Kolkata Tram: The Time Machine

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During my last visit to the Kolkata, the City of Joy, as they say proudly I was pretty fascinated  by the tram lines running through the city. As most of Indian cities are heavily crowded, a tram running right through the middle of the road is not the best mode to commute. This maybe the reason, the operation of trams were discontinued in other Indian cities by 1960. But not in Kolkata!! People in this city, take pride in heritage and not much has changed here as compared to other parts of India.

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The tram for sure is one of a kind. It crawls in the middle of the streets or sarani (as they call in Bengali) maundering through the cars, buses even pedestrians. There are no specified tram stops and you can board a running tram or signal the driver to make a stop for you. Built way back in 1873, and electrified in 1902, it is the oldest operational electric tram in Asia. You can hear a loud noise as it accelerates, as the heavy metals scrub against each other. On boarding the tram, you’ll be greeted with a round faced ticket conductor, his spectacles resting on his nose and a handkerchief kinda a cloth on his collar. There are 2 cars in the tram, the one farthest from the driver being the second class. With minor difference in the ticket price, the second class has a fewer chairs to sit compared to the first class. The conductor sells you the ticket, and during the evenings a yellow bulb lightens the compartment. There are some announcements and warnings written in Bangla and English. An old ceiling fan caged in a circular metal barb airs the compartment. The inside walls are pretty much wood and seems like they haven’t been upgraded in years. While riding through, you can easily explore and get the hang of the city. If you want to deboard, the conductors, pulls a rope, running overhead the door on the roof, which hits the bell next to the driver. Having received the signal, the driver makes a stop at a convenient place.

The city of Kolkata as pictured in the stories of Satyajit Ray and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay is precisely the same even today. And the Tram does certainly takes you back in time. Give the tram a try when you’re in the city.

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Diwali ’16

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Diwali, some say gets its name from Sanskrit word “Deepavali”, meaning row of lights. Being arguably the biggest festival in India, it is celebrated for different reasons across the country. The northern part celebrate as a homecoming of Lord Ram, some symbolise it as Goddess Durga defeating Narakasura, others associate not with last harvest before winters. For Jains it marks the nirvana of Lord Mahavira and for Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Ji was freed from imprisonment on this day. So there’s lot to celebrate. It falls on a new moon day and the lighted diyas represents hope of finding light in the darkness or achieving knowledge when there is ignorance.

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I always believed there are 2 parts of every festival- the fun part and the boring part. Chores like cleaning and tidying up the house and praying bored me a bit during the festivals. But as a kid, I used to focus on the fun part, like playing colours in Holi, lighting up divas and candles and bursting crackers for Diwali.

Traditionally, I have been celebrating Diwali by decorating our house with clay lamps and candles and draw a coloured pattern, called Rangoli, at the entrance of the house. As far back as I can remember in the past, I have been putting on something ethnic and we meet friends, relatives, exchange sweets and burst firecrackers. The place looks vibrant, bright and lit up.

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I was celebrating this Diwali at home after a long long time. Festivals are best celebrated with friends and family, and Diwali’16 was a special one for me.

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Airports

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There is something fascinating about airports, a noticeable pattern of human behaviour.

People rushing to their terminals, saying last minute good byes, some troubled with their overweight luggage, some lost, some sad, some happy. This sight of emotions is so overwhelming, looks like some of them are escaping life, moving on, looking forward to a new beginning. There’s a special spark of hope brightening their face. Others are a bit disappointed and dull on leaving behind things. Broken hearts, unfulfilled desired, empty dreams, lost ambitions. I was one such person, a part of this crowd while boarding my plane for India.

During a transition at Moscow, I finally had some time for myself. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat quietly in the corner at a colorful cafe. It was drizzling outside, I looked out of the window, paused and reflected on life for a few hours.

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Colourful Cafe, Moscow

On hearing the last call for my flight, I rushed through the bustling corridors of the busy airport. The smiling crew greeted the passengers into the flight and within minutes we were above the clouds. It was late evening and I looked outside the window in the horizon. The dusk above the grayish clouds, gleaming orange and the as the plane move color slowly started fading.

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Dusk, view from the window

Next morning, as the flight landed I woke in New Delhi.

Apartment E101

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The morning of 1st Spetember 2016 wasn’t the most cheerful one. I got up from my bed, making slow advances towards the kitchen to brew my morning coffee for one final time. As the old coffee machine made grumbling noises, I walked into the balcony for probably the last time.

My contract for Apartment E101 had been terminated and I was all packed up to leave. Having arrived in Finland, this apartment was my first shelter. I was gathering all my memories from the last three years. I remember the first time I stepped inside meeting my roommates, befriending them.

Rodolfo, Qang and me were the first ones to move in the apartment and later Johan and Maxim occupied Qang’s room one after the other. Rodolfo and me had always been in the “House of Pendjos” (that’s what we called it XD). Both of us had changed so much as a person from the time we arrived here in Finland. Waking up to Latin music and greeting The Mexican with “Huomenta”, “Buenos Dias!” was our typical morning routine. I first got introduced to Latin culture and learned more about China through my roommates. I recollected the flashes of all the parties and drinking games I had in this same kitchen, our friends coming over, trying out our Mexican and Indian cuisines. roommatesI sipped my coffee and sat in the balcony thinking about the summer evenings. I found myself smiling and recalling those moments. Towards the end of summer, the dusk always seemed bright. I remember how I used to sit long in the balcony and read books, it used to so quiet and peaceful. img_20160731_215527

When it rained, the drops would make a clicking noise against the glass window pane in the balcony. It always felt good to feel the freshness and hear the rain against the window and watch the drops trickling down the glass pane, gleaming in the sun.img_20160802_211012

The door to my room resembled that of a high school kid’s, with posters and stickers, some of them posted by Rodolfo.img_20160823_123225I walked into my room, so many memories confined here. It felt like these walls have seen and heard too much of me. I had lot of interviews, calls, fights, laughs, sorrows, joys all in this room. When I looked outside from my window, I could see the trees all green. I had seen them change color with seasons, turing to yellow, white and green.

 

When I’m low, I have a habit of surrounding myself with things that motivates me and keeps me going. These posters and messages on my walls and windows are a symbol of that. I tend to talk to myself quite often and these walls & windows helped me with it. Apparently, Apartment E101 was very good at it.

 

 

Orienteering

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Wikipedia describes Orienteering as “a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain, and normally moving at speed.”

One such rainy Monday afternoon, my friend Gaurav, his workmates and me set out on our adventure of Orienteering. We were introduced to the sport by Katariina: Gaurav’s workmate. Katarinna has been practicing the sport for quite sometime and was very skilled at it. She explained the rules, the ways to read the map and lent us the equipment needed for it. This sport works so that, one has to reach the multiple check points sprawled across a region, stamping an RFID tag at each of the check points. The time for the finishing the circuit is recorded and shared with the participants. There were different levels of the race, for eg “beginners”, which is spread over 3 kms and there were 11 checkpoints to cover. Our time were published at this webpage.

Being debutants at the sport, we did pretty well to finish the race. A wet weather didn’t help the cause. Holding the Orienteering map in our hand, we lost our way in the forest between the checkpoints. Reading this map requires some skills, the trails, hills and mountains are marked in with particular symbols.

 

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With the map, tag and compass

Though the sport was energy sapping, we felt accomplished after finishing it. Roaming through the forest, climbing rocks, slipping on the mosses, jumping over fallen logs, running in the swamps, it was an exciting experience, highly recommended.

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Orienteering Map

 

 

Amsterdam.

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Last week, I was in Amsterdam for a conference and it was an eventful experience. Being there for the first, I was excited and prepared to experience “the sins” XD. Surprisingly, I was charmed by better parts of the city and not the tourist ones. Smoking openly is a pleasing experience but the people of the city impressed me the most. Sitting beside the canals and the water floating beneath you, the tourist waving and snapping their cameras from the boats passing is a pretty picture. But the locals are care free and embracing warm and polite. Being a major attraction, and having a low crime rate speaks itself Amsterdam. There is a special charm in the city cannot be put together in words. One has to be there to experience it, to soak and absorb it all. You can sit idle silently, just pause and reflect. At the same time a different side of the city would go wild and party crazy, so calm yet so energetic, so composed yet so wild. I feel it has a lot for everyone, whether you’re an artist or a scientist or a no one. There’s something about this city you feel connected to, its hard to find sorrows and sadness in this city. I’m sure there must be failures, misery and pain, like every other place. But there’s a different way to experience and express it. It’s very mature and simplistic. It has been the best city I’ve been to so far and Amsterdam has a special spot in my heart.

Cycles & Canals

Cycles and Canals, Amsterdam’s favorite love story.

Vienna-Prague-Budapest

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Recently, some of my friends and me had a short vacation down to the central Europe. I needed some time off and a break, and so we decided to travel Vienna-Prague-Budapest. Bought a week long tickets to Budapest and the idea was to land in ‘Pest and ride to Vienna first.

We landed in Budapest around midday and boarded a bus from the airport to the center. The weather was hot (of course, I live in Finland) and I was constantly looking outside the window, reading the billboards, trying to grasp words as much as possible and making assumptions of their meanings. Budapest reminds me a lot of my city in terms of lifestyle and people. Finally we arrived at the central bus station and boarded our bus to Vienna.

I was sleep deprived and half dead by the time we were seated. The announcements and messages in the bus was in German, it sounded familiar. I was happy inside, finally my all those German lessons were being used. It was almost a 3 hour ride to Vienna and I noticed farm lands and windmills through the way. The bus passed through Slovakia and one could notice the difference in landscapes, the super markets from Hungarian side. We arrived in Vienna around evening and it took us awhile to figure out our way through the metro. Our hostel, Wombats, was one of the coolest I’ve seen, yes I know I said it even for the one in Tallinn, but this one equally good. A bit expensive and fancy but good. The reception desk had a huge living room kinda space around and bookshelves and couches and beanbags around. A Bar next to with pool table and games, a kitchen above, green jungle like themed. The place was full of young backpackers- loud, yet friendly. Our rooms was designed to accommodate 4 people with its own bathroom and closet. After settling in and freshening up, we went out for dinner with an old friend. It was a bit late to go out by the time we finished, so we decided to end our night few drinks. Next morning we went out to see the city, in the daylight, everything looked so grand and majestic. Schönbrunn palace was the biggest and most awesome palace, I’ve ever seen. Sprawled across acres with big gardens, obelisk fountains, horse carts and inside the rooms were huge with high ceilings with artistry all over it. Apparently Mozart played there when he was 6, it was truly a great exhibition of grandeur. Through the day, we visited lot of places, the Hofburg palace, Stadtsoper, St Stephen’s Cathedral, the museums (many of them). At the end of the day, were tired of roaming in the city, we went to try some authentic (supposedly) Austrian beers and crashed and passed out at the hostel. Next morning was our final in Vienna and after a heavy breakfast we went to roam around the city more before boarding our bus to Prague for the weekend. Vienna is an amazing historical city connected well with the metro line and it was easier for us to commute.

 

It was almost evening on Friday when we arrived in Prague. The sun had almost set and a thin blanket of twilight covered the sky. I was staying over some friends in Prague and locating their apartment was relatively easy (usually I’m terrible with directions). The apartment was in an old building, the walls, stairs and floors were a living proof of that. The kitchen had the gas stove with fire light to cook, unlike the heating plates in Finland and bathroom had a electric heater, where the water was stored and heated before you could use it. I was escorted into my small guest room with a fluffy bed. Apartment walls had drawings and graffiti like art scribbled over them, one could make out the residents were budding artists. After a delightful conversation over dinner and few shots, I was ready to go out on the Friday night. With a pound of “herb” in my pocket I walked towards the metro station. The metro, especially the underground ones were built surprisingly deep, like deep deep in the ground. Prague is very lively with lots of hustle and bustle, I could notice a lot of chattering, laughing, talking and hear the buzz of the city. Eventually, we crashed a factory themed, “Cross Club” amongst a bunch of stoned crazy and happy people. With psychedelic trance beating hard in my ears I was in a different state, can’t remember much from the night. I found one of the “Use-it Europe Maps” for Prague, it was extremely helpful. Apart from all the touristy places, it had a list of all the local spots to hang out and things to experience. I would highly recommend it, especially for young travelers. The whole day Saturday I spent visiting the regular tourist spots (Charles Bridge, Astronomical Clock, Prague Castle, Old Town etc etc). But what beats all is the “Franz Kafka Museum”, its the best I’ve ever seen. It was how a museum should be, black & white, dark, mild lights, the entrance itself had a Kafkasque atmosphere. A collection of Kafka’s letters to his bosses, lovers, government, to himself. The visuals of light and in chronological order, the events in Kafka’s life. The factors affected Kafka and his writings were beautifully visualized on projection with pictures, audios and videos. The place will keep you occupied and leave you absolutely spell bound. Its a must visit place if you’re a Kafka fan. Opposite the museum is a souvenir  shop with Kafka’s notes and diaries compiled and printed. It was already evening by then, we had our meal and went to the Lennon wall for while. Though there is nothing special about the wall, it had a special vibe and atmosphere about it. Being a Saturday evening, I was expecting heaps of tourists there but was pleasantly surprised. We spent the rest of the evening and night, making a pub-crawl in the old town and befriending other backpackers. Next morning I woke top with a terrible hangover, it was our last day in Prague and it started late after lunch. Museum of Communism was our highlight of the day. Its was informative, fascinating yet disappointing to know the atrocities on the people during the Communist era. We explored some local restaurants, more Kafka theme cafes 😀 and green vegans ones. The map was our guide and by the evening we were on the bus for our overnight journey to Budapest. Overall Prague gives me an impression of a liberal city. The best thing about it are its people, open bold positive extrovert and creative.

After spending a 6 hour overnight journey in bus, we arrived early morning in Budapest, sleep deprived, restless, hungry, cranky and had to wait for an hour before our AirBnB host could hand over the keys. The apartment was really colorful, small cozy with all the basic necessities needed. A wooden brown stairs led us to the second floor with a jumpy elastic bed. We freshened up, fetched some groceries cooked ourselves a brunch and laid lazy for a while. It took a lot of effort to kick out the laziness in us and we started our Budapest chapter in the late afternoon. Jewish Synagogue was the first monument we walked up to, it looked impressive form the outside but none of us were interested enough to pay for a tour inside. Close to the synagogue was the iconic St.Stephen’s Basilica, the weather bright and sunny in a blue sky added to its splendor. We relaxed in the square had an ice cream and headed to the Buda side of the city. For the aloof ones, the city is divided by river Danube into two – Buda & Pest. Walking over the historic chain bridge we could see the imposing castle up the hill Buda. Up the hill, from the Royal Place the view of the city was absolutely magnificent. We explored other landmarks on the Buda side of the hill, Mattius Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and by the evening walked back to Pest. Close of the symbolic Parliament are an assembly of old shoes kept inline with the river and are called “Shoes on Danube”. It honors the people killed during the war. Right opposite those shoes was the Parliament very old, very royal. We went back to the our apartment, relaxed a bit and started again to experience the night life in Budapest. Apparently, the city is famous for its “Ruin Pubs”, and on reaching there we weren’t disappointed. Never have I seen a such long queue of people waiting outside pubs on Mondays. The old factories destroyed in the wars are turned into pubs, with cool music, bars, pool, dark dingy corners and lots and lots of people. It was like walking in a shopping mall, only way cooler. After a few drinks there, we went dancing in a club, where we met a bunch of crazy Italians, shouting, jumping, dancing recklessly. Dancing drained us and we were tired to do more, so we went back for a good night sleep. Day 2 started with hiking on the hill Buda in a sunny weather. We walked and walked and walked through the white bridge, up the Gellert hill till the Statue of Liberty. The palace on one side in the distant and the city, the Pest side skyscrapers, on the other looked splendid. We stayed there for a few hours and went to venture far off in the Pest side after lunch. Later that evening we went to this beautiful book cafe restaurant, with chandeliers, high roofs with paintings and art all over, melodious piano playing, perfect place to enjoy a read. Next we stopped at a place called the Noir chocolate Bar, with gazillion flavors and cuisines of chocolates and quiet atmosphere. I would highly recommend this place if you have a sweet tooth. Finally, we went to the Budapest’s oldest baths, the place I felt was made more to attract tourists, and I wasn’t particularly impressed by it, though it took me a while to get out of the bath, so relaxing it was. Close to the bath was a big park and the Hero’s Square. It was illuminated and looked pretty, we sat there for a while before finally returning to the apartment.

Next morning we packed and flew back to Finland.