Saturday, 19 August 2017

Postcards from Coorg

It was July 2016, the 16th and 17th. Our office planned a trip to Coorg, Karnataka. We reached Coorg, lazed around for two days, did absolutely nothing, and came back to Bangalore. Yet it remains as one of the more memorable trips for me. Why? I attribute it to is Coorg's peaceful and serene landscapes, which are a treat to one's eyes. Here are a few pictures from the visit. Click here for a detailed account of the trip.  



A bridge where we stopped for a while on the way



View from our home stay at dawn



Another view from our home stay at dawn



The hills seen through clouds and mist

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Wimbledon 2017 : The grand finale



I am a huge fan of Roger Federer and trust me, even before the draw had come out, I had a feeling that Marin Cilic is the one who will be the most difficult to beat for him. When the draw was finally out, I looked at it and had a sigh of relief, seeing that Cilic is not in Roger's half, even though Dimitrov, Raonic and Djokovic were potential opponents for him. Cilic though, turned out to be the last man standing in Federer's way in his quest to capture his 8th Wimbledon trophy. 

As a tennis fan though, I am happy that two of the most in form players on grass managed to overcome all the hurdles and make it to the finals. But as a person trying to predict the outcome of this one, this is as tough as it gets.

HEAD TO HEAD : FEDERER - 6, CILIC - 1
LAST MEETING : 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3 (WIMBLEDON 2016, QF)

Federer might have a superior head to head against the big Croat, but the last two encounters are the most significant ones by far. Cilic got his first victory over the Swiss in the semi finals of the US Open in straight sets, where he went on to win the title too. More recently, they faced in the quarter finals of Wimbledon last year, where Federer narrowly won after being down 2-sets to love and then match points down in the 4th set. So saying that this title is Federer's to lose, is not a spot on analysis in my opinion.

Federer version 2017, is though a different beast to lock horns with. His tennis has been nearly flawless in all departments, including the once relatively rather weaker, backhand. In terms of recent form, both of them have been immaculate. Cilic has tasted just one loss in the grass court season, that too in a close encounter with Feliciano Lopez in the finals of Queen's. Federer on the other hand has fared even better; 11 wins in a row, and yet to drop a set, after his surprise loss to Tommy Haas in Stuttgart. 

In Wimbledon, both of them have served out of their skins. While Cilic has won 84% of his first serves, Federer is close behind at 83%. Federer though, has defended his second serves much better. He has won 66% of his second serve points, while Cilic is under 59% in that department. 

What makes recent form a little more difficult to read is that Cilic hasn't had to face a top 15 opponent so far (Gilles Muller, his highest ranked opponent was seeded 16th). So how will his game differ when facing arguably the best player this season on grass, remains to be seen. 

What I feel is that Cilic is in a great form, as good as his form was when he went on to lift his maiden US Open title in 2014. But Federer has the tools, especially looking at his form this year, to disrupt Cilic's game as and when he wishes. He has looked the better player so far, and unless nerves gives it away for him, or he loses rhythm completely, I see no reason why Federer will lose this one. I predict a clean first set, with one break of serve to Federer sealing the deal. 2 close sets after that, which both take apiece. And then Cilic'c game dipping to give Federer an easy 4th set, the match and his 8th Wimbledon title.

PREDICTION : ROGER FEDERER 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-2

Friday, 14 July 2017

Wimbledon 2017 : Semi final predictions


While Roger Federer and Marin Cilic were among the favourites from the very beginning, not many would have put their money on Sam Querrey and Tomas Berdych to make it to the last 4 of Wimbledon. But here we are, destined either to witness a new champion, or Federer's 8th Wimbledon trophy. So let's have a look at each of the semi finals and try and predict what we might have on our hands today.







[24] SAM QUERREY VS [7] MARIN CILIC

HEAD TO HEAD : 0-4
LAST MEETING : MARIN CILIC 7-6(2), 7-6(3) (WASHINGTON 2015, RD. OF 16)

Sam Querrey has had a fairy tale run this year, and as I mentioned before, nobody would have expected him to make it to the last 4. To his credit, he has knocked out big names such as Tsonga, Kevin Anderson and the reigning world number 1, Andy Murray. He has been excellent with his serves, leading the pack with 126 aces in this tournament. He has won 84% of first serve points and it goes to show that big servers are rewarded at the All England club. Cilic has been equally destructive with his serve, blasting 105 aces and winning 83% of his first serve points. Cilic, though has had a more comfortable path to the semis, playing just 169 games and 3 tie-breaks in 5 matches, while Querrey has played 217 games and 5 tie breaks. I feel the winner of this match will depend on who defends his second serve better, unless one of them plays the game of his life, and takes the match in 3 sets. I don't suppose that will happen though, so I pick Cilic to edge Querrey out in 4 closely fought sets.

PREDICTION : MARIN CILIC 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5



[11] TOMAS BERDYCH VS [3] ROGER FEDERER

HEAD TO HEAD : 6-18
LAST MEETING : MARIN CILIC 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(6) (MIAMI MASTERS 2017, QF)

Tomas Berdcyh hasn't had the best year so far in 2017, as he dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in more than 6 years. In Wimbledon this year though, he has served exceedingly well, winning 85% of his first serve points. In comparison, Federer is just marginally behind, with 82%. But Federer clearly has the edge when it comes to defending his second serve. While Berdych has been winning below 60% of his second serve points, Federer is way ahead at a ridiculous 68%. If we look at their history, Federer has dominated Berdych with 18 wins over him out of 24 matches, but has faced defeat in big matches, including one in the quarter finals of Wimbledon 2010, where Berdych beat him and eventually made it to the finals. Interestingly though, Berdych's last victory over Federer had been way back in the semi finals of Dubai in 2013, after which, he has taken just 2 sets out of 18 from the Swiss in the 7 consecutive defeats which followed. If form is anything to go by, Federer is clearly the favourite, and is yet to drop a set in this tournament. After Djokovic and Murray's exit, people say that it's Federer's tournament to lose, but two big hurdles are still to be overcome, and none are pushovers. This one though, should be the more comfortable of the two, where I see him knock Berdych out with ease, barring maybe a set, in which the Czech will put some fireworks on display.

PREDICTION : ROGER FEDERER 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4




So there we have it then. If my predictions are right, we will have

[7] MARIN CILIC VS [3] ROGER FEDERER 


Let me know if you agree with my predictions. Have a great day!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Wimbledon 2017 : Quarter final predictions



So we are down to the last 8 in the men's draw, and just 3 victories from here will ensure a title at Wimbledon for one of them this year. In my post about the 4th round predictions, I got 7 out of the 8 winners correctly. Any guesses on which one I got wrong? Well, you would be lying if you saw this coming, but I did not think Nadal would be knocked out by the 34 year old Luxembourg veteran, Gilles Muller. Sure, I thought he might trouble Nadal for a set or two, but the latter's game was looking ominous throughout the tournament. Anyway, it was an epic, which I enjoyed watching as a tennis fan, and I hope Rafa continues to play awesome tennis for the rest of the year.

The quarter final line up has 3 of the big four still alive, and not surprisingly, only those 3 are former Wimbledon champions. Will they progress to the semi finals though? Let us look at the matches one by one, and see what can be expected out of each.



[1] ANDY MURRAY VS [24] SAM QUERREY

HEAD TO HEAD : 7-1
LAST MEETING : ANDY MURRAY 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 (AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2017, RD. OF 32)

Andy Murray has performed really well so far, but there have been visible chinks in the armour. He dropped a set to Fognini in the 3rd round, and had to battle back in the first set with a break down against Paire. Querrey might be seeded 23 places below the Scot, but he can rattle any opponent with his big serves. Ask Djokovic if you don't believe me. Anyway, I feel Murray is still the better player in this contest, and barring a complete breakdown in confidence or concentration, he should be able to weather the storm in 4 sets.

PREDICTION : ANDY MURRAY 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4)



[16] GILLES MULLER VS [7] MARIN CILIC

HEAD TO HEAD : 2-0
LAST MEETING : MARIN CILIC 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 (QUEEN'S 2017, SF)

17 years after turning pro, the world is suddenly taking notice of Muller, who is undoubtedly playing the best tennis of his career, vanquishing Nadal 15-13 in the final set in the 4th round. On the other hand is Cilic, who I had considered a serious contender to the title even before the tournament began, and still do so. He is in superlative form, as good as, if not better, than in his run to the US Open triumph back in 2014. Muller has a great serve, but I feel that it will fall short of Cilic's more complete all round game, most notably, his big serves and destructive groundstrokes. Cilic will probably take this in 3, but Muller might take a set off, so I will go with 4 on this one.

PREDICTION : MARIN CILIC 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-3



[6] MILOS RAONIC VS [3] ROGER FEDERER

HEAD TO HEAD : 3-9
LAST MEETING : MILOS RAONIC 6-3, 6-7(3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 (WIMBLEDON 2016, SF)

The biggest match in the quarters by far, is this semi final rematch from last year's edition, where Raonic upset Federer in 5 sets to make it to his maiden grand slam final. Federer is really good against big servers, as he is so good at disrupting their rhythm with chips and slices. But Raonic has been relatively successful against the Swiss, mainly because of his consistency in serve, and a much improved court movement and net play over the years. Federer is in beast mode this year though, and even the powerful Raonic game doesn't seem to be good enough on paper for the man vying for his 8th Wimbledon title this year. This one just might go the distance, but I pick Federer to win comfortably in 3 sets.

PREDICTION : ROGER FEDERER 6-3, 7-6(5), 7-5



[11] TOMAS BERDYCH VS [2] NOVAK DJOKOVIC

HEAD TO HEAD : 2-25
LAST MEETING : NOVAK DJOKOVIC 7-6(6), 6-4 (CANADIAN MASTERS 2016, QF)

With one of the most lopsided head to heads in the modern era, one would argue that a Berdych vs Djokovic clash is usually a foregone conclusion. Yes, Djokovic is not in the best form of his life, but he is yet to drop a set in Wimbledon this year. Does that mean Novak is back to his best? Maybe not just yet. But I feel he is close. Add to it the fact that Berdych is out of the top 10 this year, means even he is not in great form either. It won't be an annihilation, but Djokovic should come out victorious from this one quite comfortably. This match will also be a strong indicator of where Djokovic stands now, because Berdych is a tough opponent, even for Djokovic. If Novak beats him here comfortably, he might just get the confidence back and ride on it to lift the title. Before getting that far ahead though, I say Djokovic in 3.

PREDICTION : NOVAK DJOKOVIC 7-6(3), 6-4, 7-6(5)



According to my predictions then, the semi final line-up should look like this


[1] ANDY MURRAY VS [7] MARIN CILIC

[3] ROGER FEDERER VS [2] NOVAK DJOKOVIC


Let me know what you think of the predictions. I will post my predictions for the semi finals and the finals before match day. Stay tuned and have a great day!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Wimbledon 2017 : 4th round preview and predictions


Arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament in the calendar year, with the final 16 players battling it out to win the coveted trophy.. It has to be the most fascinating week of tennis to look forward to in the entire year. I cannot wait for the round of 16 clashes later today, hence, I will give a little preview of each of the matches along with my predictions.




[1] ANDY MURRAY VS BENOIT PAIRE

HEAD TO HEAD : 1-0
LAST MEETING : ANDY MURRAY 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 (MONTE CARLO MASTERS 2016, RD. OF 16)

At a similar stage earlier this year, Andy was to face Mischa Zverev in the Australian Open, and in my predictions post, I dismissed the challenge, and predicted Murray to come out in straight sets. I was wrong though. Andy couldn't find an answer to Mischa's relentless charge to the net, and was sent packing in 4 sets. So could Paire pull another upset on the world number 1? I wouldn't put my money on that though, especially when Andy is feeling so much at home on his favourite surface, grass. Paire might take a set off, but I see this going just one way, all the way.

PREDICTION : ANDY MURRAY 6-3, 6-4, 7-5


[24] SAM QUERRY VS KEVIN ANDERSON

HEAD TO HEAD : 8-5
LAST MEETING : KEVIN ANDERSON 6-7(5), 7-6(3), 6-3 (MIAMI MASTERS 2015, RD. OF 64)

A clash of big servers, expect this one to have a few tie breaks. While Anderson defeated Verdasco, Seppi and Bemelmans on his way to the last 16, Querrey took down Fabbiano, Basillashvili and Tsonga. This one could go either way, but I pick Querrey, the guy who beat an invincible Djokovic last year in the lawns of Wimbledon, to beat Anderson in 4 sets.

PREDICTION : SAM QUERREY 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 7-5


[4] RAFAEL NADAL VS [16] GILLES MULLER

HEAD TO HEAD : 5-1
LAST MEETING : KEVIN ANDERSON 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 (INDIAN WELLS MASTERS 2016, RD. OF 64)

Gilles Muller is exactly the kind of opponent that Nadal would have wanted to avoid in the first week of Wimbledon when the draw came out. The reason being that more the grass wears off towards the latter part of the tournament, the more dangerous Nadal gets, as the surface keeps getting slower. But looking at the way he is playing, I doubt it would have mattered. Muller might give the Spaniard some trouble with his big serves and hurrying him with some net play, but the ominous Nadal will come out unscathed in 3, or just maybe 4 sets.

PREDICTION : RAFAEL NADAL 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-2


[19] ROBERTO BAUTISTA AGUT VS [7] MARIN CILIC

HEAD TO HEAD : 1-2
LAST MEETING : BAUTISTA AGUT 6-4, 7-6(5), 7-5 (AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2016, RD. OF 32)

Bautista Agut took out Nishikori in the 3rd round, but Cilic is another beast altogether. He has served excellently throughout the grass court season and is looking in great form. I actually feel he is a legitimate contender to lift the trophy too. Agut doesn't have the game to weather the storm that Cilic will conjure today.

PREDICTION : MARIN CILIC 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(4)


[6] MILOS RAONIC VS [10] ALEXANDER ZVEREV

HEAD TO HEAD : 0-1
LAST MEETING : ALEXANDER ZVEREV 7-6(4), 6-1 (ROME MASTERS 2017, QF)

This one, for me, is going to be the match to look forward to the most in this round. Raonic, last year's runner up here, will ride on that confidence, and will look to go one better this year. Zverev on the other hand, is improving with every match he is playing, and I see him as a definite (near) future number 1. In fact, both men have an outside chance to lay their hands on the trophy and neither will bow out without a fight. I am really torn on this one, but I think Raonic will narrowly edge out the German with his superior serve and volley game.

PREDICTION : MILOS RAONIC 5-7, 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 8-6


[13] GRIGOR DIMITROV VS [3] ROGER FEDERER

HEAD TO HEAD : 0-5
LAST MEETING : ROGER FEDERER 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 (AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2016, RD. OF 32)

Dimitrov is playing decent tennis this year, and made the semi finals of Queen's, losing out to the eventual champion Feliciano Lopez. That being said, Federer is playing ruthless tennis this year, and is yet to drop a set in his 8 victories on grass since his loss to Hass at Stuttgart. Dimitrov's game is similar to Roger's in many ways, but whatever Dimitrov does, Federer does it better. On paper the Bulgarian does seem like a threat to Federer's bid to win his 8th Wimbledon, but I think the Swiss maestro will brush him aside with ease.

PREDICTION : ROGER FEDERER 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(3)


[8] DOMINIC THIEM VS [11] TOMAS BERDYCH
HEAD TO HEAD : 0-1
LAST MEETING : TOMAS BERDYCH 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, (US OPEN 2014, RD. OF 16)

This one is also not as straight forward as it seems. I would have picked Thiem on clay or even on hard courts, but on grass, he is still improving. Berdych is a dangerous opponent, who can outhit most of the players on tour. I back him to do so against Thiem today, and feel he will come through in 4 sets.

PREDICTION : TOMAS BERDYCH 7-6(5), 6-3, 4-6, 7-5


ADRIAN MANNARINO VS [2] NOVAK DJOKOVIC

HEAD TO HEAD : 0-1
LAST MEETING : NOVAK DJOKOVIC 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(5), (WIMBLEDON 2016, RD. OF 64)

Mannarino did upset Monfils in the previous round, coming through in 5 sets, but Djokovic is quietly starting to find some form. Whether he will be able to come back to his absolute best in time to win Wimbledon this year, is something that remains to be seen, but Mannarino will be no match to even a lesser Djokovic today. I say the world number 2 annihilates the Frenchman in 3 sets.

PREDICTION : NOVAK DJOKOVIC 6-1, 6-3, 6-2



So according to my predictions, here is what the Quarter final line up will look like


[1] ANDY MURRAY VS [24] SAM QUERREY

[2] RAFAEL NADAL VS [7] MARIN CILIC

[6] MILOS RAONIC VS [3] ROGER FEDERER

[11] TOMAS BERDYCH VS [2] NOVAK DJOKOVIC



Do let me know what you think of my predictions. Stay tuned for the predictions for all the matches from here on till the finals. Have a great day!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Travel diaries : Japan (Part II)


[Click here to check out Travel diaries : Japan (Part I)]

When you are traveling in a large group (17 of us in our case), things cannot be expected to work at a super fast pace. We checked in at the hostel at around 3 PM on the 20th of April'17, changed quickly and came down to the reception area. Obviously, not everybody got ready at the same time, so I decided to go exploring again. I had a couple of friends with me, so I left my Wifi device in the hostel and we started walking in the direction we felt like going to, took turns we felt like taking. No internet, no calls, no gps to guide us to a destination.. just us, wandering aimlessly, soaking in all aspects of the foreign city, unfiltered, unhindered, unprejudiced.


We randomly found a park after walking about 10 minutes. Named Yokoamicho park, it was opened in 1930 as a memorial to the Kanto earthquake which occurred in 1923. It also became the main memorial for the victims of the bombing of Tokyo in 1944-45. Ashes of more than 100,000 people were interred in the park during that time, and a memorial for the victims was opened in 2001. We were totally unaware about its history at that moment, but we found the park to be very peaceful and serene. It has a gravel pathway on one of the entrances leading up to the central part, which contains a shrine, benches right in front of it, the memorial, and a pond. The path which leads to the other entrance has a small boulevard of trees, leading out to the road. There were a couple of cherry blossom trees next to the benches, where people would sit, and I spotted a few one or two year olds, playing on the gravel with their mothers. It was so heartwarming, it felt like a happy ending to a movie or something.


Yokoamicho park, Ryogoku

Half an hour later, we started ambling towards Asakusa, which is about 2 kilometers away. The walk helped us look at the city more closely, and all we could discuss was how awesome Tokyo is, and how we love it so much, and how I don't want to come back to India, ever!

Our friends were in Sensoji temple already, so even we decided to go and have a look. The way to the temple is through a 250 meter long street, called Nakamise Dori, which has shops on either side of it till the temple itself. The temple has o-mikuji stalls, where you can pick a stick out of a metal box with hundreds of them inside it, and then retrieve your 'fortune' written on a piece of paper, from one of the drawers with a sign similar to that on the stick. I think mine had an okayish fortune.


Nakamise Dori, or the street leading up to the Senso ji temple



Senso ji temple



Anyway, we then went to the Asakusa culture and tourism centre. I remember using it as a reference for one of my projects, and seeing the same building right in front of my eyes, felt a little surreal to be honest. What impressed me a lot about the design of this building is that it is not just a tourism centre where you go and get pamphlets regarding the places of interest of the place. Each of the 8 floors has a distinct section, purpose and role. In addition to a conference room, a multipurpose hall, and an exhibition space, there is a terrace next to the cafeteria on the top floor, which overlooks the Kaminari-mon (the gateway leading to the Senso ji temple). Even the Skytree is visible from the terrace.


Asakusa culture and tourism centre


The view of the Skytree as seen from the Asakusa culture and tourism centre


By the time we left, I was starving. So when we reached Akihabara, I was more interested in finding food, than absorbing all the strange things unfolding around me. I found food quickly though; some chicken, some beef, some octopus. And only then did I start observing my surroundings. Akihabara is unlike anything I had ever seen before. The streets are lined up with pretty, young, costumed girls, probably handing out menus or coupons for maid cafes. The place is known for electronic goods, but I didn't care about that! There were animations or installations everywhere, and most of them featured 'provocative content' in the most creative of ways. It was overall quite fascinating, strange and a unique experience to say the least.

I did not opt for the metro, but decided to walk back to the hostel. It was probably a 45 minute walk, but in my opinion, walking gives me the opportunity to delve deeper into the layers of a place. I did not have the wifi device, and I did not know the way to the hostel, but figured it out by talking to people on the streets. They did not speak English, I did not speak Japanese, but they were always nice, and tried their best to help me out. These kind of interactions might not count in the list of places I visited, or things I did in Japan, but it definitely adds an extra dimension to my experience of the city and of its culture as a whole.

So that was my first day in Tokyo, and I was already in love with, as I might have mentioned it 300 times already. The experience of the rest of my trip will be up soon, as opposed to the ridiculous amount of time I took to upload this post. Apologies for that, and have a great day everyone.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Travel diaries : Japan (Part I)

When you sit down to write about everything that you managed to assimilate after spending 11 days in a place, culturally, economically, historically, geographically, and in every way possible, so different from what you've ever seen in your entire lifetime, you have a thousand things to say, yet you are lost for words. It has been 30 days since I came back from Japan, and I haven't reached the second sentence in every attempt that I've made to write about it so far. So let me just try and write it as I would verbally say it to someone.

Alright, so the trip to Japan was planned since January I think. Our boss, who had taken us to Sri Lanka about a year and half ago, wanted us to see Japan too. The first and foremost reason is because modern architecture has flourished in Japan like it has in very few other parts of the world. It is unique and worth experiencing first hand. In addition to that, it is culturally very rich and many of its age-old traditions are still followed. He believes that traveling not only changes our perspective in architecture, but more importantly, in life. I could not have written a post about my trip, and not mentioned how thankful I am to him, because to be honest, Japan was not very high up in my bucket list before this trip was planned.

Anyway, we are still a young firm of 17 employees, and all of us started doing our research about Japan; the places we would go to, the cuisines that we would try, things that we would buy there and so on. It went on for ages (3-4 months actually), till that day finally arrived on the 19th of April, when we boarded our flight from Bangalore to Tokyo, via Kuala Lampur. 
The total journey time including a stopover at Kuala Lampur, was about 18 hours, and we landed in Tokyo at 7:40 AM local time (it is 3 and a half hours ahead of IST) on the 20th of April 2017. 



View from the plane somewhere near Kuala Lampur


As traveling overall is very expensive in Japan, we arranged for subway passes in the airport itself. We also collected Wifi devices which we had ordered before leaving India, as most of the places in Japan do not have Wifi connectivity. I will write a more detailed blog post about how to cut down on expenses in Japan shortly, where I will tell you about all the arrangements you can make before you even step outside the airport.

So we took the Narita sky access to Kuramae station, and then took the subway to Ryogoku, where we were to stay for a duration of 4 days. We had booked a hostel for our stay, as even accommodation in Japan is very expensive. We reached the hostel before noon itself, and our check in was supposed to be at 2 PM. So we kept our luggage there, freshened up (and don't even get me started on the toilets. They are cleaner than my bedroom ever could be, and more high tech than the tv video games of the 90's perhaps), and went out exploring the area on foot. I was sharing my pocket wifi with 4 of my friends, and that is perhaps the last I saw of it during the entire trip, baring a day at most. 

Trying all kinds of food was one of my biggest priorities since the time this trip was initially planned. So I kicked off that aspect by finding the first restaurant I could find, and ordered a squid tempura sopa with some beer. It had a different flavour from the food we are used to eating, but I think I loved it (and everything else I tried during the trip) because of its uniqueness. More about food in subsequent posts!



Squid tempura sopa


We were now already split up in groups of not more than 2 or 3, and we decided to walk some more after the food. Everything about the place, the people seemed so different, and not surprisingly, nice, that we were overwhelmed by something or the other, every 8 minutes or so. 

First of all, the people were just too nice. They were very polite, always eager to help out if we asked them for directions or something. Even if my bag touched someone's fingertip or something, they would be the ones to bow and say sorry, no matter how busy they were. And none of the 'staring at foreigners' crap, as we have seen Indians do so much (not always with malice, but sometimes just unknowingly out of awe). Nobody's gaze would linger for more than like a quarter of a second and people would get back to doing what they were. And o boy, they love their phones! Be it on the subway or on the streets, people do not talk to each other at all. I was at a public square, right next to the street, and I did not want to make a single noise. I was whispering guiltily if I had something really important to say, otherwise I would just shut up. And all the people sitting or standing next to me, as was the case in the subways, were engrossed in their phones all the time.

Secondly, people followed traffic rules! Well, it is an obvious fact for most countries in the world, but as Indians, I've got to admit, it is unusual and highly fascinating to see cars follow signal lights patiently, and stopping for pedestrians to cross the road. I also noticed that a lot of people used bicycles, which were parked in a line on the street right opposite our hostel. It was very evident that most of the people rely on the subway because the roads did not have too many cars, but people were rushing towards the metro station endlessly. I read it somewhere years ago that a developed country is not where everyone has a vehicle of their own, but one in which even the rich use public transport, and I saw what that saying meant right there.



I love the way they park their bicycles; looks neat, organized, is safe and saves space.


I thought I would not talk about it, but man, the toilets were so impressive! The common toilet in the hostel was unbelievably clean, and the white walls and fixtures were some kind of white that I had never ever seen in my life before, and I am not exaggerating one bit here! And the toilet seats are always kept warm... how cool is that? The WC's have a panel attached to it with switches on it. Couldn't figure out what every button's function was at that time (as it was written in Japanese), but at least I found out how to regulate the force, position and temperature of the water jet with that panel. I felt like chilling there for longer than needed but decided against it in the end.

The buildings were well-maintained, all of them; couldn't find any spots or dust or anything of the sort in any of them. Minor things, like the tiles laid out in the public square I mentioned above, were all laid out symmetrically with respect to benches and ashtray pits. Even though half the people I saw were smoking away to glory, the air was fresh and pure. Every one was well dressed and proper. I saw no homeless person there, nor any factor which would help me distinguish the rich from the poor.



In short, nobody talks to each other, almost everyone is on their phones all the time, almost everyone smokes all the time and they are always well-dressed somehow. As you can see, the buildings are spotless and the air very pure. Alright, just imagine the last one will you?


I must have been awed by so many other things, that I can keep going on and on. But let's keep it "short" for now. Soon after, we checked in and headed out for a few more places, which I am going to talk about in my next post. Stay tuned!

[Click here for part II]

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Postcards from Andaman : Baratang Caves

During my trip to Andaman in 2014, I (with my family) had a chance to go to the Baratang caves. We were staying in Port Blair, and from there, we took a cab before even dawn broke, to Jirkatang, about 40 kms away. It was kind of a checkpost where a lot of other cars and trucks and buses and the sort were already there, all parked to the side of the road in a long queue. Many others kept coming and they all kept parking one behind the other. 

At about 6 AM (or was it 7?), we set out like a convoy in the same formation, one behind the other, accompanied by armed forces to the front and back. The reason for this is that we had a 50 km drive ahead of us through the 'Jarwa reserved forest' in order to reach Baratang. This area is inhabited by the locals, who do not like interacting with the outside world. Photography and overtaking is strictly prohibited during the entire journey. Unlike smoking in public places, it is actually 'very strictly' prohibited.

After we crossed the forest, we had to take a 30 minute speedboat ride to the island where the limestone caves are. Following are some of the pictures I took during this visit.






A 30 minute speedboat ride to the island


In order to reach the island, we need to pass through dense, mangrove forests


After the ferry dropped us off at a jetty, we had to walk a further 1.7 kms to reach the caves


Cave entrance




The naturally formed limestone deposits form beautiful patterns


A narrow gap on top is the only source of light inside the caves


We were really tired after we got back at around 3-4 PM to Port Blair. This was a good experience, but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. The cave itself is good, but honestly, not extraordinary. I enjoyed the journey though, but some might argue that it is not worth the effort. My opinion? Go if you have a day to spare, and are alright to walk the extra mile (quite literally). It might be a little difficult for elders though, so do keep that in mind.

I only posted once last week, but I'll make sure I get back in the groove and post this Wednesday. Have a great day and a great weekend!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Humans, the agents of destruction : The story of the 6th mass extinction

(image courtesy : www.greenpeace.org)


Before I start with this post, I would like to mention right now that I will try to keep safe distance from the moral aspect as much as possible in this post. I am no one to comment on what is right, what should be done and what should have been. This post is about looking at everything from the impartial eyes of nature and its evolutionary process.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let us start with a term everyone is familiar with... 'Extinction'. In simple terms, it is a dying out or termination of a species with no remaining living members. The dinosaurs, the dodo, the woolly mammoth and the likes are prime examples of this phenomenon. Can you add a few more to the list? 10, or maybe 5? Unless you are a biology buff and are thorough with the topic, I'm sure you'll struggle to find too many more names. But guess what? Since life started on earth, roughly 40 billion species have become extinct, which is around 99% of all the species which ever existed.

Why does extinction take place really? The reasons are many. But consider this. The earth is 4.5 billion years old. It has undergone numerous changes in terms of geology, climate, atmospheric composition etc, and continues to do so to this day. In order to adapt to the changing environment, some of them evolve, most of them die, because that is how nature works. And because life is so much about co-existing, the extinction of one species might lead to drastic changes in the entire ecosystem. Sometimes, species are wiped out if some other species out-competes them. Mutations and natural selection are also reasons why extinctions might occur. These processes are fairly gradual, when we look at it in the time-frame of thousands or millions of years. But sometimes, certain events wipe out a major chunk of all the living species, much 'quicker' in the geological time frame, when more than 50% of all species go extinct. These events are called mass extinctions.

There have been 5 major mass extinctions that we know of.

ORDOVICIAN-SILURIAN : Occurred about 450 million years ago, when more than 60% of all living beings were extinct 
over a period of about 10 million years. This probably took place due to the formation of gigantic glaciers and dramatic worldwide fall in sea levels, which in turn might have been caused by a gamma ray burst, which again in turn might have been caused by a hypernova explosion (basically an explosion much larger than a supernova). The cause is actually all speculation at this moment, but the proof of the massive die-off lies in the various strata of rocks, which shows absence of fossils in the layers formed during those times.

THE LATE DEVONIAN : Around 365 million years ago, more than 70% of all species got extinct over a period of maybe 20-25 million years in a series of mass extinction events. It probably happened due to global cooling, which might have been caused by an asteroid strike, or a massive volcanic eruption. Simultaneously, the ocean levels fell and its oxygen levels depleted (or ocean anoxia). One of the theories also suggests that plants, which were taking a strong hold on land, absorbed so much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, that it caused global cooling.

PERMIAN TRIASSIC (THE GREAT DYING) : This is the worst known mass extinction event, where about 95% of all species got extinct about 250 million years ago. The cause was most probably a series of volcanic eruptions in an area called the Siberian traps (its area roughly the size of western Europe), which lasted a million years. It directly resulted in an increase in global temperatures by 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. The release of gases in the sea floor lead to periods of too much oxygen in the oceans (hyperoxia), and later, too less oxygen (anoxia), and marine life suffered greatly due to this.

TRIASSIC-JURASSIC
: About 200 million years ago, the super-continent Pangaea started to break up, which lead to volcanic eruptions in many parts of the world. The sudden release of methane and carbon dioxide lead to a large scale global warming. Scientists know less about this event than the others, but it seems that ocean life was hit much harder than plants and land animals. This event hence, paved the way for the age of the dinosaurs, which would last around 135 million years.

CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY (K-T) : Probably due to a massive asteroid/comet strike 65 million years ago in the Yucatan peninsula off the coast of Mexico (as evident from the Chicxulub crater), about 75% of all species got extinct (including the dinosaurs), paving the way for the age of mammals and birds. A lesser known theory also suggests that a massive volcanic eruption in India could have been the cause too.


'THE CURRENT ONE' : The previous mass extinctions were either due to hypernovae, volcanic eruptions, change in tectonic plates, or asteroid collisions. This time it is us.
The impact that human beings have had on our planet is unprecedented. Ocean acidification, rise in global temperatures, and mass extinctions itself have happened before. But the current events are unique in many ways. Never before has a single species taken over such a significant percentage of the world's primary production. There has never been so much habitat destruction, and the introduction of non-native and invasive species the world over, as we see today. There also has never been any species which have had such an impact on evolution itself. Even though the term hasn't been officially coined yet, scientists think that because of the changes in the environment due to human intervention, a period, either from the onset of Industrial revolution in the 18th century, or from the 1950's, marks a beginning of a new epoch, and many call it the 'ANTHROPOCENE'.

If it all seems like an over-exaggerated fairy tale, such as 'Climate change' is (*sarcasm), let me give you a little reality check.

As I've mentioned before, extinction is a natural phenomenon. In normal conditions, there is usually a constant rate of extinction. For example, it is estimated that in case of mammals, 1 species get extinct every 700 years or so. Want to take a guess as to where we stand according to the current extinction rates? Would you say 5? Maybe 10? 100? 200? No, the current rate of extinctions are at 1000 mammal extinctions per 700 years! Sea life? Well, the acidification of oceans is at the highest in more than 800,000 years, and at this current trend, by the end of this century alone, more than one-third of the species will go extinct. Let's go a little further. Invertebrates, which make up about 97% of all living beings, have declined by 45% in the last 40 years alone. Amphibians, many of whom have survived multiple mass extinctions for the past 350 million years or so, seem to have been hit very badly too. At a normal rate, 1 species of amphibians go extinct in a 1000 years. Current rate? 45,000 extinctions in a thousand! Another fact is that the numbers which I have given above, are conservative estimates, as we are yet to find out more data. So in all probability, things are much worse.

The 5 major mass extinction events probably occurred over millions of years. The Anthropocene started just around 70-200 years ago, and already, the current extinction rates are higher than the K-T extinction. So the peak of the 'Anthropocene' might be closer than we expect.

Will the humans survive the extinction? Probably, but maybe barely. We might have made great progress in science and technology, but what we forget is that the key word here is 'co-existence'. While it seems that the changes in the environment are only affecting the plants and animals, it will come bite us back one day. For example, we are not directly affected by global warming yet, because we have AC's to keep us cool. But it has an effect on the animals and plants outside too, who do not have the luxury of AC's. Eventually, they will die if the increase in temperature is unbearable. So if the corns and the cucumbers die off, we will eventually be hit by famines and droughts, which might lead to an all-out war, as history has seen many times over. What then? Nature has its own ways to balance everything out. If not famines, then diseases might wipe half of us out. The rising ocean levels are no longer a myth; many parts of Bangladesh, Phillipines, USA, India, you name it, might be swallowed up by the sea within this century alone. There is also something called the 'Thermohaline circulation' (also know as 'ocean conveyor belt'), which has a huge impact on the global climate. I would love to explain that too, but I feel my post is already too long, so click here to read it up on Wikipedia. Basically, if the Thermohaline circulation stops, there will be mass extinctions in the seas, the climate will change drastically (how though, nobody can predict), and it will lead to a massive increase in anaerobic bacteria, which emits one of the most toxic of gases, hydrogen sulfide.

These are but just a few possibilities out of so many others. Frankly, I am very positive about a lot of things, but for the future of mankind, not so much. My intention behind writing this post is to make people aware about what our impact on the world is, because everyone knows we are a threat to our planet, our very home itself, but not many know to what degree. In my opinion, leaving aside good or bad, right or wrong, humans are indeed the agents of destruction. We are a very strange and mysterious entity, unlike anything ever seen on earth. Our instinct is not to live with nature, but to control it to favour our way of life. But, unlike asteroids and volcanic eruptions, we do have a conscience. Because things are still not out of hand at this moment, and if we want to put a stop to it, we still have time. Humans might be the problem for all this, but the only answer to all this is also, humans.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe"

- John Muir



References : 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2015/oct/20/the-four-horsemen-of-the-sixth-mass-extinction by Jeremy Hance

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Postcards from the hills : Bandajje falls trek

2016 had been a year of treks for me. This is not because I went to a hundred treks or something (I totaled 5 I think), but because I had never trekked before last year, and these 5 'climbs' made me love trekking so much. Hence, if I look back at my 2016, I think I can confidently say that trekking was one of the highlights of the year.

Out of all the treks though, this one is the most special. After all, this was my first ever! The trek took us about 4 and a half hours and it was one of the most tiring things I had ever done in my life.

We camped at night, although we forgot an essential accessory to set up one of the tents, and so some of us had to sleep in the open. And it rained a bit at night, which added to the cold. Click here to read about the entire experience in detail.

I have compiled a few photographs from that trek below. 





We stopped by a stream on the way in a place called Gundya.


We were chilling there for half an hour before we had lunch and made our way to the starting point


A few butterflies were also chilling by the stream

Our destination as seen from the starting point


Found a stream on the way up. Great place to take a breather, freshen up and drink some water

After 4 and a half hours of trudging through the forest, we come out into the open, all exhausted, and relish the view


We set up a campfire at night. It was pitch dark. We barbecued some pineapples and bananas, the only source of food we had for the night


Waking up in the mornings be like


The Western ghats at dawn


Sunrise. We left shortly afterwards and made our way down in about 3 hours.
The brunch after that was the best ever!


Let me know whether you like this post in the comments below. Take care everyone and have a great day! Next post coming up on Saturday.