Saturday, October 02, 2010

Around the world in One Buck

I was recently going through an article on Lonely Planet, that talks about how you can spend an entire day in under 50 dollars in different parts of the world. While pretty insightful in itself, I started wondering - what really is the value of one buck across the world? Most of us have heard of the Big Mac Index, where PPP across different economies are compared based on the price of the Big Mac burgers. This is my own twist to that index, based on what I have experienced in course of my travels.

What can you do with your last dollar in different cities across the world?

Munich/Berlin: Roughly 70 Euro Cents, you can treat yourself to a medium sized pretzel (without cheese) or half a cup of hot wine. Walk down to the nearest park and watch locals ice-skating while you sip the hot wine. That should get you set for the cold winters.

Paris: For 70 cents in Paris, you get to answer nature’s call once at Gare de l’Est rest room. Thats right, cause 70 cents is what you need to put in the turnstile to enter the rest room at any railway station in Paris! Talk about entry barriers. Expensive shit!

Madrid: No Tapas for you, but you can surely walk down to Plaza Mayor and tip the street musicians and listen to some amazing music. You will find artists playing all kinds of instruments, ranging from castanets to the tambourine, each capable of holding you spellbound for hours. Madrid has one of the best set of street musicians across Europe, you don't really need to be a music connoisseur's to appreciate and enjoy it.

Zurich: A dollar gets you close to one Swiss Franc (CHF), buy one small cube of Swiss cheese (the cheaper variety of course) from any Coop outlet. The touts will of course try to sell you one of the DDLJ-cow-bell souvenirs if realize you are an Indian, but with only 1 Franc, you either need to be a very good bargainer or the guy needs to be really dumb for you to pick it up. Else use that money to send one SMS/E-mail from any of the public phone booths, asking your dad for more money:D

Oslo: A dollar, or 6 Kroners (NOK), gets you 1/3rd of a cup of coffee from a vending machine or the nearest 7-eleven/Narvesan shop. Absolutely nothing else. Norway is a freakishly expensive country even by European standards.If you think Aurora Borealis make for a spectacular sight, remember that no good things in life come cheap.

Rome: One journey on any public transport (subway, tram or bus), the ticket cost being independent of the distance. So walk around the Colosseum, explore the roman ruins and then take that tram ride across the river to Vatican. There, you have seen it all in Rome, and done it as the Romans do.

Chennai: Full plate unlimited south Indian meals at most decent restaurants with unlimited servings of rice, poriyal, sambar, rasam, curd, papad and pickle, end it with a filter coffee too. But don't expect to travel any distance greater than 1 km in the auto; No sir you can’t!

Bratislava: Contrary to what you may have seen in the movie “Eurotrip”, a dollar only entitles you to a glass of zincica (sheep milk) or a cup of sauerkraut soup at any of the Salas (local restaurant chain). Both can get you hungry again real quick. Unless you already have a couple of shots of Absinthe inside you...

Singapore: 1.3 SGD, good enough for a 500ml bottle of coke zero or one cup of coffee at the McCafe. Buy one, sit at the Esplanade and enjoy the sun set over the Marina Bay Sands and the CBD skyline. A photographer's delight and an architect's fantasy, combined into one awesome experience.

Bangkok: 1 buck gives you a rough equivalent of 30 Thai Baht, which can buy you a full meal at any of the road side shops consisting of rice (boiled/sticky), one serving each of two different vegetables and a omelette, along with a glass of crushed ice. With a straw. Why crushed ice? You can then pour water or coke or milk or any other beverage of your choice into it, and then slowly sip it with straw. Atleast thats the way locals do it.

The obvious missing from the above list is the greenback’s land of origin, the US of A. But then I have never been to that part of the world, so I really have no clue what a buck can fetch you out there. Guess that one shouldn't be very far away, doing what I do for a living.

P.S.: All things mentioned above are from memory and from the time I travelled to these places, so they may not necessarily be relevant today

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tatkal : Super frust ticketing

Lets head to Bangalore this weekend. It will be great to hangout with the guys and relive some of the old memories”. I make a few calls, set it up with the guys. Plans are in place. Its already Tuesday, so the chances of getting my hands on a confirmed ticket on any of the trains is as good as that of Gordon Brown becoming the PM again. So I think, “Lets get up in the morning and book a Tatkal ticket. I will be online by 8, it should be a breeze”. tch tch…so naive.

So I go to bed in the night thinking, I have to get up early tomorrow, atleast by 7:45 am. Alarm is set, but am yet to get hang of my new cell phone, and thus creeps in the discomfort…what if I dont get up on time? These Bangalore tickets get sold out faster than hot cakes, even 10 minutes delay can mean travelling in one of those god-forbidden Volvos…shudder! My all-forms-of-road-transport-phobia leads to a sleepless night, and over countless open-eyed moments through the night, I look at the glowing wall clock. 06:30 am…enough, going back to sleep again can be catastrophic. So i get up, do my morning chores, warm up my laptop and check my internet connection. - fast and easy, the net connection seems to be in order.

0800 hrs…there goes the clock. I open the irctc website, the home page comes up in a jiffy. I-am-in-luck! Remember the golden rule - minimum transaction on irctc website, so open cleartrip website in another tab (god bless tabbed browsing) to track availability. Meanwhile enter the login credentials on irctc, hit enter…the page goes blank, its loading. See availability on the cleartrip site…08:05, already 30 tickets gone in each of the 3 trains…damn! 08:06 - irctc still loading, not even the navigation appears. 08:08 - still nothing…hit escape. Lets try re-entering. This time, even home page doesnt appear! Damn these sarkari sites…lets try IE, am sure they didnt optimise it for Firefox. 08:10…IE appears with the message “connecting…” (what does it have to connect to when the home page is about:blank???) 08:12 - IE stabilises, enter irctc website - 2 minutes, still no luck. 08:15 - they must be fast running out of tickets now!!! back to firefox - still no sign of the irctc home page. ohk…forget irctc, lets book in cleartrip itself…saving the extra 20 bucks is not worth this much trouble.

click on “book”…smooth transition to next page. Aha…finally something going my way. Enter passenger details - check. Time - 08:22. This 1 Mbps connection has to come good some day. Click on “pay”…waiting. 08:24. another minute of page loading…”There seems to be some problem. Like people, our servers also has some cranky days. Please try later” Whaat! 08:28…dont think there would any tickets left. Any point in buying W/L tickets in Tatkal? Dont think so…lets try again.

Restart Firefox. irctc? naah…cleartrip. search - 12 available. There is still hope. “Book”…enter passenger details…click “pay”. Loading for another frustrating 100 seconds “Just a moment” the page reads…whatever! And then I see it….appearing in parts. Oh yeah…the payment page is here. Green coloured label reading 7 tickets available. quick - enter credit card details. What was the expiry date again??? where did I leave my wallet last night? Look under the bed…not there. On table…you must be kidding. Under the humoungous pile of clothes….BINGO! Found it. Enter the details, click next….”You are being redirected to Verified by Visa“. Keep going…asks for my password. Enter. Page loading….surely it must be done now. 08:37.

Page cannot be displayed…” what??? what happened there. Murphy at work! What a time for the server to crash…why does this happen to me??? Try F5…still the same. Did I do something wrong? Open another tab…try, the surefire test for the internet connection. “Page cannot be displayed…” ab kya hua? A drop of sweat forms on my forehead, and drips on to the keyboard. Oh chennai heat…

Wait a second…wasn’t I sitting under a fan? Where did the sweat come from? I look up…and the fan is not moving. THE FAN IS NOT MOVING! Power cut….OMG they cut the power in the house. Yes I have a laptop with a working battery, but the modem still needs power. I am doomed. 08:55…there is no way I can make it to Bangalore now. I give up…might as well get ready for office. Will call the guys from office and let them know I wont make it.

What a disappointing start to the day. So I wake up, have my bath, eat my breakfast and start for office. 09:30 - Where’s that mobile of mine…ah here it is, under the pillow. “You have 1 unread message”…must be one of those Docomo ads, asking me to pay 10 bucks a week to listen some mumbo-jumbo about astrology and my future. Who cares…I can see my future. I am not going to bangalore this weekend. Sigh. Let me atleast delete this message…unread message leave an ugly icon on my dashboard. “Read Message” - “YOUR TKT BOOKED. PNRNO ^^%$%$ from MAS to SBC“….IT ACTUALLY WORKED!

whooo...I got my ticket. That final transaction did go through! close to 90 minutes of hardwork and frustration…finally paid off :). Felt like the world was good to me all over again. Look out Bangalore, here I come. And Tatkal booking…never again. LESSON LEARNED. PERIOD.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Nordic Adventure

Continuing on my videsh yatra 2008, the second stage takes me to Europe. Official line: Exchange programme, trying to learn and experience new culture. The chosen venue is NHH (Norges Handelshoyskole), angrezi mein Norwegian School of Economics, situated in Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway. Not many at IIM A get to do their internship abroad and also go on exchange, but this was too good an opportunity to let go.

The small little vacation I had after my fourth sem was spent on helping my parents move to Mumbai. (Yes, yours truly is once again a Mumbaikar). And immediately the next morning (Friday the 29th), I was off. I met Quaddro at Mumbai Airport and after a little shopping at the duty free shops, we boarded our Finn Air flight to Helsinki. He slept for most of the 8 hour flight, while I busied myself with the personal TV provided. The flight turned out to be surprisingly good in spite of the cheap tickets we managed to buy, however 8 hours is too long a time to be sitting in one place. Understandably by the time we landed at Helsinki, we were jet-lagged and tired. And the walk across the whole of Helsinki airport from terminal 33 to terminal 12 for our connecting flight to Oslo only made things worse.

While we were not allowed to go out of the airport (nor did we have the time), the landing itself give us a picturesque view of Helsinki city, typical of a Scandinavian city. Green coniferous trees, smooth roads, sparse population, pleasant sunshine and vast spans of greenery. It was quite chilly and all my winter clothes were checked in at the Mumbai airport (we were supposed to pick them up in Oslo directly), so Quaddro suggested I put on the coat of my suit that I had in my hand. A little respite, but suits are not the most comfortable piece of clothing. A 3 Euro coffee and a couple of futile attempts to connect to airport wi-fi later, I though the time would be better spent in clicking some pics of the airport. Here are a few. First the inside, then the outside.

We then undertook the next part of our journey, the 1.5hrs flight from Helsinki to Oslo. Compared to the 8 hr flight we had previously, this one got over pretty soon. And thus we landed in Oslo at 4:15 pm local time. We now needed to reach Oslo Central Station, from where we had to take our train to Bergen. We found out that the Airport basement is directly connected to a local train station (wonder when this would happen in India), and we took the train to Oslo Sentrum. Once there, we had 5 hours till our train departed. So we found out the locker room on the first floor of the station, dumped our bags in the automatic lockers and headed for the tourist information centre just outside the station. The lady at the counter gave us a map of Oslo, and suggested a few places. We soon figured out that all the major attractions in Oslo could be covered by foot from the station. How convenient!

Now while putting out stuff in the lockers, we did not think of taking out our cameras. Jet lagged and tired, we were just concentrating on getting rid of those huge bags of ours. So we had to make do with the camera on our mobile phones. We first visited the Oslo Opera house situated on the banks of one of the fjords. Shaped as a glacier or a ship, the building seems to float by the inlet Bjorvika, giving a stunning impression. We then headed over to Akershus Fesnting, a medieval castle which now acts as a centre for the Norwegian military. Since it was already past 6, most of the castle was closed but we spent our time roaming in the castle grounds. We came across used tanks, beautiful sculptures and the royal guards marching, with a unique and impressive attire. The next stop was Aker Brygge, which was once was a harbour, now filled with shopping malls and pubs. Hundreds of people were sitting in the outside tables of these pubs, enjoying the sunset and their drinks. We too entered one of these places to while away some time. The sun set at 9, and we started walking back towards the station. On the way, we saw the Nobel Peace Centre and the Norwegian Parliament (The Stortinget). Dinner at Burger King and we headed for our platform, where we were expecting Landy to meet us (his British Airways flight was via London). He did turn up, but we were surprised by Gilli who was out visiting Norway in his first weekend at the Stockholm School of Economics. We boarded the train, and I was too exhausted for any chitchat. I saw blinds, ear plugs and blanket in my seat. I put the blinds over my eyes, wrapped myself in the blanket and dozed off...Zzzzzz

P.S.: I reached Bergen at 7 in the morning, and spent the Saturday and Sunday exploring Bergen and visiting the Sognefjord. Details and pics in the next post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summer of 2008

It has been more than a month since I came back from my summer internship, and life has returned to its usual hectic self. When I was in first year, I was shown this beautiful picture of totally-jobless-enjoying-the-best-of-life tuchchadom (second year), which most of us were so eagerly looking forward to. But with a few small tweaks in the academic programme, the IIM A powers to be have managed to make me wish I was back in first year! It not that things are as bad as first year, but the expectations from tuchchadom were so high that this is a big let-down. I guess my ranting will never end.

During one of the extremely dull discussions that were happening in the class sometime last week, my mind wandered to those wonderful days I spent in Thailand. Here are some things I was reminiscing about my “Summer of 2008”:

1) Food: As I had already mentioned in my earlier post, Bangkok has no dearth of places dishing out delicacies. And with vegetarian food being available only at a premium, I indulged myself in some of the best Thai cuisine had to offer. The office junta was more than willing to chip in with recommendations, and soon the list of things I digested included the likes I dare not mention here, lest mom comes across it and freaks out. Fruit bhajjis (Banana, sweet potato and pumpkin) were just one of the many weird tastes I came across. One thing I dared not try, look below.

2) Activities: Ocean floor walking near an island off Pattaya was one of the most memorable experiences (Imagine hundreds of varied coloured fishes eating out of your hand while you walk 40ft under water). Parasailing, snorkelling and sea canoeing also deserve a mention. And of course, I got myself a few sessions of the world famous Thai massage: D. They come cheap and they really rejuvenate you for the week ahead after the weekend travel.

3) Modes of transport: Bus, cabs, tuk tuks, sky train, subway, motor bike taxis, ferry, water skis, canoes, speed boats, golf carts, pick up vans – each one serves a purpose of its own, and is an experience in itself.

4) Ice ice baby: Go to a restaurant, and the first thing they serve on your table is a glass full of crushed/cubes of ice. You can then pour in water or coke in it, and sip it with a straw. Standard practice every time you eat out, no drink is cold enough once I came back. And I almost forgot how to drink stuff without straw, even milk! The omnipresent air-conditioning makes you feel Thailand was once near the poles, and recently drifted across the Indian Ocean and hit Burma.

5) Thai language has a nice musical connotation to it, and coupled with their extremely pleasant demeanour, you constantly feel you are a part of a musical. The sweet sound of “sawatdee kha” greets you in every restaurant, shop and hotels.

6) The Bangkok sky train is equipped with television screens inside, which serve the purpose of both informing the entertaining. And believe me, even you don’t understand a single word in Thai, they can really keep you entertained during your journey. The ridiculously stupid ads (where one doesn’t even understand what the product is) ensures you begin every day on a cheerful note J.

The trip was not all hunky dory. There were occasions I wondered, “Why the hell am I here?!”. Here are a few things I DO NOT look back at fondly:

1) Ladyboys! (Am not going to write more on it, kindly refer to wiki)

2) The where-the-hell-are-all-the-vegetables phase, that one is subjected to when the only form of potato you consume are McD’s French fries and the only other vegetables known to mankind are tomato and basil.

3) Durian! The most disgusting taste known to mankind, it’s a total disgrace to the fruit family. The horrible taste lingered in my mouth for more than two days, and I took considerable amount of mint and Colgate mouthwash to get rid of it.

4) Absolutely no cricket for two months – this was the longest I had gone without any contact with the sport. Cricinfo was my bread and butter, but there is only so much you can read. And on top of everything, I missed the whole of IPL extravaganza. L

5) All live sporting events had commentary in Thai, and only repeat telecasts provide some relief. Half the fun in watching formula 1 lies in the amazing commentary by Steve Slater, and the boring Thai commentary made me realise watching a formula 1 race can be really boring at times.

P.S.: Most of this was composed long ago on my return trip to India waiting at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok sipping a ridiculously overpriced cold coffee (Dark Chocolate Macchiato) while waiting for my flight announcement. The fact the it took me so long to post it just goes to show my rants are not unreasonable.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The tale of 3 Holis and 3 New Years

Yes its a real tiger. And yes thats me. But lets get back to it later.

It has been about a month since I reached Bangkok, and I have already had 5 days of holidays, apart from the weekends. Thailand celebrates lots of festivals just like India, and whats even better is that they have a concept of compensation holiday. If a festival/holiday happends to fall on a Saturday or a Sunday, the subsequent Monday is a holiday. How wonderful! In short, I have had a lot of free time, and there is no dearth of options. Thailand is an exotic tourist destination and is wildly popular among world's travelers. And for good reason too, as I continue to find out.

I celebrated New year with the rest of the world on 1st of Jan ( New Year # 1) this year, nothing special about it. Then came the Holi at IIM A(Holi #1). Holi in any college is always fun, and this place was no different. Dripping colours, over-head sprinklers, tanks full of coloured water, keechad, gujiya, torn clothes hanging on tree tops, music and rain dance - how can it not be fun when 200 people come together for a celebration. I went home after completion of my first year, since I had 3 days gap before I had to reach Bangkok. Now 6th April is a Thai national holiday (some Chakri Day), so I was duly informed that 7th will be a holiday, and I got to spend one more day home. 7th April also happened to be Ugadi, the Telugu New Year (New Year #2), and so I got to enjoy yet another of mom's delicious festival special meals.

I reach Bangkok, 4 days in office and suddenly, we have 4 days of holidays. Thais celebrate "Songkran" during this time of the year, which is their biggest festival and it lasts for 4 days. The festival commemorates the ushering of a New Year (New Year #3), and the whole country brightens up during this time of the year. It also incorporates a Thai version of Holi, where people splash each other with water and apply chalk on each other. The only difference is they use only water, and chalk is only white. Kids, teenagers, adults all armed with latest water guns are found on the roads, ready to splash water on any by passer. And its all taken in the right spirit, as it is supposed to cool u down in the summer heat. One fine evening, we dumped all our mobiles and wallets in hotel room, took little money in a plastic bag and reached Silom area of Bangkok. What a sight! Close to 10000 people, mostly youngsters, gathered on one stretch of road splashing water and putting chalk on each other. Not an inch for the vehicles to move, with people crawling like ants in straight lines. It didnt take us 5 mins to get totally drenched (Holi #2), and we saw how a real community festival is celebrated. With two fire engines stationed on either end of the road with their hoses open to the full, it was an unforgettable day.

We went to Pattaya the following weekend, one of the most famous beach resorts of the world. On reaching there, we found out that there is a slight difference in the days when Songkran is celebrated in different provinces of Thailand. To our dismay, Pattaya was celebrating it that very weekend. Again, we ended up totally drenched (Holi #3). Thus, within the first 4 months of 2008, I have already celebrated 3 New Years and 3 Holis.

After having explored most of Bangkok, we started going to other places in the country. So last weekend, we decided to explore the Kanchanaburi Province. Their in lies the famous World War 2 site "The bridge over River Kwai", which also happens to be the backdrop for one of the best hollywood movies ever. This is how the bridge actually looks today.

While the story of the bridge itself is fascinating, the province makes for a wonderful tour. We later travelled on the Thailand-Burma railway line, considered the most dangerous railway line in the world (I know every place tends to exaggerate about itself), christened The Death Railway.

And that brings us to the story of sher khan above. The last stop of our trip was at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, better known as the Tiger Temple. The uniqueness of this place is that it is a temple cum tiger sanctuary, where tigers are allowed to roam free. These tigers have been raised by the temple monks since the time they were cubs, and thus they are tame and more free around humans. For a small fee, they allow visitors like me to get close to these magnificent beasts. I wont lie, I had my heart in my mouth all the time, such was the enormous size of this animal. But as Gabbar said, Jo dar gaya, Samjho mar gaya.

I am still alive, and have this photo as a proof of my daredevilry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sa-wat Dee Bangkok

The much spoken about, much feared and much hated fachchadom (first year) at IIM A is finally over. Oh yeah, its definitely a moment to celebrate. No more surprise-quizzes-at-1430 hrs, no WAC-runs-at-1625 hrs, no 0845-classes and no more hearing "Muggo-fachcho-muggo" shouts. Though there wasn't enough time for champagne n stuff, but a birthday at home after almost 6 years did compensate for it. Happy birthday to me :)

Next up on the agenda, the summer internship. Way back in November and months leading to that were spent in the yearly ritual called the summer placements. Sitting through company ppts, preparing resumes, praying for Day-zero slots, multiple rounds of interviews - I finally ended up with an internship offer at ING Asia Pacific. I got what I was looking for - Day-zero finance company with foreign location. Can't complain. Subsequently I came to know that I will be working with ING Life Thailand in Bangkok. Like father like son, insurance beckoned me. So I spent the better part of my birthday and Ugadi shopping and packing for my trip to Bangkok.

I landed in Bangkok 5 am in the morning, and there was the ING driver waiting holding a placard that read - "Vamsee Krishna - IIM Ahmedabad". I always used to wonder when someone would do that for me. They had a nice service apartment waiting for me. Saurabh had already arrived the day before, and he was put up in the adjacent apartment. I dumped my bag, changed and off I was for my first day in the corporate world outside India. Lots more on that later.

This being the first time I crossed any of the seven seas, I did expect to see a lot of different things. Had it been the US or UK, things would have been different since the sitcoms and Hollywood movies give one an idea of what to expect. But Bangkok was unchartered territory, we being the first interns ever from IIM A here. Its been almost one week, and some things I have observed about this place.

1. People here are shockingly polite. Am yet to see a heated conversation anywhere in the office or the road. One is always welcomed with smiles everywhere.

2. Traffic is excruciatingly devoid of horns. Drivers have a lot of patience, and I doubt if any of the Toyotas (they are the only cars one would see here) here even have a horn built in.

3. They consider themselves a traditional society, and it shows in the way they interact. People have immense respect for other. They greet each other with the traditional Wai, which is exactly like our Namaste, even in the corporate world. And everyone transaction has to end with a “thank you”. They are also very religious, with beautiful temples in front of almost each and every building.

4. Ironically though, the Thai dress very modern. Specially the female. “Aggressive” is the word one used to describe their dressing sense. They do it pretty smartly though. No wonder fashion brands and cosmetic industry are flourishing here.

5. Thai people eat out A LOT. You find food stalls absolutely everywhere…shopping malls have food sections (that’s plural) on every floor, plus a wholly dedicated floor only for food; the side-walks are full of food vendors selling all sorts of things imaginable. Believe me, within 5 min walking radius of my office, there are more than 150 places where you can eat. And I am not exaggerating.

6. Strikingly though, Thai people are very fit. The average weight of a Thai would be a good 15 kgs less than that of an Indian, if not more. I wonder how.

7. A surprising low number of people are well conversant with English. Communication can be a major struggle, sometimes even inside office. Poor Saurabh has already resorted to dumb charades. It took him a good bit of 20 min to explain the receptionist that the bathtub-plug in his room was missing.

8. Bangkok is a beautiful city, and extremely clean. Case in point, I polished my shoes the first day to office, and till date I haven’t even had to brush it again.

The next two months are going to be really interesting. Meanwhile, am just glad that won the third test match against South Africa. Dada rocks :D

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I proclaimed in my last post that "Nothing good ever happens on Valentine's Day". Well, today I stand vindicated. The point was that one big reason I missed out on exchange program was due to the fact that it was scheduled on that (un)fateful day.

The big-wigs of the college went on meet on a later date to mull over increasing the allocation limit. New day brought new luck, and lo behold; lets make it 100 students going out. And guess who was the first person in line this time around :D . Things fall in place, and finally Norway it was. Me and Quaddro will eventually end up at the same place, the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen. The company of Landy-boy and papa will only make the trip more interesting.

Look out Vikings, here we come!