Of Holi and Festivals

When I got back from work today my father complained about Chhavi saying she was playing with so much water, he had to change her clothes five times, literally. Now Chhavi and Nana are the best of the friends. Neither can find any fault with the other! So, I know she must have irritated the hell out of him which made him complain, that too first thing when I got home. She went to sleep, full of excitement for her plans about Holi tomorrow.

That made me think about Holi and festivals in general and my relationship, or rather the lack of it. I am sure as a kid I must have been as excited as Chhavi about Holi and other festivals. And yet I don’t remember much of it. I always went out and played Holi in my childhood, that much I remember. But then it is all hazy. I don’t think I ever had a wild Holi and that I miss it terribly.

Then things should have improved in college but even then it was tepid affair. I do remember playing with mud once, but hey I now think I should have done that every year, at least in college. When I was doing my Ph.D. intelligently the mid semester break used to happen during Holi, so that there would not be too many disciplinary problems in the institute. Many postgraduate students and some undergraduate students would stay back but then once again, there is absolutely nothing special that I can wax eloquent about.

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Wish you All a Very Colorful Holi

Then came a time when there was no small kid in the family. My nephews were grown up and their interest in the festival was not that great anymore. I think at least one Holi, Seshadri and I didn’t even bother to go out. But with Chhavi, those days are over, till she grows up!

I guess this lack of enthusiasm has got nothing to do with the festival and much more to do with me. I sincerely hope the kids will let me sleep till late tomorrow morning, OK reasonably late. That is all I want from Holi.

But I know many of you are going to get out and have a gala time. Wish you all a colorful Holi, may you be with your friends and family and that unlike me you are planning to start your day at an early hour.

The Joys of Bird Photography!

Before I bought a 75-300 zoom lens (and that was a long time ago) I was blissfully unaware of birds! I was of the opinion that there were no birds in Gurgaon. I could probably identify a sparrow even then but all that is a thing of past now. One day I was saying something softly to Chhavi and she turned around and whispered, “why are you speaking softly, is there a bird around?” That is the current state. I have such a love hate relationship with bird photography. I love it when I am able to capture a decent picture, but that happens so very rarely.

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An Oriental White Eye

Before I discovered the Burst/Sports, mode bird photography used to be literally painful. I distinctly remember trying to photograph a green bee eater at a close range. Freezing anything with a single shot for a bird was almost impossible. And yet I tried till I got a crick in the neck. And then I saw (or rather heard the continuous click of the camera) someone at Bharatpur shooting in burst mode, and it dawned on me that the mode existed for a purpose!

That leads to my next favorite subject. As I have only a puny 75-300 zoom to use for my bird photography, I need to creep closer to the bird. So my modus operandi is something like this, which I have perfected after many trials and errors. I start clicking as soon as I spot a bird. I now shoot birds in continuous modes only. Then I try to inch closer to the spot as quietly as I can. If Chhavi is with me, it is well impossible to do so. She is capable of scaring a bird away from a mile when she tries to keep quiet. Otherwise she can scare them away from 5 miles at least.

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Thank God that Landscapes Don’t Fly Away!

There have been times when I am happily shooting landscapes, god bless them, they never fly away. I will have a wide angle lens on my camera and right next to me, I am sure they do it on purpose, an exotic bird will come and plonk itself. Now I get all in tizzy. I creep softly to where my zoom lens is lying, I try to change it at a breakneck speed. and as soon as I turn back, the bird has but of course flown away.

Then I have tried tracking birds in flight. The less said about it the better. If it is difficult to click them when they are sitting, it is outright torture to try the flight bit. I can never locate them in my viewfinder to begin with. If by some miracle I do locate them, it is a miracle if I can track them as well. And when I see the shots, they are all blurred.

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A Beautiful Blue Throat

And yet when on a rare moment I am able to take a half way decent shot, it is sheer magic!

Chimping or No Chimping- That is the Question

About a year ago I was not even aware what chimping was. Hence whether I did it or not was irrelevant. But now that I know, I also know that I am not a big offender. In fact I am probably on the other side of the equation, I hardly chimp. But if you have not heard of the term chimping before, you might stop reading any further and declare me under the influence! And that is a risk I cannot take.

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Chimping

Chimping is the habit of reviewing each picture that you take on the LCD of your camera immediately after you take it. Experts say that if done to extreme it can be dreadfully distracting. I would not know for two reasons, first that I am not an expert and second that as I said before, I do not do excessive chimping. If anything I fall into the other category.

Since I do not chimp much, I am on the other side of the equation. I can surely tell what are some of the drawbacks of not chimping. Recently I was in Mumbai to attend the 2015 Discover Thainess event. I went about shooting quite a few pictures without chimping. And then due to some reason I chimped. To my horror I realized that all my treasured pictures had the wrong white balance. All my pictures had a strong yellow tinge.

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Thank God I was Chimping!

And I had already clicked about 25 pictures. I scampered to correct the white balance (basically moved it away from shade) and got better shots.

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A Better White Balance

And then I had to go back and click most of those 25 shots again. Had I not chimped, I would end up all the shots having poor white balance and I would realize it after the event. You may turn back and say I should have paid attention to the white balance at the beginning but then I am no pro and I do make mistakes, as silly as this one.

And even though white balance could be more associated with a DSLR but chimping can happen on any device, any camera. So what do you say? Do you indulge in chimping? Does it distract you? Has it saved your day sometimes, like it did mine?

Palladium Hotel Mumbai

I recently stayed for one night at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai. I was attending 2015 Discover Thainess an event which was held at the hotel itself. The rooms were booked for us by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. We were greeted by the staff at the ground floor. As most of us had very little luggage we decided to carry it on our own. The main lobby of the hotel is at the 9th floor. It is quite a thing of beauty. Without any further delays, here is my Palladium Hotel Mumbai review.

The Check In

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The Check In at Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

As we arrived an hour before the 2.00 pm check-in time we experienced a slight delay. The person at my counter was courteous and tried his best to give us a room as quickly he could. They never even raised the issue of our early arrival. When I got my key it was for 28th floor. The view from my room made up for any minor delay that happened at the check-in.

First Impressions

I was favorably impressed by the staff of the hotel. They were courteous at all times. If they would meet me in the corridors they would always greet me cheerfully. There was an issue with my key card, it would not work in the middle lift. When that happened first I was a bit confused. When I presented my problem to the front desk staff they requested if I could use the other lifts and I was fine with it.

The hotel looks quite posh and upmarket at the first glance and I sustained the same impression throughout my stay.

The Room

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My Room at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

I had a gorgeous room with single beds. It was a large and well appointed room. There was a big flat screen TV with many channels. There was a mini bar in the room but a rule I stay away from minibars as they are so deadly expensive. The bed was comfortable, the pillows soft. They gave 4 half liter water bottles with compliments which was a good thing. There was a lot of tea (Twinings) in the room which has always been the best feature of any hotel in my dictionary. There was a fruit tray in the room which had apples. The work table was huge. There was a comfortable chair in the room as well to laze around.

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The View from My Room, Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

And then this was the view from my room. I could happily sit on the large window sill and watch the world go by from my room.

The Bathroom

The bathroom was huge. It could be used as an open bathroom but there was a partition which could be drawn as well. The bath tub was comfortable. The amenities in the bathroom were nice and what you would expect in a five star property. The only omission I saw was a weighing machine in the bathroom. There was ample hot water and the water pressure was good.

The Breakfast

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The Breakfast Spread at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

The only meal that I had at the hotel was the complimentary breakfast, They had a huge breakfast spread. I went in for South Indian fare and it was quite good. If you ordered something from the egg or dosa counter, you could tell your tabel number and it would be served to you. At the breakfast table I asked for Masala Chai and soon people sitting near me also started demanding the same. I can drink tea in various forms, including black, but if I had a choice I would take Masala Chai every time. I also ate namkeen vermicelli and it was done quite well. Overall, they have a good breakfast spread.

The Swimming Pool

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The Swimming Pool

I used the hotel swimming pool in the morning. At about 7.30 am I had the whole pool to myself. Attached to the changing room are jacuzzi, sauna and steam. The lady attendent who was present was very polite. The water felt a little cold in the morning but after a while I got used to it. It was fun to swim a few laps the first thing in the day.

The Ambience 

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The Grand Lobby of the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

The hotel has an upmarket feel to it but no snootiness when it comes to service. The lobby is grand and there was live music at night. The lifts are fast and the floor access is through the room key. The convention rooms are at the 8th floor. The lobby floral arrangements and the curios are quite pleasing to the eye.

This and That

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The View from Asilo, Palladium, Mumbai

The Palladium Hotel Mumbai has a rooftop bar Asilo. Hotel guests can go there without reservation but otherwise they expect a reservation. I went there to click a few pictures. I told the staff that I simply wanted to click a few pictures and they were cool with it. There are glass panels all around but still the view is quite amazing. When I was checking out I requested an hour’s extension which they happily granted us. It is small things like these that matter a lot to me.

My stay at Palladium Hotel Mumbai was booked by Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai

It all started with a visit of Nisha and her husband to my 28th floor room at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai. We were there to attend 2015 Discover Thainess event. I had a room with the view. Over tea, they pointed out that the structure in the water was the famous Haji Ali Dargah. Now that got my attention for sure. I got an opportunity to visit the dargah the next morning.

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Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai- As Seem from my Room

Now that I could see the shrine from my room (this is through a zoom at 300mm) I had to go there. I was staying in Lower Parel and I decided to hail a taxi right outside the hotel. Now I was in for a pleasant surprise here. The taxi went by meter, the bill came to 46 rupees and the driver gave back the exact change! People who live in Delhi/NCR would sure understand why I am surprised. That was a good start to the trip.

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The Path to Haji Ali Dargah

The weather in Mumbai was surely warmer than Delhi but it was still quite mild. As a rule I like to walk but I am not so sure about the paths full of hawkers and destitutes. However, once again, people did try to sell things or ask for alms but no one was pushy even when it was obvious that we were tourists.

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Flower Shops on the Way to Haji Ali Dargah

At the beginning of the path, there is a concentration of shops selling flowers, chadar and other such things. People invariably asked if I would like to buy something, but I didn’t. They were quite alright when I stopped to click a picture even without buying anything. I was either ignored or the shop owners commented on their excellent display which compelled me to stop and click pictures!

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Mumbai

All my recent trips to Mumbai have been for events and one night affairs! This one was no different. And yet, I am getting more attracted to it with each trip. I do find it claustrophobic with all its high rises standing next to slums. The traffic makes me feel nervous but there is something about the city which surely attracts me. What it is I know not yet, but the attraction is there, it is unmistakable.

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The Haji Ali Dargah

The dargah is said to be built in 1431 AD in the memory of Peer Haji Ali. It is about 500 meters inside the sea and I am told at high tide the path becomes inaccessible. So, at high tide there are chances of getting stuck within the dargah as well. It didn’t happen to me though.

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Women at Haji Ali Dargah

There is a separate enclosure for women at the dargah. It looks like women can’t visit the main shrine but then even this vantage point gives a good view of the main shrine. Like many religious places in India, it is required that you take off your shoes to enter the main complex. You are also required to cover your head. The shrine welcomes people from all religions.

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Make a Wish!

People tie a thread to the outer walls if they wish to make a wish to the saint. If your wish is granted you are supposed to come back and remove the thread.

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Haji Ali the Main Shrine

I am told that photography at the main shrine is not allowed. However from the women’s side no one said anything when I photographed the shrine.

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Shops along the Haji Ali Path

Even though I had very little time, the shops were so colorful that I would stop to click a few pictures even on my way back.

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Sweets for Sale

One of the last pictures I clicked was of this bright orange sweet dish. After looking at this mouth watering picture I realized that I should have actually tried the stuff as well. I will surely do it next time. one of the pictures I didn’t dare to click was of a person sitting by the road, he was wearing a green kurta and his white beard had orange tinch of henna. I am still so timid when it comes to clicking people.

My visit to Haji Ali Dargah was truly memorable. So long Mumbai, till we meet next.

If You had to Pick Only One Picture- Discover Thainess 2015

The Discover Thainess 2015 campaign was launched in Mumbai on February 25 by the tourism and sports minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. I was invited to attend this complete visual delight. I present you the same in pictures!

The Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul

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Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, The Tourism and Sports Minister of Thailand

The minister addressed the press conference and unveiled the theme of 2015 Discover Thainess. She interacted with the media for long hours after the event. She was quite bullish on the Indian market and had great optimism for Thailand Tourism in 2015.

The Lobby of the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

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The Lobby, Palladium Hotel, Mumbai

The beautiful Palladium Hotel in Mumbai was the venue of the gala 2015 Discover Thainess event. I stayed there for a night as well.

A Riot of Colors

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A Riot of Colors

The venue of the ballroom of the Palladium Hotel in Mumbai and it was a riot of colors. These bright colors are used to paint the Thai face masks.

The Thai Masks

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The Thai Masks

This is how the masks look when completed. Thai culture has some similarities with the Indian culture when it comes to Kinnaras, asuras and the ramayana.

A Beautiful Thai Girl!

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Beautiful Orchids and Beautiful Thai Woman

One of the themes of the event was ‘floating markets’ of Thailand. This boat had beautiful orchids with a beautiful lady right in Mumbai!

Thai Sweets

Thai Sweets

Thai Sweets

At the first glance I thought these were miniature soaps, till I was invited to eat them! They are actually Thai sweets, mild flavored and really good. They were such an eye candy too!

Orchids- Quintessentially Thai

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Beautiful orchids

There were rows of orchids at the venue which created the vivid colors of Thainess at the event. Try as I might, this was the best I could do in photographing them, I was not too happy with the result.

Muay Thai

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Muay Thai

This was my first glimpse of Muay Thai. It was a fascinating display of skills and strength between the two boxers. And the two beautiful ladies are fellow bloggers Ragini and Manjukila from Delhi.

A Thai Basket

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A Thai Basket

I was not sure what looked more cute, the miniature boat or the beautiful basket full of delightful Thai sweets. And that perfectly tied bow was a pleasure to photograph.

The Ladyboy

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The Ladyboy

If you have been to Thailand you already know about ladyboys. This charming ladyboy was at the drinks counter of the event. I hope we will treat our transvestites as well in future.

A Very Rosy Arrangement

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A Very Rosy Arrangement

This bowl full of rose and its petals was an eyecatcher for sure. I can’t remember when I saw such a bright shade of orange in such a beautiful formation!

Miniature Thai Boats

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Miniature Thai Boats

Thai floating markets are a thing of beauty. I have been lucky to see two of them Taling Chan Floating Market and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The miniature boats reminded me of the real markets which are so vibrant!

Such a Beautiful Arrangement

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Beautiful Flowers in her Hair

I was quite fascinated by the beautiful flowers in the hair of this Thai dancer. I am sure one has to know how to carry it off, I am sure if I put it, it will not look half as good!

Fruit Carving

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Fruit Carving

Thai fruit carving was also on display and you guessed it right, this is a carving on a watermelon. It surely made for a pretty picture.

Floating Markets

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Floating Markets

I have not been to Amphawa Floating Market but it is 50 km from Bangkok and seems to be less touristy. I hope I will go there one day.

So if you had to pick only one picture out off all these, which one would you choose?

The Apple Blossom Fagu Review

Both Chhavi and I were quite tired by the time we reached The Apple Blossom Fagu which is a HPTDC hotel. She perked up seeing snow on the side. I was happy that she found something to look forward to in spite of being tired. We spent three nights there and The Apple Blossom Fagu review is based on our personal experience when it had low occupancy in February 2015.

The Check In: We had a smooth check-in as there was no one else arriving that late in the evening. The staff took my luggage to the room. Rakesh the kind person that he was, he quickly switched on the heater correctly guessing that we were cold.

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The Apple Blossom, Fagu, Himachal Pradesh

 

First Impressions: The room was big and spacious. However, it had a carpet as well. Now as a rule I do not like carpets because many hotels do not keep it clean and the room stinks. At the Apple Blossom the carpet was certainly old but they managed to keep it clean, so the room had no funny smell. After that I started breathing a little easy. As the weather was cold they had provided a thick quilt.

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Our Room at the Apple Blossom, Fagu

The Room: The room had a comfortable double bed with clean linen. It had a mirror and a dressing table, table and chairs for food and a work table. There were side tables by the bed as well which is very handy to dump things like mobile phone, books earrings etch just before going to sleep. However what stumped me was the lack of plug points for charging. In the room the TV socket was the only option for charging gadgets. There was a functional plug point in the bathroom too.

I took the lowest category room and it was a big, clean and functional room. I have no major complaints.

The Bathroom: The bathroom was once again absolutely clean. The amenities were sparse, it had two clean towels, two sachets of shampoo, two small soap bars and bucket and mugs. There was a shower too which we didn’t try. There was plenty of hot water so we were good for our entire stay.

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The Tasty Noodles

The Food: The hotel has an in-house restaurant and we had all our meals there. They made excellent soupparathas, paneer, french fries and noodles. They make Maggie too! However the cheese omelet was just about OK. The food was always fresh and as good as homemade food. They were happy to serve the food in the room at night as it would get quite cold out there. They make good tea.

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The Huge Courtyard of the Hotel

The Ambience: The hotel has a huge courtyard at the back which is an excellent place to sit on a sunny day and do nothing. In a shady area there was a reasonable deposit of snow which was the favorite place for kids to muck about! From this courtyard you can take an exit and start exploring the nearby hillocks.

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Birds are regular Visitors at the Apple Blossom, Fagu

This and That: I guess on two nights Chhavi and I were the only guests at the hotel. The staff was so well behaved that at no point I ever felt unsafe. I ordered room service for all three dinners and I could confidently do so.

The hotel would get quite busy at lunch time as cabs stop with their guests who were exploring places around Shimla.

Their location is excellent but then government hotels usually have the advantage of the location. There are many birds around the hotel. The bird in the picture is a rock bunting.

The Verdict: If you are looking for a clean and no frills hotel, you would enjoy your stay at The Apple Blossom Fagu. I will happily stay there again. The only thing I want is more plug points in the room, preferably next to the side tables by the bed. If that is not possible then near the work table so that people can charge their various gadgets easily.

Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok

I had the privilege to visit the Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok on one of my trips to Thailand. It is the first central bank of any country that I have gone near to! The buildings are impressive. I could not capture the main museum building but the whole complex is made of former palaces!

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Bank of Thailand Museum Premises #Canon550D

What stuck me most was that to visit the museum one has to seek prior permission from the bank and it can be done only in groups. As I was traveling with Thailand Tourism Authority, New Delhi my permission was already sorted. The main palace (not in picture) where the museum is named Bangkhunprom Palace.

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Bank of Thailand Museum- The Grounds #Canon550D

While we were waiting to be escorted inside I decided to click the beautiful premises. There were blooming orchids too but then I decided not to post them, after all this is a museum post and not a nature post! You see the trouble is that photography within the museum is not permitted.

The museum is divided into many rooms, 14 in all. It traces, what else, but the history of money. Some of it we are familiar with. Societies started with simple things like cowries as money. We graduated to metals and then the current form of notes.

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The Bank of Thailand Museum, Bangkok #XperiaZ3

To me what stood out was the concern of counterfeiting the currency and how measures were taken in various eras to combat it. I never really thought about the paper and the printing press and the country they were located in connection of money.

The custodian of the museum, the lady on my left was about to retire in a year after serving at the bank for more than 30 years! With the modern careers being what they are, I was quite impressed by the length of her service. It was an absolute privilege to meet her and visit the museum.

A Friendly Football Game

Yesterday I took my camera to the park as I wanted to click flowers in the bloom. However, a friendly football game started taking shape in front of my eyes. I call it the Kids vs. the Giant. Kids were represented by Chhavi and her friends and the giant is my nephew Sunil. As it was Sunday all of us were in fun mood. This is one of my rare off topic posts which is not about travel. It was just way too cute, not to write about it.

The Start of the Game

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That is how we defend the goal!

The game started with just three players, Chhavi, her good friend and Sunil. It was actually quite difficult to keep all of them in the frame with a 50mm fixed lens. I don’t know why the kids wanted to defend their goal in this fashion!

I Would Rather do Handstands!

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I would rather do handstands!

Gradually the number of players increased but the frustration of playing against bhaiya (big brother) was on the rise. Chhavi wanted to perform handstands instead! It was anyway Bhaiya vs. everyone else!

We Are An Army Now

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We are an army!

The number of kids went up and soon the goal post which was denoted by the two slippers, was full. Now where would bhaiya score from?

The Giant

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The Giant Invades

However bhaiya got the line in complete disarray within seconds and every one was aflutter, running here and there. And you know what that would mean? He scored again! And he would celebrate as well after scoring!

The Team Went into a Huddle for a New Strategy!

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Post Huddle Strategy

This was the last ditch effort to save the goal which was the result of a team huddle. I was a little late to click the perfect huddle! The result remained much the same. But bhaiya made them learn passing and played some silly games with them as well.

Epilogue 

In the end the kids demanded that Sunil should kick the ball and hit the aeroplane flying overhead at that moment! To which he told them very seriously that it was not possible.

I remember reading knock at the door peep in with this giant who now scores goals at will! And now we sit together and discuss office politics. How time flies!

Why Do We Travel?

I know the answer to the question ‘Why Do We Travel’ is very individual. But let us explore it via what is in fashion about travel these days and see where it leads!

One of the most common theme doing rounds seem to be that we travel to find ourself. Well since I never managed to lose myself I feel I have no need to find myself! But then I guess it is just me?

Next comes the thought that we travel to know the unknown, yes I agree we try to know the unknown with our mobiles and tablets loaded with every app that would predict with certainty about everything that is there to know!

Then comes the variety that to travel is to awaken, now with the common office goer is anyway so much sleep deprived that many look forward to catch up on sleep on their vacations rather than being ‘awaken’ on an obscene hour by the alarm! Now a true photographer is different, they still need to chase the dawn for their pictures and they may like to get awaken.

Then comes let us find some beautiful place to get lost, of course with a sat phone and google maps! Hot water and electricity also welcome, a pizza joint in the vicinity would be priceless.

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer, till my pay checks keep coming in either regularly or from somewhere. Otherwise my bank balance shows a tendency to run towards empty very fast.

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Why Do We Travel?

A journey is measured in friends rather than miles, yes Facebook friends and their likes actually. I have nothing against facebook but I somehow detest the current hype around travel.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, till it comes to debates like tourists vs. travelers. Then we display prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness in all its glory.

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving, all very well, but next time I am going to tell this to a country’s Visa Office and see their response.

Travel is never a matter of money but courage, OK next time I will try to pay my bills with courage.

I mean I can keep going on and on and on. But then why has it so gone out of fashion to travel just on a simple, pure vacation?