Rambling on….

about anything under the Sun!

Monthly Archives: June 2010

And finally back in Mussorie!

After 3 wonderful days in beautiful Nainital, we hopped on the bus on Tuesday morning bound for Mussorie. The agent at the hotel had warned us that it was a 10 hour drive and none of us was really looking forward to the long journey in the supposedly super-deluxe bus, but did we have a choice? The enthusiasm remained high though and the microphone in the bus (it was a tourist bus) helped – folks were putting their vocal chords to the test and we had our own version of Indian Idol getting started. The drive downhill was unpleasant to say the least (the oily puris we had for breakfast were NOT helping) and we had to stop several times to let folks get a breath of fresh air, walk around and do whatever it took to get rid of the motion sickness. We must have bought enough Hajmola to send their stock skyrocketing. Finally, we hit the plains and not only did the drive get more pleasant, the driver started making good headway towards Mussorie – the weather was starting to get very warm however, and some of us wondered if Hyderabad would have been cooler.

Four hours later, we saw a sign that said Dehradun (which is about 35 kms from Mussorie, at the foothills) was 110 kms away and we were elated. The 10-hour estimate was clearly wrong, and we’d probably make it in 7 hours…but wait, there was Hardwar, with its countless so-called devotees, lurking ahead. The roads were completely blocked and the unruly crowd (trust me, there was nothing devout about what the vast majority of them were doing) ensured that we had to take a detour. The bus changed direction towards Rishikesh and we ambled along the Upper Ganga canal and reached Rishikesh about 3 hours later – on a couple of occasions enroute, we actually crossed the river (no bridge mind you, we literally drove across the Ganga (the river is blazing fast, btw). A chai break and 2 hours later, we started climbing up towards Mussorie and the weather started to get cooler again. Sitting at the front of the bus and watching the driver negotiate the dangerous curves was a great experience in itself – finally, we reached our destination, the Avalon Resorts up in the Mussorie hills after 12 torturous hours and everyone was so ready to call it a day.

The next 3 days it just rained and rained and rained in Mussorie and the bulk of our time were spent indoors. A few brave folks ventured out in the few dry spells we had and did a little bit of trekking, sight-seeing etc but overall it was rather disappointing. I had been to Mussorie 11 years earlier with my college gang and amazingly, not much had changed in the city. A lot of the old structures, business establishments etc were still intact although the city had become much dirtier. People were spitting on the streets like there was no tomorrow – to say it was disgusting would be putting in mildly. The resort itself was good (clean rooms, good facilities, activities etc)  and the food very decent (its affiliated to Club Mahindra) but it was somewhat pricey – i think the cheapest cottages (sleeps 2) runs for 5500 plus this time of the year. And their service seemed to start out very well with the manager coming down to talk to us so that he could help us plan our activities – arrange a cricket match, organize a picnic, do some adventure sports etc. But then, reality wasn’t very far behind…and that was the last we saw of him. Of course, the rain would have prevented us from doing any of the things he mentioned but we were still shocked that he disappeared after all those promises. And it was NOT funny that his name was Arvind as well!

Mussorie did offer a lot of opportunities for us to shop though. Gun Hill, one of the highest points in town (you can take the ropeway to get there, or trek up if you are looking for a steep climb) offers some creative key chains where you can get names inscribed – these make for terrific gifts and are reasonably cheap. I think its a trademark Mussorie item because I distinctly remember seeing some of the same things on my previous trip 11 years ago. Shame on me if i I didnt get you one :> In addition, Mall Road has a bunch of cute shops with intersting stuff to sell – even if you dont buy anything, it makes for a fun evening walk.

Finally, after a nice long break we headed back home with a day’s stop at Dehradun. Those of us that were tired of the bus (and there were quite a few) decided to take the train to Delhi. Its a six-hour train ride and there are plenty of options through the day from 5am to 9:30pm (there are 2 Shatabdis and another A/C special among others). For those that need to get there quicker, Air Deccan has a midday flight out of Dehradun that’ll get you to Delhi in an hour or so. And while we are on the subject of alternate travel options, one can also get to Mussorie from Nainital by train – there is a night train from Kathgodam (which is the rail head for Naintail, about 35kms away) that gets you to Dehradun in 9 hours so that’s a good option as well.

Next destination – hoping it’ll be Kathmandu but that’s at least a few weeks away

Wonderful Nainital!

After sleeping like logs on Friday night, we woke up the next morning to welcome the rest of our group from Delhi. We were staying at the beautiful Sherwani Hilltop. The resort has wonderful views to offer and the China Peak serves as its backdrop. It is also reasonably well maintained, particularly the nursery and the lawns. This was also its downside as the caretaker wouldn’t allow us to play soccer or cricket on the lawns 😦 The biggest downside is that the resort is at the end of an extremely steep and winding road, but worry not – there are free shuttles from the resort that ferry passengers to and from the lake.

Once the rest of our group arrived, most of them settled down for a nice breakfast at the resort itself. A few of us were brave enough to venture down to one of the local dhabas for some authentic Nainital fare. And clearly that turned out to be a wise decision because the food comprising aalo, gobi and mooli parathaas with incredibly tasty dahi was just heavenly. The fatigue from the previous day’s journey was quickly forgotten and our vacation was off to a great start. We came back to the resort and played frisball for the next couple of hours. Lunch followed and then folks split off in various directions to do some fun stuff. The lake is about 4kms from the resort and a few of us wandered down to the lake, which is also the center of activity. After a quiet dinner at the resort, it was time to catch up on sleep for a lot of folks while the rest of us sat on the lawns for most of the night and talked about everything under the sun (or moon, in this case).

The next couple of days seemed to fly by although we didn’t seem to do much of anything – guess that’s what vacation is all about and before we knew it, the Nainital portion of our trip was coming to an end. We had a couple of interesting team activities planned while we were there. One of them was a quiz that some folks had prepared (entirely about the members of the group) and helped get people to do something together and have fun at the same time. The other was a TT tournament that was organized within the team (the resort had a TT table) that consumed a good portion of our Monday evening.

As for things we did while in Nainital, some of us hiked up to China Peak, or at least attempted to. The steep climb put my old age to test – combine that with my total lack of fitness, and I was forced to give up after a certain point. I still managed to get a bird’s eye view of the entire city and the valley below and it was simply spectacular. Its definitely worth a climb – take the road up hill from the Sherwani Hilltop and after about a km on the road, you will see a hiking trail take off on your right. Follow this trail up the mountain, all the way to China Peak. It is about 3kms or so, and will take 1.5 to 2 hours considering its an extremely steep climb. One bit of advice is to only do this climb if you believe you are fit 🙂

On the next day, a smaller group took the bus to Sattal and Naukuchiatal – i didn’t go and so cant comment much on how it was but the folks that did go thought the views, lake etc were excellent. It is about a 2 hour ride from Nainital – one hour down to the foothills and another hour or so from there. Another group went to Jageshwar, which apparently houses the oldest temple for Lord Shiva in India. They drove to the temple in a cab that cost about 2k for the day and it took them a little over 3 hours to get there.

Other attractions at Nainital include the ropeway, watching local boys play soccer in the stadium across the lake, boating in the lake, visiting the animal zoo and going to China (or Naina, as some people refer to it) Peak. Overall, we didn’t do much but that was also one of the objectives of this break. It was to relax in a scenic setting and get our batteries recharged, so not having a hectic activity schedule helped immensely. Finally, on Tuesday morning it was time to pack our bags and head towards Mussorie for our next stop!

Nainital, here we come…

After what seems like several months of tireless work in the office, my team decided to take a break and go on a morale-boosting trip to Nainital. Our flight to Delhi was at 6am and we barely managed to get there in time to catch it.

Factoring in some delay because it was Air Deccan wasn’t such a wise move, the flight was pretty much on time and got to Delhi around 8. We had hired a bus from Delhi but our group was split in two parts and the second bunch wasn’t arriving in Delhi until later that night. So the first batch had about 12 hours to kill – while most folks had plans to hang around in Delhi and take the bus, I had no intentions of staying back in the sweltering heat, so I decided to head to Nainital right away. Madhu (he’s a colleague – well worthy of a dedicated blog) said he would join me but wanted to see the India Gate – the two of us got inside a rickshaw and drove right past India Gate just so we could satisfy his requirement and headed towards the New Delhi railway station so we could figure out the quickest way to get to our destination. We passed thru Connaught place however and saw the Metro station – given all the good things I had heard about the Delhi metro, I had the sudden urge to ride it. So we jumped off the rick, went down to Nirulas for a breakfast buffet (Was 160 bucks and highly rated but certainly not worthy of either – I am trying to think of something positive to say about the food, but am drawing a complete blank) and then to the metro station.

The autowallah told us that taking a bus from the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal, I believe) might be the more practical approach because there were no trains available to Nainital in the morning, so we rode the metro to the Vishwavidhyala station, which is right outside the Rana Pratap ISBT. But as luck would have it, the buses to Nainital run from the Anand Vihar ISBT, which is oh, only several kilometres away. Plan before you leave on a trip people, PLAN! Took another auto to the Anand Vihar bus station and as luck would have it, two friendly looking agents accosted us as we were entering the station and offered to get us on a “high-tech” super deluxe bus for Nainital that was leaving in the next 10 minutes. I usually stay away from these agents, but one peek inside the bus station at the state-run buses was enough to convince me that a high-tech bus was worth a second look. So we faithfully followed the agent to the bus – there was nothing high-tech about it but it was mostly full and looked ready to leave. And my Delhite friend had warned me that there might be no state buses to Nainital at this time of the day, so we didn’t want to take a chance. We coughed up the Rs. 280 fare for the journey (to Nainital) and got two of the best seats in the house.

The bus didn’t really seem designed for humans – there was absolutely no room between seats and given both Madhu and I are reasonably tall, this 8-hour adventure was going to be a journey to hell. The bad news was that the worst was yet to come…The bus finally left about an hour later. It was 12:30pm by now and we were already tired. The agency had claimed there were no scheduled stops – clearly, we misunderstood. It just meant that none of the stops were scheduled. He was happy to stop at every street corner and pick up just about anyone that was heading remotely in the direction of Nainital. Despite all his attempts to keep us locked up like cattle forever, we managed to reach Haldwani at the foothills of Nainital after 8 hours of corporal punishment. And here is where the real shock came. He casually informed us that this was the last stop as the bus couldn’t climb the hills and that we were on our own from here on. When I asked him why our ticket said Nainital, he pleaded helplessness and blamed the agent for having made promises that couldn’t be honored. I tried arguing with him, but it was futile. And this is why you don’t ever trust the agents in India – I am very aware that I am generalizing here, but with good reason. They are all grade A crooks!

We got down and trekked to the taxi stand (there are no buses that go up the hill after sunset – so if you are planning to reach there by bus, make sure you get there before dusk) We started looking for a cab and the first guy that agreed to come wanted 800 bucks to drop us off because he would have to come back empty. We tried to bargain down, but 600 was his last offer. We refused and kept looking. An hour later, we were hungry, tired and frustrated because no one was willing to come. Finally found a jeep that agreed to take us for 650 and we happily agreed (all that training I took on Negotiation Skills and Strategies was clearly “helping”). We reached our resort an hour and a half later at 11pm – more than 18 hours after I left home and in very bad shape. After a hot shower, I was happy to hit the sack. Clearly, our vacation wasn’t starting off in great fashion, but the good news was that it could only get better from here. More on Nainital later…

The boon that is BSNL!

Since I am currently on an extended vacation, I figured I’d pay some attention to an activity that has long been pending – moving my old telephone connection to my new place. I was led to believe that this was going to be at most a 2 hour ordeal and that I would have my connection active in a couple of days time. One of my colleagues who had done this enough times to teach a PhD course on it guided me on the steps I needed to follow.

At the outset, I must confess that I had ignored the repeated pleas of the Telephones department to pay the last outstanding bill on my old connection. They were in possession of my security deposit and I figured they’d just keep that deposit. In any case, I trekked along to the BSNL customer service office and explained my situation. They gave me the most quizzical look in response – surely I wasn’t the first customer in this situation? In any case, the kind (yes, I am being sarcastic here) lady told me that outstanding bills had to be settled at the telephone bill payment center, which was oh, only a couple of miles away. Now why I couldnt simply pay my bill right there and be done once and for all, I will never understand. This was the telecommunications department – they had computers, they had fancy networks (ok, maybe not so fancy…but they appeared to be functional) and they had a wonderful, competent staff(!). It would obviously be the smart thing to do to let me pay my bill right there. In fact, there was even a teller who was accepting payments but wait – that teller only accepted current payments. If you had an overdue payment, the punishment meted out was that you had to travel to another site and pay it there – apparently those folks specialized in collecting overdue payments. There was no point arguing with these folks – if you have ever had the pleasure of interacting with a government agency, you’ll know why.

So I trudged along merrily to the “overdue payment cell”. But guess what, I wasnt quite going to be let off so easily. The person at the billing counter looked up my number and said my account was closed! what? why? when? how? Yeah right, he was going to answer all these questions, and in great detail too – in fact, thats his mission in life. Dream on! He ordered me to go to customer service and ask them instead – after all, they were meant to do exactly that, serve customers. That they think its the customers that need to come serve them is a different story altogether, but in any case, I headed back to my original destination. And no, just in case you were wondering, they weren’t happy at all to see me back there.

Finally, she took the pains of looking up my number in the system and confirmed the bad news – my account had indeed been closed, but rightfully so because I had ignored their numerous attempts to get me to pay up. Fair enough, I thought. But hey, that wasn’t all – she also told me that the department had money left over from my deposit (now I was smiling) after taking their dues and sent me on another merry little adventure to go get that money. And yes, you guessed right – that’s at another location, the refunds department. She scribbled some numbers on a piece of paper and asked me to refer that to the refunds clerk. When I got there, I was shocked to see the clerk pull out this huge ledger and start digging for my number – and just case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t sorted or anything like that. She knew approximately when the entry had been made and was putting Google to shame with her searching abilities. Forty five agonizing minutes later, we (it was a collective effort) managed to find the entry and they had apparently sent the check to my old address and it had bounced. The check was still intact in her office in another neatly arranged stack, but that now involved a fresh search to find the right check – Gawd, this was one of the most technical departments in a country that is supposedly at the forefront of technology, driving change all over the world, and yet, right here in our midst is a process that is completely manual and inefficient. One wonders why we are so proud of how far India has come – all that progress means nothing if we cant turn around and apply it in our own internal systems first. The amount of paperwork and manual data entry that was happening inside that tiny office was just shocking – its an absolute disaster.

In any case, I picked up my check and went back to the customer service department again (we were starting to like each other now – I clearly had my reasons, they had just helped me get my money back that I didnt even know existed) to accomplish my primary objective, that of getting a phone connection for my new place. Thankfully, what followed was far less painful and six hours since I had started, I was done submitting my application. The lady assured me my phones would be working, and now, 10 days later, there is no trace of the wonders of modern communication ever gracing my humble abode. I called customer service again (no, I don’t learn!) and they told me they had technical difficulties because the capacity of their cables in our neighborhood was saturated. Can you believe that? They had no more cables to serve my area!!! It doesn’t get much better than this. I should give Mr. Friedman a call and tell him that there are some parts of the world that still aren’t quite flat. Anyways, they are apparently working on a solution to free up some capacity and they asked me to hold my line until that happens. India is shining, and so is BSNL!!