch with them. So we postponed our departure to evening. As we had some more time now, we visited Samadhi (Tomb) of Kanhoji Angre ( Admiral of Chatrapati Shivaji’s Army). There were few other Samadhis near Samadhi of Kanhoji Angre. I guess those were of his other family members. After clicking few pics we headed to Asavari’s home. It was already 12:30 PM and delicious food had been waiting us. We thanked Asavari and her family for delicious lunch and left for Alibaug bus stand.
Overall the trip was full of fun and exploration. We enjoyed it quite a lot. I would recommend visit to Alibaug to anyone who does not have much time (1-2 days) and wants to enjoy serenity and nature.