Raksha Bandhan for sisters!

Today is Raksha Bandhan in India, meaning it is a festival dedicated to brothers and sisters. It is the day when a sister ties a thread on her brother’s wrist and in turn the brother promises to protect her and care for her. As far as I can remember I have never tied a rakhi (the thread is called rakhi) on anyone’s wrist. My only cousin of the male variety lived in a different state and I never got into the habit of sending him any rakhi by post. I think my mother probably sent rakhi to him when I was younger but stopped it at some point. Today he lives in a different country and I consider it a good day if I can manage to have a 15 minute conversation with him without being at each other’s throat.

For me my elder sister has been everything…my brother, my mother, my friend and my protector! Who needs a brother when you have a sister standing strong by your side. Cheers to all those who have a strong sister standing by their side!

Our Moon has Blood Clots-Rahul Pandita

Image result for our moon has blood clots

This was not an easy book to read and it is certainly not easy to review. It isn’t a story which you read in your free time and forget about it. It is a personal memoir of the exile of Kashmiri Pandits-a Hindu minority in a Muslim majority Kashmir valley. It is the story of how systematically Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee their homes leaving everything behind, carrying with them only the hope that someday they will return back to their ancestral lands. In a matter of fact style, Rahul Pandita recounts the names of his pandit neighbors, family and friends who were forced to flee or killed or worse. It cannot have been easy to recount those terrifying days of childhood, but the author does it without any drama and fanfare. The recount of the cold January night in 1990 when the neighbourhood mosques start the anti-India and Azadi (freedom) slogans was terrifying to read. It is impossible to imagine the fear of the parents with 2 young children when they hear the mob outside their house shout out messages about turning Kashmir into Pakistan with the help of pandit women.

Ever line you read hits you, because these are not just random names you are reading on the page of a book; these are real people, names with faces who once had dreams and lives same as you; the lives that were snuffed or irrevocably changed in the name of religion and ethnic cleansing. No it is not an easy book to read, but it has to be read to realize that human beings are not really human. History has shown us that time and again, human beings will kill and maim each other at the slightest excuse. Sometimes for land, sometimes for god and sometimes for the power; the excuses change but the outcome doesn’t.

Like most refugees, the Pandits will also probably will never return back home; and if they do what will they return back to; terror and discrimination or peace?

Traveling times: Peru-Planning

Every major travel deserves a blog post, and a destination as good as Peru deserves several posts! I have decided to split the posts into planning and then actual travel/tourist places. In my mind, Machu Picchu deserves a separate post and I will try to do that one as well.

When I decided that I wanted to take a major vacation this year, I had no particular place or plan in my mind. I started talking to a friend I hadn’t seen in over 5 years about the general hum drum of life and on a whim we decided to go on a vacation together. The destination didn’t matter as long as we saw a new place and had a good time. We talked back and forth about various spots and I thought about my Machu Picchu dream. I figured this was as good a time as any to make this trip of a lifetime and if I didn’t make use of this opportunity, who knows when next would be a good time to go. Once the idea of Peru took root, it wouldn’t leave me alone and I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else! I convinced my friend that other destinations could happen later on, but Peru needed to happen now! I must admit it was not easy convincing someone to travel to South America with me, and Peru at that; not Brazil or Argentina, but Peru! I had to convince my parents, my friends and family that the travel would be safe and I will be cautious. My co-traveller and I had to almost cancel our trip twice before we were finally on our way to Lima.

But deciding on a place is just the first and the easiest step of the traveling, the logistical details were the major time consuming part of the planning. After deciding on Peru, our next step was to look through the visa application procedure, if the visa application seemed too detailed and required too much of documentation then we would have had to change our destination. But Peru tourist visa application was an absolute breeze; the major required documents are your round trip flight and hotel reservations, financial documents and itinerary. On enquiry with the Peruvian embassy we found that the visa application didn’t require any appointment, just showing up with your documents and passport; in case of any missing documents they just ask you to come back again with the documents.

But before our visa applications, we had to take some major decisions regarding travel dates and the places we wanted to visit within Peru. Since this was my first international trip with a friend, I decided to take a safe route and stick with touristy places. Initially I wanted to do Lima, Cusco, Amazon rainforest area, Nazca Lines, Paracas National Reserve and Puno. But doing these major spots would require at least 15-17 days of travel and I did not want to spend all my vacation days on one vacation, so we decided to do Lima, Cusco and Puno –all three cities in the southern region of Peru. Once we decided on the places, considering our required visa work, all major decisions such as traveling dates, international flight reservations, and hotel bookings had to be taken as soon as possible.

We booked American Airlines from LA to Lima with a layover in Miami. Most of the flights we saw had layovers in Mexico, Miami or Panama City, but since we did not want to do anymore visa work for other foreign city, we opted for the Miami layover flight. Our main consideration while booking the flight was that the flight had to reach Lima and leave from Lima during the day. We did not want to land in an unknown country late at night, and most of the flights from US were reaching Lima at awkward hours, but we managed to find one that suited our needs.

After flight bookings we started looking at hotels in Lima, Cusco and Puno. We divided the hotel search between us, so that each of us would have some bookings under our name during our visa applications. Again safety was our first and foremost consideration while looking for a hotel, cleanliness, and availability of taxi/shuttle services were close seconds. All our hotels were booked through hotel.com and we relied a lot on the reviews by other patrons. We also made sure to email the hotels individually to confirm airport/transportation center pickups/drop offs. We booked Casa Fanning and Manhattan Inn for Lima, Amaru Hostal for Cusco and Tierra Viva for Puno.

Just two weeks before our trip, we booked our domestic flights from LimaàCusco with Star Peru. The airport in the city of Juliaca is closest to Puno for domestic flights so we booked JuliacaàLima with LAN airlines. For transportation from CuscoàPuno we decided to do the 9 hour Inka Express rather than a flight, which I believe was one of our best decisions. So our travel was something like this: LimaàCuscoàMachu PicchuàCuscoàPunoàLima.

After conversations with a friend who was in Peru and some online research, we decided to book the inter-city tours after reaching the city. In summary, the main bookings completed from US before travel were: international flights, hotels, domestic flights, Inka Express and Machu Picchu tour.

After all these bookings, we couldn’t wait to begin our journey! Stay tuned for more posts on our travels and experiences!

Strangers once again


It is funny how sometimes you meet strangers and can just connect with them. And then sometimes the opposite also happens, the strangers who had become friends go back to being unknown strangers again. I have had experience with the latter when a best friend became a stranger and a ‘he who shall not be named!’
But life is strange and time is weird, it heals you even though you don’t want to be healed, and finally there comes a time when memories don’t hurt as much and you can smile and let the stranger go…

Traveling Times Again

My trip to Peru was a visit of a life time and in spite of some issues it was a fantastic one. I have had a bucket list of places that I have wanted to see since the longest time and Machu Picchu has been on that list for the past 8 years. The pyramids of Egypt were added to my bucket list even before I knew what a travel bucket list means! Hopefully I can check off Egypt soon too, but in the mean time I am savouring Machu Picchu through my pictures and my mental images.

I first saw the images of Machu Picchu some 7 years ago and that place had fascinated me from ever since. I am so delighted that seeing the actual complex did not dim my fascination one bit. Not just Machu Picchu, the places that I saw in Peru, from small villages and towns to the highly touristy MP, they were all fantastic. The people, the places, the vegetarian food….all superior, I just wish I could have seen everything…but since that is not possible, I am going to be satisfied with whatever I could see and tour.

I am not the kind of person who can do extended travel for months and spend weeks on road. For me seeing a new place and spending time out of my familiar place for 10-15 days is enough for a vacation. In spite of my love to see new places, I am a homebody and would always want a home base to come back to, which is why it is perfect to spend 10-11 days in a new country, seeing as much as I can is a perfect vacation for me. I also don’t believe in cramming every second of a trip with sightseeing and being all touristy…there has to be some downtime to appreciate and enjoy your surroundings. Though this trip was all go, go, go…I think I will try and schedule some downtime in my next trip.

The first tip I would give anyone who is looking to go anywhere, is to leave your assumptions at home on your way out. When I first decided to go to Peru, most people asked me, if there was anything else to see in Peru besides Machu Picchu and they assumed there wasn’t anything else so why was I going so far just to see that one spot! My reply to everyone was, of course there are other places to see and that I would know more once I do more research. Quite frankly, even in MP was the only spot to see in Peru, I would have still gone that far to see it. Any new place, new country or new state, is different…you are never going to enjoy it if you go there with pre-conceived notions. The idea is to go with an open mind and just take it all in, the good and the bad. Afterall, I can’t think of any place which doesn’t have bit of both, you just have to learn to accept it all.

I will be writing a more detailed post with my co-travelled on our itinerary through Peru soon. But until then this post will have to do!

Getting Hitched Attempts!

Since past 5 years or so my parents have been trying to arrange my marriage. By Indian standards, 5 years ago, I was at the “right marriageable age”, and today by those same standards, I am already old! The way the arranged marriage system works, is your parents give you details of some random stranger and ask you to talk to that guy, and then depending on the quality of those first initial conversations, things either move forward or come to a halt. After so many years of doing this, I have realized these guys can be divided into several categories: some love to talk and talk and talk without taking things in any direction, some who are in a serious hurry to get married and talk about kids in the first conversation, and some who talk to you because their parents are pushing them to talk. Sometimes I am myself in the last category, when I know I don’t want to talk to a person, but it is difficult to explain it to your parents why you don’t think this guy is worth your time!

But sometimes the guys seem decent on the paper and I do end up talking to them willingly, only to realize that they are usually talking to number of girls at one time and will suddenly disappear because they have hooked up with one of the several other girls they were talking to! Sometimes by some accidents of fate, I end up meeting these eligible bachelors. Lately my “dates” with these random strangers have gone from bad to worse and my life has become one hilarious event after another. I have decided to laugh to entertain everyone with this post because if you cannot laugh at yourself then life becomes overwhelming and difficult.

My latest attempt at meeting someone topped all my disastrous dates so far, in that I went to NYC to meet this person and he almost stood me up by coming in 2 hours late! The guy seemed good in the initial conversations so I decided to go and meet in person. But apparently he didn’t think I was important enough to warrant coming on time. Even after coming late, he kept on checking his cell phone and texting. The best part of this whole ordeal was the beautiful day I spent in NYC walking around Central Park, enjoying my company while I waited for the moron to make an appearance. So all in all it was a great day spent almost entirely by myself; with 9 hours of bus ride to meet someone for 2 hours!

Last month was yet another funny attempt at meeting a random someone. In a couple of chats, the guy seemed very immature and annoying. This guy-a complete random stranger-would argue with me over chats when I didn’t wish him good night and good morning. Since he was in Boston though, I couldn’t get out of meeting him and we agreed to have dinner at an Indian restaurant. Then when I met him, he spent the whole evening giving me creepy stares and telling me to honest with him. During the course of that disastrous dinner, he also informed about me looking skinnier in my pictures than I did in real life. Yet another Prince Charming….Yes, my life is full of them!

There was one guy who was actually quite interesting and who chatted with me on phone for couple of months and then hedged around when I asked about meeting up and ultimately told me he had found someone else.

There was one guy, who was some long lost relative of a family friend and was in Boston, so obviously I had to take time out and meet him otherwise I was going to disappoint everyone from here to Mumbai. Turns out, this guy didn’t like talking, every time I would talk his response would be a one liner and then “and what about you?” Yup, he was a talkative one!

There was another guy I talked with last year, who was very interesting and I had a very good time chatting with him, but he refused to talk on phone. I was so interested in him that I let that nonsense go on for quite a while, almost affecting my mental health in the process. Thankfully a close friend forced me to put an end to it.

One blog post and couple of paragraphs don’t do justice to my stories. But it suffices to say, this is a long drawn and difficult process for those who don’t conform to the societal rules. I have been told that I should not to seem too independent or too talkative; to not tell any guy that I drink, lest he think I am too fast; to not tell anyone that I work in cancer research field or someone might think I can’t have babies. The implication being that the only way anyone would like me is if I not reveal my personality at all.  The good part through this experience is that my parents have never forced me to compromise on issues important to me. Living within the Indian society while not conforming to its rules has been an ordeal I had never imagined myself having facing while growing up.