Monday, 30 January 2012

Fourth destination : Berlin

Berlin was actually not on my list of places to visit on my first Euro trip.  But on the 2nd day of my trip while I was in Poznan, my host Weronika told me that there is a Couch Surfing conference in Berlin on Friday the 14th of October.  I had heard about this CS conference's that were being conducted by its founder Casey Fenton.  Rahul, the CS moderator of Ahmedabad group had attended one such conference in Istanbul in September, so I had a brief idea about it and it was a very good chance to meet Casey Fenton who created this wonderful wonderful world of Couch Surfing.  With the help of Weronika, I had my invitation to Berlin and she told me I can accompany her and other CS'ers from Poznan who were going there by car.  

So here I am once again on the same train from Warsaw to Poznan on the 14th morning.  I reached there around 11:00 hours and met Weronika.  We all were suppose to go in Kamil's car.  There were 2 more CS'ers Jalal and Magda coming with us.  So together we started our drive to Berlin.  Everyone were being hosted by Weronika's CS friend from Indian Shivam.  My place was not confirmed, so if  I was not being hosted by anyone I had to find one hostel.  But luckily and thanks to Shivam, he agreed to host me.  He was also hosting an Australian CS'er Kelly.  So in all we were 5 people being hosted by Shivam.  Magda was leaving the same  night for Munich.  We reached Berlin by evening and after meeting Shivam, we all left for the CS conference.

The conference was being held at some hotel and there were people from all over the world but mostly from Europe. Everything was arranged perfectly right from the registration, refreshments, sitting arrangements and all other things.  Casey Fenton started addressing with a welcome note and then rest of the things followed like how he founded Couch Surfing, why they got CS as a B-corp, what are their plans for CS in the future, what we all CS'ers want from Couch Surfing and also answered some queries about the new features released by CS.  Though there were some dumb and duplicate questions, but Casey handled them perfectly and with amazing calm and professionalism.  During one break I got a chance to talk to him one on one and came to know he might visit India in March 2012 for conducting the same sort of conference and spreading the awareness of why and for what Couch Surfing got registered as B-corp.  It was just wonderful to meet the founder of such an amazing community spread around the world.

Casey Fenton addressing the conference
Once the CS conference was over, Berlin CS community had organized a party at a nearby pub.  Most of us had gathered there and the party had just begun.  Everyone grabbed their drink and were introducing each other and soon the pub was packed with CS'ers.  There was also one cocktail that was specially prepared for the event and it was named The Couch Surfing Drink. Soon the CS Berlin guys announced the next day's activities which included the old Berlin city walk, dinner and then a Pub Crawl.  The options for dinner was a Mexican restaurant,  Indian restaurant and some 3rd option that I forgot.  Soon almost everyone wanted to have dinner at the Indian restaurant.

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Everyone partied till late night and we reached home way past mid night.  First evening and night in Berlin was awesome and we all were looking forward for the CS events on the next day.  We all woke up next day late in the afternoon and after a quick breakfast we headed to Alexanderplatz from where the old Berlin city walk was suppose to start.  We visited St. Mary's Church, Neptune's Fountain, the famous Berlin TV tower and the old town hall.  The guy who was conducting this walk was a unique and funny guy.  A bottle of beer and a cigarette either of them was always seen in his hand.
He didn't even  thought for a second when he went up to a tree in the open to piss, very much as it is in India. While explaining a map of one part of old Berlin city he used his toothbrush as a pointer.
Berlin TV tower

Anyways late afternoon while the old city walk was still on few of us left it as we were really hungry and little bit tired too.  So decided to have some food and relax by the bank of the river. It was a bright sunny day and the warm rays of the sun were so soothing. We almost had like a tiny winy power nap and then headed for dinner. Unfortunately all our hopes of having a delicious Indian dinner was washed away as the Indian restaurant was closed.  And so we all went to the Mexican restaurant.  Some nice mexican food and then we were all off for the Pub Crawl.  It was something I was part of for the first time.  Since alcohol is prohibited in my city and state, I had no ideas what a Pub Crawl actually is.  It was Saturday night and getting drunk was the idea.  So the whole group from one pub to another.  Have lots of beer or shots of vodka or whatever and then move on to another one.  Kept meeting new people and drinking.  Last pub that we were going to visit was a unique one.  It was started in 1975 and the guys told us that since than it haven't been closed for even a single day.  It has been running constantly since its open.  Around midnight we were in that pub and I was damn tired and little bit tipsy too.  Finally Kamil, Jalal and me decided to head back.  

Next day Kamil, Jalal and me were heading back to Poznan.  Weronika had decided to stay back as she wanted to have a one on one meeting with Casey Fenton.  Finally it was time to say goodbye to my host Shivam, Kelly and Weronika.  In some 4 hours we reached Poznan.  Kamil dropped me at the railway station and I had to catch a train to Warsaw.  Weronika had told me there is a slow and cheap train to Warsaw at around 18:30 hours and I had reached the station at around 16:00 hours.  Still the indicator which was luckily in English, didn't show any trains after 18:00 hours.  I saw there are couple of trains before 18:00 hours.  So I thought lets ask at the inquiry if this trains were cheap or expensive.

I asked the lady at the inquiry counter.  Train to Warsaw ?  The lady replied to me in Polish.  I said, English ? And she flatly replied 'No English'.  I was totally zapped. What to do ?  One woman behind me in the queue wrote me down on a paper that there is a train to Warsaw at 17:30.  I checked it on the indicator and it was an EC train which I had read are more expensive than the IR trains.  But since I didn't know Polish I didn't ask anyone about the pricing info.  I waited till the indicator showed my train of 18:30 hours.  Finally got the ticket and was on the Peron (Platform).  This train is like a general unreserved train of India.  And everyone wanted to board the train so that they can grab a seat.  I was really lucky enough to somehow manage to get one sit while I saw many were standing in the narrow corridor.  Finally I was in Warsaw and reached Dorota's place before they went to sleep.

Mother's home cooked food.

Yesterday evening Palak, Naren, Olga, Yanina and myself went to watch a movie. AGNEEPATH - yes that was the name of the movie.  Its a remake of the original AGNEEPATH released in 1990 starring the God of bollywood Amitabh Bachchan.  The movie actually has now become a classic one and hence the remake was definitely on my must see movie list.  To know more about the original movie read this link.

The movie has been shot very beautifully and the actors are chosen just perfectly to suit the original cast.  It started off well and kept me and I guess my friends too totally engrossed in it.  There was one particular scene where the mother of the leading character Vijay, asks her to come inside her home and have dinner and then go.  Vijay refuses saying he already had dinner.  But his mother confidently tells him that no, you haven't and thats why better come inside and eat.  Its been 15 years since he had eaten his mother's home cooked food. :(  For once I remembered myself in the same situation.  

Its been almost little bit more than 15 years that I haven't eaten my mother's home cooked food and for my entire life I will never have it. :(  I Still remember those school days when everyday before going to school she used to cook and serve me hot and fresh roti's and how I savored everyday just 3 things in my dish.  Roti, Dal and Rice.  Everyday for years I had just this 3 things and they were the most delicious and my favorite. :)   I still remember the day when I came back from my brief stay at Nasik Military School, the first thing I did was, asked her where is my lunch.  And in no time hot Roti, Dal and Rice were in front of me on the dining table.  I was just away for 15 days and the thing that I missed most was my mother's home cooked food.  

This scene in the movie where Vijay eats his mother's food as if he will never again be able to get it so very much reminded me of my mother's food.  Definitely for me no restaurant can give me the taste and the love that was there in my mother's food.  Its so touching how a mother derives immense happiness in cooking and serving for her kids.  I still remember while I used to have my lunch in the kitchen, my mother cooked hot roti's and kept asking me do you want one more, is everything tasting okay ?  And today I guess its one thing that I miss the most.  Though as a child I was kind of a perfect brat who used to make her angry with my pranks and mischief's.  But yes no matter what, the way a mother feeds I suppose no one else can take her place.  

Saturday, 28 January 2012

While attending a religious ceremony

I'm tired today though I slept for almost 2 hours in the evening after coming back from a Jain religion's pretty big ceremony.  Today my Uncle and Auntie celebrated their 25th marriage anniversary.  I congratulate them and wish they celebrate their golden jubilee too.  My aunt belongs to the Jain religion.  It was her wish to have this big religious ceremony on her 25th wedding anniversary and invite families from her and my uncle's side.  The venue was a small village name SHERISA some 25 kms from Ahmedabad.  Most of the family gathered there on 26th evening itself after visiting some few religious places and were suppose to stay there for the next day's religious function.  I don't know much about this religious ceremony as i'm not very much inclined to religion and also I don't belong to this religion.  But still I know some what as lot of people from my business circle belong to Jainism.  This ceremony that was conducted today is called SIDDH CHAKRA PUJAN. (You can read more on this ceremony on this link

The ceremony started at 10:00 hours instead of 09:00, that is 60 minutes late.  I was told by my uncle that it will last for 3 hours.  I somehow didn't feel like sitting along side other people in this ceremony as somehow I am not able to believe in such religious ceremonies.  There were few priests.  One was showing each steps of conducting the ceremony.  There were few women priests who were narrating interesting stories on why people should follow Jain religion and while narrating the moral of this stories they were saying and trying to portray that Jain religion is the greatest and supreme religion.  And lastly there was one guy who was controlling the whole ceremony.  He was chanting the Shloka's, singing prayers and spiritual songs.  I was sitting there watching all the proceedings.  

In some time I started feeling uncomfortable being part of it when the guy who was controlling this ceremony made some comments and remarks which kind of degraded the existence of human being.  While asking for some women to perform some part of the worship, he particularly announced that the woman should not be a widow.  A widow is not allowed to do that particular part of the worship.  I was like, does that mean being a widow is kind of a punishment not to worship God.  What's the women's fault if she became a widow ?  And with what right you deny a person to worship God ?  When God never discriminated between his disciples why should we ?  

Soon during while narrating a story, one of the lady priest declared that Muslim religion is famous for unity, Vaishnav religion is famous for its passion of worship and Jain religion is famous for mercy.  I was shocked.  How can that be possible ?  So I waited to hear the reason and the reason she gave was simply unacceptable to me.  The base of her declaration was the number of cow shelters that were run by the money donated from people belonging to Jainism.  As per the lady priest this was one reason why Jainism is suppose to be the greatest religion.  Again the rebel inside me got furious.  Who gave this person the right to again make discriminatory remarks against different religions ?  I strongly believe that every religion in a way preaches the same and its main purpose is to provide spiritual peace to human beings.

Voluntary money donations to religious bodies have always been there.  But asking for money in this religion seems to be a routine exercise.  The person who was controlling the ceremony announced for voluntary donations from everyone.  When in a gathering of about 100 persons it all comes down to show business.  As my uncle is a very popular person among his social circle, everyone started pouring good amount of money to look good to him.  And lastly what will happen to this money ?  As per the announcement, all the money was to be donated to the keeping of cow shelters where hundreds of them shall be fed and protected from getting slaughtered.  Yes in my state slaughtering of cow for beef is illegal and a punishable offence.  Why only cow ?  Because in India and in Hindu or Jain religion cow is a holy animal and it is worshiped as Mother Cow.  But strangely the same people hate this animal a lot when they see them strolling on the road and when it becomes so dangerous to drive.

It hurts me more to see that this same people have money to donate for a cause for an animal but most of them do not donate for millions of poor people that live in my country.  There are millions who do not get even 2 times of food, millions who do not have warm clothes in winter, thousands who do not have a shelter and there are millions of kids who lack proper education facilities.  The problems are huge and need huge amount of contributions.  If millions of this donations to the temples are channeled to the causes of human beings in this country.  In just few years poverty and illiteracy can be eradicated from this country.

All this priests from Jain, Swaminarayan and other religions they preach and ask for huge donations from rich people and they get it too.  This donations are used to built lavish temples and to organize ceremonies where thousands of people belonging to the community are fed.  Instead why not built houses to the homeless, why not create better schools for the poor and why not teach the population basic things of cleanliness and public hygiene.  Why can't this priests ask the rich people to take pledge, not to resort to corrupt ways of earning money ?  In a country where religion is considered so big that it can affect the sentiments of millions why not use this energy to create a better country instead of illogically wasting it in building grand and more grand temples.  Its shockingly surprising that my city Ahmedabad has the most Jain temples than all Jain temples built in the world together.

I just hope that better sense prevails at least on the young generation and they start a revolution that would change the religious scenario in this great country and instead the poor and needy people are benefited from huge monetary donations.  AMEN.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A surprise gift from South Africa

Today in the afternoon I received one parcel that I was expecting.  Lanie had told me few weeks back that she had couriered one South African bracelet for me.  It was a very nice gesture.  When I saw the parcel it was quiet big enough for just one bracelet.  I opened it and there were 2 covers, 6 small bottles, 6 boxes of different sizes and 4 bars of chocolates.  I was zapped.  Wow so much stuff.  AMARULA (google, if you don't know it) as I can't mention about it here, since i'm writing from the land where alcohol is prohibited.  Different types of chocolates and cakes.  Most importantly a nice bracelet (which is now on my wrist) and one card.  I read the card twice and was just over whelmed on knowing how much she valued our friendship, and that too it was in a typical Lanie styled humor.  Who knew that few years back the person whom I met while playing farmville on Facebook will be such a good friend of mine.

Yes I met her few years back while playing farmville on Facebook.  Though I've stopped playing it now, but still I should say that I owe a lot to farmville.  I still remember the first time we were chatting, when I told her that I'm from India, she was kind of ignoring me saying that she is too strong for India and Indians.  That kind of made my adrenalin race with Carl Lewis.  And being so passionate about my country I kind of challenged her that atleast with me she can't say like that.  So that's how we started talking and telling more about each other.  We had our ups and downs and were almost done with each other, deleted each other from our friends list also, but I should definitely be thankful to Mr. Kyle Bennet that Lanie and me gave it another shot and now our ship is rock steady.  

I was the first Indian that she was talking to for such a long time and now she has an army of Indian friends.  She enjoys talking to them and might get rid of her lonely times also.  I'm really glad to have a friend like her in my life with whom I can just go back and talk just about anything.  Talk about my fears, loneliness, happiness, share my philosophy and also sometimes argue and quarrel too.  Thank you so much Lanie.  DIL SE SHUKRIYA....

Monday, 23 January 2012

Third destination : Kaunas

It was Sunday, the 9th of October I left for Kaunas in the evening to meet my friend Asta. It was my first bus trip in Europe. That day morning I had visited the Warsaw Zachodnia Bus Terminal to confirm the evening bus timings and also buy the ticket. Dorota had some appointment in the evening, so I had to reach there on my own. She showed me the bus stop near her place and the bus number. So accordingly I reached there but I was atleast one hour earlier. I sat on the benches, roamed around in the bus terminal and looked out if I can get something to eat which is not very expensive but still can stuff me. Finally I found one nice cafe and after looking at the menu ordered one Zapiekanka for 7 zł. Zapiekanka is an open face sandwich made from halved one foot bread topped with sauteed mushrooms and cheese. It was good enough. I kept going out of the terminus to check if my bus had been parked at the terminal or not. As this time I didn't wanted to catch my bus at the last minute. I was skeptical enough to miss it. Finally I saw my bus parked at the terminal. It was a Simple Express night bus from Warsaw to Vilnius via Kaunas. While waiting to board the bus I met one Indian couple living in Warsaw who had come to see off their Indian friend from Ukraine who had come to visit Warsaw for work.

Let me say something about Asta Mineikaite from Kaunas, Lithuania.  Well I met her in September 2010 while she arrived in Ahmedabad for a year's internship.  Along with other friends we enjoyed almost every festival of India.  Had lots of philosophical talks.  Had lunch almost every week along with other friends.  Many times she used to be my pillion rider on my bike while going to office and also while coming back from office.  We had our small quarrels and arguments too few times, but just for a day or two and then things got sorted out, mostly on FB chat.  I guess this helped us to know each other much better.  It was quiet exciting that I was going to meet her in just 2 months after she had left India.  

My bus was suppose to arrive in Kaunas at 04:45 hours in the morning.  The bus terminus building opened only at 06:30 hours and Asta lived on the outskirts of the city and from her place the first bus started only at around 05:45 hours.  So I had to sit and wait for more than a hour outside the bus terminus.  When the bus reached Kaunas the outside temp. was 4 deg. and it was really really cold.  No option but I had to wait for the bus terminus building to open and thank god it finally opened and I sat in the warm building waiting for Asta to arrive.  Finally she came and it was really nice to see her once again after she had left India.  Again  I wasn't able to still believe that I was meeting her.  Finally we reached her house.  It was a nice warm house and after a small nap and breakfast we decided to go out and see the city.  I also met her mother. I didn't know Lithuanian and she was not speaking English.  But still it was not at all hard to greet each other.
Church of Archangel Michael

We started with meeting Asta's friend on the university street and they exchanged a fish-jar.  I don't remember the story behind it right now.  And then we walked on the street and we kept on talking and walking.  We passed 2 young couples talking among themselves and one of the girl looked at me and pointing her finger towards me said something to the other one in the local language.  I suppose may be she must be telling her friend 'Hey look a foreigner'. 
University street of Kaunas

Well by now I was accustomed to such stares.  While in the metro in Warsaw or in the train to Poznan and back I was getting few stares.  But being a man I guess its easy to deal with such things than being a woman. I told this to Asta and she said to  me in a little sarcasm, so you see how you feel when you get such stares ?  She of course received lots of such unwanted stares during her stay in India.  We reached the Church of Archangel Michael and also saw the statue of a 'Naked man', though I don't know the name of it, but it could grab attention of any traveler.  

Other side of  the Artificial Lake
Then she took me to see the Kaunas Sea (Kauno marios), a large artificial lake created by damming the river Nemunas.  The lake is really a big one. It is used for producing hydro-electricity. Besides many people use this lake for rowing, sailing, swimming and of course under the warm summer sun the shores must be getting packed with people just lying down to relax and have some sun. There is also a nice yatch club running there. It was really getting very cold and windy. So we finally  decided to head back to the center.  We needed to have something warm and so we sat in a nice restaurant  and ordered some Hot Wine.  First time in my life I was having it and loved it.  It was a wonderful day spend talking and walking along side narrow roads with lush green nature around.  You don't get much of a chance to walk in nature like this in my city Ahmedabad.  Finally time to head back.  I had booked my return bus ticket for the next day night.  Back home Asta made for me blue berry dumplings.  Another first for me.  Never had tasted blue berries.  

Next day we had decided to go to the capital Vilnius, but somehow we both got lazy when we woke up.  So instead we took a stroll on the back side of where Asta lived. We walked and talked and I was just like WOW.  There were small clean ponds, open farm lands, apple trees in the backyard of houses, autumn flowers and the sun was shining bright.  We were walking around on a lovely morning. Soon as if the clouds had swallowed the sun, the sky was grey and it seemed it will rain.  So we headed back home and it started to drizzle.  Luckily we reached home in time.  Sitting at home we thought of watching a movie.  After shuffling between few we started watching a Portuguese movie shot in Brazil.  Was a nice movie.  Time went past and my 2 days in Kaunas with Asta were almost going to end.  So before leaving we decided to have a dinner together.  Who knows next when we are able to meet up. So Lithuanian dinner to end my trip to Kaunas.  We went to a very nice restaurant which had a very traditional ambiance.  So it was mashed potatoes with cheese, mushroom cutlets and boiled beetroot.  Dinner was delicious.  Finally it was time for me to head for the bus stop.  Before leaving Asta had packed me some Lithuanian chocolates for the Orchidian's back in Ahmedabad and home made cake for Dorota and Bartek.  It was so very thoughtful of her.  
Traditional Lithuanian food.

So once again I was at the bus terminal and I had to wait there for the bus for about 70 - 90 minutes.  My bus was to depart at around 23:30 and the terminal building closed at 22:30.  Once it got closed was so lonely at the bus terminal.  I came across 2 drunk men asking me for a light.  While sitting on the bench one very weird lady taking baby steps kept walking towards me and was also kind of staring at me.  What to do?  Finally got up from there and sat on the bench at the small bus stop.  Finally the bus arrived and I was on my way back to Warsaw.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Delhi weddings are GRAND

18th January, 18.30 hours I left the Ahmedabad railway station for Delhi.  Generally every year I go to Delhi before 14th Jan. mostly for work purpose.  This time it was work combined with attending a marriage.  I had only heard and that too about the marriages of few really rich people, how lavishly they organize the marriage functions of son's and daughter's.  So here was my chance to attend one Delhi marriage. :)  Though I was not even slightly excited about the lavishness of this marriage while in the train.  We were altogether 6 people, all customers of this vendor who had invited us for his daughter's marriage on 19th Jan.  We all were informed that a hotel room was booked for everyone of us and there were also customers from other cities arriving either on 19th morning or in the afternoon.  Only thing that the trains from the South-East part of India were all running 5 - 8 hours late because of the heavy fog that comes down on Delhi during winter.  

We reached Delhi about 90 min. late than our scheduled time.  Atulbhai who was their distributor in Gujarat was managing everything for us.  He got a call when we reached Old Delhi railway station that a car has been send for us.  So finally we reached Hotel Tourist on Qutab Road, Paharganj.  Everyone was given a room to be shared with someone.  The marriage was in the evening on the out skirts of Delhi on Delhi - Jaipur highway.  We were suppose to reach the venue by 21.00 hours.  Generally the marriages in Delhi start very late.  So we all decided to gather at the hotel around 19.00 hours and leave by 19.30.  Everyone got ready, had breakfast and left for their work.  

I had to meet few vendors and that was all.  We all reached the hotel and were ready by 19.30.  Finally everyone came down and were waiting to board the mini buses.  Meanwhile I met other guests from Nagpur, Bareilly, Indore, Chennai, Vijaywada.  After approx. 90 min. and juggling between the heavy traffic of Delhi we reached the venue and as we entered the main gate I saw that the Barat (Groom's procession) had just arrived.  The main venue was little bit inside and there were security guards with illuminated sticks guiding the vehicles to the parking lot.  We got down and reached the main entrance and the first thing I said was 'WOW'.  The hugely decorated main entrance itself was a sign how big and grand the inside stage and center will be.  We all were staring at the main entrance :-0 and finally entered the huge venue.  I was just stunned by the decoration in and around the venue.  

The whole space was surrounded by artificially decorated walls with lights illuminating the craved sections on the walls.  The main stage was at the far end in the middle in white and light pink color, decorated with several flower arrangements.  On its right was a stage built for all the performances that were going to happen that night.  On the back wall of this stage there was a huge picture of the bride and groom.  A huge decorated sitting arrangement was there right in the middle of the venue.  There were big peacocks erected at several places across the venue and they were all decorated with flowers.  Several gas towers were put to keep the guests warm as the temp. had gone down to 3 deg.  The entire floor was covered with artificial grass mattresses.  There were several people moving across the venue serving north indian starters to all the guests.  On one corner of the venue there was a huge tent built as a bar.  In no time the whole tent was filled with men.  Yes mostly men.  There were several counters serving South Indian starters, Chats, Chinese and Mexican starters.  There was a separate fruit counter and it mostly had all the uncommon fruits.  A separate  counter for non-alcoholic cocktails.  And finally on the extreme left covering approx. 25 % of the venue were the main food counters.  

The first hour I spend meeting different vendors from Delhi and Mumbai that had come for the wedding.  Meanwhile the baraat arrived and we went their actually to meet the person who had invited us all.  This man 20 years back was nothing.  He was working with a small company in the admin.  People in my trade still today sing his story of success.  How he had started a small venture and in doing something different from the competitors made him a huge name across India in my trade.   We all greeted him, congratulated him and gave the presents to him.  The groom was welcomed and guided to the stage in grand style.  And in few minutes the bride arrived sitting on a peacock carriage.  The carriage was lifted by few men and they carried the bride towards the stage.  As the bride reached the stage the groom came down the stairs to greet the bride.  Soon a string of bollywood songs were playing in the back ground.  Both the bride and the groom were on the stage and it was time for 'JAIMALA'.  The bride and groom were ready to exchange the garlands and while they were putting the garlands across each others neck, they were showered with rose petals by 2 machines on each sides.  Fire crackers went up in the sky on all corners and at the back 2 cranes raised a long string with crackers that was lit during the jaimala ceremony.  Soon the relatives and well wishers started coming on the stage to wish the couple and give them the presents.

And it was time for us to relish at the food counters.  I had my dish and started going from one counter to another.  Never had I seen so many food dishes in a marriage.  I was already full with the starters but didn't wanted to loose out on the main course.  I started with Shahi Paneer, Kashmiri Dum Aloo, Papad, some salads, Dal Makhani, Palak Paneer and 2 hot Phuka's.  The food was just delicious and I was relishing every bite of it.  I went a little bit ahead and there was one of my favorite dish.  Sarson da Saag and Makke di Roti.  Hot Gulab Jamuns along with atleast 10 other sweets.  In total there were 17 dishes of vegetables, 4 dishes of rice and one full counter of various salads.  Not to forget there was one counter of pastries, pudding and cakes, hot badam - kesar milk, kulfi's, ice cream and hot coffee too.  Aah I was simply stuffed now.  Not even an inch of space left in my stomach.  I was now roaming across the venue, waiting for others to finish there dinner.  I came to know while talking with few people that the father of the bride had gifted her a Mercedes 'S' class as a wedding gift.  There were approx. 2000 guests and one dish was costing approx. 2200 Rs.  People were discussing that in my trade in Delhi, this was the most grand marriage till date in Delhi.  It was really getting chilly and once everyone was done we decided to leave.  Outside was a big stall of Indian mouth freshener PAAN.  How can any lavish dinner end without having Paan  ?  So we all had one as per own choice and headed back to the hotel.

For my next 2 days in Delhi I had few talks with other vendors about the wedding.  Seems it became the talk of the market.  Surprisingly someone was just overwhelmed by the grandeur of the marriage while some were just criticizing the management or the taste of food or the number of dishes.  All in all for me it was one hell of an experience.  

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

2012 's Uttarayan - Couch Surfing Ahmedabad's First Event

14th January.... Every year this day is celebrated as Uttarayan in my part of India.  Its the day when almost whole of my city, Amdavad is on the roof flying kites and having loads and loads of fun.  After joining Couch Surfing in 2009, it has become a very integral part of my life.  So anything new that comes across to me in CS I grab it immediately.  Few months back Rahul, Piyush, Palak, Amit, Nishith and me had a small get together and suddenly at midnight we decided to organize & host Couch Surfing Ahmedabad's first grand event of Uttarayan - Kite flying.

So we began brainstorming sessions on Facebook as a group chat.  Every day whoever out of the six of us was having some free time, started putting their ideas.  Finally the first step was taken.  The invitation write up was put on India and Ahmedabad CS group and immediately we started getting good responses.  Next was the venue and after some scouting finally the roof of a commerce college in the heart of old city was fixed thanks to Piyush.  The CS event for Uttarayan was created in Ahmedabad group.  The enthusiasm grew more among us and we started putting all our unique ideas into action. Meanwhile we started getting messages and CS requests from travelers wanting to attend this event of ours and people started listing themselves for the event.  Ten days before the festival our event for 50 people was full and still more requests were coming in.  Every CS'er was provided a host except for the last one's.  Originally I was hosting just 2 people, but ended up hosting 6 people.  Two Serbs, Three Chinese and One Norwegian.  

CS'ers on the heritage walk
The event started on 13th afternoon with the old city heritage walk.  First spot was Bhadra Fort.  Ahmedabad CS'er Sanjaybhai had taken the initiative to conduct this walk.  I guess its little over one year that I met Sanjaybhai in one of the CS meets and he has been one of the active persons and of tremendous help to the CS community of Ahmedabad.  I visited Bhadra Fort for the first time and wow the view from the top was amazing.  Then we walked through Teen Darwaaza, Manekchowk and after seeing Jama Masjid finally ended the walk at Sidi Saiyeed Ni Jali.  Lastly chai with maska bun at Lucky restaurant.  This place again is a very unique one for it has graves of some Islamic saints right inside the restaurant.  Then we all headed to Vishala restaurant, the best for traditional gujarati food.  Finally a very good start to the first part of our CS event ended  and we decided to meet at the venue next day at 10.00 hours.

So 14th Jan. as decided everyone started arriving at the venue from 10.00 hours onwards.  The music guy came and put up the music system that we had managed after a lot of juggling.  Kites, string reels, finger tapes, CS badges, snacks, drinks and music, everything was managed.  The wind was quiet okay and the first kite was up in no time from our venue. More and more people started arriving and in an hour or so the venue was packed.  We had CS'ers from America, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Columbia, China, India, Israel, Norway, Serbia, Sweden and also some expats living in Ahmedabad attending this event of ours.  It was really overwhelming and a nice feeling when every CS'er of Ahmedabad came upto us and congratulated us for organizing such a fantastic event.  Very soon it was known to all of us who organized this event that our efforts were appreciated and liked by all.  After all we really had taken care of almost all aspects of making this event a grand success.  Only disappointment was that there was almost no wind during the later part of the day and that really didn't help flying kites at all.

So instead of flying kites I kept clicking some pics. As the sun started going west it was time for some celebrations.  It was on Rahul's suggestion that   a cake with the design of Couch Surfing - Ahmedabad on it was ordered.  And   it was   time now to celebrate the success of our event.   Finally we let loose some chinese lanterns in the sky   and the sky  looked  beautiful  at   twilight filled with so many of this lanterns.  
A chinese lantern being released 

Though it was banned from this year by the govt. as it can cause fire very easily but who cares. Though we should but still.....We also had planned to fly paper lamps attached to the string of a big kite, but lack of wind ruined our plans.  That would have been a wonderful site to watch. But anyhow this event was a success.  We had more people than we had expected and everyone appreciated our efforts.  Apart from being part of the organizers, the most important part was that it gave all six of us to work as a team and know each other more. We were able to dig into the lighter and darker sides of each other.  Not to take it too seriously though when I mean 'darker side', but its actually the fun side.  Chatting everyday on FB, our group chat has more than 2200 messages and still its going on strong.  For me it is this one to one connections with people whom I get along easily that counts a lot.  Thanks to Couch Surfing.

Once again thanks to CouchSurfing I got the challenge of hosting 6 people at a time and hopefully everyone had a comfortable stay at my place.  It was so very nice when the Chinese CS'ers left my place presented me with postcards and some experiences from their travel journey.  Its very heart warming.  

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Loneliness...This word is kind of scary.  Isn't it ?  Well may be not for few.  But for many people this word becomes really scary once they enter their late twenties.  Wonder how many people in my country or across the world fearing this state of life that is loneliness, keep living with a person with whom given an option they won't live with that person.  I might be wrong but I've seen lots of such people.  To come out of this comfort zone suddenly is very difficult.

Today morning Lanie asked me, are you feeling very lonely.  I said yes.  Offered me if she can be of any help and was feeling little bit sad that she was unable to help me out.  But there is no one who can help me out.  Its me and only me who can take me out of this mess around me.  Its very frustrating that you want to do whatever you can to solve the problems but some circumstances are such that they take time to change.  No matter how many kicks and punches you hit some things they change at their own pace.  If you try to force it'll will cause you only loss.  Some has rightly said.  Wait for the right time.  Yes for me too this wait seems to be a long one. Can't help.  But it surely makes you feel weak and frustrated.

But thanks to my friends and some special friends I keep floating and have phases of happiness that tends to make me forget the mess around me....

Today's Bathroom Thought

I don't know why but today while I was taking shower, this thought suddenly ran through my mind.  Since I've started to put up my Europe trip here, I've not managed to put more.  Consider it me being lazy or may be lack of time.  Whatever it may be.  So I guess it'll take many days or weeks to complete my entire Europe trip experience.  And I felt like I don't want to miss out on putting here all those thoughts and vibrations of my mind and of course the feelings running in my heart.

So why not keep putting here things simultaneously over here ?  And I got the answer in affirmative.  So now I'll break my Europe trip here and keep putting many things and simultaneously my Europe trip experience too...

By the way today me and my couch surfing (CS) friends Rahul and Amit went to the kite market and did lots of shopping.  Yeah shopping.  Well this is interesting.  In the month of November another CS friend Piyush (we call him Baapu) invited Rahul, Amit, Nishith, Palak and me for some drinks.  It was at this gathering that this idea of organizing a CS event for Uttarayan (Kite flying festival) was conceptualized.  One by one so many thoughts were put together and we finally were very determined to host it.  Lets see how our event goes....

Friday, 6 January 2012

Second destination : Poznan

I had my CS host's phone number and so I text'd her that I've boarded the train and will be in Poznan at around 11.30 hours.  During the journey I really enjoyed the beautiful views of the huge farms and small villages.  Everything around me was new.  The type of train, very few people in the compartment, one girl next to me was traveling with her dog.  Traveling in a train with your pet like a dog or a cat is pretty much common I guess in Europe.  One more annoying thing, you can buy a train ticket in the train itself from the conductor.  Never you can do that in India.  You can get an upgrade if there is vacancy, but never can buy a ticket in the train.

Finally I arrived in Poznan.  Weronika told me she will come at the station to pick me up.  That was really very very nice of her.  I was waiting for her outside the station and in few minutes she arrived and it was pretty obvious for her to recognize me.  We exchanged the initial greetings and off we went for breakfast.  She took me to a nice restaurant in the main city center, where there was a crowd of tourists gathered clicking at some building.  Weronika explained to me that its the tower with 2 goats who shall fight at 12.00 hours and its one of the main attraction of the city.  I was lucky to get the glimpse of this unique goat tower.  We had a very nice breakfast and some really good conversation on couch surfing and life in general.
At the Poznan CS meet with my host - Weronika
Then she took me around the city while we had some nice talk about her thesis on CS and what her future plans are.  I told her about some of my beautiful CS experiences and how India is and also since she was a big fan of Indian food, we discussed what shall I be cooking for her.  This I had proposed to her in my CS request to her.  So than it was time to do some shopping for ingredients for the Indian dishes.  We went to a big mall and in it to a super market which had one whole section filled with Indian spices, ready to cook food packs and few other things.  We had decided to cook some Pakoras and Rice and Dal.  Surprisingly we found a pack of cooked Dal.  So off we went to her house.  It was kind of on the outskirts of Poznan, not very far as Poznan itself is not very big in area.  So here I am starting my first official surfing out of India.

Weronika lived with her mother who was at work when we reached her house.  It was a very very nice and cozy flat and she showed me the couch that I was suppose to surf.  While talking with her she told me about this Couch Surfing conference that was going to take place in Berlin the next weekend and I was thrilled to hear that.  We checked online and the invitations were still vacant.  She send me an invite on my e-mail and we were done.  So now it was time for some Indian cooking.

Firstly we decided lets cook some Pakoras with Indian tea.  She didn't have milk or tea leaves at home so we went to a nearby shop and got it.  We prepared some onion, potatoes and pepper pakoras and some Chai.  To be honest the chai wasn't upto the mark, as the tea leaves were mild in taste and also without ginger, the tea spice masala chai is incomplete.  But still it was nice and I enjoyed it with out nice talks.  First time in my life I had sparkling water at her place.  Now it was the time to cook Rice and Dal.  Instead of just plain rice I thought lets make a simple Pulao.  We didn't had green peas, but then there were potatoes and onions which were enough.  Finally our Pulao and Dal were ready.  We sat down to eat but I put forward one condition.  We shall eat Rice & Dal as they are eaten in India with hand and not any spoon or fork.  And Weronika readily agreed.  It was really fun.  The food was little bit spicy but she loved eating spicy food, so that was perfect for her.  

I was lucky that I was in Poznan on a Thursday as every Thursday there is a CS meet there and it would have been wonderful to attend one such meet up outside of India.  So after dinner Weronika and me took a tram and headed for the CS meet.  Initially we went to the wrong place but Weronika easily founded the right one.  It was a nice cafe with dim yellow light and lots of young people talking and drinking.  I met there few nice people from Canada, America and also from Poznan.  We had some nice interesting talks and after few glasses of beer it was time to try something else.  There was this drink on the counter for 10 PLN.  It was called the Bolivian Kiss...Well don't remember much what exactly it was made from, but we had a shot of it and it was nice.  The cafe was getting little bit crowded, so few of us decided to check out some other places.  It was Thursday and felt like as if the weekend was already there.  We went to another bar and again had some drinks before finally hitting the Buddha Bar.  Loud music, lots of people and LCD's showing bollywood movie scene's.  I was like what ?  Bollywood movie scenes and trance music going on ?  But I enjoyed it along with very friendly people.  Surprisingly one local polish guy also offered me and my friends a free shot of Tequila.  Hmmm that was very generous.  

We finally decided to hit back for home and finally at around 04.00 hours we went to bed.  I slept late next day and woke up hungry.  My train back to Warsaw was in the afternoon.  So we decided to go to town, have some late breakfast and then Weronika offered me drop me back to the station.  While walking in the city I really felt very cold and thought my warm jacket from India won't help me survive in this freaking cold weather.  So got my souvenir from Poznan, a nice really warm jacket that would save me on my entire trip.  So finally a nice walk in a park and then some stuffing potato breakfast in a restaurant known for its potato dishes.  We reached the station and it was time to head back to Warsaw hoping to meet my super host Weronika again next weekend to go to Berlin for the CS conference.

I must say to meet such a passionate CS'er was indeed a pleasure.  Very smart, confident, brave and very independent.  I wish she gets to visit one of her dream destination India very soon.  I'm sure she'll have an awesome time traveling the length and breadth of India.  See you in India Weronika....

Thursday, 5 January 2012

First Europe train experience : Warsaw to Poznan

I had decided to visit Poznan when I was already in India preparing my itinerary.  Why ? Well long back on Couch Surfing (CS) I had filled up a survey from a girl who was doing her thesis on tourism and she had included Couch Surfing in it.  And going through her profile few things that I saw made me write a message to her informing about my Europe trip starting from Poland and might visit Poznan.  Weronika Nowicka, she was in Spain when we exchanged our first CS message.  I love meeting different people from different places and that is a big stimulant for me to visit some place.  For me its the people whom I meet make the place very special and enjoyable.  So I was very much looking forward to be a CS guest of her.  I had send her a CS request while in India itself.  It was the 2nd day of my trip that I had planned to go to Poznan from Warsaw.  Dorota had explained to me everything about the station and tickets.

So I left for Poznan at around 06.00 in the morning for Warsawa Centralna railway station.  Saw the ticket window and showed the small piece of paper that Dorota had given to me for getting the ticket.  Now the tough part of finding the Peron (Platform).  I asked the guy behind me and he showed me the train notice board where platform nos. were mentioned.  So I looked there, saw few train names and tried to find the name of my train on my ticket, but the ticket didn't mention the train name.  So I went ahead and asked one lady, but she said something to me in Polish which I understood that she doesn't know English so I should ask someone else.    Finally met one guy who spoke English and he told me my train will arrive on Peron 4.  So I rushed to Peron 4 and waited for my train to arrive.

That time Warsaw - Berlin Express was there on Peron 4 which left at 07:10 hours and my train was to depart at 07:16 hours.  I see on the indicator next train was to depart at 07:22 hours.  So I was like f**k, where did my train disappear ?  I started to look again on the train chart and was looking at my train and trying to find the Peron when one guy next to me also looking at the train chart told me that my train is already standing on Peron 3.  OMG, I rushed to the nearest stairs which unfortunately took me out of the railway station.  Again I took the same stairs, crossed the whole Peron 4 and started descending the escalator on Peron 3.  Just than the guard blew the whistle and I was running towards the train.  I raised my hand and shouted wait, wait and the guard said in Polish which I understood that he was yelling at me to get into the last compartment, which I eventually did.  Thank God I finally boarded the train to Poznan........

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

First destination : Warsaw

Getting out of Warsaw airport and heading towards Dorota's house I was looking around and the city looked very different from Indian cities. Of course it will be.  You see just cars, hardly any motorbike's, of course no rickshaws, trams that you can't see in Ahmedabad or Mumbai or Delhi and most important every place was clean.  Soon we were at her place in a locality called Weirzbno.  A quick shower and we decided to go in the city and see some places.  

Firstly a nice walk in a park and then a walk on the university street and finally we sat at a nice bar drinking a beer with a taste of honey.  Still I was like am I meeting Dorota again ?  Its such a nice feeling when you meet a very good friend living far away from you again.  We reached back in the evening and decided to have a nice dinner outside.  Before that as I had to leave for Poznan the next day morning, Dorota helped me out with the train timings and the ticket stuff.  At night we had a lovely dinner at a russian restaurant Babooshka with some nice recollection of old memories of Ahmedabad.
Warsaw  Palace of Culture & Science

University street near Statue of Copernicus
While in Warsaw the one building that I saw for the maximum number of times was The Palace of Culture & Science.  Saw it during day, night, early morning and late night.  It really looks beautiful when it is lighted.  During my stay in Warsaw I really liked the old city center with lots of cafe's and colorful buildings and lots of things happening there.  Had a nice walk with Dorota and Bartek in the biggest park of Warsaw.  I really think that my city Ahmedabad lacks such green places where people can just walk and spend a nice afternoon or evening taking a nice stroll and relaxing.  But also the though
t that do we really maintain such places when provided to us by the corporation ?  Do we deserve to have them ?

The one weekend that I was in Warsaw Dorota and Bartek took me to their friend's place in the evening, met their friends and was a nice evening talking to them about India and having shots of Vodka and then going out late night at a club where again had some nice talks with Bartek on life in general.  

Also went to see Dorota's photo exhibition at Traffic Club.  The pictures really showed the true characters of India which she clicked while she was in India.  
Dorota's photo exhibition on India
After the Saturday night outing, Sunday I was suppose to cook an Indian meal for Dorota & Bartek.  This was decided way before I had applied to my visa.  Palak Paneer, a very popular dish in India along with rice.  Now how to get Paneer in Poland.  Difficult, but Dorota suggested to use Tofu instead of Paneer.  So here we went in the morning to the super market to shop for the ingredients and also they showed me the bus station from where I have to take the bus to Kaunas on Sunday night.  Came back cooked Palak Paneer and Rice along with some Chai.  Thank God they both liked it.

While in Warsaw there were lots of First things that I did.

1)  For the first time I had 'Hot Beer' with clove flavor.  It was just the perfect drink to have on a very cold, windy and little bit rainy day.  Dorota told me its just available in Poland only.  It was just too good.
2)  For the first time in my life I went to an Opera.  Visit to an Opera by an Indian ?  Back home my friends thought I've got crazy.  But in Europe its a very very common and popular too.  They also had subtitles in Polish but how do i understand it.  Anyways it was very nice of Bartek to narrate to me the whole story of the Opera after it ended.  Was a different experience, thought honestly I felt sleepy sometimes.

3) For the first time had the Turkish Falafel, quiet cheap, stuffing and most important vegetarian.

I returned from Berlin on Sunday late evening.  Dorota and Bartek spend a quiet Sunday at home only as Dorota was recovering from her sore throat.  They were playing scrabble when I opened the door.  The room was appearing cozy with candle lights and it was very warm.  I guess I had disturbed them in their romantic way to play scrabble.  We talked about my Berlin trip and discussed about a trip to Bialystok where Bartek was going on Tuesday morning for his work.  So it was like to join Bartek on his work visit to this cultural city in the north east of Poland.  We were going to meet Bartek's cousin Krzysztof who stays in Bialystok and he was going to show us the city.  So very nice of him.  I must mention that somehow during my stay in Warsaw I met people from Bartek's family only.  His father, his brother and now his cousin in Bialystok.  What a co-incidence ?

Tuesday was my last day in Warsaw and I was going to catch a train to Vienna.  So while in Berlin I had text'd Dorota that as Monday night would be my last night in Warsaw I would love to take them both on a dinner and they agreed.  We decided to go to an Indian restaurant 'Bollywood lounge' at Centrum.  It seemed to be a nice restaurant when we entered it.  The ambiance was nice, lovely bollywood music and a good interior decoration.  We sat and came the waitress with the menu.  So now the tough part.  What to order ?  Bartek loves to have meat or something non-veg.  I was wanting to have my pure veg. food.  Finally it was decided.  Bartek ordered Tandoori Chicken, Dorota ordered Prawn Biryani and I ordered Paneer Butter Masala with Paratha's.  The waitress asked us about drinks.  So Bartek ordered a masala chai, Dorota a beer and I ordered a shot of Vodka.  Now this was interesting.  Bartek loves Vodka but was having masala chai with tandoori chicken and me who loved chai was having shot of Vodka with veg. dishes.
It was really a nice dinner.  The music and the nostalgic talks while Dorota was in Ahmedabad.  I simply loved it.  With that it was like almost saying good bye to Warsaw.

To be in a land where you don't come across many people who speak English and than while on the move when you have to communicate it really is interesting how you manage to make your things done.  It was really a wonderful experience.  And above all I must say the best part was to meet a very good friend again and her husband.  Bartek came across as a thorough gentleman.  A perfect host, very friendly, easy going, witty, caring, smart and so down to earth.

And now I shall wait for my turn to reciprocate the same hospitality Dorota & Bartek offered to me, when they visit India.  Dzienkuje Dorota & Bartek.

Off to Europe.....

4th Oct. 2011, I boarded the Shatabdi Express for Mumbai at 14.30 hours and reached the Andheri Airport at around 22.30.  My Turkish Airlines flight was at 05.00 hours on the next day, so I had planned to spend the entire night in the airport, but when I was entering the airport the security guy showed me the departure of my flight and told me to come just 3 hours before the departure.  Now what to do ? At least 4 hours before I can enter the airport building.  So I found a place on the outside and sit there observing people coming and going.  Cars came to drop the people flying away and buses bringing the airline crew members, people parking their cars everywhere, rickshaws coming and going.  Soon I realized I was not the only one standing outside the airport premises.  Finally at 01.00 hours I decided to give it a second chance to enter the airport and luckily this time I got through.  

Luggage checked - in and boarding pass in hand I crossed the immigration and security and sat waiting for the announcement of my flight.  Tried to take a small nap but couldn't.  Finally my flight's boarding was announced and the ground staff called the passengers as per the rows, but I guess people got impatient and everyone started to line up.  I had asked for an aisle seat and had got it and to my pleasure the next seat was empty.  Wow so now I can have a nice sleep for six hours before I land in Istanbul and take my next flight to Warsaw.

View of Istanbul city from the airplane.

My flight landed in Istanbul some 30 min. late but I had enough time for my next flight.  In Ahmedabad I was really very confused what present I should carry for Bartek (Dorota's husband).  So at Istanbul airport I decided to buy some nice alcohol for him.  Suddenly realized that polish people like to have vodka and after few rounds in the liquor shop found a nice bottle of vodka.  Finally boarded the flight to Warsaw and arrived right in time with lots of excitement which soon turned out to be a small hiccup at the immigration.  Standing there in the line, its my turn and I handed my passport to the immigration officer,

Immigration officer (I.O.) : Looking at me suspiciously asks what will you do in Poland ?
Me : I shall be traveling as a tourist

I.O. : Where are you going to stay in Warsaw ?
Me  : At a friend's place on whose invitation I have arrived in Poland

I.O. : Do you have the invitation ?
Me  : Yes I do have the copy and I showed her the same.

I.O. : Do you have the return flight ticket ?
Me  : Yes I have and I showed the same.

I.O. : But your flight ticket is from Vienna.  How will you be going to Vienna and where will you be staying in Vienna ?
Me  : By a night train and I shall be arriving there on the morning and the same day evening I have my flight, so I won't need any place to stay.

I.O. : Suspiciously looks at me, gathers all the documents, hands it over to me and tells me, please sit over there and wait.
Me  :  I was like, what happened, you mean I should sit there ?

I.O. : Yes

So with all my documents I sat on a bench close to the immigration office and noticed that there are few other people too from Iraq, Turkey, Armenia and some other country.  My heart was pounding and I was sweating.  Dorota and her husband were suppose to come to the airport to pick me up, so I text'd her that I'm stuck at the immigration and it might take some time.  Soon the immigration officer came with some papers and guided the 2 Turkish girls towards the exit.  Meanwhile the Iraqi guy was told that sorry dude we are sending you back by the next flight to Baghdad.  Poor guy.  Before i could ask the immigration officer how much time it'll take, he called up my name and led me to the exit.  I was so very much relieved.  Rushed to collect my backpack and hurried to the exit.  Once out looked here and there for Dorota and there they both were.  So happy to see them.  Couldn't believe that I am meeting her again after she left India.