Quick impressions of Guwahati

I spent just a shade over 48 hrs in Guwahati, I thought I’d share my impressions while they are still fresh.

Most travel guides and listings from lonely planet to trip advisor would like you to believe that the only attractions in town are the temples and river cruises, and that you should view it only as a gateway to the NorthEast. It is true only so far as it being no different to any major indian city or state capital; it is far more cosmopolitan than most though.

To me, the best indicator of cosmopolitanism is the wide range of eateries a city has and Guwahati scores pretty high on this front and affordability too. You can get a typical unlimited vegetarian thali, which is referred to simply as rice (bhaat) over here for as little as ₹40, the non-vegetarian option for around ₹75. Win!

The public transport is well organized too, you can choose from state run buses, private buses, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and shared taxis. The bus network is pretty extensive and from what I could gather there are 4 major hubs, interchanges, call it what you will; Jhalukbari, Beltola, Khanapara and Paltan Bazar.

Paltan Bazar is also where a backpacker ought to stay. It is situated around the Guwahati railway station( if you happen to arrive through other station i.e. Kamakhya Jn, its a 20 min bus ride, fare ₹ 10).You have a huge choice of hotels from the very basic to the snazzy. The aforementioned gamut of eateries are also spread around the Paltan bazar, Ulubari,GS road area. The state museum, state arts&crafts center are walking distance from here, so is the kachari ghat, one of the many ferry points.

Which brings us to something that I found disappointing, there is hardly any riverfront infrastructure. For a city based on the banks of Bhramaputra, I found this very odd. There is a park next to the kachari ghat but it seemed more like one of those that young couples seek out. On the same road i.e. MG road is the Uzan Bazar fish market, although I walked by it in the late evening when it was shut, by the looks of it, I’m pretty sure it would be thriving each morning.

If you are from Guwahati and find any of the info here inaccurate or incomplete, please let me know by commenting below and I will incorporate it in the post.

RJ Siddharth’s IRF 2015 Zurich experience

Our good friend RJ Siddharth, writes about his experience of the International Radio Festival and Switzerland. Originally published here.Writing a travelogue is an uphill task, at least for me. It involves facts, dates, places and a good amount of creative writing as well. I’m not a writer by nature. I guess that’s why I like Twitter the most. Posts, tweets and one-liners excite me more than the long format. However, this time I didn’t have an escape route. I had to write, and honestly speaking, I wanted to; as there were so many things that happened in what I consider the 10 best days of my life. It’s important to pen them down, document them, and treasure them for the rest of my life.

As I said, since I’m not a skilled writer, order is a serious problem. So, this piece is going to be non-linear. My journey started from the day my name was announced as the winner of ‘Sound of India’ contest by Radioandmusic.com. I was selected to represent India at the International Radio Festival (popularly known as IRF) in Zurich, Switzerland. I was elated and excited, but didn’t actually know how interesting it was going to be. The number of likes on my FB page and the number of congratulatory messages did give me some hint, but I still wasn’t fully aware of the scale of recognition. The seriousness set in from my first meeting with the Switzerland Tourism people (Claudio and team), along with Anil Wanwari and Simona from Radioandmusic.com. For the first time I got the hint of the magnanimity of this festival called IRF. The process of getting a visa, documentation, interviews etc. kept me engaged for the next 15 days or so. And before I knew it, I was packing my bags, post my routine show, to catch the midnight Swissair flight to Zurich. Aanchal, my show producer, Tarachand and Jaya Wanwari from Radioandmusic.com kept me good company.

Zurich was different. It was supposed to be. Though there’s a time difference of three and a half hours (we are ahead of them), it really didn’t matter to me. We reached the hotel, checked in, and since I’m a foodie, I headed straight to the restaurant. Tarachand, familiar with the place, took charge of planning. His first choice was Mount Titlis,  a hill more than 10,000 ft above sea level followed by the enamouring sights and sounds of the trams, shops, Zruich HB (the main station), Swiss people, language and the suburban train. Believe me, nothing was complicated. I was enjoying the bright sunshine of one of the most beautiful places on earth called Switzerland. The trains were not only comfortable, but actually enjoyable. That’s when it dawned on me; you don’t need to find a tourist spot in Switzerland. It’s so calm, pristine and serene that you just want to indulge yourself in its original, natural beauty. View of lakes surrounded by mountains along the railway tracks takes you to a surreal world. That was my first brush with Switzerland.

Mount Titlis was a sight for sore eyes, the most interesting bit being the feeling of “a home away from home” given the number of Indians and a life size cut out of Raj and Simran. It was YRF’s Switzerland, a kind of tribute. Numerous honeymooner, some newly-weds, and some celebrating their 25th, made an otherwise deserted hill top a vibrant tourist destination. And guess what! The only shop at the beginning of Mt Titlis was an Indian joint serving Wada Pav, Samosa, Idli and Chai (of course in Francs, which converted to a few hundred in rupees for mere 90 ml tea).

The journey back to the hotel was even more interesting with evenings in Switzerland breezy enough to take you into yet another zone.

Behind every beauty lies a story that makes it even more beautiful. The very next day we had Annemarie from Zurich tourism to take us through the historical old Zurich city.

received_10153712111168159Aah! The beauty of this city was redefined when we reached the old part of the city. How the old charm and history of a city can be retained without lagging behind in modernisation is something the whole world should learn from Switzerland, particularly Zurich. She introduced us to the churches, the history, the making of the city, the politics, business, transactions and behaviour; everything that makes a city what it is. At 11 AM the whole city began to echo with the sound of gongs, in perfect harmony. We saw the house where Lenin once stayed, 1916-1917, before being sent to Russia in a sealed train. It stood as an eminent symbol of Zurich’s role in world politics. Of course, how can I forget the Zurich Lake! Most of the cities in Switzerland are surrounded by some of the most beautiful lakes. The view from the new to the old city, while cruising on the lake is easily one of the most picturesque, natural scenes of the world. The brick structured roads of the old city reminded me of certain parts of Colaba, and Park Street in Kolkata, and I then realised that it’s a common characteristic of old architecture in most parts of the world.

 

 

Walking down memory lane of history in the old city, throughreceived_10153712110558159 the roads, we reached a place called Hiltl. It’s the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world and the way it’s being managed by Raulf Hiltl, the third generation of Hiltls, is inspiring. Out of the 50 odd staff members working there, I found one from Hoshiarpur, working as a cook; a shy guy but an amazing cook. I also met a girl from Nepal with two passions in life – cooking and Shahrukh Khan! Her favourite number is ‘Tum paas aaye, yun muskuraaye’. There is no logical explanation to Shahrukh and Switzerland being summoned in the same breath, but the connection is evidently there.

 

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Love in any language sounds the same. When I met my two fellow radio show hosts from Italy, Marco and Flippo, and received an invitation to their live show at IRF, I got them to listen to a Hindi song, shot in the Grand Canal of Venice. They were mesmerized; each person present was spellbound. The song was Pancham Da’s composition from ‘The Great Gambler’ called ‘Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahani’. Amore Mio

 

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Radio may differ across geographies, but a few things are definitely common; the love for music, the curiosity to know everything, an urge to travel across the world, and certainly the love for food. That is how we bondreceived_10153712110448159ed. I met a few radio jockeys at lunch, like Tim from Kiss FM, Autralia, his wife who works for the same radio station and their 9 year old daughter Bianca; literally a radio family. We discussed food and the obvious, radio. Another Italian jockey I engaged in conversation with was Paola, who does a show on six degrees of separation. The concept is that any two people can be connected through 6 degrees of separation, and while talking we found our 6 degrees though Mozart, Salil Chowdhary and the song ‘Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha’. Music is global and so is radio, and the IRF is a ringing reminder of it.

The IRF gave me a platform to interact with radio presenters from across the globe. Normsky, from the UK, one of the most famous radio personalities, is a gypsy by nature, a live wire defying his age continuously, avid music buff and one of the coolest persons around. There was also Tony Prince from Kiss FM, UK, radio stalwart who probably taught half the world about radio. My Italian connection hadn’t completed a full circle until I met Chiarra, a sound artist who could create melody with almost anything. This time she came up with a magical sound piece created from parts of a Swatch. We found our common interest in Italian films and film makers, from De Sica to Fellini, Benigni and Antonioni. That’s when I took the opportunity of introducing her to a magician from India, Pancham da, who created a unique rhythm using a half filed bottle of Coke. From her expression, I knew she was in complete awe and disbelief of the maestro. She promised to remix this very song, ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ from ‘Sholay’, and send it to me as a present. This very promise inspired me to design my show for the next morning, live from Zurich, at 9am.

The history of Hindi films music, through songs, musicians, singers, changing socio-political scenario, instruments, film makers from the 1950s to the 1980s. Yes that’s it. I started with the medley from ‘Hum Kisi se Kam Nahi’, went on ‘Awara hun’ to Salil Chowdhary to SD Burman to ‘Dhanno Ki Aankhon Mein’ to the flanger Pancham Da used in the song to ‘Laila o Laila’ from ‘Qurbani’. People not only stopped to listen, but joined in as well, tapping their feet and bobbing their heads, including Tony Prince, who was moving and grooving to ‘Laila O’ Laila’. They got a taste of the evolution of Hindi film music over the period of time and the experiments done by the great musicians in this part of the world, and they loved every minute of it.

The show was followed by one of the biggest parades in Europe called Love Parade. More than 1 million people came from different cities and countries (the population of Zurich is 1,92,000) and assembled near the lake. The city wore a different look that day. It was a different Zurich.

Over the next two days, leisure was completely ours. We visited Interlaken, the meeting of two lakes; a beautiful, serene, pristine, received_10153712105023159picture perfect to me. I saved my last day for a trip to the Swiss National Museum. Built in 1898, it is an oyster of European history and culture. The maze structure, the lighting, the audio visuals, the architecture, the history, the artefacts and a whole section dedicated to Alois Carigiet, renowned painter from Zurich. I was lost and knowingly so, lost in the maze, in the history of Europe and Switzerland when I felt a pat on my back. It was one of the staff members from the museum. “The time is up sir” he said. Yes, my time here was up. It was time to pack my bags (plural owing to all my gift and souvenir shopping) and leave one of the most beautiful places on earth, for one of the most happening places called India. Au revoir.

Watch the recording of Siddharth’s radio broadcast at IRF here->http://chew.tv/irfradiofest/927-big-fm-india-29082015

Travelling without an identity

This afternoon as I was clipping my nails, I noticed that there was still some of that indelible ink on one of them. I couldn’t help but think of the surfeit of ‘inked-finger selfies’ and how questions of what it meant to be an “Indian” were raised,right through the overcharged coverage of the recent elections and the debates that followed in our living rooms and on our social media feeds.

 

Eventually, my train of thought brought  me to the Andaman islands and how I had to travel without any papers on me.

 

This was back in 2009, I had just graduated from my management course and had sometime before I took up my first job. My friend Vikram and I decided to head to Andaman before we moved to the concrete jungles of  Bombay.

 

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I met up with him in Calcutta and after couple of days of Calcutta rolls, drinking and general tomfoolery, we took off from Dum Dum or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport as it is now called. It was only after we collected our baggage at Port Blair that I realised that I had lost my wallet.

Initially I was worried about how I would now feed myself, it slowly dawned on me that I had no papers of identity on me.  I could get out of the airport now, but how would I enter it on my way back? Some of the places we planned to visit were national parks, protected areas and such,we required permits to enter them, we need to book ourselves on ferries. How would we get hotel rooms? We were thousands of miles away from mainland India, how would I get back home?

It was scary for a while, but I remember feeling liberated as well. No “baggage”.

Thankfully, I managed to get scanned copies of  my passport emailed to me and the rest of the trip went on without a hitch. It actually is one of my favourite journeys, I had a lot of fun. Seafood, scuba diving, lounging in lagoons, mini gigs by the beach.

These islands are truly amazing, the biodiversity and untainted natural beauty is breathtaking. For a visitor, it’s nothing short of a tropical paradise but being in such  remote places must be hard on the locals, they rely on  supply ships for even the most basic of their needs, they don’t seem to complain much though.

 

Click here for more pictures from my old facebook album

 

When I look back now,I realise that even while I was having the time of my life, I kept thinking about what the future holds in store for me. I was full of hope and with all the naivety of someone in their early 20’s was looking forward to joining work. Sort of like, how the average Indian is hopeful about his new government, let’s see how that pans out.

 

P.S.

Travel Tip: Now with smartphones and google drives and services like dropbox, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep track of your documents and tickets. Always save multiple copies of various id proofs, tickets and other reservations , having a few hard copies wouldn’t hurt either especially if travelling alone or to remote locations.

The Himalayan Village Sonapani

We attended the Sonapani film festival last weekend. To know more about the film festival you could head over to our other blog.

The film festival is held in the hills of Uttarakhand at the quaint and tranquil Himalayan Village Sonapani, an eco resort, that strives to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

Apart from being an ideal weekend getaway, the Himalayan Village and the people behind it, Ashish & Deepa are actively involved in engaging with local community and creating self sustenance.

It isn’t really a budget destination, but it’s alright and fun to stretch your budgets occasionally.We highly recommend visiting Sonapani.

 

42

The only way a budget traveller could get  to Yumthang is to be a part of a package tour. We took one. This meant that we 3, rather well padded men spend one day in a jeep with 7 other passengers plus the driver travelling from Gangtok up to Lachung, spend a night at Lachung, leave at the crack of dawn, reach Yumthang in about an hr, spend a little time there and drive all the way back to Gangtok.

All 3 of us did not like this, but had to go along as this was the only option that suited our budgets. Everything changed once we landed up at Lachung on a starlit night. The next morning the urge to give it a shot without worrying about the consequences intensified. We just had to stay an extra night.

This meant we had to find a place to stay the night.

In a place where hardly anyone stays the night this time of the year. In a place which primarily acts a feeding ground for package tourists. In place where the only functioning guesthouse needs to booked in advance from Gangtok. In an immensely serene setting.

How?

The answer to everything is ’42’.