Tag Archives: india

A Conservative Driver’s Rules on the Road

City commutes are getting harder by the day, the number of cars bikes and buses getting on the road is in an upswing, while the Road infrastructure has been in a steady decline. This is one of the reasons for the dramatic rise in number of Road accidents, incidents of road rage and general loss of joy of driving especially in the city

There are standard set of Rules of the road, stuff that we need to pass the driving tests but something we forget immediately afterwards. Stuff like

  1. Not breaking Red lights.
  2. Following speed limits
  3. Staying on the left side of the road. (People take those shortcuts)
  4. Not Using Full Beam.
  5. No Mobile phones while driving.

If we all followed these the next set of rules are pretty redundant, but most don’t. But there are some of us, who don’t need to drive fast to get to office a couple of minutes early or afford to have accidents on the road or lose their cool on the street or have girl friends to impress with wheelies. We just want to get from one place to the other Safely.

The rule Zero for me is You are responsible for your safety, You have to become more conservative to account for others’ aggression. It’s easy to blame others for  your accident but you still screwed. You are also responsible for covering for other people’s mistakes. This means that you need to be aware of what’s happening on the road, being mindful of what’s ahead of you and when can it can stop,  what’s behind of you and how big or fast is it coming, who’s driving erratically and where the potholes and bumps are.

  1. No Honking at all It has the negative effect on people, It’s noise pollution and It’s an admission that you have made a driving mistake. If you can’t see at a turn then slow down so that you don’t have to worry about somebody coming the other side. If you are on a narrow street with slow vehicles in front pass the vehicle when you get the chance there is no reason to be push him off the road because you are in a hurry. It is no good to honk when there is red light at the signal everybody is trying to get to the destination early, just wait for your turn to move. It is worst in the night and most of us do not realize what a menace it is.
  2. Always Overtake from the Right Use left only if there is enough space, where enough space means you still have space even if the other vehicle shifts a whole lane.  If you do not have the space to over take just stay in the back biding your time.
  3. Keep the distance  Once you realize that hitting another vehicle is ALWAYS your mistake and not the others, When excuse of the other guy braked suddenly is no longer available, you will maintain the distance. There are all sort of rules around how far should you be given the speed of the vehicles, In general the Western (3 second) rules of distance are not much good in India, my thumb rule is to keep double length of the vehicle distance from cars, Trucks, Buses. More for Taxis and Call center cabs. About a vehicle length from bikes and cycles in normal traffic suffices.
  4. Stay to left  much as possible Right side of the road is where the speeds are the highest. That’s also side of the road which attracts most aggressive and faster drivers.
  5. Avoid driving when you don’t have to Walking is safe, and public transport is pretty good. There’s a local saying, “The only place you are safe on the road is inside a Bus”

To follow these you need loads of Patience You will be stuck behind a slow-moving Biker talking on the Mobile Phone, waiting at the Red Signal with no traffic at all late in the night  and a form of chalta hai attitude aka ‘Be prepared for assholes’. Though it’s NOT OK for others to break rules, you can’t do much (Some times when I am irritated I give them feedback with the middle finger),  you will see people overtaking from left, cutting lanes, pushing you off the road, bumping into you from the back, and incessantly honking at you and it’d be easy to do the same, but resist that temptation. I repeatedly use  “This is water” to remind myself it’s probably OK.

Travels in the Spiti Valley

That was the year people of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur remember for two things. The visit of Dalai Lama, and the flash floods that disconnected them from the world. There probably was a connection, most locals belived that Chinese on the other side of the border had intentionally relesed lot more water from their dams to jeopardize Dalai Lama’s visit. Whatever may be the reason, I also visited Lahaul Spiti the same year.

The plan was to go from Manali to Shimla via Kinnaur and Spiti. Spiti, I had known was the land of perpetually snow capped peaks north of Dalhousie, where I grew up as a kid.

There is a old Buddhist curse that is paraphrased something like “May you be born in the land of high peaks and deep ravines”. Spiti was exactly what the originator was thinking about.

The plan was to all the way from Manali to Shimla via Spiti and Kinnaur.  Just as we entered the Spiti valley, the axle of the bus we were traveling in broke, and with no habitation close we walked off to the next town that was about 4 hours of walk away, We were lucky to be picked up by some Army trucks that were seeking the site of a helicopter crash. In between that and  a late night entry into Kaza, the dusty administrative center of Spiti, I remember only throwing up every 30 minutes, Lying in  the back of an open truck with a mad man driving across the valley and the massive headaches because of Altitude sickness.

In the next few days in the radius of about 100km were some of the most idyllic and beautiful monasteries(Gompas) I had seen. These are well off the touristy Buddhist Gompa circuits of Ladakh and Sikkim( and probably arunachal). These are the monasteries that get very few visitors, and let tourists live in the monastery along with the monks, share the Tsampa at prayers with the few people that turn up. I have not seen this in any of the Ladakhi monasteries.

This was also the first time I was seeing the fortress style Monasteries, and It was really impressive to see the Ki and the Dankar (which is about 7-10 km from the road) Monasteries.

Tabo Monastery despite it simplicity was magical. The Gompa being on flat land,  may be as spectacular as Dankar and Ki, But inside the temple are these almost real life statues of Monks projecting from the walls. How they could make it 1000 years ago I cannot really fathom? Dalai Lama himself expressed his desire to retire here.

We had to return back to Kaza from Kinnaur as we figured the bridge would take a lot more time to be build, but not before we tasted the divine Apricot Whiskey that Kinnauris are proud of. It’s probably a mistake to compare it to the French Cointraeu as Apricots taste  way better than Oranges. It was disappointing because we wanted to go to the Kailash peak, but then we set ourselves up for the gruelling 14 day travel up to Ladakh, that started at Kibber, that dubs itself the highest continously inhabited town in the world. But the story of 2 1/2 men and 2 donkeys I will leave for another day.

Still unencumbered by loads of tourists, Spiti is what Ladakh could have been. Beautiful yet Quaint.

On Travelling Solo

I like traveling solo. Though I have traveled with various groups of varied sizes and shapes to many different places,  traveling alone has by far been most fun, and I have ended up with lot more friends for life.

A lot of people find it hard to travel solo, because of uncertainties associated with it and it feels boring to sit alone at lunch and read a book and watch other people. It does not have to be that way (though you have to be prepared to do it), Lot of my solo travel tends to start and end alone but interspersed with people I meet on the way travel a bit of distance together, and then split up and go our own ways.

One reason I travel solo is that I dislike organizing and coordinating trips for other people with me. Traveling is a very personal choice, some people like traveling in comfort, some people want to see every single place in the guidebook. Some people want to just sit in the hotel and relax. Some people need to have a solid and well researched plan. To get people who match your style is hard and if you do know some people having them coordinate the travel time is still harder, something or the other will always come up. This is how I started my first solo trip to Death Valley, my friend just failed to turn up.

I think I needed that experience to get hooked on to the solo travel experience. Once I did, fear and loathing of traveling alone was gone.

I am very idiosyncratic traveler, Think of people that get up early and go exploring a place, eating all sorts of food and going to places on gut feel rather than rating on the guidebook, staying in cheap hotels, and traveling public transport. A backpacker you may say, but I have no hesitation to just sleep off couple of days in an expensive hotel when I am tired.  Traveling alone gives me the flexibility to do that sort of thing. I like a place, I just stay there longer, I don’t like a place I just move to the next place, I don’t have to convince anybody else.

Over time I have found that traveling solo gives me much richer traveling experiences, When traveling with friends, I don’t look to make new acquaintances, just being in part of group is enough, somebody in the group will make the decisions and I just follow. Traveling solo I am constantly looking for information from people and passing information to people about where to go and where not to go, If they wish to share a taxi ride room or breakfasts together. It always seems to give me much more interesting conversations and better understanding of people and the places.

There are problems as well. I find it embarrassing/strange going  solo to beaches and Party places alone. I skipped some of the awesome Istanbul Nightlife and beautiful Hainan Beaches.

You have to be extra prepared if you are traveling Solo on tough hikes and tough areas, like I just ran out of money on our Spiti to Leh hike with no ATM anywhere close, luckily another traveler loaned me some money to reach Leh and return his money.

Try it You may like it as well.

You are your best fund manager

Lots of people recommend a lot of strategies to deal with stock markets. Some trade, some stay long, some rely on mutual funds and so on. I have been in the stock markets ever since i got Aztec stock options which was around 8 years ago. I consider myself a long term investor, pick my companies with care, read Annual reports carefully each year and stay invested if i am convinced. I know very little of valuation strategies and the various ratios that people talk about for stock selection.

I was pleasantly surprised when I clicked a button on moneycontrol.com(where I’d been tracking my portfolio for a while) to compare my portfolio with the stock indices . Since my portfolio was mostly large companies, I decided to compare it to BSE-100. It was sucky that i could compare only for an year and not longer than that.

Most mutual funds manager aim to beat the Index, and get big bucks for doing that.  If this year is a decent benchmark then i should get the real big bucks, because I outperformed the Index by around 4 times.  Simply put (assuming the same return for a while, which is totally hypothetical) i would  double my money in 2.5 years while the Index (at the same rate) would take you 8.5 years.

Some of the best equity funds have returned around 20% this year, probably gold funds are the only funds that would have given you better results.

One reason i think is the fact that i stuck with my best bets and did not face liquidity crunch that other fund managers were facing. Also i was mostly in stocks even in the worst of the times.

Are your experiences the same? Have you seen your portfolio outperform Benchmarks? What are your strategies?

The comparison is here .

My portfolio to the BSE 100 index

Farming in Ladakh

A few days ago I visited the village Thiksey in Ladakh, where i stayed for some time teaching and learning. I remember fondly taking a day off school during summer and working on the farm of the family I stayed with. Over a good portion of land we reaped the stalks of ripe barley with the whole family coming together singing the ladakhi songs. These were sunny days with the lady of the house bringing us the lunch at the fields and all of us would eat and go back to reaping the and singing. We carried all that stalks back near the home where we’d rent a thresher and collect probably 100 Kgs of Barley.

This year Ishey Sir told me that they decided to not sow barley at all and leave the land as it is, bringing to an end a tradition of growing crops that is probably as old as arrival of man to this area. These farms are located on the fertile banks of river Indus, i have not seen any of them using fertilizers, so weather or overuse is probably not the problem.
“It was becoming too expensive to farm and it was not worth the effort” he said. I could see that he was probably more disappointed at that decision than me. I wondered what he would be doing if the farm was the only means of living(he is a Principal at a nearby school), which is true for most small holding farmers across the country.
When everybody is talking about end of cheap food, how is this possible? The idea was expensive food will drive more people and corporations to farming.

As P.Sainath puts it, farming is not dying it is being killed.

Inputs costs have become exorbitantly high, because of companies like Monsanto and Cargill making exorbitant profits on their seeds, and the fertilizer prices have been raising since deregulation started around 1992.

The future looks bleak for small holder farmers, which forms a bulk of Indian agriculture, which despite massive growth in Indian economy takes upwards of 20% of GDP.

Google Trends, Elections and IPL

Inspired by the Economist post, i tried using Google trends to see what kind of  interest people have in the elections, as against IPL. Look for yourself the results here.

The Filter is set to India, in order to avoid clashes with othes similar elections and tournaments.

Obviously the IPL fever has been getting higher but 3 times more interest from educated people towards IPL is surprising. Maybe it shows a lack of interest in internet using indians towards elections. This data is extremely interesting.

Look at the amazing spike in interest recently. All the advertisers have got their money’s worth.

The news reference Volume refers to the google news hits, and seems like the newspapers don’t get it, they give more importance to elections, while they could push more IPL content, at least to the metro crowd.

West bengal seems to be nuts about IPL, and statistically insignificant number of people care about elections. Andhra Pradesh ranks highest in the election interest, though not enough to beat the IPL interest. India truly is going nuts about IPL.

I could not resist another query on the Google trends, this time it was facing off Congress and BJP, to figure out the sentiment. Here it goes again. Congress Vs. BJP

Khajuraho

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After a while, i have took off from work to do a short trip to Khajuraho. To visit Khajuraho during the Dance Festival was a long time desire that was fulfilled this year.
To say the it is an amazing place is to understate. The place is obviously well known for the temples and the erotic sculptures, but i wasn’t really impressed by the temples and the sculpture. It was the people we met up there and conversations we had. It may have to do with the eclectic nature of people who come over there but every single conversation seemed to expand my mind.
The dance performances were wonderful, La creame de la creme of the dancers come every year to this place in the background of the western group of temples, to enact their art.

We missed the first two days of the festival, but all the others we made it religiously. The energy of Dr. Subramanyam during his hour long Bharatnatyam presentation was the high point, around the end it was announced that he was 75 years old. Amazing to have such a passion and dedication to their craft at such an age.

The Odissi dances on the fourth day, i really enjoyed, the expressions and the sheer beauty of the dance made it  very entertaining and refreshing.

Like most places in India if you dig below the surface, there are a lot of side tours around khajuraho that guide books that just skim the surface. We cycled to the Ken Ghariyal Santctury one early morning to watch the Ghariyals Sunbathing on the banks or river Ken, while locals almost seemed oblivious of the presence of the Big Ghariyals. More than the watching Ghariyals part i enjoyed the trail riding on the Old fashioned Hero Jet Cycle. Next time i go, i should take my mountain bike with me to try explore the trails and interesting (and colourful) people.

Orccha is another interesting place. We skipped the Kalingarh fort, because it was far and the sun was burning and the beer at Raja Cafe was cold.

Overall a very interesting and revealing trip.