Sunday, November 28, 2010

Creepy Collections Management

Creepy Collections Story from yesterday.

Got a call in the morning telling me that my Tata photon broadband bill was due today.
I said - 'I am out today and I'll get it deposited on Monday.'  
The lady said, but then you will have to pay the overdue amount.
I said - 'Well thanks for rubbing it in, I understand. Its okay.' 
So she says - 'I can somebody to collect the payment, when will you be back'. 
I told her - 'In the evening.'
So she says - 'Okay, our guy will be there at 5 PM'. 

5 PM, I was still out, so got another call. 'Sir, are you back'. 
I told her - 'Nope, I am still out. I will get the bill deposited on Monday.' 
'Okay, Sir but the bill is due today'
I said - 'Hey - I understand that, I've paid all my bills on time. I don't have time today, I'll pay the overdue amount as well. Please stop bugging me, I am having lunch'
She says - 'I am sorry sir, but where are you having lunch?'
'At Nandos'
'Alright I will send somebody to collect the payment from there. Just give me the address' 

I gave the address, and said - 'I'll eat my lunch and leave'. I was in the center of Chandigarh, and Tata's office that I dealt with was in Mohali, a fair distance. Crazy lady - I thought. 
However - In 5 MINUTES there was a guy outside the restaurant ready to collect the payment.

I gave a cheque to be safe, and when the lady called again to confirm - I told her if we ever hire somebody for collections management, she'd be the first person we ask!

Monday, October 11, 2010

When do you trust ?

I need your feedback on something.

Today in the afternoon I got a call from "Shyam Sundar ", he identified himself as Batch of 99 EnTC pass-out from my college AIT, and asked me if I was in Mumbai. When I told him, I was not, he said he was stuck in Mumbai, his wallet had been stolen in the local train and his phone was not charged. He had just 30-40 rupees which he was using to call me because he thought I was in Mumbai.

He said he tried Pravab first, saying he used to be in NITI, but looks like he is no longer in Mumbai. I did have a batchmate named Pranab at AIT.

He asked me if I had an online account, and my instinctive reaction was to say “No”.

He sounded so disappointed, said he was stuck in Mumbai and it was raining heavily. He said he needed just about Rs. 1400 for an overnight bus to Bangalore from Mumbai.  I told him I have a friend who does, and he might be able to help.

He told me that he'd call me back - he would ask some passerby outside an ATM and give me his account details and then he would pay me back as soon as he reached Bangalore. He called me after 30 minutes and said he still had not found anybody as it was raining heavily.

He called me again after an hour saying he still had not found anybody outside this ATM and was going to try another ATM.

After that he did not call me.

Do any of you know this particular person from AIT?

My dad was around when I got one of these calls and he said its a scam. Actually he said it like this - IT IS A SCAM, son.

From the call and the urgency it didn't seem like one, but I am not too sure.

However, it was too convenient for this person to be a 1999 pass out, where as I joined college in 1999. What I do know is if this person had called back again, I might just have transferred the money. Am I really naive ?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What they don’t tell you about Surprise Parties in the Movies

We organized a surprise birthday party last night. The plan was simple – have a party at midnight (the typical, lights off, people hiding in the room, and SURPRISE… when the subject walks in). You have the picture, its in every movie, right ?

Let me tell you what they don’t tell you in the movie. Here’s what happened.

The party was going to be a shock as most of the participants were above 50, and it was well past their bed time.

It was 11.30 PM, I was the decoy, I kept the target(birthday girl - Chetna) busy while everybody else gathered in the drawing room. I am not really good at small talk, so I just spoke about technical things, and after 5 minutes I got pretty uncomfortable. Here I was, talking technology at 11.35 PM, for the first time, while her husband was getting ready(actually organizing things). No way, she is buying it – I was thinking.

And then there was a slight knock  on our door. I tried to ignore it, but there it was again, the slight knock. That knock in itself spoke out – hey I am a secret knock.

So I opened the door, and it was my dad. He didn’t know the location of the target and was coming to meet me. So here’s the first rule -

#1 Everybody needs to know the location of the target.

My dad looked at me, looked at Chetna, and then his expression was priceless. It was a combination of - “Oh Man!!!!!” and “I just woke up and suddenly I have all TV cameras on me and I am wearing just my pajamas”.  Plus his eyes were all red for being awake at 11.40 PM.

He was speechless.

The best I could come up with was - “Ah so you came to give me something … ”

He said - “Oh yeah, right”, and relaxed for a moment.

Then I looked at the watch, I don’t know why, and said - “At 11.40 PM….”

My dad had his expression back on. Chetna had burst into laughter at this point, so I kind of gave up and said - “I guess you got late at work”.

He said - “Oh yeah, right”.

The second rule

#2 Have a backup plan or line ready, in case you slip up

I didn’t know what to do next so I told Chetna, her husband was calling her. So she went to Kuldeep and asked - “Jivi told me that you called me?”

And he says blankly –“No I didn’t call you”

She was rolling with laughter at this point. Our stories were so un-coordinated.

The third rule -

Don’t forget you are in the middle of a secret operation, when under pressure

Though at this point she knew we were planning something, she didn’t really think everybody was in the house already. We had faked that we would go out.

Kuldeep kept one small light on in the drawing room, and we starting going out. Normally Chetna would always turn off the extra light, even if it meant us getting late for a train. Today she just missed it, and walked right past.

We all got outside and Kuldeep looked at me desperately somehow saying it all with his eyes - “Oh Man, she wouldn’t even turn off the light today”

Last Rule -

Don’t count on the target to do those little things, they do everyday, on their birthday

So he faked leaving a key. We went inside, found the key and he turned on another extra light.

Now when we pretended to leave, she said “let me turn that light off”

And then SURPRISE !!!! Happy Birthday!

For what its worth, she was still shocked :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

South Goa – Palolem, Patnem and Agonda (the beach shacks have come of age)

Palolem, Patnem and Agonda are beautiful beaches in South Goa. There aren’t any big hotels here (apart from the 5 star Lalit Intercontinental in Rajbag), so the beaches are comparatively less crowded and have a lot of scenic beauty. Every year the beach shacks are setup from scratch and dismantled during the monsoons! That probably explains why Palolem is often rated the most beautiful beach in India.


We had shortlisted a few places from Outlook Traveler, and Lonely Planet in south Goa – Cuba, Allessandra, Village Guest House, Sandy Feet, Ordo Sounsar, Bhakti Kutir, Dream Catcher, Ciaran’s Camp, White Sand, Sand and Waves and Agonda Paradise.


Agonda is supposedly less crowded compared to Palolem, so we went here first. We debated going to Agonda via the coastal road from Assolna (which Lonely Planet said was one of the most beautiful roads in Goa). However, considering our already long route from central Goa, we decided to go on the highway (NH17). The asses were definitely grateful the next morning that another couple of hours riding were avoided, and the ride on NH17 was delightful.

Agonda had a nice beach, with a lot of beach shacks but nothing stood out. Cuba was nice, and H20 looked nice as well. We highlighted these two on our list and proceeded to Palolem.

In hindsight, if all you are looking for is some peace by the beach, it can’t get any better than Agonda. If you want a little action – Palolem is better.



Palolem is a beautiful beach, we thought it was the prettiest beach in Goa. It has an island and a stream on one side, and a rocky bay on the other. It is crescent shaped with beautiful clear water and looked like a place right out of a dream. This is where the first 15 minutes of Bourne Supremacy were shot. It was a little crowded even though it was just about the end of season. The locals told us that there is hardly any place to step on the beach in December and January. Here in the end of March, it didn’t seem overwhelming.

There were two places here that were on the top of my list - Dreamcatcher, which is about 100 metres off from the beach, and on the side of a stream, and Ciaran’s camp.

Ciaran’s camp has the best reviews on TripAdvisor, and looked pretty good. We fell in love with Dreamcatcher though - it had something for everybody. Its laid back from the beach so you have your privacy, and the stream and the view of the island makes up for it. We stayed at the Honeymoon Suite, which has two floors including a balcony which overlooks the stream. The off season rate was just around Rs. 3500 per night, which is still expensive compared to the other beach shacks in Palolem which vary between 700 and 3000.

It was definitely one of the most romantic places I have ever seen. The only downside is that there is one huge bathroom, with a bathtub, on the ground floor, and the bedroom is on the first floor, so I burnt a lot of calories running up and down in the three days we stayed here. The stunning thing about this place is that it is dismantled every year and built up from scratch. I think they should make it a national heritage site based on that fact alone!

The restaurant is by the stream, overlooking the small hill and though I had a lot of restaurants on my list for Palolem, we were drawn back to it every day for its stunning views.



This is the honeymoon suite – this fantastic structure is built from scratch every year!



About Palolem From Wikipedia -

“The beach is featured as the Indian residence of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in the film The Bourne Supremacy (2004). The initial footage in the movie gives a good idea of the natural beauty of the beach - the distinctive tree covered rocks at one end (known locally as Monkey Island - to which tours are run) and beach shacks.”







A nice walk down from Palolem and passing Colomb on the way is the Patnem beach. It is less crowded than Palolem and people seeking more privacy throng here. Its a beautiful beach too and looked great for surfing.

The interesting thing about this beach is that there are hardly any Indians here. I guess Indians like staying in nice hotels, and I guess the heat wouldn’t be as inviting to most of us as it is to the Europeans.

The photograph below is from the beautiful Patnem beach


Here is a fantastic reference from Outlook Traveler about the beach shacks all over Goa – Small Vagator, Aswem, Morjim (All North Goa), Palolem, Agonda and Patnem. It has the rates and tariffs for each, though you will be able to negotiate your way a lot, from the website rates, during the off season.

Goa’s beach shacks come of age. Here are some - both posh and not - that made the grade this season.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

North Goa Restaurant Map – 1 (Baga, Calangute and Candolim)

Eating out in Goa can give somebody who has trouble making choices a head-ache. There are tens of thousands of restaurants, and standard of food varies widely. Considering the fact that an average vacation of 10 days would give you just about 20 restaurants to try – you have to be prepared to work hard and choose.

I generally look up Tripadvisor restaurant reviews, Lonely Planet and Times food guide – in addition to word of mouth. This is often a project in itself that has to be meticulously planned if you are a foodie like me.

Last time we were in Goa – we had the MapMyIndia GPS, Addresses from Restaurant websites and maps from Travel books to find our way to the restaurants. It felt like a tedious task considering we were always on a bike. So I made a note to self to make a Goa restaurants map. Here’s the first version for Candolim, Calangute and Baga.

Here are my favorites on a map –

Local Flavor

Souza Lobo, with its awesome sea food, right on Calangute beach is a local favorite. Be prepared to wait or go a little late or early. This is the place you want to try your Goan specialities like Xacuti, Cafreal and Vindaloo. Reviews

Britto’s on Baga beach for its atmosphere and sea food platters. There’s always a live band or Karaoke to keep you entertained while you wait for the food.

After Seven and East Meets West both have a wide variety of options in their main course

World Food

Tibetian Kitchen for its spicy as hell sauces. If you get a long waiting at Souza Lobo, this is an excellent alternative a few steps away. Try the momos.

Banyan Tree – This is a fantastic Thai restaurant inside the Taj Holiday Village Campus. The green curries and the salads were fantastic. 

Fine Dining

A Reverie for atmosphere and options on the menu that I always have trouble reading out loud.

Republic of NoodlesOne of the top 100 restaurants of Asia.

View North Goa Restaurants - 1 (Baga, Calangute, Candolim) in a larger map

Afternoon Snacks

You will find both these places open when all other restaurants are closed in the afternoons or early evening.

Infantaria is a great option with good food and Bebinca to die for. I have seen the locals get their cakes and pastries packed from here.

Cinnabar is right beside the Acron Arcade, has a variety of options from Burgers to Biryanis and Goan bread.


There’s the irresistible Cafe Chocolatti with its chocolate strawberry mousse and other fine pastries. Natural’s Ice- cream near the Calangute beach is awesome, as it is anywhere else in India. I can never have enough of Natural’s Coconut ice-cream. East Meets West and A Reverie have great deserts to follow the meals.


There are a couple of Cafe Coffee Day outlets, a Barista outlet in Calangute. There’s a Subway on the Baga road.


There are lots of options for vegetarians, but I’ve only tried one.

Sharanam GreenThis restaurant has more options for Vegetarians than I have seen anywhere in India. Worth checking out.

Here are some useful links if you are looking for more Vegetarian options


I have never been disappointed with any Shack I have eaten at – Pete’s Shack, St Anthony’s Shack,  Shining Star Beach Shack. It is impossible not to love the food with a gentle breeze,  looking out at the sea. There are other north Indian restaurants like – Indian Spice and Indian Kitchen which are good as well, if you want to go to a North Indian restaurant in Goa . We once tried the tandoori prawn at Indian Spice and loved it.

I have never had a chance to go to J & A’s Little Italy and Le Poisson Rouge, though I have read good things about them. They open only in the evening, and we were always at the beach in the evenings.

Did I miss any big ones ?

More Info -

Here is a nice list of restaurants : The hungry beach bum's guide to 25 of north Goa's best restaurants

Another nice summary list :

Tripadvisor Restaurant Reviews

Baga Restaurants :

Calangute Restaurants :

Candolim Restaurants :

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quarterdeck, Panaji – Naans with a View

Watching brightly lit floating casino boats on the Mandovi river, and the beautiful sky above, we didn’t mind the order taking too long. Quarterdeck offers the perfect spot to sit and decide the casino or cruise you want to go. Watching people drive into the passenger ferries with their cars, and hearing music from the evening cruises keeps you occupied.    

I will however, remember Quarterdeck for its Naans – the cheese naan (which had crispy, light brown, cheese), and the Kashmiri Naan – with almonds, cashews and other nuts finely grated and put on top. Ever since I have been ordering Cheese Naans at various restaurants, only to be disappointed every time. Most restaurant’s just stuff the naan with cottage cheese, unlike Quarterdeck which had this awesome crispy layer of cheese on top of the Naan.

The Chicken Xacuti and Cafreal were great too, but we couldn’t have enough of the Naans.

This was one of the only two restaurants in Goa which we visited twice in our month long stay(other being Au Reverie in North Goa), though mainly because its conveniently located by the river side, for all people going for a cruise. 


They have good North Indian food too, we saw a lot of people ordering the Kababs and Chinese food as well. Has a lot of seats so you wouldn’t have to wait - which is a big plus is you have been walking all day in Panaji. Oh, and there was a place to let the kids run loose with toys!

I’d go back there in a flash for the Naans watching the casino’s and the ferries tug along.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Viva Panjim, Goa – The perfect place for Goan Food


Set in an old Goan home, with its authentic Goan cuisine, and an award winning Chef, Viva Panjim was highly recommended. Lonely Planet, Outlook Traveler, Time Goa Guide and Tripadvisor sang its praises. This was one of the two places to go for Goan cuisine– the other being Longuinhos, which was a let down.

If the weather is good, I highly recommend walking to it from the Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. You get the feel of passing through an old world, beautiful and forgotten. The architecture and people will keep you interested in the 15 minute walk. See the story below to understand how outrageously helpful the people really are!

First, the restaurant. We sat down outside in the street, and experimented with our order. In addition to the Kingfish Curry and Rice, the Rawa Masala Fish, Chicken Stuffed Papad – we ordered Brinjal Chips! Brinjal Chips surprisingly, turned out be absolutely fantastic! The rest of the food was great too – though you might want to request them to make the food extra spicy if that’s how you like it. The foreigners outnumbered the Indians here – which explained the mild spices.

Eating on the street
Eating on the street








We had Bebinca for dessert, which was fantastic and beautiful as always. The chief chef Mrs Linda came outside to talk to us just when I was reading about her.

She said “I am so happy to see Indians coming home as well”, and looked like she meant it. We were the only Indians out of the 30 odd people eating there that afternoon.



Surprisingly, unlike other great restaurants in Goa, this one was very reasonably priced. So I kept a copy of the bill. The meal for two just cost us Rs 475. I hope to go back to Viva Panjim and try their Xacuti, Vindaloo and Sea Food Platter soon.

On our way back, we thought of picking some fruits for our walks. There was a small open shop with beautiful fresh fruits – strawberries, grapes, bananas and more, but empty. We waited for a few minutes and thought of walking away. Just then, there was this lady walking on the other side of the street who came up to us.

She said - “I will call the shopkeeper, you guys select the fruits”.

Perplexed at buying fruits from a shop from a passerby we hesitatingly started selecting fruits.

This lady then started calling out - “Is anybody here?”

A guy who was probably eating his lunch, looking at his hands dripping with rice and curry, came out and asked her what she wanted.

She said - “You have some customers - Is it okay if they buy stuff and leave the money here?”

He said-“Fine” and went back in to finish his lunch. She then said - “Oh I’ll have to disturb him again to ask him the price”. So here’s this guy, who doesn’t care what price his goods are sold, nothing is more important than lunch. And there’s this woman, who would go out of the way to help some tourists, in this heat. That’s Goa for you in a flash – there are people who take a 4 hour afternoon ‘siesta’ and people who would go out of their way to help you.

She then shouted again, asking him the price and then told us to keep 60 rupees in his shop. We did that and left, so did the woman! The guy didn’t bother to come out.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sher-e-Punjab – Panjim, Goa - What a surprise!



As my mouth waters remembering the extremely soft Paneer and Chicken Tikka with just the right amount of spices in every little bite, I marvel at how we were pretty sure about not going there.

Sher-e-Punjab, Panjim was listed as an “Our Pick” by Lonely Planet, Goa which generally put a restaurant to the top of our list. However, it didn’t make much sense eating Punjabi food in Goa. Viva Panjim with its popular Goan cuisine seemed like a better choice.

An Interesting house on Altinho Hill
An Interesting house on Altinho Hill








However, that particular day, as I was enjoying the walk down Altinho Hill, admiring the Portuguese architecture, Rubal was ready to kill and eat me, she was that hungry.  Her look when I stopped to click another picture made me believe her.

Looking forward to the beautiful walks – we had not hired a bike for our two days here. This meant a walk during the middle of the day in the sweltering heat and there weren’t any auto rickshaws or taxis on Altinho hill (at that time of the day).

The walk down Altinho Hill
The walk down Altinho Hill








As we reached to the base of the hill, we finally got a rickshaw, and I took out my list of restaurants and maps. I told the driver to take us to Viva Panjim or Horse Shoe, but he gave us a blank look.

Sensing Rubal’s frustration and worrying about being eaten alive, I asked him desperately – “Do you know any restaurant around here ?”

He said - “Sher-e-Punjab”, and grinned from ear to ear.

Outside Sher-e-Punjab Panjim
Outside Sher-e-Punjab Panjim

How often would you get a chance to recommend a Punjabi restaurant to a Punjabi in Goa ? I think we made his day when we said - Yes, take us there. Rubal finally smiled.

The restaurant was pretty full, which is always a good sign. The service was fast, and the food delicious. Rubal and I agreed that this was definitely the best Paneer Tikka we ever had. The chicken Tikka was great too and the rates very reasonable.

We left and ate Almond Rocher at the nearby Bread n More for desert.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Shararti Bhindi and Dancing Chana Baby!

In the movie French Kiss Meg Ryan says - “everybody loves their mother. Even people who hate their mothers love their mothers.”

This morning Rubal was chuckling reading a message from my Mom - “Shararti Bhindi, Dancing Chana Baby, Murg MatWala, Salad and lots of Love”. A few days back it was “Egg on Toast, Cheesy Chips, Salad, Shaky Mango, waiting” and “Mango Pulp, Watermelon Juice and more. See you at the same place”.

My mom who’s a teacher has her summer holidays, and she likes us to come home for lunch. In addition to admiring her new innovative recipes everyday, we crib about how it is difficult to come home everyday for lunch. So Mom sends these messages every day to make sure we don’t get lazy!

The significance of these messages can be understood by my Mom’s reluctance over the years to type messages on the phone. She has always sent us a small messages like -

  1. “God Bless you”
  2. “I love you”
  3. “I have holiday today.”

The third message being the most common, she sent it early in the mornings inviting us to come home for breakfast on her holidays. Most days the message came in good time as I get up pretty late, and you know how parents get up real early. A few times I noticed how the message came in pretty late – 12.30 AM, 1 AM – which was a shock considering my parents sleep pretty early.

So I asked my mom - “Hey why don’t to message me in the evening, why so late in the night”

She gave me that cheeky smile and said - “Well you see I have the “I have holiday today.” message saved on my phone, and I find it easier to forward it even if its late rather than type a new one!”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Best Cashew Nuts from Goa – Zantye’s Cashew Nuts, and Costa’s Bebinca

Goa is famous for its cashew in various forms, the roasted cashews are on the top of the list. Some might disagree, pointing to the Fenny though!

Although you can rarely go wrong with cashews, going for Zantye’s cashew nuts is a safe bet. I always try and bring back a few for friends and relatives. I asked around 4 locals from Goa – 2 taxi drivers, one shopkeeper and a restaurant owner and they all told me to go for Zantye’s when I asked about the best place to get cashew nuts. They have salted, masala, chat and pepper flavour among others.

I had to Google to find their outlets, you can find the one closest to you here - (• Calangute • Mapusa • Margao

• Panjim • Ponda • Vasco )

Another popular takeaway is Bebinca. The Bebinca and Dodol from Costas is available at most supermarkets and even at the airport!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dutch are Crazy … in a good way

Outside the Dreamcatcher resort on the beautiful Palolem beach in Goa, I saw an almost endless line of auto-rickshaws decorated with pink stickers. Might be just another reality contest, I thought.


Inside I ran into some crazy Dutch. There were about 34 of them, driving 17 auto-rickshaws from Mumbai to Chennai via Goa. 2000 Kms on the Indian roads. Most of them were visiting India for the first time, and started it by driving a auto-rickshaw through the Mumbai traffic on their first day. One of the guys told me he called his folks up that evening to tell them he loved them, and wasn’t sure if he would ever see them again. He said that first night of driving through Mumbai was the greatest adventure any of them had every experienced.

The rickshaws weren’t brand new, some were quite old, I saw one which had a huge crack running through it. I was shaking my head in disbelief hearing their stories, till they told me they were doing this for charity. Each team was raising at least 2000 Euros each for street children in India, some even more.

They were used to Indians on the streets waving to a ‘white’ person in the backseat only to break into laughter, when they saw another white skinned person driving it.  The importance of horns on Indian roads took some getting used to as well. How we Indians used lanes was definitely nerve wracking for most of them.


There was a brother-sister team, a father-daughter team, a newly married couple, and some guys who had worked desk jobs all their life before coming here. With funny names - “The Dukes of India”, “Honeymoon Challenge”, “Ganesh Express”, “Shanti Shanti” , most of them had put in their own savings, and some had sponsors but they all agreed it was a trip they would never forget!

Check out their website . Its in dutch, so you would have to translate it, Google does that automatically if you using their toolbar or Chrome.

They have another Challenge in November 2010, again all in good cause, spread the word - who knows there’s a crazy Dutch out there who’d catch the drift. 







They often had to stop for hours fixing their tuk tuks.


All for Charity – the teams were raising at least 2000 Euro each for street children in India



With Jonn’o – Not sure I got his first name right. Well, pretty sure he didn’t get mine! :)


Most of the photographs courtesy the teams, please let me know if there’s a link I am missing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rent or Charter a Train to Shimla

On Feb 13 this year, I along with most of my family got late for the train. When one of my older relatives said - “If you get late for the train, it doesn’t wait for you”. We all smiled and said - “Well, this one does!”.

We had chartered the train from Kalka to Shimla. It was a party for family and friends after our marriage. It turned out extremely well, and a lot of people have asked me about this, so I’ll put in details here.

The coaches are fabulous !

18 Train Journey

Chartered the train – ermm … What exactly do you mean? 

Thanks to the Indian Railways, you can now OWN a UNESCO world heritage train for a ride through the hills. Its only for 5 hours, but for that time you are on top of the world. The train goes through the beautiful hills, and 102 tunnels where you can scream our heart out. You can stop the train when you want, and walk into the hills. It has luxurious palace kind of coaches.

How much does it cost ?

The pricing starts from just Rs. 25000! There were 50 of us, so we had 6 coaches of varying capacity and it came to about Rs 40,000 and there was a refundable deposit for around Rs. 40,000. The IRCTC people were extremely professional all through and for a fee even arranged a lunch in Barog.

You can get the details from the Indian Railways website -

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in a comment, and I’ll update this post.

Why not just book tickets for 50 people ?

I thought about this initially, but the cost of getting the complete train was pretty reasonable, and the heritage coaches you get are worth checking out. You don’t get them in a normal train.

The ability to stop the train and walk up the mountain to the next station and have the train waiting for you was incredible.

19 trek 2



19 train trek

Nowadays we rarely get to sit down and spend a few hours talking to each other. A train journey is a special experience. I had one of the most meaningful conversations of my life with one of my relatives I had never before spent more than a few minutes talking.

As we got down from the train, my 70 year old well traveled aunt made a comment that I will remember for a long time. She came up to me, and told me this train was one of the most amazing things she had ever seen. She said she had seen a lot, but never thought she would travel in her own train with relatives through the hills. For a few hours we all lived that dream!


My cousins had a load of fun, they truly made the train their own! It was all in good humor! I am sure their pictures below will make you smile :)


19 sang and danced





I know its a Monday, but WTF Google

Rubal got this message today.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Speech to Text on the Android Phone

I’ve been talking into my phone all evening. I say “cricket” and it shows me the latest score via Google. I say “I love you” and it translates it and says it out loud in French and Spanish. I have been replying to messages by talking back to my phone. And unlike previous speech to text apps, this one just works effortlessly and accurately!

One of my favorite science fiction series is the Stargate Atlantis series and they often have communication devices which automatically translate languages when they are talking to an alien. It has often fascinated me. A recent fictional Pomegranate phone had a great demonstration of this feature.

With Google Translate, Google has made this a reality. This was one of the features I was really looking forward to using in my Motorola Milestone(aka Droid).

However, the phone I got did not come loaded with Google Voice Search or Google Translate. I guess Google is doing a limited test run for Voice Search in certain countries. Most Speech related apps use the same components, so a lot of cool applications like the ones below gave me error messages when I tried to give voice input. “speech recognizer is not available” or no “Speech to Text Engine” and “recognizer not present” and so on. I tried installing speech to text engines available in Android Market, but they were of no help.

Finally after a lot of research over the weekend, I found the search install file on Google code

I installed VoiceSearch_2.1.apk as my OS is 2.1 and boom all the apps started working! Hope this helps other people who don’t have Voice Search available on their phones.

Cool Speech to Text Apps for the Android -

1. Handcent SMS – Lets you reply to a message by speaking into the phone. Works very well!

2. Google Translate – It does the magic of translating what you are saying into another language (like the video above). This is really AWESOME!

3. Google Voice – Just say anything and Google for it. I use this for looking up scores in a flash, exchange rates, for all Google tricks.

4. Talk to Me – Speech to Speech Translator.

In the next year – I can easily imagine tourists carrying these translators all over Europe. Isn’t that fascinating?!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wildernest (Goa) – Luxury in the forest

The 3 letter word Goa brings about the picture of beaches, amazing food and amazing night life. There is however a corner of Goa where everybody sleeps at around 9 PM.

Rated one of top 100 resorts in India as per Outlook Traveler – Wildernest Nature resort looked promising. However, their website was pretty average, so my expectations were low. Rubal was extremely excited about the butterflies, and the waterfall trek so we were definitely going. The resort is on the border of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra and has an amazing infinity pool that looks over to the mountains.

The Room

The room was very tastefully done, with great importance paid to maintaining the eco-system. There were powders instead of soaps, we were shown the trees and plants they were extracted from during one of our treks. The water from the bathroom goes directly to the base of trees to water them. Many such little things …




The Infinity Pool


You can float on the edge of the pool for hours staring at the valleys and the beautiful mountains. Very pretty!

The Trek



They offer multiple treks, we just went on one - the morning trek to the waterfall. It was through the forest, where our guide showed us tons of plants with medicinal and other properties. There were butterflies, lots of them.

We saw a snake, and then sat and bounced stones near a waterfall !

The food

The food is predominantly Maharashtrian, but a mix of Goan and Karnataka cuisine. Its definitely worth checking out for its uniqueness – Mula Bhaji, Ukda Bhat, Konkan Fish and something new everyday!


The Negatives

Some of my friends tell me that I only tell good things, and that would never make me a good reviewer. So I am going to try and criticize things in my reviews as well.

Here goes. If you like to wake up late, that wouldn’t be an option at Wildernest. You would wake up to the sound of birds and animals early every morning.

If you think you have had enough of the forest and want to go out to a beach or to the markets – they are all at least an hours drive away. If you don’t like walking too much, you wont appreciate the fact that you have to walk almost a kilometre almost everytime you go back to your room from the restaurant.

Finally this being the forest, there are snakes here. The locals though told me they have never had a snake bite in the last 5 years.



The Rates

During the monsoons you can get rates as low as Rs 4000 per night. The rate goes up to about Rs 6000/8000 in normal season(Feb-April) and probably higher in peak season(Dec/Jan). They offer a pickup if you stay for 2 or more days.

The rates of the mountain view room are about Rs 1000 higher than the Forest View room. Here’s the view from the mountain view room !



Most people we met at Wildernest agreed that the place was much better than the website, a rare thing. We made more friends in 2 days here than during our vacation, doing treks together, watching snakes, waiting for an event or trying the new cuisine. They have some cultural events every evening, which might be great for foreigners.

Definitely a place to visit once in your lifetime. I loved how they have maintained the forest, and at the same time promoted tourism.

Ideal Duration – 2-3 Days, probably not for long durations.

More Reviews

Check out more great reviews at TripAdvisor

Update - Check out the Outlook Traveler Article about Interiors of Goa