Account of travels across the world. This blog provides descriptions of travels in different parts of the world. Pictures related to many of the blogs can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7330879@N05/ and for more information I can be e-mailed at ananda@wfu.edu

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Trip Highlights for Summer 2005 

The places where we spent at least one night as a family were:






Windermere in the Lake District of UK


In addition I spent two nights in Delhi for my presentation in Jaipur in India

Srijoy was on 9 different airplanes with United Airlines, British Airways, Air Malta and Jet Airways

The hotels we stayed at included Fairfield Inn (Chantilly), the Dulles Airport Marriott, the Slough Marriott near Heathrow, the Dragonara Hotel in Malta, the best Western Master Roberts in Hounslow near London, the Radisson near Delhi Airport, the Courtyard Marriott in Slough near Heathrow, the Ibis hotel in Leicester

I had the “pleasure” of driving a Hyundai in the streets of Malta (given it was an automatic, Mikku could help me with the driving) and the stick shift Ford Transit 9-seater monstrosity all over UK. Incidentally in both Malta and UK they drive on the “wrong” side of the street as far as I am concerned! In total we drove about 100 miles within Malta and about 1,400 miles in UK (in about 11 days).

We had several logistic failures:

My computer locked me out of all my files because of a password snafu, and I was locked out from after about the first week of the trip

My old phone I had bought in Dubai was lost when I accidentally left it in a taxi in Kolkata. Had to do a police report (FIR) and then buy a new phone (Nokia 6100) and re-establish the connection

Our video camera went out of order (the dreaded E:61:10 error for Sony machines!) about 2 weeks into the trip

Our still digital camera went out of order about 3 weeks into the trip and had to buy a new camera in Kolkata

A battery in the battery charger blew up when I was charging it off the cigarette lighter adapter while driving the monstrosity. Sounded like a bomb going off. Not a good thing in UK.

The monstrosity would occasionally show a warning light and go into ‘emergency” mode of driving and quit shifting gears properly

The other key things of the trip:

Driving in Malta – really is odd because the place is so small. Got lost several times and had to navigate by looking only for specific places such as churches, trees, hills etc.

Getting lost in trying to get to the conference and being led there by a police car (ask me about this one when we meet!)

Actually taking the car right inside an old fort along narrow cobblestone lanes at about 20% grade in Malta

The crowded beach in Malta and the national holiday there

Sleeping in the balcony of the hotel and jerry-rigging a lampshade out of towel for the light outside

Being upgraded to Business Class on BA for the long London-Delhi trip

Meeting a zillion people in Delhi all through the day

Celebrating my mother’s 70th birthday with the family at Abcos

Excellent gathering of school friends

Dinner at Lake Club

The presentation that went really well in Jaipur, meeting with the political bigwigs there

The afternoon drive from Jaipur to Delhi

The Kolkata rains and the monsoon in general, Srijoy enjoyed this

Watching “Dus” with Mikku in the Inox

Munmun (our niece) visiting Kolkata while we were there

Meeting with Biltu (my cousin) after several years

Meeting and visiting Sandip (my cousin) after a few years

The school gathering in Bhaskar’s hotel room in Slough

Generally driving in UK

The sheep at the farm house

Being in UK soon after the bomb blasts of 7/7/2005 and the failed blasts of 7/21/2005 and caught in a "bomb scare" "evacuation" near Harrods Store in Knigtsbridge in London

Bebo falling ill

Generally driving the family all over the Lake District until they were really tired

The nice breakfast in the Fairfield Inn in DC

Being back home with everything working fine (one fallen tree in the yard)

posted by Ananda  # 7:01 AM

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

UK July 16 to July 27 2005 

The trip to UK was being planned for several months.  The whole idea was to be able to give our family a nice holiday somewhere.  Initially we decided to go somewhere within India, but we eventually decided to do UK instead.


So, on July 15 at 5:00 am we all (my mother, Mikku’s parents, Mikku’s sister and the three of us) left from AC 140 in Salt Lake.  We had two vehicles, one a Qualis and an Ambassador and we drove through a slightly rainy morning to the international airport in Kolkata.  The checking in was smooth except for the fact that we had to reorganize our bags to meet the weight requirements.  Had some coffee after immigration and then cleared security and this was a breeze since Tinku (Swati’s sister) had a friend doing the security detail.  All bags went through without any questions (including a scissor in one of our bags!!).  The flight was actually very pleasant.  The India group was in seats 33 abcd and three of them had diabetic meals, we were in the World Traveler plus of BA. The flight was quite empty and so people in the back could stretch out and sleep.  I highly recommend WT plus (am doing this blog sitting in WT plus now).  They offer first service meal, and so you have a decent choice of meals, the cabin feels less crowded and the leg space is more with a nice foot rest.  Good for longish trips.  What would make this better would be dedicated check in desk at the airports (Virgin does this, so I always prefer Virgin over BA) and dedicated bathrooms on the plane (again Virgin is better; actually I have decided to avoid BA whenever possible since Virgin is certainly better on all counts).  The flight to London arrived on time and we went past immigration and customs with no issues.  The immigration officer turned out to be of Indian origin and was quite pleasant.  The bags all arrived OK and we were out in the Terminal 4 arrival area fairly quickly.  Bebo was certainly excited to have the entire family traveling with him.  I ordered two cabs from Millennium Cabs and they arrived in about 20 mins.  We split up and loaded the cabs and went off to the Courtyard Marriott at Slough (the cost is about #25 and if you drive take M4 west towards Reading or Slough and then get out on Junction 6 and go round the roundabout heading towards Slough and then at the next round about go right towards Chalvey and the hotel is to the right, if you are coming from Terminal 4 of Heathrow, it is best to get on M25 North and then get on to M4 West to get to this hotel, BTW, the other Marriott in Slough is off Junction 5 from M4).  The check in at the hotel went smoothly and after we had all settled down I had to get the car from the rental place.


I had rented a 9-seater vehicle (Ford Tourina also known as Ford Transit) from Thrifty.  The Thrifty location in Slough is a #5 taxi ride from the hotel.  If you are driving, get on to Bath Road and at the Three Tuns Pub round about go away from the Town Center and you will see Leigh Road after two lights on your right.  Turn right into Leigh Road and then right again into Ajax Avenue and the Thrifty car rental is to your left after about a block.  The Transit was large, very large, and it was a stick shift and it ran on diesel (which is more expensive than gas in UK, was about #0.935 per liter which works out to about $6.5 per US gallon at the current rate of the dollar.  It took a while to get used to the vehicle.  In the meantime, had been in touch with Bhaskar and he was scheduled in at the hotel at 6:30.  After picking up the minibus came back to the hotel and rested for a bit (was mostly drinking Bells scotch) and then headed out to pick up our friend Mitra Barun Sirkir (MB) and family from the airport (Terminal 3, easily reached from M4 east).  Got to the airport and the minibus antenna was too tall for the parking lot, but was able to manage.  Had a couple of drinks at the airport.  It took a while for MB and family to come out and so was a little bored.  In the meantime, spoke to Dipankar Bhattacharya (Bhatta) who was on his way to the hotel.  Bhaskar was already checked in.  Eventually collected up MB and family and was back at the hotel about 8;30 pm.  Mikku had wisely taken the rest of the family to dinner.  The CBS group (MB, Bhatta, Bhaskar and me) spent some time drinking in the bar.  MB’s family was tired so a last minute change of plan was done and MB got a room at the hotel (they were supposed to go and stay at Bhatta’s place) and the kids were packed off to bed and while my family also hit the bed, the four guys and MB’s wife, Rupa, all moved to Bhasker’s room and we worked on the bottle of Famous Grouse Scotch I had picked up at duty free on the plane.  Eventually around 11:00 pm we realized some food would be good.  So we decided on room service, but the hotel room service was already closed.  Bhaskar ordered a delivery of kebabs from a local kebab store.  I am not sure what happened but the amount of kebab that arrived was enough to feed twenty.  And there was just kebab and bread and nothing else!  So we did the best we could and eventually I gave up around 12:30 pm (I was up for 24 hours since I had gotten up at 4:00 am Indian time) and went to bed.  I believe the party was on for a little bit longer. 


The next day (July 16) I got the brood ready by about 9:00 am.  Given the time change everyone was ready and up early.  We all ate breakfast at the hotel and MB cleared out the bags from my minibus.  Went up to Bhasker’s room for a bit and then slowly loaded up the bus and after some pictures outside the hotel, left from the hotel about 10:00 in the morning.  The car behaved well, and it took me just a while to get used to the vehicle.  Once I was familiar with the car was able to do up to 95 mph on the Motorways.  We took motorways all the way up to exit for Sandip’s house.  Sandip (my cousin) lives in Stoke on Trent which is a place just off Junction 15 off M6.  It was a nice drive up to that place.  We stopped a few times at the MOTO and Marks and Spencer’s rest areas (incidentally, all the rest areas have a Traveloge hotel connected with them which makes things simpler in case one needs a night’s rest).  Finding Sandip’s house was no problem.  He has a really nice home – a detached house with a lovely garden.  We rested there for lunch, which was a really well done fusion spread by Rimi, Sandip’s wife.  The spread included vegetable Samosa, shrimp something, salmon sandwiches, chicken tandoori and an excellent cake in addition to many other things. We took some pictures of all the families together and headed out.  We had a really nice stop there.  We then proceeded back on M6 north going towards the Lake District.  The lie of the land was changing quickly as we crossed through the Midlands and then into Cambria with its rolling hills (fells) and valleys (dales).  Eventually took the exit for Kendall at Junction 36 now going west towards Windermere.  Had spoken to the lady (Mrs. Allen) about picking up the key and she gave directions to our rental house too. 


I had rented the Bellman House though a company in Britain called Cottages4You.  They have a large range of cottages across Europe.  The cost for the Bellman House worked out to about #15 per person per night with the group we had.  That is certainly better than any hotel room.  The Bellman House is reached by taking the A road from Junction 36 towards Windermere.  Once in Windermere there is a Booths store and the Windermere station to the left.  At that crossing take a left into Windermere town.  Stay on that road until you see the Windermere police station to the left (after about a mile and half).  Continue on this road and you will see signs for A5074 to Lancaster, turn into A5074 and follow this road until you get a sign saying hidden driveway (this comes about 4 miles after you have gone through Bowness and taken the left on A5074 where the Rumors Pub is).  The farmyard and the pond can be seen from A5074 and comes to your right; there is a sharp right hand turn (downhill) that leads into the farm area.  The first set of houses belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Allen who also look after Bellman House.  After we spoke, she followed us to the house (there are two gates that need to be opened and then closed after passing through them) and she gave us the key to the house. 


The house itself was about a couple of centuries old.


Like other houses in Cambria it was a whitewashed stone house with wooden interiors.  It was connected to the older part of an unused barn and there were two rental sections to the house.  We had the larger section (and we had some very disgruntled neighbors in the other section).  Our portion of the house included a living room (with fire place and TV/Video) a kitchen (all utensils and appliances once could need) and a dining room (with fireplace).  There was a back exit which I could never open!  The upper level had three bedrooms and one bathroom (not connected to any bedroom).  The largest bedroom had a double and a twin bed; the other two bed rooms had a double bed in each.  There were provisions for electrical heat.  Obviously with seven people one bathroom seemed insufficient.  However, just outside the main door there were ladies and gents showers and toilets.  These bathrooms are typically used by the people in the mobile homes on the farm (there were a few of them too), but to ease the pressure on the single indoor bathroom, I used the outside bathroom throughout the trip.  Behind the house was a nice private garden and the entire place was overrun with sheep and sheep droppings.  Also, connected to the house there was a room that had the washer and the dryer which we used extensively.  Once Mrs. Allen had switched on the fridge, she left and we began to settle down.  We then decided to get the dinner organized.  Tinku, Bebo and I went out to Booths to get some groceries.  Unfortunately the store closed on us we were unable to walk in.  So circled back towards Windermere was a little lost but eventually ended up at the Coop grocery store in Windermere.  Bought some unnecessarily expensive groceries and headed back to the house.  Mikku prepared an excellent dinner and we all ate and called it a day.  The surroundings were cool quiet and hilly and the silence was only disturbed by the sheep which was all over the place.  Bebo had a lovely time chasing the poor creatures all over the place.


I slept in the living room and was up at about 5:30 am on Sunday (7/17).  Since I was using the bathrooms out doors (with nice hot water and I was not rushed since no one else was using that place!) I went off and got ready.  Then as the others came awake, I began to prepare the traditional English breakfast (which I continued to do mostly every morning).  This was made up of bangers, bacon, potato, fried tomatoes, toast and baked beans with boiled eggs, toast or potato cakes and juice and tea.  Everyone had a hearty breakfast and I managed to kick off the fire alarm every time with all the frying.  We completed breakfast by about 10:00 and then headed out.  It was cool (about 17 Centigrade on the average) but sunny.  We drove over to Bowness on Windermere and bought the all day pass for the Windermere lake cruise.  The tickets were for about #12 per adult for unlimited use of the ferries.  I then dropped off the brood by the pier and went and parked my bus.  We took the 11:15 launch from Windermere to Lakeside on the south side of Windermere Lake (which is the largest lake in UK).  It was a small but pleasant launch and we had coffee on board.  Earlier in the day, I had made coffee at the house too and had sat in the garden and had worked on my book before getting breakfast ready for all.  This actually became a routine for me since I got up early and had time to get some work done on the book before getting started with breakfast.  Anyway, Lakeside was a small village (which incidentally did not have any batteries for sale, and my camera was low on battery!) where we walked up to a small pub and I had a Stella while others drank some coffee.  Then took the large steamer (Teal) back to Bowness and we got off the boat and walked around the pier area.  The weather was really nice and we hung around there and then had lunch at the Lakeview café.  Everyone ate fish and chips and Mikku and I shared a chicken tikka masala.  We strolled around the lakeside watching the swans and the ducks and then took another launch to the north tip of the lake which is the village of Ambleside.  This is a larger town and we took a bus from the pier to the center of the village (it was #1.50 per head).  Like other Lake District villages the center of town had little stores and cafes.  We hung around there for a while and then strolled along the main road to head back to the pier.  We walked past nice cottages with a myriad of flowers that excited everyone.  We eventually stopped for coffee and beer at the Log House café and then took the launch back to Bowness.  It was getting to be about 6:30 and so we then all walked over to the car (Bebo did some rock climbing and had an ice cream on the way back) and then we drove back to the house.  After dropping everyone off, I went back to the Coop in Bowness to get groceries, it was closed, so had to go to the one in Windermere, which was open but with nearly empty shelves.  It was pretty dismal and so got what I could and was back in time for Mikku to prepare a really nice dinner for all of us.  It was a good day and eventually we were all in bed by about 10:00.


The next day (Monday 7/18) started off as a slightly dreary and wet day.  Anyhow we decided to head out towards the Western side of the Lake District.  Took the road down south and stopped at the little market town of Broughton in Furness.  There was a little grocery store there where got some fruits and peas.  Then walked to the town square and had a cup of coffee at an inn.  All through the trip we developed a nice way of ordering and sharing the food to get maximum advantage because the group from India found all the proportions too large any way.  We then drove up the coast and headed to Muncaster Castle outside of Ravenglass.  This was an old grand home of a royal family and the house has now been converted into a museum although some of the original family still lives in the house.  The grounds have been converted into a lovely garden with a special section on Himalayan vegetation.  We walked around the garden then entered the house and saw the museum.  My mother needed to use the bathroom and the people were nice enough to let her into the private part of the house and use the bathroom there.  We then walked over to the cafeteria area and there had a lunch of sandwiches.  The place also had a special refuge for owls from across the world.  So we visited the owl sanctuary and then headed back to the car.  Drove on to Ravenglass hoping to get to the coast but only saw the low tide water.  Then drove back towards Bootle and found the turn off to the beach.  It was sunny and cold and we parked by the beach and we walked down to the water’s edge and Bebo was able to touch the Irish Sea!  We then drove back to Windermere and we all went to Booths.   This time we were able to do a good grocery and got stuff for the rest of the week at a reasonable price finally.  Eventually returned to the house and Mikku again prepared an excellent dinner.


The next day (Tuesday 7/19) it started off being another rather dreary and wet day but it got really nice later in the day.  Anyhow after the customary breakfast we headed out of the house and took the road towards Kirkstone Pass.  This is one of the better known mountain passes in the Lake District.  On the way we were held up by a large group of sheep being taken to market by the shepherds and the sheep dogs.  The roads were incredibly narrow and trying to drive that mini-bus over fells and dales with U-turns and switchbacks along 14% and 20% grades was a sheer nightmare but was able to do it without any mishaps!  The road leads to Ullswater where we stopped for a little bit.  Then drove by the lake and went up towards Keswick.  Being a wet day we decided not to get out in Keswick (there was some convention going on, so decided to avoid the town) and went along the side of Derwent Water and stopped at the Loder Falls.  Had a beer at the Loder Hotel (to use their parking lot) and then walked up to Loder Falls.  Then drove on to Grange and ate lunch at a restaurant there by the river.  Again shared food to not waste food.  After the lunch at Grange drove around the lake and came back to Keswick and headed out along the lake towards Grasmere.  Drove through the village of Grasmere and then to Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth had lived.  Mikku and her mother went to the cottage while the rest of us rested at the café where I had a nice hot butter scone and tea.  Bebo was getting tired and it was quite rainy.  Eventually after Mikku and all were back we drove back to our house and I lit nice crackling fire in the fireplace given it was a cold and wet day.  Mikku again made a fabulous dinner.


On Wednesday 7/20 we decided to head out for the day trip to Edinburgh.  We ate the customary breakfast and were able to leave a little earlier than normal.  The first part of the trip was on motorways and then after Abington had to get on an A-road that took a while.  Bebo was beginning to feel unwell and so we had to stop often.  Eventually reached Edinburgh later than I had wanted.  Found a temporary parking spot on George Street.  We parked there and ate lunch (Bebo was feeling quite tired and down).  I had meanwhile scoped out the area and so after lunch drove the group to Waverly Bridge and I parked the car on the other side of the river at the bottom of East Market Street.  Walked back to Waverly Bridge and bought the tickets for the hop and stop bus tour.  Got on the bus at Waverly and hopped off at the other end of Princes Street by St. John’s Church.  Walked into St. John’s and then walked through the park back to Waverly Bridge.  Saw the fountain, the street mimes and generally enjoyed the area but Bebo was still feeling ill and refused to eat.  Again hopped on the bus and got off at the castle end of the Royal Mile in the old town of Edinburgh.  Walked around some, had coffee, stopped at the gift shops until Bebo was really down.  So got back on the bus and then stayed on the bus all the way back to Waverly.  Bebo was totally washed out and fell asleep in the bus.  The tour took us by the palace (the queen was visiting that day) and the other main areas of Edinburgh.  After we reached Waverly Bridge I got the car and as we drove out of Edinburgh got caught in a terrible traffic jam and after some diversions was able to head out.  Bebo, unfortunately threw up and so we had to stop again for cleaning up.  Eventually did a straight drive back to the house (the total round trip was nearly 350 miles) and had to carry Bebo back up to bed.  He was totally drained out.  In spite of it being late Mikku made another really nice hot dinner and we finally went to bed pretty late.


On the 21st, Thursday Bebo woke up with a fever.  It was decided that Mikku and Bebo would stay back at the house and the rest would go for short trips.  First, we drove over to the East and went to the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  This is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and had a small Market going on.  Visited the market and then walked around stopping at the antique shop and then at the chocolate shop.  We then headed back to the house to check on Bebo and Mikku.  He was still pretty down so we decided to leave them at the house and I took the group over to Bowness for lunch and then some shopping.  Again hung around Bowness and the shops.  Had lunch in Bowness as well.  Eventually back to the house early.  Everyone was tired and so decided to give them some rest.  Mikku made dinner.  Bebo also was starting to feel a little better but stayed in bed all day.


Thankfully on Friday, July 22, Bebo felt OK.  We did a late start that day and left the house around 11:30 am.  Went directly from the house back towards Keswick.  This time took a slightly different route and went on the other side of one of the lakes.  Got some majestic views of the lakes and fells and took some nice pictures.  Bebo was much better too and that helped.  Eventually reached the outskirts of Keswick again and had lunch at the Twa Dogs Inn.  After lunch started on the treacherous drive up to the Whinlatter Pass.  It was really nice and eventually crossed back along the even more treacherous Newland Pass to drop back into Keswick.  Drove on from Keswick to Kendall.  Unfortunately everything was closed in Kendall but stopped by the Abbey and took some pictures.  Bebo was again getting tired and so decided to get back to the house.  Lovely dinner by Mikku again.


Saturday, July 23 was the last day at the house.  We packed and cleared out by about 10:00.  Mrs. Allen came and collected the keys.  We drove straight through the Yorkshire Dales after a brief stop at a restaurant and reached York by about lunch time.  There was a street festival going on in York and the place was really lively.  We saw a brass band play and ate lunch at the Pizza hut.  Walked over to the York Minster through the Shambles area and then walked back to the castle area.  I had parked on Piccadilly and so we eventually walked back to the car and given that everyone was so tired decided to head out.  It was a good two hour drive after that to Leicester.  We stopped once on the way.  Was horribly lost in Leicester but with Bhasker’s help was able to reach the Ibis hotel.  It was a nice hotel but parking that vehicle was a real pain!  Bhaskar came over and we walked with him to the town center for a nice dinner at the Opera House restaurant.  It was Bhasker’s treat and also met up with Karen.  Bebo and the family ate in the restaurant and Bebo threw up one more time, but was OK otherwise.  He was certainly getting better.  We got back to the hotel about midnight.


On Sunday July 24 Bhaskar directed us over to Belgrave Road in Leicester which is the Indian part of Leicester.  We had a nice Indian breakfast of Dhokla and Dosa and it again was Bhasker’s treat.  After that dropped Bhaskar off at the hospital and we headed out of Leicester.  The motorways were packed and it was raining really hard.  Nevertheless, we found our way to Arborfield near Reading where we visited the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Museum (Royal EME).  Mikku’s father had served with the Indian EME and he had contacted the REME and they were kind enough to invite us all over for a grand tour of the extensive museum.  They even showed us parts of the museum not open to the public including a painting that hung behind Hitler’s desk in his office.  They have it in their museum now.  It was really a treat and eventually Mikku’s father and the Director of the Museum exchanged ties of the Indian EME and the Royal EME and we headed out.  Had lunch at the Bull of Arborfield and then headed back towards Windsor.  Spent some time around Windsor Castle and then drove through Eton eventually reaching the hotel (Courtyard Marriott) in Slough


The next morning (Monday July 25) started off rainy and wet as well I went down to the lobby for a coffee and the others started to get ready. There was a lot of left over cereals and stuff from the house so everyone ate that. There around 10:00 we left for London. It was raining really hard that day, but it started to subside as we got closer to London. Parked the bus in a lot close to Harrods and decided to walk down to Harrods. It was still quite wet. As we approached Harrods there were a lot of police sirens and they had shutoff the road in front of Harrods. Some kind of bomb scare. We hung out near the area for a while and then the police let us pass. We spent the morning in Harrods and had coffee there. Then we took two London Cabs (Srijoy’s favorite form of travel) and drove to Piccadilly had lunch at our regular place - the Garfunkels in Soho and then walled down regent Street to Hamley’s toy store. The older folks rested in the café and we went around the store. Then walked down to Oxford Circus and along Oxford Street before taking a bus back to Harrods. Now they have ticket machines for bus tickets but it is necessary to have coins and if no exact are put in then you loose the balance because the machines do not give any money back! Anyway stopped at a Sainsbury’s store and then for tea and scone and got back to the van then the drive back from London was pleasant and fast. After we got back two of my mother’s cousins (Kaju and Montu) who live in the UK came to visit.  We had a nice session of good old catching up before calling it a day and ordering room service dinner.


This was now July 26 and the India group was to leave for Kolkata. I took the morning to print out some of the pictures from the trip at Snappy Snaps on High Street in Slough. Then went back to the van and saw had received a #30 ticket for improper parking. Had to pay it over the Internet eventually. Then back to the hotel and loaded up the car and all of us went back to line Slough City Center and hung out there for an hour before heading out to Heathrow Terminal 4 lots of construction on M25 after the M4 to M25 interchange. Also it is easy to miss the exit from M25 to Heathrow. Anyway, parked the van and had them checked in. If took a while to complete the check in process. After they were checked in, we went down to the Weatherspoons and ate lunch and then drove back to the Slough City Center to drop off Bebo and Mikku while I completed the car return process. Eventually back at the hotel, finished the packing, had room service and the trip was over.




posted by Ananda  # 4:30 PM

Saturday, July 16, 2005

India July 3 to July 15 2005 

The flight to Kolkata from Delhi on July 3 was eventless.  The weather in Kolkata was hot and the highest we saw during the trip was 104 F.  It rained quite a bit in Kolkata during the stay, but not as much as I had expected.  The humidity hovered close to 95% so there was a constant sticky feeling.  The rains helped to bring the temperature down and sometimes there would be a breeze that was pleasing.  It was a pretty typical early-monsoon kind of weather, but the last time we saw this kind of weather was 15 years ago and Bebo had never experienced a true monsoon.  It did not rain too hard that the streets would be flooded but the entire city was green and the sky was pollution-free and totally blue when the clouds occasionally cleared.  The sun was hot, really hot and it would just burn you if you were out in that sun.  We sweated constantly and the room air conditioner in my mother’s house went out of order after a couple of nights which made matters quite interesting.  Generally, we stayed within the Salt lake neighborhood.  However, one day, Srijoy and I went into one of the really old markets in Kolkata.  This is a place where one can get anything they say.  It is impossible to describe this place and the place is basically run by a set of underworld goons and many small time crooks.  We were looking for a DVD of a recently released movie about imaginary wars in other galaxies.  While we did not get the movie we were looking for we did find a lot of other recent releases quite readily available as well numerous stores selling anything from computer hard drives to fresh fruit!  This place is called Chadni Chawk market and lies in the labyrinth of streets off Dharmotala Street and near what used to be New Cinema.  It is best not to go there with a female companion and it is necessary to be very very very street savvy when moving through the narrow corridors of the inner market where they say you can get “tiger’s milk” if you pay the right price and know the right people.  It was a hot, muggy day when Srijoy and I spent nearly 4 hours looking for the DVD.  I was really proud of Srijoy in the way he handled himself in that market.  No one could have said that he was not just another Kolkata kid walking around with his father!  Dodged traffic, walked for ever through the mud and slime of the side lanes, and eventually rode on a rickshaw (the old fashioned human-pulled ones, I usually do not use this since it seems rather inhumane and Srijoy never wants to get on them but since we could not get the DVD we wanted we decided to go to another similar market to look for the same stuff and decided it was too long a walk in the rain and thus succumbed to the rickshaw who however left us in the street sitting on the rickshaw for about 15 minutes when he went off to answer nature’s call).  Did not get the DVD we were looking for.  Eventually took a taxi back home.  Also had a chance encounter with one of my old school mates while hanging around this area.  It was good to see Sammy so accidentally.


We celebrated my mother’s birthday while we were in Kolkata, this involved going out to eat  at Abco’s food plaza in Salt Lake (we ate at Kipling’s) and were accompanied by Mikku’s parents and sister, my cousin, his wife, her mother and our niece.  This was a nice outing for the family.


On July 5th I left for Delhi on the 5 pm Indian Airlines flight.  The flight was delayed but had sufficient time in the evening to have the meeting.  Stayed at the Radisson and took the morning flight on July 6th on Air Sahara to Jaipur.  The flight was on time.  The weather in Jaipur was surprisingly nice and it was probably somewhat cooler than Kolkata even though it is in Rajasthan, one of the hottest parts of India.  Anyway, reached in time, and was picked up by the car from the Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR).  Freshened up at their guest house and then met with Dr. Sharma the founder of the Institute.  It was good to catch up with him after about 2 years.  The presentation and discussion went extremely well and was able to meet with many local leaders including a local Member of the Parliament.  Set up the staging for the next phase of the study with specific data collection plans and efforts.  The reception after the lecture was nice too.  Eventually everything wound up around 2 in the afternoon.  I decided not to wait till 8 pm for the return flight but quickly booked a taxi and decided to drive back to Delhi (about Rs. 3,000 [about $65 but includes all the toll as well as the Rs. 875 tax to enter the state of Haryana] in an air conditioned chauffer driven car for a distance of nearly 170 miles).  Drove through the old pink walled city of Jaipur.  The road then climbs into the hills and goes right past Amber fort and then it traverses through a rather rocky and hilly terrain until it finally comes out of the drier part of Rajasthan and into the more undulating part of the state and eventually into the much greener state of Haryana.  Although the road (National Highway 8) is comparable to many international inter-state highways, it was in ill-repair and there was a lot of construction thus the journey took nearly 5.5 hours, although the last part of the journey was negotiation the rush hour traffic around Delhi which is growing so fast that the traffic snarls are legendary and will remain so until much of the constructions are over.  But driving through Gurgaon one can sense the outcome in terms of affluence that the outsourcing businesses and the general liberalization of the Indian economy has produced.  Even Kolkata is growing rapidly and thus the new roads in Kolkata that connect the airport to downtown and the major business areas show how much the cities are growing and modernizing.  Took the morning Jet flight back to Kolkata on the 7th of July and then had a lunch meeting with Joy and Moushumi.  That went well.  Spent a quite evening at home. 


As always Kolkata was made up of numerous meetings which included a get together of old friends from my school – Calcutta Boys’ School – which was well attended and the food was superb thanks to the organizing prowess of Kunal and others.  Was asked to give a speech at this gathering which was quite odd!!  Also spent a fair amount of time with my cousins including Biltu who lives in Bangalore but was visiting.  Munmun, our niece, was of course in Kolkata when we arrived and we were able to spend some time with her too.  Did not get to see my cousin from Raigarh this time and that was a pity.  We also had a nice evening at the Calcutta Lake Club where we went for a dinner with my cousins.  Spent a fair amount of time at the City Center Mall which is literally within walking distance of my mother’s place and the mall has nice stores and is air conditioned!  Met a lot of old friends too – Rana Mukherjee, Rana Kundu, Arindam, Sammy to name a few.  Ate out some, but given the short stay did not get as much of a chance.  However, ate at Oh! Calcutta (on top of the Forum Mall on Elgin Road), Peshwari (at the ITC Sonarbangla on the Eastern Bypass), Hyatt (on the Eastern Bypass), and Abcos.  Met up with Abhijit Basu and his wife for a drink too.  Samrat, my cousin from my mother’s side, came and visited with his wife too one of the evenings.  We also got a chance to have lunch with Avijit Moitra and family who were visiting from San Francisco and it was good to see them after so many years.


Had a car rented with a chauffer for the 7 days from a neighborhood supplier of rented vehicles.  The car was a Maruti Esteem (somewhat similar to the Ford Neon in size) and my driver was named Joy.  Rented it from Sonata in BB block of Salt Lake (see last year’s post about India trip for phone number information).  The cost was Rs. 120.00 per hour with a minimum rental of 10 hours (about $25 for the day).  What was interesting was the fact that they do not accept credit cards for payment, but with true ingenuity the guy said that I could use the credit card to pay for the gas I use (gas in India costs about $4.2 per US gallon).  But there was no way I was going to need 6 gallons a day, so we struck a deal where I would fill all his cars with gas every evening to make up a total of Rs. 1200.  It was thus interesting that I would take a convoy of cars to the local gas station and fill them up.  This system really helped me and it worked well.  I would recommend this system if others run into similar problems.


Another interesting thing that I did was to obtain an Airtel SIM card for a validity of one year using a method called Express Refill (for those who do not know, the SIM card is the technology used by the GSM system of mobile phones, a search on the word SIM and GSM would provide a lot of information about this, unfortunately while the World has mostly standardized the GSM technology, much of the US is still dependant on CDMA and even the GSM providers in the USA purposefully lock their handsets and SIM cards can not be switched between phones, most places in the World use unlocked tri-band phones that make it easy for travelers).  Thus in India as long as one has an unlocked tri-band phone one can go to a local Airtel dealer and they would refill the SIM card with Rs. 3,300 with talk time worth Rs. 2,800 and the phone number would be valid for about 12 to 15 months.  This avoids the need for topping up frequently and for those who travel to India at least once a year, this offers a permanent mobile phone number in India.  The danger of course is that this is all pre-paid, so if one were to loose the SIM card or the phone containing the SIM card, then the balance left on the SIM card could be misused.  I managed to do that.  I accidentally left my very favorite and old phone I had bought in Dubai several years ago in a taxi.  I realized my mistake about 20 minutes after I had gotten off the taxi and I called my number, the taxi driver answered the phone (I recognized the music that was playing in the taxi) but did not say a word.  Never answered any more and thus was apprehensive that the phone as well as the money were gone.  If this were to happen here is what you need to do (at least for Airtel): Call the Airtel toll free number (9831098310) and tell them what has happened.  They will advise you to go to the police station of the area where the loss happened and file a First Information Record (often called “diary” in India), then you have to take proof of the FIR to a local registered Airtel dealer who will then give a new replacement SIM card that you will be able to put into a new phone.  That is what I had to do.  Had to go to the North Salt lake PS where the Inspector in Charge reprimanded me for not knowing either English grammar or spelling (years of living in USA has led to this predicament) also reprimanded me for being careless, and then wrote the FIR for me, which I took to the City Center Airtel office (the ladies who work there are really very helpful) and had the whole problem resolved in about 2 hours which is a record.  Of course, had to buy a new handset (got the Nokia 6600) and was back in action, without loss of any pre-paid credit only because of the rapidity with which I could respond to the loss.  But this was an interesting experience.


Visited Dum Dum Park, Lake Town, AA block family and did the general rounds.  Also completed the Fixed Deposit for my mother at Punjab National Bank and that was quite an experience too having to make nearly 5 trips to pull off the transaction (this is now required for anyone with a safe deposit box or vault in any nationalized bank, so that the rental for the box can be drawn from the interest of the fixed deposit).  Also watched a great movie called “Dus” at the Inox Theater at the City Center.  Mikku also watched “Paheli” and “Parineeta” and we hung around City Center quite a bit.  Bebo got a nice gold ring from some money his great grandmother had given him and he went to the jewelers to choose the ring which he immensely enjoyed.


The last two days in Kolkata was really rainy but that helped to cool things down some.  The humidity was a factor because both the video camera and the still camera gave up working and so had to purchase a new still camera.


It was a good trip, somewhat short, but I think I got to do mostly everything I was interested in doing and that was nice.   I am writing this on the plane flying over Afghanistan as we now embark on our 12 day trip to UK accompanied by my mother and Mikku’s parents and sister.


posted by Ananda  # 2:03 AM

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Malta day 2 June 27 2005 

This was our first full day in Malta. We had a breakfast in the room, I had some coffee in the Terrace Restaurant by the pool. We then packed some swimming stuff and headed out of St. Julian. Getting out was a bit of a challenge but we wound our way through the back streets and eventually got on the beach road that winds around the water and headed towards Sliema. The roads were very crowded and narrow, and after getting lost several more times, we found our way towards the central town of Mdina. The maps were relatively useless because the distances were so short that the towns blended into each other. On the way we got caught in a traffic jam and decided to stop at a roadside stall and get some fruits. We got a full case of peaches for about one Maltese pound. We then drove into Mdina and parked outside the old city and took a brief walk in a park. Saw an unknown tree that attracted a huge amount of bumble bees. Learnt to stay away from that tree! We then strolled into a gift shop and checked out some of the curios including an interesting antique pistol that Bebo got. Mdina is an old walled city with narrow lanes, curio shops and restaurant. Eventually drove through once of the entrances and took a stroll through the city visiting a few shops. Given it was my birthday we decided on a nice sit down lunch at a nice restaurant called Bachchus . Prior to that we had stopped at a little Café for some coffee and the typical peas palter of Malta. The restaurant was very good and I tried the local beer called “Cisk” (pronounced chisk). After lunch we walked back to the car and drove over to the Dingli cliffs. These are sheer cliffs that dropdown into the ocean. It was a hot-day. So spent just a little bit of time there and then decided to drive to the Blue Grotto, we were now in the heart of Malta and it was a strange rocky and desolate area. We were again miserably lost as we drove down narrow, steep gravel roads, using a few visible landmarks as compass directions. Not a soul around to ask questions. We eventually used the landmark of the cross of St. Joseph as a marker to finally wind our way down to the point where the boats for the Blue Grotto leaves. It is best to go to the bottom of the road and park where the restaurants are to avoid walking in the heat. Although parking is limited, a small car like we had could be tucked in the right places. We then walked down to the boat ramp and bought the 3 tickets for 7 Maltese pounds and also bought two straw hats since the boats are basically uncovered speed boats which seats 7 and it was a hot and sunny day. The boat trip takes one along the cliffs into The Blue Grotto are a series of caves on the cliff where the water takes on an unearthly blue color. The trip listed about 20 minutes and the sea was choppy on the way back; we finally got to one of the restaurants to cool off with a drink and then started the drive back to the hotel. Thankfully, thieve was a tower near our hotel which could be seen for miles and acted as a greet landmark to find the hotel.  Once back at the hotel Mikku and Bebo gave we my Maltese birthday gift and then Bebo and I went to the pool for a little bit. For the rest of the evening we hung out in the room, ordered room service and eventually called it a day. The balcony was good, but was a little bothered by mosquitoes.


posted by Ananda  # 2:30 PM

Malta day 3 June 28 2005 

I got up early and got some coffee and used the high speed Internet downstairs to get the e-mail downloaded. Then headed out to find the Dolmen Resort in Owara for the conference. Took the beach road to Owara but got lost in the city. Eventually got into an one-way street and was promptly pulled up by a cop, who began to ticket me, when I described how badly lost I was, took pity, and offered to lead me to the hotel. So I arrived at the hotel following a siren blowing Maltese police car! The conference went very well. I was back to pick up with Mikku and Bebo around 2 in the afternoon. They had been to the pool most of the morning. We ate lunch in one of the hotel restaurants. We then headed out to Valetta (the principal city in Malta). Getting there was easier this time since I was getting familiar with the roads. We went to one of the main squares within the walled city of Valetta. Interestingly, in Malta we saw a large number of cars imported from India. There were Tata Indica, Maruti Van, Maruti 800 and other cars usually seen on Indian roads. We walked down the main street in Valetta and visited the Cathedral and the museum. Mikku had a bad fall outside the Cathedral. We then roamed around the back streets of Valetta stopping at souvenir shops and places. Had coffee and cake at a Café and eventually took a horse carriage ride (15 Maltese) around the entire city. Finally drove back to the hotel. It was a little late, so we basically did the same room service and went to bed. I was prepared with an insect repellant and thus had a peaceful night on the balcony.


posted by Ananda  # 2:19 PM

Malta day 4 June 29 2005 

We had kept this day aside to be a beach day. It turned out that this was a national holiday, which meant that the beaches would be crowded. Anyway, after the usual coffee, Internet and pipe we got ready to get to the best sandy beach at Mellieha Bay. As expected, the beach was fully crowded. Based on information from a person at the hotel found our way to Anchor Bay. This too was crowded but it was more inviting. Bebo got a chance to romp in the waters of the Mediterranean as we sipped a drink. European beaches are usually far more crowded than in America and they are not as sandy. There was little surf too since these were all Bays and not facing the open ocean. Bebo was done in about an hour and then we headed out to the Red Fort, an old fort on a high ground. Got a superb view of the bays which we took in and eventually drove over to Mellieha where we had dinner at a Latin restaurant, the food and service was good. On the way back to the hotel stopped in a small town to look at an old church from the outside. Eventually got back to the hotel the early-afternoon and spent the afternoon in the pool. After a shower walked around St. Julian and had dinner at one of the numerous street side café’s The food was quite good and finally we called it a day. This was a relaxed day and most of the time was spent around water. Srijoy enjoyed it a lot.


posted by Ananda  # 2:19 PM

Malta day 5 June 30 2005 

This was our last day in Malta. We packed and loaded the car in the morning and checked out around 11:00 am. Drove towards the old town of Vitoriosa and this was a great experience since we had some unstructured time. Drove down narrow lanes, by the Grand Harbor and eventually found ourselves at a fort. This was the first time I drove inside a fort along incredibly narrow and steep cobblestone paths but eventually reached a point with incredible views of the Harbor, Valetta and the surrounding areas. Then had lunch at a local pub where the food was good and cheap. Since we still had some time we decided to explore the less touristy side of Malta and ended up driving through sleepy small villages and also saw an ancient temple site from the outside. Also saw a terrible accident, finally decided it was time to get to the airport and unloaded bags there, returned the car, and checked in for the flight to Heathrow. The airport had some Internet terminals and Bebo got his fill of the familiar games!


The flight was uneventful and more or less on time. The taxi was there and it took about 30 minutes to get to the hotel is Hounslow. The Best Western in Hounslow was terrible. We did a room service and then called it a day. Avoid there Master Roberts Hotel in Hounslow.


posted by Ananda  # 2:09 PM

London to Delhi July 1 2005 

Our flight was at 9:55am and we left the hotel at about seven in the morning. The taxi cost 15 pounds. Check in was smooth and we got upgraded to Business Class on British Airways, that war a very pleasant experience, spent a little time in the BA club and then the flight took about 9 hours. Watched 3 movies on the computer and eventually got to the Delhi Radisson about midnight, Indian time. The hotel was very nice and we had a small dinner with Srijoy enjoying his Dal Makhani, his favorite Indian dish in Delhi. Got to bed at about 2 am.  Not too much jet lg.


posted by Ananda  # 1:59 PM

Delhi July 2 2005 

We naturally got up late. It was a hot day outside (about 110 F) and so kept in the hotel. The room had high speed Internet and Mikku caught up with her work Srijoy and I strolled around inside the hotel after a late but excellent breakfast at the free buffet. All of us then checked out the stores in the hotel and then had pastries and tea in the lounge. The service was very good indeed.


We had visitors coming to see us from 4 pm. First it was Mayank and his parents. Mayank is coming to the Graduate Program in my Dept. at Wake in Fall, soon after they left, Parul, my student’s parents came over. We Sat at the bar. While they were there Ketoki our friend came over with her children. Srijoy had an excellent time with the kids and they wrecked the hotel room. All the kids had room service dinner as we chatted. They all left around 9:30 and then my cousin (Goutam da) and his family came over. We ate dinner at the Great Kabob Factory restaurant in the hotel. Bebo was really tired by then and so went to bed in the hotel room. We sat and chatted till about midnight when my cousin left. We were tried and called it a day.


posted by Ananda  # 1:59 PM


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