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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pullman in Miri

Miri in Pullman
It was two Georges one living in USA and many years later one from Europe who had started the famous railway coaches called Pullman
The US George had done it from Chicago
Another George a Belgian had visited US and travelled in Pullman trains and was impressed to start Pullman trains in Europe too and as the brand was became a hit Pullman hotels were also started by him ...
At present they are in all continents in many cities.
More than 173 hotels or resorts are available all over the world
Most of them are ultramodern five star hotels with high rise buildings, sleek modern lines of architecture and futuristic furniture.
We never knew all this as we booked to stay in a Pullman hotel in Miri ,Malaysia .
Me and friend Dr Yuvaraj had driven down to Miri on a weekend and it took 2 hours as we had to cross the border check post and immigration etc .

 It was wet and rainy as we sped along the wooded road leading to MIRI
Once we entered Miri city we had some difficulty in tracing where our hotel was as we had no mobile connection hence no WIFI to use GPS
Suddenly the tall Pullman building popped up and all we had to do was to go in its direction, easier said than done as ground directions are a bit different from say an aerial one, maybe if we had a helicopter we could have done that 

 We did manage to reach the hotel finally, it was downtown but in a quieter area and bordering the marina.

 We were checked in to the 16 floor room and ours was almost a suite
Thus we did stay a day in the famous Pullman!!
After a rest we hit the town and a snazzy bar called Mings café where great cocktails and music

lightened the dusk, the morning saw us going for a ride in our car unplanned, we wanted to visit a famous Buddhist temple nearby.
Most people in these places aren’t good in telling directions, we had to ask two as we had no GPS after plotting in a paper and looking at it for ages the lady recited a litany of confusing direction we felt she would also have never found the temple again in her life
The man proved to be almost same as he gave directions of a route through multiple traffic signals u turns, etc
We thought we would just go without any plans and drive till we reach somewhere
Funnily we just went straight through a couple of traffic lights and reached an old town area full of lovely colonial shops ,a huge market with vegetables and meat ,we managed to get a parking in that area a real feat indeed ,


 There were hot buns for sale amongst others
One of the vendors at last was a clever one when asked where the Buddhist temple was he said you are almost there just walk 500 meters and you will see it, and we did just that!
Later we returned for a couple of ice cold beers and checked out by 2pm on our way back to Brunei

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Lady with the hood

The lady with the hood ......

The dusk had fallen
The moon peeped through the white domes of the magnificient Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi
I quickened my pace to catch a glimpse of an etheral beauty in black purdah !
The cold of the desert on a december evening was felt in my bones ....
There was a sretch of fine sand I had to cross to reach the milling crowds , but by then the damsel had melded into them , disappearing like a mirage in the desert .
I waived my way through jostling the crowd to angry stares !!
No i cant miss her again !

It was my soul that was calling me not my mind for I was numb for long .
The long lines parted .
The sombre altar of spirituality was serene in its peace .
The marble reflected the purity of divinity .
There was an aura of inner solace undescribed in the bowels of the monument .
The whispering shuffle of foots on the Iranian carpets hardly broke the sepulchural silence .
The kaleidoscopy of the chandeliers reflected the multiplicity of humans milling below .
Where can I search for the elusive her in this hall of mirrors ?
It was like in a dream
The fog of time crept into eternity .
Awareness extended to infinity
I was lost in a trance .
I walked away
I came to stand in the moonlight .
For a change I was alone far from the crowd inside the mosque .
The dew of the grass touched my bare foot
It cooled my insides
I wanted to lie down
When I felt a presence
I knew who it was
It was her standing before me the veil removed with a beatific smile on her face !
We walked out our hands interwined gazing into the moonlight and dissapeared into the darkness .
( actually me and premila had visited Sheik zayed mosque in Abudhabi and she had to wear the Abhaya ..
.I saw this photo now and spun this story to bore you all )

Thursday, November 09, 2017


Today is Kamalahassans birthday .nov 7th
Though lately hes sounding senile with his idiotic comments as an attempt for a political launch ,to me hes one of the best actors we would see .
I would put him in the line of Dileep kumar ,Sanjeev kumar ,Sivaji Ganeshan ,Marlon brando and Mohanlal .
He was into films from childhood
As a wiry teen he was into chorus dancing and later choreography .
It needed a genius like K Balachander to recognise the talent in him and he was launched by this great man in Tamil .
One film that stands out amongst many is Apoorva ragangal where a young Kamal falls in love with a beautiful but much elder Sri vidya , this film was much ahead of its times with such a story but was accepted by the people ,it also introduced a sad shy Rajnikaanth who appeared in the last scene as the estranged husband of Srividya to the consternation of a bugged Kamal !
In the next film Kamal would be the proverbial simpleton to Rajnis sauve villainy in Padinnaru vayadinilee .
Balachanders varumayin niram sigappu or red is colour of poverty where this song comes was another gem .
I always felt Kamal was best paired with Sri devi .
Moonraam pirai later Saadma by Baalu Mahendra was another milestone in this actors career .
In the last scene one cannot forget Kamals running in the platform along the moving train in Ooty station and hitting an iron pillar and falling down ,that isnt acting its living the role .
Meendum kokila where Kamal is the verbal husband with a testosterone issue to his homely wife Sridevi also stands out.
Maro charitra the telugu original of Ek Duje Ke liye was the mother of romantic films .
Malayalam films recognised Kamal long before Tamil did and he was a hero in late seventies there in a score of films where he prances to the unforgettable tunes of a Salil chowdhry with the likes of Zarina Wahab,Sheela and Lakshmi a much welcome change from the staid prancing of a Prem Nazir .
The actor in Kamal has to wait for Mani Ratnams Nayagan where he enacted the erstwhile don of Mumbai ,Varadarajan mudaliar with the elan of a Brando in Godfather .
The scene where kamal emotes on his sons death is still a classic .
His comic timing was seen in many films like Michael madana kaama raasa
Doing different roles as a dwarf ,a woman , a feminine dance master , a drunkard one ,all came to kamal with ease
But to many of us of the same gen Kamal was always an inspiration as a romantic hero

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Dr Durandham

Dr Durandhams day
Kerala is a land of elephants .
Most temples had one or many more and in its festivals most malayalees are used to seeing tame elephants at close qaurters .
I know of some whose hobby is just elephant watching
Even some teenagers
Wonder why they select elephants with so many other things to be watched at thier age !
Each to his own
of course .
There is an engineer hes in infosys now who had spent 3/4 of his blessed childhood gazing at elephants in temple festivals all over kerala .
He would reel away on every single detail on every single elephant mentioning them with so much endearance as in describing a neighbours child studying in a local kindergarden .
There were mishaps too in these festivals when the tame ones went berserk which wasnt a rare occurence
By nature scooting came easy to Mallus and at these times most would shimmer up the nearest coconut tree and cling to its fronds with the agility of a frisky monkey .
Watching an elephant in the wild is a bit different but from watching them in a temple .
As long as one was far away it was fun which is how I would describe the two elephants we saw near the Siruvani dam when we went there for a family picnic .
But enroute to the forest bungalow the road was a thin ribbon with menacing tall thick bushes of elephant grass which hid the dense forests on both sides and where no light entered and the darkness hid its mysteries well.
Its encountering an elephant in such a place that could land one in trouble with a big T.
My co brother Pramodh a senior airline executive is a committed wild life enthusiast and with his years of wandering in several core forests in India was considered as the familys Jim Corbett
Pramodh knew a lot on wild animals .
Unlike me who knew only about the human wild .
He told us that elephants like all wild animals avoided humans unless they are in their way or threatened them in some manner .
Clever of them should learn the trick of avoiding humans from them
Usually in narrow roads when we see an elephant while driving we need absolute silence ....said Pramodh
no horns
sit still
Then the elephant may find a path to get out of the area and it will .
but if it doesnt find a way out it may charge.
then and only then please run fast he would proclaim !!
That made me run away almost immediately !
to the amusement of my family who had nicknamed me Dr Durandham or Dr Tragedy as I was pretty adept in creating fertile scenarios
For example i would say
shortly a rogue elephant would see us and think of us as so many footballs
or how a huge Tiger would spot us just when it didnt have its breakfast for one week .
Every turn on the narrow ribbon of the road my Ayyos created collective palpitations in inhabitants of both the cars of our caravan .
I was strongly advised to keep myself occupied with human pleasures in the forest bungalow instead of venturing out to sport by popular demand .
Pramodh also continued his grim exercise of analysing dungs on the road peering at them with the air of an expert weather forecaster
at times stopping the car and once even tapping a particularly dry specimen one that looked like dung from a constipated baboon !
then declaring with the elan of declaring the magna carta itself as the dung was tiger refuse 8 days old with the air of a proctologist on his thousandth colonoscopy .
His machinations would produce sighs of admiration from the bated audience at his animal academic brilliance .
Wow how come pramodh you know so much !
Well if we keep tasting sorry testing dung all along the way like this we too would be experts but dead ones ,
Dr Durandham yours faithfully would pipe in to a not so cheering family .
And so we would meander along till we reached a particularly dark corner full of tall bushes and since we couldnt see much of the road ahead
Pramodh stopped the car and the one behind driven by my niece who by genetics had aqquired the genes of her wild dad iam sorry wildlife dad pramodh also stopped .
The eerie silence was broken only by a strange munching sound ahead and my silent gesticulation of it being prudent to go back was finally listened to .
Pramodh too signalled for the beating retreat .
To reverse a car in a narrow forest road no to reverse two cars in a narrow forest road with whatever was hiding behind those bushes ready to jump at any moment needed nerves of steel and minds of casted iron not that of bendable aluminium which me Dr Durandham posessed.
Father and daughter did that gracefully and in minutes we were gliding back to safety
For once Harietta your warning proved right Pramodh would say and others too agreed
And thus Dr Durandham had his day too .

Monday, October 30, 2017

The making of an Idly

The making of the Idly

To me cooking is a pleasure
Its a conquest
Everytime the mistakes I make and finally achieving the sucess though not perfection is part of the joy .
I love to see how the curd I made has formed in the morning and am delighted every time I see a perfect solid Artic white curd with the  right sourness and with a smile I transfer it to the fridge .
The pleasure is even more than the eating and at times I think I  cook or make food more for the pleasure in it rather than the eating part .

The meticulous Basmati rice boiled to the exact cooked state and the aromatic curry and  layering for the dum and the slow wait with the reward that comes when I open the biriyani vessel and smell the heavenly ambrosia and give it a light mix and when my one more Biriyani is ready I love that moment .

I loved it the day I made a fluffy parotta with layers though that never lasted .
 The skill just sneaked away leaving me in disappointment !!

So was the time I could fry a crispy calicut style Banana chips but these days they flop like dogs ears too !

And another peak I wanted to conquer was the making of idly and dosa right from the raw matireals and not using the ready made dough .

 I managed to do it with the  help and instructions from my sister .my wife .my friend yuva in that order
Encouraged  to go ahead and google uncle of course and finally the lovely grinder my wife had kept here which I wouldnt even look at earlier .

So from the right mix of Boiled rice and Urad dhal which i bought from the Indian store in Gadong on a sunday morning  I foreplayed them with wetness and when they were soft to my seduction ground them well and let the soft mix overnight to bloom !
Just like a woman .
At 6am  I just couldnt resist to see if the dough had risen !!

Oh yes

It not only rose it bloomed ,out like a mini Tsunami and even spilled out of the vessel its soft frothy flavour filling me with a heavenly smell !

After tidying up I made reasonably soft idlis ,one imperfect dosa ,with some masala to go with  and freshly made  coconut dry chutney .
One more crown to dorn in my kitchen experiment
I could do it

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Shanghai chinas pride

Shanghai is the most populated city in the world with 24 million in 2014
The city of the oriental pearl .
The city of  towering skyscrapers
The  show city  of Chinas boom .
 global  financial centre and transport hub .
It was one of the treaty ports opened to foreign trade after the first Opium war victory by the British over China .
Treaty of Nanking and later treaty of Whampoa made the Shanghai International settlement and the French concession ,and many other foreign settlements
In the first part of the century it was the premium Global financial hub
The communists took over in 1949 and trade declined as it had trade  only with the communist satellite nations, but later after Deng xioping s presidency and Chinas acceptance of capitalistic mores it surged ahead with construction and infrastructure and its trade boomed .

Shanghai was our last stop in our dizzy ten day itinerary of China the El Dorado of the decade .
We had travelled from Xian the city of pomegranates with terracotta warriors lined up under its bowels
Its city walls and vastness and urban spread of skyscrapers downtown exuberance has shown us a China spread and grown far beyond the one trick pony of Shanghai .
If it was the bullet train that whizzed us into Xian from Beijing it was an ordinary overnight train in a soft sleeper berth that brought us from Xian to Shangai .
We were dropped into the voluminious central Xian Railway station but our guide walked us through the initial phase of entry which if alone would have been tougher as none knew English in China .
Getting into railway stations was a bit like getting into an airport in China .in the first step one scanned all luggage through security after mandatory check of ticket and passport .
In Xian the line of passengers pulling heavy luggages were huge and in China joining ques in middle or forming new ones were met by tame acceptance .
So we kept being bewildered at our non progress of a frustrating long que but still managed to get in without much damage .
 only passengers with valid tickets were allowed to get in
Later we found our train number its platform number displayed and went to a huge waiting room one for soft seats bigger neater with a couple of shops toilets etc
The waiting room for hard seats appeared more crowded from outside
We waited till it half hour before  time for our train to depart and were allowed to get in.
We still had to find our platform which was a big walk and in Xian the worst part came in the steps with no escalator to get down lugging our luggage
In bullet train stations it was more user friendly with escalators lifts etc platform too was taller and not like in xian where getting into the train required some effort .
Shangai station was more modern and friendly with ramps etc .
We got a berth like a first class coupe in india with four passengers .
The other two youngsters were stuck to thier mobile a trifle rude and non communicative clearly different from other passengers and Chinese people who were friendly specially the older gen .
In the morning  we heard faint strains of fine high pitched Chinese singing from a nearby berth and found it was being sung by a grandfather and his granddaughter occasionaly joined by the  childs grandmother
They invited us into thier coupe and we could record the session .
The child talked good English and told us she was going to her grandparents home for the long holiday in october .
We reached Shanghai at 8am sharp as mentioned in the time table and found our guide Lily waiting for us outside .

Getting down at Shanghai modern railway station we walked up the convinient ramp

Shangai was having a good drizzle and we walked to nearby KFC for a drab brealfast of a tiny burger and tepid coffee nonsatiating and unappetising as expected .

We then got into our nice Innova like van to go around till late afternoon check in time of hotel .
At first we went to the famous Jade buddha temple in the centre of the city
A huge buliding was being moved a few meters to one side for a new building to be constructed within the temple .
The whole building had been lifted on rails from foundation to be moved ,a real feat the whole work was still on progress and was enclosed off .
We walked through the rest of the temple with serene Buddhas gazing at us in benign peace
There were two jade Buddhas itself and one in lying posture .
There were several gaurd statues named by directions artistically created .
Monks walked around some involved in morning rituals the air was full of incence and divine incantations with tingling bells
Trainee monks walked in somber uniformity and great humility .
After this solace to the soul we left the temple with peace in our hearts offered from the heaven of spiritual bliss .
We attempted to go the national museum but since the crowds were so  huge as it was the famous golden week holidays in China with respect to october first national day we skipped it wisely .
We were off to the Bund lined with colonial buildings .The Bund is  the promenade of the river Huang Pu river .
On the other side was Pudong which once was a swamp but today is  a skyscraper paradise .
Once the communist Government gave the nod for developing Shanghai to develop in  this area it saw a huge flood of construction and today its a Manhattan of the east with towering high rises strutting proudly in the horizon giving Shangai its famous skyline .

We would later climb the tallest of the lot the Shangai Radio TV tower or oriental pearl tower  upto the 263 meters high observation tower and a floor above to gaze below in its glass bottomed exuberance .
Though we had climbed up the worlds tallest Burj Dubai and several more towers in Vienna  Sydney .KL .etc the view here was really different with green parks , rivers snaking through,highways ,midget traffic admidst the skyscrapers ,a view not to be missed .
Shanghai also has the famous Shanghai Disneyland
We gave it the miss as it needed a day and I had been to Hong Kong Disneyland .
We walked into the famous Nanjing road Shanghais shopping arcade with upmarket branded showrooms ,shiny restaurants and theatres .

The road would be lit like Times sqaure at night a neon lighted forest .
After the long walk we would go to the antique bargain area of temple street filled with narrow alleys clogged with antique shops people by the thousands and police keeping a quite watch even from top of buildings to prevent any crime .

China was safe from pickpocketing or thefts as they were dealt with severly by a police department unbiased , duty conscious and polite relatively obscure but doing thier job with great efficiency
We checked into Ramadha Shanghai in the 19th floor going into a tired deep sleep after a sumptous lunch cum dinner at Delhi Durbar an  Indian restaurant .

In the drizzly evening we went for a walk nearby
Next day in the morning after breakfast we were off to the French concessione where the French stayed from 1849 to 1923

The place has fine tree lined avenues French colonial houses , art deco buildings,hip boutiques  ,cafes and bars .
After this we were taken to the famous water and  lake town an hours drive away a placewith neat walkways shops eating places row boats to ride in water and with acres of commercial activity .

the next day we had a lot of time after check out at 2pm as our flight was in midnight and our pick up to airport was to come at 8pm only so we  walked to the nearby Wanda mall about 3 km away to spend time ,it was raining mildly and we entered the humungous mall with so many floors of elite shopping fod places etc and spent around three hours ,later we had some food and came back to the lobby to wait for our pick up car to take us to the airport for our midnight Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur thus ending a ten day saga of China which was totally unexpected .
The surprise were the people who even without knowing English communicated their politeness and hospitality ,their industry ,hard work ,the vision of its leaders and how they carry it without force or undue repression ,people were happy to live in a secure environment with all facilities and are willing to work hard for that life

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Xian the city of the terracota Army

1250 km in 5.5 hours by bullet train from Beijing to xian
On the dot
No speedfelt inside
Met by Linda and driver  in station

Got into huge van like car v comfortable
Xian stunned us as it was no small town as we thought

It was huge modern with wide roads filled with traffic
 roadsides lined with roses pomegranates and sappotas and trees
Gardens shopping malls universities restaurants parks awesome

Due to national day on October  first and eight days public holidays traffic was bumper to bumper a wee bit unruly with lane jumping horning even about turning but heard no curses like in India all cool .
This was after all the golden week for China and Xian a prime tourist spot had many coming to visit it
We took a lot of time to reach national museum because of the clogging traffic
The Shanxi museum was  built in the shape of palaces in the  forbidden .


Later we went to see the Xian city wall which was 13.94 km long built in the fourteenth century under Hongwu emperor Zu refurbished many times more than 1400 years old ,initially built of rammed earth later with bricks ,there were towers according to directions ,in the Quin dynasty major fortifications and repairs were done ,
The wall is one of the best maintained fortification wall in the world of that antiquity and is a known international tourist attraction .
and needed a short climb
It was a broad walk paved with walk it would take four hours to go around, one could also see sections like we did or use bicycles to go around .
Incidentally there was a plaque and photograph of Indian PM Modiji visiting same part of the wall in commemoration of his visit .
Our guide took us here so that we could see that too .

We also saw the parade of the security guards wearing mediaeval costumes .
The Xian wall was huge and stretched on both sides neatly paved with cemented cobwebbed stones with turrets .
On one side the inside was the older Xian  many quaint houses markets etc
The two famous towers the bell tower was also seen a far walk
The Muslim quarter known for its tasty halal food  street was near the Bell tower .
there was also a drum tower ,drums and bells were rug  for the hours ,we had no time to visit the inner city and also the two Buddhist pagodas Giant wild  goose and small goose pagodas

which a disciple of Buddha himself built on return from India to house his sacred book collections .
We then had to take a long time on the traffic filled road to reach an Indian restaurant Ganges for our late lunch cum dinner .

and then go to our hotel to check in and take rest ,next day we would g to the Terracotta mines and see the three pits .

 From prehistoric times the history of the place , the dynasties that ruled like Han , Tan  Song Ming and Qing
were all depicted .
The first king of unified China of the  Ming dynasty Qin shy Huang in 259 to 210  BC  started building  his own mausoleum at age of 13 years and he completed it  at 39 years though kings were not asked to build their own mausoleums as it was considered bad luck to do so .
he needed 700000 workers to do the job ,it had 130 chariots ,520 horses ,150 cavalry horses ,officers, 8000 soldiers

Its at Linton 40 km from Xian city .the mound in a hill with jade and gold mines was chosen by the king for its richness

The huge tomb contained ceilings with studded pearls and diamonds to depict starry skies .,flowing rivers of mercury the tomb still remains unopened in order to preserve its antiquities as the terracotta pits that were opened had their colours faded in minutes

A whole army of terracotta warriors were in the burial chamber soldiers ,knights , officers , horses etc in neat order .
Centuries later in 1970 one farmer dug  a well and found parts of terracota sculptures .

showing how the terracotta sculptures were made
Initially the warriors even had colour but later by oxidation they lost colour  .

Many were intact , some were broken and had to be restored but amazing for two centuries clay models to last so long .
The technological know how of those days were amazing

the present archaeological site itself is the museum a huge complex
We in India having such heritage sites like Ajantha ,Ellora ,Mahabalipuram ,Taj Mahal and scores of historical palaces and buildings should learn from the Chinese how to not only preserve them but also how to market them .
The whole complex covering acres is turned into a mini township which is entered after buying tickets ,the one ward path to the site is a walk of about 3 km through green woods lovely trees flowers lawns where one could rest a natures delight and on reaching site which has three massive pits termed 1 ,2  and 3 where the terracotta figures are seen from platforms around ,the pits are air cooled and temperature maintained ,.
The return from the pits was by another route this time the whole place is one huge market with varieties of stalls for food ,souvenirs ,heritage restaurants tea houses all preserving ancient culture and Chinas nationhood ,the clever way of making people walk back through this township is for making them buy food as they are hungry after the exhibit viewing and also buying souvenirs in a relaxed way ,this is nowhere like the ramshackle shops one sees in Indian sites but very well organised and neat .
 Taj mahal is just entered from the dirty streets of Agra with no fanfare .

People in the area often did find some strange pieces of pottery etc in the earth some they used in their
Yang Zhifa the discoverer of the Terracota warrior site
homes even as hard pillows but during 1974 some people wanted to dig a well and on reaching seven feet deep found strange artefacts ,their leader Yang Zhifa reported this to the then Chinese Government who on investigation found that the site had to be properly unearthed and in a short time it led to the amazing discoveries
The pit  one was filled with lines of soldiers cavalry men standing kneeling arrow shooting in different postures of defence with chariots and horses all life like .
in pit 3 there were several areas still not dug up and one could see the sand roofs ,archaeologists are working intently in the pits with computers and desks in the middle

xian was well known for very sweet pomegrenates and everywhere one looked there were pomegrenates even on the road sides in neatly pruned trees ,as we neared Lintong the shops grew and pomegrenate juice was sold briskly 

We then went to a heritage tea house and had another demonstration of tea making also drinking fine pomegranate juice ,
we then moved to Indian restaurant for our lunch and later into the station for out overnight train to Shangia the last leg of our China tour

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