Sunday, April 24, 2016

Honeymooning in Ravan's Land

Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is one of those tiny unknown tourist destinations in Indian Ocean which people hardly hear about. Located south east of Tamil Nadu, its an island which has great diversity in landscapes, food and adventure. Our honeymoon trip was planned for Maldives, but since flights from India to Male go through Colombo, we decided to do a 4 day stopover in Lanka.

Day 1: Chennai to Colombo to Pinnawala to Kandy

Chennai Airport
Our flight to Colombo was from Chennai. True to the culture we decided to take Sri Lankan airlines for this part and we didn't regret the choice. A short haul (1 hr) from Chennai, the hospitality was superb and quality of flight and food was top-notch. It was early saturday morning when we reached Bandarnaike International Airport. Since our visas were approved online, the immigration was smooth. Thanks to Mr. Siri, we had a Toyota Hybrid Prius waiting to pick us up for our journey and Mr. Sisira to guide us through our road trip for 4 days.

Watching the elephants bathing
From the airport, upon exit we directly headed towards Pinnawala en route to the first night stop at Kandy, a small hill station in the central province of Sri Lanka. After a sumptuous lunch of the famous Sri Lankan rice and fish curry, we reached Pinnawala, known for its huge Elephant Orphanage at about 2:30pm. At the entrance after the first left, you see a couple of small elephants breaking wooden logs. These were the chained ones and so tourists were freely taking photographs with them. One of the elephants actually flung a log at us while we were taking pics with him. The place borders a hill and has a river on the other side where the elephants are taken for daily bath. So we visited that river bank next. What greeted us was a massive sight. 50 odd elephants bathing at the side of the river and workers throwing water on them. Beautiful! The best part was the child elephants who jostled past the elders to move at the head of the pack when they came marching back to the orphanage. Brilliant!

Our next stop was a tea factory. Ceylon tea is well known for English flavours and this place had it all. When we entered the factory, an ever-smiling lady greeted us for a tour around the factory. From drying of tea leaves to filtration, fermentation & processing, she guided us throughout the place. There is even a small gallery showcasing the history of tea manufacturing in Sri Lanka. Very insightful. The in-house shop had all kinds of packaged tea viz. liquor, flavour etc. We bought 2 packs of liquor tea for our parents and set forth towards Kandy.

Praying at Temple of Tooth Relic
A hill station, Kandy is comfortably located in the central province in Sri Lanka. It is a quite town, compared to the hustle bustle of Colombo. When we reached it was already dark and we were getting late for the temple visit. So instead of checking into the hotel, we headed towards the Temple of Tooth Relic. Temple of Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple famous for Lord Buddha's tooth which supposedly travelled from Kalinga to Kandy and is a antique item here. The temple hallway has the story about this along the hallway. At the end of the hallway is the statue of Lord Buddha. When we entered the temple, it was time for the evening prayers. So all the drum players started the rituals along with the head priest who had the candles. Very similar to Hindu temple rituals. After offering our prayers, we finally headed to our first stay of the journey, Hotel Hill Top. True to its name, it was situated on top of a hill and we were lucky to get a city view room. The room was very well made, the dining area was beside the swimming pool & since Christmas was closeby, the entire hotel was decorated with christmas trees & presents. We finished our day with a sumptuous sri lankan rice curry meal & some evening dance beside the dining area.

Day 2: Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

As our 1st day was hectic, we started this day a little relaxed. Woke up late to some beautiful view of the hills & then a lazy breakfast at the restaurant. At about 11, we left for the Botanical gardens. Some lovely collection of flowers and nice hilly concept; quite similar to the one in Munnar. From there we directly left for Nuwara Eliya.

Strawberry pancake
We reached Nuwara Eliya around dusk. The first stop on the way was the strawberry farm named Adman's. Located on the horton plains road, the farm had a small shop alongside selling dishes like strawberry pancakes, juice, cake etc. So after some clicks inside the covered area, we ordered for a strawberry pancake at the shop. Boy, was it delicious! Absolutely filling, the pancake had strawberry sauce & ice cream inside which made it superb. We were absolutely delighted as we headed towards our stay, Hotel Heaven Seven. Located just off the road, this hotel was on the road up the hill. And as expected, the room opened up to the view of the hills. Truly breathtaking. After checking in, we left for temple hopping & shopping in the local market. There was a Hindu temple nearby where we offered evening prayers. But just as we headed into the market, it came pouring down. With no umbrellas & slight cold setting in, we decided to call it a day and headed back to our hotel. A candle lit dinner of steak and fish and we retired to our rooms content.

Day 3: Trekking at Horton Plains National Park

Trekking at Horton Plains National Park
Probably the most hectic day of our trip, the day started with early breakfast as we headed to Horton Plains National Park. In the hour long drive, we climbed up one of the most scenic hills. Small windmills reminding of english farms, tea gardens and what not. There was even a lake on the way, giving us some stunning photographs. As we neared the park, the cloudy mountains greeted us with lovely views. The park has some famous points namely 'World's End', 'Baker's Fall' etc along a trek which is about 10km long. When we started, it was quite sunny and lot of people were walking up the route, some even barefoot. As we entered the forest, the route became tougher. Due to rains, the road had broken and was quite slippery. With some help, we walked about 4km to reach the 'World's End', a cliff literally falling into the clouds. The story goes that on a clear day you can see the sea but mostly its cloudy.
Baker's Fall
From there the route crosses the river and starts climbing up through the trees. That's where it started raining. While this was predicted, we didn't expect it to pour so hard. The route had become so slippery that we were holding on to the trees to find our footing. We had almost decided to skip the 'Baker's Fall' when we found a cemented staircase down to the falls. The floor of the stairs didn't let us go into the river though it was quite close. As we headed back, we realized that it took us more than 3.5 hours to complete the trek but we had made it home. And they had closed any entry by that time due to rains. As we were fully drenched, we changed before having some cup o noodles for lunch. From there we started for our 5 hour road trip to Colombo in the middle of the rains. So tired were we that I barely remember that part of the journey apart form stopping for some bread and tea.
It was exactly 9pm when I was woken up by Samragni saying that we had reached Cinnamon Red Hotel in Colombo. By far the best hotel of the trip, Cinnamon Red is located in the city center and has some 26 floors with a roof top bar. And that is where we headed for dinner and drinks. We had a quiet dinner and quickly headed for the roof top bar. But alas, as we entered the open bar area, the disappointment set in. It was raining here too. All the guests were in the enclosed smoking area, and the bar was closed. Disappointed, we called it a day and slept off quickly.

Day 4: Colombo & Hikkaduwa

Roof Top Swimming Pool, Cinnamon Red Hotel, Colombo
We woke up quickly on our last day of the trip. Having heard stories of the infinity pool, we quickly headed for an early morning dip. A sunny morning, the pool was open and luckily for us, no other group was present at 8am. So we had like a private roof top pool with a sea view. Perfect. There were seating areas on the side as well as the stairs below and we relaxed for over an hour. Morning workouts deserve a sumptuous breakfast. And what a breakfast we had. The buffet had sausages, muffins, chocos, pancakes, omlettes and what not. Overate so much that I needed an hour of sleep after that to digest the meal.
Sudden plans for Hikkaduwa
After we checked out, it was time for some sightseeing. So we headed to the Buddha temple at the center of the city. The statue was huge and they had a lot of antique items along. A nice peaceful time. We then headed towards the southern city of Galle to go to Hikkaduwa beach. Mr. Sisira said that the expressway would take about an hour to reach Hikkaduwa, just in time for sunset. So we were on our way. At Hikkaduwa we could do water sports and that was the plan. Around 4:30, we reached Hikkaduwa and straightaway decided to go for snorkelling. There were scores of diving shops there and we chose the one who had a trusted diver. So we took our masks and onto the water.

Snorkeling in Hikkaduwa
Sunset at Hikkaduwa Beach, Galle
Now, this was my 5th snorkelling experience so I was calm, but Samragni was experiencing her first. Me and the guide were on both sides of her pulling her into the sea. We crossed about 2 groups of blue, yellow, green fishes and then it came. We saw a huge turtle. It was bigger than me and furiously swimming towards us. The guide had some bait so the turtle was onto us. As I was brushing its shell, Samragni became scared seeing its head close by. And by this time, the entire group of swimmers had come on our side seeing the huge turtle. Some experience. As we swam back, we had some story to tell. Mr. Sisira then guided us towards a shack hotel which was owned by a friend of his. They treated us to shark soup and fish noodles. With a beautiful sunset and an exciting story to tell, we headed back towards Colombo.

As our flight out of Colombo was next day early morning, we decided to have a late dinner at Negombo beach and head directly to the airport. The beach in Negombo is dotted with bars and restaurants facing the sea. We chose a lively place and ordered some seafood. The food was great and we were able to relax after the evening excitement. A lovely breeze across the beach made the atmosphere absolutely serene. And with such memories we headed to the airport for our flight to our next destination, Male.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Manali - Leh bike trip: Ride to Paradise

The Manali - Leh bike trip through the Himalayan mountain range is considered one of the toughest biking routes in India. From sun kissed roads to immediate snow blizzard situations, from crossing the highest motor-able passes in the world to cold deserts, from high water streams threatening to derail you to meeting fellow drivers who would gladly help you cross them, you experience it all. But most importantly, you experience that freedom and sense of achievement once you conquer this route.

Volvo from Delhi to Manali
Our journey started from ISBT Delhi on the night of 26th of June. A superb Volvo bus operated by Himachal Pradesh Road Transport organization was there to take us to Manali. While it left on time from Kashmere Gate, a puncture at the Karnal highway pushed us back by 90 mins. We stopped for late late dinner at 1 am and by morning were just into the mountains. The initial delay cost us as we reached Manali late on 27th June at about 2pm.

Day 1: Manali

Searching for bikes
View from SASE campus in Manali
In Manali, we were put up at the superb DRDO guest house inside the beautiful campus called SASE. A view of the mountains and Manali-Rohtang road on one side, whereas the other had a waterfall to admire. You could spend days just at that lush green campus but we were actually behind our schedule. We quickly had lunch at a riverside restaurant and set out on our quest to hire bikes for Leh. We had not booked it from before (which in hindsight was a mistake) as we wanted to check and test the bikes before hiring. But that is what cost us. There were lots of bike operators and garages in and around Mall Road but most bikes (almost all the good ones) were already rented out. The reason was the National Green Tribunal verdict regarding vehicular movement and tourism on the Rohtang Pass. Due to the highly depleting situation of the pass, the verdict was that all cars going or passing through Rohtang Pass required to obtain a permit the day before. Moreover, there was an upper limit on the number of cars plying everyday. Since this verdict didn't apply to motorbikes, there was a huge demand amongst tourists. We went from agent-to-agent, garage-to-garage and after a 4 hour search, finally managed to hire bikes from VOH on Mall Road.
But there was a catch. The bikes weren't ready for that day and would need servicing for trip to Leh. It was our first mountain bike trip and we wanted to have properly serviced new bikes. Hence we agreed to wait a day.

Day 2: Manali

Sightseeing in Manali
Next day in Manali, we woke up late and had a chilled out breakfast in the SASE campus. Then we headed to Mall Road for some shopping for the bike trip. Kallol needed a new backpack, while others required bandanas, raincoats, ropes and plastic sheets to cover the backpacks. Also, chocolates, biscuits and some medicines. We also hiked up the waterfall to soak in the atmosphere. Most importantly, it helped us acclimatize to the weather. By evening we had got our bikes - a Bullet and 3 Avengers and we were set for the road
trip. Some thukpa, ice cream and apple cedar near Mall Road and we dozed off for some beauty sleep for the tough day ahead.
Day 3: Manali to Rohtang to Keylong

Biking to Rohtang
A beautiful sunny Monday greeted us for our start. It was time for preparing by tying the backpacks (which is a tedious task) and filling up on extra fuel in jars. Loads of photos, selfies and we were
All set for the ride
good to go. The first stretch was a 52 km, 3 hour climb to Rohtang Pass. The road initially is decent. Mostly paved well and not too many bad patches. Quite a lot of traffic considering it was a Monday but being on a bike gives you the advantage of space. The climb is gradual and slowly the snow clad portions set in. We missed a cut midway and mistakenly reached Solang Valley only to be returned back. But it was just a 3km detour so it didn't cost us much time. On the way we stopped for Maggi and Tea (both of which were expensive) and photos. There was a point around 13 kms before Rohtang where tourists were paragliding. I am sure it must have been an awesome experience from there. The road starts breaking when the snow sets in and SUVs in front were literally one side on road and one side on gravel about 2 ft below.
It was about 1pm when we reached Rohtang Pass. The popularity of the spot could be gauged from the numerous stalls lined all along the road. Tourists seen driving ATBs (which have now been banned) and riding yaks and skating on tires. We had another round of maggi and moved on towards Keylong.
Rohtang to Keylong
Rohtang Pass towards Keylong
The road ahead is a descent but not too steep. While the tourists' traffic reduced, the roads did too. The stretch turned out to be extremely bad. There were multiple stretches where we drove on stones and gravel. By evening we crossed Koksar which is the first army checkpost. They registered our information and guided us towards Sissu. It was almost dusk when we reached Keylong, a small quiet town which was to be our pitstop for the day. A quick bike service to get the chains oiled and carrier tightened and we found a decent hotel to stop for the night. The good thing was our phones were working for calls back home. We refueled our bikes at Tandi (which is the only fuel station between Manali and Leh) and ourselves with biscuits and chocolates.

Day 4: Keylong to Baralacha to Sarchu to Pang

Climbing towards Baralacha Pass
Crossing water streams
The next day we got up for an early start. We had to cover 190 kms to reach Pang through the ill famed Baralacha. At about 7am we left Keylong towards Jispa. We got phone signals till Darcha which was an army check post. Thereafter, the road was decent cut only at the water streams, which gave us some amazing experiences. The first water stream was easy but the 2nd one was literally on the edge. There was a Sumo which was stuck as the tires couldn't find traction in the water. Travelling groups had stopped on both sides to help cross the vehicles and multiple people came to rescue. We witnessed such stupendous solidarity and respect that we usually don't get to see much in other parts of the country. There were biker groups from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh etc. who came up and helped us cross the stream. These groups then guided us towards Baralacha Pass.
Suraj Tal (Lake) near Baralacha
The weather towards Baralacha Pass had started playing truant. First it started raining prompting us to immediately switch to our raincoats. Then it started snowing. So much so that at Suraj Tal (just before Baralacha) where we stopped for photos, I didn't even have the courage to take my camera out of the bag for photos. The visibility was down to 20-30% as the visor was wet and I could somehow see through the shades. We slowed down to less than 15 kmph and started driving on the mountain side of the road. It was slippery and broken but we couldn't stop since the air was thin and one could get dizzy. By the time we crossed the pass and stopped at a camp at Baralacha Point, we were freezing. The gloves were wet and we needed energy induction. Some ORS water, maggi and tea helped us regain composure. The camp owner told us that Pang was still 100kms away but the road onwards through Sarchu was smooth.
Baralacha to Sarchu border onwards to Pang
Sarchu is the border point of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. It has military camps and checkposts. Many groups prefer to stay at Sarchu (which also happens to be midway between Manali and Leh) as it has many stay options (camps / hotels etc.) We had reached by 2pm so we decided to continue towards Pang. After the lush green plains, we reached Gata Loops where the road gains 600 mts in 2kms of stretch. A superb experience though a bit scary. Once on top, the descent was okayish. It was all fine till about 7pm when we were about 20 kms before Pang and the night set in. The road was badly broken and our bikes were on headlights. With low visibility and depleted roads, we were literally clinging on the last ounce of our energy. I almost skid twice and cursed myself for being so late. At about 8:30pm when the light at the end of the tunnel was about to go off, we saw a milestone "Pang - 2 kms". About 2 bridges away we saw some lamps where we stopped to realize those were camps. Literally at the end of our energy points, we just parked our bikes in front of a randomly chosen camp and labored in. The aunty was kind to give us a full tent for ourselves. We had dinner and without changing, just slept off in our trip clothes. Pang is about 4600mts above sea level and the air was a bit thin. If it wasn't cold enough, it started raining in the middle of the night. I don't know how much I slept that night but thanked god that the worst part of the journey was over.

Day 5: Pang to Tanglang La to Leh

Moore Plains to Tanglang La
Moore Plains
The morning after that treacherous day was surprisingly sunny. We wearily got ready, had some maggi and parathas and packed the bags. The sun beating upon us was sucking the energy out and one of us started feeling sick. Medicines and ORS water came to rescue and we set out at about 9am towards Leh. 30 kms later we reached the Moore Plains, arguably the most beautiful part of the journey. Mountains on both sides and a straight, smooth road through. Picture perfect! This was to continue for about an hour and we stopped many times for photographs. Then suddenly it started to snow at 5000 mts and we had to rush into another camp. Praveen needed some rest but we couldn't wait too long as Tanglang La had to be crossed early. The ascent towards TangLang La was surprisingly smooth. The roads were better and weather had become sunny. At about noon, we reached the top to a beautiful view. The mile stone read "2nd highest motorable pass in the world". 10 mins for some photographs but we started feeling dizzy. So we started onwards.

Tanglang La to Leh
Climbing down from Tanglang La
Tanglang La to Leh passed through Rumtse and Upshi. The road was good and it was a sheer pleasure to drive. The turns were picturesque and slowly our bikes were performing better. We reached Rumtse, a small town at lunch time so we decided to halt a bit. We found a small shop which was actually a house doubling up as a restaurant. Praveen and I slept for about 15 mins while we waited for lunch. JP had gone ahead, unaware that we had stopped for meal. After a sumptuous lunch, we caught up on him when he was lying on the roadside at a lush green garden. We told him to take out some time for lunch while we dozed off at that garden. A quick power nap and we were all charged up for the final leg of the bike trip. At about 4pm, we reached Upshi which is about 49 kms from Leh and the army camp checked us in. The phones started to work there and mom was relieved I was safe. From Upshi to Leh, is a smooth delightful drive. The army managed stretch made sure the road was perfect and the clouds made for a scenic journey. We reached Leh at 6pm and checked in to our DRDO guest house in another beautiful campus - DIHAR situated just beside the Leh airport. The rooms were clean and the mountains behind the campus made for stunning scenes during the night. A long and difficult journey deserved a good night's rest.

Day 6: Leh sightseeing
Next day in Leh, we set out sightseeing in the town. Our first stop was the Thiksay monastery. About 10-15kms back towards Manali, Thiksay is a small establishment. The monastery is large and the climb was steep. But the view from the top made up for all the hard work. Next up was the Rancho School. Made famous by the famous Bollywood movie "3 Idiots", Rancho school is an all residential
Rancho Cafe
school. Tourists don't get to enter the campus, but there is a café right beside where you can relive the moments through posters. Locals say that before the movie came out, no one knew about the school but now its a famous tourist point. We then drove to the Shey Palace, a monastery plus king's house. This was quiet and peaceful. It housed a huge Buddha face and was full of wall hangings of kings. There we also bought those Ladakhi flags for our bikes. Then we proceeded towards Shanti Stupa on the other side of the town. We crossed Main Bazaar and Changspa Road on the way to the top. Another popular tourist destination, this was similar to the Stupa at Pokahara, Nepal which I had visited in last December. There were different stages of god's life on the 4 sides of the stupa and many temples on the way. The evening sun made for excellent scenes from the top. Simply superb! We went to Changspa Road next to book our cabs for the next days to Pangong and Nubra since we were informed that our bikes would not be allowed to those places (due to restrictions imposed by Leh vehicle unions). Changspa Road was a revelation for us. European cafes, backpacking crowd and loads of tour operators. It is the place to be. We decided to check out a steak house and try fish and chips for dinner.

Day 7: Changla Pass and Pangong
We got up early for the trip to Pangong. It was 150 kms and we had to come back the same day. The driver picked us up at 6:30am and we started towards Karu. After the police checkpost there, the route exits the Manali Leh highway. The first point on the way is the ChangLa pass, which is the 3rd highest motorable pass in the world. Lots of photographs and traffic there. Apparently, 5 years back no one knew that Pangong existed. But success of "3 Idiots" had made it a highly popular tourist spot. The road was not too good though. It took 5 hrs to reach Pangong Lake. But it was definitely worth it.
Pangong Lake
The lake itself is huge. As you reach, the restaurants and hotels are to the right and the road moves on along the lake which is to the left. The absolutely clean blue water is what catches your eye first. The blue sky, clouds, snow clad mountains and then the lake below will give you a feel of a painting. We took off our shoes and went a bit inside the lake. Absolutely stunning. There were lots of people taking photographs with Yak and flag behind. We had thukpas at one of the restaurants on the side. Then walked a bit ahead by the lake. The salt sediments along the side made for stunning look of the place. No wonder Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani chose this place for their movie. Its simply stunning. At about 2, we headed back to Leh. By 7, we were at our guest house, so we decided to venture out to Leh township. We bought merchandise and had dinner at the famous Fort Road where we tried streaks and sizzlers.

Day 8: Khardungla Pass and Nubra Valley

Driving towards World's highest motorable road
Khardungla Pass
The last visit in Leh was Nubra Valley. We started off from the guest house at 8:30 am towards Khardungla Pass. The road goes through main Leh township and is generally better than the Pangong route. We met an elderly gentleman and a lady, both solo travellers well past 40. Their stories were fascinating, how they had been to so many places travelling alone. How he had taken a shared taxi from Jammu to Srinagar to Leh and in that age was looking forward to treks. Inspiring. When we reached Khardungla Pass, there was huge battalion of people posing with the sign board. The highest motorable pass in the world indeed has its fans. Although they say that you shouldn't wait there for more than 25 mins, bikers happily had maggi, paranthas and tea at the restaurant there. The road onwards was quite decent. We reached Diskit Monastery and temple first. The temple has a huge statue and the entrance was closed to general public. The Diskit Monastery turned out to be beautiful with photos and hangings of Dalai Lama. We had lunch at Diskit market and set out for the dry area of Nubra valley -
Camel Safari in Nubra Valley
Hunder Sand Dunes. The dryness and sun was so strong that we chilled out for and hour before venturing into the desert. The sand dunes area had multiple small camps - some showcasing folk dance, some letting you play archery and other games. There was also one where you could wear local clothes and get clicked. The fact that there could be a desert even at this height was fascinating in itself. I had been to Jaisalmer last Diwali to experience desert and the famous camel safari but the camels here were different. They were double humped and somewhat lazier. We took up the 30 min safari. 4 camels tied to each other and dying to rub each other. A fun experience. We camped at a Himalayan hotel for the night chilling beneath the stars. Apparently the camps had wifi but were too damn expensive. A quiet night for the last hectic drive back to Leh the next day.

Day 9: Nubra Valley to Leh
We set out for Leh at 8:30 am the next day. There was a film shooting at the sand dunes which according to the locals was by someone from the Kapoor family. The drive back was pretty smooth till just before the Khardungla Pass. About a km before the pass, the Army had blocked the road to conduct the rescue of a truck which had fallen off the road due to a landslide a few days back. Two huge rope trucks were deployed to pull the fallen vehicle back. But after about an hour of trying the truck had just managed some 10-20 feet. Meanwhile vehicles piled up on both sides and some tourist became unwell due to the height and lack of oxygen. Thankfully we were allowed passage and we crossed Khardungla Pass to reach Leh at 3pm. Our last visit was to the Fort Road where we had lovely Tibetan delicacies. We then visited the German bakery for apple crumbles to round off the visit on a sweet note.
The flight back the next day from Leh to Delhi marked the end to an adventurous, exciting trip which would last in memory for the lifetime. A well planned, well executed plan which started months back culminated on 6th July. Leh, I would be back to get Leh'ed. :-)
Wednesday, February 04, 2015

AIB Roast: Take a chill pill guys

Humour in India died a small death today, yet again. All India Bakchod (AIB), the Mumbai based stand-up comedians who had brought us the wonderful satirical videos on, among many, Kejriwal and Alia Bhatt, brought their latest videos down. Those were the videos of AIB Roast which was a stage show that took place on 20th Dec 2014 in Mumbai. While the event took place in Dec, the videos were released in end Jan 2015. They contain the roast (an event in which a guest of honour is subjected to jokes at his/her expense.Roast on Wikipedia ) of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor by panellists – AIB team members (Gursimran Khamba, Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya), Rajeev Masand, Raghu Ram and
Read more:
Aditi Mittal & Roastmaster – Karan Johar.
What was interesting was that AIB were not notified, forced or threatened to pull the videos down (their YouTube channel and other videos are still up, thankfully). There are police complaints registered against them by Akhilesh Tiwari, president of Brahman Ekta Seva Sanstha in Mumbai, filed at Sakinaka police station but they haven’t been informed officially about any action against them. There are statements by Censor Board members (read: Ashoke Pandit) against them but the Maharashtra government has simply said that no moral policing would take place until it’s found that they have broken any law. While there is a huge hoopla going around this, they have brought those videos down (at the time of taking them off the views had touched 8 million and thumbs up outnumbered thumbs down by 10 to 1) because they didn’t want those associated with the videos – all those involved in the actual stage show to get hurt/affected (Aditi Mittal’s show has been cancelled). And here in lies the problem. While I would be really surprised that they would not have expected this backlash, especially since various religious groups have been unofficially doing moral policing of any kind of humour which is western-influenced or bordering on sexuality for some time now in India, they might not have expected that even the celebrities who were part of the event were likely to get hurt too. Hence they acted by bringing the videos down. As I write this article, there are different threads of debates going on mostly involving AIB and Karan Johar. The celebrities, as expected, have simply asked those enforcing moral policing to piss off (Not your cup of tea...don't drink it!!! - Karan Johar (@karanjohar)). But the full episode of this incident is still to be played out and we shall see that soon.
This incident follows many other which have taken place in the past year in India and abroad where satirical humour has been pushed back, by violent means like attacking the office of French satirical magazine – Charlie Hebdo; and some not so violent means. The comedy groups – AIB and The Viral Fever (TVF) had been pulled up during the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections in India when they were making satirical videos on politicians because yes, the politicians, let’s just say, couldn’t take it. There were debates on various news channels, most notably on Times Now where Arnab Goswami had invited representatives from these groups and spokespersons of political outfits. AIB’s Shakya, poor lad, had to not only defend himself in front of the ear shattering noise of Arnab but also educate those spokespersons to have a good laugh. The situation then was different. They had joked about some people. Those ‘some people’ didn’t like it. So they revolted. It is similar to when in college you make fun of a fellow student or play a prank. If the person doesn’t like it, he / she revolts. You either laugh it off or don’t make any further jokes on that person (if you fear that person or care for that person too much) or you ignore his revolts (if you think you can’t be harmed by that person).
But the AIB Roast case is different. The person being made fun off chose to be part of the event. In fact, he was there when the event took place. And he wasn’t alone. He brought his girlfriend along too, because, you guessed it right; she was made fun off too. And wait, his friends weren’t spared too. Even they were ridiculed but they were at the event too. And they too had agreed to attend it. What did they do while all those filthy jokes were being heckled at them? They simply laughed it off and happily walked off after the show. They chose to loosen up, take jokes lightly and laugh on themselves. For a community which is known to be snobberies and touch-me-not-I’m-a-celebrity kinds, it was delightful to see them shake those rumours off. A thumbs up to Bollywood!
So if those making the jokes and those being joked about were present at the event (incidently all parties – AIB team, Karan Johar, Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Rajeev Masand, Raghu Ram and Aditi Mittal made jokes upon each other, no one was spared) and have no complaints, why do the “3rd parties”; the people who have no relation to any of the involved parties and who have no say in the way the involved parties should behave, have complaints? To understand this, we also need to understand the progress of the world around them and influence of that progress. Availability of information, dissipation of media and access to that has reached a point of neutrality. Internet has ensured that information is available abundantly. Social media has made sure that any media after creation, can be released and made “viral” (i.e. accessed by hundreds and thousands) in a matter of seconds. And advent of smartphones has ensured that access to that “media content” is seamless. So a video made by a group of stand-up comedians can be “viewed” by millions in a matter of days. So a false rumour through social media channels that all people from a certain part of the country living in a particular Indian city would be targeted would make those people flee that city and possibly cause a riot. Its this neutrality that the people who are complaining against the AIB Roast are fearing. It’s a classic case of one having had a particular kind of education and upbringing where these kind of jokes were frowned upon and forcing that kind of mindset on all people around. So you start bossing around. Does the censor board have any say on content that is being published on youtube? The content had disclaimers, adult flags. So much so, that at the beginning, the Roast Master – Karan Johar says that if you can’t handle filthy jokes, you can simply switch off. Yes, Mr. complainer, you can switch it off. But you choose to complain. Why? Because you think its bad influence. Then why do you not complain about the hate speeches by political outfits? Just because the community participating in the AIB Roast are easy targets, you complain about them. Isn’t this hypocritical?
I remember one of the shows of Comedy Nights with Kapil where the guest was Yo Yo Honey Singh (I know it’s a crude example but its apt in this situation. Episode). When an elderly gentleman from the crowd said that Honey Singh’s songs were a bad influence on his son, Honey Singh gave a superb reply. He said that when the gentleman was young, he used to listen to songs like “chalkaye jaam” etc. which celebrate alcohol consumption, then why complain about his songs like “Chaar Botal Vodka” where alcohol consumption is celebrated. So, my friend, it’s all hypocrisy. You would complain about some lads who were trying to lighten our day by asking people to take themselves lightly. But you won’t complain about those who instigate fighting amongst communities who are probably right now living in harmony. You would enjoy songs and shows which celebrate alcohol consumption but complain when these songs are heard by your kids. Instead of educating your kids, you would seek ban of that artist. Just because these artists, the celebrities, are easy targets you choose to file cases against them. Why? Maybe you seek limelight. The limelight, that comes with taking on a big personality. Maybe you feel that your agenda (external or internal) is wronged. Maybe your favourite artist was being made fun off and you couldn’t take it. But that gives you no right to boss around these stand up comics.
Friday, January 03, 2014

Impact of Social Media on the Indian General Elections 2014

           Two weeks back, one of my roommates was discussing that he had been approached by the local Haryana MP to spearhead his social media campaign, essentially design the strategy for online branding and awareness. Having had considerable experience in social media campaigning for an eCommerce giant, he thought this was a good chance to see how that actually impacted people at the grassroots. The target was the General Elections 2014 and the MP in question was 3 time elected from his constituency, but this time it was different. He was going to defect from his party and move to the rival camp. Hence the added complication and need for branding.
          8 Dec 2013 was a red-letter day in Indian politics. Delhi, a state where Congress was ruling for 15 years straight, had given a verdict against the incumbent, handing them a mere 11% of seats.
Although the anti-incumbency factor was strong, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) undoubtedly was a greatest benefactor of that, what surprised everyone was that the newest kid in the block, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got 100% more seats than what anyone (media personalities, opinion polls, even their supporters) had predicted. It was nothing short of a miracle. A movement which was started by a Padma Bhushan awardee turned social activist, then carried forward by the vision of a IITan turned Income tax officer and backed by supporters who were fed up of the current state of Indian politics and the neglect of the middle class by the ruling class had achieved something substantial where it mattered. The AAP had utilized all kinds of legitimate resources at their disposal to create the awareness, the motivation and the passion to turn a socialist movement from a mere agitation to a government. From being outside the system and criticizing it, they are now in the system to clean, recreate and instill trust in it.
If one analyzes the methods the AAP had used to create the loyal following that they had, one would recall the days when the India Against Corruption movement in Jantar Mantar was going nowhere. Anna Hazare's fasting was not yielding anything from the government who simply turned a blind eye to the demands. The crowds were thinning and the media coverage too. The movement had to turn into something else. Upon the request of eminent personalities, the movement's team organized a opinion poll using Social media, online networking services. The verdict was to politicize the movement and then AAP was formed. The rest is history. Such is the power of social media, and awareness it can create that even governments were forced to change or become extinct.
What has happened because of this success is that everyone is sitting up and taking notice of this. The old school methods of postering, shouting at rallies, then paying off voters is paving way for new ways of campaigning. I was talking to my roommate as he was framing the roadmap for his candidate (the 3 time MP), he was talking of not just creating a facebook page and having discussions there, which by the way is still novice to majority of the political class, but having other channels of spreading propaganda. He was talking about how to involve more people with his MP, about how to engage them and create more followers. Facebook was the first thing on the list. Usually the fan page is present, but not much activity
Arvind Kejriwal's facebook fan page.
Photo courtesy:
happens apart from small posts. My friend's plan to rejuvenate was to create opinion polls. A very simple and basic method to get feedback from followers who were already on his page. Its amazing how such a simple technique can get you so many answers. Then create targeted campaigns like online events where discussions and promotions took place. This was to engage the followers to participate in the decision making process, a highly successful technique used by AAP and Modi.
With more than 40 mn users, twitter is the next social media channel that was on the list. Small updates, promoting twitter hashtag of his MP, answering queries and issues of followers is a must.
The next was to have more interviews of his MP with media houses and sharing them in youtube and other
Narendra Modi youtube channel.
Photo courtesy:
channels. Its a method used to propagate the agenda of the candidates. With a whopping 50mn+ users in India, youtube streaming is definitely a channel you can't ignore. Cross promotion of videos on other channels also adds to the traffic.
With the advent of smartphones, autographs have been replaced by photographs and instagram pages where you share the coverage of various events participated by the MP was next on the list. A subtle but high-recall channel, primarily because its visual and not text.
Blogging and sharing articles on facebook, linkedin etc was next on the list for the more serious fan following, people who had more time to get a full idea of the policy plans of the MP.
A highly successful but tough channel was to create a dedicated app for the MP. The app gets the dedicated share of mind of the users and ensures that promotion blasts could be tracked properly. But tough because creating a good, user-friendly and content rich app is expensive.
I sure hope that my roommate does well in this role and gets maximum success for his MP. The list is long, the channels are a lot and a lot of work is required to monitor each platform and ensure that each have the same message. Tough but not impossible.


Walking around the silky smooth beach, one couldn't help but marvel on the stunning clear sand and water. Seen here is a leaf carrying some sand on the Om beach.

Suryanamaskaar! On the 2nd day of our trip, we decided to start the day with a trek in the morning from the Om beach via Half moon beach to Paradise beach. The fresh, cool breeze and the rising sun lifting your spirits early in the morning. A perfect start to the day. Seen here embracing the rising sun at Half moon beach.

Epic pic! In the evening of the 1st day of the trip, we decided to do a beach hopping ride. When our boat dropped us at Kudle beach, it was almost evening. With water-sports galore, we ventured into taking a banana boat ride. 20 mins and lots of salt water, but totally enjoyable. Seen here is the entire group just after the ride.

During the early morning trek, we were almost at the end of Paradise beach. Looking for some restaurant, we came across this small pond which we needed to cross on stones. Seen here is Jasmeet crossing the pond.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Trip to Kerala (Wayanad)

The misty, cloudy mornings of the Vythiri Peak. Seen here from the courtyard of our room.
Let there be light!
This is how close we were to nature. Breathtaking!
The beautiful and majestic Mysore Palace.
On the way to the Soochipara falls, in awe of the beauty of the surroundings.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Durga Puja in Kolkata

Monday, July 09, 2012

Trip to Hogenakkal

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Abhishek Saha
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
A NRB (Non Resident Bengali) or rather a 'Probashi Bangali'; born in Kolkata, brought up in Jamshedpur and now trying to make his mark at IIM Lucknow.
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