Random Musings · Travel Experiences

Married? Pull off an all girls trip. I dare you!

I’ve always loved TV series which had friends as the leading characters. That’s the reason, on any bad day I end up watching re-runs of Friends or Big Bang theory or Sex & the City (SATC). It’s just comforting to see, how these people have someone not bound to them by blood understand each other so well.

I love SATC for its awesome writing but more importantly for having 4 girlfriends as the leads. I had always thought (growing up watching it) that I’m going to have such evenings often with my girl gang to remain ‘sane’. But soon I was faced with Sophie’s choice! As the responsibilities increased & the demands on time increased, the first activity to be reduced or to be postponed until further notice was the time with my girls. It happened to my mom, to me, my friends & to my cousins who just got married!

Hanging out felt like an uphill task when a coordinated phone call became very difficult. I remember, I really wanted to speak to a dear friend & around 10 calls later (calls missed because of feeding, cooking, meetings etc. spread over 1 week), we managed to speak. By then, the context was not relevant & it became ‘oh! that thing had happened’ call than a heart-2-heart. Then there are other times, when as a group we overcame all odds & agreed on a day/date/time to meet, only to have last minute drop outs or someone rush home sooner! It has happened consistently & I can’t shirk away the responsibility of being that one person playing spoiled sport at times! And to add to this complexity, there comes a third dimension! Recently, I did manage to go on a backpacking trip (read here) with a girlfriend. Everyone who heard about it said, “A trip with only you girls?”,  “Why aren’t you taking your son/husband”, “How will you survive so many days without missing your son?” “How will he survive without you?” “You won’t like it being alone etc.

I had my apprehensions & all these discussions almost made me cancel. But boy did I have fun! I felt guilty of having a great time away from home 🙂 But when I returned, I realized that I didn’t have to. My son was well pampered, my husband got his ME time, grandparents got time with grandson without the ‘helicopter mom’ around! A win-win for all… But when I casually mentioned, making this an annual thing, the stares I got were frozen!

So, I began to wonder – does this similar thing happen to all-boys plans too? Evidence seemed otherwise. Viraj planned to meet his school friends a couple of times & all of them drove in from far away places & had a blast (no time/location constraints). Another friend manages to have an annual boys trip with his wing mates (spread across continents) & has been doing for 3 years now with ease!

Then why is girl gang time so difficult? Is it our self assessed need of being irreplaceable? Is it our compulsive need to be around to do things or getting things done in our way? How can all-boys trips, family trips, trips with friends & their families become a reality much faster/easier than an all-girls trip? Initially, it seemed like a very Indian family phenomenon but then it isn’t exactly universal? Then I thought may be it’s just “my generation” but then girl trips aren’t exactly a pandemic!

I’m pretty sure that in most families, husbands now-a-days are more hands-on fathers than our father’s ever were! They are even more empathetic! Then what is stopping us from taking that ME time? Women always wait for everything to be perfect so they feel less paranoid about leaving their people behind. But this perfection you’re waiting for ladies, is a myth! Having recently gone on this trip, I’ll strongly recommend it! Yes, things can go unplanned back at home while you are away, but you’ll never know until you try! So, as Samantha puts it in SATC, 

“We made a deal ages ago… men, babies, it doesn’t matter. We’re soulmates.” 

Just go & find time for yours!

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Travel Experiences

Woh 11 din in North East India…

MEET THE TRAVELERSIMG_20170327_064828.jpg

After lot of deliberation, 2 most unlikely co-travelers – Bridget & I decided to travel solo (minus kid & husband) to Northeast.

It was supposed to be a simple, value for money back-packing trip but it ended up being a big excursion into 3 States of Northeast viz. Assam, Arunachal Pradesh & Meghalaya.

ASSAM – Day 1 & 2

After about 6 hours drive from Guwahati, we reached Nameri National Park & Tiger reserve (though the last tiger sighting was in 2013-14). It was pitch dark at 5 pm itself so we were mainly huddled in the hotel itself. This place is a heaven for flora & fauna lovers. For us, it was a place to bond with nature.

We stayed in a tent in Eco Camp – a hotel which has tents & cottages. Doing trekking through the national park & lazy river rafting was the highlight of this day. Brilliant pictures of the birds, the park itself & the surroundings – that’s what is in store for you here.

NOTE: Do check the water levels of Jia Bhorelli river before you go for the river rafting option. If too low, it’s not rafting – just boating!

ARUNACHAL PRADESH – Day 3 to Day 7

Before going to Arunachal Pradesh:

You need to get an ILP (Inner Line Permit) to enter the state. This can be easily obtained online OR in designated offices around the country.

In Arunachal Pradesh:

We went to Bhalukpong (border of Assam & Arunachal) -> Bomdila -> Tawang & then back. The stop at Bhalukpong was only taken to reduce the distance towards Tawang – which is an arduous journey. Bhalukpong is a small village with some brilliant views & Tippi Orchardarium nearby to spend some quality time.

Once we left Bhalukpong (recommended to start earlier as it gets dark pretty soon), we went into a world where the only predominant feature was scenic bliss. It was a treat for the eyes & calming for the brain! Our driver was harassed by us to stop at various places – pretty places (Nechiphu falls, Tenga valley, Naag mandir) – to take pictures. The beautiful backdrop & a suitable pose helped us actually show how carefree we were & IMG_5746.JPGwe felt. It became almost 3 pm till we reached Bomdila where we managed to stay in a monastary guest house (because of goibibo having a ghost hotel listed on its site!) & called it a night. The temperatures can be anywhere between 8 degress to 12 degrees here.

We left Bomdila the next day earlier too since this was the most difficult part of the journey. First stop was Dirang valley & Dirang Hot water springs. We didn’t feel comfortable enough to experience the medicinal effects of these springs when locals were flocking to bathe! We were strongly advised to take a 4-wheeled drive while going to Tawang. Why this is the case, became apparent to us as we started this journey. This road is covered with snow for 6 months & with water the other 6. If the road gets damaged (which it often does) it is closed for 1.5-2 hours – while stopping traffic from both sides – and made on-the-fly by the army people. Do eat in one of the army canteens. You will have some amazing food at a very reasonable value!

“All good things come to those who wait” & our wait ended with breathtaking Sela pass & it’s frozen lake. Post Sela we went to Jaswant Garh (a memorial for Jaswant Singh – a soldier who defended that point from the invading Chinese army for 72 hours in the 1962 war) & then reached Tawang by 7:00 pm. There is very little to do here once it gets dark.

“Dharti pe agar swarg, kahin hai toh yahin hai!” Pt. Nehru said this about Kashmir. I haven’t been there but route to Tawang sure felt like heaven on earth. I was on cloud nine, I was surrounded by pristine snow & I didn’t want to come back from it. It was an arduous journey with really poor roads but the effort was all worth it because of what you see all around you!

Here we saw clear blue skies & white cover of snow as long as eyes extended. Our first stop was PTSO lake – an unfrozen lake surrounded by snow followed by Madhuri Lake (originally named Shungetsar Lake & changed because the movie Koyla starring Madhuri Dixit was shot here)

NOTE: Do check if Bumla pass is open (India-China border) & get the permit – a different one from ILP – to visit that place. Unfortunately, when we visited – it was closed for tourists.

After sumptuous lunch of ‘Thupka’ – traditional Nepalese food, we visited the Tawang Monastary (biggest monastery after the Ladakh one) & went to Tawang war memorial. This entire place reminds you of the sacrifices military did to keep us safe during the 1962 war. The light & sound show, though quite simple, touches your heart!

We left in the morning for Bomdila after Tawang for just staying the night – as the roads are pretty rough. This was the part where we left snow far behind & our journey to lower altitudes started. It was almost 6 – 7 pm when we reached Bomdila & checked in at Tsepal Yongjam.

Next day was the longest ride of our trip – 10 hours since we didn’t stop at Kaziranga! Things we missed on the way up, we saw on our way down. One of them is the mighty Jung falls – huge waterbody!

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MEGHALAYA – Day 7 to DAY 11

So, generally people prefer to stop at Kaziranga (Assam) from Bomdila to break the journey & also to see the one-horned rhino. Not too much into fauna of the place, we were just excited to go to Meghalaya.

Tawang had set a very high standard for beauty & there had to be something awesome in Meghalaya for us to go mad taking pictures. In Meghalaya, the brown of mountains & white of snow was replaced by green of forests as far as eyes can go on our route to Cherrapunji. It was here that we saw Elephant falls, 7 sister falls, Nohkalikai falls, Mawsmai caves & stopped at multiple view points on the way. Ram Krishna Mission Museum is also informative. The eclectic things we did here, proved Meghalaya was going to put up a hell of a fight to prove it’s beauty to us!

It’s true what they say, Meghalaya is not only the Scotland of the East but also the land of innumerable waterfalls.

After getting fully wet in the wettest place on earth, we hurried to our hotel Eee Cee in Police Bazaar to get ready for date night 🙂 This fancy place is Cloud 9 – we unfortunately went when it wasn’t a live performance night – a club that is highly recommended.

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Next day we went to Mawlynnong – cleanest village in Asia, Dawki – the place of crystal clear waters, Living Root Bridges & Brun Khongmen view point, Nature & wonder rock & finally to India – Bangladesh border. It is not flashy like the Wagah border, just a road where one side was Bangladesh flag & other side was Indian flag & you see line 0.

On the final day of our trip, we went to places in Shillong like Wards lake, Barapani lake, Don Bosco museum, Polo grounds etc. Each of them was as commercial as the other with a whole lot of entry fees, camera fees etc. But they did help us take some very good pictures & gave us significant information about the locals & their culture.

Finally, after 11 days we took a flight back from the lands of raincoats & sweaters to the overheated oven that Mumbai was.

Throughout the flight I kept thinking of how it had to be fate – that got Bridget & me together, that got us to plan this trip together & the icing of the cake – realize that we weren’t too different after all (it took 10 days of the trip to do so 🙂 )!

As I always believed – C’est la vie (such is life)!!!

Travel Experiences

When going to Singapore…

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With emotions oozing out, I had written the following on Facebook after a trip of 6 days, “We’ve walked enough to last for a century, we laughed & fought, we took tons of selfies and had lots of fun! 1 kid, 2 couples, 3 sisters, 6 days, 7 people & countless memories.. Singapore trip

While these emotions are true, what they don’t cover are the logistics/expectations/energy mismatches we experienced:
1. Booking Air India flights from 2 different sites is a baaaaad idea
We booked a few tickets from #Cheaptickets.in on 3rd May at 00:01 & some from #Makemytrip.com at 23:50 – just ten minute difference!
So, are you wondering why does the heading say that? Join innocuous people like me who are among the many who got the shorter end of the stick. This small time difference actually resulted in some of us traveling on 2nd May & others on 3rd May!

2. Going to Singapore if you don’t like walking
Yep! Not a good idea!! We did all the usual touristy things with a very slow pace & yet managed to walk 8-10 km per day.. “Sleep like a baby” happened for all 7 of us because of the sheer distance our #uber addicted bodies travelled on a particular day

3. Seeing everything & enjoying everything are 2 very different concepts
There are just so many things packed in #Sentosa, #UniversalStudios etc. that one day is just not enough.. And obviously, the pricing of a multiple day pass is so exorbitant that it’s prohibitive! So, you rush through things to cover as much ground as possible.. You want to savor stuff – too bad for you!

4. Traveling with sisters is like going in a time-machine
Those with siblings will remember those days well when you are standing outside a bathroom knocking the door & urging the sister inside to come out soon so that you aren’t late for school.. Guess what, all 6 days were like going to school!

Even as I end this note, I still have a smile on my face! All these instance actually made the trip more real than an ideal tour-managed trip. Guess, the gooey stuff I said at the start of the note does hold true 🙂

Travel Experiences

Chilly in Chicago!!!

I reached Chicago, met kiddo and guess what – I FROZEEE!!! There was snow everywhere…. Kiddo told me winters are depressing in Chicago and so people needed some cheering up… Which is why there were Christmas lights wherever I went… Beautiful it looked 🙂

I went to kiddo’s apartment and the first thing I did – turn on heat to level 5… This dude was like Sharmili, in my stay here for 3 months – I have never required so much heating :))) Anyway, some more jokes on my (Mumbaikars – later on generalized) cold withstanding abilities… Anyway, we spoke through the nite, saw some of our snaps (you know – its so silly – the concept of seeing the snaps you were a part of… But trust me – it just got back the whole experience and happy feeling back to us…) Then we called it a nite and I told kiddo to NOT wake me up early…

Next day I got up at 12:30 – wooooow!! what a feeling – I had almost forgotten it… And then kiddo started fussing… Get ready!! We are late!! etc… Everything fell in place, we got “Metra” to Michigan avenue – one of the coolest places in Chicago… My sense of USA traffic was completely distorted after coming here… Cars very close…. Cars honking… Cars not letting pedestrains go first… Everything was anti was I had seen in other places… Anyway, we went to Hancock towers – sat in the fastest lift in North America (I would have said world – but kiddo insists on these technicalities), got a mind-blowing view of Chicago outline….

Next we went to Millenium park… Well snowing had dampened the main attraction there, Cloud Gate – which reflects the entire skyline of Chicago… We still took pics coz the structure was magnificient in itself… Btw, the bags you see in our hands here, are the awesome deals we got on Disney soft toys (the big red bag), Guess watches (cant be seen) and Disney doll stuff (Pink bag – which kiddo bought NOT ME)

Then was the MOST exciting part of the trip… So, people who know me – KNOW that adventure, sports etc things excite me the most… So, while I did enjoy all the sight seeing, ice-skating was the BEST!!! And it was difficult too… I fell down 5 times, got hurt at places I cannot mention here but finally, I managed it – took 2 rounds of the entire ring without holding anything and fast and without stopping… I do agree that I was still very clumsy as opposed to 5 yr old kids who managed to be better than me…. But I was VERY VERY HAPPY!!! Would have stayed there longer but we were tired and we still had to see another place… We went to Navy Pier which was closed due to winters or some reason so while I could strike it off the list of things to see, I dint really get to experience it…

Then came the second highlight of the trip… We cooked… We dint have an elaborate kitchen like my mom did but we still managed to get our act together :)))) Woooow!!! Having garam garam Indian food (awesome food made by kiddo primarily) and watch friends with friends and heater on (last detail is important for me 🙂 is an awesome feeling… Its like eating garam garam pakoda and chai on a rainy day with your family…. Get the picture!! We were too tired to do anything else after the entire day of sight seeing… Slept off to get up LATE again :))))

Next day started with seeing GSB Chicago (now renamed as Booth school of business) , eating the famous deep crust pizza (which we could not finish – the smallest size) and running to get a shuttle to the airport.. Oh btw, it was interesting that I spoke to Gau that day, spoke to Rekha after hajar years (I am still surprised she remembered me) and guess what, my trip back to San Francisco was going to be meeting her…. I was so glad that whole thing worked out…

I took flight out of Chicago (Goodbyes are sad – even if you know you are going to meet the person in the next 2 days) and landed in San Fran where I met Rekha and Guru (her husband)… Man!! It was so awesome… I dint have any camera to take a pic with them (sadly so) but it was good fun… Rekha made Pav Bhaji (so Indian food on 2 days… Yeee!), we spoke through the night… Their house is just awesome (they bought a new one) and immediately I told Guru that he should talk to my sister who can help him decorate it… Anyway, after lot of talk (some of it involved around how I just assume things will fall in place when I am travelling and how I havent really planned a lot) we went off to sleep… The next morning I took MRT (Mass Rapid Transit – a sort of metro) from a place close to their place (Fremont) to airport…. Flight was on time, I checked in to get down at Singapore – the last place I was visiting in the trip.. Oh, in order to avoid jet lag issues, I saw 8 movies in a row on the flight and yet, I was not sleepy when I landed… Like Sudha said – it beat the purpose of not being jet lagged :)))

I met Sudha at the airport and went to her new apt…. Next day – went to Mustafa’s (the only place I had not visited in SGP), set up her room, met Vikrant and Ashwath (after a long time) and boarded the flight to India….

Back at home… Phew!!! Queues, Indian faces and delays… I was at home… In those 2 weeks,
1. I saw 6 cities,
2. Visited 12 airports,
3. Saw the best sides of people who I met after a long time,
4. Actually bonded with the Stanford students which is THE POINT of the exchange program (My status message for a couple of days was I dont want to leave Stanford people)
5. Did sight seeing, went on rides and walks and
6. Had tons of memorable experiences which are not restricted only to this blog but there for life….

Easily one of the best things that I did while at IIM Bangalore – Enroll for the Stanford Exchange Program…

Travel Experiences

Sleepless in Seattle

The last leg of my tour was visiting Seattle and Chicago… Now, people often ask me – “why wouldn’t you see San Diego on west coast instead of going all the way to east coast for 2 days?” My reply to that is that my parents were comfortable with me going to places where there were people with me…. Unfortunately all my VJTI, Infy and other friends were in India at the time when I was there…. I had to make use of best of available resources (Now, I sound like an MBA :)…) So, yes! I went to these places and as expected had an awesome time :)))

Seattle:

I reach Seattle airport and I am constantly in touch with Gautam who was supposed to pick me up from the airport…. Now, this had to work real time as he dint want to park his vehicle and therefore, could not wait before time… So, finally he says he is close but doesn’t know where I am standing… I tell him what I am wearing (I was actually very visible with the only one in 4 layers, cap and gloves…) and suddenly 2 people come up to me saying, “Madam, there has been a security threat – please come with us inside – NOW!!!” They expected me to panic but I was purely amused…. Some random Indians, showing their IDs and saying “I AM in a security threat…” Please tell me who would be so arbit as to threaten my existence ;))) Anyway, so after a while they say its fine and I come out to see Gautam and these guys (his friends) getting into the car… I was like “IT HAAAAAAAAAD to be U… WASTE” Anyway, after having a good laugh and these guys cribbing – I wasnt scared enough – I went out for dinner with Gautam… Megha was in touch with us and we were likely to go clubbing with her friends downtown…. But, plans changed and I had dinner and headed home with Megha where we had a good chat till about 3 am after which I slept… (She continued to entertain her guests and I dont mean ME :D…)

Next day – Sunday – We went to this breakfast place Gautam suggested – after getting lost due to directions HE GAVE – and me saving the day by guiding Megha to the right road…. Good food as usual in same quantities and then we went to Snoqualmi (I hope I have spelled it right) waterfalls with Megha and her friends… Oh btw, before we went – I ate Matar Paneer made by Megha and I was quite impressed I must say… Kids these days have good culinary skills… The waterfalls were awesome… Arnab (Megha’s friend) led us to this small trail where we went thru woods… And as expected this guy was upto NO GOOD – Scared the hell out of Megha and me by jumping in front of us from behind a bush… All the guys had a good laugh and as expected – Megha kicked and abused him… Anyway, a contented lot came back from falls (Megha was the most happy coz she got to drive an awesome car) to have dinner with Gautam… Good food and we came back to Megha’s apt to play poker… Good fun!! These guys (the profesionals) were like let’s play with money… Megha and me – amateurs said NO!!! not with money… But they insisted and finally guess what happens – All of them go broke and its between Megha and me – finally won by Megha…. AWESOOOOOME FUN!!! Then Arnab – I must say had an awesome time – I am sure Megha wont want to associate herself with this but she HAS to know she was a major part of this 😉

Day two in Seattle was a day when I went camping by MYSELF – Sharmili’s Day Out!!! Can u imagine – I did not get lost, I did not get caught by Police and I managed to see everything I (actually Arnab helped me with this) wanted to see… Used public transport, walked, shopped, went on cruise (Argosy Cruise), took self photographs (at Pike Place Market – the place mentioned in FISH! and Seattle Public Library – seeing which I feel in love with the city) and finally managed to meet Gautam at the place decided (Downtown – Opposite Macy’s – 4th Ave and Pine St.)… Yippie!!! I was more excited by the thought of doing it alone than the thought of seeing these places… After dinner at a good Indian restaurant – we called it a day (Megha wasn’t feeling well and everyone was tired after a full day’s work..).. Oh! I forgot to mention 3 things…

1. Sireesha kept calling EVERYTIME while I was there… Dont know if it was a kind of check mechanism madam had put in place 😉
2. Kiddo was so worried now as to how to better the time at Chicago :)))
3. Spoke to people back at home and missed them…

The next morn I left for Chicago… And bid my farewell to Megha at the airport where she dropped me… A 4 day trip with this girl and thats all it took for me to miss her so badly when I came back home :))

Travel Experiences

Official Reason to go to USA – Stanford Trip

After a very very tiring but equally exciting trip to LA, LV and GC, we reached San Francisco 🙂 Phew!!! This is not because of being tired but because on the way back – 2 amateur USA drivers – Megha and Sid, drove along with Chatty…. Well, I would be nervous but I was sleeping away to glory – preparing for the hectic one week ahead of me…. We reached Chatty’s place in SF by 11:00 pm or so and then were all raving about his house…. Very neatly kept, very well equipped!!! Spent some time on his playstation, listened to “Desi Girl” which was by now the trip song and some silliness on “Buttons!!!” (Megha was speechless and so were others but for VERY different reasons)… Anyway, after a good night’s sleep, we all woke up and these guys dropped me to Stanford (Special mention to Megha and her Polka-dotted pyjamas :)…)

Day 1:

So, I reached after breakfast and immediately left for the Oakland Raiders game… 2 good things happened before I left:
1. Sid finally got to meet Kate and appreciate what I had mentioned about her
2. These guys saw my room and it was so mind-blowingly awesome that they were jealous (I got happy – ha ha ha)

“American Football”- All I can say is its an interesting game…. But unlike a continuous Indian game (football and cricket) this game keeps halting… Not like Basketball – where you stop game due to line cuts or fouls but like on principle… I cannot explain the game here now, but it was an awesome experience… Of course, I saw the cheerleaders and how they keep crowds entertained in this game….

In the evening, our hospitable guests divided us in groups based on the cuisines we wanted to eat. J’ai mange italien :))) (I speak French and not italian :)…)

Day 2:
3 lectures, 2 company visits and 1 game and dinner was the plan for the day…. Dean of Stanford – David Kreps came to give us a lecture on Stanford and its history…. During the lecture, it became clearer that IIMB is like Stanford and IIMA like Harvard… Culture, teaching methodology etc… Which is why I think, there is a Stanford-IIMB program and not a Stanford-IIMA program…

After this was a lecture by Mr. Guy Kawasaki – A successful VC and famed author of book including Rich Dad – Poor Dad!! Enlightening lecture and a very interesting person, in his
opinions and his style…. I took a liking to him instantly….

Finally, the academic session ended with Prof. Carole Robin… Importance of feedback was what she covered in the lecture…

Post this we went to “Whole Foods” where I ate Mexican food (henceforth, whenever I mention food – assume its Mexican or Italian) coz vegeterians rarely have too much choice and people like me who hate Mushrooms – even lesser choices :)))) And American portions are HUGE!!! Poor me… I could NEVER finish a single meal coz one small burito was like 2 meals for me :((((

Facebook where we learned about their culture and NUMMI – the Toyota and GM alliance where we actually saw a car being made in 54 seconds thru JIT system… It was fascinating to see the importance Americans give to culture and perfection….

Then was the BEST social activity ever… We went to Dave and Busters – a mall sort of place with games… I won so many games, beat Vickram in car racing and shopped for sweats :))) Good fun…

Fully satisfied I went to my room (aweeeeeesome bed – did I mention) to get myself all buckled up for even more hectic schedule the next day…. Oh, before sleeping I had to read a case for my classes the next day :((( (will anyone say I was on vacation – oh! I wasn’t right… oops!..)

Day 3:
CEO of PepsiCo coming and tellin us how Indra Nooyi was a right choice of a leader…. Man!! that was inspiring… A sales class by top sales executives in Bay area telling students how to improve sales effectiveness with live examples and IHI case being discussed by the case writer himself…. The academic sessions were on a swing…

After lunch we went to IDEO – a design consulting firm… I saw the designs and I coiuld not stop thinking of Namu… She would have looooooved to visit that place… I wish she gets recruited there… It was fascinating… I took some pics for her… Hope she likes them….

We had free time then to work on our projects, after which we went for dinner and drinks with Stanford junta…

Day 4:


This was all-in-all a social visit… Stanford people took us to some tourist destinations in San Fran… I shopped again for a jacket – considering I was cold despite wearing 4 layers… Awesome deal I got on a black fleece jacket and got good deals for both Vickram and Bala…

Went to Pier 39, boat ride, cable cars, Union Square, Golden Gate bridge etc… Photos and more shopping done and we came back tired to the room… Other guys went out pubbing but I stayed back as I had to prepare a case for the next day – CEO of cisco was coming and I dint want to look stupid…

Day 5:
It was an all-in-all academic day…

After an ok-ok lecture by the head of Dodge & Cox, we had an awesome case discussion by Prof. John Morgridge – ex-CEO of cisco… Mindblowing session… I strongly believe that even if the prof is brilliant, the person coming himself and teaching a case written on the decisions he took, makes a huge difference… completely satisfied, I spoke to him after class and he asked my name… shook hands with me… and patted me on my back for a nice question… Wow!!! it was the highlight of my day…

Then was my career counselling session with Virginia who I had met in India earlier…. This session was mainly a feel-good session for everyone but the pessimist that I am, I felt bad :(((( But thats not important…

Lise Buyer – by far my most favorite lecture – showed us a very unique perspective in life by sharing her learnings from the finance career… Here again, I was putting awesome CP… I just realised… When there are such inspiring people in front of u, you automatically feel like asking them questions…

Chairman of BCG then came and gave us gyaan on how is consulting adapting according to the economic downturn….

Prof. Brady came and spoke about US Elections and how the process is conducted… How is the 2 party system eficient… The discussion concluded on lauding India for having so many diverse parties and still maintaining democracy…

A not so useful international communication session concluded the day after which we left for Leo Joseph’s residence – an Indian GSB Alum who hosts SAIL students every year…. Interesting person again!!! He likes an idea, starts a company and then sells it off for a hefty amount for a living… Then takes a break for a year or 2 till he finds the next new idea :))) In short, rich man with an awesome house, lovely family and an pleasant demeanor…. We had a wine tasting session here where, Aurelia – a wine consultant demonstrated her proficiency in knowing wines by their smell, color etc… It was so much fun… Everyone came up with random ingredients based on the smelll and I JUST CUD NOT differentiate between the different smells… All smelled the same – BAD!! It was then I realised I HATE wines :))) After dinner at Leo’s I went home whereas others went clubbing again…

Day 6:
Second last day and it was the first time when I got late, missed the gang and had to go on my own to the company we were visiting… Pacific Biosciences, the company was awesome apparently but I dint quite understand anything due to the delay… After this, we went back to campus where we made our presentations… We had a small photosession with the insti photographer, a Career Life Vision lecture by Prof. Andy Chan and attended the L-square equivalent of Stanford – LPF… It was here we met other GSB students and spoke to them in an informal setting…

We went for dinner at a restaurant on campus and generally bonded with the Stanford counterpart by discussin hajar issues…

Day 7:
Last day with them… They had their exams so all of them couldnt join us to the Monterey Aquarium… Good place… I saw a diver feeding the fish LIVE and I myself took behind the scenes tour where I could feed the fish :))) Americans make an experience out of everything… The way they explained everything to everyone, the way they go out of their way to make tourists spend etc. all is very comendable… I keep feeling that people in India should learn this… First we dont have such places, and the little that we have like Essel World – the staff is so curt and not helpful… We have a lot to learn – really…

After this we went Bowling!!! I sucked at it :((( Wonder why??? I did play decently but here I was like awfulllll…. After this I left for Schwab (the place where I stayed) to collect luggage and leave for domestic airport to go to Seattle…

It was a fun week – right mix of acads, corporate and social activities… I think such exchange programs are so much better than those 3 months one… I mean you dont get homesick and you still enjoy… Yes, you have little sleep but I think you can do without it – after all you ARE DOING YOU MBA :))) More about the latter part of the trip follows…

Travel Experiences

Wild Wild West….

So, after such a warrrm welcome, does ANYONE need anything else to brighten up their day… Nah!!! The day had awesome things in store for me and so did the entire trip… But just one thing that was negative and was common thru out this trip….
1. I was coooooooooooooold… And therefore, I was troubled…
2. And I troubled kiddo the most who really did not know what more could he do….

Disneyland


As usual, I did something unthinkable 🙂 I arrived from India and left directly for Disneyland :))) No time to recover from jet lag, no time to get ready (tho I did freshen up at the airport)…
Comfy shuttle ride till Disneyland after which I got the first excitement of using credit card Vraj gave me…. Yeah!! it worked :))) Then from the 3 options available, we selected Disneyland coz we wanted something veryyyy authentic Amrikaaa to make the trip memorable (tho as I told kiddo that it was memorable coz I was with him)…. Then we saw all the things there…. You know that s the good part about kiddo…. Like me he also has this “paisa vasool” funda…. So, he dint like say chal na – lets not see this…. He was like we are paying so much so we need to see everything :)) and I liked that… So, yes – these 2 crazy people from India saw the whole of Disneyland (we actually marked every place we say on the map they gave us to enure we dint miss anything) and finally, at midnight took a taxi to Hollywood where M was waiting for us…. And ya, we were so fortunate to have a Disney parade and a fireworks + “Fantasia” show being performed that day for the first time…. So, huge majja came when we could actually see all Disney characters (in human form) walk down in front of us telling us their stories :))))

Universal Studios and Santa Monica
Reached Motel 6 at around 1:15 am and were fully exhausted… We hardly spoke in the car and after reaching we dint stop talking :))) (M was meeting kiddo after 2 years) General chit chat, catching up, spewing hatred for terrorists etc. after which we slept (I dont even remember when I dozed off)… Started off our day pretty early around 8:00 am with Walk of Fame…. As I have told hajar people, walking stars drawn on the ground isnt too much fun…. But – no one believed me… And guess what!!! Kiddo sees those stars, I say its walk of fame – he says “Pagal hai kya!!! Its a spoof on the actual walk of fame….” Ha ha ha… Finally, we clicked snaps with random stars ONLY to make kiddo happy that we actually saw a landmarkish place :))) Had a heaaaaaavy breakfast (its worth mentioning coz I have never had such a huge omlette like I had thr), we took a cab and got fooled…

Went to Santa Monica coz of some stupid driver’s ultra stupid calculations and then clicked some aweeeeeeeeesome pics…

After this went to Universal studio where I showed my awesomeness again… Collected some discount coupons which gave us $8 off on every ticket… (thats substantial you know) Then we saw the studio tour, Jurassic park, Simpsons (where we were plunged down from haajr feet in air), Mummy ride etc. Each of them was aweeeeeeeesome and more mind blowing than other… One day is just not enough for Universal… Esp when it is a holiday and EVERYONE seems to have come there… It doesnt help either that it closes at 6:00 pm and not midnight… Anyway, fully satisfied all of us met C who was supposed to drive us down to Vegas….

Las Vegas


First impression – WoooooooW!! All lights of USA are used up in Vegas…. Second impression – it is made by engineers and most probably from IITs – coz everything is a duplicate here… Fake paris, Fake NY, fake Disneyland etc. Then went to our hotel – thanks to M – we were put up in MGM Grand :))) That was awesome too… We booked the room for 2 only and then had to smuggle other 2 in… So, guess what we did… Me and M pretended to be the 2 people staying there (and the reception guy says – I am going to make sure you girls have an awesome room so that you can have loads of fun… I mean – how corny is this… I think he assumed me and M were lesbians or something :)))…) Anyway, then we got kiddo and C to join us after all procedures were done… Then we went to the LV strip… Slept around 5:00 am and then left for the Grand Canyon trip later in the day…. After the trip when we were back in Vegas – we gambled, we lost :(((( But, we realised how these people make money… When you are at high stakes game – more waitresses come and offer you free drinks so that you put more money to try and win…. We were at Blackjack table and we got drinks…. We came at 1 cent slot machine and no waitress showed up :))))

Grand Canyon


It was a trip which people like me cannot appreciate it to the fullest… Nature, power of nature, beauty of nature etc. gets lost easily on me… But kiddo did a fair bit of job making me all enthu for the trip… The first place where I was late…. First place where I wore 4 layers of clothing and was still numb… The first place where I slept for hajar hours (Kiddo will say I did that over the entire trip after this :)))…)… It is beautiful no doubts about it… But I wish I could either have the money to do the helicopter ride or the boy fat which allowed me to do river rafting :))))

Drive back to San Francisco

One seasoned driver and 2 novices split this journey which culminated in an AWESOME apt and an AWESOME time listening to buttons, talking to friends on phone and good times concluding with some nice pictures taken….

This was my last day with the 3 fun people I met for these 5 days and who ensured I have loads of fun and loads of warmth (thru their actions and thru the warm clothes they kept givin me ;)…) C drove me down to Stanford where the “official” exchange program awaits me… I had an AWESOME time – with people close to me, with places full of life and finally at a time when I had not too many worries bugging me…. I dint whine at all in the entire trip (cold whining not included) and that speaks a lot about the trip (people who know me – KNOW its a big deal…)

Travel Experiences

Sharmili chali Amrikaaa!!!

SAIL – 2008…. First part of this program was painful when we had to juggle our classes, submissions, not get attendance for bunking for a legitimate cause and finally entertain our guests from Stanford…. But the second part – IS BLISS!!!

So, after a memorable visa trip (I stayed in a 5 star hotel, had a chauffer driven car at my service and had awesome time with GS), I was all set to go to Amrika…. My trip was planned well – thanks to the hajar efforts put in by my awesome “kiddo”…. Packed bags in one and half hour – thanks to 2 back to back end term exams and left ON-TIME with Vivek and Shyam….
Random things then happened as soon as I started my journey and till the point I reached LA Airport…

1. Cab driver – Random that he was – kept unnecessarily talkin to me… and me more idiotic insisted I sit there on the front seat beside him… (Well, in my defense – I did not know this was goin to happen)…. And icing on cake – he was drunk tooo (Now, plz ppl – dont panic on reading this… By drunk I mean social drunk not “I cannot drive well” drunk)

2. Dingy Dhaba – I was hungry, but more than me was Shyam…. Thanks to huge tax and rentals, CCD at airport would be extremely expensive… So, AWESOME me came up with a brilliant idea of eating at CCD before we reach airport…. Net result – Ate in a random, shady looking dhaba…. Good part – AWESOME food at a very reasonable price…. Good part 2 – Driver dint charge waiting time 🙂
Bad part- shaaaaaaaaaaady place but thank God I was with Vivek and Shyam….

3. Immigration Hassles – Despite having done eveyrthing right, I was asked to wait for 30 min before the immigration counter…. Thanks to the jhols Vivek and Shyam did 🙂

4. Charger Woes – What was exciting during the wait mentioned above, was me talking
continuously on phone to P and saying things these guys were scandalised to hear :)))… Me dying to find a charger at the airport in the loo which apparently doesnt receive power (2 cleaning ladies told me this after I waited there with the charger plugged in for 5 min), me rushing to get security checked – not because I wanted to be on-time etc. but coz there was a charging station in the waiting lounge…. Me using the one-rupee wala phone after haajr years :)))

5. Time trouble – And where I was short of time till now, in Singapore I had excess time – for 4 hours dint know what to do… Surfed, frehshened up, roamed around, tried to shop, drank coffee, woke up S in middle of night to talk, etc. Time JUST DOESNT GO when you are all alone….

6. Too much food – Singapore airlines believes everyone is from Somalia and they need to be fed… While I was desperately trying to not be jetlagged, one meal after another was shoved into my face by the stewardesses…. Finally, when I just managed to get deep sleep, air hostess wakes me again to get down at Tokyo for a re-entry in same plane again…. I till date have not understood what was the purpose of this….

Finally, it was 10:30 LA time and I was there, with kiddo waiting for me with a sign – “Welcome to America Shamu…. Love Kiddo” and just like that all the random things just culminated into a BIIIIIIIIG SMILE….

More about the trip…. Laterssss….

Travel Experiences

Jolted back from Inactivity

The inactivity was partly due to a sudden transition on a personal front (moving from a professional to a student) and partly due to my uncanny knack of getting things done in a complicated way… Gimme something that can be easily done and be rest assured that I can easily complicate it by introducing hajar variables… Sad story of my life but true…
A trip to Singapore had been planned since April first week… It was May last week that I finally made it there… But, this trip was wrought with hajar complications…First – Tickets!!! My agent (ticketing one) suddenly got very busy and could help me out only by Monday (which was 21st May) I strongly believed that this is very late considering a 30th flight I wanted to take and the visa wasnt stamped… couldnt possibly book before that (as you all must ve wondered) coz my last date was not getting finalised… So, till those formalities were done, I could not go ahead with the booking… So, I asked Vraj to get it done for me on a Friday!!! (since monday seemed too close to the departure date) Smart, you wud think! But, the stupid Malaysian Airlines have no E-ticket and they courier tickets only to US addresses forced Vraj to order to his addr and then courier it to me (which reached only by Friday).. However, the itenary was sufficient enough to get a visa and it served my purpose…

Second – Visa… By now you would have thought 21st I shud ve started the Visa process right.. But, my agent (yup this is not the same person…) had to go on a 2 day leave the same week 😦 Net Net – no visa process till 24th and tickets were in USA… Finally Visa process was about to start (meaning docs were all given) and my agent says it would be better if Sudha sends a signed invitation… She sends… But her affinity for June (her bday) and July month (my bday) came into picture… Instead of saying 30 May to 6th June, she writes, 30 June to 6 July… So, poor thing had to fax the copy again… Many such docs made Sudha run in Singapore and me run from bldg. 14 to bldg. 1 a lot on the 24th… Finally, everything came thru and Visa was supposed to be with me Tuesday (29th May)

Third – Perhantian trip (highlight of the trip – one of the top 10 most beautiful places to visit as per TIME magazine) – This required me to start a Malaysia visa process.. Docs should be same except for ticket difference n that invitation letter… Everything was in place but one issue… Passport in SGP consulate and we cannot start Mal visa till we get it… It takes 7 dys to get Mal visa so in no way could I start visa process for Mal… But good news… I can get on entry since I am going for only 2 days!! Great luck I thought… Told Sudha and waited for passport to come through…

Fourth – ECNR – Chat with GS… on 28th May

Me – “YEEE! I am coming to Perhantian… Cool na”
GS – “what about visa???”
Me – “on arrival”
GS – “Cool, so have an ECNR right…”
Me – “excuse me – ECNR?????”
GS – “arre, its a stamp – blah blah blah – you need it to get Mal visa.. Should take around an hours time”
Me (slighltly panicky but firmly) – ok! can do it on Wednesday.. (confirmed with agent – personal presence not reqd)

Fifth – Forex – Cannot get till you get a Visa… So, cannot happen before Tuesday! But, got everything arranged so that it wont be a fight on the last day…

Finally the events that followed were –

1. got the SGP visa on tuesday but in Mumbai…
2. ECNR process was supposed to be started by Girish with an authority letter from me.. But, Mal e-ticket was not allowed, train tickets were not correct, personal presence wasnt there, TIME wasnt there… SO, after a fight (in SGP, Pune and Mumbai) we realised we cannot get it done :((((((( As depressing as it sounds but the Perhantian trip got cancelled… All the snorkelling dreams went into drain… And to add to my variable list, passport was with Girish in his office in mumbai…
3. Forex did not come thru to Pune in time before I left… So, had to collect it from Mumbai house…supporting docs copy (passport, Visa and itenary was with me in Pune…)
4. Last day at work was incidentally the same day of my flight… So, major running around happened and finally finished all formalities by 3:00 pm only… which made it impossible to reach my house by 6:00 when forex came to my house…

So, the variables involved in this trip –
– Me in pune… had to make it to airport by 9:00 pm sharp as that was checking time (despite leaving 1.5 hour after the planned time)… On my way, volvo bus broke down, AC stopped functioning in the claustrophobic bus, landslide happened at the ghats on the way – leading to a major traffic jam…
– Girish in his office with my passport… I think its somewhere in South Mumbai…
– Dad with forex and bag – Coming from Borivli.. Now, getting forex also was a herculean task for my father and stud that he is – he could get it done… No docs were present at Borivli… So, finally after some phone calls he got it done.. Btw, my phone battery drained out – so during this time I (who had all the information) was out of reach…
– Namu coming with my clothes that I had to change (was in office formals since came directly from office) from Borivli… Clothes needed some altering and were at the tailors place till 4:00 pm…

I am sure by now who survived this account of terrible planning have concluded that I havent made it to SGP… And even if the optimistic folk believed that I made it, they must have thot – with the highlight trip out of the plan, the trip wouldnt have been too much fun… And all must have agreed the dire need for me to do some management course… C’mon – I must have got atleast one right ;))))))

But, here is the reality
All variables converged @ airport at 8:40 (before time – in my case – is a big deal)… Me changed into jhakas clothes and got all the things in place… Came to SGP in one piece (despite this my first flying experience, despite having connecting flights – not direct ones and despite the fact that had Sudha not come @ airport I would have been completely lost… But nothing that my pessimistic brain suggested happened and I reached safely… Today is the third day (this was when I was supposed to be back from the ful-filled Perhantian trip) and the fun hasnt still stopped… Is it because of the place, the people, the excitement or just a change – I do not know… But, fact remains – that I am having fun and am all geared up to learn management lessons after a refreshing, badly-managed break :))))))

Travel Experiences

Visa Power – Go Get IT!!!! Part 2

I come home… Tired… not due to work but due to the extreme thinking involved to remove mehndi in one day…. So, I sat with Surf Excel, Rin, Cinthol, Dettol Liquid Soap, Dove and a bucket of water… I have never in my life scrubbed my hands so much… I mean it was like washing my hands for the centuries to come…. I kept checking to see if it was light but time and scrubbing made no difference to the color… So, i decided that if I do not look for 15 min may be a miracle wud happen and mehndi wud go off… But after 35 – 45 min of scrubbing, nothing had happened…. I decided to ditch the effort and went off to the party… tho everytime my hands came in front of my face (which I now realise happens a lot… I mean its just impossible to ignore your hands :$..) I thot abt my mehndi, my interview, my life……..

12th Dec – 09:30 hrs – Mehndi still no signs of being lighter…. Tho the scrubbing had made the fingers other than the index finger lighter :(…. I come to office and I am talking to my OSC… I inform him about my absence tomorrow due to the visa interview in Mumbai… So, he is like ” arre wah!! ur visa interview… cool hai..” So, without even taking a second breath he shoots questions at me…
“What wud be ur salary while in US?”
“Who is your employer in US”
“what will you do if your client fires u”
“who will you report to?”
“how many ppl will work under you?”
“what are your responsibilities while u r here?”
“What is the name of I797?” etc etc etc… I am speechless… I dunno what to say… I ask him, “Y are no questions about ab initio?” He is like ” you dont know about these… you havent read the FAQ document.. You havent seen the papers… you dont know about ur client…” I am shit scared now…. I take some pointers from him too (I dunno how many ppl I had asked questions) and then get on with my work… CAlled Ashok… Again no answer… Undeterred I went to the Visa dept… I asked them about the mehndi… they said no issue.. Strike 1… I asked about the session.. they said after 2:30.. Strike 2… I asked to check my papers… they put them in order… Strike 3… Finally they tell me to just make sure the checklist they have provided is taken care of…

18:00 hrs – My session was cancelled… Ashok was never available… I checked for the checklist… I fired printouts… Printer wasnt working… went to the next bldg… got the prinouts…. So, finally I left work with docs (which I believed were complete) and with many people wishing me luck….

23:00 hrs – I am at my house and I realise that I do not have the interview letter mentioned in one checklist after the checklist I referred… Oh Sh$%!@… Called one person who guided me and thus got the soft copy of the letter… But no printout… Called 5 frends who had printers but all of them had to malfunction at the same time… Y god Y??? I tried not to panic but it refused to leave me… Finally I decided to burn a CD with that doc and take a print tomorrow morning.. C’mon!!! its Mumbai… Cybers open by 9:30… So no big deal… So after settling that, checking 4 times if any other checklist is present, I moved to the final step… Go through the hajar docs… Then get some information about the client, company etc… See all the forms, their names and their purposes… See information like pay, reporting authority etc… Thanks to my OSC, I was a student again ratoing revenues, roles, caps, functions, names etc…. Slept at 02:00 hrs…

13th Dec 2006 – 09:20 hrs – Left home… Going to Bombay Central takes 45 min… so even if I had to reach by 11, I left early (people knowing me would find this to be a surprise….) News!!! Cybers close to my area, on the way to station from my house, all closed…. Sh@%$!! One big detour by my dad (thanks to him who seems to know every nukkad and the shop on it like the back of his hand) he took me to one which was open… I was happy but it was short lived… The cyber had Adobe 3 and my doc was of Adobe 7.. It cudnt open.. Sh@!#!! Went to another… he had Adobe 6… What has happened to Adobe 7… Why dont people keep upgrading their systems… The doc opened with errors but a printable one.. So, took the print out and finally reached station to get 9:57 semi fast and got a fourth seat 2 🙂

11:00 hrs – went to the VFS bldg, checked in my bag and awaited my turn…. Finally entered the consulate bldg and went for a security check… Met a gal called Sheetal on my way and we got quite friendly… Man there are a lot of people who want a US Visa everyday (and I do not mean just IT Industry) 🙂 There was this aunty (abt 60 yrs) in front of me for the check.. When the metal detector went over her parts of body the kept beeing.. She had something or the other always beeping… It was hilarious… Wud ve lafed hard otherwise but was still tensed abt my finger prints… So, finally when I got to the finger print counter, i apprehensively placed my finger on the scanner… Breathed a sigh of relief when my finger print got accepted… :)))))) My number came just before the lunch hour set in and I was asked 4 very simple questions – Do u work for infosys? Is this your first job? What tool you wud be working on? Explain that tool function to me… Thus, I entered the consulate at 12:05 and left at 12:17….

So, all this jhanjat for 12 min…. :O I wondered if all the panic, anxiety and stress was needed? But lessons learnt in this process:
1. 35 – 45 minutes of washing hands with the complex mixture mentioned above doesnt harm your hands.
2. Adobe is not backward compatible
3. you can reach Bombay central in less than 45 min, haji ali juice centre is very close from station and US Consulate is very famous since my taxi driver got it easily
4. DO NOT LISTEN to everything ur OSC says and last but not the least
5. Getting a US Visa aint that difficult…. :))))))))