We inherit many traits from our parents, irrespective of the fact whether we like those or we do not like those at all. Liking for travelling I inherited from my mother. Even with limited resources she had travelled more places than my father, who did not like travelling at all. I have been able to pass on that instinct to my offspring even though my wife likes to stay at home more than outside.
I have already visited 31 out of 36 States and Union Territories of India. Many of the State capitals have been visited more than once and a few have been visited more than even ten times. Even after 10 visits, I am always looking forward for another visit. Two habits are my forte: one- addressing a public meeting/ students for hours and two- hunger to travel and making friends from all sorts of life. I always try to observe all the things around me minutely as far as possible though I cannot claim to be a keen observer of life. I have both good and bad experiences while travelling around the country and around the globe. But I always share my good experiences with my friends and therefore in my writing also you may find only good parts of my journey. However, for fair comparison, I mention some comparative aspects of different cities with others.
I intend to share my experiences in two volumes. The present volume covers my experiences in the foreign soil only.
Most of the articles presented in this book are already in the public domain through Face Book posts. However, most of the articles posted in the FB are in abridged versions only.
To publish these articles as an e-book, I got the encouragement from the fact that, the books already published by Shakespir, out of five books, three are within 40 most downloaded books and one within 60 most downloaded books in their respective categories. The fifth one, being the latest, may have to wait for some more time to break the barrier of 100 most downloaded book in its category. I do not know whether, I am writing any good for the readers or not, but I know, this is possible only because of love shown by my esteemed readers. I shall always remain grateful to them.
I am able to write these articles because of constant encouragement from my wife (Mrs. Monalisha), my children, (Ms. Anusuya, Mr. Ayusman Vikramjeet and Ms. Anwesha) including two of my spiritual daughters (Ms.Avneet and Ms. Deepika).
By criticising and praising my posts in FB, many of my friends, directly or indirectly encouraged me to write more on different topics and to a corollary to that, publishing of my e-books on varied subject matters, for which, I shall be always thankful to them. Similarly I feel, without constant encouragement from many of my friends, I could not have written a single chapter of any of the books. Therefore, it is my bounden duty to place my sincere thanks to all my friends, particularly, Sarbashri/Shrimati A. K. Mishra, Ramanamurthy, late Hazra sir, T. K. Basu sir, Unni Sir, Guha sir, Satya Narayan Sir, Harish Chandra sir, Dr. Boopathy sir Pradeep Kumar De, Jyotirmoy Chakraborti, Kumar Sanjay Krishna, Sanjib Gohain Barua, KalyanNag saab,Tusar Bordoloi, Abhijit Medhi, Maniraj Adhikary, RR Deb, Praveen Srivastava, Praveen Shukla, Prabin Saikia, Rupali Burha Gohain, Amar Saikia, Ganesh Choudhury, Diptendra Mohan Das, Manikankana Mahanta, Nilakshi Sarma, Anjan Kumar Jena, Nand lal, Swati Khopkar Madam, Dinesh Kumar Meena, Dipak Kumar Das, Sunitha Bhaskar, Anuja Bapat, Richa Shankar, Kajal Jain, Nitika Gupta, Tapati Sharama, Roonjoon Barthakur Phukan, Moolchand Bhaskar, Bhawana Singh, Hema madam, Kulpreet, Amresh, Mukesh, Jaisingh, Navanil Barua, Manimoy, Mudgil saab, Hemanta Sarma, Sundaram, Anupama Sethi, Anupam Bhatnagar, Brazil Brahma, Diganta Barua, Nilutpal Barua, Jyoti Kagarkoti, Nijora Sarma, all ISS officers including those who have retired from service, Officers from Directorate of Economic and Statistics, Professors from different universities and FB friends who not only read my articles but sometimes give comments also. I also place my special thanks to my foreign friends Ms. Irani Chandramali madam, Ms. Anna, Ms. Lu, Ms. Jeliang et al who dare to read some of my articles from my books, ‘Random Thoughts through a coloured prism’, ‘Serious Statisticians: Funny Statistics’, ‘Melody of Fragrance’ and ‘Akhadya’. They also gave me few encouraging comments for which I am very much delighted. Comments of the Australian Author, Mr. A. R. Dent is and will be always revered to me.
I am also grateful to my son, Ayusman Vikramjeet for designing the beautiful cover page not only for this book but also for the cover pages of ‘Melody of Fragrance’ and ‘Akhadya’.
I shall be an ungrateful stooge, if I do not express my gratitude to my parents, brothers, sisters, friends, foes and teachers for their unequivocal support for developing my personalities, good or bad.
Finally I am thankful to Shakespir for publishing my articles as e-book.
table<>.<>. |<>. h3=. CHAPTER NO
Melbourne-The City as I saw it in 2010
After completion of domestic component of management training at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Lucknow, India, all the 23 senior Indian Statistical Service (ISS) officers undergoing training were directed to proceed to Australia for seven days in the first week of November, 2010 as a part over-sea component of the training programme. We were to visit two Universities of Australia, located at Melbourne and Sydney, within those seven days. November being the first month of summer in Australia, we were expecting a lovely climate at Melbourne and Sydney. Out of 23 officers for at least ten officers it was first over-seas journey. Naturally, those who were for the first time going for a foreign visit, were more excited than those of us who were lucky to have at least one foreign visit prior to this. These first timers were also very happy that we were going in a large group to a beautiful country.
We left New Delhi at around 8 PM by Jet Airways and reached Kualalampur in the early morning after flying 4-5 hours. Experiences gained at Kualalampur will be shared in a separate article. From Kualalampur, we flew to Melbourne by Qantas Airways. The services those offered by Qantas airways were among the best in the world. Food provided by Qantas Airways was excellent, though one of my complaining friends was complaining for their sub standard food! I do not know what types of food he was expecting!
As the flight was descending, I noticed that there was still broad daylight for which the city was glowing like a golden bowl. The flight attendant announced that it was 8 PM as the local time of Melbourne. I was little surprised at the announcement comparing the sunshine at Melbourne with that of my own State of Assam and Delhi, where I am staying. We all know that in November, sun sets at 5 PM in Assam and at Delhi it sets at around 6 PM. I asked my friend, whether I was right in hearing the time announced by the attendant which he confirmed. That was a completely new experience for me.
The immigrant officials were extremely cooperative, not like many other countries where the officers behaved as if they are doing a great favour by accepting your travel documents. They were very jolly and appear to be very happy in discharging their official duties. That gave us a friendly feeling about our visit for next few days and fortunately that feeling continued till our departure not only from Melbourne but also from Australia as a whole. However, one of my friends carrying betel-nuts and betel-leaves had to have a long conversation to convince the officials to allow him with the ingredients to prepare his Paan.
A bus was waiting for us to take us to the hotel which was about 15 KM from the airport. The driver of the bus was a very knowledgeable and jolly person and giving a running commentary about the city while taking us to the hotel. As usual, the traffic was very disciplined all along the route to the hotel.
By the time we checked into the hotel it was 11 PM. We were told by our guide that, except in the hotel, food would not be available outside as all the nearby restaurants had already been closed for that day. However, one hotel staff told us that we might get some snacks at the metro station which was some two hundred metres away from our hotel. On reaching the metro station, we found that only one or two eateries were open and somehow most of us were not comfortable with the available snacks. To my surprise one eatery employee (In our place no trader will give information on other trading houses when you are not taking the same service they are providing) told us to go to another shop, 24×7 which was situated at the end of the street. There was a slope leading to the shop another two hundred metres from the Metro station. As mentioned by the employee of the shop at the metro station, the shop was full of different type of confectioneries. I bought a brown bread, two packets of biscuits and other confectioneries in that shop which was enough for few nights. My other friends also got their choice of confectioneries.
Next morning, another driver with a different bus came before time and he also talked with us many things about Melbourne and about the state of Victoria. At Nine O’ Clock, the bus dropped us at the gate of Melbourne Royal University, which was our official destination for next two days. The University was situated at a central place and was not far from our hotel. On the way to the University, we saw a few markets and few sky scrapers.
The infrastructure of the University was superb and faculty we met, were extremely cordial and knowledgeable. Had I been a young boy and from an opulent family, I would have to like to complete a course in management there!
After lunch we were taken to a nearby market where some of my friend purchased sim cards for their mobile. The market was full of Chinese products and full of Chinese sale girls and boys. In the afternoon we went Captain Cook’s museum and some other museums. A small hut was constructed as a replica of the hutment used by Mr. Cook.My attention caught to one of the museums where war medals were kept. It is a real beauty. Medals were basically won by the Australians during World War-II. An Australian police officer was standing outside the museum was obliging everyone who wanted to have photographs with him. He was so tall that, I, 5-10 ft looked like a dwarf. Some of short friends did not like have photographs when they observed my standing vis a vis his. Very smart!
We also visited Melbourne cricket stadium, Tennis stadium and football stadium- all from outside. We did not enter to the empty stadium, as to make an entry to the stadium would have cost us twenty dollars each. From Indian point of view, to enter an empty stadium, paying 20 dollar(equivalent to Rs.1100/-) was too much! A few clicks were taken with statues of great cricket players of Australia (statue of Sir Donald Bradman attracted most of us) outside the stadium by most of us which did not pinch our pockets.
In the afternoon again we were taken to the market, which was extremely busy upmarket but still disciplined one. However, being a visitor of many western shopping markets, I find nothing special about the market. In the evening, we were taken to the sea beaches and unfortunately, we could not venture much due to non-availability of sufficient time.
Night life of Melbourne is very beautiful. The hotel management had provided few complementary passes for visiting nearby night clubs. As many of us already knew that the night clubs of Australia are the most disciplined night clubs in the world. These night clubs are extremely organised and extremely clean. Pole dance is a part and parcel of these night clubs. You can enjoy the dance without paying any extra money. However, if you/ your group want to see a particular dancer to dance for you, then you have to pay 50 dollar or so. The restriction in the night club is that he dancer can touch you but you cannot. Due to paucity of time I could visit only two night clubs at Melbourne though I was provided a few more passes of different night clubs. Without complementary passes, visiting of these clubs is a costly affair as minimum entry fee was fifteen dollar (Around Rs.800/- in Indian currency) which is very high for a person like me. However, to attract customers, they provide a complementary peg of whisky/ wine/ beer to each and every customer.
On the next day after office hours, sightseeing was organised by the organizers to visit to an island (I forgot the name) which was famous for ‘Penguin Parade’. We were told that it is situated around 200 KM away from the city boundary and would take around two hours time. The island was connected by a huge bridge, with an approximate width of 50 metres and length of 5000 metres, over the bay of Tasmanian Sea.
On the way to the island we were taken to a chocolate factory. The factory had a large compound and found already a number of vehicles were parked in the parking lot. When we entered to the factory premises we found that a large crowd was queuing up at a place. We also joined the queue where specimens of different types of chocolates were given to us free of cost. We really enjoyed the experience.
On the way we got the opportunity to visit a small zoo where we see koala and kangaroo(small size) along with other species. From the store attached to the zoo, I intend to by a leather jacket for my son. The price tag was $150/-.But all my friends dissuaded me from buying with their time tested wisdom, being a tourist place the price might be on the higher side compared to the ordinary market. I took their advice. Later on I realized that I should not have taken their advice! Afterwards, wherever, I tried to buy a similar jacket nowhere the price tag was less than $200/-. Still I rue my luck for not buying anything special for my son on that visit. However, that was compensated afterwards. How? You will know after few paragraphs down the lines.
The island was a visual paradise least to say. You can see the thundering Tasmanian Sea clobbering the edges of the ridges from a height of 100 metre or so. You may go down little below also through the wooden road and bridges along with the sideways. We saw some holes where penguins holed up.
While we were travelling by bus we saw some small kangaroos were moving in the wild. Travelling by bus was like a safari-ride in wild though apparently there was no large tree nor jungles nearby.
To see penguin parade we were led to a small stadium at the Beach of Tasmanian Sea and we were requested not to take any photograph or go near to the birds when they would come near to us. Then our waiting game started. For an hour, nothing happened and the sun went down to the ocean-which was also a marvel to see! After dusk, the penguin started to be seen like some dark spots in the vast sea and gradually they became visible. The first batch of penguins was little bit hesitant to come to the shore seeing thousands of people sitting on the sea shore. But after some time, a stream of penguins arrived and they moved like a soldiers moving in a parade. We have seen penguins in the TV or cinema, but seeing their movement on ground was awesome. We were told that these penguins are the smallest species of penguins. Had we not visited this famous sea shore we would missed something spectacular and worth seeing in a lifetime.
We could not see many beautiful places in and around Melbourne due to shortage of time. When my son went to Melbourne for his official assignment, I told him to visit the places that I had visited and the places I could not. My son was there for a year or so and he got the opportunity to visit many beautiful places around Melbourne, unfortunate which I could not.
On the way back to the hotel we were damn tired. As in the morning we had to leave for Sydney, all ran to the room for taking a good sleep except me and one friend of mine. I along with my friend who had immense belief in my guts, ventured that night also till 2 AM and left Melbourne to visit Sydney next morning.
If I am asked to visit a foreign country more than once, Australia would be one of my most favourites. Melbourne will also be in the list of favourite cities for the beautiful tourist places and beautiful friendly people (young and beautiful ladies to be precise).
I love you Australia.
SYDNEY-LOVE IS IN THE AIR
After taking a two and a half hours flight from Melbourne we reached Sydney. For me, travelling from Sydney to Melbourne was as smooth as taking a soft drink in the summer. But that was not as smooth for one of the friend who left the passport at the security check point. He realised losing of his passport when boarding was started. His face appeared to be like a face of boy of five who lost his chocolate to his brother. When I saw his facial expression, I asked him what the matter was. With almost moist eyes told me that he lost his passport. All of us became nervous for a moment. But some of us got composed immediately and we checked all the places we have visited after getting into the airport as we were sure, he was with the passport till we checked into the airport without which check into airport would not have been permitted. We were running out of time and finally we recovered the passport from the security officials at the security point.
As soon as our aircraft descended to land at the seaside airport of Sydney, my eyes blurred with the beauty of the runway along with the sea. What a beauty, I cannot imagine before! Sydney airport is one of the most beautiful modern Airport, I have opportunity to see. I felt like we were floated through blue sea and for that, I also must thank the pilot, as landing was also very smooth.
Sydney, the second largest city of Australia is famous for its natural beauty, sky-walk and along with other beautiful buildings ‘Sydney Opera House’ the symbol of modern Sydney, architectural marvel of the world. Darling Harbour is also one of the most beautiful harbour I had ever seen. Bridge over Diamond Harbour is as magnificent as the Sydney opera house which is also standing majestically looking over the sea. Bondi beach along with other beaches are world class beaches of Sydney. The city is as clean as the other world class cities with well maintained public utility services. There are thousands of natural spots of heavenly beauty are scattered within hundred KM radius of Sydney. Unfortunately I could not visit any of them due to time and money factor.
University of Sydney is one of the best Universities in the world. We were taken to this University for one full day. We interacted with a number of faculty members during the day. Our course coordinator was a young beautiful jovial lady from our neighbour country Nepal. She had been in Sydney for last few years, both as a student and as research scholar. She shared experience for being a pat of the University. Another faculty member hailing from our very own Punjab, told us how he became a part of Australian Society. He told that the Australians are the most receptive persons of the word. The Australian society allows the persons from other countries to assimilate with their own society. According to him it was never ending joyful journey for him and his family. A few thousand students from India are studying in this University in regular courses ranging from Engineering to Management.
I met few students Sydney University and other Universities, serving as waiter, cook and attendant in different hotels and eateries to meet their educational expenses. One of the students who working in the hotel where we stayed was from Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. He used to give omelette of my choice in the breakfast during my stay. The student community of India prefer to work as attendant etc, as the minimum wage rates approved by the Federal Government of Australia for the unskilled labour are quite high to support oneself in one’s study. Dignity of labour and interests of these students are well protected under the Federal law.
I fell in love with the city on the very first sight. I may term is ‘love at first sight’. The large parks are shared by many beautiful young couples clinging to each other, reading novels (hopefully not physics books!) putting one’s head on other’s lap and talking each other with occasional kissing and loud giggles. I saw young couples were busy in kissing while they were waiting for green light to cross a road. They show their love for each other explicitly which cannot be expected in India or any other South Asian Countries. While exchanging kisses they never look vulgar and that is the beauty of Sydney.
On the very first day we were taken to the monumental Opera House on the edge of Darling Harbour. A beautiful fun loving female guide led us to the majestic building. Though, you will find the history of the building in different manuals available in the premises itself, hearing from a beautiful guide is a different ball and game for all of us. The person who never opened his mouth in the class room during our training programme, got so much enthusiasm that he asked the lady maximum questions about the building! That is the power of beauty which can provide voice to a dumb person!!! On his request, the guide explained that opera house can be hired for other activities also if one can afford. With a beautiful smile the lady informed us that the building is not only hired for marriage ceremony but also for divorce ceremony! We were shown the concert area of the hall also which is normally not open to public. Whenever I recall the tour to Sydney, the beautiful smiling face of the guide also appears before me. In contrast, it reminds me about most of the guides of our country who explain the history of our famous monuments with poker faces as if they were explain the beauty of our treasured monuments with some compulsions and the work has been forced upon them. From their faces, it appears they are not enjoying their works at all. Without enjoying the work, nobody can deliver the best!
Beauty of Darling harbour is comparable with the beauty of the wife in the first night in the eyes of the loving husband. The sight of the bridge connecting two sides of the Sydney gives a feeling of giganticness. Many Indian restaurants are situated on the other side of the Sydney, one of which was visited by our team for our first night dinner. Darling harbour is full of restaurants and many of them are night clubs with loud music and ballrooms. I was told by the tour operator not to visit those after midnight due to imminent presence of some drunkard rowdies at the midnight. But I seldom follow the advice of the tour operator as I always follow my sixth sense only. Why? I am telling in the next paragraph.
Night life of Sydney is more beautiful than even that of Melbourne. However, here the hotel management had not provided us any complementary pass for visiting night clubs. From gathered knowledge I came to know that here also the night clubs were most disciplined night clubs in the world. These clubs are also extremely organised and extremely clean. Due to paucity of time and dearth of sufficient money, I could visit only one at Sydney by paying entry fee of twenty dollar (Around Rs.1100/- in Indian currency) which is higher than that of Melbourne (which was fifteen dollar, around Rs.800/- in Indian currency). Though the amount was too much for a person like me, I took the opportunity as I thought I might not get another chance in my life again to visit a night club at Sydney. After entering to the club, I realized the price difference was not due to any quality difference, but it might be due to the fact that more international tourists are visiting Sydney than Melbourne. However, I have noticed another difference, there was a provision to encourage any dancer you can put some sticker to the band of the dancer. These stickers were sold at the counter at a premium. Provision for selection of particular dancer for a particular time period by paying a price was also available in Sydney as well. Touching a dancer was a strict ‘No’, at Sydney also.
I was told and also I came to know from the Discovery/Natgeo channel, the brothels in Sydney are the best in the world. They maintain highest level of hygiene and law provides maximum dignity to these sex workers. Further, I was told the sex workers of Sydney were the most cooperative in the world and extremely polite to the customers. The information given to me was quite tempting- but somehow I resisted myself from visiting those places and therefore, I shall not be able to authenticate the information given to me nor describe them with any lucidity. (Many of my friends do not believe me on this. I cannot help them to bring out of that thought process!!!!)
Our guide took us to Bondi beach twice at different times-on the first day in the evening and on the second day at around 12 Noon. There was a wide variation at the ground level on the two visits I referred to.
When we visited the Bondi beach in the evening, a cool breeze was blowing giving us a feeling of peace and tranquillity. We saw people were surfing to the deep sea up to a distance that our normal sight can take us. The white sand was like a white carpet having a blue and changing contour. Blue clean and cold water washed our feet frequently giving us some shivering. Peace was occasionally disturbed by the sound of twin engine small aircraft overseeing the movements of the surfer as well as the lurking sharks. Some aspiring boxers and runners were practicing their exercises, oblivious to the crowd around them. Except beauty of the beach nothing exceptional had attracted my hawk like eyes till the next day.
On the way back, we asked the guide, why the beach attracted so many tourists, just for its natural beauty or something else. He replied with an intriguing smile, ‘If time permits, I shall bring you back to the beach at noon, you will know why people like to see this beautiful beach again and again!’
As promised the guide took us to the beach on the next day around noon. Thousands of people are taking sunbath in the moderate sunshine. The sea was relatively calm compared to the previous day. Gents and ladies, with or without family were seen lying with scanty cloths without any vulgarity. Children were playing with sand and spouses were massaging each other. After few minutes walking on the beach, I left the place, as I felt myself an odd man out in the melee with full covered dress. I felt that, the people around me might think I was looking their half nude bodies with vulgarity. I felt scent of love in the air of Bondi beach and felt an ache on my chest for not having my family nearby!!!!!!
I visited one Thai message parlour displaying with bold letters, ‘It is a massage parlour: Do not ask for sex.’ Due to heavy pain on my neck, I had to visit this massage parlour to get relief. The massage parlour was about 100 metres away from my hotel. I saw a diminutive girl was sitting on the reception. When I approached and told her my problem she told me that 15 minute neck massage would cost me 15 dollar. When I agreed to the rate she invited me to come inside to the adjacent room and told me to remove my shirt I was sceptical, how this lean and thin girl will give me proper massage to heal my neck pain. To my surprise, using her hand and feet she made some pressure on my neck and back. After fifteen minutes I was relieved with the pain. I salute the professionalism of that diminutive Thai girl.
I am finishing my sharing of my Sydney experience, by sharing my personal views about the taxi drivers and general pedestrians of Sydney. Taxi drivers of Sydney were very cooperative to the tourists, knowledgeable and always try to take you by the shortest possible routes. If one asks about an address to a pedestrian, he/ she will try to help, even consulting his GPS on his mobile phone. Keep it up-residents of Sydney, these good habits forever!
If one has to see what good infrastructure for public utility is, one must have to visit Vienna, Austria. With one ticket for 3/7/30 days, you can travel by local train, by tram and by bus for 3/7/30 days without any hindrance. You can buy also one way ticket for one journey also but that may not be economical. Even at the peak hour, you are assured to get a proper seat in your choice transport. Whole city is well connected by all three means of public transport. Airport bus service is so punctual that you will not feel to hire a taxi to any destination or from anywhere to the airport. Hotels and restaurants have mostly 24 hours’ service. Law and order in the city is so good that you always feel secured even at midnight stroll. Natural beauty of the city is also enviable.
Just after my promotion from Director to Deputy Director General, I was selected to attend an International Summit on a very important issue at Vienna. Therefore, I was doubly happy to visit this historic city during January, 2013 to attend the International Summit which was to be held at Vienna International Centre popularly known as VIC.
Before my departure, I was following the temperature at Vienna and was terrified to know that temperature dipped to minus 11-15 Celsius in those days. To fight with the freezing cold climate of Vienna, Austria I needed a woollen over coat. Many of friends suggested me to borrow an overcoat from some friends who are regular visitors to these countries. But as you know, if a rich person asks for help from his poor friend, it is termed as magnanimity on the part of the rich friend, on the other hand, if it is on the opposite way, the poor fellow may be humiliated for his humble financial status. I want to avoid such a situation always. Therefore, searched for a overcoat for my size in different markets of Delhi. Finally, I was able to buy a long over coat after visiting at least ten markets of Delhi- at Lajpat Nagar market. Even that was made useable only after some alteration.
As I mentioned in many occasions earlier that I have been lucky so far during any visit to any foreign country, I always find a pleasant climate irrespective of pre or post visit having terrifying climate in those countries. Here also, the day I landed at Vienna airport at 6 AM, the weather God became gracious to reduce its anger by increasing the temperature to minus one around the city. But due to freezing wind, I felt like ice was thrown to me by an identified enemy. As communicated by the hosting agency, I took a bus from the airport to my hotel which is only 200 metres from the VIC. As Vienna is a place of right hand drive, I had to disembark on the opposite side of the hotel. As soon I dropped the bag to adjust my muffler, my bag was drew away by the wind at least 10 metres within one second. That was first experience of facing a wind that could flyaway (virtually) my heavy (20 odd KG) bag. Somehow, I managed to get back my bag without any damage. Cold was shivering for me.
On reaching the hotel, I was told that hotel room for me would be available only after 3 PM ( it was 8 PM as per Indian Standard Time- I started my journey on the previous day from my home!). However the receptionist, a Philippine, told me that I could put my luggage in the cloak roam and go to the city. He advised me to take a local train which would take me to the Central Vienna from where I could see the museums, churches and other shopping places of tourists’ interest. It was a Sunday, only day when I might go for sightseeing as there was no spare time in the next three days. Though it was shivering cold, I took his advice to go out for sightseeing. He advised me to take a weekly ticket for travelling which would cost 12 Euro (Exact amount –I may forgot). Normally there is no checking of tickets(during my stay I did not face any checking of ticket), but there is provision of ticket checking by a mobile court. Minimum fine for a passenger without valid ticket is 100 Euro(around Rs.8000/-) which is quite hefty considering the fact that room charge in a five star hotel starts at 120 Euro during my visit. I do not know whether the people are honest or the hefty fine is the deterrence, as percentage of ticketless passengers is less than one percent.
After crossing Vienna river (one channelized part of Danube river), walking about a KM opposite side of the Central Vienna, after taking a weekly ticket from the vending machine, I took a train to my destination which is seven-eight stations from my boarding station towards the heart of the city. I got down at the station as suggested by the receptionist and started walking in a particular direction without knowing where my walk would lead to. But my walk led to the most beautiful Church so far I had ever seen. I entered the 17th Century Church, sat for half an hour then came out. Still I felt the chilling cold outside. That did not dither me to take few photographs and request some strangers to take few shots by my camera. Later on, for few months, I made those photographs as face-book profile pictures.
Then, I sat on a chair on the street and thought, what to do? Again I roamed around and found myself in front a museum. Entry fee was eight Euro-which I could afford without any problem. It was really a beautiful museum keeping everything used by an Austrian queen of eighteen century. I had taken the help of audio system provided by the museum officials to give a description of each item in different languages. He description of each item was so lucid that I had a feeling that I was in the midst of all activities of hundred years ago. The utensils used by monarchy were kept in such a way that those could be used at the time of my visit itself. The bathroom used by the queen revealed that how opulent the royalty was!
Due to paucity of time and money, I could not visit all the museums though I would like to do that, as all the museums in Vienna are real good to be visited and to be revisited. If God permits I shall definitely visit this beautiful city again and try to visit the remaining museums.
I came back by 2 PM to the hotel due to extreme exhaustion (as already stated I left Delhi, India on the previous night and there was a time difference of about 5 hours). On seeing me, the receptionist welcomed me and told me that my room was already ready to be occupied. I tried to take some rest and sleep for some time. But excitement got the better of me, and finally I left the hotel for the central Vienna again to see the night life of Vienna.
I am told that night life Vienna is decent and very safe. One can move around the whole night without fear. Restaurants are open up to midnight. Night clubs in Vienna are at par with Australian counterparts, extremely disciplined but little costlier in Indian perspective. Therefore, due to financial constraint, I could not visit any of them at the appropriate time (Like visiting a stadium before the beginning of a match. Isn’t it a funny experience?). Next time if anybody sponsors, I shall definitely visit at least one night club at the appropriate business hours and hopefully enjoy all the available services of these night clubs!
Next day I reached my meeting venue sharp at 8-30 AM. What is modern security is, one should learn from these International Organizations. Recently, our Central Government has also introduced bio-metric punching system for the employees. But there is no checks, if a person comes at 9-00 AM(morning entry time) and left the office for the whole day and again punch it at 6 PM, his attendance is 100% OK. What about the visitors? No checking except the Ministries located at Central Delhi, for visitors-no frisking at all. But to enter and to exit from a UN building, every time one has to use temporary photo identity card which is issued to a temporary visitor after examining all travel documents including passport and invitation letter to the person from UN. In my case, on the first day thorough frisking was done before issuing a temporary photo pass for three days. However, next three days no frisking was done and I did not go through the security checks, but had to swipe my card at the door for every entry and every exit.
The UN building at Vienna is a building to be visited. It is practically a self contained small township which accommodates banking facilities to food courts having all sorts of continental food at a reasonable price. As it was not my first visit to a UN building and therefore, it did not surprise me at all. However, it appeared, the UN building at Vienna is larger than the UN(ESCAP) building located at Bangkok. So far beauty is concerned, in my personal opinion, this building is more beautiful than that of the Bangkok building. In any case, Vienna is famous for many International Summits and International Conventions leading to many International Agreements. I had taken a few photographs inside the premises which will always be a part of my treasured memory. I am not going to discuss anything about my official assignment and engagement here.
Vienna is a costly city from Indian view point. For the first time in a foreign country, on the second day at Vienna, I had to piss by paying half Euro (about Rs.40/-- Is not it very costly in Indian point of view-Ha ha ha). Some of us must have witnessed, some people are fighting with the attendant of Sulabh toilets to pay Rs.2/- after using the toilet thinking it should be free! Coming from that background, paying Rs. 40/- for one time use of a toilet was a terrific blow under the belt for me. Jokes apart, we should learn how modern states are concern about cleanliness. Compared to their efforts, Swash Bharat Mission is nothing but a small step forward for our country!
Though Euro is its currency, dollar is also equally convertible at any large hotel, big shop apart from the banks. I had purchased some dress material after ascertain those were not imported from China. The swan-feather quilt and jackets are most famous product of Austria and Germany. I took this opportunity to buy both the products. Further, this is the home city for Swarovski. I purchased one bracelet for my wife . But I could not buy any for my elder daughter, though she had some demand for Swarovski products. I shall feel remain guilty for that.
Apart from the infrastructure of the city, what attracted me was the general physique of the people. Most of the local people are six footer without any apparent obesity problem. The girls are mostly tall without a fat belly. But the common habit of smoking at public places gave me some negative vibes.
Before I conclude, I would like to share a funny incident on the very first day which gave me lot of insight into the city. To get back to the hotel, I asked a few persons about the nearest metro station to go to my hotel. Most of the local persons tried to explain me how to reach my hotel. Since I was totally new to the city, I was little confused till I bumped upon a South Asian vendor selling toys on the street. I asked him whether he is an Indian. Instead of giving a reply he asked me in chaste Bengali, ‘Are you a Bengali?’
‘No I am an Assamese” I replied back.
‘But you know Bengali-isn’t it?’ He questioned me.
‘Yes, I do.’ I replied him in Bengali. Then we talked for half an hour or so. He is a Bangladeshi National. He told me about the city, where to go, what to see and most importantly he said that it is one of most peaceful city in the world. He told me that, I could venture whole night without any fear. Finally, he guided me how to go to my hotel. After that I never had a problem to locate my hotel even after midnight!
Thank you my Bangladeshi Friend living in Vienna since five years prior to my visit! Hope to meet you on my next visit to this beautiful city!
Thimphu- City of Peace and Tranquillity
I was one of the privileged officer to be selected to attend the Sixth Meeting of SAARC Secretaries on Poverty Alleviation (28 July 2015) and the Fourth Meeting of SAARC Ministers on Poverty Alleviation (29 July 2015) at Thimphu, Bhutan. Initially I was not very much excited to go to Thimphu as Bhutan is the first foreign country I had visited when I was a student of Cotton College, Guwahati during 1976-1981. There was a picnic spot at the Bhutan Assam boarder at the foothills of Bhutan range of Himalayas. As boarder of DS hostel (Now Mahendra Deka Phukan Hostel), I along with other boarders went to that particular picnic spot at least 35 years back. In those days, senior students (I was junior student at that time) used to decide where to go for picnic. But these students, our seniors were also not independent in taking their decisions. They usually waited till the boarders of the girls’ hostels decide the picnic spot. During our time there were two girls’ hotels of Cotton College. Affiliations of these two girls’ hostels were also different for different boys’ Hostels. In our times, affiliation (of hearts) of our hostel was with boarders of Cotton College Girls’ Hostel, Number-II (popularly known as CG-II). In that particular year, CG –II decided to go to the picnic spot at Indo-Bhutan border. Therefore, after two days, our seniors also decided to go to the same place. Thus I went to Bhutan- the first foreign country to be visited by me. Basically it was at the greens near to a coalmine of Bhutan. I do not know whether that picnic spot does still exist or not.
As I am told by an officer of the Bhutan Embassy, as per the agreement between Government of Royal Bhutan and Government of India, between New Delhi and Thimphu (the International Airport is at Paro-52 KM from Thimphu), other than DRUK Royal Airlines, no other Airlines can operate, so that this Airlines becomes financially viable to operate, considering the lower number of passengers in this route. Basically, Druk operates two International flights: routes-one New Delhi-Kathmandu (Nepal)-Paro (daily) and Paro-Guwahati-Bangkok (thrice a week). Therefore, I had no alternative but to take a flight of the Druk airlines via Kathmandu to visit Thimpu on the designated day by booking my own ticket using my credit card. Incidentally, this was the first time, hopefully last time, I was travelling to a foreign country with my own expenses for the time being. No doubt, my expenditure was reimbursed immediately on my return. The halt at Kathmandu was about forty minutes.
I have visited many foreign countries before this visit, but never got the taste of a ‘red carpet welcome’ prior to this visit. For the first time, I got the chance to walk on a red carpet after getting down from the aircraft. The ushers waiting for us led us to a VIP guest house which was located within the periphery of the airport, hardly 50 metres from the aircraft from which we had landed. The guest house is a beautiful two storied wooden building surrounded by beautiful lawn. The well maintained lawn was full of beautiful local flowers.
In the guest house, we were provided a number of snacks including different types pastries. Before going to Thimphu, one of my retired senior told me that, in Bhutan Yaks’ milk was extensively used and he did not like the taste. Therefore, I did not take milk with tea but I took pastry. Fortunately, I liked the taste, though I was not sure that milk used for pastry was yak milk or cow milk or buffalo milk.
Journey from Paro to Thimpu, was arranged by providing a SUV to each participants. However, I preferred to travel with another senior officer from NITI Ayog who was from my same service. The climate of Thimpu in the month of July was very comfortable and it was drizzling. After one hour drive we reached our destination, Taj-Tashi hotel, a joint venture of Tata Group and Royal Bhutan.
It is a very beautiful state of art hotel with all modern facilities. The walls and floors of the hotel were testimonies of the decorator’s excellent choice of colour combinations. Though the hotel building is a RCC construction, extensive wood works on the walls and exteriors were visible. A small monastery is also located inside the hotel premises. On the second day, I came to know that there is an archery field within the campus of the hotel. If any tourist wants to lay his/her hands on archery, there are two coaches are ever ready to help the beginners. I also put my hands on the bows for some time-but without much success on hitting the target. I also tried to hit the target with arrows without bows, however, again missed the target with a metre or so!
The city is very small, compared to any Indian city in terms of both population and area, with population hardly one hundred thousand and is few square KM. The city boasts with no use of red light for controlling traffic, no plastic bags used for packing any material in the market and unpolluted water of the springs. It is a city very closed to the nature. Royal Government of Bhutan and its people want the country should be free from the ill-effects of modernisation though they are embracing good things of the modernization. Though the potential tourists’ paradise, the Government restricts tourist inflow of tourists by imposing a condition of depositing a hefty amount of dollars as entry fee before coming to the country. Any unauthorised infiltrators are sent to the jail for a month without any prosecution and deported back to country of his/her origin. Thus, they welcome only high end tourists who are not expected to pollute the environment. That is really praiseworthy.
The city is overlooked by a newly constructed giant Buddha Statue. The pedestal is still under construction. Once it will be completed it will be one of the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world. The statue is situated five KM from the heart of the city. I went up to the pedestal of the statue on the very first day. The illuminating device for the statue is already in operation. Due to under construction status of the pedestal, I was advised not to venture the statue after dusk as there were lot of unfilled or under- filled pitfalls.
The people of the country are true follower of Buddha and they are not only peace loving people at country level but also at the individual level. My escorting officer from Indian Embassy told me that during his last three year tenure, he had never seen even any high voltage altercation between two persons, physical fighting for personal gain is an unheard entity in the city.
The king and queen are the most revered persons in the country. Why not ? The King does not have any personal property-his personal property is his subjects. If there is any calamity, the King is the first top official of the Government who reaches the victims. No, these statements were not told by any senior officials of Royal Government of Bhutan, but by the driver who was attached to me and the waiter of the hotel where we dined on the second day.
I am very much impressed with the expression capacity of the common people in English, most of whom never went outside the country. However, most of the senior officers are passed out of Indian Universities and few of them are graduated from USA and UK. Most of the people have lot of good will for the Indians and Indian Government. Indian currencies are also accepted along with their own currencies and with same face value. I am also told that Indian economy has direct influence on economy of Bhutan as well.
Food provided by the organizers, were so good that within three days, I gained neat five KG. Preparation of food is like North Indian style and I could not find any difference as such. However, I am told, normally they are not taking very spicy food like what were served. Local wine was tasty but most of the costly wines are supplied from India and elsewhere.
I am thoroughly impressed with the dress codes of the male Ministers, officers and officials. They can be identified by the colour of robe (scarf) they are wearing: golden is reserved only for the King, yellow for the Ministers and white for the officers. All of them are wearing beautiful gowns in any official meetings: no long pant etc. No dress code is attached to the ladies though most of them are wearing beautiful traditional dakhana (wrapping shawls-which are traditional dress of ladies of many tribes of India as well).
The Royal Government of Bhutan is recently worried about one new development- some three hundred persons are infected by HIV-AIDs. Whom they are blaming for that? A group of novo rich are travelling too much to outside the country and they carry the killer germs with them due to their un-protected sexual behaviour. Where from this information I gather? One of my seniors, who asked me why I was talking with some local lady officers and what was my hidden intention. I told him, he would know one day why I became so friendly with some ladies who happened to be best informants for gender related issues. Why gender is so important issue, for spreading HIV-AIDS? Because world-wide some males are the culprits for spreading the deadly disease and mostly, sufferers are innocent female partners!
So far, I am concerned; I am disappointed for only one thing about the city: there is no night life in the city. After 10 O’clock, everything appeared to be stand still.
As usual I do not want to discuss the official works I was assigned to do. Therefore, I try to share all the ancillary things with you.
Finally, I want to share my experience of having a journey with a VVIP. On the day of return, our flight was at 11-50 AM. Our passports and luggage were taken by the liaison officer at 9-00AM. As our Minister, whom we were accompanying, was taking breakfast we were waiting at the hotel lobby till 10-10AM. Then we were told to get into our respective vehicle to join the cavalcade of the Minister. Normally, I reach three hours prior to my journey time to take an International flight. But here, I started from the hotel one hour forty minutes from the departure time. While travelling to the airport I was looking to my watch and hoping that I should not be left behind by the only flight to New Delhi. Finally I reached the airport at 11-10AM, just half an hour before the departure time. To my surprise, they took us to the guest house where we were taken at our arrival also. I thought flight must be late. Again we were given tea and snacks. Finally at 11-35 our liaison officer appeared with our passports and luggage tags and led us to the aircraft. Wow! The flight was on time! As soon we entered the aircraft, door was closed and craft started moving.
I am told, air route from Paro to outside world is so zigzag through the Himalayas, that the pilot have to negotiate flying through the (name may be Paro) river manually, practically without any ground navigations through radar system. The pilots of Druk air are either from Bhutan or from German. I enjoyed, with little bit of anxiety, the air journey through the lofty hills of Himalayas.
What I brought from Thimphu ? Besides a bundle of good will, I brought some apples, one ring made of Yak’s bone and few lovely local bangles.
We landed at Indira Gandhi International Air port on time and I virtually ran for a meeting at my office chaired by the Chairman, National Statistical Commission without forgetting the sweet memories of Thimphu!
Beijing-The Mechanical City!
Thanks to Government India for my selection to attend a training programme and a BRICS meeting at Beijing in March, 2015 along with a friend who is a class mate and a person from my service. Moreover, prior to this visit, as my friend had a number of visits to this historical city, I was very happy to be a part of the delegation. But I was little bit disappointed when I came to know that we were travelling by different flights: I was to take flight via Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and he was to go via Hongkong. Return journey was also scheduled like that.
Before I visited Beijing, I thought it might be a mechanical city without a heart! I thought the people are as ruthless as their rulers are portrayed in many publications of countries opposing their ideologies. But after meeting Ms.Lu just after landing at Beijing airport, I had to change my opinion. She was my escorting officer for the entire period of my stay at Beijing. She is an officer in the National statistics office, Bureau of China. She is 28, but looks like my younger daughter of 17, mother of a 4 year old child and behaves like a lovely bubbly daughter to her father. She was waiting for me at the airport after receiving my friend who was attending same the workshop, but travelling by another flight. She speaks almost perfect English: at least with me communication was near perfect.
Before I start explaining other experiences in Beijing, I want to mention another incident which shows the magnanimity on the part of an unknown youth of China. While we, all the representatives of BRICS, minus China, were looking for the proper route to our hotel and the counter for the tickets to board a metro after visiting a mall near to the Temple of Heaven, we met this young boy of around 20, who not only led us to the counter, booked the tickets of eight persons, did not take money for that and refused to tell his name and refused a photograph with us. He left the platform only after we boarded the right train to our hotel. I do not know whether, I shall meet another broad hearted young man like him in my life or not.
During my stay at Beijing, I had hired taxi at least five times and despite of language barrier none of taxi driver demanded a single extra penny from me, which is extremely good experience about Beijing though before my tour to Beijing many of friends narrated many hair raising stories about the taxi drivers of different cities of China. My experience of Beijing may be a counter to those stories.
After these initial comments, let me share my experience of staying for five days in Beijing in the last week of March 2015.
Though there were few direct flights to Beijing from New Delhi, as I mentioned earlier, my flight was booked via Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. The flight from New Delhi was not at all International standard. It was like a ‘gharelu type’(old household material: Lack of minimum basic facilities like having attached TV screen etc.) aircraft. After reaching Guangzhou, I found the airport is not large enough so far International arena is concerned. The officials posted at this airport are cooperative but due to language barrier, I found somewhat incommunicable in some matters. But while on return from Beijing, I found them more communicable- probably I had improved my skill of communication!
The flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was extremely up to date (while coming back also)double Decker aircraft. The food they provided was also very good and above all, they were on time. The airhostess were slim and very beautiful (tragically reminded me the airhostesses of ‘American’ and ‘Indian airlines’ flight!!!) and very cooperative.
After reaching Beijing I met my escort officer and my friend who were waiting for me at the McDonald outlet. My friend advised me to talk to any Chinese person on the street who does not know English in Hindi. His advice did not surprise me, only I told him that instead of Hindi I would talk to him in Assamese, my mother tongue. Both of us had a hearty laugh on that. But that reminded me an experience of mine in Mumbai with my friend, Tushar Bordoloi in 1999. We had a workshop at Pune and we had to halt at Mumbai for a day to catch our train from Dadar to Guwahati on the next day. I proposed to him to test if we could survive a day without uttering any sentence in Hindi or English in Mumbai, speaking only in Assamese, my mother tongue. Believe it or not, starting our day from 8 AM to 11 PM, we got all the benefits and services without uttering a single sentence in English or Hindi or in Marathi(the language which I understand only). First, we went to a restaurant and ordered for breakfast in pure Assamese. The attendant asked us in Hindi whether we want breakfast which we answered with a nod. We got our breakfast and move on our pursuit. Finally, in the evening we met a Bihari tea seller who provided us tea without payment as he had been once in Assam for few years and he became more than happy to hear Assamese language after so many years. Finally we went to bed at around 11-30 PM without uttering a single sentence in any other language other than Assamese. We are still living to tell you our experience-ha ha!!!
On our request while we were on our way to our hotel Ms. Lu took us to a cooperative store to buy Chinese tea. Being from Assam, I grew up with the smell of tea. Even with closed eyes, while travelling by a car or bus, whenever we enter the boundary of a tea garden, we know that we entering a tea garden. As I did not have any time to visit any tea garden in China, the next best place to know about Chinese tea would be cooperative whole sale market of tea. The store which we visited had at least 50 different types of tea. Both of us bought a few varieties of tea with our limited resources. I rue to myself, why we are not able to market our tea products in the world market with some innovative ideas what Chinese are doing for so many years. Why we cannot add different flavours to our tea what they are doing!
The hotel we were lodged is a hotel with all modern gadgets. After taking tea in our rooms we went for a stroll. The roads in Beijing are straight and mostly cutting each other perpendicularly. Even on the first day, I could locate my hotel after roaming around 4 to 5 KM around the city which I cannot claim in any of our cities even staying for many days/ months / years. Well, we can boast about our diversity even in curvature of roads!
As Chinese are early eaters at night, we were late for dinner though it was only eight in the evening. My friend who is pure vegan had to leave to live for the night only on congi (heavy rice soup). For me, lot of fish items were there to relish my dinner.
Other than official work, I visited Temple of Divine which was 20 RMB taxi distance (I do not how many KM away from my hotel, where my meeting was also conducted). It is an architectural marvel. Many couples tie their nuptial knot in and magnificent premises of this old building. The bride used to wear a gown, which may be five odd metres. I am sure she will not able to move a single step without assistance from her husband/ friend. We took some photographs of few couples with their permission. My friend who visited Beijing many times before, he became the guide of mine during my stay at Beijing. I avoid writing on the temple as you will be able see anything about the temple by downloading everything about the temple from Google. What I want to share is my exposure only. I love the big bowls there on the courtyard and the painting hanging on the walls of the magnificent building. The wooden building was so big that it can be seen from a distance of 4-5 km. The area of the temple premises must be of few acres of land.
I visited the mall in front of the Temple of Heaven for some shopping in one evening after office hours. My friend, who warned me of heavy bargaining prevalent in the market beforehand, did not accompany me to the market. Yes, I did heavy bargaining while purchasing some ladies bags for my three ladies at my home. Prices of came down from 1200 RMB to 320 RMB. Though I was sticking to the last price offered to the saleswoman for 300 RMB, I had to pay last 20 RMB as the young beautiful lady smacked a kiss on my cheeks forcefully. I thought she deserved that 20 RMB!!!!!!
The organisers took us one evening to a cultural programme and while coming back, we were shown Tianman square and Forbidden City from outside. In the cultural programme, two performances had long lasting effect on me: manoeuvring of big pots of china clay by an artist on his clean shaven head (pot must be weighing more than five KG) and change of attire including the mask on her face by a lady artist by giving a jerk. Till the end of the performance we thought that the artist was a male artist.
The BRICS representatives were also taken to a palace constructed by a son in law of the Chinese Emperor of seventeenth Century. The son in law became richer than even his Emperor by indulging lot of malpractices misusing his connection with the royal family. After death of the Emperor, his son who became the Emperor ordered his brother in law’s arrest and confiscated all his wealth. It is said that it took at least a week long time to carry the valuables from that palace to the royal palace which was hardly a KM away! Finally the brother in law was sentenced to death by putting him inside a carpet and then clobbered. The palace was made of wood and furniture, which are for public viewing are still extremely beautiful artwork. However after his death, he was credited as the first land and building developer of the country. According to our guide his personal wealth exceeded the combined wealth of England and France of that time (his claim may be verified).
On that day, the Chinese Government threw a dinner party for the BRICS representative. I was amazed by one particular food item. One big fish was prepared without any severing of the fish which was shared by all of us (twelve persons). Different types wines were also served which are probably not available here, at least I do not know about existence of those in our place.
So far drinking is concerned, the Chinese are drinking black tea all the time. If they are not drinking tea, they drink wine, whisky or… I have not seen them drinking water: water may be costlier than tea or any hard drinks in Beijing. My comments may not be taken seriously!
How the common Chinese feels about Indians, I asked many persons including some senior officers. They have some common perceptions: India cannot progress like China due to political reasons, Delhi is not safe for girls/ women, trains are still moving like bullock carts in India, train station are very dirty, Indian people are very good but those who are in the helm of affairs are either corrupt or inefficient compared to their counterpart.
Before leaving Beijing I made some friends from different countries, as usual.
My only two regrets about this visit: One was, not able to scale the Great Wall of China, the only man-made construction which can be seen from even the moon. Second one is: No I can tell after four pegs only!
Hope to visit other cities of China to know more about China, its people and its culture!
Hongkong-The Large Airport
On the way to Manila, I had to land this very large and very beautiful airport in August, 2011. Though I had already visited some of the world class airports like Sydney, Melbourne, JFK in New York, Ronald Reagan Airport at Washington DC, Bangkok Airport, the very size of the airport and volume of traffic it controls may be a pride for the citizens of Hongkong and envy for others. I had to stay at this airport for more than six hours while going to Manila and more than five hours while coming back. I could have gone out for sightseeing for few hours, but the persons at migration counter advised me otherwise. The lovely girl at the migration counter told me that I would find many beautiful things (did she mean beautiful girls also) to be seen at the airport itself and traffic jam in the city might force me to miss my flight to Manila. I took her advice and I have not repented my decision till date.
She was cent percent right in her statement. The airport is itself a haven for all types of electronic goods, decorative articles, dress materials, chocolates and toys. All the shops were mostly manned (?) by the young and beautiful ladies. Though the prices were fixed for most of the displayed materials for sale, the sales girls of some of the shops were ready to have some conversations regarding the price tag, quality of the products and their city/ country. For example: I commented on the price of a mobile phone to a salesgirl in a particular shop, ‘The price appears to be on the higher side!’
Instead of saying ‘Yes or No’ she said, ‘Are you coming from India, sir?’
On my affirmative answer she posed another question, ‘How do you like our Hongkong city, sir?’
When I told that I had not visited the city, I was only on the way to Manila, she commented, ‘While coming back from Manila, you stay in the city for few days and go to Macau for a week. That is a wonderful place to visit.’
When I told her about my inability to visit their city due to money crunch and time constraint, she advised, ‘No problem sir, next time you come with your family. Then you visit xx market where price of this particular brand will be at least 30% less. Even we do not buy from the airport sir.’ She handed over two cards with addresses along with phone numbers of some shops of Hongkong city.
‘Are you getting sufficient number of customers who actually purchase from your shop?’
‘No sir. But our employer, who has a number of shops in the city, kept this shop as an advertising outlet for other shops. We are even paid more than the employees posted in those shops. Those employees are not allowed to make long conversation with customers whereas we are encouraged for that.’
Then everything became clear to me why Hongkong is a business hub for the whole world!
She finally asked me, ‘Can I answer all your queries and are you happy with my answers, sir?’
I said, ‘Yes’. She with a beautiful smile said, ‘Good day sir and wish you a very happy journey’.
When I visited a shop having chocolates, she told me, ‘Sir being an Indian you may like to have only green chocolates?’ By saying green chocolates she actually meant chocolate having green sign on the cover of the chocolate. When I nodded for affirmative to the comments, she led me to a counter having my choice of chocolates. After little conversation when I asked, ‘‘Are you getting sufficient customers who actually purchase?’ she replied ‘Yes, sir. On most of the days, we do get’.
I bought a few chocolates and got a few ‘thank you’ and best wishes for my journey.
I do not know exactly how many terminals were there, but I had to take a 10 minutes train drive from my arrival terminal to the departing terminal. Since I had previous experiences to have a train journey within the Airport, I did not face any problem while travelling by train (I did have a problem at JFK, New York when I had to take a train to go from terminal 1 to terminal 4).
I did not know when and how six hours in the Hongkong airport had elapsed and I proceeded for the flight to Manila.
Security at the airport was too tight as my 150 ml deodorant was not allowed to carry in my hand bag which was allowed by the securities of Indira Gandhi International Airport.
While coming back from Manila, for not getting ground clearance, our flight had to take two to three hovering over Hongkong. I do not know whether it was a strategy or coincidence, the aircraft was moving at a very low altitude that I could figure out the persons queuing up to visit the giant Budha statue. The skyscrapers were just 500 metres below. What an awesome scene!! Definitely, I would like to visit Hongkong with my family, if God permits!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seoul, Daejeon, Incheon
When I was selected for a training programme for a week at Daejeon, I had lot of apprehensions about the place, as one of my friend’s son did not like Seoul due to language problem and climatic condition in the winter. However, as my visit was in September, 2012, I was little bit contended that I need not have to face fury of nature during my impending visit. Two seniors of my service told me that I might like the place as they had a lot of pleasant memories about Daejeon.
The first hurdle, to visit Korea I found was, nobody knows from where I shall get my Visa. The person at the reception of Korean Embassy, an Indian, told me over phone that they have outsourced an agency at Nehru place and gave me a number to contact the agency. The person who spoke to me representing the agency told that they are not processing any official and Diplomatic passport. Finally, to my relief, the official at Patiala house, who provide us official passport informed me that no Visa is necessary for official passport holders to visit South Korea. Next, hurdle was to get Korean currency ‘Won’ at Delhi. One money changer at Connaught Place told me that I would not get any Korean currency at Delhi as value Korean Currencies are very less and while coming back also I should not carry Korean Currencies as I would not get any buyer as well. He advised me to carry only American dollars and convert those at the airport before stepping out from the airport.
By taking a direct flight from New Delhi, I reached Incheon Airport (Common International airport for the twin cities Seoul and Incheon). It is a huge airport having many gates to go out from arrival terminal. The organiser of the training programme sent the guide maps and travel instruction well in advance so that the first timer to South Korea would not face any problem. Daejeon city is the fifth largest city of South Korea and 210 KM from Incheon International Airport. Bus service from Incheon to Daejion is available in every half an hour from gate no.14 and it takes around two hours forty five minutes to cover the distance with half an hour halt at the midway. That means, running bus time to over 210 KM is exactly two hours. Bus fare was 23500 Won which is about 25 dollars.
When I reached the gate number 14, I met two young boys of Pakistan who asked me whether I am an Indian or Pakistani. After a little conversation I came to know they were regular visitors of South Korea due to some business assignment. They were also going by the same bus but would get down before Daijeon city entry point. They meticulously told exactly where I had to get down to reach my institute on foot.
On the way we were given a break for taking tea/ coffee /snacks / meal as time was half an hour. Un-necessarily, as usual, I was in a hurry to have a cup of coffee so that I would not miss the bus after coming out of the washroom. The lowest rate of coffee of a particular type of coffee was of 4000 Won. Without verifying what was it, I ordered for one. The lady gave me a shot of coffee- Wak-I was not able to take it at the first instance. The lady saw my expression, she offered me some milk. Somehow I could gulp it. That was my first encounter with a coffee shot. However, afterwards, I have taken a number of times, though it is not my best choice even now!
In Korea, traffic is on the right side, in other words they follow the left hand drive cars / automobiles contrary to we, Indians are accustomed with left hand drive. Therefore, I had to get down on the right side of the road and my destination was on the left side of the road. It takes little time to adjust the opposite traffic rules. After few enquiries, I was able to see the ‘welcome banner’ for us. The hostel where we were put was a state of art building. The rooms were like any five star hotel room with all the facilities and maintained in such a way that minimum human interference was necessary. I personally surprised to see a building owned by a statistics bureau which was very large (18 storied) and could compete with any five star hotel in terms of facilities!
The hostel had a large cafeteria which was divided into two parts: one was for the regular students and trainees and smaller part was for guest coming from other countries. Later on we came to know continental food was served only in the part allotted to us and as the organiser feels that pure Korean food would have been problematic for us. We had training programme for six days and what we were taught, I am not going to discuss here as usual.
Daejeon is a beautiful small city with all the civic amenities including extremely efficient public transport system. For the first time I saw a tracking system for public bus at any of the bus stands. You would precisely know after how many minutes your bus would reach the bus stand where you were standing. During my stay at Daejeon, I never saw a single instance when time had been revised for any bus. The public transports were available till midnight with high frequency and frequency came down after midnight. The drivers were mostly following traffic rules quite religiously. There was no provision of having conductor to give tickets to the commuters. Those who are regular commuters, they use cards who can swipe their cards for every travel at the swipe machine attached to the driver’s seat. One time traveller has to pay 1200 Won for every travel which is collected by the driver and issue a ticket to the commuters which has to be swiped at the machine. I had travelled a lot by using bus and metro where minimum fair was 1200 won.
Most of malls were open till midnight. Other markets and shopping places are also open upto midnight.
During our training programme, a village visit was organised. Villages of South Korea were probably very sparsely populated as orchards were seen for tens of miles without any apparent human settlement. We were taken to a model village where old Korean culture was showcased. The buildings were made in fourteenth century style and temple of marriage was also constructed in old Korean style.
The guide took all of us to a temple where a very beautiful Korean young lady was waiting for us. After some initial instructions, she asked a volunteer to come forward for a mock Korean marriage. Being the oldest among the participants, I raise my hand to become the groom for the mock marriage. A lady from a western country volunteered to become bride for the marriage. Then the Korean lady selected a few more participants to become friends and relatives from the bride’s side and groom’s side. She gave me groom’s formal dress including head gears. All rituals have been followed and it took nearly two hours to complete the formalities to solemnize our marriage. Finally, we were declared husband and wife! Unfortunately we were not given any chance to have a ‘Suhaag Raat (First night after marriage)’! After our mock marriage, lot of teasing had started to the bride and somebody suggested her to stay together for the night! Do not worry, nothing had happened like that!
Without saying something on food, how can I finish my Daejeon visit. Instead of saying that I am a fishitarian, I told the organiser that I am total vegan. But due course of time they understood what type of vegan I was! During my stay at Daejeon, I tasted a number of ‘Kimchi’ and number of dishes prepared from sea products. For the first time I tasted octopus, soup made of shark fins etc. But one food I shall never forget in my life. They gave me a hot stone with a stern warning not to touch. They gave me rice and few fresh eggs to mix them in the pothole of the stone. Egg-rice prepared by myself was a taste for lifelong to be remembered! I took that egg-rice with a number of Kimchis.
Though, I am not an ardent shopper, yet I found some time for shopping in Korea. I like sopping Korea. Why I like shopping there? The reason was simple, every time I buy something I had to pay in thousands, which in India, I never experienced. This was only place where I spent more than a lakh(in their currency) in a particular shop. What I did buy? A pair of shoes for my son, an umbrella (due to incessant rains in Daejeon), two lady’s bags, two pairs of socks, a pair of trousers, a top and few books.
The Koreans know how to conserve energy and make people disciplined without showing any presence of enforcing authority. The doors to enter metro is kept open till somebody wants to enter the metro station without valid pass (without ticket or without valid electronic card). For any un-authorized entry, doors collapse and block entry. Now compare the entry of Delhi Metro, how much energy we are consuming for every entry to the Metro!!!! For every metro ticket, one has to pay 500 Won extra which will be returned once you deposit the ticket to the vending machine. If you do not deposit the ticket you will lose 500 Won. We have appointed thousands of persons to facilitate our journey by metro, whereas there is only one or two officials to help the commuters, otherwise everything is done by machines.
Some of you might be interested to know about night life of Daejeon. In one sentence, ‘there is no night life for the outsiders’ one can summarise the situation. However, one can move whole night without any fear. But if one wants to visit night club, one should visit in a group of known persons. We were told that the Korean girls are very friendly and make friendship within no time with strangers that makes the males(in the club) furious as they cannot digest one night friendship by their girls and that might lead to a brawl. Anyway, I did not try to verify the facts. But I used to take my fellow participants to different places after office hours for shopping and sightseeing.
As my return flight was in the evening 8 O clock, I thought I should visit both Seoul and Incheon and spend some time in those two twin cities. Accordingly, I booked my ticket at 8 AM from Daejeon to Seoul. As usual, I reached the Daejeon railway station at 6-45AM to avail the train at 8 AM. But I noticed another train was at 7AM to Seoul. Reluctantly I asked the ‘May I help you’ man whether I could pre-pond my journey to 7 AM. He got up from his seat and took me the appropriate counter and made my ticket changed for the 7AM train within two minutes without any cancellation charge. Then he guided me to the platform from where I would have to board the train. I took my seat on the train and found that train was almost empty. Slowly the train started being filled with passengers and by 7-59 AM, the train was almost full. We left the station at dot 7 AM. The schedule time to reach Seoul was 7-50 AM which was 185 KM away and having 4 schedule halts in between. We reached Seoul station at 7-50 AM dot. This reminds our very own Indian railways where if you are late by one hour while covering 185 KM, you are very lucky: after all, schedule time for trains having four schedule stoppage will take at least three hours by the express train! Because we always boast- East or West, Indian Railways is the best!!!!
After reaching the Seoul station, I deposited my luggage for my air travel from Incheon to New Delhi and also took a ticket for metro travel from Seoul to Incheon at 2 PM. While taking my breakfast, I noticed the arrival time table of different trains, I found out of 20 odd trains, one train was running late by one minute!
I took Metro line to the Seoul city and visited few places including the fourteenth century wooden palace in the heart of the city. The palace is similar to that of palaces of Beijing and wood crafts are real beauty. The path leading to the palace made of slabs is forbidden path for the visitors as it is believed to be used by the spirits at night. There was huge well, water of which is also forbidden as believed to be used by the spirits at the night. But the palace was lively when I was visiting due to some music programmes (routine one). I love the place as it was maintained so neatly that you can sit on any place without any hesitation.
While moving around the city I landed at a place where I saw many young girls with bandaged faces. Initially, I thought there might be some accidents, but after few minutes I saw a big billboard stating that a huge hospital is located nearby where facelift by plastic surgery is the main activity. In Korea it is a roaring business as Koreans are very beauty conses and opulent enough to spend lot of money on personal care activities. In Korea, lowest pay of a Government Employee is around $2500/- ( more than Rs.1,50,000/- approximately).
Travelling by metro is very smooth, though I had some problems due to language and as the number of metro lines is quite high. However, I must appreciate the tenacity of the young people to help a stranger in guiding how to travel to an unknown place. Most of the young people were found to be good in speaking in English which is not true for the elder generation. Further, while coming back to the Seoul station, I realised that they pronounce Seoul as ‘Soul’, the heart of Korea.
While I was travelling from Seoul to Incheon by the airport metro, a lady co-passenger, who was from Greece left behind one of the bags containing some valuables. She informed one of the officials of the running train and bag was recovered within fifteen minutes and she was promised that the bag would be brought by next train. That shows how efficient they are!
After strolling in the neat and clean streets of Incheon for an hour or so, I landed at the Incheon International Airport which is very large in terms size and number of passengers it handles. Passing of time in the airport is not a big deal due to availability of variety of articles in the stores. To attract more tourists from other countries, they also make some street drama showcasing their culture in the airport itself. I also enjoyed one such drama during my stay at the airport for four hours prior to my departure to New Delhi.
Kualalampur -A Modern Airport under construction
On the way to Australia I visited this airport twice in 2010 along with another 23 ISS officers (friends ????) from different organisations across the country. We boarded our flight from New Delhi at around 10 PM after completing our domestic component of our senior officers’ management training programme at Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Lucknow. After five hours journey from New Delhi, we reached Kualampur in the early morning and everybody rushed to ‘thandas (Toilet) leaving our luggage to one or two friends who were not in a hurry. Two words I can still recall in Malaysian language, one ‘thandas’ and another one ‘Ringgit’ (the Malaysian currency) for obvious reasons. After relieving ourselves at the nearest thandas, we were informed that our departure terminal had been temporarily shifted to a building far away from our arrival terminal.
As for some of my friends’, it was the first foreign visit, I had to guide those friends so that they did not face any problem though an official guide cum escorting officer was accompanying us from the travel agency. The original bus service for our flight had already been left and we had to wait for half an hour for the next bus to come to take us. One of my serious friends, who for the first time was visiting foreign country became very impatient and started complaining to the escorting officer from the tour operating agency that he should have informed us well in advance about the bus service so that we could have used toilet facilities at the departure terminal. The escorting officer tried to tell my friend that he was unaware of this new development. But my friend was not ready to buy his version. However, I was able to pacify my friend by explaining him that he need not have to worry as we have more than two hours in hand and being a connecting flight they would not leave us behind (23 passengers in a group). Though my words pacified him but as soon bus arrived he was the first man to enter into the bus! Another friend, who also happened to be a first timer, complained about the facilities about the airport. However, afterwards I came to know that he was a habitual complainer for anything and everything under the sun.
As soon we arrived at the departure terminal, I looked for coffee but that particular friend of mine who complained about not informing about the bus travel from the arrival to departure terminal, wanted to make a crash door entry for his departure. However, he was politely told by the Qantas official that the doors would open only after one hour or so. But not to miss the flight he sat neat the entry point for next one hour. During that period most of us went for shopping or window shopping and took light breakfast.
The sales girls in the Malaysian Airport were not found to be very much professional in nature, may be due to the reason that they are coming from conservative societies. They were blunt to tell the customers that they were not ready to serve the customers in the early morning! They were showing their unhappiness to take dollars of smaller denomination and they forcefully return the changes for large denominations in Ringgit only. While going to Australia the exchange system was not very unsuitable for us as we were to come back through Kualalmpur only. But while coming back to India the system appeared to be unfair to us. Therefore, I had to finish my Ringgit at Kulalampur itself by spending on more chocolates and coffee. May be, that is the business strategy for those sales girls!
Kualampur is a modern city with all facilities that modern city should have. However, due to construction activities we could not appreciate the duty free shops of the airport. Otherwise the airport was Okay.
Manila-As Chaotic as Indian cities
Manila was dream city for me till I visited the city in 2011 to attend an International Conference. As all of you know, Philippines is large country comprising of many islands, some very small and some are large. Manila is not only the capital city of Philippines but also residence for more than 50% of the total Pilipino. Philippines had been under the influence of USA, both politically and socially for centuries now. Their labour law may be at par with Western world. Many internationally acclaimed educational institutions are located in Manila. It is also HQrs of Asian Development Bank (ADB). Therefore, when my boss informed me in the evening when I was in a Mall at Rajouri Garden along with a family of wife’s relative, I was elated.
The notice to visit this dream city was also, like my earlier visits, very short and therefore, I was not able to do any planning for shopping. I am always happy to have a short notice because that gives me an excuse for not to do any predesigned shopping. However, due to short notice, I got my clearance on the last date, which too got the permission of the Competent Authority over telephone only.
Finally after getting all necessary documents I was able to get my air ticket via Hongkong. My experiences at Hongkong Airport have already shared with you.
During the flight to Manila from Hongkong, when I asked for a vegetarian meal, the airhostess told me that there was no vegetarian meal, as I did not request for vegetarian meal well in advance. However, she was very sympathetic and told that she would arrange something for me. Finally, she could get an apple for me originally kept for the Captain of the flight. I must appreciate the professionalism of the airhostess. The journey from Hongkong to Manila, was a visual pleasure for my eyes. It was a clear sky and I could see the islands very clearly from my window seat. The sea appeared to be blue sky below my aircraft with brown or green islands sprouting on it. The large rivers were seen as an artwork on a large canvass. The large basins of some unknown rivers were seen as spread of the roots of a tree. Some very large vassals were also seen moving below (apparently in a very slow speed, but actually may be at a reasonably high speed).
As soon as I got down from the aeroplane at 6 PM and proceeded towards the immigration counter, I got the sense that I am entering a place which might be as chaotic as an Indian city. The queue leading to the immigration counter was not systematic as many of the passengers trying to overtake some others by breaking the queue. After jostling with the crowd, when I reached the counter, the first officer who supposed to examine my travel documents asked me, where was my visa to visit his country. I told him categorically that no visa is required for a person holding official passport from India. Still he was not convinced and was also not sure whether I need a visa or not. He took me to another officer, might be the next in hierarchy, who was also not sure about visa requirement for me. Finally, a senior officer told the officer that I was correct and then only I got my immigration cleared.
Fortunately, an officer from ADB was waiting for me outside the immigration counter and escorted me to a reception counter of ADB. At the reception counter, I was introduced to a lady officer who was from National Statistics Office, Philippines. The conference was jointly organised by ADB and National Statistics Office, Philippines. They have divided their responsibilities to take care of officers from different countries to attend the conference. As I was responsibility of ADB, the ADB officer led to a taxi hired by ADB to drop me at my hotel. My stay was arranged at Dusit Thani, a seven star multinational hotel situated in the most opulent area of the city.
By the time I reached the hotel, I was completely exhausted. I was extremely hungry but not feeling for eating anything, might be due to extreme fatigue. After checking into the hotel, I bathed and then came out of the hotel and went for a frantic search for vegetarian meal. Unfortunately, I could not get a proper vegetarian meal at the nearby restaurants and the Mall almost attached to my hotel. Fortunately, I met a South Indian gentleman, who happened to be regular visitor to the city who took me to a particular section of the mall where I was able to get some packaged cut-fresh fruit and bread. He gave me some idea about the city. After thanking him, I went to my room and took reluctantly the food I bought. With the food that could be termed as ‘semi-meal’ I went to bed.
Normally, I cannot sleep on the first night of my visit to another place, even with good meal. As sleep does not come so easily to a person with half empty stomach, compounding my sleeping problem on the first night with starving like situation, despite of my tiredness and best efforts, I did not have a good sleep on that night.
However, from next day onwards, I did not have any food problem, as the hotel was providing international standard breakfast, organiser took care of the lunch and a senior from our service but deputed to UNICEF took care of dinner of mine. My senior had introduced to an Indian hotel, though very costly compared to other restaurants at that locality, could able to cater our needs for Indian food quite efficiently. The restaurant was at a walking distance from the hotel where we were staying. The venue for our conference was also arranged in same hotel we were staying.
I found the city was very chaotic in terms of vehicular movement/ traffic, crowded markets, heavy bargaining in all the places and meeting the very poor prostitutes offering their services to the pedestrians at every corner of the streets. The poorly fed prostitutes are approaching each and everyone offering their services at very ‘reasonable’ rate. The auto-rickshaw and taxi driver offer to take me to some places where I could have ‘some beautiful girls’ working in mall or some offices. I cannot say those claims were correct or false. However, one thing is sure that it was not a legal profession like in India where everybody knows that prostitution is there but officially nobody agrees for having any knowledge about it!
In Manila, I experienced something apparently very simple and hitherto not experienced. But, gravity of the situation I understood after few months only when I shared my simple experience with a friend who is a regular visitor to the city. On the second / third day, I found that my locker did not open even after I had correctly pressed the digital codes for many times. Then, I requested the receptionist to send someone to help me out. But the promised help did not come quickly. After half an hour or so, a very muscular young man came and he solved my problem and taught me how to open the door of the locker if the door would not prop up in desired fashion. I thanked him for solving the problem as I was worried a lot because my official documents and credit cards were inside the locker at that time. The youth smiled mysteriously and said, ‘No problem sir. It is our bounden duty to solve any problem faced by any of our guest in the hotel. So sir, do not hesitate to call us at any time for any problem you face in future also.’
When I shared this particular experience with my friend, he told me, ‘Actually hotel management thought, a prostitute might have demanded more money and refused to leave your room. They might have thought that you were pretending that your money was at the locker and you were unable open the locker. That is the only possible reason for sending a muscular man to throw away the prostitute and her accompanying friend, if any.’
I do not know whether his assumptions are correct or not, but if those are correct, I may advise my friends not to call any unknown and unauthorised person to your room when you are in a different city away from your home, particularly not in Manila. Anybody listening!!
After our discussion, I could also recollect another incident of the first day. When on the first day, I could not sleep due to hunger and fatigue, I came out from my room and came to the lawn in front my hotel, I was approached by few unknown persons with offers to take me to show night life of Manila free of cost. Hope I need not have to explain further.
Due to tight schedule of the conference practically there was no time for any sightseeing. However, due to pressure from the participants, a tour to the largest mall of Asia (as the local claimed) was arranged. I do not know whether, their claim was correct or not, but the mall was extremely large.
As I mentioned earlier, heavy bargaining was a part and parcel of the mall. I purchased a few small items for my wife and children after indulging heavy bargaining. As an Indian I should not complain about heavy bargaining!
I had also some good memories about the city. Whenever quality of foreign good comes up for our discussion at our dinning table, my wife always praises the quality of items purchased from Manila. Despite of heavy bargaining the shopkeepers were true to the quality of the products they were selling, which I cannot guarantee for many Indian markets.
The officers from ADB and the officers from National Statistics Office, Philippines were extremely cooperative to me throughout my stay at Manila. They took all the necessary steps for comfortable stay during the conference for all of us. However, due to some miscommunication between hotel management and ADB officials, a minor hiccup had arisen at the time of my check out. At the time of checkout, the hotel management asked me to foot the bill for my stay. On the other hand, I was communicated by the ADB that I need have to pay anything to the hotel for my stay unless I take some extra services like use of internet, personal services like services of spa etc. and take food etc. other than the official lunch and complementary breakfast. At this, though I did not panic, thanks to my credit cards, I contacted the liaison officer of ADB over telephone. The lady officer immediately talked to the hotel management, who in turn apologised for the demand they had made by mistake. I was surprised when a senior official visited my room and said ‘sorry’ for the mistake committed by his junior. That was quite heartening indeed!
Among the others, one thing I liked about the Manila was about getting a local sim-card for my mobile at a very low price with lot of free talk time. Free talk time was so much so that at the airport waiting for my departure, I talked to my son more than fifteen minutes. Unbelievable!
When I was leaving the hotel, a lady participant from Kazakhstan, requested me to take her along with me as she missed the car which was to take her to the airport. I had no problem in taking her to the airport. At the airport she had to dash for her flight as she was late. But before her departure she promised to meet me somewhere. Unexpectedly, she kept her promise when she met me at Bangkok in 2013 at another meeting of UN.
I am blessed, whenever a lady promises me for something, she always keeps her promise. Do not be envious! Just chill baby, just chill!!!!!!!!
Despite of the chaotic situation at Manila, I am always looking forward another trip to Manila!!
I visited this city twice, once in 2004 and again in 2013. Incidentally, this is the first foreign country, I had visited on official tour after 19 years of service. Though, when I was a student, I visited Bhutan in 1976-77, the first foreign city I had visited in my life is Bangkok. My colleagues who are lucky to be posted for a long time in Delhi, had a number of foreign visits prior to my first ever visit. No- I never had a grudge on anybody except one who blocked my opportunity to undergo a one year training programme under Colombo plan and did not complete his own which was taken place long back; in Mid Nineties.
For this tour also, I was not originally selected. My Deputy Director (at that time time I was Joint Director) was selected for the tour who refused to go for the tour as his father was ill. My super boss suggested my boss’s name and a lady officer’s name (who was a favourite officer of my super boss, but no way associated with the subject for which workshop was organised) the tour as it was thought that two officers should go for the workshop. But thanks to the query raised by the Competent Authority in the file, ‘Who is dealing with the subject?’ The super boss of mine had no alternative but to propose my name for the workshop. When I was informed by my Deputy Director about my impending tour, I was surprised, as till that day, I was under the impression that only those officers are selected for foreign tour are either from Venus or Mars.
In the next morning, the first thing I did was, I unwittingly gave a ‘Thank you’ to my super boss for proposing my name without knowing the background of my selection. With a grumpy face he said ‘Ok, Ok’. When I saw the file, I came to know the whole episode, I asked myself, ‘How long I shall be a buddhu (simpleton) amongst the wolves!!!!!!’
As it was my first out of the country visit, I came across many new phrases like, ‘political clearance’ from Ministry of External Affairs, No objection Certificate (NOC) from Cadre controlling Authority, Vigilance clearance from the Vigilance cell and so on. I had to run pillar to post in both the Ministries, my own and the External Affairs. Luckily, everything was ready by Friday and I reached the airport much before time to catch Thai Airways flight leaving at 1 AM of Sunday. My boss came late to the airport and tried to jump the queue and got a verbal thrashing from a lady co-passenger. I really enjoyed his thrashing! Do not blame me, tell me who does not like the thrashing of bosses, that too, in the hands of unknown lady!
Anyhow, we were able to get the boarding passes in time. After taking his boarding pass, he asked me whether I had sufficient foreign exchange or not. I told him that I had dollar equivalent to Rs. 10,000/- (exchange rate was at that time 1 dollar=Rs.39/-). Being a regular visitor to many foreign countries before and with all his experiences he commented that money might not be sufficient. But he assured me that he would manage as he had two credit cards with him.
When I was standing in the queue at the immigration counter, sound of my pulse beat was so prominent that I could hear those. Finally, when my turn came and the officer coolly stamped the papers to my relief as if I had committed a crime and I was not caught! Finally we boarded the air craft! As it was my first travel by an International Flight, I found the aircraft very large. The airhostess indicated my seat which three rows behind my boss, I was happy to sit alone, though little bit apprehensive.
Except one word ‘Karuna’ no Thai word was understandable to me. ‘Karuna’ means ‘don’t do’. Drinks were served. With little hesitation, I took two pegs which helped me to have a good sleep after the meal. When I opened my eyes, passengers were jostling to go out of the aircraft.
As soon as I placed my documents before the immigration officials of Thailand, I felt my pulse beats were on the rise again. Nothing happened this time also, the officer saw my face comparing with my passport and stamped my papers and returned to me. Finally, I entered a foreign country (barring Bhutan) for the first time.
The senior officer who had accompanied me, hired a taxi to the UNESCO office at Sukhumvit Road , Phra Khanong , 10110 Klong Toey , Bangkok. But after reaching there we were told by the sentinel that, being a Sunday, no official was present in the office and normally UNESCO does not arrange any accommodation for the participants. However, they circulate names of some hotels with whom UNESCO has some MOU through which rates are fixed for the participants and also they provide cars for attending the meetings/ conference in the morning and evening. Then what to do?
At Bangkok, there is place popularly known as India Market, thought its actual name is different. Since my senior officer stayed in a hotel of that area on his previous visit, he suggested that we should go to that place and search for a suitable hotel. After making some enquiry at different hotels, finally we checked into the largest hotel of that area at a rate of 1750 Baht per night. Considering the facilities they were providing it was very cheap (At that time 1Baht = 1.15 Rupee). In that area the hotel rent for cheaper hotel was as 250 Baht per night.
The hotel had 30 odd floors and our room was at fourteenth floor. While coming out of the hotel in the evening we noticed a few ladies with heavy makeup were sitting in a well decorated room. The room was well illuminated so that one can see the ladies properly. Initially, I thought these ladies were advertising some products, like automobiles/ cosmetics etc. However, later on I came to know these ladies were on display for customers intending to have massage. Massaging is legal, but prostitution is illegal in Bangkok. However, in the name of massaging, actual flesh trade is a flourishing business in Bangkok. Otherwise, Thai massage is very good for body and mind. A number of Rheumatic pains can be cured by Thai Massage like our very own Ayurvedic massage in Kerala. A good number of patients are visiting this city for Thai massage for treating a number of ailments. No, I cannot give you any comparative statement whether Thai massage is good or our Ayurvedic massage.
While roaming in the market we found good number shops owned and manned by Indians. These businessmen were found to be very fluent in local Thai language. For Indian visiting Bangkok, that area is a paradise for Indian food, both North and South. The prices for different food items were very reasonable and almost at par with any restaurant in Delhi or Bangalore. We made some shopping for our family members and had a good meal for the night.
Next day, after attending the official works at the UN building we shifted to another hotel which was listed in UN advisory. This hotel was not as big as the earlier one and there was no display of ladies for massaging etc. However, we discovered another Indian market near to our new hotel and there I met one Bangladeshi friend (shopkeeper).Not only he narrated many stories about the city but also gave me special discount to purchase some cloths for my wife. Quality of those cloths was so good that still the dress materials my wife had made with those pieces of cloth are still looking extremely good.
Between my hotel and Indian market there was a very beautiful Monastery having a huge golden statue of relaxing Buddha. I was told by a monk that the statue is one inch gold plated statue. If his statement is correct, the statue should contain few tons of gold. His statement could not be verified from any independent source. Never the less even if it gold coated with one mm gold, at least one ton gold will come out of the statue!
Except making some friends, I did not have anything very special to share with you about my first visit to the city.
Exactly after nine years, I made the second visit to Bangkok to attend an International conference for three days. The Indigo flight by which my flight was booked, leaves Delhi at 6-30 AM. It was not a convenient time for a family man having a tigress like wife who loves morning sleep like her own cubs. She ordered me to leave the residence by mid night so that early morning sleep would not be disturbed. Being an obedient husband, I left my residence at 11-30 PM of the previous night and reached the airport by 12-15 AM. Initially, the security guard at the airport refused my entry as I had 6-15 hours for the scheduled time for departure of my flight. I asked the guard, ‘Dear friend, are you married?’
My question perplexed him and getting his composure back, he answered, ‘Yes, why?’
‘Then, you should understand why I reached the airport so early!’ I quipped. He allowed me to go inside with a huge smile on his face.
The aircraft and the airhostess were looked fresh. But some surprises were stored for me. For the first time on a International flight with flying time more than three and half hours, except water nothing was served free of cost. Here my surprise did not end. The only currency they take was Thai Baht for any item they sale. When I asked for a coffee after flying two and a half hours, I was informed, ‘No coffee could be served due to time constraint’. I do not know what were the policies followed by that particular airline at that time, but definitely were not very passenger friendly. I do not know whether, they are still pursuing those policies or not.
This time while going to Bangkok, I was more confident for obvious reasons. But most discomforting thing was that Indian Rupee had been devalued in comparison to Thai Baht considerably. At the time of the second visit I had to pay Rs.2.12 for each Thai Baht which was much higher compared to my first visit when I paid only Rs.1.15 for each Thai Baht. From airport, I took a taxi to the hotel, Royal Palace at Bobey Tower, a popular destinations for the shoppers after indulging a good bargain. This time, I have noticed more traffic jams compared to my earlier visit.
After reaching the hotel, I checked in and tried to sleep for some time. But no avail! Then I went out for an Indian meal. I hired a tuktuk (special type of Auto rickshaw) for the job. The tuktuk driver was more interested to take me to massage parlour than to the eateries. When, I told categorically that I am interested to have meal nothing else he took me to a shop dealing with coats. When I scolded him again, finally he dropped me at an Indian eatery promising to pick me up after one hour. The restaurant was very good but not at the Indian market where the tuktuk was supposed to take me. The restaurant was owned by a Sardarjee and was very busy with his other family members to decorate his restaurant for the upcoming Diwali (Festival of light) celebration. The lady gave me some sweets and made some conversation with me regarding my residence, my stay at Bangkok etc.
Even after waiting for more than one and a half hour the tuktuk which had dropped me at the restaurant did not turn up to pick me up. Finally, I took a taxi to be back to the hotel paying more than 100 Baht. From next day onwards I had to attend conference from 9 AM to 5 PM with half an hour break.
During a break of the conference, I noticed a lady participant was trying hard to contact her family through internet. I offered my mobile phone to contact her family. She was very brief in her talk and returned my phone. By showing a small friendly gesture, I won her confidence and heart for ever. Still we are friends and hopefully remain forever no matter we may or may not meet again. She along with another participant accompanied me in visiting some shopping malls. We three also visited the tallest tower of Bangkok (with 68 floors) by paying 400 Thai Baht each. All of us agree that paying of 400 Baht was worth paying as the scene seen from tower at night was awesome. At the 66th floor, there was a revolving restaurant where one item (coffee/bear/ one peg of hard drinks/ pastry) was served as complementary to the journey to the top floor.
There was another meeting scheduled in the UNESCO where another officer of our office had to join which was to be started two days’ after start of my conference. The lady officer who had visited four times Bangkok prior to this visit, did not see any part of the city due to some reservations. Though it was my second visit to the city, I could already identify the markets and other important places. I took her along with another officer from India for dinner to the Indian market. However, as on the next day I had to come back I could not help her much for any other exploring activities.
A lady participant from a SAARC country also attended the other meeting which was attended by the other officer from my office. When she saw me she was very much delighted thinking that I was also attending the meeting. When I told her that I was not attending the meeting that she was attending, she became very sad. Why? Because she was with me when we were trained together at Daejeon, Korea for seven days and I used to take her to different shopping places along with other participants. I do not whether, I shall get another opportunity to meet her, but my best wishes will be always with her.
During my stay at Bangkok, I had visited many places of Bangkok at night, as during office hours I had to be at the conference and conference always ended after 5 PM only. The visited places were good and bad and leave to the readers to imagine where I might have gone and where I did not!
On return, when I was waiting for my flight (again by Indigo flight!!!!) a lady caught my attention. The odd looking (I very rarely use this word for a lady, as I find all the ladies are beautiful) middle aged Indian lady was waiting for the same flight. What was abnormal to see that the lady was wearing gold ornaments whose worth might be of tens of thousand dollars! She was carrying two large hand bags which might also contain valuables. But her look did not carry any clear opulence standards. Though on that day nothing awkward happened, a few days later Indian Customs department recovered huge amount of gold from two ladies travelling from Bangkok. It was found that those ladies were actually lower level employees of some unknown smugglers whose whereabouts could not be located. I am however, not claiming the lady I mentioned earlier has anything to do with the ladies who were caught for smuggling of gold.
Why gold is smuggled from Bangkok? Gold at Bangkok is of high quality and relatively cheaper than the prevailing price of Indian market. However, gold never attracts thousands of Western Foreigners to this city, but for the Thai beauties, who are slim and very attractive by nature. So are you coming to Bangkok? Pattaya is also not far from Pattaya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
The capital of world politics, official residence of the most powerful man on the earth, Washington DC is the place to be visited by a person of the Developing world. It may be a dream visit for any non- American, may be other American also who are not from Washington D.C. Therefore, when my super boss told me to visit this place with two days’ notice, he was sure, he was giving me an offer which I would not able to take: like gifting a bird without clipping the wings to a person. The offer was given to me only after many of seniors had refused due to time constraint. To understand the situation, let me explain little bit more.
I was attending a seminar at NUEPA (National University of Educational Planning and Administration) at New Delhi itself for two days- Monday and Tuesday. The meeting notice for attending a workshop on Virtual Statistics starting on Monday (later on it was found that meeting was to be started on Tuesday) reached the Ministry on Monday. That means the participants had to obtain passport to visa, tickets to hotel booking within four days’ time as Thursday was a Central Government holiday. The stalwarts of our Ministry of that period, thought that time was too short to process the case. Therefore, my super boss thought, I should be given an opportunity to visit USA, as none is ready to go- if visit materialised, I should be grateful to him, if it did not , blame should go to me. Head I win, tail you lose, is the apt situation for him.
On Wednesday, at eleven, I was told by my immediate boss, with a mysterious smile, that I should telephone the super boss. When I telephoned my super boss, he said that he was looking for me for last two days (he had my telephone number and telephoned many a times before whenever he had some works), since there was a meeting at Washington DC on Monday and had to leave by Saturday. As time was very short, probably it would not be possible for me to go. I told him that he should give me a chance to try and drove to Patel Bhawan , my HQS, 12 KM away from my office where I sat. I must be grateful to him always for my irrespective of is earlier attitude about my proposed tour. He took personal interest to clear all the possible hurdles of my Ministry and a letter for political clearance was issued to the Ministry of External affairs on that very day by 3 PM. I requested all the officials personally to give my political clearance by Friday so that I can Visa etc. by Monday morning to book my ticket etc. They promised me to give the political clearance by 3PM on Friday.Though for issuance of official passport, processing starts after getting political clearance, as a special case they processed my case on Friday morning with a caveat that at the time of delivery of the passport and visa note in the evening, I must have to submit political clearance. As promised, both the parties handed over the necessary documents by Friday evening. But still the biggest hurdle was looming over me.
Next day with the help of one of my friends I filled the USA visa form on line only to be rejected by the USA official that I had filled the wrong form. Then again I went to office filled the right form and ran to the USA embassy to deposit the form at the closing time. I requested the official to give my visa by that day itself. They were non committal to my request as they are supposed to take at least 24 hrs to process the case. But the officer told me to come at 5 O clock to check if they could help me out of the woods. My ticket from new Delhi to Washington had to be booked by OECD office at Paris. Finally, at 5-30 PM I was given US visa. I telephoned my friend, Sanjay to send an email to Paris office to book my air ticket for that night flight. Thanks to time difference, I got the ticket in time. As ticket was sent by email; but due to load shedding, I could not download the ticket from my computer and had to send my son to a market to collect a copy of the ticket. My flight was at 12-30 AM and my packing was ready even at 8 PM. I was warned by my friends that due construction T 3 there might be heavy jam leading to the airport. I hurriedly left for the airport by 8-30 PM. Though I was given lounge coupon, due to inexperience I could not avail the VIP facilities at the lounge before flew to Washington and reached the venue of the meeting almost on time.
I must thank all the concerned officers from my Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, US Embassy officials, Organizers of the meeting, my friends and my family members who made possible an impossible journey to possible one. Help of super boss must also be mentioned here for the offer he had made and the initial help provided to clear the file from the Competent Authority of the Ministry. The challenge of doing an impossible job gave me a pleasure which I shall relish all my life and tell my children to be ready to take any challenge thrown to you!
As my flight was booked in the executive class and while going it was upgraded to first class, I had an extremely comfortable journey upto New York. This was my second foreign tour and that to USA I was little nervous after alighting from the plane. While presenting my travel documents to the immigration officer, she asked me something I could not follow, may be due American ascent of the lady or may be due to my nervousness or may be due to over exertions of my mental agony for the tour. The lady smiled at me, this time very slowly asked me how long I would be there.
Next problem I faced was to go to terminal 4 from terminal 1 where I had landed. The ‘May I help you’ person told me to take a train to terminal 4. With lot of efforts I could reach the platform from where I could go to the terminal 4. Luckily for me I met one co-passenger of the flight from New Delhi, who happened to be a journalist. She guided me to the terminal 4 and from where I took my flight to Washington. I was expecting a large sophisticated flight, but to my utter dismay I had to enter a small flight with 20 passenger capacity. The only air attendant/ airhostess with a frowning face with a hoarse voice told me to sit on a seat and keep my small handbag on my lap. Next moment, I realized that I was very lucky as she was most polite to me compared to some other passengers. She gave me glass of juice and then asked me if it was first visit to USA. On hearing an affirmative answer, she said she guessed it because I was very disciplined. I simply thanked her with a very low voice. At this she again smiled back.
The flight was taking a very low altitude and took around forty minutes and reached my dream destination, Washington DC. The ‘May I help you’ officer at Ronald Reagan National Airport told me that a taxi will cost you $14- $15 to World Bank where my meeting was scheduled. Alternatively I could have taken a bus which would cost me $10. With obvious reason I took a taxi and got down at the gate of World Bank and to my utter astonishment taxi bill was $14.5. I had no alternative but to praise the officer who had given the estimate of the taxi fare!
Meeting was for three days. As usual, matters relating to the meeting are not be discussed here! After office hours I along with some other participants went to my booked hotel, Concordia. A suite was booked my name whose size was more than the hostel accommodation at Pragati Vihar where I was living with my family at that time.
Next morning my meeting was at 9-00AM. I left my hotel at 6 AM so that I could look around the city before attending the meeting. My shoe was not comfortable to walk, but keeping in my mind that I might not get another chance to visit USA, I wanted to see/ explore maximum of the city. In the process before the meeting, in three hours I visited Washington tower, White House ( Of course only from outside) and many streets of Washington DC. The city is a symmetrical marvel except few odd buildings like White House, Lower and Upper house (US Senate building). Few beautiful school & college buildings. Museums are the gems of the Washington DC.
My friend, my classmate, a software professional who was at that time working in the office of HP at Washington. His residence was at Maryland. After office hours, on the next day my friend came to my hotel to show the night life of Washington DC. Had I visited Washington after my visit to Melbourne, Sydney or Vienna, I would have kicked my friend at his butts to show me the much talked about night life of Washington!! Never the less, I enjoyed his company and visited some Wal-Mart outlets of Maryland. I bought a few Champaign bottles from those Malls. On the way he showed the Pentagon Building as well. I could not resist my tongue to tell my friend that Delhi Metro was much better compared to Washington tubes!
While coming to my hotel, I noticed a whore in her thirties standing under a lamppost puffing cigarette. When I pointed the whore, my friend warned me not see her face as she might force me for her stay with me even without money to avoid chilling wind! He told me that whores of USA are like vendors of Chandi chowk of Delhi or Sarojini Market of New Delhi who might reduce the price of commodity they were selling to an unbelievable price- a customer could not resist to buy knowing very well that that commodity would be of no use for him/ her. I did not make any attempt to verify the veracity of his statement!
On the third day, the Japanese lady who was the coordinator of our meeting suggested me to visit the museums. However, I could visit only one museum, the aeronautical museum where one can see to whole evolution of aeroplanes to actual capsule used by Neil Armstrong while landing at the Moon in 1969. I liked the museum so much that I finished entire afternoon time in that museum and unfortunately I did not have any time left to visit any other museum. If God permits, I shall visit other museums in future.
Next day also my friend came and took me to another area of the city and roamed around the city till 1 AM taking our Dinner at a Punjabi Dhaba.
Next morning I left for New York with a promise to come again to this symmetrical city to visit a few more museums and the famous Kennedy town hall. But my visit Washington cannot be finished without praising the officials of Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington. Though, I had an Executive Class reservation from JFK Airport, New York to New Delhi, I had a cattle class ticket from Washington to New York. Due to heavy purchases (with less costly- but with bigger volumes) at Washington, my bag became very heavy (for others it might be light as I always travel light) and crossed the upper limit of 25 KG by two- three KG for domestic flight of USA. The lady at the counter advised me to pull some of my articles to my hand bag so that the bag to the luggage category did not cross 25 KG. The lady even helped me to pull some of my articles and placed in the hand bag. I shall always remain thankful to that young lady!
New York City, the city of Skyscrapers, HQrs of many International Organisations including the UNO (United Nations Organisation) is one of the largest city in the word both in terms of area and population. I visited this city twice, once in March, 2008 and then in December, 2013. I have not found anything changed in a span of five years, at least in the surroundings of the airport. In the first visit to New York my expedition was limited to ten KM radius to the airport to kill some hours outside the airport to catch an evening flight after reaching the airport in the morning from Washington D. C. I found the area was bustling with people with apparent business. Neither I like New York nor dislike on my first visit due to less exploration deep into the city.
When I had to visit this large city in 2013, I was more confident as I have already visited a number of large cities around the Globe. Earlier I had an official passport and now I am having a Diplomatic Passport issued by Government of India. But ironically last time when I visited USA, I was travelling by Executive class (while going it was upgraded to first class), this time I was travelling by economy class. But God is always kind to me sometimes giving me awards and in few occasions punishing me. This time, by keeping vacant all my neighbourhood seats, I was given the opportunity to sleep on the seat by stretching my whole body. After a good sleep when I landed at JFK airport in the early morning I was feeling fresh.
The hotel booked by me was about 7 KM from the meeting venue, UN building and around 20 KM from the airport. Therefore, after coming out of immigration counter, I decided not take a taxi to the hotel and should travel by tubes by taking a weekly ticket which would be required for attending the meeting as well. But due to my overconfidence, I landed at the wrong end of the airport train from where the metro trains were not running to the city. Thanks to the officials at the gate, they allowed me to re-enter to the airport and guided me to the other end of the airport from where I would get metro lines to the city. This time, I made no mistake and get out of the airport and took coffee at the Starbuck outlet when my worried daughter telephoned me to know about my where-about. During the mix-up of wrong to right lines, I forgot to telephone my family about my safe arrival at the great city. After talking to my daughter (staying in Mumbai) I talked to wife (Delhi) and then talked to my son (Melbourne).
With a large bag, I tried to enter the platform of the station, which I could not do through the normal passage. Then I approached an officer sitting inside a cage attached to the entry point. He gave me a stern look with an expression, ‘You bloody idiot, how you are moving with such a bag!’ But he came and open another door through which I could enter to the platform with ease. When I asked the officer where to change my train to go to my hotel by taking U7 line he advised me to get down from this train at Jackson Height to change my next train. I knew that U7 will take me to the destination; the hotel where I booked reservation for the next three days. But I did not know, there are two services on the same U7 line, one express train having a cut diamond shaped symbol on the side of the train and with an O on the side symbolizing an ordinary train. Ordinary trains stop at each stoppage and Express trains stop at limited stations only. Mistakenly, I boarded an express train which did not stop at the stoppage where I was supposed to get down. When after crossing my station, I got down at the next stop, I confused about my location vis a vis the location of the hotel. Then, I got a similarity between citizens of New York and our very own New Delhi in terms guiding a person to locate an address. Like Delhi, whomever I asked about my hotel, everybody gave me a direction to go rightly or wrongly: but always with confidence. Finally, I reached the hotel after walking more than one and a half hours. Actual walking distance between my hotel and that station was only just ten minutes!
Even after walking one and a half hour, when I reached the hotel, I was informed by the Gujrati young girl sitting on the reception that my room was not ready and it would take another two hours to hand over the room to me. So without having any alternative, I went to out to have a roam around the streets of neighbourhood of the hotel, braving the chilly winter of New York. Then, I found the metro station where I had to get down was only 100 metres from my hotel. After taking a cup of hot coffee I returned to the hotel. The receptionist, may be the daughter of the hotel (because I observed that she used to sit on the counter more than 12 hours a day), told me that I might go to the room. When I reached the room, I met a young lady from Jalandhar, Punjab who was cleaning my room. She told me that the owner of the hotel was a Gujrati and all the employees were from India. In the next morning when I met the chef of the hotel he happened to be from Kerala.
After taking necessary inputs from the young Gujrati lady, I went to Time Square and other places near to the UN office building where from the next day I had the schedule meetings. Many people are awed by the illuminating bill boards of the Time Square. I also liked those but not awed by the place. I had visited few shops and bought some souvenirs for my family members and few young officers of my office. I also liked the openness of the shopkeepers at the shops for the adults only. This reminded me the embarrassing moment when I try to buy condoms at the pharmacy for the first time after my marriage. The pharmacist, an old hack responded me with a ‘No’ in such a way that I had committed a crime. Even now if a young man asks for condom in a crowded pharmacy, everyone present there will frown him as if he should not ask for a condom so openly. No matter how many millions are spent on advertisement on family planning in India, at the core of hearts of majority of Indians, sex is a taboo till today, talking of condom in public is a big ‘No’. Sex education in India had been a controversial issue since our childhood. Remembering Indian condition I smiled myself, when a lady of the shop approached me with an offer, ‘If you buy ‘this toy’, you will get ‘this toy’ absolutely free.’ I thanked her, though I did not take her offer. I left the shop after spending half an hour or so without purchasing any of the items under display. I did not buy those, only because they were little bit costly and I did not have sufficient money!
While I visited a grocery shop on the first evening, I found an onion of more than half KG weight. Since I had not seen such a big onion in my life, I asked my wife whether I should buy one for her (taking permission from wife is mandatory to take decision on such a big issue, no matter she was more than 12000 KM away). When she accorded her verbal permission I bought two, one for daughter and one for my wife.
On that day, I tried my dinner at a nearby cafe at around 10 PM. The cafe was manned by husband and wife duo and both were very cordial towards the customers. It appeared, most of the customers were known to them. While I was taking dinner, I saw a young lady was anxiously waiting for someone. After sometime, a young man with a guitar came and hugged her. The young man played his guitar for sometime and after taking coffee both of them left. Before leaving they got some money from other customers present in the cafe though they did not ask for money. I could not find out whether they were sophisticated beggars or artists only.
Security in UN building was as usual very strict. Every time you go out of the building you have to go through the same security checks for every entry/ re-entry. I had meeting at UN annexure building, not at the building shown on every cover page of the UN publication or in the media. I had also the privilege to have a meeting at the HQrs. of UN Women for one day.
One of the UN official, a member of the organising committee member of the meeting I had attended, suggested me to visit some the places of New York. She gave me in details of the metro connectivity and bus connectivity of those places. She also suggested me at what time I should have to visit which important place.
As per her advice I visited the memorial of Twin Tower tragedy of 9/11 before dusk. The serene look of the memorial reminded me the tragic incident (ghastly work of the terrorists) where along with many others many Indians lost their lives. I felt an unknown pain on my chest thinking about the families those who lost their near and dear ones. While coming back from the memorial, I saw the magnificent Brooklyn bridge.
After dusk, I went to see the laser show at Rockefeller centre NYC. During the Christmas time outside the centre, thousands of people gather to see the laser show. On the day, I visited the place, it was raining tooth and nail. Despite of incessant rain, thousands of people were there to see the programme. I was also standing for more than an hour to enjoy the programme and I must say that was the best laser show, I had ever seen.
All the restaurants in the Manhattan area of New York City have toilet facilities for the customers. But I found very less number of public facilities between METRO and Times Square and only facility in between was at (Central) Park stop. I had to stand for a long time to use the toilet. At least on that account I cannot blame New Delhi alone for not having sufficient number of toilets!
The city is known for tall and magnificent buildings, particularly at Manhattan district. For the first time I experienced to see a flying helicopter below myself. When I saw Hudson river from a skyscrapers, even the river also looked thinner.
I heard many things about night life of New York City. But unfortunately, I did not get any chance to have a taste of it, though there was a night club very near to my hotel. The club appeared to be closed for a long time. But when I asked a person working in the adjacent establishment, he informed me that the club was functional. However, timing for opening the club was from 11-30 PM to 5 AM. Due to odd timing, I never tried to peep into the night club during my stay.
Another regret about this visit was to miss a chance to see a ghost again. My hotel was on the verge of a large cemetery. Due to time difference between New Delhi and New York, I could not sleep at night and therefore, I had to awoke for almost the whole night. Since there was nothing to do I used to look to the cemetery for hours together with a hope to see an American ghost. But unfortunately, I could not see one!
However, my greatest regret is that I could not go to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. Hope, next time I shall make it!!!!!!!
I have already visited 31 out of 36 States and Union Territories of India and around 15 cities outside India. Many of the provincial capitals have been visited more than once and a few have been visited more than even ten times. Even after 10 visits, I am always looking forward for another visit. I have indomitable hunger to travel and making friends from all sorts of life. I always try to observe all the things around me minutely as far as possible though I cannot claim to be a keen observer of life. I have both good and bad experiences while travelling around the country and around the globe. But I always share my good experiences with my friends and therefore in my writing also you may find only good parts of my journey. However, for fair comparison, I mention some comparative aspects of different cities with others. This book contains about some world cities in my own perspective and as due to short stay in these cities my observations may not be agreed by the the people of these cities. Therefore, whatever I have written in the book are based on my limited exposures to these cities.