Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

March 22, 2020

Covid-19: Some thoughts and comments

Filed under: My Thoughts,Uncategorized — Suramya @ 6:16 PM

These past few months have been a bit scary. Since Jan we have been watching Corona virus cases spike in China, get ignored and then massive effort to contain the virus. The same was done in Singapore, South Korea etc. India was relatively untouched with minimal cases in the first few months of the disease. Then we had a spike due to people returning from US/Europe etc and infecting others.

I am surprisingly impressed with how Indian Government has reacted to this issue, with both state and national governments taking strong steps to contain. I was especially surprised by how quickly government of Karnataka reacted because honestly I feel that they are mostly useless. They quickly shutdown all schools when the cases in KA were still at 4, and once we had the first death due to the virus in the state they immediately stopped all public gatherings as well as malls, pubs etc.

Now we are going to a total lockdown on Bangalore and some of the other infected areas. Section 144 is being imposed in parts of the country where idiots are refusing to adhere to the social distancing. To emphasise, social distancing the main method to reduce the speed of the spread of the virus. Here’s what the government is doing to help: (this is for the idiots who keep asking what the government is doing. More on this later in the post):

Karnataka to close borders, postpone SSLC exams, and elections

The Karnataka government will close all borders with its neighbouring states to tackle theCOVID-19pandemic. An executive order to that effect detailing the duration of the lockdown is expected soon.

Coronavirus: Mizoram announces statewide shutdown till March 29

The Mizoram government on Saturday ordered a “partial lockdown” across all districts of the state till March 29 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a notification.

Punjab orders lockdown:

Ordered statewide lock down till 31st March to check spread of COVID-19 All essential Govt services will continue & shops selling essential items such as milk, food items, medicines, etc will be open. All DCs & SSPs have been directed to implement the restrictions immediately. – Amarinder Singh

Coronavirus: Indian Railways suspends all passenger services from March 22 midnight to March 31 midnight

In an unprecedented move, the railways on Sunday announced suspension of all its passenger services from March 22 midnight to March 31 midnight and said only goods trains will run during the said period.

Govt announces lockdown in 75 districts

Government announces lockdown in 75 districts that have reported COVID-19 cases and casualties. Only essential services will operate in these 75 districts. Restrictions on non-essential passenger transport, including inter-state bus services remains till March 31. The decision has been taken after a meeting Cabinet Secretary held with Chief Secretaries of States and principal Secretary to Prime Minister.

Section 144 in Bengaluru from 9 pm to 12 am

Section 144 imposed from 9 pm to 12 am (midnight) in commissionerate limits to ensure people do not come out of their home once the Janta Curfew ends: Bhaskar Rao, Commissioner of police, Bangalore city. (ANI)

Section 144 imposed in Delhi

In wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Section 144 of CrPC to be imposed in Delhi with effect from 9 pm on March 22 to 12 midnight of March 31. (ANI)

This is just an small list of the actions that are being taken to stop the spread. Yes, there were mistakes made and are being made but the focus is to resolve them quickly and move forward. For example a decision was taken to allow the Ayodhya celebration to happen but then the permission was revoked after a large no of people protested and the medical community advised against it as well.

On Friday, PM Modi adressed the nation and asked for a self curfew to be done on Sunday all day to help curb the spread. This was a voluntary curfew to enforce social distancing. No where did he say that the virus is going to be dead in 12-14 hours and then we can go back to normal on Monday. He asked for everyone to coorporate in social distancing for the next few weeks. You can read the complete text of his address here. Below is an extract from the address:

Hence, it is imperative to keep two key factors in mind in order to combat this global pandemic – Determination and Patience. Today, all 130 crore fellow citizens of Indians will have to further strengthen our resolve to overcome this global crisis, fulfilling all our duties as citizens, and abiding by the directions given by the Central and State governments. Today, we must all resolve to not get infected ourselves, and prevent others as well from getting infected.

Friends, during such a pandemic, only one mantra can take us through – ‘Hum Swasth, toh Jag Swasth’, that is the world will be healthy, if we stay healthy. In a situation like this, where there is no known cure for the disease, it is imperative that we stay healthy. Patience is an essential virtue to avoid this disease, and keep oneself healthy. And how does one practice patience? By staying away from crowds and gatherings, avoiding leaving your homes. This is called ‘Social Distancing’ nowadays, and is critical in these times of the global corona pandemic.

Our determination and patience will play a crucial role in containing the impact of this global pandemic. It is wrong if you believe that you are okay and nothing can happen to you, and you can continue roaming around in markets and streets as usual and remain unaffected. By doing this, you will not only be unjust to yourself but also to your family.

Keeping this is mind, I appeal to you all that for the next few weeks, step-out of your homes only when absolutely necessary. As far as possible, try and do your work, whether related to business or job, from home.

While it is essential that those who are in government services, healthcare services, people’s representatives, media personnel remain active. Everybody else must however, isolate themselves from the rest of society.

Global research and experts have been talking non-stop that the main way to stop the spread of Convid-19 is to practive social distancing. That’s what the goverment is asking us to do. Plus this is not all there are multiple other steps being taken to reduce the impact and economic packages to help the poor and impacted are in progress. Yes, we could move faster on this but some things take time.

In addition Modi asked for one more item in his speech.

Friends, in the midst of all these efforts of the people’s curfew on 22nd March, I would also like to seek your support on one more matter on that day. For the past 2 months, lakhs of our people have been working day and night in our Hospitals and Airports.

From doctors to nurses, hospital staff, sanitation workers, airlines employees, government staff, police personnel, media people, people associated with train-bus-auto rickshaw services, and home delivery agents; all have been selflessly serving others, without caring about themselves.

In the current circumstances, these services cannot be considered to be ordinary. Today, these people run the risk of getting infected themselves. Yet, they continue to fulfil their duties, serving others. As defenders of the nation, they stand firmly between us and the corona pandemic. The nation is grateful to them all.

I wish that on Sunday, 22nd March, we express our gratitude to all such people. On Sunday at exactly 5 pm, we all stand at the doors, balconies, windows of our homes, and give them all a 5-minute standing ovation. We clap our hands, beat our plates, ring our bells to boost their morale, salute their service.

To inform people about this, I request local authorities across the country to ring a siren at 5 pm on 22nd March.

We must with full sincerity, express our feelings towards all such fellow citizens who have lived by our value-system of ‘Seva Parmo Dharma’, that is Service being the highest Duty.

Note that he did not claim that this will kill Corona virus due to astrology, veda’s, sound therapy or whatever. This is just to show our appreciation for the people putting their life at risk for us to be able to continue with life. Remember the meal you ordered on Swiggy that was delivered by a person? The sweepers who are cleaning the floor or buildings? The train/bus drivers taking people around? They are risking infection so that we can continue. This is a tribute to them. Why is it ok to celebrate our cricket team’s win in a stupid game by yelling & screaming and being out on the street but suddenly its too much if you are asked to applaud for people risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones to serve you.

Worldwide people are doing this, a 30 second search gave me: Israel, Spain & Italy (who are doing it daily BTW), Germany , UK and so many more.

People need hope when things are grim. This is giving them hope. Remember Pandora’s box? The last thing remaining in the box after all the evils escaped was hope to give us the strength to battle evil & tough times. Jews sang during the War, soldiers sing at the front, this is not because it magically solves the problem but because it gives us the strength to say: I can do this. We will get through this together.

Now, lets look at what the so called ‘intellectuals’ & some of the educated people are doing shall we? Anti-CAA protests are continuing because apparently if you don’t support CAA you are immune to Coronavirus. People are absconding from home to roam the city and attend functions while they are supposed to be in quarantine. 4 morons took a train from Mumbai after being told to isolate and were only caught because they were stamped with a quarantine order and someone on the train noticed it and called the cops. Apparently we have a lot of alcoholics in the country because people are still going to Bars at night because it’s too much of a bother to stay home. This behavior is mostly in the educated class and the so called intellectuals. My maid and driver are talking about self-isolation and how they are working to ensure the spread is contained. Our building guards are enforcing hand-wash discipline for all visitors but we the educated class can’t be bothered because its too much effort. The virus doesn’t care about how much money you have and what position you are at. Do you know who I am? will not work on the virus. Washing your hands and self-isolation will.

All the morons who are going out when known COVID-19 positive or asked to self isolate should be charged with murder if any death that can be traced back to them *knowingly* being out in public after being told not to. If no death then they should be jailed for public endangerment. There is a EU country that is charging such folks with murder and I think we should do the same.

Please listen to medical professionals, reputed sources (this doesn’t include your whatsapp forwards from your 2nd cousin’s friend who heard it from his friend). Follow basic common sense rules and you will be ok.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later. Stay safe you all, and above all stay at home.

– Suramya

March 4, 2020

Seti@home project to stop distributing new work to clients after 21 years

Filed under: Computer Software,News/Articles — Suramya @ 1:44 PM

Seti@home has a fond place in my heart. It has been run by the Berkeley SETI Research Center since 1999, and I think I installed it on my machine sometime around Dec 1999 or early 2000 after hearing about it from one of the News websites (possibly Slashdot). Once I had it running on my system I was pushing to get it installed on all the computers in the University computer lab as they were running 24/7 and I saw that as a wasted opportunity for furthering search for ET. I ran it constantly on my computers till about 2009 post which I switched to running Folding@home which is more focused on Science / DNA sequencing / Medical research. Seti was one of the first Distributed computing systems that I know of and the amount of data processed by computers under its umbrella is staggering.

On March 31, the project will stop sending out new work units to users and the project will instead start focusing on analyzing all the blips identified by volunteers’ machines which could be potential evidence of aliens with an eye on publishing a research paper. Once this is completed they might start pushing out work packages again but that will be a while before it happens.

“It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper,” their news announcement stated.

Looking forward to reading the research paper and conclusions generated by the Seti@home program.

Source: SETI@home Search for Alien Life Project Shuts Down After 21 Years

– Suramya

March 2, 2020

Another magical AI to detect “Inappropriate photos” and block kids from taking them

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,News/Articles — Suramya @ 11:50 AM

In today’s iteration of people who don’t want to make the effort of raising their kids and explaining the difference between right & wrong and why something might be a bad idea we have a new “magical” AI that will automatically detect when kids are making a bad choice and stop them. I mean why should a parent make an effort to talk to their kids and help them understand what repercussions of a given choice could be wrong when you have AI to make the effort for them? This new AI is being pitched to parents and has an AI-powered “Smartphone Protection” feature that prevents users from shooting or saving “inappropriate” photos (read: naked pictures).

The official Tone Mobile press release hails the TONE e20 as the world’s first phone with an AI that “regulates inappropriate images” through an AI built into the so-called TONE Camera… If the AI recognizes that the subject of a photo is “inappropriate,” the camera will lock up; and if you somehow manage to snap a photo before the AI kicks in, the phone won’t let you save or share it.

Additionally, a feature called “TONE Family” can be set to send an alert to parents whenever an inappropriate image is detected. According to SoraNews24, this alert will contain location data and a pixelated thumbnail of the photo in question.

I give it about 24 hours from when the phone is released till folks figure out a way around it.

The other issue I have with this system is how its going to classify the pics. The article doesn’t go into technical details of how the AI works and if the classification is done locally or on the cloud. If its on the cloud then every pic taken by that phone is being uploaded to a remote server owned by a 3rd party. This is a massive risk and any breach of that server is going to have a lasting and significant impact. Trust me when I say that this server would be a target of all Black Hat hackers as soon as it goes online.

I am not going to go into whether taking nude pics is a good idea or not. Its upto the people involved to take that decision, I am not responsible for what you do with your phone. If you have to take naughty pics just ensure you follow basic rules and don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust 100%.

In summary, Dear parents: Instead of offloading your responsibilities to AI try having a frank and open conversation with your kids about why certain things might be a bad idea. It will give you better results than this snakeoil.

Source: Slashdot.org

– Suramya

January 14, 2020

Paris Musées releases Images of 100,000 Artworks to the Public for free

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 1:10 PM

Remember when the Art Institute of Chicago released 52,438 HD art images into the public domain? Paris Musees, a collection of 14 Paris museums, collectively said, “Tiens mon vin” (Hold my wine) and released 100,000 digital reproductions of artworks in the city’s museums as Open Access — free of charge and without restrictions — via its Collections portal. Paris Musées is a public entity that oversees the 14 municipal museums of Paris, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais, and the Catacombs.

“Making this data available guarantees that our digital files can be freely accessed and reused by anyone or everyone, without any technical, legal or financial restraints, whether for commercial use or not,” reads a press release shared by Paris Musées.

At this stage, images available are of 2D artworks, such as paintings or photographs, that belong in the public sphere under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license, which allows creators and owners of copyrighted or database-protected content to place those works in or as close as possible to the public domain. (Works still in copyright will be available as low definition files, so users can still get a feel for the museums’ collections online.)

It’s nice to see more and more organizations making their work available online for free under CC licenses.

Thanks to Metafilter for the initial link.

– Suramya

January 6, 2020

Using Math to figure out why One Knot Better Than Another

Filed under: Interesting Sites,News/Articles — Suramya @ 3:12 PM

Have you ever wondered why certain knots are more stable than others? Or have you stressed about which knot is the most suitable one to use in your specific usecase and had a disagreement with someone about the best option? If so then fear-not MIT researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict a knot’s stability and now you can argue for your choice with conviction that math supports your choice. From the paper’s abstract:

Knots play a fundamental role in the dynamics of biological and physical systems, from DNA to turbulent plasmas, as well as in climbing, weaving, sailing, and surgery. Despite having been studied for centuries, the subtle interplay between topology and mechanics in elastic knots remains poorly understood. Here, we combined optomechanical experiments with theory and simulations to analyze knotted fibers that change their color under mechanical deformations. Exploiting an analogy with long-range ferromagnetic spin systems, we identified simple topological counting rules to predict the relative mechanical stability of knots and tangles, in agreement with simulations and experiments for commonly used climbing and sailing bends. Our results highlight the importance of twist and writhe in unknotting processes, providing guidance for the control of systems with complex entanglements.

To give some more context, below is an extract from a SciTech Daily Article covering the research. To be honest I had to read the article a few times to understand what they were talking about but it sounded interesting. Not sure how useful it is but is definitely interesting. 🙂

In comparing the diagrams of knots of various strengths, the researchers were able to identify general “counting rules,” or characteristics that determine a knot’s stability. Basically, a knot is stronger if it has more strand crossings, as well as more “twist fluctuations” — changes in the direction of rotation from one strand segment to another.

For instance, if a fiber segment is rotated to the left at one crossing and rotated to the right at a neighboring crossing as a knot is pulled tight, this creates a twist fluctuation and thus opposing friction, which adds stability to a knot. If, however, the segment is rotated in the same direction at two neighboring crossing, there is no twist fluctuation, and the strand is more likely to rotate and slip, producing a weaker knot.

They also found that a knot can be made stronger if it has more “circulations,” which they define as a region in a knot where two parallel strands loop against each other in opposite directions, like a circular flow.

By taking into account these simple counting rules, the team was able to explain why a reef knot, for instance, is stronger than a granny knot. While the two are almost identical, the reef knot has a higher number of twist fluctuations, making it a more stable configuration. Likewise, the zeppelin knot, because of its slightly higher circulations and twist fluctuations, is stronger, though possibly harder to untie, than the Alpine butterfly — a knot that is commonly used in climbing.

The formal paper is published at: Science Mag.
Thanks to Slashdot for the initial link.

– Suramya

January 3, 2020

Computer made from 32 strands of DNA can now compute the square root of 900

Filed under: News/Articles,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 4:28 PM

Early this century (around year 2000 onwards) there were three main projects goingon in parallel, each of which promised to be the next great breakthrough in Computing which would change the world. These were: DNA Computing, Optical Computing and Quantum computing. Then, something changed and Quantum computing took over. In the past few years the tech news & papers have primarily focused on Quantum Computing breakthroughs (which to be fair have been quite significant) and Optical & DNA Computers on the other hand seemed to have dropped off the map with hardly any news coming from that front. But that has just changed. Thanks to the efforts of Chunlei Guo and his colleagues at the University of Rochester, New York we now have a working DNA computer that uses 32 strands and can compute the square root of square numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25 and so on up to 900. This might not sound like much but is a pretty big deal as now that we can create a system that uses chemistry to compute square roots we can probably get DNA circuits to do anything.

The prospect of programming molecular computing systems to realize complex autonomous tasks has advanced the design of synthetic biochemical logic circuits. One way to implement digital and analog integrated circuits is to use noncovalent hybridization and strand displacement reactions in cell‐free and enzyme‐free nucleic acid systems. To date, DNA‐based circuits involving tens of logic gates capable of implementing basic and complex logic functions have been demonstrated experimentally. However, most of these circuits are still incapable of realizing complex mathematical operations, such as square root logic operations, which can only be carried out with 4 bit binary numbers. A high‐capacity DNA biocomputing system is demonstrated through the development of a 10 bit square root logic circuit. It can calculate the square root of a 10 bit binary number (within the decimal integer 900) by designing DNA sequences and programming DNA strand displacement reactions. The input signals are optimized through the output feedback to improve performance in more complex logical operations. This study provides a more universal approach for applications in biotechnology and bioengineering.

The paper published in “Small” has more details but is behind a paywall (which sucks) so I don’t have much more details than what the New Scientist article and the paper abstract share. At the price they are asking I don’t think its value for money just so that I can satisfy my curiosity about the breakthrough. If you disagree and download the paper, please share 🙂

Looking forward to more such news (in a accessible journal) in 2020.

– Suramya

January 2, 2020

Thoughts around Doctor Who: Spyfall Part 1

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:51 PM

Watched the new episode of Doctor Who and I absolutely love Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, she is a much more accurate representation of the character than Peter Capaldi who is a great actor but didn’t do the character justice in my opinion. Plus the storylines for Jodie’s Doctor have been a lot more interesting and fun than the previous season. I know a lot of ‘fans’ are against this iteration of the Doctor because it doesn’t fit their stereotypes, prejudice or whatever but that’s their problem. I love this iteration. However that being said I have mixed feelings about this episode.

The remainder of the post contains spoilers!!!

For the first 20-30 mins of the episode my reaction was mostly ‘meh’, they ripped off as much of James Bond as they could without getting into legal issues. This includes having ‘C’ as the head of MI6 and lots and lots of gadgets which were used for moving the plot along and showing off the spy skills of the group. In this episode the Doctor and team use the gadgets given to them a lot more often than the Tardis and the Sonic for some reason and that combined with a threat that didn’t really sound interesting made for a boring start of the episode.

Last Warning, Big Spoilers ahead!!!

Then suddenly things became a lot more interesting towards the end of the episode. That last min twist, yes that one was mindblowing. I didn’t expect that at all and I can’t wait to see how they will take this forward. Finding out that the Master was behind all their troubles was a shock. Plus this iteration of the Master appears to be a lot more interesting than Missy. She was a very poor villain and I found her to be more annoying for the most part than dangerous. This version seems to be a mix of the Master as played by John Simm and Roger Delgado which is fantastic. Lets see how they take it forward but so far it looks good.

The companions for this Doctor are mostly ok, no major feelings for any of them either for or against.

Lets see what happens next when the remainder of the story this Sunday. Though I will be traveling at that time so I will probably have to wait till Monday to watch it.

– Suramya

December 27, 2019

Trip of a Lifetime: Antarctica!

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 12:28 PM

Earlier this month I completed a trip that I had been thinking about and planning on and off since 2007. Me, Jani and parents did a 9 day expedition trip to Antarctica! With this trip I have successfully traveled to all 7 continents on earth. Me and dad first started talking about going to Antarctica back in 2007, we explored the options and due to various constraints we didn’t travel at that time.

Then over the following years we would revisit the topic from time to time but again something or other would come up and we never seriously planned the Trip. I mentioned this to Jani and this year we started exploring the options to find out the costing etc. A few weeks later we were hanging out with Gaurang and Kangan and somehow the topic of Antarctica came up again. I mentioned that I had wanted to travel to Antarctica for a while and told the backstory. Kangan mentioned that one of her friends had a company that specializes in exotic trips etc and connected us to the owner. Jani connected with Prabhat Verma from Offbeat Travels and got us the details of the options available and the next time we were in Delhi I checked with dad and mom about them joining the trip. Dad immediately agreed but mom was initially quite hesitant but we all managed to convince her. I also checked with Surabhi & Vinit and they straight off refused. In Surabhi’s words “You want to travel where? Are you Insane?” Vir (my nephew) on the other hand was very upset that he couldn’t join us and kept trying to convince everyone that he should be allowed to join us.

Jani is writing a post focusing on the process, logistics, approvals visa etc for the trip so I am not going to go in much detail about that here so as not to duplicate the effort and reduce the amount of typing I will have to do. (This is going to be a long post as it covers 15 days of travel).

If you just want to see the highlights, George & Neill from Oceanic Expeditions made a video giving the highlights of the entire trip and you can view it here: Highlights Video.

The preparation for the trip took us a few months as it required us to get a lot of winter clothes, visa’s etc. The main item we had to work on was the Argentinian Visa as the ship departure was from Ushuaia in Argentina. You have two options for the Visa application, if you have a valid US visa or a Schengen visa valid for more than 6 months at the time of application (this will become important later in the story) you can apply online for an e-visa. Else you have to visit the Embassy either in Delhi or in Mumbai and apply there. If you apply in person, the visa application is free but when you apply online there is a cost involved. For folks in south India you have to apply in Mumbai and the rest of the country can apply in Delhi. Since both me and Jani had valid US visa’s and I had a valid Schengen visa as well we applied online as going to Mumbai was not really convenient and the cost we were saving by not paying the online processing fees was more than offset by the flight costs to-and-fro from Mumbai. For mom and dad, they didn’t have an option and had to apply in person, which wasn’t that big a deal as they were in Delhi itself.

Me and Jani, filled out the online form and submitted copies of the US Visa for her and the Schengen visa for me. What we didn’t realize was that my visa was valid only till April which put it at less than 6 months of validity from our travel dates. The online processing took 20 days and that is the standard ETA so you need to ensure you are applying well in advance just in case you hit issues. After 20 days Jani got a confirmation email and I got a note saying that I wasn’t eligible for online application and should apply at the consulate. Calls to the consulate didn’t give any additional details. I applied again online using my US visa but since by this time it was already Nov 1, I didn’t have any buffer in case the online application got denied again so Jani went to Mumbai to apply in person. The experience was not as good here as it was for mom and Dad in Delhi and they have this funny requirement that every applicant has to come for an in person interview. This meant that I would have had to fly to Mumbai for the interview, thankfully in some cases they do have the option to do a whatsapp interview instead and they agreed that I could give the interview virtually.

After all the formalities were completed and the day my interview was scheduled I woke up to find an approval email for the e-visa waiting in my mailbox and immediately notified the consulate about the same and asked them to cancel the application which they did and now all of us had the required documents to travel to Argentina.

Finally it was time to start, me and Jani started the trip from Bangalore on the 29th Nov by flying over to Delhi. We got there early in the morning, finished a little last min shopping for winter clothes etc and then headed home. Our flight was late at night so we reached the airport around 11pm and checked in. We were flying Ethiopian Airlines and the lady who checked us in didn’t know what she was doing and during the check in she didn’t allocate seats for the second leg of the trip (from Addis Ababa to Buenos Aires). Instead our boarding passes said we were on Standby. As per her this was because the booking system for the second leg wasn’t open and they would assign the seats in Addis Ababa. This was the first time I had heard of this but since we didn’t have any options we accepted and started the trip.

When we reached Addis Ababa I went to the transfer desk who told us that the flight was overbooked and since it also involved another airline (we were going from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia via a local airline) she couldn’t assign seats. When the boarding started the gate staff would allocate the seats if they had any space on the plane. As you can imagine it was a big surprise and there were 3 other folks with the same problem. The staff wasn’t really friendly and so we had to wait for the boarding to start. Thankfully we got seats allocated once boarding started but all of us were seated separately for the 16 hour flight.

In total we had 29 hours of flight (excluding layovers) to get to Ushuaia. When we finally reached there we found out that they only had 1 room ready for us as the checkin time was 12 and we had reached there at 9am. But the owner of the B&B was very friendly and accommodating so we got the room and rested while the other room was cleaned & prepared for us. We didn’t do much the first day and just recovered from the marathon flight duration.


Us at the Ushuaia End of the World landmark


Family pic at Ushuaia

The next day we walked around a bit and then went and deposited our luggage for loading to the ship as you are not allowed to take it onboard yourself due to local regulations. After that was done, we had a few hours to kill as the boarding was starting in the evening at 4pm. So we explored the city, did a bit of shopping and had lunch. This helped us pass time and soon it was time to board the Hondius. The boarding was quite easy and smooth possibly because we boarded a bit before the official boarding time and there was very little crowd at that time. The ship left port at around 6pm and we had a great view from the cabins as we had splurged for two of the more expensive cabins. Mom & Dad’s cabin had a balcony and ours had a huge window giving us a spectacular view of the ocean and outside. We started the journey with a bit of movement in the ship and were warned to ensure that we took motion sickness tablets before going to bed as the sea would get more rough overnight. Jani, mom and Dad all took tablets and then crashed early after exploring the ship. As this was an expedition ship it was quite small and had limited facilities (no swimming pools, gym etc etc). Though they did have a great bar/lounge and a decent library.

The next day started early with the breakfast served at 8am and by this time the ship was in the Drake passage which is notorious for rough seas as this is where the cold water from the Antarctic meets the warm current from further north. The weather outside was pretty lousy as well at it was overcast and raining intermittently. Over the day we went through the required tasks for ensuring we were ready for the arrival in the Antarctic like attending mandatory briefings and several interesting lectures.

As it was my birthday the staff at Hondius made a cake for me and also decorated the room with a towel cake and some balloons. We cut the cake in the balcony in the parents cabin, and because it was soo cold the cake cutting finished in under a minute and then we were all back in the cabin warming up.



This is where I celebrated my Birthday (GPS Location)


Room Decorations for the Birthday


Cake Cutting in the Balcony

Since the weather in Antarctic is very fickle all schedules and planned activities were subject to change due to weather not cooperating. We ended the day with a briefing from Ben on the Camping we were planning to do the next day. (more on that later).

On the 4th, we were out of the Drake passage much to the relief of most of the passengers as the ship motion smoothed out and people stopped feeling motion sick as much as earlier. After breakfast the first thing we had to do was head down to the mandatory Bio-Security check for all our external gear and clothes. This is done so that to avoid introducing any foreign contaminants/seeds etc to the Antarctic which is a very fragile eco-system. It wasn’t too complicated and basically made us check all the pockets/seams of the clothes and vacuum our bags and clothes. After the check, we had some free time followed by a very interesting lecture on the Imperial Transantarctic Antarctic expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Hearing about what those people endured while trying to explore the Antarctic was an eye opener. Here we were in a modern ship with all the anemities possible including heated baths, internet, great food etc and these folks were on ships burning coal not able to contact anyone and depending on each other for survival. At one point they were frozen in ice for months during the Antarctic winter which meant that the sun never rose for those long months and all they could do was hope that the frozen ice shelf was floating in the direction they needed to go. If you are interested in reading more about this amazing trip, I recommend that you check out ‘South: The Endurance Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton’. This was followed by a session on how Photography & Videography in the Antarctic by Neil & George and then dinner. I read quite a lot during these two days as there wasn’t much to do and Jani & parents were on sea sickness meds which made them all quite sleepy for the most part.


Jani’s first time seeing Snow/Ice

The 5th morning started early morning with the wakeup call at 6:45am followed by breakfast at 7am. The agenda for the first day in the Antarctic was quite packed with 2 landings lasting about 3-4 hours each and the overnight camping at night. The first stop was a very small island called ‘Useful Island’ which was named so because it was useful to the whalers who had setup an outpost on the island to spot whales for the whaling industry. As the Antarctic treaty limits the number of people who could go on-shore at the same time, all the passengers were split into 4 groups (Red, Blue, Green and Yellow) and the landings were split with red & blue groups landing together and the Green/Yellow groups were grouped together. The groups departed from the ship within 15 mins of each other but the first batch would land and explore while the second batch would do a Zodiac cruise which was basically riding the zodiac around the island looking at the scenery and trying to spot marine life like whales, penguins, seals etc.


Jani getting ready for the first landing in our Cabin

We were in the red group and so were in the first landing for the our trip to the Useful island. The weather for the landing was phenomenal and the sky was crystal clear with a few clouds scattered around to give us a spectacular view. When we landed on the island the first thing that hit us was the smell. The landing side was near a penguin colony and you won’t believe how much it stank. For the first few mins I was afraid that I might actually throw-up from the smell. Thankfully I didn’t throw up and after depositing the life-jackets we started the climb up to the top of the island. The guides had marked a trail out and it was a little slippery but was a good hike. When we reached the top there was another colony of Penguins at the top but due to the strong wind it didn’t smell that bad. We took a few photos and recovered from the hike. The island was basically rock with a very little sand/mud. There was absolutely no vegetation except for a few small colonies of moss & lichen.


Us at the first landing with a penguin nest in the background


Claiming the top of Useful Island for India 🙂


View from the top of the island

Once we got back to the zodiac for the cruise we found out that the reason the nests stink so much is that the digestive systems of the penguins is quite inefficient and they only digest ~60% of the food they eat, the rest is passed out as waste and when it decomposes it creates the lovely aroma we were welcomed with when we landed. In fact there is a species of bird that has evolved to eat penguin shit and I don’t really remember the actual name of the species but they are called ‘shit eaters’ in the common tongue.


Scenic shot of a cliff I really liked

The cruise was very cool (no pun intended) and we saw a couple of seals just relaxing, one of them was a tiger seal and I don’t remember the name of the other species. The first one was relaxing on the ice right off the island and we spotted the second one in the water swimming around the boat. After a few minutes it jumped out of the water and on to an iceberg about 5-10 feet away from our boat. We hung around for a bit taking some amazing pics and then roamed around the bay looking at icebergs, some really intimidating cliffs and the awesome scenery. The drive around was about 1 ½ hours and post the completion we were back on the ship to defrost before heading down for lunch. The lunch on the ship was quite decent with a good variety of food available and the staff was super friendly and helpful.

Post lunch we got to rest for about 2 hours before heading out for the second landing of the day in ‘Orne Harbor’. This was a continental landing meaning we were going to land on the actual continent of Antarctica. Not many expeditions are able to do this due to the difficulty in landing and getting to the continent but thanks to the skill of our captain we were able to land on the continent. This was the only continental landing of the expedition as the rest were island landings.


Orne Harbor landing site on Continental Antarctica. We climbed all the way to the top after landing

For this section of the landing we took the zodiac cruise first and saw some truly spectacular icebergs and scenery. Soon it was time for us to set foot on the continent and we soon took our first steps on Antarctica. With this landing I have officially traveled to all 7 continents. This landing was a bit different than the previous one as we had to climb a hill to get to the top of the cliff to see the nesting sites Gentoo penguins and this hike was a longer one that the previous attempt. Mom decided not to climb to the top and just relaxed at the foot of the hill while me, Jani and dad climbed to the top. It took us a while because the path was slippery but it wasn’t too hard. Once we got to the top the views were phenomenal and definitely worth the climb. With this hike I have now hiked on all 7 continents😊 I wasn’t looking forward to climbing down as I knew from experience it was going to be painful and hard. Thankfully we didn’t have to climb down as they gave us the permission to slide down the hill and it was a lot of fun. Infact I was tempted to climb back up and do it again, but we didn’t have the time or the energy to do that. So we took a few more photos and then headed back to the ship to defrost and have dinner.


Us at the Continent of Antarctica


Sliding down the hill in Antarctica was quite fun

The last activity of the day was the overnight camping and we back headed out from the ship around 8:30pm. This camping was especially fun because we were not using tents. All we had was a hole in the ground (that we had to dig) and a sleeping bag (it had a lot of layers). Digging the hole wasn’t that hard as the snow was fresh and easy to dig in. So we dug a hole about 8 inches deep and about 6 feet long. We could have slept without hole in the open but this helped get us out from the wind making it more comfortable. After setting up our sleeping bags we just relaxed and enjoyed the view. Initially when we had planned the camping I was expecting to be able to do a bit of sky watching and there was a meteor shower which was peaking that I was looking forward to observing as there wouldn’t be any light pollution in Antarctica. What I had forgotten was that we have almost 24 hours of light in the Antarctic at this time of the year so at 10pm it was light enough to be around 5 or 6pm in India. This dashed my hopes for observing the stars but gave me enough light to watch the penguins nesting near our camp site.


This is how we camped in Antarctica, without Tents

I was quite comfortable in the night due to ensuring that my sleeping bag was closed correctly and ensuring that I didn’t open it multiple times. Unfortunately Jani wasn’t that lucky as she was quite cold (in her words, she froze) mostly because she kept sitting up to blow her nose and didn’t close the sleeping bag correctly after that. Dad also wasn’t super comfortable but wasn’t as miserable as Jani. The temperature wasn’t that bad either at about -10 with a windchill of another 5-10 degrees. I was woken up in the morning by the sound of whales clearing their blow holes and when I looked around I saw 3 whales just swimming around in the bay in clear sight. They were visible for almost 15 mins but I didn’t feel like coming out of the sleeping bag to take photos.


View I had from my sleeping bag.

At 5am our ride back to the ship arrived and we had to fill the holes we had dug. It was a lot more difficult to fill the holes than to dig them as the snow had frozen solid overnight into ice and digging it was hard with the shovel we had. After we finally managed to fill the holes we boarded the Zodiacs and were back onboard the ship. The first thing we did after we got back was have a nice hot shower to heat our bodies back to the normal temperature range for humans and then had hot chocolate followed by a nice breakfast.

The agenda for the 6th again had 2 landings but since we had a pretty packed first day and Jani had developed a slight cold we decided not to do any landings so that we all could recover and this ensured that we would all be ready for the rest of the voyage without falling sick. We spent the day relaxing and sleeping for the most part. (I read some more). For dinner we had a special surprise. Since the weather was nice and sunny the galley team had setup a barbecue on the deck. We had nice hot food and drinks outside in the open and it was quite nice. Dinner was followed by lots of dancing and drinks.


Outdoor barbeque at sub-zero temperatures is fun (This is about 8:30pm)

The 7th morning dawned with a cruise through the famous Lemaire Channel which has been identified as the most photographed part of the Antarctic as the channel is narrow and the cliffs/ice on both sides of the passage combined with icebergs in the water make for some spectacular photos. We got up early to take some photos followed by breakfast.


Some amazing scenery on the way


Icebreaker in action. This is from the rear of the ship as we weren’t allowed at the Bow during this time

After breakfast we got to visit the ‘Vernadsky Station’ which is the permanent Ukrainian research station in Antarctica. The scientists at the base were quite happy to see us as they don’t get many visitors and as this was right after the winter ended we were the first new faces they had seen in over 6 months. Looking at the way they live I have to say that they deserve a big round of applause and credit as it is not an easy job. There are only 6 people who stay there all year round and most of the time they meet each other only during the meal times, the remaining time they are working on their own projects without interacting with each other. Now at least they have very limited internet connectivity ~1.5 GB per person per month but before that became possible they were completely cut off from the rest of humanity.


Vernadsky Station

The base is well supplied and has its own library, bar, souvenir shop and post office. We bought a couple of small souvenirs from the shop and also got our passports stamped with the Antarctica Entry stamp. This is not an official stamp but it is cool and something we had wanted to get since we started planning the trip. If we had not been able to visit the station we couldn’t have gotten the stamp so in a way we were lucky that the station was accessible and the base commander was amiable for us to visit.


Dad at the bar in Vernadsky Station, Antarctica

After the station tour we took another Zodiac cruise and had the good fortune to see a whole raft (group of penguins in water) of Penguins swimming around our boat and fishing. We even got to help our Acoustic scientist with taking sound recordings of their interactions. The best part of the outing was the whale that swam around our boat and surfaced not more than 20 mts from the boat. Whales are majestic creatures and this one was no different.


Raft (group) of Penguins fishing in water


A majestic seal just chilling on an Iceberg


A flock of sea-birds fishing with the Vernadsky Station in the background

After we got back we had our lunch and in the afternoon we were supposed to visit another island but couldn’t do so because the entire island was locked in ice and even though the ship we were on was an icebreaker it was too thick for us to go through so Adam (the expedition leader) took the call to not risk it and instead we started sailing back towards Argentina and instead of having just one landing the next day we now had two planned.


Jani and me at the Aft deck

On 8th Morning we again woke up early to watch the ship sail through the entrance to Deception Island, the narrow Neptune’s Bellow’s which was quite picturesque. We landed on Deception island in the Whalers bay which is located in the middle of an active volcano on it. In fact it had erupted in the early 60’s killing one person and causing the base on the island to be abandoned. The island has a rich history and it was a humbling experience to walk around the island to see all the works of man destroyed by the volcano. The island is designated as a historic site so apart from removing any equipment that could be hazardous to the environment it was left as is. We got to see the location from where the first powered flight in Antarctica had taken place along with the remains of the Aircraft hanger.


Historic hanger located at Deception Island where the first powered flight in Antarctic was held

After a walk around the island it was time for the most important part of the voyage: The Polar Dip. Basically we striped to our swimwear and took a dip in the Antarctic water. The volcano raised the temperature of the sand a few degrees so it wasn’t as freezing to walk on but it was still very cold. A majority of the passengers took the plunge and it was amazing. Jani and mom took a single dip while me and Dad went back for a second dip.



Polar Dip, in Antarctica
(Click to view the Video on FB. Message if you can’t access)

As soon as we got out from the water and finished dressing, we were rushed back to the ship where we jumped in the hot shower immediately. The water was cold enough that my body temperature was lowered by a few degrees just from a quick dip. If I had stayed in the water for about 2 mins I could easily develop hypothermia. But the risk was worth it, and the video came out very nicely.

Once we warmed up and were no longer in danger of hypothermia we had lunch and soon it was time for the last landing of the expedition to ‘Walkers Bay’ which is famous for ‘Elephant seals’. Elephant seals are the largest as the largest extant marine mammals and the males can weigh between 2,200 to 4,000 kg each. The bay was very small and we saw about 20-30 seals each of which was just chilling. The island also had some petrified wood and whale remains and a few different varieties of lichen and moss.
After spending about an hour on the island we started the last Zodiac cruise of the trip and it was interrupted in the middle with the galley team serving us a nice hot drink in the middle of the ocean which was quite great. We watched the seals playing with each other and had a drink. Actually now that I think of it, I have now also had a drink on all 7 continents on earth 😊 . Once we got back to the ship we changed and headed down dinner. After dinner we were advised to have the motion sickness tablets before sleeping as we were entering the Drake passage overnight and it was back to choppy sea’s again. Jani, mom and dad all took the tablets and crashed for the night while I read some more and watched movies.


At Walkers Bay with elephant seals in the background

The next day we relaxed (as much as possible due to the choppy sea) and returned the boots etc. There were a few lectures planned and we attended a few when we felt like it but for the most part we were in the room watching movies or sleeping. On 9th night our ship received a distress call and was asked to help search for a Chilean military plane which had lost contact near our location. Hondius was one of two ships in the region and immediately started search and rescue in a grid pattern. We didn’t know the details at night as the call had come quite late and we only got an announcement about the distress call and that we were starting S&R. The entire expedition staff and the crew was awake all-night watching the seas for any sign of the aircraft, lifeboats or debris from the crash. We still hadn’t found any signs of the craft next day when we were given more details about the situation. The Chilean navy had dispatched 4 destroyers to help with the search but they were still 24 hours away (the passage is ~500kms from land) so we were asked to extend the voyage by another day to help with the search. This was a bad experience as we had to sail against the waves due to the grid pattern of the search making the rocking of the boat even worse increasing the sea-sickness in the passengers. Plus the delay meant that all the folks who were flying back the day we were supposed to reach would miss their flights and had to rebook. Our flight back was the next day so we didn’t have to worry about that but it was a sober 24 hours.
The Chilean ship reached the passage 10th evening and we were released but till then we hadn’t found any trace of the plane and all 38 passengers on board were now presumed dead. The remains of the plane were not found till 11th night and it was confirmed all 38 folks on board had not survived. It was a sad way to end the trip, but that’s life. You never know when its your time.


Group shot of the Oceanic Expeditions staff who made the trip really memorable

We reached Ushuaia in the evening and immediately went to the B&B and checked in. Mom and dad were tired so immediately crashed for the night but me and Jani walked around the city to check out the views and pick up some food. It was quite nice the walk was fun.


Passport Stamp for Antarctica

The next day we had an early start as we were starting the first leg of the return journey at 9am. When we got to the airport the guy at the check-in counter told us that there was a later flight available that would mean not having to change airports in Buenos Aires. Our original flight would have required us to take a 1 hour drive to the other airport from where we would board the Ethiopian Airlines flight. Since we had time and this change would save us from having to move from one airport to the other we changed the flight and flew out at 11:30. This detour required us to do a halt on the way, where we had to exit the airport and then check in again but it was still more convenient compared to the original option.

Once we reached Buenos Aires we had a bit of time to kill before we were able to check in. During check in we ensured that we got seats allocated for the entire leg and the return journey was uneventful but quite long. We finally reached Delhi almost 40 hours after we started from Ushuaia and had a day to recover before boarding the flight back to Bangalore.

Reaching home was a relief and with the marathon flights ended we had completed the trip of a lifetime.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

November 15, 2019

Family trip to Gandikota & Belum Caves

Filed under: Travel/Trips,Uncategorized — Suramya @ 12:46 AM

After almost a year of planning we finally did a family road trip to Gandikota. Surabhi and me have been wanting to go for the trip for ages but due to various constraints we haven’t managed to get a time that worked for all of us. This weekend was an extended weekend since 1st was a holiday in Karnataka (Karnataka Rajostava) so we all decided to drive down for the long weekend.

We started early in the morning from our house and drove over to pick up Surabhi, Vinit and the kids. To our surprise they were all ready to start on time 🙂 which is a minor miracle if you know Vinit and Surabhi well enough. We put the kids to sleep in the backseat of their car the same way our parents used to put me and Surabhi to sleep during their long trips and then both the cars started (we took two cars so that the kids could sleep comfortably in the back and we had space to stretch out) Another notable part of the drive was that we took our driver with us for the first time, otherwise I always drive when we do road-trips (except when we are renting a TT).


Vir and Sara sleeping in the car

The drive was relaxing with good roads for the majority of the way and since we had started early we managed to miss the majority of the traffic and made good time. About 3/4 of the way to Gandikota we stopped for breakfast as we know that the last part of the drive was through some really isolated parts and the only thing to eat would have been plants. I know that we are vegetarians but even then I prefer my food to be cooked and not raw ;). Since it was still early most of the shops were still closed but we found this small shop that was open and they served us piping hot food and the cost of all our food was less than what it would have costed for 1 person’s food in Bangalore. During traveling I have found that the small shops serving local food are the best value for money and consistently provide great food. Keep in mind that you should order the local delicacies and not stuff from other places. e.g. if you are ordering paneer or Chinese food at a small roadside shop in Tamil Nadu then be prepared to get a unique interpretation of how the dish should taste.


Random stop on the way to enjoy the lovely scenery

After breakfast all of us were back on road and we made good time to the location. When we booked the tents the guy had sent us a GPS location and when reached the location there were a few buildings but no sign of a place where we could collect the tents etc. To make things interesting we were not getting a good signal on the phones but after a few mins we managed to make contact with the guy and he guided us to the Resort run by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department. This is pretty much the only place to stay near the fort/gorge except for tents, so if you are traveling there and want to stay in the resort you will need to do an advance booking. Although I would personally recommend that you stay in tents for a much more fun experience.

We got there just in time for lunch which was served in the resort itself. The food was basic but well prepared. So we had lunch and had a lot of time to kill since we were going to get the tents in the evening (around 4-5pm) as it was too hot during the day to stay in tents. Because we were traveling with kids and wanted to have immediate access to a restroom we decided to get a room with an attached bathroom. The resort was booked up but there was a standalone room about 200mts from the resort with an attached bathroom that was available so we got that. It was a great decision as we then had a place (with AC) that we could laze around in during the day till it became cool enough to get the tents and start the camping part of the trip.

All of us except the kids slept for a few hours and while we were sleeping the water-tank above the room starting overflowing creating an open air shower. Vir and Sara immediately took advantage of the fact and took an imprompto shower in the overflowing water. Not sure how clean the water was but since Surabhi made sure they took another bath to clean up I don’t think it was that big a deal and I am sure it was a lot of fun.

In the evening we got the tents allocated, Vinit and Surabhi had taken their own tent and we set them up right at the gorge tip (about 10-15 feet from the edge). The view from the campsite as the sun was setting was just amazing. As I was expecting a clear sky with hardly any artificial light I had taken my telescope with us and as soon as it got dark I set it up and was able to see Jupiter, and some of the other planets. While I was doing that along with Vir and Sara, the rest of the folks got the campfire going and used it to cook Maggie noodles. Vir and Sara (plus Vinit) were super excited to cook on a campfire, me and Jani on the other hand had dinner that was provided by Gandikota Adventure Camp. Once again the food was basic but decently made.


Gandikota Gorge (AKA Grand Canyon of India)

Due to this being a long weekend the campsite was super crowded and it was also the noisiest campsite that I have ever camped in. There were multiple groups playing music and singing along (some of them quite badly) but for the most part people were accommodating and when asked reduced the volume of music. The night was cool but since the rock underneath had absorbed the heat during the day, the tent became quite warm within a few mins of us turning in. As you know I am not a fan of the heat so me and Jani opened the zip and slept off with our heads outside the tent which was surprisingly comfortable and since it was a clear sky we got an amazing view of the heavens to gaze at while we were falling asleep. The only (minor) issue we faced was that the tent was at a slight incline and we both kept rolling to the side of the tent and poor Jani kept getting squished.


Sunset at the Gorge

We all woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise and in sharp contrast to the noise previous night everyone was quiet and reverent in the morning. As the sun rose the view of the gorge was out of the world and so peaceful that we didn’t feel like moving or doing anything other than just chilling. But all good things end so we had to get our stuff and head back to the room to change/use the bathroom etc. That’s when we found out that right next to our room there were a lot of pay to use toilets/showers available and there was a long queue for them. But we had our own bathroom so we got ready quickly and headed out for breakfast which was served at the resort itself.


View just as the sun was rising

The food was ok, but surprisingly tea/coffee wasn’t included in the breakfast and had to be purchased separately. Since I don’t drink either it wasn’t much difference for me but both Vinit and Jani were annoyed. While we had our food the kids made new friends and enjoyed the play area.

As Surabhi was not well she went back to the room to sleep and the rest of us went to the Gandikota fort to explore and it was worth the effort. The fort itself wasn’t much and there was a functional village within its walls complete with farm animals and chickens, but the view from the view point was phenomenal and worth the effort to walk there in-spite of the heat and sun. We got some amazing pics at the location and spent a while just chilling while the kids explored. By the time we got back Surabhi was awake and feeling a lot better so we made her jealous by showing the pics we had taken and discussed what to do next.


View from inside the fort

Other than the fort there is not much to do around the camp and the guide had suggested that we drive over to Belum caves in the evening. Even though me and Jani had already seen the caves earlier it was worth a second visit so we drove over to the caves. Unfortunately it had been raining the past few days and due to the water draining into the cave complex part of the caves had become filled with mud/slush. When we had come the last time that wasn’t the case and we had walked over the entire complex. This time however it would have meant that we would have to walk through knee deep mud so we decided that we weren’t that eager to see the caves and went down with the agreement that we would only explore the caves till the point they were dry and walk-able (for us and the kids) and if it got muddy we would retreat back to the surface.


Group photo inside Belum caves

We did manage to explore a good portion of the cave before the mud and tired (therefore cranky) kids made us head back to the surface where we fortified ourselves for the drive back with tea, juice and snacks. Vinit, Vir and Sara also got a fish spa done (which was a new addition) but the food options here were still quite sparse. If you are visiting be prepared for very basic (and limited) meal options, else you can carry your own food and have a picnic.


Vir the caveman

The drive back was uneventful and quite lovely. We got back as the sun was setting so we freshened up and immediately headed back to the camp-site. This time there were a lot less tents but a lot more noisy crowd. We had multiple trekking groups in the venue and most of them were playing music and dancing. One group in particular that was fortunately a good distance away from our tent was doing what sounded like a tribal fire dance that they show in the movies about jungle tribes (circling the campfire chanting oga-laga-oga-laga). We enjoyed the night and jsut chatted for a long time. After a while we decided to crash but unfortunately there was a group of guys from AP right next to our tent who were one of the more obnoxious and loud groups that I have ever encountered. We actually had to ask them to keep it down multiple times and finally around 1am Jani walked over and told the guys to shutdown the music. They responded by saying that they would stop it in another hour. When we told them that was unacceptable they finally turned it down and started winding down. Though they were so drunk at this point that their soft voices were still very loud and irritating. Thankfully they finally fell asleep and we got a bit of peace and quiet.

Next morning, these folks tried running away without disposing their trash and when Vinit asked them to cleanup their excuse was that they were attacked by a cow when they started to clean up and that’s why they hadn’t done it. Vinit responded by telling them that there was no cow around right then so they should clean up before it came back. After trying a few other excuses they had no choice but to clean up after themselves.


Jani is not a morning person 🙂

We freshened up and went for breakfast after which we started back. The drive back was a lot more slower because we were hitting peak traffic and it took us forever to get back to Bangalore. Once we got into Bangalore we hit the lovely Bangalore traffic and got to spend some quality time with the other commuters.

This was the first trip that we had done and will be doing a lot more such trips in the future assuming we can coordinate our schedules.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

November 8, 2019

Diwali Trip to Delhi and more

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 4:34 PM

Last to last week was quite eventful as me and Jani took a 9 day trip to Delhi + other places and celebrated Diwali. The trip started with us flying to Delhi on the 18th and for some reason the drive that usually takes an hour on an average took us a bit longer than 2 hours. Thankfully we had kept enough of a buffer when leaving that we had a whole 15 mins before the check-in counter closed. The flight was a bit delayed but otherwise uneventful. I have to say Vistara is fast becoming one of my favorite airlines for domestic travel due to the sheer professionalism of the staff and the standard of service they maintain. Once we got to Delhi it was quite late so we crashed and then on Saturday we spent the first half of the day running errands and finishing dental appointments. In the evening Jani and me drove over to the Sector 18 market to try out the local chaat’s and other foods. The whole area has changed quite a bit and I could barely recognize the place.

On Sunday we left early in the morning from home for my dad’s brother’s place in the Village. The drive was quite uneventful for the first half and as we neared the place there is a particular temple called ‘Gufa’ (cave) which has some religious significance. Since it was the Sunday before Diwali a million folks (at least it felt like a million folks) had descended on the place for pilgrimage/prayers and the traffic cop told us to take an alternate route if we didn’t want to be stuck in a jam for the next 3-4 hours. So we took a detour and the road took us through the real interiors of Villages and as it was the first time Jani was seeing the north-Indian villages it was a great experience. After a while just as we were supposed to merge back on the highway we found another traffic jam which was about 2-3 kms long. Once again one of the local folks directed us to use an alternate route and this one was scary. The path was barely wider than the car and both sides was overgrown with plants reducing the visibility even more. Mom was scared stiff and I actually have a video of us driving through the path. It is difficult to believe that this was a regularly used road but as per the guy who directed us it was used regularly.


The ‘wide’ path we had to drive on

This time we were able to merge back on the main road without issues and shortly after we reached our place in Baoli. It was great to be there and meet Chachaji (Dad’s younger Brother) and Chachiji (his wife) but the place felt empty. This was the first time I had visited after my grandmother passed away and usually when I visited my cousins or other relatives would also be there at the same time. This time it was just us so it felt weird and empty. It was great spending time with them and having homecooked pure healthy food. After spending a few hours relaxing and catching up we took our leave to drive over to mom’s place.


Family photo at Baoli

The drive was great and interestingly the roads are in amazing condition. The road connecting the villages (not the highway) was in better condition than the main roads in Bangalore. The road follows the Ganga Naher (Canal) and is a beautiful drive. There was no water in the canal as they had stopped the flow to do cleanup and maintenance of the canal bed but still the drive was impressive and fun.

Thanks to the great roads we made good time and reached Basera quite quickly. I was visiting the place after almost a decade and there were a lot of changes in the village and the house. But at the same time things were same enough that I got a weird sense that something was off but it was tricky to identify what was causing it. For example the road in front of the house was raised up by almost 6-8 inches. This meant instead of going up two steps to get to the front entrance of the house it was just 1 step and it caused cognitive dissonance for a while. Initially I thought that I was remembering the enterance being a lot higher since I was younger/shorter when I last visited but after a while, I figured out that it was actually because of the raised road that everything looked lower.

We had tea and homemade sweets post which I took Jani around the house and Gher (traditionally the men stayed separate from the ladies and stayed in the Gher. Plus the farm animals etc were kept there as well. Since I spent a lot of my childhood here there were a lot of stories to tell about my childhood and places I remembered. Ashok bhaiya joined us after a bit and took us to the orchard behind the Gher. He spent a lot of effort telling me about the various plants and trees that are there but most of it went over my head. Thankfully Jani was there and since she is really interested in plants/gardening they both had a good long conversation about trees and basically ignored me which was fine with me as I was happy listening without having to contribute.

While we were exploring it turned dark and we headed back home for some amazing food dripping in homemade butter and some homemade pickle. After dinner we hung out for a while catching up with family and then crashed as we had started quite early in the morning.


Jani Helping with cooking by making Poori’s

Next morning we got up quite early (based on our normal wakeup times) and after another filling meal Ashok bhaiya took us around the village and fields. We took the tractor and me & Jani relaxed in the back in the trailer while bhaiya drove. The first place we visited was a Bura refinery (Bura sugar is the least refined or processed form of sugar or sugarcane juice.) they were making the Bura for sale and apparently that has added chemicals in it and is different from the one made for home consumption. It was cool to see how it is made though it was a bit stinky as the burning wood combined with heated sugarcane juice gives off a very strong smell.
We didn’t hang around for long and soon we were on our way to our fields where we were growing Sugarcane and the attached orchard had a lot of different fruit trees. I remember Mango, Guava, peach but there were a lot more. As before Jani and Bhaiya discussed the various trees and how they were grown etc. For me I was enjoying the nature and fresh fruits. After a while we drove over to the other orchard where we primarily grow Mango’s and this one was infested with monkeys. Apparently the infestation is bad enough that farmers regularly loose a lot of their crops to them and since they are so many of them you can’t even chase them off without risking them attacking you. Thankfully we weren’t attacked while we were there and soon drove back home for lunch.


Jani & me at the Sugarcane fields

Lunch was quite relaxed and we chilled at home for a bit before heading out again in the evening to check out the Naher and buy some plants from the nursery near the place. This time I drove and we first visited a water powered Mill (or Atta Chakki in Hindi) which was shut down for a bit due to the ongoing repair in the canal. After that we drove over to the nursery where Jani was in heaven. We bought a lot of plants for a fraction of the cost compared to Delhi/Bangalore and thankfully they were all for the house in Delhi instead of Bangalore as my balcony is running out of space for more plants. 😊

After shopping we returned home and had dinner. Since folks in the villages sleep early everyone soon went to sleep while Jani and me went to the roof to try seeing the Orionid meteor shower. But we were not lucky enough to see much and if we had stayed up longer I am sure we would have seen something but we were also tired so we crashed soon.


Family Pic at Basera

Next day we woke up early and headed back to Delhi. On the way we passed a village named Jani and the police station for the same. I made sure we took a pic of Jani in front of the police station for Jani village and the folks watching us gave us funny looks while we were taking the pics. The drive back was uneventful and we made good time and reached home without much delay. Once we reached home, Jani had a dental appointment which took most of the evening and then we crashed.


Jani Village


Jani Police Station

Next day we explored Delhi and visited the usual suspects. Starting we Lotus temple, Humayun’s tomb, India Gate and last and not the least Kutub Minar. I was visiting Humayun’s tomb for the first time even though I have been staying in Delhi for years. It is quite nice and well maintained. After exploring Delhi we returned home and starting the next day I was working from home so we basically relaxed at home for the most part. Jani and mom did go shopping a few times and bought a bunch of stuff. I am happy I had the excuse of working so I could avoid joining them for their shopping expeditions.


Lotus temple


Us at Humayun’s tomb

Unfortunately I managed to catch a viral during one of the visits and just as my work ended on Friday I started feeling the effects and by the time I went to bed I was miserable and the next 2 days were painful and tiring. Basically I survived on Soup and meds. Thankfully by Sunday afternoon I was a bit better as we had Jeeto mausi, Mausaji, Axu and Montu visiting for lunch. Lunch was fun even though I couldn’t eat much but it was great to catchup with them after a long time. Post lunch we did the puja in the evening and lit the Diya’s which was nice. Surprisingly hardly any folks were bursting crackers this time, so it was quite peaceful and not too bad pollution wise.


Monday again I was working so I spent the day in my room while Jani and parents hung out and shopped. Our flight was in the evening so we all piled into the car around 6 and drove over to the airport. Since we got there early enough we went to the Airport Lounge and it was tiny. Hardly big enough for more than 30-40 people at a time and not much food/drinks options were there either. The flight back was mostly uneventful and we reached home around 2am. Thankfully most of the luggage survived the trip except one bowl that was sacrificed to the travel gods during the trip.

Overall the trip was a lot of fun and going forward I am going to visit Basera & Baoli much more frequently.

– Suramya

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