I’ve been researching Bali and Indonesia thoroughly for my upcoming honeymoon. And I’ve come across a lot of scary literature about the corruption, thievery and chaos rampant in the country. But there’s one common thread in all the advisories. They all say that if you’re from India, you may not have much cause to worry. We Indians are among the toughest lot, you see. We’ve already clawed, pushed and sweet-talked our way through the trickiest of skirmishes. And it would take a LOT to challenge our hardened guts.
Crowded trains? No problem. We’re used to it.
No road signs? Piece of cake.
Pickpocketers on the loose? Been there, done that.
Crying babies on an airplane? It’s all right, we understand.
Okay, the last one may not be entirely true but we Indians certainly have an admirable tolerance for noise, unruliness and things going wrong in general. Maybe that’s why we excel in so many fields, despite battling so many disadvantages that the First World countries have never experienced. And amidst all of this, there’s our culture – soft and squishy as a mother’s embrace and in stark contrast to the hardships many of us face every day. India is really like a coconut – tough on the outside but sweet and welcoming once you’ve made it past all the roadblocks. Lufthansa, a German airline, has somehow managed to capture this essence of our country in its marketing campaigns and advertisements. Their team knows that the world is #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Here is their latest commercial, themed around our favourite religion – cricket.
I’m writing this post a day after many netizens in India took offence to an alleged comment by Snapchat’s CEO, where he called India ‘too poor to use Snapchat’. India may be poor but there are so many of us here, that even if only a fraction of the population constitutes potential customers, it’s still a very significant number. Lufthansa is definitely not making the mistake of ignoring India. Rather, all their thoughtful customisations in flights from India point to their respect for our global standing and consideration for our sweet-as-halwa cultural habits. You and I may be really global in our outlooks but let’s face it, we’re still Indian at our core. Even decades of living in a foreign country fails to blunt our sense of ‘jugaad’ and our craving for dal. Let’s imagine that your proudly desi mumma is flying to see you in Trump country on a Lufthansa flight.
She doesn’t care for ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. It’s all good – Lufthansa crew are trained to greet her with a perfectly executed ‘Namaste’ and a smile that actually feels real.
She believes in using the Matrubhasha. Lufthansa’s crew are all ready to charm her with their fluency in Hindi and adept use of ‘aap’ and ‘jee zaroor’.
She doesn’t do rolls and baked beans. Great, because she’s going to be treated to expertly cooked paneer sabzi, roti and pulao on Lufthansa flights.
She can’t get enough of KJo films. Lufthansa knows that angrezi and experimental films are not for everyone. So they’ve stocked enough Bollywood films to last an entire flight and more.
And I have a sneaky feeling you won’t find too many crying babies on Lufthansa flights. All those smiling faces ought to allay their crankiness, right?
My favourite travel book is ‘In Xanadu’ by William Dalrymple. The story of his travels across Jerusalem and Mongolia is arresting because of the context – he’s actually retracing the route taken by Marco Polo, better known as The Silk Route – and the added drama of his evolving relationship with his travel partner, not to mention the fact that many of the areas on his route are dangerous and inaccessible. These three elements make it much more than just the recounting of an itinerary. They make it better than fiction. Johnny English’s story does not have a historical context but it does have his personal history with the places and the titbits about his wife and travel companion thrown in. If you have never been to the United States of America, this book will serve as an interesting introduction to some of its cities. And if you have been on a road trip from New York City to Houston like English, you can compare notes.
Published by Notion Press, the book is divided into six chapters spanning 117 pages and a different segment for each day. Overall, it’s a 31 day road trip that English and his South African (as he often reminds us) wife Rosetta. The story could easily have extended over more pages by slowing down the narrative and adding more life to it. Instead, the book reads like a hurried journey through English’s travels. However, that might be a good thing for readers who don’t enjoy an excess of description and are using the book more as a guide than introspective reading material. I am still uncertain which one to slot the book in – at times, it reads like a guide, full of practical information regarding routes, prices, booking resources and timings. On other occasions, the author does ruminate upon long drives and friends met along the way. Matters might be made simpler if the story and the information were separated, rather like the Lonely Planet magazine articles where you first have an inspiring and descriptive write-up, followed by a practical guide with all the information you’d need to plan your own trip. That way, you first entice the reader and then you inform them. Nevertheless, one does get used to English’s style after a few pages. Over the course of his travels across cities and towns like Chicago, Florida, Chattanooga and New Orleans, English and his wife stay in a variety of Airbnbs with mixed experiences. He concludes that motels might be a safer alternative in America unless you go for more expensive Airbnbs.
English definitely likes his beer and one of the biggest discoveries he makes during the trip is America’s penchant for craft beer. The book is a veritable treasure trove of the best bars in America. English comes across as a traveller who is finicky about the details and about getting a good run for his money. If your travel style is something like that, you’ll have a lot to glean from the book. He goes into detail about which attractions are worth visiting and which aren’t. The weather often plays havoc in his plans in the form of unexpected downpours termed as ‘flash floods’. That’s something we don’t see often in India where monsoon has a designated slot in the calendar. But unseasonal rains are common in several parts of the world. The back of the book says that English developed a passion for travelling early on in his life as his parents separated when he was young and he spent a lot of time in Australia as a teenager to spend time with his father. It would’ve been nice if English had elaborated upon these experiences in the book.
The journey doesn’t take place entirely on the road. For the initial part of the journey, English relies on public transport. In his opinion, long distance trains in America are not very convenient due to their strange timings that can have you arriving at your destination late at night or departing in the wee hours. In that huge country, one often has to take flights to travel between cities and these tend to have long layovers. Thus, your itinerary is then slave to the flight routes. If you are particular about where you want to go, the road is your best friend. English advises against travelling by United Airlines as they charge extra for baggage.
There is no ‘contents’ page in the book with a listing of chapters and corresponding destinations, which might’ve been useful. But I’ll do that for you:
Day 1-3: New York City
Day 4: Niagara Falls
Day 5-7: Chicago
Day 8-11: New Orleans
Day 12: The Florida Panhandle
Day 13: Tampa
Day 14-15: Miami
Day 16: Key West
Day 17: Jacksonville
Day 18-19: Charleston
Day 20-21: Chattanooga
Day 22-23: Memphis
Day 24: El Dorado
Day 25-26: Galveston
Day 27: San Antonio
Day 28-30: Austin
Day 31: Houston
That’s 18 cities in 31 days – quite a tiring itinerary, I’d have to say. I was extremely interested in reading about English’s experience in New Orleans since I’ve seen much of the city in a show called Vampire Diaries. In the show, it seems to be a vibrant city full of French and African cultural influences, streets that come alive with live Jazz in the night and an intriguing history of witchcraft. So, I was quite disappointed to note that English wasn’t in the least impressed with the city. He does however spend four days in New Orleans, which is the maximum duration that he spends in any city during the road trip.
Did you know that the Niagara Falls is shared by America and Canada? There is an interesting episode in the book where English and his wife attempt to drive over to the Canadian side but are stopped by officials as they don’t have a Canadian visa. A few times, the author gets a room upgrade as well which leaves him and his wife positively ecstatic. He’s also particularly taken by The Science and Industry Museum in Chicago which has four levels of simulated reality and life-sized exhibits. Chicago is one of his favourite cities on this road trip and one discovers several interesting facts about the city. For instance, it has the largest post office in the world, dating back to the 1920s. English highly recommends the La Quinta Hotel in Chicago, then called the Chicago Lakeshore.
The realisation that the United States is a truly enormous country dawns upon English when he loses an entire hour while crossing from Navarre Beach to Panama City. In Miami, he enjoys an Indian village tour and alligator wrestling show for $10. The city of Charleston turns out to be a particularly enjoyable stop on his road trip, with its beautiful harbour and interesting markets. English also encounters several quirky laws such as the one in Washington that says you may not bite off another person’s leg. And then in Arizona, if you steal soap, your punishment is to wash yourself until the bar is completely used up!
In conclusion, One Awesome Roadtrip is definitely worth a quick read. But I’d love to see English attempt a slow travel account next time. Then again, maybe I’ll beat him to it!
One Awesome Roadtrip
Author: Johnny English ISBN 9789352062492 Type : Paperback
Price: Rs 299 / Rs 199 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Notion Press
Ricky Ponting is in town and his visit has nothing to do with cricket. The former Test captain of the Australian cricket team was present at The Taj Land’s End in Bandra last week along Will Hodgman, Premier, Tasmanian Government and John Fitzgerald, CEO, Tasmania Tourism to talk about Tasmania’s potential as a tourist destination. The event was preceded by the launch of ASAM Executive Leadership Program which is a unique Flagship 5 day residential executive leadership program in Tasmania in 2017 where participants will learn from Australia’s most successful leaders.
Although he lives in Melbourne now, Ponting returns to Tasmania every chance he gets. Talking about why his hometown has such a special place in his heart, he says, “I still travel around Australia and the world a lot. But nothing beats home. The beautiful clean air, breath-taking scenery, the incredible food and wine, brilliant golf courses, lifelong friends and of course, my family make it special.” As one of the internationally best known faces of Australia, Ponting is a well thought-out choice for Tasmania’s brand ambassador. “I am so humbled to be an ambassador for Tasmania. Every day I do my best to promote all the incredible parts of my home state and now to have an official role means so much to me,” he says.
We have all heard about the Tasmanian devil. But there is so much more to this island state located off Australia’s southern coast. Matthew Groom, Minister for State Growth, Tasmania, elaborates, “It’s Australia’s best kept secret, it’s got the cleanest air and water in the world, half of Tasmania is protected, including a World Heritage Area which is spectacular. It’s got beautiful food and wine, recognised as among the best in Australia. And it’s a very warm and welcoming place. So Tasmania is a great option for anyone contemplating an Australian holiday.”
The state’s best known mascot, the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial, has been endangered in recent times. But Groom says its condition has improved, “The Tasmanian devil is our national animal and we’re making great strides in saving it since it suffered a great disease that impacted its population. We’ve been undertaking research with institutions around the world to save the Tasmanian devil and they’ve been very successful. But we have plenty of them still in the wild, along with lots of other interesting animals.” Another strange species unique to this island is the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, distinguished by its stripes.
If you’ve seen the cult show Lost, you’ve heard John Locke wax eloquent about bushwalking, an activity specific to Australia that broadly involves walking experiences in natural or green areas. Bushwalking is a popular activity in Tasmania as well, thanks to its mountainous landscapes and rich biodiversity. But if you do plan to embark on a bushwalk, make sure you have a local guide along because it’s all too easy to get lost in the wilderness. You can also camp overnight at state parks and nature reserves for an unforgettable travel experience.
I realise that we are two months into the year, but there’s no law against posting a wanderlust list in March. Besides you know what they say about wishes – let the Universe know and they shall manifest (subject to terms and conditions)! Hoping that the forces are listening, here is a list of destinations to explore in 2016:
I have been up north but the beauty of Leh-Ladakh in Kashmir is undeniable. Although I’ve travelled across India, I don’t think there’s any place as beautiful as these inaccessible, mountainous areas. Their impossibly lovely landscapes, lakes and fields call out to me and I hope to take a Ladakh tour when the weather is more forgiving. According to those well versed in Ladakh tourism, June to September is the best time to visit the region.
Japan has been on my wanderlust list ever since I laid eyes on its picturesque gardens and gorgeous cherry blossoms that carpet the streets and parks during flowering season. And then I discovered Haruki Murakami who acquainted me with its prefectures and admirable modern culture. Travel to this country has turned out to be painstakingly expensive, so I’ll need a sponsor to make a trip there. I can’t wait to ride their flawless metros and make it to the outlands.
Who doesn’t want to go to Turkey? Both the tourism board and tour operators have done a great job of acquainting travellers with delightful places like Antalya and Cappadocia. Turkey with its alluring melange of Arabian and European influences is definitely on my wanderlust. As a lover of history and architecture, I am keen on visiting the Temple of Artemis and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; not to mention picking up beautiful souvenirs in the Grand Bazaar.
How can I not lust after Ireland when it has served as the arresting venue for a show as grandiose as Game of Thrones? Mention Ireland and you are transported to a land of steep cliffs, boisterous seas, Irish whiskey and endless green pastures. I have been to London and the English countryside but I have not yet been able to slake my thirst for Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway, Blarney Castle and the Titanic monument at Belfast are some of the attractions I want to visit.
I have a friend living in St. Petersburg and he has ensured that I am not a stranger to the glorious land of Russia. Every street, building, and park in Moscow and St. Petersburg seems to be straight out of a fairy tale. Russia is on my lust list for its Kremlins, the charming Mediterranean coastline of Crimea, the snowy landscapes and mountains of Kamchatka and the beautiful colonnades and squares of St. Petersburg.
Until 2014, whenever people asked me about my travel bucket list, I was always at a loss. The truth is, you have to see some of the world in order to start craving for the rest of it. 2015 did that for me. And most likely, my feet will be pretty busy in 2016 as well.
What’s on your wanderlust list this year? Leave a comment and let me know.
Follow me as I globe-trot to exotic destinations this year:
We travel to fall in love; with a stranger’s land and a culture that often has nothing in common with ours other than that it’s also based on love and mutual respect. But what British Airways has accomplished with its latest heartwarming campaign is to remind us of the immense warmth nestled in our own homes. The ‘fuelled by love’ short film depicts a typical old Tamilian Brahmin lady, who takes great pleasure in playing the veena and churning out fluffy warm idlis. She encounters a friendly young airhostess aboard a British Airways flight and somehow, irrespective of differences in age, nationality and background, they develop a deep bond.
It’s true that airhostesses are paid to be nice to people on board but we all know that they are not all the same. Every now and then, you encounter one who is particularly polite, not stingy with her smiles and goes that extra mile to put you at ease. Helena is the prototype of a young professional who doesn’t often encounter the familiarity of ‘home’. Imagine being part of an airline whose Indian division operates 49 flights a week from London Heathrow to five cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. It’s but natural that you’d encounter more of India than Britain. And in Helena’s case, she really likes what she sees.
The motive of the campaign is clear – British Airways wants to convey their love for India and reinforce the fact that this love would be quite evident every time you took one of their flights. But the idea of shooting an entire short film and the extremely touching storyline makes it more than just an advertisement. It makes it a hopeful commentary on finding common ground and friends on foreign shores (or skies). Being a Tam-Brahm myself, I couldn’t help but imagine all the lovely paatis (grandmothers) who are often endearingly ignorant when it comes to technology and modern forms of transport. But if we can make it easier by helping each other along the way, we’d be turning travel into a beautiful journey of loving back, don’t you think? That’s the message I choose to take away from the ‘Fuelled by love’ campaign.
I’ve never flown British Airways but when I do, I shall look out for Helena and her ilk. They are the ones who never raise an eyebrow if you ask for water a hundred times during the flight (some people are just easily dehydrated!) and furnish every request with a smile that reaches their eyes.
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