Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Indian TV Dramas

Indian TV dramas have gone a long way since the saas-bahu theme ruled the roost. Now many of the soaps have started flaunting social awareness themes. But the kitchen politics and glitz and glitter of the earlier dramas have not been banished fully. Now many of the popular drams highlight love between young wives and husbands brought together by arranged marriage. The joint family complexities bring the young couple face to face with dilemmas and conflicts of life which they sort out in their ingenious ways. Many popular dramas like Diya Aur Baati Hum, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Pyar Ka Dard Hai Metha Meetha Pyara Pyara and Pavitra Rishta deal on themes of young love inside marriage. There are some which emphasis strong social themes like problems of child marriage (Balika Vadhu). Sitcoms such as Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma bring out the middle class sentiments and mannerisms. Mythological dramas have always been super hits with Indian TV audience. After the early successes of great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, now it is the turn of Lord Mahadeva to regale the audience with his colourful story. This has been one of the most engrossing seasons of great drama on Indian small screen.
(1)            Diya Aur Baati Hum – Star Plus (Monday to Friday, 9.00 pm)

A sentimental family drama showing the story of an ambitious girl fighting against the mundane complexities of a middle class joint family to keep her dream of becoming a top police officer alive. Deepika comes from a middle class family where her father is a upright and honest government employee. He has inculcated in her the good moral value and the courage to stand up against social evils. She cherishes the dream to become a top police officer. Circumstances bring her to be married to Sooraj, a self-made young man with strong family values. The serial follows the struggles and conflicts in the life of Deepika caught in the whirlpool of middle class joint family complexities. The serial runs in prime time all days a week and the popularity is sky high.
(2)            Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai – Star Plus
The complexities for a young couple trying to balance their love for each other against the demands of middle class family sentiments and traditions form the backdrop of this drama. The story tries to establish love as a sacred and powerful force which is possible even in the complex setting of traditional joint family system. The value of Indian arranged marriage system is accentuated through the story of shy Marwari girl Akshara's betrothal with Naitik, which develops into a sacred tie where the young couple discover the true meaning of love. Star Plus telecasts the drama at 9.30 PM on all week days.
(3)            Pyar Ka Dard Hai Metha Meetha Pyara Pyara– Star Plus
Another Star Plus hit, the story revolves around the fortunes and relationship between mercurial Aditya and  spirited Pankhuri who agree on very little. The heroine is romantic and believes in the true power of love. The boy is bitter about love and family life having experienced the breaking up of his parents. Circumstances bring them together romantically and the drama that ensues brings about a synthesis of their ideas. Telecast timing Mon-Fri 10 PM
(4)            Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma – Sab TV
The popular sitcom features the interesting aspects of the community members living in an apartment complex, how they get into problems and try to get out of them in their ingenious ways. The funny accents, gestures and stupidity get together to tickle your funny bones. Hilarious moments in the city building society bring to the fore, the middle class attitudes and sentiments. The society may go to any extent to add some pep into the lives of the inhabitants. Even it could arrange re-marriage for lead comedians Jethalal and Daya Bhabhi with much pomp and fanfare.

(5)            Kaun Banega Crorepati – Sony TV
A popular quiz show based on the US and British TV game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” In India it is hosted by mega movie star Amitabh Bachchan since the season of year 2000. Now the show offers huge jackpot prizes, because of which the present seventh season is being referred to as “Kaun Banega Maha Crorepati”. This show has been very popular from the first season.

(6)            Pavitra Rishta – Zee TV
Story of a comely girl, Ankita who shoulders the responsibility of her whole family. She works in Naren's company and Naren's mother wants to see her as her daughter-in-law. But Ankita is already been proposed by Shashank, whom she also loves. Other relations and their expectations force the plot to meander into a complex situation so common in Indian joint families. This drama airs on all weeknights.

     (7) Balika Vadhu – Colors TV
Set in rural Rajasthan, Balika Vadhu follows the story of Anandi (Toral Rasputra) who was married to Jagdish when she was 8. Although not allowed by the law child marriage is still in vogue in some traditional societies in India. The TV drama has been tackling this sensitive social malady since it premiered in 2008. Deviating from the shrill melodramas this serial bears a strong social message has been instrumental in influencing the traditional and rural society to re-look into their age old traditions. Dadisa is a strong character who is caught between the tradition and her pragmatic point of view.
       (8) Devon ke Dev ‘Mahadev’ – Life OK
The legends of Mahadev Shiva have great following among Hindu devotees. Many facets of the life of the destroyer god among the Hindu trinity are beautifully unfolded in this series which had its premiere in 2011. Mythological dramas have a strong grip on Indian audiences. Shiva is a very important god in Indian pantheon. His bohemian nature, strong love for Parvati and a golden heart endears him among his myriad of devotees. The drama capitalises on the popularity of Mahadev in a very ingenious way.

(9)            Uttaran – Colors TV
Two childhood friends present diametrically opposite natures. While Ichchha, daughter of a maidservant with Tapasya’s parents’ home scores over the rich, selfish and arrogant Tapasya, the drams takes interesting twists and turns. Things come to a head when Ichchha wins over the fiancĂ© of Tapsya. The series premiered in 2008. The drama shows that one's true personality rather than situation of birth upbringing determines her true standing in life. Ichchha's tender innocence and sense of sacrifice has made her admirable to the viewers over the years.
(10)        Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke – Zee TV
The drama depicts the dreams, he fears, hopes and relationships of two teenager cousins differing greatly in their upbringing, but brought together by circumstances. The city bred and cosmopolitan Gunjan has to negotiate the small town atmosphere of Varanasi where she is sharing a room at her aunt’s home with her cousin, Rachna.   The drama wades through the sentimental sides of the young motherless girl Gunjan. Telecast Monday through Friday in prime time.
The new breed of dramas offers a great promise for the TV viewers as new themes are experimented with innovative approach.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bhubaneswar: So far so good

For inhabitants of Bhubaneswar an impending storm is nothing more than a show time. At least so far that is the case. With provisions of all kind stashed in the freezer, TV and internet updating the progress of the cyclone in the eastern seaboard, electric power or alternative power available for major part of the day and of course the Dasahara holidays going, people, are no more than a little anxious. The concrete and steel homes are safe from being torn apart and water seeping in.

Bhubaneswar is where the bandobast for the relief work happens, it is here that opposition leaders rake up issues like government's unpreparedness. It is here that all the big IAF cargo planes descend and spew out men and material. It is from here that the brave hearts of the Indian military forces are deployed to the danger zones.

Bhubaneswar is a safe zone in the times of a storm. People find their homes safer, hence the roads remained empty most of the day. Most of the shops remained closed during the day. Although it rained intermittently throughout the day we have seen business going on in full swing with heavier rains. But today it was different. Why take extra risk when people have made up their mind for a three, four days' shut down?

In the morning at about 8 o' clock I visited one of the Reliance Fresh departmental stores, more to survey the scene than to buy provisions. Although the shop was open uncertainty was ruling the air. At that time rain had
stopped but the people inside were in a closing mood.   Most of the shelves were empty, no breads, no milk and no eggs and flattened rice. Potato sale was rationed at 2 kg per buyer. The non-vegetarian section was not open.

As I write this, heavy rains is lashing outside, but wind is not severe as I can not hear its sound and fury. Bhubaneswar is safe so far, at least safe for most, except for the unfortunate woman who lost her life coming under an uprooted tree. May her soul rest in peace.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Phailin: Hours Away

Phailin is just hours away from landfall at Gopalpur-on-sea. It will tryst with Odisha at about 6 PM today, multiplying its present intensity manifold. The sea waves will surge, sending water 10 ft up, inundating coastal areas of Odisha which lie barely above the sea level. Although Odisha authorities say 300,000 people have been evacuated and brought to safety and notwithstanding Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's assurance that there will be 'zero casualty', it is hard to believe that all the vulnerable people have gotten themselves away from harm's way. Just now I read a newspaper report that fishermen in the coastal Odisha have refused to budge from their homes and hearth, and of course the sea. There must be many more like them who would leave it to chance rather than accept the inconveniences of evacuation.

Many in Odisha have pinned their hopes on supernatural intervention. These are the times of the annual visitation of Goddess Durga, the symbol of victory over evil. Dasahara, as the week long celebrations is called, stands for truth, victory, prosperity, renewal and purification. Durga is a powerful goddess capable of crushing her opponents, however mighty they may be. She is also a loving goddess, the mother of the powerless and the virtuous.

Many believe that the simultaneous arrival of Goddess Durga and Phailin is only to accentuate what she hasdone always, slaughter the opponent and save her children. While the people are bracing themselves up for the impending calamity, the fervor for the goddess worship has not abetted a bit. The cities and villages of the state are soaking in festival cheer with colorful and brightly lit platforms dotting all over.

Come what may the worship of the Goddess will proceed with due sincerity, if not with the expected gaiety and grandeur. The idols of the Goddess, resplendent in their glory seem to infuse a kind of confidence, courage and reassurance like nothing else can, among the pious people of the state, who are a little anxious now.

Phailin in the Air

Although people of Odisha are very familiar with cyclones and storms 'Phailin' is something unknown to the people of this part. Phailin is named after all a sapphire in Thai language. The name has been given to the cyclone by Thiland, much before it even originated. Names for future storms are already given and they are released as a new storm takes shape.

This sapphire Phailin is of course fully ominous for the people living in the path of the sea monster. Precious metals and stones are always associated with good luck or bad omens. Phailin is no different. Phailin prediction is changing by the minute. But there is no uncertainty about its likely time of landfall and the places it will visit. The landfall time is predicted around 5.30 PM on 12th Oct 2013. The place is Gopalpur and its vicinity stretching upto Paradip port near Cuttack. Odisha's capital Bhubaneswar is also in the path of nature's fury.

(Empty roads of Bhubaneswar at 7.45 AM before the arrival of Phailin on 12th Oct 2013)

People of Bhubaneswar and other parts of coastal Odisha are reminded by the miseries they experienced when the 'Super Cyclone' unleashed its fury in the state in October 1999 killing more than 10000 people. So people are more careful this time and panicky to some extent. In Bhubaneswar most of the food items are cleaned off the shelves by the people two days before the arrival time of Phailin. Potato was selling at Rs30 on 10th Oct evening against the normal price of Rs10. Even then many people had to go back empty handed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Six O One" is just another one

I was looking for a riveting ambiance, some quiet and of course great food for my dinner with my son yesterday night. I thought The Park (Chennai)'s restaurants will provide me all these as I was guided to its 24 hr restaurant Six O One.

Photos of The Park Chennai, Chennai (Madras)The initial experience was very good as the polite lady at the entrance ushered us in and we chose what we thought was a amiable seat. The spread looked good with local, Indian, Chinese and international selections, a tempting corner full of desserts and a wide selection of salads. Near the buffet counter were lit a few terracotta ovens to cater to the demands for local dishes like Pongal and others. These fire places added character to the setting.

(This photo of The Park Chennai is courtesy of TripAdvisor )

The sea food broth made a good beginning, but starters played truant as we had to wait for an age to be served our seekh kabab and veg tandoori item. The main course provided some relief with choices like Indian and Chinese chicken, aromatic and succulent fish chops, veg curries, stew, dal and made-to-order India roti, naan and kulcha. Noodles, Fried rice, Chicken dum biriyani completed the picture.

Banana Mousse and Ice Cream
The dessert corner was a feast for the eye with a choice of Indian sweetmeats, sugar free peda, gajar halwa, fruit salads, pastries, and a variety of ice creams to gorge on. Son liked Banana mousse the most.

Now the flip side. The interior of the place looked tired to me and not the kind of luxurious elegance I was looking for. Some of the food items were missing when I went for them, like starters, raita and one particular sugar-free dessert I was eyeing at the beginning. Whether they were taking their time to refill or they had simply run out of the stock I didn't have a clue, but it left me high and dry. And all this at 10.30 PM!

About the quiet I was seeking, the atmosphere was noisy with a bunch of foreigner ladies having blast party close by. Not a mistake of the hotel of course! A little further away someone was angrily demanding for the Asset Manager to come on line to explain things. Why blame it on the poor asset manager when the whole economy has derailed?

Overall I had a good evening out but Six O One just didn't stand out: it was just another restaurant in its high-end category.

    Saturday, August 31, 2013

    A Smorgasbord of Life

    Bipanna Nisitha
    By Dr Hareram Mohanty
    Publisher: Smt Bijoya Mohanty
    Pages: 182
    Price: Rs 120

    Imagine yourself stepping out of the train in the middle of the night to get some drinking water in a platform. When you rush back to your train the train is already on the move and you somehow manage to cling on to the bars. To your utter dismay you find the door locked from inside. You knock, bang and kick the door, yell at the top of your voice and gesticulate frantically just to catch someone’s attention inside the coach. While all this drama of desperation is going on, the train gathers momentum and you feel the chill piercing your bones while helplessly perched on the foot-board in the dark of the night. Chilling, isn't it? And now imagine what would be your reaction if you come to know years later that the person who prevented others from letting you in that night was your wife-to-be.

    Some secrets are best kept buried in tight wraps forever, because the blunt truth at times becomes too unpleasant to bear. The wife in the eponymous story ‘Bipanna Nisitha’ (‘Hazardous Midnight’) is clever enough to realise this when she suppresses the temptation to divulge the secret to her husband. Truth is consciously sealed in a chest of secrecy to save the happy conjugal life.

    Hareram Mohanty’s collection of short stories has many pieces which revolve around the themes of our attempts to come to terms with the harsh realities of life, naked truths and dark fantasies of the past. ‘Rati o Birati’ (‘Pleasure of Love and Thereafter’) recounts the story of a star-crossed husband who took great pride in his wife’s beauty in his youth. The caring husband went to great lengths to medically revive the good looks of his dearie when years of marital bliss brought an extra layer of fat on the wife’s body. But the doctor who transforms her looks decides to exhibit her around the world as a sample of his magical craft. That suits fine to the refurbished wife but the husband is left lamenting his fate unable to share his embarrassing agony with others. Likewise the stories like ‘Bastabatara Peeda’ (‘Stings of Reality’), ‘Saita Kamana’ (‘Treasured Passion’), ‘Abhula Atita’ (‘Enduring Past’), and ‘Kahani Kalantarara’ (‘Change of Time’) deal with dilemmas of life in which the past throws up strange challenges for the present.

    Mohanty's stories are straightforward and simple, with a no-nonsense approach to the craft of storytelling. He builds up the plot till the near-end in one flow, and when the reader is left with nothing much to imagine, he gives a sudden tweak, through an unknown but significant event of the past or with a sudden revelation. That brings in a moment of truth for the story. He minces no words while bringing forth the master stroke of his plots
    Mohanty has observed life closely from various vantage points, during his many years of experience as a student, as a college teacher, as a banker and as an intellectual. All the stories reveal his first-hand acquaintance with the characters and events.

    The language is formal and sometimes peppered with a pinch of the archaic, which best suit the humorous stories like ‘Utkocha Upakhyana’ (‘On Bribery’) and ‘Banchanabrutanta’ (‘Trickery’).

    This smorgasbord of life will definitely give the reader a few chuckles and some points to ponder.

    Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    Imagination at its sensuous best

    TO imagine the clouds as a befitting messenger for carrying amorous messages to an estranged lover is a highpoint of creativity, especially in an age when literary traditions are not yet established. It takes the genius of a Kalidasa to not only conjure up such an archetype but also use it to create an enchanted universe of love, separation, fealty, and longing that is unique in world literature. In a grand sweep Kalidasa delivers the high points of human passion, the many expressions of nature, and the mosaic of Indian landscape that makes the poem soothing and graceful. The storyline of Meghadutam is simple: a yaksha under curse of estrange-ment from his beloved at Ramagiri hills in Central India is urging a passing cloud to take his message to his lover who is living at Alaka on Mount Kailash. The poem is written in 111 stanzas in two cantos, namely Purba Megha (Advent of the First Cloud) and Uttara Megha (The Cloud Later). The poem was first translated into English by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1813. Since then, it has been translated several times into various languages.

    The celebrated poem is presented in coffee table book form by two researchers of classical literature namely Dr Ajit Kumar Tripathy and Sri Purna Chandra Tripathy. Each stanza is presented with an exquisite piece of painting by Chintamani Biswal. The book opens with a foreword by Dr Karan Singh, the connoisseur of ancient literature and philosophy. Dr Singh sets the tone for the lyrical grace that the poem proffers. The brief preface by Dr A.K.Tripathy and Sri P.C. Tripathy discusses the views of many scholars of the past and present starting with the first English translator Mr Wilson, who have brought the beauty of Kalidasa's artistry before the lovers of litera-ture. The editors have made an attempt to chart the course of the poem's geography and present a different perspective as to the locale of the narrative. Basing on the similarity of place names and other logic they are of the view that Ramagiri hills, where the Yaksha lives, belongs to the Koraput district of Odisha.

    The translation into English in verse libre is soothing and conveys the meaning and the feeling completely. Here is how Kalidasa's description of river Gambhira is presented in English translation.

    "By sucking up the water would you have removed

    from the waist of river Gambhira her blue water robe, slipping it down her sloping flanks

    exposing her body down to hips with nothing but a row of hanging canes touching the water that she would use as her slender hands
    to hold on to the slipping robe

    to cover her loins and exposed thighs. Experienced you are
    in enjoying such amorous pleasures in the past,
    having bent down over her so near and so close difficult it would be my friend
    to depart from a mistress

    with her charms exposed." (Stanza 44, Purba Megha Canto)

    The poem is full of such exquisite descriptions of man and nature in passionate interaction, made more live by love and yearning. Would you ever find a more sensuous description than the following?

    " Her waist you find unadorned

    by the usually worn waist band of a string of pearls, caste aside by her
    at the adverse turn of destiny.

    Her lovely thigh which I used to stroke and gently knead with my hands
    at the end of love's enjoyment,

    and nail marks, you would not find there now. Yellow-white and juicy as a tender banana stalk it would still be
    throbbing when you arrive". (Stanza 36, Uttara Megha Canto)

    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    Lost & Found

    YOU have probably heard the proverb "Experience is a comb life gives you after you lose your hair."  Or have heard The Beatles song, 

    “Lend me your comb

    It’s time to go home
    I got to go past
    My hair is a mess” 

    Or you must have read about the comb in O.Henry’s story ‘The Gift of the Magi’, in which both Stella and Jim give up their most prized possession to purchase a gift for the other – Stella sells her beautiful hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch while Jim sells his watch to buy a tortoise shell comb for Stella’s hair.  Both gifts are useless on the physical level but priceless on the spiritual level for they have each received the perfect gift in that both of them know and are known, love, and are loved.

    I came face to face with all the three above recently. I was experienced with life’s lessons; my hair was a mess; and I was out of my comb, with which I had a strong spiritual bonding.

    You can imagine how I felt the other day when I could not locate my priceless grooming tool. I was touring, so I rummaged through my suitcase to find my comb. It was nowhere. The sense of loss was intense, quite stronger than the one I would experience upon losing a mobile charger or a notebook. The reason was obvious: it was no ordinary comb for me, fond memories were associated with it. I didn’t want to let go of those memories, I didn’t want to lose the comb.

    But to launch a salvage operation for something as trifle as a comb...? My mind protested. My heart won’t let go.

    I picked up the phone and connected to the hotel I had checked out the night before. Hesitantly I put forth my unusual request of locating my lost comb to the receptionist. After five minutes or so he called back, only to say that they had completed a thorough combing operation of my suite, and the lost article was nowhere to be found.

    ‘OK, Thanks’, I said with a heavy heart, and tried to disentangle myself out of the object’s maya. I was well into my mission when the phone rang again and the receptionist opened with a cheerful “Good evening Sir.” I knew what he was going to report. “Sir, your comb was found in a drawer. Please arrange to collect it from the hotel.”

    The article is now on its way to me. Seems like I’ll remain under the spell of the comb for some more time.


    Saturday, January 12, 2013

    :Travelogue: Of Taichung Paddy and Akshay Mohanty

    As my high speed train (HSR or High Speed Rail) left Tainan for Taichung I could not remove from my mind the insistent crooning of Akshay Mohanty, “Aaji kali je dhana heuchhi naa tara taichung”. I seemed to hear the song louder every time the electronic display board of the coach showed the reducing distance to Taichung during the 184 km journey of 43 minutes. My present journey and Akshay’s song had evoked a fond childhood memory about the paddy seed which had been so popular among Odia farmers decades ago. My grandfather spoke highly about this high yielding variety seed, and I was now headed for the origin of the fabled seed. As I alighted from the HSR I experienced some kind of spiritual connect.

    The paddy seed association was so strong in my mind that I frantically looked for paddy fields on both sides of the road as my taxi sped down the 10 km distance from the HSR station to my hotel in the central part of the city. That was futile, because like any other ambitious metropolis, Taichung had also committed its real estate to more profitable use—for malls, hotels, roads and commercial buildings. “I will have to wait for the desired paddy”, I said to myself as I engaged myself in enjoying the window view. Taichung looked as busy as our own metros but things moved smoothly in a very systematic manner. Pedestrians waited for the lights to turn green even if there was not a vehicle or a policeman in sight (in fact I didn’t see a single policeman in my two-day stay in the city).

    The window of my twelfth floor hotel room opened to a big park, complete with jogging tracks, a pond, flower beds, well manicured lawns, landscapes, kids’ playgrounds, tennis courts, telephones, toilets, eateries and all other amenities. Everything gelled so well with the leafy environment of the park. I waited for the next day so that I would head for the park first thing in the morning. Next morning as I immersed myself in my  workout among the local folks who jogged, walked, played tennis, did tai chi exercises, I felt truly rejuvenated.

    (Taichung Park)

    Taichung does not offer any historical sites for the tourists unlike Tainan, our previous city of visit, which has forts built by the Dutch, Chinese and even a British residency building. However, the natural science museum of Taichung is simply awesome. The 22-acre museum with its stately glass and steel buildings is right in the heart of the city, alongside upmarket shops, malls and restaurants. The robot, dinosaur, mummy and 3D movie sections are popular, especially with the kids, although I liked the imposing botanical garden inside a greenhouse, full of exotic plants and a fascinating aquarium at the basement. The mission of the botanical garden is to display and protect the floral biodiversity of Taiwan by existing as an information resource for the community, government and science, and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy.
    Just near the approach road to the entrance of the museum I discovered an Indian restaurant, a rarity in Taichung. The naan and chicken butter masala provided a welcome break from the Taiwanese cuisine and the regular McDonald’s and KFC fare. I curiously looked for the owner of the establishment who would most likely be an Indian, but there was no Indian face around. I asked the person who was serving us about who owned the place and he said he did. He was Fred Lin, an Indian of Chinese origin from Medinipur. Fred told us that Indian food was popular with the locals, and we could see it from the full house.

     (Taichung Paddy)

    A visit to Taichung is never complete without an excursion to the tranquil and serene Sun Moon Lake, 125 km and a two-hour drive away by bus. This bus journey was more significant for me as it brought me face to face with the fabled Taichung paddies. There they lay, stretching to the distant horizons on both sides of the highway— saplings from the seeds so well celebrated by Akshay Mohanty. The fields soon gave place to mountainous roads affording breathtaking scenery. Sun Moon Lake is named so because the shape resembles the sun on one side and moon on the other. Besides the captivating views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, this place provides a slew of activities like boat tours, cable car rides, amusement park adventures in the adjacent Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village and so on.

    Sun Moon Lake teems with eating places supplying exotic seafood and delicious fruit salads. I enter into a restaurant to order the shrimp on display. To my great relief I find the owner well versed in English which makes the ordering part easy. I strike a conversation with him and gather that he is also bitten by the travel bug. He has visited 42 countries so far, but sadly not India yet. He has decorated the walls of his joint with his travel photos. The shrimp dish he prepares for me tastes heavenly.

    On my return journey to Taichung in the evening I could not see the dark paddy fields from my bus window, but I could feel the calm that I experienced whenever I visited my grandfather’s farm years ago.

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    This hotel made my day

    Casa Real Hotel, Macau: A Review
    (No.1118 Avenida Dr. Rodrigo RodriguesMacauChina)

    The hotel offers a very clean and homely ambiance, with spic and span common spaces, shiny lifts and of course immaculate rooms. The bathroom is top class with swanky fittings--certainly top end for hotels at this price range. The free internet comes as a frill. The hotel has a free shuttle service that picks you up from or drops you at the ferry terminal. The hotel has a casino, that appeared middle range. Behind the hotel there is a city bus stop and at the nearby Fisherman's Wharf (shopping plaza and entertainment area) you may catch one of those ubiquitous free shuttle bus services of other hotels and casinos that would take you to other hotels/ casinos, thereby saving your transportation expenses. 
    The location of the hotel is excellent. The very good casinos are all nearby, in the same block as the hotel there are money changers, grocery stores, local restaurants, and watch and jewellery shops. Just across the road there is a Seven 11 type store. The golden lotus square is just three minute's walk and near here you have the Grand Prix and Wine museums, Aruna's Indian Curry. 

    One serendipitous discovery I made about another attraction of Macau near the hotel: the sea front promenade is just across the road as you face the ferry terminal road. Just aim at the ground level of the flyover that takes off near the hotel, keep pressing ahead and you get this superb jogging/ strolling path fringing the water body. The banks are dotted with exercising equipment. In the evening the atmosphere in the area is godly.

    The hotel has a nice pool and a well stocked gym. From my 8th floor non-smoking room the window view was breathtaking with the sea view dominating. Ask for a sea facing room. I was pleased with the reception desk and the hotel service.

    One thing I am worried about is the big amount they took as deposit at the time of check in. They returned the voucher while I checked out, but money was finally credited to my account after a long wait after check out.

    (I stayed in the hotel in December 2011)

    Casa Real Hotel

    Hotel Front

    Close to everything in Shanghai

    (A Review of The Bund Riverside Hotel
    No.398 Beijing East Road, Huangpu DistrictShanghai 200001China)

    I didn't mind the less than perfect rug and the few stains of my toilet floor because of the superb location of the hotel. It was close to Bund, Nanjing Street market, metro stations, ferry point and host of local restaurants and international chains like McDonald, KFC and Subway. 

    I can't forget the morning walk upto Bund followed by my brisk walk on the Bund promenade. The place was very lively and salubrious during morning hours. People were engaged in workouts, relaxed sightseeing, kite flying or tai chi exercises.

    The hotel is located in the same building with a Bank of China branch, so money exchange is easy. 
    Front desk staff is very helpful and they understand English to a large extent. I had a city facing superior twin room so the view was not great. When I wanted a river facing room they claimed Yuan 200 per day. 

    Mini bar water bottle charge of 67 yuan was a rip off considering the fact that outside water was available at Yuan 5 per bottle. 
    The hotel people help you to hail a taxi from the nearby East Beijing Road. Overall nice experience. The bath room size is great. Free internet in room comes as bonus.

    (I stayed in the hotel in December 2011)

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    Taiwan: Magical Green Touch

    When I planned my trip to Taiwan some of friends asked “Why Taiwan?” I could have gone to Singapore, Malayasia, China, Thailand or Hong Kong or maybe Venice or New York.

    It was another fact that I’ve already been to some of the above named places and the other places I was not in a mood to explore, hence I picked up a place which was plain different from these touristy places. Many Indians do not go there, for that matter not many westerners too. I was surprised not to stumble upon a Bengali tourist in my 3 days of stay in two cities namely Kaohsiung and Tainan so far. It is a bit mystifying indeed given their strong yearning for exploring least frequented places of the world. I am pinning my hope on Taipei, the capital, to meet India’s most travel crazy people.

    Coming back to the “Why Taiwan” part, the question was often being asked by China, who were never comfortable with the existence Taiwan  as a democratic and separate country. Officially Taiwan is known as Republic of China and they claim sovereignty over the mainland China too, which is too much for the Big Brother to digest. Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, lives under the shadow of Chinese aggression or even takeover. But the stance has softened in the recent years as an era of rapprochement and mutual acceptance has been ushered in by the winds of globalisation. The young people love it on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as they do everywhere, India Pakistan included.

    Taiwan, which has the shape of a sweet potato, is a food lover’s paradise. The people here love their meat too much—anything that moves, crawls, walks or swims (leaving, of course, the humans) is welcome for their dishes. The whole place is bustling with eaters any time of day. Night markets, which are common in all Taiwanese cities are humming with shoppers, and eaters. Every imaginable food is being ordered by the enthusiastic buyers and being cooked right there: fish, octopus, sharks, shrimps, beef, pork, beetle, rodents, you name it you will get it. For those who do not relish meat, Taiwan offers tasty fruits and vegetables in plenty. The guavas and bananas tasted heavenly when I picked them up from a street seller on a Saturday outing. I am not telling you the price as it may spoil your taste.

    Taiwanese people just love cycling and it is evident on their roads. Bikes are available everywhere for hiring, even for free, and almost all the roads have wide tracks for bikers. Cycling is not only encouraged it is also celebrated. Bikes are the most visible evidences of the Taiwanese people’s resolve tominimise pollution and make their cities and surroundings environmental friendly. Kaohsiung, the second largest city of Taiwan, was till recently a dirty industrial town and shipping port, with polluted water bodies and wasteland. People have changed the face of the city completely with their magical green touch. Now the natural settings are protected and cleaned, half the city travels underground in a very efficient metro rail system; tourist boats run on solar power and of course people pedal their way. The vast city park is a delight to watch in the morning: full of walkers, joggers, tennis players and groups elderly men and women deeply absorbed in their Tai chi exercises, in tune with soothing music. Giving company to humans are birds In the trees and  ducks in the lake. Man is in perfect harmony with nature in the salubrious morning moments.

    The scene is so different from our garrulous and impolite ways. I am reminded of the din created by my fellow travellers from Kolkata to Bangkok during the first leg of my journey. The whole scene inside the aircraft seemed to have been hijacked by a big group of Hindi speaking young traders who had big parcels with them. They bragged and boasted about their expertise and familiarity with the Bangkok commerce, without caring a fig about passengers who wanted to sleep in the middle of the night.

    A shop selling sea food in a night market in Kaohsiung.