Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Holiday to Relax and Introspect


I love travelling and so does my wife. Its a kind of rule which we have made for ourselves, a good relaxing holiday at least once a year. We also decided to travel abroad to see the world. I am in the Navy and the advertisement to lure youngsters reads "Join the Navy to see the world". I dont know about the others but this had definitely motivated me. I had joined the Navy and hoped to see the world. Well, unfortunately the Navy decided to show to me India instead.

I have seen nearly all of India, some courtesy the Navy and more due to our penchant for travelling and visiting places. We love exploring places and storing all those memories as photographs. We had procured a large album and decorated the cover with the words "Our holidays". Unfortunately we were only able to lock up 2-3 holidays in there before the digital revolution hit us. Now the memories find place in the hard disk of my computer and in the online web albums. This is definitely a easier way to store and share snaps, but nothing beats the nostalgia of sitting together with the wife on a rainy evening with a hot cup of coffee in our hands and flipping theough the hard copies of our memories.

Anyway since 2 years had passed since our last holiday in "vilayat", and more importantly since the Government had decided to be kind enough and us give some extra money, I thought it was the right time and I had just about enough money to plan a holiday abroad. Our dream destination is America, but as that was turning out to be very expensive, we decided to travel to HongKong, Macau and Bangkok instead.

The planning

I believe that whilst travelling abroad, this is the most important phase. Maybe it is inspired by the famous military saying " The more you sweat in peace, the lesser you bleed in war". So we sweated. We decided our budget, we decided to take my sister in law along (for entertainment), we decided where we wanted to stay etc. We had learnt from previous experiences that abroad it is foolish to spend on lavish hotels as for the better part of the day one is out shopping or sight seeing and the hotel room is only used to crash into the bed and get ready for yet another day of shopping and sight seeing.

We found a travel agent, who did our flight tickets and hotel reservations for us. She also got us our foreign exchange. This we realised later was a foolish thing to do as it works out cheaper if one withdraws money from the ATM's abroad or better still swipe a debit card directly. However, one has to be careful with the card and swipe it only at trusted locations and never let the card out of your sight.

We also decide to travel light and take only 2 haversacks along.

The trip

Finally the day arrived when we had to leave. Our excitement was over shadowed by the enthusiasm showed by Shilpi (sister in law). This was her first trip abroad and she had full right to act this way. And then this was the reason we were taking her along.....drama factor.

My parents dropped us off a New Delhi airport well in time for the flight. We immediately started clicking snaps at all possible locations (duty free shop, security check in etc). I had already upgraded my camera storage to 2 GB so storage was not a problem. Soon we had boarded the flight and were climbing over Delhi. We had just about levelled off when the air hostess wheeled in the liquor cart. Now this is what I like about international flights and guess Shilpi also liked it. She asked me at the top of her voice "Jeej kya peena hai?". I gave her a glare and asked the hostess for a vodka and orange juice. Shivani settled for apple juice(her all time favourite). Three drinks and a nap later we were descending over Bangkok.

There was an hour between this flight and our connecting flight to Hongkong. But Suvarnabhumi Airport is huge and even after running on the travellators and ignoring all the lucrative duty free shops we just managed to board the flight to HK just as the air hostess was "closing and arming all doors".


I remember looking out of the window as were descending over HK and being fascinated by the lights. It was raining and the wings with the piercing landing lights seemed to be cutting through the rain. We landed safely and the first thing which struck me about HK airport was its enormity. We had to catch a metro from where we landed to where we had to do immigration. Now that is LARGE. Owing to the restricted budget we had planned to spend the night at the airport and proceed to Macau in the
morning. That idea did not seem very great now. We were tired, were thirsty...water here cost 12$ a bottle and that was not funny. So we bought one bottle of water, and me being the Navy man promulgated a watch roster (one awake, two sleeping) and we tried to sleep. In retrospect this was a good idea, as while Shilpi slept, Shivani and me worked out the details of how to reach Macau in the cheapest way possible, reallocated for budget for sight seeing and shopping (HK and Macau are very expensive places, which we realised then) and even re distributed our money.

We caught the first bus to the Macau ferry terminal and boarded a ferry to Macau. The ferry was more like a plane with similar seating and i daresay speed. We reached Macau and after immigration and a long wait for the hotel bus, finally checked into our hotel. Macau is a nice picture post card kind of city, which is very Portugese in appearance. Most of the main city is walkable and so walk we did. It actually consists of the Macau mainland and the islands of Taipa and Colone, which are connected by lovely bridges.

Our first sight seeing trip was the Macau tower which is known for Bungee jumping. Shilpi was all excited about taking the plunge till she looked down from the jump platform wherein her josh faded as fast as the high speed life which got us till here. The entry ticket for the tower itself was about 100$ (Rs 700/-) per head. We could see the whole of Macau from here including the huge Grand Lisboa and all the bridges. Macau does have the Chinese influence also and the delicacy of duck blood soup confirmed that. We spent 3 days in Macau and then headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry back to HK. The girls did not try out the dreaded duck blood soup or frog legs and stuck to McDonalds instead.


The plane like ferry took us back to HK within an hour. Both Macau and HK do not require a Visa and so immigration was quick with a stamp permitting us to stay for 15 days. With the way expenses were mounting I didn't think we would last more than 15 hours. HK is all about buildings, bridges and tunnels. It has the worlds largest airport (Chek Lap Kok Airport). The worlds
largest suspension bridge carrying rail and road traffic (Tsing Ma bridge). An underwater tunnel connecting Kowloon to HongKong Island and huge sky scrapers. So much so that on the day we landed in HK it was raining and we could not see the tops of most buildings as they were hidden by the clouds. Other than this the highlight of our trip to HK was a visit to Oceans Park. There we witnessed an amazing dolphin and seal show and also rode across from one mountain to another over the ocean in a cable car. This was dutifully recorded by Shilpi in our digicam with her commentary in the background. We also managed to grab an Indian Meal in HK consisting of lacha paratha and chole.

We also visited Stanley which is like a old fishing town at the South end of HK island. There is a beach there and we sat there at night and had a can of beer each. We spent three days in Hk and then proceeded back to the airport to catch our flight to Bangkok.


We landed in Bangkok and suddenly the world started looking like a better place. Everything was so much more reasonable and affordable. We could buy cold coffee and we could have boiled corn off the streets. We had rented a service apartment in Bangkok for 4 days and each and every day and minute and second here was spent on shopping.
Except for one day where I managed to coax everybody to accompany me to see the "Bridge on River Kwai". The monument was an eye opener for all of us about the atrocities commited on the allied soldiers by the Japanese.

I wanted to pick up a handycam for myself in Bangkok, but a comparison of prices revealed that it would be much cheaper to buy it in India. I had been looking forward to pick up a hybrid and some golf balls from here and that I did. The girls picked up sandals and purses till our haversacks were full and then they purchased three suitcases and more sandals and purses till even our new procurements were full.

Finally the day arrived when we were to head back to India. All said and done all our excitement for the foreign countries had faded and we were eager to get back to Mother India and some dal and roti. On the way back I did manage to pick up one bottle of Glen Fiddich and Glen Livet each. I had no Bhats left and had to swipe my card. I also picked up one bottle of Baileys Irish Cream with a hint of coffee...the latest from Baileys.


As soon as we landed back in Delhi and in fact even before that Indianness as I call it, hit us. Even before the plane touched the ground all Indians had their mobiles out and were talking. When the air hostess tried to dissuade them, they started arguing with her. Empty packets, wrappers were strewn all over the plane's aisle.

As we entered the airport, the stark contrast compared to HK or Bangkok airport was more than evdent. Immigration was preceeded by a never ending line. All the smart Indians were trying to jump in fornt of each other in the queue. All the nicecities of vilayat, the Pleases the Than Yous were all forgotten there it seemed.

It felt nauseating. All the while specially in HK in Macau we had not heard a honk on the road. Allvehicle drivers knew the rules and followed them letter and spirit. There were lines everywhere, there were queues, there was always a smile, a please, a good morning and thenk you. All Indians I met there followed these courtesies. What had changed here.

Is is the people that make a country or a country that makes the people. When one can do it there, why not here?

Whenever I return from a holiday whether in India or abroad, I make a pledge or I renew the pledge to make India a better place. One person can make a difference. I can be that one.


AKM said...

Nice read.

However, do reconsider having the blog under your own name and the photostream open for public view. A simple pseudonym and invitation only pic album is better.

Privacy once lost is not regained.

neerja.dhar said...

one more follower for this story.... with you samit.. Its quite similar as you came home to relax after a hectic day out in office or so.. you take your food in sofa .. books lying here and there . we think india our home.. can litter things and break rules as we do at our home... And one person cnt change world but anytime can start the change... cheers