A helicopter ride #LifeList

I’ve always thought that helicopters are way cooler than planes. They lend a sense of urgency to the surrounding, in the manner of which you have to board a chopper and I associate a VIP feel to them, thanks to its smaller seating capacity. I also love it how you need to crouch and hurry and be mindful of the strong wind that the blades churn up. Now compare this to how you board a flight. Yawn.

It was last month in Canmore (close to Calgary, Canada), where I participated in heli-yoga, run by the guys at Kananaskis Heli Tours. The concept involves being taken atop a secluded and spot on the Rockies and amid that calm and lush surrounding, practice yoga to vitalise your soul. Yoga guru Kristen Stuart – who by the way, has the most magnetic personality – accompanies you (and the small group) up the mountain to train you in yoga.

Being all cool in the chopper with my earphones, with our yoga instructor Kirsten Stuart (right), on our way up on the Rockies.

Being all cool in the chopper with my earphones, with our yoga instructor Kirsten Stuart (right), on our way up on the Rockies.

Down at the office, before the short flight, we were briefed on the chopper etiquette by owner, the jovial Ralph. We were supposed to bend low, move around only when asked to, and generally be more aware of the surrounding. Upon landing, it’s possible that the wind from the blades cause a yoga mat or a personal belonging to be flung away, but we’re not to make a run for it, and remaine crouched till the chopper leaves, and retrieve the item later.

That's me striking a yoga pose next to the helicopter that transported us.

That’s me striking a yoga pose next to the helicopter that transported us.

The ride in the chopper was uber cool, as we put on large earphones with mics and could only communicate with each other through them. I’d only seen people in films do that and have always wanted to do it! The experience of practising yoga in a spot that we chose in the Rockies was one that will inspire me during low times. But as far as memories go, the helicopter ride wins all the way!

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What I read last week (Reviews of Sons of Sita; Paperback Original; The Perks of being a Wallflower)

Hello, folks!
I’ve been reading well lately and feel pretty good about it. Here are short reviews about the books I read last week.

Sons of Sita by Ashok Banker
This book serves as the eighth and the final in the Ramayana Series by Banker, although it’s independent and you can follow the book even if you haven’t read the first seven. It traces the story of Luv and Kush, Rama and Sita’s twins, how the 10-year olds capture the sacred stallion of the Ashwamedh Yagna, hereby challenging Emperor Rama’s army. With their unbelievable talent in archery and a little help from bhramaan, they win the battle, of course.

Sons of Sita by Ashok Banker

Sons of Sita by Ashok Banker

Sons of Sita, as most other books by Banker, is a tedious read and seems overtly descriptive. But if you’re used to reading him, then it’s interesting, and toward the end, disappointing. He describes Rama to have become the embodiment of cruelty, but does not offer a reason as to why that happens. I was looking forward to an interesting explanation, but only a feeble one was offered in a paragraph.

Pick up the book only if you’ve read his other ones.
Title: Sons of Sita | Published by: Wisdom Tree | Price: Rs 260 approx | Number of pages: 388

Paperback Original by Will Rhode
I had an absolute blast reading this one, and it’s now among my few favourites. It’s written in first person, where Josh King is a British traveller in India. Not the fancy white traveller, more the hippe ones you find in the basement restaurants of Old Manali and streets by the creek in Goa. The ones who live in cheap guesthouses in the Himalayas and socialise by passing each other the chillum. They’re the ones who’ve sold their passports years ago and have been living in India since a few decades. Some of them also sport dredlocks.

Josh bums around India and wants to write a bestseller to make money. He realises that he cannot be a passive observer but will need to participate actively in the plot for it to go anywhere. And all hell breaks loose when he gets involved with the beautiful Yasmin, crack dealers, a former Bollywood star, the Mumbai mafia and the Pakistanis. Yes, it’s quite a plot. More than the plot thought, I loved the book because of the fabulously insightful way in which Rhode’s written it. It’s obvious to a reader that Rhode has indeed experienced everything he mentions in the book, and not just hashed details off the Internet. Brilliant are the parts where he describes one of the times when he and a friend share the chillum with a couple of travellers and when he embarks on a ride on a Royal Enfield.

Paperback Original by Will Rhode

Paperback Original by Will Rhode

Because of my recent months spent living in Goa and interacting with several travellers like Josh, I enjoyed the novel even more. Some of gems from the book:
Josh is thinking about selling his passport, but realises that, “Half the attraction of coming to India is the ability to leave it.” Appalling to me as an Indian reader, but so true! He’s sitting at a tea stall and watching two young boys trying to get their car started. There’s a whole bunch of passersby looking at them also. “Watching other people with public problems was always a good way to waste time in India,” he observes.

Well, I did love the book and every time I sat to read it, I kept a pencil handy, to underline sentences I identified with or found intriguing. I think I must continue the habit with other books too.

If there’s a flower child in you, you’ll love the book; if you believe the hipsters are just wannabes, even then you’ll love it, for Rhode is often sarcastic. What luck! Go buy the book.
Title: Paperback Original (In some editions, title is changed to Paperback Raita.) | Published by: Riverhead Books| Price: Rs 670 approx | Number of pages: 455

The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I’ll admit I got on to this book pretty late. It’s about a socially awkward American teenage boy who narrates episodes of his life at home, school and with friends, by way of writing ‘dear diary’ type letters to a friend. I found this style boring and after a couple of chapters, was ready to leave the book unfinished. But then, it’s a short read and I ended up completing it, in the hope that something exciting happens. Well, nothing did.

The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephan Chboksy

This novel simply recounts all the stereotypes of an American family that we’ve seen enough times in sitcoms such as The Wonder Years. It’s the same old stuff – classmates labelling the nerd as a freak, sport-playing elder brother, mother doesn’t interfere when father is talking, drunk members at hated family reunions on Thanksgiving and Christmas, death of a close friend, parents of friends divorcing, friends smoking and doing drugs and the works.

What made it even more boring is that it is narrated by the teenager. Now, I really wouldn’t listen to any geeky teenager talk at such length about his boring life. Seriously. The film adaptation of this book has Emma Watson; perhaps then you can bear the wallflower!
Title: The Perks of being a Wallflower | Published by: Simon & Schuster India | Price: Rs 290 approx | Number of pages: 213

Have you read any of these books? Liked them? Which ones are you currently reading?

In Switzerland for a week

Bless my luck, I got to visit Switzerland once again, earlier this month! It’s such a gorgeous country and I have now visited most of it, save a couple of cantons such as Ticino and Basel. I’ve seen the touristy places when I went as part of a media trip earlier this month, and several hidden places, when I went backpacking solo in Europe last year. Based on my experiences, I’ve put together an itinerary of sorts that you could follow, if you’re in country for a week.

Your flight will most probably land in Zurich, but I don’t suggest spending much time here as it’s like other big cities in Europe. Tall, fancy buildings, and busy people.

From Zurich, you can move to Lucerne and acclimatise yourselves to the weather. Lucerne is a city you can see on foot. From Lucerne, once you’ve adjusted to the cold, you can go up to Mt Titlis for a day-trip. You’ll get a direct train from Lucerne to the village, Engelberg. That’s your base for Titlis. From Engelberg, take the cable car, called ‘RotAir’, up to Titlis. Titlis has snow all through the year, so it’s good to go there. Plus, Europe’s highest bridge was opened for public, here, at Titlis last December. It’s a 100m ropeway bridge and is often called the scariest bridge in the world! There’s also a skywalker thing you can do here, at the top. It’s super cold here, because of the wind. The day I visited, the winds were recorded at 95 km/hr!

Engelberg, meaning the village of angels.

Engelberg, meaning the village of angels.

Jungfrau and Interlaken are similar, and too crowded and tedious to get to, so I won’t suggest that if you’re doing Titlis.

That's Europe's highest suspension bridge, built over the glacier. It opened to public in Dec 2012.

That’s Europe’s highest suspension bridge, built over the glacier. It opened to public in Dec 2012.

Move to Bern for a day from Lucerne. Bern’s their capital, but it’s more like a small town. World’s oldest hand-wound clock is in Bern, and you can go up to the tower to see the machines too. You’ll have to sign up with the toursim centre for that. The tower serves as the centre of the city, and that’s where all the arcade-styled shopping stores are. You can easily get around Bern on foot.

From Bern, move to spend a couple of days in Lausanne. It’s my favourite place is Switzerland. It’s got all the modern trappings of a city, but from any road on the city, you can catch a glimpse of the mountains or the glistening lake. It’s a perfect mix of urban style and scenery and I often wished I stayed there! Lausanne’s too big to be discovered on foot, but you can walk along Avenue Petit Chenin; it’s close to the train station and kind of in the middle of the city. For everywhere else, the buses serve as a good option. You can also take the ferry.

From Lausanne, you can do a day-trip to Geneva. The Swiss folks do not like Geneva too much because they think it’s too modern and can be any other city in the world. But Lake Geneva is enchanting, and it’s worth a day-trip. I’m not sure about this, but the tourism centre lends out bicycles to tourists for free. If you can ride bikes, that’s a great way to see the city, because it’s large to go walking.

Tulips in Zermatt (May 2013) These are true colours; an unedited picture.

Tulips in Zermatt (May 2013) These are true colours; an unedited picture.

If you have a day to spare, you can consider visiting Zermatt. It’s a quaint little woody village down south. It’s the base to visit Gornergrat. (Direct train from Zermatt to Gornergrat). Gornergrat is the peak from where you can have a close and splendid view of the Matterhorn. Matterhorn’s one of their more difficult peaks to climb as it has a steep face. They have a beautiful restaurant at Gornergrat where you can have lunch. It’s less than half a day’s trip from Zermatt. If you do decide to spend the night at Zermatt, Alpenblick’s a lovely hotel.

I’d suggest you get Swiss Passes. They have one valid for a week. The pass allows you to travel in all trains, buses and even ferries. If you have the Swiss Pass, you almost never have to worry about tickets. From Zermatt to Gornergrat though, you’ll need to buy tickets. You can buy the pass after arrival in Zurich, but it’s convenient and cheaper to book them online.

Spring and summer should give you pleasant weather, except Lucerne, where it’s always raining. You might want to check the weather at Lucerne when you’re in Bern, and go ahead accordingly. Switzerland’s a small country, and to get from any place to another, takes a maximum of 6 hours in the train. So you don’t have to worry too much about going off-track or overlapping cities.

This is all I can think of at the moment; if you need more details about any of these places, leave a comment. Also, http://www.myswitzerland.com has a lot of info, as do the folks over at Swiss Tours at Urmi Estate, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Bon Voyage!

World's oldest hand-wound clock is in Bern. You can take a tour inside the tower to see the machinery.

World’s oldest hand-wound clock is in Bern. You can take a tour inside the tower to see the machinery.

Eat some snow off the ground #LifeList

A snowy winter is a way of life for many. But for someone like me, who has lived all her life in a tropical country (India), snow can pretty much be a bucket list item. My first brush with snow happened last week, on a trip to Switzerland. I enjoyed a lovely train ride from Zermatt to reach up to Gornergrat. From this peak, I was told, I could afford stark views of the steep Matterhorn.

I was looking forward to feel snow on my hands since childhood, and finally, my dream came true. The train chugged higher from Zermatt, and I could see snow around in bits, and gradually, it was a vast carpet. I was so excited by this point, that I was having trouble deciding which side of the train I should look out from, frequently running over to the other side, to see more snow. Sounds silly, I know, but if you’ve waited 25 years of your life for an experience, it can be pretty overwhelming when it actually happens.

I step on snow as I get off the train. I’m told to be careful, as the ice can be slippery. I’m glad I’m wearing my Wellingdons as they offer a sturdy sole and some friction. I walk along, hugging my jacket tighter, taking small steps, mindful of the ice that I tread on. And then in a few steps, ice makes way for snow! I put my foot ahead on soft, soft white fluff and it sinks in a bit to make an impression. I go ahead a few more steps, a smile on my face, my feet digging deeper. And then I look around myself, and all I see is more and more snow and I turn into a child on expresso.

I run, fall and jump about and make snowballs and throw them on my friends. And then I walk further towards the valley where there are no foot marks, and slide my hand in, to come up with a pristine fluff of white sitting on my palm.

Experiencing snow for the first time at Gornergrat, Switzerland.

Experiencing snow for the first time at Gornergrat, Switzerland.

I had fallen in love with crushed ice at a young age, when kids used to buy ‘gola’ from a street vendor. A gola is a clump of crushed ice on a stick, doused in flavoured syrup. Something similar to the ‘kachang’ in Singapore.

I pressed my palm shut and the snow hardened a bit. I put it in my mouth, closed my eyes and waited for it to dissolve. My hands were trembling due to cold but when I put the snow in my mouth, it just felt warm. And familiar. And nice.

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