Road trip to the mountains: Iraqi Kurdistan

Sharing a wonderful travel blog…#Reblog

Road trip to the mountains: Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Euro Trip Blog – Part I

It has been quite some time since I returned back from my Euro Trip & despite some nudging by friends & family, I have been reluctant (rather lazy) to pen down my experiences. However, the memories continue to be so vivid that eventually, I could not resist putting them into words. As I began to write them, I found myself getting more and more interested. Honestly, this trip was a life changer in many ways, one which allowed me to combine two of my best passions – travelling & photography. I experienced new cultures, made new friends, travelled to new countries and saw the most beautiful places in the world. I returned back, wiser & wealthier by experience than I could ever imagine. I can never forget this golden opportunity as part of an exchange program from IIMC and without any doubt, encourage the adventurers in the world to sign up for such a program.

Thanks to Giovanni, Andrew, Shalini, Anand Laskar, Abhishek, Flavio, Tanuj, Puneet, Anand Singh, Karthik, Rishi, Krati, Carol, Mona, all the free walking tour guides & the many travellers I met along the way who made my trip unforgettable and taught me the true meaning of human spirit!! I certainly wish I get a chance to reciprocate in the near future.

Special thanks to my fellow IIMC batchies Prateek & Ankit for putting me up at their places!!

Instead of following a chronological narration (which was difficult anyways given that my euro trip is nearly an year old), I decided to list down moments (not in any particular order) which will forever remain in my memory as long as I live. I split it up into two parts for ease of reading (and giving me more time to write the rest of the stuff)

1)    Atop the Eiffel

On a bright sunny day, I got the most spectacular view of Paris from atop the Eiffel – the river Seine, Sacra Couer at one end, Notre Dame at another, the boulevards and much more. The Eiffel tower itself might not be the most amazing piece of architecture but I can assure you that no other European city has any monument which can give you such a splendid view of the city and that too of the most beautiful European city!!

Smiles from the 2nd level on the Eiffel!!

2)   Snowflaked at Titlis

If Paris is the most beautiful city in Europe, Switzerland must be the most beautiful European country (PS: I am yet to visit Scandinavia). It’s natural beauty simply bedazzles you before you even realize it. I still remember my first entry into this Alpine nation on a train from Milan. The journey from Lausanne to Titlis was a long & beautiful one going through Lucerne, Engelberg & finally through the chairlift to Titlis. This was the first time I have ever been surrounded by snow-clad mountains all around me. The heavenly feeling you experience atop the Alps summit is simply exhilarating. I had gr8 fun going down the snow on a bobsled & wading my way through snowpiles!! I could not visit other summits like Zermatt but rest assured, Switzerland is a must-visit country for all those who love nature & the mountains!!

Utopia does exist in this world!!

3)   Biking through Zurich

Through a quirk of fate, I got another opportunity to visit my favourite European destination. All thanks to Anand, I headed back to Zurich from Paris & on the way, ran out of cell phone balance!! Luckily for me, Anand boarded the same train at the border just before Basel!! Zurich typifies the banking powerhouse that Switzerland is rated. However, the best part of my trip was renting out a bike for free at the Zurich train station and biking my way along tramlines and the beautiful Zurich Lake. Along the way, I met a Siberian husky who bounded away in the open grasslands which touched the lake. A boat ride on the lake (courtesy my Eurail pass) presented some fantastic scenes of Zurich!!

4)   The Champions – Ajax Amsterdam vs Real Madrid!!

I must confess that I am not one of those crazy fans of football but a visit to Europe isn’t complete without watching two premier clubs clash in the UEFA Champions League!! I and few of my IE colleagues got together to watch Real Madrid take on Ajax Amsterdam at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real came up trumps on their home turf with a 2-0 win but the sights & sounds at the stadium as the UEFA anthem was played was simply amazing. It was an unforgettable experience watching so many fans cheering for their favourite club as Christiano Ronaldo dribbled past so many Ajax defenders with Jose Mourinho shouting from the sidelines. I had purchased two football jerseys way back in 2002 – one of Manchester United & other of Real Madrid. The Man U jersey was torn to pieces when I played holi at IIT. On D-Day, I was lucky enough to wear the Real Madrid jersey to root for the home team!!

5)   Castled down south!!

It was only fitting that I started my journey to the famous Neuschwanstein castle early in the morning as it afforded some amazing sights of hills, plains, mountains & lakes all rolled into one. The castle is located along the southern border of Germany, touching Austria. Needless the say, the castle, built in the late 18th century, is said to have inspired Walt Disney and resembles the Disney logo in many ways. It seemed like a fairytale to see the wooden gates sandwiched between the two towers. One could easily let their imagination loose with the castle picturizing sights from a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings novel. The interiors are decorated fabulously and the castle itself is sweetly perched atop a hill. For all those who love fantasy & fairytales, this place can’t be left out your European itinerary!

Neuschwanstein @ South Germany

6)   Partying in Madrid

If Europe is the place for party animals, Spain will easily top the table of European nations in that. My first party in Madrid (organized by IE) was quite an experience with everyone hitting the dance floor into the wee hours of the morning. It’s the time to let loose all inhibitions and simply enjoy the moment. Pity, I don’t drink but Europe is also a drinker’s paradise. Your European trip will be incomplete if you haven’t hit a bar or pub!! Madrid will easily give Milan the run for its money as the fashion hub of Europe. The outfits worn by one and all during the fashion week in September were a sight to behold. Thanks to my fellow IE colleagues, I had a gr8 time at bars & dinner houses!!

Giovanni (my landlord) & me

Me & Carol at Fashion Week @ Madrid

7)   Where Champions belong!!

I have always been passionate about sports. Tennis has been extra-special having followed legends like Sampras & Graf on TV. To visit Roland Garros, one of the four major grand slam destinations was a dream come true for me. The museum showcased videos of players from Chang to Federer, all winners at the French Open alongwith a brief history of how the Open began in early 19th century. I could pose like a player at the press box and also visit the players’ locker rooms. The wall inside the Centre court hall has the signatures of all players who have ever played at the Open. As I stepped out on the Centre Court, I could close my eyes and imagine the crowd watching Federer & Nadal battling it out!! For a tennis aficionado, if you don’t visit Wimbledon, this is as good as it gets!!

At the Players' Press Box @ Roland Garros, Paris

Signature from the God of Tennis!!

Centre Court (Philippe Chatrier)

8)   Remember the titans – Dachau

Inevitably, one of the first things that comes to any mind when you think of Europe is World War II. And where else but Germany can you find the most significant monuments of World War history. A visit to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich was a pretty heart-rending experience. I entered the camp through gates which carry the words “Arbeit Macht Fre” which translates to “Work Liberates”. As I walked down the road which lay beside the foundations of erstwhile bunkers, my hair stood on end with grief and horror. The gas chambers and incinerators were still there although the one at Dachau remained unused unlike Auschwitz or Sachsenhausen. The soulfully melodious music of “Schindler’s List” rang through my ears as I went from image to image at the museum. The innumerable letters written by Dachau inmates to their loved ones moved me to tears!!

 

9)   Lost in the Louvre

The Louvre unfailingly reminds me of the Da Vinci Code as the point where the chase finally unfolds. I still like to believe that there is a sarcophagus hidden beneath the glass pyramid which adorns the majestic square. The Louvre is so huge that it’s virtually impossible to see all sections in a single day. The Mona Lisa ofcourse attracts the most attention although I was particularly impressed by the Napolean coronation painting & beautiful sculptures in the gallery. The recreated Napolean’s room with its artistic chandeliers is a must watch!!

10) Salzing with the wind!!

Remember the Sound of Music. I must confess I have only heard of this musical before but not seen the movie itself but when you visit Salzburg, you will feel that the town itself is immersed in some peaceful & soulful music which is carried by the winds!! The narrow tiled streets which pass through the town & the river bridge covered by the clouds give a spectacular view of the town. I was simply thrilled to have dinner in an Indian restaurant in Salzburg. Can’t help but feel jealous that Austrian urbanites live in places like Salzburg while we live in Bombay or Delhi!!! A few miles away from this wonderful town lies Eisrenwelt, the world’s largest naturally formed ice-caves. The ride to the top of Austrian Alps was mesmerizing. Walking through the caves with a fire-lit lamp just took me back in time when the first explorer discovered this b’ful place. Quite an adventurous and unforgettable experience!!

 

Walkway to the ice-caves @ Austria

11)  A date with Tintin – Brussels

Sometimes, I wish I could be lucky enough to be a reporter like Tintin. His exploits are truly legendary and thrilling. With Snowy & Captain Haddock for company, they set sail across the world seeking adventure & fighting villains!! Visiting Brussels – the hometown of Tintin creator Herge – was a pleasant experience. It was a very cloudy morning with rain in the air as I landed in Brussels. After watching the famous Manekkin pis, I treated myself to a large piece of Waffles with ice-cream & chocolate before losing myself to the world of Tintin & Co..

Waffles covered with ice-cream & Chocolate!!

With Thompson & Thomson

12) Choco-o-holed at Bruges

I haven’t seen the movie “In Bruges” but this quintessential medieval town surely takes you a few centuries back. The markets open, the bells tong and people flock around the numerous chocolate shops along the way. After visiting the b’ful town square, I literally dived into Belgium’s medieval past on a boat ride which took us past many old artistic buildings & halls. One simply cannot leave Belgium without paying a visit to a Chocolate museum – Complete statues made of pure chocolate!! No wonder, I own my existence today to certain Incas who thought of making better use of cocoa….

Hope you enjoyed the above. Part-II to follow soon!!

Nine full years……..

Today marks the 9th anniversary of I becoming an IITian. Couldn’t help but see the coincidence as I chatted with my two best IIT pals – Mohit Agarwal & Hrisheekesh Sabnis as the clock went past midnight. The feeling still is palpable as we spoke about the tension in the intervening period between our HSC results & JEE results. A day before our JEE results, Hrishi told another good friend Shyam that 2nd June 2002 will divide our lives into two parts!! Till date, I cannot think of a truer statement. I remember not sleeping at all on that eventful night!! I woke up in the morning, went for a long walk around my locality and returned back at around 8:30. Went up to my neighbour’s place as I did not have an internet connection then. I entered my registration ID and clicked that “enter” button. The next moment was a feeling that only few ppl in the world were privileged enough to savour!!

A lot has happened between then and now – some extra-ordinary and some pretty forgettable. As I am set to embark on a new journey, that moment 9 years ago brought back the zest in life, the willingness & ambition to go out and achieve one’s dreams no matter how much you are mocked at!!

Impossible truly is nothing…

Time for a revolution…

I must confess that in the last few years, I have never so deeply followed any issue as much as I have followed the agitation to implement the Lokpal bill. To put it simply, the bill aims to grant authority to the civil society to investigate corruption against politicians. It’s effectiveness depends on whether the highest political authority in the country viz. the Prime Minister and all the bureaucrats are brought under its purview. No wonder, Mr. Sharad Pawar had to resign from the GOM to draft the bill citing conflict of interest. Indeed, there could not have been a bigger conflict of interest!!

Hats off to this man..

Why I am so deeply influenced by this issue is because it’s the only one which seeks to address the need for systemic political change in India. My beliefs have changed over the last decade from being against politics to supporting the cause of effective & professional governance. There have been many agitations in India in the past  viz. the fight by medical and engg students against reservation, protests against purchase of sub-standard equipment for the armed forces (esp. the infamous MIG-21), fight to implement a strong anti-terror law to protect its citizens etc. However, all of these sought to merely address a particular issue in isolation. This is not to say that the Lokpal bill is the panacea to all problems. However, like the RTI, it is a step in the right direction. For a change, it’s nice to see media houses providing more coverage to Mr. Hazare’s fast and social activism rather than focussing on the cheerleaders who will perform in the forthcoming IPL.

And talking of IPL, what else can be a more elaborate example of corruption. All the investigation which started with so much fanfare last year – Flow of IPL money into tax havens, hidden stakes by politicians & BCCI officials in IPL teams, lack of accountability & transparency by the BCCI who are yet to show their financial accounts to the public – merely died down with an 80,000 pg long report by the ex-IPL boss and the corrupt nature of the ex-BCCI chief and current ICC president. It’s sad to see the IPL, which aimed to provide lucrative opportunities for our domestic players, still proceeding ahead with its 4th season without the corrupt officials being brought to book. Lalit Modi continues to evade investigation by parking himself in UK. If all IPL accounts were to brought out in black & white, it is quite possible that the event that we Indians so lauded of will prove to be a matter of great shame as we seek to become the global powerhouse of the 21st century!!

Sports has always been a passion for me and is one area where I wish to contribute. I was speaking to my good friend, who has worked with a popular sports marketing firm & the CWG 2010 sponsorship team, yesterday about the condition of sports in India. And all his experiences only pointed towards one conclusion – India can indeed become a great sporting nation if we could weed out corruption. And I do not wish to further rant about the CWG scam, the National Games in Jharkhand, the pathetic facilities given to our athletes & sportspersons, the number of years spent by our sports bosses in different federations (which will soon exceed the years most sports-loving youth in India would have spent alive) etc.

I learnt from him that our union civil aviation minister is also the secretary of AIFF, not to mention his substantial contribution in creating one of the new IPL teams and his enthusiasm for cricket given the amount of time he spends in VIP pavilions during cricket matches!! Ofcourse, nothing could beat our current ICC president holding the post of Union Agriculture Minister in India!! While it’s fascinating to have such multi-faceted people governing us, it begs to ask the question if India can afford to provide 2-3 key roles to a single politician in a country of 1.2 billion where nobody really cares about unemployment rate, job creation or social security status. The counter argument could be that we do not have enough skilled people for these positions which begs the question as to if these people were indeed interviewed and chosen to be the sports bosses based on their resumes. My friend told me that a former Indian Olympian is pushing the agenda with the sports ministry to get paid professionals to govern Indian sports. Well, I would love to witness the day when the Kalmadis and the Gills of this country are thrown into oblivion with no remorse!!

Just as sports requires passion, so does national leadership. The other day I was talking to another friend of mine who is a social entrepreneur. He told me that for a social enterprise to benefit from any of the ‘generous’ government schemes aimed at supporting rural development & employment, one has to ‘pay’ bribe and that too at the highest level (read Union Cabinet Minister). There exists an organized procedure to collect such bribes even if none exists to address complaints against corrupt practices. No wonder some of the ministers in the ‘jumbo’ cabinet almost never make a public appearance or statement!! For all the supporters of parliamentary democracy who cry out loud asking citizens to file complaints in a court of law, I only have one question to ask – Was any politician convicted over the defence scandal exposed by Tehelka? Has any politician ever been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment or death for the numerous crimes for which they are chargesheeted and will continue to be since citizens have only a limited lifespan!! No wonder, our politicians have ensured that India has remained largely uneducated so far. Coz if we could not just read and write but also think like a concerned citizen, there is certainly no way some of these ‘old warhorses’ will survive in our parliament.

It is indeed time for a revolution, possibly the biggest after India’s freedom struggle, for people to unite together and overthrow some of our leaders. Hope to be part of governing our nation someday!!

What it feels to become a champion………

Well, nice to be blogging after a really long time. A series of unfortunate events ensured that I never got down to writing one but one incident has changed all that hopefully forever.

For someone who has followed Indian cricket in all his living memory, being crowned the World Champion in cricket was indeed special for me. It wasn’t surprising to see my batchmates at IIM Calcutta bowing themselves before the God who was carried all over the ground by much younger shoulders and to whom this trophy was proudly dedicated. Most of us have witnessed Sachin taking India to victory on numerous occasions. When he won, India won on most occasions and so did most of us. Somewhere, the young Indian generation has been sold on Sachin for the right reasons as he taught us how to fight in times of adversity and more importantly, how to become the best in the world – a title we can proudly lay claim to as we graduate from India’s top business school!!

I always believed that our parents’ generation did not understand the gravity of success nor had the desire or will to win. Ofcourse, there are exceptions but by and large, India in the last century was as good as the Indian cricket team of yesteryears. You could always have the odd Kapil Dev, a trailblazer who set off to across the seas in search of his or her destiny and more often than not did India proud. However, that feeling was yet to sink into most who lived back in India. Today, Indians in India can imbue the feeling of being or atleast becoming a champion in their own right. It’s time to break the shackles of defeat and misery which hound us more mentally than materially and prevent us from becoming a champion. As in no other domain is there a greater need for a champion than in politics. On the day when India won the Cricket World Cup, an ex-union minister was chargesheeted in the 2G spectrum scam, a rare if not the first occasion in Indian political history. Hope when the younger generation gets into leadership roles, we will witness champions ruling our country instead of sore losers!!

A lot of people were quick to give credit to MSD for his spectacular captaincy and brilliant batting in the final. However, the seeds of yesterday’s victory were sown nearly a decade ago. I still remember March 15th, 2001 when India defeated Australia in Calcutta against all odds. 10 yrs hence, I believe that was a turning point not just for Indian cricket but for India as a whole. I guess a lot of Indians would have seen their personal fortunes fluctuating with that of the Indian cricket team, which is simply amazing. Perhaps, that is what brought them out to celebrate like crazy on the night of 2nd April, 2011 when India were crowned the world champions!!!

HOME (English with subtitles)

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It’s time to understand and appreciate the bounties of nature, the resources that we thrive on. It’s time to develop a vision not for tomorrow or day after but for the next century. What we do today will leave a lasting impact for generations to come. This movie is all about that message..

A special moment in life..

>Feels good to be back at doing what I enjoy a lot – writing. Much has happened in the last year and a blog was inevitable to describe it all!!

May 11th, 2009 was my last day at my previous company. I was happy and thrilled to fly back to Mumbai 2 days later, carrying very special memories of my 3 years in Abu Dhabi. Till date, those special memories continue to provide meaning to my life and convince me why it is worth living..

Fast track to June 1st, 2010, I find myself with a final offer – just a little over an year since I left my last job and exactly 8 years since I cracked IIT-JEE. This is a truly incredible feeling – perhaps a little less relieving that when I got my first job in IITB but nevertheless truly amazing!! Having been the last of 10 people to get through TAS in the summer placement season at IIMC (after having 9 shortlists on day 0 and being rejected in the 4 I could attend), the pre-placement offer is truly a cherry on top of the cake. I was 2nd last to be interviewed by TAS during summers (after a 2 hr wait) with 9 offers already made before me. I was the last guy to be interviewed again during the final round. Quite a coincidence but surely not a favourable one. When you need to wait for a whole day and then display all your self-confidence and passion with a smile at 11:30 in the night, it can get a little taxing. Over time, however, I have become more patient, resilient and self-confident. Taking a cue from sports, I always knew that the longer you stay in any game, the better will be your chances. Now, I can look forward to an year of festivals, photography, travel, sports and ofcourse, free-riding.

The reason I was less relieved than I was at IITB probably reflects the change in my mindset. The last few years have taught me to become more balanced in life without unduly craving for anything. I remember telling a few of my friends before my summers that I did not think too much about the PPO. I just wanted to give my best in the project and perform well at every stage of the process. This approach indeed helped me to be focussed on getting results and delivering my best. Gokul (IIMA) worked alongwith me on our project at TATA Capital. His ability to quickly analyze data and get results was incredible. I also shared my knowledge and experience with him. I helped him work in an organized manner to achieve results. Not even once I ever thought, “Why should I help him when he is my potential competitor?”. And I say this irrespective of which side of the line I would have found myself. For a change, I threw away the crass IIT-IIM attitude of RG in favour of a more human, natural approach. Somewhere, I discovered my true self, which at times got lost after looking at how people around you behave, esp to win rewards. Together, we had a really good two months, delivering one quality project and discussing a wide variety of stuff under the sun (Gokul’s favourite being my crush on IIMA girls). I am sure this guy will go ahead and crack bigger things in life.

Even as the final results were announced, I surprisingly found myself extremely relaxed in the room. I remember telling Romil (IIMC) in the morning that I felt confident and he can expect a call from me later in the night. I must also thank Kathikeyan (IIMA), who was my room-mate at TMTC. His ultra-cool attitude really did rub on me and made C-9 the lucky room at TMTC as both of us got the final offers. My heart really goes out to two of the final 11 who didn’t make the cut. I have found myself in their position many times before, when I failed 15 interviews in IITB before cracking one!! Perhaps, it’s the failure in the past which teaches one to become more balanced emotionally in life. Today, there are fewer things which elate me or deflate me than probably 4 years before. I am less affected by negative comments directed at me. At IIT, I was more desperate for a job. Today, I am quietly confident without undue worries.

My project taught me more than just aspects related to private equity. It reinforced the broad vision which I have always had for India. Today, I really feel proud that India built the Nano through it’s own engineering excellence and at a cost lower than the cost of China’s cheapest car. India is among the fastest growing economies in the world and might even end up ahead of China in a few years with improvement in our macreconomic conditions. At the same time, the Naxalite attacks, over-burdened infrastructure, a rat race called education, rampant corruption in the administration all seem to be pulling India down – the Medical Council of India (with its corrupt head), the BCCI (headed by a person with one leg in the coffin and still heading for ICC presidency), a judiciary (which allows Ajmal Kasab to appeal to a higher court or even the president for mercy), a democracy (which allows the Ambani brothers to broker another peace pact after nullifying the previous one), a tax authority (which collects taxes to finance the losses of Air India and the oil marketing companies), a telecom authority (which auctioned off 2G for a pittance) and many more.

As a TAS manager, I share the philosophy which the TATAs had for India. When Mr. J N Tata decided to set up a steel plant in India, he could visualize manufacturing driving India’s growth. It’s indeed seen to be true today. Having gone through numerous reports and news articles on India’s growth for my project, I would like to end by enlisting the three most important things for India –

1) Develop infrastructure. With India adding nearly 20 million to its population every year, the need for good quality housing, water supply, power supply, transport, good schools & universities will ensure that an Indian will have living standards comparable to those in the developed nations. Infrastructure development needs to go alongwith increased focus on manufacturing sector which will cater to consumption needs of India’s teeming millions besides creating jobs for people.

2) Create jobs. In India, job creation has failed to keep pace with the number of entrants to the labour pool. India is all set to add the highest number of people to the workforce over the next decade, greater than China, US and the whole of G7. If this workforce is not employed productively and used effectively to drive not only the nation’s growth but also individual growth, it will only create more social and economic unrest. To this end, it’s important to make education relevant and useful rather than just an academic exercise. The number of applicants to medical colleges has dropped to a tenth of the number in 2002 despite healthcare being a critical sector for India’s growth. It is important to encourage diversity in professions and make careers easier for people to pursue rather than monopolizing professions, a classic example being the Gandhi family domination (I watched Rajneeti a couple of days back, one helluva movie). It’s important to ensure that jobs at different levels are dignified and people get their due rather than money finding its way into a small portion of the population. I really feel for our teachers who do not get their salaries in time while performing the most important function of educating India.

3) Control our population. This is important especially from the socio-economic perspective as I feel extremely distressed to see poverty breeding poverty. In the absence of quality education among the poor classes of the society, they tend to believe that greater number of children will help provide a better future for them. However, this ends up being a vicious cycle. I believe that healthy competition in any field can sustain itself only if there is a check on the number of individuals serious about participating in it. The more dissatisfying part is politicians attempt to cash in on their votes without any serious attempt to tackle poverty at ground level. Be it in politics or media or Class X board exams, the concept of “small is beautiful” has its relevance as it is easier to focus on a smaller populace, resulting in efficient governance or administration and lesser strain on our resources.