Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Discover the Technology behind Your Hotel Stay

Goa is one of the smallest states in India, and little more than a dot on the country’s map. Yet did you know the coastal state played host to over three million visitors last year? The internationally renowned holiday hotspot attracts guests both from abroad and the expanding Indian middle-class, and the 101 kilometers of Goa’s coast has an impressive density of 3000 hotels!

ImageWith guests flooding in, the state has all types of hotels – from luxury to lodges. The high frequency of visitors and high occupancy rates means few hospitality properties can manage without software. Yes, behind your wonderful hotel stay, there is software and technology that notes your bill at the bar, food ordered up to your room, services availed of at the spa, and clothes you sent for laundering.

When your stay at the hotel ends, the software will send out a ‘Thank you’ SMS. The hotel will continue to stay in touch with you and wish you on your birthday and other special occasions. Expect to receive emails or SMS’s on special offers and discounts at the hotel, and when you come back next year with your wife or friends, the hotel staff will greet you by name.

Thanks to the hotels guest history feature. Hotel staff will already know the newspaper you like to read, the type of pillow you requested during your last visit, and even the drinks and food you enjoyed at their restaurant. At last, you are not just another revenue figure; you have found a little comfort zone away from home.

Hotel staff come and go, shifts change, but your favourite hotel knows your needs.

All this is made possible by a large hotel property management system that works ceaselessly – day and night. Did you know, a hotel property management system can be fairly complex, and includes software modules like Front Office Management which you can encounter at the lobby, Point of Sale in the restaurant, Accounts Receivables to manage payments, Finance Management, Housekeeping, Inventory Management, Telephone Management, HR and Payroll, Food and Beverage Costing, Quality Management, Banquets and Conferences, Sales and Marketing and more.

Yes, almost every department of your hotel is managed by its comprehensive property management system. This may seems strange, for all you see are smiling hotel staff at your beck and call. But it is precisely this software, which manages the large number of hotel operations and enables its staff to serve you well.

Added to this massive software that runs the hotel almost seamlessly, are a host of other applications too. From key cards, to fancy tablet based e-menu applications to wow you with sumptuous foods, mobile check-in so you walk straight to your room, to customized in-room entertainment. The list can go on.

The Indian Middle Class is traveling

As the Indian middle class expands, it is expected to exceed 600 million in India. This is a spurring growth in the travel and hospitality industry. The recent economic downturn may have curbed the construction of five-star hotels, but the mid-market segment of four and three star hotels is booming. Research[1] shows the millennials – those born between 1980 -2000 are expected to be avid travelers, love urban locales, travel in organized groups and use mobile phones and social media to post travel reviews.

You may expect to see more technology making its way rapidly into hotels with wi-fi and mobility apps. From the hoteliers perspective software as a service (SaaS) is the next big thing.

How safe are the details you give your hotel?

However, everything is not hunky dory with the hospitality industry. More recently, hotel software has come under the scanner for being vulnerable to hacking. Yes you read right. Hotels see hundreds of guests each year. Larger the hotel, bigger the size of their database. Cards – debit and credit- are the easiest and arguably the safest mode of payment, yet it is exactly this information that attracts hackers. Trolling the web for systems they can break into, and data they can easily steal and sell, hackers find hospitality property management systems easy to breach.

1Doug Meal, partner at Ropes & Gray, says “data breaches at hospitality-related businesses account for as much as 40% of all data security breaches.”  Thankfully there is a way around it. Some countries require hotel software to be PCI DSS compliant. This means payment card details are stored in an encrypted format and are thus hacker proof. India has not enacted this legislation which requires hotel software to be PCI or PA DSS compliant. However IDS NEXT, a hotel software provider with over 26 years of experience providing hospitality technology that has a large presence in the Goa hospitality industry is PA DSS compliant. This obviously is not only a huge benefit for the hotel industry, but for guests visiting these hotels too.

It’s Fine Weather and Lovely in Sri Lanka

It was my second trip to the island nation but I still couldn’t hold back the excitement. As the small 70 seater Spice Jet plane landed, welcoming us to Sri Lanka was a huge coconut grove on the left and the inviting blue of the sea to the right, the humid sultry wind and yippee it’s the warmest embrace of the emerald island.

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The crushing hordes of Bangalore seem light years behind and after just a 45 minute flight I am well into a beautiful country with lovely people, cleaner air and surrounded by uncharacteristic bonhomie.

There are so many things about this country, which is just about the size of one of the larger states of India that are still so fundamentally different and uniquely pleasant from its towering neighbor.

Colombo is prim in a gently, elegant sort of way.  Broad roads straddled by clean, even footpaths, zebra crossing at regular intervals and if you are at a crossing, vehicles stop – from Prius to Trishaws as they are called in Sri Lanka. Drivers look out and smile and people are kind and sensitive to each other and to strangers too!

What really stands out in Sri Lanka are the perfectly flat roads in all the places I traveled, from Colombo to Kandy, Dambulla to Sigiriya. Not a single speed breaker. Drivers strictly follow the rules and if you are in a Prius, the drive is as comfortable as a flight or better actually.

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Standing by the lake just off Gangaramaya Temple I ogle at Prius, Audis, BMWs and Mercs passing by. Owning a car is extremely expensive in Sri Lanka, taxes can be nearly two and a half times the price of the car, but the Lankan’s have class, it does not seem like they will settle for anything less than the best, and the Government likes to keep it that way. What you can’t fail to miss is organized Colombo is the noise, smoke and bustle of Indian roads. Vehicles don’t honk unless the driver ahead has broken a rule and in that way they monitor each other.

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Most people speak English, are innately helpful, friendly and hospitable to others. It’s not uncommon to see lots of tourist from France and other Scandinavian countries with tiny kids in tow. Isn’t it hard to travel with children I inquired, “No” they said, “people here are extremely helpful if they see you have kids”. Lankan’s are also an honest and hardworking people and you can see it in the zest with which they are rebuilding the country to take its rightful place on the international tourism map.

The courtesy and law abiding mannerism of the Sri Lankan people really displayed itself one my first day there. A friend was taking a picture of Independence Square and a car actually stopped not to ruin her picture. Unthinkable from where I come from. On our way to Kandy the next day, we just about managed to get train tickets in the general compartment. Since there was a festival at Kandy, the compartment was crowded. Even though the second class boogie was empty, I was asked to desist from heading there and grabbing a seat by my Sri Lankan friend who said, “If people with tickets don’t get in at the next station, I will go meet the ticket collector and we will pay for the upgrade”.  Chastened, I chose to enjoy the beautiful shades of green as the train gently ascended to higher climbs.

Did you know, the Lankan’s like to sing. They have ‘Only Bollywood’ radio stations and folks love to watch Hindi movies. Young boys and girls grow up with deep crushes for Katrina Kaif and Shahrukh Khan. Not only do they sing Bollywood song, they also sing Sinhala songs, set to Bollywood tunes!

Just like the lovely people, the food is soft on the pallet and low on fat and spice. String hoppers with fish, chicken or pork curry, egg hoppers, Kottu Parotta, fish, Buryani, Dodol, ginger beer, sweetened tea are all wonderfully delicious foods and beverages. If however you still want to grab a brunch or snack early evening, Perera and Sons or P&S as it is popularly known is a welcome respite.

For those who haven’t heard Sinhala, it sounds very similar to a South Indian language, yet without the emphatic highs and sharp edges. With gentle lilting contours, Sinhala can drone on and on in a melodious feminine way, like the hills to Kandy.

But what fascinated me most was the Sri Lankan currency. Paper notes come in a number of hues, sizes and prints, and brought back to me the childhood excitement at a game of Monopoly. The denominations range from Re 1 to Rs 2000, and I just couldn’t resist keeping back some colourful blue, pink and green.

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Sri Lanka is steeped in Buddhism with a smattering of Islam and Christianity. There are little temples and statues of the meditating Buddha everywhere, and it is probably this rich tradition of non-violence, love for your brethren and search for equanimity that overarches and crafts Sri Lankan tradition and culture.  Besides the Gangaramaya Temple, is the Kelaniya temple just 12 kms from Colombo, the tooth temple in Kandy is a sacred pilgrimage spot, the golden and cave temples in Dambulla are yet another sight and the Lion foot and the Pidurangala Cave Temples at Sigiriya offer panoramic vistas that are memorable. All the temple are rich is frescos from ground to ceiling, and display stories on the life of the Buddha, if you have a guide explaining along the way that would be most helpful, if not, would you care to do a week’s research.

Sri Lanka is also famed for its quite pristine beaches and snorkeling and with the decades of war at an end, once isolated beaches in East or North Sri Lanka are being developed.

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However just because the country seems small don’t think you can wrap your holiday around it in less than a week, the roads are excellent, but narrow and driving is slow. That’s why zipping around Sri Lanka is just not an option, and I firmly believe one needs to know what they want before they head there. It’s either the beach or the pilgrimage sites. That makes for either a longer stay or two holidays. Relax, enjoy yourself, don’t waste your time trying to shop and just take in the wonderful ambiance called Sri Lanka.

Holidaying in Gods Own Country

Statistics on tourism in Kerala are all UP!! According to figures put out by the Government of Tourism, Kerala saw an 11.18 % increase in foreign tourist arrival in 2012. Domestic tourist arrival was up by 9.15%, so were foreign exchange earnings, which grew by 11.18% and total revenue from tourism grew 9.74%. Not bad during recessionary time and I’m not surprised by the numbers.

Its balmy winter in Bangalore, but we decided on an extended weekend in Kerala. We were driving down there for a colleagues wedding. Five in the morning, dawn is ready to break and our Punto rushed to get out of the city before it awakes. Beautiful four lane drives, mist flanking the road, plants lining the highway and occasionally a bright bunch of flowers too, the characteristic granite reliefs of the South, some excellent music and we were cruising at 100 kms per hour. Thank you Reeves Mathews for wonderfully managing the wheels!

A huge breakfast of blueberry pancakes, fresh fruits and croissants, at Salem and off we shot for lunch in Palakkad, Kerala. Simple yet tasty fair beef fry and parotas, on bone chain plats at a small yet well maintained restaurant along the highway, some awesome view works well with the wonderful food.

We were in Kerala for three whole days, all in Palakkad district, and we never encountered a bad road! Tree lined roads, with dividers and reflectors, 98% of drivers are well behaved and this is another feather in Kerala’s cap.

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After my first encounter with beef, I decided that the weather, which is hot and humid like all coastal places, is just not conducive to red meat. And boy, was it the right decision. For subsequently, we really pigged out on some of the freshest and tastiest fish I have ever eaten. No small feat, considering I come from another coastal state just up North – Goa.

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Unlike Goa, Kerala is neither overpriced, nor nauseously commercial. For hours you drive through villages of pretty modern homes, all painted in bright hues, and sitting midst a generous garden. The crush of people that you see in cities like Bangalore, is thankfully missing, the air is fresh and when the humidity gets to you, stop by for some tender coconut water, pickled pineapple or even tangy Amala. How’s that for a healthy snack?

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We stayed at a beautiful hotel called Devaragam in the holy town of Guruvayur. Quiet, lovely airy rooms, polite staff, pleasant décor, and affordable, its shouting distance from the temple. December – January is Sabarimala season in Kerala and devotees invariable stop over at Guruvayur too. That explained the rush at the temple.

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The Guruvayur temple is a very popular Krishna temple and is amazingly small and filled with wooden carvings and frescos. It reminded me that the temple was probably built for a much smaller population. It is auspicious to get married at this temple, so each year hundreds, or probably thousands of couples tie the knot here. Strangely, the religious ceremony lasts for 3-4 minutes and then it’s the turn of the next couple!

Post the wedding, which was an elaborate, grand occasion and typically Malyalee from ‘Oh My Gold’ fame, we drove down to Snehatheeram beach. Narrow, clean and uncrowded, the Snehatheeram beach mostly sees the local population and a few fishermen mending their nets. The beach is lined with coconut trees, the sand dunes and their vegetation still intact. We saw just one foreigner in all our time there, how she located the place is probably a credit to Google maps.

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The next day saw a long drive along hairpin curves to Thirapally waterfalls. It seems some scenes of the Hindi movie Raavan were shot here. It’s a huge gushing barrage of water and you can see it both from the top of the fall or experience its might by going down to its foot.

Some great company, a sure driver who enjoys the road and Kerala can be super fun, affordable and of course memorable too.

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Holidaying In the Wild South – Nagarhole

A small diversion of the beautiful 8 lane Bangalore – Mysore freeway, down some terrible narrow roads and Bingo, you are smack in the middle of Nagarhole National Park, also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park. It was a long weekend in early May and we decided, like scores of others to hightail out of simmering Bangalore.

Unknowingly, but with a happy coincidence we had booked a homestay on the periphery of the national park and so boy, did we feast our eyes.

Nagaraj, mom who was down from Goa and myself, all in a battered down sumo vehicle, the bad roads and rattling vehicle notwithstanding, we were all geared for some wild excitement!

A check-post, sign in your car number,  a few kilometers ahead a big board says welcome to Nagarhole National Park

The sights and sounds of modern life recede and we drive down a single lane bumpy road. The signal on our phone vanishes and we drive and drive through dry forest. It’s May, and there are shades of brown starting from just off the road. The only bright colours are the boards that spring up at regular intervals our left and right. Put up by the forest department, the boards are instructional, like “do not stop your vehicle”, “do not get out of your vehicle”, “do not honk”, “do not drive above 30 kms an hour”, “speed kills” animals in this case, common sense stuff really, but when you are a moron from a city I guess this is indeed helpful stuff.

The trees are cleared 3 meters off on each side of the road and then the scrub begins. These clearings with roughly hewn holes have been carefully designed so that wide-eyed folks like us see more wild animals. It had rained the night before and at a little pool by the side of the road we were face to face with an India gaur. You recognize an Indian gaur, not only from its large size and huge hump, but its 4 white socked feet as well. It’s amazing to be before such a magnificently large creature but god help if it’s in a bad mood and decides to charge.

Spotted deer range free and often break the scrub and bushes to nibble off at tender green leaves facing the road. Male deer’s have majestic antlers that stretch out skywards; females with little ones are a bit skittish. As luck could have it we even saw a pair of barking deer. These are tiny deer really compared to their spotted cousins and you need to have a keen eye to see them. Thankfully, Nagaraj who even others has eyes like a hawk kept stopping the driver every few minutes.

Like deer, wild boar was plentiful and small herds could be seen foraging among leaves and swampy grasses. We bumped into a playful pack of wild dogs and saw mongoose scampering by, couldn’t get that one on film. A tree stripped off every leaf but full of wild figs had as many as six Giant Indian Squirrels eating up with gay abandon, we caught pictures of the Racket Tail Drongo, peacock and wild hens.

The mornings were especially beautiful as the mist hung heavy over the forest and the haunting call of the cuckoo rang from tree to tree. Parrots and parakeets broke into periodic cacophony and in this surreal setting, Nagaraj chanced upon a herd of 4 elephants with a calf.

Nagarhole is surrounded by coffee plantations and human habitation is constantly shrinking the forest, when the surroundings are loaded with fruit, especially jackfruit, the strong fragrance draws elephants which rampage through the coffee plantations. But that does not stop plantation owners from growing a few jackfruit trees anyway.

The road through Nagarhole leads to Kerala and though it is a narrow, ill maintained road there is a fair among of traffic roaring by, most drivers are disciplined and the area is clean. One can also stay at government lodging in the heart of the forest and go on jungle safaris. Patrolling the forest are guards who live in small thatched houses with smooth floors and walls. Even as wild animals roam free, so do villages and little children. Schooling looks to be rather rudimentary.

In a couple of places we had boards which meant that tigers are sighted in those areas and even though we went early one morning hoping the gods would favour us with an apparition, our luck did not hold through.

At the very end of the forest was a little post office, which I found most intriguing, but you never know, some people might just be sending out an annual letter to the animals each Christmas 😉

Pics by Nagaraj Papanna and me

Bannerghatta National Park

Where Wild meets Domestic!

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Every once in a while, we root for our animal way of life and feel the need to head back to the company of the wild. That’s probably why zoos were set up. Bannerghatta National Park is on the outskirts of Bangalore, it is amazing that you can drive down to in a little over an hour. Bangalore is small indeed!. The transition from concrete jungle to real jungle, of real trees, grass, birds and animals, comes as an almost shock to the senses.

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At Bannerghatta National Park, Savio, his wife Jane and me, set out first on the Grand Safari!!. I found this safari amusing. We were locked in this mini bus with mesh over the windows, and little holes from where you could get pictures, and we drove off to see the sad lions, tigers, bears and deer.

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Its summer now and the predominant colour in the landscape is brown. The tigers panted in the receding shade of trees striped bear of their foliage. The lions lay sleeping on their sides in melancholy depression. The Bears walked along the barbed wires, on well worn animal tracks, the bears were probably the worst hit; they had a small enclosure and being a fairly large number, had trodden it to a dust bowl. Most of those in the bus however could not see the sad state of the animals and were lapping up the sight of these large carnivores and herbivores as we drove by.

The highpoint of the safari however came when, to one particularly exciting sight, the decibels in the bus increased sharply and the guide shouted, “No sounding”, he might as well have added the word ‘your horn’ and this instruction sent me in splits :)))))))))

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Towards the end of the bus ride we got off the bus at the Butterfly Park, and were glad to leave the ‘sounding’ crowd behind. The butterfly park was an adventure in itself. A Green House, brimming over with all kinds of common flowering plants and yes, hundreds of butterflies. Savio, aspires to be a part time photographer and soon got trigger happy. All the pictures in this post are his, and so you’ll agree that he is getting there, sure and steady :).

Amidst the bright coloured shoe flowers and butterflies was this little gushing stream full of a colourful set of gold fish that swam, back and forth, entertaining the milling crowd. After nearly an hour at the butterfly park, we took a small detour for a quick lunch and then headed straight into the zoo.

Bannerghatta National Park doesn’t have much by way of restaurants and food is sold at a premium, so it’s best you carry your own food and water if you’ve particular about what you eat and how much you pay for it.

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The zoo has this large congregation of the wild, from all kinds of birds to a wide range of animals and reptiles by way of snakes and an iguana. What stole the show for me though, were the 3 king cobras! the first I’ve ever seen upfront, the 3 Hippos, they make this awesome grunting sound and the Indian Hornbill with its huge yellow beak, honestly I didn’t know that bird was so large. By the way, the zoo also has this nice huge cage with pelicans and herons and you can actually see some of them building nests high in the iron ribs of the roof.

While the park is reasonably well maintained, I think much needs to be done by way of making it accessible for people with disabilities, especially flattening out areas or putting little mud ramps so that those on wheelchairs can move along.

The zoo is full of benches and little huts that you can open a picnic basket in, but plastics in the zoo are banned and people are checked to ensure they don’t take plastic in. however this does not stop some stupid people throwing stuff at animals. Like we saw one of the Langoors chewing on a plastic pen!

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Transport to and from the park is terrific. You have these beautiful Volvos that take an hour and a half from the Majestic bus station and you travel in this great air conditioned bus all for the princely sum of Rs 28!, no jokes J

So go ahead, visit the Bannerghatta National Park J

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Sankranti in Keeramanda

Sankranti in Keeramanda

ScenerySankranti the harvest festival is celebrated all over India under various names, Lohri in the North, Makaharra Sankranti in the North West, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and so on.

As most of you would know, India is largely agrarian and the heart of this country still beats among the rich and vast variety of grain and cash crops that are grown in the country. Sankranti is celebrated when the first crop is harvested, it is a time of thanks giving to the Gods, to the mother earth and gusto in the celebrations is determined by the plentifulness of the crop.

This year, as part of the Adobe project, five of my colleagues and me found ourselves in Keeramanda. Keeramanda is a tiny clutch of mud huts on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border and actually falls in AP. We were there on a three day film shoot as we planned to make a short film on how Keeramanda celebrates Sankranti, the much awaited harvest festival.

We had heard that on Sankranti this village held a competition, in which hundreds of bulls from the village and neighboring ones would gather and to the sound of much hollering and screaming there would be a race. A small crowded 100 yard stretch where the bulls would have to run, and the one who managed to complete the race fastest, and this year the time set was 8 seconds, would win a fairly large prize. But wait, I’m moving too fast.

reservoir_2We arrived in the village of Keeramanda two days earlier and set up camp in the thatched extension of the house of a distant relative. Spending most of my days in the dirt, dust, noise and hurry of Bangalore, Keeramanda was the ideal get away. A four hour bumpy ride away from forgettable Bangalore and we were in the lap of nature, green verdant hills, the sound of bulbuls and parakeets filling our ears, the little village pond waited invitingly and we needed no invitation. I and the guys plunged in head long, swimming from one end of shallow pond to the other in long languid strides. The air much much cleaner, cooler. The pace of life so much slower, time to smell the flower and watch the birds fly by, we pulled out our camera and shot away, footage and stills, we just couldn’t get enough.

sun-riseOn the day of Sankranti the village wakes up at 3 in the morning to make large fires, where they sit around and warm themselves and at the first cock crow which signals eminent dawn the women of the house get bustling, making pots of hot water for all to bath in. They then head into the courtyard to do the traditional Rangoli.

rangoliThe Rangoli is a decoration on the floor, done in various coloured powered; The Rangoli is usually done everyday in the courtyard, but for Sankranti and such other festivals it’s done in an elaborate manner. Besides numerous other things the Rangoli for Sankranti must include the relief of two large sugarcane stocks made in brown powder, with green foliage on top, and a pot in the centre.

Sugarcane is another central part of Sankranti and since in Keeramanda they grew it, people just went to their fields and lopped off a few cane. With so much of cane, my colleagues spend hours exercising their jaws and stocking up on as much sugar as they could get out of the cane.

animal_flowers1Later in the morning, the family goes on to bedeck their cows and goats with flowers and a small puja is performed. Sankranti is when the domestic animals who worked just as hard as their masters to realize the crop are honoured. In preparation for the puja the animals have their horns sharpened and oil painted! sometimes they are also bathed, lovingly groomed and fed with specially made sweets.

cock-fightA central part of Sankranti is the entertainment, more for men then women. Cock fights are a great source of entertainment, thought they are banned and so….., no the cock fights have not stopped, camera persons like us are strictly supervised and prohibited from taking any pictures for publication. Grooming, feeding and watching the cocks grow into sturdy birds just for a day like this is what a lot of men in the village live for, and our host was kind enough to let two of his home grown favourites launch at each with all their flaming red plumage on display. But I can’t go into the fine art of cock fighting or cock rearing here, however I did smuggle out a few pictures of some of those brave busters going for each other. Thankfully they didn’t have their killer spurs on J

cock-fight_actionBesides the cock fights organized on the sly, is the bull racing. The bull racing attracts much crowds and frenzy in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and it too raised the courts ire and was banned for a short while, of course without success. Recently they have been allowed again and can be held under a strict set of rules framed by the Chief Justice himself.

One of the main reasons for banning these bull racing events was not just because of the way the animals were handled but because of the way in which a large number of people seriously endangered their lives. I think some of those seriously injured also succumbed to them later on and therefore the ban.

bull-race_crowdTo the small village of Keeramanda this Sankranti came over 260 bulls, of all shades and colour, sizes and age. With all kinds of temperaments, some kicking the dirt and all riled up, other timid, having to be dragged through the venue even while the large crowds smacked their flanks and screamed.

The little lane in which the race was to be held was packed, narrowing the race track to a sliver. The roofs, terraces, walls and mud path had all the assembly it could carry, the air thick with dust and full of excited hollering. It’s an all men’s show. It’s just not safe for a woman to be in the path of a raging bull, who often is so confused and terrified, and so simply ploughs through the crowd, thereby injuring many in the crowd.

bull_chargeIf I somehow gave you the idea that bull racing is a huge fun sport, I’m sorry; this sport is more than fun. The winner of that race can walk away with a hefty cash prize and also a few grams of gold and so it’s a hotly contested race. Thanks to some of those very skittish bulls Keeramanda saw four injuries this year; thankfully none of them were serious. All in all, we came away exhausted but with some warm memories not forgetting some excellent footage of a very heady sport indeed.

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Adventure camp

Adventure camp at Kondaji

nag_shivuWhen one is wheelchair bound and accessibility limited in a country like India, going on an adventure trip is no minor event. But that’s exactly what I was on, as I struggled to make myself comfortable in my hard seat at 11.00 p.m of December 19th 2008.

groupThe Association of People with Disabilities (APD) is an organization based in Bangalore and works, obviously on disability. Once a year, all its 200 odd employees are taken on a trip and so the fact that we were on a 5 hour rid to Kondaji in Davangere- Karnataka, after a hard days work was a minor fact to be ignored. Piled up in 4 buses, one could actually hear the excitement crackle in the air.

Most of us at the APD don’t really come from economically well off backgrounds and so can hardly afford a break like this. For many, this will be their one and only outing they will take, to have some fun.

greeneryIn Kondaji we are headed to an adventure camp called the Scouts and Guides Campus, and for the jaded eyes, that see little other than buildings and people in crowded Bangalore, we were greeted in Kondaji by the unobstructed warm rays of the sun, the green of the forest and the azure of the lake shimmering in the morning glow and as if all this wasn’t enough, peacocks, wild and free strutted around the acres of campus.

The little camp we were to live in was built on a slope, overlooking the lake, a set of 10 large tents that could house a group of 15 each. After a typical South Indian breakfast of hot Upma, we were set of on a treasure hunt, which took the motley excited group around trees and stones, and messages in books. On my wheelchair I was able to find the treasure first.

rope-walkingWe then did some rope walking, which unfortunately me with my calipers could not participate in and some scaling, which thankfully I could participate in. So me into a harness and then hooked to a line and I had fun scaling it from end to end.

group_life_jacketspeople_waterA lunch of rice and sambar, and we could contain ourselves no further. Strapped tight into bright yellow life jackets and with carefully instructions from the trainers, our group dashed over to the row boats waiting on the water fringes. By the time, I wheeled over to the boats unfortunately, they were all loaded and with no place for me to push through, I balefully watched them set off for the other end of the huge lake.

nag_waterNot one to give up that easily I decided to head into the lake. I was really excited because this was about the first time in a few years that I was actually able to frolic around in the water. During my brief visit to Goa, the sand had proved my nemesis and much to my dismay I could only watch the tantalizing sea from a distance. Determined to make up for that lost opportunity, I wheeled in and plonked into the shallow water, heavy plastic calipers and all. After I’d got used to the pleasurable weightlessness, I decided to push on a little further until I suddenly found myself floating! My first reaction was fear, but then I remembered the instructor saying that the life jacket could float with up to 300 kilograms and I was no where near that. Using my hands as paddles, I floated around for quiet a while, looking up at the blue sky and spying the occasional crow scurrying by. The water soothingly lapping away into my ears, the distant laughter of the frolicking crowd.

After hours in the water and fairly tired for want of sleep and rest, I headed back to shore only to notice a kayak idling nearby, unable to restrain myself I headed for it and along with a colleague paddled our way to the other end, keeping the rows at the 90 degrees as instructed by the trainers, paddling furiously. Oh how I loved the water.

That evening we had a camp fire and everyone was instructed to spontaneously sing a song or stage a little act and show off their talent. I had been practicing some jokes for a little over a month, but the natural showmanship still eluded me, so I made everybody laugh just trying to tell my jokes, hah, hah ha J

The next morning, I went back for yet another hour into the water, before I could stuff my wet clothes into a bag and head home.

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