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Powerful Leadership Lessons from the "Missing Plate"

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Once while on a business trip, I was invited by a customer delegate for dinner at an Indian restaurant somewhere in the San Francisco, Bay Area. The restaurant was managed and served by a sole waitress and the place was sparingly crowded. We were directed towards a table for four as we entered the restaurant. While the customer delegate and the other two inmates in our group took their seats, I rushed into the washroom for a quick one. When I returned to the table, it was noticed that the waitress had served only three plates on to the table. I took my seat. While the other two inmates started discussing the details on the menu, Indian savories and their preferences, the customer delegate looked uncomfortable. I unknowingly gauged the reason behind his discomfort as we learnt that the waitress was now busy attending other guests. It was obvious that the missing plate on the table was making him uncomfortable.

A silly picture I took outside my Hotel in the USA
The next moment I found myself engrossed in conversations with the other inmates while the customer delegate stepped off the table, probably for a quick wash, I thought. When he returned, he was carrying a plate in his hand. It was not too difficult for me to realize that he had walked into the kitchen and grabbed a plate for me. While I expressed my dismay to him for his kind little gesture for me, he ignored it and joined us in rejoicing our experiences at the Golden Gate bridge from the earlier part of that evening.

This humble act of him left a big mark on my mind and imparted several strong learnings of leadership. While the debate of whether Leaders are born or made continues, this incident has taught me that there is a much more human angle to it.

Lesson 1: Leaders Respect

Respect is a powerful value. Respect is something we show when we treat each other right. In the above case, the customer delegate was our project sponsor and could have waited for the waitress to attend us. He could have called her and requested for the missing plate on the table. The customer delegate did notice that she was busy with other guests and hence, decided to take a small step to fix the situation he did not find worthy enough to live with.

Lesson 2: Living the change through collaboration

It was evident that the delegate was disturbed by the situation. Taking that extra step to walk into the kitchen and interacting for a fresh plate is a great example of collaboration that we see in Agile environments. The outcome was a faster time to value and a greater user satisfaction. Modern leaders do not order, they act.

Lesson 3: Imparting an Even Stronger Message

A message is strongly delivered through silent gestures and not through words. In a broader sense, the customer delegate was accountable for the successful delivery of the upcoming project – the reason for me being with him. He tersely demonstrated this by making me feel special by taking good care of me. Caring for one another is infectious and is a vital tool to make people feel responsible.

Lesson 4: Being Humble yet Effective

While in several Asian countries, the job of a waiter is not considered that respectable. Ones willingness to take up that task strongly advocates the effectiveness of servant leadership. While working in a team, being cross functional and self-organized promises the team’s velocity and predictability. Being cross functional makes the team member more effective and valuable for the team.

In most of the cases, leadership merely needs a compassionate heart, willingness to act and living up the change one wishes to see. Success is just a byproduct of such an act.

In our day to day life, a leader’s role is filled with several choices. A leader could escalate, request the missing plate, order it or opt to place it himself to bring in that human touch and effectiveness to meet larger goals.

So what's your take with that missing plate?

The Beaches, The Forts and the One Day Trip @ Alibaug, Raigad, Maharashtra


Beautiful view of the fort from Alibaug Beach
Alibaug (Alibag) is a famous beach destination in close proximity to Mumbai and Pune. It is merely 145 kms. from Pune and 30 kms. from South Mumbai via. Sea route and 114 kms. by road. There are several beaches in and around Alibaug; Alibaug beach, Thal Beach, Varsoli Beach, Akshi Beach, Nagaon Beach, Kashid Beach, Korlai Beach to name a few. Beautiful Sea, a Fort that gets surrounded by sea water, a few temples and a lot of fun. Alibaug is the ideal place for a one day return trip. Alibaug is 145 kms away from Pune and 30km to the south of Mumbai. There are some stunning beaches here along with forts and temples! The Kolaba/Kulaba fort lies 2 kms inside the sea. Kulaba fort gets surrounded by sea water at the time of tide. There are the Uma Maheshwar and Balaji temples in Alibaug too.

Alibaug was developed in 17th Century by Sarkhel Kanhoji Aangre the naval chief of King Shivaji’s Kingdom. Bene Israelite Ali was a rich man in the city and owned many plantations of mangoes, coconuts in his gardens. So the local people called the place Alicha bagh (Gardens of Ali) which became in due course, Alibaug. Alibaug is the seat of District Administration of Raigad (formerly Kolaba) district since 1852. The name Kolaba is attributed to a Sea Fort Kolaba built by Shivaji the great Maratha Ruler, in 1680 to fight the mighty naval prowess of the Siddis’ (Abyssenians) of Janjira and the British of Mumbai. Kolaba fort is famous for many battles, between Siddis and Kanhoji Angre, the British and the Portugese.

Korlai Beach: It is a quiet serene beach with alternate white and black sands, along a serene stretch of the Arabian coastline, adjacent to a village of Korlai Creole Portuguese speaking Indians. Just across the bridge, to the right there is Korlai fort within the sea and attached to the mainland by a narrow land strip through the Korlai fort through the Korlai Village. It is supposed to have been built by the Portuguese in 1521. The main gate has an inscription which means ‘no entry without a fight’. The fort has seven gates, a sweet water well, a church in disuse, a Hindu temple and a Lighthouse.

You can easily plan for additional excursions because of the proximity of beaches and forts from Korlai. The beautiful beach of Kashid is only 12.5 km from Korlai while the famous sea fort of Janjira is 30 km to the south of Korlai, near Murud. The Karnala Bird Sanctuary is roughly 70 km away, towards Panvel. White water rafting on the river Kundalika is another major attraction. Visiting the Korlai fort today was a remarkable experience. The fort looks devoid of maintenance and gave deserted looks. However, the view from the fort was spectacular and offered a divine view of the sea and the shore.   

Korlai Fort is a Nizamshahi-Portuguese fortification and was built on a rocky ridge, ‘O Morro de Chaul’. In its heyday, the fort protected the Revdanda Creek while also guarding its age-old companion Revdanda Fort on the opposite side of the Kundalika River. Though the fort owes its origin primarily to the Ahmednagar Sultanate, vestiges of the Portuguese occupation are manifested in the distinct dialect of the Korlai villages’ inhabitants which is Portuguese Creole. The fort had eight bastions and four entrances. Inside, the architectural arrangement was unique with the fortification being compartmentalized into eight quarters of irregular size, each with its own arched entrance built in European style with steps and equipped with guns.
Magnificient View from the Korlai Fort
 The highest portion of the fort had the residence of the captain, ammunition stores, storages, and a chapel. This chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Voyages, administered by Franciscans in 1636, consisted of an altar made of stone and mortar with the nave being covered by a straw-thatched roof and walls made of bamboo mats and palm leaves. In a later period, the whole chapel was turned into a magnificent stone-arched building showing typical characteristics of Province of the North religious structures. Mass was performed in the chapel on every Sunday and holiday. The chapel became the major landmark of Morro.

Korlai village is at a distance of 25 kms from Alibaug. State transport buses and private six-seater rickshaws regularly run from Alibag to Korlai. A good motorable road from Alibaug en route to Murud takes a visitor to Korlai, where the fort still stands in its full majesty because the remains have been well preserved. Visitors can climb up to the fort in about 20 minutes via steps from two sides - the east and the west. The western approach starts from a modern lighthouse. The eastern approach has a good view of the river Kundalika and the Revdanda Fort.

Mandawa: It is situated about 20 km north of Alibaug. The catamaran/ferry services are available from Mumbai to the Mandawa jetty. Many Bollywood celebrities own bungalows here.

Kaneshwar Mandir: It is situated about 17 km away from Alibaug to Karlekhind – Chondi road.13 km from Alibaug in Northeast direction is this very famous Shiv temple on a 900 ft. high hill. It is a 5000 ft. long climb on well paved stairs, which takes around one hour. Landmarks along the route are tombs of MohanGiri and Balgiri, Nagoba Rest, Jambhali Plateau, God’s stair, Gaymandi etc. It comprises various small temples of Sri Paleshwar, Sri Hanuman, Sri Balram Krishna and Lord Shiv.

Kashid Beach: It is 36 km away from Alibaug, on the Alibag-Murud highway, also this beach is possibly one of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches in the region with almost ‘white’ sand. There are many cottages and resorts available ranging from around RS:1500 to RS:20,000. Prakruti resort is the luxury and the costliest of all. One can find water sports facility and number of small shops for snacks.

Alibaug Beach

The Everlasting Impression of the Elephant Show in Pattaya, Thailand

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The Elephant Show at Pattaya, Thailand: Beauty and the Beast
The elephant show at the Noong Nooch Village was a spectacular experience while at Pattaya. Our rendezvous with these mighty creatures at this show really made us believe that elephants are not any less brainy and skillful than human beings. The show started with a bang as a trail of elephants walked in the arena all arranged in a systematic queue arranged by ascending order of their sizes. It was such a great fun to watch how their sizes went up from the baby elephant to the mightiest one. Each of the elephant was holding the tail of his predecessor by his truck. That was a warm welcome to the huge crowd which had gathered to enjoy this beautiful show.

It is quite common to watch elephants in circuses performing usual but marvelous skills like throwing a ball, batting, riding a bicycle and bowing down at the crowd. These elephants were pretty much acquainted with these usual skills. What really caught my attention was that some of these elephants were real state of the art Painters. They were so skillful in gently holding the paint brushes in their trunks and placing them artistically on the paper. The paintings were truly remarkable. Such paintings would otherwise be difficult for most of the men and women around. These brainy elephants managed to complete the painting the T-shirts with oil paint so efficiently that the owners of the show we easily able to make some money out of these elephant-painted T-shirts. The was a corner beside the show arena where they sold these T-shirts at premium rates.
A Warm Welcome by the Elephants
Another thrilling part of the show was asking the volunteers amongst the crowd to lay on the ground and few of these elephants enacting to crush them up. Well, this really does not sound funny but this rather blew up my mind. Interestingly, there were few crazy volunteers who came forward and bravely laid down with full faith and confidence on these super mighty animals. It was real scary to watch them walking over the human volunteers, intermittently holding their one leg up over the chest of the volunteer. These elephants were smart enough to play the game, ensuring none of their guests get injured, rather getting killed.

This show left an everlasting impression on my mind about this species of mammals. Elephants indeed are thoughtful animals. Lord Ganesha is hence idolized not only in India but also across Thailand and other parts of Asia and the world. The elephant god stands as an epitome of wisdom and knowledge.  

'Pani-Puri' and the Visit to Mauritius

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It was not too difficult for me to establish a friendly relationship with Asim, my chauffeur during my business visits to Mauritius. With his honest and friendly nature, it was too easy for me to mingle with him in conversations which helped me to explore the new country, its culture, places, landmarks and his personal life too. He was a man who was born in Mauritius, stayed for his entire life on this island and humbly stated, “I have never ever traveled outside Mauritius”. He lived with his wife and a two year old daughter who shared similar past. It was a wonderful experience for me to get to know his family during one of my visits to this island. The family spoke the local language Creole. French is widely spoken across Mauritius for official and casual purposes.

I got to know more about Asim and his family when they joined us during our sightseeing tour one fine Sunday morning. Just like most of the other Mauritian locals, the couple were a great fan of the Bollywood movies. More importantly, Salmaan Khan. Asim’s wife proudly flaunted her experiences when she publicly kissed the actor while he was on a shoot in Mauritius. It was then when I complimented Asim for being such an open hearted husband. Why should I feel bad about she kissing Salmaan, he said as he reiterated that he himself is Salmaan’s greatest fan. This couple indeed depicted the simplicity and innocence of an unadulterated human mind living on a beautiful island. Movies was one of the biggest topic amongst the family even at home.

One of the questions which Asim asked me during most of our conversations really touched me. “How does it look in India?”, he asked as he stared at me for a satisfying answer in return. I was unable to understand his question in the first shot. “Does everything in India seem the way it seems in Mauritius?”, he asked as he clarified his earlier question. Well, it took a bit of time and explanation for me to make him realize that Indian cities are bigger than Port Louis and more polluted and corrupted than his innocent mind. Everything else looks the same, the sun, the cars, the buildings, the trees and the sky too, I tried to explain him in better words. I invited him to India and offered him to stay at my place if he ever planned to visit. But, it seemed like a dream to him, a dream of which a poor chauffeur like him was unsure of its realization. “Yes, I will”, he mumbled.

That Sunday, when I was about to get dropped at the Guest House where I was resided, I heard Asim’s wife and Asim murmuring something amongst themselves. I was about to travel back to India the other day and Asim was pretty much aware that I was scheduled to travel back to Port Louis a week later. Probably, he had shared this information with his wife too. I realized that there was something Asim’s wife was trying to instruct him on. When I interrogated, Asim opened up. “Can you please get Pani-Puri for us from India?”, he asked hesitantly. We have watched Bollywood actresses craving for it in the movies. We really wonder how it really tastes there in India. I was flabbergasted by their simplicity. Spontaneously I promised them that I will bring it next week.

Carrying a bunch of Pani-Puri without breaking them in the check-in baggage was quite a challenge. I was not sure if carrying a water bottle filled with the sweet and spicy Pani (water) was a good idea. I must thank my smart wife who suggested me to carry the water concentrate which gave the same effect. It was too difficult for me to resist carrying a few other Indian sweets which would really amaze Asim and his wife.

It was such a wonderful feeling when I handed over the Pani-puri to Asim during my next visit to Port Louis. He was very much amazed to see me keeping my promise. “My wife will be very happy to taste this!”, he spoke as he was overwhelmed. When I started back to India after the business visit was over, Asim came to drop me at the airport. This time he was with his wife and little daughter. Initially, I thought that they were just along but later Asim clarified that they had been with him to accompany me to the airport.

“Hi, Good Uncle”, said the three year old as she smiled at me.

Aapki wajah se mera barson ka Pani-Puri khane ka sapna poora hua”, Asim’s wife said as she thanked me from the bottom of her heart. I had never imagined that eating Pani-Puri, for someone in Mauritius, would be such a big dream. I was mesmerized by the impact I had unknowingly left on their minds.

“We have come just to see you off to the airport and we are not sure if we could ever meet  you again”, Asim’s wife said as she handed over a soft toy to me. “This is for your little baby!”, she said. I accepted the gift after she insisted. I left the island for one last time with a very heavy heart. 

Asim and his family

A Majestic View from the Alexandra Falls Viewpoint

Experiencing the Reign of the Peshwa Rulers at Modern Pune, Maharashtra

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The fortified palace of Shaniwar Wada that once stood strong is today just a remains
This travel experience of mine will only suit to those travelers who prefer walking across the busy streets, exploring the feelings amongst the messy Pune localities and across the chaotic city traffic. Certainly, walking is the best option when it comes to travelling along the over crowded city streets and randomly moving traffic. Amongst the busy urban chaos, lies the proud and magnificent Shaniwar Wada. It was the fifth day of September, a holiday and the first day of the Ganesh festival here at Pune. I headed from Hadapsar with a Rs. 20/- bus ticket to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) bus station. I had been an occasional traveler of the Pune Municipal Transport (PMT) buses but today’s journey was different. The difference as I could make out on the streets which were filled with Lord Ganesh processions and local bands dressed in Puneri attire, noisy yet filled with devotion and fun. The local city buses are most of the times overcrowded and not neatly maintained. This makes the journey more dis-comfortable especially if you board a crowded bus. Ensure that you board a bus where you could grab a seat and remain seated until your destination arrives. Another reason why I prefer travelling through these city buses is to avoid the pain of driving your own vehicle amongst the city traffic and more importantly, outsourcing the pain of finding the parking space.

The pathway from within the palace to the fortified wall which even today stands firm 

The Shaniwar Wada, built in 1732 CE is one of the greatest identity of modern Pune which embarks the glorious past of the Peshwas, the rulers of the Maratha empire in 18th century. The monument today stands still despite the trauma it has suffered in the past. The palace was constructed by Bajirao I in the 1730. One of the buildings in the Shaniwar Wada was 7 storied. There is a story told about why this place was chosen for the construction. The Thorale (Elder) Bajirao once saw a rabbit chasing a dog at this place. Inspired from this Shaniwar Wada was built, a place which would never see defeat. It used to be the headquarters of the Peshwas and it symbolizes Pune's culture even today. Looking at the construction one understands how the structure was built giving highest priority to the security. The main entrance is known as 'Delhi Darwaja', others have named like Ganesh, Mastani, Jambhal, Khidki. There is a statue of Bajijrao I riding a horse in front of Shaniwar Wada. This statue is prominently seen from the main street as well. Inside the Shaniwar Wada, one can see the Ganesh Mahal, Rang Mahal, Aarsa (Mirror) Mahal, Hasti Dant (Elephant Tusk) Mahal, Diwan Khana, Fountains. Currently renovated and also have a light & music show. The main part left is Nagarkhana which gives glorious inside view. This is an expansive palace with its impressive fountains and gardens. The palace was the seat of the Peshwa power which was later destroyed by a fire in 1828. Today’s remains of this great monument are the walls that fortified this palace, with their sturdy doors, studded with spikes for added protection. Nearby is a street where the Peshwas unleashed elephants to trample dissidents to death. This palace is today managed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the tourist visiting hours are between 8 am to 5 pm. I had visited the Shaniwar Wada earlier at an entry fee of Rs. 5/- but now the visit fees have been increased to Rs. 15/- and that made my total spend for the day to Rs. 35/-. Kids below the age of fourteen are allowed free of cost.

The visit to the historic Shaniwar Wada brought be closer to the era of the Peshwas. Reading through information scribbled about the palace, it really brought be closer to these historic men and women. I spent some time at the Mastani Darwaza (door) which was the door meant for the beautiful second wife of the Bajirao Peshwa I. My thoughts wandered and imaginations went on and on. It was a divine feeling to experience standing on the land where these rulers of the past once stood and stayed. 
View of the Bajirao I Statue from the Delhi Darwaza depicting the glorious history of the Peshwas
Opposite to the Shaniwar Wada, there stands the Lal Mahal which is worth a visit too. At a two minute walking distance from Shaniwar Wada, there is this famous Ganesh Temple - Dagdu Sheth Halwaai Temple which was buzzing with bands, crackers and horns of the passing vehicles. But this temple never ceases to provide peace to every devotee, every passer by. After this closer look into the history of the Peshwas, I decided to head towards the deeper dive and decided to walk towards the Parvati, hill temple. I headed towards the Bajirao Road which starts from the Shaniwar Wada and ends at the Saras Baug (Saras Garden). The Peshwas and developed several gardens across the city of Pune and the Saras Baug is one of the prominent ones. While walking on the Bajirao Road, I decided to grab a quick sugarcane juice at the Shanipar joint. I ordered a one large glass of sugarcane juice costing Rs. 20/- which was enough to provide me enough glucose to rejuvenate me to walk a few more miles. Then I headed towards the Tulsi baug, off the Bajirao Road which is a place known for one of the famous Ganesha in Pune and busy shops for ladies and kids. The whole atmosphere was filled with the devotion towards this Great God of Knowledge and the remover of all obstacles.

Later, I spent some time at the Saras Baug. Watching the fish inside the beautiful pond in this garden is a very serene experience. There is a beautiful Ganesh temple right in the center of the garden. Beside the temple there is a small museum which has a beautiful collection of various antique Ganesh Idols. This museum has no entry fee. 

Reaching the top of the Parvati Temple from Saras Baug was a bit tiring experience. I managed to reach the Parvati temple without a halt which gave me a sense of accomplishment but really made me feel hungry. To my amazement there was a small canteen on the top of the Parvati temple which came to my rescue. I grabbed a couple of Wada Paav (famous Indian Burger - Rs. 12 each) and a bottle of water - Rs. 20/- which made my spending for the day to Rs. 99/-

Besides the Parvati temple, there is a beautiful Peshwa Museum. This palace where this museum is built in was originally built by Shrimant Peshwa in 1795 CE. Part of the same has been converted into Peshwa Museum. Being a lover of antiques and being a numismatist myself, I visit this museum every time I visit Parvati temple. It is a great collection of Peshwa Paintings, old coins, weapons, toys, clothes, utensils and documents. The entry fee to this museum is presently, Rs. 10/- per adult. Near the museum is situated the Samadhi Sthaan of Shrimant Nanasaheb Peshwa, who died here due to the intense grief experienced by him when his son Vishwasrao  and elder brother Bhausaheb lost their lives in the historic war of Panipat. The Peshwa Museum has been built using part of the Peshwa's Mansion, using many old carved wooden pieces and displays a collection of items belonging to the Peshwa Era. The museum contains paintings of all Peshwas, Maratha Sardars, their family members along with the arms, articles and coins which were in use in Peshwa era. The entire palace of Sardar Bhuskute of Burahanpur (M.P.) has been installed in the museum. The rare collection is displayed in the museum and hence treated to be the most important museum connected with the history of Pune and Peshwa Raj. Samadhi Sthan of Shrimant Nanasaheb Peshwa is now renovated and converted into sabha mandap where the paintings relating to various battles fought by Marathas are on display. Some of the beautiful paintings of Peshwas are also displayed in the hall. 

The Majestic Matheran, Raigad Is a Perfect Weekend Destination

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A Majestic View from the Alexander Point in Matheran
In city life we stay & travel in cement jungle. We can not experience true nature and its love. We always think for go to outstation to relax, to stay from busy & hectic life. But it’s not always possible to get away from city within two-three days of time. Where Matheran is really such amazing place where nature is playing active role with you and where you can enjoy every breath with nature within in the weekend time.

Matheran is a most famous and coolest Hill Station situated in Karjat Tahsil, Raigad District of Maharashtra, India. Matheran is the smallest hill station of India. It is located on the range of Western Ghats at height of 800 m (2625 Feet) above sea level. The name Matheran means either ‘Forest on Top’ or ‘Woodland overhead’. 

Matheran is located around 90 km from Mumbai, 120 km from Pune and about 320 km from Surat. 

Matheran is awesome place for to spend weekend.     

A local Matheran Villager heading back home
Matheran as a Hill Station was discovered by a British, Mr. Huge Mallet, the then Collector of Thane, in 1850.

Matheran is an eco-sensitive region, declared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. It is one of the few places in the world where vehicles are not allowed, which makes the place different from others. Matheran takes you over a hundred years back in time when there were no vehicles. Because of vehicles being banned in Matheran, the place is quite peaceful despite the thousands of lakhs coming to visit throughout the year.

There are lots of lookout points that provide spectacular views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Matheran has a reasonably dense forest cover.

There are around 38 designated look-out points in Matheran, including the Panorma Point that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding area and also the Neral town. From this point, the view of sunset and sunrise is breathtaking. The Louisa Point offers crystal clear view of the Prabal Fort. The other points are the One Tree Hill Point, Hart Point, Monkey Point, Porcupine Point, Rambgh Point, and more.

Matheran was discovered by Hugh Poyntz Malet, the then district collector of Thane district in May 1850. Lord Elphinstone, the then Governor of Bombay laid the foundations of the development as a future hill station. The British developed Matheran as a popular resort to beat the summer heat in the region.
Matheran is connected to the town of Neral which lies at the base of the hills. A tar road connects Neral to Dasturi Naka which is 9 km (5.8 miles) from Matheran. In order to maintain Matheran's uniqueness,no vehicles are allowed beyond this point. The other mode of transport is a 2 ft  (610 mm) gauge narrow gauge railway, which links the town to Neral. Neral also has a broad gauge station which is on the busy Mumbai-Pune route. Neral is well connected by railway line with Karjat being the nearest Junction. The Matheran Hill Railway was built in 1907 by Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy and covers a distance of 20 km (12.4 miles), over large swathes of forest territory. The Matheran hill railway had been inspected by UNESCO world heritage site officials in the last week of October 2009. The official declaration of its status as UNESCO world heritage site like other hill railways of India like Kalka-Shimla, Darjeeling hill railway & Nilgiri mountain railway will be declared by July 2010. The railway officials are very hopeful of getting the UNESCO world heritage status from the views expressed by the inspecting officials. The heritage status will boost the tourist activities in the area.
In the floods of July 2005, around 70% of the railway lines were damaged and did not reopen until April 2007 after repairs at a cost of Rs 2-2.5 crore.
Matheran has been declared an ecosensitive region by the Union Environment Ministry and can be called a Health Sanatorium in itself. The only form of automobile allowed in Matheran is an ambulance operated by the Municipality. No private automobiles are allowed. Within Matheran transport facilities available are horses and hand-pulled rickshaws.
Matheran is one of the popular getaway for people from Mumbai and Pune, it is a quiet hill station located on the Sahyadri range. Matheran, Meaning 'forest on top', was discovered in 1850, by a district collector of Thane, Hugh Poyntz Malet, and the foundations for its development was laid down by Lord Elphinstone, the then Governor of Mumbai. Matheran has been listed by the Union Environment Ministry as an eco-sensitive region and is connected to the closest town of Neral by a narrow gauge railway, operating since 1907. As no vehicles are allowed in Matheran, one has to drive up to Dasturi Point, 11 km ahead of Matheran, from where you could reach the main bazaar either by foot or on pony.
Matheran lies in an elevated region, enjoys a cooler and less humid climate which makes it popular during the summer months. Temperatures range from 32 °C (90 °F) to 16 °C (61 °F). Matheran has a huge number of medicinal plants and herbs. The town also has a large monkey population, including Bonnet Macaques and Hanuman Langurs. The nearby Lake Charlotte is the main source of Matheran's drinking water.
Languages spoken include Marathi, Hindi, and English. There are a lot of Parsi bungalows. Beautiful old British-style architecture is preserved in Matheran. The roads are not metalled and are made of red laterite earth. There are many "points" (viewpoints) in Matheran which give a panoramic view of the plains below. On clear nights, the lights of Mumbai are claimed to be visible.

The Baal Dhamaal Experience Made Me A Better Parent

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The Sunday of January 10, 2016 was a big day for me and the school students of the various Government Schools of Pune who participated in the unique event called “Baal Dhamaal” organized by the Indian Sponsorship Committee (ISC). The committee has been arranging this event for several years for now. My participation as volunteer in this event has taught me newer lessons of Humanity and a better sense of Parenting our kids. With nearly 650 kids participating from the age groups ranging from six to fourteen years, the event seemed like a herculean task without the support of the Volunteers who volunteered from several Corporates in Pune viz. Zensar Technologies, AXA, Tech Mahindra and Symbiosis . This was my first activity being a Zensar volunteer and as an active member of our Corporate Social Responsibility team. Undoubtedly, after this day long event I walked away as a different, changed and a very improved person. What a way to start the year!

Zensar has been consistently providing financial and volunteer support to ISC for several years in order to arrange and execute this event. This year we had been looking after the kids of 9 and 11 years of age group. Specifically, I was looking after the 11 years group right since their buses off-boarded them at the venue, the Loyola School Grounds, Pashan. Almost all of these kids hailed from the economical weaker sections of the Society. Their parents toiled hard under the sun as laborers at the brick building workshops. The fact these poor parents managed to send their children to School was a great thing in itself. I was informed that during the past few years, these School kids participated in the Baal Dhamaal event, played games without footwear or shoes. This year, the main sponsor of the event had sponsored Sport Shoes for all the kids which was one of the best gifts a Corporate can donate in the context.

Inaugural Briefing at the Baal Dhamaal 2016
 Getting these kids off from their buses, after a long tiring journey from their respective schools was a very soothing experience. I noticed that most of the kids were not trained enough to tie a proper knot to their Shoe laces. A majority of these kids seemed like they had been wearing Sport Shoes for the very first time in their life. It was a touchy experience. After we welcomed the kids and their Class teachers in the every bus that reported to the ground, we provided them with brief instructions to ensure that they do not step on each others’ shoes. Verifying and tying knots on the shoes of these little ones was another great experience. This kind of volunteering really made us build a chemistry amongst these kids. Such an exhilarating welcome really made the kids harmonious with us - the Zensar Volunteers.

Zensar Volunteers for Baal Dhamaal 2016
After the breakfast and inaugural speech, the kids were really excited to exibit their spirit of Sportsmanship with the games that we had arranged for them. The day continued on the sunny playground and we managed to conclude the toughtest task for the day – finalizing the list of winners. With all the energy these kids brought up on the table, it was a very difficult task to choose only a few winners. But, this is what the spirit of Sportsmanship is all about, isn’t it? The kids had a great learning and their faces were filled with delight which spoke it all.

Drenched in the same color
After the lunch and prize distribution ceremony, it was hard to bid a good bye to these awesome little kids. A few of these kids managed to build up a very special bonding with me and several other volunteers. I am sure they would remember me for a few days as an “Uncle” who served me food, a “Sir” who took us to the toilet and brought us back to the group or as that “someone” who tied up their shoe lace. Whether or not these kids would remember me, I am sure to remember this act of humanity for the rest of my life.

Delhi's Street Food | Parathe Wali Gali

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The North Indian Food has been an identity of India for ages and nothing can beat the taste of Delhi's street food. Delhi's Parathe Wali Gali viz. Delhi's Paratha Avenue in Chandani Chowk has been serving hungry food loving souls for decades or probably centuries. This place is situated right besides the Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib in Delhi. I traveled explicitly to this place from the New Delhi Railway Station by a local taxi. 

Parathe Wali Gali
A Paratha is essentially made of whole wheat flour and traditionally stuffed with vegetables like Potatoes, Paneer (a milk product), Vegetables viz. Raddish, Methi etc. Apart from the traditional flavors of Parathas, in modern days, there are more than 20 varieties of Parathas available here. The prominent ones being the Kaju (Cashew) Paratha, Chilli Paratha and Papad Paratha. 

The Kaju (Cashew) Paratha
Parathas are traditionally served with sabji (vegetable curry) or curd (yogurt). Other servings accompanied with Parathas may include sweet tamarind chutney, mint chutney, mixed vegetable pickle, paneer and potato curry, potato and fenugreek curry, and a sauteed mash of sweet pumpkin. The curry essentially consists of vegetables such as muttar (green peas), Aaloo (potatoes) and so on. The banana chutney which was served to us added to our amazement. 

Curries Accompanying The Parathas
Kulchas, a type of leavened bread are similar to Parathas but the main ingredient in it being Maida (fine wheat flour). In the state of Punjab it is also known as Amritsari Naan. The Parathe Wali Gali served us a delicious dish of butter filled Kulchas with Boondi Raita (Yogurd Dish) and Curries.

A Kulcha Dish with Boondi Raita, Choley Sabji and Paneer Curry
Although the place is known for Parathas, it was amazing to see several other delicacies served here. The Raj Kachori is something that really caught my attention. The mouth watering huge Kachori looking like the famous Pani Puri (Golgappa) but had a huge diameter. It was stuffed with traditional chat ingredients, curd, sabji, slices of potatoes, sweet sauce etc. 

The Raj Kachori
Rabri was another notable dish I really enjoyed at the Parathe Wali Gali. This dish made from milk is not for the calorie cautious or a weak hearted. Rabri is a famous North Indian sweet dish made with dahi / curd (yogurt), flour, and a combination of bajra floor. Flour of Pearl millet (Bajri) is mixed with buttermilk to make a thick sauce which is kept in the sun to ferment. After about 3 to 4 hours, it is cooked by boiling until the flour is cooked properly.

The Parathe Wali Gali has been well-known for serving old traditional vegetarian food since long. Some of the shops here are as old as a couple of centuries. The owners of these shops are mainly Brahmins by caste and do not use Onion and Garlic in the food they prepare and sell. This may be an added motivation to Jain families who prefer a confined and very picky vegetarian food. 

Grand Himalayan Adventure At The Bagini Glacier, Uttarakhand, India

There is a thin line of separation between adventure and craziness and a real vagabond and a good trekker knows this limit. The thrill lies in knowing this boundary yet attempting to test one’s limits thereby redefining this line of separation resulting in expansion of one’s adventurous space. Our trek to the Bagini Glacier in the Uttarakhand region of India was indeed one such experience. The summit was hosted by Grand Adventures India in May 2015 and was led by Rajender Singh (Raju), the Managing Director of Grand Adventures India. The 12 day event was an amalgam of fun, adventure and wilderness.

Towards The Bagini Glacier With Mr. Rajender Singh
The Bagini Glacier trek was approximately 8 day event which included travel from Haridwar to Jyotirmath (lately Joshimath), Joshimath to Bagini Glacier via. halts/camps at Jumma, Ruing and Dronagiri villages and back to Haridwar via Joshimath. The 12 day of expedition includes rail travel from Mumbai to Haridwar via. New Delhi. There are several rail and road options available to reach Haridwar from New Delhi and back. Several trek organizers provide packages from Haridwar to Haridwar. Our decision to trek with the ever enthusiastic team of Grand Adventures led by Raju undoubtedly turned out to be the best decision. Our excursion team included a team of 8 novice trekkers, 2 cooks, 4 helpers and 6 mules to carry our material and supplies.  

Journey from Haridwar to Jyotirmath (Joshimath), Uttarakhand

Although the journey towards Haridwar was a long and tiring one, the mesmerizing view of the mountains and the curvy roads kept us awake and alert. This 9 hour journey made us realize that we were actually traversing through the land chosen by the Gods. We felt the sense of accomplishment as we crossed each milestone of our this journey viz. Rushikesh, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Karnaprayag, Devprayag, Pipalkoti etc. Watching several small teams queuing for river rafting at the river in Rushikesh was a beautiful experience. All these small towns were well established across the river flowing down from the various Himalayan peaks and we were quite aware of the fact that reaching Joshimath would be just the beginning of our adventurous climb of the Gadvaal Himalayan ranges.

Jyotirmath got it’s modern name viz. Joshimath from the Indian Army men. This is the last town where you could buy supplies and equipments needed for your trek. Joshimath is believed to be amongst the 4 major maths (institutions of religious teachings) established by Adi Shankaracharya. During my course of stay at Joshimath, I visited the Jyotirmath and witnessed that sanctity of the Kalpavriksha (Immortal Tree) where Adi Shankaracharya is believed to achieve enlightenment. The math today is a home for few Sadhus who take care of an ancient Shankaracharya seat with a deer skin on it. We met one of the Sadhus who encouraged us to donate something for the ashram. Later, we also had a chance to visit the Lord Narsimha temple which is just a 10 minutes walk from the Jyotirmath.

We reached Joshimath early evening and rested at the Birla Guest House, inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1960. The place was one of its kind with a majestic view of the snow capped mountains and various species of flowers waiting to welcome every visitor of the place. After almost 10 hour of our journey, a place like Birla Guest house was all that we longed for to have a hot water bath and a good night’s sleep.

Joshimath to Ruing Village (via. Jumma)

The very next day was the first day of our trek and we started early morning at 7 o’ clock after a quick breakfast and a clean bath. We knew that this would be the only proper bath we could have for another 6 days. The earlier night we spend few hours in buying small yet crucial things that we would need for our trek at Joshimath. The most crucial amongst them was a battery operated torch. We were about to reach a place which was not trespassed by the urban dirt – the place that lacked even basic amenities like electricity.

Joshimath to Jumma village is approx. 45 kms. travel by road. We took a couple of gypsy vehicles that carried our food supplies, clothes, tents, sleeping bags and cooking equipments. I am grateful to our 6 mules who selflessly accompanied us all throught our trek. Their owners, however charged us Rs. 200/- per day for each extra bag. The road to reach Jumma is well built by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) except a few patches that may need some repairs. After reaching Jumma, each one of us got equipped with their shoes, walking sticks and much required high spirits and will power.

Towards Ruing Village: Crossing the Iron Bridge at Jumma Village
The journey from Jumma to Ruing village begins by crossing a big metallic bridge built across the river Bhagirathi (Ganga). The sheer view of this bridge was so adventurous that it was enough to give us a glimpse of the kind of time we were going to have in the next few days. The winds blowing across the bridge was so powerful that it could have easily swept away a toddler if he had attempted to cross it. With much effort and calmness of mind, each one of us was successful to cross this bridge which marked our first accomplishment.

Camping At The Ruing

Jumma bridge adventure was just the beginning and reaching Ruing village was a 3 kms. trek – a steady climb over the mountain offering serene view of the mountains over the horizons. It was 11 o’ clock in the morning and the walk was rather sweaty but was enough to warm up our bodies.

A Breathtaking View from the Ruing Village Camp
Reaching Ruing was one of the memorable experiences we had. Although Ruing was our first camp site, it was the most beautiful places we camped right in the heart of the snow capped mountains, on lush green lawns.

At Ruing: Is That Just a Ray Of Light Or The God Himself!
We had never expected such a beautiful plain grass land to camp amidst the mountains. The glorious view of Mother Nature, the mountains, the sky wide open and the coniferous trees and the cool breeze blowing from the Himalayas was enough to make us fall in love with Ruing.

With The Local Kids Of The Ruing Village
Ruing To Dronagiri Village - 11,800 feet

The next day we got up early and headed towards Dronagiri. The mountain of Dronagiri has a Hindu mythological significance. It is believed that Lord Hanumana, in search of a herb called Sanjeevini Booti, chop lifted the Dronagiri mountain in order to save the life of Lord Laxmana. It is believed that this act of Hanumana was not welcome by the then villagers of Dronagiri and that they even do not pronounce his name after this ancient event. I personally had a word with a couple of Dronagiri villagers and learnt that they have a firm belief in Hanumana and they are not happy with his act. The villagers showed me a cliff they all venerate till date as a mark of respect to Dronagiri Mountain. Although the mountain is far off from the actual village, this cliff which is venerated is an epitome of the Dronagiri Mountain. The actual Dronagiri Mountain is covered by snow since ages and the snow it is wearing dates back to centuries. After a careful glare of the Dronagiri Mountain, it was rather difficult to figure out which part of the mountain was actually chopped off by the Monkey God Hanumana. Amidst such mythological beliefs, most modern people find it interesting to hear such stories and get entertained.

Moving ahead from Dronagiri was another 9 kms. of trekking experience. It was Day 2 of our excursion and we were exhausted after we reached the village of Dronagiri. This trek spanned every aspect of trekking we had every imagined. Walking through rain forests, waterfalls amidst the Mountains, crossing the deepest valleys, crossing risky landslides on the Mountains, walking over uneven and slippery pavements was very much common by now.

The Most Challenging Patch (landslide) At Dronagiri
The riskiest part of the 9 kms. long trek was the patch with landslide. Any uncalculated step would have landed us more than 200 feet down the valley. This patch was landslide prone and any daily attempts by the Public Works Department (PWD) proved futile to fix the path. This was a real challenge esp. for a first time trekker. The fact that there was no other option than to cross the patch gave the push to each one of us. The sense of accomplishment and grand feeling of achievement after overcoming this hurdle cannot be penned down literally.

A Sense of Accomplishment Engulfed Us As We Headed Towards Dronagiri
I could feel the agony and ecstasy on my wife Priya’s face after She successfully completed this hurdle. Being a first time trekker, She certainly deserved due appreciation.

Camping At The Dronagiri - 11,844 feet

Temperature dropped steeply as we moved and gradually climbed our way. Our next camp was Dronagiri. In the month of May, when the rest of the country is quibbling over the soaring heat, we had started adjusting our bodies with the temperature falls and high altitude sickness.

The village of Dronagiri seemed like a deserted village. It was a home for approximately 50-60 families but most of them had left the village to other places. The villagers here stayed for 6 months of the year and after the onset of the rainy season they stay at other places in Chamoli District.

“What under the sun makes you feel come here?”, I was interrogated by a curious villager.

She stated that Dronagiri was her in-laws place and that She had no choice than to stay in the village. The village lacked basic amenities of power supply, transportation, medical facilities and good schools. It is tough to build these facilities over a Mountain this high. I was speechless and was not able to answer her question. Probably, it was an irony that people who enjoy all such amenities feel like visiting such remote places in the name of camping. I was intrigued by the simplicity of the people living here and their generosity when they offered us tea and rice. It was so tough to get food supplies here and a good trekker would never want to steal away their supplies, I thought. The villagers here grew food esp. Rajma and Potatoes for themselves. Step farming was a common mechanism and most of the farmers grew food for themselves and the surplus, if any was sold away. We unanimously found the villagers here to be very friendly and sincere. Thankfully, the urban corruption was far away from their minds and souls.

The Dronagiri Villagers I Spoke With!
We were tired to the extent of falling dead after we reached the Dronagiri camp. A two hour afternoon sleep was much needed to rejuvenate us back in action for the next day adventure. It was end of Day 3 of our camping and the journey was enthralling so far. Nights were very chilly; our lips had already started cracking and our skins had begun tanning.

Majestic View Of The Valley On The Way From Dronagiri To Bagini 
Dronagiri To Bagini Glacier Base Camp – 14,800 feet

The Bagini Glacier Base Camp was our final camp destination. We reached here from Dronagiri the very next morning after a 5 hour long trek. The Bagini camp was right in the middle of the river Bhagirathi (Ganga). 

The Bagini Glacier Excursion Team
The atmosphere here was filled with beautiful flowers, limestone deposits on the river bed and a majestic view of the snow capped mountains all around us. The beautiful glimpses of the wild deer added to the treat from the nature. The high altitude sickness had vanished by now and the cool breeze blowing from the Glacier was enchanting our minds. 

The Bagini Glacier
We camped at the Bagini Base Camp for 2 nights. The second day, we trekked towards the Bagini Glacier. It was summer time and the Glacier was constantly melting down to offer it’s pure water to the river downstream. Rainy season was fast approaching and it was time for the snow to get replenished. We witnessed the snowfall over the Mountain peaks intermittently. The weather changed drastically as we headed towards the Mountain Glacier. Climbing such a risky glacier was no child’s play. It is just then when a true adventurer has to spot the thin line between the thrill and the craze. The craze may lead a true mountaineer to the Summit and may also lead him below an Avalanche buried for years.

Looking Back: Success Is The Time To Review Our Past Mistakes

On The Road Towards The Aru Valley, Kashmir

Imagine when a Mom asks her little child to close his eyes and think of a fantasy world where nature flaunts it’s best imaginable view to you. Walking down the meadows of the Aru Valley at Jammu and Kashmir was exactly such an experience in this real world. A Vision as clear as a block of crystal, you could almost see everything in high definition almost until the horizon. The decision of visiting the Aru Valley was one of the best decisions we have made during our trip to Pahalgam last year.

A Moment of Joy At The Aru Valley
We started off early in the morning after a remarkable visit to the Betaab Valley and Chandanwadi which took around 4 hours for us. We had almost entire day to spend at Pahalgam. Hence, Instead of spending time at the hotel, we decided to head up to the Aru Valley. Every single inch of the distance we travelled to reach the Aru valley was photogenic and the landscapes that passed by almost took our breath away every single moment. The snowcapped mountains and the cool breeze was enchanting our minds and soul. Certainly, it is not an usual experience in India to see clear river waters flowing through the mountains beside the roads you are travelling on.

On our way towards the valley, we came across a wild life sanctuary and a short glimpse of the spotted deer gave us an opportunity to click our cameras. I wished that we could halt at every single meter of distance to capture the gorgeous beauty of the mother nature of Kashmir! The hilly roads were quite twisted and curved; quite enough to induce motion sickness for few of us. But, the scenic beauty itself was quite enough for us to forget every inconvenience that could have caused for us to reach the Aru Valley.

The Beautiful View Of The Aru Valley
Ponies waiting for tourists and local kids and men playing cricket amidst the beautiful mountains was a typical experience of the Aru Valley. I feel too powerless a writer devoid of words to describe the ultimate view I had after reaching there. Heaven on Earth, as someone has aptly tried to express this feeling is what I could like to second.