Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Our plane was about to descend and I caught my breath as I saw a peak, completely covered with snow  rising above the clouds. It was Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. As we touched down and taxied we spotted a few Zebras grazing along the runway (we later learned it was a private farm) and several raptors. Our 9 day sojourn in the African wilderness had begun. The drive from Nairobi, Kenya to Namanga, Tanzania Border, and then to Arusha was bumpy as most of the roads were under construction but we were not complaining. The country side was green, cool  and fresh; the deep blue skies, a welcome relief. We proceeded to Arusha, a sleepy Tanzanian town for lunch and from there straight to the Manyara National park for a game drive.

Giraffe - mother and calf.
Giraffe with calf

Nairobi to Manyara National park is a 7 hour drive, we reached in time to the park gate for a short safari. Part of the Manyara lake is still outside the national park area and is used by the locals for fishing specially by the residents of the village Mto wa Mbu.. Mto wa Mbu means Mosquito river and the village is named after the river by the same name that flows near the entrance of Manyara National Park.  Baboons and other bolder animals regularly stray into the village for food (specially Bananas) and water.
Continue reading about Manyara. Has more photos.

Kenya Airways – Harrowing experience

On 23rd May, 2010 I and Tarique were booked business class to fly from Nairobi to Mumbai. We took our boarding passes, and went to the lounge. The lounge itself was cramped and stuffy, but we endured. Around 4 PM we went out to check out the duty free shops and we heard boarding announcement for our 5.45 PM flight. We returned and found out that the announcement in the lounge was completely different. The receptionist told us that our flight KQ 202 to mumbai has been delayed by an hour. We relaxed, thinking there is still time for boarding. She said that the boarding announcement for business class passengers would be made around 6 PM and we can relax till then. After an 8 hour drive from Ngorongoro to Nairobi on terrible roads, we were really looking forward to a relaxed flight back home.

At 5.45 PM the receptionist called me and Tarique and told us that we have been downgraded to economy class as two pilots have been allotted our seats. When we protested we were told to meet the duty manager at the boarding gate. The duty manager told us a different story. She said that yes, the pilots are there but we are not being downgraded because of the pilots but because the seats allotted to us were not serviceable and they did not know about it. I raised my voice and asked for a senior person from Kenya airways. While I was talking to the duty manger, Tarique heard the other person on the desk giving  order to offload our baggage. All this, while Aasim who held a valid business class ticket was already boarded and was waiting for us.

He frantically told the person not to offload the baggage and that our son is already in the craft. The duty manager coolly looks at us and says you only have one choice if you want to travel today – go economy class, there wont be any refund, and got us to sign some paper which according to her will allow us a free business class upgrade on our next KQ flight.  All this was happening while the craft was already preparing to take off without us. Given a situation with no choice, we ensured that out baggage is loaded back and boarded the plane On our way we found out that all the seats of the business class were fully functional and occupied. The duty manager had lied to us about them being not serviceable. Feeling cheated we proceeded to our seats.

An hour after take off, dinner was being served. When the hostess reached us, I asked for a chicken meal, only to be told that it is finished and if I need to eat I will have to make do with rice. The hot meal had nothing else but rice served along side a croissant and some salad. Needless to say it was totally inedible, but eat I did as my sugar levels were going low and I needed to eat something before I got completely hypoglycemic.  Asking for water after I finished eating was another nasty experience. The hostess told me that she was occupied with serving coffee and water will come when it will. I saw her 2 minutes later standing on the aisle talking to another hostess. She stayed there laughing and talking for 10 minutes before I got off my seat went to her and asked for water again to which she pointed towards the serving area and said very rudely “go take it from there”. Kenya Airways treats it’s passengers very shabbily. Makes our own Indian Airlines/Air India look much better in front of them.

Unfortunately for traveling non stop to Nairobi from Mumbai there is no option but this horrid airline. I am already dreading my next flight with them.

16 years to that hot, sweaty, happy afternoon

At Banni Grasslands

Tere bin sanu sonya koi hor naiyo labhna
jo deve ruh ko sukun chukke jo nakhra mera…

It was 11.30 AM, we had finished signing that register, but it did not sink in till we sat together in the gypsy with my father-in-law and an aunt that we are now married. It had taken us a lot to get our folks to agree to us getting married. We were exhausted and ecstatic and we so desperately wanted to talk, and since we were not alone, we talked of share market, RSI and moving averages for the 10 minutes it took us to reach home.  Talk is what we did when we got our first private moment together the same evening.

Continue reading 16 years to that hot, sweaty, happy afternoon

Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

Fisher folks at Motwa beach
Fisher folks at Motwa beach

Very close to Banni grasslands is a place called Naliya, also called as Kutch Bustard Sanctuary, one of the very few places in India where the Great Indian Bustard is still found. While we did not get lucky to spot the GIB, the beautiful black partridge numerous raptors satiated our birdwatching appetite. After scouring the Naliya grasslands, we drove further west to a beautiful coastal town of Mandvi.

Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi, Gujarat
Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi

This 16th century town was once a summer retreat for the Maharaja’s of Kutch. The old city was inside the fort the ruins of which can still be seen. The city also houses a 400 year old traditional ship building center. It is said that the ships, built completely of wood would sail to far off lands and were much in demand. The center still makes ship the traditional way.

Spot billed Duck
Spot billed duck

We passed the town of  Mandvi stopping only for lunch as our destination was the Motwa beach, south of Mandvi where we were going to see and photograph coastal birds. Motwa is  a fishermen village and the beach is untouched by tourists and thus has a loads of birds. By the time we reached the beach the fisher folks were returning home,  sun was setting in the ocean limiting the photography opportunities. We too decided to take a long drive back armed with loads of memories and some stunning photographs. Continue reading Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

Ayn Rand: Goddess of the market

Goddess of the market
Goddess of the Market

Every serious reader I have ever met has read at least one of  Ayn Rand’s best selling novels “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” and most of the people I met have had strong opinions about her and her philosophy. I was 20 when I read “Fountainhead” and the words of Ayn Rand molded my thoughts and my philosophy; Rand became the person who gave me a direction to the way I would lead my life. Once discovered, reading her never satiated my thirst, I kept wanting more and went on to read almost all her published works.  There still are times when I open  “Virtue of Selfishness” and find a way to sort my confused thoughts.

So when Tarique ordered “Goddess of the market” by Jennifer Burns, I was more than keen to read it. Not only it would give me more insights about my favourite books, but also give me a peek in the life of one of the most influential writers in the world : Ayn Rand. I must say here that I did disagree with her on some notions, but it was the premise of Rand’s philosophy that made her emerge a hero.

The best thing about the book, Goddess of the market” is that it is an intellectual biography that does not sensationalize Ayn Rand’s life and her affair. (quite unlike “The passion of Ayn Rand” written by  Barbara Branden.) Burns has objectively put forth the events that happened during Rand’s time in history and how Ayn Rand dealt with them. Jennifer Burns years of research on the celebrated author is evident from the material she presents to the reader. Continue reading Ayn Rand: Goddess of the market