Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Of Dubaaaaaiii! and Sofitel in its downtown!

Of Dubaaaaaiii! and Sofitel in its downtown!


Well well well....that's not how a sane person is normally expected to pronounce Dubai but the moment s/he lands here this city's enormity overpowers all your senses. As a matter of fact even before entering the municipal limits all the entry points slowly but surely start building up the anticipation of what's gonna strike you when you are in this modern era's man made wonder. I entered through the land route as our family vacation's first point of entry into UAE was Abu Dhabi couple of days ago. During the entire hour and a half long journey we witnessed what a determinate effort and power of willingness could do. Amidst a full blown desert man created humongous infrastructure that could give any of the resource rich 'developed' nations a serious run for their money. A six to eight lane (either sides of the traffic), bump free, spotless, super express highway which officially allows one to drive @ 120 KMPH gets the distance of around 150 KMs covered without breaking any sweat!

Amidst the sea of sky scrapers, desperately (and well deservedly) vying for onlookers gaze there appears a mammoth figure that looks like a cutting age NASA space shuttle, magnified many times over! Oh yeah, that's Burj Khalifa only. As is the Hindu tradition of touching elders' feet on meeting them this structure also makes you take a bow with great respect (and much disbelief), from a distance of at least 15 KMs!! As it nears and you get to see it in its full glory rest everything takes a backseat and even in a uber rich city like this you can't but applaud your luck to be able to see this spectacle from your naked eyes. 

While planning for this new year vacation in Dubai the very first objective I had in my mind was to book myself for the new year's eve in a hotel that could offer me a vantage point access to see all that world famous fireworks without giving me any stress. I had heard the stories of how the entire city's roads get completely blocked as the swarm of humanity head towards just one stop i.e., Burj Khalifa. People from world over come here just to see this once in a lifetime phenomenon and they book their tables in even the tiniest of holes surrounding this engineering marvel. I was looking for an unmatched access and my search stopped the moment I discovered Sofitel Dubai Downtown! Being a true blue loyalist of the Sofitel brand for years it was like a blessing in disguise. My detailed study of this property kept on reinforcing my belief that this indeed is what someone should be looking forward to without thinking too much. My being an Accor's Le Club member came handy as I got a very good rate when I was booking all of my stays couple of months in advance. It goes without saying that never before did I find myself so very fascinated with a commoditized product like a hotel! And with bated breath, like a child I have been waiting to come here for the past 10 weeks.

Today finally came the moment and I landed at Sofitel Dubai Downtown and from the word go it's been a truly exhilarating experience, food for the thirsty soul to sum it up. It's a perfect place befitting one's stay for such a grand setting and I would be surprised if there would be too many competitors around who could blend a deadly concoction of unmatched hospitality, attention grabbing luxury & opulence along with offering such a bird's eye view of Burj Khalifa! The entire staff sets a benchmark in absolutely top of the drawer service delivery and from the bell boys to right until the top management everybody seems to be perpetually running for achieving some coveted World's Best Service Delivery Person award! Everything that manages to catch your attention is just so perfectly planned and laid in its place that its almost impossible to find faults even if one considers him(her)self to be the most discerning of them all. Our allotted room was gorgeously well appointed and as expected it offers the world's best view of Burj Khalifa, the Grand Stand seat equivalent for Formula One aficionados. The Club Millisime access (given to guests booked in Suites) was just the perfect icing on the cake.

Frankly speaking, during our vacation we generally don't use our chosen hotel & its room beyond just sleeping & a relatively early morning breakfast as the entire focus is on making the most use of available time to see as much of the place of visit as it has on offer. But Sofitel Dubai Downtown just took our breath away as much as to keep dragging our feet back to itself even as there were many hours to go before hitting the sack!

Can't wait to wake up tomorrow (31st December) morning for another relaxed day at this so very tastefully done up property before hitting our sweet stop (in our own room or more likely with the other guests at one of the open premium spaces). With this yours truly signs off for the last time in 2015 and hopes to keep receiving encouraging words as well as objective feedback from his well-wishers (and naysayers alike).

I take this opportunity to wish you all an amazingly blissful festive season ahead. I do hope the ensuing new year multiplies your happiness, contentment & accomplishments (not to forget your wealth) ‘n’ times (‘n’ is a variable and its value is fast tending towards 2016) of their already accumulated levels. I also pray to the great Almighty to nourish you with his/her choicest blessings and drench you with the sweetest, everlasting memories to cherish for life. Amen!

Yours Everlastingly
(C) Rits Original @

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I am just Being Human :)

I am just Being Human :)

24th November 2014 - "Jao! Humne tumhe azaad kiya!" That translates into, "You are a free bird now by the order of this court!"

10th December 2015 - "There is no case here worthy any deliberation and as such it is dismissed!"

Two sentences, two lives, one that of a common man who could consider himself as being slightly better off than being marginalized by destiny and the other that of someone who writes destiny of scores, even across the otherwise impregnable borders!

Keep watching this space to hear the story of the dichotomous parallels.

(c) Rits Original

Monday, November 9, 2015

Diwali Musings!

Diwali Musings!

They say, "Diwali is a festival of infinite lights & we celebrate it with gay abandon to commemorate the famous victory of good over evil (as it finds its maiden reference in the Hindu mythology when on the occasion of Lord Rama returning back to his constituency Ayodhya after a hiatus of 14 years and immediately after conquering the all mighty devil king Ravana his folks got jubilant and made merry while unleashing all their quota of fun which was suppressed for all these years).

To me it is an opportunity to purge our whole beings of all the impurities we have so (in)voluntarily stuffed in our systems in the year just gone by. It is also an opportunity we give to ourselves to let bygones be bygones and make wish for a fresh beginning. For some of us who have had a remarkable last year we celebrate our happiness by bursting fire crackers & by distributing sweets among our near & dear ones. For others who didn't exactly have a noteworthy outing out there it is another fresh dawn today full of promises for the next twelve months (or so) allowing us to get the monkey off our shoulders and make a resolution that we shall strive hard to set the record straight as we bow our heads with uncompromising faith in front of the elephant God Ganesha & Goddess of wealth Lakshmi.

This is also one such festival which helps bonding the loosen strings as all family members make it a point to rush to a common reunion joint, mostly their parental homes. No matter where they are across the globe they engineer their plans in such a way (months in advance) that on this day they get to greet each other.

To all those who couldn't find a reason to cherish today, "Go, find your happiness in the smallest pleasures of life. Just don't sulk or wander about with no purpose. Life is so full of surprises, and I am sure you can easily find at least few pleasant ones to bring a cheer to your sombre mood. If not anything else, read this post at least once again along with the never ending archives of the author on his blog but please...." and yes, make merry but do responsibly top it up by making it peacefully rocking!

Wish you and your family a very happy & blissful Diwali. I do hope the year ahead multiplies your happiness, contentment & accomplishments (not to forget your wealth) ‘N’ times (‘N’ is a variable and its value is equivalent to your biological age at the time of reading this message) of their already accumulated levels. I also pray to the great Almighty to nourish you with his/her choicest blessings and drench you with the sweetest, everlasting memories to cherish for life. Amen!

Today also happens to be the birth day of yours truly and I take this opportunity to thank you from the core of my heart for your ever pouring affection and amazing wishes. I do hope to keep floating in your good books in the years to come. Amen!


Festively yours
(C) Rits Original

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Mumbai peeps why are you finding yourself bewildered over this quite an unusual sounding story title from yours truly? It's been over a month since the marketing team of Disney started seeping through your attention to eventually translate into motivating you into buying some time for yourself and your family while giving it a dekko.

It's the first one ever for India and even if you might have heard countless eulogies from all of your NRI friends and relatives about the great Lion King but you still haven't been able to find your way to New York's Broadway or London's West End to experience the sheer extravaganza of "The Show" you should find yourself lucky enough to be presented with this opportunity to soak in some sheer audio visual treat for all of your senses.

Let me confess that I had built quite high expectations from the show as I was desperately counting on the hours and minutes leading up to the show time. From the moment I sat in the dome @ NSCI, Worli and the famous baritone voice started the prologue of this 130 minutes long delight while the story's canvass unfolded itself I knew that I am in for a real good time.

Having a vernacular background it was a serious ask for me to truly appreciate as to what was going on since it was a true blue musical and as such its narrative had to be mostly relying on all of its characters talking in a heavy tone while dancing all the time. The fact that I didn't ever read this popular Disney story made my life further complicated. But after those initial uneasy moments the show's enormity took over and I would simply glide through the smooth transitions of stage effects. Slowly the story also began to sink in as the amazingly talented Indian artistes started making it look like it was their home territory by birth!

For the uninitiated, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the classic story of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, who is really a young prince trapped in a spell placed by an enchantress. If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity.

Since getting launched in 1994 this show has been a very highly successful one for Disney and till date it has been played for the audience of 28 countries. In India Disney made a tactical change by hiring the local talent for the entire star cast and oh boy! All of them have proved themselves to be the hidden gems with their truly world class performances. Over 100 local exhibitioners just lay opened an outlet to show their brilliance which I am sure would go a long way in changing the common perceptions (read insecurities) about such a beautiful genre of magnifique all round experience.

The sets which incidentally gave an impression of abundance could put even Sanjay Leela Bhansali to shame. Such was their grandiose scale coupled with simply uncompromising production values that to keep both the eyes open without even letting them blink didn't seem to be a challenge. The lighting effect has to be seen to believe.

So what are you thinking yet? Open that BookMyShow app and just book it for one of the 10 shows to be staged between today and 1st Nov. The base tickets of Rs. 1000 have already been sold out for all of them but you could still find few seats in the 2000 category which also I am sure after getting the word out (yesterday or today) would be picked up in a mad rush. It also establishes that the 'other' SRK i.e., Siddhartha Roy Kapur sure knows where his money and faith should go into reaping rich dividends later on. He has left no stone unturned into making way for the unparalleled production values for the show. If you don't get a ticket of denomination 2000 also don't forget to calculate how much notional savings you could make in the recent Billion Dollar sale shopping. You would be instantly motivated to shirk away any miserly thoughts as trust you me, every penny spent on this pioneering show is worth the expense. Just don't think too much!

(C) Rits Original @

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Madison Square Gardens to Shark Tank – Modi thunders dawn of a new world order!

Madison Square Gardens to Shark Tank – Modi thunders dawn of a new world order!

I don't actually concede that I have two left feet for the simple reason that I never feel shy of shaking more than just one of them at the mere drop of a hat. At the same time I can never claim to be any virtuoso when it comes to accepting a salsa (or rumba or waltz or ballet or even bhangra) challenge from anyone in my neighbourhood. Still, I am sure that many of you would agree with my assessment of the last Sunday’s dance performances @ Shark Tank as being merely ‘enthusiastic’ (not the kind that the ‘once’ haughty N. Sreenivasan used to see his son-in-law as) and amateurish at the best. Their choreographers would have earned a serious rebuttal if these acts were to be staged in front of any of the everyday Indian dance reality shows’ judges some of who claim to think from their ‘intellectual’ hearts when it comes to such touchy discussions like OROP. But please spare a thought for these poor souls (I am referring to the dance performers here) who don't have regular access to any of Shiamak Davar or Sandeep Soparikar extravaganza (mundanely called ‘classes’) to hone their skills on popular Bollywood numbers. It probably was these young guns’ maiden public exhibition.

That the not so amazing audio feed on the local broadcasters didn't help the cause is also I would like to live with. As I am writing this NaMo just rotated his index finger to a thunderous applause with an implied air of self approval! Here also, yet again, quite cheekily he referred to some ubiquitous Indian damaad (son-in-law) who doesn’t need any introduction to even Donald Trump (or may be our very own Alia) and whose corruption sagas have reverberated the pillars of parliament so often to stall its proceedings.

That performances of these so very excited young NRI kids won't be able to draw any critical acclaim or a nomination to "America's got Talent" is not the point. That what all of the daily "prime time" usual suspects (including the Barkha's, the Arnab's n the Rahul's) have been boasting about the number of rooms booked on the entire West Coast for their respective ‘largest’ crews for the past few days is also besides the point. That precisely one year ago, on the very same day (but on the Eastern side) a certain Rajdeep could still (stage) manage to get himself hackled amid all the festivities and thus got trended on Twitter more (yeah, albeit briefly!) than the guest of honour himself is also a forgotten footnote.

What truly leaves indelible mark on the intelligence of both a discerning listener and over the common jurisprudence is much beyond the now established (beyond any doubting Thomas's) trade mark charisma and impromptu oratory skills of the country's ‘first’ worker. In the 63 minutes he gave to himself (the audience world over wouldn't have minded if he chose to double the dosage) he not only successfully touched the emotional cord of the Indian Diaspora but also took some "on the fly" (to the best of my available info) decisions to make their lives easier (just the way he did during his last flamboyant exhibition in Manhattan) with just one stroke of his pen! That's the power a true leader manager is expected to wield. Quite unfortunately, our politicians of the yester ‘era’ (hopefully with a new era now emerging we have the luxury of calling that as one) believed in one dictum only, "Power corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolutely!"

This indeed was a master stroke for not only did he oh, so beautifully mocked fun of his own Visa (status) being denied by the US authorities, yet again but indeed discounted it as something that shouldn't be restricted for any of the attending (PIO) audience. I am sure that it would keep resonating the consciousness of the scores of present US Congress representatives half of which would in some way have played a part in that decade old decision over which better sense prevailed, just in time. That's what is called caning a tiger in his own cave! Half of them were simply as amused as our very own Indian Diaspora and were gleefully taking part in the proceedings. It’s quite a different story that back in Delhi few bickering Congressmen were having a tough time for the past few days in making a presentation to their Diva, Her Highness on what all nits could be picked from this an otherwise absolutely spellbinding charm spell of the great tactician. They already had found one during the town hall discussion with the great Mark but the deplorable way in which one of them questioned the very plight of one mother and tried to discount it as nothing more than a social drama was to be seen to believe. It truly proved beyond reasonable doubt that all of them have already given up on their political relevance as their stature in current scheme of things (and in near foreseeable future as well) could at best be deemed as ‘marginalized’! What a pity these guys are making of themselves!

If I were to handpick just one key take away from this ‘presentation’ without a PPT it would be the fact that quite a sizeable target audience, both physically present at the venue and the wire-listeners, would love to find itself having sold over this sales pitch for "India", the product with a deadly concoction of three D's i.e., Democracy, Demographic dividend and Demand. I won't be surprised if the entire event (in conjunction with its year old precursor), its built up, the brouhaha & palpable excitement, ultimately leading up to the opera like performance by the "Maestro" gets included in the Harvard's curriculum shortly, of course with the intended objectives having been already achieved by then.

Yours truly had earlier composed the following piece on 20th May last year and once again it indeed sounded music to my ears on 28th Sep. when after "the speech" got over one emancipated young listener at the Shark Tank did indeed compare it with the "originally famous" Narendra's Chicago speech over a century ago.

Do I stand having redeemed myself today, precisely 500 days after having dared to commit some form of a blasphemy? The jury is already out on this and it only bodes well for our great nation.

I never was an atheist but have been shunning idol worshipping since long. Is it too late for me to convert again? Not really! And it wouldn't dent my ego one bit to embrace a new form of theism openly.

Vande Mataram!

(C) Rits Original

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

World Organ Donation Day

World Organ Donation Day

An appeal to all my friends, relatives n acquaintances

Dear All,

They say that human soul doesn't ever die, even after the body it briefly chooses to wear disintegrates into ashes. The body which one so painstakingly adores as a narcissist all through its ageing eventually gets rendered a residual value for just the carbon dating purposes & that also when one chooses not to get ones remains offered to the Holy Ganges.

I am not sure about the soul theory but I do not have an iota of doubt in the modern science coming of age. It has ensured that one can exercise at least some control over his/her vital organs in a bid to make them 'immortals'. Not for nothing a Hollywood flick bearing its title with the same name finds an instant connection with audiences transcending geographical borders! Isn't it your wish too (even if a covert one) that you are able to embrace this form of immortality?

Then what is stopping you from making your own wish come true? Just liberate your mind from any corruption for next few moments & donate your organs. It's indeed an oxymoron given the context for you are not actually donating anything you consider so dearly your own in the true sense of words to (possibly) someone entirely unknown but as you long to serve your own after-life vested interests.

Tomorrow, 13th August 2015 is World Organ Donation Day. Not long ago you celebrated the friendship day. Now make good of this day & just let your vital organs befriend an alien body once your own one denounces them.

I have pledged all of my organs viz. heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, corneas & pancreas. Trust me, after doing it i am feeling quite light & would indulge in some mouth watering delicacies in the evening to gain some weight :-)

You could visit Organ Donation India There are few other NGO's as well. The Wikipedia page on "Organ Donation" also gives all the critical inputs as well as details of few programmes which the Southern states in particular have been successfully running.

Some more relevant details could be accessed at

Issued in public interest by

Yours truly (who else) ;-)
Ritesh Garg

Friday, May 1, 2015

Overseas Vacation Planning - is it a Nightmare? Do make it Memorable instead!

Overseas Vacation Planning - is it a Nightmare? Do make it Memorable instead!

You can't be blamed for your sneering at the unassuming title for this piece but if you have patience and energy to read through its entire length I can promise you that I won't fall out of your good books (if I am privileged enough to occupy a placeholder there), especially if a trip to Turkey and/or Greece is something you have been mulling over but haven't been able to execute for want of enough information.

Reading the first sentence alone would have alarmed you that you might be in for a deluge of verbal hysteria. As usual, I do apologize in advance for not being able to help on it as it has been my perennial handicap. I don't take any pride in admitting that brevity has never been my virtue but thanks to few good Samaritans whose generous words keep motivating me to push myself in doing what I love doing the most i.e., to write n write, of course without any material interests to ensure that I continue doing my job as a neutral critique! I secretly wish to be a paid blogger though :)

So here we start our journey of the Turkish land and Greek islands. Though scope of this text is intentionally kept generic regardless of where you might be planning your vacation the fact that inspiration for it came while I was struggling with planning the ongoing trip should make it a ready reckoner for these two beautiful landscapes. I do hope that you would find the interwoven tips more than merely handy.

As it started

It was on 26th Feb when I chanced upon an advertorial by Etihad Airways on its offering deeply discounted promotional fares world over! Turkey was doing the rounds in our thoughts for quite some time anyway & instinctively I did a quick check to find that not only the 'breaking' deal was for good (though I was already 24 hours late to know of it than many others) for Istanbul as well but also it provided us with an embedded blessing in disguise in the form of a needed stopover in Delhi while suggesting the lowest fare for this 'required' itinerary!! Also, its "multi city" feature (I reckon I was probably one of the select ignorant few who would find that a 'discovery' these days) allowed me to slice and dice various combinations to make our customized itinerary rather than suggesting for the usual round trip ones! I didn't put too much brain over it and immediately booked the fare before it's too late in the day! To cut the chase, fare from Mumbai to Istanbul via Delhi and return from Istanbul to Delhi was almost the same as was for a usual round trip ticket from Delhi (or Mumbai) to Istanbul and back!

Tip 1 for the travellers:

Plan your trip as early as is possible and just don't rule out any of your 'coveted' trip ideas facilitating maximum optimization / convenience on account of any self-doubts and/or lack of conviction. Depending upon your chosen airline the required patience and level of intelligence to curate the best deal could vary. A basic check across other airlines confirmed that Etihad does a marvelous job for even a rookie! It's another matter that its staff just doesn't care to listen to any of its Indian customers and dealing with its customer care is a really horrible experience!

The Evolution

I had a decent idea that we ideally wanted a vacation of 2 weeks and as such I booked us to and from Istanbul but few days into booking and I realized that these many days just for Turkey would be an overkill. I didn't have to do lot of homework to figure it out that splitting this vacation with Greece would add icing on the cake. And after lot of follow ups with Etihad I could get the boarding airport in the return leg of our tickets changed from Istanbul to Athens as we would be ending our trip in Greece in the revised plans. Not that the originally booked tickets wouldn't have allowed this flexibility but the fact that it could most likely end up creating Visa challenges (for Turkey) besides anyway necessitating us to get us separately booked from Athens to Istanbul just for the transit purpose made the choice clear. Though (because of the unbelievably primitive and enervating trip modification processes of Etihad) I could get the revised itinerary confirmed only on 8th April, the day I finally submitted our Schengen Visa papers to VFS for onward processing by the Greek embassy in Delhi, the cancellation n rebooking (for converting point of boarding from Istanbul to Athens) charges were surprisingly not much, given the fact that I did purchase a promotional price or as they technically term it as "restricted fare"!

Tip 2 for the travellers:

Be open to improvise your 'original' thoughts and/or actions (which are generally guided by impulses than rationality) to get the best value for your buck and more importantly your precious time.

Selecting a trusted service provider

Of late we had been hearing lot of good words about how AirBnB has really made travel planning an involved experience in itself even as it so successfully challenges the traditional way of travelling that allows one to stay in hotels only. There is no harm relying on that tried n tested method, especially if the very thought of encountering unexpected surprises in a foreign land makes you jittery. I figured that the accommodations listed on AirBnB not only normally provide you the flexibility to choose your preferred location suiting your budget but also it more often than not offers the luxury of more than just a single room, in the form of a full apartment. Voilà! This is what you have been dreaming of forever, a real home away from home! Perfect if you don't depend on any advance reservations organized by some tour operators for sightseeing. But not so much should you definitely need them for making any of your land arrangements. Reason is very simple, if you have already booked your flights as well as accommodation there remains very limited scope for them to earn money from you and as such their motivation to work for you just evaporates.

Tip 3 for the travellers:

Should you get tempted to 'explore' exotic locations on AirBnB while not breaking your bank account do make sure that you don't have any iffy conviction about it. Go ahead and just do it but well ahead of your travel dates to give you enough room while you bargain with your tour operators for your 'sightseeing' package. Also, to be able to give you an exact cost they would need all of your stays' coordinates. Since you can't be sure that you would eventually eventually get even a provisional reservation at an AirBnB listing until you make a (negotiated) payment to it and have a booking confirmation in your hands you don't really have a choice but to play blind in this game of "Teen Patti"! That's the most inefficient way of travel planning, especially if you have a budgetary guidance for not going overboard with your splurging!

After doing lot of jugglery (which also included few projective cost scenarios) we decided to stick with the traditional way of seeking services of a tour operator.

If you decide to put your faith in the well 'marketed' names in the industry like Yatra, Ezeego1, MakeMyTrip, etc. be ready to hear that, "Our tours start on...." besides having to bear with their reluctance in offering any customization to their "Set itineraries"!

Of unearthing a true gem and getting preyed by the other

I pinged my ever reliable go-to man Mr. Prakash Raj of MetHolidays / MountainEdge but realized that he doesn't deal with my destinations. A detailed Google search yielded in many names and it appeared to be a very cluttered exercise for several days until my wife stumbled upon a seemingly 'different' name from Istanbul viz. PomegranateTour. I did slightly more intensive research and found that its proprietor Mr. Mevlut Uysal not only had plethora of encomiums showered upon him but also he had more than just a tad better tolerance threshold for Indians! He had attended the recent trade fair in Delhi and had himself clicked with an "Indian actor" Anil Kapoor!

I wasn't convinced with the uneasy observation (or the lack of it) of not having a single negative (or even neutral) reviews about him! How could this gentleman be for true? But I relied upon my instincts and my wife kept the dialogue on with him to eventually curate a 'desired' trip for us while being in Turkey for 8 days. He was upfront on few things he wasn't convinced or comfortable with and emphasized on the same even after understanding that we dearly wanted that! What set him apart from others who also would bluntly deny something that won't easily fit into their scheme of things was his demeanour and patience in describing the challenges which is the hallmark for anybody in this profession.

Today, 5th May is the sixth day in Turkey and I am indeed glad that we chose Mr. Mevlut Uysal for the first part of our trip. It's a real pity that we couldn't jointly engineer our Greece leg for which I had to compromise on somebody who made it look like some doling out for us even at his own price! Also, the fact that there was a serious disconnect in what he promised over the phone and what after lot of pestering came on paper caused one hell of a disturbing feeling. In all fairness it won't be unreasonable to conclude his behaviour as the most sophisticated unethical business practice and I am still not able to come to terms with the fact that I literally ate out of his hands (or should I say calls)! Bad job done Ritesh Garg. Now just pray that nothing untoward happens in the Greek land. I am not publishing this agency's name as I am still optimistic that he has realized his folly and would make amends in time.

Tip 4 for the travellers:

Never let your comfort control your rationality while dealing with those who sound pompous about their services but just throw in the towel on you at your eleventh hour! Avoid dealing with such duds.

For Turkey I can now certainly underwrite the credentials and services of PomegranateTour and Mr. Mevlut Uysal. Just don't waste your time n energy on anyone else. Nobody is perfect and he is also not immune but the realization that apart from the factors genuinely beyond his control he would go more than an extra mile to ensure a lifetime experience for you. I am so very impressed with him that I am tempted to offer a money back guarantee on his behalf for the unfulfilled commitments and experiences! Jokes apart, you won't regret your decision to opt for him over others. That's my word to you. Do lemme know should you get to feel otherwise.

Visa Conundrums

Would you believe that if you don't have a Turkish Visa you could actually afford to fly to any of its (air)ports of landing without having done absolutely anything? I am sure that you are already making faces on this adventurous and/or bogus question. My dear friends you can do it and you would just need a high-speed Internet connection for few minutes after getting out of the aircraft in Turkey to get its e-Visa processed then n there itself, all by yourself! Of course there is a precondition to it for Indian passport holders i.e, they need to have a valid Schengen Visa or any other Visa issued by an OECD member country. If you have that stamped on your passport the Turkish government has indeed done a neat job in literally outsourcing their Visa requirements on others! Absolutely impressive policy for all. I had a truly 'Wow' feeling when I had this Eureka moment!

For Greece Schengen Visa I must confess that I could have avoided the jitters by having enough window between the date of papers submission and the date of travelling. First up, all your papers go to the Greek embassy in Delhi for processing. Then, VFS Global is nothing beyond a glorified courier and you would be making a fool of yourself if you expect them to be in control of the situation at anytime until your 'processed' passport is handed over back to them! They don't even know what exactly is the status of your application!

Tip 5 for the travellers:

Should you plan your vacation in a Schengen (or even other) country whose Visa processing authority is not in your city of residence than get all your ground work done well in advance and do submit your Visa documents at least 3-4 weeks before you intend to travel (I got my Visa in hand barely four days before I was to travel and until then I wouldn't even know whether it got 'rejected')! It's a black box and you ain't sure of your 'status' until you gonna see the verdict yourself!

As for Turkish e-Visa just don't get panicky as long as you have ensured the other 'underlying'. What more could you ask when it costs just $43.7 or around INR 2,800 when in absence of this knowledge your tour operator would charge you an amount nothing less than double of it!

The Currency Matters

Whenever you plan a foreign trip one of the most vital aspects of this planning is to zero down on how much currency is going to suffice for the length of your holiday. Regardless of the limits available on your various credit cards I won't recommend depending upon them in a far off land for two reasons. One, the currency conversion rate applied on your transactions might just actually add up to as high mark ups as 10% over the prevalent IBR (Interbank Rate) at the time of your swiping the card. You would realize that 3.5% plus service tax as published by the banks in their T&C is not what exactly you should factor in your overheads! The bank wouldn't take the reference rate at the very instant you think it should but the one when it actually bills you for the expense which is when the merchant claims it and since it has generally 21 days to do so you are the inadvertently running the exchange rate risk for these many days! Such an opaque process but that's the way it works in real life! Then also the most likely scenario of your card not working overseas even as you might take it for granted after making a call to their helpline to activate the foreign currency transactions! Citi Bank once literally forced me to call its India call centre four times from Thailand for as many swipes I did and every time it would assure me that I won't have to make the next call!

Tip 6 for the travellers:

Don't think of your credit card when travelling out of your home country. Also, don't take any hard cash as that comes at a hefty premium. Instead take a Multi Currency Travel Card and load it with your expected spend. I took YES Bank's MCTC and it's as good or even better than taking hard currency along. Just swipe it at any of the MasterCard ATM's worldwide to get the desired cash in local currency out and that too at a nominal transaction fee! Pretty neat!

Closing Remarks

If by now you are already fried up reading the above article which I won't be surprised if many dismiss as a stretched FAQ section and are wondering as to where is the 'Real' coverage I request you to be patient with me as I am indeed striving hard to share my experiences with you. I promise you that a lot is in store ahead and you could expect me to be as verbose as ever I am in my covering the beautifully vivid offerings of the two neighbours, Turkey and Greece. Stay tuned.

Yours Everlastingly

(C) Rits Original @

P.S.: Excuse any typos and/or contextual errors as like always I have composed this entire write up over my rather plain handset's 5" screen devoid of any spell checker.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

“Fear is the condom of life...

“Fear is the condom of life...

...It doesn’t allow you to enjoy things!”

Before you already train your guns on me for my not merely touching upon a taboo word from any Indian’s dictionary but also for my audacity to ridicule its very purpose I wish to make clear that for all my penchant to be ‘ORIGINAL’ while indulgently playing with my words I have found it quite challenging to come up with a catchy phrase worthy to qualify as a fitting title for the subject matter of this text. Last Sunday’s Academy Awards serendipitously gave me the much needed impetus as an unsuspecting audience heard Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s now (in)famous back stage assertion while attending to media queries after having won the best director & the best film award for his absolutely engaging comedy drama of 2014 ‘Birdman’. When asked, “Did the Oscar validate what he’s been doing and how his ambitious ideas have resulted in these wins?” he cheekily (and possibly without realizing that his every utterance would be cut to swords later) answered “It’s a good question, because I haven’t figured out why I did what I did. I think fear is the condom of life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy things. This was real. It was making love, for sure!

I do not want to ruffle any restively flipping feathers or attract the ire of NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation) which could find this quite ‘Western’ sound bite too uncouth to its mission of making India AIDS free by propagating the cause of safe sex (among others) while encouraging all and sundry to use the most effective deterrent (against AIDS), easily available in the form of an innocuous condom! Contrary to what Inarritu’s hasty (and for its widespread global dissemination, irresponsible as well) metaphor, uttered in a zest might suggest, for all their incontestable life saving potential “Condoms reduce fear, not promote it as the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection causes anxiety, so condoms can help you relax and enjoy your relationship more!

While most of the rational and socially conscientious individuals wouldn’t acknowledge any creative brilliance in the impromptu popcorn burst in Inarritu’s head it would be insane to take away from the fact that Birdmen did indeed win on its cinematic virtues having won plaudits for its long, complex, unbroken shots -- looking like one continuous take. I found a real life parallel of its soothing effect while indulging in one of the most anticipated activity I was looking forward to doing for a long time, Ballooning.

For all its notoriety the only indisputable (and in all fairness I reckon the actually intended) message from the titillating quote is that fear is undeniably the most decisive impediment while one strives to enjoy the life to the fullest, especially when one fancies seeking thrill from various forms of adventure activities but develops a cold feet the moment fear factor assumes precedence over other aspects of such indulgences like the cost involved, etc. Consider the case of such a pleasant experience one could have while gently gliding at a respectable height standing in the comfortable compartment of a hot air balloon! One tends to invariably, selectively browse through the statistically miniscule number of accidents involving this fun activity! Of course, just a couple of days ago the world mourned the second anniversary of the deadliest balloon accident in history when on 26 February 2013, a hot air balloon carrying foreign tourists ignited and crashed near the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt, killing 19 of the 21 people on board! Considering the fact that thousands of balloons ascend every day across various global locations (I was informed that around 1,200 registered balloons ply in the ballooning capital of the world i.e., Cappadocia in Turkey alone) and annually millions of adventure junkies get their quota of fun satiated by riding one of them the probability of a ‘’balloon’ accident is no significantly higher than any other event including and not limited to the omnipresent road accidents taking place everywhere! Not for nothing are accidents called ‘mishaps’ also.

As Wikipedia would confirm the hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology with the first untethered manned hot air balloon flight being operated over 230 years ago! Modern day hot air balloons are able to fly to extremely high altitudes. Almost a decade ago, Vijaypat Singhania made all the Indians proud by setting the world altitude record for highest hot air balloon flight, reaching 21,027 m (68,986 ft)! Still earlier, almost a quarter century ago, the 'Virgin Pacific Flyer' balloon completed the longest flight in a hot air balloon when Per Lindstrand and Richard Branson flew 7,672 km (4,767 miles) from Japan to Northern Canada! With a volume of 74 thousand cubic meters (2.6 million cubic feet), the balloon envelope was the largest ever built for a hot air craft. Designed to fly in the trans-oceanic jet streams, the Pacific Flyer recorded the fastest ground speed for a manned balloon at 245 mph (394 km/h)! Phew! That’s far more than what Lewis Hamilton in control of any formula one beauty could ever dream of and still significantly higher than what the India’s proposed bullet train at 350 km/h would be restricted to offer to its stunned Indian Railways patrons who have never experienced even half of this speed!

Looking for some more of trivia? The longest duration (for a balloon ride) record was set by Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard & Briton Brian Jones, flying in the Breitling Orbiter 3. It was the first nonstop trip around the world by balloon. The balloon left Ch√Ęteau-d'Oex, Switzerland, on 1st March 1999 and landed on 21st March in the Egyptian desert 300 miles (480 km) south of Cairo. The two men exceeded distance, endurance, and time records, travelling 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes! Steve Fossett exceeded the record for briefest time travelling around the world on 3rd July 2002. The new record is 320 h 33 min. If that’s not good enough a motivator for one to shed his or her inhibitions arising out of any insipid fear and look for a hot air balloon around then what else could?

Ballooning is very weather dependent. All the professional agencies organizing balloon safaris would unquestionably inform all those booked with them if the weather is unsuitable. If so be the case, they won’t simply allow any monetary considerations to control their decision making and would ideally allow re-booking for another convenient day. Standing in a hot air balloon doesn't feel the same as standing on the edge of a cliff or being in an aircraft - you float gently along with the breeze so there's no sensation of movement. As they rightly say, “The balloon does not so much as leave the ground as the ground leaves the balloon!” One doesn’t feel any acceleration or movement as one does in a lift or an aircraft. We float gently along with the wind; ballooning is a calm experience, even calmer than swimming with a Dolphin which I did in Pattaya and covered in one of my write-ups in the third week of June 2013 (!

If one were to evaluate the underlying ‘realistic’ fear across different forms of rides then one can’t even compare ballooning with some of the other activities like sky diving & bungee jumping. They are for extreme thrill seekers and would certainly warrant one to have more than average appetite for soaking in the sudden inrush of emotions while over powering the inherent fear psychosis. If one were to start somewhere before enrolling in one’s full course of thrill through his or her life there is no better activity to do but ballooning. If you are not in a hurry to go to a far off place like Cappadocia than look no further. It’s right close to Mumbai, in Kamshet which is around a couple of hours of drive away. Just book your tickets with all of your family members and friends with SkyWaltz (India’s first fully licensed & Government approved commercial Hot Air Balloon operation) and sleep early on the night preceding the day of your flight for you would have to hit the ground running from Mumbai no later than 4:00 AM to be able to reach Kamshet in time well before the sunrise. The tickets could be bought on BookMyShow as well as on SkyWaltz’s own website

In a standard flight around 4 to 8 people could stand in two compartments depending upon the type of balloon. There is no upper age limit but you must be able to stand for around an hour. For all our fascination to take our young guns along to ensure they don’t miss out on their quota of fun there is no point in inconveniencing them if they are too young as the intermittent overhead blast of hot air with a loud thud would scare them off or if they are too short as they won’t be able to see over the sides of basket.

A balloon flies at different heights up to 4,000 feet (which is what the regulatory restrictions put it to by the Air Traffic Controllers as the commercial flights routinely fly just above this height near the ballooning locations which are not so far off from the nearby city airports). In the flight that we took the highly skilled pilot had several years of experience behind him as he so skilfully skimmed the treetops and kept controlling the altitude of the balloon for the best visual experience. He varied the altitude during the flight, flying low (once he almost touched the river flowing just below the balloon’s basket) to offer an exclusive sneak-peak into daily village life and its hidden treasures and then climbed high to witness the amazing patchwork of colours and contours. It was an absorbing experience to say the least which also allowed us to capture the captivating moments from our cameras (just don’t forget to take your selfie-sticks along for allowing you to click your happy moments from several acute angles where you won’t otherwise be able to take your smart phones to for your biological limitation).

The real fun lies in the fact that each flight is spectacularly different from the other (and that’s precisely why I am all geared up for my next flight, in Cappadocia in couple of months from now). Depending upon the day’s weather condition, whilst one knows from where s/he will take-off, nobody would genuinely know where you will be landing as the balloon drifts where the wind decides to take it! Alas, on the day I flew in my maiden flight with my family it was probably the calmest day of the year and that effectively meant there were no surprises in store. I have kept my fingers crossed to get to experience some real thrill in Cappadocia.

Apart from Kamshet I understand that in India other ballooning locations are Jaipur, Pushkar, Neemrana, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Ranthambhore and Hampi. Since most of the Indians who are senior citizens don’t generally feel excited about other adventure activities for all the doting sons and daughters here is what you could do to make for a memorable gift for your parents. On any special day in their calendar just book them & you on a nearby hot air balloon safari and then get to see their happiness for the rest of their life! Easy, isn’t it?

I started this piece from a borrowed quote from the Academy Awards and that’s why it is fitting that I shamelessly borrow another before I warp up. J. K. Simmons who won the best supporting actor award for his awe inspiring (and scary) performance in Whiplash gave a shout-out to his wife and “above average” children before advising viewers to call their mothers and fathers. “Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you,” he said. Who are we to argue?

(C) Rits Original

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Of Roy and his constipatory indulgences!

Of Roy and his constipatory indulgences!

What do you do when you have a constipated itch? Most of the lesser mortals like us would try our grandmother's age old home remedies and more often than not that would just relieve the agony.

But when you are someone with the name Vikramjit Singh you just can't bear with the fact that you are the only one suffering and decide to make it more inclusive by conceiving 'Roy'! And you make sure that the fun doesn't end anytime soon by making all sit on the commode for a good two n half hours! To entice the unsuspecting you add a dose of couple of melodies and if that's not just good enough you get the most popular doctor in the town aka RK to make it appear like an AIIMS' concocted panacea for all of your labour pains! Result? The entire family gets swayed and is lured into buying the forbidden Jamfal... err... Rampal!! Gosh! If someone who had presumably scorched the ramps across the country and who now is well past his shelf life could be made to emote for millions I don't think that I commit any cardinal sin when I daydream of delivering my most popular actor's acceptance speech in the Kodak theatre while receiving my academy award!

This has to be the best product in terms of efforts vs. rewards analysis for its dialogues wouldn't have caused any burning of midnight oil. Its entire constipated star ensemble would have performed for it like they are conversing in their clubhouse. Lesser said the better about either its cinematographic brilliance or editorial merits!

If tomorrow someone files a public interest litigation (PIL) against all of Roy's culprits for grossly wasting the national productivity I wouldn't blink an eye for if ever there was a case of 'forced' censorship it tops the list of qualifiers, beating even RGV's Aag handsomely.

Someone please stall this prescription from becoming an epidemic in itself before it's too late in the day!

(C) Rits Original