Last weekend, me and wife, visited the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. The Kala Ghoda festival takes place once a year during Feb 1st week and is considered to be one of the premier art festivals in India. The sub-festivals feature the visual arts, dance, music, theatre, cinema, literature, lectures, seminars and workshops, heritage walks, special events for children, and a vibrant street festival. While my wife has been visiting this festival since quite a few years, I have only started attending since last couple of years. The festival lasts for 10 days and every time we plan to attend the festival early but end up attending only on the last or second last day when the crowd is at its peak. This year also it was no different. We attended on the second last day and being Saturday, the place was full of people. My purpose of attending the festival was to take pictures of the arts installation which are put up. I did manage to take a few pictures but considering the number of people who were attending, it was really difficult to get clean pictures. Also this year, I found the number of installations to be less as compared to the previous years. However, the number of stalls selling “art” stuff had increased. There were a lot of stalls who were selling clothes, shoes, accessories, and home decor making me wonder if it was really an arts festival or some shopping festival. Normally we spend considerable time going through the descriptions of the installations and visiting the different stalls. However, this year looking at the number of people, we kept our visit to just 4 hours. The overall experience wasn’t that great for me because of the sheer number of people. Being from Mumbai, I am used to crowds but this was just way too much for me. Probably next year, we will visit the festival early enough or probably on a weekday to enjoy to the fullest.
Day 52/ 365 – House Hunt – Meeting with prospective seller
As mentioned in my earlier posts, I have been searching for a home for quite sometime. This weekend, we finally found something which we were interested in buying and so we asked the real estate agent to arrange a meeting with the seller this week. The meeting happened today and it didn’t go as planned. Since me and wife are both salaried professional, we wanted to get a home which would be financed by the bank. The bank normally finances 80-85% (depending on your credit scores and eligibility) of the agreement value. The seller however was only willing to make an agreement which was less than Rs. 49 lakh as he wanted to avoid the TDS (tax deductible at source) which needs to be paid if the agreement value is more than Rs. 49 lakhs. The total cost of the house was coming to 80 lakhs, so this would basically mean that bank would give a loan of Rs. 40 lakhs and the remaining 40 lakhs would need to be managed by me. I was very surprised on hearing this. The reason the seller cited for not making the agreement for more than Rs. 49 lakhs was that once the TDS is deducted, there is no guarantee that money would be refunded by the Income Tax officials. Apparently the seller had some really bad experiences with the tax authorities and he didn’t want to take any further chances. The estate agent asked me if there was anything I could work out. I replied in negative saying that since we are salaried, this does not work for us. The meeting finally ended with the estate agent promising to revert back to us with some kind of decision by the end of this week. Not feeling very hopeful about anything being worked out for this place.
Day 49/ 365 – Ticketless Travel
The other day I was returning from my MBA classes and completely forgot to punch in my train coupons. Normally I stand in the ticket line on the platform and buy a return ticket, but on this particular weekend I was running late and didn’t want to wait in a line to get the tickets. So I decided to take the train coupons and punch them in. The problem with the train coupons is that you need to punch them in every time you need to travel. So I reached the railway station and used the coupons to travel, but while returning completely forgot all about it. So I traveled in the train, got down at my stop and walked out without ever realizing that I had not purchased the tickets. I only realized the same when I had almost reached home.
I remember, during my college days in India, when I was once caught traveling ticket less in a 1st class compartment. Like yesterday, it was entirely accidental. During my college days, we used to get special discounts for students for the monthly/ quarterly railway pass, which was basically 1/3rd of the original price. I used to travel by 1st class because the crowd was comparatively “better”, the seats were cushioned and it was comparatively cheaper. I had taken a quarterly pass and used to travel on a daily basis. I thought my pass was expiring on a certain date and was traveling keeping in mind that date. However, my railway pass had expired a couple of days earlier and I wasn’t aware about it all. Like usual I was traveling in the train with an expired railway pass and a ticket checker came along to check the ticket. I handed him my expired railway pass and didn’t even look at him considering all was fine. So he asked, “do you have any new pass along with this?” I replied “No”. He told me “This pass is expired and you need to pay the fine.” I was like “Oh oh are you sure?” He said “Yes. Here take a look.” I looked at the pass and saw the pass has indeed expired. So I check my wallet to see how much money I had and there wasn’t much. As a student, I didn’t really have a lot of pocket money and fine for traveling ticket less in a first class compartment is usually very high. The ticket checker told me the fine that I needed to pay and I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay the same. He asked me to get off at the next station and then have the discussion outside. I was like ok.. So the train stops at the next station and me, my friend and the ticket checker get off. I told him I have Rs. Xx and he should just take that money and let me go. He then said that’s not possible and I need to somehow pay the fine. I checked with my friend if he had some extra money and he said he didn’t have enough to pay off the whole fine. I asked the ticket checker to let us go with whatever little money we had. After some amount of haggling, we agreed on the fine and which I was able to pay and was finally let off. Since that time onwards, I normally take a ticket while traveling, to avoid such an experience.
Day 41/ 365 – House Hunt continues
After a lull of almost 5 months, I resumed house hunting a couple of weeks back. I am looking for something close to my house and prices in my area are simply too high. I went to check out a house at 15 mins walking distance from my current house. The house was a 1 room kitchen. The owner had converted the kitchen into a bedroom by converting the space in the passage into kitchen. The carpet area of the entire house was not more than 280 square feet, which is very tiny even by Mumbai standards. However, the location of the house was extremely good and the building was old with minimal water issues. But the price asked by the seller was really exorbitant. He was asking for Rs. 70,00,000 (70 lakhs). I was really surprised to hear the price and felt it was too high for the space which was available. I decided to measure the flat and it came only around 232 sq. feet. For such a small flat, I felt the asking price was too high and gave him an offer which he promptly refused. From there on, I moved to other flats and found the average sq. feet for 1 bedroom kitchen flats in my area is around 400-450 sq. feet and prices range anywhere between 70 lakhs to 85 lakhs. Oh and this amount does not include stamp duty and registration money which needs to be paid to the state government (all for doing nothing). I have been told by some agents to not calculate the price per sq.feet as it would always sound audacious. If I am considering buying a house in my area then the price I am paying is for the area. It is like the cost you pay for living in Orange County or Fairfax County, but I am not staying in the area which is even remotely close to that, so paying such absurd amount of money is just being plain stupid. I even found some sellers who were asking 50% money in cash and remaining in cheque. I started to wonder, where do these people come from and how should I person like myself arrange so much money in cash. Anyways the search is still on and I am hoping that I should be able to find something of my liking, within my budget very soon. Or may be I should play some lottery and hope to get lucky one day!!!
Day 37/ 365 – Drive to Nasik
Since I have an extended weekend, me and my wife after a lot of deliberations (yes/ no) decided to go to Nasik for the weekend. Nasik is approximately 172 kms from Mumbai. One of the reasons we chose Nasik over other locations was that one of my friends has an empty apartment on the outskirts of the city which we could use and save some money on the stay. Other than that, there are plenty of things Nasik has to offer and we decided to explore it to the fullest. Also it was our (me and wife together) first holiday for this year. We keep traveling with friends, but this time it was just us and we were looking forward to the time together. We left for Nasik around 3:30pm. After finishing some petty work on the way and picking up the house keys from my friend, we were finally on our way to Nasik around 5pm. The drive to Nasik is very nice. The roads are good and the scenery is excellent. There was a lot of traffic near Bhiwandi and Kalyan junction, but post that there was hardly any traffic and it was a pleasure to drive on. We took a break near Asangaon at a rest area – they had Dominos, KFC and other variety of food over there. In between, we came across Kasara Ghat and it was my first ever experience of driving on a proper ghat. The best part of the drive on the ghat was that it was unidirectional – no two way traffic. That really helped in negotiating some of the curves. We reached my friend’s place around 8:20pm and waited for him for 30 mins to give us further directions. Once we got the next set of directions, we reached within 10 mins and unloaded the car and decided to go find dinner. I had visited Nasik earlier (may be around 7 years ago), but a lot of things have changed since then. We wanted to find a local dinner place where we can eat authentic Maharashtrian food. The sad part about travel nowadays is that anywhere you go, all you get pizza, dosa, idli, pav bhaji, Punjabi, and Chinese food. In this rat race to get customers, the local cuisine of the area is lost. I call it the influence of the traveling Gujaratis. I will write a detailed post on that later. We really wanted something local and went about finding it. Luckily, we didn’t have to drive too far and found a local food place called as Kolhapur Express which serves authentic Maharashtrian food. They have thali system (they have 2-3 varieties of dishes, chapatti, sweet, rice and curry (dal for veg) all served in a single plate – picture below)and have a variety of thalis – chicken, mutton, fish, prawn, eggs, and veg. For vegetarians, there isn’t much option to choose from. However, that’s expected. The food was good and after dinner we decided to call it a day. Next stop – Sula Vineyards.
Day 35/ 365 – Just travel
Since change of jobs a couple of months ago, I have been following the US holiday calendar. As many of you would be aware this is the Thanksgiving week and hence I have Thursday and Friday off. Taking advantage of the extra long weekend, I am hoping to go away for the weekend. Earlier in the day, I was discussing with my mom that I wish I could leave everything and just travel the world. That would be such an awesome thing to do. Sure traveling the world requires a lot of money and there are people who save quite a bit of money before they start traveling. Earning money while traveling to different places in the world would be such a thing. I really enjoy traveling, exploring new places, new people, local culture and cuisines (vegetarian – of course). It just thrills me to imagine that one day I would be traveling to the Pyramids, enjoying the boat ride over the Nile river, and the next day exploring the romantic city of Paris. That would be one of the best things in life to do – just travel. There are so many places to explore and so little time. A career in travel industry would have been awesome. While we (me and Saurav) were trekking through the Hampta Pass, the thought did strike us. The valley was so beautiful and everything about nature was just so nice, colorful and open compared to our desk jobs. We wanted to set up shop in Manali and offer trekking tours to people. May be we will do that, maybe we wont. Unfortunately, at this stage of my life, I am not sure if I would be able to switch careers. However, I do want to travel the world. May be after I have earned enough, I would probably call it a day and just set about exploring the world. In the mean time, I guess I will make do with being a project manager and enjoying vacations once in a year.
Image courtesy Saurav Roy
Day 27/ 365 – The rise and rise of food prices
Read in the newspaper yesterday, that the food inflation is now is at a all time high and prices of onion are currently 237% higher than what they were last year. Today onion, one of the most basic commodities costs anywhere Rs. 80-100 per kg, as compared to around Rs. 20-25 per kg. last year. The sad part is no one knows the reason why the prices are so high and the government, as usual, is clueless. The government blames that there is shortfall in supply, however, we keep reading that there onions have been imported from Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Egypt etc. But there is still shortfall. Along with the prices of onion, the prices of potatoes have also increased. Couple of weeks ago, I got potatoes for Rs. 24/ kg, a week later my mom got it for Rs. 28/ kg and then last week I got it for Rs. 35/ kg. I asked the potato vendor – whats the reason for this reason. He had no reply. He said the prices would raise in the next few days. It sounded like these guys decide amongst themselves what the prices should be and then sell it to the consumers. Probably there is some cartel sitting and deciding on the prices of onions and potatoes and other veggies.
I feel the issue is with the entire supply chain management that we have in India. There are way too many middle men involved, who need to get their share of money before the goods finally reach the consumer. Consider this, the farmer sells his produce to his local agent, who collects the produce and forwards it on to the APMC level. The wholesalers buy their stocks from the APMC and the retailers buy the stock from the wholesalers and then finally sell it to the consumers. There is money exchanged at all these places and that extra cost is passed on to the consumers. There is also a very good possibility that these agents, wholesalers create an artificial shortage of supply thus reducing the availability of the vegetables in the markets. The government does not help in the matters by making statements like prices will remain high for the next 7-10 days. Such statements further create artificial increase in demand thus raising the prices further. There are statements from the wholesalers like “If people can afford to spend Rs. 200 crore on a movie, then they can very well afford these prices”. Not sure how they decide what we can afford and what we cannot. It is strange that the government acts helpless in such scenarios. We all know what happens once the prices increases – it more or less never rolls back down. The winter months are expected to bring the prices back to normal or reduce them. Let’s see how the scenario plays out. Not too hopeful of the reduced prices though. However, do feel confident that a lot of people will turn to Jainism if such a trend continues.
Day 18/ 365 – Drive to Nathdwara (3/3)
We reached Nathdwara after 15 hours of driving. After doing one darshan, the rest of the day was spent taking rest and catching up on some well deserved rest. We decided to leave the next afternoon after visiting all the afternoon darshans. The morning was spent in visiting the temple and doing darshans and at the same time doing shopping. We left for Mumbai at 1pm on Sunday afternoon. I decided to drive during the return trip while brother was sitting next to me. Once again we made the mistake of taking the Udaipur bypass. While the initial road was empty and didnt have any vehicles at all. We once again had to pass through the RIDCO area and this time we got stuck in heavy truck traffic. We drove on the extreme left on the muddy road and started to slowly overtake the trucks. We drove like that for some 30 mins, until we couldn’t go any further. We were simply stuck in extremely slow moving traffic. It was already past 3pm and we were still stuck in slow moving truck traffic.
We finally found an opening in the traffic and drove in the opposite direction overtaking a lot of trucks. Finally we reached a spot were we couldn’t go forward any more. We were stuck behind some cars with trucks to our left and now we had trucks coming from onward direction. We were in a tight spot – on a single lane road and there was no place to go. We couldn’t go forward because of the cars and there was no scope of reversing. The on coming truck then went to the extreme right of the road and started passing us. A first couple of trucks were easily able to do that, but then came an 18 wheeler rig and he simply started driving straight at us. I started yelling at him that he was going to touch the car. He said he couldn’t go any further right and that the rig would topple over. Just at the same time, the vehicles started moving forward and we were able to move the car ahead. We were finally able to leave Udaipur 3 hours after we had started from Nathdwara. A lot of precious time was lost in the traffic.
We then started driving towards Ahmedabad and were cruising along. There was some festival going on the in the local village and at one such junction they had stopped the entire traffic as they were crossing the road. There were people dressed up in a colorful manner but were carrying swords and all. I wanted to take some pictures but since I was driving, there was no scope of doing that. We continued on our way to Ahmedabad. We reached the outskirts of Ahmedabad around 8pm. We werent sure of the directions and hence turned on our GPS on the phone and kept following directions. The GPS took us right through Ahmedabad city and we were surrounded by rash driving bike traffic from all sides. There were atleast 3 people on each bike that we saw and on one instance, we even saw 5 people on a bike. There were no traffic cops and none of the signals were working and traffic was generally a mess. At one such junction, we had a bike to our left who wanted to take a right and we were driving in the middle lane. Instead of waiting for us to go, they tried to overtake us and in the process hit the car. My brother who was driving at that time was damn pissed about this. But we decided to continue forward to our journey. We saw the exit towards Vadodara and took the Ahmedabad Vadodara expressway.
We took a dinner break near Bharuch around 10:30pm. There was still another 5-6 hours of driving ahead of us. The bad road between Bharuch and Surat was in front of us. I was driving in the right most lane, so were all the other vehicles. Apparently the middle lane had way too many potholes and there was no way for us to know when the next pothole would hit. We tried to slow down our speed and adjust the headlights, but it was just not possible to avoid it. We drove like that until we reached Surat. By this time, I was tiring and asked my brother to take over. My brother then drove for the next 4 hours and we reached home around 4:30am on Monday morning. Initially, I thought it would be a good trip, but by the end of the journey we were all extremely tired. The next time, I do such a long distance trip, I am going to take some time and not have to drive 14-15 hours.
Day 17/ 365 – Drive to Nathdwara (2/3)
We were nearing Vadodara around 3:45 am in the morning. As mentioned in my previous post, my brother had just driven for 7 hours and was still enjoying the drive. The NH-8 bypasses Vadodara and there are series of exits in between if one has to enter the city. The highway forms like a ring outside the city. The road from Bharuch to Vadodara is very good. There are no potholes on the road and the road is just too good. I wonder how come Mumbai roads have so many potholes, while the national highways are so efficiently and well maintained. We were driving easily at an avg. of 100 kmph while bypassing Vadodara. Very soon, we had reached the exit for Vadodara – Ahmedabad express way. If the road on the NH-8 was good, this road was beauty to drive on. We were able to touch the speeds of 150 kmph on this road. The 4 lane express way is just a superb road. The best part is again the road has been very well maintained and the exits are well marked. I wanted to try a different route and there was an option to get off the expressway at Anand and take the interior road bypassing Ahmedabad altogether. But it was 4:30am in the morning and we werent any in mood for any experiments. The entire drive in itself was turning out to be a good experiment and I didn’t want to try anything different.
The distance between Vadodara to Ahmedabad is approx. 90 kms and we were able to cover the entire stretch in less than a hour. We didn’t want to go through the city as I had read about traffic police stopping vehicles which do not have a yellow tape on the right side headlight. It is a rule in Gujarat to have a yellow tape pasted on the right side headlight. This apparently helps cut off the high beam light and allows oncoming drivers better visibility. I say they should simply ban fine people driving with high beams on, just like how it is in Chandigarh. Anyways, that’s a topic for different discussion. We got off the SP road exit. The exit clearly mentions way to Udaipur. We bypassed Ahmedabad and were now again on NH-8. The road between Ahmedabad and HimmatNagar is not a good one and there is one stretch on the road which is really bad with very big potholes. We then stopped a local dhaba to freshen up. It was 5:30 am and we had driven an entire night. My brother was tired now and he asked me to take over.
After our 15-20 minute break, I started driving and almost got involved in an accident. There was bike which was turning and merging with our road and simply didn’t see the car coming. I had to swerve left to avoid colliding with him. That was like a good wake up call and any lingering sleep promptly disappeared after that. It took us about 2 hours to get to Gujarat/ Rajasthan state border. I decided to have a tea break as by that time I had started to feel sleeping and didn’t want to take a chance of falling asleep on the wheel. After another 20 min break, we were well on our way. The road condition had improved significantly and thus we were able to accelerate. However, the road is full of curves and one has to extremely careful while turning at high speeds here. The road also passes through some towns and again caution needs to be exercised. After driving for another 2.5 hours, we saw the exit signs for Nathdwara and took the exit. The road passes through the RIDCO area (Industrial area) and is full of truck traffic at any given time of the day. It is better to the take the Udaipur city exit as it would take the same amount of time. We continued through the Udaipur bypass and finally joined Udaipur. The last 50 kms of the journey were now here. This last part was probably the most trickiest for me as I had never driven on ghats before. One has to cross a small ghat before arriving at Nathdwara. We were able to negotiate the ghats without much of an issue an after 15 hours of driving, we had reach Nathdwara at 11am the next day.
Day 11/ 365 – Visit to South Mumbai
Today I went to the Press club located near CST to pick up my marathon bib for the Vasai Virar Marathon. I am running this marathon for the 1st time and as usual have not been able to prepare for it. I like traveling to South Mumbai, be it during mornings, afternoon, evenings or night. There is something beautiful about South Mumbai, which sadly is missing in the suburbs. Be it the art deco style buildings at Marine Drive or Victoria architecture which adorns the CST terminus, the cleanliness of the streets or the orderliness of the traffic (you wont find a lot of people breaking traffic rules here), the Khau Galli near Azad Maiden or the cafe’s at Colaba Causeway. Somehow I enjoy being there. The most likely reason for liking there would be – the long walks I used to have with my father when I was a kid. We would go to Fort area due to some or the other work and there was always more than one thing to do. So our preferred mode of travel would be walking. Me and dad would walk for many hours together – he would tell me where each street leads to. Since he was born and brought up there, he knew all the roads. We would go through the old Mumbai i.e. Girgaum area, where there are still chawls and buildings which are as old as 60-80 years in the narrow alleys and roads, to the swanky, post Mumbai. The best part is more often than not, we would always have lunch at an Irani eatery (which sadly no longer exists), called Bastani and have Chicken cutlet or egg pudding or just plain bun maska and chai. For me, that would be heaven. We would always ensure that we went for lunch there or if we were in Girgaum, then there is this famous vada wala, who sells sabu dana vada and piyush. There are lots of memories associated with South Mumbai for me and may be thats the reason why, I am more or less always ready to go back there.