Tuesday, March 20, 2018


As we considered a tour of SE Asia, we had two popular package choices - a 10 day tour and a 13 day tour - the latter package also included 3 days in Hong Kong and Macau (China). As we wished to add two more countries to our list, we opted for the 13 day tour. So our tour (Jan 20 - 1 Feb) included in addition to the above, 2 nights in Malaysia, 3 nights in Singapore and 4 nights in Thailand.

Our friends and relatives tried to scare us about problems of availability of tasty Indian food in Hong Kong and Thailand. But we had no apprehensions as the tour companies we had patronized so long, have always been catering pretty well to our Indian palates. This time we went wth Kesari Tours - a group of 32, with a Tour Manager. Barring half a dozen, the rest were 50 plus, including 9 senior citizens.

As always, ours was a late night flight from Mumbai, so we Puneites had to leave home in the evening. The flight was of 5 hour duration, we were flying eastwards to Hong Kong, so we'd be two and a half hours ahead - we landed there after 8 am. 

The airport looked warm and welcoming with colorful flowers. We freshened up at the airport itself, had our veggie burger and juice before loading our luggage and ourselves in our coach. 

Our local guide Gary welcomed us warmly - we had to sharpen our ears and brain to fully comprehend his English tinged with a strong Chinese accent. One important rule that we had to stick to was "no eating or drinking (except water, of course) in the coach".

Hong Kong, known as the Pearl of the Orient is located bang in the middle of Asia. Cantonese, Mandarin and English are the languages in use here. The value of 1 HK Dollar is 8 plus INR.

As we drove around the city, we had glimpses of the skyline including the tallest building, the International Communication Center, with 118 floors, 

as well as the bridges and wharfs. 

We visited a Jewellery City Shop and took around the eye-catching genuine gemstones. Of course they were expensive and no one was ready to part with their cash - not so soon! 
One look at the mall's parking lot made me wonder whether we were at one in India. 

We had tasty Indian lunch at Spices 

and then we drove past Harbor Tunnel. 

Later we took the tram ride to Victoria Peak.

From there as well as from the Sky Terrace,

we could have a spectacular 360 ' view of the city. The weather was pleasantly cold.

We then returned to our coach and drove to Repulse Bay - a nice beach with a difference - 
a blend of the modern and the traditional! 

The Repulse Bay Mall located bang on the shore , is a recent addition. 

In the background stood the elegant building 'Lily'  with serviced apartments - a modern architectural masterpiece, complemented by  fabulous natural surroundings

On the beach is the Kwun Yam Shrine ,
with its array of imposing huge statues of Gods and Goddesses adorning the shore - 

some statues were typically Buddhist, 

a few seemed like Hindu Goddesses - Lakshmi / Saraswati. 

There were stringed flowers / garlands adorning the place.

We left the beach after the beautiful sunset. 

Dinner was at the Indian restaurant 'Curry Leaf' and then we drove to 
Regal Oriental Hotel and were happy to check in after a long day. 

All that the teeny weeny room had were mirrors on every side - for you-know-why! We had to scan the place to find spots for our luggage! And there was just one plug point, so our cell phones had to line up in queue for charging!

The next day's itinerary was Disneyland. Having done Disneyland in LA, Florida and again in Paris ..., we weren't that excited. But the magic of the place rubs on to everyone. 

All of us walked through Main Street USA and enthusiastically explored the rides suitable for us in - Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land, Adventure Land, and Toy Story Land. We enjoyed the 3 D (Mickey's Phillar Magic) and 4 D (Iron Man Experience) shows, Disneyland Railroad, Orbitron ......

'It's a small world' - the boat ride around the globe, described as "the happiest cruise that ever sailed".......

raft ride to Tarzan's world provided glimpses of wild animals ... We wisely kept away from the giant roller coaster and Hyper Space Mountain rides.

During theme park visits, it's good to bear a few tips in mind. Of course the tour guide gives tips about the best and the safest rides and also age-suitable rides. Grab a map, and spend a few minutes, marking the rides that interest you. The popular rides have the advantage of 'FastPass' (FP), a complimentary service you should avail to save time in the queues. Scan your Park Ticket at the Scanning Machine at the particular show gate and get a Fast Pass with a designated return time (say 12 - 1 pm). Enjoy other nearby rides in the meanwhile and return to enjoy the FP ride. Also check out the timings of the shows as you walk around and plan your sequence accordingly.  You have to be in queue at least 20 minutes before the show. There will also be boards outside each show about the wait period. It's better to finish your jerky rides before lunch and take it easy just after lunch. Again try to rush about to finish as many of the rides you want to complete and then get set for the scintillating Parade of Disney Characters after making the mandatory visit to the restroom. You should occupy vantage seats (the early birds get the few benches) at least 30 minutes before the Parade and enjoy your well-earned rest as you dig your fingers into the large bag of popcorn and munch them leisurely. 

Our tour company usually gives us coupons for lunch at a couple of eateries in the theme park. Usually it would be for pizza / pasta place. But this time it was for a sprawling eatery with options of Chinese / Thai / Indonesian / SE Asian .... delights at various counters, each providing a couple of combos as options but disappointingly, no Indian cuisine! We took some time scrutinizing each counter, eliminating non-vegetarian stuff - we soon felt we had just a couple of options for vegetarians at the SE Asian counter. We couldn't get help from any of the assistants there as they couldn't understand / speak English. We gingerly positioned ourselves in the queue, still wondering what to order. Seeing us Indians in this queue, all other 'desis' too lined up behind us. When we reached the counter and stuttered about our order, we were asked, "Vegetarian?" On our nod, we were told to take the SE Asian bean curry combo. Thankfully we didn't have any other choices for vegetarian meal - so it had to be just that. We needn't have racked our brains through some nerve-wrecking moments for nothing!
We picked up our meal tray and coke and settled at one of the tables in 'India pavilion'. The food looked good - peas-potato curry, black beans, spinach, rice and 'roti'. One bite was enough to realize it was tasty too - in fact it proved tastier as it was unexpectedly so.

Hong Kong Disneyland had two magnificent parades of Disney characters - 

one at 4 pm ..... 

and another at 8 pm with dazzling LED lights - both were spectacular.

We didn't realize that we had spent some ten hours in Disneyland without getting bored for a moment - this speaks volumes about the place kindling the kid in you!

The next day we drove to the port to catch the jet foil to Macau. As we were proceeding to China, we had to go through Immigration at the port - it was less crowded than an airport and was a memorable experience in itself. The 1 1/2 hour jet foil ride itself was very pleasant and we soon alighted at Macau.

After spending a day in Macau, we returned to Hong Kong and next day we flew to Malaysia.

Friday, March 9, 2018


The enigmatic legend, Sridevi, who dazzled the silver screen with 300 films over 50 years which included a sabbatical of 15 years, bid adieu to the world suddenly, plunging her family, friends and fans in grief. 54 is not an age to die - for a health-conscious fitness freak.
Sridevi first appeared in Tamil movies (starting with 'Thunaivan') at the tender age of 4, and went on to share screen space with veterans Shivaji, MGR and Jayalalita. As Lord Murugan in a couple of South Indian movies, she looked more cherubic than Murugan himself! 

She also wrenched our hearts with her natural acting in 'Babu' (Tamil) and 'Poombaatta' (Malayalam). Then Sridevi was cast as heroine at 13 by none other than the great Balachander in 'Moondru Mudichu' with Kamal and Rajini as co-stars and THREE stars were born. There was no looking back since then as she churned out blockbusters portraying her in a variety of characters mostly with Kamal / Rajini as co-stars. She did 72 movies in Tamil, 81 in Telugu, 23 in Malayalam and 6 in Kannada with all the top stars including Prem Nazir, NTR, Chiranjeevi .... 
and reigned as the Superstar of South Indian films in the 70's and 80's. 

Destiny led her to Bollywood - with 'Solwa saawan' but it did not fare well at the box-office. 
Five years later, she made a comeback with 'Himmatwala' with Jeetendra in 1983, and earned the nickname 'Ms. Thunder Thighs'. Her 'Sadma' proved her mettle as an actor. Half a dozen releases followed in each of the next two years. And in 1986, 10 of her Hindi movies were released. After the initial hiccups, she got over the epithet of 'Ms. Thunder Thighs' and evolved as 'Bollywood's first lady superstar'. With author-backed roles, she rubbed shoulders with the top stars in the 80's and 90's, with her chutzpah, grace and enigma.

It is such a delight to watch the myriad expressions of innocence, impishness, coyness, oomph, sensuousness, romance, anger, sadness .... effortlessly flit across her face through her expressive eyes and lovely lips. The cherry on the icing was her perfect comic timing - she was a total package, who seemed to have an affair with the ... camera. She retired while at the pinnacle of her career to raise her family, still retaining her poise and glamour and making a successful comeback with 'English Vinglish' after a 15 year hiatus. 

When she was not acting, Sridevi continued to be in the limelight, gracing the ramp, reality shows, and awards functions, carrying herself with elan in any attire, be it the sari / anarkali / western outfit. The glamorous fashionista and dazzling diva was a muse to fashion designers and a fashion icon to the young crowd. 

She has had 3 - 4 generations rooting for her - I can vouch for that. Her costumes were trend-setters in the South in the late 70's and 80's and 'Sridevi dresses' were a rage. My sister and I were die-hard fans of Sridevi (she could have been our younger sister) and swooned over her in most of her hit Tamil movies - whether it was the oh-so-young Selvi of 'Moondru mudichu', half sari-clad, spirited village belle Mayil in '16 vayadinile', cute, young, 'madisaar mami' Kokila in 'Meendum Kokila', svelte air-hostess Devi in 'Vaazhve maayam', child-woman Viji with amnesia in 'Moondraam pirai' adorable singer Archana in 'Johnny', the list is endless .... . If we had our way, we would have played Cupid to Kamal-Sridevi. Would you believe it if I say my father too was an admirer along with my mom? Well, he bought mom a bright red saree with huge flowers just because the shop had a poster of Sridevi posing in it! 

After marriage, we siblings were settled in Maharashtra, so we had become Bollywood fans. Weren't we excited to see our favorite star climbing up the ladder of success in Bollywood? We continued to go gaga over Sridevi's looks and acting which was getting better and better with age. My children too loved watching her especially in Mr. India / Chaalbaaz. If my grand daughters were growing up in India, I'm sure they too would have ended up being admirers of the evergreen star. Such was the magnetic charisma of Sridevi! It is really noteworthy that she has acted with almost all the top Bollywood actors from Dilip Kumar to Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna, Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff, to Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan.... The glaring exceptions are the remaining Khans, Aamir and Saif. Of course Sridevi was a guest at one of the episodes of Aamir's TV show, 'Satyameva Jayate'.

Sridevi had everything one would desire - but she was lonely. She had missed the joys of childhood. After losing her dear father, she also tragically lost her mother, her pillar of strength. Her relations with her younger sister soured over property dispute. Boney Kapoor offered his comforting shoulders and she was a willing taker. She married the much-married Boney and retired from films to raise her family. She was extremely conscious of her looks and the rumour mills were abuzz with her efforts. But Sridevi like a loving mom, nurtured her two daughters Jhanvi and Khushi with love and care and had big dreams for them. How sad that she won't be around when Jhanvi's debut movie releases later this year! And what a way to go - leaving the fans and media frenzied and speculating! Most of us were in tears, shaking our head in disbelief and muttering, "Not fair; she didn't deserve it." A freak accident with so many loose ends? Or something more? It's best to let her rest in peace, though our hearts and minds are still not reconciled to the fact that the diva is no more!

Monday, November 27, 2017


Chandigarh has the twin reputation as the first planned city of India and as the capital of the twin states of Punjab and Haryana. It was included in our tour to Shimla and Manali as we had to pass through that city during our drive from Delhi to Shimla and back.

Our 'darshan' of Chandigarh was in two phases. During our onward journey to Shimla, we went around Pinjore Gardens.

We reached Pinjore Gardens at 11.30 and spent an hour there. The entry fee was just Rs 20. Built in the Mughal style, it has a sloping ground with seven terraces descending into a distance. 
Dotted with varied species of flowering plants and orchards, the garden has cool, shady walks and pathways.
The garden has seven levels and each section is beautiful. 

The first level has the 'Shish Mahal' (palace of glass) adjoined by 
'Hawa Mahal' (airy palace).

The second terrace has the 'Rang Mahal' (palace of colors).
The third level has a garden of flowerbeds and groves. 
The next terrace has the 'Jal Mahal' (palace of water) with a square fountain bed and a platform to relax. 

Fountains and tree groves mark the next terrace. The lowermost terrace has an open-air theater, which is designed as a disc-like structure. We enjoyed strolling around the garden for an hour. 

During our return from Manali, we stayed at Medallion Hotel overnight at Chandigarh.

The next morning we visited some of the famous landmarks of the city. We drove first to Sukhna Lake - 
a nice big lake with boating facilities but the colorful boats in the background sat like abandoned kids. There were no takers as it was a working day and morning time at that.

From there we went to 'Rock Garden' - a project by Nek Chand. The entry ticket was cheap, at Rs. 30 per adult. We were allotted an hour and a half. We thought we'd be back before time. But as we proceeded, we found ourselves going farther and farther with more and more promising exhibits!
It began with exquisite carvings on stones and rocks and 
Then there were little earthen pots stacked up - reminding us of those Sridevi films of the 80's - only these were tiny.
The garden made its way through several levels amidst water bodies.
There was this beautiful man-made waterfall with real-life-like urchins frolicking at the top end, even as we posed at its foot.

Then came the section - best out of waste.
Discarded broken colorful ceramic tiles were so artistically used for various purposes - to create 
a colorful set of platforms or steps and walls

figurines of various nationalities, 

animal statues ....
And can you imagine to what good use all those broken plugs and electrical accessories can be put to? 

The most artistic section was probably the artistic creations using colorful broken bangles.

As we came out, we couldn't help admiring the single person Nek Chand who has imaginatively created this unique dream project.

We then drove to the nearby Rose Garden. 
For one, the roses were few and far between. Also the sun was getting stronger. So we did a quick round and were ready to head back to Medallion Hotel for lunch.

We started for Delhi at 2 pm. and reached Dehi airport at 7 pm to catch our flight to Mumbai. It was time to bid goodbye to the group of good friends we had made during this tour. Before that we made sure we had made a 'What's App' group, with a promise to keep in touch.